and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

JULY 6, 2015:


Suspect in officer's killing pleads not guilty

A man accused of killing a New Orleans policeman entered a not guilty plea in the city's Criminal District Court Monday.

Travis Boys, 33, appeared before Judge Karen K. Herman to enter the plea to 1st-degree murder, punishable only by death or by life in prison, in the death of Officer Daryle Holloway, 45.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has said he is seeking the death penalty.

Police have said Boys managed to get his cuffed hands in front of his body and reach a .40-caliber handgun with which he shot the officer, who was driving him to jail on June 20 after he was accused in a domestic shooting. Boys escaped from the police vehicle but was caught a day later after an intense manhunt.

He is represented by public defenders Christopher Murell and Anna Van Cleve. Murell did not respond Sunday to an email asking whether Boys plans to plead not guilty.

Murell read a statement from Boys' family outside Criminal Court Monday: "Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Officer Daryle Holloway in this terrible time of grief. The outpouring of love and support for the Holloway family is a tribute to his life and honorable service to our community. We cannot imagine the sorrow and heartache we know Officer Holloway's family and children must be feeling, and we are deeply sorry for their loss. We are very moved by the grace of Officer Holloway's mother to ask the community to hold us in its prayers. The Holloway family is in our thoughts and prayers every day, always forever."

The loss is still being felt by Holloway's family. "My family is still numb, still hurting," said David Belfield, Holloway's uncle.

Cannizzaro has rarely asked for the death penalty since taking office in 2008. Since Holloway was a police officer, his killing automatically qualified as a 1st-degree murder.

A discover date has been set for Aug. 20.

(source: USA Today)


Man accused of killing Sherwood pair seeks new venue

A 35-year-old man serving life sentences for 6 Illinois slayings wants to move a Missouri murder trial that could lead to his execution.

Nicholas Sheley's request for a venue change says he can't get a fair trial in Jefferson County south of St. Louis, where prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if he's convicted in the killings of Jill and Tom Estes of Sherwood, Ark. Police say the couple was attacked outside a Festus hotel after leaving a 2008 graduation party.

Sheley was scheduled to make his 1st Missouri court appearance Monday, but his arraignment was postponed after the judge stepped down at Sheley's request.

Court records don't indicate why Circuit Judge Mark Stoll withdrew, but under Missouri law Sheley didn't have to explain why he asked.

(source: Associated Press)


U.S. should follow Illinois, abolish death penalty

It's increasingly clear Illinois got it right when it abolished the death penalty in 2011, and any attempts to reinstate capital punishment in the state should be rejected.

The signs that the United States is turning away from executions are all around us. For years, politicians pushed to expand the death penalty to new categories of crime. Now public support is declining. States continue to abolish it. The number of executions across America is dropping.

In a thoughtful U.S. Supreme Court dissent last week in Glossip v. Gross, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, offered plenty of evidence that Illinois was wise to turn away from the death penalty. He even questioned whether it's time for the entire nation to follow suit.

The underlying case was about a drug used in lethal injections. In his dissent, though, Breyer went on to say he doubts capital punishment can be constitutional because it fails several tests: It is too frequently imposed on people who turn out to be innocent; it is handed down arbitrarily; it fails as a deterrent to crime, and the years of solitary confinement on death row are excessively harsh.

Death penalty supporters point to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, arguing only execution is fair punishment for the most evil crimes. Justice Antonin Scalia went so far as to ridicule Breyer's dissent as "gobbledy-gook."

The real gobbledy-gook is claiming the death penalty is fair when time after time innocent people are condemned to die for crimes they did not commit. In Illinois, men have been carted off to death row not because of something they did but because of police and witness perjury, withheld evidence, false confessions and hoodwinked juries. The Center on Wrongful Convictions lists 26 Illinois men sentenced to death and later exonerated, mostly since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1977.

Even 2 men whom Scalia cited in an earlier opinion as the poster cases for the death penalty turned out to be innocent.

The death penalty suffers from an innocence syndrome. Police and prosecutors pull out all stops when a heinous, sensational crime is committed. Outraged judges and juries are less willing to acquit, even if the evidence is flimsy. Rules often are bent to assure convictions.

The Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972, but gave states a chance to write new rules to assure capital punishment was fair. More than 40 years later, that effort has fallen short. Attempts to wring imperfections out of the system have driven up costs and the length of time spent on death row. It's time to heed Breyer's call and put the death penalty on trial because it violates the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

Illinois has fixed its capital punishment problem by getting rid of it. The Supreme Court should follow, and declare the death penalty unconstitutional.

(source: Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times)


Boston Marathon bomber files motion for new trial for conviction and death sentence

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has filed a motion for a new trial, less than 2 weeks after he was formally sentenced to death for the 2013 attack.

Tsarnaev's lawyers filed a preliminary motion for a new trial Monday for his conviction and death sentence. The motion did not contain any details on what grounds they plan to argue, saying only that a new trial is "required in the interests of justice."

The 21-year-old Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 charges in the bombing, which killed 3 people and injured more than 260. The same jury recommended the death penalty, and a federal judge on June 24 sentenced him to death.

Tsarnaev's lawyers call the motion a "placeholder" until they can file a more detailed motion next month.

(source: Associated Press)


SC asks SQ Chy's lawyer to end argument tomorrow

The Supreme Court today asked a counsel for war criminal Salauddin Quader Chowdhury to complete their argument by tomorrow on the appeal against his death sentence.

While hearing the appeal for the 12th day, a 4-member bench of Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice SK Sinha today asked defence lawyer SM Shahjahan to complete his argument in an hour tomorrow.

The court may fix a date tomorrow for passing an order on the appeal if the defence lawyer concludes the hearing argument timely.

While placing argument before the court today, Shahjahan told the apex court that most of the prosecution witnesses have given hear-say statement on charges against Salauddin before the International Crimes Tribunal-1.

The hear-say statements of the prosecution witnesses are not reliable since they do not corroborate with each other, he argued.

On October 1, 2013, The ICT-1 found Salauddin guilty of 9 of the 23 charges brought against him of committing crimes against humanity during Liberation War of 1971.

The tribunal handed him death penalty on 4 charges, 20 years in jail for 3 charges and 5 years in jail for 2 other charges.

The BNP leader on October 29, 2013 appealed to the SC against the verdict seeking acquittal of all charges.

(source: The Daily Star)


Kim Jong Un had terrapin farm manager executed, says source

Kim Jong Un had ordered the execution to make an example of the manager - and to reinforce North Korea's politics of fear.

Kim Jong Un may have executed the manager of a terrapin farm the North Korean leader visited in May, according to a source in Pyongyang.

The terrapin farm had made headlines after May 19, when Kim expressed his displeasure regarding its operation. South Korean news outlet Daily NK reported Kim might have executed the farm manager for not supplying sufficient water to aquarium tanks.

According to the news source, Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of the manager after providing field guidance at the Taedonggang terrapin farm.

"Food and water for the turtles were not being supplied sufficiently, that was the reason for execution by gun," the source said.

South Korean news outlet Newsis reported North Korea's charges of incompetence ignored the real reason for the supply issues.

Power outages were common at the farm, said the source, and the farm was not provided with adequate amounts of food for the turtles.

Kim Jong Un had ordered the execution to make an example of the manager - and to reinforce North Korea's politics of fear, according to South Korea press.

During his visit in May, Kim reportedly reprimanded the farm's management and said the managers were ruining the North Korean leader's mission and the farm could not resume normal production levels.

"Ten million loyal citizens and military personnel are tirelessly preparing gifts for the 70th anniversary of the Korean Workers' Party, by night and by day. I don't know what this farm is planning for the celebrations in October," Kim had said.

Daily NK's source said the execution of the manager follows an ongoing trend in North Korea.

Subordinates at the turtle farm who wished to display their ultimate loyalty to Kim might have facilitated the death of the manager, said the source.

(source: UPI)


Brandon Conner enters not guilty plea during death penalty hearing Monday

A man accused of murdering his own girlfriend and son enters a not guilty plea during a death penalty hearing Monday morning.

Brandon Conner is accused of killing his girlfriend Rosella Mitchell, and their 6-month-old son, Dylan Conner, then setting the house on fire with the 2 inside on August 2014 on Winifred Lane.

Defense attorneys requested 30 days for a status conference. Conner is being accused of 2 counts of malice murder, 2 counts of felony murder, aggravated battery, 1st-degree arson and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony.

The defense asked the judge to give 10 days to make a decision and decide whether to file motions, also asked for 30 days for a status conference. The status conference is scheduled for Friday, August 7 at 1:30 p.m.

The trial will most likely begin in 2016.

(source: WTVM news)


Man Pleads Not Guilty to Killing New Orleans Officer

A man who police say shot and killed a New Orleans officer despite being handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle while being taken to jail pleaded not guilty Monday.

Travis Boys, 33, appeared before Judge Karen K. Herman to enter a plea in the death of Officer Daryle Holloway. Boys wore a black bulletproof vest over orange coveralls and was flanked by 2 Orleans Parish sheriff's deputies as he sat and waited for his turn to enter a plea.

Boys did not speak during the brief hearing.

Police are still investigating what happened on the morning of June 20 when Boys was being transported from a precinct to central lock-up by Holloway.

Authorities say Boys managed to get his cuffed hands from behind him to the front and shoot the officer. They are investigating where Boys got the gun and have said it was not the officer's weapon. Boys then managed to crawl into the front seat and escape the vehicle, police say.

Boys was caught a day later after an intense manhunt, still wearing his broken handcuffs.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has rarely asked for the death penalty since taking office in 2008 but is pushing for the death penalty in this case.

Following Holloway's shooting, there has been an outpouring of support for an officer who was widely praised for his sense of humor and connections with the community.

But there also have been questions about how a man who'd been arrested and frisked managed to get a gun in the back of a police vehicle, shoot and kill an officer and then elude authorities for 24 hours.

Boys' family released a statement of sympathy for Holloway Sunday and thanking the dead man's family for their support. During an earlier memorial service for Holloway, his mother had asked the crowd to pray for Boys' family.

"We cannot imagine the sorrow and heartache we know Officer Holloway's family and children must be feeling, and we are deeply sorry for their loss. We are very moved by the grace of Officer Holloway's mother to ask the community to hold us in its prayers," said the statement released through Boys' public defender on Sunday.

(source: Associated Press)


S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Veteran Who Claimed PTSD

The California Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the death sentence of a Vietnam veteran convicted of a triple robbery-murder, rejecting his argument that the abuse he suffered as a child, combined with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, render the penalty excessive.

Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, writing Thursday for the court, agreed with San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael A. Smith, who imposed the death sentence on John Lee Cunningham, that while Cunningham had a difficult life, those experiences were not the root cause of the 1992 murders at Surplus Office Sales in Ontario.

The bodies of Jose Silva, an SOS employee; David Smith, the assistant manager; and Wayne Sonke, the manager, were found by firefighters responding to a call. They found an inactive fire in the office portion of the building; the bodies of the 3 men were found in a bathroom.

The men had been bound and shot in the head. Investigators ultimately focused on Cunningham, who had previously worked at other businesses owned by SOS owner Michael Ray. They traced him to South Dakota, where he was arrested and interrogated, after having he picked up his girlfriend in Las Vegas, then drove to Atlantic City and then southwest through Arkansas before heading north.

In an audiotaped statements and later a video reenactment, he explained how he had robbed and killed the victims. His comments about the crimes were interspersed with references to dreams, things he had allegedly done in Vietnam, and expressions of relief at being caught.

He waived his right to a jury trial in the guilt phase, during which his counsel presented no testimony. Smith found him guilty of 3 counts of 1st degree murder, with special circumstances of robbery, burglary, and multiple murder, and of 3 counts of robbery and 1 count each of arson, burglary, and possession of firearm by a felon.

The judge also found that several enhancements based on prior convictions applied.

Jury Selection

A jury was selected for the penalty phase, and heard 34 days of testimony. Prosecutors, in addition to presenting evidence regarding the murders themselves, showed that Cunningham had past convictions for armed robbery and sex offenses against minors.

The defense based its case in mitigation on the defendant’s dysfunctional childhood, as well as his Vietnam experiences, including service in reconnaissance units responsible for clearing villages not under the control of friendly forces. Two experts on PTSD testified, one of whom opined that Cunningham suffered from the malady and that he was likely in a dissociative state when he committed the SOS murders.

The prosecution, however, brought out evidence that Cunningham had been court-martialed multiple time for being AWOL, both before and after his deployment; that his platoons had always evacuated the villages they cleared, burning the buildings but not harming women and children, whom Cunningham claimed haunted his dreams; and that - with the exception of a mortar accident in which a medic died - there had been no fatalities in any of the platoons while Cunningham served with them.

Prosecutors also cross-examined the 19 veterans whom the defense called to explain their own experiences with PTSD, establishing that none of them had committed felonies.

Jurors returned a death penalty verdict. Smith denied the automatic motion for modification of the verdict, citing the "high degree of cold-blooded callousness" with which the crimes were committed, along with the defendant's prior record.

'Greatly Attenuated'

The judge acknowledged that Cunningham's military service, his childhood problems, and his issues with PTSD were entitled to weight in mitigation, but said that weight had been "greatly attenuated" by the passage of time and could not outweigh the seriousness of his later crimes.

Werdegar, writing for the Supreme Court, agreed.

Imposing the death sentence for the crimes committed by the defendant, in light of all of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, does not "shock[ ] the conscience" or "offend[ ] fundamental notions of human dignity," the justice wrote.

"Defendant received a death sentence for 3 burglary and robbery murders committed by him alone, purely for financial gain, the jurist explained, continuing:

"Although the 3 victims cooperated fully with defendant's demands and offered no resistance, he nevertheless shot and killed them 1 by 1. He also had an extensive prior criminal record including prior prison and jail terms. Defendant attempts to mitigate his personal culpability by citing his traumatic childhood and Vietnam War experiences and resulting PTSD. We agree with the trial court that these circumstances ultimately did not affect defendant's capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Defendant's actions at the time of the murders showed a rational, logical, intelligent, and calculated thought process, and his efforts to destroy evidence and to avoid capture by fleeing across the country amply demonstrate his awareness of the wrongfulness of his actions."

The case is People v. Cunningham, 15 S.O.S. 3427.

(source: Metropolitan News Company)


Jailed parents challenge death penalty over son's death

2 Pensacola parents who could face capital punishment if convicted of the murder of their toddler are challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty.

In July 2014, Christopher L. Redd, 40, and Jennifer Gail Perry, 30, were charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of their 2-year-old son, Bryson Redd. Bryson suffered severe burns over roughly 40 % of his body at Redd and Perry's Strong Street residence.

Investigators say the couple did not seek medical care for the child for approximately two weeks. Bryson succumbed to his wounds in the hospital, and an Escambia County grand jury concluded that the parents' failure to seek professional medical care for Bryson constituted murder. The state announced shortly afterward it would seek the death penalty.

In June of 2015, Redd and Perry's attorney Martin Lester filed four motions challenging the constitutionality of several aspects of Florida's death penalty, one of which argues that current Florida statutes make it easier for defendants to get the death penalty than life in prison.

Standard jury instructions on imposing the death penalty tell jurors, "Should you find sufficient aggravating circumstances do exist (to recommend the death penalty) will be your duty to determine whether the mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances."

Lester argues that because mitigating factors must "outweigh" aggravating factors, the statute creates a higher burden of proof for a life sentence than for the death penalty.

A judge ultimately decides the sentence in any death penalty case, but the judge is to give great weight to the jury's recommendation in his decision.

Judge Ross Goodman is presiding over the case, and a motion hearing is currently scheduled for July 13. A trial date has not yet been set.

(source: Pensacola News Journal)


Suspected cop killer could face death penalty

A man arrested in connection with the shooting death of a New Orleans police officer is scheduled to be back in Orleans Parish criminal court Monday.

Travis Boys is expected to enter a plea during his arraignment. Boys is being charged with 1st-degree murder of a police officer, aggravated escape, illegal possession of a firearm and aggravated battery after fatally shooting officer Daryle Holloway while being transported to jail.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office has announced it's seeking the death penalty for 33-year-old Boys.

(source: Associated Press)


Tennessee lethal injection trial

Tennessee's death penalty procedures are scheduled to be debated at trial this week in front of a Davidson County judge.

The case has been pending since 2013, and depending on the outcome, could lead to executions or further delays. Trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Here are key questions and answers about the case, and its possible impact:

Q: What's the background?

In November 2013, a group of death row inmates filed a lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court claiming Tennessee's lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional. Among other arguments, they say it creates risk of cruel and unusual punishment that is banned by the Eighth Amendment. About half of the inmates on death row are now involved in the case.

Q: What is Tennessee's protocol?

The procedure says inmates will be executed by lethal injection using a single drug: pentobarbital. The legislature approved the electric chair as a backup method in 2014 in case lethal injection drugs were unavailable. Manufacturers have stopped the chemicals from being used in executions, and some states are looking for other drugs or turning to pharmacies that compound other drugs to make pentobarbital.

Q: What's at issue at trial?

The inmates, through their attorneys, say the protocol is not adequate and does not explain how to carry out the executions. They say the use of compounded pentobarbital creates risk of pain and suffering and lingering death.

Q: Who will testify?

According to court papers, attorneys for the inmates plan to call members of the Tennessee Department of Correction leadership, as well as medical experts to talk about effectiveness of the lethal injection drugs.

The state is expected to call medical examiner Dr. Feng Li and other medical experts.

Q: Who decides if it's constitutional, or not?

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman will hear the trial.

In 2010, she heard a case challenging Tennessee's previous method of execution - which involved 3 drugs for lethal injection - and declared it unconstitutional on grounds it "allows for death by suffocation while conscious." (Several of the attorneys who argued that case and experts who testified in it are involved in the current challenge.) A year later, she approved the state's proposal that actions such as shaking an inmate were adequate to determine if procedures were effective.

Attorneys: TDOC does not have lethal injection drugs

Q: So what's the possible outcome?

If Bonnyman finds the protocol is unconstitutional, the Department of Correction could make small changes, institute a whole new protocol or opt for the state's backup, the electric chair. If she finds the protocol is sufficient, the state could request to schedule executions.

It is very likely Bonnyman's decision will be appealed, no matter which way she rules. In short: This issue will be tied up in courts for a while.

Q: Who is on death row?

There are 67 people on death row. Only 1 is a woman. 8 are from Davidson County cases. 10 have multiple death sentences. The oldest inmate is 70. The youngest is 32.

The men are housed at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. The only woman is imprisoned at Tennessee Prison for Women, also in Nashville.

No execution dates are set.

(source: The Tennessean)


Buying an outcome is not really winning

According to The World-Herald, more than 80 % of the money raised by the group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has come from contributions by Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father.

The people's representatives did not respond to the message that "Pete needs a win." Failing to get what he wanted via the legislative process, the governor apparently believes he can buy it by bankrolling a referendum. Perhaps his money will allow him to satisfy his obsession with a failed policy that is both inhumane and ineffective.

If that's a win, I feel sorry for both the state and the governor.

Ken Keith, Omaha


Double standard on death-penalty fight

Why is it OK for the ACLU to give the group fighting against retention of the death penalty $400,000 and wrong for the Ricketts family to give $200,000 to the group fighting to keep the death penalty?

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty is legally circulating a petition to put the issue on the ballot for the registered voters of Nebraska to decide. Remind me again why the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting our civil liberty of petitioning to put an issue on a ballot for the legal registered voters of Nebraska to vote on?

Every registered voter should be signing this petition to let your voice be heard.

Brenda Ray, Fremont, Neb.

(source: Letters to the Editor, Omaha World-Herald)


Donation to referendum effort unseemly

When Pete Ricketts, private citizen, became Pete Ricketts, governor of Nebraska, he took an oath of office which reads in part, "... I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Nebraska, against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely and without mental reservation or for purpose of evasion; and that I will faithfully and impartially perform the duties of the office ... according to law, and to the best of my ability."

Further, the Nebraska Constitution describes the role of governor this way:

"The supreme executive power shall be vested in the Governor, who shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed ..."

And so it is with some dismay that we learn that Ricketts is in large part bankrolling an effort to undermine and repeal a law duly passed by the Legislature.

We are talking, of course, about the petition drive launched to stop the repeal of Nebraska's death penalty and put the question to voters. There's nothing wrong with this effort; that's what the initiative and referendum processes are for. They give voters a way to pass laws that the Legislature won't, such as the recent vote raising Nebraska’s minimum wage, or to try to reverse legislation with which they disagree, in this case the abolishment of the death penalty by the Legislature. It is democracy at work at its most basic level, a way for private citizens to directly effect change.

Ricketts defends his right to donate to the death penalty petition drive. He has given $100,000. Ricketts the private citizen is a wealthy man and, like his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, who also donated $100,000 to the death penalty drive, he is free to spend his fortune as he sees fit. There is nothing illegal about the donation.

The issue is that Pete Ricketts is no longer just a private citizen. Upon accepting the job of governor, he became a public servant, bound by the Constitution and his oath of office to uphold and carry out the laws of the state of Nebraska, even the ones he disagrees with.

Ricketts makes no secret of his support of the death penalty and his unhappiness with the Legislature's vote to abolish it and then to override his veto. He lobbied heavily before the override vote in an attempt to flip enough senators' votes to sustain his veto. It is perfectly within his role as governor to lobby, persuade and argue for or against legislation. But once a law is passed, Ricketts' job as governor is to carry out the will of the people as reflected in the vote of the senators they elected.

Ricketts has said that he thinks the Legislature is out of step with the people of Nebraska on this issue. It may be, and the referendum drive may be successful. Ricketts believes it will be. But it is nevertheless unseemly for Ricketts the private citizen to bankroll an effort to undo a law that Ricketts the governor is sworn to uphold.

(source: Editorial, Journal Star)


Death Penalty Sought For Mother, Boyfriend Who Tortured And Killed 8-Year-Old Son

Prosecutors with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office are reportedly seeking the death penalty for a mother and boyfriend who have been accused of torturing and killing the woman's 8-year-old son.

According to the LA Times, Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, were charged with murder following her son's death in May of 2013. Unfortunately, there have been numerous victimized children who have suffered a similar fate as Gabriel, but prosecutors are focusing in on the torture he suffered at the hands of the couple.

2 days prior to his death, Gabriel was allegedly beaten by Fernandez and Aguirre for not picking up his toys. However, the horrendous repercussions he suffered were far worse than most could fathom when thinking about punishing a child for less than favorable behavior.

Following the horrific beating, Gabriel was reportedly unresponsive. His condition forced Fernandez to seek immediate medical attention. When paramedics arrived, Gabriel was found naked in a bedroom.

The boy, who was reportedly not breathing, had a cracked skull and three broken ribs. It was also reported that he had BB pellets lodged in his lungs and groin. However, that's only the information regarding the preliminary trauma he suffered.

Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic James Cermak offered a more specific perspective of the boy's injuries, insisting no part of his body looked untouched.

"It was just like every inch of this child had been abused."

Gabriel died 2 days later at a local hospital. The heinous abuse led to the grand jury's decision to indict the couple on charges of special circumstances of torture in addition to 1st-degree murder.

Although previous reports stated that the couple had struck a plea deal where they would both agree to life sentences without parole, on Wednesday, July 1 prosecutors announced that the death penalty would be sought.

According to KTLA, the Department of Children and Family Services was also investigated following Gabriel's death. Apparently, his death wasn't the 1st documented abuse allegations that were reported. Months prior to his death, several agencies reportedly investigated allegations of child abuse, but unfortunately, he was never removed from the home.



BANK OF THE WEST ROBBERY----Call to seek death penalty controversial; Debate swirls over whether it's a necessary deterrent or cruel and unusual

Jaime Ramos is charged with the murder of wife and mother Misty Holt-Singh, the death of 2 other assailants, and the attempted murder of dozens of police officers tailing him after a bank robbery on July 16.

The 20-year-old is facing a potential death sentence.

But Ramos teeters on the plank during what some experts are calling an "interesting time," when the state's death penalty is entangled in litigation that has stalled hundreds of executions and when capital punishment is at the center of criticism and national debate.

But before Ramos might even make the list of condemned inmates, outside observers say the road to a death conviction is lengthy - if the case makes it to that point at all.

And while some say capital punishment is a necessary form of justice to murder victims and their families, others see it as cruel and costly.

Executions were halted in California in 2006 following a federal court decision that the state's 3-chemical lethal injection method was cruel and unusual punishment, which is barred in the U.S. Constitution. The decision came in the appeal of Stockton's Michael Morales, convicted of raping and killing 16-year-old Terri Winchell.

Proponents of the death penalty are optimistic about where the discussion is going. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently settled a lawsuit filed by Winchell's brother, agreeing to take steps to create a new injection protocol by Oct. 27.

Kent Scheidegger, director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, believes once California establishes a "good protocol," executions will have to be carried out on inmates who relied on the cruel-and-unusual argument as their last resort after exhausting their other appeals.

But Scheidegger, who represented Winchell in the lawsuit, anticipates the clash over life and death will continue.

Last year, in another legal movement, a U.S. District Court declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, saying the process leading to execution is cruel and unusual punishment.

Clinical law professor Elisabeth Semel of Berkeley's Death Penalty Clinic, declined to comment on Ramos' case but said in general she worries that the ongoing court battles may be having an effect on the minds of judges and jurors charged with deciding the fate of defendants.

Semel, who has been active in challenging the state's lethal injection, said that some might feel compelled to make a public statement by sentencing someone to death, while believing the defendant will never be executed anyway. But the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that such a decision must be made in the full belief that punishment will be carried out, she said.

Meanwhile, the political conversations continue on the future of the death penalty.

Semel said Californians are "very divided" on the issue. There is concern some condemned individuals are innocent; that the process is too lengthy, so why not just sentence people to life; that it's costing tax payers too much; and others have deep personal beliefs against it.

According to a 2011 study by the Death Penalty Information Center, each capital case in California costs an average of $1 million more than noncapital cases between pre-trial and trial proceedings. There are additional costs for automatic appeals, Habeas Corpus petitions, and incarceration costs.

California's process is designed to reduce the risk of executing innocent people, but it is long, expensive and complicated, said Mike Vitiello, law professor at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law.

Death row inmates have a greater chance of dying of other causes during the decades of waiting. That has many states, even conservative states such as Nebraska, reconsidering the point of a death sentence, Vitiello said.

Scheidegger challenges the cost argument. He said if reforms were enacted to speed up the process, the state could execute inmates within 5 to 6 years. Studies list the biggest cost being keeping inmates on death row for 20 to 30 years.

Virginia, Scheidegger said, executed Lee Boyd Malvo, also known as the "D.C. Sniper," in less than 6 years. "And that's entirely doable (in California)," he said.

The roadblock, he said, is "people who don't want the death penalty to work have considerable clout in the legislature, and they have managed to kill legislation in committee every time we've proposed them.

"It's grossly unfair to the families of murder victims to make them wait decades for justice in cases where there is no doubt whatsoever of the guilt of the defendant," Schedegger said.

William Jennings Choyce is the last person from San Joaquin County to be sent to death row, the 13th from the county since California restored capital punishment in 1978.

Since the reinstatement, no one from the county has been executed. Only13 executions have taken place in California, and the number of condemned inmates has grown beyond 700.

Ramos is an interesting case for outside observers.

If Ramos' case makes it as far as a trial, Vitiello anticipates the defense might argue a death sentence is not appropriate in a felony murder case that involves an officer-involved shooting, where the defendant is charged as having provoked it but not having pulled the trigger. Ramos' age might also be considered, he said.

"Effective (defense) attorneys bring in all sorts of information that tries to undercut that this is one of the worst of the worst offenders," Vitiello said. "Usually people who end up killing are not the people who have had all the benefits you and I have had ... most people who end up on death row have had pretty horrible lives."

Scheidegger said that even so, the magnitude of Ramos' crimes "and the horror the victims were put through will swamp everything else. At least that's what I expect to happen.

"It was a very cold-blooded thing to do to go into a bank and take hostages out of it and use 1 of them as a shield," Scheidegger said. "This is very depraved conduct."

Scheidegger believes that in appropriate cases, "It is really the only just punishment."

Ramos, the only surviving suspect in the final shootout with police, was indicted along with Pablo Ruvalcaba, who is suspected of having dropped of the three armed robbers.

Only Ramos is facing death.

It is possible Ramos' case will be resolved before trial. Some observers say it's possible the death penalty might be used as leverage to get him to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Ramos is scheduled to return to court July 27 for a motion hearing. His trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in January.

(source: Stockton Record)


Get real

In another recent 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land upheld the constitutionality of a 3-drug combination used to administer the death penalty. (The case stems from a capital punishment case in Oklahoma.)

At issue was whether this particular combination of drugs was indeed "cruel and unusual" punishment. The majority of the court ruled it was not.

There was, however, the nonsensical dissent offered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, relating this process to individuals being "drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

We would hope a judge on the highest court in the land would not resort to such absurd and irrelevant examples, especially when it comes to the administration of justice. Those who are found guilty (and DNA evidence, when available, removes all doubt) of the most heinous crimes are not "drawn and quartered," "tortured" or "burned at the stake," and no one is advocating for such treatment.

Let's stick to reality and not resort to dramatics.

(source: Editorial,


Addressing the death penalty head-on

Passages of last week's Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty read more like a pharmacology treatise than new constitutional guidance on how executions may be carried out.

The 5-4 decision boiled down to the failure of 3 Oklahoma death row inmates to prove that a certain drug, midazolam, would cause needless pain and suffering when used to start a lethal 3-drug regimen.

Justices in the majority indicated impatience with refereeing a series of legal bouts over execution protocols. They seemed irked that defendants guilty of unspeakably cruel murders seek and get carve-outs under Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The question of whether there should be capital punishment in the first place was not at issue, but it cast a long shadow.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote yes, the Constitution specifically "contemplates" the punishment. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote no, in a detailed dissenting opinion complete with charts and graphs.

This newspaper - an opponent of capital punishment since 2007 - agrees with Breyer's assessment that it's time for the court to address the core constitutional question "rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time."

Breyer's arguments should resonate in Texas, especially the parts about the unreliability of the justice system. Texas, the leading state in executions, is also the leader in DNA-proven wrongful convictions.

Breyer cited 2 Texas cases - Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana and Carlos DeLuna of Corpus Christi - in saying that convincing evidence exists that innocent men have been executed. He named former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves in a list of exonerations.

Has a shaken confidence in the sureness of justice caused Texas to lose its appetite for lethal punishment? Halfway through 2015, none of Texas' 254 counties has imposed a death sentence.

As Breyer pointed out, the death penalty is used in dwindling numbers and in a dwindling number of states. The constitutional question becomes: Has executing people become an "unusual" punishment by modern standards?

The court should address this and other questions head-on.

1 issue is the assumption that capital punishment has deterrent value; there are persuasive arguments that deterrence is unproven. Another issue is unevenness in applying the death penalty. Death sentences are more likely to be imposed, for example, in cases in which the victim is white. And while most death sentences are imposed in urban areas, there are bizarre concentrations in small communities.

43 years ago, a fragmented Supreme Court was so troubled by the use of capital punishment that it effectively imposed a moratorium that lasted 4 years. Today, the same core issues persist and will fester until the court agrees to take on the big question once again.

Justices and the death penalty

Excerpts of opinions in a decision last week in which the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to an execution drug used in Oklahoma:

"[Rather] than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

- Dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

"A vocal minority of the Court, waving over their heads a ream of the most recent abolitionist studies (a superabundant genre) as though they have discovered the lost folios of Shakespeare, insist that now, at long last, the death penalty must be abolished for good."

- Concurring opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


Is death penalty on its death bed?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is a man on a mission - abolition of capital punishment.

A Supreme Court decision in an Oklahoma case last week gave the go-ahead to a lethal drug cocktail used in executions.

But it was the minority decision in that 5-4 case, one written by Justice Stephen Breyer, that drew considerable public attention.

In his opinion, Breyer announced his formal opposition to the death penalty and called for its abolition. With three other justices in his corner - Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Breyer needs just one more vote on the court to abolish capital punishment in 31 states.

19 states, including Illinois, no longer have a death penalty. But, as the numbers indicate, it remains widespread throughout the country because of its support among the people through their elected representatives in state legislatures. The penalty is also available for some federal crimes, like that of the recently convicted Boston Marathon bomber.

Nonetheless, Breyer doesn't approve. He said it takes too long to impose, losing its deterrent effect. Further, he said, it runs the risks of wrongful executions and cannot be administered in a pain-free manner, thereby violating the constitutional prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment."

Those, of course, are all valid reasons for opposing capital punishment on policy grounds. Illinois legislators, no doubt, cited some or all of them when they decided in 2011 to repeal capital punishment.

The question for the court to decide - one Breyer & Co. have already answered with an emphatic "yes" - is whether those are legitimate legal, not policy, reasons to declare that the death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution.

The ultimate answer to that question lies in numbers. As former Justice William Brennan liked to point out to his clerks, what matters most in deciding cases before the high court is numbers. With 5 votes - a majority on the 9-member court - the Supreme Court can interpret the language of the Constitution any way it pleases.

So the court's jurisprudence is driven as much by result-oriented approaches by the justices as it is their careful interpretation of the language of the U.S. Constitution, statutes and applicable case law.

Nonetheless, death-penalty abolitionists have a problem when it comes to arguing that the death penalty conflicts with the U.S. Constitution. That's because the Constitution specifically authorizes what death-penalty abolitionists, including Breyer, claim that it forbids.

The Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights states, in part, that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

The flip side of the constitutional guarantee that no one can be deprived of life - meaning to be executed - without due process indicates that one can be deprived of life if given due process, which includes a fair trial, legal representation, the right to confront witness and a conviction based on sufficient evidence.

Whether society - be it through the states or in the federal government - wishes to have a death penalty is a completely different question than whether the U.S. Constitution permits them to have one. The remaining 31 death-penalty states and the federal government could abolish their capital-punishment statutes next week, and those decisions would not infringe the U.S. Constitution in any way.

At the same time, the Constitution, through its own unambiguous language, clearly permits the federal government and the 50 states to decide on their own which path to take, as they have done for centuries.

This is not the 1st time that Supreme Court justices like Breyer have sought to use their powerful positions to try to impose their personal policy preferences on the nation. After spending years tinkering with death-penalty law, former Justice Harry Blackmun famously declared that he "would no longer tinker with the machinery of death," indicating he would forever vote to overturn any death-penalty case that came before him.

Former Justices Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens also wanted to abolish capital punishment, dressing up their personal positions in legal pretexts.

There is nothing new about moral objections to the death penalty. A minority of critics forever have complained that it is immoral to execute anyone, no matter how heinous his crimes, or that capital punishment risks the execution of someone wrongfully convicted. Indeed, wrongful conviction was a key argument in persuading Illinois legislators to abolish capital punishment.

But it's an argument that is best addressed to the policymaking branches of government - the legislative and the executive. The courts, however, cannot resist the temptation to act as mini-legislatures, and that's what Breyer, if he can get 1 more vote, clearly has in mind.

(source: Editorial, The News-Gazette)


No avoiding questions on death penalty

Evolved. Sophisticated. Advanced.

Those are words that we as Americans like to use when we're describing ourselves. We even call our presidents the leaders of the free world.

So why is it that last year we were ranked in the Top 5 for countries with the most executions?

Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq were right there with us. You know, those countries that we've either been at odds with, or stormed into with capes on trying to save them by implementing the "American Way."

Last week, the use of an execution drug that is used in lethal injections as part of the death penalty was upheld with a 5-4 vote from the Supreme Court, keeping it "alive" in the 31 states where it's legal, including Delaware.

But what does the death penalty mean in 2015?

Is it outdated, or is it a necessary evil?

More than 60 % of the world has killed the death penalty. 80 of those countries turned away from it in the last 40 years, which suggests that its time has passed.

But is the death penalty just or cruel?

Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg think so. They disagreed with the ruling that approved of one of the execution drugs known as midazolam. The duo said that it was "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Delaware uses lethal injection and it is a point of contention in the repeated efforts to repeal the death penalty here.

Lethal injection was created in 1982, and has turned into the leading method for the death penalty as the gas chamber, electric chair and firing squad have been retired, except for Utah in some cases. But the issue with midazolam is that inmates are claiming that the sedative does not do its job, which leads to victims suffering through the process of the last 2 steps of the 3-drug protocol that is a part of the fatal cocktail.

In laymen's terms, midazolam is a store-brand version of the anesthetic sodium thiopental that prisons in America can't get anymore. In 2014, 3 lethal injections had issues with executions because of the drug, which led to victims dying horrible deaths that lasted up to 2 hours.

The words of Breyer and Ginsburg, in addition to more countries turning away from the death penalty, would lead one to believe it is on death row.

But is it that simple?

Is a decision about the finality of a human life that easy to decide?

This issue has always been one with minimal gray area. People are either for it, or against it. But as the world changes and people evolve, so do their experiences.

There are no clear-cut answers here. This issue and debate are not going away anytime soon, no matter how close the Supreme Court's decision is.

(source: Editorial, The (Del.) News Journal)


The more humane drug to use in executions? Heroin

I have opposed exercising the death penalty for many years, not because certain criminals don't deserve to die, but because we can so very rarely know for certain who those criminals actually are. As a result, I support the Innocence Project, which has led the way in using DNA evidence whenever available to exonerate those falsely convicted of capital crimes and to thereby prevent the horrible crime of society executing an innocent person.

But, unfortunately, DNA evidence is not always available, which means that many who were falsely convicted based on less-certain evidence have no ready way to right the injustice done to them. Other steps in criminal justice reform must be undertaken to reduce the number of false convictions.

But the question of whether capital punishment, when justly imposed, should be painless to the criminal seems to be the current issue with the Supreme Court. We are constantly told by conservatives that marijuana kills and by liberals that marijuana eases pain, so why not use marijuana overdoses to execute those who truly deserve death?

And if both those arguments are merely feints in the culture wars, as I suspect, then why not use heroin overdoses to carry out painless, certain executions?

John Kannarr, Glendale

(source: Letter to the Editor, Arizona Republic)


One of the last grim scenes of the Civil War was caught on camera----Final justice for Lincoln, at 150

On July 7, 1865, after months of drama, 4 people faced the gallows.

It was a blazing hot July afternoon, and the condemned were led in irons from the Washington penitentiary about 1 p.m.

They passed the pre-dug graves and the stack of gun crates that would serve as their coffins and climbed the steps of the wooden gallows that had been built overnight.

Shuffling onto the crowded platform, they were hooded and bound with strips of white cloth. Nooses were slipped over their heads.

The 3 men and 1 woman had been found guilty of conspiracy in the assassination of "the late president, Abraham Lincoln," as official documents put it.

A century and a half ago this month - on July 7, 1865 - one of the last grim scenes in the tragedy of the Civil War was played out - and caught on camera - at what is now Fort McNair, in Southwest Washington.

Mary E. Surratt - the 1st woman to be executed by the federal government - Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt and David Herold had been convicted by a military tribunal of conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the murder of Lincoln.

Booth had been killed 10 weeks earlier while trying to escape, after shooting Lincoln in Ford's Theatre on April 14.

All the condemned were local Southern sympathizers implicated in the plans, first to kidnap Lincoln and later to kill him, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward.

Seward survived a brutal knife attack by Powell the night Lincoln was shot. Johnson escaped harm when Atzerodt lost his nerve and failed to execute his part of the operation.

Herold had helped Booth escape and was "the getaway guy," as one expert put it.

And by most accounts, Surratt knew of the plot and abetted the plotters from her boarding house on H Street NW.

The 4 were lined up - their arms handcuffed, their feet shackled - as an officer read the execution order and the photographer, Alexander Gardner, aimed 2 cameras from about 100 feet away.

Then Gardner and his team recorded "perhaps the most striking sequence of historical photographs ever made," according to historians James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg.

Frame by frame, the photographers captured the preliminaries and hanging in 10 stark photographs, said Barry M. Cauchon, a New York scholar who has studied the execution.

The hanging was one of the few acts of official retribution to come after the war, experts said, but it symbolized the North's collective rage over the rebellion and the assassination.

"Every loyal American feels that the death of Mr. Lincoln is not only a national, but a personal, bereavement," Washington's Daily Morning Chronicle wrote. "And everyone is controlled, in some measure, by revengeful feeling."

But when Gardner tried to sell the images later, they didn't do well, said John Elliott, another student of the execution. "Maybe the country didn't have enough stomach for it anymore," he said.

The 1st Gardner image shows the gallows beforehand, empty except for 4 chairs. Others then show the scaffold crowded with the condemned, officials and clergy, huddled under umbrellas to escape the sun.

In yet another picture, officials can be seen adjusting the nooses around the necks of the 4.

Surratt wore a dark veil and a floor-length black alpaca dress buttoned in the front. A Catholic priest holding a cross ministered to her as she sat in a chair while the warrants were read.

None of the condemned appeared to be wearing shoes.

As they stood and awaited the release of the 2 "drop" sections of the platform, Surratt was supported by 2 soldiers who kept her from toppling prematurely. "Don't let me fall," she said.

Atzerodt said, "Goodbye, gentlemen.....May we all meet in the other world! God help me now!" according to the Washington Evening Star's account.

At 1:26 p.m., the supports were knocked out.

"The drops fell with a heavy slam, and the 4 bodies hung suspended," the newspaper reported.

In one of Gardner's last shots, the 2 soldiers supporting Surratt stand with their arms extended, having just let her go.

"The last act in the tragedy of the 19th century is ended," the Star pronounced. "And the curtain dropped forever upon the lives of 4 of its actors. ... The wretched criminals have been hurried into eternity, and tonight will be hidden in despised graves, loaded with the execrations of mankind."

The awful event

Paul M. Severance stood in the quiet 3rd-floor room of Grant Hall on the grounds of Fort McNair last month, decked out in the gold buttons and sweltering blue uniform of a Union general.

There was some filming equipment in a corner, left over from a weekend reenactment of the trial, and Severance bustled around, preparing for the lecture he was about to give.

Today, Grant Hall is home to the Defense Department's Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

In 1865, it was a wing of the old and largely vacant federal penitentiary that held the Lincoln conspirators. And the room where Severance stood served as the courtroom where the trial was held.

Much of the room is not original, although some of the floorboards are, but it has been restored and refurnished to the way it looked in 1865. It's open to the public on a limited basis.

It's also said to be haunted by Surratt's ghost, according to Severance, a professor of military science at the National Defense University. Lights inexplicably go on and off, and the disembodied sound of hammering, as if from gallows building, has been heard at night, he said.

There, where the Capitol can be seen from one of the windows, 8 conspirators were found guilty, and the 4 were sentenced to death. The others got lesser sentences.

The trial, which opened May 9, was a national sensation, Severance said.

The defendants were accused of "maliciously, unlawfully and traitorously ... conspiring ... (to murder) Abraham Lincoln, then president of the United States," the official charges stated.

The hot, stuffy courtroom was crammed with reporters, illustrators and spectators eager to glimpse the conspirators, especially the veiled Surratt, and the handsome Powell, a 21-year-old former Confederate soldier.

Hundreds of witnesses testified, including the top Union general, Ulysses S. Grant; Maj. Henry Rathbone, who was knifed by Booth seconds after Lincoln was shot; and Sgt. Boston Corbett, who fatally wounded Booth on April 26.

The details of the assassination were given, and links between Booth and the defendants were established.

The original plot had been to abduct Lincoln and use him as a hostage to gain the release of Confederate prisoners of war, said Severance, a retired Army colonel.

But as the rebel cause withered, Booth decided that something else had to be done, something he called "decisive and great ... which the world would remember for all time," according to a new biography of Booth by historian Terry Alford.

Defense lawyers argued that the trial should have been in a civilian court, and that many of the defendants were only in on the kidnapping plot, not the assassination.

The tribunal was unmoved.

It began deliberating June 29 and presented its verdicts to President Johnson on July 5, according to Swanson and Weinberg's book, "Lincoln's Assassins." Johnson approved.

On July 6, Powell, Surratt, Atzerodt and Herold were informed that they were to be hanged the next day.

2 generals went to each cell - 1st Powell's, then Atzerodt's, Herold’s and Surratt's, according to the account in the Star newspaper.

Powell, who used the alias Payne, seemed resigned. Atzerodt grew pale, and his hands began to shake. Herold admitted helping Booth escape and said he had always been an ardent supporter of the South.

Surratt was stunned and burst into "a violent paroxysm of grief," the newspaper said. Last-minute appeals to a civilian court and the White House were made for her. They all came to nothing.

Surratt's daughter, Anna, went to the executive mansion to beg for an interview with Johnson.

Told that he would see no visitors, she collapsed on a staircase, "sobbing aloud in the greatest anguish, protesting her mother's innocence ... (declaring) her mother was too good and kind to be guilty of the enormous crime," the newspaper reported.

"The scene was heart rending, and many of those who witnessed it ... were moved to tears," the Star recounted.

The next morning, the operation of the freshly built gallows designed to hang 4 people simultaneously was tested.

Artillery shells weighing 100 pounds were placed on the drop sections, and the supports were knocked away, the newspaper reported. Some adjustments were required.

Meanwhile, the city was crowded with visitors, hoping to witness or just be in town for the execution. Admission was strictly limited. About 3,000 spectators, most of them soldiers, looked on from the ground, windows and rooftops.

The condemned emerged from the prison, accompanied by members of the clergy, and filed up to the scaffold platform. The death warrants were read. The 4 stood. The nooses were affixed.

The temperature was in the mid-90s.

The executioner, Capt. Christian Rath, who had come to admire Powell's pluck, said in an interview many years later that he had whispered to Powell, "I want you to die quick."

"You know best, captain," Rath said Powell replied.

Rath told his interviewer that he was sure Surratt would be spared. And when his superior, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, ordered him to proceed, Rath asked, "Her, too?"

"Yes," Hancock said. "She cannot be saved."

Rath gave the signal - three claps of the hand, according to the National Intelligencer. "As 1, the 4 bodies shot downward," he recalled.

They were lowered after about 20 minutes. The shackles and irons were removed, but not the execution hoods.

Each body was placed in a coffin, along with a glass bottle holding a piece of paper bearing the conspirator's name and the nature of the crime. The 4 were buried in the graves beside the gallows and over the years returned to their families.

The awful event was finished, the National Intelligencer wrote, as if speaking of the upheaval of the past 4 years.

"God grant that our country may never again witness such another one."

(source: Washington Post)


UN calls for 'immediate release' of British activist jailed in Ethiopia

United Nations (UN) has called for the immediate release of an Ethiopian-British citizen being held on death row in Ethiopia for more than a year, a case which campaigners have claimed exposes Britain's poor diplomacy.

The United Nations (UN) has called for the immediate release of an Ethiopian-British citizen being held on death row in Ethiopia for more than a year, a case which campaigners have claimed exposes Britain's poor diplomacy.

Signalling an abrupt hardening of its stance on the case, experts from the UN Human Rights Council have asked Ethiopia to pay Andargachew Tsige 'adequate compensation' before sending him home to London, reported The Guardian.

An 8-page judgement handed to Ethiopia by the UNHRC's working group on arbitrary detention also claimed that 'reliable evidence' had suggested possible situation of physical abuse and mistreatment which could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Earlier, internal Foreign Office emails, disclosed for the 1st time, had revealed that Tsige was abducted and jailed in an unknown location in June 2014, with many British officials voicing fears about real risk of torture if Tsige was returned to Ethiopia.

The 60-year-old was detained at Yemen's main airport while in transit and forcibly moved to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. He is a prominent opposition politician and an outspoken critic of the Ethiopian government and the country's human rights record.

(source: The Financial Express)


Lawmakers push to abolish death penalty

Lawmakers here Monday submitted a bipartisan bill to the National Assembly proposing to abolish the death penalty, citing a clause in the South Korean Constitution that obligates citizens to "respect human dignity."

South Korea last carried out its last death sentence in December 1997. Amnesty International considers Korea a de facto abolitionist country, according to a 2014 report by the human rights nongovernmental organization.

But the new draft bill aims to raise Korea's status to an outright abolitionist country, chief sponsor Rep. Yoo Ihn-tae of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said, citing decades of efforts by human rights workers to have the practice outlawed here.

Rep. Yoo Ihn-tae of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy submits an anti-death penalty draft bill early Monday. (Yonhap) "It is time we illegalize the death penalty here, in a country that has produced a U.N. secretary-general and is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council," Yoo added, referring to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon.

"It's time that we declare the death penalty something that goes against our country's conscience."

At least 61 have been sentenced to death here, according to Amnesty International.

Lawmakers proposed 6 draft bills from 1999 to 2010 proposing to abolish the death penalty outright. But the draft bills failed to pass Korea's unicameral parliament.

Yoo's proposed bill comes nearly five years after the last anti-death penalty bill was chiefly sponsored by lawmaker Joo Sung-young of the Grand National Party, a precursor to the ruling Saenuri Party, in November 2010.

The draft bill must pass the Legislation and Judiciary Committee and plenary voting at the National Assembly, before receiving final approval from the Cabinet for it to become law. More than 170 of the Assembly's 298 lawmakers have signed on to the proposed bill as cosponsors.

South Korea was among the 34 countries that abstained on a U.N. General Assembly vote to abolish the death penalty in December last year.

(source: Korea Herald)


North Korea has carried out 1,400 public executions since 2000, report claims

Nearly 1,400 North Koreans were publicly executed between 2000 and 2013, according to new research, which suggests that the number of these deaths peaked at 160 in 2009. Further increases after 2013 have also been reported.

The Korean Institute for National Unification, funded by the South Korean government, said in its annual white paper on human rights in North Korea that 1,382 executions took place in public in the 13-year period.

The figures, which cannot be independently verified, were said to be based on in-depth interviews with North Korean defectors and confirmed by witnesses in the country. The number of executions carried out away from the public eye is also impossible to ascertain.

North Korean media have reported only 2 executions in 2014 and none so far this year, according to Cornell University's Death Penalty Watch research group. During 2009, only 1 was officially reported.

But the South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily reported in late 2013 that thousands of North Koreans had been forced to attend executions by firing squad held in stadiums, the 1st known large-scale public executions under Kim Jong-un's leadership.

Public executions are considered to be a way to keep the population in line. According to witness testimonies from the DPRK, public executions for watching or distributing South Korean films and drug smuggling have increased in recent years, as well sentences for "crimes against the regime". Many more are punished by being sent to work-camps, with Amnesty International estimating that 200,000 North Koreans are in prison.

North Korea does not allow access to human rights groups, but an Amnesty report confirms the 2013 spike in executions, claiming that at least 70 death sentences were carried out in the DPRK, from a total of 776 around the world.

Amnesty said the actual number was likely to be far higher, but even without taking this into account North Korea, a country with 0.3% of the world's people, carries out nearly 10% of its confirmed executions.

This total is still less than Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, which account for 80% of the world's confirmed executions between them. The US executed 761 people between 2000 and 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, but many countries, most notably China, refuse to reveal the number of people sentenced to death by the state.

Since 1996, the South Korean unification institute has published annual statistics on executions. This year's figures were based on testimonies of 221 North Korean defectors, selected based on demographics and background, of the total 1,396 escapees who came to South Korea last year.

(source: The Guardian)


2 Women Sentenced to Death Pardoned by Plaintiffs----Plaintiffs have helped save 2 women from death row in Iran through a pardon

During a recent meeting of "peace and reconciliation" between prisoners in Isfahan's central prison and a number of plaintiffs 2 women sentenced to death and 6 women charged with financial crimes were pardoned, according to a report by the public relations office of prisons in Isfahan.

The meeting, reportedly the first of its kind at the prison, was held to reportedly help reduce the amount of prisoners behind bars. The meeting was reportedly attended by Iranian actor Hassan Aklili, a number of clerics and also the director of prisons in the province of Alborz. Additionally, 17 other plaintiffs have reportedly agreed to pardon prisoners with financial crimes under the condition that they pay back their debt.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

JULY 5, 2015:


Lay death penalty to rest

Until early in the past century, local governments were responsible for executing prisoners sentenced to death in North Carolina. In 1910, the state took over that responsibility, and in the state's 1st execution on March 18, 1910, Walter Morrison was put to death in the electric chair.

In the century that followed, the state has executed more than 1,000 people - although none since August 2006. For a decade, procedural and legislative issues have resulted in effect in a moratorium on executions. But capital trials and convictions have continued, albeit at a slowing rate.

Today, 146 men and 2 women sit on North Carolina's death row. None is from Durham or Orange counties, where prosecutors in recent years have seldom sought the death penalty.

And while the Supreme Court last week, in a widely awaited ruling, again gave the constitutional imprimatur to the death penalty, a dissent by 2 justices sharply questioned whether that should be the case.

In North Carolina, where in recent years we have seen several death row inmates exonerated - but for the delays, we might well have put an innocent person to death. Given what we know today about the flaws inherent in our judicial process, it is altogether probable that some of those 1,000-plus we've executed may never have committed the crime for which they were meted out the ultimate punishment.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent last week, alluded to those flaws.

"In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed...," he wrote. "Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed."

Breyer outlined what he saw as "fundamental constitutional defects" and changes over the past 4 decades in how we assess them. "It is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited "cruel and unusual punishmen[t]."

The court's decision followed by just weeks a report from North Carolina's Center for Death Penalty Legislation which pointed to practical as well as philosophical arguments against capital punishment.

That study, the Center for Death Penalty Information summarized, "examines the financial and human costs of cases in which, 'prosecutors sought the death penalty despite a clear lack of evidence, resulting in acquittal or dismissal of charges.'"

Justice Breyer is right in arguing "it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment." It is time to lay it to rest.

(source: Editorial, The Herald Sun)


As death penalty debate reignites, Florida carves its own path

For nearly 6 months, the death chamber at Florida State Prison has remained empty.

No prisoners have been executed, not since Jan. 15, when Johnny Kormondy -- convicted of fatally shooting a Pensacola banker in 1993 and raping his wife -- was given a series of 3 injections and breathed his last breaths.

A Supreme Court ruling last week means that unusual respite for convicted killers should end, with Florida resuming what has been an accelerated pace of executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott.

Just don't expect the rest of the country to follow its lead.

With the exception of a few states like Florida, use of the death penalty has waned amid legal challenges in state and federal courts and shifting public opinion. Last week, two Supreme Court justices suggested the death penalty itself is not constitutional, writing that it's time for a robust debate and for the high court to act.

Other questions have fanned the debate over the death penalty itself. The Nebraska Legislature overrode their governor's veto to ban capital punishment in May, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a case about the procedures that put Floridians on death row.

Amid those legislative and legal attempts to curtail capital punishment, both the number of people on death row and the total number of executions have been trending downward nationwide since 2000.

And then there's Florida.

Under Scott, Florida has been executing death row prisoners at a faster rate than under any governor since the death penalty came back into use in 1977.

Since Scott entered office in 2011, Florida has executed 21 people. Last year, the state's 8 executions put it third nationwide, behind just Texas and Missouri, which executed 10 apiece. Apart from those three states, there were only seven other executions in the country last year.

Florida is one of just a few states directly affected by last Monday's Supreme Court decision.

In the ruling, the high court said that midazolam, 1 of the 3 drugs used for lethal injections in Florida, is constitutional. Critics had tried to ban it, arguing it constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

Within hours, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked for permission to continue executions which were halted by the Florida Supreme Court in February while the use of midazolam was under review.

Bondi isn't the only Florida leader pushing to continue executions here.

"If you don't have the death penalty, it's a free murder," says Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a staunch supporter of the capital punishment. "I'm for no free murders, and that's why I think Florida is right for bucking the national trend of watering down the death penalty."

Gaetz has been at the forefront of pushing for capital punishment reforms aimed at shortening the amount of time between sentencing and execution.

He sponsored a 2013 law that forces the governor to move quickly after death row prisoners have exhausted all of their appeals in the courts. That law, the Timely Justice Act, is one of the reasons executions have ticked up the last 2 years, he said.

The goal, said Gaetz, is to bring the average death row wait down to eight years from the current wait time exceeding 20 years. Despite Scott's fervor in signing death warrants, no one convicted after 2000 has been executed.

But laws like the Timely Justice Act worry opponents of the death penalty, who point to those exonerated from death row.

For every 4 people sentenced to death in Florida since the 1970s, 1 person has been released, according to Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"We call for a halt on Florida executions," Elliott said in a statement. "No one knows how many more innocent people remain on death row or, God forbid, have already been executed."

Still, the appetite for reform remains focused on moving prisoners through the appeals process and into the Starke death chamber as swiftly as possible.

The last couple years, members of the Legislature have proposed stricter requirements for judges to issue death sentences.

Florida is unusual in that it requires only a seven-to-five vote from a jury to recommend a death sentence. The judge makes a final determination based on the jury's suggestion, but majority required is unusually narrow.

A bill this year to require unanimous consent of juries failed to gain traction after its first hearing in the Senate. And Gaetz says he was researching a similar proposal in 2013 when he chaired the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

"Before the sun set on the day I sent some questions to the attorney general's office, Pam Bondi was in my office wagging her finger in my face," Gaetz said. "It's the only time in my 6 sessions that Pam Bondi has ever visited my office."

Her concern was that changing the sentencing rules will open new opportunities for the 395 people on death row to appeal their cases, overloading the courts. Yet, these same sentencing rules could be thrown out even without the support of the Legislature.

Most states require a unanimous vote or at least a 10-to-2 majority.

The next major death penalty case to be taken up in the U.S. Supreme Court will seek to answer this very question: Is a seven-to-five majority on a Florida jury sufficient to recommend the state put someone to death?

This series of smaller questions -- first lethal injection drugs and next sentencing processes -- could blossom into a broader challenge to any use of the death penalty.

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in fact, called for the Court to take up a case on the constitutionality of the death penalty itself in writing a striking dissent to the lethal injection case.

As most states have banned the death penalty altogether or their governors have abandoned its use, Elliott says he's seeing the tide turn politically against the death penalty.

"We are seeing more and more conservatives, libertarians and progressives in agreement to end capital punishment programs," he said.

That doesn't sway Gaetz, who says the death penalty remains essential, especially in Florida.

"I think that Florida attracts more than its fair share of depraved killers," he said. "We have had a large quantity of high-profile murders in our state with very heinous motives ... The memories of these events are seared in the minds of many Floridians."

(source: Bradenton Herald)


Suspect in death of New Orleans police officer scheduled to be on court Monday

The family of a man accused of killing a New Orleans policeman has released a statement of sympathy and thanks to the dead man's family.

Public defender Christopher Murell, one of Travis Boys' attorneys, emailed the family's statement Sunday.

They say they're deeply sorry for the heartache that Officer Daryle Holloway's family and children must be feeling. And they say they're very moved by his mother's grace in asking the community to pray for them.

Olander Holloway asked for the prayers during a memorial for her son. She said she cannot imagine what Boys' mother is going through, and does not have any hard feelings toward his family.

Boys is scheduled for arraignment Monday in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on the 1st-degree murder charge.

(source: Associated Press)


Where's Yankee know-how on executions?

Whatever happened to good old American know-how? Sure, we are the only advanced society with the death penalty, but we must ask ourselves whether we are proving worthy of the distinction. We sentence 'em to death all right, but we are seldom up to the task of killing them.

In fact, the process has gotten even more drawn out in recent years because several states, having switched to the supposedly more humane method of lethal injection, can't lay their hands on the requisite drugs.

Louisiana is one of them, so nobody will be put to death here for at least another year.

The shortage arose when European drug manufacturers quit shipping to us because they do not wish to abet capital punishment. Bunch of damn socialists, obviously. Rely on pantywaist foreigners at your peril.

A federal judge has suspended executions in Louisiana for at least a year while the state seeks a source of drugs or comes up with a new method of execution. Various other states have a back-up if drugs can't be obtained, prescribing either the gas chamber, the electric chair, the noose or a firing squad.

Not that it makes much difference because the vast majority of death row inmates - even the ones who happen to be guilty - are never going to be executed. Natural causes will get them first. If it weren't for Texas, you'd have to say we've pretty much given up the ghost.

Squeamish pharmaceutical companies may have made the process even more drawn out, but the death row backlog can hardly be laid at their door. A fresh supply of drugs would not appreciably diminish life expectancy among the more than 3,000 convicts under sentence of death in America.

Last year, 72 people were sentenced to death - the fewest since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 - but we only managed to execute 35 convicts. Louisiana has 85 prisoners on death row and hasn't executed one since 2010. That was no great trick either because Gerald Bordelon declined to file an appeal. Our last involuntary execution was way back in 2002.

Even allowing that a shortage of drugs may have stayed the executioner's hand in some cases, we are clearly never going to catch up.

Texas puts us to shame, having carried out 9 of America's 17 executions this year. Officials in Texas have not been stymied by any European bleeding hearts, having secured from a secret and presumably American source a supply of the 1 drug they use to do the job.

It is not so easy for Louisiana to score because we are one of several states that dispatch the condemned with what the press unfailingly and whimsically dubs a "cocktail" of 3 drugs.

The latest confirmation of our reluctance to serve it is provided by the case of Christopher Sepulvado, who murdered his 6-year-old stepson by stabbing him with a screwdriver and plunging him in scalding water in 1992. Sepulvado filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent his execution by trotting out the old "cruel and unusual" line, but the issue is strictly academic so long as the state has no means to kill him anyway. Thus, the hearing scheduled for a couple of weeks ago was put off, as, by no means for the 1st time, was his date with death. 4 other death row inmates were granted stays too.

The hope is that, by July of next year, Louisiana will either find the drugs required for executions under the current statute or pass a new one it can abide by. A bill that would have brought back Old Sparky got nowhere in the last session, but maybe the Legislature will be made of sterner stuff next year.

So far, however, the state is proving incapable of figuring out how to kill anyone. This is such a pathetic show you'd almost think our heart wasn't in the capital punishment business. Come on. If we don't exterminate a bunch of wretches pronto, the world will start to wonder whether we are proud of our unique status or not.

(source: James Gill, The Advocate)


Duty to execute with dignity

Justice Samuel Alito sees "a guerrilla war against the death penalty." He used those words when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in April in the case brought by three prisoners on death row in Oklahoma. The justice returned to the thought in his 5-4 majority opinion last week upholding a 3-drug combination used in conducting the death penalty. The majority wasn't about to strike down this version of lethal injection, and thus halt death sentences, because preferred drugs are not available.

The story is well known. European and American manufacturers of barbiturates such as sodium thiopental have refused to make the drugs available for executions. Thus, states have scrambled to pull together replacements. The barbiturate is the tool for rendering the prisoner unconscious, allowing for the paralyzing agent and heart-stopping chemicals to bring death quickly with little, if any, pain.

Unfortunately, as Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio have learned, the substitute drug midazolam, a sedative, has proved unreliable, resulting in three prolonged executions, the prisoners appearing to suffer. That suffering may trouble few, a convicted killer hardly a sympathetic figure. What the court majority failed to emphasize is that it matters how, precisely, the death penalty is handled. Among other things, the state by treating a prisoner with dignity draws a crucial distinction with the brutality of the crime.

The hard reality is, the drugmakers have made a free choice, and that complicates things for Ohio and other states. It isn't enough for the courts to overlook the obvious consequences or to suggest, as Alito did, that if a prisoner doesn't like the method of lethal injection, he or she somehow has an obligation to offer an alternative to see that the execution goes forward.

In that way, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wasn't out of line in her dissent, arguing that the logic employed by the majority pointed to execution via almost any means. This editorial page long has opposed the death penalty. At the same time, if the state is going to have capital punishment, it must take care in its conduct, from beginning to end. That should be especially so in view of those released from death row, evidence surfacing eventually that they were wrongfully convicted.

Ohio has put off executions until early next year as part of seeking to avoid what happened to Dennis McGuire in early 2014. (Nebraska recently became the seventh state since 2007 to abolish the death penalty.) What state lawmakers here can do is take the next step in implementing the recommendations of the task force that examined ways to make improvements.

Lawmakers acted at the end of last year. Now a bill proposing helpful changes to post-conviction proceedings sits in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. An appropriate response to the Supreme Court ruling would be the legislation's swift passage.

(source: Editorial Board, Beacon Journal)


Oklahoma attorney general talks about recent state, U.S. Supreme Court decisions----Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office represented Oklahoma in the lethal injection case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court sided with the state and allowed the continued administration of a sedative that was challenged by death row inmates.

Over the past 10 days, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Supreme Court have handed down major decisions on health care subsidies, execution methods, same-sex marriage and the placement of the Ten Commandments on state land.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was closely involved with three of those cases. His office represented the state in the lethal injection case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court sided with the state and allowed the continued administration of a sedative that was challenged by death row inmates.

Switching to the U.S. Supreme Court, Oklahoma won its case this week on the use of midazolam for lethal injections. The majority opinion would seem to make it even tougher for death penalty inmates to prevail on challenges to execution methods. But many analysts said Justice (Stephen) Breyer's dissent was more important than the majority opinion because it laid out a blueprint for challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty.

Did you take a larger message from the ruling in the case?

Pruitt: Well I think you've hit 2. Obviously Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor and the dissenters in the case were hoping to collapse the 2-part test that has been historically applied to the Eighth Amendment analysis. And the most important part of that test is whether there's an alternative (execution method) available to the state to carry out its obligation of the death penalty.

And Justice (Samuel) Alito in his majority opinion clearly preserved that requirement. So that’s very important I think for states across the country.

And with respect to Justice Breyer, I appreciate his candor. I believe this case was always about abolition (of the death penalty) and he was candid enough to express that in his dissent.

Q: You've asked that execution dates be set for the 3 inmates whose executions were stayed during the Supreme Court case. Does the state have the drugs necessary and do you anticipate problems in obtaining drugs in the near future?

Pruitt: It's my understanding that the Department of Corrections has represented they in fact do have the drugs available to carry out the executions that we've asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to set.

And secondly, I think this continued challenge, not just for Oklahoma - I think many states across the country are going to continue to have to deal with the sourcing and supplying, the purchasing of the drugs necessary to carry out their responsibilities.

That's been the approach that the anti-death penalty folks have taken.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Long death penalty watch ahead

Nebraska's legislative repeal of the death penalty attracted national attention, but it didn't stop at the water's edge.

That decision to light the Colosseum in Rome over the weekend in recognition of Nebraska's action is stunning evidence of how the world - at least the western world - has been watching.

And it looks like the death penalty will be looming front and center in Nebraska for at least 16 more months leading up to the November election in 2016.

That assumes the referendum petition drive underway now will be successful in taking the issue to the voters in a presidential election year, whether there are sufficient signatures to suspend the law until then or not.

That would set the stage for an emotionally-charged debate that conceivably could be shaped by unknown events.

Does a particularly heinous murder occur just before the election?

If there's no execution prior to the vote, does that argue that the death penalty simply doesn't work?

Or, if somehow the state conducts an execution before the election despite the expressed will of the Legislature and legal questions about Nebraska's lethal drug protocol, does that validate the death penalty or does it remind voters how ugly an execution can be?

All of that uncertainty could affect votes at an election whose turnout should be substantial as voters choose a new president from what now is a circus of candidates.

But there's another factor that could be key: Sometimes, in political campaigns, the best ads win.

(source: Don Walton, Journal Star)


Farkhunda mob killing: Family's lawyer calls Afghan court "corrupt" for death sentence U-turn----Attorney Kimberley Motley has claimed the family of a 27-year old woman beaten to death in March knew nothing about a 'secret' hearing to overturn the death sentences of 4 men found guilty of her killing

The lawyer who represented Farkhunda's family in court has spoken of her outrage over the decision to overturn the death sentences of four men convicted of killing her.

The 27-year old was beaten to death in March this year in a vicious mob killing in Kabul.

Kimberley Motley told the Telegraph that the decision was 'shocking' and had been handled in a 'corrupt manner.'

"I think it's ridiculous that the court would be so blatant in defying due process and the laws of Afghanistan," she said.

"It's shocking that it's been handled in such a corrupt manner. The first trial was so open and transparent, it makes no sense".

49 people were brought to trial in a case that made headlines around the world. Farkhunda was beaten, run over with a car and set on fire as a crowd chanted "God is greatest" and filmed the incident on their mobile phones and posted it on social media. The footage was later used as evidence in court.

She had been wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran.



Death penalty sought for child sexual abuse

A lawmaker on Sunday reiterated his call to impose the death penalty on those who sexually abuse children.

The government "should seriously address" the problem of pedophilia and child exploitation and sexual abuse by supporting the move to reimpose the death penalty, Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) said in a statement.

"It's about time that Congress reexamine the death penalty in light of reports on the gravity of pedophilia operations in the country. Convicted pedophiles deserve the death penalty because of their dastardly acts against Filipino children," he added.

Gatchalian made the pitch after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) reportedly nabbed a 73-year-old Belgian in Bohol for allegedly molesting 25 Filipina girls.

He said "arrested pedophiles" in the past were able to post bail and continue with their activities because of loopholes in existing laws and corruption in the judicial system.

The lawmaker cited the case of British Douglas Slade who, according to the lawmaker, has been repeatedly arrested for taking nude photos and molesting underaged boys in the Philippines.

"Slade is a notorious pedophile with a history of arrests. He repeatedly had child sex charges against him dropped and was caught on camera in an ITV documentary in 1995 boasting that he could avoid conviction by bribing prosecutors and the families of victims," Gatchalian said.

(source: Manila Times)


Death penalty for attackers of public facilities: draft amendment

The State Council has approved draft amendments to toughen the penalty imposed on those who attack power, natural gas or petroleum plants to reach the death penalty, according to news reports Saturday.

The amended article in the recently approved anti-terrorism draft law stipulates that those who deliberately destroy electricity, petroleum and natural gas networks or seize facilities that belong to the said services will be jailed for at least 10 years.

Life in prison is a penalty possible for thosewho use force or violence in committing the said crimes, prevent experts from fixing the damages, or caused the suspension of petroleum, electricity or natural gas supply.

The assailant might face execution if the crime resulted in death. Tools used in the crime will be seized per a court warrant, and assailants will bear the repairing expenses.

The counter-terrorism draft law was approved by the cabinet Wednesday; the same day militants launched simultaneous attacks on several North Sinai checkpoints.The cabinet said in a statement that the anti-terrorism legislation would provide "rapid and just deterrence" against terrorism, according to Reuters.

The amendments in the new law include "acceleration in court procedures of terrorism-related crimes through shrinking the litigation period, enhancing the jurisdiction of police officers and prosecutors involved in terror crimes along with facilitating access to bank accounts of suspects," Ibrahim el-Heneidy, Transitional Justice Minister and head of the committee tasked with making the legal amendments told Youm7.

Attacks targeting electricity utilities, power transformers and transmission towers have been frequent since the 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. Such attacks have inflicted huge losses on the government and caused temporary blackouts in different governorates.

Natural gas pipelines have also beenargeted since the January 25 Revolution in 2011, especially the Arish gas pipeline that feeds Jordan and Israel. In May, the gas line was attacked for the30th time.

(source: Cairo Post)


Christian pastors to face trial in Sudan, lawyer arrested

2 South Sudanese pastors in Sudan will face trial for espionage and their lawyer has been arrested.

A judge ruled on July 2 that Rev Yat Michael and Rev David Yein Reith's trial will continue, meaning that they could face the death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty. A day earlier, July 1, their chief counsel - Mohaned Mustafa - was also arrested, along with Pastor Hafez of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church where Michael spoke out against the persecution of Christians in Sudan.

According to the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the church is involved in an ongoing land dispute with the government, and Hafez and Mustafa are accused of obstructing a public servant during the course of his duty. They have been released on bail, but will face trial in court.

Michael was arrested on 14 December 2014, and Reith in January of this year. They were both detained without charges, and without access to a lawyer or their families, until March 1. They are now being held on six charges including espionage, "offending Islamic beliefs" and undermining the constitutional system.

The men maintain they have not committed any crime. Michael recently told CBN news from his prison cell that he didn't know why he had been arrested: "We just go to to out ministry training in our church".

Their next hearing has been scheduled for July 14, and Mustafa will only be allowed about 15 minutes with his clients to brief them ahead of the meeting. "Sudanese law grants sole discretion for visitation rights at the prison to the prison directorate, who in this case has previously denied requests for access," said the ACLJ.

The pastors have also been denied regular visits from relatives, which is illegal under the Sudanese constitution. "This is meant to put more psychological pressures and warfare on the arrested pastors," a legal representative told World Watch Monitor.

"The serious criminal charges against Michael and Yen have been levied solely on the basis of their religious convictions and outspoken criticism of the ruling party, and as such, that their continued detention and criminal proceedings are discriminatory and in violation of constitutional and international legal guarantees of equality," a statement from the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said.

Yat Michael has told the Sudanese authorities: "I am a pastor. I must speak the Word of God."

"There is also speculation that the trial of the two men is intended to send a message to other Christian leaders in Sudan to refrain from criticising the treatment of Christian minorities in Sudan and the policies of the ruling party".

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said, "We are disappointed to learn that the judge has decided to uphold the extreme and unwarranted charges against Rev Michael and Rev Reith. We continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release. The ongoing restrictions on their legal and family visits are not only distressing for the pastors and their families, but also constitute yet another hurdle for their legal team to overcome and a violation of fair trial principles, as articulated by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party.

"Moreover, the harassment and assault on Pastor Hafez is wholly unacceptable, and typifies an ongoing, discriminatory policy targeting religious and ethnic minorities that is officially sanctioned. The international community, and in particular the African Union, must impress upon Sudan its obligation to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief and the right to a fair trial."

(source: Christian Today)


UN demands release of British activist jailed in Ethiopia amid torture fears ---- The Foreign Office has pushed for consular access to Andargachew Tsige with no tangible results, since the British citizen was abducted in Ethiopia a year ago

The UN has demanded the immediate release of a Briton held on death row in Ethiopia for more than a year, an intervention that campaigners say exposes Britain' poor diplomacy towards the case.

Experts from the UN Human Rights Council have advised Ethiopia to pay Andargachew Tsige "adequate compensation" before sending him home to London, an abrupt hardening of its position on the case at a time when Britain pursues a softly, softly approach with no tangible reward.

Internal Foreign Office emails, disclosed for the 1st time, reveal that even before Tsige was kidnapped and jailed in an unknown location in June 2014, British officials had voiced fears at "the real risk of torture if [Tsige is] returned to Ethiopia”, along with "fair trial concerns".

An 8-page judgment from the UNHRC's working group on arbitrary detention handed to Ethiopia suggests such fears have been realised, saying that there is "reliable evidence on a possible situation of physical abuse and mistreatment which could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

Tsige, 60, a father of 3 from London, and known to friends as Andy, was arrested in Yemen's main airport while in transit and forcibly removed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

He is prominent in Ethiopian politics, having been leader of opposition party Ginbot 7, which has called for democracy, free elections and civil rights. The government has accused him of being a terrorist and in 2009 he was tried in his absence and sentenced to death.

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond has refused to demand his urgent release, preferring to push for consular access, a request rejected by Ethiopia. Tsige's partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their children, has spoken to him just once by telephone since his abduction.

Another internal government email from the UK ambassador to Ethiopia to Laurence Robertson MP, who heads the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia, describes the Ethiopians as "obdurate".

Hammond recently attempted to harden up the UK's position on Tsige, calling for rapid progress in the case, but campaigners say this remains significantly short of what is required. Another recent Foreign Office statement made no mention of Tsige, but welcomed the "generally peaceful environment" of the recent Ethiopian elections, which saw the government locking up political opponents and journalists.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: "Despite the injustices that have been - and continue to be - committed against this British national, the foreign secretary refuses to ask for Andy's release and his return back home to his family in Britain.

"The UN is right to be taking action and demanding Andy's immediate release from his unlawful detention. The UK's refusal to do the same is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility to one of its citizens."

Kevin Laue of the human rights organisation Redress, which helps torture survivors, said: "The UK government should be outraged by this behaviour and should be responding in the strongest possible terms." A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The foreign secretary has raised this case with the Ethiopian foreign minister on 13 separate occasions, most recently on 29 April 2015. The minister for Africa raised this again on 11 June. We will continue to lobby at all levels, conveying our concern over Andargachew Tsige being detained without regular consular visits and access to a lawyer."

(source: The Guardian)

JULY 4, 2015:


No need for secrecy with execution drugs

The effort earlier this year in the Virginia General Assembly to keep secret nearly all aspects of how the state executes people shouldn't be repeated next session.

What some in the legislature tried - and failed - to do was to close to the public information about the drugs being used in lethal injection executions, including the name of the drug, the manufacturer and supplier.

The fear, some legislators said, was that it would open the state and the drug company to legal challenges about the effectiveness of the mixture.

The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated part of those worries in a ruling on its final day of the session this week.

The 5-4 decision rejected allegations from death-row inmates in Oklahoma that the use of a sedative called midazolam in lethal injections caused enough suffering to be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Midazolam is 1 of the 3-drug combination used for lethal injection executions in Virginia. It is the 1st drug injected and it's supposed to anesthetize the person. A 2nd drug is supposed to cause paralysis and the final one is to stop the heart.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said that the inmates (complainants) had failed to provide sufficient evidence that the 500-milligram dose of midazolam "entails a substantial risk of severe pain."

He said that the inmates had not offered a "known and available alternative method of execution."

Midazolam is the latest drug to face scrutiny as more and more of the drugs used in the death penalty become unavailable. Manufacturers halted sales to prisons because they don't want their products linked to executions. In addition, some countries that oppose the death penalty have banned the exporting of such drugs to the United States.

As a result, prisons faced shortages of lethal injection drugs.

Which is why a bill introduced by state Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, called for information about the drugs and the pharmaceutical companies to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

It also closed to disclosure any contracts the state entered into to obtain the drugs.

In addition, Saslaw's bill would have put information about the drugs off-limits to discovery in the course of any civil suit brought against the state.

By keeping all information about the execution drugs below the radar, corrections official felt they could maintain a sufficient supply of the drugs.

The bill, backed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, cleared the Senate but failed in the House of Delegates.

Open government advocates and news organizations strenuously objected to the secrecy.

The bill would have made an exception to open government policies of the state to satisfy a procurement need.

The Supreme Court's approval of the drug that's available in Virginia eliminates some of the secrecy the bill sought.

But even if it hadn't, secrecy in government is still a bad practice. It's even worse when it's to protect information about the most non-reversible action the state can perform.

(source: Editorial, The Free Lance-Star)


Jamie Hood trial: Jurors hear slain officer's final moments

The jury in the Jamie Hood death penalty trial listened to the final moments of a fallen officer's life on Friday.

Hood, who is defending himself, is accused of fatally shooting Athens-Clarke County Senior Police Officer Elmer "Buddy" Christian and wounding Officer Tony Howard in March 2011.

Hood was suspected in a carjacking and kidnapping earlier in the day.

In testimony Friday, jurors heard from a longtime police dispatcher who heard Christian's final words and immediately knew what had happened.

"I'm shot, Central, I'm shot!" Christian could be heard exclaiming on the radio. "Oh, my God!"

Hood has admitted to shooting both officers, but he says his actions were justified.

Prosecutors have spent much of their time trying to prove that Christian wasn't a threat at all to Hood.

(source: WXIA news)


Florida Shows No Signs of Killing Death Penalty----As court ruling revives debate, officials buck trend of "watering down" penalty

Since Gov. Rick Scott entered office in 2011, Florida has executed 21 people. Here's a look at last year's numbers.

1. Texas....................... 10

1. Missouri.................. 10

3. Florida..................... 8

Rest of U.S. ............... 7

No prisoners have been executed, not since Jan. 15, when Johnny Kormondy - convicted of fatally shooting a Pensacola banker in 1993 and raping his wife - was given a series of 3 injections and breathed his last breaths.

A Supreme Court ruling last week means that unusual respite for convicted killers should end, with Florida resuming what has been an accelerated pace of executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott.

Just don't expect the rest of the country to follow its lead.

With the exception of a few states like Florida, use of the death penalty has waned amid legal challenges in state and federal courts and shifting public opinion. Last week, 2 Supreme Court justices suggested the death penalty itself is not constitutional, writing that it's time for a robust debate and for the high court to act.

Other questions have fanned the debate over the death penalty itself. The Nebraska Legislature overrode their governor's veto to ban capital punishment in May, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a case about the procedures that put Floridians on death row.

Amid those legislative and legal attempts to curtail capital punishment, both the number of people on death row and the total number of executions have been trending downward nationwide since 2000.

And then there's Florida.

Under Scott, Florida has been executing death row prisoners at a faster rate than under any governor since the death penalty came back into use in 1977.

Since Scott entered office in 2011, Florida has executed 21 people. Last year, the state's 8 executions put it third nationwide, behind just Texas and Missouri, which executed 10 apiece. Apart from those 3 states, there were only 7 other executions in the country last year.

Florida is 1 of just a few states directly affected by last Monday's Supreme Court decision.

In the ruling, the high court said that midazolam, one of the three drugs used for lethal injections in Florida, is constitutional. Critics had tried to ban it, arguing it constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

Within hours, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked for permission to continue executions which were halted by the Florida Supreme Court in February while the use of midazolam was under review.

Bondi isn't the only Florida leader pushing to continue executions here.

"If you don't have the death penalty, it's a free murder," says Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a staunch supporter of the capital punishment. "I'm for no free murders, and that's why I think Florida is right for bucking the national trend of watering down the death penalty."

Gaetz has been at the forefront of pushing for capital punishment reforms aimed at shortening the amount of time between sentencing and execution.

He sponsored a 2013 law that forces the governor to move quickly after death row prisoners have exhausted all of their appeals in the courts. That law, the Timely Justice Act, is one of the reasons executions have ticked up the last 2 years, he said.

The goal, said Gaetz, is to bring the average death row wait down to eight years from the current wait time exceeding 20 years. Despite Scott's fervor in signing death warrants, no one convicted after 2000 has been executed.

But laws like the Timely Justice Act worry opponents of the death penalty, who point to those exonerated from death row.

For every four people sentenced to death in Florida since the 1970s, one person has been released, according to Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"We call for a halt on Florida executions," Elliott said in a statement. "No one knows how many more innocent people remain on death row or, God forbid, have already been executed."

Still, the appetite for reform remains focused on moving prisoners through the appeals process and into the Starke death chamber as swiftly as possible.

The last couple of years, members of the Legislature have proposed stricter requirements for judges to issue death sentences.

Florida is unusual in that it requires only a 7-to-5 vote from a jury to recommend a death sentence. The judge makes a final determination based on the jury's suggestion, but majority required is unusually narrow.

A bill this year to require unanimous consent of juries failed to gain traction after its first hearing in the Senate. And Gaetz says he was researching a similar proposal in 2013 when he chaired the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

"Before the sun set on the day I sent some questions to the attorney general's office, Pam Bondi was in my office wagging her finger in my face," Gaetz said. "It's the only time in my 6 sessions that Pam Bondi has ever visited my office."

Her concern was that changing the sentencing rules will open new opportunities for the 395 people on death row to appeal their cases, overloading the courts. Yet, these same sentencing rules could be thrown out even without the support of the Legislature.

Most states require a unanimous vote or at least a 10-to-2 majority.

The next major death penalty case to be taken up in the U.S. Supreme Court will seek to answer this very question: Is a 7-to-5 majority on a Florida jury sufficient to recommend the state put someone to death?

This series of smaller questions - 1st lethal injection drugs and next sentencing processes - could blossom into a broader challenge to any use of the death penalty.

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in fact, called for the Court to take up a case on the constitutionality of the death penalty itself in writing a striking dissent to the lethal injection case.

As most states have banned the death penalty altogether or their governors have abandoned its use, Elliott says he's seeing the tide turn politically against the death penalty.

"We are seeing more and more conservatives, libertarians and progressives in agreement to end capital punishment programs," he said.

That doesn't sway Gaetz, who says the death penalty remains essential, especially in Florida.

"I think that Florida attracts more than its fair share of depraved killers," he said. "We have had a large quantity of high-profile murders in our state with very heinous motives ... The memories of these events are seared in the minds of many Floridians."

(source: The Ledger)


Defense seeks touch DNA to question death row inmate's guilt

Tommy Zeigler turns 70 this month. He has lived more than half his life on Florida's death row.

He has always said he did not kill his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. But time and again, one appeal after another, the courts have not believed him.

Now may be his best chance to prove his innocence. It may also be his last.

Attorneys filed a motion this week seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence presented at the trial. The technology allows experts to analyze skin cells that can be left on one person when they are touched by another. It has been used to free other inmates across the country.

In more than 800 pages of documents and exhibits, Zeigler's lawyers retrace a story that has long raised questions in Orange County - namely, why a respected businessman with no criminal history would kill his family on Christmas Eve. "The evidence based on which he was convicted is extremely thin, and with every passing year becomes less and less reliable because of new discoveries that are made," said his New York attorney Dennis Tracey, who has worked on the case for free since 1986.

The new motion offers fresh revelations.

A key witness changed his story.

Someone attempted to rob a business right across from the furniture store that very night.

And, most important: There is a new suspect with a financial motive for the crime.

Prosecutors in Orange County have remained adamant that Zeigler is guilty. A spokesperson for State Attorney Jeff Ashton said they had yet to look through the new filing. In past interviews though, when asked if Zeigler might get a new trial, Ashton responded: "Not in a million years."

But the new DNA testing, if granted, could finally determine once and for all whether Zeigler is a calculating killer or a wronged man who spent almost 39 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.


Zeigler grew up in Winter Garden, a town of 6,000 just northwest of Orlando. He ran the W.T. Zeigler Furniture Store his parents opened in 1939 and also owned rental properties. He was friends with the town police chief and other local dignitaries.

A youth football coach, he met and fell in love with an elementary school teacher named Eunice. They married at the First Baptist Church on July 25, 1967, his 21st birthday.

The couple lived next door to his parents. They raised Persian show cats. They were trying to have a baby. Eunice documented their intimate moments on charts that ended 2 weeks before Christmas 1975.

On Christmas Eve, the Zeiglers were supposed to drive to a municipal judge's Christmas party with Eunice's parents and their friends, town police Chief Don Ficke and his wife.

They never made it.

Just after 9 that evening, Zeigler called the chief at the party and said: "Don, I've been shot."

When officers arrived at the furniture store, Zeigler opened the door and collapsed with a bullet wound in his stomach.

Inside was a scene that shocked police and members of this small citrus farming community.

Eunice, 32, had been shot in the back of the head. Eunice's father, Perry Edwards, 72, had been shot multiple times and beaten with a linoleum crank. Her mother's body lay behind a sofa. A local citrus foreman, Charles Mays, 35, was also shot and bludgeoned.


At the hospital, recovering from his gunshot wound, Zeigler told police his version of what happened.

He went to the store to make some deliveries. His in-laws and Eunice were to stop by to pick out a recliner for Christmas.

Several people attacked him and knocked off his glasses. Zeigler kept a gun and fired at the blurry figures.

2 witnesses helped make the case against Zeigler.

The 1st, Zeigler's handyman, came to police with one of the murder weapons. Edward Williams said he'd gone to the store to help Zeigler make some deliveries Christmas Eve. Zeigler had pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. The weapon misfired, Williams said, and Zeigler handed Williams the gun.

The other, fruit picker Felton Thomas, said that he'd gone to Zeigler's store that same evening with his friend, Charles Mays. Zeigler took the 2 black men to an orange grove to shoot weapons. Later, they returned to the furniture store and Zeigler invited them inside. Thomas grew suspicious and left. Mays went inside.

Neither man saw Zeigler kill his family, but police would speculate that they had been lured to the store by Zeigler so he could frame them for the murders.

With 2 witnesses, the Orange County Sheriff's Department turned to forensic evidence.

Detective Donald Frye was fresh off blood splatter training when he arrived at the scene. He looked at the patterns and surmised that the victims were killed at different times. Frye believed that Zeigler killed his wife and in-laws first, then lured Mays and Thomas to the furniture store. The trip to the orange grove with Mays and Thomas, the detective speculated, was a way for Zeigler to get their fingerprints on the gun. The gunshot wound to Zeigler's stomach was a way to make it look like he fought back.

As for a motive: $520,000 in insurance taken out on Eunice's life just a few months earlier.

5 days after the killing, Frye arrested Zeigler in his hospital bed.

6 months later, a jury convicted him and recommended life in prison. A judge sentenced Zeigler to death.


Of all the evidence collected in the nearly 4 decades since his conviction, it is Zeigler's rust-colored, long-sleeved shirt and his wife's gray tweed jacket that could once and for all solve a mystery.

Attorneys want to know if Zeigler had any of his father-in-law's DNA on the shirt. If there is none, there's no way Zeigler killed Edwards. They also want to know who touched Eunice's jacket after she was shot. The lining inside the jacket and a sock had blood on them, indicating someone took the time to button up the jacket and replace a shoe. It could have been the killer.

A new type of DNA analysis may be the way to answer those questions.

This type of examination, which amplifies and analyzes skin cells left behind, only became available in the United States a few years ago.

The tests were used to exonerate a former state trooper accused of killing his wife and two young children in Indiana. They helped free a Colorado man who was accused at age 15 of stabbing a woman in a field near his home. Both men spent decades in prison.

"With modern testing techniques, this touch DNA often can be detected, revealing the identity of the person who deposited the blood on the clothing in addition to the identity of the source of the blood," said forensic scientist Richard Eikelenboom, who specializes in touch DNA and formerly worked in the crime-solving laboratory of the Netherlands Forensic Institute.

At Zeigler's 1976 trial, former State Attorney Robert Eagan demonstrated for the jury how he believed Zeigler grabbed his father-in-law in a headlock and bashed him in the head with the a heavy metal handle used to role out linoleum, depositing his Type A blood on the underarm of Zeigler's shirt.

A 2001 DNA test showed that blood stains in the underarm of Zeigler's shirt actually belonged to Mays - not his father-in-law as prosecutors argued during the trial. Zeigler's attorneys say this backs their client's version of events.

The 2001 tests were not enough to set aside Zeigler's conviction. Prosecutors argued the sample was too small and may have deteriorated and that it was possible that Edwards' blood had landed on other spots on Zeigler's shirt.

Zeigler's attorneys asked to test the whole shirt so they could prove his father-in-law's blood was not on the shirt. That request was denied.

"Further testing on my shirts will show demonstrably that there is no blood of Perry Edwards on my clothes," Zeigler wrote in an affidavit to the court that is part of the motion, "as there would be if I had beaten and killed Perry Edwards."


If the latest DNA tests don't help Zeigler get a new hearing, the findings of private investigator Lynn-Marie Carty might.

Carty, 58, a former Mrs. Florida contestant who specializes in reuniting long-lost families, has spent the past 4 years trying to prove Zeigler did not kill his family. She has drawn former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice, a neighbor, into studying the evidence and now Rice, too, believes Zeigler is innocent. She has traveled all over the state and to Georgia interviewing witnesses and digging through court records.

In September 2013, Carty finally got Thomas, the fruit picker and one of the two key witnesses against Zeigler, to meet her. At his request, they sat in the lobby of the Fort Pierce Police Department because he said he was afraid. The interview, which lasted one hour and 41 minutes, was recorded. Thomas said he had never met Zeigler before the day of the murders.

He said Mays told him they were going to "Zeigler's" that day. Once there, they met a white man who asked them to go shoot guns in an orange grove. But he's not sure who that man was.

After the murders, he said police told him Zeigler had murdered Mays and the others. They did not ask him to identify Zeigler as the white man he'd met. They did not produce a police lineup with Zeigler's picture in it.

"I still don't know who it was," he told Carty.

Zeigler's attorneys and Carty now theorize that the real killer may have been Perry Edwards Jr., Eunice's brother. He bore a resemblance to Zeigler at the time, Carty said. According to a divorce complaint his wife once filed, he beat her and other family members and threatened to kill her.

There is no proof that Edwards Jr. was involved in the murders, but Carty said she talked to relatives of his who said he traveled to Florida on Christmas Eve in 1975.

He may also have had motive, Zeigler's lawyer argues in the new filing.

Edwards Jr. inherited "substantial assets," including property in Levy County, from his parents, the motion states.

Edwards Jr. died in 2013. His wife could not be reached for comment.

Zeigler's lawyers say it is clear police were not willing to consider other subjects once they zeroed in on Zeigler.

"If you really compare Tommy Zeigler and Perry Edwards Jr. in terms of their motivation to kill the victims, Perry Edwards had much more motivation," said Tracey, Zeigler's attorney. "He stood to gain millions from the estate of his parents, whereas Tommy Zeigler had a small life insurance policy, he had connections to Winter Garden, he was a model citizen. ... It makes no sense."

