News and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

MAY 29, 2017:


Death Row Inmates' Last Words: Apologies, Thanks, Defiance----Inmates last words on Georgia's death row show defiance, apologies and in some cases claims of innocence.

Georgia inmate J.W. Ledford Jr. used his final moments to quote from the movie "Cool Hand Luke" and toss out an insult.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So that's why we have here what we have here today. I am not the failure. You are the failure to communicate," Ledford said just after 1 a.m. on May 17, before a lethal dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital began to flow into his veins.

"You can kiss my white trash ass," he added. "I'm just shaking the bush boss, let's do it."

It was one of the more unusual statements made by a Georgia death row inmate in the final moments. Strapped to a gurney that's tilted toward the witness seats, condemned inmates are given two minutes to make a last statement.

Many apologize to the families of their victims or thank their own families, friends and lawyers for support. Others insist they are innocent or rail against the justice system that put them there.

Georgia is the rare state that makes audio recordings of condemned inmates' final statements in the execution chamber.

The Associated Press obtained copies of those recordings through an open records request. Some inmates chose not to make a final statement in the execution chamber.

Kelly Gissendaner, who was the only woman on Georgia's death row when she was executed in September 2015, sobbed through apologies to the family of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, whom she had conspired to have her lover kill. Then she sang "Amazing Grace" as the lethal drug flowed, though the microphones had already been turned off by then.

Troy Davis, who inspired rallies and vigils in multiple countries after his guilt was questioned, maintained his innocence until the end, insisting from the gurney in September 2011 that he did not kill off-duty Savannah police Officer Mark MacPhail.

(source: Associated Press)


A Veteran’s Journey 'From Jim Crow, to Death Row, to the Free World'----Moreese Bickham tells his story through the documentary film "Seven Dates With Death," produced by local attorney and activist Joan Cheever.

In 1958, white deputies shot Moreese Bickham, a 41-year old black man, in the chest on his front porch in Mandeville, La., though he was holding his unloaded shotgun in the air, in surrender. Fallen to the floor, Bickham loaded the gun and killed them both.

"It was me or them," he told Joan Cheever, San Antonio author of "Back From the Dead: One Woman's Search for the Men who Walked off America's Death Row," published in 2006.

An all-white jury, after 2 hours of deliberation, found Bickham guilty and sentenced him to death. After 7 stays of execution during just over 37 years of incarceration at Angola prison, Bickham was released when the death penalty was lifted in 1972, the oldest person on death row. He was released from prison in 1996 and died in April, 2016, at age 98.

Through an unlikely chain of events, Cheever produced a 10-minute documentary about Bickham, "Seven Dates With Death," which is making the rounds at film festivals and is scheduled for public released at the end of 2017. This week the film was awarded 1 of 13 certifications by Got Your 6 (military jargon for "I've got your back") along with the TV crime drama "Criminal Minds," the Denzel Washington film "Fences," the Ken Burns documentary "The Vietnam War," and other content that "normalizes depictions of veterans as leaders and community assets."

Got Your 6 consists of a panel of "Hollywood people and veterans," Cheever said, who work to honor the depiction of veterans as leaders, team builders, and problem solvers with unique strengths. The current review committee includes Bruce Cohen, producer of "American Beauty" and "Silver Linings Playbook"; Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS); and Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6.

While "Seven Dates with Death" focuses on Bickham's experience as a death row inmate, it was the draping of an American flag on his coffin during the final credits that gave "a positive military dimension to his story," according to a press release. He served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Marcus Island from December 16, 1943 until he was honorably discharged on January 6, 1946.

"I'm really tickled about the Got Your 6 honor because this is Memorial Day weekend and I come from Military City, U.S.A," Cheever said. "Also, I think one of the things that got Moreese through those 14 years on death row and 37 'inside' were his faith, but also the discipline of the military. The more I've been reading about his service [in his papers], I can see it."

Cheever told the Rivard Report that of the 300-plus death row inmates paroled and released from prison whom she sought out for her book, her favorite was Bickham.

"There were many wonderful people I met writing the book," she said, "but his story is so compelling and his attitude was really incredible for someone who went through so much for a crime that would not have happened had he been white - to spend 1/2 your life locked up, defending yourself. But he never had any bitterness at all in 19 years of our friendship. He had 7 dates with the electric chair, but he survived."

Through Bickham's friendship with Cheever and her family, he and his wife, Ernestine, visited San Antonio many times as guests in her home from their own home in Oakland, California and later a small town in Oregon.

"He's fished in the Blanco River and he spoke to classes at UTSA and the University of the Incarnate Word," Cheever said.

After she arranged a private tour of the Alamo for him, he was made an honorary Texan and given the flag that flew over the Alamo the day he was there.

Crosspoint, which provides transitional housing for released federal prisoners on the Eastside, honored their friendship with the Bickham/Cheever Garden because Bickham loved to garden in prison and shared the produce with inmates and guards. He also was ordained a Methodist minister while in prison and earned a GED and certification as an auto mechanic.

The creation of "Seven Dates With Death" was as happenstance as her son Austin's choice of college - Ithaca College, in upstate New York.

His roommate, a film major named Mike Holland, was interested in social justice issues and wanted to make a film on capital punishment.

"Austin said, 'Then, you need to talk to my mother.'"

To narrow his focus, Cheever suggested Holland feature Bickham's story, "from Jim Crow, to death row, to the free world." She believes he succeeded, making a documentary that in places is hard to watch and in just 10 minutes encapsulates reams of material, including 8 legal pads of journaling the former inmate gave her. The film reenacts the shooting, prison life and release, as Bickham narrates his story. While his Southern accent expresses his persona subtitles were needed for understandability.

Holland finished the film and graduated from college, but Bickham didn't live to see it completed. Holland plans to continue making films and see where it takes him.

Cheever, her husband Dennis Quinn, and Holland have traveled to 4 film festivals to present the film, but Cheever always returns to San Antonio by Tuesday evening. That's when the Chow Train, Cheever’s healthy food cart, opens its windows and feeds the hungry.

Cheever comes from a military family. She is the granddaughter of Col. Charles E. Cheever Sr. (now deceased), Judge Advocate General for Gen. George S. Patton with the Third Army (SAT) in World War II. Patton appointed "his lawyer" to be the supervising prosecutor for the Dachau War Crimes trials and Col. Cheever was a member of the Nuremberg legal team of prosecutors.

Joan Cheever's father, Lt. Col. Charles E. Cheever Jr. of San Antonio, is a 1949 graduate of West Point and served in the Air Force as a jet fighter instructor and Air National Guard.



Chase Hawkins corresponded with death row inmate----Jacksonville Catholic held out hope for his friend before execution

Chase Hawkins, a parishioner at St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, wrote his last letter to death row inmate Marcel Williams April 20. Williams was executed 4 days later.

"I'm not giving up hope. But I know that there is a possibility things may not go our way. ... Killing, no matter who, no matter why, no matter if they’re guilty or innocent ... killing is always wrong. I also know that the person reading this today is not the same person who arrived on death row all those years ago. I think you are a changed man and a good person. I know you are my friend. I hope you get to read this. Because of timing and the activity this week, if you do read this, it could be your last letter from me. I'm crying to think that. And I hope it's not so. I don't regret writing you. I will never forget you, and you have made a lasting impression on my life. I love you. Have courage. Have faith. Have hope. "Always your friend, Chase" For more information about the Death Row Support Project, visit

On April 20, Chase Hawkins sat down as he had countless times for a year a half to write to his friend. With the eight executions planned in Arkansas between April 17-27, losing his pen pal became a frighteningly real possibility.

Since October 2015, Hawkins, 26, a member of St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, had corresponded with death row inmate Marcel Williams through the Death Row Support Project, which facilitates communication with those on death row.

"It was late that night, after the execution just happened, I wrote out a letter to Marcel and I realized it would probably be the last one I would write and realizing that halfway through I was crying about that," Hawkins said. "There were moments I had to stop and question about 'I am crying over this person who did this horrible thing' ... but he was human and someone I came to know."

Hawkins encouraged Williams to have courage, faith and hope, and that he was "not giving up hope."

It was the last letter Williams would receive from Hawkins. Williams was executed April 24 along with Jack Jones, the 1st double execution in the United States in 17 years.

"I braced myself for it. With Ledell (Lee)'s execution (April 20) I was living with what was already going to happen to Marcel," Hawkins said. "You still hold out hope for all these last minute motions."

Williams was convicted in 1997 for the abduction, rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. He spent the next 20 years in prison.

"You don't end up on death row for petty theft or anything. They've done really bad things," Hawkins said. "And so it is hard to reconcile that, but as I wrote Marcel more and more, the person that I was writing to was very different. We can never know what is in someone's heart, but he was different than the man that went in there."

A new friendship

A pro-life advocate, Hawkins was compelled to get involved somehow with death row ministry when he saw a simple, yet powerfully worded sticker in St. Jude Religious Education Director Paula Price's office: "Who would Jesus execute?"

He wrote to Williams, a Catholic, about twice a week, starting out with handwritten letters but moving to email. Hawkins, an internal auditor at a Conway bank, would share about "anything and everything" that he was doing in life.

When he started, Hawkins did not think for a minute he'd get attached. He was writing to Williams because "it was the right thing to do."

"It really helped writing Marcel to see a more human side to these people. To see his interests, his life leading up to this, his fear going into this."

Generally, the correspondence was kept upbeat and hopeful rather than focusing on the impending reality.

"I remember the last letter I got from him was probably 2 weeks before," his death, Hawkins said. "It was just a quick note - Hey how are you doing, things have been really busy here, but I'll write you longer when things settle down, have a good weekend."

'Let them live'

The fate of Williams' victim, and those of other death row inmates, was no doubt "horrendous," Hawkins said, adding he would never be angry at the victim's families for supporting the death penalty.

"I've never seen it as justice so much as revenge, which is, of course, a normal human emotion we experience, but that should not play into our justice system. ... I do feel for those victims' families. I can't understand how it might make them feel better to see that, I don't know how that would bring them closure, but again it's not something thankfully I've been through," he said. "To think about the process of having your last meal and sitting in a cell and being moved to the death chamber where they're going to strap you down to let people who want to see you die, let them watch. Even though they didn't have compassion or mercy, their victims suffered immensely, we're taught always to show compassion and mercy even to the most hardened sinners."

While Hawkins and Williams had discussed meeting at some point, it turned out to be at a North Little Rock funeral home April 28 during Williams' visitation.

"I did go up and greet 2 females, presumably family ... I went up and said, 'Hi, my name is Chase. I've been writing to Marcel for over a year now. He was a good man and I'm very sorry and we'll miss him,'" Hawkins said. "It was as simple as that, but it made me feel better for doing it. It offered me a sense of closure being able to at least say what little I did to the family."

For now, Hawkins said he is taking a break from writing to death row inmates, to deal with the emotions of losing his friend.

"People do change. I certainly obviously haven't murdered anybody or anything along those lines, but I've certainly done things I'm not proud of," Hawkins said. "I've changed from 5 years ago and I'm just 26 and 20 years on death row is certainly time enough for people to change. We're certainly not asking to let them go free - let them live."



Minneapolis art museum to remove gallows-like sculpture

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will remove a gallows-like sculpture, following protests by Native Americans, who say it brings back painful memories of the mass hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862.

'Scaffold,' by Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant, addresses the history of the death penalty, which according to some local audiences brings in the reference to a specific event in Minnesota history related to the US-Dakota War, says a blog of Walker Art Center.

It was set to be unveiled in June, when the museum's Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopens after a reconstruction project.

Meanwhile, Walker executive director Olga Viso issued a statement, apologizing for not anticipating how provocative the work would be. She said she had spoken with Durant, and he was open to removing the sculpture.

"As director of the Walker, I regret that I did not better anticipate how the work would be received in Minnesota, especially by Native audiences. I should have engaged leaders in the Dakota and broader Native communities in advance of the work's siting, and I apologize for any pain and disappointment that the sculpture might elicit," she wrote in an open letter.

She, on that note, clarified, "This composite forms what Durant intends as a critique-"neither memorial nor monument"-that invokes white, governmental power structures that have controlled and subjugated nations and peoples, especially communities of color, throughout the history of the US."

Viso further wrote, "Yet despite my and the Walker's earnest intent to raise understanding and increase awareness of this and other histories in our American democracy, the work remains problematic in our community in ways that we did not sufficiently anticipate or imagine. There is no doubt that what we perceived as a multifaceted argument about capital punishment on a national level affecting a variety of communities across the US may be read through a different lens here in Minnesota. We also acknowledge that the artist's intent to create a work meant "as a space of remembering" may be misread. Because the structure can serve as a gathering space, which allows visitors to explore it in un-ceremonial ways, we realize it requires heightened attention and education in all of our visitor orientation and interpretation."

Adding, "This is a deep learning moment-and will not be the last-for the Walker and its relationship with Native audiences. I pledge that we will continue to learn actively, and in public, and to create pathways for listening and supporting the full range of conversations that this work will engender as they evolve in the weeks and months ahead."



Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

In the legal world,prosecutors are rarely called out by name. Their misconduct is usually attributed to unidentified prosecutors or the "State" in rulings by appellate judges. But as a Las Vegas prosecutor, Bill Kephart - now a judge - achieved a dubious distinction: He was chastised publicly.

The Supreme Court of Nevada took the rare step in 2001 of ordering him to prove why he shouldn't be sanctioned for his behavior in one of his cases with a fine or a referral to the state bar for "violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct." The ruling was disseminated statewide and, in Kephart's own words, "professionally embarrassed" him. In his response, he wrote that the ruling had "already had a great impact" on him and promised that there wouldn't be "a bona fide allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against me in the future." The justices nevertheless fined him $250.

The Supreme Court's rebuke was particularly notable in Nevada, where the judges are elected and part of the state's insular legal community. They typically rule unanimously and seldom come down too hard on prosecutors. As one retired chief justice put it: "Picking fights with district attorneys might not be the best thing for [a judge's] career continuation." But Kephart's behavior challenged that status quo, compelling 1 or more of the justices to issue dissents in several cases, saying his behavior called for convictions to be overturned.

Overall, the Nevada high court has noted prosecutorial misconduct in at least 5 of his cases over a dozen years, not including his actions during the trial of Fred Steese - who was tried by Kephart for a 1992 murder and ruled innocent 20 years later after exculpatory evidence was found in the prosecution's files. In the cases in which Kephart is not named, he is the prosecutor whose misconduct is cited:

In 1996, the court noted "several instances of prosecutorial misconduct" in a sexual assault case. The conviction was upheld, but 1 justice dissented, saying that Kephart had "infected" an already "muddled case" and it warranted reversal. (In 2001, a judge granted the defendant an evidentiary hearing and he was released.)

In 1997, the court reversed the murder convictions of 2 men based entirely on the "deliberate" and "improper comments" made by the prosecution during cross examination and closing argument. The DA's office had sought the death penalty, which in Nevada increases costs by about a 1/2 million dollars on average, making this and other reversals based on Kephart's behavior expensive screw-ups for taxpayers. (Both men were retried and convicted again in 1998, 1 sentenced to life in prison and the other to death.)

In 2001, in the case he was fined $250, the court said Kephart gave the jury a misleading explanation of the standard for reasonable doubt when he instructed them: "you have a gut feeling he's guilty, he's guilty." A justice said at a hearing that the remark seemed "like deliberate misrepresentation." The court upheld the conviction, but noted that Kephart's "improper remark was particularly reprehensible because this is a capital case and the remark was gratuitous and patently inadequate to convey to the jury its duty..."

In 2002, the court took issue with Kephart for assaulting a witness. During the trial of a sexual assault case, Kephart said he wanted to demonstrate how the victim said she was choked, pressing his forearm into the defendant’s neck while he was on the stand. The court upheld the verdict, but noted there was "absolutely no reason" for Kephart's behavior, which went "well beyond the accepted bounds of permissible advocacy." One justice dissented, saying “the instances of prosecutorial misconduct were pervasive and accused who takes the stand runs many risks. One of them should not be that the prosecutor would physically assault him or her."

In 2008, the court tossed out a murder conviction in another death penalty case, saying, among other issues, the prosecution's misconduct was "significant" and "occurred throughout the trial," including Kephart’s remarks during jury selection and in closing. One judge dissented, saying the prosecutorial misconduct and other issues didn’t require reversal. (The defendant eventually pled guilty in 2014.)

In 2002, Kephart prosecuted another highly contested murder case against Kirstin Lobato, then 19, which has garnered national outcry for the meager and sometimes contradictory evidence against her. Lobato was recently granted an evidentiary hearing and is represented by the Innocence Project. This month, the prosecuting officer for the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline filed misconduct charges against Kephart for a media interview he gave about the case last year, in which he said it "was completely justice done." Kephart's "statements could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of Miss Lobato's case," according to the formal statement of charges. The statement said Kephart violated several rules of the judicial code of conduct. He has not yet filed a reply.

Kephart, who joined the DA's office in the early 1990s as a brash young attorney, once got in a shoving match with a defense attorney. Another time a judge had to admonish him for repeatedly shaking his head, making faces and rolling his eyes. His behavior eventually led to minor reprimands from the Clark County District Attorney's Office, according to several people who worked with him during that time. In 2002, after Kephart's reasonable-doubt flub, the entire DA's office had to complete a 2-hour ethics course and continuing legal education classes, which the deputy district attorneys tagged the "Kephart CLE." That same year, Kephart was briefly banned from trials. Regardless, he later became a chief deputy.

Kephart also was called before the state bar for his behavior in Steese's murder trial, but, according to lawyers at the hearing, his boss made an appeal on behalf of him and the other prosecutor on the case, and neither was sanctioned.

Kephart declined several requests for comment.

Despite these repeated critiques of his conduct, Kephart was voted onto the bench in 2010 as a justice of the peace and in 2014 moved to the Eighth Judicial District Court of Nevada, where he today he presides over civil, construction and criminal cases.



Unmarried couple stoned to death in Mali for 'violating Islamic law'----The man and woman were put in 2 holes dug by ringleaders before 4 people attacked them, local official says

An unmarried couple have been stoned to death in public in north-east Mali, in the first such incident since jihadi groups were driven out of the region.

Jihadis seized key northern cities in Mali in March 2012, and though they were driven out by a French-led military intervention in 2013, Islamist groups continue to make their presence felt with frequent attacks on domestic and foreign forces.

"The Islamists dug 2 holes where they put the man and the woman who lived maritally without being married," said a local official. "They were stoned to death." The execution happened in Taghlit, close to Aguelhok in the Kidal region, on Tuesday. The same source told AFP that members of the public were invited to take part.

"4 people threw stones at them until they died," they said.

Another local official said the ringleaders had accused the unmarried couple of violating "Islamic law", which requires punishment by stoning.

During their brief control of key towns in the north, jihadist groups imposed a version of Sharia law which forced women to wear veils and set whipping and stoning as punishment for transgressions.

In July 2012, the Al-Qaida-linked Ansar Dine group stoned a couple in public in Aguelhok they had accused of having children outside marriage.

The Malian Association for the Defence of Human Rights described Tuesday's stoning as "cowardly murder".

"This is barbaric. The people who did this should be arrested and put on trial," said Oumar Diakite, an AMDH official.

The opposition Parena party meanwhile noted that 309 people had been killed since the beginning of the year by armed groups, describing "alarm at the deterioration of the security situation" 2 years after the signature of a peace deal.

That accord was aimed at ending successive uprisings by Tuareg rebels, who signed the deal along with the government and pro-Bamako militias in the hope of bringing stability to the north.

The last Tuareg rebellion in 2012 was hijacked by the Islamists, throwing the country into chaos.

The stoning comes on the eve of an expected visit to Mali by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet French troops stationed there on Thursday or Friday.

A UN mission known by its acronym Minusma has also been stationed in the west African country since 2013 and is considered the world body's most dangerous active peacekeeping deployment.



Prisoner Hanged on Drug Charges

A prisoner was reportedly hanged at Zanjan Prison on the morning of Wednesday May 24 on drug related charges.

Close sources have identified the prisoner as Abdollah Ghaderzadeh, 34 years old, arrested in 2012 on the charge of possession and trafficking 2 kilograms of heroin and 1 kilogram and 200 grams of crystal meth, sentenced to death by the revolutionary court in Zanjan.

Sources close to Mr. Ghaderzadeh say that the Iranian authorities had promised to commute his death sentence to 30 years in prison.

Iranian parliament members had formerly requested from the Judiciary to stop drug related executions for at least 5.000 prisoners pending further investigation. However, the request has not stopped the Judiciary from carrying out death sentences for prisoners with drug related charges.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Saudi court upholds death sentence for disabled man 'tortured for confession' - rights group

Saudi Arabia has upheld a death sentence for a disabled man, arrested in 2012 on suspicion of taking part in protests and then tortured until he signed a "false confession," according to a rights group. The decision leaves the man with 1 last appeal before King Salman makes his execution official.

Munir Adam, 23, was arrested in 2012 for allegedly taking part in protests in the Eastern Province. According to Reprieve, a rights group of international lawyers and investigators, Saudi police "tortured" the man and "forced him to sign a false confession," which then served "as the sole piece of evidence against him."

Adam, who already had impaired sight and hearing, allegedly lost complete hearing in one ear as a result of the beatings.

Following the Specialized Criminal Court's ruling, the accused can now appeal his sentence one last time before the Saudi monarch, King Salman, signs the execution warrant.

Reprieve director Maya Foa described his case as "utterly shocking" and urged US president Donald Trump to "call for the release of Munir, and all others who face execution for simply exercising freedom of expression."

The decision comes shortly after Trump's 1st visit to the kingdom last week, which was praised by the US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross for not having "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time" they were there.

"The White House should be appalled that our Saudi allies tortured a disabled protester until he lost his hearing then sentenced him to death on the basis of a forced confession," Foa said in a statement.

"Today's judgment shows that, by failing to raise human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, President Trump has emboldened the Kingdom to continue the torture and execution of protesters," she added.

Reprieve also brought attention to the cases of another 3 juveniles also at risk of being executed. The young men, also arrested on protest-related allegations, potentially face execution by beheading and crucifixion.

Saudi Arabia is among the world's top 5 executioners, with at least 154 death penalties carried out in 2016, according to Amnesty International.


MAY 28, 2017:


What will happen to Pennsylvania's death penalty?

5 times a year, Pennsylvania corrections officials meet inside a white block masonry field house on the grounds of the prison near Penn State, and carry out a mock execution.

They escort the "inmate" to the execution chamber. They strap that person onto the gurney. And then they simulate injecting a lethal dose of drugs into his body.

They perform this drill even though capital punishment in the commonwealth remains indefinitely on hold while government officials await a report, now years in the making, analyzing capital punishment's history, effectiveness and cost in Pennsylvania.

The death sentence imposed last month on Eric Frein, the Poconos survivalist who killed a State Police trooper and injured another in September 2014, has reignited questions - and in some cases, criticism - about why the state has taken so long to decide whether to continue or stop, once and for all, executing criminals.

Troopers say Gov. Wolf should sign Frein's death warrant.

"For us, it's all about justice," said Joe Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. "It's time for the moratorium to be lifted."

And state Sen. Scott Wagner, a York County Republican hoping to unseat the governor next year, has signaled it's an issue he'll press on the campaign trail. "I can assure you, when I'm governor, within the first 48 hours, I'll be up there reversing that moratorium," Wagner said in an interview Friday.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state in limbo over the death penalty, as debate has raged over the probability of an innocent person being executed and the propriety of lethal injection as an execution method. Capital punishment is authorized in 31 states, but only 7 have carried out executions - 31 of them - since the start of 2016, according to Amber Widgery, a capital punishment policy specialists at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A view from the witness area into the execution chamber for Pennsylvania inmates.

"There are people in the world who think that no one innocent has ever been executed, and others who think it happens all the time," Widgery said. There are also some who don't believe you have to constitutionally execute a criminal painlessly, she said, and others who classify lethal injection as cruel and unusual.

In Pennsylvania, those and other concerns led Wolf, a Democrat, to impose a moratorium on the death penalty after taking office in early 2015. He argued the state should await the results of a long-awaited report by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment before putting any more criminals to death.

The report is expected to analyze more than a dozen factors involving the death penalty, such as cost, bias and effectiveness.

Wolf's decision has drawn backlash from organizations like the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which in 2015 called it "a misuse of [the governor's] power" that ignores the law.

The study itself has also come under fire, particularly for how long it's taking to complete: It was ordered up by the state Senate in 2011 and was supposed to be completed by 2013.

"Based on the makeup of the group and how it's operating to date, we have serious concerns about the product that's going to be produced and it's very likely that it's going to be anti-death penalty," said Richard Long, executive director of the prosecutors' group.

Those involved in the study defend their work.

The initial research, conducted by Penn State's Justice Center for Research, took years because the researchers had to physically travel to county courts and district attorneys' and public defenders' offices to access documents, said the center’s Managing Director, Gary Zajac.

The process of obtaining this data was a "long nightmare," Zajac said, requiring permission to access the information then "weeding through...irregularly organized files."

"It's a wonder we got done at all, but we did," he said in an email.

The Justice Center's report awaits a final peer review before it is complete. A scholar who had been scheduled to perform that task died, causing further delay.

"The report is almost like it's been cursed from the beginning," said Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission, which is tasked with producing it then sending it to legislators for consideration.

Meanwhile, tax dollars still go toward keeping prisoners on death row.

Each of the state's 165 death row inmates - from Frein, who was sentenced last month, to Henry Fahy, who has been awaiting his punishment since November 1983 - cost Pennsylvania $10,000 more a year to house than a convict sentenced to life in prison. This does not account for the additional legal fees associated with capital cases: Some estimate prosecuting and litigating a capital murder case can cost up to $3 million more than a non-capital murder case.

The state is also paying to maintain the long-dormant execution facility on the grounds of State Correctional Institution Rockview. The last time it was used was in 1999, when Philadelphia "House of Horrors" murderer Gary Heidnik was executed by lethal injection.

"We have spent billions of dollars having a death penalty - including maintaining a death facility - and we have not executed someone who did not ask to be executed" since 1962, Sen. Daylin Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat and 1 of 4 members of a Senate task force awaiting the report, said last week.

Leach is an unapologetic opponent of the death penalty. He has introduced bills to abolish it since 2009, arguing that it is "immoral and barbaric," and calling the cost of capital punishment "troubling" - including the cost of maintaining the execution complex.

The "death house," as the chamber at the Rockview prison is sometimes called, requires tax dollars to be heated, lit and maintained. "It's literally something we are getting zero out of," Leach said.

The Department of Corrections was unable to provide information about the costs of maintaining the execution complex. But officials there say it has to be maintained in case an execution is suddenly scheduled.

Corrections officials declined requests to inspect or photograph the inside of the chamber, citing security reasons. They say it contains 3 cinderblock holding cells, where inmates are expected to spend their final hours. Approximately 20 feet away, in the execution chamber, a window peers through to a witness room, where media, citizens and victims can watch executions from rows of metal folding chairs.The field house has upstairs offices, currently unused, and an adjacent building with a kitchen to prepare an inmate's final meal.

But that hasn't been necessary since 1999.



Ukip's Paul Nuttall 'willing to serve as executioner' if death penalty restored

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall says he would have no problem being involved in executing those who kill children or British soldiers.

The MEP is a supporter of capital punishment and said his party would be "only too happy" to offer a referendum on whether it should return or not if "enough people called" for one.

Speaking to The Mail On Sunday, Mr Nuttall said: "I would like to see the death penalty for terrorists and child killers."

The newspaper reported that when asked if he was prepared to act as executioner Mr Nuttall replied: "Yes."

It added Mr Nuttall cited the killers of soldier Lee Rigby and Moors murderer Ian Brady when adding: "'For people who kill a (British) soldier and harm children, I would not have a problem doing it.

"I believe in capital punishment for treason. Opinion polls show the vast majority of people agree with me."

Mr Nuttall said his support for capital punishment is not official Ukip policy.

(source: Evening Mail)


Full text of blogger Rajib murder verdict released

The convicts can now move to the Appellate Division against their sentence

The High court has released the full text of its verdict reconfirming the death penalties handed down to 2 people for killing blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider.

The verdict, which was published on Sunday, is available on the Supreme Court website.

The release of the full verdict has cleared the way for the convicts - Md Faisal Bin Nayem alias Dweep and former Shibir leader Redwanul Azad Rana - to move to the Appellate Division against their sentence.

On April 2, the High Court upheld a speedy trial tribunal verdict that sentenced Nayem and Rana to death for the murder.

On December 31, 2015, the special tribunal handed the death penalties to the duo for masterminding the murder of blogger Rajib and also fined them Tk10,000 each.

In addition, the tribunal sentenced 6 others to various terms of imprisonment for the murder, including a 5-year sentence for Ansarullah spiritual leader Mufti Jashim Uddin Rahmani.

Al-Qaeda's Bangladesh wing Ansarullah Bangla Team (now Ansar al-Islam) had claimed responsibility for the murder.

On March 15, 2015, the DMP announced a bounty of Tk5 lakh for top Ansarullah leader Rana following the murder of Mukto-Mona blog founder Avijit Roy on February 26 the same year.

Rana, who had instructed to attack blogger Asif Mohiuddin, also made the plan to attack 2 teachers of Monipur High School, police said. He was arrested on February 20 this year.

Rajib, known as Thaba Baba to the blogging community, was hacked to death on February 15, 2013 near his Pallabi residence, only 10 days into the historic movement at Shahbagh demanding death penalty for the 1971 war criminals and a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami and its student body Islami Chhatra Shibir.

A day after the murder, the victim's father Nazim Uddin filed a murder case with Pallabi police station.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


'Hang Kulbhushan Jadhav immediately, ICJ order not binding on Pakistan', an appeal tells Supreme Court----The ICJ on May 18 put a stay on the death sentence given by Pakistan to Kulbhushan Jadhav after hearing India's request to grant consular access to Jadhav and Pakistan's submission.

A application filed in Supreme Court of Pakistan has sought immediate execution of Indian national and alleged RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav. Arguing that Kulbhushan Jadhav has not "appealed against his death penalty" and "international law was not binding" on Pakistan, the applicant Farooq H. Naik said he should be hanged immediately. Kulbhushan Jadhav was sentenced to death by the Field General Court Martial (FGCM) last month for his alleged involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan.

According to a report of Pakistan-based newspaper The Nation, the applicant argued that 'Kulbhushan as Jadhav has pleaded guilty in front of military courts and has not appealed against his death penalty hence he should be hanged immediately.' The application further stated that International Court of Justice did not hold binding jurisdiction over Pakistan. "Pakistan is free to act according to its domestic law," said the applicant.

The ICJ on May 18 put a stay on the death sentence given by Pakistan to Kulbhushan Jadhav after hearing India’s request to grant consular access to Jadhav and Pakistan's submission. While the ICJ said Kulbhushan Jadhav should not be hanged till a verdict is delivered, Pakistan had maintained that the ICJ verdict had not altered the status of Kulbhushan Jadhav case in any manner. "ICJ will never acquit Jadhav," said Britain-based lawyer Khawar Qureshi, who represented Pakistan at the International Court of Justice.

Pakistan claimed Kulbhushan Jadhav was a serving officer in the Indian Navy and arrested from the Baluchistan province last year. India out rightly denied the claims, saying Kulbhushan Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he was running a business, and adding he was a retired Navy officer. India approached the ICJ, accusing Pakistan of "egregious violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations" in the matter of detention and trial of Jadhav, and sought a stay on his death sentence. India was denied consular access to Jadhav as many as 14 times.



3 murderers get death in 3 cases

The courts handed down capital punishment to 3 murder accused while pronouncing verdict on 3 murder cases here on Saturday.

In Gujranwala, Additional District and Sessions court awarded death sentence to a murder accused. According to prosecution, Ziaullah along with his accomplices had gunned down Muhammad Shahid over a lover marriage issue on July 19, 2015. After completion of the hearing of the case, Additional District and Sessions judge Sher Muhammad handed down death sentence to the accused.

In Chiniot, Additional District and Sessions Judge Ali Zulqarnain sentenced 2 accused to death in 2 separate murder cases.

The court sentenced to death Muhammad Ishaq with Rs300,000 for killing Shahid Iqbal on February 29, 2016. Shahid and Ishaq had old enmity as Ishaq had killed 2 brothers and father of Shahid and the former was pursuing murder case against the latter.

Ishaq through a woman Bushra Bibi called Shahid to Chiniot last year where he killed him along with his accomplices Bushra; Khalida, Mohri Khan and Muhammad Hussain.

The court, however, acquitted co-accused, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

In another case, the court awarded death penalty and Rs300,000 fine to Sarfraz Ahmad, resident of Muhammad Wala village. According to prosecution, Sarfraz had shot dead Shahid Bibi for rejecting his marriage proposal on September 13, 2016 in front of her parent.

(source: The Nation)


Lovers staring at death penalty over death of toddler

An unemployed woman and her lover were charged in the Sessions Court here today with the murder of her 20-month-old son.

Sofia Nabila Naim, 22, and mechanic Mohd Hanafi Misban, 28, nodded after the charge was read out to them before Judge Salawati Djambari via an interpreter but no plea was recorded.

They were jointly charged with murdering Muhammad Zahril Sufyan Abdul Zahir at a house in Block 4, Felda Bukit Easter here between 7.10am and 2.30pm on May 15.

The charge, under Section 302 of the Penal Code read together with Section 34 of the same code, carries the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.

Sofia is now 3 months pregnant.

Judge Salawati set July 3 for mention pending the full post mortem and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test reports.

Deputy public prosecutor Suhaila Shafi'uddin appeared for the prosecution while both accused were unrepresented.



Iran hangs renowned Kurdish wrestler after 10 years in prison - rights org

An accomplished Kurdish wrestler in Iranian Kurdistan was executed by authorities after an order from the judiciary.

The organization Human Rights Activists in Eastern Kurdistan reported that Hujatolla Tedro was hanged to death this week. The report added that Tedro had been charged with attacking someone; however, he repeatedly dismissed the claims.

According to the rights organization, the Kermanshah wrestler had been imprisoned for 10 years.

Tedro from the Kurdish city of Kermanshah had won international championships in the 74-kilogram weight class.

A yearly report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization stated that the number people executed in Iran in 2016 "might be as high as 437."

The European Union Parliament adopted a strategy in 2016 for relations with Iran after the nuclear agreement in which it expressed concerns about the alarming rate of executions.

President Hassan Rouhani had campaigned in 2013 promising greater respect for civil and political rights.

"Despite 3 years in his office, President Hassan Rouhani has not delivered," HRW reported ahead of the May presidential elections.

Rouhani was re-elected to a 4-year term on May 19 after winning 57 % of the vote.



Puntland Military Court Sentences 5 Al-Shabab Suspects to Death

A military court in Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland has sentenced 5 Al-Shabab suspects to death for planning and attempting to carry suicide car bomb in Bosasso town before they were intercepted, Somali Update reports. The 5 young men were arrested with a car allegedly laden with explosives on April 25th, 2017 by the Puntland security forces following a tip off from the public.

On Saturday, Puntland Military Court Judge Abdifatah Haji Aden announced the court ruling on the 5 men- Ibrahim Mohamed Ashuur, 20 ; Abaas Ibrahim Yare Aadan, 26; Dhaqane Adan Abdi Xadsan, 20; Aadan Nuur Aadan Cali, 27; Nuur Cabdi Aadan Isaaq 22.

"The court have seen the testimonials made one of the defendants, and reviewed all the alleged persons' cases, has sentenced a death penalty on all 5 of them." The Judge said as he was reading the court verdict against the 5 men who were sitting in front of him in a room inside the Prison in the coastal town of Bosasso.

The Judge noted that the court will soon carry the execution of the 5 men. It was unclear if the regional-based military court will allow appeals for the 5 young men despite the Saturday's verdict of death sentence.

The court ruling comes following a suicide bomber explosion in Bosasso last week killing at least five in a military checkpoint.


MAY 27, 2017:


Why SC's death row inmates continue to avoid execution

Serial killer Todd Kohlhepp avoided a death penalty by pleading guilty Friday, but even if he had gone to trial and had been given a death sentence, he likely would not have been executed.

Solicitor Barry Barnette said, "Kohlhepp deserves the death penalty, but the reality of the situation is that our state doesn't have a functioning death penalty. The last execution occurred in 2011 and the state's supply of lethal injection drugs expired shortly thereafter.

"The victims' families as well as Kala Brown wanted closure instead of the uncertainty of a death sentence," Barnette said.

The State of South Carolina currently has 38 inmates serving sentences on death row. Half of the death row population has served at least 15 years awaiting their fate. The oldest case dates back to 1983.

Barnette cited the Spartanburg County case of Richard Bernard Moore as an illustration of the problem with the current law. Moore was sentenced to death in 2001 for fatally shooting convenience store clerk James Mahoney. He is still on death row, with additional appeal matters that need to be addressed.

"The family of James Mahoney has endured what appears to be an endless wait for justice," Barnette said. "I don't want anyone else go through something like this. I hope the families involved in the Kohlhepp case can rest easier knowing he will leave prison in a casket."

Use of the death penalty has steadily decreased in South Carolina, partially due to the uncertainty of the process, but also because of the high costs associated with it.

The Death Penalty Information Center reported that Prosecutor David Pascoe initially planned to seek the death penalty for a mother who killed her two children, but changed his mind, with cost being one factor: "Once you file for the death penalty, the clock gets moving and the money, the taxpayers start paying for that trial."

Rep. Tommy Pope, a state legislator and former prosecutor who sought the death penalty for Susan Smith in a similar murder, now would tell victims' families to consider agreeing to a life-without-parole sentence instead of the death penalty. Life without parole was adopted by the state in 1995.

"(Life without parole) offers a measure of closure that 3 retrials in a death penalty case never would," Pope said.

The death penalty in South Carolina:

The youngest person executed was a 14-year-old black male.

The oldest was a 66-year-old black man.

Since Aug. 6, 1912, 282 executions were carried out by the State of South Carolina. Prior to 1912, executions were by hanging in the individual counties. Of the 282, 74 were white and 208 were black.

Of those executed, 280 were men and 2 were women.

In 1988, the new Capital Punishment Facility was relocated to the Broad River Correctional Institution.

An execution held in 1990 was the 1st in the new CPF.

The 1st execution in South Carolina by lethal injection was carried out on Aug. 18, 1995.

Since 1985, there have been 43 executions in South Carolina.

All South Carolina death penalties have been for murder.

6 people were executed in the electric chair. The rest were executed by lethal injection.

Dylann Roof was sentenced in January to death by lethal injection for the Charleston church killings.

(source: WYFF news)


Judge Closes His Oldest Case by Vacating a Death Sentence - Again

Lawrence Joseph Jefferson's 1985 death penalty sentence for years has troubled federal judges who have reviewed the case.

Filed on April 23, 1996, it is the oldest case on U.S. District Senior Judge Clarence Cooper's docket - one he kept long after he became a senior judge in February 2009.

Ten years ago, Cooper vacated Jefferson's death sentence for the first time. On April 10, 2017, Cooper vacated Jefferson's death sentence once again. In a 71-page opinion, Cooper reaffirmed the position he took a decade ago that Jefferson's trial counsel—one of whom is now a Cobb County Superior Court judge - had been constitutionally ineffective.

In the intervening decade, Cooper's original ruling was reversed by a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The ruling included a strong dissent on Jefferson's behalf by U.S. Circuit Judge Edward Carnes, who as an assistant attorney general in Alabama had built a reputation repeatedly and successfully defending that state's death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently took up the case, filed one day before the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which greatly narrowed federal judges' authority to grant habeas petitions. In 2010, the high court vacated the Eleventh Circuit ruling and remanded the case for a determination as to whether the state court's habeas findings deserved the presumption that they were full and fair.

In his recent ruling, Cooper noted that the judge who denied Jefferson's state habeas petition, Waycross Circuit Superior Court Judge Joseph B. Newton, had never handled a habeas corpus petition in a capital case. Newton died in 2000 while Jefferson's federal appeal was still pending.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster, who defended Jefferson, said the death penalty shouldn't have been sought."Whether I am at fault or not, I am very comfortable with being the pretext for getting Lawrence Jefferson off death row," he said.

In his new order, Cooper said that additional evidence presented at a 2014 evidentiary hearing he convened after the case was remanded by the Supreme Court bolstered his earlier finding of ineffective counsel. He said the two lawyers, Schuster and Marietta attorney Marc Cella, failed to properly investigate evidence that Jefferson had suffered from long-term brain damage after he was run over by a car as a toddler, which could have affected his impulse control. Such evidence, he said, could have been presented to the jury as a mitigating circumstance that might have warranted a life sentence rather than death. A psychologist who examined him at the behest of Jefferson's defense team also stated that a neuropsychological evaluation to rule out brain damage would be worthwhile, but the attorneys never followed up.

A Cobb County jury convicted Jefferson in 1986 of robbing Edward Taulbee, his supervisor and close friend, and bludgeoning him to death with a log. The jury sentenced him to death. Schuster said that Jefferson "always denied his involvement. He has vehemently insisted on his innocence." He and his co-counsel, he said, "developed our trial strategy accordingly and focused on alternative perpetrators."

Cooper's order also included a list of other problems stemming from Newton's review of Jefferson's case. Newton, he said, had denied Jefferson's petition after having his law clerk solicit a proposed order ex-parte from the assistant state attorney general. He did so without notifying Jefferson's appellate counsel or giving them an opportunity to submit their own proposed order, and he apparently gave no guidance to the assistant state attorney other than that Jefferson's petition should be denied.

Cooper said that Newton appeared to have adopted the assistant state attorney general's order verbatim - including 21 misspellings, grammatical errors and other inaccuracies as well as a reference to an affidavit that was never submitted in the case. Cooper concluded that Newton may never have read the order his law clerk had solicited.

Cooper summarized subsequent neurological testing by several physicians, including significant evidence that Jefferson may have sustained permanent brain damage that could have caused significant impairment, including problems with self-control, impulsivity and poor judgement.

"Admittedly not mental health experts themselves, [Jefferson's] trial counsel unfathomably failed to act upon the recommendation of the individual they hired to provide opinions and recommendations based on his mental health expertise," Cooper wrote. "By not pursuing neuropsychological testing, [Jefferson's] trial counsel essentially decided to ignore information about which they were aware that suggested a possible brain injury or some other mental impairment.... Simply put, trial counsel in this case had no idea of, and did nothing to learn about, the significance of developing mental health testimony and evidence for the penalty phase of a capital trial, even if such testimony and evidence would not have assisted mental-health-based claims at the guilt-innocence phase of the trial."

Cooper also cited liberally from Carnes' dissent, in which Carnes' repeatedly rebuked Jefferson's trial counsel .



Death Penalty Phase Repeated in an Escambia County Double Murder Case

Byrd and Melanie Billings, a married couple and the parents to 16 children, 9 of whom were adopted, found brutally murdered in their Escambia county home on a July evening back in 2009.

Now the man convicted of killing them, Leonard Gonzalez, Jr. is expected to go back through the penalty phase.

"The new trial and penalty phases will bring all those old emotions up, all of the old horrors, and all of the anguish that they suffered, and those old wounds will be open again," says Assistant State Attorney Molchan.

Back in October of 2010, a jury recommended the death penalty by a 10-2 vote in both murders, now a recent ruling from the Hurst case says the jury must vote unanimously.

"In essence the Hurst case has required a unanimous jury verdict along with unanimous aggravating factors and Gonzalez fit into the category," says Molchan.

Gonzalez pulling the trigger and shooting the couple a total of 9 times, but he had an entourage with him, several masked men entered the home, looking a safe believed to be filled with millions of dollars.

"Mr. Gonzalez was identified as the trigger man who basically executed both Byrd and Melanie billings in their own home, and then left with a safe that had very little money in it," says Molchan.

Now attorney Molchan has to go back through files and file or paperwork and witnesses before presenting to a jury for the penalty phase.

"We will be doing our best to seek what we think is the appropriate penalty in this case for a double murder of the nature in the case," says Molchan.

(source: WKRG news)


Gov. Scott cleared to sign death warrants again, experts say

Florida can start executing condemned killers again now that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand changes to the state's death-penalty law, experts say.

But so far, Gov. Rick Scott hasn't signed a warrant for any of the 366 prisoners on death row.

"Other than the typical motions that defendants file and exhaust prior to a death warrant being signed, both federal and state, I don't think there's another barrier out there to stop the governor from moving forward," said Rep. Chris Sprowls, Palm Harbor, a former Pinellas County prosecutor and legislative leader on death penalty issues.

Scott could be ready to begin executions again soon. A spokeswoman for the governor said he had been waiting on the high court's decision.

"Our office is currently reviewing the next steps in the process" of selecting a case and signing a death warrant, Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. Scott has signed death warrants for 23 prisoners, more than any other Florida governor since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a state Supreme Court ruling from October requiring juries to be unanimous in issuing a death sentence, a move that essentially upheld the state court's decision. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January 2016 struck down Florida's capital punishment law, which had allowed prisoners to be sentenced by a simple majority vote of a jury.

In March, Scott signed a new law quickly passed by the Legislature that requires unanimous juries.

"The issues that were causing the most pronounced constitutional concern ... have been remedied," said FSU Law School professor Wayne Logan.

Scott has often stated he takes signing death warrants seriously as a "solemn duty" but hasn't explained in detail his process for choosing which warrants to sign.

The death penalty debate became a hot-button political issue when Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in March she wouldn't seek capital punishment under any circumstances, citing racial disparities, delays, costs and frequent instances of exoneration. She never stated her stance on the death penalty during her 2016 election campaign and would later say she didn't do so because the death penalty wasn't in force during that time.

In response, Scott removed 23 potential capital murder cases from Ayala and gave them to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Ayala has sued over that decision, and the case remains before the state Supreme Court.

Sprowls, who along with several other House Republicans called on Scott to suspend Ayala from office, said it is important to show the death penalty is back in force in Florida.

"When you're talking about victims of heinous crimes and their families who are awaiting trial, or awaiting sentencing or awaiting resentencing - certainly bringing a level of closure to them and allowing those cases to move forward is a paramount concern of government," Sprowls said.

Florida's last execution was on Jan. 7, 2016. The condemned man was Oscar Ray Bolin, convicted of murdering 3 young women in the Tampa area in 1986.

5 days later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 8-1 decision striking down the state's death penalty.

The lengthy limbo of capital punishment in the state held up several murder trials, and the effects are still rippling through the judicial system.

It also led to numerous appeals from death row inmates, several of whom were sentenced by split juries and have since had their sentences reduced to life in prison.

The Florida Supreme Court's October decision stated that prisoners sentenced to death by split juries after 2002 should be resentenced. Before that ruling, there were more than 380 prisoners on death row. Now there are 366, and appeals continue to work through the courts.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, sponsored the Senate version of the bill requiring unanimous juries. He said he did so to make sentencing fairer.

Even so, he said he would like to see capital punishment abolished altogether.

"Regardless of the outcome of State Attorney Ayala's case to get those death penalty cases back, I don't think it'll change the minds of legislators, but I do think that it's sparking a conversation among people in general as to their beliefs on the death penalty," Bracy said.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Opening the back door to abolishing the death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday seemingly delivered a fatal body blow to any desires held by state lawmakers, prosecutors, or the families of murder victims for reversing the quick and radical judicial overhaul of Florida's death penalty.

The nation's high court refused to consider Attorney General Pam Bondi's appeal of a new state law, engineered earlier this year to appease a past ruling of the Florida Supreme Court, that mandated juries to issue death sentences by unanimous verdict.

Thus, the federal court's decision completes the Florida Supreme Court's usurpation of the Legislature's authority over the ultimate sentence, as well as the creation of a backdoor method for blocking capital punishment in the future.

Bondi argued on appeal that the Florida Supreme Court had misinterpreted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared Florida's system unconstitutional because judges, and not juries, issued death sentences. That finding was based on an appeal by Timothy Hurst, convicted in 1998 in the brutal slaying of a Pensacola Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant employee, who had been bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times and dumped into a freezer.

Hurst was sentenced 11-1 death, but was sentence by a judge. In an appeal the U.S. Supreme Court. the U.S. Supreme Court, after reviewing Hurst's case, determined that the jury, and not the judge, must hand down the sentence. This has led to a series of baffling decisions by the Florida Supreme Court.

The most baffling was the Florida Supreme Court majority's fanciful thinking that capital punishment should not be hindered by a single juror's conscience, calling for unanimous sentencing by the jury.

One does not have to be a proponent of the death penalty to be concerned about how this ruling was reached or its effects. The state court's majority trespassed into the Legislature's realm and grabbed a political tool to resolve a legal question, and disrupted the administration of the death penalty in the process.

And if people doubt how potent a well-motivated holdout can be in a jury room during death penalty deliberations, we would urge them watch "12 Angry Men."

After all, despite his horrific crime, the jury vote for death in Hurst's case was 11-1. Last year, meanwhile, a Florida House staff analysis found that only 20 % of the 296 defendants sent to death row between 2000 and 2012 landed there via a unanimous jury vote.

A system in place for 45 years has been utterly upended within 16 months, and the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Florida justices to legislate from the bench, which is a setback for all the families who seek justice for the loved ones taken violently from them - as well as those who may face that in the future.

(source: Editorial, Lakeland Ledger)


Death-row inmate Thomas Arthur executed after 7 previous attempts

He escaped death seven times, but he didn't escape the 8th. The Alabama Department of Corrections executed death-row inmate Thomas "Tommy" Arthur late Thursday night after several hours of delays.

Arthur was put to death by lethal injection at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, using a controversial 3-drug cocktail. He had been convicted for the 1982 murder-for-hire of North Alabama businessman Troy Wicker.

According to reports from selected reporters who were in the room, superficially appeared to go peacefully. Unlike some facing execution recently, including Ronald Smith who was executed in December, Arthur did not heave or gasp for air.

He was administered the sedative drug Midazolam at about 11:50 p.m. - only 10 minutes before his death warrant - then began drifting into unconsciousness, according to reporters at the scene. He died at about 12:15 a.m. on May 26.

The US Supreme Court, which intervened in Arthur's previously scheduled execution date in November, denied an emergency request for a stay of execution. The order denying that stay came late at about 10:45 p.m.

Arthur had previously gone to the US Supreme Court in hopes that they would strike down the state's use of the controversial sedative Midazolam, which Arthur's attorneys argued could not properly perform the job sedating him so his execution would be painless. They also asked the Court to intervene allowing his attorneys to have access to a phone in case the execution went wrong.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, dissented from the court's majority opinion writing, "I continue to doubt whether midazolam is capable of rendering prisoners insensate to the excruciating pain of lethal injection and thus whether midazolam may be constitutionally used in lethal injection protocols."

She said the state had "no legitimate reason" to prevent his attorneys from possessing a phone during the execution "particularly in light of the demonstrated risk that midazolam will fail."

According to the selected reporters on the scene, Arthur apologized to his family before being put to death. "I am sorry I failed you as a father," he said. "I love you more than anything on earth."

Arthur seemed to have accepted his fate in a recent interview with the Associated Press, saying "they're going to kill me this time," but he nevertheless maintained his innocence.

"I did not commit that crime," Arthur told the AP’s Kim Chandler. “I won’t give up 'til I draw my last breath. I won't give up."

Arthur had a strong legal team behind him, preventing seven previous execution dates. A man confessed to the murder Arthur was convicted of, but a court ruled the confession unfounded. Arthur's attorneys asked for a new DNA test to prove he did not commit the crime, but Gov. Kay Ivey last month denied that request.

Shortly after Arthur's execution at Holman, Ivey issued a statement on his execution.

"No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death, but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state," Ivey said. "Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and tonight, that sentence was rightfully and justly carried out."

Arthur, who is now 75, was first convicted of capital murder in 1982 but faced 2 subsequent trials after the first 2 were overturned. His death sentence came in 1991 during the 3rd trial.

He has been given now 8 execution dates since 2001. A jury found him guilty of the murder of Wicker, the wife of whom Arthur was accused of having an affair with. The wife, Judy, said she hired Arthur, her lover, to kill her husband Troy.

In November, US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay from the Court delaying Arthur's scheduled Nov. 3 execution. The stay was to give the other justices time to decide whether to take up Arthur's case challenging Alabama's 3-drug cocktail.

They ultimately denied that request for a writ of certiorari.

Arthur's attorneys argued that Midazolam, the 1st of 3 drugs in Alabama's cocktail, would fail to do its job of sedating the inmate to prevent pain during the induction of the 2 other live-taking drugs, violating the Eight Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In Glossip v. Gross, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the use of Midazolam as a sedative was not unconstitutional, allowing its use to continue, but Arthur argues that his preexisting heart condition would render Midazolam ineffective.

In December, death-row inmate Ronald Smith reportedly heaved and coughed for nearly 15 minutes while being executed at Holman. His attorneys called the execution botched. ADOC officials said it went as planned. Arthur's attorneys feared the same thing would happen with him.

It didn't, reporters and ADOC officials on the scene said.

Arthur had previously asked for alternative excution methods including firing squad and different drug cocktails. Courts had denied those requests citing Alabama statues that now limit execution to lethal injection. The Courts said Arthur's attorneys offered no other legal alternatives for their consideration.

Arthur's execution is the 3rd since the state had a 2-year hiatus in executions. In January 2016, Christopher Brooks, a 43-year-old convicted murderer and rapist, became the 1st inmate executed in Alabama after the hiatus thanks to the rising scarcity of Midazolam and court litigation. Smith became the 2nd in December 2016.

Though he had success in preventing his execution, Arthur wasn't exactly a perfect plaintiff. He escaped prison in 1986 before his second trial by shooting a prison correctional officer who later died. And Wicker's death wasn't his 1st murder. In 1977, Arthur was convicted of killing Eloise Bray West but was released from prison on a work release program before committing Wicker's murder.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall said Arthur's execution would begin the long-delayed process of recover for Wicker's family.

"34 years after he was first sentenced to death for the murder of a Colbert County man, Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at an end," Marshall said.



Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill intended to shorten death penalty appeals

Gov. Kay Ivey Friday signed into law a bill that supporters say will shorten the duration of appeals in death penalty cases in Alabama.

Attorney General Steve Marshall, who supported the bill, announced the signing in a press release. Marshall said the law, called the Fair Justice Act, "does not diminish the thoroughness of appellate review of death penalty cases, but simply streamlines the appellate process so that the direct appeal and the state post-conviction stage occur simultaneously."

Ivey said in the press release: "The Fair Justice Act strikes an important balance between protecting the rights of a defendant and the state's interest in allowing justice to be achieved effectively and swiftly."

Opponents, including the American Bar Association, say the law will increase the likelihood that the state will put an innocent person to death.

The bill, by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, requires defendants to pursue certain types of appeals sooner, setting new deadlines for when certain appeals can be filed and when courts must rule.

Ward said the bill will shorten the duration of state appeals in death penalty cases from about 15-18 years generally to about 9 to 12 years. Ward said it would not take away any steps in the process. It will not affect federal appeals.

The bill cleared the Legislature last week with support from the Republican majorities in the House and Senate and opposition from most Democrats.

American Bar Association President Linda Klein, in a May 12 letter to the Legislature, said the law "will diminish the ability of counsel to provide effective representation and the capacity of courts to deliberate in order to make fair and responsible determinations, increasing the risk of executing an innocent person."

The new law will apply to any defendant sentenced to death after it takes effect. The effective date is August 1.



Death row inmate wins hearing that could lead to new sentencing

Murderer Jason Lee Keller can have his trial judge hear a sentencing issue that could help him avoid the death penalty.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Keller's case in the capital murder of Hat Nguyen in Biloxi be sent back to the trial judge for questions on the sentencing phase of his October 2009 trial.

Keller, 37, claims his trial attorneys failed to sufficiently investigate mitigating evidence that could have swayed jurors to spare his life. In criminal defense, mitigating circumstances are those that don't justify a criminal act, but are considered a fair manner of influencing decisions on the degree of punishment.

Hat Nguyen, 41 and a mother of 4, worked 7 days a week at Popp's Ferry Road Food Mart in Biloxi. Keller robbed the store June 21, 2007, and shot Nguyen 4 times while her youngest child was asleep in the back of the store.

A sequestered Harrison County jury deliberated 30 minutes before finding him guilty of capital murder. In the sentencing phase, it took the jury 5 hours to sentence him to death.

Keller also is serving a life prison term for robbing a Hancock Bank branch in Lyman 6 months before Nguyen was killed.

He has lost several appeals since his sentencing.

In this complaint, he claims he now has numerous affidavits from friends, family, doctors and former teachers and classmates, and their statements should have been presented during the sentencing trial.

Keller had other complaints about his sentencing trial but the high court denied them.

A date for the hearing has not been set.



Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Quadruple Homicide----Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty if a northwest Missouri man is convicted of killing 4 member of his family.

Court records say prosecutors will seek the death penalty if a northwest Missouri man is convicted of killing 4 members of his family.

The Kansas City Star reports ( ) a June 1 hearing is scheduled in Platte County Circuit Court in the case against 25-year-old Grayden Lane Denham.

Denham is accused of fatally shooting his grandparents, his sister and her 3-month-old son in February. Their bodies were found outside a burning home near Edgerton.

He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in Platte County Detention Center. Bond is set at $4 million.

Denham was arrested in Seligman, Arizona, where police said he was walking around naked. He is also charged with arson and animal abuse for shooting a dog.

Details of events preceding the shooting and fire haven't been released.

(source: Associated Press)


Kansas Supreme Court rejects overturning King Phillip Amman Reu-El's capital murder plea in 2003 slayings----Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip Cheatham, was convicted of killing 2 women, severely wounding 3rd

King Phillip Amman Reu-El's attempt to withdraw his no-contest pleas to the 2003 killings of 2 women and severe wounding of a 3rd woman was rejected Friday by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Amman Reu-El contended the judge in Shawnee County District Court misinformed him of appellate rights that would be waived by making the pleas. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling by Judge Richard Anderson to deny allowing Amman Reu-El to withdraw his pleas.

To withdraw a no-contest plea before sentencing, a defendant must establish good cause to do so, Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert wrote in the opinion.

Had the Supreme Court allowed Amman Reu-El to withdraw his pleas, it would have set the stage for Amman Reu-El's 3rd capital murder trial. He also would have faced the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

As the case stands now, Amman Reu-El is sentenced for capital murder to a life term without the possibility of parole for 25 years and a consecutive prison term of 13 years and 9 months for an attempted murder count.

Amman Reu-El, formerly known as Phillip D. Cheatham Jr., was convicted of killing Annette Roberson, 38, and Gloria Jones, 42, on Dec. 13, 2003. He also was convicted of attempted 1st-degree murder of Annetta Thomas, who survived multiple gunshot wounds in the same shooting at a residence in southeast Topeka.

Following his 1st trial, Amman Reu-El was sentenced to death, but the Supreme Court overturned those convictions based on ineffective defense by his first attorney.

During the retrial of Amman Reu-El, a jury was being chosen when a plea agreement was reached on Feb. 27, 2015.

A few days later, Amman Reu-El told a Topeka Capital-Journal editor he entered the no-contest plea after listening to potential jurors express "extreme views" and concluding he would receive the death penalty. He also said he had lost confidence in his legal team.

Less than a week later, Amman Reu-el personally filed a motion to withdraw his plea, asserting he was "under 'coercive control' and under duress when (he) entered a no-contest plea."

During sentencing, prosecutors played a series of jailhouse phone calls by Amman Reu-El, which showed he "told his friends and family that he took a plea deal because he realized the case was not going in his favor and it was in his best interest to accept a plea now and appeal later," the ruling said.

In this case, Amman Reu-El contended he met the good cause burden to withdraw his plea by showing he was misinformed about how his no-contest plea impacted his ability to pursue double jeopardy arguments on appeal.

In turn, Amman Reu-El said this meant his plea wasn't knowingly entered. In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, Amman Reu-El contended the trial judge told him he could continue to pursue an appellate issue of significance to him when in fact entering such a plea would block that consideration.

Anderson, the District Court judge, concluded the defendant hadn't established good cause and denied Amman Reu-El's motion to withdraw his plea, Luckert said. The judge then sentenced Amman Reu-El.

The Supreme Court noted that when Amman Reu-El made his no contest pleas, the judge told him, "You would waive or give up your right to take any appeal of a conviction." The defendant responded he understood his rights and had no questions about his rights, adding he was "well informed about my rights, that's for sure."

Another statement during the plea illustrated Amman Reu-El understood the impact of his no-contest pleas, the Supreme Court ruling said.

"As I stated, like I said before and I say it again, it's my position that I can help more people with a life sentence than I can help people with a death sentence," the ruling quoted him as saying.

Amman Reu-El, 44, is housed in Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

(source: Topeka Capital Journal)


Oklahoma court upholds convicted killer's death penalty

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death penalty of a man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in 2010.

The court ruled Thursday that testimony by the victims' relatives saying Shaun Bosse should receive the death penalty shouldn't have been allowed, but was harmless error.

The court said "overwhelming evidence" proves the crime was heinous, atrocious or cruel.

Bosse was convicted of killing 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Their bodies were found in their burned mobile home in Dibble, 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October that the relatives' testimony shouldn't have been allowed and sent the case back to the Oklahoma court.

Bosse's attorney didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

(source: Associated Press)


Man indicted for murder of Vietnamese girl

Prosecutors indicted a man Friday for murdering a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl who attended an elementary school east of Tokyo where he was head of the parents' association.

The 46-year-old suspect, Yasumasa Shibuya, was also indicted on other charges including abandoning the body of Le Thi Nhat Linh, a third grader at the school in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, who went missing on March 24. Her body was found 2 days later.

The identity of the girl was previously withheld because police suspect she was a victim of sexual assault, but her name is now being reported in accordance with her father's wish.

Shibuya, who was head of the parents' group at the time of the girl's disappearance, will be tried under the lay judge system. He has refused to speak about the case during questioning, investigative sources said.

The prosecutors decided to indict Shibuya based on evidence including a DNA sample taken from the victim's body that matched Shibuya and hair found in the suspect's car matched the victim's DNA.

Following the indictment, Le Anh Hao, the 34-year-old father of the girl, told reporters at his home in Matsudo that he "cannot forgive the perpetrator."

"I want the culprit never to forget that he killed my daughter, not just 'a girl,'" he said, asking media to use her name when reporting on the case. After Shibuya's arrest, Hao had requested that media not state his daughter's name.

Hao said he hopes to be present during the trial and that the death penalty will be imposed if Shibuya is convicted.

The girl is believed to have been strangled to death, given marks on her neck. She disappeared shortly after leaving home to walk to school on the morning of March 24.

Shibuya, who lives about 300 meters from the victim's home and is accused of abducting her by car, was initially arrested on April 14 on suspicion of abandoning her body near a drainage ditch in Abiko, Chiba. On May 5, he was served with a fresh arrest warrant on charges including murder.

Autopsy results suggest that the girl was likely murdered not long after her abduction.

(source: Japan Today)


Human Rights Watch opposes : The executions in Gaza not the rule of law

In response to the execution today of three men convicted of charges related to the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqaha, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said:

"Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests and airing videoed confessions smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law. Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee's rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court's verdicts. Death as government-sanctioned punishment is inherently cruel and always wrong, no matter the circumstance."

Since it took control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas authorities have carried out 25 executions, most recently in April, and courts in Gaza have sentenced 111 people to death, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, because it is inherently cruel and irreversible.

(source: Palestine News Network)


3 Prisoners Hanged on Murder Charges

2 prisoners were reportedly hanged at Mashhad's Vakilabad Prison (Razavi Khorasan province, northeastern Iran) on Tuesday May 23 on murder charges. On the same day, prisoner was reportedly hanged at Zahedan Central Prison on murder charges.

The state-run newspaper, Khorasan, identifies one of the prisoners from Vakilabad Prison as H.N., 42 years of age, imprisoned for 17 years before his execution. According to the Khorasan newspaper, there was no evidence or confessions in the prisoner's case file, the prisoner was sentenced to death based on the testimonies of 50 relatives belonging to the murder victim. The report says that the prisoner claimed to be innocent throughout the entire imprisonment.

The report identifies the other prisoner from Vakilabad Prison as A.Kh., a 34-year-old prisoner who was arrested in 2009 during a street fight at an intersection in the town of Sabzevar (Razavi Khorasan province).

The Baluch Activists Campaign reported on the execution at Zahedan Central Prison. The report identifies the prisoner as Abdolkarim Shahnavazi, 30 years of age. Prior to his execution, Abdolkarim and two other prisoners, identified as Habib Golbeigi and Saeed Hoot, were transferred to soliatry confinement in preparation for their executions. According to the report, Saeed's execution sentence was postponed by the complainants on his case file, and he was returned to his cell. The fate of Habib is not known at this time.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Countries Using Child Rights to Justify Executions for Drug Offences

International child rights are being used by some countries to justify the execution of people for drug offences, despite this practice being illegal under international law.

The UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted in 1989, stipulates that "governments must protect children from the illegal use of drugs and from being involved in the production or distribution of drugs", and has been ratified by every UN member state apart from the United States. Additionally, the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention - internationally adopted in 1999 - states that governments must "take immediate and effective measures to [prohibit and eliminate] ... the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs"

Every state party to these conventions must regularly report on their implementation: every 5 years to the Committee on the Rights of the Child ("CRC Committee") and every 2 years to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations ("ILO Committee").

During this reporting process, several countries regularly detail their use of the death penalty for drug offences as part of their fulfilment of their Convention obligations.

In a report published by the Human Rights Law Review in April 2017, Damon Barrett - the Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy - writes that neither Committee has challenged this practice. Rather, both have - on occasion - seemed to encourage such behaviour.

Authorities in Egypt, Bahrain, Sudan, Singapore, and Guyana have all detailed their respective country's use of the death penalty under the pretence of the CRC, yet the CRC Committee has failed to challenge any of them on this point. Similarly, whilst Iran did not mention the death penalty specifically in the reporting process, its initial report to the CRC Committee stated that, in the context of drug control, it applied "the severest punishment stipulated in law ... for cases involving the exploitation of children".

Iran is one of the world's most prolific users of the death penalty, 2nd only to China. In 2015 alone, Iran executed at least 977 people, the majority of whom were killed for drug offences. Given this repressive record, the CRC Committee's failure to question the meaning of "severest punishment" is suggestive of its acquiescence to the implementation of the death penalty for drug offences.

Barrett warns that "unless these laws and policies are challenged by the Committees, there is the risk that [states] have been provided with a clean 'bill of health' by human rights monitors or, put another way, that child rights mechanisms demonstrate a structural bias towards the repressive status quo".

A similar attitude of passivity has been adopted by the ILO Committee; in some instances, it could be seen to extend beyond passivity and into the realm of active support. In 2006, the ILO Committee noted that Section 347 of China's Criminal Law provided "sufficiently effective and dissuasive penalties for the use, procuring or offering of a child for the production and trafficking of drugs". Section 347 includes the option of the death penalty for drug trafficking or production, and makes the use of a minor an aggravating factor.

In his report, Barrett points out that addressing the issue of the death penalty for drug offences is well within the remit of these Committees. The CRC Committee, he notes, frequently makes recommendations that relate to adults, due to their direct or indirect effects on children's lives.

The failure of the Committees in this respect is illustrative of the international legal communitys disjointed approach to human rights; rather than complementing and supporting one another, these human rights instruments seem to be operating in isolation. The periodic reporting processes with the Committees, which are meant to facilitate a "constructive dialogue", have been ineffective at reducing the death penalty for drug offences - a major human rights issue.

The 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem offered a glimmer of hope for human rights advocates when the CRC Committee signed an open letter stating that "the negative impact of repressive drug policies on children's health and their healthy development often outweighs the protective element behind [punitive drug] policies".

If the CRC and the ILO Committees are able to translate such an understanding into their implementation of the Conventions, then they may be able to improve the human rights consequences of many countries' drug policies, and reduce the misappropriation of child rights as an excuse for capital punishment.


MAY 26:


Appeals court: Names of Texas execution drug suppliers should have been public

A Texas appeals court ruled Thursday against expanding government secrecy in a case involving the public's right to know who supplies the lethal drugs Texas uses to execute death row inmates.

The decision in favor of openness by the state's 3rd Court of Appeals addressed the broader question about when potential safety concerns should trump the public's right to know how the state is spending taxpayer money.

The ruling likely has a limited effect immediately, however, because the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring state prison officials to keep the identities of the drug makers secret.

But the case has been watched by open-government advocates who said its outcome could be significant in other cases where the state has withheld information by claiming that doing so could create "a substantial threat of physical harm" -- a litmus test put in place by the Texas Supreme Court in 2011 in a case involving gubernatorial security records.

The appeal came after a state district judge in Austin ordered officials to make information about drug suppliers public under the state's open records act.

The lawsuit and appeal were filed by attorneys representing two condemned convicts challenging their impending executions. Both convicts were executed while the case was pending.

Lawyers for the Texas Department Criminal Justice argued that officials need to keep the names and details about the suppliers secret to prevent them from being threatened or harmed by death-penalty opponents.

Attorneys representing the convicts argued that the threats were vague and should not preempt public disclosure.

State officials could appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Maurie Levin, an Austin attorney who was 1 of 3 parties who challenged the secrecy, said the ruling is significant because it overruled the state's assertion that the suppliers of lethal drugs were confidential under the Texas Public Information Act.

And while the law has since been changed to allow state officials to keep the information secret, "it's a significant opinion because it affirms that the reasons (the state) used to withhold the information were not appropriate," she said.

"Information may be withheld if disclosure would threat a substantial threat of physical harm," the opinion cites as the standard for releasing information. Levin said the appellate decision affirms that the state did not meet that standard.

Representatives with the Texas Attorney General's Office and the state Department of Criminal Justice said they were reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Smyk, Schwartzkopf vote in favor of death penalty----Retired state troopers say CO Lt. Steven Floyd shows need for capital punishment

When the call came for a House vote on the bill reinstating the death penalty in Delaware, main sponsor Rep. Steve Smyk said he wasn't nervous.

"It was easier than I thought. I thought it might just barely pass," said the Milton and Lewes area Republican May 16. "But, I believed I had the votes when I walked onto the floor that day."

In August 2016, the state Supreme Court ruled Delaware's capital punishment law is unenforceable because the law allows a judge and not a unanimous jury to rule if a crime's aggravating circumstance justified a death sentence.

House Bill 125, entitled the Extreme Protection Act, would require a jury to determine unanimously at least one statutory aggravating circumstance exists and to impose the death penalty. The bill passed through the House by a 24-16 vote May 9.

All 9 Sussex County legislators voted in favor of the bill, but Smyk, a retired state trooper, said the bipartisan support from across the state - there were 10 Democrats - shows it's not just his district that wants the death penalty reinstated in Delaware.

"That's the majority of the state," he said.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, of Rehoboth was one of the Democrats who supported the bill.

"I've said all along I wouldn't be driving the bus, but I'd be on it," he said.

Schwartzkopf, also a retired state trooper, said most of his beliefs on the issue come from his years of experience as a police officer. He said people act tough when they're running around outside, but then they'll plead guilty and get life because they're afraid of dying. Once they're in the system with a life sentence, he said, nothing prevents them from doing something else if the death penalty is not an option.

"I firmly believe that if the death penalty was a punishment, the homicide of Steven Floyd would not have happened," said Schwartzkopf speaking of the correction officer who was murdered during a prisoner uprising in February at Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. "We’ll never know, but even if someone is found guilty, they're just going to get life in jail again."

Smyk agrees with Schwarztkopf's sentiment.

"If [Floyd] was not an example of why Delaware needs the death penalty, I don't know what is," he said.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judicial & Community Affairs Committee, which, as of May 17, does not have a meeting scheduled. The 5-member committee is chaired by Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, and also includes Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, Senate Minority Whip Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, and Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel. The bill is 1 of 15 waiting to be heard by the committee.

In the time since the bill passed the House, Smyk said he has not been out shaking trees in the Senate looking for votes.

"I want to allow legislators to vote their districts," he said. "My district is very much in favor of the bill."

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he has previously voted against the death penalty and he will stay consistent with his past votes. He said he does not support reinstating the death penalty because, he says, the state should not be in the business of ending life. Lopez said he fully supports measures to protect law enforcement, but capital punishment has not been shown to deter crime, and he has heard no new evidence to change his mind.

(source: Cape Gazette)


Life On Death Row: Michael Lambrix Has Thrice Avoided Execution

Michael Lambrix, a 57-year-old death row inmate, walked into the small room with a smile as he greeted the lieutenant standing by the door.

He's in an orange jumpsuit, bulky handcuffs and prison guard by his side. The location: the Florida State Prison in Raiford.

Lambrix joked with the lieutenant saying this wasn't his 1st interview. Later, he says, "This is your show, I'm just along for the ride."

Lambrix has been on death row for 33 years. He was convicted in 1984 for 2 1st-degree murders. He was sentenced to death for killing Clarence Moore with a tire iron and strangling Aleisha Bryant in Glades County in 1983.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against re-examining Florida's death penalty as Attorney General Pam Bondi had requested, so Lambrix could again face execution in the coming years. Or he could appeal. Again.


Lambrix and his girlfriend, Francis Smith, met Moore and Bryant and invited the 2 to their trailer home. After Lambrix and Moore tried to prank Bryant, Bryant and Moore started to argue. The argument, according to Lambrix, escalated. Lambrix walked out and found Moore on top of Bryant, shaking her. In that moment, Lambrix hit Moore with a tire iron.

"Yes, you relive that night over and over again," he says. "Regardless of the circumstances, if anyone possesses even a minimal measure of moral conscience, when you take a life, even if you believe you're justified, you don't get over it. It stays with you. It becomes a part of who you are. At the most unexpected moments, you relieve that."

Smith testified against Lambrix, confirming he killed Moore and Bryant. Lambrix later went on to claim that Smith was having an affair with an investigator. The trial court disregarded the claim after conducting an evidentiary hearing. Another witness recanted her testimony, but the trial court deemed the recantation as unreliable.

Lambrix says he used to be very angry with Smith, but after 33 years, he's over it. What he would do if he ever saw her?

"I probably would give her a big hug and tell her I forgive her," Lambrix says. "She's a victim too."

Lambrix tried reaching out to Bryant's family members, but he said they remained hostile, and they ordered the prison to stop any communication from him toward their family.

"I still think about them a lot and I still pray for them," he says.


Despite his persistent claim of innocence for Bryant's murder and for killing Moore in self-defense, Lambrix was sentenced to death.

"I've faced imminent execution three times. Twice in 1988 and once just this past year," he says. "In 1988, I came within hours. This time (in 2016), I came within a week."

During 3-plus decades on death row, Lambrix filed several petitions, motions, writs and appeals to the state and federal courts. He filed appeals for his case based on ineffective trial counsel and the courts not looking at DNA evidence. Lambrix said the court denied the appeal that he's entitled to DNA testing to prove innocence: "They have the evidence, but they refuse to test it. All they have to do is test the clothing that Aleisha Bryant wore that night for touch DNA."

The Florida Supreme Court blocked his most recent scheduled execution in January 2016. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's death penalty sentencing as unconstitutional. The nation's highest court found the state law gave judges too much power; Florida now requires a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty. The jury was not unanimous in its death sentences for either killing.

Lambrix recently lost his appeal for a new sentence. He is currently waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to address his appeal for a rehearing. But he's ready for the court to deny it.

"We have a comprehensive innocence appeal that we will file the day after they deny rehearing, which will present solid scientific evidence substantiating my innocence," Lambrix said.

Lambrix is now on a temporary stay of execution.

"Any day now, I can go back under an act of the death warrant and have a 30 day countdown to my next execution."

The countdown will not start until the Florida Supreme Court addresses the pending issue of his rehearing. Right now, Lambrix is in what he calls "limbo."

After recounting his story, Lambrix said even though he seems detached, once he goes back to his cell, he's going to relive it all over again.

"Haunted is a good word. You relive it again and again wondering what if I did this, what if I did that? But at the end of the day, I tell myself when I start thinking those thoughts, I tell myself if I could go back, none of this would happen in the first place."

(source: WUFT news)


High Court: Judge, not jury, decides intellectual disability

The Florida Supreme Court has denied death row inmate Sonny Boy Oats Jr.'s request for a jury to determine his intellectual state, saying it is the judge's responsibility.

The state's highest court issued an opinion Thursday denying Oats' claim that he has a right to a unanimous jury decision on whether he is intellectually disabled, which would disqualify him from the death penalty. His claim is based on new state legislation that makes unanimous jury decisions a requirement for death sentences.

"It is clear that the Florida Legislature designated the trial judge, not the jury, as the fact finder for intellectual disability determinations," the opinion reads.

Oats, 59, was convicted in 1981 of the 1979 murder of convenience store clerk, Jeanette Dyer, 50. Then 22, Oats shot Dyer just days before Christmas while robbing the convenience store where she worked, in Martel in northwest Marion County. After his arrest, Oats confessed to killing Dyer and admitted that the day before he also had robbed a liquor store and discharged a gun. He was sentenced to death in February 1981.

Whether Oats is intellectually disabled is already being considered by 5th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Ohlman. In a Dec. 17, 2015, order, the Florida Supreme Court ordered the circuit court to revisit the issue. In the opinion, the Supreme Court wrote that the evidence presented strongly leads to the conclusion that Oats is intellectually disabled. A hearing was held May 9 to get the ball rolling in Ohlman's decision process. Oats is allowed an evidentiary hearing before Ohlman's decision.

But Oats and his lawyers, Martin McClain and Nicole Noel, of Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, believe the issue should be determined by a jury. In their petition to the Supreme Court, they argued that intellectual disability is a fact necessary to render a death sentence. Under new state law, a jury must unanimously decide the facts that warrant a death sentence.

The Florida Supreme Court argued its case, saying: "Intellectual disability is not a 'necessary finding ... to impose a death sentence' but is, rather, the opposite - a fact that bars death."

Collection of evidence and witnesses will continue in Oats' intellectual disability dispute. If Ohlman rules in his favor, Oats' sentence will be reduced to life in prison without parole, the minimum sentence for 1st-degree murder convictions.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Marion County Judicial Center.

Oats is 1 of 8 Marion County murderers on death row. He has spent the most time on death row, totaling 36 years.



Shoals murderer Tommy Arthur executed after stay lifted

Convicted Muscle Shoals murderer Tommy Arthur was executed at about midnight Thursday.

