and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

FEBRUARY 13, 2016:

TEXAS----impending execution

Plano man set for execution

A Plano man is set to be executed Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his latest - and likely final - appeal.

In December 1990, then-19-year-old Gustavo Garcia shot and killed store clerk Craig Turski, according to police. He confessed to the crime after being arrested in connection to the murder of another store clerk the following month.

Police found Garcia hiding inside a store cooler after his friend, Christopher Vargas, 15, shot and killed Gregory Marin, 18. Garcia was charged in that case but never tried.

Garcia's attorneys have long contended that his written confession should have been thrown out because it did not include language that he had "knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily" waived his right to remain silent.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his conviction in 1994, only to reinstate it during a follow-up hearing.

In 1998, Garcia joined 6 other inmates in a daring prison escape attempt. Garcia surrendered before making it off prison grounds.

Garcia was given a new sentencing hearing in 2000 after a chief psychologist with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice testified that being Hispanic made him a threat.

Garcia received another death sentence in 2001.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Garcia's latest appeal. It then refused to revisit that decision Wednesday.

Garcia will be the 3rd Texan executed this year, and the 1st one from Collin County since 2010. He will be just the 7th Collin County man executed since Texas resumed the death penalty in 1982, according to officials.


GEORGIA----impending execution

GA Pardons and Parole Board to hear clemency request of death row inmate

The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board will consider a clemency request for a death row inmate slated to die on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

Former Navy crewman Travis Hittson, 45, was convicted of killing fellow sailor Conway Utterbeck back in 1993.

Hittson's attorneys have argued in the past that their client was emotionally and physically mistreated as a child, had limited intelligence, and severe alcohol problems.

They also say Hittson was only following the directions of another sailor also convicted in the killing - Edward Vollmer. They say Vollmer masterminded the killing and manipulated Hittson.

Additionally, they argue Hittson should not be put to death since Vollmer, who is serving a life sentence, has the possibility of one day being released on parole.

If clemency is not granted, Hittson will be put to death by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the State Prison in Jackson.

(source: WTVM news)


When it comes to Florida's death penalty, it's a dog's life

You might get the idea that Florida's lawmakers are real sticklers when it comes to sanctioning executions.

But only if you consider dogs, and not people.

This month, both houses of the state legislature demonstrated unanimous concern for a black Labrador retriever named Padi that had been condemned to death for biting off part of a 4-year-old boy's ear last summer.

The boy encountered Padi in a veterinarian's office in Bradenton. Accounts differ as to what led the dog to bite the boy. Was he playing with the dog or tormenting it? The bite itself occurred out of sight when the boy followed the dog under a desk.

A movement to keep Padi from being euthanized grew, and it was picked up by Rep. Greg Steube, who introduced what became known as "Padi's bill" to his colleagues.

The legislation restricted dogs from being labeled "dangerous" if their attacks came as a result of being tormented, assaulted or abused. And it gave dog owners more legal rights to keep their pets from being euthanized by the government.

As for the 390 people facing state-sponsored euthanization in Florida, their issues aren't being handled with the same sort of alacrity that was exhibited for Padi.

And Florida's people-euthanization law is as seriously flawed as its animal-euthanization law had been.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court, on an 8-1 vote, ruled that Florida has been operating with a death row sentencing procedure that is unconstitutional because it allows a judge, rather than a jury, to decide whether a person is condemned to die.

During the sentencing phase in murder cases where the death penalty is sought, 12-member juries weigh mitigating and aggravating factors in the crime, then deliberate to give a life-or-death recommendation to the judge.

Unlike the verdict of guilt or innocence, the jury recommendations on death are not required to be unanimous in Florida. The judge can ignore the jury recommendation and give weight to evidence not presented at the trial when deciding whether the defendant will be executed.

As a result of this system, 279 of the 390 inmates on Florida's death row have been condemned to death with less than unanimous jury recommendations that they be executed.

In the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, Timothy Hurst, 19, was convicted in the 1998 killing of the store manager of a Popeye's chicken restaurant in Pensacola where they both worked.

The jurors weighed aggravating circumstances - that the murder to facilitate a robbery was done with a box cutter, making it especially heinous and cruel - along with mitigating circumstances, that Hurst had an IQ of 69, the result of being poisoned in the womb with the daily alcohol consumed by his 15-year-old mother.

The jury verdict was 7 for death, 5 for life in prison. The trial judge then held a separate hearing, using his own reasoning to sentence Hurst to death.

"The Sixth Amendment protects a defendant's right to an impartial jury," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority of the court. "The right required Florida to base Timothy Hurst's death sentence on a jury's verdict, not a judge's fact-finding."

The ruling has put Florida's death row executions on hold until the state legislature fixes the sentencing law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling didn't address whether it was constitutional to execute people on less than unanimous jury verdicts.

Out of 32 death penalty states, Florida is 1 of 3 that doesn't require a unanimous jury recommendation for death.

A poll commissioned by the Florida International University College of Law found that 73 % of Floridians support requiring juries to make unanimous decisions when condemning a person to die. The poll found support for this position among different political parties, genders, regions, races, ages, and religions.

The Florida Senate agreed: To kill a person, the jury recommendation for death should be unanimous.

But the Florida House is balking, the same Florida House that unanimously rushed to spare the Labrador retriever from an unfair euthanization process doesn't want to spare some death row inmates from euthanization just because a few people on their juries who weighed all the evidence in their cases think they ought to live.

As long as 9 of the 12 jurors vote for death, that's close enough to kill, the Florida House consensus has been, creating a rift that has stalled the legislation.

So when it comes to diligence in fixing Florida's capital punishment laws, you're better off being a 4-legged perp than a 2-legged one.

(source: Column, Frank Cerabino; Palm Beach Post)


No DNA linking John Clayton Owens to slaying of elderly neighbor, jurors hear

No DNA links John Clayton Owens to the August 2011 murder of his 91-year-old neighbor, jurors learned Friday afternoon.

Details of the autopsy of Doris Richardson and testimony from a DNA analyst took up the majority of the afternoon Friday, the 2nd full day of testimony in Owens' capital murder trial. He faces the death penalty in the death of Richardson, who was found slain in her home at 2206 Bide-A-Wee Drive on Aug. 26, 2011.

Dr. Valerie Green, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences pathologist who performed Richardson's autopsy 3 days after her death, testified that the elderly woman died of manual strangulation.

She said there were obvious signs of trauma on Richardson, who stood just 4 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed about 105 pounds. The first thing the doctor noticed was bruising and abrasions on the victim's neck.

The marks could be consistent with blunt force trauma, Green said, but alongside all of the other autopsy findings, the wounds were more consistent with Richardson's throat being squeezed.

She also had bruising on her arms and legs, as well as bruises inside her mouth, on the inside of her lips where they align with her gum line. Those wounds were consistent with pressure being placed over Richardson's mouth. Though she did not have her top dentures in, her bottom set were in her mouth.

The extensive bruising on her arms was consistent with defensive wounds, Green said.

When Green opened up Richardson's neck, she found that the woman's hyoid bone, the U-shaped bone that supports a person's tongue, was fractured. A 2nd bone behind the Adam's apple was broken and there was bleeding in her neck muscles.

Richardson also had petechial hemorrhaging in her eyes, another common sign of strangulation.

Green said she could not say how long it took Richardson to die.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Ron Smith asked Green if medications Richardson was taking for various medical conditions, such as blood thinners, could cause her to bleed easily. He questioned whether the pathologist would expect to see soft tissue bleeding in a woman in her 90s.

Green said she would not anticipate it unless something occurred to cause the bleeding.

Smith asked whether Green could say with certainty that all of the injuries she found were caused the night Richardson died. She said she could not.

He also asked whether she could say with certainty that all of the injuries were caused by strangulation.

"I can say that the injuries of the neck were caused by the manual strangulation," Green said.

Owens, 32, is accused of killing 91-year-old Doris Richardson, who was found slain in her bed on Aug. 26, 2011. He faces the death penalty in Richardson's death.

Prior to Green's testimony, the 1st witness after the lunch break Friday was Lillie Harper, forensic biology section chief for the DFS' Huntsville lab. Harper's testimony dealt with DNA testing on items found at the crime scene.

Prosecutor Tim Gann had Harper explain the different methods of finding DNA from semen, saliva and skin cells. He focused mainly on what is called "touch DNA," which involves what is left behind when a person touches a surface.

Harper testified that the presence of touch DNA on a surface depends on a wide variety of factors, including the surface type and the length of time a person touches that surface.

She added that a surface could have DNA on it, but if crime scene investigators do not collect enough skin cells or body fluid in a sample, the DNA might not be found.

"There are a lot of variables there as to whether we would detect it or not," Harper said.

Harper testified that in the Owens case, she analyzed Doris Richardson's nightgown, a rape kit taken from Richardson's body at the morgue and DNA reference samples from Richardson, Owens and Owens' friend, Jimmy Justice. Justice was a potential suspect in the case because he had 2 stolen guns from Richardson's house in his possession.

There were no signs of semen in the rape kit, and Richardson had no foreign DNA under her fingernails, Harper said. The victim's nightgown, dentures and bedding also were negative for semen.

Harper said Richardson's own blood was found on the nightgown and dentures.

Later in the investigation, in 2013, Harper received Richardson's dentures for further testing, along with the handle and dial of the safe from her house, a flashlight found on her kitchen table, a barbecue fork used to pry her back door open and a reference DNA sample from Owens' uncle, Thomas Owens.

The defense has pointed the finger at Thomas Owens as Richardson's real killer.

Harper said that in the second round of testing, she found no DNA on either the safe handle or dial. She was able to obtain a limited profile on the flashlight that did not match Richardson or either Owens.

Harper said the results didn't mean that the people named had never touched the items.

"You can just say that what was detected...." Gann asked.

"Could not have come from them," Harper finished for him.

She also said DNA testing cannot determine with certainty who the last person to touch an item was.

On the barbecue fork, she could not include or exclude Richardson as the source of DNA she found. She was able to exclude both John and Thomas Owens as the source.

Again, Harper said the DNA results did not mean that the people tested had never touched the fork.

Under cross-examination by Smith, Harper testified about the testing done on hairs found at the scene of the crime. Hair found on Richardson's nightgown did not produce a DNA profile.

Harper explained that the root of the hair must be intact to find nuclear DNA. Hair without a root can be tested for mitochondrial DNA, but the Huntsville forensics lab does not perform mitochondrial DNA.

Smith asked if a manual strangulation would leave DNA from the killer on a person's neck. Harper said it is possible, depending on the circumstances.

Jurors learned during testimony on Thursday that Richardson's neck was not swabbed for DNA or analyzed for fingerprints.

Smith brought up feces found in a toilet at Richardson's house, which a crime scene technician previously testified had not been processed for DNA. The attorney asked Harper if the stool could contain DNA material.

"Yes. When you think that this is passing through a person's body, coming into contact with biological material in the body as well as the body itself, there could be some cells," Harper said.

She said skin cells could also be found on used bath tissue, which was also found in the toilet after Richardson's death. No tests were conducted on the tissue, either.

Officer Jeff Kreiter, one of the Huntsville police officers who took Owens into custody at Big Spring Park the day of his arrest, testified briefly Friday. Kreiter told jurors that he and a colleague walked up behind Owens, who had been designated a "person of interest" in the case, called out his name and, when Owens responded, placed him under arrest without incident.

The only thing Owens said at the time, Kreiter said, was, "How did you find me?"

The final testimony of the day came from Charlie Gray, the lead investigator on the case. Gray went over much of the same ground that jurors heard from previous witnesses, describing the start of the investigation on Bide-A-Wee Drive.

Gray talked about canvassing several of Richardson's neighbors, who said they had noticed that her bedroom light remained on overnight the night of Aug. 25. The neighbors also noticed that her newspaper - which she picked up from her lawn religiously by 6 a.m. each day - remained in the grass all day on Aug. 26.

When he first went to Owens' home at 2204 Bide-A-Wee Drive, there was no answer and no one appeared to be home. He said he first talked to Thomas Owens the following day, when the older Owens reported finding some of Richardson's stolen property in and outside his home.

Though Thomas Owens testified Thursday that he and a cousin found some of the items hidden between the bed and the wall in his nephew's bedroom, Gray testified that Owens initially said he'd found the items on John Owens' bed.

Gray said that once he had placed the coins, jewelry and empty jewelry boxes into evidence, he showed them to Richardson's daughter, Carolyn Bentley. She was able to identify the items as her mother's and tell him where each item had been kept in her mother's ransacked house.

When Gray initially questioned John Owens, the suspect claimed he had last been in her house several weeks before the murder to fix her broken hot water heater. He also cut her grass on occasion and did other odd jobs for her.

Owens' story changed when he learned that police had searched his bedroom and found the items he'd stolen from Richardson. Then, Gray said, Owens admitted stealing the items, but said he'd done so a week before the homicide.

He denied killing her.

Circuit Judge Alison Austin ended the day shortly after 5 p.m. Testimony will resume with Gray on the stand on Tuesday, following the Presidents Day holiday.



Man sentenced to death again

Jessie Livell Phillips, the Albertville man convicted in 2012 for the death of his estranged wife and unborn child was re-sentenced to death today. Phillips shot his estranged wife, Erica Phillips, during an altercation at a Guntersville carwash on Feb. 27, 2009. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012, but a recent Supreme Court case brought into question the constitutionality of Alabama's capital punishment system causing Judge Tim Riley to reconsider the conviction.

"The judge re-imposed the death penalty today," District Attorney Steve Marshall said. "Part of the question the judge was dealing with was regarding a recent Supreme Court case that brought into question Alabama's system. "The same Supreme Court case shut down Florida's system, and Alabama's is similar. That was the question today. He decided to not rule ours unconstitutional."

(source: Sand Mountain Reporter)


True Opelika crime story ---- How a murderer on the run was brought to justice

A missing woman, a concerned family and skeletal remains, all tangled in a web of crime, lies and intrigue. While that sounds like a plot straight off the silver screen - it was a well-documented Lee and Macon County crime of 1914. The 28 newspaper articles capturing the details provided the sources for this story.

Photographs of Pomp Dickerson showed he was a handsome man, the son of Squire and Emma Dickerson. According to the 1920 U. S. Census, this family's race was listed as Mulatto. Contacts with descendants revealed Emma was Native-American while Squire was African-American.

As an adult, Pomp worked for the railroad in Philadelphia, Penn. He met and married Bessie. The couple came to Alabama to visit the Dickerson family in the little Texas community of Macon County near the southwest Lee County line.

After a time, Pomp returned alone to Philadelphia, telling his family that Bessie had returned earlier. Bessie was never seen alive again.

After a time, Bessie's family became concerned about her disappearance and contacted Alabama authorities. Today it would be called a missing person report. Griffin Butler was Lee County Sheriff when the investigation started. John Moon was Sheriff when it ended.

This was a time when public resources were scarce. Education for law enforcement did not exist. Officials just did the best they could in conducting criminal investigations.

As the investigation continued, witnesses revealed they saw the couple walking near the family home; Pomp was carrying a gun. A gunshot was heard. The skeletal remains of a female were soon found. Clothing matching the description of Mrs. Dickerson's was found with the remains.

Pomp was arrested in Philadelphia and extradited to Lee County. Deputy Sheriff W. A. "Tobe" Betts brought the suspect back to Opelika.

The Opelika Daily News of Dec. 2, 1914 documented Pomp's trial, which reportedly attracted the largest crowd ever seen here. The jury was charged at 11:30 a.m. and returned a verdict of guilty at 2 p.m. Death on the gallows was the sentence. Judge Duke set the execution date for Jan. 29, 1915.

On Dec. 3, a follow-up article provided more details of the trial. A letter written by Dickerson, while in jail, to a friend in Philadelphia was intercepted by authorities. Dickerson requested his friend write a letter to the sheriff saying she was alive and to sign it "Bessie Dickerson." "The defendant never lost his composure," even though the state dumped Bessie's bones out of a sack before the court. Case closed? No. There was much more to come.

The Jan. 29 execution date was suspended because this case was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, but that court upheld the lower court's decision. Dickerson's execution was rescheduled for June 25, 1915.

On May 18, Pomp claimed that his father, Squire Dickerson, fired the shot that killed Bessie. Squire Dickerson was arrested and jailed. A subsequent hearing found no basis for Pomp's claim and Squire was released.

With only 4 more days to live, Pomp Dickerson escaped from the Lee County Jail. He had carved a wooden key with his pocket knife from a slat of a straight chair and opened the cell door with it.

Promptly, a wanted notice with a reward of $200 from Governor Henderson and a $200 reward from Sheriff Moon for the arrest of Pomp Dickerson was posted.

To satisfy doubters of the wooden key story, a 2nd wooden key was quickly carved by a second person. The cell door was opened with this key, before witnesses.

Pomp was recaptured within a few days in a corn crib 5 miles from town toward Gold Hill. He was armed and shots were fired. Dickerson was hit in the arm but taken into custody. Mitchell Merchant, who was married to Dickerson's cousin, was arrested for harboring the fugitive.

Dickerson was returned to the county jail, put in a cell on the 2nd floor, shackled and chained to the wall with a guard outside the door. Dickerson, suffering from the gunshot wound, was treated.

July 26, 1915, Judge Duke re-sentenced Pomp Dickerson "to be hanged by the neck until you are dead on August 27, 1915 - and God be your helper." Pomp was ordered taken to Montgomery since the Lee County Jail was "unsafe for the confinement of a prisoner under the sentence of death."

Dickerson's conviction was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court.

In early August, Pomp was again in the news as prison authorities reported a suicide attempt. The local paper reprinted an article from the Montgomery Advertiser claiming that Pomp's mother brought him a basket of poisoned food. The jailer put out the word if Pomp died from the poison his mother would be sentenced to death. After that confrontation the mother grabbed the basket and "rushed for the door." The food was listed as fried chicken, a cake, pies and biscuit.

At some point before the date of execution, Pomp Dickerson was returned to Opelika where he was to be hung. He also confessed to the murder for the 1st time, before a number of people including Dr. and Mrs. J. W. Darden, Rev. W. T. Paulk, pastor of the A. M. E. Zion Church, Deputy Tobe Betts and Deputy Percy Griffin, and asked that the written confession be given to the local paper.

The lengthy confession was printed in the Daily News. It described an unhappy and troubled marriage. As to the murder, he said, "At that time a quick passion went all over me and before I could think, I shot her for she kept me in trouble and worried me all of the time. She had me almost crazy half of the time ... ." The date of the murder was given as July 22, 1914.

An Aug. 27, 1915, headline read: "Pomp executed for murder at 11:15 today." After Deputy Betts adjusted the noose, Dickerson was asked if he had anything to say. He made a lengthy reply which included, "I want to let you all who have gathered here to see me and all the world to know I am receiving my just reward. I am paying, with my life, the just penalty for the crime I committed. I have made peace with my maker and I am going to my death without the least of fear..."

15 minutes after the trap was sprung, Dickerson was pronounced dead. His remains were released to the parents and interment took place in the Little Texas community in Macon County.

Was that the end? Not entirely. In 2003, one of Pomp's sisters was still living. She was 105-years-old. A gentleman had contacted her concerning "lynchings" in the south. He was referred to Edna Ward who provided him copies of the Dickerson newspaper articles and assured him that Dickerson was legally executed following a jury trial which was reviewed and upheld by higher courts.

Although over 100 years have passed since this murder, we offer it as excellent example of law enforcement at a time when resources and education for law enforcement were limited.

(source: Edna Ward, Opelika Observer)


Wrongfully convicted man now taking up death penalty

After spending 16 years in a prison cell for a crime he did not commit, Floyd Bledsoe is making it his personal mission to abolish the death penalty.

In 2000, Bledsoe stood trial in the shooting death of his 14-year-old sister-in-law Camille Arfmann. A jury found him guilty of murder.

"It is the most sickening feeling that I have ever felt in my life, you know, I mean, because your heart drops," said Bledsoe.

He was sentenced to life. Just last October, new DNA evidence pointed to his brother, Tom Bledsoe, as the real killer. In November, his brother killed himself, but not before confessing in a suicide letter.

Floyd Bledsoe stepped into the world a free man in December and is now taking on the death penalty.

"Death is one thing that you cannot appeal and say, 'Oops, we're bad, you know, we're sorry,' you know it's over," said Floyd Bledsoe.

Not everyone agrees with his push to end capital punishment, including Johnson County Prosecutor Steve Howe.

"There are certain crimes, a very limited number of murders that are so heinous and atrocious that the death penalty warrants those actions," said Howe.

Howe says Kansas has one of the most restrictive criteria for the death penalty. In 8 years in Johnson County, Howe has only sought the death penalty once, for Frazier Glenn Cross. Howe calls it a moral issue and a judgment call for prosecutors seeking death.

"We do not want to convict a person and seek a death sentence unless we are absolutely sure, convinced that we have the right guy," said Howe.

Still, it leaves little comfort to Floyd Bledsoe. "It's better to protect 1 innocent person then to condemn 1 innocent person with a hundred people," he said.

A GoFundMe page has been started for Floyd Bledsoe to help with cost adjusting to life outside of prison walls.

(source: KSHB news)


Massachusetts donations boosted death penalty opponents' 2015 funds

A Massachusetts group that opposes capital punishment has made another large contribution to an effort to sustain the repeal of Nebraska's death penalty.

The Proteus Action League of Amherst, Massachusetts, gave $198,495 in October to Nebraskans for Public Safety, upping its total contribution to the anti-death penalty group to $598,495, according to year-end campaign finance reports released recently.

Nebraskans for Public Safety formed just after the Legislature, over a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, repealed the death penalty in the state.

That sparked a petition drive financed by Ricketts and others that was successful in suspending the repeal until Nebraska voters could decide the issue at the polls in November.

Year-end reports by Nebraskans for Public Safety indicated that it had raised $750,190 during 2015, and had about $13,000 of cash on hand.

By comparison, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the pro-capital punishment group that ran the successful petition drive, raised $940,133 during 2015. It reported having $9,991 of cash on hand, and $54,369 in unpaid legal and consultant bills at year's end.

Dan Parsons, a spokesman for Nebraskans for Public Safety, said the group has entered "phase 2" of its campaign to retain the repeal of the death penalty, which is to mobilize voters to defeat the referendum.

He made no apologies for the large donations from a group outside of the state and said that recently, more contributions have been received from Nebraskans.

"Obviously, this is an issue that's not only important to Nebraska but the whole country," Parsons said. "Both sides will continue to get interest from outside of this state. We're not going to shy away from that."

The Proteus Action League has said the primary source for its contributions in Nebraska is billionaire businessman Chuck Feeney, an Irish-American who has pledged to give away his $7.5 billion fortune to promote education, human rights and health care causes.

Feeney founded the Atlantic Philanthropies, one of the largest private foundations in the world.

From Sept. 22 to the end of 2015, Nebraskans for Public Safety reported raising $288,611. That compares to $36,701 raised by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

The largest new donation for the pro-death penalty group came from a Denver organization called Citizens for a Sound Government. That same group ran attack ads against then-Attorney General Jon Bruning, who was an unsuccessful challenger to Ricketts for the 2014 GOP nomination for governor.

Ricketts was one of the prime financiers of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty's drive during 2015, contributing $200,000. Ricketts' father, Joe, who started the family company TD Ameritrade, gave $100,000.

The pro-death penalty group collected more than 143,000 valid signatures from Nebraska voters in just over 2 months to force the referendum and the suspension of the death-penalty repeal. Their spending translated into about $6.30 per signature.


Prison director says officials are mystified as Nikko Jenkins finds another way to hurt himself

The latest acts of self-harm come as Nikko Jenkins awaits a hearing to determine whether he is competent to face a death-penalty hearing over his August 2013 killings of Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Juan Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger.

Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins used a prison guard's badge to slice his penis.

Then, 2 days after that Jan. 26 mutilation, Jenkins attempted a more severe form of self-harm: He slid his waist chain up his torso, hooked it to a fence in the prison yard and lowered his body "in an attempt to hang himself from the fence," a prison report says.

It didn't work. A correctional officer spotted Jenkins and radioed for help. Officers unhooked Jenkins from the fence, secured him to a gurney and escorted him to the prison's medical unit.

The latest acts of self-harm come as Jenkins awaits a hearing to determine whether he is competent to face a death-penalty hearing over his August 2013 killings of Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Juan Uribe-Pena, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger. Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes said prison officials have been mystified as to how Jenkins keeps getting weapons of self-destruction. Jenkins, 29, says he is housed in solitary confinement in a barren cell, with only 2 blankets, at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

Prison reports indicate that Jenkins has used the following to slice his penis: a broken floor tile, a piece of a radio, his eyeglasses, a screw from a shower.

And, now, a guard's badge.

According to a prison report concerning that incident:

In mid-January, a corporal left his jacket on a chair in front of Jenkins' cell. Jenkins said the corporal also left the hatch to Jenkins' cell open.

Jenkins reached through the hatch and "stole the badge from his coat," Jenkins wrote.

A week later, at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 26, a lieutenant peered into Jenkins' cell and spotted Jenkins using the spike on the back of the badge to slice his penis.

"I witnessed inmate Jenkins cut his penis with Corporal Eckery's badge," the lieutenant wrote. "Inmate Jenkins slid the badge under the door after he was given several directives."

Jenkins wrote that it took 11 stitches to close that cut - which, as with the others, he said he did in homage to a serpent god.

All told, Jenkins has received more than 75 stitches to close cuts that he has inflicted upon his face and penis in the past year.

Frakes told The World-Herald this week that Jenkins' misconduct has vexed prison officials, causing them to focus "a lot of collective energy" on the issue.

"He seems to be able to use anything to break his skin," Frakes said. "We dissect every incident for lessons learned."

One of the lessons, according to Frakes: "What Nikko is undoubtedly good at ... (is) he learns how to find people's buttons."

Frakes said he is trying to reinforce with his staff the need for absolute consistency in the way they act around Jenkins.

Sometimes, in dealing with a manipulative prisoner, Frakes said, a staff member might promise a reward such as a peanut butter sandwich in exchange for the prisoner's good behavior for the rest of the worker's shift. But that reinforces the wrong behavior, Frakes said.

Jenkins is "not the only challenging person or even the most challenging person" in the prison system, he said.

Jenkins' behavior has caused several delays in the death-penalty proceedings as Judge Peter Bataillon has thrice ordered him to be evaluated for competency.

Bataillon also has scolded Jenkins for cutting himself - and has grilled prison officials as to how Jenkins keeps getting sharp objects. The judge went so far as to ask if someone was slipping Jenkins razor blades in his mashed potatoes.

Prosecutors have argued that Jenkins' motivation for mutilation is manipulation. They argue that he is feigning insanity in an attempt to prove himself crazy to legal observers.

Important to note: Jenkins has released the reports of his mutilations to news media outlets.

That said, the accounts released aren't his own scribblings; they are the typed reports of corrections staff members and appear to be on official Nebraska Inmate Case Management System forms.

Frakes said officials are considering all options, including a transfer. Jenkins has a history of misbehavior at several institutions, including the Omaha Correctional Center and the Tecumseh State Prison.

"Maybe a change of venue makes sense," Frakes said, but only if the prisons can meet Jenkins' behavioral health and mental health needs.

(source for both: Omaha World-Herald)


Bungled St. Paul hanging was Minnesota's last execution

It took William F. Williams more than 14 excruciating minutes to die when he was hanged in the basement of Ramsey County Jail on Feb. 13, 1906.

The rope stretched and his feet hit the floor when the trap was sprung, according to a report in that afternoon's issue of the St. Paul Daily News. 3 Ramsey County sheriff's deputies standing on the scaffold above had to pull up on the rope while Williams slowly strangled.

A 27-year-old English immigrant convicted of murdering his male teenage lover, Williams was the last person executed in Minnesota. His botched hanging helped turn public sentiment against the practice, which drove the state Legislature to abolish the death penalty in 1911.

"Gentlemen, you are witnessing an illegal hanging," Williams said from the gallows, still insisting he was innocent. "I am accused of killing Johnny Keller. He was the best friend I ever had."

Williams and Keller met in 1903 as patients at a St. Paul hospital where they were being treated for diphtheria, the Pioneer Press reported at the time. They soon developed a romantic relationship.

Despite the objections of the boy's parents, Williams and Keller spent 2 years living and traveling together. When Keller tried to end the relationship in April 1905, an enraged Williams went to the family's St. Paul apartment and fatally shot the boy and his mother.

Williams' sensational trial coincided with that of another infamous St. Paul killer named Edward Gottschalk, who was described by the Daily News as "archfiend of the year" for his part in the grisly murder of a local butcher. The city's newspapers covered both cases from start to finish. Williams and Gottschalk were both sentenced to death by hanging, but Gottschalk "cheated the gallows as he had promised by hanging himself in his cell," the Daily News reported

. Williams, only the 5th person hanged in Ramsey County history, spent much of his last day on Earth playing cards with his guards, whom he befriended while awaiting execution. The wife of Ramsey County Sheriff Anton Miesen prepared Williams a last meal of steak, German-fried potatoes, dessert and coffee.

Miesen himself had tested the gallows the day before by swinging from the rope, but he failed to recognize "the grim but elementary law of physics that if weight is applied to a rope and to a human neck, both will stretch," wrote Walter Trenerry in his 1962 book "Murder in Minnesota."

Reporters were barred from attending the execution, but Daily News reporter Joseph E. Hennessey managed to sneak in among the crowd of 32 witnesses.

Williams "was the coolest man in the room" as he "walked manfully and bravely" up the 13 steps to the scaffold, Hennessey wrote.

After his last words, a hood was placed over his head and the lever pulled.

Williams' attorney called the execution "a disgrace to civilization." Newspapers compared execution by hanging to the Inquisition tortures of the Middle Ages, Trenerry wrote.

5 years later, the Minnesota Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, and on April 22, 1911, Gov. Adolph Eberhart signed the bill into law.



Human trafficking death penalty bill passes House

A bill that could give human traffickers the death penalty has passed the Utah House of Representatives.

House Bill 136 passed Friday afternoon by a vote of 44 to 28.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), specifies that if a child dies while being trafficked, that would be classified as aggravated murder and could result in the death penalty.

Ray has told 2News he feels the bill would be a deterrent for those who seek to engage in trafficking children for labor or sex.

But Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) spoke against the bill Friday on the House floor, saying he doesn't want to see an expansion of the death penalty.

The bill now moves on to the full Senate.

()source: KUTV news)


California Death Row Inmates Remain Stuck In High Security Limbo

This fall, voters in California may get to weigh in on 2 very different ballot measures on capital punishment - 1 to ban the death penalty and another to expedite executions. California still sentences convicted murderers to death, but there hasn't been an execution there since 2006. That's when a federal judge suspended capital punishment. On a rare tour of San Quentin State Prison, NPR found death row inmates stuck in high security limbo.


This fall, people here in California might get to vote on two very different ballot measures about capital punishment - one to ban the death penalty and another to expedite executions. California still sentences convicted murderers to death, but there hasn't been an execution here since 2006. That's when a federal judge suspended capital punishment. Scott Shafer from member station KQED in San Francisco recently got a rare tour of San Quentin Prison, and he found death row inmates stuck in high-security limbo.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: California's death row population just keeps growing. There are now about 745 condemned inmates. Most of them are here at San Quentin prison. Between them and the outside - lots of locks and keys. They're some of the state's most notorious criminals. Some were serial killers, the details of their crimes - horrifying. In the prison yard, inmate Robert Galvan takes a break from doing pullups to talk through a chain-link fence.

What's life like here?

ROBERT GALVAN: Day at a time, you know? Day at a time - work out - same routine every day - get up, eat breakfast, work out

SHAFER: Galvan is 42 years old. He's standing, shirtless, outside, in a 12-by-9 rectangular cage. His body is covered in tattoos. Galvan was sent to San Quentin a few years ago, after killing a cell mate at another California prison. Through the bars, Galvan says he deserves to be on death row, waiting a lethal injection that is now on hold. I ask if men here think there will be any more executions.

GALVAN: Some think it ain't going to happen. Some think it's - you know, they're going to start firing it up, you know? But me, I'll cross that bridge when it come - when I come to it.

SHAFER: Even without the imminent threat of execution, the decades of uncertainty weight on some inmates. Charles Crawford II was convicted of a double homicide he committed at the age of 22. He's 41 now.

CHARLES CRAWFORD II: If they're going to do it, you know, do it and just, you know, not just have us sitting here for 20 or 30 years.

SHAFER: That's the average time it takes before an inmate is executed here. In another part of the yard, five inmates shoot hoops on an enclosed cement court. One of them, Steven Livaditis, takes a break from playing basketball to talk through the fence.

STEVEN LIVADITIS: I attempted to rob a jewelry store, and people ended up being killed because of my actions.

SHAFER: Why did you shoot him?

Livaditis seems to be fighting back tears.

LIVADITIS: Because I was a - I was an evil person. I don't know any other way to put it, you know?

SHAFER: Livaditis, now 51 years old, says he's turned to religion, and if he's executed, it'll be God's will. Most of the death row inmates are kept in East Block. It's loud and sort of dark. There's no privacy. As I walk past, one guy is showering. Another sits on a toilet inside his 6-by-9 cell. Many just lie on their beds or sit, reading, writing or watching TV.

RAYMOND ANTHONY LEWIS: My name is Raymond Anthony Lewis. I'm in San Quentin State Prison on death row, where I've been since March 13 of 1991 - going on 25 years.

SHAFER: Lewis stands in his cell, leaning close to the bars, reinforced by metal mesh. Unlike many inmates here, Lewis admits to his crime, and he's tired of waiting to be put to death.

LEWIS: Just recently, within the last year, I've asked my attorneys to stop my appeal.

SHAFER: Why is that?

LEWIS: Because this is not living. It's just existing. There's nothing here. There's no emotions, no life.

SHAFER: You think most people here would rather be dead than be living here?

LEWIS: Oh, yes, without a doubt. Without a - we talk about it every day when we out on the yard. People are just tired of it. The state is not killing nobody. You know, guys here are dying from - either from health reasons, old age or committing suicide.

SHAFER: That's one thing I noticed - how old many of these inmates are. Some look so frail it's almost hard to imagine the terrible, gruesome crimes they committed, all of them, including Lewis, waiting for an execution day that might never come.

LEWIS: This is the hardest part. Dying is easy.

SHAFER: 117 condemned inmates have died since California reinstated capital punishment in 1978. Only 15 were executed. Most died of natural causes. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer at San Quentin prison.



Hearing postponed in Modesto death penalty case

A judge on Thursday has rescheduled a preliminary hearing to begin July 18 for 2 men charged with murder, arson and burglary in the deaths of a Modesto couple found inside their burning home.

The hearing for defendants Brandon Pettit and Felix Valverde initially was scheduled to start March 23.

Authorities believe the defendants are responsible for the deaths of Pettit's parents, Scott and Janet Pettit. They were found by firefighters putting out a blaze in the bedroom of their home in the early hours of Aug. 8, 2013.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office has decided to seek the death penalty. The court has appointed 2 attorneys to represent each defendant, which is required in capital murder cases.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants committed the murders for financial gain. A filed criminal complaint indicates that the Pettits were shot in their home.

Investigators have said they believe the fire at the Divan Court home was started to cover up the murders and have confirmed that the victims were dead before the fire started.

The defendants have remained in custody since their arrest 8 days after the house fire.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves will decide whether there is enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial.

(source: Modesto Bee)


'El Chapo' Brooklyn Trial: U.S. careful not to seek death penalty against Sinaloa cartel leader to secure extradition

Mexican drug king pin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman may face trial in Brooklyn, New York on drug-trafficking charges once extradited from Mexico, law enforcement officials said Monday. Prior to the trial, the United States has to come to an agreement not to seek death penalty against Guzman to avoid conflict with Mexico's extradition proceedings.

Guzman has been indicted in Brooklyn, Chicago, Manhattan, Miami and other cities across the United States where his cocaine ring was said to have operated.

The Justice Department determined that of these Brooklyn has the strongest case against Guzman. Other factors, such as availability of credible witnesses and lack of other potential complications, were also considered.

Joaquin Guzman was indicted in a Federal District Court in Brooklyn in 2014 on charges of distributing more than 457,000 kilograms of cocaine.

According to Pix 11, the operations were allegedly carried out between 2002 and 2014 "through a network of corrupt police and political contacts."

The Brooklyn indictment also links Guzman to over a dozen murders and attempted killings.

There's has been no final decision as to the venue of the trial or the finality of El Chapo's extradition to the United States. Nonetheless, the Mexican government gave assurance that they are taking preliminary steps to begin formal extradition proceedings, the New York Times wrote.

However, the alleged leader of the Sinaloa cartel has reportedly sought the prohibition of his transfer in a Mexican court to slow down the process by months.

Aside from the issue of jurisdiction and extradition, another cause of concern for authorities is the issue of security. The recent breakouts from New York's maximum-security state prisons have prompted federal law-enforcement officials to devise a well-thought out plan to secure Guzman.

"The biggest fear would be his access to money [to try to escape from prison], because money can make things happen," said industry consultant Ron McAndrew, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal. "People are bought and sold every day."

Before trial can commence, the United States would have to be careful not to seek death penalty against Guzman if ever he is convicted on capital charges. Mexico does not impose the death penalty, and it will certainly not extradite convicts to the United States if they were only to face the capital punishment.

If convicted, Guzman would most likely serve his sentence in the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, otherwise known as Supermax, located in Colorado. The Supermax houses over 400 convicts which the federal government has considered too dangerous to be joined with other inmates. Some of its well-known inmates are Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 1994 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.


GERMANY----film festival entry

Steve Coogan Film at Berlin Fest Puts Death Penalty on Trial

Is it possible to discuss an emotive topic like the death penalty with both passion and reason? Steve Coogan hopes so.

The British actor-comedian plays a lawyer battling to keep his client from the gallows in Berlin Film Festival entry "Shepherds and Butchers," set in South Africa in the last years of apartheid. Adding to the ethical complexity, the defendant is a white death-row prison guard, who has killed seven black men in an apparent road rage incident.

Coogan says director Oliver Schmitz's film, which has its world premiere at the festival on Saturday, is "a powerful indictment of capital punishment" but not "sanctimonious or preachy."

"No one is demonized in this film, apart from the system itself," Coogan said over the phone from New York, where he's filming taut domestic drama "The Dinner" alongside Laura Linney and Richard Gere. "It's about the brutalizing effect on those who carry out executions and the dehumanizing effect on all those involved."

There's no doubt where Coogan stands on the issue; he thinks capital punishment is "repellent and morally objectionable." But he said Schmitz's film, which also stars Andrea Riseborough and young South African actor Garion Dowds, approaches the topic without "hand-wringing or pious pontification."

"The film is very honest in its presentation of literally what happens, and sometimes it's hard to watch," Coogan said. "It's a literal representation of the minutiae of what happens when the state kills people.

"It lets the actions do the talking for themselves."

Like many comedians, 50-year-old Coogan relishes the chance to get serious. He has worked hard to expand his career beyond its comic origins - a particularly difficult task in Britain, where his best-known creation, pompous radio personality Alan Partridge, is a comedy icon.

He has given his comic skills free rein in road series "The Trip" and "The Trip to Italy," in which he drives, eats and banters with Welsh comedian Rob Brydon.

But he also co-wrote and helped produce 2013 feature "Philomena," in which he starred alongside Judi Dench as a jaded journalist who helps an Irishwoman search for the son taken from her decades earlier by Catholic church officials. The film, based on an actual case, was nominated for four Oscars, including best picture.

"I think a film is interesting if the subject matter is divisive or has some tension within it," Coogan said.

"If you try to make films all things to all men you end up with some kind of nondescript soup, which may tick all the boxes in terms of the bottom line, but I don't think it makes for very interesting art.

"With 'Philomena,' one of the most gratifying things about it was that people left the theatre talking animatedly about forgiveness and whether it was appropriate. To provoke discussion is a good thing."

(source: Associated Press)


British MP Lambert accepts Bangladesh criticism for her call to spare 1971 war criminal Mujahid's life----Member of European Parliament Jean Lambert says her letter urging the government to review the death sentence of war criminal Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid should not be seen as "a partisan move on behalf of any particular party."

"I'll be hated to be saying that ...," the chair the European Parliament Delegation to South Asia said at a press beefing on Friday when she was asked why she had made the appeal to spare the Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general's life.

Mujahid was hanged in November last year along with BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury for the horrific crimes against humanity they had committed in 1971 to thwart the independence of Bangladesh.

Just before the verdict of their final review in October, Lambert had written in her "personal capacity" to the Bangladesh government through the ambassador in Brussels. In the letter, she had called for a review of Mujahid's death sentence.

The EU, as a matter of policy, does not support death sentence to any person in any part of the world.

But the British MP Lambert had made the request to the Hasina government specifically in Mujahid's case. had seen the letter and run a story.

"You're right in saying that it was a specific case. I think you are also right in implied criticism that why I did not mention others," she said.

"It was a case where I was asked to intervene. You are absolutely right, I should raise other issues of death penalty."

But the member of European Parliament (MEP) added: "I don't want to be misinterpreted that this was support of any particular individual in terms of who they are. It's a question about raising opposition to death penalty."



Infographic: Capital Punishment in Iran - 2015

IHRDC's final update of its chart of executions carried out by the Iranian government in 2015 counts 966 executions, an increase of nearly 34% from the previous year. The infographic below highlights some of the details behind these numbers, including the charges leading to the death sentences of the individuals in question, the 8 top cities for executions in the last year, and trends in overall executions and the executions of juvenile offenders over the last year. Iran has led the world in executions per capita for years.

Among these 966 executions, 625 - nearly 2/3 - arose from drug trafficking charges. This represents a rise of over 75% in executions for this charge over the previous year. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) establishes that the death penalty may only be used for "the most serious crimes", and international legal experts have long averred that drug-related offenses do not fit in this category. Iranian law envisions the use of capital punishment for a wide variety of crimes, including armed robbery, drug trafficking, fraud, and sodomy.

These executions took place in a highly problematic judicial context. There have been hundreds of reports of violations of due process in Iran in recent years, including the denial of access to counsel, the denial of the right to be heard by a fair, independent, and impartial judicial body, and a routine reliance on confessions extracted under physical and psychological duress as primary forms of evidence in capital cases.

see: ttp://

(source: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center)


JI calls for revoking Qadri's death penalty

Jamaat-i-Islami leader Prof Mohammad Ibrahim Khan has asked the president and the prime minister to revoke death penalty of Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the murderer of the former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, and set him free 'honourably'.

"President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should show wisdom in the case of Qadri. They should not only revoke his death penalty but also set him free from the jail honourably," a statement issued here on Friday quoted the former senator as saying.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has upheld the death sentence of Qadri. "If the president and prime minister don't show wisdom then it can trigger crisis across the country," he cautioned.

The JI leader said blasphemy should not be associated with an individual but this was an issue of the entire Muslim Ummah. He urged ulema to highlight the issue of death penalty of Qadri in their sermons in mosques.

Justifying action of Qadri the JI leader said late governor Taseer had visited the jail where he met Asia Bibi who was detained in blasphemy case. He said Mr Taseer not only met Asia Bibi but also expressed sympathies with her and started efforts for her release.

Prof Ibrahim raised reservations over Mumtaz Qadri case and said instead of blasphemy law he was treated under the anti-terrorism law. He said law in Taseer case was 'misused'.



DPR court hands down 1st death sentence

1 person has been sentenced to death in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), Lyudmila Strateichuk, DPR Supreme Court judge and acting chairman of the DPR Military Tribunal, said.

"1 such sentence has now been handed down. There are cases that are pending consideration, and they also envisage the death penalty. These cases involve killings and espionage," Strateichuk told reporters on Friday.

She also said the republic's military tribunal has considered two criminal cases against DPR troops, and over 40 are pending consideration.

"The military tribunal has now tried 2 criminal cases, both defendants are DPR troops. Another 46 cases are pending trial," she said.


FEBRUARY 12, 2016:


Alleged devil worshiper charged with murder

A Houston man has been charged in the death of a 16-year-old who went missing in January.

Edward O'Neal Jr., 18, is charged with murder in the death of Ryan Robert.

On Jan. 15, Christina Roberts reported her son Ryan missing after he never came home from school. A few days later, he was found brutally murdered in the woods near his home.

At the time when her son's body was discovered, Roberts told KHOU 11 News she knew who did it and reported O'Neal to the police.

"I just want justice for my son," Roberts said in January. "I'm beyond frustrated. I'm angry."

For Roberts, O'Neal's arrest was a long time coming. Roberts says one of O'Neal's relatives came to her back and January and said O'Neal had admitted to the murder. The relative then told Roberts where Ryan's body was, he was found in that spot stabbed to death.

The suspect's father, Edward O'Neal Sr., helped check his son into Ben Taub's psychiatric unit last month and says O'Neal has a history of mental illness and devil worshiping.

"Oh I know that he's worshiping the devil and stuff," said O'Neal. "He didn't tell me nothing. He didn't say nothing about doing nothing. He's mentally retarded."

The suspect and victim were close friends, Roberts says O'Neal even lived with her for a few months at one point.

Although a motive isn't clear Roberts believes the murder was a satanic ritual and wants O'Neal to pay for the life he allegedly took.

"Give him life," said Roberts. "Give him the death penalty, I don't care which one but I don't want him harming not another person."

Edward O'Neal is currently in the Harris County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

(source: KHOU news)


Setting a deadline on California death penalty cases will never work; here's why

John Gajdos, in his Jan. 22 letter to the editor, suggests the California legal system set the "clock" so that condemned inmates have a maximum of 5 years from sentencing to execution in San Quentin prison. The letter reflects the absolute failure of the criminal justice system to educate the public on how capital punishment laws actually work in this state.

The process is extraordinarily complex. All capital cases automatically go from the trial court directly to the California Supreme Court after the death judgment is rendered. Each year, the state's highest court receives thousands of petitions for review, covering both civil and criminal matters. From these, the 7 justices and their staffs cull the petitions down to a few hundred or so.

Since the court has no discretion with regard to capital cases - it has to take them - they have to be incorporated into the court's workload. Thus, it might take more than a year for the court to hear an appeal in a specific case, and that's if everything proceeds apace.

Following trial, transcripts have to be readied for the appeal, a process that can take months. Complicating the timeline is the fact that appellate attorneys have to be hired to represent condemned defendants. For obvious reasons, these attorneys should be well-versed in death penalty jurisprudence. Because most condemned inmates have no money to pay attorneys who ordinarily charge $500 or more per hour, public defenders - already vastly over-burdened with other cases - have to add these cases to the pile. Some inmates go years without appellate attorneys.

Then comes the actual appeal process. First the attorneys have to decide which issues they want to highlight. This process can take some time, particularly if the attorneys are juggling other capital cases. Among the potential issues: "incompetence" of counsel. There have been cases, in fact, where trial attorneys fail to even put on a defense. Or there may be police misconduct, such as gathering evidence without search warrants. Or prosecutors succeed in convincing jurors to vote death for a defendant who is mentally challenged, with an IQ below 70, for example.

There is no way to make capital punishment "workable."

And what if a condemned individual participated in a crime with another person? Was he, or she, acting on his or her own volition, or under duress? This issue is particularly relevant for women or for younger people who might commit crimes - drug-related murders, for example - out of fear of retaliation from older, violent or authoritarian individuals.

DNA evidence also presents another complicating issue; over the past few years, more than 100 condemned inmates nationally have been exonerated via new evidence. Death penalty proponents often minimize this factor, arguing the vast majority of death row inmates are guilty; so what, if a few innocents are executed along the way? It's a small price to pay for ridding society of bad people. That is not how the law works, however. DNA testing sometimes takes a long time, since labs are backed up with samples from convicted and condemned inmates proclaiming their innocence.

When the state Supreme Court finally hears a case, that is not the last step. If the court upholds a death sentence, the case can be appealed to federal courts. California has absolutely no control over what a federal appeals court decides to do, or how long it takes to render a decision. In fact, some cases involve more appeals to federal than state courts. Before he was executed in 1992, 14 years after murdering 2 boys in San Diego, attorneys for Robert Alton Harris filed dozens of appeals in federal courts. Mr. Gajdos suggests defense attorneys wait until the last minute to file appeals, but no attorney, at least in modern times, has ever waited until an execution is imminent to file his or her 1st appeal.

There can be no schedule for executions. It may be true that California's capital punishment machinery is hopelessly broken and that abolitionists have purposely gummed up the machinery. Death rows hold some very bad people, but so do maximum security prisons in general. And there lies the biggest issue: Juries sometimes sentence people to life in prison who have committed far worse crimes than those waiting on death row. And some prosecutors rely on jailhouse “snitches,” accomplices who walk away free after testifying against their partners in crime who earn death sentences.

There is no way to make capital punishment "workable." Creating a "timeline" is an absurdly impossible solution. Better to end the death penalty and place all of California's most vicious and violent felons in the general population in increasingly over-crowded prisons where they can live 6 or 7 to a cell for the rest of their miserable lives and save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

(source: Opinion; Kathleen Cairns teaches history at Cal Poly and has written 3 books on the death penalty----San Luis Obispo Tribune)


Kremlin-backed militants threaten death sentences for prisoners

A spokesperson for the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) has claimed that the militants are not holding any civilians or anybody else illegally. All those in custody, Darya Morozova asserts, are "under investigation" and could be sentenced to death.

The remarks came on the eve of the 1st anniversary of the Minsk II agreement, and less than 2 weeks after 60-year-old religious specialist Ihor Kozlovsky and volunteer Marina Cherenkova were both seized by the militants. Prominent DPR militant Alexander Khodokovsky is reported to have asserted that Mr. Kozlovsky, who is a much-respected academic, could have been involved in "destabilizing the situation" and had "multiple contacts with various organizations in Ukraine engaged in destructive activities here."

According to the Minsk agreement of February 12, 2015, all persons illegally held must be exchanged, on an "all for all" basis. A recent planned exchange fell through, according to the Ukrainian side, because the militants suddenly put forward new and impossible demands. The militants, in turn, blame Ukraine. Yurii Tandit from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) center trying to organize exchanges speaks of 130 people on its list of Ukrainians held hostage. The figure for people registered as missing is much higher - over 600.

Ms. Morozova, who calls herself the "DPR human rights ombudsperson," spoke to Yuliya Polukhina for an article published in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta on February 8. Her words have been widely discussed and commented on in Ukraine, so the lack of any retraction from Ms. Morozova or other militants suggests they do reflect the position currently taken.

Ms. Morozova was asked to comment on the 30-year "sentence" handed down to Yevhen Chudnetsov, a Ukrainian soldier from the Azov regiment who was captured in February 2015. The militants claim he surrendered. Novaya Gazeta writes that relatives of Mr. Chudnetsov, who is from the Donbas area, missed the "trial" because it began half an hour earlier than scheduled. The "prosecutor" had demanded the death penalty, so an appeal can in theory be lodged by either the defendant or the prosecution. This seems highly theoretical in the Chudnetsov case, since from the outset he has not had a lawyer.

There is disturbingly little information about this so-called trial or what indeed Mr. Chudnetsov was charged with. There is, however, a video that was widely shown on all Russian propaganda channels. In it, Mr. Chudnetsov looks as if he has been beaten and has had about half his teeth knocked out. The torture he was almost certainly subjected to is not mentioned. Instead, it is claimed that he surrendered and then at a press conference he oluntarily provides what is purported to be information about the foreigners supposedly instructing Azov - from Georgia, Sweden and the U.S. - or fighting as mercenaries, and the foreign weapons purportedly used.

Ms. Morozova is asked by Novaya Gazeta if people like Mr. Chudnetsov could be part of the list of people to be exchanged. She replies that, for the moment, that is not possible, and that the DPR is working on the same principle as the Ukrainian authorities. She claims that Ukrainian authorities have 30 people sentenced to terms ranging from 15 years to life and are in no hurry to pardon them. They are not being handed over, she claims, so the militants "try them [their prisoners] within the framework of our legislation. We do not in principle have prisoners of war, and the people who are in our custody are all facing charges. Procedural matters are under way, trials, and they will soon be convicted."

The interviewer then asks Mr. Morozova: "You mean all of those captured as prisoners of war can be tried?" She answers: "Quite right."

Ms. Morozova chillingly goes on to claim the DPR is holding no more than 30 people (not the 133 cited by the SBU), and that there are no civilian hostages. "We have only prisoners of war who were detained in battle," she claims, and says that they have proof these detainees killed people and were responsible for the deaths of civilians. She asserts that most of those still being held were seized near Ilovaisk, and claims that some are accused of rape, murder and torture.

Many Ukrainian soldiers died near Ilovaisk, after the militants' promise of safe passage proved to be a treacherous lie. Neither then, nor on other occasions, was it only soldiers who were taken prisoner and tortured, as the experience of journalist Yevhen Vorobyov demonstrated.

Her list of prisoners for exchange from the militants' side, she says, comprises 1,490 names. She asserts that the DPR knows definitely that these people are in detention in government-controlled territory, facing criminal charges. The SBU, meanwhile, says that it is aware of only 465 people.

Ms. Morozova, in fact, calls 500 from the almost 1,500-strong list "political prisoners" and claims they are in detention either for involvement in the so-called referendum of May 11, 2014, or because they spoke out in support of the self-proclaimed republics.

Asked about the prosecution's demand for the death penalty in Mr. Chudnetsov's case, Mr. Morozova confirms that yes, according to the "DPR Criminal Code," the death penalty can be used, and may well be. The DPR introduced its own "criminal code" back in August 2014, with the death penalty for particularly grave crimes. In a 2nd resolution passed by the DPR "Council of Ministers" on August 17, 2014, military courts and a system of military justice were introduced. More about these so-called military courts was revealed in November of that year with the list of capital offenses including insubordination, state treason, spying and desertion, as well as looting, robbery, etc.

Former Russian military intelligence officer and militant leader Igor Girkin in January confirmed extrajudicial executions, although in fact, his senior aide Igor Druz had confirmed this to the BBC back in August 2014. The main difference was that Mr. Girkin admitted only to killing "looters," while Mr. Druz was entirely open, saying that the militants had killed a number of people "to prevent chaos."

Now the militants are claiming that they are not holding any hostages or others illegally, and say that any people in their custody are under criminal investigation.

Like Ihor Kozlovsky, one presumes. Or people like Yevhen Chudnetsov, "sentenced" to 30 years without a lawyer in a "trial" his family missed because it happened half an hour ahead of schedule.

(source: Halya Coynash, a journalist, is a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in Ukraine----The Ukrainian Weekly)


Prosecutors Are Almost Never Disciplined For Misconduct----Sometimes the prosecutor needs to be prosecuted.

In 1994, Anthony Graves was convicted on charges of setting a fire that killed 6 people in south Texas. He spent the next 18 years in prison -- 12 of them on death row. On 2 separate occasions, he came close to execution -- all for a crime he didn't commit.

But Graves was spared the death penalty long enough to get an appeal. A closer look at his case eventually revealed that Graves was an innocent man who was railroaded by Charles Sebesta, a Texas prosecutor who withheld evidence and presented false testimony to secure a conviction against Graves. More than a decade later, a federal appeals court would overturn the conviction. Graves was freed, and later filed a complaint against Sebesta, seeking his disbarment. The Texas bar's Board of Disciplinary Appeals sided with Graves, calling Sebesta's conduct "egregious" and revoked his right to practice law.

As of this week, Sebesta is now officially, and finally, disbarred.

While Sebesta's actions may appear obviously condemnable to the casual observer, experts say it's actually surprising that he was punished for them.

"It's almost unheard of," U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski told The Huffington Post. Kozinski is a leading voice on prosecutorial misconduct, who famously wrote in a 2013 opinion that the problem had "epidemic" levels in the U.S.

Prosecutors are rarely punished for misconduct, and the cases that have led to disbarment or even criminal charges are few and far between. When prosecutors do face severe consequences for breaking the law, it's when their behavior is deemed to be deliberate and seemingly indefensible. At the same time, their punishment may not be proportional to the damage they have inflicted upon innocent people, which illustrates the considerable latitude the legal process affords to prosecutors.

For example, take disgraced former prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was involved in the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, in which three members of the team were falsely accused of rape. Nifong, among numerous serious legal misdeeds, was accused of misleading presentations of evidence including withholding DNA evidence, yet spent a grand total of 24 hours in jail following his disbarment.

In the 2013 case of Ken Anderson, the former Texas prosecutor and judge ultimately pled no contest to felony charges of criminal contempt of court for intentionally withholding evidence in a case against Michael Morton, an innocent man, who wrongfully spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife. For his violations of the Constitution, Anderson was forced to give up his license to practice law, was ordered to perform 500 hours of community service and to spend 10 days in jail -- the first prosecutor ever to go to jail for wrongfully convicting an innocent man.

These 3 cases, by far, represent some of the most severe sanctions ever lobbed against criminal prosecutors accused of serious misconduct.

Prosecutors are the most powerful government agents in the American criminal justice system. With more than 2,300 offices across the nation, they have complete and unrivaled access to evidence that can determine a person's guilt or innocence.

Multiple Supreme Court rulings over the years have sought to chip away at the unilateral power of prosecutors, requiring them to provide any and all evidence to the defense that might be favorable to the defendant. But this puts defense attorneys on the back foot as they're forced to blindly trust that prosecutors will turn over all their evidence.

Prosecutors can also cut deals with witnesses, co-conspirators and defendants to compel someone to testify. They can pile on charges to produce sentences "so excessively severe they take your breath away" to strong-arm someone into taking a plea deal to reduce that sentence.

If prosecutors can't find someone to talk, they can always turn to a jailhouse snitch who may be able to coax out a damning bit of evidence from a jailed defendant. That testimony, obtained legally or otherwise, can often be used to lock down a conviction.

And in the end, prosecutors are largely shielded from any liability that might result from their actions thanks to a Supreme Court ruling granting them "absolute immunity."

Of course, the vast majority of prosecutors behave ethically. But even 1 bad actor in a prosecutor's office can have a significant impact on countless defendants and cases. And based on the data that is available, it's clear that there are more than just a few bad apples.

"There are disturbing indications that a non-trivial number of prosecutors -- and sometimes entire prosecutorial offices -- engage in misconduct that seriously undermines the fairness of criminal trials," Kozinski wrote last year in a landmark paper critiquing the criminal justice system. "The misconduct ranges from misleading the jury, to outright lying in court and tacitly acquiescing or actively participating in the presentation of false evidence by police."

The trouble is identifying the misconduct. Because so much of what prosecutors do is behind the scenes -- gathering evidence and working with police and investigators as they build their case -- malfeasance is often not discovered until years, sometimes decades, after a person has been convicted. In many cases, it's never discovered at all.

But the data that is available on prosecutorial misconduct clearly points to a problem that is steady and widespread. Misconduct by police and prosecutors occurs with such frequency that it has become one of the primary causes of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project.

A 2013 report from the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, illustrated just how rare it is for prosecutors to face punishment of any kind. Using data from nine major studies that analyzed the prosecutorial misconduct at both state and national levels, CPI identified 3,625 cases between 1963 and 2013. Of those, only 63 prosecutors -- less than 2 % -- were ever officially sanctioned for their wrongdoing. And in those rare instances when prosecutors were disciplined, they frequently received a "slap-of-the-wrist," the CPI report reads.

There has also been a significant spike in exonerations in recent years. While this phenomenon used to be rare, wrongful convictions have soared, with more overturned in 2015 than any year in history. And while not every wrongful conviction involves a misbehaving prosecutor, a significant portion do.

But identifying the misconduct is only part of the equation. Meaningful discipline must then follow as a further deterrent. That can't -- and doesn't -- happen when there's no one willing to prosecute the prosecutors.

State authorities are ill-equipped to tackle prosecutorial impropriety for a variety of reasons, says Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University who has written about this phenomenon in depth.

Those reasons can range from the general style of case to that of skepticism over complaints filed by criminal defendants who may simply be seen as "disgruntled" by authorities and not be taken as seriously as they perhaps should be.

But there may be something more intangible and pervasive at play. Medwed told HuffPost he believes there's an engrained culture across criminal justice offices that has created a system in which lawyers are reluctant to take on prosecutors, even when they are behaving badly.

"[Prosecutors] are politically powerful people who do a tough job under arduous circumstances," he said. "I think lawyers often give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a huge problem. We must hold them accountable."

To that end, Sebesta's disbarment is at least a step in the right direction. But it remains an outlier to the broader trend. To further curb bad behavior, stricter rules must be implemented to crack down on the prosecutors who engage in misconduct. And those rules must be fortified with the promise of stiff and certain punishment for anyone who would undermine the principle of justice in pursuit of an unjust conviction.

(source: Matt Ferner, Huffington Post)


Death penalty attorneys want Oakland-based company to reveal source code for DNA analysis

Defense attorneys in 2 death penalty cases want an Oakland-based company to reveal the source code for a program that connected their clients to murders, which could further delay the trials.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office had used Cybergenetics and its "True Allele" system to connect crime-scene DNA evidence to Michael Robinson, accused of killing Tyrone Coleman and Lawrence Short in Duquesne in 2013, and Allen Wade, accused of killing sisters Sarah and Susan Wolfe in their East Liberty home in 2014. The district attorney's office hired Cybergenetics to analyze DNA evidence and make connections to the suspects that the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office could not.

2 Common Pleas judges, Jill E. Rangos and Edward J. Borkowski, have denied the defense attorneys access to the "source code," the basic computer instructions, for True Allele.

The attorneys have laid the groundwork for appeals to Pennsylvania Superior Court, though neither has officially filed.

Robinson attorney Ken Haber asked Rangos to sign off on an appeal of her denial of the source code, but Rangos declined in an order issued last week. Haber said he will appeal even without the judge's approval, though that could affect whether the Superior Court will call for an immediate pause to Robinson's trial, scheduled for June.

Wade's attorneys from the public defender's office filed a motion last week to either vacate Borkowski's order denying their subpoena of the source code or amend the order in a way that would authorize an appeal. No appeal had been filed as of Thursday; the case is scheduled to start with jury selection Tuesday.



Death sentence vacated for Crispell in murder of St. Marys woman

Convicted murderer Daniel Crispell has been given another shot at life, as Potter County Senior Judge John Leete has overturned his sentence of death for the 1989 murder of a St. Marys woman at the DuBois Mall.

In a January ruling on last year's Post Conviction Relief Act hearing in Clearfield County, Leete blasts Crispell's trial counsel for failing to investigate his client's past, his mental health and even his medical records.

Crispell was sentenced to death in June of 1990 after being found guilty of the kidnapping, robbery and brutal stabbing of Ella Mae Brown in October 1989. He and co-defendant Christopher Weatherill were apprehended in Arizona after Crispell allegedly tried to snatch someone's purse.

Weatherill, who was 17 at the time of the murder, testified against Crispell in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment.

A 7-day-long hearing on Crispell's PCRA was held in 2014.

In Leete's finding of facts in the case, he recounted that Crispell was represented at trial and appeal by F. Cortez Bell, how Clearfield County's court administrator; who was assisted by Paul Cherry, who is now a Clearfield County judge. The prosecutor in the case was Fredric Ammerman, who is now Clearfield County's president judge.

Leete rejected most of Crispell's arguments in the PCRA, ruling that Crispell is "entitled to a new sentencing hearing because of a variety of prejudicial matters relating to counsel's inadequate performance throughout the sentencing phase" of his trial.

In Leete's discussion, he indicated that Crispell's trial was the 1st capital punishment case Bell ever handled as an attorney. And while Crispell told his attorneys to leave his family out of his defense, Leete ruled that the attorneys still had a duty to investigate his past.

"There was a completely inadequate and incomplete investigation into many aspects of the defendant's past," Leete wrote. "Here, there was much evidence readily available that was not utilized."

The judge said an Arizona public defender who had been involved with Crispell's case there had tried to contact Bell, but got no response. And an Arizona psychologist who had done a mental health test on Crispell was never contacted either.

"Further, (Crispell) was not evaluated by any mental health expert at the behest of counsel, nor did counsel attempt to secure any funds for the same," Leete wrote. "Counsel was totally unaware that (Crispell) had allegedly been the victim of sexual abuse, which would have been revealed in medical records had they been utilized."

If Bell would have responded to the Arizona attorney, he would have learned that several significant mental health issues were apparent in Crispell, the judge wrote, including his "impulse control, depression and other mental health issues including family concerns."

Leete noted that Crispell sent letters to his counsel, which an expert later called "a cry for help."

"Available but not obtained by counsel were medical record in which (Crispell) reported being the victim of rape in the state of Florida as well as a suicide attempt at age 16," Leete wrote.

All of that information could have been used as mitigation factors at the time of sentencing, and may have resulted in a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty, the judge said.

"The defendant has demonstrated clear prejudice," Leete wrote. "The court would reach the opposite conclusions had counsel done a thorough investigation, discussed it in detail with Crispell, and then been told by Crispell not to use the investigation information."

After his 14-page discussion, Leete wrote a brief order, saying "the sentence of death imposed on defendant is vacated, and the matter is remanded for a new penalty phase hearing."

(source: Bradford Era)


5 jurors seated in Anthony trial

5 jurors have been seated in the Hustle Mart-3 triple homicide trial that began Monday in Pitt County.

3 women and 2 men have been accepted by both prosecutors and defense attorneys in the death penalty case against Antwan Andre Anthony, 33. He is accused of shooting and killing Mokbel Mohamed Almujanahi, 16; Nabil Nasser Saeed Al'mogannahi, 26; and Gaber Alawi, 24, on April 1, 2012, as they were closing the Hustle Mart-3 convenience store on N.C. 121 north of Farmville.

During jury selection Thursday, after Pitt County District Attorney Kimberly Robb excused a black woman who said she was not sure whether she could give someone the death penalty. Anthony's attorney, Terry Alford, objected.

(source: The Daily Reflector)


Bondi backs prosecutors in death penalty debate

Siding with prosecutors, Attorney General Pam Bondi is endorsing a proposal to address last month's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Florida's death-penalty sentencing process as unconstitutional.

Bondi told The News Service of Florida on Thursday she "absolutely" supports a measure, backed by state attorneys, that would require a unanimous jury verdict on at least 1 aggravating factor before a defendant can be eligible for the death penalty and would require at least 9 jurors to vote in favor of death for the sentence to be imposed.

Bondi said she is working closely with the House and Senate, along with state attorneys, her solicitor general and the chief of her capital appellate unit, to "come to a consensus of what we all believe will be in the best interest of Floridians" to fix the state's flawed law.

"We all want a death penalty scheme that will be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," Bondi, who served as an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County before her 2010 election, said Thursday. "We all have a common interest. We're working together."

The court's Jan. 12 ruling, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, found that the state's system of giving judges - and not juries - the power to impose death sentences was an unconstitutional violation of defendants' Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

The 8-1 decision dealt with the sentencing phase of death-penalty cases after defendants are found guilty and focused on what are known as "aggravating" circumstances that must be determined before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges.

Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty, based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is 1 of only 3 that do not require unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty to be imposed. The other 2 - Alabama and Delaware - require at least 9-3 jury decisions, while Florida law currently requires a simple majority vote.

House and Senate proposals would require unanimous jury decisions on at least one aggravating factor, a change supported by the prosecutors.

But the chambers have not agreed on whether a unanimous jury recommendation should be required before the death penalty can be imposed, included in a Senate proposal but vehemently opposed by prosecutors as well as Bondi.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has not required (unanimity)" in previous cases, Bondi said, and the court did not address the issue in the Hurst case.

When asked why she and the prosecutors supported a 9-3 supermajority vote to recommend the death penalty, Bondi said, "Compromise."

Defense lawyers and other experts argue that Florida's "outlier" status on jury recommendations in death-penalty cases makes the state law vulnerable to future court challenges.

The U.S. Supreme Court considers "evolving standards of decency" in evaluating state death penalty laws, 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Rex Dimmig told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

"They look at what other states do," Dimmig said, urging the panel to "take us out of the situation of being an outlier state."

Prosecutors fear that requiring unanimous jury recommendations would result in fewer death sentences, as illustrated by an analysis by legislative staff.

Of the 20 death sentences ordered in 2012, only 2 came after unanimous jury recommendations, according to a House staff analysis. Unanimous jury recommendations were made in just 20 % of the 296 instances in which defendants were sentenced to death between 2000 and 2012, the analysis showed. In 75 % of the cases over the 13-year period, at least 9 jurors recommended death.

But it is unknown whether the votes would have been different if a unanimous jury recommendation was required for defendants to be sentenced to death.

"We've talked about whether or not, sometimes when you get on some of the most heinous cases a 9-3 vote, did those three (jurors) vote according to the law and the instructions they were given, or, once they knew that there was a majority, did they sit back," 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey told the News Service on Wednesday, referring to discussions between Florida's state attorneys. "We discussed that in great detail. I don't know that we'll ever be able to go back and know."

Senate leaders indicated the chamber would be willing to cede on the unanimity issue as lawmakers try to match up their proposals (HB 7101, SB 7068) before the legislative session ends on March 11. Both chambers have agreed that jury decisions on at least one aggravating circumstance should be unanimous.

Bondi and legislators share a sense of urgency to resolve the issue because no new death sentences can be imposed until the law is fixed.

"We need a sentencing scheme in Florida," she said.

The Florida Supreme Court last week indefinitely postponed the execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, who had been scheduled to die Thursday, while the justices consider the implications of the Hurst decision. The Florida court, however, has not yet ruled on whether to delay the execution of Mark James Asay, scheduled for March 17. Oral arguments in Asay's case may be heard on March 2.

Lawyers for Asay and other death row inmates contend that the Hurst decision should be retroactive and apply to all of the 390 inmates sentenced to die for their crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling did not say whether it should apply retroactively, and Bondi's lawyers instead have identified 43 cases that would qualify for reconsideration as a result of the Hurst decision.

Myriad factors - timing, aggravators involved in determining whether defendants were eligible for the death penalty and the jury instructions - have to be considered when evaluating whether Hurst applies, Bondi said.

"It has to be on a case-by-case basis," she said.

Death penalty cases are among the most complicated in the legal system, and the injection of dozens of cases into an already drawn-out process could delay resolution even further.

"We're prepared to tackle it," Bondi, whose office represents the state in death penalty appeals, said. "This is the ultimate sentence, the death penalty. We want to be certain it is carried out in a constitutional way. That's 1 thing we all agree on."

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Missed Debate Question: Where Do You Stand on the Killing of Rickey Ray Rector?

The PBS debate moderators missed a golden opportunity to ask Hillary and Bernie a crucial question: What did they think about the execution of Rickey Ray Rector in 1992?

This is not ancient history. Rather, it is a vital case study in political morality. This life and death decision reveals crucial views on crime, punishment, ethics and political opportunism.

Since Bernie opposes the death penalty, we know how he would respond. To be fair, it's a much tougher question for Hillary, both because she supports the death penalty and because it happened on Bill Clinton's watch. She was there when the issue was discussed and decided.

Did she approve? Does she still approve?

The sad case of Rickey Ray Rector

In 1981 Rickey Ray Rector, a black man, shot Arthur Criswell in a Conway, Arkansas dance hall over a $3 cover charge dispute. A few days later at his mother's home, Rector said he would turn himself in, but only to Officer Bob Martin whom he knew.

Officer Martin was called by Rector's family to take him to jail. When Martin turned his back for a moment to talk with the family, Rector shot him dead.

Rector then went outside and shot himself in the temple. But he didn't die. Instead he was basically lobotomized, becoming mentally incompetent. (How incompetent? Even though he could talk, he had no coherent understanding of the world around him including the concept of death. His IQ was measured at 63. When he was served his last meal before execution, he asked if the guards could hold his dessert until later.)

The Rickey Ray Rector case developed into constitutional test of cruel and unusual punishment. Does it violate the constitutional to execute a mentally incompetent person? The Supreme Court chose not to hear his appeal and the execution schedule continued.

As governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton had the power to execute Rector or commute his sentence to life-imprisonment. At the time, January 25, 1992, he also was running for president. So just before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, he flew back to his home state to make sure the execution took place. It was gory. It took 50 minutes to find a vein.

Why did Bill Clinton execute Rector?

Jeff Rosenweig, a Clinton friend and one of Rector's lawyer said at the time:

"My personal opinion is that in his heart of hearts he's against the death penalty. In my opinion, this is a very easy way to show you're tough on crime."

Mike Gauldin, a spokesperson for Clinton at that time said "the Governor had indeed changed some of his policies toward prison inmates since he returned to office in 1983. In his 1st term, he commuted the sentences of 70 inmates convicted of a wide variety of crimes. Since 1983, he has commuted 7."

Crime issues would become very important to Clinton's run for the presidency. It was generally thought that Governor Dukakis damaged his own presidential campaign when during a TV interview he said he would not even execute a murderer who had raped and killed his own wife.

In 1992, the New York Times reported, "It is clear that many political experts feel a record of favoring the death penalty is a major plus for a Democratic Presidential candidate."

Other analysts suggest more opportunist reasons.

"In 1979, he had commuted the sentence of a mentally ill, convicted murderer, James Surridge, 73. Less than a year after his release, Surridge committed another murder. The case later came to be known as Bill Clinton's own Willie Horton," reports Politico. He may have lost his 1980 bid for the Arkansas governorship because of it.

Some also claim, that killing of Rickey Ray was timed to shift media attention from the emerging Jenifer Flowers scandal that threaten to sink his presidential run in New Hampshire.

Tough on Crime Legacy

During his 2 terms as president, Bill Clinton continued his hard-line position on crime. As a result, the prison population more than doubled. The number of youth housed in adult prison also doubled. By the time he left office the US had the largest prison population in the entire world.

In an article entitled "Hillary Does not Deserve Black People's Votes," Michelle Alexander offers a stinging assessment:

"Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. ... He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal "3 strikes" law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some 3-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces.

... Human Rights Watch reported that in 7 states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 % of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983."

What does any of this have to do with Hillary?

Bill's actions as President are not current campaign issues, except as Hillary uses them to validate her own experience. What did she learn from the Rickey Ray execution and the tough-on-crime Clinton administration?

We know that Hillary changed her position on capital punishment. When she first came to Arkansas, she worked to undermine the legality of executions. She stopped doing so when Bill became the state's Attorney General.

We know from the February 4th debate that she still believes in state executions: "I do, for very limited, particularly heinous crimes I believe [the death penalty] is an appropriate punishment"

But we do not know where Hillary stands on the case of Rickey Ray Rector.

Key Questions for Hillary to answer:

At the time, did Hillary disagree with Bill's decision to execute Rickey Rae?

Did she challenge Bill's presidential incarceration policies? Or did she consider them justified, even though those policies differentially harmed people of color?

Most importantly, is Hillary now willing to say publically that the execution of Rickey Rae Rector was morally wrong?

How she addresses this troubling episode would speak volumes about whether she deserves our support.

(source: Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is currently working on a national economic educational campaign with unions and community organization----Huffington Post)


The Secrets Behind The Legend Of Judge Isaac C. Parker

Many myths and rumors surround the life of the Issac C. Parker, also known as the Hanging Judge.

5NEWS uncovered some of the little-known facts behind the legend of Judge Parker in his old office located in the commissary building on the grounds of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

In countless movies and books, Judge Isaac C. Parker is portrayed as a villain; a cruel man who would hand out the death penalty to anyone who entered his court.

After touring his office, we found out everything we thought we knew about the Hanging Judge might not be true.

"He did sentence more people to be executed than any other federal judge, but that's only when you look on the surface," Pat Schmidt, a park ranger at the National Historic Site, told us.

Schmidt said there are probably more myths about the judge than there are facts.

"That's Hollywood, dime store novels," Schmidt said. "There was a lot of, during this period, there was a lot of sensationalism."

So what's actually true?

In his 21 years as a judge he heard more than 13,000 cases.

"A little over 600 of those dealt with capital crime, and 160 were convicted, and 79 were actually executed, so that actually comes down to less than 1% of his cases that ended up with someone on the gallows," Schmidt said. "Doesn't really sound fair to call him the hanging judge for that."

The Hanging Judge nickname didn't even become popular until decades after his death, and Schmidt said Parker did not hand out death sentences to just anyone.

"He didn't have a choice," Schmidt said. "During this time period, if you were convicted of murder, rape, treason or obstruction with an execution, then the automatic sentence was execution."

One of the most common misconceptions about Parker is that he watched his executions, but from the windows in his office, you have a view of the river not the gallows.

"The thing about Judge Parker is he was opposed to the death penalty," Schmidt said. "He was even quoted as saying, 'I'm in favor of abolishing the death penalty.'"

In fact, the judge didn't even come into his office on days of executions.

So why did people make him the villain? Schmidt said some people were trying to scare others from moving to the area.

"Land speculators and folks associated with the railroads wanted Indian territory to remain a territory because the rules and laws were different as a territory, and they could, to a certain degree, get away with more things," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said there are no records that indicate Parker was ever a mean man.

She said the Hanging Judge is really just a character meant for westerns.

"They were trying to make him out to be crueler than what we really was, and in many interviews that I've read where they've talked about him and talked about what kind of man he was, they said he was jovial, always had a kind word, would stop and talk to people, and would even stop and talk to people that you wouldn’t expect him to," Schmidt said.

Judge Parker did not hand down death sentences by saying, 'Hang by the neck 'til your dead dead dead.' He didn't get his entertainment from watching men hang. The real story is that the hanging judge didn't want to hang anyone at all.

(source: KFSM news)


AG Talks Creating A State-Run Lethal Injection Drug Pharmacy

In the middle of a controversial investigation into the state's lethal injection, Attorney General Scott Pruitt is talking about the future. He wants the state to open its own compounding pharmacy to mix and create the deadly cocktail of drugs that have become harder to get a hold of.

"Accessing those drugs, buying those drugs is very challenging because there are limitations placed upon those by the manufacturers," Pruitt said Thursday.

Right now, the state uses a private pharmacist in Texas that was responsible for sending the wrong drug for the executions of Charles Warner and Richard Glossip. In those instances potassium acetate was used in the case of Warner and nearly used on Glossip. Potassium chloride is the correct drug according to state protocol.

Pruitt said a state run compounding pharmacy would remove the need for a private "middle-man" pharmacy potentially increasing safety, efficacy and transparency for the development and testing of the deadly 3-drug cocktail used in lethal injection executions.

"It would be better if we took that all out of the equation, made the state the center piece of compounding those drugs and then providing access to defense council and others who want to test the efficacy of those drugs," he said.

There are several hurdles however. Oklahoma does not have a license from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that other states have that allows them to hold the lethal injection drugs for an extended period of time. Only a handful of states currently hold licenses, including Arizona and Texas.

Compound pharmacies can also register with the Federal Drug Administration, but are not required to do so under federal law, according to

Access to the drugs is also becoming more difficult. Drugs like pentobarbital have been blocked by European manufacturers that have said they don't want their drugs used in executions.

Pruitt blamed opponents of the death penalty for the lack of access. He said they campaigned against the use and the companies buckled under the pressure.

"The states have a responsibility to the families and to the justice system to carry out this responsibility in a sober and responsible way," Pruitt said.

But not everyone is so sure. Ryan Keisel, Executive Director at Oklahoma ACLU said Oklahomans should be asking a different question all together.

"It's not how can we come up with new and novel or innovative ways to execute people, but should we be in the business of executing people at all?" he asked.

The pharmacy would also mean a new cost for tax-payers as the state's budget hole ballooned again this week to $1.3 billion.

"Roads and bridges are falling apart, schools are moving to 4 days a week ... and here they want us to double down to give them a longer leash to carry out the ultimate authority? It seems backward to me," Kiesel said.

Pruitt says the pharmacy actually could be a cost saving measure, but didn't say how much. He added the talk of a compounding pharmacy was only just an idea that he has spoken to legislators about in the past, but there was no formal proposal or bill to create one.

When asked about the ongoing investigation, Pruitt said the pharmacy and the investigation had "very little or nothing do with" the other. He said there were no problems with the neither state's protocol, nor the drugs themselves, but that the administration of the lethal cocktail of components was what is being investigated.

5 executions are on hold pending the conclusion of a grand jury investigation that was started in September 2015. Pruitt did not answer a question about when the investigation would be complete, and said he "couldn't get into it at this point, but we will soon."

His spokesperson, Aaron Cooper, said the jury meets at the end of February and their findings, if a decision is made, should be made public, barring an order to seal the findings from a judge.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment on this story Thursday.



Defendant in Moore beheading repeats request for death penalty; judge holds off

A murder defendant told a judge Thursday he still wants to plead guilty and be given a death sentence for beheading a co-worker at a Moore food distribution plant.

"As a Muslim, we are not afraid to die," Alton Alexander Nolen said.

Nolen told the judge he wanted to waive any further hearings and go ahead and plead guilty Thursday. He said he already had thought about the consequences of agreeing to the death penalty.

He said he would not accept life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole as punishments.

His intentions have put him at odds with his court-appointed defense attorneys, who contend he is not mentally competent to make that decision.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley told him she would not accept his guilty plea yet, saying she wanted to give him more time to think about it.

Nolen is scheduled to be in court again May 20 and could plead guilty then. If he does plead guilty, another date will be scheduled for his sentencing.

Delay is normal

In planning multiple hearings, the judge is following legal guidelines for cases where a murderer essentially volunteers for the death penalty. The judge noted she had a duty to protect the integrity of the system and was going to move slow rather than fast.

In a 2006 decision, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals complimented a Canadian County judge for repeatedly offering to allow a murderer to change his mind "at virtually every stage of the proceedings."

Nolen, 31, is charged with 1 count of 1st-degree murder, 1 count of assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and 4 counts of assault with a dangerous weapon.

Nolen, who cut fruit at the plant, is accused of beheading co-worker Colleen Hufford inside Vaughan Foods on Sept. 25, 2014, shortly after he was suspended for making racial remarks. He also is accused of assaulting 3 other workers who tried to stop him as he cut Hufford's neck.

He is accused of then trying to behead another co-worker and of charging with a knife at the company's chief operating officer, who shot him.

Nolen, a Muslim convert, had started working at the plant in January 2013 while at a halfway house for felons finishing prison sentences, records show. He lived in an apartment in Moore near the plant.

Hufford, 54, of Moore, appears to have been chosen at random. She was attacked from behind.

Nolen's intentions to plead guilty and accept a death sentence first were revealed in testimony at a competency hearing in October.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge found him to be mentally competent despite those intentions.

"The fact that he does not agree with the strategy of his attorneys does not mean he is incompetent," Walkley wrote in a 3-page order.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Governor Fallin's Legal Counsel Steps Down Amid Execution Investigation

A 3rd high-ranking official associated with Oklahoma's death penalty protocols stepped down Thursday. Governor Mary Fallin's legal counsel Steve Mullins announced his resignation after working for the governor since February 2012.

Mullins testified before the grand jury in October into investigations of Oklahoma's executions. The death penalty has been under scrutiny in the state after a series of troubled executions, including a botched execution in 2014 when Clayton Lockett writhed and moaned on the gurney for more than 40 minutes and 1 last year where the wrong drugs were used to carry out the death penalty.

Former Oklahoma State Penitentiary warden Anita Trammell and Department of Corrections director Robert Patton have also resigned.

The grand jury is scheduled to release its findings next week. All executions are currently on hold in Oklahoma.

In his resignation letter, Mullins said he is taking a voluntary buyout and is trying to "better control stress" in his life.

Before working for Fallin, Mullins served as assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma and a senior legal advisor for the Department of Justice.

(source: KGOU news)


House members press for repeal of Kansas death penalty----Advocacy focuses on cost of trial, appellate process paid by taxpayers

A bipartisan group of state representatives advocated Thursday for repeal of the Kansas death penalty as a step toward alleviating a steep financial obligation weighing on a state government struggling to deal with a projected deficit.

Reps. Steven Becker, R-Hutchinson, John Bradford, R-Lansing, and Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, expressed support for repeal of the state's capital punishment statute during a news conference at the Capitol organized by the Kansas Coalition Against Death Penalty.

Becker said many aspects of the death penalty warranted scrutiny and debate, but Kansans could focus on financial benefit of dropping from the criminal code of the option of executing inmates convicted of murder. Murder trials in district court and years of appeals guaranteed to result from death sentences are costly.

"The death penalty is such an inefficient practice in our state that could truly save millions of dollars," Becker said. "Yesterday, we had about a 5-hour debate on the floor on our state budget and this morning we received a Supreme Court opinion that I think requires us to come up with about $54 million more for public education in the state. We are desperate for money and one of the sources we could find would be the repeal of the death penalty."

Becker said proponents of repeal speak of moral objections or criminal justice issues, yet the state should no longer ignore economic incentives of reform. The state's current budget deficit could reach nearly $200 million over through mid-2017.

"The cost savings is such an issue in our fiscal, our financial environment in the Statehouse that it has risen to the top, I think, as to the strongest argument," Becker said.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but has not performed an execution in more than 50 years. There are currently 9 people held under death penalty sentences in Kansas.

The 3 legislators at the news conference said they would prefer Kansas law be changed to replace capital punishment with a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Becker and Bradford are sponsors on House Bill 2515, which would abolish the death penalty and create the crime of aggravated murder. Repeal would not be retroactive, however, and would apply to cases filed after July 1, 2016. The House has not conducted a committee hearing on the bill, while a parallel version in the Senate died in committee.

Bradford said bipartisan support for this shows the importance of repealing the death penalty.

"This isn't partisan, it's a moral issue," Bradford said.

The Coalition Against Death Penalty argues the cost for the state goes up as more cases lead to conviction and appeals filed in existing cases. The coalition advocates for reallocation of the budget devoted to capital cases to other areas of public safety.

"There are much better uses for the resources that we’re using for the death penalty in the state of Kansas," Highberger said.

He said he understood the severity of the crimes in cases where the death penalty was sought, but the Legislature must acknowledge flaws with the death penalty. "This isn't about the seriousness of the crimes," he said.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against 3 Kansas inmates whose death sentence had been vacated in decisions issued by the Kansas Supreme Court. The nation's highest court focused on sentencing procedures in appeals by inmates Jonathan and Reginald Carr, who went on a Wichita murder spree in 2000. The other appeal involved a 3rd inmate, Sidney Gleason, who was convicted in a double murder.

(source: Topeka Capital-Jourrnal)


Prosecutor's cost in death penalty case: $100

The steep legal costs associated with the death penalty are well documented. It isn't uncommon for expenses to exceed $1 million in the lead up to an execution.

Which is why a prosecutor's claim about the cost of trying a capital murder case caught some by surprise this week in Pierre.

Speaking at a legislative hearing for a proposal to abolish the death penalty in South Dakota, Minnehaha County State's Attorney Aaron McGowan said the James McVay murder trial cost his office $100.

Can that be right?

"That was for a hotel room for the arresting officer out of Wisconsin," McGowan said.

His office didn't have to hire expert witnesses, calling on county law enforcement, a penitentiary deputy, the coroner and a friend and family member of the victim, Maybelle Schein.

"We were able to try the case within our normal operating costs without a lot of additional expenses - other than the hotel room referenced," McGowan said.

The $100 figure doesn't include the cost of staff and other regular operations, and it doesn't tell the full story about where costs add up in death penalty cases.

The prosecutors' expenses are just a sliver of the overall cost of capital cases, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

"From an economic perspective, the death penalty cases can be pursued cheaply by the prosecution, but when they do so, they are imposing a tremendous financial cost on other parts of the government and taxpayers across the state," Dunham said.

Mike Butler, a defense lawyer in Sioux Falls who has tried 4 death penalty cases, said he doesn't doubt McGowan's accounting of the McVay case, but it's also not a good representation of a typical death penalty case.

McVay's confession, the evidence and the fact that he was an unsympathetic figure simplified the case. Butler said the only real decision for the jury to make was whether to sentence McVay to death.

"From an evidentiary point of view it was simple, straight-forward case," Butler said.

Dunham said that McGowan only spent $100 outside of his normal budget stands out to him.

"Well, if that is in fact true," Dunham said, "it is a shame it cost so little to take someone's life."

(soruce: Argus Leader)


Do you think South Dakota should repeal the death penalty


(source: Yankton Press)


Social-issue bills fail in House

Wyoming will remain 1 of 5 states in the nation without a hate crimes law.

The state's House of Representatives handily voted down a bill Thursday that would have created extra penalties for violent crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.

Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, sponsored the proposal that would have increased prison time for the bias-motivated offenses by 25 %.

He said there should be stronger punishments for these types of crimes because they are more "egregious" than typical violent felonies.

"They are, in essence, an assault against the entire community," he said.

The proposal needed a 2/3 majority vote for it to be introduced. But it was defeated with only 10 of the 60 members supporting it.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, was among those who opposed the measure.

He said the extra punishments are not needed. And he said proving that a crime has a bias component would be a difficult task for judges or juries.

"I would submit to you that a murder is a murder," he said. "And if you kill someone or maim them, the penalties are severe enough."

Death penalty abolishment fails

The proposal was one of several bills that the House rejected Thursday - the 2nd-to-last day for the introduction of new bills.

The House also voted down a proposal to abolish the death penalty in the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said this would save the state money on costly trials and appeals and prevent a scenario where an innocent person is executed.

"The vast majority of countries have abolished the death penalty," she said. "So whether it's for moral or religious reasons or financial reasons to the state or counties, let's eliminate the death penalty."

But Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, said the death penalty can be meaningful for the victims or their families.

"Don't forget the victims in all these cases," he said. "That is one thing I think we are lacking."

(source: Tribune Eagle)


With death penalty decision uncertain, judge delays Dylann Roof's federal trial

A federal judge on Thursday delayed Dylann Roof's trial in the deadly attack on Emanuel AME Church because prosecutors still have not decided whether to seek execution.

Roof could face the death penalty on 9 of his 33 charges in federal court, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said the decision by Washington-based Justice Department officials could take another 2 months.

Such delays in high-profile federal cases are typical. After the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, it took then-Attorney General Eric Holder more than 9 months to announce he would seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Nearly 8 months have passed since Roof's arrest.

Attorneys for the 21-year-old Eastover resident already have said he would plead guilty if the government opts against capital punishment.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel urged prosecutors during a hearing Thursday in downtown Charleston to inform him promptly of any development so a trial date can be set.

"There are obviously important and alternate paths to go here based on that decision," the judge said.

Roof's federal charges in the June 17 shooting of 9 black parishioners at the Calhoun Street church include civil rights violations. Officials have called the shooting a hate crime.

Because of the delays in the federal case, Roof is likely to be tried 1st in state court in July. State prosecutors already have said they would pursue the death penalty.

Thursday's hearing in federal court served as a chance for Roof's defense team and prosecutors to update Gergel on the status of the case. Roof, who remains at Charleston County's jail, was not there.

Attorneys did not address the prosecution of Roof's friend, 21-year-old Joey Meek of Lexington County, whose trial was delayed earlier this month as his lawyers continue to pore over evidence. Meek faces up to 8 years in prison on 2 felony counts of not alerting police when Roof talked about his scheme and of later lying to FBI agents about how much he knew.

Evidence in the cases continues to flow at a steady clip.

Roof's defense team, led by attorney David Bruck, last month got a hard drive full of data, and the FBI has since authored more reports, Richardson said.

While Richardson said the government would be ready for a trial soon, Bruck said his ability to defend his client depends on the death penalty decision. A trial could be avoided, he said, if Roof pleads guilty and gets life in prison.

Roof already had waived his right to a speedy trial because his lawyers need time to review "vast amounts" of evidence to defend him in a death penalty trial, Bruck said.

"He has offered to plead guilty," said Bruck, who also represented Tsarnaev in the Boston trial. "Everybody knows that. That has been the position since the 1st day of this case. The only issue is the government's decision to accept that plea."

Federal prosecutors have said that they planned to send their case to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch's office in December. The Justice Department's Review Committee on Capital Cases typically makes a recommendation to Lynch within 90 days.

Though 2 representatives of the department's Civil Rights Division, which typically leads such prosecutions, attended Thursday's hearing, Richardson answered the judge's questions. The prosecutor said that many people must give input and express opinions before a decision is made.

"We feel like we are much closer," he said.

(source: The Post and Courier)


Unjust, inaccurate and expensive: The case against the death penalty

Many people believe that only guilty criminals get the death sentence. However, this is not true at all.

According to Michael McLaughlin's Huffington Post article "Shocking Number of Innocent People Sentenced To Death, Study Finds," more than 4 % of death row inmates are actually innocent. This points to a huge flaw in our court systems.

On top of this, most death row inmates are convicted without any incriminating DNA evidence.

If the United States courts put innocent people on death row with no DNA evidence, then why do we bother with "innocent until proven guilty?"

From 1989 to 2012, The United States court system wrongly convicted over 2,000 death row inmates. What most supporters of the death penalty do not realize is that every execution costs approximately 2 to 3 million dollars to be processed and carried out. If you multiply 2 million dollars by the 2,000 inmates wrongly convicted and sentenced to death row, you would find an extra four billion dollars that our country has wasted by murdering our own innocent people over the course of only 23 years. This is money our country cannot afford to waste.

Recent studies have shown that most of the people on death row are male, black, poor and younger than the average citizen. For example, from 1976 to 2012, 20 white men were sentenced to death for the murder of African Americans. If you compare that to the 253 African Americans sentenced to death for the murder of white victims, you will notice that black Americans are judged and punished much more severely than white criminals for similar crimes. These racial differences imply that white lives are more important than black lives and that white deaths are taken more seriously.

If the government is persuaded by racism, how can we expect racism to end in our everyday society? For example, let's take a look at the case of Mahmood Mattan, a black man convicted for the murder of Lily Volpert, a local storeowner.

One day, Lily was sitting outside the back door of her shop when she noticed a "colored man" looking around inside. She went inside to help him and he continued on his way. Later in the day, an older woman entered the store and reported a "colored man" lingering outside of the shop. When the next customer entered Lily's shop, Lily was lying on the floor with her throat cut and over $100 stolen out of her drawer.

3 hours later, Mattan was arrested. Although there were no eyewitnesses, the prosecution accused Mattan of lying, their logic being that the only reason he would have to lie would be to cover "murderous activities."

Of the 41 witnesses who testified against Mr. Mattan, only 2 of them had evidence. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. 46 years after his execution, evidence was found that Mahmood Mattan was innocent and the court sent their apologies to his family. Mattan was executed due to the stereotype associated with the color of his skin.

Now let's take a look at how the execution of innocent people affects both the victims and the executed victim's families. Although the death penalty is meant to punish the criminal and give justice to the victim, the family members of both the criminal and the victim are often punished as well. For example, family members of the victim report that instead of giving them closure, the long appeals process of the death penalty prolongs their suffering. Both the family of the executed and the family of the victim often experience symptoms such as depression, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide. Children of the innocently executed may have difficulty with healthy relationships, social situations and truancy.

The execution of the innocent is a major problem in the United States today. However, this is a problem that has a solution. I strongly believe that we should abolish the death penalty. Instead of execution, murderous prisoners should receive a sentence without a deadline. Not only does wrongful execution cause the United States to spend millions of dollars, but it also divides us among ourselves, separating us into whites and blacks. We need to stand together to make a change.

(source: Opinion, Jamie Pitera, The Miami Student)


2 Vietnamese arrested for smuggling meth near China border

Police in the northern province of Cao Bang on Thursday arrested a man and a woman for smuggling more than 1 kilogram of methamphetamine in a box of snack cakes near the China border.

The 55-year-old man and his wife, 52, from Hanoi, said they planned to sell the drug in the capital and nearby provinces.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Those convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.

(source: Thanh Nien News)


Bangladesh must abolish the death penalty now----Bangladesh's Law Minister responded to European condemnation of his country's use of the death penalty. But his suggestion that Dhaka may rethink the issue in the future, isn't good enough, writes Grahame Lucas.

The Bangladeshi Law Minister Anisul Huq's remarks on the death penalty came after a meeting with a European Parliament delegation in Dhaka on Thursday. According to reporters present, Huq responded to calls from members of the delegation to abolish the death penalty in his country by categorically ruling out any changes to the law at the present time. This was a coolly calculated slap in the face for his visitors from Europe and a clear sign that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina intends to continue her quest to call Islamist leaders to account for the crimes they allegedly committed during Bangladesh's war of liberation in 1971.

It reinforces the view that the Dhaka government has no intention of rethinking the political impact of the so-called International War Crimes Tribunal. The Tribunal has been underway in the country since 2010 and has imposed a series of death sentences on high profile Islamist leaders, several of whom have already been hanged.

International criticism of the Tribunal's work has been consistently damning. Defense lawyers have been prevented from carrying out their work properly, some witnesses for the defense have not been allowed to testify and some of the testimony by prosecution witnesses has been farcical and based largely on hearsay. The latter is not surprising seeing how much time has elapsed by the alleged crime and the trial. The Tribunal clearly does not meet international judicial standards. Nonetheless, it continues to impose the death penalty against the Islamist opponents of the Dhaka government.

The death penalty is irreversible and when used against political opponents it creates martyrs and triggers further political instability. While the death penalty remains popular with Hasina's Awami League and its supporters, its continued use is without doubt creating a fertile breeding ground for Islamist terror. Just recently James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence in the US, warned that Hasina's continuing efforts to undermine the political opposition would foster the rise of Islamist terrorists.

He is right. Moreover, Clapper pointed to the fact that Islamist terrorists had claimed responsibility for the slaying of at least 11 progressive writers and bloggers since 2013. However, Sheikh Hasina remains in denial of the obvious consequences of her policies and claims that the so-called Islamic State does not have a foothold in her country, despite evidence to the contrary. At the very least she is guilty of sticking her head in the sand, at worst of an extreme form of cynicism.

While the desire to finally close the 1971 chapter in the country's past is both honorable and understandable, Bangladesh continues to move away from the path of reconciliation between those who support secularism in the majority Muslim country and those who wish to see Islam play a greater role. With more of those convicted by the War Crimes Tribunal now awaiting execution, the need for dialogue across the political spectrum is greater than ever, as it the need to abolish the death penalty now, rather than after the damage has been done.

(source: Opinion, Deutsche Welle)


Coffee Murder Suspect Taken for Psychiatric Observation

Jessica Kumala Wongso, the woman accused of having murdered her friend last month by placing cyanide in her coffee, was taken to a Jakarta hospital on Thursday (11/02) for psychiatric observation in an effort to establish her motive, police said.

The 27-year-old Jessica was examined by Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital psychiatrists, who are expected to help explain "why and how" she allegedly committed the murder of Wayan Mirna Salihin (27), Jakarta Police general crimes director Sr. Comr. Krishna Murti said.

"She has so far denied the allegation, let alone revealing her motive. But it does not matter if she doesn't want to. We have our own ways," he told reporters on Thursday.

"We are working on this with the experts. They are analyzing her character, and the results will be revealed in court," Krishna said. "We are obliged to explain her plans and actions in the case."

Police have charged Jessica with the premeditated murder of Mirna, which could see her facing the death penalty.

Mirna died at a Jakarta hospital shortly after she started to suffer convulsions after taking a sip of her iced coffee at a cafe in Grand Indonesia mall on Jan. 6.

Lab tests confirmed traces of cyanide inside her stomach, as well as in her coffee drink, which police found was ordered by Jessica, who had arrived at the cafe almost an hour earlier.


Police: Killer of Bogor Girl (7) to Face Death Penalty

Noval Fajar Bakti, the 31-year-old man suspected of having killed a 7-year-old girl in a dispute over a loan with her mother, will face the death penalty, the Bogor Police chief has said.

Adj. Sr. Comr . Suyudi Ario Seto, the chief of Bogor Police, said on Friday (12/02) that the suspect will face murder charges as he had planned to hurt the child and had even bought a knife in preparation.

Noval is believed to have attacked both the girl, Sarah, and her mother, Yunida, in their home in the Taman Lestari housing complex in the Citeureup subdistrict of Bogor last Saturday.

He allegedly told police he had asked Yunida for a loan as he needed money to support his family, but that the woman had asked him to pay her back twice the amount.

As the dispute escalated, Yunida started screaming "thief!" which caused Noval to panic and launch his assault.

The girl died in a nearby hospital while the mother is still being treated for her wounds.

(source for both: Jakarta Globe)


Duterte favors public executions of criminals

Rodrigo Duterte may have learned a lesson from late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Or maybe he picked up the lesson from former President Joseph Estrada.

Speaking at a political rally on Wednesday, the opposition presidential candidate and Davao City mayor reinforced his iron-hand stance against crime - he not only wants the death penalty back, he also wants the execution to be in public.

"I will work for the restoration of the death penalty," Duterte told a cheering crowd here. "I will really bring it back (and make) it public so that the people will see for themselves (how criminals are punished)."

The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty although it does not close its door to its restoration.

Section 19 of the Charter's Bill of Rights states: "Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall the death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua."

Death by musketry

Duterte spoke to a crowd of about 3,000, mostly college students, at University of Cagayan Valley gymnasium here.

Marcos ordered the execution by firing squad in public of Chinese drug trafficker Lim Seng in January 1973, 4 months after declaring martial law. In May 1972, before martial law was declared, the 3 convicted rapists of movie star Maggie dela Riva were executed by lethal injection in the presence of the media.

Duterte promise

Another convicted rapist, Leo Echegaray, was executed by lethal drugs, also in the presence of the media, in February 1999 during the Estrada presidency.

Repeating a promise he made earlier, Duterte asked voters to give him "3 to 6 months" to stamp out criminality in the country.

He said he would take "full responsibility, legal or otherwise," for any human rights violation or administrative charges that may be slapped against lawmen accused of killing criminals.

From the airport, Duterte met with Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg before his convoy drove around the city, where people lining up the street chanted, "Duterte! Duterte!"

Pressed by Utleg for details on his political platform, Duterte told the archbishop: "I will be very drastic. I will order the police and the military (to use all measures) as granted to me (by law) should I win the race.

"I assure you, if (you are concerned about stories that I would be killing people), that is not something we will do," he said.

During the motorcade around the city, Duterte stood at the back of a pickup truck. He waved at cheering women and raised a clenched fist to acknowledge his male supporters.

He invited the people of Tuguegarao to visit Davao City and see for themselves what he had achieved as mayor for 22 years.

"I will even take care of your hotel expenses. But please, the first batch should all be beautiful women," he said.

(source: Philippine Inquirer)


Speedy trial sought for death row inmate's 'recruiters' ---- Lawyers' group calls on Indonesia to grant clemency to Filipino Mary Jane Veloso

A Philippine bishop has called on authorities to speed up the prosecution of the alleged recruiters of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipino woman on death row in Indonesia for drug trafficking.

"The government should continue to focus with resolve their efforts to go after illegal and exploitative recruiters," said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

The prelate was speaking Feb. 12 after Veloso's alleged recruiters refused to enter a plea during their Feb. 11 arraignment on human-trafficking charges.

Judge Nelso Tribiana of the Nueva Ecija Regional Trial Court entered a "not guilty" plea for Maria Cristina Sergio and her partner, Julius Lacanilao, before setting the next hearing for March 9.

Sergio and Lacanilao's refusal to enter a plea was "a legal strategy" that should not derail the legal process "that should proceed with haste," Santos said.

The prelate urged the government to be more resolute in going after recruiters who victimize overseas Filipino workers and "put them to much danger and enslavement."

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers also called on the Philippine government to ensure that Veloso comes home alive by expediting the case against the alleged recruiters.

Veloso is facing the death penalty for attempting to smuggle 2.6 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia.

She was scheduled to go before a firing squad last April, but the execution was postponed at the last minute, pending an investigation into her claim that she was the victim of human trafficking.

In a letter addressed to the Philippine government, the international lawyers' group said Veloso's case should "not drown in all the fanfare" for the coming national elections in the Philippines.

The group expressed dismay over what they described as the "snail's pace" of the case "due mainly to the high-handed dilatory legal tactics that the defense lawyers have overzealously resorted to in court."

"We call on the Philippine government to exert all efforts to expedite the prosecution of [Veloso]'s traffickers," the group said.

It also appealed to the Indonesian government to keep Veloso's reprieve in effect "for as long as the legal proceedings in the Philippines are going on, and/or to magnanimously grant her clemency on both legal and humanitarian grounds."

In 2015, Indonesia executed 14 people by firing squad, including citizens from Brazil, the Netherlands, Australia, and Nigeria.


FEBRUARY 11, 2016:

GEORGIA----impending execution

Georgia Gives Travis Hittson Execution Date of February 17, 2016

Travis Clinton Hittson is scheduled to be executed at 7 pm EST, on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia. 44-year-old Travis is convicted of the murder of 20-year-old Conway Uttereck on April 5, 1992, in Warner Robbins, Georgia. Travis has spent the last 23 years of his life on Georgia's death row.

Travis was deprived of affection growing up and rarely received affirmation from others, leading to depression and the belief that no one could love him. Travis was enlisted in the US Navy. Many shipmates testified that he was good-natured, although dim-witted. He worked hard and was eager to please. He was also known to drink frequently and do stupid things when drunk. He did not have a prior criminal record.

Travis Hittson, Edward Vollmer and Conway Utterbeck were all stationed together aboard the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola, Florida. All 3 men were members of the electrical division of the engineering department. Vollmer and Hittson were on the same work detail, while Utterbeck had a different assignment in the same area of the ship.

On Friday, April 3, 1992, Vollmer invited Hittson and Utterbeck to his parents house in Warner Robins, Georgia, for the weekend. The 3 men arrived at the house late Friday evening. They spent most of the day on Saturday hanging around the house. In the evening, Vollmer and Hittson began drinking. They eventually left the house, leaving Utterbeck alone.

During the early morning hours of Sunday, April 5, 1992, Vollmer and Hittson headed back to the house. Hittson alleged he was "very drunk" by that time. During the drive back, Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck had a hit list with their names on it and that Utterbeck was going to kill both of them. When the 2 men arrived back at the house, Vollmer put on a bulletproof vest and long branch coat and took 2 guns from his vehicle. He gave Hittson an aluminum bat that was also in the car. Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck was inside waiting to shoot them.

Hittson entered the house first and found Utterbeck asleep on a recliner. Hittson struck him on the head with the bat. Utterbeck woke up and attempted to defend himself while Hittson struck him 2 more times, enough to subdue Utterbeck. Utterbeck, however, remained conscious. Vollmer entered the kitchen, where Hittson had dragged Utterbeck, and gave Hittson a firearm. Utterbeck asked "what did I ever do to you?" and begged for his life. Hittson shot Utterbeck point blank in the head.

Hittson and Vollmer stripped and robbed Utterbeck before going to a nearby restaurant to eat. They then returned to the house to clean up. Vollmer instructed Hittson to dismember the body, first using a serrated steak knife, then a hacksaw from a tool shed. Hittson, at Vollmer's instruction, cut off one of Utterbeck's hands before being to saw off the head. When Hittson became sick, Vollmer finished sawing off the head, the other hand, and both feet. Vollmer also skinned part of Utterbeck, including his genitalia. Hittson denied participating in such mutilation.

The duo wrapped the body parts in plastic bags. They buried the torso in a shallow grave in a nearby wooded area. Upon returning to the house, a local women noticed the car, the odd location, and the out of state plates. She wrote down the license plate number and identifying information about the vehicle. She turned this information over to police after Utterbeck's body was discover 2 months later.

Hittson and Vollmer spent the remainder of the day cleaning up evidence of their crime, including hiding evidence from 2 individuals who came by the house. The left to return to Pensacola that evening. They disposed of Utterbeck's clothing and ID in a nearby dumpster and attempted to find a suitable place to bury Utterbeck's hands, head, and feet.

The reported to work on Monday, April 6, with body parts still in their trunk. That night, they buried the remaining body parts in shallow holes in a nearby wooded area.

Utterbeck was noted as missing and when questioned, Vollmer and Hittson claimed that they had dropped Utterbeck off at a bar on their way back on that Monday.

Utterbeck's torso was discovered on June 16, 1992, by loggers. Police were unable to identify the torso. The report from the women about the strange car had taken down the license plate incorrectly, preventing police from immediately identifying it as belonging to Vollmer. The Navy, in its attempts to locate Utterbeck, sent a request to other law enforcement agencies for information regarding unidentified bodies matching Utterbeck's description. Georgia police responded the same day regarding their unidentified torso.

Vollmer and Hittson were once again questioned, this time by the Navy and the Georgia police from Houston County. Hittson eventually confessed to the crime and led investigators to the remaining body parts and told them where to find the baseball bat he had used.

Hittson was sentenced to death, while Vollmer was sentenced to life in prison.

Please pray for peace for the family of Conway Utterbeck. Please pray for the family of Travis Hittson. Please pray that if Travis is innocent, lacks the mental competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason that evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Please pray that Travis will come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.



State of the Death Penalty

Michael Lambrix was supposed to die today.

3 months ago his death warrant was signed by Governor Rick Scott. Michael was moved to a special "Death Watch" cell, steps from the execution chamber. He was fitted for his burial suit and was visiting with his friends and family for what he assumed would be the final time.

However, thanks to the recent ruling from the United States Supreme Court that Florida's death penalty statute is unconstitutional, Michael was allowed to challenge his sentence. Attorney Brian Stull of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project was among those who filed a brief on behalf of Michael. Last week the Florida Supreme Court agreed to a stay of execution while they sort out the question of which death row inmates might be entitled to a new sentence.

While the courts are doing their work, I am continuing to ask the Governor and Cabinet to grant Michael a clemency hearing. Historically, clemency has always been the last safeguard of our criminal justice system, particularly in death penalty cases. As we know all too well, the courts don't always get it right. Lawyers and judges make mistakes, all the evidence isn't heard, and injustice results. That's why the Governor and Clemency Board have the power to commute a death sentence to one of life imprisonment.

In Florida, however, our Governor's office has turned the clemency process into a sham, despite Florida having the most unreliable death penalty system in the country. The last Governor to grant clemency was Bob Graham, and that was more than 30 years ago. Governor Scott is now executing inmates at a record pace without apparently considering whether they might be worthy of clemency. The case for clemency is particularly strong for Michael Lambrix.

Michael's case started in 1984 when a woman named Francis Smith was found driving the car of a man who had been reported missing. Francis led law enforcement to a rural area in Glades County where the bodies of a man and a woman were discovered. Francis claimed that Michael Lambrix had killed both people. She cut a deal with prosecutors to test facing any charges herself. However, prosecutors never disclosed this deal to the Court or to Michael's attorneys.

Michael's attorneys were handling their 1st death penalty case. They wouldn't let him testify at his trial and threatened to withdraw if he did. The first jury to hear this case could not reach a decision. The 2nd jury found Michael guilty and recommended the death penalty on a less than unanimous vote. Only later did it come out that a key witness had lied after being pressured. Only later did it come out that Francis Smith was having a sexual relationship with the lead State Attorney investigator in the case. Only later was DNA technology developed that could show that Michael was not the killer. Unfortunately for Michael, the courts have ruled that it is too late for any of this evidence to be considered.

After spending the past 31 years on death row, in solitary confinement, you wouldn't be surprised if Michael had been driven insane or to despair but that's not the case. Michael has spent his time on self-reflection and improvement. After focusing on his own education during his 1st years in confinement, Michael began reaching out to people around the world. I have heard from people from Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and more. Everyone wanted me to know what a positive impact Mike has had upon their lives. From solitary confinement on Florida's death row, Mike's letters and essays have been published in anthologies and shared with people around the world.

At a minimum, Michael Lambrix deserves a hearing before the Clemency Board where these facts could be presented. His case represents a failure of the court system and of the clemency process. Here is what I would ask you to do. Please contact the members of the Florida Clemency Board and deliver this message:

"Please grant a clemency hearing for Michael Lambrix, whose sentence was just stayed by the Florida Supreme Court. At a time when our state's death sentences are under serious scrutiny, the evidence in this case is especially questionable. Michael has spent the past 30 years and done everything possible to improve himself and to help others. Our death penalty system is in crisis, and Floridians deserve to know that their leaders are working to ensure that our justice system is in fact just. You have an opportunity to review the facts of this case as a member of the Clemency Board Please grant him a clemency hearing, so his case can be reviewed, and you don't end up executing a potentially innocent man."

You can write any of the folks below at The Capitol, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050, or better yet, call them today.

Governor Rick Scott: 850-488-7146

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: 850-414-3300

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater: 850-413-2820

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam 850-245-1000



Judge in Vermont death penalty case accepts challenge of law

The federal judge hearing the death penalty retrial of a Vermont man charged with killing a Rutland supermarket worker more than 16 years ago said he was open to hearing a constitutional challenge of the federal death penalty law.

In an order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford said there was "strong disagreement" in "judicial and scholarly" circles about the legality of the death penalty.

"Preliminarily, and with an open mind about the arguments recently made by both sides, the court is looking at the constitutional challenge to the death penalty," Crawford wrote in the entry order dated Tuesday.

Crawford said that cases from the 1970s identified and tried to correct problems with the death penalty but "40 years later the question of a systemic violation of the Eighth Amendment remains."

Crawford scheduled a hearing for Feb. 26 so defense attorney for Donald Fell and prosecutors can discuss the details of the case and be ready for a hearing on the issues this summer.

Robert Dunham of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center said Crawford's ruling was an important development in the case.

"Judges don't grant evidentiary hearings if they don't have concerns about the issues," Dunham said.

Fell was arrested in 2000 shortly after the abduction and killing of Terry King, a North Clarendon grandmother. At the time, prosecutors decided the case should be heard in federal court. Vermont has no death penalty.

In 2002, the judge then hearing the case declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional. 2 years later, an appeals court overturned that ruling, allowing the original trial to go forward.

Fell was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death for the abduction and killing of King. A judge ordered a new trial because of juror misconduct. A 2nd trial is scheduled for February 2017

Last fall, Fell's attorneys asked the court to rule the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

(source: Associated Press)


Meet the woman who defends America's most hated criminals (including the Boston bomber)

"We meet in the most tragic of circumstances," Judy Clarke, the lead defence lawyer representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, began. She stood at a lectern, facing the jurors, in a dark suit accented by a blue-and-purple scarf that she wears so often it seems like a courtroom talisman. To her right, George O;Toole, the judge, looked at her over his spectacles. Behind her was Tsarnaev, the slim, soft-featured young man who was on trial for the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 - along with San Bernardino, the worst domestic terrorist attack in America since 9/11. Outside the courthouse, snow from successive blizzards had piled up in grubby dunes.

Clarke, who lives in San Diego, despises cold weather, but she had endured an entire New England winter. 'Judy was in Boston for a year before the case went to trial, meeting with this kid,' her friend Jonathan Shapiro, who has taught with Clarke at Washington and Lee University School of Law, told me.

It was early March 2015, and nearly 2 years had passed since Tsarnaev, along with his older brother, Tamerlan, detonated 2 homemade bombs near the finish line of the marathon, killing 3 people and injuring 264; they then carjacked a Mercedes, murdered a police officer named Sean Collier, and engaged in a shoot-out with the cops.

Dzhokhar, 19 at the time, accidentally killed Tamerlan, who was 26, by running over him in the getaway car. Dzhokhar was discovered, wounded and expecting to die, inside a dry-docked boat in the suburb of Watertown. While he was recovering in hospital, Miriam Conrad, the chief federal public defender in Massachusetts, contacted Clarke, and Clarke decided to take the case. Clarke may be the best death-penalty lawyer in America.

Her efforts helped spare the lives of Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Zacarias Moussaoui (the so-called '20th hijacker' in the 9/11 plot) and Jared Loughner (who killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, at a Tucson mall). 'Every time Judy takes a new case, it's a soul-searching process for her,' Clarke's old friend Elisabeth Semel told me. 'Because it's an enormous responsibility.'

On rare occasions when Clarke withdrew or was removed from a defence team, a defendant received the death penalty. But in cases that she tried through the sentencing phase, she had never lost a client to death row. Her speciality is what the Supreme Court has called 'the worst of the worst': child rapists, torturers, terrorists, mass murderers, and others who have committed crimes so appalling that even opponents of the death penalty might be tempted to make an exception.

Tsarnaev was indisputably guilty; the lead prosecutor, William Weinreb, described in his opening statement a video in which Tsarnaev is seen depositing a backpack directly behind an eight-year-old boy on Boylston Street and walking away before it explodes.

The prosecution referred to Tsarnaev as Dzhokhar, his given name, which is Chechen and means 'jewel'. But as Clarke addressed the jury she used the nickname that he had adopted as a high-school student, in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Jahar. In a capital case, a defence attorney seeks to humanise the client to the point that jurors might hesitate to condemn him to death.

Clarke has said that her job is to transform the defendant from an unfathomable monster into 'one of us'. Her use of the nickname also signalled genuine familiarity. Clarke spends hundreds of hours getting to know reviled criminals. Her friend Tina Hunt, a federal public defender in Georgia who has known Clarke for 30 years, said, 'Judy is fascinated by what makes people tick - what drives people to commit these kinds of crimes.

People aren't born evil. She has a very deep and abiding faith in that idea. Most of Clarke's success in death-penalty cases has come from negotiating plea deals. She often cites a legal adage: the first step in losing a death-penalty case is picking a jury. Clarke looked at the jurors 1 by 1. 'For the next several weeks, we're all going to come face to face with unbearable grief, loss, and pain caused by a series of senseless, horribly misguided acts carried out by 2 brothers,' she said.

Clarke is tall, with straight brown hair and long arms that dangle, a little comically, like the boughs of a weeping willow. Her style with a jury is warm, conversational, devoid of bombast. Whenever she paused for emphasis, the muted clatter of typing would fill the room as journalists with laptops live-tweeted the proceedings. 'There's little that occurred the week of April 15 - the bombings, the murder of Officer Collier, the carjacking, the shoot-out in Watertown - that we dispute,' she said.

Clarke was acknowledging her client's guilt. So why bother with a trial? Each juror had a digital monitor for viewing evidence, and Clarke flashed a photograph of Jahar as a young boy, dark-eyed and floppy-haired, sitting next to a much larger Tamerlan. Clarke said, 'What took Jahar Tsarnaev from this to Jahar Tsarnaev and his brother with backpacks walking down Boylston?'

"Her speciality is what the Supreme Court has called 'the worst of the worst': child rapists, torturers, terrorists, mass murderers"

Before-and-after photographs are standard exhibits in Clarke's repertoire. The effect is deliberately jarring. Clarke promised the jury that she would not try to minimise or excuse Tsarnaev's conduct. Instead - in a vanishingly fine distinction - she hoped to present his life in a way that might mitigate his moral culpability.

The jurors stared past her at Tsarnaev. He sat at the defence table, fiddling with his unruly dark hair, in a blazer and a shirt that was unbuttoned a little rakishly for a murder trial. 'It's going to be a lot to ask of you to hold your minds and hearts open,' Clarke said. 'But that is what we ask.'

Among death-penalty lawyers, Clarke is known, without irony, as St Judy, on the basis of her humility, her generosity and her devotion to her clients. She has not given an interview to the mainstream press in 20 years. But, in a 2013 commencement speech, Clarke said that her clients have obliged her to 'redefine what a win means'.

Victory usually means a life sentence. Even so, Clarke said, she owes a debt of gratitude to her clients, for 'the lessons they've taught me - about human behaviour and human frailty - and the constant reminder that there but for the grace of God go I.' But Clarke's convictions are rooted in constitutional law, not the Bible, and in the courtroom she is unabashedly gladiatorial.

In 1990 she told the Los Angeles Times, 'I love the fight.' Clarke is driven by an intense philosophical opposition to the death penalty. She once observed that 'legalised homicide is not a good idea for a civilised nation.' As the Tsarnaev case began, Clarke told the jury that she would not contest the 'who' or the 'what' of the case. She would focus on the 'why'.

Clarke, who is 63, grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. At Furman College, in Greenville, South Carolina, she studied psychology. She married her college boyfriend, Thomas (Speedy) Rice - a jovial, round-faced man who also became an attorney. After she completed law school, at the University of South Carolina, they moved to San Diego, where, in 1977, she joined a small office of federal public defenders.

Clarke worked tirelessly on behalf of undocumented immigrants, drug dealers and others who could not afford a private attorney. She asked new hires to sign a 'blood letter' committing to work at least 60 hours a week. Clarke routinely put in 80. A death-penalty trial consists of 2 parts: the 'guilt phase', in which the jury determines whether the defendant committed the crime, and the 'penalty phase,' in which the jurors vote on a sentence.

Although Clarke had effectively conceded Tsarnaev's guilt in her opening statement, this did not stop prosecutors from summoning people who had lost limbs, or family members, in the bombing. Some entered the court in wheelchairs, others on prosthetic legs.

They described how their bodies had been damaged by shrapnel from the blast. Before-and-after photographs are potent exhibits for prosecutors as well, and as William Campbell testified about how his 29-year-old daughter, Krystle, was killed, jurors saw a photograph of her at her 1st communion, wearing a fluffy white dress. After each witness, Clarke murmured, 'We have no questions.' Sometimes she thanked them for their testimony.

In the Tsarnaev case, Clarke was joined by Miriam Conrad, the federal defender in Boston, and defence attorney David Bruck, whom she had met at law school. They maintained a quiet intimacy with their client. But Tsarnaev wasn't easy to manage. Each day he sauntered to the defence table and slouched in his chair, his rangy limbs arrayed in a posture of insouciance.

Some commentators felt that Tsarnaev was smirking, though his lawyers noted in court that his features had been slightly twisted by nerve damage sustained when he was shot in the face by the police. Clarke sat on Tsarnaev's left, and Conrad, an animated woman in her 50s, on his right, so that the jurors always saw him flanked by women.

They whispered and exchanged little jokes with him, and they touched him - a pat on the back, a squeeze of the arm. This was deliberate: like the Pope stooping to embrace a disfigured pilgrim, the women were indicating that Tsarnaev was not a leper.

The centrepiece of the government's case was a montage of photographs and videos taken on the day of the bombing. One image, captured shortly before the 1st blast, shows a family of 5 watching runners cross the finish line. Just behind them, semi-obscured by a tree, stands Tsarnaev, in a backward baseball cap. On March 5 the family's father, Bill Richard, a slim, haunted-looking man, took the stand.

After the blast threw him across the street, he recalled, he scrambled to find his children. He located his 11-year-old, Henry, who was unharmed, and then saw his 7-year-old, Jane, lying by the tree. He picked her up, but her leg did not come with her. 'It was blown off,' he said. Bill saw his wife, Denise, hunched over their 8-year-old son, Martin, who had been closest to the blast.

Bill wanted to help care for Martin, but his daughter was losing blood so rapidly that she was not likely to survive unless he got her to an ambulance. He took one final look at Martin. 'I knew he wasn't going to make it,' Bill said. 'From what I saw, there was no chance.' He ran to an ambulance, and Jane survived. Denise was blinded in 1 eye. While jurors and spectators wept, a medical examiner described the blast's impact on Martin's body. Wearing rubber gloves, he held up the shorts that Martin had been wearing. They could have been long pants, he said - it was hard to tell. The fabric had melted.

Investigators had retrieved from Jahar's laptop a downloaded copy of Inspire, a publication associated with al-Qaeda, which featured an article titled 'Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom'. In the Tsarnaevs' family apartment in Cambridge, the FBI had discovered the residue of explosives. Prosecutors also had what amounted to a confession from Jahar.

Believing that he was dying in the dry-docked boat, he had written a message in pencil on the fibreglass interior. Initially, the government wanted to remove the section of the boat bearing the confession and display it in court. The defence objected that the jury needed to see Jahar's message in its full context. One day in March, Judge O'Toole accompanied the lawyers, the jury and Tsarnaev to a warehouse where the boat sat, raised, on a trailer.

The boat was streaked with Tsarnaev's blood and riddled with more than a hundred bullet holes. 'God has a plan for each person,' Tsarnaev wrote. 'Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions.' He was 'jealous' of Tamerlan for having achieved martyrdom. 'The US government is killing our innocent civilians,' he added, noting that 'Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.'

The note was difficult to read, because bullets had ripped through it. But near the end Tsarnaev wrote, 'I don't like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [bullet hole] it is allowed. All credit goes to [bullet hole].' For all the putative radicalism of these sentiments, there was an inescapable sense, even as the government presented its case, that Jahar Tsarnaev was less a soldier of God than a wayward child, curiously detached from his terrorist acts.

He was hardly ascetic: at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Jahar was known as a pot dealer. In a capital case, much of the exertion involves detective work. Collaborating with investigators and mental-health experts, Clarke assembles a 'social history' - a comprehensive biography of the client, often drawing on decades of family records. She tracks down relatives, teachers, neighbours and co-workers, looking for signs of mental illness or instability in the client's past.

By searching for what Tina Hunt called 'the key that turns the lock', a capital-defence attorney operates on the broad assumption that the perpetrators of terrible crimes are also victims themselves - indeed, that only victims of mental illness or awful circumstances could commit such crimes. You might think that spending time with killers would disabuse a lawyer of any illusions about the virtues of humanity.

But a dozen of Clarke's friends and colleagues assured me that she ardently believes in the essential goodness of each client. 'She has a well of compassion that just runs a little deeper,' Elisabeth Semel said. On April 8 the jury convicted Tsarnaev of all 30 counts in the indictment. For the penalty phase, Clarke and her colleagues summoned more than 40 witnesses to tell Jahar's life story. He and his parents had come to America in 2002, and were later joined by his 2 sisters and Tamerlan.

The parents, Anzor and Zubeidat, were attractive and ambitious but volatile: Anzor, who found work as a mechanic, suffered from night terrors; Zubeidat was by turns smothering and neglectful. The Tsarnaevs lived in a cramped apartment in Cambridge, and their immigrant hopes gradually eroded. Jahar's sisters married young; each had a child, got divorced, and returned home.

Tamerlan failed in his efforts at a professional boxing career, and at everything else he tried. He married an American, Katherine Russell, and they soon had a child. She and the baby joined the others in the apartment. By 2010, Tamerlan had become immersed in a strain of Salafist Islam that had taken root on the internet.

In 2012 he travelled to Dagestan for 6 months, hoping to participate in jihad, though he apparently whiled away most of his time in cafes, talking politics. (According to the Boston Globe, Tamerlan heard voices and may have suffered from undiagnosed schizophrenia.) Jahar was the sweetheart of his family - a doe-eyed, easygoing child who adored his older brother and made friends easily.

He did well in school, was moved up a year and become captain of his high-school wrestling team. Several tearful teachers took the stand and described him as bright and gentle. By the time he started college, however, his family was falling apart. His parents separated and left the country. Tamerlan, meanwhile, was becoming more radical, walking around Cambridge in the kind of flowing white robe one sees in Saudi Arabia.

Neither the government nor the defence claimed that the brothers were part of a larger conspiracy; rather, in Clarke's awkward phrasing, Tamerlan 'self-radicalised' through the internet. The question at the heart of the defence was whether Jahar did, too. In college, he spent evenings getting high and playing video games with friends. Several of them testified about his kindness. Some didn't even know that he was a Muslim.

The defence argued that Jahar didn't engineer the terrorist plot. Tamerlan bought the bomb materials, made the bombs, and shot Officer Collier. In Chechen culture, 1 defence expert testified, an older brother is a dominant personality whom the younger brother must obey. A cognitive scientist testified that teenaged brains are impulsive, like cars with powerful engines and faulty brakes.

Tsarnaev was young, had no history of violent conduct, and fell under the spell of a charismatic mentor. One of Tsarnaev's teachers, whose husband had been his soccer coach, testified, 'He's very coachable. He would do what the coach said.' Jahar Tsarnaev sat silently at the defence table, occasionally reaching for a carafe of water to refill his attorneys' cups. There was such dissonance between the grotesque crime and the mild- mannered perpetrator that, outside the courtroom, an avid group of supporters, many of them young women, maintained that he must be the victim of a frame-up.

"It's a defence you don't often have recourse to in these types of cases: "He was a good kid, one of ours,"' Carol Steiker, a death-penalty specialist at Harvard Law School, told me. 'He also reads as white, which is helpful in these kinds of cases.' One of the cameras in the courtroom was positioned to approximate the judge's view from the bench. David Bruck objected that the camera violated the defence team's 'zone of privacy', but the camera stayed, offering an intimate perspective of Tsarnaev's detachment. He whispered and sometimes smiled with his attorneys, but he avoided looking at the witnesses, instead examining his fingernails or doodling.

'I really miss the person that I knew,' one of his college friends, Alexa Guevara, said, through tears, on the stand. She tried mightily to catch his eye, but he would not meet her gaze. Tsarnaev broke this mask of indifference only once. His aunt Patimat Suleimanova came from Dagestan to testify. But when she took the stand she was immediately convulsed by sobs. Tsarnaev dabbed tears from his eyes until she was escorted from the stand.

This marked, in some ways, a promising development for the defence - a signal that the defendant had feelings, after all, and that his death would devastate his family. At the same time, it underscored Tsarnaev's implacability during weeks of harrowing testimony about the devastation he had caused. Clarke, in her opening statement, said that Jahar's terrorist path was 'created' and 'paved by his brother'.

If he had fallen under the sway of a violent older sibling, it seemed logical that Tsarnaev, after 2 lonely years in prison, might feel remorse. But Tsarnaev's demeanour betrayed no contrition. This was critical because, according to studies, capital juries are heavily influenced by whether or not the defendant shows remorse.

To prove that Tsarnaev was untroubled by his crime, the prosecution presented a still image taken by a surveillance camera in a holding cell in the courthouse. The image was captured several months after the attacks. Tsarnaev wears orange scrubs and scowls at the camera, his middle finger raised.

'This is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, unconcerned, unrepentant, unchanged,' 1 of the prosecutors said. The defence immediately moved to show the jury the video from which the still was taken, and it emerged that Tsarnaev had aimed other gestures at the camera, including a 2-fingered gang sign, in the casual pose of a teenager on Instagram. The camera had a mirrored surface, and he carefully tousled his hair.

Watching Tsarnaev in court, I sometimes wondered if Clarke was trying to save someone who didn't want to be saved. Perhaps he still envied Tamerlan's martyrdom. In death-penalty work, clients often come to desire a swift end. They may be suicidal, or hopeless, or insane; they may have made a considered decision that death by injection would be preferable to a lifetime of solitary confinement. Such clients, known as "volunteers', present death-penalty lawyers with a dilemma.

An attorney's job is to advocate vigorously for a client's interests. But there may come a point at which that duty diverges from the imperative to save the client's life. David Bruck made a dramatic case against the death penalty. He has worked as an attorney or an adviser on scores of capital cases. He showed the jurors a photograph of ADX, the federal maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, where several of Clarke's former clients are held: a series of stark buildings nestled into barren, snow-covered terrain. It called to mind Siberia.

If Tsarnaev was spared the death penalty, Bruck explained, he would live a life of near total isolation at ADX. He would have no contact with other inmates or the outside world. If the jury delivered a death sentence, Bruck continued, its decision would surely be followed by more than a decade of appeals, each one accompanied by a new wave of publicity for Tsarnaev and pain for the victims. Only then - maybe - would he be executed.

Supporters of the death penalty often argue that it brings 'closure' to the victims, but Bruck's logic seemed unassailable: if you want a sense of finality, send him away. 'No martyrdom,' he said. 'Just years and years of punishment, day after day, while he grows up to face the lonely struggle of dealing with what he did.'

On April 17, under the headline 'To end the anguish, drop the death penalty', the Boston Globe carried an open letter from Bill and Denise Richard. 'The defendant murdered our 8-year-old son, maimed our 7-year-old daughter, and stole part of our soul,' they wrote. 'We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.'

On a May morning, as gulls hung on the breeze in Boston Harbour, Clarke addressed the jury a final time. She dismissed the idea of Jahar as a radical, arguing that he had been in his brother's thrall. 'If not for Tamerlan,' she said, the attack 'would not have happened'. She played the video of Jahar putting his backpack behind the Richard family. 'He stops at the tree, not at the children,' she insisted, a little lamely. 'It does not make it better, but let's not make his intent worse than it was.'

Clarke called Tsarnaev a 'kid'. In his confession inside the boat, she argued, he was merely parroting the rhetoric of others. 'He wrote words that had been introduced to him by his brother.' At one point Clarke nearly conceded the logic of capital punishment. 'Dhzokar Tsarnaev is not the worst of the worst,' she said. 'That's what the death penalty is reserved for.'

Then again you could argue that if Tsarnaev wasn't among the worst of the worst Clarke would never have taken the case. And Clarke - who once defended someone who slashed a pregnant woman's belly and strangled her to death in order to steal the baby from her womb - has devoted her career to the notion that even the very worst should be spared. But she knew that these jurors didn't oppose the death penalty, so she appealed to their sympathy, reminding them that they were standing in judgment on one of their own.

As her closing neared its crescendo, her normally casual demeanour assumed a frantic urgency, and she gesticulated - pounding her fist, slicing the air - as if she were conducting an orchestra. 'Mercy is never earned,' Clarke said. 'It's bestowed.' Clarke reminded the jury that they were making a moral judgment. 'This is an individual decision for each of you,' she said.

After 14 hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a death sentence. All but three of the jurors believed that, even without the influence of Tamerlan, Jahar would have carried out the attacks on his own. Only 2 believed that the defendant was remorseful.

'Judy would probably say, if the public saw everything she sees, it would look at the client or the case differently,' David Bruck once remarked. But in this instance Clarke had failed to paint a picture of her young client that was moving enough to save him. Judge O'Toole had warned the jurors not to read anything into the defendant's manner in court, but Tsarnaev's inscrutability appears to have hurt him. Most jurors declined to speak to the press, but one of them told the Daily Beast, 'My conscience is clear ... And I don't know that he has one.'

Unbeknown to that juror, and to the public in Boston, Tsarnaev had already expressed remorse for his actions. On June 24, 6 weeks after the jury dispersed, Judge O'Toole presided over the formal sentencing of Tsarnaev, and Clarke made a fascinating remark. 'There have been comments over time with regard to Mr Tsarnaev lacking remorse,' she said. 'It's incumbent upon us to let the court know that Mr Tsarnaev offered to resolve this case without a trial.'

Tsarnaev had not simply agreed to plead guilty before the trial, Clarke said; he had written a letter of apology. But it was never shared with the jury, because the government had it sealed. I spoke recently to Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge in Massachusetts who now teaches at Harvard. 'This could have been an immediate plea,' she said. 'He was prepared to cooperate with the government. Why go through with it all?' (A spokesman for the prosecutors declined to comment on why the letter was suppressed.)

A 2nd juror, 23-year-old Kevan Fagan, was asked by the radio station WBUR about the Richard family's letter opposing the death penalty. 'If I had known that, I probably - I probably would change my vote,' he said. Before Judge O'Toole could deliver the death sentence, Clarke said, 'Mr Tsarnaev is prepared to address the court.' He rose, next to her, wearing a dark jacket and a grey button-down shirt. 'I would like to begin in the name of Allah, the exalted and glorious, the most gracious, the most merciful,' he said.

He spoke in a thick accent that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern. (Before the bombing, he had sounded more conventionally American.) 'This is the blessed month of Ramadan, and it is the month of mercy from Allah to his creation, a month to ask forgiveness of Allah,' he continued. Turning to Clarke and her colleagues, Tsarnaev said that he wanted to thank his attorneys. 'I cherish their company,' he said. 'They're lovely companions.'

Then he thanked the jury that had sentenced him to death. The Prophet Muhammad, he noted, had said that 'if you are not merciful to Allah's creation, Allah will not be merciful to you'. Tsarnaev went on, 'I'd like to now apologise to the victims.' He recalled that after the bombings he began to learn about the injured and the dead. 'Throughout this trial, more of those victims were given names.' When the witnesses testified, they conveyed 'how horrendous it was, this thing I put you through'.

Tsarnaev did not look at the many victims who had gathered in the courtroom. He stared straight ahead, his hands clasped around his belt buckle. 'I am sorry for the lives that I've taken, for the suffering that I've caused,' he said. He prayed that the victims might find 'healing', and he asked Allah 'to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family'.

Tsarnaev spoke in precisely the language of religious devotion that the prosecutors might have predicted. But people often change considerably between the ages of 19 and 21. He had spent those 2 years in solitary confinement, with plenty of time to ponder his actions - and to read the Koran. I wondered, as he addressed the court, if Tsarnaev was mature enough - or distant enough in time from the bombing and from the death of his brother - to have arrived at a firm evaluation of what he'd done. Tsarnaev will not be executed any time soon.

Since 1988, 75 defendants have been given the federal death penalty, but only three have been put to death. Appeals drag on for decades. The very scenario that Bill and Denise Richard hoped to avoid - the endless replay of the city's trauma in the interests of retributive justice - will come to pass. Clarke has been known to say, of a death sentence that has not yet led to execution, 'This case has a few miles to go.'

Clarke's friends say that the loss has been devastating to her. But the people who know her agree that this will not be her last case - she will pick herself up and keep fighting. (Last month Clarke and her colleagues filed an appeal against his conviction for murder and other related charges.) Tsarnaev concluded his courtroom remarks with a few final encomiums to Allah. Then he sat stiffly and waited for Judge O'Toole to deliver the death sentence. Clarke reached out and placed her hand on his back.

(source: The Telegraph)


Masseuse charged with murder of boyfriend

A masseuse was charged at the Magistrate Court here today with the murder of her boyfriend last month.

Ng Choon Wah, 53, together with another suspect who is still at large, is accused of causing the death of Ng Kin Hock, 52, at a house in Taman Bahagia here at about 12.30 am on Jan 28.

The victim's body was found at a rubber plantation in Jalan Nyior 3 days after the murder.

Choon Wah was charged under Section 302 of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction.

She nodded when asked if she understood the charge after it was read in front of Magistrate Nuruhuda Mohd Yusof.

No bail was offered for the accused.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norafiah Saini appeared for the prosecution.

Nuruhuda then set March 24 for mention of the case.

(source: New Straits Times)


Death Sentence Is Tehran's Answer To Ahwazi Calls For Freedom

The human rights situation has been worsening quickly in Iran. More than 2,000 people have been hung during Hassan Rouhani's tenure as President of the regime. This is the biggest scale of executions in the past 25 years. These mass executions will be added to the black pages of the Iranian regime's history of human rights violations since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The large-scale execution of political and ideological prisoners has resulted in Iran being named one of the top countries committing executions per capita during the past few years.

Unlocked from its sanction-based constrictions, Iran is now fully free to underwrite terror and carry out more executions against Ahwazi Arab and throughout the country. 5 Ahwazi are facing imminent execution in public. The names of these Ahwazi Arab prisoners are QaisObeidawi, HamoodObeidawi, Mohammad Helfi, Mehdi Moarabi and Mehdi Sayahi.

The 5 men were condemned following a trial filled withheinous violations of the judiciary process by the Revolutionary Court of mullahs in Iran. These prisoners were arrested in April 2015 and on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, were brought in front of television cameras of Press TV by Ministry of Information to make public confessions of about their fictional crimes. Farhad Afsharnya, the regime's supposed Chief Justice for the AL- Ahwaz region saidthe execution of the 5 Arabs was confirmed, it will be ratified by the court and execution will be carried out in public.

These Ahwazi activists were only concerned with advancing cultural and social awareness for the cause of Ahwaz people and were not connected to an armed struggle against the state. The Iranian regime has stepped up its ferocious crackdown against Ahwazis and all none- Persian activists after the tension between Iran and its neighbours heightened as a result of Iran's involvement in Middle Eastern wars, such as in Syria and Yemen. Similar sentences have been issued in closed rather than public court proceedings, give a substantial reason to conclude that the Iranian judicial system only pay lip service to any idea of due process. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that human rights are overlooked by any president while the judicial system is not independent. These executions might occur anytime soon after Iranian parliamentary election at the end of February.

The Iranian regime's massive hypocrisy in condemning Saudi Arabia's questionable human rights record is breathtaking. Any use of the term "moderate" in connection with Iran's president Hassan Rouhani is ludicrous hyperbole; he is simply the president elected from the list of candidates chosen for the position by the Guardian Council, consisting of 12 Islamic theologians and Jurists, according to the Iranian constitution.

Under the constitution, secular candidates or those who fail to embrace the Islamic Republic's theocratic hardline Shiite values are nominally capable of being selected but, in reality, are not.

The parliament or Masjid has little power over the regime's religious courts to stop or even slow down the rate of executions, with the courts routinely issuing verdicts without even hearing evidence or investigating the charges against accused individuals as might be expected under legal systems elsewhere in the world.

1 example of the Iranian regime's legal system is the common charge of muharebeh or 'enmity to God,' routinely used against human rights activists and dissidents, which invariably receives the death penalty, often administered in public by stoning or mass hangings by cranes. Many of those hanged take up to 20 minutes to die slowly and painfully of strangulation. The victims' bodies are left for some time before being removed as a way of intimidating the public into silence.

Since Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, over 2,000 Iranians, including women, many of them Ahwazi Arabs, Kurdish and Baluchi Sunnis, have been executed, almost all after ludicrous kangaroo trials in which they were unrepresented and not allowed to submit any evidence in their defence. Recently, 6 of 33 Sunni men currently on death row were publicly executed in a mass hanging, while another woman was sentenced to death by stoning. This is the "moderate" Iranian regime.

This report sheds light on this failure of the Iranian regime to respect the rightsof the Ahwazi Arab people in Al-Ahwaz, the south and south west part of Iran.

Conducted behind closed doors, before biased judges and in the absence of legal representation, the unfair trials of Arabs in the AL-Ahwaz region are part of a long-standing persecution of this oppressed people in Iran.

Despite the fact that this recurring miscarriage of justice is in flagrant violation of the Islamic Republic's constitution, Iran's jails are filled with Ahwazi political prisoners who face brutal punishments, a lifetime in prison or execution.

Over the past decade, hundreds of Ahwazi Arab prisoners ranging from poets, teachers to bloggers and human rights activists have been executed on trumped up charges in kangaroo courts.

Rather than finding reasonable evidence for the commission of a crime, judges generally rely on confessions, which have been drawn out from the accused through physical torture and psychological duress. Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the accused are kept in the dark, often not informed of where their loved one has been imprisoned, or even buried.

As we follow carefully the history of Ahwazi Arab people of repression, violence and capital punishment, we see that they have a long record of systematic crackdown over decades.

Meanwhile, the execution of Ahwazi intellectuals historically has inflicted an irreversible blow to the liberty movement of this occupied nation that has been struggling to achieve its fundamental rights of self- determination for years.

The executions of early leaders of Ahwaz liberation movement in 1963, the oppressive policies of Islamic Republic of Iran against Ahwazi people in every phases of their life, the tragic bloody massacre of Mohammareh city in 1979, and the severe crackdown of popular uprising in 2005 provide ample evidence that the intellectual, Ahwazi public figures, and the political class of this nation repeatedly have been targeted for imprisonment, repression and execution. The largest popular uprising of Ahwazi people broke out on 9 April 2005 when people from several cities turned out into the streets and protested against the distribution of circular(petition) attributed to Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former vice president-parliamentary legal affairs of the president Mohammad Ali Khatami.

The latter events of popular uprising in April 2005 in Ahwaz which was a nonviolent demonstration against the wicked policy of central government focused on altering the demography of Ahwazi Arab people reminded the nation of the catastrophic massacre when so many people were killed in the course of the widespread peaceful demonstration, so many people massacred in the street by Iranian squad riot forces.

At the time, many civil and cultural activists were executed and many clean-handed and innocent young protesters were killed under tortures, their bodies discovered in Karoon River. These bodies were wrapped up in plastic and their hands were tied up behind their backs by rope. After the massacre, terrible panic and suffocating climate dominated in the region and subsequently, the executions of highly educated, intellectuals, and civil and political activists started again.

Notably, in 2005, dozens of teachers and cultural activists were arrested and after unfair trials and without access to legal representation, they were charged with vague charges such as acting against the national security, enmity with God, corrupting the earth and blasphemy , and then condemned to execution or life imprisonment. As an example, MR. ZamellBawi, who was studying law at senior semester at university and was waiting for his graduation ceremony, was arrested by intelligence security and under physical and psychological tortures was forced to incriminate himself falsely.

After a show trial in revolutionary court in Ahwaz he was sentenced to death and his verdict confirmed by the higher tribunal in Tehran. Additionally 6 immediate members of his family who were mostly students and cultural activists, were sentenced to life imprisonment and exiled to far- away prisons outside Ahwaz.

In 2005, Ali OudaAfravi , Mehdi HantoushNavaseri, in 2006, Ali Matori, Malik al-Tamimi, Abdullah Soleimani (Kaabi), Abdul Amir Faraj Allah, Mohammad Lazem Kaab, Khalaf DhrabKhazraei, Ali Reza Asakereh, in 2007, QasemSalamat, Majed Albughbish, Razi Zargani, RaisanSawari, AbdolrezaHantoushNavaseri, Muhammed Ali Sawari, JaafarSawari, in 2008, Hussein Asakereh, Abdul Hussein Al -hareibi, Ahmad Meramzy, ZamellBawi, in 2009, Khalil Kaabi and Said Sadon were sentenced to death on false charges of "enmity against God" and after months of torture in solitary confinement in secret prisons secretly were hanged. It is noteworthy that all these executed people were the educated and the political and cultural activists of the Ahwaz nation and the bodies of these people had not been handed over to their families.

Hashem Shabani, an Ahwazi Arab poet and human rights activist was executed for being enemy of God and threatening national security. In reality, he spoke about against brutal treatment of Ahwazi Arabs, apparently he was campaigning for the Ahwazi people who are oppressed, mocked and treated as third citizens by Iranians. We have to keep in mind that if somebody is an Arab, then they are not the same as being an Iranian Persian because of their ethnic background. There is a cultural bias against Ahwazi Arabs in the mainstream Persian population.

In 2011, the brothers Heydariyan (3 people) along with their friend, Ali Sharifi, were arrested in the wake of civil protests in Ahwaz. According to credible reports, they were charged with enmity with God and at were sentenced to death after confessing under torture. They were denied a fair trial and judicial proceedings and in 2012 were hanged in secret. Ali Chbyshat and Khalid Mousavi were arrested in 2011 and were kept for seven months in solitary confinement by the Intelligence Service without access to lawyers and then convicted to death penalty and hanged in secret.

Because of the severe repression, censorship, lack of freedom of the press and the judicial system's lack of transparency and lack of coverage for any of the non-Persian prisoners, there is no possible way to give exact figures of all the death sentences among non-Persian ethnic groups in Iran. Iran not only has the world's highest execution rates but the executions have mostly been carried out against ethnic groups such as Ahwazis, Kurds and Baluchis who are struggling to achieve their national and linguistic identity and self-determination rights.

There are thousands of underage prisoners who have been executed in Iran. According to the International Covenants on Human Rights, the death penalty is forbidden for people who commit crimes while under 18 years of age. Waging war against God is one of the leading charges used by the Iranian regime to justify the inhuman executions of ethnic groups in Iran.

Since the 80s, the clerical regime used it as a weapon to suppress many political and ideological opponents. Most executions of prisoners who were accused of "enmity against God" belong to none-Persian ethnic nationalities in Iran, mostly Ahwazi Arab, Baluch, and Kurdish activists.

The regime defies international law by holding all the bodies of the executed prisoners. Hundreds of Ahwazi prisoners' bodies have been withheld by the Iranian authorities. Many human rights organisations called on the regime authorities to hand over the bodies of the executed political prisoners to their anguished families.

This is a part of the regime's collective punishment policy against the Ahwazi Arab people, Iran has refused to deliver the bodies of hundreds of Ahwazis executed since 2005 to date under the pretext that their families will hold funerals for them, which will serve as a catalyst for Ahwazi uprising. This reflects the racism of the Iranian regime against Ahwazi Arabs.

Finally one must question the purpose of the regime behind the high number of executions and the human tragedies. In a country where most of fraud and administrative and financial corruption are committed by the regime officials, while the oppressed nations are living in extreme poverty, why is it that these officials have not been prosecuted or executed?

It can be concluded that the executions of non-Persian prisoners have political and security aspects in a bid of the ruling regime in Iran to expand its domination and control over the occupied and oppressed nations of Ahwaz, Kurdistan, Baluchistan and other peoples in the country.

When the Iranian regime learned that its agenda has been failed to put out the peaceful resistance of Ahwazi people the Iranian authorities with the help of their deeply flawed criminal justice system began to prioritize the death penalty of Ahwazi prisoners, amid warnings from the human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International.

Since the Ahwazi uprising, the death sentences and executions are being imposed and carried out on Ahwazi prisoners even more extensively, after procedures that violate human rights standards.

Iranian television stations like Press TV continue to broadcast self-incriminating testimonies of Ahwazi detainees even before the opening of a trial, undermining the fundamental rights of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Is it just Ahwazi political prisoners who must be executed for using their pens, the only weapons they raised in the struggle for the rights of the Ahwazi people? Why is it a crime in the Iranian state to write about the lack of basic rights to a decent existence for the Ahwazi people who live below the poverty line, while their land is teeming with natural resources such as oil, natural gas, mining stone and running water? All remain inaccessible to the people of Ahwaz, including the right to clean drinking water.

Where is the justice when the Ahwaz region, the so-called heart of Iran's economy, is considered one of the poorest regions in Iran?

From 2003 to date, the climate in Ahwaz has dramatically deteriorated due to air pollution caused by Iran's industrial activities in Ahwaz. Ahwaz is one of the most polluted areas in Iran and the larger Middle East, and it is an area where there is a visible increase in the number of people dying from pollution related diseases.

One has only to visit the out-patient department in hospitals in the Ahwaz to find them filled with patients suffering from cancer and other pollution related chronic lung diseases. If our political prisoners have established campaigns, it is only because they could not close their eyes and remain silent to the horrific sufferings of their people.

The world is learning slowly that Ahwazi political prisoners are quickly sentenced to death after unjust show-trials where they are charged with "enmity against God", or that they post a risk to national security, or militant activities and secession. The vast majority of Iranians, the pro-Iranian Mullah regime who view themselves as human rights advocates who claim to be distraught over the rivers of blood flowing in Syria and other Arab nations are weeping crocodile tears if they're honest, having remained silent for decades on the plight of the Ahwazi Arab peoples and other brutally oppressed ethnic groups in Iran who are murderously subjugated and brutalised solely for claiming their lawful rights.

Iran by dominating on the wealth of this nation has increasingly plundered it and as a result of it, the villages and towns of Al-Ahwaz were destroyed day by day. The chauvinist policies of Iranian governments have had to try to completely deny the existence of Ahwazis. In return, when Ahwazis protest at the ongoing oppression, they will be dealt with live fire or arrest and then execution. It seems that execution sentence is the Iran's last resort to liquidating Ahwazi prisoners.

(source: Rahim Hamid, Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights activist;


HC upholds death for 3 Huji men

The High Court yesterday upheld death penalty of 3 Huji members, including its chief Mufti Abdul Hannan, and life imprisonment of 2 others over the 2004 grenade attack on the then UK envoy in Bangladesh.

The 2 other condemned operatives of the outlawed militant outfit are Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain alias Ripon.

The court also upheld the life imprisonment of Muhibullah alias Muhibur Rahman alias Ovi and Mufti Main Uddin alias Abu Zandal, also Huji members.

Former UK high commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury along with around 70 others was hurt and 3 were killed in the attack at the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) in Sylhet.

The Bangladesh-born envoy, barely 18 days into his new assignment, suffered minor leg injuries in the grenade attack after Juma prayers.

Yesterday, the HC bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Amir Hossain handed down the verdict after accepting the death reference of the case and dismissing the appeals filed by the convicts seeking acquittal of the charges.

The grounds, on which the HC delivered the verdict, could not be known as its full text was not released yesterday.

After receiving the full HC judgment, the convicts will have 30 days to appeal against it before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, according to Deputy Attorney General Shaikh AKM Moniruzzaman Kabir.

If they did not do so, there would be no legal bar to executing the sentences, he told journalists after the HC verdict.

No counsels of the convicts were present in the courtroom when the HC judgment was handed down.

On December 23, 2008, the Sylhet Divisional Speedy Trial Tribunal sentenced Mufti Hannan, Bipul and Ripon to death, and Ovi and Abu Zandal to life imprisonment for the grenade attack and the killings.

All 5 convicts, who are now in jail, filed separate appeals with the HC in 2009, seeking acquittal.

(source: The Daily Star)


SC puts on hold child rapist-murderer's death sentence

The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold the execution of the death sentence of Vasanta Sampat Dupare who had sought recall of its verdict upholding his conviction and death sentence for raping and stoning to death a 4-year-old girl in Maharashtra in 2008.

An apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit agreed to hear the review plea by the 55-year-old death row convict as his counsel submitted that the lower court had not properly examined the additional evidences and the related exhibits in the course of the trial.

Putting on hold the death sentence, the bench told his counsel to satisfy it as to how its earlier judgment, sought to be recalled, was wrong.

A bench headed by Justice Misra had on November 26, 2014 had rejected Dupare's plea challenging the Bombay High court decision upholding his death penalty.

The apex court while upholding the death sentence had said "the rape of a minor child is nothing but a monstrous burial of her dignity in darkness. It is a crime against the holy body of a girl child and the soul of the society and such a crime is aggravated by the manner in which it has been committed".



Britain funds counter-narcotics program linked to death penalty in Pakistan, court hears

Secrecy regarding Britain's funding of a counter-narcotics operation in Pakistan linked to the death penalty faced scrutiny Thursday as a tribunal heard arguments on whether the British government should publicly disclose details on the matter.

Despite Britain's official policy of opposing the death penalty, it has funded the counter-narcotics program since the 1990s. Pakistan's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), which has received millions of pounds in UK taxpayers' money, has openly gloated about securing death sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

Yet amid growing calls for transparency, ministers have repeatedly refused to release documents examining whether UK funding given to the group could result in executions.

Global human rights organization Reprieve says juveniles and exploited drug mules are often executed in states such as Pakistan and Iran. The group is challenging the UK government in the Information Rights Tribunal over its refusal to disclose a broad range of information relating to the Pakistan agreement.

Reprieve is demanding the government release its appraisal of human rights and execution risks related to the program, steps it has taken to mitigate these risks, and whether parliamentary approval was secured for the scheme.

At the center of the case is the government's Overseas Justice and Security Assistance (OSJA) guidelines, which were introduced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office following the 2011 Arab Spring.

The guidance was drafted to ensure that the human rights implications of the government's security and justice work abroad are considered in full. But since the OSJA was implemented, ministers have refused to be transparent about the assessments that have been undertaken and who signed off on them.

Director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, Maya Foa, said the government's determination to keep this information secret is steadfast.

"The FCO is falling over itself to prevent information about how it ensures its overseas activities align with basic British human rights principles from coming to light. Yet if the measures taken were sufficient, why would there be any need to keep them secret?" she said.

"The British public has a right to know if their taxes are funding death sentences and executions in countries like Pakistan and Iran, where juveniles and exploited drug mules are sent to the gallows on a daily basis. Ministers need to come clean."

In December 2014, Pakistan ended an unofficial moratorium on executions. Since this policy change was enacted, Pakistan's government has made its intention clear to execute each and every one of its citizens on death row. At present, this group is estimated to eclipse 8,000 people, more than 100 of whom are believed to be alleged drug offenders.

In February 2014, a previous hearing relating to Britain’s funding of the counter-narcotics program was conducted in secret, following a request from the government. Thursday's hearing is expected to be the last before a formal judgment is issued.

RT approached the FCO for comment on the case but is yet to receive a response.


TEXAS----impending execution

Death Watch: Double Death Penalty----Garcia, convicted of capital murder, contends that his confessions were improperly admitted as evidence

In Jan. 1991, 19-year-old Gustavo Garcia, his wife, and a 3rd accomplice, 15-year-old Christopher Vargas, stepped into a Plano convenience store for a robbery and ultimately shot and killed the store clerk, 18-year-old Gregory Martin, while he was on the phone with his pregnant girlfriend. The girlfriend, who heard the shotgun blast, called police, who arrived on the scene to find Garcia's wife, Sheila Maria Garcia, outside by a gas pump. Garcia was hiding inside one of the store's coolers.

During interrogations, police were able to link Garcia to the December slaying of 43-year-old Plano liquor store clerk Craig Turski. Garcia confessed to that murder via written statement: "I killed the clerk with the shotgun," he wrote. He was charged with capital murder for both slayings but only tried in Turski's death. Vargas was convicted of capital murder in Martin's death and sentenced to life in prison.

Garcia went to trial in Dec. 1991. On Dec. 19, he was handed the death penalty. A Dec. 1994 decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the decision, however, noting that Garcia's written confession did not include the necessary language indicating that Garcia "knowing[ly], intelligent[ly], and voluntar[il]y" waived his right to remain silent during interrogations. The sentence was later reinstated during a follow-up hearing.

In late Nov. 1998, Garcia was 1 of 7 inmates in Huntsville's Ellis Unit who took part in an elaborate attempt to escape the prison. One succeeded, though he drowned in a lake shortly after jumping the prison wall. Garcia and 5 others surrendered while still on the Huntsville grounds.

In June 2000, Garcia was granted a new sentencing hearing (along with 5 others) after the Texas Attorney General learned that former Texas Department of Criminal Justice Chief Psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano testified that Garcia could be a continued threat to society if he was given a life sentence simply because he was Hispanic. But Garcia was handed another death sentence in March of 2001.

On Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Garcia's case without comment. Through his attorneys, Garcia, now 42, continues to contend that his confessions were improperly admitted as evidence, and that he did not receive adequate counseling during his trial. With his execution scheduled for Feb. 16, Garcia stands to be the 3rd Texan executed this year, and the 534th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

(source: Austin Chronicle)


Court upholds death penalty for man who killed Ofc. Jaime Padron

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued an option to uphold the death penalty for the man who is currently on death row for the 2012 murder of Austin Police Officer Jaime Padron.

After reviewing Brandon Daniel's case, the court ruled the case had no merit and, "Consequently, we affirm the trial court's judgment and sentence of death." When an individual is sentenced to death, the case is automatically appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Daniel was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death in February 2014. A few weeks after his trial, Daniel sent Judge Brenda Kennedy a letter stating why he wanted to waive any and all of his appeals.

In the letter, Daniel wrote: "I want justice to be served and I feel that the punishment is appropriate for my crime; we are both interested in saving the taxpayer's money, the time of all involved and in sparing my family and the victim's family anymore angst than necessary; and finally, I would like to limit my time in prison to the least amount possible."

By waiving all appeals, officials say the execution process could happen within 2 years. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says inmates that receive capital punishment stay on death row an average of nearly 11 years before being put to death.

(source: KXAN news)


Attorney: Death penalty may be out in family massacre case

The attorney for a man accused of fatally shooting 8 people at a suburban Houston home says his client may be intellectually disqualified for a death sentence if convicted.

Philip Scardino is the lead attorney for David Ray Conley, who's charged with 3 capital murder counts and accused of shooting dead his estranged ex-girlfriend, her husband and 6 children, including his own son.

Scardino tells the Houston Chronicle ( that Conley is undergoing tests and the results aren't yet available, but there's some indication that that he may have "an intellectual disability."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the intellectually disabled are disqualified from execution.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has made no decision yet on whether a death sentence will be sought in Conley's prosecution.

(source: Associated Press)


2nd investigator in probe of slain Texas deputy fired for misconduct

An investigator in the fatal ambush shooting of a Houston-area deputy has been fired for inappropriate behavior, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said on Wednesday, making him the second person in the probe to be terminated.

The office said it had fired Deputy M. DeLeon on Tuesday for being untruthful in the course of the investigation into the death of Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth.

Goforth, 47, was fatally shot in a hail of bullets on Aug. 28 as he fueled a patrol car at a Houston-area gas station.

The suspected shooter, Shannon Miles, 31, was committed this week to a state mental hospital for 120 days after prosecutors found he was not competent to stand trial at this time. Miles has been charged with capital murder, which is punishable by death.

In October, the Harris County Sheriff's office fired Sergeant Craig Clopton, a homicide investigator, after a receiving a report that he had sexual relations with a witness in the case.

Clopton had "consensual sexual relations" with the same woman who has claimed she had been in a sexual relationship with Goforth, court papers said.

Defense attorneys have argued that Goforth was filling up his patrol car while on his way to meet the woman cited in the case. The move is seen as an attempt to argue that the deputy was not on duty at the time he was killed and Miles should not face the death penalty.

(source: Reuters)


The Death Penalty and Stare Decisis

We have recently opined that the Connecticut Supreme Court was right to abolish the death penalty entirely last year in State v. Santiago. At the beginning of this year, state prosecutors argued to the Supreme Court in State v. Peeler that Santiago should be overruled. The only significant new development in Peeler is the retirement of 1 of the 4 justices in the 4-3 majority in Santiago. So naturally, the arguments of Peeler's lawyers focused on stare decisis.

In our view the reason Santiago should be followed is that it was correctly decided, not because of stare decisis.

Death penalty decisions have always contained strong opinions from both sides. The Supreme Court frequently overrules decisions - recent as well as otherwise - whenever the majority believes "the most cogent reasons and inescapable logic require it."

Even a cursory glance at the dissenting opinions in Santiago shows that that test is met in the minds of the 3 dissenters. Whatever opinion the 1 new justice who did not sit on the Santiago panel has, it is unlikely to be any less vigorous than that of the justices on one side or the other in Santiago.

Stare decisis, in fact, has played a much diminished role concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty since the first modern case, State v. Ross, in 1994. 3 justices and 2 lower court judges decided Ross in a 4-1 decision. A year later, a 4th justice, Justice Richard Palmer, sat for the 1st time. Both sides reconsidered the issue de novo in State v. Breton and again split 4-1. One more year later, Justices Flemming Norcott Jr. and Joette Katz sat for the 1st time during death penalty arguments in State v. Webb as part of a 5-judge court. Before that decision was released, Chief Justice Ellen Peters and, for the 1st time, Justice David Borden sat. Both sides once again reconsidered the issue de novo and split 4-3. Ironically, the 5-judge panel probably would have decided the issue 3-2 the other way, subject, of course, to reconsideration en banc.

In no other issue than the death penalty would the justices in Webb have considered it significant that only 3 justices sat in Ross and only 4 in Breton. Since 1996, the issue has come up a number of times and the dissenters have never stopped dissenting.

Nor should they. The death penalty is an issue of unequaled moral significance for both sides. No justices on either side of the issue are likely to be - or should be - lukewarm. Stare decisis is important, but the death penalty is unique; relying on stare decisis diminishes its moral character.

Santiago should be affirmed because it is the right decision. Period.

(source: Editorial,


Execute Like It's 1908

In 1908, Virginia legislators patted themselves on the back for "progressive" law #398, introduced by Henrico Delegate Throckmorton, titled "An Act to establish a permanent place in the State penitentiary at Richmond Virginia for the execution of felons upon whom the death penalty is to be imposed, and to change the mode of execution so that the death sentence shall be by electricity," and passed March 16 of that year.

The new law modernized capital punishment in the Commonwealth. By eliminating the barbaric spectacles of hangings, and installing an electric chair in the basement of the State Penitentiary on Spring Street, death sentences would forever after be carried out in secret, seen only by a handful of handpicked witnesses. There would be no photography or filming, and no media coverage.

Prior to #398, criminals from across Virginia were sometimes transported to Richmond to be "hanged from the neck until dead, dead, dead" or put to death in their own localities or where the crime occurred. To the dismay of prison officials, huge crowds sometimes flocked to the gallows to witness these public performances. 1 of those hanged in 1787 was a slave named Clem, who had been convicted of 2 murders. Clem was 12 years old.

Those convicted of grand larceny in the 1700s, however, were not killed; they were released after having their hands doused with coal oil and horribly burned. While the hangings did not upset the crowds, the burnings certainly did, and citizens successfully petitioned the courts for solitary confinement for these convictions instead of "torture" by burning.

Hanging was unreliable. In 2 instances in 1902 and 1905 the drop failed to break the prisoners' necks, and instead they strangled to death, pitching and kicking. 1 took 14 minutes to die.

While in 1908 the electric chair was considered progressive; in 2016 it is a medieval torture device, best relegated to the museums. Instead, it has found new life in the 2016 General Assembly with House Bill 815, a bill to change the default method of execution back to the chair if lethal injection drugs are not available. This Bill just passed the House February 10 on a vote of 62-33.

Virginia's chair currently at Greenville Correctional in Jarratt is the same straight-back oak armchair built by penitentiary inmates in the summer of 1908, and wired by the Adams Electric Company of Trenton New Jersey at an appropriated cost of $1,000. Although its original wiring has been upgraded, the brutality of its killing is unchanged.

On August 10, 1982, it took 2 55-second jolts of electricity to kill Frank J. Coppola. The 2nd jolt set his head and legs on fire, filling the death chamber from floor to ceiling with rancid smoke.

On October 17, 1990, when Wilbert Lee Evans was hit with the first burst of electricity, blood spewed from the right side of the mask on his face, drenching his shirt. Evans continued to moan before a 2nd jolt of electricity was required to kill him. The autopsy concluded that the voltage surge elevated his high blood pressure.

2 cycles of electricity, applied 4 minutes apart failed to kill Derick Lynn Peterson on August 22, 1991. Prison physician Dr. David Barnes inspected Peterson with a stethoscope, announcing each time "He has not expired." 7 minutes after the 1st attempt to kill Peterson, a 2nd cycle of electricity had to be applied.

It is perplexing that Virginia considers herself progressive in so many areas yet wishes to apply the death penalty the same way she did 108 years ago. We may as well step back just 1 more year, to 1907, and strip away the veils of secrecy behind electrocutions and make them public again. Allow all 3 news channels to cover the execution in all its violent, lurching glory and put the event on prime time. Stream it live online so that everyone gets a taste of what is going on down in Jarratt. Pack a sandwich. If we are going to do it, we need to do it right.

And, as for live witnesses to the executions, I suggest the 62 House members who voted yes on HB 815.

(source: Op-Ed; Dale Brumfield is an author and Digital Archaeologist from Doswell,


Jurors hear from investigators, witness graphic video of North Hills murder scene

Various City-County Bureau of Identification agents took the stand Wednesday in the trial of Travion Smith, who is charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of a mother in her North Hills apartment in May 2013. But so far, there has been no direct link from the murder scene to Smith.

Smith, 23, is 1 of 3 people charged in connection to 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones' death and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Huggins-Jones was new to the Triangle, having divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road with her 8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones. Her son had stayed behind with his father in Tennessee to finish the school year.

On the morning of May 14, 2013, Hannah wandered out of the apartment and approached a nearby construction crew, asking for help. A construction worker followed the girl back into the apartment and found Huggins-Jones dead in her bed, covered in blood.

An autopsy determined she had died from repeated blows to her head and neck.

On Wednesday, Tracy Gold, 1 of 4 CCBI agents that testified, talked in detail about physical evidence she collected and processed from the crime scene.

During cross-examination, she outlined the process she used to collect fingerprints and shoe impressions.

Agent Mike Galloway took the stand and introduced a video he took of the crime scene. The video showed exterior and interior views of Huggins-Jones' apartment. At times, the graphic video caused an emotional reaction from family members and others watching the trial.

CCBI Supervisor Chris Hill also took the stand Wednesday and testified that he collected Huggins-Jones' clothing, fingerprints, nail clippings and sexual assault kit during the autopsy. He showed the jury Huggins-Jones' bloody shirt and pants she was wearing the night she was killed.

Testimony from Special Agent MacKenzie DeHaan was cut short as the trial recessed at 5 p.m. DeHaan, a forensic biologist, was asked by crime scene investigators to examine various items and samples collected from the scene for DNA evidence.

Ronald Lee Anthony and Sarah Rene Redden are also charged in Huggins-Jones' death. Anthony pleaded guilty in 2015 to 1st-degree murder, to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to life in prison. He may testify against Smith. Redden, of Wake Forest, has not been offered a plea deal, but testified against Smith last week.

The trial resumes as DeHaan takes the stand Thursday at 9:30 a.m.



Ga. Lethal Injection Secrecy Law Is Constitutional

A death row inmate failed to persuade a sharply divided en banc panel of the Eleventh Circuit Feb. 2 that he should be allowed to pierce Georgia's lethal injection secrecy law in order to collect information that would help him challenge the constitutionality of the state's death penalty protocol.

By a slim 6-5 vote, the judges voted to deny en banc review and paved the way for the inmate's execution on Feb. 3.

But the closeness of the vote and a strongly worded dissent has given some hope to those who say states shouldn't be allowed to shroud their execution procedures in secrecy.

"I think that the closeness of the vote and the emphasis in the majority opinion on the timing of the challenge suggests that another challenge brought earlier by another death row inmate might obtain a different result," Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told Bloomberg BNA.

No Due Process Right-of-Access

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's en banc decision let stand a Feb. 1 panel ruling, which held that Brandon Jones had no due process right to discover the information shielded by Georgia's stringent secrecy law, Ga. Code #42-5-36.

Jones's lawyers insisted that the law, which blocked the convicted murderer from learning anything about the specific drug sources Georgia relies on or the qualifications of those who administer those drugs, violated his right to due process because it interfered with his ability to make a case that the protocol presents a risk of severe pain that is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.

But the panel, in an opinion by Judge Stanley Marcus, shot the challenge down, noting that it had rejected a similar attack in 2014 and adding that no other circuit court has recognized this type of due process right-of-access challenge.

Judge William H. Pryor Jr. joined Marcus in ruling against Jones, but Judge Charles Reginald Wilson dissented.

Jones - who at 72 was Georgia's oldest death row inmate - was put to death almost 37 years after he and an accomplice murdered a convenience store clerk during a botched robbery. Jones's accomplice was executed decades ago.

Secrecy Under Siege

Federal challenges to similar secrecy statutes in Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio and Louisiana have failed in the Fifth and Eighth circuits and in a federal district court in Ohio.

An Arkansas judge in December 2015 overturned the state's execution secrecy law and directed the department of corrections to disclose the drugs it will use in executions and the sources of those drugs.

A day later, however, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed that order and is now accepting briefs from the parties.

The inmates in that case are arguing that without disclosure of the source and other information they have no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride obtained by the state will cause them to experience a demonstrated risk of severe pain and that the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.

Cash-Filled Envelopes

Various news organizations have filed suits in Arizona, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma claiming that the secrecy provisions - dubbed "black hood" laws on the notion that executioners in days of yore wore black shrouds to preserve their anonymity - violate the First Amendment and various state "sunshine" laws.

"The only way to effectively determine whether a policy is being properly administered and carried out is to have access to the information concerning the administration of that policy," Dunham said.

"Secrecy is not only antithetical to traditional notions of good government, it's bad public policy," he added, because it can be used to shield incompetence or wrongdoing. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant," he said.

Dunham cited a recent report from BuzzFeed news indicating that Missouri's concern for secrecy has led it to pay its executioners with "envelopes of cash" in transactions that likely violated federal tax reporting requirements.

Proven Track Record

Marcus wrote both the panel decision and the opinion for the six-member majority that denied Jones's petition for en banc review.

Marcus said that the full court wouldn't hear the case for the reasons stated in the panel order denying Jones's motion for stay and then offered some "additional thoughts."

Jones's petition was not only barred because it runs counter to Eleventh Circuit precedent and the trend in other circuits, Marcus said, but also because Jones couldn't identify any liberty interest that was jeopardized by the Georgia protocol.

Even if the court overruled existing precedent and struck down Georgia's statute, Jones still wouldn't be able to plead a known and available alternative source of pentobarbital, Marcus said.

"[W]e ought to be particularly reluctant to interfere in Georgia's enforcement of its lethal injection protocol since its current protocol - using compounded pentobarbital provided by an undisclosed source - has actually been used at least 7 times in the last year, without incident," Marcus wrote.

Untimely Challenge

In any event, Marcus added, the "equities" were not in Jones's favor because stays of execution are disfavored when the claim could've been brought in a more timely manner. Jones waited almost 3 years after the secrecy law was passed and only filed suit in federal court at the end of December 2015, Marcus noted.

Jones seeks a "newly created federal due process right to pre-litigation discovery," Marcus said, "all in the hope that learning the identity of the manufacturer will somehow provide a springboard to establish a potential, if currently unidentifiable, infirmity in Georgia's execution protocol."

"That asks us to do too much," Marcus said.

Chief Judge Edward Earl Carnes and Judges Gerald B. Tjoflat, Frank M. Hull, William H. Pryor Jr. and Julie E. Carnes joined Marcus's opinion.

Macabre Catch-22

In a dissent joined by Judges Beverly B. Martin, Robin S. Rosenbaum, and Jill Pryor, Judge Charles Reginald Wilson argued that the secrecy provision denies death row prisoners the "basic ingredient of due process" by preventing them from accessing information necessary to protect their Eighth Amendment rights.

Judges Rosenbaum and Jordan added separate dissents, arguing that the Georgia law has "constitutional problems."

According to Dunham, death row inmates in states with secrecy laws like the one in Georgia, are in a "Catch-22" situation.

"They're already dealing with the macabre requirement from Glossip v. Gross, that they have the burden of coming forward with a different way to terminate their own life," he said.

Now they have to try to meet that burden even though the state won't give them access to the information they need to meet that test, he added.

Jones was represented by the Federal Defender Program, Atlanta, and McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Chicago. The Georgia Department of Corrections was represented by the Georgia Attorney General's Office, Atlanta.

(source: Bloomberg BNA)


Another judge says FL has no death penalty

Another in a growing list of Florida judges has said the state does not have a death penalty until it addresses a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Defense attorney Jeff Brown said he was not surprised when Hillsborough County Judge Samantha Ward blocked prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in a murder case involving Carlos Rivas.

"Judge Ward has recognized what everybody already knew, that Florida doesn't have the death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court has said the death penalty statue we have is unconstitutional," said Brown.

In November of 2012, prosecutors say Rivas killed a homeless man after stealing his money.

With his trial set to start in April and a death sentence looming over him, Rivas was likely relieved to hear Judge Ward say this:

"OK, based on the Hurst decision that concluded that Florida's capitol sentencing scheme is unconstitutional, I believe there currently exists no statutory authority in Florida in which the state can seek the death penalty, or there is no statutory authority where the court can impose the death penalty. I'm going to grant the defendant's motion to preclude the death penalty as a possible sentence."

Hillsborough State Prosecutors argued the court did not strike down the death penalty itself. They say the U.S. Supreme Court's decision only applies to the sentencing process in which the jury recommends life or death, but the judge makes the final decision.

"It's like being on the Titanic and just saying, 'full steam ahead. Let's just keep going, there's an iceberg there,' Brown said. "We don't have a statue. The idea that we will continue to seek the death penalty without a statue and hoping it gets fixed beforehand is crazy to me."

The situation has not stopped prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. In early February, prosecutors said Marisol Best, accused of killing her in-laws in November, will face a death sentence, if convicted. Expect that decision to be challenged by her attorneys soon.

(source: Fox News)


Alabama Gunman Kills 2, Including Former Business Partner

A gunman fatally shot 2 people, 1 a former business partner, at a law firm and a nearby accountant's office in western Alabama on Wednesday morning, authorities said.

The suspect, 57-year-old Jimmy Cooper, was shot in the arm and leg before being taken into custody, Marion County District Attorney Jack Bostick said at a news conference.

Cooper faces 2 capital murder charges in the deaths of Donny Miller, 67, and Linda Cole, 61. Miller was Cooper's former business partner and Cooper was a client of Cole's, Bostick said.

Court records show Cooper had owned an insulation company and was ordered to pay more than $59,000 in a 2010 lawsuit. A lawsuit Miller filed in 2014, said that he, Cooper and Cooper's daughter had been partners in a foam insulation business. Miller had the lawsuit dismissed in June.

Police haven't released a motive in the shootings in Hamilton, a city of roughly 6,800 about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham. The district attorney says he plans to pursue the death penalty.

Sheriff Kevin Williams said deputies were at the county courthouse close to the scene when Cooper tried to flee. Deputies and police confronted Cooper, but it was unclear who shot him. Senior Trooper Johnathan Appling said in an emailed statement that a civilian assisted law enforcement officers. The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident.

The sheriff said Cooper was apprehended behind a nearby bank after he was shot and had made it clear he wasn't going to surrender.

"He had full intentions of killing law enforcement or putting them in the situation where they had to protect themselves," Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said.

"It's put everyone in shock," Bostick said. "Obviously, this is not something anyone ever anticipates or expects. I would say the entire community is just stunned at this point."

Cooper was taken to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital with injuries that weren't life threatening. It was unclear whether he had an attorney.

Williams used the shooting as an opportunity to call for increased funding for mental health services.

The sheriff said one of Cooper's relatives signed a commitment order on him in July. He was taken to a behavioral health center in Jasper for an evaluation and was released, Williams said. The sheriff later added that authorities are investigating how Cooper got the handgun that was used in the shooting.

"It's certainly a problem; it's certainly something we need to address," Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial, chairman of the Alabama Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said of Williams' call for increased mental health services funding. "We've not done that as I would like to see it done in the past few years."

Too often, law enforcement is faced with handling suspects who are in need of mental health services, Williams said.

"We have a problem with mental patients with guns," Williams said. "Our problem in the state of Alabama - we have nowhere to put them. Our county jails are being flooded with mental patients that we legally can't really take care of; we're not trained fully."

A December 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center said that despite the U.S. population doubling since the 1950s, the number of public psychiatric beds has dropped by more than 90 %. The report also said severe mental illness is thought to be a factor in up to half of all deadly law enforcement encounters.

(source: ABC news)


Mississippi death penalty on hold; US Court of Appeals denied executions blocking

A US federal court of appeals blocked an injunction that halted Mississippi's executions using lethal injections. The court of appeals said that the lower court ill-treated its discretion when it barred the use of particular injection drugs.

In August, US District Judge Henry T. Wingate issued a preliminary order which blocks the state from executing prisoners. However, the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals said that Judge Wingate's ruling was incorrect. Moreover, one of the juries at the Circuit, Judge Walker Elrod rejected the arguments coming from the death row prisoners, as reported by ABC News. The prisoners who are to face death penalty said that Mississippi can't execute them since the state will not be using a certain class of drugs required by the state law.

The death row inmates who brought the lawsuit argue that the state's protocol for execution infringes the state requirement that an 'ultra-short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug' be used. The death row prisoners then pointed the possible use of pentobarbital, as reported by Buzzfeed.

The lawyer for the 2 death row inmates who challenged the protocol said that the executions in Mississippi are unlikely to restart immediately. Attorney Jim Craig said that the inmates will seek for more injunctions against the state's method of execution as Yahoo News reported. The lawyer also said that they could request a review of the case by the full 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals, but have not yet decided.

Republican Governor, Phil Bryant also released a statement saying that 'the 5th Circuit's ruling affirms his belief' that Mississippi is legally administering the death penalty. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jim Hood of Mississippi said that the state's lawmakers should find other means of executions as lethal injections are more conducive for lawsuits. The Democrat Attorney General suggested electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing death squads when lethal injections are not available. The last lethal injections that were administered by the Mississippi was back in 2012.



Federal appeals panel vacates injunction delaying inmate's execution

A federal appeals panel has struck down a lower court's temporary injunction against Mississippi's efforts to execute a man found guilty of murdering a Metairie-raised woman in 1976.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Wednesday that a U.S. district judge in Mississippi should not have granted the plaintiffs an injunction in a case contesting whether 1 of the drugs used in the state's lethal injection process conforms to state law.

1 of those plaintiffs is Richard Gerald Jordan, who was convicted 40 years ago of kidnapping Edwina Marter from her Gulfport home. Jordan took Marter, who was raised in Metairie, to extract a ransom from her husband, but Jordan shot her in the back of the head when she tried to escape in DeSoto National Forest.

At 69, Jordan is the longest-serving inmate on Mississippi's death row. He has been given the death penalty 4 times, having successfully challenged the first 3 convictions in court.

In his latest challenge, backed by the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans, Jordan and 2 other inmates say the 1st drug in a 3-drug cocktail that Mississippi now uses for lethal injections is not an "ultra short-acting" barbiturate, as required by state law.

In August, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, of Jackson, Mississippi, granted an injunction blocking the execution based on 1 of 3 objections raised by the plaintiffs.

The 5th Circuit ruling said Mississippi's sovereign immunity prevents a federal court from issuing an injunction against state officials solely to require them to adhere to state law. There must be a federal provision or constitutional issue at stake.

Jordan and his fellow plaintiffs say their constitutional right to due process is being violated through the use of the illegal drug. The 3-judge appeals panel, however, found that the plaintiffs failed to meet the legal standard to warrant the injunction, handing the matter back to Wingate.

"Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims because they have not established a liberty interest in the enforcement of (the law) and because they have not shown that Mississippi's alleged deviation (from it) would 'shock the conscience,'" wrote 5th Circuit Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod.

Jim Craig, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center, said in a statement after the ruling was issued that it has "long been established" that the 1st drugs used by Mississippi in lethal injections - either midazolam or a compounded pentobarbital - have been known to not properly anesthetize a condemned prisoner, causing him to "suffer from the tortuous effects of the 2nd and 3rd drugs."

Craig wrote that the MacArthur Center is hoping Wingate will grant another injunction based on the center's other 2 arguments against the use of the drugs, which he said have been at the center of several botched executions that amounted to "chemical torture."

"We are studying the ruling to determine whether to seek review by the full 5th Circuit and/or the Supreme Court," he wrote.

(source: The Advocate)


Remorseful Former Prosecutor Apologizes for Sending Innocent Man to Death Row

In 1984, Glenn Ford was tried and convicted for murdering Isadore Rozeman. He was 34-years-old at the time.

Even though there wasn't enough evidence to prove Ford had committed a crime, former Louisiana prosecutor Marty Stroud did everything in his power to make sure he received the death penalty.

After serving 30 years on death row for 2st-degree murder, evidence finally surfaced that proved he was, in fact, innocent. Ford became on of the longest serving death row prisoners in America's history. On March 11, 2014, he was released from Angola Prison.

Sadly, he passed away only a few months later from lung cancer.

Stroud later came forward to admit that he failed to look into information that could have cleared Ford, as well as choosing an all-white jury and completely taking advantage of a defense team that had never handled a criminal case.

"I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself," Stroud wrote in his letter to the Shreveport Times. "I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning."

Before Ford died, Stroud met up with him to apologize in person, but the exonerated man wasn't interested in forgiveness.

"I'm sorry I can't forgive you," Ford said. How can you blame him? He spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn't even commit.

To this day, there is a legal battle against the state for his wrongful conviction.

(source: First to Know)


High court upholds decision overturning death sentence for convicted killer of YSU student

The Ohio Supreme Court is refusing to reconsider its decision overturning he death sentence of a man convicted of killing a Youngstown State University student 30 years ago.

The state's high court revealed on Wednesday that it was rejecting the Mahoning County Prosecutor's motion to reconsider last year's ruling in the case of 58-year-old Bennie Adams.

In a 5-2 decision handed down last October, the justices said that the state failed to prove that Adams committed aggravated burglary as part of his killing of Gina Tenney in 1985. A burglary conviction was needed along with guilty verdicts on rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges to qualify Adams for the death penalty, according to the ruling.

The prosecution argued that the bottom line is that the jury unanimously agreed that Defendant purposely caused the death of Gina Tenney while committing aggravated murder.

Prosectuor Paul Gains said that Adams,"essentially stalked his young neighbor until he eventually forced his way into her apartment, hit her, raped her, strangled her with a cord, tied her wrists, suffocated her, stole her car, dumped her body in the river, tried to get money from her bank account, returned to her apartment to steal her television, and cleaned up trace evidence with her potholder."

The case has been sent back to Mahoning County for re-sentencing, which cannot include the death penalty.

Adams was long a suspect in Tenney's killing but was not charged until 2007 based on newly developed DNA evidence.

(source: WFMJ news)


Budget Change Could Defund Death Penalty in MO

A proposed change in the state budget could allow opponents of the death penalty to attempt to pull funding for it.

Members of Missouri's execution team are paid in cash to keep their identities hidden, per the law - that includes the doctor that administers a lethal injection and a compounding pharmacy that makes the pentobarbital used. That money has come out of a fund for expenses and equipment in the Department of Corrections' budget, so state lawmakers and others looking at the budget didn't know how much was spent on executions.

A House subcommittee approved Representative Jeremy LaFaver's (D-Kansas City) proposal to create a specific line in the budget for executions.

"Including it in the budget in this fashion I think is going to allow for a little better transparency and tracking of this important task that our state does," said LaFaver.

If his action stands, legislators who oppose the death penalty could now see where it's funded in the budget and by how much, and could propose pulling that money. LaFaver wouldn't say if a proposal to pull the money for executions will be offered.

The idea passed a mostly-Republican committee chaired by Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who says she supports the need for transparency as long as no identities of execution team members are released. Conway also said there is little chance an effort to defund executions would clear the Republican legislature.

"From what I heard happened in the Senate [Monday], yes I think that most Republicans are [in favor of the death penalty]. Personally, I am," said Conway.

On Monday the state Senate debated a proposed repeal of the death penalty. Most Republicans spoke against it and the issue was tabled.

The line LaFaver's action created includes a proposed amount of half-a-million dollars. Conway expressed concern about tying up that much money with the expectation that few executions will be scheduled during the 12 months it covers, beginning July 1.

LaFaver agreed to offer an amendment to reduce that amount to more closely reflect the execution-related expenses the Corrections Department expects, but he also wants additional money to cover potential federal fines. He referred to the Corrections Department Director, George Lombardi, last week telling the budget committee that the state has not issued federal tax reporting forms, or 1099s, to members of its execution team going back to the mid 1980s.

LaFaver said money in that line beyond the projected costs of executions, "would also allow for the payment of any penalties that would be assessed to the state from the IRS for not complying with the federal tax law requirements of issuing a 1099."

LaFaver said he will work to come up with a figure more reflective of potential execution costs and IRS penalties to propose to the full budget committee when it considers the corrections budget.

The full budget committee is the next stop for that bill.



New Oklahoma prisons chief: Facilities crumbling, morale low

A longtime Republican political operative who previously headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency has the daunting task of leading Oklahoma's overcrowded and underfunded prison system, which has come under scrutiny after problematic executions.

Joe Allbaugh said Wednesday that he's made unannounced visits to more than a dozen Oklahoma prisons. He says facilities are crumbling and overcrowded, guards are underpaid and understaffed, morale is low and the state is ill-prepared to handle a projected increase in inmates.

The 63-year-old Oklahoma native was appointed interim director last month and says he's still interested in taking the job full time and working to turn things around.

He's a death penalty supporter and says he's ready to update the state's execution protocols, which are the subject of a grand jury investigation.

(source: Associated Press)


Bledsoe case good reason to abolish penalty

Jailed wrongly in a 1999 murder case, Floyd Bledsoe spent 16 years behind bars before being exonerated in December in Jefferson County.

He is one of many.

Of the 149 exonerations in the U.S. last year, 58 involved homicide cases. On average, an exonerated person has spent more than 14 years in prison.

"I think it's starting to be accepted in the general public that mistakes happen and the mistakes need to be fixed," Oliver Burnette, executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, recently told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "Last year was a blockbuster year for exonerations. Every year is."

The high number of wrongly convicted inmates in our prison system makes it all the more urgent to abolish the capital punishment.

While not all of those murder cases were capital cases, some of them were. And it's now clear from evidence after past executions that some defendants in this country were wrongly put to death.

Bledsoe, now adjusting to life outside of prison, recently testified before the Kansas legislative committee, urging them to repeal the state's death penalty law. He said it all.

"We must stop the death penalty today. Tomorrow it might be too late for 1 person."

(source: Ther Marysville Advocate)


Repeal the death penalty

It is time to repeal the death penalty. State Representative Steven Becker, along with 11 Republican and six Democrat House members, have introduced Bill 2515 that calls for repeal of the death penalty in Kansas and would replace it with a maximum sentence of life without parole.

According to the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the bill has a good chance of passing IF it can get a committee hearing. Chairman Barker of the Judiciary Committee has already said that he will not give the bill a hearing. But John Rubin, Chair of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, has requested that the bill be assigned to his committee for a hearing.

So, the important action at this time is to ask Ray Merrick, the House Speaker, to give HB 2515 a hearing. This bill deserves discussion and debate, which is only possible with a hearing. Contact information for Ray Merrick: Phone number is (785) 296-2302.

Repealing the death penalty is too important a moral as well as financial issue to let this opportunity pass.

Valetta Seymour, Moundridge

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Kansan)


Attempt To End Death Penalty In SD Fails

A bill to end the death penalty in South Dakota failed in the state legislature. State Senator Art Rusch, who spent many years as a prosecutor and circuit judge, brought Senate Bill 94 to the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday.

Testimony on both sides was often emotional. Lynnette Johnson of Sioux Falls lost her husband on his 63rd birthday in 2011. Ronald "RJ" Johnson was attacked and killed during an escape attempt by 1 men serving life prison terms. Johnson's widow is opposed to repealing executions in the state.

"Can you imagine the pain? Look at his hands, look at his fingers. This is his finger; look at it. Look at it. He fought so hard to stay with us - can you imagine? Just until his hands couldn't take it anymore. Until his hands couldn't take it anymore - he had to drop his hands," Johnson says. "And you know what? They didn't have to, because there was certainly nobody around to help Ron; he was in this building by himself. But look it. Look what they did to my Ron."

Compare Lynnette Johnson's thoughts to those of SuZanne Bosler, whose father was stabbed 24 times and died of his wounds. Bosler told the Senate State Affairs Committee she had a chance to have her father's killer put to death - and didn't.

"I considered, and I learned that James Byrd Campbell's title, like everybody else on death row, is 'murderer.' And I felt if I was going to help the government plan to kill him, then that would be my title too. And I refuse - I refuse to be like him. I refuse to be like him," Bosler says. "I hold onto my father's belief in the sanctity of life - his integrity, his true convictions on how precious life was - everybody's life was to him."

Attorney General Marty Jackley says he's aware of the strong feelings for and against executions in the state. He says his job is to protect innocent lives in South Dakota.

"And unfortunately, in our society there are just some individuals that are so dangerous, so vile, that in order to protect innocent life, you might have to take a life," Jackley says.

The State Affairs Committee defeated a "do pass" motion on the measure; members then deferred Senate Bill 94 to the 41st Legislative Day.



Senate committee rejects measure to repeal death penalty

A Senate committee has defeated a measure that would repeal the death penalty in South Dakota.

The Senate State Affairs committee voted 7-2 on Wednesday against the plan.

Republican Sen. Arthur Rusch, a former judge, is the measure's Senate sponsor. He says the practice overburdens counties and traumatizes jurors and court personnel.

Rusch told the committee that he has personally prosecuted a death penalty case and has seen the damaging effects firsthand.

Rusch says death penalty cases are unfairly taxing on county governments and have long-term effects on those involved. He also says he doesn't believe the punishment is an effective deterrent on crime.

The committee voted down 2 measures to repeal or limit the death penalty last session.

(source: Associated Press)


Bill to make death penalty easier to give fails

A bill that would make it easier for Colorado juries to give the death penalty failed Wednesday when a Republican senator joined Democrats in saying that unanimous verdicts for capital punishment should stay a requirement.

The measure was inspired by 2 verdicts last year, in which jurors couldn't agree on execution for mass murderers and the defendants received life in prison.

A Denver jury last summer refused to give the death penalty to a man who stabbed 5 people to death in a bar in 2012. A few weeks earlier, suburban Denver jurors couldn't agree on execution for theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people in 2012.

The life sentence for Holmes in particular showed that Colorado's death penalty system is "broken," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, the bill's sponsor. His measure would have changed death verdict requirements from a 12-0 jury vote to 11-1.

"I believe it's tainted the entire process, and we need to address this issue that the policy of Colorado of having the death penalty for the most heinous crimes is attainable," Lundberg said.

Colorado has executed just 1 person in nearly 1/2 a century, and only 3 people sit on its death row.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, the Republican head of the committee that heard the bill, helped voted it down. It failed 3-2.

"The death sentence is a very drastic state action. We need to be absolutely sure," Roberts of Durango said after the vote.

The hearing attracted a few dozen death penalty opponents, some of whom carried signs outside urging Colorado to continue requiring unanimous verdicts for the death penalty.

"The decision to impose the sentence of death is probably the most serious decision we ask any citizen sitting on a jury to make," said Peter Severson, director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-Colorado.

Only 1 witness testified in favor of the change - Tom Sullivan, father of theater shooting victim Alex Sullivan. He talked about how upset he was that the Holmes jury couldn't agree on execution.

"I thought that the violence of this crime ... would be enough for the verdict to be death. I was wrong," Tom Sullivan said.

Roberts said before the vote that she "too was dumbfounded by the result of the Holmes trial," adding that she doesn't oppose the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)


Colorado bill to allow death sentence without unanimous vote dies----The bill was killed with a 3-2 vote in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee

Colorado lawmakers Wednesday killed a bill that would have eliminated the requirement that death sentences be unanimous by jurors.

The bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-2 vote.

Originally, the bill sought to allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors voted for it. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, amended the bill Wednesday, changing the requirement from nine jurors to 11.

10 people testified in opposition to the bill during the packed committee hearing, including representatives from the Colorado Public Defender's office, religious organizations and anti-death penalty groups.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center said even with the amendments, the legislation would make Colorado's death sentencing process unlike any other state in the country.

"Standing alone does put you in a target zone," Dieter said.

Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed during an attack at an Aurora movie theater on July 20, 2012, was the only person to testify in favor of the bill.

James Holmes, the man convicted of killing Sullivan's son and 11 others, was sentenced to life after the jury in his case was not unanimous in their final vote.

"I'm not sure if justice was served if only one person voted no," Sullivan said.

(source: The Denver Post)


Lawmaker unveiling plan to abolish death penalty in Utah

A Republican state lawmaker wants Utah to join 19 states and the District of Columbia in abolishing the death penalty, but supporters of the idea acknowledge it's a longshot in the conservative state.

The proposal from Sen. Steve Urquhart has not yet bene unveiled. The Republican lawmaker from St. George says it would allow executions to go forward for the 9 people on death row in Utah.

Urquhart said he doesn't want to interfere with those cases out of concern for the family members of victims.

But he says the delays and costs associated with executions make it an ineffective punishment and he's not sure the government should be in the business of killing people.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty won't be abolished in Bangladesh: Huq

Law Minister Anisul Huq has dismissed the chances of an abolition of the death penalty in Bangladesh. However, he has said the government will try to avoid capital punishment in future laws.

He spoke of the government stance while talking to reporters after a views-exchange meeting with a delegation of the European Parliament in Dhaka on Thursday.

The minister said, "When the issue of the death penalty was raised, I told them unambiguously that the laws which now provide for the death penalty would not be changed."

"We'll try to do that (abolishing the death penalty) when we enact new laws in future. Since capital punishment is not that much acceptable as punishment, we'll bring about changes," he added.

"But if we think capital punishment is the best weapon to combat any serious crime, the death penalty may remain in a relevant new law," Huq said.

The European Union has long been urging Bangladesh to scrap the death penalty. It made the call even as Bangladesh executed several war criminals after their conviction by war crimes tribunals.



HC upholds death penalty in ex-UK envoy Anwar attack case

The High Court has reinstated a lower court's verdict that convicted 5 Huji militants for the assassination attempt on former British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury which killed 3 people and left more than 70 others injured at the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal in Sylhet.

The bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Amir Hossain gave the verdict in the murder case on Thursday afternoon.

The court started hearing on the death references on January 6 this year.

Anwar, currently serving as the British Ambassador to Peru, along with 70 others sustained injuries in the attack launched after the Jumma prayers on May 21, 2004.

Hailing from Sylhet, Anwar served as the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh until 2008.

3 militants of banned militant outfit Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HujiB) - Mufti Abdul Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul, and Md Delwar Hossain alias Ripon - were sentenced to death while 2 others - Hannan's brother Muhibullah alias Muhibur Rahman alias Ovi and Mufti Mainuddin Khaja alias Abu Jandal - given life-term jail by the Sylhet Divisional Speedy Trial Tribunal on December 23, 2008.

Another case was filed over the use of explosives is currently under trial at a Sylhet court.

In his confessional statement, Hannan said that Jandal had supplied the grenades through Bipul and Ripon. HujiB received the grenades from Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Bangladesh upholds Islamists' death sentence for UK envoy attack

Mufti Abdul Hannan was behind a number of deadly grenade attacks including on a rally of current PM Sheikh Hasina in Aug 2004.

A Bangladesh court Thursday upheld the death sentence of a top Islamist militant and 2 of his followers for a 2004 failed assassination attack on the British ambassador that left three people dead.

The High Court dismissed appeals by Mufti Abdul Hannan, head of Harkatul Jihad Al Islami, and two members of the banned militant Islamist group who have all been convicted over a spate of deadly attacks.

"The High Court has upheld the verdict. Unless they make another appeal in the country's highest court, there is now no bar to their execution," deputy attorney general Sheikh Moniruzzaman Kabir said.

"Mufti Abdul Hannan was behind a number of deadly grenade attacks including on a rally of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in August 2004 in which more than 20 people were killed," he said.

There was no comment from the defence lawyers, who did not turn up for the verdict.

The trio were convicted of murder and masterminding the grenade attack in May 2004 on then British high commissioner Anwar Choudhury, who was only slightly injured.

The attack came just weeks after the Bangladeshi-born diplomat took up the post and occurred as he was visiting a historic Sufi shrine in the northeastern city of Sylhet.

The High Court also on Thursday upheld life sentences for 2 other militants for their roles in the blast that left 3 worshippers dead and scores injured.

The British High Commission had welcomed the conviction of those involved but opposed the use of the death penalty.

Police said at the time of the attack that the group was plotting "to avenge the deaths of Muslims in Iraq and across the world by America and Britain".

(source: Deccan Chronicle)


Pakistan army confirms death sentences for 12 militants

Pakistan has hanged nearly 350 inmates, mostly routine criminals, since lifting a 2008 moratorium on executions in 2014.

The death sentences of 12 hardcore militants was confirmed on Thursday by army Chief General Raheel Sharif, days after they were given death penalty by the military courts for committing "heinous offences relating to terrorism".

The convicts were found guilty of various acts of terrorism in the country, including breaking of Bannu Jail, attacks on armed forces, law enforcement agencies and civilians, army said in statement.

"Today Chief of Army Staff confirmed death sentences awarded to another 12 hardcore terrorists, who were involved in committing heinous offences relating to terrorism," it said.

The convicts were tried by military courts set up after attack at Peshawar school on December 16, 2014 which killed at least 150 people, mostly students.

The venue and timing of trial was kept secret due to security reasons.

Already several militants conceited by these courts have been hanged, including the facilitators of the Peshawar school attack.

(source: Deccan Chronicle)


Iranian Musicians Jailed, Facing Possible Execution For Playing Metal

As an American, I sometimes forget how provocative heavy metal as an artform could be, particularly in less secular countries. Everybody talks about freedom of speech in this country and some would lead you to believe we are losing that freedom, but last time I checked, nobody in this country is facing potential death just for being in a metal band.

That's exactly what's happening to Iranian band Confess members Nikan Siyanor Khosravi and Khosravi Arash Chemical Ilkhani. Both men were arrested by the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution and are facing charges of blasphemy, advertising against the system, running an illegal and underground band and record label promoting music considered to be Satanic, writing anti-religious lyrics and granting interviews to forbidden foreign radio stations. These serious charges resulted in the 2 band members, aged 23 and 21 sitting in solitary since last November until finally making bail on February 5th, paying the equivalent of $30,000 US.

The musicians are lawyering up and could face a minimum of six months to six years in prison, and worse, if they are found guilty of the blasphemy charge, they could be executed! It's easy to see how they could be charged with blasphemy, especially when they have a song named "I Am Your God."

The band's new album, In Pursuit of Dreams, also features tracks titled "New World Order," "Teh-Hell-Ran" (a play on words of the Iranian capital Tehran), "The Alphabet Of Power" and "5 Years In A Cave." It was released on the group's own label, Opposite Records.

The government has allegedly seized all of their personal online accounts, including e-mail and Facebook, although as of this writing their profile on Facebook is still active.

We're not exactly sure what we can do to help the band at the moment, but we figured raising awareness is a start. We have started the hashtag #FreeConfess. (source: Robert Pasbani,


Butcher kills man with skewer for girl, sets his body on fire----He and the girl face death penalty

An Indian butcher in Saudi Arabia killed another Indian with a skewer and set his body on fire after an argument over a girl, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

Police arrested the butcher after civil defence men putting out a fire at an apartment found the scorched body of the victim a few days after he was murdered.

The butcher at first denied involvement but confessed during interrogation that he killed the man after a rift over an Indian girl.

Sada newspaper said the girl worked as a housemaid for the victim and had an affair with both men at their separate apartments in the Western Red Sea port of Jeddah.

It said the butcher faces the death penalty for murder while the girl may also be executed for having a relationship with 2 men and covering up for the killer.



Death sentence for maid killers in UAE

A couple who killed their maid then tried to cover up the crime by burning her body with acid have been sentenced to death.

Abu Dhabi Criminal Court handed down the verdict on Wednesday after convicting the Palestinian husband and wife of murdering the Ethiopian woman.

The court was told that on the day of the murder in 2014, a fight broke out between the wife and the maid. Prosecutors said the wife beat her maid with a stick so badly that the maid fell unconscious and later died.

"Her husband poured a chemical substance on the maid's body to try to hide her identity," said a prosecutor. The couple wrapped the woman's body in white cloth then placed it in a suitcase that they dumped in the desert during the night in the Al Ajban area of Abu Dhabi.

Although the body was badly burned, police officers were still able to uncover the identity of the maid after her corpse was found. Her killers were later arrested while hiding out in a hotel with their children.

"They made the woman work for them for many months but they never paid her anything. They instead killed her," a prosecutor told court.

Prosecutors charged the couple with murder, torture and depriving the maid of her freedom. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty in the event of a conviction.

Both the wife and her husband had denied all the charges. But Chief Justice Idris bin Mansour found the pair guilty.

The maid's family had also refused blood money and asked that the pair be executed for the murder of their relative.

Under UAE law, a death sentence can be appealed within 14 days of the verdict being issued.



12 men on death row challenge mandatory sentence

12 death row inmates have petitioned against a law imposing mandatory death sentences on capital offenders.

Joseph Kaberia and 11 others, serving different terms at the Kamiti Maximum Prison, argue the penal code is arbitrary, cruel and inhuman.

The convicts argue they are not challenging the legality of death sentence or their convictions.

They say they want the mandatory death sentence addressed, calling it a constitutional point and a matter of general public importance.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga recently issued policy guidelines on the death penalty, stating that courts must impose death sentences for offences that attract the penalty.

The CJ made the directive following conflicting decisions of the Court of Appeal over mandatory death sentences.

In the case of Godfrey Mutiso, three judges ruled that a mandatory death sentence is unconstitutional.

But in a subsequent decision, 5 judges of the same court, in the case of Joseph Mwaura and others, emphasised that courts do not have discretion concerning offences with a mandatory death sentence.

(source: The Star)

FEBRUARY 10, 2016:

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas death row inmate moves 1 step closer to execution

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Wednesday to reconsider its refusal of the case of a 42-year-old man set to die next week for the slaying of a suburban Dallas liquor store clerk.

The high court, without comment Wednesday, rejected the request from Gustavo Garcia, who's scheduled for lethal injection Feb. 16.

Garcia was 18 in December 1990 when Craig Turski, 43, was shot to death during a holdup in Plano.

Authorities tied him to a 2nd slaying a month later, also in Plano.

Garcia's attorneys contended 2 prospective jurors at his trial improperly were excused.

The justices initially refused to review his case last month.

Garcia was 1 of 7 inmates involved in at attempted escape from death row in 1998.

(source: Associated Press)


DA gets more time to mull death penalty in officer slaying

A western Pennsylvania prosecutor will have until March 26 to decide whether to seek the death penalty against a man charged in the shooting death of a police officer.

31-year-old Raymond Shetler Jr. is charged in Westmoreland County in the Nov. 28 death of Officer Lloyd Reed after the officer responded to a domestic call in St. Clair.

District Attorney John Peck said Tuesday that he would study several factors and wanted to hear about any mitigating circumstances in the case.

Jurors in death penalty cases weigh such factors against aggravating factors, which Peck said would include the killing of an officer and the defendant's criminal record.

Peck said relatives of the victim have taken no position on the death penalty but are "looking for guidance and direction from me."

(source: Associated Press)


House votes to allow electric chair as fallback option for executions

The Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday to allow inmates to be executed via electric chair if the state lacks the necessary drugs for lethal injection.

The bill passed on a 62-33 vote after Del. Jackson H. Miller, R-Manassas, delivered a graphic retelling of the 2006 murder of Richmond's Harvey family. The killer in that case, Ricky Javon Gray, is scheduled to be executed March 16, but the the Virginia Department of Corrections has said it lacks the drugs needed to put Gray to death.

"This isn't expanding the death penalty, said Miller. "But the case I just told you about is exactly why we have this punishment on our books."

Condemned Virginia inmates have been able to choose between lethal injection and the electric chair since 1995. Just seven of 87 inmates executed since then have chosen the chair.

Miller has argued that the state's ability to "carry out justice" could be jeopardized if an inmate chooses lethal injection and no drugs are available.

The bill, House Bill 815, now goes to the Senate.

(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)


Ohio Mental Health Advocates Push

Execution Exemption for Defendants with Serious Mental Illness

Learn more at

The Ohio Alliance for the Mental Illness Exemption (OAMIE) was represented before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in testimony today by former Ohio Senator Bob Spada, who serves on the board of directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, a convener of the Alliance.

"We believe that those who commit violent crimes while in the grip of a psychotic delusion, hallucination or other disabling psychological condition lack judgment, understanding or self-control," said Spada. "Until such time as the U.S. Supreme Court decides on this question, the responsibility for prohibiting the execution of such individuals in Ohio rests with the Ohio General Assembly."

Spada attached to his written testimony a statement from OAMIE partners to the members of the Committee in support of S.B. 162, legislation which will prohibit the execution of defendants with specific mental illnesses at the time of the crime.

Also testifying today were Professor Daniel T. Kobil of Capital University Law School, on behalf of more than 50 Ohio law professors who have signed a letter to the legislature in support of S.B. 162, and Dr. Jeffrey L. Smalldon, a forensic psychologist who has provided expertise on mental health issues in numerous Ohio capital cases. Today's testimony has been posted in addition to all past proponent and interested party testimony at

The proposed legislation, which to-date has had only one opponent testify over the course of 6 hearings, is supported by leading organizations concerned with mental health issues in Ohio, including the following: National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association, Ohio Psychological Association, Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers, Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition, Buckeye Art Therapy Association, Ohio Empowerment Coalition, and the National Association of Social Workers - Ohio Chapter.

The public is invited to learn more about the legislation on our web page,

(source: Ohio Alliance for the Mental Illness Exemption)


'Voice of Experience' to explore death penalty

A Catholic priest and a former death row inmate are coming to Cincinnati to share their powerful story in a program called "Voices of Experience: The Death Penalty," at 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, at St. Anthony Church in Madisonville.

Joe D'Ambrosio spent more than 20 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit. The Rev. Neil Kookoothe, who is also a nurse and an attorney, met D'Ambrosio during a pastoral visit to death row. Kooksoothe's unique skill set led him to discover the holes in the case keeping Joe there. The 2 became a team, and Joe finally walked off death row, a free man, in 2012.

"Voices of Experience" is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohioans to Stop Executions, St. Anthony Church and the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is the 38th largest Catholic diocese in the country, with almost 500,000 Catholics, and has the 6th largest network of Catholic schools in terms of enrollment. The 19-county territory includes 211 parishes and 111 Catholic primary and secondary schools.



Florida Gov. Remains Mum on How to Fix State's Death Penalty

Despite an ongoing emotional debate, Gov. Rick Scott is refusing to say how Florida should fix the state's death penalty law.

The Florida Legislature is currently divided over how to rewrite the law after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current sentencing method unconstitutional. Scott has not made any recommendations, and on Wednesday, he said that he won't weigh in until state legislators send him a bill.

Scott's decision to let legislators work out the details contrasts with former Gov. Jeb Bush. After botched executions threatened Florida's death penalty, Bush called a special session. The governor recommended changes that included the state's switch to lethal injection from the electric chair.

The House and Senate are at odds over whether a jury should unanimously agree to recommend a death sentence.



Bill sponsor: Death penalty overburdens counties, jurors

The main sponsor of a measure that would repeal the death penalty in South Dakota says the practice overburdens counties and traumatizes jurors and court personnel.

Republican Sen. Arthur Rusch is a former judge. He told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he's personally prosecuted a death penalty case and seen the damaging effects firsthand.

The committee carved out an hour and a half Wednesday to hear from proponents and opponents of the measure.

Rusch says death penalty cases are unfairly taxing on county governments and have long-term effects on those involved. He also says he doesn't believe the punishment is an effective deterrent on crime.

The committee voted down 2 measures to repeal or limit the death penalty in the 2015 legislative session.

(source: Associated Press)


Popular Democracy and Capital Punishment in Nebraska

2015 saw fewer individuals executed and fewer individuals sentenced to death in the United States than any year since 1991 and the early 1970s (pre-Furman v. Georgia), respectively. It was the 6th straight year that executions had declined. Many articles have been written about the slow decline of the death penalty in America.

Usually, discussions of the death penalty focus on Texas (though Oklahoma has been prominently featured of late). The state that I find fascinating, however, is Nebraska. In 2015, Nebraska became the seventh state to repeal the death penalty (not counting those states that made no provision for the death penalty when the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia reinstated the death penalty nationally). But after Nebraska's legislature repealed the death penalty (and overrode a gubernatorial veto on the same), events took a turn not seen in other states.

The Cornhusker state is one of a few where actions of the legislature can be overturned by referendum. Governor Pete Ricketts, who had vetoed the repeal only to see that repeal overridden, not only supported the referendum effort to overturn the repeal, he personally donated much of the financial backing for the initiative.

Per the Nebraska Constitution, once the repeal petition received enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, the repeal bill was suspended. On Westlaw, affected statutes, including repealed sections authorizing the capital punishment as well as new sections describing the effects of repeal and transition away from execution, are accompanied by a note that the legislated change "been suspended by operation of Article III, # 3, of the Nebraska Constitution; see Historical and Statutory Notes."

Nebraska's last execution was carried out in 1997. There are currently 10 individuals on death row in Nebraska. They'll find out in November what happens next.

(source: Max Milstein, Attorney Editor, Thomson Reuters Max is a Senior Attorney Editor for Thomson Reuters


'Headley can still get death sentence in U.S.'

Headley had agreed to plea-bargain with the U.S. government and was sentenced to 35 years in prison on terrorism charges, says the Special Public Prosecutor.

In a startling revelation, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam claimed on Wednesday that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley could still be sentenced to death by the U.S. court for his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attack if he is found to be lying to the Indian court.

Headley had agreed to plea-bargain with the U.S. government and was sentenced to 35 years in prison on terrorism charges that would otherwise have attracted the death penalty there. Among the conditions in the plea-bargain is a commitment from Headley to depose truthfully before foreign judicial commissions.

The only question now is how India would prove whether or not Headley is lying, as most of the evidence and all his handlers are in Pakistan. And even if India had conclusive evidence that Headley was lying in the video deposition, would the appropriate U.S. authorities accept India's claims?

"Headley has given an undertaking before the U.S court that if he is not truthful in his replies before the court here, then the U.S government is entitled to seek the death penalty for him," Mr. Nikam told The Hindu. Mr. Nikam also claimed that only if he is satisfied with Headley's replies and only if he certifies it will Headley become an approver. Only his offer to become an approver has now been accepted. "The pardon granted to Headley is conditional and, according to the Indian law, the public prosecutor is authorised to forfeit the pardon. I will take a call only after the completion of evidence. Also, to decide if his pardon is to be forfeited or kept alive, I have to probe Headley on various angles and it can be decided after considering his entire evidence."

"Headley was handed a lesser punishment because of the plea-bargain and on the agreement that he would also be truthful in his deposition to foreign judicial commissions," a senior government official said. "The U.S can reopen the case if its finds that the agreement has been breached."

Mr. Nikam claimed he got the clearance from NSA Ajit Doval to make an offer to turn Headley into an approver. Later, when they presented the idea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he also concurred.

(source: The Hindu)


Judge Accepts Challenge of Law in Death Penalty Case----In an order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford said there was "strong disagreement" in "judicial and scholarly" circles about the legality of the death penalty

The federal judge hearing the death penalty retrial of a Vermont man charged with killing a Rutland supermarket worker more than 16 years ago said he was open to hearing a constitutional challenge of the federal death penalty law.

In an order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford said there was "strong disagreement" in "judicial and scholarly" circles about the legality of the death penalty.

"Preliminarily, and with an open mind about the arguments recently made by both sides, the court is looking at the constitutional challenge to the death penalty," Crawford wrote in the entry order dated Tuesday.

Crawford said that cases from the 1970s identified and tried to correct problems with the death penalty but "40 years later the question of a systemic violation of the Eighth Amendment remains."

Crawford scheduled a hearing for Feb. 26 so defense attorney for Donald Fell and prosecutors can discuss the details of the case and be ready for a hearing on the issues this summer.

Robert Dunham of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center said Crawford's ruling was an important development in the case.

"Judges don't grant evidentiary hearings if they don't have concerns about the issues," Dunham said.

Fell was arrested in 2000 shortly after the abduction and killing of Terry King, a North Clarendon grandmother. At the time, prosecutors decided the case should be heard in federal court. Vermont has no death penalty.

In 2002, the judge then hearing the case declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional. Two years later, an appeals court overturned that ruling, allowing the original trial to go forward.

Fell was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to death for the abduction and killing of King. A judge ordered a new trial because of juror misconduct. A second trial is scheduled for February 2017

Last fall, Fell's attorneys asked the court to rule the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

(source: NECN)


North Korea executes army chief of staff: South Korean media

North Korea has executed its army chief of staff, Ri Yong Gil, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday, which, if true, would be the latest in a series of executions, purges and disappearances under its young leader.

The news comes amid heightened tension surrounding isolated North Korea after its Sunday launch of a long-range rocket, which came about a month after it drew international condemnation for conducting its 4th nuclear test.

A source familiar with North Korean affairs also told Reuters that Ri had been executed. The source declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

Ri, who was chief of the Korean People's Army (KPA) General Staff, was executed this month for corruption and factional conspiracy, Yonhap and other South Korean media reported.

Yonhap did not identify its sources. The source who told Reuters the news declined to comment on how the information about the execution had been obtained.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service declined to comment and it was not possible to independently verify the report.

The North rarely issues public announcement related to purges or executions of high-level officials.

A rare official confirmation of a high-profile execution came after Jang Song Thaek, leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and the man who was once considered the 2nd most powerful figure in the country, was executed for corruption in 2013.

In May last year, the North executed its defense chief by anti-aircraft gun at a firing range, the South's spy agency said in a report to members of parliament.

The North's military leadership has been in a state of perpetual reshuffle since Kim Jong Un took power after the death of his father in 2011. He has changed his armed forces chief several times since then.

Some other high-ranking officials in the North have been absent from public view for extended periods, fuelling speculation they may have been purged or removed, only to resurface.

(source: Reuters)


Perak police nab 3 family members, seize drugs worth RM228,000

Perak police seized 4.57 kilogrammes (kg) of heroin, worth about RM228,859, following the arrest of a couple and their son in Taman Gopeng Baru, Gopeng last Friday.

Perak Narcotics Crime Department chief, ACP R. Ravi Chandran said police managed to seize the drugs after detaining a 58-year-old man who was in a Proton Waja that was parked in front of a house in the housing estate, on Feb 5, at about 3.50pm.

"Police found 5 transparent plastic packages believed to be filled with heroin weighing about 4.53kg when the car was inspected. In a follow-up search at the suspect's house, police arrested his wife and 20-year-old son after finding plastic packages believed to contain heroin weighing 50.70grammes,” he told reporters at the Perak police headquarters, here today.

Ravi said the 3 suspects were being remanded for 7 days beginning Saturday to assist investigations.

He said the drugs were believed to be for distribution around Gopeng, Kampar and Ipoh and was sufficient to supply some 3,500 drug users.

Ravi said the family head who was detained worked as a farmer and had 6 previous criminal records, while his wife and son had no previous criminal records.

"We are also investigating when the family started trafficking drugs actively. The farmer also tested positive for methamphetamine," he said while thanking the public for the tip-off.

The case would be investigated under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 which carries the mandatory death penalty if convicted.


TEXAS----new execution date

Killer at Dallas-area Subway store holdup set to die in May

A 42-year-old man sent to death row for a fatal shooting during a Dallas-area sandwich shop robbery in 2002 has received an execution date.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday convicted killer Terry Darnell Edwards is scheduled for lethal injection May 11. The U.S. Supreme Court in November refused to review his case.

Edwards was convicted of killing 26-year-old Mickell Goodwin at a Balch Springs Subway store where she worked. The store manager, 34-year-old Tommy Walker, also was gunned down.

Evidence showed Edwards had been fired from the sandwich store a few weeks before the July 2002 shootings. About $3,000 was taken in the holdup.

Edwards is among 10 inmates scheduled for execution in the coming months in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

(source: Associated Press)


Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----15

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----533

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

16---------February 16--------------Gustavo Garcia--------534

17---------March 9------------------Coy Wesbrook----------535

18---------March 22-----------------Adam Ward-------------536

19---------March 30-----------------John Battaglia--------537

20---------April 6------------------Pablo Vasquez---------538

21---------April 27-----------------Robert Pruett---------539

22---------May 11-------------------Terry Edwards---------540

23---------June 2-------------------Charles Flores--------541

24---------July 14------------------Perry Williams--------542

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Man Found Incompetent for Trial in Houston Deputy's Death

A Houston man accused of fatally shooting a sheriff's deputy at a gas station last summer has been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial for capital murder.

State District Judge Susan Brown ordered 31-year-old Shannon Miles be sent to a mental hospital. After four months of medication and treatment, his competency will be re-evaluated.

Harris County prosecutors Tuesday didn't dispute arguments from Miles' lawyers that he's schizophrenic and doesn't understand the seriousness of the legal proceedings.

Miles is a charged in the Aug. 28 slaying of Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth. The deputy was shot 15 times while putting gasoline in his patrol car. If convicted, Miles could face the death penalty.

Records show Miles has been committed to mental health facilities at least twice in recent years.

(source: Associated PressP


Prosecutors said this death row inmate was dangerous because he's black. Now he's asking the Supreme Court for a new trial

20 years ago, a psychologist testified that a Texas man facing the death penalty was more dangerous because he was black. Now, after years of legal wrangling, he’s facing his last chance to get the death sentence overturned.

In 1995, Duane Buck shot and killed his former girlfriend and her friend in Houston. He never contested his guilt. During his trial, Buck's defense attorney called a psychologist named Walter Quijano to testify. On direct examination, Quijano noted that blacks and Latinos were "over-represented in the criminal justice system." Then on cross-examination, the prosecutor asked Quijano if "the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons." Quijano said yes.

Based on that testimony, Buck asked the Supreme Court to give him a new trial in a petition filed last week. His attorneys argue that because Buck's lawyer at the time did not object to this testimony, he should get a 2nd hearing on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

In order to sentence an inmate to die, Texas law requires a jury to find that they will be a danger to the public in the future. The prosecutor stressed Quijano's testimony about Buck's race during his closing argument, and the jury sentenced him to death.

"He was basically saying because you're black, you need to die," Buck told a documentary filmmaker. "My lawyer didn't say anything and nobody else, you know, the prosecutor or the judge, nobody did. It was like an everyday thing in the courts."

Quijano testified about black people being especially dangerous in 6 death penalty cases. The Texas Attorney General - now-U.S. Senator - John Cornyn admitted in 2000 that Quijano's race-based testimony was "inappropriate." The other 5 defendants sentenced to death after his testimony have all received new hearings, but prosecutors continue to object to a hearing for Buck.

It's unclear whether Quijano is still practicing. Phone calls to a number listed in his name did not go through.

The Supreme Court stayed Buck's execution in 2011 but then denied him a new trial. In a dissent of that decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the trial was "marred by racial overtones." Buck's lawyers hope that new precedents set since then guaranteeing adequate legal representation will result in a different verdict this time.

While Buck's case is certainly an egregious example of a death penalty injustice, it's hardly unique. In Houston's Harris County, black defendants are more than twice as likely than white defendants to receive the death penalty. And advocates have long complained that people facing execution in the state don't always receive adequate legal counsel.

Even if the Court eventually grants Buck a new hearing, it's a long shot that would mean a change in sentence. The other 5 defendants who got new hearings were re-sentenced to death. But Kate Black, Buck's new attorney, said that she thought her client has a better chance.

Buck has been on death row for 18 years without getting a single disciplinary violation, she said. "As someone who's represented a number of death row inmates, that's incredibly unique," Black said. "I think if the jury heard about the way he's conducted himself they would see how wrong that prediction about dangerousness was."

A decision from the Court is expected later this spring.



Easton murder suspect can't fire 'corrupt' lawyers, judge rules----Lawyer request denied

An Easton murder suspect isn't entitled to new lawyers in his death-penalty case, though he calls his defense team "bums" and "corrupt," a Northampton County judge ruled Tuesday.

Last week, Jeffrey S. Knoble Jr. sought to fire his public defenders, complaining they were pressing him to accept a plea bargain in which he would admit to murder and accept a sentence of life in prison without parole.

? But in a 4-page decision Tuesday, Judge Emil Giordano denied Knoble's request, finding the 26-year-old Riegelsville man was making vague and unsubstantiated allegations that failed to prove his relationship with his lawyers was irreconcilably broken.

The right to a free attorney doesn't include the right to pick the lawyers of your choosing, Giordano said, and without more specific allegations, Knoble cannot be allowed to "attorney shop."

The ruling came 4 days after Knoble lashed out in court against Chief Public Defender Robert Eyer and the two experienced public defenders assisting him, Matthew Goodrich and Matthew Potts. The hearing Friday came after Knoble wrote letters to Giordano and the case's prosecutor, charging his defense team had "sold me out" and wanted him to plead guilty.

Knoble could face the state's ultimate punishment if convicted of first-degree murder in the early March 11 killing at the former Quality Inn on South Third Street. He is accused of shooting 32-year-old Andrew "Beep" White, who authorities have called a good Samaritan who had rented a room for Knoble that night because he had no place to stay.

Knoble was arrested the day of the killing after his mother called police after her son showed her a cellphone video of a man's corpse, according to testimony. Knoble's lawyers have said they are preparing a mental-health defense, including the possibility that their client was insane or operating under diminished capacity.

Jury selection in Knoble's trial is slated to begin May 31.

? In denying Knoble's bid for new counsel, Giordano highlighted Eyer, who said Friday that he, Goodrich and Potts were ready to proceed in their representation of the defendant. Giordano said he knows the three attorneys and believes they are "honest, forthcoming, hardworking and competent."

Eyer did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck called Giordano's ruling expected, saying Knoble failed to offer any specific complaints against his team.

"Ultimately, this is just a ploy on his part to delay the trial," said Houck, who doubted the decision will end Knoble's complaints.

"I believe you'll see this again as we get closer to trial," Houck said.

Friday was only the latest instance in which Knoble has had outbursts in court. When he was formally notified in June that he would face the death penalty, Knoble thundered against the justice system and the media, labeling them corrupt and saying there was no way he would receive a fair trial.

(source: Morning Call)


Westmoreland DA gets until March to decide on death penalty in cop killing

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck will have until March 26 to decide whether to seek the death penalty against a New Florence man accused of killing police officer Lloyd Reed in November.

Peck said Tuesday he will study several factors before determining whether Raymond Shetler Jr., 31, will face the death penalty for the Nov. 28 shooting of Reed, 54, who was responding to a domestic call in St. Clair when he was fatally shot.

"I'm interested in being provided with any mitigating circumstances he may have," Peck said.

In order to seek the death penalty, the prosecution must convince a jury that aggravating circumstances about Shetler and the crime outweighs mitigating factors. Peck said the killing of a police officer is an aggravating fact the prosecution can use to seek the death penalty.

Shelter's record of prior violent crimes could be another aggravating factor, Peck said.

Shetler was in court on Tuesday for a hearing to determine if he violated probation for a reckless endangerment charge he pleaded guilty to in October. At that time, Shetler was sentenced to serve 2 years on probation and ordered to undergo a drug and alcohol abuse evaluation.

When asked Tuesday by Judge Rita Hathaway why he didn't have that evaluation done, Shetler responded: "I don't write the music, I just play in the band."

Shetler has been in jail without bail since his arrest a few hours after Reed was gunned down. Police said Shetler fired 3 times at Reed, hitting him once in the chest.

Following a preliminary hearing late last year, Shetler told reporters he didn't realize Reed was a police officer and that he was sorry for his actions.

The deadline for Peck to decide on the death penalty was to be Wednesday. Peck said that because of his busy court schedule he needed more time to investigate the case.

Reed's family members have taken no position on the death penalty, Peck said.

"They are looking for guidance and direction from me," Peck said.



Jurors hear from North Hills murder suspect in videotaped interrogation

Jurors in the trial of Travion Smith spent a portion of the day Tuesday watching the remainder of a videotaped interview between the defendant and Raleigh police Detective Eric Gibney from May 2013.

Smith, 23, is charged with 1st-degree murder in 30-year-old Melissa Huggins-Jones' death and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Huggins-Jones was new to the Triangle, having divorced and moved from Tennessee to an apartment complex off Six Forks Road with her 8-year-old daughter, Hannah Olivia Jones.

On the morning of May 14, 2013, Hannah wandered out of the apartment and approached a nearby construction crew, asking for help. A construction worker followed the girl back into the apartment and found Huggins-Jones dead in her bed, covered in blood.

An autopsy determined she had died from repeated blows to her head and neck.

According to investigators, a laptop stolen from Huggins-Jones' apartment complex connected Smith to the murder.

? On Monday, there was a lot of debate between the attorneys and the judge as to what parts, if any, of a videotaped interrogation would be shown to the jury.

Smith and his co-defendants, Ronald Lee Anthony and Sarah Rene Redden, were questioned by police when initially identified as suspects. Investigators used statements from each against the others.

Anthony pleaded guilty in 2015 to first-degree murder in Huggins-Jones’ death and was sentenced to life in prison. Redden testified for the state against Smith last week and hopes to get a lesser sentence as a result.

In the videotape jurors watched on Tuesday, Gibney repeatedly told Smith that his co-defendants were pointing the finger at him, and that he needed to tell the truth to save himself.

"They are putting you in there. They are putting it all on you," Gibney said. "You deserve an opportunity to tell your story."

At first Smith only admitted to breaking into cars the night of the murder, but eventually said Anthony entered Huggins-Jones' apartment through a sliding door on the balcony while he waited outside. Smith said it was then that he heard a blood-curdling scream.

"It was just like a horrifying scream, like something you hear in a horror movie," Smith said. "It sounded like panic."

Smith said he ran and eventually ended up reuniting with Anthony.

Police were called to the apartment complex to investigate reported car break-ins the night of the murder, but did not learn of Huggins-Jones' death until the next morning.

Smith told officers he repeatedly asked Anthony what happened inside the apartment, but he never got an answer.

"I didn't know what was going on, and he wouldn't tell me nothing," Smith said. "I didn't go to sleep for 2 whole days. I couldn't eat nothing because I didn't know what was going on."

Smith said he called his father to talk about what he thought might have happened in Huggins-Jones’ apartment.

"I called my father and talked to him and said, 'Dad, I don't know what's going on. I think, I think, I think my friend just killed somebody. I don't know for sure yet.'" he said.

Former City-County Bureau of Identification agent Tracy Gold took the stand late Tuesday morning. She was one of the main investigators at the murder scene.

For the remainder of the day, the jury got the opportunity to see photographs of the victim's body and physical evidence from the crime scene. Much of the evidence was blood stained and prompted an emotional reaction from the audience and jurors, who openly shed tears.



Raleigh taxi driver murdered, Louisburg man charged

A Louisburg man is being held without bond after being charged in the murder of an on-duty taxi driver in Raleigh Monday morning, Raleigh Police said.<>P> Major Earl Edwards Jr., 25, has been charged with 1 count of murder in connection with the death of Jose Nicolas Dominguez, 55, of Raleigh.

He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and was appointed a capital public defender, meaning he is eligible for the death penalty. Edwards remained silent during the appearance where he learned he would be held without bond.

His next scheduled court appearance is March 1.

Police responded to a shooting call at Hodges Creek Apartments in the 2000 block of Hodge Creek Drive at approximately 1:25 a.m. Monday. Upon arrival, officers found Dominguez dead at the scene.

Dominguez was a driver for Amigo Taxi. A dispatcher for Amigo said Dominguez was called to the complex to pick someone up when he was killed.

Another driver for the company told WNCN Dominguez had been driving a taxi in Raleigh for several years and the area is regarded as usually being safe.

"I never have heard anything [bad] about these apartments...I have been here many times with no problems," said Joaquin Loyola.

Loyola called Dominguez "a very good friend."

A 911 call released on Monday afternoon was from a person who drove a car into the parking lot, heard a "pop" and then saw the taxi driver lying on the ground motionless.

"I pulled up and seen there was a male laying there...he's not moving he's not responsive," the caller said.

The investigation of the homicide remains underway.

(source: WNCN news)


Poll: Majority of Florida Residents Want Unanimous Juries In Death Penalty Cases

1 in 3 Floridians prefer the death penalty as a punishment for people convicted of murder. That's according to a new poll from Florida International University's School of Law.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of Florida's system for handing down death sentences. Since then, the legislature has been scrambling to come up with a fix.

Stephen Harper is a visiting professor at FIU. Harper said he and his colleagues conducted the poll to learn about public opinion as the debate continues in Tallahassee.

"A little bit surprising was the strength of those in favor of a unanimous jury," he said of the poll's findings. "Almost 70 % supported or strongly supported a unanimous jury."

In Florida’s recently-overturned system, juries needed a simple majority vote to recommend the death penalty.

The new Florida House proposal would require nine jurors to agree. The Senate version would require a unanimous decision to hand down the sentence.

The state will have to come up with a new system before any new death penalty cases can move forward.

(source: WMFE news)


Senate panel OKs unanimous verdict for death penalty

Legislation requiring a unanimous verdict from the jury to recommend the death penalty will head to the Senate floor after passing a committee vote late Monday.

The Senate's Criminal Justice Committee passed its version of a bill (SB 7068) that would revise Florida's sentencing process for the death penalty.

The Legislature is rewriting how to sentence someone to death after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current method unconstitutional. In an 8-1 ruling last month in Hurst vs. Florida, the court said the sixth amendment was violated because state law allowed a judge to decide independently whether necessary aggravating circumstances exist.

The Senate and House bills are mostly similar except for one key matter: what it takes for the jury to agree to the death penalty. The Senate bill (SB 7068) requires a unanimous decision of all 12 jurors, but the House measure (PCB CRJS 16-07) requires only nine. Current Florida law requires a simple majority of 7.

"We're going to move our bill forward, because we believe that is what the Supreme Court says and that we are not an outlier with the other states," said Sen. Greg Evers, committee chairman.

According to data compiled by the Florida Supreme Court's Clerk's office, only 69 of 330 death penalty cases - 21 % - in the past 15 years had unanimous jury verdicts.

The Senate committee said in its analysis of the bill that a decline in death penalty sentences was likely, but the level is undetermined based on the data because only a simple majority was needed in previous cases.

Florida was the only state remaining that called for a simple majority to find the presence of a sufficient number of aggravating factors. Now, if it isn't unanimous, life without parole can be the only sentence.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Capital murder suspects across Alabama seek to bar death penalty

Attorneys for 25-year-old Antonio McCary Jones, a Birmingham man charged with killing a fellow drug dealer by shooting him 14 times, last week told a judge that if Jones is found guilty the death penalty should not be an option.

Alabama's sentencing scheme in death penalty cases is the same as Florida's, which was ruled unconstitutional last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones' lawyers argued Friday. In both Alabama and Florida, judges are allowed to override jury recommendations for either life without parole or death.

"The dilemma we're trying to resolve is do we want 12 people deciding death or life, or one person," Joe Basgier, one of Jones' lawyers, said after the hearing.

Basgier and Jones' other attorney, Hube Dodd, are not alone in making the argument.

The ink was hardly dry on the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 12 ruling in Hurst v. Florida before lawyers around Alabama began filing motions seeking to bar the death penalty for their clients facing capital murder charges because of the similarities between the 2 states' capital punishment sentencing laws.

That has had local district attorneys scrambling to defend Alabama's capital sentencing law and putting circuit judges in the position of having to hold hearings and rule on the issue. Several judges have already denied the motions, at least one has taken it under advisement, and a few are awaiting further guidance.

Not the same

District attorneys and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange say Alabama's law is not the same as Florida's and has already been declared constitutional.

"The U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Florida death penalty does not affect Alabama's law. The U.S. Supreme Court specifically upheld Alabama's current system as constitutional in the case of Harris v. Alabama in 1995," according to a statement from the Attorney General's Office.

"In the Florida case (Hurst), the holding is that a jury must find the aggravating factor in order to make someone eligible for the death penalty. Alabama's system already requires the jury to do just that," according to the Attorney General's statement. "The jury must unanimously find an aggravating factor at either the guilt or sentencing phase - such as when the murder was committed during a robbery, a rape, or a kidnapping."

The Attorney General's Office also stated Alabama's death penalty system was challenged last year to the U.S. Supreme Court on the same grounds that Florida's was challenged. The court, however, declined to take that case, or even to hold the case until after it resolved the Florida case, the Attorney General noted.

Justices - with two dissenters - declined to hear the appeals of Courtney Lockhart and Christie M. Scott based on Alabama's judicial override - a practice that has become part of the debate over the death penalty.

Is the same

Defense attorneys argue that that ultimate decision to sentence a defendant to death is made by a judge and not a Jury, just as in Florida. "The jury does make its own sentencing recommendation after a comparable weighing process, but that recommendation 'is not binding upon the court,'" according to Basgier and Dodd's motion.

Rarely, if at all, has a judge in Alabama overridden a jury recommendation for death and sentenced a suspect to life without parole. But there are a number of cases in which a judge has overridden a life without parole recommendation and imposed a death sentence.

According to several motions filed by defense attorneys around Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court in its ruling in the Hurst case also overruled 2 previous cases - Hildwin v. Florida in 1989 and Spaziano v. Florida in 1984. Both those cases had been used by the court in upholding Alabama's death sentencing scheme in 1995, according to the motions.

"As a result, the cases that upheld Alabama's death penalty scheme are no longer valid," according to Basgier and Dodd's motion, which mirrors other defense lawyer's "Hurst" motions.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office had filed a brief in the Hurst case asking that the U.S. Supreme Court not overrule Spaziano because that case "had provided the legal foundation for Alabama's death penalty scheme," according to Basgier and Dodd's motion.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace said he would reserve ruling on the issue. Wallace did question during the hearing what happens when a judge may be privy to information a jury did not have when it was considering whether to recommend life without parole or a death sentence.

Other cases

The dilemma we're trying to resolve is do we want 12 people deciding death or life, or one person" - Joe Basgier

Among the other capital murder defendants with cases currently pending around Alabama who have filed "Hurst" motions are:

- DeMarcus Means, who is charged in last year's shooting death of his girlfriend, Haileigh Green, in Shelby County. A judge has not yet held a hearing on the motion.

- Deandra Marquis Lee, who is charged in the 2012 slayings of 3 people - 9-year-old twins and their caregiver - in Lowndes County. The motion was filed last week.

- Stephon Lindsay, who is charged in Etowah County with killing his toddler daughter in 2013 with either a sword or knife. Etowah County Circuit Judge William B. Ogletree on Thursday denied the request to bar the death penalty in his case, which goes to trial Feb. 22.

- Jason Paul Hopkins, who along with Dane Leach, is charged in the strangulation death and robbery of a Highland Park man. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail denied the motion last week, Hopkins' attorney, Philip Petersen, said.

- Stanley Chatman, who is already serving 99 years in prison for a murder and who once served time for manslaughter, is now awaiting trial for capital murder in the 2013 slayings of Jonathan and Jeremi Berry, 17, and the attempted murder of the twins' mother, 31-year-old LaTasha Berry in Wylam. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd has set a hearing for March 3 to consider the Hurst motion.

- John Clayton Owens, who is charged in Madison County with the death of his 91-year-old neighbor in August 2011. His trial began Monday with jury selection.

Owens had filed a petition to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals for a writ of mandamus to direct Madison County Circuit Judge Alison S. Austin to stay his trial until the issue of whether Alabama's capital sentencing scheme is constitutional can be resolved or, in the alternative, stay the penalty phase of his trial until the issue is resolved.

The appeals court denied the motion Friday. But that court did not address the constitutionality of Alabama's capital sentencing law in its order. "Owens may raise the issue of the constitutionality of Alabama's capital sentencing scheme on appeal should he be convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death," according to the order.

Petersen, who is president of the Greater Birmingham Criminal Defense Lawyer's Association, said one problem with the short (8-page) Hurst v Florida ruling is that it wasn't very clear. "It was a muddled up opinion not direct on every point and was only helpful to Florida."

Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls said he doesn't expect any adverse rulings by trial judges on the Hurst motions. He noted Alabama's rules have been reviewed previously and the U.S. Supreme court has had a fairly recent opportunity to do it again.

"Honestly, anytime a judge overrides a jury's recommendation (for death) the appellate courts are looking for a reason to overturn it," Falls said.

But Falls wasn't surprised his office is faced with responding to a flood of Hurst motions. Lawyers have to file the motions for their clients so they could benefit if sometime in the future an appeals court does find an issue with Alabama's capital murder sentencing structure.

Among the 1st motions seeking to use Hurst on behalf of an Alabama client was that of Christopher Brooks, who was executed by lethal injection on Jan. 21.

Brooks' attorneys in the days prior to the execution had argued to the Alabama Supreme Court that his execution should be stayed because Florida's sentencing scheme is the same as Alabama's.

The Alabama Supreme Court rejected that appeal and Brooks' lawyers quickly took the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also declined to stop the execution.

However, three of the U.S. Supreme Court justices had reservations about Alabama's death sentencing law in the denial of Brooks' stay. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with whom Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed, noted that the court in Hurst v. Florida had overruled the two cases that underpinned Alabama's law. But procedural obstacles would have prevented the court from granting the stay of Brooks' execution, she wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer, however, stated that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that Alabama's sentencing scheme is much like and based on the one used in Florida that has been declared unconstitutional. "The unfairness inherent in treating this case differently from others which used similarly unconstitutional procedures only underscores the need to reconsider the validity of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote in the Brooks' opinion



Proposed Missouri budget change could allow attempts to defund the death penalty

A proposed change in the state budget could allow opponents of the death penalty to attempt to pull funding for it.

Members of Missouri's execution team are paid in cash to keep their identities hidden, per the law - that includes the doctor that administers a lethal injection and a compounding pharmacy that makes the pentobarbital used. That money has come out of a fund for expenses and equipment in the Department of Corrections' budget, so state lawmakers and others looking at the budget didn't know how much was spent on executions.

A House subcommittee approved Representative Jeremy LaFaver's (D-Kansas City) proposal to create a specific line in the budget for executions.

"Including it in the budget in this fashion I think is going to allow for a little better transparency and tracking of this important task that our state does," said LaFaver.

If his action stands, legislators who oppose the death penalty could now see where it's funded in the budget and by how much, and could propose pulling that money. LaFaver wouldn't say if a proposal to pull the money for executions will be offered.

The idea passed a mostly-Republican committee chaired by Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who says she supports the need for transparency as long as no identities of execution team members are released. Conway also said there is little chance an effort to defund executions would clear the Republican legislature.

"From what I heard happened in the Senate [Monday], yes I think that most Republicans are [in favor of the death penalty]. Personally, I am," said Conway.

On Monday the state Senate debated a proposed repeal of the death penalty. Most Republicans spoke against it and the issue was tabled.

The line LaFaver's action created includes a proposed amount of half-a-million dollars. Conway expressed concern about tying up that much money with the expectation that few executions will be scheduled during the 12 months it covers, beginning July 1.

LaFaver agreed to offer an amendment to reduce that amount to more closely reflect the execution-related expenses the Corrections Department expects, but he also wants additional money to cover potential federal fines. He referred to the Corrections Department Director, George Lombardi, last week telling the budget committee that the state has not issued federal tax reporting forms, or 1099s, to members of its execution team going back to the mid 1980s.

LaFaver said money in that line beyond the projected costs of executions, "would also allow for the payment of any penalties that would be assessed to the state from the IRS for not complying with the federal tax law requirements of issuing a 1099."

LaFaver said he will work to come up with a figure more reflective of potential execution costs and IRS penalties to propose to the full budget committee when it considers the corrections budget.

The full budget committee is the next stop for that bill.



Bill to abolish death penalty in Missouri presumed dead in the Missouri Senate

A bill that would have abolished Missouri's death penalty has unofficially become the first bill to die during the 2016 legislative session.

Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, is Senate Bill 816's sponsor. He told reporters he knows there aren't enough votes in the Senate to abolish the death penalty, but calls Monday's debate on the floor a victory in itself.

"I was glad to see a lot of senators talking about (how) they felt about the bill," Wieland said. "As I said on the floor, everyone has a different conscience ... just ask yourself the question: Is the way we're implementing (capital punishment) here in the state of Missouri good public policy?"

Less than an hour into Monday's debate, Wieland officially had the bill placed on the Senate's informal calendar, where bills that are hotly debated or blocked via filibuster often end up. Although bills can be removed from the informal calendar for further debate or passage, they often sit inactive until they die on the final day of the legislative session.

Wieland said that he has no plans to revive the bill because he knows there aren't enough votes to get it passed and because the Senate needs to spend time on other issues.

Several senators from both parties spoke in support of Wieland's bill. From Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph:

"We know for a fact that there are innocent people who have been convicted and executed. We know that that's true, and yet we continue just blindly moving forward. We know that there are people who receive inadequate legal representation ... This is a very good reason to think about whether or not we should have the death penalty."

From Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City:

"If you are African American, and you're the victim, and you're shot, and the person who shoots you is white, the likelihood of (him) going to death row is very slim. If you are African American and you kill someone who is white, nine times out of 10 you're going to be on death row ... that's inconsistent."

After Wieland laid the bill aside, fellow Republican Mike Parson of Bolivar took the floor and spoke in opposition to the death penalty abolition bill. Parson noted that all of the "debate" that took place up to that point was in support of the proposal.

"Mainly what I've heard up here is (that) it's almost as though we're talking about victims, but what we're really talking about is killers," