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

APRIL 26, 2017:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Police ambush killer Eric Frein won't take stand as jury weighs death penalty

His fate hanging in the balance, a gunman who ambushed 2 state police troopers at their barracks in 2014 decided Tuesday he would not take the witness stand to try to persuade jurors to spare his life.

The defense rested its case after Eric Frein opted not to testify in the penalty phase of his capital murder trial. His lawyers said outside court they didn't want to expose Frein to cross-examination, fearing he might try to "rationalize" the deadly ambush.

Frein, 33, was convicted last week of killing Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and critically wounding Trooper Alex Douglass in an unprovoked, random sniper attack at the Blooming Grove barracks. He was captured after a 7-week manhunt that dominated news coverage and rattled communities throughout the Pocono Mountains.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday on whether to sentence Frein to death or to life in prison without parole.

The father of a survivalist who ambushed 2 state police troopers, killing 1 of them, said Monday that he failed his son.

The defense made a last-ditch effort to keep him off death row, with his 20-year-old sister casting him as a protective older brother.

Tiffany Frein, who was adopted into the family when she was 4, described a highly dysfunctional household. She said her father, Eugene Michael "Mike" Frein, physically abused her, punching her in the face repeatedly after she called him a vulgar name. She testified her mother was a selfish manipulator.

Her brother stood up for her, she said.

"He made me feel like someone actually loved me," Tiffany Frein said.

Frein's half-sister, Ellen Mitchell, testified Mike Frein used to place late-night, drunken calls to her and raged about "wanting to kill people."

"I didn't have time to deal with my father's crazy," she said.

Mike Frein, who earned a doctorate and worked on vaccines, previously acknowledged to the jury he had a drinking problem more than a decade ago.

The defense, trying to prove a mitigating circumstance the jury could weigh in its deliberations, has sought to portray Mike Frein as a domineering, angry but highly accomplished figure Eric Frein looked up to and tried to emulate.

Mike Frein, who logged 28 years in the military and retired as a major, admitted to jurors that he lied to his family for years that he saw combat in Vietnam and was a sniper.

Eric Frein, meanwhile, was a military reenactor and college dropout who lived with his parents into his 30s.

Mike Frein also told the jury he had shared his political views with his son, calling the government too big and railing against abusive police. His son, in a letter he wrote to his parents while on the run, advocated revolution as a way to restore lost liberties.

The prosecution has proved the aggravating circumstances that would point toward a death sentence: Eric Frein killed a law enforcement officer, and the jury concluded it was a terrorist act.

Frein's decision to avoid the witness stand seemed to come as a relief to 1 of his lawyers, Bill Ruzzo.

"Defendants typically rationalize, and we were afraid that might happen," Ruzzo told reporters.

But the defense effort to make Frein more sympathetic to the jury was undermined by a 2014 jailhouse recording, played by prosecutors, in which he's heard joking that he planned to sell his story.

3 weeks after his arrest, Frein told his mother reporters had been asking him for an interview. He laughingly said he would wait until after trial and give to the highest bidder.

Frein was being "hounded" by media at the time, said defense lawyer Michael Weinstein, who characterized the comments as off the cuff.

Weinstein renewed his complaints Tuesday about Frein's treatment in jail. The defendant had refused to communicate with his lawyers Monday and looked unsteady on his feet as he was helped into the courtroom by 2 sheriff's deputies. Weinstein had asked the judge to order a mental competency exam but was turned down after prosecutors played a jailhouse phone call recorded Saturday in which Frein could be heard talking normally.

Weinstein said Frein has been forced since the guilty verdict to wear a heavy suicide smock, which prevents inmates from hanging themselves, and is kept in a cell with the lights always on even though Frein has never expressed any intention to kill himself.

Even if the jury sends Frein to death row, the sentence won't be carried out anytime soon, if ever. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a moratorium on executions.

Pennsylvania has executed only 3 people since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, none since 1999.

(source: ABC news)

FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court denies Avalos' appeal to avoid death penalty

The Florida Supreme Court has denied Andres Avalos' appeal to stop prosecutors from seeking the death penalty if he is convicted of the 3 1st-degree murder charges he is facing.

Avalos, 36, is charged in the Dec. 4, 2014, deaths of his wife Amber Avalos, 33; neighbor Denise Potter, 46; and the Rev. James "Tripp" Battle, 31. A prosecutor said Avalos confessed to the slayings after he was arrested Dec. 6, 2014, following a 51-hour manhunt.

The case is set to go to trial beginning May 8. If convicted, the state has indicated it will seek the death penalty.

Avalos' defense has indicated it will be relying on an insanity defense. If he is convicted, his defense has also indicated that it will rely on claims that he was emotionally or mentally disturbed and under extreme duress at the time of the killings in an effort to spare him from the death penalty.

On April 6, Avalos' defense attorney, Andrew Crawford, filed an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court asking that Circuit Judge Diana Moreland, who is presiding over the case, be prohibited from qualifying a jury to enter a death penalty phase should Avalos be convicted.

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court denied the defense's appeal on its merit, according the order filed. The order, however, is not final until after the time period during which the defense can request a rehearing.

In its order, the Florida Supreme Court cited a similar appeal filed in the case against Broward woman, Jacqueline Luongo. In Luongo's case, the defense similarly asked that the presiding judge be prohibited from death qualifying a jury. That appeal argued that the indictment charging Luongo with 1st-degree murder did not list the aggravated factor required in a 1st-degree murder case in order to seek the death penalty.

Crawford had made similar arguments in Avalos' case before Moreland last month after new state legislation was enacted that requires a unanimous vote by a jury to sentence a convicted murderer to death - finally correcting Florida's death penalty scheme.

Avalos' defense has also argued that the state should not be allowed to seek the death penalty against him because Florida's death penalty's scheme first went into limbo following the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 12, 2016, ruling in Hurst vs. Florida. In that case, the court found it unconstitutional that Florida judges, not juries, have the ultimate say in whether to sentence someone to death.

While the state Legislature worked quickly to pass corrective legislation, on March 7, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ruling in Hurst also required a unanimous vote by a jury to sentence someone to death.

(source: bradenton.com)

LOUISIANA:

Former Caddo prosecutor in favor of eliminating death penalty

A former Caddo Parish prosecutor-- haunted by mistakes he made in the case of a man who spent 3 decades on death row before being exonerated-- was among the witnesses who testified before a Louisiana Senate committee that approved a bill to eliminate capital punishment.

The bill -- whose sponsors point to the costs and rare use of death penalty cases as much as the moral issues -- would abolish the death penalty for crimes committed after Aug. 1, 2017. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary C Committee by a 6-1 vote and sent to the full Senate, where it faces a tough debate.

The proposed law would not change the sentences of the 6 dozen people currently on Louisiana's death row, although observers of the bill said the new law would undoubtedly be used to show inequities in sentences.

Supporters of the bill said capital punishment has not proven to be a deterrent to crime and is prohibitively expensive. Louisiana has not executed an inmate since early 2010 and that inmate was put to death after he waived all appeals. Opponents of changing the law asked lawmakers to consider the victims.

"We have spent more than $100 million (on capital cases and appeals) and have one body to show for it -- and it was a volunteer," said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the bill's sponsor.

The committee also heard about the high number of reversals of death penalty cases. Two-- discussed as cases where the wrongfully accused might have been executed-- both occurred in Caddo Parish.

One was Rodricus Crawford of Shreveport, whose death sentence was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Caddo district attorney's office earlier this month dropped charges, based in large part on medical evidence showing Crawford's son died of an illness, not trauma-- as claimed by Caddo Coroner Dr. Todd Thoma and his forensic pathologist.

The other was Glenn Ford, who spent 29 years on death row for the murder and robbery of jeweler Isadore Rozeman-- before new evidence led the Caddo district attorney's office to conclude Ford helped plan the robbery and pawn stolen items, but was not the triggerman.

Attorney Marty Stroud of Shreveport, who prosecuted Ford, has been haunted by that case, saying he was so concerned about procuring a death sentence-- he developed tunnel vision about other people being involved; then celebrated with friends when he won. Now in private practice, Stroud has since become an advocate for abolishing the death penalty, saying humans cannot handle the power over life and death.

"When my time comes, I hope God has more mercy on me than I had for Mr. Ford," Stroud told the committee. "I know I don't deserve it."

Among the opponents of the bill who testified, was Southern University law professor Michelle Ghetti. Her ex-husband abused her so badly she once spent 3 days in the hospital. He later shot and killed his 6- and 9-year-old daughters while on a speaker phone with his 2nd wife-- while sarcastically wishing her Merry Christmas. Ghetti's daughter, Christie Battaglia, sobbed during some of her mother's testimony, before telling lawmakers they should keep the death penalty for the sake of victims.

(source: KTBS news)

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Bill banning death penalty clears panel; stiff opposition awaits

A bill to abolish Louisiana's death penalty was approved by a friendly Senate panel here Tuesday, backed by testimony of Christian faith leaders and a former Shreveport prosecutor haunted by a wrongful conviction and over the objections of some victims' families.

But Baton Rouge Republican Sen. Dan Claitor's Senate Bill 142, which was presented by Acadiana lawmaker Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, faces much stiffer opposition when it reaches a wider debate on the Senate floor and later in the House if the measure makes it that far. Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, was the only member to object.

Claitor referred to his legislation as "a pro-life bill."

Bishop Shelton Fabre, representing the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified the death penalty is an affront to God.

"The Catholic Church Considers the death penalty as an offense to the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death," said Fabre, who is also the bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. "The pain of one death can't be wiped away by another death."

Those who support the bill also testified the death penalty is expensive to litigate and enforce, sentences are often overturned and they believe there is a bias in death penalty cases.

Marty Stroud, a former Shreveport prosecutor, recalled his role in the wrongful conviction of Glenn Ford, who was released from prison in 2014 and died from lung cancer the following summer.

"I know at some point I have to answer (for it)," said Stroud, testifying before the Senate Judiciary C Committee. "When that time comes I hope God has more mercy on me than I did from Mr. Ford.

"It taught me we human beings can't handle the power of life and death. That's God's work."

But the family of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman, whose brutal murder Ford was originally convicted of committing, has said the real victim was Rozeman, not Ford, who the courts asserted sold items stolen from Rozeman.

"There was no murder without Glenn Ford," Rozeman's nephew Dr. Phillip Rozeman of Shreveport testified last year during a hearing about a bill regarding compensation to those wrongly convicted.

Michelle Ghetti, whose ex-husband is on death row in Texas for murdering 2 of his daughters from a following marriage, passionately argued to keep the death penalty as her adult daughter Christie Battaglia wept.

"Without the death penalty, I'd be be living in fear," Battaglia said of her father, who Battaglia has said she has forgiven.

Ghetti cited Old Testament verses justifying the death penalty to counter other faith leaders' testimony and quoted Jesus from the New Testament as saying the old laws aren't dead. "(The death penalty) was created by God as a remedy," Ghetti said.

"I use the new book, not the old book," Claitor said.

"I use both books," Ghetti replied.

Louisiana's district attorneys are also opposing the bill, saying it's an appropriate tool in the most heinous cases where the jury's conscience has been shocked by the viciousness of a crime.

Landry, D-New Iberia, a former law enforcement officer, has a similar bill to abolish the death penalty in the House.

"This is the most taxing initiative I've taken on," he said. "It's literally about life and death."

Claitor's bill isn't retroactive. If approved, it would not be effective until Aug. 1, 2018.

(source: The (Monroe) News Star)

INDIANA:

Higher court denies Vann's appeal to examine death penalty statute

The Indiana Supreme Court turned down the request of a Gary man to look at the constitutionality of the state's death penalty statute before he goes to trial.

Last year, the attorneys for Darren Deon Vann, 46, who is charged in the deaths of seven women, argued before a Lake County judge that Indiana's death penalty statute was unconstitutional. The judge denied that claim, following suit with rulings in previous challenges in other Indiana cases.

In January, Vann's attorneys returned before the judge, asking to be able to appeal his ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court, and the judge granted that request.

Vann has based his argument before Lake County and the higher court on a few key points: how a jury is supposed to weigh factors that could influence a death sentence, allowing a judge to determine a defendant's death sentence when the jury can't and that the statute possibly violates the 8th Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Vann's attorneys argued that this should be addressed before a trial is set, saying that "Vann should not have to wait until the jury is unable to recommend a penalty before he may challenge a statute that he believes to be unconstitutional and deprives him of his constitutional rights," according to a motion in the appeal case.

The decision impacts not only Vann, but "affects every other pending death penalty case in Indiana" and given how expensive a death penalty trial and direct appeal is, "deciding these questions now has the potential to save the taxpayers of Indiana a great sum of money," the defense argued in the motion.

In trying to get the Supreme Court to look at the case, the defense called in a Louisiana attorney with The Promise of Justice Initiative, a nonprofit in New Orleans, to provide some outside, expert opinion on the matter.

Drawing on other state and federal court cases, many of which Vann's attorneys also cited, the nonprofit's attorney argued that "addressing this issue sooner rather than later could potentially avoid years of litigation and prevent the needless reversal of death sentences imposed through unconstitutional procedures." Since 1977, 97 people have been sentenced to death in Indiana as of Nov. 7, 2016, and 11 people are currently on the state's death row, the nonprofit's attorney cited in a brief.

The state responded by arguing that other criminal defendants have repeatedly made similar claims in the past, and like those, Vann's claims are "without merit." Furthermore, the outside perspective from the nonprofit "does not add any compelling arguments in support" of going forward with Vann's request, the state said in a response.

If any doubts linger following Vann's trial, "he can raise it on direct appeal so that this Court can decide it within an actual - and not hypothetical - set of facts," according to the response. But Vann's current appeal request "has already delayed this case going to trial" and "if this Court grants the request, the trial will be delayed many more months to years," the response states.

Last Thursday, in an order signed by Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, the court decided to deny Vann's request to look at the constitutionality of the statute.

Lake County prosecutors previously requested the death penalty for Vann, as he faces charges in connection with the deaths of Anith Jones 35, of Merrillville; Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.

The request for the death penalty "alleges as aggravating circumstances that Vann has committed other murders," according to a state response filed in Vann's request for an appeal.

Vann was joined by attorneys for Carl Blount, 28, of Gary, in arguing that the death penalty statute is unconstitutional last year. Blount previously faced the death penalty on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of Gary police Patrolman Jeffrey Westerfield. A Lake County judge denied both of their requests.

Rather than going to trial, Blount accepted a deal and pleaded guilty in January. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole the following month.

Vann has a status hearing at 10 a.m. on Friday in Lake County to discuss pending matters in his case. In recent weeks, his attorneys have filed motions to preserve evidence and for discovery. Aside from hearings and filed documents, a gag order in the case prevents those involved from commenting outside of court.

(source: Chicago Tribune)

ARKANSAS----impending execution

Victim's family asks for state of Arkansas to spare murderer's life

The family of a man from the Ozarks who was killed by an escaped murderer almost 2 decades ago said they do not want his killer to be executed.

"I believe justice has already been served. He hasn't been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge," said Stacey Yaw, who was Michael Greenwood's wife.

Kenneth Williams is set to die on Thursday. He's 1 of 8 inmates who Arkansas scheduled for execution by the end of the month before its supply of a key execution drug expires. 4 of the 8 condemned men got judicial reprieves; 3 of them were put to death; only Williams is still set for execution.

Michael Greenwood of Springfield and his wife had just found out they were expecting twins when Williams escaped from an Arkansas prison. Williams led law enforcement officers on a chase in a stolen truck and crashed into Greenwood's work truck near Urbana, north of Buffalo, and killed Greenwood.

Now Greenwood's family asks for his killer's life to be spared.

"I miss him when I'm with my grandkids, I wish he was there to see them, too; little things they do, proud moments," Yaw said.

Greenwood's family feels his absence every day.

"He was a great guy. He was a tough guy. He was a funny guy. He was a great guy," Yaw said.

They do not want anyone else to feel this pain, even Greenwood's killer.

"Sometimes the right thing is hard to do, but it is the best option," said Michael Greenwood's son, Joseph Greenwood.

That is why they ask for Kenneth Williams' life to be spared.

"Everyone can change and I definitely believe in 2nd or even 3rd chances, because it's what's right," said Joseph Greenwood.

For them that chance is making sure the killer gets to see his family 1 last time. The victim's family just bought Williams' daughter and granddaughter plane tickets; so, they could get here before the execution.

"It's just not right. It's just not right. She didn't do anything ever and now she is going to be a victim," Yaw said.

They are helping Williams' last wish come true for the sake of his daughter, Jasmine.

"If I was Jasmine, I would want somebody there for me. We are all humans, we are all here together, we have to be here for each other," said Kayla Greenwood, who is Michael Greenwood's daughter.

"We experience what she felt. She is getting ready to lose a father and me, my brother, and sister all lost a father. It sucks and we feel really bad for her. Even though he killed our father," said Joseph Greenwood.

This will be the 1st time that Williams has ever seen his granddaughter.

"At least that can be something good and beautiful that can come out of something so horrible," Kayla Greenwood said.

The Greenwood family invited us to drive along with them to meet Jasmine and her daughter on Wednesday.

(source: KSPR news)

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4 Arkansas Executions Are Tied to the Expiration Date of a Drug That Does Not Work in Lethal Injections

According to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, the lives of several death row inmates hinge on chemistry. Earlier this year, Hutchinson scheduled 8 executions during 10 days in April because, he said, the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month. This chemical is 1 of 3 that Arkansas uses for lethal injections, the current standard for enacting the death penalty in U.S. states that have not outlawed the practice. Courts have blocked 4 of the executions, but the others are proceeding. All this because of an expiration date on a drug that many experts believe should never have been included in the execution cocktail.

In several states, midazolam is the 1st of the 2 or 3 drugs used for lethal injections. It belongs to a family of chemicals called benzodiazepines, psychoactive drugs used primarily for treating anxiety. Midazolam is basically like valium. "It mellows you out," says Lee Cantrell, who teaches clinical pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco, and directs the San Diego division of California's poison control system. After getting the midazolam, prisoners in Arkansas are injected with pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes them, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

But the use of midazolam is extremely controversial, mainly because of its inadequate effects. The original 1st component in chemical executions was a more powerful anesthetic, such as sodium thiopental. This drug is a barbiturate, the kind used for general anesthesia during surgery. Many states still use sodium thiopental or pentobarbital, another drug in the same family, to put inmates under prior to killing them. With a barbiturate, the individual is unconscious when the heart-stopping chemical is injected into his or her bloodstream. That does not happen with benzodiazepines.

Both types of chemicals rely on a protein called GABA, short for gamma-aminobuteric acid. In its natural state, GABA is a so-called inhibitor transmitter; it sends signals that stop activity rather than excite activity. "Its whole job is to slow you down and put you to sleep," says Chris McCurdy, professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Florida.

Benzos and barbiturates have a stark difference, however. The latter family causes the GABA receptor to work continually without stopping, like opening the tap and never reaching the maximum flow capacity. The more barbiturate you take, the more your GABA receptors signal.

Drugs like midazolam don't do that. They have what pharmacists call a "ceiling effect." A certain amount of benzodiazepine exhausts the GABA-enhancing effects. That amount may be different for different people, but it's never unlimited. Once a person hits that ceiling, the sedative effect cannot be increased. With benzos, you can turn the tap all you want, but you're never going to get more water to come out of the faucet. That ceiling effect makes it impossible to guarantee sedation prior to death. Midazolam, says Cantrell, "doesn't do anything for pain."

But states that have run out of barbiturates for executions have turned to midazolam as a substitute. And indeed, the replacement has proved extremely problematic. In 2014, Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett awoke 10 minutes after he'd been declared unconscious following a midazolam injection, before the heart-stopping chemicals could kill him. Witnesses described him writhing on the gurney. He died of a heart attack 40 minutes later, a complete departure from the quick and painless process that lethal injections are supposed to follow.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the use of midazolam in lethal injections in Glossip v. Gross. Richard Glossip was sentenced to death in Oklahoma for commissioning a murder (Glossip replaced the first petitioner, Charles Frederick Warner, after he was killed by the state in January 2015). Glossip's execution was stayed 3 times because the lethal injection practices in that state raised several issues, including the inclusion of midazolam.

An amicus brief by 16 pharmacology professors for this case argued against the use of midazolam in lethal injections. "Everyone was in agreement," says McCurdy, one of the authors of the brief. Because midazolam works differently from thiopental, the pharmacologists did not consider it an acceptable substitute. "You can't achieve the general anesthesia that you can with a barbiturate." The scientists did not convince the court, which ruled 5-4 against Glossip, who remains on death row in Oklahoma. Florida, Alabama and Virginia also use midazolam in executions.

Death row drugs are extremely hard to acquire, and manufacturers either refuse to provide their pharmaceuticals to states for this purpose or refuse to admit they've done so. The refusal of companies to provide barbiturates or benzodiazepines to states for lethal injections is why Arkansas is rushing the current executions through this month. The impending expiration date of Arkansas's midazolam would not be an issue if it could easily buy more. But it can't.

Arkansas will not say how it acquired its stash of midazolam, impeding discussion of whether the executions could be delayed. The Associated Press reported that the state purchased the drugs from West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of the British company Hikma. But Brooke Clarke, a spokesperson for West-Ward, says that is not so, and that company controls prevent such sales. "If the State of Arkansas was able to procure any of our U.S.-manufactured drugs for use in lethal injections despite these controls - which it will not confirm or deny to us - it was not directly from us, nor with our knowledge," says Clarke.

Questionable Timings

The assertion that the executions must beat the expiration date is also scientifically dubious. Scientific data show no evidence of sudden changes in a pharmaceutical immediately following the date stamped on the side of a bottle. While it's true that studies of the validity of expiration dates have focused on whether the prescription drugs become more dangerous over time, they have also shown a gradual, not abrupt, decline in the potency of an active chemical. Cantrell and colleagues recently analyzed several old medications to see if the expiration date was relevant. Some of the drugs were 40 years old. "Many retained the potency stated on the label," says Cantrell.

Chemicals like benzodiazepine will degrade over time. And as they do so, they weaken. But the timing is uncertain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration instructs drug-makers on how much active ingredient must be present and expiration dates are shaped around that measurement. But estimating when a given drug will dip below that level is just that, an estimate. "It's sort of an arbitrary date," says McCurdy. The amount of active ingredient can be easily determined in a laboratory analysis, were someone to bother taking that step. "It's not run of the mill, but it can be done," says McCurdy. At the very least, there is no reason to believe that Arkansas's midazolam will curdle on May 1, rendering it any more ineffective than it already is.

For now, though, Arkansas is continuing its race against the expiration-date clock. Last week, Ledell Lee was executed. On Monday night, Jack Jones and then Marcel Williams were executed an hour apart. But not before nurses tried for 45 unsuccessful minutes to insert a central line into Jones's neck for the injections. Eventually, they gave up and placed the tube elsewhere on his body. A court appeal filed just a few minutes before Williams's execution noted that Jones gulped for air as he died, "evidence," the filing stated, "of continued consciousness."

(source: newsweek.com)

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Arkansas executions: 'I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back'----Arkansas on Monday carried out the first double execution in the US in 16 years. Jacob Rosenberg witnessed the murderer Marcel Williams being put to death

At 9.34pm we entered the execution chamber. I passed through a door with a large sign on its front showing 2 letters, "EC", and took a seat among a few rows of chairs that faced four large rectangular windows. Some lights were on, but it was mostly dim. A black curtain was drawn behind the windows in front of us.

Behind that curtain, strapped to a gurney in an even smaller room, was Marcel Williams.

In Arkansas, we do not get to see the placement of the IV for lethal injection. So, from the time we entered until the curtain opened, I saw nothing. We just stared forward at those windows, waiting for them to reveal Williams, 46, who was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station.

We had done this earlier in the night, when a last-minute stay had us waiting in the chamber for over an hour. During that time, we later learned, Williams had been strapped down on the gurney. Now, as then, with the stay lifted, I simply looked at the black curtain, knowing almost nothing about what was happening to the prisoner.

The curtain created a reflection of the room behind me, like a mirror. I could see other witnesses, and myself, fidget.

At 10.16pm, after 32 minutes of IV placement, the curtain opened.

Light from fluorescent bulbs cast a strange yellow glow in the room in front. Marcel Williams's eyes looked right up at the ceiling. He was on a gurney, tied down. His head was locked in place and the right side of his body was facing us, the viewers. He said no final words.

At this point, the first lethal injection drug - the controversial sedative midazolam, whose expiration date at the end of this month has prompted Arkansas's unprecedented wave of judicial killings - was supposed to be administered. No one announced that a drug was being given . The process simply moved along. I watched and tried to follow.

His eyes began to droop and eventually closed (the right one lingered slightly open throughout). His breaths became deep and heavy. His back arched off the gurney as he sucked in air.

I could not count the number of times his body moved in such a way, rising off the gurney.

Procedure dictates that 5 minutes after the introduction of midazolam there should be no movements. But, at 10.21pm, Williams was still breathing heavily and moving. The man in the room checked his pulse and touched his eyes and said something. (The audio was cut off for us.)

At this point, it is likely another dose of midazolam was given. I cannot be sure it was administered. I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back and then the breathing began to shallow out. By 10.24pm, Williams looked completely still.

The 1st consciousness check was clearly at 10.21pm, and then it seems the breathing subsided, but the situation became confusing as the official continually checked Williams by touching his hands and face. At 10.27pm, the official ran a finger across Williams's eyelids again. Was this the 2nd consciousness check? Did they determine Williams was unconscious? Would the 2nd drug be administered now?

These questions are crucial because the next drug was a paralytic, which stops all movement.

I do not know when the 2nd drug, which would mask all pain, was administered. I did not see the IV placed. The audio was cut so I could not hear whether he was moaning, and I could not see how many times each drug was administered - meaning, even as a witness, I could not say if Marcel Williams felt pain or what happened during his death by the midazolam 3-drug protocol.

The process is designed to feed me details as a viewer that suggest peaceful passing. But this will not have been the experience of Marcel Williams.

Protocol ensures that by the time the potassium chloride, which stops the heart and can be excruciatingly painful, is administered, even if the prisoner feels pain, the viewer will not see it. The paralytic is in place.

Near 10.31pm, they switched off the IVs. The man who had been checking for consciousness pulled out a stethoscope and put it to Williams's heart. He called in a coroner. I remember seeing Williams, there on the gurney, not moving.

And then, the one detail you can't obfuscate. That nothing can hide. The time of death was 10.33pm.

(source: Jacob Rosenberg is a reporter with the Arkansas Times----The Guardian)

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Justice----What's Happening in Arkansas Is the Perfect Argument Against the Death Penalty

The Washington Post calls it "state-sponsored killing spree," with Arkansans have now executed three of the eight men it's seeking to put to death this month. On Monday, 52-year-old Jack H. Jones was injected with a controversial 3-drug cocktail that left him catching his breath - and, some witnesses say, in pain - before being declared dead at 7:20 pm.

Jones' execution was 1 of 2 people executed on Monday, the other being Marcell Williams. It was the 1st 1-day double execution to be performed in nearly 2 decades. Another man, Ledell Lee, was executed on April 20, the same day the Supreme Court allowed Arkansas to continue using a potentially ineffective sedative, midazolam, to put prisoners to death. The state had faced judicial setbacks over its plans to use the drug as part of its lethal cocktail - and has been rushing to use it this month before it expires.

Questions have been raised about the humaneness of Arkansas moving forward with the 5 other executions in light of claims its drug cocktail is not quick and painless. Associated Press reporter Andrew DeMillo said he they did not see pain on Jones' face as he died, but others have said that Jones' gasps for air could be a sign that he was suffering as he died.

Arkansas and other death-penalty states have struggled to obtain reliable drugs for use in executions since many pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell their products to them, responding to campaigns launched by activists opposed to the death penalty. As a result, states have turned to untested methods, with Arizona and Ohio both carrying out executions that resulted in dying inmates gasping for breath, sometimes for hours.

In Alabama, Ronald B. Smith was injected with a 3 drugs and proceeded to struggle to breath, heaving and coughing on the execution table for 13 minute while onlookers made no attempt to stop the procedure, according to those present.

Kenneth Williams is expected to be executed in Arkansas on Thursday, according to The Marshall Project.

(source: attn.com)

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Witnesses to Double Execution in Arkansas Say Inmates May Have Suffered Botched, Painful Death

We speak with The Guardian's chief reporter Ed Pilkington about the shocking double execution Arkansas carried out Monday night, marking the 1st time in nearly 17 years that any state has killed 2 people on the same day. At 7:20 p.m. local time, 52-year-old Jack Harold Jones was pronounced dead in the death chamber at the Cummins Unit state prison. Infirmary workers had spent more than 45 minutes unsuccessfully trying to put a central line into his neck. According to a court filing, during Jones's execution, he was "moving his lips and gulping for air," which suggests he continued to be conscious during the lethal injection. Lawyers for the 2nd man, Marcel Williams, filed a last-minute appeal for a stay of execution following Jones's killing, arguing Williams could also experience a botched, painful death. A district court judge initially granted a temporary stay of Williams's execution but then allowed the execution to go forward. Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. The executions came after legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected a stay for Williams. The only justice to dissent in this ruling was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The last double execution carried out in the United States was in 2000 in Texas.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Arkansas carried out a double execution Monday night, marking the 1st time in nearly 17 years that any state has killed 2 people on the same day. At 7:20 p.m. local time, 52-year-old Jack Harold Jones was pronounced dead in the death chamber at the Cummings Unit state prison. Infirmary workers had spent more than 45 minutes unsuccessfully trying to put a central line into his neck. According to a court filing, during Jones's execution, he was, quote, "was moving his lips and gulping for air," unquote, which suggests he continued to be conscious during the lethal injection. The controversial sedative midazolam is administered as part of a cocktail of execution drugs to make prisoners unconscious, but it's repeatedly failed to do so during other executions, leading to painful deaths. Ahead of Monday night, Jones's lawyers had argued his medical condition was likely to reduce the sedative's effectiveness, leading to an unconstitutionally painful death, but this argument was rejected by a court. Before being killed, Jones gave a long final statement in which he apologized to the daughter of Mary Phillips. Jones has admitted to raping and killing Mary Phillips in 1995. His final words were "I'm sorry."

Lawyers for the 2nd man, Marcel Williams, filed a last-minute appeal for a stay of execution following Jones's killing, arguing Williams could also experience a botched, painful death. A district court judge initially granted a temporary stay of Williams's execution but then allowed the execution to go forward. Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. He had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1994 kidnap, rape and murder of Stacy Errickson.

AMY GOODMAN: Monday night's executions came after legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected a stay for Williams. The only justice to dissent in this ruling was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The last double execution carried out in the U.S. was in 2000 in Texas. Arkansas carried out its 1st execution in 16 years Thursday, killing Ledell Lee, and plans to execute a 4th man, Kenneth Williams, this coming Thursday. The state had initially planned execute 8 people within 11 days this month - an unprecedented rate of executions in modern U.S. history. They wanted to perform these executions before the end of the month, when midazolam would expire.

For more, we're joined via Democracy Now! video stream by The Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington, who has been following the executions closely with local reporters on the ground.

Ed, welcome back to Democracy Now! You have a witness statement on the execution. Can you explain - there were 2 - what the witness saw?

ED PILKINGTON: Yeah. We worked with Jacob Rosenberg, who is a reporter for Arkansas Times. He was in the death chamber for the 2nd execution last night, of Marcel Williams. And a very interesting account, I think, really important part of it - there are 2 things, really. One, because of the court's stay that happened for Marcel Williams, while the judge considered what had happened to the 1st prisoner to die, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams was kept strapped to the gurney the entire time. Now, we don't quite know when that began. It's probably around something like 8:00 p.m. last night. And he was pronounced dead at 10:33. So, for maybe longer than 2 1/2hours, this 400-pound prisoner was kept strapped to a gurney, which I think is fairly disturbing in itself.

The other thing that came out of our eyewitness report is that there's a sort of missing half an hour. Now, the media - the 3 media witnesses were kept held in a van while this - the delay was happening because of the court proceedings. They had a little window at the back of the van that they could look out the back of. They saw Marcel Williams being taken out to the bathroom and then brought back. He was brought back at about 9:29. The execution began at 10:16. We don't know anything about what happened in that period. And I think that's important and will continue to be important, and it's because of the secrecy that the death penalty states have imposed on the entire process of execution. The media witnesses were only allowed to see when the curtain was opened and the execution began. They were not allowed to see the crucial period in which IV lines were tried to be found. And that was a problem that we had in the Jack Jones execution earlier in the evening. The state, by its own admission in court filings, admitted that they tried to find an IV line in the prisoner's neck and failed.

And this is precisely the kind of problems that have come up time and time again, with Clayton Lockett, the gruesome execution in Oklahoma where he writhed for 43 minutes on the gurney - that was down to an IV line that couldn't be found - and in Arizona, the Wood execution, where they tried - they stuck him 15 times and injected him 15 different times, because they found it so difficult to find a vein. So, I think we're starting to see the same old problem emerge yet again: secrecy, the fact that the public cannot see what's being done in its name when prisoners are being killed, leading to problems in the process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ed Pilkington, what are the requirements in terms of the public's ability to view this, or the witnesses, at least, who are there, who are permitted to see the execution, being able to witness the entire process?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, that's the problem. Like so much to do with the death penalty, it's down to each individual state. But there is something in common here. And that is, all the death penalty states, all sort of nine or so of them that are still being - actively trying to pursue the death penalty, have taken the same line, which is, we should let the public know as little as possible. So they don't let us know the members of the execution team. Now, maybe that's understandable, because, you know, the executioners could face harassment. But they won't let us know who manufactures the drugs they use or where they got them from. And that's problematic because we don't know, you know, were these drugs sort of knocked up in a corner shop. They have tried that in the past. And now they're fighting over how much the public can see in the process.

And in Arkansas, they went to extraordinary lengths to make our job difficult as reporters - and I'm one of them. To start with, they wouldn't even allow us laptops into the media room, where we were watching if we weren't in the death chamber. Now, this is just a visiting room. We're not anywhere near the death chamber. We're not a security issue. We weren't allowed laptops, to start with. They consented on that in the end, but we weren't allowed telephones in the room. And in the end, they only allowed reporters to take in notepads and pencils supplied to them by the prison service, as though there was something like a reporter would carry in their own notebook that would do something subservient or something. And the whole process has like been a battle between the media, which is the eyes and ears of the public, and the prison service, that, after all, is doing the most serious thing that any state can do, and that is to kill one of its own citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Ed Pilkington, about the deputy solicitor general, named Nicholas Bronni, who admitted in a court filing the execution team had tried to place a central line in Jones' neck, but the attempt was unsuccessful. Talk about the significance of this and what happened next, and that leading to the lawyers for the next man, Marcel Williams, trying to get a stay on his execution, so he would not be tortured as he was killed.

ED PILKINGTON: Right. And, I mean, when I saw that in the court filing coming from the state itself, I was astonished. They were trying to rebut the case made by the lawyers for the 2nd prisoner to be executed, Marcel Williams, that the 1st execution had been botched. That's what essentially was going on. And in order to rebut that argument, the state said, "No, everything was fine. Look, we tried to find an IV line in Jack Jones’, the 1st prisoner's, neck, and we failed. And then we went on. We actually decided not to use a 3rd IV line. We would just use 2." Now, they made that argument as though that showed that the whole process had been a success, which I found rather astonishing when I read it in the court filing.

Then we went on to the Marcel Williams execution, the 2nd one. We don't know, as I say, what happened in half an hour when they were trying to find an IV line. We know nothing about that at all. What we do know, from The Guardian's work with the Arkansas Times and the reporter who was in the room for us, Jacob Rosenberg, that Marcel Williams was seen to do - once he was sedated with midazolam - which, you have to remember, is a sedative, it's not an anesthetic, which is - it is not used in operations to put people under before surgery. It is just used to relax them. So it's an entirely inappropriate medicine for use in surgeries, and you might, therefore, say inappropriate for use in executions. They gave him the midazolam. He relaxed. He started to breathe very heavily. Now, our reporter from the Arkansas Times saw him rise up and down. His back arched countless times. He actually lost count of the number of times his back arched. This lasted over just a relatively short period of time, for about 5, 6 minutes, compared with some of the really botched executions we've seen, say, of Clayton Lockett, which was 43 minutes. But nevertheless, it suggests that maybe the prisoner was experiencing difficulty. And again, will we ever find out anything more about that? There is no indication that Arkansas carried out an official inquiry into what happened. Often it takes months, if at all, to see the internal results of their own inquiries. The whole process is shrouded in secrecy, and it makes it very, very difficult for the media and for the public to assess exactly what happened.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ed Pilkington, you're the chief reporter for The Guardian US. Briefly, in the few moments we have left, could you tell us what's the response in Britain and in Europe, in general, to this continuing obsession in the United States with executions?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, it's been very widespread coverage and quite a lot of anger and dismay. I mean, it comes at a time when the world had been thinking that the death penalty was receding, was on the wane in the U.S. Last year, there were only 20 executions. And it has been going steadily down. Then, suddenly, a Republican governor in Arkansas decides that he needs, for his own reasons, all to do with the supplies of medicines, nothing else - for his own reasons, he needs to execute 8 prisoners in 11 days. And, bam, the whole thing is back. And Europe and Britain are incensed again. And here we are, talking about it all over again.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ed Pilkington, what happens next? I mean, for people to understand, who are watching this around the globe, the reason there are what they call these doubleheader executions now in Arkansas, to - they attempted to kill - some were stopped in the killing - 8 men in 11 days, was to hit that deadline by the end of the month, when the - one of the execution drugs, midazolam, expires by the end of the month. So, who's on - who is on the list next to be killed?

ED PILKINGTON: Well, we've got 1 more execution coming up this Thursday in Arkansas. And then, sort of the battle continues. You have to say that the death penalty states are waging a losing battle here, because the drug companies are now absolutely in unison. They do not want their drugs, which are designed and manufactured to save lives - they do not want those drugs used to kill people. They're all saying it. More than 30 of the major manufacturers are now saying that. Distribution companies are also saying that. They do not want this to happen, and they are making it incredibly difficult for prison services to find the drugs. And as a result, the prison services are doing more and more extreme things, with more and more botched executions. And, you know, it feels to me like the whole thing is falling apart.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ed Pilkington, we want to thank you for being with us, chief reporter for The Guardian US, after what they call a doubleheader, a double execution, in Arkansas last night. It hasn't happened in this country since 2000.

(source: democracynow.org)

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'Conveyor Belt of Death' Continues as Arkansas Carries Out Double Execution----'The sentences of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are another heinous example of how the death penalty is applied to people with severe mental impairments and history of abuse'

The government of Arkansas executed 2 men Monday evening despite concerns from attorneys that the first state killing had been "torturous and inhumane."

52-year-old Jake Harold Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 pm CDT, according to a timeline confirmed by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Just over 3 hours later, Marcel Williams, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:33 CDT.

The inmates were initially scheduled to be executed 1 hour apart, but Williams' attorneys filed an emergency stay motion (pdf) saying that Jones' execution "appeared to be torturous and inhumane," as the inmate was reportedly still moving more than 5 minutes after the administration of the lethal drug "cocktail." Williams' attorneys argued that "current circumstances demonstrate an ongoing constitutional violation - cruel, unusual, and inhumane infliction of pain and suffering upon Mr. Williams that is imminent based on the Jones execution."

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock initially put Williams' execution on hold but, Reuters reported, "lifted her order around an hour later after holding a brief hearing on the matter, court filings showed."

The double-execution, the 1st to be carried out in the U.S. in 16 years, was scheduled as part of controversial plan to put to death 8 inmates in 11 days, before the expiration of the state's supply of midazolam, 1 of the execution drugs contained in the deadly "cocktail."

"Both Jones and Williams," Reuters continued, "had argued that their obesity put them at heightened risk of pain due to the controversial midazolam, which was previously used in botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court denied those claims without comment."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice to dissent publicly from both orders.

Human rights groups and death penalty opponents have waged a fierce legal battle against the planned state killing spree, winning stays for 4 of the individuals slated for execution. Ledell Lee was put to death last week while the next execution, of Kenneth Dewayne Williams, is scheduled for Thursday.

In addition to arguing that Williams and Jones would suffer unnecessarily because of their physical impairments, both men were said to have mental and emotional problems as a result of childhood abuse and trauma.

Before his death, Jones issued a statement of apology to his victims and their families.

In a statement issued late Monday, James Clark, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA, said: "Tonight Arkansas continues its shameful backslide against prevailing trends away from the death penalty."

"The sentences of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are another heinous example of how the death penalty is applied to people with severe mental impairments and history of abuse," Clark continued. "This conveyor belt of death must stop immediately by commuting the remaining sentences, and abolishing the death penalty once and for all."

And leading anti-death penalty voice Sister Helen Prejean, who authored the book Dead Man Walking (and was later portrayed in the 1995 film by the same name), is encouraging other opponents to keep pressuring Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and state attorney general Leslie Rutledge to end state-sanctioned killings.

(source: commondreams.org)

MISSOURI:

Missouri Supreme Court Denies Death Row Inmate's Appeal

The Missouri Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a death row inmate who claimed he was represented by ineffective lawyers during both his trial and appeal.

The court on Tuesday ruled 6-0 against Michael Tisius, who was convicted of fatally shooting 2 Randolph County jailers in 2000 during a botched attempt to free another inmate.

A lower court ruled that Tisius' trial counsel and appellate counsel were not ineffective, as the inmate claimed. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court and ruled that Tisius failed to show a reasonable probability that he would have avoided the death penalty if his lawyers had acted differently.

It wasn't clear if Tisius would appeal. A message left with his attorney was not immediately returned.

(source: The Associated Press)

OKLAHOMA:

Keep executions on hold 'until significant reforms are accomplished,' Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission says----Significant reforms are needed, study group says

A bipartisan private commission recommended on Tuesday that a court-ordered stay on executions in Oklahoma remain in effect until "significant reforms" are accomplished, citing concerns about resources available to those facing death sentences and the faulty application of execution procedures.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released its findings and nearly 4 dozen recommendations in a nearly 300-page report on a study of capital cases from initial contact with police to the day defendants are put to death.

Former Gov. Brad Henry, who helped lead the effort, announced that the commission unanimously recommended that the moratorium be extended due to what he said were serious flaws in the way Oklahoma handles death-penalty cases. He said the number of death-row exonerees from Oklahoma - 10, according to the Death Penalty Information Center - was among his biggest worries, along with the discovery of the limitations capital defendants have when presenting legal defenses.

"If you look at the various defense counsel organizations, whether it's (the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System) or Oklahoma County or Tulsa County public defenders, they are just overwhelmed with felony cases," Henry said. "They don't have enough attorneys. They don't have the funding that they need, especially in death-penalty cases, to hire investigators (or) to hire experts. You have to decide whether you want to pay to do it right, and either you do or you don't."

Oklahoma has put more than 100 people to death in the modern era of capital punishment, and according to commission member and trial lawyer Robert Alexander, it's almost certain that at least 1 of them was innocent and couldn't prove it because of financial reasons.

"Our report has found, 41 years (after the death penalty resumed), systemic flaws in our death-penalty system," Alexander said. "Whenever there's a systemic flaw in the system, any injustices that system could cause ... fall on the people with the fewest resources to navigate that system."

The commission also noted that 2 forms of evidence - forensics and witness identification - were determined to be among the most unreliable.

Henry said he came to the conclusion that the process as it stands needs to be "overhauled" by policymakers, and he said there are good reasons for conservatives to be concerned about the practice despite voters' November decision to protect the death penalty in the state constitution with State Question 776.

"What we all agreed on was that if you're going to have the death penalty, it ought to be done right," Henry said of the commission. "It ought to be done in a way that, as best we can, ensures no innocent person is ever put to death by the state of Oklahoma."

Co-Chairman Andy Lester, a former federal magistrate, said the fact that an execution is permanent makes it paramount that everyone involved be certain that those on death row are in fact guilty and that they've received the best possible legal aid.

"Nobody wants to execute an innocent person," he said. "If 1 of (the 10 exonerees) slipped through, just think how horrible that would be. It's bad enough that somebody gets wrongfully convicted. It's possible to recreate a life after a wrongful conviction, but it is not possible after a wrongful execution."

Gov. Mary Fallin released a brief statement Tuesday evening after the report was made public indicating that she's not yet well-versed on its contents.

"My office has not received a copy of the report, but my staff will obtain a copy and review it," she said.

Issues with drugs highlighted

The Oklahoma Attorney General's Office requested a moratorium in October 2015 once it learned about issues with a lethal-injection drug used in the January execution of Charles Warner and the scheduled execution of Richard Glossip. Those mistakes occurred after Oklahoma received international attention for the 43-minute execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014.

A multicounty grand jury issued a highly critical report in May 2016 about the handling of Glossip's and Warner's cases by multiple state agencies. The grand jury recommended that the Department of Corrections overhaul its protocol yet again but did not recommend any indictments.

An Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman told the Tulsa World on Friday that it is still working on revising its protocol but declined to say what's been done so far.

When asked about the drugs used by Oklahoma in the past, Henry said it appears that the best practice is to use a 1-drug protocol with a barbiturate rather than the 3-drug protocol featuring midazolam. The latter drug was the basis of a federal lawsuit filed by death-row inmates over constitutionality concerns, which resulted in a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the inmates.

Nitrogen hypoxia, although approved as an alternate execution method last year, wasn't detailed in the report because of the limited scientific literature on its effectiveness.

Henry acknowledged the difficulty states have had finding a consistent supply of lethal-injection drugs in recent years but said, "When you start compounding drugs, there's just much more opportunity for serious issues to arise."

'When you start mixing multiple drugs in a so-called 'cocktail,' if you have a 3-drug protocol, that's 3 times the opportunity for something to go wrong," he said. Of a 1-drug protocol, he said, "it's easier to acquire one controversial drug than it is 3." He added that authorities should stay informed about scientific advances in this area.

The report noted that Oklahoma has one of the most broad confidentiality statutes, which keeps the supplier of its execution drugs a secret. Although the commission said there are legitimate privacy concerns, it advocated for improved transparency in the form of better documentation and reviews by DOC staff.

"The commission did not recommend (naming the drug supplier) for fairly obvious and straightforward reasons," Lester said. "We don't want to create a problem for anyone legitimately operating a business and making that business have to shut down, and that's what's happened in a number of situations."

(source: Tulsa World)

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Oklahoma death penalty commission releases report

A bipartisan commission studying Oklahoma's death penalty released a study Tuesday recommending the state continue its current moratorium on executions "until significant reforms are made."

"As we studied this process, it became so clear to us that the death penalty process has serious flaws," said former Gov. Brad Henry, a member of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission.

"We were all disturbed by the volume and the seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma's capital punishment system," Henry said.

"This yearlong investigation led members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that insures that no innocent person is put to death."

Among the 46 recommendations was for the state to stop using a 3-drug method, as it currently does, and go back to using a single barbiturate, such as pentobarbital.

Pentobarbital has become increasingly hard to find for states administering the death penalty, as the companies that manufacture the drug have moved in recent years to block its use in executions. Midazolam, which was 1st used in Oklahoma during the botched 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett, has become controversial but is widely used in execution states.

The commission proposed significant reforms to capital punishment trials, including jury instruction and limits to certain types of testimony, changes to the clemency process and new training for judges, attorneys and law officers across the state.

Commission members expressed concern that innocent people could and likely have faced execution in Oklahoma. Members urged state officials in all three branches of the government to adopt their reforms before continuing with the death penalty.

"Because, in the end, perfection is probably not attainable in this life, but the difference with the death penalty is the finality," said University of Oklahoma College of Law professor Maria Kolar, a commission member.

"And once an execution is imposed, it's over, and there's no sorries, and there's no 'we made a mistake and we're sorry.'"

(source: The Oklahoman)

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Death Penalty Review commission recommends extending current moratorium

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended extending the existing moratorium on the death penalty Tuesday during a press conference held at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The group consisting of 11 members has worked for nearly a year-and-a-half to study the Oklahoma Death Penalty system, before reaching this unanimous decision.

"The commission did not come to this decision lightly, due to the volume and seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma's capital punishment system, Commission members recommend that the moratorium on executions be extended until significant reforms are accomplished," said Commission Co-chair former Governor Brad Henry.

According to reports, the Commission members say that those who are sentenced to death should receive this sentence only after a fair process to ensure the death penalty is deserved.

(source: Fox News)

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska highlights the Catholic Church's struggle with the death penalty

Every few weeks, it seems, a news item about the death penalty appears in the national media, often in the guise of tragic farce. A proposal is made in Alabama to bring back firing squads. The state of Arizona wants to let the condemned supply their own lethal injection drugs. Arkansas tries to execute 8 men in 10 days before its execution drugs expire. Nebraska upends political expectations when its legislature bans the death penalty, but a year later voters overwhelmingly choose to bring it back.

In the case of Nebraska, the Catholic Church put itself in the thick of the debate. Its brief but robust campaign to maintain the ban on capital punishment last year illuminated one of the church's most challenging tasks: promoting Catholic social teaching in a way that actually changes society.

Trying to convince Catholics in Nebraska to oppose the death penalty involved discussions around concepts like "prudential matter," "intrinsic evil" and "non-negotiables." The campaign raised a question that comes up time and again in Catholic circles: Can you "rank" moral principles, especially surrounding the defense of life?

Can you "rank" moral principles, especially surrounding the defense of life?

It also raised questions about how the church advocates on a justice issue when its teaching on that issue has evolved over time. Has the leadership of the church failed over the years in educating the faithful on the entire swath of its social doctrine? Is a Catholic obligated to adhere to every last teaching of the church? Are there cases, in some places and at some times, where no matter how ardently the church fights, the Catholic position has no chance?

In January 2015, State Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha filed a bill to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska, the 21st time he had done so since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ended a moratorium on capital punishment.

Mr. Chambers is an iconic but controversial figure in Nebraska politics. Usually clad in jeans and a black or gray sweatshirt cut off at the forearms, the African-American legislator is seen by some as a heroic defender of the poor and minorities, and by others as an anti-church, racially inflammatory obstructionist. He may be both the most loathed and most admired politician in the state. "He tells us the things we don't want to hear," said Father James Novakowski of the Holy Spirit Church in North Platte, Neb. And over the past 40 years Mr. Chambers has been the state's unyielding voice in the wilderness for ending the death penalty.

Last time around, on May 20, 2015, he finally succeeded in getting his repeal measure through the state’s nonpartisan legislature, backed by a coalition of conservative and liberal senators and assisted by the lobbying efforts of lay Catholics and church officials. When Republican Governor Pete Ricketts, a Catholic, vetoed the repeal, the legislature overrode him by 1 vote. The bill became law, making national news, particularly because this was the 1st time since 1973 that a "red state" had banned the death penalty.

But soon after, a group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty ran a successful petition drive to put the issue on the ballot for 2016. Governor Ricketts put $300,000 of his own money into the effort to restore capital punishment. Keeping the death penalty in Nebraska became one of his chief priorities.

The Church Goes All In

Catholics make up about 1/4 of Nebraska's population, and many death penalty opponents felt they were key to defeating the referendum. The Nebraska church put a wealth of resources into fighting to "retain the repeal," in the awkward language of the campaign.

The state's Catholic Conference and the Catholic Mobilizing Network sent boxes to all 237 parishes in the state; they included posters, pamphlets and pre-recorded video messages from each bishop, along with guides for priests to address the death penalty in homilies.

A social media campaign was launched. The bishops made radio spots and devoted their personal columns in diocesan papers to the issue. The church sponsored a group called Journey of Hope, led by the family members of murder victims. It conducted a public education tour around the state discussing alternatives to the death penalty.

Dave Zabolsky, a churchgoer at Omaha's Christ the King Parish, said he had never seen such a single-minded mobilization of the church on any issue.

Alex Kelly, the Nebraska director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, said that most parishes confirmed that they used the materials sent to them. "People were responding well to it," he said, quoting priests who told him, "'The transition to conversation about the death penalty was made easier for me. Can you send me more?'"

Yet one longtime activist against the death penalty, Marilyn Felion, said that in more politically conservative parishes, lay Catholics had to push their pastors to publicize the issue. "It was like pulling teeth," she said.

In more politically conservative parishes, lay Catholics had to push their pastors to publicize the issue.

Father Tom Fangman, of St. Patrick's Church, in Elkhorn, Neb., reached out to Governor Ricketts, with whom he had worked before on a program to fund inner-city education.

"I was really impressed that he called me [back] and said, 'Can we talk?'," said Father Fangman. "And we ended up talking for an hour and 10 minutes. I really appreciated that he wanted to hear what I said."

In the end, however, the governor was not swayed. Mr. Ricketts has cited the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, justice for families of murder victims and the protection of corrections officers among his reasons for wanting to maintain the death penalty. (When a request was made for an interview in November the press office said the governor was too busy. The governor's office did not respond to more recent requests for an interview.)

As pastor, Father Novakowski said he spoke about the issue nearly every week during the campaign at his parish in North Platte, a farming, ranching and railroad community in the middle of the state. "A few people would not be happy when I would say things like, 'You can't leave your discipleship outside the voting booth and pick it up on the way out,'" he said.

Though the use of the death penalty has declined in the United States, it still retains majority support.

On Nov. 9, the campaign to bring back the death penalty won, 61 % to 39 %. In some western counties, the referendum question won by a margin of 4 to 1. Death penalty opponents carried only Lancaster County, which includes the state capital of Lincoln.

Despite its flurry of activity in the months leading up to the election, Ms. Felion and some other activists held the church partly accountable for the result. Had the bishops made the issue more of a priority over the last several years, they said, a stronger base of Catholics would have been developed to resist the campaign to restore the death penalty.

One Omaha priest told me he felt as if the ministers of the church had "failed their people."

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the political advocacy arm of the church, said that over the years the conference did "incredible work across the state to inform consciences."

The appeal of retribution

Why was the death penalty reinstated in such overwhelming fashion? Some cited a lingering frontier justice, or the appeal of taking an eye for an eye; others wondered whether the phrase "retain the repeal" was confusing for voters.

For Omaha resident Don Regan, who voted to restore the death penalty, the issue was not only the death penalty's deterrence of crime, but what he learned from his philosophy classes at Creighton University, a Jesuit school.

"The natural laws are pretty clear," he said, in their support of the ultimate penalty. Additionally, the changing views of the church on the issue over the years allows for differing opinions, he said.

Mr. Venzor, of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said that for many people, the vote came down to "an intuitive natural sense of justice in its retributive aspect." While most Nebraskans do not feel this way, he said, "Some folks have an unhealthy sense of retributive justice, calling for blood."

For many people, the death penalty vote came down to "an intuitive natural sense of justice in its retributive aspect."

Father Novakowski said one parishioner, after hearing his homilies against the death penalty, did his own research on the internet and then told him, "I voted against you." As a result of that, Father Novakowski said, he "preached that when the internet becomes our bible, we're in trouble."

Recent prison riots, prison escapes and high-profile murders were also on Nebraska voters' minds last November. One case, from 2014 involved a man named Nikko Jenkins, who was let out on parole, committed a spree of murders and, because of the temporary repeal, was spared the possibility of the death penalty.

Another factor was the extraordinary nature of the 2016 election. "The number one cause or influence or failure was the fact that it was the presidential cycle," said Mr. Kelly, of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. "There was so much of the nation's attention going on politically at a national level."

The election was divided so clearly into 2 camps that all other causes were swept up into one camp or the other. "With the issue like the death penalty, a social justice issue," said Kelly, "if you're not for the death penalty you are [seen as] a liberal social progressive."

There were no major polls indicating how the state's Catholics stood on the issue, but given the lopsided result, it seems likely that a large number voted to restore the death penalty. One reason may be that the church's approach to teaching about an issue like capital punishment has been so complicated.

Pope Francis Doubles Down

In 1992 the Catholic church approved its 1st universal catechism in more than four centuries. It included the traditional teaching that the death penalty was allowed for the protection of public order. But by the time the final, official edition in Latin came out in 1997, that teaching had been altered. The change was influenced by John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," which said that, because of "steady improvements in the organization of the penal system," cases in which execution is an "absolute necessity" are "very rare, if not practically non-existent."

Pope Benedict reaffirmed this church teaching, and Rome's stance against capital punishment reached an apex with the papacy of Pope Francis. In the fall of 2015, hestood in the well of the U.S. Congress and advocated for the "abolition of the death penalty."

The church's stance against the death penalty covers all fronts. It is not a deterrent, the argument goes, and public safety can be maintained without it. In addition: our theologians' understanding of natural law has evolved over time; mercy is the foundation of Christian life; the rehabilitation of offenders should never be ruled out; and the default stance of all Christians should be, quite simply, not to kill anyone. Furthermore, an execution may not bring true closure to murder victims' families. (As Father Damian Zuerlein of Omaha argues, what the family of a victim really wants is not "justice," but their loved one back.)

Even the notion that the death penalty helps deter convicts from attacking corrections officers has been challenged by researchers in an article in the 2107 edition of The Journal for the Study of Religion and Society. It declares this is "essentially impossible to test, since a person who is deterred from a crime remains undetectable. We have no way to know whether any inmates have ever been deterred from killing in prison because they feared the death penalty."

Our theologians' understanding of natural law has evolved over time; the default stance of all Christians should be, quite simply, not to kill anyone.

The journal goes on to point out how the death penalty can even be an incentive for prison murders. Some inmates, faced with the prospects of thousands of days in jail with no chance of parole, use the death penalty as incentive to murder, receive the death penalty and end their misery. Death penalty opponents have called this "suicide by governor."

Nevertheless, in spite of the church's sweeping opposition to capital punishment, some officials in the church maintain there is still room for debate on capital punishment. It can seem confounding.

A Prudential Matter

Omar F. A. Gutierrez, of the Office of Mission and Justice for the Archdiocese of Omaha, said that an individual Catholic's discernment about the validity of the death penalty "boils down to a hierarchy of issues." He said, "Benedict talks of 'non-negotiables.' What are the intrinsic evils, to use the [U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops'] language, and what are more prudential matters?"

Whether people are even familiar with the term, "prudential matter" is what makes space in the room for disagreement. Prudential matter, to put it provocatively, is kind of like a way out for Catholics.

"When you're applying what the church teaches to a specific context," said Mr. Gutierrez, "then it becomes a prudential matter, because when assessing the specific context, the bishops may in fact have facts wrong.

"So, the principle isn't wrong, the teaching isn't wrong, but the application in this specific context could be wrong."

The governor of Nebraska, for instance, may be aware of mitigating circumstances, factors the church is not privy to, that make the death penalty necessary in a given case. (For example, 1 mitigating circumstance may be concern over the safety of corrections officers.) There is a crack of light, according to discourse such as this, allowing the governor and other Catholics to support capital punishment.

That does not mean Catholics can simply dismiss the church's teaching. "When Catholics hear the word 'prudential,' left or right," said Gutierrez, "they hear they don't have to pay attention to it. 'If it's a prudential issue, I can ignore it.' And I get this on the left and right of the political spectrum. 'It's a personal decision.'"

But moral theologian Margaret Pfeil said it would be very difficult for a Catholic to argue for the death penalty using prudential judgement as guided by the formation of conscience: "Wouldn't a properly formed conscience have to take seriously an encyclical ("Evangelium Vitae") and the revised catechism?" She said it is difficult to imagine the arguments a Catholic could come up with to oppose these 2 documents. "If the answer is "prudential judgement," she said, "then the question is "Where is that judgement coming from," if not the church's own teachings? 2What have people used to form their consciences?"

Deacon Al Aulner of Holy Family Church in Omaha grew up in the farming community of Hastings, in central Nebraska. He was once a death penalty supporter. For him, the death penalty went from becoming a prudential matter to something that was not really up for debate. Mr. Aulner said that his conversion on the issue took place over several years. "I fell in love with the church and her teachings," he said. "She carries the teaching of Christ. If I love Christ I have to follow the church's teachings."

The writing of John Paul II also influenced him: "With a lot of prayer, I came to realize I needed to acquiesce whether I Iiked it or not.... I can't pick and choose which teaching I am going to follow."

But few Catholics become deacons, not to mention deacons who engage in a prayerful, reflective process of understanding church doctrine on thorny issues like the death penalty.

According to some observers, the hierarchy of the American church has not made it easy for Catholics to have the change of heart Mr. Aulner had. The ordinary Catholic's failure to endorse the broad range of the church's social justice positions is the result of a "self-inflicted wound" by the bishops, as one priest put it.

In part, this is because of the very concept of "non-negotiables," those issues on which a Catholic is obligated to follow the teachings of the church. The phrase is repeatedly utilized by some Catholic leaders in relation to a few issues - typically abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. Naming only these issues as "non-negotiable" becomes a clue for some Catholics that all other issues are "negotiable," or far lesser social wrongs. They become matters that the church has no real say in.

There is a similar case with another popular phrase in Catholic moral discourse. Theologians such as Cathleen Kaveny argue that constantly employing the term "intrinsic evil" - an act that by its very nature is always wrong - also causes the marginalization of issues such as the death penalty. When a moral offense does not attain the label "intrinsic evil," Catholics may assume it has less weight and requires less moral discernment.

When a moral offense does not attain the label "intrinsic evil," Catholics may assume it has less weight and requires less moral discernment.

This slicing up of moral questions and categories, so runs the critique, makes it more difficult to convince pro-death-penalty Catholics that, as Mr. Gutierrez puts it, the burden of proof is on them - that they need to explain why they believe the death penalty is legitimate.

Arguing against the church for the necessity of the death penalty should be a case that is difficult, if not impossible, for Catholics to make. But the very language the church uses when talking about the death penalty can allow some Catholics to feel they do not have to make that argument at all.

Priorities in the Dignity of Life

Embedded in this question of intrinsic evil and non-negotiables is a further question about a "ranking" of pro-life issues.

In parts of Nebraska, for instance, the laser-like focus on the death penalty was surprising for some people, said Mr.Kelly of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. "We were hearing, 'Why are all of you focusing on the death penalty? What about abortion?' It came off that all of a sudden we were backing off that pro-life, anti-abortion identity."

In his homilies, Father Novakowski discussed the referendum in a way that tried to reconcile both causes. "My parishes know that my stance on pro-life is to know that God is the author of all life, from conception to natural death," he said. "And that includes not having the right to take another life." In other words, part and parcel of being pro-life means opposing the death penalty.

But this approach clashes with a ceaseless debate by activists in the Catholic Church. There is a current in Catholic discourse that suggests the struggle to end abortion gets diluted when people include other causes as part of the "pro-life" stance. A priest at a Mass with a politically liberal congregation, for instance, talks about protecting the unborn. Then he immediately reels off a string of other "life" matters - securing health care, defending immigrants, ending the death penalty. Is he trying to draw attention from the most heated and divisive Catholic opinion of them all, one that might upset half the house? Is he effectively burying the radioactive material of anti-abortion teaching?

On the other hand, identifying with the entire host of "life issues" is seen by some as giving deeper credibility to the cause of those who fight on behalf of the unborn.

"If you can't agree when life actually begins, then the substantial belief that the death penalty is moral or unjust doesn't hold."

When working on the death penalty, said Mr. Kelly, it is important that the church's position on "prime" life issues be made clear. "It's absolutely vital to be able to begin with the understanding of when life begins," he said. "That's why things like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research...if you can't agree when life actually begins, then the substantial belief that the death penalty is moral or unjust doesn't hold."

Dave Zabolsky summed up the conventional Catholic approach to these moral issues succinctly. "A life lost to the death penalty is tragic," he said. "A life lost to abortion is evil, because they're innocent." He said he struggles with the issue of whether the death penalty should be legal, but said that in the end he agrees with the church's position.

Father Novakowski said he stresses Christian fundamentals. "It's not so much as being against any [pro-life issues] or for them. It's about surrendering our will to God's will and accepting that only God is the author of all life," he said. Catholics cannot say they are pro-life, Novakowski said, if they are only against abortion. In that case, he said, "You're partially pro-life. If you’re pro-life you have to be all of the above."

But even if the universal church revamped its entire way of talking about justice issues, and even if the Nebraska bishops had worked tirelessly for years educating the faithful about capital punishment, little might have changed with the Catholic vote last November. The days of the people in the pews doing exactly what their priest tells them are long gone. With regard to religious authority today, the exercise of free will is more alive than ever.

Then there is Ernie Chambers, who does not believe in God, has no use for organized religion and declared that white people are the devil. ("Now, when I say this, I don't mean all white people," he told me.)

But Mr. Chambers simply believes the death penalty is wrong. He admitted that his position took root in the church he grew up in, "which I've outgrown," he said. For him, the prudential matter boils down to 1 thing: "I've never believed that the state should kill anybody."

On Jan. 17, Mr. Chambers introduced a new bill to the state legislature, his 23rd, to end capital punishment in Nebraska. A hearing took place on March 24. It is not expected to come up for debate before June 2, when the session ends.

In the meantime, a bill was advanced out of committee that would allow the Nebraska Department of Corrections to hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers. It is supported by the governor.

(source: Joseph P. Hoover, S.J., americamagazine.com)

USA:

New issue in executions: Should the death chamber be silent?

The nation's 1st double execution in more than 16 years raised a new issue involving transparency and the death penalty: Should witnesses be allowed to hear what goes on in the death chamber?

A lawyer who watched Monday's executions in Arkansas said he saw an inmate open his mouth several times when it should have been still, prompting another lawyer to claim in a court filing that Jack Jones was gulping for air after being given a sedative, the 1st component of a lethal injection. Other witnesses did not see it the same way. An open microphone could have settled the question.

When the 2 convicted murderers were put to death, the 20 or so witnesses heard only what Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley wanted them to hear.

A spokesman for the Arkansas prison system, Solomon Graves, said he inherited a policy that limits what can be heard from the death chamber. The standard procedure has been to turn off a microphone inside the 18-by-12-foot chamber after an inmate's last statement and turn it on again for the official pronouncement of death. Several other states have similar policies.

"There is no legitimate reason to turn off the sound," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. "If you're going to have public oversight and the witnesses are going to be able to do their jobs to determine whether the execution was carried out in a competent manner, if there's something unanticipated that happens, the way you tell is by what people say."

Because the microphone was off during Monday's 1st execution, witnesses disagreed on whether Jack Jones was struggling for air after being given 500 milligrams of midazolam. A lawyer who believed he saw Jones moving his mouth testified in a late-night court hearing Monday on whether a stay should be given to Marcel Williams, the 2nd inmate killed Monday night, to avoid inflicting a "tortuous" death. A judge rejected his plea.

Williams, who weighed 400 pounds, probably needed a 2nd 500 milligram dose of midazolam. An attendant could be seen mouthing the words "I'm not sure" after checking Williams" consciousness 5 minutes into the night's 2nd execution. Arkansas' protocol requires that the inmate receive a 2nd dose of midazolam if the 1st does not render him sufficiently unconscious.

Texas, which has executed the most prisoners since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976, does not shut off the audio in the death chamber.

At Huntsville, Texas, in the 1980s, there was no glass wall separating the witnesses from the condemned, though at times it was difficult to hear if the prisoner mumbled or spoke softly. Plexiglass was put up after an intravenous line popped out and began to spurt toward witnesses during a December 1988 execution, but it's been a given that the witnesses should see and hear what is happening.

Witnesses in the other states are often close enough to the chamber that they can hear through the glass wall without any help from a microphone.

Kelly Gissendaner sang "Amazing Grace" from the gurney in Georgia in a voice loud enough for witnesses to listen. Other prisoners have moved their lips as if they were speaking or praying. In Florida's death chamber, an air conditioner runs so loudly that it’s difficult to hear noises with the microphone off. An inmate in Alabama could be heard coughing for 13 minutes in his December execution, even without a microphone.

Associated Press witnesses in Arizona and Ohio said they could hear inmates breathe heavily, snore or snort during lengthy executions, and a lawyer at Joseph Wood's execution in Arizona in 2014 said the inmate could be heard particularly when a microphone was on during periodic updates.

"The gasping and gulping sounded like a freight train," said Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed the execution.

Oklahoma left its microphone open until the execution of Clayton Lockett, who struggled against his restraints before dying. The state now turns off the mic after an inmate's final statement.

Secrecy runs throughout Arkansas' capital punishment system, with strict rules to protect the identity of prison staff members, drug suppliers and others. Witnesses are not allowed to see workers place intravenous lines in the inmates - a process that the prison log said took 8 minutes for Jones and 40 for Williams Monday night - because that would expose members of the execution team.

Legislators adopted those rules out of fear that those who take part in lethal injections could be subject to personal or financial risks. They also wanted to safeguard the identity of drug suppliers to ease the state's ability to obtain components of the lethal injection.

The Associated Press in 2015 was able to use packaging materials to identify drug manufacturers whose products would be used, prompting them to complain. One drug supplier stepped forward this month to say a Department of Correction deputy had duped the company into supplying vecuronium bromide for executions last year. This year, a company intervened in a federal lawsuit after learning Arkansas intended to use potassium chloride it had produced.

The 1st drug shuts down a prisoner's lungs, the 2nd stops the heart.

The state has put 3 inmates to death since April 20 in its 1st executions since 2005. Another man is scheduled to be executed Thursday. The accelerated execution schedule was prompted by the fact that Arkansas' current stock of midazolam expires at the end of the month. The prison system has said it has no new source.

(source: Associated Press)

******************

Thomas Edison, the electric chair and a botched execution: A death penalty primer

To understand the gruesome history of the death penalty, it is essential to comprehend how badly inventor Thomas Edison wanted to zap his nemesis George Westinghouse.

Their rivalry was literally electric.

Westinghouse was a purveyor of alternating-current voltage - AC. Edison developed direct-current voltage - DC. A very loud, very long-haired Australian band would a century later insert a lightning bolt in the middle of those letters, calling itself AC/DC.

But back to the 1890s.

Edison and Westinghouse, each trying to win lucrative electricity contracts, were fighting over which current was safer. This was a crucial marketing detail given that the general public's familiarity with electricity was limited to lightning bolts.

What happened next makes the cage match between Apple and Google seem like a game of gin rummy.

Just as the 2 inventors were battling, a dentist in Buffalo named Alfred Southwick heard about a drunk man dying instantly after touching a generator, according to "The Electric Chair: An Unnatural American History," by Craig Brandon.

A commission in New York had been contemplating replacing hangings with electrocution. (A similar shift would take place a century later as states such as Arkansas, which carried out back-to-back executions Monday, adopted lethal injection as the preferred method of capital punishment.)

Southwick thought that executing prisoners with electricity would be more humane than messy hangings. He tested his theory by electrocuting stray animals around town.

On Nov. 8, 1887, Southwick sent Edison a letter about his findings, asking how best to electrocute humans.

The Wizard of Menlo Park wrote back, saying he abhorred the idea and would "join heartily in an effort to abolish capital punishment," according to Brandon's book.

Southwick, apparently a very persistent dentist, wrote Edison again a month later. This time, Edison had a different answer.

"The most suitable apparatus for this purpose is that class of dynamo-electric machinery which employs intermittent currents," Edison wrote. "The most effective of these are known as 'alternating machines' manufactured principally in this country by Geo. Westinghouse."

Edison's logic was twisted, barbaric and possibly brilliant: If he could convince the world that Westinghouse's alternating current was a swift and efficient killer, his method would be seen as safer, increasing his market share.

"The electric chair's midwife was greed," Brandon wrote, "the kind of pure, unadulterated greed for which the Gilded Age was famous."

This episode led to New York adopting the electric chair as its tool of death. Edison made sure that Westinghouse's alternating current was chosen by secretly funding another electricity engineer to quickly build the device.

The 1st victim: William Kemmler, a drunk who killed his common-law wife with a hatchet. Westinghouse hired Kemmler the best attorney he could find, even taking the case to the Supreme Court, which declined to overturn his death sentence.

On August 6, 1890, before the sun rose, Kemmler woke up in his cell, put on a suit and laced up a pair of polished shoes. The warden led him to a crowded room where an empty oak chair awaited him.

"Gentlemen, I wish everyone all the good luck in the world," Kemmler said, according to newspaper accounts. "I believe I am going to a good place. The papers have been saying a lot of stuff that ain't so. That's all I have to say."

The warden strapped Kemmler in, attaching electrodes to his head.

"Goodbye, William," he said.

Then he motioned for someone to flip the switch.

"His shoulders slowly drew up as they sometimes do in the case of a man who is hanging," a coroner later wrote.

17 seconds later, 2 physicians determined that Kemmler was dead. The current was turned off. The room was silent.

And then someone yelled, "Great God, he is alive!"

Kemmler was breathing. His heart was beating.

"Turn on the current!" someone else shouted.

4 minutes later, Kemmler was really dead. His body took several hours to cool off. Newspapers called him the "poor wretch."

Westinghouse was horrified.

"They could have done a better job with an ax," he told reporters, according to several books on the death penalty.

Edison was more optimistic.

The excitement, he said, caused "some bungling."

"I think when the next man is placed in the chair to suffer the death penalty," he said, "that death will be accomplished instantly."

Edison also offered some advice.

"The better way is to place the hands in jars of water," he said. "And let the current be turned on there."

(source: Washington Post)

*******************

Death penalty cases said to have 'enormous complexity'

With death penalty cases making headlines in Arkansas, California and Alabama, pastors in the affected states have expressed diverse views on capital punishment while underscoring the "enormous complexity" of the issue.

In Arkansas, 3 convicted murderers -- Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee -- have been executed in the past week, according to media reports, with Kenneth Williams scheduled to die April 27. Originally, the state sought to execute 8 inmates before a sedative used in its lethal injection process expired at the end of the month. 4 of the executions are on hold as inmates' final appeals are considered.

California, which has not executed anyone in 11 years, "could come close to resuming executions in the next year," according to an Associated Press report.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday (April 24) in an Alabama death row case hinging on whether the state must provide defendants with mental health experts to assist in their defenses.

Amid the flurry of capital punishment news, Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd issued a blog post April 24 noting "10 biblical realities to consider about capital punishment." Among his arguments:

-- "According to Scripture, capital punishment is permissible if the evidence about the accused is more than clear, overwhelming, and just. (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:4)";

-- "The justice system must be equitable and just regardless of race, class, or culture. (Deuteronomy 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; Leviticus 19:14)";

-- "Every person should always be treated with the highest dignity, including those who receive capital punishment, by administering it in the most benevolent way possible. (Genesis 1:27)";

-- "Eternal salvation is possible for anyone awaiting capital punishment, through their personal repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9-13)"

The "simplicity and clarity" of a brief list of principles "does not diminish the enormous complexity of this issue," wrote Floyd, immediate past SBC president and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. "As we wrestle through this issue, we do so with humility and honesty, not with arrogance or judgment toward anyone."

Speculation that California could resume executions was prompted by the approach of an April 26 court-ordered deadline for corrections officials to submit revised lethal injection rules to state regulators. The deadline was imposed in response to a request by families of murder victims angered at California's 3-year delay in issuing revisions and the resultant delay in executions, according to AP.

The proposed rules call for lethal drugs to be administered a maximum of 5 times in 10-minute intervals. If an inmate is still alive after 5 lethal doses, his or her execution will be halted and medical assistance summoned, AP reported.

In a related case, the California Supreme Court is scheduled to rule by August on challenges to a 2016 ballot initiative in which voters called for speeding up the death penalty process by a 51-percent majority.

Miguel Rodriguez, director of Gateway Seminary's North Bay School of Theology for inmates at San Quentin State Prison, told Baptist Press the restart of executions would be a "negative" development. San Quentin, located some 8 miles north of Gateway's former main campus in Mill Valley, Calif., is the site of California's death chamber.

"The biblical argument [for capital punishment] is based on the Old Testament largely," said Rodriguez, pastor of Lincoln Hill Community Church in San Rafael, Calif. Jesus "challenged" the "eye for eye" approach to justice and urged His followers to respond "to violence in a nonviolent way."

While "the state is the instrument of God in carrying out justice," Rodriguez said, referencing Romans 13:4, some calls for capital punishment seem to be based on "vengeance rather than justice." Executing criminals will not yield "restorative justice," he said.

At oral arguments in the Alabama case, the U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices "appeared closely divided," according to NPR, with Justice Anthony Kennedy appearing "likely to cast the deciding vote."

At issue is whether James McWilliams, a convicted murderer with alleged mental health challenges, was entitled to his own psychiatric expert at sentencing or whether a single court-appointed mental health expert could provide evidence and conclusions for both sides.

Justice Stephen Breyer of the court's liberal bloc argued McWilliams "certainly did not get" the legal help required by law while Justice Neil Gorsuch of the court's conservative wing suggested requiring a separate state-appointed defense expert could lead to a slippery slope of requirements for other types of expert witnesses, NPR reported.

Since McWilliams' sentencing, Alabama has begun assisting defendants with mental health experts, but the state argued his sentence need not be overturned, according to NPR.

The SBC, speaking in a 2000 resolution, "urge[d] that capital punishment be administered only when the pursuit of truth and justice result in clear and overwhelming evidence of guilt." The resolution said capital punishment is "a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death" and called for "vigilance, justice, and equality in the criminal justice system."

(source: David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service----bpnews.net)

PHILIPPINES:

Drilon: no resurrection of death penalty at the Senate

The bill seeking to revive the death penalty is already "dead in the Senate."

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said this Wednesday as the chamber is expected to tackle the proposal when the session resumes next week.

The chamber has failed to get a consensus on the bill, a priority anti-crime measure of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"It's dead and the chances of resurrecting it before we even bring it to a vote are very slim, if not zero, at least in this Congress," Drilon said in a statement.

He said the measure, a version of which was speedily passed at the House of Representatives in March, does not have enough votes at the chamber.

"By my own estimate, there are at least 13 senators who will block the passage of the death penalty bill, including the 6-member minority group and 7 from the majority block," Drilon said.

7 bills are currently pending at the Senate seeking to restore the death penalty for various crimes.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the revival's fiercest sponsor, has three proposals to impose the death penalty on convicts of aggravated rape, kidnapping and drug-related crimes.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has 2: 1 seeks an amendment to the 2002 anti-drug law to impose the death penalty for drug sale and trading, and another for heinous crimes such as child trafficking, exploitation, pornography and rape.

Sen. JV Ejercito is proposing to revive the death penalty for a foreigner found guilty of drug trafficking in the Philippines.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson meanwhile proposed to revive the punishment as maximum penalty for those convicted of terrorism, plunder, bribery, treason, piracy, kidnapping, drug-related crimes, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, and destructive arson.

Apart from the authors, Drilon identified Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Cynthia Villar as those who have expressed support for the revival in media interviews.

Meanwhile, those opposed to the proposal other than Drilon are the other minority members: Senators Francis Pangilinan, the detained Leila De Lima, and Benigno Paolo Aquino of the Liberal Party (LP), Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, an LP guest candidate during the elections, and Sen. Antonio "Sonny" Trillanes IV.

De Lima has a pending bill seeking to prohibit the reimposition of death penalty.

Drilon said another LP member, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, is also against the controversial measure.

"We are ready to lead the fight against the death penalty bill. We believe that a death penalty law was not and will never be an effective deterrence against crime," Drilon said.

"It will be detrimental to the poor who will be made victims of this cruel and inhumane punishment due to the inefficiencies of our judicial system," he added.

(source: abs-cbn.com)

SAUDI ARABIA:

Twitter goes wild over reported death penalty for 'atheism' in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has reportedly sentenced a young man to death for apostasy. The news has stirred up Twitter users, with some expressing sadness and sorrow, while others praised the move.

On Tuesday, a Saudi Arabian court dismissed an appeal from Ahmad Al Shamri, who had spent 3 years in prison over charges of "atheism and blasphemy," the Exmuslim website reports.

Al Shamri was in his early 20s and lived the city of Hafr Al-Batin in the country's Eastern Province, according to the website. He had reportedly renounced Islam and posted various videos reflecting his views on social media. The man was arrested in 2014, faced trial and was sentenced to death in February 2015.

After the appeal was rejected, social media users were split over the court decision, posting their comments under a trending hashtag, which can be translated from Arabic as "apostate from Hafar Al-Batin."

Many social media users condemned Saudi Arabia, pointing out that the country is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

(source: rt.com)

IRAN:

More Than 30 Men Arrested For 'Sodomy' In Iran Face Death Penalty if Convicted: Reports

More than 30 men were arrested after a private party in the Bahadoran region of Isfahan, Iran was raided by the police, Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees reported Thursday. Their charges are sodomy, drinking alcohol and using psychedelic drugs and they face the death penalty if found guilty.

The men, between the ages of 16 and 30, the Canadian charity reports, were rounded up late April 13 amid gunshots and beatings from police, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"IRQR received several reports in last few days and were able to confirm that police attacked guests and physically beat them. Police detained them all at the Basij (Revolutionary Guard Militia) Station and then transferred them to Esfahan's Dastgerd Prison. A few people managed to escape and we received reports that there were several heterosexual individuals among those arrested," IRQR reported.

IRQR also reported that those arrested were forced to name their LGBT friends to authorities. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, according to the International Society for Human Rights.

IRQR reports that a special prosecutor has been named and that those arrested will be subjected to anal examination to prove the homosexuality charges.

In Iran, LGBT citizens are afforded very little, if any, civil rights. Presently, LGBT citizens cannot marry, cannot adopt, cannot serve openly in the military and are not protected from any discrimination, according to Equaldex. In 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously declared while at Columbia University that there were no gay people in Iran.

European civil rights leaders are calling for the EU to step in.

"While the Islamic State throws gays from rooftops, the Islamic Republic hangs them. Iran's regime forces homosexuals to flee the country and the EU turns a blind eye," Stefan Schaden, an LGBT rights activist and spokesman for the European "Stop The Bomb campaign" said in an email to the Jerusalem Post. "The EU is, however, required in their dealings with third countries to comply with binding guidelines laid down in the Union's 'LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex] Toolkit' to combat state violence against LGBTI persons. The EU must clearly step up its efforts in this regard and consider more human rights sanctions against the Iranian regime."

This incident comes on the heels of reports that in Chechnya, gay men are being rounded up, tortured and in some cases even killed.

(source: towleroad.com)

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO:

Hangings in T&T 'as soon as lawfully possible'

The current number of people on death row as of yesterday stands at 37.

Of those 37, 12 people can be hanged within the time frame set out in the Pratt and Morgan ruling, which states that "in any case in which execution was to take place more than 5 years after sentencing, there would be strong grounds for believing that the delay was such as to constitute inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment".

The figures were confirmed by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who was at the time responding to questions from the Opposition in the Upper House.

Asked what government's timetable to resume hangings is, Al-Rawi indicated that the death penalty would be carried out as soon as it was lawfully possible, given the current circumstances.

Al-Rawi explained the process involved in carrying out hangings.

"It is necessary to put on the record again...that there are 3 steps of approach towards managing the criminal justice system as it relates to implementing the death penalty.

The 1st...is that you have a High Court matter where conviction may be given.

Secondly...is that you're entitled to appeal that to the Court of Appeal. After appeal to the Court of Appeal, then to the Privy Council, then lastly to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."

In examining data from 2006 to present day, he noted, however, that the appeals process has proved to be challenging, placing additional hurdles in the way of the implementation of the death penalty.

"One notes from the data standing under the last government, that of the 37 people on death row, 29 of them have had consideration by the last government.

And of that 29, 6 of them were met with a conclusion of appeal at the Privy Council just at the 5-year marker with the then track having to run on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."

Al-Rawi said a new tracking system monitors each file of every person who stands convicted to be hanged in accordance with the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

Since May 2016 to present day, 8 additional people (included in the 37 on death row) have been committed to hang.

According to the AG, 25 persons in total are being tracked for the implementation of the law, "so that the State ensures that every step that it has within its power to comply with the State’s input into the appellate process is preserved and...accomplished".

"In those circumstances, we expect to carry out the death penalty as soon as is lawfully possible in all the circumstances," he said.

(source: looptt.com)

PAKISTAN----executions

Another 4 militants executed in Pakistan----Military courts have sentenced 161 militants to death penalty since 2014 following Peshawar school attack

Another 4 militants, convicted by military courts for their involvement in terrorism, have been executed at a jail in northwestern Pakistan, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Another 4 hardcore terrorists involved in committing heinous offenses relating to terrorism, including the killing of innocent civilians, attacking armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies have been executed at a jail in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [northwestern province]," the spokesman said in a statement.

The executed convicts Rehman ud Din, Mushtaq Khan, Obaid ur Rehman, and Zafar Iqbal were members of the Pakistani Taliban coalition, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan established controversial military courts to try "hardcore" militants following a deadly gun-and-bomb attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, which claimed the lives of over 140 people, mostly students.

The military courts, which were given another 2-year extension by parliament last month, have sentenced 161 militants to the death penalty, 26 of whom have been executed.

Islamabad lifted a 6-year long de facto ban on capital punishment in 2014 following the Peshawar school attack.

According to official statistics, over 8,000 death row convicts are currently in jail.

(source: Anadolu Agency)

INDIA:

Serial killer sisters say they don't deserve 'barbaric' death penalty

A pair of serial killer sisters from India who murdered 9 kids - 1 not even a year old - say they shouldn't be hanged on the gallows because doing so would more "barbaric" than they deserve.

Instead, a lawyer for Renuka Shinde and her younger sibling Seema Gavit is making one last-ditch bid to have a judge commute their sentence to life in prison, according to News.com.au.

Shinde and Gavit, now both in their 40s, have been held in custody since 1996 when they were busted along with their mother Anjana Bai Gavit for kidnapping 13 young children and murdering 9 as part of a pickpocketing ring that operated out of the city of Pune.

Their helpless victims commissioned to help them steal, ranged in age from 9 months to 2 years old.

The evil trio killed the children they deemed useless in the most gruesome ways.

The 9-month-old was starved and beaten to death because he cried too much, another was gagged and drowned in a toilet and a 4-year-old boy was hung upside down, his head slammed against a wall until he died.

The sisters were convicted at trial in 2001 of 6 of the 9 slayings - but 1 was overturned on appeal.

Their mom died behind bars in 1997 while awaiting trial.

The sisters are now among 13 women on death row in India, including Fahmida Sayed, who planted a car bomb in Mumbai that left 54 people dead in 2003.

The last woman to be hanged in the country was in 1955.

The sisters' previous exhausted all appeals to have their execution overturned.

(source: New York Post)

APRIL 25, 2017:

TEXAS:

Texas Prisons Violate Internationally Recognized Human Rights Standards: Report

Prisons in Texas are in violation of international human rights standards and deny civil rights of its prisoners on death row kept in solitary confinement, a report released Monday by the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law concludes.

Titled "Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas' Death Rows," the 48-page report calls for a sweeping array of changes in the operation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice centered on policies related to the use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure and access to healthcare.

Texas death row inmates spend an average of more than 14 years awaiting execution in solitary confinement, posited by UT-Austin researchers as akin to torture, an assessment shared by several human rights organizations.

The study comes amid a backdrop of prolific capital punishment in Texas, a state that executes more prisoners than any other state - by far. This year alone, 4 people have been put to death through the use of the drug Pentobarbital for various crimes: Christopher Wilkins, 48, executed Jan. 11; Terry Darnell Edwards, 43, executed Jan. 26; Rolando Ruiz, 44, put to death on March 7; and James Bigby, 61, executed March 14 (Source: Death Penalty Information Center).

The 4 prisoners put to death this year all had been awaiting execution for years, and in once case decades. Wilkins had the shortest wait at 8 years, while Bigby sat on death row for 25 years, according to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center.

The prisoner with the longest time on death row is Raymond Riles, who has been sitting on death row for more than 41 years after robbing and killing a Houston used car salesman in 1974. Due to mental illness, he was previously considered ineligible to be executed, but prison officials said he could become eligible given continual testing of his mental state. In 1985, Riles attempted suicide by setting his prison cell on fire.

The list of prisoners sitting on death row is so great, that even WikiPedia doesn't attempt to list them all: "Due to the high number of Texas death row inmates, only prisoners with Wikipedia pages are listed in this article," WikiPedia reads. "The full list is externally linked."

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the number of death row inmates is nearly 250.

Among recommendations outlined in the University of Texas School of Law report is an end of solitary confinement for prisoners suffering from mental illness or physical disabilities, enhanced healthcare access, provision of religious services and greater access to outdoor recreation.

"The State of Texas stands today as one of the most extensive utilizers of the death penalty worldwide," the report's author's wrote. "Consequently, inmate living conditions on Texas’ death row are ripe for review. This report demonstrates that the mandatory conditions implemented for death row inmates by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are harsh and inhumane."

The upshot: "Conditions on death row at TDCJ's Polunsky Unit must be remedied posthaste," the report's authors concluded.

Texas re-introduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement - total segregation of individuals confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day - for all prisoners convicted of capital murder. The practice bans recreation or eating with other inmates as death row inmates are confined to cells of average size of 8 feet by 12 feet in size, the report's authors noted.

The cells consist only of a sink, toilet and 30-inch wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress, according to the findings. Most include a small window, but inmates are only able to see oudoors by rolling up their mattresses to stand on them, according to the report.

"Every individual on Texas’'death row thus spends approximately 23 hours a day in complete isolation for the entire duration of their sentence, which, on average, lasts more than a decade," researchers found. "This prolonged solitary confinement has overwhelmingly negative effects on inmates' mental health, exacerbating existing mental health conditions and causing many prisoners to develop mental illness for the 1st time."

Stays of execution, when execution dates are re-set for a variety of reasons, also play havoc on prisoners' psychological state, according to the report: "In addition to the detrimental effects of isolation, the practice of setting multiple execution dates means that many prisoners are subjected to the psychological stress of preparing to die several times during their sentence."

In 1999, Texas reintroduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement for every individual convicted of capital murder. Solitary confinement involves total segregation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours per day, with a complete prohibition on recreating or eating with other inmates. An average cell is no bigger than 8 feet by 12 feet, the authors of the report found. Those cells contain only a sink, a toilet, and a 30-inch-wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress.

The report also found death row inmates find access to health care challenging.

"Inmates on death row experience severe barriers to accessing medical care, in part due to being housed in solitary confinement and being less able to effectively self-advocate. Inmates are not offered regular physical or psychological check-ups, and must rely on the guards to communicate and facilitate any healthcare appointments. Such requests for care are, at best, responded to within a few days, but can go several weeks without a response and are often ignored or forgotten about," researchers found.

Prison conditions are exacerbated given a lack of access to psychological healthcare, according to the report.

"In terms of psychological healthcare - an issue of great importance given that a large majority of inmates on death row suffer from some form of psychological illness - only inmates who were already taking psychiatric medication are able to meet regularly with psychiatrists," the report reads. "Of those inmates who are eventually given access to psychological care, they are generally only prescribed some form of psychiatric medication, thus exacerbating the unmet need for some form of counseling or non-pharmaceutical therapy. Inmates with mental illness who do not necessarily want or need prescription drugs are essentially provided with only 2 options: take unwanted medication, or forgo psychological healthcare entirely."

One prisoner on death row, Andre Thomas, was convicted of stabbing his wife and children to death. 5 days after the killings, he removed 1 of his eyeballs with his bare hands, but his mental illness was deemed to be largely substance-induced thus deeming him fit to stand trial. Originally placed in the Polunsky Unit where the men's death row is located, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat. On Dec. 9, 2008, he removed his remaining left eye and ate it.

The lack of access to religious services also is covered in the report. Christian Bibles are the only religious materials available from the prison chaplain in Texas, according to the report. But even for Christian inmates needed theological counsel, access to ministers is rarely provided save for the holiday season, according to the findings.

"For inmates of different faiths, such as Islam or Judaism, the situation is more difficult as they must solely rely on outside sources for their religious materials. They are provided with no access to practice their chosen faith, and are often met with contempt when seeking such access," authors found. "This has created a harsh environment for inmates who do not adhere to Christianity, and has enabled a discriminatory system on the basis of religion on Texas' death row."

The report prepared by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law cites other sources echoing their findings, including the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The report's authors cite such safeguards against inhumane conditions as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

"The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies have repeatedly issued opinions decrying the inhumane conditions present at the Polunsky Unit. Particularly, international human rights bodies had considered that the prolonged and mandatory use of solitary confinement is 'disproportionate, illegitimate, and unnecessary,'" the report's authors wrote.

(source: patch.com)

****************

U.S. Supreme Court justices express caution, intrigue in death penalty case----U.S. Supreme Court justices Monday expressed concerns about the caseload federal appeals courts might see if they allow Texas death row inmate Erick Davila another chance in a lower court because of an error his lawyer made in the appeals process.

U.S. Supreme Court justices wrestled Monday with the possible implications of siding with a Texas death row inmate who argues his case should have another chance in federal court because his appellate attorney neglected to bring up a trial error.

The court appeared split along ideological lines during the hearing, with Justice Anthony Kennedy - often a swing vote - sharing the same concerns as the conservative justices.

A ruling on the case is expected by the end of June, when the court's term ends.

The origins of the case dates back to 2008, when Erick Davila fatally shot a rival gang member's 5-year-old daughter and mother during another girl's birthday party in Fort Worth. Davila, 30, claims he intended only to kill his rival, Jerry Stevenson.

To find Davila guilty of capital murder, jurors had to determine that he intended to kill multiple people, and Davila's main defense was that he only intended to kill Stevenson. Tarrant County prosecutors countered by pointing to Davila's confession to police: "I was trying to get the guys on the porch, and I was trying to get [Jerry Stevenson]."

As jurors deliberated, they focused on the intent issue, asking the judge if they should decide whether Davila intended to kill his 2 victims or if he intended to kill someone and in the process fatally shot 2 others.

The judge instructed jurors that Davila would be responsible for a crime if the only difference between what happened and what he wanted was that a different person was hurt - without affirming to them that Davila must have intended to kill more than 1 person.

Davila's lawyer objected to the judge's instruction but was overruled. It was the right move by the lawyer, but it hurt Davila in the long run, according to Seth Kretzer, who argued on Davila's behalf before the justices in Washington, D.C.

The judge's instruction wasn't brought up during Davila's automatic, direct appeal,and another lawyer handling Davila's state habeas appeal - which focuses on facts outside of the trial record - didn't claim the appeals lawyer should have brought it up. 2 big mistakes, according to Kretzer.

Death penalty cases can also be appealed in the federal court system, but it is generally ruled that issues that could be raised at the state level can't be reviewed federally. So, when a federal lawyer tried to raise the claim that Davila's lawyer in the direct appeal was ineffective for not faulting the judge's instruction, federal courts said they couldn't rule on that because it could have been brought up during the state habeas appeal.

There is an exception to this rule, created in the Supreme Court decision Martinez v. Ryan, which says that if state habeas lawyers fail to raise the issue of ineffective trial counsel, the federal courts can still hear it to ensure that defendants are guaranteed their Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

Justice Samuel Alito told Kretzer that applying Martinez to Davila's case would burden federal appeals courts with numerous claims of errors from both trials and appeals.

"If we accept your argument, it applies everywhere, and it's not limited to ineffective assistance of counsel," Alito said, according to the court's transcript. "... it applies to every single - every single type of error that could occur at trial."

Kretzer disagreed, saying that if the Supreme Court sided with his client, it would only apply to claims of bad lawyering during the appeals process.

"But the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel would be based on any type of error that occurred at trial," Alito said. "So here you have a jury instruction error. But if we agree with you, it would apply to the erroneous introduction of evidence, to the - to improper statements made in closing, to any type of trial error, any type of constitutional trial error you can dream of."

Justice Stephen Breyer, a noted death penalty critic, said it wouldn't be a huge burden for federal appeals courts to hear more cases similar to Davila's but added that he thought Alito made an interesting point. Breyer asked what the difference was between raising the claim that a lawyer messed up during trial and during the appeals process.

"I mean, I'm just probably missing it, but what - what is a case where - where there's ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, but not ineffective assistance of trial counsel?" Breyer said. "What is that case?"

Breyer expanded on what he saw as a conundrum in the rules of how and when someone can raise the claim that they had a bad lawyer at trial and/or during the direct appeal after trial.

"Suppose we said, yes, there is - it's the same situation, you know, you have ineffective assistance - you have ineffective appellate counsel," he said. "Well, obviously, you can't raise it because he was ineffective. So you never had a shot at it. It's Catch-22. Same with the trial counsel."

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller shared the same concern as Alito.

"Extending Martinez to appellate-IAC [ineffective assistance of counsel] claims will have a huge systemic cost by opening up the entire trial and everything that happened at trial to federal habeas review," he told the court.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if that was enough of a reason to deny Davila. She and other jurists had noted throughout oral arguments that even if more claims were brought forward because the court sided with Davila, there would be a "initial uptick of claims until people settle down and realize that it's a small number that are viable," Sotomayor said.

If the high court rules in Davila's favor, the case would be sent back for federal courts to review his ineffective counsel claim. If it sides with Texas, Davila's appeal will be denied and he could become eligible for execution.

(source: Texas Tribune)

******************

Former Mavericks ManiAAC acted out 'military delusion' the night he killed 4, wounded 4, attorney says

Military service and repeated concussions playing football damaged Erbie Lee Bowser's brain so severely he was in an altered mental state when he killed 4 women and seriously wounded 4 children, his defense attorney says.

Bowser pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Monday during the 1st day of his capital murder trial.

"Erbie Bowser had been at war with his brain a long, long, long time before the abject horror of Aug. 7, 2013," attorney Andy Beach said, though it appears Bowser embellished his military service by claiming he served overseas. Military records show he wasn't in combat.

Bowser is accused of killing 4 women -- including his girlfriend and estranged wife -- and wounding 4 children in 2 homes in 2013.

Authorities say Bowser fatally shot Toya Smith, 43, and her daughter, 17-year-old Tasmia Allen, in Dallas before driving to DeSoto and killing his estranged wife, 47-year-old Zina Bowser, and her daughter, Neima Williams, 28.

Bowser also shot Smith's son, Storm Malone, and her daughter's friend Dasmine Mitchell at the Dallas house. And he shot Zina Bowser's 2 young sons, according to police records.

The 4 surviving victims testified Monday that Bowser was the person who shot them.

Bowser and Smith had been arguing before the shooting, said Mitchell, who had been staying at the house in Allen's room for a few days. Mitchell, now 20, said Allen left the bedroom and shouted for her to call 911.

Smith's son, Storm Malone, rushed into the bedroom and wedged himself against the door while he tried to call for help.

They heard someone bang on the door and then gunshots. Smith's body fell into the bedroom.

Allen's body was found in the hallway, her feet near her mother's. Allen still had a piece of pizza in her hand when officers found her body.

Bowser went into the bedroom and shot Mitchell twice in the abdomen and once in the leg. Mitchell pulled up her shirt Monday to show the jury the scars on her belly.

Malone said he doesn't remember much about the shooting. He was shot in the shoulder and through the right side of his jaw, the bullet exiting the top of his head. He suffered brain damage and some memory loss.

Mitchell said she heard the garage door open and loud music come on, the sound of Bowser leaving the Dallas home.

In DeSoto, Chris and Myles White, Zina Bowser's sons, heard an alarm go off in their house. They thought someone was breaking in. They ran into Chris' closet with their 3-year-old nephew and hid the boy under a coat.

Their older sister, Neima Williams, turned out lights and shut doors.

"I heard my mom screaming, 'No Erbie, no' and then some gunshots," Chris White testified.

While Bowser climbed the stairs, he called out to the others in the house. He found them in the closet and shot all 3. He allegedly didn't see the 3-year-old.

Myles White, now 14, remembers Bowser shooting his older sister. He remembers seeing Bowser with the gun but doesn't recall much about when he was shot.

"I was wondering if he was going to shoot us because my brother and I, we were just kids," Myles White said. "It's inhumane."

Chris White was shot in the shoulder, the bullet traveling through his body and piercing his spinal cord. He couldn't feel or move his legs after the shooting.

Now, Chris uses crutches to get around. He is able to walk with his left leg, but his right leg is atrophied. He hopes to be able to walk unassisted again.

"I've been working on it for a few years," he said.

Before the slayings, Bowser -- who is 6-foot-7 and weighs 400 pounds -- was known as a "gentle giant" who danced with the Dallas Mavericks ManiAACs. He once taught special-education classes in Mesquite ISD.

But he was also accused of threatening his wife, Zina Bowser, with a knife after she filed for divorce in 2011.

The Dallas County district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty if Bowser is convicted. Public defender Brad Lollar is the lead attorney representing the 48-year-old man.

Lollar filed a motion to delay the case in December, saying former District Attorney Susan Hawk's public statements on mental illness made her the wrong person to decide whether to seek the death penalty against a man with a record of mental problems, which his defense says can be blamed in part on brain injuries he suffered playing high school and college football.

State District Judge Tracy Holmes allowed jury selection to continue as planned in January.

Prosecutor Glen Fitzmartin told jurors during opening statements Monday that it was up to them to determine the truth. To be found not guilty by reason of insanity in Texas, the defense must prove the suspect suffered a mental illness and did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime.

Fitzmartin said that after Bowser shot the 4 people in the Dallas home, he drove to DeSoto, where he kicked in the back door of his estranged wife's house, shot her, set off a hand grenade and went upstairs.

After responding to the Dallas house, officers called DeSoto police to warn them the shooter was missing and might be headed there. When DeSoto police got to the house of Bowser's estranged wife, he was upstairs and could be heard saying, "This floor's clear. This floor's clear," Fitzmartin said.

Beach said Bowser was acting out a "military delusion" and repeatedly recite his Army identification number as though he were a prisoner of war.

Once Bowser's medications -- he was prescribed 14 before the night of the killings -- were regulated, "the gentle giant returned," Beach said.

(source: Dallas Morning News)

GEORGIA:

State to seek death penalty in Polk County toddler's death

A Cedartown man charged in the murder of a Polk County toddler is facing the death penalty.

Dustin Drew Putnal is accused of murdering Ella Grayce Pointer, who was just 21-months-old when she died. Monday morning in court, an attorney for Putnal said the State intends to seek the death penalty.

"Ella Grayce was so precious, such a beautiful child. She was always laughing and giggling and playing," said grandmother Dorothy Garner.

On October 28, 2016, Polk County Police and EMS personnel were dispatched to Putnal's apartment at 45 Adamson Drive where they found the child not breathing. She was taken to Polk Medical Center in critical condition and then flown to Egleston, where she later died.

The girl's grandfather said the family was told by staff at the hospital that the girl had been beaten and assaulted. According to police, she had possibly been sexually assaulted and suffered severe head trauma.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to assist the Polk County Sheriff's Office with the investigation.

According to police, Putnal is facing a number of charges including murder, felony murder, 2 counts of aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery and felony cruelty to children.

(source: Fox News)

FLORIDA:

Testimony begins in Juan Rosario's death-penalty trial

Every night, Elena Wilson would call her 83-year-old mother and go through a checklist that eased her worries about letting her live alone: Did she lock the door? Did she secure the chain? Did she leave a light on?

On Monday, more than 3 years after her mother, Elena Ortega, was found dead in her home, Wilson broke into tears on the witness stand in the Orange County Courthouse on the 1st day of testimony in the trial of 30-year-old Juan Rosario, who could face the death penalty if convicted of her mother's murder.

"She just didn't want to leave the house where they had lived for many years," Wilson said.

Rosario's is the 1st death-penalty case to go to trial since Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she will not seek the death penalty in any case. It is 1 of 23 cases Gov. Rick Scott took away from her office, reassigning it to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King. Ayala has filed suit to get the cases back, but Rosario’s trial has been allowed to go forward.

King sat in the courtroom Monday, though three Orange County prosecutors handled the case from the state's table.

In his opening statement to the jury Monday morning, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams described in detail what Rosario's ex-girlfriend has told authorities - that Rosario came home with blood on his face and told her that he had robbed a house and that the resident saw him, so he had to go back and destroy the evidence. Prosecutors say he set 3 fires in an attempt to do that.

Defense attorney Roger Weeden contended that the girlfriend, Janet Gutierrez, has a history of drug addiction, has changed her story, admitted to hiding evidence in Ortega's killing and is not a reliable witness.

On Monday, first responders and investigators described how Ortega was found: wearing a nightgown, kneeling on the floor and hunched over the bed. There were 3 gashes in her skull, and her white bed sheet was stained with blood and soot. A medical examiner said soot around her nostrils and in her windpipe indicates she was still breathing after the fire started.

Jurors also saw crime scene photos that showed the home in disarray. Someone had pulled drawers out of dressers and thrown open cabinets, apparently looking for valuables.

3 fires - set in a hall closet, a laundry room and a sewing room - produced soot that covered the leather couch in the living room and the white floor tiles in the kitchen. Firefighters, rushing in to extinguish the blaze, smashed windows and ripped out insulation.

Prosecutors said they expect to put Gutierrez on the stand Tuesday. Gutierrez, who was living with Rosario within walking distance of Ortega's home at the time of the killing, contacted authorities after Rosario was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a separate home invasion months after the killing.

Gutierrez has told authorities she buried the things Rosario is accused of stealing from Ortega in their back yard. He later made her dig them up, but she forgot 1 clear plastic bag, Williams said. About 9 months later, investigators dug up the yard and found Ortega's makeup bag, with her library card inside.

This is the 1st death-penalty case to go to trial in Orange County since Bessman Okafor's in 2015. Florida’s death-penalty statute has since changed, requiring all 12 jurors, not just a majority of them, to recommend the death penalty in order for defendants to be put on death row.

Attorneys spent all of last week picking a jury of 18, including 6 alternates - 16 women and 2 men.

(source: orlandosentinel.com)

*************************

Ayala Gets Prominent Backers In Death Penalty Dispute

An issue that has long been argued inside and outside of Florida courtrooms is again coming to a head.

Ex-prosecutors, former state Supreme Court justices, civil-rights organizations and families of homicide victims from across the country have filed briefs supporting embattled Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala in her legal battle with Gov. Rick Scott.

Lawyers representing the groups filed more than a half-dozen friend-of-the-court briefs Friday in Ayala's Florida Supreme Court challenge against the governor and Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King after Scott reassigned 23 death-penalty cases being handled by Ayala's office to King.

The briefs came after the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and other families of victims notified the court they intend to also file briefs in the case backing Scott.

Scott removed Ayala, the state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties, from the cases after she announced in March she did not intend to seek death for accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd or any other defendants charged with capital crimes.

Scott stripped her of the cases "in the interest of justice," the governor said in a statement at the time.

"State Attorney Ayala's complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice," he said.

But legal experts - including many death penalty opponents - and Ayala's lawyers maintain that Scott lacked the authority to reassign the cases, because prosecutors enjoy broad discretion in charging decisions, including whether to seek capital punishment.

The entrance into the case last week of former justices, prosecutors and others from across the country - including 2 former U.S. solicitor generals appointed by President Bill Clinton - has sharpened a national spotlight on the controversy, focused largely on the separation of powers between different branches of government.

"When one state actor usurps the responsibilities allocated to another, the balance is upset, and the legitimacy of the justice system itself is called into question. This is especially concerning where a defendant's life is at stake," lawyers for the group wrote in a brief filed Friday.

Ayala's lawyer, Roy Austin, told The News Service of Florida that the case has drawn national attention because, for many in the legal and civil rights communities, the independence of the judicial system is at stake.

"The justice system is supposed to be, and holds itself out to be independent of political influence. This is one of the clearest cases of an attempt to politicize our justice system. So I think people nationally who care about the independence of the justice system care about what happens in this case," Austin said.

Ayala, who unseated former State Attorney Jeff Ashton last year, argued that she based her decision on research that shows the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, is discriminatory, is costly, leaves the families of victims in limbo for too long, and is imposed on innocent people too often.

Within hours of her March announcement, Scott reassigned the case of Loyd - accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style murder of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton - to King, and later reassigned nearly 2-dozen other cases to the Ocala-area prosecutor.

Scott's handling of Ayala, Florida's 1st black elected state attorney, sparked outrage from African-American lawmakers, civil rights groups and others who accused the governor of singling out the prosecutor for political reasons, and heightened a racial divide centered on disparities in the administration of death sentences.

In contrast, a handful of GOP House members, along with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, applauded Scott's decision to reassign the cases, and have urged the governor to oust Ayala from office.

Lawyers for the House of Representatives, which has until May 3 to file its brief in support of Scott, argued that the governor was correct to reassign the cases after she announced she would not uphold the policies established by the Legislature.

"The House can provide the (Supreme) Court useful insight regarding petitioner's position about the role of a state attorney as an arbiter of public policy adopted by the Legislature," House General Counsel Adam Tanenbaum and Assistant General Counsel J. Michael Maida wrote in a petition filed earlier this month.

The House intends to "address the exclusive role assigned by the Constitution to the Legislature in the setting of public policy for the state and the ill effects that flow from the refusal of a state officer or agent to enforce a duly enacted legislative policy based on his or her disagreement with the rectitude or efficacy of that policy," the House lawyers wrote.

The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and family members of victims - including Clayton's husband and Dixon's mother - have also asked permission to file amicus briefs supporting Scott.

Some other victims' families - along with a handful of House and Senate Democratic lawmakers - have filed briefs supporting Ayala. Like other backers, many of them maintain that allowing the governor to 2nd-guess an elected prosecutor's decisions could set a dangerous and far-reaching precedent. The arguments mirror those made by Ayala's attorneys in the state and federal lawsuits.

"The correct decision in this case may be an unpopular one in some political circles. Yet, if the criminal justice system in Florida is to remain a fair, equitable and decentralized system, as envisioned by the Florida Constitution, it is up to this court to support and protect it," lawyers for the former prosecutors, justices and others wrote.

And, in a brief also filed Friday, lawyers representing the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, the Sentencing Project and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty also implied that Ayala's race could have played a factor in her being "singled out" by Scott, when other prosecutors frequently choose to seek life sentences instead of death.

"Florida prisons are full of inmates eligible for the death penalty who are instead serving life imprisonment without parole. No governor, current or past, looked over the shoulder of the prosecutors - heretofore always white - responsible for those many prosecutions ending in life imprisonment."

(source: CBS news)

*******************

New Polk jury deciding between life or death sentence for convicted murderer Benjamin Smiley

Convicted murderer Benjamin Davis Smiley Jr. is back in court today, this time so a new jury can decide whether he should receive life imprisonment or the death penalty for fatally shooting Clifford Drake during a 2013 home invasion robbery.

Assistant State Attorney Kristie Ducharme told jurors the state would present evidence supporting 6 reasons for them to recommend that Circuit Judge Jalal Harb should sentence Smiley, 24, to death. Most of them involved violent crimes committed during Drake's murder and a 2nd Lakeland killing less than a month earlier.

Separate juries have convicted Smiley in both murders and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in each case, but the sentencing phases in those trials were delayed while the Florida Supreme Court and the state Legislature worked out issues related to the death penalty process.

Ducharme said prosecutors also intend to argue that Drake, 58, was murdered for financial gain and that his killing was heinous, atrocious and cruel.

Bartow lawyer David Carmichael, representing Smiley, said Smiley's physicians will testify that he experienced 2 brain aneurisms about six months before Drake was killed, and those conditions left him with brain damage.

"You'll hear testimony about how it affected his thinking and reasoning, and understanding of consequences and impulsivity," Carmichael told the jurors.

He said Smiley's aunt, Samantha Lee, and his cousin, John McDonald, were the architects of the crimes leading to the murders of Drake and 46-year-old Carmen Riley of Lakeland. They knew of Smiley's mental issues, he said, and they recruited him to commit the crimes.

"They were not charged with this crime," Carmichael said.

In her opening statement to jurors today, Ducharme told them that Drake's stepson, Mark Wilkerson, saw Smiley and another man outside the house and was forced inside at gunpoint, where Drake was sleeping. The men demanded to know where the safe and money were, and when Drake said he had neither, Smiley shot him in the chest, Ducharme said.

During the trial in October, Wilkerson identified Smiley as the assailant in his house, and additional testimony identified a sweatshirt and backpack found in and near the house that contained Smiley's DNA.

Carmichael said the other man in the house with Smiley never has been identified.

This week's sentencing hearing is expected to continue through Friday. Under the state's new sentencing process, all 12 jurors must agree that prosecutors have proven the death penalty should be imposed. Ultimately, the final decision will rest with Harb.

(source: The Ledger)

ALABAMA:

Back at the Supreme Court, After Garland----It's strange being back in this place, and stranger still to hear them debate lunacy.

It has not gone unobserved, at least by me, that I have not spent a good deal of time this term in the Supreme Court. Some part of that is because I am growing fat and lazy. But the more truthful explanation is that while the great joy of my professional life has been to poke fun at serious institutions, the high court has seemed markedly unserious since, through no fault of its own, former President Barack Obama's court nominee was never seated. For people who held the court out as unique and at least nominally above raw politics, it's now come to look more and more like the land of misfit jurisprudential toys. Despite all that, it's fun to be back.

Oral argument this morning in McWilliams v. Dunn looks to be a fairly predictable split between the 4 liberal justices and the 4 conservatives, with Justice Anthony Kennedy performing his customary demi-Hamlet at the middle. The appeal probes what kind of expert psychiatric assistance an indigent defendant should be given at trial. The case dates back to a 1984 capital conviction of James McWilliams, who raped and murdered Patricia Reynolds during a robbery at the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, convenience store where she worked.

In a 1985 case, Ake v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court established that when an indigent defendant's sanity becomes a major issue at trial, "the State must, at a minimum, assure the defendant access to a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense." McWilliams was, before his trial in 1986, assessed by 3 doctors on an Alabama "lunacy commission" (yes, it was called that) who concluded he was fit to stand trial and that there were no mitigating circumstances that should influence his case. At his trial, his court-appointed counsel put both McWilliams and his mother on the stand to testify about mental health issues related to a childhood head injury. But McWilliams had no expert to testify on his behalf. The jury found him guilty and voted 10-2 for the death penalty. (In Alabama, the judge can hold a separate sentencing hearing.)

Records McWilliams had subpoenaed from prison never showed up before his trial. But just before the judge sentenced him, those records, plus a detailed report from a court-appointed psychologist, Dr. John Goff, who assessed McWilliams after trial, were handed over to the judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel. Goff, straying from the findings of the "lunacy commission," had concluded that McWilliams had "organic brain dysfunction," and his 1,200 pages of prison records revealed that he was being treated with strong psychotropic medications. This all seemed sort of new and important.

So, at McWilliams' judicial sentencing hearing, his defense counsel begged for a mental health expert to help understand the voluminous records he'd been provided only hours earlier, saying he couldn't offer up mitigating evidence, because he didn't even understand the evidence. The judge gave him 3 hours to look over the records at lunch. After the defense asked to withdraw the records from the trial (refused) and asked for a continuance to study the material (refused), the trial judge sentenced McWilliams to death. On the question of McWilliams' mental health, he determined the defendant was "feigning, faking and malingering."

For people who held the court out as unique and nominally above politics, it's come to look more like the land of misfit jurisprudential toys.

The issue at the Supreme Court today is simply whether the right to the kind of expert assistance granted in Ake - "to conduct a professional examination ... to help determine whether that defense is viable, to present testimony, and to assist in preparing the cross-examination of the State's psychiatric witnesses" - demands something more than what McWilliams received, a neutral expert dumping files on the counsel table right before trial. The Alabama courts and some federal appeals courts have taken the position that the mental health expert needn't be "independent" of the prosecution, and that indigent defendants aren't entitled to have experts that side solely with them. The trickier question is whether or not the requirement that your expert be truly helpful is "clearly established" case law that can be used to set aside the capital conviction. This whole issue took on greater urgency last week, when 2 Arkansas death-row inmates - Don Davis and Bruce Ward - saw the Arkansas and U.S. Supreme Court block their executions, which had been scheduled for last Monday, until McWilliams is decided in June.

Which means that back on the island, the misfit toys are quarreling.

Stephen Bright - representing McWilliams at oral argument - is immediately confronted by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who isn't persuaded that the rule McWilliams is seeking is a "clearly established right" sufficient to overcome the procedural bars in death-penalty cases.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has become ever more voluble and truly pissed off in her work in the death-penalty space, notes that here, there was evidence "at the last moment ... that certain signs of organic brain injury were present, and once that was confirmed, what the expert was saying to the court is 'now I need help.'"

Justice Samuel Alito presses Bright: "You seem to be arguing that what the defendant is entitled to is an expert who will function, more or less, like the kind of expert who would be retained by the defense, if the defense were simply given funds to hire an expert." Bright replies that the system is imbalanced:

The prosecution can hire as many experts as it wanted. ... It can choose experts that will come out the way it wants. If you're in Texas and you want to prove future dangerousness, doctors will testify every single time they get a chance that the defendant is a future danger.

Bright explains that the word "partisan" expert is a misnomer: "Of course, parties, whether it be the prosecution, whether it be a wealthy criminal defendant, whether it be a wealthy civil litigant, are all going to hire partisan experts. They're going to hire the experts that they think will give them the opinion that will help their side of the case." But here, Bright says, his client is hardly asking for the moon: "He doesn't get a partisan expert. He doesn't get to choose the expert, but he gets a competent expert to give whatever advice that expert can give to him as he prepares his defense and as he prepares to deal with the prosecution case."

Kennedy seems concerned that a neutral expert can't be effectively helping both sides, and Bright agrees that mental health experts "can't work both sides of the street."

Justice Neil Gorsuch asks Bright whether Ake implies that a neutral expert would be acceptable, instead of one dedicated to helping the defense. Bright replies "That was the old days. Those were the horse-and-buggy days, and this is today. And today, mental health is hotly contested. It takes experts on both sides." Bright notes that "experts widely disagree on mental health."

Gorsuch retorts: "Experts widely disagree on everything. That's why you hire them ... And why they cost so very much."

This seems as good a time as any for the court to recognize that poor people in prisons have exceedingly pressing mental health needs.

Alabama's Solicitor General Andrew Brasher has 30 minutes to argue for the state, and it's immediately clear that the court’s 4 liberal justices aren't comfortable with what happened to McWilliams. Justice Elena Kagan asks Brasher to "focus on the money sentence in Ake." She notes that the case explicitly says: "We hold that when the defendant makes this preliminary showing that mental health is going to be at issue, the State must assure the defendant access to a competent psychiatrist who will assist in evaluation, preparation and presentation of the defense." "Assist!" she says. "Assist!"

Brasher replies that "neutral experts are capable of assisting the defense in a way that an expert assists the defense." Kagan replies, "They're capable in the sense that sometimes they might, but it's not somebody who sometimes might, and is capable of, but who, in fact, will do so, to the best of his ability, assist the defendant."

Brasher reiterates that Goff, the doctor who prepared the voluminous report right before McWilliams' sentencing hearing, "was his expert." Neither Stephen Breyer nor Kennedy appear persuaded that Goff behaved like one. Brasher urges that McWilliams could have used him as one and chose not to. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes that in virtually every jurisdiction today, it is understood that “Ake requires an expert who will be, essentially, part of the defense team." This includes the Supreme Court of the state of Alabama, "which in 2005 ruled an indigent defendant is entitled to an independent expert devoted to assisting his defense, not one providing the same information or advice to the court and prosecution." Brasher replies that the lower courts and states have adopted that rule over time, but it doesn't mean it was the "clearly established" holding in Ake or that it compels the court to expand Ake to mean that today. Remember last week when, at his first day at the high court, Justice Gorsuch was slapped delicately on the nose with a newspaper by Elena Kagan, and everyone went nuts? Again today, she bops him gently, this time when he suggests we can limit the holding of Ake to the relief the party asked for in their appeal. Gorsuch adds that in Ake, the defendant asked only for "a partisan expert or a court-appointed expert. But would have been satisfied with either one." So isn't it over right there?

Brasher starts to respond in the affirmative, but Kagan swoops in with her rolled-up newspaper: "That would be quite something, I have to say, General. If we say: 'Listen, when you read our opinions and when you try to figure out what we're saying, what you have to do is go back to the [question presented] and just narrow it to exactly what the QP said.' I think that that would be a shocking way to interpret this court's opinions."

"Shocking." Ouch. Good thing that group dinner at the White House got rescheduled.

In his rebuttal Bright says at stake in this case "is the proper working of the adversary system. And this certainly doesn't put the defense in an equal position with the prosecutor, not by a long shot, but it at least gives the defense a shot, at least gives them one competent mental health expert that they can talk to, understand what the issues are, present them as best they can."

The high court has been slowly ruling in favor of limiting capital punishment in some extreme death-penalty cases this term. Because the psychological assistance that indigent defendants now get is so much more substantial than it was 30 years ago, cases like McWilliams will become increasingly rare. Correcting egregious errors from decades ago is hardly going to mean the end of capital punishment, as is plain from the push for executions in Arkansas this month. But this seems as good a time as any for the court to recognize that poor people in prisons have exceedingly pressing mental health needs. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report estimates that 64 % of local jail inmates, 56 % of state prisoners, and 45 % of federal prisoners have serious mental health illnesses. That we had "lunacy commissions" only 30 years ago isn't the only piece of lunacy in this case. It's that people who were poor and mentally ill were afforded no assistance in proving it, and we're still fighting about that.

Even on this island of misfit jurisprudential toys, that level of absurdity ought to mean something.

(source: Dahlia Lithwick, slate.com)

******************

US Supreme Court refuses review of Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the appeal of Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur, who is scheduled to be executed next month.

Justices denied a request to re-hear Arthur's request for certiorari - or review - of his appeal. Justice Sonia Sotomayor would have granted Arthur's petition.

Arthur is set to be executed May 25 at Holman Correctional Facility for the 1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker, of Muscle Shoals. Arthur has had 7 previous executions over the past 15 years delayed by courts - the last one on Nov. 3.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 21 had denied Arthur's request for a review of his appeal claiming the state's lethal injection method of execution is unconstitutional. But his attorneys in requesting a rehearing cited split opinions regarding lethal injection since February among different circuit courts of appeal around the nation.

"The presence of 2 split decisions with opposed holdings from 2 different courts of appeals on an issue of national importance warrants review by this court," Authur's attorney, Suhana Han argues. "This review is urgent in Mr. Arthur's case: Mr. Arthur has proffered substantial evidence that his execution ... will be torturous, but because he is in Alabama instead of Ohio that evidence will never be considered absent this court's intervention."

Arthur is set to be executed May 25 at Holman Correctional Facility for the 1982 murder-for-hire slaying of Troy Wicker, of Muscle Shoals. Arthur has had 7 previous executions delayed by courts - the last one on Nov. 3.

U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins also recently issued an opinion denying Arthur's attorneys request to have access to cell or landline phones in the witness room at the prison during the execution.

Arthur also has argued in another court filing that the Alabama Legislature, not the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), should be the one to decide what lethal injection drugs should be used for executions, according to Arthur's motion. Alabama death row inmate Robert Melson is set to be executed June 8.

(source: al.com)

******************

Liberal U.S. justices lean toward death row inmate in mental health dispute

Liberal U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday indicated support for a convicted murderer held on Alabama's death row who argued he had a right to an independent medical expert to assess his mental health and potentially help him avoid the death penalty.

The legal fight involving Alabama inmate James McWilliams assumed greater importance in the past week after 2 death row inmates who Arkansas plans to execute, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, had their cases put on holding pending the Supreme Court's decision regarding McWilliams, due by the end of June.

The 9 justices heard a 1-hour argument in an appeal brought by McWilliams, sentenced to death for raping, murdering and robbing a convenience store clerk in Tuscaloosa in 1984.

Based on questions asked by the justices, the four liberals could be joined by conservative Anthony Kennedy, the court's frequent swing vote, in siding with McWilliams. The court's other conservatives, including Donald Trump's newly seated appointee Neil Gorsuch, appeared more likely to vote against McWilliams.

At issue in his appeal is whether an indigent defendant like McWilliams during a trial in which his mental health is a pivotal matter is entitled to an expert witness independent of the prosecution. Such an independent expert witness possibly could offer mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing as prosecutors pursue the death penalty.

McWilliams' lawyers noted that during his trial the only expert analysis of his mental health came from an expert witness provided by the state.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that indigent defendants are entitled to expert assistance but the ruling did not specifically say the expert had to be assigned to assist the defense as opposed to a neutral expert who would help both sides. The question before the justices is whether the 1985 decision "clearly established" McWilliams' right to an expert who would assist only the defense.

In the 1984 crime, McWilliams entered a convenience store, locked the doors, took money from clerk Patricia Reynolds, forced her into a back room, raped her, shot her 16 times with a pistol and left her to bleed to death. McWilliams, later caught driving a stolen car in possession of the murder weapon, was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1986.

Arkansas had planned to carry out 8 executions in a span of 11 days. So far only 1, Ledell Lee, has been executed. 2 more executions were scheduled for later on Monday. The state's original plan called for the most executions by any state in the shortest period of time since the U.S. death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Gorusch sided with the court's conservative majority on Thursday when the justices refused to block Lee's execution.

The ruling in McWilliams' case could affect non-capital cases as well as death penalty cases.

The Supreme Court has shown little appetite for reconsidering whether the death penalty itself violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but has faulted the way some states handle capital punishment.

The Supreme Court has rebuked Texas, the U.S. leader in executions, twice since February. The justices on March 28 found that Texas used an obsolete standard to assess whether a man convicted of murder was intellectually disabled and thus exempt from capital punishment.

The justices on Feb. 22 court gave a Texas death row inmate a chance to avoid execution because his trial was tainted by testimony from a psychologist who stated the man was more likely to commit future crimes because he is black.

(source: Reuters)

TENNESSEE:

At least 9 execution dates loom for Tennessee death row inmates

As many as 9 execution dates for Tennessee death row inmates could set soon, say experts who follow the cases.

This follows a ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court late last month that upheld the protocol for lethal injection, which is the state's primary method of execution.

Lawyers for death row inmates hope the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually take up the lethal injection on appeal, but a spokesperson for the Tennessee justices says he expects them to set those dates with "no idea when they will do that."

Stacy Rector of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is one of those who thinks the justices could possibly act at any time.

"The court could set at least 9 execution dates" she told News 2 with cases that for now have exhausted appeals.

There are currently 60 men and one woman on Tennessee's death row.

31 are white, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction, along with 28 who are black, 1 Hispanic, and 1 Asian.

(source: WKRN news)

LOUISIANA:

Lawmakers to introduce bills to abolish death penalty in the state

A proposal to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana could help prevent a crisis the state's public defenders say they are hurtling toward, unless drastic changes are made in how the state handles defense for the indigent.

But because the bill does not apply to those already convicted or indicted of capital offenses, the savings in money earmarked for such cases will come slowly. And the state's district attorneys are taking a hardline stance against the idea, arguing to local lawmakers the move would take away a vital tool in obtaining plea bargains - hanging the possibility of the death penalty over defendants' heads.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, and state Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, are authoring or co-authoring legislation that would end the death penalty. Claitor's bill will get its 1st hearing on Tuesday.

Claitor has said the response to his bill is "gratifying," adding that if this public reaction is indicative, there is a "real chance' he bill can become reality in the current session of the Louisiana Legislature. A former criminal prosecutor in Orleans Parish, Claitor denounces the death penalty as having "failed" as a crime deterrent. Such cases are costly, he said, and rarely are executions actually carried out.

"(Landry and I) are both from law enforcement," he said in a statement. "Having both served in the criminal justice system, we understand the practical aspects of this issue and, both being Catholics, share the same moral impetus."

Louisiana has had a fraught relationship with the death penalty. An analysis of death penalty cases from 1976 to 2015 found 1 inmate has been exonerated for every 3 executions.

A court last week added to the number of people whose death sentences were reversed, announcing it would not retry Rodricus Crawford, who was previously found guilty in the death of his 1-year-old son and sentenced to death.

The study also found stark racial disparities in how Louisiana uses the death penalty with authors, Frank Baumgartner and Tim Lyman calling the state's relationship with capital punishment "deeply dysfunctional." A black man is 30 times more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white female than another black male, and anyone who kills a white person is 6 times more likely to be given the death penalty than someone who kills a black person, the authors found.

"The racial disparities even extend into the appeals process, where cases of killers of white are clearly less likely to be reversed," the authors wrote in the study, adding no white person has been executed in Louisiana for a crime against a black victim since 1752.

Louisiana District Attorney Association Board President Reed Walters, the DA for LaSalle Parish, counters that eliminating the death penalty takes away an important incentive for defendants to agree to plea bargains and bringing closure to the families of victims.

"I have a tool of negotiating to say, 'If you don't plead, you subject yourself to the death penalty,'" Walters said.

DAs already are lobbying lawmakers to oppose the bill. Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said last week his local DA met with him to voice opposition to the move. Walters said he is unsure what appetite the GOP-dominated Legislature will have for abolishing the death penalty, while Louisiana District Attorneys Association Executive Director Pete Adams said in an email he has not yet polled legislators.

"Those egregious cases are few and far between," Broadwater said. "But there are those isolated cases where it is a useful tool that can bring about some finality on a plea deal."

Walters argues the move could end up costing more money in the long run. Capital cases are far more expensive to litigate because of extra layers of scrutiny involved - defendants are afforded the right to counsel throughout the appeals process which those convicted of for non-capital crimes are not.

But Walters said there would be such a dramatic increase in the number of people who would choose to go to trial because the death penalty is not hanging over their head that the state would end up spending more on life in prison cases.

"I'm not buying that one," said State Public Defender Jay Dixon. "There's no amending a death penalty case ... there are layers and layers of protections to ensure you don't execute an innocent person."

Often, capital cases traverse "up and down the legal food chain," Dixon said, and costs rack up. Even if there was a flood of people who wanted to go to trial because they were not facing the death penalty, he said, it would still likely cost less than the state paying to defend capital cases.

For years, criminal justice reform advocates have lamented Louisiana’s unique system of funding indigent defense. The state's budget is about $33 million per year, but most of the funding for public defense comes from local sources like traffic tickets and court fees.

In fact, public defenders in most cases are technically paid to lose; their clients are only assessed fees if they plead or are found guilty. Defenders have excoriated the optics of such a system, though they say it has no impact on how they handle cases.

A lack of funding for defense for low-income people in the state is well documented. In February, a study by the American Bar Association and Postlethwaite and Netterville, a Baton Rouge accounting firm, found the public defender system in Louisiana has the capacity to handle 21 % of its current cases.

In other words, Dixon said, public defense has around 20 % of the funding it needs.

Over the years, the state Public Defender Board has outsourced the vast majority of capital defense cases to nonprofit agencies, citing a lack of adequate resources for the districts to handle those cases themselves.

Currently, the state is handling 26 indicted capital cases, and these outside agencies are handling 22. District defenders are handling four of those cases.

Last year, the Legislature enacted a law that kept the public defender funding the same, but required 65 % of the money to go to each district. The move effectively cut funding for the outside agencies working on death penalty cases, which are infamous for being time-consuming and expensive.

There is little indication the Legislature will hand out more money to indigent defense. When public defenders and attorneys working for the agencies handling capital cases sat before a legislative panel earlier this year, lawmakers asked if there were ways to find savings with the money they currently have.

Even with the extra money for districts, local funding sources have dried up in some places, especially in Baton Rouge where August flooding led to a steep downturn in the amount of tickets and court fees, a trend that has continued in the months since.

And the cut to capital defense presents a host of other issues.

"We're already on cusp because we cut capital funding by 1/3," Dixon said. "We're probably going to get sued by someone saying we're not funding capital (defense)."

The roughly $10 million doled out by the state for capital defense before the Legislature shifted the money around dropped to $6.2 million for the current fiscal year. Before, the state would send out a team of people to handle capital cases as soon as they were indicted. Now, a lack of resources has caused public defenders or the nonprofit capital defense agencies to send out only one lawyer in some cases to make sure evidence is kept intact until a full team can take on the case.

"When we had the full array (of funding) this didn't happen," Dixon said. "When someone was arrested for 1st-degree murder, we sent a full team in. It's not really what's happening now."

(source: bestofneworleans.com)

ARKANSAS----executions

Time of death----Arkansas goes through with double execution despite allegations that one inmate was "gulping for air"

For a few minutes Monday night, it seemed like the United States's 1st double execution in more than a decade would not take place. After attorneys alleged that Arkansas inmate Jack Jones suffered a "torturous and inhumane" execution Monday evening, a federal judge briefly put what was to be the 2nd state execution of the night on hold before ultimately allowing it to proceed.

Not long after Jones' execution, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a stay of execution for inmate Marcel Williams, citing court filings arguing that continuing with his execution would "demonstrate an ongoing constitutional violation - cruel, unusual, and inhumane infliction of pain and suffering," because Jones remained partially conscious during his execution. Just an hour later, she lifted the stay "for reasons stated in the Court's hearing on Mr. William's emergency motion," according to her order.

Arkansas initially announced that it intended to carry out an unprecedented 8 executions in just 11 days because its supply of midazolam - a controversial sedative that has led to botched lethal injections in states like Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma - was set to expire at the end of April. The plan was met with several legal challenges, including claims that midazolam would likely fail and result in inmates suffering inhumanely, and allegations that Arkansas' Department of Correction was far from equipped to carry out such an arduous string of executions.

According to the inmates' attorneys, that's exactly what happened in Jones's execution.

"The infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully to place [an IV] central line in Mr. Jones's neck for 45 minutes before placing one elsewhere on his body," the motion, filed in U.S. district court, alleges. Minutes after midazolam had been injected, "Mr. Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air. Mr. Jones's movements after the midazolam was administered is evidence of continued consciousness."

Attorneys for Jones and Williams, arguing against the death penalty, had said that the two men had underlying medical conditions which were likely to make execution more painful or impact the effectiveness of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail.

The state of Arkansas contends that the attorneys' account of Jones's execution is inaccurate, saying that although the Arkansas Department of Correction officers did fail in their attempt to place an IV in Jones's neck, they were ultimately successful in sedating him. "The claim that Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air is unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses," an Arkansas filing reads. "The drugs were administered to Jones at 7:06 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. There was no constitutional violation in Jones' execution."

Williams was executed on the same gurney and pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

Jones was convicted in 1996 for raping and murdering a 34-year-old Mary Phillips, and Williams was convicted in 1997 for the abduction, rape, and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson.

In a handwritten statement, Jones apologized for his crime and said he tried to better himself on death row. "I want people to know that when I came to prison I made up my mind that I would be a better person when I left than when I came in. I had no doubt in my mind that I would make every effort to do this. I'd like to think that I've accomplished this. I made every effort to be a good person - I practiced Buddhism and studied physics. I met the right people and did the right things. There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain I've caused."

When asked for comment, the Arkansas Department of Correction told a VICE News reporter to call back during normal business hours and hung up the phone.

(source: vice.com)

****************************

Arkansas executes 2 inmates in 1 night, 1st state to do so since 2000

Arkansas executed 2 condemned murderers Monday night, becoming the 1st state in 17 years to carry out 2 death sentences in one day.

Marcel Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. Central Time, 17 minutes after the procedure began at the Cummins Unit in southeastern Arkansas. Jack Jones had been put to death more than 3 hours earlier.

Williams' execution had been delayed for 2 hours after a federal judge in Little Rock issued an emergency stay over concerns about how Jones' execution was carried out. Williams' attorneys claimed Jones gasped for air, an account the state's attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later.

Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled 4 double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.

The 1st 3 executions were canceled because of court decisions, then inmate Ledell Lee was executed last week.

Arkansas' last double execution occurred in 1999.

Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.

He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips' 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.

Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he'd had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.

Williams' "morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung)," his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.

Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said.

In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the 3 drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners -- midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- could be ineffective because of their poor health.

Jones, 52, lost a leg to diabetes and was on insulin. Williams, 46, weighs 400 pounds, is diabetic and has concerns that the execution team might not be able to find a suitable vein to support an intravenous line.

The poor health of both men, their lawyers claimed, could make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following a megadose of midazolam. The state shouldn't risk giving them drugs to stop their lungs and hearts if they aren't unconscious, they have told courts.

The last state to put more than 1 inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed 2 killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the 2nd one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.

Arkansas executed 4 men in an 8-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.

Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.

Authorities said Williams abducted and raped 2 other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson's death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.

"I wish I could take it back, but I can't," Williams told the board.

"After more than 20 years, justice has prevailed for the family of Stacey Errickson," Hutchinson said in a statement after Williams' death. "This is a serious and reflective time in our state and it is important for the Errickson family and all Arkansans to know that in this case our laws ended in justice."

In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: "I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven't the right."

After Jones was put to death, Hutchinson said in a statement that the "rule of law had been upheld."

"A governor never asks for this responsibility, but I accept it as part of the solemn pledge I made to uphold the law," he added. "We hope this will help bring closure to the Phillips family."

Including Jones and Williams, nine people have been executed in the United States this year, 4 in Texas, 3 in Arkansas and 1 each in Missouri and Virginia. Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(source: Fox News)

*****************

Harvard Project Outlines Pattern Of Attorney Failures In Arkansas Death Row Cases

NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Jessica Brand of Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project about the chronic problem of bad lawyering on capital punishment cases. All 8 death row cases in Arkansas had examples of attorney failures, including drunk lawyers, a conflict of interest affair involving a judge, lawyers missing deadlines, and failure to disclose mental disorders.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Arkansas has carried out 1 of 2 executions that were scheduled for tonight, part of a series of executions the state wants to do this month before a key drug expires. The courts have put most of the executions on hold, but last week, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee for a 1993 murder. Lee maintained his innocence to his death.

Earlier today, I spoke with Jessica Brand, legal director for the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School. She told me what happened to Lee is part of a pattern of bad representation for defendants around the country. She told me everything went wrong with the way lawyers handled Lee's case.

JESSICA BRAND: He had trial lawyers who begged to get off of his case because they argued there was a conflict. He had a judge who was having an affair with a prosecutor in the case. His 1st state post-conviction lawyer was drunk in court and literally stated the words blah, blah, blah. His next post-conviction lawyers missed filing deadlines. They had briefs sent back by the court. And then he had a federal post-conviction lawyer who had his license suspended last year because of a mental illness that caused him not to be able to represent his clients.

That's an incredible litany of things to happen in a case, and it meant that only 2 weeks before his execution did someone finally investigate his life history, his trauma, his mental illness and uncover that he may have had an intellectual disability.

SHAPIRO: How can that many egregious things go wrong in a case where a person's life is literally on the line without anyone flagging it until two weeks before the execution?

BRAND: I think what Ledell's case has shown is what happens in so many of these cases. It's astounding. There is a complete lack of counsel from start to finish in all of these cases. And there are a lot of reasons for them, one of which is, this work is hard. It's grueling, and there aren't a lot of lawyers who do it. And there aren't a lot of lawyers who can do it well. It costs a lot of money to do this well. It costs a lot of time.

And I think Ledell Lee has - his case has really exposed what is the dirty little secret in the death penalty world, which is, this happens all the time. And it happened in the cases that are scheduled for execution tonight as well.

SHAPIRO: Well, I was going to ask about those 2 men, Marcel Williams and Jack Jones. Is their history of representation as appalling as Ledell Lee, the man who was executed last week?

BRAND: It is. Jack Jones - his case occurred in the '90s. For the 1st time in 2005, someone presented the extraordinary mental illness that he saw ants and spiders as a child, that there was incredible daily physical abuse in his house, sexual abuse in his house - that's decades after his trial - and the same thing in Marcel Williams's case. No lawyer ever uncovered that his mother was literally pimping him out for food stamps and shelter at the time he was 9 years old.

SHAPIRO: If we assume that the death penalty is not going away but that the process can be fixed, what will it take to fix it?

BRAND: Well, the 1st thing I would say is, I don't think it can fix it. For 40 years in the modern era of the death penalty, the court has been trying to issue procedural fixes. It's been trying to say intellectually disabled people can't be executed. It's tried to say juveniles can't be executed. It said, you really need a lawyer. And as much as the Supreme Court has tried to fix it, it has completely failed. So I think rather than trying to fix it, it is time for the Supreme Court to recognize its sort of complicity in this system where people don't get counsel is calling into doubt the whole integrity of our judicial system.

SHAPIRO: Is Arkansas much worse than other death penalty states, or is what we're seeing in these cases pretty typical?

BRAND: It's pretty typical. I live in the state of Texas. We are known for our death penalty here. And you see cases after case go up on appeal where the trial lawyers just never did the most basic of investigations.

SHAPIRO: That's Jessica Brand, legal director of the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School. Thanks for joining us.

BRAND: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: And after we spoke with Brand, the state of Arkansas carried out the execution of Jack Jones Jr.

(source: npr.org)

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Medical Director in Arkansas Could Lose License for Acquiring Execution Drug

As Arkansas plans to continue its execution blitzkrieg Monday, a lawsuit filed by pharmaceutical distributor McKesson claims the Arkansas Department of Corrections "leveraged" its medical director's medical license to purchase vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant used in lethal injection.

While physicians have been active in executions as long as the United States has employed capital punishment, the use of a medical director's license to acquire the drug appears to be unprecedented. The identity of this person has not been made public because sweeping state secrecy laws hide the identities of those involved in executions, including employees of the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC). Typically, if physicians participate, they don't work for the state and could be any licensed medical practitioner.

Now that McKesson has revealed the role of the ADC's medical director, the Arkansas Medical Board, whose regulations prohibit the prescription and administration of drugs for anything other than "a legitimate medical purpose," could take action.

"It is something the medical board is keeping an eye on. We’re evaluating the circumstances to decide what comes next," said Kevin O'Dwyer, an attorney representing the medical board, which regulates the practice of medicine in the state. When asked about the possible ramifications for ADC's medical director, O'Dwyer said punishment could include license revocation.

The identity of ADC's medical director might be known to the board, said Dr. Joel Zivot, an expert in bioethics who teaches surgery and anesthesiology at Emory University. "I don't think anyone is really clear" about the limits of secrecy laws, he said, which are "broadly encompassing."

While "it's clear the state has used these secrecy laws in a most disturbing way," Zivot said, he warned that a confrontation could lead to a loss of medical board oversight, because of the state's secrecy laws.

Doctors in Missouri, Georgia, and North Carolina have all admitted to participating in executions. Those disclosures sparked outrage, and attempts were made to discipline the doctors in each case. The North Carolina Medical Board even brought charges against the state's department of corrections for its use of physicians for lethal injections, but in 2009 the state's Supreme Court ruled that a 1909 law that requires physicians to "certify the fact of the execution" supersedes the medical board's authority.

Such rulings, said Zivot, coupled with secrecy laws mean that "the chief physician of the state is no longer the medical board, it's the governor," who signs the death warrants of condemned inmates and keeps the identities of executioner-doctors secret. "This is very troubling."

The revelation that ADC's medical director used state credentials to obtain controlled substances for lethal injection raises the question of how often states are committing similar acts.

Jennifer Moreno, a staff attorney with the University of California - Berkeley's Death Penalty Clinic, told The Intercept that it's difficult to know exactly how frequently this occurs, but it appears states are increasingly turning to doctors and pharmacies to acquire drugs. Obtaining medications used for lethal injection has become more difficult over the past decade, thanks to advocacy work that motivated pharmaceutical companies to place distribution controls on their goods that prevent medications from being sold for executions.

In response to these controls, many corrections departments turned to third-party middle men such as willfully ignorant distribution companies or international pharmaceutical companies. The Food and Drug Administration has cracked down on these arrangements, however. On April 20, the same day Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, the FDA settled a 2-year standoff with Texas and Arizona by blocking their attempt to import the banned anesthetic sodium thiopental from a shady middle-man based in India named Chris Harris. The FDA crackdown has led states to purchase drugs using medical licenses to "nominally comply with what the law requires to purchase drugs," Moreno said.

Hospitals and other legitimate purchasers of controlled substances must be accredited by the Drug Enforcement Agency. In 2011, Texas was caught using expired DEA accreditation from a hospital that was closed in 1983 to purchase pentobarbital. Louisiana similarly used DEA forms to mislead Lake Charles Memorial Hospital into selling 20 vials of hydromorphone in 2o14. The hospital later said it assumed the drugs were needed for patients.

Compounding pharmacies, which historically produced made-to-order drugs for patients who couldn't take commercially-made medications due to conditions like allergies, also produce medications meant for lethal injection. At least 10 states have used these pharmacies to obtain lethal injection drugs, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Though many have been pressured to end the practice, some compounding pharmacies continue to produce the drugs. There are also examples of private physicians prescribing these drugs for inmates so states could acquire them, Moreno said.

These actions fall into a legal gray zone. Even Texas, which allegedly violated Federal drug laws by using expired DEA credentials, faced no repercussions. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of lethal injection, and states believe the ends justify the means. As Lee Short, Ledell Lee's former attorney, told The Intercept last week, "you'd have to find a prosecutor that would press charges."

Zivot believes lethal injection is at odds with the ethical obligations of a physician. He cites numerous ethics recommendations, including those of the American Medical Association, that say state-sanctioned executions cannot be aided by licensed physicians.

Arkansas, Zivot said, "is trying to suck and blow at the same time. They're claiming on the one hand to use licensed providers. On the other hand, they're mocking these things. The license doesn't allow for these things to take place."

(source: theintercept.com)

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In Its Rush to Kill, Arkansas May Have Executed an Innocent Man

Ledell Lee's 1st hard-knock moment came even before he was born. His mom, 16 and on her 3rd pregnancy by a man years older than she was, drank and smoked through his pregnancy. Because of her substance abuse, Ledell was born with a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, a medical condition that left him with brain dysfunction and intellectual disability.

28 years later in 1993, Ledell Lee was arrested for the murder of Debra Reese. And on Thursday night, just before midnight, the state of Arkansas killed Ledell in a gross miscarriage of justice.

From the beginning, Ledell proclaimed his innocence and wrote to everyone he could think of, beseeching lawyers to fight for him. His journey through the legal system consisted of an unbroken chain of drunk, conflicted, and grossly incompetent attorneys. No one who represented Ledell ever looked at the chasm between the state's theory of guilt and the proof presented at trial. For instance, the crime scene was drenched in blood, but the state witnesses who put Ledell at the scene said he didn't have any blood on him. None of the limited forensic evidence tested, like fingerprint analysis, at the time matched him. Ledell has been asking for DNA testing for decades.

Until last week, when our team joined his defense and began to frantically investigate the case, no defense lawyer had ever hired a psychologist to test Ledell's intellectual disability. And no court had ever been troubled by the one pertinent claim his former counsel had raised: that a member of the prosecution team was having an affair with the trial judge at the time of Ledell's trial.

As a death penalty lawyer who handles death penalty cases exclusively, I am all too familiar with the story of poor lawyering and court failures. That said, the facts of Ledell's case stand out and are an indictment of the system that put him to death. Serious questions of guilt, conflicts of interest by defense counsel, a deeply biased judge, and never presented evidence of intellectual disability: Any one of these bases should be enough to pause an execution. It is profoundly disturbing that even taken together, they weren't enough to move the courts or the governor to spare his life.

Gov. Hutchinson bears heavy blame for the wrongful killing of Ledell Lee. Hutchinson arbitrarily set eight dates for execution - originally as 4 double executions - based on the amount of midazolam, a lethal injection drug, Arkansas had on hand. Worse still, he scheduled them within an incredibly short period, so he could beat the drug's expiration date of April 30.

The facts of Ledell's case stand out and are an indictment of the system that put him to death.

The practical consequences of this pace are profound. Every institution that touches these capital cases is overtaxed and beleaguered. For example, when we requested (but never received) Ledell's medical and mental records from the prison, the lawyer for the prison told us the prison staff simply couldn't respond in time because of the pressures of the fast-tracked multiple executions. The medical records could well have contained previous IQ testing - records that may well may have helped us save his life. State and federal court staff are overwhelmed by the number of important and serious legal filings arriving at a furious pace and are forced to work at a breakneck pace. This pace jeopardizes the kind of careful consideration necessary for any capital case, but especially one with a pending execution date. In the case of these 8 executions, the parole board actually had to curtail their internal clemency policies and procedures to try to process so many applications in such a short time.

I got involved in the case 2 weeks before Ledell's execution after reading that he was about to die without any lawyer ever having investigated the fact that he might have an intellectual disability. I called a friend who is a life history investigator in capital cases, and together we decided that we should see if there was anything we could do to help Ledell. We knew we would be running against strong headwinds: Courts are hostile to any claims close to an execution date, and we were incredibly close. But we thought if there was a small chance we could do something, we had to try. We made contact with Ledell's Arkansas counsel, who had only been appointed months before, and who readily welcomed our assistance.

More on Ledell Lee v. State of Arkansas

The life investigator flew down the next day, and we began the process that typically takes years. We struggled to even obtain the full case files, and it was challenging to find and interview critical witnesses who had never been interviewed during the course of Ledell's trial or years of appeals. The investigator met with Ledell for 2 long days and learned basic life history information about him that no one had gathered previously. Ledell thanked her for listening to what he had to say. He was grateful to have a team willing to look into his innocence.

The more I learned about his case, the more troubled I felt. There were gross, shocking abuses throughout. I discovered that Ledell’s relationship with his lawyers had broken down over his insistence on defending his innocence. His lawyers had requested to withdraw and stopped working on his case. The judge, the same one having an affair with the prosecutor, wrote to the Arkansas Supreme Court and opposed new counsel for Ledell. He did so while personally disparaging him. The same judge then presided over Ledell's trial. This was not normal, and far outside of the bounds of the kind of impartiality we expect from judges.

The history of Ledell's defense provided a tour of the worst our profession has to offer, including a lawyer who was stumbling and slurring due to alcohol consumption during his representation of Ledell and another who was sanctioned by the bar for their terrible performance in his case.

A neuropsychologist finally tested Ledell for the 1st time the week before his execution. The results showed that Ledell was likely ineligible to be executed: He had significant intellectual deficits and disability. We would need more time, however, to investigate Ledell's life history for the expert to make a final determination.

As the evidence of Ledell's unfair trial and appeals grew, so did my anxiety. We had no time and an obstacle course of legal doctrinal hurdles to overcome before any court would consider the evidence of intellectual disability or innocence we wanted to bring. I knew I wouldn't be able to prepare and file all of the things that needed to be filed with this evidence. It was now just a week before his execution was scheduled, and I sent out a call for help.

Many answered this call. The more other people learned about the case, the more joined. Knowing about its injustices moved people to action.

I asked a colleague in New York at the Innocence Project for the name of an expert who could look at what we suspected were important DNA testing possibilities. She jumped in and joined 2 lawyers who worked over Easter weekend and around the clock to draft motions for testing the DNA in light of the troubling questions about Ledell's guilt.

My ears rang with the low hum of adrenaline, a substitute for sleep and symptom of the state of high alert that comes from profound fear.

Ledell's brothers and daughter wanted to know: Would we save him?

The night before Ledell's execution I tried to sleep for a few hours. I was worried, but hopeful. Earlier that day, a trial court in Arkansas put in place a stay of execution after a drug company had successfully won an order barring the use of its drugs in executions because of evidence that Arkansas acquired the drugs under false pretenses. We had filed claims in federal court and in state court, pointing out Ledell's intellectual disability and the need for a little more time so that we could fully develop and present that evidence and prove that his execution was unconstitutional.

We had also filed a motion requesting a few weeks time to allow for DNA testing that was very similar to the motion granted the day before by the state of Arkansas in another capital case set for execution the same night as Ledell.

Our hope was misplaced.

We learned in the afternoon that the stay had been vacated for the wrongly acquired drugs, and then slowly heard one by one that the courts were denying our claims. The state characterized our serious legal challenges as just run of the mill, last-minute filings of a kind that would oppose any execution. Gov. Hutchinson's scheduling of mass executions had cast a shadow on Ledell's strong legal claims, where they could be dismissed as nothing more than a delay tactic to get beyond the April 30 drug expiration date.

Gov. Hutchinson made it worse by issuing a press statement after the courts granted 3 stays of execution in the first 3 cases set, complaining that he had expected 1 or 2 cases might get stopped by appeals - but not 3. He sent the unmistakable message that he wanted an execution to go forward.

I can't shake the feeling that Ledell's execution was lost in the fray of the 8 scheduled executions and that his claims of innocence, for DNA testing, and of intellectual disability were ignored because of it.

The truth is as clear now as it was before Ledell was executed this past Friday. Ledell Lee deserved better. He deserved a through defense and a fair trial. But conflicted and ineffectual lawyers failed him for years. The courts failed him at the end. And Gov. Hutchinson failed us all by setting this unprecedented and wrong execution schedule.

Ledell Lee's execution was shameful. Gov. Hutchinson and the Arkansas courts should avoid compounding the injustice of his unfair execution. The only moral course forward is to abandon the unfair and unjust execution schedule and cancel the 2 executions scheduled for tonight and the 3rd for Thursday. Carrying out these 3 executions on this schedule will violate the individualized consideration that the Constitution and justice require and further overstep the bounds of basic human dignity.

(source: aclu.org)

MISSOURI:

Prosecutors seeking death penalty against Jefferson City man

Prosecutors in Jefferson City will seek the death penalty against a man charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

According to online court records, a notice of intent to seek the death penalty was filed Friday against Brandon Rapier. Rapier is charged in a double homicide that took place in November 2016. He stabbed his ex-girlfriend, 27-year-old Ciera Kolb, and another man, 27-year-old Micah Hall, in Cole County, the charges allege. Both Kolb and Hall later died from their injuries.

(source: ABC news)

OKLAHOMA:

State's Death Penalty Review Expected Today

One day after the nation's 1st successful double execution in 17 years, Oklahoma officials are scheduled to release their death penalty review, almost 2 years after the state put a hold on executions.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission is scheduled to announce its findings at the Capitol this afternoon.

Back in 2014, Oklahoma was on track to be the 1st state to carry out 2 executions in 1 day since 2000 but the mismanaged execution of Clayton Lockett changed that. Governor Mary Fallin then put a hold on executions in the state in October 2015 after officials discovered a mix-up in 1 of the drugs in their lethal injection cocktail.

This error granted death row inmate Richard Glossip his 3rd stay of execution. A grand jury report from several counties criticized the handling of Glossip's case.

In response to the report, the State Department of Corrections is supposedly revising its execution protocol. Other constitutional means of execution in the state include a firing squad and gas chamber.

(source: newson6.com)

NEBRASKA:

Bill for lethal injection confidentiality raises arguments

A bill to allow individuals or companies involved in the distribution or manufacture of lethal injection drugs to be confidential continued for hours of debate Thursday.

LB661, introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, is also known as a "shield law" to protect anyone involved in the manufacturing of lethal injection drugs from threats or persecution.

"Keeping the identity of manufacturers confidential to ensure access of these drugs, to prevent further drugs from being removed from the market, to ensure safe medication to all citizens, is the greater good," Kuehn said.

Other states with similar shield laws include Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio. Many others, such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, have also tried to implement this type of shield law.

According to the bill's proponents, states with the death penalty have difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs from domestic suppliers. Suppliers don't want the bad publicity of being associated with manufacturing and distributing these drugs. This results in states having to shop around other countries for the drugs.

Nebraska is known for buying a lethal injection drug in 2015 called sodium thiopental, from Harris Pharma, a distributor in India. The Food and Drug Administration said Nebraska could not legally import the drug and the shipment never made it to the state.

Opponents of the bill said that confidentiality would inhibit accountability for companies who make the drugs. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was particularly against full anonymity for such companies.

Chambers is a well-known opponent of the death penalty in general and mostly used his time to speak against the death penalty. However, he also spoke against hiding the identity of lethal injection drug manufacturers.

"We all know good and well why it's important to know the source of something," Chambers said. "If these bad drugs continue to show up, you need to trace it back and find the compounding pharmacy that's responsible."

Chambers was referring to the possibility of problems arising with a drug. If the drug is proven cruel or ineffective, people would need to know where it came from to hold that person or company responsible.

Nebraska voters decided last year to reinstate the death penalty after a repeal of it the year before. Legislators in support of LB661, like Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, said the proposed shield legislation would let capital punishment work for the Nebraskans who voted it back in.

"I believe in justice," Groene said. "I believe in punishing evil that exists in this world."

Groene said anonymity would allow the state to be able to obtain, and if necessary, use the death penalty drugs again.

Nebraska has not used capital punishment since 1997.

There was no vote or action taken on the bill.

(source: The Daily Nebraskan)

COLORADO:

Week of hearings underway in county's 1st death penalty case in a decade

A man who is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and a homeless man in separate attacks is expected to be in court for most of the week.

Glenn Galloway faces the death penalty in the back-to-back murders of Janice Nam and Marcus Anderson. They were murdered in May of 2016. Nam was shot to death inside her home in the 6000 block of Miramont Street in Stetson Hills. Anderson's body was found in a storage unit on N. Century Street, near the intersection of N. Nevada Avenue and E. Fillmore Street. Police said Anderson lived in the storage unit.

Lawyers on both sides argued motion after motion today as Galloway waived his right to a speedy trial. Judge Gregory Werner set a trial date of January 2, 2018.

It's not clear yet whether Galloway will be tried simultaneously for both murders or if there will be 2 separate trials.

The defense conceded that Galloway could be seen on surveillance video at the scene of the Anderson murder. It is arguing self-defense in that death.

Galloway was also captured on surveillance video at Nam's home before her death. The defense argued that video should not be permissible.

Twice during today's proceedings, Galloway failed to stand when the judge entered the courtroom prompting the judge to quip "does the defendant have a leg issue?" The defense responded, "we'll work on that."

(source:: KRDO news)

CALIFORNIA:

San Quentin executions could hinge on next pivotal months

California has long been what 1 expert calls a "symbolic death penalty state," 1 of 12 that has capital punishment on the books but has not executed anyone in more than a decade.

Prodded by voters and lawsuits, the nation's most populous state may now be easing back toward allowing executions, though observers are split on how quickly they will resume, if at all.

Corrections officials expect to meet a Wednesday deadline to submit revised lethal injection rules to state regulators, trying again with technical changes after the 1st attempt was rejected in December.

The California Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to rule by August on challenges to a ballot initiative narrowly approved by voters in November that would speed up executions by reducing the time allowed for appeals.

Still, it is a far cry from the situation in Arkansas, which carried out its 1st execution since 2005 last week after trying to put 8 inmates to death this month in an unprecedented series of double executions. Courts have blocked 3 of them. Legal rulings have put at least 1 other in doubt.

California could come close to resuming executions in the next year, said law professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, though others say too many variables remain to make a prediction.

California has by far the nation's largest death row with nearly 750 inmates, about double that of No. 2 Florida.

The state's proposed lethal injection regulations are patterned after a single-drug process that already passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, Weisberg said.

Corrections officials submitted the regulations only after they were forced to act by a judge's ruling on behalf of crime victims angered at the state's 3-year delay.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and an expert on lethal injections, was among those who said recent revisions to the state's proposed regulations still don't cure underlying problems that can lead to botched executions.

For instance, the proposed rules now give executioners 10 minutes to administer each round of lethal drugs. The 1st batch is supposed to kill, but if that initial dose doesn't work, executioners would administer 4 more similar doses, each with a 10-minute countdown clock to make sure the process doesn't drag on for hours as critics said was a possibility under the original rules.

If the inmate is still alive after 5 massive doses, "the San Quentin Warden shall stop the execution and summon medical assistance for the inmate."

The regulations still call for letting the warden at San Quentin State Prison pick from among 4 powerful barbiturates, depending on which one is available as manufacturers try to limit the use of their drugs for executions. Inmates could also choose to die in the gas chamber.

The Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, which opposes executions, says amobarbital and secobarbital have never been used in executions. The clinic said problems remain over how the drugs would be obtained and administered.

Officials in several other states with long-delayed executions have said their efforts to carry out the death penalty have been thwarted by a lack of lethal drugs.

Arkansas was rushing to try to execute as many inmates as possible before its supply of the controversial sedative midazolam expires at month's end. Midazolam would not be used under California's regulations.

Denno said California's regulations would still conceal the identities, training and experience of the execution team, crucial information since the deadly drugs must be properly mixed and administered to ensure a painless death.

"It's a complicated process, and everything has to be going right, and it's so easy in a prison context for everything not to go right," she said. She equated it to letting amateurs provide anesthesia for surgery.

Denno and other experts said the new rules eventually will have to pass the scrutiny of U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who halted executions in the state in early 2006 and ordered prison officials to improve their lethal injection process.

California voters have eased penalties for many crimes in recent years but have repeatedly rejected efforts to end the death penalty. They did so again in November, when 51 % approved Proposition 66, designed to speed up death penalty cases. 53 % of voters defeated a competing measure that would have abolished the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court quickly blocked Proposition 66 while it considers challenges.

Appellate lawyer Kirk Jenkins, who studies the court, expects the justices will reject the proposition's 5-year deadline for deciding death row appeals because it violates the separation of powers.

(source: Marin Independent Journal)

USA:

Debate over the death penalty in the United States begins anew

Since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College to win the presidency, and especially since Trump was sworn in, the news has been filled with all manner of items, some of them silly, nit-picking and embarrassing for the media, and others of varying degrees of importance and interest.

Among the actual news items was the choice of the excellent Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the battle that ensued to confirm him; the Syrian air base strike and the MOAB bombing of an ISIS tunnel/cave installation in Afghanistan; and more recently the situation in Arkansas where the state intended to execute 8 death row inmates in the 11 days remaining before the end of April when 1 of the drugs used in executions reached its expiration date.

This latter development produced quite a lot of comment, most of it negative from opponents of the death penalty.

The death penalty is sanctioned through the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and each death row inmate had been convicted and had many years to appeal their sentence or conviction, so why so much controversy? Many were horrified not about the death penalty itself, but that Arkansas would conduct so many executions in such a short period.

The death penalty is a matter of long, spirited debate, notwithstanding its constitutional and Biblical validations.

The religious aspect is important in the United States, since among the volumes of things former President Barack Obama misunderstands about America is its still-strong religious nature. Of the 35,000 participants from all 50 states polled in a 2014 Pew Research Center study of Religion and Public Life, Christians accounted for 70 % of participants, and more than 75 % claimed some religious affiliation.

While our government is not founded on any set of religious beliefs, people with religious beliefs have been a major segment of the population since the nation's founding, and their beliefs heavily influenced the founding principles, and that influence still exists today.

Many Christians, along with people holding other religious beliefs, and still others who do not cite religion at all, object to the death penalty on its failure of compassion. "How can religious and other compassionate people indulge in such a barbaric act?" the argument goes.

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old man, was having trouble with his girlfriend, so naturally he decided the solution was to randomly pick out someone to kill. After mentioning the woman's name to 74 year-old Robert Godwin Sr., a man that he came upon while searching for a victim, he shot and killed the unsuspecting and totally innocent Godwin.

Stephens' stupid and vicious murder highlights this issue. Many believe that someone who intentionally and deliberately murders another person and inflicts shock and grief on that person's family and friends somehow is entitled to the compassion the murderer sadistically denied the victim(s). One religious argument against executions is that it denies the criminal the opportunity to repent and even use his/her experience to try to turn others to religion and away from crime.

Others believe, however, the condemned deserves no consideration or compassion when his or her justice is rendered. "Should not that person suffer at least as much as the victim and those close to the victim?" this argument goes.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 allowed the resumption of the death penalty, its use has dropped off substantially.

While 31 states still legally allow executions, ten of them have executed no one in the last 10 years, and 26 have executed no one in the last 5 years.

Several reasons are cited: the possibility of executing an innocent person; botched executions; a decline in the crime rate; and the cost of fighting those opposing the imposition of the death penalty in capital cases.

There are 5 legal methods of execution - firing squad, gas chamber, hanging, electrocution, and lethal injection - and lethal injection is the hands-down preferred method. Much of the opposition to the other 4 comes down to how "unpleasant" each of those methods is to the condemned, with lethal injection normally being the least uncomfortable. However, even lethal injections sometimes cause suffering to the condemned.

There is an ongoing debate over whether the United States should have a death penalty. Another debate centers on making the execution as easy on the condemned as possible.

Perhaps this represents a true expression of compassion, or maybe it is one more step toward making executions so difficult and expensive that eventually it will be abandoned, in favor of keeping vicious criminals alive and relatively comfortable in prison for the rest of their lives at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.

As long as there is a death penalty, someone who is absolutely proven guilty of committing a capital crime and sentenced to death should collect his or her just reward in a reasonable amount of time (which will be in fewer than 10 or 20 years), as efficiently as possible, and as inexpensively as possible. If it hurts a little, or a lot, too bad.

Of all factors involved, the concerns of the criminal come last.

(source: James H. "Smokey" Shott, Column, a resident of Bluefield Daily Telegraph)

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Inmate could be put to death if convicted of slashing, beating correctional officer

After more than 4 years of waiting and pre-trial maneuvering, the capital murder trial against Jessie Con-ui, who is accused of killing a correctional officer, begins today.

Con-ui, already a convicted murderer, could be put to death if convicted of viciously slashing and beating correctional officer Eric Williams, a Nanticoke native, during an ambush at U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan on Feb. 25, 2013.

Con-ui's attorneys have not disputed that he was responsible for the attack, which was caught on video, but are working to spare him the death penalty by arguing he snapped after being mistreated by guards.

The men and women who will decide if that reason is enough will be picked starting today - although the process is extensive and expected to take several weeks.

The selection process actually began back in January, when about 750 people were sent hardship questionnaires. Of those who made it through the pre-screening process, 12 will be called to court per day to be questioned about their knowledge of the case as well as any biases or conflicts they have.

Once at least 70 jurors have been qualified and accepted, the sides will have 2 days to review the panel and exercise up to 20 strikes each. The final panel will consist of 12 jurors and 6 alternates.

Many trial observers don't expect a prolonged guilt phase - Con-ui's own attorneys have acknowledged in court filings that there is "overwhelming evidence of guilt" and that after viewing the surveillance footage "the jurors will become eyewitnesses to the crime."

The real question is whether the jury will decide Con-ui should die for the crime.

Prosecutors have described what jurors will see as a cold, calculated assassination carried out because Con-ui was angered over a cell search the day before.

The video depicts Con-ui "lying in wait" on the 2nd floor of the cell block, armed with shanks as he watches Williams approach a set of stairs, according to prosecutors. Con-ui then casually walks toward the officer before kicking him in the face and sending him down the stairs to initiate the 9-minute attack, prosecutors say.

The inmate takes Williams' radio away and proceeds to repeatedly hit and stab Williams in the face, head and upper body, cutting his own hand in the process, according to prosecutors. Con-ui then walks over to a shower to wash the wound, which he wraps in his own shirt before returning to continue attacking Williams as he lay defenseless on the floor, prosecutors say.

When he finishes, Con-ui takes a piece of gum from Williams' pocket and sits down to chew it before returning to his cell.

Court filings say Con-ui felt in danger after the attack, especially after an officer who discovered the carnage threatened to "kill one of you" inmates. He later surrendered, saying he felt disrespected by having his belongings tossed in the cell search and that he had "overreacted" to the perceived slight, court documents say.

The defense is seeking to spare Con-ui a death sentence by putting forward mitigating factors, including what they have termed "outrageous, clearly inappropriate conduct" by guards in their treatment of inmates. His attorneys maintain he was a respectful, well-mannered inmate who was so upset by what happened that afterward he had "tears pouring down his face like dew."

But Williams' family supports the death penalty against Con-ui, who is already serving 25 years to life at ADX Florence in Colorado for executing a gang member in Phoenix as part of his initiation into the Arizona Mexican Mafia in 2002.

Among the reasons Con-ui should be put to death are that the crime was committed in an "especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner" by a convicted drug trafficker and murderer who has a history of violence - including against law enforcement, according to prosecutors.

(source: The Citizens' Voice)

MALAYSIA:

Give judges discretion in death penalty

At present a mandatory death sentence is imposed in Malaysia for convictions of murder, certain firearm offences, kidnapping, drug trafficking and treason.

The mandatory death sentence in our penal system doesn't allow a judge to exercise his discretion in dispensing punishment.

Parliament must delete the word 'mandatory' for the death sentence in the Dangerous Drugs Act. Low level drug mules who traffic small amounts of drugs, mostly young girls who could have been deceived into carrying them, have been sentenced to death because of the mandatory provision.

The death sentence should be reserved for the big drug lords who rarely are caught. Hopefully, in time to come, the mandatory death sentences for other non-drug related crimes too will be left at the discretion of the judge.

There are 1,041 inmates languishing on death row in our prisons. The sentences have not been carried out as the appeals are still pending.

The death penalty should be abolished for low level drug mules caught for trafficking small amounts of drugs. These drug mules should be sentenced to community service.

Despite the mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking, it has not reduced cases of drug trafficking in Malaysia.

And despite all international flights into our airports reminding passengers in several languages of the mandatory death sentence drug trafficking, they still try to bring them in.

Many of our own young girls are also behind bars in other countries awaiting the death penalty for trafficking in drugs. There was a report of a father yearning for the return of his daughter who is in a prison in China for almost 8 years for being a drug mule. Many of these young girls were offered free trips and vacations to exotic destinations by new acquaintances who ended up using them as drug mules.

Last year a drug mule aged 64 was released after 31 years in prison for drug trafficking. The woman was 33 when she was caught at the Subang International Airport in 1985 trying to smuggle drugs to Australia. She got the death penalty. She appealed but lost. However her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Sultan of Selangor in 2003.

After 31 years behind bars the woman became religious, repented and learned skills to generate income after her release. Her husband and daughter were waiting for her outside the Sungai Udang Prison in Malacca when she walked out. A life sentence also allows for miscarriages of justice to be addressed, unlike if the death penalty had been carried out.

SAMUEL YESUIAH

Seremban

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Star)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Hanged on Drug Charges

A prisoner was reportedly hanged at Parsilon Prison (Lorestan province, western Iran) on drug related charges.

According to a report by the HRANA news agency, the execution was carried out on Saturday April 22. The report identifies the prisoner as Mehdi Mirzaie, 29 years of age, sentenced to death on the charge of posession and trafficking 7 kilograms of crystal meth.

Iranian official sources, including the media and Judiciary, have not announced this execution.

(source: iranhr.net)

**********************

Iran abolishes death penalty for drug trafficking

Iran's Parliament has abolished the death penalty for dealers, distributors and traffickers of narcotic drugs, replacing this punishment with lifelong imprisonment.

Representative of the Judicial Commission of the Parliament (Majlis) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Nourozi announced about this while talking to journalists on April 23.

Under the changes, the death penalty for non-band drug traffickers and smugglers who were unarmed and had no previous execution or life imprisonment convictions will be converted to 25 to 30 years of imprisonment.

In November 2016, Nourozi indicated that there were about 5,000 prisoners between 20 and 30 years old on death row in Iran. Most of these individuals were 1st-time drug offenders.

The Islamic Republic has long been criticized by international community for its death penalties against drug traffickers. Iran executed hundreds of prisoners during 2016, the majority for drugs offences.

But, there has been a considerable drop in the number of executions in Iran in recent years. Earlier, the international human rights organization Amnesty International reported that the total number of executions carried out in Iran in 2016 decreased by 42 % (at least from 977 to 567) compared to the previous year.

Even though the death penalty has not been shown to be an effective deterrent for drug-related offences, there has been no progress toward the adoption of a bill to amend mandatory death penalty sentences for these crimes.

The UN human rights mechanisms have repeatedly and consistently expressed their great concern at this persistent trend, along with urging the Iranian government to end executions and institute a moratorium on the death penalty altogether.

(soruce: azernews.az)

EGYPT:

Egypt upholds death penalty for 20 over 'role in Kerdasa massacre'

A court in Egypt has upheld death sentences for 20 people over their alleged roles in the Kerdasa massacre 4 years ago, which left over a dozen people dead.

In August 14, 2013, a few hours after Egyptian security forces mounted a deadly crackdown on two sit-in camps of protesters in the capital Cairo, some 50 gunmen besieged the main police station of the town of Kerdasa, located near the northern city of Giza, for several hours, before some of them struck the complex with rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).

The assailants then stormed the station and killed 11 people officers, including the chief of the police station, and 3 civilians. Next month, Egyptian security forces launched a full-scale operation on the city and arrested dozens of suspects after a gun battle. The number of detained suspects in the Kerdasa case later increased to nearly 200 people.

In late 2014, an Egyptian court issued death sentences to 188 suspects, which sparked an international outcry against the controversial verdicts. In 2015, the death penalties were reduced to 149 cases by another court, and in February 2016, the Court of Cassation accepted an appeal on the death verdicts and ordered a retrial for the defendants.

On Monday, however, the Cairo Criminal Court upheld death sentences against 20 suspects and announced that final verdicts for the rest would be delivered on June 2. The Monday rulings now await ratification by the the country's grand mufti.

The Egyptian government has been cracking down on the opposition since the country's 1st democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup led by former army chief and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in July 2013.

The controversial ouster sparked many protests by supporters of Morsi, including a pair that were held al-Nahda Square and Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo on August 13, 2013, which led to the killing of several hundreds of demonstrators by security police.

Rights groups say the army's crackdown on the supporters of Morsi has led to the deaths of over 1,400 people and arrest of 22,000 others, including some 200 people who have been sentenced to death in mass trials.

(source: presstv.ir)

PHILIPPINES:

36% Filipinos 'strongly approve' of death penalty: SWS

About 6 in 10 Filipinos have expressed approval of the reimposition of death penalty in the country, based on the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey results.

In the nationwide survey conducted last March 25-28 among 1,200 respondents, SWS found that 36 % of Filipinos "strongly approve" of the proposed law that will reimpose death penalty on heinous crimes related to illegal drugs, while 24 % "somewhat approve" of the proposal.

About 16 % of Filipinos expressed indecision whether they approve or disapprove, while 7 % "somewhat disapprove" and 16 % "strongly disapprove" of the proposal.

This translates to a net approval score of +38 (61 % strongly/somewhat approve minus 23 % somewhat/strongly disapprove), classified by SWS as "good."

SWS terminology for net satisfaction ratings are translated as follows: +70 and above as "excellent;" +50 to +69 "very good;" +30 to +49 "good;" +10 to +29 "moderate;" +9 to -9 "neutral;" -10 to -29 "poor;" -30 to -49 "bad;" -50 to -69 "very bad;" and -70 and below "execrable."

SWS also found that the net approval of the proposal to reimpose death penalty was highest among those with extensive knowledge about it at +59 (78 percent approve, 19 % disapprove), followed by those with partial but sufficient knowledge, at +51 (70 % approve, 18 % disapprove), those with only a little knowledge, at +30 (54 % approve, 25 % disapprove), and those with almost no knowledge, at zero (33 % approve, 34 % disapprove).

There was stronger support for the proposal from Metro Manila and upper-to-middle class ABC, it added.

The net approval was highest in Metro Manila, +58 (75 % approve, 17 % disapprove), followed by rest of Luzon at +39 (63 % approve, 24 % disapprove), Mindanao at +35 (53 % approve, 17 % disapprove), and Visayas at +25 (56 % approve, 31 % disapprove).

(source: Manila Bulletin)

*************

Conscience vote in Senate on death penalty urged

REP. Teddy Baguilat (LP, Ifugao) yesterday urged senators to follow their conscience when they vote on the Palace-backed measure reviving the death penalty and "not let politics be their sole basis."

The opposition lawmaker said senators must "search their conscience and consider the possible ramifications of such a dangerous move."

"I urge the senators to think long and hard about their vote because the implications will go far beyond this administration. It will mean the livelihood of a lot of Filipinos and could even mean the death of an innocent. Go beyond party lines, and vote according to conscience," he said.

Congress is set to resume session on May 2 but the death penalty bill is not in the list of the Senate's priority measures.

Baguilat warned of the possibility that vital development aid from the European Union would be cut if the death penalty is revived.

The EU could also decide to withdraw trade benefits such as the tax-free entry of thousands of products from the Philippines that are given on condition that the Philippines uphold its obligations, including the protection of human rights.

Baguilat said the Philippines may also be violating an international treaty that expressly prevents signatories from re-imposing the death penalty, referring to the fact that the country is signatory to the United Nation's 2nd protocol which calls for the abolition of capital punishment.

"There are serious economic repercussions if we push through with the re-imposition of the death penalty. The bill has been approved by the House. My hope is that the Senate will not commit the same mistake," said Baguilat.

Baguilat has been consistent in his stand against the re-imposition of the death penalty, on grounds that it will legitimize the use of violence and is an anti-poor measure.

On March 15, the House voted 217 against 54 with 1 abstention in favor of House Bill No, 4727, approving it on 3rd and final reading.

The Executive has the option to choose how the penalty will be carried out - by hanging, firing squad or lethal injection.

Under HB No. 4727, only 7 drug-related heinous crimes are punishable by death, excluding the act of carrying illegal drugs which was removed because of the incidents of evidence-planting by the police.

The 7 drug offenses are: importation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals; sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution, and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals; maintenance of a drug den, dive, or resort; manufacture of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals; cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs or are sources thereof; unlawful prescription of dangerous drugs; and criminal liability of a public officer or employee for misappropriation, misapplication, or failure to account for the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment including the proceeds or properties obtained from the unlawful act committed.

(source: malaya.com.ph)

APRIL 24, 2017:

FLORIDA:

Orange County death penalty trial begins Monday

Opening statements are scheduled Monday morning in the murder trial of a man accused of killing an 83-year-old Orange County woman.

Juan Rosario is accused of beating Elena Ortega to death and setting her house on Turnbull Drive on fire Sept. 18, 2013.

Rosario is already in prison serving a 18-year sentence in a separate burglary case, records show.

If convicted, Rosario faces the death penalty.

The death penalty is back on the table after Florida Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the case from Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala to State Attorney Brad King.

Rosario's case was 1 of more than 20 reassigned to King after Ayala announced March that her office would not consider the death penalty in any cases.

During jury selection last week, not only were jurors asked about their stance on the death penalty, but also their thoughts on Ayala's views.

(source: WFTV news)

*******************

On death warrants, Florida governor's 'awesome moral responsibility'

When former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins was nominated in 1964 to head the nation's new Community Relations Service, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond opposed him aggressively because Collins had renounced racial segregation.

"...I hope that as long as the good Lord lets me live on this earth I will continue to grow and to recognize changes and to meet the new responsibility as changes require," Collins said.

The widely-reported confrontation prompted Dessie Horne Williams, a Miami schoolteacher, to write to Collins, recalling a meeting with him 5 years earlier at the governor's office.

"(W)e have always thought of you as a kind, understanding man, who feels compassion for human suffering no matter what color the skin of the sufferer may be," she wrote ... You, Governor Collins, are a true" Southern gentleman. May God keep you through the coming trials."

Collins's courtesy to anyone he met was legendary. Even so, the Williams letter was remarkable.

On the occasion she described, she and her parents were pleading for the life of her brother, Willie Horne Jr., who was condemned to die for rape. Collins commuted 10 of the 39 death sentences that came to him, but not Horne's. The prisoner was executed in January 1959. However, Collins had given his family his personal attention and a full measure of compassionate respect.

At the time, though, Ms. Williams had asked a question that struck his heart: "Do you think that my brother is going to die because he is black?" But the governor's conscience was troubled. He knew that had the victim been black or both parties white, the jury almost certainly would have recommended mercy. He tasked his staff to find reasons to repeal the death penalty, and when the Legislature convened a few months later he asked that it do so.

The House committee that killed the bill said that without the possibility of a death penalty, a resumption of lynchings "can certainly be anticipated."

It was a rare if unwitting acknowledgment of the profound racism that accounts for the South's peculiar and persistent obsession with the death penalty.

It clearly matters more to the politicians than to the voters. A Florida survey by Public Policy Polling last year found that only 35 % of respondents favored execution over life without parole. The question was asked in the abstract however, without a politician waving some bloody shirt in the background.

Collins confronted the racism.

"By far the great majority of those to be executed were Negroes," he said, "and yet only 17 % of the state's population were colored. It was a gross travesty on the principle of equal protection."

Whites are now the majority on Florida's death row, but blacks are still disproportionately represented. Florida has never executed a white for a crime against a black but 1 appeal is pending. As of last October, blacks were still the majorities on 12 other death rows, 9 of them in the South.

Although the death penalty remains in force outside the South, it is in near disuse except in Florida and other former slave states. The South accounts for 1,180 of the 1,448 U.S. executions since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment 41 years ago, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. That's 81 %. Florida is 4th highest on the list with 92. Texas leads with a staggering 542. Outside the South, however, there haven't been any since 2014, except for 1 in Oklahoma.

Race bias was evident in how Florida governors and the state pardon board commuted death sentences between 1924, when Florida first began to keep track of them, and 1964, when executions paused for 15 years.

In a paper published in 1993, Margaret Vandiver, a criminology professor at the University of Memphis, found that blacks condemned for crimes against whites in Florida were executed in 90 of 95 cases. On the other hand, whites whose victims were white received clemency in 22 of 83 cases. Blacks on death row whose victims were black were spared nearly 1/2 the time, in 27 of 61 cases. There were no death sentences, hence no commutations, for whites convicted of crimes against blacks.

The disparity was greatest in convictions for rape, which is no longer a capital crime. Of the 40 black men condemned for raping white women during the 40 years Vandiver reviewed, only 2 got clemency. 1 was Willie Irvin, of the "Groveland 4," who had been framed by a racist sheriff. The Florida House of Representatives formally apologized to their families last week. Irvin had exhausted his appeals when Collins drew vehement criticism for commuting his sentence in 1955.

The point is that Collins did commute his sentence, doubting his guilt, and spared nine other men as well. No Florida governor has commuted a sentence since Bob Graham last did so in 1983. In another glaring departure, Florida governors apparently are no longer willing to face or hear from the families of condemned prisoners, as Collins did every time.

I have been trying with scant success to find out how Gov. Rick Scott considers clemency in comparison to how Collins did it. Among the questions I sent his press secretary, Lauren Schenone: Does he accept comments from lawyers for death row inmates? Does he consider each case himself or does he accept the decisions made by former governors whose death warrants were stayed in the courts? Does he consider the trial and appeal process to be essentially infallible?

Her answer was terse, said little, but was revealing in 1 important respect.

"Signing death warrants is one of the Governor's most solemn duties. His foremost concerns are consideration for the families of the victims and the finality of judgments. (Emphasis supplied.)

"Our office follows procedures outlined in Rule 15 of the Rules for Executive Clemency on this process," she said.

Rule 15 shrouds all the process in secrecy and says that the Commission on Offender Review "may" - not shall - conduct an investigation in each case. There is no data on how often it does so. The rule also provides that the Governor and Cabinet may schedule a public discussion, but that practice ceased during Jeb Bush's term.

The words in italics, "finality of judgment," suggest that Scott doesn't care, as Collins did, that the courts might make mistakes with fatal consequences. His conscience is dead to that possibility. Once the legal case is over, that's it.

That is a profound abdication of a governor's most awesome moral responsibility.

(source: Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times and author of "Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Gov. LeRoy Collins," published by the University Press of Florida----floirdapolitics.com)

ALABAMA:

Supreme Court To Decide If Prosecution, Defense Can Share Experts in Capital Case

In a time of high drama over executions in Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could determine the fate of 2 of the condemned men in the Razorback state, as well as others on death row elsewhere.

At issue is whether an indigent defendant whose sanity is a significant factor in his trial, is entitled to assistance from a mental health expert witness who is independent of the prosecutors.

In 1986 James McWilliams was convicted of the rape and murder of a store clerk in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It is not his conviction that is before the court, but his death sentence.

A swift conviction and harsh sentence

McWilliams has been on death row for more than 30 years. His guilt regarding the 1984 rape and murder of Patricia Reynolds was not much debated - eyewitnesses saw him at the scene of the crime, and he was caught driving a stolen car with the murder weapon.

At his trial, a jury heard testimony from McWilliams' mother about his behavioral problems following a traumatic brain injury when he was a child. In rebuttal, the state put on a psychiatrist and a psychologist who testified that McWilliams suffered from no serious mental illness but tried to fake illness in mental evaluations.

And the jury, by a vote of 10-to-2 recommended he be put to death.

Under Alabama law, however, a jury recommendation is not binding on the judge. The critical sentencing hearing in McWilliams' case took place six weeks later and after the defense requested a neuropsychological evaluation of the defendant.

The report on that evaluation - produced 2 days before the hearing - stated that McWilliams had "organic brain dysfunction" as a result of head injuries sustained as a child.

As the hearing was about to begin, the state further produced the defendant's prison mental health records - 1,200 pages long - showing, among other things, that McWilliams was being treated with psychotropic drugs.

The defense lawyer asked for a continuance; he said he needed the help of an expert witness, independent of the state, to evaluate those records and tests. The judge denied the continuance and, concluding the defendant was faking his mental illness, sentenced McWilliams to death.

Key to McWilliams' Supreme Court case is the judge's decision that because the author of the neuropsychological report was a "neutral" expert, the defense lawyer didn't need the help of another expert to explain the report or make a case of mental illness.

Final fight at the Supreme Court

The defense appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that McWilliams was entitled to that independent expert witness under a Supreme Court decision handed down a year before the McWilliams trial. In that case, the justices, by an 8-to-1 vote, ruled that when an indigent defendant can show that his sanity is a significant factor at trial, the defense is entitled, at minimum, to have "access" to an expert witness to help in the preparation of the mental health defense.

Alabama contends the expert witness does not have to be independent of the prosecution, but can be a "neutral" witness reporting to both sides.

Stephen Bright, who is representing McWilliams at Monday's oral arguments, says "so much of what happens in the criminal courts depends on experts." Mental health is one of those areas where it comes up most often, he says. And, as exemplified by this very case, there are often discrepancies between experts' findings.

The vast majority of death penalty states already provide such independent expert witness help for an indigent defendant.

(source: npr.org)

WEST VIRGINIA:

Berkeley County delegate to push for death penalty study

A West Virginia state senator will push for the state to conduct a study on how other states conduct the death penalty during the interim legislative session.

Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, has introduced multiple bills to allow capital punishment in West Virginia. The practice was abolished in 1965.

"30 of those (years) have been when Democrats had control," Overington said recently on MetroNews "Talkline."

"Even though many Democrats support it, leadership has never been willing to take it up or put it on the agenda. When Republicans took over 3 years ago, our focus for the first 2 years was jobs and economic development."

Overington said he knows getting through the budget process will be emotional, but hopes the legislature will have the opportunity to review capital punishment in other states.

"This would give us the chance to see which states' versions work the best, how its most effective, which ones have safeguards to make sure no mistakes are made," he said. "I think if we study it, we should be in a good position to take it up next year and for West Virginia to adopt it."

31 states have the death penalty, and the federal government and U.S. military also conduct the practice.

Death penalty has been the subject of national debate over recent weeks; Arkansas conducted its 1st execution Thursday since 2005. Ledell Lee, who was convicted in 1995 for the murder of Debra Reese, died through means of lethal injection.

The state planned to conduct 8 executions over 11 days beginning on April 17, but that was halted due to a April 19 temporary restraining order granted to a company who manufactures to drugs used in the legal injection procedure.

McKesson Medical Surgical argued its drug, vecuronium bromide, was not intended to be used in lethal injections. The company added the Arkansas Department of Correction failed to disclose the drug's intended purpose.

The State Supreme Court reversed the order on April 21, the same day Lee was executed. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 Thursday to deny a stay request.

The state has said the 8 people have to be executed before April 30 because of the expiration date of the drugs used in lethal injections.

2 inmates are scheduled to be executed Monday.

Overington said the punishments that could be considered are the electric chair and the firing squad, noting the problems with the lethal injection procedure Arkansas is facing.

Overington said the procedure can bring closure to the families of victims.

"Of all the tasks of government, the most basic is to protect its citizens from violence," he said, quoting former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Dulles served in the Eisenhower administration from 1953 to 1959.

Overington said there are recent situations where the death penalty could have been considered. He said the "poster child" Ronald Williams, who killed a Beckley police officer and was serving a life term at West Virginia State Penitentiary when he escaped in 1979.

He killed an off-duty state trooper during his escape, and murdered an Arizona man during his 18-month run from authorities.

Overington said the death penalty could have also been an option in the case involving Emmaleigh Barringer, a 10-month-old from Jackson County who died of a skull fracture.

Benjamin Taylor was indicted Oct. 25 on charges related to the crime, including 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree sexual assault.

Overington said the polls that he has seen, including those he has done, show high support for bringing back capital punishment.

"Anywhere between 70 to 90 % of West Virginians support it in certain circumstances," he said.

During the regular legislative session, Overington sponsored House Bill 2408 to change the state code to allow juries to consider capital punishment as an option. The bill was submitted to the House Judiciary Committee, where it did not advance.

(source: West Virginia Metro News)

ARKANSAS----impending executions

Arkansas prepares for 1st double execution since 2000

2 condemned Arkansas killers who admit they're guilty but fear their poor health could lead to extreme pain during lethal injections set for Monday might become the first inmates put to death in a double execution in the US in more than 16 years.

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are set to die in what would be the 2nd and 3rd Arkansas inmates executed this month as part of the state's aggressive plan to execute several inmates before one of its lethal injection drugs expires.

The state executed Ledell Lee last week in the state's 1st use of capital punishment since 2005.

Governor Asa Hutchinson originally scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires on April 30.

The last time that a state put more than 1 inmate to death on the same day was when Texas executed 2 condemned killers in August of 2000.

Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson. He had kidnapped her from a fuel station in central Arkansas.

Authorities said Williams abducted and raped 2 other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson's death. Williams told the state Parole Board last month he took responsibility for his crime.

'Forgiveness'

"I wish I could take it back, but I can't," Williams told the board.

Jones was given the death penalty for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.

In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state.

"I forgive my executioners; somebody has to do it," wrote Jones, who had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes and uses a wheelchair.

The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: "I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven't the right."

The inmates have suffered several legal setbacks as the executions near. A federal judge on Friday rejected their request to stop the executions over their health concerns.

2 federal judges on Sunday ruled against the inmates in separate cases. One denied a stay of execution to Williams, saying that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction in the case. Another federal judge denied the inmates' request for changes to the rules for witnesses to view the executions.

After the setback in a lower court, both inmates on Sunday asked the appeals court to halt their executions based on their poor health.

Lawyers for Jones' say he suffers from diabetes and is on insulin, has high blood pressure, neuropathy and had one leg amputated below the knee. He is on heavy doses of drugs they say could prevent the lethal injection drug midazolam from working and lead to a "tortuous death".

Williams' lawyers say he weighs 180kg and it will be difficult to find a vein for lethal injunction, so the drugs are unlikely to work as intended.

(source: news24.com)

***************************

Arkansas Plans To Execute 2 Convicted Killers On Monday----The last time a state executed 2 inmates on the same day was 2000 in Texas.

The state of Arkansas plans to execute 2 inmates on Monday evening, which would make it the 1st U.S. state in 17 years to put a pair of convicts to death on the same day.

A flurry of last-minute legal appeals at both the state and federal level are expected, though their likelihood of success may have diminished with the recent appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The high court cleared the way last week for Arkansas to hold its 1st execution in 12 years and the state carried out the death penalty on convicted murderer Ledell Lee.

Jack Jones, who raped and killed a woman and attempted to murder her 11-year-old daughter, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Monday.

Jack Jones, sentenced in 1996 for raping and strangling Mary Phillips and attempting to murder her 11-year-old daughter, is scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m at the Cummins Unit prison, about 75 miles southeast of the state capital of Little Rock. Jones was also convicted of rape and murder in Florida.

At 8:15 p.m., the state is tentatively scheduled to execute Marcel Williams, who was sentenced to death in 1997 for kidnapping, raping and murdering Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped 2 other women.

Marcel Williams is also scheduled for execution on Monday. He was sentenced to death for t he kidnapping, rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. He also abducted and raped 2 other women.

The last time a state executed 2 inmates on the same day was 2000 in Texas.

The condemned pair were among 8 inmates that Arkansas had initially planned to execute in the span of 11 days, a compressed schedule prompted by the impending expiration date of supplies of a sedative used as part of the 3-drug lethal injection process.

The drug in question, midazolam, was employed in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney. No problems were reported in Lee's execution on Thursday.

4 of the planned executions have already been placed on hold by court order.

The unprecedented schedule generated a wave of criticism and legal challenges, including a lawsuit from the company that makes 1 of the drugs. The company claimed that the state obtained its supplies under false pretenses, but the state's Supreme Court threw out that lawsuit last week.

On Friday, a federal judge in Little Rock rejected an appeal from Jones and Williams that obesity and related conditions made it more likely that midazolam would fail to render them unconscious.

More court challenges are a virtual certainty as the hour of execution approaches.

(source: Reuters)

***************************

Death penalty push opens new fight for Arkansas Supreme Court

The legal chaos surrounding Arkansas' 1st execution in nearly a dozen years and its compromised effort to put 8 men to death before the month's end is unlikely to cause any political fallout for the state's Republican governor, attorney general or any other officials backing the lethal injection plan. That's not the case for Arkansas Supreme Court, which is facing a rift within its ranks, as well as with the Legislature over a series of decisions preventing the first 3 executions.

The stays issued for Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson put the spotlight on a court that had shifted to the right after conservative groups spent big on a pair of high court races, and it puts the spotlight on the court early into the term of its new chief justice. Ledell Lee became the first inmate executed by Arkansas since 2005 on Thursday night, an hour after the court denied his request for a stay. Another inmate scheduled for execution this week has received a stay from a federal court.

The 3 remaining executions begin Monday night, with inmates Jack Jones and Marcel Williams scheduled to die, but other legal challenges remain.

The 4-3 majority that issued the stays last week has drawn the ire of death penalty proponents, with 1 state lawmaker tweeting the cellphone number of Chief Justice Dan Kemp in response. Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton also vented frustration with the court's majority. Part of the frustration among conservatives stems from the lack of any explanation beyond a 1-page order issued in each inmates' stay without elaboration.

1 of the 3 dissenting judges issued a blistering criticism of Monday's ruling sparing the first 2 condemned inmates.

"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law," wrote Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival last year was also targeted by conservative groups. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law."

Another justice objecting to the rulings, Rhonda Wood, wrote in a dissent that Wednesday's stay "gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court." The state's late chief justice, Jim Hannah, and former Associate Justice Paul Danielson accused the court's majority then of delaying its handling of the case, which was dismissed hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

The fight with legislators, however, could end up rivaling the ire the court drew during its handling of the Lake View school funding lawsuit. Legislators and other top officials regularly complained publicly about the court overstepping its bounds with rulings striking down the school funding system. The case ended in 2007 when justices said Arkansas had adequately funded its schools.

The split on death penalty cases, however, isn't as clear cut as critics of the court suggest. Justices paved the way for Lee's execution last week by lifting a judge's order preventing the state from using a lethal injection drug a company says it was duped into selling Arkansas, not realizing it would be used for executions. The court also rejected a stay for Lee for additional testing, despite halting Johnson’s execution on similar grounds.

"I am at a loss to explain this court's dissimilar treatment of similarly situated litigants," Justice Josephine Linker Hart wrote in a dissent to Lee's stay denial. "The court's error in denying the motion for stay will not be capable of correction."

Along with clarifying the future of Arkansas' death penalty system, the coming week may also show where the fault lines remain on this new court.

(source: Associated Press)

ARIZONA:

The judge calling for a return to the guillotine----Provocative Judge Alex Kozinski says executions should be brutal. So why did he save a mom from death row, even though he admits she may be guilty?

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski holds provocative views on the death penalty. In an interview with Lesley Stahl this week, he advocates for the firing squad - even the guillotine.

"It's 100 % effective, and it leaves no doubt that what we are doing is a violent thing," he tells Stahl on the broadcast.

But look past the shocking sentiment and French Revolution imagery and see Judge Kozinski's broader notion: killing a person - no matter how it's carried out and how legally justified courts deem it - is vicious.

"If we' re going to take human life, if we're going to execute people, if the state is going to snuff out a human being," he says, "we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it's anything but a violent, brutal act."

He first spoke to 60 Minutes about his perspective in 2015, in a story about the execution of Joseph Wood. Wood's July 2014 execution in Arizona was supposed to take about 10 minutes. But after executioners injected Wood with an experimental new combination of drugs, it took almost 2 hours for him to die, making it the longest execution in U.S. history.

"The death penalty is barbaric," he told correspondent Bill Whitaker at the time, "and I think we as a society need to come face-to-face with that. If we're not willing to face up to the cruelty, we ought not to be doing it.

Kozinski is not anti-capital punishment; he told Stahl that sometimes the death penalty is "deserved." But as an appellate judge, he has had reservations about how several cases were handled by the prosecutors involved.

The case of Debra Milke - also a capital punishment case in Arizona - is one example. Milke had spent 22 years on death row, convicted of conspiring with 2 other men to kill her son. When her appeal came before Judge Kozinski in 2013, he overturned the conviction. Milke became the 2nd woman in the United States to be exonerated from death row.

"Judge Kozinski, he saved my life," Milke tells Stahl.

Milke's conviction, Judge Kozinski decided, was a product of prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecution's case depended on the testimony of a seasoned detective, Armando Saldate, who said Milke confessed to the crime to him - even though there was no recording, signed document, or witness to corroborate the confession. Milke said she had not.

The trial became Milke's word against Saldate's, and the jury believed Saldate. Milke was convicted and sentenced to death. She says she went through a dry run of her execution, even telling the warden what she wanted her last meal to be.

But her appeal attorneys discovered that Saldate's personnel record showed instances of misconduct in other cases, including lying under oath. Kozinski says the prosecutors withheld this information from the jury, violating a rule requiring the prosecution to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense.

"For them to put on somebody like that when they darn well know that he has lied in other cases is unacceptable," Judge Kozinski tells Stahl.

But while Judge Kozinski threw out Milke's conviction, he didn't rule on her guilt or innocence. "Milke may well be guilty, even if Saldate made up her confession out of whole cloth," he wrote in his court opinion.

What Judge Kozinski is sure of is that the Constitution requires a fair trial. And as he wrote, "This never happened in Milke's case..."

(source: CBS News)

USA:

Good Lawyers Are Killing the Death Penalty----Attorneys saved 4 lives last week during the Arkansas's execution mania. By driving up the cost of killing, they will save many more across the country.

Last Thursday, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee for murder, the 1st execution in the state since 2005. It was also the 1st of 8 scheduled executions the state originally planned to carry out before its supply of one of its lethal injection drugs expires on April 30.

The biggest news, however, is not that Arkansas carried out one execution, but that lawyers managed to stop 4 others. Last Monday, the Supreme Court of Arkansas stayed the executions of Bruce Ward and Don Davis for independent mental health evaluations. On Thursday, Stacey Johnson won a stay to allow additional testing of potential DNA evidence. Separately, Jason McGehee's execution, scheduled for April 27, was reprieved following a recommendation for clemency by the Arkansas Parole Board.

Undoubtedly, Lee's crimes were serious. He was a serial rapist who murdered 26-year-Debra Reese in her home with a tire pressure gauge. However, about 130 murders are committed in the state each year. Arkansas has a death row population of 32. Did Lee's crimes really represent the "worst of the worst?" This is to say nothing of Lee's claim of innocence, supported by as-yet-untested DNA evidence, and his claim that his post-conviction lawyer was intoxicated.

The executions in Arkansas have shown that the death penalty is lawless. Officials with complete discretion over the process claim they are bound by "the law" and have no choice in the matter. In every case across the country, chance and geography, not the seriousness of the crime, determine who lives and who dies. The expiration date of the state's supply of midazolam dictated the outcome in Lee's case. When the U.S. Supreme Court denied the prisoners' appeal on Thursday night, Justice Stephen Breyer dissented (PDF), calling the decision to execute before the drug's "use by" date expired 'close to random."

The prisoners who were not executed last week benefited from that same game of chance. The lesson is that death penalty defense lawyers have become better at playing the odds. Every lawsuit or appeal filed, every new psychiatric evaluation or DNA test ordered, has the consequence of driving up the structural costs of execution. Every delay makes it less likely that the executions will be carried out at all.

The slow attrition of the death penalty has reached a tipping point. Today, prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty in the first place: Only 30 new death sentences were passed in 2016, 1/10 of the number passed in 1998. The Supreme Court continues to chip away at the death penalty, most recently invalidating state laws that allowed a judge to impose a death sentence over the objections of a jury. Imports of lethal injection drugs are halted at the border, with no refund for state taxpayers who footed the bill. Even clemency may be more promising than it used to be. Last week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz amidst surprisingly little controversy. Arkansas's overreach gave him cover.

The reason for this success? Lawyers. Lawyers intervene in capital cases sooner than ever and stay in the case longer. They appeal more frequently, file more pleadings, and cultivate new challenges. They do not always win. But the cumulative effect of constructing more barriers to an execution - an extra clemency petition, 1 more "Hail Mary" stay request - renders the entire "machinery of death" unsustainable in the long term.

Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg defended the Arkansas executions, alleging that anti-death penalty advocates were disingenuous in driving up the cost of executions and then complaining about the death penalty's expense. The strategy may be cynical, but it is successful. The death penalty has become so rare that it is handicapped by its own arbitrariness. It has always been "cruel." It is now "unusual."

The most unprecedented aspect of the Arkansas executions is the direct involvement of the drug companies. McKesson, the distributor of the paralytic agent, sued Arkansas directly, and the manufacturers of all 3 drugs in the lethal injection cocktail filed briefs in both the prisoners' claims and McKesson's lawsuit. McKesson claims that the drugs were obtained by deceit. The first 2 drugs in Arkansas's lethal injection protocol are in nationwide shortage with hospitals on a waiting list. At present, there are no more FDA-approved suppliers left in the United States that are willing to sell drugs to corrections facilities.

If drug companies continue to directly intervene in death penalty cases, lethal injections will become even more difficult to carry out. The Arkansas attorney general's office is outgunned. McKesson is represented by Covington and Burling, the largest and most prestigious law firm in Washington, D.C., and supported by strong local counsel. States seeking to carry out executions face more formidable opponents than ever before.

More clashes are certain. Arkansas plans to execute 3 more inmates this week. Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled for execution on Monday night, and Kenneth Williams is scheduled for Thursday. Although a state and federal trial court denied stay requests based on the defendants' health claims this weekend, a wave of challenges remain pending and will continue until the time the executions begin. A novel challenge, pending in federal court, is to Arkansas's execution protocol, which is unclear as to whether the curtains in the viewing room must be opened when the inmates enter the execution chamber or when the drugs are first administered.

Any delay, no matter how trivial, is a small victory. The prisoners' executions are scheduled beginning at 7 p.m. each night and the death warrants expire at midnight. If the clock runs out on the death warrants, Arkansas will not be able to reschedule the executions before the midazolam supply expires at the end of the month. The reality is stark: If these executions are not carried out this week, they likely never will be.

The truth is that the death penalty will die because it simply is not worth the effort. The structural costs of execution, which far exceed those of life without parole (itself a very costly sentence), outweigh any social benefit to victims or the broader community. The sheer randomness of executions undermines any marginal deterrence value of the death penalty over life imprisonment.

This is not evidence that our criminal justice system is "broken." To the contrary, this sensitivity to cost is economically rational. In short, our system works exactly as it is supposed to, and we can thank lawyers for that.

(source: Andrew Novak is term assistant professor of Criminology, Law, and Society at George Mason University----The Daily Beast)

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The 2016 Election Could Have Killed the Death Penalty----Instead, our broken system may well be entrenched for more than a generation.

Neil Gorsuch's 1st public vote as a Supreme Court justice was a sobering reminder that elections have life-or-death consequences. Gorsuch joined a 5-4 majority to deny a stay on the 1st of several executions the state of Arkansas is rushing to carry out, before the expiration of one of the chemicals it uses to administer lethal injections. Just before midnight on Thursday, Ledell Lee was executed. More executions are scheduled for Monday and Thursday of this week.

This proposed rush of executions is troubling in itself, as it represents many of the worst aspects of capital punishment. And taking a longer view, the outcome is outright tragic. 4 justices on the Supreme Court are clearly poised to further limit capital punishment and may well be open to arguments that it is simply unconstitutional. But the presence of President Donald Trump in the White House may well entrench a broken death penalty system for more than a generation.

It's telling that Lee was the 1st to be executed, since his case was particularly problematic. Lee, who was also convicted of multiple rapes, is not a sympathetic defendant, and it's certainly possible that he was guilty of the brutal murder he was executed for. But his death sentence was not issued with appropriate procedural safeguards. Arkansas refused his request for a DNA test of some of the forensic evidence that was used to convict him, although it has granted similar requests by other defendants.

The lethal injection system, like many previous attempts to develop a "humane" method of execution, has failed.

But this is just the beginning. The trial that convicted Lee was more consistent with an implausible legal thriller than with a court of law capable of applying the death penalty. As Liliana Segura observes at The Intercept, Lee's "trial judge was having an affair with the prosecutor," and "records show shocking failures of his defense attorneys, both at trial and post-conviction, which were compounded by egregious conflicts of interest."

That the judge was literally in bed with the prosecutor would make it remarkable for any conviction to be allowed to stand, let alone a capital conviction. A bigger issue was Lee's incompetent legal representation, which is a far more common plight of defendants in the court system. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once pointed out, "People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."

Beyond the individual issues with these cases, this proposed group of executions is problematic for a reason that affects the death penalty wherever it's used in the United States. The lethal injection system, like many previous attempts to develop a "humane" method of execution, has failed. The method used by most states, developed without sound scientific basis and administered by unqualified personnel, has resulted in people being tortured to death. As a result, states like Arkansas are having trouble acquiring the requisite chemicals - which is why Arkansas is rushing to carry out multiple executions, procedurally sound or not, before the current stock expires.

But for a bare majority of the Supreme Court, including its newest addition, this was all good enough. Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. Had Hillary Clinton been able to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Mitch McConnell's blockade of Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland, it is unlikely that these executions would have proceeded. Indeed, capital punishment might been struck down altogether.

For all intents and purposes, no more than two justices at a time have held the view that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional under the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments, which forbid cruel and unusual punishment and guarantee due process, respectively. (A 5-4 majority of the Court in 1972 did hold that the particular death penalty statutes in place at the time were unconstitutional, before upholding new statutory regimes in 1976.) The liberal lions William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall believed the death penalty was inherently unconstitutional. The liberal Republicans Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens ultimately reached the same conclusion, but only as they were about to leave the Court. In 2015, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg strongly implying that he agreed with the Brennan/Marshall position. But while Obama's Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan have yet to join them, the context has changed.

What is particularly encouraging is that it's Justice Breyer who has taken the lead. Breyer has been a fine justice, but he's also in many respects a liberal from the Clinton era - in general he is much more wary about pushing the law in innovative directions that Warren Court-era liberals. Breyer concluding that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional would reflect a real change in mainstream Democratic opinion, and would make it likely that any Democratic nominee will be open to arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

If Donald Trump gets another nomination the Court could become even more lenient on death penalty issues.

Another way that the death penalty is vulnerable is that executions have become overwhelmingly concentrated in a few jurisdictions. As Justice Ginsburg pointed out in a 2014 interview at Duke Law School, "Last year, I think 43 of the states of the United States had no executions, only seven did, and the executions that took place tended to be concentrated in certain counties in certain states." This is important not only because it underscores the arbitrary nature of the death penalty as practiced in the United States, but because, all things being equal, the Supreme Court is more likely to rule a practice unconstitutional if it's a regional outlier than if it is more widespread.

This isn't to say that a Supreme Court with a Democratic median vote would have immediately ruled the death penalty unconstitutional. But it likely would have acted to further restrict its use, paving the way for a broader ruling.

Instead, the Court will remain where it is, and if Donald Trump gets another nomination it could become even more lenient on death penalty issues. Justice Anthony Kennedy is normally a conservative vote on the death penalty, but has sporadically voted with the Court's liberal wing to rule the death penalty unconstitutional in certain circumstances: executions of minors, of people with severe mental limitations, and for sexual assault. If another justice like Gorsuch replaces Kennedy, states will have more leeway to apply the death penalty, not less. And if there is a 6- or 7-justice Republican majority, it will be a long time before there's a majority open to holding the death penalty unconstitutional.

The 2016 presidential election could have been the death knell for the death penalty. Instead, it may well result in the death penalty being entrenched in certain states, and in less federal supervision of an arbitrary and unjust system. It's yet another way that Donald Trump's victory was a disaster for the country.

(source: Scott Lemieux is a Guardian U.S. contributing opinion writer, an instructor at SUNY Albany----newrepublic.com)

SOLOMON ISLANDS:

Mayor calls for reintroduction of death penalty

Honiara City Mayor Andrew Mua has called on legislators to reintroduce the death penalty into the Solomon Islands.

In light of the barbaric killing of Chinese couple Jimmy and Joy Kwan over the Easter, Mr Mua said tougher laws could help prevent murders.

"I call on the government through its judicial arm to review its laws to bring tougher penalties to these kinds of people," he said at the rally to condemn the murders on Sunday.

"Policy makers must re-look at bringing tougher laws to deter such barbaric killings in the near future."

The Solomon Islands formally abolished the death penalty in 1978.

(source: sibconline.com.sb)

AUSTRALIA:

Long Bay Jail reformed women before men swung from gallows

The execution of murderer and thief James Wilson, the 1st of 9 men to hang from gallows at Long Bay Gaol almost a century ago, attracted little public sympathy, and no agitation to spare his life.

Weeks later pleas for clemency delayed the execution of child murderer Christian William Benzing, the 2nd to drop from a rope suspended from a steel girder over an iron trapdoor outside cells 47 and 48.

Days before Benzing's scheduled execution, Labor politicians Simon Hickey and Percy Brookfield appealed to acting Labor premier George Fuller, arguing that Benzing, wounded while serving in Gallipoli, suffered epileptic fits and sometimes could not recall or be responsible for his actions.

Fuller called 2 cabinet meetings, but after two doctors working at Sydney asylums reported they could find no evidence to support the arguments of Hickey and Brookfield, who in March 1921 was himself murdered by "deranged Russian emigree" Koorman Tomayoff at Riverton railway station in South Australia, Fuller advised "the Cabinet had decided that the law should take its course".

Benzing, 22, convicted of "violation" causing the death of Dorothy Myra Small, aged 10, near her home at Rocky Point Rd, Rockdale, on January 12, 1917, hanged on the morning of June 16, 1917.

Long Bay Gaol at Malabar, built to replace Darlinghurst Gaol, opened as a State Reformatory for Women in 1909. When a State Penitentiary for Men opened alongside in 1914, Darlinghurst was refashioned as a World War I interment camp.

Opened in 1840, Darlinghurst had 76 criminals hanged by 1914, many witnessed by crowds outside the jail's Forbes St entrance, where the condemned were paraded on a platform above the gate.

The 1st hanging at Long Bay was on May 31, 1917, when Wilson walked three metres from his cell to the new scaffold in the northeastern section of the penitentiary. Wilson, a member of the controversial "revolutionary industrial union" International Workers of the World, or Wobblies, was convicted for the murder and robbery of Greek cafe owner George Pappageorgi in George St, Haymarket, on April 5, 1916, probably by strangling him with a rope before breaking open the cash register.

Wilson was arrested months later for another offence. While at Tamworth Gaol, Wilson was among a group who attacked and killed a warder, then climbed a wall to escape. Recaptured, while in jail he was charged with Pappageorgi's murder when one of his finger prints was found on the cafe cash register. Wilson pleaded guilty in Sydney Central Criminal Court on March 1917, after a justice told him evidence might reduce the charge to manslaughter.

Apparently "resigned to his fate", at 9am on Thursday, May 31, Wilson was taken to the gallows where prison warders pinioned his arms and placed a white cap over his head as the rope was adjusted. Seconds later "the lever was released, the trapdoor flew open, and the condemned man dropped. After being allowed to hang for the regulation 20 minutes", a doctor examined his body.

William Moxley was hanged at Long Bay Jail in 1932 for the murder of Dorothy Denzel and Frank Wilkinson.

The most recent executions in NSW had been at Bathurst Gaol on December 20, 1916, when fellow IWW members Frank Franz and Roland Nicholas Kennedy hanged for the murder of Tottenham police Constable George Duncan in September 1916.

The next execution at Long Bay was in April 1924, when Edward Williams hanged for the murder of his daughter Rosalie, 5, in February 1924. In December 1924 William Simpson hanged for the murder in June 1924 of Guy Chalmers Clift. William Moxley hanged in August 1932 for the murders of Dorothy Denzel and Frank Wilkinson in April 1932, and Edwin Hickey, 18, died in May 1936, after pushing Montague Henwood from a train during a robbery near Linden in 1935.

James Massey hanged in June 1936 for fatally shooting Norman Stead during a service station holdup at Darlinghurst in February 1936. Alfred Spicer died in May 1938 for the murder of Marcia Hayes, 6, at Windsor on Christmas Eve, 1937.

Edwin Hickey was the youngest person to hang at Long Bay Jail, aged 18 when he died in 1935.

The last to drop from Long Bay gallows was John "Jack" Kelly, whose sentence for a bloody murder that shocked a sleepy New England town in February 1939 sparked fierce debate about capital punishment.

A drunken Kelly hit Marjorie Constance 'Connie' Sommerlad, 35, on the head with an axe at her family's property at Tenterfield, where Kelly worked as a farmhand. Kelly, 24, who had served time for abducting a young girl, fled to Brisbane where he was arrested a day later. He admitted killing Connie after she rebuked his advances.

Kelly, executed on August 24, 1939, was the last person to hang in NSW, where the death penalty for murder was abolished in 1955, although it remained for treason and piracy until 1985. The state handed down 3171 capital convictions from 1788-1954, with almost 1/3 resulting in execution.

(source: The Daily Telegraph)

CHINA----execution

Double murderer executed in southwest China after change of plea fails----Chen Quansong confessed to killing 2 young girls in 2014, but later claimed he said this under duress

A man in southwest China who was convicted of killing 2 girls was executed on Saturday after the execution was called to a halt earlier this year.

Chen Quansong, 30, was found guilty of killing 2 high school girls on a mountain in Shiqian county, Guizhou province in January 2014. Chen defiled the corpse of one girl and left their bodies in the woods and bushes, the Supreme People's Court said.

The Intermediate People's Court in Tongren conducted the execution, the Supreme People's Court said. The execution had been halted for about 3 months.

Chen confessed to the killings after his arrest in March 2014. But he later retracted his confession, saying during the 1st trial that he had not killed anyone. He said he was threatened and abused under interrogation and forced to sign a confession. Despite withdrawing his confession, Chen was convicted of intentional homicide and the high court of Guizhou upheld the death sentence in February 2016.

The execution was halted in January upon a petition from Chen's lawyer, mainland news portal Thepaper.cn reported.

(source: South China Morning Post)

*************************

China's top court cautiously imposes death penalty: expert

SPC cautiously imposes death penalty: expert

The man convicted in a high profile murder and rape case in Southwest China's Guizhou Province was executed on Saturday after the country's top court completed a three-month review of the death sentence verdict.

Law experts said the top court's probe and review prove that China is becoming more discreet when enforcing the death penalty.

Chen Quansong was scheduled to be executed on January 23 after China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) reviewed the death penalty, Chen's attorney told news site thepaper.cn.

But the execution was cancelled on the day without elaborating why, and the SPC launched a new investigation over the case.

After 3 months of further investigation and proof, the SPC resumed its decision of the death sentence on Chen, and Chen was executed for homicide on Saturday.

Chen, 30, was convicted of murder after he killed 2 young women surnamed Wang and Xian in January 2014 in Shiqian county, Southwest China's Guizhou Province.

Chen then raped Wang's corpse and covered the 2 bodies with tree branches.

"The case shows that SPC tries to clear any doubts over imposing the death penalty and ensuring it is cautiously used," said Mo Shaoping, a law professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics.

"China has been increasingly cautious toward the use of the death penalty after the SPC gained review rights on death penalty cases in 2007, and in 2011 the court reduced the types of crimes covered by the death penalty from 68 to 55," Mo added.

(source: Global Times)

IRAN----executions

Mass Execution of Eight Inmates in Prison; Another Prisoner Executed in Public

On April 22, the mullahs' antihuman regime hanged a young 21 year old man in public. It also sent eight prisoners to the gallows collectively in Gohardasht prison of Karaj. One of the executed was Mohsen Babai, 29 and a B.A. in accounting. He was married and was popular among other prisoners for his personality and humane behavior. A number of those executed had been previously taken to solitary cells and taken to the gallows several times. A number of political prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest such brutal executions.

On April 20, another prisoner was hanged in Boroujerd prison after 8 years in prison. Execution of 3 prisoners in Shiraz and Tabriz prisons on April 18, and execution of another inmate on April 16 in central prison of Bandar-Abbas are among other crimes of the regeime during recent days.

Recourse to the death penalty, especially mass executions, is taking place on the eve of elections in order to intensify the atmosphere of intimidation.

Iranian Resistance calls on the Iranian people, particularly the brave youth to protest against this medieval punishment and to express their solidarity with the families of the executed.

Any engagement of the international community with the mullahs' regime has to be conditioned upon improvement of human rights situation, especially stoppage of executions.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

************

1 Public Execution in Northern Iran

1 man was hanged publicly in the city of Babol Saturday morning April 22, reported the state run Iranian news agencies.

The state controlled YJC news agency reported that the 21 year old man was identified as H.R. sentenced to qisas death penalty (retribution).

H.R. was covicted of murdering another man identified as R. F. 1,5 years ago.

The family of the murder victim and some officials were also present during the public execution.

**********************

Drug-Related Executions and Possibility of Change in Legislation in Iran----In addition, even if the bill is passed and approved there is no guarantee that it will lead to a significant reduction in the number of drug-related executions. The bill doesn't address the issue of due process at all

According to Iran Human Rights' (IHR) annual report on the death penalty in Iran at least 530 people were executed in 2016. With 296 executions Drug offences accounted for the majority of executions in 2016. In 2016, the Iranian Judiciary's High Council of Human Rights stated in a report that 93% of all executions are based on drug-related charges. This is not true. Drug offences counted for 48% of executions in 2013, 49% in 2014, 66% in 2015 and 56% in 2016. of those executed were charged for drug offences.

Drug-related executions, and the new legislation proposed by the Iranian Parliament, Majles, will be briefly reviewed in the following sections.

Drug offences count for more than 50% of executions in Iran and the majority of the death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts. Reports collected by IHR show that those arrested for drug offences are systematically subjected to torture during the weeks after their arrest. Often, they have no access to a lawyer while in detention and by the time the lawyer enters the case they have already "confessed" to the crime. Trials at the Revolutionary Courts are often very short and there is little the lawyer can do. In addition, most of those executed for drug offences belong to marginalized groups in the Iranian society.

This last point has been emphasized by several Iranian officials, including Mohammad Bagher Olfat, one of the deputies of the Head of the Judiciary, who told an Iranian news agency: "It is important to note that the individuals who are being executed are not the main drug traffickers, because the main drug traffickers are not involved in the shipment of drugs. Normally, the drugs are sold cheaply to individuals who do not have sufficient financial income".

The Current Anti-Narcotics Law and the new bill proposed by Parliament

The current Anti-Narcotics Law requires the death penalty for the 4th conviction for drug-related offences in several instances including: planting opium poppies, coca plants or cannabis seeds with the intent to produce drugs; smuggling more than 5 kilograms of opium or cannabis into Iran; buying, possessing, carrying or hiding more than 5 kilograms of opium and the other aforementioned drugs (punishable on third conviction); smuggling into Iran, dealing, producing, distributing and exporting more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, cocaine or their derivatives.

In December 2015, the official Iranian media announced that 70 members of Iran's Parliament signed a proposal for a change in legislation in order to end the death penalty for drug offences. After the Parliamentary elections in early 2016, the call for a change was followed up and in October 2016 the Iranian media announced that 150 of the 290 members of Parliament (Majlis) has signed the bill. At that time, Deputy Jalil Rahimi-Jahanabadi, a member of the Majlis Legal and Judicial Committee, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA): "In essence, we are proposing to add an amendment to the current law for fighting drugs to say the death penalty would apply only if certain conditions were met, such as carrying and using a gun, or being an international drug kingpin, or having a commuted death sentence and repeating the crime".

Although the details of the new proposal have not been published, based on the information in the Iranian media if the new bill is approved the death penalty will be removed for some drug offences unless offenders were armed while carrying drugs or if they had been imprisoned for more than 10 years if the case is related to organized crime, or in cases where larger amount of drugs are involved.

However, it is not clear whether the new bill will be approved by the powerful Guardian Council which has to approve all new laws. It is not clear either where the Expediency Council stands in this matter. Iran's Expediency Council has amended the country's anti-drug-trafficking law several times: in 1988, 1994 and 2001. The last amendment decreed that being in the possession of more than 30 grams of crystal meth was the same as the possession of heroin, and was punishable by the death penalty. The Judiciary has also sent mixed signals regarding the new bill. In October 2016, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli-Larijani told the Iranian media that: "Executions are not necessarily desirable, but narcotics are a great detriment to society and also shatter families. We have no choice but to confront the issue quickly, swiftly, firmly, and decisively. We want prosecutors in the country not to hesitate in implementing the (death) sentences," said Amoli Larijani. "We should not wait 3 years (before carrying out the execution sentences), until the prisoner learns how to pray in order to get amnesty...It is offensive to say that the death penalty is ineffective. If it wasn't for the strictness of the Judiciary, the situation would be much worse."

In addition, even if the bill is passed and approved there is no guarantee that it will lead to a significant reduction in the number of drug-related executions. The bill doesn't address the issue of due process at all. As mentioned earlier in this section, lack of due process is probably the biggest reason for the high number of drug-related executions in Iran as large number of the death sentences for drug charges are solely based on confessions extracted under torture.

Another factor determining the fate of Iran's drug-related death penalty policy is the international pressure. So, international pressure from Iran's dialogue partners, EU in particular, must be even more focused on the issue of the death penalty and specific demands must be raised with regards to the issue of due process and the dissolving of the Revolutionary Courts.

Drug-related Executions

At least 296 people were executed for drug-related charges in 2016. This counts for more 56% of all executions carried out in that year. The number is lower than the annual executions for drug offences in the last six years. But as mentioned in previous sections, there is no indication that the relative reduction is due to a change in Iran's death penalty policy. In the following sections we will set out the execution trends and geographic distribution of drug-related executions. Finally, we will provide an update on the cooperation between the United Nations' Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Iranian authorities in fighting drug trafficking.

More than 2,990 people were executed for drug offences between 2010 and 2016. The numbers for 2016 are lower than the average of the last 6 years. However, Iran remains the country with the highest number of drug-related execution per capita. *The number for 2015 is updated due to confirmation of 3 new execution cases in that year.

Geographic Distribution of Drug-related Executions in 2016 The prisons of Karaj, in particular Ghezelhesar, where prisoners from Tehran/Karaj area are held, had the highest number of drug-related executions. The most significant decrease compared to 2015, was also observed in the prisons of Karaj. In 2015 at least 231 people were executed in the prisons of Karaj. As in the previous year, the Central Prison of Urmia (northwestern border) also had a high number of drug-related executions. Most of the executions were not announced by the official media.

(source for both: iranhr.net)

APRIL 23, 2017:

TEXAS:

Death Sentence on Line for Would-Be Rapper in Triple Killing----A former University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff student who once aspired to become a famous rapper now faces a possible death penalty in a Dallas triple slaying.

A former University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff student who once aspired to become a famous rapper now has his life on the line after his capital murder conviction in the shooting deaths of three people at a Dallas drug house.

The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2pSU8ee) reports the penalty phase opens Monday in the trial of 24-year-old Justin Pharez Smith, in which prosecutors will present evidence in their bid for a death sentence.

Prosecutors say a need for money compelled Smith to kill a man and 2 women in the August 2014 holdup. A woman and a man survived the attack and identified Smith as the killer.

Prosecutor Kobby Warren said Smith came to Dallas intending to get "on the dope game." The problem was "he was a terrible drug dealer."

(source: Associated Press)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Prosecution faces tough challenge in Frein death sentence phase

If Pike County prosecutors succeed in putting convicted cop killer Eric Matthew Frein on death row, they will buck the national trend of death sentences dramatically dropping over the past few decades.

Death sentences reached a peak between 1992 and 1994, when 315 defendants were sentenced to die, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The rate continued to drop over the years.

In 2016, just 30 defendants were sentenced to death, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that provides information and analysis on death penalty issues.

Legal experts say the decline is the result of several factors, including a reduction in the murder rate, increasing scrutiny by prosecutors in evaluating which cases to seek death, and the reluctance of jurors to impose death in all but the most heinous cases.

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin went to great lengths to try to convince the Chester County jury deciding Frein's fate that he deserves to die by lethal injection for the Sept. 12, 2014, sniper attack at the Blooming Grove state police barracks that killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II,38, of Dunmore.

Frein, 33, of Canadensis, was convicted of 1st-degree murder, 1st-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and 10 other charges on Wednesday, stemming from the ambush that also severely injured Trooper Alex Douglass, 34, of Olyphant.

During the penalty phase that began Thursday, Tonkin presented several witnesses, including Dickson's widow and mother, who talked of the devastating impact his death had on them. The defense began presenting its case Friday afternoon. The hearing resumes Monday.

The case comes at a time when public support for capital punishment is at an all-time low.

A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center shows 49 % of Americans support the death penalty. That is down from a peak of 80 % who supported it the mid-1990s.

"There has been a very effective effort by anti-death penalty folks to convince people the death penalty is unfair to minorities and is not being imposed fairly," said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a vocal death penalty supporter. "Some of that public campaigning has an impact on jurors."

The decline in support has been fueled, in part, by the number of death row inmates who have been exonerated, said Robert Dunhan, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Since 1972, 158 people sentenced to death have been exonerated, according to the center.

"Americans are reaching the point that they feel they can't trust the government," Dunhan said. "The public does not want a system that has a high risk of sentencing innocent people to death."

Joshua Marquis, a board member of the National District Attorney's Association, said he believes the decline in death sentences is tied more to the reduction in the nation's murder rate. In 2015, the murder rate was 4.9 murders per 100,000 people, according to the Department of Justice. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the per capita murder rate ranged from a low of 5.7 in 1999 to 10.2 in 1980.

Morganelli and Marquis agree jurors today closely scrutinize cases and are only willing to impose death in the most egregious cases. That is how it should be, they said, and has led prosecutors to be more selective in the type of cases for which they seek death.

Marquis, a district attorney in Clatsop County, Oregon, said he prosecuted about 12 cases where he could have sought death, but has only done so in 2.

"As a prosecutor you have to ask, should you really be seeking death except only in the worst of the worst cases?" he said. "I have to look at the likelihood of success because it's extremely expensive for both sides."

There is no dispute Frein's crime was heinous. His attorneys face a monumental task in countering that fact to save his life, said attorney Ernest Preate of Scranton, a former Lackawanna County district attorney who secured death sentences against 5 defendants from the late '70s to mid-'80s.

"It's a strong case," Preate said. "You killed a cop and you did it in an ambush. He (Dickson) was defenseless."

Frein's attorneys, William Ruzzo and Michael Weinstein, indicated they will focus their argument in the penalty phase on seeking mercy for Frein. In his opening statement for the penalty phase on Thursday, Ruzzo reminded jurors that Frein's convictions for 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree murder of a law enforcement officer carry mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole.

"You sentenced Eric Frein to death by imprisonment," Ruzzo told the jury. "Now, what we are talking about is if Eric Frein dies a natural death in prison, or if he dies on a gurney."

The case ultimately comes down to the jurors. The panel has been deemed "death qualified," meaning they assured the court their personal view on the death penalty will not impact their ability to follow the law and impose death if the evidence supports it.

Saying you can sentence someone to death and actually doing it are 2 different things, Preate said.

"You are going to come into the courtroom, stand up and look at the defendant and say, 'I'm going to put you to death,'" Preate said. "When the time comes, can you really do it?"

(source: Standard Speaker)

FLORIDA:

Gov. Scott should respect death penalty denial

Earlier this month, Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she would not seek death sentences during her term in office.

This announcement was not made in a vacuum, and conservatives should applaud her willingness to name a broken government program.

Florida's death penalty statute was ruled unconstitutional 2 times in the last 3 years, and hundreds of cases are coming back for new sentencing trials.

Immediately after the announcement, Gov. Rick Scott removed her from the highly publicized Markeith Loyd case, in which he is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend as well as a police officer.

Gov. Scott claims Ayala "has made it clear that she will not fight for justice," which couldn’t be further from the truth. While Scott appears to be overreaching and defending an irrevocably broken death penalty system, she is the one honestly addressing the problems and she has the authority to figure out what best serves her community.

Gov. Scott’s interposition into the 9th Judicial Circuit is little more than state government intrusion into local business.

The people of Orange and Osceola counties duly elected Ayala to use her discretion. However, as soon as she exercised it in a way that wasn't in lockstep with the governor, he sought to circumvent the powers of her office and the will of the people who elected her.

Conservatives appreciate limited government and deferring major decisions to the local level. Gov. Scott is quite clearly overstepping his bounds in violating these principles. Despite Scott's attempted power grab, there are a host of other reasons why conservatives should stand and support Ayala.

Since 1979, Florida has executed 92 inmates but wrongly convicted and released 26 from death row - more than any other state. Wrongful convictions largely stem from official misconduct, mistaken eyewitness testimony or reliance on unscientific or forged forensics.

Study after study has proved death cases are exponentially more expensive than life without parole. Data suggests that the price tag can easily be 10 times more expensive than similar non-capital cases.

Historically, and to afford these rising costs, several counties have raised taxes, cut government jobs and misallocated resources that could have been spent aiding murder victims' families. Ayala understands this and wishes to be a good steward of taxpayer money, which is where fiscal conservatives can find common ground with her - especially given that the death penalty doesn’t benefit society.

There is no proof that the death penalty lowers murder rates. In fact, homicides have dropped in many places where the death penalty has been banned. The truth is people who commit heinous crimes do so without considering the possible punishments.

The death penalty doesn't deter these individuals. All it does is take valuable resources away from the taxpayers and harm murder victims' loved ones.

Because of the drawn out, uncertain and tiring nature of capital trials, families of victims are often plagued with constant grief on a level few can ever understand.

The trials wear on the families, but it turns out that these trials and the subsequent appeals take exponentially longer, keeping the family waiting in painful uncertainty for decades as the process continues without end.

Due to the increased publicity and mandated legal proceedings, these individuals endure constant reminders of the worst moments of their lives.

It is understandable that Ayala has decided to not seek the death penalty. Gov. Scott should respect the will of the people who voted for her. Her decision makes sense for her community.

(source: Kelli Huck is a junior accounting and finance student at Flagler College. She is the Florida state chair for Young Americans for Liberty, as well the Florida outreach specialist for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA----St. Augustine Record)

*******************

Is end of death penalty within sight?

The death penalty has been a disaster in Florida. The state has botched executions and leads the nation in death-row exonerations since the death penalty was reinstituted.

Such problems should give liberal death-penalty opponents common cause with conservatives who have a healthy skepticism about government. Yet Florida's Republican-run Legislature keeps tinkering with the death penalty rather than ditching it entirely.

But Adam Tebrugge has another argument that might win them over: The death penalty is a major example of wasteful government spending. The money that Florida spends on capital punishment could be reinvested in community policing, mental-health services and other programs that improve public safety.

Tebrugge, a Bradenton attorney with extensive death-penalty experience, recently spoke in Gainesville. I must admit doubt about the title of his speech, "The end of the death penalty in Florida is within sight."

But Tebrugge, who also stopped by The Sun to talk, has a series of recent events supporting his case. U.S. executions hit record lows in 2016, in part due to legal challenges and drug shortages. Arkansas had planned 8 executions in 11 days before one of its execution drugs expired, but the courts have blocked several of them.

Here in Florida, executions were on hold as lawmakers struggled to craft a death penalty that passed constitutional muster. They reluctantly required unanimous jury verdicts for death sentences, but failed to address other problems such as racial disparities in death sentences.

Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala has given death-penalty opponents new hope that the end to executions is near. Her refusal to seek death sentences has sparked a high-profile battle with the governor, bringing renewed attention to the death penalty's problems.

In Tebrugge's view, cost is another compelling reason to end capital punishment. Florida's death penalty is estimated to cost taxpayers about $50 million a year more than sentencing murderers to life in prison without parole - a price tag that is based on a decades-old study and has almost certainly risen higher since that time.

(source: Op-Ed, Nathan Crabbe----The Gainesville Sun)

**************

New state attorney tells exonerees his office is about justice

Debra Milke knew the date she was going to die. "It was January of 1998," Milke said.

She was on Arizona's death row for nearly half of her life for a crime she did not commit. Milke was falsely accused and convicted of killing her own son. New state attorney tells exonerees his office is about justice

But an appeals court overturned her conviction in 2013.

"I was just bawling and bawling. Someone finally believed me. A judge, in fact, three judges," Milke said.

Milke is far from alone. A group of exonorees are meeting in Tampa to share their stories of injustice.

"What happened to me can happen to anyone. You don't have to be a criminal to get in the system," said Milke.

Hillsborough County's new state attorney, Andrew Warren shared with the group his vision of what justice looks like.

"You have to train people, re-educate them, and change the culture so that people understand their job is not to obtain convictions. Their job is to seek justice," Warren said.

Joaquin Martinez, who was wrongfully convicted and exonerated, agreed with the state attorney's vision.

"It's an honor for me to see you here today, " Martinez told Warren.

"We need more guys like you," another man told Warren.

The sentiments from these former death row inmates are much different than those in an envelope sent to the state attorney in Orange County. Aramis Ayala received a noose and a hate-filled letter after she said her office will not seek the death penalty on any case. The comments were made in regard to state lawmakers' struggles to iron out the death penalty sentencing, because the Supreme Court found the states procedures were unconstitutional.

After Ayala's declaration and the following firestorm, Governor Rick Scott removed her from all capitol cases and re-assigned them to a special prosecutor.

Back in Tampa, Warren was asked about Ayala's situation.

"The state attorney in Orlando is accountable to the voters in her jurisdiction for those decisions," he explained.

Warren says his office will seek the death penalty for the worst of the worst. But as an innocent person who sat on death row for decades, Debra Milke wants it gone.

"There are 158 of us that have been exonerated from death row, so clearly something's wrong," said Milke.

(source: Fox News)

OHIO:

Prison chaplain pleads for life of death row inmate

Every few weeks Chris Gebhart gets in his car and takes a drive into scenic southeast Ohio to visit men awaiting death.

Gebhart, retired president of finance, controller, and member of the board of directors for 26 years at Gold Medal Products, describes himself as a "squeaky clean guy" who answered a call to serve as a spiritual advisor to men confined in state penal institutions.

After several years serving at the Lebanon and Warren Correctional Institutions, the Liberty Township man was asked to take his ministry to death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

"It was a calling from God, period," he said. "I was never involved in a prison. I did stuff with the homeless and stuff like, that, but prison ministry was in my heart."

After 2 years of study in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program at the Athenaeum of Ohio and a chaplaincy course offered by the Hamilton County Jail, the 2 Warren County state penal institutions welcomed him. He taught Catholic religion and the Bible at both, while also helping illiterate inmates learn to read and write.

During those years Gebhart met Wanda Jackson, religious administrator for the State of Ohio, who works with wardens, deputy wardens, and chaplains.

"She interviewed me. We clicked. I told her I would really, really like to visit men on death row," Gebhart said.

When the state moved death row from Youngstown to Chillicothe, Jackson called. Gebhart's dream was realized. Today, 138 men call death row home. Gebhart is closest to about 10 of them.

One is Ron Phillips and Gebhart is fighting for the convicted murder's life. Phillips is on death row for the 1993 rape and death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron. He is scheduled to die on May 10, after 24 years on Death Row, unless a challenge arguing that Ohio's chemical cocktail constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prevails. "He was 19 then. He's 43 now. He has dedicated his life on death row to serving other people," Gebhart said. "He has gotten to the point where other inmates on death row see something special in him and they come to him with problems."

But at Phillips's clemency hearing, Chief Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Brad Gessner argued for the 3-year-old victim and "her tragically short life. The crime committed against her," he said, "has to be acknowledged." Quoting Akron Children's Hospital records, Gessner said Sheila, "was literally dying from inside out" from her injuries, and that "this is the worst of the worst form of the offense and whoever commits it is also the worst type of offender."

Donna Hudson, Sheila's aunt, told the hearing panel that "Sheila never had the opportunity to go to school, to get married, to have children." She asked that the execution go forward as "justice... for Sheila and the Evans family."

But Gebhart is convinced that Phillips should live. "Ron is a totally changed person," he said. "He has worked hard to improve himself and has become a very religious and moral individual. Ron's greatest desire is to study and become a prison minister, and minister to his fellow inmates behind prison walls."

"Ron Phillips should not be executed," he said. "Ron is genuinely sorry for everything that he has done and has prayed for God's forgiveness and for forgiveness from [his victim] and her family. I have heard Ron pray aloud, many times, for forgiveness from his young victim and her family. He has told me that there isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't think about what he did."

"The Catholic Church teaches that God created all of us in His image and likeness - and all life, from conception to natural death - is sacred. I am asking everyone to take a few minutes and send Governor John Kasich a letter opposing the death penalty and to plead for Ron's life," Gebhart said.

Address letters to Gov. John Kasich, Riffe Center, 30th Floor, 77 South High Street, Columbus, OH 43215-6117. The phone number is (614)-466- 3555

What Catholic Church leaders have to say about the Death Penalty:

"Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice. Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty." (From the video message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty [OSLO, 21-23 JUNE 2016]

"Just punishment is a vehicle for the correction and conversion of the sinner. It serves to defend society and its members, and provides for the restoration of the public order made chaotic by the perpetrated crime. However, just punishment can occur - and does occur - without resorting to the death penalty. If it is not absolutely necessary to use the death penalty to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, the state is obligated to use "non-lethal means" (Catechism of Catholic Church, #2267). Other states and other countries have found effective ways to protect society by justly punishing offenders through non-lethal means. Ohio should do the same." (From the Catholic Bishops of Ohio regarding the Death Penalty, December 2015)

Scripture Connection: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous* will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25: 31-40

(source: The Catholic Telegraph)

ARKANSAS----impending executions

No stay for Jones

Since 1 of the 8 originally scheduled executions now has been carried out by the state and legal challenges by the attorney for Jack Harold Jones Jr. have failed, the victims' family is fairly confident he will be executed Monday for the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips in Bald Knob.

"Yes, I am hopeful the execution will finally take place and my family will be there and are ready for the end of this, Lacey Phillips said Saturday. Lacey Phillips, who was 11 at the time, was choked unconscious and nearly beaten to death by Jones.

Jones is set to be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Monday at the Cummins prison unit in Grady after U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled Friday that she would not block the 2 executions set for that day, rejecting the men's claim that their poor health could make the lethal injections especially painful. (The other inmate scheduled to die is Marcel Williams.)

Jones takes a variety of medications - including methadone for pain - related to his diabetes, which caused an in infection causing one of his legs to be amputated, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney disease and obesity and his attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock, argues that his death could be "prolonged and painful."

Rosenzweig had said at Jones' clemency hearing before the Arkansas Parole Board on April 7 that he worried all the medications Jones had to take might interfere with the lethal injection cocktail.

On Thursday, Arkansas carried out its 1st execution since 2005, putting Ledell Lee to death. The state had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam, one of its lethal injection drugs, expires. The first 3 executions were canceled because of court decisions, while a stay also in place for another scheduled for this week.

Jones, 52, has been on death row since he was given the death penalty 1996 after raping and strangling to death 34-year-old Mary Phillips in a Bald Knob accounting office where she was employed as a bookkeeper. Lacey Phillips had been tied to a chair in the bathroom of the office and was thought to be dead when investigators arrived on scene. Jones also has been convicted of raping and murdering a woman in Florida

. Jones has never denied the crime. He admitted swiftly killing Mary and attempting to kill Lacey, who he thought was dead after beating her with a BB gun several times that June afternoon.

In his 1st court appearance before White County Judge Robert Edwards after the crime, he refused an attorney, claiming that he "did it" and was ready to die.

His letter read by his attorney at the April 7 clemency hearing echoed his desire to be executed. He also apologized, but said he was not asking for forgiveness, and denied ever wanting clemency to begin with.

Arkansas death row

What: U.S. District judge will not block executions of 2 inmates set to die Monday, including Jack Harold Jones Jr., 52, convicted in 1996 of rape and murder of Mary Phillips in Bald Knob, attempted murder of her daughter

When: Friday

Why: Rejected claim that poor health could make lethal injections especially painful

(source: The Daily Citizen)

***********************

Death row inmate's sister pleading to witness execution

Jack Jones Jr. is one of the death row inmates scheduled to be executed on Monday. While Jones has filed lawsuits in solidarity with the 7 other death row inmates, he told the clemency board that he wants to be executed.

His sister says she would like to be a witness at his execution, but the Arkansas Department of Corrections is saying no.

Lynn Scott says she doesn't believe in the death penalty, but she's stopped fighting for her brother's life out of respect for his wishes.

All she wants is to be there when he's executed.

Jack Jones is in his 20th year on death row for raping and killing Mary Phillips and trying to kill her daughter Lacy.

Lacy recently spoke at his latest clemency hearing saying she doesn't want to live another day knowing he's alive: "I've heard eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. And I think it's time."

Lynn understands. When she got the call about her brother's crimes, the anger and guilt she felt began taking a toll on her health: "I was pregnant at the time and it put a huge strain on me, to the fact that the doctors were afraid that I might go into labor early. It was mind boggling what he had done."

She's doesn't want to interfere with the executions or be in the same room with the victim's family: "I would love to see that family, and tell me how remorseful and sorry I am, but it's not about that... I am not trying to take anything away from them at all."

She just wants to be there for her brother: "I find it hard to believe that anyone who has a family member that committed such a horrible crime, to know on the day that they're losing their life... Would you still walk away from them?"

Lynn says, if she is not there, she'll get her 1st notification of death from the media. "I just can't fathom finding out the results of my brother's death by a tweet."

The Arkansas Department of Corrections spokesman Solomon Graves says it’s their policy not to allow any witnesses from the death row inmate's family:

Arkansas code annotated 16 - 90 - 502 largely establishes the individuals who are permitted to witness an execution. By law the execution itself is a private event. Departmental policy regarding execution witnesses is consistent with the previously mentioned statute, to include its consideration of the security risk posed by any potential witness. As a result, the policy does not permit the family of the inmate to view the execution. Witness slots are reserved for the citizen witnesses set out by law, the victim witnesses set out by law, media witnesses, The attorney and spiritual advisor for the inmate, and the ADC staff designated by the director as being necessary to carry out the sentence. It should also be noted, that the viewing room is limited in its capacity and a video feed is, by law, only permitted for the surviving innocent victim or victim family. Beginning 5 days in advance of the schedule execution, the inmate is given opportunity to visit daily with members of his/her family who are on the inmate's approved visitor list. Family is not permitted to visit the day of the execution.

Lynn says as of now she plans on being outside the Cummins Unit on Monday.

(source: KATV news)

*******************

Judge Declines to Block Executions of 2 Arkansas Inmates

A federal district judge in Arkansas declined 2 inmates' plea on Friday night to block the use of a controversial lethal injection drug, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled to be put to death on Monday night and they asked the courts to stop the Arkansas Department of Correction from using midazolam because they believe it would cause them unnecessary harm due to their obesity and other health reasons.

District Court Judge Kristine Baker wrote that the 2 inmates' argument "falls short of demonstrating a significant possibility ... that the Arkansas protocol is 'sure or very likely' to cause severe pain and needless suffering."

Jones and Williams are the next 2 death row inmates scheduled to be put to death in a unprecedented schedule set by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The state originally planned to put eight men to death at the very end of the month because the midazolam was expiring.

Midazolam is the 1st drug in a 3-drug lethal injection cocktail that is meant to render the inmate unconscious. It is followed by a paralytic to stop movement and breathing and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Midazolam has not worked in some instances, and inmates have woken up during the procedure in pain while the other 2 drugs work through their systems.

Jones and Williams suffer from diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertension, which they argued could lead to "botched" executions.

According to Dr. Joel Zivot, an Emory University Hospital physician, Jones and Williams gained an incredible amount of weight in prison, leading to their diabetes. Jones has even had an amputation because of his poor circulation related to the condition.

Because of their poor circulation, these lethal injection drugs would not work properly and they would die a painful death, the 2 men's lawyers claimed.

Jones also takes the pain reliever methadone and gabapentin, an anticonvulsant, regularly. Zivot said the regular use of those 2 drugs would decrease Jones' sensitivity to midazolam.

But Baker, the district judge, was not convinced.

She wrote that Jones and Williams failed to prove that this method of execution would be unnecessarily cruel and painful and that they did not provide a viable execution substitute. The 2 death row inmates had the burden of fulfilling a two-prong test established by U.S. Supreme Court decisions Baze v. Rees and Glossip v. Gross.

"Plaintiffs have the burden of proving that 'the State's lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives,'" she said in the decision.

In a separate case filed jointly by the eight inmates, their lawyers argued that the firing squad would be more humane than the midazolam lethal injection protocol.

The Arkansas Department of Correction released a few records on Saturday about Thursday's execution of death row inmate Ledell Lee - the state's 1st use of capital punishment in nearly 12 years.

The log, made for internal affairs, details Lee's final day and when he did basic actions like taking a shower or eating his last meal.

Lee took the sacrament of Communion as his official last meal, though the report notes that he ate a "regular tray" of prison food as well.

The report states that he ate all that food and the communion wafer between 2:44 p.m. and 2:48 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Lee dressed in "clean whites" at 6:18 p.m. in a cell close to the gurney he would die on, but he did not arrive to the death chamber until more than 5 hours later because his case was delayed by an appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Arkansas Department of Correction coroner pronounced Lee dead at 11:56 p.m. His body was taken from the room less than 15 minutes later.

The Department of Correction also provided a list of the witnesses who watched the execution happen, which is required by Arkansas law. Lee's death was watched by 12 citizen witnesses, 6 victim witnesses and 3 media witnesses.

(source: NBC news)

*******************

Arkansas events show legal risk of ambitious execution schedule

Arkansas' push to put 8 men to death in less than 2 weeks has so far resulted in just 1 lethal injection, and legal experts say that shows the risks of pursuing the nation's most ambitious execution schedule since the death penalty was restored in 1976.

Ledell Lee was executed minutes before his death warrant was set to expire late Thursday. It was the 1st time since 2005 that Arkansas had put an inmate to death.

3 other planned executions were canceled this week because of court decisions. Another inmate scheduled for execution next week has received a stay. And 3 remaining lethal injections face similar hurdles.

"If I were in the state's shoes, I would be prepared for almost double the level of scrutiny," said Brian Gallini, a law professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

At the heart of Arkansas' plans is the sedative midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs used in lethal injections. The state is racing to carry out the executions before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month.

State officials said Friday that they were prepared to move forward with the remaining executions, starting with a double execution on Monday and a single execution on Thursday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office acknowledged that the original plan confronted tall obstacles.

"He knew there was a chance that not all of them would go through," said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson. "It's not surprising that some of the executions have been stayed, but obviously last night we felt the right decision was handed down."

Lawyers for Marcel Williams and Jack Jones, the 2 inmates set for execution Monday, have filed several legal challenges in hopes of the stopping the executions. A federal judge on Friday rejected claims that the inmates' poor health could make their lethal injections especially painful. Williams has also filed a challenge that claims his lawyers at trial were ineffectual.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Jones, said the inmates' conditions raise the likelihood of complications that were not apparent in Lee's execution. Williams is obese and diabetic. Jones has diabetes, high blood pressure and has had a leg amputated in prison.

Authorities received the go-ahead to execute Lee after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last appeals. At least one high court justice expressed reservations about the state's push to execute the inmates before its drug expired.

"In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote Thursday in a dissent.

The legal fight over the executions also included an effort to prevent the state from using another lethal injection drug that its maker said it was misled into selling the prison system, not knowing it would be used for capital punishment.

Vecuronium bromide halts an inmate's breathing. The state Supreme Court lifted a judge's order preventing its use hours before Lee's execution.

Critics are calling the executions, which the state has struggled to find volunteers to witness, an "assembly line of death."

Inmates' attorneys also failed in efforts to block the executions based on concerns about midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other states.

There were no apparent signs of complications or suffering during Lee's execution, which lasted 12 minutes. But critics of midazolam say that does little to allay their concerns that the drug may not render inmates fully unconscious before they receive drugs to stop their hearts and lungs.

"I don't know what the state is thinking, but just because this one appears to have gone off without a hitch doesn't meant that there are not problems," said Dale Baich, an assistant federal public defender who witnessed Joseph Rudolph Wood's slow death in a lethal injection that involved midazolam in 2014 in Arizona.

Attorneys for the inmates have complained the schedule is stretching their resources thin as they work against the clock. It's also posing a challenge for the state's attorneys, who have been fighting on multiple fronts. The attorney general's office says 20 to 30 of its attorneys have been handling cases related to the inmates' executions.

"We are working to ensure that those sentences are carried out and that justice is served," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said.

Gallini said trying to salvage the rest of the execution schedule could invite even more intense legal battles "because what started out as kind of a press release and a decision has ballooned" into trending hashtags and international news coverage.

That extra attention, he said, "has brought some major litigation players to the table."

(source: Chicago Tribune)

OKLAHOMA:

Commission to release findings, recommendations on Oklahoma's death penalty practices----Government • Executions for the state have been on hold since October 2015

More than 2 years after the state of Oklahoma last carried out an execution, a commission spearheaded by former Gov. Brad Henry is set to announce its findings and recommendations in a nearly 300-page report about the state's use of the death penalty.

Executions in Oklahoma have been on hold since Oct. 1, 2015, the day after Richard Glossip received his 3rd stay of execution because the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not have the right drugs as specified in the DOC's lethal injection protocol.

A multicounty grand jury issued a highly critical report nearly a year ago related to multiple agencies' handling of Glossip's case and the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner, and it doesn't appear as though anyone involved is any closer to being able to resume the use of capital punishment.

"We're working on it. We are not in a position right now to get specifics on what they're doing," DOC Director of Communications Mark Myers said Friday afternoon.

When asked about the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission's work, Myers said it was his understanding that the inquiry would look into more issues than the work of the grand jury last May.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, of which Henry is co-chairman, will announce its findings to the public Tuesday afternoon at the state Capitol. The commission said it had 10 full-day meetings, held numerous conference calls, commissioned independent studies and conducted interviews with people from all sides of the issue, including with family members of people who were wrongfully convicted.

The 11-member group said it studied the process from initial arrest and interrogation through the executions themselves, and said it includes opponents and supporters of the death penalty "because their commitment to justice and fairness trumps their political and ideological differences."

"In response to the stay and the grand jury report, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is revising its execution protocol. While this is an important step forward, many steps in Oklahoma's capital punishment process had been subjected to little examination," the commission wrote on its website. "Commissioners came together to conduct an independent review of all phases of the death penalty in Oklahoma and, in issuing its report, aims to provide Oklahomans with the information and resources necessary to make informed judgments about the state's death penalty system."

Then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked for an indefinite stay in early October 2015 after learning Warner was put to death with potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride in a violation of protocol. The DOC also received potassium acetate for Glossip's scheduled execution, which prompted officials to notify Gov. Mary Fallin's office about the mistake.

A federal lawsuit by Oklahoma inmates relating to constitutionality concerns about the choice of lethal injection drugs - in which Glossip is the lead plaintiff - remains administratively closed as the DOC continues to review and overhaul its execution-related policies.

Until the DOC releases its finalized lethal injection protocol, the Oklahoma Attorney General is unable to inform the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which granted Pruitt's request for the stay, that the more than 10 inmates who have exhausted their appeals can receive an execution date. The attorney general is supposed to set an execution schedule at least 5 months after the release of the protocol, records show.

An Oct. 16, 2015, administrative order in the federal case states Glossip and the other inmates can move to reopen it after four requirements are met: when all investigations known by the Attorney General into the DOC's execution procedures are complete; when the results of those investigations are public; when they have received notice the DOC amended its protocol; and when the DOC gives word it can comply.

The grand jury's report stated Fallin's then-general counsel, Steve Mullins, initially recommended the DOC proceed with the execution despite the mix-up and told an assistant attorney general to "Google it" when she asked whether potassium acetate and potassium chloride were interchangeable.

Mullins resigned in February 2016, which followed the October 2015 retirement of Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell and the resignation of DOC Director Robert Patton about 2 months later. Trammell was present for Warner's execution, Glossip's scheduled execution and the 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett that went awry.

Arkansas conducted its 1st lethal injection in 12 years on Thursday, which resulted in the death of Ledell Lee 4 minutes before his death warrant expired. The state wanted to put 8 people to death in 10 days, citing its worry that its supply of midazolam - which became controversial due to Lockett's execution, among others - would expire.

The Associated Press reported Lee's execution lasted 12 minutes and was carried out without any apparent glitches.

(source: Tulsa World)

CALIFORNIA:

California Moves - Slowly - Toward Resuming Executions----California has long been what one expert calls a "symbolic death penalty state," but it might be easing back toward allowing executions, prodded by voters and lawsuits.

California has long been what one expert calls a "symbolic death penalty state," 1 of 12 that has capital punishment on the books but has not executed anyone in more than a decade.

Prodded by voters and lawsuits, the nation's most populous state may now be easing back toward allowing executions, though observers are split on how quickly they will resume, if at all.

Corrections officials expect to meet a Wednesday deadline to submit revised lethal injection rules to state regulators, trying again with technical changes after the first attempt was rejected in December.

The California Supreme Court, meanwhile, is expected to rule by August on challenges to a ballot initiative narrowly approved by voters in November that would speed up executions by reducing the time allowed for appeals.

Still, it is a far cry from the situation in Arkansas, which carried out its 1st execution since 2005 last week after trying to put 8 inmates to death this month in an unprecedented series of double executions. Courts have blocked 3 of them. Legal rulings have put at least 1 other in doubt.

California could come close to resuming executions in the next year, said law professor Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, though others say too many variables and challenges remain to make a prediction.

California has by far the nation's largest death row with nearly 750 inmates, about double that of No. 2 Florida.

The state's proposed lethal injection regulations are patterned after a single-drug process that already passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, Weisberg said.

Corrections officials submitted the regulations only after they were forced to act by a judge's ruling on behalf of crime victims angered at the state's 3-year delay. But the regulations replacing California's old 3-drug method are likely to be approved at some point, Weisberg said.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and an expert on lethal injections, was among those who said recent revisions to the state's proposed regulations still don't cure underlying problems that can lead to botched executions.

For instance, the proposed rules now give executioners 10 minutes to administer each round of lethal drugs. The 1st batch is supposed to kill, but if that initial dose doesn't work, executioners would administer four more similar doses, each with a 10-minute countdown clock to make sure the process doesn't drag on for hours as critics said was a possibility under the original rules.

If the inmate is still alive after five massive doses, "the San Quentin Warden shall stop the execution and summon medical assistance for the inmate."

The regulations still call for letting the warden at San Quentin State Prison pick from among 4 powerful barbiturates - amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital or thiopental - depending on which one is available as manufacturers try to limit the use of their drugs for executions. Inmates could also choose to die in the gas chamber.

The Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, which opposes executions, says amobarbital and secobarbital have never been used in executions. The clinic said problems remain over how the drugs would be obtained and administered.

Officials in several other states with long-delayed executions have said their efforts to carry out the death penalty have been thwarted by a lack of lethal drugs.

Arkansas was rushing to try to execute as many inmates as possible before its supply of the controversial sedative midazolam expires at month's end. Midazolam would not be used under California's regulations.

Denno said California's regulations would still conceal the identities, training and experience of the execution team, crucial information since the deadly drugs must be properly measured, mixed and administered to ensure a painless death.

"It's a complicated process, and everything has to be going right, and it's so easy in a prison context for everything not to go right," she said. She equated it to letting amateurs provide anesthesia for surgery.

Denno and other experts said the new rules eventually will have to pass the scrutiny of U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, who halted executions in the state in early 2006 and ordered prison officials to improve their lethal injection process.

California voters have eased penalties for many crimes in recent years but have repeatedly rejected efforts to end the death penalty. They did so again in November, when 51 % approved Proposition 66, designed to speed up death penalty cases. 53 % of voters defeated a competing measure that would have abolished the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court quickly blocked Proposition 66 while it considers challenges.

Appellate lawyer Kirk Jenkins, who studies the court, expects the justices will reject the proposition's 5-year deadline for deciding death row appeals because it violates the separation of powers. Death penalty appeals average at least a decade from the time a condemned inmate is assigned a post-trial lawyer to a final decision by the state's high court, he said, and the justices already have a backlog of about 300 capital cases.

"There is no possible way that the court could meet the deadlines in Prop. 66" without putting aside virtually all other decisions, Jenkins said.

The initiative also makes it easier for corrections officials to adopt new lethal injection procedures. But even a complete rejection of Proposition 66 would not derail the executions of inmates whose appeals are exhausted, Weisberg said. Those executions could proceed once the state has an approved lethal injection process.

Experts said the delays may give opponents time to mount another campaign next year asking voters again if they want to abolish the death penalty.

"In California, it's become a symbolic death penalty state," Denno said. "Whether that is going to change or not is unpredictable."

(source: US News & World Report)

USA:

Jury Selection Slated in Inmate's Trial in Guard's Death

Jury selection is scheduled Monday in the death penalty trial of an inmate charged in a guard's death in a federal prison in Pennsylvania four years ago.

Jessie Con-ui, 40, is charged in the February 2013 stabbing death of corrections officer Eric Williams at the Canaan federal prison in Waymart.

A federal judge on Thursday denied a prosecution motion to bar defense attorneys from calling witnesses to speak about how his possible execution would affect them, the (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader (http://bit.ly/2pSx1QR ) reported.

But U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo said they won't be allowed to weigh in on the death penalty but only to show "that the defendant has 'the capacity to be of emotional value to others.'"

Williams, 34, was working in a housing unit at the prison when he was attacked. Prosecutors allege Con-ui was angry after the guard ordered a search of his cell the previous day.

Authorities have said Williams was stabbed more than 200 times and was hit in the face, head and upper body. At one point, Con-ui cut his hand and stopped the attack to walk over to a shower and clean the wound before wrapping it in his shirt before continuing the attack, prosecutors allege.

Defense attorneys haven't disputed that their client killed the victim but are opposing the death penalty and say the stabbing was retaliation for mistreatment by guards, not the calculated slaying prosecutors contend.

Con-ui has since been at a super-maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado, where he's serving 25 years to life for a 2002 gang initiation murder in Arizona.

(source: Associated Press)

***************

Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Moved to Death Row in Terre Haute Federal Prison

Convicted church shooter Dylann Roof has been transferred to death row at Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana - the facility that houses male inmates awaiting execution under the federal government.

Roof, the 1st person to be convicted of a federal hate crime and sentenced to the death penalty, was removed from custody in Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday and transferred to Terre Haute, prison records show.

In January, a jury sentenced the self-proclaimed white supremacist to death for killing nine black worshipers in June 2015 at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston during a Bible study. The 23-year-old told FBI agents that he was trying to start a race war.

He also pleaded guilty to 9 counts of state murder charges on April 10.

Roof is now among the long list of well-known criminals who have spent time in the Indiana facility. Others include murderer and drug trafficker Raul Garza and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

As of Feb. 9, there were 62 federal inmates on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 3 inmates have been on death row since 1993 - drug gang members Richard Tipton, James Roane Jr. and Corey Johnson, who were convicted of killing 9 people to protect their crack trade.

Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who a jury in 2015 recommended be put to death, remains in a federal lockup in Colorado, where officials sat they can better handle his "unique" security arrangements.

After the federal death penalty was suspended by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, it was brought back 16 years later and 3 people have since been executed under it.

Like his fellow death row inmates, it isn't likely Roof will be executed anytime soon.

Legal battles are underway in a number of states, including Arkansas and Ohio, over the constitutionality of controversial lethal injection methods. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are arguing over whether 1 of the 3 drugs used in the process, called midazolam, constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" because it fails to render inmates unconscious before 2 other drugs are injected

(source: Associated Press)

*******************

Does the death penalty bring closure to a victim's family?

The last time anyone saw Julie Heath alive was Oct. 3, 1993, when the 18-year-old set out to visit her boyfriend in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

A week later, a hunter discovered Heath's body, less than 8 miles from where her broken-down car was found. She wore a black shirt, socks and underwear, but they were inside-out. Her black jeans were partially unzipped. Her throat was slashed.

Police later arrested Eric Randall Nance for Heath's murder. Investigators said he picked her up near her vehicle, before DNA evidence proved he raped and killed her. In 1994, he was handed the death penalty. At the time, 80 % of American nationwide favored of the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll. But the only reason Belinda Crites needs to support the death penalty is "what Eric Nance did to my cousin."

"She wasn't just my cousin, she was my best friend," Crites told the NewsHour. "He tore my whole family apart."

Nance's execution in 2005 marked the last time Arkansas put a prisoner to death. This week, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee, the 1st of 8 men the state had originally planned to put death in the 11 days after Easter Sunday. No state has executed so many people so quickly since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstate capital punishment, said Robert Dunham with the Death Penalty Information Center.

The conflict in Arkansas is the latest to politicize the death penalty - but for families of the victims and the prisoners, it also resurfaces the complicated issues of closure and the long-reaching effect of these executions on their communities.

Arkansas justified its unusually swift schedule by saying the state's supply of lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to replenish stocks. A series of judicial rulings blocked the scheduled executions of the first four men: Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson. The 3 men who remain are, at the moment, still scheduled to die before the month is out.

The idea of closure is powerful. It's something Arkansas invoked in an April 15 motion that tried to fight a temporary restraining order that McKesson Medical Surgical, Inc., has used to block the use of its drug vecuronium bromide in state executions. (The drug is typically used as general anesthesia to relax muscles before surgery).

"The friends and family of those killed or injured by Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Don Davis, and Terrick Nooner have waited decades to receive some closure for their pain," it read.

But even when executions take place, a surviving family's pain doesn't disappear with the perpetrator's pulse.

***

It's been more than 2 decades since Heath's death. But Belinda Crites, a 41-year-old caregiver who still lives in her hometown of Malvern, Arkansas, finds laughter in her sweet memories of her cousin. A high school cheerleader, Heath wanted to be a police officer one day. She worked 2 jobs - at Taco Bell and a blue jean factory - and before she died, she earned enough money to buy a beat-up 1957 black Mustang. With each paycheck, Julie bought a new part, and she and her father, William Heath, restored the car together.

"She ran her fingers through Crites' hair, long like her dead cousin's; she held her tight ... as if she were "just trying to get a piece of Julie back."

Whenever Crites visited her cousin's house, they'd pile into bed together and watch episodes of their favorite television sitcom, "Family Matters." For Christmas, Crites, Heath and both of their mothers dressed in matching outfits - nice jeans, ties or whatever was the latest fad - and baked cookies. The 2 mothers were inseparable, working and raising their families together. Crites and her cousin "always said we'd be just like them," Crites said.

But after Heath's murder, Crites said her family fell apart. Her mother, aunt and grandmother were all diagnosed with depression and needed medication. When Nancy Heath - her aunt and Julie's mother - hugged Crites, she ran her fingers through Crites' hair, long like her dead cousin's; she held her tight, Crites said, as if she were "just trying to get a piece of Julie back."

The family watched as Nancy Heath wasted away. They cried and hugged each other on March 31, 1994, when a jury sentenced Nance to death. But after the family left the courtroom and got into their cars to drive home, Heath became incoherent. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where doctors observed her overnight, Crites said.

Nancy Heath's psychologist later begged her to at least eat bananas and watermelon, but she refused food. If she left Crites' house to go to the store, her family knew to follow her - often, she drove instead in the direction of the cemetery where Julie was buried. Crites' mother once found Nancy Heath there overdosed on pills. Crites said her aunt attempted suicide at least 4 times before she killed herself on Christmas morning in 1994, 15 months after her daughter's murder.

"Some people wanted to judge [Nancy for her] suicide," Crites said. "But my aunt - she couldn’t cope. She couldn't go on. She wanted to go on so bad. She tried so hard."

***

In 2015, the FBI reported nearly 15,700 homicides nationwide. And a 2007 study suggested that for every homicide victim, 6 to 10 family members are "indirectly victimized." That figure excludes the many friends, colleagues, neighbors or other people who also suffer when a person they know is murdered. When they grieve, survivors must not only figure out how life goes on without their loved one in it, but also process the violence behind that person's death.

"They'll tell you over and over and over again that there's no such thing as closure."

Death penalty advocates and politicians, including Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, argue that when the state executes a person who has committed a terrible crime, the act brings closure to victim's family. But it's not that simple.

If you ask murder victims' families, "closure is the F-word," said Marilyn Armour, who directs the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin. She's researched homicide survivors for 2 decades. "They'll tell you over and over and over again that there's no such thing as closure."

In 2012, Armour and University of Minnesota researcher Mark Umbreit interviewed 20 families of crime victims in Texas - a state which regularly uses the death penalty - and 20 more families in Minnesota, which instead offers life without parole. They were curious about how families in both states coped with the sentences.

The 2012 study concluded families in Minnesota were able to move on sooner; because their loved ones' killers were sentenced to life without parole, rather than the death penalty, they weren't retraumatized in the multiple appeals that often precede an execution. Armour cautions their sample was small. But over the last 2 decades, murder victims' families have received better treatment and far more rights, Armour said. Rather than listen to the families homicide victims leave behind, society often uses these people and their pain to score political points in the death penalty debate, Armour said.

"Murder victims families are cast aside," Armour said. "Nobody is giving survivors voice value."

What Armour sees unfolding in Arkansas is political, she told the NewsHour. She doesn't think it should be.

Arkansas State Representative Rebecca Petty, on the other hand, has made her mission to bring the issue to politics. In 1999, Petty's 12-year-old daughter, Andria Brewer, was kidnapped from her younger sister's birthday party by her uncle, Karl Roberts. He raped and strangled her, covering her body with leaves on an old logging road near Mena, Arkansas.

Before that happened, Petty said her family had never experienced crime, so she never gave the death penalty much thought. "When it happens to your own child you gave birth to, you taught to walk and talk and [lived with] 12 years, that's the point - it makes up your mind for you."

In June 2000, Roberts waived his right to appeal the case in court. He confessed and was convicted for murdering his niece; he was sentenced to die on Jan. 6, 2004. Petty said she and her family prayed and decided to go watch Roberts' execution. But shortly before he was supposed to be lethally injected, Roberts said he changed his mind and wanted to appeal after all. Petty left the prison that bitterly cold night in disbelief. Roberts still sits on death row, but his execution remains unscheduled.

Since then, Petty entered politics and has advocated for victims' rights. She secured funding to expand the witness area attached to the execution chamber on Arkansas' death row. When she considered what would result from Arkansas' original plan to execute 8 men in 11 days, Petty said it won't offer closure, but could "will close chapters" for these families.

"In your life, you have chapters," Petty said. "This is going to be a chapter for these families they can close. It's not going to be an easy chapter. For some of them it could be one of the last chapters of their life."

But Judith Elane, a lifelong death penalty abolitionist and former attorney who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, doesn't see it that way. The 72-year-old said because the death penalty is not applied to all homicides, it leaves surviving family members with the impression that the justice system values some victims more than others.

Her principles were put to the test after her brother, Gene Schlatter was shot and killed in November 1968 in a Denver bar with 4 witnesses. He was 36. Elane drove from western Canada, where she lived at the time, to his funeral, where she mourned with his 3 children and widow. 4 decades later, in 2009, detectives traced evidence to a woman they believed was guilty of the crime. But witnesses disappeared, changed their story or suffered dementia and couldn't testify in court. Despite other evidence, the woman walked away, and no one was prosecuted for the murder.

To manage her grief, Elane joined support groups and now leads Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation in Arkansas. She scoffed at politicians who offer closure through capital punishment. "The governor likes to say he does this because victims' families deserve closure," she said. "Every time I hear that, I think, 'you're not doing it for me. It didn't help me.'"

6 out of 10 Arkansans favor use of the death penalty, according to a recent poll of 550 Arkansas voters from Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College, bolstering Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call for expedited execution. But nationwide, support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 4 decades, with 1/2 of U.S. adults saying states should not execute their worst criminals, according to Pew Research Center.

When states use capital punishment, the decision has consequences not only for the murder victims' families, jurors and the person sentenced to die, but also for the prison personnel responsible for carrying out death sentences and the families of people who sit on death row.

Unlike politicians, correctional officers who work on death row are also "going to go home and live with the psychological consequences for the rest of their lives and so will their families," said Patrick Crane, who worked on Arkansas' death row from 2007 to 2008. Turnover is high, he said. And the state's series of executions has taken advantage of prison staff who live in rural farm communities with few jobs, where households "still have an old way of thinking and doing and being."

"Metaphysically, I think it's going to be a cloud over the state, especially over the area in which it happens," Crane said. "Clouds last a long time down there."

In Arkansas' expedited schedule to execute people on death row, the voices of victims families and the victims themselves are lost in sensationalism, Elane said. If politicians and policymakers care about homicide victims and their families, she said those voices need to be heard. The money saved by issuing life without parole sentences - which tends to have fewer appeals - could improve law enforcement and investigations, she said.

For now, she campaigns on behalf of murder victims families, bringing attention to their needs immediately following the death of a loved one.

"Regardless of how we feel about the death penalty, we all experienced the same suffering and the same dilemmas," Elane said.

***

For 12 years, Nance sat on "The Row" in the Varner Supermax penitentiary near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, while his attorneys tried to appeal his execution. For years, they argued he had the mental capacity of a 3rd grader, and that the state would be cruel to kill him because he did not fully understand rape and murder were wrong. His case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the justices decided not to spare Nance's life.

Members of the Nance family who testified on his behalf did not return NewsHour's request for comment.

For his final meal before his Nov. 28, 2005, execution, Nance asked for two bacon cheeseburgers, French fries, 2 pints of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and 2 cans of Coca-Cola. More than a decade later, Crites still resents that Nance had a chance to choose that meal.

"My cousin died with tater tots and a Coke on her stomach," she said.

Crites and her family drove a van to the prison and were escorted to the warden's office, where they watched the execution chamber on a tiny closed-circuit television set. On the screen, Crites saw Nance strapped flat on his back to a gurney with a white sheet pulled up to his neck. He said nothing.

Prison staff injected Nance with a lethal cocktail. He closed his eyes, remained silent, and then died, Crites said.

But the memory of what he did to her cousin - and how life then changed - still haunts Crites. She knows Nance's execution didn't change how things had turned out.

"When he was gone, it gave us a relief," she said. "Did it make things better? I don't know. We think of him everyday."

Crites, the mother of 3 sons and 1 daughter, said she only recently allowed her 16-year-old daughter to spend the night at a friend's house and never permitted her daughter to sit on the porch of their home without someone sitting with her. "You have to teach your family how evil people are," she said.

(source: PBS NewsHour)

IRAN:

Iranian MPs to decide on limiting capital punishment

Iranian parliament's judiciary commission has agreed with a proposal on the abolition of death penalty for a group of convicts of drug-related crimes.

Under the bill, the drug-related death penalty will be abolished except for those involved in organized and armed narcotics offenses, Mehr news agency reported.

According to the bill, this group of convicts will face at least 25 years in jail instead of execution.

However, the bill still needs to pass the parliament and move through Guardian Council, the country's constitutional watchdog body, in order to become a law.

(source: azernews.az)

MALAYSIA:

Royal pardon, end to death penalty sought during coronation

Human rights lawyer P Uthayakumar has appealed for a royal pardon to commute death sentences and reduce jail terms for prisoners in conjunction with the official installation of Sultan Muhammad V as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong tomorrow.

In a letter to Prime Minister Najib Razak today, he also asked that the death penalty be abolished, saying Malaysia was supposed to mature into a civil and developed society by 2020.

The lawyer asked Najib to advise the Royal Pardons Board to announce that prisoners facing death row, natural life and life imprisonment have their sentences respectively commuted to life imprisonment, maximum 20 years jail and 15 years jail.

"To err is human and to forgive is divine. Prisoners deserve a second chance to make amends for their past mistakes," he wrote.

"In appreciation of this most precious 'earlier freedom' they would surely want to keep out of trouble. The state's compassion and guidance can therefore yield results. Please temper justice with mercy."

He said he was making the appeal after having gone through pain and suffering and "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" at Kajang Prison for 2 years on sedition charges.

"My saddest day in Kajang Prison was when one Mohamad was hanged in the wee hours of Friday the 14th day of March 2015 immediately after the suboh prayers (Muslim prayer at dawn)," he said

He also cited the hanging of the Batumalai brothers, Rames and Suthar, on March 15, despite appeals and representations for a royal pardon.

Uthayakumar also asked that all prisoners on good behaviour while serving jail terms of 1 year or less for non-violent and non-sexual crimes be granted royal pardons and released.

He said 1st-time offenders, juveniles and women prisoners on good behaviour while serving terms of more than a year for non-violent and non-sexual crimes should be granted pardons and made to serve only 1/2 of their sentences while qualifying for parole.

He added that all other well-behaved prisoners of non-violent and non-sexual criminal cases be granted pardons and made to serve only 55% of their prison sentences while also being granted parole.

For 1st-time violent and sexual crime prisoners on good behaviour, he asked that they be granted pardons and made to serve only 60% of their prison sentences.

He also appealed for all laws on detention without trial, including under the Prevention of Crime Act 1959 involving commercial cases, be abolished.

(source: Free Malaysia Today)

NIGERIA:

LASG and death warrants

When he addressed the press last Tuesday, the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, spoke of the preparedness of the state to decide on the death sentences passed on the General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, a.k.a. Rev. King, and others. The cleric, in particular, had been tried for murdering a church member in 2006. The death sentence passed by a Lagos High Court in 2007 was eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2016, an inordinate 9 years after the lower court first determined the case.

The Lagos attorney general did not say why the state appears to be in a quandary over the signing of death warrants: whether the state should go ahead and simply affirm the Supreme Court decision and sign the death warrants, as some expect, or to commute the sentences to life, as a few, including international activists, have campaigned. Whatever the eventual decision, finally, Lagos at least appears poised to decide one way or the other. In the words of the attorney general: "Some people say out there that even if we commit these infractions and they sentence us to death, they will never kill us. It does send the wrong signal sometimes...I've heard the people from the British High Commission and other embassies complain even on our recently-passed anti-kidnapping law; but I must say, you must have to look at your own local factors and deal with them. We are going to move in that direction. I'm sure you will hear from me, but I'm not sure that I want to openly state and give you a date when we are going to take that action."

But judging from the drift of his argument, Mr Kazeem seems persuaded that some strong signals ought to be sent out to criminals who casually commit capital offences. He was not unequivocal, but he seems amenable to the signing of death warrants. That would be a mistake, however, as this column has consistently maintained, beginning with the enactment of the anti-kidnapping law. In the past few decades, few states have dared to sign death warrants, and a campaign to get them to do it has met with stiff opposition. In fact, the debate over signing of death warrants and imposing the death penalty itself had led some lawmakers and lawyers to advocate for a committee of the Supreme Court to be charged with that responsibility. The advocates did not explain why a new select committee would find it easier to sign death warrants when governors who are customarily charged with that responsibility have been wary of doing it.

There is no scientific evidence to support that death penalty or enthusiastic signing of death warrants discourage capital offences. Every study done to find that inverse relationship has instead established that states and countries without the death penalty enjoy lower incidence of capital offences. If death penalty has had no impact on armed robbery, for instance, it is not because death warrants were not signed. When death warrants were signed, and the public entertained to the sanguinary bar beach shows of decades past, armed robbery still thrived. And as extremism and terrorism are showing in many parts of the world, those likely to be recruited often have a history of violence and criminality themselves.

In any case, Lagos is an aspiring megacity, one with an image to cultivate and protect. It is eager to nurture and sustain a reputation far exceeding that of many cities in Africa and the rest of the world. Its standards must not be lowered. Its image must not be compromised. Rather than flirt with death penalty and signed warrants in the inexcusable desire to curb capital offences and please agitated prison keepers, it is time Lagos found better and brilliant ways of curbing crime. The death penalty component of the anti-kidnapping law was inadvisable, as this column suggested when it was contemplated. The world is moving away from capital punishment; Lagos must not lag behind. The state is selling itself as the most modern and cosmopolitan city in Nigeria, and one of the fastest growing in Africa and the world. It cannot drive that great process and nurture the coveted image of its vision by scrounging for easy, cheap and controversial options.

Lagos is the pacesetter in law reform. Now is the time to look once again at its law books and institute measures and processes that will show Nigeria how crime control and peaceful conurbation can be achieved. The cost of signing death warrants will be too prohibitive for the new Lagos. The state can't afford that cost, regardless of the capital offences committed within its borders.

(source: The Nation)

SCOTLAND:

Ukip candidate Gisella Allen says she would bring back the death penalty by guillotine----Ms Allen also wants to abolish nurseries, golf courses, plastic bags, sex education, free bus passes and LGBT communities

A Ukip candidate for Glasgow Council has said she would like to see the death penalty reintroduced and suggested the guillotine might be a better method of execution than hanging.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be hanging", Gisela Allen told The Clydebank Post. "You could have the guillotine. I think the public is entitled to protection."

The candidate, who standing for election in the Garscadden/Scotstounhill ward, added that she wants to see nursery funding withdrawn entirely because women should stay at home and look after young children.

Ms Allen would also like to abolish golf courses, plastic bags, free bus passes, sex education in schools and the LGBT community.

Being gay was part of an individual's "private life, none of anyone's business", according to Ms Allen, while golf courses were in her view "a threat to the safety of people".

If the candidate was elected in Glasgow on 4 May, she would become the 1st ever Ukip councillor elected to a Scottish local authority.

The party has 1 Scottish MEP, David Coburn, who made headlines in 2015 when he compared Scottish government minister Humza Yousaf to the terrorist Abu Hamza. He later apologised, calling it a "joke".

Ms Allen was keen to stress that these were personal views, not the views of the party.

However, there is a significant amount of support within Ukip for bringing back capital punishment in some form.

Paul Nuttall, the leader of the party, who recently failed to get elected in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by election, has said he would hold a national referendum on re-introducing the death penalty.

Gawain Fowler, Ukip's head of press, said: "Having been able to read Mrs Allen's personal manifesto, the people of Garscadden will be able to make their democratic decision as to whether they wish to be represented by her.

"One of the many fine things about Ukip is that its local councillors are not whipped. It is possible that we might make an exception in this case."

(source: independent.co.uk)

APRIL 22, 2017:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Prison expert: Give Frein life, not death

Defense attorneys began making their case to jurors Friday that Eric Matthew Frein should die of old age rather than lethal injection.

Defense attorneys William Ruzzo and Michael Weinstein called their 1st witness Friday as Frein's capital murder trial ended its 3rd week and its 2nd day of the death penalty phase.

Robert Johnson, Ph.D, testified for most of the afternoon, with much of his time on the stand consumed in a heated cross-examination by Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin. Johnson, an American University in Washington D.C. professor, is an expert in criminology and studies prison life.

He interviewed Frein and reviewed his jailhouse record. While noting he had three infractions at the Pike County Jail that Johnson deemed minor, he believed Frein could adjust to spending the remainder of his life in a state prison.

"Lifers adapt to prison and avoid trouble because they have everything to lose," Johnson said.

Before Johnson took the stand, the prosecution finished calling witness who talked about how much the family of state police Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II has lost.

Jurors convicted Frein, 33, of Canadensis, on Wednesday with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder, among 10 other charges, for the 2014 ambush at the Blooming Grove barracks in Pike County. Frein used a high-powered rifle to fire 4 shots from the treeline across from the barracks, killing Dickson, 38, of Dunmore, and wounding Trooper Alex T. Douglass, 34, of Olyphant.

The murder convictions marked the beginning of a 2nd trial, or penalty phase, to decide if Frein should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or execution, though Pennsylvania currently has a moratorium on the death penalty in place.

The penalty phase began Thursday with wrenching testimony from the people affected by Dickson's death, including his wife, Tiffany Dickson. On Friday morning, Dickson's parents, Darla and Bryon Dickson Sr., took the stand to tell jurors more about their son.

Darla Dickson told jurors her son had a wonderful smile and a mischievous sense of humor.

"Oh, he was a boy," she said. The jurors laughed.

She was still awake when state troopers knocked on her door to say her son had died. She put her hands over her face and repeated: "Not my boy, not my boy, not my boy."

Video played of Dickson graduating from the state police academy. In one clip, he received his badge. In another, he recited the state police Call of Honor.

Prosecutors hoped such emotional testimony will convince jurors to sentence Frein to death.

Frein's attorneys presented evidence they hope will prompt the jury to spare his life: Frein has no significant prior history and other testimony about his character. Some of Frein's family members and friends are expected to testify next week.

Johnson's testimony marked the 1st evidence Frein's defense has presented and also the 1st look at his life since his Oct. 30, 2014 capture by U.S. marshals following a 48-day manhunt.

Frein has 3 jailhouse infractions on his record, 2 of which Johnson could recall: unauthorized coffee and urinating in the prison yard, he testified. Frein spent time in solitary confinement for the latter and handled it well, Johnson testified.

Frein writes "a fair amount of grievances" at the jail but does not act out violently.

Self-control was hard for him on the outside, but he finds it easier behind bars, Frein told Johnson.

Tonkin vigorously challenged Johnson's expertise and tried to flip details of Johnson's testimony.

"Is it your experience that experts know everything?" Johnson fired back at Tonkin. "Because if that's the case, I don't know any experts."

Tonkin shouted at Johnson and Ruzzo objected. Pike County Judge Gregory Chelak sustained his objection.

Outside the courthouse, the district attorney remarked that the 1st defense witness was contradictory.

"It will be up to the jury to determine whether they believe him or not," Tonkin said.

Both sides hope the case will be in the hands of the jury by the end of next week.

(source: The Citizens' Voice)

VIRGINIA:

Virginia Catholic bishops praise governor for commuting death sentence

The Virginia bishops said they "welcome with gratitude" the April 20 decision by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to commute the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz.

"We are all children of the same merciful, loving God, and he alone has dominion over all life," said Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Michael Burbidge of Arlington in an April 20 statement released by the Virginia Catholic Conference.

The bishops said they have a "profound respect for the sanctity of every human life, from its very beginning until natural death" and they "continue to express deep sorrow and pray for all victims of violence and their loved ones."

They also said they would continue to "pray for a change of heart and a spirit of remorse and conversion for all those who commit acts of violence."

Teleguz, found guilty in a 2001 murder for hire of his former girlfriend, was set to be executed April 18. He petitioned the governor with a request for a pardon, which was not given; he will now serve life in prison without a chance of parole.

McAuliffe said he believes Teleguz is guilty, but he also said the sentencing phase of Teleguz's trial was "terribly flawed and unfair."

The same day Teleguz's sentence was commuted, the state of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee after several legal challenges failed to spare his life, including a 5-4 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting a last-minute appeal. The state initially wanted to put eight inmates to death during the last two weeks of April before its supply of midazolam, a sedative lethal injection drug, expired.

Three of the executions were canceled by court decisions and another was given a stay. The state is scheduled to execute two other inmates during the last week of April.

On April 19, the Louisiana Supreme Court threw out the conviction and death sentence of Rodricus Crawford, citing racial discrimination for excluding some African-American jurors. The case now goes back to a lower court for a new trial.

Crawford was convicted of murdering his 1-year-old son, but the defense argued that the boy had pneumonia and could have died from natural causes.

"In many respects, this case may reflect both the past and future of the death penalty in America," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in an April 19 statement. "A jurisdiction with a history of racial bias, prosecutorial misconduct and overuse of the death penalty chose to pursue a death sentence against a grieving father, despite evidence that his child had unexpectedly died of natural causes."

(source: National Catholic Reporter)

FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court denies new DNA analysis in death row inmate William 'Tommy' Zeigler's case

William "Tommy" Zeigler, the 71-year-old man who has spent the last 4 decades on death row for the murders of 4 people, will not be allowed to test evidence in his case with touch DNA technology, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Zeigler was convicted of killing his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. The case has long attracted those skeptical of the evidence against Zeigler, including 1 of the original investigators and a former Orlando Sentinel newspaper editor. It was also the subject of a 1992 book called Fatal Flaw.

In 2015, his attorneys filed a motion seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence, such as clothing and the guns found at the scene, presented at the trial. A circuit court denied the motion, and his attorneys appealed to the state's highest court. While Zeigler sits on death row awaiting an execution date, he is also sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)

**********************

Prosecutors, Judges Back Orlando State Attorney That Refuses To Apply Death Penalty

Dozens of prosecutors and judges from around the nation have filed a legal brief in support of a Florida prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty.

The brief filed Friday with the Florida Supreme Court backs State Attorney Aramis Ayala's right to decide not to seek capital punishment in cases in her district covering the Orlando area.

After Ayala recently announced her decision, Florida Gov. Rick Scott removed her from about 2 dozen death-penalty cases.

Ayala is challenging Scott's authority to do that before the Florida Supreme Court.

The brief filed Friday says Scott has no authority to interfere with Ayala's cases.

Separately, an investigation is underway after a noose was mailed to Ayala's office.

Ayala became Florida's 1st African-American state attorney when she was elected last year.

(source: Associated Press)

********************

Civil Rights Groups File Brief with Florida Supreme Court in Support of State Attorney Ayala's Opposition to Death Penalty----Amicus brief supports Ayala's prosecutorial independence and argues her opposition to death sentencing is well-founded

A group of civil rights and civil liberties groups have filed an amicus brief with the Florida Supreme Court in support of Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala in her lawsuit challenging Gov. Rick Scott's decision to remove 23 capital felony cases from her office as a result of her decision not to seek the death penalty. The brief is joined by The American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of Florida, the nationwide ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Sentencing Project, and Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP).

"Florida State Attorneys have the discretion to make their own decisions about how best to seek justice in cases they prosecute," stated ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney Jacqueline Azis. "Not only is State Attorney Ayala well within her legal right to make her own determination about the death penalty, she is right that the death penalty is a broken system that rests on a crumbling legal foundation."

The brief filed Friday, authored by attorneys for the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU's nationwide Capital Punishment Project, argues that State Attorney Ayala's reasons for opposing the death penalty are sound. There is no evidence that the death penalty is a more effective deterrent to violent crime than life without parole, there are serious issues with racial bias in the death penalty system, and given the substantial cost to taxpayers in contrast to the scarce resources available, State Attorney Ayala is right to exercise her discretion to use more reliable and cost-effective prosecutorial options.

"State Attorney Ayala should be heralded, not unconstitutionally reprimanded, for her thoughtful and considered approach to the gravest penalty our justice system imposes," said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. "For far too long, this country has used this costly and ineffective means of deterrence, disproportionately imposing the death penalty along racial lines. State Attorney Ayala's hesitance to seek capital punishment faces these truths head-on, as is her prosecutorial discretion, and her example should inspire prosecutors across the nation to reconsider their reliance on this brutal and immoral penalty."

From the brief:

"Legislators and governors from Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, and New Jersey have in recent years repealed the death penalty. And at least 2 elected prosecutors from other states have recently announced they would no longer seek the death penalty for similar reasons as discussed in this brief. The same sound policy reasons behind these significant changes suffice as a reason for a Florida prosecutor to decline to seek the death penalty and instead to pursue sentences of life imprisonment without parole. Nothing about Ayala's decision in this regard constituted "good and sufficient reason" [...] for the governor to remove her from 23 cases, much less gave him authority the Florida Constitution has vested only in the duly elected local prosecutor."

(source: commondreams.org)

ALABAMA:

Alabama Senate passes new execution method

Alabama might have a new method to execute death row inmates.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday allowing nitrogen gas as an option. If it passes through the House, Alabama would become the 3rd state to allow inmates to be executed by nitrogen gas.

But this method has never been used before.

Alabama's Senate voted Tuesday, approving it 25-8.

Mississippi and Oklahoma are the other states that have nitrogen hypoxia as a possibility.

Rep. Lynn Greer, who was a big proponent to the electric chair, said we need to either strengthen the process and move forward or repeal the death penalty law, but doesn't believe people want that either. He thinks nitrogen gas might be the last effort.

"You know we need another method other than what we have today. Utah has gone back to the firing squad, and that's something that's been discussed in Montgomery. We just need a backup," Greer said.

Katie Owens-Murphy, vice president of Project Say Something, said we need to look back at the history of executions and the process of it itself. She said the methods are masking the larger conversations that we need to have.

"It's another example of inmates being used for experimental guinea pigs or lab rats, so it's a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment. We are quite literally experimenting on people who were not sentenced to death and torture but were sentenced to death," Owens-Murphy said.

The bill now heads to the House to take up a vote.

(source: WAFF news)

LOUISIANA:

From death row to freedom: Rodricus Crawford looks to future

For Rodricus Crawford, there will be life after death row.

The 28-year-old Shreveport native, who was convicted of his child's murder and sentenced to die, now has a free life ahead of him after his conviction was vacated and the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office announced it will not retry him for the crime.

"I'm just trying to get on with my life from now on," said Crawford, who has always maintained his innocence. "I got 5 years taken away from me."

The saga began on Feb. 16, 2012, when 1-year-old Roderius Lott was found unresponsive in the home that Crawford shared with his grandmother, mother and other relatives in Mooretown.

"I woke up and found him, ran and took him to the ambulance," Crawford said in an interview Thursday. "When he left my hands, my whole world changed."

After handing over his son, Crawford said, he was placed into the back of a police car. It was there he was told by his son's mother that the baby had died.

"When it first happened, I didn't really want to live anymore," he said. "Who can deal with that: waking up, your son passed, you go to jail, and they're saying you did it?"

In April of that year, Crawford was charged with 1st-degree murder. The prosecution said the baby had been smothered, while the defense's expert testified that Roderius died of pneumonia and sepsis.

Crawford was convicted in November 2013 and sentenced to death. He was transferred to death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where he spent almost 3 years as attorneys appealed his case.

At Angola, which has come under fire for its alleged "dehumanizing' conditions in a class-action lawsuit filed by death row inmates, Crawford said the heat was so bad that he felt like he was in a locked car.

"You feel like an animal, period," he said. "It's all a mind game. ... You can go crazy. Not 'can' - you're going crazy." Being in prison and awaiting possible death "messed with me," he said.

"Who can imagine an innocent person being on death row, and they talk about killing you, and you wake up in a little cell every day?" he said. "Imagine that. I can't explain it. That's a feeling I hope nobody could feel."

Though in a cell for 23 hours a day, Crawford said, he still was able to connect with other inmates, several from Shreveport and some of whom he believes are innocent.

"I can honestly say I met some stand-up guys that taught me a lot," he said. "I didn't expect it to be like that, but we really look out for each other because you're in this tier with 16 guys, all day, every day."

Meanwhile, he drew attention from national media as one of several cases that allegedly highlights the high number of death penalty sentences in Caddo Parish. Crawford said he was aware of the "headlights" his case was putting on Shreveport, and he began receiving mail from people around the country and Canada.

"After The New Yorker (article) came out, a lot of people were writing me and showing me a lot of love," he said. "The letters meant a lot."

1 of Crawford's lawyers, Cecelia Kappel with the New Orleans-based Capital Appeals Project, said Crawford always told her he was going to go home.

"Every time I'd go see him on death row and say we lost another motion, he'd say, 'I'm going home,'" Kappel said. "He'd just speak it into existence."

On Nov. 16, 2016 - almost 3 years from the day Crawford was given the death penalty - the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Crawford's conviction and sent the case to the trial court for a new trial.

Crawford's defense claimed that potential jurors may have been removed from consideration before the trial because of race. The supreme court determined that the trial court conflated the 3-step process used to guide courts in evaluating a claim of racial discrimination in jury selection, and that an inadequate remedy existed short of vacating the conviction.

Crawford was freed from jail on a $50,000 bond on Nov. 22, 2016, 2 days before Thanksgiving. After being released, Crawford spent the next few months finding support from his mother and attorneys as he anticipated word regarding the possibility of a new trial.

Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart, who was elected 2 years after Crawford's conviction, asked for a new investigation "with an assistant district attorney assigned with no prior experience with the case, to put a new set of eyes onto evidence and procedures that had led to the original prosecution," a release from his office stated.

Dale Cox, who prosecuted Crawford and served as acting district attorney following the death of D.A. Charles Scott, resigned from the office in December 2015 following Stewart's election.

Hearings were scheduled for February and March, each one postponed as the D.A.'s office awaited and then reviewed evidence returned from the supreme court.

Then, on Good Friday, the district attorney's office released a lengthy statement announcing its decision not to retry Crawford in the case of his son's death.

"In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted the distinguishable time frame it takes for bruises to form on the lips of the child versus the additional time it would take to result in the child's suffocation," the statement read. "The requirement to exclude every reasonable possibility of how this could occur is a burden the State cannot meet with the evidence available."

Lacking evidence to prove that Crawford had intentionally and directly caused his son's death, the next avenue to pursue would have been possible negligent homicide, the release stated.

"While the State feels a reasonable prosecution could be pursued on a charge of criminal negligent homicide, that negligence could extend to other members of the family," the release stated. "Even if successful on that charge against Crawford, the amount of time he has spent in jail is close to the maximum sentence available if he was convicted."

The decision not to retry Crawford was based on the office's duty to bring a charge only when evidence can support it, the statement concluded.

Crawford said he received the news over the phone from his mother.

"I can't explain in words. When she called me and told me, I really wanted to cry," he said.

When asked if reparations will be sought on Crawford's behalf, Kappel said they will pursue all legal options.

"What they did wasn't right, on a lot of different levels," she said.

When asked for comment about Crawford possibly seeking restitution, Stewart said "the only truly innocent party is the deceased infant. It seems sinful to try and profit from this tragic loss."

5 years after it all began, and with a somewhat abrupt end to his case, Crawford, who has a 9-year-old daughter out of state, is looking to leave Shreveport for a while.

"I just want to live and spend as much time as I can with my family, because at the end of the day, that's what it's about," he said. "Everything else is materialistic. When everything gets [taken] from you, you just have the people you love. That's all I care about."

(source: Shreveport Times)

INDIANA:

Indiana budget bill includes money for lethal injections and state trooper raise

Indiana Republicans put an emphasis on public safety in its budget proposal, including raises, and spending money on lethal injection drugs.

On Friday, the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget compromise. The two sides have debated a proposal for the past 2 weeks.

The $32 billion, 2-year budget, focuses mainly on education. But it also helps the Department of Corrections carryout death penalty cases.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the governor's office asked for money to purchase lethal injection substances. They were also told names of production companies must be left out.

"It was not brought up previously," House Speaker Bosma said. "We were informed here late in the process that apparently, the lethal inject drugs in the Department of Corrections are expiring. So, we're reauthorizing their acquisition and granting anonymity to those who manufacture them, which apparently they won't send them to you unless they are not anonymous."

The budget bill also includes a pay raise for Indiana State Police. Lawmakers want to increase their pay by 24 %.

"We're very pleased at that another goal that we set from the outset is being met," Bosma said.

Right now, a starting Indiana State Police trooper salary is $39,213, which is below all neighboring states. A 24 % raise bumps the number to $48,624, which would leave Illinois as the only neighboring state with a higher base pay.

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the budget proposal late Friday night. If passed by both chambers, it'll head to the governor's office.

(source: WISH news)

ARKANSAS:

Gorsuch casts death-penalty vote in one of his 1st Supreme Court cases

Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch cast his 1st consequential vote Thursday night, siding with the court's other 4 conservatives in denying a stay request from Arkansas death row inmates facing execution.

Hours later, the state executed 1 of the men, the 1st lethal injection carried out there since 2005.

New justices have described being the final word on whether a death row inmate is executed - often during a late-night, last-chance appeal to the Supreme Court - as a time when the responsibility of the role crystallizes. Indeed, one of the court's most solid death-penalty supporters, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., flinched the 1st time he was faced with the choice. The day after his 2006 swearing-in, Alito joined the court's liberals in upholding a stay that kept Missouri from going forward with an execution.

Gorsuch's reasoning for his vote in not known. Neither he nor the other justices who turned down the request explained the decision. But Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, and he has had some time to study Arkansas' well-publicized attempt to execute several inmates before a drug used in their planned lethal injections expires.

The court's 4 liberals - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - said they would have stayed the executions.

Breyer wrote that the case supports his call, which Ginsburg has joined, for a review of whether the death penalty can be constitutionally applied.

"Why these 8? Why now? The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior," Breyer wrote. Instead, Breyer wrote, "apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these 8 executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random."

As expected, Gorsuch's decisions have been closely scrutinized. A new justice's role on the court is only broadly sketched during confirmation hearings, and each decision begins to fill in the outlines of a lifetime appointment.

Gorsuch has rejected stay-of-execution requests as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, but he has had limited exposure to the issue of capital punishment.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, he was often asked about a passage in a book he wrote in which he criticizes euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. "All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong," he wrote.

It is the phrase "by private persons" that was key to Gorsuch's response.

Some online commentators have questioned what Thursday night’s action says about Gorsuch's "pro-life" credentials. He has a thin record on which his view of a constitutional right to abortion could be assessed. But if he supports the constitutionality of the death penalty and questions a constitutional right to abortion, he would simply be reflecting the various positions on the court he is joining.

The justice he replaced, Antonin Scalia, felt the same on capital punishment and abortion. Liberals such as Breyer and Ginsburg are the opposite, supporting abortion rights while raising doubts about the death penalty.

Gorsuch has faced an immediate immersion at the Supreme Court. He was sworn in on April 10. He skipped the justices' private conference that week to prepare for oral arguments that began last Monday.

Although he asked no questions in one oral argument, he was an active participant in the other 6. Some analyses showed that he asked more questions than many of his colleagues did in their first outings on the court, and he displayed a confidence borne of his decade on the bench.

On Friday, he was scheduled to meet with the rest of the court to examine a long list of cases that would be on the docket that begins in October. When it had only 8 members, the court seemed to shy away from some controversial topics.

But the new list is anything but neutral. They include cases involving gun rights, voting rights and whether businesses can for religious reasons refuse their wedding services to same-sex couples.

(source: Washington Post)

****************

Arkansas carries out 1st of several planned executions, but what's next?

This week in Arkansas, lives came down to minutes.

Ledell Lee never saw Friday. Less than an hour before a midnight deadline to carry out the sentence, Arkansas officials learned the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected his last appeals. The lethal injection began and Lee was dead by 11:56 p.m. Thursday - the 1st execution in the state since 2005.

Earlier in the week, Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward saw the clock expire as courts halted their executions just before midnight Monday. Stacey Johnson got a reprieve Thursday as well.

Arkansas planned to execute 8 convicted murderers over 11 days this month and the state will try again next week, with 2 scheduled for Monday and 1 on Thursday. A 4th scheduled for Thursday currently has a stay in place. and volume of executions has troubled capital punishment opponents - though they took heart this week when the scheduled executions were stopped and when Johnson's case was stayed.

Lee's execution was a blow, however.

Nina Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project, worked until the last moments leading up to Lee's execution and said the grim spectacle that played out in Arkansas was unlike anything she'd seen in her 17 years of practicing law and working capital punishment cases.

"Nobody can look at what happened in Arkansas and feel proud," Morrison said. "It was a rushed, unfair and arbitrary process and we deserve better. The families of the victims deserve better, the courts deserve better and the defendants' lives we have in our hands deserve better."

Lee was convicted in the 1993 murder of 26-year-old Debra Reese, the mother of a 6-year-old boy. She was robbed and strangled in her Jacksonville, Ark., home. Prosecutors said Lee then beat her 36 times with a bat-like tire "thumper" her husband had given her for protection.

Prosecutors came forward with evidence that Lee had previously committed violent crimes against several other women, though he maintained his innocence until his death.

But Morrison said the request for delaying Lee's execution centered on the need for DNA testing that hadn't previously been available and that justice demanded it to ensure an innocent man wasn't put to death.

The flurry of legal challenges was seen by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Atty. Gen. Leslie Rutledge as a stalling tactic to delay justice. A spokesman for Rutledge said Friday that it was impossible to know if the scheduled executions of Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on Monday would mirror this week's frantic pace.

J.R. Davis, spokesman for Hutchinson, said the men facing execution already have had plenty of time to appeal and fight their cases.

"You start to worry whether or not this is a big hit on the judicial system. You have all these last-minute appeals that are essentially thrown up against the wall to see what sticks," Davis said. "These cases have been going on for decades - and that is part of the process. You want to make sure a person is guilty of the crime so you have the appeals set in place and there was time for that."

But some of the legal challenges to Lee's execution were focused on the methodology of the execution - namely the drugs used during lethal injections.

The state's supply of 1, midazolam, expires April 30. McKesson Corp. had filed for a temporary restraining order last week to keep Arkansas from using its product, vecuronium bromide, after the company said it had been misled because the state had never said it planned to use the drug in executions.

A temporary restraining order was put into place on April 14, but 3 days later the state Supreme Court removed it, agreeing with Rutledge that the judge who issued it was biased because he had attended an anti-death penalty protest.

McKesson filed for a new restraining order, which was approved Wednesday but then removed Thursday afternoon by the state Supreme Court.

"We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product," the company said in a statement lamenting the ruling.

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, said the drug manufacturer's unwillingness to be involved with products used for the death penalty may be a way capital punishment becomes a less viable form of justice as options diminish.

He said boycotts of companies that deal in drugs related to executions can make supplies for the states even harder to obtain and that it's a tactic that may be more effective than seeking to abolish the death penalty through the legislative process.

The lack of supply has already hamstrung other states trying to conduct executions. In Nevada, an $860,000 execution chamber was built last year after being approved the Legislature in 2015, but it has yet to be used because the state can't obtain the drugs used for lethal injections.

Arkansas' rush to complete its execution schedule - April 17 through 27 - was set by Hutchinson in February when it was clear the drug would expire April 30.

Davis, the governor's spokesman, said the dates were important for the families of the murder victims to see the will of juries carried out.

Lee's execution, he said, was justice.

Lee had a last meal. He took Holy Communion and did not have any last words.

The 2 scheduled to die Monday are Marcel Williams and Jones. Williams, 46, was convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson. Jones, 52, was convicted of the murder of a bookkeeper, Mary Phillips, in 1995.

1 of the men scheduled to die Thursday, Jason McGehee, 40, currently has a stay in place and is unlikely to face execution because the legal process would extend beyond the April 30 deadline.

Public support for capital punishment, which peaked in the mid-1990s, when 80% of Americans favored the death penalty, is now at its lowest level since 1972, according to the Pew Research Center. Its poll in September showed 49% of Americans supported executions for convicted murderers.

The debate is expected to continue as Arkansas begins the process again Monday. And like last week, vigils are planned outside the governor's mansion in Little Rock on Monday and Thursday.

The Rev. Steve Copley, chairman of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he will be praying Sunday in church and will be attending the protests Monday.

"I'll be remembering the victims and family of the victims, but also remembering those on death row and the attorneys trying to make sure life isn't taken from them," Copley said. "I'll be praying to ask God to be in the midst of this situation as it happens."

(source: Los Angeles Times)

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Decency demands we take no chances with the death penalty: Opinion

The chance a terrorist will hijack my next flight to Atlanta is infinitesimal, but I will submit to a virtual strip search when I board that plane. And I'll do it every time to gain the assurance I've dodged one of the rarest transportation calamities.

Many of us take similar precautions every day to prevent other unlikely occurrences. We pay a premium for safety features on new cars. We gobble multivitamins and dietary supplements to ward off diseases we have little chance of contracting. We part with thousands for alarm systems and even more for car and home insurance.

Our predilection to limiting the risk of rare misfortune extends to almost every aspect of life. Except in our criminal justice system, which sometimes seems designed to eliminate the risk that a defendant might be acquitted.

Which brings me to the death penalty and why we should abolish it, as state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, propose. I'm not sure what chance their bill has in the current legislative session, but it's probably less than the likelihood that an innocent person sits today on Louisiana's death row.

The chance that Louisiana -- or any of the 30 other states with the death penalty -- might put an innocent person on death row is 4 times greater than your chance of being killed in an auto accident. It's almost 50 times greater than your chance of drowning.

How do we know this? In an impressive, comprehensive study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS) in 2014, 4 researchers concluded 4.1 % of those in death row prison cells in the United States are innocent. And, they added, "it is likely that we have an undercount."

We also know this because, since 1973, 157 death-row inmates have been exonerated. The most recent was a Louisiana man, Rodricus Crawford, finally exonerated on April 17 when the state Supreme Court dismissed all charges against him.

The study's authors said that because of intense scrutiny in capital cases, wrongful executions (versus wrongful sentencing) are rare but probable. "With an error rate at trial over 4%," they caution, "it is all but certain that several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 [that number is now 1,448] were innocent."

This suggests that about 116 of the approximately 2,900 people serving on death row in the United States could be innocent.

If you had a 4 % (1 in 25) probability of dying in a plane crash (it's actually 1 in 9,821), you'd be a fool to fly anywhere. If you had a 4 % probability of dying in a car wreck (it's 1 in 645), you would never leave your house.

Too many judges and prosecutors, however, are satisfied with a 4 percent error rate in handing down death sentences.

Argue all you want about the immorality of the government killing people. Protest the death penalty because of the cost of trying and housing death-row inmates versus those sentenced to life without parole. Those and other arguments resonate with me and others but are secondary to the near certainty that we have condemned dozens of innocent people to death row.

Lest you conclude the answer to this outrage is to sentence more people to prison for life, consider what National Geographic blogger Virginia Hughes observed in 2014 about the aforementioned study: "Of all of the people found guilty of capital murder, less than 1/2 actually get a death-penalty sentence. And when juries are determining whether to send a defendant to death row or to life in prison, surveys show that they tend to choose life sentences when they have 'residual doubt' about the defendant's guilt. That means, then, that the rate of innocent defendants serving life in prison is higher than those on death row. 'They are sentenced,' the [PNAS] authors write, 'and then forgotten.'"

The truth is that the almost weekly release of some inmate, jailed for decades for a crime he did not commit, doesn't spur us to action or even indignation. And the knowledge that 4 % of those on death row are likely innocent causes us little shame.

In other words, society is apathetic about the appalling injustices of the criminal justice system because many of don't see inmates as humans and we see little personal risk of being railroaded into prison, much less on death row.

If we want to continue killing inmates, we should do everything possible to eliminate the risk of wrongful conviction. We should fully fund indigent defense. Judges should insist on the highest standards of evidence before convicting anyone. No one should be sent to prison on the testimony of 1 witness. And courts must rein in the abuse of plea bargains.

As Edmund Burke wrote in 1777, "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood." Put another way, a wise and humane society would take no chances when killing its citizens.

(source: Opinion; Robert Mann, an author and former U.S. Senate and gubernatorial staffer, holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University----New Orleans Times-Picayune)

OKLAHOMA:

Death Penalty Sought In Deputy's Death

A man suspected of fatally shooting an Oklahoma deputy was charged Thursday with murder, and the district attorney later vowed she'll seek the death penalty against him because of the "particularly heinous, atrocious and cruel" nature of the crime.

Nathan LeForce, 45, was charged Thursday in Logan County with 1st-degree murder, larceny of a vehicle and armed robbery, court records show. Those records don't list an attorney for him, and he remains jailed.

Logan County Deputy David Wade, 40, died Tuesday after he was shot while serving an eviction notice at a home near Mulhall, about 50 miles north of Oklahoma City. Wade was shot several times, including in the face, and returned fire before radioing in for help.

Video from Wade's body-worn camera captured LeForce approaching Wade with a raised handgun and firing at the deputy, according to charging documents filed in court Thursday. After the 1st shot, as "Wade goes down and is obviously suffering from a gunshot wound," several more gunshots could be heard in rapid succession, the documents said.

Authorities said LeForce then took Wade's patrol vehicle and drove at a high speed to a convenience store, where he stole another car at gunpoint, according to the affidavit. That car was found abandoned near Guthrie, where LeForce was later found hiding in an outbuilding and surrendered to police.

After LeForce appeared before a judge, Logan County District Attorney Laura Thomas said in a statement to The Associated Press that she'll prepare a death penalty case because of the brutality of the crime.

"Not all 1st degree murder cases qualify for the death penalty in Oklahoma. This is one that does," Thomas said in a statement. "I'm angry our deputy was murdered. I'm angered at that portion of society that is already looking for a way to justify the unjustifiable and finding excuses for the inexcusable."

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said earlier Thursday that the gun used in the shooting has not been found. Agency spokeswoman Jessica Brown said law enforcement agencies are still searching for the gun to find out if it had been used in other crimes and to prevent a child from finding it first.

(source: Associated Press)

NEBRASKA:

Legislature debates confidentiality of lethal drug producers

A bill to protect the confidentiality of individuals or companies involved in the distribution or manufacture of lethal injection drugs on death row went through hours of debate Thursday.

LB 661, introduced by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, is also known as a "shield law" to protect anyone involved in the manufacturing of lethal injection drugs from threats or persecution.

"Keeping the identity of manufacturers confidential to ensure access of these drugs, to prevent further drugs from being removed from the market, to ensure safe medication to all citizens, is the greater good," Kuehn said.

Other states with similar shield laws include Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio. Many others, such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, have also tried to implement this type of shield law.

According to the bill's proponents, states with the death penalty have difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs from domestic suppliers.

Suppliers don't want the bad publicity of being associated with manufacturing and distributing these drugs. This results in states having to shop other countries for the drugs.

Nebraska bought a lethal injection drug in 2015 called sodium thiopental, from Harris Pharma, a distributor in India. The Food and Drug Administration said Nebraska could not legally import the drug and the shipment never made it to the state.

Opponents of the bill said confidentiality would inhibit accountability for companies who make the drugs.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was particularly against full anonymity for such companies.

Chambers, a well-known opponent of the death penalty, used his time to speak against the death penalty. However, he also spoke against hiding the identity of lethal injection drug manufacturers.

"We all know good and well why it's important to know the source of something," Chambers said. "If these bad drugs continue to show up, you need to trace it back and find the compounding pharmacy that's responsible."

Chambers was referring to the possibility the drug might be proven cruel or ineffective. People would need to know where it came from to hold that person or company responsible.

Nebraska voters decided last year to reinstate the death penalty, after the Legislature narrowly repealed it the year before. Legislators in support of LB 661, like Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, said the proposed shield legislation would let capital punishment work for the Nebraskans who voted it back in.

"I believe in justice," Groene said. "I believe in punishing evil that exists in this world."

Groene said anonymity would allow the state to be able to obtain, and if necessary, use the death penalty drugs again.

Nebraska has not used capital punishment since 1997.

There was no vote or action taken on the bill.

(source: The North Platte Bulletin)

COLORADO:

Hearings start Monday in death-penalty case of ex-Fort Carson soldier

A marathon week of hearings is set to begin Monday in El Paso County's 1st death penalty case in a decade.

5 consecutive days have been cleared in a 4th Judicial District courtroom for attorneys to argue motions in the case against double-murder suspect Glen Law Galloway, who's accused in the back-to-back fatal shootings last year of his ex-girlfriend and a homeless man.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Gregory Werner set aside the week in anticipation of dozens of legal filings in what will be a hard-fought courtroom contest. It's unclear whether all that court time will actually be filled.

El Paso County prosecutors will be joined by Dan Edwards of the Colorado Attorney General's Office, who helped prosecute the death penalty case against Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. Galloway's public defenders will be joined by Dan King of the public defender's death penalty team.

King was Holmes' lead attorney and also helps represent admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr., whose prosecution on suspicion of killing three people and wounding nine on Nov. 27, 2015, remains on indefinite hold while Dear receives treatment at the Colorado State Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

Galloway, 45, an ex-Fort Carson soldier, faces multiple counts of 1st-degree murder in the slayings of his ex-girlfriend Janice Nam and a homeless man named Marcus Anderson, records show.

The 2 were fatally shot on consecutive days in May, several months after Galloway cut off an ankle monitor and went into hiding in the wake of a conviction for stalking Nam, court records show.

Police and prosecutors haven't disclosed whether they have discovered a motive that links the deaths.

The last time El Paso County prosecutors pursued the death penalty was 2007, when the office sought the death of cop killer Marco Lee. He pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole.

2 other death penalty prosecutions are pending in the 18th Judicial District, comprising Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, but recent efforts suggest prosecutors face an uphill battle.

2 recent attempts to obtain the death penalty - including against Holmes - failed after juries instead imposed life terms, raising questions about the millions spent in the pursuit.

Convicted murderer and rapist Gary Lee Davis was the last death row inmate to be executed in Colorado, in 1997. He is the only Colorado inmate to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1975.

(source: The Gazette)

CALIFORNIA:

Judge in Dekraai Case Says He May Consider Dropping Death Penalty

The judge handling the sentencing trial for mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai said Friday that misuse of jailhouse informants by Orange County prosecutors and Sheriff's deputies may cause him to consider "the nuclear option," throwing out the death penalty in the case.

"What has previously been an almost unthinkable option is no longer unthinkable," said Judge Thomas Goethals at a hearing Friday morning.

The hearing was part of the penalty phase of the trial, which will determine whether Dekraai, who shot 8 people at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011 and pled guilty to the murders in 2014, will receive a life sentence or the death penalty.

Although it began as a murder trial, Dekraai's case has since grown into a years-long "jailhouse snitch scandal" that has sparked U.S. Department of Justice, state Attorney General and Orange County Grand Jury investigations. They're looking into how the Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's office used jailhouse informants to elicit confessions from criminal defendants, without the knowledge of the defendants or their attorneys.

Sanders has argued the violation of his client's rights is so egregious he should be spared the death sentence and be sentence to life in prison.

For months, Goethals has expressed frustration with the pace at which Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' department has produced discovery documents related to the jailhouse informants program. At one point he threatened to hold her in contempt of court.

Now Goethals wants attorneys to establish at a May 23 evidentiary hearing, whether or not the Sheriff's Department has, over the course of the Dekraai case, attempted to cover up the informant program by intentionally destroying or withholding key documents.

Specifically, Goethals wants to know why there are months-long gaps in entries from the Special Handling log, records which could show how informants were moved from cell to cell and which inmates they were put near and later provided information about.

Sanders, in his latest motion filed in March, points to the fact that prosecutors have only "been able to locate Special Handling logs for a period of a mere 7 months of Dekraai's 65 months of incarceration" and to a 2-year gap in entries in records tracking 2 informants who lived in the same module as Dekraai.

"It's hard for me to imagine that a staff full of competent investigators can't get to the bottom of what happened to the Special Handling logs," Goethals said at Friday's hearing.

In the motion, Sanders outlined his argument for why he believes Orange County Sheriff's deputies not only were openly and actively encouraged to cultivate jailhouse informants to aid prosecutors, but the department also tried to cover its tracks as revelations about the informant program unfolded in court.

The judge also wants attorneys to establish whether or not, as Sanders has alleged in court briefs, Hutchens asked the county Board of Supervisors to change a policy for document retention that would allow the department to destroy documents that included records about jailhouse informants.

Sanders argues the fact that the department sought approval from the supervisors is evidence of "a broader effort to align policies with misleading statements about the use of informants...and to eliminate inconsistent evidence that could further embarrass the agency," according to a motion he filed Feb. 9.

In early 2016, the supervisors suspended the policy in order to preserve the informant records although it is unknown whether any records were destroyed while the policy was in effect. The county's attorneys say the board's action didn't alter its past records retention policy and insist nothing improper occurred.

Attorneys will also discuss Sanders' claim that former Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner intentionally delayed releasing records from the special handling log at Theo Lacy Jail to avoid tipping off Sanders to contradictions in testimony by 2 deputies that would help him in another case.

The last evidentiary hearing Goethals ordered lasted more than 4 months.

Goethals said he hopes this hearing won't last that long and said he wants to avoid any more debate over whether a jailhouse informant program exists, as the Sheriff's Department has repeatedly denied.

"The debate about what is going on in the Orange County jails is over," Goethals said. "We are not going to spend a lot of time going down that rabbit hole."

(source: voiceofoc.org)

WASHINGTON:

It's time to abolish the death penalty

The time is right. The time is now. This issue has been discussed for more than 20 years yet this inhumane, barbaric action still exists.

The issue came before the state Legislature this session but, disappointingly, never passed the committee despite encouragement by Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The death penalty dehumanizes us, encourages violence and is arbitrarily unjust. Do we want to stand with China, Saudi Arabia and other rogue nations in condoning the murder of human beings? We are just as bad as the criminal in this instance.

Capital punishment does not deter crime nor does it lower recidivism. It drains our resources and wastes tax dollars as well as wastes lives. Innocent people have been put to death. When Gov. Inslee placed a moratorium on executions in 2014, he asked for public conversation. Let's keep the conversation going. Let's join other civilized nations who have abolished the death penalty. Let's do it now. The time is right. For more information visit the Fellowship of Reconciliation web site: olympiafor.org.

Sandra Ware, Olympia

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Olympian)

USA:

Here's Why The Feds Banned 2 States' Death Penalty Drugs----The FDA banned shipments of execution drugs states have been trying to get for months. BuzzFeed News obtained the letter that shows why.

On Thursday, the federal government formally blocked 2 shipments of a massive amount of execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona.

The decision to block the shipments came after months of legal arguments back-and-forth between the states and the Food and Drug Administration. In announcing the conclusion, the FDA did not include its full decision or the reasons it came to its conclusion that the drugs can't enter the United States.

But the full decision shows the FDA said its hands were tied. BuzzFeed News obtained a redacted copy on Friday through an open records request.

In the decision, the FDA pointed to a 2012 court decision that requires the government block shipments of sodium thiopental, an outdated anesthetic, when the shipments appear to violate the law.

The states argued "that [the case] was 'wrongly decided,'" FDA importer Alexander Lopez wrote to Texas. "But FDA is bound by the terms of the order issued by the District Court in that case."

"We interpret the order to mean what it says: namely, that FDA is required to refuse entry to thiopental produced abroad when it appears that the thiopental is misbranded or an unapproved new drug."

There are no longer any FDA-approved manufacturers of sodium thiopental. Years ago, the sole supplier stopped making the drug because states were using it in lethal injections.

So in 2015, the states turned to a man in India who has made more than $100,000 selling execution drugs to states that have never been able to use his products. He placed a label on the vials that carries the disclaimer that they are "For law enforcement purpose only." Texas and Arizona argued the drugs should be allowed in due to a law enforcement exception.

The FDA responded that a law enforcement exception can't apply, because the drugs will still be used on humans.

"The law enforcement exemption could not have been intended to apply to lethal injection, because FDA issued the regulation ... in 1956, well before any state used lethal injection as a method of execution," Lopez wrote.

If states want to import the drug, they could attempt to have the drug approved - a process that could take years. They argued approving a drug for lethal injection would be absurd, as the approval process requires clinical trials and testing - something that has not been done for lethal injection.

"Here, it is not absurd to suggest that the [law] requires a drug to be shown to be safe and effective for use under the conditions suggested in its labeling," Lopez wrote.

"There are numerous situations where it is difficult to design appropriate clinical trials, such as testing a treatment for anthrax infection or plague. In such cases, FDA regulations may allow flexibility, or trials may differ from what scientists generally envision, but FDA's statutory authority remains the same."

If the states wanted to import the drugs, the FDA said they either needed to get the drug approved, or go to court to lift the 2012 order.

Litigation seems likely. Over the past year and a half, both states have indicated publicly that they would sue if the drugs were denied. Texas has requested the FDA give them time to seek a court order before the drugs are destroyed or returned to India. The FDA said the states have 90 days to export or destroy the drugs.

(source: buzzfeed.com)

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The Fight for Disability Rights Must Extend to Death Row----Why didn't more disability rights groups work to stop the execution of Ledell Lee in Arkansas?

Thursday night the state of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee. Lee was sentenced in 1995 for the murder of Debra Reese in a trial marked by numerous examples of the unequal treatment that the most vulnerable defendants routinely experience in the legal system.

During the trial, Lee's lawyer was so drunk he literally started babbling the words "blah blah blah." The judge and prosecutor were having a sexual affair at the time, and would later marry. Microscopic analysis of hair found at the scene seemed to match Lee's, but the American Civil Liberties Union says that the "unsophisticated" method of analysis used in the case has been determined to be scientifically unsound. Both the ACLU and the Innocence Project sought stays of execution until a DNA test could be performed. Lee has always maintained his innocence. They have no evidence one way or another as to what that DNA test would have shown. The point is: neither did the state of Arkansas.

Like DNA testing, science only helps if states choose to apply it.

Lee was also disabled. He had fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can lead to significant intellectual disability. The extent of this incapacity, like his DNA, was never tested. It is possible, according again to the ACLU, that his disability exempted him from the death penalty under the Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, a decision that excluded people with intellectual disabilities from execution. Furthermore, as I wrote for Pacific Standard a few weeks ago, in Moore v. Texas, the Court had explicitly endorsed the principle that determination of disability should be held to the best practices of the scientific community, rather than relying on guesswork or bias. Moore v. Texas is a good ruling, but, like DNA testing, science only helps if states choose to apply it.

Was Lee sufficiently disabled - a terrible framing, but that's what the law requires - to have his life spared? We don't know. His lawyer did not pursue that angle of defense. Courts from Arkansas to Washington, D.C., ultimately refused requests from the ACLU and the Innocence Project to make such a determination before the execution.

Arkansas is in a rush to kill people. The state's lethal injection drugs are expiring. Some of the condemned will be guilty, but not all. Some of the condemned will be disabled, but not all. The violence of the state always falls hardest on those multiply marginalized by otherness, whether race, class, gender identity, disability, religion, or other categories of difference.

The Supreme Court Sets a New Precedent on the Death Penalty and Disability

I cover the disability rights community. Well-resourced organizations need to get more involved in fighting for the Ledell Lees of America. The Arc, an organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, sent a clemency letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. More groups should emulate the Arc's commitment to serving the most marginalized disabled Americans. Most other well-funded and -connected disability rights organizations and leaders, though, said nothing. They aren't focused on the death penalty. Lee is not the most telegenic figure around which to galvanize sympathetic fundraising. You can't have a telethon - not that telethons are so great - for the Ledell Lees of this world. The silence of the movement, focused on sympathy for cute kids, not protection for convicted men, reveals their priorities.

It is precisely at the margins of society, in case of violence and abuse at both state and private hands, where our movement must concentrate our efforts. The fight for disability rights goes on. But not for Ledell Lee.

(source: David Perry, Pacific Standard Magazine)

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Gorsuch casts death-penalty vote in one of his first Supreme Court cases

Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch cast his first consequential vote Thursday night, siding with the court's other 4 conservatives in denying a stay request from Arkansas death row inmates facing execution.

Hours later, the state executed one of the men, the 1st lethal injection carried out there since 2005.

New justices have described being the final word on whether a death row inmate is executed - often during a late-night, last-chance appeal to the Supreme Court - as a time when the responsibility of the role crystallizes. Indeed, one of the court's most solid death-penalty supporters, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., flinched the 1st time he was faced with the choice. The day after his 2006 swearing-in, Alito joined the court's liberals in upholding a stay that kept Missouri from going forward with an execution.

Gorsuch's reasoning for his vote in not known. Neither he nor the other justices who turned down the request explained the decision. But Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, and he has had some time to study Arkansas' well-publicized attempt to execute several inmates before a drug used in their planned lethal injections expires.

The court's 4 liberals - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - said they would have stayed the executions.

Breyer wrote that the case supports his call, which Ginsburg has joined, for a review of whether the death penalty can be constitutionally applied.

"Why these 8? Why now? The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior," Breyer wrote. Instead, Breyer wrote, "apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these 8 executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random."

As expected, Gorsuch's decisions have been closely scrutinized. A new justice's role on the court is only broadly sketched during confirmation hearings, and each decision begins to fill in the outlines of a lifetime appointment.

Gorsuch has rejected stay-of-execution requests as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, but he has had limited exposure to the issue of capital punishment.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, he was often asked about a passage in a book he wrote in which he criticizes euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. "All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong," he wrote.

It is the phrase "by private persons" that was key to Gorsuch's response.

Some online commentators have questioned what Thursday night's action says about Gorsuch's "pro-life" credentials. He has a thin record on which his view of a constitutional right to abortion could be assessed. But if he supports the constitutionality of the death penalty and questions a constitutional right to abortion, he would simply be reflecting the various positions on the court he is joining.

The justice he replaced, Antonin Scalia, felt the same on capital punishment and abortion. Liberals such as Breyer and Ginsburg are the opposite, supporting abortion rights while raising doubts about the death penalty.

Gorsuch has faced an immediate immersion at the Supreme Court. He was sworn in on April 10. He skipped the justices' private conference that week to prepare for oral arguments that began last Monday.

Although he asked no questions in one oral argument, he was an active participant in the other 6. Some analyses showed that he asked more questions than many of his colleagues did in their first outings on the court, and he displayed a confidence borne of his decade on the bench.

On Friday, he was scheduled to meet with the rest of the court to examine a long list of cases that would be on the docket that begins in October. When it had only 8 members, the court seemed to shy away from some controversial topics.

But the new list is anything but neutral. They include cases involving gun rights, voting rights and whether businesses can for religious reasons refuse their wedding services to same-sex couples.

(source: Washington Post)

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Arkansas rushed to put to death Ledell Lee despite widespread concerns around the use of capital punishment in America

Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on Thursday night, after it fought and won a complex and sometimes confusing legal battle. The state executed him in spite of Lee's insistence that he was not guilty of murdering Debra Rees, a crime committed more than 20 years ago. It did so despite doubts about whether he had sufficient intellectual capacity to be "eligible" for the death penalty.

The state rushed to put Lee to death before its supply of midazolam expired, claiming that it had a compelling interest in carrying out the "lawful" decision of the jury which sentenced him and that the execution would bring closure to the Rees family. Yet the way it went about doing so hardly seems likely to bring consolation to those who grieve at that family's terrible loss - and raises many concerns about the potential miscarriage of justice.

A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in every 25 people given a death sentence are in fact innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced. Moreover, we know that more than 150 people have been exonerated since the death penalty’s return in 1976.

Because of such problems, public confidence in the fairness of the death penalty process is eroding. Thus, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only 52% of the American public believed that the death penalty was administered fairly.

These doubts surfaced in dramatic fashion when Arkansas announced its plan to execute 8 people in 10 days and explained that it was doing so to meet the deadline imposed by its drug expiration problem.

The problems that plague the death penalty system have persisted for decades. It was 45 years ago, in Furman v Georgia, that the US supreme court called attention to the way in which death sentences are carried out in the US and halted all executions in this country. It did so not because it found anything inherently problematic about the death penalty. Instead it focused on difficulties in the way it was administered.

The court found defects in the process through which some capital defendants were sentenced to death while others were spared. It described death sentencing as fraught with arbitrariness. As Justice Potter Stewart put it in his concurring opinion: "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual."

The court allowed the death penalty to resume four years after Furman. It did so once it was satisfied that procedures had been put in place to insure that when juries made decisions in death cases that they would be given sufficient guidance so that sentences would no longer be imposed or carried out arbitrarily.

Indeed, because death is different in kind from any other punishment, the court insisted that states wishing to execute would have to insure that heightened standards of reliability, what some have called "super due process", would be accorded to those accused and convicted of capital crimes.

While much has changed in death penalty jurisprudence and in American attitudes toward that punishment since the mid-1970s, when those standards were put in place, the continuing legitimacy of capital punishment depends on insuring that they are met.

Responding to those who questioned Arkansas' assembly-line style of execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that he would have preferred a more deliberate pace but insisted that the time had come to bring closure to the families of those who had been murdered so long ago.

As he put it in a recent television interview: "There's been a 25-year nightmare for the victims that had to deal with this and now it's time for justice to be carried out."

After Thursday night's execution, Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas' attorney general, reiterated this concern, saying: "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family."

But surely it was no favor to those who mourn the loss of a loved one to proceed with an execution without having resolved all doubts about the guilt of the condemned. And it can hardly bring the solace they so profoundly deserve to know that Lee's execution was shadowed by so much controversy.

Instead of focusing on the loss that occasioned last night's execution, the world's attention was focused instead on what seemed to be the unseemly process that led to it.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented from the supreme court's last-minute decision to allow Lee's execution to proceed, got it right when he highlighted "the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country" and noted that allowing the expiration date of Arkansas' supply of midazolam to be "a determining factor separating those who live from those who die is close to random".

When Arkansas put Lee to death, it seems that lightning struck again.

(source: Associated Press)

IRAN:

27 Kurds executed in Iran for political, security reasons in 2016, says rights org

\The Kurdistan Human Rights Association said the government of Iran had executed 30 people in 2016 for political and security reasons, 27 of them Kurds.

The human rights group released a statement on Thursday (April 20) stating that 27 of the 30 people executed by Iran due to state-claimed political or security reasons were members of banned Kurdish parties.

The other three were Ahwaz Arabs, the organization added.

The statement noted that individuals sentenced to death were "tortured to obtain forced confessions," in trials "that lasted less than 15 minutes and without any defense, [and] had been issued without a last meeting with their families."

The Kurdistan Human Rights Association said at least 530 people were executed by Iran's authorities in 2016.

Last year, Amnesty International said Iranian courts were often "completely lacking in independence and impartiality."

According to Amnesty, China, Iran and Iraq are the top countries to carry out executions, issuing death sentences after "unfair trials".

The organization also said authorities in some countries, including Iran, use the death penalty to punish political opponents.

According to Amnesty's statistics, Iran carried out 997 executions in the state's prisons in 2015, of which 393 of the executed were Kurds.

(source: nrttv.com)

NIGERIA:

Gallows preparation in Lagos prison suggests spate of executions imminent

The Nigerian authorities must immediately scrap plans to execute death row inmates in Kirikiri prison in Lagos, Amnesty International said today amid macabre reports from inmates that the prison's gallows were being prepared and one inmate had been isolated possibly in preparation for execution.

This follows a statement by the Attorney General of Lagos State during a press briefing on 18 April indicating that the state government would soon start signing execution documents.

"The indications that Kirikiri prison authorities may be gearing up for a string of executions are deeply alarming. The death penalty is an outdated and cruel punishment which violates the right to life," said Damian Ugwu, Amnesty International's Nigeria Researcher.

"We also have serious concerns as to whether many of the inmates on death row have received a fair trial. The Nigerian police are overstretched and under-resourced and tend to rely heavily on coerced 'confessions' rather than investigations. In some cases death sentences are handed down on the basis of statements signed under torture.

"The Nigerian authorities must halt these executions immediately and establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

In 2016 Nigeria handed down 527 death sentences - 3 times more than it did in 2015 - the highest recorded globally excluding China. Lagos State imposed the highest number of death sentences in 2016, 68 people, which was closely followed by Rivers State with 61, according to official records provided by the Nigeria Prisons Service.

This massive spike in death sentences puts the country at odds with the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty. As of today, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice.

On 23 December 2016 3 death row prisoners were put to death in Benin Prison, Edo state. Their executions were carried out despite the fact that one of them, Apostle Igene was sentenced to death in 1997 by a military tribunal, and never had an appeal.

Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian government to commute all death sentences to terms of imprisonment and immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

For years, the federal government has claimed to have a voluntary or self-imposed 'moratorium' but executions have happened nonetheless; including those in December 2016. This demonstrates the urgency of formally establishing a moratorium.

The authorities have not confirmed officially that they plan to carry out executions imminently at KiriKiri prison.

(source: Amnesty International)

THAILAND:

Spaniard sentenced to death by Thai court over killing of countryman----Artur Segarra found guilty of murdering and dismembering David Bernat in bid to access his savings

A Spanish national was on Friday given the death sentence after being found guilty by a Thai court of murdering fellow countryman David Bernat in Bangkok. The victim had traveled to the Asian country in January 2016 for a vacation. Hours after arriving, he met with Segarra to have drinks, and after midnight, the pair went to the condemned man's apartment. There he was held captive for 6 days, until he was killed and dismembered by Segarra, according to the police investigation into the case.

Segarra will have 2 chances to appeal the sentence, at the Thai Appeal Court and the country's Supreme Court. If the appeals process fails to overturn the death penalty, he can apply to the Royal Family for a pardon, which could see a lesser punishment applied.

Segarra extorted his victim in order to gain access to the bank account he held in Singapore.

According to the investigators assigned to the case, Segarra extorted his victim in order to gain access to the bank account Bernat held in Singapore and which contained his savings. The forensic police believe that he was killed around January 26. According to the investigation, that same night Segarra headed out on a motorcycle to the river that runs through Bangkok, carrying with him a large package, which the police believe contained the victim's body. He is thought to have returned in the early hours of the next morning without the object.

The authorities found the first remains of Bernat days later in the Chao Phraya river, and later recovered another 6 pieces of the body from the water. Segarra was identified as the main suspect on February 5, the night that he tried to flee to Cambodia after being recognized in a restaurant in Surin province.

Thailand carried out its last executions in 2009, on 2 convicts with drug-trafficking charges.

The prosecutor in the trial called nearly 40 people to the stand, none of whom were direct witnesses to the crime, and also produced evidence including DNA samples and fingerprints collected in the apartment he had rented, as well as security camera recordings and bank records.

Thailand carried out its last executions in 2009: these involved 2 convicts who had been sentenced to death on drug-trafficking charges. Since then an indefinite stay has been placed on the application of the death penalty. The last execution in a murder case dates back to 2003, the year that the country switched from firing squad to lethal injection as its method for the death penalty.

According to data from Amnesty International, at the end of last year there were 427 prisoners on death row in Thailand, 24 of whom were foreigners. An Australian was sentenced to death on February 7 in a murder case, which bears similarity to that of Segarra given that the victim was dismembered and an attempt was made to dispose of the evidence.

(source: elpais.com)

TURKEY:

Erdogan revives specter of death penalty in Turkey

"What George, Hans or Helga say does not interest us!" roars Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "What counts for us is what Ayse, Murat, Mehmet, Hatice say! What Allah says!"

This mantra - setting common European names against Turkish ones and finally invoking God - has become Erdogan's standard rhetoric to tell the European Union he does not care about their reaction if Turkey restores the death penalty.

But such a move would have immense ramifications - automatically drawing the curtain on the half-century drama that has been Turkey's bid to join the EU.

Some analysts thought that Erdogan would drop his rhetoric on capital punishment, helpful for winning the support of nationalists, after the April 16 referendum on enhancing his powers.

But with the referendum won, albeit by a narrow margin and the opposition claiming fraud, Erdogan has vigorously returned to the topic.

After proclaiming victory, Erdogan promised thousands of supporters chanting "Idam!" ("Execution!") that Turkey would hold a referendum on the issue if parliament failed to adopt it.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani wrote on Twitter that he was "very concerned" by Erdogan's comments, saying the reintroduction would be a "red line" for the European Union.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the move would be "synonymous with the end of (Turkey's) European dream".

'Here's the rope'

Turkey abolished the death penalty in all circumstances in 2004 - 2 years after Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power - as a key pillar of its bid to join the EU.

The EU states that abolishing the death penalty is an absolute pre-condition for membership.

The Council of Europe, the rights watchdog to which Turkey has belonged since 1950, makes abolition a condition for new members and its Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland Thursday said bringing back the death penalty would spell the end for Turkey.

"It goes without saying that if you want to reintroduce (the) death penalty, you cannot be a member of the Council of Europe," he said, adding the controversy appeared to be "much more political than a real legal thing."

While it was a previous coalition led by the Democratic Left Party that initiated the move to abolish the death penalty, Erdogan had in the early years of his rule resisted nationalist pressure for it to be used.

This included the case of the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured in 1999. He was sentenced to death but had his term commuted to life imprisonment.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli at the time famously brandished a noose at a rally to challenge Erdogan to execute Ocalan.

"Here is the rope! Hang him if you can," Bahceli shouted, throwing the rope into the crowds.

But a decade later, Erdogan is publicly praising Bahceli for his support for capital punishment and, to hisses and boos from the crowds, lambasting Republican People's Party (CHP) chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu for his opposition.

Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe and former EU ambassador to Turkey, said the narrowness of his victory means Erdogan will remain reliant on the MHP, which backed the constitutional changes set out in the referendum.

"Issues such as reintroducing the death penalty and politically disconnecting Turkey from the EU are key ingredients in the political narrative of both parties," he told AFP. 'Bitter consequences'

Supporters of the move say capital punishment needs to be restored following last summer's failed coup that left 249 people dead.

But the death penalty remains a sensitive issue in Turkey, which has a coup-scarred history and where many have no appetite to revive the painful memories of the past.

Erdogan has himself often evoked the hanging of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes - his political hero - along with 2 ministers after the 1960 military coup, flagging it as an example of the bad old Turkey.

More executions followed coups in 1971, including of student militant Deniz Gezmis, and the 1980 coup when dozens were sent to the gallows.

"This nation has seen in the past how bitter the consequences of the death penalty are and the backlash that has caused", Faruk Logoglu, a former ambassador to Washington and opposition MP, told AFP.

"Society must come to its senses," he added.

Turkey has not executed anyone since leftwing militant Hidir Aslan was hanged on October 25, 1984.

"The death penalty would mean the automatic end of relations with the EU. The cost would be much too dear," Logoglu said.

(source: Manila Times)

SINGAPORE----execution

Hanged because he had not "substantively assisted" the CNB

Mohd Jeefrey bin Ismail was hanged in the early hours of Friday morning, 21 April, at least according to the scheduled execution date given to his family by the Singapore Prison Service.

He was executed after the Public Prosecutor decided that Jeefrey had not "substantively assisted" the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore."

In Singapore, the authorities do not make public announcements of hangings, the preferred state-sanctioned killing method for those condemned to death. Lawyers for the inmates and anti-death penalty activists often have to guess if the executions have in fact been carried out.

Executions are typically held just before dawn on Fridays.

Jeefrey, 52, was a drug addict and trafficker, or courier, who was arrested in 2012 and subsequently sentenced to death for trafficking in excess of the statutory limit for the drug diamorphine.

The only person who stood between him and the noose was the Public Prosecutor who, through powers vested in him by law, could have spared his life if he had issued a Certificate of Cooperation (COC) to Jeefrey.

The COC would then allow Jeefrey to apply to the courts to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and caning. The courts' hands would then have been freed to mete out the alternative sentence.

In effect, the Public Prosecutor now has power over the courts as well: if the Public Prosecutor does not issue a convict with the COC, the courts cannot commute his sentence.

Yet, in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), the Prosecutor's decision making, in whether a COC is issued or not, is shrouded in secrecy and not even the highest court in the land, the Court of Appeal, can question it, or conduct a judicial review of it unless "it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice."

But this is extremely hard for anyone to prove, given that the Prosecutor is also not bound to release or make known the reasons for his decision.

In short, the Prosecutor has iron-clad, virtually unfettered powers to decide whether a person gets to live or die.

Such dubious decision making can result in inexplicable outcomes, as in the 2013 case of Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim, 30, and his friend, Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 28.

Both men were arrested in 2010, also for trafficking 72.5g of heroin.

In court, Abdul Haleem had asked to be given the same sentence as Muhammad Ridzuan, if the latter was sent to the gallows.

The Straits Times reported the exchange between Abdul Haleem and judge Tay Yong Kwang:

Choking with emotion, he [Abdul Haleem] told Justice Tay Yong Kwang: "If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I'd rather go down with him."

But the judge replied: "The court does not have complete discretion to do whatever you want me do."

Abdul Haleem then pointed out that he and his friend faced the same charges.

The judge told him: "You have certification from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he does not."

Abdul Haleem was sentenced to life imprisonment and caning because in the eyes of the Public Prosecutor, he had fulfilled the criteria of having "substantively assisted" the CNB in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore."

Muhammad Ridzuan, on the other hand, was deemed not to have cooperated with the CNB to the same extent.

He was thus sentenced to death which left his family wondering what more he could have done to assist the CNB.

"Ridzuan told the [Central Narcotics Bureau] who gave him the drugs," said his sister Noraisah. "He gave them a description, with full name and identification. I feel that this information is quite strong, and I don't know why they said that they are still not happy with it."

No one knows why the Prosecutor decided to issue Abdul Haleem the COC, while denying the same to Muhammad Ridzuan because the Prosecutor is not required by law to release or explain his reasons, either to the convict's lawyers or even to his family.

Everything is decided behind a veil of silence and secrecy.

It is disturbing that a person can be condemned to his death just because he is deemed to not have "substantively assisted" the police in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore."

Whether drug trafficking activities are "disrupted" or not depends on so many different factors, most of which would be beyond the control of the inmate.

For example, it would depend on whether the authorities actually act on information provided by the inmate.

It would also depend on whether the authorities take the appropriate action, or are competent in doing so.

And how would an inmate incarcerated on death row in Changi Prison in Singapore be able to "disrupt" drug activities "outside Singapore"? Would this not depend entirely on how the authorities act on the information provided by the inmate?

With the law prohibiting any judicial review or questioning of the Prosecutor's decision, except when such decision is proved to have been made on bad faith or malice, there really is no way of knowing if the Prosecutor has done the right or necessary thing in acting on the information provided by the inmate.

Clearly, this practice of vesting the Prosecutor with so much power is highly flawed.

His decision and decision-making process are effectively unquestionable, giving him seemingly unfettered authority.

Such absurdity has resulted in decisions which allow one person to be spared death while another, charged for the same crime, is sent to the gallows.

The rule of law insists that decisions, especially those involving capital punishment which is irreversible, must be made according to the law, and must be opened to review or question.

In 2011, lawyer M Ravi filed a constitutional challenge on the case of Yong Vui Kong, which centred on whether the Cabinet’s decision in granting clemency is opened to judicial review.

The Court of Appeal, in its ruling, said "the making of a clemency decision pursuant to Art 22P is now 'not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power ... [but] a part of the [c]onstitutional scheme'."

Article 22P refers to the president's powers to grant clemencies.

The Court of Appeal said that if "conclusive evidence is produced to the court to show that the Cabinet never met to consider the offender's case at all, or that the Cabinet did not consider the Art 22P(2) materials placed before it and merely tossed a coin to determine what advice to give to the President, the Cabinet would have acted in breach of Art 22P(2)."

The Court added:

"If the courts cannot intervene to correct a breach of Art 22P of this nature, the rule of law would be rendered nugatory."

Would it also not follow that if the courts are unable to intervene and question the Prosecutor's decision on granting the COC, there is a risk that the Prosecutor could make an erroneous decision based on wrong facts or even on superficial whims which, under existing laws, could result in the death of an inmate?

Yet the law says such decisions "shall be at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecutor and no action or proceeding shall lie against the Public Prosecutor in relation to any such determination unless it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice."

The granting, or not, of a COC by the Prosecutor, to borrow the words of the Court of Appeal, is 'not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power.'

It is in fact from constitutional powers vested in him which should make him accountable, and not protected behind a wall of opacity.

And if he is to be accountable, then surely his decisions must be opened to judicial review.

Why was Haleem Abdul spared death, while Muhammad Ridzuan was not?

Why was Mohd Jeefrey not similarly issued the COC, as Haleem Abdul was?

How is it that a person can be condemned to death just simply because he is deemed to not have "substantively assisted" the police?

How did we arrive at a law which says that not cooperating with the police is, effectively, a capital offence?

(source: publichouse.sg)

CAMEROON:

Journalist faces death penalty in Cameroon

Radio France International (RFI) journalist Ahmed Abba is reportedly at risk of being sentenced to death after being convicted by a military court in Cameroon.

According to Aljazeera.com, the RFI journalist was set to be sentenced on Monday, April 24, on charges of "non-denunciation of terrorism" and "laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts".

According to his lawyer, Clement Nakong, and the RFI, Abba was convicted for his reports on the Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram.

The RFI, as well as his lawyer, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Abba has been in custody since July 2015 and was, however, set to appeal the conviction.

The RFI has since called on Cameroonian authorities to free their journalist, adding that military court had acquitted the journalist of a lesser charge of "apologising for acts of terrorism".

(source: news24.com)

APRIL 21, 2017:

TEXAS:

Smith County District Attorney to seek death penalty in Kayla Gomez-Orozco case

When the Bullard man accused of abducting and killing 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco goes on trial in October, he will be facing the death penalty if found guilty.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham filed his intent to seek the death penalty in the case on Wednesday morning. Bingham cannot speak on the case due to a gag order, but a document filed in Smith County's 241st District Court states the prosecution's intention.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 24, was arrested and charged with capital murder this past November after the body of Gomez-Orozco was discovered inside a water well outside his residence off Old Jacksonville Highway in southern Smith County. Family reported Gomez-Orozco missing after a church service in Bullard on Nov. 1. Zavala-Garcia, who is related to the child through marriage, is named among those who were the last to see her alive.

Zavala-Garcia has remained jailed in Smith County on a $10 million bond and immigration detainer.

In February, Zavala-Garcia was involved in an incident in the recreation area on top of the Smith County Jail, when he climbed a basketball goal and refused to come down. Officials said the incident is not regarded as an escape attempt, there were no injuries and no additional charges were added to Zavala-Garcia's arrest record.

The 1st pre-trial hearing in the case is set for April 27, in the 241st District Court in Smith County. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in August for the Oct. 2 trial.

(source: KLTV news)

VIRGINIA----commutation of death sentence

Gov. McAuliffe commutes Ivan Teleguz's death sentence to life without parole

Ivan Teleguz's death sentence for the murder-for-hire of his ex-girlfriend in 2001 was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday.

Teleguz, 38, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday for the capital murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, the mother of their 23-month-old son. Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. According to trial testimony, he hired 2 men to kill her for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania, where Teleguz had moved.

On July 23, 2001, Sipe's mother, Pamela Woods, went to her daughter's apartment because she had not heard from Sipe for 2 days. Woods found her daughter's body and her grandson unharmed in a bathtub full of water. A neighbor took Woods and her grandson out of the apartment.

Teleguz's current lawyers filed a clemency request with McAuliffe, among other things arguing that courts have never fully examined new evidence pointing to his innocence. They say 2 prosecution witnesses admitted "that they testified falsely in exchange for leniency in their own cases, and have no reason to think Teleguz was involved in the murder-for-hire."

His lawyers say that 1 of the witnesses has been deported, and the other was told he would lose his release date if he went back on his testimony.

In 2015, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that a lower court judge held an evidentiary hearing in 2013 concerning the recantations. One recanter refused to testify and the other did not appear. "In other words, neither of the recanters testified in support of their recantations," said the appeals court.

Marsha L. Garst, the commonwealth's attorney for Rockingham County, has declined to comment on the case. However, the appeals court opinion noted: "Prosecutor Marsha Garst, whom (the recanters) accused of threatening them into testifying against Teleguz, appeared and testified that those accusations were false."

Some religious leaders urged McAuliffe to grant clemency and a Change.org petition in support of clemency has been signed by more than 114,000 people. Teleguz also has submitted written requests for clemency from thousands of supporters.

Earlier this week 3 former Virginia attorneys general - 2 of whom became opposed to the death penalty since leaving office - wrote to McAuliffe urging the death sentence be commuted, citing what they said was "unreliable investigative techniques, coercive tactics by both law enforcement and the prosecution, recantations of key trial witnesses and consideration of false testimony in support of a death sentence."

Virginia has executed 112 people since the death penalty was allowed to resume in 1976. Virginia governors have commuted eight death sentences during the same period.

(source: Daily Progress)

***************************

Governor commutes death sentence of Virginia inmate Ivan Teleguz

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe called a 3:30 p.m. press conference to make a public statement "regarding his review of Ivan Teleguz's petitions for a pardon and for commutation of his death sentence."

Teleguz was scheduled to be executed on April 25.

"As a result of the thorough review process that we have gone through I have decided to deny Mr. Teleguz's petition for a pardon," McAuliffe said. "However, I am commuting his capital sentence to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole."

"Mr. Teleguz will spend the rest of his life in a jail cell," McAuliffe added.

"What has come to light, however, in my review of the circumstances regarding his death sentence, is that the sentencing phase of his trial was terribly flawed and unfair," he said.

The governor said that false information was presented regarding an alleged murder and mob ties.

"Our judicial system is based upon fairness," McAuliffe said.

Teleguz, 38, was convicted in a 2001 murder-for-hire plot in Harrisonburg which involved ex-girlfriend Stephanie Sipe, a 20-year-old mother of a young child.

After the case went cold for years, evidence implicated Michael Hetrick as the person who committed the murder, and he, along with 2 others, implicated Mr. Teleguz as having paid for the murder of Sipe.

Prosecutors argued Teleguz ordered his ex-girlfriend murdered so he could avoid paying child support.

His attorneys have argued for years that Teleguz in an innocent man.

"2 witnesses critical to the prosecution's case have now admitted in sworn, written statements they lied at the trial," Peiffer Elizabeth, with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, said earlier this month. "They have no reason to believe that Mr. Teleguz was involved in this crime."

DNA evidence linked Hetrick to the crime, and he made a deal with prosecutors to testify against Teleguz in exchange for an agreement not to seek the death penalty. Hetrick was sentenced to life in prison for the crime; however, Teleguz was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

"American values demand that every person, no matter their crime, be given due process of law," McAuliffe said. "In this case, we now know that the jury acted on false information, and that it was driven by passions and fears raised - not from actual evidence introduced at trial - but from inference. To allow a sentence to stand based on false information and speculation is a violation of the very principles of justice our system holds dear."

(source: WTVR news)

FLORIDA:

Fla. Sheriff's Office Investigating Noose Sent to Black Prosecutor Who Refused to Pursue Death Penalty

The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida is investigating after a noose was mailed to the office of State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who announced last month that she won't pursue the death penalty in any case she handles during her tenure.

Orlando Weekly reports that Ayala's chief investigator, Eric Edwards, contacted sheriff's deputies with the court services division on March 28 and notified them that Ayala's downtown Orlando office had received 2 envelopes over the course of 2 weeks with disturbing messages.

From Orlando Weekly:

The state attorney's office employees opened the 1st envelope, received on March 20, and found a white piece of paper with the message, "SOONER OR LATER A NIGGER WILL BE A NIGGER" in black blocked letters. The envelope also contained 3 white business cards with the words "You are an Honorary Member of S.P.O.N.G.E." on one side and "Society for the Prevention of Niggers Getting Everything" on the other side. The 2nd envelope, received on March 28, contained an index card with a noose made of green twine taped to the card, according to the report.

Employees believed both envelopes may have been sent by the same person, but the Sheriff's Office says it has not been determined if they were sent by the same individual. Investigators said they would contact the postal inspector's office to see if they could conduct an inquiry into the origin of the messages, the report says.

According to the sheriff's report, Ayala was made aware of the envelopes and their contents, and she believes that not only was the noose meant to be a threat to her, but the March 20 envelope was meant as a racial message and could be a hate crime.

As previously reported on The Root, Ayala announced on March 16 that she would not pursue the death penalty in the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd or in any other case she handles while serving as a state attorney.

Ayala is the 1st black woman to be elected as a state attorney in Florida, and she received immediate backlash for her statements. A Seminole County clerk of the court posted on Facebook that Ayala should "get the death penalty" and be "tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree."

Gov. Rick Scott subsequently removed her from the Loyd case as well as 22 other 1st-degree murder cases with the reasoning that Ayala would not "fight for justice."

Ayala then sued Scott, claiming that his decision violated her constitutional rights, marred her reputation and deprived those who elected her "of the benefit of their votes" after he assigned her cases to another prosecutor.

Speaking about the noose mailed to her office, Ayala told WHPB, "I have gotten a lot of pushback. I received a noose that was mailed to my office. I received several types of derogatory and racist remarks to me, personally and professionally."

(source: theroot.com)

*********************

Accused triple killer hopes mental health claims keep him off death row

To spare him the death penalty, Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr.'s defense attorneys said they will rely on claims he was emotionally or mentally disturbed and under extreme duress if he is convicted of killing his wife, neighbor and local pastor.

Defense attorney Andrew Crawford told Circuit Judge Diana Moreland on Thursday morning that as part of Avalos' intended insanity defense, he planned to rely on mental health claims during the penalty phase should a jury convict him of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in an effort to keep him off death row.

If convicted, Avalos, 36, will face either the death penalty or an automatic life.

The case is set to go to trial beginning May 8, as all involved wait to see how the Florida Supreme Court will rule on a pending appeal the defense filed earlier this month seeking to stop the state from seeking the death penalty.

On Dec. 4, 2014, detectives say Avalos hung his wife, Amber Avalos, 33, from a cord in the laundry room of their Northwest Bradenton home, beat her and then shot her dead. He then shot and killed his neighbor Denise Potter, 46, who had been visiting their home at the time.

Afterward, investigators say Avalos dropped off his then 4-year-old son off at day care, drove to the Walmart Supercenter on State Road 64 East, left his vehicle and took a taxi to Bayshore Baptist Church, 6502 14th St. W., where he shot and killed Rev. James "Tripp" Battle, 31, according to investigators and witnesses.

Avalos was arrested Dec. 6, 2014, after a 51-hour manhunt led by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and a public plea from his father begging him to turn himself in for the sake of his 6 children. After his arrest, Avalos is reported to have given detectives a detailed confession.

The statement of particulars filed Wednesday regarding Avalos' mental health also states that he was too impaired to recognize his actions were illegal or to alter his behavior to stop himself from breaking the law.

Paranoid schizophrenia, delusional disorder and mild neurocognitive disorder, as well as an abnormal PET scan of the brain and reduced cognitive emotional and personality controls based on abnormal brain functioning, are also listed as factors that will be used by the defense should Avalos be found guilty of the slayings.

(source: bradenton.com)

LOUISIANA----death row inmate exonerated

Louisiana Man Who Spent 3 Years on Death Row Has Murder Charge Dismissed

Louisiana has dismissed all charges against a man who spent several years on death row after the his infant son died in 2012, in a case that drew national attention to a parish that sentenced young black men to death at an unusually high rate.

Rodricus Crawford, 28, a resident of Caddo Parish, La., in the northwestern corner of the state, was sentenced to death in 2013 after prosecutors argued that he had suffocated his son. But Louisiana's supreme court threw out his conviction in November after finding that the jury selection in his case may have been racially biased. Mr. Crawford was released from prison later that month.

In a statement announcing that it would not retry Mr. Crawford, the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office acknowledged evidence suggesting that at the time of death, his son had pneumonia and bacteria in his blood that indicated sepsis. The state said that it could not meet the burden of proof to gain a new conviction for Mr. Crawford.

Cecilia Kappel, one of Mr. Crawford's lawyers, described him in an interview on Thursday as someone who should never have been facing such a stark sentence to begin with.

"They can't even justify prosecuting this guy for negligent homicide, let alone capital murder," she said. "It shows the arbitrariness of the death penalty. "Now he's having to start from zero at 28 years old," she added.

From 2010 to 2014, among counties with 4 or more death sentences, more people were sentenced to to be executed per capita in Caddo Parish than in any other county in the United States. Many of those cases were prosecuted by Dale Cox, whose conduct attracted national interest after he told The Shreveport Times in a 2015 interview that Louisiana should "kill more people."

Mr. Cox, who returned to the district attorney's office full-time in 2011 and became the parish's acting district attorney in 2015, prosecuted 4 of the 16 people sent to death row from Caddo Parrish in those years.

Mr. Cox, who could not be reached for comment, gained a reputation for inflammatory comments and behavior inside and outside the courtroom, and was even accused of threatening opposing lawyers. In Mr. Crawford's case, according to The New Yorker, he wrote a letter to state's probation department asking that the convicted man be forced to endure "as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies."

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, who has tracked Mr. Crawford's case closely, said that Mr. Cox's behavior could not be understood outside the context of Caddo Parish, pointing toward the county's long history of lynchings and to a monument to the Confederacy that sits right outside its courthouse, as well as its brief status as a Confederate capital. He said a Confederate flag continued to fly on the monument as recently as 2011.

"When 1 black juror expressed his displeasure at that, he was excused for cause," Mr. Dunham said, referring to a case that was not Mr. Crawford's. "They found that his objection to the Confederate flag was reason enough for him not to serve on a jury."

Caddo Parish even captured the attention of the United States Supreme Court. In a 2016 dissent to a ruling on another Caddo Parish case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the parish "imposes almost half the death sentences in Louisiana, even though it accounts for only 5 % of that state's population and 5 % of its homicides."

"Given these facts," he continued, the defendant in the case in question, "may well have received the death penalty not because of the comparative egregiousness of his crime, but because of an arbitrary feature of his case, namely, geography."

(source: New York Times)

ARKANSAS----execution

Arkansas Executes 1st Inmate In 12 Years----Ledell Lee died by lethal injection Thursday just minutes before his death warrant expired.

Arkansas carried out its 1st execution in 12 years on Thursday night following a flurry of court filings.

Ledell Lee, 51, was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. CDT, just minutes before his death warrant expired. Lee had no last words, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Lee is 1 of 8 men the state originally wanted to execute over 11 days before the supply of 1 of the drugs in its 3-part lethal injection protocol expires at month’s end. Four of the inmates have received individual stays of execution.

Throughout his more than 2 decades on death row, Lee maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese in her Jacksonville home.

Lee's execution came after a flurry of last-minute appeals for more time to test DNA evidence that his lawyers hoped could exonerate him. The Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Lee in his final court battles.

"Ledell Lee proclaimed his innocence from the day of his arrest until the night of his execution 24 years later," the Innocence Project said in a statement following Lee's execution. "During that time, hundreds of innocent people have been freed from our nation's prisons and death rows by DNA evidence. It is hard to understand how the same government that uses DNA to prosecute crimes every day could execute Mr. Lee without allowing him a simple DNA test."

It added: "While reasonable people can disagree on whether death is an appropriate form of punishment, no one should be executed when there is a possibility that person is innocent."

Lee's attorneys had raced to court Thursday with a string of filings that raised various issues about Lee's trials and his representation over the years. Among them, attorneys noted that Lee's lawyers in his 1st trial provided inadequate counsel and that the presiding judge didn't disclose an affair with the assistant prosecutor, whom the judge later married. Lee's post-conviction counsel showed up in court appearing drunk and slurring his words.

Lee's current attorneys further argued that Lee had an intellectual disability, which made him ineligible for the death penalty under the Constitution.

Other legal petitions surrounded Arkansas's use of midazolam, the controversial sedative that has been blamed for botched executions in states including Arizona and Oklahoma, and others questioned the state's hasty execution schedule, which shortened the defendants' time for measures such as clemency reviews.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals voted against granting Lee clemency Thursday.

Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court's newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, voted with the 5-4 majority that refused to reverse the 8th Circuit's decision to allow the execution to take place.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who was in favor of granting Lee a stay, lamented that Arkansas's driving factor - the expiration date of the drugs - seemed arbitrary.

"Arkansas set out to execute 8 people over the course of 11 days. Why these 8? Why now?" Breyer wrote. "The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior. It has nothing to do with their mental state. It has nothing to do with the need for speedy punishment."

Lee's execution was first effectively put on hold Wednesday due to a temporary restraining order put in place by a Pulaski County Circuit judge. The judge blocked the state from using its supply of pancuronium bromide, the second drug in the state's 3-drug cocktail. The drug supplier objected to the drug's use in executions and said the state misleadingly obtained its product and refused to return it despite being refunded by the supplier.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court lifted the judge's restraining order.

Just before 7 p.m., when Lee's execution was scheduled to take place, the 8th Circuit issued a temporary stay - followed later by a temporary stay from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito - to take additional time to consider his case.

Alito's stay was set to expire at 9:30 p.m. or by a subsequent order, whichever was later. By 9:30 p.m., the 8th Circuit had denied all of Lee's requests, but Alito's stay remained in place pending the final order. The Arkansas Department of Corrections said the lethal injections were started at 11:44 p.m., and Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. with no reported complications in the execution process.

An ADC spokesman told The Associated Press that Lee requested Holy Communion as his last meal.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) had aggressively sought Lee's execution and called his death a "lawful sentence ... carried out."

"The family of the late Debra Reese, who was brutally murdered with a tire thumper after being targeted because she was home alone, has waited more than 24 years to see justice done. I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family," Rutledge said in a statement.

(source: Huffington Post)

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Dozens Protest Executions Outside Governor's Mansion

Dozens gathered outside the Governor's Mansion Thursday night to protest the scheduled execution of death row inmate, Ledell Lee.

Members of church groups and the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty held signs and a candlelight vigil. With each hour, the crowds stood in a circle saying a prayer - as the future of Lee's life was still unknown. Many staying until shortly before midnight, when Lee was officially pronounced dead.

Furonda Brasfield, with the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty announced the crowds disappointment saying, "We were also dismayed that our governing officials wouldn't allow the innocence claims to be fully explored." She continues, "we could have very well, have executed an innocent man tonight, but we will never know that now."

The group is planning to be outside the mansion next Monday for the next scheduled execution.

(source: arkansasmatters.com)

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Arkansas's Legal Saga Illustrates Problems With Death Penalty

The practical and legal difficulties that have frustrated Arkansas's plan to execute 8 prisoners in 10 days are a vivid example of the troubled state of the death penalty.

"The ship has far too many leaks, large and small, to reach its destination reliably," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. "The Arkansas example vividly shows the courts scrambling to patch some of them at the last second."

1 of the difficulties facing Arkansas and other states is practical: the lethal chemicals used to execute death row inmates are getting harder and harder to find. Another is legal: courts in even conservative states like Arkansas, which has not executed anyone since 2005, are receptive to claims from the defense lawyers who make every available argument to spare their clients' lives, even temporarily.

But the biggest obstacle may be cultural: Support for the death penalty, as measured by use, is at its lowest point since the United States Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

American courts imposed 30 death sentences last year, down from 315 in 1996, the largest number in recent decades. Similarly, there were just 20 executions in 2016, a decline from the 98 executions in 1999, the highest in the modern era.

Last month, in discussing Arkansas's plan to execute inmates at a pace without equal in modern American history, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, sounded a little sheepish.

"I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that's not the circumstances that I find myself in," he said.

In the weeks that followed, state and federal courts issued rulings blocking some of the executions based on the inmates' mental competence, DNA evidence, the clemency process, the chemicals to be used and how those chemicals were obtained. Some of those rulings have been stayed or reversed, and the welter of legal actions continues to grow more complicated by the hour.

The Supreme Court declined to step in late Monday night, effectively sparing the life of one inmate. Other executions were scheduled for Thursday, as well as Monday and Thursday next week.

The inmates were all found guilty of terrible crimes. In a Supreme Court brief, the state decried requests for stays of execution that it said were "nothing more than an attempt to prevent Arkansas from carrying out petitioners' execution decades after petitioners brutally took the lives of young mothers, children and men who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The reason for Arkansas's planned assembly line of executions struck some as unseemly: The state's supply of midazolam, 1 of the chemicals in its lethal injection protocol, was about to expire, and it was unsure whether it could get more.

In a brief, Arkansas officials blamed "anti-death-penalty activists" for the shortage, saying they had "a long history of keeping states from obtaining lethal drugs for use in lawful executions by subjecting manufacturers and suppliers to threats and intimidation."

When the Supreme Court heard arguments in 2015 in its last major death penalty case, Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel A. Alito seemed to agree, saying activists had engaged "in what amounts to a guerrilla war against the death penalty."

The upshot of those efforts, he said, was that "states are reduced to using drugs like" the sedative midazolam, "which give rise to disputes about whether, in fact, every possibility of pain is eliminated."

But at least some drug companies seem to be acting from moral conviction and economic self-interest in trying to prevent the use of their products in executions. For instance, McKesson Corporation, the nation's largest pharmaceutical distributor, sued to stop Arkansas from using 1 of its drugs.

Supporters of the death penalty expressed frustration over the issue.

"Execution is not difficult," said Kent S. Scheidegger, a lawyer with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "The single-drug protocol with a barbiturate works very well. Texas has used it dozens of times without incident. That is how veterinarians euthanize animals every day."

"The problem," he said, "is that the anti-death-penalty crowd has successfully pressured the suppliers of these drugs to cut off the supply."

In turning to drugs like midazolam, some judges have found, states took the risk of subjecting condemned inmates to excruciating pain. In February, dissenting from the Supreme Court's decision not to hear an Alabama death row inmate's appeal, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that there is scientific and anecdotal evidence to question the use of midazolam in executions.

"Like a hangman's poorly tied noose or a malfunctioning electric chair," she wrote, "midazolam might render our latest method of execution too much for our conscience - and the Constitution - to bear."

The Arkansas experience exposed a 2nd facet of death penalty litigation, the inevitable flurry of last-minute appeals before any scheduled execution. With 8 men initially scheduled to die, the flurry became a blizzard.

That was unsurprising and necessary, death penalty defense lawyers said. They owe their clients zealous representation, they said, and must press every reasonable argument.

"No one case is exactly the same," said Scott Braden, an assistant federal defender in Little Rock who represents several of the Arkansas inmates. "They don't come out of a mold exactly the same, so every case has to be approached differently and sometimes what's in the best interest of one client may not be in the best interest of another."

He said the task required flexibility, resourcefulness and stamina. "You can be in the county court of a state in the morning, and by the afternoon," he said, "you're in the United States Supreme Court."

Joshua Marquis, a prosecutor in Astoria, Ore., said the death penalty is the right punishment in at least some cases and that many Americans agree.

"While Arkansas's plan to execute that many inmates may have been too ambitious," he said, "in 2016 voters in states as diverse as California and Nebraska rejected calls to repeal their state’s death penalties."

Professor Freedman agreed, up to a point.

"The Supreme Court contemplates, and many members of the public would support, a speedy system that reliably identified a small group of the morally worst killers and put those few people to death humanely," he said.

But he added that "the institutions we actually have are incapable of achieving any part of that ideal."

(source: New York Times)

************************

In Arkansas, a rush to kill

The bankruptcy of the death penalty is on full display in Arkansas this week.

State officials there are rushing to execute 7 men within 10 days. This potential flurry of state-ordered killings isn't happening because there's a significant chance the seven men pose any sort of danger in prison, or that they are on the verge of escaping and committing violence throughout the land.

The reason Arkansas planned to go on a binge of unnecessary killings? The drug it uses in executions is about to expire and the state may not be able to legally buy more.

In 21st century America, a man's fate could be determined by the "If used by" date stamped on the side of a bottle. Courts have stepped in and delayed the state's plans, which were to have been implemented beginning this past Monday. That Arkansas tried to do this at all, as disturbing as the plan was, has provided the nation an invaluable gift by making plain the immorality of the death penalty.

State-ordered executions are not an effective deterrent of potential crime. They don't save lives on some undetermined future date by being carried out today.

A state-ordered execution is not a weapon of last resort - because the state has other options. A life spent in prison, whether in solitary confinement or the general population, is stiff punishment for any crime.

In other words, there is no compelling reason to spend years, or decades, and millions of taxpayer dollars to end a man's life as punishment for his having ended another's.

Not only are the killings unnecessary and ineffective, they represent the final word in a system long known to be fatally flawed. There are no do-overs. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that at least 4 percent of the people sentenced to death have been innocent. But that's not the only reason the death penalty is bankrupt.

The system will never be about true justice or equality as long as men and women are more likely to end up on death row based upon the color of their skin, the race of their victim and the size of their bank account than their guilt or innocence. Those are problems endemic throughout the criminal justice system but particularly egregious on death row, given the finality of an execution.

In the case of the Arkansas 7, a Harvard report noted several of the men have serious mental health problems and had inadequate representation at trial. One of the men, Don Davis, believes he is about to go on a "special mission as an evangelist" instead of being tied down and having poisons pushed into his veins.

Arkansas's decision to rush executions on the flimsy basis of expiring drugs seems absurd in the extreme. The truth is, though, that this country has long committed to killing people for no good reason. Arkansas is not an anomaly.

(source: Editorial, Charlotte Observer)

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Conservatives Stymied by Latest Arkansas Execution Setback----Arkansas' attempt to carry out its 1st execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its 1st execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, 2 days after justices stayed the executions of 2 other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute 8 men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty proponents wondering how much longer executions will remain in a holding pattern.

"I have ultimate respect for the court and I'm not going to question individual decisions but I would say there is frustration among the Legislature as to the court's continued refusal to allow an execution to go through," said Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. 1 of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.

The candidates backed by the conservative groups won both races. One of those winners voted for Monday's night stay.

The three stays, along with one granted earlier, have whittled down the execution list to four, unless the U.S. Supreme Court allows Arkansas to move ahead with Stacey Johnson's Thursday execution. Arkansas officials are trying to carry out the executions before their supply of midazolam, one of the execution drugs used, expires at the end of April.

It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political fallout for the court. Only 1 of the 7 justices is up for election next year, and judicial rules prevent candidates from announcing their bids until next month. Polling has shown strong support for the death penalty in Arkansas.

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice last year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her. The groups accused her of being close to trial attorneys and for the court's decision to strike down Arkansas' voter ID law. None of the campaign material mentioned the death penalty.

But while Goodson voted to stay the 3 executions, so did the conservative-backed candidate who beat her in the chief justice race, Dan Kemp. Goodson had touted her commitment to conservative values, while Kemp said in a campaign ad he would be guided by "prayer, not politics."

The other 2 justices who favored stopping the executions were Robin Wynne, who was touted as tough on child predators when he was elected in 2014, and Josephine Linker Hart, who ran as a "no-nonsense judge" in 2012.

The court had indicated earlier this year that it might view the death penalty more favorably, ruling to allow Arkansas to keep many details of its lethal injection drugs secret. The court also barred an anti-death penalty circuit judge from participation in cases or laws involving the issue.

The court hasn't explained its reasoning in any of its one-page stay-of-execution orders for the three inmates. Attorneys for Bruce Ward and Don Davis, who had faced lethal injection Monday night, said the executions should be put off until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending case involving inmates' access to independent mental health experts. Johnson's attorneys have sought more DNA testing that they say could exonerate him.

1 of the 3 dissenting judges issued a blistering criticism of Monday's ruling sparing the 1st 2 condemned inmates.

"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law," wrote Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival last year was also targeted by conservative groups. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law."

Another justice objecting to the rulings, Rhonda Wood, wrote in a dissent that Wednesday's stay "gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court."

The situation is a familiar one for Rebecca Petty, whose daughter's killer was granted a reprieve by federal courts hours before his execution in 2004.

"I just feel like, once again, these families have been re-victimized," said Petty, now a state representative, who said she was stunned by the latest ruling.

(source: US News & World Report)

MISSOURI:

Mother of Hailey Owens asks prosecutor to drop death penalty

The mother of Hailey Owens said this week she does not want to sit through a trial.

The News-Leader reported earlier this year that Craig Wood - the man accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering 10-year-old Hailey in 2014 - is willing to spend the rest of his life in prison if, in exchange, the Greene County prosecutor drops his pursuit of the death penalty.

Stacey Barfield, Hailey's mom, told the News-Leader on Tuesday she wants prosecutors to take that deal.

"I don't want to go through the trial because I don't want to relive the nightmare," Barfield said. "I'm never going to be over it, but just re-seeing it is going to make it 10 times worse."

Wood is accused of snatching Hailey off the street in west Springfield on Feb. 18, 2014. Her body was allegedly found hours later wrapped up in his basement.

Sitting through even the routine pretrial court appearances over the last three years has been tough for Barfield.

"It's hard enough to sit there and have to look at him," Barfield said. "He doesn't have no emotion. He just sits there with a blank face."

Barfield sent a letter to Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson on April 1 asking him to accept a plea deal.

"I am writing to request your mercy," Barfield wrote. "Mercy for me, for my family, and for the memory of my daughter, Hailey Owens."

"You have the power to end my suffering," she continued. "Please accept a plea deal for life without the possibility of parole in Craig Wood's case. Then, I can focus on rebuilding my life."

Barfield said Tuesday she had not heard back from Patterson on the letter.

Patterson has said ethics rules prohibit him from publicly discussing possible plea negotiations.

He told the News-Leader in February he has a number of factors to weigh in death penalty cases including input from the victim's family, the facts of the case, the defendant and the interests of the community and the state.

Barfield had deferred to her husband Jeff to make public comments for much of the last three years, but she is now taking on that role after separating from Jeff - who was indicted in February on a federal child porn charge unrelated to Hailey's case.

She said the state legislature is close to passing Hailey's Law, which would streamline the Amber Alert process, and she expects to reach a settlement soon in her civil lawsuit against Wood.

The criminal case, which is set for trial in October, is what gives Stacey Barfield the most anxiety at this point.

Barfield said if Wood is sentenced to death, it would likely mean years of appeals and more time spent in court, which is something she would rather avoid.

"I would be happy just to get justice for Hailey and just say 'OK, it's a done deal' and I don't have to sit in court no more and look at him," Barfield said.

Asked what justice would mean, Barfield said: "I want Craig Wood to not be able to see sunlight, to not be able to go out into public."

Barfield said she will never be able to forgive Wood, but she wants to focus on the joy of Hailey's life instead of her tragic death.

Wood, 48, has been charged with kidnapping, rape and murder in connection with Hailey's death on Feb. 18, 2014.

Springfield police say the girl's body was found wrapped in garbage bags in Wood's basement, hours after witnesses saw someone matching Wood's description grab Hailey off the street near her home.

A march and vigil for slain 10-year-old Hailey Owens drew thousands of people in 2014.

4 days after Hailey's death, an estimated 10,000 people marched in a candlelight vigil on Commercial Street in Springfield. The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, where the march ended, was illuminated in purple, Hailey's favorite color.

Many others in Springfield left their porch lights on in memory of Hailey and donated to her memorial fund.

Wood took the stand briefly during a pretrial court appearance last year, and during cross-examination, he said he was high on meth during the time frame in which he is accused of abducting and killing Hailey.

Much of the recent court proceedings in the case have dealt with mental evaluations for Wood, and what rights prosecutors have to see notes from psychologists and to have their own psychologist interview Wood.

In Jefferson City, Stacey Barfield has teamed up with Wood's parents, Jim and Regina Wood, to advocate for legislation that would speed up Missouri's Amber Alerts, which are issued for abducted children.

(source: Springfield News-Leader)

OKLAHOMA:

State may seek death penalty for man accused of killing Logan Co. Deputy

The man accused of shooting and killing Logan County Deputy David Wade made his 1st court appearance Thursday, April 20, at 1:30 p.m.

According to the Logan County District Attorney Laura Thomas, that state may seek the death penalty for Nathan Aaron Leforce.

Leforce, 45, is accused of shooting deputy Wade multiple times around 8:45 a.m. on April 18 at a home near CR 66 and Midwest Boulevard while the deputy was serving an eviction notice. Leforce then allegedly stole Wade's vehicle and fled the scene.

Wade was airlifted to OU Medical Center following the shooting, where he later died.

Leforce was taken into custody just after 2 p.m. Tuesday in an outbuilding near a residence close to the intersection of CR 76 and Jaxton Road.

Sheriff Devereaux says Leforce is currently being held in the Payne County Jail .

Leforce is facing a charge of 1st-degree-murder.

Investigators have yet to find the gun used to kill deputy Wade, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. OSBI agents, Logan County Sheriff's deputies, Payne County Sheriff's deputies, Cashion Police officers, ATF agents and OHP troopers are scattered about the area of the incident Thursday morning searching for the weapon.

(source: okcfox.com)

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska senators debate lethal injection secrecy bill

A proposal that would let Nebraska officials hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers drew criticism Wednesday from death penalty opponents but support from lawmakers who say the state needs it to resume executions.

It was unclear whether the bill had enough support to overcome a filibuster, but the senator who introduced it said he believes he has a decent chance to advance it through the Legislature.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell said the bill seeks to protect drug makers who would otherwise face public harassment from death penalty opponents. Commonly used lethal injection drugs have become scarce because many North American and European pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell drugs for use in executions.

"I believe the harm created by this disclosure far outweighs any alleged benefit," said Kuehn, a veterinarian who said he has faced drug shortages in his practice.

Lawmakers began debate on the bill Wednesday but adjourned for the day without voting on it.

Kuehn said concealing the supplier's identity would allow Nebraska officials to purchase drugs from a domestic supplier, such as a compounding pharmacy, to circumvent the problems associated with importing overseas drugs.

Kuehn said he never wanted to deal with capital punishment when he ran for office, but he views the loss of legitimate drugs as too great a problem. He said the supplier's identity was irrelevant to the drugs' quality.

"I truly do believe this is an issue of social justice," he said.

Opponents said the state should keep its current transparent process that requires the Department of Correctional Services to disclose its suppliers.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a staunch death penalty opponent, predicted the bill would trigger new appeals and that the courts would make "mincemeat" out of it. Chambers said death penalty supporters should blame themselves for the drug shortage.

"They took something that was wholesome, something designed to promote health, and turned it into a killing substance," Chambers said.

Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes has said he has already started to look for drugs to carry out executions, but told a legislative committee in February that it would be "very difficult" to acquire them if the department was forced to identify its suppliers.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, 15 have enacted similar shield laws.

Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a new lethal injection protocol in January that gives the Department of Correctional Services greater flexibility to choose which drugs are used in executions. An early draft of the protocol included a secrecy provision, but Frakes said department officials removed it after deciding they first needed legislative approval.

Voters signaled their support for the death penalty last year when they overturned the Legislature's 2015 decision to abolish capital punishment. The issue was placed on the ballot through a referendum partially financed by Ricketts, who supports capital punishment.

Death penalty supporters portrayed the vote as a mandate for state officials to resume executions. Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, using the electric chair. The state has 10 men on death row, but has never carried out the punishment with lethal injection.

"We do not have the right to obstruct justice, and that is what is happening here," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. Defendants sentenced to death "are the worst of the worst of the human race. They chose their fate."

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Omaha, a death penalty opponent, said voters never specified whether they supported concealing suppliers' identities.

(source: York News-Times)

CALIFORNIA:

California's death row turning into home for seniors

California's death row houses more senior citizens than most of the state's nursing homes.

90 California death-row inmates are at least 65 years old, corrections records show. The number of seniors on death row has grown by nearly 500 % since early 2006, when the state housed 16 seniors.

California has not executed a prisoner since 2006, largely due to legal challenges to its lethal injection protocol. California voters approved Proposition 66 in November, demanding that the state speed up the death penalty process. The implementation of Proposition 66 is on hold as the Supreme Court rules on its constitutionality.

If California starts executing prisoners again, there is a strong chance that it will kill several elderly inmates. Condemned inmates over 65 committed their crimes an average of 31 years ago; a large number of their sentences have been upheld by the California Supreme Court.

Executing the elderly rarely happens in the United States. Just 19 of the 1,448 U.S. executions that have taken place during the last 40 years have involved a killer over the age of 65, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

California currently has - by a wide margin - the highest number of seniors on death row. About 12 % of the state's 749 condemned inmates are at least 65. In the 4 other states with the largest death rows - Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Alabama - about 7 % of condemned inmates are at least 65.

The oldest person executed in the modern era was John Nixon, who was 77 when Mississippi killed him in 2005. 5 condemned inmates in California are older than Nixon.

(source: sacbee.com)

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Is California ready for frequent executions?

There's 1 item on my reporting bucket list I never did check off - witnessing an execution. I came very close once, even getting a tour of the gas chamber.

The condemned inmate was David Lawson, convicted of shooting Wayne Shinn in the back of the head during a home break-in. I talked to Shinn's family and covered Lawson's news conference when he blamed depression for driving him to murder and urged other mentally ill people to get help. "I desperately want my death to have meaning," he said. "I am no monster."

Lawson became a national story because he and TV talk show host Phil Donahue wanted his execution to be the 1st one televised in the United States. So at first, I was disappointed that another reporter was chosen as a witness.

But after what happened at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., in June 1994, I was relieved. As the cyanide was pumped in, Lawson yelled, "I'm human, I'm human," and screamed for 5 minutes before convulsing, gasping and, finally, going still.

I've been thinking about that as I follow the news that Arkansas plans an unusual spree of executions. Originally, it was 8 in 11 days, and was to have started with 2 on Monday. After a frenzy of court rulings, it's now at least four executions by the end of the month, with the 1st set for Thursday night, barring more legal action.

Could it be a preview of what's to come in California?

Our state has had no executions since 2006, and only 13 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Meanwhile, death row has mushroomed to 749 prisoners, twice as many as any other state.

But last November, voters called for speeding up executions. To completely empty death row, it would take 1 execution a day, every day, for nearly 2 years.

Are we really prepared for anything close to that?

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, says he expects 1 or 2 executions a month, and doesn't expect any drop in public support as a result.

I'm not so sure. After executions resumed in 1992, we've had them at least 2 months apart. And many Californians are ambivalent about the death penalty. The message from recent statewide measures seems to be: Keep capital punishment on the books, but don't actually execute anyone.

In November, a bare majority of 51 % approved Proposition 66, which is supposed to speed executions by streamlining court appeals. (The state Supreme Court put the measure on hold for now after death penalty opponents sued.)

Yet also in November, voters rejected Proposition 62 to repeal the death penalty by a 53 % to 47 % margin, slightly more than the 52 % who opposed a similar measure, Proposition 34, in 2012.

Especially in a few Southern California counties, voters are also electing district attorneys who are putting more people on death row. Even as death sentences have plummeted in recent years nationally, California has had the most, with 14 of 49 death sentences in 2015 and 9 of 32 in 2016.

Public support for the death penalty is persistent despite studies that show it is unfair and racially discriminatory. In California, very similar crimes can lead to a death sentence in one county but not in another. Not to mention the possibility of innocent people being executed; nationwide, more than 150 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

What is happening in Arkansas drew so much attention because it would be so out of the ordinary. The number of executions has been declining across America, and a state hasn't executed multiple prisoners on the same day for 16 years. Until now, Arkansas had executed only 27 inmates since 1976, nowhere near the leading state, Texas with 542.

No question, the crimes committed by the condemned inmates in Arkansas are horrible, and the families of their victims have been waiting a long time for justice. Jack Jones, on death row for 22 years, was convicted of raping and killing a bookkeeper and beating her daughter. Marcel Williams, sentenced 20 years ago, was convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 22-year-old mother of 2. They’re both scheduled for execution on Monday.

But the reason for the sudden rush is that the state's supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of the month. That is a strangely mundane justification on something this momentous.

The drug in question, midazolam, has been linked to several botched executions. The companies that make the others are suing to stop Arkansas from using their drugs, and a judge sided with one on Wednesday.

Because of all the problems with lethal drugs, some states have brought back the gas chamber, electric chair and even the firing squad. California is proposing a new lethal injection protocol that gives the warden at San Quentin the power to choose 1 of 4 barbiturates, including 2 that have never been used before in the U.S.

States moved to lethal drugs in part because it would be more clinical, but it hasn't always turned out that way. The last time a state sought to execute more than 1 inmate in a day was in 2014 in Oklahoma. It canceled the 2nd one after the 1st writhed in pain during the botched lethal injection and was left to die of a heart attack.

In theory, finally carrying out sentences against evil people sounds appealing, especially when you see and hear the loved ones of victims.

But in real life, executions can be gruesome. And no matter how common they might become, it's killing in our name.

(source: Opinion, Foon Rhee----Sacramento Bee)

USA:

US regulators block Texas, Arizona over import of execution drug----Texas sued in January for the drug's release, saying in its lawsuit that it was importing the sodium thiopental for legal executions.

A US regulatory agency told Texas and Arizona that more than a thousand vials of drugs they ordered for executions in their states from India in 2015, and seized by US Customs, will not be released to them, an official said on Thursday. The Food and Drug Administration notified the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections that their confiscated shipments of sodium thiopental have been refused on the basis that the detained drugs appear to be unapproved new drugs and misbranded drugs, FDA press officer Lyndsay Meyer said.

Officials in Arizona were not immediately available for comment. "It has taken almost 2 years for the Food and Drug Administration to reach a decision, which we believe is flawed. TDCJ fully complied with the steps necessary to lawfully import the shipment," the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a statement. "We are exploring all options to remedy the unjustified seizure," it said. Arizona officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas sued in January for the drug's release, saying in its lawsuit that it was importing the sodium thiopental for legal executions. Sodium thiopental renders a person unconscious and was a staple of lethal injection mixes but has not been made in the United States for several years. "Texas appears to be trying to carve out an exception for this 1 purpose (using the drug in a lethal injection)," said Megan McCracken, an expert on lethal injection drugs and a professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. About 6 years ago, major pharmaceutical companies began imposing bans on sales of their products for use in executions, which left death penalty states scrambling to come up with new mixes and suppliers.

Many have turned to a less powerful, Valium-like sedative called midazolam to render prisoners unconscious. It has been used in troubled executions in Oklahoma and Arizona where inmates who were supposed to be insensate were seen twisting in pain on death chamber gurneys. Nebraska, South Dakota, Ohio, Arizona and Texas tried to import sodium thiopental from India between 2010 and 2015, according to court records and news media reports, but federal regulators blocked the moves. Previous attempts to import the drug have also been blocked by federal courts after challenges from death row inmates. The last major case was decided in 2013.

(source: Reuters)

*****************

In a civilized society the death penalty is an abomination

The obscene manner in which Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is racing towards what observers call "conveyor belt executions" - putting 8 murderers to death in 10 days, 4 of them blacks in a state where African Americans are under 14 % of the population - has drawn not just understandable condemnation but also has added fuel to the fire of opposition to capital punishment.

Courts including the U.S. Supreme Court, have temporarily halted the executions, 2 of which were scheduled for last Monday night, not because of concerns for the imposition of the death penalty itself but because of the manner in which it is being conducted.

The most common method is by injecting drugs into the veins of the condemned person through a drug "cocktail." Arkansas is running out of the drugs to do so, hence the haste, and they are partly stymied by lawsuits filed by pharmaceutical companies that want their products to save lives, not take them.

Other cases focusing on the death penalty have challenged its constitutionality - whether it is cruel and unusual. The U.S. Supreme Court, in fact, issued rulings which, in 1972, effectively abolished capital punishment but reinstated it in 1976. And while many exonerations have taken place because of racial bias in convictions and sentencing, that in itself has not led to any ruling that outlaws the death penalty. Of all the arguments against executions, the most compelling is racial bias in the criminal justice system, regarded by some as a direct legacy of slavery.

The Death Penalty Information Center reported that since 1976, 498 blacks were put to death or 34.5 % of the total, although African Americans are only 13 % of the population. In the same period, 807 whites were executed, or 55.6 %, although whites are more than 70 % of the population.

The number of blacks awaiting execution is more than 1,215 or 41.67 % of the total, compared with 1,226 whites or 42.23 %. Florida has the 2nd largest number of death row inmates after California: 395, of whom 153 are blacks, although blacks are less than 17% of the population.

In addition, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that: * Blacks are 7 times more likely than whites to be convicted of murder.

* Blacks convicted of murder are roughly 50 % more likely to be innocent than others.

This high rate of conviction is linked to the race of the victims: white.

Further, according to a New York Times report on Sept. 7, 1991, whites are rarely executed for killing blacks: A white person convicted of killing a black man was executed a day earlier - the 1st in at least 1,000 executions in more than 50 years.

And the Guardian reported on Jan. 3, 2012, that, in Alabama, 80 % of death sentences were handed down against blacks in the case of white victims.

Such statistics alone should be enough to abolish the death penalty Americans have persisted in clinging to ever since George Kendall of the Jamestown colony in Virginia became the 1st person executed in 1608. Down the years, people were put to death even for petty crimes such as "stealing grapes, killing chickens and trading with Indians," according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Imposition of the death penalty has long since become a matter for states and it is used mostly in cases of murder; only a small number of offences come under federal prosecution.

Nations' killing their subjects dates back to at least the 18th century B.C., according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and the practice came to the United States with European settlers. Opposition arose not long afterwards.

Public support has been declining over years and today 19 states have abolished the death penalty. The number of people sentenced to die and the number executed have dropped sharply.

Still, all that has done is dropping the United States from 5th to 7th place in the world among nations that execute their citizens - in the company of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt, according to Amnesty International.

Although 140 countries have abolished capital punishment, the U.S. has refused to ratify any international treaty outlawing the death penalty and is the only nation in the West and in the Americas to execute people.

Whatever the reasons for the decline, it is absolutely ridiculous for a government to tell citizens not to kill and then turn around and kill those who do. And it is totally impossible to conceive of a more barbaric spectacle than a group of people gathered together to watch that happen.

(source: Opinion, Mohamed Hamaludin, South Florida Times)

********************

Will a conservative Supreme Court give new life to the death penalty?

For years now, the death penalty's days have seemed numbered.

Death sentences and executions are in decline. And some current Supreme Court justices have been pushing the court to revisit the constitutionality of capital punishment.

But with the election of President Donald Trump, the future of the court fell into the hands of a man firmly in favor of the death penalty. Indeed, in 1989, Trump took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times demanding blood for blood. "Muggers and murderers should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes," it read.

With the recent installation of conservative jurist Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and more opportunities for Trump to fill vacancies likely on the horizon, the court now seems on the verge of a rightward political turn. It now seems unlikely that it will end the death penalty anytime soon.

Has capital punishment in the United States been granted an indefinite stay?

Not necessarily. Even if the court veers right, states legislatures can still decide to abandon the death penalty if lawmakers sense a sea change in public opinion.

Right now, such a change seems unlikely. Support for the death penalty has waned in recent years, but it has not yet reached a tipping point. For example, voters in liberal California recently declined to abolish that state's death penalty.

But the recent battle over same-sex marriage shows us that longstanding public opinion on a contentious issue can swing dramatically in a short period of time.

So what might it take for the trickle of skepticism about the death penalty to become a deluge?

Consensus against the death penalty might be achieved by making arguments that validate, rather than attack, conservative values. In recent years, a new strain of anti-death penalty conservatism - previously an oxymoron - has emerged in American political life. Groups like Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty make the case that capital punishment violates conservative values by pointing to "the 3 i's" - inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy.

Some longstanding death penalty opponents have also changed their tune, moving from a humanitarian to a more pragmatic, fiscally conservative case against the death penalty. When cash-strapped states buckled under the financial pressure of the 2008 recession, abolitionists shrewdly began pointing to the enormous cost of maintaining the death penalty when other alternatives are cheaper.

But as financial pressures ease, this kind of criticism may lose its edge. Another conservative-minded approach may prove more effective in the years to come, one that appeals to hearts rather than wallets.

To many supporters of capital punishment, the value of the death penalty lies in the therapeutic closure an execution is thought to bring to those devastated by the loss of a loved one to murder. The punishment is seen as cathartic. Recently, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited the need to provide closure to grieving family members in defense of his plan to execute eight inmates over four days this month.

But since the 1970s, capital punishment has failed to deliver closure to families in the vast majority of capital cases, as I write in my book on the modern history of the death penalty. More than 8,000 people have been sentenced to death since 1973. Of those, 1,448 have been executed. Rather than offering the promise of certain justice, a death sentence launches a tortuous, decade-long series of appeals. In 1 of the pending Arkansas cases, the daughter of the murder victim has traveled to the state's prison on four separate occasions to witness the execution of her mother's killer. Each time, the promise of closure was stymied by last-minute stays.

Research reveals that victims' kin suffer needlessly as a result of such uncertainty. For example, one study compared the experiences of grieving families in Minnesota, where the offenders were sentenced to life without parole, to those in Texas, where offenders were sentenced to death.

They found that grieving Minnesotans actually fared better than their Texan counterparts. The appeals process in Minnesota took 2 years. Their grief remained, but the resolution of the case meant that they could turn their energies toward healing. Forced to spend years in a legal labyrinth, on the other hand, Texans reported feelings of frustration, powerlessness and injustice.

In California, which has not had an execution in more than a decade, despite a death row population of about 750, a similar feeling has been in the air. 8 years ago, a bipartisan commission found that the "families of murder victims are cruelly deluded into believing that justice will be delivered with finality in their lifetimes."

As it becomes apparent that numerous efforts to speed up executions have failed, abolishing the death penalty may become a reasonable alternative for the loved ones of murder victims seeking peace.

For years, many viewed those opposed to the death penalty as insensitive to the needs of victims' family members. The value of life and the value of closure became locked in a zero sum game: the longer the condemned remained alive, the longer the grieving lived in limbo. As the front lines of the fight to abolish the death penalty seem poised to move from the Supreme Court to the court of public opinion, the most viable path forward for abolitionists may lie in an effort to demonstrate to Americans that the opposite is true.

(source: Daniel LaChance, Emory University; mysanantonio.com)

******************************

Why are executions stopped? Death penalty questions answered

Expect another long day of legal wrangling Thursday over Arkansas' plan to execute inmates in the coming week.

Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson were to be put to death Thursday night, but Johnson's execution was at least temporarily halted and Arkansas' ability to use 1 of its execution drugs was called into question. Lawyers for inmates filed multiple legal challenges to derail a plan that originally called for 8 men to be put to death before April 30, when Arkansas' supply of a sedative used in lethal injections expires.

On Monday, Don Davis won a reprieve from the state's top court a few hours before his scheduled execution, then waited almost until midnight to learn the Supreme Court would not allow the execution to proceed. While Davis had spent the past quarter century on death row, lawyers filed multiple emergency appeals at the 11th hour to try to spare his life.

WHY DO SUCH DELAYS TAKE PLACE?

Inmates can spend years, or even decades, appealing their convictions and death sentences in state and federal courts. The average time between sentencing and execution for prisoners executed in 2013 topped 15 years, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

By the time an execution takes place or is stopped, often after the inmate has been fed his intended final meal, 4 or more different courts are supposed to have examined the trial record, legal issues, newly discovered evidence, assertions of innocence and claims of constitutional violations.

And yet inmates plead with varying amounts of success that key elements of their case have never been examined by a court. Lawyers for Arkansas inmate Lee are working at both the state and federal level to get a court to block Lee's execution, scheduled for Thursday. Lee claims blood and hair evidence from his 1993 trial has never been tested and could help prove his innocence. In federal court, Lee said a string of incompetent lawyers failed to make the case that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible to be executed.

New issues also arise late in the process, including questions about execution drugs. On Wednesday, inmates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case challenging the use of a sedative used in flawed executions in other states and 1 of 3 drugs Arkansas plans to use in its executions. In 2015, justices upheld Oklahoma's execution protocol that used the same drug.

WHAT'S THE PROCESS?

The Supreme Court has the final say on almost every execution, and the justices reject all but a few emergency appeals by inmates.

The justices and their clerks know well in advance when executions are scheduled and where. A court official informally known as the death clerk keeps everyone up to date and communicates often with lawyers for inmates and the states as the date of execution nears.

As lawyers for condemned inmates press the case for delay in state and lower federal courts, the Supreme Court receives information about developments and, eventually, copies of those decisions.

Most often those lawyers press their arguments at the highest court in the country in a final attempt to save their clients' lives. Less often, it's the state that seeks permission to proceed after a lower court has blocked an execution. That's what happened Monday in Arkansas.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HIGH COURT?

When those appeals reach the Supreme Court, they go first to the justice who oversees the state in which the execution is scheduled. But death penalty appeals almost always are referred to the entire court.

The justices typically do not meet in person to discuss these cases, but confer by phone, and sometimes through their law clerks, according to the court's guide to emergency applications.

It takes 5 justices, a majority of the court, to issue a stay or lift one that has been imposed in another court. The overwhelming number of last-minute appeals are denied, and often without comment.

Occasionally, 1 or more justices will dissent from the decision to let the execution take place. Even more rarely, a justice will explain why.

(source: Associated Press)

PHILIPPINES:

Death penalty: No opting out----It never makes good sense to flaunt our violation of international law. After all, when rapacious neighbors dig into our pie and leave not even the crust to us, we seek relief by invoking our rights under international law.

The Philippine Senate recently received advice from a UN monitoring office that it could not, without violating international law, pass a bill that would return the death penalty into the country's statute books. I have repeatedly pointed this out.

We became parties to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 1 of the Protocol cannot be any clearer than it is succinct: No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed. By virtue of the Executive's ratification and Senate concurrence, the Protocol entered into force for the Philippines.

Of course, statutes can always be amended and repealed by subsequent acts of the legislature of equal rank. But treaties are not the same thing, because they are covenants we enter into with other States and, as in the present case, establish a regime that cannot be left to the unilateral disposition of one of the State-parties.

Treaties (and protocols are essentially treaties) are entered into by the sovereign power of a State to bind itself, in what can be reasonably characterized as auto-limitation of power. That, social contract theorists have always taught, lies at the heart of any organized society - whether it be a domestic society or a community of nations: auto-limitation of individual autonomy. So there is really no reason for us to be bawling about a derogation of our "sovereignty", and whining that our "freedom" has been compromised!

The incorporation clause of Article II of our Constitution makes the generally accepted principles of international law part of the law of the land. This is not empty rhetoric. It is a constitutional provision, and it has been held to be one of the self-executing principles found in Article II. One of the accepted principles of international law is that a treaty can be denounced (the "opt-out" mechanism) only when the treaty provides for it, otherwise, there is no way that a State-Party, having acceded to a treaty, can extricate itself from its obligations. Once more, this quite clearly results in a limitation on what our Legislature may or may not pass - but it is a limitation we took upon ourselves by acceding to the treaty.

In respect to human rights treaties (as well as in the case of other treaties, such as the settlement of territorial boundaries) there are no provisions for treaty-denunciation and it should not be too difficult to see why: Human rights have attained a status both of importance and urgency that they did not have prior to the Second World War.

It took the egregious violation and the shocking transgression of human rights on a scale that remains shocking to awaken the world to the primacy of human rights. And when States freely take upon themselves the obligations imposed by human rights treaties, then it is the better policy to disallow them from going back on their word.

Of course, the Philippines can strike a cavalier pose and pass a death penalty bill anyway. And under the flow of the municipal law system - the domestic laws of the Philippines - the trial courts will then sentence some persons to death and, after the exhaustion of all post-conviction remedies, the Bureau of Corrections will inflict the awful sentence.

Interdependent world

We can then congratulate ourselves about having dutifully executed our laws - except for one thing: We remain bound by our international obligations and fortunately, it is a highly interdependent world in which we live, the loud mouths of boastful leaders who claim we do not need the rest of the world notwithstanding!

Should we insist on passing a death penalty law and executing condemned persons under its provisions, we will then be in violation of our international obligation not to execute. This will allow the relevant monitoring Committee to receive reports of our violation and to require comment on the part of the government. If the international community is met with contumacy on our part, it has an arsenal of enforcement mechanisms. Iran heaved a tremendous sigh of relief after sanctions against it were lifted because whether autocrats accept it or not, sanctions can be burdensome, painful and really punishing.

No, it never makes good sense to flaunt our violation of international law. After all, when rapacious neighbors who are armed to the teeth dig into our pie and leave not even the crust to us, we seek relief by invoking our rights under international law. We take umbrage because our rights under international law shall have been violated.

But we cannot engage in double-speak. If we desire the guarantees and the protection of international law - and the world order it endeavors to establish - then it should not be one of our legislature's options to doggedly pass a bill that diametrically negates an international duty. This is no time to play the childish role of neighborhood toughie. This is the time to manfully stand by our word!

(source: Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino; The author is vice president for administration and finance of the Cagayan State University and Dean of the Graduate School of Law at San Beda College----rappler.com)

PAKISTAN:

To the gallows: Murder convict hanged in Dera Ghazi Khan Jail

A convict, facing death penalty in a dual murder case, was hanged in Central Jail, Dera Ghazi Khan, prison officials said. They maintained on June 4, 1995, Huzoor Bakhsh had killed his wife Bharawan Mai and Muhammad Iqbal over suspicion of having illicit relations in Rajanpur.

Later, the police arrested the accused and a case was registered against him. The officials maintained on December 15, 1999, Rajanpur Additional Session Judge Muqarrab Khan awarded death sentence to Huzoor Bakhsh. He filed applications against the decision in the Supreme Court, high court and the President of Pakistan but all appeals were rejected. He had a final meeting with his family members late on Tuesday evening and in early hours of Wednesday Huzoor Bakhsh was taken to the gallows.

Earlier, 3 convicts on death row were hanged across jails in Punjab. Nabeel Ahmed, Saleem and Rashid were all handed the death sentence for committing murders in 2000 and 1998 respectively.

(source: The Express Tribune)

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:

10 Indians on death row await pardon decision

10 young Indian workers in Al Ain jail, convicted of murdering a Pakistani worker, are expected to learn whether they will be pardoned as early as next month.

The Al Ain Appeals Court on Wednesday completed the hearing in the case and adjourned the matter to May 25 to pronounce the verdict, head of an Indian charity involved in the case, told Gulf News on Wednesday.

The court is expected to issue a verdict on the letter of consent submitted by the family of the Pakistani victim to pardon the accused Indians, said S.P.S. Oberoi, chairman of Sarbat Da Bhala Charitable Trust, that donated the blood money for the accused men.

Oberoi, a Dubai-based businessman, said he has already saved 78 Asian men who were convicted of murder in the UAE from death row by paying blood money on their behalf to their victims' families.

"With my experience in similar cases, I will tell you that their death penalty will be commuted because the victims' family has already given the pardon. We are expecting the verdict on what other punishment, possibly imprisonment or fine for their crimes including bootlegging and fighting, to be given to the convicts," he said.

As Gulf News first reported on December 8, 2016, the murder allegedly occurred during a brawl over bootlegging in Al Ain in December 2015.

11 men from the Indian state of Punjab were convicted in the case but 1 was spared the death sentence.

On March 22, the father of the victim had appeared in the court and submitted the letter of consent.

Oberoi, who is also from Punjab, had deposited Dh200,000 in blood money on behalf of the accused at the court.

Oberoi's Pakistani manager had travelled to Peshawar in Pakistan and talked to the victim's family and their relatives to secure the pardon.

An Indian Embassy official said the embassy was closely following the case.

"We are waiting for the verdict," said Dinesh Kumar, counsellor, Community Affairs at the embassy.

Oberoi said some of the convicts did not have valid passports.

"I will request the embassy to issue them emergency travel documents, once they are released from jail. They have been in jail since July 2015 and that time will be deducted from their punishment to be pronounced next month," he said.

(source: Gulf News)

APRIL 20, 2017:

TEXAS:

Texas man convicted in double slaying gets Supreme Court hearing Monday----The U.S. Supreme Court, including its newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, will decide on a legal technicality in the case of a Fort Worth man who killed a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother.

The now-9 justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday morning in the Texas death penalty case of a Fort Worth man who killed a 5-year-old and her grandmother during a children's birthday party.

The issue before the court in the case of 30-year-old death row inmate Erick Davila focuses on a legal distinction between ineffective lawyering in the trial court and during state appeals. The high court's newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, previously ruled against an argument similar to Davila's when he sat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Seth Kretzer, the lawyer who will argue on behalf of Davila in front of the court Monday, told The Texas Tribune it might be difficult to obtain Gorsuch's vote in the case, but if the new, seemingly very vocal justice has questions, "I'll be happy to answer each and every one of them," he said.

The Texas Attorney General's Office did not respond to an interview request on Davila's case.

Davila landed on death row 8 years ago after the April 2008 murders. He drove to the house of a rival gang member, Jerry Stevenson, and opened fire on the porch before speeding off, according to court filings. Davila didn't hit Stevenson, however; instead, he fatally shot the man's mother and daughter, Annette Stevenson and 5-year-old Queshawn, who were outside during another girl's birthday party.

For a jury to have found Davila guilty of capital murder in this case, they needed to have determined that he intended to kill multiple people. Davila's main defense in trial was that he only intended to kill Jerry Stevenson. Tarrant County prosecutors countered that argument by pointing to Davila's confession to police: "I was trying to get the guys on the porch, and I was trying to get [Jerry Stevenson]."

As jurors deliberated, they focused on the intent issue, asking the judge if they should decide if Davila intended to kill his 2 victims or if he intended to kill someone and in the process fatally shot 2 others.

In his answer, the judge sent the definitions again and instructed jurors that Davila would be responsible for a crime if the only difference between what happened and what he wanted was that a different person was hurt - without affirming to them that Davila must have intended to kill more than 1 person. "The judge responded with a misleading instruction, which permitted the jury to convict Davila based only on the intent to kill Jerry Stevenson," Kretzer wrote in Davila's brief to the high court.

Davila's lawyer during his trial objected that the judge should not add that instruction at that time, but he was overruled. It was the right move by the lawyer but one that hurt Davila in the long run, Kretzer claimed.

This instruction wasn't brought up during Davila's automatic, direct appeal concerning the trial record. And his lawyer in his state habeas appeal - which focuses on facts outside of the trial record - never claimed his direct appellate lawyer was wrong to not bring it up.

2 big mistakes, according to Kretzer.

Death penalty cases can also be appealed in the federal courts system, but it is generally ruled that issues that could be raised at the state level can't be reviewed federally until they go through state courts. So, when a federal lawyer tried to raise the claim that Davila's direct appellate lawyer was ineffective for not faulting the judge's instruction, federal courts said they couldn't rule on that because it could have been brought up during the state habeas appeal.

There is an exception to this rule, created in the Supreme Court decision Martinez v. Ryan, which says that if state habeas lawyers fail to raise the issue of ineffective trial counsel, the federal courts can still hear it to ensure that the defendants are guaranteed their Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

What Kretzer will argue before the high court Monday is that Martinez should be interpreted to include issues of ineffective appellate counsel as well. Kretzer said that if trial counsel had not objected to the judge's instruction, the federal courts could rule on the merits of the case based on the Martinez exception.

"A defendant should not be worse off because appellate counsel - rather than trial counsel - rendered the ineffective assistance," Davila's brief states.

Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller will argue against opening up the Martinez exception, and 30 other state attorneys general filed a brief in support of Texas in the case. The list includes all states with the death penalty except 4, and 5 states without.

"The right to appellate counsel, while surely important, is not foundational and cannot justify the same treatment as the right to trial counsel," Keller wrote in the state's brief.

The Supreme Court got involved in this case because federal appellate courts have interpreted the Martinez exception differently. Almost all federal appeals courts have taken it to only include ineffective trial counsel claims (including Gorsuch's court in 2012), but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - which mostly covers the west coast - ruled trial and appellate lawyers should be treated the same.

Even if the Supreme Court wanted to open the Martinez exception to include appellate attorneys, Texas said previous rulings against Davila should still be upheld, according to the state's filing. Though a lower federal court did rule it couldn't procedurally hear the case, it still rejected the case for the alternative reason of lacking merit.

"[Davila's] ineffective assistance of counsel claim is based on his appellate counsel's decision not to raise an unpreserved challenge to a correct jury instruction where [he] confessed to the facts constituting capital murder. No reasonable jurist would find any merit in [the] claim," the state brief said.

Davila countered in a reply brief that the lower court wrongly ruled on the merits in his case, and Kretzer told the Tribune that he didn't think the court would "sidestep" the issue at hand.

"The idea that this appellate representation is a 2nd-tier right ... I don't think that's likely to hold up very well in basically the highest appellate court in the world," Kretzer said.

If the high court rules in Davila's favor, the case would be sent back for federal courts to review his ineffective counsel claim. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June, when the court's term ends.

(source: Texas Tribune)

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Death Watch: DNA Testing Denied for Rodney Reed----Reed and Pruett strike out. But justice for Duane Buck?

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a Bastrop County court's decision to deny additional DNA testing to Rodney Reed. The state's highest criminal court stated in its April 12 opinion that Reed "cannot establish that exculpatory DNA results would have resulted in his acquittal and his motion is not made for the purpose of unreasonable delay."

Reed has been on death row since receiving a death sentence in 1998 for the murder and rape of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in nearby Bastrop. Reed, his supporters, and attorneys have maintained his innocence ever since. At the time of her death Stites was engaged to Giddings police officer Jimmy Fennell Jr., who was considered a suspect until DNA testing found Reed's semen inside Stites' body. Reed claims he and Stites had been having an affair. Today, Fennell also finds himself in prison: serving a 10-year sentence for raping a woman while on duty with the Georgetown Police Department. (He remains the primary person of interest in Stites' murder, according to Reed's support group.) In 2014 the Supreme Court denied Reed's request for relief, but less than 6 months later the CCA stayed his 2015 execution due to newly discovered evidence found by Reed's team.

Bryce Benjet, the Innocence Project attorney who's represented Reed throughout the habeas process, called the CCA's decision "deeply flawed." He told the Chronicle: "2 experts testified without contradiction that DNA testing could identify a specific individual, such as Mr. Fennell, as the source of DNA on the evidence. This, in turn, could establish that individual's responsibility for the crime. However, the CCA refused to even consider the possibility that DNA testing would actually identify an individual - limiting its consideration to exclusionary results." Benjet said his team has confirmed that all the evidence in question still exists. He said he plans on "following the well-established avenues for review of requests for DNA testing in federal court," and will appeal the ruling "all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary."

No Shanks

A week earlier, the CCA dealt another blow to Robert Pruett, who's now likely to receive his fifth execution date. The court had most recently stayed Pruett's execution in August to review newly tested DNA evidence, which Pruett's lawyers argued should exonerate him from the 1999 murder of Beeville prison guard Daniel Nagle. Pruett was 20, and serving a 99-year sentence in Beeville as an accomplice to a murder committed by his father, when Nagle was found dead in his prison office, stabbed by a homemade knife. No physical evidence tied Pruett to the crime, save for a torn disciplinary report Nagle had filed against the inmate. Pruett has always held that he was framed for the crime. His appellate attorneys have spent the last few years demanding DNA testing on the shank. His trial court has twice ordered new testing, though both times the results have proved inconclusive.

Earlier this month, the CCA sided with the Bee County court where Pruett was sentenced, stating in a 31-page opinion that the lack of DNA evidence would not have affected Pruett's 2002 conviction and sentencing. CCA Judge Elsa Alcala filed a concurring opinion regarding the DNA decision, but said Pruett's case carried "significant problems with the evidence of guilt," and suggested "further attention by this Court is warranted, even if it means reopening appellant's subsequent habeas applications." Jeff Newberry, Pruett's lawyer, told the Texas Tribune he would "definitely" appeal the ruling in federal court.

Justice for Buck?

Not all is lost this month in Livingston. On Thursday, April 13, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, following a February order from the U.S. Supreme Court, granted Duane Buck a certificate of appealability and relief. Under the 5th Circuit's order, Buck is to be released from custody unless the state either pursues a new trial punishment or "elects not to seek the death penalty and accedes to a life sentence" within 180 days. Buck was convicted on 2 counts of capital murder in 1997, but racial bias and racist testimony played a large role in his sentencing. Walter Quijano, a psychologist testifying for the defense, told the jury that "the race factor" (i.e., being black) could be considered a "statistical factor" in gauging Buck's future dangerousness. SCOTUS had ruled in Buck's favor in late February and ordered the 5th Circuit take a new course of action.

(source: Austin Chronicle)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Death penalty phase in Frein case begins today

As an assistant district attorney in Pike County, Ray Tonkin unsuccessfully sought a death sentence for a man convicted of killing his infant daughter and girlfriend in 2006.

11 years later, Tonkin, now the county's top prosecutor, will try again to convince jurors to put a convicted criminal on death row. This time, it is Eric Matthew Frein.

Frein, 33, of Canadensis, was convicted Wednesday of 1st-degree murder, attempted murder and 10 other offenses for the Sept. 14, 2014, sniper attack at the Blooming Grove state police barracks that killed Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson,38, of Dunmore, and severely wounded Trooper Alex T. Douglass, 34, of Olyphant.

The case now moves to the penalty phase, where prosecutors and the defense will present evidence that will determine if Frein is sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Tonkin last faced this situation in January 2006, when he secured a 1st-degree murder conviction against Gregory Alan Rowe, who strangled his 17-year-old girlfriend, Kristin Fisher at her Greentown home, then drowned their 7-month-old daughter, Kaylee, in a bathtub on May 4, 2004. Jurors deliberated just 38 minutes before deciding to sentence Rowe, then 19, to life in prison.

In Frein's case, a jury from Chester County will begin hearing evidence in the penalty phase at 1:30 this afternoon in Pike County Court.

Several attorneys who are experts in death penalty law explained that the process jurors will employ in deciding the case.

The panel will weigh aggravating factors - those that make a crime more heinous - against mitigating factors - those that lessen a defendant's culpability.

For a death sentence to be imposed, jurors must agree unanimously that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. If not, or if the panel cannot reach a unanimous decision, the sentence will be life.

The existence of more mitigating than aggravating factors, or vice versa, does not necessarily dictate the sentence. Jurors are permitted to give whatever weight they wish to each factor.

"It's not a score card in terms of the number of mitigating versus the number of aggravating circumstances," Peter Paul Olszewski Jr.,a former judge and district attorney in Luzerne County, said in a recent interview. "It's the overall weight. The jury can find 1 mitigating factor outweighs 3 aggravating factors."

Pennsylvania Law lists 15 aggravating factors, any one of which must be present in order for prosecutors to seek a death sentence.

In Frein's case, Tonkin listed 2 aggravating factors: Dickson was a police officer murdered in the line of duty and Frein created a risk of death to others by firing into the barracks.

The law specifies eight mitigating factors the defense can present. They include a defendant's lack of prior criminal record, age and any evidence that the defendant acted under duress or was under the influence of an extreme mental or emotional disturbance.

In reality, there is no limit to the number of mitigating factors the defense can raise, the experts say. That is because the law includes a "catch-all" that allows the defense to present "any other evidence" it believes could influence jurors' decision.

"The U.S. Supreme Court said a death sentence is so extreme and such an ultimate punishment that you can't do it without letting a jury consider virtually anything that would support a sentence less than death," said Jules Epstein, a professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia who specializes in death penalty law.

The experts also noted key differences in the standards jurors will use in evaluating the prosecution's and defense's evidence.

Prosecutors must prove each of the aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, while the defense needs to prove mitigating factors by the preponderance of the evidence, a lesser standard, Epstein said.

Jurors also must agree unanimously that a specific aggravating factor exists in order for the panel to consider it. Only one juror needs to believe a mitigating factor exists, which would require the entire panel to then consider it, said Ronald Eisenberg, who handled numerous death penalty appeals for the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

Frein's defense attorneys, William Ruzzo and Michael Weinstein, have not said what type of evidence they will present. Their case is expected to rely heavily on information developed by Louise Luck, a mitigation expert, and an evaluation of Frein performed by Carol Armstrong, a neuropsychologist.

"They'll use the mitigation specialist to talk about his younger years, if he had problems growing up, if he was deprived of guidance," Olszewski said. "They'll try to show he was the product of his environment somehow."

The prosecution likely will move to admit evidence it presented during the guilt or innocence portion of the trial into the penalty phase, negating the need for it to rehash the evidence, Epstein said.

There is no disputing the 1st aggravating factor - Dickson was murdered and was on duty at the time of his death. Jurors will have to decide if Frein's shooting into the barracks supports the 2nd aggravating factor of putting others at risk for death.

In addition to the aggravating factors, the prosecution is expected to call witnesses to testify about the impact Dickson’s murder had on them. Those witnesses are limited in what they can say, however, said Marc Bookman, co-director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, which provides consultation for death penalty defense.

"It can't contain an opinion on whether they want a life or death sentence," he said. "They can talk about the impact the crime had on them."

The defense can combat that by calling witnesses to ask jurors to have mercy on Frein and spare his life.

"Mercy is admissible as a reason for a jury not to impose death, but it has to be connected to some part of the evidence," Bookman said.

(source: Scranton Times-Tribune)

VIRGINIA----impending execution

3 former Virginia attorneys general urge commutation of death sentence for Ivan Teleguz

3 former Virginia attorneys general, Mark Earley, Mary Sue Terry and William Broaddus, are asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe to spare the life of Ivan Teleguz, set to be executed Tuesday for the murder-for-hire of his girlfriend.

"We would like to add our voices to those calling for you to commute the sentence of Ivan Teleguz. As former Attorneys General of the Commonwealth of Virginia - under both Republican and Democratic administrations - we are familiar with the difficult decision before you when asked to spare the life of a death-sentenced prisoner," began their letter, dated Tuesday.

The letter continues, "We know that as you make this difficult decision, you undoubtedly will keep in mind the memory of Stephanie Sipe and that there can be no accounting for the senseless brutality of her murder. In our view, however, justice cannot be served by executing a prisoner in a case replete with unreliable investigative techniques, coercive tactics by both law enforcement and the prosecution, recantations of key trial witnesses, and consideration of false testimony in support of a death sentence. In short, we believe this to be precisely the kind of case that calls out for executive clemency."

Earlier this month lawyers for Teleguz filed a clemency request with McAuliffe. Marsha L. Garst, the commonwealth's attorney for Rockingham County, has declined to comment on the case, noting that the issues have been tried and decided in local, state and federal courts.

The Virginia attorney general's office referred questions to the governor's office. A McAuliffe spokesman said Wednesday, "Mr. Teleguz's petition is under review in the Governor's office and we will comment when that review is complete."

Teleguz, 38, was sentenced to death for the 2001 capital murder of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, the mother of their 23-month-old son. Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. Trial evidence showed that Teleguz was angry that he had been ordered to pay child support.

He hired 2 men to kill Sipe for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania, where Teleguz had moved. Sipe was stabbed to death. Her body was discovered by a neighbor who also found her son, unharmed, in a bathtub full of water.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Virginia and Oklahoma are tied for the 2nd most executions in the U.S. - at 112 - since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. Texas, at 542, leads the country.

Teleguz's lawyers argue that the new evidence pointing to his innocence has never been fully examined by the courts. They say 2 prosecution witnesses admitted "that they testified falsely in exchange for leniency in their own cases, and have no reason to think Teleguz was involved in the murder-for-hire."

His lawyers say that 1 of the witnesses has been deported, and the other was told he would lose his release date set for next year if he went back on his testimony.

The jurors also relied on false testimony that Teleguz was involved in an additional murder in Pennsylvania. Investigation since the trial by law enforcement and by the defense has confirmed that the murder never happened. The lawyers contend the only evidence remaining against Teleguz is the testimony of Michael Hetrick, the actual killer who was spared the death penalty.

His lawyers said the clemency petition details why his testimony is not credible or reliable. A Change.org petition in support of clemency has been signed by more than 113,000 people, and Teleguz also has submitted written requests for clemency from thousands of supporters.

In a release Wednesday, The Constitution Project said the three former attorneys general collectively oversaw the execution of over 50 prisoners while they were in office.

Since leaving office both Earley and Broaddus have come to oppose the death penalty.

The last time a Virginia governor granted clemency on the grounds of possible innocence appears to have been in 1996 when then Gov. George Allen commuted the death sentence of Joseph Payne to life in prison without parole, according to the death penalty information center.

Virginia governors have granted clemency 8 times since the death penalty was allowed to resume by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

Gov. L. Douglas Wilder commuted 3 death sentences; Gov. George Allen, 2; and governors Jim Gilmore, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, one each. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, possible innocence was cited in the 4 of the commutations, mental illness in 2, rehabilitation in 1 and missing evidence in 1.

In the cases where innocence was claimed, the governors initially commuted the death sentence to life in prison.

In the case of Earl Washington Jr., who once came within 9 days of execution, subsequent DNA testing proved his innocence of a 1982 rape and murder in Culpeper and was granted an unconditional pardon in 2000 (the real killer, implicated by DNA, has since been convicted).

(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

FLORIDA:

Anti-Death Penalty Florida State Attorney Sues Governor for Reassigning Her Cases In Retaliation

Florida has a complicated history with capital punishment. The state leads the country in death-row exonerations and, since Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been in office, the state has been executing death-row prisoners at the fastest rate since the death penalty was restored in 1977. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty system as unconstitutional, saying that it gave judges too much power over sentencing. The law was revised but struck down again by the Florida Supreme Court for the same reason. A new law that now requires juries vote unanimously when imposing a death penalty sentence was signed by Scott just last month.

Recently, a new State Attorney from Orange-Osceola County has come to power in Florida. Aramis Ayala made history in the November election when she became Florida's 1st African-American state attorney. An underdog in the race, Ayala's road to success has been far from smooth. After being diagnosed with near-terminal cancer, she was forced to drop out of law school but, upon remission, returned more committed than ever. She went on to pass the Florida Bar and began working as an assistant public defender and assistant state attorney under Democrat Jeff Ashton.

In 2015 Ayala left Ashton's office to run against him for State Attorney. During her campaign, she called for greater transparency in government and promised to bridge the gaps in justice in the Black community. Ayala was relatively unknown compared to near-celebrity Ashton, who gained notoriety as the prosecutor in the Casey Anthony case, where Casey Anthony was tried for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony. Despite this disadvantage, she won by a landslide, with many crediting billionaire George Soros for her win, as the tycoon pumped millions of dollars into her primary race as part of a larger strategy to help Black attorneys become state attorneys. Ayala's district, the 9th Judicial Circuit, is the third-largest in the state and represents 1.4 million people in the culturally diverse greater Orlando area.

Last month, Ayala continued her history-making streak when she announced that she would not seek the death penalty in any of her cases. She drew immediate criticism for her stance, especially as she was preparing to prosecute the murder trial of Markeith Loyd, who faces 11 criminal counts, including murder and firearm charges, for allegedly killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. Loyd was captured on January 17 following an extensive manhunt.

Ayala defended her position, saying that capital punishment in the state of Florida has only led to "chaos, uncertainty and turmoil" and that "some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision, but I have learned that the death penalty traps many victims and families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting."

Though Clayton's family has not commented on Ayala's decision, Dixon's mother supports her decision and said in a statement, "You have to understand that we want closure. And closure doesn’t mean being dragged in and out of court with appeals and everything else."

Governor Scott responded by demanding that Ayala recuse herself from the Loyd case. When Ayala called Scott to explain her position, he refused to hear her out and ended the call within 30 seconds. He proceeded to reassign the Boyd case to 5th Circuit State Attorney Brad King, a vocal supporter of the death penalty and has since replaced Ayala on 23 1st-degree murder cases.

The United States remains one of the few developed countries that continues to execute its citizens. Outside of the inordinate costs to taxpayers and lengthy appeal process, the death penalty has been proven to be unfairly leveled against African-Americans. Since the days of slavery, it’s been used as a method to quell resistance and, even today, far more Black people are sentenced to death for killing whites than whites who murder Blacks. The demographics of death row prisoners reflect the same trends as the wider prison system, with Blacks making up a disproportionate amount of inmates. The current death row population is 41 % Black, 42 % white, and 13 % Latino.

Following her removal from nearly 2 dozen cases, Ayala filed 2 lawsuits against Scott - 1 in the Florida Supreme Court and 1 in the federal court of the Middle District of Florida - arguing that state law gives her discretion in deciding whether and how to prosecute cases. The lawsuit claims that her removal from the Boyd case was an abuse of Scott's executive powers and disenfranchises the voters who placed her in office. A coalition led by the Advancement Project and including representatives of the New Florida Majority, Dream Defenders, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Color of Change also filed an amicus brief charging Scott with refusing to recognize the voters' will.

So far, Florida Republicans are holding tight to their position and recently proposed that $1.3 million be cut from Ayala's office and redistributed to other state attorneys who get 9th Judicial Circuit cases. The Florida House is also backing Scott, and last week asked the Florida Supreme Court last week for permission to file an amicus brief in support of Scott.

The state of Florida currently has 381 prisoners on death row. Ayala has taken a bold step in denouncing a system that has disproportionately targeted African-Americans since its creation, and if the Florida Supreme Court rules in her favor, it will be a victory for all those who seek to see justice applied fairly and consistently.

(source: Atlanta Black Star)

LOUISIANA:

Rodricus Crawford Exonerated from Louisiana Death Row----Caddo Parish Prosecutors Drop Charges After Medical Evidence Suggests No Crime Occurred

At the request of local prosecutors, a Caddo Parish, Louisiana trial court has dismissed all charges against Rodricus Crawford, making him the 158th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973 and the second to be exonerated this year. Mr. Crawford had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of his 1-year-old son, Roderius Lott, despite medical evidence that the child actually died of a combination of pneumonia and sepsis.

"In many respects, this case may reflect both the past and future of the death penalty in America," said Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "A jurisdiction with a history of racial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, and overuse of the death penalty chose to pursue a death sentence against a grieving father, despite evidence that his child had unexpectedly died of natural causes. But as in increasing numbers of counties across the country, local voters were put off by these types of abusive prosecution practices and elected a new District Attorney, who took a fresh look at the evidence and acted in the interests of justice."

Mr. Crawford's case attracted national attention amid evidence of race discrimination, prosecutorial excess, and scientifically false forensic testimony. During trial, prosecutor Dale Cox - who personally prosecuted 1/3 of all the cases in which Louisiana juries returned death sentences between 2010-2015 - presented testimony from a local doctor that Mr. Crawford's infant son had been suffocated. However, autopsy results showed pervasive bronchopneumonia in the baby's lungs and sepsis in his blood. Cox later told the jury that Jesus Christ would have imposed the death penalty against Mr. Crawford.

In 2014, 2 years after the trial, Cox wrote an internal memorandum stating that Mr. Crawford "deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies." Cox gained national notoriety a year later when, as Acting District Attorney, he told The Shreveport Times that he thought the state needed to "kill more people."

In November 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned Mr. Crawford's conviction, ruling that Cox had exercised the government's discretionary jury strikes on the basis of race to unconstitutionally exclude black jurors from serving in the case. When the parish's new District Attorney, James Stewart, re-examined the evidence in the case, he asked the court to drop the charges against Mr. Crawford.

Caddo Parish is 1 of 5 major U.S. counties in which local voters have replaced prosecutors known for aggressive use of the death penalty with new prosecutors who promised systemic criminal justice reforms, including reduced reliance on capital punishment.[1] "With these new prosecutors, we are seeing a greater commitment to fairness, one that we hope will translate into greater efforts to correct the miscarriages of justice that have resulted in condemning innocent people to death," Dunham said.

With the formal dropping of charges, Rodricus Crawford becomes the 11th person exonerated from Louisiana's death row, and the 2nd from Caddo Parish. In 2014, Glenn Ford was released from Louisiana's death row after 30 years. A death sentence imposed on Corey Williams, an intellectually disabled Caddo Parish prisoner who was 16 at the time of his alleged crime, has been overturned, but he is still serving a life sentence despite evidence that his confession was coerced and that others committed the offense for which he was condemned.

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) today added Mr. Crawford to its Innocence List at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row. To be included on DPIC's Innocence List, defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either: (a) been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, or (b) had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution or the courts, or (c) been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

OHIO:

Death Penalty Sought for Man Charged in Killing, Abduction

Prosecutors in Ohio will seek the death penalty for a man accused of fatally shooting the mother of his 10-month-old son and abducting her stepmother and the little boy.

Police last month arrested 27-year-old James Ramey, of Toledo, after finding him in northern Indiana, near Rochester. The child and stepmother weren't hurt.

Prosecutors in Ohio's Fulton County said Wednesday they will seek a death sentence after Ramey was indicted on 22 counts, including aggravated murder.

Authorities say he broke into the family's house in Delta, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Toledo on March 14 and shot 23-year-old Amanda Magas in the chest. She later died at a hospital.

Ramey is being held in jail. His attorney declined to comment Wednesday.

(source: Associated Press)

ARKANSAS----stay of 1 impending execution

Arkansas Supreme Court issues stay for death row inmate

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted 1 of 2 executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of 2, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case.

The Innocence Project previously asked the state's circuit court to grant Johnson new DNA testing, CBS affiliate KTVH reports.

In a press release, the group said newer DNA testing has "never been performed" in his case that could potentially prove his innocence.

The evidence in the case shows Heath was stabbed in the throat and raped. Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout his entire time in prison.

KTVH reports that anti-death penalty protesters have camped out in front of the governor's mansion in Little Rock in the weeks leading to the decision.

(source: CBS News)

*************

SWAR death row inmate set to be executed Thursday

A DeQueen, Ark., man is scheduled to be executed Thursday after twice being sentenced to death for a brutal murder 24 years ago.

However, court filings recently have picked up throughout the state trying to block the executions of Stacey Eugene Johnson and 7 other death row inmates.

"It is certainly not a done deal that he will be executed on Thursday," said Arkansas Circuit Judge Tom Cooper, who was the prosecuting attorney in Johnson's 2nd trial.

"I would like to see justice done. And, in my opinion, that (execution) would be justice in this case," he continued, "I was there in trying this case, I know what he did."

Johnson was convicted in 2 separate trials for killing DeQueen mother Carol Heath in 1993.

Investigators found Heath's throat had been cut.

Around her body were the footprints of her 2 small children.

"I was not surprised of the verdict nor the sentence," said attorney Mickey Buchanan, who represented Johnson in 1997 during his 2nd murder trial.

"The evidence in the 1st trial was presented and he was found guilty and was given the death penalty," Buchanan explained.

"And it was moved to another county and the same evidence was presented. And the opinion was the same in both cases."

Yet the appeals keep coming.

Brian Cheshir, the Ninth Judicial District prosecuting attorney, says mounds of paperwork and appeals in this case, including new DNA testing, have kept his office busy.

"Stacey Johnson was not entitled to the relief he was requesting post conviction DNA based on the fact it was untimely under the stature to ask for new DNA testing. He had to do it within 36 months of the time of his conviction."

Cheshir and Cooper said they plan to be there as witnesses if the execution is held as scheduled Thursday.

(source: KSLA news)

***********************

Arkansas Determined to Fight Challenges to Executions----The company who sold the drug to the prison system said it would not have done so had it known it would be used in executions, and is demanding the drug be either returned or confiscated.

Arkansas has said it will appeal a court ruling that bars the U.S. state's use of a lethal injection drug and effectively puts a stop to its plans to execute 8 prisoners in 11 days.

A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after the U.S. pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.

The company, a unit of McKesson Corp, said it would not have sold the drug to the Arkansas prison system had it known it would be used in executions, and is demanding the drug is either returned or confiscated.

The ruling delivered a further setback for the state, which last carried out an execution a dozen years ago and contends it must act quickly because its supply of another of the three drugs used in the lethal mix expires at the end of April.

A spokesman for State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she would appeal the ruling before the state's Supreme Court.

The execution of 8 death row inmates would be the most by any U.S. state in such a short period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Arkansas officials have said they cannot obtain the drug from any other source, and have acknowledged in court papers that should McKesson prevail, all pending executions would be blocked.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said he was "both surprised and disappointed" by the latest legal delays.

The state had originally planned to execute 8 death row inmates in 4 pairs in a span of 11 days, starting on April 17 and ending on April 27.

However, amid a flurry of legal challenges, 4 of the condemned prisoners have won stays of execution. Arkansas's Supreme Court issued the latest of those reprieves, for condemned killer Stacey Johnson, minutes before the lower-court ruling on McKesson's request.

Johnson was convicted of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Heath. Prosecutors said he beat, strangled and slit Heath's throat while her 6-year-old daughter watched. Judges sent Johnson's case back to the trial court to allow for new DNA evidence.

An appeal of Johnson's stay of execution was undecided, the attorney general's spokesman said.

Also still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight prisoners contending that the compressed execution schedule increases the likelihood of a botched lethal injection. A federal appeals court had rejected their arguments.

Arkansas' death penalty push comes after the number of U.S. executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016. (For a graphic on the number and method of U.S. executions, see: http://tmsnrt.rs/26wAN2v).

(source: US News & World Report)

********************

Judge disputes claims that his death penalty protest violated judicial impartiality

An Arkansas judge who also serves as a Baptist pastor defended his participation in a death penalty protest after issuing a court order barring the state from using an execution drug, saying his ruling on facts in a property dispute had nothing to do with his personal views on capital punishment.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said in a blog April 19 he was preparing to join other members of New Millennium Church in Little Rock for a Good Friday prayer vigil outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion when he received a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to block the 1st of a series of executions scheduled to begin the day after Easter.

The party bringing the complaint claimed the Arkansas Department of Corrections had purchased vercuronium bromide - 1 of 3 drugs used in the state's secretive execution protocol - illegally under false pretenses and wanted the product returned.

Griffen determined the presented facts showed the drug's distributor risked imminent and irreparable harm and had a legal claim likely enough to succeed to order the state not to use or dispose of the drug until a hearing. He then went to the protest, where for an hour-and-a-half he lay on a cot posing as a dead man "in solidarity with Jesus, the leader of our religion who was put to death by crucifixion by the Roman Empire."

Death penalty supporters responded to the judge's reenactment by calling for his impeachment. On Monday the Arkansas Supreme Court removed Griffen from all pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases "to ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal."

The high court also referred Griffen to the state's Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct requiring judges to "maintain the dignity of judicial office at all times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their professional and personal lives" and conduct themselves in ways that ensure "the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and confidence."

Griffen said whether or not the drug distributor was entitled to a temporary restraining order, he is entitled to practice his religion.

"Whether I attended the Good Friday vigil or not does not change property law," he said. "Whether anyone approves or disapproves of me attending the Good Friday vigil does not change property law. Whether I support or am opposed to capital punishment does not change property law. I am entitled to practice my religion - whether I am a judge or not - even if others disapprove of the way I practice it."

Griffen, a member of the search committee that recommended Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter and a keynote speaker at the CBF General Assembly in 2013, denounced secrecy in the execution process at a breakout session on the death penalty at last year's General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C.

"If you want to euthanize your dog, you know that under your state only the people who have certain credentials can put your dog down," Griffen said at the CBF workshop. "If you want to euthanize your neighbor - if you want to kill your neighbor in the name of the state - I 10-time double-dog dare you to find out the qualifications of the person who is doing it."

"As a matter of fact, there is no requirement that the state tell you, and they have an affirmative obligation to not disclose that," the judge continued. "It is amazing. One would call it irony, but it's too nice a word."

Griffen said in Wednesday's blog he recognizes that people have strong views on capital punishment.

"I have strong views about capital punishment also," he acknowledged. "But none of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however strongly we may hold them, affect the facts in the TRO motion I reviewed and decided on Good Friday. None of our views about capital punishment, whatever they may be and however strongly we may hold them, are relevant on whether anyone has a legal claim to recover property that has been wrongfully obtained and is threatened to be imminently and irreparably used despite the demand of its rightful owner."

Griffen has long argued that his judicial role does not negate his responsibility to speak prophetically as a pastor, often leading to clashes with political opponents.

As a member of the Arkansas Court of Appeals appointed by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker in 1996, Griffen clashed with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission over comments in 2002 criticizing the University of Arkansas' racial diversity in the wake of the firing of popular basketball coach Nolan Richardson. He later criticized President Bush, the war in Iraq and the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina.

The ethics panel eventually dropped its case against Griffen, but he was voted out of office when he sought re-election in 2008. In 2010, he was elected to Circuit Judge for the 5th Division in Arkansas and re-elected in 2016.

Last November Griffen blogged about male white supremacy and President Donald Trump. Recently he opposed a proposal to increase public funding of Little Rock School District, protesting the district's January 2015 takeover by the Arkansas Board of Education and dissolution of a majority-black school board elected by voters in 2014.

"I was not supposed to think about whether making the correct legal decision would be popular to anyone, including myself, the moving party, the Department of Correction, or anyone else," Griffen said of last Friday's ruling. "I was supposed to focus on the facts and the law."

"That is what judges do, whether we are religious or not," he said. "That is what judges do, whether we support or oppose capital punishment. This is what judges do, whether other people like it or not."

(source: Baptist News)

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2 Arkansas death row inmates claim they're too obese to execute

2 Arkansas death row inmates, Marcel Williams and Stacey Eugene Johnson, have asked a federal judge to halt their executions because they say they are too obese for the drugs to effectively work on them.

Williams' lawyer writes in a brief that Williams gained 200 pounds while in prison and that when he went to prison he weighed 195 pounds.

Williams has stayed in a 90-square-foot cell, which is 1/2 the size of a standard parking space, and gets 1 hour of recreational time a day.

"Williams has been housed in extreme solitary confinement, he has gained 200 pounds and developed high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. The prison has recorded Mr. Williams' body mass index at 48.74," his lawyer writes in a brief.

Johnson's lawyer wrote in a court document that he weighs about 350 pounds and suffers from hypertension and sleep apnea.

Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at the Emory University School of Medicine, found that Johnson's large size could botch the execution and "makes it more likely that the execution will fail and Mr. Johnson will be left alive, but disabled from the attempt."

They also argue the executioners will not be able to find a vein.

"Dr. Zivot concluded that if the Arkansas lethal-injection protocol is carried out as written, Mr. Johnson, in particular, will suffer respiratory distress and hypoxia, and he is at serious risk for irreversible organ damage or for a suffocating, painful death," the lawyer writes in the brief.

(source: KATV news)

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska senators debate lethal injection secrecy bill

A proposal that would let Nebraska officials hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers drew criticism Wednesday from death penalty opponents but support from lawmakers who say the state needs it to resume executions.

It was unclear whether the bill had enough support to overcome a filibuster, but the senator who introduced it said he believes he has a decent chance to advance it through the Legislature.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell said the bill seeks to protect drug makers who would otherwise face public harassment from death penalty opponents. Commonly used lethal injection drugs have become scarce because many North American and European pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell drugs for use in executions.

"I believe the harm created by this disclosure far outweighs any alleged benefit," said Kuehn, a veterinarian who said he has faced drug shortages in his practice.

Lawmakers began debate on the bill Wednesday but adjourned for the day without voting on it.

Kuehn said concealing the supplier's identity would allow Nebraska officials to purchase drugs from a domestic supplier, such as a compounding pharmacy, to circumvent the problems associated with importing overseas drugs.

Kuehn said he never wanted to deal with capital punishment when he ran for office, but he views the loss of legitimate drugs as too great a problem. He said the supplier's identity was irrelevant to the drugs' quality.

"I truly do believe this is an issue of social justice," he said.

Opponents said the state should keep its current transparent process that requires the Department of Correctional Services to disclose its suppliers.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a staunch death penalty opponent, predicted the bill would trigger new appeals and that the courts would make "mincemeat" out of it. Chambers said death penalty supporters should blame themselves for the drug shortage.

"They took something that was wholesome, something designed to promote health, and turned it into a killing substance," Chambers said.

Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes has said he has already started to look for drugs to carry out executions, but told a legislative committee in February that it would be "very difficult" to acquire them if the department was forced to identify its suppliers.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, 15 have enacted similar shield laws.

Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a new lethal injection protocol in January that gives the Department of Correctional Services greater flexibility to choose which drugs are used in executions. An early draft of the protocol included a secrecy provision, but Frakes said department officials removed it after deciding they first needed legislative approval.

Voters signaled their support for the death penalty last year when they overturned the Legislature's 2015 decision to abolish capital punishment. The issue was placed on the ballot through a referendum partially financed by Ricketts, who supports capital punishment.

Death penalty supporters portrayed the vote as a mandate for state officials to resume executions. Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, using the electric chair. The state has 10 men on death row, but has never carried out the punishment with lethal injection.

"We do not have the right to obstruct justice, and that is what is happening here," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte. Defendants sentenced to death "are the worst of the worst of the human race. They chose their fate."

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Omaha, a death penalty opponent, said voters never specified whether they supported concealing suppliers' identities.

(source: Associated Press)

**********************

No public value in revealing names of lethal injection drug suppliers, says sponsor of bill to hide the IDs

The sponsor of legislation that would hide the identities of lethal injection drug suppliers in Nebraska argued Wednesday that there is no public value in disclosing the names of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Opponents of the lethal injection bill countered that an open accounting of tax expenditures is fundamental to good government and that it should not be "thrown away" to make executions easier for state officials.

State lawmakers launched the debate on Legislative Bill 661 this morning before breaking for lunch. They will return to the discussion later this afternoon before they adjourn for the day.

It will then be up to Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, the bill's sponsor, to show he has a filibuster-proof majority before the bill would be scheduled for additional debate this year.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha along with other opponents have indicated they will stretch out the debate to 6 hours, when a vote to end a filibuster could be taken. It takes a supermajority of 33 of the of the 49 senators to stop the delay tactic and force and up-or-down vote on a bill.

The bill seeks to change Nebraska's public records law so state officials could legally withhold information related to the identity of an individual or business that "manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes" execution drugs. Drug secrecy laws are on the books in 15 of the 31 states with the death penalty, Kuehn said.

The courts have generally ruled against inmates who've challenged the secrecy laws. Kuehn said he patterned his bill after the law in Georgia, which was upheld by that state's Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision in 2014.

He said only the maker of the drugs would be shielded. Information about the types, dosages and testing results of the drugs to be used in an execution would still be disclosed to the condemned inmate.

Anti-death penalty activists have harassed and threatened drug manufacturers and pharmacists willing to compound the substances for execution purposes, Kuehn argued. As a result, many drugmakers no longer consent to the use of their products in prison death chambers.

Another consequence of the activism has been to make some types of anesthetic drugs, once widely used in surgeries and other medical procedures, impossible or difficult to obtain in the United States and other countries. Kuehn called it hypocritical of activists to endanger the health and lives of the innocent to protect the lives of those on death row.

"When we weigh the value of that public record, what is the question of cost," he asked his colleagues.

Chambers said that a state execution represents the "ceremonial destruction of the life of a citizen" and that all aspects of it should be open to public scrutiny. He mentioned how in 2015, the Department of Correctional Services paid a foreign broker named Chris Harris $54,400 for 2 lethal substances it never received.

Because the department was required to disclose the broker's name, however, the public learned Harris was the same businessman who a Swiss manufacture had accused of using lying to obtain a lethal drug he then sold to Nebraska in 2011.

"This bill ... is designed to deprive the public of information it ought to have about how its government is carrying out the most solemn, most consequential act a government can perform," Chambers said.

Other supporters of the secrecy bill, however, argued the measure should pass in response to the November election, in which 61 % of Nebraska voters reversed the 2015 repeal of capital punishment.

"The death penalty is something the state of Nebraska needs to have, and we need to have the ability to carry it out," said Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)

IDAHO:

There ought to be a death penalty exemption for the seriously mentally ill

In July 2015, as a Colorado jury debated the fate of James Holmes, a young man with schizophrenia who killed 13 people in a movie theater, I collected letters of support for his parents. From across the United States, mothers of young adults living with serious mental illness sent me their stories of trying and failing to get treatment for their children.

One mother wrote, "It wasn't your beautiful son who hurt all those people. It was the untreated brain illness that is so misunderstood. People with schizophrenia are not evil; they are ill."

Is it hard for you to feel sympathy for a murderer? While the Colorado shooting was awful, and the anger and grief of the victims is natural, parents of the nearly 10 million U.S. citizens living with serious mental illness understand that sentencing Holmes to death would only have exacerbated the tragedy. As the president of Boise's National Alliance on Mental Illness affiliate, I support the Idaho Alliance for the Serous Mental Illness Death Penalty Exemption (IASMIE), a coalition of law enforcement officers, healthcare providers, faith leaders and advocates striving to find a better solution.

People living with untreated mental illness who commit violent crimes often lack the capacity to understand or control their behavior. As a mother of a young man who lived with untreated serious mental illness, I have seen firsthand the consequences of this choice-stealing brain disease. When treated, people living with serious mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. But community based, high quality treatment is still difficult to access for many individuals and their families.

What does this mean for capital cases? Since 1983, more than 60 adults living with serious mental illness or intellectual disability have been executed across the country. Experts estimate that 20 % of the people currently on death row live with serious mental illness. False media portrayals of "dangerous madmen" notwithstanding, this illness is largely genetic, and medical experts agree that "faking" symptoms of impairment is nearly impossible. In most cases, serious mental illness has been documented for years.

Idaho law currently excludes people living with intellectual disabilities from the death penalty. There are many reasons for extending this exemption to people living with mental illness. In addition to providing an ethical, compassionate approach, a death penalty exemption could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars per case, while also ensuring that those convicted were still prosecuted and sentenced appropriately, including life without possibility of parole.

If you feel like someone living with a brain tumor would not deserve the death penalty, can you feel the same way for James Holmes? What would you want if your own child were sick and committed a capital crime? Creating a death penalty exemption will save money, but more importantly, it will acknowledge the medical reality that families like mine face. Behavioral symptoms of serious mental illness are not choices.

(source: Opinion; Liza Long is the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Boise affiliate----Idaho Statesman)

CALIFORNIA:

Shooting rampage could result in a rarity - death penalty for suspect

Fresno police were busy Wednesday preparing official reports in the wake of a deadly crime rampage that ended in 4 homicides - killings that could result in a death sentence for accused mass murderer Kori Ali Muhammad.

Once the police reports are turned over to the District Attorney's Office, prosecutors plan to file charges Thursday. Muhammad likely will be arraigned Friday in Superior Court.

Muhammad, 39, is accused of killing Zachary David Randalls, 34, of Clovis, Mark James Gassett, 37, of Fresno, and David Martin Jackson, 58, of Fresno in a shooting rampage on Tuesday near downtown Fresno. He also is suspected in the April 13 shooting death of security guard Carl Allen Williams III at a Motel 6.

Muhammad, 39, is black. All of his victims were white. Police Chief Jerry Dyer has said the killings were fueled by Muhammad's hatred of white people.

Because Muhammad is suspected of committing multiple murders, the law allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said Wednesday he could not comment because prosecutors have a policy against talking about pending cases.

But Fresno defense lawyer Ralph Torres, who defended mass murderer Marcus Wesson in 2005, said prosecutors will likely seek a death sentence for Muhammad. "There's no doubt in my mind they will go all the way," Torres said.

Seeking the death penalty is rare. Wesson was sentenced to death in Fresno County Superior Court in 2005 after being convicted of orchestrating the 2004 killings of 9 of his children. The last Fresno County defendant to receive the death penalty was Eddie Ricky Nealy, who who was convicted in September 2013 of the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf.

Wesson, 70, and Nealy, 60, remain on death row at San Quentin Prison.

From reading news reports about the Muhammad case, Torres said there are similarities between it and Wesson. "Both are sensational killings," Torres said. "And the way in which they occurred. There's a kind of horror associated with it."

The last Fresno County defendant to receive the death penalty was Eddie Ricky Nealy, who was convicted in September 2013 of the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf.

He said prosecutors will likely charge the special-circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders. Prosecutors also could consider the special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait, he said.

"But you only need one special-circumstance allegation to go for the death penalty," Torres said.

Typically, prosecutors don't make the decision to seek a death sentence until after the defendant has a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether the defendant should stand trial.

Torres said the decision to seek a death sentence also comes after defense attorneys are given the opportunity to speak with District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp and her administrative staff and provide them with evidence on why the death penalty might not be appropriate, Torres said.

"It's still too early to tell, but on first impression, this case has all the elements for prosecutors to seek a death sentence," Torres said.

(source: fresnobee.com)

USA:

The ignoble history of the 3-drug death penalty cocktail

When Ohio announced in 2009 that it planned to abandon the 3-drug lethal injection protocol that virtually all jurisdictions had employed for the past 3 decades, many assumed that most other states would soon follow suit. After all, Ohio's new protocol, which involved an overdose of a single barbiturate, was touted as being easier to administer and less risky.

8 years later, however, the three-drug protocol is still very much in use, and its current application likely violates the 8th Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Despite demonstrated concerns, Arkansas planned to use it to execute 8 prisoners by the end of April. But for court rulings staying some of the executions, the unprecedented state killings would already have begun.

The 3-drug protocol has an ignoble history. In the late 1970s, a medical examiner in Oklahoma, Jay Chapman, developed a procedure that involved, 1st, an anesthetic to render the prisoner unconscious; 2nd, a paralyzing agent to render him immobile; and 3rd, potassium chloride to stop his heart. No one in the scientific or medical community vetted Chapman's creation, nor was it subjected to testing of any kind. Chapman himself had no expertise in this area; as a medical examiner, he admitted that he "was an expert in dead bodies but not an expert in getting that way."

Nevertheless, virtually every death penalty state adopted Chapman's procedure.

The maladministration of lethal injection procedures has been well-documented in many states over the past 10 years.

A criticism of the 3-drug protocol, and one key reason that its current use may constitute cruel and unusual punishment, is that the paralyzing agent serves no medical purpose, nor is it needed to cause death. Instead, paralysis renders it virtually impossible to discern whether the prisoner is suffering.

This is no fanciful concern. Paralyzing drugs are derived from a poison called curare, which was used in the barbaric 19th century practice of vivisection - the dissection of living animals for medical experimentation. In 1868, Swedish physiologist A.F. Holmgren described the use of curare as changing one "instantly into a living corpse, which hears and sees and knows everything, but is unable to move a single muscle, and under its influence no creature can give the faintest indication of its hopeless condition."

42 of 50 states bar the use of such drugs in animal euthanasia because if something goes wrong and the animal is not properly rendered unconscious, it's impossible to know. As one animal welfare organization wrote to New York legislators in 1987 in support of a ban on paralytics in euthanasia, "drugs containing paralytic agents ... can cause acute suffering before an animal dies." The Humane Society of the United States has stated that it is the "moral and ethical duty" of its members to end the practice of "injecting animals with curare-based or paralytic substances."

It's true that if the 1st drug in the 3-drug protocol is an anesthetic and if it's administered properly and in the right dosage, then the prisoner won't feel the effects of the paralytic or the potassium chloride. But the maladministration of lethal injection procedures has been well-documented in many states over the past 10 years (including, notably, California). Even a 1-drug protocol can go horribly awry if the drug is of unknown provenance or if the execution personnel are unqualified or untrained. Proper administration cannot be taken for granted.

Arkansas' version of the 3-drug protocol is particularly troubling because the state does not even plan to use an anesthetic as the 1st drug. Instead, its protocol calls for midazolam, a sedative that cannot, at any dosage, render a person unconscious and insensate to pain and suffering. In other words, even if the protocol is administered properly, it cannot work as intended because the 1st drug is not an anesthetic. Midazolam has led to botched executions in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Ohio - and Arizona has agreed to ban its use in future executions.

Despite grave concerns about midazolam as an execution drug, we may never know whether it works - or fails - in the spate of executions Arkansas has planned. The prisoners will be paralyzed, unable to move a muscle, unable to indicate in any way if they are experiencing the suffocating effects of the paralytic and the searing pain of the potassium chloride. That's more than an execution. That's torture.

(source: Op-Ed; Ty Alper is a clinical professor of law and associate dean at UC Berkeley School of Law----Los Angeles Times)

*********************

Does death penalty meet Jewish values?

Although a large portion of the US Jewish community is opposed to the death penalty, an issue that has recently been making headlines following cases in Arkansas, the concept of capital punishment has its roots in the Bible and is mandated by the Torah, New York rabbis told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The issue has sparked debate again in April after the State of Arkansas announced plans to execute 8 inmates on death row by the end of the month, when the state's stock of a lethal injection drug expires.

On Monday, the Supreme Court blocked 2 of the executions, just hours before they were scheduled to take place. These would have been the state's 1st executions in over a decade. The legal battle over the fate of the death row inmates is ongoing.

Orthodox Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Congregation Ohab Zedek on the Upper West Side told the Post that while the Torah calls for the death penalty for many violations, it is used very carefully, and more as a deterrent.

"It says that if a Jew was put to death once in 70 years, that is considered a bloody century," he said. "It was rarely ever promulgated."

While in the texts, crimes like adultery and violation of Shabbat were punishable by death, today the sentence is mainly reserved for murder.

"It is clearly the worst of all sins," Schwartz said. "The people in Arkansas who are on death row are there for taking life, not for egregious drug sales. The country would not kill Bernie Madoff for stealing 65 million dollars. He'll spend the rest of his life in jail but they're not gonna kill him for that."

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, a community for young Jews in New York, added that in order to carry out an execution, "Jewish law requires so much of the prosecution that it is almost impossible to carry out the death penalty in practical reality."

Wildes said from a Jewish point of view, the evidence against the defendant in a death row case needs to be very conclusive, to the point that there is no doubt the person has committed the crime.

"To favor the death penalty as Jews, the American legal system would need to require the prosecution to provide more evidence than the current American system requires, to ensure a higher level of certainty that the defendant had in fact committed the crime," he said.

But according to Schwartz, while capital punishment could be debated for sins other than murder, "the taking of a life is something so egregious that there is no punishment that can atone for such a sin."

"For people who kill others... there is only 1 approach that mankind has to have to this, and it says so again and again in the Torah," he told the Post. "If Jews are saying they are categorically against the death penalty, I don't know if that's a Torah value."

Nevertheless, the risk of executing an innocent person shouldn't be taken lightly, the rabbis agreed.

"There is no threshold for even 1 out of 1,000 people killed without deserving it," Schwartz stated. "You don't want to get the death penalty wrong, but when it's unequivocal that this person took life, you have unequivocal evidence, then Judaism is also unequivocal about that."

In addition, Judaism strongly focuses on the idea of teshuva, repentance for one's sins, an idea that often seems to be in conflict with the finality of capital punishment.

"Judaism believes in giving as many opportunities as possible for the convicted to repent," Wildes pointed out. "There really is no idea of punishing for the sake of punishing in Judaism - it's all part of enabling the convicted person to be restored spiritually and ethically."

Although repentance is an indispensable part of the rehabilitative process, Schwartz believes it can still go hand in hand with execution.

"If someone unequivocally committed murder, part of his teshuva is being killed," he said.

If the executions in Arkansas are carried out after all, they would be a major step back in the US. According to data published last week by Amnesty International, the number of executions have significantly declined in the country in recent years.

In 2016, only 20 executions were carried out in the US, the country's lowest number since 1991.

For the 1st time in 10 years, the US was also not 1 of the 5 biggest executioners, falling to 7th place. Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan - in that order.

(source: Jerusalem Post)

***************

Refusing to Make a Monster out of God: Shane Claiborne on the Death Penalty.

A native of Tennessee, Claiborne calls on Christians, especially Evangelicals, to turn toward a practice of nonviolence, social justice, and solidarity with the poor.

Activists campaigning to abolish the death penalty recently confronted a new and urgent occasion for their efforts, when the state of Arkansas announced it would execute 8 death-row inmates in a ten-day period because its store of chemicals for lethal injection was about to expire.

Among the newer activists to the decades-old struggle to end state-sponsored killing of people convicted of crimes is activist and writer Shane Claiborne. A native of Tennessee and graduate of Eastern University in suburban Philadelphia, Claiborne in the mid-1990s helped found the Christian community The Simple Way in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood, where he still lives. He has since become an influential and prolific voice calling on Christians, especially Evangelicals, to turn toward a practice of nonviolence, social justice, and solidarity with the poor that he finds at the core of the life of Jesus and the message of the New Testament.

In 2016, Claiborne published Executing Grace, a prayerful manifesto making a Biblically based case for the abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with restorative justice. During a Palm Sunday weekend visit to Madison, Wisconsin, as well as in a brief follow-up email exchange, Claiborne spoke with The Progressive about why his faith calls him to the movement to abolish the death penalty - a movement that crosses religious and secular lines and even brings together the families of crime victims and those condemned to die.

Q: You write that you once defended the death penalty. How did you come to change your mind?

Shane Claiborne: A lot of it had to do with taking a closer look at the Bible. I had a very surface understanding of some things, like "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." The great thing about being at a good Christian college is that we dove deeper into some of those. We say, "There's more to 'an eye for an eye' than meets the eye." So that was part of it - good theology, deeper theology.

But the personal side of it was a big deal. A lot of the people in the stories I write about have become close friends, particularly murder victims' family members that are against the death penalty. Many of them are compelled by their faith to find alternatives, convinced that it doesn't actually bring closure, it just extends the trauma and creates a whole new set of victims. It legitimizes this kind of very immoral violence that we're trying to heal the world of.

Q: You obviously had to seek out those stories. What drove that?

Claiborne: After I wrote my 1st book, I started giving it away to people in prison and got to know more and more of these stories. I saw more and more folks like my friend Art Laffin, a Catholic Worker against war and also against the death penalty. Then his brother was killed by a man who struggled mentally, and that became personal to him. Some of the most heroic redemptive voices that I see are folks that have used their deep pain and trauma to try to heal the wounds rather than exacerbate the resentment of violence.

Some of the most heroic redemptive voices that I see are folks that have used their deep pain and trauma to try to heal the wounds rather than exacerbate the resentment of violence.

Q: You point out that the Bible Belt is now the death belt. Why is it that conservative Christians still tend to staunchly support the death penalty?

Claiborne: In the Bible Belt, I still think that there is an underlying moral or theological justification for the death penalty.

Some of it is how we understand Jesus' death. We're missing the whole point of Easter when Arkansas is going to slaughter seven or eight people after Easter! There's a racial dynamic: It's largely white evangelicals [who support execution]. Similar to the 81 % who voted for Trump.

But now, I think there's some really beautiful signs. Millennial Christians are overwhelmingly against the death penalty. They're like, "I can't reconcile this with Jesus - 'Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.'" Also, [some] conservatives have turned against the death penalty. It's consistent with the conservative ideology of, "How much do we trust our government?"

Q: Is there a specific theological interpretation of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection that justifies the death penalty in some people's minds?

Claiborne: We've used some really dangerous theology to write a blank check to all authority. When you say "all authorities are established by God" - I think it's a mis-reading of Romans 13 to say that means God endorses every government and every authority. What do you do with Hitler, what do you do with Saddam Hussein? What do you do with a professing Christian regime in Uganda that wants to execute folks for same-gendered relationships? Our government in the practice of the death penalty and mass incarceration has a lot of room for redemption.

I do think there's ways of understanding why Jesus died that can end up creating almost a monster out of God, a God that needs blood. I think that Jesus died to end the sacrificial system, to say, "There is no need for more blood." Any time we continue to try to cling to this blood atonement for crimes, we undermine the very redemptive work of Jesus.

I think that Jesus died to end the sacrificial system, to say, "There is no need for more blood."

Q: Earlier this year, you were part of a group arrested at the Supreme Court for protesting the death penalty.

Claiborne: It was the 40th anniversary of the first modern-era execution: Gary Gilmore. We used that anniversary as a fresh call to end the death penalty. We had the names [of] over 1,400 people who have been executed. And even as we did it, there was an execution imminent in Virginia that did go forward. We wanted to do provocative public witness.

We carried roses in 2 different colors: 1 for the victims of violent crimes, and 1 for the victims of state-sanctioned execution and their families. To be anti-death penalty doesn't mean we're anti-victim. We had murder victims' family members and families of the executed who were there together and even went to jail together. One of the banners that they had said, "Remember the victims, but not with more killing."

18 of us went to jail for holding a banner saying that your First Amendment ends on the property of the Supreme Court. We will challenge that. Our deepest concern is to use our trial to put the death penalty on trial. Our trial is on the anniversary of Furman v. Georgia, which is the case that the Supreme Court stopped executions and ruled that the death penalty was arbitrary and capricious. It's absurd that we're going to trial for holding a banner. We were handcuffed, shackled, chained at our feet, hands and waist, and held in jail for 30 hours. And at the end of the day, our courts continue to practice this thing of killing our own citizens.

Q: For people who don't see themselves as directly affected - they don't know any victims of fatal violence, they don't know anybody on death row - how do they engage this issue?

Claiborne: Listen to some of the folks [talk about how] the death penalty has devastated their lives. And as Hebrews says, "Remember those in prison as if you yourselves were in prison."

There are amazing stories that point the world towards healing from trauma and from violence. And in a world that's so plagued by violence, I think they have a lot to teach us about moving forward without mirroring the very violence that we see in the world.

Q: You've written about the marginalization of victims and survivors who oppose the death penalty.

Claiborne: SueZann Bosler is one of those. She was basically given a gag order. She was threatened with contempt of court when she said that she didn't want the death penalty, and even though she was stabbed in the head multiple times [and] her dad was killed. He was a pastor, and she just said, "That's not what he would want, that's not what I want." She's been a very incredible voice against the death penalty, and there's just dozens and dozens of families like hers.

Q: How hopeful are you about eventual abolition of the death penalty?

Claiborne: I'm really hopeful. Folks that I know have been working on this for decades longer than I have are really hopeful. The signs are really everywhere - that executions keep falling lower every year, death sentences are dramatically lower, especially in the last year or so. There are setbacks - California's narrow vote to keep the death penalty and even to expedite it, Nebraska's massive battle there, pretty much single-handedly by the governor, to keep it in place. But I'm really optimistic. Part of why there's such a youthful enthusiasm around Bernie Sanders was that he was against the death penalty. He said "In a world of violence, why would I want to add more to it?"

Q: How significant are the recent court rulings that have effectively halted two of the eight planned executions in Arkansas?

Claiborne: The fact the 1st 2 of 8 executions were thwarted is something to celebrate. But the fight is not over. Now we need to stop them all. Every little step away from the death penalty is a step toward life and something worth celebrating. But we who believe in true justice cannot rest until the death penalty is dead, once and for all.

(source: The Progressive)

*********************

The Shocking Lack of Science Behind Lethal Injections

Until a judge told them to stop last week, penal authorities in Arkansas planned to kill 7 people in 11 days. All 7 were convicted of horrible crimes and sentenced to die by the state; put aside how you feel about that for a moment. What's salient here is how those men are supposed to die - the execution of their executions.

According to Arkansas' Lethal Injection Procedure, each man will first get an intravenous injection of a sedative called midazolam, a benzodiazepene - the same class of drugs as Valium. On death row it's supposed to induce a deep, insensate coma.

Then comes a dose of vecuronium bromide. Technically that's a nonpolarizing neuromuscular blocker, a muscle relaxant. On death row, it's a paralytic, intended to keep the prisoner still and, maybe, to suffocate. If you can't move your diaphragm, you can't inhale.

All that's just a wind-up for the real kill shot: potassium chloride. The potassium ion messes up the electrical properties of the cells of the heart, making it impossible for them to contract. The heart stops beating.

Not every state executes prisoners the same way. Some only use one drug, or follow different protocols. But the idea, everywhere, is the same: to execute people without violating the Constitution's 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, the whole point of lethal injection was that it seems like a more humane way of executing someone than hanging, shooting, head-chopping-off, gas chambers, stuff like that.

The problem is, no one knows if lethal injection really is more humane. In court case after court case, lawyers have argued that botched executions by lethal injection show that it's a painful and faulty method. What little research exists hints at the same conclusion. No matter how you feel about the fact that the criminal justice system sometimes kills people, even innocent people, you have to also feel something about the fact that the criminal justice system isn't very good at killing people.

Execution Isn't Easy

An Oklahoma medical examiner named Jay Chapman pitched the three-drug protocol in 1977 - without a single study or piece of scientific evidence. But hey, it definitely killed people, and executed them less disgustingly than poison gas or gunshots. "No one has done any peer-reviewed experimental research into the mechanisms of death by lethal injection," says Teresa Zimmers, a researcher at Indiana University's School of Medicine and one of the few people to publish research on the practice. "That, of course, is because support for the death penalty in the US has generally rested on the fact that people perceive lethal injection to be humane."

Chapman's original protocol called for a tranquilizer from the barbiturate family. But by the 2000s, barbiturates were in short supply. Drug companies find the use of their medicines as engines of death to be distressingly off-brand, barbiturates were falling out of favor as anesthetics, and all of Europe had prohibited the use of those drugs in executions, shrinking the market.

That forced states to search for an alternative. Ohio landed on the sedative midazolam, and Florida started using it in 2013. The problem is, midazolam turns out to be a terrible coma-inducer. Prisoners were waking up mid-execution, coughing and snoring. "It's not even close to being an appropriate drug for executions," says Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "But when states were no longer able to get ahold of anesthetic for use in executions, they casually looked around to see what else doctors use to put somebody to sleep."

The thing is, when you're being executed with a 3-drug protocol, you really want to be knocked out. That 2nd drug, the paralytic, is probably extraordinarily painful the whole time you're suffocating - except no one can tell, because, well, you're totally paralyzed. (Fun side note: The paralytics are typically synthetic versions of curare.) The potassium chloride injection burns like fire. And even with a barbiturate on board, people might feel all of that every time.

The Search for a New Necrology

These gaps in knowledge seem fillable, but states have been less than transparent about their practices, and scientists haven't wanted to look too closely at lethal injection. "It's either that they don't know too much about the science, or that they're not telling us," says Megan McCracken, an attorney at UC Berkeley's Death Penalty Clinic who specializes in 8th Amendment challenges. "As lawyers, we want to know, how did the state come up with a drug formula? Who told them, or with whom did they consult, to come up with this dose and this timing? And those questions they decline to disclose."

Even if states wanted to know more about anesthesia for executions, the anesthesiologists themselves couldn't help. In general, big medical societies like the American Medical Association prohibit their members from studying or helping with executions. "It's inherently unethical to conduct experiments on how to best execute people," says Dunham. "And the people best qualified won't do it because it's a clear violation of the Hippocratic oath." One of the lethal injection researchers I called for this story declined even to comment on the subject.

You could imagine the set-up for a study to look at how lethal injection drugs work, or might work better - depending on your definition of "better," of course. Maybe an institutional review board (a group that approves the ethics of study designs) would allow condemned prisoners to consent to analyses of their responses. Or maybe not; the so-called Common Rule that protects human research subjects singles out prisoners for special protections, having already been deprived of various rights.

Or you could look to other literature on chemically-caused death. Some states in the US allow physician-assisted suicide, for example. The Netherlands allows euthanasia. But having a Dutch doctor standing by your bedside as you slip into a coma you asked for is pretty different from someone pumping drugs from a separate room through 20 feet of tubing. Veterinary protocols for large-mammal euthanasia might be helpful, too, but they usually have more to do with keeping handlers alive while trying to kill a dangerous animal. Oh, and the veterinarians want about as much to do with executing humans as physicians do.

In a final cruel and unusual twist, a subsidiary finding in Glossip v. Gross - the same 2015 Supreme Court decision that said it was OK if execution methods caused pain and gave the go-ahead to using midazolam - said that any challenge based on 8th Amendment rights had to include an alternative execution method. It was basically the equivalent of saying that if you don't want to incriminate yourself in courtroom testimony, you have to incriminate someone else. (Do it to Julia! Not me!)

That's a problem, because the science to figure out that better alternative doesn't exist. Still, some states have started advocating execution methods beyond lethal injection anyway. Utah is looking at the firing squad. (A classic!) Louisiana officials have talked about a gas chamber using nitrogen, which is either a death as peaceful as falling asleep or just like drowning. No one knows for sure. And for those half-dozen men on Arkansas' death row, it's too late to find out.

(source: wired.com)

***************

Opinion If lethal injection is unacceptable, don't abandon the death penalty - use a firing squad

To the editor: Arkansas had the right idea in trying execute 6 prisoners within 11 days - before its supply of a lethal-injection drug is set to expire in May - but some judges and misguided activists got in its way. ("In flurry of rulings, Arkansas' plan to execute inmates by month's end is halted," April 15)

Instead of protesting the death penalty, concerned citizens should protest against armed robbery and murder. The punishment for capital crimes ought to be carried out within a year of sentencing, not decades. We should also stop relying on lethal-injection chemicals and instead use hanging or firing squads.

Ours is not a civilized society, so we must treat killers the same way they treat their victims. This will have a definite impact on violent crime rates.

The only cruel and unusual punishment is what is done to the victims and their families.

Dave Cole, Cathedral City

....

To the editor: Why must executions rely solely on the availability of lethal-injection drugs?

I remember the story of the late professional golfer Payne Stewart and how the loss of pressure in his jet aircraft led to the unconscious state of everyone on board. They eventually died when the plane ran out of fuel and crashed. Also, pilots in the military are trained in pressure chambers to recognize the dangers of hypoxia in high altitude training.

The point is that individuals can slowly loose consciousness and eventually die from lack of oxygen without pain or suffering.

Why don't prisons use hypobaric chambers instead of lethal injections to kill condemned inmates? This would resolve the issue of drug availability.

Howard Kunihiro, Garden Grove

(source: Letters to the Editor, Los Angeles Times)

VIETNAM:

Beware Vietnam's Death Machine----A closer look at capital punishment in the Southeast Asian state.

One Thursday in July 2013, Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, sat down in the Oval Office to discuss Thomas Jefferson. Sang brought to this historic meeting between the 2 nation's presidents a letter Ho Chi Minh had sent Harry Truman, prior to the Vietnam War, seeking cooperation with the United States. Uncle Ho's words, said Obama, were "inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson." In fact, when the Proclamation of Independence was read by Ho in 1945, he chose to begin with an extract from America's Declaration of Independence, its principal author being Jefferson.

While a visit to the White House by the Vietnamese president was an occasion for historical reflection, the here-and-now was what really mattered. Indeed, diplomacy and trade were the main talking points, signaling the start of an emboldened relationship between the 2 nations. But the U.S. president did at least mention Vietnam's human right's record.

"All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain," Obama said after the meeting. Sang's only comment was that the 2 men "have differences on the issue."

Little reported afterwards was the execution of a 27-year old Vietnamese man named Nguyen Anh Tuan, a convicted murderer, which took place on August 6, just 2 weeks after Sang's visit to White House. Tuan's execution was the 1st in years, and the 1st since Vietnam replaced firing squads with lethal injections in 2011. However, a ban on importing "authorized" lethal drugs meant it had to use untested domestic poisons. Tuan took 2 hours to die, reportedly in harrowing pain.

Between the date of Tuan's death and June 30, 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people (or an average of 147 executions per year; or 12 each month). Additionally, 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016. The number remaining on "death row" is not known.

These figures only came to light after the public security ministry decided to release them in February. They are normally classified as state secrets and rarely revealed. Surprising many around the world who thought the numbers to be much lower, Amnesty International reported this month that Vietnam is now the world's third-most prolific executioner of prisoners. Only China and Iran are thought to have executed more people.

In June 2016, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights provided a lengthy report on the death penalty’s mechanisms in Vietnam, explaining that capital punishment is applied for 18 different offenses, down from 44 in 1999.

Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors this includes harsh drug laws, and Vietnam metes out the death penalty for those caught in possession or smuggling 100 grams or more of heroin or cocaine, or 5 kilograms or more of cannabis and other opiates. Other crimes, including murder and rape, also carry a death sentence.

After reforms during the 2000s, "the death penalty was effectively abolished on certain crimes, such as robbery, disobeying orders or surrendering to the enemy. But in other cases, crimes were simply re-worded to mask their appearance and deceive international opinion," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Particularly troubling is the fact that the Vietnamese regime wields capital punishment for vaguely-defined crimes of "infringing upon national security," explains the report. These include carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration (Article 109 of the reformed Criminal Code), rebellion (article 112), and sabotaging the material-technical foundations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (article 114).

Returning to the recent execution figures, it is worth considering why the regime would choose to announce them in February - knowing the reaction they would cause - and whether they are not masking a far larger number of executions.

One problem is that they came with no information as to what the prisoners were being executed for. We might assume that most were for drug offenses or murder, as has been the case in the past, but it is by no means certain. That leads one to wonder whether any of the people executed were arrested for simply protesting against the regime.

Even if they weren't, capital punishment and human rights are by no means detached issues, as some claim. What is the connection between the drug trafficker, the murder and the human-rights activist in the regime's eyes? They are all a risk to national security. Indeed, in his famed essay, "Of Crimes and Punishments," Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria described the death penalty as a "war of the whole nation against a citizen whose destruction they consider necessary."

But what is the "nation" in Vietnam? It is not just an arbitrary land defined borders. No - according the regime's own laws, it is defined as akin to the "people's administration." Since the Communist Party and the Nation are effectively the same under the law, an attack on the Party becomes treasonous. Indeed, the law makes "no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism, and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Moreover, what is a "citizen" in Vietnam? And if it is to be treasonous to attack the Party, and thereby the Nation, does this mean the person who wishes the end of the Party is not a citizen? When France did away with the peine de mort in the early 1980s, Francois Mitterrand's Minister of Justice said the scaffold had come to symbolize "a totalitarian concept of the relationship between the citizen and the state." It is this same totalitarian relationship that knots capital punishment and human rights in Vietnam.

What also catches the eye is the hubristic nature of Hanoi's release of the execution figures, coming as they do as criticism of the regime increases. They might be better read as a boast, not an admission. The overriding message is: We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.

Following the 2013 meeting between Obama and Sang, some pundits thought Obama's ambition was to embolden Vietnam's reformist politicians through diplomatic engagement and improved trade links. This became America's foreign policy towards Hanoi for the next 3 years. It didn't work, however, and suppression has remained as essential as ever for the Communist Party, perhaps even more so, especially as criticism of the Party's rule nowadays swells on issues such an environmentalism.

So while Vietnam's economy has flourished since Obama's rapprochement, its civil society has languished somewhere between desperation and enviable bravery. Obama's administration bears responsibility for this, and the strategic patience it gambled on played only into Hanoi's hands. Naive, perhaps. Or just willfully remiss, as Vietnam’s amity was necessary for America's counter-Beijing Asian 'pivot'. Maybe, then, Vietnam's activists were jettisoned for the sake of geopolitics - an unexceptional component of America's Janus-faced foreign policy.

Today, however, U.S. trade links are far from assured. U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the TPP has jeopardized the free-trade bounty Hanoi was counting on. Vietnam now appears keen to formalize a bilateral free-trade agreement with the US, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that he wants to visit Washington as soon as possible

In a perverse situation, Trump's administration now wields the stick that Obama chose not to use. Moreover, it has the ability to bargain in a way Obama couldn't: No trade pact without improved human rights. Since the Communist Party's legitimacy depends on a growing economy - and 1/5 of all Vietnam's export are to the United States, which could be further hampered if Trump pushes through trade tariffs and increased taxes on imports - Hanoi might be strong-armed into opening up space for criticism, in return for the United States opening more trade links.

Still, this depends on how much Trump values a human-rights laden foreign policy, which some analysts claim he doesn't. That said, the State Department's decision to give the imprisoned Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh the "International Women of Courage Award" certainly irked Hanoi.

Perhaps this explains the adroit use of executions statistics by the Vietnamese regime, and the appropriate timing of their release. The numbers will raise hairs in Europe; the European Union (EU) bars membership for countries with capital punishment, though not for countries with which it agrees free-trade agreements, it seems. The EU-Vietnam FTA that should become effective next year but contains no condition regarding Vietnam abolishing the death penalty (surely patronizing, given that the EU has higher expectations of European countries than others).

The execution figures, however, put the United States in an awkward position. It cannot condemn Vietnam when it is still a practitioner in capital punishment, as well as the loudest proponent of drug prohibition internationally, too. As is to be expected, the White House has been silent on the matter. If the Washington can stomach the totalitarian ethos behind Vietnam's capital punishment then why can't it overlook Vietnam's human right's record, Hanoi may well argue. Indeed, the moral lecturer on human rights has the mirror turned on it when capital punishment arises.

One might assume, then, that with little international support for capital punishment abolition in Vietnam, the cogs will no doubt continue rotating on the death machine, at least until a true separation between the Nation and the Party, and between the State and the Citizen, takes place.

(source: The Diplomat)

INDIA:

Madhya Pradesh Seeks Death Penalty For Rapists

Madhya Pradesh has prepared a proposal seeking death penalty for rapists.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has given his nod to the plan chalked out by Madhya Pradesh police. The state government will now forward it to the Centre for final approval.

"Police headquarters has prepared perhaps the most stringent proposal for punishing those charged with sexually assaulting women," said Aruna Mohan Rao, additional director general of police (ADG) from crime against women cell.

The proposal contains harsher punishment from 20 years in jail to death sentence for those who sexually assault girls less than 12 years of age, she said.

Once the Centre approves it, the bill will be introduced in the state Assembly during monsoon session, sources said. Then, it would be forwarded to the President.

The state government also plans to request the Centre to inculcate the said provisions into the Indian Penal Code.

Government sources said the CM approved the stringent laws for curbing crimes against women after a series of measures failed to bring the crime graph down.

Due for Assembly polls in 2018, the BJP government stares at highest number of rape cases in country with National Crime Record Bureau 2015 report putting MP on top in terms of rape cases registered in 2015. The state had recorded 4,391 rapes in the year.

(source: news18.com)

SINGAPORE----impending execution

EU calls on Singapore government to halt the execution of Jeffrey Marquez Abineno

The European Union (EU) has called on the Singapore authorities to halt the execution of Mr Jeffrey Marquez Abineno, to commute his sentence to a non-capital sentence and to adopt a moratorium on all executions.

Jeefrey was 47 years old at the time of his alleged offence. He was a drug addict. Upon his arrest, his urine sample tested positive for heroin and methamphetamine. He was convicted of delivering drugs to feed his own drug habit. The Prosecution argued that he would be paid in packets of heroin or in cash each time he made a delivery. The Prosecution further conceded that Jeefrey was a 'courier', but did not issue him with a certificate of cooperation. The trial Judge therefore had no choice but to sentence Jeefrey to death.

Jeefrey's lawyers applied to the Court of Appeal to challenge the constitutionality of section 33B of the Misuse of Drugs Act as it gave the Prosecution (and not the Judge) the power to decide who lives and who dies by the issuance or non issuance of the certificate of cooperation. The Court of Appeal however rejected their arguments.

Jeefrey's lawyers said that they received news on 17 April that his petition for clemency was turned down, and that they understand that he is scheduled to be executed tomorrow at the crack of dawn.

The EU said that it holds a principled position against the death penalty and is opposed to the use of capital punishment under any circumstances.

"The death penalty has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime," the press statement said.

Adding: "Furthermore, any errors - inevitable in any legal system - are irreversible."

(source: The Independent)

JAPAN:

Abe calls antiterror bill 'pressing' in Diet debate

Full-fledged deliberations on a bill to punish major organized crimes in the planning and preparation stages began Wednesday, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attending a House of Representatives panel session.

During a session of the Committee on Judicial Affairs, Abe sought understanding of the bill, which is intended to revise the Law on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds.

"We'll continue to work thoroughly to ensure the appropriateness of investigations, to prevent people from harboring fears and concerns," Abe said.

The government and ruling parties are aiming to pass the bill into law during the current Diet session, which is scheduled to end on June 18.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics only three years away, Abe said: "Implementing antiterrorist measures is a pressing issue. Establishing the crime of preparing for acts of terror and other offenses can help prevent serious organized crimes."

The legislation is essential to conclude the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, to which Japan became a signatory in 2000.

"Among Group of 7 industrialized countries, only Japan has yet to conclude the convention," Abe said. "The early conclusion of it is extremely important."

Shiori Yamao of the Democratic Party referred to the possibility that people could be accused of a crime even for such menial acts as picking mushrooms in a protected forest.

"That won't counter terrorism," she said. "If surveillance by investigative authorities is reinforced, it's nothing but harmful."

Fierce opposition expected

At the beginning of the panel session, the ruling and opposition parties failed to reach an agreement over whether Makoto Hayashi, head of the Justice Ministry's Criminal Affairs Bureau, should attend the session as an unsworn witness for the government. As a result, the panel's Chairman Junji Suzuki, who is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, used his authority to take a vote.

The ruling camp wanted Hayashi to attend the panel session, saying that questions concerning specific investigations and practical matters needed to be answered by the bureau chief, who is in charge of the matter and has expertise. The DP and other parties, which want to grill Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, opposed it. However, Hayashi's attendance was approved with a majority vote.

The bill stipulates that if a major crime involving terrorist groups or other organized crime groups is planned by two people or more, and at least one of them is involved in the preparation of it, all operatives who take part in the planning stages of the act can be punished.

Among crimes punishable by the death penalty or more than 4 years of imprisonment with or without labor, the government has narrowed down the number of crimes subject to punishment in which organized criminal groups are presumed to be involved to 277.

The government and ruling parties intend to pass the bill in the lower house shortly after next month's long holidays. However, the schedule for deliberations is tight, and the opposition bloc is highly likely to fiercely oppose it. To ensure the passage of the bill during the ongoing Diet session, some LDP members have called for the session to be extended. .

(source: The Japan News)

TAIWAN:

Move to execute coffee shop killer grinds to a halt after she 'finds Christ'----Sentence for coffee shop killer officially reversed from death penalty to life in prison for murders committed in 2013

A female manager of a coffee shop who had been convicted for the robbing and murder of a couple in 2013, has been given life in prison, reversing the original death sentence she faced that year.

Today, the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecution's appeal of a life sentence handed down in 2015 to Hsieh Yi-han, 31, on the grounds that she confessed and that a psychological assessment found that Hsieh had made a clean break with her past errors and was at low risk of repeating her crime.

In October 2013, Hsieh had originally been sentenced to death by the Shilin District Court in Taipei for the murder of Shih Chien University assistant professor Chang Tsui-ping, 58, and her husband, Chen Chin-fu, 79, before dumping their bodies in the Tamsui River in suburban Taipei in February 2013.

Hsieh had befriended the couple when they visited the Monmouth Coffee she was managing. Coveting the couple's large fortune, she laced their drinks with sleeping pills, stabbed them to death, and dragged their bodies into the river. Hsieh then withdrew NT$350,000 from Chen's bank account, but failed in her attempt to withdraw money from Chang's account by passing herself off as the murdered woman. The case came to light when the couple's bodies were discovered near the riverside cafe.

The verdict was then upheld in September 2014 by the Taiwan High Court. However, Taiwan's Supreme Court in February 2015 overturned the death sentence handed down in Hsieh's 1st and 2nd trials and remanded the case to the Taiwan High Court for review.

Pastor Huang Ming-chen, who met with Hsieh 20 times during her detention, said after she had found Christ, she wished to repent her sins and even hoped to reconcile with the families of the victims. This led the court to believe that there was a high probability that she could be reformed and that the death penalty was not appropriate after Taiwan signed into law the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The covenant stipulates that in countries that have not abolished the death penalty, the death sentence may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law, and it can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court.

However, Chen's sister said in an interview earlier this year that that the reversal of the death penalty "had led to very painful suffering, she said she was "really very unconvinced! Taking two lives and she only gets life imprisonment! Her crime should result in the death penalty! This will be the only way to serve justice in the afterlife for my brother and sister-in-law."

(source: Taiwan News)

THAILAND:

Thai Court extends appeal deadline in trial of Myanmar migrant pair sentenced to death

For Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun - the migrant workers sentenced to death by the Thai court in relation to the deaths of 2 British tourists - the new year brings with it a glimmer of hope. Aung Myo Thant, the lawyer in charge of the case, confirmed to 7Day yesterday that Thai authorities have extended the deadline by which the defendants can file the final appeal for their case.

After being handed the death sentence last December, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun had made an appeal to the Thai Appellate Court, citing accusations that officials had 'bungled' the investigation by declining to test key pieces of evidence, refusing to allow independent examinations, and failing to properly collect and preserve DNA samples. However, the Appellate Court officially stated on February 23 that the initial sentence would be upheld - an announcement that caught even the defendants' attorneys off-guard.

Following the Appellate Court's decision, the defendants were given 30 days to submit another appeal for their case to the Supreme Court, the final court. Although the pair's lawyers immediately began work on the Supreme Court appeal, they argued that the March 23 deadline was not enough time.

An initial petition for an extension was granted and the pair was given a new deadline of April 23. However, their attorneys argued that that still wasn't enough time to prepare a comprehensive appeal, and filed yet another successful petition. The team now has until May 23 to put together their case.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were found guilty of killing David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose battered bodies were found on a beach on the southern diving resort of Koh Tao in September 2014. Miller had been struck by a single blow and left to drown in shallow surf, while Witheridge had been raped and then bludgeoned to death with a garden hoe.

While the death penalty is technically still legal in Thailand, it is rarely carried out.

(source: coconuts.co)

PAKISTAN:

Pakistan Army chief issues execution order of 30 militants

Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday signed execution orders of 30 hardcore terrorists who were awarded death sentence by military courts of the country, the military said.

"These terrorists were involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism," an army statement said.

They were behind the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, kidnapping and slaughtering soldiers of security officials, attack on an airport in Swat Valley, killing innocent civilians, attacking armed forces' law enforcement agencies, the statement said.

It is the 1st time the army chief has approved death penalty of 30 convicts on a single day.

The army said the process of execution has been expedited during the ongoing anti-terror major operation codenamed "Radd-ul-Fasaa" or "reject discord" in English.

Pakistan's Parliament recently extended the period of military courts for 2 more years after their 2-year term expired earlier this year.

(source: webindia123.com)

IRAN----executions

Mohsen Babaie and 6 Others Executed at Rajai Shahr Prison

7 prisoners were reportedly executed at Rajai Shahr Prison on murder charges on the morning of Wednesday April 19.

These prisoners were among eleven who were transferred to solitary confinement on Sunday April 16 in preparation for their executions. The 4 other prisoners were reportedly returned to their cells, including Mehdi Bahlouli, who was reportedly 17 at the time of his arrest.

Sources close to Iran Human Rights have confirmed the names of 3 of the prisoners who were executed: Mohsen Babaie, Farzad Ghahreman, and Siamack Shafie.

Close sources have informed Iran Human Rights that Mohsen Babaie was born in 1988, and he was arrested in 2011. "Mohsen was an accountant. In 2011, he and his business partner got into a physical altercation. His partner died after Mohsen punched him in the face. If the murder victim's son does not forgive him, Mohsen will be executed," a source close to Mohsen tells Iran Human Rights.

Iranian official sources, including the media and the Judiciary, have not announced these 7 executions.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

*******************

Inmate's Hand Amputated Before Execution in Shiraz

3 inmates were executed on Tuesday, April 18 in the prisons of Shiraz and Tabriz. 10 days prior to the executions, authorities in Adel Abad Prison of Shiraz had horrifically amputated the hand of 1 of the inmates. 1 of the 2 prisoners executed in Tabriz Central Prison was 28 years of age.

Furthermore, 2 prisoners who were arrested while under the age of 18 are now facing execution. Mehdi Bahlouli, 17 years of age when arrested, is currently held in solitary confinement of Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran. Peyman Barandah, arrested at the age of 16 for his alleged crime, is on death row in Shiraz Central Prison.

The Iranian Resistance calls on Iranians from all walks of life, especially the youth, to protest such vicious punishments and arbitrary executions, specifically the hanging of juveniles. It further calls on the international community to strongly condemn this unprecedented barbarity in the 21st century and hinge their relations with the Iranian regime on an immediate halt to executions and inhumane punishments.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

TURKEY:

Erdogan death penalty vow likely to be tough sell in divided Turkey

Immediately after winning Sunday's referendum, President Tayyip Erdogan promised to reinstate the death penalty, a reform put in place 15 years ago that was seen as fundamental to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

The move would be sure to delight his fans, who called for it repeatedly at campaign rallies. But by effectively ending Ankara's decades-long EU accession bid, it could be a tough sell to the millions of Turks in bustling port cities, trade and tourist hubs who voted 'No' in Sunday's vote.

Preliminary results show a slim majority of 51.4 % of Turkish voters voted "Yes" to granting the presidency sweeping powers, the biggest overhaul of the country's politics since the founding of the modern republic.

"Our concern is not what George, Hans or Helga says," Erdogan told flag-waving supporters on the steps of his presidential palace on Monday.

"Our concern is what Hatice, Ayse, Fatma, Ahmet, Mehmet, Huseyin, Hasan says, what God says," he said. He has promised a debate in parliament on the issue or, failing that, another referendum.

But Europe would not be the only source of resistance to Erdogan's plans.

Turkey's biggest cities - Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - voted "No" on Sunday, along with industrial heartlands, tourist hotspots and ports in 33 provinces, outward-looking regions that have thrived on strong relations with Europe and are increasingly fearful of the future.

More than 320 of Turkey's 500 largest industrial companies are based in cities that voted against the constitutional changes, 181 of them in Istanbul.

"For years, we have worked on getting ourselves integrated with the world," Serafettin Asut, head of the chamber of commerce and industry in the Mediterranean city of Mersin, home to one of Turkey's largest international ports.

"We have made progress in foreign trade. We constantly think about how to improve ourselves. When you look at it from this perspective, bringing up the death penalty again would not really be received well," Asut said.

More than 64 % of Mersin's electorate voted "No" in the referendum, a surprise outcome in a city which had voted largely for the ruling AK Party, which was founded by Erdogan, in a November 2015 general election.

"People (in Mersin) turn their face towards the outside world but at home they see a different story," Asut said.

Tourist centres such as the Mediterranean city of Antalya, through which some 6 million foreign visitors entered the country last year, also overwhelmingly voted "No".

CONFLICTING AGENDAS

The main secularist opposition CHP party and the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP are seeking to annul the referendum, while the bar association and international observers have said the vote was marred by irregularities.

Erdogan has said the vote on Sunday ended all debate, however, telling European observers who criticised it: "Talk to the hand".

There have been sporadic protests against the outcome in cities, including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

"The AK Party is increasingly failing to attract the voters of big cities," said Murat Gezici, head of pollster Gezici, which correctly predicted the outcome of the referendum.

"They tried to convince the masses through patriotic and conservative values and the voters have perceived this as an indication of AKP's future policies - turning its face away from the West," Gezici said.

If Erdogan presses ahead with reinstating the death penalty, the AKP will need to either pass a bill through parliament, for which it does not have the votes alone, or hold another referendum, which he could swing with the backing of the nationalist MHP party, which has supported the idea in the past.

In the latest referendum, however, Erdogan was only able to get the support of 35 % of MHP voters, according to Gezici, indicating that the backing he bet among the nationalists may not be there.

JUST A PRECAUTION

A hero for many in Turkey's pious working class, Erdogan has over the years also won support from liberal businessmen. His reform-oriented early years in power as prime minister from 2003 brought stability and attracted foreign investment.

But confidence has been dented by the worsening ties with Europe, mounting concerns about political freedom and civil rights after last year's failed coup, a resurgent conflict with Kurdish militants, and the threat from Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

One businessman in Turkey, who runs a medium-sized textile company with around 150 clients based in Europe, said he had recently set up a company in Germany because of the deteriorating environment.

"It is a precaution in case relations between Turkey and the EU sour further and affect trade," he said, asking not to be identified because he feared retribution from customers who are loyal Erdogan supporters.

"I don't expect something as severe as an embargo," if Turkey were to restore the death penalty, he said. "But I now have a safety net for my business in case things between Turkey and Europe gets much worse."

Hurriyet columnist Murat Yetkin said Erdogan may have won the referendum, but some big challenges lie ahead.

"Now Erdogan will have to rule the part of Turkey most open to the world, with the highest cultural production, export capacity, tourism revenue and industrial output, with a constitution approved by its most introvert part," he wrote.

(source: nasdaq.com)

APRIL 19, 2017:

TEXAS:

Condemned inmate avoids execution with life sentence for Houston crime spree

A North Carolina man who spent years on Texas' death row awaiting execution was sentenced Monday to 4 consecutive life sentences, a plea bargain that Harris County prosecutors hope will keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Randolph Mansoor Greer, 43, was on death row until 2011, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that meant he and dozens of condemned inmates would get new sentencing hearings because of insufficient jury instructions.

Those cases, called Penry retrials because of the Supreme Court case, have been winding their way through Houston's courts for years. Some have successfully been retried as death penalty cases, others have gotten plea bargains with elaborately structured pleas to ensure the former death row inmates are never free.

Since Texas did not have a punishment of life in prison without parole when those crimes were committed, prosecutors and families of victims have worried that even a capital murder conviction in these cases might one day lead to parole. The decision to grant parole is made by prison officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under the law at the time of the crime.

On Monday, Greer was sentenced to 4 consecutive life sentences in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to capital murder and other crimes he committed during a 1991 spree in the Houston area, according to the Harris County District Attorneys Office.

"26 years after committing a murderous crime spree, Mr. Greer has been resentenced to 4 consecutive life terms without parole," First Assistant Tom Berg said Tuesday. "Greer, now 43, has been incapacitated and will never again pose a threat to public safety."

Prosecutors said his crime spree spanned 6 months. In separate incidents, he abducted and sexually assaulted 2 Houston area women who survived the attacks.

He also robbed from a business, stole a car, and shot and killed Walter Chmiel, owner of the Alamo gun shop in Bellaire.

Greer also committed a capital murder in North Carolina as well as sexual assaults, robberies and a home invasion.

Prior to new sentencing, prosecutors consulted with survivors and the families of victims, Berg said.

Defense attorneys Allen Tanner and Gerald Bourgue said it was a just result.

"It was an agreement based on the fact that he was 18 at the time, and he's been a model inmate ever since then," Tanner said. "We think his prison record was helpful for him."

Tanner also said mitigation experts combed through records and witnesses in North Carolina and Cleveland and were expected to testify about how Greer's troubled childhood led him to a life of crime.

(source: Houston Chronicle)

FLORIDA:

Death penalty will be pursued against man accused of shooting Sanford mother, son----Suspect Allen Cashe faces 1st-degree murder charges

The death penalty will be pursued against Allen Cashe, who is accused of killing a mother and her son and shooting 4 other people, was indicted Monday on 1st-degree premeditated murder charges, according to the Seminole County State Attorney's Office.

Cashe was indicted Monday on 1st-degree premeditated murder charges in connection with the deaths of Latina Herring, 35, and her 8-year-old son, Branden Christian. Officials on Tuesday filed a notice of intent to pursue the death penalty in that case.

Cashe was also indicted on 4 counts of attempted 1st-degree murder with a firearm in connection with the shootings of Latina Herring's father, 60-year-old Bertis Herring; Latina Herring's youngest child, 7-year-old Brenden Christian; and 2 bystanders, Rakeya Jackson, 18, and Lazaro Paredes, 43.

Sanford police released body camera footage of Cashe and Herring had been arguing about a set of keys hours before the double fatal shooting on March 27. Police encountered the couple twice before the shooting, but no arrests were made.

Cashe left Herring's home in Sanford after the 2nd police encounter, then returned around 6:20 a.m. with an AK-47, police said. Cashe is accused of opening fire on the family as they were sleeping.

Herring was shot 7 times and killed in her bedroom, police said.

Her 2 sons were sleeping on the couch when they were shot 3 times, the report said. Bertis Gerard Herring was shot 5 times in another bedroom.

Cashe is accused of shooting Jackson and Paredes as he was fleeing the area.

Assistant State Attorney Dan Faggard and the lead Sanford Police Department investigator presented information to the Grand Jury before the indictment was returned late Monday afternoon.

Cashe also faces charges of burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and shooting into a dwelling.

****************

Aramis Ayala used direct verbiage from anti-death penalty group, emails show----State attorney consulted few death penalty supporters

Emails obtained by News 6 show that embattled Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala used direct phrasing from an anti-death penalty group during a March 16 news conference in which she announced her office would not pursue capital punishment cases.

On February 15, Stefanie Faucher of the 8th Amendment Project emailed a message to Ayala that read, "It was really great speaking to you yesterday. I look forward to working with you to support your decision."

The organization believes the death penalty is unconstitutional, according to its website.

Attached to Faucher's email was a document titled "The Death Penalty is Broken Beyond Repair," which Faucher referred to as a "message map," that outlined several concerns with capital punishment.

Addressing the potential harm to victims, the document states, "The death penalty traps victims' families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty (and) court hearings ... (while) forcing them to endure years of waiting for an execution that may never come."

One month later, during a news conference announcing she would not be pursuing death penalty cases, Ayala repeated several of those phrases, some nearly word-for-word, News 6 has discovered. "I have learned that death penalty traps many victims' families in decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting," Ayala said. "They are left waiting for an execution that may never occur."

A state attorney spokeswoman dismissed the similarities, pointing out that the document Ayala received from the anti-death penalty organization referenced topics that Ayala never discussed in her news conference, such as the risk of executing innocent inmates.

Ayala's news conference also noted other reasons for opposing the death penalty not included in the document, such as Ayala's belief that the death penalty does not deter crime, a spokeswoman said.

Ayala's office reiterated to News 6 on Tuesday that Ayala arrived at her decision to not seek the death penalty shortly before her news conference announcing her opposition to it.

"From the time she took office, (Aramis Ayala) has been extensively researching the death penalty, speaking to people including her executive team and organizations on all sides of the issue who are involved with the criminal justice system," state attorney spokeswoman Eryka Washington said.

Emails obtained by News 6 confirm that Ayala communicated with several organizations that oppose the death penalty, including Fair and Just Prosecution, Fair Punishment Project and the 8th Amendment Project.

When News 6 inquired about death penalty supporters who Ayala consulted, Washington identified only one by name: Deborah Barra, Ayala's chief assistant, who has worked for the state attorney's office for more than 12 years.

Barra disagrees with her boss' decision not to pursue death penalty cases, Washington said.

Besides Barra, the state attorney spokeswoman said Ayala also consulted with the African American Council of Christian Clergy (AACCC), which Washington originally described as being "pro-death penalty".

"That is absolutely false," said AACCC president Bishop Kelvin Cobaris, who denies his organization met with Ayala as she was researching capital punishment.

"There was a meeting held the day before (Ayala's) announcement was made," Cobaris said. "She spoke to us about what she was doing."

Cobaris also disputes the state attorney office's characterization that AACCC supports the death penalty.

"Our organization cannot make that statement," Cobaris said. "That is not our stance, for or against (the death penalty)."

The state attorney spokeswoman later acknowledged she had mistakenly described the AACCC as being in support of the death penalty. Instead, Ayala spoke with a few specific members of the religious organization who were personally in favor of capital punishment, Washington said.

The state attorney spokeswoman did not immediately provide News 6 with the names of those clergy members.

"The AACCC does not mandate positions on controversial matters, but respects the varied opinions of our individual constituency," said Cobaris. "Any statement of position claimed to have been made by the AACCC on the issue of State Attorney Aramis Ayala's position on the death penalty is inaccurate and may or may not reflect the opinions of members of the organization, but not the organization as a whole."

Despite the state attorney's prior statement that Ayala spoke with people "on all sides of the issue who were involved with the criminal justice system," Washington provided no indication that Ayala sought advice from any legal experts outside of her own office who support the death penalty.

Ayala's March 16 news conference focused on Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murder in the shooting deaths of Sade Dixon and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. Ayala said she would not pursue the death penalty against Loyd, before adding that she would not seek death in any case that she prosecutes.

(source for both: clickorlando.com)

ALABAMA:

Ala. Senate approves nitrogen gas as execution option

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday voted to offer condemned inmates the option to die by nitrogen suffocation, a method of execution untested on humans but which supporters argue might provide a more humane method of death than other methods.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, passed the chamber 25 to 8 after majority Republicans ended debate on the measure. It goes to the House of Representatives.

Like other states, Alabama faces challenges carrying out executions by lethal injection, its main method since 2002. The state has struggled to obtain supplies of sedatives needed for the procedure, and the current drug used - midazolam - has been criticized for not providing sufficient sedation to protect against the pain of the remaining two drugs, which paralyze the muscles and stop the heart.

Media witnesses to the execution of Ronald Bert Smith last December said Smith gasped and coughed for 13 minutes after receiving midazolam; the execution took 34 minutes. Smith's attorneys said it showed "he was not anesthetized at any point during the agonizingly long procedure."

Nitrogen hypoxia would involve placing a mask on a condemned inmate, or putting the individual in a chamber. The oxygen available would be replaced by nitrogen, resulting in death. Oklahoma approved it as an alternative execution method in 2015. Mississippi recently approved it as an alternative method.

Pittman argued nitrogen hypoxia -- in which an inmate, covered with a mask or secured in a chamber, has their oxygen supply replaced with nitrogen -- could provide a more humane method of execution.

"It leads to quick unconsciousness, (and) death without any residual issues with carbon monoxide," he said.

While executions by gas chamber occurred until 1999, the method typically involved the use of hydrogen cyanide. As with other execution methods, gas became controversial for long or drawn-out executions; witnesses said Jimmy Lee Gray, executed by gas in Mississippi in 1983, was seen smashing his head into an iron bar to achieve unconsciousness.

Nitrogen hypoxia has been used to euthanize animals, though guidance from the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends it chiefly for birds and encourages the use of a sedative if used on larger animals. But no state has carried out an execution using the method.

"As with a number of the proposed execution methods, it will involve human experimentation," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., an anti-death penalty group. "It's obviously unethical to conduct experiments. It has not been used in involuntarily taking someone's life."

The proposal is an option; under the law, the primary method of execution would remain lethal injection. Inmates can also choose death by electric chair. If all 3 methods were found unconstitutional, the bill authorizes the Department of Corrections to employ a constitutional method of execution, such as firing squad.

Democrats objected to the bill.

"The (method) that has been passed has not been tested . . . we don't know what it's going to cost us," said Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

Pittman's bill initially would have allowed inmates to choose death by firing squad, but Pittman replaced it in a Senate committee earlier this month, saying hypoxia would be more humane.

The bill requires the Alabama Department of Corrections to develop the methods of nitrogen execution.

The Senate also approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, that would require condemned inmates appealing their sentence to raise collateral issues like the effectiveness of counsel at the same time they make their direct appeal of their sentence. The collateral issues, known as a Rule 32 appeal, are currently raised after direct appeal. The effect of the change, if passed into law, would shorten the appeals process on death sentences.

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)

********************

Senate votes to allow execution by nitrogen gas

Alabama could become the 3rd state to allow death row inmates to be executed by nitrogen gas - an execution method that has so far never been used - under a bill approved Tuesday by the Alabama Senate.

The Alabama Senate voted 25-8 to add nitrogen gas to lethal injection and the electric chair as allowable methods of execution in the state. The bill now moves to the Alabama House.

"No state has carried out an execution using nitrogen hypoxia," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. He said Mississippi and Oklahoma also allow execution by nitrogen gas but have not used it.

The pace of executions has slowed in Alabama, partly because of ongoing legal challenges to lethal injection methods.

Sen. Trip Pittman, the Republican bill sponsor, said Alabama needs another execution method as lethal injection faces court challenges. Pittman had originally proposed a firing squad as an execution method, but the bill was changed in committee.

Under the bill, an inmate could choose to be put to death with nitrogen gas instead of lethal injection. It would also allow the state corrections commissioner to choose another constitutional execution method if electrocution, lethal injection and nitrogen gas are all found unconstitutional.

The legislation met with pushback from some lawmakers who called it experimentation.

"It has never been tried before," said Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile.

(source: Tuscaloosa News)

LOUISIANA:

Murderer of 4-year old girl still trying to escape death penalty

A convicted murderer and rapist from Calcasieu Parish continues his efforts to escape the death penalty.

In 2001, 4-year old Mary Jean Thigpen was playing outside when she was abducted by Jason Reeves.

He took the girl to his sister's grave, sodomized the child, then stabbed her 14 times.

Reeves has been on death row at Angola since 2004, but made a trip to court in Lake Charles on Tuesday for a post-conviction hearing.

He's now claiming his trial attorneys were ineffective and is asking for a new trial - without the death penalty.

Calcasieu Parish Assistant District Attorney Carla Sigler, who prosecuted Reeve, said at trial there was overwhelming evidence that Reeves was the killer. His defense attorney did the job, and Reeves had a fair trial.

"This is a horrifying case involving the death and the gruesome sexual assault of a 4-year old child. There's not a lawyer on earth that could have gotten Jason Reeves off," she said.

Sigler said between legal proceedings and incarceration, we, the taxpayers, have already spent close to $1 million on Reeves.

She added his appeals will likely continue for years.

(source: KPLC news)

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LCCB hope to abolish Louisiana'a death penalty----It is time to affirm life without exception: The death penalty is not acceptable (Statement issued April 18, 2017)

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

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

Saint Pope John Paul II proclaims "that not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, as God himself pledges to guarantee this. For this reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself" (Evangelium Vitae, #9). In making this statement, Saint Pope John Paul II reminds us of our call to the foundational theme of Catholic Social Teaching - The Life and Dignity of the Human Person - and that we are to uphold human dignity which does not discriminate between the innocent and guilty. Given that life is valued above and beyond all else, we must advocate for an alternative to the death penalty.

Strong statements of Pope Francis echoes the foundational principles laid out by Saint Pope John Paul II's, Evangelium Vitae. In a 2015 letter to the president of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, our Holy Father stated that the death penalty "is an offense against the inviolability of life and dignity of the human person, which contradicts God's plan for man and society ... It does not render justice to victims, but rather fosters vengeance. For the rule of law, the death penalty represents a failure, as it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice. Justice can never be wrought by killing a human being." To this end, we must ask ourselves whether or not there is vengeance in our hearts. In many ways that which we fear - violence itself - has forced us to become proponents of violence. Just as the pursuit of justice should never be perverted by vengeance, fear should never darken the ever-shining light of life.

We remain deeply aware of the pain and grief that victims suffer, especially those who have lost a loved one through the crime of murder or crimes of violence. We pledge to deepen our commitment to persons who have suffered such violence, anguish and pain. Our opposition to the death penalty is not intended in any way to diminish what victims and their families have suffered. On the contrary it is a statement which affirms the lives of those lost and the ultimate value of life in general. The stark reality is that capital punishment fails to bring back life that has been lost. It does not provide healing, reconciliation, or even peace to those impacted. Our merciful heavenly Father does provide such things to us when we turn to Him and ask for his love to be poured out onto us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls us to recognize the balance that must exist between a state which needs to protect its citizenry as well as the appropriateness of the punishment it uses to do so. "If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means ... Today, ... the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent" (CCC 2267). We believe that in Louisiana, a just alternative to the death penalty already exists. In 1979, Louisiana adopted a statute requiring all persons convicted of 1st degree murder to serve a life sentence without benefit of parole if they were not executed for such crimes. Therefore life imprisonment is the appropriate alternative given that it reflects a culture of life by valuing life itself.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops asks all men and women of good faith, especially those members of the Louisiana legislature, to search their heart in an effort to seek mercy and love to support the repeal of the death penalty and aid in building a culture of life. We renew the call issued in our 1994 statement Violence in Our Society: Death is Not the Answer. "We must believe in the all-powerful redemptive love of God which can change hearts, convert people, and renew all things ... We must be a people who see the value of a human life that others might think to be worthless. We must be a people who give praise to the God of all possibilities whose powerful Spirit of Love can renew the face of the earth." The time is upon us to affirm life without exception here within our great state of Louisiana.

(source: diocesealex.org)

OHIO:

Appeals court upholds ruling against use of midazolam in Ohio executions

Ohio is responsible for many firsts in regards to the death penalty: it was the 1st state to suggest using the drug midazolam for execution and the 1st to attempt using a single lethal injection drug protocol.

New to that list is the first state to have a ruling upheld in circuit courts against midazolam, according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

On April 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld a previous preliminary injunction, barring the usage of midazolam in Ohio's lethal injection drug protocol. The case was filed by 3 death row inmates who were previously scheduled for execution. The injunction provides a temporary stay of execution until the case is overturned or another drug protocol is found.

The decision follows a previous preliminary injunction from Magistrate Judge Michael Merz of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Jan. 26. That ruling followed a 5-day evidentiary hearing in which experts spoke on the constitutionality of midazolam - a drug most frequently used for sedation. The inmates argued that the drug violated their Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. The Ohio courts agreed.

In the 6th Circuit's 2-1 ruling on April 6, Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore, joined by Circuit Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, wrote in her opinion that the inmates claim that likelihood that midazolam violated the inmates' Eighth Amendment right was "likely to succeed."

The opinion looked at the conclusions drawn during the evidentiary hearing in January. One expert witness for the plaintiffs, Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, concluded that the use of a midazolam as the 1st drug in a 3-drug protocol "is highly likely to cause intolerable pain and suffering," as it would not mask the effects from the 2nd and 3rd drugs.

According to Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University's law school who specializes in capital punishment issues, midazolam was originally Ohio's "plan b" to a protocol that began with sodium thiopental. After sodium thiopental was discontinued by the pharmaceutical manufacturer due to its usage in executions, midazolam became the state's go-to.

"The fact that the state that first introduced this drug as a viable drug to use for lethal injection has now held, or at least a lower court judge has held it to be unconstitutional is quite a statement," Denno said.

Dunham agrees that the ruling is important, however he feels the importance lies in what he calls the "fullest evidentiary hearing" on midazolam.

"This [hearing] was the 1st one that proceeded without artificial time pressures from execution warrants so the court was able to take the time that was necessary to fully hear the evidence," Dunham said, citing other hearings in Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia and the U.S. Supreme Court where they ruled in favor of the state.

Much of the defense in the Ohio case rested on the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Glossip v. Gross, where the court ruled that Oklahoma's use of midazolam did not violate death row inmate Richard Glossip's Eighth Amendment right.

Denno, Dunham and the Court of Appeals agree that the Ohio decision benefited from additional history and facts that the Supreme Court case did not have.

"There's nothing that the Ohio court did that is inconsistent with the United States Supreme Court precedent, there's no legal judgment it made inconsistent with what other courts have done, it's just the judgment was based on different findings of fact," Dunham said.

Included in the Ohio evidentiary hearing was testimony surrounding the executions of Christopher Brooks and Ronald Smith, both from Alabama.

The most recent court opinion found that Brooks' "heaving" and Smith's "heaving, coughing, and flailing" during the execution "were attributable to midazolam's inability to prevent the pain caused by paralytic drugs and potassium chloride, rather than to other circumstances."

Ohio has a record of problematic executions. The ruling comes three years after the execution of Dennis McGuire, which involved midazolam. McGuire was the 1st inmate in the state to be executed with the state's then-new drug protocol of midazolam and hydromorphone.

Witnesses from McGuire's execution testified during the evidentiary hearing prior to Merz's ruling about the unusual events during his execution.

"I saw the stomach first. I saw what looked like a knot in his stomach ... and his stomach was moving. I had not seen that before," said Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Alan Johnson, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch also testified that McGuire "began coughing, gasping, choking in a way that I had not seen before at any execution. And I remember it because I relived it several times. Frankly, that went on for 12 to 13 minutes."

Ohio is also the only state with an inmate who survived a lethal injection execution. The Department of Corrections attempted to execute Romell Broom back in 2009. He is still waiting on death row.

"Ohio has always been at the forefront but it's also had a lot of problems, that's one reason it has been at the forefront of these execution methods," said Denno.

Denno, who notes that the state has already filed an appeal to the court's opinion, says it's difficult to predict what the ruling will mean for the state's injection drug protocol. She did say that typically states will find a different drug rather than spend their time and resources on trials. Arizona and Florida have already abandoned the drug.

It's also unclear what implications this ruling may have on other states and courts - namely for 8 inmates in Arkansas. Eight inmates from Arkansas were scheduled to be executed in a 10-day period starting April 17. One inmate, Jason McGehee, was granted a stay of execution April 6.

On April 17 - the day Bruce Ward and Don Davis were to be executed - the Arkansas Supreme Court issued stays of execution for them. The state then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, hoping that a ruling would allow the executions to continue. Right before midnight, when the signed death warrants would expire, the Supreme Court refused to step in and lift the stays.

As of April 18, there are still 5 more executions scheduled. There have been several suits filed on behalf of the inmates. Part of the argument presented by the lawyers is based on the constitutionality of midazolam.

"The difficulty in Arkansas is that like the proceedings in Oklahoma and in Virginia and Alabama, they're taking place under death warrant so there's an artificially pressed time period," Dunham said.

Karen Clifton of Catholics Mobilizing Network told NCR in a statement that "particularly in regards to the scheduled executions in Arkansas, where the state's supply of midazolam is serving as impetus for 7 executions in 10 days, this ruling provides further objection to the use of the death penalty."

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hold a conference April 21 about a re-hearing petition from the inmates. Denno is unsure how much the Ohio decision will play into the court's decision, especially since Ohio is "not going along with their holding, basically."

The ruling does not bar further executions in Ohio but does mean the state may have to go back to the drawing board to find a new lethal injection protocol, as state's choices and supplies dwindle.

Ultimately, Clifton feels the ruling called into question "lethal injection as a humane way to carry out an execution."

"After this decision, we are once again faced with the question of the morality of the death penalty in this country. As Pope Francis has said, there is 'no humane way to kill another person.' This ruling provides one more reason why the death penalty is a failed system that denies the dignity due to every human person," Clifton said in her statement.

Dunham agrees, stating that this could be another step in removing midazolam as an execution drug.

"The difficulties states have are that the pharmaceutical manufactures don't want their medicines used in executions," he said. "So states have been looking for non-anesthetics to perform an anesthetic function and that simply doesn't work. That suggests that whatever happens from this point forward in the three drug protocol is going to be inappropriate. At a minimum, it's going to be human experimentation."

(source: National Catholic Reporter)

KENTUCKY:

Push in Rural Kentucky to Abolish Death Penalty

The push for multiple executions in Arkansas has shed a harsh light on the death penalty in America, especially in the South, where capital punishment is legal in every state including Kentucky.

Here in the Commonwealth, it's been 8/1/2 years since the last execution and abolitionists say it's time to make life without parole the maximum sentence. Rob Musick, a religion professor and chaplain at the University of Pikeville, said there are several reasons why support is growing in rural Kentucky to make the death penalty illegal.

"Specifically, when you use the idea of government waste of money," Musick said, "oftentimes when the government is over-reaching into our lives, when the government gets some things wrong."

Kentucky lawmakers repeatedly have rejected legislation to eliminate the death penalty, including during this year's recently completed legislative session.

Musick is one of the volunteers who will staff the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty information booth at this year's Hillbilly Days. This event, the state's 2nd largest festival, runs Thursday through Saturday in Pikeville.

Musick said the reason he hears most from people who support the death penalty is that execution is a deterrent to crime. He disagrees.

"I say, 'Well, if that were being the case'," Musick said, "'then why do we see such an intense, violent crime-ridden country like ours where we have such gun crimes and mass shootings? If that really were working, wouldn't we see such less crime?'"

In 2011, the American Bar Association issued a report that found a myriad of problems with the state's death-penalty system, including its cost and duration. A recent poll found that when informed of those problems, 64 % of Kentuckians supported making life without parole the maximum sentence. So why hasn't the Kentucky Legislature acted?

"It has a lot to do with political courage and people just naming the elephant in the room," Musick said. "We know there are some key members of the House and Senate that are actually against the death penalty, but they don't want to put themselves out there yet, until they know it's a slam dunk."

(source: publicnewsservice.org)

ARKANSAS:

The Fix Analysis----Could Arkansas' battle over the death penalty signal the beginning of its end?

The Supreme Court said Monday that Arkansas won't be able to execute two of its death-row inmates. And a growing number of conservatives, who see the death penalty as an anachronistic, religiously hypocritical and big-government waste of money, are just fine with that.

In fact, the extreme nature of Arkansas' efforts to execute 8 inmates over a week and a half - after going 12 years without an execution - could even underscore anti-death-penalty conservatives' argument about why it should be abolished.

And what conservatives think about the death penalty matters perhaps more than it does for any other political faction: Public support for the death penalty and actual executions is at or near a 40-year-low. But Republicans control a majority of state legislatures and governor's mansions, so any movement to actually undo it will likely be driven by conservatives.

For the most part, the GOP in Arkansas fully supports the efforts of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) to execute these inmates before a lethal injection drug expires.

But to growing numbers of conservatives on the fence or opposed to the death penalty outside Arkansas, what he's doing feels like it belongs in the 1990s rather than today's society, where life without parole is an option.

"For me, both as a fiscal conservative as well as a person of faith, we've evolved to a point in society where it's not necessary," said longtime Georgia state Rep. Brett Harrell (R), who just unveiled his opposition to the death penalty.

In January, Harrell helped announced the formation of Georgia's branch of Conservatives Against the Death Penalty, a faction of a national group formed in 2013 that has now expanded to 11 states and counting, including in very red states such as Utah, Kansas and Nebraska.

But Arkansas is drawing the attention of even pro-death-penalty Republicans. Marc Hyden, with the national branch of Conservatives Against the Death Penalty, said he's in contact with national tea party leaders who are privately put off by the rush to execute in Arkansas. They're not necessarily changing their minds about it, but there's a sense that the state's rush to execute these men feels unnecessary, he said.

"I think the inevitable is the death penalty will, at some point, become a thing of the past," Hyden said.

In Georgia - which led the nation in executions last year - Harrell agreed that there are more conservatives wary of the death penalty than those who publicly say so. When he acknowledged he had changed his mind about the death penalty, "nearly a dozen" of his Republican colleagues privately told him: "Good job. I believe the same thing."

A messy, headline-grabbing legal battle in Arkansas could further prod them to oppose it.

"There's a growing number of people who are stereotypically pro-death penalty who are beginning to reconsider the issue," Harrell said.

Support for the death penalty is no longer a given in red states. Over the past 2 state legislative sessions, GOP lawmakers in an unprecedented 12 states have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty. Some of them have gotten close.

In Utah last year, a repeal bill passed the state Senate and a House committee. For the 1st time in the modern era, Missouri's full state Senate debated the issue.

In 2015, Nebraska, a technically nonpartisan but politically conservative legislature, became the 1st red state in 40 years to repeal it. In Kansas, the Republican Party removed the death penalty from its platform. The National Association of Evangelicals switched its 40-year position on support for the death penalty to a stance that acknowledges evangelicals may oppose it. (In Arkansas, more than 2 dozen evangelical leaders urged Hutchinson in a letter to stop the executions.)

Conservatives' reasoning for opposing the death penalty generally falls under at least 1 of 3 arguments:

1. It's not consistent with their antiabortion (that is "pro-life") beliefs. ("Many people argue in the pro-life movement," Harrell said, "at the beginning of life that the image of God is present at the moment of conception, and therefore we should do everything in our power to preserve life.")

2. It's not fiscally sound and not consistent with conservatives' small-government policies. ("I'm thinking that it's wrong for government to be in business in killing its own citizens," Utah state Sen. Steve Urquhart (R), who sponsored the repeal bill there, told The Fix.)

3. Life in prison without parole is bad enough.

Reconsidering the death penalty is far from the consensus view among Republicans. Nebraska voters reinstated the death penalty in November after a campaign funded in part by the state's billionaire governor. The 2015 state legislative session was overwhelmingly supportive of the death penalty, famously underscored by Utah legalizing death by firing squad.

It's likely Arkansas won't be the last major battle for opponents of the death penalty. But even (and sometimes especially) in the face of a rush of executions, their movement is gaining momentum. Given the political makeup of the United States and declining public support for the death penalty, it's one to watch.

(source: Amber Phillips, Washington Post)

*******************

Medical supplier again seeks to prevent drug from being used in executions; AG wants to move case

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has requested that the case involving a complaint filed by a medical supplier of drugs used in executions be moved outside of Pulaski County.

The motion, filed Tuesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, requests that Virginia-based McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.'s case be transferred to Faulkner County Circuit Court.

Rutledge argued in the filing that the change of venue would be appropriate given that "no plaintiff in this case is a citizen of the state of Arkansas ... and this action was commenced against the state and officers of the state in their official capacity."

McKesson's complaint stems from its belief that the state failed to disclose the vecuronium bromide it purchased as part of a 3 drug protocol in lethal injections.

The next 2 executions in Arkansas are scheduled Thursday with 3 others set for next week.

(source: nwaonline.com)

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Former Arkansas Death Row Chief Shocked at Execution Binge - "What Are They Going to Tell Their Kids?"

Arkansas had big plans to execute seven men in 10 days beginning Monday night, when Don Davis and Bruce Ward were scheduled to be taken from their death row cells in the state's Varner Unit and driven roughly 3 miles to the Cummins Unit, or "death house," near the small town of Grady.

That didn't happen, because of a slew of legal decisions on state and federal levels. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the stays of execution granted by lower courts, but delays from the Arkansas Supreme Court remained after the state chose not to appeal a stay given to Ward, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided to maintain the stay given to Davis in a last-minute ruling less than 10 minutes before his death warrant expired at midnight Monday.

As of Tuesday morning, there are no legal proceedings blocking the remaining 5 executions from taking place.

Patrick Crain, who worked for the Arkansas Department of Corrections from 2003 to 2007 and was head of the Varner unit's death row, told the Intercept that he's shocked the state of Arkansas wants "to carry out the executions in this crazy way."

He said he worked with good people at Varner, and hates to see this happening to them.

"What are they going to tell their kids? 'Hi Johnny, I executed seven people'? Crain asked, his voice tinged with outrage. "That's ridiculous. They're going to carry it around inside for the rest of their lives. It's going to affect them and their families."

The former death row prison guard, who describes himself as a life-long Republican, was pro-death penalty when he began working for the Department of Corrections. But that changed.

Crain said the case of Damien Echols, 1 of the "West Memphis 3," a group of teens convicted in 1994 for the murder of 3 children in a purported "Satanic ritual," weighed on him greatly. Echols was at Varner waiting to die when DNA evidence led to his release in 2011.

"We came close to killing an innocent man," he said of Echols, with whom he's still in contact.

Crain also explained that he frequently encountered people on death row who seemed incapable of controlling or understanding the consequences of their actions.

"I have questions about the culpability of people who are profoundly mentally ill," Crain said. "Killing people that are mentally challenged and mentally ill, that's unacceptable. But I'm sure they're going to keep at it."

A study by Harvard University Law School's Fair Punishment Project reported that Arkansas "will execute several men with serious mental illnesses," as well as men whose IQs suggest mental impairment.

Don Davis, who was scheduled to die Monday, is believed to have an IQ between 69 and 77, "both of which are in the range of intellectual impairment," the report states. Bruce Ward has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and appears "not to understand that he is about to die, believing instead that he is preparing for a 'special mission as an evangelist,'" according to the study.

"For Mr. Davis, all he got was an expert from the state hospital," said Jessica Brand, the main author of the Harvard report. These experts "often don't look at health in the same way" as those who could be hired by defense attorneys, she explained.

A case regarding this issue, McWilliams v. Dunn, is to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 24. If the court decides these men are entitled to independent experts, then their constitutional rights "will have been violated in a fundamentally prejudicially way," said Brand. "Most of these guys lacked experts who were independent of the state ... the idea that they got a fair trial in the 1st place is a lie."

Further delays are possible, he added.

The Harvard report found that Ledell Lee, scheduled for execution on April 20, had legal counsel that was habitually inadequate. The Intercept spoke briefly with Lee's attorney, Lee Short, about further actions. "We're considering all options," Short said.

Arkansas scheduled the rapid-fire executions because the state's supply of midazolam, the sedative in a lethal 3-drug cocktail that ends an inmate's life, expires at the end of the month. The court delays pose a significant problem for the state.

"We're now in a situation where all the FDA-approved manufacturers of potential execution drugs have put controls in place," said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, a human rights organization based in the UK that campaigns against capital punishment.

Once the midazolam expires, she explained, it will be difficult for the state to acquire a replacement. The only way to acquire the drugs will be illegally, and "there are a number of legal avenues that companies can use to enforce the contracts" that pre-empt use in lethal injection, Foa said.

Midazolam was used in several high-profile botched executions in which it appears not to have sedated the condemned prisoners. Oklahoma's execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014 was the 1st, and Ohio's January execution of Rick Javon Gray was the most recent example.

A Federal judge in Ohio ruled against the use of midazolam in executions a week after Gray's botched execution, saying it violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

At an April 12 hearing on injunctions against the executions, clinical pharmacologist Daniel Buffington testified for Arkansas that the drug would even be effective past its expiration date. But Dr. Joel Zivot, an expert on bioethics, said "[n]o one knows what expired drugs will do in the setting of lethal injection. It's clear that the state has some concern about expiration date and the public concern around using expired chemicals to kill."

The executioners aren't experts - they are a group of volunteers who are trained shortly before the execution takes place. For Crain, the former head of Arkansas' death row, the prospects are clear: "They're going to botch an execution, is what I think."

Deborah Denno, a professor of law at Fordham University who has studied capital punishment for 25 years, agrees. She told The Intercept that executions are "are being handled by individuals who lack any kind of knowledge base," and state training seminars aren't enough to provide that foundation.

State officials have vowed to continue fighting for the executions. But Crain said the concerns should far outweigh any "political points" to be won by politicians, whom he views as the driving force behind the push for assembly-line executions. He called the saga "a macabre circus."

(source: theintercept.com)

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Blocking Execution, US Supreme Court Deals Blow to Arkansas' "Hankering to Kill"----With 5 more men slated for execution, death-penalty critics are encouraging people to speak out

Despite state leaders' "hankering to kill," the U.S. Supreme Court late Monday refused to allow the state to proceed with its scheduled execution, dealing yet another legal blow to the government's planned spree.

"The nation's highest court took several hours to reach its decision, finally announcing at 11:50pm [local time] that it had declined to lift a stay on the execution of Don Davis, 54, imposed earlier in the day by the supreme court of Arkansas," the Guardian's Ed Pilkington reported.

The other inmate, Bruce Ward, who was also scheduled to be executed on Monday, did not have his stay challenged by Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge, who reportedly kept a staff working around the clock Easter weekend to "dismantle the roadblocks," as NBC News put it, hindering the plan to kill 8 people in 11 days.

Davis, said to be intellectually disabled, now joins Ward and inmate Jason McGehee, whose death sentence was also recently blocked by a federal judge. The "execution assembly line" was planned by Republican governor Asa Hutchinson to fast-track state killings before the end-of-the-month expiration date on the state's supply of midazolam. The sedative has a grisly record when combined with other drugs for a lethal injection "cocktail," which a federal judge over the weekend said threatens inmates' constitutional rights.

"I've never beheld such a powerful official hankering to kill and kill now as was evident Monday night in the political leadership of Arkansas," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett wrote Tuesday in a powerful op-ed skewering Hutchinson and Rutledge.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling "is certain to embolden the defense lawyers of the remaining 5 death-row inmates who still face the gurney, starting with Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday," Pilkington observed.

Indeed, even before the Supreme Court reached its decision on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a stay for Lee, who they say has had "horrible legal counsel," in addition to being intellectually disabled. Further, the group argues that DNA samples recovered from the crime scene were never properly tested.

Leading anti-death penalty voice Sister Helen Prejean, who authored the book Dead Man Walking (and was later portrayed in the 1995 film by the same name), has been encouraging other opponents of state killings to "keep up the pressure" on Hutchinson and Rutledge - including people around the nation and world.

(source: commondreams.org)

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Arkansas executions set for Thursday, but legal issues loom

Arkansas remains hopeful it can execute 5 inmates before the end of the month after courts blocked the state from putting 2 men to death Monday night.

The inmates are fighting their executions on multiple legal fronts, but there are currently no stays in place for 5 who are set to die this month as the state rushes to beat an expiration date for 1 of its lethal drugs. The next executions are scheduled for Thursday.

Here is a look at the legal landscape as Arkansas pushes forward with its execution plan:

IS ARKANSAS CLEARED TO MOVE AHEAD?

At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for execution April 27.

Bruce Ward and Don Davis, who were to be executed Monday night, won stays from the Arkansas Supreme Court and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Davis but not Ward. The U.S. Supreme Court then opted not to lift the stay for Davis.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Tuesday that the state will make its arguments in the cases involving Davis and Ward before the state Supreme Court but will follow the current briefing schedule that the court has set, with deadlines into late May. Under that timeline, the state would be unable to execute Ward and Davis before its supply of midazolam expires April 30.

An 8th inmate, Jason McGehee, previously won a stay from a federal judge regarding his clemency schedule, and Arkansas has not appealed that ruling.

WHAT ARE THE INMATES' ARGUMENTS?

There are many. The 2 set for execution Thursday, Lee and Johnson, both want more DNA testing in hopes of proving their innocence. Lee also wants his federal case reopened, with his attorneys arguing that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and intellectual disability. Lee also argues that his trial judge had an affair with an assistant prosecutor and that he was previously represented by a lawyer who showed up drunk at court.

Marcel Williams argues that his execution could be especially painful because he is obese and has diabetes.

The legal issue that halted Monday's executions for Ward and Davis hinged on a separate, broader case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a defendant's access to independent experts, and attorneys say the justices' ruling could potentially affect the inmates' criminal convictions. That case will be argued next week.

Ward also had argued that he shouldn't be executed because of his mental capacity. His attorneys have said he is a diagnosed schizophrenic.

WHAT ABOUT THE FEDERAL JUDGE’S DECISION BLOCKING THE EXECUTIONS?

A 101-page order that a federal judge filed early Saturday to block the executions was reversed Monday by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court noted that the inmates "have a long history of filing and dismissing claims to manipulate the judicial process and prevent Arkansas from carrying out their executions."

In her order, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker flagged 2 issues: the use of the midazolam and inmates' access to their attorneys on the days of their executions.

The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates more phone access while on prison grounds.

WILL THE U.S. SUPREME COURT INTERVENE?

Justices rarely upend a lower court order in death penalty cases. That's true whether it's the inmate who is seeking an 11th-hour reprieve or the state that wants to put a prisoner to death.

The court may be even more reluctant to do so now with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on board, especially because Gorsuch could be thrust into the uncomfortable position of taking a decisive and public death penalty stand very early in his tenure.

It takes 5 votes to get most things done at the court, including imposing or lifting a stay of execution.

The justices often split on death penalty issues, with the conservative justices more willing to allow an execution to take place and the liberal justices more inclined to side with inmates. WHAT ARE THE DRUG COMPANIES DOING?

A handful of drug companies are telling Arkansas that they don't want their products used to kill inmates. 2 pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking Baker to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but Baker did not rule on that issue.

The medical supplier McKesson Corp. made a similar request in a separate case before a Pulaski County circuit judge, which he granted. But the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated that order after the judge, Wendell Griffen, was photographed participating in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he issued his ruling.

McKesson refiled its suit Tuesday before a newly assigned judge.

(source: therepublic.com)

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Arkansas' rush to wholesale executions: Our view----Despite 11th-hour rulings, double executions are slated for both this week and next.

The beat-the-clock spectacle unfolding in Arkansas, triggered by the state's unprecedented scheme to carry out wholesale executions before the shelf life of a lethal injection drug expires, demonstrates more than ever how the death penalty in America is becoming less and less workable.

Multiple legal challenges have already blocked 3 of 8 executions the state wanted to carry out by the end of the month. As of Tuesday afternoon, 5 lethal injections remained on track, including double executions scheduled for Thursday and next Monday.

No state in modern history has ever tried to put so many people to death in so short a time. In fact, there were only 20 executions in all of America last year, down from 98 in 1999. The procedure continues primarily in a narrow belt of Southern states, so it's little surprise that the Arkansas process has descended into confusion and controversy.

Growing societal displeasure with capital punishment has led drugmakers to try to prevent their products from being used in executions. This has caused shortages of lethal chemicals, the use of untested combinations and, in Arkansas, a rush to execute as many death row inmates as possible before running out of the drugs on hand.

Nor is there a firm consensus that the execution method used by Arkansas and other states actually works without causing restrained prisoners extreme pain and suffering. The process involves utilizing a sedative called midazolam to render the condemned unconscious, while a second drug paralyzes and a third stops the heart. In a 2015 dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the process the "chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake."

Capital punishment still finds favor with most Americans, and there can be compelling arguments for the death penalty, particularly in cases involving heinous crimes and incontrovertible guilt. Without question, the convicted killers on Arkansas' death row deserve no sympathy; they deserve life in prison without the possibility of parole, a fate that some consider worse than death.

But the tide of history is turning against the death penalty. Capital punishment has proved to be neither a deterrent nor fairly imposed. Moreover, the process can be enormously costly to taxpayers, can lead to innocent people being placed on death row, and puts the United States out of step with other democracies.

For decades, lethal injection seemed like a more humane alternative to age-old practices of hanging, firing squad, electrocution and gas chamber. That's changing. With the growing shortage of drugs, states keep changing their methods and protocols, and executions are being botched. Arkansas hasn't put anyone to death since 2005, and after a long debate over procedure and a narrowing window of viable drugs, opted to plunge ahead with its reckless schedule.

The last attempt at 2 executions in one day was in Oklahoma in 2014. The 1st inmate took 43 minutes to die, writhing and moaning and lifting his head. The 2nd execution was called off, and an investigation later found that the lethal injection team was too stressed by the imposed pace to do an adequate job.

With 2 nights of double executions slated for the next 2 weeks, Arkansas is risking the same outcome, which would surely not advance the cause of death penalty advocates. Judges are right to put the brakes on such helter-skelter haste.

(source: Editorial, USA Today)

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Arkansas is Pro Death Penalty. It Also Claims to be Christian.

How Christian is the Death Penalty?

Much to the chagrin of Arkansas officials, the state won't be killing anyone today. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to overturn the ruling of a state court which stayed the executions of several inmates. The number varies and frankly, except for their attorneys, it's doubtful that any observer can keep track of which of the 8 death row inmates the authorities are toying with at any given time. For example, CNN reports that Don Davis had his last supper last night. And yeah the irony of that considering its proximity to the Christian Holy Week should be lost on no one. But now it seems that Davis will be getting many more meals before they execute him.

This postponement isn't just messing with Davis, it's annoying some state officials.

Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, resents the interference by - of all things - court judges. Rutledge, herself an officer of the court, thinks that judges who don't agree with the death penalty shouldn't be able to rule on death penalty cases. It appears Rutledge believes a jurist is incapable of understanding the fundamentals of a law when he or she differs from the law philosophically.

Rutledge might not be so short tempered if she weren't in such a rush. It's not just that the administration is pro-death penalty. Arkansas also wants eight death row inmates dead by the end of the month. At least 1 of the inmates is in his 4th decade on death row. So why the urgency all of a sudden?

Well, putting aside apparent desire to satisfy a certain amount of bloodlust, Arkansas's lethal injection drugs are about to expire. To make matters worse, big Pharma doesn't want to sell Arkansas any new drugs. Reports state that the drug companies don't want their chemicals used to kill people.

After all, a Harvard University study found the high cost of drugs leads to an unnecessarily inflated death count among the poor. The highly profitable pharmaceutical companies could take a stand for life, simply by lowering their prices.

Back to the bloodlust. Elected officials like to give their constituents what they want, so long as it doesn't interfere with what their donors want. A whopping 61% of Arkansans support killing inmates found guilty of a capital offense. Ironically 73% also worship a legally convicted victim of the death penalty. If we stick with the same proportionality - 73% of 61% - then statistically, at least 45% of Arkansans are Christians who support the death penalty.

If those 45% could be convinced - by oh, how about their religion - to reject the death penalty, then only 16% of the population would favor execution and the state could save a lot of money just incarcerating individuals for life.

Having a hard time justifying the death penalty with Christianity? You're not alone. I reached out to a few ministers and asked their opinion. Vern Hyndman who ministers to the poor and folks with substance abuse problems summed it up this way, "For Christians who are committed to life and life more abundantly, and to the offer of eternal life, the idea of purposefully causing a retributive death is anathema." Hyndman elaborated, "Maybe the point is most poignantly made from the cross. Jesus, as he dies in a case of legal, but unethical capital punishment utters, "'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"

Hyndman went on to explain that an executed man can not seek forgiveness. He rejects denying a person that opportunity for God's Grace, "Each new day affords all living beings the opportunity for redemption and forgiveness and rebirth."

Hyndman went on to explain that some Christians use the death penalty as a moral solution to a problem. Someone took a life, they should pay with a life. But Christianity, says Hyndman, isn't about law it's about love. "Morality obeys the law... every Jew in German ovens was legally executed. Love both obeys and questions the law. Love takes precedent over the law."

"Murder is darkness," says Hyndman and more darkness won't bring light.

Still wanting an explanation for how a state that calls itself Christian could also clamor for executions, I contacted Tony Lorenzen, Minister at Hopedale Unitarian Parish. Lorenzen's an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and gave his 2015 Good Friday Sermon while standing in front of the Huntsville, Texas prison. Huntsville is where Texas executes its death row inmates. Lorenzen told me, "I don't know how anyone can be a follower of Jesus and think death penalty is ok, but most American Christianity is not the the religion of Jesus, it's a religion ABOUT Jesus, a Jesus that hates all the same people the "Christian" does."

The attorney general claims the death penalty will give important closure to the families of victims. But Hyndman says the real closure in the death penalty comes from propping "up the illusion that we're not the same as [the killer]." And Hyndman says that won't work because, "According to Jesus, we are."

(source: Claire Welch, Huffington Post)

NEBRASKA:

Attorney argues 2016 decision should mean new hearing for death row inmate

In a nearly empty courtroom Tuesday, an anti-death penalty attorney fought to keep John Lotter's chances for post-conviction relief alive, arguing that Nebraska's method of determining if someone ends up on death row is unconstitutional.

But the other side argued that the U.S. Supreme Court case that attorney Rebecca Woodman was relying upon wasn't a new issue and, therefore, Lotter was barred from raising it now.

Lotter, who was convicted in the killing that inspired the 1999 movie "Boys Don't Cry," wasn't in the 3rd-floor courtroom for the hearing, which lasted roughly 45 minutes.

At issue Tuesday was whether he should get an evidentiary hearing where his attorney could dig into Hurst v. Florida, a 2016 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that Florida's capital sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because the jury made a recommendation to a judge, who decided the facts.

In Nebraska, a jury decides whether aggravating circumstances are present in cases where prosecutors seek the death penalty. The decision goes to a 3-judge panel only after a jury has found at least one aggravator.

At one point, Richardson County District Judge Vicky Johnson seemed to cut to the chase, asking Woodman if the real issue was whether the Florida case was retroactive, one of the key arguments made by Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Kale Burdick.

Woodman, of the Death Penalty Litigation Clinic in Kansas City, said the question to be decided is whether the decision qualifies as Lotter raising a new claim of relief.

Burdick argued it's not a new claim and, because it's not, the judge need not go further.

Juries in Nebraska make all the findings that expose a defendant to a greater penalty. The 3-judge panel only weighs the aggravating and mitigating factors once the jury has found the case "death eligible," Burdick said in asking Johnson to deny the evidentiary hearing.

Woodman focused her argument on what she called evolving standards, which she said no longer tolerate a sentencing scheme like Nebraska's.

She told Johnson that just last week Alabama's legislature changed its sentencing scheme in capital cases, which had allowed judges to override a jury's finding for the death penalty.

"Very clearly, Nebraska is an outlier among states, and the only state that requires a finding necessary for a death sentence be found by a judge," she said.

Woodman said the unanimity of a jury verdict is a linchpin in ensuring "that no defendant should suffer death unless a cross section of the community unanimously determines that should be the case under a standard that requires them to have a high degree of confidence that execution is a just result."

Lotter was sentenced to death for his role in the 1993 killings of Brandon Teena and 2 witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, at a rural Humboldt farmhouse.

Woodman argued, because all of the state's 10 death row inmates were sentenced under the same scheme, a review of all of their cases is not only constitutionally required, but also would be minimally disruptive because Nebraska has one of the smallest death rows in the country.

Johnson took Lotter's motion under advisement.

Earlier this year, a federal judge denied Lotter's challenge in U.S. District Court raising similar claims, in part because he didn't get permission from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to file it, as required.

Lotter could be 1st in line of the 10 men on death row for an execution warrant if he is found to have exhausted his appeals.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

South Dakota man faces death penalty in wife's killing

A Sioux Falls man could face the death penalty after a grand jury indicted him in his wife's killing.

A Minnehaha County grand jury indicted 43-year-old Irving Jumping Eagle on charges of 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder and 1st-degree manslaughter in the death of 33-year-old Alicia Jumping Eagle. She was found dead in the couple's Sioux Falls apartment earlier this month.

The Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/2pP68wk ) reports Irving Jumping Eagle is being held on $1 million bail.

Police allege Irving Jumping Eagle had blood on himself April 3 while at a gas station about 300 miles away near Streeter, North Dakota. The car he was driving hit a bridge pillar the next morning in Deuel County, in eastern South Dakota. He was taken to a hospital and then jailed in Sioux Falls.

(source: Associated Press)

ARIZONA:

Mohave County prosecutors do not file for death penalty against Alfredo Blanco

The timeline to seek the death penalty for Alfredo Blanco, accused of murder, passed without any filings from Mohave County prosecutors, who apparently did not feel they had sufficient evidence to pursue the death sentence.

Defense attorney Robin Puchek said it looks like "that ship has sailed" after discussing the evidence with prosecuting attorney Bob Moon.

Puchek on Monday asked Judge Steven Conn to continue the pretrial hearing to allow for rehabilitation of Blanco's foot and hand. Blanco was arrested in January at a rehabilitation center in Youngtown after suffering a stroke and losing movement in his limbs.

Conn said he's smart enough to be a judge, but not a doctor, and he wasn't comfortable ruling on something he knows nothing about. He set the next hearing for May 30 to give attorneys time to file paperwork with Mohave County jail to see what the issues are with Blanco's rehab.

Blanco, 61, is accused of killing real estate agent Sidney Cranston Jr. on June 19, 2015, and burying his body on a ranch east of Kingman. Cranston was missing for 19 months before authorities discovered his remains on Jan. 7.

Puchek noted that he gave Moon 16 new items of disclosure for evidence, including the polygraph test on William Sanders, an associate of Blanco, who eventually led authorities to Cranston's body.

Puchek added that Moon has indicated there may not be a plea offer in this case.Blanco pleaded not guilty to charges of 1st-degree murder, concealment of a dead body and tampering with evidence.

(source: Kingman Daily Miner)

NEVADA:

Legislature scraps death penalty bill

Nevada lawmakers set out to abolish the death penalty in the state of Nevada because of concerns over costs and moral issues. AB237 hoped it would not only abolish the death penalty but commute the death sentences of 82 inmates on the state's death row to life without parole.

Although the bill was heard once at an Assembly Judiciary meeting on March 29, the bill was scuttled shortly after on April 14, the deadline for bills to make it out of their original committee.

State Senate Judiciary Chairman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, sponsored the bill. The bill would have made life without parole the strongest punishment in place for heinous crimes.

Since the death penalty was reinstated and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, Nevada has executed 12 people. 11 of the 12 death row inmates chose capital punishment over life in prison.

In total, 160 Nevadans have been sentenced to death in the last 40 years for various crimes including 1st-degree murder, armed robbery, sexual assault in the 1st-degree, murder of law enforcement, and in most instances a combination of heinous crimes.

In the Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting on March 29, many victims' families spoke in support and against the bill. Washoe County District Attorney, Chris Hicks, spoke in opposition to the bill:

"The death penalty is not misused by prosecutors in the state of the Nevada. Throughout all our counties, the decision to seek the death penalty is made sparingly and judiciously. It is reserved for the very worst of the worst," Hicks said. "In Washoe County, in the last 20 years, my office has prosecuted over 300 murders. In that exact same timeframe, we have sought the death penalty only 5 times."

Hicks added the accounts of Holly Quick and Brianna Denison, the last 2 cases which drew a death penalty conviction.

Denison's killer, James Biela, sexually assaulted 2 young females near the University of Nevada, Reno, campus prior to his attack on Denison.

The attack in question happened on Jan. 20, 2008, at a sleepover Denison was having at a friend's house. Denison was sexually assaulted, choked to death with her own underwear, and abandoned in a field with a discarded Christmas tree pulled over her body.

Denison's aunt was at the hearing on March 29, while Hicks shared statements from Denison's family opposing AB237. Denison's killer, James Biela, currently sits on death row in Nevada along with 81 other inmates. In addition to the death sentence for murdering Denison, Biela also received 4 consecutive life prison terms for the sexual assaults of the 2 women on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus.

Cynthia Portaro, a Las Vegas resident, spoke in support of abolishing capital punishment.

"Is killing someone going to bring my family back, bring my son back; no. It's not, nothing is going to bring my son back," Portaro said. "But maybe this kid can make a difference in the world, wherever he goes because I chose to say no to the death penalty."

Portaro's son was murdered in 2011 but instead of seeking the death penalty during the trial period, she chose to spare her son's killer’s life.

Senator Segerblom, a sponsor of the bill, says the current system is ineffective and too expensive.

"We had to spend $800,000 to build a death chamber but we can't buy the drugs to even use the death chamber," Segerblom said in reference to the shortage of lethal injection drugs in Nevada. "If killing is something which our society condemns, how then can we as a society turn around and kill people?" Segerblom asked the committee.

Pharmaceutical companies in Nevada have been limiting access to lethal injection drugs.

With the completion of the $860,000 project to build a new execution chamber approved by Nevada lawmakers in 2015, Nevada's death row inmates being held at Ely State Prison won't be put to death anytime soon. The new death chamber that was built last year at Ely State Prison hasn't been used, and the last person put to death in Nevada was in 2006.

Governor Brian Sandoval has not said whether he would sign or veto the death penalty repeal but during his campaign back in 2010, he supported the death penalty for the worst crimes.

No executions are scheduled in Nevada at this time, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(source: The Nevada Sagebrush)

USA:

How Easter challenges the horrifying injustice of America's death penalty

Holy Week witnessed new levels of protest against America's culture of violence, specifically the State of Arkansas' line-up of 8 people to execute in 10 days. The Easter killing spree was designed to make the most of the state's remaining supplies of midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs in a lethal execution cocktail, before its use-by date of April 30.

On Good Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol and a petition of over 157,000 signatures was delivered to Republican governor Asa Hutchinson.

The grounds for protesting Arkansas' schedule are many.

Firstly, the risk of executing an innocent person was affirmed by one of Friday's protesters, Damien Echols, released in 2011 after 18 years on death row. 157 death row inmates have been exonerated to date and some have been executed then later proved innocent.

Secondly, the lethal drugs used in executions have come under recent legal challenges in several states for the suffering caused by ghastly botched executions in recent years.

On Maundy Thursday, 2 of the many pharmaceutical companies that have refused to supply drugs for execution filed a court brief claiming the drugs they supplied to Arkansas were obtained under false pretences, supposedly for medical purposes.

Other states have found ways to circumvent the reputable drug companies' ban. Ohio, which witnessed the lengthy, suffocating death of Dennis McGuire in 2014 and the 2-hour torturous attempt to inject Romell Broom in 2009, passed a law last year guaranteeing secrecy for any supplier or compounding pharmacy supplying killer drugs.

Thirdly, objections to the death penalty have been raised on behalf of the executioners. On Wednesday, 23 former corrections officials from different States wrote to Arkansas Governor Hutchinson urging him to halt the killings, on the grounds that committing serial executions causes considerable mental trauma.

The State had even resorted to asking for volunteers from the Rotary Club to initiate some of the executions, to take the strain off prison staff. They had no volunteers, even from professed death penalty supporters.

By Easter Monday, Arkansas' hit list had gone down from eight to five. A parole board recommended clemency for Jason McGehee, who had spent 19 years on death row for a violent crime at age 19, following a severely abused childhood. The Governor does not have to accept the board's recommendation but it at least delays the issue until after the lethal drugs run out at the end of the month.

A stay of execution was granted for Bruce Ward based on his mental disability. Then Don Davis - who had already been given his final meal in the execution unit - was granted a last minute appeal by the US Supreme Court due to his 'organic brain damage, intellectual disability, head injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome and other severe mental health conditions'.

The mental health issue was further grounds for the Good Friday protests. Arkansas, which executed a man with schizophrenia in 2004, is 1 of 7 states facing the introduction of a new bill to prohibit the death penalty for people suffering serious mental illness at the time of their crime.

In theory, it is already unconstitutional to execute someone with mental illness but many are not diagnosed until they are in prison, and according to 1 death row inmate, usually the State 'medicates them, says they're OK now, then kills them'.

It is already illegal (following the 2002 Atkins ruling) to execute someone with intellectual disability but states define disability in their own way. Texas has just been ordered by the US Supreme Court to relinquish outdated methods of assessing intellectual disability based on IQ tests and ignoring other data, a practice mirrored by other States.

There are also ongoing protests from forensic scientists regarding the use or misuse of forensic evidence to convict people, and the new Attorney General's proposal to remove review of forensic procedures from the scientific community is causing dismay.

Innocence Projects and attorneys for a number of death row inmates claim that their clients' convictions were based on uncorroborated forensic claims, junk science or improperly analysed DNA results.

And lastly, but significantly, protesters are challenging the myth that executing the perpetrator of violent crime constitutes justice, 'closure' or rightful revenge for victims' families.

Among the growing army of Americans joining the protests against state-sanctioned violence are family members of victims, who do not want the last memorial of their loved ones to be another gruesome death.

Easter is a reminder, if Christians ever need one, that redemption does not preclude even the gravest offenders and that – surely – one crucifixion is enough.

(source: Clare Nonhebel, Christian Today)

TURKEY:

Turkey: death penalty incompatible with Council of Europe----Adoption would push Ankara outside the institution

"Rejection of capital punishment is a basic principle of the Council of Europe and its reintroduction would be simply incompatible with Turkey's continued membership in the organization". It is what the Luxembourg socialist parliamentarian Yves Cruchten, general rapporteur on abolition of the death penalty for the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace), said reacting to President Erdogan's declaration on the intention of holding a referendum to bringing back the death penalty in Turkey. "The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace) has helped turn Europe into a death penalty free continent, by making a moratorium on executions and a commitment to abolition a condition for accession" says Cruchten, underlining that Pace "will not accept any backsliding on this".

"President Erdogan should be under no illusion: reintroducing the death penalty would be simply incompatible with Turkey's continued membership of the Council of Europe" declares Cruchten.

(source: ansamed.info)

SINGAPORE:

Activists decry hurried execution of convicted drug courier

The following is a joint-press release by We Believe in Second Chances and the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign.

***

We Believe in Second Chances and the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) note with dismay that the execution of Jeefrey bin Jamil has been abruptly scheduled for this Friday, 21 April 2017. Jeefrey is now known as Jeffrey Marquez Abineno.

Jeffrey (aged 52) was convicted by the High Court of trafficking 45.26 grams of diamorphine into Singapore on 28 November 2014. His appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on 2 December 2016. He appealed to the President of Singapore for clemency, but was refused a pardon on 17 April 2017 - the same day his family was informed of his scheduled execution.

We are alarmed by the speed at which Jeffrey's execution is to be carried out. In previous cases, there was more time between the President's rejection of clemency and the execution. We note with concern this decreasing window of time between notifying the inmate's lawyer and the scheduled execution. Families of death row inmates need time to make funeral preparations, inform their relatives, visit the inmate, and ready themselves emotionally. The inmate's lawyers need time to review their case and pursue other legal avenues where necessary. There should be a reasonable notice period, and at the very least a consistently enforced notice period, for the inmate's family and lawyers to plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements.

The death penalty is the harshest and most final punishment that a court can mete out to any individual. It is a punishment that has been abandoned by the majority of criminal justice systems in the world. Moreover, decades of research have not been able to prove that the death sentence is more effective than other forms of punishment in deterring crime and keeping society safe.

Furthermore, should Jeffrey's hanging on Friday proceed as planned, it would take place under a cloud of uncertainty over its international legality and legitimacy. Lawyers for 2 of Jeffrey's fellow death row inmates - Malaysians S Prabagaran and K Datchinamurthy - have commenced judicial review proceedings in Malaysia challenging Singapore's drug prosecution regime on grounds that it constitutes a breach of fair trial. Their case is now before the Court of Appeal of Malaysia. Should it succeed, Putrajaya would be compelled to institute legal proceedings against Singapore before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for denying its citizens a fair trial.

This impacts Jeffrey's case substantially. If the ICJ ultimately rules that Singapore's current drug prosecution regime breaches the accused’s right to a fair trial, Jeffrey and his family would pay the high price of him being one of the last men hanged under a regime found to be in breach of customary international law.

We urge the Singaporean authorities to halt the execution of Jeffrey Marquez Abineno. The death penalty is irreversible. Once it is carried out, a wrongful execution is an injustice that can never be rectified.

(source: theindependent.sg)

BANGLADESH:

2 men bag death sentence in Bangladesh

A Bangladeshi court on Wednesday sentenced 2 men to death for crimes committed during the country's 1971 war of independence with Pakistan, officials said.

The Special War Crimes Tribunal handed down the penalty to Moslem Prodhan, 66, and Syed Mohammad Hossain, 64, for killings and atrocities carried out on civilians during the 9-month war.

Prosecution lawyer Tureen Afroz said 6 charges, including killing of unarmed civilians, were proved beyond doubt against the accused, who were members of an armed militia group linked to the Pakistan army.

"The death sentence can be executed either by hanging or shooting as the government decides," Afroz quoted the court's decision as saying.

Prodhan is in custody and Hossain is currently on the run.

6 opposition politicians, mostly from the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party, have been hanged after being convicted of war crimes. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the special tribunal in 2010.

The Head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, Motiur Rahman Nizami, and its top-ranking leaders Abdul Kader Mollah, Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed and Mir Quasem Ali, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader, Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, were among those executed.

East Pakistan became Bangladesh after the fighting ended with the surrender of Pakistani forces on Dec. 16, 1971.

An early attempt to prosecute the suspects was called off following the 1975 assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's founding leader and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

(source: The News)

IRAN----impending executions

Mohsen Babaie and 10 Others May Be Executed at Any Moment

11 prisoners are reportedly in imminent danger of execution in Karaj's Rajai Shahr Prison. According to close sources, they may be executed at any moment.

According to close sources, the prisoners were transferred to solitary confinement on the morning of Sunday April 16 in prepation for their executions. All 11 prisoners are reportedly on death row on murder charges. Iran Human Rights has obtained the names of 5 of these prisoners: Farzad Ghahreman, Mohsen Babaie, Mehdi Bahlouli, Seyed Hassan Hosseini, and Vahid Silani.

Close sources have informed Iran Human Rights that Mohsen Babaie was born in 1988, and he was arrested in 2011. "Mohsen was an accountant. In 2011, he and his business partner got into a physical altercation. His partner died after Mohsen punched him in the face. If the murder victim's son does not forgive him, Mohsen will be executed," a source close to Mohsen tells Iran Human Rights.

In a recent urgent action report by Amnesty International, Mehdi Bahlouli is described as 17 years old at the time of his alleged crime. According to Amnesty, another prisoner by the name of Peyman Barandah is scheduled to be executed at Shiraz Central Prison (Fars province) on Wednesday May 10. Peyman was arrested "at the age of 16 and spent nearly 5 years on death row, after being convicted in August 2012..." says the Amnesty report.

Iran remains one of the few countries which sentences juveniles to death, executing more juvenile offenders than any other country in the world. Juvenile executions are in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which Iran has ratified.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

NIGERIA:

Lagos govt to execute Rev'd King, others on death row

The Lagos State Government is set to execute the General Overseer of the Christian Praying Assembly, Chukwuemeka Ezeugo, also known as Rev King and other prison inmates on death roll.

This was disclosed by the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem during a press conference in the state.

Kazeem said the state government was reviewing the cases of those on death roll and will be taking a crucial decision soon.

The Commissioner disclosed that his recent visit to prisons in the state which was on the instruction of the state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, said prison officials drew his attention to the highhandedness of those on death row.

According to Kazeem, previous administration had not deemed it fit to sign documents for the execution of convicts on death row, but the Ambode administration is moving towards signing the execution document.

Kazeem said, "Very soon, you will see the action of this government on that issues, we are reviewing the case on Rev. King and others on death roll.

"Lots of people are on death row, Rev. King is not the only one on death row, it is on the instruction of Ambode that I visited the prisons recently and I discuss the issue with the prison officials and they expressed concern.

"We are moving in that direction of signing. The prison officials said we need to look at that seriously. Those on death row are beginning to think they have some rights. We are going to move in that direction, you will hear from me, but I will not tell you the exact date."

Recall that the Supreme Court had on 27 February, 2016 upheld the judgment of the Appeal Court which passed death penalty on King.

(source: dailypost.ng)

APRIL 18, 2017:

TEXAS:

5 death penalty reform bills heard in Texas House committee----5 death penalty bills were heard in a seven-hour-long meeting at the Capitol Monday night.

The death penalty was a hot topic at the Texas Capitol Monday night.

Testimony on 5 capital punishment bills was heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in a 7-hour-long meeting that lasted until close to midnight. The bills included 2 that would stop the practice of sentencing accomplices to death in certain cases and 2 which would abolish the death penalty altogether.

House Bills 147 and 316, by Democrats Harold Dutton and Terry Canales, respectively, would change how a person could be sentenced to death under Texas' "law of parties," which holds that those involved in a crime resulting in death are equally responsible even if they weren't the actual killer.

"At the end of the day, the logic should be, 'Did you intend to participate in that murder? Were you a part of it?'" Canales exclaimed while laying out his bill near the end of the long meeting. "Let's cut the nonsense out."

The most prominent case of a current Texas death row inmate sentenced under the law of parties is Jeff Wood. Wood was convicted in the 1996 murder of Kriss Keeran, who was fatally shot by Wood's friend in a Kerrville convenience store while he sat outside in a truck. Last year, Wood's case garnered national attention as his execution neared. Texas lawmakers from both parties spoke out against the execution, which was halted days before the scheduled date.

Republican Rep. Jeff Leach has been one of the most adamant supporters of reforming the law of parties. He has taken an interest in Wood's case, going so far as to visiting him on death row in February.

"I promised Jeff that I and Chairman Dutton and Rep. Canales would do everything that we can this session to ensure that another case like Jeff Wood's case would never happen again in the state of Texas," Leach said at a news conference earlier Monday on the bills.

There are 2 ways to find someone guilty under Texas' law of parties. The 1st puts responsibility on those who help commit or solicit a crime, even if they weren't directly involved. The second states that all parties are responsible for 1 felony that stems from another if the 2nd "should have been anticipated." For Wood, the state argued he was willfully participating in a robbery and knew his accomplice would resort to killing if Keeran did not comply, so Wood should have anticipated the robbery would lead to a murder. Wood has maintained he didnt know his friend had a gun on him.

The reform bills focus mainly on the "anticipation" clause, removing the possibility of a death sentence if someone is found guilty under the 2nd part of the law of parties and automatically granting them a sentence of life without parole. Currently, after being convicted, a jury still must agree the convict intended to kill or anticipated death to issue a death sentence.

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Justin Wood was the lone testifier against the bills, with eight others testifying in support of the bills that were laid out close to 11 p.m. He said the law of parties has been a "useful tool" for prosecutors, adding that "there are a lot of monsters who never get their hands dirty."

But Dutton argued that those people would still be punished, just not to death.

Chairman Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said Wood's testimony resonated with him as he has long struggled to "strike a balance" with the law of parties and the death penalty. In 2009, a similar bill filed in the House made it to the Senate, but died there. Terri Been, Jeff Wood's sister, said she has been lobbying against the law of parties for 20 years and pleaded through tears for the Legislature to move it forward this year.

"My cries have fallen on mostly deaf ears. I'm begging you to be leaders and to lead your constituents in the right direction," she said before wiping her eyes.

It is not common for a jury to sentence someone to death under the law of parties, but it happens. In 2007, prison inmates Jerry Martin and John Ray Falk, Jr., attempted escape. In the escape, Martin hit and killed prison guard Susan Canfield with a van. This March, Falk was sentenced to death as a party to the murder.

And Texas has executed at least 5 people under the statute, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Only 5 other states have executed anyone under similar laws.

Aside from the law of parties, two identical bills to get rid of the death penalty in Texas completely were also heard Monday evening. Dutton and Rep. Jessica Farrar filed House Bills 64 and 1537.