The execution proceeded after the U.S. Supreme Court's stay of execution was lifted late Thursday.

Arthur was originally scheduled for death by lethal injection at 6 p.m. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay within an hour of that time. That stay was lifted after about 10:30 p.m.

Arthur, 75, was convicted of the 1982 murder for hire of Troy Wicker in Muscle Shoals. He has maintained his innocence all along and had dodged execution 7 times before Thursday.

His attorneys tried to delay execution an 8th time by filing paperwork claiming there are potential problems with the drugs used during execution.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that stay request. The motion then went to the Supreme Court where it was signed by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall then filed a motion for the stay to be lifted.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey released the following statement after midnight:

How to proceed when faced with a potential execution is one of the most difficult decisions I will ever have to make as governor. After much prayer and careful and deliberate consideration, I thought it best to allow the decision of a jury of Tommy Arthur's peers to stand. In allowing the execution to proceed this evening, the rule of law was upheld, and Mr. Wicker's family can finally rest knowing that his murderer has faced justice.

3 times Tommy Arthur was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Each time his case was reviewed thoroughly at every level of both our state and federal courts, and the appellate process has ensured that the rights of the accused were protected.

No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death; but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state. Mr. Arthur was rightfully convicted and sentenced, and tonight, that sentence was rightfully and justly carried out.

Marshall also gave a statement:

34 years after he was first sentenced to death for the murder of a Colbert County man, Thomas Arthur's protracted attempt to escape justice is finally at an end. Most importantly, tonight, the family of Troy Wicker can begin the long-delayed process of recovery from a painful loss.

Arthur declined to eat his breakfast or his last meal on Thursday. He requested family photos in the execution room with him.

Arthur becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Alabama and the 59th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983.

Arthur becomes the 12th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1454th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: WSFA news and Rick Halperin)


Legislation changes how AL deals with death row cases

The death penalty will remain in Alabama for the foreseeable future, but the 2017 legislative session saw changes to exactly how the state deals with death row cases.

"Well, in America we have this notion of justice," Frank Knaack, Executive Director of Alabama Appleseed, said. "Justice is equality, equal access to justice, and right now in Alabama’s death penalty cases litigation, there is not justice."

According to Alabama Appleseed, 8 people since the 1970s have been sent to death row only to learn the state got the wrong person.

"We can all agree or disagree on whether or not we want to have the death penalty, but I can think of something we can all agree on is that if we have a death penalty the process should be reliable," Knaack said.

Lawmakers passed 2 pieces of legislation in the 2017 session that deal with death row cases. First, lawmakers passed the "Judicial Override Bill" which ended the practice of allowing a judge the ability to sentence someone to death over the recommendation of the jury. Many advocates praised the move as a step forward for the state.

2nd, lawmakers passed the "Fair Justice Act" which shortens the appeal process for death row inmates. Proponents said the bill prevents cases from dragging out. However, opponents believe it may lead to innocent people being sent to death row.

Alabama was scheduled to put convicted murderer Tommy Arthur to death Thursday, but the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, his 8th. In Arthur's case, he's been fighting execution for decades.

Lawmakers considered legislation that would have provided another alternative to lethal injection but the bill did not pass.

"I think we should really work to ensure that process is reliable and all the things we are advocating for is just making sure we have a reliable process and ensuring if someone is convicted, and they are executed, that we at least got the right person," Knaack said.

(source: WSFA news)


Convicted killer could avoid death penalty after MS Supreme Court ruling

A man on death row for killing a Biloxi convenience store owner won a victory that could help him avoid the death penalty.

Jason Lee Keller was convicted of the 2007 capital murder of Hat Nguyen, who was shot to death at the Food Mart convenience store she owned on Popp's Ferry Rd.

Keller's conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

Keller's latest appeal focused on the sentencing phase of his 2009 trial. Keller claimed his trial attorneys "were ineffective for failure to investigate, collect, and present mitigation evidence to the jury."

In a ruling released Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed with some of Keller's arguments about certain evidence and ordered his sentencing be reviewed by the Harrison County Circuit Court.

The Supreme Court rejected all of the other grounds raised by Keller.

(source: WLOX news)


New Mississippi law blocks 1 appeal over death penalty drug

The Mississippi Supreme Court has blocked a death row inmate's appeal over the state's planned use of a lethal-injection drug.

In an order Thursday, justices said Thomas Loden's 2016 appeal over the sedative midazolam is moot because legislators this year rewrote a state law on death penalty drugs.

The old law required an "ultra-short acting barbiturate or other similar drug" as part of a 3-drug lethal injection mix. Loden said midazolam didn't fit that definition.

The new law requires "an appropriate anesthetic or sedative."

Several states have struggled to obtain certain drugs since 2010, as manufacturers refuse to sell them for executions.

Loden was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing 16-year-old Leesa Gray in north Mississippi's Itawamba County in 2000. His execution date has not been set.

(source: Associated Press)


Louisiana Catholic bishops urge legislators to repeal the death penalty

The following is a summary Statement of the Louisiana Catholic Bishops on the repeal of the death penalty dated April 18, 2017.

Although the bill fell short by 1 vote, their message affirming life is still worth reading.

In 1722 Louisiana perfomed its 1st recorded legal execution. Since then we have dealt with this stain of the death penalty carried out by our state in the names of its citizens. This current legislative session allows us to move beyond this dark reality of our state's history and toward a state that affirms life without exception. Therefore the Louisiana Catholic Bishops unequivocally supports both Senator Claitor's SB 142 and Representatives Landry and Pylant's HB 101.

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), discussed the distinction between a culture of life and a culture of death. Our culture often mirrors a culture of death rather than one of life. The use of the death penalty does not serve as an instrument to address the deep-rooted issues that are the cause of widespread violent crime within our society. It is a "solution" that seduces us into believing that the taking of a life solved a problem, when in fact it forces us further into a culture of death.

Pope John Paul II proclaims "that not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, as God himself pledges to guarantee this. Consequently whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself" (Evangelium Vitae, #9). The Pope reminds us of our call to uphold the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, a human dignity that does not discriminate between the innocent and guilty. Given that we value life beyond all else, we must advocate for an alternative to the death penalty.

In a 2015 letter to the President of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis stated that the death penalty "is an offense against the inviolability of life and dignity of the human person, which contradicts God's plan for man and society. It does not render justice to victims, but fosters vengeance. The death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. Killing a human being can never establish justice." What we fear, violence itself, has forced us to become proponents of violence. Just as the pursuit of justice should never be perverted by vengeance, fear should never darken the ever-shining light of life.

We remain deeply aware of the pain and grief that victims suffer, especially those who have lost a loved one through the crimes of murder or violence. We pledge to deepen our commitment to persons who have suffered such violence, anguish and pain. We do not intend our opposition to the death penalty to diminish what the victims and their families have suffered. The stark reality is that capital punishment fails to bring back a lost life.

It does not provide healing, reconciliation, or even peace to those affected. Our merciful heavenly Father does provide such things to us when we turn to God and ask for his healing love.

We recognize the balance that must exist between a state that needs to protect its citizenry and the appropriateness of the punishment it uses to do so. We believe that in Louisiana, a just alternative to the death penalty already exists. In 1979, Louisiana adopted a statute requiring all persons convicted of first degree murder to serve a life sentence without benefit of parole if they were not executed. Life imprisonment is the appropriate alternative given that it reflects a culture of life by valuing life itself.

The Louisiana Catholic Bishops asks all people of good faith, especially those members of the Louisiana legislature, to search their heart to seek mercy and love to support the repeal of the death penalty and aid in building a culture of life. The time is upon us to affirm life without exception here within our great state of Louisiana.

(source: St. Chalres Herald-Guide)


Anthony Sowell appeals case to U.S. Supreme Court

Convicted Cleveland mass murderer Anthony Sowell has officially appealed his 2011 death sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The move, made earlier this month, is the latest in a lengthy but standard appeal process in death penalty cases.

Sowell, 57, was sentenced to die for the murders of 11 women whose bodies were discovered at his home on Imperial Avenue.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected his appeal late last year but put his execution on hold until he exhausts all of his possible appeals.

Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees appeals from Ohio, last month extended Sowell's deadline to file a writ of certiorari asking the high court to review his conviction.

Sowell's lawyers filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 15 and filed the writ on Thursday.

Sowell's appeal hinges on the argument that the trial court incorrectly conducted a closed hearing regarding statements he made in a series of police interrogations, and that the court erred when it closed questioning of jurors in the case.

In a 5-2 opinion, Ohio Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote that while the trial court did not correctly document all of the findings necessary to close the proceedings, that failure did not warrant a new hearing on the suppression of evidence or a new trial.

Sowell is serving his sentence at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.



Wrongful convictions: From death row to freedom

Joe Amrine selected the music for his funeral service.

He wasn't sick, nor was he elderly. He was on Missouri's death row awaiting lethal injection.

In November 2001, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon asked the Missouri Supreme Court to set an execution date for Amrine and 9 other men on death row. The court complied in 6 cases, but delayed in Amrine's case. By then a groundswell of support built for his exoneration in part because of a documentary, "Unreasonable Doubt: the Joe Amrine Case," by a group of university graduate students.

The Missouri Catholic Conference, public policy agency of the state's bishops, distributed the video widely in their efforts to seek Amrine's release. The bishops' agency advocated on Amrine's behalf and now uses his example in citing reasons to oppose the death penalty.

Convicted in 1986 of the murder of fellow prison inmate Gary Barber at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Amrine, now 60, was released from prison in 2003 after the Missouri Supreme Court overturned his conviction and death sentence. He'd spent 17 years on death row after being sent to prison originally in 1977 on a robbery charge. 3 fellow inmates who had testified against him later recanted, admitting that they lied in exchange for favorable treatment. 6 other inmates had testified earlier that Amrine was in another area of the prison playing cards when Barber was stabbed.

Amrine and fellow exoneree Reggie Griffin visited St. Louis May 20 to speak at a public event at the St. Louis Galleria hosted by Lush Cosmetics and the Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The talk was consistent with views of Pope Francis, who last year encouraged all people to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also for the improvement of prison conditions, "so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated."

Rita Linhardt, senior staff associate for the Missouri Catholic Conference and chair of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said serious concerns have been raised about the death penalty as public policy because of wrongful convictions, questions of fairness and the costs of the death penalty. For every nine executions in this country, one person who received a death sentence was found to be wrongly convicted. Reasons innocent people are convicted, she said, include ineffective assistance of counsel, flawed evidence, faulty eyewitness testimony and police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Exonerations highlight flaws in the death penalty, Linhardt said: "We can see where mistakes are made."

Faith was a factor in his survival, Amrine said: "It would be hard for anyone to be on death row and not somehow get some faith. You gotta believe in something to survive on death row."

He appreciates the position the Catholic Church has taken against the death penalty and wants to see more follow its lead. "We need Christians, Muslims and everyone to come up and say they're against the death penalty under any circumstances," he said.

Amrine once was in favor of the death penalty but his experience showed him that it sometimes is imposed on innocent people, and "it can't be applied equally."

Griffin, 56, grew up in St. Louis and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for 1st-degree assault, robbery and possession of drugs and stolen property. While at the Moberly Correctional Center, he was accused of the murder of inmate James Bausley, who had been stabbed in the prison yard. Griffin denied he'd been in the yard at the time but was convicted in 1988 on the word of 2 jailhouse informants who received reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.

In 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentence because prosecutors had withheld a sharpened screwdriver recovered from another inmate immediately after the stabbing. Both of Griffin's co-defendants consistently said the 3rd person involved in the crime was that inmate, not Griffin.

Griffin, released from prison in 2013, said that "none of the things that happened for me and to me could not and would not have happened without the grace of God."

Amrine and Griffin - African American men who were convicted by all-white juries in trials that lasted just a few days - give 2 or 3 talks a week and have been to several Catholic schools, mostly in the Kansas City area. They'll be in St. Louis Sept. 28 to speak to student representatives of Catholic high schools at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. Amrine said he speaks out because "the Lord blessed me to put me out here. He wasn't through with me. We speak out against the death penalty, gangs, drugs, lawyers ... I did 26 years, he did 33. That qualifies us as experts."

For someone wrongfully convicted, Griffin said, "when the state seeks the death sentence against you, you have a chance of losing your life. If the evidence comes out after you're executed, they can't bring you back."

Catholics respond

The Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) has launched a new initiative, named the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty. "Due to growing public opposition to the death penalty and especially in the aftermath of last month executions in Arkansas, CMN has launched this pledge to amplify the Church's work to end the death penalty," said Karen Clifton, executive director of CMN.

Catholic Mobilizing Network maintains the pledge as an important initiative that lifts up the value of all human life. The pledge is a way to lift up the call of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis in particular to end the use of the death penalty and promote a more restorative criminal justice system.

In the recent session of the Missouri legislature, the Missouri Catholic Conference supported three bills that would have ended capital punishment in Missouri. The Catholic Conference, the public policy agency of the U.S. bishops, referred to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (paragraph 2267) and stated that "the death penalty undermines respect for human life and errors in the judicial system can lead to the execution of innocent people."

The proposed legislation stalled in the legislative process. 2 of the bills in the House were read for a second time and the Senate bill was referred to a committee.

For information:

-- The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty,

-- Missouri Catholic Conference Messenger on the death penalty,

-- Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty,

-- U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,

Opposing executions

Joe Amrine and Reggie Griffin are 2 of 159 inmates in the United States and 4 in Missouri who have been exonerated after landing on death row.

Last month Bishop Frank J. Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, decried plans by the sate of Arkansas to execute 7 men in 11 days, saying that justice and mercy are better served by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment.

At a recent event in St. Louis in which Amrine and Griffin told their story, Maggie Baine of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville explained that changing public policy on the death penalty is a cause she deeply cares about. Pope Francis made a passionate plea for a moratorium on executions during the Year of Mercy, reminding listeners that "Thou shalt not kill" (the fifth commandment) applies not only to the innocent but to the guilty as well. Baine said she agrees fully with Church teaching.

"For the innocent and well as guilty people, we believe there's not a reason to end their lives," Baine said.

The Pew Research Center reported last fall that the share of Americans who support the death penalty for people convicted of murder now is at its lowest point in more than 4 decades.

During a debate last year in the Missouri Senate, Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, said he too is guided by his Catholic faith and the need to be consistent in his pro-life beliefs to protect all human life, even those guilty of murder. He also raised concern about executing an innocent person. "All it would take is one mistake," Wieland said. "We're not operating it as a zero percent margin of error."

"One sign of hope is that public opinion is manifesting a growing opposition to the death penalty, even as a means of legitimate social defense. Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty."

Pope Francis' message to 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty on June 22, 2016

(source: St. Louis Review)


McClain County Man's Death Sentence Upheld By Appeals Court

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has again upheld the death penalty of a man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in 2010.

The court ruled Thursday that testimony by the victims' relatives saying Shaun Bosse should receive the death penalty shouldn't have been allowed, but was harmless error.

The court said "overwhelming evidence" proves the crime was heinous, atrocious or cruel.

Bosse was convicted of killing 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Their bodies were found in their burned mobile home in Dibble, 40 miles south of Oklahoma City.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in October that the relatives' testimony shouldn't have been allowed and sent the case back to the Oklahoma court.

(source: Associated Press)


Alleged Misconduct Jeopardizes Death Penalty For OC's Worst Mass Murderer

2 Orange County sheriff's deputies asserted their constitutional right against self-incrimination Thursday when called to testify in an evidentiary hearing alleging outrageous governmental misconduct in the case of Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county's history.

Sheriff's Deputies Ben Garcia and William Grover, who have been on paid administrative leave for the past several months, took the stand and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to testify.

Deputy Seth Tunstall is expected to do the same thing when he is called to testify next week.

Garcia's attorney, Bob Gazley, told City News Service his client has not been told why he was put on leave.

Tunstall and Garcia have previously asserted their Fifth Amendment rights in another murder case involving a jailhouse informant last year. That prompted an Orange County Superior Court judge to order a new trial for Eric Ortiz, who was again convicted of murder and is awaiting sentencing next week.

Most of the testimony Thursday came from employees in the sheriff's department who handle legal records. They testified to the process of keeping the records and when and why decisions are made to shred them due to a lack of storage space.

Dekraai's attorney, Scott Sanders, has raised concerns that records regarding the jailhouse informant program have been improperly destroyed.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who has recused the Orange County District Attorney's Office from prosecuting the case, is now considering a motion to dismiss the death penalty against Dekraai, which would spur an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Dekraai pleaded guilty to 8 counts of murder and 1 count of attempted murder for killing his wife, her boss and 6 others, and wounding a 77-year-old woman who survived the Oct. 12, 2011, bloodbath at a Seal Beach beauty salon.

(source: Orange County Register)


Catholic inmate no longer on death row----Greg Bowen, 64, won a court appeal and is eligible for parole in 12 years. A new look at evidence changed his conviction from aggravated murder to felony murder, which carries a life sentence with possibility of parole.

A Catholic inmate on Oregon's death row was transferred to the general prison population in January. A lay Catholic minister at Oregon State Penitentiary says Greg Bowen has been joining other inmates for Mass, something he could not do while he was isolated as a candidate for execution.

"The joy, peace and humble gratitude that showed on his face during the service spoke volumes about his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ," lay minister Laura Kazlas said after Bowen attended liturgy for the 1st time.

Bowen, 64, won a court appeal and is eligible for parole in 12 years. A new look at evidence changed his conviction from aggravated murder to felony murder, which carries a life sentence with possibility of parole. Bowen accepted the result, though he insists that he shot his friend Donald Christiansen of Brookings by mistake in 2001. Bowen did admit to stealing guns from Christiansen’s home, but says he did not mean to kill his friend.

Evidence showed that Christiansen was shot from closer than 5 feet, strengthening Bowen's contention. Most murderers shoot victims from farther away.

"This is another reason why we are against the death penalty," says Kazlas. "There is always the possibility that our government could execute an innocent man." Since 1973, 158 prisoners have been exonerated from death row in U.S. prisons.

"We need to be in the prisons to support all of the inmates - but especially for the rare person who is incarcerated for a crime they didn't commit," Kazlas says.

Bowen is 1 of the men Archbishop Alexander Sample visited several times on death row. Bowen and 76 other Catholic inmates signed up for a retreat slated for April 4, but fighting in another population sparked a lockdown of the whole prison and the retreat was postponed.

Oregon has 34 inmates on death row, including 2 more awaiting new sentences. Voters approved the death penalty in 1984. Since then, 23 convicts have been resentenced, 4 have died while locked up and 2 were executed.

(source: Catholic Sentinel)


Former Chinese official executed following supreme court's approval

China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) announced Friday that Zhao Liping, a former senior political advisor in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, had been executed after the SPC approved the death sentence.

Zhao, former vice chairman of the Inner Mongolia regional committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was convicted of intentional homicide, taking bribes and possession of firearms, according to an SPC statement.

Zhao was found guilty of having shot dead a 26-year old woman, identified only with her surname of Li, in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, on March 20, 2015.

He also took advantage of his post to secure business contracts and official positions for associates, and accepted bribes totaling 23.68 million yuan (3.45 million U.S. dollars) from 2008 to 2010, as the police chief of Inner Mongolia.

During the investigation police located 2 guns, 49 bullets and 91 detonators that led back to Zhao.

The SPC stated that the death penalty was given on the basis of clear facts and solid and sufficient evidence. Zhao had committed crimes with serious consequences and vile social effects.

The Intermediate People's Court of Taiyuan in north China's Shanxi Province executed Zhao Friday.



State of secrecy on death row in Vietnam

Vietnam has been revealed to be the 3rd-highest global executioner but details of who is on death row and why remains as elusive as ever.

Hidden behind the term "state secrets", Vietnam carries out lethal injections with an unknown cocktail of homemade drugs, while plans to build 5 new execution centres have stoked fears more deaths are to come.

In January 2008 the bloodied bodies of 2 well-liked young female postal workers were found in their office in the rural district of Long An in the Mekong Delta region of southern Vietnam.

One was knocked out with a cutting board and had her throat slit, the other was hit with a chair before suffering the same fate, police said.

68 days later, recent college graduate Ho Duy Hai was brought in for questioning.

For 6 months, the family and lawyers were blocked from seeing the 23-year-old.

When they did, Hai had lost 9kg and was too scared to say anything more than "I'm in pain", his aunt Nguyen Thi Ruoi says.

Hai was given just 2 15-minute sessions to speak to his legal team before trial.

At trial, as Hai proclaimed innocence, his defence pointed out dozens of prosecutorial mistakes and instances of police misconduct.

There was no physical evidence placing him at the scene and the so-called murder weapon had been bought at a nearby market after the murders had taken place, his lawyers said.

Nevertheless, Hai was sentenced to death on December 1, 2008.

Following tireless lobbying from Hai's family, a day before his scheduled execution in 2014 President Truong Tan Sang ordered a review.

The following year, then-deputy chair of the National Assembly's Judicial Committee, Le Thi Nga, found there were "serious violations" within the investigation and the court's ruling was inconsistent with evidence, the Vietnamese newspaper Nguoi Lao Dong reported.

Nevertheless, Hai remains on death row.

"He is from a poor family, his parents divorced when his sister was 5 years old so it would be easier to target him and make him a scapegoat," Mrs Ruoi said.

Long Trinh, activist and editor-in-chief of the legal affairs website Luat Khoa, said the case highlights the "most concerning" aspect of death row in Vietnam: courts "can put people on death row without any legal basis".

Vietnam continues to classify figures on the death penalty as state secrets.

What is known is that 18 offences still carry death - including drugs, murder and 'threats against national security'.

"On the basis of these vaguely worded national security provisions, Vietnam can kill people for expressing alternative political views," Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) Vice President Penelope Faulkner said.

Organisations like hers have historically relied on monitoring local media to piece together what is going on.

A leaked government report from the Ministry of Public Security earlier this year revealed it was worse than feared.

According to the January 2017 report, 429 people had been executed between August 2013 and June 2016. As of July 2016, 681 people remained on death row.

No explanation was provided as to why people were executed.

In their annual report on the death penalty, Amnesty International last month placed Vietnam as the 3rd largest executor in the world, behind China and Iran.

With overcrowded prisons, a government plan to build 5 new execution facilities and the creation of locally produced drugs for lethal injections, Ms Faulkner fears Vietnam's execution numbers are set to rise.

"There is no real information or control of these local poisons. The 1st time they were used on a person he took 2 hours to die," Ms Faulkner said.

Hope is what Hai's family clings to now.

Last year 2 men on death row, 80-year-old Tran Van Them after 43 years for murder and 57-year-old Han Duc Long cleared of murder and rape after spending 11 years on death row.

Numerous attempts to contact the Vietnam government have been made by AAP.



Bihar court sentences 5 Maoists to death

An FIR was lodged with the Kharagpur police station in this connection and 5 alleged Maoists - Rattu Koda, Vipin Mandal, Adhiklal Pandit, Bano Koda and Manu Koda - were arrested.

A court in Bihar's Munger district awarded the death sentence to 5 Maoists in connection with the martyrdom of 2 jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in April 2014.

According to the prosecution, "On April 10, 2014, during the Lok Sabha elections, the CRPF's Battalion 131, led by Gunjan Kumar, was on its way for deployment at a polling station when the party was ambushed by Maoists near Gangta-Lakshmipur Road under the Kharagapur police station's jurisdiction on Jamui-Kharagpur Road."

A senior CRPF officer said, "It was around 4 am when there was an IED blast in which some of our soldiers sustained injuries. As our jawans were alert, they recovered quickly and were also able to retaliate. But some Maoists soon started firing, and 2 of our jawans - Ravindra Rai and Som Gowda - attained martyrdom."

An FIR was lodged with the Kharagpur police station in this connection and 5 alleged Maoists - Rattu Koda, Vipin Mandal, Adhiklal Pandit, Bano Koda and Manu Koda - were arrested. Police sources said that all the accused, who hail from Bhimbandh and nearby areas, were also wanted in similar cases lodged previously against them.

Following the hearing, the fast track court of ADJ-1, Munger, found all five guilty under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 302 (murder), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 307 (attempt to murder), and sentenced them to the gallows. A penalty of Rs 50,000 each was also slapped on them under IPC Section 302.



At Least 1 Prisoner Hanged at Dizel Abad Prison

At least 1 prisoner was hanged at Kermanshah's Adel Abad Prison on Tuesday May 23 on murder charges.

According to close sources, the prisoner's name is Mehran Ashrafi and he was in prison since his arrest in 2012.

Iranian official sources, including the media and the Judiciary, have not announced Mehran Ashrafi's execution.

Another execution was reported at Dizel Abad Prison. According to close sources, the execution was carried out on Thursday May 25. The prisoner has been identified as Mehrdad Asgari, hanged on drug related charges.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Man sentenced to death for killing friend

A man has been sentenced to death for killing his friend in Bondo village, Siaya County.

Jack Odhiambo had claimed his friend, Keith Owuor, had stolen Sh100,000 from him. Mr Odhiambo is said to have traced Mr Owuor to his home where he hacked him to death.

Prosecution witnesses said they were convinced Odhiambo committed the offence. High Court Judge Justice David Majanja cited Article 2 of the Constitution which provides that everyone has the right to life and shall be protected by law. "No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which the penalty is provided by law," Justice Majanja said.

In the same court, John Omondi was freed after 9 years in remand without trial and put on 2-year probation.

He had been accused of killing his sister.

The trial had failed to take off several times since 2009 due to frequent transfer of judges. His lawyer argued there was no rationale to continue detaining him when his parents had forgiven him.



Gazans demand death penalty for a teen rapist----Rape case sparks anger throughout the coastal strip

Gazans are demanding the death sentence for a teenager who raped an 8-year-old girl from Al Shajaeyah neighbourhood in Gaza City.

The call for capital punishment comes amid a wave of outrage across social media about the girl's ordeal.

The victim, a 3rd-grader identified only as T.A., was on her way home from school when the 16-year-old boy attacked her in an isolated area as the sobbing child pleaded with him to return the school bag he had snatched from her.

According to Gaza Police, the teenage rapist tried to kill the girl after repeatedly raping her, but her screams eventually alerted passers-by, who came to her aid and took her to hospital. The boy was arrested within 24 hours. The victim has been in the intensive care unit of Gaza Hospital for the past week, suffering from serious bleeding.

The assault on the little girl has sparked fury on the streets of Gaza and shocked the entire community. Gazan activists launched a social media campaign calling for rejection of any attempts by the rapist's family to save his life.

One activist, Ohoud Shamali, said execution of the rapist would deter other potential offenders, while helping to protect the social structure of Gazan society by easing fears among families about sending their daughters to school.

The Higher Commission of the Gazan Families and Clans is demanding the most severe sentence possible for the assailant, although he is still legally a minor. The commission is also calling for deportation of the rapist's family from Al Shajaeyah Refugee Camp.

Gazan psychiatrist Dr Fadl Abu Hain said that although a minor, the young rapist could not be pardoned. His crime was not just against the little girl - who would suffer psychologically all her life - but against the entire Gazan society.

Gaza Legal Researches and Consultations Centre has demanded severe punishments for rapists, with no leniency. The centre says the Palestinian relative laws should be reviewed immediately to provide women with the highest level of protection against rapists. According to the centre, at least 2 vicious rapes have been reported every year in the Gaza Strip since 1999.

The Islamist movement of Hamas took over the tiny coastal strip in 2007 following a brief civil war and ousted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement. Hamas has been running the strip in accordance with recommendations from its Consultative Council.



Saudi Arabia Confirms Death Sentence of 14 Activists from Qatif

Saudi's Supreme Court in Riyadh confirmed death penalty for 14 activists from Qatif over taking part in protests in 2011.

Human rights sources reported that the suspects were not able even to appoint a lawyer, noting that all their confessions were under torture and abuse.

To be implemented, the execution warrant must be approved by the Saudi king, Salman Bin Abdulaziz.

Families of the suspects say their sons attended confidential trials, stressing that the sentences were based on force confessions.

Peaceful demonstrations erupted in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province in February 2011, with protesters demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners and an end to widespread discrimination against people of the oil-rich region. Several people have been killed and many others have been injured or arrested during the demonstrations.

International rights bodies, including Amnesty International, have repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia for its grim human rights record, arguing that the number of executions in oil-rich country has dramatically risen in the last years.


MAY 25, 2017:


Execution of man arrested at 16 exposes Iran's disregard for child rights

Iran has demonstrated its utter disregard for children's rights by executing a man arrested for a crime committed while he was 16 years old in a brazen violation of international human rights law, said Amnesty International.

The man, who has been identified in state media only by the name "Asqar", was sentenced to death by public hanging nearly 30 years ago. He was executed at Karaj's Central Prison near Tehran on 23 May 2017.

"With this execution, the Iranian authorities' repeated claims to the UN and EU that they are moving away from the use of death penalty against juvenile offenders ring horrifically hollow. It is absolutely appalling that 2 decades after it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran continues to display such a chilling disregard for children's rights," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"This is the 3rd execution this year of someone arrested as a child in Iran, demonstrating the authorities' clear determination to continue flouting international human rights law. The authorities should halt any further plans for executions and amend Iran's Islamic Penal Code to abolish the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders once and for all."

"Asqar" was originally sentenced to death in 1988 after being convicted of the fatal stabbing of his 12-year-old neighbour, according to state media. The sentence was later upheld by the Supreme Court. He was due to be executed at the age of 18 but escaped from prison shortly before the scheduled execution date; he was on the run until his re-arrest in April 2015.

Iran is one of the last few countries in the world that still executes juvenile offenders. International human rights law strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty against a person who was under 18 at the time of the crime.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times - regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. The organization has consistently called on all countries that still use the death penalty to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the punishment.

(source: Amnesty International)


Hamas executes 3 over commander's murder----The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas executed 3 people in the Gaza Strip on Thursday over the assassination of 1 of its military leaders allegedly on behalf of Israel.

2 men were hanged to death in Gaza City over the killing of Mazen Faqha in March, while a 3rd was executed by firing squad, said an AFP correspondent who attended the executions.

Hundreds of people were allowed to watch the executions, though the streets around the site were closed to the public.

1 of those executed, Ashraf Abu Leila, was named as the alleged assassin while the other 2 men, who were not named, were convicted of assisting him.

The executions, which come only 2 weeks after the announcement of their arrests, were immediately condemned by human rights activists.

Human Rights Watch said the "rush" to kill the men "smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law".

Mazen Faqha was shot dead on March 24 near his house in Gaza City.

He had been in charge of forming cells for Hamas's military wing in the occupied West Bank.

Hamas immediately blamed its arch-enemy Israel, with which it has fought 3 wars since 2008, and implemented strict border restrictions on those seeking to leave the Palestinian enclave.



Was a convicted murderer incompetent to stand trial - 6 years ago?----Fort Bend County jurors wrestle with a rare retrospective question

Albert James Turner was convicted in 2011 of murder in the deaths of his mother-in-law and wife. The jury sentenced him to death - a choice made only every few years in Fort Bend.

The case returned last week to the same courtroom with the same judge, the 268th District Court with Judge Brady Elliott, to take on an issue Turner's defense argued should have been addressed in the first place.

The question before the jury was not whether he committed the crimes, cutting the throats of his relatives. Rather, the issue at hand was dubbed "retrospective competency," meaning jurors had to decide whether evidence showed Turner had not been mentally fit for trial.

It was "a case that's not normally one we take up," the judge told the jurors. Judge Elliott had denied a request for a competency trial 6 years ago. A state appellate court had now granted it to Turner, allowing a chance at a totally new trial if jurors found him incompetent.

Stakes were high. Turner's appellate defense attorney, Amy Martin, believed Turner was delusional. Turner felt convinced his attorneys had conspired against him, Martin said. And this illness might have affected his decision to testify originally, a fateful choice that perhaps influenced the jury to sentence him to death, rather than life in prison.

That possibility, Martin said, was "not something we could stomach."

Competency refers to one's ability rationally to understand proceedings in court. It is a different question altogether from whether someone was insane at the time of the crime. It deals instead with whether defendants can reasonably consult with their attorneys and understand the charges being brought against them.

Evaluating a defendant for competency before a trial begins is fairly standard procedure. Doing so retrospectively is not.

Several mental health professionals evaluated Turner before his trial began, court records show. One conducted an evaluation in May 2010, and the other in June. Both found him competent. If they had not, he could have been sent to a hospital for rehabilitation.

Still, the question of his mental faculties didn't stop there. Turner became a detriment to his own defense, said Patrick McCann, his attorney at the time. "Time dragged on," McCann said. "He got worse."

On April 15, 2011, defense attorneys filed a request for a trial on Turner's competency. 3 days later, on the 1st day of jury selection, the judge denied it.

But the defense persisted, and on May 6, the judge ordered 1 more evaluation, this time by the county's director of behavioral health services. After a 30-minute conversation during which Turner remained standing, she concluded his functioning had not significantly changed.

The case went to trial. Turner testified. The jury sentenced him. An appeal followed, and the higher court decided he deserved the competency trial after all - leading to last weeks' proceedings.

Testimony continued to midday Thursday, when the 12-person jury heard closing arguments.

Proesecutor Fred Felcman painted the case as woefully lacking in the expected indicators, such as family speaking of his illness or physicians having treated him. He said a defendant didn't have to help his attorneys.

"This is not what you thought it was going to be, was it?," Felcman said.

Martin argued that even though Turner wasn't curled up in a corner or foaming at the mouth, he still had a mental illness. She insisted he had a delusional disorder, which could be hard to detect.

"He didn't have a disagreement with his attorneys," she said. "He had a break with reality."

Turner refused to be in the courtroom. A video camera allowed him to watch proceedings from jail.

The jurors made a decision in 2 hours. Members of the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office sat in the room, as did Darren Frank, whose sister and mother were the people Turner killed.

Frank had cared for his sister's 4 children since the murders. He said he felt a little surprised to see Turner's case return to Fort Bend and had prepared for whatever the outcome would be. His main priority, he said, was supporting the children.

"Even one day, if [Turner] dies, it can't bring back what we've lost," Frank said. "I have to remove myself from the situation and just really focus on them and how I can help them."

Cases like these didn't come around every day. Martin, who wrote the appellate brief, said she knew of only one other, from 2012 in Harris County.

The judge read Turner's verdict. They jury said Turner had been competent.

His appeal will continue.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Prosecutor seeking death penalty against man accused in 4-year-old's death

A Butler County man accused in the death of his girlfriend's young son was in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

Jordan Lambing was charged with the sexual assault and death of 4-year-old Bentley Miller. Lambing was watching the boy while his mother was at work.

Lambing's attorney said his client loved Miller like he was his own son.

"They had a nice family," Frank Walker said. "This is a sad situation."

In court, a forensic pathologist testified about the boy's final hours. He described bruises on his hips, cuts and bruises on his forehead. Some of the injuries were so severe, the district attorney is seeking the ultimate punishment.

"Tomorrow morning we plan to file aggravating circumstances and seek the death penalty," said Terri Schultz, the prosecutor on the case.

The pathologist said Miller's injuries were caused within 72 hours of his death.

"We need to know who else was in the room, who else had access to the child within the 72 hours," Walker said.

(source: WXPI news)


Only unanimous jury vote justifies extreme act of execution

While the public's attention likely was diverted by the terror strike in Manchester and ongoing presidential drama, the verdict from the nation's highest court was literally a life or death moment for many Florida inmates awaiting execution.

The court turned down an appeal by the state that would have allowed capital punishment cases in some cases to be applied without a unanimous jury verdict. Many of those sent to Florida's death row on a simple majority vote already are having their sentences reviewed.

Many more are likely to follow.

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation requiring a unanimous vote by juries before the death penalty could be applied. That was after a series of court setbacks to previous state laws that said a simple majority vote was good enough. When that was struck down as unconstitutional, Florida rushed through a revision that said capital punishment could be applied if 10 of 12 jurors vote for death.

Nope. The court said that didn't work either.

It is estimated that as many as 200 death-penalty sentences handed out under old rules could be sent back to prosecutors. They will have to choose whether to try again to put the guilty person to death, or whether life imprisonment is sufficient.

Tough call.

Take the case of Adam "Rattlesnake" Davis.

He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 for murdering Tampa real estate agent Vicki Robinson. It was a sensational trial. His girlfriend at the time was Robinson's 15-year-old daughter Valessa.

She got off with a lengthy prison term for her part in the crime and has since been released, but a jury voted 7-5 that Davis should be executed. A judge agreed. Davis is still waiting on death row.

That crime was an act of evil that stunned the city and the sentencing judge noted the murder wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing. It was well planned. Even with that, the jury obviously was conflicted about what just punishment should look like.

The ruling also could affect 1 of the 3 death sentences for Dontae Morris. There was unanimous agreement by the jury that he should die for murdering 2 Tampa police officers, but a 3rd conviction for killing Derek Anderson brought only a 10-2 recommendation for the death penalty.

I guess if Morris is executed for one of those crimes, it will be for all of them.

Capital punishment is still favored by 49 % of Americans while 42 % disapprove, according to a survey last September by the Pew Research Center. That's the lowest level of support in more than 40 years and a dramatic drop from the 80 % approval rating in 1994.

According to the web site, juries across the country handed out 295 death sentences in 1998. In 2016, that number fell to 30. A big reason could be that people understand it is not the effective deterrent supporters advertise it to be.

The web site also said that enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million per year over what it would cost to send the convicted to prison for life without parole.

I admit I'm conflicted.

There are some crimes so vile - the ones Morris committed come to mind - where it's reasonable to argue the killer has forfeited the right to live. However, who's to say one murder is worse than another?

I guess that's where we came in. That's why we have juries. After hearing the evidence, if 12 people agree the murderer should die, so be it. As the courts have rightly ruled, though, this is no place for a split decision.

(source: Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times)

ALABAMA----impending execution

Niece of victim: Tommy Arthur execution delays have put family through 'living hell'

Troy Wicker Jr. was a big bear of a man who was the life of a party, a niece recalled this week.

Known as "Junior," Wicker served in the Army, once worked for a Tennessee sheriff's office, and had just gotten off from a shift on a tug boat in Muscle Shoals when he was shot to death while asleep in his bed on Feb 1, 1982, Vicki Wilkerson wrote in an email to

Wilkerson is the daughter of Peggy Newland Rosier, 1 of Wicker's sisters and the person who had most followed the case of Tommy Arthur, the man convicted three times in Wicker's death.

Ms. Rosier died in February and Wilkerson wrote that she and her sister, Kim, wanted to carry on being the voice for their mother and family.

Arthur is set to be executed Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Seven previous times, including last November, his executions were stayed by courts. A victims' rights advocate has nicknamed Arthur the "Houdini" of death row for the times he has escaped execution at the last minute.

"There are no words to describe the living hell that this has been for the Wicker family. We are hoping and praying that the execution is not delayed any further," Vicky Wilkerson, a niece to Troy Wicker told in an email. "Although this statement may be perceived by others as not a very Christian statement, please do not judge because you haven't lived through this tragedy."

"Our family deserves closure and justice for the loss of Junior and the nightmare that we have lived through," Wilkerson wrote. "Tommy Arthur placed our family through a living hell for a pathetic $10,000 payout."

"My mother, grandmother (Junior's mom), and both his brothers have all (died) since that dark day in February 1982, unsure whether Tommy Arthur would EVER pay the price for what he did to Junior and his family. However, there are still those of us remaining who long to have peace and know that it is FINALLY over."

Wilkerson said that Troy Wicker was the second of six kids - her mom was the oldest. "He was a big, caring, handsome, bear of a man. The comedian of the family. My other 2 uncles were quiet and kinda shy but not Junior. He was the life of the party," she stated.

Wilkerson stated that she and her sister wanted to be present for Arthur's execution "to say that we witnessed the completion of her mission for justice."

However, since they are not immediate family she and her sister will not be allowed to attend. But Wicker's two sons will attend, Wilkerson state. Wicker's 2 surviving sisters will not attend, she stated.

"I regret (Rosier) fought so long for justice but died before she got legal closure," Janette Grantham, state director of the Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), stated in an email to

"So sad ... Enough is Enough. Justice is long past due. Arthur chose his fate," said Grantham, who is the one last year who called Arthur the "Houdini" of death row.

Arthur continued to deny in a May 15 letter to that he killed Wicker. "I am not guilty," he wrote. He claimed the state will be "murdering" him if they go through with the execution.

Arthur also denied killing Wicker in a recent letter to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. This is the 1st execution since Ivey became governor. Ivey told a reporter for on Tuesday that clemency of a death row inmate is one of the most difficult issues a governor faces.

The Innocence Project on Wednesday urged people to call Ivey and ask that she stay his execution. The group says that no physical evidence links Arthur to the killing of Wicker.

Arthur now has simultaneous appeals in state and federal courts seeking a stay of execution.

He won a legal victory in court on Tuesday when the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed a judge's ruling that rejected Arthur's claim that the Legislature, not the prison system, should decide on the method and drugs used in executions.

But the Alabama Attorney General's Office quickly said the ruling won't stop plans for Arthur's execution on Thursday.

Arthur's attorneys on Tuesday night then filed an emergency request for a stay of execution to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, stating that his execution should wait until litigation over their claims that the legislature should select the lethal injection drugs is completed.

"A stay of execution is necessary so that this Court and the Jefferson Circuit Court have the opportunity to adjudicate these issues on the merits and to ensure that the most significant power wielded by the State - the power to execute its citizens - is exercised in a constitutional manner," the appeals states. "To execute Mr. Arthur before his claims raising important constitutional issues have been heard on the merits would be patently unjust and would violate Alabama's constitutional responsibility to be 'a government of laws and not of individuals.'"

It is the 8th time since 2001 that the state has set an execution for Arthur for his conviction in the 1982 shooting death of Troy Wicker.

Arthur's attorneys also have filed appeals and an emergency request to stay the execution to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those appeals are based on Arthur's challenge to Alabama's method of execution that includes the drug midazolam as 1 of the 3 drugs.

Death penalty opponents, and other inmates and their attorneys will be closely monitoring the legal actions because of the controversial sedative midazolam used by Alabama and several other states in their lethal injection drug combinations. Lawyers have argued midazolam does not sedate the inmate enough to not feel the pain of the other drugs administered to stop the heart and lungs.

The 11th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court have previously denied Arthur's and other inmates' challenges to Alabama's lethal injection method, citing problems with executions in other states using midazolam.

But Arthur's attorneys argue there have been problems with more recent executions in Alabama and other states since Arthur's previous challenges to the state's lethal injection method were rejected.

During the Dec. 8 execution of Alabama death row inmate Ronald Bert Smith, Smith heaved and appeared to be gasping for breath for about 13 minutes after being injected with midazolam. He was given 2 consciousness tests -- 1 is routine -- before the final 2 drugs were administered.

Smith's lawyers called the execution "botched," but Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison system followed its protocol. Prison officials, however, have refused to provide attorneys with records of executions, according to the court documents.

Arthur's lawyers also cited a January execution in Virginia and 2 April executions in Arkansas as examples of inmates who struggled on gurneys, either gasping for air or convulsing. Those 2 states also use midazolam.

Arthur's lawyers argue in their latest appeal that Arthur faces "a nightmarish death ... conscious but entirely paralyzed, unable to move or scream his agony."

"Such an 'intentional infliction of gratuitous pain' is the very 'evil the Eighth Amendment targets' with its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments," according to the appeals filed by Arthur's attorneys. "And because the ADOC injected agonizingly painful execution drugs into Ronald Bert Smith Jr. knowing that Mr. Smith was conscious and sensate, the ADOC ran afoul of the Eighth Amendment's absolute prohibition on methods of execution that 'involve torture or a lingering death.' The ADOC plans to do the same to Mr. Arthur in a matter of days."

Arthur's lawyers also are appealing to the 11th Circuit a decision by a federal judge that denies them access to a phone during the execution.


Arthur is the 3rd-longest serving inmate on Alabama death row at more than 34 years. At 75, he's also the 2nd oldest on death row.

Timeline of Arthur's case:

On Feb. 1, 1982, police found Wicker, of Muscle Shoals, shot to death in his bed -- a gunshot wound to his right eye.

At the time of the Wicker murder, Arthur was serving at a Decatur work release center for a conviction in the 1977 murder of his sister-in-law, Eloise West, in Marion County. Another woman was wounded. Having 2 murder convictions in that short a span made him eligible for the death penalty. Arthur was convicted of capital murder in 1983.

In 1985, Arthur's conviction in the Wicker case was overturned because details of the earlier murder had been introduced at his trial.

On Jan. 27, 1986, while awaiting retrial, Arthur escaped from the Colbert County jail by shooting a jailer in the neck with a .25 caliber pistol and forcing another jailer to open his cell. He was caught a month later by FBI agents in Knoxville, Tenn., after robbing a bank.

Arthur was retried for the Wicker murder in 1987, with the case moved to Jefferson County because of publicity. He was convicted, but the conviction was again overturned. Wicker's wife at first claimed she was raped by a burglar who then killed her husband. But she was later convicted in the case and she testified at a later trial for Arthur that she had sex with Arthur before the shooting and then paid him $10,000 from her husband's life insurance policy after the killing.

Arthur was tried again in Jefferson County and convicted in 1991. That verdict was upheld.

Before he was sentenced, Arthur asked jurors to recommend the death penalty. He said that he did not have a death wish, but that the sentence would provide more access to appeals. A lawyer for the state at that time said Arthur "knows how to work the system."

Tuscumbia attorney William Hovater, who was appointed to defend Arthur after he fired his first 2 attorneys and later escaped from the Colbert County Jail, told a reporter after one trial that he had worked a plea agreement for Arthur to be sentenced to life without parole, if he pleaded guilty. Arthur declined. "He never admitted that he did it," Hovater told a reporter.

Arthur's 7 execution stays may not be the most ever for Alabama.

A New York Times review of the book by S. Jonathan Bass, "He Calls Me by Lightning - The Life of Caliph Washington and the Forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty," stated that then Gov. George Wallace stayed Washington's execution 13 times for the 1957 shooting death of a Bessemer police officer.

Washington was later ordered released but his conviction was not overturned.

Arthur has repeatedly tried to have evidence tested for DNA that he says was never tested. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey denied the testing of a wig (allegedly worn by the killer), which state officials say had been tested before in 2009 and found not to contain any genetic material.

This is the 1st execution for Ivey, who could stay or commute his sentence. But with less than 2 days to go Ivey has not said what she will do in Arthur's case.

Arthur in a May 15 letter to says he wants to apologize to his 4 children "for my failure to be the kind of father to them my father was to me."

"I concentrated on providing the best of material things I possibly could and did not spend time with them, showing explaining things they would experience in life. I am sorry and it's a very big reasons I've fought so long, so hard to get a new trial and out of prison so I could at least try to be a good grandfather," Arthur wrote.

Arthur continues to claim his innocence, but in a recent letter to he apologizes to the family of his former sister-in-law, Ms. West, who he admits he had killed 5 years earlier in a drunken rage.

"I was and am forever sorry for needlessly taking the innocent life of Mrs. West and shooting Ms. Harbin. I pled no contest and accepted my punishment. I can not blame my acute alcohol addiction. That's no excuse. I committed a stupid act I can not take back. I am truly sorry," he wrote.

Arthur in another letter to stated the prison system wasn't going to allow a chaplain to hold a photo of Arthur's children in the death chamber while he is being executed. A prison spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.


Judge: Stephen Stone mentally incompetent to stand trial in strangling deaths of wife, son

A Madison County Circuit Judge has committed Stephen Stone to the Alabama Department of Mental Health to regain competency to stand trial for killing his wife and young son.

Based on written reports by doctors, psychologists and a forensic examiner, Judge Donna Pate ruled Stone, 37, of Huntsville, is mentally incompetent to assist in his defense during his death penalty trial, court records show.

"The court ... hereby finds that the defendant is incompetent, and that there is substantial probability that the defendant will become competent within a reasonable period of time," Pate wrote in court records.

Stone is pursuing an insanity defense on 2 counts of capital murder. He is charged in the slayings of 7-year-old Zachary and 32-year-old Krista Stone, whose bodies were found Feb. 24, 2013 at their home on Chicamauga Trail in south Huntsville. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Because of Stone's mental illness or defect, he "poses a real and present threat of substantial harm to himself or others," Pate wrote in her order.

Pate is committing Stone to the Department of mental health for further evaluation and treatment, court records show.

"If treatment is indicated to restore his competency, it should be able to be accomplished within 90 days after his commitment and initiation of treatment," Pate wrote in the order.

Pate said she will schedule a hearing six months after Stone's commitment.

Stone was scheduled for trial this past March, but the proceedings were halted pending completion of the mental evaluation, which was requested by the defense team. It's not clear when the case may go to trial.

(source for both:


Capital murder case from death of 5-year-old begins jury selection

Jury selection has begun in the case of an Auburn man charged with capital murder and possibly facing the death penalty for abusing his 5-year-old stepdaughter to death in June 2015, according to prosecutors.

George William Barton faces charges for allegedly inflicting fatal injuries on his 5-year-old stepdaughter Caley Presley at the Rosie Street home of Barton and Presley's mother, Cyndi Barton, on June 7, 2015, in Auburn. Barton previously pleaded not guilty.

Barton has stated that he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his time serving in the Air Force as a jet engine mechanic and that he is prescribed medicine for the condition, according to previous reports in the Opelika-Auburn News.

Testimony in a preliminary hearing in June 2015 revealed that Barton claims he was disciplining his daughter with a belt when some of her injuries occurred.

Among injuries such as a broken clavicle, extensive external bruising and numerous internal injuries, Caley also suffered a left skull fracture and brain bleeding, according to earlier reports.

Admitting to striking Caley with a belt, Barton alleged that Caley struck her head on a dresser in the home that Sunday morning, which caused her head injury. Barton contended that he was not present for the head injury.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes said prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case. Hughes said opening statements are expected to begin Thursday.



Akron man arrested on charges relating to fire that killed 7 family members may face death penalty----Investigators charge neighbor with murder and arson in Akron fire that killed family of 7

An Akron man arrested for an arson that left 7 people dead could face the death penalty.

Assistant Akron Prosecutor Marissa Pappas said this is possible Tuesday morning during Stanley Ford's initial court appearance via video conference in Akron Municipal Court.

Ford, 58, is charged with 7 counts of aggravated murder and 1 count of aggravated arson for a fire last week that killed a mother, father and5 children. Ford, who goes by Stan, lives close enough to the Fultz Street home that he could have seen the flames.

Akron Municipal Court Judge Ann Marie O'Brien denied bond for Ford Tuesday.

The judge asked Pappas if this could turn into a capital case for the purpose of choosing Ford's attorney. When Pappas said it could, O'Brien appointed Joseph Gorman, who has experience in death penalty cases, to represent Ford.

"Ford adamantly denies involvement in this horrific incident," said Gorman, who met with his new client Tuesday morning.

Ford will be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in Akron Municipal Court. Gorman said he plans to bring up the issue of bond. He said he expects a high bond, considering the nature of the charges.

O'Brien said she denied Ford bond Tuesday because of the seriousness of the charges and the potential danger he could pose if released.

"I can't remember so many victims losing their lives in Summit County," she said.

During Ford's initial court appearance via video conference from Summit County Jail, O'Brien explained the potential penalties he faces for the current charges. The aggravated murder charges each have a penalty of up to life in prison without parole, while the arson charge carries a penalty of 3 to 11 years.

The case meets the parameters for a death-penalty specification because it involves multiple murders, including of juveniles, and was allegedly done during the commission of a violent crime - arson.

The Summit County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the case to present to the grand jury.

Gorman said he is hoping the prosecutor will choose not to pursue the death penalty.

"They have that discretion," he said.

Gorman offered condolences to the family of the fire victims from both him and Ford.

The May 15 fire claimed the lives of Dennis Huggins, 35, and Angela Boggs, 38, and their 5 children: Cameron Huggins, 1; Alivia Huggins, 3; Kyle Huggins, 5; Daisia Huggins, 6 and Jared Boggs, 14.



Lexington judge frustrated with delays, costs of capital cases

Judge Pamela Goodwine is a circuit court judge for the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Fayette County. Recently, Judge Goodwine says she is seeing more and more capital cases being tried in Fayette County. It's a trend that she says is using up more funds and resources.

"Because we share prosecutors, we share public defenders, and these cases are beginning to overlap," Judge Goodwine said.

This year alone, Judge Goodwine says she has three capital cases on the docket, one from 2013.

"This trial is set to start November 1st and yet there's a motion to continue that's been filed and will be heard tomorrow. It is frustrating, and it is aggravating," the judge remarked.

She says the request for that delay is likely because the public defender is the same attorney on another capital case which is going to trial the month before.

"Once a victim's family has a trial date, they want to go to trial," Judge Goodwine said.

She says the delays are not only frustrating for victims' families but also costly for taxpayers.

"It takes far more taxpayer dollars to death qualify a jury. It takes far more time to try a capital case," the judge said. "I agree, but it's not being implemented. The death penalty is not being carried out."

"May 23, 1986, a jury handed down two death sentences for Victor Taylor who is still alive and well on death row," Judge Goodwine said.

Judge Goodwine says the trial for one suspect facing the death penalty in her courtroom cost $150,000 just for his defense. Meanwhile, a non-capital case she heard, "was just as gruesome if you will. That deserved every bit of attention in the Doneghy case. We are talking $22,000."

"If we weren't spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to death qualify all these jurors in capital cases, then there would be extra money for attorneys."

While Judge Goodwine says she's unsure of a solution, she is hopeful one is out there. She hopes to work together with prosecutors and the department of public advocacy to find a way to manage the influx of capital cases better.

"In my opinion, seeing that justice is applied in an effective and efficient manner is my job."

(source: WKYT news)


Cop killers deserve death penalty

I just wanted to say that if anyone could have the audacity to take the precious life of a police officer, or anyone else for that matter, then that person obviously has no regard for life itself.

The individuals who recently took a deputy's life exhibited the coldest, cruelest and most callous actions that even animals don't exhibit. They're beyond animals though.

Any good ideas out there as to how this man should be dealt with? I'm thinking "an eye for an eye" would be 110 % justifiable. At least this way the taxpayers would be spared the expense of caring for and housing this worthless waste of oxygen, pile of cow dung.

It's too bad that this officer's children have to unnecessarily grow up without their father. The whole family will be hurting for many years after this piece of trash is dead and thankfully gone. I hope he dresses warm, because he's going straight to hell. Jail might cheer him for what he's done, but it's not gonna do him any good where he's going.

Shawn Carmen,


(source: Letter to the Editor, The Missoulian)


With A Retail Partner, Anti-Death Penalty Movement Can Smell Success----The often-ignored issue finds a fragrant angel in Lush as it hopes to add mainstream support to every shopping bag.

On a recent spring evening along the Magnificent Mile, a cluster of shoppers gathered amid heaps of organic soap and fizzy bath bombs to engage in a decidedly less effervescent topic: the death penalty.

Lush, the activist-minded cosmetics company, was kicking off an anti-capital punishment campaign at its Michigan Avenue store, complete with speakers, including a death row exonoree, and a mini-documentary about wrongful convictions. Lush launched a special edition of its signature product, the bath bomb, to raised funds for the campaign, and it has drawn the notice of Teen Vogue, the beauty and lifestyle site Refinery29 and others.

At a store where customers typically come to sample beauty products or maybe enjoy a bachelorette party, neither the setting nor the audience was typical of the traditional anti-death penalty contingent - and that's exactly what advocates want.

Anti-death penalty advocates have looked to recent successful social justice movements as a blueprint. The goal, they say, is for the anti-death penalty movement to make the same progress as issues such as marriage equality and environmental protection, and to move from a back-burner issue to wider acceptance.

"We used to be in a lot of churches and vigils exclusively," Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said at the Chicago event (the NCADP is a beneficiary of the campaign). "But now, opposition to the death penalty is the mainstream. Why not have it here?"

Such partnerships seem poised for success: Activists can capitalize on a company's broad reach and mainstream status to amplify and normalize a message, while the company can align with an issue that reinforces its identity at a time when a brand taking a socially conscious position is not only common but even advantageous.

Rust-Tierney said at least 20 national organizations - from pharmaceutical companies to the travel, entertainment and tech conglomerate Virgin - have taken a stance against the death penalty.

"What Lush is doing is taking an activist position against the death penalty, and they feel that's consistent with their corporate mission, which has been involved wth social justice for some time," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that compiles and analyzes data on capital punishment.

Dunham agrees that, by all indications, the anti-death penalty movement has edged its way into mainstream acceptance, as polls show.

The younger you are ... you're more likely to wonder why there even is a death penalty----Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center

"The phenomenon is not new, but it is emerging now that you have it associated with a product that has broader commercial appeal," Dunham said of Lush's effort. "A restaurant is one thing, when you have a small but reliable clientele. A company that sells products to the general public is a different story. But it's part of the same phenomenon that shows the trend continues to evolve."

Though support for the death penalty remains strong, particularly among older and more politically conservative people, it has fallen over the past few decades: 80 % of Americans backed the death penalty in the mid-1990s, according to Gallup polling; last year, support had fallen to 60 %.

Dunham notes that anti-death penalty support is in part generational.

"It's more like the issue of marriage equality and climate change, where the younger you are, more often than not it’s not even an issue - you're more likely to wonder why there even is a death penalty," he said.

The death penalty is also increasingly viewed as a social justice issue because of racial and economic bias in sentencing, said Dunham. As a result, the anti-death penalty movement fits in with other social justice issues, like criminal justice reform, income inequality and racism.

The growing opposition to the death penalty includes high-profile figures such as Pope Francis and institutions including the Democratic Party, which added abolition of the death penalty to its platform last year.

"When 1 of the 2 major political parties has a plank in its platform about something, you can't say that the issue is that far outside the mainstream."

The Lush "31 States' bath bomb is a special edition of the company's signature product meant to boost awareness of the death penalty in the U.S. and to raise money for abolition-focused nonprofits. The name refers to the 31 states where the death penalty is legal.

For decades, death penalty opposition was championed by a set of reliable groups that included liberal lawmakers, criminal justice reformers and progressive Catholics.

The tent has broadened considerably to include groups like political conservatives and evangelical Christians. Leno Rose-Avila, executive director of Witness to Innocence, which supports those who have been exonerated after serving time in prison, hopes to make it an even bigger tent.

"One of the areas we missed over the years was not reaching women and not reaching young people," Rose-Avila said. "We were successful in some levels with legislatures, which were usually older men. But we found there was new demographic out there that hasn't been reached."

"Look at the environment, Black Lives Matter, immigration - they're youthful movements," he added. "You don't see too many gray hairs out there."

Rose-Avila recalls working in the South for Amnesty International in the late 1980s when the nonprofit made the same kind of outreach to youth that anti-death penalty groups are making now: The 1988 Human Rights Now! campaign was a multi-city tour that featured artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman and Sting. It was underwritten by the philanthropic arm of Reebok.

"Every movement needs a major stakeholder," noted Rust-Tierney, of the NCADP.

Advocates are aware that pushback will continue even as the anti-death penalty movement advances - just as it has with gay rights. In last November's election, California, Nebraska and Oklahoma passed pro-death penalty ballot referendums. It also remains a fraught emotional issue, especially for the families of murder victims.

Rust-Tierney hopes the current campaign and others that may follow will reach more people - including victims.

"There's no right or wrong way for victims to feel about the death penalty. Having the conversation is the victory. We also want to put the focus back on healing. The death penalty traumatizes everyone it touches."

(source: Kim Bellware, Huffington Post)


Army court rejects latest appeal by convicted murderer Ronald Gray

Convicted serial rapist and murderer Ronald Gray moved a step closer to death earlier this month when an Army court dismissed the latest attempt to stave off his execution.

A 9-judge panel in the Army Court of Criminal Appeals on May 9 unanimously denied Gray's petition to have his convictions and death sentence vacated.

Gray, who has made numerous appeals through his lawyers since his conviction during a Fort Bragg court-martial in 1988, had filed the petition in the Army court earlier this year, after a federal judge in another court ruled that a stay of execution first granted in November 2008 was no longer in effect and denied Gray's request to further block the military from moving forward with the death sentence.

Gray has been confined at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since he was sentenced to death.

A former resident of Fairlane Acres near Bonnie Doone in Fayetteville, he served as an Army cook before he was convicted in a series of rapes and murders in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg more than 25 years ago.

His crimes were committed in 1986 and 1987 on Fort Bragg and near Fairlane Acres Mobile Home Park off Santa Fe Drive.

Gray killed cab driver Kimberly Ann Ruggles, Army Pvt. Laura Lee Vickery-Clay, Campbell University student Linda Jean Coats and Fairlane Acres resident and soldier's wife Tammy Wilson and raped several other women.

In addition to the death sentence handed down by a military court, he also received 8 life sentences from civilian courts, including 3 to be served consecutively.

The case has lingered in the courts for more than 8 years since President George W. Bush approved Gray's execution in 2008. All military executions must be approved by the president.

But late last year, a federal U.S. District Court judge in Kansas removed the stay, months after the same court dismissed a petition for relief filed by Gray.

At the time, Army Disciplinary Barracks officials said they intended to set a date for Gray's execution no earlier than 30 days from the date of their notice, which was filed on Nov. 21.

But earlier this year, Army officials said no execution date had been set due to pending legal actions in the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

On Wednesday, an Army spokeswoman said Gray has 30 days following the May 9 opinion to file for a reconsideration with the court or, alternatively, 20 days to petition for review with the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. As of Wednesday, the case had not been listed in that court's daily journal.

In their latest petition, Gray's lawyers asked the court to grant relief in the form of a writ of coram nobis, a legal order that allows a court to correct a judgment based on the discovery of a fundamental error which did not appear in the records of the original trial.

Specifically, lawyers argued that Gray was tried while incompetent to stand trial; that he was denied due process when military authorities failed to disclose evidence about his competency during appeal; that he was denied his rights to due process, fair sentencing and a public trial because President Bush used a confidential report in making his decision to approve Gray's death sentence; that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel at his capital sentencing; that his appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance; that his sentence was the result of racial discrimination; and that the military death penalty violates evolving standards of decency under the Eighth Amendment.

The Army appeals court denied 6 of the claims outright, dismissed the claim involving President Bush as being outside its jurisdiction and denied Gray's motion for an oral argument in the case.

Gray is the longest-serving inmate on the military's death row. If he is executed, officials said he likely would be put to death at the United States Penitentiary in Terre, Haute, Indiana - the same facility where, in 2001, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

If Gray is executed, it would be the 1st for the U.S. military since 1961.

(source: The Fayetteville Observer)


Urgent Action


Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam is now facing 6 charges 2 of which may result in the death penalty or life imprisonment if he is convicted. Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam was arrested on 7 December 2016 and is being detained for his human rights work in Sudan.

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

* Urging the Sudanese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma;

* Urging them to ensure that Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma are granted access to their lawyers, families and adequate medical treatment;

* Urging them to investigate allegations that Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Edris Eldoma were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and ensure that they are not subjected to further torture and other ill-treatment pending their release

Friendly reminder: If you send an email, please create your own instead of forwarding this one!

Contact these 2 officials by 6 July, 2017:


Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Office of the President

People's Palace

PO Box 281

Khartoum, Sudan

Salutation: Your Excellency

Ambassador Maowia Osman Khalid

Embassy of the Republic of Sudan

2210 Massachusetts Ave. NW

Washington DC 20008

Phone: 202 338 8565

Fax: 1 202 667 2406


Salutation: Dear Ambassador

(source: Amnesty International)


Man awarded death penalty for murdering relative

A court ruled death sentence to an accused involved in a murder case in Sargodha the other day. The verdict was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Javed Iqbal Ranjha.

The prosecution told the court that accused Sheikh Muhammad, a resident of Bhakkar, and his son Azhar Hussain had gunned down their relative Amir Shahzad over a domestic dispute in 2015.

The local police had registered a case against the accused and presented the challan before the court. After hearing the arguments, the judge handed down death sentence to Sheikh Muhammad along with a fine of Rs0.2 million as compensation money. However, the judge acquitted Azhar Hussain over lack of evidence.

(source: Pakistan Today)


Stop executions and abolish the death penalty - Malaysian Bar

The Malaysian Bar is deeply troubled that 2 persons - Yong Kar Mun, aged 48, and an individual whose identity has not been reported - were executed by hanging at Sungai Buloh Prison yesterday morning. The prison authorities there had written to the family of Yong Kar Mun on May 19, 2017 to inform them that he would be hanged to death soon, and that they could pay him a final visit on May 23, 2017.

Yong Kar Mun had been convicted under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971 for discharging a firearm when committing a robbery, and the mandatory death penalty was meted out.

The Malaysian Bar is appalled that the 2 executions yesterday bring the total of reported executions this year to 4: Rames Batumalai, aged 44, and his brother Suthar Batumalai, aged 39, were reportedly executed at Kajang Prison on March 15, 2017.

Every individual has an inherent right to life - as enshrined in Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution - which is absolute, universal and inalienable, irrespective of any crimes that have been committed.

We do not condone or excuse any crimes that have been committed. There is no denying that guilty persons ought to receive punishment, and justice must be served. However, to be just and effective, punishment must always be proportionate to the gravity of offences committed, and the State must never resort to taking a human life. Furthermore, studies have shown that there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty.

The death penalty is an extreme, abhorrent and inhumane punishment, and must not be taken lightly, as it is irreversible.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Government to act swiftly to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, stop executions, and commute each death sentence to one of life imprisonment.

(source: This statement is submitted by George Varughese, president of the Malaysian


Restoring the death penalty after a long lapse?

People support, or oppose the death penalty for a wide range of reasons. At one extreme are those who believe that executions are inherently right as an expression of society's revulsion at murder, and that society is morally justified in exacting this retribution. At the other end of the spectrum are those whose oppose executions on equally deeply felt moral or religious grounds, or because they find profoundly repugnant the deliberate pre-planned execution of a prisoner by servants of the state. No argument is likely to affect those firmly committed to either of these positions. In between, however - and this will be the large majority - are those capable of being persuaded.

Many favour the death penalty on the "deterrent" basis. But the possibility of any punishment is a deterrent. What is involved here is whether the death penalty is a unique or special deterrent as opposed to other punishments. People are likely to change their minds when this is shown to be unproved and unprovable, and when the true deterrent is pointed out. As the highest court of South Africa said in 1995:

The greatest deterrence to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished. It is that which is lacking in our criminal justice system.

From our own history of valiant attempts to abolish the death penalty by many great Sri Lankans over the years, we find Susantha de Fonseka saying, in the colonial legislature in 1936:

Sir, is it not likely that murders are on the increase today because ... people realise that the chances of detection are small and that the chances of conviction are even less. No, Sir, what is wanted is not severity of punishment: what is wanted is certainty of detection, certainty of punishment."

Many abolitionists are influenced by the certainty that innocent persons will be hanged. And this is a certainty, for no human institution is infallible, as has been demonstrated time and time again elsewhere. Persons (commendably) concerned with the interests of victims' families will often concede that these can be met by categorizing murders for the purpose of imprisonment periods, and parole boards to which representations may be made against premature release. Some argue that executions should be retained for particularly horrific murders. Certain murders evoke public outrage, and justifiably so. But it is precisely here that miscarriages of justice are likely. There is tremendous pressure on the police - from superiors, from political masters, from the public - to make quick arrests. A speedy arrest once made and highly publicized is difficult to go back on. Subsequent discoveries which might raise doubts are likely to be unwelcome and trails leading in other directions ignored. Review by learned judges at a final stage is no solution, as the harm is done at the initial pre-trial investigation. The writer has been profoundly disturbed at several of the resulting convictions in some such cases, and is aware that this discomfiture is shared by others.

Restoring the death penalty after a long lapse makes a gruesome operation even more so. Home Secretary William Whitelaw, who had earlier voted against abolition in Britain, in 1979 voted against its reintroduction, saying:

We should pause to consider what that would mean to the prison staff who would be involved, directly or indirectly, in executions, and for the prison establishments in which executions would take place and for their other inmates. Of course, executions took place in the past and were endured, if not always accepted, by those whose duty it was. But the prisons have been without executions for 15 years . . .

How much worse in Sri Lanka; we have a lapse of 41 years. There is no hangman who has even undergone the (previously mandatory) training of assisting at executions, let alone performed one himself. No senior prison or medical staff has previously officiated at executions. Quite apart from the possibility of horrendously botched executions, it is wrong to now impose such duties on prison staff and medical officers. If there are some who volunteer, that very fact, in this writer's opinion, gives rise to grave discomfiture.

People passionately yearn for a peaceful crime-free society. The responsibility of governments is to address criminality effectively, and not divert attention with illusory "quick fixes". Abdicating this responsibility would place an unfair burden on the public. Opinion polls simplify the extent to which responses are based on accurate perceptions, and the means available for combating crime. Results often depend on how a question is framed. A "yes" to capital punishment can easily turn into a "No" if accompanied by alternatives or explanations.

The responsibility of leaders is to lead, to guide. Our society is complex and contains different strands, some inspiring, some frightening. We should nurture the good and discourage the bad. Political leaders and lawmakers need to make a serious study before taking so grim a step as resuming judicial hangings. This includes acquainting themselves with the worldwide trend towards abolition, the UN studies on the issue, the South African case where all eleven judges wrote individual judgments striking down the death penalty, and the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission of UK. This last-named had by end July 2009 resulted in 280 convictions being quashed out of the 397 examined, some 50 of these being murder cases.

Slavery was once legal and widely accepted; abolition came through years of effort. It has been the same with torture, and with the death penalty, now viewed with abhorrence in most of the world. Is that not why the International Criminal Court, and other tribunals set up to deal with the most appalling crimes known to mankind such as genocide, specifically exclude the death penalty? Is not that why our own government resumed the earlier practice of supporting the United Nations regular calls for a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards its total abolition?

(source: Suriya Wickremasinghe; The writer, a lawyer, is founder member of the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka (1971), and currently its Honorary


Hamas must urgently halt executions of 3 men sentenced after unfair trial

Responding to reports that Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip will tomorrow execute 3 men accused of killing senior Hamas commander Mazen Faqha on 24 March, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Magdalena Mughrabi said:

"The 3 men scheduled to be hanged or shot in Gaza Thursday were tried in a court that utterly disregarded international fair trial standards. If carried out, these cruel executions will constitute an appalling breach of international human rights law.

"It is not too late to save these men's lives. We are urging the Hamas authorities to immediately halt these executions and ensure that the men are given a fair retrial. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment which should never be used in any circumstances."


Mazen Faqha, a commander in Hamas' military wing, was shot in the head and chest at the entrance of his Gaza City home on 24 March.

Hamas formed a military court that sentenced the 3 men to death under the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Revolutionary Code which does not comply with Palestinian Basic Law of 2003. The 3 men were sentenced to death on 21 May in a trial that lasted 1 week and consisted of 4 brief sessions only.

Palestinian law provides that the President must approve death sentences before they are implemented. However, since 2010, the Hamas de facto administration has been carrying out executions without obtaining the President's approval.

(source: Amnesty International)


Mass Executions Immediately After Election Farce

The mullahs' regime in Iran has immediately relaunched its domestic crackdown machine after the election farce, especially through executions and torture in prisons across the country. 10 inmates in the prisons of Tabriz, Zahedan, Ardebil, Kermanshah and Isfahan, and Karaj Central Prison were hanged on May 22 and 23. 9 of these cases were carried out on May 23 alone.

Authorities in Zahedan executed 30-year-old Abdulkarim Shahnavazi and placed a noose on another prisoner. After witnessing Shahnavazi's death, the latter was brought down from the gallows and told his execution will be carried in 40 days.

Seeking to rein in increasing protests and the abhorrence of the younger generation in cities across the country, the mullahs' regime has yet again resorted to mass executions.

While referring to the huge numbers of intelligence and security agents deployed on Friday, May 19, Iranian Interior Minister Rahmani Fazli said, "All youths were in the streets during the last 4 nights. The situation was very concerning. Our state has enemies."

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

MAY 24, 2017:


Opening the back door to abolishing the death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday seemingly delivered a fatal body blow to any desires held by state lawmakers, prosecutors, or the families of murder victims for reversing the quick and radical judicial overhaul of Florida's death penalty.

The nation's high court refused to consider Attorney General Pam Bondi's appeal of a new state law, engineered earlier this year to appease a past ruling of the Florida Supreme Court, that mandated juries to issue death sentences by unanimous verdict.

Thus, the federal court's decision completes the Florida Supreme Court's usurpation of the Legislature's authority over the ultimate sentence, as well as the creation of a backdoor method for blocking capital punishment in the future.

Bondi argued on appeal that the Florida Supreme Court had misinterpreted a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared Florida's system unconstitutional because judges, and not juries, issued death sentences. That finding was based on an appeal by Timothy Hurst, convicted in 1998 in the brutal slaying of a Pensacola Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant employee, who had been bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times and dumped into a freezer.

Hurst, like every other feath row inmate since Florida re-established capital punishment in 1972, was sentenced to die by a judge after a jury had recommended death with the endorsement of at least 7 of the 12 jurors. In January 2016, however, the U.S. Supreme Court, after reviewing Hurst's case in the light of an earlier decision from Arizona, determined that the jury, and not the judge, must hand down the sentence.

Lawmakers thought they fixed that last year by requiring jurors to unanimously agree on at least 1 factor that would prescribe the death penalty, and then mandating a 10-2 supermajority to impose the sentence.

Yet a majority of the Florida Supreme Court, citing the Hurst case, overturned that hastily assembled statute. Florida's justices decreed last fall that the sentencing verdict must be unanimous - an issue never considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurst's case.

Although lawmakers conceded, Bondi appealed on that point.

The state Supreme Court's majority stated in its Hurst ruling that the process for determining guilt in every criminal case that goes before a jury must be applied to the sentencing proceeding in a death case, which is a separate event from the defendant's actual trial.

Besides extrapolating that from thin air in its read of the federal decision, the majority's intellectual gymnastics raises a question: If, under the U.S. Constitution, a defendant facing death can only be sentenced by a jury, shouldn't a jury sentence defendants in all cases for everything else up to 1st-degree murder? What sets a murder case apart?

As baffling as that finding was, even more so was the Florida Supreme Court majority's fanciful thinking that capital punishment will not be hindered by a single juror's conscience.

The court determined that juries must unanimously agree on all parts of the sentencing phase - including deciding that all factors exist to impose death, that those must outweigh any that could spare the defendant's life, and the ratification of the sentence itself. In doing so, the majority noted that there was "no basis for concern that requiring a unanimous death recommendation before death may be imposed will allow a single juror, who for personal reasons would under no circumstances vote to impose capital punishment, to derail the process."

One does not have to be a proponent of the death penalty to be concerned about how this ruling was reached or its effects. The state court's majority trespassed into the Legislature's realm and grabbed a political tool to resolve a legal question - which Justice Charles Canady alluded to in his dissenting opinion. By mandating that every step be a unanimous decision, Canady wrote, the majority "wrenches" the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling "out of context" and thus "fundamentally misapprehends and misuses (Hurst), thereby unnecessarily disrupting the administration of the death penalty in Florida."

And if Canady's colleagues doubt his take on how potent a well-motivated holdout can be in the emotional pressure cooker of the jury room during death penalty deliberations, we would urge them watch Henry Fonda in "12 Angry Men."

After all, despite his horrific crime, the jury vote for death in Hurst's case was 11-1. Last year, meanwhile, a Florida House staff analysis found that only 20 % of the 296 defendants sent to death row between 2000 and 2012 landed there via a unanimous jury vote.

A system in place for 45 years has been utterly upended within 16 months, and by failing to ensure its language and intent in the Hurst ruling were clearly understood in Tallahassee, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Florida justices to legislate from the bench, which is a setback for all the families who seek justice for the loved ones taken violently from them - as well as those who may face that in the future.

(source: Editorial, The Ledger)


Florida's new death penalty rule means fewer death sentences

Florida's new death penalty sentencing rules will keep some criminals from sitting on death row.

Take the case of Andy Avalos, Jr., convicted on 3 murder charges, 2 of them 1st-degree murder. State Attorney Ed Brodsky thought the decision was crystal clear.

"3 separate individuals he killed were brutally killed, we believe (that) warranted the death penalty," says Brodsky.

Yet a jury gave Andy Avalos a sentence of life in prison without parole, thanks to a new Florida rule. It requires a jury to agree unanimously on the death penalty, and a judge has no say.

Brodsky says, "We're disappointed, but we respect the jury's verdict."

Under the old rule, Avalos would have gotten death for the murder of Pastor James Tripp Battle. The jury voted 7-5, and a majority was all that was needed.

"I think it's going to be harder. I think the Florida Supreme Court placed a significant burden on prosecutors in the state of Florida," says Brodsky.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty unconstitutional and the state rewrote its death penalty guidelines. It's a move criminal defense attorney Derek Byrd says was the right one.

"The death penalty doesn't work, it never worked or going to work from my standpoint," Byrd says. "I'm glad it's a higher burden. It does not work doesn't prevent murders and actually costs taxpayers more money to have death penalty than to put someone in prison for the rest of their lives (due to) the nature of appeals."

One report tallies the average cost for the 12- to 15-year-long appeals process at more than a million dollars per death row inmate.

Without the death penalty, Byrd says prosecutors lose their leverage for plea deals.

"Now it's so difficult to get the death penalty I think more defendants will roll the dice and say, 'I'll take my chances in trial.' It's still going to be difficult to convince 12 people someone deserves the death penalty."

All it takes is 1 juror?

"All it takes is 1," Byrd says.

That means prosecutors will also have to work harder at selecting a jury that is willing to give the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime.

200 inmates placed on death row since 2002 are eligible for another sentencing hearing if their verdict wasn't a unanimous one.

Florida has 367 inmates on death row, including 4 women. Florida has executed 91 prisoners since 1979.

(source: WTSP news)


After SCOTUS Denies Appeal AG Bondi Ready To Move Ahead With Capital Cases

The US Supreme Court is refusing to take up a further challenge in Florida's precedent setting capital case Hurst v. Florida.

The high court's decision not to hear the appeal brings an end to a years-long fight over unanimous jury sentences in Florida's death penalty system. Attorney General Pam Bondi is ready to put the failed appeal behind her and prepare for new hearings in many cases finalized after 2002.

"Currently we're operating under the new death penalty statute," Bondi says. "Going forward, I feel very comfortable. We're securing unanimous death penalty recommendations, post-2002, meaning Ring v. Arizona - those cases will come back for resentencing."

The state supreme court's decision to impose a 2002 cut off for new hearings is an anomaly. But Bondi doesn't see a problem with carrying out sentences for the cases on the wrong side of the line.

"I don't think Ted Bundy was a unanimous death penalty [recommendation], and clearly he should've been executed." Bondi says, "So no, I don't have a problem with that, but going forward we will respect the courts and the change in the law."

"That's our system - our laws evolve and change as we progress."

There are currently 367 people on death row. About 1/2 could be eligible for new hearings.

(source: WFSU news)

ALABAMA----impending execution

Ivey: Execution clemency 'one of most difficult decisions' for governor

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, 2 days before the 1st scheduled execution on her watch, was asked today whether she had received a request for clemency from Tommy Arthur and how she generally planned to handle such requests.

"That is absolutely one of the most difficult decisions any governor has to face," Ivey said. "Certainly, in reviewing the legal aspects on several different occasions, it's a subject I cannot discuss."

The Alabama Attorney General's Office says the ruling won't stop plans for Tommy Arthur's execution Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Holman Correctional Facility.

Ivey made the comment at Maxwell Air Force Base on Tuesday, where she held a ceremony to sign legislation related to the military in Alabama.

Arthur is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday night at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore for the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker.

Ivey Press Secretary Eileen Jones said the governor's office has not received a request for clemency from Arthur's lawyers.

Earlier this month, reported that Arthur wrote a four-page, hand-written letter to Ivey asking her to order DNA testing of hair he said was found at the crime scene and pleading for his life.

This is the 8th time the state has set an execution date for Arthur. The most recent previous date was in November, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay.


Court reverses ruling in death-row case, but AG says execution still on

Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur won a victory in court Tuesday, just 2 days before his scheduled execution, when a state appeals court reversed a judge's ruling that rejected Arthur's claim that the legislature, not the prison system, should decide on the method of execution.

But the Alabama Attorney General's Office says the ruling won't stop plans for Arthur's execution Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Holman Correctional Facility.

"I consulted with our capital litigation team. The Thomas Arthur execution is not off. No change," Mike Lewis, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office wrote in an email to

Arthur's attorneys also agreed that the ruling does not stay the execution.

It is the 8th time since 2001 that the state has set an execution for Arthur for his conviction in the 1982 shooting death of Troy Wicker.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday afternoon reversed the ruling last month by Montgomery Circuit Judge Truman Hobbs. "This matter is remanded to that court for it to vacate its judgment and transfer the case to the Jefferson Circuit Court ... Once the matter is transferred to the Jefferson Circuit Court, that court should hold it in abeyance until this Court issues its certificate of judgment," according to the appeals court ruling.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals does not rule that Arthur's challenge is correct, just that Hobbs should have transferred it to the Jefferson Circuit Court, the court in which Arthur was convicted.

The motion states that the Alabama Legislature, not the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), should be the one to decide what lethal injection drugs should be used.

Arthur's attorneys had argued that one reason why Arthur should not be executed is because the Alabama Legislature, not the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), should be the one to decide what lethal injection drugs should be used for executions, according to Arthur's motion.

The prison system also has been secretive about its' lethal injection drugs and is withholding review of public records on the last 2 executions, which the motion says were botched, Arthur's motion states.

"The Legislature's abdication of its role to set the state's execution law violates the improper delegation doctrine and the Alabama Constitution," Arthur's motion stated. "The role of the legislature is particularly critical given the controversial nature of the ADOC's current midazolam-based execution protocol."

Tommy Arthur is scheduled to die Thursday night for the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker.

ADOC's current lethal injection protocol uses 3 drugs: midazolam, a sedative that is used in medical practice to reduce anxiety; rocuronium bromide, a paralytic; and potassium chloride, a chemical salt to stop the heart, according to the motion.

"The choice of the 1st drug (midazolam) to be used is critical, because without an effective anesthetic, the 2nd and 3rd drugs would cause unbearable pain," Arthur's lawyers state. "But the drug the ADOC chose (in secret), midazolam, is not used in medical practice as a general anesthetic; rather, it is an anti-anxiety sedative in the same drug family as Valium and Xanax, and its use in lethal injection has been extremely problematic."

Hobbs in dismissing Arthur's complaint stated that Arthur should have filed it as a Rule 32 petition, which would have been precluded from being filed as being successive and past the deadline for such an appeal.

(source for both:


'It's mind over matter': Alabama prisoner faces execution date for the eighth time----7 times in 16 years Tommy Arthur has had his execution delayed. As he prepares for what could be his final appointment with the death chamber, he tells Ed Pilkington about a grisly - and traumatic - cycle

Tommy Arthur is caught in a ghoulish production of Groundhog Day. 7 times over the past 16 years he has been scheduled to be put to death in Alabama, and 7 times the courts have delayed the execution, most recently in November just minutes before he was strapped to the gurney.

Now Arthur, 75, finds himself once again caught in this grisly cycle, with only hours to go before his 8th and possibly final appointment with the death chamber. At 6pm on Thursday, barring intervention by Alabama's governor or the courts, he will be pumped with medical drugs until he dies.

To come so close to being killed by the state is extraordinary on any occasion, but 8 times? How has he endured repeated execution dates in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2016 and now 25 May 2017?

"It's a question of mind over matter," Arthur said in a phone interview from death row in Alabama's Holman correctional facility. "You can either let a stressful situation break you so you can't breathe, or you hold on to hope and use your every waking moment to fight."

By this late point in the process, most condemned inmates would be ordering their final meal. Not Arthur. "I don't believe in that last meal baloney - I never have the appetite. When they're trying to kill you, you're not hungry."

Other condemned prisoners at this stage would also be consoling themselves with a stream of visits from their loved ones. Not Arthur. He gave up having visitors after the sixth scheduled execution as the stress on both him and them was too much.

"It almost killed my eldest daughter, Sherrie," he said. "She came to 6 execution dates, and the stress of her father about to be killed was so traumatic it damaged her heart, she almost lost her business and home. So I told her to disconnect, I didn't want her coming any more. She didn't come to the 7th, and she won't be coming to this one."

Tommy Arthur has spent the past 34 years on death row.

Tommy Arthur is one of the longest serving capital prisoners in the US. He has spent the past 34 years on death row, 25 of those in the same 5ft x 8ft cell from which he emerges only briefly every other day to take a shower. He has a vivid way of describing his living conditions: "You couldn't put a baboon in this cell, they'd shut the zoo down."

Arthur was sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of Troy Wicker. The state accused him of carrying out a contract killing at the behest of Wicker's wife Judy, with whom Arthur had been having an affair; Judy Wicker was prosecuted separately and given life imprisonment.

At the time of the murder, Arthur was out of prison on work release, having served 5 years of a life sentence for the 2nd-degree murder of Eloise West, the sister of his common-law wife. He pleaded guilty to that unpremeditated killing, though he insisted it was an accident fueled by alcohol.

By contrast, he has always claimed innocence in the murder of Troy Wicker. Over the years he has been deeply involved in pursuing his legal appeals, and speaks of his own case with striking fluency and command of detail.

He points out that at her own trial Judy Wicker testified that the murderer was a burglar in her home who had beaten her up and raped her before killing her husband. It was only 5 years later, after she had been offered a deal to change her evidence that would see her get out of prison after serving only 10 years, that she pointed the finger at Arthur.

His lawyer, Suhana Han, emphasised the weakness of the prosecution case against him. "Neither a fingerprint or a weapon, nor any other physical evidence connects Arthur to the murder of Troy Wicker," she told the Guardian.

The prisoner and his legal team have been pushing for the latest DNA testing technology to be applied to crime scene materials, though the courts have rebuffed their requests and crucial evidence has gone missing. A rape kit taken from Judy Wicker at the time of the murder was lost or destroyed years ago, the state claims, while hairs found near the victim's body and in a wig presumed to have been used by the killer have not been subjected to the most sophisticated forensic techniques.

Arthur has sent a handwritten letter to Alabama's governor, Kay Ivey, pleading with her, so far without reply: "Please Governor Ivey, don't kill me with this evidence never being DNA-tested," he wrote.

Perhaps the best remaining hope for the condemned man is that the US supreme court will once again step in and postpone the execution. His lawyers have an emergency motion before the 11th circuit court of appeals relating to the sedative midazolam that has been used in several botched executions in modern times.

Midazolam was deployed in the most recent Alabama execution of Ron Smith in December, when the inmate heaved and coughed for 13 minutes. The motion argues that were the state to go ahead and use midazolam again on Thursday, despite what happened to Smith, it would be guilty of intentionally inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on Arthur, banned under the US constitution.

As Thursday's deadline approaches, Tommy Arthur's room for manoeuvre closes. Asked how he was preparing for the possibility that this time he might actually be executed, he said.

He had only 1 wish: to be allowed to issue a public apology to his children. "I failed them as a father, and I'm so sorry for that," he said.

As it happens, he will be able to deliver that message in person to Sherrie. A few hours after the phone interview with Arthur had ended, a member of his legal team contacted the Guardian to say that there had been a change of plan: his eldest daughter had decided that despite the trauma she wanted to be present - she will be by his side should his 8th summons to the death chamber turn out to be his last.

(source: The Guardian)

OHIO----new/re-set execution date

Court schedules 2nd execution attempt for Ohio killer

The Ohio Supreme Court has set a new execution date for a convicted killer who survived a botched execution attempt in 2009.

The court last week scheduled the lethal procedure for death row inmate Romell Broom for June 17, 2020.

Broom was sentenced to die for abducting, raping and killing 14-year-old Tryna Middleton in Cleveland in 1984.

The 62-year-old Broom is only the 2nd U.S. inmate to survive an execution after the process began.

The state stopped Broom's execution after 2 hours in September 2009, when executioners failed to find a usable vein following 18 attempts to insert needles.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley says Broom has stalled his execution for years with appeals.

Broom;'s attorneys say Broom has important appeals still pending.

(source: Associated Press)


Solicitor: Suspect in murder of Ashtabula teen could face death penalty

The man accused of kidnapping an Ashtabula teen is now charged with her murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.

In addition, 3 other people are charged in connection with the disappearance and death of 13-year-old Kara Zdanczewski.

John Bove, who has been in the Mercer County Jail since Sharon, Pennsylvania Police arrested him on May 11, has been bound over to the Ashtabula County Grand Jury on charges of aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Bove is charged with murdering Zdanczewski, whose body was found in Saybrook Township, which neighbors the city of Ashtabula.

3 other suspects from Ashtabula, Debra Bove, 47, Malachi Schultz, 20, and Stanley Wilfong, 56, are charged with obstructing justice.

Schultz and Wilfong are also charged with tampering with evidence according to Ashtabula City Solicitor Michael Franklin.

All 3 are in the Ashtabula City Jail.

Police note that Schultz was originally charged with complicity in murder and kidnapping, but those charges are temporarily withdrawn pending and investigation.

The solicitor says more charges could be filed as the investigation continues.

Franklin says that a conviction on a charge of aggravated murder could result in a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty. A kidnapping conviction could bring a 3 to 11-year sentence.

Obstructing justice and evidence tampering are punishable with sentences of between 9 months and 3 years in prison.

The cases are expected to be presented to a grand jury in Ashtabula County which will decide if there is enough evidence to put the suspects on trial.

According to an affidavit, Zdanczewski's parents, who know Bove, asked him to take the teen out of their home because they didn't want their daughter exposed to an argument the 2 were having.

It was the last time they saw their daughter.

Bove is scheduled to appear before a district magistrate in Mercer County on Wednesday to answer charges of fleeing an officer, receiving stolen property and use or possession of drug paraphernalia, which were filed in connection with his arrest in Sharon.

He remains in the Mercer County Jail on $1 million bond, and for a violation of federal parole.

In 2013, a federal court convicted Bove of failing to register as a sex offender when he was living in North Carolina.

He was sentenced to 33 months in prison and placed on supervised release for 5 years following the completion of his sentence.

The sex offender designation is the result of a 1990 rape conviction in New York.

(source: WFMJ news)


7th Circuit affirms denial of habeas relief

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the denial of a man's petition for habeas relief after finding he waived his argument of ineffective assistance of counsel by not raising that argument in his habeas petition.

After being convicted of capital murder, rape, criminal confinement and burglary, a judge imposed a sentence of death on Chijioke B. Ben-Yisrayl. However, if the sentence did not hold up on appeal, the judge also imposed an alternative sentence of 60 years and an aggregate term of 90 years on the remaining counts.

Ben-Yisrayl's death sentence was litigated on direct review and post-conviction proceedings for several years in Indiana trial and appellate courts before prosecutors withdrew their request for the death penalty and instead agreed to the 60-year alternative. However, the 60-year sentence also was reversed on appeal, but on resentencing, the trial court judge reimposed the same sentence.

Ben-Yisrayl's 60-year sentence was affirmed on appeal the 2nd time, but other post-conviction proceedings and other issues were ongoing. Meanwhile, Ben-Yisrayl began pursuing habeas relief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, but Judge Tanya Walton Pratt stayed the proceedings while his state post-conviction review continued.

When the stay was lifted, the state of Indiana responded to Ben-Yisrayl's habeas petition, but he failed to file his reply within the allotted time. Pratt ultimately denied relief without an evidentiary hearing and also denied Ben-Yisrayl's motion to alter or amend the judgment.

On appeal in Chijioke B. Ben-Yisrayl v. Ron Neal, 16-1013, Ben-Yisrayl argued his resentencing counsel "was constitutionally ineffective for submitting a meager 2-page sentencing memorandum and for failing to challenge the prosecution's destruction of evidence." However, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes wrote in a Monday opinion Ben-Yisrayl did not raise an ineffective counsel argument in his habeas petition, except for a brief mention in his Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend judgment.

"The fleeting reference to this claim in Ben-Yisrayl's Rule 59(e) motion cannot save it for appellate review; it is equally well-settled that a Rule 59(e) motion is not an appropriate vehicle for advancing 'arguments or theories that could and should have been made before the district court rendered judgment,'" Sykes wrote.

Thus, Ben-Yisrayl's argument on appeal was waived and the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

(source: The Indiana Lawyer)


An Interview with Judge Wendell Griffen of Arkansas----"Impartiality does not mean that the judge has no values. Impartiality does not mean the judge has no views. Impartiality does not mean the judge is silent about his or her views."

Wendell Griffen is an ordained Baptist minister and circuit judge in Pulaski County, Arkansas. On April 14, 2017, Judge Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that effectively halted 6 scheduled executions, the 1st applications of capital punishment in Arkansas since 2005. Judge Griffen generated controversy that same day, Good Friday, when he joined an anti-death penalty protest organized by his church outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion. Calls for Griffen's impeachment soon spread across the state. In a special session last month, the state legislature, which has never impeached an elected official since the adoption of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution, voted 73-13 to establish a legal framework for impeachment. Judge Griffen has recently published a book The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press) and also manages a blog on faith and the law, Justice is a verb!

The Politic: Much of the controversy over your recent activity has centered on the conflict between constitutional speech protections and judicial impropriety. How do you manage that balance?

Wendell Griffen: It's quite easy: the business of a judge is to hear evidence and to apply the law of the realm to the facts as the judge finds them. I have no difficulty applying the law of Arkansas and the law of the United States to the facts in cases presented before me, even when I find my personal views to differ from that law. That's my obligation, the obligation of every judge: to follow the law and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And those are not inconsistent norms. They are entirely consistent obligations. I have the constitutional obligation to follow the law, and I have the constitutional freedom to live out my faith. And both of those things can be done with great comfort, even if people find the way I do so inconvenient or disagreeable.

TP: So can a judge also be an activist?

WG: I think a judge can be a human. And that means they can be activist if they choose to be, or less activist if they choose to be. "Activist" is a term I find to be rather value-laden. People call folks "activists" not based upon whether or not the activity is permissible, but based on whether or not they agree with the activity. If you like what the judge does, then the judge is right. If you dislike what the judge does, the judge is an activist. I'd rather say that I like being a judge who knows my obligations to the bench and knows my freedom in society. And I recognize that those obligations and freedoms are not necessarily inconsistent or contradictory.

TP: As an ordained minister, you draw great influence from the Bible, and the Gospels in particular. How has your faith helped guide you over the past few weeks?

WG: The prophetic tradition, in both the Hebrew canon and culminating in the life and ministry of Jesus, has been my prime source of inspiration. The prophetic tradition is always a counter-narrative to what people accept as conventional wisdom and prevailing thought. The tendency that we have in life is to ignore the prophetic tradition when in fact it is the source from which we get our notions of justice and mercy and peace. The prophetic tradition teaches us that we shouldn't jump just because people say "Boo." If one is to live a great life, one has to expect that people exercise power will take offense and will engage in comments and acts that are threatening.

TP: In the Gospels, Jesus says to go forth and spread the Word to all nations. How do you balance that imperative with the impartiality expected of judges?

WG: The impartiality needed to be a judge has to do with parties. The root word of impartiality is "party." And the word impartiality means that one applies the same standards to any party that appears before the judge, no matter who that party is and no matter what the judge may hold as his or her personal views. And so the sense of living out one's faith does not ever necessarily pose a challenge to impartiality unless the judge is taking sides with a party to a dispute and not applying the law evenhandedly to all parties.

Impartiality does not mean that the judge has no values. Impartiality does not mean the judge has no views. Impartiality does not mean the judge is silent about his or her views. Nor does impartiality mean that the judge's views, or values, or expression of those views or values, somehow render that judge a partisan. One does not become a partisan because one has opinions. I think we have to have enough maturity as citizens and enough understanding of language to recognize that fact. When Jesus says "go make disciples, go spread good news" Jesus is simply saying to go spread to the whole of creation loving God with one's whole person and loving one's neighbors as oneself - to live that way, to respect God with one's entire being, and to respect all other persons as oneself. And that is not in any way inconsistent with being a fair-minded person. If anything, it's an expression of the ideal of fairness.

TP: Does the threat of impeachment from the Arkansas State House worry you?

WG: No, it doesn't worry me. One should not get worried about threats. Otherwise one would be worried all the time. Threats are no more and no less than that: threats.

TP: If you could go back, would you still attend that Good Friday protest?

WG: Yes, I would do the same thing again. I am always struck by the people who find prophetic protest unbecoming. They haven't read much of the prophets of the Old Testament. One of them [Isaiah] walked around naked. There are examples in the Hebrew canon where the prophets acted out the proclamations they were to give in much the same way you would see Saturday Night Live doing a caricature of present-day political events. So I encourage us to take a deeper and wider viewer of things, take some breaths, not get so strung out just because we find ourselves displeased with what somebody does or how it comes across to us. As long as the conduct is not violating the rights of other people or is not immoral, we should respect the humanity of other people, to give them the room to be human and to express their identity, even if we find ourselves disagreeing with the way they express it.

TP: What draws you to service?

WG: I have been inspired to service since childhood by the Gospel of Jesus and by my experience growing up in the segregated South during the 1950s. I know firsthand what it means to live in an oppressive society where the decks in the halls of law are stacked against one based upon personhood, whether it's racial identity, sex, religion, nationality, and now sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability status. I know what that means. And having grown up in that environment, I was moved to dedicate myself to do 2 things: first, to learn as much as I could about democracy and the rule of law; and, secondly, to apply myself as much as possible to serve humanity in a way that is consistent with my understanding of the religion of Jesus and the highest ideals of our constitutional democracy.

TP: The name of your blog is Justice is a verb! What does that mean to you?

WG: Justice is typically viewed as a noun - the name for either an office or a process. Justice, however, must be understood as something that must be done. We do justice. And I draw from the admonition in Micah, where the prophet writes, what does the Lord require of me but to do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with God? Justice has to be done. And doing is verb stuff; doing is not noun stuff. Doing is acting, protecting, defending, sharing. Justice involves generosity, and welcoming, and inclusion, and refusing to allow the status quo to operate as an excuse for oppression. Those are things that we must do in order for justice to happen.

TP: What has the response been like from the public in Arkansas?

WG: Within and outside Little Rock, the overwhelming response I have received has been positive, almost at the point of being inspirational. People say, "Listen, Griffen, you're doing what we hope all justices, all judges, all people of faith will do: act and live true to what you understand your obligations are in your judicial office and your faith. We may or may not agree with you, but we respect you your integrity, your courage to be forthright in doing so."

As people learn more about the facts surrounding my Good Friday ruling [which temporarily halted 6 executions], I don't understand why people are upset, why people want to impeach me. The response that I have received has been overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming.

TP: Is gauging the public response important to you?

WG: No, because one has to be very careful not to use public opinion as a wind gauge. Public opinion is not a compass. One must be led by something that motivates action no matter what public opinion may be. Because public opinion can be mistaken, misled. Jesus himself was a victim of that. Palm Sunday, he comes into Jerusalem, saluted and celebrated. By Good Friday, he was vilified and the multitudes demand he be put to death. So one has to be very careful not to become intoxicated by the heady wind of public opinion. It is heartwarming when people commend you. It's nice of them to do to take time out to pass on a kind and encouraging word. But Abraham Lincoln was right: "Do right." Do right and let the consequences deal with themselves. If I am wrong and public opinion is wholly in my favor, I am still wrong. If I am right and public opinion is totally against me, I'm still right. And I don't think I should decide whether or not my opinion is right based on an opinion poll. I think I should make a serious effort to decide whether my thinking and behavior is right and then as best I can be true to those thoughts and live in a way that's faithful to my ideal. And if the public finds that commendable, well then be it. If the public commends me for it, then that is what the public has chosen to do. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to his grave vilified as someone unpatriotic, opposed to the war in Vietnam, an outside agitator, a race-baiter, and we know that the people who vilified him were wrong.

TP: So you see something similar about being a citizen faithful to religious texts and a judge faithful to legal texts?

WG: For sure. I remind people that every elected official in the United States is required by the Constitution to swear an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. In the wall of my judicial chambers, I have a poster of Frederick Douglass with a quotation that I used recently in my blog in which Douglass says, "There is no 'Negro problem.' The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution."

Loyalty, and honor, and patriotism are not throwaway words. They are ideals to which we are obligated to live or to prove ourselves disloyal, dishonorable, and unpatriotic. If we are unwilling to live up to the Constitution we swear our allegiance to, then we are disloyal, unpatriotic, dishonorable, hypocritical.

And it's about a person following any faith system - I wouldn't limit it to religion of Jesus. I think that we need to think of what I've talked about as fidelity for one's conscience, regardless if someone's a religionist or a secularist. Because that's the heart of the First Amendment, which protects our freedom to have a religion or to have no religion at all. Some people might find that fidelity in Buddhism, or in some other world religion. I find that fidelity in the religion of Jesus as the highest and best expression of my hope. Some people may find it in no religion at all. But what I'm trying to talk about is our sense of commitment, our obligation to honor conscience. To be true and loyal to something bigger than ourselves, our personal comfort, our personal privilege, our personal prerogative.

TP: What message do you wish to tell the youngest generation?

WG: I would ask people of every age to remember that our democracy depends upon people engaging in Socratic critique of ourselves and the systems and ideologies around us. Our democracy does not run well when people put their minds in park or in neutral. We have to be careful. And we have to have the moral and emotional maturity, wisdom, and honesty to rethink our views, and to acknowledge that at best we have only part of the answer, and that there might be a truth we have not yet learned. Young people have a great potential to question, to challenge. I would encourage young people to read, and to challenge, and to think, and to rethink, and to dare when necessary to unthink, to uproot, to tear down false notions that pass for truth. Young people can build from the ashes something that is more likely to be true and to last.



Utah government chooses firing squad over lethal injections

Lethal injection drugs are scarce, which means Utah will be using its second choice, firing squads, to carry out the death penalty.

Hospira, the sole legal provider of the lethal injection drug, said its will no longer make the drug because of a global campaign by death penalty opponents, as stated in an E-newsletter this year from the Council of State Governments. The shortage of lethal injections has caused many states to use firing squads or to use their injections sparingly.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed bill HB11 2 years ago to allow execution by firing squad if lethal injection was not available.

Mississippi and Oklahoma also have a firing squad as an execution option. Whereas Utah uses firing squad as a 2nd choice, Mississippi and Oklahoma have it as a 3rd choice.

"The best and most humane alternative to the injection is the firing squad, and several states have the firing squad as a pending decision to their execution options - for Utah, the firing squad a permanent solution," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the chief sponsor of HB11.

Ralph Dellapiana, who founded Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in 2007, said there is no definition for what constitutes a "humane way to kill another human being."

Utahans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a group of multiple organizations that oppose the death penalty and who "are dedicated to stopping executions in our state," according to its website.

The death penalty has been repealed in 134 countries as well as in 15 states since 2009.

Dellapiana said having a man's life in his hands moved him to act to repeal the death penalty.

Utahans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty went public to protest the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Dellapiana said Gardner had not been given a fair trial by both state and federal courts.

Dellapiana said Gardner's execution caused a widespread disturbance and disapproval, and he suspects backlash will occur again with the reinstating of the firing squad.

"The basic alternative to the death penalty is to have life without possibility of parole be the maximum sentence for the most egregious murder cases," Dellapiana said. 'Notably, a recent poll shows that Utahans also favor this option when given the choice."

(source: Hayden Wise writes for the Education and State policy beat on the BYU Daily Universe)


7 county inmates on death row

Of 119 inmates currently sitting on Arizona's death row, 7 inmates are from Mohave County.

At the May 15 supervisor meeting, Mohave County Attorney Smith told the board about being with his office for 30 years and only 1 death row inmate from the county, Daniel Wayne Cook, has been executed. Cook was put to death in August 2012 for killing a man and a 16-year-old boy in Lake Havasu City in July 1987.

Mohave County has 2 death penalty cases pending in Superior Court. The 2 capital cases are expected to go to trial in the next fiscal year, costing the county an additional $400,000 in the 2017-18 fiscal year in indigent defense costs.

Justin James Rector, 28, is charged with 1st-degree murder for the Sept. 2, 2014, death of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella and leaving her body near her Bullhead City home. A new trial date is expected to be set at a June 2 hearing.

Darrell Bryant Ketchner, 59, also faces the death penalty for the July 4, 2009 murder of Ariel Allison, 18, in Kingman. His 1st conviction for 1st-degree murder and burglary was overturned in December 2014.

There are 117 men and 2 women sitting on death row in Arizona. Of the 119 death row inmates in the state, 67 are Caucasians, 26 are Mexican-Americans, 17 are African-Americans, 1 is a Mexican national, 3 are Native Americans, 3 are Asian and 2 are listed as other.

There are 7 inmates from Mohave County on death row awaiting execution. Brad Lee Nelson, 46, is the most recent inmate sentenced to death in December 2009 for the June 2006 beating death of 13-year-old Amber Leann Graff of Golden Valley.

Charles David Ellison, 51, of Lake Havasu City was sentenced to death in February 2004 for killing an elderly Kingman couple in February 1999.

Frank Anderson, 69, was sentenced to death in December of 2002 for killing 3 members of a Golden Valley family in August 1996. Anderson's co-defendant, Bobby Poyson, 40, was also sentenced to death in September 1998 for murdering the same family.

The oldest inmate, Graham Saunders Henry, 70, was convicted and sentenced in February 1995 for kidnapping and killing an elderly Las Vegas man in a remote desert about 40 miles north of Kingman in June 1986.

Danny L. Jones, 52, was sentenced to death in December 1993 for the baseball bat murder of a Bullhead City man, his 74-year-old grandmother and his 7-year-old daughter in March 1992.

Roger W. Murray, 46, was sentenced to death in October 1992 for the May 1991 shotgun slaying of a Grasshopper Junction couple. His brother, Robert W. Murray was also sentenced to death for the murders but he died in prison in June 2014.

Nelson and Anderson's cases are currently on appeal, Indigent Defense Administrator Blake Schritter said.

(source: Mohave Valley Daily News)


Divided board hires new criminal law firm. How will it affect cases in Merced?

A divided Merced County Board of Supervisors awarded a $9.4 million legal services contract to a Madera law firm on Tuesday, over the protests of numerous Merced-area attorneys who warned that changing defense firms could throw dozens of cases into limbo.

The 3-2 vote ended a 14-year relationship with a long-time Merced County defense attorney and possibly opened the door for lengthy delays in dozens of high-profile and felony cases currently pending in court. Several Merced-area attorneys warned the supervisors of the possibility of a chain reaction of consequences.

Supervisors Lee Lor, Lloyd Pareira and Jerry O'Banion approved the $9.4 million contract with Madera-based Ciummo & Associates. Supervisors Rodrigo Espinoza and Daron McDaniel voted against the contract.

Merced Defense Associates, led by veteran attorney Tom Pfeiff, held the contract for 14 years. Tuesday's vote extended MDA’s contract for 3 months past its planned June expiration to allow for a transition period in Merced's criminal justice system.

While the Public Defender's Office represents suspects who cannot afford to hire private attorneys, cases are referred to MDA when the county public defenders have a potential conflict of interest, such as representing a co-defendant in a case.

Local prosecutors and defense attorneys have expressed concern about switching vendors for defense services while coming off of a period where 90 people were murdered in 3 years. Many of those cases are pending in Merced Superior Court. MDA-contracted attorneys are handling more than 30 homicide cases, including 17 cases where their clients are facing a potential lifetime prison sentence.

The board vote came after more than 2 hours of public comment and supervisor discussion. Local attorneys, including contractors with MDA and attorneys with both the Merced County Public Defender's Office and District Attorney's Office, urged the board to extend MDA's contract.

Chris Loethen, a deputy public defender, said about 10 years ago he turned down a job offer from Ciummo because he was going to be assigned felony cases with no prior experience. He urged the board to renew MDA's contract. "They fight cases," he said. "They don't run from them."

Rob Carroll, chief deputy district attorney, also spoke in favor of MDA. "Our big concern is we want to make sure homicide cases continue to get handled professionally," he said. "MDA has done an excellent job. They've done a really fantastic job."

Many members of the local NAACP also spoke in favor of MDA, including the group's president Darryl Davis, who said their mission is to fight for equality and justice for the poor people of Merced County.

Richard Ciummo, his partner and the future supervising attorney for the Merced office also spoke, answering questions about the firm and describing their work.

"I am Mr. Ciummo, and I don't have horns and a tail," he said. "We have some history and experience in doing this. I stand by the quality of our attorneys - all of them."

Michael Fitzgerald, CEO of Ciummo & Associates, said any rumors about high turnover at the firm are not true. "It's not a situation where we hire attorneys fresh out of law school and cycle them out," he said. "That's just not the case."

County staff requested bids for the service in August after O'Banion put the suggestion to a vote by the board. 2 law firms responded - MDA and Ciummo & Associates.

The approved 5-year contract includes 7 staff attorneys, 2 staff investigators, 6 contract attorneys and additional contract investigators. Ciummo's attorneys will handle all homicide cases and up to 2 death penalty cases a year, but not more than 3 death penalty cases at a time.

Both Loethen and Public Defender Dave Elgin said Doug Foster, who will be the supervising attorney at Ciummo's Merced office, has an outstanding reputation in the legal community. "I'm excited about Doug Foster coming in and running that office," Elgin said. "I think that can only be a positive thing for indigent defendants in this county."

Ciummo said he Pfeiff met recently to begin discussing a transition. Ciummo also reassured the supervisors that the firm intends to hire local attorneys, even attorneys who have contracted with MDA.

"We've been expecting this," Pfeiff said. "Now it's time to make the transition as smooth as possible. That's what I'm going to try to do."

"The court is confident that there will be a smooth transition with the parties responsible for handling all pending cases," Presiding Judge Donald Proietti said in a statement to the Sun-Star.

Before the vote, McDaniel said he believes the competition and accountability presented through the contract renewal was healthy for the county.

"A lot of you folks elected me to not rubber stamp things," he said. "Because we're having this discussion - this is fantastic. This is government. This is what we're supposed to do."

The supervisors didn't elaborate on the reasons behind their votes, but previously McDaniel and O'Banion said they wondered about a conflict of interest for MDA since Pfeiff works with Cindy Morse, whose husband, Larry Morse II, is the county's district attorney. However, the Fair Political Practices Commission said in a letter to the county the relationship was not a conflict.

Pareira reminded MDA's contract attorneys that the board's decision isn't personal. "If it's your livelihood at stake, this is crucial and vital to you," he said. "The board is not being asked to employ you or to manage people's defenses. Don't think of this as a slight on you. It's not."

Espinoza, who voted against the contract, said he thought the board should explore an in-house conflict program, which would be much cheaper. "I think we should ask more questions," he said.

O'Banion said before the county contracted with MDA, conflict services were dealt with through the public defender's office. But at this time, he was "not interested" in going through the public defender's office for that service. He said he'd consider it in the future.

Lor said the county should welcome new the new lawyers. "Should we choose the outside firm, let’s give them a Merced County welcome," she said. "The quality service we provide to the community is what matters."



Firing Squad: A botched execution is nearly impossible

The fine citizens of Arkansas killed 4 killers in 1 week last month. Like most other states with a death penalty for heinous felonies, Arkansas executes its murders by lethal injection. And therein lies the problem.

Last year, of course, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled our death penalty unconstitutional in compliance with an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision about how death-penalty sentencing occurs. Now, the House has approved a complying death-penalty bill. It's now up to the Senate.

Lethal injection as an execution method is of fairly recent origin. Used to be, back when almost all states had a death penalty, that the most common methods were either electric chair or hanging. A few states had gas chambers. And a couple states used firing squads. Utah still has that option. Delaware still had hanging as an option until just a couple years ago.

The theory here was that lethal injection was more humane; that it satisfied the constitutional requirement that punishment not be "cruel and unusual." The "cruel" part has come to mean pain-free. Utterly pain-free. No discomfort whatsoever.

The other day, the New York Times (of all publications) published an op-ed that advocated a return to public hangings and to the use of stocks for lesser crimes. Note we said "public" hangings. These were common in colonial times and were understood to be quite usual at the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Think about that for a second.

There are at least 2 issues here. One is the efficacy of the death penalty at all. Progressives and many religious denominations, including mine, oppose the death penalty in all its forms. The 2nd issue is the humanity of the method of putting murderers to death.

Most states use a 3-drug cocktail for executions. One drug puts the convict to sleep and incapable of experiencing pain. Another stops breathing. The 3rd stops the heart. Interesting, isn't it, that we allow veterinarians and animal shelters to put our dogs and cats to "sleep" using only 1 drug, and we don't accuse the veterinarians of cruelty to animals. Why?

But now, the issue isn't so much all that, but rather the inability of states to procure one or more of the drugs needed for the cocktail. Drug companies resist selling to states for that purpose. Doctors refuse to participate based on medical ethics requirements to "do no harm." One result is less-well-trained medics inserting the intravenous drips required to inject the drugs. A handful of problematic executions have resulted.

So let's just admit it. Lethal injection is too complicated a method of execution.

Many years ago, my father witnessed an execution. My home state is Iowa, and back then, the method was hanging. It seems that in my small, rural home county, a man had come from Chicago tracking his wife. He found her in bed with another man in our local motel. Boom, he offed her. And then headed back to Chicago. The state police stopped him at the Illinois state line (the Mississippi River).

My father was invited, indeed almost required, to go to Fort Madison, the location of the Iowa State Penitentiary, as a witness because he was the editor and publisher of the county's dominant newspaper. He went.

His report back to my mother and me the next day (I was in the single digits) was that the prisoner was led into the prison's room, walked up the gallows and had a hood placed over his head.

The hangman put the rope around his neck, and the warden pulled the lever, releasing the door on the floor. The man was dead by the time the doctor reached him a few seconds later. This method works; it works quickly. Because hanging severs the spinal cord, it kills instantly.

Even more efficient is the firing squad. You arrange for 3 or more marksmen. You give some of them bullets and the others blanks, although this may not be necessary if you recruit your marksmen from volunteers. Most likely, there are plenty of Army- or Marine Corps-trained marksmen who would be glad to pull the trigger.

A botched execution is nearly impossible in this scenario. An Army or Marine Corps marksman at 25 feet won't miss the target over the heart. One or more bullets through the heart results in instant death.

I have lived in a number of states as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and military man. Iowa and New York have repealed their death penalties. Wisconsin never had a death penalty. Texas, Georgia and Virginia, especially Texas, have had busy death chambers.

Advocate for repeal if you wish. But if we don't in Delaware, then make it sensible, simple, painless and quick. Most likely, that's more than the killer did.

(source: Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now


Dylann Roof to appeal death sentence

A white supremacist sentenced to death for killing 9 worshippers in a racist attack at a Charleston church has petitioned an appeals court for mercy.

Attorneys for Dylann Roof filed notice Tuesday they were appealing his conviction and sentence to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Earlier this month, the federal judge who presided over Roof's trial rejected his 1st appeal, ruling the conviction and death sentence for the June 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME church should stand.

Roof argued his crime didn't fit the definition of interstate commerce needed for a federal case. The judge ruled Roof used a telephone to call the church and the bullets and gun were manufactured in a different state.

(source: Associated Press)


Women on death row: Female death row inmates in the U.S.----The dozens of women on death row across the country have been sentenced for anything from hiring hitmen to brutally torturing their victims. Click through to see women awaiting the death penalty.




Pak hangs 2 terrorists involved in Peshawar school massacre

Pakistan today hanged 2 hard core Taliban terrorists convicted by the military courts of their involvement in the 2014 Peshawar school massacre which left over 150 people dead, mostly students.

Pakistan Army said Atta Ullah and Taj Muhammad were active members of the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and had facilitated the terrorists who attacked the Army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014.

"These terrorists were involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism, including attack on Army Public School Peshawar, killing of innocent civilians, attacking Armed Forces of Pakistan and Law Enforcement Agencies," army said.

The terrorists had been tried by military courts and had confessed to their crimes before a magistrate and trial court, it said.

Earlier in December 2015, 4 terrorists involved in the Peshawar school attack were executed in Kohat jail in the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province.

Military courts, which were restored in March for another 2 years after their initial 2-year term expired in January, work in secrecy due to fear of attacks by militants.

The courts were set up after a constitutional amendment following the Peshawar terror attack.

Human rights group Justice Project Pakistan says over 440 people have been executed since the Peshawar attack.

Pakistan has been fighting various extremist groups for over a decade. Militant attacks have killed tens of thousands of people.

The military courts have handed down the death penalty to more than 170 militants.

(source: Press Trust of India)


Amnesty criticises 2 'secretive executions', calls for moratorium on death penalty

Amnesty International Malaysia criticised prison authorities for executing 2 men earlier today at the Sungai Buloh prison in a secretive manner.

The NGO also demanded the government to establish a moratorium on carrying out death penalties.

In a statement, Amnesty said that 48-year-old Yong Kar Mun, who was convicted of discharging a firearm during robbery, and another individual convicted of murder, were both executed at 5.30am today.

Yong's execution was allegedly carried out with limited notice, with the family only being informed of the execution less than 24 hours before it was carried out, while no information has been made available on the 2nd convict who was also executed.

"The secretive way through which the Malaysian authorities have been carrying out executions is plain cruel. In these and previous executions, the authorities have added considerable distress to the prisoners and their families and shown blatant disregard for international law and standards -- it is high time this practice stopped," Amnesty International Malaysia Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said.

She said that by providing limited notice, the authorities are also denying the convicts a chance to seek further review of their cases.

"The government has repeatedly promised legislative reforms on the death penalty, yet no drafts have been shared and more lives have been taken by the gallows.

"If Malaysia aspires to join the Human Rights Council, it should demonstrate its commitment to human rights by ending executions and abolishing the death penalty. The time for action is now," she added.

Amnesty previously condemned a similar "hasty execution" conducted by authorities in March, when brothers on death row, Rames and Suthar Batumalai, were executed with a notice of less than 48 hours.



DAP slams govt for this morning's execution of prisoner----Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto says there is no point talking about respecting human rights without committing to see it through.

DAP has lashed out at this morning's execution of a prisoner on death row for 8 years, saying the government appears more keen on executing prisoners than reforming the law to uphold and protect human rights.

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto said the government had committed "countless times" over the years to amending provisions in the law to grant discretionary powers to the courts on drug-related offences that carry the mandatory death penalty.

Yet, it appears "apprehensive" in committing to see this through, she said.

"Why then the chest thumping on transforming Malaysia into a nation that upholds and respects human rights when it is not serious on imposing a moratorium on all death row cases across the board until discussions, meetings and even amendments are made?" she said in a statement today.

According to Amnesty International, Yong Kar Mun, 48, was executed at 5.30am at the Sungai Buloh Prison today. He was sentenced to death in 2009 under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, which carries the mandatory death penalty, read together with Article 37 of the Penal Code, after being found guilty of discharging a firearm during an armed robbery.

Although no casualties were recorded as a result of the robbery, another man involved in the incident was shot dead during the subsequent police chase.

Yong failed in his appeals to the Court of Appeal on Oct 6, 2011 and Federal Court on Aug 2, 2012.

Amnesty had strongly opposed his execution, as well as the lack of transparency surrounding the case.

Kasthuri added that Yong's execution had taken place despite a special task force established in September last year on the abolition of the death penalty.

The task force was attended by Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran, Suhakam, Amnesty International, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Malaysian Bar Council, the home ministry and the National Security Council.

On March 1, she added, the attorney-general himself presented to cabinet the findings of research conducted by Roger Hood and the International Centre for Law and Legal Studies (I-CeLLS).

Following this, the cabinet agreed on provisional amendments to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) 1952 to include that discretionary powers be given to courts to mete out punishments befitting the crime.

In April's Parliament sitting meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman Said, said a memorandum from the cabinet, together with the proposed amendments to the DDA 1952, would be brought again to the cabinet for further consideration.

Azalina also said it had been proven that the mandatory death penalty was not a deterrent to crime.

Given that the attorney-general had not yet presented recommendations to the cabinet to amend laws on the mandatory death penalty, Kasthuri said it was "highly immoral, inhumane and a gross misconduct on the part of the Najib administration under the Barisan Nasional government to continue with the executions of prisoners on death row".

She added that the government had violated international human rights laws in its "persistent lack of transparency" in carrying out executions.

This year alone, she said, Malaysia executed 4 people in 5 months.

She called on the attorney-general, Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the Prime Minister's Department to present the findings on the research to abolish the death penalty in the next cabinet meeting.

The authorities should also impose a moratorium on all death row sentences until the matter is brought to Parliament, debated and passed, she said.

(source: Free Malaysia Today)


6 Prisoners Executed in Northeastern Iran - 3 Scheduled For Execution

6 prisoners were executed in 2 different Iranian prisons early Tuesday morning, May 24.

According to the Kurdish Human Rights Network 5 prisoners were hanged in the prison of Tabriz. Three of the prisoners were identified as "Kazem Hajaji", "Seyed Ali Mousavi" and "Jaber Fakhri". All the 5 prisoners were convicted of murder and sentenced to qisas (retribution in kind).

The website "No to prison, no to death penalty" reported about the execution of one prisoner in the prison of Ardebil. The prisoner is identified as "Davoud Hamdard" and was charged with drug offences. Iran Human Rights (IHR) has confirmed the execution of Mr. Hamdard.

None of the above mentioned executions were announced by official Iranian sources.

IHR sources have reported about the scheduled execution of 1 prisoner from Rajaishahr prison of Karaj (west of Tehran). According to these sources the prisoner scheduled to be executed publicly in the coming days.

2 other prisoners identified as "Abdolkarim Shahnavazi" and "Saeed Hood" were transferred to solitary confinement in the prison of Zahedan Monday morning in preparation for execution. Both the prisoners were charged with drug offences.

It seems that the Iranian authorities have resumed the executions after a short break on the occasion of the presidential elections.



Suspected assassins of Mazen Fuqahaa to be executed in Gaza on Thursday

After a field military court in the Gaza Strip rapidly issued death sentences to the suspected assassin and 2 suspected accomplices for the murder of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa in March, the attorney general of the Hamas-run government in the besieged coastal enclave announced that the 3 men will be executed on Thursday.

Attorney General Fadel al-Jdeili said in a statement Wednesday that the 3 "convicts" would be executed in a closed yard, in the presence of "officials, representatives of human rights groups, dignitaries, and clan leaders."

After Fuqahaa was shot dead in front of his house on March 25, authorities in Gaza imposed an unprecedented security crackdown and sealed the land and sea borders of the small Palestinian territory in search for the killer, who Hamas authorities immediately claimed assassinated the Hamas leader in collaboration with Israel.

Less than 2 months later, on May 16, Gaza authorities announced the investigation concluded and said that the "direct executioner" and 2 accomplices were in custody, and had confessed to collaborating with Israeli intelligence to commit the killing.

The death sentences were issued 2 days ago, with the field military court ruling that the sentences were not subject to appeal, raising alarm among international and local human rights organizations that called on the de facto Hamas government to retry the suspects in compliance with international fair trial standards.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the occupied territory released a statement Tuesday condemning the death penalty, and said that the "special field military court" that issued the sentences "was constituted solely for this trial, the 1st such instance since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007."

"International law sets very stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including meticulous compliance with international fair trial standards. These trials do not appear to meet these minimum standards," OHCHR wrote.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) denounced the "quickly issued" sentences for being based on the "unconstitutional" Palestinian Revolutionary Law of 1979 -- which was never presented to or approved by the Palestinian parliament.

"The council fears that the sentence was handed down to take revenge for the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa and to please public opinion in the Gaza Strip and inside the (Hamas) movement," the statement continued.

According to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, its courts have imposed 85 death sentences and 22 people have been executed through legal proceedings, while the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has "summarily executed at least 31 others, including against whom legal proceedings were still underway."

Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Since taking office in January 2005, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to approve executions and no one has been executed in the West Bank since then, though West Bank courts have continued to issue death sentences.

However, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from Abbas since 2010 when Hamas renewed the practice, claiming that Abbas’ term in office had expired.

According to B'Tselem, "There are currently at least 55 death row inmates in the West Bank and Gaza living with uncertainty as to their fate."


Human rights organizations demand retrial for 3 Gazans sentenced to death

After a military court in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip issued 3 death sentences against the suspected assassin and 2 suspected accomplices in the March murder of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa, human rights organizations continued to voice their staunch objection to the death penalty.

Joining the European Union Heads of Mission and the Head of Mission of Norway in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the occupied territory released a statement Tuesday condemning the sentences.

"Carrying out these sentences would amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life in violation of international law," the UN agency said.

According to the statement, the "special field military court" that issued the sentences "was constituted solely for this trial, the 1st such instance since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007," adding that the sentences were final and not subject to appeal or plea for clemency.

"International law sets very stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including meticulous compliance with international fair trial standards. These trials do not appear to meet these minimum standards," OHCHR wrote, and urged Gaza authorities not to carry out the death sentences of the 3 men and to abolish using the death penalty completely.

In a statement published Tuesday, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) said it "considers the decision to form this court a dangerous precedent," and denounced the "quickly issued" sentences for being based on the "unconstitutional" Palestinian Revolutionary Law of 1979 -- which was never presented to or approved by the Palestinian parliament.

"The council fears that the sentence was handed down to take revenge for the killing of Hamas leader Mazen Fuqahaa and to please public opinion in the Gaza Strip and inside the (Hamas) movement," the statement continued, and demanded all 3 suspects be retried and guaranteed a fair trial.

PHROC affirmed its position that non irrevocable death sentences are "not a deterrent but a form of punishment that is shameful for humanity."

Responding to the executions carried out against 3 Palestinians in April, who were also accused of collaborating with Israel, Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem stressed in a statement last week that "Executions -- whether they follow a real trial, a show trial or no trial at all -- are prohibited. A regime that takes lives as a punitive or deterrent measure is committing an immoral act that constitutes an intolerable violation of human rights."

According to B'Tselem, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Striup in 2007, its courts have imposed 85 death sentence and 22 people have been executed through legal proceedings, while the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has "summarily executed at least 31 others, including against whom legal proceedings were still underway."

Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Since taking office in January 2005, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to approve executions and no one has been executed in the West Bank since then, though West Bank courts have continued to issue death sentences.

Meanwhile, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from Abbas since 2010 when Hamas renewed the practice, claiming that Abbas' term in office had expired.

According to B'Tselem, "There are currently at least 55 death row inmates in the West Bank and Gaza living with uncertainty as to their fate."

(source for both:

MAY 23, 2017:


Supreme Court Won't Hear Nine Mile Road Popeye's Murder Case

Bolstering a state law requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death penalty cases, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider an appeal by Attorney General Pam Bondi on the issue.

The court's decision to deny what is known as a "writ of certiorari" essentially cements a state law enacted this year in response to a seminal Florida Supreme Court decision in a case involving convicted murderer Timothy Lee Hurst.

That Florida Supreme Court ruling and the subsequent law said juries need to make unanimous recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death. As is common, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday did not give reasons for turning down Bondi's appeal of the Florida Supreme Court ruling.

"It would be hard to read exactly what exactly the U.S. Supreme Court meant by it, except that it will probably end most of the state's litigation with regard to these issues," said Pete Mills, an assistant state attorney in the 10th Judicial Circuit who also serves as chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty Steering Committee.

Hurst, who was sent to death row for a 1998 murder in Pensacola, has been at the center of 2 major rulings that found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system unconstitutional.

In an appeal by Hurst, the U.S. Supreme Court early last year struck down the state's system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty. The court found the state's system was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, and sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court.

At the time of the January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida's system allowed jurors by a simple majority to recommend the death penalty. Judges would then make findings of fact that "sufficient" aggravating factors, not outweighed by mitigating circumstances, existed for the death sentence to be imposed, a process known as "weighing."

Florida lawmakers in 2016 hurriedly rewrote the law to address the U.S. Supreme Court decision, requiring jurors to unanimously find that at least one aggravating factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for a death sentence and requiring that at least 10 of 12 jurors recommend death for the sentence to be imposed.

In October, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations about imposing the death penalty, something not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Bondi's office in December asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the Florida court's ruling.

In its request for discretionary review, the state argued that Florida court's "expansive reading" of the U.S. court's decision in the Hurst case was erroneous.

Hurst was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of fast-food worker Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola. Harrison, an assistant manager at a Nine Mile Road Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant where Hurst worked, was bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times. Her body was found in a freezer.

A jury in 2000 recommended the death penalty for Hurst, now 38. After the state Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing, a jury recommended death by a vote of 7-5 in 2012.

In its October ruling in the Hurst case deciding that death-penalty recommendations must be unanimous, the Florida Supreme Court relied both on state and federal constitutional guarantees to the right to a trial by jury.

The Florida court decision regarding unanimity will likely result in new penalty-phase hearings for about 55 % of Florida's 386 death row inmates.

The state court has already ordered new sentencing hearings for numerous cases involving non-unanimous jury recommendations, and Monday's decision by the federal court takes the unanimity issue off the table, according to defense lawyers.

"It's certainly good news for Mr. Hurst," said Dave Davis, a recently retired assistant public defender in the 2nd Judicial Circuit who represented Hurst.

Davis and other public defenders, who warned lawmakers that the lack of unanimity in the 2016 law would not withstand court scrutiny, were relieved but not surprised by the U.S. court's refusal to take up the case Monday.

With more than 100 cases poised to be sent back to lower courts, prosecutors are now faced with seeking capital punishment or life imprisonment. Some of the cases are decades old, posing problems with witnesses and evidence for prosecutors.

"Prosecutors are going to have to decide is it worth the effort to try to get death again. They're going to have to examine their evidence ... and decide what the likelihood is that they're going to get 12 jurors to decide death," Davis said.

The new requirement is especially relevant in the Hurst case, where a jury has never unanimously recommended the death penalty, Davis pointed out.

"Prosecutors have a tough problem here," he said. "Some cases just get old. Can you find witnesses in a case that's 14 or 15 years old? ... Logistical and practical problems that crop up with cases that are in some cases 20 years old."



Avalos is sentenced to life in prison

Convicted triple murderer Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr. will die in prison.

After deliberating for nearly four hours Monday, a Manatee County jury of 9 women and 3 men could not come to unanimous agreement to recommend the death penalty for Avalos.

Circuit Court Judge Diane Moreland sentenced the 36-year-old to life imprisonment without parole for the December 2014 1st-degree murders of Denise Potter and James "Tripp" Battle III.

State Attorney Art Brown will interview Amber Avalos' sisters to see if they want to pursue further punishment for the 2nd-degree count for the killing of Avalos' wife. Punishment for Amber's murder could mean 25 years to life imprisonment.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty, telling jurors that the case had aggravating factors that "demanded the death penalty." One factor is that Andres Avalos "committed cold, calculated and premeditated murders without pretense of moral or legal justification." The other is that he has been convicted of prior felonies.

Avalos did not take the stand during Monday's hearing, telling the judge he declined to testify in order to "speed the process."

Battle's widow, Joy, accepted the jury's decision.

"I'm at peace with the verdict," she said. "I'm not saying he didn't deserve death, but I feel that a life sentence is justice."

Avalos' defense team was pleased by the verdict.

"The jury worked hard, and we respect that," said Andrew Crawford, a St. Petersburg lawyer who led the team.

According to a new state law, prosecutors needed a unanimous decision by the jury recommending death.

On Saturday, the same jurors found Avalos guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. Jurors concluded that Avalos killed Potter, his neighbor; and Battle, a local church pastor. Avalos was convicted of 2nd-degree murder for killing his wife.

Victim impact

In court Monday, relatives of the victims read statements about the effects their losses had on their families and communities.

Meg Potter, 1 of Potter's sisters-in-law, read three statements - her own, one from another sister-in-law and one from an aunt of Denise.

"She was a fun-loving person with a heart as big as the world and a smile to match," Meg Potter told the jury.

Denise left behind 3 sons - Brian, Michael and Matthew. Meg Potter noted that her sister-in-law will never see them score goals and touchdowns, take their prom pictures or see them become men.

Julie Konkol, Potter's aunt and godmother, wrote a statement saying that her niece died months before the birth of her 1st granddaughter, Brian's daughter, Ella. The baby was named in honor of her grandmother, Denise Ella Potter.

"Our hearts ache and our eyes well up with tears thinking of what might have been," Konkol wrote.

Battle's younger sister, Ashley; his mother, Rhonda; and his widow, Joy, gave statements as well.

Ashley said her brother's death affected her entire family. Holidays, birthday celebrations and Friday night dinners were forever changed when he was murdered, she said.

The Battle parents haven't been the same since they had to endure the mourning.

"I wish I could fix their broken hearts," Ashley said.

She was choked by tears on the stand when she read, "To me, he was bullet proof." Some jurors wiped tears from their eyes while taking notes.

Rhonda Battle also spoke for her husband, who couldn't be in court. She said the couple had days when they thought they wouldn't make it through their suffering.

"He was our 6-foot-7 baby boy," Rhonda told the jury.

Joy said her husband was a big personality and a man in love with Christ. She said she's had to stand by her 2 children as they miss their father.

"She can never crawl into his big lap again and hear a Bible story or play with him," Joy said about her 8-year-old daughter.

Defense witnesses

As the defense attorneys made their presentation, they called to the stand 5 witnesses - Avalos' parents, a friend, a doctor and the son of a pastor.

The defendant's father, Andy Avalos Sr., took the stand and told the jury how he grew up in the streets.

He said he went through a "bad" period in his life around 1996, in which he divorced his wife, Nora, for 4 months. Then they remarried. They both drank alcohol a lot, he said.

The elder Avalos said his son, Andy, was neglected for some of his teenage years because of that. He said he eventually found God and was "reborn." So was his wife. The family started going to church and, sometimes, his son went with them. During some of this time, however, his son was part of a gang.

The father also told the jury that Andy's little brother, Adam, was killed in a car accident 2 days after the defendant married Amber. That's why Andy tattooed a cross with the words "Rest in peace Carnalito" on his neck. Carnalito means "little brother."

Andy Avalos Sr. also spoke about the period when his son came back to Bradenton after moving to Tampa for a while to get away from bad influences.

"That one, we didn't recognize," he said, as he described his son's paranoia.

A doctor also took the stand and testified Andy suffered from mental disorders - "delusional disorder," paranoia and jealousy delusions - and substance abuse issues.

Israel Torres Jr., the son of a Israel Torres Sr., a pastor in Casa de Alabanza, a Tampa church that the younger Avalos attended when he lived there, also took the stand. He said his father became sick in October 2014, and Andres Avalos Jr. helped to take care of him, but he was "extremely paranoid."

Michael Dunn, a fireman who worked at a contractor business with Avalos for a time in Tampa, also took the stand. He said he's been visiting Avalos in jail since he found out about the convictions.

"I just wanted to give Andy a big hug," said Dunn, adding that he talks about fatherhood and how Avalos can still be a father figure for his 6 children while he's imprisoned.

Dunn said Avalos thought a helicopter flying over the house carried his enemies, who were trying to kill him.

Nora Avalos, the defendant's mother, wore a black dress and black sunglasses as she took the stand. She said everything changed after her son became paranoid.

"All our lives have changed."

(source: Herald-Tribune)


Justices Rejects Florida Appeal Over Death Penalty----The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.

The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from Florida officials seeking to overturn the ruling last year from the state's highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court had struck down a newly enacted law allowing a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 out of 12 jurors recommend it. That ruling concluded that Timothy Lee Hurst - convicted of a 1998 murder at a Pensacola Popeye's restaurant - deserves a new sentencing hearing.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida's death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional. State legislators responded by overhauling the law.

(source: Associated Press)


Death Penalty Sought for Suspect Accused of Killing 6-Year-Old

3 teenagers accused in the brutal shooting death of a 6-year-old who was sleeping in the backseat of a car that was stolen last week were denied bond Monday in Madison County Justice Court.

Dwan Wakefield and DeAllen Washington, both 17, and Byron McBride, 19, are all charged as adults with capital murder in the death of Kingston Frazier, who became the subject of an Amber alert after his mother's car was taken from a Jackson, Miss., grocery store parking lot early Thursday.

The Madison County District Attorney's Office will pursue the death penalty against McBride, who is accused of shooting Kingston multiple times, Assistant District Attorney Pamela Hancock said.

"I think there is a great desire to see justice served in this case. And if at the conclusion of all the evidence being gathered, it appears justice will be served by seeking the death penalty then my office will definitely go forward on that," she said

Kingston's mom, Ebony Archie, left the grocery store about 1:30 a.m. CT Thursday and told a sheriff's deputy her car was stolen, but Hinds County officials said she did not immediately mention that her son was in the car. 2 hours later at about 4:30 a.m., the Mississippi Department of Public Safety sent out an Amber alert for the missing child.

About 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Kingston's body was discovered on a dead-end road in Madison County, roughly 15 miles away from the store. His exact time of death has not been determined.

The court hearing was held via closed-circuit video, and cameras were not allowed in the courtroom for security reasons. The alleged killers have received threats, officials said.

Wakefield is a senior at Ridgeland High School in Ridgeland, Miss. He was the starting quarterback last season and has a 1-year-old son.

Washington is a senior at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, Miss., in neighboring Rankin County. He does not have any prior convictions but was indicted in connection with an armed robbery in Madison County.

He was out of jail on bond when Kingston was killed and has a June court date on his armed-robbery charge.

McBride told the court he has a conviction for burglary in Holmes County. He is unemployed, has not married, does not own a car and has no bank account.

McBride's father, Byron McBride Sr., yelled at reporters after the hearing.

None of the 3 entered a plea Monday, and they are scheduled for a June 26 preliminary hearing.

"My son did not kill that baby, but y'all gonna kill my son," he said. "My boy didn't kill anybody."

Kingston was set to graduate from kindergarten Thursday, the day he was kidnapped and ultimately killed.

(source: WLTX-TV news)


Dorsey wants death penalty removed

The Missouri Supreme Court should erase Brian Dorsey's death penalty, his lawyer wrote last week, because the Boone County jury that recommended Dorsey's execution "did not find beyond a reasonable doubt, that the mitigating circumstances in his case were insufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances."

Dorsey, now 45, has been on death row at the Potosi Correctional Center since 2008, sentenced for killing his cousin, Sarah Bonnie, and her husband, Benjamin Bonnie, at their rural New Bloomfield home Dec. 24, 2006.

Dorsey, from Jefferson City, pleaded guilty to the murders in March 2008, and the jury was empaneled to determine his sentence.

In August 2008, the jury determined Dorsey had planned the murders and, also, had raped Sarah.

The Supreme Court twice has upheld Dorsey's conviction and sentences for the 2 murders - which occurred after the Bonnies had helped Dorsey, then 35, get drug dealers out of his home earlier on the day they were killed.

Family members found the couple's bodies after they didn't show up, as expected, for a family holiday gathering.

Investigators said their daughter, 4, was in the home at the time, but unharmed.

Attorney Rebecca E. Woodman, of Lenexa, Kansas, argued in her motion for a writ of habeas corpus that Missouri law requires a jury to find the circumstances supporting a death penalty finding outweigh the favorable, or mitigating, evidence that would support a sentence other than the death penalty.

Woodman noted a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling - 8 years after the jury heard Dorsey's case - "requires that a jury must make these factual findings before imposing a death sentence."

And, she reminded the Supreme Court that it "has already afforded retroactive application of new law concerning the right to fact-finding by a jury."

On Feb. 24, Woodman wrote, Dorsey asked the state Supreme Court to withdraw its execution mandate, "arguing that Missouri's capital sentencing scheme violates" the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Hurst v. Florida.

Woodman pointed to the state Supreme Court's 2010 decision upholding Dorsey's conviction and death sentences.

"This Court rejected Mr. Dorsey's constitutional challenge to the statute," she wrote in her 13-page motion. "In a holding that is contrary to 'Hurst,' this Court found 'the jury's "weighing" of aggravating and mitigating evidence is not subject to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, because it is not a factual finding that increases the potential range of punishment."

Although the Supreme Court rejected Dorsey's motion in March, Woodman wrote, it said Dorsey still could file a writ for habeas corpus.

And that's what her new motion does.

Because of the federal Supreme Court's ruling last year, Woodman said, the state court's only alternative is to drop the death sentence and order Dorsey to serve life in prison, instead.

Woodman's motion seeking elimination of Dorsey's death sentence was filed Wednesday.

The court gave no indication when it may decide to accept, or reject, the case.

(source: News Tribune)


Quintuple murder trial for Michael Bever pushed back as attorneys prepare for insanity defense----Competing psychological reports are expected at the trial, now scheduled for August

A judge on Monday pushed back the jury trial for the younger of 2 brothers charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of 5 family members in their Broken Arrow home so both sides can continue to gather evidence about his mental health.

Michael Bever, 18, appeared Monday before District Judge Sharon Holmes wearing a black and white striped Tulsa Jail uniform, sitting apart from other in-custody inmates with court appearances. Holmes had scheduled his trial last year to begin June 5, but she told the state and defense to meet in her chambers Monday afternoon after hearing brief discussions of a report obtained by the defense about Bever's intent to pursue an insanity defense.

After those discussions, she scheduled Bever's trial to begin Aug. 28 and set a discovery hearing 3 weeks beforehand.

Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh last fall announced that his client's mental health would be the basis of the defense and since then has filed a series of documents in his quest to have a jury determine whether Bever is not guilty by reason of insanity. Among those are proposed verdict forms that include a check box referencing insanity and motions filed under seal regarding the use of funds to pay for experts.

Nigh said in court Monday that a report from Dr. Terese Hall supports his case, to which District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he would contest Hall's assessment by having Bever undergo an evaluation by Dr. Shawn Roberson, a state expert. Kunzweiler said he received word last week about Hall's evaluation and told Holmes it was unlikely, if not impossible, to have Roberson's report complete before June 5.

Bever was 16 when he and his brother Robert Bever, then 18, were charged with 5 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of assault and battery with a deadly weapon in the deaths of their parents, David and April Bever, and their siblings Daniel, Christopher and Victoria. The assault charge relates to the brothers' now-15-year-old sister, who survived the attack. Their then-2-year-old sister was found unharmed in the family's Broken Arrow residence, which was torn down last month.

Robert Bever was sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to all 6 counts in September. Although the older brother could have faced the death penalty, Kunzweiler told reporters at the time that he agreed to a plea deal in large part so the surviving sister wouldn't have to go through what likely would be a death-penalty trial.

Because of his age at the time of the crimes, Michael Bever is ineligible to receive capital punishment but could be sentenced to life without parole because he is charged as an adult, which Nigh has previously argued is unconstitutional because a life without parole sentence is in effect a death sentence. He unsuccessfully challenged the prosecution of Michael Bever as an adult before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which said Oklahoma law mandates that a defendant who is 15 or older facing a 1st-degree murder charge be treated as such.

(source: Tulsa World)


BSU gets grant to investigate wrongful convictions

Convicts who believe they were wrongfully convicted of murder or forcible rape may benefit from a $630,000 federal grant to test DNA.

But none of the money can be used in Idaho cases.

Why? Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden will not sign a federally required form certifying that the state’s DNA testing and collection practices comply with federal requirements. He told Boise State University that those requirements and Idaho law do not mesh, and that he has no jurisdiction over Idaho law enforcement agencies.

The grant was originally intended for the nonprofit Idaho Innocence Project, which sought it. The project, which focuses on Idaho convictions, is led by criminal justice and biology professor Greg Hampikian.

Since Wasden will not sign the letter, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to award the grant to Hampikian and Boise State, not to the project. That allows grant money to be used in other states.

Hampikian said he plans to use the grant to work on cases with similar innocence projects in Montana, Georgia, Illinois and other states whose officials agree to sign the form.

Hampikian was among many experts who worked to free convicted murderer Christopher Tapp from prison. Tapp was released in a March deal with prosecutors after serving 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge. His release came 10 years before his 1st scheduled parole hearing. None of Tapp's DNA was found at the scene and Tapp and forensic and criminal investigation experts say his confession to the crime was false and coerced.

Judge Alan Stephens reduced Tapp's sentence to time served, vacated his rape conviction and ordered no probation.

No state law, no jurisdiction

The Idaho Innocence Project was one of just seven organizations in 2016 to receive federal grants under the Justice for All Act enacted in 2004. The grant program, the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, is named for the the 1st death-row inmate in the U.S. exonerated by DNA evidence.

For the money to be used for DNA testing in any state, the state's chief legal officer must sign a 1-page form certifying that the state provides post-conviction DNA testing in murder and forcible rape cases and that it preserves biological evidence in those cases.

Wasden said limitations in Idaho law prevent it from meeting the requirements. For example, Idaho law requires preservation of DNA evidence only in sexual assault cases.

"There is no similar Idaho statute that applies to testing and preservation of biological cases in the cases of murder," Wasden wrote in a Oct. 13, 2016, letter to Boise State explaining why he would not sign the form.

Furthermore, the form Wasden is asked to sign states, "I am aware that a false statement in this certification may be the subject of criminal prosecution." But Wasden said he lacks jurisdiction over any police agencies in Idaho, including the Idaho State Police, and over the state crime lab. He said he cannot certify that all jurisdictions in Idaho take reasonable measures to collect and preserve biological evidence in murder and forcible rape cases.

Some states do have post-conviction DNA collection and preservation laws, and their attorneys general have jurisdiction over state crime labs. For example, in Montana, the attorney general heads the Department of Justice, which includes the state patrol and state crime lab.

Also, "Montana has a post-conviction DNA preservation statute," said Toby Cook, an attorney with Montana Innocence Project.

Montana has already sent 2 DNA cases to Hampikian, one involving sex abuse and one involving the slaying of a bartender.

"There was no physical evidence connecting our clients to any of the crimes in either case," Cook said. "Instead, their convictions were based on shaky eyewitness testimony and circumstantial evidence."

40 in the U.S. exonerated

Kirk Bloodsworth was convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 in the rape and killing of a 9-year-old girl in Maryland.

In 1992, Bloodsworth learned about new DNA testing. Prosecutors agreed to DNA testing of the victim’s clothing and other evidence. The DNA did not match Bloodsworth's. He was exonerated and released from prison in 1993. After his release, he became an advocate for DNA testing and for abolishing the death penalty.

Idaho filmmaker Gregory Bayne released a documentary in 2015 about the case, "Bloodsworth: An Innocent Man."

F40 men and women have been exonerated since the Bloodsworth program started in 2004.

Idaho project still open

The Idaho Innocence Project is funded by grants and donations. Even though the new grant cannot be used on Idaho cases, Hampikian's team will keep working on them.

"We are still open for business," Hampikian said. "We are not turning away cases."

The project typically handles about a half-dozen Idaho cases at a time.

An earlier grant that can be used on Idaho cases runs out in September. Hampikian thinks additional help may be on the way.

"The university is considering earmarking some discretionary funds for support of the Idaho Innocence Project for the next 2 years," he said.



Jury convicts former death row inmate in his 3rd trial for 1981 Newport Beach murder

A man once plucked from death row when a federal judge overturned his conviction was found guilty again on Monday for the 1981 killing of a Newport Beach man.

An Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for about 2 days before finding James Andrew Melton, 65, guilty of 1st-degree murder for robbing and killing Anthony Lial DeSousa in his Newport Beach home more than 3 decades ago.

Melton originally was convicted and sentenced to death for the killing in 1982. But he was pulled from death row in 2007 when a federal judge ruled that Melton was over-medicated by jail staff and could not understand his trial.

He was tried again in 2014, but the case ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction.

Prosecutors then chose not to pursue the death penalty, partly because of the case's age. Now, after his 3rd trial, Melton faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy said Melton and his lover, Johnny Boyd, hatched a plan to meet rich, older men through ads in gay magazines and then rob them in their homes.

Boyd was given immunity to testify in the 1st trial. He died of AIDS in 1992, so the jury in this trial listened to transcripts of his testimony.

DeSousa, who lived in a Newport Beach condo, had come out as a gay man after his wife died and began placing ads in magazines looking for partners. Boyd said had met DeSousa through one of his ads and arranged a meeting between Melton and DeSousa.

Days later on Oct. 13, 1981, DeSousa's nude body was found in his bedroom, strangled.

Boyd testified that Melton admitted to the killing and that he had seen Melton wearing DeSousa's jewelry. Melton was arrested with DeSousa's belongings including his car, a watch, a suitcase, a movie projector and pawn slips, authorities said.

Denise Gragg, Melton's defense attorney, had argued that Boyd, a key witness, lacked credibility and that lots of DNA was found at the crime scene, but none of it matched Melton's. Gragg said the real killer was never found.

Melton has a history of violent crime, including convictions for 2 rapes, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.

In 1982, the California Supreme Court upheld his murder conviction. But in a federal appeal, he successfully argued that the medical staff at Orange County Jail gave him psychiatric drugs for mental-health issues that impaired his ability to understand his trial.

(source: Orance County Register)


Sierra LaMar: Convicted killer's mother testifies about his childhood----Defense testimony in the penalty portion of the trial aims to spare Antolin Garcia-Torres from the death penalty.

The mother of Antolin Garcia-Torres, convicted this month of kidnapping and killing 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, spoke for the 1st time in court on Monday, calling him a "loving" and "responsible" son whom she regularly visits in jail, his young daughters in tow.

Monday marked the start of the defense phase of the penalty portion of the trial; prosecutors wrapped up their witnesses last week. Defense attorneys are trying to shape a sympathetic image for jurors - not conceding guilt, but maintaining that a troubled background should be taken into consideration.

"I'm not here to share this with you so you will save my son," said Laura Torres, speaking softly and through an interpreter and often sobbing. "I'm here to tell you what I know."

Garcia-Torres' attorney Brian Matthews presented a dismal family portrait - a mom who married young and came to the United States from Mexico to live in a ramshackle garage on the strawberry field where the couple worked. Parental supervision was minimal, said witnesses, with Torres working 2 jobs and the family patriarch, Genaro Garcia Fernandez, sometimes in jail and almost always drunk.

Armando Garcia, a 2nd cousin, testified that Torres would often have bruises on her arms and neck.

"There's no way it was the little strawberries that did that to her," he said.

Morning testimony centered on the abuse of his mom by his father, Fernandez, going back to before Garcia-Torres was born.

Torres testified that Fernandez would beat her unexpectedly, once after she'd asked for a massage because her back was sore and other times in the middle of the night. And he would threaten to kill the whole family; the couple had 5 children, 3 older than Antolin Garcia-Torres, one younger.

"He would say, 'You know you are going to bed, but you don't know if you will get up,'" Torres said. "At first I thought he was just saying crazy things. ... But I was scared that he would carry it through, that he would kill all of us in the night."

One time, she said, he strangled her with her long braids, which she had grown to almost her ankles. So she cut her hair short. The abuse got so bad that she left while pregnant with Garcia-Torres, moving in with her in-laws in Napa for a time.

Last week, prosecutors urged the jury that convicted Garcia-Torres to recommend the death penalty.

"This part of the trial is about justice," deputy district attorney David Boyd told the jury in Santa Clara County Superior Court. "What is the one just verdict that answers for the unspeakable things the defendant did to her? ... Death is the only fair and just verdict."

The defense is expected to bring up Fernandez's history of sexual abuse in the homes where he grew up. He was convicted of 17 counts of child molestation in late September 2012, just 6 months after Sierra LaMar disappeared on March 16, 2012.

The defense did not ask Torres about the sexual assaults, but did make a point to talk about the "thin walls" and lack of insulation in the San Martin homes the family shared.

They also talked briefly about pesticides used on the strawberry fields where the parents worked and the children played, as well as the family's use of tap water. San Martin was in the middle of a high-profile pollution case in which hundreds of drinking water wells were contaminated with a chemical used in rocket fuel in 2003.

While Garcia-Torres showed little emotion in Monday's session, occasionally looking down, his mother, cried numerous times. She talked about how her son's daughters also love him and eagerly await talking to him on the phone or visiting him in jail.

She seemed baffled that attorneys would even question the fate she would want for Garcia-Torres.

"What mother would be asked if they want their son to be killed or not?" she said.

(source: Mercury News)


Death penalty charges for accused Old Town killer----Michael Williams accused of killing Jacob Shroyer

The man accused of killing a well-known DJ and barber in what officials believe was a random stabbing could face the death penalty if convicted by a jury.

On Friday, a Multnomah County grand jury issued a 17-count indictment against Michael Lee Williams for 3 separate crimes, including the death of Jacob Shroyer.

Williams appeared in court on Monday and was arraigned on the indictment. A court appointed criminal defense, with death penalty case experience, will be appointed.

Police allege that Williams stabbed Shroyer on May 8 inside the Pacific Tower Apartments. He died May 16.

Prior to attacking Shroyer, police say Williams approached an unknown person near a parking lot at NW 4th and Glisan. The grand jury charged Williams with a single count of menacing for that incident, which was caught on camera.

Almost immediately after approaching the unknown person Williams set his sights on Shroyer, according to court documents.

The entry to Shroyer's apartment building has 2 sets of doors. The 1st leads people into a small open space where they can use a keypad system to access the secured lobby.

Video shows Shroyer entering the 1st set of doors. He can be seen trying to close the door that leads to the street but Williams was able to reach in and open it.

The small foyer is where the attack happened.

Williams was arrested May 9 after 911 dispatchers took reports of an assault and robbery onboard a TriMet bus near SW 5th and Pine. The grand jury decided to charge Williams with 1 count of assault for punching the TriMet rider, criminal mischief for damaging the bus, and robbery for stealing the man's wallet.

The indictment also reveals that on May 1, Williams had a physical confrontation with a man at a retail store in Old Town. Police have not released specific details to that incident. However, court documents show that as a result of the incident, damage was done to the store.

Police said they were made aware of the May 1 incident after Williams' photo was featured in local media broadcasts following his arrest.

According to Shroyer's obituary, he grew up in Albuquerque and had been living in Portland since 2007.

"Jacob was an accomplished hair stylist at Bishop's barbershop and a talented DJ at CC Slaughters Club in downtown Portland," according to the obituary. "Jacob was a strong independent self-made man who loved to make people happy and feel good about themselves."

A celebration of life for Shroyer was held on Saturday.

Williams remains in custody.

Under Oregon law, a person convicted of aggravated murder could face the death penalty.

(source: KOIN news)


EU condemns latest Hamas death sentences----EU, Norway condemn 3 death sentences against killers of senior Hamas terrorist Mazen Faqha.

The European Union (EU) Heads of Mission and the Head of Mission of Norway in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday condemned the 3 death sentences that were issued in Gaza against the suspected assassin and 2 suspected accomplices in the March death of senior Hamas terrorist Mazen Faqha.

"The Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah recall their opposition under all circumstances to the use of capital punishment," said the statement, as quoted by the Palestinian Authority-based Ma’an news agency.

The statement added that the EU and Norway "consider that abolition of the death penalty contributes to the protection of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights."

It noted that the missions considered capital punishment "to be cruel and inhuman," and that "it fails to provide deterrence to criminal behavior, and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity."

"The de facto authorities in Gaza must refrain from carrying out any executions of prisoners and comply with the moratorium on executions put in place by the Palestinian Authority, pending abolition of the death penalty in line with the global trend," the statement concluded.

The death sentences were handed down by a Gaza court on Sunday. The court ruled that Ashraf L., Faqha's alleged killer, was guilty of collaborating with "a hostile foreign entity" and premeditated murder.

The military court said he had been collaborating with an Israeli intelligence officer and "provided sensitive information about resistance and fighters" in return for money.

Faqha, a convicted terrorist released in the 2011 Shalit deal, was shot by unknown assailants in his Gaza home in March.

Hamas authorities in Gaza accused Israel of being behind his death immediately after it happened, and threatened to get Israel back for any action by Israeli security forces against Hamas senior officials.

Following Faqha's death, Hamas released a video in which it threatened to eliminate senior Israeli officials.

The group has arrested dozens of Gazans on charges of collaborating with Israel following the killing of Faqha.

Hamas regularly claims to have captured "Israeli spies", and many times it tries them and sentences them to death.

In theory all execution orders in the Palestinian Authority's (PA) territories must be approved by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in Ramallah and who imposed a moratorium on executions several years ago.

Hamas no longer recognizes Abbas's legitimacy, and has in the past emphatically declared that the death penalty in Gaza can be carried out without his consent.



Kent politician demands return of the death penalty following Manchester terror attack

The death penalty should be returned for terrorist crimes, according to a south east MEP.

Janice Atkinson, who lives in Chislehurst and stood for Ukip in Folkestone and Hythe before becoming an independent politican, made the comments in the wake of an attack in Manchester which killed 22 people, including children.

Dozens more were left injured following the attack by a suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena on Monday night.

Speaking this morning, Ms Atkinson said: "Much needs to be done to eradicate this evil. But there is 1 simple step which we can take now: we must bring back the death penalty.

"This is the 1st time I have called for this. For decades I have shifted in both directions: taking any life is wrong: it's right to execute certain types of killers, but what about miscarriages of justice?

"The risks of miscarriages of justice have now been largely overcome by the huge advances in DNA testing to a point of near-infallibility.

"Many will argue that I'm calling for revenge killings, motivated by hatred. Others will argue that I'm inhumane, that we live in a civilised society.

"Then there will be those who say that the death penalty is not a deterrent, that the warped perpetrators want in any case to die as martyrs.

"None of the above arguments stand up. Not now. We are at war and war crimes and terror cannot be given any quarter or allowed any glimpse of victory.

"These people are not deranged psychopaths, they are indoctrinated into an ideological belief that involves all out war against us.

"I'm not wringing my hands trying to find answers, I'm a politician, it's my job to come up with answers.

"Today, we should announce that the death penalty will be brought back for terrorist crimes."



Mass Executions Alleged at Military Base----Investigate Crimes, Hold Perpetrators to Account

Forces aligned with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) attacked a military base and allegedly executed at least 30 captured soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today. A hospital official and an eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that soldiers from the 13th Battalion aligned with the GNA Defense Ministry attacked the base in Brak El-Shati, in southern Libya, on May 18, 2017, and executed troops from the 12th Battalion of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The head of the GNA's Presidency Council ordered an investigation and the suspension of his defense minister and the commander of the battalion responsible for the attack. The summary execution of persons who have been captured or who have surrendered constitutes a war crime.

"The Government of National Accord should act on its promise to investigate allegations that its troops executed opposing forces who had already been rounded up," said Eric Goldstein, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities need to send a strong message that such crimes will not be tolerated which means that if the allegations are true, they should try those responsible."

The LNA does not recognize the authority of the GNA, and instead supports rival authorities based in the east.

A senior official in the main hospital in Brak El-Shati told Human Rights Watch by phone that the hospital had received 75 dead as of May 19, all adult men with the exception of 2 boys aged around 15, and that around 30 were military personnel. The official said that all the military dead had died from gunshot wounds, and that all had bullet wounds to their head. He also said that 5 corpses arrived at the hospital with bound arms, and another six had been disfigured in a way that suggested their heads had been run over by a vehicle. The official said the hospital received no one injured in the attack, nor did it receive any casualties from the 13th Battalion. News reports quoted an LNA spokesperson saying 141 were killed.

Human Rights Watch also spoke by phone on May 19 with a member of the LNA’s 12th Battalion who survived the attack, a member of the Libyan Red Crescent Society Brak El-Shati, and a spokesperson from the 13th Battalion. Human Rights Watch also reviewed extensive photo and video material related to the clashes.

Brak El-Shati military base is under the control of the LNA's 12th Battalion, commanded by General Khalifa Hiftar. Troops from the LNA's 10th Battalion were also present during the clashes. The LNA is allied with the Interim Government and House of Representatives based in the eastern cities of al-Bayda and Tobruk. The interim government is 1 of the 3 governments vying for legitimacy, international recognition, and control of territory in Libya. The LNA forces in the south have been engaged in an armed conflict with the 13th Battalion, an alliance of armed groups that includes the Third Force from Misrata, the Benghazi Defense Brigades, and other armed groups from the south. The 13th Battalion is under the command of Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi, the GNA defense minister. The GNA, based in Tripoli, is the only Libyan government recognized by the UN Security Council.

According to the 12th Battalion soldier who witnessed the attack and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, elements of the 13th Battalion based in the nearby Tamenhint airbase, about 60 kilometers away, staged the surprise attack at around 9:30 a.m. The eyewitness said that the heavily-armed attackers, who included Chadian fighters, arrived in a large convoy of black armored vehicles.

The LNA soldier, who was at the main gate with around nine other LNA soldiers, said the attackers came out of their cars shooting and fought their way to the interior. The LNA soldiers returned fire but offered little resistance once the attackers had penetrated the base. The 13th Battalion withdrew 5 or 6 hours after arriving, taking prisoners.

Hiding under an overturned car during the attack, the LNA soldier said he saw nine comrades executed:

I saw the attackers catch my nine comrades who had been running with me from the main gate. They were disarmed, lined up in a row, and made to kneel on the ground. The attackers then sprayed them with bullets, and once they were lying on the ground dead, the attackers shot each and every one of them in the head. As they were shooting they were shouting, "You apostates, you enemies of God."

The soldier said that there did not seem to be much resistance in the base, but that he could hear intermittent shooting, which he believed to be "executions." He said 1 or 2 of his comrades survived by hiding among the dead, but that the attackers killed all the military personnel who did not hide or escape. He said they also killed civilian cooks, workers, and medical personnel. However, they did not harm detainees held by military police at the base. The soldier said that the attackers caused much destruction and looted vehicles, military equipment, and weapons.

According to the hospital official, the 75 bodies received included 2 migrant workers from Niger whose job was to unload food trucks at the base. He said the dead included 2 civilians unconnected to the base who were killed on the road. He said that relatives who accompanied one victim to the hospital told him the man had been shot in front of his family. The other, a truck driver, had been shot in the head, and both his arms broken. The hospital official said the retreating forces set ablaze the food warehouse and some trucks. He added that the nonmilitary victims were killed by gunfire but unlike the military victims did not have execution-style shots to the head.

Human Rights Watch reviewed at least 80 photographs and several videos that seemed to show the May 18 attack; they appeared to corroborate witness statements about the incident. The photographs showed mainly dead men, some in uniform, many with what appears to be a single gunshot wound to the front of the head. One video shows a group of 4 LNA detainees from the Brak El-Shati airbase in the back of a pickup truck, shackled, handcuffed, and blindfolded while fighters, seemingly from the 13th Battalion, give them water to drink as they talk about the events at the base.

Another video, shot from inside a car, shows a convoy driving on a desert road; the passengers say they are from the Benghazi Defense Brigades on their way to attack Brak El-Shati. The video then shows around 9 dead men face down as an unidentified person shoots at them and a voice calls them "mercenaries of Hiftar and dogs of Hiftar." Human Rights Watch cannot independently verify the videos or photos.

Mohamed Alghiwan, a spokesman for the 13th Battalion, told Human Rights Watch that forces from the battalion had attacked the Brak El-Shati base on May 18 in retaliation for many attacks on their Tamenhint base. Alghiwan denied that forces linked to the battalion had committed summary executions or any other laws-of-war violations during the attack.

Alghiwan added that the 13th Battalion suffered no injuries or deaths in the attack and took 14 or 15 prisoners. He said the battalion would release only civilian detainees.

All parties to a conflict are required to abide by the laws of war. Certain serious violations of the laws of war, when committed with criminal intent, such as executions of civilians or enemy fighters who had been captured or had surrendered, are war crimes. Anyone who commits, orders, or assists, or has command responsibility for war crimes, can be subject to prosecution by domestic courts or international courts. Commanders may be criminally liable for war crimes of their subordinates if they fail to hand over those responsible for prosecution.

"Senior commanders need to understand that they too can be implicated in war crimes unless they act resolutely to stop them and punish those responsible," Goldstein said.

(source: Human Rights Watch)


Filipino Catholics in 'show of force' against death penalty----Church leaders, activists up pressure on Senate to vote against capital punishment

Church leaders in the Philippines admit they need to "make more noise" because "people have not yet awakened" about issues that are contrary to the teachings of their faith.

Priests, nuns, and rights activists joined forces on May 21 in what was supposed to be a "show of force" to block the proposed revival of capital punishment in the Philippines.

A group of pilgrims that embarked on a 21-day cross-country march from the southern Philippines joined the protest march and Mass in Manila.

"This is part of the education of people," said Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila. He said people "still don't understand the issue and its relationship to our faith."

Church leaders need to "continue to evangelize [and] to stand to the challenges that the times present to us," the prelate said.

"Let us make a stand and tell the government that the death penalty is not the solution to criminality," said Bishop Pabillo.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan exhorted those who attended the Mass to continue opposing "anti-life policies" proposed by the government.

Not against Duterte

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the Philippine bishops' conference, clarified that the protest march was not aimed against President Duterte.

"This is not anti-Duterte or anything," said Father Gariguez. "This is a stand against death penalty," he said, adding that the intention of the march was to bring the message to senators.

The bill reviving capital punishment for drug-related crimes was passed by the Lower House in March, but Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the measure is already "dead" in the Senate.

Father Gariguez, however, said those opposed to the proposed measure "would like to get the support of as many senators as possible."

"We are happy that some senators are supporting us on this," he said. "It goes beyond adhering to the church's position because [opposition to death penalty] is universal," added the priest.

Symbolic gesture

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila earlier urged Filipinos to join the movement to oppose the revival of capital punishment.

He said the "caravan for life" is an "opportunity to find ways of fighting crime ... without resorting to measures that also violate life like capital punishment."

Jesuit Father Jose Ramon Villarin, president of Ateneo de Manila University, said the march was "largely a symbolic gesture" that he hoped will create some waves.

The priest said a legislation that will revive the death penalty is "an additional burdensome law" that will not deter crime and will only be a "temporary solution."

Father Villarin said the caravan of at least 15 pilgrims shows that opposition to the revival of capital punishment is "not an elitist thing."

"The people from the basic sectors are here. These are people from all walks of life and they are speaking about issues that are close to their hearts," he said.

The priest noted that while it might take some time to block the passage of the proposed law, "I think it is important that we have made our voice heard this early."

The Philippine Senate is set to tackle the proposed death penalty law, which was earlier passed by the Lower House of Congress, on May 24.



Pak Senate panel demand death penalty for ex-TTP spokesperson

A Pakistan Senate panel has strongly criticized the government's 'special treatment' for former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, and demanded that he treated as a terrorist, and be given the death penalty as per the laws of the land.

The Senate's Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics demanded that he not be treated like a guest or be fed in 5-star hotels.

They said that he was known to have played football with the severed heads of Pakistani soldiers.

The Ministry of Defence was further pulled up for presenting Ehsan on television channels, saying that the image of the country has taken a beating as a result.

Committee chairman Rehman Malik said, "Liaquat Ali alias Ehsanullah Ehsan is not an innocent person but a hardcore terrorist. He should be arrested in the FIR of Malala's case. He should be nominated in all cases for which he claimed responsibility."

"His glorification is against the law. He had no symptoms of being ashamed in his confessional statement," Malik added.

The Express Tribuen further quoted him, as saying that the entire nation wants to see him hanged. He said he deserved punishment similar to what Jadhav has been given.



Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly calls for Kulbhushan Jadhav's execution

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for the implementation of the death sentence handed down by a Pakistani military court to Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav. The resolution moved by Mufti Said Janan of the Jamiat- i-Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) was signed by Pakistan Tehreek- e-Insaf, Jamaat Islami, Awami National Party, the Qaumi Watan Party, and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

The resolution claimed that Jadhav was a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent "involved in subversive activities in Pakistan" and had admitted his crimes before the interrogation team. He was arrested by Pakistani intelligence agencies on charges of "spying", the resolution said.

The Assembly demands that the provincial government should recommend to the federal government to implement the death sentence in accordance with the Pakistani laws, it said.

The resolution comes just days after the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) stayed Jadhav's execution and also endorsed the Indian request for consular access to him.

India moved the ICJ against the death penalty on 8 May.

Jadhav's case is the latest flash-point in the tensions between Pakistan and India. The 2 countries last faced off at the ICJ 18 years ago when Islamabad sought its intervention over the shooting down of its naval aircraft.



UN Experts Urge Halt to Iran's Executions of Juveniles

Iran has a history of executions for a variety of crimes, and age rarely impacts the choice of sentence. Currently, there are at least 90 people on death row in Iran under the age of 18, according to United Nations human rights experts. They urged authorities to abide with international law and immediately stop these executions. This call comes as 2 people, one 17 at the time of his sentencing and on 15, were given dates for their executions.

"These executions must be halted immediately and the death sentences quashed. We also call on Iran to commute without delay all such sentences imposed on children," said Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Mahdi Bohlouli, who was 17 at the time of his sentencing in 2001, was due to be executed on April 19. His execution was halted a few hours earlier but the current status of his execution is unclear. Meanwhile, Peyman Barandah, who was sentenced in 2012 at the age of 15, is scheduled to be executed on May 10.

"These 2 cases bring the total of juvenile offenders scheduled for execution that we have become aware of in Iran since January to 6. They include the cases of 2 young persons whose executions was carried out," the experts noted.

In 2013, the Iran penal code was amended to allow the possibility of juveniles sentenced to death to be allowed retrials. Later, assurances were given in 2016 by Iran to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that this amendment would apply systematically for all juveniles who are currently on death row.

In addition, the experts pointed out that by ratifying both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran has committed itself to protecting and respecting children's right to life as well as to outlaw the death penalty for all those under the age of 18.

"These promises have not been fulfilled: Some of the young men executed recently were not even aware of the possibility of retrials, and the requests made by Mahdi Bohlouli and Peyman Barandah for retrial were simply rejected by the Supreme Court," according to the experts. In other cases, the juveniles were simply sentenced to the death penalty again after being retried.



Death penalty for kidnappers in Benue as Ortom signs 2 bills into law

It is no longer business as usual for kidnappers in Benue State, as the anti-kidnapping bill signed into law by Governor Samuel Ortom has slammed death penalty on any kidnapper found liable.

Governor Ortom at the stakeholders meeting held on Monday at government house, Makurdi shows stringent penalties for kidnappers, hostage taking, cult members, their accomplices and other similar offences.

Traditional rulers, prominent political office holders both at national amid state levels, politicians and others in their categories were in attendance where governor Ortom presented his midterm score card.

The 2 executive bills signed into law are; Adoption, hostage taking, kidnapping secret cult and similar offences as well as open grazing prohibition and ranches establishment law, 2017.

The former law gives more stringent penalty for offenders and accords more power to law enforcements agents than the latter.

Going by the highlights of the 1st law, it stipulates that anyone whose house is used for unlawful detention and kidnapping if found guilty is liable to death sentence.

Detonation of explosive instrument within the state will now attract 5 years while anyone found to be a member of secret cult is liable to 10 years without option of fine.

The law also stated that whoever is found guilty of hostage taking and found guilty will earn 10 years jail term while any act of terrorism attracts liable punishment of 14 yrs.

Also whoever permits his premises to be used for hostage taking such property will be forfeited to government, also any threat to person on kidnapping is liable to 7 years jail terms.

The new law also stipulates that any public office holders who sponsor kidnapping and found liable will be removed from office and risk 3 years in jail, it also added that anyone in possession of illegal firearms in state will and upon conviction be jailed for 3 years while whoever aids cultism is also liable to 3 years jail term.

The anti grazing law provides that anyone who engages in open grazing in Benue State and on conviction will now be liable for 5 years imprisonment.

The new law provides for monetary compensation in case of any damage to a property and imprisonment of 2 years of the livestock owner or manager in case of injury to any person in the state.

"Where such contravention causes the death of any person within the state, the owner or manager of such livestock shall be guilty of an offense of culpable homicide punishable under the penal code law".

It also provides that anyone who engages in cattle rustling shall be liable on conviction for imprisonment of a term not less than 3 years or payment of 100,000 per animal or both.

(source: Nigerian Tribune)


Amnesty calls for halt to execution of man on death row

Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) has called on the Government to stop the imminent execution of a man who was sentenced to death for shooting at policemen during an armed robbery in 2002.

AIM executive director Shanimi Darshni Kaliemuthu said in a statement that the family of Yong Kar Mun, 48, received a letter on Monday asking them to visit him for the last time at 9am on Tuesday at the Sungai Buloh Prison.

Shamini said that based on existing practice, the execution is expected to take place this week.

Yong was sentenced to death by the High Court in March 2009. He failed in his appeals at the Court of Appeal and Federal Court in October 2011 and August 2012.

He was sentenced to death in 2009 under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, which carries the mandatory death penalty.

Yong was charged with bank robbery and opening fire at Julayili Hassan, Yusry Awang Takung and Abdul Ghani Ahmad and Mohd Fadzil Ibrahim with the intention of causing death or injury.

He was accused of committing the crime with Teng Mun Hoong, 40, who was shot dead during their attempt to flee after the incident at Bandar Sri Damansara on June 3, 2002.

"The imposition of the mandatory death penalty is prohibited under international law, which also states that, in countries where it has not yet been abolished, the imposition of the death penalty must be restricted to 'the most serious crimes', meaning intentional killing," said Shamini.

She added information isn't made publicly available on individual death penalty cases and families are often informed merely days before that their loved ones will be executed.



Amnesty wants halt to execution of death row inmate----It adds that according to international law, the mandatory death penalty can only be handed out for 'the most serious crimes' such as intentional killings.

Amnesty International Malaysia wants the government to immediately halt the execution of a man on death row, expected to take place any time within the next 72 hours.

It said Yong Kar Mun, 48, had "days, if not hours, left to live", adding that based on existing practice, the execution was expected to take place this week.

"Yong's family received a letter by hand from the Sungai Buloh Prison at 2pm today, asking the family to visit him for the last time tomorrow at 9am. "The family does not know when Yong will be executed," Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said in a statement today.

Yong has been on death row since March 2009. He was sentenced to death under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, which carries the mandatory death penalty, read together with Article 37 of the Penal Code, after being found guilty of discharging a firearm during an armed robbery.

Although no casualties occurred as a result of the robbery, another man involved in the act of robbery was shot dead during the subsequent police chase.

Yong failed in his appeals to the Court of Appeal on Oct 6, 2011 and Federal Court on Aug 2, 2012.

Noting that the imposition of the mandatory death penalty is prohibited under international law, Amnesty International added that even in countries where it had not been abolished, the same law restricts the death penalty to "the most serious crimes", meaning intentional killing.

It said information is hardly made publicly available on individual death penalty cases, and that families are often informed merely days before their loved ones are executed.

"The lack of transparency around executions in Malaysia is a violation of international law and standards.

"Families must have sufficient time to prepare for the last visit and take any further recourse available at the national or international level. To date, they still do not know when the execution is due to be carried out," Shamini said.

"Amnesty International Malaysia does not downplay the seriousness of the crimes committed, but we urge the authorities to consider introducing more effective crime prevention measures that respect human rights instead of continuously using one that has no merit."

The NGO also called on the government to immediately impose a moratorium on executions with a view to full abolition.



Turkey opens trial of suspected military coup plotters----Trial of 221 main suspects of July 15 coup bid begins amid heavy security and calls for death penalty.

More than 220 suspects, including over two dozen former Turkish generals, have gone on trial accused of being among the ringleaders of the attempted coup last year aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Protesters outside Turkey's largest courtroom in the Sincan district of Ankara called on Monday for the death penalty for the accused and flung rope nooses at the defendants as they were paraded into court handcuffed and held by the security forces.

Erdogan: Turkey coup bid 'an act of treason'

"We want the death penalty, we don't want them to be fed and housed here. We want these traitors to be buried without any flag," said protester Cengiz Ozturk.

Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its drive to join the European Union but Erdogan has on occasion indicated it could be reimposed to deal with the coup plotters.

There was heavy security in place on Monday, with a drone flying overhead and armoured security vehicles on site as well as snipers on the roof.

Hearings at the trial, one of the largest of several coup-related trials taking place across Turkey, are expected to last until June 16.

Turkey blames the attempted July 15 putsch on the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a claim he strongly denies, and has launched a relentless purge under a state of emergency against those deemed to have backed the plot.

Gulen is among 12 of the 221 suspects in the current trial who remain at large, with the remainder appearing in court for the 1st time inside a prison complex in Sincan.

26 generals are among those charged, including former air force chief Akin Ozturk and Mehmet Disli, the brother of senior ruling party lawmaker Saban Disli.

Also on trial is colonel Ali Yazici, Erdogan's former military aide, and Lieutenant Colonel Levent Turkkan, who was the aide of Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar.

The most prominent figure among the suspects, Ozturk was dressed crisply in a black sweater and held a blue file as he was led into the court.

His appearance contrasted with the last known image of him which showed him bearing injuries including a bandaged ear after his capture 2 days after the coup bid.

Almost 40 of those on trial are accused of being part of the "Peace At Home Council", the committee established by the suspected coup plotters to replace the government if the putsch had succeeded.

The charges against them include "violating the constitution", "using coercion and violence in an attempt to overthrow" the parliament and the Turkish government, "martyring 250 citizens" and "attempting to kill 2,735 citizens", Hurriyet daily reported on Sunday.

The attempted putsch left 248 people dead, according to the Turkish presidency, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.


MAY 22, 2017:

ALABAMA----impending execution

Alabama death row Inmate Tommy Arthur Pleads for 8th Reprieve

7 times, Tommy Arthur has escaped death. With his 8th execution date less than a week away, he phoned from an Alabama prison to talk about the increasingly slim chance that his lethal injection will be called off yet again.

"Until I take my last breath I'll have hope," Arthur, who has been on death row for almost 35 years, told NBC News on Friday. "I don't know how to quit. I don't know how to give up."

He has the paperwork to prove it. Sentenced to death for a 1982 contract killing he insists he didn't commit, Arthur has filed a mountain of challenges, many of them successful - at least in the short run.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted his last scheduled execution six months ago but later declined to take up his case. More recent appeals have been rejected, and while Arthur's attorneys are continuing to fight, the prospects for another reprieve are growing dimmer.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last month shot down a request for new, enhanced DNA testing of a wig from the crime scene, which Arthur, 75, contends will prove that someone else is responsible for the murder of Troy Wicker. She's considering a request to test a hair he claims was collected.

"There is evidence in the evidence box that can be and should be DNA tested and they are not doing it," he said. "I asked them, 'Please don't let Alabama kill me without testing it.'

"Honest to goodness," said Arthur, who was found guilty by 3 different juries, "I did not commit this crime."

Arthur's odyssey through the justice system began in 1977. That's when he was sentenced to life for fatally shooting his sister-in-law through the eye. He joined a work release program, and according to court records, began an affair with a married woman named Judy Wicker.

By prosecutors' account, Wicker offered Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband, Troy. Arthur dressed up as a black man, in an Afro wig, and shot the sleeping man through his eye, prosecutors say.

Arthur and Judy Wicker, who initially claimed a burglar raped her and killed her husband, were convicted at separate trials.

But Arthur's 1st conviction was overturned because the court found details of the earlier killing were improperly disclosed during the trial. He was tried and convicted again, and that verdict was tossed over a statement he gave to police without a lawyer present.

At Arthur's 3rd trial in 1992, Judy Wicker testified and named him as the hitman for the 1st time; she was paroled soon after. Arthur was convicted and sentenced to death for a 3rd time - after telling the jury he wanted a capital sentence because, he said, it would give him better tools to appeal the verdict.

The 3rd conviction stuck - and the Alabama Supreme Court set execution dates in 2001, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Each time, they were postponed, once after a fellow inmate claimed in writing that he was the real killer, only to clam up on the stand during a hearing where Judy Wicker again swore Arthur was the gunman.

Arthur is now the 3rd longest-serving death-row inmate in Alabama, where the legislature just passed a measure that would hasten executions by speeding up appeals. He has several pending appeals that have to be resolved before his May 25 execution date.

One challenges Alabama's lethal injection protocol, which uses the controversial sedative midazolam, on the grounds that it will cause suffering. It cites the December execution of Ronald Smith, who witnesses said heaved and coughed for 13 minutes and moved his arm during a consciousness check.

"It's inevitable that I'm going to have some problems if they execute me," Arthur said.

Another appeal attacks the state's former sentencing scheme, which allowed judges to overrule juries and impose death sentences and which the governor just overturned.

Arthur, who has encyclopedic knowledge of his case, is most focused on another avenue: his quest to have the killer's wig subjected to a new type of DNA testing that could turn up genetic material that might have been missed by earlier tests.

On April 26, the governor's counsel turned down that petition, saying it "merely recycles the same request and contention made by Arthur for more testing on a piece of evidence that has been shown to contain no DNA profile."

Arthur said he doesn't understand the state's reluctance. "Why won't they let this testing take place? What would it hurt?" he asked.

His lead attorney, Suhana Han, said that "neither a fingerprint nor a weapon nor any other physical evidence" links Arthur to the crime.

"If the state executes Mr. Arthur on May 25 as planned, he will die without ever having had a meaningful opportunity to prove his innocence, an outcome that is inexcusable in a civilized society."

An advocacy group called Victims of Crime and Leniency said the courts have given Arthur enough 2nd chances over the last 3 decades.

"He's Houdini," said Janette Grantham, the executive director. "He escapes and he escapes."

She said that for many years, she had been in contact with Troy Wicker's sister, who showed up for several executions that were then called off at the last minute.

"She died a couple of months ago so she won't make it to the final execution," Grantham said. "To me, that is very sad."

However the courts rule, Arthur said, he does not plan to apply for clemency; in his view, it would amount to an admission of guilt.

"I'm not interested," he said. "I could have pleaded guilty to this in 1982 and taken a straight life sentence but I'm not going to plead guilty to something I just didn't do."

(source: NBC News)


Alabama Prepares for May 25, 2017, Execution of Thomas Arthur

Thomas Douglas Arthur is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CDT on Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the Holeman Correctional Facility in Attmore, Alabama. 75-year-old Thomas has been convicted of the murder 35-year-old Troy Wicker on February 1, 1982, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Thomas has spent the last 33 years on Alabama's death row.

In 1977, Thomas was convicted of murdering Eloise Bray West, the sister of his common-law wife, after she refused to reveal the location of his wife. Thomas received a life sentence for the this murder.

While serving time for the murder of Eloise West, Thomas Arthur joined a work release program. Arthur, while on work release, began an affair with Judy Wicker, wife of Troy Wicker. In 1982, Judy offered Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband, to which Arthur agreed. Arthur acquired the ammunition for the murder from an acquaintance, whom he told he was going to use the supplies to kill someone.

On February 1, 1982, Arthur entered the Wicker resident wearing an "afro" wig and in dark makeup to disguise himself as a black man. Troy was shot through the right eye at close range with a pistol, which killed him instantly.

Judy told police that after dropping the kids off at school and arriving back at the house, she discovered a black man in their home. According to Judy, the man raped her and knocked her unconscious before killing her husband.

Police discovered discrepancies in Arthur's work release time and payment logs, prompting an investigation. Arthur was not at his job on the day of the murder and police discover $2,000 in cash in Arthur's personal belongings a few days after the murder. Judy had paid Arthur from the $90,000 in life insurance she collected from Troy's death. Police arrested Judy and Arthur for Troy's murder.

Judy was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband. Initially, Judy claimed that Arthur was not involved in the crime. Years after her conviction, she agreed to testify against Arthur at his trial, in exchange for a reduced sentence. She testified that she paid Arthur to kill her husband and strike her several times so that it would look like she was also attacked. Arthur continues to insist that he is innocent of the crime. Arthur was tried, convicted and sentenced to death on March 22, 1983.

This is Arthur's 7th execution date. All previous executions have been stayed for various reasons, including in 2008, when a man named Bobby Ray Gilbert came forward and confessed to the crime. Limited DNA testing failed to link Bobby to the crime scene and a judge ruled his confession as lacking credibility.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has recently rejected a request by Thomas Arthur to retest DNA evidence in the cast. Thomas is requesting that the wig worn by the killer be retested. The state has argued that the wig was previously tested and found to contain no traces of DNA. He has also asked the governor for clemency.

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Troy Wicker. Please pray for the family of Thomas. Please pray that if Thomas is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be presented before his execution. Please pray that Thomas may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.



1st Court Appearance for 3 Teens in Shooting Death of Boy, 6----3 Mississippi teenagers accused of killing a 6-year-old boy are scheduled to make their 1st court appearances Monday morning.

3 Mississippi teenagers charged with capital murder in the shooting death of a 6-year-old boy are expected to make initial court appearances.

Nineteen-year-old Byron McBride and 17-year-olds Dwan Wakefield and D'Allen Washington were arrested in the shooting death of Kingston Frazier. Authorities say Frazier was found dead in his mother's car Thursday, hours after the vehicle was stolen from outside a Jackson supermarket with the child inside.

A judge is expected to decide Monday whether to set bail and also will appoint lawyers to any of the 3 who lack one.

A special investigator's sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press says Wakefield told police that McBride stole the car and killed Frazier. Though all 3 are charged with capital murder, only McBride could face the death penalty, authorities say.

(source: Associated Press)


State officials struggle with no way to execute death row inmates

73 people sit on Louisiana death row - convicted of crimes so horrific that a jury of their peers sentenced them to death. But as things stand, the state has no way to execute them.

Over the past several weeks, Louisiana lawmakers have debated whether they should end the practice of capital punishment entirely, citing their faith, the costs of the program and whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent.

But to some extent, the question of whether to ban the death penalty is moot. Louisiana finds itself in the same predicament as many other states with capital punishment: It has run out of its supply of drugs for lethal injections, and pharmaceutical companies whose drugs were being used for the deadly cocktail have largely blocked further access. And, like other states, Louisiana law details how the execution is to be carried out by lethal injection, meaning the Legislature would have to pass a bill to allow the state to kill the condemned using other methods, such as by electrocution or firing squad.

"The state currently does not have a supply of the drugs to carry out the death penalty," said Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the Department of Corrections. Without access to those drugs, Pastorick says, "the state will not conduct executions."

It's been seven years since Louisiana executed a death row inmate - Gerald Bordelon, who was convicted of killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Bordelon hastened his own execution by waiving his appeal.

Bordelon is the only person Louisiana has executed in the past 15 years. Before that, executions occurred steadily if not routinely: Between 1983 and 2002, 27 people were executed in Louisiana. During that period of time, the longest lag between executions was 2 years. In 1987 alone, 8 people were executed.

But Louisiana's lack of urgency in carrying out death sentences - which distinguishes Louisiana from other law-and-order states like Texas and Oklahoma - has been a frustration to at least 1 state lawmaker. Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, said he's a proponent of the death penalty and believes it's an effective deterrent to crime but not if criminals see the state has cold feet about going through with it.

"We need to start executing folks," he said. "They say they can't get the pharmaceuticals - well, then why can other states get them but we can't? If we don't want to do lethal injections, we got firing squads, we got gas chambers, we got other means."

Pylant ruffled feathers this week when he cast a game-changing vote in a House committee to spike a bill that would abolish the death penalty. Pylant was a co-sponsor of the bill and had previously said the state was wasting money if it wasn't going to go through with executions. But after he voted against his bill, which failed by a single vote, he said he had only attached his name to draw attention to his concerns.

Since 1993, Louisiana law has only allowed for lethal injection as a means of execution. Pylant said he wouldn't comment on whether he intended to propose legislation next year to expand the ways the state can execute people.

As recently as 2014, the Legislature mulled ways to allow executions to move forward. Former state Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie, pitched a short-lived proposal to bring back the electric chair, which is on display at the museum at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. After pushback from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, that legislation morphed into a bill that would keep secret the sources of lethal injection drug providers and allow the state to tap out-of-state pharmacies. The bills lost steam after two botched lethal injections elsewhere in the country made national headlines.

The soonest Louisiana could execute anyone would be next year. A lethal injection scheduled for convicted child-killer Christopher Sepulvado has been delayed by the courts since 2014, after attorneys on his behalf filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty in Louisiana. In his appeal, Sepulvado has requested to learn exactly how he'd be put to death in light of botched lethal injections in recent years, and a lack of access to the drugs.

The state has previously used lethal doses of pentobarbital, an anesthetic. But in 2011, European drug manufacturers banned the export of the drug for lethal injections.

Since then, states have moved to a drug called midazolam, a sedative commonly used for colonoscopies, combined with hydromophone. That combination was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, after inmates sued saying the drug wasn't strong enough to block the pain of the other lethal drugs in the injection. Midazolam was the drug used in a handful of high-profile botched executions, like Arizona's Joseph Wood, who strained in agony for two hours after receiving the injection in 2014.

But in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled midazolam was not "cruel and unusual" in a 5-4 vote.

Some states, however, are still having trouble getting access to midazolam for the use of lethal injections.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult for states to obtain drugs for executions, and it's gotten to the point where some companies won't sell to state prisons even for medical purposes because they're afraid the drugs will be diverted for the use of executions," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

In Arkansas, the state raced to execute 4 death-row inmates in April because its supply of midazolam was set to expire.

Only 32 states still allow the death penalty. And of those states, lethal injection is the most widely used means of execution; however, in some states, electrocution, lethal gas and firing squads are still options.

Death penalty lives on in Louisiana after House committee rejects bid to end practice

The death penalty lives on in Louisiana.

A 2015 report by Louisiana State Penitentiary officials recommended using nitrogen induced hypoxia - which is a deficiency of oxygen - as an alternative to lethal injection. A gas chamber was ruled out, but the recommendation considered using a mask to deliver the nitrogen.

"The research reviewed suggests that this method would be the most humane method and would not result in discomfort or cruel and unusual punishment to the subject," the report said.

Dunham said he disagrees, noting that the effect is people are effectively suffocated to death.

"The American Veterinary medical association won't even euthanize large mammals with nitrogen hypoxia," he said. "Their guidelines on euthanasia won't allow it."

Though a bill was rejected last week in a House committee to abolish the death penalty, its sponsor Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said there could be a glimmer of possibility for its revival.

He said there was a possibility the lone Democrat who voted against the bill, Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, could ask the chairman of the committee for reconsideration. Norton could not be reached for comment.

But Landry said it's a difficult and emotional vote, and he's not sure if he'll put his colleagues through another debate.

"It's a very, very tough vote," he said. "It's literally about life and death. I'm not sure whether I want to do this again."

(source: The Advocate)


Morrilton pastor walks with man to death chamber----Msgr. Jack Harris tells of prison ministry: 'You never execute the same man you convict'

Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams. To most, the names of the 4 death row inmates executed in a 8-day span in Arkansas during April were just names in the news cycle, understood most prominently by crimes they committed.

For Msgr. Jack Harris, who has worked in prison ministry for 43 years since his ordination, these were not men defined by their crimes about 20 years ago.

"You never execute the man you convict. You never execute the same man that you convict," Msgr. Harris told a crowd of more than 30 May 11 at St. John Center in Little Rock. He was the guest speaker, sharing about his work in death row prison ministry and answering questions, during the monthly meeting for Pax Christi Little Rock, a chapter of the national Catholic social justice organization that promotes peace.

Msgr. Harris, pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, works as a chaplain in the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, south of Pine Bluff in Lincoln County. He is a crisis intervention specialist and has worked with youth in juvenile courts.

Msgr. Harris explained that Arkansas is both a death penalty state and supermax state.

"Supermax means you're locked down 23 hours a day in a one-man cell, it's a little concrete box, a lighted concrete box is what it is. You don't control when the lights go on, off," he said. "Some men spend literally years locked up in there. You think just a minute what that does to a person mentally. That type of isolation."

2 days a week starting at 7 a.m., Msgr. Harris walks the six cell blocks, 78 cells on each block, 3 tiers high.

It takes about 3 hours to speak with the 468 men and that includes about 20 to 30 meaningful conversations with inmates.


Msgr. Harris pointed to the 3 reasons he has heard most often in support of the death penalty: a crime deterrent, protecting society and vengeance. In Arkansas alone there are roughly 2,100 men and women in prison convicted of murder, and only 30 of those are on death row.

"The men that I know, and I'm going to say 34 because I knew those 4 men who lost their lives the past 2 weeks, I knew them all. Those 34 were not deterred by the death penalty," Msgr. Harris said. "Those 34 were men who acted in the moment; they didn't think about 'Gosh what is going to happen to me if I do this.'"

In terms of protecting society, for the past 20 or so years, these men have never been a threat. He said, "I know that we do not have the most vicious murders in that unit on death row. But they had something they could bargain with and got a reduced sentence," Msgr. Harris said.

The only reason that "holds water is vengeance," he said.

"I will never denigrate or minimize the pain that victims feel. The victim's family, I don't ever want to pretend like that's not important," he said. "... But I'm not quite sure the vengeance that comes from that should be what guides our policy as a state."

Msgr. Harris said he has heard from many "high up state officials" that the victims' families will receive "closure" by executing these men.

"There is no closure with this thing. We move to another level of it, but we continue to work with it. It's a little unfair to use that language," he said. "... Justice was served the day they were caught, convicted and sent to prison. What you do to them after they're in prison, that's vengeance."

Seeking redemption

Much of death row ministry includes just merely talking to the men on the row, from complaining about the food to their favorite sporting events. But always on the horizon is the looming truth that they are destined to be put to death.

"A very privileged conversation to get to have with these guys is when they try to figure out how to say, 'I'm sorry.' And they will talk about that," Msgr. Harris said. "They will get frustrated about it too because how do you go to someone whose loved one you murdered, very likely raped and kidnapped, and say you're sorry. What they know is the words 'I'm sorry' mean nothing."

Death row inmates also "talk about how should we carry ourselves the night they make us walk into that chamber."

As his spiritual adviser, Msgr. Harris witnessed Marcel Williams' execution April 24 and stayed with those on death row when the other executions occurred April 20 and 27. The executions, administered at the Cummins Unit, have changed the makeup of the row.

"We lost one of the strongest men on the row as far as bumping up against other people," to correct bad behavior, Msgr. Harris said of Williams, who was Catholic. He added that he needs Jason McGehee, who was granted a stay of execution, "because the man has learned how to navigate the prison system. He mentors younger inmates; he'll bump up against people that need to change their behavior. He's not an angel. He does not deny what he did. But we need Jason McGehee inside this mega-carceral state."

Msgr. Harris also pointed out that there was a subdued feeling for both the death row inmates and the staff. He praised ADC Director Wendy Kelley for bringing "sensitivity" to the row.

"I am a fan of the department. I've worked for them for years. They are not the cause of this; they just have to carry it out," he said.

It is unlawful to execute death row inmates who are or have become mentally ill. Msgr. Harris said it would be wrong to execute someone immediately after receiving a death sentence, but after 20 years, if the opposite is true, a man changing from disturbed to "stronger and more spiritual," there is no reason to execute.

"If you leave a man in prison for 20 years and he's no longer the same man who committed the crime, do you really have a right to kill him?"



End costly limbo and repeal the death penalty----The state Supreme Court again passed on a chance to overturn the death penalty. It is up to the Legislature - if it has the courage to put it to a vote.

The death penalty in Washington is like a zombie, not alive or dead, yet continuing to eat its way through precious resources in the criminal-justice system.

Capital punishment is effectively dead as long as Gov. Jay Inslee is in office, if he stays true to his word. Yet capital punishment is still alive on the books - so exhaustive, expensive appeals of death sentences continue to lurch on. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court, by an 8-1 margin, turned down an appeal by death-row inmate Cecil Davis, who argued state law is unconstitutional because it does not sufficiently protect against executing a developmentally-disabled defendant.

The Supreme Court also passed on a chance to rule the death penalty itself unconstitutional, as they have repeatedly. So eight men remain on an expensive death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, their sentences in a limbo that gives no peace to victims' families.

The zombie status of capital punishment also gives no reprieve to prosecutors, who must continue deciding whether to pursue the death penalty that may not be carried out. It remained on the table for the alleged Burlington mall shooter Arcan Cetin, but he died by suicide in jail before prosecutors announced a charging decision. In many more recent cases, prosecutors declined - perhaps influenced by the legal uncertainty, the apparent reluctance of some juries and the extra $1 million or more that a death-penalty sentence adds to a murder case.

The Seattle Times editorial board supports repeal of the death penalty because it is an overly expensive, ineffective and immoral sentence. Civil society must not kill its own.

Ending the death penalty can take 2 paths. The state Legislature has blocked both.

In a bold act, the state's 39 county prosecuting attorneys asked the Legislature to put the question of the death penalty on the ballot. Lawmakers did not act.

The Legislature also has failed to act for decades on repeal bills. This year, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee and a proponent of the death penalty, said he would consider holding a hearing on a repeal bill - something he has not done before - if the Democrat-led House acts first. He didn't promise he'd allow a vote, however.

House Judiciary Chair Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, declined to hold a vote in her committee, arguing there was no point if Padden remained a roadblock.

That was a mistake, one that should not be repeated next year. According to advocates for repeal, there are enough bipartisan votes in the House to pass an abolition bill. This year, former Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, joined the call for repeal. At least 2 Republican senators, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla, also publicly support repeal.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a proponent of repeal, argues that a vote in the House could embolden previously unknown support among lawmakers. "You don't know that reaction if you don’t take a vote," said Ferguson in February, after Jinkins declined to hold a vote. "Right now, they have it easy. They point fingers at each other. It's very frustrating."

The state Supreme Court won't end this zombie criminal policy, as they showed again last week. The public wants bold leadership on important issues. A path to repeal is through the Legislature, either this year or next - if they have the courage to act.

(source: Seattle Times; Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Donna Gordon Blankinship, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).


6 Japanese being held in China over 'illegal activities'

Chinese authorities have put 6 Japanese men into detention since March, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed Monday amid growing speculation they are being held for suspected espionage.

"We were notified by China that three Japanese men each, 6 in total, had been detained in March by the Chinese authorities in Shandong Province and Hainan Province," Suga said at a regular press briefing in Tokyo.

Both of the provinces have big Chinese military bases.

"We are providing them appropriate support through our diplomatic establishments abroad in light of protecting Japanese nationals," Suga added.

China's Foreign Ministry confirmed the matter Monday, saying the 6 were being held on suspicion of "illegal activities."

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing that Japanese consular authorities had been informed of the investigation.

"According to what I understand, the relevant Chinese department is, in accordance with the law, investigating 6 Japanese citizens on suspicion of engaging in illegal activities in China," Hua said. She declined further comment.

A source familiar with the matter said the three men detained on the southern island province of Hainan are in their 20s to 50s and are suspected of being a threat to national security. The trio entered the province in late March for work related to hot springs development.

Since 2015, Chinese authorities have detained at least 5 Japanese on suspicion of engaging in spying. The courts have already begun hearings into separate cases involving 4 of the detainees. Under Chinese law, the maximum penalty for spying is death.

China has been stepping up surveillance on foreign organizations and individuals in the name of national security since President Xi Jinping came to power more than 4 years ago.

A number of other foreign nationals have been held in China, particularly after strict counterespionage and national security laws took effect in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

In line with this trend, the Beijing Municipal Government introduced a new regulation last month to provide cash rewards of up to about $70,000 to residents who provide helpful information on suspected spies.

Under Xi's presidency, China has also tightened control over lawyers, journalists and civil groups while passing laws designed to fend off what the Communist Party sees as internal and external threats.

In a related development, The New York Times reported Sunday that Beijing had systematically dismantled CIA spying efforts in China beginning in 2010, killing or jailing more than a dozen covert sources, in a deep setback to U.S. intelligence there.

The Times, quoting 10 current and former American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades.

(source: The Japan Times)


Hearing on death references, appeals in N'ganj 7-murder case begins

The High Court on Monday started hearing the death reference and appeals of 26 death-row convicts in connection with Narayanganj 7-murder cases, reports UNB.

An HC bench of justice Bhabani Prasad Singha and justice Mustafa Zaman Islam started hearing the death references and appeals.

Deputy attorney General MA Mannan Mohon presented the paper book of the case.

Earlier on 7 May, the paper book and all documents related to the murder cases were sent to the High Court.

A court of Narayanganj on 16 January last sentenced 26 people, including 3 sacked RAB officials and ex-city councillor Nur Hossain, to death and 9 others to different jail terms in the 2 cases filed over the sensational 7-murder incident.

On 8 February, the High Court accepted appeals of 15 condemned convicts, including Nur Hossain and 3 sacked RAB-11 officials, challenging the their death penalty in the Narayanganj 7-murder cases.

On 27 April 2014, Narayanganj panel mayor Nazrul Islam, his 3 associates and driver were abducted from Fatullah area.

At the same time, senior lawyer at the District Judge's Court Chandan Kumar Sarkar and his driver were also abducted on their way to the capital.

Three days after their abduction, the bodies of 6 men, including those of Nazrul and Chandan, were recovered from the Shitalakhya River. The following day, the body of Nazrul's car driver Jahangir was recovered from the river.

Later, Selina Islam Beauty, the widow of Nazrul Islam, filed a case against 6 people while Advocate Chandan Sarkar's son-in-law filed another case.



Police arrests 2 women for practising witch craft in the public

2 women were arrested by the Saudi Arabia police on Wednesday, May 17, for allegedly practising witchcraft after a video surfaced on social media. The women were seen in a video attempting to photocopy photos of talismans in a shop.

According to the Saudi police, the regional police followed up on a tip after they were notified of a video that surfaced on social media.

Police spokesperson explained that the video showed a woman who was holding some papers containing magic talismans. The spokesperson expressed that the other woman was arrested because she provided the papers to the suspect. gathered that the 2 women have been detained and charged by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. It was discovered that the video of the women committing the act went viral after the shop owner interrupted the woman while she was printing the copies.

The shop owner said: "When I discovered the presence of talismans and magic papers, I told her that this magic is forbidden, and I will not allow you to photocopy those papers." In the video which served as a proof that the woman could be seen begging the shop owner not to report her to the Saudi police. According to Saudi Gazzette, 215 people were arrested for practising magic in Saudi Arabia in the year 2012. In Saudi Arabia, the penalty of practicing witchcraft is a death sentence but it is usually not applied to suspects in many cases.

(source: )


Defiant Pakistan says ICJ cannot save Kulbhushan Jadhav from death sentence----Pakistan also argued that the ICJ had not given any order regarding consular access for Jadhav

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) cannot nullify alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav's death sentence, Pakistan's top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz on Saturday. A defiant Pakistan has reacted to its recent setback at the ICJ, which granted a temporary stay on Jadhav's execution, by arguing that its domestic laws come 1st.

"Jadhav had confessed to carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan and was a naval officer using a fake passport. He was sentenced according to the country's law," Aziz said while addressing the media in Islamabad.

No order on consular access for Jadhav

The ICJ has not given any order regarding consular access for Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death according to the laws of Pakistan, Aziz added.

"The ICJ has only asked Pakistan to keep a stay on Jadhav's execution until it arrives at a decision," Aziz said.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Aziz said that when it comes to cases involving the death penalty, the international court has always given a stay order.

He said that the ICJ has not decided on consular access either and has only intimated that the matter will come under discussion.

Aziz argues ICJ ruling was not a loss for Pak

The adviser said that India's stance that Pakistan was defeated by the recent ICJ verdict was inaccurate. "A wrong impression was created by Indian media that Pakistan has lost the case," Aziz added.

Responding to a question on why no judge was sent on the day of the ICJ hearing, he said that the government could not appoint one within a short period of 5 days.

Pak to go in with a 'strong team' for the next hearing

"We will go with a strong team in the next hearing," Aziz said, adding that even if Pakistan had chosen an ad hoc judge, the ICJ's verdict would not have changed.

Aziz said that not only was Jadhav an Indian citizen, he was, in fact, an officer in the Indian Navy who has also admitted to carrying out espionage activities in Pakistan.

He defended Islamabad's position, saying that Jadhav was tried and convicted in line with the country's constitution and laws, adding that Pakistan's position was "very strong" in this respect.

The United Nations' top court recently ordered a stay on the execution of Jadhav. Judges at the ICJ ruled that Jadhav must not be put to death by Islamabad until they have had time to pass a final judgment in the case.

Jadhav was reportedly arrested in a counter-intelligence raid in Balochistan in March 2016.



Thousands in march against death penalty

On Friday, 19 May, the 'March for Life' a caravan of pilgrims who left from Midanao on May 6, along a route that crossed the entire archipelago, reached Manila, to say "no" to the death penalty

Fr Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the 'National Secretariat for Social Action, of the Philippines Bishops Conference, took part in the march, together with many priests and religious faithful, members of civil society organizations.

The marchers will present a petition to the Philippine Senate on May 24, inviting senators to reject the death penalty, a measure promoted by President Rodrigo Duterte and approved 2 months ago.

"The death penalty will only punish the poor, who cannot afford lawyers, and many innocents", says the text of the petition. It notes that "capital punishment is illegal as it would violate the existing international treaties, of which the Philippine Government is a signatory."

The adoption of capital punishment, it says, will also have economic repercussions, since "the European Union will impose a tax on 6,000 products imported from the Philippines", especially agricultural and fishery products.

"Let us pray for our senators to decide on the basis of conscience and reason by rejecting the death penalty."

The marchers will join thousands of people for a Mass presided by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila today, 21 May.

"The use of the death penalty should be ruled out as an instrument in the fight against crime, and should be replaced by alternative measures", the cardinal said.

"All crimes violate life, but (we must respond) without resorting to measures that also violate life, like capital punishment", said Tagle. "With personal and collective study, prayer, discernment and action, we hope to be a people that promote a culture of life", he said.

(source: Independent Catholic News)


Atienza: Duterte admin has lost chance to reinstate death penalty

President Rodrigo Duterte may have already lost his chance to reinstate and implement the death penalty during his term, a lawmaker said on Sunday.

House senior deputy minority leader and Buhay Representative Jose "Lito" Atienza said the administration has already lost its chance to execute convicted criminals given the lack of time.

"The administration may have already come to terms with the reality that it is now impossible for anybody to be executed via a court order throughout President (Rodrigo) Duterte's tenure, simply because at best it takes around 5 years for any potential (death penalty) case to go through due process of law, and his term also ends in 5 years," he said in an emailed statement.

"Owing to lack of time, the President won't get to have his show after all, so it seems that the administration is no longer keen on producing the show," he added.

The House of Representatives last month approved on 3rd and final reading the bill to reinstate the death penalty.

Several groups such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over the Duterte administration's move to reimpose death penalty in the country.

"The Senate is clearly not going to pass the bill before the end of the 1st regular session of the 17th Congress on June 2," Atienza said.

"We reckon the Senate, in particular, will also be extra busy deliberating on the proposed Comprehensive Tax Reform Package, assuming the bill gets through the House before June 2," he added.

7 death penalty proposals are pending at the Senate justice committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, who is against the proposals.

The House of Representatives and the Senate must agree on all provisions of a death penalty proposal before it is sent to Malacañang for the President's signature.



No more death penalty?

The administration may have already come to terms with the reality that it is now impossible for anybody to be executed via a court order throughout President (Rodrigo) Duterte's tenure, simply because at best it takes around 5 years for any potential (death penalty) case to go through due process of law, and his term also ends in 5 years. Owing to lack of time, the President won't get to have his show after all, so it seems that the administration is no longer keen on producing the show.

Duterte has publicly said he intends to send hundreds of convicts to the gallows once Congress reintroduces the death penalty that was abolished in 2006.

"Restore it and I will execute criminals every day--5 or 6. That's for real," Duterte said in General Santos City in December. The bill reviving death sentences was passed by the House in March. But the measure is already "dead" in the Senate, where at least 13 members are committed to vote against it, according to Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon.

There is now no chance at all that the return of death verdicts would be enacted this year. The Senate is clearly not going to pass the bill before the end of the first regular session of the 17th Congress on June 2.

In the 2nd regular session of the 17th Congress, both the House and the Senate would be preoccupied with the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2018 from August to December. We reckon the Senate in particular will also be extra busy deliberating on the proposed Comprehensive Tax Reform Package, assuming the bill gets through the House before June 2.

The death penalty was "killed" by a series of dreadful police atrocities, starting with the Oct. 18 tokhang-for-ransom and murder of South Korean business executive Jee Ick-Joo inside Camp Crame itself. It served as a big eye-opener.

Every citizen would be vulnerable to the death penalty as long as we have thousands of rotten officers around. Somebody up there truly works in mysterious ways, because Jee's killers obviously went to great lengths to cover-up their crime by immediately cremating his remains, and yet they were still exposed.

(source: Opinion; Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza----Subn Star)


Hamas sentences 3 Israeli agents to death over Gaza assassination

Gaza's ruling Hamas movement delivered death sentences on Sunday to 3 Palestinians it ruled had taken part in what it said was an Israeli-directed assassination of 1 of the group's senior commanders.

A Hamas security court said the three men had confessed to the killing of Mazen Fuqaha, a Hamas military wing commander, who was shot in the head and the chest in his car on March 24 near his Gaza home.

"The field court has sentenced the 3 convicted of carrying out the crime of the assassination of martyr Mazen Fuqaha to death," said Brigadier-General Naser Suleiman, chairman of the Hamas-run military judiciary.

Hamas convicted all 3, aged 44, 38 and 38, of collaborating with Israel. It said that 1 of the men carried out the actual shooting and the other 2 had provided Israeli security agencies with information about Fuqaha's whereabouts.

Israel's Shin Bet security service, which carries out covert operations against Palestinian militants, did not respond to a request by Reuters for comment on Hamas's allegations.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in an interview with Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper soon after the killing, attributed the death to an internal power dispute in Hamas.

Israel jailed Fuqaha in 2003 for planning attacks against Israelis and sentenced him to 9 life terms. He was released in 2011, as part of a group of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners whom Israel freed in exchange for a captive soldier.

Israeli media said that after Fuqaha's release and exile to Gaza that he continued to plan attacks by Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank.

Over the years, Israel has established a network of contacts in the Palestinian territories, using a combination of pressure and sweeteners to entice Palestinians to divulge intelligence.

Palestinian and International Human Rights groups have repeatedly condemned the death penalty, and urged Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to suspend it. Palestinian law says President Mahmoud Abbas, who has no actual control over Gaza, has the final word on whether executions can be carried out.

Hamas has sentenced 109 people to death and executed more than 20 of them under its judicial system since 2007, when the group seized power from Abbas in a brief civil war.

(source: Middle East Monitor)

MAY 21, 2017:


The death penalty is not conservative

Like many conservatives, I used to support the death penalty, and like most people I wasn't fully informed of capital punishment's implications and risks. Nor did I ever consider that human error might result in wrongful convictions and death sentences. As my perspective changed and I learned more about the death penalty's failures, I've concluded that it should be repealed.

There are many reasons many Americans are beginning to oppose the death penalty, but the biggest reason for me is the massive price tag. Capital cases can easily cost $3 million, which is far more expensive than life without parole. The steep cost is largely due to mandated legal proceedings that are unique to capital cases, which guarantee that the process is complex and time-consuming.

Beyond the colossal price tag, I can't help but think of victims' families. With every appeal and retrial, they are forced to relive the tragedy over again, continuously reopening a wound that needs to heal. The death penalty too often harms rather than helps victims' families, and it also fails to serve society as a whole. Numerous studies have concluded that there is no proof that the threat of an execution deters murder.

(source: Samantha Bonsack; Letter to the Editor, The State)


Andres "Andy" Avalos found guilty of 3 murders - now faces death penalty or life in prison

Andres "Andy" Avalos has been found guilty of 3 counts of murder in the Dec. 4, 2014, slayings of his wife Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James "Tripp" Battle III, 31.

The courtroom was calm after 13 hours of deliberations, and the jury delivered their verdict at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Families of the 3 victims had waited for more than 2 years for justice.

Avalos was found guilty of 2 1st-degree counts of murder in the deaths of Potter and Battle. He was found guilty of 2nd-degree murder in the death of his wife, Amber.

He now faces the death penalty or life in prison.

Avalos showed no emotions but drummed his fingers as the verdict was read.

The jury will return at 8:30 a.m. Monday to begin the penalty phase.

Amber Avalos returned to the couple's home in the 1200 block of 67th Street Northwest in Bradenton from dropping off some of their children at school on the morning of Dec. 4, 2014, when the couple began to argue in the kitchen over his being out drinking the night before.

Avalos became enraged when she told him that she was not afraid of him or to die.

"I have never put my hands on that woman in 16 years," Avalos later told lead homicide detectives Jeffrey Bliss and John Kenney following his arrest. "When I put my hands on her that was it."

He punched her multiple times and threw her on the floor of the laundry room. Avalos straddled her, kissed her on the forehead, said I love you and then strangled her with a wire before partially suspending her - wanting to "make sure" she was dead.

Avalos went to get his .45 caliber pistol and returned to the laundry room - afraid that Amber might be playing dead - and shot her once.

The couple's then 4-year-old son was home playing video games when Amber Avalos and Potter were killed. He asked Avalos where his "mommy" was but saw only her feet when she lay dead in the laundry room.

Avalos told him it was time to go to school and was loading him into the couple's gold 2003 Chevrolet Suburban when Potter showed up because she and Amber were scheduled to go clean a house together.

"I knew she was going to call the cops, and I wasn't ready for the police to come yet," Avalos said.

He followed Potter into the home, leaving his son in the Suburban. Potter, failing to find Amber in the bedroom, was headed down the hallway toward the laundry room, Avalos said.

Avalos said he didn't want Potter to see his dead wife, so he shot her in the hallway.

"I don't know how many times I shot her," he said.

Then Avalos took his son to the Happy Cubs Daycare, making sure to tell him he loved him on the way and becoming sad after saying goodbye to the boy, he said.

He then headed out east, making a stop to see his cousins to tell them what he had done and that he loved them, he said. Avalos didn't know if his cousins had believed him, but they had given him some money.

He ended up leaving his vehicle at Walmart, knowing that soon enough law enforcement would be searching for it.

"After what I did, I just wanted to sit in the back seat of a cab and relax," Avalos said.

When detectives asked him when he had formulated his plan to kill Battle, Avalos said, "Months," and chuckled.

At one point he said he vomited just outside the taxi cab because he had been drinking the night before. Avalos also admitted to using cocaine the day before the murders and taking a painkiller that morning for his hangover.

The taxi dropped Avalos at a shopping center near Bayshore Baptist, and he read passages from his bible. He then waited, watching for Battle to arrive at the church, knowing that the pastor's car was not there.

After some time, however, Avalos decided to go into the church office and speak with Battle's wife. But first he made a phone call to his uncle, Lt. Joel Perez, with the sheriff's office.

"I said hey, you need to go to my house, get your boys over there. There's 2 people laying down over there," Avalos said.

The widow's short but vivid recollection took the jurors to the grounds of the Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., Bradenton, where Avalos shot his final victim.

Joy Battle was working in the church office at about 12:45 p.m. when Avalos came in, she testified Wednesday. She sat with him as he began to share his suspicions that their spouses were having an affair with one another. During that time, her husband called and asked if everything was OK after learning Avalos was there. She said she didn't know.

Avalos had made the accusations months before that her husband was having an affair with Amber Avalos, Joy Battle said. But she had told him she had no reason to believe it and offered to pray with him.

Her husband arrived at the church within minutes of their phone call, and Joy Battle recalled saying, "Andy, Tripp is here so you can talk to him now."

Avalos got up, walked out and closed the door behind him, she testified. Her husband was on the sidewalk as Avalos approached him.

"He pulled a gun from behind his back and he shot him 3 times and he fell to the floor," Battle's widow said, her voice trembling. She began to cry.

Joy Battle recalled her husband crying out in pain and her own screams, and she said she took a split second to decide whether to run to him or call 911.

"I thought the best chance he had at living was if I called 911, so I went to my phone and called 911," she said. "I was on the phone with 911, and Andy came back and shot him again."

Avalos walked away from the scene, contemplating "doing more things" like stealing a car or "going out with you guys in a blazing glory," he later told Bliss and Kenney. Avalos decided otherwise and after seeing a deputy pass him along 14th Street, he quickly ducked into a nearby small wooded area where he would hide for the next 2 days, coming out only to buy Pringles, a soda and a beer.

What ensued was a 51-hour manhunt led by the sheriff's office to find Avalos - considered armed and dangerous at the time.

The frantic search included an alert for Avalos' gold 2003 Chevrolet Suburban - later found at the Walmart - and Palma Sola and Miller elementary schools, King Middle School and Manatee High School were locked down as deputies rushed to take custody of the Avalos' children, fearing for their safety.

Early on the morning of Dec. 6, 2014, Andres Avalos Sr. made a public plea at an impromptu press conference at the sheriff's office. The elder Avalos pleaded that his son turn himself in for the sake of his 6 children, who were in protective custody at the time.

A few hours later, the highly sought suspect walked onto the wooden deck behind a mobile home in the Pine Haven Mobile Home Park, 6320 14th St. W., just a couple of blocks from the Bayshore Baptist Church.

At about 1 p.m., Melissa and Jerry Hamilton - who lived in Pine Haven - were singing Christian hymns in preparation for a function at their church that evening. Melissa stood in the kitchen, and Jerry sat in the living room as he began to sing the popular Christian song, "I Can Only Imagine," she recalled for the jury. Suddenly through the sliding glass door, she saw Avalos walk onto their wooden deck.

"Can I help you?": she said to Avalos.

They called 911 and left their home as instructed by a dispatcher.

News quickly broke that Avalos was captured after a caravan of deputies and detectives screeched down U.S. 41 to the mobile home - a sign many hoped that Avalos had finally been located. Deputies and detectives drew their guns and semiautomatic rifles, held up their shields as residents of the quiet mobile home park watched in shock. Avalos was arrested without resisting.

Avalos was quickly taken to the sheriff's office headquarters. In the hours that followed, he would give Bliss and Kenney his detailed confession which a jury watched for about 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon.



peedy Trials Achieve Neither Justice Nor Rule of Law

Al-Maydan Military Court in Gaza issued today, 21 May 2017, death sentences against 3 Palestinians charged with collaboration with foreign entities, murder and engagement in the murder of Mazen Foqaha', 1 of Hamas leaders. The death sentences were issued within 1 week after the trial had started, during which 4 sessions only were held, constituting a precedent since Hamas take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned over not granting the accused persons the right to receive a proper defense or fair trial, and is shocked over the unjustified urgency in issuing the sentences.

According to information collected by PCHR, "al-Maydan" Military Court in Gaza sentenced to death by hanging each of A. M. L. (38), from al-Nusairat refugee camp, and H. M. E. (44), from Gaza City. Moreover, the Court sentenced E. A. N. (38) to death by firing squad. The three persons were convicted of collaboration with the Israeli authorities, murder and engagement in murder.

It should be noted the Gaza Strip courts excessively applied death sentences, as the number of death sentences issued in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year reached 23 sentences, 15 of which are recent and the 8 others were issued to upheld previous sentences. Thus, the total number of death sentences issued in the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas has risen to 189 sentences relevant to 189 cases since 1994, 20 of which have been issued in the West Bank and 169 in the Gaza Strip. Among those issued in the Gaza Strip, 111 sentences have been issued since 2007.

PCHR believes that resorting to "al-Maydan" Military Court is a violation of the right to a fair trial and the right to litigate before the natural judicial body. PCHR further stresses that the 1979 Revolutionary Penal Code and its provisions are not constitutional and violate the PA's obligations at the international level, and this has always been PCHR's attitude since 1995.

It should be noted that "al-Maydan" Court is one of the judicial mechanisms stipulated by article 11 of the Revolutionary Procedural Law. It is a court with absolute powers, issuing non-appealable sentences. This constitutes a flagrant violation of the Palestinian Basic Law, mainly article 30 of it, and a clear violation of the PA's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), specifically article 14 of it.

Based on PCHR's follow-up of the hearings, PCHR highlights that the accused persons were not actually granted the right to receive a proper defense, as the jury claimed that the accused persons refused to be represented by a lawyer, therefore, the court assigned a lawyer for them working in the military prosecution. All that lawyer has done was displaying the evidences in one hearing without requesting a time limit to prepare his defense. This raises real concerns that the trial was pseudo.

PCHR underscores that a fair trial, especially when issuing death sentences, is one of the international binding rules, the violation of which is a violation of the international minimum human rights standards, especially article 6 of the ICCPR to which Palestine acceded in 2014.

PCHR rejects the insistence on applying death penalty as a deterrent penalty. Furthermore, PCHR believes that achieving justice is completely different from revenge and warns against the impact of revenge concept prevailing in the public opinion over the judiciary.

Since the establishment of the PA, 38 death sentences were applied; 36 of which were in the Gaza Strip and 2 in the West Bank. Among the sentences applied in the Gaza Strip, 25 were applied since 2007 without the ratification of the Palestinian President in violation of the law, and 6 of which were implemented following the formation of the National Unity Government in June 2014. PCHR denounced those death sentences without the ratification of the Palestinian President and highlighted that they constitute a flagrant violation of the Palestinian Basic Law since they required the ratification of the Palestinian President for implementation.

PCHR confirms that any death sentence should not be applied without the Palestinian President's ratification according to article 109 of the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law, otherwise it is considered extra-judicial execution.

PCHR underscores rejection of the speedy trial policy whatever the justifications and motives were. PCHR also demands the military judiciary to respect the Basic Law and grant the accused persons the right to receive proper defense without discrimination and regardless of the nature of the crime.

PCHR calls upon the Attorney General and/or Administrative Committee in the Gaza Strip to not refer civilians to appear before military courts because it is a violation of the law and denial of justice.

(source: Palestine News Network)


AFP helps death penalty nations, while Australia campaigns for end to death penalty as part of UN bid

Australia continues to assist in international prosecutions where the death penalty is an option, while underpinning its bid for a seat on the United Nation's Human Rights Council with a call to abolish capital punishment worldwide.

Newly released figures, obtained through freedom of information laws, show the Australian Federal Police have assisted in nearly 130 foreign investigations involving more than 400 people since 2015, where a successful prosecution could potentially lead to a death sentence.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop lobbied for Australia's election to the Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term in New York this week, and has stated the worldwide abolition of the death penalty is one of Australia's goals.

But the AFP continues to assist foreign investigations where the death penalty could be handed down, refusing to co-operate in only nine of 129 cases it has been asked for information.

AFP approval rates for international assistance, mostly involving drug crime, have been steady since 2010. In 2015, 92 % of requests were, rising to 96 % in 2016. No other information, such as the countries requesting the information, or the cases involved, was given.

Australia has used its opposition to the death penalty - and a call for a global abolition of the punitive measure used in nearly 60 countries - as a key argument for its inclusion on the UN Human Rights Council.

But this year, the government quietly rejected recommendations from a parliamentary committee which would have banned the AFP from sharing drug crime information with other countries unless provided with assurances the death penalty would not be applied, prompting fears of a repeat of the Bali nine heroin plot which saw Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran executed after tip-offs to Indonesian authorities.

The committee recommended ministerial approval be required for "high-risk" cases and the AFP refuse co-operation on drug trafficking cases unless assurances that the death penalty would not be sought, both of which were rejected by the government.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's department said the government "has and will continue to seek suitable assurances in appropriate cases where it is clear that the death penalty is likely to be imposed".

But Emily Howie of the Human Rights Law Centre said Australia was sending mixed messages.

"Global abolition of the death penalty is meant to be a core objective of Australia's Human Rights Council bid," she said.

"But whilst the Foreign Minister spouts the right language to delegates in New York, the reality is that every week the AFP continues to share information that puts peoples' lives at risk. If Australia really opposes the death penalty, it must do so not just through the speeches of our ministers but through the actions of all Australian departments and agencies.

"The fact remains that if the Bali nine case were to happen again tomorrow, there is nothing to stop the AFP from doing exactly the same thing.

"Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran learned from their mistakes, we owe it to them to learn from ours."

Researcher Sarah Gill, who has studied Australia's response to the death penalty, said neither legislation, or the guidelines the AFP follow when asked for co-operation "present much of an obstacle to information sharing".

"The question we need to ask is: are we serious about human rights or aren't we? Capital punishment is a core human rights issue, and we ought to have a consistent approach, including in relation to law enforcement co-operation, if we think this really matters," she said.

Under the guidelines, a senior AFP official can sign off on requests from overseas before detention, arrest, charge or conviction. After an individual has been arrested, detained, charged or convicted, requests for information must have ministerial approval.

Police-to-police assistance can include everything from providing personal information like dates or birth or criminal records to wider co-operation in investigations. Some of the data includes foreign citizens.

Philip Ruddock, who served as attorney-general in the Howard government and is now Australia's special human rights envoy, led calls for a ban on sharing information in prosecutions where the death penalty could be handed down as a sentence following the executions of Chan and Sukumaran in 2015.

The Coalition said those recommendations were impractical because foreign law enforcement partners could not provide such assurances and it would be "inappropriate" to undertakings from prosecutors.

It is believed there are 12 Australians sitting on death rows across the world, mostly for drug crimes.



His father was hanged, now he tells what happened to his family after that

We are often told that the death penalty is a "deterrent" and therefore it is a necessary punishment for those who traffic drugs.

While it is true that drugs destroys not only the addict but also the families of the addict, it is also true that the death sentence similarly can destroy the family of the trafficker.

Vick Martin says his father was hanged for trafficking in drugs, and it destroyed his mother.

Martin was only 14 then.

Now 32-years old, Martin relates the aftermath of his father's death, carried out by the state.

Here is Martin's Facebook post, without edits.

Abolish the Death Penalty....

My very own experience ... 16 july 1999.. My father was Hang to Death by the government of Singapore for trafficking drugs. I was a 14year old boy who have 2 older brothers and 1 younger bro. It changed the lives of my family and myself.

My mother started to drink to drown her sorrows that there is nothing she could do to save her husband. She eventually started to be an alcoholic and could not look after us. She became very depressed and lost focus in her life.

My brothers and i started to go wayward as there was no one to look after us. We started to mix with the "wrong" company and got ourselves into loads of trouble with the Law. I have be incarcerated a couple of times myself. We dropped out of school. Joined gangs. And practically lost the sense of living a proper live. We did whatever we took was right and started to rebel against all forms of authority. Now i am 32yrs old. After 18yrs of "trial and error" i have so far been out of prison for the past 4 years. I have learnt my lessons but what i experienced and when through shaped me as a different individual. The sad thing is, i am not even sure if i am a proper person or not as i dont have my parents guidance from a very young age.

My Question to the Goverment,

How is it fair for my family and i to be destroyed based on my father's action? What did we do to suffer this? My father sold drugs to people who were already drug addicts and knew what they were getting themselves in to. Those guys are guilty people and not innocence citizen. My family and i are innocence citizens when the government decided to Execute my father. How is that fair? What did we do to deserve this?? By taking his live, 5 other people (my family) had to share his consequences. Do u think thats Justice?

This is only my story. I m sure there are many many more familes have been destroyed because of the Death Penalty. So many other innocent people have had to suffer because of the Government's desicion to "Murder" People. How or what are you going to tell all these innocent people that has been affected by your decision??

I personally feel that there is not enough support and education given to prevent drug addicts to change their life or new addicts from starting the habit. The Goverment is not doing enough to help these addicts to change their lives. By incarcerating there for years and years is not going to break that habit. Its a psychological problem. We should not run away from our problems but to face it. By throwing them into prison is like running away from the problems. We have to find a solution to stop them from going back to their old ways. Give them more support when they are released from prison. Give them better paying jobs so they can start their lives properly. Most of these people are from the lower rungs of our society. They need the support and help from the Goverment. If the government dont help their own people, than who will help them?? We are humans. We all commit mistakes and we all deserve multiple chances to change our lives. I hope and pray the The Government will do more to help and educate the people and abolish the Death Penalty. Killing a live will not stop the crime. STOP CRIMES NOT LIVES Just my 2 cents worth.

My deepest condolences to Ridzuan's Family and to all those that have gone thru the same fate as him. God bless


MAY 20, 2017:


Inmate facing death penalty appears in Bowie County court

A Texas prison inmate accused of bludgeoning a correctional officer at the Barry Telford Unit to death in 2015 appeared in court Friday for a pretrial hearing.

Billy Joel Tracy, 39, was flanked by a cadre of Texas Department of Criminal Justice officers as he entered 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart's courtroom Friday morning. Tracy is facing the death penalty in the beating death of Timothy Davison, a correctional officer with less than a year's experience who was attacked July 15, 2015.

Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and Tracy's defense attorneys, Matt Cobb of Mount Pleasant, Texas, and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, told Lockhart they have plans to meet June 2 and discuss matters concerning Tracy's upcoming trial. A motion to suppress video of Tracy's murder and of interviews with Tracy after the deadly attack filed by Cobb is expected to be argued at the next pretrial hearing June 16.

Crisp handed the defense a large volume of papers which she said includes a transcript of Tracy's 1998 trial in Rockwall County for aggravated assault, burglary and assault on a peace officer which resulted in 2 life sentences with parole possible and a 20-year sentence. Crisp said she also has the actual exhibits from Tracy's 1st trial in her office at the Bowie County District Attorney's Office where the defense is welcome to review them.

Tracy turned down an offer from Lockhart to speak at the hearing Friday. The case is scheduled for jury selection mid-September. However, Crisp said she, Cobb and Harrelson believe the jury pool should be summoned to the courthouse in early August for preliminary matters and instructions to return in September.

If the jury finds Tracy guilty of Davison's murder, he faces death or life without the possibility of parole.



Monkey Junction murder suspect makes 1st court appearance

A Lumberton man accused of the fatal shooting of a Wilmington woman in the Monkey Junction area last month made his 1st court appearance Friday.

William James Bernicki, 48, is charged with 1st-degree murder in the slaying of 34-year-old Brittany Fullwood on April 25.

Bernicki is accused of bursting into Fullwood's home on Woods Edge Road and shooting her several times before reportedly shooting himself in the face. The following day, investigators issued arrest warrants for Bernicki charging him with Fullwood's death.

Bernicki was taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center for treatment following the shooting and remained hospitalized until Friday afternoon. Deputies served Bernicki the warrants and took him to the New Hanover County Courthouse for his 1st appearance.

A judge ordered that Bernicki be held under no bond.

He was then taken to Central Prison in Raleigh and put in safe keeping for additional medical treatment, according to District Attorney Ben David.

David said while it's too early to determine if his office will seek the death penalty against Bernicki, he has asked that the Capital Defender's Office be appointed to defend Bernicki. The Capital Defender's Office represents individuals that will face the death penalty.

911 calls released the day after the shooting revealed the frantic moments following the deadly encounter.

A woman, who just got home from work, called dispatch shortly after the shooting, saying, "there's gunfire, gunfire! A man running down the road said his roommate had been shot. I've heard about 6 shots."

When pressed by the dispatcher for more information about the shooting, the caller yelled to the man for details.

"Saw him bust through the door...and the barrel of the gun come through the door," the caller said.

Fullwood's 3-year-old son was in the backyard at the time of the shooting. He was found unharmed by deputies shortly after they arrived at the scene. Investigators said the shooting happened at Fullwood's mother's home and the boy is now in her care.

(source: WECT news)


Death penalty prosecutions delayed despite new state law

Even after Florida got a new death penalty law in March, several trials in South Florida remain in limbo over yet more legal wrangling.

Defense lawyers, and some judges, say prosecutors still can't pursue the death penalty because the grand jury indictments don't include certain elements needed to support capital charges.

These elements are called aggravating factors, such as the killing was "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," or possibly involved the slaying of a child.

A state appeals court is considering arguments from lawyers for Fidel Lopez - the Sunrise man accused of disemboweling his girlfriend in 2015 - that challenge his indictment, and the pending decision will affect other cases. It is not known when the court will rule, leaving several death penalty cases stalled.

The changes in the state's death penalty law followed U.S. and Florida Supreme Court rulings last year that the state's process for sentencing people to death was unconstitutional. Unanimous jury votes are now required to recommend death sentences.

But the dispute over the indictment in Lopez and other cases is separate from the retooled death penalty law. The question is whether a state high court opinion from October establishes a higher standard for indictments on capital offenses.

Until now, the use of aggravating factors has been required only as a consideration for sentencing purposes.

In the Lopez appeal, attorneys for the state argue Florida's Supreme Court - in a March 17 ruling on a different Broward case - already decided the current procedure is legally sound.

Defense attorneys contend that ruling in the case of Jacqueline Luongo - who was convicted April 5 of the 2014 killing of her roommate - actually did not set a precedent for all other capital murder cases, and holding trials at this point would violate the law.

"The right of a criminal defendant to be put on notice of the charges against him is the cornerstone of our constitution, due process and our system of criminal justice in this country," said Broward Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill, who represents Lopez. "A grand jury must make a factual finding that there are elements of the crime of capital murder."

Karen M. Gottlieb, co-director of the Florida Center for Capital Representation, agrees it should be up to a "neutral body" or grand jury to determine whether the evidence exists to support an indictment for capital murder.

"The whole idea is having independent citizens act as a bulwark against potential prosecutorial abuse," said Gottlieb, also a visiting law professor at Florida International University.

Ninett Martinez of Miami says she's been frustrated over the continuing delays in a trial for the man accused of brutally killing her daughter, Vanessa Williams Bristol, in Palm Beach County 2 years ago.

She figured the case against John Eugene Chapman would be back on track after the Legislature this spring changed the death penalty law.

"I don't know why it's taking so long," Martinez said of the hold placed on Chapman's trial since January.

In the case, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx agreed with Chapman's lawyers on the indictment objection.

"Without requiring the State to allege aggravating factors, there is no way to determine from the fact of the indictment whether the defendant has been charged with a crime carrying a maximum possible punishment of life imprisonment (1st-degree murder) or with a crime carrying a maximum possible punishment of death (capital 1st-degree murder)," Marx wrote in a Jan. 11 order.

Prosecutors challenged Marx's order in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which has said whatever it decides in the Lopez case will apply to Chapman.

If the court ultimately upholds the challenge on the indictments, prosecutors still wishing to pursue the death penalty would have to take the cases back to a grand jury and get new indictments that name aggravating factors.

Palm Beach County Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey said she hopes prosecutors would re-evaluate whether they really want to seek the death penalty against certain defendants.

Here's a look at the Chapman and Lopez cases, and other death penalty cases expected to go to trial in the next year. The pending appellate court ruling on the indictment challenge could further delay the cases:

John Eugene Chapman: Prosecutors say the 27-year-old Miami man killed his girlfriend and mother of his then 1-year-old son by stabbing her 25 times in the neck and tossing her and the knife out of her pickup truck in a West Delray ditch.

According to an arrest report, Chapman told a detective he snapped and stabbed Bristol, 28, of Margate, after she reached for a knife during an argument on April 18, 2015.

Ninett Martinez said her daughter worked at a doctor's office and was the mother of 3 boys, now 12, 7 and 3.

Fidel Lopez: Jury selection was halted Feb. 13 for the trial of the man who told police he killed his girlfriend, Maria Lizette Nemeth, 31, in a tequila-fueled rage.

Prosecutors won an emergency stay after appealing Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes' order preventing the death penalty on the grounds the indictment wasn't sufficient. The trial, on charges of 1st-degree murder and sexual battery, remains on hold.

During a hearing this year, Lopez testified he was confused when he gave police a confession on Sept. 20, 2015, hours after he called 911 from his apartment.

Lopez, 25, told police he became "a monster" when Nemeth called out someone else's name during sex, records show.

Authorities say Clark killed Dana Fader, 27, a mother of three whose body was discovered in the back seat of her 1980 Ford Fairmont on June 20, 1987.

It wasn't until 2012 that investigators using a national DNA database matched Clark's DNA to a blood and semen stain found on Fader's dress. Clark told detectives he was in Palm Beach County in 1987, but denied ever knowing or meeting Fader, having sexual relations with her or being in her car, according to court records.

Just Tuesday, the appellate court cleared the case for trial after putting it on hold while the new death penalty law was pending.

Andrew Hoffman and Herbert Savell: A June 12 trial is set for both defendants in the 2014 killing of Margeaux Greenwald, 35, of Boynton Beach. That date could change.

Police found Greenwald's beaten body in a wooded area of Palm Beach Gardens and said Hoffman, 31, and Savell, 28, are responsible.

In a statement to a detective, Savell said they were doing drugs together when Greenwald passed out. Police said the men bound the woman's hands and feet and stuffed her in the trunk of her car.

Savell said that while driving north, he heard Greenwald making noise from the trunk, and stopped at a Target to buy an aluminum baseball bat.

Police said the men took Greenwald out of the trunk at the wooded area and beat her to death with the bat on June 5, 2014.

Lucas gave pills to Elliana Lucas-Jamason and her brother, Ethan, police said. The boy found his sister submerged in a bathtub, tried to revive her, and called 911, records show.

Lucas' lawyers have said they are pursuing an insanity defense.

Jacquelyn Jamason, the kids' biological mother, has told reporters that the wait for justice has been difficult.

This month, Circuit Judge Charles Burton set the case for trial Sept. 14. However, her attorneys say they are preparing to challenge Lucas' indictment.

(source: Sun Sentinel)


Appeal denied: Kayle Bates' call for DNA testing quashed by SCOFLA----Kayla Bates' most recent appeal for DNA testing on evidence from his 1983 murder trial has been denied by the Supreme Court of Florida.

In a unanimous ruling, the state's highest court has shot down more DNA testing in a Panama City murder case from 1982.

Kayle Bates, 59, is on death row after being convicted of kidnapping, murder, rape and robbery. Bates kidnapped Janet White, 24, from her State Farm Insurance office in Panama City on June 14, 1982. He killed her by stabbing her after he attempted to rape her. Her body was found that same day in woods near her office. After he killed her, Bates, who was 25 at the time, took a diamond ring from White, which he had on him when police arrested him.

Bates' latest appeal focused on ten items he claimed would prove he wasn't White's killer. But, in an opinion released Thursday, the Supreme Court of Florida said in the case of 7 of the items, "we rejected Bates' argument that DNA testing on these items would produce a reasonable probability of his exoneration in light of the "accumulation of evidence" establishing his identity as the perpetrator. "

The ruling continues: "Further, we affirm the circuit court's denial of DNA testing on the three remaining items not subject to the procedural bar. Regarding the 1st 2 items, Bates alleges that debris from the victim's clothing, which includes a Caucasian hair sample that Bates alleges could not be his because he is African American, and the victim's fingernail clippings could contain DNA of the actual killer and therefore exonerate him. Bates further argues that if DNA testing on these items excludes his DNA, he would also be exonerated. Like the 7 items for which DNA testing has already been denied, favorable testing from these additional items would not establish that Bates is not the perpetrator, as the evidence of Bates' guilt is overwhelming....In light of the overwhelming evidence of Bates' guilt, there is no reasonable probability that the results of DNA testing on these 3 additional items would have resulted in his acquittal or reduced his sentence."

Bates is also appealing his death sentence. At his original trial in 1983, a jury recommend 11-1 that Bates be sentenced to death. Bates has been sentenced to die 2 other times, once in 1985 and again in 1995. His latest appeal focuses on a ruling last year from the Supreme Court of the United States stating all death recommendations have to be unanimous from juries and that juries, not judges, are who have the ultimate say in death penalty cases.

So far, the Supreme Court of Florida hasn't ruled on Bates' appeal of his death sentence. SCOFLA is awaiting word from the United States Supreme Court on if its ruling last year on unanimous jury recommendations regarding death sentences applies to cases before 2002.

(source: WJHG news)


Teen charged in death says 19-year-old shot Mississippi boy

A Mississippi teenager charged with murder in the death of a 6-year-old told investigators that the boy was actually shot by another of the three teen suspects, according to an investigator's sworn statement.

The Associated Press obtained the sworn statement Friday from a source with knowledge of the case involving the death of Kingston Frazier. The boy was found shot to death at the side of a dead-end road inside his mother's abandoned car, hours after someone stole the Toyota Camry from a supermarket parking lot.

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Rusty Clark said in the sworn statement filed in connection with the case that 17-year-old Dwan Wakefield of Ridgeland told Clark and another investigator 19-year-old Byron McBride of Pickens was at fault.

"During this interview, Wakefield implicated Byron McBride as the person who actually stole the vehicle and shot and killed Frazier," Clark's statement said.

When asked for further comment, MBI spokesman Warren Strain declined, saying "the court document speaks for itself."

Wakefield, McBride and 17-year-old D'Allen Washington of Ridgeland are being held without bail in Madison County, just north of Jackson, awaiting Monday morning court appearances. It's unclear if any of the 3 have lawyers.

Though all 3 are charged with capital murder, only McBride could face the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed by people younger than 18 in 2005.

Madison County Coroner Alex Breeland said Kingston was shot multiple times. District Attorney Michael Guest said authorities are still looking for the gun used to kill Kingston but are confident they have enough evidence against the three teen suspects to proceed without it.

"I do not believe that it is anything other than a crime of opportunity," Guest said, saying there was no evidence of any deeper plot besides stealing a car that Ebony Archie left running with her child inside. He said he didn't believe anyone else was involved.

Security video shows that after Archie left her car about 1 a.m., another car drove up and a man got out and then drove off in her Camry. Frazier was in the back seat.

Archie's family members told local news media Friday that she had picked up her son from his grandmother after going out with friends to celebrate her birthday and was going into the Jackson supermarket to buy party supplies to celebrate Kingston's kindergarten graduation, which was scheduled Friday.

"She feels guilty for the fact that she decided to go inside the store and leave the car running when she went inside the store," David Archie, Ebony Archie's uncle, told WLBT-TV.

The car was found 8 hours later, abandoned in a muddy ditch about 15 miles (20 kilometers) north of Jackson in Gluckstadt. People continued to stream to the site Friday afternoon, with some leaving small memorials. One note said "Kingston R.I.P. Sweet angel fly high. You are loved and will be missed. Prayers for your family."

Guest wouldn't say if any of the men have confessed, but Clark's statement made clear that at least Wakefield has talked to investigators. Guest said investigators are gathering surveillance video from near where the car was abandoned, as well as seeking mobile phone evidence that could indicate the whereabouts of the suspects.

Breeland said an autopsy was completed and the boy's body was released to a funeral home. However, no funeral arrangements had been scheduled as of Friday afternoon.

Guest said Washington is currently under indictment for armed robbery in Madison County. Court records the other 2 men have no criminal history as adults.

(source: Washington Post)


Trial set for Fort Recovery man facing death penalty over child killing

A Fort Recovery man facing the death penalty over the killing of a child was assigned a trial date for Oct. 2.

Cory Eischen, 40, appeared at a hearing Friday in Mercer County Common Pleas Court. Visiting Judge Randall Basinger also set a motion hearing for July 5.

Eischen is charged with aggravated murder with a death penalty specification, 2 counts of murder, involuntary manslaughter, 2 counts of felonious assault, 2 counts of endangering children and domestic violence. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Eischen is charged in the Sept. 25 death of 4-year-old Jaxxen Baker inside a home at 5098 Rauh Road outside Fort Recovery. Deputies were called to the home for an unresponsive child after a woman picking up another child saw Baker unresponsive.

Basinger was assigned to the case after Judge Jeffrey Ingraham took a leave of absence in April following some health problems. Ingraham is expected to return to the bench sometime in June but Basinger will remain on Eischen's case so it's not going back and forth between judges.

Also at the hearing Friday, attorneys went over various motions including those that dealt with jury questionnaires and other issues dealing with the selection of a jury.



Judge who blocked Arkansas lethal drug retracts probe plea

A judge who blocked Arkansas' use of an execution drug, effectively blocking the state's lethal injections, has retracted his request for a professional conduct investigation of state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and members of her staff over their response to his order.

The attorney general's office sought Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's removal from the execution drug case after Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration the same day as his April 16 order.

Griffen asked for the investigation April 26, saying Rutledge's office didn't alert him it was seeking his removal from the case. The Arkansas Supreme Court lifted Griffen's order and disqualified him from death penalty cases.

Griffen retracted his investigation request Friday, saying he found an April 15 email on his office computer that alerted him to Rutledge's intentions.

(source: Associated Press)


Admitted killer asks Missouri Supreme Court to toss death sentence

Sentenced to death by a Boone County jury in 2008 for a double murder in Callaway County, Brian J. Dorsey now claims an error in jury instructions, based on recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, resulted in an unconstitutional verdict that condemned him to die.

Jurors in the penalty phase were not instructed to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating circumstances of the crime outweighed the mitigating evidence, according to a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed Wednesday with the Missouri Supreme Court. The jury did not determine beyond a reasonable doubt each fact necessary in order to lawfully sentence someone to death, according to the petition.

The petition asks for the court to vacate Dorsey's death sentence and send the case back to Boone County Circuit Court for another sentencing trial. Courts can issue what is called a writ of habeas corpus for a convicted person when it finds that their conviction or sentence violates the laws or constitution of the U.S. or state.

It is necessary for a jury to make a determination whether aggravating circumstances, those that support a stiff penalty, outweigh mitigating circumstances, which would support leniency, when deciding whether to impose a death sentence, Rebecca Woodman, Dorsey's lawyer, wrote in the petition. Woodman cites several cases, decided in Missouri's highest court and the U.S. Supreme Court, as precedent for the unconstitutionality of his sentence. The Missouri Supreme Court has retroactively applied decisions it has made in cases similar to Dorsey's "where a jury failed to find the facts necessary to impose a given sentence."

Dorsey, 45, used a shotgun to kill his cousin and her husband, Sarah and Ben Bonnie, as they slept in their New Bloomfield home on the night of Dec. 23, 2006. He then raped his cousin's body and poured bleach over her torso and genitals before stealing cash, her car and some property to sell off so he could pay his drug debts. Sarah Bonnie's parents found their bodies the next day and Dorsey turned himself in on Dec. 26, 2006.

He took his case to the Missouri Supreme Court before in an attempt to get his guilty plea and death sentence overturned, but the court, in a unanimous decision by all 7 judges, denied his appeal. Dorsey in 2013 alleged that the state had withheld DNA evidence from his defense and his counsel was ineffective.

Woodman did not respond to a message seeking comment. Loree Ann Paradise, spokeswoman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which represents the state in criminal appeals, declined to comment.

Dorsey, the last person a Boone County jury sentenced to death, is among 24 men on death row in the Missouri Department of Corrections and is currently incarcerated at Potosi Correctional Center. Including Dorsey, 4 men are on death row via Boone County sentences, according to data a department of corrections spokesman provided.

Among the cases Woodman cites that she claims apply to Dorsey's are U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Hurst v. Florida and Ring v. Arizona. Those cases, which were similar, found that the capital-sentencing protocols, 1st in Arizona in a 2002 decision and then in Florida in 2016, were unconstitutional because judges determined whether defendants deserved the death penalty. The decisions set precedent that only a jury can sentence someone to death. The Hurst decision was made in light of the court's decision in the Ring case.

In the petition, Woodman argues that the court should re-examine the case because Dorsey's 1st appeal, one filed right after he was sentenced and that was denied, predated the Hurst decision.

"In a holding that is contrary to Hurst, this court found that 'the jury's "weighing" of aggravating and mitigating evidence is not subject to proof beyond a reasonable doubt because it is not a factual finding that increases the potential range of punishment,'" Woodman wrote.

(source: Columbia Daily Tribune)


Lethal injection drug bill headed to Oklahoma governor's desk

Even though Oklahoma's once-busy death chamber has been quiet for more than 2 years, the state Legislature continues to prepare for the return of executions.

A bill allowing Oklahoma Department of Corrections staff to handle drugs, like those involved in lethal injections, sailed through the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday. House Bill 1679 now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk.

The measure exempts any corrections employee and anyone who participates in the execution process from the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Fallin signed a similar bill in 2016 allowing corrections staff to store lethal drugs at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Before that measure became law, only physicians and hospitals could obtain the necessary licenses to house those drugs.

The bill is designed to allow staff to handle lethal injection drugs without first attaining the medical licensing that is currently required, said author Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford. The state Corrections Department, with legal assistance from the attorney general's office, requested the bill.

"(The attorney general's office) said that this was very important to get this done, because (execution staff) could be considered to be operating illegally without the license," he said.

The bill easily passed through the state Senate in April.

"I believe if a physician colleague of mine wants to help carry out something that is legal in the state, to make it ... easier on the person that's being executed, I see nothing wrong with that," said Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, who is a licensed physician, during the Senate reading of the measure. "I'm not saying that I would want to participate, but I have no problem with a colleague of mine doing that."

Both bills were borne out of necessity, following the postponement of Richard Eugene Glossip's execution in 2015. Glossip's lethal injection was halted less than 2 hours before it was set to begin once staff discovered the state Corrections Department received the wrong lethal drug for the execution.

A grand jury later found the state Corrections Department lacked any verification process to ensure the proper drugs were obtained and administered. The department is rewriting its execution protocol, which must be approved by the state attorney general before it goes into effect and the state can resume administering the death penalty.

Oklahoma has not performed an execution in more than 2 years, the longest gap since the mid-1990s. The last inmate to be put to death by lethal injection in Oklahoma was Charles Frederick Warner in January 2015. An investigation by The Oklahoman later revealed Warner had been executed using a drug, potassium acetate, the state was not authorized to use.

No other state has ever used potassium acetate in a lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Jury in Hawthorne murder case deadlocks over death penalty

Jurors have deadlocked on whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for a man convicted of the 2001 killings of a pregnant woman and her unborn son at her Hawthorne apartment.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Friday was split 7-5 - with the majority favoring a life prison term - for Skyler Jefferson Moore, the District Attorney's Office said.

Moore, 35, and co-defendant Derek Paul Smyer, 36, were convicted May 8 of the Sept. 25, 2001, killings of Crystal Taylor and her unborn son in the 12700 block of Kornblum Avenue.

Prosecutors contended that Smyer arranged for Moore to commit the killing because the 27-year-old woman was pregnant with Smyer's baby and refused to have an abortion.

Moore already is serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole for an unrelated 2001 murder. He will return to court June 1, when prosecutors expected to announce whether they will retry the penalty phase.

Smyer will be sentenced the same day to life in prison without the possibility of parole.



Juror transportation reviewed in Tsarnaev death penalty appeal

Juror transportation during the high-profile trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death in 2015, could be one of the many factors under review in his pending appeal, records show.

The issue of how jurors were escorted to and from the Moakley Courthouse surfaced in a brief order that US District Court Judge George A. O'Toole Jr. entered on Friday.

"I understand from the Clerk's Office that counsel are requesting copies of the Jury Management and Transportation Order, which was sealed during the proceedings in order to protect the confidential juror transportation arrangements made by the United States Marshal Service and to minimize the risk of juror contamination [by outside factors]," O'Toole wrote.

"Upon review of the order, I see no reason for a continuation of the seal. Therefore, the Clerks Office is directed to unseal the document and docket entry text as to Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev."

The document remained unavailable for review on the federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, website as of 10 p.m. Friday.

Tsarnaev, 23, was sentenced to death for his role in the April 15, 2013 bombings, which killed 3 people and wounded more than 260. His appeal is pending before the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

His older brother and co-conspirator, Tamerlan, was killed in a clash with police days after the attacks. Tsarnaev is being held at a supermax prison in Colorado.

(source: Boston Globe)


Why does it take so long death row inmates to be executed?

Q: Why do prisoners on death row have to wait sometimes as long as 20 years before they are executed? Given the heinous crimes that they have committed, in my opinion they should be put to death as soon as possible or at least as soon as they exhaust their appeals.

W.G., of Collinsville

A: You might be interested to know that your question led me to uncover a fascinating catch-22 of sorts that I didn't realize existed.

As you note, the growing pressure on states to make sure they absolutely, positively execute a truly guilty perp has led to an increasingly lengthy period between verdict and the needle or electric chair. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time spent on death row before execution in 1985 was 71 months - or just less than 6 years. Now, it's hovering around 190 months or about 16 years and it's climbing. In 1 exteme case, Gary Alvord, a Florida man convicted of strangling 3 women, died after 40 years on death row - of natural causes.

But guess what? Even though the slow and rigorous appeals process is a prisoner's last lifeline, some judges and legal scholars now charge that these long delays constitute cruel and inhuman punishment in themselves. They say it forces the convicted to endure the physical and psychological torture of living on death row for years upon years. As a result, judges in other countries are using it as a reason to overturn death sentences.

In September 2011, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stay the execution of convicted cop-killer Manuel Valle in Florida, and he was executed 2 hours later. But Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, saying that the 33 years Valle had spent on death row amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

"Our Constitution was written at a time when delay between sentencing and execution could be measured in days or weeks, not decades," Breyer wrote in a similar dissent in 1999.

He pointed out that under 18th-century English law, executions were typically carred out 2 days after sentencing. Final justice is no longer that swift across the pond, but some countries still want it carried out much faster than we do here.

"There is an instinctive revulsion against the prospect of hanging a man after he has been held under sentence of death for many years," the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London wrote in 1993. Its ruling changed a death sentence into life in prison for two Jamaica prisoners who had been on death row for "only" 5 years.

Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights in 1989 ruled that extended periods on death row violated a provision of the European Convention of Human Rights that forbids "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." While acknowledging the legality of the death sentence in certain cases, it nonetheless forbade Britain to deport a German man to Virginia to face capital charges because he might spend years on death row facing "the anguish and mounting tension of living in the ever-present shadow of death."

Others, like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, seem to scoff at the notion.

"I am unaware," he wrote in response to Justice Breyer's 1999 dissent, "of any support in the American constitutional tradition or in this court's precedent for the proposition that a defendant can avail himself of the panoply of appellate and collateral procedures and then complain when his execution is delayed."

Thomas likely would say that, through the work of such groups as Amnesty International and the Innocence Project bringing attention to the subject of the execution of the innocent, death-row prisoners should consider themselves fortunate that they enjoy far more time to prove their innocence.

A 2015 study published in the Washington Post, for example, found that of 8,466 death sentences imposed between 1973 and 2013, 3,194 were overturned on appeal - including 890 cases in which the conviction itself was thrown out. A similar study in California in 2002 found that for every execution carried out, 7 death sentences are set aside. The reasons: incompetent lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct, faulty eyewitness ID and judicial errors. Moreover, based on DNA evidence, the Innocence Project has helped free at least 343 wrongfully convicted people, including 20 who spent time on death row.

For those reasons, those favoring the slow approach argue that it is preferable over quick, feel-good revenge when it involves the taking of human life. That's why we have the seemingly labyrinthine appeals process, which is the short answer to your original question. Space prevents me from detailing this process in depth, but, in brief, it starts with appeals to appellate and state supreme courts, asking judges to review the evidence. At the same time, they may appeal their conviction by charging that their lawyers were incompetent. If they fail to sway the state courts, they then move on to the federal district, appellate and, finally, the Supreme Court.

Except for the Hollywood last-minute stay, these appeals are not taken up overnight, which accounts for the months upon years delay you lament. Others are thankful for it because capital cases may have elected prosecutors looking for headlines while the accused may be defended by appointed and less-than-vigorous defense lawyers. The long appeals process, they argue, is necessary to even the score as proven by the number of "criminals" who are later proven innocent.

For a detailed look at the process, try

(source: Roger Schlueter; Belleville News-Democrat)


Somalia military court executes Al-Shabaab militant

Somalia's military court on Thursday executed Al-Shabaab militant who was found guilty for carrying out a terror attack in Waberi district in November last year.

The car bomb attack, which was carried out on November 26, 2016, left at least 30 civilians dead and 43 others injured.

Deputy Prosecutor of the military court, Mumin Hussein Abdullahi, said the intention of the suspect was to carry out suicide attack but security forces arrested him before the explosion.

"The court sentenced Abdukadir Abdi Hassan to death penalty," Abdullahi said, noting that the suspect was executed him by firing squad.

(sources: Xinhua/


Singaporean drug trafficker executed at Changi Prison for heroin offence

Singaporean drug trafficker Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 31, was executed at Changi Prison on Friday (May 19), having exhausted all avenues of appeal following his conviction in 2013.

Ridzuan had been found guilty in the High Court of trafficking in 72.50 grams of pure heroin and sentenced to death by the High Court on April 10, 2013.

The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of diamorphine trafficked is more than 15 grams.

The Central Narcotics Bureau said yesterday that 72.50 grams of diamorphine is equivalent to about 6,004 straws, which is sufficient to feed the addiction of about 864 abusers for a week.

"This is estimated using a typical purity level of four per cent, based on drug seizures in recent years. The number of straws made may vary according to the purity level of the heroin," added CNB.

His appeal against conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on Feb 27, 2014 but in April that year, Ridzuan sought leave from the High Court to start judicial review proceedings against the Public Prosecutor's decision not to grant him a certificate of substantive assistance.

The High Court dismissed the application on July 17, 2014 and in Oct 2015, the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal.

On Jan 8, 2016, Ridzuan took his case to the Court of Appeal for the third time by way of a criminal motion for the Court of Appeal to review its decisions on his appeals, on grounds that the Misuse of Drugs Act provisions under which he was sentenced to death were unconstitutional.

The apex court dismissed the criminal motion on Dec 2, 2016. He submitted a petition for clemency to the President which was unsuccessful.

"Muhammad Ridzuan was accorded full due process under the law, and he was represented by legal counsel throughout the process," said the CNB.

(source: New Straits Times)


EU statement contradicts S'pore Govt's claim that death penalty is "deterrent" to crime

There is no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, said the European Union Delegation to Singapore on Thursday.

The statement, issued together with the EU Heads of Mission and the Head of Mission of Norway, was in response to the plea by anti-death penalty advocates on the then impending execution of Muhammad Ridzuan on Friday morning.

It was a last-minute attempt by the activists, who had also written to the Singapore President, to save Ridzuan's life after he had been sentenced to death for trafficking in heroin into Singapore.

The appeal was denied and Ridzuan was hanged on Friday morning.

The Singapore Government's defence of the death penalty for drugs (and other crimes such as murder) has always been based on the claim that it deters criminals and crime, even though there has not been conclusive proof of such effect.

This, however, has not dissuade Government ministers from making such claims each time the issue is debated.

For example, in 2012, when Parliament was debating changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told the House that:

"Singaporeans understand that the death penalty has been an effective deterrent and an appropriate punishment for very serious offences, and largely support it."

A recent research by the National University of Singapore (NUS), however, found that support for the death penalty was more "nuanced".

For example, the research found:

"Although 70 % of those surveyed said they were in general favour of the death penalty, very few expressed strong views either way, researchers said. Of those in favour, just 8 % said they were strongly in favour; of those that were against it, just 3 % said they strongly opposed." (CNA)

The survey also found that there was "weak support for the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking and firearms offences in particular, where no death or injury had occurred."

Yet, the Singapore Government continues to make 2 claims - 1st, that the death penalty is a "strong deterrent", and 2nd, that Singaporeans support it.

EU statement

The EU, on its part, "holds a principled position against the death penalty and is opposed to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances."

"No compelling evidence exists to show that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime," it said in its statement.

"Furthermore, any errors - inevitable in any legal system - are irreversible. The EU will continue in its pursuit of the abolition of the death penalty worldwide."


Muhammad Ridzuan's case is particularly troubling because he was arrested and charged for the same crime as his accomplice, Abdul Haleem, who was spared the death penalty because - in the eyes of the Public Prosecutor - Abdul Haleem had "substantively assisted" the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in "disrupting" drugs syndicates within Singapore or outside Singapore.

Ridzuan, for unknown reasons because the Prosecutor is not required to explain his decision, was deemed not to have "substantively assisted" the CNB, and thus had no recourse to have his death sentence commuted.

The Prosecutor's decision is made behind closed doors and the law explicitly states that his decision is not opened to review, even by the Court of Appeal.

Family, friends and supporters had gathered outside Changi Prison on Friday morning as the execution of Ridzuan was carried out.



A Debate For the Ages

The last time someone was taken to the gallows in Belize was in 1985 at Her Majesty's Prison. Fast-forward to the 21st century…capital punishment has pretty much been written off as archaic and has been abolished in many countries all over the world. But the Museum of Belize pulled out all the moldy and cobwebbed books on those death sentences in Belize and brought them to life in a panel discussion. It was done to celebrate International Museum Day. The panelists featured Dianne Finnegan from the Apprenticeship Program, she spoke on the social implications of the death sentence while the legal mind of Senior Counsel Simeon Sampson weighed in on the prospect of reinstating capital punishment. We start off with The Director of the Museum Alexis Salazar on today's activities.

Alexis Salazar, Director, Museum of Belize, House of Culture

"Today is International Museum Day and we are celebrating it today with a panel discussion based on the theme that ICOM gave to us, ICOM is the International Council of Museums and they every year…we are a member of ICOM, they send out the themes and to be in line with that theme which this year is "Saying the Unspeakable in Museums and then bringing contested History to the Forefront. We deiced to do a panel discussion on Capital Punishment, the contested history is that building served as a prison and people were executed here there is clamoring in Belizean society to bring back the capital punishment so we wanted to do that contested history and spark that debate in society."

Dianne Finnegan, Mediator

"Because of the nature of my work and working with young people, at risk youths and now the gangs, I felt that it was an opportunity for me to get my message across on how far we have come in building these individuals in understanding their own purpose actually realizing their own self-worth and most of all the importance of life."

"Even if I wasn't in this line of work, I think just as a human being thinking about what is the effect and the purpose of doing that, or for killing another human being uhm it is as if though we are killing someone who killed someone to let them understand that killing another human being is wrong."

Courtney Weatherburne, 7News

"So In your view it's all about healing its, there is no way it's about capital punishment or hanging anybody, it's all about healing and the interventions you have been doing?"

Dianne Finnegan, Mediator

"It's alternative, it's about alternative and we have got to put in place all different kinds of alternatives to fit what these individuals are experiencing."

Courtney Weatherbunre

"Are we actually able at this point to actually reinstate capital punishment where are we in terms of the legal aspect?"

Simeon Sampson, SC - Human Rights Activist

"By the force of international opinion reinstating the death penalty is dead against us , the global opinion is now going fast forward to abolish the death penalty or to reduce its application so rein station is definitely off the books."

So as you heard, it was simply a thought provoking discussion, there are not any plans to reinstate capital punishment. Saturday the Museum will hold other fun activities for kids to celebrate International Museum Day.


MAY 19, 2017:


Court lifts reprieve for Nicaraguan man on Texas death row

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday lifted a reprieve it gave a Nicaraguan man a day before he was to be executed 2 years ago for killing a Houston high school teacher during a 1997 robbery.

The state's highest criminal appeals court had halted the scheduled August 2015 lethal injection of Bernardo Tercero, 40, after his attorneys contended Harris County prosecutors unknowingly presented false testimony at his trial in 2000 for the death of Robert Berger, 38.

Wednesday's ruling affirms the findings of Tercero's trial court that last year held a hearing on the claim and determined the testimony was proper.

Berger was at a Houston dry cleaners in March 1997 with his 3-year-old daughter when Tercero came in to rob the store, records show. Berger was fatally shot and the store was robbed of about $400. Prosecutors said Tercero was in the U.S. illegally at the time.

Tercero, now 40, argued the shooting was acciental. He testified Berger confronted him and tried to thwart the robbery, and the gun went off as they struggled. He was arrested in Hidalgo County near the Texas-Mexico border more than 2 years after the slaying. A 2nd man sought in the case never has been found.

In another case, the appeals court Wednesday denied an appeal from Bartholomew Granger, condemned for the slaying of a 79-year-old woman during a 2012 shooting rampage outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Attorneys for Granger, 46, raised 10 challenges to his 2013 conviction and death sentence. 5 issues foused on claims his trial attorneys were deficient, 4 raised questions about the constitutionaltiy of the death penalty in Texas and the last contended he was denied his right to an impartial jury.

He was convicted of fatally shooting Minnie Ray Sebolt, a bystander walking outside the courthouse in downtown Beaumont. Granger admitted he opend fire on his daughter outside the courthouse after she testified against him a sexual assault case.

His daughter and her mother were among 3 people wounded.

In a 3rd case, the appeals court refused an appeal from Charles Raby, 47, who was sent to death row in 1994 for killing 72-year-old Edna Mae Franklin. The court said the appeal focusing on DNA testing was improperly filed and did not rule on the merits of the argument. In 2015, the court upheld a lower court finding that results of new DNA tests didn't cast doubt on Raby's conviction for Frankling's stabbing death.

The appeals court also sent back to trial in Bastrop County the case of Rodney Reed to review claims that new evidence was improperly withheld and to show prosecutors presented false and misleading testimony at his trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to die for the 1996 rape and strangling of 19-year-old Stacy Stites. Her body was found off the side of a road about 35 miles southeast of Austin.

Last month, the appeals court refused to allow additional DNA testing of evidence in the case, saying the request was meant to "to unreasonably delay the execution of his sentence or the administration of justice."

(source: Associated Press)


Matthew Caylor granted new sentencing hearing

Matthew Caylor, the man convicted of strangling a 13-year-old then hiding her body under the bed of a Panama City motel, has been granted a new sentencing hearing after the Supreme Court of Florida threw out his original death sentence. In a move that was expected, the Supreme Court of Florida has ruled that Matthew Caylor is eligible for a new penalty phase. Caylor killed Melinda Hinson, 13, in a Panama City Motel in July of 2008 after raping her.

In an opinion released Thursday, Justices ruled 6-0 that because Caylor's death sentence in 2009 wasn't unanimous (it was 8-4) that he was entitled to a new penalty phase.

Caylor, who is now 41, is the man who murdered Melinda Hinson, 13, at the Valu-Lodge Motel in Panama City on July 8, 2008. Caylor used a telephone cord in the motel room to strangle Hinson after he raped her. He hid her body underneath the bed in the motel room then took off. Hinson's body was discovered 2 days later.

Caylor's case is just the latest death penalty case to get a new sentencing phase. Last year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that all death sentences from juries must be unanimous and that a judge can't impose a death penalty without it. So all of the convicts on death row are filing appeals of their sentences if the jury recommendation for death wasn't unanimous.

So far, no new sentencing hearings in any of the cases have occurred. They're scheduled to happen within the next few months. If the recommendation for death isn't unanimous, all of the killers will more than likely be sentenced to life in prison without parole. But that determination won't be made until the new sentencing phases take place.

(source: WJHG news)


Bill to shorten death penalty appeals goes to governor

The Alabama Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would shorten the state's death penalty appeals process.

The Legislature's upper chamber voted 26 to 3 to approve a House amendment to the bill, which increased money available for indigent defense. The bill - long sought by the Alabama attorney general's office but criticized by death penalty opponents and some legal organizations - goes to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Those convicted of capital crimes have 2 appeals processes: A direct appeal on the facts of the case, followed by a post-conviction appeal known as Rule 32 where the defendant can raise issues, such as whether their attorney provided an adequate defense. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would make the 2 processes run concurrently. It would not affect federal appeals processes.

"You don't deny anybody an appeal they're due under the law," Ward said during the debate.

Both Ward and the Alabama attorney general's office say cutting the appeals time will ease the trauma for victims of crimes and their families. Ward said "every year" the appeals process for a guilty individual dragged out extended the pain the victims felt.

"I do agree we need adequate protections for those appealing, but let my colleagues be reminded victims of crime deserve their day," Ward said.

Critics of the bill, including the American Bar Association, say running the 2 processes on parallel tracks would make it more likely the state would execute an innocent person.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said defending a death penalty case requires a high level of expertise that makes such attorneys rare or expensive, and questioned how an inmate could reasonably question an attorney's competence while the attorney is defending them on appeal.

"One of the reasons death penalty cases have (taken) so long has been for lack of adequate counsel," Sanders said.

The state's death penalty process has slowed due to legal challenges and challenges in obtaining the drugs used in the state's lethal injection procedures. But Alabama executed 2 people in 2016 and has executions scheduled later this month and in June.

Death sentences have declined in the United States over the last three decades. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to capital punishment, the number of death sentences in Alabama fell from about 25 in 1998 to 6 in 2015.

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)


Nothing fair about speeding up Alabama death penalty appeals

Alabama legislators this past week wrongly approved a bill that shortens the appeal process for people convicted of a capital crime and facing an execution.

Too much is at stake to take decisions of execution lightly. Mainly, it's someone's life and when the state makes the choice to kill a person, we are all responsible for that death.

Nationwide, 159 people have been exonerated from death rows since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, including 6 in Alabama. For every 9 people executed nationally, there has been 1 person on death row exonerated, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. That's quite the risk. Someone's death is nothing to be cavalier with.

Currently, someone convicted of a capital crime can appeal the decision and also file a separate post-conviction appeal that challenges parts of the ruling. Under the proposed legislation approved, both appeals processes would run concurrently, compressing the opportunity for someone to appeal against being killed.

Advocates of the law change, known as the Fair Justice Act, argue that streamlining the appeals process spares crime victims' families from reliving the pains of the ordeal over and over. The Attorney General's Office noted in a release that death row inmates' appeals average more than 15 years.

"This legislation is about justice, and justice should be fair and swift," Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a news release. "The Fair Justice Act takes nothing away from a death row inmate in terms of the courts reviewing his case."

Opponents, including us, fear the lawmakers' decision increases the chance we could execute an innocent person. When a life is at risk, quickening the pace of the appeal against death is unjust. The desire for swift justice when the guilt is seemingly obvious is understandable, but getting it wrong just once is once too much.

Rep. Thomas Jackson, a Democrat from Thomasville who opposed the bill, said Alabama is trying to "speed up the process of killing people."

Executions are more readily accepted and more readily performed in the South. The region accounts for 56 % of the nation's executions since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, but it hasn't impacted the South's homicide rate, which is the nation's highest, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

7 states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, and death sentencing has dropped to 10 % of what it was in 1998. Last year, 30 sentences were handed out compared to the 298 rulings 19 years ago.

(source: Editorial Board, Montgomery Advertiser)


How 1 Louisiana legislator's surprising vote saved capital punishment

Death penalty opponents were gaining some traction in the Louisiana Legislature this year. One bill to abolish capital punishment, sponsored by a former prosecutor, won strong backing in a Senate committee, sending it to the Senate floor for what was sure to be passionate debate. Another bill, sponsored by a former State Police superintendent and a former sheriff, was coming up for hearing in a House committee.

Then came Steve Pylant, a 2nd-term Republican representative from Winnsboro. He had attached his name to the House bill to eliminate the death penalty. But he voted against his own measure -- dooming both bills and preserving execution as an option for perpetrators of Louisiana's most heinous crimes.

Pylant's surprising move came during a House committee hearing Wednesday (May 17). His was the swing vote in the 8-9 decision. Had he voted for it, as others expected, the bill would have been approved 9-8 and sent to the House floor for debate, and the Senate bill's sponsor would not have abandoned the other measure.

Here's a look at how Pylant's statements over the past 13 months:

April 7, 2016 - During a House committee meeting on funding for public defenders, Pylant says he was always been supportive of the death penalty but wonders aloud whether it is worth the expense considering how many convictions are overturned. He says he is considering switching sides to eliminate the death penalty.

The Louisiana House will take up legislation that seeks to get more money into the hands of local public defender offices -- primarily by taking it from the defense teams representing people facing the death penalty.

March 23, 2017 - Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, a former State Police superintendent, files House Bill 101 to eliminate to abolish capital punishment after July 31. Pylant, a former Franklin Parish sheriff, signs on as co-sponsor.

March 30, 2017 - Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a former assistant Orleans Parish district attorney, files Senate Bill 142 to abolish capital punishment after July 31.

Bills sponsored by 3 legislators with backgrounds in law enforcement

April - Pylant tells The Associated Press: "I think certain crimes should be punishable by death, but the fact is we're not enforcing it. We spend millions of dollars on death penalty appeals, and we claim we can't get the medicines to do it. ... Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some point common sense ought to take hold."

April 25, 2017 - Testifying in favor of the Senate bill, Pylant tells the Senate Judiciary C Committee: "It seems that we've lost the will to carry out executions." The committee votes 6-1 to send the bill to the Senate.

It's a rare proposal in Republican-controlled region that tends to favor capital punishment

May 17, 2016 - In the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice meeting, Pylant votes against the House bill.

Afterward, he says he co-sponsored the bill only to bring attention to the fact that Louisiana isn't executing people quickly enough. "If I hadn't put my name on it, you wouldn't be out here talking to me."

Pylant said Louisiana could be executing more people if officials prioritized it. He pointed out that Arkansas executed four people in eight days in April. Arkansas' lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and drug companies have been reluctant to sell more to Arkansas, Louisiana and other states for capital punishment.

"We say we can't get the drugs to execute with. Arkansas has executed 4 or 5 people in the last month," Pylant said. "So something's not right. The powers that be apparently don't have the will to carry out the executions."

"We need to start executing people," he said. "They said we can't get the pharmaceuticals. Well, why can other people get them when we can't?"

"We don't want to give the lethal injection? Well, we've got firing squads. We've got the electric chair. We've got other things," he said.



Denham could be facing death penalty

Prosecutors still haven't decided if they will seek the death penalty in a 2016 quadruple-murder case in Edgerton, Missouri.

Grayden Denham currently faces multiple felony charges, including 4 counts of 1st-degree murder, 4 counts of armed criminal action, arson and tampering with physical evidence as well as a misdemeanor for animal abuse. Denham is accused of killing grandfather Russell Denham, 82, grandmother Shirley Denham, 81, and family members Heather Ager, 32, and 3-month-old Mason Schavoni. He wasn't present for a court hearing Thursday.

However, Mark Gibson, the assistant Platte County prosecutor, informed Circuit Judge James Van Amburg the state had offered Denham a plea bargain of life in prison without parole. The deal was to be accepted or rejected by May 4.

Defense attorney John O'Connor said he'd informed the defendant of all plea offers but could neither accept or reject this offer.

Gibson moved to have Denham brought to court so he could read him the entire plea offer. O'Connor objected, saying this would violate attorney/client privilege.

The judge denied Gibson's request.

The case is set for a trial to begin Monday, June 19. The state must file a notice prior to the trial if it intends to seek the death penalty. The defense could ask for a delay because of the change.



Garrett Coughlin charged with 6 murder counts in Coal Creek Canyon killings

The suspect in a triple homicide in Coal Creek Canyon last month was charged with 6 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Garrett Matthew Coughlin, 24, was charged with three counts of 1st-degree murder after deliberation and 3 counts of felony murder in Boulder District Court on Thursday. He is also facing 1 count of aggravated robbery.

Felony murder charges can be filed when a person is murdered in the course of the commission of a felony -- in this case, the alleged robbery -- even if the defendant is not believed to have been the one to commit the murder.

Coughlin is being held at the Boulder County Jail until a hearing on Sept. 7 to determine if there is enough evidence to hold him without bond.

The murder charges are all Class 1 felonies that carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole if a defendant is found guilty, and are also eligible for the death penalty.

While Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, he said he will still consider it.

"Although I support repeal of the death penalty in Colorado, as long as it is the law of Colorado on any alleged 1st-degree murder case, I will review the death penalty option with the family," Garnett said.

Coughlin is so far the only named suspect in the deaths of Wallace White, 54, Kelly Sloat-White, 56, and Emory Fraker, 39, whose bodies were found on April 15 in the 800 block of Divide View Drive.

White and Sloat-White lived at the home, and Fraker was White's brother and lived in Broomfield.

An arrest affidavit released on Tuesday states all three suffered gunshot wounds, and investigators said they were able to tie Coughlin to the gun used in the homicides.

Investigators linked Coughlin to the home on Divide View Drive via phone records and documents associated with the house, and determined through interviews that he had shown up 4 hours late for work on the morning of April 13, when police believe the 3 were killed.

Witnesses also told investigators that they saw Coughlin with large amounts of marijuana packaged in a manner consistent with the marijuana owned by the victims, as well as large amounts of cash following the homicides. Deputies removed 100 plants from the property during the investigation.

(source: Fort Morgan Times)


Jury begins deliberating in 1981 Newport Beach killing, suspect had been on death row for case

An Orange County Superior Court jury began deliberating Thursday in the case of a 77-year-old man found beaten and strangled in his Newport Beach home more than 3 decades ago.

James Andrew Melton, 65, originally was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for killing and robbing Anthony Lial DeSousa. But a federal judge overturned his conviction in 2007 after determining that Melton was over-medicated by jail staff and did not understand his trial.

He was tried again in 2014, with the case ending in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting him of 1st-degree murder.

Prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty, in part because of the case's age.

In his 3rd trial, which began this month, the prosecution said Melton and his lover, Johnny Boyd, had hatched a plan to meet rich, older men through ads in gay magazines and then go to their homes and rob them.

Boyd was given immunity to testify in the 1st trial. He died of AIDS in 1992, so the jury in this trial was read transcripts from his original testimony. Boyd said he arranged a meeting between Melton and DeSousa, who had come out as a gay man after his wife died.

On Oct. 13, 1981, DeSousa's body was found in his bedroom.

Boyd testified that Melton admitted to the killing and that he had seen Melton wearing DeSousa's jewelry. Melton was later arrested with several of the victim's belongings including his car, a watch, a suitcase, and a movie projector, authorities said.

The defense has said there are no fingerprints or DNA evidence linking Melton to the crime scene, and that Boyd, a key witness, lacked credibility.

Melton has convictions for 2 rapes, robbery, and assault with a deadly weapon, according to court records.

(source: Orange County Register)


Speaker to address death penalty

Tom O'Connor, an adviser to corrections departments throughout the country and the CEO of an organization called Transforming Corrections, will be the keynote speaker at a Friday dinner in Corvallis.

The event will be held beginning at 6 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 4515 SW West Hills Drive.

After O'Connor's speech, people attending will discuss the death penalty and possible alternatives. The event is a fundraiser for Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Tickets for dinner and the program are $25. Tables for 8 are available for group purchase. Call 503-990-7060 to order tickets or go to through PayPal.

(source: Albany Democrat-Herald)


Washington death row Inmate Loses Court Challenge Over Intellectual Disabilities

On January 25, 1997, Cecil Emile Davis, a "violent offender" on state supervision, broke into the Tacoma home of 65-year-old Yoshiko Couch. Once inside he raped and beat her and then suffocated her by holding a rag soaked in cleaning solvents over her mouth.

Davis was later convicted of aggravated 1st degree murder and sentenced to death.

On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court rejected Davis' claim that Washington's death penalty system is unconstitutional because it doesn't protect death row inmates with intellectual disabilities - sometimes referred to in the courts as "mental retardation" - from execution.

"We find his arguments unpersuasive and dismiss the petition," Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in a majority opinion signed by 6 of the 9 justices.

Washington law and the U.S. Constitution prohibit executing someone who's intellectually disabled. In Washington, that determination is made by the trial judge after a guilty verdict is rendered.

At trial, Davis argued that the jury, not the judge, should have to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn't have an intellectual disability. The trial judge rejected that motion.

At sentencing, Davis' lawyer made the case for mercy based on a variety of issues including "low intelligence," but did not make the case that Davis had an intellectual disability that constitutionally excluded him from the death penalty.

Nor did Davis make that case on appeal. In fact, his attorney wrote, "Davis does not claim he is intellectually disabled or that he was intellectually disabled at the time of the crime."

However, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Florida's death penalty system failed to use the appropriate criteria for determining intellectual disability, thus creating the risk that inmates with intellectual disabilities would be executed. Based on that ruling Davis argued to the Washington Supreme Court that Washington law, which is similar to Florida's, "creates an unacceptable barrier to proof of intellectual disability."

Under Washington law, a defendant must have an IQ of 70 or below before the court will consider whether there's an intellectual disability. A doctor in Davis' case testified that he had an IQ score of 68, although other tests indicated he might have a higher score.

In their majority opinion, the justices allowed that Washington law may have similar flaws to Florida's, but concluded that wasn't a factor in Davis' case.

"Essentially, Davis argues that he is entitled to resentencing since [the Florida case] makes clear that using a 70 IQ as an evidentiary cutoff is unconstitutional," the majority wrote. While that test might not be constitutional, the Washington justices concluded that Davis wasn't harmed by it because his intellectual capacity was, in fact, considered by the court.

"Davis has not established that our death penalty statute, or his sentence, was unconstitutional," concluded the majority.

The justices also rejected Davis' assertion that a jury, not a judge, should determine intellectual disability.

However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud argued that the Supreme Court should give more attention to the question of how an intellectual disability is determined.

"This is a complex constitutional issue ... we have the obligation to explore," McCloud wrote in an opinion also signed by Justice Mary Fairhurst.

In a lone dissent, Justice Barbara Madsen took the opposite view. She argued that Davis' death sentence should be reversed on the grounds that the judge, not the jury, decided whether he was intellectually disabled. Madsen said Washington law requiring the court to make that determination violated Davis' Sixth Amendment rights, based on the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Florida death penalty case.

Madsen also said that Davis' IQ score of 68 cannot be disregarded. "That evidence alone creates a fact question as to whether Davis suffered from an intellectual disability," Madsen wrote.

In a statement, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said, "Davis' crimes shocked the conscience of our community. We hope this brings closure for the community, especially the family and friends of Yoshiko Couch."

Davis, who's African American, is 1 of 7 men on death row in Washington. However, the state is not carrying out executions because of a moratorium imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014.

The Washington Supreme Court has another case pending that could test the constitutionality of the death penalty. Lawyers for death row inmate Allen Eugene Gregory, who is also African American, are challenging the state's capital punishment statute on the grounds that it is "infected with arbitrariness and racial bias."

(source: KUOW news)


No death row reprieve for notorious Pierce County killer

Convicted killer Cecil Davis has asked the state's high court to spare his life twice in the past decade.

And twice the justices have said no - though that doesn't mean he'll be executed.

On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court upheld Davis' death sentence for the murder of Yoshiko Couch in 1997. Davis also raped and robbed the Tacoma woman, while her invalid husband was in the house and couldn't help her.

Davis will be allowed to live at least while Jay Inslee is governor. He issued a moratorium on executions in 2014, but after his term the future for the state's death row inmates is uncertain.

The Supreme Court upheld Davis' sentence by dismissing what's known as a personal restraint petition. It argued that he should not have been sentenced to death, because that violated his constitutional rights to a jury trial and due process, and against cruel and unusual punishment.

The state's capital punishment system fails to protect intellectually disabled criminals from execution, Davis said.

State law and the U.S. Constitution prohibit the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, but a trial judge decided Davis didn't qualify for the exemption.

A jury, not a judge, should have made that decision, Davis argued.

The high court rejected those arguments, and Davis' assertion that his attorneys had been ineffective at trial.

"We find his arguments unpersuasive and dismiss the petition," Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote for the majority, which included 5 other members of the court.

Justice Barbara Madsen dissented, and agreed with Davis that a jury should have decided whether he had an intellectual disability. State law that says the judge should make that determination violates the Sixth Amendment, she wrote, which includes the right to a jury trial and due process.

Davis' death sentence should be reversed, Madsen said, and he should be sent back to trial court for another sentencing.

Justice Sheryl McCloud and Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst concurred with the majority, but argued the case should go back to the trial court to examine the experience Davis' appellate counsel had with similar cases.

Then the high court should use that information to consider a recent request Davis made for new attorneys, the justices said.

"The lawyers on this case are dedicated, experienced, hardworking professionals; but collateral challenges in death penalty cases is one of the most complicated areas of the law," McCloud wrote in their opinion.

After Davis first appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court, the justices overturned it in 2004. A juror saw Davis shackled during trial, which the high court said might have influenced the juror to consider him dangerous.

As a result, the case was sent back to Pierce County, where a 2nd jury decided Davis should die.

He appealed the sentence again to the Supreme Court, asking for life without parole, and the court said no in 2012.

The personal restraint petition was Davis' most recent attempt to permanently stave off execution.

It wasn't clear Thursday whether Davis planned to challenge the Supreme Court's decision.

He's 1 of 8 people in the state on death row, which is at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Davis raped the 65-year-old Couch in her home, then smothered her with a towel soaked in toxic solvent. He also took the wedding ring from Couch's finger, cash from her purse, and beer and meat from her kitchen.

Separate from that murder, he is serving a life sentence for fatally stomping another woman, Jane Hungerford-Trapp, in Tacoma in 1996.



House votes to expand death penalty for police killings

The House passed legislation on Thursday that would make the murder of a law enforcement officer punishable by death.

Approved by a 271-143 vote, the measure expands the aggravating factors when a jury considers a death sentence in federal cases.

48 Democrats voted with all but 4 Republicans in favor of the legislation, which was timed for a vote during National Police Week.

Federal law outlines 16 factors juries must consider when debating whether the death penalty is justified, such as whether the victim was a "high public official" or the accused committed the crime in a particularly cruel way.

Killing a federal law enforcement officer is already considered a factor for the death penalty under current law. The bill approved by the House would extend that to state and local police officers and first responders.

All 50 states also have laws increasing penalties for crimes against law enforcement.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) acknowledged the proposed change would likely have limited applicability given that most homicide cases are considered by state courts and that it may be rare for a law enforcement killing to be involved in a federal offense.

But bill's proponents primarily wanted to send a deterrence message.

"Getting this bill signed into law will protect those who serve our communities and send a clear message: targeting or killing our first responders will not be tolerated," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), the bill's author.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) came out against the bill, arguing in a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders that "expanding the number of aggravating factors that would subject a person to the death penalty is unnecessary and duplicative; counterproductive to improving law enforcement and community relations; and unlikely to prevent future violence against police."

Civil rights groups said the bill falls in line with President Trump's desire to get tough on crime and enforce "law and order," but would ultimately be counterproductive.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors last week to charge and pursue the "most serious, readily provable offense" in criminal cases. The move prompted outcry from Democrats and libertarians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who warned it would unnecessarily increase the prison population.

An Obama-era order in 2013 under then-Attorney General Eric Holder instructed prosecutors to avoid mandatory minimums in some drug-related cases.

Todd Cox, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund policy director, wrote in a Medium post this week that Congress should instead consider proposals that require police departments to provide anti-bias and de-escalation training.

"Unfortunately, Congress has chosen to spend this week considering unnecessary and redundant legislation that will only widen the gap between communities and law enforcement, without any added security benefit," Cox wrote.

Democrats, who largely already oppose the death penalty, said it unnecessarily expanded the statute, particularly for if a defendant only attempted to kill a law enforcement officer.

"I'm not aware that we have in the law anywhere a death penalty for an attempted crime,' said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. "The attempted terrible act certainly should be punished. But not as severely as the accomplishment of the terrible act."

The House is expected to consider another police-themed bill on Friday that would allow probation officers to arrest people without warrants if they forcibly assault or obstruct them during their official duties.



2 Penang men charged with drug trafficking, face death penalty

2 men were charged with 5 counts of drug trafficking in 2 separate cases at the magistrate's court here today.

Unemployed Tan Swee Hin, 51, was charged for trafficking 13.9kg of heroin, 20kg of methamphetamine and 37.3kg of 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) at Tingkat Paya Terubong 5, Taman Paya Terubong, at about 10.30am on May 5.

The 3 charges were read to him before magistrate Mohamad Amin Shahul Hamid and Tan nodded to signal that he understood the charges.

On the 2nd case, 52-year-old businessman, Tang Chin Tart, was charged for trafficking 2.6kg of heroin and 1.8kg of methamphetamine at Lebuh Sungai Pinang 4 at 10.15pm on May 8.

The 2 charges were read to him in Bahasa Malaysia.

No plea was recorded for the 5 charges.

Both cases were prosecuted by deputy public prosecutor Nurul Fatin Husin under Section 39B (1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which provides for the death penalty under Section 39B (2) of the same act.

Magistrate Amin set July 19 for mention, pending chemical reports and a Hokkien translator.



Man gets death penalty for killing cousin, niece

A court awarded death sentence to an accused for his involvement in a dual murder case in Sargodha on Thursday. The judgment was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Shaikh Shehzad Ahmad.

The prosecution told the court that accused Tasawwar Abbas, resident of Asmat Colony, Bhalwal ad gunned down his cousin Amina Bibi and niece Saima Bibi over a family dispute in 2015. The local police registered a case against the accused and presented the challan before the court. After hearing the arguments, the judge handed down death sentence to Tasawwar along with a fine of Rs200,000 as compensation money. The accused was sent to District Jail Sargodha. Meanwhile, in another murder case an additional district and sessions court awarded death sentence to a man.

The prosecution told the court that accused Mudassir Abbas, a resident of Chak 72, had gunned down his father Zafar Abbas over a marriage dispute.

After hearing the arguments, the judge awarded death sentence to the accused along with a fine of Rs200,000 as compensation money. The culprit was sent to district Jail Sargodha. Earlier in April 2017, an additional and sessions court awarded death sentence to a man in a murder case in Dera Ghazi Khan.

Additional District and Sessions judge Khizar Hayat handed down the death sentence to Muhammad Farooq, who along with his son Saifuddin, had opened fire on Hasan and his sons Majid and Qasim. The victims suffered bullet injures and Majid died at a hospital during treatment. The court also imposed a fine of Rs400,000 on the accused. Similarly, an additional and district court awarded death sentence to an accused in a murder case in Sialkot. The verdict was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Muhammad Nadeem Ansari.

The prosecution told the court that accused Shanaf had killed Adil over a land dispute in Parthanwala Village 2 years back. However, the police arrested the accused and presented the challan in the court. After hearing arguments, the judge awarded death sentence to the accused and ordered him to pay Rs200,000 compensation money to the heirs of the deceased.

(source: The express Tribune)


Reasons behind ICJ's decision to suspend death penalty

The precipitation about the case was cleared before the ruling of International Court of Justice that Pakistan will punish the Indian spy for terrorism charges, although the ICJ suspended the execution of Indian spy.

Kulbhushan was awarded death penalty by the Pakistan's Field General Court Martial few weeks before, the Indian government pursuing delay in the execution of the spy.

ICJ was trying to stop the hanging of Indian spy because the accused can be hung anytime, by the ruling court makes sure that there will be no urgency in the execution.

The ICJ jurisdiction was rejected by Pakistan because it was hoped that the ruling will be in favor of Pakistan.

Both countries are the signatory of Vienna Convention which stated that the counselor access of the victim should be given to the other country.

The ICJ can investigate the "disputes arising out of the interpretation or application of the [Vienna] Convention".



Congo Releases British-Norwegian Sentenced to Death: Who is Joshua French?

After 8 years in a Congolese prison, 3 trials and multiple death sentences, a British-Norwegian former soldier is finally free.

Joshua French, 35, returned to Norway Wednesday after what was initially an ambitious attempt to set up a private security company in Africa morphed into a nightmare of almost a decade in detention and the death of his close friend and co-prisoner, Tjostolv Moland.

"We are very happy and relieved, especially on behalf of the family," French's lawyer, Hans Marius Graasvold, tells Newsweek from Oslo. "I was afraid that he wouldn't manage to hold on for as long as it took to reach a solution."

French's family, who have faithfully run a blog bringing attention to his case for the past eight years, rejoiced at his return. "Thanks to our dear son and brother for your vitality, strength and endurance. We finally got you home and the joy is indescribable!" wrote French's mother and sister, Kari Hilde French and Hannah French, in a Wednesday blog post.

Born in Norway to a British father and Norwegian mother, French spent part of his childhood in the U.K. and reportedly served in the British Army. But it was his career in the Norwegian military that would ultimately land him in trouble in Congo.

Congolese authorities arrested French and Moland, another ex-Norwegian soldier, in May 2009 on suspicion of killing their driver, a 47-year-old Congolese man named Abedi Kasongo. The Norwegian pair had traveled to Congo allegedly to set up a private security firm and said that their vehicle had been ambushed by gunmen, who had killed Kasongo.

The pair were put on trial later the same year at a military court in Kisangani in the lawless eastern Congo. The court convicted them of multiple charges - including murder, attempted murder and espionage - and sentenced both of them to death. Norwegian authorities complained that the men had not been given a fair trial, while witnesses were paid $5,000 each to appear, according to British charity Reprieve.

The verdict was overturned in April 2010 by a separate Congolese court due to flawed procedures. But in June of that year, a tribunal in Kisangani again found the men guilty of murder and, once again, sentenced them to death and also ordered the Norwegian state and the 2 men to pay $65 million in damages to the Congolese government. (Congo has not technically abolished the death penalty, and up to 500 people remain on death row in the country, but sentences are rarely carried out - the last execution was in 2003.)

After 4 years in prison, French's story took a tragic twist. On August 18, 2013, French woke up at the Kinshasa prison where he was being held to find his friend Moland dead. Norway immediately sent investigators to Congo to determine the cause of Moland's death, and a joint Norwegian-Congolese probe found suicide was the cause, according to Reprieve. But despite that finding, Congolese prosecutors put French on trial for Moland's murder and convicted him in February 2014, despite the fact he was suffering from psychosis and refusing to eat for periods during the trial. French was sentenced to life imprisonment.

During French's long imprisonment, Norwegian authorities have continually sought to engage their Congolese counterparts in the hope of securing his release, with the assistance of British government officials. In February, Congo's Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the country's president, Joseph Kabila, had agreed to set French free later in the year. But there were fears that the Norwegian's ill health could mean that he would die in prison: French's mother wrote on May 7 that he had been admitted to hospital 4 times during his imprisonment and had spent 5 1/2 months in hospital in 2016. "Our greatest wish is to get Joshua French home alive before it is too late," she wrote.

But French's eventual release appears to have been more the result of Congolese authorities running out of patience than of Norwegian mediation efforts. Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende said Wednesday that French had been transferred as part of a "humanitarian deal," but that the Congolese government had not pardoned his alleged crimes and that no money had been paid for his release.

Graasvold, French's lawyer, says the ex-prisoner is currently in hospital, but declined to comment on the specifics of his health. But Graasvold does say that French is not expected to serve any time in prison in Norway: "He will receive all necessary medical help but other than that he's a free man."



Cardinal Tagle urges Filipinos to join anti-death penalty march----A 21-day nationwide march has galvanized opposition to the proposed revival of capital punishment in the Philippines.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila urged Filipinos to join a 21-day "Walk for Life," a nationwide march that started in the southern Philippines on May 4 and is set to reach Manila on May 21.

"The march gives us an opportunity to find ways of fighting crimes, for all crimes violate life, but without resorting to measures that also violate life like capital punishment," said the Manila prelate.

The cardinal said that through "personal and collective study, prayer, discernment, and action, we hope to be a people that promote a culture of life."

The activity aims to dramatize opposition to the proposal pending in the Philippine Senate to revive capital punishment in the country.

In the central Philippine city of Tacloban, young people joined the march as it passed the province of Leyte which was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Leira Ann Regulacion, a 15-year-old student, said she is "afraid" with the proposed revival of the death penalty because offenders are "never given a chance to live a new life."

"This is sad, alarming and frightening," said Ninian Sumadia, a youth leader who joined the march from the southern city of Cagayan de Oro.

She said the government would only be "institutionalizing the culture of death" with the passage of the death penalty law.

"I am calling our fellow young people to join this call against the death penalty because it is a threat to our life," she added.

The head of the Philippines Catholic bishops' conference had earlier issued a call to the country's church leaders to support the march.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, head of the bishops' conference, said the lay initiative is "most deserving of support from all who want to make a clear unequivocal stand for life."

"It is our duty as pastors to encourage them, to bless them, and invite more lay faithful to assist them in the mission of social transformation," said the prelate in a statement.



The Death Penalty in South Asia----Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka have effectively abolished capital punishment. The rest of South Asia hasn't.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment." So wrote English author JRR Tolkein in his popular Lord of the Rings series. India's Mahatma Gandhi put it this way: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Although much of the world has come around to a similar view - that one killing cannot be avenged with another - most South Asian states maintain a fondness for capital punishment, with Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka as the exceptions.

The constitutions of Nepal (Article 16), and Bhutan (Article 7-18) both prohibit the death penalty. Interestingly, though the death penalty has a legal foundation in Sri Lanka there have been no executions in the Buddhist state since 1976. Legal practice shows that the state has moved a step toward abolition, following the global trend.

Conversely, the South Asian states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, and Pakistan all firmly believe that the death penalty can deter people with evil intent. In this context, the Indian legal system fails to buy into the words of Gandhi, who is considered to be Bapu (founding father) of the world's largest democracy.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC)-1860 (amended in 2013) prescribes the death penalty for as many as 11 offenses, including waging war against the government, abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces, acid attack, murder, rape, and criminal conspiracy. Similar legal frameworks for the death penalty (save for acid attack) have been provisioned under the Bangladesh Penal Code.

In Pakistan, capital punishment is provisioned for no less than 27 different offenses, to include blasphemy, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, outraging the modesty of a woman, and smuggling drugs.

In Afghanistan, various crimes - murder, apostasy, homosexuality, rape, terrorism, drug trafficking, adultery, treason, or desertion - are punishable by death based on Islamic jurisprudence. The Maldivian legal position on the death penalty is similar to Afghanistan's.

Generally, an accused merits the fate of legal death in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Afghanistan when the crimes committed meet the threshold of "most serious crimes." Blasphemy, adultery, or drug trafficking do not necessarily meet the threshold of "most serious crimes" but are still punishable by death in Pakistan and many other Islamic countries, including Maldives and Afghanistan.

India's Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Bachan Singh vs.State of Punjab (1980), forwarded the doctrine of "rarest of rare," arguing that life imprisonment is the rule while a death sentence is the exception. The top court held that the death penalty could be imposed "when [society's] collective conscience is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power center to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty."

Even though there is no statutory definition of "rarest of the rare" cases, its widely believed that the pre-planned, brutal, cold-blooded, and sordid nature of a crime, without giving any chance to the victim, is taken into consideration to decide whether a particular case falls within the purview of "rarest of the rare." India's Supreme Court recently used this metric to award the death penalty to the accused in a high-profile 2012 gang-rape case.

The "collective conscience" metric for awarding the death penalty is problematic. If a judge feels that the collective conscience is so shocked that it's desirable to inflict the death penalty on the accused, then can he or she hear the case entirely on merit? Will the judge ensure a fair trial and presume the accused innocent until proven guilty?

Additionally, in the 21st century world we live in - fully equipped with 24-hour TV and social media on tap - outrage can be manufactured and reality can be distorted.

"The collective conscience doctrine is not a very clear-cut concept and its in want of a healthy debate in India," opines Dr. Nidhi Saxena, a faculty member in international law at Sikkim Central University, India. She adds that the judicial pronouncements may not address the collective conscience, as public participation was not ensured in the entire decision making process.

Beyond the specific issues with the "collective conscience" rule, many believe that the taking of a life by the judiciary is simply unjust and inhuman and its continued practice is a stain on a society standing on humanitarian values. Beyond this, the death penalty regime is a clear violation Article 6 (right to life) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, interestingly, India, Pakistan, Maldives, and Afghanistan are signatories to these conventions.

Although the task remains unfulfilled, the second optional protocol to ICCPR was introduced in 1991 with the aim of abolishing of the death penalty globally. However, the instrument only succeeded in imposing an obligation on the international community to disallow capital punishment in the case of minors and pregnant women.

Despite this, the Maldivian parliament recently enacted a law that confirms death penalty can be applied to a minor who commits an intentional murder or any serious crime.

A UN resolution that called for a global moratorium on the death penalty was passed by the General Assembly on December 19, 2016. It was supported by 117 states; 40 voted against it and 31 abstained.

Moreover, the International Criminal Court, which is situated in The Hague, also slams the death penalty and favors life imprisonment even for crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

Even as the global trend roots for abolition, the states imposing the death penalty justify their slated position. They appeal to each state's sovereign rights to determine its own law (as enshrined under Article 2 Paragraph 7 of the UN Charter, i.e., the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of a state). They also argue that the death penalty is exercised in rare cases and insist their legal systems guarantee rule of law and ample procedural safeguards for a fair and speedy trial.

However, "abolition is now entrenched in human rights discourse and it cannot be limited to national criminal jurisprudence. If one makes the 'sovereignty defense' then its simply a frivolous justification," says Saxena.

Ultimately, the "death penalty is not a strong enough deterrent; rather effective laws and order are," Saxena argues. Though a section of the population in India favors the death penalty for crimes involving women and children or terrorism, she believes "the move towards a more enlightened approach (i.e., abolition) could be initiated in Parliament."

The criminal jurisprudence of most of South Asia on death penalty falls short of international obligations and its high time to rethink their stand on the death penalty.

As per the reports of Amnesty International, around 140 countries - more than 2/3 of the world - have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. The South Asian states, except Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka, are out of step with this global trend.

(source: Jivesh Jha is a Kathmandu University graduate and currently an LL.B student in Dehradun,


Urgent Action


11 May, the Bahrain High Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence imposed against Maher Abbas Ahmed. His case will now go before the Court of Cassation. Maher Abbas Ahmed will be at imminent risk of execution if the sentence is upheld again.

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

* Expressing grave concern that Maher Abbas Ahmad's death sentence was upheld again;

* Urging the King of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, to immediately commute the death sentence imposed on Maher Abbas Ahmad and establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty; * Calling on the authorities to conduct an investigation into the allegations of torture made by Maher Abbas Ahmad and his co-defendants;

* Acknowledging the Bahraini government's responsibility to protect the public and bring to justice those who commit crimes, but insisting that this should always be done in accordance with international law and Bahrain's international human rights obligations.

Contact these two officials by 29 June, 2017:


Sheikh Hamad bin 'Issa Al Khalifa

Office of His Majesty the King

P.O. Box 555

Rifa'a Palace

al-Manama, Bahrain

Fax: +973 1766 4587

Salutation: Your Majesty

H.E. Ambassador Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Khalifa

Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain

3502 International Dr. NW

Washington DC 20008

Phone: 1 202 342 1111

Fax: 1 202 362 2192


Twitter: @bahdiplomatic

Salutation: Dear Ambassador

(source: Amnesty International)

MAY 18, 2017:


Court lifts reprieve for Nicaraguan man on Texas death row

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday lifted a reprieve it gave a Nicaraguan man a day before he was to be executed 2 years ago for killing a Houston high school teacher during a 1997 robbery.

The state's highest criminal appeals court had halted the scheduled August 2015 lethal injection of Bernardo Tercero after his attorneys contended Harris County prosecutors unknowingly presented false testimony from a witness at his trial in 2000 for the death of 38-year-old Robert Berger. Wednesday's ruling affirms the findings of Tercero's trial court that last year held a hearing on the claim and determined the testimony was proper.

Berger was a customer in a Houston dry cleaners shop in March 1997 and was with his 3-year-old daughter when records show Tercero came in to rob the store. Berger was fatally shot and the store was robbed of about $400. Prosecutors said Tercero was in the U.S. illegally at the time.

Tercero, now 40, argued the shooting was accidental. He testified Berger confronted him and tried to thwart the robbery, and the gun went off as they struggled. He was arrested in Hidalgo County near the Texas-Mexico border more than 2 years after the slaying. A second man sought in the case never has been found.

Tercero's case has attracted attention in his home country, where a clemency plea from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in 2015 was forwarded to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

(source: Associated Press)


Appeals court hears arguments in Williamson County death penalty case

A defense lawyer for a man given the death penalty for a Williamson County killing argued before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday that the evidence used to convict Steven Alan Thomas did not prove he committed the crime.

A Williamson County jury convicted Thomas of capital murder in October 2014 and sentenced him to death for the sexual assault and strangulation of 73-year-old Mildred McKinney in 1980.

Defense lawyer Ariel Payan said Wednesday that Thomas' fingerprint, which was found on the back of a clock in McKinney’s bedroom, could have been there because Thomas worked for a pesticide company that had been to her house.

Payan also said Thomas' sperm was found on a piece of medical tape wrapped around one of McKinney's thumbs but that did not prove he sexually assaulted her. McKinney also had DNA inside of her from 3 other unknown men, he said.

The same arguments about how the evidence could not prove Thomas' guilt were made by his lawyers during his trial.

Payan also said Wednesday the testimony of a jailhouse snitch during Thomas' trial could not be confirmed and should have been inadmissible. The inmate, Steven Shockey, told a jury that Thomas told him about being high on cocaine, breaking into a house, having to restrain a woman before she got out of bed and taking money and jewelry.

Williamson County Assistant District Attorney John Prezas, who was representing the state on the appeal, said the physical evidence alone was enough to convict Thomas without Shockey's testimony. The clock that had Thomas' fingerprint on it was found in the middle of McKinney's bed near some of the cord used to tie her up, Prezas said.

He also said Thomas' sperm was found not on medical tape but on a ribbon tied around McKinney's thumb that was used to restrain her hands. Prezas also questioned whether Thomas had been to McKinney's house when he worked for his brother's pesticide company. Thomas' brother testified during the trial that McKinney was one of their clients but he didn't have records that showed Thomas made a service call to her house, Prezas said.

By state law, every death penalty case is automatically sent to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

"The litigants can request oral argument or not," Payan said after the hearing. "I almost always do, and it is usually granted but not always."

It was unclear Wednesday when the judges would make a decision.

(source: Austin American-Statesman)


The slowly-shifting status of capital punishment in PA

Anti-establishment lawyer Larry Krasner's win in the Philadelphia District Attorney Democratic primary Tuesday put him on track for a probable victory in November.

Krasner has made a name for himself as a longtime defense lawyer in civil rights cases, but he is perhaps best-known for his ardent opposition to the death penalty. His election dredged up a recurring discussion Pennsylvania has been grappling with for decades: what does the future of capital punishment in the commonwealth look like?

Pennsylvania is 1 of only 2 states in the northeast that still allows the death penalty. It has the 5th most inmates on death row in the nation, but in the last 40 years, has only executed 3 people.

Why the disparity?

Marc Bookman, with the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation--which offers legal training and consulting for capital punishment cases--said death penalty cases in Pennsylvania are often faulty.

"We haven't properly funded the defense, we haven't made sure the prosecutors were trained, that the defense attorneys were trained," Bookman said. "So we've had any number of death sentences, and them virtually all of them have been reversed by the courts."

Bookman's organization opposes the capital punishment--mainly on the grounds the trials are a waste of time and resources.

"At this point it's nothing more than symbolism," he said. "What you have is kind of a conveyer belt of convictions and reversals. And a situation like that is terribly unfair, it costs an incredible amount of know the death penalty has essentially become a black hole."

In 2015, Governor Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty. Several studies on it are currently in the works.

(source: WITF news)


Larry Krasner wins Democratic nomination for Philly District Attorney

A civil rights lawyer who has defended Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia protesters is poised to become Philadelphia's next district attorney.

Larry Krasner has never worked as a prosecutor but benefited from a $1.5 million donation from liberal billionaire George Soros to an independent political action committee that ran commercials and sent out canvassers in support of his candidacy.

Krasner is a staunch opponent of the death penalty and mass incarceration. He has said that none of his clients have been sent to death row in 25 years of defending capital cases.

Krasner pulled ahead in a crowded field to win the Democratic nomination Tuesday over several veteran prosecutors and a former city manager. He will face the only Republican candidate, Beth Grossman, in the fall.

The victory followed an intriguing campaign as 8 newcomers vied for a job that helps shape city policy on sanctuary cities, police use of force, prison reform and other national issues.

The candidates hoped to succeed 2-term incumbent Seth Williams, who goes on trial next month in a federal bribery case. They included a Pakistani-American, a Cuban-American, a black Muslim and Krasner, who also got a nod from singer-songwriter John Legend, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.

Several supported prison and bail reform and prisoner re-entry programs, despite efforts under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to return to the era of long prison terms for drugs and other crimes.

The other Democrats included Joe Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor; Rich Negrin, a former city prosecutor and city managing director; and Tariq El-Shabazz, who did a stint as Williams' top assistant.

One "juvenile lifer" released this year after serving 41 years in prison for a killing committed when he was 17 was out canvassing on Election Day, urging voters to support justice reform efforts. Michael Twiggs, 59, was taking part in a project run by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If we get a D.A. in place who will be somewhat compassionate, not so eager to throw lives away, who would be fair," Twiggs said last week, "then I think that ... we'll be getting a better outcome."

In the city controller's race, Rebecca Rhynhart defeated incumbent Alan Butkovitz for the Democratic nomination.

(source: ABC News)


Judge refuses to overturn cop killer's death sentence

A Pennsylvania judge refused to overturn a cop killer's death sentence this week in an "anticipated" move likely to force the case to state Supreme Court.

The Associated Press reported a Pike County judge on Monday denied the defense's motion for a new sentencing hearing, just 1 week after Eric Frein's attorneys argued emotional testimony from the slain officer's widow clouded jurors' judgement.

Michael Weinstein, 1 of Frein's attorneys, said he expected the judge's ruling and believes the case will work its way up to the state's highest court, according to the AP.

Jurors found Frein guilty on April 20 of nearly a dozen charges stemming from the Sept. 12, 2014 ambush of 2 state troopers during a shift change at the Blooming Grove barracks in rural Pike County.

Cpl. Bryon Dickson II died in the attack. Trooper Alex Douglass sustained a gunshot wound to the back as he tried to pull Dickson to safety.

Frein received the death penalty for his crimes April 26. His attorneys vowed to appeal.

In court documents filed last week, the defense claimed Tiffany Dickson's testimony undermined any "logical reasoned moral decision the jury could make" to instead impose life imprisonment. During last month's hearing, the defense cast the gunman's father, Eugene Michael "Mike" Frein, as an abusive, domineering man who fostered his son's anti-government views.

Prosecutors mocked the characterization and called it a poor deflection from the gunman's "wickedness of heart" in what Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin described as a calculated and remorseless killing.

Tonkin "praised" the judge's ruling Monday, according to the AP.



One of Lee County's most notorious killers still on death row

2 decades after 1 of Lee County's most notorious crime sprees, the NBC2 Investigators go behind prison walls to uncover why the ringleader, who was sentenced to die, is still alive.

The "Lords of Chaos" terrorized Lee County for weeks back in April of 1996. After burning down a historic Coca-Cola bottling plant off US-41, the group then turned its sights towards Mark Schwebes, a band teacher at Riverdale High.

Derek Shields was a student in Schwebe's class. "He was a real good guy; he did real well with the students. He was getting me back into music."

Shields was just 18 when he became a member of the "Lords of Chaos," a teenage gang comprised of 4 key members. The leader of the group was Kevin Foster, a former student at Riverdale.

"I feared him; I feared him big time," said Shields, speaking from his prison facility in Hardee County. "He was a likable guy until you learned that he was a sicko."

But what started out as a series of petty crimes, arson and vandalism cases quickly took a violent turn April 30. That's when the group decided to kill Schwebes at his Pine Manor home after he caught them trying to vandalize the school.

"I really didn't think they would go that far," said Shields. "I didn't think we were gonna do it."

Shields was ordered by Foster to knock on Schwebe's front door while Foster waited behind with a shotgun. "He was standing right behind me, and I was looking down both barrels of that gun," said Shields, who claims he was also in fear for his own life. When the band teacher answered the door, Shields bolted to the car where 2 other teenage "Lords of Chaos" members were waiting. That's when Foster opened fire, twice, killing Schwebes on his front doorstep.

"When I heard that 2nd shot, I thought it was for me," remembers Shields. "I really thought that 2nd one was me."

Mark's sister, Pat, still recalls the moment she learned her brother was gone. "I got a phone call from my father. My dad was very upset, he was crying, and he told me that Mark was dead," she said. "I asked, did he die in a car accident? He said no, he was murdered."

Detectives later tracked down and arrested the 4 teens responsible. Shields and 2 others took plea deals. Shields was sentenced to life in prison.

Foster's case went to trial. He was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death, by a 9-3 jury recommendation. Foster was 18 years old at the time of his arrest. He's now 39.

Foster remains on death row 21 years later. According to an estimate provided by the Florida Department of Corrections, Foster's housing and food have cost taxpayers about $440,000.

"It's a slow process. They take a lot of time, and the courts are jammed," said Joe D'Alessandro, the state attorney when Foster was convicted. He says recent changes to the state's death penalty laws only drag out the already lengthy appeals process.

"When there's a ruling and a change to the death penalty, then the lawyers say, 'Wait a minute, this should apply to my client,' and you start all over again," D'Alessandro said.

Just last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled all jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous. Foster's attorneys appealed, citing the ruling, but a judge later denied their request.

"We are living murder victims. Because we have to deal with this. It doesn't stop," said Pat Schwebes. "I don't care if [Foster's] sentence was turned over to life in prison. That would be a situation for me to say, alright, we're done. Move on."

Although Shields was sentenced to life in prison, he says he plans to ask a judge for an early release sometime in the near future.

Foster and the 2 other teens arrested in this case did not return our letters requesting an interview.

(source: NBC News)


State to seek death penalty against Gray

A little over a month after uncertainty unfolded in a Chambers County capital murder case, prosecutors have reached a decision and will seek the death penalty against a suspect in a Valley homicide dating back almost 2 years.

In July of 2015 Valley, Alabama police officers discovered the body of Renee Eldridge of Columbus, Ga. She had went missing over the 4th of July holiday weekend of that year. Her body was discovered 3 days later in Osanippa Creek in Valley. Only July 13th authorities took Stacey Gray into custody for her death near Notasulga in Macon County.

Gray has sat in the Chambers County Detention Facility in LaFayette awaiting an idea of what penalty he may face in the case if convicted. In September of 2016 it was announced that prosecutors would seek the death penalty against Gray. In March of 2017 that outcome was put on hold as prosecutors had until May 11th to make a decision on which penalty they would seek in the case against Gray.

Last week prosecutors came back and announced they would be seeking the death penalty against Gray for the capital murder charges in the death of Eldrige. Family members of Eldridge have made the 50 mile trip from Columbus to LaFayette for the hearings. Eldridge was laid to rest in her hometown of Columbus is July of 2015.



The overlooked argument that could save a death row inmate's life

[By Fredrick Vars, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. An expanded version of this article is forthcoming in the Washington & Lee Law Review Online.

The Supreme Court recently heard the case of an Alabama death row inmate, James McWilliams. A thus far overlooked argument could save his life and help level the playing field in other capital cases.

McWilliams was charged with rape and murder. He could not afford a lawyer, so one was assigned to him by the court. Before trial, his lawyer asked for and was granted a psychiatric evaluation. McWilliams, on psychotropic medication at trial, was convicted. Just two days prior to the judicial sentencing hearing, the state produced an expert report stating that McWilliams suffered from "cortical dysfunction attributable to right cerebral hemisphere dysfunction."

At the hearing, McWilliams's attorney requested a continuance to get a 2nd opinion from an independent expert, so as to understand both the report and voluminous mental health records produced by the state at the last minute. That request was denied. As a result, McWilliams presented only his own and his mother's testimony during the sentencing phase. Both described McWilliams's head trauma and poor mental health. In rebuttal, the state presented its own experts' mental health witnesses. An aggravating factor is a prerequisite for a death sentence, so the state also offered evidence of three such factors, including a past felony conviction. The judge sentenced McWilliams to death.

The question presented now is whether a 1985 Supreme Court case, Ake v. Oklahoma, clearly established that an indigent defendant who needs an expert is entitled to one who is independent of the prosecution. The parties have presented competing views of Ake, which were thoroughly vetted during oral argument. But perhaps the best argument remains hidden in plain sight.

Whatever else it said, Ake made perfectly clear that an indigent criminal defendant is entitled to "an expert of his own" "when the State presents psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness" during capital sentencing. There are good reasons the parties and the Court have thus far missed the relevance of this proposition for McWilliams.

First, the state in McWilliams did not expressly assert future dangerousness. But it clearly implied that McWilliams would be dangerous in the future when it introduced evidence of a prior felony conviction. Felony convictions are often relied upon to establish future dangerousness, and criminal history is a proxy for future offending. The past felony conviction implied that McWilliams was, and would continue to be, a recidivist.

Second, the state did not rely initially on psychiatric evidence, but presented it only in rebuttal. This distinction is immaterial. McWilliams's mental health was an issue well before sentencing and by far the most powerful mitigating factor. The state had its mental health experts at the ready for rebuttal. Surely the state cannot avoid Ake by reserving its psychiatric evidence for certain introduction later. This kind of sandbagging is patently unfair.

Understanding these 2 points, there can be no doubt that McWilliams's case fell squarely within the clearest part of Ake's mandate. The state put future dangerousness at issue and presented psychiatric evidence during his capital sentencing, so McWilliams was entitled to "an expert of his own."

In addition to deciding the case before the Supreme Court, this reasoning compels the conclusion that criminal defendants must be provided an independent expert in the sentencing phase of all death penalty cases. Ake explains that the state "has a profound interest in assuring that its ultimate sanction is not erroneously imposed." All mitigating circumstances must be considered. Attorneys are ill-equipped to gather social history and psychological evidence, so mitigation specialists are essential.

Another Supreme Court case, Wiggins v. Smith, is instructive. In that case, the Court sustained a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel because the defense attorney failed to adequately investigate social history and therefore failed to uncover powerful evidence of sexual abuse. The Court chastised defense counsel for failing to "commission" a social history report. In other words, the Court instructed defense counsel to "commission" an expert report, not just rely on the state's expert. A constitutional duty to gather mitigating evidence is meaningful only if indigent defendants are provided with independent expert help.

The Court in Ake promised independent expertise in capital sentencing. It has a chance now to make good on that promise, and perhaps save a life in the process.



Death penalty lives on in Louisiana

An effort to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana died in a House committee Wednesday after one of the bill's original co-sponsors switched his vote.

The bill's failure in the House Criminal Justice Committee signaled that a duplicate measure in the Senate by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would suffer the same fate when it arrived, causing him to shelve his effort as well. "Why would I bring a bill (to the Senate floor) that can't get out of this (House) committee?" Claitor said.

Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, said fellow former lawman Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, didn't warn him that he was voting against the bill. Pylant was the swing vote in the 9-8 decision. "I was surprised," Landry said. "It's not the way I would have conducted my business with a colleague."

But Pylant said he never intended to vote for House Bill 101, but instead co-sponsored the measure so he could get his message out to the public that the state should start executing those who have been given the death penalty.

Pylant has said in previous interviews he believes the death penalty is just, but it shouldn't exist if Louisiana wasn't following through on executions. "There are a few who don't deserve to live," he said.

Louisiana has carried out just 1 execution in the past 10 years and that was of an inmate who asked that the sentence be carried out.

"I was trying to bring attention to the fact we're not doing it now; I co-sponsored the bill to get the message out that we're not doing it," Pylant said. "I got on line so I could get my message out. We need to either get in the business (of executions) or get out of it."

Landry said he will bring the bill back next year.

"I still fundamentally believe there should be a moratorium on the death penalty," he said."It's cost us too many dollars and too many lives and too many families have been broken up."

Faith leaders like Bishop Shelton Fabre, representing the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified the death penalty is an affront to God. Former death row inmates who were ultimately exonerated like Ray Crone of Arizona also testified in favor of the bill.

"Ending the death penalty is not about public policy or public opinion but because of our belief that all human life is sacred," Fabre said. "It's essential in ending a culture of death and creating a culture of life."

But families of victims testified against the bill, while Louisiana's district attorneys said it's an appropriate tool in the most heinous cases where the jury's conscience has been shocked by the viciousness of a crime.

Edie Triche's son Jeremy Triche, a St. John the Baptist deputy, was murdered in 2012.

"The death penalty will not return my son, but it's simply a matter of justice," she said.

(source: Monroe News Star)


House committee rejects death penalty bill

A bill that would have done away with the death penalty in Louisiana failed to make it out of committee.

House Bill 101 from Rep. Terry Landry would have eliminated death penalty for offenses committed on or after August 1 of this year.

The House Administration of Criminal Justice rejected the bill by a 9-8 vote.

Before a final vote, lawmakers did approve an amendment that would have left it up to voters to do way with the death penalty. The State Senate will take up a similar bill.


KENTUCKY----female to face death penalty

Prosecutors to seek death penalty against woman charged with killing family

The Commonwealth Attorney's Office says prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Courtney Taylor.

Kentucky State Police say Taylor shot and killed her husband Larry, and her 2 teen daughters, Jolie and Jessie on Friday, January 13th. Police say she also raised a gun at 2 Whitley County Sheriff's deputies when they entered her home.

Taylor pleaded not guilty during her circuit court arraignment to 3 counts of murder and 2 counts of wanton endangerment.

Back in February, a detective testified that Taylor told them she shot her husband after he depleted a cash settlement of more than $264,000 she had deposited in June.

(source: WKYT news)


Attorney Jacquelyn L. Ford Examines Death Penalty Issues in Oklahoma----Oklahoma civil rights attorney Jacquelyn L. Ford discusses the state's pervasive capital punishment problems and innocent people being sentenced to death.

According to an April 26, 2017, article in The Intercept, the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recently recommended that a moratorium on carrying out capital punishment in the state be continued indefinitely. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission report also concluded that innocent people have "undeniably" been sentenced to death in Oklahoma.

"The obvious problem is the permanency of the death penalty. What if we got it wrong?" asked attorney Jacquelyn L. Ford, a native Oklahoman and founder of Jacquelyn Ford Law. "Our system is not a perfect one, and the convictions are only as accurate as the evidence and quality of defense presented. However, in a state facing a $900 million deficit, the real issue becomes the foolish use of our limited funds. The costs of the death penalty are shocking, especially when you take into account the money that is not spent on appropriately funding public defenders' offices."

In fact, Oklahoma public defenders have finite resources, and cannot operate on the same playing field as government lawyers. "Public defenders are routinely in violation of American Bar Association recommended number of cases per person," added Ford. The result is lack of effective investigation and defense, which results in lack of credible convictions.

The Intercept article also reports that the state of Oklahoma killed a man in January 2015 using an untested and improper drug, and that the same drug had been delivered for a 2nd execution scheduled for September 2015. This followed a botched execution in April 2014 in which an inmate struggled on a gurney before dying 43 minutes into his lethal injection.

"Oklahoma's problems with the death penalty have been well-documented and pervasive, with innocent men being murdered by their own government," concluded Ford. "After multiple cruel and unusual botched executions and a last-minute stay of execution from the Governor, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt launched a full-scale investigation into the issue and discovered that the Department of Corrections had been using potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. In case your chemistry is rusty, potassium chloride is an approved chemical for lethal injection, while potassium acetate is not an approved chemical."



Convicted Killer Faces Death Sentence A 3rd Time In Same Case

The Arizona Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for a convicted killer.

It is the 3rd death sentence Darrel Pandeli has faced for the same case.

The 1st time Pandeli faced the death sentence for killing and mutilating 43-year-old Holly Iler, it was 1997 - 4 years after her murder.

In 2002, that case was overturned after a U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a different death penalty case that impacted several death sentences nationwide for procedural violations.

A lower court then returned his 2nd death penalty case in 2006 after adding aggravated circumstances to his case, including the 1991 murder of another woman and the "especially heinous and depraved" manner in which he killed Holly Iler.

But that death sentence was also thrown out by a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling on the grounds Pandeli's lawyers mishandled his case.

As of Monday, the state Supreme Court reinstated his death sentence claiming the lower court was incorrect on its procedural ruling.

(source: KJZZ news)


Inmate Dennis Bratton may face death penalty following conviction Wednesday in stomping death of his cellmate

Defense counsel for Dennis Bratton told jurors he fought for his life and acted in self-defense when he killed his cellmate 4 years ago.

The prosecution derided that argument, saying Bratton's "ridiculous" claim of self-defense didn't explain why he continued to stomp on his cellmate's head after the man was unconscious lying on the concrete floor of their cell. He wore prison work boots during the killing.

A jury of 10 women and 2 men deliberated for 2 days before finding Bratton guilty Wednesday afternoon of assault by a life prisoner with force causing death. Bratton, 47, showed no reaction as the verdict was read.

The assault charge is similar to a murder charge, but specific to Bratton's circumstances since he was already serving a life sentence when the killing occurred.

Jurors will return to court May 30 to begin the penalty phase of the trial. They can either recommend death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Bratton killed 27-year-old Andrew Keel the morning of May 16, 2013, in the cell they shared at Delano's Kern Valley State Prison.

Prosecutor Andi Bridges said Bratton repeatedly stomped on Keel's head before strangling him with string to make sure he was dead. Photographs showed the only injuries Bratton suffered were bruising to his heels caused by the stomping.

In her closing argument Monday, Bridges said Bratton was "unusually calm" after the killing, and later bragged about it to other inmates. Another inmate, James Fortini, testified Bratton made a comment about hurting Keel just days before the killing.

Deputy Public Defenders Pam Singh and Paul Cadman don't dispute Bratton killed Keel.

Singh, however, told jurors Bratton was in a brutal fight for his life. She said Keel told him, "You need to sleep sometime," and Bratton believed Keel was going to cut his throat.

Earlier, Keel had told Bratton he slashed the face or neck of another inmate who refused to participate in a race riot while he was incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison, Singh said.

She argued Fortini and other inmates who testified for the prosecution could not be trusted. She noted Fortini had admitted to lying to investigators before telling them about Bratton's comment to hurt Keel.

Both Bratton and Keel were affiliated with white racist prison gangs.

Bratton was serving a life sentence for a 1997 conviction in San Diego County on charges of attempted murder and multiple accounts of assault with a deadly weapon.



Judge throws out lawsuit challenging California's execution law

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that gives prison authorities responsibility for establishing procedures for lethal injection executions.

After voters passed a plan in November intended to speed up executions, the ACLU of Northern California challenged a state law that gave California's corrections department wide authority to establish an execution protocol.

Another lawsuit to overturn the measure is still pending before the California Supreme Court.

The ACLU's suit contended that a long-established law amended in the mid-1990s violated the state Constitution by allowing an agency - the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation - to decide how to carry out executions.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell disagreed, saying the Legislature had acted within its authority.

"The CDCR is arguably the best institution to be tasked with monitoring the development of new injections and monitoring the pain, speed, and reliability of executions as they are carried out in other states," Colwell wrote. State lawyers received a copy of the decision Monday.

If the challenge had been successful, the ACLU probably would have been able to delay the resumption of executions.

California has not executed an inmate since 2006. Courts struck down California's previous 3-drug lethal injection method, and Gov. Jerry Brown's administration did not propose a new protocol until last year.

More than 700 prisoners are on California's death row, the largest in the country, and about 16 have exhausted their appeals and could be executed.

The inmates facing imminent execution are older than 50 - 1 is approaching 80 - and were condemned for crimes that took place decades ago.

The ACLU's suit said the Legislature, not a state agency, must set parameters for the kind of lethal injection procedure California adopts.

Lawmakers should be required to decide how much pain is acceptable during an execution, how long it should take for an inmate to die and the level of reliability of the execution process, the suit said.

Linda Lye, senior staff attorney for Northern California's ACLU, said the group intends to appeal.

"On a matter as controversial and important as the death penalty, the Legislature needs to make fundamental policy decisions about how we conduct executions by lethal injection," she said.

She noted that courts have struck down CDCR execution protocols several times in the past.

"It is clearly an agency that needs more guidance from the Legislature," she said.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Lush launches national campaign to abolish US death penalty

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics has partnered with Death Penalty Focus to launch a US-wide campaign calling for the end of the death penalty.

The brand will host events in store to raise awareness of the cause and encourage its community members to get involved. The company has also launched an exclusive bath bomb called 31 States, with 100 % of the purchase price to be donated to organizations working toward the abolition of capital punishment.

"We are very pleased to partner with a company like Lush," says DPF President Mike Farrell. "Not only is the company's business model based on ethical, environmental, and socially conscious principles, but it brings awareness of the death penalty and its flaws to a different segment of the population."

"In 2016, death sentences, executions and support for capital punishment were at an historic low, making flaws and failures of the death penalty more apparent than ever," said Carleen Pickard, Ethical Campaigns Specialist at Lush Cosmetics. "The more people learn about the death penalty, the less they like it, and we're excited to bring this important issue to our customers."



Tory aide: 'I was hired as an execution consultant to teach US prison staff how to hang people'----Tony Homewood, Conservative election agent for Wakefield candidate Antony Calvert, revealed he was an "execution consultant" and had been "instrumental" in the hanging of serial killer Westley Allan Dodd

A Tory candidate's senior aide has revealed he was hired by a US prison to teach staff how execute people by hanging.

Tony Homewood, who is Conservative election agent for Wakefield candidate Antony Calvert, was employed by the state of Washington as an "executions consultant in the 1990s."

Homewood told BBC Three Counties: "In the 90s, when the Americans hanged Westley Allan Dodd in Olympia, they didn't really know how to do it, so they looked around for someone who knew something about hanging. And I was a recognised historian on British judicial executions.

"And they engaged me as a consultant."

Tony Homewood said he slept "sucking my thumb like a baby" the night Dodd was executed

Host Jonathan Vernon-Smith was taken aback, saying: "You were a consultant executioner?"

Homewood said: "I was yes. For Scott Blonien, the [assistant] Attorney General at Walla Walla state prison."

Vernon-Smith asked: "So they wanted to know how they could effectively hang people and kill them?

Homewood replied: "How to do it without strangling them to death, basically. Yeah.

"Unfortunately - or, you might say fortunately depending on your viewpoint - the courts in America ruled it to be cruel and unusual punishment, and there were only 3 in the 90s and then there were no more."

Dodd was a serial killer and child molester, who has been called "one of the most evil killers in history."

He was convicted for tying 2 10 and 11 year old boys to a tree, raping them and then stabbing them to death. He abused and murdered a 3rd child in his home.

Dodd chose hanging as his preferred method of execution, adding that he chose the method because it was how his final victim died.

He also asked for the execution to be televised, but the request was denied.

He called into the radio station to take part in a debate on moors murderer Ian Brady, arguing the serial killer should have been put to death for his crimes.

He argued Brady had been able to "torture" the mother of victim Keith Bennett, whose body was never found, by claiming for decades he knew where he was buried, but refusing to reveal the location.

"Personally, I think that 10 quid for the executioner," he said, "or 15 guineas by '65, '64, to have hung him at Manchester would have saved the world a lot of trouble as far as I'm concerned."

Asked if he thought he could have conducted the execution himself, he said: "Yes, I could do it."

The host asked him how he knew he could perform an execution: "Have you performed one? Have you killed someone?"

"That's by the way," he replied. "That's not what we're talking about. We're here to talk about the death penalty and that's carrying out the sentence of the court."

He boasted he'd been told the 1st execution he consulted on was one of the quickest deaths ever

He added: "Let's put it this way, I orchestrated the execution of people in America and I didn't lose any sleep over it. Maybe I'm wrong. Taking someone's life...takes some doing, I'm sure it would have some effect.

"I'm very good at rationalising this sort of thing."

He said he had been "instrumental" in the death of prisoners, but had not been there when the execution took place.

He told authorities how tight to tie the rope and how far to drop the prisoner, among other things.

He said: "Well, Westley Dodd hanged three children. So hey ho, I'm not particularly worried about it. I'm very good at detaching myself from these things, you know what I mean?"

He added that when he went to bed that night he was "sucking my thumb like a baby. It didn’t bother me at all."

He boasted he had been told by the assistant Attorney General that the execution had been one of the quickest he'd ever seen.

But he denied he was unemotional. "I've got Grandchildren,' he said. "And I love them to death."

He said he wouldn't want to do the job every day, and he wouldn't want to hang people "willy nilly."

He said he advised executioners on a 2nd prisoner, who they were concerned about hanging because he was overweight.



Amnesty International calls for scheduled execution for Muhammad Ridzuan be halted

Amnesty International today called on the Singapore authorities to halt the execution of a Singaporean man scheduled for Friday 19 May 2017 and to immediately re-establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Muhammad Ridzuan Bin Md Ali, a 32 year old-Singaporean national, was sentenced to death on 10 April 2013 after he was convicted of trafficking diamorphine under the Misuse of Drugs Act. His 4 subsequent appeals were rejected, most recently in December 2016. His family learned of the rejection of his clemency application on 15 May 2017.

In 2013 the High Court judge found that Muhammad Ridzuan Bin Md Ali's involvement was restricted to that of a "courier". Since November 2012, the courts of Singapore have had the discretion not to impose the death penalty in certain circumstances. In drug trafficking cases, defendants may be spared the death penalty if they are found to have been involved only in transporting, sending or delivering a prohibited substance, or only offered to commit these acts (as "couriers") and if the Public Prosecutor can certify that they cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau to disrupt further drug-related activities. Both conditions must be met in order for judges to have the discretion to impose a sentence of life imprisonment with caning or death.

However, the Attorney General refused to issue a certificate of cooperation in Muhammad Ridzuan Bin Md Ali's case and he was therefore sentenced to the mandatory death penalty. Mohammad Ridzuan Bin Md Ali's co-defendant, who was also convicted of drug trafficking and found to be a "courier" at the same trial in 2013, was instead issued with a certificate of cooperation by the prosecution and was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane. International human rights law requires that the use of the death penalty be restricted to the "most serious crimes".

The UN Human Rights Committee has on numerous occasions found that drug-related offences do not meet the criterion of "most serious crimes", a finding reiterated by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The mandatory imposition of the death penalty is against international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Committee has said that "the automatic imposition of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, in violation of article 6, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in circumstances where the death penalty is imposed without any possibility of taking into account the defendant's personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence".

Furthermore, under Singaporean law, when there is a presumption of drug possession for the aim of trafficking, the burden of proof shifts from the prosecutor to the defendant. This violates the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Amnesty International calls on the authorities of Singapore to immediately halt the execution of Muhammad Ridzuan Bin Md Ali and any other prisoners and swiftly move to abolish the death penalty once and for all.

The authorities of Singapore introduced a moratorium on executions in July 2012, to allow the Parliament to review the country's mandatory death penalty laws. Since executions resumed in 2014, the authorities of Singapore have executed at least 11 people, including eight convicted of drug trafficking and 3 of murder. At least 7 new mandatory death sentences were imposed for drug trafficking in 2016 and at least 38 people were on death row at the end of the year.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally as a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. As of today, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; in the Asia Pacific region, 19 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and a further eight are abolitionist in practice. There is no evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect on crime.



ADPAN calls on Singapore to immediately halt the imminent execution of Muhammad Ridzuan bin Mohd Ali

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) urges the government of Singapore to halt the execution of Mr Muhammad Ridzuan bin Mohd Ali, 31, now said to be scheduled on 19 May 2017. We call on the President of the Republic of Singapore Tony Tan Keng Yam to show mercy and grant Ridzuan clemency.

Muhammaad Ridzuan and Abdul Haleem were both convicted for 2 charges of trafficking in diamorphine under s 5(1)(a) of the MDA read with s 34 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed). However, only Abdul Haleem received the certificate of substantive assistance. This resulted in them receiving different sentences. Abdul Haleem was sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane, and Muhammaad Ridzuan was given the mandatory death sentence.

In Singapore, for drug offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, it is only when the Public Prosecutor issues the certificate of substantive assistance pursuant to s 33B(2)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) will the courts have the discretion to hand down other sentences, other than the death penalty. In Muhammaad Ridzuan's case, despite having provided the necessary information to the Central Narcotics Bureau as to who gave him the drugs, with full name and identification, he was not given the Certificate, thus leaving the judge with no choice but to sentence him to death.

ADPAN is disheartened by the seemingly arbitrary issuance of the Certificates of Substantive Assistance by the prosecution. Discretion on sentencing must be with the courts. It is totally unjustifiable for the Public Prosecutor to have the ultimate power to decide who gets issued the Certificate, consequently, who gets to live or who not.

While we understand Singapore's public health concerns on the entry of illegal drugs, we strongly oppose the use of death penalty as a solution. There is no evidence of efficacy of the death penalty in solving addiction or the entry of prohibited substances, even in Singapore. Despite carrying out executions, the Singaporean authorities continue to arrest drug mules and intercept large amounts of illegal drugs. The death penalty has shown to be not a deterrent.

Ridzuan was not raised in the best of circumstances, having to grapple with poverty that pushed him into working a series of jobs to contribute to his family's income. Ridzuan did not get the best opportunities in life and he has realised his wrongdoings while in prison, and we believe he has demonstrated the potential for rehabilitation. His family has attested how he renewed showing more maturity in his words and actions. The execution on Friday, if to take place, will deprive a changed man of his right to life. In a statement, his family have pointed out that there would be no opportunity for him to commit a similar crime if his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The death penalty is an affront to human dignity. It disregards the right to life, the very basis of all human rights. ADPAN believes that these rights should be protected by the State at all times. We therefore ask the President and the Government of Singapore to show mercy and stop Ridzuan's execution, and to establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Ngeow Chow Ying; For and on behalf of the ADPAN Executive Committee

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) is an independent cross-regional network committed to working for an end to the death penalty across the Asia Pacific region. ADPAN is made up of NGOs, organizations, civil society groups, lawyers and individual members, not linked to any political party, religion or government and campaigns against the death penalty. It currently has members in 28 countries: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Vietnam, UK, USA.



2 charged for same crime but only 1 will hang - Prosecutor's role raises questions

The 2 men were charged for the same crime of drug trafficking but because of a technicality, only 1 of them will be hanged.

On Wednesday, his clemency appeal to the President was rejected. In Singapore, clemency petitions are decided by the Cabinet, and the President has no choice but to accede to it.

The fate of 32-year old Muhammad Ridzuan bin Md Ali is now sealed, pending some miracle, and he will be executed on Friday.

He was arrested along with Abdul Haleem in 2010 for trafficking 72.5g of heroin into Singapore.

Abdul Haleem, however, was spared the death sentence because he was granted the Certificate of Cooperation (COC) by the Prosecutor, while Muhammad was denied one.

Muhammad's pending execution has thus once again shines the spotlight on what anti-death penalty activists call a flaw in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) - the Public Prosecutor's powers vis a vis the COC.

In Singapore, the Attorney General is also the Public Prosecutor, unlike in some other countries where the 2 roles are separate.

Under Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), a trafficker can be spared the death sentence if he satisfies 2 criteria:

That his role in trafficking drugs was that of a courier, and nothing more

That the Prosecutor has issued him a COC

The convict should also have helped in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore."

The Prosecutor, during the court case, has in fact certified that Muhammad was a mere courier. However, for unknown reasons, the Prosecutor also decided not to issue him the COC which would have allowed Muhammad to apply to the court to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane, as was the case with Abdul Haleem.

"Despite the finding by the Court that Ridzuan was a mere courier, the Public Prosecutor refused to give Ridzuan a certificate of substantial assistance," Eugene Thuraisingam, Muhammad's lawyer, posted on his Facebook page following the president's rejection of clemency.

"The Public Prosecutor however gave his joint trafficker, Abdul Haleem a certificate of substantial assistance. Ridzuan was therefore sentenced to death, while Abdul Haleem was given a certificate of substantial assistance and sentence to life imprisonment."

During sentencing by the courts, Abdul Haleem had asked to be given the same sentence as Muhammad Ridzuan, if the latter was sent to the gallows.

The Straits Times reported the exchange between Abdul Haleem and judge Tay Yong Kwang:

Choking with emotion, he [Abdul Haleem] told Justice Tay Yong Kwang: "If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I’d rather go down with him."

But the judge replied: "The court does not have complete discretion to do whatever you want me do."

Abdul Haleem then pointed out that he and his friend faced the same charges.

The judge told him: "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not."

In effect, the Public Prosecutor now has power over the courts as well: if the Public Prosecutor does not issue a convict with the COC, the courts cannot commute his sentence.

Yet, in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), the Prosecutor's decision making, in whether a COC is issued or not, is shrouded in secrecy and not even the highest court in the land, the Court of Appeal, can question it, or conduct a judicial review of it unless "it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice."

The MDA states:


In short, the Prosecutor has iron-clad, virtually unfettered powers to decide whether a person gets to live or die.

Such dubious decisions, done behind closed doors and with complete non-transparency, can result in inexplicable outcomes, as it is with Muhammad’s case, where 2 men charged for the same crime can receive exactly opposite punishments.

"Ridzuan told the [Central Narcotics Bureau] who gave him the drugs," said his sister Noraisah. "He gave them a description, with full name and identification. I feel that this information is quite strong, and I don't know why they said that they are still not happy with it."

No one knows why the Prosecutor decided to issue Abdul Haleem the COC, while denying the same to Muhammad Ridzuan because the Prosecutor is not required by law to release or explain his reasons, either to the convict's lawyers or even to his family.

Everything is decided behind a veil of silence and secrecy.

It is disturbing that a person can be condemned to his death just because he is deemed to not have "substantively assisted" the police in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore."

Whether drug trafficking activities are "disrupted" or not depends on so many different factors, most of which would be beyond the control of the inmate.

For example, it would depend on whether the authorities actually act on information provided by the inmate.

It would also depend on whether the authorities take the appropriate action, or are competent in doing so.

And how would an inmate incarcerated on death row in Changi Prison in Singapore be able to "disrupt" drug activities "outside Singapore"? Would this not depend entirely on how the authorities act on the information provided by the inmate?

With the law prohibiting any judicial review or questioning of the Prosecutor's decision, except when such decision is proved to have been made on bad faith or malice, there really is no way of knowing if the Prosecutor has done the right or necessary thing in acting on the information provided by the inmate.

Clearly, this practice of vesting the Prosecutor with so much power is highly flawed.

His decision and decision-making process are effectively unquestionable, giving him seemingly unfettered authority.

Such absurdity has resulted in decisions which allow one person to be spared death while another, charged for the same crime, is sent to the gallows.

The rule of law insists that decisions, especially those involving capital punishment which are irreversible, must be made according to the law, and must be opened to review or question.

In 2011, lawyer M Ravi filed a constitutional challenge on the case of Yong Vui Kong, which centred on whether the Cabinet's decision in granting clemency is opened to judicial review.

The Court of Appeal, in its ruling, said "the making of a clemency decision pursuant to Art 22P is now 'not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power ... [but] a part of the [c]onstitutional scheme'."

Article 22P refers to the president's powers to grant clemencies.

The Court of Appeal said that if "conclusive evidence is produced to the court to show that the Cabinet never met to consider the offender's case at all, or that the Cabinet did not consider the Art 22P(2) materials placed before it and merely tossed a coin to determine what advice to give to the President, the Cabinet would have acted in breach of Art 22P(2)."

The Court added:


Would it also not follow that if the courts are unable to intervene and question the Prosecutor's decision on granting the COC, there is a risk that the Prosecutor could make an erroneous decision based on wrong facts or even on superficial whims which, under existing laws, could result in the death of an inmate?

Yet the law says such decisions "shall be at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecutor... unless it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice."

The granting, or not, of a COC by the Prosecutor, to borrow the words of the Court of Appeal, is 'not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power.'

It is in fact from constitutional powers vested in him which should make him accountable, and not protected behind a wall of opacity.

And if he is to be accountable, then surely his decisions must be opened to judicial review.

Why was Haleem Abdul spared death, while Muhammad Ridzuan was not?

How is it that a person can be condemned to death just simply because he is deemed to not have "substantively assisted" the police?

How did we arrive at a law which says that not cooperating with the police is, effectively, a capital offence?



Death for 2 convicts in Thane gangrape-murder: Rarest of rare, says court, draws parallel with Delhi case----'Apart from the sheer brutality of their act, their apathy towards human life is reflected from their behaviour', says the court order; convicts had raped 2 ragpicker women and assaulted them with sharp weapons, killing 1 of them

sessions court that sentenced 2 men to death last week in a case of gangrape and murder has observed that the case falls within the purview of the "rarest of rare" category owing to its brutality and the fact that the accused took advantage of 2 women by luring them with the promise of a job.

"Apart from the sheer brutality of their act, their apathy towards human life is reflected from their behaviour of taking the girls from the railway station by saying that they will provide them job and instead...took both the victims to another place and thereafter committed offence. (It) also discloses that they have breached the trust of the victims, therefore, it clearly indicates that this would really fall within the category of rarest of rare case," the court has said in its detailed order.

The victims, who worked as ragpickers, were promised a catering job by the 2 accused, Rahimuddin Shaikh and Sandip Shirsath, in 2012. The 2 women were eventually taken to an isolated spot in CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai and made to consume liquor by the accused. After that, the 2 women were allegedly raped and also assaulted with sharp weapons, including a hacksaw blade and a knife. While both the women were left to die, 1 of them managed to escape. A rickshaw-puller saw her lying unconscious in an injured state and informed the police. She had sustained 16 injuries on her body, including on her neck, legs and stomach and remained in a hospital for almost a month for treatment.

The court heavily relied on the deposition of the survivor, who was around 18-19 years old at the time of the incident. The court also relied on the statement of a colleague of the 2 accused who worked as caterers. The colleague had told the court that on the day of the incident, the men returned to their staff room in an inebriated state and claimed to have killed a woman. He claimed that since the men were drunk, he did not pay attention to their claim. On the next day, when he read in the newspaper that a woman was found raped and killed in Belapur, he realised it could have been his colleagues and informed the police when he was approached for inquiry, he told the court.

The defence claimed that the men were falsely implicated and said the chemical analyser report received from the Forensic Science Laboratory were inconclusive as no semen was detected on the victims. They further argued that no injuries were found on the private parts of the victims and the results of DNA tests conducted on the accused were also not received. The court, however, concluded that the absence of injury on private parts is not a ground to conclude there was no rape as the victims could have been threatened and hence, did not resist.

The court also referred to the recent confirmation of death penalty to the accused in the December 16, 2012 gangrape in Delhi to conclude that the present case also falls in the rarest of rare category for the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was committed. The court also said since the men returned to their workplace in a drunken state after the incident, it indicates they had no remorse.

The court also turned down the defence's contention that since the victims had consumed liquor, it meant "passive consent" for the act. The court observed that in the incident, one victim ended up dead as she was assaulted with a hexablade (sic) and a knife and the other victim too was assaulted after being raped. "So the evidence shows that both of them had never consented for the alleged act of rape, if they would have consented for that then such brutal act would not have occurred," the court observed in its 97-page judgment. It directed the 2 accused to pay Rs 15,000 each as compensation to the injured victim and the kin of the deceased victim. The District Legal Services Authority, Thane, has also been asked to recommend the quantum of compensation to be paid to the victim.



Pak executes 4 terrorists convicted by military courts

Pakistan Wednesday hanged 4 "hardcore" terrorists convicted of "heinous" terrorism-related offences by controversial military courts in the restive northwestern province, taking the number to over 160 since the Peshawar terror attack in 2014.

The terrorists belonging to a banned outfit were executed in a jail in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the worst hit due to violence by Taliban terrorists.

"They were involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism, including killing of innocent civilians, destruction of educational institutions, attacking Armed Forces of Pakistan and Law Enforcement Agencies," the army said.

It said the terrorists were awarded death sentence by the military courts which work in secrecy due to fear of attacks by militants.

Military courts were restored in March for another 2 years after their initial 2-year term expired in January.

The courts were set up after a constitutional amendment following a terror attack on an Army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014 which killed more than 150 people, most of them students.

Human rights group Justice Project Pakistan says 441 people have been executed since the Peshawar attack.

Pakistan has been fighting various extremist groups for over a decade. Militant attacks have killed tens of thousands of people.

The military courts have handed down the death penalty to more than 160 militants.




The withdrawal of hard-line candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf from Iran's presidential election is a sure sign that the decks are being cleared to make way for notorious executioner and former State Prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi. This was the view expressed today by Struan Stevenson, international lecturer on the Middle East and former Member of the European Parliament. Speaking in Edinburgh, Mr Stevenson said: "Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has for some time now been critical of the incumbent president Hassan Rouhani, whom he considers too weak to deal with the new muscular challenge posed by the Trump administration. Khamenei has even criticised some of Rouhani's election slogans where the president claimed the nuclear deal he brokered with the West had removed 'the shadow of war' from Iran.

"Khamenei is alarmed at accusations by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has accused Iran of being the world's main sponsor of terror. He now wants Rouhani to be removed from office and replaced by the ultra hard-line executioner Raisi, a senior cleric who wears the black turban, signifying his direct descendancy from the Prophet Mohammad. Raisi was a key member of the 'Death Commission' who in 1988 ordered the execution of over 30,000 political prisoners. Clearly Raisi's blood-encrusted legacy is more appealing to Khamenei than the record of the so-called 'moderate' Rouhani, under whose repressive leadership more than 3,000 people have been executed since he took office in 2013, making Iran the world's number 1 death penalty nation per-capita.

"Clearly Khamenei has ordered Qalibaf to withdraw from the race, to avoid splitting the hard-line ultra conservative vote in the 1st round of elections on Friday 19th May. Khamenei's manipulation of the Iranian elections exposes the fact that they are a sham and a scandal. Over 1,000 people initially registered as potential candidates, only to be disqualified by the Supreme Leader Khamenei. Those disqualified from standing even included former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who although considered a fanatical tyrant by the West, was also clearly thought to be too soft to face the new robust approach from the US administration.

"There are increasing signs of widespread protests across Iran, with the emergence of courageous posters and banners proclaiming support for regime change and for the outlawed key democratic opposition movement the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI). Most of the 30,000 political prisoners hanged in 1988 by Ebrahim Raisi were supporters of the PMOI. Their ghosts may yet return to haunt him."

Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014.



Ian Brady escaped hanging - and defined attitudes to the death penalty----Apart from their sheer horror, the Moors murders stayed in the public imagination because they marked the end of capital punishment

Ian Brady retained his dark grip on the British imagination right to the very end. The 1965 police photograph of the Moors murderer stared out from the front pages once more this week to mark his death at 79, just as they have done so often ever since Brady was convicted of 3 murders in May 1966. Few criminals of any era are front-page news for half a century; Brady and his accomplice, Myra Hindley, were unquestionably 2 of them.

The most obvious reason for this 50-year notoriety is, of course, the sheer horror of the crimes that Brady planned and committed. The details of his tortures and acts are unbearable. The transcript of victims' pleas, never mind the tapes that were heard in court, are as shocking as anything one could ever encounter.

But the revolting nature of the crimes, important though it is, is not the only explanation for the long shadow that Brady cast over Britain into the 21st century. Though the serial murder of children for pleasure, and the involvement of a woman as co-killer, marked the Moors murders out in the annals of British crime, they also came at a potently significant time in the evolution of British penal policy: the abolition of the death penalty.

Brady and Hindley carried out their killings between 1963 and 1965. Brady was arrested on 7 October 1965.

However in December 1964, with Harold Wilson's Labour in a small parliamentary majority, the House of Commons voted by 355 to 170 in favour of the backbencher Sydney Silverman's bill to abolish hanging in Britain. By the time that Brady was arrested, Silverman's bill had almost completed its parliamentary journey. A month after the arrest, the bill became law. Hanging was abolished on 9 November 1965.

So by the time that Brady and Hindley's cases came to trial, at Chester in April 1966, the sentence for murder that would have applied at the time they killed their victims had changed from hanging to life imprisonment. As a result, for very many people, Brady and Hindley became the totemic faces of a Britain that they believed had "gone soft" on crime.

The importance of the intimacy between the Moors murders and the abolition of the death penalty is hard to overstate. Even before the trial, the killings became the focus of a campaign to bring back hanging.

In the general election of 31 March 1966, Silverman was challenged in the Nelson and Colne constituency in northern Lancashire, which he had represented since 1935, by Patrick Downey, the uncle of 1 of his victims, Lesley Ann Downey. Downey stood on a single-plank, pro-hanging platform. Silverman held on with an increased majority (he died 2 years later). But Downey took 5,117 votes, nearly 14% of the total, amid great publicity.

Downey's intervention was the trigger for an immediate repoliticisation of the hanging issue by senior Conservatives, notably the former cabinet minister Duncan Sandys. As early as the autumn of 1966, Sandys tried to launch a bill to reintroduce hanging for the killers of police officers.

This was to be the first of a regularly recurring series of attempts to bring back hanging over the ensuing 20 years, generally backed by large majorities in the opinion polls. And while Brady himself had not killed a police officer, he and Hindley were regularly front and centre of every press and parliamentary campaign to bring back the rope.

50 years on, the campaign to bring back hanging has lost most of its momentum. Conservative party general election manifestos no longer commit, as they did in the 1970s and 1980s, to a free vote on the issue in the next parliament. Parliament has not debated hanging since 1998. Most MPs of all parties are now firm abolitionists. In 2015 the British Social Attitudes Survey reported that only 48% of the public supported bringing back the rope, perhaps the 1st time that the return of capital punishment fell short of a poll majority. It was the lowest figure since the survey began in 1983, when around 75% of people were in favour.

The media coverage of Brady's death shows that all the many passions that were aroused for so long by his killings have not quite died with him. There will still be journalists, retired police officers and relatives of the victims who will demand another inquiry or dig on Saddleworth Moor, where the victims' bodies were buried. Yet when Brady's ashes are disposed of - perhaps they already have been - Britain can perhaps finally lay to rest the long and lingering possibility from the 1960s that hanging will ever return.

(source: The Guardian)


Japan's opposition bloc gears up to block controversial conspiracy bill, submits no-confidence motion

Japan's opposition parties on Wednesday submitted a no-confidence motion in the justice minister to the lower house of parliament and in doing so delayed the passage of a controversial anti-terror conspiracy bill that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is ardently trying to force into law.

The no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, which has been brought by the main opposition Democratic Party along with three smaller parties, takes aim directly at Kaneda who they have been lambasting for his mishandling of debate on the issue.

According to the no-confidence motion, Kaneda, who is in charge of deliberations on the bill in parliament, has "continued to display behavior unbecoming of a cabinet minister, having been unable to answer even basic questions, such as whether ordinary people will be targeted by this bill."

Opposition parties also fundamentally maintain that the bill remains a danger to the privacy of ordinary citizens and could unjustly punish civic groups and labor unions.

Nevertheless, it has been approved by Abe's cabinet and has the backing of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led bloc.

They believe that when it comes into effect, it will be able to tackle what Abe has described could be potential terrorist threats on Japanese soil associated with the hosting of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics here.

The ruling coalition is hoping to get the contentious bill enacted after debate in both chambers of parliament by the end of the current parliamentary session on June 18, and Kaneda has told the press he wants to continue in his role, despite being admonished by the opposition camp.

Nevertheless, opposition party heads have stated that the mere semantic changes made to the final draft of the bill -- that itself has been rewritten numerous times -- are not enough for them to sign off on its passage through the lower chamber.

They have collectively voiced concern that the state would be allowed unprecedented powers of surveillance and could persecute civic groups without unequivocal justification, if the bill becomes law.

In the latest iteration of the bill, which is aimed at amending the law on organized crime, informed sources said recently the charge of conspiracy has simply been reworded as "planning terrorism and similar acts." Versions that have since been scrapped applied to "broader" groups.

The contentious bill also proposes punishing crimes in connection with the expansion of illegal activities of organized crime groups and covers 277 possible offenses spanning systematic killings, drug crimes and hijacking.

Those caught plotting one of the crimes could face up to five years in prison if the crimes they are planning carry the death penalty.

This prison sentence will also be applied if the crimes planned carry a jail sentence of 10 years or more, according to the bill.

The government maintains that the bill is needed to protect against potential acts of terrorism that may occur during the Olympics in Tokyo, with Abe's administration claiming that the latest version of the bill is less invasive than previous versions that were submitted and failed.

But opposition parties, lawyers and civic groups have voiced major concerns that the bill will lead to the government being allowed to invade the privacy of ordinary citizens and unjustly punish civic groups and labor unions and in doing so possibly infringe on human rights.

The main opposition Democratic Party and three smaller allied parties that filed the no-confidence motion Wednesday said the minor semantic revisions made to the updated bill do little to quash fears that investigative authorities could be granted arbitrary powers of search by the government.

The Democratic Party blasted the bill during its first task-force meeting on the issue last month with the party's Diet affairs chief Kazunori Yamanoi stating that the party must raise a great national uproar over the bill and attack Kaneda in thorough deliberations on the issue.

All 4 major opposition parties are united in killing the bill and have vowed not to allow it to pass through parliament and into law, stating that the bill was no different to former iterations submitted to parliament that were subsequently scrapped.

They previously claimed that the bill will erode the integrity of the criminal code in Japan by allowing people to be charged in connections with crimes that have not been committed.

Opponents to the legislation also believe that the scope of the bill is not limited to terrorist groups and could be applied in an arbitrary manner by law enforcement personnel, despite the government's arguments to the contrary.

The latest draft of the controversial bill states that the charge of conspiracy will be applied to organized crime groups with the punishments being levied at groups of 2 or more people.

Punishments will follow in cases where at least 1 member has secured funds for their activities or been involved in reconnaissance activities regarding a target location, the bill also states.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations stated previously that the bill is ambiguous in its scope and its vagueness regarding the definition of terrorist organizations and crime groups could lead to the undue punishment of innocent civilians and groups.

Civic groups and individual protesters have been taking to the streets with large groups gathering in Tokyo in front of the Diet building and outside the prime minister's office, holding banners and shouting slogans claiming the bill will serve to squash any groups that stand opposed to the government and that the bill is undemocratic.

Protesters have also said the bill could take away people's civil rights, is in violation of the constitution and could be the next example of Abe's administration abusing its majority in parliament to pass laws unilaterally, as was the case with the highly-contentious security laws.

While Abe's ruling bloc will almost certainly use its majority to shoot down Wednesday's no-confidence motion, the bill being put in front of a committee vote will take place on Friday at the earliest and its passage through the lower house could be pushed back until next Tuesday as the opposition camp redouble their efforts to block its passage at every stage.



23 get death for killing 4 Narayanganj Awami League activists

23 people including a BNP leader have been awarded death penalty for killing 4 activists of Awami League and its student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League of Araihazar of Narayanganj in 2002.

Kamrunnahar, judge of Narayanganj Second Additional District and Sessions Judge's Court, pronounced the verdict today, Additional Public Prosecutor Jasmine Ahmed confirmed our district correspondent.

Among the 23 convicts, 4 are on the run while 19 others including Abul Bashar Kashu, the then BNP president of Gopaldi union unit, were present at the dock.

According to the prosecution, Kashu and his people picked up Barek, his cousin Badal, Faruk and Kabir from their respective houses on March 12 in 2002. Later, they tortured and burnt them to death.

Of them, Barek, younger brother of BCL president of Araihazar thana unit and upazila vice chairman Rafiqul Islam, was involved with Chhatra League activities while Faruk and Kabir were AL activists.

After the delivery of the verdict, Additional Public Prosecutor Jasmine has expressed satisfaction over the judgement.

(source: The Daily Star)

MAY 17, 2017:

TEXAS----Vienna Convention issues for foreign national

Court refuses to hear appeal----No execution date set for Mexican man convicted of killing family found buried

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to review an appeal from a Mexican citizen sentenced to death for the sledgehammer killings of his wife and 2 children, who were found buried under the bathroom floor in their Texas home.

The high court didn't include an explanation of its decision not to review the capial murder conviction of 62-year-old Robert Moreno Ramos. His attorneys have argued that Ramos wasn't told when he was arrested for the 1992 killings that he could get legal help from the Mexican government and that he had deficient legal help at his trial and in earlier appeals. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their arguments last year.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, found that Ramos, from Aguascalientes, Mexico, and more than 4 dozen other Mexican citizens awaiting execution in the U.S. weren't advised of their consular rights under the Vienna Convention when they were arrested. It recommended that they be tried again to determine if consular access would have affected their cases. President George W. Bush agreed and directed states to reopen the cases.

The Supreme Court overruled that directive, saying that only Congress can require states to follow the international court's ruling. That has not happened and several Texas inmates named in the international court ruling have since been executed.

Ramos, who also is identified in some court documents as Roberto Moreno Ramos, does not have an execution date. Evidence at his 1993 trial in Hidalgo County showed he used a sledge hammer to kill his 42-year-old wife, Leticia, their 7-year-old daughter, Abigail, and their 3-year-old son, Jonathan, at their home in Progreso, which is along the Mexico border about 20 miles southeast of McAllen.

According to court records, Ramos told a cousin they were killed in a car wreck and their bodies were cremated.

After provideing other conflicting explanations, thouigh, another relative went to police to report the woman and children missing. Their bodies were found buried under a freshly tiled floor in the home's bathroom.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Bexar County has shortage of death penalty defense attorneys----Only 11 'first chair' lawyers meet qualification criteria

The stakes in a capital murder case are as high as they can get. Defendants are facing either life in prison without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection.

Among the attorneys in Bexar County qualified to serve as first chair - lead counsel - in capital murder cases are Joel Perez and Raymond Fuchs.

Right now, there are 68 capital murder cases pending in Bexar County, but only 11 lawyers who meet the qualifications to represent those defendants.

"I like the challenge," Perez said. "I feel that those individuals need the best defense that they can get."

Handling capital murder cases, he said, is work intensive and not financially lucrative.

"There are some lawyers that either for financial reasons or stress have dropped off the first chair list because of that," Perez said.

The pool of lawyers is selected by a local committee of judges and veteran lawyers and is governed by state regulations. Regulations District Judge Sid Harle, who is on the committee, described them as "very, very stringent."

"We have too many courts and too many cases competing for the same pool of lawyers," Harle said.

Those lawyers are required to have experience that, more often than not, is elusive.

"You've got to be qualified, but yet they want you to have done it," Fuchs said. "So you have to be a 2nd chair and that just puts a huge burden on the first chair."

Death penalty opponents point out that the solution to the problem is to do away with the death penalty. If things don't change, it is something Harle said could happen.

"Frankly, if we continue at this pace, then, de facto, we're going to do away with the death penalty simply because we're not going to be able to get to trial," he said.

Harle said that legislative changes to the rules are the solution.

"We're not really relaxing the requirements," Harle said. "We're simply giving the local selection committee more discretion."

Discretion, the judge added, that would mean expanding the pool with additional competent lawyers.

(source: KSAT news)


Amid offers to help opiate users, LePage suggests death penalty for dealers

Gov. Paul LePage kept his focus on fighting Maine's opiate addiction epidemic Tuesday when he said he supports a pending bill that would make dealing drugs that cause an overdose Class A manslaughter.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, has been voted out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and awaits consideration by the full Legislature.

"I'm all in on that one," LePage said of the bill, during a radio appearance Tuesday on WVOM. "I think it's a great idea. If you can find the person who sold the drug that caused the overdose, I think that's murder."

A radio host pointed out that the proposed legislation calls for the dealer to be charged with manslaughter, not murder.

"Well, it's the same thing," LePage said. "I wish it was murder, and I wish it was capital punishment. We'd get rid of the problem much quicker."

Maine lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 1876. Some lawmakers and legal observers have questioned whether Maine law already allows prosecutors to charge alleged drug dealers with manslaughter in cases when death results from their actions.

Tuesday's exchange came as Maine's addiction problem draws intense attention from many angles. Task forces are working on the problem at the state and federal levels, and there are several bills pending in Maine that seek to address various aspects of the problem. Last week, the national spotlight shone on Maine when President Donald Trump's health secretary, Tom Price, attended a roundtable discussion at the State House about the problem.

Despite his focus, LePage's approach in some instances has been lambasted. He has been critical of medication-assisted addiction treatment - which Price said clearly last week is an important tool for helping addicts - and has said repeatedly that reviving overdose victims with medications such as Narcan merely extends their lives until the next overdose. LePage is backing a bill this year that would charge addicts for Narcan after the 1st time it's needed. The bill is still under consideration by the State and Local Government Committee.

LePage said he hopes Price's visit attracts more federal funding to Maine and when it comes to addicts, he reached out Tuesday with an offer to help.

"If you're a user, go get help. Go get help," he said. "Seek help, some form of rehab or some form of help. ... I'm not sure what we're doing right now is really helping, but we have a lot of stop-gap measures."

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services and the United Way announced the launch of a new texting option for addicts seeking treatment. Texting your ZIP code to 898-211 will connect callers with a Maine-based information specialist who will help them connect with treatment options.

(source: Bangor Daily News)


Georgia carries out its 1st execution in 2017

Georgia carried out its 1st execution of the year early on Wednesday, putting to death a man convicted of killing a 73-year-old neighbor in 1992.

J.W. Ledford Jr., 45, was pronounced dead at 1:17 a.m. at the state prison in Jackson, more than 6 hours after his initial execution time. The delay was waiting for a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied his request for a stay.

He was convicted of murder in the January 1992 stabbing death of Dr. Harry Johnston in Murray County, northwest Georgia.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is the only authority in Georgia with the power to commute a death sentence, declined to spare Ledford's life.

Ledford told police he had gone to Johnston's home on Jan. 31, 1992, to ask for a ride to the grocery store. After the older man accused him of stealing and smacked him, Ledford pulled out a knife and stabbed Johnston to death, according to court filings. The pathologist who did the autopsy said Johnston suffered "1 continuous or 2 slices to the neck" and bled to death.

After dragging Johnston's body to another part of Johnston's property and covering it up, Ledford went to Johnston's house with a knife and demanded money from Johnston's wife, according to court filings. He took money and four guns from the home, tied up Johnston's wife and left in Johnston's truck. He was arrested later that day.

Ledford told police he had a number of beers and smoked a couple joints in the hours before the killing.

Ledford's lawyers had asked the parole board to spare him, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse from an early age and his intellectual disability. After a hearing Monday, the board declined to grant clemency. Following its normal practice, the board did not give a reason for its denial.

Because of changes in brain chemistry caused by a drug Ledford has been taking for chronic nerve pain for more than a decade, there is a high risk that the pentobarbital Georgia plans to use to execute him will not render him unconscious and devoid of sensation or feeling, his lawyers wrote in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday. That would violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit says.

When challenging an execution method on those grounds, a U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires inmates to propose a known and available alternative. Ledford's lawyers, therefore, proposed that he be executed by firing squad, a method that is not allowed under Georgia law.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Ledford's attorneys had failed to show that execution by pentobarbital would be "sure or very likely" to cause him extreme pain as required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones also said the decision to wait until just a few days before his execution date to file the lawsuit suggested a stalling tactic.

Ledford's lawyers appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked that court to temporarily halt the execution. A 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit on Monday rejected that request. Ledford's attorneys have asked the full 11th Circuit to take up the case.

Ledford's lawyers had also asked a state court judge to halt the execution because he was only 20 and his brain wasn't done developing when he killed Johnston. Just as juvenile offenders are considered less culpable and not the "worst of the worst" for whom the death penalty is reserved, the execution of those under 21 is also unconstitutional, Ledford's lawyers argue.

A Butts County Superior Court judge rejected that petition, and Ledford's lawyers have appealed to the state Supreme Court. The Georgia Supreme Court, later Tuesday, rejected the appeal of the lower court refusal to stop the execution.

Ledford becomes the 1st inmate executed this year in Georgia and the 70th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. The state executed 9 inmates last year, more than any other state and the most Georgia had executed in a single calendar year since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume 40 years ago.

Ledford becomes the 11th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1453rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. Only Texas (542), Oklahoma (112), Virginia (112), Florida (92) and Missouri (88) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976.

(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)


Alabama House OKs bill speeding up executions

The Alabama House passed a bill Tuesday that proponents say will cut down on the time that death row inmates can appeal their sentence.

The Fair Justice Act, which passed the Alabama Senate last month, was approved by the House in a 74-26 vote, streamlines the appeals process by allowing death row inmates to exercise their 2 appeals concurrently instead of consecutively. That would occur by having the inmates be assigned 2 appellate teams working simultaneously.

The bill, called the Fair Justice Act, is sponsored by State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster. The bill is now awaiting action in the judiciary committee of the Alabama House of Representatives.

The bill has to go back to the Senate after the House amended the bill.

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, who is supporting the bill in the House, said the legislation could cut the time for inmates to exhaust their appeals from 20 years to 10 years. He noted that those on death row would not be losing any rights under the bill.

"Family members of capital murder victims often condemn the length of time it takes for justice to be served," he said. The bill's passage was lauded by State Attorney General Steve Marshall.

"I appreciate Rep. Lynn Greer's effort in guiding the Fair Justice Act through the House. There is no doubt that Alabama's system for reviewing capital cases is inefficient and in need of repair. The average death row inmate appeal time is over 15 years and rising," Marshall said in a statement. "Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years. The endless appeals process reopens their wounds again and again."

The Alabama Bar Association urged the House not to pass the bill, saying the legislation would "ironically likely increase the overall amount of time that it takes to litigate a capital post-conviction case."

The association, which has no position on the death penalty, cautioned that the bill prevents death row inmates from changing their petitions after the deadline and mandates that courts waive later changes.

"This seriously harms individuals whose 1st appeals lawyers failed to investigate or otherwise provided inadequate representation. These waived claims will still necessitate subsequent review by state and federal judges who will need to evaluate whether waiver was caused by ineffective counsel and who could send the cases back to lower state courts for additional review. This could have the unintended consequence of adding court proceedings to evaluate whether claims filed after the short initial deadline still deserve review on their merits," the ABA said in a letter dated Friday to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon.

"Thus, this legislation could result in a slower overall process with more delays that further burden Alabama's courts." "Furthermore, the lack of detailed, meaningful qualification standards in the Fair Justice Act only increases the chances of this delay being a regular occurrence in Alabama cases."

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, echoed one of the ABA's reasons urging a no vote: That the bill does not give enough time for falsely imprisoned death row inmates to prove their innocence.

"I would hate to rush the process," he said, adding that the bill is just a "concept" unless it adds funding for forensics and the criminal justice system.


Judge: Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur can't get execution records

The Alabama Department of Corrections doesn't have to provide documents to lawyers for Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur related to the executions of 2 other inmates last year, a judge has ruled.

Arthur's attorneys in March filed a request for a writ of mandamus asking a judge order the Alabama Department of Corrections to provide them records related to the executions of Christopher Eugene Brooks on Jan. 21, 2016 and Ronald Bert Smith on Dec. 8. The request was made under the Alabama Open Records Act.

The ADOC, according to the motion, had declined their request for execution logs that record the administration of drugs, the performance of a consciousness assessments, the times of death, and all other events relating to the executions. The attorneys also requested autopsy reports that record the cause of death, any evidence of irregularities or potential issues during the executions, and toxicology screens.

Arthur's attorneys have contended that Brooks and Smith may have suffered because of Alabama's new lethal injection drug combination. Smith heaved and gasped for breath for 13 minutes during his execution and two consciousness tests were performed. The ADOC has said the executions went according to their protocol.

In a brief order issued Monday afternoon following a hearing in the case the issue Montgomery Circuit Judge J.R. Gaines granted the ADOC's motion to dismiss the request by Arthur's attorneys "because certified copies of the autopsy reports are available upon request from Alabama Department of Forensic Science and any release of the execution logs would be detrimental to the best interests of the public."

Akash Toprani, pro bono counsel for Arthur, issued a statement Tuesday.

"The people of Alabama have a right to know what their government is doing in their name, especially when it involves taking a life. The alarming reports arising from the recent execution of Ronald Bert Smith, Jr., makes transparency in the State's administration of the death penalty a matter of critical public importance, and we are deeply disappointed by today's ruling," Toprani stated. "If the State is so confident that its lethal injection protocol is constitutional, it would not obstruct public access to these records."

Arthur, 75,is set to be executed May 25 at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. It is the 8th time since 2001 that the state has set an execution for Arthur for his conviction in the 1982 shooting death of Troy Wicker.

Wicker's wife was also convicted of hiring Arthur, with insurance money, to kill her husband.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Arthur's appeals earlier this year.

(source for both:


Judge Allows Prosecutors To Seek Death Penalty Against Erick Jones

Erick Eugene Jones Jr. was served Monday with a superseding presentment charging him with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 2 counts of aggravated child abuse in connection with the December 2014 deaths of 2 children in a house on North Hardin Street.

Jones was in Greene County Criminal Court for a motions hearing. Judge John F. Dugger Jr. denied a motion by defense lawyer Douglas Payne to deny a jury the option of considering the death penalty for Jones, who turned 24 on Monday.

Payne argued that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, while 3rd District Attorney General Dan Armstrong argued that there is legal precedent in Tennessee for the death penalty, court officials said.

Prosecutors have indicated that when Jones goes to trial, they may seek the death penalty.

Dugger also took under advisement another motion by Payne to draw a jury from another county because of pre-trial publicity the case has received, court officials said.

Jones had been scheduled to go on trial this month, but the case was recently rescheduled for trial in January 2018. He has another appearance set for Monday in Greene County Criminal Court.

The capias presentment was issued March 20 by a Greene County Grand Jury.

Also charged with 1st-degree murder and aggravated child abuse is Kendra Lashae Tweed in connection with the December 2014 deaths of 2 of Tweed's daughters.

Tweed, 24, was charged in November 2015 with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder, 2 counts of aggravated child endangerment and 2 counts of aggravated child neglect in connection with the Dec. 17, 2014, deaths of 2 of her daughters: 13-month-old Kynsleigh Easterly and 2-month-old Trinity Brooke Tweed.

Jones, who lived with Kendra Tweed in December 2014 in the house on North Hardin Street, was indicted in September 2015 by a Greene County Grand Jury on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in connection with the deaths of the girls, who a Greeneville police detective testified at a 2015 court hearing suffered blunt force trauma, including cerebral hemorrhaging, a spinal cord injury, contusions and abrasions.

Superseding presentments naming Jones include 1st degree-murder in the death of Trinity Brooke Tweed "in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse" and "in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect."

Tweed and Jones remain held on $700,000 bond in the Greene County Detention Center pending further court appearances.

Tweed's 3-year-old daughter was also inside the house when first responders arrived on Dec. 17, 2014.

Greeneville police said Kynsleigh Easterly was discovered "in distress" after a call was made to county 911 Dispatch.

Trinity Tweed was found in the house after first responders arrived.

Both girls were rushed to Takoma Regional Hospital's emergency room, where they were pronounced dead.

(source: Greenville Sun)


Arkansas AG: The Cost to Litigate the State's Recent Executions

The state's 1st executions in more than a decade are over, but the Arkansas Attorney General's work to determine how much they cost has just begun.

According to Judd Deere, the spokesperson for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, their office is still waiting to be billed for some contracted services, like expert witnesses. However, current numbers show it may not cost as much as you'd think for execution litigation.

"Our job at the attorney general's office is to see that justice is carried out, to handle all of the litigation that occurs in these death penalty cases," Rutledge said.

In the span of a week, the state of Arkansas put to death 4 inmates by lethal injection, after legal wrangling ultimately prevented 4 others.

"We just finished a very arduous task over the last 3 or 4 weeks," said Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

After the governor scheduled the execution dates for the 8 inmates, records from the attorney general's office reveal the state spent $10,279 in transcription fees, $2,035 in filing fees and $944 for meals, totaling more than $13,000.

Unlike a private law firm, Deere said the attorney general's law office doesn't bill hourly so it's impossible to calculate a precise amount of time the attorneys devoted to these execution cases.

"In the last couple weeks alone, we had more than 50 cases with regard to those 8 inmates, handling more than 100 filings," Rutledge said. "We have had attorneys really doing exemplary work on behalf of the people of Arkansas."

There's now 29 prisoners on death row. Rutledge said four, whose names you've heard before, have essentially exhausted their appeals with a fifth not falling far behind.

Stacey Johnson's case will be handled in Sevier County, while the Arkansas State Supreme Court hears Don Davis and Bruce Ward's cases.

Rutledge said Jason McGehee's stay should be lifted sometime in mid-May.

The 5th will be handled in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The attorney general will keep me posted on that," Hutchinson said. "Obviously, we always stand ready to do our duty, but I would think there will be some time before we get to the second set that we might have to do down the road."

"It's a heavy responsibility," Rutledge said. "But it's one that the people have trusted us with and that we're going to continue carry out."



Man accused of shooting Whittier police officer to death pleads not guilty

The suspect in the killing of a Whittier police officer in February pleaded not guilty Monday in Norwalk Superior Court.

Michael Christopher Mejia's attorney waived the reading of the counts against his client and entered a not guilty plea for all counts.

He is charged in the deaths of Officer Keith Boyer and Roy Torres, the suspect's cousin, with 2 counts of murder, 1 count of attempted murder, 1 count of carjacking and 1 count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in connection with the Feb. 20 shootings in East Los Angeles and Whittier.

As the suspect entered the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit with shackled hands and ankles, he smiled at members of his family seated in the gallery.

Mejia, a known gang member, could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder of Boyer, 53, the murder of his cousin, Torres, 47, and the wounding of Officer Patrick Hazell, as well as the carjacking of his cousin and the alleged weapons violation, authorities said.

Defense attorney Paul Cohen asked Judge Raul A. Sahagun about allowing Mejia's family to visit and phone him. He said his client has not been able to communicate with his family for months.

Sahagun upheld an earlier ruling that gives the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department the discretion to decide whether Mejia can have visitations and phone calls.

Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron, with the Crimes Against Peace Officers Section, alleged Mejia has been assaulting deputies while being held without bail at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

Boyer's mother, Nancy Clark, and his stepfather, Don Clark, were in the gallery, accompanied by Whittier Police Lt. Michael Przybyl.

A preliminary hearing was set for 8:30 a.m. May 30, in Department D of the Norwalk Superior Court.

(source: Whittier Daily News)


Closing arguments presented in case of man who stomped cellmate to death

4 years ago, Dennis Bratton knocked his cellmate to the concrete floor of their cell and repeatedly stomped on his head while wearing his prison work boots, shattering the man's skull.

By the time Bratton was done, the head of Andrew Keel was "nothing more than a broken eggshell," prosecutor Andi Bridges said during closing arguments Monday. Keel's forehead was separated from the top of his skull.

"For minutes he delivered blow after blow after blow to Andrew Keel as he lay defenseless on the floor," she said.

Bratton then used string to strangle the other man, making sure he was dead before notifying correctional officers at Kern Valley State Prison.

Bridges called Bratton's argument that he killed his cellmate in self-defense "ridiculous," and asked jurors to hold him accountable for the brutal killing by finding him guilty of assault by a life prisoner with force causing death. Bratton, who was serving a life sentence at the time of the killing, faces the death penalty if convicted.

His attorneys, Deputy Public Defenders Pam Singh and Paul Cadman, don't dispute Bratton killed the 27-year-old Keel on May 16, 2013.

Singh argued, however, that Keel had threatened Bratton, and the killing was in self-defense. She spent much of her 2-hour closing argument describing California's self-defense laws, and how a person has a right to kill someone if they are at risk of death, rape or great bodily injury.

Bratton testified that Keel had told him, "You need to sleep sometime." He believed Keel planned to cut his throat then rape him, Singh said.

Adding to Bratton's concern, Singh said, was that Keel told Bratton he had slashed the face or neck of another person who refused to participate in a race riot while he was incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison.

Both Bratton and Keel were affiliated with white racist prison gangs.

Singh also noted Keel's blood alcohol content was 2 times the legal limit at the time of his death, possibly causing him to act differently from his normal behavior. Bratton was not intoxicated at the time.

She argued other inmates who testified for the prosecution were untrustworthy and had admitted to lies during some of their statements. She said some of them were later moved to prisons with a lower security classification, and insinuated prosecutors may have played a role.

During her rebuttal, Bridges said Bratton bragged about the killing to 2 other inmates, and threatened prosecution witnesses. He admitted to writing a letter to another inmate saying one witness "needs to get got."

Correctional officers testified Bratton was "unusually calm" after the killing. This was not someone, Bridges said, who was in fear for his life. He planned to kill Keel, knew he was a better fighter and was confident he would win, she said.

She denied prosecutors worked out deals for inmates who testified at trial. 2 inmates were moved from Level IV to Level III prisons, she said, but the inmates told her they believed their classification had changed due to work and good conduct.

Bridges showed several photos of the prison cell after the killing. Blood covered the floor, but otherwise the cell appeared orderly. How was it possible, she asked, for 2 men to fight for their lives in a confined space, yet items were perfectly set on the edge of surfaces?

She said Bratton's version of events isn't possible based on the facts.

"Don't let him spin this web of lies," she said.

(source: The Bakersfield Californian)


Sen. Daines introduces new legislation to increase penalties for acts against law enforcement

After the tragic killing of Broadwater County Sheriff's Deputy Mason Moore, U.S. Senator Steve Daines stated in a press release on Tuesday that he introduced the Back the Blue Act of 2017, which would increase penalties for criminals who intentionally target law enforcement officers, and provide new tools for officers to protect themselves.

"Deputy Mason Moore is a brave hero who laid down his life to protect Montanans. We must send a clear message: criminals who look to hurt law enforcement will face the harshest penalties," Daines stated. "Crimes committed against our law enforcement will not be tolerated. Montanans can certainly unite around our support for the men and women who go to work every day to keep our communities safe."

Background on the Back the Blue Act as provided by Daines:

Strengthens Laws to Protect Police Officers

Makes killing, attempting to kill, or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer, or federally funded public safety officer a federal crime. The offender would be subject to the death penalty and a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years if death results; the offender would otherwise face a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Creates a new federal crime for assaulting a federally funded law enforcement officer with escalating penalties, including mandatory minimums, based on the extent of any injury and the use of a dangerous weapon. However, no prosecution can be commenced absent certification by the Attorney General that prosecution is appropriate.

Creates a new federal crime for interstate flight from justice to avoid prosecution for killing, attempting to kill, or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer, or federally funded public safety officer. The offender would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for this offense.

Creates a Specific Aggravating Factor for Federal Death Penalty Prosecutions

Clarifies that the murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer or first responder is a statutory aggravating favor for purposes of the federal death penalty.

Limits Federal Habeas Relief for Murders of Law Enforcement Officers

Imposes time limits and substantive limits on federal courts' review of challenges to state-court convictions for crimes involving the murder of a public safety officer, when the public safety officer was engaged in the performance of official duties or on account of the performance of official duties. These changes are consistent with the fast-track procedures created in 1996, which are applied to federal death penalty cases.

Limits Recovery of Certain Damages and Fees for Individuals Engaged in Felonies

Limits the type of civil damages and attorney's fees recoverable by a criminal as a result of purported injuries incurred during the commission of a felony or crime of violence.

Expands Self-Defense and 2nd Amendment Rights for Law Enforcement Officers

Allows law enforcement officers, subject to limited regulation, to carry firearms into federal facilities and other jurisdictions where such possession is otherwise prohibited.

Opens Up Funding to Strengthen Relationships Between Police and Communities

Expands opportunities to use grant funding to promote trust and improve relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The legislation is also sponsored by U.S. John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Dean Heller (R-NV), David Perdue (R-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Luther Strange (R-AL).

(source: KTVQ news)


Killers of law officers deserve death penalty

Our nation has seen too many laws where the judgments are too lenient. It is well past the time for all individuals in law enforcement to get the protection they deserve.

With this letter, I challenge our members of Congress to institute a bill that calls for the death penalty for anyone convicted of wounding or killing any national, state or local law enforcement official.

This would also include anyone killing criminal prosecutors, judges and criminal lawyers.

When the bill becomes law, it must be advertised in all major newspapers and on news stations throughout the country.

There are individuals who know that if they kill a law officer, they will be sent to prison and the government will take care of them (at taxpayers' expense, of course).

When they realize this will no longer happen, maybe the killings will stop or decrease.

William Colozzi


(source: Letter to the Editor, News & Record)


6 get death penalty for killing city AL leader, his driver

A court here on Tuesday sentenced 6 people to death and 2 others to life term imprisonment for killing an Awami League leader and his driver in 2011.

The condemned convicts are-Raihan Khokon, Mohammad Hira, Zakir Hossain, Javed Prince, Jummon and Arif Hossain. Of them, Raihan and Amir were tried in absentia.

The lifers are-Shariful Islam and Kala Amir. Shariful secured bail from the court and since then he remained absconding.

According to the prosecution, senior vice-president of AL Kadamtoli thana unit Mohammad Ullah, also a freedom fighter and his driver Harunur Rashid were stabbed to death by some miscreants over previous enmity in the city's Juraine area on 23 February 2011.

A case was filed with Kadamtoli Police Station.

Police submitted a chargesheet against 12 people on 31 October 2011.

After examining the records and witnesses, Dhaka 4th Additional Metropolitan Session Judge Jahedul Kabir handed down the verdict acquitting four other accused as allegations brought against them were not proved.



Documentary raises new questions about Koh Tao murder, Myanmar migrants

Koh Tao Island has long been an ideal destination for backpackers, avid divers and more increasingly Myanmar migrant workers. Located some 400km away from Bangkok, the small island has earned a reputation of being the best spot for viewing sea turtles, whale sharks and other wildlife.

But in the past decade the island has become synonymous with a series of crimes, particularly the brutal murders of British backpackers, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller who were found dead on Sairee beach in September 2014.

2 Myanmar migrant workers, Win Zaw Tun and Zaw Lin were arrested and given the death penalty for the murders shortly after the bodies were found. However, Myanmar authorities and human rights leaders called for an appeal against the case, as the 2 men have insisted their innocence.

Following a spate of protests over human rights abuses within Thai prisons and from the Thai police, a committee of Myanmar lawyers, migrant workers and human rights CSOs came together to conduct an independent investigation.

Such is the backdrop for the newest documentary following the case. Echo from Koh Tao Island was screened for the 1st time in Yangon's Orchid Hotel on May 12, following a press conference.

Lawyers and migrants rights groups sent an appeal against the case in December 2015 which was rejected just three months ago when Thai authorities confirmed the death sentence for the 2 men. On March 3 a group of Myanmar authorities tried to meet with the Thai Ambassador to try to appeal once more.

According to the Associated Press, the appeal deadline has been extended to May 23, 2017. Though Echo from Koh Tao Island comes 3 years after the crime, the film raises questions about tourism, migration and international law as the case has still yet to have an end.

The 30 minute documentary was created by the Special Investigative committee on the Koh Tao case to show to Myanmar parliament MPs.

U Htoo Chit, a member of the Special Investigative committee and CEO of an education and development foundation for Myanmar migrants said, "The main reason for creating this documentary was to lay down the facts and ask for fairness, peace and justice and to stop extremists who add fire to the crisis."

He continued, "Extremists make the crisis even greater," referencing a growing tension between Myanmar and Thailand as more and more Myanmar migrants cross the border in search of work.

"The extremists are separately making a crisis out of the Koh Tao case. We have to ask peacefully to search for the truth. We do not want to create more tensions," he said.

Some migrant rights advocates have argued that there may have been discrepancies in the case's evidence and CCTV records as well as potential discrimination on the part of the Thai policemen and judge.

Moe Wai, a member of the Special Investigations committee and organiser for Myanmar migrants in Thailand believed the judges may have had implicit bias when deciding the sentencing.

"The judge may decide using his personal opinions but it is best to solve this with professional standards. We, ordinary people, cannot become involved nor have a sway in the system of law and order."

An MP in the documentary was quoted saying, "government, a jury and experts should jointly participate in this issue by pressing for checks and balances and asking for the truth."

Family members of Win Zaw Tun and Zaw Lin have pleaded in the film, "We want our sons back...we're their parents and we want the truth."

The committee has asked the local broadcasting department to screen Echo from Koh Tao Island free on the air but the broadcasting department has yet to reply. According to an authority from the committee, plans are underway to broadcast the film online.

(source: The Myanmar Times)


Tagle: Find ways to fight crime without death penalty

A high-ranking Catholic church leader said the "Lakbay Buhay" is an opportunity to find ways of fighting crimes without resorting to capital punishment.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was referring to the 21-day march against the death penalty which started in Mindanao last May 4.

"The march that started in Mindanao to end up in the Philippine Senate gives us an opportunity to find ways of fighting crimes, for all crimes violate life, but without resorting to measures that also violate life, like capital punishment," read his May 12 circular letter.

Tagle invited priests, religious communities, and lay faithful to support the lay initiative by joining the Eucharistic celebration of Lakbay Buhay at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on Sunday, May 21 at 5 p.m.

"With personal and collective study, prayer, discernment and action, we hope to be a people that promote a culture of life," said Tagle.

Earlier, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines president Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas also called on his fellow prelates to support the anti-death penalty march caravan.

(source: Manila Bulletin)

MAY 16, 2017:

TEXAS----execution date re-set

Steven Long's execution date has been re-set for August 30; it should be considered serious.

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----543

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------July 19-----------------Kosoul Chanthakoummane---543

26---------July 27-----------------Taichin Preyor---------544

27---------Aug. 30-----------------Steven Long------------545

28---------Sept.7------------------Juan Castillo----------546

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


House to Debate Death Penalty Legislation

The Alabama House of Representatives is headed toward contentious debate on a bill to shorten death penalty appeals. Representatives on Tuesday evening will debate the bill to require inmates to raise claims such as ineffective counsel at the same time as direct appeal claiming trial errors.

Sen. Cam Ward, the bill's sponsor, says the current process can take decades and is often abused. Ward says the bill is based on Texas procedures and would shorten the time that appeals take from 18 to 9 years.

American Bar Association President Linda Klein sent lawmakers a letter opposing the bill, saying it increases the likelihood that an innocent person will be executed.

Opposed lawmakers are expected to mention the case of an Alabama inmate freed after nearly 30 years on death row.

(source: Associated Press)


Judge denies new trial in Sir Mario Owens murder case----Order concerns 2004 murder in Aurora's Lowry Park

A judge in Arapahoe County has denied a defense request to grant death row inmate Sir Mario Owens a new trial in a murder case that prosecutors later used to win the capital sentence against Owens.

Senior Judge Christopher Munch concluded in an order issued Tuesday that Owens' attorneys in the trial represented him adequately, the information prosecutors did not disclose to his defense attorneys did not taint the trial, and that a juror who later said she recognized several witnesses who testified during the case did not commit misconduct.

"Owens is 'entitled to a fair trial, but not a perfect trial,'" Munch wrote, quoting partly from a well-known Colorado Supreme Court ruling. "A fair trial is a trial whose result is reliable. Owens received a fair trial, and its result is reliable."

Owens was convicted of 3 murders tried in 2 separate cases. In the 1st, jurors found him guilty of murdering a man named Gregory Vann in Aurora's Lowry Park in 2004 and also of trying to kill Vann's friend Javad Marshall-Fields.

In 2005, Marshall-Fields had been scheduled to testify against another man, Robert Ray, who had been charged as an accessory to murder in the Lowry Park case. But Marshall-Fields and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, were killed before he could. Owens was also charged and convicted for those murders, and he was sentenced to death. Prosecutors used Owens' conviction in the Lowry Park case to provide a legal basis for the death sentence.

Owens' attorneys appealed both cases. Munch's ruling on Tuesday deals with the defense's request for a new trial in the Lowry Park case. The appeal of the death penalty case is still pending.

In a statement issued shortly after Munch's ruling was released, Owens' defense attorney James Castle offered thoughts and prayers for the family members of the murder victims.

"As the defenders of Mr. Owens we are saddened and disappointed in the decision of the court but it does not weaken our unflinching resolve to seek a just result," he wrote.

(source: Denver Post)


Report: Dylann Roof said white nationalists would save him from death row

Convicted mass murderer Dylann Roof told a psychologist working for his defense team that his death penalty wouldn't be carried out because he'd "be rescued by white nationalists after they took over the government."

That's according to a November report composed amid Roof's trial for killing nine parishioners in 2015 at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The report also says Roof was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder "based on the presence of social-communication challenges and atypical behaviors."

It goes on to say Roof was suffering or had suffered from "psychiatric symptoms that are not explained by autism spectrum disorder, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, disordered thinking, and psychosis (including delusions of grandeur and somatic delusions)."

Roof's somatic delusions -- which are defined as false beliefs that something is grossly wrong with one's body -- include unfounded complaints of hair loss and thyroid disease, according to reports.

"It is my impression that it is too early to predict his psychiatric trajectory," Dr. Rachel Loftin wrote in one report, "but his symptoms appear to me to be consistent with the schizophrenia spectrum."

Document dump

The revelations came after US District Judge Richard Gergel unsealed 19 documents from competency hearings that help paint a picture of the 23-year-old's mental state both as a teen and while he was being held in prison after the church massacre.

In November, a judge halted jury selection in the case to allow time for Roof to undergo a competency evaluation. Roof was ruled competent to stand trial, represent himself and be sentenced. (In January, Roof became the first person to receive the death penalty for a federal hate crime. He pleaded guilty to a slew of state charges last month.)

Gergel also allowed journalists to view four videos, captured in November and January, but would not permit the footage to be publicly released. CNN's reporter is expected to finish viewing the videos early Tuesday afternoon. It's not clear what the tapes contain.

Some of the information about Roof's mental state was contained in a December document, released in February, that showed defense attorneys sought special accommodations for their client after competency hearings indicated Roof suffered from a range of disorders.

'A very anxious man'

But the documents released this week go deeper and also delve into his childhood, which was marked by normal maladies such as colds, fevers, sore throats and the like.

As a teen, however, Roof visited a family doctor who called him "a very anxious man."

In 2009, as Roof was entering high school at age 13, his mother took him to Lexington County Community Mental Health Center because he was defying her, using drugs, skipping school and engaging in "oppositional behavior." His mother told a doctor that at school, Roof's As had become Fs, according to court documents.

He also experienced anxiety in social situations, with one report saying that he "worries about it all the time" and at one point threatened to run away and kill himself because his mother had made him go to school. He later told his mom the threat was a bluff.

The report suggests Roof self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. He told doctors he had no intention of quitting his use of marijuana, the documents say. Roof was prescribed an antidepressant.

Roof maintains he doesn't need care

Psychological and medical records from the county jail where he was held after the church massacre show Roof was removed from suicide watch in August 2015, two months after the killings.

He spent most of his time in his room sitting or lying on his cot, only coming out when "he had something to do," according to jail logs. A jail counselor reported that Roof was "doing well in general" and had stated he didn't need mental health care.

During his federal trial, Roof requested that the judge reinstate his legal team for the guilt phase of the trial. He asked to represent himself again during sentencing.

"There's nothing wrong with me psychologically," Roof told jurors ahead of sentencing. "Anything you heard from my lawyers in the last phase, I ask you to forget it."

(source: CNN)

GEORGIA----impending execution

J.W. Ledford's Bid for Firing Squad Rejected on Execution Eve

A federal appeals court has denied a stay of execution to a Georgia man who argued a firing squad would be a more humane way to die than the lethal injection the state has planned.

A few hours earlier, the state Parole Board rejected a bid for clemency for J.W. "Boy" Ledford Jr., who is on death row for murdering the doctor who delivered him into the world.

Ledford, 45, is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday at 7 p.m. His execution would be the 1st this year in Georgia, which killed 9 prisoners last year.

Much of the debate about execution drugs across the nation has centered on midazolam, a sedative that has been used in several lethal injections that did not go as planned.

Georgia uses pentobarbital, seen as a more reliable drug, to induce unconsciousness and then death. But Ledford's lawyers argued that because he has been taking a prescription drug to treat nerve pain for years, the pentobarbital won't work as intended.

"Accordingly, there is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva," they wrote in court papers.

Court rulings require prisoners challenging 1 execution method to offer an alternative, and Ledford suggested a firing squad, even though Georgia law doesn't include that as a method of execution.

The state offered analysis from its own expert, who said the amount of pentobarbital in the injection "is more than sufficient" to cause death without pain regardless of Ledford's past use of a nerve drug.

In his application for clemency, Ledford, 45, cited a horrific childhood in an abusive home, early exposure to drugs and alcohol, an allegedly low IQ, and his remorse.

"He does not try to hide away from the harm he caused and is open with anyone he knows about the pain and about his sadness for the family," his attorneys wrote.

"His son says that when he finally asked his father if he did what they said, his father looked him straight in the eye and said, yes, and that he was sorry and when you take a man's life you can never give it back."

Ledford killed Dr. Harry Johnston after the physician gave him a ride; the victim was nearly decapitated. He then went to the doctor's home and tied up and robbed his wife; she has since died.

"I've seen the pictures," Conasauga District Attorney Bert Poston, who presented the state's case for execution to the parole board, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"I've been doing this for 25 years and I've handled a lot of murder cases and I can't think of many that come close."

(source: NBC news)


Alabama bill intended to streamline death-penalty appeals has 'serious problems,' ABA says

Alabama legislation designed to streamline capital appeals increases the risk that an innocent person will be executed, according to ABA President Linda A. Klein.

The May 12 letter (PDF), written on behalf of the ABA, says the legislation known as the Fair Justice Act "suffers from serious problems." The bill, which passed in the Alabama Senate on April 19, would require defendants to seek post-conviction relief at the same time they are pursuing a direct appeal, reported last month.

One version of the bill, in the Alabama House, requires capital defendants to assert all post-conviction claims in an initial petition filed within 180 days of the filing of the direct appeal, resulting in a "doubled up process," the ABA letter says. The Senate version of the bill requires the initial petition with all claims to be filed within a year of the filing of the direct appeal.

The deadline would "make Alabama an outlier" and would limit lawyers' ability to conduct the post-conviction investigation, according to Klein. ABA guidelines require post-conviction counsel to investigate the work of prior lawyers in capital cases, including the work of lawyers on direct appeal. Typically, lawyers need to review thousands of pages of trial records, witness statements, police and medical documents and other evidence to adequately prepare.

"While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency," the letter says, "quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions."

The bill's waiver provision could also have the unintended effect of increasing the time to litigate post-conviction appeals, the letter says. The provision tells courts to consider post-conviction claims to be waived if they are not brought within the initial deadline.

"These waived claims will still necessitate subsequent review by state and federal judges who will need to evaluate whether waiver was caused by ineffective counsel and who could send the cases back to lower state courts for additional review," the letter says.

(source: ABA Journal)


Bill to eliminate the death penalty heads to La. Senate

A bill that would eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana will hit the Louisiana State Senate floor Monday afternoon.

The bill cleared a committee last month on a 6-1 vote and Monday the full senate is expected to debate the death penalty at the Capitol.

The bill authored by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor would eliminate the death penalty as of August 1 of this year.

Capital punishment opponents argue the practice is too costly for the state. Louisiana spent more than $90 million in the last 10 years defending capital cases.

A post-conviction attorney told legislators that judges and juries do not always reach the correct conclusion.

Data shows more than 80 % of death penalty cases were overturned in the last 4 decades.

But opponents think it could green light judges to overturn death penalty sentences for convicts currently on death row.

Claitor said the bill is not designed to be used retroactively.

State Representative Terry Landry, (D) New Iberia said now is the time to make a change.

"It is a bad act that has outlived its time economically, morally, and I think it is time for us to turn a course," Landry said.

But death penalty supporters say there are times when it is the correct punishment.

"There are crimes that are so heinous that I submit to you the death penalty may be the appropriate penalty,": said Ricky Babin, Ascension Parish District Attorney.

Landry, a former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, is sponsoring a similar bill in the house.

(source: WVUE news)


Arizona Court Reinstates Death Sentence for 1993 Killing----An Arizona Supreme Court ruling reinstates a man's death sentence for a 1993 killing in Phoenix.

An Arizona Supreme Court ruling reinstates a man's death sentence for a 1993 killing in Phoenix.

The unanimous ruling Monday says a Maricopa County Superior Court judge was incorrect when he ruled that Darrel Peter Pandeli didn't receive effective legal representation during a re-sentencing.

Pandeli was sentenced to death for the killing of Holly Iller, but his death sentence was thrown out because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a procedural issue that affected a number of death-penalty cases.

Pandeli then was re-sentenced to death, but a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that Pandeli's lawyers didn't handle his case adequately.

However, the Arizona Supreme Court ruling concludes otherwise and reinstates Pandeli's death sentence.

Pandeli also got a 20-year term for a 1991 killing.

(source: Associated Press)


Sierra LaMar: Attorneys spar over rules for penalty phase

With jurors poised to hear arguments on whether the man convicted of killing missing teen Sierra LaMar should get the death penalty or life without parole, a song by the rock band Aerosmith came up as attorneys and the judge sparred Monday over how much emotional imagery and testimony the panel can hear during the penalty phase.

The exchange was one of several Monday aimed at laying the ground rules for that phase of Antolin Garcia-Torres' trial, which is set to begin Tuesday. Also among the other items at issue: whether the prosecution can have its forensic psychologist subject Gracia-Torres to a psychological evaluation.

The courtroom music critiques were set up by dueling plans, by Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd and defense attorneys Brian Matthews and Al Lopez from the Alternate Defender's Office, to show jurors videos and slideshows aimed at illustrating the vibrant personality of Sierra, and at humanizing Garcia-Torres.

Matthews objected to the breadth and length of the prosecution's AV presentation, including clips of Sierra lip-syncing a ballad.

"It's too much," he said, adding that it could lead to a jury to "rule on the basis of emotion" rather than legal principles.

Judge Vanessa A. Zecher ordered Boyd to pare down the number of images of Sierra that would be shown. But she also championed the still-missing Sierra in reaffirming the prosecution's visual show.

"The victim has a voice here as well," Zecher said.

Zecher was also receptive to prosecutors' insistence that the defense attorneys' plan to show a video compiled by Garcia-Torres' family be with muted audio because of the "mood-altering music" of the video's soundtrack - including an Aerosmith song.

The defense, Boyd said, has no more of a "right to eliciting jurors' emotions than we do."

Hoping to persuade jurors to opt for life without parole rather than the death penalty, the attorneys for Garcia-Torres also sought to bring in a psychologist to describe his reportedly troubled childhood, including having to live with a father now serving a life sentence for raping a female relative, starting when she was 7 years old.

In response, prosecutors wanted an order from Zecher to retain a psychologist of their own to test whether Garcia-Torres "truly has ineffective coping skills or unresolved grief." In a motion filed last week, Boyd contended that by having Dr. Gretchen White testify about the effects of Garcia-Torres' childhood, "the defense is putting the defendant's mental state in issue," meaning making it fair game under case law.

But Matthews opposed Boyd's request to have his expert spend a total of eight hours conducting clinical interviews with Garcia-Torres, a mental status exam and associated psychological testing.

In a brief filed Monday morning, Matthews argued that the defense is not claiming Garcia-Torres has a mental illness, and its expert will be testifying only about his "psychosocial history" and "the impact salient aspects of that history has on a person."

"The jury is being asked to make a reasoned decision," he said in court Monday. "They need to consider this before sentencing a man to die."

Matthews also contended that the results of any testing by the prosecution's expert would be unreliable because Garcia-Torres' "mental condition is weakened by the fact of his conviction and the reality that he will, at least, spend the rest of his life in prison."

The judge delayed her decision on the psychological issues until Wednesday morning.

Garcia-Torres sat in court during the 2-hour hearing, silent except for some whispers to his attorneys.

Boyd also sought to exclude another defense expert, Dr. Andres Lugo, from testifying that Garcia-Torres suffered long-term exposure to pesticides, perchlorates and possibly mercury, claiming among other arguments that the doctor's testimony would be speculative. No decision was made Monday on whether that testimony would be allowed.

Garcia-Torres. 26, was convicted last week of kidnapping and killing the 15-year-old Sierra, who was on her way to her school bus stop in a rural community north of Morgan Hill when she vanished 5 years ago. Her body has not been found despite a yearslong search by more than 750 volunteers from around the Bay Area. The jury, which reached a verdict in 2 days after a 3-month trial, also convicted him of attempting to kidnap 3 other women from Safeway parking lots in Morgan Hill in 2009.

Zecher also questioned whether some of the dozen-plus victim-impact witnesses - family and friends testifying on their loss from Sierra's presume death - planned to speak on behalf of the prosecution were redundant. Boyd said diminishing that portion of the proceedings would ostensibly "reward the defendant for his conduct."



Man could face death penalty in Modesto store clerk stabbing

A 23-year-old man accused of stabbing to death a clerk at a south Modesto convenience store made his 1st court appearance Monday afternoon.

Lester Antonio Portillo, of Modesto, is charged with murder in the death of 32-year-old Jagjeet Singh, 32, who was working as a clerk at Hatch Food & Gas store. The charge includes a special circumstances allegation, accusing Portillo of waiting for Singh before the stabbing.

The special circumstances allegation makes the case eligible for the death penalty. Deputy District Attorney Blythe Harris told the judge that the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office has not decided whether it will seek the death penalty against Portillo.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu entered a not guilty on behalf of his client, Portillo, and denied the special circumstances allegation and enhancements alleging premeditation and the use of a deadly weapon in the clerk's killing.

Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova scheduled the defendant to return to court Friday for a pretrial hearing. Portillo remains in custody at the county jail.

The deadly stabbing occurred about 11:45 p.m. May 4 just outside the convenience store on West Hatch Road, just west of Dallas Street. About 30 minutes earlier, a man came into the store and argued with Singh over the sale of cigarettes, Modesto police has said.

The man left the store and drove away. Singh was stabbed outside the store as he was closing the business. The clerk, an immigrant from India who had only been in the U.S. for 18 months, was rushed to a local hospital where he died.



Our big announcement on the Trump-Russia scandal.----"This Isn't Science": We Have No Idea How Much Pain Inmates Feel During Execution

Georgia is about to execute another man, and the result could be horrific.

Just weeks after Arkansas attempted to execute eight men in 11 days, lethal injection in back in the news. On Tuesday, Georgia is scheduled to execute J.W. Ledford for a 1992 murder. Texas was slated to put Tilon Carter to death on Tuesday as well, but he received a stay last week after the state's court of criminal appeals decided to hear his claims that the jury was misled.

Georgia will use a controversial 1-drug protocol - a heavy dose of pentobarbital, an anesthetic that critics say can fail to render inmates fully unconscious. On Monday, Ledford requested that Georgia execute him by firing squad, instead. He argues that a pain medication he takes has altered his brain chemistry so much that the pentobarbital may not work properly, leading to excruciating pain. (Texas was planning to use pentobarbital to kill Carter, as well.)

"What we have here is masquerade - something that pretends to be science and pretends to be medicine but isn't."

Americans generally accept the claim that lethal injection is a humane and painless way to kill convicted murderers. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 65 % of Americans believe that lethal injection is the "most humane" form of capital punishment. According to a 2015 YouGov poll, just 18 % of respondents described lethal injection as "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. But, despite its widespread use, there is virtually no scientific data to suggest that lethal injection is humane. There's been very little research done on the effects of lethal injections on humans at all - but the science that is available suggest that inmates may actually experience immense pain before dying.

On a recent episode of our Inquiring Minds podcast, Kishore Hari interviews Teresa Zimmers, an associate professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine. Zimmers, who has spent years researching lethal injection, is sharply critical to the ways in which states kill the condemned. "What we have here is masquerade," says Zimmers. "Something that pretends to be science and pretends to be medicine but isn't."

Prior to 1972, when the Supreme Court halted executions nationwide, states used a variety methods to put inmates to death, including gas chambers and the electric chair. After the court ruled in 1976 that the death penalty did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, an Oklahoma state legislator called the state's medical examiner, Jay Chapman, and asked him if he could come up with a new and humane way to execute prisoners. Chapman has said that he initially thought he wasn't qualified for the task, but he nonetheless proposed using fatal doses of pharmaceuticals that are typically used to put patients.

Chapman came up with a three-drug protocol: Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic to put the inmate to sleep; pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis; and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Other states soon adopted this protocol, but there was never much scientific evidence showing it was truly humane.

"It's not at all clear that the protocol works as advertised," explains Zimmers.

In 2007, Zimmers was part of a team that analyzed execution records from California and North Carolina and found that lethal injection might actually lead to painful chemical asphyxiation. Zimmers' team suggested that the thiopental dosages being uses might not be high enough to induce sleep and that potassium chloride might not reliably stop the heart. The potential result: a paralyzed inmate who remains aware while dying from the inability to breathe. Zimmers' paper concluded:

[O]ur findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation. If thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates could die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.

Beginning around 2009, European pharmaceutical companies began refusing to sell their drugs to American states that intended to use them to put inmates to death. The shortages led to a rush to find different lethal injection methods, such as replacing the sodium thiopental with a drug called midazolam or using a single fatal dose of an anesthetic.

And just like with the original cocktail, these new lethal injection techniques have been developed with little scientific rigor. "There's been a very active substitution of drugs into this protocol with, of course, no corresponding investigation," says Zimmers.

When Oklahoma used the 1-drug protocol of pentobarbital in the execution of Michael Wilson in January 2014, the inmate's last words were, "I feel my whole body burning." A few months later, the state tried to put Clayton Lockett to death using a 3-drug protocol that included the anesthetic midazolam. Lockett mumbled and writhed on the gurney, before dying of a massive heart attack about 40 minutes after the procedure began. Oklahoma's executions are now on hold.

Despite the controversy surrounding midazolam, last month Arkansas rushed to execute eight men in 11 days when its supply of the drug was set to expire. After a series of legal setbacks for the state, only 4 were put to death. The last man to die, Kenneth Williams, reportedly convulsed, jerked, lurched, and coughed for 10 to 20 seconds after prison officials administered midazolam.

Often, the debate over capital punishment centers around the morality of government-sponsored killing or the potential for an innocent person to be executed. But Zimmers suspects that for many people, support for the death penalty relies on the notion that states are using compassionate, scientifically validated method to kill inmates. That notion, Zimmers argues, is simply wrong.

"They should understand that this isn't science," she says. "This is a pretense of science."

(source: Mother Jones)


Lush Cosmetics Launches Campaign To Abolish Death Penalty; Benefit Death Penalty Focus

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, with 200 shops in the United States and a robust online business, in partnership with Death Penalty Focus (DPF), is launching a national campaign calling for the abolition of the death penalty. The campaign includes store events designed to raise awareness of the flaws in the death penalty system and encourage community members to get involved in the national effort calling for the abolition of capital punishment.

Lush Cosmetics and DPF are partnering with other organizations, such as the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Witness to Innocence, in the campaign which will run from May 15 - 25, 2017, and events will take place in major cities including Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Phoenix and West Des Moines.

"We are very pleased to partner with a company like Lush," says DPF President Mike Farrell. "Not only is the company's business model based on ethical, environmental, and socially conscious principles, but it brings awareness of the death penalty and its flaws to a different segment of the population."

The events will feature speakers including exonerees, grassroots organizations, and activists, who will share personal stories and experiences. For a limited time, Lush will sell an exclusive bath bomb called "31 States," of which 100 percent of the purchase price will be donated to organizations mobilizing and engaging the millions of Americans who believe it's time to band together and abolish capital punishment. Through the sale of 31 States, Lush aims to raise $150,000.

"In 2016, death sentences, executions and support for capital punishment were at an historic low, making flaws and failures of the death penalty more apparent than ever," said Carleen Pickard, Ethical Campaigns Specialist at Lush Cosmetics. "The more people learn about the death penalty, the less they like it, and we're excited to bring this important issue to our customers."

With more than 150,000 supporters, Death Penalty Focus is one of the world's largest organizations solely dedicated to ending capital punishment. For nearly 3 decades, DPF has worked to raise public awareness, mobilize grassroots activists, build coalitions, and educate policy makers about the death penalty and its alternatives.

The partnership between Lush and DPF began last year when DPF became a recipient of a Charity Pot grant. Lush donates 100% of the sales proceeds from its Charity Pot hand and body lotions to nonprofits and charitable organizations. Since launching the program in 2007, Lush has supported 850 grassroots organizations with more than $10 million in 42 countries.



Trial of 'Israeli agent' in Gaza begins----Hamas claims man accused of killing senior terrorist commander worked for the Shin Bet.

The military court in Gaza began hearing the case against Ashraf Abu Laila, the man accused of carrying out the assassination of Hamas military commander Mazen Fukha on March 24.

Hamas claims that Fukha was assassinated by agents working for the Shin Bet.

According to the Safa news agency, 2 other Arabs accused of carrying out operations for the Shin Bet were also being tried for the murder. If they are convicted they will face the death penalty.

Following the assassination, the Hamas terrorist organization issued a warning that its response to further assassinations would be to target senior members of the Israeli defense establishment, including the chief of staff and the defense minister.

(source: Israel National News)


Executions Increase in Somalia

In Somalia, a country long troubled by deadly violence, there's a disturbing new trend: an increase in summary executions.

Somali military courts and the militant group al-Shabab have each executed about a dozen people so far in 2017, all of them killed in public settings as crowds of between 30 and 300 people looked on.

While executions in Somalia are nothing new, the sudden increase has drawn the attention of human rights groups like Amnesty International as well as the local European Union delegation, which has asked Somali authorities to enact a moratorium on the death penalty.

Activists have been particularly critical of executions carried out by military courts, which they say are trying cases beyond their jurisdiction and failing to give defendants fair legal process.

Military courts put to death 11 people in April alone, including a policeman convicted of murdering a civilian, a soldier convicted of killing a civilian, and 4 al-Shabab militants sentenced for explosions that killed some 80 people in the town of Baidoa.

The execution of 5 young men by firing squad in the semi-autonomous Puntland region on April 8 sparked the most controversy. Amnesty International says the defendants, all accused of murdering officials in the town of Bossaso, were too young to be tried as adults, never given access to a lawyer and coerced into giving false confessions.


The rights group says that according to family members, the boys confessed to the killings only after being beaten, raped, subjected to electric shocks and burned with cigarettes on their genitals.

"These horrific allegations of torture must be fully and independently investigated and those found responsible held to account," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

The head of Puntland Military Appeals Court, Salah Liif, said the court does not force confessions and denied the allegations about the defendants being underage.

"Puntland Administration does not execute children and will never do that," he told VOA's Somali service. "It was a propaganda spread by elements playing human rights groups against Puntland."

Al-Shabab gives defendants virtually no legal process at all. On the morning of May 6, residents of tiny Quar'a Madobe village were going about their business when al-Shabab militants ordered them to assemble. Dozens gathered to see the militants holding 2 men in civilian clothes at gunpoint.

"They brought the men in front of a tea restaurant, and told the residents they were captured enemy soldiers," said a witness who spoke to the Somali service. One militant then recited a Quranic verse, he said, and 2 others used large knives to slice off the men's heads, as those watching gasped and screamed.

A Somali National Army colonel identified the men as Mowlid Hussein and Ahmed Ya'qub, and said they were driving to the town of Jowhar to tend to family emergencies when al-Shabab intercepted their vehicle. The colonel said they were "off duty, uniformed and unarmed."

On May 1, al-Shabab executed 2 other men - Ahmed Ibrahim Ragow, 29, and Yusuf Ali Bajin, 22 - for allegedly raping a girl and killing her brother in the city of Beledweye. 1 was shot by firing squad; the other was publicly stoned.

Hassan Shire Sheikh is chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD). In an interview with VOA Somali, he called for a complete stop to the executions.

"Carrying out executions abruptly won't help the nation as it can cause the death of innocents," said Shire. "The current executions represent retrogressive and unjustifiable [policy], as there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishment."

Cleric backs death penalty

Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, an influential cleric and the chairman of the Council of Religious Scholars of Somalia, said his council backs use of the death penalty, which describes as "a strong principle in our Islamic law."

The cleric, who survived a car bomb in Mogadishu in 2013, is one of the few Somali clerics to publicly criticize al-Shabab's extreme ideology and terrorist attacks. He supports any harsh sentences against the militant members.

"We generally believe that al-Shabab militant members disrespect human life, kill innocent people indiscriminately and destabilizes people's peace and norm, so we support any iron hand dealing with them," he said.

(source: New Delhi Times)


Jyoti Singh's rapists are the symptoms and not the problem of sexual violence in India.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for 4 of the rapists in the December 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh. The gang rape, which took place in a moving bus in the capital city, has received widespread attention both in India and abroad.

The apex court's judgement was based on the incident being the "rarest of rare" - a criteria required to award the death penalty in India. The judgement described the offenders as "barbaric and demonical," noting that "if ever a case called for hanging, this was it".

Twitter and the news media echoed these sentiments. Well-known journalist Barkha Dutt tweeted that the case "definitely meets rarest of rare benchmark," while others celebrated that justice was served and demanded actions such as castration or "torture until death". "Rare" was the most used word to describe the incident in the press, followed by "brutal," "diabolical," and "heinous". Times Now, the English news channel with the highest viewership ratings in India, ran the story with the headline: "brutes sent to gallows".

The portrayal of the 2012 Delhi gang rape as ‘rare’ contains key factors over the past five years: first is that this incident was exceptional because of its extreme violent nature, which included the insertion of a rod into the victim and damage to her internal organs; second, that the rapists were some sort of depraved monsters that were unusual to average Indian society and hence capable of such inhuman acts.

Both factors are false. Neither was Jyoti Singh's rape rare in the intensity of its violence, nor was the intent of the rapists entirely different from what data on sexual violence in India proves.

This article does not debate the merit of the death penalty. But it makes a case that justice does not stop with legal punishment (whatever your stand on the nature of the punishment is); it demands that citizens participate in addressing the root causes of the rape.

Not so rare

Singh's gang rape was not the first nor the last brutal incident of its kind. In May last year, a young girl was stabbed 30 times and had her intestines gouged out by a sharp object. In 2015, a woman's body was found in Haryana on the side of the highway with missing limbs and sticks and stones in her private parts. Later that year, a 71-year old Catholic nun was gang raped by 8 men in West Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh in January this year, a teenage girl's ears were chopped off as she attempted to resist rape. Minors between the ages of 2- and 8-years are routinely raped. On average, 93 women are raped in India every day.

The difference between Singh's rape and the majority of rapes that receive lower attention is that 88% of rapes happen in rural India to women from lower classes and castes. The domination of upper-castes in India's political, economic and judicial sphere, especially in rural India, make both outrage and the delivery of justice less frequent. The close caste networks in villages often result in the offender and police colluding in refusing to officially record a rape, and in cases where they are recorded the police is often unable to act upon the offender for the same reason.

The English press won't carry these stories of rural and lower-caste victims with the same vigour and activism as it did in the aftermath of Singh's rape, as their primarily urban, middle-to-upper class target audience do not identify with these victims. Singh was a student living in a big Indian city, hailing from a middle-class family and returning home from the release of the latest English movie. While the number of recorded rapes have only changed mildly in the past decade, the average reporting on rapes in the English press has gone up by 4-fold since December 2012.

Reflections, rather than exceptions, of Indian society

The idea that Singh's rapists are evil abnormalities or extreme departures from average Indian society allows the convenience of diverting blame away from ourselves. Last week's judgement read that "the way the crime happened, it sounds like a story from a different world". The data and statistics around gender dynamics in India show that incidences of sexual violence are representative of deep-rooted social structures and stigmas.

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau of India, over 95% of rape victims know their rapist. These rapists are not 'brutes' lurking in the streets and back alleys, but are in fact within family and friends' circles. A study released in 2014 by the UN Population Fund and the International Centre for Research on Women reported that 2/3 of men surveyed across India admitted to having inflicted violence on their partners, while 1/3 had coerced their wives into performing a sexual act. Based on interviews with over 12,000 participants, the study further reported that the average male, across income, age and geography, believed that masculinity was about controlling women. Further, the majority of both male and female participants showed a preference for sons over daughters.

Rapists - even those who were capable of doing what they did to Singh - are not the real problem, but are simply manifestations and symptoms of the far more complex challenges of patriarchy and gender inequality. In an interview for the BBC documentary, India's Daughter, 1 of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, said: "a decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,". The documentary-maker Leslee Udween noted that "the horrifying details of the rape had led me to expect deranged monsters. Psychopaths. The truth was far more chilling. These were ordinary, apparently normal and certainly unremarkable men." The documentary was banned in India.

Questioning our own social behaviour

Gaining satisfaction from this punishment is right, up until it is about Singh getting justice and the police and courts delivering. Justice also exists outside of the legal sphere, and requires going beyond the courts and participating as a society to prevent further rapes. This would mean looking at our own social behaviour and correcting the power and gender imbalance. Do we raise our sons and daughters equally? Do we pay our male and female employees the same wages? Do we uphold patriarchal practices within our family structures?

Last week's ruling ended saying, "stringent legislation and punishments may not be sufficient for fighting crimes against women". Furthermore, it said,"Every individual, irrespective of his/her gender must be willing to assume the responsibility in fight for gender justice and also awaken public opinion."

(source: Anushka Shah is a researcher at the MIT Media Lab in


Kulbhushan Jadhav: India wins 1st round as ICJ refuses Pakistan from playing the purported confessional video

India tasted its 1st victory in its battle to save Kulbhushan Jadhav on Monday.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) refused to allow Pakistan to play the purported confessional video of the former Naval officer, who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on charges of spying.

Pakistan also assured the UN Court at The Hague, which began the public hearing on Monday, that Jadhav, who was arrested in March last year, was not going to be hanged immediately and that he would get 150 days to appeal against the death penalty.

The assurance is being seen as an attempt by Islamabad to stop the ICJ from passing any "provisional order" in the case as sought by India.

However, ICJ President Ronny Abraham informed the counsels of both countries that provisional orders would be passed another day.

India has demanded immediate suspension of Jadhav's death sentence, expressing fears that Pakistan could execute him even before the hearing at the ICJ concludes. "The execution of the death sentence cannot be done while this court is hearing the appeal. Else, it will be a violation of the Vienna Convention," India's lead attorney Harish Salve said.

Pakistan vehemently argued that consular agreement signed in 2008 between Islambad and Delhi was sufficient to deal with Jadhav case and the matter could not be raised under the Vienna Convention as India had done. "Why is time of this court being wasted?" asked its lawyer Khawar Qureshi.

Pakistan further accused Delhi of using the court as political theatre. "We will not respond in kind," Qureshi said.

"India's application for Jadhav is misconceived and unnecessary. Vienna Convention provisions do not intend to those involved in terror activities," he added.

In its submission, Salve had earlier pointed out that the consular pact between India and Pakistan was not relevant as it was not registered with the UN.

India claimed that the situation was grave and urgent, prompting it to approach the court "at such short notice". Pakistan had denied India its 16 requests for consular access, attorney Salve said.

"The graver the charges, the greater the need for continued adherence of the Vienna Convention. Jadhav has been in judicial custody without any communication with his family," he added.

The rights of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations are sacrosanct, Salve further said, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that recognises that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of their lives.

Deepak Mittal, joint secretary of India's Ministry of External Affairs, added that Jadhav's death sentence was handed down following a "farcical" trial.

Foreign policy experts feel that India has no reason to worry about the arguments put forward by Pakistan.

Former Ambassador Rajiv Dogra, who was posted for a while in Karachi, claimed that India had rightly focused on three questions in this case - ICJ's jurisdiction, due process of law/trial for Jadhav and complete violation of consular law.

"We have highlighted the contradictions in Pak Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz's statements of March 3 and April 10, when he first said there was insufficient evidence against Jadhav. Then a month later, he says Jadhav will be booked," said Dogra.

After hearing the arguments from the 2 sides, the ICJ will issue its order on the request for the provisional measures "as soon as possible". "The date on which this order will be delivered at a public sitting will be duly communicated to the parties," the court said.

On May 8, India moved the ICJ against the death penalty handed down to Jadhav. On May 9, the highest court in the UN stayed Jadhav's sentence.

US urges India, Pakistan to engage in dialogue

The US on Monday urged India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue to reduce tension. "We believe India and Pakistan stand to benefit from practical cooperation," a State Department spokesperson said. Asked about the US's stand on the case of Jadhav, the official said, "We encourage India and Pakistan to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tension."



2 verdicts, 1 message----A civilised and progressive jurisprudence calls for banning the death penalty.

Over the last few days, the Supreme Court has confirmed death sentences twice, and in close succession. On May 3, the Court rejected the review petition of Vasant Sampat Dupare, convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a small child. The 2nd, and more infamous case, relates to the death penalties for the convicts in the December 16 Delhi gang-rape case.

In both these cases, the Supreme Court did not consider it fit to remand the cases to the original sentencing court, despite agreeing that the trial court had erred by not considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances. This becomes important where the penalty sought to be imposed is that of death, which stands qualitatively and legally on a completely different footing from any other punishment. This deprives the convict of his procedural right of confirmation and appeal of the sentence.

Indeed, the Supreme Court routinely rejects a vast majority of the special leave petitions furnished before it each week, and remands a large number of criminal cases for consideration. Why was it that such a direction was not considered fit in these cases, even when the Court itself agreed that the sentencing carried out by the trial court was legally deficient? So much so that it considered mitigation evidence afresh, and reached the conclusion of death. The Supreme Court, in not referring the cases back to the trial court for sentencing, has, in fact, exercised jurisdiction which is properly with the lower courts.

Not only does the procedure adopted by the Court curtail the due process rights of the convicts under Article 21, but it also raises the question of whether the Court itself has created a differential criteria for the treatment of petitioners before it. These cases are similar in terms of the crimes committed. They are offences for which there is substantial demand for visible, retributive punishment of the offenders. Would it be possible then that the judiciary may be under pressure to impose extraordinary punishment in such cases, which could possibly run counter to procedural and Fundamental Rights?

Another aspect that requires discussion is the meaning of "rarest of rare" that is used to identify the category of offenders who may be sentenced to death. In the case of Bariyar, the Supreme Court had shown that its determination of rarest of rare was providing irreconcilable results, with similar cases falling in and out of the category. The Bariyar judgment may also be used to show that the determination of which cases merit death are influenced by the individual predilections of judges. The only safeguard that could possibly remedy this would be to look for the consistent award of death right from the trial court upwards, before concluding that a case merits capital punishment.

If one agrees with this aspect of Bariyar's reasoning, then the present cases become unsatisfactory on another ground. If the trial court had, as the Supreme Court seems to agree, not done a proper analysis of whether these cases were rarest of rare instances, then the question of consistency in sentencing vapourises. In essence, there is no legally tenable sentence at the level of the trial court at all. Therefore, a determination of whether or not these cases fall within the rarest of rare category cannot be done, unless the matter is remanded to the court which first sentenced them.

If these 2 cases are considered to be representative, it leads us to consider the possibility of legal and Fundamental Rights being not honoured for heinous offences accompanied by public outrage. The true test of whether any legal rights exist in the first place is how strictly we follow them in cases that test us the most. Whether we put anything by the rights to life and liberty must be seen in situations when those rights are under the most pressure and the temptation to ignore them is the highest. Any other understanding is chimerical to the entire notion of having rights.

The above also raises questions as to whether the death penalty has a place in our legal system, if inconsistencies in its application are being witnessed. In particular, if one sees that the very limited scope of rarest of rare is itself not capable of being applied in a manner which would provide predictability and equality, there can be no guarantee as to the proper exercise of the punishment. Therefore, the problem with retaining the death penalty will continue to exist even when its scope is limited. The only tenable option that remains would be that of abolition.

It is only by abolishing the death penalty in toto that we would be able to give full meaning to our commitment to a civilised and progressive jurisprudence in line with international trends.

(source: Opinion, Kunal Ambasta----The writer is assistant professor, National Law School of India University, Bangalore----Indian Express)


India demands suspension of Jadhav death penalty at ICJ; Pak calls plea unnecessary

Expressing apprehensions about the execution of former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, India on Monday demanded consular access to him at the International Court of Justice contending that a Pakistan's military court has awarded him death sentence through a "farcical trial".

Eminent lawyer Harish Salve and Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary Deepak Mittal led India's charge against Pakistan in the UN's highest judicial body. India contended that the situation was urgent as it was afraid that Islamabad might hang Jadhav even before the hearing was over. The charge was denied by Pakistan in its arguments later in the evening where it contended that the hearing was "not necessary" as Jadhav was found guilty on charges of espionage and subversive activities and hence does not fall under ICJ's jurisdiction.

"Jadhav has not got the right to get proper legal assistance and the right to consular access. There is an immediate threat to him to be executed even before a decision is passed," Mittal told the court in his opening remarks. India's decision to move ICJ over an issue with Pakistan has come after nearly after 4 decades. India's main contention is that it was denied its consular rights to its national and accused Pakistan of violating the Vienna convention and conducting a "farcical trial" without a "shred of evidence".

"The execution of the death sentence cannot be done while this court is hearing the appeal. Else, it will be a violation of the Vienna Convention," lead attorney Harish Salve said. Pakistan has turned down India's requests for consular access 16 times. Highlighting this and invoking Article 36 of Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Salve said: "The graver the charges, the greater the need for continued adherence of the Vienna Convention. Jadhav has been in judicial custody without any communication with his family." India has called the trial 'farcical' as it was not provided chargesheet against Jadhav, neither was he provided with defence counsel; and New Delhi came to know about his death sentence from the media. Human rights treated as "basics" all over had been thrown to the wind by Pakistan and the trial had been vitiated, India argued.

Replying to India's arguments, Pakistan later said that India has not responded to the evidence of Indian Passport. Pakistan also requested to show a confessional video of Jadhav but it was turned down by the court. Islamabad said that the Permanent-5 was informed about the case. Calling the petition as unnecessary, Pakistan said that 150 days has been provided to Kulbhushan from 10 April to 10 August to file an appeal in the case.

Pakistan has claimed to have arrested Jadhav from Balochistan, something vehemently denied by India that claims that the former naval officer was kidnapped from Chahbahar port in Iran.



House names new committee chairs after death penalty vote

The House leadership began naming the lawmakers who will be replacing the ousted committee chairpersons following the vote on the controversial death penalty bill.

On Monday, May 15, Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas announced during the plenary session the 1st batch of lawmakers who now hold committee chairmanships:

Mauyag Papandayan Jr, Lanao del Sur 2nd District - Muslim affairs

Arnel Ty, LPG Marketers Association - natural resources

Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Bagong Henerasyon - public information

Papandayan replaced Anak Mindanao Representative Sitti Turabin-Hataman, who is now just a member of the Muslim affairs committee.

Ty replaced Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, who has been named as one of the new vice chairs of the natural resources panel.

Dy, meanwhile, replaced ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio, who is now a vice chairperson.

Hataman, Zarate, and Tinio all voted against House Bill (HB) Number 4727, which gives judges the option to impose a life sentence or the death penalty on perpetrators of 7 drug crimes.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said any House leader who would vote against HB 4727, abstain from voting, or be absent during the proceedings would be removed from their posts.

The House then removed 11 committee chairpersons from their posts on March 15. Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also stripped of her deputy speakership for saying no to the death penalty bill.

It was under Arroyo's term as president when the Philippines abolished the capital punishment in 2006.


MAY 15, 2017:


Supreme Court orders Ralph Wright Jr. to be acquitted of 2007 St. Pete killings

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction and death sentences Thursday of Ralph Wright Jr., exonerating the former Air Force sergeant of the 2007 killings in St. Petersburg of his ex-girlfriend and their baby boy.

There was not enough evidence to prove that Wright killed Paula O'Conner and 15-month-old Alijah, the court ruled.

"Although the facts established at trial support a strong suspicion of guilt, they are not inconsistent with innocence," the justices wrote in a unanimous opinion. "We therefore conclude that the evidence is insufficient to sustain Wright's convictions."

The case will be sent back to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court with instructions that Wright be acquitted of the 2 murders.

Wright, 48, was convicted by a jury in 2013 and sent to death row a year later by Circuit Judge Thane Covert.

Wright was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa when he met O'Conner on a dating website. He was married, but told her he was divorced. He would disappear for long periods, telling her he was on secret missions for the Air Force, according to court records. The couple became engaged, but Wright became distant after O'Conner became pregnant with Alijah.

He did not believe he was the boy's father and rebuffed O'Conner's efforts to get him to support their child, records stated.

On July 6, 2007, O'Conner and her son were found dead in their home. She had been strangled; her baby had been suffocated.

Much of the state's case centered on a single black glove that was found at the crime scene. The glove was the same kind that had been issued to Wright's military unit. But analysts who processed the gloves for DNA couldn't find any that was a definitive match for Wright. It was also unclear whether the glove came from MacDill.

No other physical evidence linked Wright to the crime scene.

O'Conner's sport utility vehicle was found the day of the murders at an apartment complex about a 1/2-mile from her home. Investigators found no fingerprints or other forensic evidence matching Wright in the SUV.

Detectives determined the killings happened between 5:30 and 6:15 a.m. At 7:53 a.m., Wright visited a Starbucks coffee shop near the air base in Tampa, a 19-minute drive over the Gandy Bridge from O'Conner's home. She lived in the Edgemoor area of St. Petersburg. But there was no evidence that Wright had been in Pinellas County that morning.

The state argued that Wright committed the killings to avoid paying child support and to continue his "bachelor lifestyle."

But the defense argued that there were other viable suspects, including O'Conner's teenage daughter, Victoria "Tori" Christopher, with whom she had a sometimes-turbulent relationship.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the day of her mother's funeral, Christopher applied to claim more than $500,000 in life insurance. After she got the money, she spent it all in about 18 months, according to the court's written opinion.

"The only evidence presented by the State to prove that Wright was the murderer is the fact that he had motive and opportunity," the Supreme Court wrote. "But while motive and opportunity might create a suspicion that Wright committed the murders, even deep suspicions are not sufficient to sustain the convictions."

Christopher could not be reached Thursday for comment. Neither could a spokesman for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

"I'm very happy for him and his family," said Bjorn Brunvand, one of the attorneys who defended Wright at trial. "I'm hopeful that in the next month or so he'll be released and can be a free man."

The attorney explained that prosecutors can ask to have the Supreme Court hear the case again. If they do not, there will still be a delay before the decision becomes final.

"The bottom line is when someone is prosecuted for a crime like this, their lives are just in ruins by the time it's over with," he said. "They lose everything they have. ... It remains a huge shadow over their lives."

Wright's was one of several death penalty cases on which the Supreme Court ruled Thursday, but the only one in which it tossed out a defendant's conviction.

Earlier, the court overturned the death sentence of Khalid Pasha for the 2002 murders of his wife and her 20-year-old daughter in Hillsborough County.

But that simply sets the stage for Pasha to be resentenced.

Pasha, 73, was convicted twice in separate trials for the killings of Robin Canady, 43, and her daughter, Reneesha Singleton. The bodies of both women were found the night of Aug. 23, 2002, in a remote cul-de-sac in the Woodland Corporate Center on Waters Avenue. Their throats had been slashed.

The court ruled that Pasha's sentence was unconstitutional because a jury's 11-1 vote for the death penalty was not unanimous, as is now required.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Justice?----On Arkansas' Death Row, 2 Similar Cases - 2 Different Results; Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson were both convicted before modern DNA methods. Both maintained their innocence but were denied new DNA tests. Johnson is alive today, but Lee is dead.

It made big national news on April 24 when Arkansas carried out the United States' 1st double execution since 2000, of Jack Jones and Marcel Wiliams.

Far less well-known, though, is the story involving 2 other death-row inmates, Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson. The 2 men were arrested within the same year for the murders of white women. Both maintained their innocence during decades of imprisonment, and both were denied access to advanced DNA testing that their lawyers assert would have proven their innocence.

Today, after more than a quarter of a century on death row, Johnson is alive, and Lee is dead. Anti-death penalty lawyers and activists in the state say they have a hard time seeing the distinction between the 2 cases.

In 1993, Lee was convicted for the murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese, who was found sexually assaulted and bludgeoned in her home in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

According to the Innocence Project, Lee received inadequate counsel from both his appointed attorney who suffered from alcohol abuse and the presiding judge who was having an affair with the assistant prosecutor.

During his initial trial, the prosecution used two traces of blood found on his tennis shoes as evidence of guilt. However, a serologist at the state crime lab did no further testing for DNA or blood type. Microscopic comparisons of hair found in Reese's home had similarities to Lee's, but weren't specifically tied to him.

"There have been enormous advances in DNA testing since Ledell Lee's trial in 1995, but none of the lawyers appointed to represent Lee on any of his appeals over the last 20 years did anything to investigate whether DNA technology could prove his innocence," said Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project. "His appointed lawyers never filed petitions for DNA testing with the courts, and as far as we could tell, they never even looked into the issue."

Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the final vote in the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling, denying Lee's final motion. At 11:21 p.m. on April 20, the 51-year-old Lee was ushered into the Cummins Unit death chamber, restrained to a gurney, and administered a cocktail of 3 lethal injections. He was pronounced dead 4 minutes before his death warrant expired.

"We had a lot of concerns about whether the state's case against Lee was reliable, both in terms of the limited scientific evidence that prosecutors presented to the jury, and also in terms of what happened on the day of the murder and how the investigation unfolded," said Morrison.

Like Lee, 47-year-old Johnson had a track record of requesting post-conviction DNA tests for the brutal 1993 murder of 25-year-old Carol Heath, who was found strangled and beaten in her DeQueen, Arkansas, home, with her 2 children present. Johnson's 1st trial case was unanimously reversed after the court realized Heath's 6-year-old daughter Ashley, the only witness, was incompetent to testify.

In the final report for Johnson's forensic DNA testing, defense experts questioned why certain evidence was never examined. Johnson was both a friend of Heath's and a frequent visitor to her home, which his attorney asserts could explain follicles of his hair found at the scene. However, of the several Caucasian hairs found in the victim's hands, none were tested. Lawyers believe this could have been used to identify another suspect.

In 1997, the state reconvened and determined that then-9-year-old Ashley was fit to testify for the prosecution. Shortly after, Arkansas' Supreme Court convicted Johnson of capital murder in a 4-3 decision largely based on biological evidence and her testimony.

"Stacey's conviction was always controversial," said Johnson's attorney, Jeffrey Rosenzweig. "3 of the 7 members agreed with our position, and he came within 1 vote of the supreme court of having a brand new trial. We had to try again."

In 2001, Arkansas passed a law allowing all criminal defendants access to post-conviction DNA testing. It was only after both Lee's and Johnson's trials that advanced Short Tandem Repeat DNA testing, regarded as more probative and sophisticated, became a standard practice. Almost immediately after the statute was passed, both men's lawyers requested appeals that were denied.

"Whoever killed Heath bit her on the breast," Rosenzweig told The Daily Beast. "The cytologist collected what's called a secretor, which has enzymes. Only about 20 % of the population has that enzyme, and during the DNA regime in effect at that time, they received no DNA profile of anyone other than the victim."

Johnson's DNA appeal was filed 2 days before the scheduled date of his execution, set for the same date as Lee. Hours before he was set to be strapped to the same gurney and administered the same protocol as Lee, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted him clemency.

"I don't know why this happened," said Morrison. "Between the time that Johnson was granted a stay and when Lee came up for a vote something changed. There seemed to be no rational distinction between their legal claims."

In a response to the decision, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement saying he was "both surprised and disappointed" considering "each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each."

Johnson and Lee were the only 2 of 8 inmates scheduled for back-to-back mass executions, who had a significant guilt/innocence issue.

"We have an obligation as a civilized nation to be 100 % sure about guilt," said Karen Thompson, an attorney for the Innocence Project. "The 1 thing that can get rid of the arbitrariness of the death penalty is DNA testing. The fact that Mr. Lee wasn't even allowed the opportunity to get that testing appalling."

Johnson's case is being refiled and is expected to be heard in June. Within his appeal, evidence that has never been tested for DNA, including Heath's rape kit and clothing found miles away from the crime scene that belonged to the perpetrator, will be sent for processing and reveal whether he will be exonerated.

Since 1913, Arkansas has carried out 200 executions, 138 of whom have been black men. "We have to ask ourselves why other men sentenced to death row in Arkansas, some of whom have no innocence claims, have cases that allow them to be seen within the fullness of their humanity. The possibilities that the law allows people to have, when their entire story is being told is important. Johnson is the only man of color granted a stay and I think that is a metric that cannot necessarily be overlooked," said Thompson.

There is little distinction that can be drawn between these 2 cases, but because of 1 Supreme Court vote, Lee will never have the chance of exoneration.



Should the 'collective conscience' override the spirit of the Constitution? The principle of justice demands that law cannot rely on or be influenced by any delusionary sense or mood of the people

There are times when the actions of human beings are so grotesque and sordid that we want to tear ourselves away from our own skin and body. Moments when we wonder if we could by choice reject our natural membership of the human club. The Delhi gang rape and murder of December 2012 was one such event. This case ripped apart even the slightest hidden possibility of consideration towards the accused. As the details were unraveled, we had nowhere to hide and the lid was blown off what is the norm in our society. We treat women as objects of pleasure provided by the creator for men to feed on and discard as we please. Those little risque acts that occur everyday in office spaces and on public buses and we pass off as normal is where all this begins.

A few days ago, the Supreme Court awarded the death sentence to every one of the convicted attackers in the case. And I am sure, soon the debate around the death penalty will be revived. But irrespective of whether we are for or against the death sentence, as long it remains in our Constitution, judges will use it. There is, however, a phrase used by the honourable judges in their judgement that troubles me deeply - collective conscience.

This is not the 1st time this conceptual framework has been used in awarding the death sentence. But the truth of the matter is that in similar cases, 1 judge has confirmed the death penalty while another has been more lenient, commuting the sentence.M

Collective conscience makes its appearance through the individual conscience of the judge. So, when judges use this phrase, it is really to express what is essentially their own viewpoint, or they have taken it upon themselves to determine "collective consciousness". Both these positions are entirely self-generated.

The Delhi gang rape verdict implies that the "tsunami shock" to the collective conscience of our society caused by that horror demanded that the death sentence be pronounced. Can the courts allow any kind of public outcry, sense of conscience, sentiment or feeling to even remotely influence their decisions, especially when it is a case of the death sentence? This is even more relevant in the times that we live in, when television and social media bombard us, creating and determining opinion.

I am no legal expert and, therefore, speak as a legally challenged citizen. The very idea that a collective "sense", however powerful and influential, can play a role in anything legal needs to be pondered. It is in that direction that we need to ruminate, especially in cases where the judgement is entirely dependent on the interpretation by a solitary judge or solitary Bench. I am going to extend this phrase beyond its present interpretative legal framework for death sentencing and wonder whether this idea of collectiveness, cumulative opinion, practice, tradition, culture, etc has already been employed by judges while handing down disturbing judgements.

Prisoners of conscience

I began this piece with a few thoughts on rampant misogyny and patriarchy in our midst. But if we allow our collective sense to be part of anything judicial, we will find that many judges will become more than lenient with misogyny and male-chauvinism. Have we not heard judges, lawyers, public figures and politicians demand dress codes for women, accuse women of inviting rape and molestation because of the clothes they wear? Even recently, we heard women being questioned for being out late at night. And, of course, we as a society say nonchalantly that "men are just like that".

The bitter fact is that this mode of thinking and acting is a natural part of large section of the Indian society. A judge, as just an extension of society, accepts and agrees with a perceived collective conscience, then interprets this in whatever way they want. This is exactly why we have had judges pronounce verdicts that leave us agape, yet if we go by collective sensibility as a measure, we will have to accept their diktat. Beyond what is clearly stated in the law books, there are so many grey areas with regard to culture, rituals and traditional practices that can be entirely driven by majoritarian leanings. It was our Supreme Court that overturned the progressive and beautiful judgement by Justices Ajit Prakash Shah and S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court that held that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code violated Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. It is that very same collective morality that resulted in the Supreme Court's wrong decision.

This can flow way beyond sexism. We live in times when the right to fearlessly speak, write or sing is constantly under attack. We have a government that uses greater good of the country, nationalism, national security and Indian-ness as devious strategies to overwhelm dissent under its weight. We are led by a political party that has a control over social media like no other outfit and sways public opinion through a propaganda machinery that is unmatched. Where are we headed if beyond the evidence and details of the cases, judges can get inspired by this manipulated collective "sense" to lay down more limitations on how we live our lives?

Take, for example, the compulsory "you better stand up for the national anthem when it is played in cinema theatres" order by the Supreme Court. There are many who find this entirely acceptable and the court itself might have sensed this collective agreement and a politically orchestrated national mood of jingoism. But the truth is, this order is authoritarian. A beautiful song that I love to hear and love to sing has become an instrument of compulsion. Will there be a day when the Supreme Court, after mulling over all the over-bearing and complex evidence, allows a Ram temple to be built in Ayodhya because the Hindus of this country (close to 80% of the population) wish for that to happen?

Our Constitution is based on the principle of justice for the most marginalised, disfranchised, oppressed, unknown, unseen and ignored. This spirit demands that law cannot rely on or be influenced by any delusionary sense or mood of the people.

We need in judges a liberal energy and the ability to be creative human beings. Creativity, incorrectly, is seen as lawlessness and hence many in the courts function "by the book" or "by their culture", choosing between the 2 as per their convenience. But creativity is the only way we can fight inertia, conservatism and orthodoxy. If we do agree that the basic tenets of our Constitution rejoice in humanity, then creativity is the only way forward. The creative breathes within systems, yet it detaches itself from the personal and the public, allowing for the ethical and humanitarian to pave the way. Our judges need this vitality.



Trump to visit Saudi Arabia as juveniles face execution

President Trump is preparing to visit Riyadh, as concerns grow for 3 Saudi juveniles who face imminent execution for attending protests.

The President will reportedly travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday 19 May 2017. IThe international human rights group Reprieve has written to the President urging him to secure the release of 3 juveniles in the Kingdom who are at risk of execution, potentially by beheading - and, in 1 case, crucifixion.

Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon, and Abdullah al-Zaher were arrested following pro-democracy protests in 2012. They were tortured into signing false 'confessions', which were used in a secretive counter-terrorism court to convict them, and sentence them to death.(

The Saudi authorities have recently executed several juveniles and alleged political protesters. 1 juvenile, Ali al-Ribh, was arrested in his school before being executed in January 2016, alongside 46 others.

Maya Foa, a Director at Reprieve, said: "As President Trump visits Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is engaged in a shocking wave of repression that flies in the face of US values. Juveniles like Ali al-Nimr, Dawood al-Marhoon and Abdullah al-Zaher could be executed at any moment, simply for exercising freedom of speech. They could face a horrific execution, which could include beheading and 'crucifixion', just for attending protests. Other protesters have been tortured into signing false confessions, tried in secret, and then executed.

"President Trump must use his visit to send a clear message to Riyadh - he must demand the release of Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, and call on the Kingdom to halt executions of juveniles and protesters."



Azerbaijan's political party calls for return of death penalty in country

Discussing recent reports of treason by some Azerbaijani military servicemen and civilians at a meeting on Monday, the Board of the Whole Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (WAPFP) called for the return of the death penalty in the country.

"Considering Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan allowing the application of death penalty for crimes against state, Article 2 on the making of provision in law for the death penalty in respect of acts committed in time of war or of imminent threat of war of Protocol 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - which Azerbaijan is a member of - and the fact that Azerbaijan is in a state of war, the Whole Azerbaijan Popular Front Party puts forward the initiative of the return of the death penalty," the party said in a statement on May 15, APA reported.

Taking into account that the Armenian-Russian joint military group is subordinate to the Supreme Commander of Armenia and Moscow hasn't so far denied the allegations that these troops can take part in combat operations in Nagorno-Karabakh, the WAPFP Board stated that the current situation shows the reality of Russia's being in a state of war with Azerbaijan, stressing the need to take a number of urgent measures.

"The party believes that Azerbaijani citizens shouldn't be sent to study at Russian military schools, calling for a serious investigation into those who received military education in Russia, as well as those who served in the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces and are currently servicemen of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces," said the statement.

The party Board called on the Azerbaijani Milli Majlis' (parliament) security and defense committee to immediately hold hearings on persons accused of treason.

"The parliament, representing the legislative power, must provide the Supreme Commander-in-Chief with detailed information. In addition, the persons responsible for this sphere should be seriously punished and public concern must be ended," the statement said.



Death penalty to worsen police abuses -Atienza

The kidnapping of a businessman and his girlfriend in Pasay City by 4 police officers and the discovery of a tokhang-for-ransom dungeon run by drug enforcement agents in Manila should serve as a wakeup call for Congress to abandon the revival of the death penalty amid rambling law enforcement corruption, House senior deputy minority leader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said on Sunday.

"Right now, we are already witness to the unbridled abuse of police powers by rotten officers. The problem is bound to get worse once we have the death penalty," Atienza warned.

He said crooked officers engaged in all sorts of criminal activities would have a heyday if capital punishment is reinstated.

"They will use the mere threat of death sentences to get whatever they want from their targets - from their victims," the former Manila mayor said.

"Violent crime is thriving not because of the absence of the death penalty, but because law enforcement has been overwhelmed by corruption," Atienza said.

He noted that many police officers are involved in all sorts of crime such as drug trafficking, extortion and protection rackets, kidnapping-for-ransom, robbery, murder-for-hire, illegal gambling and prostitution.

The lawmaker called for "comprehensive reforms in the entire criminal justice system, from law enforcement to corrections."

"The death penalty won't address rampant crime. On the contrary, it is guaranteed to spur more crime, particularly those perpetrated by hooligans in uniform," Atienza said.

The House of Representatives on March 7 approved on final reading the bill that would impose death sentences on drug-related offenses.

Atienza was among those who opposed the bill.

(source: The Manila Times)


'Running priest' Robert Reyes: PH at a crossroads under Duterte----Fr Robert Reyes leads 15 pilgrims in Lakbay Buhay (Walk for Life) and calls on Filipinos to take a stand against the death penalty

The country is at a crossroads under President Rodrigo Duterte as it faces controversial issues, said Fr Robert Reyes on Sunday, May 14, as he led the Lakbay Buhay (Walk for Life) event.

These issues include the proposed revival of the death penalty, which Duterte is pushing for.

"We are at a crossroads under the strongman Duterte. We're fighting [against] the death penalty because if this is reinstated... there will be free killing of Filipinos," said Reyes, popularly known as the "running priest."

The Philippines had abolished the death penalty through Republic Act 9346 in 2006 under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But Duterte wants it reinstated, a move that the Commission on Human Rights has said would be a "blatant breach of international law."

"People compromise all the time depending on who are the bosses. A lot of very conscientious Catholics are now swallowing their pride and principles," Reyes said, referring to lawmakers who voted in favor of the death penalty at the House of Representatives.

The "running priest" led 15 pilgrims from 15 regions who arrived in Legazpi City on Sunday after 9 days of traveling from Cagayan de Oro for Lakbay Buhay. Their aim is to convince more Filipinos to speak out against the death penalty.

'Penchant for power'

Fr Rex Paul Arjona, social action director of the Diocese of Legazpi, also warned of threats to democracy.

"If there is not enough popular opinion and the people will just stay silent and do nothing, then [Duterte's] penchant for power will grow even more," he said.

"It's up to the people to stand up for what is right and also to remind our legislators to [take a stand] against death penalty. If we consider this normal already, [it] will lead to dictatorship," he also said.

The pilgrims are expected to arrive in Manila on May 19. They will deliver their "Junk Death Penalty! #LakbayBuhay" petition to the Senate on May 24.

Last April, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had said the death penalty bill is already "dead" in the Senate, with at least 13 senators expected to vote against it.


German bishops lobby to end Philippine killings----German bishops back the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in fighting extrajudicial killings and opposing the death penalty

Heeding a call by their Filipino counterparts, German bishops lobbied with the German government to help end extrajudicial killings as well as other threats to human rights in the Philippines.

Archbishop Ludwig Schick, chairman of the Commission for International Church Affairs of the German Bishops' Conference, made this appeal in a letter to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Friday, May 12.

In his letter to Gabriel, Schick said the German Bishops' Conference "shows solidarity" with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in fighting extrajudicial killings and opposing the death penalty.

"As chairman of our conference's Commission for International Church Affairs, which is responsible for matters such as this, I kindly ask you, the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, to step up the critical dialogue with the government of the Philippines in the current, politically decisive phase and to do everything in your power to ensure that the human rights situation in the Philippines does not deteriorate," Schick told Gabriel.

Schick explained that CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas asked the German Bishops' Conference to support the CBCP's appeals to the Philippine government.

"These appeals voice opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and express active support for both the observance of human rights in the fight against drugs and an end to 'extrajudicial killings,'" the German bishop said in his letter, a copy of which is uploaded on the website of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines.

The enumerated issues remain contentious points between the CBCP and the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has vowed to wage a bloody anti-drug campaign.

In this war on drugs, legitimate police operations have killed at least 2,717 suspected drug personalities while at least 3,603 deaths remain under investigation.

(source for both:

MAY 14, 2017:


Justice delayed is justice denied. Again.

The perpetrator of biggest mass murder in Polk County's history will get another chance to sidestep the death penalty, thanks to a Florida Supreme Court ruling from last week.

Nelson Serrano, now 78, was convicted of shooting 4 people to death at a Bartow manufacturing plant in 1997. The victims included 3 of his former business associates and the wife of 1 of the men - a state prosecutor - who happened upon the crime as it was occurring.

The state Supreme Court, which had denied earlier attempts to reverse Serrano's sentence, ruled 4-3 last week to overturn Serrano's sentence and ordered a new trial limited to determining his sentence, not his guilt or innocence. That resulted from the U.S. Supreme Court's determination last year that the death penalty cases require unanimous sentencing verdicts issued by a jury, and not a judge.

We won't know for a few months whether Serrano will again be sentenced to die for the slayings, but the case will help signal as to whether the death penalty will continue to be a viable punishment in Florida.

It appears death row defendants are taking advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. Serrano's was 1 of at least 11 cases the state Supreme Court has considered in the past 2 months relative to the new guidelines. It's estimated that as many as 200 inmates - or about 1/2 the population of death row - could seek relief.

We have discussed this issue previously in this space, and while we doubt anything will alter the course of this issue, in the wake of the Serrano ruling last week, we wonder again why the U.S. Supreme Court decided to create this turmoil.

As we have noted, the court's logic, which ultimately has meshed 2 issues by requiring juries to determine death sentences and mandating unanimous verdicts for the ultimate punishment, is baffling. For one thing, the jury-vote mandate undercuts federalism by forcing the same standard on all states for what is primarily a state responsibility. And in every other criminal case, a judge hands down the sentence for the convicted defendant. It's unclear why 1st-degree murder cases should be different.

Yes, we understand the past issues with the death penalty. We, as a society, have seen far too many innocent people released from death row. For example, on Thursday, the same day that Serrano got a new penalty trial, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction and death sentence of Ralph Daniel Wright Jr. because the evidence against him was largely circumstantial. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Wright became the 159th person on death row somewhere in America who has been exonerated over the past 44 years.

And the recent, and grisly, attempt by Arkansas to execute 8 inmates in less than 2 weeks certainly did not improve the public perception of capital punishment.

(source: Editorial: The Ledger)


Death penalty sought for man charged in killing, abduction

Prosecutors in Ohio will seek the death penalty for a man accused of fatally shooting the mother of his 10-month-old son and abducting her stepmother and the little boy.

Police last month arrested 27-year-old James Ramey, of Toledo, after finding him in northern Indiana, near Rochester. The child and stepmother weren't hurt.

Prosecutors in Ohio's Fulton County said Wednesday they will seek a death sentence after Ramey was indicted on 22 counts, including aggravated murder.

Authorities say he broke into the family's house in Delta, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Toledo on March 14 and shot 23-year-old Amanda Magas in the chest. She later died at a hospital.



Anti-death penalty activist says she wrestled with issue and 'God won'

Marietta Jaeger-Lane has faced the death penalty issue head-on.

In 1973, when her 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped during a family camping trip in Montana and murdered by her captor, the mother of 5 said she would have killed the person who did it with her "bare hands."

"But my Catholic faith calls me to something different," she said, explaining how she came to a change her opinion on the death penalty, which she likened to a "wrestling match where God won."

Jaeger-Lane, speaking to reporters in a May 11 press call officially launching the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty, said most people have "a gut level response to acts of extreme violence, but when they are educated on the reality of the death penalty, they begin to rethink their position."

She told reporters that her daughter's kidnapper called her a year to the day of the kidnapping and was arrested soon after, but she asked the prosecutor for the alternative sentence of mandatory life without parole. Only when the kidnapper was offered that, she said, was he willing to confess to the murders of 3 children, including her daughter Susie, and a 19-year-old.

For decades, Jaeger-Lane, who forgave her daughter's killer, has spoken out against the death penalty, urging people to see that capital punishment does not bring the closure or healing that victims' families are seeking. She said it also denies the criminals the chance for the "mercy of God working in their lives."

She said she signed the anti-death penalty pledge, sponsored by Catholic Mobilizing Network, because she believes "the Catholic community can be the one to end the death penalty."

She also is convinced there is more Catholics can do, stressing that she would like to hear priests speak out against the death penalty as they do against abortion as a pro-life issue. She also pointed out that many parishes have prison ministries - noting that she is part of a ministry that visits a prison every week - but she thinks there needs to be more of an outreach of support for victims' families.

They need to be listened to in their desire for revenge, she said.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, who also took part in the press call, similarly urged the church to take up the "ministry of accompaniment" to support victims' families.

The bishop, who signed the pledge May 9, stressed that its key components call people to be educated on the death penalty, advocate against it and pray for it to end.

He said Catholic bishops have spoken out for decades against the death penalty, stressing that the "human dignity in every human being must be respected."

The idea for the pledge campaign began in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton. She said Arkansas' bid to execute 8 death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April - 4 were ultimately put to death - "exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken."

The pledge campaign is supported in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign. It can be signed here:



Top court adjourns hearing on review pleas of war criminal Sayedee and government

The Appellate Division has started hearing 2 review petitions filed over war crimes convict Delwar Hossain Sayedee's verdict, which commuted his death sentence to prison until death.

Delwar filed a review petition seeking acquittal while the state seeks to revive the death penalty.

A 5-member bench led by Chief Justice SK Sinha started the hearing on Sunday and adjourned it until Monday, an hour later.

Advocate Khandaker Mahbub Hossain argued for the Jamaat leader while Attorney General Mahbubey Alam represented the state.

The trial of Sayedee began at the International Crimes Tribunal-1 in 2011 and a verdict was pronounced in 2013.

Of the 20 charges against him, Sayedee was given the death penalty for 2 -- the murders of Ibrahim Kutti and Bisabali, and for setting fire to Hindu households in Pirojpur in 1971.

The Supreme Court verdict, delivered in 2014, sentenced Sayedee on 5 charges of the 20 that were framed against him.

The verdict reduced Sayedee's death sentence for Ibrahim Kutti's murder to imprisonment for 12 years.

In its 2nd appeal verdict in a war crimes case, the Supreme Court sentenced Sayedee to prison until death for 3 charges.

These include the murder of Bisabali and arson in a Hindu neighbourhood, abduction and rape of 3 sisters of Gauranga Saha.

Saha was a prosecution witness and identified Sayedee as the man who had handed over his sisters to the Pakistani army to be taken away as sex slaves. They were returned after 3 days.

Sayedee was also sentenced to prison until death on charges of forcible conversions of 100-150 Hindus.

6 other charges were also proven beyond doubt but no sentencing followed as he had already been given the death penalty.

15 months after the verdict was delivered, the Supreme Court published the full verdict in the matter on Dec 31, 2015, paving the way for reviews.

On Jan 12, 2016, the state filed a petition for a review of the verdict and 5 days later, Sayedee's plea seeking acquittal was filed.



Activist faces death for dumping Islam

Mr. Mohamed Al-Dosogy, an activist who tried to dump Islam for atheism, is in trouble in Sudan where authorities ordered his arrest for apostasy which attracts death penalty.

Article 126 of Sudan's 1991 Penal Code imposes the death penalty on offenders found guilty of apostasy.

The section defined apostasy as a crime that is committed by any Muslim who advocates for the renunciation of the creed of Islam or publicly renounces his or her faith.

He was released on Friday by the police on the order of a judge, APA has said.

The Sudanese police released the human rights activist, facing an apostasy case after attempting to abandon Islam for atheism.

The police said Mohamed Al-Dosogy was mentally challenged and could not be punished for his alleged crime.

(source: Royal News)


Prisoner Hanged on Murder Charges in Tabriz Central Prison

A prisoner identified as Davoud Fateminasb was reportedly hanged at Tabriz Central Prison on murder charges.

According to a report by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network, the execution was carried out on Tuesday May 9 and the prisoner had been arrested 3 years ago on murder charges. The prisoner was reportedly sent for execution 2 months ago, but his death penalty sentence was suspended last minute.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have not announced this execution.



Iran Regime's Parliamentarian: Rouhani Always Called for Public Execution

According to state run media, on Wednesday, Mojtaba Zollnour, member of the regime's parliament, accused Rouhani as being part and parcel of all the executions carried out in this regime, after recent revelations regarding the extent of executions carried out by the regime, and stated: "Regarding the Islamic execution verdicts carried out, which Mr. President questioned in his visit to Hamedan, he has to keep in mind that the people have not forgotten, this same Mr. Rouhani in 1980 would chant bring them and have them executed in public and in Friday prayer sermons."

He continued, "Today Mr. Rouhani! Why do you raise such issues?"

On 9 May in his trip to Hamedan Rouhani, pointing to the hardline candidates Ebrahim Raiesi and Ghalibaf stated, "We don'y want Exclusivists. We don't want those who sit behind desks and sign verdicts".



Death penalty under defective criminal justice system opposed

Speakers at a 1-day conference on 'Moving away from death penalty in Pakistan' organised by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on Saturday reflected on capital punishment and what it meant for Pakistani society.

"Until 2014, there was a moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan. Then when it was lifted after the terrible Army Public School incident, it was said that capital punishment applies only to terrorist-related cases, which did not happen, of course," said member, Sindh NCHR Anis Haroon.

She regretted that the poor in Pakistan, who could not afford a good lawyer, spent years in jail before being hanged finally, which was like making them serve 2 sentences.

"Pakistan's criminal justice system is defective," said Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan, chairman NCHR. "And no, it not just the poor who are suffering and paying the price for not getting a good defence because there is also the case of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto before us. He was not a poor man," he added.

"The law is not settled and jurisprudence exploits it. The best jurisprudence has unique courts but here we have Common Law, Sharia law, antiterrorist courts, drug courts, etc. There is a diversity of courts here," he said.

Veteran journalist and human rights advocate I.A. Rehman said that it all boiled down to killing. "It is even worse when done by the state. There are people spending years in prison and reforming as a result of that and we kill them when they become better human beings," he said.

"There was this man in prison, who educated himself up to the level of PhD and educated so many other inmates, but then he was hanged. There is this other man, who became an artist behind bars but then he was hanged as well," he said.

"And then, too, you are not punishing the killer by ending his life, you are punishing his family," he said.

Barrister Faisal Siddiqui said that while there was an intellectual international consensus against the death penalty, Pakistan was moving in the opposite direction. "Secular and Islamic provisions have made hotchpotch of our Constitution. We are a traumatised and brutalised society, which our state exploits," he said.

Senator Saeed Ghani asked if anyone thought that a suicide bomber would be afraid of the death penalty. "And still we talk about reserving the death penalty for terrorists," he said.



Nayana Pujari rape case: Death sentence awarded to 3 convicts

8 years after the crime, a special court here yesterday convicted 3 accused for the abduction, gang rape, and murder of a software engineer.

Special Judge L L Yenkar awarded death sentence to the trio - Yogesh Raut, Mahesh Thakur and Vishwas Kadam, a day after convicting them in the sensational gang-rape-cum-murder case. "Despite Chaudhari playing an equal role in the crime, why was he let off the hook?" asked Defence lawyer B.A. Aloor. The 4th accused later raped the victim.

However, the prosecution while defending its move to make Choudhary an approver in the case said that he was misled by the others who told him that the victim was a sex worker. However, he later mustered courage and agreed to turn an approver in the case. No charges were framed against him since then.

Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar forcefully argued for the death penalty, calling the crime "the rarest of rare cases", considering the brutality the victim suffered.

Former police inspector Deepak Sawant, then in-charge of Yerawada Police station, who attended every hearing though he has retired, said, "Based on mobile data and other cyber information, we arrested Yogesh Raut".

The 28-year-old software engineer was kidnapped on the evening of October 7, 2009, from Kharadi-Mundhwa bypass when she was on her way home. She was raped again by the four in the moving auto before being strangulated. They had also withdrawn Rs 61,000 from her bank account using her ATM card.

They subsequently strangled her with her scarf, smashed her head with a large stone to mangle her face and dumped her body in the forests of Zarewadi from where it was recovered after 2 days.

"The victim was murdered in cold blood and the criminals showed no mercy".

The accused was kidnapped and raped inside the auto. "After strangulating her, the killers attempted to wipe out traces of her identity by attempting to disfigure her", said Mr. Nimbalkar.

The court is to hear tomorrow the arguments on quantum of sentences for the 3 convicts.

The CCTV footage from the area showed 4 men - the taxi driver Yogesh Raut, the IT firm's security guard Raju Chaudhari, offered Pujari a lift in their vehicle. Raut said he had been "wrongly accused" by the approver, Chadhuri.

The victim's husband Abhijit Pujari, and sisters Manisha G. and Madhuri J. who had demanded the death penalty after the conviction May 8, expressed their "relief and satisfaction" about the verdict to the media. Mr. Pujari said justice had finally been served with this sentence.



What happens after a court hands down the death penalty in India?----A long-drawn out process determines whether the convict is actually executed.

Executing a death sentence is a long process in India; it can take between 7 and 11 years in some instances. In many cases, the sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, with actual execution remaining the exception rather than the rule.

So, there is a large gap between the number of death penalties handed out and actual executions. The video above explains all that happens between the sentencing and the execution. With several steps and decisions involved, the actual execution doesn't usually take place quickly.

In the past few years, there have been only 3 executions: of Ajmal Kasab for the Mumbai terror attack (2012), of Afzal Guru for the Parliament terror attack (2013), and of Yakub Memon for the Mumbai serial blasts (2015).

According to Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, the judge is required to provide "special reasons" for awarding the death sentence in the first place, and only in the "rarest of rare" cases.

However, there is no statutory definition of "rarest of rare" cases.

In the 1980 case of Bachan Singh Versus The State of Punjab, the Supreme Court said: "Death penalty should be imposed when collective conscience of the society is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability of otherwise of retaining death penalty."

Recently, the death penalty has been upheld in the 2012 Delhi gang rape case for 4 of the5 adults found guilty of raping and causing the death of Jyoti Singh. The 5th had committed suicide earlier, while the 6th perpetrator was a juvenile at the time of the crime. The Supreme Court declared: "If ever a case called for hanging, this was it."



University leaders call on Senate to reject death penalty bill

University leaders on Friday released a statement urging senators not to vote for House Bill 4727 or the death penalty bill.

In a statement, they said there is "no reason for us to bring back this inhumane form of punishment."

"The kind of justice promoted by the death penalty, an eye-for-an-eye vindictiveness, is not the kind of justice we should seek and promote in our country," the statement read.

The leaders gave 6 arguments as to why the death penalty should not be revived, such as it is "anti-poor, violates international commitments, has not been proven conclusively to deter crime, will not solve the drug problem, will not dispense justice, and the ultimate violation of the human right to live."

They also thanked the senators who are against the bill, appealed to those in favor to "reconsider their stand," and called upon the undecided not to vote for the bill.

"[We] believe and are reminded by our education that in crafting policies for our country, we ought to be guided by ethical principles and grounded by evidence," they said.

The signatories of the statement are leaders of Assumption College, Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Cagayan, De La Salle University, De La Salle Philippines, San Beda College, St. Scholastica's College, University of the Philippines Diliman and Manila, University of Santo Tomas, and Xavier School.

The senate committee on justice is expected to tackle the bill this month.

Last week, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella emphasized the importance of the bill after a Pulse Asia survey showed a decrease in the number of Filipinos in favor of reviving the death penalty.

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the bill is "already dead in the Senate," while senators in favor of the bill challenged his statement.

In March, the bill was passed on the third and final reading in the chamber, with 217 lawmakers voting in favor, 54 against, and 1 abstention.

Under the measure, only drug-related offenses would be punishable by death.

In February, lawmakers removed rape, plunder and treason from the coverage of the bill.



Surviving death row and life after

How do I resume life after losing 18 years of it to prison and death row? Can I just walk back in and pick up the pieces or do I have to start a new? Will the people around me judge me for my ordeal? Do I have to conceal my identity? Would I have to exist as an outcast? Would I have to buy my meals hurriedly and rush to a corner to eat them to avoid attention?

Fortunately, these are questions many of us will never ever have to ask ourselves. But for 38-year-old Teng Howe Sing, they were the very questions that haunt him constantly during his time behind bars.

19 years ago, Teng was a normal 19-year-old college student in Sibu. It was his 1st time living on his own outside his hometown Kapit and he savoured his new-found freedom.

Being a social butterfly, he had friends in various circles and spent his days, focusing solely on his friendships and school. His new-fangled priorities, however, led to a series of events that caused his 'new rosy lifestyle' to come crashing down on March 17, 1999, when he was charged with drug trafficking.

"On that fateful day, a friend of mine asked me if I could do him a favour by picking up a parcel for him in Sibu as he was in Sarikei. I obliged and went along with another friend to pick up the parcel," Teng recounted.

It was a simple favour most of us would agree to without a 2nd thought but for Teng, that simple favour was the beginning of the end because unbeknownst to him, the parcel contained 371.12 grams of cannabis.

Teng was arrested following a police ambush shortly after picking up the parcel and was sent to jail after being held in custody for 13 days. Following a string of bad legal advice and conflicting police accounts of the day's events, Teng was convicted of drug trafficking and given the death penalty.

He sought appeal after appeal to fight the injustice but his attempts were rebuffed at every turn. His final failed appeal was made on Jan 24, 2009 when the Federal Court announced "it did not wish to disturb the lower court's findings".

Pardon from the Governor

In a last-ditch bid to save his life, Teng and his supporters sought a pardon from the then Head of State Tun Datuk Patinggi Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng.

Abang Salahuddin felt compassion for Teng's case and granted him a pardon on July 1, 2013, reducing his death sentence to life imprisonment - which was 20 years at the time. Teng was calm and peaceful when he heard the news. It was a joyous occasion, and his family, friends and supporters throughout the entire ordeal, were relieved he had escaped the gallows.

Having already served a number of years in prison, Teng's release date was set just 3 years later - on Dec 22, 2016.

With 3 years of prison left to serve, he spent his time contemplating about his life, his experiences and his future.

He thought about how he would live after spending 10 years of his life in an 8 by 8 square foot room with a single window.

He also thought about ways to reduce the burden he would place on his family besides his own future, goals and aspirations. With time on his hands, Teng did a lot of soul-searching and came to just 1 conclusion, "I want to be a normal person again."

Striking a chord

While on death row, a guard told him, "If I were you, I'd kill myself. Because then, my parents would only have to cry for 3 days and nights. Instead, your parents now have to grieve every day not knowing when it will be over."

It was a crass comment made in an attempt at humour but it struck a chord with Teng.

"I mulled over it for a while and came to realise it would be a lie to say my parents would only cry for 3 days and nights. They bore and raised me and this is something that cannot be dismissed so easily. I've learnt the most important thing in the world to me is my parents.

"I think they might face a whole life of regret, guilt and remorse instead if I did such a thing (commit suicide). That, in itself, is worse than me choosing to live and depend on them for my well-being," he said.

The guard's comment did, however, impact Teng in a positive way as it further reinforced his desire to be self-sufficient and responsible when he re-entered society.

While Teng's goal of wanting to be a normal person again might sound simplistic, it was far from that as he wanted to make amends and resume his own life.

Trying to find his place in life again

Teng (front) with his former classmate Su Hong Chong and his wife. Su owns a famous kampua stall at Kampua Kiat Café and out of goodwill and support for his friend, Su continues to charge Teng a minimal amount for food and drink. He says he will continue doing so until Teng’s life is once again stable.

He wanted to settle in his state and live openly as Teng Howe Sing and no one else because it is the life his parents had given him, and one his parents, family, friends and supporters value highly. "I fell down here in my home state and it's here where I need to stand back up again."

Telling his story

Teng explained it was because of this resolution during his time in prison that he chose to publish several articles he wrote under his real name.

"I decided I couldn't hide what has happened to me. I wanted the world to know my story, that I was tricked into picking up drugs, that I used to be in jail and that I have escaped the gallows.

"If I were to introduce myself to someone, I would be upfront with who I am because I don't want to 2nd-guess myself whether or not the person would still be my friend if he or she knew the truth.

"I wanted to have friends who knew my history but still decided to stick around. Then they would be real friends. I want people to say - 'Oh he is out and he still has so many friends around him'."

It was rather strange to hear Teng emphasising the need to have friends when it was the very action of his previous 'friends' that got him into deep trouble and stole 18 years of his life.

Teng said what he did in prison was time and during that time, he had contemplated for a very long time about the concept of 'friends'.

"I fell because I chose friends over family and during my time in prison, I did think about exacting revenge and not trusting anyone again. However, as my release date approached, I started to think all these thoughts about vengeance and distrust were not worth it. As Nelson Mandela once said 'If I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.'

"Besides, I am standing up again because of friends - new friends who have supported me by treating me like a human being again and who have also taken me swimming, to picnics and mountain-climbing expeditions."

In the 5 short months since his release, these friends have helped Teng immensely to experience the joys of life again and because of that, he has decided if he is to go on living, he needs to live a more meaning life.

3 goals

Now, his 3 big goals in life are to maintain a good relationship with his family, give back to society and stand on his own feet. He hoped his story and experience would serve as an eye-opener to young people, especially those from smaller towns and villages who might be heading to larger cities.

"In smaller places like Kapit, Serian and Sarikei, kids will be more trusting because they grow up in a small environment where everyone knows everyone, and because of that, there is a higher sense of trust within the communities.

"However, there seems to be issues of drug abuse right now around the state and many youngsters appear to be using," he noted.

As such, Teng hoped the younger generation will be careful about who they choose to trust. He also urged them to consider the grave consequences of dabbling in drugs. Through such advice and cautioning, he hoped he could give back to the local community.

Teng said he doesn't want these youngsters to lose faith in humanity but be more alert to its ugly side and look out more for themselves.

"I don't want to have gone through my ordeal for nothing. I believe God placed me there to witness suffering so I could use my experience to prevent others from going down the same path and to give back to society."

Teng's mission to help society doesn’t end there as he also wishes to share life lessons he has learnt from his time in prison. During incarceration, he said, the most important thing he learned is that parents are the most important people in the world.

Throughout his entire ordeal, his parents, especially his mother, stayed strong beside him. They kept him sane, gave him hope and made him feel loved and that life is worth living.

"In those 18 years, my mother had gone through so much for me. She not only had to take care of my father's ailing health and the household but also travel back and forth to visit me in prison. I can't begin to describe the suffering she endured and I don't know how to ever fully repay her."

Teng said when he was suicidal while facing the death penalty, it was always the thought of his mother that kept him strong and sane.

"I almost lost everything, including my mother and my family, so I need to treasure them."

Because of this, Teng's number 1 goal in life is to maintain that love between him and his family. And he hopes others will follow suit because he believes no one loves us more than our own parents. Even before his release, he had already started working on this goal.

Teng enjoying life again with friends and family.

Mother's love

Some years ago, the boy who grew up across the street of his home was incarcerated for drug abuse. The boy had overdosed on drugs and in desperation, his mother called the ambulance to save her son's life even if it meant he would be jailed for dabbling in drugs. The boy survived but in anger, cut ties with his mother, believing it was her fault that he now had to serve a prison sentence.

Teng said his parents called him in prison to tell him the news.

"They said the woman across the street couldn't stop crying because her son refused to speak to her or let her visit. It was a very sad story. While growing up, I remembered seeing how much the woman loved her son, how she treated him like gold and how he could do no wrong in her eyes."

As Teng was still serving his life sentence at the time, he went to look for the boy in prison and after finding him, told him, "Look at me, I've been here for 18 years, much longer than you have and will ever be. Do you think the friends you have now will still visit you as years go by? No, the one person who will do that is your mother." The boy was greatly moved and shortly after, made up with his mother.

"For me, that's one of the most touching experiences because I was able to help someone to see the light and realise how important his mother, parents, and family are."

"To my own mother, I just want to say this - I hope I can use my whole life to continue loving and repaying you and never letting your tears fall again because of me. I only want you to have happy tears - never sad tears - and be happy every day as I will try hard to succeed in finding my place in life."

Faith in humanity affirmed

While Teng's story is one borne out of the ugliness of humanity, it is also one that celebrates humanity's beauty. Without the help and support of so many kind-hearted people, he may very well have taken the advice from the prison guard or kept on harbouring the anguish and bitterness of his experience.

Judy Wong was among those who worked tirelessly to save Teng's life. She is his strongest pillar and he regards her as his 2nd mother.

Wong is a former principal of Methodist Pilley Institute (MPI). She was instated before Teng's time in prison. She heard of his plight from several MPI lecturers discussing how Teng was used by his friends as a drug mule. She felt very disturbed and took steps to find out more. After her 1st visit and encounter with Teng, she somehow believed in him. She also felt the inner pains and sufferings of Teng's most gracious, loving and unfailing mother. Thus began a long process of helping them in seeking for more legal help and writing letters of appeal for pardon.

On why she went to such lengths for a complete stranger, Wong said, "It was God's love that compelled me to do so. Teng was a fine and newly transformed young man. I strongly believed that he should be given a 2nd chance to live and to be used by God. Looking back, I thank God that I obeyed His nudging. I dread to think of the consequences otherwise."

This seemingly simple motivation of Wong not only helped Teng to regain his life but also find religion.

"Another reason why I have been able to let go of hate is finding religion. When I saw Judy who has no relation and obligation towards me working so hard for my well-being, I was greatly moved. Not once did she come and push religion on to me but seeing her sincerity to help me gave me the motivation to continue living with God in my life," he said.

The day that Teng walked out of the prison as a free man was only less than 10 days before Wong's retirement, so she said "That was my best retirement gift!"

Apart from Wong, Teng also wants to thank many other people who visited him in prison. Special thanks go to Datuk Yii Ming Tang and Chang Jih Ren for their help and support, and the See Hua Daily News for their humanitarian efforts in providing the State Prisons Department free newspaper subscriptions.

"The newspapers kept me in touch with the outside world at the time and their motivational articles kept my spirits up. And from them, I have learnt to write articles to tell my story," he said.


MAY 13, 2017:

TEXAS----stay of impending execution

Fort Worth death row inmate gets second stay of execution this year

An appeals court has postponed a 2nd execution date for a death row inmate from Fort Worth who was scheduled to die next week.

In an order issued Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that they would review Tilon Lashon Carter's application for relief before going forward with his execution, which was scheduled for Tuesday.

Carter, 37, was convicted of the robbery and 2004 slaying of James Tomlin, 89, a Bell Helicopter retiree. Prosecutors said that Carter and his girlfriend, Leketha Allen, went to Tomlin's home to rob him and took $6,000. Allen was sentenced to 25 years after agreeing to a plea bargain arrangement with prosecutors.

Carter's attorney, Raoul D. Schonemann, filed a motion on Tuesday to set aside the execution date, arguing that new evidence conflicts with evidence that was presented at trial. The motion also states that Carter had ineffective trial counsel and was denied due process because Nizam Peerwani, Tarrant County medical examiner, presented false and misleading testimony.

Peerwani's testimony led the jury to believe that Tomlin had been intentionally smothered, even though Tomlin's cause of death was listed as "smothering with positional asphyxia," which may not have been intentional, the motion contends. Carter's trial attorney never sought evidence highlighting the role that intent played in the trial, which Schonemann used to bolster his allegation that Carter had ineffective counsel.

The motion also argues that the autopsy results, from Peerwani and 3 other experts, do not support the theory that Tomlin's death was caused by an intentional act.

Carter survived an earlier execution date scheduled for Feb. 7 due to a technicality. The appeals court granted a stay of execution by a 5-4 vote on the grounds that notice of the scheduled execution date arrived 1/2 a day late at a state office that sometimes works on death penalty appeals.

2 death row inmates from Tarrant County have been executed this year. Christopher Wilkins was put to death on Jan. 11 for a double murder committed in Fort Worth. He was the 1st person to be executed in the United States this year.

Texas also executed a former Kennedale auto mechanic who killed a father and his infant son in a 1987 Christmas Eve killing spree. James Eugene Bigby, 61, was pronounced dead on March 14.

An execution date for Paul Storey, which had also been set for this year, was stayed pending a hearing.

Storey, 32, who was convicted for the murder of Jonas Cherry, was scheduled to die on April 12. Cherry, a manager at the Putt-Putt Golf and Games in Hurst, was shot twice in the head and twice in his legs on Oct. 16, 2006 on a robbery.



Juan Castillo's execution date has been changed from May 24 to September 7.

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----543

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------June 28------------------Steven Long-----------543

26---------July 19-----------------Kosoul Chanthakoummane---544

37---------July 27-----------------Taichin Preyor---------545

28---------Sept.7------------------Juan Castillo----------546

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Former Mavs ManiAAC dancer receives life sentence after jury deadlocks

A former Mavs ManiAAC dancer received life in prison after the jury in his murder trial deadlocked on the death penalty.

Erbie Bowser killed 4 people and wounded 4 children during a 2013 shooting rampage. He was on trial for 1 of the murders.

The jury got hung up on the death penalty and deadlocked. The judge had to go with a life sentence in prison without the chance of parole.

The jury had already signaled it was having trouble with a verdict on the punishment after being sequestered overnight. They began sending out a note on Friday for a clarification on "beyond a reasonable doubt".

Bowser was found guilty of capital murder for the death of 4 women and wounding several children.

Prosecutors said in 2013 Bowser went to his girlfriend's house and killed Toya Smith and her 17-year-old daughter and then went to DeSoto to kill his estranged wife, Zina Bowser, and her 28-year-old daughter.

Smith's mother, Lurlean, had some words for Bowser at the end of the trial.

"You not only killed once, you killed 4 times," she said. "And you left four innocent children without parents. But those children are going to go on with their lives and will have a good life."

Defense attorneys tried to show Bowser was not guilty by reason of insanity because of his military service and concussions from playing football had impacted his mental state.

(source: Fox News)

FLORIDA----female to face death penalty

Kimberly Lucas to stand trial in September in toddler's drowning death

A September trial date has been set in the death penalty case of Kimberly Lucas, the Jupiter woman charged with drowning the 2-year-old daughter she shared with her former partner and trying to kill their 10-year-old son.

Circuit Judge Charles Burton set Sept. 14 as the date for prospective jurors to come in and begin filling out jury questionaires in the case surrounding the 2-year-old Elliana Lucas-Jamason's May 2014 drowning death and the drugging of then 10-year-old Ethan Lucas-Jamason. Burton's move comes weeks after Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal lifted a stay of the proceedings because of issues surrounding Florida's death penalty.

Jacquelyn Jamason, the children's mother and Lucas' former partner, said after the hearing she was glad that the case was finally going to trial.

According to court records, Lucas had tried to drug both Ethan and Elliana with the anti-anxiety drug Alprazolam, telling her son the pill "would help make him grow." Ethan took the pill, but when Elliana was unable to swallow it, Lucas drowned her in a bathtub.

Lucas' attorneys plan to pursue an insanity defense, arguing that Lucas suffers from dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, and that one of her alters committed the crimes.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Florida Supreme Court sets aside death sentence for mass-murderer Nelson Serrano

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision released Thursday, set aside the four death sentences against Serrano, 78, and sent the case back to Circuit Court for resentencing.

Nelson Serrano, who was sentenced to death in 2007 for the execution-style killings of 4 people at a Bartow manufacturing plant, is getting a new sentencing hearing.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision released Thursday, set aside the 4 death sentences against Serrano, 78, and sent the case back to Circuit Court for resentencing.

The ruling doesn't overturn Serrano's convictions for the murders, nor does it mean he will be released from prison. At resentencing, the jury will decide between life imprisonment and the death penalty in a case that remains the worst mass murder in Polk County history.

State Attorney Brian Haas said Friday his office will seek the death penalty against Serrano.

"We ... have already begun to prepare for the retrial of the penalty phase," he said.

He said it would be at least several months before the case goes before a 12-member jury.

A Polk County jury convicted Serrano in October 2006 for killing his former business partner and another former partner's son, daughter and son-in-law at Erie Manufacturing in Bartow in December 1997.

Prosecutors said Serrano, who had been ousted from Erie, traveled to Atlanta on business, then secretly flew back to Florida, committed the murders and returned to Atlanta using aliases to make airline and car rental reservations.

Investigators broke Serrano's alibi in 2001 when they discovered his fingerprint on a parking garage receipt at the Orlando International Airport the day of the killings.

By the time a Polk County grand jury issued a sealed indictment in 2001, Serrano had returned to his native Ecuador, which refused to extradite him because of Florida's death penalty.

In September 2002, agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement worked with Ecuadorian agents to deport Serrano, who had claimed American citizenship.

Circuit Judge Susan Roberts sentenced him to death for each of the 4 murders in June 2007.

In March 2011, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death sentence against Serrano on initial appeal.

Thursday's ruling by the state's high court came on a subsequent appeal.

The court based its decision Thursday on a January 2016 ruling affecting most Florida murder cases involving imposition of the death penalty after June 2002.

The 2016 ruling, called Hurst vs. Florida, rendered the state's death penalty process unconstitutional, forcing the Legislature to revise it. That revision, which became law earlier this year, mandates that jurors must agree unanimously in their decision to recommend the death penalty. Before that, state law required only a simple majority.

Meanwhile, in 2002, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case required that juries, not judges, decide whether prosecutors have proven the facts supporting a death sentence. That clashed with Florida's system, which gave judges that authority, but Florida elected not to change its death penalty process.

The Hurst ruling forced that change, and the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the revised law applies to condemned inmates who were sentenced after 2002 without a unanimous jury recommendation.

At Serrano's trial, jurors voted 9-3 to recommend that the judge sentence him to death for each of the 4 killings.

Marcia Silvers, a Miami lawyer representing Serrano, said she thinks the high court made the correct decision.

"We are grateful that the Florida Supreme Court overturned the death penalty, acknowledging that a unanimous verdict is the cornerstone of our justice system," she said.

In Thursday's ruling, the 3 dissenting justices said they didn't agree that Serrano's death sentences should be vacated.

And George Patisso, whose son George Jr., was among those who died, said he was devastated when he learned of the resentencing.

"We have to go through this all over again," he said Friday from his home in New York. "I really don't want to, but for my son, I will because I want to see this to the end. (Serrano) ruined so many people's lives."

Patisso said he and his wife, Mary Ann, hope Serrano will remain on death row.

"We want him to suffer because he has made us suffer for the last 20 years," he said. "He has devastated us. It just doesn't go away."

His wife, Mary Ann, said she doesn't want him to be able to interact with other inmates.

"I want him to sit alone," she said.

George Patisso Jr. was 27 when he was working at Erie Manufacturing, where his father-in-law, Phil Dosso, was a partner. He worked with his brother-in-law, 35-year-old Frank Dosso, and George Gonsalvez, 69, another partner in the business.

All 3 were gunned down in an office about 6 p.m. Dec. 3, 1997, each shot in the head.

Diane Dosso Patisso, a 28-year-old prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office in Bartow, had arrived at Erie to pick her husband when she was shot in another office. Prosecutors said it appeared she had walked in on the shootings and was killed because she had witnessed the crime.

Tommy Ray, a retired FDLE agent who broke Serrano's alibi and orchestrated his deportation, said Friday he's concerned for the families involved.

"The Dossos are devastated," he said. "The real travesty is for the families that have to go through this all over again."

Francisco Serrano, who has stood by his father throughout the trial and appeals, couldn't be located for comment Friday.

(source: The Ledger)


Killer could be granted new trial

A Bay County man condemned to death in 1981 for kidnapping and brutally murdering a woman he knew could get another chance to argue for his innocence, according to court records.

That chance, however, will depend on the outcome of an upcoming forensic DNA test.

James Armando Card, 70, has been on death row since 1982, when he was convicted of the robbery, kidnapping and first-degree murder of Janice Franklin. A recent Florida Supreme Court ruling opened the possibility for Card to receive a second shot at a penalty phase. His defense attorneys further argued Thursday that DNA evidence collected after the conviction also could position Card to have the case tried more than 3 decades later in front of another Bay County jury.

The status of the case has been tentative since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year upended Florida's death penalty procedures. More recently, the Florida Supreme Court ruled May 4 the jury decision to sentence Card to death by a margin of 11-1 was insufficient and deserving of a 2nd penalty hearing.

"This court has no way of knowing if the jury unanimously found each aggravating factor, whether the aggravating factors were sufficient to impose a death sentence, or whether the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating circumstances," the Florida Supreme Court wrote of the decision. "Further, this court cannot speculate why the 1 juror who voted to recommend a sentence of life imprisonment determined that a sentence of death was not the appropriate punishment."

The court then sent the case back to the 14th Judicial Circuit, where Card's case once again is being argued. The direction of those arguments will be steered in the coming weeks by the outcome of a DNA test, which defense attorneys think could benefit Card while prosecutors disagree.

Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet has ordered Card to submit a sample for testing within 2 weeks. That sample will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis, and depending on the outcome Card could move for a new trial.

(source: Panama City News Herald)

GEORGIA----impending execution

Execution drug will cause unconstitutional pain, lawsuit says

Georgia's lethal injection drug carries a substantial risk of causing unconstitutional suffering for an inmate scheduled to die Tuesday, and execution by firing squad is the only appropriate alternative, his lawyers argue.

J.W. Ledford Jr. was convicted of murder in the January 1992 stabbing death of his neighbor, 73-year-old Dr. Harry Johnston, near his home in Murray County, in northwest Georgia.

Ledford, 45, suffers from chronic nerve pain that has been treated with increasing doses of the drug gabapentin for more than a decade, his lawyers said in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday. They cite experts who say long-term exposure to gabapentin alters brain chemistry in such a way that pentobarbital cannot be relied upon to make him unconscious and devoid of sensation or feeling.

"Accordingly, there is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva," the lawsuit says.

That would violate the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment enshrined in the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Ledford's lawyers argue. But the U.S. Supreme Court has said that when challenging an execution method on those grounds, an inmate must propose a "known and available" method of execution.

Ledford's lawyers, therefore, suggest that he be executed by firing squad.

There is no alternative method of lethal injection available to the state since the drugs used in executions have become increasingly difficult for states to obtain because manufacturers have prohibited their use for capital punishment, the lawsuit says. But the Supreme Court has held that execution by firing squad is constitutional, and Georgia already has the skilled personnel, weapons and ammunition needed to carry one out, Ledford's lawyers argue.

There are numerous law enforcement officers who currently have the necessary training to pass a proficiency test to qualify for a firing squad, they say.

They note, however, that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled -- including as recently as this week in an Alabama case -- that an inmate can only suggest an alternative execution method that is already authorized by Georgia law, and Georgia law only allows execution by lethal injection.

3 states -- Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah -- allow for a firing squad as a backup if lethal injection drugs aren't available, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which compiles statistics on capital punishment.

Ledford is effectively prevented from meeting the burden imposed by the Supreme Court of proposing an alternative execution method when challenging the state's execution protocol as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual since state law only allows for lethal injection, his lawyers say.

For that reason, they say they recognize that a dismissal of their lawsuit on those grounds is inevitable and say that a quick dismissal would allow enough time for them to request a hearing before the full 11th Circuit.

The office of state Attorney General Chris Carr had no comment Friday morning on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Katelyn McCreary said in an email.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones has ordered the state's lawyers to file a response to the lawsuit by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Ledford's lawyers also have asked the judge to order the state not to discontinue or withhold his medication pending his execution. That could cause him to suffer withdrawal symptoms and would leave him to experience the pain for which the gabapentin was prescribed, they say.

Ledford is scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. on May 16.

Ledford's attorneys also have asked the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse from an early age and his intellectual disability.

The board, which is the only authority in Georgia with power to commute a death sentence, plans to hold a meeting Monday to hear arguments for or against granting clemency.

68 men and women have executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. 57 men currently face death sentences in the state. Ledford is expected to be the 47th inmate put to death by lethal injection, WGCL-TV reports.

(source: CBS news)


Condemned murderer: I want to die by firing squad ---- Argues lethal injection could cause him "agony"

Condemned murder J.W. "Boy" Ledford Jr. has asked a federal court to declare lethal injection unconstitutional because Georgia law does not allow him to choose death by firing squad.

In a federal complaint, Ledford's lawyers wrote that he has been taking medication for "severe and chronic nerve pain" for years and the drug, gabapentin, had changed his pain chemistry.

"There is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the (lethal injection drug) pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva," according to the complaint.

Ledford is set to be executed next week for murdering his neighbor, a 73-year-old doctor, in northwest Georgia 25 years ago. If he dies by lethal injection as planned, Ledford will be the first person Georgia has put to death this year.

But his lawyers want lethal injection be declared unconstitutional because Georgia law does not allow condemned murderers to chose the method of their executions. They write that there could be a "horrific" reaction to the pentobarbital, and that would violate Ledford’s constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment, the federal complaint says.

His lawyers raise the issue of death by firing squad just a few days after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an Alabama death row inmate's request the he be allowed to choose hanging or firing squad.

"Mr. Ledford proposes that the firing squad is a readily-implemented and more reliable alternative method of execution that would eliminate the risks posed to him by lethal injection," the complaint says. "The binding precedent of the 11th Circuit, however, restricts Mr. Ledford to proposing only those alternatives already authorized by Georgia statute."

"As the Georgia code allows no method of execution but lethal injection, and given the broad unavailability of alternative drugs, Mr. Ledford is effectively foreclosed from meeting his burden in this action," it continiues. "Mr. Ledford's dilemma illustrates why this standard is unworkable."

The filing late Thursday is Ledford's 1st attempt, using the courts, to stop his scheduled execution since the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step in early last month.

The complaint was filed in federal court in Atlanta as the State Board of Pardons and Paroles was releasing Ledford's clemency petition. In it, his lawyers wrote that he is deeply sorry for murdering Dr. Harry Johnston in Murray County.

The clemency petition also says five of the jurors who voted for the death penalty would now like to see him serve life without parole instead.

"The inflexibility of the legal system sometimes leaves an otherwise deserving individual without a remedy," his lawyers wrote. "Inevitably there will be instances in which the fixed rules governing the legal process yield a result that does not accommodate fairness. Clemency exists for just this situation."

But District Attorney Bert Poston, who prosecutes in the circuit that includes Murray County where the crime was committed, said if ever a murder called for the death penalty, the 1992 murder of Dr. Harry Johnston did.

"I've seen the pictures," said Poston, who became a prosecutor in the circuit only 2 months before Johnston's murder. "I've been doing this for 25 years and I've handled a lot of murder cases and I can't think of many that come close."

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will hear from Ledford's advocates Monday morning and then in the afternoon from Poston and others who want to see the sentenced carried out.

Ledford, 45, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson, one of two men who are set to die by lethal injection in the country on that day; Texas also has an execution scheduled. Last year, Georgia executed nine men, more than any other state.

Johnston's widow died in February, Poston said.

"She wanted very much to live long enough to see justice served," Poston said. "All the delays have robbed her of that."

According to court records, one of the cuts that Ledford delivered to Johnson's neck almost decapitated the 73-year-old man, who had been the doctor who delivered Ledford, whom his lawyers repeatedly referred to using his nickname, "Boy Ledford."

Ledford admitted to the murder but claimed it was in self-defense. He said the doctor had struck him during an argument over whether the younger man had stolen from his neighbor.

"Boy Ledford confessed to killing Dr. Johnston the day after he was arrested and has never denied killing him," the clemency petition said. "The pain of killing the doctor is something that he lives with daily."

Ledford's lawyers say he was drunk and using drugs on the day of the crime. According to testimony and court records, Ledford had consumed a 6-pack of 16-ounce beers, smoked about 10 marijuana cigarettes and had taken some pills. Ledford told one doctor who examined him that he "was generally 'messed up.'"

His lawyers wrote in the clemency petition that Ledford, whom identified by his nickname "Boy," started drinking when he was 8 and moved on to drugs by age 10. His father was a "mean drunk" and a strict disciplinarian who abused Ledford and his 6 sisters, usually when he was using drugs or drinking, the clemency petition said.

"The background is not an excuse for what Boy Ledford has done," the lawyers wrote. "It is offered to allow the board some insight into how a young man barely 20 years old with no history of violence ended up killing a man who was his neighbor."

(source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)


Death-penalty trials keep getting delayed. A Lexington judge is fed up.

Chief Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine said she plans to more closely monitor the progress of death-penalty cases after experiencing difficulties in advancing 1 capital case toward trial.

Her desire for more progress comes after it became apparent last month that a death-penalty trial scheduled to start May 30 will be postponed.

Goodwine became upset April 27 after public defenders Kim Green and Chris Tracy sought to delay a murder trial for Quincinio Canada and Duwan Mulazim.

The 2 men are charged with murder, robbery and assault in the 2014 shooting death of Marine Lance Cpl. Jonathan Price, 26, and the wounding of his wife, Megan. The 2 were celebrating Megan's birthday when they were shot in the parking lot of Austin City Saloon in Lexington.

Green, Mulazim's attorney, and Tracy, Canada's attorney, said they could not be ready by May 30 because of the complexity of issues involved in preparing for trial.

Goodwine initially resisted delaying the trial but relented May 4 when it became evident that to push forward risked a possible appeal and retrial. Tempers flared and tears were shed over the course of a couple of hearings before Goodwine decided that more time was needed.

Under the Constitution, a criminal defendant has a right to the effective assistance of legal counsel at trial. Tracy and Green argued that they could not provide that effective counsel.

"There's not a remote chance that we are even close to being ready," Tracy told Goodwine on April 27. "There are so many issues of such complexity that are still left to litigate in this matter."

Goodwine said she intended to start the trial as scheduled. "The only way this is going to stop is to hold feet to the fire," she said, her voice rising.

The judge added: "I've tried 10 capital cases in 13 years and every single one of them has had a motion to continue 30 days before trial because they need more time."

But on May 4, when the defense indicated that it needed time to sort through Canada's juvenile court records for mental-health evidence, Goodwine said she would postpone the trial to a later date.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kimberly Baird acknowledged that to push forward risked a "reversible error" on appeal.

But Baird added, her voice cracking and dabbing at tears: "That is so unfair to the commonwealth. I recognize this is me being angry, is what this is. ...It's so not fair. I recognize this is going to get continued, as does the victim's family. I recognize it's probably going to be next year" before jury selection begins.

Debbie Price, Jonathan Price's mother, was also frustrated. Jonathan's birthday was May 4, the day of the hearing when it became apparent that the trial regarding his death would not begin as scheduled.

"We're disappointed in all these last-minute motions," Debbie Price said after the hearing. But she added, "We don't want the defense to come back and say something was done wrong. We want everything done right the 1st time."

Fayette isn't the only county where frustration is mounting over repeated delays. Last month Madison Circuit Judge William Clouse Jr. rescheduled a capital case of 2 defendants charged in the 2015 shooting death of Richmond police officer Daniel Ellis. Clouse had previously said he would not grant a continuance.

On May 3, the mother of Logan James Dean Tipton could be heard asking why the public defenders have filed a motion for a continuance in the case of the man charged with stabbing the 6-year-old Versailles boy to death. (Kim Green, a public defender in the Canada-Mulazim case, is also defending Exantus.)

Ed Monahan of the state's Department of Public Advocacy said delays are a consequence of heavy workloads faced by public defenders. The duty to investigate, prepare and try the guilt/innocence and sentencing phases of a capital case requires an average of 1,900 hours, according to the American Bar Association.

In the Canada-Mulazim matter, public defender Green has 6 capital cases. The bar association recommends that a public defender should have no more than 3.

"Each judge wants, very understandably, to move their docket," Monahan said. "One of the consequences with having a public defender program that doesn't have enough resources to do the work adequately is we have to ask for continuances, because we don't have the capacity to do the cases on a time schedule that judges, witnesses, clients and victims deserve. We're in these difficult situations because we have to get enough time to represent the client and we ask for a lot of continuances."

As part of her new protocol, Goodwine said she intends to hold status hearings every 30 days to make sure that the defense and prosecution are moving forward and meeting deadlines.

She also wants to create a master calendar so that there aren't scheduling conflicts between judges. One problem in the Canada-Mulazim case was that their public defenders had another capital case scheduled to start the month before in Judge James Ishmael's court. Green and Tracy said there was no way they could adequately prepare for both.

The trial before Ishmael was eventually rescheduled for next year. Goodwine doesn't want that kind of scheduling conflict to happen again.

"If I have this schedule in place with deadlines, and if there is a pattern of failing to comply with a deadline, it gives me the ability to say 'You're not getting it continued any more,' or I can fine" the lawyers, Goodwine said.

"Ideally, the defense attorneys and the commonwealth's attorneys, 30 to 45 days out from the start of trial, should be doing nothing but preparing for trial."

In the meantime, 3 capital cases are scheduled for trial later this year in Fayette Circuit Court.

Travis Bredhold goes on trial Sept. 5 in the 2013 shooting death and robbery of Mukeshbhai Patel, 51, at a Marathon station on Alexandria Drive.

Efrain Diaz and Justin Smith are scheduled for trial Oct. 2 in the 2015 shooting death and robbery of University of Kentucky student Jonathan Krueger, 22.

Robert Guernsey and Trustin Jones are scheduled for trial Nov. 1 in the 2013 shooting death and robbery of Bluegrass Community and Technical College student Derek Pelphrey, 23.

Goodwine has not set a new date for the Canada-Mulazim trial.



Delay death penalty

I understand the frustrations of anti-death penalty people. I also understand the "fry 'em" mentality of pro-death penalty people. I was once one of those.

There are people who definitely deserve the death penalty but we do not deserve to hand out that punishment if we cannot guarantee that no innocent people are executed. People should not form an opinion on this matter until they research and understand what they are making a serious decision about.

The problem is we trust our system, we trust our detectives, we trust our prosecutors and we trust our jurors so much that when a guilty verdict is handed down with capital punishment as the sentence we say, "Good, he deserves it." But we shouldn't trust all those people or the system blindly like that. We are supposed to question things and make sure our government is working.

The Death Penalty Review Commission report states that there are numerous problems with our system and executions should be put on hold until the problems are fixed. Yet executions continue. Why did they even have a Death Penalty Review Commission in the first place? It was a waste of 18 months.

The death penalty needs to be put on hold at the very least until the state can guarantee the citizens of this state that we are not executing innocent people. And if that cannot be guaranteed then the death penalty should be abolished.

Jennifer Hale, Pryor

(source: Letter to the Editor, Tulsa World)


Judge denies Chuck E. Cheese killer's 2nd plea for legal funding----Nathan Dunlap's lawyers want $750,000 to help convince Hickenlooper he deserves clemency

Federal Senior Judge John Kane has rejected a second plea by lawyers for Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap seeking $750,000 to help persuade Gov. John Hickenlooper to commute his death sentence.

In an order posted Thursday, Kane wrote that it would be irresponsible "for me to authorize the expenditure of such a large sum at this point" for the purpose of attempting to persuade the governor to grant Dunlap clemency. He added that Hickenlooper previously stated that an earlier decision to grant Dunlap a reprieve was "related to the death penalty itself, not circumstances specific to Mr. Dunlap."

The lawyers want the money to develop new evidence from a psychiatrist about Dunlap's traumatic childhood on his decisionmaking. They hope the evidence will persuade Hickenlooper to commute their client's sentence.

Kane noted that the funds were sought through the federal Criminal Justice Act, which limits the amount that can be spent on expert, investigative and other expenses to $7,500. But Dunlap's request included a petition for $215,000 in expert and investigative expenses, which is 28 times the statutory limit, he wrote.

"In addition to not establishing that the services are reasonably necessary, Mr. Dunlap also has not sufficiently shown that the services are of such an unusual character or duration that they merit trampling the statutory limit," Kane's denial released Thursday says.

Dunlap was 19 in 1993 when he went to the Chuck E. Cheese's where he once worked and killed Ben Grant, 17, Sylvia Crowell, 19, Colleen O'Connor, 17, and 50-year-old Margaret Kohlberg, all employees who were closing the restaurant for the night. He also severely wounded another person.

Dunlap was sentenced to death in 1996, and he was scheduled for execution in August 2013. On May 22, 2013, Hickenlooper announced he had given him a temporary, but indefinite, reprieve to life in prison.

Kane's order also takes aim at Hickenlooper's reprieve, noting that a reprieve is "a temporary postponement of an execution of a criminal sentence, especially a death sentence" for an interval of time.

"Such an indefinite reprieve strains credulity," Kane's order says. "It is absurd to suggest that - temporary can be contorted to mean - 'indefinite'."

Dunlap's attorneys previously said members of Hickenlooper's staff have suggested the attorney's strategy may be received favorably, but not until the end of his term in early 2019.

Hickenlooper's spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery previously denied that the governor has given any indication one way or the other. But Hickenlooper has said is considering a possible commutation of the death sentence.

(source: Canon City Daily)


Thane: 2 get death for 2012 gangrape and murder----Police officers recall how probe into case began with just an unidentified body.

The death penalty Thursday awarded by a Thane sessions court to 2 persons for raping 2 women and killing 1 of them has marked the end of a 5-year story for the investigating officers of the case. The case that was solved by the Navi Mumbai crime branch started with an unidentified body of a woman found below an under-construction flyover on the Sion Panvel highway on May 9, 2012.

During the course of the investigation, the police found that the woman was a ragpicker and had been raped and murdered. More importantly, they found that another woman had been attacked with her, but had managed to survive. The police traced her, and it was the testimony of the survivor that helped police arrest the 2 accused, Rahimuddin Shaikh (29) and Sandeep Shirsat (25). After their conviction and sentencing, officers said they felt satisfied professionally.

A Thane sessions court on Thursday held Shaikh and Shirsat guilty of gangrape and murder. District government pleader Sangita Phad said, "The court found that their act was of extreme brutality and awarded them the death penalty."

Both the women, in their 20s, had been attacked several times with knives and hexo-blades by Shaikh and Shirsat.

Meera Bansode, the investigating officer of the case, said, "The case began with an unidentified body of a woman with absolutely no clue. After investigating, we found that another woman too had been attacked at the same spot but had managed to flee. We then started looking for the woman. Eventually, after verifying several details, we managed to track her to Govandi in Mumbai. She too had sustained several injuries."

The police then convinced her to be a complainant in the case and based on her statement, found that Shaikh and Shirsat, 2 caterers, had attacked them.The survivor told the police that the duo had promised to get them jobs as caterers.They then took them below the flyover, where they got them inebriated by mixing their cold drinks with alcohol.

The accused then raped the 2 women at knifepoint and slashed and stabbed them several times. "They also disfigured the face of 1 of the women before they left. They did not realise that the other woman was still alive," Bansode said.

Dattatray Shinde, the then DCP, Navi Mumbai crime branch, who is now Sangli Superintendent of Police, said, "It is satisfying to know that the death penalty was awarded in the case. The men were heartless. They deserved nothing less then capital punishment," Shinde said.



Lahore court awards death penalty to 2

District and sessions Judge Chaudhry Muhammad Tariq handed down a death sentence and life imprisonment to 2 suspects for a murder case in the Katha Saghral police jurisdiction.

According to the prosecution, Shahnawaz, along with Ahmad Nawaz, Gulbaz and Sher Muhammad, killed Ghulam Haider of Mangowal over an old enmity on October 10, 2015. The local police had registered a case against the suspects and presented the charge sheet before the court for trial.

After considering the evidence, the court sentenced Shahnawaz to death and sent Ahmad Nawaz to jail for life.

In another case, additional district and sessions judge Mian Shahzad Raza sentenced a man to death on Friday for a murder case in the Bhalwal police jurisdiction.

According to the prosecution, accused Muhammad Mumtaz of Bhalwal, with his accomplice Akhtar, had murdered Muhammad Ashraf over some issue on July 6, 2007.

Police registered a case against the accused and the court sentenced Mumtaz to death, while slapping a fine of Rs 220,000. It also handed a sentence of 10 years imprisonment to Akhtar.

Meanwhile, police also arrested 11 suspects and recovered narcotics and illegal weapons from their possession on Friday.

Members of the force confiscated 2,800g of hashish, 1,005g of heroin, 226 bottles of liquor, 1 pistol and a gun.

(source: The Daily Times)


Court directs Parliament, AG to amend juvenile death penalty law

The High Court has ordered the National Assembly and the Attorney General (AG) to amend the criminal law that allows children to serve the death penalty.

Justice John Mativo ordered that the National Assembly and the government's principal legal advisor should see to it that the criminal law that subjects minors to the death penalty is changed so that it is in tandem with the one that protects rights of every child in the Constitution.

The criminal law as it is currently allows the courts to have child offenders sentenced to death be detained until only when the President intervenes can they be freed.

But Justice Mativo in his ruling declared such detention at the President's pleasure for children as unconstitutional.

"The AG and Parliament be and are hereby directed to move with speed to enact the necessary amendments to ensure that the section of the criminal law that allows children to be detained at the President's pleasure conform with the constitutional one that specifies on rights of a child," said Justice Mativo.


The judge pointed out that in the concept of separation of powers, judicial authority cannot be subjected to the hands of the executive at all.

He also ruled that judicial discretion and independence as well as promoting constitutionalism should be at the forefront in a democratic society.

The judge issued the verdict in a case in which 6 convicts, who were put on death row before they attained age 18, sought an interpretation on the disputed section of the impugned criminal law (Section 25(2) & (3) of the Penal Code).

They had sued the offices of the AG and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in December 2015.

At the time of conviction, they were aged between 12 and 17 years. They have all been in prison for a period ranging between 8 and 22 years.

They argued that arraignment of an accused person to court up to sentencing is a function of the judiciary, which requires a fair trial at all stages.


But the DPP argued that the disputed law does not go against the constitution. The AG did not respond to the suit.

However, with the verdict issued, Justice Mativo granted them reprieve as he also ordered that they be released from prison immediately.

The judge said they were imprisoned for an indefinite period at the pleasure of the President, which automatically means that executive powers will determine the duration of their sentences yet that alone is unlawful.

Since the Children's Act came into effect on March 1, 2002 while the criminal law (Penal Code) on August 1, 1930, the judge said it is more powerful as it revokes the other.

“In my view sentencing of children is a constitutional matter of great concern, their rights are of great importance in our society, therefore, courts are required to distinguish between minors and adult offenders since they must enjoy preferential sentencing treatment," ruled Justice Mativo.



Catholic leaders criticize Indonesia's continued use of death penalty

Indonesia has rejected the possibility of abolishing the death penalty at a United Nations hearing reviewing the country's human rights situation.

Abolishing the death penalty was one of the recommendations put to Indonesia by member states at the 27th session of the U.N. Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. The review regularly examines the human rights record of member states.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, who led the Indonesian delegation at the hearing that ended May 12, rejected the recommendation. She said the death penalty was an integral part of President Joko Widodo's fight against narcotics, which she described as one of the top-3 causes of death among Indonesian youths.

Catholic Church leaders in Indonesia immediately criticized the rejection.

Father Paulus Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant People, said the government's insistence on keeping the death penalty shows its failure to handle drug-related crimes, reported

The government often has argued the death penalty is a deterrent, but Father Siswantoko challenged the notion.

"Drug-related crimes and serious violence continue to occur unabated," he said.

Teguh Budiono of the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay group, said keeping the death penalty will perpetuate a culture of violence in society.

"Instead of providing a deterrent effect, this practice will only provide an affirmation of the passion of revenge," he said.

(source: Catholic News Service)


Indonesia dismisses calls to abolish death penalty----Church leaders call rejection proof of govt failure to tackle drug problem, other serious crimes

Indonesia has rejected the possibility of abolishing the death penalty at a United Nations hearing reviewing the country's human rights situation.

Abolishing the death penalty was one of the recommendations put to Indonesia by member states at the 27th session of the U.N. Universal Period Review in Geneva, Switzerland.

Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, who led the Indonesian delegation, rejected the recommendation, saying the death penalty was an integral part of President Joko Widodo's fight against narcotics, which she said was 1 of the top-3 causes of death among Indonesian youths.

Catholic Church leaders in Indonesia immediately criticized the rejection.

Father Paulus Siswantoko of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant People said the government's insistence on keeping the death penalty shows its failure to handle drug-related crimes

. The government has often argued the death penalty is a deterrent, but this is not the case, he said.

"Drug-related crimes and serious violence continue to occur unabated," he said.

Teguh Budiono, from the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay group, said keeping the death penalty will perpetuate a culture of violence in society.

"Instead of providing a deterrent effect, this practice will only provide an affirmation of the passion of revenge," he said.


MAY 12, 2017:


Deadly games----The Court of Criminal Appeals must treat executions with a new sense of skepticism.

How can you tell if a criminal is too mentally disabled to merit the death penalty?

If you're a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, you look at the prevailing standards of psychology and medicine.

If you're a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), you look at his ability to hustle pool.

This mismatched standard has the state's highest criminal court rehearing the death sentence of Bobby Moore, who was convicted for shooting a grocery store employee during a robbery in 1980. Moore's lawyers have argued that he is mentally disabled and executing him would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In a 5-3 decision released in March, the Supreme Court found that the CCA failed to consider current clinical standards when determining Moore's intelligence and relied too much on invented standards that have no real basis in medicine or law. Among those invented standards were the facts that Moore "lived on the streets, mowed lawns, and played pool for money."

Now the CCA is going to reconsider Moore's death sentence, and we encourage them to listen to the dissenting judge who had it right the whole time: Judge Elsa Alcala.

Over the past several capital punishment cases to face the CCA, Alcala has refused to shy away from pointing out the flaws in our state's death penalty process. In fact, the former prosecutor and trial judge has twice called for the CCA to address the underlying constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

There are 3 key legal arguments to consider: Is the death penalty in Texas unconstitutionally arbitrary because race, rather than violence, is a better predictor of its application?

Is the death penalty in Texas unconstitutionally cruel because it essentially requires convicts on death row to sit in solitary confinement for years, if not decades?

Is the death penalty in Texas unconstitutionally unusual because, since 2010, capital punishment is practiced in only 16 counties out of more than 3,000 across the United States?

Beyond the legal realm of Alcala's expertise, Texas also needs to consider the deep questions of policy and morality wrapped up in the application of government-administered death.

Innocent people like Anthony Graves have been rescued from death row. Others, like Cameron Todd Willingham, were executed while questions of guilt still lingered.

There's no undoing a mistaken execution, yet Texas persists.

The death penalty doesn't save money - the constitutionally compelled appeals process is often more expensive than life in prison. And there's no conclusive evidence that it does a better job at deterring crime. In fact, states without capital punishment routinely have lower murder rates.

That's why the rest of western civilization has abandoned the practice. Countries like Iran, China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia sit among Texas' peers in executing criminals - not exactly the company the Lone Star State should want to keep.

Questions of life and death aren't a game - pool hustling or otherwise. Nor should executions be treated like a political pawn. The CCA and the entire state of Texas need to address the death penalty with a new and serious skepticism.

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Jury Clears the Prosecutor Who Sent Cameron Todd Willingham to death row----John Jackson did not commit misconduct in 1992 case, a jury finds.

After a trial of more than 2 weeks, a Texas jury on Wednesday found that former state prosecutor John Jackson had not committed misconduct in the 1992 death penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham.

By an 11-to-1 vote, a Navarro County jury rejected claims by the State Bar of Texas that Jackson made false statements, concealed evidence favorable to Willingham's defense and obstructed justice.

The state bar had accused Jackson of failing to disclose to Willingham's defense lawyers that jailhouse snitch Johnny Webb had been promised favorable treatment on an aggravated robbery conviction in return for testimony at Willingham's trial.

Webb testified at Willingham's trial that while he and Willingham were in the Navarro County Jail Willingham confessed to setting a fire that killed his 3 daughters. In 2014, Webb recanted that testimony, saying Willingham never confessed and that he had testified after Jackson promised him leniency on his own criminal charge.

Jackson testified during his trial that he had made no deal with Webb. He said he only made efforts to obtain a reduction of Webb's conviction from aggravated robbery to simple robbery and an early release from prison because Webb was being threatened in prison.

Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004 for setting the fire that killed his daughters on Dec. 23, 1991 in their Corsicana, Texas home. The prosecution's case against him was 2-pronged - testimony by fire investigators that their analysis of the fire debris showed the blaze was deliberately set and Webb's assertion that Willingham had confessed.

Weeks before the execution, an independent fire expert concluded there was no evidence the fire was deliberately set. Over the next decade numerous experts also reached the same conclusion.

The verdict was a defeat for the state bar, which filed a complaint in 2015 seeking to disbar Jackson. The complaint was the culmination of more than a decade of investigation by the Innocence Project, which unsuccessfully sought a posthumous pardon for Willingham.

During the trial of the bar complaint against Jackson, state bar lawyers showed jurors excerpts of a pre-trial video deposition of Webb during which he said that he had lied at Willingham's trial after Jackson promised him favorable treatment on his own case.

However, when Webb took the witness stand in person, he refused to answer questions about whether he had lied at Willingham's trial and invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 50 times. He also said he couldn't recall or did not remember nearly 100 times.

The trial was attended by a group of supporters of Jackson, who was elected a Navarro County District judge after Willingham's trial. Judge David Farr, who presided over Jackson's trial, admonished the Jackson supporters for repeatedly expressing audible sounds of disgust and disbelief during Webb's testimony.

The complaint against Jackson was filed by the state bar after the Innocence Project uncovered documents, including letters from Webb to Jackson and letters from Jackson seeking an early release from prison for Webb. The bar had accused Jackson of violating several sections of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibit making false statements to a judge as well as obstructing justice.

The state bar previously was successful in obtaining the disbarment of 2 other former prosecutors for making false statements and obstructing justice. In 2013, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson resigned as a judge and a lawyer and pled no contest to a contempt of court charge for failing to reveal evidence of innocence in the case of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after being wrongly convicted and serving 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife.

In June 2015, former prosecutor Charles Sebesta was disbarred for concealing evidence of innocence while prosecuting Anthony Graves, who was convicted and sent to Texas death row for the 1992 murders of 6 people. A federal appeals court reversed Graves' conviction in 2006 and he was released in 2010 after a special prosecutor conducted a re-investigation of the case and concluded that Graves was innocent.

Withholding evidence that is favorable to a defendant, whether it is evidence of innocence or evidence that undercuts a prosecution witness such as Webb, is one of the most egregious acts of misconduct a prosecutor can commit. The National Registry of Exonerations, a national database of more than 2,100 wrongful convictions in the U.S. since 1989, reports that official misconduct, which includes misconduct by prosecutors, police and other government officials, has been a contributing factor in about 1/2 of the 2,023 wrongful convictions in the Registry.

(source: Maurice Possley is a journalist who investigated the Willingham case for The Marshall Project in 2014 in a collaboration with The Washington Post. He is also a senior researcher for the National Registry of

GEORGIA----impending execution

Lawyers cite troubled past in plea to spare inmate's life

Lawyers for a Georgia inmate scheduled for execution next week are asking the state parole board to spare his life, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse from an early age and his intellectual disability.

J.W. Ledford Jr., 45, is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday. He was convicted of murder in the January 1992 stabbing death of his neighbor, 73-year-old Dr. Harry Johnston, near his home in Murray County, in northwest Georgia.

A clemency application submitted by his lawyers and released Thursday by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles asks the board to take into account details and factors that the courts have been legally or procedurally barred from considering.

"The citizens of this state have empowered this Board to make decisions not as judges under the law, but as human beings, to serve as the conscience of our community," Ledford's lawyers wrote.

The parole board plans to hold a meeting Monday to hear arguments for or against granting clemency. The board is the only authority in Georgia with power to commute a death sentence.

Ledford's lawyers do not deny that he killed Johnston, and they say his troubled background serves not as an excuse but rather to give insight into how, at age 20 and with no history of violence, he came to kill his neighbor.

Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston, whose office prosecuted Ledford, did not immediately respond to a call Thursday afternoon seeking comment, but he has previously said he plans to attend the hearing and ask the parole board not to grant clemency.

Ledford told police he had gone to Johnston's home on Jan. 31, 1992, to ask for a ride to the grocery store. After the older man accused him of stealing and smacked him, Ledford pulled out a knife and stabbed Johnston to death, according to court filings. The pathologist who did the autopsy said Johnston suffered "1 continuous or 2 slices to the neck" and bled to death.

After dragging Johnston's body to another part of the property and covering it up, Ledford went to Johnston's house with a knife and demanded money from Johnston's wife, according to court filings. He took money and 4 guns from the home, tied up Johnston's wife and left in Johnston's truck. He was arrested later that day.

Ledford told police he had a number of beers and smoked a couple joints in the hours before the killing.

Known as "Boy" because he was his parents' 1st male child after 6 girls, Ledford's childhood was characterized by whippings and verbal abuse from his father, who was strict when sober and mean when drunk, the clemency application says. Ledford's older sisters and cousins began giving him alcohol when he was 7 or 8 to watch him get drunk and then began giving him drugs around age 10, the application says.

Ledford is intellectually disabled and that caused him to struggle throughout school and later made even simple jobs requiring minimal skills difficult, his lawyers wrote. State law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibit the execution of the intellectually disabled, which means Ledford is ineligible for execution, his lawyers argue.

State and federal courts have consistently rejected Ledford's claims of intellectual disability, but his lawyers are urging the parole board members to use the extra discretion they're allowed to consider the totality of his circumstances.

The clemency application also includes testimonials from friends, family members and pen pals who say he has offered them support and help even from prison. 2 prison guards are quoted as saying he never gave them trouble and got along with other inmates and officers.

Life without the chance of parole was not a sentencing option at the time of Ledford’s trial, but 5 of the jurors from his trial told his lawyers they would have chosen that instead of death had it been available, the application says.

(source: The Republic)


Florida Supreme Court Vacates Death Penalty Convictions

The Florida Supreme Court has reversed the murder convictions of Ralph Wright Jr. Wright had been convicted of the 2007 murder of a Pinellas County woman and her son.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there was no direct evidence tying Wright to the murders. Wright was an Air Force officer stationed in Tampa. He met Paula O'Connor and later allegedly had his son. Wright denies the child was his. O'Connor and the boy were found strangled. The court says there's no physical evidence Wright committed the crimes.

(source: WFSU news)


Death sentence overturned in James Card case

James Armando Card will be coming back to Bay County for a new sentencing hearing in the coming months after the Supreme Court of Florida overturned his death sentence.

In a 4-3 ruling issued May 4, Justices ruled James Armando Card, 70, should get a new sentencing hearing because his death sentence handed down in June of 1999 was 11-1, and not 12-0.

Card was convicted of the June 3, 1981, kidnapping and murder of Janice Franklin. Card robbed the Western Union office where Franklin worked and kidnapped her. According to testimony during his trials, Card was armed with a knife when he robbed the Western Union office.

During a struggle, Franklin's fingers were severely cut on both hands, almost severing several fingers on her right hand. Card forced Franklin in a car and drove 8 miles to a wooded area where he promised he wouldn't hurt her.

When they got to the wooded area, Card instead came up from behind her, grabbed her hair, pulled her hair back and slit her throat. The cut to her throat was 2 1/2f inches deep according to court testimony. It severed her windpipe and her esophagus and cut into the bone itself.

Card stood over her and watched her bleed. Card and Franklin knew each other and according to the court it was particularly "wicked and vile" because "Franklin knew her attacker, had to suffer during the long drive from the wounds to her hand and must have been traumatized and terrorized during the whole process.... The defendant (Card) told Vicki Elrod that he even enjoyed it."

Up next for Card is DNA testing ordered by the state which is being done by Florida Department of Law Enforcement on evidence from trial. Those results should be back within 8 weeks. A hearing on setting a date for a new penalty phase is set for mid-July.

Card is one of Bay County's longest-tenured members of death row, having been there since 1982. Only Charles Kinney Foster whose been on death row since October of 1975 has been there longer.

Card has already dodged 2 death warrants. Just a day before he was scheduled to die in 1986, the Supreme Court of Florida issued an emergency stay of execution, saying it need to take sufficient time to review new appeals from Card.

On August 18,1987, then-Governor Bob Martinez signed another death warrant, but a district court granted Card another stay of execution on September 16, 1987.

Since that time, another death warrant hasn't been signed for Card.

(source: WJHG news)


2 death sentences against Palm Coast killer tossed out----David Snelgrove, now 44, was sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79.

The Florida Supreme Court has thrown out two death sentences against a Palm Coast man, who beat and stabbed his elderly neighbors to death 17 years ago, because jurors did not unanimously recommend death.

David Snelgrove, now 44, was sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79. The couple lived across the street from Snelgrove in the city's B section. Snelgrove broke into their home in June 2000 to rob them and pawn their jewelry to support his cocaine habit. He beat and stabbed them 38 times.

In Snelgrove's case, jurors recommended death by a vote of 8-4 for each count of 1st-degree murder. Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond, who has since retired, sentenced Snelgrove to death in 2009.

But the state Supreme Court ruled last year in a case known as Hurst that jurors must unanimously recommend death before a judge can sentence someone to die. The justices ruled that the Hurst decision is retroactive to a 2002 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court known as Ring v. Arizona.

The state Supreme Court cited the non-unanimous jury vote when it vacated Snelgrove's death sentences in the ruling released Thursday and ordered a new sentencing phase. Snelgrove's conviction stands.

Florida legislators were warned after the 2002 Ring decision about flaws in the state's death penalty but lawmakers did not require a unanimous jury vote until this year.

Snelgrove now faces a 3rd sentencing. The one the Supreme Court threw out from 2009 was his 2nd.

A jury convicted Snelgrove in 2002 of the killings. The jury in 2002 voted 7-5 to recommend Snelgrove be put to death, and Hammond sentenced him to death.

But the state Supreme Court in 2005, while upholding his conviction, struck down the death sentences because the jury had provided one sentencing recommendation for both murders.

Snelgrove lived with his aunt and cousin on Bayside Drive in the Indian Trails neighborhood. It was Snelgrove's aunt who realized something was wrong when she spotted newspapers piling up outside the Fowlers' home.

Snelgrove apparently cut himself breaking into the Fowlers' house through a back window. Snelgrove's blood was found throughout the house, including on Vivian Fowler's body.

The state Supreme Court's decision could impact a number of defendants in Volusia and Flagler counties who were convicted since 2002 and sentenced to death on less than unanimous verdicts. Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter, who were convicted and sentenced to death for the Deltona massacre in which 6 people were killed, are likely to receive new sentencing hearings because neither received a unanimous jury vote for death.

Flagler County defendants on death row without unanimous jury votes besides Snelgrove are Cornelius Baker and William Gregory. Baker kidnapped Elizabeth Uptagrafft during a home invasion robbery in Daytona Beach in 2007 and shot her to death in Flagler County. Gregory shot his girlfriend, Skyler Meekins, and her boyfriend, Daniel Dyer, to death with a shotgun as the pair slept in her grandparent's house near Flagler Beach in 2007.



2 killers get new death sentence hearings

Barry Davis, convicted in 2015 of one of the most heinous crimes in recent Northwest Florida history, will receive a new death sentence hearing by order of the Florida Supreme Court.

The court on Thursday issued 7 rulings on death penalty convictions. 4 of them involved cases in which the defendant was convicted and sentenced to die in Florida's First Judicial Circuit.

Davis and Michael Hernandez, who was sentenced to die March 23, 2007, in Santa Rosa County for killing Ruth Everett, will return to court for a 2nd penalty phase of their trials.

The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the death penalties meted out in 2013 to Steven Cozzie and in 2005 to Jesse Guardado.

Davis, Cozzie and Guardado were all convicted and sentenced in Walton County.

"We're happy to have the 2 sentences confirmed and now we'll begin to prepare for the 2nd penalty phase for Mr. Davis," said Greg Anchors, the chief assistant state attorney for Walton County.

Anchors said Assistant State Attorney Clifton Drake will present the state's case in the 2nd death penalty hearing of Davis.

Anchors also noted that at the same time it ruled he should receive a new death penalty hearing, the Supreme Court upheld Davis' convictions for the killings of John Hughes of Santa Rosa Beach and Heidi Rhodes of Panama City Beach.

Cozzie and Guardado both were sentenced to die by unanimous 12-0 recommendation of the juries that heard their cases. Cozzie raped and killed 15-year-old tourist Courtney Wilkes and Guardado robbed and killed prominent local businesswoman Jackie Malone.

Davis and Hernandez benefited from rulings by the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts that declared the state's death penalty procedure unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous agreement among jurors that the ultimate punishment was warranted.

The Florida Legislature passed a law this year that requires death penalties be handed out only after a jury votes 12-0 to recommend that sentence.

By the time legislators created the new law, though, the state Supreme Court had ruled that all death penalty convictions since 2002 were subject to review.

Davis was sentenced to die Aug. 31, 2015, for the murders of Hughes and Rhodes.

Although the bodies of the couple were never found, testimony from Davis' girlfriend convinced jurors that he had beaten Hughes and Rhodes unconscious and then left them submerged in a bathtub to die. He then stole all Hughes' belongings and burned the couple's bodies.

The jury recommended by a 9-3 vote to have Davis put to death for killing Hughes and 10-2 that he should die for killing Rhodes.

A Santa Rosa County jury recommended by an 11-1 tally in 2007 that Michael Hernandez be put to death for the killing of Ruth Everett, the mother of a man Hernandez and Christopher Shawn Arnold set out to rob Nov. 8, 2004.

After entering Everett's home, Hernandez broke Ruth Everett's neck and slashed her throat.

Anchors said the Supreme Court has been "spasmodically" ruling recently on requests from around the state for rehearings of death penalty recommendations. Thursday's rulings indicated it had turned its focus to the First Judicial Circuit.

There are 2 remaining First Judicial Circuit cases that have not been ruled on. Those are:

-- Robert Hobart, for whom a Santa Rosa County jury recommended death by a 7-5 vote on Dec. 3, 2012. Hobart was convicted of killing Robert Hamm and Tracie Tolbert.

-- Thomas McCoy, who was sentenced to death Nov. 19, 2010, in Walton County for killing Curtis Brown. Jurors voted 11-1 to recommend death.



Cozzie death sentence upheld by Supreme Court of Florida

The latest appeal for Steven Anthony Cozzie has been denied by the Florida's highest court.

In an opinion released Thursday, the Supreme Court of Florida upheld Cozzie's death sentence.

In the 6-1 ruling, the justices said Cozzie's sentence "is proportional in relation to other death sentences that this Court has upheld."

Cozzie, 27, strangled, beat and sexually battered Courtney Wilkes, 15, on June 16, 2011 in a wooded area near Seagrove Beach in Walton County. Wilkes was on vacation with her family when the murder happened on the day before the family was scheduled to go home.

A jury recommended death for Cozzie by a 12-0 vote when he was convicted of the crime. Cozzie was 21 when the crime occurred.

In upholding the jury's recommendation of death Justices wrote "This Court has repeatedly affirmed the death penalty where the defendant has kidnapped, sexually battered, and murdered a child victim.... Accordingly, Cozzie's death sentence is proportionate. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Cozzie's conviction for 1st-degree premeditated or felony murder with a weapon and his sentence of death."

(source: WJHG news)


Death Sentence Upheld for Walton Murderer

The conviction and death sentence of a Walton County murderer was upheld Thursday by Florida's Supreme Court.

The court ruled the trial judge was not responsible for any errors that merited an appeal and the capital sentence he received was constitutional.

In addition to the death penalty for felony 1st-degree murder, Cozzie received the maximum sentences possible for separate counts of sexual battery, aggravated child abuse, and kidnapping with a weapon with the intent to commit a felony.

Cozzie will serve all these sentences consecutively as punishment for the murder of 15-year-old Georgia resident Courtney Wilkes.

Wilkes was on vacation with her family in Seagrove Beach in June 2011 when Cozzie raped and killed her.



State to seek death penalty in Renee Eldridge murder case

After a hearing in a Chambers County courtroom, the family of Renee Eldridge feels that a weight has been lifted off their chest after the state decided they are seeking the death penalty against Stacey Gray.

Gray is charged with the murder of Eldridge back in July 2015. Eldridge was reported missing 4th of July weekend, and found murdered in a Chambers County creek.

Gray was arrested a few days later in Notasulga.

Back in March, the state was given until May 11 to decide whether they would seek the death penalty against Gray.

The state decided that they are seeking the death penalty against Gray.

Members of Eldridge's family were in court on Thursday. They said that hearings like Thursday's take a great toll on them.

"Every time you have to lay eyes on him," Eldridge's brother James said. "Even to come to this town knowing you have to look at him is very tough."

For now, the family is hoping and praying that when it comes time for the trial that the truth comes out and justice is served.

"I don't know what could satisfy me honestly," James Eldridge said. "The death penalty is as close as we're going to get to anything. It's a good feeling, but it still doesn't take your pain away."

(source: WRBL news)


Death penalty doesn't work, should be scrapped

Louisiana's death penalty is an incredibly expensive, entirely arbitrary, and an error-prone monument to the failures of big government. The Louisiana Legislature is considering 2 bills to replace the death penalty with life without parole, saving Louisiana - under conservative estimates - at least 10 million dollars annually. Not only is Louisiana's death penalty expensive, it is particularly error-prone. As Frank Baumgartner and others have noted, some 82 % of Louisiana death sentences imposed since 1976 have been reversed. And with last month's exoneration of Rodricus Crawford, 11 individuals sentenced to death in Louisiana have been released from prison without any charges whatsoever. By any measure, Louisiana taxpayers are getting scammed.

Jeff Sadow's columnl of May 6 - suggesting Louisiana's death penalty might save lives by deterring capital murder - is both empirically and logically moribund, and is counter to the views of virtually all the top criminologists in the United States In 2012, the renowned National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences and composed of the foremost scholars in the United States, reviewed all the research done on the deterrence question, and concluded that there is not a shred of evidence that the death penalty has any effect on the homicide rate. Their report also discredited the small number of studies that had claimed to find a deterrent effect. And, as one of us found in a 2009 study, 95 % of the nation's top criminologists - a group to which it seems unlikely Sadow belongs - rejected the idea that the death penalty is a better deterrent than life without parole to the commission of homicide.

Over the last 25 years, the murder rate in states without the death penalty has been consistently lower than in states with the death penalty. Research in Arizona and Oklahoma suggests that having the death penalty increases rather than reduces the number of murders - indicating that it might actually have a brutalizing effect, increasing homicides and detracting from the valuing of life. There is reason to suspect that this brutalizing effect exists in Louisiana - where the state has the highest murder rate in the country. If the death penalty deterred, Louisiana would have a lower murder rate than states like New Jersey, New York and Michigan, states that have already sent their death penalty statutes to the junkyard.

But one doesn't need a Ph.D. to question the deterrent value of the death penalty. America's police chiefs identify the death penalty as the last-ranked priority in reducing crime, and the most inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. And more specifically, using the death penalty to deter murders suggests both a rational mindset and a valuing of life regularly missing from those who commit murder. The last 2 defendants on Louisiana's death row who have died did so voluntarily - one with the assistance of the state (Gerald Bordelon) and one alone in his cell (Terrance Carter). For many, life imprisonment is an even worse punishment than death on the gurney.

In the end, even Sadow must acknowledge that the death penalty that currently exists in Louisiana - with 1 (voluntary) execution in the last 15 years, and numerous errors - performs no deterrent function. Sadow suggests that the problems with capital punishment in Louisiana might be fixed, cases expedited, assurances made - and that with a few constitutional short-cuts and frequent executions it might be able to deter crime. The country that Sadow is describing, however, is not America - it's maybe Saudi Arabia. And when Sadow proposes a death penalty system that has reduced the risk of wrongful execution to zero, he is imagining a regime of perfection that does not exist.

Criminologists agree, the best way to "deter" crime is to prevent the conditions that lead to it: better education, more support from positive role models, better mental health treatment. Louisiana has to decide whether it wants to continue spending millions of dollars on a system that does not deter, that does not provide justice, and that that has a demonstrable record that it gets it wrong far more often than it gets it right. We suggest that those in favor of such system be sent the bill for it. And we also suggest that academics think twice before disseminating unsubstantiated pseudo-science, especially when millions of dollars - along with the conscience of the community - are at stake.

(source: Guest Column; Michael L. Radelet, a sociologist at the University of Colorado, has published research and testified as an expert on death penalty issues. Ben Ben Cohen is of counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative---- The Advocate)


Accused murderer Brice Rhodes could face death penalty if convicted

He's accused of 3 murders, and threatening a judge -- and when the suspected killer goes to trial, conviction could mean the death penalty.

Death penalty paperwork has been filed in the case against Brice Rhodes.

Rhodes still doesn't have an attorney.

Police say the 25-year-old killed 3 people, including 2 teen brothers in Louisville. Since his arrest, Rhodes has also been accused of threatening a judge and a corrections officer -- and even trying to escape from jail.

Rhodes will next be in court in July.

(source: WDRB news)


Defense files motion to exclude death penalty in Lewandowski murder case

The defense attorney for a Roslyn man charged with murder has filed a motion claiming the prospect of the death penalty is improper in the case.

Jason P. Lewandowski, 45, is charged with premeditated murder, burglary and committing a felony while in possession of a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Tom Sannes, Lewandowski's attorney, filed the motion last week at the Day County Courthouse in Webster.

Lewandowski is accused of entering a Roslyn residence on Nov. 15, 2015, and shooting Jeremy J. Hendrickson, 33, in the head. Hendrickson died from his injuries on Dec. 9, 2015.

The motion states by excluding the death penalty, the case can move forward "without the extraordinary measures required in capital cases."

Sannes notes a host of reasons the death penalty shouldn't be used, including that:

-- Lewandowski does not fit into the narrow class of defendants the death penalty applies to as mandated by the Constitution.

-- The offense was not committed by a person with a prior felony.

-- There is no allegation that the defendant created a great risk of death to more than 1 person in a public place or that Lewandowski acted for financial gain.

-- Hendrickson was not a public official.

-- There is no allegation of murder for hire.

-- The victim was not younger than 13, there is no allegation of torture and the alleged facts to not meet the legal definition of depravity of mind or aggravated battery.

-- The facts do not allege the killing of a law enforcement officer or that the offense was committed during the course of an escape.

-- There is no allegation that the offense was committed to avoid, interfere with or prevent arrest, or that the offense occurred in the course of the manufacture or sale of drugs.

-- Proceeding with the case as a death penalty case is against the best interests of society and the judicial economy.

-- Heightened constitutional standards apply to death penalty cases.

-- Capital trials cost taxpayers significantly more money.

-- Experts have more expansive roles in capital cases in that they are more costly and their work is more time-consuming.

-- If it were to continue as a death penalty case, the Constitutional rights of Lewandowski would be violated and he will be prejudiced.

A motions hearing is set for May 31. The trial is set to begin Oct. 2 and run through Oct. 27.

(source: The Public Opinion)


Judge grants Dylann Roof's request to replace lawyers he called the 'sneakiest' people he ever met to appeal death sentence

White supremacist Dylann Roof will have a new legal team representing him as he moves to appeal his death sentence for killing nine worshippers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.

At Roof's request, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Thursday relieving the convicted killer's top-flight legal team of further responsibilities once they file his notice of appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

They will be replaced by federal public defenders from California and Maryland, the order states.

Roof was convicted of all 33 charges he faced and sentenced to death in January. At the close of his trial, he expressed a desire for new representation, saying he didn't trust his current lawyers, led by noted capital defense specialist David Bruck.

Documents unsealed at the close of the case revealed a long-running feud between Roof and his legal team over trial tactics, particularly his lawyers' desire to mount a mental illness defense on his behalf.

Roof had turned irate after realizing his attorneys planned to introduce evidence showing he had a crippling anxiety disorder, depression and autism.

Documents quoted him as saying he wanted to kill Bruck if he ever got out of jail.

In November, Roof penned a letter to prosecutors calling his defense attorneys "the sneakiest group of people I have ever met" and their efforts to portray him as mentally ill "a lie." That letter prompted the first of two psychiatric exams that both concluded he was competent to stand trial. He went on to sideline his lawyers during the trial's penalty phase, and the jury handed him the ultimate punishment for his crimes.

Authorities recently transferred him to an Indiana prison for federal death row inmates.

Gergel's decision to switch out the defense team came 1 day after the judge denied Roof's motion for a new trial.

Roof and his legal team had argued that his actions didn't constitute interstate commerce - a necessary component for the federal prosecution - because the attack was planned and executed completely within South Carolina. They also argued the charges for which Roof was convicted don't meet the definition of "crimes of violence" necessary under federal law to support death penalty convictions.

In a 31-page ruling, Gergel torpedoed both arguments and refused to throw out Roof’s convictions in favor of a new trial.

(source: The Post and Courier)


Despite High-Profile Executions, Death Penalty on Decline----'The message of the Church is resonating,' according to Florida Bishop Frank Dewane.

Despite 4 high-profile executions in Arkansas in April, the death penalty is on the decline in the United States - and that is thanks in large measure to a major shift in public opinion that has been driven in part by Catholics.

"The message of the Church is resonating," said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Annual executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and have been on the decline ever since. In 2016 there were 20 executions, the lowest in a quarter of a century.

The drop in annual death sentences has been even more precipitous: from 295 in 1998 to 30 last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit which tracks data on capital punishment in the United States.

"We're undergoing a national climate change on the death penalty," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the center.

Recent developments on the state level reinforce the downward trend. Over the last year in Florida, a series of court rulings and new legislation have made it harder to pass death sentences by barring judges from overriding juries and requiring jury recommendations to be unanimous. In 2016, the absence of such protections in the Delaware's death-penalty statute led the state Supreme Court to strike it down.

A key factor in the decline of the death penalty is public opinion. "We have seen changes in public attitudes toward the death penalty across all demographics. That includes religious groups," Dunham said.

Polls show that the number of Americans who still support capital punishment is falling. In the mid-1990s an estimated 80% of the public approved. By 2016, that had diminished to 60%, according to Gallup. Another poll, from the Pew Research Center, puts it even lower, with 49% still in favor and 42% against.

Catholics are divided but slightly in favor of abolition: 46% to 43%, according to Pew.

For Catholics, an instrumental point in challenging acceptance of the practice was Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Value and Inviolability of Life), which called for the use of the death penalty as a means of societal self-defense and only when there was no other option, such as lifetime incarceration.

"He said we shouldn't ever need to do this," Bishop Dewane said.

Theological Perspectives

Among theologians, however, there is a debate as to whether John Paul II was issuing a prudential judgment or developing Church doctrine on the matter.

"Conservative Catholics tend to have a much higher regard than progressives for the voice of tradition in moral debates. They see that the death penalty was strongly defended for over a thousand years by the Catholic Church - although never defended by any infallible teaching - and feel an understandable hesitation to conclude that there's something inherently problematic with it, as John Paul II taught that there was," said Christian Brugger, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia, and the author of Capital Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition.

While Brugger said he sympathizes with conservatives who hold to the Church's small-t tradition on morality, he faults those who "continue to defend a normative role" for the death penalty for failing to fully engage with the teaching of John Paul II.

"The Pope taught more than that the death penalty should be limited to cases of necessity. He deliberately re-conceptualized the justification of capital punishment from a model of retributive justice to one of societal self-defense. This is not a minor move. No longer can the state justifiably kill someone for what he's done - because he 'deserves' it. It can only kill a man if he poses a grave and present aggressor's threat to the community's welfare," Brugger said.

However, others say this is going too far.

Edward Feser, a philosopher at Pasadena City College and the author of the forthcoming book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, contends Brugger's position is undermined by the fact that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said soon after the release of the encyclical that John Paul II had not, in Feser's words, "modified any doctrinal principles." In 2004 Ratzinger then said that faithful Catholics could disagree with the Pope, according to Feser.

"Another problem is that if the Pope had really made this alleged doctrinal modification, he would have been contradicting the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and previous popes, all of whom teach that capital punishment can, in principle, be legitimate for purposes other than countering an immediate physical threat - for example, for purposes of retributive justice or for deterrence purposes," Feser said.

"There is simply nothing else for John Paul II's statements to be other than a prudential judgment, given the Church's indefectibility," Feser added.

Changed Minds

Whether a prudential judgment or a doctrinal statement, it appears that John Paul II's opposition to the death penalty has influenced many Catholics to change their stance.

Heather Beaudoin, the co-coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said that many of those involved in the movement hail from a Catholic background. She noted that one of the founders of the group is longtime conservative fundraiser and publisher Richard Viguerie, who is Catholic. A number of Republican lawmakers who have led the charge to end capital punishment also are Catholic, according to Beaudoin.

Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which was founded on a national level in 2013, represents a growing discomfort over state executions among the political right.

Beaudoin once worked at a crisis-pregnancy center in her home state of Montana and said being against the death penalty is part of being pro-life. Some may contend that there's a difference, because those sentenced to death are not innocent. But Beaudoin says the risk of executing someone who later turns out to be innocent is too high: Since the 1970s, more than 150 death-row inmates have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The death penalty should also give fiscally minded conservatives pause, too, Beaudoin says, given its exorbitant cost.

In Kansas, for example, death-penalty cases cost on average $400,000, four times as much as those where it is not a factor, according to a 2014 state report. California has spent more than $4 billion on death penalty-related expenses, according to a report cited by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Some counties have been nearly bankrupted by such high costs, Beaudoin said. (One county in Nebraska, for example, had to mortgage its ambulances after attempting to execute 2 offenders, according to Beaudoin.)

There's also an important philosophical argument to consider for those who want limited government. "There is no greater power that we can give to the state than the ability to decide who lives and who dies," Beaudoin said.

Still Room for Debate

For Catholics, it's not only John Paul II who has reinforced the Vatican's stance against the death penalty, according to Bishop Dewane. So have his successors.

Pope Francis' message of mercy in particular is having an effect by creating a climate that nurtures abolitionist efforts, according to Dunham.

"Mercy and the death penalty are not compatible," Dunham said.

But Brugger believes Francis is unlikely to address the underlying "theoretical issue" behind the Church's firm stance against the death penalty - leaving room for theologians to debate whether that stance is a development in doctrine or merely a change in how doctrine is applied. The question is an important one because it affects the level of assent to this teaching that is required from faithful Catholics.

Given the ongoing debate among theologians, what is the average lay Catholic to do?

"Given the confusions about the state of the question, it's not easy to give a succinct answer," Brugger said. "They should do their best to think with the Church on the issue. This means, on the one hand, they should be under no illusion about the fact that Catholic theological tradition defended for centuries the right of the state to kill malefactors through lethal punishment. On the other, they should see that under the influence of St. John Paul II the Church's theological tradition of justifiable homicide underwent a significant development."

Brugger pointed to the Church's teaching on just-war principles as another recent development in doctrine.

Said Brugger, "Intellectual docility towards these developments and a readiness to fairly characterize what's been happening under John Paul II seem to me required of all Catholics."

The Catechism and Capital Punishment

"The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: As far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party" (2266).

"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

"If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically nonexistent'" (2267).

(source: National Catholic Register)


Hamas sentences drug dealers to death by firing squad----The accused were convicted earlier this year of smuggling tramadol, marijuana, and opium from Egypt via tunnels.

A military court in the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday sentenced 2 Palestinian men, identified by their initials only, to execution by firing squad.

The 2 men were sentenced to death in March after they were convicted of smuggling tramadol, marijuana, opium from Egypt via tunnels.

However, at that time the means of their execution was not specified.

The military court also sentenced 9 others to between 5 and 20 years in prison for involvement in drug dealing.

Hamas is routinely condemned by human rights organisations and foreign governments for its use of the death penalty.

Statistics compiled by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights state that at least 22 death sentences have been carried out in the besieged Gaza Strip since the Hamas movement won elections in 2006 and took unfettered control of the Strip following internecine fighting with Fatah militants in 2007.

After Hamas appointed Yahya Sinwar as its new Gaza-based political chief in February, many predicted that death penalties would increase under his rule.

Sinwar is notorious for being Hamas' "spy master" and for his militant background.

In 1988, Sinwar instigated an operation which resulted in the abduction and killing of 2 Israeli soldiers.

His brother, Mohammed Sinwar, is the leader of the al-Qassam brigades - the Hamas military wing which captured Israeli soldier Corporal Gilat Shalit in 2006.

Shalit was later released in a prisoner swap in 2011.

In April, the Hamas government executed 3 suspected "Israel collaborators" by hanging after the killing of Mazen Fuqaha, a senior Hamas militant commander.

Under Palestinian law, death sentences are not illegal, but all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before being carried out.

However, the Hamas government in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose rival - and internationally recognised - administration is based in Ramallah in the central West Bank.