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Parkham White, LLP Announces a Critical Flaw in Alabama's Judicial System

Cody Owens of Weld Magazine recently interviewed Clayton Tartt of Parkham White, LLP to discuss the need for post-conviction relief, reports

One of only a few states in the nation that fails to provide a statewide indigent defender program, Alabama also lacks post-conviction counsel for those inmates on death row. Clayton Tartt, an associate with Birmingham's Parkman White, LLP, a birmingham criminal defense firm, feels this is a critical flaw in the state's judicial system and works to provide representation to those who otherwise cannot afford it. Tartt volunteers with the Alabama Post-Conviction Relief Project to help individuals in this situation. and Cody Owens of Weld Magazine recently interviewed Tartt about this issue.

Individuals accused of a capital crime require legal counsel to navigate the complex appeals process, yet many are unable to obtain this critical legal representation due to a lack of funds. Certain steps must be followed to complete the direct appeals case, and a single misstep could preclude any petition. The lack of a statewide indigent defender program effectively denies access to the post-conviction relief process for the majority of death row inmates.

Tartt garnered attention when he assisted in the APCRP case of Chris Revis, a death row prisoner. The APCRP and Tartt were able to secure a new trial for Revis after his original request was denied by the Alabama Supreme Court. Upon drafting a petition that encompassed almost 300 pages, Revis was granted an evidentiary hearing.

"The new hearing pointed to juror misconduct, as 2 jurors in the 2005 murder trial of Revis prematurely deliberated. The jurors chose to discuss how the case was going, which is prohibited, and this was only 1 of approximately 40 issues brought up in the petition. Thankfully, the judge opted to make use of this one and stated nothing else was needed to grant a new trial," Tartt continues.

Alabama remains the only state where an elected judge has the option to override a jury's recommendation for a life sentence and sentence the prisoner to the death penalty. An Equal Justice Initiative study conducted a few years back found that more judicial overrides occur during election years and involve the death penalty. Of the 111 cases in which a judicial override has taken place since 1976, 91 % of those cases resulted in a judge overriding a jury's sentencing recommendation of life without parole in favor of imposing the death penalty.

"Alabama needs to change the system, as approximately 20 % of cases resulting in the death penalty are the result of an override. Every defendant deserves proper representation when facing the death penalty and our criminal defense law firm is committed to providing it," Tartt declares.

(source: Free Press Release Center)


Some residents in Nebraska look to put death penalty on 2016 ballot

If you haven't been able to find Ron Stauffer or his team around Norfolk and you want to sign the petition to get the death penalty on the 2016 ballot, you're in luck.

An office has been set-up on 1120 S. 13 st. in Norfolk. According to Stauffer, it was set up because he was getting overwhelmed everywhere he went.

"It was unbelievable, I go for coffee and it takes me an hour to get out of there because people wamt to sign the petition," says Stauffer.

He has the office open from 12-6pm on Friday and Saturday and it will be open from 3 to 6 pm during the weekdays going forward.

Stauuffer needs 3200 signatures out of Madison County and said that he already has over one thousand. Most of the people signing the petition are for the Death Penalty but not all of them.

"I also had someone in here today that said they were going to vote 'no' on the death penalty but they want the people to have the opportunity to vote on it. So they signed the petition, said Stauffer.

This new office space is all apart of an expansive effort to get signatures as he said the group will be trying to get signatures at Big Bang Boom in Norfolk on Saturday.

(source: KTIV news)


Activist Joseph B. Ingle reveals systemic racism behind America's death penalty

A teacher, writer and activist Joseph B. Ingle has sat at the side of countless prisoners condemned to death. His book, "Slouching Toward Tyranny," indicts not just the death penalty but also the systemic racism that lies behind it.

Ingle began ministering to inmates on death row in 1973. Founder of the Tennessee Committee Against State Killing, he was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A life spent on the front lines of the war against capital punishment has led him to this conclusion: in America, white life is more valuable than black life.

Ingle begins with the Puritan settlers, for whom slavery was nothing new. Brown people were to them an inferior brand of human - baptizable and trainable, but still inferior.

Enter America's founding fathers. If you've ever wondered how freedom-loving Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, could own slaves until the day he died, Ingle breaks it down. The young Jefferson believed that slavery was evil, but the Negro's inferiority wasn't due to his or her captivity; it was due to his or her nature, which was base and easily diverted.

Despite the passing of the 1875 Civil Rights Bill after the Civil War, Confederate interests held sway in the South, and organizations such as the White League and the KKK kept landholding and full citizenship out of black people's reach. Southern states created brutal work farms, such as Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana and Parchman in Mississippi, to supply free labor.

So it went until the 1960s, when a new fight for desegregation began, and reforms brought a dramatic growth in the black middle class. In 1972, the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, though it was reinstated only 4 years later. The death penalty - aimed at poor people of color - has been the law of the land ever since.

Though Ingle's detailed account of this deliberate and systemic undermining of civil rights takes up 4/5 of the book, "Slouching Toward Tyranny" is more than a history lesson. Most importantly, it includes 1st-person accounts of Ingle's own experiences on death row.

Ingle's telling of his friend Willie Darden's story is both frustrating and sad - and unfortunately a typical example of Ingle's experiences on death row. A lifetime petty criminal, Darden, a black man, stood before an all-white jury in 1974; he was accused of killing a white man in Florida despite information from a white eyewitness that placed him elsewhere.

Darden's defense attorney did no research, and the eyewitness's testimony wasn't allowed in court. After 14 years and 6 stays of execution, Willie Darden gave Ingle a thumbs-up through the death-chamber window, and then he was electrocuted. He was almost certainly innocent.

"Slouching Toward Tyranny" is an undisguised polemic. Balance isn't his strong suit - words like "state killing" and "slaughter" pepper his account - but then how could it be otherwise, given what he's experienced on the ground? It's easy for armchair philosophers to talk of swift punishment and permanent incapacitation - they never looked Willie Darden in the eyes.

To read an uncut version of this review - and more local book coverage - visit, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.



The Supreme Court is ignoring a huge wave in American politics

Saying the Supreme Court had a big term would be a massive understatement. It legalized gay marriage nationwide, upheld a key tenet of Obamacare, and cracked down on gerrymandering.

In yet another highly anticipated decision, the high court ruled against 3 Oklahoma prisoners claiming a controversial lethal-injection drug violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, said the prisoners failed to prove taking the drug could cause severe pain.

The decision not only dealt a huge blow to anti-death penalty activists, it completely ignored a wave currently cresting itself across the US: That capital punishment shouldn't have a place in our justice system at all.

To start, support for the death penalty in general polls has been slipping for nearly the last 2 decades, according to the Pew Research Center. And currently, the number of Americans who favor it, only a small majority at 56%, has hit a 40-year low. Young people ages 18-29 support it by an even slimmer, 8-point margin.

Even within the system, application has drastically declined. In 2014, death sentences also reached a 40-year low, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

And some who do participate in delivering capital punishments suffer from hefty regret. One prosecutor, who helped nail down a murder conviction and death sentence for Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man exonerated 30 years later, wrote an op-ed earlier this year apologizing for his transgression and coming out against the death penalty.

Ford's powerful words came from an experience working in a jurisdiction - Caddo Parish, Louisiana - that sentences more people to death per capita than anywhere else in the US.

"The clear reality is that the death penalty is an anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized," he wrote. "It is an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society and it will continue to do so until this barbaric penalty is outlawed. Until then, we will live in a land that condones state assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion."

The drop in capital sentences has also only occurred in the states that still allow the death penalty. Nineteen have abolished the practice completely, including Nebraska, the first red-state to do so since 1973.

The legislation - bipartisan although led by a crew of conservatives - proved that anti-death penalty sentiments now transcend party lines. On top of that, the Nebraska Senate overrode the governor's veto to repeal the death penalty.

Many of those who oppose the death penalty, such as dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer, cite its arbitrary application and unrealiability. Breyer, along with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, revealed in their dissents of the Supreme Court's decision that they believe the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Data seems to support both of Breyer's criticisms - since 1976, only 15 counties account for more than 30% of executions and more than 4% of people sentenced to death across the US are innocent.

On the other hand, exonerations are also on the rise.

In typical fashion, Justice Antonin Scalia made explosive comments that his liberal benchmates (like Breyer) don't understand what the "majority of Americans" want - namely, a thumbs up on capital punishment from the high court.

"Let the People decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate," he said.

Is he sure about that?

(source: Christina Sterbenz, Business Insider)

US MILITARY----book review

Fort Hood massacre detailed in Porterfield book

Fort Hood, home to two full-armored divisions with more than 41,000 infantrymen, cavalrymen and tankers, is the largest active duty military post in the United States.

But even an installation with a storied history and a mission designed to rapidly deploy and conduct operations to "seize, retain and exploit" the initiative to defeat any adversary around the world can fall victim to the whim of a lone gunman in its own backyard.

"Death on Base: The Fort Hood Massacre" by Texas writers Anita Belles Porterfield and John Porterfield, is an intense, transfixing look into events surrounding the worst mass shooting on a military base on American soil.

When Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, walked into the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center in November 2009 and viciously murdered 12 soldiers and a civilian medic and wounded 43 others, he set into motion national debates on a myriad of topics ranging from the definition of home-grown terrorism, acceptance of religious freedoms, and the perennial discourse on the death penalty.

The Porterfields succinctly cover all the salient points of events leading up to the catastrophic hour of the attack and painstakingly dissect the anatomy of the massacre. They also provide tangible comparisons to other mass shootings and reveal missed opportunities where the Army could have required Hasan to master techniques related to his profession instead of allowing him to be passed along to the next level of responsibility.

In one telling passage, the authors note that one of Hasan's advisers recognized that over time his views on the military and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were becoming increasingly extreme. The advisor offered Hasan the opportunity to resign his commission, but unless Hasan could be assured that he would get an honorable discharge, he insisted he wanted to remain in school and in the Army.

Incredibly, during this same time period his official Army rating described his performance as outstanding with the recommendation "must promote; best qualified; a star officer."

With sensitivity and haunting rhetoric, the book details the terror, chaos and despair the 300 soldiers packed into the crowded SRP Center felt as they heard a fellow soldier shout "Allahu Akbar!" - Arabic for "God is great!" and the shooting began. In the end, after more than 55 people lay dead, dying or wounded, the last person shot was the gunman himself.

The authors take us through the gauntlet of Hasan's legal maneuvers in the aftermath of the disaster, the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a preliminary hearing in a civilian court, and continued comparisons to other high-profile cases involving mass murders.

In what may be disturbing to some readers, the Porterfields detail how the Department of Defense and the Army initially classified Hasan's shooting rampage as workplace violence and denied benefits to the victims that they would have received if they had suffered death or disability in a war zone.

"Death on Base" is a well-researched look into a fateful day in November when Fort Hood, also known as "The Great Place," was delivered an incomprehensible deadly blow by one of its own. It is a superb work that will be referenced by researchers, historians and the military community for years to come.

(source: Vincent Bosquez is a retired Marine Corps captain and coordinator of Veterans Affairs at Palo Alto


Guyana should abolish the death penalty

Dear Editor,

The European Union welcomes Suriname's recent ratification of a new penal code which includes abolition of the death penalty. By taking this positive step Suriname has joined the ever-increasing number of abolitionist countries in the world. The EU, and increasingly most of the world, considers capital punishment to be a cruel and inhuman punishment. Any miscarriage of justice - which is inevitable in any legal system - could lead to innocent persons being killed and is irreversible.

Following its 1st Universal Periodic Review on 11 May 2010, Guyana established a Special Select Parliamentary Committee to consider the abolition of the death penalty. However, since then it has not issued any conclusions and Guyana's 2nd Universal Periodic Review on 28 January 2015 again recommended that Guyana abolish the death penalty and accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. I encourage Guyana to follow these recommendations and abolish the death penalty; an action which will contribute to the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Kopecky, Ambassador of the European Union

(source: Letter to the Editor, Stabroek News)


Rotten rice, animal feed served in Bangladesh prison!

If Nazi Concentration camp or Abu Gharib prisons were infamous, Bangladeshi prisons have turned worst, which compel the inmates in eating rotten rice and lentil that are unfit for human consumption. Prisoners are becoming physically ill and suffering from various diseases due to such diet.

Most of the prisons in Bangladesh are having 2-3 times more inmates than actual capacity while judicial processes are extremely slow.

Death row in-mates are the worst sufferers, who have to wait decades in getting justice as 3 million cases are now pending in lower and higher courts according to a statistic only 3 % of the people awarded death penalty by lower courts face the gallows while the supreme courts turns down the remaining verdicts. Lower courts in Bangladesh have wrong tendency of awarding death sentence en masse. Also 80 % of the lower court verdicts in other cases are found defective by the higher courts.

Condemn cell prisoners are kept under lock and key 24 hours which causes extreme physical illness, high blood pressure, diabetic, asthma, paralysis etc while many turn mentally insane. Most of the prisoners are denied medical checkup and treatment. Prison cells are mostly dark while prisoners have to sleep in floor on old and dusty blankets. Prison authorities apply extreme physical torture which include beating, electric shock, hanging on ceiling etc. There is no fan in any of the condemn cells in Bangladesh. Global media as well Bangladeshi media are yet to put focus on these important humanitarian issues.



Hefazat demands Latif Siddique's death penalty

Radical Islamist platform Hefazat-e-Islam after yesterday's Jummah prayer demonstrated in Chittagong's Anderkilla area demanding that sacked Awami League minister Abdul Latif Siddique be rearrested and sentenced to death.

Its members brought out a procession from Anderkillah Shahi Jam-e Masjid and marched through different points of the city before stopping on Chittagong Press Club premises.

Mainuddin Ruhi, central joint secretary general of Hefazat, said protests against atheists started from Chittagong back in 2013. "We will resume protests from here after the month of Ramadan, demanding death penalty for notorious atheist Abdul Latif Siddique," he said. "The government staged a drama over Latif Siddique issue and people now want to see the conclusion of it. Hefazat Nayeb-e-ameer Mufti Izharul Islam Chowdhury was not granted bail in just a single lawsuit [filed over grenade blast at his Lalkhan Bazar Madrasa] while Latif has secured bailed in as many as 19 cases," said Azizul Haque Islamabadi, its organising secretary.

Formed in 2010, Hefazat is a Qawmi madrasa-based platform having association with radical Islamist parties and groups.

It carried out demonstrations in early 2013 against the activists demanding death penalty for the 1971 war criminals terming them atheists. They also placed 13-point demands which the government termed contrary to the constitution.

"Latif has enraged the people of the country by making derogatory remarks on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). We will sacrifice our lives to protect Islam if necessary."

On Tuesday, Hefazat issued an ultimatum, calling for the arrest of Latif Siddique by Thursday. Its leaders have also threatened to kill the former minister wherever he is found.

Latif, who also lost his membership of the Awami League, was freed on June 29 after he had obtained bail in cases filed on charges of hurting religious sentiment of the Muslims.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Chinese court upholds death penalty for 5 in mine murders

A court in eastern China upheld death sentences for 5 people who conspired to kill miners in what they claimed were mine accidents and then posed as relatives to claim $300,000 in compensation, state media reported Saturday.

The Hebei Higher People's Court delivered the verdict Friday for 5 defendants who were convicted in August 2014. They were among a group of 21 people in the scheme, which targeted migrant workers and took advantage of lax safety and loose regulation of mines.

Members of the group first hatched the plan in July 2011 when they met a migrant worker from southern China who came to Hebei seeking employment, the China News Service said in a report.

Fellow miners killed him while he worked underground at an iron mine in October of that year and then reported a cave-in. 2 members of the group posed as his widow and surviving son, in order to claim about $100,000 in compensation.

The group continued the pattern in 3 other murders through February 2012 until staff at 1 of the mines became suspicious and reported the incident to police, the report said.

In all, the group had claimed about $300,000 in compensation. The report gave no details of how the murders were carried out or how they were made to look like mine accidents.

(source: Associated Press)

JULY 3, 2015:


Gabriel Hall Trial, Other Death Penalty Cases Delayed Due To DNA Testing Law

The capital murder trial of Gabriel Hall starts next month, nearly 4 years after police say he attacked an elderly couple in their home.

News 3 takes a look at why death penalty cases in Texas are taking longer to go to trial.

Gabriel Hall didn't say a word during a nearly hour long pre-trial hearing Tuesday.

He was only 18 when he was arrested in October 2011 for the murder of Edwin Shaar and attack on his wife Linda at their College Station home.

The trial was set to start more than a year ago but there are delays due in part because of a 2013 law requiring more DNA testing for death penalty cases.

"We're looking at in some cases hundreds of items that wouldn't have normally been tested previously," said Brazos County Assistant District Attorney Kara Comte.

Comte says the law helps prevent wrongful convictions.

"That's all done to ensure that we don't have cases that are coming back on appeal to ensure that people get a fair trial and we get it right the 1st time," she said.

While Gabriel Hall's defense team has spent $822,000, Marc Hamlin the Brazos County District Clerk tells us the county is out more than $2 million so far, and that's on the conservative side.

The State Crime Lab in Austin tells us they have tested all the DNA in his case and DPS admits the backlog has gotten worse because of the law.

Dennis Wayne Brown also faced the death penalty until he was found dead in the Brazos County Jail in May. He was accused of killing Noel and Mac Devin. His case had 88 items needing DNA testing.

"We had been advised by the DPS Lab that it was going to take up to a year to test those items," said Comte.

Despite the large price tag, Hamlin says the county is able to afford it.

"We are very fortunate in Brazos County in one way that we have the tax base that we do to be able to encumber this amount of cost," Hamlin said.

The new law is only required for crimes that carry the ultimate punishment.

Hall's capital murder trial is expected to start in August.

In a separate case convicted capital murderer Christian Olsen will face a new punishment trial to see if he will be re-sentenced to the death penalty.

His trial starts in October.

DPS officials tell us the average turnaround time for testing DNA evidence is six months. Senate Bill 1292 was co-authored by State Senator Charles Schwertner, (R) District 5 who represents parts of the Brazos Valley. We were unable to reach him for comment Thursday.

(source: KBTX news)


So far this year in Texas, number of death sentences = zero

Texas continues to execute people in the highest number in the nation. But new death sentences is a different matter. So far this year, not 1 death sentence has been handed down among Texas' 254 counties.

That's an astounding statistic considering Texas' history with the death penalty. In 1994, death sentences in Texas reached a high of 49.

It has now been more than 6 months since jurors in Texas imposed a new death sentence. The last person sentenced to death was Eric Williams, on December 17, 2014. This is the 1st time in at least 20 years that the state has gone more than 6 months without a new death sentence. And, according to Kathryn Kase at Texas Defender Service, it's also the longest we've gone in a calendar year without a new death sentence. Overall, new death sentences in Texas have declined nearly 80% since 1999.

What's going on here? Lots.

The Defender Service's executive director, Kathryn Kase, shared some of them with the DMN's Steve Blow in May.

Among the reasons:

The public knows that the justice system has made awful mistakes in the recent past, and prosecutors know that jurors know this. That means officials aren't going to be gung-ho, like they might have been previously, about taking marginal cases to trial.

Plus, it's expensive to try a death-penalty case and litigate the appeals. That's 1 reason less than 1/2 of Texas counties have sent someone to death row since reinstatement in 1976.

Also, this is the age of CSI. Jurors may get the idea that prosecutors should be able to present air-tight proof fresh from the lab. Without strong forensics, a DA might be prone to settle for something less.

Finally - and this is potentially a big one - 2 Texas prosecutors in the recent past have been disbarred for their conniving in seeking and defending flawed murder convictions. Prosecutorial misconduct has always been a reality, but only recently have prosecutors been forced to pay a price. That will have them think long and hard about cutting ethical and legal corners to get a conviction.

(source: Rodger Jones, Dallas Morning News blog)


Texas Death Row Continues to Shrink As No Death Sentences Imposed in 1st Half of 2015

Death row in Texas has shrunk from 460 men and women at its peak in 1999 to 260 today. The main reason for that drop, according to an article in The Texas Tribune, is the dramatic decline in death sentences imposed in the state. In 1999 alone, Texas sentenced 48 people to death. But in the first 6 months of 2015, no death sentences have been imposed in Texas. This development is unprecedented, according to the Texas Defender Service (TDS). "This is the longest we've gone in a calendar year in Texas without a new death sentence," said Kathryn Kase, director of TDS. Kase said that a major factor contributing to the decline in death sentences is Texas' adoption of life without parole in 2005. "Life without parole allows us to go back and reverse our mistakes," Kase said. "We can be really safe in these cases." In the decade since life without parole became a sentencing option, Texas has averaged about 10 death sentences per year. In the prior decade, an average of 34 people were sent to death row each year. The Tribune reports that "Between 2007 and 2014, the number of life-without-parole sentences jumped from 37 to 96." 3 death penalty cases have been tried in Texas so far this year, and all three resulted in sentences of life without parole.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Revenge or justice? Time for death penalty debate.

Even as a narrowly divided U.S. Supreme Court approved the use of a sometimes-unreliable drug for executions, 2 of the high court's justices wondered if the death penalty itself is constitutional.

It's a question that needs a thoughtful answer. It should have been asked long ago.

Even though a majority of states have either deliberately walked away from death sentences or created a de facto moratorium on them, the law in most places still permits executions.

Given the uncertainty that too often accompanies convictions for capital crimes, we've got to wonder why that is. Does our innate drive for revenge for heinous crimes overwhelm our ability to render a judgment that cannot possibly be mistaken? Or is that level of certainty a human impossibility?

Cumberland County resident Henry McCollum probably understands the question better than most of us. He spent 31 years on death row after he was convicted of the murder and rape of an 11-year-old girl in Robeson County. His brother, Leon Brown, spent part of that time on death row too, until a new trial set aside his murder conviction.

Were it not for legal appeals - and the state's Innocence Inquiry Commission, which found evidence that exonerated them - they could have been executed. In a state with a quicker execution trigger, like Texas, they might not have lived to see real justice prevail.

In recent years, there have been more than 100 cases like McCollum's. That is, in part, what led Justice Stephen Breyer to write in a dissent that, "I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer in that dissent.

We doubt there is a majority on the Supreme Court that would label the death penalty "cruel and unusual" punishment. But Breyer and Ginsburg may have sown the seeds that will someday grow into a ruling.

Meanwhile, this state and the others that still at least theoretically support executions need to confront some problems, especially the lack of absolute certainty about guilt that gives us cases like Henry McCollum's. There is, too, the expense of imposing the death penalty - millions of dollars in legal fees, as opposed to a few hundred thousand to imprison a murderer for life.

We also need to settle the question about whether an execution is justice or revenge. We're increasingly inclined to believe it's the latter.

(source: Editorial, Fayetteville Observer)


As death penalty debate reignites, Florida carves its own path

For nearly 6 months, the death chamber at Florida State Prison has remained empty.

No prisoners have been executed, not since Jan. 15, when Johnny Kormondy - convicted of fatally shooting a Pensacola banker in 1993 and raping his wife - was given a series of 3 injections and breathed his last breaths.

A Supreme Court ruling last week means that unusual respite for convicted killers should end, with Florida resuming what has been an accelerated pace of executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott.

Just don't expect the rest of the country to follow its lead.

With the exception of a few states like Florida, use of the death penalty has waned amid legal challenges in state and federal courts and shifting public opinion. Last week, two Supreme Court justices suggested the death penalty itself is not constitutional, writing that it's time for a robust debate and for the high court to act.

Other questions have fanned the debate over the death penalty itself. The Nebraska Legislature overrode their governor's veto to ban capital punishment in May, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a case about the procedures that put Floridians on death row.

Amid those legislative and legal attempts to curtail capital punishment, both the number of people on death row and the total number of executions have been trending downward nationwide since 2000.

And then there's Florida.

Under Scott, Florida has been executing death row prisoners at a faster rate than under any governor since the death penalty came back into use in 1977.

Since Scott entered office in 2011, Florida has executed 21 people. Last year, the state's eight executions put it third nationwide, behind just Texas and Missouri, which executed 10 apiece. Apart from those three states, there were only seven other executions in the country last year.

Florida is one of just a few states directly affected by last Monday's Supreme Court decision.

In the ruling, the high court said that midazolam, one of the three drugs used for lethal injections in Florida, is constitutional. Critics had tried to ban it, arguing it constituted "cruel and unusual punishment."

Within hours, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked for permission to continue executions which were halted by the Florida Supreme Court in February while the use of midazolam was under review.

Bondi isn't the only Florida leader pushing to continue executions here.

"If you don't have the death penalty, it's a free murder," says Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a staunch supporter of the capital punishment. "I'm for no free murders, and that's why I think Florida is right for bucking the national trend of watering down the death penalty."

Gaetz has been at the forefront of pushing for capital punishment reforms aimed at shortening the amount of time between sentencing and execution.

He sponsored a 2013 law that forces the governor to move quickly after death row prisoners have exhausted all of their appeals in the courts. That law, the Timely Justice Act, is one of the reasons executions have ticked up the last two years, he said.

The goal, said Gaetz, is to bring the average death row wait down to eight years from the current wait time exceeding 20 years. Despite Scott's fervor in signing death warrants, no one convicted after 2000 has been executed.

But laws like the Timely Justice Act worry opponents of the death penalty, who point to those exonerated from death row.

For every four people sentenced to death in Florida since the 1970s, one person has been released, according to Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"We call for a halt on Florida executions," Elliott said in a statement. "No one knows how many more innocent people remain on Death Row or, God forbid, have already been executed."

Still, the appetite for reform remains focused on moving prisoners through the appeals process and into the Starke death chamber as swiftly as possible.

The last couple years, members of the Legislature have proposed stricter requirements for judges to issue death sentences.

Florida is unusual in that it requires only a seven-to-five vote from a jury to recommend a death sentence. The judge makes a final determination based on the jury's suggestion, but majority required is unusually narrow.

A bill this year to require unanimous consent of juries failed to gain traction after its first hearing in the Senate. And Gaetz says he was researching a similar proposal in 2013 when he chaired the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

"Before the sun set on the day I sent some questions to the attorney general's office, Pam Bondi was in my office wagging her finger in my face," Gaetz said. "It's the only time in my 6 sessions that Pam Bondi has ever visited my office."

Her concern was that changing the sentencing rules will open new opportunities for the 395 people on death row to appeal their cases, overloading the courts. Yet, these same sentencing rules could be thrown out even without the support of the Legislature.

Most states require a unanimous vote or at least a 10-to-2 majority.

The next major death penalty case to be taken up in the U.S. Supreme Court will seek to answer this very question: Is a 7-to-5 majority on a Florida jury sufficient to recommend the state put someone to death?

This series of smaller questions - 1st lethal injection drugs and next sentencing processes - could blossom into a broader challenge to any use of the death penalty.

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in fact, called for the Court to take up a case on the constitutionality of the death penalty itself in writing a striking dissent to the lethal injection case.

As most states have banned the death penalty altogether or their governors have abandoned its use, Elliott says he's seeing the tide turn politically against the death penalty.

"We are seeing more and more conservatives, libertarians and progressives in agreement to end capital punishment programs," he said.

That doesn't sway Gaetz, who says the death penalty remains essential, especially in Florida.

"I think that Florida attracts more than its fair share of depraved killers," he said. "We have had a large quantity of high-profile murders in our state with very heinous motives ... The memories of these events are seared in the minds of many Floridians."

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


State Supreme Court upholds death sentence in triple murder

The Florida Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Jacksonville man who killed his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend and her daughter.

Pinkney "Chip" Carter, now 60, was convicted of 3 counts of murder in 2005. The jury found he drove to his ex-girlfriend's Arlington home and shot and killed the victims. Liz Reed, his ex-girlfriend, was 35; her boyfriend, Glenn Pafford, was 49; and her daughter, Courtney Smith, was 16.

The murders occurred in 2002. All were shot with a .22-caliber rifle Carter said he took to the home to get answers from Reed about their break-up. Reed and Pafford died instantly, and Smith died later in a hospital.

The jury voted 9-3 for death for killing Pafford and 8-4 for death for killing Reed. Circuit Judge Lance Day sentenced Carter to 2 death sentences for those murders and gave him a life sentence for killing Smith.

Attorney Frank Tassone argued that Carter's trial attorneys didn't do a good enough job defending him, saying attorneys should've brought in mental-health experts to testify that Carter was experiencing a mental or emotional disturbance.

Carter was defended at trial by Bill White, who was then the elected public defender in Jacksonville, and former Assistant Public Defender Alan Chipperfield.

But the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death sentence, finding that Carter's trial counsel did investigate his mental health, retain experts and had full psychological evaluations done.

The defense team had previously said it did not call these mental-health experts during Carter's penalty phase because the conclusion reached by them would not have helped.

Attorneys instead attempted to argue that Carter was a good guy who deserved life in prison over death.

Introducing the experts also would have allowed prosecutors to produce more evidence of Carter's violent past. For example, Carter once held a knife to an ex-wife's throat and was declared a sexual deviant.

After the murders, Carter fled Jacksonville, traveling through several states before ditching the murder weapon in the Rio Grande and swimming to Mexico, where he was arrested for entering the country illegally. He was released by Mexican authorities after paying a fine and then disappeared.

Carter was finally arrested Jan. 6, 2004, near Paducah, Ky., where he was working as a roofer under the alias of Rodney Vonthun. He had been picked up earlier for being drunk in public and was released the next day. But an alert Kentucky state trooper later recognized his photo on an FBI wanted poster in another police station.

This was Carter's 2nd appeal, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a previous appeal in 2008.

Lawyers for Carter will likely begin appealing the decision in federal court.

(source: St. Augustine Record)


As support for death penalty decreases nationally, where does Alabama stand?

When Nebraska abolished the death penalty in May, was that change inspired by the state's unique circumstances, or is it a harbinger of the tide turning in other conservative states?

The decision prompted a flurry of speculation that other states will follow suit and death penalty opponents will continue to gain ground.

In a Time magazine cover story heralding the end of the era of capital punishment, author David Von Drehle wrote that "... prosecutors, judges and jurors are concluding that the modern death penalty is a failed experiment."

The Washington Post described Nebraska's vote as 1 victory in a much larger war - "part of a little-covered and slow-moving strategy to abolish the death penalty nationwide."

In 2014, the number of executions hit a 20-year low, and only 72 new death sentences were imposed across the country, according to the DPIC.

Nebraska's move is a significant step in a nationwide shift away from capital punishment, as polls show waning public support, said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"What happened in Nebraska is, in many respects, a microcosm of what's going on in the United States," Dunham said. "There has been, for a long time, a solid core of people who have been opposed to the death penalty on moral grounds and a variety of other grounds, like innocence and race discrimination."

'I don't see it leaving the South soon'

Nebraska's political climate is fundamentally different from that of Alabama, which incarcerates the most death row inmates per capita and, with 198 inmates, the fourth-most in the nation by sheer numbers.

In Nebraska, 11 inmates were on death row in May. The state had executed just 3 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and the last was carried out nearly 2 decades ago.

Alabama, meanwhile, has executed 51 people since 1983 and carried out its most recent execution in July 2013. Executions were on hold for months in several states as officials awaited a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in a case out of Oklahoma.

On Monday, the court ruled that the lethal injection drug combination used to kill the condemned is not cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange appeared ready to resume executions after months of delays.

Alabama's death penalty statute covers a broader range of homicides than other states' laws, and prosecutors seek it more aggressively. Alabama also is one of just a few states that allow a judge to override a jury's sentencing recommendation. That power usually serves to override a life sentence and impose death.

Kathryn Morgan, an associate professor at UAB, is researching the application of the death penalty in Alabama and across the country. Alabama's criminal justice relies enough on the death penalty that Morgan doesn't see the state's stance changing.

"It's a Southern subculture of violence that will not allow us to end the practice anytime soon," she said.

"If you look at the history of the South, it has been fraught with violence. I don't see it leaving Alabama soon, and I don't see it leaving the South soon."

In Alabama, Morgan says, the application of the death penalty raises the issue of discrimination based on race and class. Black offenders have been executed disproportionately since it was reinstated in 1976, and many of the inmates currently on death row couldn't afford qualified counsel.

"When the Supreme Court abolished it in the '70s, it was an opportunity for states to establish guidelines so it would not be applied in a discriminatory manner, but nothing has changed," Morgan said. "We still have the same kind of discriminatory application of the death penalty. It's about race. It's about money. As long as those things matter, we're going to have a problem with implementing the death penalty."

Shifting public opinion nationwide

In the most recent Pew Research studies, about 60 % of Americans said they supported the death penalty, down from 80 % in the 1990s.

Exonerations, like that of Anthony Ray Hinton in Alabama this year, have played a huge role in influencing public opinion, Dunham said.

Since the start of 2014, 11 death row inmates in eight states, including Texas, Florida and Mississippi, have been exonerated, according to the DPIC's records. Those exonerations have changed the nature of the death penalty discussion, as they raise issues of prosecutorial misconduct, errors in testimony and the use of investigative techniques and analysis later deemed junk science.

"Both innocence and [prosecutorial] misconduct are significant because the ultimate concern for many people is that they don't want to execute somebody who's innocent," Dunham said. "There are a lot of things that have happened recently that suggest that that is an inevitability when you have the death penalty."

"For many years, the death penalty was being looked at dogmatically rather than pragmatically." - Robert Dunham

Conservatives have begun discussing the "unacceptable probability" of executing innocent people, which goes against their traditional values, Dunham said.

Another practical issue to take into account is the economics of capital punishment.

Before the recession, states were effectively handed a blank check to pursue the death penalty. As money grew tighter and budgets were crunched, politicians have reevaluated policies through an economic lens. The death penalty, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per case to pursue and implement, is no exception.

"For conservatives, the nature of the discussion has changed," he said. "For many years, the death penalty was being looked at dogmatically rather than pragmatically."

Alabama lawmakers are still strongly in support of the death penalty, a stance most say is a reflection of the voters who elected them.

State Sen. Hank Sanders and state Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans have each introduced bills implementing a moratorium, but their proposed legislation has garnered little support.

In June, Miriam Shehane, who founded Victims of Crime and Leniency after three men raped and murdered her daughter in 1976, told that the death penalty offers the only final closure for relatives of murder victims.

Morgan, the UAB researcher, said she doesn't think diminishing support for the death penalty demonstrated in national polls has spread to Alabama yet.

"I think we're moving slowly in that direction, and some states are slower than others," she said. "Religious fundamentalism, conservatism, prejudice is still alive and well. Many criminologists argue that, because of the continued presence of those things, the death penalty will continue to be supported overall."

Which state is next?

The signs that a state might abolish the death penalty arise years before it happens. Prosecutors seek the death penalty less frequently. It is imposed less, and fewer executions are carried out.

In the states that have ended capital punishment, "the death penalty had begun to die through disuse before it was abolished by law," Dunham said.

Nebraska, the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, was the first predominantly Republican state to do so since North Dakota in 1973. Other states, like New Hampshire and Montana, have come close.

"Nebraska was the breakthrough, the state in which there was vocal and visible bipartisan support for abolition," Dunham said.

Politically, it's hardly a surprise that Alabama isn't among the states experts expect to abolish the death penalty anytime soon.

Based on recent trends, the most likely candidates are Kentucky, where three people have been executed since 1976, and Kansas, which hasn't had an execution since 1965.

Dunham says we're likely to see renewed and reinvigorated bipartisan efforts to end the death penalty across the country. Ultimately, the issue will probably be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Nebraska's decision gives both opponents and supporters of the death penalty an idea of what could come next.

"It is not an indication that the tide is turning," Dunham said. "I think it's an indication that the tide may already have turned. You are seeing conservatives expressing their opposition to the death penalty more openly. You're seeing conservatives talking to each other about the issue, when, in years past, there was an unspoken assumption that political conservatives automatically supported the death penalty."



Death row inmates lose a Tenn. Supreme Court case----Death row inmates in Tennessee lose a challenge to use of the electric chair.

The state Supreme Court rejected a request by those inmates to challenge electrocution as an alternative execution method.

Thursday, the court ruled unanimously that the challenge is premature since none of the inmates is currently a candidate for death in the electric chair, and won't be unless lethal injection is declared unconstitutional or drugs become unavailable.

The court said future execution orders will require the state to give notice of the method of execution, and a challenge to electrocution may occur then.

The case is part of a lawsuit filed by 34 death row inmates over Tennessee's death penalty protocols.

Tennessee last executed a prisoner in 2009. Since then, legal challenges and problems obtaining lethal injection drugs have stalled new executions.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law establishing electrocution as an alternative if lethal injection cannot be used, either because the lethal injection protocol was found unconstitutional or if the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction certified that an ingredient essential to lethal injection was not available.

This is the 2nd time this year that the Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled on an issue in the inmates' lawsuit challenging the state's execution protocol. In March, the court determined the state was not required to release the names of individuals involved in the execution process. The case now returns to the trial court. A previous Supreme Court order directed the trial to begin by July 8.

(source: WCYB news)


Ohio looks overseas in search for lethal drugs

\Ohio has explored overseas options in its search for lethal injection drugs no longer available in the U.S. despite a court ruling that banned such purchases, records show.

The prison where Ohio carries out executions successfully applied for an import license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration late last year in its search for lethal injection drugs, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request. The license expires at the end of February next year.

"Law enforcement purpose," Richard Theodore, prisons agency policy adviser, said on a DEA questionnaire in November, prompted for the reason for applying.

The state declined to comment directly on the license, saying only it was still looking for lethal drugs.

"Ohio continues to seek the drugs necessary to carry out court ordered executions. This process has included pursuing multiple options," JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in an email.

In May, Nebraska's governor confirmed the state had obtained sodium thiopental from India. But two weeks later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the state cannot legally import a drug needed to carry out lethal injection.

2 years ago, in a case brought by death row inmates in Tennessee, Arizona and California, a federal appeals court ruled the FDA was wrong to allow sodium thiopental to be imported for use in executions.

Asked about Ohio's license, the FDA says it's seen no evidence besides news reports that sodium thiopental has been imported into the U.S. recently by state prison systems.

"With very limited exceptions, which do not apply here, it is unlawful to import this drug and FDA would refuse its admission into the United States," spokesman Jeff Ventura said in an email.

While the DEA can approve an entity's request for an import license, a separate process starts when the entity actually tries to bring the drug in, said Patrick Rodenbush, a Justice Department spokesman. Smith, of the prisons agency, declined to comment on the FDA ban.

In Ohio, the drugs are needed to restart executions in the state, which hasn't put an inmate to death since January 2014. As in many states, Ohio's traditional supply of injection drugs dried up as companies began putting them off-limits for executions after decades of more or less unrestricted use in capital punishment.

No executions are scheduled in Ohio this year. The state ditched its previous 2-drug combo following a troubling 2014 execution that lasted 26 minutes and left the inmate gasping and snorting.

Executions are scheduled to resume in early 2016, with 21 execution dates set over the next 4 years.

Ohio's current policy calls for single doses of either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, both powerful sedatives. In its DEA application, the prisons agency said it wants to import both ready-to-use supplies of sodium thiopental as well as bulk supplies, meaning it might try to have the drug compounded into a usable form.

Compounded drugs are small, specially mixed batches of drugs that are not subject to the same federal scrutiny as regular doses of the drugs.

Ohio updated its execution rules this week to require the testing of compounded drugs before their use.

It's unclear from where Ohio hopes to obtain drugs. Other states, including Nebraska, have turned to a manufacturer in India, according to documents obtained from the Nebraska prisons department by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I presently have a batch being manufactured for 2 states that have placed an order" for sodium thiopental, Chris Harris, the CEO of West Bengal, India-based Harris Pharma, told the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services in an April 15 email. Harris was checking to see if Nebraska wanted to place an order as well. He did not return an email seeking comment.

Smith said the Ohio prisons agency has not communicated with Harris Pharma.

In Nebraska, the issue is temporarily moot: On May 28, Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty over the governor's objections. Death penalty supporters are looking at ways to reinstate the law.

(source: Associated Press)


Ford, Vaughn sentenced for death of New Franklin couple

Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Tom Parker sentenced Shawn Ford, 20, of Akron, to death for the murder of Margaret Schobert, 59, June 29, according to Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh.

Parker also sentenced Ford to life in prison without parole for the murder of her husband, Jeffrey Schobert, 56, and 8 years in prison for the attack on their daughter, Chelsea Schobert. Both sentences, which are the maximum allowed, are to be served consecutive to the death sentence, according to Walsh.

"This was a brutal, vicious crime," said Walsh. "Shawn Ford broke into the Schobert's home and savagely beat Jeff and Peg with a sledgehammer. When he didn't get what he wanted, Ford took his aggression out on these 2 caring people - people who were devoted to their family and community. We do not take cases like this or this sentence lightly."

According to Walsh, in the early morning hours of April 2, 2013, Ford, who was 18 at the time, along with accomplice Jamall Vaughn, who was 14 and also from Akron, broke into the Schobert's New Franklin home. Ford hit Jeffrey Schobert to death with a sledgehammer, then used Jeffrey Schobert's cell phone to lure Margaret Schobert back home from the hospital where their daughter, Chelsea, was recovering after being stabbed in the neck by Ford. Ford then beat Margaret Schobert to death with the sledgehammer when she arrived home.

Jeffrey Schobert worked for Hanna Campbell & Powell LLP in Fairlawn, and he and his wife were involved in a number of community activities.

On Oct. 22, 2014, a Summit County jury found Ford guilty of 5 counts of aggravated murder, all special felonies; 2 counts of aggravated robbery, felonies of the 1st degree; aggravated burglary, a felony of the 1st degree; grand theft, a felony of the 4th degree; and felonious assault, a felony of the 2nd degree (for the attack on Chelsea Schobert).

On Oct. 31, 2014, jurors recommended the death penalty for Ford in the aggravated murder of Margaret Schobert and life in prison without parole for the aggravated murder of Jeffrey Schobert.

A hearing was held last week to determine whether Ford was mentally fit for the death penalty, and Parker ruled he was.

Parker sentenced Vaughn, now 16, the next day, June 30, to life in prison, with parole eligibility after 25 years, for his role in the Schoberts' murders. He pleaded guilty to 2 counts of aggravated murder, 1 count of aggravated robbery and 1 count of aggravated burglary. Vaughn was not eligible for the death penalty because he is a juvenile, according to Walsh.

"The viciousness of this crime was shocking. Vaughn had the opportunity to either stop Ford or walk away. But he did neither," said Walsh. "The brutal nature of these crimes, especially when Vaughn had the ability to save the Schoberts' lives, is disturbing. I thank the jurors and Judge Parker for ensuring justice for the Schoberts and their family."



Death penalty's use dwindles in Indiana

Longtime public defender Paula Sites once devoted a significant part of her work to training lawyers to represent clients facing execution.

She offered sessions each year in her role as assistant executive director at Indiana Public Defender Council.

Now, she does offers the sessions every 2 years - the minimum required by the state. With so few death penalty cases, she said, there's no need to have them more often.

"We've been steadily stopping the use of the death penalty," she said.

Executions were back in the national news this week when the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in an Oklahoma case, upheld the use of a controversial drug blamed for several botched executions.

It barely added to the din of news here in Indiana.

\ Sites thinks that's not just because Indiana uses a different combination of drugs to execute condemned prisoners. It's that the death penalty is fading from people's minds and memories.

\ The last execution by the state was in 2009. The last execution by the federal government at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute was 2003.

There's no scheduled execution for any of the 61 federal death-row inmates. Nor for the dozen men on death row at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, or for the sole woman under an Indiana death sentence who is incarcerated in an Ohio prison on a separate murder conviction.

20 people have been executed by Indiana since 1977, when the state restored the death penalty.

Almost triple that number - 57 people - received death-sentences that were later reduced or whose convictions were overturned.

There's still plenty of murder and mayhem in Indiana. The state has logged more than 4,700 homicides since 2001.

But fewer than 2-dozen capital cases went to trial. Several were filed last year, though Sites sees that as an anomaly given a 15-year trend that included years with no capital cases.

The state's death penalty "can rear its head from time to time," as long as it's on the books, she said.

"But it’s still really unusual for prosecutors to file a capital case," she said.

In the last legislative session, the General Assembly moved to make capital punishment more available to prosecutors. Lawmakers added 2 elements to a list of crimes eligible for the death penalty - lethal campus shootings and be-headings.

But that likely won't significantly reverse the trend, Sites said. Too many other factors are involved.

Cost is one of them.

The Legislative Services Agency - the General Assembly's nonpartisan research arm - calculates the average cost to taxpayers of a murder case resulting in a sentence of life without parole is $42,000.

A murder case with the death sentence costs more than 10 times as much - usually due to years of legal appeals before the penalty is carried out.

In a passionate dissent in last week's narrow Supreme Court ruling, Justice Steven Breyer said those long years of legal limbo undermine the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

He also took note of the 100-plus death row inmates who've been exonerated, along with arbitrary imposition of the death penalty from state to state.

Sites says Breyer may have provided an opening for more court challenges to capital punishment, as defenders like her argue that the collective defects of the death penalty amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

The Indiana Abolition Coalition, of which Sites is a member, doesn't talk about the method of execution because of the pain it inflicts.

"If anything, that whips up support for it," she said. "The response we usually get to that kind of argument is: For the crime they've committed, they couldn't possibly suffer enough. But when you talk about the high cost, and the innocent people who've been sentenced to death, that gives people pause."


MISSOURI----impending execution

Missouri Sets July 14 Execution Date-Contact Governor Nixon Asking for Clemency

Missouri has set an execution date of July 14 for David Zink. Mr. Zink was convicted for the abduction and murder of Amanda Morton whose car he had rear-ended near Stafford, Missouri in 2001. Zink defended himself at trial despite serious issues of mental health and competency.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of the death penalty because it disregards the sanctity and dignity of human life and continues the cycle of violence. Please contact Gov. Jay Nixon at 573-751-3222 or through email and urge him to show mercy to Mr. Zink. Let Gov. Nixon know that society can be protected from Mr. Zink by having him spend the rest of his life in prison.

(source: missouri Catholic Conference)


Lawyers ask for special master to consider innocence claim in death penalty case

Lawyers for Kimber Edwards, who was sentenced to death for the 2000 murder-for-hire of his ex-wife, have asked the state Supreme Court to appoint a special master in the case to consider claims that he is innocent.

The request follows a claim by Orthell Wilson, who is serving life without parole, that he was solely responsible for the killing and did not do so at Edwards' behest.

In April, Wilson told a Post-Dispatch reporter in a telephone interview from Jefferson City Correctional Center that he lied when he told authorities that Edwards had hired him to kill Edwards' ex-wife, Kimberly Cantrell. Wilson said he couldn't remember exactly what he told authorities years ago, but said he thought he framed Edwards to help himself avoid the death penalty.

Edwards had been scheduled to be executed in May but the Missouri Supreme Court halted the execution to give his lawyers more time.

In a document filed with the Supreme Court, Edwards' lawyers Kent Gipson and Jeremy Weis argued that Wilson's newest claim proves he was a liar who changed stories. But "St. Louis County prosecutors took Wilson's 3rd statement as gospel and agreed to allow him to avoid a death sentence in exchange for his agreement to testify at petitioner's capital trial." They also said Edwards' confession could be false because he is autistic.

A representative for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch could not immediately be reached for comment.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Miller seeks removal of Johnson County judge in death penalty case

The man accused of killing 3 people in Overland Park last year wants the Johnson County judge overseeing his upcoming death penalty trial removed.

F. Glenn Miller Jr. alleges in a recently filed motion that District Judge Kelly Ryan is obstructing justice by not allowing him online computer access to prepare his defense.

Miller, who is representing himself in the case, also said that he believes Ryan is a Mason, and thus, in his mind, unable to give him a fair trial.

He also predicted that the judge will rescind the previously-granted permission to represent himself and "force" him to accept the representation of government paid lawyers, who he has previously said he does not trust.

The 74-year-old Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., is charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of 3 people outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom care center.

After his arrest that day, he told police that he was an anti-Semite, and he has publicly stated that his intent was to kill Jews that day.

None of his victims was Jewish. William Corporon, Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno were all members of Christian churches.

Miller has said in court that he intends to present a defense of "compelling necessity." Because the judge has told him he has not decided if that defense will be allowed, Miller claimed in his motion that he believes the judge will not grant it.

He claims that is also obstruction of justice.

The trial in Johnson County District Court is scheduled to begin on Aug. 17. The next scheduled hearing to take up pretrial motions is scheduled for July 17.



Death Penalty Advertisements Launch

Whether out shopping, at home watching television or even in the car listening to the radio, you may start to hear messages regarding the death penalty in Nebraska.

On Thursday, a radio campaign kicked off, joining both television advertisements and a petition campaign attempting to sway members of the community to keep the death penalty off the table in Nebraska.

The radio campaign comes from Nebraskans for Public Safety, a joint effort between Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Both groups say their television and radio spots are to counter messages coming from petitioners paid for by the Nebraska for the Death Penalty.

The advertisements are asking members of the community not to sign the petition.

Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty say they want people to hear both sides of the debate on Nebraska's death penalty, not just from the groups wanting signatures to bring back the death penalty.

Yet, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty say the petition isn't about one side or the other, they just want to inform voters all while giving them the option to have their voice heard.

"Put the death penalty on the ballot and then we can have a debate over it," said Rod Edwards, Field Director of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

Many petitioners are just trying to get the message out to potential voters, targeting areas such as Kearney and Grand Island.

Both sides of the death penalty issues are contributing thousands of dollars into their respective campaigns. The television and radio advertisements from the Nebraskans for Public Safety total almost $200,000.

An expense report from Nebraskans for the Death Penalty shows in the last reporting period the group spent more than $215,000.



Back on the Agenda: Nebraska's Death Penalty

A grassroots effort aims to restore what the legislature just ended.

At the front counter of Dinkel Implement Co., a farm equipment dealer in Norfolk, Neb., there is a sheet of paper that voters can sign to bring the death penalty up for a public vote in their state. There is a similar petition at Allied Securities, a car insurance agency, and starting next week, a storefront in Norfolk will be open from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. every day, with the sole purpose of collecting signatures. "People coming in seem to be passionate about it," says John M. Dinkel, co-owner of the farm equipment store. "Most people are thankful, and they exercise their constitutional right" and sign the petition.

In May, the Nebraska Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the repeal, and the legislature overrode the veto by a single vote. Opponents of the death penalty celebrated this unprecedented moment - the end of the death penalty in a conservative state - and saw it as an indication of how conservatives have turned against the punishment.

But since the vote, supporters of the death penalty have been scrambling and have a serious shot at overriding the override of the veto. A group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has opened offices in Omaha and Lincoln. They are aiming to collect 57,000 signatures, or 5 % of the state's voters, by the end of August in order to put the question on a ballot next year. If they get twice as many signatures, the repeal will be officially halted, and prosecutors will be able to keep pursuing death sentences.

On a well-trafficked Facebook page, they are announcing where Nebraska voters can sign the petition (jewelry stores, courthouses, car dealerships, DMV offices) and posting pictures of men and women approaching strangers to get their signatures on street corners and in mall parking lots. The organization is seeking volunteers to go door-to-door and run phone banks.

Though these efforts are grassroots, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty have well-heeled help. Financial records released last week show Ricketts donated $100,000 to the campaign, while his father, Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, donated the same amount. (The family also owns the Chicago Cubs). The anti-death penalty community is also fundraising.

Much of this is symbolic; Nebraska last carried out an execution in 1997, and is facing a shortage of lethal injection drugs that would slow efforts to carry out another one anytime soon. There are 10 men on the state's death row.

But the success or failure of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty will be a barometer of how deep American support for the death penalty goes. For years, polls have shown that capital punishment is dipping in popularity, though it remains above 50 % (the latest Pew Research Center poll found 56 % of Americans still support executing murderers).

That support has not been seriously tested lately. In the 1970s, when capital punishment was struck down and then reinstated by the Supreme Court, newspaper editorials and public rallies on both sides of the issue were common. Since then, with the death penalty in regular use, supporters have become a silent majority, with the exception of a few pro-death penalty message boards featuring vitriolic rants against murderers on death row.

Now that the death penalty is being challenged, grassroots support for the punishment is becoming visible, in the form of bright green T-shirts that read "Support Death Penalty" and "Sign Petition Here!" Some of those organizing in Nebraska are family members of murder victims, like Vivian Tuttle, who is being featured in local press and whose daughter was shot during a 2002 bank robbery in Norfolk ("I believe in justice," she told the Holt County News).

Some citizens without a specific stake in capital punishment - as well as newspaper editorials - are framing their support in terms of democracy. "I feel that the citizens have a right to vote on it," Ron Stauffer, who opened the storefront in Norfolk, told me. "If the death penalty is voted out by the people that is fine with me." Stauffer said that the state's lawmakers had voted against capital punishment based on "their own convictions," which, he said, "is not what they are there for."



Roman Coliseum honors Nebraska's repeal of death penalty

The Roman Coliseum, a popular tourist attraction and long ago a site of executions, gladiator contests and spectacles of death, lit up Wednesday night to honor Nebraska's repeal of the death penalty.

The amphitheater in the center of Rome, now a symbol of faith communities in the campaign against capital punishment, was lit as a testimony to a justice system capable of respecting human life and dignity, said Mario Marazziti, president of the Human Rights Committee of the Italian Parliament.

The sudden bathing of the Coliseum in white light -- after a period of complete darkness -- was coordinated by the Catholic lay community Sant'egidio, which has lit the coliseum after each of 7 state legislatures repealed the death penalty, said Mona Cadena of Equal Justice USA. It also is lit after countries abolish the death penalty.

Before Nebraska, the Coliseum was lit to honor Maryland's repeal in 2013.

The Community of Sant'egidio advocates ending the death penalty worldwide.

"The death penalty system is broken, can never be perfect, and it always lowers civil society and the state at the level of the killer, creating new victims," Marazziti said in a news release.

The community also maintains pen pal relationships with death row inmates, collects signatures for a moratorium on executions and invites cities around the world to take part in Cities for Life Day, Nov. 30.

It is hoping for participation this year from a Nebraska delegation, including a bishop and people who fought and campaigned for the repeal, said Carlo Santoro, with the Sant'egidio community. More than 2,000 cities internationally now join in Cities for Life Day.

"We have been following the situation in Nebraska for some months, also supporting some of the groups there," Santoro said in a telephone interview from Rome.

And they are hoping Gov. Pete Ricketts might change his mind about trying to stop the repeal, and accept that in Nebraska there would be no more executions, he said.

Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts, have contributed the bulk of money, so far, to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty referendum campaign, which is collecting signatures to stop the repeal from going into effect and force a general election vote on the issue.

Santoro said the death penalty is a practice of the past, and a life sentence is a good practice of justice that can be used. It is hard to be in prison for many years, he said.

Executions reflect the violence that takes place in the world's cities, he said.

(source: Journal Star)


Court issues run deeper than drug controversy

The U.S. Supreme Court this week issued a sharply divided ruling that allows the continued use of a controversial drug in lethal injection executions, according to The Associated Press.

The drug, midazolam, was used in executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma in 2014 which took longer than expected, and led experts to raise concerns about violating the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Samuel Alito, in writing the majority's opinion, noted that arguments against the drug are speculative, which allows the continued use of the drug.

The dissenting opinions, however, raised questions about the death penalty itself.

"I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," Justice Stephen Breyer said. Breyer cited the fact that more than 100 death row-inmates have been exonerated, which called into question whether or not the death penalty was reliable, the AP reported.

However, we feel that point doesn't draw into question the reliability of the death penalty. That really draws into question the effectiveness of the U.S. court system. After all, the death penalty doesn't decide whether or not someone is guilty or not. It's only the punishment delivered at the end.

But Breyer also brought up other points, such as the fact that it takes too long to carry out, which is a valid concern.

We understand that it can take time for a court case to work its way through the system, from trial to appeals, before finding a final ruling.

However, it can take literally decades from a crime to the final resolution of the court case - and that's time in purgatory for the victims' families and the suspect, which in and of itself could be considered a cruel and unusual punishment.

Currently, there are 2 men on death row in Arizona who were sentenced out of Yuma County. Theodore Washington was convicted for a murder in 1988, while Alvie "Copie" Kiles was convicted of 3 murders in 1990. While these men are entitled to due process, it's been over 25 years since these crimes occurred - and that's a problem.

The court system is an integral part of our society. However, when trials drag on, justice isn't served in a timely fashion for anyone.

That in turn can impact the perception of fairness when it comes to the death penalty, because taking so long to serve it can be construed as cruel.

Does that mean it's time to abolish the death penalty? No. But giving our court system an overhaul, and finding ways to improve its efficiency, is long overdue.

What do you think readers? Should the death penalty continue, or is it time to reconsider it? Share your opinions online at, or with a Letter to the Editor at

(source: Yuma Sun)


D.A. won't retry death penalty phase for convicted killer

The Shasta County District Attorney's office announced Thursday it will not retry the death penalty phase for convicted killer Paul Gordon Smith, Jr.

15 years after he was sentenced to death, in April the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence, ruling that Smith did not get a proper sentencing trial.

With the death sentence overturned, the case was turned back over to the Shasta District Attorney Stephen Carlton to determine if he would retry the death penalty phase and attempt to get another death sentence.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Carlton said his office had decided not to retry the penalty phase for a variety of reasons.

One of the reasons Carlton cited was the cost of between $1 million and $2 million.

He also said it would take a tremendous amount of investigative resources away from other cases. But he added, his prosecutors believe they have enough witnesses and evidence to get another death penalty verdict if they pursued it.

"Paul Smith deserves to be executed," Carlton said. "Paul Smith is going to die in prison, whether he was executed or dies in a prison bed. He would never get out of prison alive."

Smith was convicted of torturing and killing 20-year-old Lora Sinner during a 1998 camping trip and an attempted murder charge while he was in the Shasta County Jail.

The high court ruled that an expert was wrongly prevented from testifying. The jury was told of Smith's several attempts to escape from the jail and his violent attitude toward guards.

A prison expert was barred from telling the jury that security is tighter at San Quentin.

In lieu of the death sentence, Smith will now serve a life sentence.

(source: KRCR TV news)


What to do about death row----Supreme Court lethal injection midazolam

To the edtior: In a curious decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, ("Despite vote, shift is felt on death penalty," June 30) the justices should be charged with practicing medicine without a license.

The use of midazolam for lethal injection is medically and pharmaceutically unacceptable. As a gastroenterologist performing endoscopies for more than 40 years, I used midazolam for "conscious sedation." It is a very safe drug without serious respiratory and cardiovascular depression.

I am not surprised by its inadequacy for lethal injection. The justices should discuss basic pharmacology with those who are knowledgeable about the drugs.

Jerome Helman, M.D., Venice


To the editor: The inmates on death row in California are there for committing the most heinous imaginable killings of innocent people, children and the helpless elderly, not to mention blatant assassinations of many productive citizens.

"The contradiction is uncanny. It's wrong to kill another, except when it is done by the state?" That's right, so a fine is the same as robbery, an arrest is the same as kidnapping, and a jail sentence is the same as a guy keeping a person against their will in his basement....

Gov. Jerry Brown should not think twice before authorizing lethal injections. ("Brown under pressure on lethal injection," June 30) Especially, keep in mind the recent escape of killers in New York and the subsequent repeat killings by some parolees.

Put the pedal to the metal, governor, ASAP.

Michael L. Friedman, M.D., Torrance


To the editor: Someone tell Justice Stephen G. Breyer that murdering an innocent human being is also "unfair, cruel and unusual."

His job is to interpret the Constitution as it applies to the enacted laws and keep his opinions to himself. For those who argue that the death penalty is not a deterrent, why then is everyone on death row fighting like hell to not be executed?

Marcus Kourtjian, Northridge


To the editor: I feel compelled to join Breyer in his outcry against capital punishment. How can we, as civilized citizens, condone legalized murder?

The contradiction is uncanny. It's wrong to kill another, except when it is done by the state?

Peggy A. Levine, Santa Monica

(source: Letters to the Editor, Los Angeles Times)


Judy Clarke honored for death penalty work

San Diego attorney Judy Clarke, known for defending some of the nation's most notorious criminals, is being awarded one of the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. 9th Circuit courts.

She will be presented the John Frank Award July 13, when an estimated 600 federal judges, attorneys and staff will gather in downtown San Diego for the 9th Circuit's annual conference, which is closed to the public. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to close the conference with a moderated discussion.

The circuit is made up of the court of appeals, district courts and bankruptcy courts in 9 Western states - including California - and 2 Pacific Island jurisdictions.

Clarke most recently defended Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a trial that ended with a death sentence, a rare outcome considering Clarke's other high profile cases.

Her past clients include Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, Tucson mass shooter Jared Loughner and child-killer Susan Smith. Clarke was able to keep all off death row.

Clarke has been a strong opponent of capital punishment and has worked since 2002 with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, assisting attorneys in capitol cases at trial.

The award, named after a renowned Phoenix appellate attorney, recognizes a lawyer who has "demonstrated outstanding character and integrity; dedication to the rule of law; proficiency as a trial and appellate lawyer; success in promoting collegiality among members of the bench and bar; and a lifetime of service to the federal courts of the Ninth Circuit."

Clarke started her career in San Diego as a federal defender in 1978 and rose to executive director of the organization. She left in 1992 to lead the Federal Defenders of Washington and Idaho and later returned to San Diego, where she practices with her husband, attorney Thomas "Speedy" Rice.

(source: San Diego Union-Tribune)


Supreme Court ruling puts spotlight back on California’s death row mess

A recent Supreme Court ruling upholding a controversial lethal injection drug has shifted the spotlight in the capital punishment debate back to California's dysfunctional death row.

The state has the largest death row backlog in the nation, with 757 condemned prisoners awaiting their fate after executions were halted in 2006. The high court ruling -- in a case involving a different drug from what California once used -- has no immediate impact on those cases. But it does start the clock ticking for the state to come up with a new plan.

That's because officials previously had agreed to propose a new injection drug in California within 120 days of the court decision.

With the ruling in hand, that deadline is now Oct. 27.

"We know how to fix the system -- it's not that hard," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "We just have a legislature that's anti-death penalty and obstructing it on purpose."

Death row is in a holding pattern thanks to a decade's worth of legal challenges.

For years, prisoners were executed with a controversial "3-drug cocktail." Countless state and federal judges took issue with the method, as opposition built and ultimately forced the halt 9 years ago.

The legal challenges culminated in a federal judge ruling the drugs unconstitutional last year. He said they caused excessive pain and represented cruel and unusual punishment.

But with California failing to adopt a new drug since 2006, families of victims of death row inmates sued the state last November. The suit accused the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation of failing to establish a proper drug protocol, in turn delaying justice, said Scheidegger, the families' representative.

A settlement was reached last month, and stipulated the state would revise its drug policy after the court decision.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma's use of the sedative midazolam for capital punishment was constitutional. At the least, the ruling would appear to give California one viable drug option that could be lawsuit-proof, though it's unclear whether the state would consider it.

Figuring out a new drug plan is only part of the challenge.

California's other problems will be untangling additional legal issues, reactivating the system, and addressing the cost of the system. Sometimes decades-long execution delays are a big factor -- a case being heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide if such suspensions are constitutional.

California approved capital punishment in 1978 and has sentenced 900 people to death in that time. Yet only 13 have been executed. According to Scheidegger, an overloaded California Supreme Court and lethargic federal court system have rendered death row just another jail cell.

California death row inmates are 8 times more likely to die from anything other than execution while waiting.

Since 1978, more than 60 inmates have died from age, two-dozen from suicide, and a handful from homicide. 1/5 of current inmates are over 60 years old, and 40 % have been waiting for over 20 years. At this rate, "over 500 more inmates will die on death row from natural causes by 2050," according to a 2011 Loyola Law School study.

Then there's the cost of the system. The same study shows California's death row has cost $4 billion since its inception. Most of that cost comes from security facilities and trial expenses. The study found that California taxpayers pay $100 million annually for the system.

According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the state's lifetime incarceration program only costs $11.5 million annually.

While the Supreme Court ruling might make it easier to go lethal drug shopping, death penalty foes are vowing to keep fighting.

"The state has spent the last 10 years trying to create a legally sound execution protocol," Ana Zamora, a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Los Angeles Times. "There is no evidence to suggest this time will be different."

California law requires the proposed policy be subject to public comment, a process that can take up to a year.

Scheidegger predicted that death row opponents will likely try to interfere. Another wild card is if activists renew efforts to end the death penalty entirely.

Drug manufacturers could also be a problem. Many companies have recently said they will no longer sell lethal products to state prisons. Other lethal drugs like sodium thiopental are no longer produced in the United States.

Meanwhile, the families of death row inmate victims are left waiting for justice.

The suit filed last November was on behalf of Kermit Alexander and Bradley Winchell, whose relatives were murdered in the early 1980s. Their killers remain on death row.

(source: Fox News)


By the numbers: Who got killed, and why, in California last year

A report this week by the California Department of Justice showing that homicides and other violent crimes continued to drop statewide in 2014 also gave a look at the nature of killings last year.

Overall, 1,697 people were slain - an eye-opening amount to be sure but a 3 % decline from 2013 and the lowest number since 1971. In 1993, a staggering 4,095 people were killed in the Golden State.

The report contained some insight into who killed whom, how they accomplished the terrible deed, and how many times police officers killed people, among other things. The following are some of the highlights:

Gender and race matters: 82 % of those killed were male. In cases where a victim's race was known, 41 % were Hispanic, 30 % were black and 21 % were white.

So does age: Hispanic and black victims tended to be younger, with nearly 1/2 between 18 and 29. White victims were a bit older on average, with 57 % over 40.

Domestic violence cuts along gender lines: Males were more likely than females to be killed by a stranger (38 % of cases versus 16 %). But women were far more likely than men to be slain by a spouse (19 % to 2 %). And more than 57 % of female victims were killed in their own home.

Guns do the job: More than 70 % of killings (in which the weapon was known) were accomplished with a firearm. Knives were used in 15 % of cases.

Gangs take blame: Authorities said 30 % of killings with a known motive were gang-related, 28 % traced to an "unspecified argument," 9 % owed to domestic violence and 7 % stemmed from robberies.

Men dominate the booking logs: More than 88 % of those arrested for murder were male. Nearly 7 % were kids under 18.

Death row grows: Executions have been on hold in California since 2006, but people are still being given the death penalty. In 2014, there were 13 - all men and primarily from Southern California.

Line of duty deaths: 5 police officers, all men, were slain on the job in 2014, slightly more than average. 4 were gunned down, and 1 was intentionally run over.

Police killings: The Department of Justice reported that cops killed 116 people statewide in 2014 in cases that were ruled justifiable. All but 6 of those killed were men. Nearly 45 % were Hispanic, 33 % were white and 16 % were black.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


Rob McKenna: Life in prison might be better than death penalty for Christopher Monfort

The sentencing phase in the case of cop-killer Christopher Monfort continues and jurors are considering if the man found guilty of murdering a Seattle police officer should get the death penalty.

For some, the appropriate sentence is clear, but as KIRO Radio political analyst and former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna points out, the death penalty is often more complicated than people realize.

"It becomes a much more complex matter than you would have when you have a typical murder case when the death penalty is on the table," McKenna told KIRO Radio's Dave Ross.

In June, Monfort was found guilty of the 2009 murder of Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton. Ross noted that the Monfort case - a case that the accused pleaded guilty - cost $7 million and still took years to conclude. Ross wondered if there was a cheaper way in such cases.

"There really isn't when it comes to a death penalty case," McKenna said. "We've also seen extraordinary costs in the case of the Carnation massacre ... in both those cases, Carnation and Monfort, you have a death penalty case where prosecutors and the defense lawyers are going through excruciating lengths to satisfy the requirements for imposing the death penalty because every death penalty verdict goes on appeal, frequently all the way to the United States Supreme Court."

Those appeals cost more money and time. It's much more efficient to spend time and money on a case initially.

McKenna pointed out that some lawyers even prefer a sentence of life without parole because it ends up being cheaper. But that's not the only reason.

"I think a better argument than money is that you can achieve closure for the victims and families much sooner than you do in a case when appeals drag on for 20 years," McKenna said.

(source: Rob McKenna,


Punishment, secrecy and lethal injection: a few thoughts on Glossip v Gross

Once upon a time, punishment was a spectacle.

18th-century legal commentator William Blackstone described how a man convicted in England of treason would be dragged to the gallows, partially asphyxiated, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered, all in full public view.

Even in America, where the criminal law has never authorized death by torture, criminal punishment - capital and non-capital - was originally a public affair, drawing crowds that could number in the thousands.

Today things are different. Executions are performed behind closed doors, with few witnesses, no cameras or recording devices, and no access for the general public.

This private, hidden quality is a hallmark of modern criminal punishment. Offenders who might once have been publicly flogged, castigated or pilloried are now put in a jail cell where hardly anyone sees what happens to them.

The public no longer sees criminal offenders suffer, and for this reason, their suffering no longer attracts much public attention or concern.

Although in the past, many enjoyed the spectacle of public punishment, many were also repulsed by its sanguinary excess. As a result, movements to limit or reduce the death penalty and to reform criminal punishment enjoyed great popular support in 18th- and 19th-century America.

Public support for punishment reform is much weaker today - not, I would argue, because punishment is less harsh, but because it is less visible.

The spectacle of punishment has become an anti-spectacle.

On Monday, in Glossip v Gross, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ultimate form of punishment as anti-spectacle: death by lethal injection.

What is lethal injection?

The lethal injection procedure challenged in this case involves 3 drugs: a paralyzing agent, which deprives the offender of the ability to breathe (or move at all); potassium chloride, which stops the heart; and midazolam, a sedative.

The 1st 2 drugs in this 3-drug "cocktail" pose the threat of excruciating pain prior to death. The paralyzing agent, on its own, would make the offender feel as though he or she were being drowned or asphyxiated. The potassium chloride, on its own, would create pain so extreme that Justice Sotomayor characterized it as the "chemical equivalent of being burned alive."

Together, the paralyzing agent and the potassium chloride would make the offender feel as though he were being simultaneously drowned and burned to death from the inside - a punishment whose cruelty is comparable to the fate Blackstone described for traitors in 18th-century England.

This pain is supposed to be negated by the 3rd drug, midazolam, which is included to render the offender unconscious and thus impervious to pain.

The petitioners in Glossip v Gross argued that midazolam was not adequate to this task, and that its use created a substantial risk that the offender would suffer excruciating pain before dying.

The trouble with midazolam

Midazolam has not been approved as a surgical anesthetic and has no analgesic properties. Although midazolam can render people unconscious, there is concern that it might produce a relatively shallow state of unconsciousness, and that the offender might be jolted awake by the pain caused by the other two drugs.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Alito, rejected the argument that the use of midazolam created an unacceptable risk of severe pain prior to death.

The court gave great deference to the lower court’s finding that midazolam was a sufficiently powerful sedative to eliminate the risk of pain.

The court also held that those who object to a given method of execution have the burden to demonstrate not only that the challenged method is cruel, but also that a feasible, non-cruel alternative method is "known and available" (more on this later).

Some questions about the 3-drug cocktail

1 question that arises from Glossip and its predecessor case, Baze v Rees (which involved barbiturates rather than midazolam) is why we have to guess about whether offenders subjected to the three-drug cocktail experience pain.

Lethal injection has been the dominant form of capital punishment in the United States for the past several decades, and numerous people have been subjected to it. Wouldn’t we know if they were suffering?

The answer to this question is no.

Remember that one of the drugs in the three-drug cocktail is a paralyzing agent. This drug makes it impossible to breathe, but it also makes it impossible to physically respond to pain. Like the narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Premature Burial, the offender subjected to the paralyzing agent is "buried alive" - not in a grave, but in his own body, unable to move or communicate his pain to others.

Why do the states use the paralyzing agent?

The combination of potassium choloride and barbiturates would be equally effective on their own. In fact, there is near-universal consensus that executions could be performed painlessly simply by using a massive overdose of barbiturates. This is precisely the method used in animal euthanasia throughout the country.

Why not, then, simply eliminate the paralyzing agent and use a 1- or 2-drug cocktail to perform the execution?

The reason appears to be primarily aesthetic. Without the paralyzing agent, potassium chloride may cause the body to writhe and convulse prior to death, a highly unpleasant thing to watch. But if the potassium chloride is also eliminated, the barbiturate may take a significant amount of time to kill the offender, again causing discomfort to those witnessing the execution. The paralyzing agent allows the state to kill the offender quickly without any appearance of suffering.

Appearance and reality

It's important to notice the irony here.

The very thing used to make the death appear peaceful creates the risk of excruciating pain - both by causing the sensation of asphyxiation and by depriving the offender of the ability to communicate his pain to others.

In this sense, the 3-drug cocktail is a perfect example of the modern drive toward less cruel-seeming - but not necessarily less cruel - punishments.

Capital punishment has moved from "violent" methods like hanging or the firing squad to "scientific" methods, like the electric chair, the gas chamber and lethal injection. Non-capital punishment has moved offenders from the pillory to the prison, where we cannot see their suffering.

It may be that in many instances, the older methods of punishment were less cruel than those that have replaced them. But the public has no way to judge this issue, because the new punishments are hidden from the public eye.

Alternative, feasible, non-cruel methods of execution

As noted above, the Supreme Court in Glossip held that an offender challenging the constitutionality of a method of execution has the burden of establishing that there is a "known and available," feasible, constitutionally acceptable alternative method of execution available.

If the offender fails to meet this burden, the offender is stuck with the government's chosen method of execution, however cruel it may be.

This holding, I would argue, is absurd on its face.

What if the government chose to burn offenders at the stake, or have them torn apart by wild beasts? Is it plausible to say that a court should uphold such punishments unless the challenger can identify a feasible alternative? To state the question is to answer it.

The real reason the Supreme Court has imposed this burden, I would argue, is that it believes (correctly) that the international death penalty abolition movement is trying to put an end to the death penalty by making constitutionally acceptable methods of execution unavailable.

Justice Alito was sufficiently concerned about these efforts that he devoted a full 2 pages of his majority opinion in Glossip to describing them.

7 years ago, the Supreme Court held that certain barbiturates are sufficiently powerful to negate the risk of pain in lethal injection. Since then, the movement has convinced the barbiturate manufacturers to refuse to sell it to states for use in executions.

The movement's success in this regard is the reason states like Oklahoma and Florida switched to midazolam in the first place. Other states have responded to the activist-induced barbiturate shortage in widely varying ways. Utah has brought back the firing squad. Nebraska, by contrast, recently abolished the death penalty within the state.

But all of this is ultimately beyond the point. If a punishment is cruel and unusual, it is cruel and unusual.

An offender should not be tortured to death because the Supreme Court does not like the strategy of those who wish to abolish the death penalty.

(source: John Stinneford, Professor of Law at University of Florida ----


How states are responding to the Supreme Court's lethal injection decision

The country's patchwork, disjointed series of execution protocols does not appear likely to be changing any time soon, even with a Supreme Court ruling this week saying that Oklahoma can use the sedative midazolam in lethal injections.

In the days that followed the ruling, despite an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, there did not appear to be a rush on the part of states to adopt midazolam, a controversial drug that has been used in troubling executions. This is not terribly surprising, as experts said after the decision that it wasn’t as if the Supreme Court urged every state to use the drug.

"I don't think a lot of states are going to jump toward midazolam just because the Supreme Court said it's permissible," said Richard Dieter, a senior program director at the Death Penalty Information Center. "Its risks are apparent."

As a result, rather than providing a clear path forward for the dwindling number of states that still carry out executions or hope to do so, the ruling instead suggested that states could retain leeway in how they can execute inmates. Instead of providing a framework for carrying out executions, the majority opinion says that the status quo - a fractured system with new protocols, different drug combinations and widely varying backup options - will remain intact for now.

Some states, looking at the drug shortage across the country, have chosen to adopt or expand other options, like Utah and the firing squad, Oklahoma and nitrogen gas and Tennessee and the electric chair. Other states, though, have made different changes in recent months and appear to be sticking with those plans.

Take Ohio. While that state was the first in the country to use the controversial sedative as part of a two-drug protocol, pairing it with the narcotic hydromorphone for an execution last year, it didn't stay in the midazolam business for very long. In January 2014, Ohio's execution of Dennis McGuire - who admitted to raping and murdering a pregnant newlywed named Joy Stewart - lasted for nearly 25 minutes, as McGuire struggled, gasped and choked. Ohio has not carried out any executions since then, and earlier this year the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said it was dropping midazolam and hydromorphone. A few weeks later, officials said that they were delaying every execution scheduled for 2015 to let them get new drugs and adopt the new protocol.

Now that the Supreme Court has said states can use midazolam, that opens up the question of whether Ohio will once again turn to that sedative.

"Midazolam is not currently part of Ohio's execution policy and I will not speculate on what drugs may be used in the future," a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wrote in an e-mail.

Still, the state did make some changes to its execution policies this week. On Monday, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction updated its guidelines for executing inmates. The policy, as was first noted by the Associated Press, now says that the state will test any compounded execution drugs it plans to use and could also test any other execution drugs.

Ohio's next execution is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2016. This means there will be 2 years between executions, which doesn't sound like a lot, but Ohio is one of the most active death-penalty states in the modern era. Between 2001 and 2014, the state executed at least 1 person each year. There are currently 21 executions scheduled in the state between January 2016 and May 2019.

The next 2 executions in the country are scheduled to take place later this month in Missouri and Texas. Missouri says it plans to carry out an execution July 14 using pentobarbital, while Texas says it hopes to execute an inmate 2 days later with the same drug.

In Texas, where there are 6 executions scheduled between July and October, officials with the Department of Criminal Justice say they have enough pentobarbital to carry out those scheduled executions. The drug shortage's impact has been felt in the country's most active death penalty state, though, as Texas officials say they almost ran out of the drugs this year before obtaining a new batch.

Still other states that use or plan to use midazolam say they want to move ahead. Virginia corrections officials say that state has midazolam on hand, but they add that the state has no executions scheduled. Its supply of the drug expires later this year.

Authorities in Oklahoma, where the Supreme Court case originated, said they wanted to reschedule executions postponed by the court’s decision to hear the challenge to their policies. The Alabama attorney general said he believed it meant his state, which wants to use midazolam, could resume executions. In Florida, the state that has used midazolam more often than any other - and a state that has the same execution protocol as Oklahoma - is also calling to resume executions, which were halted there after the Supreme Court took the Oklahoma case.

The state's attorney general has asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift a stay of execution it put into place while awaiting the higher court's decision. The court has not lifted the stay so far, but if it does, that would clear the way for executions to resume in Florida as well. Florida, like Oklahoma, has not carried out an execution since January, when the Supreme Court said it would hear a challenge to the Oklahoma protocol.

(source: Washington Post)


Bangladeshi Islamists seek death penalty for ex-minister

Bangladeshi Islamists on Friday protested in Dhaka demanding death penalty for former minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui accused of blasphemy for comments perceived to be against Islam.

Anger among Islamists has been rising since former telecommunications minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui was released on bail last week over comments he made in 2014 against the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Supporters of Hefajat-e-Islam and other hardline Islamic groups chanted "Death for infidel Latif" and waved placards during a march through the capital.

"Our protest will continue till the government ensures the highest punishment for the non-believer," Noor Hossain Kafeli, a senior leader of Hefajat, told reporters.

Hundreds of riot and plainclothes police flanked the march in case of violence, while similar protests were held in other parts of the Muslim-majority country.

Hefajat led mass protests in 2013 calling for a new blasphemy law that left scores of people dead, mainly in clashes with police.

"At least 3 to 4 thousand people are attending this procession. We are remaining alert to avoid any untoward incidents," a police commander told AFP on condition of anonymity in Dhaka.

Siddiqui told Bangladeshi expatriates at a gathering in New York last September that he was "dead against" the hajj mainly because it was a "waste" of manpower.

Footage of the comments was broadcast back in Bangladesh where protests prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to sack him.

He was eventually arrested for "wounding religious sentiments" and remains under police investigation. No charges have been laid.

In 1994, similar protests by Islamists forced author Taslima Nasreen, a self-declared atheist, to seek exile abroad.

(source: Hindustan Times)


Ethiopia mulls tough trafficking law, including death penalty

Life in jail for traffickers in EthiopiaHuman traffickers in Ethiopia could face life in jail or the death penalty under a bill presented to parliament on Tuesday aimed at curbing the illegal flow of people in and out of the Horn of Africa country.

The move comes 2 months after at least 30 Ethiopian migrants were shot and killed by Islamic State militants in Libya and after others have died while heading to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean.

The legislation, proposed by the Ministry of Justice, contains a range of penalties for trafficking and smuggling including fines of up to 500,000 birr about $7,500 and the death penalty in cases where victims suffer severe injury or death.

The bill must be approved by the House of Representatives, which could take several months, officials said.

Although Ethiopia's economy is growing at one of Africa's fastest rates, unemployment still remains high and thousands of people opt to take treacherous treks across the Sahara to reach Europe via the Mediterranean or brave the Gulf of Aden to reach wealthy Gulf States in search of jobs.

For a period of several months beginning in late 2013, Saudi Arabia deported more than 163,000 Ethiopians it said lived in the Kingdom illegally.

The US State Department urged Addis Ababa last year to amend and strengthen its laws to tackle people smuggling, toughen penalties, boost judicial understanding and police capacity, as well as improve oversight of recruitment agencies.

The draft legislation provides immunity to victims and proposes the formation of a national committee led by Ethiopia's deputy prime minister to co-ordinate anti-trafficking activity.

(source: Reuters)


Sudanese Judge Finds Sufficient Evidence to Convict Christian Pastors - Defense Next in Trial

Unfortunately, the news coming out of Sudan is not what we would have hoped.

After a full day of trial today, in which the judge questioned both Pastor Michael and Pastor Peter, the judge concluded there was sufficient evidence to "charge" both pastors with the offenses alleged against them. Under Sudanese criminal procedure, the charge is not a conviction; rather it comes with a presumption that the defense must now counter by presenting evidence of the men's innocence. The full set of charges and possible sentences based on Sudan's criminal code are below.

--Article 21: Joint acts in execution of a criminal conspiracy;

--Article 50: Undermining the constitutional system (Penalty: death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property);

--Article 53: Espionage (Penalty: death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment and confiscation of property);

--Article 55: Disclosure and obtaining information and official documents (Penalty: 2 years imprisonment or a fine);

--Article 64: Promoting hatred amongst or against sects (Penalty: 2 years imprisonment);

--Article 69: Disturbance of the public peace (Penalty: 6 months imprisonment; or fine or no more than 20 lashes);

--Article 125: Blasphemy/insulting religious creeds (Penalty: 1 year imprisonment; or a fine or no more than 40 lashes).

During the trial, the judge question both men about documents found on their computer after their arrests. This evidence includes internal church reports, maps that show the population and topography of Khartoum, Christian literature, and a study guide on the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). All of these materials, with the exception of the internal church report and the study guide on NISS are publicly accessible materials.

The pastors acknowledged having the internal church report, though both reported to the judge that they had never seen the study guide on NISS before it was presented in court and had no knowledge of how it got on the computer. Besides these documents, the only evidence brought by the prosecution against the Christian pastors was a sermon Pastor Michael gave, a sermon that was supported by Christian doctrine shared by their common denomination.

Serious charges, like those brought here, require serious evidence. Yet, the court has found the evidence sufficient and called for the defense to put on its case on July 14th. After the defense is presented, the Court will have a final opportunity to review all the evidence presented and drop the charges or convict the Pastors.

At the conclusion of today's court hearing, the attorney requested access with his clients - a right that is guaranteed both under Sudanese law and international law - but the judge only had authority to grant him visitation at the court.

While the judge offered the attorney 10 or 15 minutes at the court to prepare his defense, the attorney protested that such time is not adequate to prepare a defense, let alone a defense for charge that carry the death penalty.

Sudanese law grants sole discretion for visitation rights at the prison to the prison directorate, who in this case has previously denied requests for access. The attorney will appeal the matter this Sunday to the prison authorities and press that denying access to his clients for preparation of their defense violates Sudan's constitution.

We will continue to provide updates on this critical case for the lives of these 2 Christian pastors at it continues. We are working with Mariam Ibraheem (a Christian mom who we helped free from death row in Sudan last year) and our contacts on the ground in Sudan to fight for the freedom and exoneration of Pastors Michael and Peter. We are also directly urging the Sudanese government to provide critical access to the pastors' attorney (who himself was recently wrongfully arrested) as the trial continues.

As Mariam has said, "Being Christian is not a crime." Yet for these 2 Pastors, they could be sentenced to death for expressing their Christian faith. We cannot be silent.

As we continue fighting for their freedom, please pray for Pastor Michael, Pastor Peter, and their families, and join nearly 200,000 in signing our petition for their freedom at



Indian man held in largest drug bust in Malaysian capital

Malaysian police have arrested a 36-year-old Indian national near here and seized 19 tonnes of white powder, believed to be ketamine, worth USD 7.6 million in the largest drug bust in the Malaysian capital this year.

Senior police official R Munusamy said the drug was seized at a house used as a storage for the substance in Rawang.

He said the seizure was discovered following the arrest of the Indian national, who was not identified, yesterday.

"When we arrested the man, we found 2 packets, each containing 5kg of white powder believed to be ketamine," said Munusamy.

"Following the arrest, the suspect led us to a house in the suburb of Rawang," he said, adding that when they raided the house they found 762 gunny sacks, each containing 25kg of the same white powder.

He said they also arrested a 42-year-old businessman at the house.

"We have sent the substance for analysis to verify that it is ketamine.

"Both men have been remanded to help with investigations," he said adding that the drugs were believed to have been brought in from India.

Malaysia has a mandatory death penalty by hanging for anyone found guilty of carrying more than 50 grams of a drug.

\Few people have been executed in Malaysia in recent years.

(source: Business Standard)


Intellectually-disabled Australian could face death penalty in China

An intellectually-disabled Australian man detained in China for more than a year could face the death penalty after being charged with smuggling more than 2 kilograms of the drug crystal methamphetamine.

Lawyers acting for 26-year-old Ibrahim Jalloh say he was tricked into becoming an unwitting drug mule by members of an international syndicate who preyed on his naivety.

The man named in the Chinese court as the main instigator became friends with Mr Jalloh through casual soccer games and eventually convinced him to travel to Guangzhou to bring back "important documents" in return for $15,000 last June.

Mr Jalloh, who was born in war-torn Sierra Leone before moving with his family to Australia when he was 17, was arrested at Guangzhou's international airport attempting to board a flight back to Brisbane via Singapore. He said he had not checked the contents of the suitcase he was given in Guangzhou because it was locked and he wasn't given a key.

"[name withheld] just told me it was some important documents," Mr Jalloh said. "He never told me it was drugs inside. If it was drugs, I cannot [sic] leave Australia to do this."

The man is facing separate charges in Australia on conspiracy to import drugs from China. He is alleged to have sent another Australian drug mule jailed in Guangzhou, Queensland man Bengali Sherrif.

Mr Sherrif was arrested in similar circumstances to Mr Jalloh just days apart, and is awaiting the outcome of an appeal of his suspended death sentence.

Mr Jalloh receives a full disability pension in Australia and his lawyers produced two independent medical opinions from Australian doctors attesting to the fact that his intellectual disability hampered his judgement and made him easy to manipulate.

In court on Friday, Mr Jalloh appeared to struggle with his concentration and had difficulty fully appreciating the court translator's questions in English. His yellow detention centre-issued T-shirt was worn inside-out, and often he seemed unable to express himself fluently.

"I don't have any knowledge about this," he said repeatedly, as his mother, younger sister, aunt and a Sierra Leonean community elder who all flew in from Sydney watched on.

But Chinese prosecutors said an appraisal conducted by a Chinese mental hospital doctor showed Mr Jalloh only had "slight mental development delay" and that he "had the capability for bearing criminal liability" and was fit to stand trial. The prosecution pointed to the fact that Mr Jalloh had moved to Brisbane away from his family home in Sydney, that he played soccer and had fathered 1 children as proof of his independence and mental aptitude.

Mr Jalloh is 1 of several Australians on serious drug charges in Guangzhou who say they have been set up by international drug syndicates operating out of the southern metropolis - a major regional drug hub which has become Australia's largest source of methamphetamine in recent years.

They hail from different cities in Australia - including Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Adelaide - and are of diverse ages and backgrounds. But there are similarities in their stories, including lengthy email chains with the purported syndicate members who appear adept at gaining their trust and finding ways to convince them to travel to Guangzhou.

Anthony Bannister, a former jockey from Adelaide, was handed a suspended death sentence in Guangzhou last month after being found guilty of attempting to smuggle 3 kilograms of ice to Australia. He said he travelled to Guangzhou after being promised a lucrative divorce settlement.

Sydney man Peter Gardner, an avid gym enthusiast, said he was in Guangzhou to buy performance-enhancing peptides and was stunned when customs officers found 30 kilograms of ice in his black sports bags instead.

And 64-year-old Gold Coast pensioner John Warwick died in a prison hospital in Guangzhou last year, having been arrested on suspicion of concealing 1.9 kilograms of ice in a DVD player. His daughter Amanda Davis said he was lured to Guangzhou by an online lonely hearts scam.

The wave of Chinese-manufactured ice making it onto Australian streets was described by new Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg as one of the country's biggest threats.

In all, as many as a dozen Australians have been detained in Guangzhou in the past year or so on similar drug charges which could attract the death penalty.

Only Bannister and Sherrif have been sentenced so far.

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


European states continue to fund drug hangings as Iran executions spike

New analysis released yesterday (2 July) by the NGO Iran Human Rights shows that over 2/3 of the 570 people so far executed in Iran this year were sentenced to death on drugs charges.

The executions can be linked to funding for counter-narcotics programmes provided via the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and funded by European states including France and Germany.

Research by the international human rights NGO Reprieve shows that France has provided more than EUR 1 million to Iran's Anti Narcotics Police (ANP) in recent years; while Germany contributed to a EUR 5 million UNODC project which provided the ANP with training and equipment.

The UNODC projects aim to increase the numbers of people arrested and convicted of drugs charges, but do not impose effective conditions to ensure that the financial support does not contribute to increased numbers of hangings. With Iran now executing at a historically high rate, and 69 % of the executions this year so far having been for drugs offences, Reprieve is calling on the UNODC and its funders to act urgently to impose conditions on the support they provide.

A number of other European states, including the UK, Denmark and Ireland have already withdrawn funding from similar UNODC programmes in Iran, with the Danish Government accepting they are "leading to executions". But France and Germany have declined to make similar commitments, and have not ruled out contributing to a secretive new UN funding settlement for Iran's ANP.

The UNODC is currently negotiating this five-year agreement, and UNODC chief Yury Fedotov travelled to Iran in February this year to pledge that a deal would be finalised "in the next 2 months". He added that "no country can compete with Iran when it comes to the amount of narcotics discovered and seized."

Reprieve's research by has found that at least EUR 15 million in European support can be directly linked to the arrests and hangings of thousands of people - including women, children, and a number of European nationals.

In 1 2014 case, a 15-year old Afghan boy, Jannat Mir, was hanged for allegedly moving heroin across the Afghan/Iranian border, during a period in which the UNODC was overseeing an EUR 5 million border operation.

The UNODC's own human rights guidance advises that if executions for drug related offences continue, the body should "employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support".

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said:

"Even as Iran's execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for non-violent offences. 7 out of 10 people hanged in Iran this year have been caught in these type of operations, but European funders and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continue to turn a blind eye, and are even considering a new funding deal.

"It is an untenable hypocrisy for European countries and the UNODC to claim they oppose the death penalty in all circumstances while enabling and encouraging it overseas. If their commitments on the death penalty are to count for anything, they should impose effective and transparent conditions to ensure their aid does not lead to executions."


JULY 2, 2015:


Ricky Kelly death penalty hearing postponed

A court hearing to determine whether high-profile murder suspect Ricky Kelly will face the death penalty has been postponed.

Defense lawyers have renewed their efforts to get a high-profile murder suspect out of custody on bond.

The defense attorney for an accused killer wants the judge in his client's murder case to take the death penalty off the table.

Attorneys were expected to present arguments on Kelly's motion to exclude the death penalty if he's convicted.

Kelly is charged in the 2005 shooting of Lajuante Jackson.

According to police, the murder was carried out to protect a drug trafficking operation.

Kelly was charged with eight murders in 2010, but the state charges were dismissed a year later so that he could be charged in federal court.

Federal prosecutors later dropped that case and he was re-indicted in state court.

He's set to be in court July 29.

(source: WLKY news)


Tennessee execution trial comes week after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court decision this week upholding the lethal injection protocol in Oklahoma could indirectly affect Tennessee, where execution procedure will be questioned during a trial next week.

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman on Tuesday is scheduled to begin a trial that will determine whether Tennessee's lethal injection protocol, as it is written now, is constitutional. More than 30 condemned inmates filed a lawsuit against state Department of Correction leaders in 2013.

In a Monday ruling known as "Glossip," the nation's highest court considered Oklahoma's procedure, which involves the use of 3 drugs. It focused on the drug midazolam, which opponents to capital punishment blame for high-profile botched executions.

Tennessee's protocol uses 1 drug, pentobarbital.

Because of those differences, there probably won't be direct impact of the Supreme Court's decision in the Davidson County case, said Robert Goodrich, a Nashville business attorney with Burr & Forman who also is the board chairman for Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a group that seeks to abolish the death penalty.

Attorneys: TDOC does not have lethal injection drugs

There is one direct connection between the cases: An expert who testified in the Oklahoma court case, and whose testimony was examined by the Supreme Court, is expected to testify in the Davidson County case.

"Any judge reading Glossip and noticing about the same expert testifying would be interested in how his testimony was received," Goodrich said.

Two Supreme Court justices weighed in on the expert, University of Miami anesthesiologist David Lubarsky. They both valued and questioned portions of Lubarsky's testimony about midazolam.

The court's majority ruled (5-4) the Oklahoma inmates failed to prove that the drugs cannot mask excessive pain and to identify a better alternative, given a drug shortage that has forced some states to experiment with less-trusted alternatives.

Mark Fulks, a Johnson City, Tenn., lawyer with Baker Donelson, said the Glossip ruling could change how attorneys proceed in the Davidson County case. Fulks handled death penalty cases during previous work as an assistant attorney general.

Specifically at issue in the Supreme Court ruling: the role of alternative methods of execution.

"To prevail, the plaintiffs (inmates) will have to prove that the lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives," he said.

If they do not prove both those things, Fulks said, it could provide a basis for the state to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to schedule executions.

Tennessee has 67 inmates on death row. Executions have been on hold while both execution methods - lethal injection and the backup, electrocution - are facing court challenges.

(source: The Tennessean)


Death row doesn't deserve cruel, unusual punishment

A flurry of rulings came down from the U.S. Supreme Court recently.

One of particular significance was Glossip v. Gross, an Oklahoma lethal injection case about using midazolam in executions.

The justices decided 5-4 to uphold using the controversial drug, which was implicated previously in a number of botched executions.

Gov. Mary Fallin, in a released statement, said "the Constitution is clearly not intended to prohibit the death penalty by lethal injection or the use of the sedative midazolam."

Oklahoma, 1 of 5 states that uses the drug, had suspended all executions as it awaited the Supreme Court's decision.

Hours after the Supreme Court's ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt requested execution dates for 3 death row inmates.

"States will be allowed to conduct additional human experimentation when they carry out executions by lethal injection," attorney Dale Baich said in a statement.

When circumstances call for an execution, these rare occurrences need to be done appropriately.

We still need to be humane when executing inmates on death row.

(source: Enid News & Eagle)


Death penalty's future in California after Supreme Court OK's execution drug

Over the next 120 days, California Governor Jerry Brown and prison officials will be working to come up with a 1-drug lethal injection method for the nearly 750 inmates on California's death row, the largest in the nation.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that states could continue to use midazolam as an execution drug after the state of Oklahoma challenged the practice following a botched execution. The majority said that executions don't need to be painless and said that inmates challenging state execution methods should find alternatives that pose less risk of pain. The 120 day timeframe is part of a recent settlement with families of murder victims.

Despite the new deadline, there will be the need for lots of public comment on this issue, and that could take a year or more. Questions about what drugs to use in the execution cocktail and cost of housing and executing death row inmates are just some of those that are bound to come up as the process moves forward. There's also a case before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the delays in executions that sometimes span decades have left California's death penalty system unconstitutional.

What does the future of the death penalty in California look like? How should the state formulate its execution protocol? Does the death penalty have a place in California or should it be abolished completely? What is to be done with the hundreds of inmates waiting on death row?


Sam Stanton, reporter for the Sacramento Bee. He wrote an article last month before Monday's Supreme Court decision entitled "Is capital punishment dead in California?" He tweets @stantonsam.

Michael Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney

Donald Heller, attorney at Donald H. Heller, A Law Corp., and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. He is a former supporter of the death penalty turned opponent. He headed up a in 2012 to abolish CA's death penalty but also wrote the 1978 ballot measure that reinstated capital punishment in CA before changing positions.



Iran executes hundreds in brutal crane hangings at mega-prison outside Tehran

At least 1,900 people have been executed in Iran since President Hassan Rouhani took office in June 2013, an NGO has warned.

Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world and Iran Human Rights (IHR) estimated at least 570 prisoners, 10 of whom were women, were hanged during the first half of 2015, with a rate of 3 executions per day. The figure has increased by 40% compared to the first half of 2014.

The majority of the executions occurred in Ghezel Hesar, Iran's largest state prison with 20,000 prisoners (four times its official capacity), where dozens of inmates were executed in June after they gathered in the prison yard to ask Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for forgiveness.

When interviewed by IHR, one of the inmates on death row at Ghezel Hasar said: "They take about two people at a time out of our hall and execute them. Then they bring 20 more people to the prison. Nothing changes, the cycle repeats. They should try out forgiveness for once.

"Honestly, what we did [to end up in prison] doesn't warrant death. The least they can do is give [first-time offenders] a second chance so we may resume with our lives."

Almost 400 people were executed for drug-related charges and about 108 for murder. IHR also said at least 7 prisoners, all of whom were Kurdish, were killed for their political or ideological affiliations, amid allegations of unfair trials.

The remaining 70 inmates were killed for sexual crimes, mainly rape, and for "waging war against God" and "corruption on heart".

Nearly 40% of the executions were announced by official Iranian media and 34 people were executed in public spaces.

Hanging is a 'slow torture' in Iran

All the executions were carried out by hanging. IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told IBTimes UK that there are different ways of hanging inmates. In Iran, prisoners are usually pulled up by their necks with the use of cranes.

"It takes them many minutes to die, it's a way of torturing them along with the execution," Amiry-Moghaddam said. "Two years ago, a man had survived 14 minutes of hanging before dying. So hanging is not intended as the standard way of momentary pain. It's not that they just die, it is a slow strangulation."

IHR urged the international community to put pressure on Iran to halt pending executions and reduce its rate of use of the death penalty.

"We are talking about the worst execution surge in more than 20 years in Iran and this is happening while the relations between Iran and the European countries have not been better in many years," Amiry-Moghaddam said.

"The government of Mr Rouhani have defended the executions and in some cases members of his cabinet have asked for more. Besides the large number of executions, unfair trials and widespread use of torture to get confessions are major issues of concern."

Saman NaseemSaman Naseem was sentenced to death at the age of 17 following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK(Amnesty)

Execution of juvenile offenders

The NGO also warned the Islamic republic executed at least 1 juvenile offender in 2015. Javad Saberi was hanged at the Rajaishahr prison of Karaj after being convicted of murder, despite the fact he suffered from mental illness.

The execution of juvenile offenders is in breach of both domestic and international laws. Iran allows capital punishment for juveniles in case of "qesas" (retribution-in-kind) and "hodoud" (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law).

However, article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code excludes the death penalty if the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about their mental capacity.

The high-profile case of Saman Naseem, a 24-year-old man sentenced to death at the age of 17 and whose whereabouts are unknown today, prompted the international community to criticise Iran after it announced Naseem's execution.

Following pressure by several NGOs, Naseem has gone missing from his prison cell and his family do not know whether he is dead or alive.

Naseem was sentenced to death after being charged with "enmity against God" and "corruption on Earth", following a gun battle in Sardasht between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK, of which he is believed to be a member.

Other countries with highest rates of executions


China has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. The country refuses to disclose the figures of executions and since its 2009 report, Amnesty International stopped publishing its estimates on the use of the death penalty in China, where such data are considered a state secret. It is believed the country executed at least 2,400 people in 2013.

Saudi Arabia

Right groups have warned the rate of executions has surged in the Kingdom. As per a report by AFP, Saudi Arabia executed 88 people from the beginning of 2015 until the end of May.


Iraqi law authorises the death penalty for around 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also offences such as damage to public property. In 2014, Amnesty warned Iraq and Iran accounted for a global rise in capital punishment in the world. At least 132 people were executed in Iraq in 2013.


According to the death penalty information centre, at least 17 people have been executed in the US since the beginning of 2015. The inmates were all executed by lethal injection.

(source: International Business Times)


'Big Tony' Guilty in 2001 Slaying of Fla. Businessman----The reputed mobster is convicted of 1st-degree murder

Reputed mobster Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello was convicted of 1st-degree murder Wednesday in the 2001 slaying of a prominent South Florida businessman during an acrimonious power struggle over a lucrative fleet of gambling ships.

The jury also found Moscatiello, 77, guilty of murder conspiracy in the shooting death of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, founder of SunCruz Casinos and, earlier, the Miami Subs restaurant chain. Evidence showed Boulis was killed by a mob hit man, and Moscatiello was accused of ordering the slaying.

He faces the death penalty or life in prison. Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes set a sentencing phase hearing to begin Sept. 16, after which jurors will make a punishment recommendation. Holmes has the final decision.

Moscatiello's wife, Marion, fainted after the verdict was read after yelling out that someone else was responsible for the Boulis murder. She was treated by paramedics and taken to a hospital.

A mistrial was declared for Moscatiello in 2013 because his attorney became ill. Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, who handled South Florida matters for Moscatiello, was convicted in that trial and sentenced to life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Brian Cavanagh said the verdict in the Moscatiello case, which is the oldest pending prosecution in Broward County, was evidence that justice can prevail even after many years.

"You can never bring a murder victim back, but you can see that justice is done," Cavanagh said. "Justice has happened."

Prosecutors said Moscatiello was a member of New York's Gambino crime family when he issued the fateful order for a hit. Moscatiello did not testify in his own defense, but his lawyers insisted Ferrari and others were to blame for the Feb. 6, 2001, slaying.

At the time, Boulis, 51, was trying to retake control of SunCruz after selling it to businessman Adam Kidan and his partner, former Washington powerhouse lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Kidan paid Moscatiello and Ferrari thousands of dollars a month to handle security and other issues - including, prosecutors said, the use of Moscatiello's alleged mob ties for protection.

"The evidence all leads to Anthony Moscatiello," said Assistant State Attorney Gregg Rossman.

Key evidence included phone calls from Ferrari to Moscatiello, who was in New York, shortly after Boulis was fatally shot by a gunman who pulled up next to his car as he left his office. Other organized crime figures and a former Ferrari associate testified that Moscatiello approached them initially about getting rid of Boulis before hiring hit man John "J.J." Gurino to do the deed.

Gurino was slain in an unrelated 2003 dispute with a Boca Raton delicatessen owner.

Moscatiello attorney Kenneth Malnik told jurors the evidence pointed more toward Kidan, who had several clashes with Boulis, and Ferrari employee James "Pudgy" Fiorillo, who admitted to conducting surveillance of Boulis and disposing of the murder weapon in Miami's Biscayne Bay.

After the verdict Wednesday, Malnik said he and the Moscatiello family would now focus on persuading jurors and Holmes to spare his life at the September sentencing hearing. The only other option is life behind bars.

"This man has led a much different life than what has been portrayed," Malnik said. "I'd be lying if I said we weren't disappointed right now."

Kidan, who previously ran the Dial-A-Mattress chain, has never been charged in the Boulis case and testified in both trials. Fiorillo pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and will likely be sentenced to the 6-plus years he already served in exchange for his testimony. He has denied being the shooter.

Kidan and Abramoff both did federal prison time after pleading guilty to fraud in the $147.5 million purchase of SunCruz from Boulis. Abramoff, who did not testify and was not implicated in the Boulis case, was the main figure in a separate Washington influence-peddling case that resulted in charges against 21 people on corruption charges.

(source: The Ledger)


Should Florida restart executions now that lethal injections are legal? ---- Most responders agreed that the death penalty should be restarted in Florida.

As part of Community Conversations, we're sharing your answers to this question: Should Florida restart executions now that lethal injections are legal?

We asked the following question to readers on social media and the Public Insight Network recently: Should Florida restart executions now that lethal injections are legal? Thanks for all of your responses. Below is a sampling of your comments, some of which were edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the Public Insight Network and comment on previous discussions at and select Community Conversations.

"No, we should never allow this to happen in our state. Never. I don't care how bad the crime is. People that kill someone else usually do it in a time of insanity, temporary or otherwise. We are in our right minds when making a decision about life and death for that person's future and we should never choose to end someone's life, doubling the wrong. I would feel the same even if this happened to someone in my family or close friend."--Teresa Becerra, Coconut Grove

"South Florida needs to stop playing God. No one is entitled to that privilege. I believe that there are other ways to punish criminals."--Mariamee Rodriguez, Miami

"It has long been proven the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime and, in fact, it seems to me that living in a maximum security prison is a far harsher sentence than the death penalty. The advantage of reinstating executions is society does not have to spend money keeping a convicted murderer alive. The disadvantage is that, with the advent of DNA, rarely a week goes by that a killer who had been on death row is found to be innocent."--Susan Sussman, Aventura

"No, the death penalty should not be legal. Too many innocent people have been killed by State of Florida."--Delawrence Blue, North Miami

"The Supreme Court of Florida should ban executions in the U.S. Too many victims have been found posthumously to be not guilty. Some states will not even review corroborated evidence rather than admit that their courts rushed to judgment."--Ted Weinreich, Miami Beach

"The 'Innocence Project' has reversed a frightening number of death penalty convictions so one must assume that an equally frightening number of executions were unjust. If there has to be a death penalty then it must be reserved for heinous crimes with a conviction standard so high that it eliminates the possibility of false convictions. If the morality of taking a life unjustly is not enough, then consider the cost of a death penalty case over the cost of life in prison."--William Masterson, Redlands

"No, Florida should not restart executions. The death penalty is bad public policy. It is a great expense to the State even in comparison to life imprisonment. Experience shows that it cannot be applied equitably across all genders, races and classes. Persons have been condemned and later found to be innocent at an alarming rate."--Daniel Thomas, Coral Gables

"I found the decision by the Supreme Court to be incomprehensible. The chemicals used are improvised for this purpose and no licensed physician will get involved in this procedure for obvious reasons. I think this method of execution is no less reprehensible and perhaps even more excruciating to the subject than the old gas chamber was. Why not just administer cyanide and be done with it? Capital punishment is barbaric and unworthy of our country's principles and certainly not a deterrent to crime as we see almost daily in the media."--David Burkart, Miami

"No, death penalty is more expensive to the state! Also there is a commandment that thou shalt not kill!"--Gordon Ettie, Miami

(source: Miami Hherald)


Executing vigilance ---- Given the experience of this state and others, Ohio should not use the drug midazolam for lethal injections

In a ruling this week that could help determine how Ohio executes prisoners, U.S. Supreme Court justices, on a 5-4 vote, upheld the use of a controversial and risky lethal-injection drug.

Ohio used the drug, midazolam, in a botched execution in 2014, in which 53-year-old Dennis McGuire, convulsing and gasping, took more than 25 minutes to die. 7 months later, an anesthesiologist testified in a civil rights lawsuit filed by McGuire's children that McGuire experienced "true pain and suffering."

Given botched executions with midazolam in Ohio and other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction should not resume using it for executions. Despite the Supreme Court's narrow decision, this unreliable drug would continue to expose the state to undue liability and constitutional risks.

Ohio needs to find more reliable, effective, and humane drugs for lethal injections. And it needs to develop this new protocol far more transparently.

Last year, Ohio enacted a dangerous and shortsighted law that at least temporarily shields the identities of companies that supply execution drugs. That makes it far more difficult for the public to understand and influence how the state carries out its death penalty law.

To avoid constitutional challenges or federal intervention, those who support Ohio's death penalty must remain vigilant and aware. A lack of national standards for how executions should proceed in the 32 states that have the death penalty, along with a nationwide shortage of lethal drugs, makes such diligence even more urgent. During the debate on midazolam, two Supreme Court justices, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, suggested they are ready to ban the death penalty altogether.

Shielding the manufacturer of execution drugs from public scrutiny, at a time of enormous nationwide controversy over how states conduct executions, undermines democracy and makes future problems with Ohio's death penalty law more likely. Moreover, excluding from public record - and thus mandatory disclosure - information and records about compounding pharmacies that manufacture the state's lethal-injection drug violates Ohio's open records law.

These defaults keep citizens from holding their government accountable as the state seeks to carry out executions in a proper and constitutional manner. The law also makes it more difficult for courts to monitor executions.

Aside from the law, the state corrections department has been too reluctant to share routine information about what lethal-injection drugs the state is considering and why. Department leaders need to be reminded that taxpayers are picking up the tab for the $1.5 billion a year DRC spends.

Given the climate of secrecy in Ohio, it's unclear whether the high court's ruling will make it more likely that the state will use midazolam again. "Midazolam is not currently part of Ohio's protocol, and I will not speculate on what drugs will be used in the future," DRC spokesman JoEllen Smith said this week.

Midazolam should not be an option for Ohio. The state has time to find a more efficient, reliable, and humane way of conducting executions.

The Blade's long-standing support for the death penalty compels us to urge Gov. John Kasich to ensure that executions in Ohio continue to meet the standards of the U.S. Constitution and a civilized society.

(source: Editorial, Toledo Blade)


Indiana law that goes into effect today----Beheading can trigger death penalty

If a murderer decapitates his or her victim while the victim is still alive, that person may face the death penalty.

Indiana law already provided for life in prison without parole or the death penalty for those who burned, tortured or mutilated their victim before killing them, Sen. Brent Steele said. Dismemberment after killing also could trigger the death penalty.

But decapitation wasn't considered mutilation or dismemberment after death under Indiana law.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Steele, added decapitation to the list of crimes eligible for the death penalty.

(source: Indianapolis Star)


Death Row Inmate Richard Glossip Maintains Innocence As Execution Looms

A U.S. Supreme Court decision means Oklahoma will soon start executing death row inmates again. The next prisoner scheduled to die is Richard Glossip.

Glossip was 1 day away from being executed when the Supreme court issued a stay to consider the constitutionality of a drug the state uses for lethal injection.

Tuesday, Glossip said he is disappointed in the decision but hasn't given up hope.

Sitting on death row, the countdown back on to his execution. Richard Glossip remains adamant in his innocence.

"There's a chance I'm going to be executed for something I didn't do and I want people to know that," he said.

He spoke to News 9 from the home of his niece who has stood by his side for the past 18 years.

"We are going to fight all the way until the end and then some," said BJ Boyiddle.

Glossip was convicted of hiring Justin Sneed to kill his boss Barry Van Treese in 1997. There was no physical evidence linking Glossip to the crime.

The prosecution's case hinged on testimony from Sneed. Sneed accepted a plea deal in exchange. Glossip is still hoping Sneed will come forward and say he lied.

Sneed's daughter already wrote this letter to the state clemency board saying her father has been talking about recanting his original testimony.

"She wasn't about to let an innocent man die for something her dad did," Glossip said.

Glossip is also sending out a plea to Governor Mary Fallin to sit down with his attorneys and listen one last time to his case.

"If she decided what we're seeing doesn't change (anything) then leave it at that, but at least make the effort and sit down with these attorney," he said.

Glossip's attorneys say they are looking at all options. As Glossip is asking Oklahomans to stand up on his behalf.

"I just don't know how you go from doing everything right in your life to fighting for your life," he said.

A spokesperson for the Governor says the Governor Fallin cannot grant clemency she can only issue a 60 day stay.

Supporters of Richard Glossip have started an on-line petition. Right now it has about 40,000 signatures.



Governor defends donation to death penalty group----Says donation to get issue to public vote is appropriate

Governor Pete Ricketts is defending a donation made to the petition drive campaign to place the death penalty on the 2016 ballot.

Ricketts and his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, contributed $100,000 each to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty in its most recent filing period. The group raised a total of nearly $244,000 in that timeframe.

Ricketts said today he feels strongly that voters should be allowed to decide whether to keep capital punishment in the state, and in that light the donation is appropriate.

The governor says he may contribute more in the future.

(source: KOTA TV news)


Chambers criticizes Ricketts for donating $100,000 to death penalty effort

Gov. Pete Ricketts came under fire by State Sen. Ernie Chambers on Wednesday for donating $100,000 to an effort to restore Nebraska's death penalty.

Chambers, the state's leading opponent of capital punishment, said it was inappropriate for the Republican governor to fund the effort after failing to convince the Nebraska Legislature to retain capital punishment.

"He thinks that his money is going to purchase what he can't get done with his political savvy," said Chambers, an independent.

Ricketts said Wednesday that there was nothing wrong with his funding of the initiative.

"I don't think there's anything inappropriate about allowing Nebraskans to be able to vote on this," Ricketts said at a press conference called to discuss a different topic. "I think the Legislature was out of touch with how the vast majority of Nebraskans feel about this issue."

Ricketts donated $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, a group formed last month to place a referendum on the 2016 ballot to overturn the Legislature's repeal - over the governor's veto - of capital punishment.

Between Ricketts and his father, Joe, the founder of TD Ameritrade, the 2 have given $200,000 of the $243,866 in funds raised by the group through Friday.

The group seeking to place the issue on the ballot, and the one seeking to prevent that, both filed their first financial reports with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which disclosed some preliminary figures last week, reported spending $217,538 through Friday. Most of the group's spending, about $191,000, was to an Arizona campaign consultant, Lincoln Strategy Group, for consulting services, paid circulators and travel expenses.

Besides the $200,000 given by Pete and Joe Ricketts, the largest contributors were Omaha businessman Mike Cassling, $25,000, and the Omaha police union, $10,000. Cassling is also the board chairman of an effort to locate a multi-sports complex in La Vista, a project supported by Ricketts.

The pro-death penalty group also received an in-kind contribution of $15,878 for office space in Omaha from the Miracle Hills VII Limited Partnership.

The anti-death penalty coalition, Nebraskans for Public Safety, reported raising $400,000 in cash in one donation from the Proteus Action League, an Amherst, Massachusetts, social justice organization. That group is an affiliate of the Proteus Fund, an organization that has received funds from George Soros, a billionaire who finances several liberal causes.

The only other contribution listed by Nebraskans for Public Safety was $5,979 for in-kind donations of office space, staff time and legal research by the ACLU of Nebraska, which opposes capital punishment.

The largest expenditure reported by Nebraskans for Public Safety was $100,000 to Fieldworks, a Washington, D.C., campaign consultant that ran last year's successful effort to place an issue on the 2014 ballot to increase the state's minimum wage.

Ricketts, during his press conference, said he may contribute more to the referendum drive, which has already begun collecting signatures on street corners across the state.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty must collect about 57,500 signatures of registered voters to place a referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot. If it can collect at least 115,000 signatures, the repeal of the death penalty would be put on hold until voters decide the issue.

While it is not unusual for a governor to state support or opposition to an initiative petition drive or referendum, it is uncommon for a Nebraska governor to also contribute money to the cause.

Nothing in state statutes prevents a governor from making such contributions, said Frank Daley, of the accountability commission.

Chambers, however, said that Ricketts, a wealthy Omaha businessman, is using his money to "buy influence," comparing the donations by the governor and his father to those of the Koch brothers, a pair of billionaires who back conservative causes and candidates.

"(The governor) thinks he should have his own way and when he doesn't get it, he gets petulant and throws a temper tantrum," Chambers said.

Chris Peterson, a spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, said the group was grateful for the governor's support.



A stay has been granted in Dale Wayne Eaton death penalty case

A stay in the Dale Wayne Eaton case was granted Tuesday by U. S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson. A sentencing hearing had been set, but the court ordered a stay to proceedings to pursue a reinstatement of the death penalty at this time.

Prosecution and defense were told to pursue further research and determine a timeline for the next sentencing hearing.

"The depreciating mental condition of Eaton and the aging of witnesses and evidence is what drives the court to order a stay on this case," said Johnson.

The judge will be briefed at a later date on whether or not the State has waived the right to pursue the death penalty and writ of habeas corpus that would make pursuing the death penalty in a new sentencing hearing not possible.

Eaton is housed in solitary confinement in Rawlins and suffers from dementia. It is to be determined whether or not his mental state will play a factor in future sentencing.

Eaton was convicted in Natrona County of the death of Lisa Kimmel, a college student from Montana. The case came be known as the "Lil Miss" case, as that was her personalized vehicle license plate. Kimmel's missing car was found buried on Eaton's property at Moneta and subsequent DNA testing linked the murder to Eaton.

His 1st death penalty sentence was overturned on a writ of Habeas Corpus claiming that his previous attorney failed to provide an adequate defense in the case. The fact that he had killed the 18-year-old, repeatedly raped her, killed her and tossed her body into the North Platte River was never disputed.



Bean 'intellectual disability' motion is denied

With the court last week issuing an order that murder defendant Jeremiah Diaz Bean was not intellectually disabled, as defense attorneys had argued in a motion, Bean's 1-month trial is still on to start on July 13.

Bean's trial on charges of the murder of 5 people - 4 in Fernley - in early May 2013 and multiple other burglary, grand larceny, arson and other charges - is scheduled to run through Aug. 14.

Bean, who was 25 at the time of his arrest, is charged with killing 2 couples in 2 homes in Fernley and a newspaper deliveryman at an Interstate 80 exit east of Reno near the Mustang Ranch brothel, and overall 19 felony charges (10 1st degree murder charges).

The Third Judicial District Court clerk's office sent out 300 jury requests and that office estimated about 285 of those people called for jury duty would show up for the start of jury duty on July 13.

Juror selection has been scheduled for 3 days, with opening arguments possibly starting on the 3rd day.

2 prior trial dates have been set for Bean, with the prior date of June 2014 postponed almost on the eve of the trial after Bean's attorneys, Richard Davies, a Reno attorney certified under Supreme Court rules to serve as 1st chair in a death penalty trial, and Kenneth Ward, a public defender for Lyon County, announced the intent to file a motion seeking an evaluation to declare the defendant intellectually disabled.

Under Nevada Revised Statutes 174.098, if Bean had been found intellectually disabled, the notice of intent to seek the death penalty would have been stricken, making him ineligible for the death penalty.

District Court Judge John Schlegelmilch, however, after a hearing on this issue April 30 and May 1, wrote in an order denying the motion dated June 24, "The Defendant has failed to meet his burden to establish that he is intellectually disabled and, as such, the State may move forward with pursuing the death penalty."

The district court previously found Bean competent to stand trial and help in his defense.

District Attorney Steve Rye, who is prosecuting the case with chief deputy district attorney Jeremy Reichenberg, still intends to seek the death penalty.

Last May Davies and Ward had filed for a stay of the trial set to start in June 2014, largely due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia, which declared execution of mentally retarded individuals violated the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

That case prompted Nevada passing the law found in NRS 174.098.

In the motion, the defense wrote there were "serious legitimate concerns as to defendant Jeremiah Diaz Bean's intellectual abilities."

Bean was accused in 2013 of murdering Fernley residents Bob and Dorothy Pape, both 84, at their home on May 10; Angie Duff, 67, and Lester Lieber, 69, at a nearby home on May 13; and Eliazar Graham, 52, of Sparks, in Mustang, also on May 13. He also faces charges in relation to the theft of vehicles from the Papes and Graham, setting fire to the Pape home and other theft-related charges.

At one time in late 2013, Bean had signed a plea negotiation that would have dropped all but the murder charges and removed the death penalty as an option in return for a guilty plea. However, when it came time for him to plead in court, Bean pleaded not guilty instead and this ultimately led to removal of the first death-penalty-certified attorney and Davies' appointment.

Bean at that time invoked his right to a speedy trial. However, one request for a delay by Davies was granted, delaying an initial December 2013 trial date, but a 2nd request to delay the trial, then set in June 2014, was denied by the court as Bean rejected that request, still seeking a speedy trial. That was until the motion in late May 2014 asking for the evaluation and hearing regarding potential intellectual disability.

The judge's order regarding the intellectual disability issue in NRS 174.098, said that the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is intellectually disabled.

It then quotes the statute where it defines intellectual disability, saying Bean must show that he has "significant subaverage general intellectual functioning which exists concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the development period."

Expert witnesses, one from the defense and one for the prosecution, testified at the hearing.

Dr. Richard Weihar, the defense's expert witness, "testified that the Defendant fit the technical definition of an intellectually disabled person."

Dr. Martha Mahaffey testified on behalf of the state that the defendant "did not fit the definition of an intellectually disabled person under NRS 178.098(7) as the Defendant did not score within the extremely low range of intellectually functioning," leaving the judge to decide.

Mahaffey, who judged Bean to be "in the borderline to low average ranges of intelligence (IQ of 78-83)," and not meeting the 1st criteria for intellectual disability. She cited differences in IQ scores to attention and concentration, that perhaps she caught him on a better day or at a better time of day.

Schlegelmilch's order cited 11 conclusions of law, including that "the Defendant has failed to meet the 1st prong of intellectual disability [significant subaverage general intellectual functioning"] and the motion must be denied."

He also noted, "Any deficits in adaptive behavior do not exist concurrently with significant subaverage general intellectual functioning."

Lyon County District Attorney Steve Rye said of the decision, "We never believed that he was (intellectually disabled). We're happy the court ruled that way."

(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)


Prosecutors to seek death penalty against mother, boyfriend in torture, killing of her son

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office will seek the death penalty against a mother and her boyfriend, who are accused of torturing her 8-year-old son to death, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Gabriel Fernandez died in May 2013. His mother, Pearl Fernandez, 31, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 35, were indicted by a grand jury on a charge of murder and a special circumstance of torture.

Grand jury testimony revealed that Pearl Fernandez had called 911 after she and Aguirre allegedly beat Gabriel for not picking up his toys. After the beating, the boy went silent and stopped responding. When paramedics arrived, they found Gabriel naked in a bedroom, not breathing, with a cracked skull, 3 broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. He died 2 days later.

"It was just like every inch of this child had been abused," testified James Cermak, a Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedic.

Fernandez and Aguirre have pleaded not guilty.

Gabriel's death sparked a larger probe into the county Department of Children and Family Services, which found that there was a long history of reports of abuse in the Fernandez home.

In the months before the boy was killed, several agencies had investigated allegations of abuse without removing him from the home.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


DA Wants Death Penalty In Slaying Of Fallbrook Family

The San Bernardino County District Attorney decided Monday to seek the death penalty against a man accused of murdering four members of the McStay family.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office announced Monday that it would seek the death penalty against the man charged in the murders of 4 members of the McStay family.

Charles Merritt was led out of the courtroom after his arraignment, where he pleaded not guilty in the slayings of the McStay family. Merritt was arrested a year ago.

The case has progressed relatively swiftly since then.

Defense attorneys didn't present evidence at a preliminary hearing earlier this month.

They also testified about suspicious activity in an online business bookkeeping account that included checks cashed by Merritt in the time period after the family was believed to have gone missing in 2010, a DNA match to the defendant on the steering wheel of the family's vehicle and cellphone tracking that put a phone used by Merritt in the vicinity of the desert burials.

Joseph McStay and Summer were identified through dental records.

Merritt has said he is innocent. "This is a serious crime and the people responsible for these heinous acts should be held accountable and should pay the ultimate price".

"We are confident Mr. Merritt will be acquitted and we are hopeful the actual perpetrators will be brought to justice", he said.



The End of the Death Penalty?----Recent Supreme Court opinions suggest there are 5 votes to abolish capital punishment.

On the surface, the Supreme Court's opinion in Glossip v. Gross appears to give death penalty proponents something to celebrate. After all, the court allowed states to continue to use the sedative midazolam as part of a multidrug formula for lethal injections, despite Justice Sonia Sotomayor's warning that such executions "may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake." But the bitterly divided 5-4 opinion has implications that extend far beyond the narrow question. This case may become an example of winning a battle while losing the war.

In a dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that it is "highly likely" that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. While acknowledging that the Supreme Court settled the constitutionality of the death penalty 40 years ago, Breyer wrote that the "circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty’s application have changed radically since then."

They are not the 1st sitting justices to call capital punishment's constitutionality into question. Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan routinely dissented from decisions upholding a death sentence on the grounds that capital punishment is always a cruel and unusual punishment. Shortly before his retirement, Justice Harry Blackmun famously wrote that he would "no longer tinker with the machinery of death." Justice John Paul Stevens similarly concluded that the death penalty is an excessive punishment.

But Glossip feels different. Breyer's dissent is more of an invitation than a manifesto. "Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," he wrote, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution." It also feels different because it is no longer unthinkable that there are 5 votes for ending the death penalty.

Part of this plausibility stems from a political mood far more favorable to abolition than at any other point in the modern era. In the past few years, a number of states - Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Nebraska - have formally abandoned capital punishment. The governors of 4 other states - Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington - have vowed not to execute anyone. And a number of states, including the 4 moratorium states and also places like Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, and Wyoming, have performed 1 execution or fewer per decade over the past half-century. It is no surprise, then, that death sentences have reached historic lows nationally. The death penalty is disappearing even in the Deep South, as Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina have seen major drops, such as 70 % declines in new death sentences. Texas, a state that reached a high of 48 death sentences in a single year, had no new death sentences in the 1st half of 2015.

The Supreme Court's own struggle with capital cases further underscores this sense of plausibility. Justice Anthony Kennedy - who presumably would have the deciding vote on whether to abolish the death penalty - recently emphasized that the court's capital punishment jurisprudence law lacks a "unifying principle" and that it "has produced results not altogether satisfactory." The court has taken a piecemeal approach to try to ensure that the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst offenders. The reality, though, is that even after prohibiting the execution of juveniles, the intellectually disabled, and individuals who participated in a crime but did not do the killing, the court's approach is still, as Kennedy says, "not altogether satisfactory."

Kennedy finally articulated a vision of a fluid, sophisticated approach to gauging societal norms.

The most damning problem is the inability to guarantee the factual guilt of the people juries send to death row. Justice Antonin Scalia once underscored that lethal injection was an "enviable" death compared with that suffered by an "11-year old girl raped by 4 men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat." Last year, DNA evidence demonstrated that Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, the 2 men sentenced to death for the crime Scalia used as his poster case for the death penalty, are innocent. Or consider the case of Paul House, an inmate sentenced to death who claimed that the scratches on his arm came from "tearing down a building, and from a cat" - not as the result of a struggle with the victim. Chief Justice John Roberts mockingly commented on House's version of events: "Scratches from a cat, indeed," he wrote. In 2009, DNA evidence exonerated Paul House.

Even among those who are guilty of an aggravated homicide, the Constitution limits the death penalty to those people "whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution." Thus, as Kennedy recently explained in Hall v. Florida, "to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being." Similarly, in Roper v. Simmons, Kennedy reasoned that "the lesser culpability of the juvenile offender" renders persons younger than 18 categorically ineligible for execution. These categorical prohibitions have not guaranteed that only the most deserving offenders will be executed. In fact, most offenders who were recently executed possess signs of significant mental deficits. 2 examples from this year: Georgia executed Andrew Brannan, a bronze-star earning Vietnam veteran who developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder and had twice been hospitalized as a result of his bipolar disorder. Texas executed Robert Ladd, a man with an IQ score of 67 who could not prove to the satisfaction of the state courts that he was intellectually disabled.

Justice Breyer highlighted these flaws in his Glossip dissent. And he deemed them fatal: "The Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems," he wrote. "Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed." In response, Scalia referred to Breyer's arguments as "surrealism." Justice Clarence Thomas described the idea that the Eighth Amendment prohibits arbitrary death sentencing as "imaginary." He then suggested to Breyer that if he wants to eliminate arbitrary outcomes, "the best solution is for the Court to stop making up Eighth Amendment claims in its ceaseless quest to end the death penalty through undemocratic means."

Justice Scalia wrote, "not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible." But the Supreme Court has affirmed time and time again that the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments is drawn from society's current standards of decency as they have evolved over time.

As Kennedy wrote last week in the context of marriage equality:

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution's central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.

Kennedy has embraced a view of societal norms that is much more holistic than a simple exercise that counts state legislative decisions. For instance, in Graham v. Florida, the case in which the Supreme Court barred sentences of life without parole for nonhomicide juvenile offenders, Kennedy looked beyond the law on the books to see how the law was used in practice. Even though most states allowed the sentence, Kennedy found that sheer infrequency reflected a consensus against its use, as did the fact that sentences were concentrated in a handful of states. Most recently, in Hall v. Florida, Kennedy counted Oregon, a state that formally retains capital punishment, "on the abolitionist side of the ledger" because it "suspended the death penalty and executed only 2 individuals in the past 40 years."

In Glossip, Breyer fine-tuned Kennedy's approach, looking not only at how infrequently states resort to the punishment but also at how "the number of active death penalty counties is small and getting smaller." (It might be particular personalities within counties as much as it is particular counties responsible for most death penalty sentences.)

It was Justice Kennedy, though, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage case, who finally articulated a vision of a fluid and sophisticated approach to gauging societal norms:

There may be an initial inclination in these cases to proceed with caution - to await further legislation, litigation, and debate. The respondents warn there has been insufficient democratic discourse before deciding an issue so basic as the definition of marriage. ... Yet there has been far more deliberation than this argument acknowledges. There have been referenda, legislative debates, and grassroots campaigns, as well as countless studies, papers, books, and other popular and scholarly writings. There has been extensive litigation in state and federal courts. Judicial opinions addressing the issue have been informed by the contentions of parties and counsel, which, in turn, reflect the more general, societal discussion of same-sex marriage and its meaning that has occurred over the past decades.

After Kennedy's opinion in Obergefell, the flashlight is shining brightly on Kennedy's death penalty jurisprudence. His road map for considering the evolution of contemporary societal norms, coupled with Breyer's invitation to challenge the death penalty in its entirety, plausibly heralds the twilight of the death penalty in America.

(source: Robert J. Smith is an assistant professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel


Time for a death penalty debate?

It's always appropriate to talk about the state's most awesome power.

As soon as the Supreme Court's death penalty decision was issued this week, the calls started coming for Indiana to do away with capital punishment.

"So the question is, Hoosiers," wrote columnist Dave Bangert in Lafayette Courier & Journal, "should Indiana stick with this? ... There's no sympathy here for criminals who commit the most heinous crimes. But isn't the same purpose met - and at less expense, factoring in an appeals process that can take 2 decades to wind out - with life without parole?"

Bangert was reacting not so much to the 5-justice majority, which ruled that a new capital-punishment cocktail was permissible even though it had led to some botched executions and unintended agony for the recipients. He was moved by the 4 justices who dissented, especially Stephen Breyer.

Is it time, Breyer asked, to reconsider whether capital punishment goes against the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment? He called out the death penalty for "fundamental constitutional defects: 1. Serious unreliability. 2. Arbitrariness in application. 3. Unconscionably long delays between sentencing and execution."

The death penalty may have a lot of defects, including some that Breyer complains about, but violating the Constitution isn't one of them.

The plain words of that document make clear that the Founders believed capital punishment appropriate under certain circumstances. And as Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1958, "Whatever the arguments may be against capital punishment...the death penalty has been employed throughout our history, and, in a day when it is still widely accepted, it cannot be said to violate the constitutional concept of cruelty..."

But just because we can execute legally and constitutionally, that doesn't necessarily mean we should. As Warren also said, the Eighth Amendment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

And the fact is that the history of capital punishment has been a search for ever more humane ways of carrying out executions. This would not be a bad time in Indiana to consider the humanity of capital punishment itself. The usually reliable drugs used for executions are no longer available, which means we must either "pick our poison" and hope for the best or revert to methods perceived as less humane like the electric chair or the firing squad.

Capital punishment is the most awesome power the state has, so it is appropriate that it receive the most thoughtful deliberation.

(source: Editorial, News-Sentinel)


The Death Penalty Has an Innocence Problem - and Its Days Are Numbered

The demise of the death penalty is upon us. While the Supreme Court ruled this week to allow the continued use of a controversial lethal injection drug, Justice Stephen Breyer's sweeping dissent invited the nation to question capital punishment's constitutionality. If you have any doubt about the answer, just ask Henry McCollum or Paul House.

Henry McCollum was convicted and sentenced to death in North Carolina for the murder and rape of a young girl. Paul House was convicted and condemned by the state of Tennessee for raping and murdering a woman. Both men suffered from an all-too-common syndrome in death penalty cases: they were innocent. McCollum was exonerated in 2014, and the state dropped its charges against House in 2009.

But in 1986, 2 years after McCollum was convicted and sentenced, Justice Antonin Scalia held him up in a separate Supreme Court decision as the kind of person who demonstrates the need for the death penalty. House was Justice John Roberts' choice in his attempt, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia, to narrow the availability of an innocence exception to the death penalty.

Just as Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia thought McCollum and House should be executed, the lower courts too often have condemned innocent people to die. No one should be killed because the government made a mistake, yet 154 people on death row have been exonerated since 1976. We know that this total, which climbs steadily every year, is much lower than the actual number of people on death row who are - or were - innocent. One study estimates that one in every 25 defendantssentenced to death is innocent.

The death penalty's innocence problem is not lost on the American public. Support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 30 years. A majority of Americans today prefer life without parole to the death penalty. Nebraska and 6 other states have repealed the death penalty in recent years. The governors of Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have each suspended future executions indefinitely. As a country, we exercise the death penalty less and less - more evidence that we are moving away from capital punishment. Last year, nationwide, we had the lowest number of executions in twenty years (35) and the fewest new death sentences in 40 years (73).

As Justice Breyer noted, geography plays a huge role in who gets a death sentence and who gets life. A tiny fraction of U.S. counties - just 62 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide - are responsible for sentencing the majority of people to death. The justice pointed to these stark statistics: 1/2 of all of the new death sentences from 2004 to 2009 came from less than 1% of the counties in the country, and all of the new death sentences in 2012 came from fewer than 2% of the counties in this country.

The death penalty is forever entwined with the history of lynching, and racial disparities continue to taint capital punishment. Many studies show that the race of the victim drives death penalty decisions - no surprise to the BlackLivesMatter movement. When the victims are white, prosecutors are far more likely to seek the death penalty, and juries are far more likely to return death sentences, than when the victims are African-American. Prosecutors routinely prevent black people from serving on capital juries.

Justice Breyer also notes that those facing death sentences typically receive poor legal representation, making death row more likely. The personal preferences of individual prosecutors can also heavily affect who lives and who dies. Together, as Justice Breyer and Ginsburg conclude, this evidence "strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily."

The death penalty is not only applied unfairly, it doesn't even achieve its ostensible purpose: deterrence. After 30 years of research, there is no reliable evidence that executing people stops others from committing crimes. Justice Breyer summarizes this literature and then makes the common sense point: In our system, the death penalty is more likely to be overturned because of error and unfairness than carried out, and the alternative to the death penalty - life without parole - is severe, so why would we expect the threat of the death penalty to influence behavior?

In his dissent, Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) issued an open invitation for cases that challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty. This is a demand that the supply can meet. Geographically arbitrary, racially biased, and contrary to American standards of decency, each new capital case follows a trail of injustice that will bring down the death penalty.

(source: Cassandra Stubbs is the Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment


Justice Alito Defends Lethal Injection Expert Who Did His Research on

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold Oklahoma's use of midazolam, a controversial sedative that is used as part of its 3-drug lethal injection protocol.

The case, first brought by 4 condemned Oklahoma inmates, came after several high-profile botched executions in 2014 involving midazolam. The petitioners argued that the use of midazolam presented a "substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of pain and suffering."

As ProPublica has previously detailed, the doctor Oklahoma relied on as its expert witness had never given a patient anesthesia and based much of his research on

That witness, Roswell Lee Evans, ended up being a contentious part of the decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito repeatedly defended his testimony. In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Evans' credibility. Here are the best bits.

Alito defended Evans' use of

Alito: Dr. Evans relied on multiple sources and his own expertise, and his testimony may not be disqualified simply because 1 source ( warns that it "is not intended for medical advice" (pg 30)

However, Sotomayor viewed Evans' use of the consumer website differently. Not only did the website fail to support the most contentious parts of Evans' testimony - the information from the website may have even supported the petitioners’ arguments:

Sotomayor: [T]here were no statements from that supported the critically disputed aspects of Dr. Evans' opinion. If anything, the Web site supported petitioners' contentions, as it expressly cautioned that midazolam "[s]hould not be used alone for maintenance of anesthesia." (pg 108)

Alito: Midazolam is not a pain reliever, but inmates will feel no pain.

Alito supported Evans' testimony that midazolam would keep inmates unconscious and unable to feel pain during an execution, even though Evans himself testified that the drug was not an analgesic:

Alito: Petitioners argue that midazolam is not powerful enough to keep a person insensate to pain after the administration of the 2nd and 3rd drugs, but Dr. Evans presented creditable testimony to the contrary. (pg 24)

However, Sotomayor emphasized that just because a supposed expert makes a claim does not mean that the claim is a fact:

Sotomayor: To be sure, as the Court observes, such scientific testimony may at times lie at the boundaries of federal courts' expertise. But just because a purported expert says something does not make it so. (pg 107)

Sotomayor compares lethal injection to being burned at the stake

In 1 of the more colorful passages of her dissent, Sotomayor compares the new court ruling to a former execution technique that would be considered torture today:

Sotomayor: [I]t leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake. (pg 98)

In the closing paragraph of the opinion, Alito directly responds to this medieval allusion, asserting that Sotomayor's words are but "outlandish rhetoric," further illustrating the supposed deficiencies of the dissenting argument:

Alito: Finally, we find it appropriate to respond to the principal dissent's groundless suggestion that our decision is tantamount to allowing prisoners to be "drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake." That is simply not true, and the principal dissent's resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments. (pg 33) Alito: Death-row inmates should have suggested another way to die.

Alito affirms that one of primary reasons the use of midazolam was upheld was because the inmates challenging the drug did not suggest another execution method in its place:

Alito: [T]he prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain (pg 5)

Sotomayor replied in her dissent, asserting that it is the state's responsibility to find a method that is not unusual or cruel should they want to execute someone:

Sotomayor: Certainly the condemned has no duty to devise or pick a constitutional instrument of his or her own death. (pg 124)

Breyer challenges lethal injection in its entirety. Scalia calls that "gobbledy-gook."

Rather than focusing on the minute legal details of majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in a separate dissent, challenges the legality of the death penalty:

Breyer: The circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty's application have changed radically since then. Given those changes, I believe that it is now time to reopen the question. (pg 52)

In a sneering rebuke, Justice Antonin Scalia ridicules his fellow justice, calling him out by name over 15 times, and concluding:

Scalia: Even accepting Justice Breyer's rewriting of the Eighth Amendment, his argument is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledy-gook. (pg 35)

(source: Annie Waldman is a reporting and data intern. She recently graduated with honors from the dual masters program at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs and the School of


The death penalty has an innocence problem - and its days are numbered

The demise of the death penalty is upon us. While the Supreme Court ruled this week to allow the continued use of a controversial lethal injection drug, Justice Stephen Breyer's sweeping dissent invited the nation to question capital punishment's constitutionality. If you have any doubt about the answer, just ask Henry McCollum or Paul House.

Henry McCollum was convicted and sentenced to death in North Carolina for the murder and rape of a young girl. Paul House was convicted and condemned by the state of Tennessee for raping and murdering a woman. Both men suffered from an all-too-common syndrome in death penalty cases: they were innocent. McCollum was exonerated in 2014, and the state dropped its charges against House in 2009.

"Both men suffered from an all-too-common syndrome in death penalty cases: they were innocent." -- Cassandra Stubbs, ACLU

But in 1986, 2 years after McCollum was convicted and sentenced, Justice Antonin Scalia held him up in a separate Supreme Court decision as the kind of person who demonstrates the need for the death penalty. House was Justice John Roberts' choice in his attempt, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Scalia, to narrow the availability of an innocence exception to the death penalty.

Just as Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia thought McCollum and House should be executed, the lower courts too often have condemned innocent people to die. No one should be killed because the government made a mistake, yet 154 people on death row have been exonerated since 1976. We know that this total, which climbs steadily every year, is much lower than the actual number of people on death row who are - or were - innocent. One study estimates that one in every 25 defendants sentenced to death is innocent.

The death penalty's innocence problem is not lost on the American public. Support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 30 years. A majority of Americans today prefer life without parole to the death penalty. Nebraska and 6 other states have repealed the death penalty in recent years. The governors of Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have each suspended future executions indefinitely. As a country, we exercise the death penalty less and less - more evidence that we are moving away from capital punishment. Last year, nationwide, we had the lowest number of executions in 20 years (35) and the fewest new death sentences in 40 years (73). As Justice Breyer noted, geography plays a huge role in who gets a death sentence and who gets life. A tiny fraction of U.S. counties - just 62 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide - are responsible for sentencing the majority of people to death. The justice pointed to these stark statistics: Half of all of the new death sentences from 2004 to 2009 came from less than 1% of the counties in the country, and all of the new death sentences in 2012 came from fewer than 2% of the counties in this country.

The death penalty is forever entwined with the history of lynching, and racial disparities continue to taint capital punishment. Many studies show that the race of the victim drives death penalty decisions - no surprise to the BlackLivesMatter movement. When the victims are white, prosecutors are far more likely to seek the death penalty, and juries are far more likely to return death sentences, than when the victims are African-American. Prosecutors routinely prevent black people from serving on capital juries.

Justice Breyer also notes that those facing death sentences typically receive poor legal representation, making death row more likely. The personal preferences of individual prosecutors can also heavily affect who lives and who dies. Together, as Justice Breyer and Ginsburg conclude, this evidence "strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily."

The death penalty is not only applied unfairly, it doesn't even achieve its ostensible purpose: deterrence. After 30 years of research, there is no reliable evidence that executing people stops others from committing crimes. Justice Breyer summarizes this literature and then makes the common sense point: In our system, the death penalty is more likely to be overturned because of error and unfairness than carried out, and the alternative to the death penalty - life without parole - is severe, so why would we expect the threat of the death penalty to influence behavior?

In his dissent, Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) issued an open invitation for cases that challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty. This is a demand that the supply can meet. Geographically arbitrary, racially biased, and contrary to American standards of decency, each new capital case follows a trail of injustice that will bring down the death penalty.

(source: Cassandra Stubbs is the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. Her clients have included Levon "Bo" Jones, a North Carolina death row prisoner who was exonerated in 2008 when the state dismissed all charges against him, and Richard C. Taylor, a severely mentally ill man who was sentenced to death after a sham trial in Tennessee, but who won a new trial on appeal and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment----MSNBC)


From Italy: The Death Penalty as Seen Within the Context of July 4th

July 4th is hardly noticeable as it approaches, here in the lush but quieter hills close to Lucca in Italy. It's nearly impossible, though, not to notice it in some way. A seafood restaurant owned by a new friend seems perfect as an outing for a few people close enough to us to get that the date has power, tradition, and that it resonates perhaps with layers of meaning.

This looking at things in America from far away tends to bring certain things into a clearer perspective, or at least one that looks different than it might look at home. And one of the issues that looks that way--somewhat different in other words--is the issue of the death penalty, in general and in relation to the massacre in South Carolina on June 17,2015. On the one hand it is clear from here, that not only does the European Union stand against the death penalty but that in addition it will not permit membership of countries who legalize it. As one note of contrast, by June 19th, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, was already calling for the death penalty to be used against Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old suspect in Charleston.

It is from Europe that America seems especially young, and young also even in its abolishing slavery, an institution was once a matter of national acceptance, at least on paper and in terms of Congress. The massacre in Charleston (I apologize for making this act of degradation sound like a good thing) seems to have struck a chord, permitted the beginnings of a broader and deeper discussion about race. I'm not sure if this is because the killings took place in a church and the gathering around the sense of sacred may have an impact on our national consciousness. I'm not sure either if the belief system of the congregants and families of the victims including the notion of mercy and human dignity in their prayers and statements is in fact also making an impact. Of course many factions are still quiet who no doubt will make divergent statements later on. There is, however, one exception to the talk of compassion that I for one find very striking and that has to do with capital punishment.

My own question, for July 4th, has more to do with our humanity and with how many of us see dignity not only as a right, but also something that we are obliged to protect. And in that case my question is whether we are ready to look at how much what and how we do things changes us, in some way or other. Freedom, says my own voice of the spiritual (okay, and sometimes preachy) agnostic, is also responsibility. We can't be free unless we are ready for truth, and complexity, unless in the famous words of Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men", we can "handle the truth". And okay again, perhaps it's not being ready but finding how we might get readier.

It's one way of seeing things, this one. It would include that we are obligated to include in our vision of things as much real information as is available to us. And this means that it isn't just our appetites that stand to get satisfied by killing a killer, in this one case (and no doubt in many others) but that our efforts to become better at being human get exercised.

We can't kill the killer in us by killing any other person, even if the thrill of the trigger and its being pulled as if by us can satisfy in some a thirst for revenge. Vengeance, as written about by the prolific and innovative psychiatrist Harold Searles, can really be an attempt to cover over anxieties about loss as well as actual grief. It can be exciting and even satisfying, but it is rarely enough. Even an act of justice doesn't bring back our loved ones from the dead, or turn back a history of terrible things. We live with vulnerability at best combined with enough resilience and supports to get through the darkest of times.

Although we may be limited in our ability to understand, whether it is the greed of those who would poison our air, and poison our food and our capacity to figure out who we might want to vote for without sensing the elections are being bought, there is still obviously a modicum of freedom around. I seem (unless I'm fooling myself, which is always possible) to be thinking right now, and whether or not lots of people read this right here, I am free enough to write it as well.

Never really good at prolonged cynicism, I've come to think of myself in mixed terms, as a timid outlaw, and as a reluctant optimist. Maybe this is what is moving me to consider how I really feel about July 4th. Is it a big weekend, a barbeque, or is it--particularly in another country where all the American flags ever made don't seem to be waving--something that even with ambivalence, rings in some personal way.

I can't pretend it has no meaning, and even with mixed feelings I can't pretend there aren't so many things that I cherish. I for one have embraced the idea of change as possible, even if so scary often enough. It's not that change isn't scary for me too; it's just that staying still has also felt like a kind of death, emotionally and intellectually. So I stretch, or I try at the very least.

Capital punishment, says the European Union, is both immoral and ineffective. They are right; it's been proven.

So the question: can we talk, within the field of race and beyond it about our tendency to reward our hatred and not to work it harder.

Maybe it's just human to think harder on anniversaries, it's after all a commemoration. Here's to it.

(source: Carol Smaldino Become, Psychotherapist; Huffington Post)


Angolan prisoners eager to return home

In September, Angolans jailed in Zambian prisons will be transferred to their country where they will serve the rest of their sentences.

This development follows the signing of a 5-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) in 2009 between the 2 neighbouring countries on the transfer of convicts.

Consultations started in 2007 and on April 8 and 9, 2013, modalities of implementing the agreement were discussed.

To consolidate the agreement, Angolan Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs Jose Bamoquina Zau recently visited Zambia and held consultations with officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Zambia Prisons Service.

Commissioner of Prisons Percy Chato said the outcome of this meeting resulted in the signing of 18 warrants for Angolan inmates on March 10, 2015 by Zambia's minister of Justice.

The agreement is in line with the Transfer of Convicted Persons Act No. 23 of 2008 of the Laws of Zambia.

It envisages that for any transfer of convicts to be enforced, there should be an agreement between the 2 countries.

The MoU was, however, not executed as earlier anticipated, largely because most of the Angolans incarcerated in Zambia were on death penalty, which their country abolished.

Currently, there are 30 Angolans serving various sentences in Zambian prisons.

"It must be noted that of the 18 prisoners whose warrants were signed for transfer, one convicted prisoner passed away whilst serving his sentence at Mukobeko Maximum Prison in Kabwe,” Mr Chato said during a meeting at the Zambia Prisons Service headquarters in Kabwe.

"Also, 2 prisoners served their sentences and were deported by the Immigration Authorities to Angola."

Dr Zau, who was accompanied by Angolan Ambassador to Zambia Balbina Silva, is happy that Zambia has positively responded to the request to implement the 5-year prisoner swap agreement.

Despite Zambia and Angola having different laws, Dr Zau noted, the 2 countries' treatment of prisoners is almost the same because prisons are run in the same manner.

Dr Zau is hopeful that cases of Zambian courts involving Angolans will be concluded by September so that those who may be convicted will also be transferred to their country.

"We are hoping that all our citizens would be transferred on the same day considering the cost of the process," he said.

Dr Zau, who also paid a courtesy call on Central Province deputy permanent secretary Ronald Sinyangwe and later addressed Angolan prisoners at Mukobeko Maximum Prison, commended President Lungu for commuting the death sentences of 3 Angolans to life imprisonment.

"We are very happy that those who were sentenced to death had their sentences commuted to life," he said. "I would like to thank the President of the republic of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, for this initiative."

There is only 1 Zambian serving a 10-year sentence in Angola and another 1 died of stroke while serving his sentence in Moxico Province.

"The only Zambian in prison in Angola was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but he has appealed to the Supreme Court of Angola," Dr Zau said, adding, "this prisoner will also benefit from the transfer on the actual day."

And Mr Sinyangwe said Zambia and Angola must use the agreement for the benefit of both countries.

And addressing the inmates, the visiting Angolan deputy minister said he was in Zambia to finalise the prisoner exchange programme and check on their well-being.

"All over the world, a prisoner is a prisoner. The only difference is the legislation. We are happy that those who were sentenced to death had their sentences commuted to life sentences," he said.

He urged the Angolan prisoners to be disciplined as they serve their sentences in Zambia.

The Angolans prisoners described Dr Zau and his delegation's visit as a special visit and that they were happy to be visited.

Speaking on behalf of the inmates, Victor Chikwikwi said prison life is difficult and that they have lost hope.

"We have lost hope. My colleague died last year and another one this year. That's why we are saying we have lost hope," Chikwikwi, whose death sentence was commuted to life, said.

He said the visit by Dr Zau had revived their hope, especially that they were informed that they would be evacuated to Angola.

"We are looking forward to be transferred and we want to be transferred," Chikwikwi said.

And Mr Chato said the MoU will become effective on September 17, 2015, and that the prisoners will be transferred via the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to Angola.

"The government of Zambia has made a commitment to commute life sentences for Angolan nationals who are serving life sentences here to a term of imprisonment since Angola has no life sentence," Mr Chato said.

During a meeting held at the Parole Board secretariat in Lusaka involving Zambian and Angolan officials, it was agreed that the transfer of the convicts be effected on September 17, 2015.

The transfer point will be Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.

The meeting also resolved that all warrants be executed as the government of Zambia has made a commitment to commuting death sentences for Angolan nationals to a term of imprisonment since Angola has no life sentence.

(soure: The (Zambia) Daily Mail)


Farkhunda murder: Afghan court quashes death sentences----3 of the men convicted for their part in beating woman to death in Kabul are instead given 20-year prison sentences, with a 4th jailed for 10 years

An Afghan court has quashed the death sentences given to four men for their part in the murder of a woman lynched by a mob in the centre of Kabul.

The death of Farkhunda Malikzada, who was beaten and burned before being thrown in a river, shocked Afghans and prompted demonstrations urging the authorities to protect women from violence. She was attacked in March after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Qur'an.

The appeals court judge, Abdul Nasir Murid, told the Associated Press on Thursday that 3 of the men convicted of the murder were instead given 20-year sentences, with a fourth jailed for 10 years.

The ruling was made in a closed-door hearing on Wednesday. It was first reported by the independent Tolo TV, which said the pedlar at the shrine who allegedly incited the mob was acquitted.

There was an angry reaction from Farkhunda's family and civil society groups.

"It's not a court, it's just a show," her brother told BBC Persian. "The media should have been there, we should been there, the lawyers should have been there.

"It's a real theatre. The whole world laughs at the judicial system of Afghanistan. Do the judges have families, sisters, mothers - or not? Do they have a heart? We will not accept this decision."

Around 3,000 people marched through the streets of Kabul after Farkhunda's murder, according to protest organisers, who called it one of the biggest demonstrations in Kabul's history. After Wednesday's decision there were calls for fresh protests.

Ramin Anwari, a Kabul-based activist, said: "Not all but a group of civil society activists have been against the death penalty from day one, so that could be a welcome decision [to commute them] but the concerning issue is that the court has been behind closed doors and the discrepancy there is. 20 years is not the equivalent to a death sentence. The equivalent is a life sentence."

He said the pedlar at the shrine, who was reportedly acquitted, was "the person behind all those crimes taking place in the first place. It's beyond shocking."

Anwari said he would be meeting with other activists over the next couple of days to discuss how to register their protest, which could include street rallies. "We have to keep fighting," he said.

(source: The Guardian)


Gangrape convicts lose right to lead evidence in robbery case

A Delhi court has closed the right of the 4 death row convicts of the sensational December 16 gangrape case to lead further evidence in their defence in a robbery case in which they are facing trial, after they failed to bring any witness in 6 hearings.

"For the past six consecutive dates no witness has been brought by the accused persons in their defence. In these facts and circumstances, I close their right to lead further defence evidence. List the matter for final arguments on July 14," Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh said.

The trial court had awarded death penalty to four convicts - Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh - in the gangrape and murder case which was later confirmed by the Delhi High Court. There appeals are pending before the Supreme Court.

In the robbery case, Delhi police has alleged that before gangraping the 23-year-old girl in the moving bus here on the night of December 16, 2012, the accused had lured a carpenter, Ram Adhar, into the vehicle and robbed him.

The gangrape victim had died in a Singapore hospital on December 29, 2012.

In its order, the court noted that accused Akshay Thakur had closed his defence evidence in the robbery case way back in May last year but after that, the remaining co-accused had failed to bring any witnesses in their defence during the last 6 hearings.

The 4 accused facing trial in the robbery case had earlier claimed that they had not robbed or assaulted the complainant.

Ram Adhar had identified in the court the 4 accused as those who had robbed and assaulted him on December 16, 2012 night.

During trial in the robbery case, the court had recorded statements of 37 prosecution witnesses, including the carpenter.

(source: Press Trust of India)


Support Builds for Ailing Pakistani Christian Mother Facing Death for Drinking from Muslim Water Cup

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman facing death for drinking water out of the same vessel used by her Muslim co-workers and speaking out for Jesus, is in such poor health her supporters fear she won't make it to her date with the executioner.

This courageous mother-of-five was sentenced in 2010 to be hanged for apostasy. She has always denied the accusations, but Pakistani authorities have ignored an international outcry and calls for her release.

The grim verdict was handed down after her co-workers charged she had insulted Prophet Mohammed.

Her nightmare began rather innocently on June 19, 2009, when this uneducated Christian mother, was picking berries with a group of Muslim women in the area of her home village, and they asked her to go to a nearby well to bring them some water. She happily did this and, on the way back, she was so thirsty, so she took a drink of the water, and when they discovered this, they accused her of being an "infidel" and an intense discussion ensued between them.

Apparently, it quickly spiraled out of control, and the Muslim women became even more angered when, during a debate about their respective faiths, she responded by telling them that Jesus is alive, adding, "Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins.... Our Christ is alive."

That so incensed them that they began viciously beating her and this eventually led to a blasphemy accusation. In November 2010, Bibi was convicted under the blasphemy penal code, and sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court, but there's no word on how soon the case will be heard. is reporting that Bibi, now 50, is suffering from numerous health problems, including intestinal bleeding, according to Global Dispatch, which cited Bibi's family in reporting the woman is "so weak she could hardly walk."

"She is an exemplar of a gross miscarriage of injustice rooted in Pakistan's extremely unfair blasphemy laws and of how this law can victimize someone who should not be inside the criminal justice system whatsoever," said Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. added, "Supporters of Bibi are calling on the U.S. to use the approximately $900 million in annual foreign aid it provides Pakistan as leverage to obtain justice for Bibi and others suffering under the Muslim nation's Draconian blasphemy laws. The Center for Research and Security Studies, which identified 247 blasphemy cases prosecuted in Pakistan since 1987 and found many were used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal scores."

Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), based in the UK, said, "6 years have passed and the travesty of justice continues. For some time now, we have been told that there has been a moratorium on the death penalty because of pressure from Western donors, but even before this vanished at the end of last year, it has become clear that her treatment was in effect a slow death sentence by neglect and worse, all for allegedly committing a crime that should not exist-blasphemy."

"Asia Bibi is by no means the only Christian on death row for blasphemy," Chowdhry added. "There are a number of others, and there are also other Christians who are in there for crimes they did not commit, and are in effect there because they are Christians. One man who had been imprisoned for over 2 decades from the age of 15 and who was well known to be innocent of the crime he was convicted of was executed 2 weeks ago."

Pakistan-born Chowdhry said he hoped the British and US Governments would do all they could to force Mrs. Bibi's release.

"I call on the UK government to remonstrate with the Pakistani government in the strongest possible terms over this deadly game of bait and switch, and to free Asia Bibi and let her and her family escape to safety," he said.

Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, told it is difficult for the international media to pick up news on Bibi's plight because it generates so little coverage within the country.

"Pakistani media do not often write about her case and are too afraid because they are under pressure from the government to stay silent," Bhatti said. added that Pope Francis has called for clemency for Bibi, and last year, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called for an end to U.S. aid to Pakistan, noting the persecution of young women and Christians in the nation, and citing Bibi in particular.

Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom pressed the Obama administration to designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern."

Those who have spoken up for Bibi from within Pakistan have done so at their own peril and two of them paid for their comments about her with their own lives. They were Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minority affairs, who were both assassinated after defending Bibi and speaking out against the blasphemy laws.

"The assassinations show how dangerous it is for politicians to challenge the blasphemy law. Militants will go to extreme measures for anyone who speaks for religious freedom or human rights," said Kine.

"We see what happens when someone tries to challenge the blasphemy laws," said Chowdhry. "It got 2 key politicians killed...In a country with such animosity against Christians, I don't believe a Supreme Court judge will be brave enough to exonerate her."

According to a recent Mission News Network article, there have been some recent internal attempts to overhaul the blasphemy laws due to international pressure. A March 2014 poll from the Pakistani English-language newspaper, The Nation, showed 68 percent of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed.

"It is not something that can happen overnight," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. "The government needs to educate their people on what are universal human rights, what is respecting religious minorities and so on. Right now, I don't see that happening."

Chowdhry, however, believes that reform of blasphemy laws are unlikely in a country he says has been "hijacked" by extremists.

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has now launched a petition for Asia Bibi to be released, and you can sign it by going to:

(source: About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 52 years. They have 2 sons, Andrew and Peter, and 6 grandchildren who all live in the UK. The British Pakistani Christian Association has given Dan a special award for his reporting on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan---ASSIST News Service)


State wants SC to uphold SQ Chy's death penalty

The top state counsel yesterday prayed before the Supreme Court to uphold the death penalty of BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury for committing crimes against humanity and genocide during the Liberation War.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam made the plea on the 10th day of hearing on the Salauddin's appeal against his verdict given by International Crimes Tribunal-1 on October 1, 2013. The BNP leader was also given 20 years of jail in 3 charges while 5 years in 2 other charges.

The 4-member bench of Appellate Division led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha fixed Sunday for further hearing of the appeal. The defence counsel of Salauddin is expected to place their arguments on the day.

Mahbubey Alam yesterday told the apex court that Salauddin along with the Pakistan army men had launched massacres in different areas of Raozan under Chittagong in 1971.

"Several eyewitnesses have testified about the atrocities he had committed [in 1971] and therefore, he (Salauddin) deserves the death penalty," said Mahbubey Alam, as he completed his submission yesterday.

He, however, said if necessary, he may place further submission after defence arguments.

The 4 charges for which Salaudding was given the capital punishment are: involvement in 2 acts of genocide; killing of Nutan Chandra Singha; and murder of Awami League leader Mozaffar Ahmed and his son in Raozan.

(source: The Daily Star)


Egyptian cabinet approves stricter anti-terrorism law, avoids emergency measures

While the Egyptian army faced a massive attack by Islamist militants in Northern Sinai Wednesday, the government decided to toughen laws aimed at fighting terrorism. According to Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim Al-Heneidy, Egypt's cabinet approved in a plenary meeting Wednesday a number of legislative amendments aimed at countering a new wave of terrorism.

Heneidy told parliamentary reporters that first and foremost a tougher anti-terrorism law would be introduced. "The final draft will be referred to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to be officially ratified and implemented," said Heneidy. In the absence of a parliament, the 2014 Constitution gives to El-Sisi legislative powers.

The move comes after Egypt's prosecutor-general, Hisham Barakat, died following a bomb attack on his motorcade Monday. A number of terrorist attacks also hit the country Tuesday and Wednesday. Hundreds of militants affiliated with the Islamist jihadist group Ansar Beit Al-Magdis attacked several army checkpoints in Sinai Wednesday, leaving a record number dead.

Leaving Bakarat's military funeral Tuesday, El-Sisi vowed to amend laws within days to ensure "rapid justice" against militants.

Heneidy said the new 55-article anti-terrorism law was discussed intensely in a three-hour cabinet meeting Wednesday. "I think we are in a war against terrorism and this law comes as a new harsher measure aimed at stemming the tide of terrorist organisations," Heneidy said, adding that, "The new package of anti-terrorism measures are quite enough that there is no need at the moment for any extraordinary or emergency measures to stand up to terrorism."

Heneidy said while the new anti-terrorism law will be sent to President El-Sisi, it will also be referred to the State Council and the Higher Council for Judges for revision in legal and constitutional terms.

Heneidy said the new law gives police officers and prosecutors added powers for clamping down on terrorists. "The penalties imposed on terrorists and terrorist activities will be also hardened, with most of them fluctuating between either a death sentence or a life term," said Heneidy.

Heneidy indicated that the new stricter penalties will also cover different forms of funding for terrorist activities. "Those convicted of funding terrorist activities or terrorist-labeled organisations, or directing terrorist operations, will face the death penalty or life in prison," Heneidy said in a thinly veiled reference to jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Heneidy also indicated the Criminal Procedures Law was amended to cut trials of militants and terrorists short. Heneidy said a convoluted appeals process means it can take years for a final verdict to be handed down.

"Under the current law, defendants are allowed to appeal verdicts twice, but under the amended draft, this process will be shortened to give defendants the right to appeal the verdict just one time," said Heneidy, indicating that "If an appeal by a defendant was accepted, he or she would face a retrial but before the Court of Cassation" - Egypt's highest judicial authority whose rulings are final and binding to all.

Heneidy also explained that the amendments establsh that appeals in terrorism cases will take priority. "I mean that the Court of Cassation will make sure that appeals submitted by defendants facing trial under the new terrorism law be reviewed and settled in a short time, not exceeding three months," said Heneidy.

(source: Ahram Online)


Thailand beach murders: Men accused of killing Brit backpackers plead with victims' families for justice

Bar workers suspected of murdering 2 British backpackers are pleading with the victims' family to make sure justice is done.

Burmese Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, go on trial next week accused of killing Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, found dead on a beach on the idyllic island of Koh Tao, Thailand.

The men, facing the death penalty if convicted, insist they did not kill David, 24, of Jersey, and Hannah, 23, of Hemsby, Norfolk, who had also been raped.

But the 22-year-old Burmese bar workers insist they are completely innocent of the crime on Koh Tao.

They said they only confessed after being tortured by Thai Police.

And the pair pleaded with the parents of 23-year-old Hannah and David, 24, to demand that Thai Police be "completely honest" in how they conducted their investigation.

Some of the pair's relatives are set to attend the opening of the trial next week.

Andy Hall, of Migrant Worker Rights Network, said: "The defendants are asking for full co-operation from the families of Hannah and David so that justice is done and seen to be done.

"It is crucial the right people are convicted of these terrible murders.

"No-one wants the wrong people to be convicted.

"And these 2 men categorically deny being involved in the murders. They claim there were tortured to make them confess."

He added: "We are making a final call for any UK based witnesses who may have information - however insignificant they think it may be - to come forward immediately."

The MWRN has launched a fund-raising appeal to help fund the legal fees for the pair who were illegal immigrants working on the island.

Hannah, from Hemsby, Norfolk and David from Jersey were both travelling in the Far East when they were killed last September.

Hannah was raped and the couple's bodies were left lying on a beach on the idyllic island of Koh Tao.

The trial is expected to take place over the coming months and a final verdict will not be reached until October.

(source: Daily Mirror)

JULY 1, 2015:


DA seeks death penalty in infant deathThe death penalty.

The death penalty.

District Attorney Ernie Lee seeks conclusive justice for the man accused of slitting his baby's throat with a steak knife at a Richlands home early morning May 3.

Although the defendant, Anthony Wayne Young, 37, allegedly called 911 and said he had "killed his daughter" after the butchering, according to previous Daily News reports, he pleaded "not guilty" in Onslow County Superior Court on Tuesday afternoon.

Young's wide eyes scanned the courtroom gallery as he walked with a slight hunch and wore long, thin sideburns and a mustache.

An Onslow County grand jury indicted Young on 1 count of 1st-degree murder June 16 in connection with the death of Ruby-Rayne Delana Young - his 13-month-old girl for whom he had legal custody when authorities found her bleeding to death on May 3.

Lee said there are aggravating circumstances to justify a capital case: "especially elements of heinous, atrocious or cruel."

He said the child's age and the nature of the alleged acts meet the legal standards required.

Defense attorney Scott Jack of Jacksonville told the court he was not certain his client had the competence to understand the hearing's implications.

"I'm not a psychiatrist or a psychologist," Jack said as his client swayed and stood at the defense table with his worn hands by his sides.

Jack explained that his client has not been housed at Onslow County Jail but had to be transported from centers elsewhere in the state.

Young's case was among numerous others - accusing defendants of major crimes - with proceedings rendered on Tuesday.

No autopsy report filed

The clanging of metal filled the courtroom Tuesday as detention officers removed restraints from a man accused of shooting his wife multiple times in the chest at the family's home in the presence of children.

Christopher Michael Skaggs, 33, is accused of shooting his wife, Jordan Skaggs, about 9:45 p.m. July 13, 2014, at the family's home on Cherry Blossom Lane. Skaggs is charged with 1st-degree murder in connection to her death.

A slender, tall Skaggs - noticeably thinner than his stature in mugshots - walked into the courtroom Tuesday and sat before slightly swiveling in his chair at the defense table beside attorney Dick McNeil of Jacksonville.

"All the discovery in my possession I'm hesitant to provide," Lee told the court, adding that he lacks an autopsy report - a document typically received early in cases.

Judge Charles Henry continued the next hearing - to determine whether the case merits the death penalty - to July 28 amid the delays for disclosure of evidence in the case.

(source: Jacksonville Daily News)


Convicted killer asks Supreme Court to delay execution again

The lawyers for an Orlando man whose execution was delayed by the Florida Supreme Court are asking the justices to intervene yet again.

In a response to Attorney General Pam Bondi's request that the execution of Jerry Correll -- a convicted killer of four -- move forward as planned, the condemned man's lawyers requested that the Court protect him until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a death penalty case it will hear in its upcoming term.

The Florida Court stayed Correll's execution in February after the federal justices accepted a case questioning the constitutionality of 1 of the 3 drugs used for lethal injections in Florida and 3 other states: Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio. After a ruling Monday that the drug does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," Bondi asked for permission to move forward with the execution.

But another death penalty case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which calls into question the processes used to sentence Florida criminals to death.

If this Court vacates the stay of execution that is in place, Correll may be executed and later found to have been sentenced under an unconstitutional death penalty sentencing scheme," the attorneys wrote. "He will suffer great harm, and that harm will be irreversible."

The Florida Supreme Court has yet to make a decision on the stay.

Correll was sentenced to death in 1986 for the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, their daughter and her mother and sister. Gov. Rick Scott signed a warrant for his death in January.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Prosecutors deciding whether to seek death penalty in dragging death

Jesse Williams is accused of beating Marvin Davey and then dragging his body from southern Indiana to Louisville.

Davey's family members said they would like the death penalty to be on the table in the case.

Williams, 55, appeared in court Wednesday.

Prosecutors said they should know by next month whether they will ask for the death penalty.

Police said Williams and Davey, 51, got into a fight 1 night in April.

They said Williams pushed Davey out of the van they were in and drove off with Davey tangled in the seat belt outside the car.

Police said Williams drove from southern Indiana to west Louisville, all the while dragging Davey.

Linda Russell, Davey's aunt, said Williams could have easily avoided a fight with Davey.

"Marvin weighs, maybe, 150, (160) pounds. Jesse probably weighs 300 pounds. There should, I mean, there was no reason. He could have just walked away," Russell said.

Williams is being held at Louisville Metro Corrections on a $500,000 bond.

He is due back in court next month.

(source: WLKY news)


Legislature had it right on death penalty

Nebraska voters probably will have a chance to reinstate the death penalty. It depends on whether efforts of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty to stop its repeal succeed. Attorney General Doug Peterson believes portions of the legislation are unconstitutional and plans to take it to court.

If these moves were successful, it would be shameful. The 2015 Legislature thoroughly examined and debated at length the pros and cons of the issue. It overrode Gov. Pete Rickets' veto and voted to change the law to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Members of the unicameral Legislature did what they were elected to do -- weigh such matters and cast informed votes. They set a good example for all of us by viewing what is involved in this emotional and complex issue.

10 persons remain on Nebraska's death row. When and if the lethal drugs are obtained, and executions were legalized, the penitentiary could become a slaughterhouse. 18 years have passed since this state has executed anyone.

I was news editor of the former Lincoln Evening Journal at the time of Charles Starkweather's slayings. I was at the site of 2 of his murders while victims' bodies were still there. During my 44 years in the Journal newsroom, volunteer staff members covered 4 executions.

Those 4 who died in the electric chair were Joseph T. McAvoy in 1945, Timothy Iron Bear in 1948, Richard Dean Sundahl in 1952 and Charles Starkweather in 1959. Shortly before Starkweather was executed, the doctor who was to pronounce him dead suddenly passed away. Another physician was called.

Murders are devastating to victims' families, friends and communities. Executions are stressful for the public's surrogates who have to carry them out. To my knowledge, no innocent person has been put to death in Nebraska. Nationally, however, innocent people have been executed. DNA is now a tool to help determine innocence or guilt.

Many murders have occurred in Nebraska, Relatively few of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to death. Even fewer have had the sentence carried out.

For my state, I was offended that some in the crowd at the penitentiary in 1994 -- including university students -- shouted "Fry Willy" the night when Harold "Willy" Otey was executed. It was a disgraceful spectacle.

Other reasons to oppose reinstating the death penalty include:

-- Every western democracy except the United States has abolished the death penalty.

-- Minority defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites charged with the same crime.

-- Nationally, less than 2 percent of those convicted of murder are sentenced to death.

-- Most religious leaders, including Pope Francis and his recent predecessors, oppose the death penalty.

-- It has been argued the death penalty is a deterrent. It is not in Texas. Since 1976 that state has executed 526 persons -- averaging more than one execution a month.

-- The threat of the death penalty should never be used to obtain confessions. The Beatrice 6 is a costly example of its misuse in our state.

-- Many families of murder victims oppose the death penalty.

In 2009, I suggested that the governor, attorney general, and the speaker of the Legislature be required by statute to monitor lethal injections. The law would also require that 2 randomly chosen from a pool of state senators favoring the death penalty witness executions. These requirements would sunset after 3 executions because those carrying out the process would have it down pat.

A life sentence without the possibility of parole is preferable punishment for those convicted of major crimes. Our 2015 state legislators did the right thing. They deserve support of their decision by informed voters who study the issue.

(source: Gil Savery is a retired Lincoln Journal editor)


DA seeks death penalty against Palmdale couple indicted in boy's beating death

The prosecution announced Wednesday that it will seek the death penalty against a Palmdale couple charged with capital murder in the beating death of the woman's 8-year-old son.

Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 31, and Isauro Aguirre, 35, were indicted last summer in the May 2013 killing of her son, Gabriel Fernandez, whose death triggered investigations into the county's child welfare system.

The murder count includes the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture.

Aguirre was in present, but Fernandez was not in court as Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami made the announcement that the District Attorney's Office is "going to seek the death penalty as to both defendants in this case."

Fernandez and Aguirre are due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom July 14 for a pretrial hearing.

The 2 - who are being held without bail - were initially charged in May 2013 with the boy's killing. Prosecutors took the case to the grand jury last year to avoid continued delays in the case, Hatami said last year.

Fernandez and Aguirre are accused of inflicting multiple injuries on the boy, who suffered a fractured skull, several broken ribs and was burned.

Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel were sent on May 22, 2013, to a home in the 200 block of East Avenue Q-10 in response to a call that the boy was not breathing. He was declared brain-dead that day, but not taken off life support until 2 days later.

In July 2014, the boy's father, 3 siblings and paternal grandparents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services, the Sheriff's Department and the Palmdale School District. Fernandez and Aguirre were also named as defendants.

The lawsuit alleged that the siblings, like Gabriel, were "compelled" by county officials to live with Fernandez and Aguirre and were also "physically and emotionally abused" by the couple.

Family members, neighbors, teachers and others made more than 60 abuse reports to the proper county authorities, according to the lawsuit.

County authorities previously said 2 social workers and 2 supervisors were ordered fired in the wake of the boy's death.



Ruling may signal end of death penalty

On its face, the Supreme Court's narrow 5-4 ruling that allows Oklahoma and other states to continue to use a 3-drug "cocktail" for lethal injections that includes midazolam appears a victory for proponents of the death penalty.

The reality is the ruling may signal the beginning of the end of capital punishment in the U.S. The narrow legal issue in the Glossip case is whether the particular drug that Oklahoma wants to use in executions - midazolam - sufficiently eases an inmate's pain caused by the remainder of the state's drug cocktail. If not, death row inmates argued, that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

But the ruling - and the dissents - seem to go well past that very narrow legal question. That fact signals the court seems to chafe against the chemistry experiment nature of lethal injection death penalty appeals and seems impatient to move toward a more substantive legal debate.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor's strong dissent skewered the logic of Justice Samuel Alito's majority opinion, which held that the inmates "failed to identify a known and available alternative" to the midazolam-included cocktail. Sotomayor argued Alito's logic, taken to the extreme, seemed to argue the state could in theory use any available means to execute prisoners if their attorneys couldn't suggest a better alternative.

Alito and the majority called Sotomayor's interpretation "outlandish." But it was Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent from the majority opinion that signaled where the minority really saw the debate headed.

"For the reasons stated in Justice Sotomayor's opinion, I dissent from the court's holding," Breyer wrote in his own 41-page dissent. "But rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds 1 at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said: "Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, it necessarily follows that there must be a (constitutional) means of carrying it out. And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether."

In the late 1960s, a virtual moratorium on executions began with a series of Supreme Court cases examining the role of discretion by juries and prosecutors. In 1972, the Supreme Court in the Furman case essentially suspended the death penalty in the U.S. in earnest after determining enforcement of Georgia's death penalty statutes in certain cases represented "cruel and unusual" punishment and raised the question of the "arbitrary" nature of sentencing involving the death penalty. The case voided some 40 death penalty statutes across the country and resulted in commutation of some 629 death sentences.

But by 1976, state legislatures saw the court's ruling in Furman as an invitation to rewrite their death penalty statutes - resulting in the reinstitution of the death penalty nationally. Nationally, executions resumed in 1977 after about a decade of uncertainty with the Utah execution of murderer Gary Gilmore.

It's clear the death penalty pendulum on the Supreme Court may well be swinging past the fine details of the chemical makeup of lethal injection drugs and back toward more fundamental questions of the constitutionality of the punishment, as Justice Breyer advocates.

In Mississippi, the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans is challenging the state's 3-drug "cocktail" on different grounds than those addressed in the Oklahoma case. Attorneys for the inmate plaintiffs say the high court ruling won't impact their Mississippi challenge.

But Attorney General Jim Hood said: "We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court again affirmed lethal injections as constitutionally means of carrying out executions. We will evaluate details of the opinion and how it impacts the pending challenge to Mississippi lethal injection protocols."

Perhaps more to the point is the fact at least 4 justices aren’t concerned about the method of execution, but want to debate the constitutional propriety of the punishment by any method - just as their judicial predecessors were back in 1968 and 1972.

(source: Sid Salter, Jackson Clarion-Ledger)


Gov. Ayade Sends Death Penalty Bill For Kidnappers To Assembly

Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River on Wednesday sent an Executive bill seeking death penalty for convicted kidnappers in the state to the House of Assembly for consideration and passage.

This is contained in a statement signed by Mr Christian Ita, Chief Press Secretary and Special Adviser to the governor in Calabar.

According to the statement, the bill also seeks to empower the government to seize property belonging to convicted kidnappers and other criminals in the state.

It stated that the bill offers rewards to citizens who volunteer information to security agencies on activities of criminals.

This, according to the statement, is to curb incidence of kidnapping in the state.

The statement also quoted the governor as saying the state would not condone any act of lawlessness in view of ongoing effort at re-engineering the state's economy.

It, however, stated that the state would maintain its leading position as the most peaceful state in the country and the most investor-friendly.

The statement stated that the governor had approved the constitution of a Security Taskforce, named "Operation Skolombo".

It named retired Gen. Mannings Nyiam as the Chairman of the taskforce, saddled with the task of riding the state of criminals.

(source: Leadership Nigeria)


US appeals court upholds Virginia death sentence

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a Virginia inmate who claims he can't be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

In a unanimous ruling, a 3-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Alfredo Prieto failed to show that no reasonable juror would find him eligible for the death penalty.

Prieto was sentenced to death for the 1988 shooting deaths of George Washington University students Rachel Raver and Warren Fulton III. He was on California's death row for raping and killing a 15-year-old girl when a DNA sample entered into a national database in 2005 connected him to the Virginia slayings.

At issue in Prieto's appeal was last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Florida case that a rigid cutoff on IQ test scores cannot be used to determine whether someone is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Virginia's law on determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled was virtually identical to Florida's, so Prieto claimed that the Supreme Court ruling precludes his execution.

But the appeals court found that there was ample evidence that Prieto's "adaptive functioning" - his ability to handle everyday tasks - was good enough to rule out any mental disability even though his IQ score was borderline. Expert witnesses for the defense testified that Prieto was an extremely slow learner and lacked impulse control, but psychologists testifying for the prosecution said he was well-spoken, bilingual and analytical.

"Absent some new 'smoking gun,' evidence of Prieto's adaptive functioning deficits is at best inconclusive," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote.

Cary Bowen, an attorney for Prieto, said he will ask the appeals court to reconsider. If that fails, Bowen said, he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

Attorney General Mark Herring's office declined to comment.

Prieto is 1 of 8 men on Virginia's death row. No executions are scheduled.

(source: Associated Press)


Sometimes juries get it wrong in death penalty cases, and then what?

There is no sanitized way for the state to kill a human being.

We don't want to hang 'em because the condemned person's neck might not break. Firing squads leave a mess. As we know here in Florida, the electric chair can malfunction and send flames shooting out of the head.


Lethal injection was supposed to solve all that, but there were issues with the drug midazolam, which was supposed to render the soon-to-be-deceased into a peaceful coma. What's an executioner to do?

Of course, the aforementioned human wouldn't need to be killed in the first place if he hadn't killed someone else, and probably in a far less-tasteful manner than the state has planned.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court rode to the rescue Monday, ruling midazolam can be used to aid in the inmate's departure from the living. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi quickly asked the court to lift the stay of execution it granted 59-year-old Jerry Correll, convicted of murdering 4 people.

Correll is not exactly sympathetic. He received four death sentences after jurors convicted him in 1986 of killing his ex-wife and 3 other people. There appears to be no doubt about his guilt. Evidence against him includes his bloody palm print and fingerprints at the scene. I think it's fair to say some in our fair state would just as soon handle these things Wild West style - find a rope, a tree and a horse. Problem solved.

There is another side to this, though. Supporters say the death penalty is an effective deterrent to would-be murderers, but there is a strong argument that it is not.

As of Tuesday, Florida had 395 people on death row - 2nd in the nation behind California. There are 41 inmates - 41! - who have been there longer than Correll. Their fate didn't seem to deter others from violence.

Though I have no issue with sending coldblooded murderers to the great beyond, there is a statistic that should give everyone at least a moment of pause. The truth is that almost certainly there are innocent people living a nightmare on death rows throughout the country.

Florida's total of 25 overturned death sentences leads the nation since executions resumed in 1973.

Paul Hildwin, for instance, was sentenced to die in 1986 for the murder in Hernando County of Vronzettie Cox. He was released about a year ago after almost 30 years on death row. The Florida Supreme Court said new DNA evidence "completely" discredited the state's case against him.

Hildwin's was the 4th death sentence overturned by the state's highest court in little more than a year after new evidence surfaced. Nationwide, there have been more than 150 death row reversals.

Lots of people argue that the state needs to kill these guys faster to reduce the population. If the death penalty is administered quickly, maybe the reality of what can happen will sink in more quickly.

That's certainly an argument Bondi would make. Part of me agrees with her.

But the better half of me wonders about the ones prosecutors and juries got wrong.

Most people assume everyone sentenced to die is guilty, but the numbers show that isn't true.

Unless prison workers start slipping hacksaw blades and power tools to death row inmates, they aren't going anywhere. So, frustrating as it can be, we simply have to be sure.

What does the state say if it's wrong?


(source: Column, Joe Henderson----Tampa Tribune)


Life on Alabama death row? 45 convicted killers have served 20 or more years

It has been nearly 37 years since Willene and Carl Nelson were shot and stabbed to death in a robbery at their Blount County home in 1978. Their 3 children, then ages 10, 13 and 21, were critically wounded but survived, as did the children's 85-year-old grandmother.

Arthur Lee Giles -- who will turn 56 on July 15 -- went to Alabama death row for the crime in 1979.

Giles is Alabama's 2nd longest serving death row inmate and 1 of 45 Alabama inmates who have faced execution for 20 or more years. There have been 9 presidential elections since Giles first arrived on death row.

Only William Bush, sentenced in the 1981 shooting death of Montgomery convenience store clerk Larry Dominguez, has served more time on death row than Giles. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Bush has served 33 years, 10 months, and 8 days.

Nearly 2 years have passed since Alabama executed an inmate, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week might pave the way for more executions.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the court ruled that 1 of the drugs used in lethal injections does not violate the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

What does that mean for Alabama?

"The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of states' use of lethal injections and death penalty opponents cannot continue to indefinitely delay lawful executions," Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange stated in a press release issued Monday morning.

"Opponents of lethal injections have repeatedly used court challenges of certain lethal injection drugs as ways to delay or avoid lawful executions," Strange stated. "The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed our belief that executions using these lethal injection drugs are not cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore are not prohibited under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

There are 189 inmates on Alabama's death row -- all but 3 are men, according to ADOC. The average age is 39. (The oldest inmate, 80-year-old Walter Leroy Moody, has been on death row since 1997 in the 1989 pipe bomb murder of Judge Robert Vance.)

45 inmates -- 24 % of death row's population -- have faced execution since at least 1995.

That includes:

--James Edmond McWilliams: Sentenced to death in the 1984 rape, robbery and murder of Patricia Vallery Reynolds, a 22-year-old convenience store clerk shot to death at the store where she worked in Tuscaloosa County.

--Larry Donald George: Convicted in the 1988 killings of 2 former next-door neighbors. Authorities say George killed Janice Morris, 29, of Talladega, and Ralph Swann, 24, of Alpine. George's wife, Geraldine, was shot and paralyzed.

--Anthony Boyd and Robert Shawn Ingram: Convicted for helping take Gregory Huguley to a baseball park in Munford in 1993, where he was taped to a bench, soaked with gasoline and burned to death because Huguley owed $200 for cocaine.

--Steven Wayne Hall and Wayne Holleman Travis: Sentenced to death for the murder of retired school teacher Clarene Haskew, 69, in 1991. She was beaten, strangled and shot twice in the head. A pentagram had been spray painted on a cabinet and the words ''thunder struck" were painted on the floor beside her body.

--Alonzo Burgess: Sentenced to die for the murders of Sheila Nnodimele and her two daughters, Latoria Long, 14, and Alexis Nnodimele, 8. Burgess also was convicted of attempting to murder 2-year-old Larice Long, Ms. Nnodimele's son in Colbert County in 1993. They were fatally beaten and strangled in their home.

How much does it cost to house -- and execute -- those inmates?

Since 1983, when another U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed Alabama to execute an inmate for the 1st time since 1965, the average time an inmate has served on death row in Alabama is approximately 16 years, according to ADOC spokesman Bob Horton.

The cost to incarcerate a death row inmate in Alabama is $53 per day. Over the course of 16 years, that comes to roughly $309,732.

That means Alabama has spent approximately $640,742 caring for William Bush.

For Giles, who has served 32 years, 5 months, and 28 days, that is approximately $628,898. Giles would have been Alabama's longest serving death row inmate, but his 1979 conviction was overturned and he was again sentenced to death upon his 2nd conviction in the 1990s.

It's estimated lethal injection drugs run about $100 -- the Texas Department of Criminal Justice put the cost of their drug cocktails at $83 in 2011, reported in 2014.

A Seattle University study found that each death penalty prosecution cost an average of $1 million more than a case where the death penalty was not sought, an anti-death penalty organization reported.

Whatever the cost, opponents of the death penalty found some signs of hope in Monday's ruling that maybe the court will one day find the death penalty cruel and unusual.

"For me what was more significant was the affirmative suggestion by some members of the Court that the constitutionality of the death penalty itself be reconsidered," Bryan Stevenson, executive director and founder of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative stated in an email to

"It's unfortunate this decision won't resolve issues surrounding lethal injection we are still litigating in Alabama, but I'm encouraged to see members of the Court warming up to the idea that we may be on the brink of a new era where capital punishment is prohibited."



Jordan appeal denied by US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a Mississippi death row inmate.

Court officials announced the decision Monday. The court did not comment on its decision.

Richard Gerald Jordan's arguments of prosecutorial vindictiveness and ineffective assistance of counsel had been pending before the nation's high court since January.

Jordan was convicted of capital murder committed in the course of kidnapping Edwina Marta in Harrison County in 1976.

Now 68, Jordan is the oldest inmate on Mississippi's death row, having won three successful appeals only to be resentenced to death. He's also the longest serving, having spent 38 years in death row.

Attorney General Jim Hood is expected to file a motion soon with the Mississippi Supreme Court for an execution date.

Jordan was convicted of capital murder committed in the course of a kidnapping and was sentenced to death on four separate occasions in the case. Following the first three convictions, Jordan challenged his death sentence successfully, was re-tried, and was again re-sentenced to death.

Jordan was convicted of kidnapping and killing Edwina Marter in Harrison County on Jan. 13, 1976. He was accused of collecting a $25,000 ransom from Marter's husband, then taking the woman to a wooded area in north Harrison County and shooting her in the back of the head.

In 1991, after a third successful challenge to his sentence, Jordan entered into an agreement with the prosecution to serve a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in exchange for not further contesting his sentence.

Jordan appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, saying he had agreed to the sentence but it was invalid under state law.

The Supreme Court in 1997 agreed, ruling life without parole as a sentencing option did not exist until July 1, 1994. The justices said the only sentences available to Jordan were death or life imprisonment with parole. The justices ordered a new sentencing hearing.

Thereafter, Jordan sought a life with parole sentence. The prosecutor refused. The prosecutor said that, because Jordan "violated" the first agreement by asking the court to change his earlier sentence, the prosecutor would not again enter into a plea agreement with Jordan for a life sentence. The prosecutor instead successfully sought the death penalty for the fourth time in a 1998 sentencing trial.

(source: Associated Press)


Interim Caddo Parish DA defends stance on death penalty

15 months after his release from a nearly 30 year stint on Angola's death row, Glenn Ford was given a 2nd death sentence.

This one in the form of lung cancer. Ford died on June 29.

A jury found him guilty of the 1983 murder of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman, but new testimonial information exonerated him of the crime in 2014.

Rozeman's killer remains at large.

It's cases like Fords that draw sharp criticism of the death penalty.

"If the people chose to abolish it through their legislators, I'd be fine with that."

In the same breath, Cox says he still believes the death penalty serves a worthwhile purpose in society.

It's this stance on capital punishment that formed the basis of a recently published New Yorker article headlined "Revenge Killing: Race and the Death Penalty in a Louisiana Parish."

Cox was quoted by a local journalist as saying he believes "We should kill more people" in reference to capital punishment, words that have come back to haunt him, although he claims those words were taken out of context.

Cox stands by his statement that this punishment acts as a revenge on convicted killers.

"We don't go out hunting for people to catch so that we can give them the death penalty. These are crimes that actually happened here."

"It lays the foundation for why we need a citizen's review committee especially in cases involving the death [penalty]," says Shreveport resident Craig Lee.

Cox says this type of committee - made up of experienced attorneys - is already in place with the goal of preventing another case like Ford's.

But he underlines his views, with the notion that the breakdown of the traditional 2-parent family structure is often to blame for a life of violent crime.

"Once you destroy that fundamental essence that we built our civilization on, the rest is sure to follow," Cox says.

It's a view not shared by Lee, who says there a multiple victims in a case like Glenn Ford's.

"When you take that time from someone's life, where they never realize who they could have been, and to impact their family, is just an atrocity."

That New Yorker article cites juries in Caddo Parish as sentencing more people to death than anywhere else in the nation.

Cox says that's often for financial reasons; other jurisdictions may not be able to spend the money it takes for a jury to be sequestered, as well as for the extra security required during their service.

He also says keeping the lines of communication open between law enforcement and prosecutors is vital to ensuring justice is truly served.

Cox spoke at a weekly breakfast meeting Tuesday morning hosted by the Shreveport Chapter of the NAACP.

He - along with other candidates for the office of Caddo District Attorney - are being featured as speakers leading up to that race.

(source: KTBS news)


Caddo Parish has sentenced more people to death on a per capita basis than other place in the country, New Yorker reports

Juries in Caddo Parish, home to Shreveport, have sentenced more people to death per capita than any other county or parish in the country, according the New Yorker magazine.

"77 % of those sentenced to death in the past 40 years have been black, and nearly 1/2 were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person," writes Rachel Aviv for the weekly publication.

According to the story, Caddo Parish was also home to more lynchings than almost any other county in the South in the decades following the Civil War.

Aviv focuses on one Caddo death penalty conviction involving Rodricus Crawford, who was accused of murdering his son. To read the full New Yorker story, go here.

(source: Julia O'Donoghue is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge----New Orleans Times-Picayune)


Pick your death penalty poison, Indiana

In the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday on Oklahoma death row inmate complaints that a new drug cocktail was leading to barbarously botched executions, the upshot was simple: You got a better method?

No? Then we're good here, a 5-4 majority decided - prompting more liberal justices to protest with references to the potential of prisoners being "drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake."

Outside the hyperbole of Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent - and the caustic reply to the dissent via Justice Antonin Scalia - the ruling leaves hanging the fact that Indiana is in a similar situation as Oklahoma.

The only differences are the name brands going into the execution cocktail, now that supplies of the proven sodium thiopental - the barbiturate once used in a 3-stage process - are gone.

The question is, as Indiana contemplates what to expect in a switchover to a new sedative in its lethal injection protocol: Does that sort of pick-your-poison conclusion offer enough confidence to carry on?

With Monday's ruling, the justices in the majority effectively put that question back on Indiana and the other 30 states still using the death penalty.

It's another chance to pause and rethink. Is the death penalty really worth it?

Justice Stephen Breyer picked at that scab in a dissent that asked whether it was time to reconsider whether capital punishment goes against the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment. He called out the death penalty, reinstated by the court in 1976, for "fundamental constitutional defects: 1. Serious unreliability. 2. Arbitrariness in application. 3. Unconscionably long delays" between sentencing and execution.

"Almost 40 years of studies, surveys and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed," Breyer wrote, referencing studies that suggest 4 % of those who land on death row are innocent.

Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed, calling Breyer a "drum major in this parade" against capital punishment and knocking his argument as little more than "gobbledy-gook."

"Welcome to Groundhog Day," Scalia wrote, saying he "would not presume to tell parents whose life has been forever altered by the brutal murder of a child that life imprisonment is punishment enough."

Scalia's thought: "Capital punishment presents moral questions that philosophers, theologians and statesmen have grappled with for millennia. The framers of our Constitution disagreed bitterly on the matter. For that reason, they handled it the same way they handled many other controversial issues: they left it to the people to decide."

Fair enough. So the question is, Hoosiers, should Indiana stick with this?

Last time we checked in, Indiana was being petitioned by Par Pharmaceutical, a Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, maker of Brevital, the state's sedative of choice: Please, don't include our drug in the execution cocktail.

Indiana Department of Correction officials were confident the drug would do the job. Then again, Oklahoma officials had the same confidence in midazolam, the barbiturate that came under Supreme Court scrutiny.

But Par Pharmaceutical's objections aren't far removed from the escape made by Hospira, a company that protested the lethal injection use of its products before it quit making sodium thiopental after moving manufacturing to Italy, where officials pressured the firm to stop making a drug used in executions.

As drug companies distance themselves, either by the end of manufacturing or protests as unwitting accomplices, the state could be cornered in a death penalty industry in which ingredients of lethal injections become increasingly unavailable or increasingly unpredictable.

You got a better method? Maybe not for long - if one is actually reliable now.

Will it really take the return of the electric chair or a firing squad or some other means less palatable under the Eighth Amendment to bring Indiana around on this?

There's no sympathy here for criminals who commit the most heinous crimes. But isn't the same purpose met - and at less expense, factoring in an appeals process that can take 2 decades to wind out - with life without parole?

The nagging misgivings that resurfaced this week in Breyer's dissent are difficult to shake. Breyer might just be a drum major, but in a form of justice as final as the death penalty, his gobbledy-gook amounts to reasonable doubt.

And as Scalia implied, it's up to Indiana to do something about it.

(source: Column, Dave Bangert----Journal & Courier)


Chief Justice: executions don't reflect on her term, Missouri high court's ideology

According to the outgoing Chief Justice of Missouri's Supreme Court, it isn't because of her ideology, or that of the Court, that Missouri has resumed executions in earnest.

Missouri has executed four people this year and 16 since November, 2013, with the state Supreme Court having set 1 execution date per month in that span. Missouri last year executed 10 inmates; as many as Texas.

Mary Rhodes Russell has been Chief Justice during that time. Her term in that role expires today. Speaking about the legacy of her term, Russell said there are 2 factors that led to that series of executions.

"There's been a backlog of people with the death penalty with appeals pending in the federal courts. Some of those appeals were pending and stayed because of a controversy over the method of execution, the drug that was to be used," said Russell."When those individuals with pending appeals had their cases heard and their cases resolved and their appeals exhausted, and the Department of Corrections went with pentobarbital as the drug of execution and it seemed to pass federal court constitutional standards, or muster, then there was a method of execution that was accepted and there were a number of people who had been backlogged whose appeals were exhausted."

Russell said once those 2 circumstances were in place, the Attorney General's office began filing motions for the setting of execution dates for those men.

"It's required by law that the Supreme Court shall set execution dates. It's not that we agree or disagree with the death penalty," said Russell. "It's the law and when we take the job to be a judge on the Supreme Court we take an oath to follow the law. Whether we like the law, which is written by the legislature, that's their policy. We're required to follow the law and do our job in the process."

Missouri is next scheduled to execute David Zink on July 14, for the 2001 murder of Amanda Morton of Strafford.



Defense tells Oklahoma court that death row inmate convicted of 3 deaths should get retrial

A defense attorney for an inmate who was convicted in the 2010 deaths of a south-central Oklahoma woman and her two children urged an appeals court Tuesday to reverse his death sentence because legal errors tainted his trial.

Attorney Michael Morehead of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System said Shaun Michael Bosse, 32, of Blanchard, should get a new trial because prosecutors implied to jurors that Bosse's refusal to allow a warrantless search of his pickup truck was evidence of his guilt.

"Mr. Bosse exercised his constitutional right," Morehead told the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Federal courts have ruled that a person's refusal to permit a search of their property under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures cannot be used against them.

"Mr. Bosse has an absolute right to refuse consent," Morehead said. "He wrote 'refused' on the consent form. Mr. Bosse did assert his right at the relevant time."

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Tucker denied that errors occurred in Bosse's 2012 trial, during which he was convicted of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of 1st-degree arson for the deaths of 25-year-old Katrina Griffin and her children, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer.

Their bodies were discovered inside their burned-out mobile home in the rural McClain County town of Dibble. Evidence at Bosse's trial indicated that Griffin died from multiple sharp force trauma, and Christian from multiple stab wounds. Chasity died from smoke inhalation and burns in the fire.

Bosse refused a law enforcement request to search his vehicle shortly after the victims' bodies were discovered. Investigators suspected it contained items that were taken from the victims' mobile home.

Tucker said Bosse's initial refusal was diminished by his eventual agreement to allow the vehicle to be searched, after its contents had been removed. Prosecutors at his trial referred to his initial refusal and eventual consent to search during closing arguments to the jury.

"It was not error," Tucker said.

But Morehead said the commentary amounted to constitutional error that merits a new trial for Bosse.

"That was improper comment on his exercise of a constitutional right," Morehead said.

Appellate judges said they will study the issue and did not indicate when they may hand down a ruling.

McClain County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, who prosecuted the case, listened to the arguments from the court's gallery and said afterward he does not expect Bosse's conviction and sentence to be overturned.

"I just look forward to seeing what the court does," Mashburn said.

During closing arguments at Bosse's trial, Mashburn said there was more than enough circumstantial evidence to prove Bosse committed the crimes, including the presence of the victims' blood on Bosse's clothing, scratches on his knuckles and arm and pawn tickets in his wallet indicating he hocked some of the nearly 140 items taken from the family's home.

(source: Associated Press)


Former death row inmate died of rare salivary gland cancer

A man who spent 30 years on Nebraska's death row for 2 cult murders died of a rare cancer in his salivary glands, according to a death certificate obtained Tuesday.

A death certificate released to The Associated Press lists the cause of death for Michael Ryan as "metastatic carcinoma of parotid gland origin." Ryan died May 24 at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska.

He was convicted in the 1985 torture and killing of 25-year-old James Thimm at a farm near Rulo, where Ryan led a cult, and in the beating death of Luke Stice, the 5-year-old son of a cult member. He was sentenced to death in September 1985.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha told a legislative committee in March that Ryan suffered from terminal brain cancer. It's not clear whether the cancer had spread.

A corrections department mug shot of Ryan released shortly before his death showed him with a protrusion on part of his left cheek and neck, covered by a large bandage.

The death certificate says Ryan, 66, died roughly a year after the disease's onset and was cremated on June 2 in Omaha. Salivary gland cancers make up less than 1 % of all cancers in the United States, according to the American Cancer Association.

A grand jury will still review Ryan's death, as state law requires for all inmates who die while in custody. Johnson County Attorney Rick Smith, whose jurisdiction includes the prison, said Tuesday that the grand jury has not yet been convened because the cause of death has not been certified to a district court.

Ryan's son, Dennis Ryan, and cult member Timothy Haverkamp were sentenced to life in prison for 2nd-degree murder in Thimm's death. Authorities have said Dennis Ryan fired the gun that killed Thimm after days of torture.

The younger Ryan was later released from prison after winning a new trial and being convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Haverkamp was released from his prison in 2009 after serving 23 years of a 10-years-to-life sentence.

The Ryans and about 20 cult members lived on the farm. The group hated Jews and stored weapons in preparation for a final battle between good and evil, authorities have said. Ryan told his followers that Thimm had angered their god.

Nebraska has only carried out four executions since 1973, largely because of court challenges and complications in obtaining the legally required drugs for lethal injections. Ryan's case was frequently mentioned in public debates over the death penalty and the state's method of execution. Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty in May, despite Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto.

A group heavily financed by Ricketts, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, has started gathering signatures to try to preserve capital punishment by placing it on the 2016 general election ballot.

(source: Associated Press)


Smith, Chambers at odds over death penalty

State Sen. Ernie Chambers is at odds with Madison County Attorney Joe Smith, referring to him as "The Bungler" and alleging that Smith cost taxpayers at least $1.3 million.

Chambers sent the Daily News a copy of a June 25 memo he wrote in which he criticizes Smith after the county attorney was featured in a newspaper article saying the Legislature's repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska was a disgrace.

Chambers was one of the leading proponents of repealing the death penalty.

When asked about the memo Monday, Smith took issue with Chambers' statements and questioned the newsworthiness of the memo itself.

"I'm not sure that anybody in the state should respond to a state senator when they say something silly like that," Smith said.

The focus of Chambers' comments was the prosecution of the suspects in the U.S. Bank shootings in Norfolk. The senator alleges Smith refused to allow the U.S. Attorney's office to prosecute the individuals, "thereby heedlessly and needlessly costing (Madison) County taxpayers at least $1.3 million and ensuring years of appeals in an admittedly broken, ineffectual state system of capital punishment."

If the U.S. bank cases had been prosecuted on the federal level, the federal government would have responsible for the cost, rather than Madison County.

But Smith said Chambers is misinformed.

The primary reason Smith said he decided to prosecute the cases was that he was going to seek the death penalty. "That was primary. But even if I hadn't been seeking the death penalty, and even if the feds had been willing to take it as a death penalty (case), I would still have to consider the fact that it happened here and these were citizens of the county."

Smith said it's possible that federal prosecutors would not have sought the death penalty.

"I know a couple of days after the homicides, some federal prosecutors came down and were given a full briefing by Norfolk Police Division. (Federal officials) are entitled to a briefing, too," Smith said. "I could prosecute, they could prosecute, we could both prosecute. Either way, I chose to prosecute and they didn't. I wanted the death penalty, not because I'm fond of the death penalty, but because I was in a bank with five dead citizens and blood on all the walls. ... The death penalty has a place. It's always had a place.

Chambers said he believes Smith's professional judgment and moral vision "are beclouded by his bitter, personal and vengeful attitude. ... It, furthermore, exemplifies the unseemly distorting and corrupting influence of the death penalty on official and public morals."

Smith said that comment is "almost nonsensical."

"I will say certainly that seeking the death penalty after murderers kill 7 people and to expect that nobody would do anything, that public officials would just ignore that, is inane." The 7 people is a reference to the fact that, subsequent to the U.S Bank cases, 2 more deaths were attributed to some of the same suspects.

(source: Norfolk Daily News)


Anti-Death Penalty Activists Are Winning The Fundraising Battle In Nebraska----In May, the state abolished the death penalty. Now, the fundraising race is on between groups trying to put the death penalty up for a statewide vote - or keep it off the ballot.

After the Nebraska legislature successfully abolished the death penalty in the state, an expensive battle has begun to bring it back. But so far, the side against the death penalty is winning the fundraising battle.

The money is all about the potential for a statewide vote on the death penalty.

In May, the state's conservative legislature narrowly overruled Republican Gov. Pete Rickett's veto of the measure that abolished the death penalty. Ricketts vowed there would be a referendum to give voters the option to bring it back. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty will need to collect 57,000 signatures by August to get the vote on the ballot. If they can manage to collect 114,000 signatures, the death penalty will remain on the books until voters weigh in.

The group estimates that it would need to spend about $900,000 to do so. So far, though, the group has been outraised by an organization opposing the death penalty referendum, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty raised $259,744 - and more than 75% of that came from the governor's family. Ricketts and his father, the founder of TD Ameritrade, have given $200,000 to the group.

Another $10,000 was given to the pro-death penalty organization by an Omaha police union.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has spent almost all of the money it has currently raised in starting the signature collecting process. The group has $26,000 in cash remaining, but has $25,000 in unpaid legal and consulting bills.

On the other side, Nebraskans for Public Safety (an anti-death penalty group) has not yet filed its full campaign finance report as of Thursday evening. But the group has disclosed receiving a $400,000 contribution from a progressive organization called Proteus Action League. The group is a 501c(4), meaning it does not disclose its donors.

This isn't the 1st time Proteus Action League has spent money against the death penalty - the group spent more than $3.4 million on anti-death penalty efforts in 2012, according to an IRS filing.

The anti-death penalty group Nebraskans for Public Safety, which is affiliated with Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, has spent some of the money on television ads urging voters to not sign the petition.

Regardless of the outcome, Ricketts believes he will still be able to carry out the executions of the 10 men on death row. In pursuit of that, his Department of Correctional Services has spent more than $50,000 on execution drugs from a seller based in India.

Since the drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal government says it intends to detain the shipment when it arrives.



Judge hears arguments on death penalty for Eaton

A lawyer representing a Wyoming convict said Tuesday he doubts his client ever will be executed for the murder of a Montana woman because of his age and failing mental health.

In response to a directive from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne held a hearing Tuesday to address whether the state of Wyoming may still again seek the death penalty against Dale Wayne Eaton, 70.

Johnson didn't immediately rule on the question, but told lawyers he will require written arguments.

In 2004, Eaton was sentenced to death in state court for the 1988 murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana. He appealed his death sentence to Johnson's court in 2009.

Eaton's current lawyers don't dispute that he killed Kimmell. His DNA matched genetic material found in her body, which was dumped in the North Platte River. Investigators later unearthed her missing car on his property in Moneta.

Ron and Sheila Kimmell, the victim's parents, attended Tuesday's court hearing. They declined comment afterward.

Johnson last fall overturned Eaton's death sentence, ruling he hadn't received an adequate defense at trial. The judge said that in order for the state to seek the death penalty against him again, it had to file notice and appoint lawyers within 120 days to represent him in a new state court sentencing hearing.

Before Johnson overturned his death sentence, Eaton had been the only person on death row in Wyoming.

Eaton's lawyers had appealed Johnson's order to the Denver appeals court claiming it would be impossible for him to get a fair sentencing hearing because many people who had known him as a free man and could have testified about his character had died in the years since his original sentencing proceeding.

Casper District Attorney Mike Blonigen filed notice in state court in Natrona County early this year that he intended to seek the death penalty again against Eaton. However, the state didn't appoint new lawyers to represent Eaton in state court.

The appeals court recently directed Johnson to determine whether the state had foreclosed its option of seeking the death penalty against Eaton again by failing to follow Johnson's order.

David Delicath, lawyer with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, told Johnson on Tuesday that Eaton's own appeal to federal court served to put the new round of death penalty proceedings on hold.

Delicath said the state had done what it could to get the death penalty proceedings moving again. He said that because nothing significant had happened in state court, the state shouldn't be penalized for failing to get lawyers to represent Eaton there.

Delicath argued that "losing the right to sentence Mr. Eaton for the brutal murder," would be a disproportionate penalty for the state.

Missouri lawyer Sean O'Brien, a death penalty specialist and a member of Eaton's legal team, said it's plain the state had failed to comply with Johnson's order to appoint lawyers to represent Eaton in the new state court death penalty proceedings. O'Brien said that amounted to a clear constitutional violation.

O'Brien said Eaton has been in solitary confinement at the state penitentiary in Rawlins since he was first sentenced to death. "We are losing reliable witnesses," he said. "The other thing we are losing as time passes is Mr. Eaton's sanity."

O'Brien said he doesn't believe Eaton will ever be executed because of his advanced age and deteriorating state of mind. O'Brien said he and the other 2 lawyers representing Eaton in his federal appeal want to continue representing Eaton in state court but haven't been retained by the state.

Johnson said he will order both sides to submit arguments on the issue whether the state implicitly waived its right to seek the death penalty again by filing papers in state court on the death penalty issue without appointing lawyers to represent Eaton there.

(source: Associated Press)


Inmate's declining health causes stay in Wyoming death penalty case

A scheduling hearing Tuesday resulted in a stay to be granted in reference to the Dale Wayne Eaton case by Judge Alan B. Johnson, who ordered a halt to proceedings to pursue the death penalty.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were told to pursue further research and determine a timeline for the next hearing, according to a report in Oil City.

"The depreciating mental condition of Eaton and the aging of witnesses and evidence is what drives the court to order a stay on this case," the judge said.

Johnson will be briefed at a later date on whether or not prosecutors have waived the right to pursue the death penalty and writ of habeas corpus that would make pursuing the death penalty in a new sentencing hearing not possible.

Eaton is housed in solitary confinement in Rawlins and suffers from dementia. It is to be determined whether or not his mental state will play a factor in future sentencing.

Eaton was sentenced to death for the slaying of Billings teen Lisa Marie Kimmell.

(source: KTVQ news)


SCOTUS Ruling on Death Penalty Has Utah Links

Utah leaders opted to make the firing squad a backup for executions if lethal injection drugs are not available. 3 death row inmates had already chosen to die by firing squad a decade ago, before a change in state law.

Utah leaders opted to make the firing squad a backup for executions if lethal injection drugs are not available. Three death row inmates had already chosen to die by firing squad a decade ago, before a change in state law.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for death row prisoners to continue being executed by lethal injection. It's a case that's been watched in Utah, where the use of firing squads is a backup method of execution.

The court majority cited a Utah firing squad case from 1879 in its 5-4 decision. Asst. Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker says the ruling means less legal wrangling over death penalty methods.

"Having that requirement that [death-row convicts] have to identify an alternative method will largely shut down that litigation," he says.

Utah has 8 people on death row. 3 have asked to die by firing squad, and Utah lawmakers have anticipated trouble with lethal injection drugs even before the ruling. They passed legislation in the 2015 session to allow firing squad executions if the lethal injection drugs are not available.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, sponsored that bill. He said Monday that, even with the court's ruling on lethal injection, more states are already thinking about adding the firing squad to their options.

"I think lethal injection, as we know it, is gone," he says.

The reason is that execution drugs have become harder to obtain from European manufacturers as well as American pharmaceutical companies.

Ray says: "The most efficient way and -- if you want to call it humane -- to me is the firing squad because the time of death is about 5 seconds versus anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes with the lethal injection -- even when it's working right."

The Utah lawmaker says he agrees with Justice Breyer, who said in his dissenting opinion that it's a good time to begin a broader discussion about the death penalty.

(source: KUER news)


New Life For NV's Death Chamber And The Other 200 New Laws Taking Effect

Nevada has more than 80 inmates on death row at the Ely State Prison. These are men and women scheduled to die by lethal injection.

And the governor has signed into law a bill investing some $900,000 in a new death chamber.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius told KNPR's State of Nevada that even though there is no execution scheduled for the state the new death chamber will go forward.

The Department of Corrections successfully argued that every day they wait will cost the state more money.

That's just one new horizon facing Nevada. Wednesday, some 200 laws approved by the state Legislature go into force.



Prison Agreement Undercuts Hawaii Values on Death Penalty----2 Hawaii inmates on the mainland could be sentenced to death next year and be killed by a controversial means approved Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On its face, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday to allow the continued use of a specific, controversial form of lethal injection in death penalty cases wouldn't seem to have much to do with Hawaii. After all, Hawaii eliminated capital punishment 58 years ago - 2 years before it even became a state.

But 2 Hawaii inmates serving time in a for-profit Arizona prison will go to trial next year on charges they murdered a fellow inmate in that prison, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty for both. Because the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the use of a controversial drug that happens to be used in Arizona executions, the high court may have set the stage for Miti Maugaotea Jr. and Micah Kanahele to die from the effects of a drug whose use wouldn't even be a consideration in their home state.

The SCOTUS decision centered on the sedative midazolam, which is used in executions in Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky and, of course, Arizona and is under consideration by a handful of other states. Midazolam has been used in multiple cases where an execution went awry.

In Ohio, for instance, an inmate being executed last year "struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked for about 10 minutes" before succumbing, according to the Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution. A similarly difficult execution took place in Arizona last year, as well, with death significantly prolonged, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled Monday that the Oklahoma inmates who brought the case failed to make an effective case that midazolam might cause severe pain and failed to identify a preferable alternative method of execution.

The tension between the justices in announcing the hotly contested decision was so great that 2 dissenters - Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - came close to announcing they wanted to rule the death penalty unconstitutional, prompting bitter rejoinders from Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

"Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," Justice Breyer wrote in a detailed, 46-page dissent, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

That's the question that ought to have been answered in Monday's decision. The 8th Amendment bans "cruel and unusual punishment," and in 3 executions in which midazolam was used last year, the deaths were unusually long and obviously very painful. Allowing the continued use of a sedative that contributed to such outcomes represents an abdication of legal responsibility on the part of the majority and puts the righteous indignation of the court's minority in perspective.

'A Society Which Does Not Put People to Death'

Hawaii executed 75 people between 1897 and 1944, and the last execution, in which a Filipino was hung for killing a woman in a Kauai pineapple field, spurred Hawaii's territorial lawmakers to end the death penalty.

Part of the reason was that Hawaii disproportionately executed people of color - Filipinos, Japanese and Native Hawaiians. "According to an analysis of these executions published in the Hawaii Journal of History, 64 % of those put to death were either Hawaiian or Filipino. A total of 24 Hawaiians were killed and another 24 Filipinos were. Only a single Caucasian was executed," Civil Beat columnist Ian Lind wrote last year.

Since then, the death penalty has come up as a potential sentence in Hawaii only once. Last year, former Army soldier Naeem Williams was tried here for the beating death of his 5-year-old daughter. Because the case was heard in the federal court system, which does have the death penalty, Williams faced it as a possible sentence. He received life in prison instead.

In discussing that case last year with the Associated Press, University of Hawaii law professor Williamson Chang, a frequent Civil Beat contributor, described the death penalty as being at odds with the state's culture.

"We're used to a society which does not put people to death," he said. "It's a slap in the face to the values of Hawaii."

Chang may be right: Legislators have tried more than 15 times to reinstate the death penalty, according to DPIC, but each effort failed.

Was Death Part of the Incarceration Bargain?

The possibility that Hawaiians might be executed for crimes committed while incarcerated elsewhere might not be as unlikely as one would think. Mahina Uli Silva, for instance, was indicted for allegedly killing his cellmate in Arizona in 2010 and initially faced the death penalty. He later pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder.

In all, about 1,400 Hawaii prisoners are in out-of-state for-profit prison facilities run by Corrections Corporation of America in Arizona.

Kanehele and Maugaotea both face trial for the 2010 murder of another Hawaii prisoner, Bronson Nunuha. Trial is set for August of next year, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty, an official with the Pinal County (Arizona) Attorney's Office confirmed Tuesday.

The crimes that Kanehele and Maugaotea are accused of are horrific. Media accounts say their alleged victim was found stabbed 140 times, with the initials of Kanehele and Maugaotea's prison gang carved into his chest.

But both inmates are only incarcerated in Arizona because Hawaii found outsourcing its prison needs to CCA a more cost-effective option than building more prisons of its own. While they and others are there, are we comfortable with them being subject to the penalties of Arizona - even a punishment so singular and controversial that we took the highly uncommon step decades ago of outlawing its use in Hawaii?

Our decision in 1957 would suggest we are not. As Chang said last year, Hawaii is a society that does not put people to death, no matter how heinous their crimes. And as Justice Breyer wrote on Monday, the death penalty may well violate the very basis for our democracy - the U.S. Constitution.

If we believe in the values that we claimed in 1957, we're compelled to think hard about putting Hawaii inmates in facilities where further crimes might result in a penalty we never would have imposed ourselves.

It may be too late for Hawaii to save the unfortunate lives of Kanehele and Maugaotea, whose previous violations and alleged brutal murder of Bronson Nunuha have set in motion wheels of justice that may be beyond this state's control.

But if we really believe in the values that we claimed in 1957, we should think hard about putting Hawaii inmates in facilities where further crimes might result in a penalty we would never have imposed ourselves. Gov. David Ige, Attorney General Doug Chin and director of the Department of Public Safety Nolan Espinda should use Monday's controversial Supreme Court decision to examine anew our options under the agreement with CCA and determine whether punishment by death was intended to be part of the incarceration bargain.

Hawaii is 1 of 19 states plus the District of Columbia that either don't have the death penalty or don't have an enforceable death penalty statute. It's an appropriate point of pride for our state, and we should take steps to ensure that it doesn't deserve a troubling red asterisk.



There's nothing 'enlightened' about executing the innocent

If there was a bright spot in Monday's regrettable Supreme Court decision in Glossip v. Gross, it's that at least 2 current justices - Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - are open to the idea that the death penalty is unconstitutional. It seems at least possible that Sonia Sotomayor may move in that direction as well. Unfortunately, that bright spot was overwhelmed by opinions from Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. that indicate they are as adamant as ever about keeping capital punishment around, and, at least in the case of Thomas, open to expanding it to include juveniles, and for crimes other than murder.

As my colleague Mark Berman pointed out, there was an interesting and sad footnote to yesterday's decision. In his dissent, Breyer noted the case of Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man who spent 30 years on death row before he was finally exonerated and released. Ford died of lung cancer just hours before the Glossip decision was released. Despite his exoneration, Ford was never compensated for his wrongful conviction or for the unfathomable amount of time he spent not only locked up but also awaiting his execution. He was released just in time to succumb to lung cancer, all while fighting the state of Louisiana for recompense. The man who prosecuted Ford, Mark Stroud, has since apologized, asked Ford's forgiveness and declared the death penalty to be an "abomination" that "continues to scar the fibers of this society."

Of course, Ford isn't the only death-row inmate to be exonerated. There are more than 100 others, just since 1973. He isn't even the only one in Louisiana. In Orleans Parrish alone, during the reign of notorious District Attorney Harry Connick, four death-row inmates were exonerated, representing 11 % of the capital convictions during his tenure. Others were released without being granted full exonerations.

On the surface, yesterday's decision in Glossip was about the constitutionality of a specific drug now used in some states for lethal injections. But the case touched off a broader and contentious discussion among the justices about lethal injection and the death penalty in general. Scalia in particular wrote a scathing, abrasive opinion that mocks "abolitionists" and bizarrely concludes that in opposing capital punishment, Breyer and like opponents of the death penalty "oppose the Enlightenment."

Capital punishment presents moral questions that philosophers, theologians, and statesmen have grappled with for millennia. The Framers of our Constitution disagreed bitterly on the matter. For that reason, they handled it the same way they handled many other controversial issues: they left it to the People to decide. By arrogating to himself the power to overturn that decision, JUSTICE BREYER does not just reject the death penalty, he rejects the Enlightenment. Of course, lots of Enlightenment thinkers were well aware of the perils of subjecting basic rights to the whims of democracy. (Or as James Bovard once put it, "Democracy must be something more than 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.") The driving principle behind the Enlightenment was the rejection of blind deference to tradition and authority and instead embracing reason, individualism and empiricism. Both Scalia's and Alito's opinions are not only dismissive, they're also downright contemptuous of Breyer's use of data to show that the death penalty is unequally applied, racially biased and ineffective. They reject Breyer's long list of cases in which prosecutors and/or police were shown to have manufactured evidence, hidden exculpatory evidence and committed other egregious misconduct. Instead, they simply point out that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty for 40 years, so they aren't about to consider it now. Here, for example, is Scalia:

A vocal minority of the Court, waving over their heads a ream of the most recent abolitionist studies (a superabundant genre) as though they have discovered the lost folios of Shakespeare, insist that now, at long last, the death penalty must be abolished for good. Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible.

This is about as thorough a rejection of Enlightenment principles as one can imagine a Supreme Court justice articulating. It's a abrupt dismissal of empirical data (not even an attempt to grapple with it) in favor of an appeal to tradition.

The most compelling argument against the death penalty has always been innocence. Scalia undoubtedly knows this, which is why he over the years has attacked this argument by both insisting that it's extremely unlikely an innocent percent has ever been executed and that, even if it has happened, the execution wouldn't be unconstitutional so long as the innocent person was afforded due process. The latter argument doesn't tend to go over well. Most of us intuitively believe that if the right to due process means anything at all, it means you won't be executed for a crime you didn't commit. Or put another way, any system that not only allows an innocent person to be executed, but also is okay with it after the fact is, by definition, a system unconcerned with due process.

But Scalia's 1st claim is increasingly under fire, too. Several journalists - most notably David Grann in the New Yorker - have made a compelling case for the innocence of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by Texas in 2004. The sheer volume of DNA exonerations of death-row inmates suggests that there are serious flaws in how we try these cases. Common sense suggests that these same flaws also exist in cases for which DNA isn't a factor and therefore doesn't provide a safety net for wrongful convictions.

Scalia's vituperative opinion in Thursday's lethal-injection case is particularly brazen given the case of Henry Lee McCollum. In the February 1994 case Callins v. Collins, Justice Harry Blackmun famously announced in his opinion that he was fundamentally opposed to the death penalty and that "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." In a concurring opinion, Scalia mocked Blackmun, and in doing so invoked McCollum.

Justice Blackmun begins his statement by describing with poignancy the death of a convicted murderer by lethal injection. He chooses, as the case in which to make that statement, one of the less brutal of the murders that regularly come before us - the murder of a man ripped by a bullet suddenly and unexpectedly, with no opportunity to prepare himself and his affairs, and left to bleed to death on the floor of a tavern. The death by injection which Justice Blackmun describes looks pretty desirable next to that. It looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional - for example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by 4 men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. See McCollum v. North Carolina, No. 93-7200, cert. now pending before the Court. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that! If the people conclude that such more brutal deaths may be deterred by capital punishment; indeed, if they merely conclude that justice requires such brutal deaths to be avenged by capital punishment; the creation of false, untextual and unhistorical contradictions within "the Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence" should not prevent them. Later that year, the court rejected McCollum's petition. The passage above is a common tactic with the Supreme Court's death penalty hawks - they'll counter data about innocence, bias and arbitrariness with descriptions of particularly brutal crimes. It's a response to data-driven arguments with an appeal to emotion.

Henry McCollum was not only Scalia's figurative poster case for lethal injection, he became the literal poster case, too. In 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party distributed a flier with McCollum's picture in an effort to depict longtime state Rep. Hugh Holliman as "soft on crime." It worked. Holliman lost to Republican Rayne Brown.

Last year, DNA testing exonerated McCollum of the crime for which he was convicted. He spent more than 30 years on death row, including more than 20 after Scalia declared him the prime example of the justness of the lethal injection. Breyer mentioned the McCollum case is in his dissent yesterday but was kind enough not to mention Scalia's embarrassing history with the case. For his part, Scalia seems unchastened for having advocated for the execution of a man who was likely innocent.

I've recently been reading about another case that I think underscores why Scalia's opinion yesterday was so misguided. In 1997, the state of Texas executed David Wade Spence for the 1982 murders of 3 teenagers near Lake Waco, Tex. The case is incredibly bizarre, convoluted and outrageous, and I can't possibly do justice to it in a blog post. For the thorough narrative of what happened, I recommend this 2014 investigation in Texas Monthly by Michael Hall. It's a stunning piece of journalism, meticulously reconstructing a story that has been unfolding for more than 3 decades. But here's a quick summary:

Spence and 3 other men were convicted for the murders despite the fact that no witnesses saw them near where the bodies were found. Other suspects were seen, including some with violent criminal records. But a local deputy named Truman Simons got a hunch that a Jordanian immigrant convenience store owner named Muneer Mohammad Deeb hired Spence and brothers Anthony and Gilbert Melendez to murder a teen girl named Gayle Kelley. Under Simons' theory, Spence and the Melendez brothers mistook victim Jill Montgomery for Kelley, killed her, then killed the 2 teens who were with her because they were witnesses. The evidence against Spence was sparse. There was no hair or blood evidence to link him to the crime. There were no eyewitnesses. At first, the case consisted only of statements from other inmates who claimed he had confessed to them. Some of those inmates later recanted their statements, and some later revealed that they gave their statements in exchange for leniency on their own charges, or for privileges like conjugal visits. The jailhouse snitch testimony alone wasn't enough to persuade prosecutors to charge Spence at the time. It wasn't until an assistant DA was able to get 1 more piece of evidence that the DA moved forward. From Hall's piece:

It was April 1983; in a few months, the local media would mark the 1-year anniversary of the murders, and yet the investigation was still floundering. Then Simons got a surprise visit from Ned Butler, an assistant DA who had recently been hired to try capital cases. He gave Simons a cryptic message: soon, Butler said, he'd be able to tell the deputy whether his theory that Spence had killed the teenagers was correct.

Butler, it turned out, was a big believer in forensic odontology, or the study of bite marks. He'd made use of the discipline 2 years earlier to help solve a violent Amarillo murder in which the killer had bitten his victim. When Butler first saw the lake murders file, he immediately asked Salinas if they'd checked the bodies for bite marks. After studying the autopsy photos himself, he determined that several of the wounds on the girls' bodies did, in fact, look as if they'd been made by human teeth. He had a mold taken of Spence's teeth, then personally delivered it and the photos to Homer Campbell, a forensic odontologist in Albuquerque who had helped solve the Amarillo case. Within days, Butler got remarkable news: Campbell was certain that Spence's teeth had made the marks.

I wrote a bit about Homer Campbell in my February series on bite mark analysis.

[I]n 1978 . . . the Arizona Supreme Court heard arguments to overturn a conviction based on bite mark testimony from Homer Campbell Jr., a ABFO-certified forensic odontologist. Campbell told the jury that that the odds of anyone other than the defendant leaving the marks he found on the victim's breast were "8 on 1 million." On cross examination, Campbell conceded that he didn't compute those odds personally. Rather, they were a rough estimate of his memory of "articles written in the journals of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences." In truth, there was no scientific basis for his estimation whatsoever. The court nevertheless found his testimony admissible, and upheld the conviction.

Despite the complete lack of scientific research to verify his methods, Campbell went on to become a renowned and sought-after expert witness. He would later serve as president of the American Board of Forensic Odontologists. He worked with the FBI. By the time of Spence's trial he had testified as an expert witness in at least 12 states.

Campbell's testimony was critical in winning and preserving both Spence's conviction and his death sentence. From Hall's description of the trial:

But the state's case was entirely circumstantial until Campbell, the bite-mark expert, took the stand. Using electronically enhanced autopsy photos, the odontologist testified that Spence was "the only individual" to a "reasonable medical and dental certainty" who could have bitten the women. Hunt and Fuller promptly called their own expert, who said the quality of the photos was too poor to make a valid comparison. However, though he couldn't say Spence was the biter, he also couldn't exclude him. (The medical examiner said she had not recognized the bite marks at the autopsy, but she was now certain that some of the victims' wounds had a pattern that suggested teeth.) Campbell's words had a distinct impact. "We had life-size pictures of the marks and a cast of [Spence's] teeth brought into the jury room," remembered 1 juror afterward. "The testimony - 'everyone's bite mark is different, like a fingerprint' - was very convincing."

Today, even advocates for bite mark analysis eschew such comparisons to fingerprinting. (And even claims about the uniqueness of fingerprints are being questioned.) But there was particular reason to be suspect of Homer Campbell. Again from Hall's article:

[I]n August 1984, just 2 months after Campbell had testified against Spence, he made a mistake that called his expertise into question: he positively identified the remains of a woman alongside a highway in Arizona as those of a missing Florida teenager by comparing the dead woman's teeth with an enhanced photo of the teenager's teeth. "They matched exactly," Campbell told a reporter. 2 years later, the teenager turned up alive.

In 1993, Spence's lawyers cast further doubt on Campbell's testimony.

Krauss, the odontology expert that Schonemann and Owen hired for their first writs, had suggested back in 1991 that the [Spence's attorneys] set up a blind panel of odontologists and do a 2-part study: analyze the autopsy photographs for marks, then compare the marks with dental molds from Spence and 4 other subjects. Now Driggs asked Krauss to set up the study. Krauss did, choosing 5 experts around the country. He sent them molds and 5-by-7 autopsy photos, refusing to enhance the images as Campbell had done because, according to other experts, doing so could produce false or misleading results.

The results, as they came in, proved astonishing. Though the experts identified several patterns that were possibly bite marks, they couldn't go much further. One said the photos were of such poor quality that he refused to compare them against the molds. A 2nd wrote that the marks were "more likely than not made by insects or artifacts." If the purpose of the exercise, he continued, was to match these marks to a set of teeth, "it borders on the unbelievable." A 3rd thought that some contusions on one body were "probable human bite marks," but he couldn't match any of the molds to them. 2 others did match a mark to one of the molds, but it was not Spence's. It belonged to a housewife from Phillipsburg, Kansas.

Beginning in the early 1990s, the state's case against Spence began to fall apart. Muneer Deeb was eventually given a new trial due to the unreliability of the evidence against him. In 1993, 10 years after his conviction, a jury acquitted him. He was set free.

But of course the law doesn't require separate jury verdicts to be consistent. So even though the man who allegedly hired him to commit the murders had been acquitted, Spence was still condemned to die. Some of the jailhouse informants who testified against Spence then began to recant as well. The Melendez brothers, who had previously confessed and testified against Spence, retracted their confessions, claiming that they had been pressured and that they confessed to avoid the death penalty. Several officers involved in the initial investigation also began to question the conviction. A local millionaire named Brian Pardo - who described himself as a Republican and a death penalty advocate - took up Spence's cause and funded a separate investigation into his conviction. That investigation uncovered yet more troubling behavior by police and prosecutors. Spence's case later attracted the attention of "Dateline" and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

Little of this mattered. Spence was still executed in April 1997. He was executed mostly because of Homer Campbell. In rejecting one of Spence's last-ditch petitions, 1 Texas appeals court explained that, "[O]ur research has not yet led us to a reported case where bite mark evidence has been ruled not to be admissible evidence." Or because other courts had admitted bite mark evidence, it would admit it, too. In March 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Spence's conviction on similar grounds. Judge Edith Jones's opinion cited the strength of the bite mark evidence and rejected Spence's challenges of its validity. From the opinion:

. . .the State's forensic odontological expert concluded that the bite marks on Jill's and Raylene's bodies were inflicted by Spence. Even Spence's rebuttal expert in this field could not rule out the possibility that Spence's teeth caused the wounds, although he believed there was too little evidence to support a firm conclusion.

. . . Spence's argument that Dr. Campbell had misidentified the remains of another woman likewise does not expose his testimony against Spence as false.

Spence is simply trying to relitigate this aspect of his defense 11 years too late. At trial, Spence introduced his own forensic odontologist, Dr. Gerald Vale, a leading expert in the field. Dr. Vale spiritedly criticized Dr. Campbell's methodology and conclusions, although, critically, Dr. Vale admitted he could not rule out Spence's teeth as the source of the bite marks. Because this evidentiary issue was fully and competently aired in the state courts, no violation of fundamental fairness under the due process clause has been shown.

The court also rejected the blind test Spence's lawyers had given the other bite mark analysts, apparently because the attorneys were late in filing the results.

Spence argues that the federal district court erred in excluding reports from 5 other expert odontologists who concluded that Dr. Campbell's testimony was unreliable. But because Spence filed these reports after the district court's discovery deadline, without explanation for his untimely filing, the district court did not abuse his discretion in refusing to admit the reports.

Finally, Spence's attorneys had proposed alternate theory that the teens had been killed in a drug deal gone bad. The prosecution countered that theory by introducing bite mark testimony that excluded the suspected drug dealer as the teens' killer. The trial court allowed that testimony, a decision that a federal district court upheld. The federal appeals court then upheld the district court, and included this quote from the opinion:

[t]here is, however, unanimous agreement in the field of scientific odontology that if even one point of dissimilarity is found between the suspect's dentition and the bite mark, it may be said with certainty that the suspect did not make the bite mark. Thus, that suspect may be eliminated.

The problem, of course, is that though there may be "unanimous agreement" within the field of odontology about dissimilarities between a suspect's teeth and a bite mark, the field of odontology itself has come under fire from the broader scientific community. And in this particular case, there was far from unanimous agreement among the odontologists consulted by Spence's attorneys that the marks found during the autopsy were even human bite marks.

Nearly 20 years after Spence was executed, Campbell's credibility took yet another hit - this time due to a truly bizarre series of events. About a year after the Lake Waco murders, Spence's mother was raped and murdered in her home. Hours after the crime, someone then broke into the home again and rifled through some boxes and papers in Spence's old room. Spence's mother had recently begun her own investigation into her son's conviction. Some, including a local police officer named Jan Price, believed the crimes may have been connected. But Simons and the local DA quickly took over the case. And again they brought in Homer Campbell. He claimed to have found bite marks on Spence's mother that were "consistent with" a man named Joe Sydney Williams. In 1987, thanks to Campbell's testimony, Williams and his friend Calvin Washington were convicted of raping and murdering Spence's mother. Neither had a direct connection to the Lake Waco murders.

There was no real DNA testing back in 1987. And the semen samples in the rape kit taken of Spence's mother mysteriously disappeared. But a journalist later discovered that vaginal and anal swabs had been taken and preserved in a crime lab. In 2000, DNA tests on those swabs excluded both Williams and Washington as her rapist. Both men were released from prison.

Within about a year of his testimony against Spence, then, Homer Campbell had both mistakenly identified a corpse as a woman who was still living and mistakenly matched bite marks to a murder suspect, resulting in the wrongful conviction and 13-year imprisonment of 2 innocent men. And yet if all this happened again today, it's a near-certainty his or similar testimony would have been allowed.

This is why the execution of David Wayne Spence is so relevant to Justice Scalia's concurring opinion in Glossip. Bite mark evidence has been roundly criticized by the National Academy of Sciences. Competency tests have found over and over again that bite mark analysis lacks the predictability, peer verification and objectivity to be a bona-fide science, including a recent test administered by the leading advocacy group for bite mark analysts. Another series of tests have found no scientific evidence to support the fundamental underlying assumption of bite mark analysis about the uniqueness of human dentition and the ability of human skin to preserve bites in a useful way. To date, at least 2 dozen people wrongly arrested or convicted due to bite mark analysis have been exonerated, including 4 who had been sentenced to death - and that's not including David Wayne Spence. Currently, there are at least 2 men awaiting execution who were convicted primarily because of bite mark analysis.

And yet as of today, no court in the United States has ruled bite mark evidence inadmissible. Homer Campbell died with his reputation intact, and his fellow bite mark analysts have continued to testify in courts all across America.

Scalia might call the courts' slavish devotion to precedent in the face of a growing mountain of evidence about bite mark analysis an important legal tradition. He might call the Fifth Circuit's willingness to allow the execution of a man for a crime he likely didn't commit because his attorneys didn't file the results of their study by a prosecutor's deadline a necessary adherence to the rules. He might argue that because all the proper rules and procedures were followed, the execution of David Wayne Spence because of a man now known to be a fraud gave testimony now known to be scientifically unsound was not a violation of Spence's constitutional rights. He may make a similar claim about the pending executions of Eddie Lee Howard and Jimmie Duncan.

Scalia can claim all of these things. But what he can't claim - at least not convincingly - is that any of this is enlightened.

(source: Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post.)


Last Words for the Death Penalty

Monday, the Supreme Court Justices delivered their oral opinion summaries in the Term's high-profile death penalty decision, Glossip v. Gross. Rather than reading from his concurring opinion or from a prepared statement, Justice Antonin Scalia -- still frazzled from release of the same-sex marriage cases -- appeared to be improvising. He accused Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of expressing personal "policy preferences," and added that the "2 justices are willing to kill the death penalty outright rather than just pecking it to death." Why the defensiveness and outrage?

Glossip was a 5-4 victory for death penalty states, which retained leeway to use new and untested lethal-injection "cocktails." Scalia was part of the majority but he sounded strangely like he was uttering last words. Justice Samuel Alito's presentation of the majority opinion was also unusually defensive and hostile to the dissenters. Justice Alito insists it is "settled that the death penalty is constitutional." In a career-defining dissent, Justice Breyer showed just how unsettled the American death penalty remains.

The precise legal question in Glossip was whether states could use midazolam as the anesthetic in a three-drug legal-injection cocktail. For years, states used sodium thiopental, until suppliers stopped selling it for use in executions. Many states turned to pentobarbital, which also became difficult to obtain. Oklahoma turned to midazolam, considered more of an anti-anxiety medication than an anesthetic. After several "botched" executions, the Supreme Court agreed to hear whether improvements to Oklahoma's cocktail -- including a 400 percent increase the midazolam dosage -- satisfied the Eighth Amendment. Holding that it did, the Court seemed to announce a rule that an execution could not be Cruel and Unusual under the Eighth Amendment unless there is a "known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain." Justice Sotomayor dissented, calling this a "surreal" endorsement of inhumane "human experimentation."

Justice Breyer did more. Joined by Justice Ginsburg, he wrote a dissent arguing that the death penalty is flat out unconstitutional, and he characteristically loaded his opinion with empirical data. In doing so, Breyer and Ginsburg joined the ranks of predecessors such as John Paul Stevens and Harry Blackmun who, in their later years on the Court, declared they no longer believed that there exists a constitutional way to administer capital sentences. In 1994, an 85 year-old Blackmun penned a memorable single-Justice dissent swearing off his participation in capital process: "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." For Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, the death penalty cannot escape a dilemma's horns -- the procedural protections necessary to make the penalty reliable mean that the process takes so long that it no longer serves its retributive or deterrent purposes.

For the 1st time in recent memory, the threat sensed by death-penalty supporters is palpable. Capital sentencing and execution rates have been slowing considerably for a decade. Texas -- Texas -- has not sentenced a single person to death in 2015. Virginia, which executed the second highest number of prisoners in the modern death penalty era (since 1976), has not imposed a death sentence in over 2 years. Justice Breyer noted that seven states have abolished the death penalty in recent years, and that others have come to the brink of doing so. Justice Breyer described how even, in states such as Texas and Virginia that retain the death penalty, a small number of outlier counties still account for most capital sentences.

Public opinion has shifted dramatically. Justice Breyer notes that a majority of Americans would prefer to punish the worst of the worst by imposing life without parole over the death penalty. Innocence is playing a role. Cases with false confessions, lying informants, shoddy forensics and eyewitness misidentifications have led to a remarkable surge in exonerations, including over 140 from death row. Had the Court not ordered further hearings for exoneree Anthony Ray Hinton, he might have been wrongly executed because of flawed forensic evidence. Last year and after he spent 30 years on death row, DNA tests exonerated Henry Lee McCollum, whom Justice Scalia long used as the poster-child for why we need the death penalty. Yet the same proceedings that so often bring miscarriages of justice to light result in enormous delays in carrying out death sentences.

Whatever Glossip's formal holding, the body language of the Justices suggests that the death penalty is in a precarious position. The younger Justices appointed by Democratic presidents -- Sotomayor and Kagan -- did not join Justice Breyer's dissent, but the smart money is that they would vote with their senior colleagues if presented with the opportunity to strike the penalty down. With four likely votes to invalidate capital punishment, the fate of the institution may rest with Anthony Kennedy. That scenario cannot make the Court's conservative bloc comfortable, particularly after the last week. Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion and on the ground, the death penalty is clearly losing support as each year passes.

(source: Brandon L. Garrett, Professor of Law, University of Virginia----Huffington Post)


What Justice Breyer's Dissent on Lethal Injection Showed About the Death Penalty's Defenders

Just after 2 a.m. on Monday, June 29 - some 7 hours before the U.S. Supreme Court would reject the latest challenge to the death penalty in Glossip v. Gross - former death row prisoner Glenn Ford died in Louisiana. Ford, 65, left prison with stage four lung cancer in 2014, after spending almost 30 years facing execution for a crime he did not commit. Upon releasing him, the state gave Ford a $20 debit card and sent him on his way.

Ford sought redress for his lost decades under the state's compensation law, only to be told that Louisiana owed him nothing. Despite the fact that Ford had been exonerated, the state attorney general said that under "the law as written," he was not "factually innocent." The "same set of facts" that sent him to death row for murder, the state insisted, connected him to the crime in other ways, thus disqualifying him from any financial award. Ford fought the state while fighting for his life, but the cancer, which had gone untreated in prison, prevailed in the end. 15 months after leaving prison, Ford died in his bed, surrounded by volunteers who had raised money online for his hospice care.

There was little reason to expect Glenn Ford's name to appear in the Supreme Court's ruling in Glossip. The case came out of a different state, Oklahoma, and focused on a particular contested drug within a specific (and not widely used) lethal injection protocol. In its 5-4 decision Monday, the Court concluded that this drug, midazolam, despite being linked to a number of botched executions, did not violate prisoners' Eighth Amendment rights, because there was insufficient proof its use would necessarily put them at risk of an agonizing death. (The drug, a benzodiazepine, was chosen to replace barbiturates previously used as an anesthetic during lethal injection - for more, see my earlier coverage of Glossip here.)

But in an unusual and impassioned dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer read Glenn Ford's name from the bench to illustrate why, putting particular execution protocols aside, the time has come to reconsider the death penalty altogether. "Last year, in 2014, 6 death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence," Breyer wrote. "All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years." In Ford's case, he said, citing a remarkable mea culpa published by the Shreveport Times, "the prosecutor admitted that even '[a]t the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford." This same prosecutor, Breyer noted, admitted that "at the time of Ford's conviction, he was 'not as interested in justice as [he] was in winning.'"

That the United States sends innocent people to die was only one part of Breyer's wide-ranging dissent. 40 pages long and rife with data and documentation, it strayed from the constitutional question of lethal injection to attack the death penalty from every angle - from the "dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement" (one thing that makes it cruel), to the ever-dwindling number of jurisdictions that continue to apply it (which makes it unusual). The conclusion was inescapable. More than 20 years after Justice Harry Blackmun ended his Supreme Court tenure with his famed declaration that "I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," Justice Breyer struck a similar, if less eloquent chord. After 2 decades on the bench, he said, he now believes "that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited 'cruel and unusual punishmen[t].'"

Breyer's dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was openly mocked by his conservative colleagues. Antonin Scalia called it "gobbledygook." Experts and the media reported it as noteworthy, but for the purpose of Glossip, largely beside the point. Indeed, for all the damning evidence it contained showing that the death penalty should be constitutionally intolerable, in practical terms, it will do nothing to prevent states from moving forward with executions.

Yet Breyer's intervention was important in other ways. The dissent is, on its own, a powerful indictment of the death penalty as it stands in 2015 - plagued by racial bias, official misconduct, and enormous room for error. But especially when placed alongside Glossip's flimsy majority opinion, which showed undue deference to a state that has recently tortured prisoners to death, it is a document that exposes just how much cruelty and injustice death penalty supporters must tolerate in order to defend its continued existence. Like states that have hastily adopted dubious new drugs to carry out executions by any means necessary, the Court's ruling in Glossip was the logic of a system committed to preserving the death penalty at all costs, no matter how shaky the rationale.

When it comes to executions, this is nothing new. The Supreme Court has always found ways to uphold state killing methods as constitutional, from the firing squad to the electric chair - a fact Justice Samuel Alito, in authoring the majority opinion, bluntly presented as itself a reason to do the same this time around.

But the impact of Glossip is particularly devastating in a couple of ways. Not only did the Supreme Court uphold a new ad hoc lethal injection protocol as flawed and unscientific as any that came before it, it declared that, going forward, prisoners have no right to challenge a method of execution unless they can point to a viable alternative - a better way for the state to kill them. This "surreal requirement," in the words of dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor, comes at a time when numerous death penalty states have passed laws declaring any information about their execution methods to be secret. Prisoners rightly concerned that the state plans to kill them using unreliable drugs thus cannot actually prove that the drugs are unreliable - a good way to foreclose on future legal challenges to executions.

There is another other tragically backwards result in Glossip. Lethal injection was originally devised to work in three parts: the 1st drug was supposed to anesthetize the prisoner, while the 2nd drug, a paralytic agent, kept him or her frozen in place. And the 3rd, potassium chloride, stopped the heart. It was a combination designed to makes executions look more humane on the surface - the paralytic, commonly pancoronium bromide, served no other purpose except to block any of the physical signs one would commonly expect from a person being murdered. But the insidious effect of the drug was also to mask any evidence that an execution might be going wrong, meaning that, on occasions where the anesthetic did not kick in, prisoners died agonizing deaths - akin to being burned alive - while unable to show signs they were suffering.

If there was anything positive about the drug shortages that followed the Court's 2008 ruling in Baze v. Rees - which precipitated the recent wave of human experimentation using new combinations of lethal injection drugs - it was that they led most states to abandon use of the paralytic agent. But now, having debated the dubious merits of midazolam as an anesthetic, while spending no time discussing the paralytic, the Supreme Court has once more upheld this 3-part design. With the Court's green light, states will inevitably seek to adopt this method. As they do, and as they pair the paralytic with unreliable drugs acquired in secret, Americans can expect more botched executions. What we don't know is whether we will be able to tell the difference.

From the day it was argued on April 29, the 1-year anniversary of the harrowing execution of Clayton Lockett - a man who writhed and moaned on the gurney as Oklahoma tortured him to death - Glossip embodied the farce of trying to defend lethal injection as a humane, more enlightened way to kill people. At the Court that morning, there was much talk of dosage rates and ceiling effects and GABA receptors - the language of biology and medical science.

Yet there was little to conceal the fact that it was ultimately a debate among lawyers, one that amounted to absurd speculation masquerading as a serious inquiry. No one could explain away the fact that midazolam is primarily an anti-anxiety medication, used to treat insomnia, or employed as a sedative for minor operations. An amicus brief submitted by 16 professors of pharmacology warned that midazolam "is incapable of rendering an inmate unconscious" for the purpose of a humane execution. The medical expertise Oklahoma offered to the contrary came from a man who had based his research in part on ideas gleaned from the website, which warns it is "not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment."

Even the tale told by Oklahoma about why midazolam had been adopted in the first place turned out to be false - after oral arguments, Buzzfeed revealed that the state attorney general blatantly lied in its brief when it claimed that it changed its protocol only after a pharmacy refused to supply it with a different drug. This lie was not insignificant: Scalia and Alito made clear that abolitionists are to blame for the fact that states cannot carry out executions as they used to, because of the pressure they have put on pharmaceutical companies not to supply drugs for this purpose. This perspective underwrites the spiteful opinion in Glossip: If states are resorting to imperfect substitutes, it is only because activists have left them no choice.

In Glossip, a determination to preserve the death penalty has once more trumped the Court's ostensible obligation to the Eighth Amendment. In the universe of the Supreme Court, "it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional," Alito wrote, thus, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." Midazolam may have been chosen for its availability rather than its efficacy. But if it's good enough for the state of Oklahoma, it is good enough for the Court. Meanwhile, in this same universe, Breyer's evidence-based dissent is a voice in the wilderness - "a white paper devoid of any meaningful legal argument," in Scalia's scornful estimation - and names like Glenn Ford are mere footnotes; collateral damage in a callous system we keep calling justice, because "the law as written" has always said that it is.



Legalized Torture: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Cruel Lethal Injections

The support of readers like you got this story published - and helps Truthout stay free from corporate advertising. Can you sustain our work with a tax-deductible donation today?

The question of whether we, as a nation, should have the death penalty is often framed around whether or not a particular defendant deserves to die. As prominent scholars in this field have pointed out, the real question may be: Do we, as a society, deserve to kill? Does our collective commitment to equity, justice, accuracy and understanding allow for the imposition of the ultimate punishment for which there can be no margin of error? Or, instead, are we willing to tolerate a system that is inevitably influenced by race and poverty and cling to the archaic use of excess punishment and legalized vengeance instead of providing those in need with services and rehabilitation?

In the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on June 29 to uphold the use of a questionable execution protocol in Oklahoma, virtually all of the justices in the majority and concurring opinions referenced the question of whether the defendant deserved to die (reaching varied conclusions). However, the Court's rendered opinion in Glossip v. Gross also makes clearer than ever before that we, as a society, do not deserve to kill.

The issue in Glossip centers on the use of a relatively new protocol in executions: the administration of 500 milligrams of midazolam, a sedative, followed by a 2nd and 3rd drug intended to kill. The use of midazolam became necessary after drug companies refused to provide sodium thiopental and pentobarbital (chemicals previously used in lethal injection procedures) to correctional facilities seeking to use those chemicals in executions.

In Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, 3 prisoners were visibly tortured to death with midazolam, as they gasped and writhed in apparent pain for between 10 minutes and 2 hours. The Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett was aborted midway through when it was clear that he was not dying in the manner envisioned by the state. This sparked renewed outcry in the continuing debate about whether it is possible to carry out executions in a manner consistent with the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment. Contending that midazolam would not reliably render them unable to feel pain, Oklahoma death row prisoners filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent scheduled and future executions.

Yet rather than confront the torturous nature in which these civilians were put to death, the majority and concurring opinions in the Glossip case blame death penalty abolitionists for the absence of the drugs that are (at least arguably) medically suitable for this purpose.

The crux of the majority opinion is that because the death penalty is constitutional, there must be a constitutional way to carry it out, and because there must be a constitutional way to carry it out and the petitioners cannot offer another available option, this one is good enough.

As Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues in her pointed dissent, the majority's insistence on placing the burden of an adequate alternative on the petitioners leads to absurd and tragic consequences: "Petitioners contend that Oklahoma's current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment - the chemical equivalent of being burned alive ... But under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly trotted to death or actually burned at the stake."

Justice Stephen Breyer, also in dissent, asks whether, given what we now know, there can be any constitutional means to execute a human being.

Together with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer moves beyond the relatively narrow examination of the use of midazolam in executions, to all but conclude that regardless of the specific chemicals used, a civilized and enlightened society cannot engage in the legal murder of its citizens. Breyer bases his dissent on data pertaining to the exonerations of innocent individuals on death row, the psychological consequences of awaiting a state-sanctioned sentence of death, and the arbitrary nature in which the death penalty is often imposed. He also cites disparities in the implementation of the death penalty across racial, geographical and poverty lines.

The ultimate question - of whether we, as a society, deserve to render death as a punishment - is answered not only by the minority of justices who addressed it directly, but also by the troubling analysis of the majority. In ignoring virtually all of the deep moral questions that surround the death penalty, including the very basic question of whether states can subject their citizens to untested torture, the majority's flawed opinion underscores this fundamental point: Neither they nor we can morally decide whether and when to take the life of another in state-sanctioned executions.



Death and Medicine: Why Lethal Injection Is Getting Harder

A controversial drug used in lethal injections will not be banned for use in the death penalty in the United States. A Supreme Court decision yesterday (June 29) found that the sedative had not been proven more "cruel and unusual" than the alternatives.

The drug, midazolam, is just the latest to fall under scrutiny as more and more of the drugs used in the death penalty become unavailable, pulled from sale to prisons by manufacturers who don't want their products associated with execution. As a result, corrections facilities have been facing shortages of lethal injection drugs for years.

Improvising on the fly, prisons have tried various drug cocktails, botching some executions in the process. In January in Ohio, for example, condemned murderer Dennis B. McGuire gasped and choked for 25 minutes before expiring. Midazolam was used in that execution. The same drug was used in an execution in August 2014 in Arizona in which the condemned took almost two hours to die.

Supply and demand

In comments sections on articles about these drawn-out spectacles, one question comes up again and again: Why is it so hard to kill someone via lethal injection? After all, veterinarians manage to euthanize pets rapidly every day, with minimal discomfort. Why aren't those drugs used in executions?

Prison officials think the same way. The problem, however, is not that these drugs can't be used on humans, for the most part. It's with supply. Nearly every drug that prison officials turn to for lethal injections has been restricted from that use by manufacturers.

Traditionally, lethal injections have used a three-drug cocktail: sodium thiopental for sedation, pancuronium bromide to paralyze the muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart. In 2011, however, Hospira Pharmaceuticals, the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, stopped making the drug because of its use in executions. That same year, the European Union banned the export of sodium thiopental as well as other barbiturate drugs used in executions, ruling that companies had to ensure any exports would not be used for lethal injections.

Pentobarbital, the barbiturate often used in animal euthanasia, was covered under the ban. (The drug is also used in physician-assisted suicides in the Netherlands and in Oregon.) 14 states have used the drug in executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against capital punishment. But supplies of the drug are limited. Some states, including Texas, have turned to anonymous compounding pharmacies, which custom-make medications, to get the drug.

Another common drug used both in human anesthesia and in veterinary medicine is propofol, which is not a barbiturate. Missouri planned to use this drug in lethal injections, but the EU threatened to end exports to the United States, and the state's plan was scrapped.

First, do no harm

The supply problem highlights a long-standing issue with the medicalization of the death penalty: Doctors are not, generally speaking, on board. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposes physician involvement in capital punishment, as does the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA).

"Patients should never confuse the death chamber with the operating room, lethal doses of execution drugs with anesthetic drugs, or the executioner with the anesthesiologist," J. Jeffrey Andrews, the secretary of the ABA, wrote in a commentary in May 2014. "Physicians should not be expected to act in ways that violate the ethics of medical practice, even if these acts are legal. Anesthesiologists are healers, not executioners."

While prisons can often find physicians to preside over executions, the involvement of the medical profession in executions does not always proceed smoothly. In 2006, executions in California halted when two anesthesiologists resigned from participation in the execution of Michael Morales. They quit after finding out that they would be expected to intervene directly if the execution procedure went wrong.

"The Morales case unearthed a nagging paradox. The people most knowledgeable about the process of lethal injection - doctors, particularly anesthesiologists - are often reluctant to impart their insights and skills," wrote Deborah Denno, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law, in a 2007 paper on medicine and the death penalty.

A doctor was presiding over the June 2014 execution of Clayton D. Lockett, who died of heart failure 43 minutes after Oklahoma prison officials began his execution. But a medical technician was doing the actual procedure. Witnesses reported that it took nearly an hour of poking and prodding before the technician gave up on setting a catheter in Lockett's arms, legs or feet, and instead tried to place a line through the femoral artery. An independent autopsy commissioned by the condemned man's lawyers found that the line was not placed properly, perhaps explaining why Lockett appeared to wake up after the 1st sedative drug was injected.

Execution alternatives

The Supreme Court's pass on midazolam may be moot. In February, a major manufacturer of the sedative told the Anniston Star newspaper of Anniston, Alabama, that it disapproved of the use of its drug in executions and would not sell midazolam to the prison system or to middlemen who sell to prison officials. The paper reported that of eight other companies that make the drug, at least 6 have policies in place to prevent the substance's use in executions.

If botched executions and drug shortages continue, the future of capital punishment is unclear. Tennessee allows the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs run out; Utah allows the firing squad. Starting in November, Oklahoma will use nitrogen gas asphyxiation as its backup method. This method works by displacing oxygen in the lungs, causing rapid unconsciousness and then death. Nitrogen inhalation has never been used as an execution method, but scuba divers exposed to excess nitrogen while diving often report feeling giddy.

Electrocution was originally devised as a humane approach to hanging, but after executions that required multiple jolts of electricity and occasionally resulted in flames and smoke, the method fell out of favor. Nebraska, the last state to use the electric chair as its only method of execution, declared electrocution unconstitutional in 2008. Some states allow inmates to choose this method of death; the last to do so was Robert Charles Gleason, Jr., executed in Virginia in January 2013.

Utah banned death by firing squad in 2004, though 1 inmate, Ronnie Lee Gardner, died that way, in 2010. Gardner was sentenced before the ban, and thus was allowed to choose the firing squad as his method of death. In March 2015, however, Utah reinstated the firing squad in the event that lethal injection drugs become unavailable.



One Step on the Road to the End of the Death Penalty

Slowly but steadily, America is losing its taste for the death penalty. Yesterday's Supreme Court dissent by Stephen Breyer may go down as a landmark on America's path to the death penalty's inevitable abolition.

In yesterday's death penalty case, Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 vote that Oklahoma's use of the lethal injection drug midazolam does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, despite some gruesome examples to the contrary. (The plaintiff in the case, death row inmate Richard Glossip, wrote us a letter about his case, which can be seen here.)

That the court swung conservatively is unremarkable, given its makeup and general tendency to follow rather than to lead social conscience. What was remarkable, though, was Stephen Breyer's dissent, which amounted to a strong and full-throated rejection of the idea that the death penalty can be administered in a just way. He bases his rejection not upon pure ideology, but upon evidence accumulated over 40 years of American history:

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today's administration of the death penalty involves 3 fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use... it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited "cruel and unusual punishmen[t]."

Breyer cites "convincing evidence" that "innocent people have been executed" - an idea once held up in an abstract way as something that would surely give America pause over the death penalty, but which in fact seems to have changed few minds in and of itself. He also cites the dozens of exonerations of people who had been sentenced to death, widespread flawed forensic testimony in capital cases, and statistical analysis pointing to a significant percentage of innocent people on death row as things that "suggest a serious problem of reliability."

Yes, to say the least.

Breyer says the death penalty is clearly imposed in a manner arbitrary enough to render it unconstitutional. "[Studies] indicate that the factors that most clearly ought to affect application of the death penalty - namely, comparative egregiousness of the crime - often do not, " he writes. "Other studies show that circumstances that ought not to affect application of the death penalty, such as race, gender, or geography, often do. ' And he turns to his own experience reviewing death penalty appeals for decades, which strike him as having no solid rationale which distinguishes a person sentenced to die from one who is not:

The question raised by these examples (and the many more I could give but do not), as well as by the research to which I have referred, is the same question Justice Stewart, Justice Powell, and others raised over the course of several decades: The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant's perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?

An honest reading of the evidence contained in Breyer's dissent leaves little room for rejecting his conclusion: that the death penalty is both unconstitutional, and unjust. Even if you believe that a death penalty can exist justly, it is impossible not to acknowledge that here, in America, we have failed to find justice in our system of executions.

It's only a matter of time before the death penalty ceases to exist in America. It will go down as one of history's many cruel and unjust policies, done in by the imperfect march of human enlightenment.



The death penalty survives the Supreme Court - but for how much longer?

This morning the Supreme Court denied the request of 3 Oklahoma prisoners to ban a controversial drug used in lethal injections that has been alleged to cause a severely painful death. But the most interesting news item to come out of the court's decision was the dissenting opinion of Justice Stephen Breyer, who proposed that perhaps it is time to confront a bigger question: Whether capital punishment itself is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Breyer, in an opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that the death penalty may very well constitute cruel and unusual punishment. "Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds 1 at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

The actual case before the court stemmed from the highly publicized execution of Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett in 2014, which raised serious questions about the drugs being used in lethal injections. The Atlantic last month offered an in-depth look at Lockett's execution, and I for one had a hard time reading the gruesome details. If that type of a death isn't "cruel and unusual," I'd hate to see one that is.

The execution of Lockett, and other recent execution horror stories, have swayed the opinions of some Americans against the death penalty, giving a boost to the longstanding movement to end capital punishment in the United States once and for all. Last month, Nebraska became the 19th state in the nation to abolish the death penalty. And many prominent Catholic voices, from Sister Helen Prejean to Pope Francis, have argued against capital punishment from a faith perspective. As Francis put it plainly, the death penalty "contradicts God's plan for man and society."

Yet Catholics remain divided on the issue - in fact, all 5 Supreme Court justices in the majority on today's ruling against the Oklahoma inmates are Catholic. One such Catholic justice, Antonin Scalia, called Breyer's comments on abolishing the death penalty "gobbledy gook." (Also of note is the fact that the U.S. bishops have, at the time of this writing, not made any statements about the death penalty decision; in contrast, they responded almost immediately to Friday's Supreme Court ruling on marriage.)

But there is a current among people of faith to work toward ending the death penalty, one that reaches across denominations. Justice Breyer even raising the question today should give hope to these advocates. The current court may be unlikely to strike down capital punishment as a violation of the Eighth Amendment even if confronted with such a case, but the day when the death penalty is dealt its final blow--either through legislation or judicial ruling - may not be too far in the future.



In Supreme Court Loss, Death Penalty Foes See an Opening

A strongly worded dissent in the U.S. Supreme Court's narrow decision this week upholding the use of an execution drug offered a glimmer of hope to death penalty opponents in what they considered otherwise a gloomy ruling. One advocate went so far Tuesday as to call it a blueprint for a fresh attack on the legality of capital punishment itself.

But even those who see Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent as a silver lining think it will take time to mount a viable challenge.

And Breyer's words don't change the fact that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld capital punishment for nearly 4 decades. The 5 justices forming the majority in Monday's decision made it clear they feel that states must somehow be able to carry out the death penalty.

In disagreeing with the 5-4 ruling that approved Oklahoma's use of an execution drug, Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called it "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," which protects against cruel and unusual punishment.

"It was a sweeping and powerful dissent that issues an invitation that we should accept, which is to make the case for why today the death penalty itself is no longer constitutional," said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Rather than tinker with these questions of how we should kill, we should be asking the more fundamental and the larger question of whether we as society should still be executing anyone at all," she added.

In the case that prompted Monday's opinion, death-row inmates in Oklahoma had objected to the use of the sedative midazolam after the drug was blamed in several botched executions. Their argument was that the drug does not reliably induce a coma-like sleep that would prevent them from experiencing the searing pain of the paralytic and heart-stopping drugs that follow.

Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio and Arizona have used the drug in killing 13 inmates total since the start of 2014, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said arguments that the drug could not be used effectively as a sedative in executions were speculative. He dismissed problems in executions in Arizona and Oklahoma as "having little probative value for present purposes."

The Supreme Court struck down capital punishment in 1972, and some justices thought at the time it would be the end of the death penalty. But many states just wrote new laws and the court reinstated it 4 years later.

Stubbs wouldn't speculate when a new constitutional challenge to the death penalty might make its way to the Supreme Court, but said it's "on the horizon." Already, there has been a trend of decreasing use of the death penalty, she said, citing the falling number of executions and new death sentences issued.

Multiple factors are driving that trend, including increased awareness of exonerations of death row inmates, the costs of bringing capital cases and giving juries the option of life without parole, allowing them to impose a very serious punishment without death.

The fact that more than 100 death row inmates have been exonerated demonstrates that the death penalty is unreliable, Breyer wrote. He also argues that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, is no longer used by most of the country and that it takes far too long to carry out, which undermines any deterrent effect.

Those concerns could provide guidance to capital defense attorneys going forward about which cases might have the strongest chances of challenging the death penalty itself, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

"What Justice Breyer does is go through the defects, not to say this is right or this is wrong, but to illustrate how, collectively, they may amount to a system that violates the Constitution," he said. "In that sense, the opinion is not just an invitation for briefing, but a blueprint for the types of arguments that the court would consider in determining whether the death penalty is constitutional or unconstitutional."

Cheryl Pilate, a Kansas City-based attorney who has represented a number of Missouri death row inmates, said it was clear there's a faction on the court that sees fundamental problems with the death penalty that can't be fixed.

"I think Justice Breyer's dissent was a bold and emphatic statement that indicates to us that the issues that have been raised repeatedly are getting close attention, at least among some justices on the Supreme Court," she said. "So we think it bodes well for the long run and in the meantime, there's an awful lot of work to do."

(source: Associated Press)


I Just Took the Controversial Drug Used for the Death Penalty. Here's What It Was Like. The Supreme Court says midazolam works fine for lethal injections. Experience says otherwise.

This was a few weeks ago, and I was joking - nervously - with a nurse who had just plopped down a vial of midazolam on the table next to me, prompting a minor freak-out on my part. Midazolam is the drug implicated in the recent string of botched executions by lethal injection - debacles I've spent much of the last year writing about. It's also at the heart of this week's Supreme Court decision allowing those questionable executions to continue. As I was about to undergo minor outpatient surgery in the hospital, receiving a drug that's regularly employed by states to help kill people felt horrifyingly wrong.

Death penalty abolitionists and many medical groups have decried the medicalization of capital punishment - that is, using healing tools to kill people through lethal injection. I was on the flip side of that equation: a patient getting an execution drug as a healing tool. It felt absurd and scary, even though I knew objectively midazolam wasn't going to kill me. Midazolam is a sedative, and as the anesthesiologist told me, it is highly effective for minor surgical procedures because it wears off fast and yields few side effects. Those same properties that made midazolam beneficial to me are precisely the reasons it doesn't work so well in executions: The drug (also sold as Versed) doesn't put you in a coma-like state, where you're impervious to all pain, and the mild unconsciousness it does prompt doesn't last very long. For major surgery, and even minor surgery, doctors have to use additional drugs to keep you under.

Midazolam worked well for me. I was out for an hour while under the knife. When I woke up, I remembered nothing, and my head was clear. But I couldn't help wondering if that pleasant sleep I'd just had would have been so pleasant if it had been followed by an injection of pancuronium bromide, which states use to paralyze an inmate and suffocate him. Or what about a shot of potassium chloride, the third drug in most states' three-drug execution cocktail? Potassium chloride stops the heart, but its administration can be excruciatingly painful. In her dissent this week in the lethal injection case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called it "the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake."

I didn't want to think too long about this. But that was the task handed to the Supreme Court: considering whether the sedative effect from midazolam was enough to protect an inmate from the pain of being killed with other painful drugs. In the 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, a dose of 100 milligrams of midazolam - more than 10 times what I received - wasn't enough to keep him from waking up while the executioners pumped potassium chloride into his veins. (It didn't help that his incompetent executioners screwed up the catheter insertion and punctured his vein.)

Oklahoma now promises to use 500 milligrams of the drug, claiming that this dosage should do the job of knocking a man out. But the state really can't say for sure. There isn't any scientific research on how much midazolam is required to dull the pain of a chemically induced death. The drug is designed to keep people alive. One of its most common uses is as a light anesthetic during a colonoscopy, which can be done without anesthesia at all. Midazolam's surgical dosing is calibrated on a patient's height and weight and other individual factors. State execution protocols are a 1-size-fits-all sort of scheme; they don't account for variations in weight, health, or past drug abuse history - all of which can alter how midazolam might affect a person.

After Oklahoma botched Lockett's execution, lawyers for other death row inmates tried to find out how the state came up with this particular dosing scheme, but the officials refused to say. For all we know, they took their cues from Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician.

After my operation, my surgeon, a Los Angeles native, told me that Murray had used midazolam on the King of Pop before he died in 2009. It turns out there are some similarities between Jackson's treatment and state execution procedures. Based on law-enforcement records, People magazine published the whole timeline of the days before Jackson's death, showing how Murray experimented on him with increasing doses of midazolam, along with other drugs, to try to help him sleep. The midazolam, though, didn't work. Jackson remained wired. Ultimately, he died from a massive dose of propofol, a commonly used surgical anesthetic, and Murray went to jail for involuntary manslaughter.

Not long after Jackson died, death penalty states began struggling to obtain the drugs they've historically used to render an inmate unconscious before killing him. The manufacturer of sodium thiopental, a powerful anesthetic long used in executions, stopped making it so it couldn't be used in executions. In 2010, the United Kingdom banned its export, and the European Union soon followed suit. The European manufacturer of pentobarbital, a drug substituted for thiopental, has refused to sell it to American corrections officials for executions. Since then, states' efforts to find suitable replacement drugs look like they could have come straight out of People.

In 2012, state corrections departments announced plans to use propofol, the same drug that killed Jackson. But when Missouri attempted the first lethal injection with propofol, the drug manufacturer threatened to stop exporting it to the United States, which would have caused a national health care crisis because there are no domestic sources of propofol. So the states had to turn to something else. That something else was midazolam, a fast-acting anti-anxiety medication in the same family as Valium, which doesn't produce the deep unconsciousness that thiopental did. It also has a ceiling effect: Larger doses don't necessarily produce more sedation, as Murray saw with Jackson.

The midazolam packaging doesn't say how much of the drug would satisfy prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment in an execution. Like Murray, state corrections officials seem to have been guessing wildly about an effective dosage. When Ohio first used midazolam in January 2014, it gave 10 milligrams to Dennis McGuire, who proceeded not to die for 24 minutes, during which he made snorting and snoring noises and gasped for air, suggesting he wasn't unconscious. So the state decided next time it would try 50 milligrams.

But in July of last year, Arizona gave the 50-milligram dose to inmate Joseph Wood, in a drug cocktail that included the painkiller hydromorphone. Executioners had to inject him 15 times, for a total of 750 milligrams of midazolam, over the course of 2 hours, during which he moved around and gasped for air before he finally died. Florida, the 1st state to try midazolam in an execution, has consistently used 500 milligrams. But its 1st use of the drug led to a drawn-out execution in 2013. Other states have now adopted Florida's dosage, including Oklahoma, and that's what the Supreme Court evaluated in the decision this week.

In upholding the use of midazolam, the court discounted the botched executions - nothing cruel and unusual here - and found that the use of a massive dose of the drug (without any real scientific guidance) is perfectly fine. It essentially allowed the long history of human experimentation by corrections officials to continue. Moreover, the court let stand the perverse practice of mixing medicine with murder, ensuring that all Americans can experience a little taste of the death penalty when they have their colons scoped.

(source: Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones)


Death penalty justified for killers

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the use of a controversial lethal injection method in executions. Comments from Facebook are edited for clarity and grammar:

Personally, I am opposed to the death penalty. A case can be made for it morally, but there have been just too many mistakes caused by human error.

That being said, how come I can go in for surgery and be put to sleep easily and painlessly, but we can't put these people to sleep the same way?

-- Andy Hapka


The death penalty is a deterrent to crime. People being executed when they did not commit the crime is an extremely rare scenario.

-- Larry Hubble


The execution of even one innocent person for a crime he or she didn't commit is murder. We know that courts and juries do make mistakes and condemn people for murders they did not commit. If you value life, are you willing to be party to murder?

-- Milo Bendech


It is surprising to me that we even debate the death penalty. I am totally for it. I cannot understand why we have to make it "comfortable" for the person being put to death.

A murderer can commit such heinous crimes in some of the most morbid ways possible, and we worry whether he or she is going to feel anything? I think they should feel exactly what they did to the people they killed.

-- Harold Filliez


Bullet in the head and get it over with, or ban executions completely.

Anyone wanting to see a person in pain for a long time, until the individual dies, is the same as these criminals.

-- Oliver Cukor


After this ruling, we just need to speed up the execution process so that it is carried out in less than 6 months after sentencing. That would put us back on the road to establishing justice in the land.

-- Vic Edwards

(source: Letters to the Editor, USA Today)


Put the death penalty on trial

Having issued landmark rulings on gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act last week, the Supreme Court on Monday tackled another complex legal and social question: the death penalty.

This time, however, the majority's 5-4 decision didn't prompt the wild celebrations and anguished condemnations sparked by its rulings last week.

The court turned away concerns by Oklahoma death-row inmates who contended the use of the sedative midazolam will leave them at risk of severe pain during executions, in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In Glossip v. Gross, the justices affirmed lower court rulings that said the prisoners hadn't gone far enough to prove the risk of severe pain. The majority also took the disappointing step of making inmates’ lawyers responsible for identifying available, less risky alternative methods.

"Because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, "(i)t necessarily follows that there must be a (constitutional) means of carrying it out."

But Justice Stephen Breyer, in a long, impassioned dissent, raised the question growing numbers of Americans are asking: Given the mounting evidence of its many flaws, is it time for America to abandon the death penalty?

If we can't exercise this most profound form of government power fairly, accurately and without torturing the accused on their deathbeds, how can we still call it constitutionally valid? Breyer, in his dissent, noted that the number of exonerations in capital cases has now risen to 115, with 6 inmates exonerated in 2014 alone based on actual innocence.

Breyer wrote, "I believe it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question."


(source: Opinion, The Charlotte Observer)


Saudi sentenced to death over multiple murder----Man who strangled, stabbed wife, four children suffered from mental health problems

A court in Saudi Arabia has condemned a Saudi national to death for killing his wife and 4 children in 2013.

The multiple murders in Sharurah, a small town in the southern part of the kingdom, occurred at around 11.30pm.

The murderer himself reported the murders to the police, telling the officers that he had strangled them before stabbing them in the neck.

Reports said that the murderer decapitated his wife, 26, and then killed his 3 sons, aged between 5 and 11, and his 2-year-old daughter.

Medical reports confirmed that the killer suffered from mental health problems.

Witnesses said he often mumbled incomprehensibly and that he was abusive and strict with his children.

They said his behaviour worsened a few days before he committed the crime.

On the day of the tragedy, he brought one of his children from the home of his former wife and killed him, according to Saudi reports.

(source: Gulf News)


First Half of 2015: 570 Prisoners Hanged to Death in Iran----Iranian authorities have executed at least 570 prisoners in the 1st half of 2015, an increase of about 40% compared to the 1st half of 2014. According to reports by Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 1,900 people have been executed since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013. Despite the highest execution rate in more than 2 decades, Iranian authorities haven't met any major criticism from the international community.

Since the election of President Hassan Rouhani and a significant improvement in relations between Iranian and western officials, the rate of executions in Iran has been its highest in more than 2 decades. At least 570 people have been hanged to death in the first 6 months of 2015, representing an average of more than 3 executions per day. IHR once again calls on the international community to take Iran's use of the death penalty seriously and show adequate reaction to it.

"The dialogue between the West and Iran has apparently failed to improve the situation of the human rights in Iran. If any, the impact has been negative with regards to Iran's use of the death penalty," says Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson for IHR.

According to IHR's latest report, at least 394 people have been executed for drug related charges in the 1st half of 2015, counting for 69% of all executions. 190 of these executions were carried out in Ghezel Hesar and Rajai Shahr prisons located in the city of Karaj (west of Tehran).

Facts about the executions in Iran for the first half of 2015:

--223 (39%) of the executions were announced by official Iranian media

--After drug offenses (69%), murder charges (19%) counted for the most amount of executions

--34 of the executions were carried out in public spaces

--10 women and 1 juvenile offender were among those executed

--Ghezel Hesar was the prison with the highest number of executions

--At least 7 prisoners were executed for their political or ideological affiliations

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Appeals Court upholds Thai woman's drug trafficking conviction

The Court of Appeal here upheld the conviction of a tudung seller who had been caught at the Thailand border importing drugs instead of headscarves.

Thai national Rattana Phinthong, 35, was accused of trafficking about 2.8kg of methamphetamine at the Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration checkpoint in Kubang Pasu, Kedah on Aug 3, 2012.

She was appealing against the Alor Setar High Court's decision on May 14, 2014 to convict her.

The Court of Appeal panel made up of Justices Aziah Ali, Zakaria Sam and Ahmadi Asnawi, unanimously ruled that there was no merit in the appeal.

In the hearing on Tuesday, Rattana was represented by lawyer G. Ravishankar, while DPP Mazelan Jamaludin acted for the prosecution.

During the trial, Rattana claimed to be travelling to Kuala Lumpur only for her headscarf business.

Her husband Prayut Phinthong, 31, had also testified that the bag containing the drugs was not his wife's.

However, the prosecution argued that Rattana had carried the bag through Customs and even acknowledged ownership of the bag.

Mazelan said the fact the drugs were well-hidden showed a premeditated intent to sneak the drugs in.

According to court documents sighted, Rattana was flagged at the checkpoint when the Custom's scanning machine revealed a hidden compartment in her bag.

When asked if it was her bag, Rattana affirmed.

Narcotic officers then brought her to the Alor Setar narcotics branch for further questioning.

The officers found four plastic satchets containing white powder tucked inside the bag's hidden compartment, which chemical tests later showed it was methamphetamine.

Drug trafficking, an offence under Section 39B(2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 carries the mandatory death penalty.

(source: The Star)


Ethiopia mulls tough trafficking law, including death penalty

Human traffickers in Ethiopia could face life in jail or the death penalty under a bill presented to parliament on Tuesday aimed at curbing the illegal flow of people in and out of the Horn of Africa country.

The move comes 2 months after at least 30 Ethiopian migrants were shot and killed by Islamic State militants in Libya and after others have died while heading to Europe on rickety boats across the Mediterranean.

The legislation, proposed by the Ministry of Justice, contains a range of penalties for trafficking and smuggling including fines of up to 500,000 birr ($7,500) and the death penalty in cases where victims suffer severe injury or death.

The bill must be approved by the House of Representatives, which could take several months, officials said.

Although Ethiopia's economy is growing at one of Africa's fastest rates, unemployment still remains high and thousands of people opt to take treacherous treks across the Sahara to reach Europe via the Mediterranean or brave the Gulf of Aden to reach wealthy Gulf states in search of jobs.

For a period of several months beginning in late 2013, Saudi Arabia deported more than 163,000 Ethiopians it said lived in the Kingdom illegally.

The U.S. State Department urged Addis Ababa last year to amend and strengthen its laws to tackle people smuggling, toughen penalties, boost judicial understanding and police capacity, as well as improve oversight of recruitment agencies.

The draft legislation provides immunity to victims and proposes the formation of a national committee led by Ethiopia's deputy prime minister to coordinate anti-trafficking activity.

(source: Reuters)


Egyptian president 'to change law to allow faster executions' ---- Abdel Fatah al-Sisi - speaking at funeral of assassinated lead prosecutor - indicates he will cut the lengthy appeals process for those on death row

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, appears poised to further crack down on dissent after announcing he would fast-track the judicial process in the aftermath of the assassination of the country's lead prosecutor.

On Tuesday, Sisi promised new laws that will allow Egyptian courts to speed up hearings, and appeared to suggest that the appeals process would be circumvented to guarantee the execution of those on death row.

Speaking at the funeral of Hisham Barakat, the state prosecutor killed in a car bomb on Monday, Sisi said: "The arm of justice is chained by the law. We're not going to wait for this. We're going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible."

Repeating the words "the law, the law", Sisi added: "If there is a death sentence, a death sentence shall be enforced." According to the current process, a death sentence can only be enforced after lengthy appeals. But as Egypt has been without a sitting parliament for 2 years, Sisi - as the country's sole elected official - can issue laws by decree. As a result, he may technically be able to change the speed at which executions can be completed. Legal experts believe he is already enacting authoritarian laws at a rate not seen in Egypt for 60 years.

The investigation into Barakat's death has yet to be completed. But by referring to the subject of executions, Sisi appeared to imply that the assassination was carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders - including ex-president Mohamed Morsi - are on death row pending appeal. Egypt's public relations arm has already blamed the Brotherhood by name.

But while Barakat was one of the main architects of the crackdown on the Brotherhood - pursuing controversial cases in which thousands of alleged members were arrested, and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials that lasted just minutes - the group itself has denied responsibility for his death. Analysts believe the murder instead bears the hallmarks of an Isis affiliate in Egypt, which carried out a similar assassination attempt on Egypt's then interior minister in 2013.

Amnesty International has called on the Egyptian government not to use Barakat's death "as a pretext for trampling upon human rights". But Sisi's speech, as well as wider local reaction, suggest the call may fall on deaf ears. Following Barakat's death, one of the most popular slogans on Egyptian social media was: "Execute the Brotherhood."

In a separate development on Tuesday, the Cairo correspondent for the leading Spanish newspaper, El Pais, revealed he had fled from Egypt after being warned by his embassy that he risked arrest. At least 18 journalists are currently behind bars in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

(soure: The Guardian)


NK executes nearly 1400 from 2008 to 2014

Nearly 1,400 North Koreans were executed under the Kim Jong-un regime from 2008 to 2014, according to a report released by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), Wednesday.

The 455-page report, "White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2015," showed that 1,382 were killed during the period.

KINU said its findings were based on the testimony of 221 people who defected from North Korea to South Korea in 2014. It added the witnesses were chosen based on their social backgrounds and demographic characteristics.

"We believe there were a number of executions that were not witnessed by those whom we interviewed," an official at KINU's strategy and public relations team said on condition of anonymity.

The white paper showed that North Korea's state-perpetrated violations of human rights are still prevalent despite the United Nations' pressure to end its crimes against humanity.

In particular, the reclusive state increasingly has executed people in recent years for watching and circulating films, TV dramas and other media content produced by South Korea, the report said.

It pointed out that such a wide use of the death penalty contradicts Pyongyang's claim in a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in January 2014.

Back then, the Stalinist country said it carried out the death penalty only under "extremely limited circumstances."

The KINU report showed people detained at a range of facilities such as prisons are tortured, while enduring a lack of nutrition, medical attention and hygiene.

It said people are exiled from their hometowns because of their family backgrounds, criminal record and the country's economic development plan.

Since late 2013, the natives of Samjiyon County, a northeastern part of the country, have been subject to internal exile if they and their family members served in prisons, were caught attempting to flee the country, or have parents who were peasants.

Samjiyon County, which is in Ryanggang Province, is purportedly the hometown of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The report said members of some 600 households in Musan, North Hamgyeong Province and surrounding regions were forcibly moved out of their hometowns in 2013 under Kim Jong-un's order to develop the area as "a model city."

The white paper is published in Korean. Its English version will be available in August. The KINU report has been published in both Korean and English every year since 1996.

The U.N. launched its human rights office in Seoul on June 23 to better monitor and record North Korea's human rights abuses. The office was set up in accordance with a U.N. Commission of Inquiry's (COI) report in February last year. It accused the tyrannical regime of running political prison camps where up to 120,000 people are thought to be detained.

Based on the COI report, the U.N. General Assembly in December 2014 passed a resolution that calls for the referral of Kim Jong-un to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, The Netherlands.

(source: Korea Times)


3 Taliban Militants Get Death Penalty for NATO Trucks Attack

3 Taliban militants have been given an 8-time death sentence by a Pakistani court for attacking trucks carrying critical supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan in 2010, officials said today.

Afraz-ur-Rehman, Ali Imran and Wajih-ur-Rehman, belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group, were found guilty by a Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorist Court yesterday.

A lawyer confirmed that the 3 were given 8-time death sentence by the court.

The 3 were found guilty of carrying out the brazen late night attack in Islamabad on NATO supply convoy in 2010 in which 11 oil tankers were gutted and 4 persons died.

More than 25 oil tankers had stopped for refuelling on the outskirts of Islamabad when they were attacked by at least 8 gunmen.

The gunmen first opened fire and then set the oil tankers on fire. Soon after the attack, TTP accepted responsibility.

TTP has often targeted NATO supplies to disrupt the US-led military operation in Afghanistan.

About 70 % of NATO supplies and 40 % of its fuel needs are shipped to Afghanistan via Pakistan.

(source: Outlook India)


3 TTP terrorists sentenced to death in Pakistan

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan on Tuesday awarded the death sentence to 3 Taliban militants for killing 4 policemen during an attack on oil tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the NATO containers in Attock district, some 95 km northwest of the capital city in 2010.

The court also imposed a penalty of 300,000 rupees on each convict.

The lawyer for the convicts said he would challenge the verdict in the high court.

A group of armed Taliban attacked the NATO tankers when their drivers were having dinner at a roadside hotel.

The militants fired at the police as they arrived at the scene.

The attackers had been arrested from the tribal region. Investigators said the TTP men had confessed to their crime.

(source: Business-Standard)

JUNE 30, 2015:


The Supreme Court Just Approved a Lethal Injection Drug that No One Understands

The conservative justices of the Supreme Court were no more gracious in victory today than they were in defeat last week. They prevailed in Glossip v. Gross, a case about the legality of a drug called midazolam that some states use in lethal injections, but they still assaulted the integrity of their liberal colleagues. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Alito attacked Justice Sotomayor's "resort" to "outlandish rhetoric," which, he said, "reveals the weakness of [her] legal arguments." Justice Scalia outright mocked Justice Breyer. "His argument is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledy-gook," Scalia wrote, before concluding that Breyer "rejects the Enlightenment." Justice Thomas, meanwhile, wanted to know why previous courts found it unconstitutional to execute juveniles.

It's not surprising to see tempers flare in the 5 Glossip opinions: Death penalty cases have a history of producing a lot of paper. And back in April, Dahlia Lithwick described oral arguments in this particular case as "unpleasant and embarrassing" in Slate. The actual matter before the Court in Glossip was narrow, but the case became an occasion for the justices to express their broader thinking on the death penalty. Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, used the occasion to argue that the death penalty itself was unconstitutional, while Scalia and Thomas lined up against them.

It fell to Justice Alito, writing the majority opinion, and Justice Sotomayor, writing the principal dissent, to tackle Glossip's specific question: Did midazolam pose an intolerable risk of painful execution? The drug came into use in death penalty states after a shortage in the drugs conventionally used in lethal injection. Doctors rarely use midazolam, though, to anesthetize their patients, and the Glossip plaintiffs argued that it was not powerful enough to protect them from feeling the painful effects of the other lethal injection drugs.

Alito rejected their arguments for 2 reasons. First, he said they failed to establish a safer and available alternative to an execution with midazolam - a requirement that Sotomayor denounced as "patently absurd." Second, he affirmed the lower courts ruling that midazolam did not pose an intolerable risk of pain and suffering in an execution. The district court had drawn this conclusion by weighing the testimony of a single expert witness, a doctor of pharmacy who said midazolam would work, against 2 expert witnesses who said it would not.

Essentially, the district court decided the legality of midazolam based on the testimony of just 3 witnesses, and the Supreme Court saw nothing troubling with this fact. The most prudent course of action, I thought after having witnessed oral arguments in April and having written about the use of midazolam, would have been to remand the case to a lower court, where midazolam's properties could be more properly investigated. Alito rejected this possibility, however, by arguing that "courts should not 'embroil [themselves] in ongoing controversies beyond their expertise.'"

Alito's opinion indirectly acknowledges a limitation of the Court: Execution protocols are being written by corrections officers and attorneys general, not by scientists or doctors. And no one really knows how midazolam works in such large doses, because the medical and scientific communities don't spend a lot of time studying the lethal applications of otherwise helpful drugs. The result, as Sotomayor wrote, is that "States are engaged in what is in effect human experimentation." In Arizona, for instance, the execution team injected one prisoner with 15 different doses of midazolam and hydromorphone in an execution that lasted nearly almost 2 hours.

Alito's logic might be more persuasive if the Court were, in fact, leaving lethal injection in the hands of medical experts. Instead, his effort to frame the Glossip decision as an act of judicial humility essentially gives state lawyers and prison officials the green light to raid the medicine cabinet in order to carry out death sentences. True humility would recognize that judges are unqualified to evaluate the pharmacological properties of medical drugs - and conclude that states should find another way to carry out their sentences.

(source: Ben Crair, The New Republic)


Capital punishment and the Supreme Court----Last gasps

When Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett by lethal injection in April 2014, the state used an untested sedative. The drug apparently failed to bring on the coma-like state that is meant to precede the introduction of drugs to stop his breathing and then his heart. Lockett spent 43 minutes writhing in pain on the gurney. "This shit is fucking with my head," he said before finally dying.

Of the 35 people who were executed in America in 2014, at least three died grisly deaths. The problem is that states are having trouble getting the drugs they need to ensure these deaths are painless. European companies will not sell drugs to be used in executions, and American companies are increasingly squeamish about having their brands linked to lethal injections. So Oklahoma and other states have been tinkering with the 3-drug protocol, in some cases using a drug called midazolam, which apparently botched Lockett's execution and several others. So does using midazolam defy the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment"? According to the Supreme Court's ruling in Glossip v Gross today, the answer, surprisingly, is no.

The case was brought before the court by 3 prisoners on death-row in Oklahoma, who are understandably wary of an execution cocktail that includes midazolam. But in a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the petitioners failed to prove that midazolam offers a 'substantial risk of serious harm'. Citing evidence that the sedative is effective at the right dosage, the court found that while Lockett received too little of the stuff, the same 3-drug mix finished off 12 other prisoners "without any significant problems". Writing for the four conservative justices and Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Samuel Alito added that the doomed prisoners also "failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain," which is a requirement of all Eighth Amendment execution claims.

The crux of this ruling, Justice Alito writes, is that "because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional", it "necessary follows" that there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out. And "because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution," the court holds "that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain." If the use of midazolam does involve pain, blame the "anti-death-penalty advocates" who have "pressured pharmaceutical companies to refuse to supply the drugs used to carry out death sentences." But ultimately, Justice Alito writes, the possibility of pain is not so important. "Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether."

Is outlawing the death penalty such a bad idea? Justice Stephen Breyer doesn't think so. In a strident 41-page dissent, he argues that the constitutionality of the death penalty relies on "safeguards sufficient to ensure that the penalty would be applied reliably and not arbitrarily." Yet he finds ample evidence that the penalty is administered unreliably and arbitrarily. His comprehensive critique includes countless examples of mistaken indictments ("innocent people have been executed") and capricious punishments ("circumstances that ought not to affect application of the death penalty, such as race, gender, or geography, often do"). He complains that the amount of time prisoners spend on death row - often in "especially severe, dehumanising conditions of confinement" - is long and getting longer. In 2004 convicts spent 11 years, on average, waiting to be executed; by 2014 that time stretched to nearly 18 years. Not only are these "unconscionably long delays" cruel, but also they "undermine the death penalty's penological purpose".

It would be hard to find a more withering response to Justice Breyer's earnest argument than the one written by Justice Antonin Scalia. First, and with evident relish, he reminds the court that the petitioners are not only sentenced criminals, but also uniquely unsavoury (one is indicted for raping and murdering an 11-month-old baby). Then he clarifies that it is impossible to hold the death penalty unconstitutional because the "Constitution explicitly contemplates" it when it provides that no one shall be deprived of "life...without due process of law." With that out of the way, Justice Scalia takes his gloves off: "Even accepting Justice Breyer's rewriting of the Eighth Amendment, his argument is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledy-gook."

The slow death of the death penalty

Like a sharp-shooter showing off for the ladies, Justice Scalia casually picks off Justice Breyer's concerns one by one. He doesn't dispute the fact that innocent people have been sentenced to death, but rather seems to envy their good fortune: "any innocent defendant is infinitely better off appealing a death sentence than a sentence of life imprisonment," he writes, as a capital convict "will obtain endless legal assistance from the abolition lobby (and legal favouritism from abolitionist judges), while the lifer languishes unnoticed behind bars." What about the claim that the death penalty is meted out arbitrarily? Blame the inevitable variability of "the jury trial, that cornerstone of Anglo-American judicial procedure." Are prisoners spending too long in poor conditions waiting to die? If the problem is the way prisoners are kept, Justice Scalia quips, "the solution should be modifying the environment rather than abolishing the death penalty". What about Justice Breyer's theory that a desire for retribution might also be served by a life-without-parole sentence? 'My goodness," Justice Scalia writes, "If he thinks the death penalty not much more harsh (and hence not much more retributive), why is he so keen to get rid of it?"

Justice Scalia is clearly enjoying himself, but he seems to overstate his case. He defensively claims that the death penalty deters murderers, but there is little firm evidence for this. He then closes his argument with a nod to the wisdom of the framers of the constitution, who handled the death penalty "the same way they handled many other controversial issues: they left it to the People to decide". Yet he pretends not to notice that the people are increasingly deciding to abandon the death penalty. As Justice Breyer notes, both death sentences and executions have been falling for the past decade and a half. Thirty states have either formally abolished the death penalty or have not executed someone in more than 8 years. Only 3 states - Texas, Missouri and Florida - handle 80% of all executions. But even in Texas, which kills the most prisoners, the number fell from 40 in 2000 to ten in 2014.

More Americans now say they believe a convicted murderer should receive life imprisonment without parole instead of the death penalty. If the court's sanctioning of midazolam yields more stories of prisoners writhing on gurneys, yet more Americans can be expected to view the death penalty with distaste. By backing a method of killing that remains controversial, the court may simply hasten the spread of Justice Breyer's view that the punishment itself may simply be too cruel.

(source: The Economist)


Liberal justices: death penalty constitutional only for first 200 years

Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have suggested that the death penalty may be unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment says that the U.S. may not impose cruel or unusual punishments.

Now, keep in mind, the death penalty has been constitutional since our country was formed, and no courts have had a trouble with it since. Has that been an oversight? But now, more than 200 years later, Breyer thinks it is no longer constitutional.

And I think he's right! If you look closely at an original copy of the Constitution, you will see that some of the text is written in darker ink than other text. I think the founders were trying to tell us that the text written in slightly lighter ink was binding for only a period of time - say, 200 years - and no more. If you look at the Eighth Amendment, you will see the "un" in unusual written in unusually light ink, which means that the government is prohibited from not only unusual punishments, but also, eventually, even usual ones as well.


Breyer wrote that he believed it was "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment" and called for the court to address that "basic question." He suggested that the decline of the death penalty made it an "unusual" punishment that, for the past 40 years, has been "imposed arbitrarily."

So what Breyer is saying is that the death penalty was formerly not cruel and usual, but now, with the decline in executions, has become cruel and unusual. If states speeded up the execution process, and the death penalty became more usual, do you think Breyer would be more satisfied?

Breyer cited studies that suggested that individuals who murdered white victims were more likely to receive the death penalty, and said that geography also played a major role in who is put to death.

Uh-oh! We're not executing enough killers of black people! As we know, 93% of killers of black people are black, so Breyer thinks we are doing a grave injustice by not executing enough black killers. Could that be solved by the Court requiring New York and California to reinstate the death penalty? Are liberal states racist for refusing to execute killers of black people?

And what about imprisonment in general? Illegal aliens are much more likely to be imprisoned than U.S. citizens, based on their percentage of the population (they are 25% of the prison population). Does that make imprisonment arbitrary, and should all prisons be emptied? Or should we arrest enough citizens (preferably white people) on trumped up charges and jail them until the percentages work out right?

He said that after "considering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions" in more than 20 years on the bench, there were "discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations." He also said that lengthy delays in death penalty cases, during which death row inmates are likely kept in solitary confinement, were problematic and raised constitutional issues.

I agree. Prisoners should be given one avenue of appeal only for all their objections. It should be processed immediately after trial, and then they should be executed quickly if they lose. If the Supreme Court limited appeals and required immediate resolution, this problem would be solved.

But by the way...what do disparity in circumstances and delays in execution have to do with the "cruel and unusual" clause of the Constitution? Unless you see a shadow of a penumbra from this phrase that touches on prison stays and absolute statistical distribution of executions by race, geography, and circumstance, there is no connection.

But we know that the Constitution is a changeable thing; so how long do you think before we have to read it in Spanish? "Nosotros, la gente..."

(source: This article was produced by, the conservative news site----American Thinker)


Capital Punishment Is Hard to Abolish. Pennsylvania's Death Penalty Battle Shows Why.

The Republican-dominated Pennsylvania House recently voted in favor of a resolution condemning the death penalty moratorium enacted by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf in February, shortly after his historic win over Republican incumbent Tom Corbett. In a perfect example of how things sometimes go in Pennsylvania, the House Judiciary Committee, of which the resolution's prime sponsor is a member, held a hearing ostensibly to explore the issue - on the day after passing the resolution.

When he announced the moratorium, Wolf's office called the state's death penalty "a flawed system" that is "ineffective, unjust, and expensive." The moratorium's critics aren't arguing that death penalty is effective, just and cost-efficient in the state; regardless of moral perspective on the idea of government executions, it is a near universally acknowledged fact that the system for choosing who will be executed is broken. In 2013, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor began a paper on the topic by stating what he called the obvious: "The current state of Pennsylvania's capital jurisprudence is impaired," he wrote. "Indeed, a colleague sometimes commented that, in Pennsylvania, we do not have the death penalty, rather, we have 'death by arteriolosclerosis.'"

What the resolution calls unconstitutional, though, is the relatively esoteric business of the protocol Wolf used to declare a temporary halt to the death penalty. Specifically, it is an argument over whether or not Article IV, Section 9 of the state constitution grants Wolf sufficient reprieve powers to justify his action.

House Resolution 143 urges Wolf to reverse the moratorium so Pennsylvania can to get back to executing inmates. Except, as Chief Justice Saylor noted, Pennsylvania generally doesn't execute inmates.

Pennsylvania has the 5th most populous death row in the nation, with 186 people theoretically awaiting lethal injection with drugs the state currently doesn't possess and can't obtain. Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978, only 3 men have been put to death, and they all went willingly, by voluntarily waiving appeals. 6 people have been exonerated. Since 1985, 29 have died of natural causes. There have been more than 250 reversals. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, Pennsylvania is less likely to execute a death row inmate than any other state that has carried out any executions.

So far, Governor Wolf has granted reprieve to 2 inmates who were scheduled for execution. The guilt of neither inmate is in doubt, though the case of Terrance Williams is marred by serious questions about the relevance of the allegation that the murder victim had sexually abused his killer.

The moratorium isn't indefinite; Wolf says he is waiting for the opportunity to review and address a forthcoming report from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment. The task force, commissioned by the state Senate back in 2011, initially expected to deliver their report by the end of 2013 but they've repeatedly extended the deadline. (The Task Force hopes to issue their forthcoming report by the end of the year.)

Meanwhile, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to rule Wolf's moratorium a "lawless act." (It is fascinating and sad that the 1st black district attorney from Philadelphia is suing a wealthy white man from central Pennsylvania to re-instate a death penalty system that has been repeatedly found to discriminate, specifically, against poor black men from Philadelphia.)

Though the task force will surely provide insightful information, we don't need it to know the system is profoundly broken. Several reports in recent years have revealed that Pennsylvania's system for defending poor people facing the death penalty is so inadequate that it may be unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that does not fund indigent defense, leaving that problem to each of the state's 67 counties. 1/2 of all the state's death row inmates come from Philadelphia, which historically has low funding and high pursuit of the death penalty.

That's a bad combination made worse by the wheel of fortune spun when a poor person is arrested in Philadelphia. Since 1993, 1 in 5 indigent defendants have been represented by the Defender Association of Philadelphia, a non-profit organization under contract with the city. The other 4 of out 5 are assigned to a tiny pool of court-appointed lawyers. A 2011 study that analyzed the disparity in sentencing in Philadelphia raised questions about whether current commonly-used methods for providing indigent defense satisfy Sixth Amendment legal tests for effective counsel and Eighth Amendment prohibitions against arbitrariness in punishment.

The study found a significant difference in sentencing depending on representation. Compared to appointed counsel, Defenders Association counsel reduced their clients' murder conviction rate by 19 % and lowered the probability that their clients receive a life sentence by 62 %.Not one of its clients has received the death penalty during the years analyzed in the study.

Advocates say the problem of insufficient funding is exacerbated by a controversial flat fee system, which incentivizes the least amount of work for cases with the most at stake. Until 2012, court-appointed Philadelphia lawyers earned $1,333 if they resolved a case before trial, and a whopping $2,000 if the case went to trial. After the 1st day of trial, lawyers get $200 for 3 hours or less of daily court time and $400 for more than 3 hours. For years - Philadelphia's previous district attorney was notoriously nicknamed the deadliest D.A. for aggressively seeking death sentences - these lawyers earned what would be the equivalent of $2 an hour, had they prepared the number of hours typical in federal capital trials. "Outrageous," observed the former director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, "even by southern standards." The number one reason for reversing convictions in Pennsylvania is ineffective counsel.

In 2011 a former public defender named Marc Bookman, who now runs the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, an organization that provides training for capital defense teams in Pennsylvania, filed a petition contending the pay was so low that it globally violates the constitutional rights of indigent people to effective counsel. The petition was so unusual no one knew what to do with it, though what it articulated - a connection between Philadelphia's low pay, aggressive pursuit of the death penalty and high number of ineffective counsel reversals - was hardly surprising.

In response to Bookman's petition, the Supreme Court held one day of hearings before suspending them, then commissioned another report. Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner concluded the system, among other things, was "grossly inadequate" and "unacceptably increases the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel." He also concluded there is no global fix, and that the constitutionality had to be determined on a case-by-case basis. That would entail, of course, decades more of the ridiculously lengthy appeals process that critics of the moratorium insist should be shortened, to make the death penalty more efficient - for prosecutors, anyway. The pay for appointed counsel was bumped up to a still-meager $10,000 flat fee.

Those who are worst off in Philadelphia are, as always, further stratified by race. A 1998 analysis of racial bias by law professor David Baldus and statistician George Woodworth revealed that black defendants facing capital punishment in Philadelphia have nearly quadruple the odds of receiving the death penalty as white defendants. In fact, the researchers found that being black in Philadelphia functioned as an "extra aggravating factor," increasing the odds of a defendant receiving a death sentence to the same degree as an aggravating circumstance of "torture" or "grave risk of death."

A fascinating exchange took place during the recent hearings about this issue when Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center cited this study in his testimony. After Dunham explained the Baldus study, Rep. Rick Saccone responded, "I don't get that, being black is not an aggravating circumstance."

"That's correct," said Dunham.

"So it doesn't apply to the death sentence," replied Saccone.

"It should not," said Dunham, explaining that was exactly his point. And so it went on, an unnervingly circuitous conversation about how the system should work versus how it does work until, exasperated, Saccone insisted that Dunham was taking "a very big leap of faith" by believing being black led to an increased chance of being put to death.

Listening to this conversation circle the drain against the backdrop of all the evidence that Pennsylvania's death penalty - without that all-important forthcoming report even out yet - is broken, it's hard not to conclude that the largest leap of faith is believing it's possible to fix Pennsylvania's capital punishment at all.

In 2012, a young man named Derrick White was sentenced to death in Philadelphia for killing a former local basketball star to prevent him from testifying in another trial. Initially, White's mother didn't want her son's killer to receive the death penalty because, she said, there was too much death in Philadelphia already. But she was at peace with the sentence. "Justice was served," she said, "and nobody wins."

Her statement is as profound as her pain is unfathomable. During the recent hearing in Pennsylvania, lawmakers repeatedly conflated execution with justice for victims' families. The resolution specifically cites the widow of Terrance Williams' victim, who wrote in response that she was "shocked and upset" that politicians were "using" her for political gain. A year after White's sentencing, the death penalty was reversed in part because of ineffective counsel.

In 1834, Pennsylvania led the nation in moving public death penalty hangings inside, out of public view. Capital punishment abolitionists opposed the change. They had hoped that Pennsylvanians would eventually call for an end to state executions - if only we could see what was really happening.

(source: New Republic)


ACLU of Virginia comment on U.S. Supreme Court lethal injection case

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia released the following statement by Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Glossip v. Gross regarding the use of the drug midazolam as part of a lethal injection protocol.

Yesterday's narrow decision was very fact specific and does not mean that others sentenced to death could not prevail on a similar claim in Virginia or elsewhere. The Court emphasized today that its decision was about "likelihood of success" at a preliminary stage of a case and not actual success after all the evidence is in. The Court was very deferential to the district court's finding of facts about the effects of the drug at the preliminary stage of the proceedings, findings that may not hold up after full discovery and trial. Moreover, the procedures used in Oklahoma and those authorized in Virginia are quite different, and no one in our correctional system should read this case as approving the way capital punishment is administered in the Commonwealth.

Regardless of the facts of this case or the drug involved, however, the important question we should be discussing is not how we execute people, but whether we should be doing so at all given the reality that our capital punishment system is neither fair nor accurate. An estimated 1 in every 25 people on death row in the U.S. is innocent, and Virginia is not immune from the potential to execute an innocent person. As the American Bar Association found when it assessed Virginia's death penalty process, the Commonwealth's procedures are flawed from the law enforcement identification and interrogation process at the beginning to the post conviction process at the end. It is unconscionable that we are debating methods of execution when there is strong evidence that calls into question the basic fairness and accuracy of Virginia's death penalty process.

There is a growing consensus across the political spectrum that the death penalty is broken beyond repair, regardless of how we carry out executions or which drugs are used. The movement away from the death penalty is clear. A majority of states have abandoned the death penalty in law or in practice in recent years, including the traditionally "red" state of Nebraska, which just repealed the death penalty completely. Virginia should follow suit. Until repeal is accomplished, however, we urge Governor McAuliffe, the Secretary of Public Safety and members of the General Assembly to take all possible steps legislatively and administratively to ensure the current process is fair and accurate.

(source: Augusta Free Press)


Local Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Lethal Injection

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states that have the death penalty, including Virginia, can use a controversial drug to put inmates to death.

There are 2 men in Charlottesville that could potentially be facing the death penalty.

Jesse Matthew is facing capital murder charges in the death of Hannah Graham, and Gene Washington's charges were upped to capital murder earlier this month for the deaths of Robin and Mani Aldridge.

If those cases are tried here in Charlottesville, it could be a local jury deciding whether or not to put them to death, which means the way death penalties are carried out could soon hit close to home.

Charlottesville resident Morgan Jackson said, "I think there is a lot of grey area when it comes to life and death. I personally don't believe man should have the power over life and death."

Jackson added, "I think everybody has a chance to change and they deserve that."

However Jeremy Heer said, "It depends on the crime, right. One for one may not necessarily be the right ratio but yeah there are times that it's bad enough that I think that it's warranted. Absolutely."

A recent University of Mary Washington poll found that 65 percent of Virginia adults believe that the state should "keep" the death penalty.

In light of the controversy over lethal injection in Oklahoma, where the drug is alleged to have caused a painful death, the question of how to carry out the death penalty seems to be more of a debate.

Virginia added the controversial sedative to its protocol last year but hasn't used it. Still, many of those in favor of capital punishment don't want it to be cruel.

David Destefano said, "I suspect it's the best deterrent for capital murder and I say you should do it I guess in a way that's humane."

Destefano says the goal is not to torture people but it is to deter future crimes.

The state's last lethal injection execution was in August 2011, but there are currently 8 men on Virginia's death row.



Justices allow new hearings in state capital cases

The Supreme Court has left in place lower court rulings ordering hearings over jurors in 2 North Carolina death penalty trials who reached beyond the jury room for biblical references to help their deliberations.

In one case, a juror called her father in search of a biblical verse to help her decide between life and death for defendant Jason Wayne Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 2002 shooting death of an acquaintance in Asheboro, North Carolina. The father pointed her to a verse containing the phrase "an eye for an eye."

The appeals court ordered hearings to determine if jurors were improperly influenced.

(source: Associated Press)


Executions Back on Track after High Court Ruling

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the drug midazolam is acceptable for use in lethal injections. 4 Oklahoma convicts had challenged the drugs use, and Florida courts stopped executions here pending the outcome. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling is now likely to open the door to dozens of executions in Florida.

The High Court ruling is 127 pages long, but its essence can be found in the 1st sentence. "Because Capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out" wrote the majority.

The ruling is a set back for anti death penalty advocates in Florida. Sheila Meenan represents Citizens Against the Death Penalty and while disappointed, remains hopeful.

"I do't think there's going to be an end to the death penalty anytime soon, but I do believe and am extremely hopeful, and it won't be too long from now when the US Supreme Court is going to say that the death penalty is against the constitution" says Meehan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote 1 of 2 blistering dissents.

"She really talked about how this drug, midazolam, could even be the equivalent of the chemical of burning at the stake. She used very strong language along those lines and as I say, 3 others concurred with her in that dissent" says Meehan.

Quadruple murderer Jerry Correll's execution was stopped in February. It could soon be back on. Jerry Correll's execution would set a record of 22 for 1 governor in modern times. A list prepared by the Florida Supreme court identified more than 100 inmates who have exhausted their appeals. Meehan says the decision opens the door to multiple warrants.

"Now that this decision is out, there is really nothing to stop Governor Scott from signing lots of death warrants. We've got lots of people, more than 400 people on Florida's death row" says Meehan.

The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for an interview

This afternoon's death row count was actually 396. And late this afternoon, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift the Stay of Execution for Jerry Correll. Once lifted, the door is open for Governor Rick Scott to sign his and other death warrants.

(source: Florida News)


Lethal cocktail OK'd by court, Bondi seeks killer's execution

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to lift its stay of execution for a man who murdered 4 people - the same day the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of a drug that's an ingredient in the state's lethal injections.

Bondi asked the high court to allow the execution of 59-year-old Jerry Correll to proceed. Correll had been scheduled to die for killing his ex-wife, daughter and 2 other people 30 years ago in Orlando.

But the state Supreme Court in February halted the execution pending the outcome of an Oklahoma case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That case questioned whether the sedative midazolam can be used without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The justices voted 5-4 that midazolam can be used, though 2 dissenting justices said for the 1st time that they think it's "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional.

The drug was used in executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that took longer than usual and raised concerns it did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

Bondi filed her request to lift the stay in light of Monday's decision.

Death penalty opponents used the Supreme Court's decision to press for an end to the state's death penalty, noting that 25 people once on Florida's death row have been exonerated through the years.

"No one knows how many more innocent people remain on death row or, God forbid, have already been executed," said Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "More and more conservatives, libertarians, and progressives agree that the death penalty is broken beyond repair."

Florida uses a 3-drug cocktail of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to knock out, paralyze and stop the heart of a prisoner.

In 2013, then-Corrections Secretary Mike Crews wrote to Gov. Rick Scott, saying he had reviewed the state's lethal injection procedure.

The regimen was "compatible with evolving standards of decency ... and advances in science, research, pharmacology, and technology," Crews wrote.

"The process will not involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or wanton infliction of pain and suffering," Crews added. "The foremost objective of the lethal injection process is a humane and dignified death."

This January, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones also certified the process, using the same language.

"Our office respects the court's decision and will continue to follow the law," said John Tupps, Scott's spokesman. "The governor's foremost concern is for the victims of heinous crimes and their families."

Paul Howell, sentenced to death in the 1992 murder of Florida Highway Patrol trooper Jimmy Fulford, challenged the state's use of midazolam, saying he had medical conditions that would prevent the drug from working properly.

A circuit judge, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court to hold an evidentiary hearing, disagreed. Judge Angela Dempsey ruled that Howell hadn't proved midazolam "will fail to make him unconscious and insensate when the 2nd and 3rd drugs are administered," and handed the case back to the state's Supreme Court.

Howell was put to death last February.

Correll's attorney, Maria Perinetti of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel in Tampa, was out of the office Monday.

In Monday's case, Justice Samuel Alito said for a conservative majority that arguments the drug could not be used effectively as a sedative in executions are speculative.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, "Under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

Alito responded by saying "the dissent's resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments."

In a separate dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the time has come for the court to debate whether the death penalty itself is constitutional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Breyer's opinion.

(source: Tampa Bay Tribune)


Florida divided on Supreme Court death penalty ruling----Court ruled drugs used in lethal injection constitutional

Even though the Supreme Court just ruled that the use of lethal injection in executions is legal, experts are saying the death penalty debate is far from over.

Monday, the justices voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the drug used is not cruel and unusual punishment.

Experts in the legal profession and the State Attorney Office said they are not surprised by the ruling, but some are saying the whole idea of the death penalty needs to have another look.

"We are very happy that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty. Capital punishment is constitutional, and there is no dispute about that," Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said.

But the 2 dissenting judges in the case are saying that more than likely, the death penalty itself may be unconstitutional. That statement is what some people have said will to lead to more debate in the future.

"There is an attack by some in terms of the death penalty. They cannot anymore. They try, in some cases, to say a person is innocent. But that is not the attack now. The attack now is on how it’s carried out, which is ridicules in this scenario. To me, the bottom line is if there is an issue, let's go back to firing squads. There would be one bullet, and it would be quick," de la Rionda said.

Former state attorney Harry Shorstein has prosecuted or overseen a number of death penalty cases, and he said that over time, his opinion on the matter has changed.

"My opinion has changed somewhat, because we have studied the death penalty from every angle imaginable. My conclusion today is the system is broken as it applies to the death penalty. There is no possible justification for having people on death row. I think the average is 13 years, but we have a case in Jacksonville that has been there for 40 years. That argumentatively is cruel and unusual punishment," Shorstein said.

Shorstein is talking about the case of Jacob Dougan (pictured at left), who was sentence to die 40 years ago for killing a man in Jacksonville and trying to start a race riot over it.

Shorestein said he's now working with a group in Washington that will be challenging death penalty cases.

Defense Attorney Richard Kuritiz said Florida will have a huge role in upcoming death penalty cases with the Supreme Court.

Florida is the only state where a person can be executed on the recommendation of a 7 to 5 justice ruling. Almost every other state requires a 12 to 0 recommendation. So right now, pending in the U.S. Supreme Court is that particular issue. Is the Florida system of the death penalty constitutional, and I think there will be a real problem with that, and I think it will be stricken down here in Florida," Kuritiz said.



Alabama death penalty litigation could continue

Alabama saw 1 legal obstacle to executions removed by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday. But litigation over capital punishment may not be over.

The high court ruled 5-4 that three Oklahoma inmates challenging the state's use of midazolam, a sedative in the lethal injection process, had failed to prove that it violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

Writing for the 5-justice majority in the case, known as Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel Alito said that the inmates failed to show a likelihood that midazolam would not prevent the intense pain from the administration of 2 other drugs. Alito also wrote the inmates had to suggest a safer drug.

"When a method of execution is authorized under state law, a party contending that this method violates the Eighth Amendment bears the burden of showing that the method creates an unacceptable risk of pain," Alito wrote. "Here, petitioners' own experts effectively conceded that they lacked evidence to prove their case beyond dispute."

Midazolam, used in Alabama's execution process, aims to render a condemned inmate conscious before staff administers drugs that paralyze the muscles and stop the heart.

Alabama, like other states, used sodium thiopental as its sedative until 2011, when drug company Hospira stopped manufacturing it. The state switched to pentobarbital, but said early last year that its supply had run out. It switched to midazolam in September.

The drug was present at 3 botched executions around the country last year, though its role was unclear. Ohio executed a convicted murderer and rapist in January 2014; the execution took 26 minutes. A reporter saidthe condemned man gasped and choked throughout it. 5 months later, a convicted murderer gasped 640 times and took 2 hours to die during his execution in Arizona.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said asking inmates to propose a safer execution method was "wholly novel," and questioned the evidence used in midazolam's defense.

"It leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake," she wrote.

Death row inmate Thomas Arthur, sentenced to death over a murder-for-hire scheme in 1982 challenged the state's use of midazolam. Like the Oklahoma inmates, Arthur said it would not render him unconscious before he received the lethal drugs.

Suhana Han, a New York-based attorney representing Arthur, said in a statement it was "too early to tell" the impact of Supreme Court decision.

"We will be studying the full opinion in detail as we pursue his constitutional claims before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama," the statement said.

Arthur has also challenged the methods employed by the state in conducting executions. Chief U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins last March stayed Arthur's execution, writing that there were substantial differences between witnesses on whether staff consistently administered a consciousness test to inmates after administering the sedative.

The Glossip ruling focused on the drugs used in the Oklahoma case.

The Alabama Attorney General's office has 14 days to file a brief on the impact of the Supreme Court's decision on the Alabama cases.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on the constitutionality of states' use of lethal injections and death penalty opponents cannot continue to indefinitely delay lawful executions," Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement.

Due to the legal challenges and drug shortages, Alabama has not conducted an execution since July 25, 2013.

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)


Ohio judge sentences man to death in sledgehammer slayings

An Ohio judge on Monday sentenced a 20-year-old man to death for the April 2013 sledgehammer murder of his girlfriend's mother and also gave him a life sentence for killing her father, the Summit County prosecutor's office said.

Shawn Ford was 18 when he murdered Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert 10 days after stabbing their daughter Chelsea, also 18, in the neck multiple times because she would not "be intimate" with him, prosecutors said.

Ford was found guilty in October of multiple counts of aggravated murder in the parents' deaths and of felonious assault for the attack on Chelsea Schobert, who spent a month in the hospital recovering from her injuries.

In the death penalty phase of the trial, a jury in Akron, Ohio, unanimously recommended Ford be executed for the murder of Margaret Schobert. He did not get the death penalty for the murder of Jeffrey Schobert, which jurors saw as less premeditated.

Prosecutors said Ford walked 8 miles to the Schoberts' house in New Franklin, a town south of Akron, and beat Jeffrey Schobert to death with a sledgehammer. He then used the dead man's cell phone to lure Margaret Schobert back to the house from the hospital where her daughter was being treated, and bludgeoned her to death.

Ford's attorneys argued he is intellectually disabled and ineligible for the death penalty. Last week Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker ruled that Ford was not mentally disabled and could be executed after 3 mental health experts ruled his IQ was not significantly below average.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that intellectually disabled defendants are not eligible for the death penalty.

At the sentencing hearing on Monday, Ford wept and apologized for his crimes, saying "I never wanted to hurt that girl and I never wanted to hurt the Schobert family."

Parker gave Ford an execution date of Dec. 29, 2015. However all Ohio death penalty cases receive an automatic appeal and all executions in the state have been suspended until 2016 after a Federal court judge ruling.

(source: Reuters)


U.S. Supreme Court to hear Carr brothers, Gleason appeals in October session----Kansas appeals state court decisions vacating death sentences

The United States Supreme Court has allocated time periods for oral arguments in three cases in which the Kansas Supreme Court set aside the death penalty for men convicted of capital murder.

The nation's highest court will consider Kansas' appeal of its own high court decision at an unspecified date during the next court session beginning in October, the Supreme Court announced Monday.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 2014 upheld the capital murder convictions but vacated the death sentences of brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, both of Wichita, and Sidney Gleason, a former Topekan convicted in two Great Bend killings. The state appealed the decision to overturn the death sentences to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed this past March to hear all three appeals.

Gleason was convicted of capital murder in the Feb. 21, 2004, killing of a woman, Mikiala "Miki" Martinez - a potential witness against him in a knifepoint robbery in Great Bend - as well as her boyfriend, Darren Wornkey.

The Carrs were convicted in a killing spree in which 5 people were murdered in December 2000. 4 of the victims were killed together after a night in which 2 women were raped by their assailants and forced to have sex with 3 other male victims. All 5 were shot execution style in a field, but 1 female victim miraculously survived a gunshot wound to the head and lived to testify against the Carrs, who also were convicted of killing another Wichita woman several days earlier.

The Kansas Supreme Court cited the failure of the Barton County District Court judge to give a jury instruction regarding mitigating circumstances in vacating Gleason's death sentence. In removing the Carrs from death row, the Kansas court said the brothers should have been given separate hearings in the sentencing phase of their trial.

The issue of jury instruction is common in all three cases to be argued before the U.S. high court.

According to Supreme Court orders filed with all three, the high court must decide "whether the Eighth Amendment requires that a capital sentencing jury be affirmatively instructed that mitigating circumstances need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," as the Kansas Supreme Court found in vacating the death sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court allocated one hour of oral argument on the question, assigning 30 minutes to the state of Kansas, 20 minutes for Jonathan Carr and Sidney Gleason, and 10 minutes for Reginald Carr.

A 2nd question to be considered by the high court in the matter of the Carr brothers is whether the confrontation clause applies in the "selection" phase of the capital sentencing hearing, as the Kansas court maintained. In dividing 1 hour of oral argument on this question, justices assigned 20 minutes for the state of Kansas, 10 minutes for the Solicitor General, 20 minutes for Reginald Carr and 10 minutes for Jonathan Carr.

The justices made no oral arguments allocation for a third question in the Carrs' case - whether the trial court's refusal to order separate sentencing hearings for the Carrs violated the Eighth Amendment right to "individualized sentencing" and was more than harmless error.



US Supreme Court to hear Kansas appeals----US Supreme Court to hear appeals in Kansas capital murder cases in October session

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in 3 cases in which the Kansas Supreme Court set aside the death penalty for men convicted of capital murder.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports ( ) the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the Kansas appeal of its own high court's decision sometime during the Supreme Court's next session, which begins in October.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 2014 upheld the capital murder convictions but vacated the death sentences of Wichita brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr and former Topekan Sidney Gleason.

The state then appealed the decision to overturn the death sentences to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed this past March to hear all 3 appeals. The issues the U.S. Supreme Court will consider include jury instruction and separate sentencing hearings.

(source: Associated Press)


Oklahoma, Florida move quickly to resume lethal injections

Oklahoma and Florida moved quickly to resume lethal injections after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam, a sedative that has been used in several problematic executions.

Attorneys general in both states asked courts Monday to allow executions to proceed, just hours after the high court voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Prison officials in both states have said previously they were ready to proceed with executions if the use of midazolam were upheld, but neither would disclose Monday how many doses they have.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent notice to the state Court of Criminal Appeals that Richard Eugene Glossip, John Marion Grant and Benjamin Robert Cole have exhausted their appeals and may be executed as early as Aug. 5.

"The families in these three cases have waited a combined 48 years for justice," Pruitt said in a statement.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the state Supreme Court to lift the stay on the execution of Jerry Correll, who was convicted in the 1985 killing of4 people in Orlando. He had won a temporary reprieve while the high court was reviewing the Oklahoma case.

Florida has used midazolam in 11 executions with no apparent difficulties, but executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma took longer than usual and raised concerns that the drug did not perform its intended task of putting inmates into a coma-like sleep.

Execution protocols in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia allow for midazolam, but those states have not used it.

Unlike other execution drugs that have become difficult for states to obtain because of opposition by manufacturers, mostly based in Europe, there are numerous manufacturers of midazolam. Several states, including Oklahoma, have had no problems obtaining the common surgical sedative, although one manufacturer, Illinois-based Akorn, announced in April it was taking steps to ensure midazolam is no longer made available to states for use in executions.

Oklahoma 1st used the drug last year in the execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed on the gurney, moaned and clenched his teeth for several minutes before prison officials tried to halt the process; he died 43 minutes after it was first injected. The state then increased by 5 times the amount of midazolam it uses and executed Charles Warner in January. He complained of a burning sensation but showed no other obvious signs of physical distress.

While the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the use of the drug, 2 dissenting justices - Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - said for the 1st time they think it's "highly likely" the death penalty itself is unconstitutional.

Justice Samuel Alito, in writing for the conservative majority, said arguments that the drug could not be used effectively in executions as a sedative were speculative.

He dismissed the problems in Arizona and Oklahoma's executions as "having little probative value for present purposes."

But Dale Baich, an attorney for the three Oklahoma inmates who challenged the use of midazolam, said litigation is certain to continue.

"If the system was working," he said, "we would not have these spectacles that are caused by different drug formulas and continuing experimentation."

(source: Associated Press)


Gov. Ricketts wants death penalty to protect law enforcement

Governor Pete Ricketts told KTIV's News Partner, the Norfolk News Bureau that he believes the death penalty is an essential tool to protect law enforcement in the state of Nebraska.

"There has to be additional sanctions for somebody for instance, is on a life sentence so that they have consequences for any actions they might take, for any violence they might try to impart or inflict on one of our law enforcement officers," said Ricketts.

Ricketts said that he was surprised that the death penalty got repealed and that the legislators that voted to repeal it were simply not listening to their constituents.

"I don't think that anybody would have guessed with 35 Republican Senators in the Unicameral that the Death Penalty would have been repealed. In my mind I think the Legislature is completely out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans and I suspect that the Senators who voted for this, who are out of touch with their constituents, will be hearing about it over the course of the summer," said the Governor.

The governor also said that he wants Nebraskans to sign the petition and if the measure gets on the ballot the citizens of Nebraska will vote for it.

"I encourage all citizens to sign the petition and I look forward to seeing it on the ballot. I'm confident that if it's on the ballot then Nebraskans will support it overwhelmingly," said Ricketts.

(source: KTIV news)


Arizona death penalty unresolved after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of a controversial drug used in the lengthy execution of an Arizona inmate last year. But the ruling does not end the legal debate over capital punishment in the state.

The justices voted 5-4 on Monday in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Midazolam was 1 of 2 drugs used in the execution of convicted murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood in Arizona last summer.

Wood died after snorting and gasping for air for nearly 2 hours, raising questions about the drug combination.

Midazolam was used in executions in Ohio and Oklahoma in which the inmates gasped and writhed in pain before dying.

Wood's lengthy death put a halt to Arizona's executions and set the stage for other courtroom battles on the issue.

Here are some things to know:


Wood was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and gasped over and over before taking his final breath nearly 2 hours later on July 23.

In November, a judge put on hold a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona pending the investigation of Wood's death.

The state also agreed to put on hold executions and to not seek any death warrants until the lawsuit is resolved. Once executions do resume, the state has said it will use a different drug combination and will only use midazolam if it cannot obtain the 2 other drugs, pentobarbital or sodium pentothal.

However, the state still refuses to say whether it has any execution drugs in supply, which kind, or whether it is actively seeking them.

Arizona has put 37 inmates to death since capital punishment resumed in 1992 and has about 120 inmates on death row.


Wood and 5 other death row inmates filed a lawsuit against Arizona last June. The inmates say they have a First Amendment right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.

The state, like many others, had refused to provide information about the drugs used in executions since 2010, around the time Arizona had to find new drugs and manufacturers after an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company stopped making the drug that had been used previously.

News organizations, including The Associated Press, have also filed a lawsuit seeking information about the drugs.


The state hired an independent firm to investigate the Wood execution amid claims it had been botched. But that firm found in December that the state had done nothing wrong and had followed proper protocols. The findings showed Wood was injected correctly but did not react to the drugs as expected. Still, the 3-member team recommended the changes to the drugs used, which the state agreed to.

Dale Baich, Wood's attorney, said the report failed to explain why the experimental drug protocol did not work as promised.

(source: Associated Press)


CA high court overturns death sentence for convicted double-murderer

The California Supreme Court Monday upheld a man's conviction, but overturned his death sentence, for a monthlong crime spree that included robberies in which 2 men were shot and killed 8 days apart in Sun Valley and Hollywood.

The state's highest court upheld Richard Leon's conviction on 2 counts of murder, 16 counts of robbery, 3 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and two counts related to a police chase that led to his arrest, finding that "the evidence of defendant's guilt was overwhelming."

But the panel reversed the convicted double-murderer's death sentence, finding that a "cursory" examination of three prospective jurors who expressed general opposition to the death penalty was "simply not sufficient to permit an informed decision about their ability to serve."

The panel noted that binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires automatic reversal of a death sentence based on error in excusing a prospective juror for cause based on that person's views about the death penalty.

"Thus, regardless of whether defendant suffered any actual prejudice from the dismissal of these panelists, his penalty judgment must be reversed," Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote on behalf of the panel.

The justices ordered the case to be sent back for determination on whether the penalty phase of Leon's trial will be retried.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey handled the case as a trial attorney.

When asked if she had any misgivings about how jury selection was done, she said: "As I recall, it was a very diverse panel of people who looked at the case. I have not reviewed the opinion, obviously, but in that case I'm very settled about how I conducted myself as a prosecutor."

Leon was convicted of the Feb. 2, 1993, killing of 41-year-old Norair Akhverdian, who was shot in the back - a crime captured on surveillance video - after a robbery at a Shell gasoline station in Sun Valley, and the Feb. 10, 1993, shooting death of Varouj Armenian, 39, during a robbery at Jack's Liquor Store in Hollywood, which he owned.

Both victims were married and had 2 young children.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of a robbery.

Leon was additionally found guilty of a series of other heists in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, North Hollywood and Arleta - with 4 of the robberies occurring on Feb. 17, 1993. He was arrested the next day by Los Angeles police after a high-speed chase.



Supreme Court decision on lethal injection process triggers movement in California's stalled executions

A Supreme Court decision upholding a controversial drug used in lethal injection executions in Oklahoma starts the clock for California to come up with its own injection procedures, thus increasing the chance executions could resume here.

The justices on Monday ruled 5-4 that the sedative midazolam, which was implicated in several botched executions and is the 1st of 3 drugs in Oklahoma's lethal injection cocktail, can be used without violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

State and federal court decisions have prevented California from using its 3-drug lethal injection protocol, contributing to a 9-year hiatus in executions. One was a federal judge's ruling that the state's 3-drug lethal injection protocol could result in excessive pain. But after families of homicide victims sued the state in November in an effort to end delays, prison officials agreed this month to submit proposed regulations for a new lethal injection procedure - a precursor to resuming executions - within 120 days of the Supreme Court decision.

"I very much doubt that (California corrections officials) would use midazolam, but whatever they adopt I think the Supreme Court has raised the bar for anyone wanting to challenge it" with this decision, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represented the families in the lawsuit.

However, Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment, said he doesn't think the Supreme Court decision in the Glossip v. Gross case will help or hinder California's procedures.

"I think you're talking about a very different protocol in California," Cherry said. "And I think that California would have its own standards and the court would have its own standards for what is cruel and unusual."

The state now has until Oct. 27 to come up with a new lethal injection protocol, Scheidegger said. Corrections officials say they have been developing regulations for a single-drug protocol but have yet to propose one, an effort they say has been complicated by a nationwide challenge in accessing drugs.

Despite the movement, executions are not expected to resume anytime soon. Before a final protocol can be adopted, there is a formal administrative process of notice and comment. The state must consider comments made about the draft regulations and revise them if it deems it necessary, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Once the protocol is established according to state law and adopted, it is expected to be legally challenged as past procedures have been, he said.

There are 751 condemned inmates in the state as of Monday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, but only 13 have been executed here, as well as 1 in Missouri. In contrast, 101 condemned inmates have died by other means: 67 of natural causes, 24 by suicide, 7 from incidents such as drug overdoses or homicide, and 3 deaths that have yet to be classified, according to the department. Regardless of the hiatus on executions, appeals in capital cases often take 2 decades before a decision is made.

Last year a federal judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional, which if upheld could ultimately commute all death sentences to life in prison.

(source: Los Angeles Daily News)


Death penalty being sought in slaying of McStay family

The district attorney will seek the death penalty for a California man who is accused of killing a family of 4 and burying their bodies in shallow desert graves.

District Attorney Mike Ramos filed notice Monday in San Bernardino County Superior Court in the case against 58-year-old Charles Ray Merritt, who is being held without bail.

Prosecutors say Merritt killed his business partner, Joseph McStay; McStay's wife Summer and their children, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr.

Merritt has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial beginning Aug. 10.

Search warrants served in the case will be unsealed Wednesday.

The McStays vanished in February 2010, puzzling investigators who said there were no signs of forced entry at the home, nothing was missing, and the couple's credit cards and tens of thousands of dollars in bank accounts were untouched.

The family's remains were found more than three years later buried in the desert in San Bernardino County, 100 miles from their home in the San Diego community of Fallbrook. Merritt was arrested a year later, in November 2014.

(source: CBS news)


Supreme Court Allows Use of Execution Drug

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday against 3 death row inmates who had sought to bar the use of an execution drug they said risked causing excruciating pain.

In the process, 2 dissenting members of the court - Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - came very close to announcing that they were ready to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. This gave rise to slashing debate with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas about the reliability and effectiveness of the punishment, a dispute that overshadowed the core issue in the case.

The 5-to-4 decision on the execution drug broke along familiar lines, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court's more conservative members to allow its use.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the inmates had failed to identify an available and preferable method of execution and failed to make the case that the challenged drug entailed a substantial risk of severe pain.

From left, Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant and Benjamin R. Cole Sr., the three prisoners in Oklahoma whose executions the Supreme Court delayed in a brief order on Wednesday.

The drug, the sedative midazolam, played a part in 3 long and apparently painful executions last year. It was used in an effort to render inmates unconscious before they were injected with other drugs that cause severe pain.

Demonstrators opposed to the death penalty expressed their disappointment over the Supreme Court's decision allowing the sedative midazolam to be used in executions.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the other 3 members of the court's liberal wing, said, "The court's available-alternative requirement leads to patently absurd consequences."

"Petitioners contend that Oklahoma's current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment - the chemical equivalent of being burned alive," Justice Sotomayor wrote. "But under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake."

Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Elena Kagan joined Justice Sotomayor's dissent.

In a 2nd, more sweeping dissent, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, said it was time to consider a larger issue.

"Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," Justice Breyer wrote, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

In a 46-page dissent that included charts and maps, he said that "it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," which bars cruel and unusual punishments. He said that there was evidence that innocent people have been executed, that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was warped by racial discrimination and politics.

Justice Breyer added that there was scant reason to think that the death penalty deterred crime and that long delays between death sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment. He noted that most of the country did not use the death penalty and that the United States was an international outlier in embracing it.

Justice Scalia responded to what he called "Justice Breyer's plea for judicial abolition of the death penalty" by calling it "gobbledygook." The punishment is contemplated by the Constitution, Justice Scalia said, and disingenuously opposed on grounds created by its opponents.

Criticizing the death penalty on the ground that it is not carried out fast enough, for instance, Justice Scalia said, "calls to mind the man sentenced to death for killing his parents, who pleads for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan."

"We federal judges," Justice Scalia continued, "live in a world apart from the vast majority of Americans. After work, we retire to homes in placid suburbia or to high-rise co-ops with guards at the door. We are not confronted with the threat of violence that is ever present in many Americans' everyday lives. The suggestion that the incremental deterrent effect of capital punishment does not seem 'significant' reflects, it seems to me, a let-them-eat-cake obliviousness to the needs of others. Let the people decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate."

In a 2nd concurrence, Justice Thomas described several cases in which the Supreme Court had spared the lives of killers.

"Whatever one's views on the permissibility or wisdom of the death penalty," Justice Thomas wrote, "I doubt anyone would disagree that each of these crimes was egregious enough to merit the severest condemnation that society has to offer. The only constitutional problem with the fact that these criminals were spared that condemnation, while others were not, is that their amnesty came in the form of unfounded claims. Arbitrariness has nothing to do with it."

The challenge to the execution drug was brought by 4 condemned inmates in Oklahoma, who said it did not reliably render the person unconscious and so violated the Eighth Amendment. Lower courts disagreed.

Oklahoma and several other states started to use midazolam in executions after manufacturers in Europe and the United States refused to sell them the barbiturates that were traditionally used to produce unconsciousness.

Justice Alito suggested that condemned inmates should not benefit from the shortages, saying that "anti-death-penalty advocates pressured pharmaceutical companies to refuse to supply the drugs used to carry out death sentences."

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas joined the majority opinion.

In dissent, Justice Sotomayor said the shortages had produced real risks.

"The execution protocols states hurriedly devise as they scramble to locate new and untested drugs," she wrote, "are all the more likely to be cruel and unusual - presumably, these drugs would have been the states' 1st choice were they in fact more effective."

Lawyers for the Oklahoma inmates, with the support of experts in pharmacology and anesthetics, said midazolam, even if properly administered, was unreliable. They pointed to 3 executions last year that seemed to go awry.

In April 2014, Clayton D. Lockett regained consciousness during the execution procedure, writhing and moaning after the intravenous line was improperly placed. In Ohio in January 2014 and in Arizona in July, prisoners appeared to gasp and choke for extended periods.

The Supreme Court last considered lethal injections in 2008, in Baze v. Rees, when it held that what was then the standard 3-drug combination, using the barbiturate sodium thiopental as the first agent, did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

The new case, Glossip v. Gross, No. 14-7955, originally included a 4th inmate, Charles F. Warner. But he was executed on Jan. 15 after the Supreme Court denied his request for a stay by a 5-to-4 vote.

A little more than a week later, the court agreed to hear the remaining inmates’ appeals, and a few days after that it stayed their executions.

They are Richard E. Glossip, who was convicted of arranging the beating death of his employer; John M. Grant, who was convicted of stabbing a prison cafeteria worker to death; and Benjamin R. Cole Sr., who was convicted of breaking his 9-month-old daughter's spine, killing her.

"While most humans wish to die a painless death," Justice Alito wrote for the majority, "many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether."

(source: New York Times)


ACLU Comment on Supreme Court Decision in Glossip v. Gross

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this comment in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Glossip v. Gross:

"Today's 5-4 decision ignores the evidence and endorses a state's right to torture people to death absent any other alternative. This reading of the Constitution cannot and should not stand. As powerfully set forth in the dissent, capital punishment in the United States is unreliable and arbitrary, racially biased and geographically skewed. Much of America has turned away from the death penalty, leaving only a handful of counties insisting on putting people to death. The time has come to end this nation's disastrous experiment with capital punishment."

Information about the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project:

(source: ACLU)


Symposium: The death penalty lives to fight another day

The story of Glossip v. Gross is that no lethal injection protocol can satisfy people who believe there should be no executions. That has always been the subtext of the case. And now that the Justices have issued their opinions, it has become explicit.

As Justice Alito and others noted at oral argument, the prisoners' claims about midazolam are part of a coordinated effort to kill capital punishment by a thousand cuts. The prisoners' lead expert witness in Glossip, which ostensibly concerned midazolam, played the same role in Baze v. Rees, which ostensibly concerned pentobarbital. He unsurprisingly opined that neither should be used in executions. The Arizona Public Defender's Office successfully sued the federal Food and Drug Administration to deny states the use of sodium thiopental in executions. Then the same lawyers argued in Glossip that states should use sodium thiopental instead of midazolam because sodium thiopental is a better drug. The prisoners and their supporters may be genuinely concerned about midazolam, but we shouldn't kid ourselves about their overarching goal.

In my experience, most capital litigation suffers from this disconnect between the means and the ends. Death-row inmates raise constitutional claims that, if successful, would result in a retrial or a modified execution protocol. But what they really want is a de facto life sentence through delay. When Alabama changed the first drug in its execution protocol from pentobarbital to midazolam, prisoners suing the state just amended their complaints using the "find and replace" function. In one method-of-execution case, Alabama agreed to change its execution protocol to the method a prisoner said he wanted; the prisoner then sued to challenge the constitutionality of his own proposed method of execution.

To be clear, I don't begrudge litigants or lawyers for using every means at their disposal to delay or avoid an execution. I just think our constitutional law should make them be honest about it. Why pretend these disputes are about a particular method of execution when they clearly go to the viability of capital punishment itself?

Fortunately, the Court in Glossip refused to suspend disbelief. The Court affirmed on 2 grounds - 1 broad, and 1 fact-specific. First, the Court held that there was no constitutional violation because "the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain." As the Court explained, one of "the substantive elements of an Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claim" is that a prisoner must "plead and prove a known and available alternative." Because the prisoners could not meet that standard, the Court reasoned that their claim failed as a matter of law.

Second, the Court held that the lower court's fact-findings about midazolam were not clearly erroneous. Almost every lower court to have considered the question has reached the same conclusion: midazolam is capable of rendering someone unconscious and, therefore, eliminates any substantial risk of severe pain that might be caused by administering the other drugs in a 3-drug lethal-injection protocol. Despite the arguments in Justice Sotomayor's dissent, a fact-finding that has been reached independently by numerous lower courts can hardly be characterized as "scientifically unsupported and implausible."

Although the Court could have resolved this case with its fact-specific holding about midazolam, it is good for the fair administration of capital punishment that it did not. The states did not begin using midazolam in lethal injections because good government demanded it. Instead, they changed to midazolam because drug manufacturers gave in to anti-death-penalty protests and stopped providing the states with thiopental and pentobarbital. And the cycle is continuing; manufacturers of midazolam have recently suggested that they will stop providing it to states as well. So a fact-bound ruling about midazolam would merely have kicked the can down the road.

The Court's 1st holding, on the other hand, should end much of the litigation about methods of execution. As my office explained in an amicus brief joined by 12 other states, the way to ensure that the government can carry out lawful executions in this fluid environment is to require plaintiffs to identify a readily available alternative to the government's method of execution as a part of their Eighth Amendment claim. At the very least, that rule should reduce prisoners' incentives to challenge a state's lethal injection protocol as a way to prevent their execution. It may also set back the campaign to make execution drugs unavailable to the states.

It is telling that Justice Stephen Breyer openly joined the death-penalty abolition effort with a dissenting opinion that asks for briefing on the constitutionality of capital punishment. I disagree with almost everything Justice Breyer says in his dissent. But I think his broader point is well taken. It is hard to argue that the death penalty is a strong deterrent when capital cases take 25 years to process - in part because of litigation like Glossip. On the other hand, I suspect it is also hard to get people excited about a death-penalty abolition movement when old age is the leading cause of death on California's death row. Maybe if we stopped fighting about how we carry out executions, we could more honestly debate whether we should have executions at all.

In short, the Court's decision in Glossip should introduce some much-needed honesty into litigation about capital punishment. If someone is truly challenging the constitutionality of a specific method of execution, then they should identify a better alternative. If they can’t or won't, then the courts should treat the litigation for what it is: a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty itself. Either way, the legal system will be better off.

(source: Andrew Brasher,


Fearing Abolition of the Death Penalty, The Supreme Court Upholds Lethal Injection

Fearing the United States would abandon its membership in the club of death-penalty countries like Iran and China, the Supreme Court ruled that death by legal injection is constitutional.

Writing for the majority, Justice Alito said:

For 2 independent reasons, we also affirm. First, the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of execution claims.

Second, the District Court did not commit clear error when it found that the prisoners failed to establish that Oklahoma's use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain.

The 5-4 majority's fear that a ruling against lethal instruction would render the death penalty obsolete was obvious during argument. A ruling against death would reward those terrible death penalty abolitionists who, Justice Scalia blamed during argument, as the villains that made this case possible.

Let's begin with a little background. Most states lethal injection procedures used a 3-drug cocktail. The 1st drug makes the inmate unconscious. The 2nd drug paralyzes the inmate that also stops his breath. The 3rd drug stops the inmate's heart. The drug, sodium thiopental, was used by most states as the 1st drug in the protocol. However, drug companies refused to sell that drug for use in executions. Most drug companies also refused to sell the 2nd choice, phenobarbital, for executions. Oklahoma turned to midazolam that is a sedative - not an anesthetic like the 2 preferred drugs are.

According to Scotusblog, Justice Scalia was hopping mad during argument that opponents of the death penalty successfully pressured the manufacturers to refuse selling drugs to states so that the states could use them to kill people.

Justice Scalia whined about the unfairness of companies denying states access to the drugs of choice for the 1st step in their 3 step protocol for executions. Those terrible people made it harder for states to exercise their constitutionally recognized right to kill people.

The States have gone through 2 different drugs, and those drugs have been rendered unavailable by the abolitionist movement putting pressure on the companies that manufacture them so that the States cannot obtain those 2 other drugs.

Then Justice Kennedy asked the plaintiffs' lawyer what weight the court should give "the fact that there is a method [to execute prisoners painlessly], but that it's not available because of ... opposition to the death penalty?"

This is an interesting point when you consider that state legislatures and Congress are doing their utmost to make medically safe abortion unavailable because of their opposition to abortion. Efforts to make constitutionally protected rights less accessible were of little concern to Kennedy and Scalia when the issue was women's reproductive rights. Moreover, just as the case with the death penalty, by forcing clinics to close with TRAP laws, they are removing the better option for women - in favor of coat hangers and unsanitary conditions.

The bottom line is the Supreme Court decided that they aren't going to let those bad death penalty abolitionists stand in the way of a state's right to kill people But hey, we're still in the death penalty nations club with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China.

(source: Adalia Woodbury,


Lethal injection ruling should bring review of death penalty's legality

In a challenge to Oklahoma's use of the drug midazolam in executions, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the state against a challenge from death row prisoners. But in a dissent to the 5-4 ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer raised a new question about the constitutionality of the death penalty.

"I would ask," he wrote, "for a full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution." Were the high court to wade into that fundamental issue regarding death as cruel and unusual punishment and thus in violation of the Constitution, it would be an epic confrontation.

Breyer's comment came in a strong opposition view in a challenge to Oklahoma's use of the drug, which spurred a controversy last year when a prisoner being executed appeared to suffer agony in the course of the administration of drugs.

Once again, a state confronted one of a multitude of complications inherent in the death penalty, the 1 penalty that once carried out cannot be corrected. The main issue, of course, in view of DNA testing and other factors in challenges to convictions is that the wrong person can be executed. Such testing, or new evidence or recanted testimony, has freed multiple prisoners, including in North Carolina.

This state, where lethal injection also is used though the last execution was in 2006, also is confronting death penalty challenges, the most recent being legislators' attempts to remove a requirement that a doctor be present, which many physicians say requires doctors to violate their ethics. Legal experts say executions in North Carolina will likely be held up as other legal challenges are heard by the courts. That is no loss to justice.

This hopelessly flawed penalty and the process that brings it about are expensive, time-consuming for the court system and fundamentally wrong. The purpose of the justice system is to bring about exactly that, justice. It is not to provide revenge for victims on behalf of the state. Breyer is right. There should be a high court debate on the death penalty. It is long overdue.

(source: Editorial, The News & Observer)


Justice Breyer Resurrects an Old Debate: Is the Death Penalty Constitutional?

The liberal justice wrote that the death penalty is unreliable, arbitrary, cruel and increasingly unusual.

In a blow to what the Justice Clarence Thomas called "death penalty abolitionists," the court ruled Monday that Oklahoma's use of the drug midazolam in executions did not count as cruel and unusual punishment.

But Monday's ruling also came with a face off between 2 of the court's liberal judges (Justices Stephen Breyer, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and two of the court's conservatives (Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) over whether the death penalty itself is constitutional.

While Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote the dissent to Samuel Alito's majority opinion, Breyer used his dissent to consider a different question, and it was a big one: "whether the death penalty violates the Constitution." In 41 pages, not counting appendices, he argued that it's "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment."

"It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates."----Justice Antonin Scalia

Breyer isn't the 1st justice to argue that capital punishment is unconstitutional. In 1976, in his dissent to Gregg v. Georgia, the late Justice William J. Brennan wrote:

Death is not only an unusually severe punishment, unusual in its pain, in its finality, and in its enormity, but it serves no penal purpose more effectively than a less severe punishment; therefore the principle inherent in the Clause that prohibits pointless infliction of excessive punishment when less severe punishment can adequately achieve the same purposes invalidates the punishment.

Nearly 40 years later, Breyer made four points against the death penalty: it is unreliable, given that there have been innocent people put to death; it is applied arbitrarily; it is cruel because death row inmates often wait several years for their sentence to be carried out; and it is unusual because of its declining popularity over the last 40 years.

His fellow justices were unconvinced. Justice Antonin Scalia, in his concurring opinion responding to Breyer, wrote that the Eighth Amendment only prohibits punishments that add "terror, pain, and disgrace" to an otherwise legal punishment. "Rather than bother with this troubling detail, Justice Breyer elects to contort the constitutional text," Scalia continued. "Redefining 'cruel' to mean 'unreliable,' 'arbitrary,' or causing 'excessive delays,' and 'unusual' to include a 'decline in use,' he proceeds to offer up a white paper devoid of any meaningful legal argument." At one point he wrote that the reason the court has never challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty is because the constitution explicitly mentions capital punishment.

Thomas focused on Breyer's argument that the death penalty is applied arbitrarily. In a footnote he took issue with Breyer's argument that he has seen "discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations":

Breyer relied heavily on government data, statistics, criminal justice studies and articles online and print publications. To show the the death penalty is unreliable, he cites a 2009 New Yorker story on Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 but believed to be innocent. To show that it is arbitrary, he references studies that show that the race and gender of the victim influence the use of the death penalty. To show that the long wait times death row inmates face are cruel, he noted that the inmates spend their time in solitary confinement, and research that shows the deleterious affects of solitary. And to show that the death penalty is unusual, he notes its decline over the last 40 years, both in frequency of executions and in the number of states that still execute offenders.

Breyer is aware of the argument that capital punishment should be left to the states, and noted that in Furman v. Georgia, a 1972 death penalty case, the court's ruling against the prisoner's death penalty put pressure on the states to outline fair standards for sentencing someone to death.

But, he continued, the issues at stake here are judicial issues, and the states still haven't solved the problem. "The answer is that the matters I have discussed, such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters," he wrote. While state legislatures responded with legislation "in the last four decades, considerable evidence has accumulated that those responses have not worked."



High Court's Ruling, Say Critics, Endorses 'Torturing People to Death'----"Under the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake," write dissenting justices.

In the most closely-watched death penalty case in years, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled 5-4 (pdf) that Oklahoma can use the controversial and experimental execution drug midazolam that was behind the last year's horrific killing of 38-year-old man Clayton Lockett - who writhed and groaned for 43 minutes before ultimately succumbing to a heart attack.

The decision not only gives the approval for states to use a killing method that many regard as torture, but it also amounts to an ideological defense of the death penalty itself - however cruel. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito stated:

Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

The ruling was slammed by dissenting justices as deeply inhumane.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor - joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan - wrote that the majority decision "leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake." "[U]nder the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake: because petitioners failed to prove the availability of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, the State could execute them using whatever means it designated," the dissent states.

In a separate dissent authored by Breyer and joined by Ginsburg, the justices question the lawfulness of state executions overall, writing it is "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment."

4 people incarcerated on death row - one of whom has since been executed - brought the case Glossip v. Gross, arguing that the state's use of midazolam in lethal injections violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The drug has been used in executions across the country due to a shortage of other lethal injection drugs - driven by a European boycott of the death penalty.

For its lethal injection procedure, Oklahoma uses three drugs: to anesthetize, paralyze, and stop the person's heart. The plaintiffs argued that use of midazolam as an anesthetic does not adequately protect them against pain, as it is a sedative used to treat anxiety and does not have the ability to make individuals unconscious.

16 pharmacology professors agreed with this argument in an amicus brief: "Midazolam is incapable of rendering an inmate unconscious prior to the injection of the second and third drugs in the State of Oklahoma's lethal injection protocol."

Meanwhile, the credibility of Oklahoma's key witness, Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, was called into question by numerous factors, including his use of 150 pages of printouts from, a website whose disclaimer indicates its contents are "not intended for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment."

Critics charged that the Supreme Court's decision flies in the face of evidence and underscores the cruelty of the death penalty overall.

"Today's 5-4 decision ignores the evidence and endorses a state's right to torture people to death absent any other alternative," said Cassandra Stubbs, director of the Capital Punishment Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a press statement released Monday.

"As powerfully set forth in the dissent, capital punishment in the United States is unreliable and arbitrary, racially biased and geographically skewed," Stubbs continued. "Much of America has turned away from the death penalty, leaving only a handful of counties insisting on putting people to death. The time has come to end this nation's disastrous experiment with capital punishment."



Death Penalty Foes Predict More Botched Executions After Supreme Court Ruling----Oklahoma said it carries out executions responsibly

The continued use of the controversial sedative midazolam to put prisoners to death, upheld on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, will mean more challenges and more botched executions, predicted an official with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case against midazolam was brought by three other death-row inmates in Oklahoma after several prolonged executions sparked renewed controversy about lethal injections.

"Midazolam doesn't work," said Cassandra Stubbs, the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, which works to repeal the death penalty. "They were not unconscious."

In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the drug, midazolam, could be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual suffering.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said prisoners objecting to the drug's use failed to identify an alternative method that had less risk of pain.

"I think the sweeping holding here that a defendant could be tortured and that would be okay unless they are able to come up with an alternative method, I think that is a mistake," Stubbs said. "I don’t think the Constitution stands for that."

The majority also said that a lower court had not made a mistake when it found that the prisoners "failed to establish that Oklahoma's use of a massive dose of midazolam in its execution protocol entails a substantial risk of severe pain."

Oklahoma's attorney general, Scott Pruitt, said Oklahoma would now set execution dates for the three inmates, Richard Glossip, Benjamin Cole and John Grant.

"State officials act deliberately and thoughtfully in carrying out this responsibility," he said in a statement. "This marks the 8th time a court has reviewed and upheld as constitutional the lethal injection protocol used by Oklahoma."

Challengers argued because midazolam was not a barbituate, it failed to cause a coma-like state, leaving open the possibility that the other drugs injected afterward would cause an excruciating death. They had questioned Oklahoma's key expert witness who defended the use of the drug but seemed to rely on the website,

Sister Sister Helen Prejean tweeted: "The Supreme Court's decision in Glossip v. Gross allows for continued experimentation on death row inmates. The drug doesn't work."

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "Under the court's new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

The hearing in the case took place a year after a botched execution in Oklahoma captured attention. The prisoner, Clayton D. Lockett, regained consciousness and as he writhed and moaned prison, officials tried to stop the execution. He died after 43 minutes. State officials later said the intravenous line was inserted improperly.

2 other executions, of Joseph Wood in Ohio and Dennis McGuire in Arizona, took longer than expected and the inmates were heard gasping.

"I think a lot of the questions about lethal injection will remain because I think states have an interest in not engaging in torture under their own state constitutions," Stubbs said. "And I fully expect that defendants will continue to challenge unconstitutional methods or methods that are torturous."

Stubbs said she hoped that states would stop using midazolam. If they do not, the country will see more botched executions, she said.

"There's no reason to have any confidence in midazolam working," she said. "And nothing the Supreme Court today says changes that."

The case was the 1st the Supreme Court has considered on lethal injections since 2008. At that time, it found that a 3-drug combination in which the barbituate sodium thiopental was the 1st to be injected was constitutional.

States have had trouble obtaining some of the drugs because manufacturers have refused to sell them for use in executions.

Most states used a 3-drug combination until 2009, but after shortages developed they turned to a variety of methods, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 8 states, among them Texas, use a single dose of an anesthetic. 14 states have used pentobarbital and another 5 plan to use it; 9 states have used or plan to use compounding pharmacies as an alternative to manufacturers.

A number of other states have looked at other ways to execute inmates - nitrogen gas asphyxiation in Oklahoma, the electric chair in Tennessee and a firing squad in Utah.

As for midazolam, Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio and Arizona have used it in 3- or 2-drug combinations, the Death Penalty Information Center says. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia allow for midazolam, but have not used it.



Court announces death penalty of convict in murder case

Session court in Lahore on Tuesday has sentenced a suspect to death penalty while another one has to bear life imprisonment for killing as many as 2 people during dacoity bid, Dunya News reported.

As per details, investigation officer submitted a case challan in session court stating that the suspects Hanna Butt and Akram killed 2 people over resisting robbery bid and told the court that the criminals have been found guilty during investigation.

On the other hand, robbers' counsel denied the allegations and pleaded innocence in the case.

Subsequently, the court sentenced Hanna Butt to death penalty while Akram Butt has been sent to jail for life imprisonment.

(source: Dunya news)


Mahama frees 900 prisoners; 14 on death row sentence reduced

President John Mahama has freed some 900 prisoners ahead of tomorrow's Republic Day holiday.

Tomorrow marks Ghana's 55th year as a republic after it weaned itself from British colonial rule. The amnesty granted is a yearly activity exercised by the president.

Of the 900, 883 are 1st-time offenders who showed good behaviour after being sentenced. 14 out of the number who were on death row have also had their sentence reduced to life imprisonment.

A statement from the Interior Minister says the president expects them to be of good behaviour.

In 2013, some 900 prisoners were freed. Some 1104 others also gained their freedom in 2014.

The power to grant amnesty is stipulated under the Prerogative of Mercy in Article 72 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana.

Article 72 of the Constitution states that "The president may, acting in consultation with the Council of State: grant to a person convicted of an offence a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions; or discount low price

b. grant to a person a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, from the execution of punishment imposed on him for an offence; or

c. substitute a less severe form of punishment for a punishment imposed on a person for an offence; or

d. remit the whole or part of a punishment imposed on a person or of a penalty or forfeiture otherwise due to Government on account on any offence."



Heroin trafficker fails in attempt to escape death penalty

A heroin trafficker who has been on death row for more than 4 years yesterday failed in his bid to escape the gallows, after the High Court found that he did not meet the criteria to be re-sentenced to life imprisonment.

Since Jan 1, 2013, 11 drug offenders have had their death sentences commuted thus.

Kester Ng Wei Ren, 54, is the 1st to have his application for re-sentencing dismissed, when he failed to convince the court he was a mere courier.

Ng was convicted in 2010 of trafficking in 23.38g of heroin and given the then mandatory death penalty. His appeal was dismissed later that year. In 2011, hangings were put on hold while the Government reviewed the death penalty regime. On Jan 1, 2013, new laws came into effect giving judges the discretion to sentence drug offenders to life imprisonment instead of a mandatory death penalty.

The lighter sentence, however, applies only to those who are couriers transporting or delivering drugs. They must also be certifed by the prosecution to have substantively assisted the authorities or found to be suffering from a mental abnormality.

Yesterday, Ng's lawyer Manoj Nandwani sought to show that he was a courier and the drugs were for his own consumption only.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun argued that someone who meant to sell drugs cannot be considered to be a mere courier.

Ng was arrested by anti-narcotics officers on Aug 12, 2008, and found to have packets of heroin and methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice, on him. A search of a Geylang apartment, 1 of his 3 residential addresses, uncovered more drugs - Ice, Nimetazepam tablets and heroin - 2 weighing scales and more than $6,000 in cash.

Ng faced 7 charges but the prosecution proceeded on only 1 charge of trafficking in 23.38g of heroin. Anyone convicted of trafficking in more than 15g of the drug faces the death penalty.

He claimed he had intended to traffick only in 9.92g and the rest was for his own consumption.



Malaysia reduces Pinay's death sentence to life imprisonment

The State Pardons Board in Selangor, Malaysia has commuted the death penalty imposed on a Filipina to life imprisonment, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday.

A statement from the embassy said Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah Al-Haj, chairman of the State of Selangor Pardons Board, revised the sentence meted on Jacqueline Quiamno on June 15, following a request for clemency from the Philippine Embassy and her family.

Malaysian authorities arrested Quiamno in June 2005 for attempting to smuggle 5 kilograms of cocaine at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on the bidding of an African drug syndicate based in Hong Kong.

In November 2010, the Shah Alam High Court found Quiamno guilty of the charge. The Federal Court then affirmed the verdict in July 2013.

The Philippine Embassy said the commutation of Quiamno's sentence should bring relief for 3 other Filipinos on Malaysian death row - Gerry Saavedra Quijano and couple Timhar and Nurie Ong - who were also arrested for drug smuggling in 2008 and 2005, respectively.

"Although the death penalty remains in the statute books of Malaysia, and local courts continue to impose it in grave offenses, there has been a reluctance to carry out the death penalty, or undertake execution, in recent years," the Philippine Embasy said.

In February, Sabah Governor Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Juhar Haji Mahiruddin also granted pardon to 8 Filipinos after remaining behind bars for 21 to 26 years for trafficking drugs.

In October 2012, the Malaysian Prime Minister's Department vowed to look at staying death sentences for drug offenders pending the government's final decision on the abolition of the mandatory death penalty.

The last execution of a Filipino in Malaysia happened 22 years ago, for the crime of murder in Sabah, according to the Philippine Embassy.



Family prepare to visit Filipina maid on death row in UAE

Relatives of the Filipina maid who is facing the death penalty after being convicted of killing her Emirati employer are to travel here to offer her emotional support, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday.

Grace Princesa, the Philippines ambassador to the UAE, said her country's government was arranging for the parents of Jennifer Dalquez to fly to the UAE.

"We are now awaiting updates from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila on the matter," said Ms Princesa.

Charles Jose, a spokesman for the DFA, said his organisation was processing the required documents for the family of the convicted maid.

Dalquez, 28, who comes from General Santos City in the southern Philippines, was sentenced to death after stabbing her employer to death on December 7 last year.

She claimed the act was self-defence after her employer tried to rape her.

The Philippine embassy has since provided Dalquez with a defence lawyer to appeal against her death sentence.

Overseas Filipino workers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are helped through the Philippine government's legal assistance fund.

Priority is usually given to the payment of lawyers to represent those accused of serious crimes or who are facing the death penalty.

"Her legal counsel has filed an appeal on the last week of May, and is currently preparing the 'Memorandum of Defence' for the appeal," Ms Princesa said.

The next hearing has been set for September 3 in Al Ain.

The Philippine labour secretary, Rosalinda Baldoz, who visited Dalquez in jail on June 18, said "she had high hopes" that the appeal would be successful, reported online news portal Rappler.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Manila meanwhile is providing educational assistance to Dalquez' 2 children.

"The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has also extended monetary assistance to the family, despite the fact that she no longer is an Owwa member," Ms Princesa said.

Owwa is an attached agency of the Philippine’s labour department that provides assistance to overseas Filipino workers and their families.

Members pay a Dh92 fee every 2 years to receive financial, medical and educational benefits.

(source: The National)

JUNE 29, 2015:


Suspects in Cary teen's murder could face death penalty, judge says

The 4 people charged in connection with a fatal hit-and-run that killed teen Katie Crow, a Green Hope High School student, appeared in a Wake County courtroom Monday.

Jourdan Chanquion Mack, 20; Beth Strange, 18; Abijah James Masse, 17; and Joshua Odell Simmons, 17; are all facing 1st-degree murder charges. Mack graduated from Green Hope High School in 2014 and Masses is currently a senior at Green Hope.

Simmons is a senior at Panther Creek High School and Strange graduated from Panther Creek this month.

Police say the death was a result of a drug deal.

Judge Keith Gregory told the 4, "You've been charged with one count of murder. You could receive the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole."

Those were frightening words for Strange, who just graduated from high school 2 weeks ago.

Masse's lawyer, Julian Hall, tried to get him released on $3 million bond, arguing that Masse "has never even had a traffic ticket."

Hall said Masse is "very heavily involved" in his church and has been active in the youth ministry for 5 years.

"These are very good kids," Masse said. "It's a tragedy for all involved."

But the judge refused bond, saying it was a murder case.

Investigators said emergency crews responded to Lawrence Road near the entrance of Walnut Street Park and found 16-year-old Katie Crow lying in the street with life-threatening injuries around 9:30 Friday night. She was taken to WakeMed where she later died. Investigators believe Crow was robbed during what they believe was a pre-planned drug transaction.

While trying to fight back, investigators said the teen fell from the truck - a burgundy Ford F150 - driven by Simmons.

"This is a terrible tragedy for all families involved. With around-the-clock joint efforts by our Traffic Safety Team and Criminal Investigations Division, we hope that being able to wrap this up somewhat relatively quickly will help will help start the healing process for them and our community," said Captain Randall Rhyne of Cary's Criminal Investigations Division.

Sunday afternoon, a memorial was made at the place where Crow lost her life. The memorial continued to grow on Monday.

On Sunday evening, Katie's parents released a statement.

"We are devastated by the loss of our daughter Katie, but we appreciate the outpouring of love and support from so many of our friends.

"Katie was a very loving, caring person and it is a shame her life has ended so soon. We ask for your prayers and good wishes, but also your respect for our privacy at this time.

"We’d like to thank the Cary Police Department for working so diligently on this case and quickly apprehending 4 suspects."

Anyone with additional information that may help with this case is asked to contact Cary Police.

(source: WNCN news)


California death penalty: high court ruling could resume executions

A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reinforced the ability of states to rely on lethal injection to carry out executions, handing down a ruling out of Oklahoma that unlocks California's long dormant effort to revive the death penalty in this state.

The Supreme Court's decision triggers what promises to be a tangled, prolonged legal process that could ultimately lead to a resumption of executions in the Golden State -- although it could still be years before the doors reopen in San Quentin's death chamber.

Under a recent settlement with families of murder victims, California prison officials agreed to propose a new single-drug execution method within 120 days of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Oklahoma legal challenge. It would mark the 1st progress in years toward devising a new execution procedure at San Quentin, where California has not executed a condemned killer in nearly a decade.

By upholding Oklahoma's controversial 3-drug lethal injection method in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court appears to have removed a key legal hurdle for California to rely on some form of lethal drug.

"(It is) a pretty strong green light for California to go forward with whatever lethal injection protocol fits their own regulations and interests," said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

"Today's decision ... starts off a very long, costly and wasteful process in California," said Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the Northern California ACLU.

The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected the arguments of death penalty foes that drugs such as those used in Oklahoma risk violating an inmate's right to a humane execution. "Holding that the 8th Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether," the court's conservative majority wrote.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the Supreme Court has made it much more difficult for a challenge to succeed against a new lethal injection procedure. "This opinion raises the bar for murderers who try to get an injunction against the protocol that is adopted," he said.

If California's revised lethal injection method does survive the legal gauntlet, it could open the spigot on executions in the state, which has had just 13 since the death penalty was restored in 1978. At least 15 death row inmates have exhausted their appeals and are eligible for execution dates, including three condemned Bay Area killers.

But even though the Brown administration will now restart the process in the fall, there are a host of inevitable delays, court showdowns and obstacles that will unfold before any of the state's 750 death inmates are executed.

Once prison leaders unveil the new single drug procedure -- which is expected to rely on a fatal dose of a single sedative instead of the three-drug cocktail that has failed to survive legal challenges in the past -- the state must go through mandatory administrative procedures and hearings that in the past took more than a year.

In fact, when the state last tried to resolve a longrunning federal court challenge to its 3-drug execution method, a state appeals court in 2013 found prison leaders did not comply with those administrative rules and invalidated the proposed execution method. That resulted in a 3-year limbo that led to the recent settlement of a lawsuit aimed at forcing the state to devise another lethal injection method.

Even if California completes the administrative process, significant obstacles remain. Other states that have opted for the single drug method have struggled to find supplies of the sedatives because drug makers are balking at providing them to states for executions, and California is expected to face the same dilemma.

In addition, the new procedure will face the scrutiny of a San Francisco federal judge who has put on hold a challenge to San Quentin's execution procedures that began in 2006. At that time, death row inmates argued that flaws in the method raise the prospect of a cruel and inhumane execution.

(source: Mercury News)


Some Supreme Court Justices' Views on Death Penalty Change

Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared for the 1st time Monday that they believe it is "highly likely" that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

In doing so, they joined 3 other justices over the years who came to harbor serious doubts about capital punishment after years of reviewing death penalty cases at the high court.

The court's modern death penalty cases began in 1972, when a fractured court struck down capital punishment laws nationwide in Furman v. Georgia. But four years later, a majority of the justices voted to restore the death penalty in a case called Gregg v. Georgia. The court approved new capital punishment laws that had been drafted in response to Furman, aimed at creating more uniformity in the application of the death penalty and eliminating racial bias.

At the time of the Gregg decision, only 2 justices, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, announced their opposition to the death penalty.

3 other justices have spoken out on the topic:



Justice Harry Blackmun started out his Supreme Court career voting to uphold the death penalty. In 1972, just 2 years after joining the court, he dissented when his colleagues voted to abolish capital punishment. He voted with the majority four years later to return the death penalty.

But in February 1994, after more than two decades on the court and only a few months before his retirement, Blackmun announced he had changed his mind.

"From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," Blackmun, then 85, wrote in announcing his opposition.

It was Breyer who took Blackmun's seat on the court.



Like Blackmun, Justice Lewis Powell voted in support of the death penalty in 1972, the year he joined the court, and again in 1976.

Powell retired from the court in 1987 at the age of 79 and announced his opposition to the death penalty only after he left the court.

"I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished," he told his biographer, adding it "serves no useful purpose."



Justice John Paul Stevens had to confront the issue of the death penalty head-on in his 1st year as a justice. He joined the court in December 1975, and 1 of his first votes was to join with the majority of his colleagues to reinstate the death penalty.

But over more than 3 decades as a justice, Stevens' views shifted. In 2008, he concluded that the death penalty represents "the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes." Stevens left the court two years later, in 2010, at the age of 90.

Stevens has written and spoken about his opposition to the death penalty. In his 2014 book, "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution," he explains why he believes the Constitution should be changed to ban the death penalty.

Stevens, now 95, was in the courtroom Monday and listened to Breyer announce his and Ginsburg's views. Both Breyer, 76, and Ginsburg, at 82 the court's oldest serving justice, have spent more than two decades on the court.

(source: Associated Press)


Death Penalty Abolitionists Optimistic After SCOTUS Ruling

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of midazolam in lethal injections does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, despite its use in a spate of botched executions. But death penalty abolitionists remain hopeful in the bigger fight to end capital punishment altogether.

Handing down the majority opinion in Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel Alito asserted states must have access to means of execution:

"Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

Although his statement is alarming, it does not mean that midazolam - and the death penalty itself - can't be fought in the future.

In Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett writhed in pain for 43 minutes when midazolam was administered, and Joseph Rudolph Wood similarly gasped for close to an hour. Should another botched execution occur in the future, plaintiffs may be able to fight the drug's use on other grounds.

"I would fully expect that petitioners in state and federal courts will continue to challenge methods that they have reason to believe may cause torture. The court was very clear in this case to say that its finding that midazolam was OK was in the context of what the lower court had found," Director Cassandra Stubbs of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project told ThinkProgress. "But that does not mean that's the outcome we should expect in future cases, with respect to whether or not midazolam is likely to cause pain. Midazolam has no business in lethal injection protocols. We know that it cannot do what it's supposed to do."

"The reality is that this drug doesn't do what it's supposed to do," echoed Executive Director Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). "There's ample scientific evidence to support that. Hopefully, state officials will act responsibly and address the gap between what is asserted the drug does and what every expert says it does."

Moreover, the dissent penned by Justice Breyer and joined by Justice Ginsburg points to the unconstitutionality of the death penalty itself, and gives abolitionists serious reason to stay optimistic. Breyer wrote:

Today's administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use. I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question ... For it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited "cruel and unusual punishmen[t].

Stubbs and Rust-Tierney interpret that skepticism as a sign that the death penalty may come under intense scrutiny in the future.

"The ACLU Capital Punishment Project represents defendants in a number of states. We will continue to advocate on their behalf. We have and will continue to look closely at arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional under various state constitutions, and look for opportunities to put forth the kind of evidence that we saw in the dissent," Stubbs concluded.

And with public support for the death penalty on the decline, NCADP hopes to direct capital punishment opponents towards the 90 Million Strong Campaign to halt all executions - a campaign backed by a number of influential organizations, including the NAACP, Amnesty International, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Alliance for Justice.

"States are continually on a quest to find a way of killing people that complies with the Constitution. At one point they thought the electric chair would do it; at one point they thought the gas chamber would. Now lethal injection is proving to be as problematic as all the others," Rust-Tierney explained. "Our focus is continuing to educate the public and continuing to empower the people who know this is the wrong thing. We're going to be working state by state to take this to legislators and the people.

"As Justice Breyer points out, all the evidence suggests it's time to finally end the death penalty, because it's not serving a penological purpose. It's not enhancing public safety. "



Justice Samuel Alito: Death Is Often Painful, So Why Shouldn't Lethal Injection Be?

Opponents of capital punishment have long hoped that export restrictions on standard lethal injection drugs would either cause courts to find lethal injections unconstitutional or force states to stop performing them altogether. The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Glossip v. Gross on Monday casts these hopes into doubt. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito found that current lethal injection drugs, however unreliable, must be constitutional because lethal injection is itself constitutional:

Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

Put simply, the questionable efficacy of drug cocktails now used for lethal injection is, in Alito’s view, not cruel and unusual because death itself is essentially cruel and unusual. While these drugs may leave inmates vulnerable to excruciating pain during their executions, Alito does not find this outcome to differ enough from typical deaths to consider it relatively cruel or unusual.

Which raises a question: If death is by nature often cruel and, for each individual person, quite unusual, then perhaps the state has no business carrying it out?

While the court's decision was ultimately disappointing, justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg each expressed belief in their dissenting opinions that the death penalty is entirely unconstitutional, which may lend some hope to advocates campaigning against capital punishment. In the meantime, Alito's decision holds that, because the death penalty is constitutional for the time being, inmates hoping for less cruel deaths must produce better methods of taking their own lives, or die by the uncertain methods currently available.

(source: New Republic)


Justices allow new hearings in North Carolina capital cases

The Supreme Court has left in place lower court rulings ordering hearings over jurors in 2 North Carolina death penalty trials who reached beyond the jury room for biblical references to help their deliberations.

The justices on Monday rejected North Carolina's appeal of the 2 rulings by the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1 case, a juror called her father in search of a biblical verse to help her decide between life and death for defendant Jason Wayne Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 2002 shooting death of an acquaintance in Asheboro, North Carolina. The father pointed her to a verse containing the phrase "an eye for an eye."

The appeals court ordered hearings to determine if jurors were improperly influenced.

(source: Associated Press)


Freed death row inmate died hours before supreme court cited his case -- Glenn Ford, 65, died of lung cancer on Monday hours before judgment; Dissenting justice said Ford's case showed need for full death penalty review

A former death row inmate in Louisiana died on Monday, hours before his exoneration was cited by the US supreme court as a reason for caution in carrying out death sentences.

Glenn Ford was released from Angola prison in Louisiana in March 2014 after serving 30 years on death row for a 1984 murder, a conviction which in 2013 prosecutors conceded they could no longer support.

He died of lung cancer on Monday at the age of 65, his supporters announced to, "surrounded by friends, loved ones and family."

Hours later, the supreme court upheld the use of a controversial lethal injection drug, allowing Oklahoma to resume executions for the 1st time since January.

In a dissenting opinion to that ruling, justice Steven Breyer cited 3 cases of death row inmates who were proven not guilty in the last year - Ford, Henry Lee McCollum and Anthony Ray Hinton - as he urged the court to take up a full review of the death penalty.

"In Glenn Ford's case, the prosecutor admitted that he was partly responsible for Ford's wrongful conviction, issuing a public apology to Ford and explaining that, at the time of Ford's conviction, he was 'not as interested in justice as [he] was in winning,'" Breyer wrote.

"All 3 of these men spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated," Breyer wrote, citing research that showed courts and governors are more likely to exonerate inmates when a death sentence is at play.

"To some degree, it must be because the law that governs capital cases is more complex. To some degree, it must reflect the fact that courts scrutinize capital cases more closely. But, to some degree, it likely also reflects a greater likelihood of an initial wrongful conviction."

The Times-Picayune on Monday said Ford's final 15 months "were spent outside prison walls, but not without challenges", citing a state petition to deny him state-mandated compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

The prosecutor behind Ford's conviction denounced the state's appeal and apologized to him earlier this year.

"I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family," AM Stroud III wrote in a letter published in the Times of Shreveport.

(source: The Guardian)


Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to seek death penalty for accused cop killer Travis Boys

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro is seeking the death penalty for Travis Boys, the man accused of killing New Orleans Police Department Officer Daryle Holloway with a single shot in a police vehicle on June 20.

Boys was indicted Monday for 1st degree murder in the death of Holloway, a 22-year veteran of the force who was buried on Saturday. Holloway was killed while transporting Boys to central lockup after a domestic shooting incident.

Cannizzaro has rarely sought the death penalty since taking office in 2008, and a parish jury has imposed the sentence only once during his tenure. But the fact that Holloway was a police officer meant that his death automatically qualified as a 1st-degree murder and there would be widespread pressure for Cannizzaro to seek capital punishment.

A judge also ordered Monday that Boys be held without bond.

(source: The New Orleans Advocate)

OHIO----new death sentence

Shawn Ford sentenced to death after apologizing for 2013 slaying of New Franklin couple

In an emotional statement that lasted about 5 minutes, convicted murderer Shawn Eric Ford Jr. apologized Monday morning for the 2013 double homicide of a prominent New Franklin couple in their home.

Ford said he "messed up" and that the murders were a "misguided" act of love directed at his former girlfriend, Chelsea Schobert, the daughter of the victims, Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert.

Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker, shortly after Ford's remarks, said he was accepting the jury's recommendation, and he sentenced Ford to death.

Last week, Parker had ruled that Ford failed to prove that his claims of mental disability should spare him from facing capital punishment.

Ford, 20, was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated murder in October, along with an array of death penalty specifications, in the April 2013 bludgeoning deaths of Jeffrey Schobert, a prominent area attorney, and his wife, who commonly was known as Peg, at their Portage Lakes home.

Parker had 2 options: accept the jury's previous recommendation that Ford should be put to death for his crimes, or order him to spend the rest of his life in a state penitentiary.

Ford's lawyers had argued that his low IQ barred him from receiving a death sentence. Their position was based on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that executing an intellectually disabled defendant is constitutionally prohibited as cruel and unusual punishment.

Ford killed the Schoberts in their master bedroom - attacking both in a late-night ambush with a sledgehammer, prosecutors said - after they kept him from seeing Chelsea while she was recovering in the hospital.

She had suffered head injuries in an alleged attack by Ford only days before the New Franklin slayings.

(source: Beacon Journal)


Justices Breyer and Ginsburg: 'It is highly likely' the death penalty is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court's decision on Monday to uphold a controversial lethal injection procedure used by Oklahoma was reached because the 5 justices in the majority were not swayed by arguments that a particular sedative caused executions that could be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.

But in 1 of the dissents, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he disagreed with the decision before moving on to a much larger question: Is the death penalty itself unconstitutional?

"I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote. "At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question."

In a 41-page dissent - longer than the majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. - Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that country's use of the death penalty has dramatically changed since the court upheld capital punishment in 1976.

He went on to say that these changes, combined with his 2 decades on the high court, have convinced him that the death penalty likely violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

"In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems," Breyer wrote. "Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed."

In his dissent, Breyer pointed to several issues that he said create constitutional problems with the death penalty. These problems, which are familiar to anyone who follows the death penalty in the United States in recent years, combine to show "a serious problem of reliability," Breyer wrote.

Meanwhile, in response to Breyer's dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each filed an opinion dismissing these arguments, both criticizing him for suggesting that the judiciary - rather than the people - should abolish the death penalty. Scalia, who is known for his fiery opinions, wrote that Breyer "does not just reject the death penalty, he rejects the Enlightenment."

Breyer, in his dissent, highlighted cases of innocent people who have been sentenced to death over the years, including men in Louisiana and North Carolina who spent three decades on death row before being released. (Most Americans - including big majorities of those who favor and oppose the death penalty - agree that innocent people can be put to death under the current system.) In addition, Breyer pointed to the FBI's admission that its forensic examiners gave flawed testimony that resulted in more than 30 death sentences.

But Breyer also raised another concern that has been discussed before, most notably in a federal judge's order last year - that of a system functioning arbitrarily. He cited studies that have found differences in how death sentences are handed down depending on the race of the victims and the accused, and he noted that he has found, after looking at thousands of death penalty cases, "discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanation."

"The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary," he wrote. "From a defendant's perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning."

He also pointed to another reality for people sentenced to death - what he termed the "unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose." People sent to death row are unlikely to be executed in a timely manner, if at all, owing to a combination of appeals, problems with carrying out executions and exonerations.

Death-row inmates across the country have spent an average of 14 years there, while the number of executions has been steadily dropping. The death-row population has been shrinking, but not because of executions; rather, inmates are leaving death row because courts are overturning their sentences or convictions, or they are dying of other causes. Indeed, Breyer said that these long stints are themselves troubling, because the inmates are generally in isolation, and solitary confinement has been found to cause catastrophic psychological effects.

As an example of the practice's declining usage, Breyer noted the recent news that Nebraska just became the 19th state to formally abolish the death penalty (in addition to other states where executions are on hold or have not taken place for years). He also said that the "unusual" part of cruel and unusual is borne by the increasing rarity of executions: The number of inmates put to death each year continues to shrink, dropping last year to the lowest number in 2 decades, and these executions are taking place in an increasingly small pool of places. Last year, 4 out of 5 executions occurred in just t3 states (Texas, Missouri and Florida). Rare executions, and capital sentences that are never implemented at all, Breyer wrote, undermine the concept of a death sentence as a means of deterrence or retribution.

Still, Breyer acknowledged the dilemma posed by a fair system - one that has courts reviewing death sentences at every level - because that system will also carry with it inevitable delays. This is what he said ultimately backs up the idea that the death penalty violates the Constitution.

"In this world, or at least in this Nation, we can have a death penalty that at least arguably serves legitimate penological purposes or we can have a procedural system that at least arguably seeks reliability and fairness in the death penalty's application," he wrote. "We cannot have both."

Breyer said he understands the argument allowing for states to make their decisions. But, he wrote, the last four decades have shown that responses from the states have not worked.

(source: Washington Post)


In a Brave, Powerful Dissent, Justice Breyer Calls for the Abolition of the Death Penalty

Justice Stephen Breyer took a brave, powerful stand against the machinery of death on Monday, writing that, to his mind, "the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited 'cruel and unusual punishmen[t].'" Breyer notes that his "20 years of experience on the court," during which he has been forced to decide whether myriad inmates may live or die, led him to this conclusion.

In a courageous 41-page dissent from a pro-death penalty ruling joined only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer explains that the startlingly high number of exonerated death row inmates suggests that capital punishment is unreliable and error-prone - in the words of the Eighth Amendment, "cruel." (In a stunning retort to Justice Antonin Scalia, Breyer discusses the exoneration of Henry Lee McCollum - "Scalia's favorite murderer.") The death penalty, Breyer writes, is also unconstitutionally arbitrary, dispensed randomly, rarely, and unpredictably. This infrequency renders the punishment unconstitutionally "unusual," as well.

Breyer also notes a number of troubling factors in death penalty sentencing. Race may play a role, he writes (correctly), as do judicial elections - judges may condemn convicts to die so that voters will perceive them as tough on crime. Breyer then declares:

The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant's perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?

Predictably, Breyer's dissent sends Scalia and Clarence Thomas into fits of rage. Scalia asserts that Breyer "rejects the Enlightenment" and "takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama." Thomas details the grisly murders with which several death row inmates were charged, as if to say that, no matter how painful their punishment, they'll get what they deserve.

But neither justice really contends with the moral passion and legal logic that Breyer carefully lays out in his opinion. Like Justice Harry Blackmun before him, Breyer has decided that the Constitution can no longer condone America's peculiar practice of state-sanctioned murder. The machinery of death may grind on. But Justice Breyer dissents.


Justice Scalia: The death penalty deters crime. Experts: No, it doesn't.

In upholding Oklahoma's use of a controversial lethal injection drug on Monday, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that it seems "very likely" to him that the death penalty deters crime, and he cherry-picked several studies in his defense. But what seems "very likely" to Scalia apparently doesn't seem so likely to criminologists and other experts who have studied this issue.

The Death Penalty Information Center, one of the top nonpartisan sources for information about capital punishment, summarized a 2009 survey in which a large majority of criminologists said the death penalty isn't proven to deter homicides:

88 % of the country's top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology and authored by Professor Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Traci Lacock, also at Boulder.

Similarly, 87% of the expert criminologists believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates. In addition, 75% of the respondents agree that "debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems."

The survey relied on questionnaires completed by the most pre-eminent criminologists in the country, including Fellows in the American Society of Criminology; winners of the American Society of Criminology's prestigious Southerland Award; and recent presidents of the American Society of Criminology. Respondents were not asked for their personal opinion about the death penalty, but instead to answer on the basis of their understandings of the empirical research.

Part of the issue here is that the research on the death penalty's deterrent effect - including the studies that Scalia cited - is, frankly, terrible, because it's so difficult to pull out other mitigating factors that might contribute to crime. We know, for example, that states without the death penalty tend to have lower murder rates than those with the death penalty. But how much of that is related to the death penalty, or the numerous other contributors to crime and homicide rates, such as socioeconomic issues or even the amount of lead in gasoline?

Still, the overall body of research suggests there is no deterrent effect. A February 2015 review of the research by the Brennan Center for Justice found no evidence that the death penalty had an impact on crime in the 1990s and 2000s, and it concluded that the studies that suggested there was a deterrent effect were methodologically weak.

Why doesn't the death penalty pose a deterrent effect? One would think that a would-be killer would at least consider the possibility that he may be executed. But the Brennan Center for Justice report suggested that this misunderstand the thinking of most killers:

[I]t is debatable whether an individual even engages in such objective calculations before committing a crime. Much psychological and sociological research suggests that many criminal acts are crimes of passion or committed in a heated moment based only on immediate circumstances, and thus potential offenders may not consider or weigh longer-term possibilities of punishment and capture, including the possibility of capital punishment.

So Scalia may think it's "very likely" that the death penalty deters crime, and he may be able to find a few studies that suggest as much. But the criminologists and experts who have looked at the overall body of evidence have come to starkly different conclusions.

(source for both:


What The Supreme Court Just Did To The Death Penalty

Glossip v. Gross is a crushing blow to opponents of the death penalty. The narrow issue in this case is whether a particular drug that Oklahoma wants to use in executions sufficiently dulls inmates pain that the intense suffering caused by the remainder of the state's lethal drug cocktail does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Yet the Court's 5-4 decision goes well beyond this narrow question. It effectively enlists death row inmates' attorneys to become agents of their clients' demise. And it elevates the death penalty to a kind of super-legal status that renders it impervious to many constitutional challenges.

Glossip opens with the 8 most frightening words a liberal will ever read: "JUSTICE ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court." In characteristic fashion, Alito uses his opinion to pry open gaps in the Court's precedents that lead to extraordinarily conservative outcomes. By the time he is done, some of the most important victories for death penalty opponents in the last several years have been transformed into defeats.

At oral arguments, Alito was openly contemptuous of the work of death penalty opponents - many of whom work for companies that manufacture drugs that various states would like to use in their execution protocols. The reason why Oklahoma was in court seeking the ability to use a painkiller of questionable reliability in its executions is because many drug companies have refused to sell their products to states if those states intend to use them to kill a human being. During arguments in this case, Alito labeled this effort a "guerrilla war against the death penalty."

As a legal matter, it is not at all clear why the actions of drug companies have any relevance whatsoever to a constitutional challenge to the death penalty. Drug companies are private actors, not government actors, so they are free to sell or not to sell whatever they choose so long as they comply with the law. Alito's opinion, however, effectively punishes these drug companies for their opposition to the death penalty by holding that, should the companies continue to make their more reliable drug unavailable, then executions will just move forward with less reliable painkillers.

They key paragraph in Alito's opinion is a declaration that, no matter what happens, there must always be a way to execute inmates:

Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

Ordinarily, lawsuits claiming that a particular method of punishment is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual limit their focus to a narrow question - whether the specific method used by the state is cruel and unusual or not. With this one paragraph, Alito turns that analysis on its head. Now, there must always be a method of execution available to the state. And if the only method available inflicts cruel and unusual amounts of pain on an inmate, that's not the Court's problem.

As a final blow to anti-death penalty advocates, Alito effectively drafts them into the task of determining how their clients should be killed. Alito reaches his conclusion, at least in part, "based on petitioners' failure to satisfy their burden of establishing that any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and available alternative method of execution." In other words, a lawyer challenging a particular method of execution must name another, alternative method that can be used instead. Needless to say, this places attorneys who have an obligation to represent the interests of their client in a serious ethical bind.

Rejecting Alito's conclusion that if all methods of execution are unconstitutional then some method must be allowed, Justice Stephen Breyer writes in dissent that the opposite is true. "[R]ather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," Breyer writes, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."



SCOTUS Deeply Divided In Fractured Rulings on Death Penalty----The Court upheld a controversial execution method, but 2 justices said it's time to review whether the death penalty is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court upheld a controversial execution method Friday, even as 2 justices said it's time to reconsider whether the death penalty is unconstitutional in the first place.

The justices were sharply and sometimes personally at odds in a 5-4 ruling that ultimately upheld the use of a particular lethal-injection cocktail. But one dissenter said the Court's ruling opened the door to all sorts of "barbarous" punishments, while 2 of the Court's liberal members said it's time to revisit the basic question of whether capital punishment is even constitutional in the first place.

4 justices - 2 from each side - read parts of their decisions aloud from the bench on Friday, a highly unusual development that only underscored the deep divisions on the Court. (Even in high-profile, highly charged issues like same-sex marriage, the maximum is usually 2 oral statements.)

Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg said not only that they disagreed with the Court's decision Friday, but that they would go a step further and reopen the question of whether the death penalty itself violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Although the Court has upheld the death penalty before, times have changed, Breyer argued. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate, concurring opinion largely to fight with Breyer.

"The response is ... familiar: A vocal minority of the Court, waving over their heads a ream of the most recent abolitionist studies (a superabundant genre) as though they have discovered the lost folios of Shakespeare, insist that now, at long last, the death penalty must be abolished for good," Scalia wrote. "Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible."

Ostensibly, Friday's case was about the use of the drug midazolam. Midazolam is used as the 1st drug in a 3-drug cocktail for some lethal injections. It's an anesthetic, designed to put inmates into a deep coma-like state so they can't feel the pain of the drugs that actually kill them.

But midazolam does not always work.

When Oklahoma first used midazolam in an execution, the inmate, Clayton Lockett, was declared unconscious after receiving a dose of midazolam. But a few minutes later, after he had received the 2nd drug, which causes paralysis, he woke up, began to thrash around, and even said, "The drugs aren't working." Still, the Court said Friday, the use of the drug is not unconstitutional.

(source: National Journal)


Justice Breyer perfectly captured the major problem with the death penalty

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the use of a controversial lethal injection drug in America, and Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent that captured his major problem with the death penalty.

From his dissent:

Today's administration of the death penalty involves 3 fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and 3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.

I shall describe each of these considerations, emphasising changes that have occurred during the past 4 decades. For it is these changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited 'cruel and unusual punishment.'

3 Oklahoma inmates brought the case and had argued that the drug midazolam violated the Constitution's bar on cruel and unusual punishment. However, the court's conservative justices ruled on Monday that the inmates failed to show they'd be able to prove those claims.

"[T]he prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion.

(source: Business Insider)


Scalia says Breyer and Ginsburg's death penalty dissent "rejects the Enlightenment"

Justice Antonin Scalia got the ruling he wanted in Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court's death penalty decision that came down Monday - but he still felt the need to express his views in his characteristic strongly-worded rhetoric, this time aimed at 2 liberals on the court.

What annoyed Scalia so much wasn't the main dissent in the case, signed onto by all 4 of the court's liberals, but a separate dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer and signed onto by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 2 called on the Court to reassess whether the death penalty was constitutional at all, and said they had both come to believe that it "now likely constitutes a legally prohibited 'cruel and unusual punishment.'"

So Scalia wrote a separate concurrence, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, which said not only that Breyer was wrong, but that he was rejecting the entire Enlightenment:

Scalia felt strongly enough that he decided to read his concurrence from the bench, which lawyer Tejinder Singh, a contributor to SCOTUSblog, wrote was "exceedingly rare" for a concurring opinion (rather than a majority opinion or a dissent).



The 20 Best Lines from the Supreme Court Dissent Calling to End the Death Penalty

Enough is enough, says Justice Stephen Breyer.

The case before the Supreme Court concerned a specific question: was a certain sort of capital punishment via lethal injection constitutional? In a decision issued Monday morning, the 4 conservative justices plus swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy said yes, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion for the court's liberals taking the opposite position. But in a stinging dissent of his own, Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, went much further: he called for abolishing the death penalty, contending that capital punishment, as it is currently practiced, violates the Constitution. His opinion was methodically argued and chockfull of research (on exonerations, various disparities in the application of the death sentence, and more). Breyer, who in 2008 sided with the court majority in upholding the use of lethal injections in Kentucky, noted that his own experience overseeing capital punishment cases has led him to a forceful and passionate position: the death penalty must go.

Here are the best passages from his opinion.

In 1976, the Court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed; the Court in effect delegated significant responsibility to the States to develop procedures that would protect against those constitutional problems. Almost 40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate, however, that this effort has failed. Today's administration of the death penalty involves 3 fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty's penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.

I shall describe each of these considerations, emphasiz­ing changes that have occurred during the past 4 decades. For it is those changes, taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court, that lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited "cruel and unusual punishmen[t]." U. S. Const., Amdt. 8.

* * *

[R]esearchers have found convincing evidence that, in the past 3 decades, innocent people have been executed.

* * *

[T]he evidence that the death penalty has been wrongly imposed (whether or not it was carried out), is striking. As of 2002, this Court used the word "disturbing" to describe the number of instances in which individuals had been sentenced to death but later exonerated. At that time, there was evidence of approximately 60 exonerations in capital cases....Since 2002, the number of exonerations in capital cases has risen to 115......Last year, in 2014, 6 death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence. All had been imprisoned for more than 30 years (and one for almost 40 years) at the time of their exonerations.

* * *

[T]he crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horrendous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person.

* * *

[R]esearchers estimate that about 4% of those sentenced to death are actually innocent.

* * *

[B]etween 1973 and 1995, courts identified prejudicial errors in 68% of the capital cases before them.

* * *

This research and these figures are likely controversial. Full briefing would allow us to scrutinize them with more care. But, at a minimum, they suggest a serious problem of reliability. They suggest that there are too many instances in which courts sentence defendants to death without complying with the necessary procedures; and they suggest that, in a significant number of cases, the death sentence is imposed on a person who did not commit the crime....Unlike 40 years ago, we now have plausible evidence of unreliability that (perhaps due to DNA evidence) is stronger than the evidence we had before. In sum, there is significantly more research-based evidence today indicating that courts sentence to death individuals who may well be actually innocent or whose convictions (in the law's view) do not warrant the death penalty's application.

* * *

Thus, whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors - such as race, gender, local geography, and resources - do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at research indicating that proper factors - such as "egregiousness" - do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily.

* * *

The studies bear out my own view, reached after considering thousands of death penalty cases and last-minute petitions over the course of more than 20 years. I see discrepancies for which I can find no rational explanations...Why does 1 defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and an after-the-fact robbery), while another defendant does not, despite having kidnapped, raped, and murdered a young mother while leaving her infant baby to die at the scene of the crime...Why does 1 defendant who committed a single-victim murder receive the death penalty (due to aggravators of a prior felony conviction and acting recklessly with a gun), while another defendant does not, despite having committed a "triple murder" by killing a young man and his pregnant wife?... For that matter, why does 1 defendant who participated in a single-victim murder-for-hire scheme (plus an after-the­ fact robbery) receive the death penalty, while another defendant does not, despite having stabbed his wife 60 times and killed his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son while they slept?... In each instance, the sentences compared were imposed in the same State at about the same time.

The question raised by these examples (and the many more I could give but do not), as well as by the research to which I have referred, is the same question Justice Stewart, Justice Powell, and others raised over the course of several decades: The imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary. From a defendant's perspective, to receive that sentence, and certainly to find it implemented, is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. How then can we reconcile the death penalty with the demands of a Constitution that first and foremost insists upon a rule of law?

* * *

[N]early all death penalty States keep death row inmates in isolation for 22 or more hours per day....This occurs even though the ABA has suggested that death row inmates be housed in conditions similar to the general population, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a global ban on solitary confinement longer than 15 days... And it is well documented that such prolonged solitary confinement produces numerous deleterious harms. See, e.g., Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124, 130 (2003) (cataloging studies finding that solitary confinement can cause prisoners to experience "anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, and self-mutilations," among many other symptoms)

* * *

The dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out. In 1890, this Court recognized that, "when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it."... The Court was there describing a delay of a mere 4 weeks. In the past century and a quarter, little has changed in this respect - except for duration. Today we must describe delays measured, not in weeks, but in decades.

* * *

The 2nd constitutional difficulty resulting from lengthy delays is that those delays undermine the death penalty's penological rationale, perhaps irreparably so. The rationale for capital punishment, as for any punishment, classically rests upon society's need to secure deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, or rehabilitation. Capital punishment by definition does not rehabilitate. It does, of course, incapacitate the offender. But the major alternative to capital punishment - namely, life in prison without possibility of parole - also incapacitates.

* * *

Recently, the National Research Council (whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) reviewed 30 years of empirical evidence and concluded that it was insufficient to establish a deterrent effect and thus should "not be used to inform" discussion about the deterrent value of the death penalty.

* * *

Sometimes the community believes that an execution could provide closure. Nevertheless, the delays and low probability of execution must play some role in any calculation that leads a community to insist on death as retribution. As I have already suggested, they may well attenuate the community's interest in retribution to the point where it cannot by itself amount to a significant justification for the death penalty.... In any event, I believe that whatever interest in retribution might be served by the death penalty as currently administered, that interest can be served almost as well by a sentence of life in prison without parole (a sentence that every State now permits.

* * *

The upshot is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale. And this Court has said that, if the death penalty does not fulfill the goals of deterrence or retribution, "it is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering and hence an unconstitutional punishment."

* * *

And that fact creates a dilemma: A death penalty system that seeks procedural fairness and reliability brings with it delays that severely aggravate the cruelty of capital punishment and significantly undermine the rationale for imposing a sentence of death in the first place...(one of the primary causes of the delay is the States' "failure to apply constitutionally sufficient procedures at the time of initial [conviction or] sentencing"). But a death penalty system that minimizes delays would undermine the legal system's efforts to secure reliability and procedural fairness.

In this world, or at least in this Nation, we can have a death penalty that at least arguably serves legitimate penological purposes or we can have a procedural system that at least arguably seeks reliability and fairness in the death penalty's application. We cannot have both. And that simple fact, demonstrated convincingly over the past 40 years, strongly supports the claim that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.

* * *

The Eighth Amendment forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. Last year, in 2014, only 7 States carried out an execution. Perhaps more importantly, in the last 2 decades, the imposition and implementation of the death penalty have increasingly become unusual.

* * *

[I]f we look to States, in more than 60% there is effectively no death penalty, in an additional 18% an execution is rare and unusual, and 6%, i.e., 3 States, account for 80% of all executions. If we look to population, about 66% of the Nation lives in a State that has not carried out an execution in the last 3 years. And if we look to counties, in 86% there is effectively no death penalty. It seems fair to say that it is now unusual to find capital punishment in the United States, at least when we consider the Nation as a whole.

* * *

I recognize a strong counterargument that favors constitutionality. We are a court. Why should we not leave the matter up to the people acting democratically through legislatures? The Constitution foresees a country that will make most important decisions democratically. Most nations that have abandoned the death penalty have done so through legislation, not judicial decision. And legislators, unlike judges, are free to take account of matters such as monetary costs, which I do not claim are relevant here....

The answer is that the matters I have discussed, such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters. They concern the infliction - indeed the unfair, cruel, and unusual infliction - of a serious punishment upon an individual.

* * *

I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question.


Supreme Court Justice Calls Death Penalty Drug "Equivalent of Being Burned at the Stake"

On Monday the Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug midazolam for lethal injections in a 5-4 decision that pitted the 5 conservative justices against the 4 liberal ones. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote her own dissent, argued that the use of the drug, which prolongs the execution process and sometimes doesn't work at all, was in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment." Then she went a step further, comparing the drug to a more notorious form of punishment - the burning of heretics at the stake:

[T]he Court today turns aside petitioners' plea that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam's inadequacy. The Court achieves this result in 2 ways: 1st, by deferring to the District Court's decision to credit the scientifically unsupported and implausible testimony of a single expert witness; and 2nd, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the availability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the Court errs. As a result, it leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.

Later in her dissent, Sotomayor added a few more comparisons for good measure. "Under the Court's new rule, it would not matter whether the State intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake."

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, went a step further, arguing that the death penalty itself might be unconstitutional.


Antonin Scalia Compares Death Penalty Opponents to Marie Antoinette; Criticism of capital punishment reflects "a let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others," he says.

The Supreme Court's Monday ruling in favor of a controversial lethal injection drug gave the court's dissenting liberal justices an opportunity to argue against the constitutionality of the death penalty in general. That led conservative Scold-In-Chief Antonin Scalia, to reach deep into the history books - from Shakespeare to the Enlightenment to the French Revolution - to attack one of the dissenters, Stephen Breyer, for his opposition to capital punishment.

"Welcome to Groundhog Day," Scalia writes at the start of his concurrence to the ruling upholding Oklahoma's use of a sedative that's been responsible for multiple botched executions. In a "familiar" response, Scalia says, death penalty abolitionists like Breyer latch onto suspicious new studies "as though they have discovered the lost folios of Shakespeare [and] insist that now, at long last, the death penalty must be abolished for good."

Scalia sounds particularly perturbed by Breyer's citation of the long delays before execution as a reason to ditch the death penalty, as Scalia accuses the liberals on the court of being the cause of those delays. Breyer's "invocation of the resultant delay as grounds for abolishing the death penalty," Scalia writes, "calls to mind the man sentenced to death for killing his parents, who pleads for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan."

Scalia writes that Breyer "rejects the Enlightenment." His disdain for the abolitionist call from Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reaches its most fevered pitch midway through the concurrence. Channeling almost Occupy Wall Street-style language bashing the out-of-touch 1 %, Scalia says the court's wealthy justices can't comprehend the fear that pervades Real America. "[W]e federal judges live in a world apart from the vast majority of Americans. After work, we retire to homes in placid suburbia or to high-rise co-ops with guards at the door," he writes. "We are not confronted with the threat of violence that is ever present in many Americans' everyday lives. The suggestion that the incremental deterrent effect of capital punishment does not seem 'significant' reflects, it seems to me, a let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others. Let the People decide how much incremental deterrence is appropriate."

(source for 3 above: Mother Jones)


Amnesty International USA Responds to Supreme Court Decision on Lethal Injection

Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, had the following reaction to today's decision by the Supreme Court regarding lethal injection:

"This decision does not change the fact that regardless of the method of execution, the death penalty is broken beyond repair. The death penalty is the ultimate violation of human rights. The Court's decision today will not resolve the death penalty's fundamental flaws, including the risk of executing a wrongfully convicted person. The only discussion should be how to put an end to this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment once and for all."

(source: Amnesty International USA)


The death penalty: How we kill----With the guidance of medical experts, Al Jazeera looks at what it means for an inmate to be put to death in the US

Lethal injection is by far the most common method of execution in the U.S., and, because it is the most frequently used, it is the most botched. There are 4 other methods of executions on the books in several states, used either by inmate choice or when drugs needed for lethal injection are unavailable.

The U.S. executed 35 people in 2014, all by lethal injection. This is down from the peak of 98 executions in 1998. While the number is not as high as in some other countries - according to Amnesty International, China executed at least 1,000 people in 2014 - the U.S. ranks 5th worldwide for the number of executions.

"It's devastating to have the United States [be] the only Western developed country that executes people - and the only country in the Americas to do so," Ivan Simonovic, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for human rights told Al Jazeera.

Still, the death penalty has supporters in the U.S., especially among some victim's rights groups, whose members back the death penalty as a form of restorative justice. Detractors, however, say its application is unconstitutional.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the U.S. has executed 1,408 people since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated after it was suspended in 1972 because of a landmark Supreme Court case, Furman v. Georgia.

The petitioners in the case claimed that the implementation of the death penalty was cruel and unusual and violated the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments. They showed that only 15 to 20 % of those who committed crimes eligible for the death penalty were sentenced to death. In other words, the fact that some would be put to death and some would not for committing identical crimes constituted a random, cruel and unconstitutional system.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the death penalty was "unfair" and "arbitrary."

Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his concurring opinion, "death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual." He concluded that, "the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments cannot tolerate the infliction of a sentence of death under legal systems that permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed."

"The point is, if they committed a capital, eligible murder, and to avoid the arbitrariness prong of the Furman complaint, you'd want to be able to have something be systematic and predictable ... you don't want it to be the case that this person was somehow a loser in a nasty or fatal lottery," said Jeffrey Fagan, who teaches courses on criminal law and capital punishment at Columbia University Law School, explaining the argument that led to a de facto moratorium on executions in the U.S.

"It's an issue of infrequency," he said.

"There aren't enough executions for us to be convinced that they are being carried out in a fair and predictable manner. ... If you have 10 people who have committed an identical crime and execute one of them, that's the essence of unfairness," said Fagan.

Still, 35 states reinstated the death penalty, restricting juries' discretion in imposing the sentence, and in 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia could execute Troy Leon Gregg without violating the U.S. Constitution.

As of the start of 2015, there were 3,109 inmates on death row in the U.S. If they lose their legal appeals or do not die of other means while incarcerated, they will likely be put to death by one of the means below.

While it's impossible to ask a person what it felt like to die in any particular manner, Al Jazeera sought to find out, clinically speaking, what happens to a body when it is killed via the legal methods in the U.S.

Note: Al Jazeera interviewed these medical experts on the methods of execution: Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Dr. Jonathan Groner, a professor of clinical surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine; and Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the chief medical examiner for Tarrant County, Texas. None of them participate in executions in any way.

Also, lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the states that have the death penalty. In some, alternate methods are allowed under certain circumstances, such as a shortage of the drugs required for a lethal injection or by the inmate's choice.

Lethal injection

Authorized in 31 states (Colorado and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty but have previously sentenced inmates on death row) as well as by the U.S. military and the federal government, according to state data from Death Penalty Information Center

2 methods, typically: 1- or 3-drug protocol.

Lethal injections are administered via intravenous tube, not syringe.

1st drug: Pentobarbital or midazolam, a sedative and an anesthetic. It is intended to render the inmate unconscious, unarousable even by extreme pain (e.g., surgery). Administered in the high doses used - as much as 20 times the therapeutic dose - this drug alone will stop breathing and collapse the circulatory system, putting an inmate to death within 10 minutes. This is the drug that is currently in short supply in the U.S.

2nd drug: Pancuronium bromide (or other drugs in the -uronium family), a paralytic. It gives the inmate a placid appearance, paralyzing almost all muscles (except the heart).

3rd drug: Potassium chloride, which stops the inmate's heart. (It is used in low doses to treat potassium deficiency.)

How it's supposed to work: In the 1-drug protocol, the inmate is injected (via IV) with enough of a sedative to cause death by overdose, knocking him or her out within a couple of minutes, depending on the person's circulation and heart rate. The other drugs are not required.

In the 3-drug protocol, the 1st drug, if administered property, renders the inmate unconscious. After 5 minutes, during which a rigorous depth-of-anesthetic test determines that the inmate is fully unconscious, the 2nd and 3rd drugs are administered within minutes of each other.

The inmate should be dead within about 10 minutes.

What can go wrong: There are dozens of cases in which inmates were subjected to a painful, bloody process of inserting the IV needle. In other cases, the first drug was not injected properly, resulting in the anesthetic being delivered into soft tissue rather than the circulatory system, rendering it ineffective. If the sedative is improperly administered, the inmate, conscious but paralyzed, suffocates slowly from the second drug.

Example of botched case: Clayton Lockett, April 29, 2014, Oklahoma: It took 51 minutes for the paramedic and physician to place the IV for the 1st drug, the sedative. The insertion of the IV proved problematic, and it was ultimately inserted into a vein in Lockett's groin. He writhed and breathed heavily after the other drugs were administered. He remained paralyzed and awake, effectively locked in his own body, suffocating for several minutes before his heart finally stopped. It took him 43 minutes to die.


Authorized in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia

How it's supposed to work: A strong electrical current from the head to a leg through the heart causes ventricular fibrillation, a cardiac rhythm disturbance. The heart quivers and stops pumping blood to the brain, rendering an inmate unconscious within 30 seconds. An inmate may be declared dead within 3 to 5 minutes.

What could go wrong: Brine-soaked sponges are used to conduct the current between electrodes and the inmate's skin. If the sponges, typically placed on the head, are over- or undersoaked, they can either cause a short circuit or resist the current. Ventricular fibrillation (which is, on its own, excruciatingly painful) is not always reliably achieved, since the electric current could pass around the heart, requiring additional jolts of electricity to bring about death. Loss of control over bodily functions usually occurs - vomiting, urination and defecation. Exposure to additional shocks can have gruesome consequences, including combustion, cooked organs (while the inmate is still conscious), burst eyeballs and split skin due to the extremely high temperatures.

Example of botched case: Allen Lee Davis, March 25, 1999, Florida: Media reports and witnesses indicated that Davis bled profusely from his nose or mouth, with burns on his leg, groin and head, crying out twice before he died. He was electrocuted for 2 minutes and was declared dead 8 minutes later.

Firing squad

Authorized in Utah (if lethal injection drugs are unavailable) and Oklahoma (if electrocution and lethal injection are found to be unconstitutional by the courts)

The inmate is strapped down with a target pinned over his or her heart. 5 riflemen fire, with 1 firing a blank, ostensibly so no one knows with certainty who is responsible for the killing, which is perhaps less traumatic for the executioners. By the time the inmate hears gunfire, the bullets have already hit the heart. The inmate probably feels something like a punch in the chest before losing consciousness a few seconds later.

How it's supposed to work: The high-caliber bullets rip open the heart, causing it to cease pumping, very quickly cutting off blood to the brain. The inmate loses consciousness almost immediately and dies quickly, although it's unclear exactly how many minutes it takes.

What could go wrong: 1 or more shooters could miss or have their firearms malfunction, potentially leading to a painful death caused by blood loss.

Example of botched case: Eliseo J. Mares, Jan. 10, 1951, Utah. 2 of the 4 bullets fired missed. One hit him in the abdomen, the other in the hip. It took several minutes before he was declared dead, with a witness telling The Salt Lake Tribune years later that he died "silently and horribly."

Gas chamber

Authorized in Arizona, Califonia, Missouri, Wyoming and Oklahoma

The inmate is trapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Under the chair is a bucket of sulfuric acid, into which sodium cyanide crystals are dropped via a switch outside the chamber, producing hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas. Oklahoma has approved a new protocol, using only nitrogen gas, which is odorless, resulting hypoxia and a loss of consciousness within seconds. It is the 1st state to do so and has not yet executed anyone using this method.)

How it's supposed to work: Once inhaled, the toxic gas destroys the mitochondria, tiny structures in cells that generate energy. Hydrogen cyanide inhibits this process, resulting in cardiac arrest and, within a minute, death.

What could go wrong: Much depends on how rapidly an inmate is breathing and the correct preparation of the gas. An inmate might breathe shallowly or hold his or her breath, resulting in a slower death, the loss of bodily functions and spasms.

Example of botched case: Donald Eugene Harding, April 6, 1992, Arizona: It's unclear what went wrong, but he gasped and thrashed for nearly 11 minutes before he died, with his execution described as so gruesome that it prompted Arizona to change its primary method of execution to lethal injection for all inmates sentenced to death after November 1992.


Authorized in New Hampshire (if lethal injection drugs are not available), Washington (by inmate's choice) and Delaware (where it remains on the books but the gallows have long been dismantled)

A noose is tied around the inmate's neck, and he or she is dropped from an appropriate height for his or her weight.

How it's supposed to work: The noose occludes the carotid arteries, blocking blood flow to the brain, resulting in loss of consciousness. In addition, the noose breaks the spinal cord at the 2nd cervical vertebra (aka hangman's fracture), which also results in a loss of consciousness. Death likely takes longer, but the inmate is probably unaware of what is happening.

What could go wrong: Hanging is far more complicated than it looks. The inmate's weight must be factored in to determine the height from which he or she is dropped. Inmates with more muscular necks or lower body mass can pose complications. If the calculations aren't correct, an inmate can suffocate slowly, spinal cord intact and totally conscious, or at the other extreme, the noose can decapitate him or her.

Example of a botched case: Raymond Lisenba, May 1, 1942, California. He was the last man to be hanged in the state, in San Quentin Prison. The rope used to hang him was the wrong length. It took him about 13 minutes to die. Local media at the time deemed Warden Clinton Duffy's description of Lisenba's hanging too graphic, but many ran Duffy's comment: "Maybe it would help if you could [print what I said]. It would do the people good to know exactly how their mandate was carried out ... I have nothing more to say except that this was the most terrible experience of my life and I pray to God that I shall never have to repeat it." He witnessed 90 executions in the course of his career.

(source: Al Jazeera America)


Summit County death penalty cases continue Monday in Akron

2 high-profile death penalty cases are expected move through court on Monday about the same time.

Shawn Ford, 20, is set to be sentenced by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker for killing a prominent New Franklin Township couple in 2013.

Defense attorneys will also begin presenting evidence to try and spare Deshanon Haywood, 23, from the death penalty. Haywood was convicted June 19 in the fatal shooting of 4 people.

Haywood's attorneys will begin the penalty phase of his case about 9 a.m. The same jury that found Haywood guilty will decide whether to recommend death or prison to Summit County Common Pleas Judge Paul Gallagher.

Haywood was 1 of 2 people convicted in the April murders of Ronald Roberts, 24, Kem Delaney, 23, Maria Nash, 19, and Kiana Welch, 19 at a Kimlyn Circle apartment complex.

Derrick Brantley, 24, was also convicted in the slayings and was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility.

Ford was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents, Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert. The jury recommended Oct. 31 that he be sentenced to death.

Defense attorneys argued that Ford's IQ was low enough to spare him from the death penalty. But Parker held a 2-day hearing and found Ford was mentally fit for execution.

Ford's co-defendant in the case, Jamal Vaughn, is scheduled for sentencing Tuesday.



Supreme Court refuses to ban controversial method of execution

The Supreme Court refused Monday to limit states' use of a controversial execution method that opponents have likened to being burned alive.

The court's conservative majority said lethal injection remains the most humane method of execution. During oral arguments in April, they had blamed opponents for exacerbating a shortage of drugs that has forced some states to experiment with less reliable alternatives.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision for the court. All 4 liberal justices dissented.

To prohibit the use of midazolam, a sedative that has left some death row prisoners apparently able to feel pain from the next 2 drugs in a 3-drug cocktail, would have unfairly tied the states' hands, the justices ruled.

The case, heard on the court's last day of oral arguments, was filed by 3 death row inmates challenging Oklahoma's method of lethal injection. A fourth inmate was put to death while the case was pending when the high court refused to halt his execution.

Midazolam was used in 3 2014 executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio in which prisoners struggled, groaned or writhed in apparent pain during the administration of drugs used to paralyze them and stop their hearts. In 12 other executions, the drug cocktail did not cause obvious mishaps.

The problems with lethal injections are the result of states' inability to find pharmacies willing to provide the drugs that can render prisoners incapable of feeling pain. Pharmacies in Europe routinely refuse to help because of broad opposition to capital punishment; the European Union imposed an export ban in 2011. As a result, many states have turned to state-regulated compounding pharmacies in a process that has been shrouded in secrecy.

Last month, both the American Pharmacists Association and the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists discouraged their members from participating in the process. The U.S. group called it "fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care."

The difficulties involved in lethal injections are forcing states with capital punishment laws to rejuvenate backup methods once viewed as beyond the pale. Tennessee would allow electrocution, Utah death by firing squad. Now Oklahoma lawmakers are moving toward legalizing the use of nitrogen gas.

7 states have abolished the death penalty since 2004, most recently Nebraska, where state legislators overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. Several other states have imposed moratoria on lethal injections because of problems, ranging from botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio to a "cloudy" drug concoction in Georgia.

In Oklahoma, death-row inmates Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole -- whose executions had been scheduled for January, February and March -- brought the latest lawsuit. Glossip was convicted of paying another man to kill the owner of the Oklahoma City budget motel where he worked as manager. He has long declared his innocence.

The drug protocol in question is different from the one the high court upheld in a 2008 case from Kentucky. The court's 4 liberal justices claimed midazolam should be outlawed because it does not always prevent prisoners from feeling so much pain as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, which the Constitution prohibits. Justice Elena Kagan likened it to "the feeling of being burned alive."

During oral arguments, some of the high court's conservatives charged that a "guerrilla war" by death penalty "abolitionists" contributed to the myriad problems states face in obtaining drugs from manufacturers and pharmacies.

(source: USA Today)


The other big US Supreme Court decision we should be celebrating is one no one's talking about

There was so much excitement last week over the US Supreme Court's rulings in favor of same-sex marriage and Barack Obama's health-care reforms that few people noticed another ruling that could be at least as far-reaching. It's a 1st - and admittedly still tentative - step in dismantling many aspects of racial and gender discrimination that, long after they were made illegal, remain structurally entrenched in America.

Even as explicit discrimination becomes less and less common in the US, implicit discrimination remains widespread. It exists in the form of laws or policies that are seemingly color- or gender-blind, but in practice discriminate - often unintentionally - against women or minorities. In the past couple of decades, social-justice campaigners have sought to bring such cases under a "disparate-impact" theory, which uses statistics to show a pattern of discrimination, rather than imposing on the plaintiff the burden of proving intent to discriminate. Yet courts, especially criminal courts, have often insisted on proof of intent, a hurdle that has often proved too high for plaintiffs to clear.

In criminal law, for example, there was the infamous case of McCleskey v. Kemp. Evidence, in the form of a comprehensive research study, showed a "racially disproportionate impact" of the Georgia death penalty on black defendants. Yet the Supreme Court ruled this insufficient to overturn the death penalty without showing a "racially discriminatory purpose."

Similarly, in civil law, the court ruled in Washington v. Davis that laws that have a racially discriminatory effect, but which the plaintiff cannot demonstrate were enacted with the intent to discriminate, are not unconstitutional. That ruling has protected from challenge some laws and policies which many see as unjust.

The ruling on June 25, however, could change this legal landscape. The Supreme Court agreed in a 5-4 decision that the Texas housing department had violated the Fair Housing Act, and engaged in racial discrimination, by putting too much subsidized housing in predominantly black urban neighborhoods, and too little in white suburban neighborhoods. The disparate impact was that this discouraged black people from moving to white areas, and perpetuated segregation.

Unfortunately, the court tempered its own ruling by limiting disparate-impact claims to cases where a law or policy raises "artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers." That gives lower courts a lot of leeway in interpretation. And it said that purely statistical evidence of disparate impact isn't enough; plaintiffs must also prove that a law or policy caused that impact, which will often be hard. Nonetheless, this ruling potentially sets a precedent for using disparate-impact theory to combat discrimination in many areas besides housing.

One such area is racial and gender discrimination in employment. Although disparate-impact theory can already be used in such cases, it's heavily constrained. In Griggs v. Duke Power, the Supreme Court ruled that, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, if employment tests disparately impact racial minority groups, such tests are discriminatory unless they can be shown to be "reasonably related" to the job for which the test is required. However, even though this disparate-impact theory of action was later codified into Title VII, some justices, like Antonin Scalia, have argued that as a litigation strategy, it's unconstitutional. Also, Griggs has also been narrowly construed, so that people who have experienced racial or gender discrimination in the workplace have often still faced a heavy burden in proving discriminatory intent. As a result, employment discrimination cases are among the hardest to win. Yesterday's ruling may help make it easier to use a disparate-impact framework in such cases.

A 2nd area is the use of a person's genetic data to discriminate in employment and for insurance purposes. The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), passed in 2009, makes such discrimination illegal. But it doesn't explicitly allow cases to be brought under a disparate-impact framework. Friday's ruling could finally allow for that, enabling employees to sue employers for discrimination on the basis of established statistics or patterns of excluding people with genetic traits for disease.

A 3rd important area concerns formerly incarcerated women. There is evidence that so-called "collateral consequences of conviction" - such as rules that deny ex-prisoners food stamps or access to certain kinds of jobs after their release - have a disparate impact on women, a form of modern-day "scarlet letter." Yesterday's ruling could open the way for women affected by these collateral consequences to launch disparate-impact claims.

There is also a form of discrimination that is only just becoming recognized, but is likely to become much more important as technology progresses. As companies and government agencies collect and analyze more and more data on people - from their online shopping habits, social-media activity, and so on - the way the data are used (for instance, in setting prices for products) can end up inadvertently discriminating against the poor, women or ethnic minorities. Here, proving intent to discriminate is impossible; the discriminatory effects are typically the result of applying machine-learning algorithms. Legal scholars such as Solon Barocas of New York University have shown how a disparate-impact framework could be used to show data discrimination in such cases.

There are other areas such as voting, education, or drug laws, where the disparate-impact framework might now be used to tackle racial and gender disparities. And though the Supreme Court's ruling constrained the use of disparate-impact theory, the government could expand it by codifying it into law, as it did with Title VII. Though it will be a long and hard legal and political battle, this new ruling holds much promise for tackling the inequalities that, decades after overt discrimination against women and minorities was abolished, still remain entrenched in America.



Librarian chronicles history of Fayette County executions

Barbara Pasqua, assistant law library librarian at the Fayette County Law Library inside the Fayette County Courthouse, has compiled a book detailing the unique history of the Fayette County Courthouse, ranging from the juror dorm rooms inside the building to the newspaper articles and illustrations of the 13 executions by hanging in the 1800s.

A haunting photograph that captures a condemned killer's final moments on the gallows 129 years ago inspired a law librarian to dig up the stories behind 13 executions that were carried out in Fayette County.

Displayed discreetly on a back wall of the library in the courthouse, the framed photo shows a hangman's noose dangling in front of Michael Metz as he stands, flanked by 4 lawmen, atop a gallows erected in the prison yard.

Condemned to die in 1886 for the robbery and murder of his cousin, Metz glared at the unseen photographer in the moments before a hangman pulled a black cap over his face and slipped a knotted noose around his neck.

"The sheriff asked Mike if he had anything to say, whereupon he replied: 'Me kill no man since me be in this country; me kill no man since me be in this country,' " according to a newspaper article attached to the photo.

"The sheriff put his foot on the trigger, both trap doors fell down with a loud thud, resounding throughout the corridor, and Mike's legs dangled between the trap-doors and the floor," states the article. "The physicians went quickly over to his body, and soon pronounced the victim dead."

Metz's story is one assistant law librarian Barbara Horwat Pasqua has often recounted to visitors to the 2nd-floor library in Uniontown.

"People would ask me about it, and they wanted to know when was the last hanging," said Pasqua, whose own curiosity was sparked by the visitors' questions.

Pasqua went to the Pennsylvania Room at the Uniontown Public Library, where she not only found the answer, but also a list of all 13 men who were tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to die by hanging in the county.

"There was so much written about Fayette County, but nothing on the hangings," Pasqua said, crediting Uniontown librarian Maria Sholtis with helping her research the executions. "I decided their stories needed to be told."

The result is a 69-page "historical accounting" of the hangings and other little-known courthouse facts, with the executions of the so-called "Fayette 13" comprising nearly half of the book. Using microfilm, Pasqua said, she transcribed newspaper articles of the hangings.

The accounts begin with that of John McFall, who was the 1st to be hanged in 1795 in the fatal beating of a Smithfield hotel keeper. They end with that of Frank Wells, who after he was convicted of shooting a man during a McClellandtown robbery became the 13th - and last - man to be executed in the county in 1914.

Pasqua said most of the death penalty murders were committed over money or infidelity. Much like today, appeals followed the men's convictions. But sentences were carried out swiftly, she said.

"Their attorneys would fight to see if they could get them life imprisonment, but that didn't happen, and within a year, they were put to death," Pasqua said.

The 13 accounts provide a historic look at how state-sanctioned executions evolved over time.

McFall, the 1st to die, was hanged from a sycamore tree at what is now the Fayette County Fairgrounds. The remainder of the executions took place at the jail, either openly in the yard or, in later years, privately in a corridor inside the prison, according to the news accounts.

For some of the earlier executions, Pasqua said, hundreds of ticket-bearing spectators spilled into the prison to witness the condemned men's final moments. In one instance, teenage "boy murderer" Frank Morris' corpse was placed on display after his 1896 hanging for shooting a Bullskin farmer during a robbery.

"After the execution, the remains were viewed by from 3 to 4 thousand people in the hall of the courthouse," notes a transcribed news account in the book. "A wonderful crowd of people surrounded the jail and courthouse all afternoon."

By the time Wells became the last condemned man to die by hanging in the county in 1914, executions were moved to a corridor inside the jail.

"Not only was the execution made private as possible, but the throng of morbid curious were kept from viewing the gruesome corpse with the bulging eyes and bruised throat," notes one of the news accounts. "Immediately after Wells was declared dead, his body was placed in a basket and rushed to the waiting funeral wagon of Undertaker Johnston at the entrance to the jail."

Among the commonalities, Pasqua said, was that the gallows were always painted white and nooses fashioned of stretched hemp.

"All the prisoners got a brand new suit," Pasqua said. "They could order any meal they wanted the night before, and they had visitors and church people come in."

Pasqua said her research debunked an oft-recited courthouse tale of hangings in the courthouse's clock tower.

"There were no hangings in the clock tower," Pasqua said. The hangings stopped when Pennsylvania adopted the electric chair for executions, Pasqua said.

Pasqua said many of the stories behind the hangings are compelling.

"Some of the people were foreigners who came up from other states to work in the coal mines and got in trouble," Pasquale said. "Some were planned; some were unplanned. It's like you came to know the people."

Pasqua donated copies of the book to the law library and the Uniontown Library, where visitors are welcome to read them, but they are not available to be checked out.



Hearing scheduled this week for suspect in St. Lucie County deputy's 2013 death

The man accused of shooting and killing a St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy in 2013 is expected to be in court Monday.

Eriese Tisdale is charged with first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.

Tisdale is accused of shooting St. Lucie County sheriff's deputy Sgt. Gary Morales in 2013.

On Monday, a 2-day hearing will begin as lawyers iron out the details before the trial that is scheduled to start Sept. 15.

Tisdale's lawyers have filed motions to suppress statements their client made after his arrest.

The defense argues Tisdale spoke to a prosecutor without that prosecutor identifying himself.

They have also filed a motion to ban uniformed law enforcement from the courtroom claiming it would have an impact on the jury if they were in the gallery.

The defense and prosecution are planning to present an agreement on the terms of where law enforcement will be able to sit and what they will be able to wear during the trial.

If convicted, Tisdale could receive the death penalty.

(source: WPTV news)


Trial Date Set After Double Murder Victim's Father Begs for Justice----An October trial date has been set in the dismemberment murder of a man inside a Los Alamitos theater.

A trial date in October has been set for a man faced with the death penalty for the Los Alamitos dismemberment murder of another man and the killing of a friend in Costa Mesa.

The oft-delayed death penalty trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak received another trial date of Oct. 2 after the father of 1 of the victims implored the judge presiding over the case to schedule one.

Steve Herr, the father of victim, Samuel Eliezer Herr, told Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley that he wanted another trial date set.

"We've been waiting 5 years," Herr said. "That's all we really wanted."

The case has been plagued with delays, particularly since Wozniak's attorneys have alleged outrageous government misconduct in the use of a jailhouse snitch and the involvement of Orange County sheriff's deputies in helping to arrange an interview of the defendant on MSNBC's "Lockup."

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy has said he advised Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders of Wozniak's interview on the program and that his office had nothing to do with it, but only found out about it through Herr, who saw an ad for the show.

MSNBC's lawyers are fighting Sanders' request for correspondence and other information regarding the network's interview of Wozniak.

Sanders is pushing for an evidentiary hearing on the use of a jailhouse informant who befriended Wozniak and passed on potentially incriminating statements to jailers. Murphy has pointed out that he has no plans to use the informant as a witness and that he was not yet an official snitch for the sheriff when he buddied up with Wozniak.

Also, Murphy argues, Costa Mesa police are the lead law enforcement agency in the case against Wozniak and that the sheriff's only role is as a jailer.

Sanders won an evidentiary hearing for one of his other clients -- convicted mass killer Scott Dekraai -- that led to findings of misconduct that led another judge to remove the District Attorney's Office as prosecutor.

Murphy also pushed Conley today to issue a finding that the prosecutor was not personally involved in any alleged misconduct, something he argues Sanders has alleged in court papers. Sanders has emphasized that he is alleging "government misconduct," not "prosecutorial misconduct."

Conley said he wasn't prepared to do that today because he was "like someone coming in in the middle of the movie." Both sides are set to argue the issue July 31.

The state supreme court this month rejected a petition from Wozniak to boot Conley from the case. Another judge recused himself when he said he became so frustrated with Sanders that he did not think he was capable of being fair to the defendant.

Prosecutors had the judge presiding over the Dekraai case removed when he was assigned to it following the other judge's recusal.

Wozniak is accused of shooting Samuel Herr after luring him to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces military base in May 2010. Prosecutors allege he then used the victim's cell phone to trick his friend, Juri Kibuishi, into going to Herr's Costa Mesa apartment, where the defendant gunned her down and then made it look like Herr killed her during a sexual assault. Wozniak then allegedly returned to the base to dismember Herr.



Remember the victims -- There are more sensitive ways to handle Tsarnaev's presence

There is a likelihood that in coming weeks or months the Special Confinement Unit at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute will house condemned Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It will be at that facility on our city's southwest side, along with as many as 55 other inmates, that the 21-year-old native of Kyrgyzstan will live with his death sentence.

A federal judge last week formally sentenced Tsarnaev to die by lethal injection for the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings that killed 3 people and injured 260 others, some of them severely.

During his sentencing, Tsarnaev expressed both regret and remorse for his actions. He apologized to the victims.

For as long as it's been known that Tsarnaev would be tried on federal charges and the death penalty would be sought by prosecutors, the people of Terre Haute have known that he could someday be housed in their community. This is not a new situation for our city. It merely reflects Terre Haute's peculiar place in the federal judicial system. Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted for his role in bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City and killing 168 people, was housed on death row in the local prison until he became the 1st person executed at the new federal death chamber in June of 2001.

When Tsarnaev's execution will occur is far from certain. The death sentence carries with it a number of automatic appeals which could take years to resolve. And with so many condemned inmates populating death row now, it would take years to make a dent in those numbers. And that is only if executions ever resume at the federal level.

While 3 federal prisoners have been executed at the Terre Haute facility, there have been no executions there in 12 years. What's more, none are scheduled. There is an effective moratorium on executions in the federal system because the U.S. lethal injection policy is under review and revision. There are major problems with drug protocols used in lethal injections, and it's clear finding alternatives will be difficult.

As Tsarnaev lives out the rest of his life, however long that may be, it is now time to let his name drift out of the nation's consciousness and instead use our energy to again remember those he killed when those bombs exploded near the finishing line of the world's most famous foot race. They are Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy from Dorcester, Mass.; Krystle Campbell, 29, of Arlington, Mass; and Lingzi Lu, a Boston University graduate student from China. We must also remember MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was shot to death as he sat in his police car by Tsarnaev and his bother, Tamerlan, who later died as law-enforcement officers pursued the brothers.

The most appropriate way for Terre Haute to acknowledge Tsarnaev's presence here is to always, always, honor the memories of his victims.

(source: Editorial, Tribune Star)


Lethal injection decision comes on capital punishment anniversary

Monday's Supreme Court decision about lethal injections comes on the same day, back in 1972, that the Court briefly limited the death penalty.

On June 29, 1972, the Court decided in a complicated ruling in Furman v. Georgia, that the death penalty application in 3 cases was unconstitutional. The Court clarified that ruling in 1976, putting the death penalty back on the books under different circumstances.

The debate over whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual dates back to the Founding Fathers. The Constitution's Eighth Amendment states that, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

In 1789, during the debate over the Bill of Rights in the First Congress, 1 argument was over the extent of the death penalty. Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire proposed that "it is sometimes necessary to hang a man, villains often deserve whipping, and perhaps having their ears cut off."

"But are we in the future to be prevented from inflicting these punishments because they are cruel? If a more lenient mode of correcting vice and deterring others from the commission of it would be invented, it would be very prudent in the Legislature to adopt it; but until we have some security that this will be done, we ought not to be restrained from making necessary laws by any declaration of this kind," Livermore said.

The First Congress adopted a more moderate view when it proposed the Eighth Amendment for ratification in the Bill of Rights. It was also concerned about the use of harsh punishments in an arbitrary and disproportionate way.

The Supreme Court initially considered these factors as they would have applied in the Founders' time. In 1878, the Court ruled in Wilkerson v. Utah that death by firing squad was permissible, but it agreed that old English practices of execution where prisoners were "emboweled alive, beheaded, and quartered," publicly dissected and burned alive were unconstitutional.

Then in 1910, the Court broadened its criteria in Weems v. United States, which wasn't a capital punishment case but still dealt with cruel and unusual punishment. The Justices referenced an earlier death-sentence case, In re Kemmler from 1890, which held that the 1st use of the electric chair was constitutional under the 14th Amendment. Later, the Court ruled that it was permissible to execute a person with the electric chair, for a 2nd time, after a 1st attempt failed.

However, in 1972 the Court changed direction in Furman v. Georgia, when, in a very complicated ruling, a split 5-4 Court decided the death penalty application was unconstitutional in 3 cases.

Furman, an armed burglar, had tripped while fleeing a scene, causing his gun to discharge and kill a victim. The Court also considered 2 similar cases in the Furman decision. The Court filed a 1-paragraph per curiam ruling and each of the nine Justices wrote their own separate opinions.

"The Court holds that the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The judgment in each case is therefore reversed insofar as it leaves undisturbed the death sentence imposed, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings," the brief opinion read.

Only 2 of the Justices believed the death penalty was unconstitutional under all circumstances. But the effect of the Furman decision was to place a 4-year moratorium on all executions until more guidance came from a court challenge.

In 1976, in a series of decisions called the Gregg cases, the Court confirmed that capital punishment was legal in the United States, but under limited circumstances. It rejected automatic sentencing to death, and said death sentences can't be characterized by "arbitrariness and capriciousness." The ruling led to the use by states of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in determining capital sentencing.

In later years, the Court has excluded certain classes of people from capital punishment, including the mentally handicapped and juveniles. It also eliminated rape and felony murder as capital crimes.



Supreme Court to rule in lethal injection case Monday

The fate of a drug commonly used to carry out lethal injections could go down as one of the most bitter battles between the liberal and conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Monday, justices will decide whether the use of the sedative midazolam in lethal-injection executions is constitutional after the drug was implicated in several botched executions.

The argument is that the drug doesn't reliably induce a coma-like sleep that would prevent death row inmates from experiencing the pain of the paralytic and heart-stopping drugs that follow sedation.

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in March, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. accused those trying to prevent the use of midazolam in an execution in Oklahoma of waging a "guerrilla war against the death penalty."

Justice Antonin Scalia, who released colorful dissents last week against same-sex marriage and ObamaCare subsidies, accused those trying to prevent the use of midazolam as being part of an "abolitionist movement."

Justices Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said that without proper sedation, the use of the drug that is used to stop a person's heart, would be like being burned at the stake, only the person sentenced to death is "burned alive from the inside."

(source: Fox News)


Lawmakers Considering Harsher Punishment for Human Trafficker

China's top lawmakers are considering tougher punishments for all parties involved in human trafficking, including those who buy abducted children.

The 9th draft amendment to the Criminal Law was submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress earlier this week.

It comes amid continuing discussions on China's social media outlets about whether or not child traffickers should be sentenced to death.

The amendment advocates "light punishment" for buyers who don't harm abducted children or hinder police rescue of the victimized children.

At present, such buyers would likely be exempt from punishment.

He Youlin, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, says this indeed gives a free reign to the act of children trafficking.

"Those who buy children can get lesser punishment or even an exemption only because they don't ill-treat the abducted children or appear cooperative in rescue operations. But will it embolden those possible buyers? We should take it seriously."

Child trafficking has been rampant for a long time in rural China, especially in poverty-stricken southwestern regions. Some pregnant women have been found to have sold their own children.

The traditional preference of boys over girls, especially in the countryside, has also been blamed for boosting the trade.

Some rural residents who don't have a boy would like to buy one, which many law experts say fuels demand.

Jiang Zhuangde is also taking part in the discussion of the amendment. He backs harsher punishments for child buyers.

"The effort to crack down on child buyers is obviously not enough. The current penalties are too light to deter the offenders. The huge demand is another major reason why child trafficking becomes rampant. Those who buy children should face criminal penalties or harsher punishment at least."

According to the Supreme People's Court, nearly 13,000 people involved in trafficking were punished between 2010 and 2014 with over 1/2 receiving sentences ranging from at least 5 years in prison to the death penalty.

Under the current law, child traffickers can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. If more than 3 victims are involved or if there are casualties, the punishments can rise to life in prison or death.

A recent poll on showed over 92 % of the more than 21,000 respondents recommended that the same punishment imposed on child traffickers should also be applied to buyers.

(source: CRI.English)


Death penalty for former cabbie upheld

The Federal Court, here, today upheld the conviction and death sentence of a former taxi driver for the murder of a woman who was shot dead during a robbery 10 years ago.

Mokhtar Mohd Zin, 53, was charged with murdering Siti Shamiza Abu Zarim, 30, a construction firm secretary, in the car park of Giant Supermarket in Batu Caves, Gombak, at 1.45pm on March 19, 2005.

The 5-member panel led by Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif in a unanimous decision rejected Mokhtar's final appeal to set aside the Court of Appeal's conviction against him on a charge of murdering Siti Shamiza.

Justice Md Raus said there was no reason for the court to vary the decision of the Court of Appeal that found Mokhtar guilty of murdering the woman because he had conclusively been identified by several witnesses as the person who shot her.

"Thus, the appeal is rejected, (and) the decision of the Court of Appeal and the conviction and death penalty is upheld," said Justice Md Raus, who presided together with Federal Court judges Tan Sri Suriyadi Halim Omar, Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Tan Sri Hasan Lah and Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali.

According to the witnesses' testimonies during the hearing, they heard gunshots in the parking lot and after that a woman was found dead next to a car.

The post-mortem found that the victim died from a gunshot on the chest and she was shot from the front. A mobile phone used by Mokhtar was also found beside her body.

Mokhtar, from Kelantan, in his defence told the court that two days prior to the incident he had gone to Kuala Lumpur to attend a case at the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate's Court and had returned home on the same day, May 17, 2005.

Mokhtar, who is also a dealer of smuggled goods from Thailand, said he arrived at Rantau Panjang on the morning of May 18, 2005, and in the evening went to Golok, Thailand.

He surrendered to police on March 26, 2005, after his wife phoned him to inform that his picture had appeared in the news on a murder case in Kuala Lumpur.

On Sept 20, 2009, the Shah Alam High Court acquitted and discharged Mokhtar from the murder charge after the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against the taxi driver.

However, the prosecution which was not satisfied with the decision, appealed to the Court of Appeal.

On Oct 10, 2011, the Court of Appeal ordered Mokhtar to enter his defence after allowing the appeal by the prosecution.

On March 30, 2012, the Shah Alam High Court again acquitted and discharged Mokhtar from the same charge after hearing his defence, but the Court of Appeal subsequently convicted him of the charge after allowing the prosecution's appeal.

Today, the Federal Court finally dismissed Mokhtar's appeal.



Court to decide whether to admit murder charges against Rana Plaza owner, 40 others on July 8

A Dhaka court will hold a hearing on July 8 to decide whether to admit charges against Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana and 40 others in the case over murder of more than 1,100 people in the collapse of the building.

Dhaka's Senior Judicial Magistrate Shahinur Rahman fixed the date on Sunday.

The hearing on whether to take cognisance of the charges was scheduled to be held on Sunday, but did not.

Accused Rana was not produced before the court.

Prosecution's Asaduzzaman told the court sought explanation why he was not produced before it.

On Apr 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Savar, which housed 5 garment factories, came crushing down.

Official figures put the death toll at 1,135 - mostly workers of the readymade clothing factories.

At least 2,458 people were rescued from the rubble.

Savar police filed a case over 'negligent death', accusing 21 including Rana. But police brought charges against 41, accusing them of murder.

Investigation officer Bijay Krishna Kar submitted the chargesheet to the court on June 1.

The accused would be handed down the death penalty, if found guilty.

Rana and 3 other accused are in jail now.

17 of those accused of murder and another have been charged in another case filed over construction without following the building code.

Of those accused in the murder case, 25 are absconding.

7 are on the run in the other case while all other accused are on bail.



I don't support death penalty: Natalegawa

Indonesia's former foreign minister has said he doesn't support captial punishment, but stopped short of saying Indonesia should ban the practice.

Speaking to Sky News Political Editor David Speers, Marty Natalegawa said he had held his views for a long time, but did not air them publicly because it would not have been conducive to position as Indonesia's foreign minister.

"I am personally against the death penality. That has been my position consistently,' he said.

Mr Natalegawa said he expected the death penalty to continue to form part of 'robust discussions' between Australia and Indonesia.



UAE woman 'sentenced to death for killing US teacher'

A United Arab Emirates court sentenced an Emirati woman to death on Monday after convicting her of the jihadist-inspired murder of an American teacher, Abu Dhabi newspaper The National reported.

Alaa Bader al-Hashemi, 30, was found guilty of stabbing to death school teacher Ibolya Ryan, 47, in a shopping mall toilet, the paper said.

She was also convicted of "creating a handmade bomb" she placed in front of an Egyptian-American doctor's home, it added.

The attacks took place within hours of each other in the UAE capital on December 1.

Tracked down using CCTV footage of her going into and out of the restroom where the teacher's murder took place and near the doctor's building, Hashemi was arrested 48 hours later.

She was dressed in black from head-to-toe as she carried out both attacks.

Hashemi was arrested at her home where her car was found with blood on the steering wheel and bomb making materials inside.

The National said that Hashemi "was also found guilty of sending money to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, knowing the funds would be used in terrorist acts".

The ruling was made by the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, which means it cannot be appealed.

The president can, however, decide to overturn the sentence or reduce it.

Hashemi, surrounded by four police officers, "showed no emotion as the verdict and sentence were announced," the paper said.

"As she was led from court she smiled and waved at her father and brother, who were in court to witness the proceedings."

'Unreal visions'

International media have been denied access to her trial, which began on March 23.

Hashemi had asked the court to provide her with psychological help, saying she had "unreal visions" and would see "ghost-like people" due to a chronic mental illness.

The court ordered psychiatric tests which it said showed she was aware of her actions.

In March, Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish said that investigators found she had "listened to lectures by late Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, watched video clips of killings and beheadings," among other similar activities.

She "embraced takfiri and jihadist ideology and then engaged in terrorist acts in support of the terrorist organisations Al-Qaeda and Daesh," he said using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

The convict was also said to have created an Internet account to promote the "ideas of a terrorist group".

The judge on Monday "ordered the confiscation of all evidence and the shutting down of the online account Hashemi had used," The National said.

Kubaish has said that Hashemi had confessed "in detail to investigators to have committed these crimes," but during the court hearings, the woman denied all charges and alleged that she was mistreated during interrogation and forced to confess.

Hashemi had been dubbed the "Reem Island Ghost" after the location of the mall where the stabbing of Ryan, a mother of 3, attack took place.

In September, the United Arab Emirates joined the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the jihadist IS group in Iraq and Syria.

Last year, it issued a list of 83 Islamist groups it classified as "terrorist organisations".

Violent crime is relatively rare in the UAE, home to millions of foreign workers.

And while capital punishment is legal in the UAE, executions are rarely carried out.

(source: Agence France-Presse)


Iran's Supreme Court Overturns Death Sentence for Cyber Activist----Branch 34 of Iran's Supreme Court has granted Soheil Arabi's request for a retrial. Arabi was sentenced to death for "Insulting Prophet Muhammed online".

On Saturday Soheil Arabi, cyber activist, discovered through his lawyers that Iran's Supreme Court has overturned his death sentence, pending a retrial. One of Arabi's lawyers confirmed the news to Iran Human Rights.

Arabi may still face execution if he is sentenced to death in the new trial, this was the fate web developer Saeed Malekpour suffered in 2011.

Iran human Rights welcomes the news of the overturning of Soheil Arabi's death sentence and calls for abolishing all laws in Iran that violate a citizen's right to freedom of speech or expression.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

JUNE 28, 2015:


How Anthony Graves Went from Death Row to Overseeing the Houston Crime Lab

A few weeks ago, Anthony Graves began hearing rumors that he was under consideration for a spot on the Houston Forensic Science Center's board of directors - a post that would put him in a position to help the city prevent wrongful convictions.

Wrongful convictions like the one that put him on death row.

The simple fact that he was being considered for the job was another form of vindication for Graves, who was exonerated in the murders of 6 people and released from a Texas prison 5 years ago.

Since then, Graves has been traveling the country telling his story, urging people to press for reforms to the criminal justice system - including the death penalty.

"I was excited about the opportunity because it lines up with the work I already do," Graves, 49, told NBC News.

That appointment, submitted by Houston Mayor Anise Parker, became official on Wednesday, when the Houston City Council voted to put him on the nine-member board, which has replaced the scandal-plagued Houston Crime Lab.

"Because I was wrongfully convicted, and I know how the system failed, this appointment allows me to bring a fresh perspective to the board, because I can tell you about the pitfalls," Graves said.

Graves spent 18 years in prison and was twice given an execution date. The state wanted to retry him, but the case fell apart, and in 2010 Graves was released - a free man at long last.

At the same time, the Houston Crime lab was reeling from revelations of systemic malfeasance. In 2013, Parker and the city council created the Houston Forensic Science Center, overseen by an independent board of directors, to take over the $24 million-a-year lab's operations.

The Houston Forensic Science Center, a government non-profit, is unusual in its makeup. It is insulated from the police department and City Hall, and its board includes Texas who have been cleared of violent crimes.

Graves will replace Anthony Robinson, who was pardoned in 2000 by then-Gov. George W. Bush after Robinson spent a decade behind bars for a rape he didn't commit.

Robinson went on to earn a law degree and became an entrepreneur. At his first board meeting in early 2014, he told his story, so that the other members would know what it's like to be wrongly convicted of a crime.

Graves was 26 when he was arrested for the 1992 murder in Somerville, Texas of 45-year-old Bobbie Davis, her adult daughter, and her four grandchildren. His co-defendant, Robert Earl Carter, was executed in 2000, and on the eve of his death, he submitted a sworn statement saying he had lied when he said Graves had helped him kill the family.

Graves' appointment came days after the man who put him in prison, Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta, was disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct.

Graves said he now looked forward to being reunited with the board's newly appointed chairman, Nicole Casarez. a lawyer and journalism professor who worked 8 years to free him.

"I'm more excited about the fact the the chairman is the lady who saved my life," Graves said.

Once again, he said, he would let Casarez "guide me."

Casarez told NBC News she was thrilled with Graves' appointment. Since his exoneration, Graves has become a national voice on criminal justice reform, a voice that now will be heard on the board.

"I wasn't surprised at all," Casarez said. "I was hoping it would happen. I didn't nominate him, but I was glad someone did."

(source: NBC news)


Another capital flaw

District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public's outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage - the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation looked at problems with cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges.

The finding of 56 cases is a high number over the past quarter-century given that the state's death row population is 148. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct.

Pursuing these cases has cost taxpayers nearly $2.4 million, the report estimates. But dollars hardly measure the full cost. Defendants in these cases spent a total of 112 years in jail awaiting trial, more than half of them based on the testimony or statements of witnesses who were found to be unreliable.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice.

(source: Editorial, News & Observer)


The death penalty and South Carolina Capital cases involve many factors

The Death Penalty and South Carolina

S.C. death penalty facts----43 men, no women executed since 1976

45 inmates currently on death row

177 capital convictions since 1976

105 death sentences overturned since 1976

Last S.C. execution was in May 2011

Types of murders considered for death conviction: criminal sexual conduct (rape), in any degree kidnapping

trafficking in persons

burglary in any degree

robbery while armed with a deadly weapon

larceny with use of a deadly weapon

killing by poison

drug trafficking (circumstantial)

physical torture

dismemberment of a person

arson in the 1st degree (circumstantial)

by a convicted murdered

mass killing of people

murder for hire

killing of a child under age 11

killing of public officials

killing of public official's family in retaliation against the official

killing of case witnesses

killing by a known sexual predator

Just 2 days after 9 people, including a state senator, were gunned down at a historically black church in Charleston, Gov. Nikki Haley said accused gunman 21-year-old Dylan Roof should "absolutely" get the death penalty.

State officials who deal with capital punishment law say the act of murder itself doesn't necessarily require the death penalty. However, state law includes mass murder, among other types of murder, as a sound circumstance for prosecutors to seek capital punishment.

Opponents of the death penalty say the state's laws are fraught with problems and a single death penalty case can cost taxpayers an average of $1.1 million more than a life-without-parole sentence.

Ed L. Clements III, solicitor for South Carolina's Twelfth Circuit, said seeking capital punishment isn't as easy, or as practical, as many people seem to think. He said the specific circumstances must be met, according to law, before death becomes an option.

"The scrutiny is heightened tremendously during these cases," he said. "There are so many strategic procedures that can be found ineffective that allow for appeals to be upheld and can get cases overturned. Then the entire lengthy process starts over again."

South Carolina law

According to SC code title 16, chapter 3, "statutory aggravating circumstances" are listed as crimes that prosecutors are allowed to consider for death penalty notices. Some of these include killing a child under age 11, mass murder, murder for hire and murder while trafficking humans, among others.

Even though an aggravating circumstance may be met, Clements explained, a host of mitigating factors such as age and intellectual handicap level must be considered as well.

"If a person commits the crime before they're 18 or if they're proven to be mentally impaired, we would not be able to seek the death penalty," Clements said. "The state or county provides a host of services for the defendant to utilize in each case."


According to data from the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center, a single death penalty case in the state, when carried through to execution, costs taxpayers an average of $1.1 million more than a life-without-parole sentence.

The same data suggest that a single death penalty trial costs South Carolinians around $415,000 more than a noncapital murder trial. Over 1/2 of all death cases in the state are reversed because of error at least once during the appellate process, the center says.

Clements attributed this to the commonality of death penalty convictions being overturned and retried numerous times, all at the taxpayers' expense. He said it's rare for a death penalty case to stand only 1 trial.

"When you seek the death penalty, the defendant is automatically entitled to two defense attorneys," he said. "They can go to a judge with an 'ex-parte' or 1-party order for the hiring of whoever they feel necessary to hire who they need for their case. This can be social workers, investigators, mental health experts. That makes the cost for the state, as well as the county, extremely high.

He said that when deciding to seek the death penalty, prosecutors are aware of the county's financial status and jury makeup because they often determine if a death notice should be sought.

"The process takes a tremendous amount of time and a tremendous amount of money from the county itself, so location plays a huge factor in making that decision as well," Clements said.

Appeals and Defense

Emily Paavola, executive director of the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center, said her office works with inmates who have been sentenced to death by representing them during the appeals process.

"We look back at the trial, everything that happened and identify if there were any errors that made the process unfair or unreliable for the defendant," Paavola said. "We have to make sure there were no violations of any federal or state constitutional rights."

She said over 60 % of death penalty convictions in South Carolina are reversed at least once.

Paavola said a reason for prolonged stays on death row - an average of 13 years in South Carolina - can be attributed to the lengthy process of appeals and litigation during death penalty trials.

"It's easy for people to look at an individual case and say 'give them the death penalty' but there's a much broader context to think about," Paavola said. "Like whether it's good to have a death penalty ... we have to ask if this is an efficient and wise way to use of our money, or is there a better way to use our tax dollars?"

Opposing death sentences

Ron Kaz, board chairman of South Carolinians Abolishing the Death Penalty, echoed the thought that South Carolina’s death penalty is functionally problematic and added that the system is flawed.

"You cannot solve problems by killing people," Kaz said. "Even if prosecutors are 100 % sure they have the right person, I still don’t think killing that person is any kind of solution to violent crime in this country."

Kaz believes the current system is fundamentally flawed and leaves too much room for error.

"I understand that sometimes mistakes are made and people get it wrong," he said. "But this isn't something you can get wrong that just causes a minor inconvenience; we're talking about a person's life here. A mistake can mean death."

Kaz also said the death penalty in South Carolina is systemically racist, citing the higher likelihood of African-Americans being sentenced to death as opposed to Caucasians.

"It's built into the system," Kaz said. "If someone kills a white person, they're 6 times more likely to face the death penalty than if the victim had been black."

Death penalty convictions

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, South Carolina has sentenced 177 people to death, and 105 of those sentences have been reversed because of errors at least once on appeal. The last execution in South Carolina was in May 2011.

45 inmates are on death row now in South Carolina, all are males.

South Carolina is one of 14 states that allow inmates a choice on how they will die, as long as the inmate makes that choice in writing at least 14 days prior to the execution date. Lethal injection and the electric chair are the only 2 legal methods of execution in the state.

Causes of decreased executions in recent years are advances in DNA technology, legal rulings protecting inmates with mental disorders and, most recently, the inability of states executing by lethal injection to get proper dosage of drugs used in the process.

Paavola many of the drugs are produced by foreign countries that oppose the death penalty, and in turn, have refused to sell the drugs to states with capital punishment laws.

Officials from the Twelfth and Fourth circuits - courts serving the Pee Dee area-- didn't comment directly on the Charleston shooting case, citing Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson's expertise and leaving the decision to her office alone.

South Carolina's Fourth Circuit currently has 2 pending death penalty cases. Fourth Circuit officials couldn't speak on record about the open cases or any specific death penalty procedures.



Fla. death penalty faces scrutiny from Supreme Court

13 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, should decide death sentences, Florida stands alone in how its justice system imposes capital punishment.

"Florida's capital sentencing system is unique among all 33 American jurisdictions that permit capital punishment," the American Bar Association says in a brief filed before the nation's highest court. "Indeed, the Florida Supreme Court has characterized Florida as 'the outlier state.'"

Now the nation's highest court is poised to consider in its next term whether Florida needs to change its system for deciding whom to execute.

The issue concerns the role of juries in death penalty decisions. It's an aspect of the state's system of capital punishment that courts have struggled with for years.

In Florida, as in other states, when defendants are convicted of murder in a death penalty case, juries hear evidence regarding the existence of "aggravating factors," or aspects of the case that weigh in favor of a death sentence, as well as "mitigating factors," information that favors a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In recommending a sentence, a jury determines whether aggravating factors in a case outweigh the mitigating circumstances and justify the imposition of a death sentence.

But Florida juries, unlike most other states, are told their decisions are merely advisory, and that the judge will make the ultimate determination over whether to sentence a defendant to death. Trial judges in Florida are required to make their own, independent findings and are permitted to impose sentences different from jury recommendations.

Juries in Florida also are not required to reach unanimous decisions on the existence of specific aggravating factors or on whether to recommend a death sentence.

No other state allows the imposition of a death sentence without jurors either finding unanimously that a specific aggravating factor has been established or unanimously finding that capital punishment is appropriate.

The American Bar Association, which takes no position on the overall constitutionality of the death penalty, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to direct Florida to make changes and require jurors to specify which aggravating factors they have unanimously found to be present. The association wants the high court to require jurors to unanimously agree on the imposition of death sentences.

The American Bar Association reviewed the state's death penalty system in 2006 and found the need to improve its fairness and accuracy.

Among the findings was that there was significant confusion among jurors in capital cases. "Research establishes that many Florida capital jurors do not understand their role and responsibilities when deciding whether to impose a death sentence," the association's report stated.

The ABA also concluded that not requiring jurors to be unanimous "reduces the jury's deliberation time and thus may diminish the thoroughness of the deliberations."

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 threw out Arizona's system of capital punishment, ruling it was unconstitutional because judges, not juries, determined the existence of aggravating factors and sentenced defendants to death.

Months later, the Florida Supreme Court left intact the state's system of capital punishment, concluding that the U.S. Supreme Court had repeatedly reviewed it and found it constitutional.

The state's high court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to hear the appeal of one of the Florida defendants challenging the state system, even after it made the Arizona decision.

That Florida appeal involved Amos Lee King, who was later executed for the 1977 murder of Natalie "Tillie" Brady inside her Tarpon Springs home. Brady was raped, stabbed and beaten while King was in a nearby prison work-release program.

The state Supreme Court called in 2005 for the state Legislature to make changes to the state's death penalty law to require unanimity in jury recommendations. But state lawmakers didn't act.

In the ensuing years, the state Supreme Court continued to hold that the state's death penalty system is constitutional. One of those rulings came in the Escambia County case of Timothy Lee Hurst, convicted of murdering coworker Cynthia Harrison in a robbery at Popeye's restaurant on May 2, 1998.

The state Supreme Court initially upheld Hurst's conviction and death sentence but later granted him a new penalty phase hearing on the grounds his original defense lawyer failed to properly present and investigate mitigating evidence relating to his borderline intelligence and possible brain damage. At the conclusion of the 2nd sentencing hearing, jurors returned a verdict of 7-5 in favor of death.

Hurst appealed again to the state Supreme Court, which upheld his death sentence, rejecting arguments that included assertions the jury should have been required to unanimously find a specific aggravating circumstance and unanimously decide his sentence.

The state Supreme Court noted in its Hurst ruling that it has previously concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Arizona case did not require juries to make specific findings of aggravating factors or to make unanimous decisions regarding death sentences. The Florida court refused to revisit its prior rulings.

Hurst also argued the jury should have been required to determine whether he was mentally disabled, a finding that would have barred the implementation of the death penalty. After hearing testimony from witnesses and experts, the trial judge ruled that Hurst was not mentally disabled.

The state Supreme Court ruled that although some states require such findings be made by juries, Florida is not one of those states, and the U.S. Supreme Court has not mandated that procedure.

Hurst appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in its next term, which begins in October.

(source: Tampa Bay Tribune)


Reasoning in ruling wrong

The U.S. Supreme Court justices have done it again. They say Louisiana cannot execute the convicted murderer Kevan Brumfield because he is insane. I assume they applied what I consider the most asinine ruling ever made by that court. That ruling said that a State cannot execute a person who is incapable of knowing why he/she is being executed; their theory being that because such a person will not know why he/she is being executed the sentence has lost its "retributive value."

This ruling first came to my attention when, as an ADA in the early '90s, I handled a motion to stay the execution of Winthrop Earl Eaton, the murderer of the Rev. Lea Joyner. The motion said that although Eaton was sane when he killed Joyner and was sane when he was tried and convicted, he had since become insane and, because of the aforementioned Supreme Court ruling, he could not be executed.

The trial court decided that Eaton was in fact sane and denied the motion. The denial was upheld by the state Supreme Court and a new execution date was set. Eaton's attorney then filed a motion in the U.S. District Court, alleging that after the state court denied the motion to stay the exeuction, Eaton had became insane and could not be executed.

Other ADAs handled the new motion and I don't know the outcome. I have, however, searched the Internet and find that Eaton was not executed and is still housed by the Department of Corrections.

The reason I say the Supreme Court's ruling is asinine is that the "retribution" sought by the death penalty imposed on a murderer hasn't a thing to do with the his/her state of mind or feelings. Retribution is for the victim's friends, family and the public.

The death penalty's importance is in assuring the public that it is being adequately protected by the government and fulfills the public's need for vengeance. Not carrying out the penalty to avoid hurting the condemned person's feelings defeats these purposes and makes no sense.

Following the court's reasoning to its ridiculous conclusion, all criminals who become insane after sentencing should be released because they don't understand why they are being punished.

John Spires

West Monroe

(source: Letter to the Editor, The News Star)


Death penalty costs debated, but the burden is heavy

During debates in the legislative session on the repeal of the death penalty, supporters and opponents both drew on the costs to make their arguments.

Senators who wanted repeal -- such as Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg -- said it costs double, maybe triple, to try a death penalty case, sentence the convicted, and then slog through sometimes decades of appeals.

Those who wanted the death penalty to remain a sentencing option -- such as Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner -- said it doesn't cost a lot of money, and it's cheaper than keeping someone in prison for life.

So who's right?

Conservative politicians who more recently find themselves opposed to the death penalty say they are convinced it is "wasteful and inefficient," and the cost "alarming."

But you won't find those costs as line items in any budget, say Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a network of political and social conservatives. Those costs are buried in a "thicket of legal proceedings and hours spent by judges, clerks, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies."

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said his office has never had a budget in which funds were specifically identified for capital cases. Defending death sentences has been just one of many responsibilities of the Nebraska Department of Justice.

It's 1 % of the annual criminal appeals cases, with only one or two attorneys with responsibility for monitoring capital cases, Peterson said.

But Jim Mowbray, chief counsel of the state’s Commission on Public Advocacy, created in 1995 to represent indigent defendants charged with 1st-degree murder, said when the death penalty is involved, it basically requires twice the amount of time and attention from an attorney in his agency.

In effect, he said, there are two trials, the guilt-innocence phase, and then a sentencing phase, which takes as long to prepare for and carry out as the guilt-innocence phase. Both the defendant's attorney and the Attorney General's Office spend more time on these cases than a nondeath penalty case.

Finding mitigating evidence can also require a great deal of travel, both in and outside the United States, he said.

"So there's no question it costs more," Mowbray said.

The appeals process will go on for many years, and federal costs will add to the total.

Mowbray used the example of death row inmate Michael Ryan, who before his death from natural causes had an issue pending before the Nebraska and United States supreme courts almost 30 years after his crime was committed. That, despite the seeming lack of doubt about Ryan's guilt and the heinousness of his crime.

Capital cases have a high cost to counties.

Mowbray's Public Advocacy Commission was appointed to Ryan's case in 2012. All the costs of the initial trial and appeals before that time were paid by Richardson County or the federal government, he said.

Richardson County officials had to declare a financial crisis because the 1985 Michael Ryan/Rulo cult capital murder trial had stripped the county of its $750,000 in cash reserves from inheritance tax collections. Then it had to spend about $1 million for infrastructure damages from 2 years of flooding. Another capital murder trial that followed, of John Lotter in the triple homicides near Humboldt, sent the county into debt and struggling to meet payrolls.

In total, Richardson County spent $1.35 million on the Ryan and Lotter trials, including appeals, according to Richardson County Treasurer Austin Duerfeldt. The Public Advocacy Commission had 34 different filings in the Ryan case for actions in state and federal courts, Mowbray said.

"And that costs money," he said.

Death penalty advocates argue that attorneys at the commission are on a yearly salary. And experts and travel to interview witnesses are built into the commission's budget.

Where taxpayers see an added impact, Mowbray said, is when there are multiple defendants -- such as the four in the 2002 Norfolk bank robbery killings -- and private lawyers must be added to the costs.

There are other costs, such as judicial time, he said. And death penalty cases can cause a backlog on civil cases, especially in federal court.

"So for people who favor the death penalty to say it doesn't cost any more than life in prison, it's just not true," Mowbray said. "That's fiction and we all know it."

To get to the costs, Sen. Brenda Council in 2010 tried -- and failed on a 22-22 vote -- to pass a bill (LB1105) that would have authorized a $50,000 death penalty study by the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Opponents questioned whether such a study could gather accurate information. They discredited past criminal justice studies, and said they doubted that knowing the costs would change anyone's mind about whether the state should have a death penalty.

But more than 15 states have now done the cost studies.

All concluded the death penalty systems in their states were far more expensive than a system in which the maximum sentence is life in prison, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, testifying in 2013 before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. The costs reflect the reality that most capital prosecutions never result in a death sentence, and most death sentences do not lead to an execution, he said.

A 2014 study by the Kansas Judicial Council's Death Penalty Advisory Committee reviewed 34 capital-eligible cases filed between 2004 and 2011.

The study found that costs for the Kansas Board of Indigents' Defense Services for nine cases in which the death penalty was sought were $3.56 million, or $395,762 per case. 6 cases for which the death penalty was not sought were $593,781, or $98,963 per case.

District court costs for the nine death penalty cases were $72,530 per case, and $21,554 per case for 5 non-death penalty cases.

In the Kansas Supreme Court, justices assigned to write death penalty case opinions spent 20 times more hours on those appeals than non-death penalty cases. Justices who did not write opinions spent 5 times more hours on death penalty cases.

The study also showed that prisoners in segregated housing, as those sentenced to death are, cost $49,380 per inmate compared to $24,690 annually to house an inmate in the general population.

In 2010, the Commission to the Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire found "a significant difference in the cost of prosecution and incarceration of a 1st-degree murder case where the penalty is life without parole as compared with the cost of a death penalty case from prosecution to execution."

The increased cost, it concluded, was essential to "guarantee a vigorous defense, a thorough investigation and prosecution of the case, and careful adjudication of the case."

In 2008 it cost that state more than $5.3 million to prosecute and defend 2 death penalty cases, one of which ended in a sentence of death and 1 a sentence of life. The cost included defense in only 1 case, because 1 of the defendants paid for his own defense.

The chairman of the New Hampshire study commission concluded the expense was significantly higher in the 2 cases than if they were not capital cases, including the cost of life-time imprisonment.

Between 1973 and 2007, Nebraska taxpayers paid for 103 cases in which the prosecution sought the death penalty. 31 of those cases led to a death sentence, more than 1/2 of those were reversed, and 3 have ended in an execution, none since 1997.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Family of murdered LAPD officer in limbo as killer languishes on death row

For 3 decades, Sandy Verna Jackson has longed for the day her husband's killers would be executed.

Raynard Cummings and Kenneth Gay were convicted of 1st-degree murder for fatally shooting Los Angeles police motorcycle Officer Paul Verna 6 times during a traffic stop in Lake View Terrace in June 1983. The parolees, who authorities said were trying to avoid arrest for a series of violent robberies in the San Fernando Valley, were sentenced to death in 1985. Gay's death verdict was overturned for a 2nd time in 2008.

Verna's parents - now in their 90s - will probably never see resolution of his killers' cases, Jackson notes.

"How would you feel if your only son was murdered without provocation while doing his job to protect the citizens of Los Angeles and those scumbags were still alive 32 years later?" asked Jackson, who has remarried and lives in the Santa Clarita Valley. "It's hard for others to imagine, but that has been our life since Paul's was taken from all of us, and it doesn't end."

Jackson represents thousands of family members of homicide victims waiting to see justice meted out for the state's 751 condemned inmates, who are eight times more likely to die of causes other than execution. California's failure to execute inmates hurts families, costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, bogs down the court system and arguably harms the inmates as well. A main reason for the delay in conducting executions is that appeals in capital cases often take 2 decades before a decision is made. Executions have also been on hold in the state since 2006 over lethal injection issues and, despite a recent development, are not expected to resume in the near future. Last year a federal judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional, which if upheld could ultimately commute all death sentences to life in prison.

The death penalty sets up an expectation that these prisoners will be executed at some point - and that will be justice - but in California and many other states "that's just a false promise," said Richard Dieter, senior program director of Death Penalty Information Center, a national nonprofit that provides analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.

"We all believe that it's going to be taken care of' when these cases go to court, Jackson said. "As we say, 'justice will be served.' We don't realize that it isn't."

In California, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, but only 13 have been executed. In contrast, 101 condemned inmates have died by other means: 67 of natural causes, 24 by suicide, seven from incidents such as drug overdoses or homicide, and three deaths that have yet to be classified, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Condemned inmates are kept mostly in isolation, have limited amounts of exercise and are not eligible for typical prison programs since it's assumed they will be executed, Dieter said. Yet in California, they most often end up serving a life sentence.

"We usually ask juries or judges to pick one or the other but not both," he said. "It's an extra punishment."

40 % of inmates currently on the nation's largest death row have spent at least 20 years there, while the average time spent is more than 17 years, according to CDCR data. About 20 % are at least 60 years old.

While the death penalty has been on hold in California for nearly a decade, taxpayers continue to pay well over $100 million a year to maintain a system experts on both sides of the debate call broken, costly and in dire need of change.

Rising toll

The estimated cost of California's death penalty totaled more than $4 billion between 1978 and 2011, including $1 billion for more secure incarceration and nearly $2 billion for pre-trial and trial costs, according to a 2011 study co-authored by Paula Mitchell, an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, and the late Senior 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon.

They also found the state spends $184 million more on condemned prisoners each year due to added costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation. Californians are expected to spend an additional $5 billion to $7 billion over the cost of a life-without-parole system by 2050, the authors said in 2012.

Using more conservative projections, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated the annual costs of the death penalty system in 2008 to be about $137 million versus $11.5 million for a system of lifetime incarceration.

The failure of leaders to respond with meaningful reforms or abolition has resulted in "the perpetration of a multibillion-dollar fraud on California taxpayers," the 2011 study stated.

Meanwhile, the number of the state's condemned inmates swells each year. Gov. Jerry Brown's request for $3.2 million from state lawmakers to convert 97 general population cells at San Quentin State Prison into those for death row inmates was approved as part of the state budget signed by Brown on Wednesday.

36 new inmates were received on death row in 2013 and 2014 while 12 prisoners died of natural causes or suicide, according to state data.

Lethal injection hurdle

A settlement agreement this month opens the door for executions to possibly resume in California.

Since 2006, state and federal courts have prevented the state from using its three-drug lethal injection procedure. Largely at issue are which drugs are used in executions and how. The state has been developing regulations for a single-drug method but has yet to propose one, an effort corrections officials say has been complicated by drug availability.

Victims' families sued the state in November to force it to adopt a new single-drug procedure so executions could potentially resume, and the state has agreed to submit draft regulations for review and approval within 120 days of a Supreme Court decision on Oklahoma's lethal injection process, which is expected within days.

The settlement offers "a ray of hope" that a valid 1-drug protocol will be established and used to carry out executions, said Kent Scheidegger of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represented the families in the lawsuit. But Matt Cherry of Death Penalty Focus, which opposes capital punishment, called it an "exercise in futility" since past attempts to create a legally sound protocol have failed and other states have been unable to find needed drugs.

A new lethal injection process must first be devised according to state law and, if challenged as expected, approved by the courts before executions can resume, Dieter said.

At the same time, the constitutionality of California's death penalty system is also being challenged. U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney ruled last year that the delays and arbitrariness in executions amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case has gone to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and if upheld could mean that some or all of the state's death row inmates would have their sentences reduced to life without parole. Oral argument is set for Aug. 31 in Pasadena.

California voters narrowly rejected a 2012 ballot measure that would have done away with the state's death penalty system and converted the sentences of more than 700 inmates to life without parole.

"When people discuss how it works in practice, including how innocent people are sentenced to death, including the disparities in sentencing based on race and income and class, and also when people realize the death penalty costs so much more than life in prison, then I think you start to see the public move against the death penalty," Cherry said.

Others argue for keeping the death penalty but reforming the system.

"People who committed the very worst murders, the people who kidnapped, raped and tortured children, are getting off with less than they deserve," Scheidegger said. "They are dragging out their cases so long to effectively commute them to life in prison and that's not justice."

Dysfunctional system

Meanwhile, the cases of Cummings and Gay are still in a maze of litigation. Cummings, 58, last year appealed a federal court's decision to deny his petition challenging his jury conviction and sentence.

Gay, 57, had his death sentence reversed for a second time in 2008 due to instructional error. A judge will make recommendations to the California Supreme Court regarding the competency of Gay's original defense attorney as early as August. If the court finds the attorney was legally ineffective and that affected the outcome of the case, a new trial would be ordered to determine his guilt or innocence "like we're starting all over," said L.A. County Deputy District Attorney John Colello.

Otherwise, Gay's conviction would stand and prosecutors would decide whether to seek the death penalty for him again. Both men have denied guilt.

Dysfunction exists at every stage of the state's capital punishment process, said Loyola's Mitchell.

Since there aren't enough attorneys trained or who want to work on capital appeals, condemned inmates can wait up to 5 or 6 years before direct appeals are even started. Because only seven justices serve on the California Supreme Court and appeals are hundreds of pages, it now takes roughly 20 years from the time a notice of appeal is filed until the court decides to affirm or reverse a conviction, she said. State and federal habeas corpus petitions often take 15 years after that.

"It takes a tremendous amount of time for the attorneys, court staff and justices working on these appeals to consider and meaningfully address every single argument raised," Mitchell said. "Meanwhile, decades are going by and inmates keep coming onto death row."

'A travesty' of justice

Bryce Verna, who was 9 when his father was killed, has few memories of him. There's the time he killed a rattlesnake in their Thousand Oaks cul-de-sac and when his father, an avid Angels baseball fan, played catch with him at the Little League fields.

But that hasn't stopped Verna from modeling his life after him. Besides becoming a motor officer for LAPD's Valley Traffic Division like his father, he was a Boy Scout and served in the U.S. Air Force, just like his Eagle Scout dad.

His brother, Ryan, who was 4 at the time of the murder, also followed in his father's footsteps and today is an LAPD detective in the Valley.

"These guys have gotten to live for 30-plus years whereas my dad hasn't seen my brother and myself grow up, seen his grandkids and carry on his life," Verna said.

Meanwhile, Cummings and Gay are aging at San Quentin.

"This is a travesty of the justice system," said Verna, who has a tattoo of his father's police badge on his right leg beneath his uniform. "The justice system that my dad swore to uphold failed him."


Convicted killers of women in L.A. County more likely to get death penalty

Chivalry and traditional roles between men and women influence jurors when deciding whether to issue a death sentence, according to a researcher who studies capital murder.

Steven Shatz, a University of San Francisco law professor, studied 1,000 California murder cases where the defendant was eligible for the death penalty and found that killers of women were 7 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed men. The data rang true when Shatz examined 404 similar cases in Los Angeles County between 2003 and 2005.

"It's pretty hard to get a jury to vote for death. It's the most awesome act a jury can be asked to do," Shatz said. "To get them to do it, you really have to evoke sympathy with the victim, and it's far easier to do that for a woman victim."

Shatz and his co-author Naomi Shatz, an attorney at the New York American Civil Liberties Union, argue in a research paper "Chivalry is Not Dead: Murder, Gender and the Death Penalty," that traditional notions of gender and chivalry - as a code of conduct practiced in the middle ages by knights and royalty - are part of the reason why women are sentenced to death and executed at lower rates and why killers of women are more likely to get the death penalty.

Their research mirrors an analysis of data by the Los Angeles News Group that found that nearly half of 57 inmates on California's death row convicted of murdering at least 93 victims under special circumstances in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2010, had killed females. The 38 females who were killed ranged in age from 1 to 79.

Former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who was in the county’s head prosecutor from 1992 to 2000, said the gender of the victim did not consciously influence his evaluation to bring capital murder charges against a defendant. But on an instinctive level, he said he could understand the underlying premise of the Shatz analysis.

"I think people in our society view women as being a little more vulnerable, or even a lot more vulnerable than men and so, if you're taking advantage of someone who is more vulnerable, than you're going to pay a higher price," said Garcetti, who now advocates against the death penalty.

Steve Cooley, who served as L.A. County district attorney from 2000 to 2012, said he doesn't think there is any evidence to support the conclusion that female victims stir greater sympathy from jurors. He said some death row inmates who killed women have committed serial murders that often involved sexual assault, which falls under special circumstances that make the defendant eligible for the death penalty.

"Juries just follow the law, and the law says you can get the death penalty for committing a homicide during the course of a sexual assault and you can get the death penalty when you have multiple victims," Cooley said.

Steven Shatz agrees in part with Cooley's assessment.

Jurors are more likely to sentence defendants who have raped and then murdered their victim to the death penalty and victims in those cases are nearly always women.

Rape-murders account for about 1/2 of the disparity involved in sentencing killers of women to death, Shatz said, but a disparity still exists.

At least 5 of the 38 females whose killers were sentenced to death row in Los Angeles County in the 11-year period of the data gathered and analyzed by the newspaper group, were raped or sexually assaulted. At least one death row inmate committed serial rape during that time period. More than 1/2 of the killers sentenced to death killed multiple people - men and women and children.

This news organization's analysis also found that women are less likely to be homicide victims - 14 % of 11,244 victims - and yet, about 1/2 of the murderers sentenced to death killed women.

Of the 751 people on death row in California, 21 are women. The last female executed in California was in 1962. She was put to death for killing a woman.

Elizabeth Ann Duncan was put to death for her pregnant daughter-in-law's murder. Duncan hired 2 men to kill Olga Kupczyk, who in 1958, was pistol-whipped, choked and dumped in a shallow grave. Duncan was executed on Aug. 8, 1962.

"Presumably jurors felt that female victims, except in the case of domestic violence, were more innocent and less to blame for the violence committed against them," the Shatzes wrote in their research paper. "These factors fit with chivalric stereotypes about women's helplessness and need for male protection and help explain why California, like medieval society, punishes less severely male on male violence or male on female violence within the home (which may be seen as the male's prerogative or for which the female victim may be seen as partly to blame) than stranger (usually male) violence toward the innocent and helpless female.

Women often do not have a criminal history, gang ties and are often viewed in society as the caretakers of children, said Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who studied racial inequality and the death penalty. Those factors contribute to why women are more sympathetic victims, he said.

"On juries, and probably in the population in general, it's believed that killing a man is not as bad as killing a woman - it's not as depraved," Shatz said.


A breakdown of California's death row inmates by gender, length of time on death row, race and age range

Prisoners on California's Death Row

Males: 730

Females: 21

Total: 751

Length of Time

0-9 years: 190 prisoners (25%)

10-19 years: 264 prisoners (35.15%)

20-29 years: 225 prisoners (29.96%)

30-plus years: 72 prisoners (9.59)

Total: 751 prisoners

Average time on Death Row: 17.34 years

Top death sentence counties

Los Angeles: 233 sentences

Riverside: 88 sentences

Orange: 65 sentences

Alameda: 42 sentences

San Bernardino: 40 sentences

San Diego: 40 sentences

Data base includes at least 10 sentences that have been reversed and are awaiting retrial.

[source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (as of June 23)]


Death Row inmates by state as well as numbers of exeuctions since 1976. Data as of April 1.

Alabama: 201

Arizona: 124

Arkansas: 35

California: 746

Colorado: 3

Delaware: 17

Florida: 401

Georgia: 85

Idaho: 11

Indiana: 14

Kansas: 10

Kentucky: 34

Louisiana: 85

Mississippi: 48

Missouri: 33

Montana: 2

Nevada: 78

New Hampshire: 1

North Carolina: 157

Ohio: 145

Oklahoma: 48

Oregon: 36

Pennsylvania: 184

South Carolina: 44

South Dakota: 3

Tennessee: 73

Texas: 271

Utah: 9

Virginia: 8

Washington: 9

Wyoming: 1

U.S. Military: 6

U.S. Govt.: 61

Number of executions since 1976 (top 10)

1. Texas: 527

2. Oklahoma: 112

3. Virginia: 110

4. Florida: 90

5. Missouri: 84

6. Georgia: 57

7. Alabama: 56

8. Ohio: 53

9. North Carolina: 43

10. South Carolina: 43

[source: Death Penalty Information Center (data as of April 1, 2015)]


Santiago Martinez Jr.: Death row inmate murdered 2 Long Beach women

Santiago Martinez Jr. has been sitting on death row at San Quentin State Prison since Dec. 7, 2009.

With the state's slow-churning appeals process, he may outlive the 67-year-old mother of one of his victims, who says the sooner Martinez dies, the better.

"I think it's a real shame for families that have to go through years of waiting for something to happen," said Loraine Wilkerson, the mother of 1 of the 2 women Martinez murdered last decade. "Whether it's an appeal or an execution, I think it's really hard on the family."

Martinez stabbed each of his victims multiple times.

The body of 28-year-old Long Beach resident Christina Grace Wilkerson was found by a transient March 22, 2003, just after 9:25 p.m. inside an abandoned red Honda in the 1200 block of Werner Avenue, near Orange Avenue and Anaheim Street.

Wilkerson had last spoken by phone to relatives a few days before her body was discovered.

Martinez, who was a 21-year-old reputed East Side Longos gang member, and on parole after serving time in state prison for sexually assaulting a disabled person, stabbed Wilkerson, whom he had known for about 6 weeks, in the face, neck and body, then shot her with a .22 rifle.

Prosecutors said Martinez murdered Wilkerson in a jealous rage. He was convicted in February 2005 and sentenced to more than 50 years to life in prison.

An analysis of data by the Los Angeles News Group found 57 inmates on California's death row were convicted of murdering at least 93 victims under special circumstances, including sexual assault and murder of a victim or serial killings in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2010. The analysis of homicide victims showed that 38 females who were killed ranged in age from 1 to 79.

Loraine Wilkerson said her daughter loved animals and was a compassionate and giving person, one who designed Halloween costumes and donated them to a local women's shelter. She had earned an associate's degree in fashion design and wanted to further her education.

"People loved her," Wilkerson said. "At her service, it was really just word of mouth. I had my son call a couple of friends. There were probably close to 150 people there. She had a lot of friends."

Years later, Martinez was condemned to death for a murder he committed less than 2 weeks after he took Wilkerson's life.

After a previous jury was deadlocked on the penalty, new jurors in Long Beach Superior Court took about 30 minutes Oct. 29, 2009, to unanimously vote for the death penalty after Martinez was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend, Myra Orozco, 24, of Long Beach, when she refused to help him dispose of Wilkerson's body.

Martinez stabbed and slashed Orozco about 30 times in the face, neck and body, dumped her body from the car they were sitting in, and ran her over March 30, 2003. A bicyclist spotted Orozco's body in an alley in the 2400 block of San Francisco Avenue around 3:50 p.m. that day.

Myra Orozco's mother, Yolanda Villa, was in attendance when the jury condemned Martinez, as was Loraine Wilkerson, the mother of Christina Wilkerson. Martinez smiled at the mothers of the victims as he was led out of the courtroom.

Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani on Nov. 24, 2009, ordered death by lethal injection for Martinez.

Loraine Wilkerson said she's heard how relatives of murder victims can forgive. That's not her, she said. Still, she says she is happy in her retirement, volunteering in her community and enjoying the companionship of friends.

"If the time comes and they are going to execute him, and I'm still alive, I will be there with a smile, as everybody's protesting outside San Quentin," Wilkerson said of those who oppose the death penalty.

(source for all: Los Angeles Daily News)


Harbor Gateway mother refuses to dwell on execution for daughter's killer

Charlene Lovett doesn't dwell on Jonathan Fajardo.

She knows he's behind bars on California's death row, and can't hurt anybody else. She doesn't concern herself with his appeals, the court process and whether Fajardo's execution date will come anytime soon.

"I think about my daughter," Lovett said in an interview. "I know her murderer is in prison. I know he has a death sentence. I don't think about when are they going to do it, am I still going to be alive. I don't waste my time thinking that way."

Fajardo, now 27 years old, was sentenced to death in 2011 for killing Lovett's 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Green, in Harbor Gateway and murdering a fellow gang member he mistakenly believed snitched to the police on him days later.

"I forgave this young man very quickly," Lovett said. "I knew in order for me to continue on with my life, I had to forgive him. He had already taken my younger daughter from me. I would not allow him to take my life from me."

Lovett, who also has a son and daughter, was against the death penalty before Dec. 15, 2006. Lovett said she did not believe it was right for the state to convict someone of murder and then "turn around and murder the person."

"I thought it was hypocritical," she said.

Lovett's daughter Cheryl died that afternoon as she stood with friends after school at the corner of 206th Street and Harvard Boulevard. The girl who loved video games, "Lizzie McGuire" and wanted to go to college to become an obstetrician was gunned down when Fajardo opened fire on them.

Cheryl, who was black, became a victim of a turf battle between Latino and black gangs in the Los Angeles strip area. The area north of 206th Street between Western and Normandie avenues was Latino territory; south of 206th was black.

Her death prompted outrage. Police soon decimated the Latino gang in the area, 204th Street, with raids and arrests. Politicians, community leaders and clergy called for unity among the races, marching for peace across the dividing line. By 2009, the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Bay opened the Cheryl Green Community Center in a brand-new facility for all children to use together.

An analysis of data by the Los Angeles News Group found 57 inmates on California's death row were convicted of murdering at least 93 victims under special circumstances, including sexual assault and murder of a victim or serial killings in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2010. The analysis of homicide victims showed that 38 females who were killed, including Cheryl, ranged in age from 1 to 79.

Police arrested Fajardo, a 204th Street gang member, and Ernesto Alcarez, who served as his lookout, for the shooting. Fajardo and 3 other gang members also were charged with killing Christopher Ash, whose body was found dumped on a Carson street. Fajardo stabbed Ash 62 times, incorrectly suspecting that Ash provided information about him to detectives.

Almost immediately after Fajardo's arrest, prosecutors told Lovett they would seek the death penalty against him. Unlike some families that sometimes push prosecutors to seek capital punishment against killers, Lovett never concerned herself with the decision.

"The most-high revealed to me what was going to take place before it actually happened," Lovett said. "I knew that he was going to die. I didn't know how."

Sitting through Fajardo's trial wasn't easy for Lovett. Fajardo, she said, appeared to detach himself from the witness testimony against him, not seeming to care.

After jurors recommended the death penalty, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Wesley imposed the sentence on April 22, 2011.

"For him to actually be put to death, it might not happen," Lovett said. "I might be gone myself. He is much younger than I am. I can look at it as just a lifetime sentence without him ever getting out. ... There's a lot of what-ifs. I'd rather not even waste my time thinking about it."

Should the day arrive, Lovett said she will travel to San Quentin State Prison, but not to watch Fajardo die. She said she wants to visit the death chamber to see if he showed any remorse. She wants to see if he will talk, to hear him say he knew it was wrong to take a life.

After that, Lovett will walk out, not wanting to watch him take his last breaths.

But even if that day never comes, she will be at peace.

"All I know is he is never getting out," she said. "I am cool with that."

(source: Los Angeles Daily Breeze)


Uncle of murdered San Fernando Valley girl sees no solution in death penalty

Desarie Saravia was a tough little girl who could carry a gallon of milk at the age of 2 and fall out of a bunk bed with hardly a whimper.

But at 5, she died after being sexually assaulted and brutally beaten in 2004 by her mother's boyfriend in a women's restroom at Hasley Canyon Park in Castaic. Antonio Rodriguez, who was convicted of numerous charges, including murder, torture and assault on a child causing death, was sentenced to death in 2010 in what a judge called the worst case of torture he had seen in his 37-year career.

But the thought of Rodriguez, now 34, being executed is little solace to Desarie's uncle, Ryan Saravia.

"Your 1st instincts are, 'Man, what would I do to him if I saw him? I want him to go through what I went through.' But what makes the pain easier for me to deal with is letting go," said Saravia, 34, of North Hollywood. "I don't feel like him losing his life is going to make me feel better. You can say I've forgiven him."

Coping with his niece's murder was the worst experience he could ever go through, Saravia said. And yet the husband and father of 2 girls said he would not be able to function had he not forgiven Rodriguez in his heart.

An analysis of data by the Los Angeles News Group found 57 inmates on California's death row were convicted of murdering at least 93 victims under special circumstances, including sexual assault and murder of a victim or serial killings in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2010. The analysis of homicide victims showed that 38 females who were killed, including Desarie, ranged in age from 1 to 79.

Saravia's sister Debby, who is Desarie's mother, is serving a 28-year prison sentence after she pleaded no contest to charges including child abuse of Desarie and attempted murder of her son. She was also charged but not convicted of Desarie's murder though she was not at the park at the time of the deadly assault. While they lived with Rodriguez in various locations around the San Fernando Valley, the little girl and her older brother were starved, whipped, beaten and burned with cigarettes, prosecutors said.

While Debby had a rough youth, including abuse and a gang affiliation, she accepts responsibility for her actions and has apologized to family members, Saravia said. He hopes that one day Rodriguez, who held his middle finger up in front of his face during his sentencing, will one day show remorse and "redeem himself to a certain extent."

Despite the pain, Saravia doesn't feel the death penalty is a solution.

"I didn't see it as a win-win for me because whatever choice the judge or jury decided, it wasn't going to bring her back."

(source: Press-Teleglram)


Victim's family asks governor to reconsider death penalty ban

The family of Lori Hamm, the Longview native allegedly killed by convicted killer John Wayne Thomson in 2006, wants Washington's governor to reconsider his ban on death penalty executions.

In a letter sent to Gov. Jay Inslee in May, Jerry Hamm, Lori Hamm's father, reminded the governor that he took "an oath to support and defend Washington's constitution and laws," including Washington's law allowing death penalty sentences.

Instead of issuing the ban, Jerry Hamm suggested the governor use the same legislative process any citizen would have to use to change the law.

"Lori's death was painful and her death impacted all of Cowlitz County," Jerry Hamm wrote. "Your decision was not fair to my daughter and heartbreaking to myself, my wife and our family."

Thomson is likely remain on death row in California for several years. He was sentenced to death after being convicted in April 2014 in the death of 55-year-old businessman Charles Ray Hedlund in late July or early August 2006. Hedlund was killed after he stopped alongside the road to help a stranded Thomson.

San Bernardino County spokesman Christopher Lee said Thomson's execution has yet to be scheduled and won't be for some time.

"In California, all death penalty cases have an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court," Lee said on Friday.

Thomson is accused of killing Hamm, 36, on July 16, 2006, near Castle Rock, about a month before Hedlund’s death. He's also accused of killing Spokane's James Ehrgott, 73, only weeks before Hamm's death.

Even without California's appeal process, Thomson's execution still wouldn't happen quickly. California has had a moratorium on executions since 2006 when a federal judge ruled that state's death penalty system as unconstitutional.

Former county prosecutor Sue Baur had planned to bring Thomson back to Washington to stand trial for Hamm’s death. Lee said that decision will now be up to current Cowlitz County Prosecutor Ryan Jurvakainen.

When asked if his office was actively working towards returning Thomson to Cowlitz County, Jurvakainen said he hopes to be able to "provide some substantive information" in the next few weeks.

"Until then, I will not make any comment," Jurvakainen said by email on Monday.

Although Thomson, 55, does not face the death penalty in Cowlitz County, the 1st-degree murder charge could be amended to qualify him for capital punishment. Thomson is charged with aggravated murder in Spokane, which would include the possibility of the death penalty if he were convicted there.

"Now it is time for Mr. Thomson to pay for his crime spree in both Cowlitz and Spokane counties," Jerry Hamm wrote. "You have made that impossible."

Jerry Hamm also asked the governor to provide the research he used to make his decision on the moratorium, as well as copies of the material given to the media. Lastly, he asked the governor to reconsider his decision.

"State of Washington voters voted for the death penalty for these terrible crimes and my daughter and Cowlitz County deserves it," Jerry Hamm said.

A call to the governor's office last week was not returned.

(source: The Daily News)

JUNE 27, 2015:


Court's Ban of Death Penalty Lawyer Will Stand

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday ruled it has no authority or jurisdiction to intervene in its sister court's ban of prominent death penalty lawyer David Dow.

In January, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - the state's highest criminal court - found Dow in contempt after he was a day late filing an appeal to stop the execution of Miguel Angel Paredes last year. The court banished Dow from appearing with new clients before that court for a year. Dow had been warned he could be suspended after missing another deadline with the appeals court in 2010.

"Dow has been suspended for an important but limited reason ... ensuring that pleadings in death penalty cases are filed in time to be thoroughly considered by the courts," the ruling stated.

Paredes was executed in October for his role in 2002 slaying that left 3 people dead.

Dow appealed the ban, arguing that the criminal appeals court had overstepped its bounds by regulating attorney conduct, a power that rests with the Texas Supreme Court, the state's highest civil court.

But on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court's ruling stated the criminal appeals court's ban did not usurp its authority.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals has not undertaken to determine what lawyers may practice before it," the Supreme Court ruled. "Rather, it has imposed a sanction for the violation of a rule that provides for such a sanction. This in no way threatens our authority to regulate the Texas bar."

The Texas Supreme Court ruling pointed out that Dow can continue to represent his current clients before the court but cannot take any new cases to them during the ban.

Dow's attorney, Stanley Schneider, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Fewer Death Row Inmates in Texas

The number of death row inmates in Texas continues to fall while executions remain few and far between. At its peak in 1999, the number of Texas death row inmates was 460 -- today its only 260.

"The number of death penalty cases that are going to trial have been dropping over the past decade," says attorney Kathryn Kase, executive director of Texas Defender Service. "As a result, the number of new death sentences and new inmates on death row have dropped dramatically."

Kase credits the decline to a change in attitude as more convictions are overturned due to new evidence. Texas currently has 745 people serving life sentences.

"If you execute somebody you can't go back and reverse your mistake," she says. "However, if you sentence them to life without parole, you can reverse your mistake."

Kase says jurors also are questioning whether capital punishment is the best sentence.

"DNA testing casts doubt on whether we have the right person, or where racial attitudes come into play when making that life or death decision," she says.

(source: KTRH news)


Cheshire Killer's Attempt To Speed Up Execution Denied

Cheshire home invasion killer Steven Hayes has lost his latest bid to waive his appeals and proceed to execution.

In a handwritten document titled, "Emergency Habeas," filed June 17 in Superior Court in Rockville, Hayes said his incarceration is illegal because delays with his direct appeal to the Supreme Court - automatic and mandatory for capital cases in the state of Connecticut - will not allow him to be put to death.

Hayes, 52, said that he filed the petition in an effort to get the habeas court to carry out his death sentence and that he was not challenging the conditions of his confinement at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, where he has been on death row since December 2010. Yet Hayes says in the petition that he is in "hostile living conditions" and "psychologically tormented" by prison staff daily. He also says he is denied proper mental-health and medical treatment and is "forced to go without food, clothing, cosmetics, and cell cleaning supplies."

"I was sentenced to death, I deserve my sentence, I was not sentenced to years of psychological torment, physical abuse and neglect until my appeal can be heard," Hayes wrote. "If not for the mandatory aspect of this appeal, I could choose to freely have my sentence imposed. The direct appeal takes away my freedom of choice and is now forcing me to live as I am."

In an order issued Wednesday, Judge William H. Bright Jr. said the court would not issue a writ of habeas corpus "because the relief sought by the petitioner is not available" according to the Connecticut Practice Book. Writs of habeas corpus, also known as final petitions, usually contain claims that a convict is being held unlawfully and are filed after challenges involving evidence and law are resolved.

Should Hayes "seek to challenge the conditions of his confinement, he may do so by filing a petition of writ of habeas corpus that properly challenges the conditions of his confinement," Bright wrote.

Karen Martucci, acting director of the external affairs division of the state Department of Correction, declined to comment Friday.

Jennifer Bourn, assistant public defender in the office of the chief public defender, said that while she is handling Hayes' direct appeal, Hayes represented himself in his filing of the habeas petition. Bourn said Hayes' appeal has been fully briefed and is now awaiting a spot on the Supreme Court's calendar for arguments.

Hayes and his accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, are on death row for killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, during a July 2007 home invasion.

The men tied up and tortured the family as they ransacked the home for cash and valuables. Komisarjevsky sexually assaulted Michaela, and Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit. The house was doused with gasoline and set on fire. Hayley and Michaela died of smoke inhalation. The daughters' father and Hawke-Petit's husband, Dr. William Petit Jr., survived but was severely injured.

Komisarjevsky, 33, was sentenced to death in January 2012. Both men are appealing their death sentences.

Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012 but left in place the death sentences imposed on Hayes and Komisarjevsky and the other men currently on death row. A challenge based on that action is pending before the state Supreme Court.

For nearly 3 years, Hayes has been pushing for his execution to be carried out. In a September 2012 letter to The Courant, Hayes wrote that he wanted to waive his appeals and be executed. At the time, he cited "cruel and unusual punishment" by prison staff.

And days before correction officers found him unresponsive in his prison cell in March 2014, Hayes sent a suicide note to The Courant, calling Northern a "psychological torture chamber."

In the letter, Hayes wrote as if he were already dead - "as you know I am dead by suicide" - and said that prison officials would blame "unresolved issues and anger due to my crime and past actions" for his suicide. Like his previous suicide attempts, Hayes' attempt to overdose on medication was unsuccessful.

Hayes has also filed federal civil rights complaints against the prison and its staff, allegations correction officials have denied.

(source: The Hartford Courant)


Sentencing for fatal Eden Park shootings postponed

Sentencing for 2 men convicted in fatal shootings during a soccer tournament at a Wilmington park has been postponed.

Jeffrey Phillips, 23, and Otis Phillips, 38, who are not related, in November were convicted of the 1st-degree murder of Herman Curry and the manslaughter of 16-year-old Alexander Kamara Jr. They were killed in a daytime shooting on July 8, 2012, at Eden Park.

The men were scheduled to appear for sentencing Friday, but the hearing will be rescheduled, Deputy Attorney General Ipek Medford said in an email Thursday. A date has not been set, he said.

Prosecutors have argued both men deserved to die for their crimes. They have said the men, members of the Sure Shots street gang, went to the tournament seeking revenge against people in Jamaican community because a Jamaican man shot and killed a friend of theirs at a party hours earlier.

Curry was at the park and was targeted because he had seen Otis Phillips shoot and kill another man, Christopher Palmer, at a 2008 party, prosecutors said.

In December, a jury voted unanimously that Otis Phillips should be put to death. The vote confirmed 2 or more people were killed as a result of his actions and the murder was premeditated and the result of substantial planning, qualifying him for the death penalty.

But the question of whether Otis Phillips should die is up to the judge, as the vote is only a recommendation. When there is a clear vote, judges almost always follow the jury's recommendation.

Jeffrey Phillips is more likely to receive a life sentence for his role in what prosecutors called the "bloodbath" in Eden Park. In December, a jury voted 10-2 in favor of life in prison. That vote is also just a recommendation, though the judge gives it heavy consideration in the final decision.

Witnesses testified that Jeffrey Phillips turned toward a crowd in the park and began shooting. Witnesses said Kamara was standing waiting for his turn to play in the tournament. He was struck in the head and died.

Otis Phillips was convicted of the 2008 2nd-degree murder of Palmer and faces sentencing for that crime Friday also. Witnesses testified that Otis Phillips and several Sure Shots attempted to push their way into Curry's birthday party in January 2008. Palmer was the bouncer and refused to let them in. A fight ended with Otis Phillips shooting and killing Palmer, according to testimony.

The jury found both men guilty of the intentional murder of Curry, holding Jeffrey Phillips responsible as an accomplice.

The jury found the killing of Kamara was a reckless act by Jeffrey Phillips, not an intentional one. The panel found both defendants guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter for Kamara. Both men were also convicted of gang participation.



Murder suspects appear in court; victim's body was found burning

A former baseball standout who drew the attention of perennial power Louisiana State University now faces murder charges.

Justin Wayne Quick, 20, of Hope Mills, and his girlfriend, Misty Dawn Burns, 24, of Fayetteville, made their 1st appearance Friday afternoon in Cumberland County District Court. The couple is charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of a man whose body was found burning.

The court appearances for Quick and Burns were conducted separately at the Cumberland County Detention Center.

"I've never seen anybody that could throw as hard as he could when he was 13 or 14 years old. And as accurate as he was," said Lee Troutman, who coached Quick from 2009 through 2014 on a Dixie Majors 19-and-under team. "He was just an outstanding talent."

An LSU coach showed interest in recruiting Quick, but Troutman said poor grades were an obstacle.

The defendants showed little emotion, and neither had anything to say to the court when Judge Lou Olivera gave them the opportunity in the courtroom.

Quick and Burns are accused of killing William Ted Foster, 49, of the 3100 block of Paddlefish Road, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said. Foster's body was found burning about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday at the edge of woods at Tom Starling Road and Production Drive off U.S. 301 South. Authorities have not said how he died.

Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said his office has not decided if it will seek the death penalty. He said he wants to look at all of the evidence before making that determination.

Quick and Burns both requested court-appointed lawyers.

Cumberland County Public Defender Bernard Condlin represented the 2 during Friday's appearance. He said there was a chance he would take Quick's case.

West said outside the detention center that the two appeared to have killed Foster, dumped his body and then left the area.

Quick and Burns were arrested in Carolina Beach - more than 100 miles from Fayetteville - about 5:30 p.m. Thursday; they were returned to Fayetteville on Friday, authorities said.

The defendants also are accused of stealing Foster's 2011 Chrysler 300 and using his credit cards, the Sheriff's Office said.

They are being held without bail. Their next court dates are scheduled for July 16.

No family members for either defendant was in court Friday, said Nunzio Accetturo, who is a friend of Quick's.

"I think it's a messed-up situation, to be honest," Accetturo, who is 31, said afterward. "I really couldn't see him doing this. He's a good guy. He has always been a good guy. It's just shook me the last couple of days."

Accetturo said he has known Quick 2 to 3 years. He said Quick loves to play pool and excels at most sports. Accetturo said he played Quick in a pool match Sunday.

Last July, Quick pitched the Hope Mills Majors Rangers - a 19-and-under team - to its 2nd straight state championship with a 10-1 victory over Duplin County. Quick was the winning pitcher, striking out 10 while allowing 3 hits.

In July 2011, he tossed a no-hitter against Burgaw, giving Hope Mills the 16U Dixie Youth state championship, 11-0.

Troutman said his former player was on the South View High School baseball team until his senior year.

"His grades were bad," he said.

"His parents broke apart," Troutman said. "He was pretty much left to fend for himself. He and his brother, Brandon - they were the best brother tandem I've seen play baseball. When I had those 2 on my team, I didn't think anybody could beat us."

Accetturo said Quick had ambition, and he had accompanied him over the last few weeks while he looked for work.

"He always wanted to start his own construction company," Accetturo said.

He called Burns a bad influence.

"She just influenced him to do the wrong things," said Accetturo, who added the couple had been seeing each other a little over 2 months.

David Chamberlain, 42, said Quick was a former roommate. After rooming together for about a year, he said he had to tell Quick to leave. Chamberlain said he had given Quick free room and board during that time.

"He wouldn't do something like this," said Chamberlain, who attended the court hearing.

"He's quiet. A good-hearted guy," he said. "He tries to help other people with their problems. He thinks about others before he thinks about himself. That's why I don't think he did it."

Troutman, his former coach, said Quick had been hanging out with the wrong crowd for a couple of years.

"I wish I could have done something to help him," he said. "Wish I'd known."

(source: Fayetteville Observer)


A moment that changed me - seeing a man executed ---- Before the state of Georgia killed Larry, he became a Christian. Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but in his place, we might all take the 1st pill on offer

13 November, 1996. A Wednesday, not a Friday, but still not so lucky for Larry Lonchar. He was electrocuted just after midnight. I got to watch. The very next day they were going to kill Ellis Wayne Felker. We got his case stopped, but only for 24 hours. Then they killed him too. Meanwhile the Feds re-arrested Clarence Smith. I'd spent years getting him exonerated and off death row in Louisiana, but the federal government had the power to charge him with the same things all over again, acquittal notwithstanding. All in all, not a great 3 days.

Larry's bipolar rollercoaster had taken in several crests and troughs. When he was depressed, he would periodically drop his appeals and ask to die. Each time the good state of Georgia would cut off his antidepressants, keen that he should follow through. We had come within 40 minutes of his execution 4 times - once within 58 seconds - before we got a stay. Each time he had been terrified, as the electric chair loomed closer.

This was the 5th time. In the last year, Larry had become a Christian.

"What they say's gotta be true," he said. For once, Larry did not look at the ceiling; he looked me in the eye. "I know snitches. 12 of them, the Apostles, and 11 got executed for him." "11?" I asked. "John," Larry explained. "He died of old age. 80-something. All they had to do to save themselves was renounce him. Even if they believed, most people would've said that to save their lives. I know snitches. You've gotta believe it if 11 of them went down."

I sat there, watching him as he repeated himself, and swallowed any response. I remembered how Leo Edwards had accepted several tablets of Valium before they gassed him in Mississippi, 10 years before. Maybe religion is the opiate of the masses, but if any of us was about to be tortured to death, we might all swallow the 1st pill on offer. "It's got no fear for me now, Clive," he said. "You think about dying on the cross. Days of suffering, dying from thirst. At least it'll be over in a few minutes. I can deal with it." I almost believed him.

I had written up voluminous pleadings that we could file if only he would authorise it. Meanwhile I had to be at the prison by 6 in case Larry changed his mind. Emily and I pulled into a truckstop on the way there. We got him on the phone. "How're you doing, Larry?" I asked, the banal American greeting. "Why don't you just go ahead and file that thing you've been working on, Clive," he said. "You got my permission."

I was elated to be fighting again. I quickly thanked him and passed the phone to Emily. I went to another phone to get the attorney general and Judge Camp on the line. Soon we were having an argument, and I was struggling for Larry's life from a dimly lit bank of telephones in a petrol station, lowering my voice as truckers passed by on their way to the toilet.

When we drove on, Emily recited her conversation with Larry. "What'd Clive look like when I told him he could do it?" had been Larry's 1st question. Emily had cautiously explained how happy I had been to ride into battle once "Good. That's good." She could see his smile at the other end of the telephone. "I planned it this way. I know it's too late now, but it's kinda like saying thank you, I guess." He was right. I still had the law on Larry's side, and had the better final argument, but Larry had vacillated once too often. In less than an hour, the 13 judges stood between Larry and death did not pause in denying his final appeal.

I reached the prison in time to have a final conversation with Larry on the telephone. "Well, Clive, you have been a friend," Larry said, his voice flat, but almost ethereally calm. I could feel him choosing his words, a final speech he wanted to make. "You know, you stuck by me. And I'm real grateful for it. I couldn't have dealt with this last year, the year before. Back then, I was afraid. I'm not afraid now. Not at all. I'm ready for it. And that's thanks to you. Even before I learned I was worth something, even before I learned that from Jesus, you let me know you thought so. Maybe it's been frustrating for you, but you helped me till I was ready. I want you there tonight, if you can. 'Cos you've been my friend."

Warden Turpin asked if he had any last words. 'Yes,' he said. 'Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'

He was through. My throat felt as if I was being strangled. I stared at the yellow prison wall in front of me. It was my turn to look up at the ceiling, the white tiles. "I'll be there for you, Larry. I wouldn't be anywhere else." I couldn't manage anything else. "See ya then," said Larry. "Bye for now."

An hour later I was in a witness chair when the guards brought Larry into the death chamber and set about strapping him in. He managed to wave to me with the fingers of his left hand. He was calm. I had feared his fear more than anything else. Warden Turpin asked Larry if he had any last words. It was Turpin's 1st execution, and he was behaving like it was an exam. Larry hesitated. "Yes," he said, with only a slight tremor in his voice. He looked up to the ceiling. "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do." There were 33 witnesses there with me. They seemed to look at their feet in unison.

12 minutes later, Larry was dead. I stopped watching when they pulled the leather mask over his face. My job was done. I closed my eyes in my hands, and waited for it to be over.

Larry had written a longer final statement, but he did not want to read it out. He left that for me to read at the press conference later: "To God: Thank you for loving me so much that you sent your Son to die for me. To my family and the victim's family, who I have caused so much pain and tears: I am so deeply sorry. To the people of the State of Georgia: Thank you for killing me. You thought you was punishing me. But instead you rewarded me by sending me to a better place, heaven. A question to the people who think they are Christians: Would Jesus Christ push the buttons tonight that killed me?"

Larry had always been a gambler. He told me he'd fix the funding of our charity for good from heaven. I'd laughed at him, but a primordial moment made me play Larry's numbers in the lottery the following week. Not even one came up. Maybe Larry wanted to remind me that friendship was more important than anything else.

(source: Clive Stafford Smith, The Guardian)


Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentence in escape case

The Florida Supreme Court is upholding a death sentence against a man who killed a family acquaintance following an elaborate escape from a jail.

Timothy Fletcher was convicted of strangling the ex-wife of his grandfather. Fletcher in 2009 killed Helen Googe shortly after he and a cellmate escaped from the Putnam County Jail.

The 2 inmates escaped by ripping out the toilet from the wall with a jack that Fletcher stole from a county van during a previous court appearance. They crawled through the hole in the wall, dug under a fence and got through a 2nd barrier.

The escape triggered a manhunt as Fletcher and fellow inmate Doni Ray Brown used a stolen car and traveled to Kentucky before returning to Florida where they were eventually captured.

Attorneys for Fletcher tried to overturn both his conviction and sentence for various reasons, but the court rejected the arguments.

(source: Associated Press)


Almost executed by Mississippi, Michelle Byrom free

Michelle Byrom - who came close to being the 1st woman executed in Mississippi since World War II - emerged free Friday for the 1st time in 16 years.

Byrom, who maintains her innocence, pleaded no contest to a charge she conspired to kill her husband, Edward Sr., in 1999, and the judge sentenced her to 20 years with 4 years suspended.

In the same courthouse where she was previously sent to death row, she left a free woman. She had spent 14 of her 16 years of imprisonment on death row.

"It's been a long arduous journey. The outcome is appropriate, given the history of the case," her attorney, John R. White of Iuka, said Friday.

Byrom also has been represented by Alison Steiner, capital defense counsel with the state Public Defender's Office.

She had exhausted her state and federal appeals when The Clarion-Ledger and others pointed out in March 2014 that the jury never saw the letters her son, Edward Jr., wrote, confessing to the murder. The jury also never heard from a psychologist who said Junior gave details of how he killed his father.

Before the month ended, the state Supreme Court tossed out her conviction and ordered a new trial.

Friday's sentencing ends a long road for Byrom, who came out of the courthouse in a wheelchair. The 58-year-old woman has been battling lupus and other health issues.

At her 2000 capital murder trial, Junior testified that Byrom hired "hit man" Joey Gillis for $10,000 to $15,000 to kill Edward Sr. at their Iuka home - money he said she planned to get from insurance proceeds.

The jury convicted Byrom of capital murder for this alleged murder-for-hire scheme.

Convinced her case would be reversed, her defense lawyers at the time introduced no mitigating evidence, which could have included her being a lifetime victim of physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Her stepfather abused her and, by age 15, she was working as a stripper. Edward Sr., who had a special darkened room to watch pornography, reportedly forced her to have sex with other men, which he videotaped.

Without any mitigating evidence, Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner sentenced Byrom to death.

In her appeal to the state Supreme Court, 3 justices said Byrom deserved a new trial, but 5 justices upheld her conviction.

Justice Jess Dickinson wrote at the time, "I have attempted to conjure up in my imagination a more egregious case of ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of a capital case. I cannot."

Months after Byrom's conviction, Gillis' attorney learned about Junior's statement to the psychologist and challenged the accusations against his client. The defense also learned authorities found gunpowder residue on Junior, rather than Gillis.

Gillis wound up pleading to accessory after the fact for helping Edward Jr. get rid of the gun, and in 2009, he walked free from prison. He has since said in a sworn statement that he did not shoot Edward Sr.

Junior, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit capital murder, has been free since August 2013 on earned supervised release.

When The Clarion-Ledger questioned him by telephone, he denied he shot his father, but when asked about a psychologist's statement that he admitted killing his father, he hung up.

While authorities have insisted they believe Byrom was "the instigator" behind the killing of Edward Sr., Junior's letters tell a much different story.

On the evening of June 3, 1999, Junior grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam and headed to a boat dock near Iuka.

"I sat and watched the night, like a drunken sailor, and the time flew," he wrote. "It was so beautiful. It really relaxed me a lot, so I sat and cried and drank and cried some more."

Back home, his alcoholic and abusive father slapped him and shoved him against a bookcase, cursing him and saying he was a "f-ing mistake to begin with."

The next day, Byrom was in the hospital with pneumonia and other ailments after ingesting rat poison - something she had reportedly done for 3 years because of a mental disorder.

Later in the day, Junior wrote that his father entered his bedroom, "going off on me, calling me bastard, no good, mistake and telling me I'm inconsiderate" before slapping him and leaving.

"As I sat on my bed, tears of rage flowing, remembering my childhood, my anger building and building. I went to my car, got the 9mm (gun) and walked to his room and peeked in, and he was asleep.

"I walked about 2 steps in the door, and screamed and shut my eyes. When I heard him move, I started firing."

Deputies found his father dead in the darkened room where he watched porn films.

Junior asked a deputy if his father, who had worked as an electrician for the Tennessee Valley Authority, had a heart attack.

Then Junior told the sheriff that his mother had hired someone to shoot his father and was unaware who had.

The sheriff drove to the hospital, where Byrom was and told her that Junior had told them everything about her hiring somebody.

"He didn't know which person you had got," the sheriff said.

"Hold on a minute," Byrom replied. "I don't know. ..."

"Don't leave him hanging out here to bite the big bullet," the sheriff said.

"No, he's not going to," she replied. "I wouldn't let him."

"Well," the sheriff said, "he's fixing to."

"Well, I will take all the responsibility. I'll do it."

After she gave several statements, saying she was involved, deputies arrested her, her son and Gillis.

Junior wrote his mother later, "You are all I have, and they're trying to take that away from me now, but Mom I'm gonna tell you right now who killed Dad 'cause I'm sick and tired of all the lies. I did, and it wasn't for money, it wasn't for all the abuse - it was because I can't kill myself."

(source: Clarion-Ledger)


Judge rules Shawn Ford meets criteria for death penalty eligibility in couple's slaying

A Summit County judge has ruled that convicted murderer Shawn Eric Ford Jr. failed to prove that his claims of mental disability should spare him from facing capital punishment.

Ford, 20, was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated murder in October, along with an array of death penalty specifications, in the April 2013 bludgeoning deaths of prominent area attorney, Jeffrey Schobert, and his wife Margaret at their home in the Portage Lakes area of New Franklin.

The 18-page written ruling, which resolved Ford's intellectual disability claim on the state level, was released Thursday by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker after 2 days of court hearings earlier this month in which the defense and prosecution presented psychological evidence of Ford's mental abilities since childhood.

Parker's decision now sets the stage for Ford's sentencing hearing Monday morning.

The judge has 2 options. He can accept the jury's previous recommendation that Ford should be put to death for his crimes, or order him to spend the rest of his life in a state penitentiary.

Ford's lawyers had argued that his low IQ barred him from receiving a death sentence. Their position was based on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that executing an intellectually disabled defendant is constitutionally prohibited as cruel and unusual punishment.

Ford killed the Schoberts inside the master bedroom of their home - attacking both in a late-night ambush, prosecutors said - after they kept him from seeing their daughter, Chelsea Schobert, in the hospital.

She had suffered head injuries in an alleged attack by Ford, her former boyfriend, only days before the New Franklin slayings.

Parker's ruling, which could send Ford to death row, was based on his mental health records, the history of similar cases and the testimony of 3 psychological experts - 1 for the defense, 1 for prosecutors and a 3rd appointed by the court.

All of the evidence from the 2 days of court hearings, Parker wrote, was consistent. "None of the 3 experts was of the opinion that Mr. Ford has ever been intellectually disabled within the standards recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities," or under a similar Ohio criminal case, Parker said.

Testimony by the defense's own expert, Dr. James Karpawich, a clinical psychologist from Hudson, undoubtedly carried considerable weight in Parker's decision.

In cross-examining Karpawich about Ford's many documented evaluations, Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi asserted that: "At no time anywhere in any of those documents or in any of those records, not one of those people in any of those agencies has ever indicated Mr. Ford or diagnosed Mr. Ford as being intellectually disabled or mentally retarded."

Karpawich said that assertion was correct.

Citing the court's gag order, Ford defense counsel Jonathan T. Sinn declined to comment on Parker’s ruling.

Parker has allowed for victim impact statements at Monday’s sentencing hearing from family members and close friends of the Schoberts.



Judge rules man mentally fit for execution in couple's death

A northeast Ohio judge has ruled that a man convicted of beating his girlfriend's parents to death with a sledgehammer is mentally fit for execution.

Summit County Judge Tom Parker ruled Thursday that 20-year-old Shawn Ford Jr.'s intellectual ability is above the standard that bars executions. Northeast Ohio Media Group reports ( Parker will decide Monday whether to accept a jury's recommendation that Ford be put on death row or sentence him to prison.

Defense attorneys had argued that Ford's low IQ prevented him from receiving the death penalty.

Ford was convicted in October of aggravated murder in the 2013 deaths of Margaret and Jeffrey Schobert of New Franklin.

Prosecutors say Ford killed the Schoberts in their home near Akron because they kept him from seeing their daughter.

(source: Associated Press)


Pete and Joe Ricketts have contributed $200,000 to pro-death penalty group

Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father, T.D. Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, have contributed a total of $200,000 of the $244,000 raised so far by a group seeking a referendum to retain Nebraska’s death penalty.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty released some preliminary figures Friday on contributions and expenditures, ahead of a Tuesday deadline to report its financials to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Chris Peterson, a spokesman for the referendum group, said that while the organization is grateful for the support from the governor and his father, more donations are needed. "We're hoping that more Nebraskans step forward and lend a hand to help save the death penalty," Peterson said.

The preliminary figures showed that Nebraskans for the Death Penalty spent $217,537 so far this month, with $192,129 of it paid to an Arizona firm that has hired dozens of paid petition circulators.

Peterson, a former spokesman for Republican Gov. Mike Johanns, was paid $5,000 for his work this month, with $7,000 paid to Jessica Moenning, a political consultant on the private payroll of Gov. Ricketts. She is helping manage the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty campaign.

Pete and Joe Ricketts have been generous donors to political campaigns in the past and were among 12 donors who gave more than $250 each to the referendum. 2 other large donors were Omaha business executive Michael Cassling, who gave $25,000, and the Omaha Police Union, which contributed $10,000.

The release comes a week after an anti-death penalty coalition called Nebraskans for Public Safety reported receiving a $400,000 donation from a Massachusetts-based social justice group called Proteus Action League.

The pro-death penalty group formed after the Nebraska Legislature overrode a veto last month by the Republican governor to repeal capital punishment.

The group faces an Aug. 27 deadline to gather at least 57,500 valid signatures of registered voters to force a referendum on the issue during the 2016 general election.

If the group can gather 115,000 signatures, it would place the repeal law on hold until the referendum is held.

The group has projected that it might have to spend $900,000 or more to get the issue on the ballot.

A similar amount of money was spent in 2014 to qualify an initiative to raise the state's minimum wage.

Peterson said that even though the governor and his father have given more than 80 % of the funds raised so far, the group has widespread support.

He said the group would have paid circulators at several events across the state this weekend, including Old Settlers Day in North Bend and the Diller Picnic in Diller.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


Death penalty referendum campaign gearing up

Supporters of capital punishment are on the streets gathering signatures for a referendum to keep the death penalty on the books, after the Nebraska Legislature voted to repeal it. What could be long campaign on the issue is now well underway.

On a busy weekday morning outside the Lancaster County motor vehicle office in Lincoln, petition circulator Jennifer Dormer called out as Evelyn Johnson and her husband Dayle left the office. "Are you folks registered voters in the state of Nebraska? Are you interested in signing the petition to get the death penalty put on the ballot?" Dormer asked.

"Yes," declared Evelyn Johnson, enthusiastically. Asked later why, she said repealing the death penalty let murderer's escape justice. "I think that if they take a life, they should lose their life," she said. "It's not right."

As Dormer continued asking people to sign, some said they were too busy, or weren't registered voters. Others, like Andrew Frazier of Lincoln, said no. Asked later why, Frazier said the death penalty reflects society's failure to help rehabilitate people. "It's morally, ethically wrong and it doesn't represent us as people of this state," he said.

Nebraska voters may have the final word. If death penalty supporters collect about 57,000 valid signatures by Aug. 27, the issue will be on the November, 2016 ballot. If they get 114,000 signatures, that would keep the old death penalty law on the books until voters decide the issue.

That means death penalty supporters have to shoot for collecting about 2,000 signatures a day. Chris Peterson, spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, said that involves a lot of work. "These sorts of things take a while to ramp up. The 1st day that you start collecting signatures you're not collecting 2,000 signatures a day, I can assure you that," he said.

But Peterson said as the campaign goes on, it will involve more volunteers, as well as paid circulators who show they can do a good job. And of course, that takes money. "We're planning on needing maybe a million dollars to make sure we can circulate enough petitions, gather enough signatures, by our Aug. 27 deadline," he said.

Peterson said he is taking a cue from last year's successful initiative campaign for a minimum wage increase. That campaign reported spending about $833,000 during the signature-gathering phase.

On the other side, a coalition of death penalty opponents is asking people not to sign the petitions. Nebraskans for Public Safety is also planning to use both volunteers and people who are paid to make their case. The group recently announced it has received $400,000 from a foundation in Massachusetts.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha is a death penalty opponent and led last year's minimum wage campaign. Nordquist says it is hard getting people to work on political issues. "You also need to be very aggressive in getting people to sign the petitions with their signature because they're just not as engaged. And a lot of people just shy away from anything that looks like political debate or political discourse," he said.

That may become harder to do. Nordquist says opponents of the petition drive will try to persuade people not to sign. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty's Chris Peterson says he expects an effort to suppress voters' rights. "We expect that the opposition here will be well-funded and they'll employ any variety of tactics to try and prevent Nebraskans from being able to vote on this issue," he said.

Petition drive opponents say they will be using their free speech rights. Nordquist, though, said those opponents will be doing more than trying to persuade people not to sign. "I think that they'll push as civilly and respectfully as possible - try to present a counterargument at the site. But also I think they're going to spend a lot of time tracking to make sure that things are done right," he said.

If not, that could lead to legal challenges - another potential step in the journey Nebraskans may take on this issue for the next year and a half.

(source: KVNO news)


Death penalty referendum campaign raises nearly $244,000

The Nebraskans for the Death Penalty campaign raised nearly $244,000 in its 1st reporting period, with most of the money coming from Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father.

Ricketts and his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, each contributed $100,000 to the ballot drive that could put the death penalty question to voters. An expense report released Friday says the campaign spent more than $217,500 in the reporting period, leaving it with roughly $26,300 in cash on hand.

The campaign was launched after Nebraska lawmakers abolished the death penalty over the governor's veto.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty says it has paid roughly $192,000 to Lincoln Strategy Group, an Arizona-based consultant that is using paid circulators to gather signatures.

A group opposing the referendum announced a $400,000 donation last week.

(source: Associated Press)


As lethal injection decision draws near, inmate says state silencing him

It now appears Monday will be decision day for Oklahoma on the final official day of the Supreme Court's session. One of the final cases the court has to rule on is the case concerning constitutional questions surrounding Oklahoma's controversial execution drugs.

As the state awaits a ruling, the next inmate scheduled to die says Oklahoma is changing the rules to keep him quiet.

In November 2014, Fox 25 was granted an interview with Richard Glossip. It was a rare on camera opportunity to talk about the case that sent him to death row and his thoughts on the state's controversial execution procedures. However, when Fox 25 requested another interview as the issue surrounding executions became international news, the Department of Corrections told us to wait on the Supreme Court hearing. After that hearing, we requested again and were told the Department of Corrections would allow no further interviews on death row.

"I think that because of the press I've got, and because I am an innocent man on death row in Oklahoma and they are trying to execute me, they are going out of their way, in my opinion, to stop me from speaking out," Glossip told Fox 25 over the phone.

Glossip is still allowed use of the phone to talk to the press, but those phone calls are not free and make money. Glossip says he is glad to talk over the phone, but wants people to be able to see him the same way they see Oklahoma's political leaders speak out in favor of the death penalty and his impending execution. "It just surprises me why Oklahoma is going so far out of their way to shut me up."

According to the Department of Corrections policy, media interviews have to be approved by the director, but inmates can choose who they talk to. In Glossip's case, he had narrowed his list of on-camera interviews to small number of outlets because of the overwhelming number of requests he ahd received. Glossip said the number of requests was the 1st reason the prison gave him as to why they were denying further on-camera interviews. Glossip only began seeking media attention late last year as the date of his execution drew near. He says his silence was on the advice of his attorneys and his belief that his case would be overturned before his death sentence was carried out.

"I've always claimed my innocence for 18 years, I just didn't speak out this hard until now, because, like I said I trusted a justice system that let me down." Glossip is the only inmate on Oklahoma's death row who did not commit murder. He was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for the planning of the murder of Barry Van Treese. The key witness against him was Justin Sneed, the man who beat Van Treese to death with a baseball bat. Prosecutors spared the murderer in exchange for his testimony against Glossip.

Besides denying all requests for in-person media interviews, Glossip also said the prison at McAlester has also changed its visitation policy and is denying special visits. He was supposed to receive a visit from a reporter with a national news outlet who has befriended him over the last few months. That visit was denied according to Glossip.

The DOC denied our multiple requests for interviews on their recent decisions regarding media access or visitations.



CSUF researcher uncovers subconscious bias among jurors

Cal State Fullerton Associate Professor of Psychology Russ Espinoza, researched whether the theory of "aversive racism" plays a role in death penalty decisions -- and found the answer is "yes."

"Aversive racism" is thought to be a phenomenon in which people believe they harbor no prejudice toward minorities, when in fact they have a subconscious bias, Espinoza said.

"When jurors can find other reasons besides race to place blame, such as low socioeconomic status, they will tend to be more punitive toward minority defendants and feel that they are not being prejudicial," he said in explaining the theory.

"My past research has shown that the race or ethnicity of the defendant alone is not sufficient for jurors to demonstrate bias," he said in explaining the origins of the study. "This begs the question, how is it that African Americans and Latinos are found guilty more often and given more punitive sentences, such as the death penalty, than European Americans for committing similar crimes?"

Espinoza said he first gained interest in the topic of prejudice in the legal system during high school, when he was suspended from the basketball team after being falsely accused of breaking and entering into a hall.

"I was in class one day and the vice principal comes and pulls me out and the sheriff's are there," Espinoza said. "I was being accused of breaking into this hall."

He said that nearly 2 weeks after being accused, the real culprit was found. A passion for researching injustice had been ignited. He has spent some two decades studying the subject.

Espinoza earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Cal State Northridge in 1998.

In 2000, he became CSU Northridge alumni for the 2nd time, graduating with a Master's degree in Counseling. 5 years later, Espinoza earned his PhD in Psychology and Law from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he worked with professors researching jury decisions in the courtroom.

Espinoza and research partner, Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, professor of psychology and ethnic studies at Nebraska, Lincoln, spent a year analyzing whether African Americans and Latinos are more likely than whites to receive the death penalty for similar crimes.

The death penalty study took place at a Santa Ana courthouse and involved jurors from the local jury duty pool.

"We had them read through kind of a fictitious trial transcript," said Espinoza, "And we manipulated things like race of the defendant, socioeconomic status."

The median age of the mock jurors was roughly 38.

Compared to a group of students in their 20s, the older jury pool was harsher in its sentencing, he said.

"We found that the mock jurors with the average of age 38 tended to throw the book at minorities," he said.

The results reinforced what Espinoza had hypothesized: If jurors could find factors besides race to find the defendant guilty, they would then have a more punitive attitude towards minorities and feel as if they are not being prejudicial.

The study found that African Americans and Latinos with a low socioeconomic status and weak mitigating factors were more likely to receive the death penalty.

Espinoza said it is important to educate jurors about these biases in order to prevent unfair decisions.

(source: Orange County Register)


No Capital in Capital Punishment

The false charade that has been blowing in the wind atop flagpoles across the south has finally worn threadbare allowing the light of the ugly truth to be seen. Looking back, I am chilled and astounded over how long the lies have been allowed, how easily the masses have been duped and how systematically history was altered, bleached, sanitized, and pressed smooth.

It was back in 1964 that President Lyndon Baines Johnson predicted Democrats would lose the south after his visionary and correct civil rights legislation became law. Despite the electoral and political consequences for Democrats, LBJ wrestled and arm-twisted his magnanimous legislative agenda into the fabric of American Constitutional Law. He saw it as the right thing to do at the right moment. He was undeterred. Immediately following this official legal end to the century old Civil War oppressive, racist and illegal way of life, the Confederate Flag was hoisted back into prominence, and symbolically waved in sulking defiance across the south.

This is a fact and this is why and when America witnessed the second coming of the Confederacy. White supremacist folks have cleverly been wolves in sheepskin providing cover for their real agenda, until the inevitability happened. A Dylann Roof, one of their own homegrown kids filtered the hate paranoid narrative thru his unhinged angst with action. It was the perfect storm bred in a culture of racial hate armed with guns proudly stalking in shadows created under the honor of a flag.

With the recent despicable tragic slaughter in the Charleston, South Carolina church hopefully comes a "check-mate" moment that can lift the white sheet called "proud traditions" to reveal the stained ugly truth of racism. Myths that get socialized and ingrained in the social psyche are tenacious, but they are not invincible.

Perhaps now another myth can be overturned. There is little capital worth fighting over to keep the Confederate Flag flying above the Capitol of South Carolina. Now is the moment folks at the Capitol can accept there is no capital in capital punishment. While all eyes are focused, and the nation's outrage has coalesced around sweeping aside the symbols of the treasonous rebel south, this other tradition against humanity and the modern state clings thru myth. Seeking the death penalty for Dylann Roof would not be utilitarian, noble, nor serve society. South carolina's institution of capital punishment, along with other southern states, is an old tradition much of the country abandoned. Capital punishment was a facade built and sustained as fresh paint on clean wood while riddled with dry rot. Capital punishment is shamed with the same institutional racism. There is no capital left in capital punishment. The timing could not be better to throw out the baby and the bath water. The message from the violated congregation that survives the Dylann Roof massacre is one of forgiveness, love and inspiration for a more humane future.

Let's put an end to violence and killing, including sponsorship of terror, whether it comes in the form of an official state seal that legalizes killing, or as way of promoting ideological hate which gives cover to the unstable, unhinged and disenfranchised to kill.

(source: Allen Schmertzler, Huffington Post)


No humane death penalty for Boston bomber

Re "No such thing as humane death penalty" (Speak Out, June 3):

I do not want a humane death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev. I just want him to die in the same timely manner of 30 days or less as did Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

The procedure is not relevant. The less publicity the better. Better to forget him than to forget the victims.

There is nothing humane about humanity.

Bob Richards


(source: Letter to the Editor, Anniston (Ala.) Star)


The Death of the Death Penalty----Why the era of capital punishment is ending

The case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev absorbed Americans as no death-penalty drama has in years. The saga of his crime and punishment began with the shocking bloodbath at the 2013 Boston Marathon, continued through the televised manhunt that paralyzed a major city and culminated in the death sentence handed down by a federal jury on May 15 after a 2-phase trial.

Justice was done, in the opinion of 70% of those surveyed for a Washington Post-ABC News poll in April. Support for capital punishment has sagged in recent years, but it remains strong in a situation like this, where the offense is so outrageous, the process so open, the defense so robust and guilt beyond dispute.

Even so, Tsarnaev is in no danger of imminent death. He is 1 of more than 60 federal prisoners under sentence of execution in a country where only 3 federal death sentences have been carried out in the past half-century. A dozen years have passed since the last one.

The situation is similar in state courts and prisons. Despite extraordinary efforts by the courts and enormous expense to taxpayers, the modern death penalty remains slow, costly and uncertain. For the overwhelming majority of condemned prisoners, the final step - that last short march with the strap-down team - will never be taken. The relative few who are killed continue to be selected by a mostly random cull. Tsarnaev aside, the tide is turning on capital punishment in the U.S., as previously supportive judges, lawmakers and politicians come out against it.

Change is not coming quickly or easily. Americans have stuck with grim determination to the idea of the ultimate penalty even as other Western democracies have turned against it. On this issue, our peer group is not Britain and France; it's Iran and China. Most U.S. states authorize the death penalty, although few of them actually use it. We value tolerance and ­ diversity - but certain outrages we will not put up with. Maybe it's the teenage terrorist who plants a bomb near an 8-year-old boy. Maybe it's a failed neuroscientist who turns a Colorado movie theater into an abattoir. We like to think we know them when we see them. Half a century of inconclusive legal wrangling over the process for choosing the worst of the worst says otherwise.

On May 27, the conservative Nebraska state legislature abolished the death penalty in that state despite a veto attempt by Governor Pete Ricketts. A parallel bill passed the Delaware state senate in March and picked up the endorsement of Governor Jack Markell, formerly a supporter of the ultimate sanction. Only a single vote in a House committee kept the bill bottled up, and supporters vowed to keep pressing the issue.

In February, Markell's neighboring governor, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, declared an open-ended moratorium on executions. That officially idles the fifth largest death row in America. The largest, in California, is also at a standstill while a federal appeals court weighs the question of whether long delays and infrequent executions render the penalty unconstitutional.

Even in Texas, which leads the nation in executions since 1976 (when the U.S. Supreme Court approved the practice after a brief moratorium), the wheels are coming off the bandwagon. From a peak of 40 executions in 2000, the Lone Star State put 10 prisoners to death last year and 7 so far in 2015. According to the state's Department of Corrections, the number of new death sentences imposed by Texas courts this year is precisely zero. There, as elsewhere, prosecutors, judges and jurors are concluding that the modern death penalty is a failed experiment.

The shift is more pragmatic than moral, as Americans realize that our balky system of state-sanctioned killing simply isn't fixable. As a leader of the Georgia Republican Party, attorney David J. Burge, recently put it, "Capital punishment runs counter to core conservative principles of life, fiscal responsibility and limited government. The reality is that capital punishment is nothing more than an expensive, wasteful and risky government program.

This unmistakable trend dates back to the turn of the century. The number of inmates put to death in 2014 was the fewest in 20 years, while the number of new death sentences imposed by U.S. courts - 72 - was the fewest in modern American history, according to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center. Only 1 state, Missouri, has accelerated its rate of executions during that period, but even in the Show Me State, the number of new sentences has plunged.

32 states allow capital punishment for the most heinous crimes. And yet in most of the country, the penalty is now hollow. Since the start of 2014, all but 2 of the nation's 49 executions have been carried out by just 5 states: Texas, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia.

For the 1st time in the nearly 30 years that I have been studying and writing about the death penalty, the end of this troubled system is creeping into view.

And I'll give you 5 reasons why.

Reason 1: Despite decades of effort, we're not getting better at it. In Arizona on July 23, prison officials needed nearly 2 hours to complete the execution of double murderer Joseph Wood. That was not an aberration. In April 2014, Oklahoma authorities spent some 40 minutes trying to kill Clayton Lockett before he finally died of a heart attack. Our long search for the perfect mode of killing - quiet, tidy and superficially humane - has brought us to this: rooms full of witnesses shifting miserably in their seats as unconscious men writhe and snort and gasp while strapped to gurneys.

Lethal injection was intended to be a superior alternative to electrocution, gassing or hanging, all of which are known to go wrong in gruesome ways. But when pharmaceutical companies began refusing to provide their drugs for deadly use and stories of botched injections became commonplace, the same legal qualms that had turned courts against the earlier methods were raised about lethal injections.

Alex Kozinski, the conservative chief judge of the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, recently wrote that Americans must either give up on capital punishment or embrace its difficult, brutal nature. Rather than pretend that execution is a sort of medical procedure involving heart monitors and IV lines - a charade that actual medical professionals refuse to be part of - we should use firing squads or the guillotine. (Utah, which abandoned execution by firing squad in 2004, restored the option in April. No other U.S. jurisdiction has used rifles for an execution in more than 50 years.)

"Of course, it does raise the question of whether we are really comfortable with having a death penalty that literally sheds blood," Kozinski allowed in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "The thing about the drugs is that it's a mask."

The legal machinery of capital punishment - the endless process of appeals and reviews - is equally miserable to ponder.

Consider this: Last year, Florida executed Askari Muhammad, a man known as Thomas Knight when he was sent to death row in 1975 after kidnapping, robbing and murdering a couple from Miami Beach. 5 years later he stabbed a prison guard to death with a sharpened spoon.

To detail all the reasons it took nearly 39 years to execute Knight/Muhammad would require a chapter of a book, not a paragraph of an essay. Suffice it to say, a legal system that requires half a lifetime to conclude the case of a proven lethal recidivist is not a well-functioning operation.

Nor is that case unusual. In Florida alone, 3 other men who arrived on death row in 1975 are still there, marking their 40-year anniversaries - part of a total death-row population in that state of 394. (In those 40 years, Florida has carried out 90 executions. At that rate, the Sunshine State would need about 175 years to clear out its death row.)

Of the 14 inmates executed so far this year in the U.S., 5 spent from 20 to 30 years on death row, 5 more languished from 15 to 19 years, and not one spent less than a decade awaiting execution. On May 24, Nebraska death-row inmate Michael Ryan died of cancer, nearly 30 years after he was sentenced to be executed by the state.

State and federal courts are so backlogged with capital cases that they can never catch up. Roughly 1/2 of California's 750 condemned inmates have not even begun their appeals because they are waiting for the state's underfunded defense bureaucracy to give them a lawyer.

Moving faster creates its own problems. The risks involved in trying to speed executions are apparent in the growing list of innocent and likely innocent death-row prisoners set free - more than 150 since 1975. In Ohio, Wiley Bridgeman walked free 39 years after he was sentenced to death when the key witness at his trial - a 12-year-old boy at the time - admitted that he invented his story to try to help the police. In general, scientific advances have undermined confidence in the reliability of eyewitness testimony and exposed flaws in the use of hair and fiber evidence. DNA analysis, meanwhile, has offered concrete proof that the criminal justice system can go disastrously wrong, even in major felony cases. In North Carolina last year, 2 men sentenced to death as teenagers were released after DNA evidence proved they weren't guilty. The exoneration came after 30 years in prison.

Incompetent investigators, using discredited science, sent 2 men to death row in Texas for alleged arson murders. One of them, Ernest Willis, was freed in 2004 after his attorneys commissioned a review by an expert in fire science, who concluded that neither blaze was caused by the suspects.

But the findings came too late for the other man, Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed that same year. In this instance, and perhaps in others, Texas may have killed an innocent man.

Reason 2: The crime rate has plunged.

Public support for capital punishment ebbs and flows. During the low-crime years of the late 1950s and early '60s, surveys by Gallup charted a fairly steady drop in support - down to a nadir of 42%. That trend contributed to the brief abolition of the death penalty by order of the Supreme Court in 1972. But by then, a new crime wave was building, and states rushed to restore capital punishment by passing laws meant to eliminate arbitrary results and racial discrimination. After the Supreme Court approved the modern penalty in 1976, support for the death penalty skyrocketed in lockstep with the murder rate. By the time New York City recorded more than 2,200 murders in the single year of 1990, 4 of 5 Americans were pro-death-penalty, according to Gallup.

Now crime rates have fallen back to levels unseen since the placid early 1960s. In New York City alone, there are roughly 1,900 fewer murders per year now compared with the goriest days of the early 1990s. Although pockets of violence remain in cities, the vast majority of Americans are much safer today than a generation ago.

Gallup has measured the result: support for capital punishment has hovered in recent years at just above 60%, lower than at any time since 1972. It’s a big number, but not as big as before. Shifting public opinion makes it easier for judges and legislators to train a skeptical eye on a dysfunctional system of punishment. Former Virginia attorney general Mark Earley supported the death penalty while presiding over the execution of 36 inmates from 1989 to 2001. In March he published an essay calling for an end to capital punishment. He had "come to the conclusion that the death penalty is based on a false utopian premise. That false premise is that we have had, do have, and will have 100% accuracy in death penalty convictions and executions."

The reduced political pressure has made it possible for 6 states to abolish the death penalty since 2007; Nebraska makes it 7. In a number of other state capitals, the energy is also moving in that direction. New Hampshire's legislature came within a single vote of abolition in 2014, while governors of Washington, Oregon and Colorado have indicated that they will not allow executions.

Reason 3. Dwindling Justifications.

The death penalty has been made to serve three kinds of purposes. One was highly practical. For most of American history, governments did not have secure prisons in which violent criminals could be safely housed for long periods of time. A town or county jail was suitable for short stays only, and the state prison wasn't much better. There was little alternative to killing prisoners who could not be set free.

That has changed. Improvements in staffing and technology have given us so-called supermax facilities where life-without-parole sentences can be served in relative safety. The fact that this alternative to capital punishment is now a practical possibility has fed the shift in public opinion, for most people realize that being locked in a solitary cell forever is a terrible punishment. Indeed, some argue it is a fate worse than death. Whatever deterrent capital punishment provides can likely be matched by the threat of permanent lockup.

The 2nd historical purpose has been discredited by time: the death penalty was a powerful tool of white supremacy. The antebellum South was haunted by the possibility of slave uprisings; capital punishment was used to tamp down resistance. You can see it in the early Virginia law that made it a capital offense for slaves to administer medicine - it might be poison! Or the early Georgia statute that invoked the death penalty if a slave struck his master hard enough to leave a bruise.

The late Watt Espy, an eccentric Alabaman whose passion for this topic produced the most complete record ever made of executions in the U.S., documented nearly 15,000 sanctioned killings from 1608 to 1972. The racial disparity is arresting. In a mostly white America, significantly more blacks than whites were put to death. Whites were almost never executed for crimes - even murder - involving black victims. But blacks were so frequently executed for sexual assault that newspapers could report that a prisoner was hanged or electrocuted "for the usual crime" and everyone would know what that meant.

Some analysts still find vestiges of racial bias in the modern system, but the overt racism of the old order is now plainly unconstitutional. If there is a bias propping up today’s death penalty, it is one of class rather than race. The best defense lawyers cost a lot of money. As a favorite saying on death row goes: Those without the capital get the punishment.

This leaves only the question of justice, which is a visceral and compelling force. It's the force that has kept the death penalty going as long as it has. Capital punishment is an expression of the principle that certain extreme boundaries cannot be crossed - that some crimes are so terrible that death is the only punishment sufficient to balance the scales. It shows how seriously we take our laws and the moral traditions underlying them.

Anti-death-penalty thinkers have tried to knock down this idea for hundreds of years. Perhaps you've seen the bumper sticker that goes, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" But they haven't had much success in winning the philosophical battle. Momentum is moving away from the death penalty not because it offends the sense of justice but because it is a system that costs too much and delivers too little.

Which brings us to ...

Reason 4. Governments are going broke.

Across the country, governments are wrestling with tight budgets, which are likely to get tighter. Aging populations mean a rising demand for health care and retirement benefits. When more is spent to meet those commitments, less is available for everything else.

The American death-penalty system is so slow, inconsistent and inefficient that it costs far more than the life-without-parole alternative. This fact may puzzle many Americans. But think of it this way: as the country recently saw in the Tsarnaev case, a death sentence involves not 1 trial but 2. The 1st procedure decides guilt or innocence, and the 2nd weighs the proper punishment. This doubly burdensome process is followed by strict appellate review that consumes hundreds if not thousands of billable hours on the part of lawyers, clerks, investigators and judges. Compared with the cost of a complicated lawsuit, the cost of incarceration is minimal.

When I examined the cost of Florida's death penalty many years ago, I concluded that seeing a death sentence through to execution costs at least 6 times as much as a life sentence. A more recent study by a federal commission pegged the difference in the costs of the trials at 8 times as much. Duke University professor Philip J. Cook studied North Carolina's system and concluded that the Tar Heel State could save $11 million per year by abolishing the death penalty. California's system incurs excess costs estimated at some $200 million per year. From Kansas to Maryland, Tennessee to Pennsylvania, studies have all reached similar conclusions.

Rising pressure to cut wasteful spending will cause more and more legislators and law-enforcement officials to look hard at these findings - especially in a climate of low crime rates and secure prisons. It's happening even in Texas, where Liberty County prosecutor Stephen Taylor told a reporter last year that cost is a factor in deciding whether to pursue the death penalty. "You have to be very responsible in selecting where you want to spend your money," he said. And if Texas has reached that point, imagine what is going through the minds of governors, lawmakers and prosecutors in states that rarely see an execution - which is the vast majority.

As more states consider joining Nebraska in abolishing capital punishment, they may create a momentum that will, in time, sway the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reason 5. The Justices.

Few issues have caused the U.S. Supreme Court more pain over the past half-century than the death penalty. The subject is never far from the court's docket. This year's biggest capital case involves the possible risks in a lethal-injection formula. And yet the many opinions issued since 1972 form such a tangled thicket that the late Justice Harry Blackmun ultimately dismissed the entire enterprise as "tinker[ing] with the machinery of death." Several other Justices have turned against the process after leaving the court, including 2 of the 3 architects of the system, Lewis Powell and John Paul Stevens.

Amid the confusion, one principle has remained clear: death is different. The main reason the court abolished the old death penalty was that there were no standards for deciding who would live or die. Even among murderers, the chance of being executed was as random as being struck by lightning, as Justice Potter Stewart observed. The modern death penalty was designed to guide prosecutors, judges and juries toward the criminals most deserving of death.

But after four decades of tinkering, capital punishment is still a matter of occasional lightning bolts. And judges are taking notice. Last July, a federal judge in Southern California - a Republican appointee named Cormac J. Carney - issued an explosive ruling that the death penalty in America's largest state has become unconstitutionally random. History is on his side.

In 1972, when the Supreme Court found the death penalty to be "arbitrary and capricious," there were about 600 prisoners condemned to die in the U.S., and fewer than 100 had been executed in the previous 10 years. Today in California, the numbers are far worse: 750 death-row inmates, three executions in the past 10 years. "For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California's death-penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution," Carney argued. "Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death."

Such a sentence, the judge concluded, violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

It is a long way from one district judge's ruling to a decision by the Supreme Court. But Carney's reasoning follows a path already blazed in dissenting opinions by Justice Stevens when he was still a member of the high court and Justice Stephen Breyer. They too have noticed that a system that produces these bizarre and unpredictable results makes a mockery of the legal system at a cost of billions of dollars.

Carney's decision is currently under review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is 1 more sign that the end of this failed experiment is beginning to emerge. 1 by 1, states will abandon their rarely used death penalty. At the same time, other judges will follow Carney's lead. Here's Judge Tom Price of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - a red-state Republican member of what is probably the toughest court in the land when it comes to the death penalty: "Having spent the last 40 years as a judge for the state of Texas, of which the last 18 years have been as a judge on this court, I have given a substantial amount of consideration to the propriety of the death penalty as a form of punishment for those who commit capital murder, and I now believe that it should be abolished."

Actions of the legislatures, lower-court judges and governors can all be read by the Supreme Court as signs of "evolving standards of decency" in society, a doctrine dating from 1958 that has been used by the court to ban executions of juveniles, mentally retarded inmates and rapists who did not kill their victims. No step or statement is decisive in itself. But when 5 or more of the Justices decide the time has come to put an end to this fiasco, they will use these signs of "evolving standards" as their justification to end capital punishment for good.

Critics complain that the idea of "evolving standards" is a mere pretense to wrap personal preferences in a scarf of constitutional law. But more than half a century after the concept was coined, "evolving standards" is deeply woven into Supreme Court tradition. The Justices all know that the modern death penalty is a failure. When they finally decide to get rid of it, "evolving standards" is how they will do it.

The facts are irrefutable, and the logic is clear. Exhausted by so many years of trying to prop up this broken system, the court will one day throw in the towel.

(source: David Von Drehle, a TIME editor-at-large, is the author of Among the Lowest of the Dead, an award-winning history of the modern death penalty)


UN human rights experts urge U.S. moratorium on death penalty

United Nations human rights experts appealed to the United States on Friday to impose a moratorium on the death penalty for federal crimes, including the sentence imposed on the Boston Marathon bomber, with a view to abolishing the practice.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, was moved on Thursday to a U.S. penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, home to the so-called "Supermax" unit that houses high-risk prisoners.

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized for the deadly 2013 attack at a hearing to formally sentence him to death. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

The ethnic Chechen was transferred a day after a federal judge in Boston, Massachusetts, sentenced him to death by lethal injection for killing 4 people and injuring 264 in the April 2013 bombing and its aftermath with his late older brother.

"This decision contradicts the trends towards abolishing the death penalty in the country in law and practice," U.N. special rapporteur on executions Christof Heyns and U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez said in a joint statement.

Tsarnaev's acts fall within the definition of "most serious crimes" to which the United Nations says the death penalty - if imposed at all - should be restricted.

More than 3/4 of countries worldwide have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, the experts said.

There is "no proof" that the death penalty has a deterrent effect and many executions have resulted in "degrading spectacles," they added.

"Especially if imposed for crimes motivated by ideological or religious considerations, this form of punishment plays into the hands of those who treat life as dispensable and encourage rather than discourage them," their statement said.

Massachusetts abolished capital punishment for state crimes in 1984, it noted.

"The decision of a federal jury to impose the death penalty for a crime committed in Massachusetts, where the death penalty has been abolished for decades, illustrates how out of place this form of punishment is," the U.N. experts said.

Under international law a nation is accountable for all of its jurisdictions, according to Heyns and Mendez. "And there are concrete steps that the Federal Government could take, including a moratorium on the death penalty for federal crimes."

Mendez accused the United States in March of stalling on his requests to visit its prisons, where 80,000 people are in solitary confinement, and to interview inmates on his terms.

He has sought for more than 2 years to enter U.S. prisons, including maximum-security facilities, specifically ADX in Colorado where inmates include Oklahoma City bomber accomplice Terry Nichols, underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

U.S. human rights ambassador Keith Harper told a news briefing on June 11 that talks were "ongoing" with Mendez regarding a "robust and effective" visit.

Harper, asked whether he expected the visit to take place this year, said: "We hope it will, yes."

(source: Reuters)


Prosecution Rests in Trial of Christian Pastors in Sudan

The Sudanese government rested its case Thursday in the trial of Pastors Yat Michael Ruot and Peter Yein Reith. The 2 Christian pastors from South Sudan face potential death sentences after being arrested in Sudan because they had spoken up for fellow Christians in Sudan.

The prosecution called its last witness Thursday. The witness, a National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) expert, offered no new evidence against the pastors. Similarly, during the duration of the trial, which has been stretched out over a month, none of the prosecution's witnesses have brought any real evidence to prove that the pastors are guilty of the myriad of charges against them, which range from insulting the Muslim religion and undermining the constitutional system to inciting religious sedition and undermining public order. Some of these baseless charges even carry the death penalty.

After questioning its last witness, the prosecution closed its case.

At the court on Thursday, the judge allowed the pastors to visit with their wives for 10 minutes as a guard supervised the visit. However, the wives and attorney are still not permitted to visit with the pastors at Kober Prison in North Khartoum where the pastors were recently moved.

Although authorities at the prison continue to violate international laws by denying the pastors access to their attorney, the pastors are no longer being held in shackles or solitary confinement. They have been moved into the general prison population, but unfortunately are separated from each other. This separation has been very discouraging to them as they are no longer able to lean on each other for moral and spiritual support.

The trial is set to continue on July 2nd. At that time the pastors will take the stand so that the judge can question them about the allegations levied against them. Under Sudanese law, if the judge concludes there is a lack of evidence on all charges, he must dismiss the complaint and discharge the pastors from custody. If, however, the judge finds sufficient evidence on any or all of the charges levied against them, the defense will put on its case to overcome the presumption of guilt present from the prosecution's evidence.

As the trial wraps up, Pastors Michael & Peter need our prayers and support more than ever. If found guilty, they could face execution. Will you stand with us now in support of our brothers in Christ as they suffer for the sake of the Gospel?

(source: ACLLJ)


Lankan soldier handed death sentence for murder of Tamil civilians

A Sri Lankan court on Thursday handed the death sentence to an army soldier convicted of killing 8 people including 4 children 15 years ago, in a rare case of the country's military held accountable for its actions.

Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, a Sinhalese soldier, was given capital punishment by a 2-judge High Court in Colombo for murdering 8 civilians by slitting their throats during the height of the country's civil war.

However, 4 others who were purportedly with the soldier during his crime were acquitted due to a lack of direct evidence against them. The massacre at the village of Mirusuvil in the Jaffna peninsula, then home of the Tamil Tiger rebels, came to light when another civilian escaped the butchery and informed officials.

The incident happened in 2000 during one of the fiercest battles between the army and the Tiger guerillas.

The civilians had gone back to check the remains of their bombed homes after an intense battle between the army and Tiger rebels in their little village.

The court heard that the soldier slit the throats of the civilians and buried them in a mass grave about 16 miles east of Jaffna town.

In a rare move, the then government under former president Chandrika Kumaratunge suspended the entire unit of soldiers involved in Mirusuvil and subsequently arrested the five men who were indicted in 2003.

"Today's sentencing showed that the military was following due process in dealing with abuses committed during the war," army spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera told reporters.

Brigadier Jayaweera further noted that Thursday's verdict was a "good example to show the system is working well."

Sri Lanka has been under heavy international pressure to show accountability for alleged war crimes committed by the military during the country's 3 decade war.

An independent United Nations report estimates that the army killed at least 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the war that ended in May 2009.

However, past and present governments have denied the allegations. The former government under Mahinda Rajapaksa under whose regime the Tamil Tigers were defeated maintained that there was zero civilian casualty committed by the predominantly Sinhalese army during the war.

The current government, however, has promised to investigate any allegations of war crimes.

Although Sri Lankan courts pass death penalty in serious crimes such as murder, rape and drug trafficking, no execution has been carried out since 1976. There are at least 500 death-row convicts in prisons in Sri Lanka.

(source: Khaleej Times)


'Save Zambo couple from death row'

Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar has called on the national government to save a Zamboangueno couple from the death penalty in Malaysia.

Nurie and Timhar Ong, residents of Barangay Baliwasan here, were arrested in 2005 for carrying nine sachets said to contain shabu.

A Malaysian court sentenced the couple to life imprisonment in 2006, but a higher court ruled that they deserve capital punishment for possession of 50 grams of shabu.

The Ongs left 7 children here.

Salazar said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has instructed Overseas Workers Welfare Administration regional director Hassan Gabra Jumdain to provide assistance to the couple and their children.

(source: ABS-CBNnews)


Death penalty for 6 in sisters' deaths

6 men from Freeport, among them a former Special Reserve Police Officer (SRP), were yesterday convicted of the murders of 2 young sisters who died in an arson attack on their home in 2009.

Siblings Shiva, Ryan and Vishan Bajnauth, their half-brother Soman Rampersad and friends Kenny Mohammed and former SRP Junior John were before Justice Maria Wilson charged with the attack, which claimed the lives of Sangeeta, 3, and 6-year-old Sarah Ramdial and left two of their relatives injured.

Presiding in the Port-of-Spain Fifth Assizes yesterday, Wilson read the mandatory death sentence six times in succession after the 12-member jury returned with unanimous decision for the former neighbours turned cellmates.

The result, the 1st for prosecutors in a multiple accused trial for quite some time, took place almost exactly 6 years after the sisters were burned to death as they slept in their 2-bedroom home at Playground Avenue, Uquire Road, Freeport, on August 14, 2009.

Screams and wails echoed through the large courtroom as the large contingent of the men's female relatives burst into tears upon hearing the verdict before being ushered out the court.

The 6 men launched a verbal attack on all involved in the trial as soon as they were each given an opportunity by Wilson to say a couple words before being escorted out of the court by police. As they simultaneously professed their innocence, the men accused the children's father, Ashook Ramdial, of fabricating the case against them.

"Nah boy Ashook," Shiva Bajnauth said as he shook his head while staring at Ramdial, who was seated in the court.

They also accused Wilson and prosecutor Renuka Rambhajan of conspiring to convict them.

"And you as the judge allowed the prosecution to do all kind of things they should not be doing," Rampersad said.

They were then led out the court and transported to prison where they will take up quarters on death row.

Also testifying in the trial, which began in February, was the children's mother Geeta Singh and uncle Richard Ramdial, who were at home during the attack and were shot as they as they tried to confront the gang of men, who were armed with guns, cutlasses and kegs of gasoline.

The jury deliberated for almost 3 hours after Wilson summed up the case, which was filled with surprises, including a police man providing an alibi for 1 man.

Cpl Ronnie Lee-Gopaul, testifying in March, claimed he saw Rampersad at the Freeport Police Station when he responded to the report of the fire.

The victims' accounts of the events were also disputed by Richard Ramdial's mother, who claimed Ashook coerced her son into implicating the 6 men.

The defence witness told the jury that while her son was recovering in hospital he was visited by Ashook and was threatened to tell police as story concocted by him.

The men were defended by attorneys Vernon De Lima, Ravi Rajcoomar, John Heath and Chase Pegus.

Prosecutor Shivana Sharma assisted Rambhajan.

(source: Trinidad Guardian)


Jokowi renews call for tough action on drug abuse, trafficking

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo reiterated his tough stance on drugs at an event to mark World Anti-Narcotics Day on Friday, calling for a united front on the eradication of drug abuse.

Citing a high incidence of drug abuse in the country and the debilitating impact on the nation's future, Jokowi called on relevant parties to step up their efforts in the war on drugs.

"I believe, given drugs' destructive power, there is no other choice for us but to declare war against drugs," he said in a speech during the event at the State Palace.Jokowi has made tough drug policies a hallmark of his administration.

Declaring a "drug emergency", he has called for the death penalty for drug dealers and rejected clemency pleas for convicted traffickers. Despite protests from human rights campaigners and the international community, his administration executed 14 convicts - including foreigners of multiple nationalities - in 2 groups in January and May this year.

There are a further 60 drug convicts on death row, according to the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

Despite the harsh penalties imposed on drug dealers, drug abuse continues to increase in Indonesia. The current rate of drug abuse has reached 4 million people, or 2.18 % of the total population, up from 3.3 million in 2008. Drug abuse has also caused Rp 63 trillion (US$4.72 billion) in economic losses.

The government has set a target of reducing the number of drug abusers to 3.7 million by 2020.Jokowi ordered all relevant parties and law enforcers to join hands with the BNN in fighting drug abuse and drug trafficking in the country, including by improving international intelligence cooperation.

"We must enforce the law effectively and fight drug abuse and drug trafficking seriously," he said. "We must arrest and impose harsh penalties on drug dealers and the 'big fish'."

The President also called for tough penalties for law enforcement officers and public officials who provided protection for drug dealers, as well as increased surveillance at penitentiaries. "This has to end; no more prisons must be used as drug distribution centers," he said.

The BNN has on several occasions moved against drug rings run from correctional facilities, including on the Nusakambangan prison island in Cilacap, Central Java, where the 2 recent rounds of executions took place. During raids in April and February, authorities found 3 convicts involved in the drug business on Nusakambangan. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly, whose office oversees correctional facilities, has acknowledged the involvement of prison officials in drug trafficking.

On Friday, Jokowi also demanded better monitoring at seaports and patrols in waters known to be used by traffickers.

He also called for the rehabilitation of 100,000 addicts this year.

BNN chief Anang Iskandar, meanwhile, said that failures to effectively rehabilitate drug users and impose money laundering charges on drugs traffickers were the primary reasons behind drug businesses being run from prisons.

"Drug users should be put inside rehabilitation centers, instead of behind bars," he said. "And, ideally, all drug dealers' assets should be confiscated, but money laundering charges are for now rarely used against them."

As of June, the BNN has investigated four money laundering cases related to drug abuse this year.

Anang also revealed a plan to transform 4 prisons into special penitentiaries for drug offenders in the near future.

(source: Jakarta Post)


Nigerian court sentences 0 to death for blasphemy

9 people have been sentenced to death in northern Nigeria after being found guilty of blasphemy, a court clerk and the head of the religious police told AFP on Friday.

The Upper Sharia Court in the city of Kano handed down death sentences to a Sufi Muslim cleric and 8 of his followers for remarks they made about the Prophet Mohammed last month.

The comments, made during a religious ceremony, sparked anger and violence in the city.

Court clerk Alhaji Nasuru said the 9, including 1 woman, were "sentenced to death in accordance with sections 110 and 302 of the Sharia penal code."

4 other followers of the cleric, Aminu Abdul Nyass, were acquitted, he added.

The defendants were arrested when violence broke out in the Makwarari district of Kano as they marked the birthday of the former leader of the Tijaniyya Sufi order, Ibrahim Nyass.

An angry crowd attacked the ceremony and later burnt down Abdul Nyass' home, police said at the time.

Abdul Nyass belongs to a separate branch of Tijaniyya, some of whose beliefs are considered heretical because of their different interpretation of some basic Islamic principles.

The head of the Kano state Sharia (Islamic law) police, known locally as the Hisbah, welcomed the verdicts.

"We are happy the Sharia court handed the death sentences to the 9 people who made the blasphemous statements against the Holy Prophet," said Aminu Daurawa.

The trial was held in secret to avoid violence, after crowds set fire to a section of the Sharia court on the defendants' 1st appearance on May 22.

The judgment still has to be approved by Kano governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, added Daurawa, who warned the sentence should remind Muslims that blasphemy attracts the ultimate penalty.

He also said the risk of violence was high if the nine were released.

"The concern is mobs would take extrajudicial action if these convicts are for whatever reason released because they would certainly kill them when they see them on the streets," he said.

There was no immediate word on whether the 9 would appeal.

Sharia courts in northern Nigeria have handed down death sentences for adultery, murder and homosexuality since they were set up in the early 2000s. But to date, no executions have been carried out.

12 states in the mainly Muslim north have the courts, which run parallel to state and federal justice system.

(source: Agence France-Presse)


Supreme Court upturns death penalty on robbery suspect

The Supreme Court on Friday in a unanimous decision quashed a death sentence passed on a robbery suspect describing the alleged robbery as mystery and fake.

Reading the lead judgment, Justice Muntaka-Coomassie held that the prosecution failed to establish any ingredient of the offence of armed robbery against the appellant - Alhaji Musa Sani.

The apex court held that the prosecution maintained a very material contradiction as to the date the said armed robbery took place.

The appellant Alhaji Musa Sani and another suspect were alleged to have robbed one Abdullahi Mohammed (alias Boda) the sum of N940, 000 on or about 28, May 2008 in Katsina Local Government Area of Katsina State while armed with offensive weapons.

He was alleged to have committed the offence which is punishable under the Armed Robbery and Fire Arms (Special Provisiions) Act 2004.

The appellant was sentenced to death by the trial Judge, he unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal before approaching the apex court which has now set him free.

Other members of the panel include Justice Bode Rhodes Vivour, Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, Clara Baa Ogunbiyi and Kumai Bayang Akaahs.

(source: Daily Trust)

JUNE 26, 2015:


Lubbock man arrested in double homicide indicted for capital murder----David Carrillo accused in fatal shooting of couple

A Lubbock County grand jury indicted Thursday a 29-year-old man who admitted to investigators he shot to death his former girlfriend and her boyfriend in their bedroom.

David Carrillo is charged with 2 counts of capital murder.

Grand jurors, who usually meet on Tuesdays, convened in a special session Thursday to deliberate Carrillo's case.

Carrillo is accused in the April 18 fatal shooting of Jennifer Cruz and Albert Martinez at Cruz's home in the 5000 block of 44th Street.

1 count of the indictment accuses Carrillo of shooting 2 people. The 2nd count of the indictment accuses him of shooting Cruz in the act of burglary.

Lubbock police responded about 2 a.m. to a call about a man with a gun at the residence.

A dispatcher could hear Cruz calling out to someone named David to put down the gun before shots rang out, according to an arrest warrant.

Cruz reportedly used the name several times.

Responding officers found the bodies of Cruz and Martinez in the bedroom.

Further investigation led police to identify Carrillo, who had 2 children with Cruz, as a possible suspect, according to a warrant.

Carrillo was arrested at his home in the 2200 block of 100th Street.

At the police station, Carrillo admitted to entering Cruz's home through the bedroom window.

He said wanted to talk to Martinez about threats he sent him on Facebook.

He told investigators Cruz and Martinez "came at him" before he shot them, the warrant states.

Carrillo said he fled the scene and disposed of his gun.

Capital murder carries a punishment of life in prison or the death penalty.

Carrillo remains at the Lubbock County Detention Center. His bond is set at $1 million, according to jail records.



Convicted Upper Merion killer remains on death row as attorneys debate jurisdiction

The man whose death sentence was overturned for the 2005 killing of Jennifer Pennington in Upper Merion will remain on death row, for now.

On Thursday Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven ONeill ordered Harold Murray's attorney, Michael Wiseman, and attorneys from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to file additional briefs to determine whether or not O'Neill has the jurisdiction or authority to take Murray, 37, off of death row while he waits for a new sentencing phase.

While those briefs are filed, Murray will stay on death row in State Correctional Institute Graterford.

In court, Wiseman argued that his client is living on death row without a death sentence, which violates his constitutional rights because he is unable to participate in group programs that could be used to show jurors that he would behave well as a prisoner in general population for the rest of his life. Wiseman said that could be used as mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase. Right now, Murray, is serving 2 life sentences - 1 for the death of Shawne Mims and one for the killing of Pennington’s unborn child.

Wiseman asked if the Department of Corrections could conduct an individual assessment to see if Murray would be able to live in general population without a problem. If the department made such an assessment and found Murray would not be suitable for general population, there would be nothing more to say, he added.

Murray was initially given a death sentence in 2009 for the killings of Pennington's unborn child. However, Pennsylvania law does not allow for jurors to sentence a defendant to death for the killing of an unborn child. The courts realized the error and reversed it, giving him a life sentence.

In January 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the death penalty imposed for the death of Pennington, saying it was too closely connected to the jury's decision to sentence Murray to death for the killing of her unborn child, and sent the case back to Common Pleas Court for resentencing.

Julia Tilghman, an attorney for the Department of Corrections, argued that it is not in Judge O'Neill's jurisdiction to rule on how the prisons house inmates. She said it is the practice of the department to keep defendants sentenced to death on death row through the course of their appeals and through their retrials. She also argued it is not the job of the Department of Corrections to help the defendant create mitigating factors for sentencing.

On Jan. 31, 2005, detectives from the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Division responded to the 3600 block of Ford Road in Philadelphia for a report that a human body had been found on the side of the road. The victim was later identified as Pennington. Investigators found a receipt for a room at the Best Western Hotel in King of Prussia with Mims' name on it.

Investigators went to the Best Western room to find Mims dead from 2 gunshot wounds.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, an autopsy performed on Pennington showed she was pregnant and had died from two gunshot wounds in the face. The autopsy performed showed that Mims had been killed from 2 separate gunshot wounds, 2 to in his chest, hitting the lung, and the other going through his back.

On Jan. 31, 2005, police learned that Mims and Pennington were a part of a group that robbed 2 drug dealers on Jan. 30, 2005. Court documents cite revenge as the motive for the killings. Murray was found guilty in April 2009 and sentenced to death for the murder of Pennington and her unborn child and to life in prison for the murder of Mims.

The new sentencing phase in which a jury will determine whether Murray will be sentenced to life in prison or death for the killing of Pennington has not been scheduled. A status hearing in the case has been scheduled for September.

(sources: Times Herald)


DA to seek death penalty for Troy Hill man accused in 3 homicides

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. will seek the death penalty against a Troy Hill man charged in 3 killings over 2 days in March 2014, his office announced Thursday.

A notice of intention to seek the death penalty against Theodore Smedley, 20, was filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

Aggravating circumstances cited in the filing include another murder conviction, a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence, committing the killing during a felony and creating grave risk to someone other than the deceased while committing the offense.

Mr. Smedley was arrested and arraigned Thursday on charges that he killed 2 men who were found shot to death in a Cadillac Escalade on Brown Way in Garfield on March 25, 2014, said Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney's office.

A grand jury issued an indictment this month charging Mr. Smedley in the deaths of Rashad Freeman, 18, of Verona and Jamarow Trowery, 36, who previously resided in Homewood, Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg, Mr. Manko said.

Pittsburgh police said the pair were killed on their way to pick up another man, who called police after he heard 5 gunshots and went outside to find the SUV crashed into the back of the Radiant Life Alliance Church on Kincaid Street. Mr. Trowery had been shot in the chest and Mr. Freeman in the neck.

Court records show Mr. Smedley faces two counts of homicide, recklessly endangering another person and a gun violation in that case.

He was already incarcerated and awaiting trial in the death of Rasheed Strader, 18.

Mr. Strader was shot multiple times in the chest and neck on Goettman Street in Troy Hill during the evening of March 24, 2014. He was found lying between 2 parked cars about 9:30 p.m. and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Smedley has been charged with homicide, conspiracy and a gun violation in his death.

A warrant was issued April 2 of last year in Mr. Strader's death, and Mr. Smedley was apprehended 2 weeks later by the U.S. Marshals Service and Pittsburgh police.

He has been lodged at the Allegheny County Jail since.

(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


Pittsburgh man now charged with 3 homicides; could face death penalty

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office plans to seek the death penalty for a Troy Hill man accused in 3 Pittsburgh homicides.

Authorities said Theodore Smedley, 20, was arrested Thursday and charged with the March 2014 deaths of Jamarow Trowery, 36, and Rashad Freeman, 18. Police said the victims were found shot in an SUV that crashed into the back of Radiant Life Alliance Church in Garfield.

An indictment charging Smedley with both killings was returned earlier this month by a county grand jury, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for the DA's office.

Smedley was already awaiting trial for homicide in the death of Rasheed Strader, 18, who was killed 1 day before Trowery and Freeman were slain.

Police said Strader had been shot multiple times and found lying between 2 vehicles on Goettman Street in Troy Hill on March 24, 2014.

In announcing its intention to seek the death penalty, the DA's office said Smedley has "a significant history of felony convictions involving the use or threat of violence to the person."

(source: WTAE news)


Judge sets trial date for Jesse Matthew in Hannah Graham case----The 4-week trial will begin July 5, 2016

We now know when Jesse Matthew will stand trial in the death of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

The 4-week trial is scheduled to be held July 5, 2016 to July 29, 2016. Albemarle County Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins set the trial date at a hearing Thursday.

Higgins did not recuse herself from the trial. Higgins said her daughter attended a candlelight vigil for Graham, but her daughter did not know her or who the vigil was for.

Higgins said if there are any motions to suppress search warrants that she signed off on, another judge will hear those motions.

The defense and commonwealth agreed to have 8 pre-trial motions before the trial begins.

Matthew is charged in the September abduction and killing of 18-year-old Graham.

Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford is seeking the death penalty for Matthew. Because of that, Matthew had to say goodbye to defense attorney Jim Camblos. Matthew was assigned 2 public defenders.

Earlier this month, the 33-year-old Matthew was convicted of attempted capital murder, abduction and sexual assault in an unrelated 2005 case in Fairfax County. He'll be sentenced in October.

Investigators have said that DNA also links Matthew to the 2009 killing of Roanoke County native Morgan Harrington. He has not been charged in that case.

Following Thursday's hearing Gil Harrington, the mother of Morgan Harrington, said she is upset that it will be at least another year before Jesse Matthew goes on trial.

(source: WDBJ news)


"Death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves"

In case you missed it, the lead editorial in this morning's edition of Raleigh's News & Observer does a fine job of summarizing the new and disturbing report from the good people at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation: "On Trial for Their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital prosecutions in North Carolina."

As the editorial notes:

"District attorneys who choose to bring capital charges often do so as an expression of the public's outrage over a heinous crime. But a new report suggests that putting a defendant on trial for his life also can involve another sort of outrage - the pursuit of flimsy cases at high cost to taxpayers and great damage to the accused.

The report from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina looked at problems with death penalty cases from an unusual perspective. Instead of focusing on defendants who were wrongly convicted, the center studied 56 North Carolina capital cases brought between 1989 and 2015 that ended with an acquittal or dismissal of all charges.

The finding of 56 cases is a remarkably high number over the past quarter-century given that the state's death row population is 148. Presumably, prosecutors would not pursue costly, extended death penalty cases unless there was a high probability of a conviction. But the report found shoddy cases derailed by serious errors or misconduct, including witness coercion, evidence not properly disclosed and bungled investigations."

The editorial concludes this way:

"In North Carolina, there have been no executions since 2006 because of concerns about the drugs used and the refusal of doctors to participate in a process that by law requires a doctor's presence. Some in the North Carolina General Assembly are trying to streamline the path to execution by proposing a change that would allow medical personnel other than doctors to fulfill the required medical role.

This report adds another chapter to the evidence that the death penalty and the pursuit of it can border on being crimes in themselves. The record demands that the wrongs wrought by this pursuit of vengeance be ended by the pursuit of justice."

NC Policy Watch will host a Crucial Conversation luncheon today at noon with the authors of the report. We'll post the video of the event in the very near future.



South Carolina Can't Execute Charleston Shooter Because Of Drug Shortage

Soon after the alleged Charleston Church shooter Dylann Roof was arrested, people across the country, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, began calling for the 21-year-old's death.

There's just 1 problem. The state couldn't execute Roof right now even if they wanted to.

An international boycott of the drugs the U.S. uses for executions has made them difficult to find, with South Carolina among the states that have completely run dry.

South Carolina uses a 3-drug cocktail that includes Pentobarbital, a drug the state ran out of in 2013. That means if Roof is put on death row he'll be waiting with dozens of inmates the state is unable to execute because of the shortage.

This problem isn't uncommon as states across the country scramble to get the right drugs for their executions.

Some states like South Carolina allow inmates sentenced to death to choose electrocution over lethal injection, but the inmate has to choose that method himself. Tennessee passed a law in 2014 that allowed for use of the electric chair if lethal injection chemicals are not available. The states have struggled for years to circumvent the boycott. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that when U.S. pharmacies refused to provide the chemicals, states looked to Europe. But the European Union banned the sale of the chemicals to the U.S. for use in execution.

States tried to get around that by going through 3rd parties in places like India, but Europe eventually caught onto that too.

To obtain the drug, some states have tried to keep the supplying companies secret because those companies fear public opinion backlash for participating in the execution.

"They're worried that if their customers find out they are making drugs to kill people they'll go elsewhere," Dunham told TheDCNF. "It is horrid to imagine any other public policy that involves human life where the identity of a supplier, the quality and quantity and the safety record of the supplier is not open to the public."

While South Carolina hasn't executed an inmate since 2011, some states, such as Texas which has executed 9 people this year, have managed to make it work.

(source: The Daily Caller)


Defendant in death case blames police for his crimes

Accused cop killer Jamie Hood, representing himself in his own death penalty case, told jurors in his opening statement Thursday that the reason he is on trial is because of corrupt police officers.

Hood repeatedly brought up the deaths of his brother and a friend at the hands of the police. He also used his opening statement to rant about his prior conviction for the armed robbery of a pizza delivery man.

"The evidence will show I was illegally convicted of an armed robbery charge that I'm innocent of. Destroyed my life and played a significant role in the charges I now have," Hood said.

He blamed also 1 of his victims, police officer Tony Howard, for the crime spree that left another officer, Elmer "Buddy" Christian III, dead on March 22, 2011.

Hood has pleaded not guilty to murder and dozens of other felonies even though he has admitted several times in court that he killed Christian.

Christian and Howard were both shot after Hood was pulled over for allegedly kidnapping Judon Brooks. Brooks said Hood bound his hands and feet and put him in the trunk of his car because he wouldn't tell Hood where to find a certain drug dealer.

Police searched for Hood for four days. Hood called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to tell law enforcement where they could find him. He decided to release his hostages only after officers agreed his surrender could be covered live on television. Hood also is charged with murdering Kenneth Omari Wray when he refused to tell Hood where to find the same drug dealer. Prosecutors say ballistics linked Wray's death to the shootings of the police officers almost 3 months later.

District Attorney Ken Mauldin is seeking the death penalty for the deaths of Christian and another man 3 months before the shootout with police.

"They say I committed murder because I was cut out of a drug connection," Hood said. "The evidence will show these are ugly lies; not just lies, but ugly lies. Something is greatly wrong with the reason I am facing the charges that I have. There have been some unfortunate things to happen to me in my life that led me to face these charges. I have had some unfortunate experience with police brutality and police misconduct."

Hood insisted on representing himself after he fired two sets of attorneys from the Office of the Georgia Capital Defenders after they suggested his mental competency may be an issue . Hood agreed to let one of those attorneys to serve as "stand by" council to offer advice on procedure only.

Hood spent the beginning of his 25-minute opening statement speaking about the separate shooting deaths of his brother, Timothy, and his friend, Edward Wright.

He also complained that there had been prior trouble between him and Howard, the officer who was wounded on March 22, 2011.

"It's all about revenge. I'm not trying to run. I'm not asking for no plea bargain. It's not about me. It's about prejudice. It's got to stop," Hood said.

Hood also ranted about his trouble finding a job after he was released from prison in 2009.

"I couldn't get a job so I started dealing drugs ... (You) get out (of prison) and can't find a job. If a man's willing to work, why not let him?" Hood said.

Mauldin began his opening statement by mimicking Hood's own words when he was taken in to custody.

"'What ever I get I deserve. I can't blame nobody.' Those are the words of the defendant Jamie Donnell Hood, spoke just hours after his surrender in March 2011," Mauldin said.

But that has changed, the DA said.

"This trial will be about blaming everyone else except 1 person," Mauldin said.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


Death row inmate's appeal rejected in CCI guard's murder

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by a man sentenced to death in the 2003 murder of a Charlotte Correctional Institution guard.

Inmate Dwight Eaglin argued, at least in part, that he received "ineffective" legal representation during his trial and during sentencing.

But justices unanimously ruled against Eaglin, who was convicted of killing correctional officer Darla Lathrem and another prisoner, Charles Fuston, during a foiled escape attempt.

The appeal included arguments that Eaglin's attorneys should have raised issues about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and about abuse he suffered as a child.

But the Supreme Court pointed to what are known as "aggravators," which are factors considered in determining whether murder defendants should receive the death penalty.

"Even if counsel had presented testimony during the penalty phase that shed light on Eaglin's abusive childhood, his dysfunctional family, and that he suffered from mental health disorders, our confidence in the outcome of the penalty phase would not be undermined when viewed in the context of the penalty phase evidence and the mitigators and aggravators found by the trial court,'' the Supreme Court opinion said.

Eaglin, now 39, is on death row at Florida State Prison near Starke.

(source: ABC news)


Mississippi private prisons hold inmates longer, without reducing crime - study

Private prisons in Mississippi routinely extend inmate's sentences by 2 to 3 months to leverage extra costs from the state, a new study found. However, the extended prison stays are having no effect on crime reduction.

The 1st-of-a-kind study from the University of Wisconsin compared time served by inmates in public and private prisons in Mississippi, between 1996 and 2004, to determine whether private prisons were more cost effective and whether they were leading to lower crime rates through rehabilitation programs.

The study found that private prison operators were increasing inmates' prison sentences by 60 to 90 additional days (roughly 4 to 7 %) for the average prisoner through a scheme of prison conduct violations. The additional 2 to 3 months were leading to an average additional cost per prisoner of $3,000 and eroding any costs savings the state was trying to achieve.

"If inmates sent to private prisons somehow serve longer terms, this undermines the very cost benefit that makes private prisons attractive relative to public prisons," said Anita Mukherjee, an assistant professor of actuary science at the University of Wisconsin, and the study's author, in a statement.

Mississippi has the highest incarceration rate in the US, with 40 percent of inmates held in private prisons. Since 1980, states have been contracting with private prison operators to help reduce costs and expand bed capacity, which has led to the US contracting 10 % of its 2.3 million prison population out to private prisons. The private prison contracting industry is now worth $5 billion. Under Mississippi state law, private prisons have to provide cost savings of 10 % compared to public prisons.

Mukherjee said states could structure incentives for private prison contractors that matched their public policy outcomes, whether it is reducing costs or reducing re-offending rates.

Reviewing the study's findings, Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a prison activist with The Sentencing Project, told RT that states are not accruing savings when they contract with private prisons.

"One of the big differences is that private prisons appear to cost less per prisoner, but when you look at the contracts they specify they don't want the most expensive prisoners - old prisoners and those that have high healthcare expenses, they will not accept those prisoners," said Ghandnoosh.

"Generally, people in private prisons are younger and healthier. When you take that into consideration, states are not actually accruing any savings."

In her study, Mukherjee also found that the use of prison conduct violations targeted all inmates in every demographic, offense and sentence length, and that those in private prisons accumulated more prison infractions than those in public prisons. State parole boards use infractions in assessing whether to give an inmate early release.

"Prisoners in private prison are 15 % more likely to receive an infraction over the course of their sentence ... virtually all reported infractions are recorded as 'guilty,'" said Mukherjee. She added that "systematic differences in release policies constitute a distortion of justice."

Mukherjee also found that because of the "distortion of justice," the other "promise" of rehabilitation programs leading to a reduction in crime wasn't fulfilled.

Ghandnoosh told RT that one of the other hidden facts about private prisons is they are likely to cut back on personnel and programming expenses.

"They are less likely to have unionized workers and they are likely to spend less money to train them, and they also provide fewer services within prisons," said Ghandnoosh. "That contributes to making these prisons less safe environments, and it can contribute to the high recidivism [reoffending] rates we are seeing in these prisons."



Ohio Gets a 3rd Chance to Kill Michael Keenan ----A case so messy 1 judge says it's an argument for abolishing the death penalty.

This morning an Ohio capital case with an extraordinarily complicated history became more complicated yet, as the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a man accused of a murder 3 decades ago can be tried for a 3rd time, despite the court's misgivings about the prosecution's misconduct and the prospects of the defendant ever receiving a fair trial.

"By our count, at least 40 judicial decisions have been rendered in this case since the original murder conviction in 1989. Nevertheless, more are in the offing," the court wrote in the majority opinion of its 4-3 ruling.

Reflecting how twisted this case has become, Justice Paul Pfeifer, who wrote the majority opinion saying Keenan could be tried again, took the rare step of adding a concurring opinion - in which he said this particular legal debacle underscored the need for Ohio to abolish the death penalty. If the majority opinion is the story, the concurring opinion is the editorial. In it, Pfeifer, a Republican who has been on the court since 1993, noted that the defendant, Michael Keenan, might well have been executed before it ever came to light that prosecutors had concealed evidence undermining their case.

"It would be an unspeakable travesty if the great state of Ohio were to execute a defendant and then determine that it had done so based on deliberate prosecutorial misconduct," Pfeifer wrote, adding: "If he had been executed, there would have been no way for the state to cleanse itself from the awful reality of having executed a person who had not received his full measure of legal protection."

Keenan, 65, has been free since 2012 and now lives out of state. He was convicted and condemned in the murder of Anthony Klann, whose body was found in 1988 in a Cleveland park. Beginning with the original trial in 1989, Keenan's case became a legal odyssey marked by misconduct or missteps by the prosecution and defense alike.

Keenan's 1st conviction was overturned in 1993 because of what the Ohio Supreme Court called the prosecutor's "histrionic" conduct at trial, which included calling the defendant an "animal," denigrating the defense attorneys as hired guns, presenting an argument that amounted to guilt by association, and, in front of the jury, taking a large knife and stabbing it into a courtroom table.

In 1994, Keenan was tried again, convicted again, and condemned again. After losing his appeals in state court, Keenan turned to federal court - where his appellate counsel made a critical mistake, missing a 1-year deadline for filing Keenan's habeas corpus petition. (An investigation published last year by The Marshall Project and The Washington Post found that Keenan's was among at least 80 capital cases nationally where the deadline was blown, jeopardizing the condemned inmates' crucial, final appeals in federal court.)

In this instance, the federal courts decided to forgive the missed deadline, allowing Keenan's appeal to be heard. Had they not, Keenan might have been executed.

In 2012, a U.S. District Court judge overturned Keenan's 2nd conviction, finding that prosecutors committed "egregious" misconduct by withholding evidence that could have been used to impeach the credibility of police detectives and other prosecution witnesses.

After that ruling, Keenan's counsel asked that prosecutors be barred from trying Keenan a 3rd time. But in its ruling today, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to take that dramatic step, despite noting the toll taken by the passage of time. At least 5 witnesses in the case have died since Keenan's original trial in 1989.

Indicative of how much the state's case has unraveled, Joe D'Ambrosio, a co-defendant of Keenan's who was prosecuted with much the same evidence, had his conviction and death sentence thrown out in 2006 - and was released from prison 4 years later, after a federal judge barred prosecutors from retrying him.

Although they can now go forward with a 3rd trial against Keenan, prosecutors have yet to decide if they will, said Reanna Karousis, a spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office. "It's under review," she told The Marshall Project.

As for Pfeifer - the justice who wrote both the majority opinion allowing prosecutors to proceed and a concurring opinion urging the legislature to abandon the death penalty - this is not the 1st time he has made this plea to lawmakers.

In 2011 he spoke in opposition to capital punishment while testifying before the House Criminal Justice Committee in Columbus, saying the death penalty is applied so unevenly as to be a "death lottery." Pfeifer previously served in the legislature - and helped write the death-penalty law that he now wants to see repealed.



Judge rules man convicted in New Franklin sledgehammer murders mentally fit for execution

A judge ruled Thursday that the man convicted of bludgeoning a prominent New Franklin Township couple to death is mentally fit for execution.

Summit County Judge Tom Parker will make the decision Monday whether he will adopt the jury's recommendation that Shawn Ford be put on death row for the slayings or if he will sentence Ford to prison.

Parker ruled in an 18-page decision on Thursday that Ford's intellectual ability is above the standard that bars executions of people with IQs of 70 or less.

3 experts - 1 for the defense, 1 for prosecutors and 1 for the court - all testified during a 2-day hearing that Ford, 18, of Akron, does not meet the legal definition of intellectually disabled.

"Based on the evidence contained in the trial record, in the pretrial proceedings, and introduced at the Atkins hearing, the court finds that the defendant has not met his burden of proving that he had significantly subaverage intellectual functioning or significant limitations in 2 or more adaptive skills, at any time before the age of 18," Parker wrote.

Defense expert James Karpawich, a Hudson psychologist, testified that Ford likely has a mental impairment but his IQ is too high to be considered disabled.

2 other experts - Siliva O'Bradovich of the Summit Psychological Associates and the court's expert, Katie Connell of the PsychoDiagnostic Clinic - testified that they believe that Ford was eligible for the death penalty based on recent tests, his previous scores and school records.

They also testified that they believe 2 of Ford's IQ scores that fell below 70 were due to his inattention or were purposefully low.

"Whatever other value those studies may have had when conducted, they did not lead either evaluator - or anyone since - to conclude that Mr. Ford was intellectually disabled," Parker wrote.

Defense attorneys raised the issue after the jury convicted Ford of the murders and recommended the death penalty.

If Parker sentences Ford to death, the case will automatically be appealed up to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Ford was convicted of aggravated murder for the 2013 slayings of Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert, the parents of his ex-girlfriend. The jury then recommended he be sentenced to death.



Survivor of Moore beheading attempt says it 'ruined my life'

The survivor of a beheading attempt said in a nationally televised interview Wednesday night that the attack on her at a Moore food distribution plant last year "kind of ruined my life."

"I'm not the same. I try to be, but I just can't right now," Traci J. Johnson said in the interview on Fox News' "The Kelly File."

"I just, I think about it every day. It goes through my head every day, but I try to black it out and it doesn't work," she said.

Johnson, now 44, of Oklahoma City, had worked at Vaughan Foods for only four days when she was attacked Sept. 25.

Prosecutors allege a plant worker, Alton Alexander Nolen, 30, of Moore, acted out of revenge shortly after he was suspended for making racial remarks. Police reported in a court affidavit Nolen "openly admitted" he beheaded co-worker Colleen Hufford with a large knife and attempted to behead Johnson.

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn revealed in September that Johnson was the one who had complained about racial remarks.

"There was an altercation about him not liking white people. There was some back-and-forth conversation with Miss Johnson and that led her to make the complaint with the HR department," the district attorney said.

In the interview with Fox News, Johnson said, "He started slicing my neck. And got a hold of my face, and got a hold of my right index finger, and wouldn't stop - and I'm screaming for help and didn't think anybody was going to come around."

She was saved when Mark Vaughan, the chief operating officer of Vaughan Foods and a reserve Oklahoma County sheriff's deputy, shot her attacker.

"He got a millimeter away from my jugular cord," Johnson said.

She said what happened to Hufford "just tore me up."

'Still bothers me'

"It still bothers me to this day," she said in the interview done earlier this month. "I am going to be honest with you, I feel like is my fault because of what happened, but everybody tells me it's not."

Johnson actually was employed by 1st Staffing Group USA, a temp-to-hire service, at the time of the attack. She couldn't work and was paid $352 a week in workers' compensation benefits for total temporary disability for months, but those payments have now ended.

Nolen, a Muslim convert, is charged with 1st-degree murder and 5 assault counts. His case is on hold as he undergoes examinations to determine if he is mentally competent. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Johnson has spoken only a few times about the attack. She said last year she doesn't want media attention.

For a video honoring Vaughan, she told the sheriff's office last year, "That man is my hero. ... If Mark wouldn't have heard me scream ... I'd probably be dead, underground right now. ... It's because of him I'm on this Earth."

In an interview that aired last December on KWTV-9, she said, "I have extremely hard days, where sometimes I want to give up. ... They say I have a thing called survivor's guilt and that's because of what has happened, and I feel like a lot of this is my fault."

(source: Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise)


Death sentence upheld in 2006 drive-thru slaying

A divided Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of Timothy "Stone" Burnside in the 2006 fatal shooting of a former professional basketball player as he waited at the drive-thru of a Jack in the Box in Henderson.

A Clark County jury in 2010 found Burnside guilty of 1st-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon and other felonies in the death of Kenneth Hardwick. The jury also sentenced him to death.

Burnside's co-defendant, Derrick "Suave" McKnight, 31, was also found guilty of 1st-degree murder with use of a deadly weapon and sentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors alleged McKnight drove the getaway vehicle.

Hardwick played professional basketball in the Continental Basketball League in France, Holland and Ecuador.

Authorities said the shooting was part of a scheme to rob Hardwick, a plan that originated at the Foundation Room nightclub at Mandalay Bay.

The 2-week trial featured video footage of Burnside and McKnight following Hardwick from the club and to his vehicle as he left Mandalay Bay in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 2006.

Once at the Jack in the Box, Burnside shot at Hardwick 8 times and then stole a silver cigar case, authorities said. Hardwick died at the scene.

Burnside's conviction and sentence were automatically appealed to the Supreme Court for review.

In the decision written by Justice Mark Gibbons, the 5-member court majority acknowledged that a prior felony conviction for attempted battery was improperly used as an aggravating circumstance by prosecutors in seeking the death penalty.

But the improper use of the aggravator does not warrant reversal of the death sentence because there were no offsetting circumstances presented in Burnside's favor that were accepted by the jury, the court said.

Other claims brought by Burnside's attorneys seeking a new trial or penalty hearing were rejected as well.

In his dissent, Justice Michael Cherry argued that a new penalty hearing was warranted because of what he said was an erroneous jury instruction regarding mitigating circumstances.

There were 17 mitigating circumstances offered to the jury regarding a lack of parental involvement, Burnside's exposure to criminals and violence at an early age and other factors, Cherry said. But the jury, due likely to the flawed jury instruction regarding mitigation circumstances, found none of the circumstances as being relevant to its sentencing determination, he said.

Other errors also warrant a new penalty hearing, including the erroneous admission of 2 pieces of evidence, Cherry said.

Justice Nancy Saitta dissented as well, also citing what she called an erroneous mitigating circumstance jury instruction.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Anaheim man accused of stabbing wife, 6-month-old son facing murder charges; death penalty possible

An Anaheim man is facing murder charges after authorities say he stabbed his wife and the couple's 6-month-old son to death with a kitchen knife during an argument Monday.

Kwame Adom Carpenter, 24, was charged Thursday with 2 felony counts of murder with special circumstances for committing multiple murders, and a sentencing enhancement for personal use of a deadly weapon.

Kimani G. Patrick, a spokesman for the family of the victims, said at a news conference Thursday an Anaheim police detective told the family Carpenter has confessed to killing his wife, 24-year-old Moureen Gathua-Carpenter, and 6-month-old son, Kyan Gathua-Carpenter.

If convicted, Carpenter faces a minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The decision to charge him with a special circumstances murder opens the possibility of Carpenter landing on death row, although prosecutors have not yet decided whether or not to pursue the death penalty.

Shortly after noon Thursday, Carpenter appeared in a courtroom at the Central Jail Complex in Santa Ana, but did not enter a plea.

He quietly answered several questions from a judge with a simple "yes." He appeared to have his head down for most of the hearing.

Meantime, during Thursday's news conference in Anaheim, Gathua-Carpenter's mother, Miram David, who lived with her daughter and grandson, stood silently with family and friends while Patrick spoke to reporters.

Gathua-Carpenter immigrated to the U.S. from Kenya with a hope for a bright future and plans of becoming a nurse, Patrick said.

"She was determined to make the best of the American dream," he said.

Jimmie Kariuki Gathua, who is Gathua-Carpenter's brother, said while his family is mourning her death they are also celebrating her short life.

"It's not how long you live, it's how you live," he told reporters. "She was always happy and had a smile."

Prosecutors allege that the fatal confrontation stemmed from a verbal argument around noon on Monday between Carpenter and his wife at the Anaheim apartment the couple shared with their infant son.

According to an Orange County District Attorney's office statement, during the argument, mother picked up her baby and then Carpenter is accused of stabbing both of them with a kitchen knife.

Anaheim officers who responded to a 911 call found the mother and son suffering from stab wounds. The woman died at the scene, while the baby died at a hospital.

On Tuesday afternoon, Santa Ana officers spotted Carpenter sleeping in the back seat of a vehicle in a parking lot at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.

Authorities say Carpenter drove away from the officers, one of whom fired his weapon. No one was struck.

The pursuit ended when Carpenter crashed at Miles Square Park, then jumped into a lake in a failed attempt to get away from police. He was arrested, then taken to a hospital to be treated for a bite from a police dog.

Carpenter is being held without bail. He is expected to return to court on July 17.

Funeral arrangements for Gathua-Carpenter and her son are pending until her father and other relatives obtain visas to travel from Kenya to the U.S., Patrick said.

A fundraising event to help the family cover funeral expenses will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Brookhurst Community Park at 2271 W. Crescent Ave., Anaheim.

(source: Orange County Register)


Gov. Brown appoints warden at San Quentin State Prison

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed a 20-year corrections veteran as the new warden of San Quentin State Prison, the oldest and most famous of California’s penitentiaries.

Ronald Davis, 45, has been acting warden since December while his appointment was being vetted. The prison has had about three dozen wardens since it opened in 1852, along with numerous acting wardens.

"It's amazing to be a part of the history of San Quentin," Davis said Wednesday. "That was part of the draw coming here - everybody worldwide knows San Quentin."

Davis started in the corrections department in 1994 after 6 years in the Navy and a year as a nuclear power plant operator. He rose from the rank-and-file into higher positions while working at the state prisons in Soledad, Corcoran, Avenal and Chowchilla.

Davis was the warden of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla from 2012 to 2014.

"He is a strong and innovative leader who understands the importance of ensuring offenders receive effective rehabilitation and treatment so if and when they are released, they can transition successfully into our communities," Scott Kernan, undersecretary of the state prisons department, said in a statement. "I'm confident he will continue to work tirelessly to guide and inspire our staff, inmates and the many volunteers at San Quentin."

Davis said he views his main challenges as maintaining the aging prison and recruiting staff to the pricey Bay Area.

"This plan runs well," he said. "We're always considering new programs. We provide opportunities. It's up to the inmates to take advantage of the opportunities."

Davis, a Republican, declined to comment on whether he supports the death penalty, but he might never have to oversee an execution. California executions have been in limbo since 2006, when a federal judge ruled that the state's lethal injection procedure violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Davis' salary will be $141,204, the governor's office said. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

(source: Marin Independent Journal)


Bryan Stevenson on Charleston and Our Real Problem with Race ----"I don't believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved."

Bryan Stevenson has spent most of his career challenging bias against minorities and the poor in the criminal justice system. He is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., an advocacy group that opposes mass incarceration and racial injustice. Stevenson is a member of The Marshall Project's advisory board. He spoke with Corey Johnson. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CJ: When you saw the news about the Charleston shootings, what were your thoughts?

BS: Anytime I hear news of this kind of extreme violence targeting innocent people, I think immediately about the ready access to guns that so many people in this country have, and I mourn our nation's failure to act more responsibly on limiting access to these weapons. I think it was pretty clear early on that a young white man going into a historic black church and slaughtering people in this way couldn't be understood outside the context of our racial history of violence and terror directed at black people. And so, my thoughts about our failure to deal more effectively with that history were also right on the surface. And then, when more information came about the racially motivated character of this assault, it just confirmed all of my fears about what our failure to deal more honestly with our history of racial injustice, where that has left us.

CJ: Why do you think we keep failing on these fronts? BS: I actually think we've never really tried to succeed. I really do believe that this country never committed itself to a conversation about the legacy of slavery. At EJI, we're really focused on what slavery did to America, what lynching and terrorism did to America, what segregation and Jim Crow did to America, and we're focused on these historical eras because we've just never had the conversation we needed to have. Very few people in this country have any awareness of just how expansive and how debilitating and destructive America's history of slavery is.

The whole narrative of white supremacy was created during the era of slavery. It was a necessary theory to make white Christian people feel comfortable with their ownership of other human beings. And we created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn't own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North. It was New York's governor - in the 1860s - that was talking about the inferiority of the black person even as he was opposed to slavery. So this narrative of racial difference has done really destructive things in our society. Lots of countries had slaves, but they were mostly societies with slaves. We became something different, we became a slave society. We created a narrative of racial difference to maintain slavery. And our 13th amendment never dealt with that narrative. It didn't talk about white supremacy. The Emancipation Proclamation doesn't discuss the ideology of white supremacy or the narrative of racial difference, so I don't believe slavery ended in 1865, I believe it just evolved. It turned into decades of racial hierarchy that was violently enforced - from the end of reconstruction until WWII - through acts of racial terror. And in the north, that was tolerated.

You don't have to have owned a slave to be complicit in the institution of slavery, to have benefitted and have cheaper food to buy, cheaper materials, cheaper services, because the providers of the foods and services were using free slave labor. We were all complicit in the institution of slavery, and the same is true in the era of racial terror and lynching. The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from. We've been really focused on redefining that era - at the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the 19th century - as an era shaped by terrorism1. Lynchings were not acts directed at particular individuals, they were acts directed at the entire African American community. And in that respect it was racial terror. A white person being hanged was not the same as an African American being lynched. The violence against African Americans was a message to the entire black community. I think we've got to deal with that a lot more honestly.

Equal Justice Initiative's latest project has been to document the sites of lynchings - 3,959 in 12 southern states.

There are very few people who have an awareness of how widespread this terrorism and violence was, and the way it now shapes the geography of the United States. We've got majority black cities in Detroit, Chicago, large black populations in Oakland and Cleveland and Los Angeles and Boston, and other cities in the Northeast. And the African Americans in these communities did not come as immigrants looking for economic opportunities, they came as refugees, exiles from lands in the South where they were being terrorized. And those communities have particular needs we've never addressed, we've never talked about. We've got generational poverty in these cities and marginalization within black communities, and you cannot understand these present-day challenges without understanding the Great Migration, and the terror and violence that sent the African Americans to these cities where they've never really been afforded the care and assistance they needed to recover from the terror and trauma that were there.

And even moving closer to the present day, even the era of the civil rights movement - in my judgment - has been recast as moments where great heroism and courage took place that we can all celebrate. Everybody gets to celebrate the courage that it took to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, everybody gets to celebrate the march on Washington, everybody gets to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and Rosa Parks, and no one is accountable for all of the resistance to civil rights, all of the damage that was done by segregation. I hear people talking about the civil rights movement and it sounds like a 3-day carnival. Day 1: Rosa Parks gave up her seat on the bus. Day 2: Dr. King led a march on Washington, and Day 3: we just changed all these laws. And we tell our history as if it's the true history when in fact that's not the true history. The true history is that for decades, we humiliated black people in this country every day. For decades we did not let them vote, we did not let them get full education, we did not let them work for pay, we did not let them live as full human beings with dignity and hopefulness, we denied all of these basic opportunities to African Americans, and we've never really talked about the consequences of that era of apartheid and segregation.

And so we are very confused when we start talking about race in this country because we think that things are "of the past" because we don't understand what these things really are, that narrative of racial difference that was created during slavery that resulted in terrorism and lynching, that humiliated, belittled and burdened African Americans throughout most of the 20th century. The same narrative of racial difference that got Michael Brown killed, got Eric Garner killed and got Tamir Rice killed. That got these thousands of others - of African Americans - wrongly accused, convicted and condemned. It is the same narrative that has denied opportunities and fair treatment to millions of people of color, and it is the same narrative that supported and led to the executions in Charleston. And the South - to be honest - is a region where we are particularly vulnerable to the way in which this narrative of racial difference still haunts us, and infects our economic, social and political structures, because we have in the South done something worse than silence, we've actually created a counter-narrative and invited people to take pride in their southern heritage. We've basically minimized the hardships of slavery and extolled its virtues - as if there's any virtue at all to being owned by another human being. We've ignored the lynchings and the struggles and the violence and terror that kept people of color from having any opportunities for fairness and equality, and we haven't really addressed all of the pain and injury that was created by decades of segregation. So, I think we're not going to make progress until that changes.

CJ: Help me understand how the narrative, as you say, could have influenced this young white man who was born long after the events you describe. This kid is just 21 years old.

BS: When did the narrative of racial difference end? What date did people fully embrace and accept, internalize, act on, believe that there is no difference between races? When did that happen? It did not happen when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 because every state in the South has been fighting it until the present day. It did not happen in the 1970s when people were violently resisting the idea of integration in schools. It did not happen in the 1980s when some people were suggesting that there ought to be affirmative action for people who have been denied historic opportunities. It did not happen in the 1990s when we saw police violence being directed at blacks like Rodney King, and saw the rate of attacks on young men of color increase and we constructed this whole apparatus of mass incarceration that has targeted and menaced black and brown people in ways that are epidemic. It didn't happen at the beginning of this 21st century when for the 1st time, 1 in 3 black males born in this country were destined for jail or prison because we think that your race makes you presumptively dangerous and guilty. So what date did it happen? This young man was born into the same country that has failed to deal with this narrative of racial difference, has failed to overcome a lie of racial difference and white supremacy that his foreparents were born into in the 19th and 20th centuries. The only difference is that we've had these little pockets of black achievement and success and people have learned to stop using the n-word in many situations, and we call that progress. The question I ask is not how could this young man be affected by these historic failures, by this ideology, the question is how could he not? We're all affected by it. I'm a 55 year old lawyer, went to Harvard Law School, all these degrees, had some success. I was sitting in a courtroom a couple of years ago in a suit and tie in the Midwest waiting for a hearing to start and the judge came out and said, "Hey, hey, hey, hey, you go back out there in the hallway and you wait until your defense lawyer gets here because I don't want any defendants sitting in my courtroom without their lawyer." And I stood and I said, "I'm sorry, Your Honor, my name is Bryan Stevenson, I am the attorney." The judge started laughing, the prosecutor laughed, I made myself laugh because I didn't want to disadvantage my client. My client comes in - a young white kid I was representing - and we had the hearing. Afterwards, I thought about it and I thought, what is it that when this judge sees a black man - middle aged black man - in a suit and tie in his courtroom at defense counsel's table, it doesn't occur to him that that's the lawyer. What that is is this narrative of racial difference, this ideology that has burdened black people in this country since the 1st days we stepped ashore on this continent. And it's supported and enforced in lots of ways. So that young man in South Carolina sees the same Confederate flags that civil rights activists had to confront in the '50s when they were trying to ask for integration, he hears the same kinds of stories about black men raping white women and their criminal and carnal character and nature, that were spreading throughout the region in the early part of the 20th century, resulting in lynching and terror. It is the same ideology that was created during slavery. And no one should be shocked that those ideas are in his head when they are reinforced in countless ways day in and day out in our everyday living, including in the ways that the positions of power and influence are still largely owned and occupied disproportionately by people who are white.

CJ: What then does this debate about taking down the Confederate flag mean?

BS: I think that it's just a small step in my mind. The topic that we have to talk about really is bigger and broader than that. In the South, we celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as a state holiday in several states. Several states make Jefferson Davis's birthday a state holiday. Remember we don't have Martin Luther King day, it's Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. If a country said we're going to make Osama bin Laden's birthday a holiday, we would be outraged. We'd be talking about economic sanctions, we'd be talking about not doing business with that country.

This desperate effort to honor and validate and romanticize the architects of slavery, the defenders of racial violence and terrorism, the perpetrators of this ideology of white supremacy and this narrative of racial difference, feeds the consciousness of everybody in the state and we are all affected by it. In the state of Alabama you get a license plate, each license plate has a little heart on it and the words "Heart of Dixie." They make you - in effect - attest your love for Dixie. They're absolutely committed to resisting any effort to reengage with this history in a way that would make us mournful and concerned about how we do better. That's the challenge. We love talking about mid 19th century history in the deep South. In some counties, you can't go 100 meters without seeing a marker or a stone or something that honors some Confederate general or postmaster or nurse or hospital or teacher, and yet we don't talk about slavery at all. Montgomery has 59 markers and monuments to the Confederacy, most of our streets are named after Confederate soldiers. The 2 largest public high schools are Robert E. Lee High and Jefferson Davis High - those are 90% black. And yet - until a couple of years ago - there wasn't a word about slavery, not one word. We decided to put up markers about the domestic slave trade here. Montgomery was the portal that sent thousands of enslaved people throughout the Black Belt, and nobody knew anything it, and EJI wanted to put these markers up, and the Alabama Historical Association told us that it would be too controversial to put up markers about slavery in a city polluted with monuments about the Confederacy. 4,000 African Americans were lynched between 1870 and WWII and none of us know anything about it. We don't mark these places where these lynchings took place. Most of them took place on courthouse lawns that are now adorned with monuments to the Confederacy. Older black Americans get angry when they hear people on TV talking about how we're dealing with terrorists for the 1st time in the United States after 9/11. They grew up in terror.

So yes, the Confederate flag should come down. The Confederate flag as a symbol of resistance to integration - that really didn't emerge in most of these states until the 1950s. This is not a holdover from the 1850s, this is really a symbol of resistance that was embraced and adopted in the 1950s to express hostility to civil rights. And people can say, "Well, I don't feel that way, it's just part of being in the South," but the fact that the Klan and every other hate group has used this symbol is all you need to hear to know that you don't want to use it to symbolize something that's important to you.

So yes, the Confederate flag should come down but more than that, we need to engage with this in a very different way. You can't go to Germany, to Berlin, and walk 100 meters without seeing a marker or a stone or a monument to mark the places where Jewish families were abducted from their homes and taken to the concentration camps. Germans want you to go to the concentration camps and reflect soberly on the legacy of the Holocaust. We do the opposite here. We don't want anybody talking about slavery, we don't want anybody talking about lynching, we don't want anybody talking about segregation. You say the word "race" and people immediately get nervous. You say the words "racial justice" and they're looking for the exits. If we're going to change the attitudes of the judges who are making sentencing decisions, and police officers who are unfairly suspecting young men of color, and employers and educators who are suspending and expelling kids of color at disproportionately high rates, if we're going to make a difference in overcoming the implicit bias that we all have, we're going to have to deal honestly with this history and have to consciously work on freeing ourselves from this history.

CJ: Do you see the white supremacist as our - African Americans' - equivalent of the Nazi in Germany?

BS: I think it's more complicated. I think when people talk about white supremacists we're making it too easy, and we mischaracterize this issue. You don't have to be a white supremacist to be responsible for sustaining this narrative of racial difference, sustaining this narrative of white supremacy. You don't have to say that I believe that white people are better than black people to be complicit in this problem. It wasn't just the Nazis, it was the entire German government that is responsible for what happened during the Holocaust. And so, I think sometimes when we try to make it all seem like it was just a handful of bad and dangerous white people that are responsible for all of this, we miss the point. The lynching phenomenon was carried out by the entire community. It wasn't the Klan. These were police officers and judges and lawyers and teachers and store owners and business people who came out and facilitated these acts of racial violence. It wasn't the uneducated, white guy out in the field that was responsible for resistance to civil rights, it was the elected leadership of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, it was the governors and the lieutenant governors and the county probation officers that were the architects of all of that injury. The Klan didn't come up with mass incarceration and police violence. People who were acculturated into seeing black and brown people differently are the people who created that problem. And so I think we kind of let too many people off the hook by demonizing the minority who most unashamedly expressed these thoughts. While they are absolutely a particular threat, the bigger challenge is getting the rest of us to own up to this. And yes, I do think that we have tried to avoid accountability - not because we're incapable of it - but just because we've never had to. Everybody has learned to mimic the behaviors of people who are not racially discriminatory. They don't say certain things, they don't tell certain jokes in front of other people, they use modern terms - African American - to describe people who are black, they try to adopt the habits and customs of the non-discriminatory in society. But in fact, we haven't actually done the hard work of genuinely becoming non-discriminatory, which is why these police officers and these judges and these prosecutors and the political leaders from the last 5 decades don't feel like they have to apologize for acting in a racially biased manner. Yes, I think we are all accountable for it, black and white. There are many people of color who have been able to shield themselves from the worst and most egregious forms of bigotry, and they're just as reluctant to talk about these issues as people who are white because it's uncomfortable, it's disruptive. But we are all going to be burdened until we deal more honestly with this legacy.

CJ: The president just got into some hot water yesterday because of a conversation about this legacy. What are your thoughts about his efforts? Could he do more?

BS: I appreciate the president's efforts on this issue. What strikes me about his efforts is how extreme and irrational the response has been any time he tries to talk about race. So the narrative of racial difference in this country is so insidious that electing an African American president means that that president has to speak less about the challenges of African American people than someone white. There's such profound suspicion and deep resentment that maybe he's going to be a president for the black people that he's constantly having to bend over backwards to make it clear that he's not prioritizing the needs of African Americans. So I've been fascinated by how extreme and irrational and emotional the responses have been anytime he touches on race. I think some of the contempt and the really out of bounds rhetoric that we've seen directed at the president can't be disconnected from this history. Billboards across the state of Alabama: "put the white back in White House," "Anti-racist equals anti-white," all these are reactions to this perceived decrease in power and status for white people directly related to President Obama's election. So rather than helping people move forward, in many ways it has intensified this need to protect this longstanding narrative. The efforts of the president may have been thwarted and frustrated in ways that cannot be disconnected from his own identity.

The manifestations of these problems are different in Alabama than they are in California. We still have a state constitution in Alabama that prohibits black and white kids from going to school together. It is still in there today, and nobody seems stressed by that, nobody seems worried about it. They tried to take it out twice through a statewide referendum and both times the majority of the people in the state voted to keep that language in, in 2004 and 2012. And why that's not the shame of America - certainly the shame of Alabama - I can't explain. That's the kind stuff we're dealing with here. You don't have those issues in New York and California, but you do have that presumption of dangerousness, and you've got to deal with that when you're talking about stop-and-frisk, you've got to deal with that when you're talking about the disproportionate sentencing that kids of color are experiencing in communities all over this country, and when you're talking about expulsion and suspension rates in elementary schools and middle schools for black and brown kids.

So part of what we're interested in doing is facilitating conversations around some of these issues. We want to continue putting up markers and monuments to identify the parts of this country where the slave trade was most active. We have a project to put up monuments and markers in spots where lynchings took place. We're about to issue a report on the civil rights era that documents the resistance to civil rights rather than simply celebrating the heroism of those courageous African Americans. Because you need to know where the resistance came from to know why we're still dealing with these issues in 2015. We're going to these communities and trying to create a different story, tell a different narrative about our history in hopes that people won't be confused and burdened in the way that this young man in Charleston was confused and burdened. So that people will confront people like him. This is not the 1st time he said crazy things like he said, and my hunch is that very few people confronted him. They might have said they didn't agree with him, but they didn't think that they had to confront him. We tolerate so much bigotry in our thinking and in our expression in this country and that has to change.

CJ: You've spent many years dealing with inequality in the courts, especially the disproportionate number of blacks on death row. Has there ever been a white person who was put to death for acts of racial terror?

BS: During the era before WWII, no. Acts of racial terror were almost never prosecuted, let alone did they result in convictions and sentences of death. In the more recent era, we've gotten more comfortable with imposing death sentences on poor white people who act so far out of bounds that they disrupt the status quo.. And so, there have been instances where someone has committed a horrific crime that was racially motivated where they got a death sentence. There was a case in Mississippi, we had Henry Hays here in Alabama. You'll see lots of people talking enthusiastically about imposing the death penalty on this young man in South Carolina. But that's a distraction from the larger issue, which is that we've used the death penalty to sustain racial hierarchy by making it primarily a tool to reinforce the victimization of white people. The greatest racial disparity of the death penalty is the way in which the death penalty is largely reserved for cases where the victims are white. In Alabama, 65% of all murder victims are black, but 80% of all death sentences are imposed against victims who are white. And that's true throughout this country. We've used it particularly aggressively when minority defendants are accused of killing white people. And history is replete with defendants being described with the n- word, cases just saturated with racial bigotry, and the courts have largely tolerated that. McCleskey was a Supreme Court decision in 1987 that basically said racial bias in the administration of the death penalty is inevitable, an unconscionable statement for a court that has inscribed on its exterior: "Equal justice under law." And so it continues. We've gotten sophisticated enough that people will happily impose a death sentence on Dylann Roof or Henry Hays, the klansmen who participated in a 1980s hanging of a black man in Alabama, or the murderers of James Byrd. We can't be distracted by thinking that if they execute 1 person who committed mass violence that's some sign of progress. That's a sign of tactical misdirection to preserve a system that is inherently corrupted by a narrative of racial difference.

CJ: Does that mean Dylann Roof should not get the death penalty?

BS: I don't think anybody should get the death penalty. I'm against the death penalty. Not because I believe people don't deserve to die for the crimes that they commit. I think that we don't deserve to kill. The system of justice in South Carolina is not going to be better or more racially just based on whether this kid gets executed or not. If I were the governor of South Carolina, I'd say: "We're going to abolish the death penalty, because we have a history of lynching and terror that has demonized and burdened people of color in this state since we've became a state. I'm not gonna end the death penalty because there are innocent people on death row, I'm not gonna end the death penalty because I think it's unreliable or it's too expensive, I'm gonna end it because in South Carolina, we have a history of bias and terror and violence and segregation, and the death penalty has been a tool for sustaining that, and I'm gonna say we're not gonna have that." And most African Americans in South Carolina would celebrate that. That actually would be the 1st time somebody has done something responsive to this history of racial hierarchy and bigotry. And I think every southern governor should do the same. That's when you'd get the different conversations starting in this country. Then you might get some progress.

(source: The Marshall Project)


Defence seeks to prove Holmes' insanity

Defence lawyers in Colorado's movie massacre trial opened their case on Thursday, calling a psychiatrist as they seek to prove gunman James Holmes was insane and not in control of his actions when he plotted and carried out the 2012 rampage.

Holmes, a 27-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, opened fire inside a packed midnight premiere of a Batman film at a Denver-area multiplex, killing 12 people and wounding 70.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

The prosecution wrapped up its case last week after calling more than 200 witnesses, including 1st responders, survivors, and 2 court-appointed psychiatrists who both concluded Holmes was sane when he planned and launched the attack.

The Defence attorneys' first expert witness, psychiatrist Jonathan Woodcock, said that when he examined Holmes in jail on their behalf 4 days after the rampage he was startled to hear the defendant tell him he was "bored."

"I found that absolutely extraordinary," Woodcock told jurors, adding he diagnosed Holmes to be severely mentally ill, suffering from psychosis, delusions and "emotional flattening."

Asked by public defender Daniel King whether Holmes had the capacity to tell right from wrong, or to act with intention and after deliberation, Woodcock said that he did not.

During cross-examination, District Attorney George Brauchler repeatedly challenged the psychiatrist's analysis, noting that Woodcock had met with Holmes for fewer than 3 hours.

"He has potentially a motive to want to tell you things that will help him in that situation, is that fair?" the prosecutor asked him in one of several testy exchanges.

Woodcock agreed that it was.

The defendant, who carried out the murders wearing a gas mask, ballistic helmet and listening to loud techno music through headphones, first hurled a teargas canister into theatre 9 at the Century 16 cinema in Aurora, an eastern suburb of Denver.

He then opened fire with an automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol. Prosecutors say he did it because he had lost his career, his girlfriend and his purpose in life, and that he had a longstanding "hatred of mankind."

Holmes' public defenders say their client suffers from schizophrenia, that since he was in high school he has heard voices in his head commanding him to kill, and that he was not in control of his actions.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the California native was solely responsible for the massacre, a conviction and then death sentence is far from certain, said former veteran Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman.

"It only takes 1 juror to derail this death penalty train," said Silverman, who prosecuted the last defendant in the city to receive a capital punishment sentence.

Under Colorado's death penalty statute, a defendant can be found not guilty by reason of insanity if a person cannot tell right and wrong, or if a mental disease prevents the individual from forming the "culpable mental state."

In a videotaped sanity examination shown to jurors by the prosecution, Holmes indicated that he knew he would go to prison if caught, and that he now "regrets" the shootings.

A key Defence witness will be psychiatrist Raquel Gur, director of the Schizophrenia Research Centre at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gur, who once examined Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Tucson mass shooter Jared Loughner, and who was consulted by the White House following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, interviewed Holmes in the months after the rampage.

Public defenders will likely argue that Gur's diagnosis is more valid than those of the 2 court-appointed psychiatrists, since she met Holmes sooner after the massacre than they did, and before he was so heavily medicated.

"The Defence psychiatrist may also have performed some physiological testing, such as brain imaging, that could bolster their case," Silverman said.

If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict in the trial's guilt phase, resulting in a hung jury and mistrial, prosecutors could retry the case.

But if there is a conviction, the Defence need to convince just 1 juror to spare Holmes' life at the sentencing phase, and if that happens "then it's game over," Silverman said.

(source: Reuters)


Residents recall the commotion during McVeigh's execution: "It was the most lively part of my life"

Thomas Norris passes the summer afternoons sitting on his front porch. For the last 40 years his view has been a building surrounded by guards and chain linked fences.

The federal penitentiary in Terre Haute is home to more than 1,000 of the world's most hardened criminals. An official with the United States Department of Justice confirms approximately 60 of those inmates await their fate on death row, and Norris calls them his neighbors.

"This is the most safest place in town," said Norris when asked how he feels about living across from the prison.

The area is often quiet, only the sound of a few cars driving by, but there was a time when the prison and even Norris' yard was the center of attention.

"Just a lot of people," recalls Norris.

It was 2001 and all eyes were on the federal prison. Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh was set to be executed. The American terrorist bombed an Oklahoma City Federal building in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 600 more.

Thousands travelled from across the country to Terre Haute. Neighbors of the prison were forced to deal with the chaos that led up to the execution.

"It was just kind of nuts around the whole neighborhood here," said Don Bosc.

Some ignored the frenzy while other neighbors, like Norris, embraced it.

"I had about 100 automobiles in my yard and about 700-800 people," he said.

Norris opened his home and his yard to those waiting for the man who committed the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism to be put to death. Norris even offered his garden as a parking spot.

"Yes mam I made some money," although Norris said he never asked for any money he made 7,000 dollars. Norris said he also made some new friends as well.

"It was the most lively part of my life."

Norris said even at 85 he'd do it all over again.

The death penalty was reinstated in 1988 and 74 people have been sentenced to death since then but only 3 have been executed.

The federal prison is where Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be executed.

(source: WTHI TV news)


Saudi Arabia says it will support human rights as long as they can still kill gay people----Middle Eastern country faced criticism for acts of torture against LGBTI people

Saudi Arabia convicts homosexuality with anything from whipping to a death sentence.

Saudi Arabia has said it will support human rights as long as they can still kill LGBTI people.

Earlier this week, the country was heavily criticized during a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It was pointed out that punishing homosexuality with life imprisonment, torture, chemical castrated, whipping and the death penalty does not fit in with internationally recognized human rights protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But government officials have said calls for Saudi Arabia to support LGBTI rights were 'unacceptable' and a 'flagrant interference in its internal affairs'.

Faisal bin Hasan Trad, Saudi Arabia's representative at the UN, said the country will not tolerate criticism of its human rights record.

According to Arab News, Trad said 'some were attempting to portray the country in a bad light'.

The country's Interior Ministry confirmed on Twitter: 'Saudi Arabia opposes any resolution for gay rights. Saudi Arabia reaffirms its support for human rights, and respect towards all international conventions, as long as it is in accordance with Islamic law.'

The LGBTI community is forced to go underground in Saudi Arabia, mostly in the capital Riyadh. But the religious police are cracking down.

Several men were arrested in a raid on two 'gay parties' earlier this month. And last year, a 24-year-old was sentenced to jail and 450 lashings of a whip just because he was trying to meet other gay men on Twitter.

(source: Gay Star News)


Kano Sharia Court sentences 9 to death for 'blasphemy'

An Upper Sharia Court, Rijiyar Lemo, in Kano, has sentenced 9 persons: Abdul-Inyas, Hajiya Mairo and 7 others to death for blasphemy against the Prophet of Islam.

The trial was done in secret, and details of its proceedings are yet to be made public.

Even the name of the judge who conducted the trial is being kept secret.

The court initially said 2 people were convicted but a court official, who simply gave his name as Nasir (he declined to provide his full name) later said 9 people were sentenced.

He declined to provide the names of the 7 others.

The offence, committed in early June, triggered protest in Kano.

The demonstration was however promptly quelled by law enforcement agents. The court where the trial began was burnt down prompting the authorities to assign the case to another court.

A statement by the State Sharia Court of Appeal, signed by a man named Nasiru, said the 9 persons were found guilty under section 110 and section 382b of the Sharia Penal Court law year 2000.

"They are hereby sentenced to death," the statement read.

The statement acknowledged that some Muslim faithful in Kano threatened violence if the accused were set free.

The court however freed Alkasim Abubakar, Yahya Abubakar, Isa Abubakar, and Abdullahi Abubakar, who were arrested alongside the nine convicted persons.

They were found not guilty by the court.

Already, news of the judgment has sparked jubilation by a section of Kano residents.

(source: Premium Times Nigeria)


'Nigeria spends N3.50 daily to feed 1 prisoner'

The Nigerian government spends a meagre N3.50k to feed an inmate in Nigerian prisons each day, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project has said.

Speaking at a round table for media and civil society organizations in Lagos, Thursday, Chino Obiagwu said that the current cost was increased by the new Comptroller-General of Prisons from the previous N2.10k per prisoner.

The round table was themed 'Moving Nigeria Towards the Abolition of the Death Penalty.'

"The truth is that many prisoners supplement their meals because all kinds of businesses and activities go on inside the prisons," said Mr. Obiagwu, National Coordinator, LEDAP.M

"If you allow Nigerian prisoners to survive on their ration, they will all die."

There are about 56,000 inmates scattered across Nigerian prisons, according to Mr. Obiagwu whose organization champions the rights of Nigerian prisoners.

"A lot of philanthropy goes into our prisons, churches like the Catholic church, The Redeemed church carry out on regular prison visits to improve the welfare of inmates," said Mr. Obiagwu.



Iran Attorney General: The province of Fars carries out an execution or retribution sentence about once a week

The province of Fars carries out an execution or retribution sentence about once a week, but not all are exposed to the public.

On Wednesday Ali Alghasi Mehr, the Attorney General of the province of Fars reportedly alleged that it is the Iranian public who demands for executions to be carried out in public.

According to IRNA, an official news agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Alghasi Mehr said: "We do not carry out all [execution and retribution sentences] in public. Approximately once a week an execution or retribution sentence is carried out in the province of Fars, but not always in public. Public punishment is reserved for criminals who have wounded the sentiments of society or whose offense affects the public safety and security of society."

Since the start of 2015, official sources in Iran have only reported on 9 executions in Fars.

Iran Human Rights expresses regret for the implementation of countless death sentences in Iran and also the ongoing silence of the international community and calls on the Iranian authorities to reconsider the implementation of this inhumane punishment.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director and spokesperson of Iran Human Rights: "In recent years the province of Fars has had the highest numbers of public executions. If we assume it is true that the majority of people call for public executions, then this would be considered a rare instance when the Judiciary has actually listened to the demands of the people."

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Thailand battles to contain rising drug use

In a rehab centre north of Bangkok, 1 recovering addict remembers the highs as well as the lows.

"I felt like I could do anything and the world was mine," said the 25-year-old, who gave her name only as Sai. "I was happy and free of all stress."

"Then I became depressed, confused and paranoid. So I needed the drugs again. I wanted to end that cycle."

Sai is trying to control her drug addiction at Thamkrabok Monastery, Thailand's oldest and largest free drug rehabilitation facility, 140km north of Bangkok.

She started using methamphetamine tablets and crystals at 17 and developed a compulsive habit.

Around 1.4% of Thais are addicted to amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), including methamphetamine and MDMA, or ecstasy, among the highest percentage in the world, according to estimates by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Thai users of these and other drugs are estimated at more than 1.2 million people, or around 2% of the population, and that number may be rising fast.

Between 2009 and 2014, the numbers of drug cases more than doubled from about 151 000 to about 347 000, while the number of registered drug offenders rose at a similar rate from nearly 168 000 to almost 366 000, officials figures show.

Strict laws appear to have made little impact.

"The harsh punishment never crossed my mind," said Sai, who has been in jail three times for drug abuse. "All I thought about when I needed drugs was that I had to get it."

Death penalty

Thailand is one of 32 countries that imposes the death penalty for some drug offences.

Producing or trafficking illicit drugs can lead to capital punishment, while users face imprisonment, fines or mandatory rehabilitation, depending on the type and amount of drugs.

Thailand has executed 30 people for drug crimes since it became a capital offence in 1979, and 14 are currently on death row.

Since the lethal injection was adopted in 2003, 5 out of 6 people executed in Thailand were killed for drug offences.

Drug offenders account for nearly 77% of all prison inmates.

"Drug problems have become more prevalent and persistent," said Chuenjit Iemwimangsa, principal of Chaengarkart Amrung Primary School, whose pupils were on a school trip to Thamkrabok on the day that dpa visited.

"There are news reports about drugs everyday, more frequently than before," she said.

Thai authorities say they seize about 100 million methamphetamine pills, a ton of crystal methamphetamine and 800kg of heroin each year, with official figures showing an upward trend.

The key problem, however, is that the authorities only manage to seize an estimated 20% of the drugs that are trafficked through the country, according to the Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).

Police corruption may play a role. After a drugs raid earlier in June, 12 police officers were suspected of participating in the drugs trade and were reassigned.

About 3/4 of the drugs are trafficked through northern Thailand near the Golden Triangle - an area along the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos - where the majority of opium and synthetic drugs in the region are produced, said Sucheep Kotcharin of the northern branch of ONCB.

'I can't function each day without it'

"The traffickers take advantage of the country's good road networks," he said, adding that they also used routes through forests and mountain ranges.

"There was never a shortage of drugs when I needed them," said Tui, another patient at the monastery, who has been using methamphetamine for 19 years, since he was 14.

Sai said she could walk to a street corner in her hometown near the Thai-Cambodian border to buy drugs, while Tui had dealers' numbers on speed-dial and could call for a delivery any time in Bangkok.

They both paid around 200-300 baht (between $6 and $9) for a single methamphetamine pill, which they would ingest. The current minimum wage in Thailand is 300 baht per day.

"The profit made by traffickers and dealers is the main motivator," said ONCB Secretary General Permpong Chaowalit. "For them, the money is worth the risk of getting caught."

"I started using because I wanted to have fun," Tui said. "But it's not fun anymore. I can't function each day without it."

Sai and Tui felt the effect of drugs on their health: fatigue, pain, premature ageing, insomnia and loss of appetite. With several days left at the monastery, both vowed not to return to drugs.

"No matter how harsh the law is, the reason not to do it should be that you love yourself," Sai said. "I wish someone had told me not to do drugs then."



Narcotics Agency Chief: "The death penalty in Indonesia is constitutional, don't diminish it"

Indonesia has gotten some scathing criticism from the international community over its use of the death penalty as a form of punishment for drug smuggling, but don't expect that to change anytime soon.

National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Chief Anang Iskandar reiterated that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for drug smuggling in Indonesia.

"The death penalty in Indonesia is constitutional, don't diminish it," Anang said at an International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking event in Cawang, East Jakarta yesterday, as quoted by Kompas.

Anang added that he hopes Indonesia will stay true to its principles and remain as 1 of 34 countries in the world that allows capital punishment.

"Those who don't agree wish for a world without the death penalty. This can't be allowed [in Indonesia], the sovereignty and law of each country can't be forced [to be changed]," he said.

(source: Coconuts news)


Death row Frenchman has exhausted appeals

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry says a French citizen sentenced to death for drug offences has exhausted all options in his legal fight to avoid execution.

Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said on Thursday that Indonesia will proceed with its legal process "in accordance with the sentence that has been imposed against the convict."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said his government is "totally mobilised" in support of Serge Atlaoui, whose final appeal was denied by an Indonesian court last week.

Nasir said Indonesia recognises that governments have an obligation to protect their citizens when they get in trouble abroad but they must do so in compliance with local laws.

Indonesia has executed 14 people, including 2 Australians, for drug trafficking this year.



Christian Mother of 5 Asia Bibi Marks 6th Year of 'Brutal' Incarceration in Pakistan as She Faces Death Penalty for Blasphemy Charge of Drinking Water

As Christian mother of five Asia Bibi marks her 6th year in prison in Pakistan, placed on death row for blasphemy charges, a U.K. Christian group reports that some attempts are being made to reform sections of the country's controversial blasphemy laws that punish religious minorities. The group also believes that Britain and the U.S. must rethink the way they provide financial aid to Pakistan if they want to see reforms in the country.

"The proposed changes will ostensibly make it more difficult for blasphemy charges to be laid, focusing on proving that any blasphemy was intentional under a legal concept termed Mens Rea translated as 'guilty mind,'" Wilson Chowdhry, president of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told The Christian Post on Wednesday.

"However the large number of extra-judicial killings and insouciance from local police to get involved in blasphemy charges or a pattern of local police authorities cowing under pressure from mobs led by local imams, suggest this law change will have little effect."

Bibi was charged in 2009 after she was accused by a group of Muslim women to have committed an act of blasphemy when she drank from the same water supply as them. She was later sent to prison and sentenced to the death penalty.

The 50-year-old mother has been suffering from a number of health problems while in prison, including intestinal bleeding, and is having trouble walking, her family has said.

In a separate press release explaining more about her case, Chowdhry called her fate a "travesty of justice."

"For some time we have been told that there has been a moratorium on the death penalty because of pressure from Western donors. But even before this vanished at the end of last year, it has become clear that her treatment was, in effect, a slow death sentence by neglect and worse, all for allegedly committing a crime that should not exist - blasphemy," he said.

Christians and other minorities in Pakistan are often targeted by the loosely written blasphemy laws, and there have been on and off attempts in parliament to try and strengthen their definition.

Mission Network News reported earlier this week that international pressure is pushing the country's legislators into considering changes to the laws, which could potentially prevent other Christians from suffering the same fate as Bibi in the future.

Chowdhry told CP that a 2nd proposed change to the blasphemy laws are punishments for misuse of the law.

"Outwardly these would seem to be a more positive step; however, Article 153-A of the Penal Code prescribes punishments for promoting 'enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.' Ineffective implementation has led to mass mob attacks across the country, often targeting Christian communities."

The killing and burning-alive of Christian couple Shama and Shahzad Masih in November 2014 by a Muslim mob for allegedly desecrating the Quran stands as a prime example of extremists taking the law into their own hands.

Chowdhry also said that it's hard to believe the changes to the law will be approved, however, noting that similar changes have been proposed before, but were never ratified.

"The whole of the country came to a standstill after Sunni Muslim leaders called for a strike and effigies of the pope were burned after he openly supported the changes. In a country with so much animosity to change it will be hard approve such law changes and even harder to enforce."

Back in May, human rights activist and former minority member of parliament Pervez Rafique also told CP in a separate interview that it is hard to see real changes coming soon to the blasphemy laws.

"It's hard to change or relax the laws," Rafique explained, "especially the Blasphemy law 295-A-B-C of Pakistan's penal code."

He said that while to change or abolish laws the parliament needs only simple majority, amending the constitution or any article of the constitution requires 2/3 majority - and the present government that supports the blasphemy laws still has enough support to continue upholding them.

Chowdhry noted that both the U.K. and U.S. governments spend big in aid programs to help Pakistan, which is an important strategic partner in the fight against terrorism in the region. He suggested, however, that the budgets need to be used to "eradicate the existing schism between Muslims and non-Muslims through grassroot programmes" and work with schools.

"The hatred and animosity that exists is the culmination of labeling minorities as anathema, culturally, and reinforcing this through a curriculum that caricatures and demonises minorities. Earlier generations lived in relative peace as they would not have suffered the same brainwashing, and it will take an equally long term commitment toward peace to reverse the hatred," he added.

The BPCA president concluded that Britain and the U.S. need to move away from realpolitik if they want to affect real change.

"Anything less will only serve to continue the existing malaise which essentially will culminate in our nations being embroiled in a similar societal divide within our own communities."

"BPCA has also started an online petition for Bibi's freedom, and has called on Christians to pray for her family, who are in hiding."



150 executions - Pakistan's race to kill

Pakistan has executed over 150 people since a 7-year moratorium was lifted on state executions just 6 months ago.

If we continue at this pace, we will quickly surpass China, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia in the number of executions carried out by the state this year.

It is not only the pace of executions that is alarming, it is the fact that many of these cases are marred by corruption, torture and a flagrant disregard for international human rights standards.

A recent case was that of Aftab Bahadur, a Christian man who was accused of murder when he was just 15 years old.

His confession was extracted after allegedly enduring prolonged torture, which involved being burnt by cigarettes and having his fingernails removed.

Aftab Bahadur was hanged on June 10 despite calls by thousands of concerned individuals, human rights organisations, Christian leaders, and even the United Nations to grant him a reprieve.

Shafqat Hussain's story is similar. He was also sentenced when he was a juvenile, and his confession too was allegedly extracted under torture.

Shafqat Hussain was arrested along with several others for the same crime.

According to reports, while the others were freed after paying a 80,000 rupees (US$786) bribe, Shafqat was not because he did not possess the funds.

Doubts about his guilt have led to the postponement of his sentence 4 times, but he has yet to be exonerated.

While Pakistan is racing to execute people, most of the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction.

In fact, nearly 2/3 of all countries have abolished the death penalty due to the growing belief that it is cruel, inhuman, degrading, discriminatory and ineffective in deterring crime.

In the US, where the death penalty exists in 32 out of 50 states but is practised in only a few, stories of innocent people being sentenced to death periodically surface.

The Innocence Project, an organisation dedicated to reforming the US justice system, has successfully exonerated over 300 people, some of whom had been sentenced to death, largely through the use of DNA testing - a facility not readily accessible here.

In fact, since 1973, 154 people have been freed from death row in the US after spending years in prison because their guilt could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

If the US justice system, which many would cite as being one of the most robust, can make so many mistakes, one can only imagine how many wrongful convictions there have been in Pakistan where corruption plagues every level of the state's structure, particularly the police.

Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International point out that the application of death penalty is inherently flawed, with members of marginalised groups far more likely to receive death sentences.

In the US, you are 3 times more likely to face execution if you are African American than if you are white.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, among the marginalised are members of minority communities some of whom have been sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy.

While more Muslims have received the death penalty for allegedly committing blasphemy, minority communities feel themselves at far greater risk because of their religious, caste and class identity.

Despite this, many in Pakistan blindly support the death penalty because they believe it deters crime and is sanctioned by religion. Not only does this overlook the countless studies, which prove that states that apply the death penalty do not have lower murder rates, it mistakenly assumes the state acts in a manner that is fair and just. Interestingly, many of those who support the death penalty do not trust the state with their alms or even their tax money due to fears of rampant corruption, but yet they trust it with deciding the gravest of matters - that of life and death.

There are more than 8,000 people who are counting the days till they will be called to the gallows.

Many of these people were likely tortured in order to extract their confessions, some when they were children.

Many may have been offered clemency if they could pay the required bribe or blood money.

Many were probably the victims of some personal enmity on the part of the accusers.

Many are mentally challenged or ill. And many more were just the most convenient and vulnerable suspects who could be found at the time.

The state has taken a respite from executions for the holy month of Ramadan.

This represents a small window of opportunity for the Pakistani public to reflect on the effectiveness of the death penalty as it is applied today - by a severely broken and corrupt justice system.

If we choose not to speak out now, not only will the state have blood on its hands, we all will.

(source: Nida Kirmani; The writer is assistant professor of sociology at the Lahore University of Management Sciences----The Jakarta Post)


Poll: Most Czechs still favor death penalty ---- Prague and South Bohemia buck the trend, with opponents in the majority

Some 58 % of Czech people polled support the death penalty, with 26 % strongly in favor, according to a poll by CVVM. The number is down from 76 % in total strongly or moderately supporting it in 1992.

While support has wavered up and down over the years, opposition has steadily increased. Currently, 35 % strongly or moderately oppose the death penalty, while 7 % are undecided or have no opinion.

In 1992, when the poll question was first asked, only 13 % opposed it and 11 % were undecided.

Oponents of the death penalty more often include people with higher education, those who professes membership in the Roman Catholic religion, and inhabitants of Prague and the South Bohemian Region. In both regions, opponents slightly outweigh supporters of the death penalty. In Prague 46 % are for and 51 : against, in South Bohemia for 43 are for and 49 % against," statisticians said in a press release.

The strongest support of the death penalty was in the Karlovy Vary, Usti nad Labem and Olomouc regions, and among people who were not members of any religion.

The death penalty was banned in Czechoslovakia in 1990. The last execution in what is now the Czech Republic was Feb. 2, 1989, when Vladimir Lulek was hanged for killing his wife and 4 children. The last execution in what is now Slovakia was Stefan Svitek, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and 2 daughters. He was executed June 8, 1989.

In Europe, only Belarus and Kazakhstan have the death penalty. It is indefinitely suspended in Russia. The so-called Donetsk People's Republic, part of the Ukraine that is now the focus of a pro-Russian separatist conflict, introduced the death penalty in 2014 for cases of treason, espionage, and assassination of political leaders.

The poll took place between May 11 and 18 with 1,043 Czech citizens over the age of 15.

The Public Opinion Research Center was established Jan. 1, 2001 by transferring the Public Opinion Research Institute from the Czech Statistical Office. The team members are lecturers at the Philosophical Faculty and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the CharlesUniversity and at the Political Sciences Department of the University of Economics in Prague.

(source: Prague Post)


Regime keen to make capital punishment easier

The opposition in Gambia are fighting government plans to make more crimes punishable by death. Under Gambian law, capital punishment can only be meted out to murderers who use violence or poison. But the government is set to hold a referendum to allow the execution of convicts whenever "the sentence is prescribed by law".

A referendum had been expected in Gambia not to broaden capital punishment, but to abolish it.

"It's very perplexing," said Amadou Scattred Janneh, an exiled former information minister who is now with the opposition Coalition for Change. "We don't know why [President Yahya Jammeh] is broadening the death penalty except to find the means to punish his political rivals and to sow greater fear in the population."

Janneh, who was in 2012 sentenced to life in prison for treason after distributing t-shirts with the slogan "End Dictatorship Now", fears that he would have been executed had the new law been in place.

"[The judge] cited the fact that his hands were tied, that he could not give me a death sentence because there was no violence in my activity," Janneh remembered. "So this type of change would give President Jammeh and his judges leeway to pass death sentences on people who are involved in purely political matters."

Some observers believe President Jammeh is cracking down on civil liberties and on the opposition to assert his authority in light of a failed coup that exposed weaknesses in the presidential retinue last year.

In Banjul, the Gambian capital, opposition leader Halifa Salla believes a victory for the "yes" side - 75 % on a turnout of at least 50 % is required to carry the motion - would give the regime immense latitude.

"It means the government would be able to [impose] the death penalty for any crime it deems fit, by just passing a bill at the national assembly," Salla told AFP.

Sallah said his People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism would "leave no stone unturned" in organising people to vote "no" in the referendum, for which a date has yet to be set.

Although the government has cast the extension of the death penalty as a law-and-order issue, capital punishment is unpopular in The Gambia, according to the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP).

The UDP is not only convinced that the "no" side will win but that voters may use the referendum as an opportunity to register their discontent with the government.

"The death penalty as an instrument of justice is not something that enjoys popular support," said an exiled UDP spokesperson Karamba Touray. "It's a deeply unpopular regime because of its record of abuse and violence and terror."

There are doubts that the referendum will allow citizens - all Gambians aged over 18 are entitled to take part - to express themselves freely. "For the last 20 years no vote conducted in that country has been nor free nor fair," remarked Touray.

There are also fears that the constitutional change could also affect business.

Opposition activist Janneh noted: "With this change the Jammeh regime would have the final say in terms of who's eligible to be executed - even people convicted of economic crimes."

In 2012 the execution of 9 convicts by firing squad triggered international outrage, especially in neighbouring Senegal, which had 2 citizens among those put to death. Lawyers lamented that the men were shot before they were able to appeal against their sentences.

Rights groups estimate that about 30 people are on death row in Gambia but no executions have been announced since 2012.

Jammeh, an outspoken military officer and former wrestler, has ruled Gambia with an iron fist since seizing power in a coup in 1994.

According to the Gambian State House website, he must now be formally addressed as "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh Babili Mansa".

(source: Michael Arseneault, RFI English)


Man sentenced to death over 2012 random killings in Osaka

The Osaka District Court on Friday sentenced a 40-year-old man to death over the fatal stabbings of two pedestrians in random attacks in downtown Osaka in 2012.

A panel of 3 professional and six citizen judges handed down the death sentence to Kyozo Isohi, who was a jobless man, as demanded by prosecutors. The ruling said death penalty "cannot be avoided as he had a strong intention to commit random murders and cruelly" stabbed the victims.

Isohi killed music producer Shingo Minamino, 42, and restaurant manager Toshi Sasaki, 66, on a busy street in downtown Osaka by stabbing them with a kitchen knife in broad daylight on June 10, 2012.

Even though the defendant said he stabbed the victims following auditory hallucinations telling him to do so, the ruling said he was "mentally fully competent" to be held criminally responsible for the killings.

Isohi pleaded guilty in the 1st court hearing of his trial in May and apologized to family members of the victims, saying, "I will atone for the rest of my life."

His defense counsel said many murder cases in which death penalties were handed down were "premeditated," but Isohi's rampage was "not planned" and the stabbings occurred "after he failed to commit suicide."

Prosecutors argued his criminal acts were the "most malicious" type of murder where anybody could be the victim.

In their closing statements, prosecutors said Isohi, who became distraught over not being able to get a job he wanted, exhibited a "strong intent to kill" by stabbing the victims repeatedly and without mercy.

They contended even if Isohi experienced hallucinations due to past use of stimulant drugs as he claimed, that would only have been a subordinate factor that led to the attacks.

Lawyers representing the victims' family members had also demanded the death penalty for Isohi, claiming that the accused showed "no signs of regret."

(source: The Mainichi)

JUNE 25, 2015:


The Death Penalty is Revenge, Not Healing: Father of OKC Victim on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Sentencing

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been formally sentenced to death for his role in the attack that killed 3 and injured hundreds in 2013. Addressing survivors inside the courtroom, Tsarnaev apologized for the 1st time, saying in part: "I am sorry for the lives that I've taken, for the suffering that I've caused you, for the damage that I've done." Some of the bombing's survivors have echoed a recent Boston Globe poll that found fewer than 20 % of Massachusetts residents support sentencing Tsarnaev to death. We are joined by Bud Welch, who has become a leading anti-death penalty advocate after losing his daughter Julie in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Welch is the founding president of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized for the first time Wednesday before he was formally sentenced to death for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing that killed 3 and injured hundreds. He said, quote, "I am sorry for the lives that I've taken, for the suffering that I've caused you, for the damage that I've done. Irreparable damage." He added, quote, "I pray for your relief, for your healing." This was the 1st time Tsarnaev had spoken in the courtroom since his arraignment 2 years ago.

During the sentencing, U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. quoted Shakespeare, saying, "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones. So it will be for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev." Outside the courtroom, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz addressed the media.

CARMEN ORTIZ: He didn't renounce terrorism. He didn't renounce violent extremism. And he couched his comments in line with Allah and Allah's views, which give it a religious tone. And there was nothing - as you heard Judge O'Toole say in the courtroom, there was nothing about this crime that was Islam-associated. And so, that's what I was struck by more.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, some of the bombing's survivors echoed a recent Boston Globe poll that found fewer than 20 % of Massachusetts residents support sentencing Tsarnaev to death. Henry Borgard said he opposed the death penalty, and responded to Tsarnaev's statement.

HENRY BORGARD: I was actually really happy that he made the statement. I - as I said in my personal impact statement, I have forgiven him. I have come to a place of peace, and I genuinely hope that he does, as well. And for me to hear him say that he's sorry, that is enough for me. And I hope, because I still do have faith in humanity, including in him, I hope that his words were genuine. I hope that they were heartfelt. I hope that they were as honest as the statements that you heard today in court from the victims and the survivors. I obviously have no way of knowing that, but I'm going to take it on faith that what he said was genuine. There was a little bit of rhetoric in there; I agree with what you said, absolutely. Some of it was hard to hear, you know? But I really - I was really profoundly affected, really deeply moved that he did do that, because, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, his statement, like ours, takes courage, because the entire world is watching us right now. And the fact that he made a statement, which he didn't have to do, gives him a little bit of credit in my book.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Henry Borgard. He was, at the time of the bombing, a 21-year-old Suffolk University student in Boston. He was hit by the 2nd blast.

The judge rejected a request to move Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's execution to New Hampshire, the only New England state with the death penalty, so survivors could more easily be on hand. Prosecutors say Tsarnaev will eventually be taken to federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Since 1963, the federal government has executed 3 people, including Timothy McVeigh, who was put to death in June 2001 for the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing that killed 168 people. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the attack on April 19th, 1995.

Our next guest joins us from Oklahoma City. Bill Welch lost his 23-year-old daughter Julie in the attack there. After initially supporting capital punishment for his daughter's killing, he has become a vocal opponent of the death penalty. He opposed the execution of McVeigh and is the founding president of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

Bud Welch, welcome back to Democracy Now! Your thoughts today? In Boston, we see the death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I think the poll said something like 80 to 85 % of the people of Boston and all of Massachusetts were opposed to the death penalty, even in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case. Can you reflect, as you dealt with this issue 20 years ago?

BUD WELCH: Hi, Amy. I can. You know, I'm reminded, every time something like this happens, that the punishment of the death penalty is nothing more than revenge. And I went through almost a year of revenge after Julie's death, and - revenge and hate. And one cannot go through the healing process at all when you're living with revenge. And that's all the death penalty is, is revenge. It is not a deterrent. It doesn't, as the media says, bring closure to family members.

There are a lot of victims' family members here in Oklahoma City that I know, because I spent 13 years on the board of directors and the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and they were looking for the word "closure" at the time McVeigh was executed, on June the 11th of 2001. And I had been telling many of those people that the day that we would take Tim McVeigh from his cage and we would kill him would not be part of their healing process. And they learned that after his death. And many of those people have come forward now and said, "It was a mistake for us to kill Tim McVeigh," because what it did was revictimize them all over again. One of the ladies, that had 2 little grandchildren that were killed in the day care center - and I will not mention her name, because the whole country knows her name - she has evolved so much that she is now on the board of directors of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. And that's how it has changed her completely.

And I fully understand the people of Boston, how we have those that have already been able to come forward, they've had enough time to rationalize that the revenge of killing this young man is not part of their healing process. And we all go through that. And I always say the most important thing to people that have gone through such an event as that, the most important thing that they have is time. And we're all on a different time schedule. And with enough time, we can finally go through the process.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bud Welch, you even went so far as to meet the father of the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, and therefore responsible for your daughter's death. Could you talk about meeting Timothy McVeigh's father?

BUD WELCH: Yes, I met Bill McVeigh on, actually, September the 5th of 1998. I had been contacted by a nun from Attica prison that does ministry work there - in fact, she's still doing that today. And she had requested that I come to the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area to speak against the death penalty, and I committed to going there for a week. And I had told her the story about seeing Bill McVeigh on television about 2 weeks after Julie's death and how that I was - I really didn't want to see the news program that had him on. But I sat and watched it, and I saw this man with a deep pain in his eye that I recognized immediately because I was living with that same pain at that same time. And I knew that someday I wanted to go tell that man that I did not blame him or his family for what his son had done.

And I had the chance to do that 3 1/2 years after the bombing. And I went and met Bill, met him at his house on a Saturday morning. And what I found was a very nice, gentle man. And he was sickened by the fact that his son had come back from the war in Iraq, and he had PTSD, had it badly, became very much antigovernment, joined militia groups. And he knew - he didn't know anything that he could do about that. And I'm still in contact with Bill. I talk to him probably every 6 months.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bud Welch, what would you say now to the survivors and victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in light of the verdict, the death penalty verdict? What would you say to them now?

BUD WELCH: Well, one thing I would not say to them is that I know how they feel, because I don't. I know how I felt. But I think the big mistake for people like myself that have gone through an event like this is to tell someone else that's gone through something else that they know how they feel, because you don't know how they feel. And when you tell someone you know how they feel, you're not helping them one bit. You're actually making matters worse for them.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you actually suggest that the death penalty verdict - not only does it not help survivors heal, it actually prolongs their suffering. Is that right?

BUD WELCH: Well, sure, absolutely, because in McVeigh's case, actually, he was not on death row that long, just a little over 6 years. But the reason that he was only on death row a little over 6 years is because he was a volunteer. He asked all of his - for all of his appeals to be stopped, and he asked for an execution date. And I don't think that - if Tim McVeigh had not done that, I don't think that we would have ever executed him. I think he'd still be alive today, because the federal government really did not want to kill Tim McVeigh.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to ask you to stay with us. We're going to be talking about the fact, in our next segment, that far more white supremacists have killed more people since 9/11 than Muslim extremists in the United States. And we'd like you to weigh in on this, as well, Bud, having direct experience with being a victim, your daughter killed in the Oklahoma City bombing April 19, 1995, along with 167 others. Bud Welch, speaking to us from Oklahoma City.

(source: Democracy Now!)


Vt. man facing death penalty retrial accused of inmate stabbing

A man facing a federal death penalty retrial in the killing of a Vermont supermarket worker 15 years ago has been accused in a lawsuit of stabbing another inmate when he was on death row.

Donald Fell was convicted and sentenced to death a decade ago for the killing of Terry King. Last year, a judge ordered a new trial after it was revealed a juror had investigated the case on his own.

The Burlington Free Press reports James Roane Jr., on death row since the mid-1990s, says he was attacked by Fell in 2012 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He said Fell was a "student" of a white supremacist group member who targeted him.

Lawyers for the 35-year-old Fell couldn't be reached to comment Wednesday.

(source: Associated Press)


5th argument against death penalty

The film from the series "6 Arguments against Death Penalty" tells about inhuman treatment of relatives of executed in Belarus.

The UN Human Rights Committee repeatedly stated that the procedure of death penalty in Belarus comes within the definition of torture, and notably, not of the executed only, but his relatives as well.

The date of execution is not revealed, and a stay in a condemned cell lasts for several months. It is agonizing for a human mind, as a convicted person cannot realize in fact, when the sentence is to be put into effect,