Both lawmakers have repeatedly filed abolition bills in past legislative sessions, and they acknowledged their main goal was to keep up a discussion on the death penalty. In a Republican-led legislature, it is almost certain that the bills will not pass. Dutton clarified to committee members he was asking for them not to vote against the death penalty but "to vote to let the House have a debate on this."

"This bill might not pass this time, but if it doesn't pass this time, we'll be right back here next time, fighting the same fight," Dutton said earlier Monday at a press conference on his 2 death penalty bills.

14 people testified in support of abolishing the death penalty for reasons ranging from arbitrary sentencing to the cost of appeals. 1 woman tearfully spoke of her death-sentenced husband. No one spoke out against the bill.

The remaining bill focused on the death penalty was one by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, a democrat from San Antonio. House Bill 3411 aims to lessen requirements to become the lead defense attorney in capital murder cases to allow for more lawyers to handle the backlog of death penalty cases.

Texas Defender Services Executive Director Amanda Marzullo argued against the lesser requirements, saying she believed it would cause more trouble in the appeals process and that there were other ways to ease the backlog such as creating a public defender office.

"We've got to build the bench, and we've got to move these cases," Gervin-Hawkins responded. "These people need their day in court."

All of the bills were left pending before the committee.

More on the death penalty and the Texas legislature:

As Paul Storey's execution neared, 1 juror asked the Texas Legislature to clarify the jury instructions in death penalty cases, claiming he didn't know he alone could have stopped the sentence.

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, filed long-shot House Bill 3080, which would prevent offenders proven to have had a severe mental illness at the time of their crime from being sentenced to death in a capital murder case.

(source: Texas Tribune)

**************************

Fight Against Death Penalty Reignites in Texas Legislature

The uphill fight to abolish the death penalty in Texas is once again before lawmakers, and while it's not likely to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled legislature, another bill dealing with the death penalty is getting bipartisan support.?

On Monday, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, held a news conference touting HB-147 -- legislation that would end death penalties for those convicted as a co-conspirator to a crime, known as the Law of Parties.

Dutton said it isn't fair that those who didn't commit a crime are guilty because of their association -- a sentence that can have deadly consequences.

"I'm not willing to risk killing one person who is guilty, but at the same time risking that we'll also execute people who are not guilty," Dutton said. "Our voices are loud and clear. We believe Texas is headed down the wrong road."

One of those in support of the legislation is Lawrence Foster.

Foster's grandson, Kenneth Foster, has been behind bars for more than two decades after he was involved in a shooting.

"Since you were there in the immediate area, you are just as guilty as the individual that did the shooting," said the elder Foster.

Foster was convicted alongside the murderer under the law of parties. He was set to be executed until then Gov. Rick Perry commuted Foster's sentence just hours before he was to be killed.

"[Governor Perry] said because they were tried together, and the law of parties and so forth, he feeled [sic] that we'll just give him a life sentence," Foster said.

Foster says he believes in his grandson's innocence, and applauded Representative Dutton's efforts.

Dutton's bills and other legislation with a similar intent have gained some bipartisan support this session, but some groups continue to push for legislation that abolishes the death penalty altogether.

"I think certainly we're seeing a growing number of voices raising concerns about the death penalty from across the political spectrum," said Kristin Houle of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Houle says these changing attitudes combined with the high cost of putting inmates to death, is leading to a sea-change.

"We've had a massive decline in the number of new death sentences in the state. Just 3 people sentenced to death in Texas last year," Houle said.

But for the Foster family, a death sentence may no longer loom, but the fight is still not yet over.

"It really has had an effect on me," Foster said. "I would like to see him freed before I leave this Earth."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas is 1 of 6 states that has executed people who did not actually commit the murder in which they were convicted.

Dutton also has a bill that would completely abolish the death penalty, though HB-64 is unlikely to land on the governor's desk.

If not, Dutton said he'll continue to push for it in years to come.

*********************

Death Penalty Critics Lining Up at the State Capitol

Death penalty critics are lining up for a push in the Texas House of Representatives.

Among them - perhaps surprisingly - is North Texas Republican Jeff Leach - who wants to see changes made to the State's "Law of Parties," which allows those who are "parties to a crime resulting in a murder to be sentenced to death.

"I'm convinced that of we band together... Democrats, Republicans and Texans of all political stripes.. from all across this State... we can pass a good, sound, strong law of parties bill this session" Leach said at the State Capitol Monday ahead of hearings on a pair of death penalty-related bills sponsored by State Representative Harold Dutton.

"I do understand how a law like this (Law of Parties) can just tear our whole criminal justice fabric apart" Dutton said, detailing his bill calling for changes to the "Law of Parties."

Separately, Dutton also is pushing for the complete abolition of the use of the death penalty in Texas.

As time has moved forward, one of the things we have all come to realize is our criminal justice system is not perfect" Dutton said.

Both bills got hearings in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Monday Afternoon.

(source: KTSA news)

**************

Texas House Committee hears bills to end death penalty

The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence took up bills Monday to end the death penalty and ban the Law of Parties.

The Law of Parties allows someone to be held criminally responsible for the actions of another person in certain cases. Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston) filed HB147 to prohibit a person being sentenced to death if they are found guilty under the Law of Parties.

The families of 2 men in that very situation spoke in favor of the bill. Terri Been's brother, Jeff Wood, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

A man Wood was with killed a convenience store clerk in 1996. Wood wasn't in the store when the murder happened.

"Absolutely people should be punished for their crimes. However, my brother committed no murder," said Been. "He never conspired to commit murder, he had no knowledge that a murder would even occur. So how is that right or fair to be punished for another man's crimes?"

Wood has faced execution twice. Last summer Representative Jeff Leach, a conservative republican, joined the fight to prevent his execution. Leach is teaming up with Dutton to back HB147, saying this is an issue that goes beyond party politics.

Scott Cobb, Executive Director of the Texas Moratorium Network, says 5 people have been executed in Texas under the Law of Parties.

The Committee will also hear HB64 by Dutton to abolish the death penalty. Dutton, an attorney, says if the state executes even 1 innocent person, it's 1 too many.

Yancy Escobar Balderas testified in support of HB 64 on Monday Night. Her husband was convicted of capital murder and has spent the last 3 years on death row. She believes the death penalty is based more on vengeance than justice. She told KVUE "We can not continue this government program that's not working. It's executed innocent people before, there's innocent people on death row right now. It will continue to execute innocent people. Why take the chance?"

(source: KHOU news)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Special summonses possible for death penalty case jurors

More than 4 years after his arrest and incarceration, a local man may stand trial in August for homicide and attempted homicide in a case in which prosecutors have stated they intend to seek the death penalty.

Brandon Lee Wolowski, 22, of Washington, also is charged with aggravated assault and robbery in connection with shootings at a home in the 900 block of Fayette Street Jan. 8, 2013.

Matthew Mathias, 37, died of a gunshot wound to the chest that perforated his left lung. Mathias' girlfriend, Michelle Powell, 38, was shot in the cheek, chin, chest and arm but survived after undergoing surgery.

Before she was flown by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, Powell gave a statement to police that pointed to Wolowski as the perpetrator, and he was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Guns were the objective of the robbery, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.

Wolowski was not in Washington County Courthouse Monday for a pretrial conference, but there were some developments in the case, such as zeroing in on the August court calendar for a possible trial.

"It won't be in our normal criminal trial weeks," said Assistant District Attorney Leslie Ridge. An August jury trial in Washington County Courthouse would be a rarity, but it might be the only time open for a death-penalty case. Potential jurors who express opposition to the death penalty on moral grounds are automatically excluded from serving, so the court administrator's office sends out a larger-than-usual number of summonses in these types of cases to obtain the required number of jurors and alternates to sit in judgment.

Then-First Assistant District Attorney Michael J. Lucas, now a Washington County judge, filed a notice of aggravating circumstances required for death-penalty cases in February 2013. Lucas noted the killing of Mathias took place during a felony robbery and "knowingly created a grave risk of death" to Powell.

The defense seeks to counter the prosecution's case with mitigating circumstances. Wolowski's court-appointed attorney, Noah Geary, is in the process of compiling reasons that could keep Wolowski from receiving a death sentence. Portraying Wolowski as a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome is a possibility.

"That would be mitigating," Geary said. "I need to explore that. ... His upbringing was truly horrific."

Wolowski has a long history of spending time in foster and group homes.

Among those awaiting word on the case at the courthouse was Wolowski's sister, Susan May McMasters, 27, of Washington. She said, "Brandon is really a good kid. He had such a bad start in life. I'm 4 years older than him. I did what I could. What he's accused of is so hard for me to believe."

McMasters can't visit her brother in jail because of her own criminal record, but she said they communicate through frequent phone calls. Helen Kosek, who described her relationship with Wolowski as grandmotherly, visits him in jail and has, on his behalf, mailed documents dealing with a federal case he filed in U.S. District Court, Pittsburgh, against jail guards.

Cynthia Reed Eddy, U.S. magistrate judge, wrote of the federal case last November, "It is not yet clear to the Court whether (the case) has any merit, either in factor or in law," and she declined to appoint counsel for Wolowski in that legal arena.

Of the homicide charge to be handled in state court, Ridge, who would be leading the prosecution of a death-penalty case for the 1st time, said, "Unfortunately, in these kinds of cases, you have to take your time because there are some pretty serious things involved. There are a lot of things both sides have to do to prepare."

Geary said the appeals process can be a long one, so he prefers "to get everything the 1st time through. Other lawyers, years from now, could be poring over everything," pointing to defenses that should have been explored.

The attorneys expect to participate in another pretrial conference during the coming months.

Over the years, Wolowski, while being held in the county jail without bond, requested he receive the services of a psychologist, which the court, according to an online docket referencing Dr. Michael Crabtree, allowed with a $3,000 cap.

Wolowski first had a public defender as his legal representation. But last fall, Wolowski, through Geary, who has the qualifications required for a death-penalty case, asked Judge John DiSalle to suppress evidence. DiSalle heard testimony but denied Wolowski's request.

Wolowski also granted permission to the juvenile probation office to release his records and asked the county office of Children and Youth Services to provide an opportunity to review his files in dependency cases.

In 2015, DiSalle also ordered Wolowski be transported to Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County for as long as 90 days for a mental-health evaluation, testing and treatment.

(source: Observer-Reporter)

VIRGINIA----impending execution

Gov. McAuliffe Considering Clemency for Death Row Inmate

Governor Terry McAuliffe will soon announce whether he will grant clemency to a Virginia inmate on death row.

Ivan Teleguz is set to die next week. A jury convicted Teleguz of a murder-for-hire plot to kill his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Sipe, in Harrisonburg in 2001.

There's been a growing push from Teleguz's lawyers, Christian leaders, and other public officials in the commonwealth to halt the scheduled execution.

McAuliffe is reviewing a clemency petition filed by the inmate's legal team.

"Clearly issues have come up issues have arisen that I need to look at very closely," said the Democratic governor.

Attorney Elizabeth Peiffer, with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, is fighting to stop the execution.

"No juror could look at the evidence and look at the record as it currently stands and find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," she said.

Peiffer points out that 2 of the 3 key witnesses in the case have recanted their testimony, admitting that they lied about Teleguz's involvement.

The 3rd witness, Michael Hetrick, was the man who was actually convicted of stabbing Sipe to death.

Peiffer also believes Teleguz received the death penalty because of false information given to jurors during the sentencing phase.

"The jurors based their sentencing decision on a fictitious murder. A witness testified that Mr. Teleguz was involved in another murder in Ephrata, Pennsylvania," said the attorney. "But now we know that this murder is a fiction. It never happened."

McAuliffe says he's carefully examining all the information in the case.

"Nothing is more tough for a governor than to have to make this life death decision, and I take it very very seriously," he said.

Lawyers for Teleguz are also working on filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The execution is scheduled to take place on April 25.

(source: WVIR news)

******************

Virginia Is About To Execute A Man Based On One Unreliable Witness----2 other witnesses have already admitted their original testimony was false.

Whether Ivan Teleguz is put to death in Virginia on April 25 should depend on how much Governor Terry McAuliffe is willing to trust the testimony of confessed murderer Michael Hetrick.

This is so because the Supreme Court of Virginia found that jurors needed to believe the testimony of Hetrick and 2 other witnesses in order to find Teleguz guilty. But the 2 other witnesses have since admitted that their testimony against Teleguz was false - given in exchange for generous deals from the government - and they have no reason to believe Teleguz was involved in the murder.

That leaves only the word of Hetrick. But the manner in which Hetrick's testimony was engineered by police is a serious flaw that should bring the remaining piece of the case against Teleguz tumbling down. Hetrick was fed the prosecution's theory of the case before his statement, and was told he would face the death penalty himself unless he provided a matching account and stuck to that account. Teleguz was sentenced to death for paying Hetrick to kill Stephanie Sipe - according to Hetrick to avoid paying child support. Hetrick avoided a death sentence by agreeing to testify against Teleguz.

As former law enforcement professionals, we have special expertise in, and appreciation for, the fundamental need to maintain integrity in witness interrogations. Improper interrogations can result in unreliable and false statements and confessions that put innocent people behind bars - and sometimes on death row.

The police interrogation of Hetrick violated foundational interrogation principles and makes his resulting statement and testimony against Teleguz unreliable. It certainly should not serve as the sole remaining basis for putting Teleguz to death.

After reviewing the nearly three-hour recording of police questioning Hetrick, we can identify numerous and significant improprieties. These include: tunnel vision, or the investigator's fixation on a result causing him to disregard other evidence; improperly combined maximization/minimization in which the investigator threatens inevitable and dire consequences, then promises assistance in avoiding the inevitable; and contamination, in which the investigators provide details of their theory of the case and investigation to Hetrick prior to getting Hetrick's own account.

Hetrick's interrogation is a case study in what is not supposed to occur in police interviews.

Police set Hetrick up by informing him that they had blood evidence from the crime scene, knew that he had a cut on his hand treated just after the murder, and they planned to take his DNA for comparison. They told him explicitly that he must accuse Teleguz of hiring Ms. Sipe's murderer - before the end of that interview - or Hetrick would face the death penalty. (Hetrick: "This Ivan'd so f*** bad a person, that you're willing to give a guy who should get the death penalty a deal?" Investigator: "I'm telling you that, as sure as we're sitting here.")

Investigators continued the interrogation despite several requests from Hetrick to stop so he could talk to a lawyer. Hetrick was explicitly told the prosecution's theory of the case, and he was even allowed to review the 9-page, single-spaced written summary of the police investigation of the case (Investigator: "I highly encourage you to read through all that and understand the facts of this case that's going on right now.") Investigators also went so far as to interrupt the interrogation in order to put Hetrick on the telephone with the prosecutor so that she could directly assure him that she would seek his execution if he did not cooperate then and there, and that his only way out of an inevitable death sentence was to accuse Teleguz of arranging the murder. This all happened before Hetrick began to give a statement.

Current standards for professional, properly trained law enforcement would not accept this kind of interrogation. In fact, Hetrick's interrogation is a case study in what is not supposed to occur in police interviews because all of these factors increase the likelihood that the resulting evidence will be false. The way in which the evidence was extracted or engineered runs sufficiently afoul of accepted professional police practices to prevent us from knowing what is true. Improper police work, combined with Hetrick's history of drug abuse and criminal behavior, produced a very unreliable witness. Now, this witness serves as the last remaining evidence against Teleguz, who will be executed in just weeks without the intervention of Governor McAuliffe.

As a matter of professionalism, fairness, and justice, Virginia's Governor McAuliffe should commute Teleguz's death sentence, stop his April 25 execution, and prevent the Commonwealth of Virginia from carrying out an execution on so tenuous a basis.

(source: Gregg McCrary is a former Supervisory Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an internationally known expert in investigations, police practices, and interview and interrogation techniques. With nearly 50 years' experience in criminal investigations he provides expert testimony in these matters both nationally and internationally. He is also an adjunct professor in the Forensic and Legal Psychology Program at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.

Jim Trainum is a former D.C. Homicide Detective with 27 years on the force, and nationally recognized expert in police interrogation practices, false confessions, and the use of informants and cooperating witnesses. He is the author of How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room----Washington Post)

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Governor should grant clemency to Teleguz

Governor McAuliffe,

Ivan Teleguz will be put to death April 25. You are literally his last chance. The Commonwealth of Virginia found him guilty of "murder for hire" based on the testimony of three witnesses. 2 of the prosecution's witnesses have now admitted they lied under oath and have since submitted sworn written statements that Ivan had nothing to do with the death of Stephanie Sipe. The third witness, the gunman, struck a deal with the prosecution to save his own life and is serving a life sentence. To change his testimony now could possibly put him in danger of the death penalty.

Governor, I understand that you come out of the Christian tradition of those who follow that nonviolent, merciful Jesus. Of course, not everyone agrees with that and you have to represent all of the people. I also understand that your specific religious tradition is Catholic. Despite the fact that the Catholic Church has given clear statements in opposition to the death penalty, you obviously can't favor your own specific tradition because of the diversity of thought and beliefs throughout our state. But there is one thing that every single religious tradition and every unbeliever and every atheist and all of us agree on... Justice. Give Ivan Teleguz clemency. You will be able to sleep better...we all will.

EDWARD WOODWARD

(source: Letter to the Editor, Roanoke Times)

FLORIDA:

Florida lawmaker says 'African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida's death row'

The decision by Orlando-area prosecutor Aramis D. Ayala to no longer seek the death penalty in murder cases has injected a racial discussion about death row into the Florida legislative session.

Ayala, a Democrat elected as state attorney in 2016, announced her decision while handling the case of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. Scott removed Ayala from the Loyd case as well as 21 additional 1st-degree murder cases and reassigned them to Brad King, a Republican state attorney.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orange County Democrat and chairman of the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee, defended Ayala's right to make that call and criticized Gov. Rick Scott's reaction in an op-ed in the New York Times.

"As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida," Bracy wrote. "The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida's death row."

We decided to look at the statistics and see if they back up Bracy's statement.

Florida's death row statistics

Sheer numbers don't say very much about racial discrepancies of death row inmates. (There are more white inmates than black inmates among the 371 members of Florida's death row.)

Bracy's point about overrepresentation compares African-American inmates on death row compared to African-Americans' share of the general population.

African-Americans in Florida comprise about 17 % of the population, according to the 2015 census.

But they make up about 39 % of the death row population.

Based on the data, African-Americans make up twice as large of a share of death row inmates as a share of the state population.

Other ways to crunch it

There is a lot of research that shows racial disparities in sentencing for death penalty cases, in Florida and around the country.

The leader of a pro-death penalty group quibbled with Bracy's point, saying it disregards the race of people who commit homicides.

Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said more African-Americans are convicted of homicide.

"There are far fewer women than men on Florida's death row; this does not indicate a bias against men, it indicates a disproportionate % of men who commit capital murder compared to women," he said.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nationally between 1980-2008, 52.5 % of homicide convicts were African-American while 45.3 % were white. In 2015, 36.7 % of homicide convicts were African-American while 30.2 % were white.

"The difference between the makeup of death row and the makeup of the general population is attributable to the difference in offending rates, not bias in the system," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Evidence for racial disparities

Studies show sentencing in death penalty cases often depends more heavily on the race of the victim than the killer.

No white person has ever been executed for killing a black person, said Michael Radelet, a University of Colorado professor who has studied death penalty sentencing in Florida.

In a 1991 study, Radelet (then at the University of Florida) found the odds of a death sentence for those who kill white people are about 3.4 times higher than for those who kill African-Americans in Florida.

"All the research in Florida has found that the race of the victim is a more powerful predictor of death sentencing than the race of the defendant...," he told PolitiFact Florida. "It is true that every homicide cases is different, but even after looking at roughly similar cases (multiple murders, murders that have accompanying felony circumstances, etc.) we find the patterns of bias."

Brandon L. Garrett, a University of Virginia School of Law, reached a similar conclusion in his research at the national level.

Garrett analyzed data on all death sentencing by county from 1990 to 2016, seeking to answer the question of why a few counties, but not the bulk, still impose death sentences.

He found that death sentences are strongly associated with urban, populous counties as well as counties that have large black populations. Garrett also found that counties with more white victims of homicide have more death sentencing.

Frank Baumgartner, a University of North Carolina political science professor, described a similar pattern in a 2016 Albany Law Review article after he examined national data on race and homicide between 1976 through 2014.

In Florida, Baumgartner found "tremendous disparities" depending upon the race and gender of the victim.

He found that 72 % of all executions in Florida were for crimes involving white victims despite the fact that 56 % of all homicide victims are white. He argues that bias can enter the system at many points -- starting with a prosecutor's decision about how to charge the crime and ultimately decisions by juries.

It isn't just a Florida problem.

One of the key pieces of analysis cited in this area is by University of Iowa law professor David Baldus, who examined a sampling of death penalty cases in Philadelphia from 1983 to 1993. He found average death sentencing rates were 38 % higher for black defendants than for other defendants.

Baldus, who died in 2011, played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 McCleskey vs. Kemp decision, in which the court determined Baldus' research showing statistical evidence of racial discrimination in Georgia death penalty cases did not make the death penalty unconstitutional.

In a report for the American Bar Association, Baldus found that race-of-defendant disparities existed in several other states, too, including California, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Our ruling

Bracy said, "African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida's death row."

African-Americans are overrepresented in terms of their population; black inmates make up twice as large of a share of death row inmates than their share of the state population.

The "why" isn't as easy to answer. National data show that more blacks than whites are convicted of homicides. However, research repeatedly shows that the victim's race affects a defendant's sentence: no white person has been executed for killing a black person in Florida.

We rate Bracy's statement Mostly True.

(source: PolitiFact.com)

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Jury selection begins in case of man killing 83-year-old woman

Lawyers spent Monday interviewing potential jurors in the case of an Orlando man accused of killing an 83-year-old woman and burning down her home.

Juan Rosario is charged with 1st-degree murder. His will be the 1st murder case to go to trial since State Attorney Aramis Ayala was inaugurated. Florida Gov. Rick Scott removed Ayala from Rosario's case and about 2 dozen others after she announced that she wouldn't pursue the death penalty during her tenure. Scott instead appointed State Attorney Brad King to prosecute the case, but three of Ayala's assistant state attorneys are overseeing jury selection. King said he would pursue the death penalty in Rosario's case. Prosecutors working for Ayala's predecessor, former State Attorney Jeff Ashton, had prepared the case as a death penalty case.

Judge Leticia Marques, prosecutors and defense attorneys all seek to determine whether the recent public debate over capital punishment has influenced how potential jurors consider punishment in the case.

(source: WFTV news)

LOUISIANA:

Should Louisiana scrap the death penalty?----Locals weigh in as state lawmakers prepared to decide.

On the morning of Oct. 17, 1996, Chad Louviere embarked on one of the most gruesome rampages in Terrebonne Parish history.

The Terrebonne sheriff's deputy drove to a bank at Grand Caillou and Moffet roads, where his estranged wife was working. He walked in with a bag containing an AR-15 assault rifle and ordered 2 male customers out. He took 6 women employees hostage, locked the doors and shot and killed 27-year-old Pamela Duplantis, the mother of a 9-year-old girl. Louviere forced 2 of the women to perform sex acts on each other while he watched and then raped all 3 women who remained inside.

He was sentenced to death in 2000 but was re-sentenced April 21, 2015, to two consecutive life terms following appeals that lasted 15 years. After months of consultation, the victims agreed unanimously to revoke the death penalty rather than face the possibility of another trial, prosecutors said.

Louviere's case is indicative of how expensive and time-consuming Louisiana's death penalty process has become, said state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

"If you want any case to illustrate the problems with the death penalty, they need to look no further than the Louviere case," Zeringue said. "If anyone needed to die as a result of the death penalty, that's the guy. He should be the poster child on why if you're going to have the death penalty you should exercise it. But the reality is that it cost this parish millions of dollars to get to the point of trying to execute this guy, and now he's going to serve life in prison."

In Louisiana, 241 people have received death sentences since 1976, and 127 of them ended in a reversal due to judicial error, prosecutor misconduct or "ineffective assistance" by defense lawyers, a recent study by the University of North Carolina found.

It costs taxpayers about $1.52 million a year to house death row inmates, and roughly 28 % of the Public Defender Board's annual budget is spent on capital cases, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Capital punishment's exorbitant costs and ethical dilemmas caught the attention of 3 state lawmakers who have proposed bills to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana. Reps. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia and Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, and Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, filed House Bill 101 and Senate Bill 142, which, if approved, would apply to crimes committed on or after Aug. 1.

'REALLY FRUSTRATING'

The bills await their 1st hearing during a session that started April 10 and must end by June 8. But debate has already begun in the Capitol and across the state.

"I'm in favor of the death penalty," Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said.

He contends "the whole death sentence in Louisiana is a big joke" because it takes too long for the state to execute people. As a longtime law enforcer, Larpenter said, he has become frustrated with legal system red tape and bureaucracy that he says work to delay justice.

"The problem is all these appeals," the sheriff said. "When you have DNA evidence, it shouldn't take 20 years to execute somebody. I can see appealing a death sentence if there was only 1 witness and no physical evidence, but if you have DNA, 20 witnesses and fingerprints, it's kind of hard to say you didn't do it. How can we as a society allow the criminal mind to overwhelm our Legislature to convince them to start changing laws to make it easier for criminals? What's going on in this world? It's really frustrating."

Of the 73 men and 1 woman on Louisiana's death row, only 1, David Brown, is from Terrebonne and none are from Lafourche. A Lafourche judge sentenced Brown to die last November for murdering 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela, in 2012.

"The reason I would support keeping the death penalty in some fashion is David Brown," Lafourche Sheriff Craig Webre said. "He is a textbook example of an individual who is such a predatory, horrific murderer who just caused so much pain, harm, loss and tragedy. His is an extreme case where the death penalty would be warranted."

However, Webre said his support for the death penalty has limits.

"I'm a supporter of finality in those rare, extreme cases that cry out for that kind of a sentence, but in my opinion life in prison is a harsher punishment," Webre said. "A murderer will have to face the consequences of his or her actions in an institutional setting where they'll never celebrate Easter with family, never enjoy a cup of coffee at a cafe or see the christening of a child or grandchild or see a graduation or a wedding."

A MATTER OF FAITH

One of capital punishment's longtime opponents is the Catholic Church, which opposes it on moral grounds. The Rev. Mark Toups, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said he is a firm believer in the preservation of life.

"I would support life from conception to natural death," Toups said. "I certainly believe in the justice system and due process, but a natural death should be the response rather than the death penalty."

Zeringue said the tenets of his Christian faith also prohibit him from supporting capital punishment.

"There's somewhat of a contradiction to be pro-life and at the same time be pro-death penalty," Zeringue said. "As a Legislature, I have to represent everyone's interest and completely appreciate and understand the fact for those who had to through the horrible experience of having a family member murdered. But right now, I believe from my Christian perspective and faith that we could probably do away with the death penalty."

State Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, a Thibodaux independent, acknowledged that the legal system needs reform but said abolishing the death penalty should not be considered a remedy.

"We have the highest murder rate in the country per capita," Richard said. "I do not believe eliminating the death penalty is the answer. I also feel not enforcing the death penalty is a problem. We can look at reducing penalties for many nonviolent crimes as a way to bring relief to our jails, but eliminating the death penalty should not be part of reducing costs to trim our budget."

'ONE BIG MONEY PIT'

State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said Louisiana's death penalty law is an expensive symbolic gesture.

"As it's currently set up, it's just 1 big money pit," Magee said.

"Everybody needs to get realistic about what the death penalty really means in the state of Louisiana," he said. "One of the common beliefs is that we should run government like a business. What businessman would pay millions of dollars a year on something that rarely gets used and once it does happen takes 10-20 years for it to really happen? We're spending millions and millions of dollars prosecuting these death penalty cases to do them the way it's required of us by the Supreme Court. All it's doing is giving the appearance that we're hard on crime, but it's just an appearance."

31 states allow the death penalty. Magee and Zeringue noted that Louisiana and some other states have had trouble acquiring the chemicals used for lethal injections because pharmaceutical companies have become reluctant to manufacture such stigmatized drugs.

Louisiana hasn't executed a death row inmate since 2010, and its next planned execution has been delayed until at least 2018 pending a federal lawsuit challenging the use of lethal injection.

Asked via Facebook, Courier and Daily Comet readers offered similar pros and cons.

"The problem lies in the fact that they can draw out the appeals process over a long period of time," Wayne Bunch said. "Too many people on death row sit there for 20-plus years that we get to pay for. Meanwhile, we have homeless veterans in our country that get mistreated, but these murderers and rapists get 3 hot meals and a cot. Decrease the timeline for appeals, carry out the sentences and problem solved."

Aaron Charles Cornwell said he objects to capital punishment.

"The death penalty should be eliminated," Cornwell said. "Our justice system is imperfect and sometimes wrongfully convicts people for crimes. The death penalty erases the possibility of discovering and fixing it. It is meant to deter crime, but there's no evidence it does this more than life imprisonment. Satisfying someone's thirst for vengeance should not be the point of our justice system."

(source: The Daily Comet)

TENNESSEE:

Knoxville greenway slaying may test newest reason for death penalty

Knoxville's 1st greenway slaying may become the 1st statewide test case of the newest reason a killer can be put to death - randomness.

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Monday took under advisement a bid by the attorney for Timothy Dwayne Ison to strike down as unconstitutional the state Legislature's latest addition to the list of reasons jurors can choose to justify putting a killer to death or behind bars until death.

Ison, 26, is facing trial on a charge of 1st-degree murder in the May 2015 slaying of Stefany Fairbanks, a 42-year-old stranger he fatally stabbed on the Third Creek Greenway, located off Sutherland Avenue. The slaying came 11 years after a then-14-year-old Ison terrorized a Knoxville couple whom he did not know, but he was never tried as an adult in that case.

Prosecutors Kyle Hixson and Leslie Nassios are seeking a punishment of life without parole for Ison if he is convicted. In Tennessee, only a jury can decide the sentence if the state is seeking life without parole or capital punishment. Hixson and Nassios must convince the jury in Ison's case of what is known as an "aggravating factor" - a reason to justify elevating a murder to a special class rating the loss of Ison's liberty for life.

Among the 3 the pair are citing is the newest such factor on Tennessee's books - that the killing was "committed at random, and the reasons for the killing are not obviously or easily understood."

Whether that new factor passes legal muster has not yet been tested in the appellate courts. Defense attorney Susan Shipley is aiming to change that.

She argued Monday in Ison's case the Legislature included no legal definitions or guidance on what makes a killing "random."

"This is too wide open," she said.

Hixson argued the words mean exactly what they say.

"These are not words that require definition," he said.

But Green was troubled by the words "not obviously or easily understood" as too vague to pass constitutional muster.

"I agree (with Hixson) the random part is OK, but what I'm struggling with is the reasons of the killing not being obviously or easily understood."

The U.S. Constitution and its Tennessee equivalent require citizens be informed specifically what behavior runs afoul of the law. For instance, driving while intoxicated is a crime, but the constitution requires citizens be given a legal definition of what rates as drunk under the law. No definition. No case.

Hixson likened the definition of a random killing to that of pornography.

"You know it when you see it," Hixson said, citing actual case law approving that definition of pornography.

Green said he was leaning in favor of the state on the issue, but his mind was not yet settled.

"I'm going to think about it some more," Green said.

Ison's trial is set to begin May 8 with jury selection. Hixson and Nassios have cited 2 more factors - especial cruelty and a prior violent past - to justify life without parole, so their case is safe no matter how Green rules. Shipley, though, will be able to appeal once the case is wrapped up - if Ison is convicted and sentenced to life without parole based on the new "random" killing factor.

At 14, Ison was deemed by a respected forensic psychiatrist as mentally disturbed with all the hallmarks of a sociopath.

He had forced his way into the Chilhowee Drive home of Ted and Judith Cope, both strangers to him, in 2004. He terrorized and brutalized the couple and tried to burn them alive after shooting Ted Cope.

The state wanted to try him as an adult in those attempted murders. But his designation as seriously mentally ill barred such a move. He was supposed to receive treatment while in the custody of the state Department of Children's Services.

Ison never received treatment, other than a brief stint in a group home for children with varying mental illnesses. The state doesn't fund juvenile facilities for the seriously disturbed and has few that serve mentally-ill juveniles and adults. Ison was freed at age 19.

Soon after, he assaulted a man in Kentucky and went to prison. He served 11 months, violated parole and served 2 more months. He had been free 2 years when he attacked Fairbanks on the greenway near the parking lot at 3110 Sutherland Ave. He allegedly stabbed her to death and walked away.

Knoxville Police Department Sgt. Colin McLeod testified Monday the scene at the greenway slaying was chaotic. Greenway users were stopped in their tracks. Police cruisers were parked haphazardly in the parking lot as officers fanned out in search of a killer.

"We had officers actually on the greenway," he said. "We had officers circulating around the area ... (on) trails off the greenway. At that point we assumed the suspect was still in the area."

No one knew who the killer was, and witness descriptions varied, he said.

McLeod had been at the slaying scene for half an hour or so when Ison walked from the greenway to the Sutherland Avenue parking lot.

"He was asking if he could leave and go to his car," McLeod said.

McLeod has yet to unearth any connection between Fairbanks and Ison - other than he parked near her in the greenway parking lot.

(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)

ARKANSAS----stay of executions

U.S. Supreme Court won't allow Arkansas execution

The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of 2 men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night.

The Supreme Court late Monday blocked the 1st of at least 6 executions planned in Arkansas over the next 2 weeks after a dizzying day of state and federal court disputes about lethal injection drugs, mental health claims and the right to legal representation.

The justices' action represented a setback, but not a final blow, for Arkansas officials as they race the clock to execute convicted murderers before the state's supply of a controversial sedative used for executions passes its expiration date. If that happens, all the executions will be put on hold.

Justices turned down Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request to vacate a stay for Don Davis, 54, who was set to die Monday night by lethal injection. It's the 2nd time in 7 years that Davis, who was convicted in a 1992 murder, has come within hours of execution before courts intervened.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson released a statement saying he was disappointed in the delay. "While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims' families," the statement read.

The order does not affect executions still planned for Thursday and next week, among 8 originally scheduled with unprecedented haste over an 11-day period because of the looming deadline. A federal district court had blocked all the executions Saturday, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed that decision. Other courts blocked 2 of the executions over separate issues of competency and clemency.

While the last-minute appeals raised technical issues involving the defendants' legal rights and courts' jurisdiction, the state's effort to execute its first prisoners since 2005 focused largely on the drugs to be used. One of them, the sedative midazolam, has been associated with botched executions in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. Another, vecuronium bromide, was said by its manufacturer to have been obtained by the state under false pretenses.

The planned executions have renewed the debate over lethal injection in particular and capital punishment in general, which has been in decline for nearly 2 decades. No state has executed so many prisoners in such a short time span. Twice in 1997, Texas executed 8 prisoners in a single month, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the prisoners' appeal in February, along with another case from Alabama. At the time, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented. Sotomayor has been the court's leading critic of midazolam; Breyer has questioned the constitutionality of capital punishment.

The high court has tossed out 2 Texas death sentences this year - 1 because of racially discriminatory testimony, the other because of an outdated definition of intellectual disability. It is scheduled to hear 2 more death penalty cases on April 24, the date 2 more Arkansas prisoners are slated for execution.

(source: USA Today)

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Arkansas Vows To Keep Pushing For Executions Despite Setback

Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the 1st time in nearly 12 years with a ruling sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.

The court's decision was the second time Don Davis had been granted a reprieve shortly before execution - he was within hours of death in 2010. It capped a chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts Monday as Arkansas tried to clear obstacles to carrying out its first executions since 2005.

Davis had already been served a last meal, and witnesses were being moved toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before Davis' death warrant expired at midnight.

Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers, Arkansas. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-caliber revolver he found there.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson had set an aggressive schedule of as many as eight executions by the end of April, when the state's supply of a key lethal injection drug expires. Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the 1st 2 of those Monday but Ward received a stay of execution and the state did not appeal the decision. The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the last-minute U.S. Supreme Court ruling ensured that he would not enter the death chamber Monday.

Despite the setbacks, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would press ahead with other planned executions, including 2 set for Thursday - Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson.

"There are 5 scheduled executions remaining with nothing preventing them from occurring, but I will continue to respond to any and all legal challenges brought by the prisoners," Rutledge said.

Lawyers for the inmates were not immediately available after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier in the day, the state had cleared 2 of the main obstacles to resuming executions. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge's ruling blocking the executions over the use of midazolam, a sedative used in flawed executions in other states. The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

The high court's order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the justices voted in favor of lifting the stay. Monday marked the 1st day that the U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

Hutchinson's original schedule of 8 lethal injections in 11 days would have marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiration of its supply of midazolam.

Arkansas enacted a law 2 years ago keeping secret the source of its lethal injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies. Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very difficult to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its current stock expires.

(source: Associated Press)

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Arkansas court halts 2 executions set for Monday night

The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of 2 men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in the state's plan to conduct eight lethal injections before its supply of a key drug expires at the end of April.

Justices in a 4-3 decision granted stays Monday afternoon for Don Davis and Bruce Ward. The inmates wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments on April 24.

3 Arkansas justices dissented, with Associate Justice Shawn Womack writing that Ward and Davis "had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals have occurred. The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law."

The inmates' attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to independent mental health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

This was just the latest setback for the state's plan to execute 8 prisoners before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month. If court proceedings are pushed into May, Arkansas won't be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand.

The Arkansas high court already had issued one stay for Ward after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution. Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

Also, a federal judge has halted all of the planned executions on different grounds. The state has appealed that ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hadn't weighed in as of mid-afternoon.

The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night executions in the event that all stays were lifted. A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had no immediate comment on the latest stays, saying the office was still reviewing the court's order.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court also barred a state judge who blocked the multiple execution plan from taking up any death penalty related cases after he participated in a protest where he appeared to mimic a death row inmate about to receive a lethal injection. Justices reassigned any death penalty cases from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, who banned the state from using a lethal injection drug a supplier said was misleadingly obtained. After issuing the order, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration where he was strapped to a cot. The high court asked a disciplinary panel to consider whether Griffen violated the code of conduct for judges.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is intended to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable because it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

(source: Boston Herald)

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Arkansas executions: Who's on death row?

The state initially tried to execute 8. But attorneys for Bruce Ward, one of the men on the list, requested a stay based on mental disability, which was granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Of the 7 men still on Arkansas' list, 4 are black, 3 are white and all were convicted of murder. Here's a look at who they are and their crimes:

Don William Davis, 54

Davis has been convicted in the brutal death of Jane Daniel. Daniel was in her home when Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-caliber gun. 7 years ago, he came within 6 hours of being executed by the state before the Arkansas Supreme Court halted it and addressed whether legislators had left out key details to the prison staff. Ultimately, the justices tossed out Arkansas' death row policies. Davis has not sought clemency but has joined other inmates' various lawsuits. Prison officials moved Davis Friday night to a cell near the execution chamber.

Jack Herold Jones, Jr., 52

Jones was initially scheduled to be put to death April 24 at 9 p.m. CDT. Jones has spent the past two decades on death row for killing Mary Phillips and trying to kill her daughter, Lacy, during a robbery at an accounting office. Phillips was found naked from the waist down with a cord from a coffee pot tied around her neck. Lacy was left for dead but woke up as police photographed her. Jones had taken Lacy to the bathroom and tied her to a chair. Lacy cried and asked Jones not to hurt her mother. Jones told the child, "I'm not. I'm going to hurt you." He then choked her until she passed out and hit her in the head with the barrel of a BB gun. Jones has said he is "not interested in clemency and has apologized for his actions." Jones has spent the last 20 years of his life on death row. He's tried to commit suicide twice and allegedly has been diagnosed with anti-social disorder and is bi-polar, according to The Forgiveness Foundation. Jones began using hard drugs from an early age.

Stacey E. Johnson, 47

Johnson was put on death row for the murder of Carol Heath in 1993. Heath was beaten and strangled and had her throat slit while her 2 young children were hiding in the home. Heath's daughter, Ashley, has said she's forgiven Johnson but wants him to admit he killed her mother. Johnson has refused and has strongly maintained his innocence. His initial conviction was overturned when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that a police officer should not have told jurors that Ashley, who was 6 at the time and found incompetent to testify, had picked Johnson out of a photo lineup. Johnson has spent 22 years on Arkansas' death row.

Ledell Lee, 51

Lee is sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, his neighbor. He beat Reese 36 times with a tire tool her husband had given her for protection. Lee was apprehended less than an hour after the grizzly death, trying to spend the $300 he had stolen from her. DNA evidence has also linked him to the disappearance of Christin Lewis, 22. Lee is also serving time for the rapes of a Jacksonville woman and teenager. He is scheduled to be executed Thursday, April 20. Ledell has spent the last 21 years of his life on Arkansas' death row.

Marcel Williams, 46

Williams was found guilty of the rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. Williams abducted the mother of 2 when she stopped for gas in Jacksonville, Fla. He then drove around to multiple ATMs and had her take out $350. Errickson never arrived at work that day nor did she pick up her child from the babysitters. Her body was found badly beaten and bound in a park 2 weeks later. Williams confessed to killing Errickson. He's also been linked to assaults on 2 other women. He is scheduled to be executed on Monday, April 24.

Jason F. McGehee, 40

McGehee beat to death Johnny Melbourne, Jr., for telling police who was behind an Arkansas theft ring. While several people are accused of beating and torturing the 15-year-old Melbourne, co-defendants claim McGehee did most of it. During his trial, McGehee asked the jury for mercy and said he had grown up in a dysfunctional family and had a violent childhood. He was forced to watch as his father killed 2 of his pets. He also watched his step-father beat another pet, which died from its injuries. McGehee claimed his mother would force him to sleep outside for days and deny him food. The jury convicted him in 90 minutes. He is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, April 27.

(source: Fox News)

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Cotton and Hill Praise Arkansas Death Penalty At Town Hall

Central Arkansas Congressman appeared before constituents in a town hall format for the first time of the Trump era on Monday. Hill faced a raucous, but politically split crowd. He was joined by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton.

The Republican senator said he talked with Governor Asa Hutchinson that morning about executions originally slated to begin Monday evening.

"I told him that I 100 % support his decision to execute the verdict that was rendered by a jury of his peers," said Cotton to a mix of jeers and cheers.

Cotton continued, condemning pharmaceutical companies for objecting to their drugs being used without their permission to kill inmates.

"Even politically correct pharmaceutical companies are trying to interfere with the justice system in the state of Arkansas," he said after decrying liberal judges and attorneys.

Hill also expressed support for the death penalty despite a constituent challenging him on why he differs from his Catholic Bishop, Anthony Taylor.

"Everyone who has gone through a trial for one of these heinous crimes has been able to have the due process of law under our Constitution," Hill said.

The town hall was held at a west Little Rock hotel during the workday.

(source: ualrpublicradio.org)

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State's high court removes judge who protested death penalty from capital-punishment cases

The Arkansas Supreme Court has removed a judge who participated in a death-penalty protest from hearing capital punishment cases.

In an assignment order issued Monday, the state's high court said it was necessary to reassign Judge Wendell Griffen's cases and to refer him to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated judicial conduct rules.

After a medical supplier filed a complaint Friday, Griffen issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from executing condemned inmates it had planned to put to death beginning Monday. Also Friday, Griffen participated in a protest outside the Arkansas governor's mansion where he lay on a cot to mimic a condemned prisoner.

"To protect the integrity of the judicial system this court has a duty to ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal," the order from the Supreme Court said. "We find it necessary to immediately reassign all cases in the Fifth Division that involve the death penalty or the state's execution protocol, whether civil or criminal."

(source: arkansasonline.com)

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The makers of a lethal-injection drug have become leaders in Arkansas' death-penalty battle

Arkansas' plan to execute 7 men by lethal injection over the course of 10 days in April hit a road block Friday when a federal judge moved to block all of the executions by issuing a restraining order against the state's use of the drug vecuronium bromide.

Arkansas was pushing to carry out the executions before one of the drugs used as part of the fatal cocktail expired.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the leading opponents of the executions were the very companies that produced the drugs.

4 companies have spoken out so far about the executions in Arkansas: Pfizer, Fresenius, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, and the drug wholesaler McKesson.

There are 3 drugs typically used in the lethal-injection cocktail:

Midazolam, which is used as an anesthetic. In medicine, it's used to make people drowsy before surgery and as a way to produce memory loss so patients don't remember painful parts of the procedure. Midazolam is the drug set to expire in Arkansas, and its use has been controversial because of its role in recent botched executions in which patients remained conscious.

Vecuronium bromide, which causes paralysis. In medicine, it's used in general anesthesia to relax the skeletal muscles during surgery.

Potassium chloride, which is used to stop the heart. In medicine it's used to treat low blood potassium.

Over the past few years, drug companies have started blocking their drugs from being used in executions. These drugs also have other medical uses, which can make it tricky to keep them from making it into state prisons that still carry out the death penalty and to keep them from being used for that purpose.

In May, Pfizer, became the last pharmaceutical company to block the use of its drugs in lethal injections. Its decision meant there were no longer any Food and Drug Administration-approved manufacturers that would supply the drugs used in lethal injections for the death penalty.

"Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment," the company said in its lethal-injection policy.

The move has made it harder for states to get the drugs for the purpose of lethal injection. Pfizer on Thursday said the drugs in Arkansas were sold to the state's Department of Correction without the company knowing:

"Pfizer did not directly supply the product to the Arkansas Department of Correction (DOC). Without Pfizer's knowledge, McKesson, a distributor, sold the product to the DOC. This was in direct violation of our policy. Pfizer has twice requested that Arkansas return any Hospira or Pfizer manufactured Restricted Product in their possession. In addition, we considered other means by which to secure the return of the product, up to and including legal action."

McKesson, the drug wholesaler that sold the vecuronium bromide to Arkansas DOC, refunded the money to the state and issued a restraining order against the DOC from using the drug in lethal injections. That restraining order was withdrawn after the executions were paused.

"We will continue our efforts to facilitate the return of our product and ensure that it is used in line with our supplier agreement," McKesson said in a statement.

2 other drug companies whose drugs may have been used in the executions, Freesenius (the suppliers of the potassium chloride) and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals (thought to be the suppliers of the midozolam), issued a brief as part of a lawsuit aimed at halting the lethal injections.

(source: businessinsider.com)

NEBRASKA:

An appropriate reminder

Is it reasonable for those adamantly opposed to the death penalty to continue to bring the issue up in the Legislature - again and again - even though Nebraskans statewide have sent a clear message in support of its use?

Grudgingly, our answer would be yes.

On life-and-death issues like this one literally is, it would be difficult to tell a legislator that he or she can't continue to advocate on this topic.

But that said ...

We also believe it to be highly appropriate for Nebraskans who were part of the 61 % majority that voted last year to restore the death penalty in the state to remind legislators - again and again - of the overwhelming pro-death penalty sentiment on this issue.

And it's appropriate for legislators also to be confronted - as they were in debate last month - of the inappropriate behavior displayed in past legislative sessions when the issue was debated.

That's what Christine Tuttle did recently in testimony before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee as she spoke in opposition to a measure - Legislative Bill 661 - that would bring the death penalty up for debate yet again.

Ms. Tuttle said she told senators on the committee that they should feel ashamed for celebrating on the legislative floor 2 years ago when a different repeal bill passed. Her mother, Evonne Tuttle, was 1 of 5 killed in the 2002 bank shooting in Norfolk.

"I watched you laugh and hug and high-5," she said. "You celebrated on the pain and sorrow of my family, and we have heard enough. This behavior hurt me and it angered me and it's not becoming of state senators, and I hope and pray that you do not make the same mistake again."

To their credit, 2 state senators - Bob Krist of Omaha and Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln - offered apologies. They said any displays of emotion on the floor of the Legislature were not intended as an insult to the families of murder victims. Rather, they said the scene reflected the kind of outpouring that naturally follows any difficult struggle over an issue people care deeply about.

But, of course, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha was having nothing to do with an apology, saying there was no shame in celebrating a victory that seemed unattainable. "As long as I have breath in my body and I'm in this Legislature, I'm going to do what I think is right," he said.

Fine, he's entitled to his opinion. And he's entitled to attempting to continue his efforts to end the death penalty in Nebraska.

But he and other death penalty opponents are also entitled to be reminded at every opportunity that a clear majority of Nebraskans think otherwise, and that opponents' behavior on this issue needs to be reflective of the serious nature of this issue.

(source: Editorial, Norfolk Daily News)

COLORADO:

Juror at center of misconduct claim testifies in Sir Mario Owens death penalty appeal----Juror says she did not know relatives of Javad Marshall-Fields prior to the trial

A juror at the center of a misconduct inquiry that could overturn a Colorado death sentence testified Monday in Arapahoe County District Court that she did not know relatives of the victim before serving on a high-profile murder trial that laid the groundwork for the death sentence.

Instead, the juror said that she first met the uncles of Javad Marshall-Fields after the trial was over. In other testimony Monday, Marshall-Fields' uncles affirmed the jurors' statement, a blow to defense attorneys seeking to prove that death row inmate Sir Mario Owens should receive a new trial in 2 separate murder cases.

Owens and another man, Robert Ray, were convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 murders in Aurora of Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe. Before that trial, Owens was convicted of murder in a separate shooting death in Aurora's Lowry Park, an incident in which Marshall-Fields was wounded.

On appeal, Owens' attorneys have alleged misconduct by 1 juror in the Lowry Park trial - asserting that she lied on her juror questionnaire, knew and had contact with at least 1 witness during the trial and knew members of Owens' and Marshall-Fields' families. Most of those issues already have been debated, but a judge last month granted a new hearing to learn more about the juror's connection to Marshall-Fields' family.

On the witness stand Monday, the juror, Stephanie Manuel, said repeatedly that she did not meet Marshall-Fields' family until after the 2007 Lowry Park trial, an assertion Marshall-Fields' mother and of his uncles echoed. That conflicts with what at least 2 acquaintances have said, a defense investigator testified. It also conflicts with what one of Marshall-Fields' uncles initially told defense attorneys.

But, on the stand Monday, uncle Michael Baxter testified that he had been mistaken when he said this year that he had known the juror for 20 years, a statement he recanted the next day.

"When you guys start bringing this up," he said to a defense attorney, "it brings up all the bad memories and other stuff. And that's hard. ... It took a big part out of me when this happened."

(source: Denver Post)

USA----new book

'Executing Freedom' examines the evolving role of the death penalty----Emory history professor Daniel LaChance's debut book looks at more than 50 years of shifting American culture and how it has altered perceptions of the death penalty.

How is it that the same Americans who don't trust the government to collect garbage and taxes put their faith in the government killing our worst criminals?

To get the answer, Daniel LaChance, an Emory College assistant professor in history, looked at more than 50 years of shifting American culture and how it altered perceptions of the death penalty. The result is his debut book, "Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United States," published by the University of Chicago Press.

"My interest is in how the death penalty offers the opportunity for collective outrage and the role of that outrage in our society," says LaChance, who got his 1st glimpse of the criminal justice system by watching his defense attorney father, who worked in a state without the death penalty.

"The ritual of crime, and the punishment, creates moral spectacles," LaChance adds. "It's a way to build connections in a society."

In the book, LaChance argues that community definitions of freedom help shape views on capital punishment. To understand those definitions, he analyzes various ideologies that supported both rehabilitative and retributive punishment for crime, and also identifies the popular culture in movies, books and even politics that expressed those views.

In the years following World War II, Americans saw government as a force for freedom and held its powers in high esteem. The classic liberal experts who had helped win the war were seen as the ones who could "fix" the problem of crime.

Tapping into psychiatric knowledge at the time, those experts concluded that crime stemmed from people who society had denied the opportunity to become productive citizens. Fix that inequality - by tackling such societal ails as poverty and broken homes - and criminals could be rehabilitated.

"The public wanted punitive measures, but the elites were very confident in the ability of psychiatry and social programs to treat people who had committed even the most horrible crimes," LaChance says. "From that viewpoint, the death penalty seems irrational."

Pendulum swing

LaChance shows that the pendulum would swing as the crime rate continued to rise in the 1960s and 1970s. Disillusionment about crime began to spread from the white middle class to the elites, generating the idea that the rehabilitative concept is too soft and coddles criminals.

Though crime became a way for whites to express anxiety about the civil rights era, LaChance argues the emergence of a retributive punishment as the antidote for crime is more than just a backlash to social change.

Growing media coverage of people such as spree killer Charles Starkweather and popular books such as "In Cold Blood" revealed young white men, who had been given every advantage, were serial killers.

"Almost universally, these young white men are sentenced to death by a public that believes that this is individualism, a freedom to be whatever you want, run amok," LaChance says.

The result was a move from the idea of being sick or well, and able to be rehabilitated, to a moral order of good and evil. Government becomes part of the problem, LaChance says, for failing to enforce that order.

Thus begins the split that creates the contradiction LaChance sees today. District attorneys and law enforcement officials who begin pursuing the death penalty are seen as mavericks, taking on a rotted system for the moral good.

The slow decline of the death penalty in recent years is not a result of yet another shift but the merging of those previous trends, LaChance argues. That's because the death penalty has since become mired in the very government bureaucracy that supporters expected it to transcend.

Americans support the idea of making criminals pay but culturally are willing to do so only when they can be sure of the need, requiring costly and time-consuming judicial review, LaChance says. And, while death penalty cases drag on for years and sometimes decades, lawmakers have created a firm "life without parole" option that has proven less costly and appears more punitive to criminals.

"If you interpret freedom to mean security, you can support government for its original function of law and order," LaChance says. "But the death penalty isn't doing what it was supposed to do - punish criminals and quickly. The symbol of the death penalty as a fast-acting, morally clear, retributive expressed outrage is fading."

(source: emory.edu)

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Death in a bottle: Capital punishment in the U.S. has no foreseeable expiration date----The fight over medications used for lethal injections is part of the continuing battle over capital punishment

Dueling was outlawed in the Arkansas Territory in 1820, but in present-day Arkansas, courtroom fencing is a blood sport. In the current legal duel over executions, the stakes are lethal - and the consequences may be felt well beyond state lines.

The fight is ostensibly over the use of specific drugs planned for a series of executions scheduled to start this week. That’s not what it's really about, of course; it's about stopping those executions. Opponents of capital punishment, while successful in many venues, have failed to convince legislators and judges in several Southern states, including Arkansas, to abandon the death penalty. (Georgia and Texas led the field last year, with 9 and 7 executions, respectively.)

The limited legal avenues available to death-penalty opponents involve challenges to the methods of execution. The United States Supreme Court has narrowed the definitions of "cruel and unusual punishment" over the years, tightening the rules, but has refused to ban all executions outright.

Which leaves the question of whether specific drugs or methods used in executions fit the permissible criteria. The legal battle in Arkansas is being waged on that narrow issue, but everyone involved knows the deeper issue is life or death.

The unlikely trigger for this chain of events was a pharmaceutical label: eight executions were scheduled almost back-to-back to beat an impending expiration date for the first in Arkansas' trio of execution drugs, the controversial sedative midazolam. The state has never used the drug before, and it has a checkered history. But the new protocol, and the assembly-line plan at Arkansas' death-house near Pine Bluff, are rich in irony.

Governor Asa Hutchinson didn't want to break the law by injecting an expired drug to put a condemned man to sleep. Yes, for real. Hutchinson is, by all accounts, an obedient servant of the law - the kind of man who would never yank a "Do Not Remove" label from a mattress. But being a stickler can have consequences.

Hutchinson's decision opened the door to challenges not only to midazolam, but also to other drugs planned for the executions. While opponents of midazolam argued against its effectiveness, citing failures to fully sedate inmates in Ohio and Oklahoma executions, the manufacturers of 2 other crucial drugs went to court to prevent their use in the Arkansas death chamber. They say the state purchased them fraudulently.

Add to those circumstances the reality that public support for the death penalty is waning, even in deep-red Arkansas. The state had so much trouble lining up official witnesses for the planned spate of executions - a minimum requirement of 6 witnesses for each - that Corrections Director Wendy Kelly had to make a personal pitch to the Little Rock Rotary Club for volunteers. I'm not making this up.

Execution chambers are gruesome places. I have visited a number of them - fortunately when not in use - and the transition from hideous Old Sparky to the sterility of a medical gurney hasn't robbed them of their grisly menace. The closest I've come to the real thing is watching a precision lethal-injection rehearsal at Texas' Angola Prison, and that chilling experience explains to me why Rotarians are not signing up in droves in Little Rock.

I don't know much about the candidates for Arkansas's arsenal of disputed drugs, but the public record for each of them is pretty unsavory. What I do know, for certain - about each and every one of them - is that they lost a crapshoot.

Is the death penalty moral? Put that question aside. You don't even have to go there: The death penalty is patently arbitrary and unjust. Whether a defendant is to live or die depends not on Lady Justice, but Lady Luck.

For 200 years, the best legal minds in America have tried to come up with an equitable way to administer the death penalty - and they have failed. "Justice" depends on the vagaries of race (victim and perpetrator), location, and economic status. Add to that the ambition of prosecutors, the competence of defense counsel, the human variables of judges.

Oh, yes, there's that other pesky possibility: deadly error. DNA results have exonerated 18 condemned murderers over the last 2 decades. What errors might have occurred before DNA? And what happens when the government accidentally convicts and executes an innocent person? That has happened, too: check out the 1989 Texas execution of a 27-year-old Hispanic named Carlos DeLuna.

Over the next few days, you can expect appeals arguments in state and federal courts. My bet is that the federal appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will be decided in Arkansas' favor.

Regardless of the decision, there will certainly be an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The odds here are that the Court won't take the case, but if the dice come down differently and 4 justices vote to accept it, the decision will be based on the very narrow grounds of this case and these drugs. You can safely place a side bet that the death penalty itself will not be an issue.

The Court has on several occasions in the past come very close to a complete ban on the death penalty as "cruel and unusual" and therefore unconstitutional, but close doesn't court. These justices are unlikely to break the mold.

The clock is ticking on that drug label: the expiration date is April 30th. If the legal battles continue beyond that date, the condemned men win - but my wager, sadly, is that they will lose.

Either way, this much you can take to the bank: Capital punishment in the United States has no foreseeable expiration date.

(source: Martin Clancy, salon.com)

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When Will The Boston Bomber Be Executed? Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's Death Sentence Update

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 for the deadly bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon and has since been behind bars in the ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Tsarnaev's case, however, is far from over.

"We're probably still a decade out before there's a final resolution in the courts," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told International Business Times in a phone interview Monday.

Tsarnaev, along with his brother Tamerlan, had placed 2 pressure cooker bombs at the marathon's finish line, killing 3 people and injuring hundreds more. Tamerlan was killed during a police shootout in the chaos following the bombing, while Dzhokhar was eventually captured by authorities. In the proceedings that followed, a jury unanimously voted for the so-called "Boston Bomber" to be sentenced to death by lethal injection.

For Tsarnaev and his legal team, the sentencing was merely the beginning of what will likely be a years-long battle in court.

"The question is not when he will be executed, it's if he will be executed," Dunham told IBT.

(source: ibtimes.com)

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The Death Penalty Is Almost Gone - But Some Politicians Aren't Ready to Say Goodbye Quite Yet----Elected officials in Florida are facing off over the issue of capital punishment

When Florida state attorney Aramis Ayala said she wouldn't seek the death penalty for murder convictions while in office a couple months after she was sworn in this past January, one local official wrote on Facebook that she should be "tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree." She is the first black official to serve as a state's attorney in Florida.

The case over which Ayala, a Democrat serving in Orange and Osceola counties, defined her stance involved Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a police officer. "I have determined," Ayala said last month, "that [seeking the death penalty] is not in the best interests of the community or the best interests of justice."

Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, defines justice differently. Ayala's refusal to send Loyd to death row, he said, "sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice." His office reassigned the Loyd case - as well as 22 other cases - to another prosecutor willing to use capital punishment. Ayala is now suing the governor, but Scott is continuing to review cases, saying he wants to "make sure that we always think about the victim." (The mother of the woman whom Loyd allegedly killed has said she supports Ayala's decision.) The debate will eventually be decided by the courts.

Prosecutors have no obligation to seek death sentences in capital cases. The options at their discretion in every case give them substantial power to change how the criminal justice system works. A combination of differing state laws and prosecutorial discretion meant that only 33 counties in the entire country imposed a death sentence in 2015, per a report by the Fair Punishment Project - most of which occurred in "outlier counties" with prosecutors who say things like "we need to kill more people."

The death penalty has been fighting its own expiration for years. The practice is currently legal in only 31 states, several of which have seen no executions in at least 10 years. But the death penalty isn't extinct yet. Later this month, Arkansas had planned to end a 12-year death-row drought by killing 6 more people, outracing the expiration date on the state's supply of lethal injection drugs - at least until a federal court paused the executions for now. The people most targeted by capital punishment in these last remaining outposts of the death penalty are mostly minorities, who often face juries pruned of anyone who looks like them. Progress in America follows a predictable rubric, making sure to delay sharing its spoils with the poorest and least privileged until the last possible moment.

"We're seeing that, at least for black votes, we have a unique understanding of the power of prosecutors," Arisha Hatch, managing director of campaigns for Color of Change, told MTV News. "Some of us just needed to know that we actually elected these folks." In recent years, Color of Change has begun to recruit prosecutor candidates to run in places like Chicago, where Laquan McDonald was killed; Cleveland, where Tamir Rice was killed; and many of those outlier counties where minorities were being sentenced to death at a higher rate than whites.

Although races for elected prosecutors are typically uncompetitive and incumbents nearly always win, November 8, 2016, still managed to be a good day, in some small ways, for criminal-justice reformers. New prosecutors were sworn into Hillsborough County, Florida; Jefferson County, Alabama; and Harris County, Texas - and several other places that were sending more people to death row than nearly anywhere else in the country.

Before Ayala and her fellow new Florida prosecutors were sworn in, a change in capital punishment policy was already coming to the state. Last year, the Florida Supreme Court found that the state's death penalty procedures - which allowed a person to be sentenced to death even if a jury wasn't unanimous - were unconstitutional. This year, Scott signed legislation that made a unanimous jury a requirement for capital punishment, and dozens of cases decided by a less-than-unanimous jury are now being reconsidered. "Florida law is now in conformance with other states that have the death penalty," says Stephen Harper, the supervising attorney at the death penalty clinic at Florida International University's College of Law, "which means prosecutors will seek death in fewer cases and defendants will receive death sentences in fewer cases. That is another indicator that even in a Southern, active death penalty state, it is on the decline."

Being a reform-minded prosecutor has always been hard. "There is no roadmap for progressive district attorneys," Stanford Law professor David Alan Sklansky wrote in the "Progressive Prosecutor's Handbook" this year. And, as Sklansky told MTV News, organizational culture - meaning existing hierarchies and the baked-in status quo - "is one of the hardest things to change, if not the hardest, in a prosecutor's office. It's why having a reform-minded prosecutor doesn't necessarily translate into significantly better policies." You also can't plan for how the politicians higher up the ladder in your state will feel about reform. Just because you're in the same state doesn't mean you have the same constituents.

In 1996, not too long after Republican governor George Pataki reinstated the death penalty in New York, a police officer was killed in the Bronx. District Attorney Robert Johnson, the first black official ever elected to this position in the state, wanted the full 120 days accorded him by law to decide whether to seek the death penalty. Pataki, impatient, instead just reassigned the case to someone ready to pursue a death sentence.

In 2003, Kamala Harris, the 1st black woman elected to a district attorney position in California, said she was against capital punishment while campaigning to be San Francisco's next prosecutor. After a police officer was killed in April 2004, she still refused to seek a death sentence. Many people disagreed with her, including the woman she would later replace in the Senate, Barbara Boxer. "I have given the issue of the death penalty a lot of thought for a long time," Harris told the New York Times then. "I could be in Kansas and I would have the same position."

Progressive prosecutors don't always face quite so much scorn. Beth McCann, Denver's new district attorney, said in January that she didn't "think that the state should be in the business of killing people." The stance didn't seem to cause much of a stir in Colorado, which has only executed one person since the United States brought back the death penalty in 1977.

The fact that the reform-minded prosecutors who received the most pushback for fighting the death penalty were often also the first black officials to hold their position underlines how few prosecutors in this country are people of color. Fusion released a report in 2016 noting that "in the 276 counties in the U.S. where people of color represent the majority of the population, only 42 %, or less than half, of the prosecutors in these counties are prosecutors of color." The death penalty is a voting-rights issue, too: Fairer access to the ballot can help ensure that more progressive prosecutors get elected and fewer death sentences happen.

While the people at Color of Change wait for upcoming prosecutor races in Philadelphia and in outlier counties like Orange and San Bernardino in California - which voted against repealing the death penalty last year - they are watching the officials they just helped elect to see if they follow through on their promises. "And when they do the right thing," Hatch says, "we want to have their back."

Hatch says Ayala's situation in Florida is "an egregious example of how state actors with power can intervene to overstep the will of black voters." A petition asking Scott to stand down was signed by more than 150,000 people, then delivered to Tallahassee by volunteers from Orlando and Miami who woke up before the sun to get on a bus. Hundreds walked into the statehouse on March 29 to sign the governor's welcome book, and more are expected to attend a forum with the prosecutor soon.

"It's definitely frustrating," Hatch says of the roadblocks to progress, even after the election of those who promise it - especially considering that criminal-justice advocates can no longer consider the federal Justice Department an ally. "As an organization that really cares about winning meaningful, long-lasting change, we have an understanding that there is no instant gratification. There may be these moments where we're able to build momentum or real systemic change, but my goal as an organizer is to see more equality and racial justice in my lifetime.

"But," she adds, "I don't expect that to happen tomorrow."

(source: mtv.com)

*********************

States consider barring death penalty for severely mentally ill----A study fround 43 % of people executed between 2000 and 2015 had been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point.

Upset that people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders have been put to death after murder convictions, lawmakers in a handful of states want to bar the use of the death penalty for people with a serious mental illness.

People accused of murder who are found not guilty by reason of insanity can serve time in a mental hospital and avoid the death penalty. But many states have a narrow legal definition of insanity - not knowing what one did was wrong. And critics say that leaves many people with mental disorders to be found guilty of capital crimes and sentenced to death.

Some of them have already been put to death. Ohio executed a man with schizophrenia in 2001. Arkansas did the same in 2004. A schizophrenic Texas man spent 2 decades on death row after his insanity plea was rejected, leading to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that inmates must have a rational understanding of their punishment before they can be executed. (The state continued to seek his execution until a lower court halted it in 2014.)

Legislators in at least 7 states - Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia - have proposed bills this year to prohibit the death penalty for people who suffered from a serious mental illness at the time of their crime. Most of the proposals name specific disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, delusional disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research by academics and the American Civil Liberties Union suggests many people on death row have a mental illness. A study from a professor at the University of North Carolina found that 43 % of people executed between 2000 and 2015 had been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives, although not all were serious enough to be covered by the proposed legislation.

Backers of the proposals say that because of the way these diseases affect people's thinking and impulses, they are less culpable and ought to be spared from the most severe punishment allowed under law, just as children and the intellectually disabled are. The concept is backed by the American Bar Association.

"If these people aren't seeing the world for what it truly is, if they can't concentrate and think things through, if they're so delusional or depressed their thinking isn't reality-based anymore, they should not be held to the same standard," said Megan Testa, a psychiatrist who helped draft the list of disorders included in the Ohio bill.

But opponents, including many prosecutors, say the legislation is unnecessary, because people with a serious mental illness are already protected by pretrial competency reviews and can plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

They also disagree with the requirement in many of the proposals that prosecutors prove a defendant had not been suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of the crime, saying the burden should fall instead to the defense to prove a defendant was mentally ill. Because some of the bills don't specify how severe a disorder must be, opponents also worry the defense would be used too widely.

In many states, the bills are being discussed as part of a broader debate about the death penalty. Ohio has paused executions amid a lawsuit stemming from a botched execution in 2014. Arkansas is set to carry out eight executions by the end of this month, when its supply of fatal drugs expires, after struggling to find enough witnesses to sit in on the process.

Public support for the death penalty has been falling since the 1990s, and a 2002 poll found 75 % of Americans opposed the death penalty for the mentally ill.

"We do have a legal death penalty in Ohio for a certain class of crimes, and I support that," said Republican state Sen. John Eklund, who sponsored the bill there. "But defending that punishment will become increasingly difficult if the punishment is not administered and adjudicated in a humane and responsible way."

"Many Defendants" Display Illness

Evelyn Lundberg Stratton saw many defendants with severe mental disorders come through her courtroom when she was a trial judge and as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court.

"It was their history. They'd been hospitalized 10 times, arrested numerous times for acting out of control. They'd be saying crazy things, saying aliens controlled the world. The whole gamut - you name it, I saw it," said Lundberg Stratton, who left the bench in 2012 and has been advocating to end the death penalty for the mentally ill for more than a decade.

Of the 141 people on death row in Ohio, 21 have a severe mental illness that would exempt them from the death penalty under the bill, according to data compiled by the anti-death-penalty group Ohioans to Stop Executions.

Ohio has a strict definition of insanity - the defendant must not have known what they were doing was wrong. But most Ohio jurisdictions have a more limited interpretation, Testa said. They require that a defendant didn't know the act was illegal.

"It's very narrow,' she said. Testa gave the example of a schizophrenic who commits murder in a state of paranoia but may not qualify for the insanity defense if they knew their actions were against the law.

Lundberg Stratton said Ohio's narrow definition of insanity required her to affirm use of the death penalty even in cases where mental illness had been an important factor. In one such case in 2006, a man who murdered a friend who would not lend him money had a history of hearing voices, had been hospitalized 13 times, had attempted suicide multiple times, and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In deciding that case, Lundberg Stratton quoted a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring the use of the death penalty for the intellectually disabled, saying the practice offended "evolving standards of decency." She called on the state to set limits for when the mentally ill should be exempt from the death penalty, just as it has for the intellectually disabled.

The proposed legislation largely functions the same from state to state. Testa said the listed disorders affect people's ability to plan, think through consequences and perceive reality. The defendant can be diagnosed before or after arrest, but the disease must be shown to have been active when the crime was committed.

Once deemed competent to stand trial, defendants suffering from one of the disorders listed by the legislature could raise the issue at a pretrial hearing, where a judge would decide whether they qualify for protection from the death penalty if convicted. If the judge says no, the defense could raise the issue again at trial, and a jury would likely decide the matter. Those found to have a serious mental illness could still face life in prison if guilty, but would avoid the death penalty.

Opposition From Prosecutors

Many of the prosecutors who have spoken out against the bills said there are enough legal options and Supreme Court precedents to protect people who have a severe mental illness.

For example, people who do not fit the legal definition of insanity and are found guilty of a capital crime can try to avoid the death penalty at sentencing by presenting their mental disorder as a mitigating factor.

"The jury and the judge, when they impose a sentence, will take that into account. It's not something we ignore under current law,' said John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

But mental health professionals and defense attorneys say bias against the mentally ill means evidence intended to convince a jury to reduce a sentence may have just the opposite effect.

"The law says mental illness is a mitigating factor but unfortunately some jurors who are weighing the case don't see it that way," said Testa, the psychiatrist. "They think, 'This person's brain is this way and they're never going to get better.'"

Critics of the bills also complain that they don't address the severity of the illness, which they say could allow a wide range of people to seek the protections they provide.

"We will not be surprised if every single inmate now on death row files a post conviction petition to be evaluated for mental illness so they can take advantage of this process to get off death row. Why wouldn't they?" Murphy said in written testimony to the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee in March. "All they need do is get a diagnosis of one of these conditions, even at the most minimal level."

In her 2006 plea from the bench for a state standard for sentencing people with mental illness to the death penalty, Lundberg Stratton acknowledged it would be a challenge. Mental illness differs from intellectual disability in that there's no equivalent to an IQ score to easily determine the severity of a mental illness, she said.

But psychiatrists say anyone with a disorder covered by the bills has a severe mental illness. As some conditions, like bipolar disorder and depression, become more widely accepted by society, people may underestimate how serious they are.

"People are called bipolar because they have a mood swing," Testa said. But getting diagnosed with any of the covered diseases requires experiencing life-altering symptoms for a long time.

Prosecutors also don't want the burden to be on them to prove that a person wasn't suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of the crime.

"I don't know how we're supposed to show what was in his own mind and how it affected his judgment," Murphy said. "It seems virtually impossible."

Kari Bloom with the Office of the Ohio Public Defender said the burden the bill places on prosecutors is just.

"If we want to execute a person in the state's name, it doesn't seem like a lot to say, 'This person wasn't suffering from a serious mental illness,'" she said. "The state should have the decency of showing every person we take to death is the right kind of person to be there."

(source: philly.com)

TRINIDAD:

The crucifixion and resurrection of Trinidad

Trinidad and Tobago is in a state of crisis due to the increased intensity of crime with little hope of a solution by those in authority who have been appointed to protect us. In the face of rising crime they tend to shift the blame on our attitude - a response that if not incorrect is insensitive to the victims of crime as well as their friends and family, co-workers and neighbours. The loss of law and order continues to erode our faith in the government as they continue to fail to convince us that they understand our fears and frustrations.

We as a nation are appealing for a positive programme for the restoration of a society of decency and order. The Government must assume a major role in the fight against violence and senseless killings. The Prime Minister must exert moral leadership, reinforcing the importance of respect for law and contempt towards those who continue to violate it by practising murder and other violent and heinous crimes. Harsher penalties must be imposed on convicted murderers and rapists.

The primary duty of any government is the safety and security of its citizenry and loss of law and order due to gang warfare is the most visible sign that the Government has failed. Those in authority and even citizens continue to make statements about the crime situation that make them appear to be siding with the supposed villains rather than their victims.

Who or what do we turn to in the face of this crisis? During this Easter season the resurrection of Christ provides a semblance of hope.

We are now called to be a resurrection nation; we will rise above kidnappings and murders. The tomb is empty and this directly means that our nation should also be emptied of all the murderers and criminals that create a barrier between us and peace. This will be achieved by enforcing the death penalty on convicted murderers and rapists and that will send a strong message to the nation that these crimes will not go unpunished.

The negative influences may never be completely destroyed because of the attitude of those in authority, but we as individuals can continue to dream and do all in our power to rise above all obstacles and live a life of success. Having recently been the victim of an arson attack against my home in Chaguanas I have decided to rise above the violence, pettiness, immaturity, senselessness and cowardice of my enemies and have decided to travel the world sharing the message to millions with speaking engagements and my very own motivational CD that we can positively impact the world by daring to dream and rising above the evil influences that are designed to destroy us and prevent us from living our dreams.

Simon Wright Chaguanas

(source: letter to the Editor Trinidad Express)

IRAN:

Halt imminent execution of 2 men arrested as teenagers

The Iranian authorities must urgently stop the imminent execution of two long-time death row prisoners who were children at the time of their arrest, Amnesty International said today.

One of the men, Mehdi Bahlouli, is due to be executed tomorrow morning in Karaj's Raja'i Shahr Prison, after more than 15 years on death row. He was sentenced to death by a criminal court in Tehran in November 2001 for fatally stabbing a man during a fight. He was 17 at the time of the crime.

The execution of the 2nd man, Peyman Barandah, is scheduled to take place just 3 weeks later, on 10 May, in Shiraz Central Prison, Fars Province. He was arrested at the age of 16 and spent nearly 5 years on death row, after being convicted in August 2012, also for stabbing a teenager to death during a fight.

"Carrying out the executions of these 2 young men would be an outrageous breach of international human rights law that would cement Iran's position as one of the world's top executors of juvenile offenders," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Mehdi Bahlouli has spent his entire young adult life on death row. His shocking ordeal epitomizes the cruelty of Iran's juvenile justice system which regularly sentences juvenile offenders to death in violation of international human rights law and then subjects them to prolonged periods on death row. The anguish and torment of living their lives in the shadow of the gallows also amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment."

Mehdi Bahlouli's family told Amnesty International that they received a call from the prison on Saturday informing them to attend for their last visit. He was transferred to solitary confinement on Sunday in preparation for his execution.

Iran's recently amended 2013 Islamic Penal Code gives judges the option to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment if they determine that the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or his or her "mental growth and maturity" were in doubt.

In January 2017, Mehdi Bahlouli's request for retrial was denied. This decision blatantly contradicts the Iranian authorities' statement to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2016 that "all adolescents who were under 18 at the time of committing the crime are granted retrials [under Iran's 2013 new Islamic Penal Code] and their previous verdicts are annulled by the Supreme Court."

"The Iranian authorities have touted the 2013 Islamic Penal Code as evidence that the country is moving away from the use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders. However, these 2 scheduled executions show these claims are empty rhetoric," said Philip Luther.

"Instead of intensifying the mental anguish and suffering of juvenile offenders by letting them languish on death row for long periods, Iran must urgently amend its penal code to completely abolish the use of the death penalty for crimes committed while under 18, commute the death sentences of all juvenile offenders and establish an official moratorium on executions."

Background

Since the beginning of the year, Amnesty International has received reports indicating that 2 young men, Arman Bahrasemani and Hassan Hassanzadeh, were executed for crimes that took place when they were under 18 years of age. The organization fears the true number could be much higher.

The organization has identified the names of at least 90 juvenile offenders currently on death row across Iran. Many have spent prolonged periods on death row - in some cases more than a decade. Some have had their executions scheduled then postponed or stayed at the last minute on multiple occasions, adding to their torment.

In January 2017, the Iranian authorities scheduled the executions of 2 other men arrested as children - Sajad Sanjari and Hamid Ahmadi. Both were halted at the last minute, following an international outcry.

According to Amnesty International's report on death sentences and executions in 2016, Iran carried out at least 567 executions last year, including at least 2 executions of people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. The organization received information indicating that 5 other juvenile offenders may have been among those executed.

(source: Amnesty International)

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Investigate Iranian Presidential Hopeful Ebrahim Raisi for 1988 Mass Executions

Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and former political prisoner Nasrin Sotoudeh has strongly criticized the candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi in Iran's May 19, 2017 presidential election.

"The competency of this candidate should not be approved for any reason until the events of 1988 are investigated and it is proven that he was not an accomplice," she told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). "In the meantime, we do have an audio file... that shows he did have a hand in those events."

In 1988, Raisi was part of a 4-man commission, later known as the "death committee," that implemented the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners.

The victims, who had already been tried and were serving prison sentences, did not know they were facing death when they then faced the inquisition-like proceedings.

At that time, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was the heir apparent to the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, condemned the killings, telling members of the committee: "I believe this is the greatest crime committed in the Islamic Republic since the [1979] revolution and history will condemn us for it.... History will write you down as criminals."

Montazeri's son, Ahmad, released the taped recording of that conversation in an audio file posted online in August 2016, bringing the massacre to the forefront of public memory.

That month he was sentenced to 6 years in prison by the Special Court for the Clergy for releasing the audio file.

While he did not personally prosecute Ahmad Montazeri, Raisi was the chief prosecutor of the court at the time of Montazeri's conviction.

"When you add it all up, [Raisi's] resume looks very bad... If the veracity of existing evidence is not discredited and his innocence is not proven, we cannot pretend nothing happened and allow this man to be a candidate for president," Sotoudeh told CHRI.

Raisi and the Special Court for the Clergy

Iran's Special Court for the Clergy has proven to be "much tougher" in politically motivated cases compared to the Revolutionary Court, and blatantly violates human rights' standards, Sotoudeh, who has defended countless political activists, told CHRI.

"Naturally, the work of this court is on Mr. Raisi's resume -

the kind of work that he has been able to do, hidden in the dark, away from the public eye," she said.

"No lawyer has ever come forward to criticize and review the rulings by this court because essentially no independent lawyer has ever been present at its proceedings," she added.

Sotoudeh was a leading member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center when she was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2011 for her peaceful defense of human rights in Iran.

"The Special Court for the Clergy is much worse than the Revolutionary Court in violating legal tenants," she told CHRI. "Deliberations in the Special Court for the Clergy are often behind closed doors."

"At least in the Revolutionary Courts, thanks to 40 years of constant efforts by human rights activists, families can attend trial sessions and follow up on the cases against their loved ones," she said. "But you can't do any of that in the Special Court for the Clergy."

"The families face a lot of severe restrictions when they have to deal with this court and they often don't have any access to what’s going on," she added.

After spending almost 3 years in prison, Sotoudeh was released on September 18, 2013.

"Only certain types of lawyers are accepted by the Special Court for the Clergy," said Sotoudeh. "They have to be a member of the [Muslim Shia] clergy and are hand-picked by the court itself."

"The rulings made by the court have been issued behind closed-doors and defendants are usually handed stiff sentences, such as those against Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, and most recently Ahmad Montazeri," she added.

Sotoudeh continued: "This is Mr. Raisi's resume. Now there is also the issue of what he did in the 1980s, which he has never wanted to address. But after the release of Mr. Montazeri's recording, Mr. Raisi came out and defended his actions and didn't deny his role in any way."

In an April 2017 interview with CHRI, Ahmad Montazeri also strongly criticized Raisi's presidential bid.

"(Raisi's) direct and undeniable participation in the massacres in the summer of 1988 is very important," he said. "If any of the candidates had attacked a person with a knife, he would have had a criminal record and would not get clearance from the authorities, never mind Mr. Raisi, whose record is very clear."

Ahmad Montazeri also told CHRI he is waiting to release more recordings.

"When the conditions are right and the people in charge of the country are more tolerant, the rest of the audio files will be published," he said. "Already a lot of transparency has been achieved (with the release of the 1st file)."

Ahmad Montazeri was detained on February 21, 2017 to begin serving his 6-year prison sentence, but was granted furlough (temporary leave) and released the next day.

(source: iranhumanrights.org)

TURKEY:

President Erdogan's death penalty remarks start debate with Europe

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks over reinstating capital punishment following the approval of constitutional amendments in the April 16 referendum has triggered a fresh debate, collecting warnings from European allies.

Erdogan said during his arrival to Ankara from Istanbul on April 17 that he would approve the return of the death penalty if the parliament passes such a law to pay respect "to our martyrs."

"If [a bill] comes before me, I will approve it. But if there isn't support [from opposition MPs], then we could have another referendum for that," Erdogan said late on April 16 to a crowd in Istanbul, which chanted for its reintroduction.

A referendum on restoring the death penalty in Turkey would constitute a break from European values, the French president's office warned on April 17.

France said the organization of a referendum on the death penalty would "obviously be a break with values and engagements" that was accepted by Turkey when it first joined Europe's top rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, the presidency said.

The French presidency said it "took note" of the figures and the "disputes" surrounding them, saying they showed "that Turkish society is divided over the proposed deep reforms."

In a separate statement, France's foreign ministry called on the Turkish government to respect the European Convention on Human Rights and its ban on the death penalty.

Although the death penalty had not been in effect since 1984, Turkey abolished the capital punishment in 2004 as a part of reforms to ease Turkey's accession into the European Union.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in March that any return of the death penalty in Turkey would be a "red line" in the country's stalled EU membership bid.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, meanwhile, said on April 17 that Turkish authorities needed to address concerns about the content and procedure of the referendum raised by a panel of European legal experts.

"The German government respects the right of Turkish citizens to decide on their own constitutional order," they said in a statement.

"The tight referendum result shows how deeply divided the Turkish society is and that means a big responsibility for the Turkish leadership and for President Erdogan personally," the statement said.

The European Commission said Turkey should seek a broad national consensus on constitutional amendments. In March, the Venice Commission, a panel of legal experts at the Council of Europe, said the proposed changes to the constitution on which Turks voted, namely boosting Erdogan's power, represented a "dangerous step backwards" for democracy.

Austria, which has repeatedly called for halting membership talks, once more called for them to stop.

"We can't just go back to the daily routine after the Turkey referendum. We finally need some honesty in the relationship between the EU and Turkey," said Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, adding the bloc should instead work on a "partnership agreement."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on April 17 that the results of the Turkish referendum should be respected. He said the vote was a domestic Turkish matter.

Rached Ghannouch, the leader of Tunisia's Ennahdha Party, said he called Erdogan to congratulate him over the win.

Both Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Army congratulated Erdogan, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

(source: Hurriyet Daily News)

**************************

Soldiers parade outside the Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey----Turkey's EU Membership Off Table Amid Likely Death Penalty Reinstatement - Rome

Turkey's EU membership is no longer on the bloc's immediate agenda after the the outcome of the country's constitutional referendum had laid down the framework for the possible reinstatement of capital punishment, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said Tuesday.

On Sunday, Turkey held a referendum on the transition from a parliamentary to presidential system of governance. Preliminary results of the vote indicate a victory for supporters of the governance shift. Once the results are confirmed, the nation's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his newly bestowed powers, will be able to reinstate the death penalty, which was outlawed in 2004 amid Turkey's attempts to have closer ties with the European Union. In late February, Erdogan said Ankara may seek to reintroduce capital punishment in the light of last year's failed coup attempt.

"The issue of Turkey's accession to the European Union is 'not on table.' In any case the possible solutions, related to the death penalty reintroduction may delay it even further," Alfano told Il Corriere della Sera newspaper.

On Monday, a number of senior EU officials, including German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, expressed the opinion that the reinstatement of the death penalty would diminish Turkey's prospects of joining the bloc.

Turkey signed an association agreement with the then-European Community in 1963, and submitted a membership application in 1987. Talks about Ankara's membership of the European Union began in 2005, but have been repeatedly suspended due to the Cyprus dispute and Turkey's record of denying press freedom, among other obstacles.

In March 2016, Brussels and Ankara agreed on a deal, under which Turkey pledged to take back all undocumented migrants that had arrived to the European Union through the state's territory. In return, the bloc pledged to accelerate the Turkish EU accession bid and introduce a visa-free regime, as well as provide financial aid to Turkey to cover the costs of migrant reception.

(source: sputniknews.com)

APRIL 17, 2017:

TEXAS:

Texas death penalty practice deserves abolition

Arkansas wants to execute 8 people over the next 10 days. The state's stock of Midazolam, a sedative used for lethal-injection, is due to expire at the end of the April. Not one to let taxpayer dollars go to waste, Gov. Asa Hutchinson opted to clear the state's death row as soon as possible. For now, a federal judge has put a pin in these plans, but Arkansas plans to appeal. Gruesome instances like these remind us of a grim reality - capital punishment is a fundamentally flawed institution that has no place in modern society.

Texas is no stranger to death penalty complications. In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas used an antiquated standard to determine the necessary intellectual ability a death row defendant must demonstrate. Moreover, just last week Texas refused to conduct additional DNA testing for another defendant. This is especially concerning in a state that has the second highest rate of executions per capita. If a society is determined to provide the death penalty it must also be willing to pursue a gamut of opportunities to prove innocence. Anything less creates a legal system which stacks the deck against the accused.

The laws of Texas seem predisposed for inmates to be put to death. Currently, a panel of jurors must unanimously agree upon the death sentence for the defendant to be put on death row. A single juror's dissent automatically renders life in prison. However, state law bans judges and attorneys from communicating this 2nd contingency. The impact is profound. In a 2008 trial juror Sven Berger didn't believe defendant Paul Storey qualified for the death penalty. Berger also knew he couldn't convince the other 10 jurors otherwise and so, unaware of the power of his dissent, Berger voted for the death sentence. Justice may be blind, but Texas laws are trying their hardest to keep jurors in the dark.

Capital punishment is a difficult subject to mediate. Society has an inherent drive to achieve justice, and the families of victims must not feel as if the law has marginalized them. However, the law must not be vengeful and it must not discriminate. The disproportionate representation of minorities on death row is an outgrowth of the bitter legacy of lynching in the United States. The death penalty requires complex moral gymnastics to justify taking a life. It fails as a deterrent and at best has an imperceptible effect on the homicide rate. Victims deserve justice, but so do the defendants.

The fight to repeal capital punishment in Texas will take years to come to fruition. However, attempts to iron out some of the most glaring flaws can be made. DNA testing in Texas is only conducted when the defendant can prove the tests would change the outcome of the case. This standard unduly limits potential evidence and is far more restrictive than necessary. Senate Bill 1616, if passed, would improve juror transparency by removing the gag order on capital punishment case sentencing instructions.

Finally, the criminal justice system needs a dramatic overhaul. For far too long minorities have been disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. A study by the University of Maryland, using Houston's Harris County as a test case, found that black Americans were three times as likely to have their cases advanced to a death penalty trial than their white counterparts. Adopting a bottom-up approach to reform - amending drug possession and bail laws, for example - will mitigate the nefarious impacts of the modern day death penalty.

Arkansas is creating an environment in which assembly line justice is the norm and the basis of the criminal justice is eroded. Texas must learn from the failure of Arkansas and let the death penalty take its last breath.

(source: Opinion; Usmaan Hasan is a business freshman from Plano----The (Univ. Texas) Daily Texan)

DELAWARE:

Delaware returns to death penalty debate after prison uprising

Just after 10 a.m. EDT on Feb. 1, a group of inmates took four staff hostage as they seized control of Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, with 120 prisoners inside.

By the end of the 18-hour standoff, Sgt. Steven Floyd Sr. was dead.

The state has shared little information about the attack and now, "All 120 are considered suspects," said Jayme Gravell, a corrections spokeswoman. But lawmakers and human rights groups tell completely different stories about what led to the uprising and how to move forward.

"We have been begging for help for years." - Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union president Geoff Klopp

Republican Rep. Steve Smyk said corrections officers had recently been on the receiving end of a 1-2 punch. The 1st came in August, when the state Supreme Court ruled that Delaware's death penalty was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge's sentence to supersede a jury's. One month later, the state settled a lawsuit, agreeing to improve mental health care for inmates and significantly reduce how much time they spend in solitary confinement.

Correctional officers were already overworked and understaffed, Smyk said, and the settlement piled on more responsibility while empowering inmates, many of whom claim mistreatment by the officers.

"The reality is that inside the facility you have people that are very dangerous and that's why they are in the facility and they have nothing to lose," he said. "And now they can make a great statement by taking the life of one of the [correctional officers]."

At the same time, national and local human rights lawyers who are in collaboration say that such a narrative is detached and dismissive of the people most affected by prison policies: inmates.

A 'combustible' situation in Delaware prisons

Delaware is the country's 2nd-smallest state, with a population of just under 1 million, but incarcerates at a rate about 15 % higher than the national average. It houses approximately 7,000 inmates across 4 state facilities that have been understaffed for many years, a key focus in annual reports by the Delaware Department of Correction. In 2015, there were 86 staffing vacancies among the prisons - an improvement from the previous year, when there were 132.

Graphic courtesy of Delaware's Department of Correction 2015 annual report. "While staffing levels have increased incrementally since 2011, it should be noted that the Department continues to operate at a substantial vacancy rate," the report notes.

Starting salaries for corrections officers are in the low 30s, which contributes to a high rate of staff turnover - the work is too stressful to accept these wages, said Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union president Geoff Klopp.

"We have been begging for help for years," Klopp said. "A lot of basic security operations are overlooked and superseded and when it goes on for so long, it's a cancer that continues to eat at you."

This also has a direct effect on how people on the inside are treated, says a swath of human rights lawyers who started comparing notes as soon as they heard about the uprising. The National Lawyers Guild assembled a team to sift through summaries of hundreds of letters written to local groups by inmates over the years and is talking to people documenting what is going on inside the prisons.

"The focus of discussions of the Vaughn uprising thus far has been misplaced," said Stanley Holdorf, supervising attorney for the guild's Prison Legal Access Network. "The emphasis should be on the conditions that preceded the uprising: what factors precipitated the incident, and how conditions of confinement at Vaughn can be improved."

Holdorf said he has entered more than 500 letters into a database from just the last year, documenting whether they include complaints about discrimination, excessive force or one of 17 other forms of mistreatment.

"Staff was underpaid and overworked ... You mix that up, you have a combustible kind of situation." - Rev. Christopher Bullock of the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice

"We are receiving consistent and widely-corroborated reports of flagrant and ongoing abuses inside the facility, to include physical abuse of prisoners by staff and other serious rights violations," Holdorf said. "Such acts can only worsen the situation."

These stories are decades old to the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and political officials.

One Sunday morning in 2003, an elderly woman told Rev. Christopher Bullock, who founded the Canaan Baptist Church and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice, that her grandson in prison had a headache, but the prison refused to give him Tylenol.

"I said, 'OK, I'll pray for him,'" Bullock said. "Then she came back the next week and said the same thing."

Bullock started talking to inmates and hearing that people with serious medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS were being neglected.

? "Inhumane violations of human and civil rights, not to mention moral rights," he said.

Then in 2004, a prisoner at the Vaughn facility held a counselor hostage in her office and raped her. After nearly 7 hours, officers shot and killed the offender.

The correctional officer sued the state, saying it willfully ignored staffing shortages and security lapses that contributed to the incident. The state settled in 2005 for $1.65 million.

Amid damning news reports, the state started issuing a series of recommendations to improve safety that highlighted understaffing and the lack of mental health resources in prisons.

But Bullock said the letters continued to get grislier and more frequent - people wrote that they were being beaten, prevented from using hot water or having hot meals withheld in the dead of winter. Instead of getting 1 or 2 letters from inmates a month like he did in 2003, he started getting as many as 10 every month.

"Staff was underpaid and overworked," he said. "You mix that up, you have a combustible kind of situation."

In 2015, the ACLU with another human rights group filed a lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 prisoners with mental illness being held in solitary confinement, which the lawsuit said exacerbated their ailments.

Their settlement announced in September required that they hire more mental health staff, increase out-of-cell time from three hours a week to 17.5 hours a week for most held in solitary and limit the amount of time people could be held in solitary.

And then the Supreme Court, after finding the death penalty unconstitutional, ruled that the 12 inmates on death row at Vaughn would not be executed.

Smyk said this is why, "the inmates know they have the upper-hand."

Some lawmakers want to bring back the death penalty

Regardless of the cause, Bullock says that the uprising has made a bad situation worse. His church held a town hall meeting with hundreds of people who were either formerly incarcerated or related to people who are. He likened some of the complaints he heard to torture.

Inmates are being rounded up by people in masks, pepper-sprayed and not just beaten, he said, but humiliated.

"I know that certain corrections officers have asked men to put their hand in their rectum and put their hand back in their mouth," he said.

A Delaware Department of Correction spokeswoman said the latter complaint was untrue, but did not provide comment on the former. Gov. John Carney's office declined to comment on specific claims citing pending litigation.

An inmate who was present during the takeover also filed a 14-page, handwritten federal lawsuit claiming that inmates who tried to help during the takeover were beaten, stripped and banned from their religious meals in the aftermath.

The attorney representing Floyd's wife and family as well as the other hostages also said he is planning to file a federal lawsuit on their behalf this coming week.

Bullock has written 2 letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking it to intervene again, to which it has said it will use consider whether to open another investigation.

Then on March 27, even though Carney said during his campaign last year that he opposed capital punishment and would let the Supreme Court's ruling stand, he revised his stance.

"I wouldn't rule out, however, supporting a death penalty that applied only to those convicted of killing a member of law enforcement," Carney said in a statement responding to reports about reviving the death penalty. "In some cases - specifically behind prison walls - capital punishment may be our only deterrent to murder."

7 days later, Smyk introduced House Bill 125, calling it the Extreme Crimes Protection Act, to ensure the state's capital punishment process abides by constitutional standards. If it passes and Carney signs it into law, it would revoke Delaware's status as the 19th and most recent state to abolish the death penalty.

No one interviewed for this piece disagrees that prison workers in Delaware are underpaid and overworked, nor did anyone say they support abuse or retaliation either by the inmates or the correctional officers.

But now Smyk, who had planned to support a bill to reinstate capital punishment ever since the state Supreme Court ruling, says he thinks the uprising has given some state lawmakers who initially opposed the death penalty a new outlook.

"What I am hearing is that they've had a change of heart, so I think that this bill has a great chance in the House and the Senate," he said.

Holdorf, however, was nearly speechless when asked about whether the elimination of the death penalty could have encouraged people to participate in the uprising.

"It sounds like nonsense. I really can't, I don't understand. It doesn't make sense," he said.

Delaware's Chief Public Defender Brendan O'Neill, whose lawyers successfully argued against the death penalty at the Supreme Court, said that the Vaughn uprising does not change that capital punishment is expensive, error-prone and racially discriminatory.

"We'll make the same arguments we've been making for a long time," he said. "Despite supporter claims, there's no evidence that the death penalty works."

(source: netnebraska.org)

************************

Delaware lawmakers should let the death penalty die

Delaware, a state with more registered companies than residents, has a long list of problems. The governor has proposed a series of tax increases and spending cuts to close a yawning $385 million budget gap. Wilmington, the largest city, is hollowed out and crime-ridden. The venerable DuPont Co. is undergoing a convoluted merger and dismantling that will leave it a shell of the corporate giant that essentially built the state.

With all of this going on, some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came up with the retrograde idea to bring back the death penalty.

Never mind that the Delaware Supreme Court ruled last year that the state's capital punishment law was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not a jury, to determine whether "aggravating circumstances" made a crime heinous enough to deserve the death penalty.

In seeking to reinstitute the death penalty, State Sen. Dave Lawson (R., Marydel) said: "Delaware has a long history of applying capital punishment cautiously, judiciously, and infrequently."

Lawson's comments appeared ignorant of recent events: 2 men who spent years on death row in Delaware have been exonerated. Isaiah McCoy, 29, was released from death row in January after being acquitted of a 2010 murder. Jermaine Wright, 43, spent 24 years on death row before he was finally released from prison in September after his conviction was overturned.

McCoy and Wright join the hundreds of others nationwide who have had their wrongful convictions overturned. A 2014 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in 25 people are sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit.

There are many compelling reasons why the death penalty is a bad idea, including that it is costly, barbaric, and not a crime deterrent. But the chance that an innocent person could be - and has been - put to death for a crime that person did not commit should be more than enough reason to stop sending people to death row.

Most developed countries have already eliminated capital punishment. In continuing to put people to death, the United States is in bad company with authoritarian nations that have lousy track records on human rights.

Fortunately, several states have abolished the death penalty in recent years, including New Jersey in 2007. But the death penalty remains legal in 32 states, including Pennsylvania.

Gov. Wolf initiated a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015 to allow a task force to complete a study on capital punishment. The state Senate authorized the task force in 2011 to examine whether the death penalty can be legally and effectively administered. The task force was supposed to issue its findings in 2013. It is unclear what is taking so long, but it is past time for it to report.

In issuing the moratorium, Wolf questioned the effectiveness of executions and cited the wave of exonerations nationwide. The governor rightly called the capital punishment system "ineffective, unjust and expensive."

That assessment succinctly sums up why the death penalty should be abolished in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. Delaware should want to be on the right side of history.

(source: Opinion, Philadelphia Daily News)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas executions: State vows to overturn block on lethal injection plan----The attorney general says they are "working around the clock" to get permission to put 8 criminals to death in 11 days.

Lawyers for the US state of Arkansas have vowed to overturn court orders preventing them from beginning an unprecedented series of executions this week.

A series of legal challenges has blocked the southern state's plans to execute 8 men by lethal injection in the space of 11 days.

A judge ruled that 1 of the drugs used might expose the prisoners to pain before their death - in violation of the US constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Arkansas' stock of the drug - midazolam - is due to expire at the end of the month, prompting the rush to carry out so many executions in such a short time.

The state's attorney general has appealed against the court's decision.

Leslie Rutledge said: "We do have a number of pieces of litigation that we are working (on).

"Attorneys are working around the clock and committed to upholding and defending the rule of law, seeing these executions carried out, seeing justice for the families of those victims."

The planned executions - which would be the most carried out in a such a short time since the US reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - have prompted widespread protests.

The actor Johnny Depp joined one rally, alongside a man who he campaigned to free after 18 years on death row.

When asked what he would say to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, he replied: "I can't, I don't, you know - how do you sleep, man? I don't know. How do you sleep?"

One of the legal challenges has been brought by the manufacturers of the drugs.

McKesson Medical Surgical Inc said vercuronium bromide had been sold to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty campaigners Reprieve, told Sky News: "The drugs slated for use in lethal injection cocktails across the US are simply medicines, designed to save and improve lives and (the) health of patients and (are) being misused in lethal fashion.

"So it is no surprise that the healthcare industry doesn't want to see medicines used in terrible executions."

Death sentences and executions have declined in recent years but voters in a number of states, including California, have opted to keep capital punishment.

6 states have abolished the death penalty in the last decade.

The story of the Arkansas 8 - Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Stacey E Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones Jr, Marcel Williams, Jason F McGehee and Kenneth Williams - is now a key strand of the broader death penalty debate.

For James Phillips it is straightforward. His wife Mary was raped and murdered by Jones.

"I've been waiting for justice for nearly 22 years and that's all I'm after," he said.

(source: Sky News)

*****************

Arkansas' gruesome planned murder spree tells us everything wrong with the death penalty in America----The state wanted to execute 11 people in 8 days because its questionable injection drugs would go bad otherwise

In the summer of 1999, Clayton Lockett and two accomplices, including a man named Shawn Mathis, were burglarizing a home when they were interrupted by 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman as she dropped off her friend, who happened to live there. Lockett attempted to grab the keys to Neiman's new Chevy pickup truck, and so she put up a struggle. Consequently, Lockett beat her, bound her arms, mouth and legs with duct tape and proceeded to attack Neiman's friend, as well as another resident of the home and that person's 9-month-old child.

It gets worse.

Neiman and her friends were abducted and driven out to a remote country road. Lockett and his victims waited while Lockett's accomplice, Mathis, chipped away at the ground, digging a small grave along the road. Neiman was shoved into the burial ditch and, while there, Lockett shot her with a sawed off shotgun. Neiman miraculously survived and began pleading for her life. Another shot was fired, but this time the gun jammed. A 3rd shot hit its target.

But, amazingly, Stephanie Neiman was still alive. So Lockett and Mathis buried her anyway. Alive.

Fast forward to April 2014. After being prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death, with the ruling upheld by an Oklahoma appellate court, Lockett was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state penitentiary in McAlester. The chemical cocktail used for the execution hadn't been tested. The Guardian's Katie Fretland reported earlier that week:

The state plans to lethally inject Lockett ... with midazolam followed by vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Florida has used a similar method, but it employed a dose of midazolam that is 5 times greater. And Ohio used midazolam with a different drug, hydromorphone, in the January execution of Dennis McGuire, which took longer than 20 minutes.

Oklahoma corrections spokesman Jerry Massie briefed the media and said the executions will likely take longer than normal, because the 1st drug is expected to work more slowly.

"Don't be surprised," Massie said.

In spite of Massie's eerie caveat, it appears as though corrections officials administering the injections were very surprised when the execution went nightmarishly awry.

10 minutes into the procedure, Lockett lapsed into unconsciousness. But then, minutes later, he began to writhe and convulse. The AP reported that Lockett was "clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow." The convulsing and gasping reportedly continued for another 10 minutes. Spectators were blocked from continuing to view the scene. The execution was finally aborted after an agonizing 24 minutes. But Lockett died of a heart attack more than an hour later.

It turns out the chemicals failed to rush into Lockett's body quickly enough - something having to do with a "vein failure" - and hence the slow death. Clayton Lockett was sentenced in a court of law to die, and death is what he got. Though it should never have happened in that very cruel and very unusual manner.

(source: salon.com)

*************************

Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend

An unprecedented series of recent court rulings that halted the execution of 8 Arkansas prisoners reflects a decades-long national trend that has sharply curtailed the use of capital punishment.

Death penalty experts say the court decisions are in keeping with a number of factors prompting executions in the United States to decline, including challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option.

Prisoner executions nationwide have plummeted over the past 2 decades, decreasing nearly every year since 1999, when 98 prisoners were executed. There were 20 prisoner executions nationwide in 2016, the fewest since 1991.

The growth of life without parole as a sentencing option in many states, as well as the high cost of prosecuting a capital case, has led prosecutors to push for the death penalty in fewer cases, said Michael Benza, senior instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

"If you think of the death penalty as sort of a freeway, it's actually becoming more of a country lane with everybody peeling off into all kinds of different non-capital ways," he said.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, said the use of DNA evidence has led to closer scrutiny of death penalty cases by both the legal system and the general public.

"We've seen a precipitous decline since 1999 and probably a lot of that had to do with these innocence cases," she said. "Attorneys were starting to introduce DNA into court, and you had these cases showing that people were innocent."

Although lethal injection became the nation’s primary method of execution in the 1990s, Denno said it is only in recent years that sustained challenges by death row inmates and death penalty opponents have gained traction in the court system.

On Saturday, a federal judge ordered Arkansas to halt the planned executions of 8 prisoners in less than 2 weeks, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson said were necessary because the state's supply of 1 of 3 drugs used in executions was set to expire.

In Saturday's ruling, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction blocking the state's plans on the grounds that the condemned inmates have a right to challenge the drug protocol that would be used to execute them.

"A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state's method 'creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives,'" Baker wrote. The federal ruling followed federal and state court decisions that also dealt setbacks to the execution plan.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against capital punishment, said the nation is "in the middle of a major climate change of the death penalty."

"When the executions have been delayed, new evidence has been discovered in a number of cases that has later become the basis for overturning them," Dunham said.

Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, Ore., and a proponent of the death penalty, attributed the decline in executions to a decrease in the number of murder cases in which the death penalty might be appropriate.

Most Americans continue to support the concept of a justice system that includes the death penalty, he said, noting that since 1964, no state has abolished the death penalty by popular vote.

"I think what you'll see with the death penalty is fewer (executions)," Marquis said. "But I think states will maintain it - unless, of course, there's some sort of sea change in American opinion."

(source: USA Today)

USA:

CHANGE OF HEART ---- US executioner reveals why he is now fighting AGAINST the death penalty after executing 62 people----Jerry Givens was an executioner in Virginia for 17 years

A former US executioner who ended the lives of 62 criminals has now spoken out against the death penalty.

Jerry Givens was an executioner in Virginia for 17 years - but quit the role as he became more and more fearful he would kill an innocent man, the Mirror reports.

Ex-executioner Jerry Givens put 62 inmates to death in Virginia, US, before quitting and speaking out against the death penalty.

Now, he has spoken out against capital punishment following the state of Arkansas' proposal of executing 7 men in 10 days before a batch of lethal injections passed its "best before date".

The executions were placed on hold by a judge on Friday after drug companies objected and lawyers branded the speed of the executions 'unlawful'.

Givens, 65, told the Mirror: "They are playing Russian roulette with these guys' lives. The expiration date should not be the reason why they are doing this.

He added: "It should not be happening. No matter what crime these men have committed, they should not be sentenced to death in prison."

45 of the 62 executions Givens carried out between 1982 and 1999 were through lethal injection - with the others carried out by electric chair.

But Givens, who started as a corrections officer in 1974, believes the lethal injection is worse.

(source: thesun.co.uk)

IRAN----executions

Execution of 2 Ill Prisoners in Tabriz and Intensified Deterioration of Prison Conditions

The mullahs 'anti-human regime on April 12 hanged 27-year-old Rahman Hosseinpour while suffering from mental illness in Tabriz prison. He was taking daily 30 tranquilizer pills and was imprisoned in the psychotherapy ward. On April 4 another ill prisoner detained in Tabriz prison was executed after 4 years in prison. On April 11 in the same prison 2 ill brothers were attacked after going to the prison clinic and were later transferred to solitary confinement.

Execution of sick prisoners or their mistreatment is in violation of several international treaties to which Iran is a signatory member.

These crimes are a portion of the deteriorating situation of Tabriz prison and a growing pressure on prison inmates. 7,000 prisoners piled up in the prison, because of the lack of the most basic medical facilities, do not get medical visits even once a year. It has been more than 2 months that with the excuse of repairing the kitchen, prisoners get only rice and soup. Given that many prisoners ca not afford to buy food, they are suffering from malnutrition. There are not enough blankets or beds in terms of the number of prisoners there and half of the prisoners have to rest on bare ground without minimum facilities. Any objection by the prisoners is answered by repression and beating.

Gohardasht prison inmates also suffer poor food quality, lack of medical facilities and lack of heating system. Prisoners have to pay for all the facilities, from the cost of treatment to the food and residency at their own expense. Inmates of Section 10 of this prison do not have access to hot water for more than a year due to the breakdown of the heating system.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

PHILIPPINES:

PH barred from reintroducing death penalty, UN reminds Senate

The Philippines is prohibited from reimposing capital punishment because of international treaties signed by the government, a United Nations (UN) body reminded the Senate.

In a letter dated March 27, UN Human Rights Committee chair Yuji Iwasawa expressed "grave concern" over the passage of the death penalty bill at the House of Representatives and urged the Senate to "refrain from taking retrogressive measures."

Iwasawa reminded Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III that the Philippines is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 2 Optional Protocols.

Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR bars States from reintroducing death penalty once it is already abolished, whether through amending domestic law or acceding to the Second Optional Protocol. The same article provides that, "in those States which have not abolished the death penalty, the sentence of death can only be applied for the most serious crimes."

"The Committee is currently in session in Geneva. It expresses its grave concern at information it has received about the passage of a bill through the Houses of Congress to reintroduce the death penalty, for drug related offenses, in the Philippines. It understands that the Senate will consider this bill soon," Iwasawa wrote.

"The Committee reminds the State party about denunciations of the Second Optional Protocol, as set out in its General Comment No. 26 on Continuity of Obligations. The Second Optional Protocol excludes the possibility of denunciation by omitting a denunciation clause to guarantee the permanent non -reintroduction of the death penalty by States that have ratified it," he said.

The UN official added: "On behalf of the Committee, I call on the State Party to take its obligations under the ICCPR and the Second Optional Protocol seriously and refrain from taking measures, which would only undermine human rights progress to date."

In December last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also wrote to Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, both allies of President Rodrigo Duterte. He warned that the Philippines would "violate its obligations under international human rights law if it reintroduced the death penalty."

"International law does not permit a State that has ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to denounce it or withdraw from it," Hussein then said.

Senators are divided on the fate of the death penalty bill in the upper chamber, where it is not a priority measure.

(source: globalnation.inquirer.net)

TURKEY:

Claiming victory, Turkey's Erdogan says may take death penalty to referendum

President Tayyip Erdogan told crowds of flag-waving supporters on Sunday that Turkey could hold another referendum on reinstating the death penalty, as he claimed victory in a vote that will hand him sweeping new powers.

Addressing crowds in Istanbul, Erdogan said he would "immediately" discuss the issue of bringing back the death penalty with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the leader of the nationalist opposition. Such a move would spell the end of Turkey's accession talks with the European Union.

Erdogan also said votes in favour of constitutional changes to replace Turkey's parliamentary system with an executive presidency stood at 51.5 %. He said everyone should respect the nation's decision, and added Turkey would "shift gears" in the coming period.

(source: Reuters)

****************

France Calls on Turkey to Adhere to Anti-Death Penalty Human Rights Convention----French Foreign Ministry said that Turkey should adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights which abolishes the death penalty.

Turkey should adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights which abolishes the death penalty, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday.

"[France] also calls on the Turkish authorities to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey has signed and which prohibits the use of the death penalty," the ministry said.

The French ministry said it acquainted itself with Sunday's referendum on government-approved constitutional amendments switching Turkey from a parliamentarian to a presidential system. Preliminary results indicate over half of the voters supported expanding presidential powers in the referendum.

"These constitutional amendments are making significant changes in Turkey's governance system," the ministry said.

(source: sputniknews.com)

AUSTRALIA:

Australia's death row drug traffickers facing potential execution by hanging or firing squad

After Amnesty International released its report last week that 1032 prisoners were executed last year - with China as the world's top executioner - how many Australians are on death row in foreign countries?

At least 5 Australians have been under threat of death by firing squad in China, all for drug trafficking.

An Australian man and woman are facing execution by lethal injection in Vietnam and an Australian woman faces the death penalty in Malaysia, where drug smugglers are hanged.

During 2016, Amnesty calculates, 23 countries carried out executions of prisoners.

Amnesty International has refused to publish the actual number of people China executed because it was "clear that the figures it was able to publish on China were significantly lower than the reality, because of the restrictions on access to information".

It says that after China the majority of executions are carried out by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia where there were 40 beheadings.

The reality of Australians being executed overseas hit home when Indonesia carried out the death penalty on Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in 2015.

In chilling scenes, funeral parlour workers in the Javanese port of Cilicap happily showed off the coffins which were to hold the bodies of the men after their death by firing squad.

Footage of the filled coffins in the back of ambulances arriving back at Cilicap after their execution on Nusakambangan Island made world news.

But the sobering loss of 2 young Australian men paying the ultimate price for drug smuggling has not got through to other young people.

Last year Vietnam imposed 63 new death sentences. Of these, at least 54 were imposed for drug-related offences and four involved foreign nationals.

1 of these is an Australian woman, yet to be named, who was allegedly found with 4.8kg of heroin in her luggage in June last year.

The 37-year-old, who is of Vietnamese origin, was detained at Tan Son Nhut Airport in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

Officials claim they found nearly 5kg of heroin hidden in picture frames in her bags.

The woman allegedly told officers she was paid $33,500 to transport the heroin to Australia.

She has yet to face trial, but Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws and trafficking even small amounts of heroin is punishable by death.

Vietnam applies the death penalty is cases of trafficking of 100 grams of heroin or 300g of other illegal narcotics, replacing firing squads with lethal injection 3 years ago.

If convicted, the woman will join Australian Pham Trun Dung, on Vietnam's death row.

Like other Australians imprisoned in foreign jails, he awaits the grimmest of fates.

VIETNAM

Execution method: Lethal injection

Death row Australian: Pham Trung Dung, 38

Arrested in May, 2013, Dung was stopped from boarding a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney when customs officials found 3.6kg of heroin in his luggage.

At his 2014 trial, Dung told the court he had been hired by an unidentified man to traffic the heroin in exchange for $40,000.

He had been living in Australia with his partner and their 2 sons and found the lure of the money irresistible.

His job was to transport the drugs back to Australia and deliver them to an acquaintance.

Sentenced to execution, Dung appealed but the Ho Chi Minh City People's court last August confirmed his death sentence.

MALAYSIA

Execution method: Hanging

Death Row Australian: Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54

In December 2014, Australian grandmother Maria Exposto was flying en route from Shanghai, China to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur on a Malaysian Airlines flight.

She was in transit when Malaysian customs officer Mohd Noor Nashariq scanned her bag and allegedly found 1.1kg of methamphetamine hidden in a hand-stitched compartment.

Exposto told police she had flown to Shanghai to meet up with a US serviceman following an online romance between the 2, but the man was a scam artist. Australian Maria Exposto has yet to learn her fate in Malaysia where she was caught with 1.1kg of methamphetamine.

She said another man, a stranger, duped her into carrying a backpack which he told her was full of clothes, but which contained the secreted drugs.

Exposto emigrated to Australia from East Timor and has been an Australian citizen since 1985.

Soon after her arrest, lawyers for Exposto said she had voluntarily offered her bags to customs as she attempted to enter Malaysia, having gone through immigration mistakenly.

They were then hopeful of an acquittal, but Exposto has remained in custody.

In 1986, Malaysia hanged Australians Kevin Barlow, 28, and Brian Chambers, 29, at Pudu Prison for trafficking 141.9g of heroin.

THAILAND

Execution method: Lethal injection

Death row Australian: Antonio Bagnato, 28

In February this year a Thai court sentenced Australian Antonio Bagnato to death for the kidnap and murder of a Hells Angels bikie and alleged drug smuggler, Wayne Schneider.

Bagnato, 28, and 4 other men abducted Schneider from his luxury villa in the beachside suburb of Pattaya in December 2015.

Schneider's body was later found buried. His neck was broken and he had facial injuries.

Bagnato, who had fled to Cambodia, was extradited back to Thailand.

Wayne Rodney Schneider's body was found with his neck broken, injuries to the face and buried in a grave.

A Muay Thai fighter, Bagnato was also wanted in Australia in relation to the 2014 murder of Bradley Dillion.

Bagnato was found guilty of murder, deprivation of liberty and disposing of a body.

There is some debate as to whether Bagnato will be executed.

The last person to be sent to their death by lethal injection in Thailand was in 2009.

Bagnato has been transferred to Bang Kwang Central Prison in Nonthaburi Province, north of Bangkok, the only prison with a death row and an execution chamber.

Up to 25 inmates share each 4m by 7.5m cell in the notoriously squalid prison.

CHINA

Execution method: Firing squad

Death row Australians: Henry Chhin

Shanghai police intercepted 270g of ice concealed in computer equipment which they alleged Chhin tried to send from China to Australia in 2005.

Chhin was sentenced to death and his sentence was suspended for 2 years.

But Shenzen police uncovered a further 700g of meth in cabinets at Chhin's residence, and his fate is currently unclear.

Queensland man Ibrahim Jalloh is reportedly awaiting trial in China on drug charges.

Chinese officials arrested the 2 young men from Queensland at Guangzhou airport in June 2014 in possession of methamphetamine.

Sherrif has received a "suspended" death sentence, but the outcome is uncertain.

Jalloh, who has an intellectual disability, has received a suspended death sentence, which may be commuted to life in prison.

Peter Gardner faces a potential death penalty for allegedly trying to smuggle 30kg of methamphetamine when he visited China with then girlfriend Kalynda Davis in 2014.

Charge: Attempt to smuggle 30kg methamphetamine in suitcases on Sydney flight at Guangzhou airport in November 2014

Dual Australian and New Zealand citizen, Peter Gardner was arrested with his then girlfriend, Sydney promotions representative Kalynda Davis, at Guangzhou Airport in November 2014.

Gardner allegedly tried to board a Sydney flight with Davis and 2 suitcases full of 3kg of ice worth $20 million in bags.

Guangzhou authorities say the suitcases, which were superglued shut, contained the biggest haul of methamphetamine recorded at the airport.

His then girlfriend Kalynda Davis was released without charge.

Gardner said it was 'the biggest mistake of my life'.

Davis' policeman father made a mercy dash to China and his daughter was released without charge and sent home in December.

But Gardner has been held in a Guangzhou prison since.

Gardner told a Guangzhou court early last year that he thought the suitcases contained the performance enhancing sport drugs, peptides, and that this was "the biggest mistake of my life".

He faces another hearing this year, at which he may learn whether he will be convicted and sentenced to death.

(source: news.com.au)

THAILAND:

Thailand Death Sentences Increase, China Tops List, Report Says

China topped the world list in 2016 for the highest number of state executions carried out, with the figures standing at more than 1,000 according to the latest report by Amnesty International.

The report, released Tuesday, said at least 1,032 were executed in 23 countries around the world in 2016 excluding China.

"In many countries where people were sentenced to death or executive, the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards. In some cases this included the extraction of 'confessions' through torture or other ill-treatment, including in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Saudi Arabia," the report read.

It also noticed a big decrease in the number of executions in the United States, which for the 1st time since 2006, did not rank among the world's big 5 executioners.

The report noted that since China treated the use of the death penalty as a state secret, the number could be much higher and into the thousands.

The 5 other countries carrying out the highest number of executions were Iran at 567, Saudi Arabia at 154, Iraq at more than 88 followed closely by Pakistan with more than 87.

Thailand has been in a state of de facto moratorium for 1/2 a decade although Amnesty noted in its report an increase in the number of prisoners sentenced to death in the kingdom rose to 216 last year. The report noted that Thai authorities provided Amnesty with full figures, unlike countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia which along with China keep their use of the death penalty state secret.

Pressured by parliament, the report noted that Malaysia revealed it has executed 9 people in 2016. As for Vietnam, a report by its Ministry of Public Security made public in February this year revealed that 429 prisoners were executed between August 2013 and June 2016, thus placing it behind only China and Iran for the period.

The United States' figures continued to fall for the 8th consecutive year although it carried out 20 executions in 2016, putting it at number 7 in the world.

"The number of death sentences in the USA also decreased from 52 in 2015 to 32 in 2016 (38% decrease). This is the lowest number recorded since 1973," the report stated.

(source: khaosodenglish.com)

APRIL 16, 2017:

OHIO:

Expert: Death penalty cases different

Jurors' perceptions are key in any criminal case, especially in a capital murder case, an expert on death-penalty law says.

Add intense pretrial publicity, and judges - as well as defense attorneys and prosecutors - will do whatever they can to ensure that a defendant gets a fair trial and that jurors only decide the case and potential penalty based on what they see and hear in the courtroom - not outside of it, said Michael Benza, an instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University who is an authority on death-penalty law.

Decisions such as whether a defendant should be cuffed or shackled not only in a courtroom but also outside in a public space all help to ensure that jurors in a death-penalty case base their decisions solely on what they hear in the courtroom, Benza said.

"It really is a concern that when jurors see certain types of things, it can influence their decision-making process," Benza said.

Sheriff Jerry Greene said Judge Maureen Sweeney had instructed that Robert Seman not be seen wearing handcuffs or other visible restraints in public areas of the courthouse, in case people in the building may be called to jury duty in the case or see Seman on television. That was designed to avoid giving people a negative impression of the defendant before his trial began.

On Monday, Seman was dressed in civilian clothes and was not handcuffed or shackled as he was walked from the courtroom to an elevator to go to a holding cell in the courthouse before he jumped to his death.

"If you see a person in the courtroom and he's wearing a prison outfit, you think he's a bad guy," Benza said.

Typically, even in death- penalty cases, defendants are not wearing street clothes until jury instruction is actually underway and they are often kept out of sight of jurors at that time in the courthouse.

Seman could have received the death penalty if convicted in the March 30, 2015, deaths of Corinne Gump, 10; and her grandparents, William and Judith Schmidt, in an arson at the home of the Schmidts. But because the case was so highly publicized, Seman had appeared at all of his hearings since his indictment in June 2015 in street clothes. Most pretrial hearings, even in death penalty cases, are not covered by newspapers or television. In the Seman case, the media covered every hearing.

Benza said there is a tendency for people involved in capital cases to do things they wouldn't do in any other case because of the high stakes and the potential for many years of litigation and appeals.

Benza also addressed how publicity, specifically comments on news stories on social media sites or websites of media outlets, also plays into thinking of both attorneys and a judge during a trial.

Benza said a story about a case could be neutral but the comments from readers could be so inflammatory that they could taint a jury pool. Seman's case was heavily publicized on the internet and generated heavy comments on social media sites, the majority of those comments against him.

2 attempts to pick a jury locally failed, and Judge Sweeney granted a defense motion to move the trial. She chose Portage County, where jury orientation was to begin last Wednesday.

Several court cases address restraining inmates in front of jurors. The main one is a 1970 case, Illinois v. Allen, where the Supreme Court ruled against a defendant's motion for a new trial in a robbery case based on the defendant's argument that he was shackled in front of a jury.

The high court, however, wrote in its opinion: "The presence of restraints tends to erode the presumption of innocence that our system attaches itself to every defendant," and that quote is cited in almost all cases where appeals are made based on defendants who are visibly restrained before jurors.

The high court cited this opinion in a 2004 case, Deck v. Missouri, where a man sentenced to death appealed his sentence because he argued he was shackled in front of jurors during the penalty phase of his murder trial. The high court wrote that having defendants appear without shackles is a practice that dates back to English common law and they can only be used if a "special need" arises.

In the Deck case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the defendant's death sentence and sent the case back to the lower court for resentencing.

(source: Youngstown Vindicator)

ARKANSAS:

ttorney General Files Petition to Arkansas Supreme Court After Lethal Drug Blocked

State officials challenged 1 order Saturday and vowed to fight the other.

The rally was attended by actor Johnny Depp and by Damien Echols, who spent almost 18 years on Arkansas' death row. Arkansas has said this scheduled is needed because one of its lethal drugs will expire at the end of the month.

The inmates challenged the state's unprecedented plan, arguing the hasty timetable and the drug used to perform the execution amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

But more recently, capital punishment has been stalled in Arkansas because of drug shortages and legal challenges.

Legal battles had prevented any executions in the state in the last 12 years.

The attorney general plans to appeal Griffen's order as well. All of the inmates are men, and all were convicted of capital murder.

The state Supreme Court on Friday granted a stay of execution on 1 of the 7, and an 8th inmate whom the state planned to execution won an earlier stay.

"No state has ever conducted 8 executions over a 10-day period", he said.

The state appealed U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's order hours later, hoping to follow through with its planned executions, with the 1st scheduled for Monday. The latest ruling from Baker applies to the 8 originally scheduled to die, plus 1 more man whose execution had not yet been scheduled. Baker, dealt another blow Saturday.

Baker says the inmates could have legitimate claims that Arkansas' execution protocol could inflict "severe pain".

Posner sent the letter Thursday to 2 Arkansas officials.

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted.

"It is unfortunate that a US district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice", Jude Deere, an office spokesman, said.

Executions of multiple inmates are not new to Arkansas.

Other companies also weighed in. The suppliers of the muscle relaxant, vecuronium bromide, argued that it had been sold to the prison system on the premise that it would be used for legitimate medical purposes rather than executions.

The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was. The pair of lethal injections that Willett, the former Texas warden, presided over in 2000 was the last of 10 such executions over 6 years involving only 4 states: Texas, Arkansas, Illinois and SC. By Friday night, the company had persuaded Griffen to intervene.

McKesson contends that Arkansas penal authorities purchased the vecuronium bromide, which provokes muscular paralysis, without warning that it would be used to put inmates to death. The drug's maker, McKesson Medical Surgical, said it had been misled by the state.

Griffen wrote that these issues could not be remedied later, while the state could later obtain a replacement drug.

Absent details about drug sources, death penalty opponents may focus on questions about the drugs' reliability or how they are administered, based on flawed executions elsewhere.

The series of legal roadblocks constitute a major setback for Arkansas's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who had pushed for the accelerated executions as the expiration of the state's supply of midazolam drew near. "After hearing the evidence. the court is compelled to stay these executions", she said.

The Associated Press explains that "under Arkansas' protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart".

"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something", Echols said Friday. Baker had not ruled by Friday evening.

(source: pppfocus.com)

*************************

Gov Hutchinson releases statement on federal ruling that blocks scheduled executions

Governor Hutchinson has released a statement on the federal ruling by Judge Kristine Baker that blocks Arkansas' scheduled executions and other recent court rulings regarding the executions.

"When I set the 8 execution dates in accordance with the law and my responsibilities, I was fully aware that the actions would trigger both the individual clemency hearings and separate court reviews on varying claims by the death row inmates. I understand how difficult this is on the victims’ families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review; however, the last minute court reviews are all part of the difficult process of death penalty cases. I expect both the Supreme Court of Arkansas and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decisions quickly, and I have confidence in the Attorney General and her team to expedite the reviews. I'll be meeting with the Attorney General and the Arkansas Department of Correction on Monday to determine next steps," he said.

The federal ruling cited a likely violation of the inmate's Eighth Amendment and right to due process.

Judd Deere, spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, has confirmed that the state will appeal to the Eighth Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court. The court battle will likely extend into next week. However, if either high court rules in favor of the state, the executions could move forward as early as next week.

A federal case recently stayed the execution of Jason McGehee, who was set to die before Williams on April 27. Friday the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an emergency stay for Bruce Ward, who was set to be executed on April 17.

Another hurdle to the executions is a temporary restraining order that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued Friday against the state of Arkansas, effectively halting the scheduled executions until further notice.

According to court documents, McKesson Medical-Surgical Incorporated filed the temporary restraining order for an "injuctive relief" and for the state of Arkansas to return its property, 10 vials of 20mg Vecuronium bromide.

***************************************

Little Rock Vice Mayor Webb thinks death penalty should be ruled out completely

Amid all the legal wrangling, there are high emotions on both sides of the death penalty debate.

Friday a rally bought hundreds of Arkansans out to the state capital voicing their opinion both for and against the death penalty. Saturday one city leader agreed with the decision by the federal court to halt the executions scheduled to begin on Monday.

In less than 48 hours eight executions are scheduled to begin. Little Rock Vice Mayor Kathy Webb is still sticking by her belief to not go through with the death penalty. This after Federal Judge Kristine Baker blocked Arkansas' plan to execute 8 inmates by the end of the month, but Webb is saying the death penalty should be ruled out altogether and not be used in Arkansas.

"I like it when the eyes of the country are on Arkansas for positive reasons, not something like this," Webb said. "I know that this is something that has weighed heavily on the governor and it is a tremendous responsibility."

Those for the death penalty like conservative Senator Jason Rapert took to Twitter soon after the decision by Judge Baker and Judge Griffen. Tweeting, "Abortions occur regularly at Little Rock #Abortion clinic KILLING innocent babies...where is the outcry for their life? #arpx"

Another tweet this time from Senator Trent Garner calls for Judge Wendell's impeachment. Griffin joined protestors Friday by laying in a lawn chair in front of the governor's mansion.

"I would side with Judge Griffin and Judge Baker who question the constitutionally of the cruel and unusual punishment and the use of the particular drug for execution," Webb said.

Now Webb is left hoping a decision will be made that will bring both ease to the families of the victims and Arkansans.

"While my heart goes out to victim's families of the crimes," Webb said. "I don't think that taking another's life is a solution to their grief."

Friday's rally grew in size and stature when actor Johnny Depp came and spoke alongside Damien Echols. Echols walked off Arkansas' death row by taking what's called an "Alford plea." Depp has been a supporter and friend of Echols for several years.

(source for both: KTHV-TV news)

*******************

Outcry after Arkansas judge who stayed executions joins anti-death penalty rally----Republican lawmakers questioned Judge Wendell Griffen’s impartiality after he lay bound on a cot following his ruling to halt executions

The judge who on Friday barred Arkansas from executing six prisoners in rapid succession followed his ruling by attending an anti-death penalty rally, where he lay down on a cot and bound himself as though he were a condemned man on a gurney.

Judge Wendell Griffen's participation in the protest outside the Arkansas governor's mansion sparked outrage among death penalty supporters, including Republican lawmakers who described it as judicial misconduct and potential grounds for Griffen's removal from the bench.

Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge on Saturday asked the state's highest court to vacate Griffen's ruling and asked for a new judge to be assigned the case.

Griffen, a Pulaski County circuit judge, ruled against the state because of a dispute over how the state obtained one of its execution drugs. In an interview on Saturday, he said he was morally opposed to the death penalty and that his personal beliefs alone should not disqualify him from taking up certain cases.

"We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside," he said.

On Friday, Griffen granted a restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, 1 of 3 drugs it uses in executions, because the supplier said the state misleadingly obtained the drug.

The ruling came a day before a federal judge halted the executions on different grounds. The back-to-back decisions upend what had been a plan to execute 8 men in 11 days, starting on Monday, because the state's supply of 1 of the other execution drugs expires at the end of the month.

Griffen declined to comment on the demonstration or his ruling, saying he would address any questions about it at a hearing he scheduled for Tuesday.

Citing the judge's participation in anti-death penalty events before and after issuing his ruling, attorney general Rutledge wrote on Saturday: "This court should put a stop to the games being played by a judge who is obviously unable to preside over this case impartially."

Lawmakers have suggested the move may be grounds for the Arkansas House to begin impeachment proceedings, saying the demonstration and a blogpost Griffen wrote on the death penalty this week may amount to "gross misconduct" under the state constitution.

"He is outside the bounds of normal behavior for most judges probably anywhere in America," Republican state senator Jason Rapert said.

It is also unclear whether the move would prompt action from the state's judicial discipline and disability commission. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, has battled with the panel over remarks he made criticizing George W Bush and the war in Iraq. The panel ultimately dropped its case against him.

Griffen said he would not consider a person's participation in an anti-execution event enough, on its own, to warrant disqualifying a juror from a death penalty case. The question, he said, is whether the juror could set his or her personal views aside and follow the law.

"We do not require people to come into court with blank slates, either in their minds or their heart," he said.

(source: The Guardian)

***********************

Analysis: Arkansas faces stark reality with execution plans

The topsy-turvy legal wrangling surrounding Arkansas' unprecedented effort to execute 8 men in 11 days is par for the course in a state where the death penalty has been in a holding pattern for more than a decade, despite strong support for capital punishment among voters and elected officials.

Uncertainty still surrounds the unprecedented execution timeline, which was set to begin Monday night and continue through April 27. If carried out, they would be the most executions carried out by a state in that timeframe since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The plan remains in limbo after a state judge blocked the use of a lethal injection drug a supplier says was improperly obtained and a federal judge said inmates could pursue a claim they're at risk of "severe pain."

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions to occur before the state's supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the three-drug lethal injection process, expires at the end of the month. The inmates have challenged the compressed timeline and the use of the drug, which has been used in flawed executions in other states. Pharmaceutical companies don't want their drugs used in the upcoming executions.

The execution dates come nearly four years after the state's previous attorney general vented that legal challenges and a shortage of drugs used in lethal injections made it unlikely the state would execute any inmates in the near future.

"I continue to support the death penalty, but it's time to be frank. Our death penalty system as it currently exists is completely broken," Dustin McDaniel told a group of sheriffs from around the state in 2013.

Then-Gov. Mike Beebe that year announced he would have signed legislation outlawing capital punishment if it ever reached his desk - a prospect that was unlikely even before Republicans took control of the state Legislature. The Democratic ex-legislator and former attorney general said his thinking on the subject had changed after he signed death warrants, though the executions never took place.

"It is an agonizing process whether you are for the death penalty or against the death penalty," Beebe said.

It's clear that Arkansas supports the death penalty, like many other Southern states. Polling by the University of Arkansas in 2015 showed that a broad majority supported executions, and the death penalty was not an issue when Hutchinson ran for office a year earlier.

In an order Saturday setting aside the executions, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker made it clear from the start that she wasn't attempting to decide whether executions were a proper way to punish Arkansas' worst criminals.

"The death penalty is constitutional," she said, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized the use of the surgical sedative midazolam. "Competency issues aside, plaintiffs are eligible to receive it. Each of these ... men was convicted by a jury of their peers and then sentenced to death."

Between the Christian observances of Good Friday and Easter, she wrote that "inherently barbaric punishments" weren't allowed: "burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, and crucifixion."

And she added that it is only up to Arkansans whether executions will continue.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment from Arkansawyers and their elected representatives. It is their right to decide whether the death penalty should be a form of punishment in Arkansas, not the court's," she said.

What those executions will look like was considered in political circles in 2014, when lawyer David Sterling suggested during his run for the Republican nomination for attorney general that Arkansas return to electrocutions.

"The electric chair has withstood constant constitutional scrutiny throughout the country for many, many decades. And so with it being available as a method of execution, I'm not sure why we're not employing it," Sterling said then.

Leslie Rutledge, who won the GOP nomination and is now defending the state's execution push as attorney general, disagreed.

"The electric chair is in a museum, and that's where it belongs," Rutledge said that year.

(source: Associated Press)

USA:

Sanders calls for end to death penalty

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Saturday called for the U.S. to abolish the death penalty, as Arkansas seeks to execute 7 inmates before the end of the month.

"Virtually every Western industrialized country has chosen to end capital punishment," Sanders tweeted. "The United States should join them."

Sanders tweet came moments after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Saturday to halt Arkansas's plan to execute 7 inmates before the state's lethal injection drug supply expires at the end of the month.

All 7 executions were scheduled to take place before the end of April with the use of a lethal injection drug called midazolam.

The lawyers for the inmates challenged the short timeframe of the planned executions and the use of the drug, which has been linked to instances of flawed executions.

(source: thehill.com)

MALAYSIA:

Hotel manager gets death sentence for drug trafficking

A hotel manager was sent to the gallows by the Magistrate's Court here today after he found guilty of trafficking 82.38 gm of heroin last year.

Judicial Commissioner Muhammad Jamil Hussin passed the death sentence to Muhammad Firdaus Abdullah, 29, after the defence failed to raise a reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case.

The father of one was found guilty of committing the offence at 9.30am at the Machap rest and service area (north-bound) in Kluang on Jan 4 last year. The offence under Section 39B(1) (a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 provides for mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

In his judgment, Muhammad Jamil said the accused's defence was a mere denial and fabricated.

According to the facts of the case, a team of policemen spotted the accused carrying a suspicious package towards a white Honda car parked by the roadside. Upon inspection, four small packs of heroin weighing a total of 82.38gm, were found in the package.

Deputy public prosecutor Rasyidah Murni Adzmi prosecuted, while the accused was represented by lawyer Chandran Singh.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution and defence each called 6 witnesses.

Muhammad Firdaus appeared calm when the court passed the sentence, while his family members broke down in tears.

(source: themalaymailonline.com)

EGYPT:

Child Rapists Should be Executed: Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh's Deputy

Dr Abbas Shuman, the Deputy of Al-Azhar's Grand Sheikh, has called for the death penalty to be imposed on anyone found guilty of raping a child, reported Al-Ahram.

"The rape of children is terrorism punishable by execution," said Dr Shuman, adding that such crimes are alien to Egypt's society and culture and represent terrorism in its worst form.

Dr Shuman added that the raping of children is no less dangerous than bombings and other violence.

In the past few years, there have been several notable cases of child rape that have been widely reported in Egyptian media. In 2014, 2 teenagers were sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of raping and killing a 5-year-old child in Port Said before throwing her off an 11-story building.

Most recently, a 20-month-old girl was raped by a 35-year-old man in Al-Daqahliyah Government, leading to many in Egypt to call for greater punishment for child rapists.

(source: egyptianstreets.com)

NORTH KOREA:

North Korean soldiers who compared Kim Jong-un to a mentally ill child in extremely unwise joke are arrested and face death penalty

North Korean soldiers are facing the death penalty after spreading a joke comparing Kim Jong-un to a kindergartner.

Officers and soldiers from the 2nd army corps have been placed under arrest for mocking the North Korean leader, and are under investigation, a source has told Radio Free Asia.

The source said: 'News of cadres of the second army corps slandering Kim Jong-un reached all the way to the People's Army's General Political Bureau, and the arrested cadres are to be severely punished.'

According to UPI, other soldiers have referred to him as a mentally ill patient.

It comes as Kim Jong-un threatened nuclear justice during the Day of the Sun parades in the secretive state.

Kim, wearing a Western-style suit at Kim Il-sung Square, saluted formations of soldiers who yelled out 'long live' to celebrate the 105th anniversary of his grandfather's birth.

The dictator has accused President Donald Trump of provoking his nation towards armed conflict with a series of increasingly aggressive moves, including sending the USS Carl Vinson to the Korean peninsula.

Kim is said to be losing popularity with North Koreans, and is already unpopular with the country's soldiers.

US officials feared Kim Jong-un would mark the national holiday by launching North Korea's 6th nuclear weapons test, since the country has used previous holidays to showcase its military prowess.

The despot, who did not speak during the annual parade, flaunted prototypes of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which experts fear could one day be capable of striking mainland America.

One of Kim's top officials, Choe Ryong Hae, today vowed North Korea would 'beat down enemies with the power of nuclear justice'.

He told the packed-out square: 'If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike, and we will respond to full-out war with full-out war and to nuclear war with our style of nuclear strike warfare.'

(source: dailymail.co.uk)

PHILIPPINES:

Extended prison terms in lieu of death penalty eyed

Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza has asked Congress to consider increasing the prison terms and scrapping parole privilege for persons convicted of heinous crimes, which are more acceptable alternatives to the death penalty.

Daza filed House Bill 4872 to increase the duration and effect of penalties of reclusion temporal and reclusion perpetua even as the House of Representatives unanimously approved the death penalty measure.

In his proposal, Daza called for amendments to the Revised Penal Code by increasing the prison term for reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment from maximum of 20 years to minimum of 30 years and maximum of 40 years.

Under the bill, persons convicted of reclusion perpetua shall not be eligible for parole under the Indeterminate Sentence Law.

HB 4872 also seeks to adjust prison sentences for crimes punishable with reclusion temporal from 12 years and 1 day to 30 years.

Maximum prison term for reclusion temporal is currently set at 20 years.

Daza was among the 52 lawmakers who thumbed down the death penalty bill that was presented for 3rd and final reading last month.

"While our country needs strong and effective deterrents against criminality, especially the scourge of illicit drugs, the death penalty has been empirically shown to be an ineffective one," he explained.

The veteran lawmaker said stiff penalties outside death for drug related and heinous crimes "is imperative both as a deterrent and for the effective dispensation of justice."

HB 4872 remained pending before the House Committee on Justice, which strongly recommended approval of the death penalty measure.

The death penalty proposal is expected to face rough sailing in the Senate which will debate on the measure starting next month.

Daza's no parole proposal may yet see the light only if senators reject the death penalty bill.

(source: Manila Bulletin)

APRIL 15, 2017:

VIRGINIA:

Marie Deans' struggle against the death penalty

Today, April 15, is the 6th anniversary of the death of one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever met, Marie McFadden Deans. A native of South Carolina, Deans moved to Richmond in 1983 and started the Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons. During the 10 years that she ran the organization, Deans became an advocate for Virginia's death row inmates. She found lawyers for the men, fought to improve prison conditions, worked on their appeals as a mitigation specialist, and served as their friend, confidante, and mother. And she stood "death watch" with the men in the death house, often being the last loving face they would see before being electrocuted.

Deans paid a steep price for her advocacy. During the years she ran the coalition, she was a single mother who lived well below the poverty line. Sustained on a diet of caffeine and nicotine, Deans drove herself mercilessly - consumed by the fear that there was always something more she could do to save the lives of the condemned inmates. Many referred to her as a "saint" - a label she abhorred. "I'm no goddam saint," Deans would reply. She preferred to be known as a "courageous fool," someone who was too foolish and stubborn to abandon her struggle to defeat capital punishment. When she died at the age of 70, Deans was a physically broken woman - as much a casualty of Virginia's death penalty as the men who were strapped into the electric chair.

As the anniversary of her death approached, I found myself wondering what Deans would think of the current state of the modern death penalty. She had no doubt that America would someday end its bloody embrace of state-sanctioned killing, and I believe she would be pleased to see that the number of capital convictions and executions has continued to decline in the past 6 years. She would find it ironic, however, that the death penalty is being slowly abandoned not because of moral outrage, but because of the high costs associated with the trials and appeals of individuals charged with capital murder.

Deans would not be surprised to see that the Southern states still lead the rest of the country in terms of conviction and execution rates. Nor would she be shocked to find that the death penalty is still being selectively applied to minorities, the poor, and the mentally ill. Deans visited death rows in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, and she saw firsthand that the populations of these prisons contained those men and women whom society feared and demonized.

What would surprise and sadden her today would be how our country's political polarization has spilled over into the statehouse and the death house, spawning a new level of blood lust and hatred. The debate over lethal injection has sparked calls for a return to the firing squad and the electric chair. Fears over false claims of rising crime rates have led politicians and citizens to demand the expansion of death-eligible offenses. And concerns over the supply of lethal injection drugs have prompted states to hide their execution protocols and speed up the rate of executions.

I am glad Deans cannot witness the upcoming execution of Ivan Teleguz, who is scheduled to be put to death on April 25 despite considerable evidence of factual innocence. Many people roll their eyes when they hear death row inmates claim they were wrongfully convicted, responding sarcastically that all men on death row wrap themselves in the blanket of innocence. Yet over the past 40 years, 157 men and women have been exonerated and walked off death row.

Deans herself worked with several Virginia death row inmates whose cases raised concerns about innocence, including Earl Washington Jr. - who came within eight days of being executed for a crime that Virginia police and prison officials were utterly confident that he committed. But Washington was innocent. If not for the heroic efforts of Marie Deans and his fellow death row inmate Joe Giarratano, Washington would have been killed. Because of Deans' unflagging commitment to justice, other death row inmates - including Giarratano and Joseph Payne Sr. - saw their death sentences reduced to life by Virginia governors because of similar concerns about factual innocence.

In my mind's eye, I can imagine Deans' reaction to the upcoming execution of Teleguz. Her big brown eyes would fill with tears, and she would take a deep drag of her cigarette as she tried to steady her shaking hands. "Just another turn of the screw," she would say softly. And then she would return to her fight against the machinery of death. Luckily, there are other dedicated lawyers and volunteers who have taken her place. May they be as tenacious as Marie Deans was in ferreting out the truth.

(source: Commentary; Todd C. Peppers holds the Henry H. & Trudye H. Fowler Chair in Roanoke College's Department of Public Affairs, and is co-author of the book "A Courageous Fool: Marie Deans and Her Struggle Against the Death Penalty," which will be published in July by Vanderbilt University Press----Richmond Times-Dispatch)

FLORIDA:

Where's Gov. Scott's evidence to support the death penalty?

The rhetoric coming from our law enforcement and state officials regarding State Attorney Aramis Ayala's decision to not pursue the death penalty is deeply disturbing.

Whether you agree with her or not, Ayala made an evidence-based decision about why her office will not pursue the death penalty. In a press conference, Ayala cited how evidence fails to show the death penalty makes our communities or law enforcement safer.

She noted the death penalty fails to deter crime and costs more than keeping someone in prison for life. It also prevents closure for the victims' families because death-penalty cases often take decades to resolve.

During Ayala's campaign, Florida's death penalty was temporarily discontinued due to constitutional challenges. Neither candidate made the death penalty a central campaign issue, and the media did not focus on capital punishment.

Florida has since passed a new law requiring a unanimous jury for a death sentence, meaning state prosecutors now have the discretion to issue death-penalty charges.

Rather than presenting their own evidence-based conclusions as to whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent, government officials and Gov. Rick Scott issued statements appealing to people's desire for vengeance such as in the case of Markeith Loyd, who allegedly murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

It is particularly troubling how these statements uncritically equate "justice" with "death," suggesting these officials are more interested in revenge than in the best interests of the community, as they fail to provide evidence to corroborate their positions.

These same officials have also shamelessly invoked the will of the victims' families, even though Dixon's family members have said they wish Scott had not removed Ayala from the case. The family prefers a speedy trial for Loyd rather than spending years pursuing a death sentence.

Furthermore, by asserting which charges should be filed, law enforcement and Scott egregiously overstepped their boundaries. The role of police is to protect and serve the public, not to be judge, jury and executioner. It is exclusively the state attorney's role to determine which charges should be filed in any case.

State officials must ensure their actions are backed by evidence and rooted in concern for the public good. Their response to Ayala's decision not to use the death penalty, a decision made with the public interest in mind, reveals a priority of politics and vengeance over justice.

Upon her removal from 23 capital cases, Ayala filed suit against the governor to reinstate her rightful caseload. Ayala's lawsuit against the governor is supported by state law and legal precedent. Elections have consequences. The removal of cases by the governor from an elected state attorney oversteps executive authority and could have a chilling effect on prosecutorial independence.

Regardless of one's position on the death penalty, one issue is clear: Aramis Ayala is right to stand up to Scott.

(source: Commentary; Henry Lim is an Orlando immigration attorney and a member of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Advisory Board. During his run for the Florida House of Representatives last year, Lim employed the same local campaign company as Aramis Ayala. This commentary is Lim's independent opinion----Orlando Sentinel)

LOUISIANA:

3 law-and-order lawmakers call for end to death penalty

7 years after Louisiana's last execution, a trio of state legislators with law enforcement backgrounds is suggesting the tough-on-crime state should quit sentencing people to death.

The proposal would eliminate the death penalty as a punishment for any offenses committed on or after Aug. 1. The ban likely faces tough odds in the conservative Legislature, but its bipartisan coalition of sponsors with law-and-order credentials has sparked interest.

Bill sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican and former criminal prosecutor, said the death penalty has failed to deter criminal activity in Louisiana - but he said life imprisonment is a just punishment that equally protects society.

He also cites moral objections because of his Catholic faith.

"Life, both at the beginning and at the end, must be my primary consideration as a Catholic legislator. I take this moral impetus seriously," Claitor said in a statement.

The sponsor of an identical measure in the House also is a Catholic. Rep. Terry Landry, a New Iberia Democrat and retired superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said he once supported the death penalty, having "seen the worst of the worst" as a state trooper.

But Landry said taxpayers foot the bill for costly death penalty appeals, an expense that he said he can no longer justify. He said too many death sentences have been overturned around the country because of problems with the cases.

"I think it's a process past it's time. I think it's barbaric," Landry said Friday. "Life without parole, to me that's maybe worse than death."

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, hasn't taken a position on banning capital punishment.

31 states allow the death penalty. Louisiana's last execution was in January 2010. 73 men and 1 woman sentenced to death await execution in Louisiana, but the state's next planned lethal injection is on hold until at least 2018 pending a federal lawsuit challenging the method.

Even if that case wasn't stalling it, Louisiana has no drugs for an execution.

"A lot of the pharmaceutical companies are not selling the drugs that states are using to execute. They say that's not why they're producing the drugs," Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc told a House budget committee.

Republican Rep. Steve Pylant still supports capital punishment, even though he's co-sponsoring Landry's bill. But the retired Franklin Parish sheriff said it makes no sense for Louisiana to pay up to $10 million annually on public defense teams for death penalty cases involving people without the money to cover their own attorney costs.

"I think certain crimes should be punishable by death," Pylant said. "But the fact is we're not enforcing it. We spend millions of dollars on death penalty appeals, and we claim we can't get the medicines to do it."

He added: "Whether you're for capital punishment or not, it seems like at some point common sense ought to take hold."

Pylant doubts the death penalty ban can pass. But he said it could draw attention to the problem with the current system, where Louisiana has a penalty on the books it seems unable to enforce.

Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, encouraged the corrections department to look for alternatives to lethal injection for executions.

"If you've done something heinous enough to be judged by a jury of your peers that you deserve the death penalty for it, then I believe that death penalty is what you deserve," McFarland said in an interview. "There's no need to change it now."

(source: neworleanscitybusiness.com)

ARKANSAS----stay(s) of impending executions

Arkansas Supreme Court stays execution of Bruce Ward

The Arkansas Supreme Court today stayed the execution of Bruce Ward.

It did so without explanation, but his attorneys had requested a stay based on mental disability. They said under court precedent he was incompetent to be executed.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted Inmate Bruce Ward's request for a stay of his execution.

The state had objected to the request. Said a prepared statement from the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:

"Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the State Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction. The Court granted a stay of Ward's scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed."

Ward's attorney, Scott Braden, an assistant federal public defender, issued this statement:

"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the department of corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That is both unfair and unconstitutional.

"The United States Supreme Court requires that a death row prisoner be competent for execution, that is, have a rational understanding of the punishment he is about to suffer and the reason why he is to suffer it. (Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman). Mr. Ward's severe and life long schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: he has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it. In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly 3 decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness."

Ward, 61, was sentenced to die in Pulaski County in 1990. He's been described as having severe schizophrenia and having delusions. His lawsuit seeking to stop the execution quoted medical authorities as saying his prolonged incarceration in isolation had contributed to his condition.

Ward was convicted of the 1989 slaying of Rebecca Doss, 18, a convenience store clerk working on overnight shift. A passing police officer who could not see a clerk inside stopped to check the store and stopped Ward after seeing him walk away from restrooms.

His request for a stay was denied in circuit court and I reported this morning that the Supreme Court had rejected the record of the case and granted him an emergency review. Justice Rhonda Wood at that time wouldn't have granted a stay.

The state filed this objection.

The stay reduces the number facing execution between April 17 and 27 to 6, with only Don Davis facing execution on Monday.

The Supreme Court order was 1 sentence, saying an emergency stay was granted. It was unsigned by justices. There was no mention of any dissent the 7-member court.

(source: Arkansas Times)

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Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

Plans by Arkansas to execute a group of inmates before the end of the month ran into more problems Friday.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that stops the state from using a certain drug for lethal injections. The supplier of the drug argued it wasn't supposed to be used for capital punishment. It's unclear what effect the ruling will have on the state's plans to execute the men.

Arkansas originally wanted to execute 8 men between April 17 and April 27, before its supply of a lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April -- a plan that triggered outrage among capital punishment opponents.

Judges have already blocked 2 executions, though not because of the lethal injection issue. 1 of the executions was scheduled to happen Monday.

The Arkansas Attorney General's Office issued this statement late Friday: "As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case. Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible."

Griffen has scheduled a hearing on the issue for 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Drug companies go to court

McKesson Medical Surgical Inc. argued its vecuronium bromide was intended only for medical purposes, not executions, and that the Arkansas Department of Corrections "misled" McKesson when it purchased the drug, according to a court brief.

"ADC (the Arkansas Department of Correction) personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson," the brief said.

The company is asking the Department of Corrections to return 10 vials of the drug.

2 other drug companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, filed a brief in US District Court of Eastern Arkansas arguing contracts prohibit their products from being used in executions, which run "counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives."

"The only conclusion is that these medicines were acquired from an unauthorized seller in violation of important contractual terms that the manufacturers relied on when selling the medicines," thee two companies said in the brief. The judge has not ruled in this case.

"Lifelong schizophrenia"

2 of the 8 executions planned for this month have already been blocked.

A federal judge on April 6 blocked the execution of Jason McGehee. The state's parole board had earlier voted to recommend that McGehee's death sentence be commuted to life without parole, and the judge ruled McGehee's April 27 execution date would not have given the board enough time as required by law in which to notify the governor of its recommendation.

Earlier Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.

Attorneys argued that Ward, 60, should not be executed because he's mentally incompetent. He's been on death row since 1990 for strangling a woman in a convenience store bathroom, reported CNN affiliate KARK.

After the Supreme Court decision, Rutledge's office issued this statement: "Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the state Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction. The court granted a stay of Ward's scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed."

Ward's lawyers also issued a statement Friday.

"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the Department of Corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That is both unfair and unconstitutional.

"Mr. Ward's severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: He has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it. In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly three decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness."

Competency questions

A report by a Harvard Law School initiative suggests 5 of the men Arkansas plans to execute, including Ward, are not mentally fit for the death penalty.

According to the report, he told a forensic psychiatrist in 2010 that he hears voices, that he gets revelations directly from God and that he will "walk out of prison to great riches and public acclaim." He says he's been visited in prison by his deceased father and "resurrected dogs."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his controversial plan in March to execute 8 inmates over a 10-day period starting April 17.

Defense lawyers argued that midazolam -- the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given 2 more drugs that paralyze and kill them -- does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death. Ward was one of two inmates scheduled to die Monday. The other, Don William Davis, is still scheduled for execution on Monday.

(source: CNN)

************************************

Arkansas Judge Moves to Block Executions

A judge in Arkansas moved Friday to block the state from carrying out up to seven executions this month, deepening the turmoil that surrounds a planned pace of killing with no equal in the modern history of American capital punishment.

Judge Wendell Griffen of the Pulaski County Circuit Court issued a restraining order Friday that forbids the Arkansas authorities from using their supply of vecuronium bromide, 1 of 3 execution drugs the state planned to use. Hours earlier, the nation's largest pharmaceutical company went to court to argue that the state had purchased the drug using a false pretense.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning, about 14 hours after the state had intended to carry out its 1st execution since 2005. The Arkansas attorney general's office said the state would appeal the judge's ruling, which threatened to derail a plan that once called for 8 executions over the course of 10 days.

The restraining order surfaced during an afternoon and evening of legal chaos: The State Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for 1 death row prisoner, and a federal judge was also weighing a request to block the executions. Yet Judge Griffen's order appeared to have the widest immediate effect, and it was the 1st to focus on the misgivings of the pharmaceutical industry.

4 companies have publicly raised concerns about how the Arkansas Department of Correction came to stockpile the drugs for its lethal injection cocktail - midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - but only the McKesson Corporation, the drug distributor that ranks 5th on the Fortune 500 list of companies, made an explicit allegation of deception.

Arkansas, the company said, bought 10 boxes of vecuronium bromide, which the state can use to stop a prisoner's breathing.

But the state prison system "never disclosed its intended purpose to us for these products," a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter obtained by The New York Times. "To the contrary, it purchased the products on an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a legitimate medical purpose." The company confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which Mr. Posner sent on Thursday to 2 Arkansas officials. By Friday night, the company had persuaded Judge Griffen to intervene. Spokesmen for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, and the prison system did not respond to requests for comment about the dispute.

The state had scheduled two executions for Monday night. The state also planned to carry out double executions on April 20 and April 24, as well as one on April 27. (An 8th execution was stayed by a federal judge.) All of the condemned prisoners are challenging their executions.

Although the pharmaceutical industry has long expressed misgivings about how state prison officials can use its products, there is limited precedent for such a pronounced rupture between a state and drug companies.

On Thursday evening, 2 manufacturers, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corporation, asked Judge Baker to block the state from using any of their products in the executions. The companies said they had "learned of information suggesting that medicines they manufactured might be used in lethal injections in Arkansas."

Fresenius Kabi said it believed it was the maker of the potassium chloride in Arkansas's possession, while West-Ward said it appeared that it had produced the state's midazolam stock.

"The use of the medicines in lethal injections runs counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives, and carries with it not only a public-health risk, but also reputational, fiscal and legal risks," the companies wrote in a friend of the court brief.

The companies said the state seemed to have obtained its products despite efforts to keep the drugs from the country's execution chambers.

For its part, McKesson took legal action against Arkansas in connection with an episode that, Mr. Posner's letter suggested, has been the subject of quiet wrangling for about 9 months.

According to the company's lawyer, McKesson filled the state's order for vecuronium bromide in July. Less than 2 weeks later, McKesson and the drug's manufacturer, Pfizer, became concerned about the sale, and the state agreed to return the drugs in exchange for a refund, Mr. Posner wrote.

The company processed the refund and provided the state with a prepaid shipping label, according to the lawyer, but the state never returned its drug supply, insisting it be offered a substitute product.

Arkansas, Mr. Posner wrote, "never disclosed its intended purpose for these products, even though it knew full well that the manufacturer does not permit sales of vecuronium bromide to correctional facilities."

Days before the State of Arkansas is scheduled to execute 2 men -- the 1st of 7 in 10 days -- a lawyer for one of the nation's largest companies accused the state's prison system of deception when it bought 100 vials of vecuronium bromide, which can be used to stop a prisoner's breathing.

Mr. Posner noted that the state was a longtime McKesson customer, buying items like stethoscopes and surgical gloves, and that Arkansas's vecuronium bromide order had been shipped to the same administrative address as other orders.

Pfizer, which is among the drug companies that have moved to prevent its products from being used for lethal injections, said that the sale was "in direct violation of our policy" and that the company had twice asked Arkansas to return its products.

"In addition, we considered other means by which to secure the return of the product, up to and including legal action," the company said in a statement. "After careful consideration, we determined that it was highly unlikely that any of these means would secure the timely return of the product and thereby prevent this misuse."

McKesson had warned Arkansas officials that it would "take all appropriate action" if the state defied a Friday deadline to return its products, but it was unclear whether it or any of the other companies would succeed in the courts or elsewhere.

"In the context of executions, we have never seen a clawback," said Megan McCracken, who specializes in lethal injection litigation at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley.

Drug manufacturers and distributors, she noted, were plainly "acting in their own interests for their business interests, their investors and their public images."

But some people still welcomed McKesson's apparent resistance to Arkansas officials.

"McKesson is acting to prevent a grave misuse of lifesaving medical products, and to protect the systems and contracts the company established to stop the sale of drugs to death rows," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, an international human rights group that works with drug companies, said in a statement.

She added: "Arkansas has made concerted efforts to undermine the wishes and interests of responsible health care companies, violating the law and putting public health at risk. McKesson is right to fight back against these duplicitous and dangerous practices."

Fresenius Kabi said it had sent at least 3 letters to state officials since last July.

"Our records indicate no sales of potassium chloride - directly nor through any of our authorized distributors - to the Arkansas Department of Correction," the chief executive of the company's American subsidiary, John Ducker, said in a recent letter to Mr. Hutchinson. "So we can only conclude Arkansas acquired our products from an unauthorized seller."

The governor, a company spokesman said, never replied.

(source: New York Times)

**************************

Courts grant stays to remaining 7 men set to die in Arkansas executions

An Arkansas judge has blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug in its upcoming executions of 6 men who were to be included in the Republican governor's unprecedented aim of judicially killing 8 men in 11 days.

The order came just hours after state supreme court halted the execution of Bruce Ward, the 2nd to be granted to an individual among the initial 8 people scheduled to die.

On the executions of the 6 men, Pulaski County circuit judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order, after a company said the drug was not sold to be used for capital punishment, preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide. The executions had been scheduled to start Monday night.

McKesson, a medical supply company, has said the prison system bought the drug believing it would be used for medical purposes. The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was.

Earlier on Friday, Ward was spared imminent execution following the intervention of the state's top court. And earlier this month a federal district judge put on hold the execution of Jason McGehee after the parole board recommended clemency.

Ward had been scheduled to be the 1st of the men to die, at 7pm on Monday, as part of a double execution that would then have been repeated several times in the course of the ensuing 10 days. The other prisoners scheduled for execution are Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams, Jack Jones and Kenneth Williams.

Friday's separate court orders set up a potentially dramatic few days with legal action certain to continue in both state and federal courts. A final answer to whether or not the executions will take place this month may not be known until the US supreme court gets involved which could come as early as Monday.

The state supreme court gave no written explanation for its order on Friday, but justices may have been swayed by arguments that the crushed timeframe of the execution schedule set out by governor Asa Hutchinson was too rushed for a substantial question of law to be properly considered. Lawyers acting for Ward had challenged Arkansas' rule, unique among death penalty states, whereby the decision over whether or not a prisoner is mentally competent to die is left to the head of the department of corrections rather than to judges.

The stay for Ward, who was first reported to show mental illness as early as 1990 at his initial capital trial for murder, gives the prisoner and his defense attorneys extra time to present the courts with evidence that he has long-term mental illness. In 2006, he was evaluated by a court-recognized psychiatrist and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Several years ago he was diagnosed as schizophrenic by a court-recognized expert, and has been recorded to have a consistent pattern of paranoid delusions.

He has also been held in total isolation for the past 14 years, leaving his solid cell on death row only 2 or 3 times a year.

Joseph Perkovich, an attorney with the Phillips Black project who is a member of Ward's legal team, said the Arkansas supreme court has been presented with a very substantial federal constitutional question. The court "appears to be indicating its appreciation that full briefing and argument without the extreme pressure and time constraints of a looming execution on Easter Monday necessitated a stay of Mr Ward's scheduled execution".

The state has no recourse to appeal the stay to the US supreme court, and must now rely on the state supreme court to consider the case rapidly if there is any chance for the Ward execution to go ahead. Hutchinson has attempted to justify what has been described as conveyor-belt executions on grounds that the state’s batch of 1 of the 3 lethal injection drugs, midazolam, reaches its expiry date on 30 April.

Hutchinson says Arkansas still intends to execute 6 death row inmates between Monday and April 27, a pace exceeded only by Texas since the US supreme court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.

(source: The Guardian)

*****************************************************

Christians in Arkansas oppose scheduled executions

Christians from different sects in Arkansas have united to oppose the scheduled mass executions of inmates on death row.

Catholic Diocese of Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor appealed to Governor Asa Hutchinson to put an end on the scheduled killings, reported Catholic News Agency.

"Though guilty of heinous crimes, these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death," wrote the Catholic leader to Hutchinson.

In a statement made to THV 11, the office of the governor said he is "carrying out the sentencing of the jury and his responsibility as governor." The letter also indicated his willingness to meet with the Catholic leader again to discuss the death penalty as they had done numerous times in the past.

Meanwhile Mercy Baptist Church Pastor Terrance Long has called on his parishioners to pray for people in authority to make "the right decisions in these executions," reported THV 11.

The Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church also shared the reasons they oppose the executions in the church's recent meetings. Reverend Betsy Singleton Snyder put emphasis on human's life as God-given.

"We believe God is the giver and creator life," said the reverend in a series of sermons. "And even if it's a state or federal law, we don't believe we have the right to be complicit along with the state in murdering someone because God always is restoring and reconciling people," he also stated.

Jewish leader of the Congregation B'Nai Israel Barry Block expressed his fear that scheduling a mass execution in the span of 10 days would make the state look "blood thirsty."

"The death penalty, in the Jewish tradition, is not to be carried out in mass," the rabbi told THV 11. "The court that puts to death as many as one person every 70 years is a blood thirsty court, and I'm afraid that Arkansas would be blood thirsty if allowed 7 or 8 executions to go forward," he added.

It has been 12 years since the state executed a man on death row.

The executions for the inmates were originally set in October 2015 but it was pushed back following the passing of a law that would make it legal for the state not to disclose the source of the drug to be used in the executions.

In February, Hutchinson rescheduled the killings and defended his stance on the condensed schedule of the executions. The governor cited the expiration date for the drugs to be used as the reason the 8 men are to be placed under lethal injection in April, reported The New York Times.

(source: Ecumenical News)

*************************

Amid Arkansas death penalty debate, concern for the executioners----Arkansas is planning to execute 7 prisoners in 11 days starting Monday. This week, 23 former corrections officials pleaded with the governor to reconsider, warning that participating in executions can exact a 'severe toll on corrections officers' well-being.'

The killers have no names and no faces - at least officially.

Behind a curtain on Monday, barring a last-minute stay, 2 Arkansas corrections staffers will each plunge a cocktail of drugs through a tube, not knowing which of the 2 doses will be lethal. But at the end, death row inmate Bruce Ward will be dead. A team of trained volunteers will carry his body away and prepare it for burial. And then they will do it again, 6 more times over the next 10 days, an unprecedented schedule in modern US death penalty history.

To some, including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, carrying out the death penalty is a duty required by law and the jury judgment of fellow citizens. Critics say the process resembles the doings of a Wild West hanging judge, shrouded in secrecy. But the complex and grim task that faces a small "special operations force" inside the Cummins Unit in Gould, Ark., has also pulled part of the curtain away.

Courts are still hearing motions to block the executions - including from the makers of the drugs themselves. And a judge already has stayed the execution of an 8th prisoner. But one group urging a rethinking of the assembly-line nature of the schedule comes from within the corrections system itself: Those with firsthand knowledge of what it means to carry out an execution.

This week, 23 former corrections officials pleaded with Hutchinson to reconsider, warning that participating in executions can exact a "severe toll on corrections officers' well-being," and that rapid executions could "needlessly exacerbate the strain and stress placed on these officers."

That notion that execution team members may also be unintended victims, experts say, is one quiet reason behind the waning of the death penalty. Last year saw the US drop out of the Top 5 execution countries, a list topped by China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International's annual report.

But the task set before the special operations team in Gould is also testing the extent to which America's "good soldiers" - those who carry out capital punishment for the state - are also forgotten soldiers.

Given recent alarms from within the corrections system itself, concern for the well-being of executioners "is beginning to catch some traction," says Frank Thompson, former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary. In the mid-1990s, he oversaw 2 executions in a span of 18 months. Officials, he says, are realizing that "the public is asking us to create another class of victims in order to address the needs of people who have already been victimized. And there is no calculus that makes any sense of that."

Americans ambivalent about death penalty

The execution schedule comes at a crossroads for the death penalty in the US.

Lethal injection drugs have become increasingly hard to find - a key one expiring at the end of April is the reason for Arkansas' hurried schedule. As the debate goes on, 2 policy strands have emerged. One is to commute, as most of the country does, sentences to life without parole. The other is to use technology - as Oklahoma has in developing a new kind of gas chamber - in an effort to make death less dramatic.

Geographically, the actual mechanics have quieted in most parts of the country. Texas and Georgia carried out 80 % of the 20 executions that took place last year. The percentage of Americans that favor the death penalty has dropped by 7 points since March 2015, to the lowest level in more than 40 years.

But Americans remain ambivalent about doing away with capital punishment entirely. In November, voters in California and Oklahoma passed resolutions in favor of the keeping death penalty. In Nebraska, voters overturned a death penalty moratorium passed by the legislature.

Such gaps between theory and practice have made the mechanics of execution - including the human impacts - stand out in new ways.

Monday's execution would be the state's 1st in 12 years. Attorneys are arguing that the schedule may lead to violations of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, if there are mistakes by a stressed crew using a concoction tied to botched executions in recent years.

"Arkansas is really going from zero to 7 in 10 days - a complete and total turnaround change of pace," says Megan McCracken, the Eighth Amendment Resource Counsel with the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic. "This is going to be either a new team or a team that hasn’t performed an execution in a very long time. It's just a lot. It's a new protocol, new drugs - there's nothing known about the training, qualification, and competence of the execution team. That raises a lot of questions, including very humane concerns about the stress and pressure" on the execution team.

Protections for execution team

There are protections for execution team members. They are allowed to opt out without question, and some do. They are paid overtime and offered counseling.

In Arkansas, the governor's office has pushed back on the idea that the pace could harm the team.

"This is less stressful for the staff," J.R. Davis, the governor's spokesman, told NBC News. "They're setting it up for one night at a time. It's the same protocol that will be used. It's more efficient and less stressful and will lead to fewer mistakes."

Execution team members - the vast majority of whom live in the Bible Belt - often find solace in the Bible, including Matthew 22:22: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," meaning to uphold the law, experts say.

And like soldiers, they are trained to kill in specific circumstances on behalf of public safety. In that way, they "can more morally and ethically think about what they are doing more than a person who is caught up in the emotionalism of it all," says Mr. Thompson.

Also, "they don't want it said in the industry, among their peers, that, 'We don't think we can do this,'" says Thompson. "They're going to look at each other, stick their chest out, take a deep breath and say, 'Hell, yeah, we can do it, boss.' And let's remember that there are many good people who think society has no other choices. That's what makes this an issue that impacts everybody."

The way teams are structured also raises the question, "Is anyone really solely responsible for it?" says Dale Baich, a capital defense attorney in Arizona, who has witnessed 13 executions including the nearly 2-hour-long death of Joseph Woods in 2014. "You have the restraint team, and then you have the escort team, the IV team - the special operations team, the guys who push the plungers - and then you have someone giving them an order to do it. They really try to compartmentalize it, so that no one person feels the weight."

But those with personal execution experience question whether such attempts are effective in eliminating the emotional toll in what death certificates ultimately call "lethal homicide." Some 33 % of corrections workers endure some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, says Thompson, the former Oregon warden.

"The human tendency is to reach out to a fellow in dire straits with at least a drink of water," says Father Lawrence Hummer of St. Mary Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Ohio, who pastored double murderer Dennis McGuire before witnessing Mr. McGuire's botched execution in 2014. He called witnessing an execution "a brutal experience." "People that go through this will always have that hole in their lives that will make peace elusive. That's why, at its core, [the Arkansas death schedule] is about all the other human beings that are connected with it - the people administering the drugs, the guards, whatever chaplain support is there, the people who prepare the body, the people who drive the body away."

'Executions should not be scheduled within 7 calendar days'

Such concerns have historically stayed in the background of the death penalty debate. But Arkansas has changed that, given what happened 3 years ago in Oklahoma. Using the same sedative that is set to expire, the state failed to quickly kill Clayton Lockett, who woke up in the middle of the procedure. An internal investigation found that staff stress was high because 2 executions had been scheduled on the same day. The 2nd execution was quickly canceled.

The report ultimately found that "due to manpower and facility concerns, executions should not be scheduled within seven calendar days of each other."

That finding has put the Arkansas team in a tough bind.

(source: Christian Science Monitor)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

Annual Vigil Against The Death Penalty Gathers At S.D. Penitentiary

Every good Friday for over the past 20 years, a group of people have gathered in front of the South Dakota State Penitentiary to pray for the end of the death penalty.

The group is made up of people from several denominations and faiths to pray for inmates currently on death row. The group also extends prayers to all inmates currently incarcerated.

The group believes life in prison without parole sends a more powerful message of rehabilitation, rather than killing.

"We realize that horrible crimes have been committed but to kill these prisoners, the 3 that are on death row here, is actually doing the same thing they did. So, we are creating more victims, they have families too," said Denny Davis the Director for Alternatives to Death Penalty group.

The group also prays for the victim's families, shared messages of hope and offers those on hand to sign a declaration of life.

(source: KDLT news)

CANADA:

Canada should bring back death penalty

Every human living in and around Medicine Hat is an awesome person for making this a great city in which to reside and live. But I think it's about time we as humans start to talk about bringing back the death penalty.

There have been numerous murders involving children over the years. The accused seem to have more rights then the victims and their families, and yet the defence lawyers are trying now to delay, interrupt or slow down these trials. Victims’ loved ones have to be put through the wringer by bringing back some of these trials 2 to 3 times before the judge can make a proper decision.

We need a federal vote for the return of the death penalty in Canada. There were a couple of child murders in the last couple years in Calgary, involving very young children, along with 1 mother who was killed, and a youngster and his grandparents.

3 cheers for the inmates at the Calgary Remand Centre and Edmonton Remand Centre trying to make a male inmate realize what he did. He somehow has to pay for his crimes and he took 3 human lives including a young boy.

Let's do a vote sooner, not later, We need to protect society. It almost seems at times we are going backward when these crimes happen. All the rights seem to be on the suspect's side. The victims are long forgotten except by friends and family.

Bob Moss

Medicine Hat

(source: Letter to the Editor, Medicine Hat News)

IRAN:

Southern Azerbaijan: AHRAZ Publishes Report on Death Penalty in Azerbaijani Turkish-populated Cities in Iran (2015-2016)

The Association for the human rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ) published a report on the use of the death penalty in Azerbaijani Turkish-populated cities in Iran between October 2015 and October 2016. The death toll amounted to 588 citizens executed in the country, of whom 187 were hanged in the mostly Azerbaijani-populated provinces. Half of the executed were accused of drug trafficking, a quarter of adultery and the rest because of political and security reasons. AHRAZ listed a number of cases, specifying the charges.

Below is the report published by AHRAZ:

Report on the death penalty in Azerbaijan's cities in Iran (2015-2016)

From October 2015 to October 2016, totally 588 people were sentenced to death in Iran. Out of this number, 504 people were hanged and executed in this country. During this period, 187 people were hanged in the mostly Azerbaijani Turkish populated provinces such as West Azerbaijan (comprising 10% of the executed in this period), East Azerbaijan (8%), Ardabil (7%), Zanjan (4%), Qazvin (6%), and Hamadan (2%).

57% of the executed were accused of crimes related to drugs, 26% in relation to murder because of adultery, 7% related to political and security reasons, and 4 % other cases.

39% of the executions in this period were reported by the Iranian domestic and official media and 61% were reported by non-governmental and independent media and institutions.

From January-March 2017, 34 people were hanged in the Azerbaijani populated cities in Iran such as Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan, Qazvin, Maraghe and Maku, who were accused of the crimes related to drugs and murder. Some of the details related to these cases in this short period are mentioned below, as example:

A prisoner, called Rashid Javadi from Jolfa city was hanged in the Tabriz Central Prison on 7 January 2017 because of holding and carrying 106 grams of heroin.

Morteza Heydari from Malekan (East Azerbaijan Province) who was accused of positioning 3 kilos industrial drugs and 3.6 kilos of heroin was hanged in the Maraghe Prison in January 2017. At the time of reporting, 4 other prisoners are to be hanged soon in this prison. These people include: Iraj Ghafouri from Khoy City, accused of crimes in relation to drugs, Akbar Moradi from Maraghe City because of murder, Hoseyn Fatemi from Miandoab (Qoshachay) City as well as Ali Mostofi from Maraghe City.

On 18 January 2017, 3 prisoners accused of holding drugs as wells as a child accused of murder at the time of adolescence were executed in the Tabriz Central Prison. These prisoners included Parviz Solati, Qorban Lotfi, Ertekan Karimi, and Hasan Hasan Zadeh, 18 years old who committed murder at the time of 15 years old.

A handicapped prisoner, named Qabl Ali Babir who had missed his 2 legs as well as another prisoner called Sina Hoseyn Pour, both accused of holding drugs, were hanged in the Urmia Central Prison on 21 January 2017.

Hashem Qaraqozlu from Qorveh, accused of holding drugs, was hanged in the Hamadan Central Prison on 29 January 2017.

Taher Saeidi, accused of holding drugs, was hanged in Maku Prison on 01 February 2017.

Kuchak Naji, accused of crimes related to drugs, was hanged in the Urmia Central Prison, on 03 March 2017.

Morad Seyfi from Miandoab (Qoshachay) City, and Mr. Morad Payiz from Maraghe City both accused of crimes related to drugs, were hanged in Maraghe Prison on 05 March 2017.

Four prisoners, accused of crimes related to drugs, were hanged in the Urmia Central Prions on 14 March 2017. These included Changiz Baduzadeh, Akram Hoseyn Pour from Salmas City, Vahed Hamedi from Ardabil City and Kiomars Fridan (nicknamed Delavar) from Urmia City.

(source: unpo.org)

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Revolutionary Courts Responsible for Majority of Executions

The Revolutionary Courts were established in 1979 by the 1st Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. They were temporary courts designed to deal with the officials of the former regime. However, more than 37 years later they continue to operate. These courts are responsible for the vast majority of the death sentences issued and carried out over the last 37 years in Iran. The Revolutionary Courts are less transparent than the Public Courts (both criminal and civil) and Revolutionary Court judges are known for greater abuse of their legal powers than other judges. Revolutionary Court judges often deny access to legal representation during the investigation phase and prevent lawyers from accessing client files on the basis of confidentiality, or the fact that the lawyers have insufficient "qualifications" to review certain files. Trials lasting only a few minutes, no jury, no defence lawyers and death sentences based on no evidence other than confessions extracted under torture are the hallmarks of the Revolutionary Courts.

All cases regarded as security-related, such as cases involving political and civil activists, and others allegedly involved in corruption and drug-related charges, are processed by the Revolutionary Courts.

Revolutionary Courts are most well known for the summary executions of the political opposition in the 1980s. However, data collected by IHR shows that every year several hundred people are executed on the basis of death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts.

IHR reports since 2010 show that 3,210 of the 4,741 executions (68%) in the last 7 years were based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts.

At least 340 of the 530 executions in 2016 (64%) were based on death sentences issued by the Revolutionary Courts.

Revolutionary Courts also play a key role in the crackdown against human rights defenders and the abolitionist movement. In 2016 the Revolutionary Courts sentenced the human rights defenders Narges Mohammadi and Atena Daemi to 10 years and 7 years in prison respectively for their activities against the death penalty.

On the issue of the lack of due process, the spokesperson of IHR, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: "A sustainable reduction in use of the death penalty is impossible as long as there is no due process. Revolutionary Courts which sentence hundreds of people to death every year are among the key institutions responsible for Iran's violations of due process and must be shut down."

(source: iranhr.net)

GAZA:

Hamas claims it executed 3 Palestinians on suspicion of collaborating with Israel

The men were not directly accused of a connection with the March 24 assassination of senior military commander Mazen Fuqaha, which Hamas blames on Israel's global Mossad intelligence agency and local "collaborators".

The group also praised but did not take responsibility for the death on Thursday of an Israeli soldier, Sergeant Elchay Teharlev, 20, who was rammed by a vehicle near the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the occupied West Bank. The ministry said authorities hanged the convicts before a gathering of Palestinian dignitaries and Gaza "elites".

Palestinian members of Hamas security forces stand at a security checkpoint in Gaza City on April 5, 2017.

The 3, all residents of Gaza, had been sentenced to death by a Hamas court a few months ago, the officials added.

Israel's Ministry of Defense announced on Monday that it confiscated 30 wetsuits camouflaged as sportswear that were believed to be destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"The death penalty is a barbaric practice", it said.

Israel has long accused Human Rights Watch of being unfairly biased against it.

Human rights groups condemned the executions, with Amnesty International calling them an "outrage".

The Palestinian Authority ordered its workers to step down after the Hamas takeover in 2007.

The United Nations human rights office today strongly condemned the execution of 3 men in Gaza for "collaboration with the occupier" and urged authorities to halt all further executions and comply with Palestine's obligations under global law.

Hamas says that Faqha formed units of the Islamist group's military wing in the West Bank cities of Tubas, where he was born, and Jenin.

The group imposed strict restrictions on movement from Gaza after Faqha's killing and searches and security checks had gone up, AFP reported.

Hamas has offered "collaborators" with Israel a chance to turn themselves in and receive clemency.

Cogat, the Israeli defence body that co-ordinates access to Gaza, denied barring rights groups from visiting the enclave.

(source: normangeestar.net)

BANGLADESH:

Cabinet okays death penalty for barring flight operation

The Cabinet, on Monday February 13, gave final approval to the drafts Civil Aviation Act-2017 with provision of death penalty or life-term imprisonment and maximum penalty of Taka 5 crore on charge of any willful obstruction in the flight operation.

The approval was given in the weekly meeting of the cabinet held at #Bangladesh Secretariat with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, cabinet secretary M Shafiul Alam said the new law has been framed updating 'the Civil Aviation Ordinance, 1960' according to the guideline of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The new law proposed more stringent punishment for offences of violation of the law relating to civil aviation, he said adding that the cabinet didn't give any retrospective effect of the proposed law.

The Civil Aviation Act-2017 has proposed 5 years imprisonment and minimum fine of Taka 1 crore or both for violation of the Air Navigation Order (ANO). In case of forgery of certificate or license, the law proposed for same punishment.

For any interference in the air navigation like obstructing or damaging the lighting or signaling system or intervention in the flight operation, the law proposed life-term imprisonment or fine of Taka five crore or both.

The law also suggested maximum 7 years jail and fine of Taka 50 lakh for carrying dangerous goods or substances in the flight. For violation of the air space of #Bangladesh one would get maximum 7 years and minimum 3 years imprisonment or maximum penalty of 50 lakh, the draft proposed.

(source: menafn.com)

NIGERIA:

A system that cannot guarantee justice should not take lives, says Amnesty International

Amnesty International, a human rights group, has called for the total abolition of death penalty in any form.

In the group's global report on death sentences and executions in 2016, the body faulted the efficacy of Nigeria's judicial system, saying a system that cannot guarantee justice should not take a life.

According to the report, Nigeria handed down 527 death sentences, ranking 2nd in the world after China.

The report also showed that as of 2016, in sub-saharan Africa, Somalia had the highest number of executions, followed by Nigeria.

While stating its disapproval of the recent laws recommending death penalty for kidnappers in Lagos, Kano and Bauchi states, it argued that the law had not minimised the act, citing more kidnap cases being recorded.

"The danger of people being executed for crimes they may not have committed remains ever-present. Investigations show many death row inmates live in constant fear of execution in some Nigerian prisons," Isa Sanusi, the group's media manager, said.

It therefore called on the public to join it in its advocacy for the total abolishment of death penalty, globally.

"Amnesty international is calling on the Nigerian government to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

"For years, the federal government has claimed to have a voluntary or self-imposed moratorium, but executions have happened nonetheless, including those in December 2016. This demonstrates the urgency of formally establishing a moratorium."

Speaking at the event, Collins Okeke, a member of a group known as Nigerian anti-death penalty coalition, said though the body had not been able to convince law firms in the country to abolish death penalty, they have got them to admit that death penalty is inhumane and degrading.

"Death penalty is a lazy way to punish crime, what is needed is to put in place a strong criminal justice system," Okeke said.

"There are a lot of inefficiencies in our judicial system. We have a police system that is unequipped, a court system clothed with cases and judges who are overworked."

Okeke alleged that there was lack of openness in the judicial system, adding that "if you do not fix the system, you cannot kill anybody under that system".

On his part, Malachy Ugwummadu of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), said there is no empirical record showing a corresponding decrease in crime rates with the implementation of death penalty.

Ugwummadu said from the standpoint of life itself as a fundamental human right, if you cannot give it, you should not take it.

"A very important argument against capital punishment is that if a state, throug prosecution, has shown resentment as to the behaviour of its citizens, enough to attract death penalty, to what extent can the same state be justified for condescending to the same level of brutal murder of the said people, in trying to correct that societal practise?" Ugwummadu asked.

"If somebody has been accused of an offense which in the wisdom of the legislature of that community, attracts death penalty, a state that hopes to rise above that behaviour, must conceive and device ways other than committing the same offense in trying to correct that particular pattern of behaviour."

He quoted Mahatma Ghandi, saying, "an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."

In place of death sentences, the group proposed a life term period of community service for convicted persons, saying Nigerian prisons were not just over populated but underutilised.

Ugwummadu also suggested compensation for the families or victims of crime.

"We are not against justice or punishment for criminals. We actually want criminals to be punished. What we are saying is that killing is not a solution to the crime of killing."

(source: thecable.ng)

GLOBAL:

China, Iran still top in death penalty

The People's Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Iran top the charts for executions according to a newly released report by Amnesty International. Iran accounted for 55 % of all recorded death sentences according to Amnesty. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Pakistan are tragically part of this gruesome tally as compiled by the international watchdog group.

Though Iran's 567 executions represented the world's 2nd highest tally, the number fell from 977 judicially sanctioned executions in 2015. While about 1/2 of the executions are connected to drug-related and other criminal offenses, others are likely carried out for political and religious crimes.

In a separate report on Iran Amnesty advised that "the authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious belief, arresting and imprisoning peaceful critics and others after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common and widespread."

According to Amnesty International, 18,848 people worldwide are under death sentences and 3,117 were executed in 2016.

"Transparency is an essential safeguard of due Process," said Amnesty representative Renzo Pomi. In Iran, it's not possible to confirm the exact number of executions. For example, 2 people were killed for "insulting the Prophet" in violation of their right to freedom of religion.

The People's Republic of China presents another case shrouded in fog. While Amnesty International cites China as the world's leading global executioner with numbers in the thousands, the "figures on the use of the death penalty in China remain classified as state secrets." While Amnesty admits the use of the death penalty has decreased in China in recent years, there are still 46 categories of crime punishable by death.

"The Chinese authorities also continued to resort to the death penalty as a tool to send political messages," the report stated, adding though that the government is using the death sentence less for "economic crimes."

Vietnam ranks on "a scale higher than previously thought," according to the survey. Again, such information is shrouded as state secrets. During 2016, Vietnam imposed 63 new death sentences, though the number is likely larger.

Nonetheless, Amnesty has discovered an alarming trend where a recently published report by Vietnam' s Ministry of Public Security states that 429 prisoners were executed between August 2013 and June 2016 at a rate of 147 executions a year. Such figures would put Vietnam in a league with Pakistan when it comes to state sanctioned executions.

Speaking at a press conference, Argentine Ambassador Martin Garcia Moritan stated his country was "firmly committed against the death penalty," and moreover called for a "worldwide moratorium" against such actions by governments.

According to Amnesty's Renzo Pomi "today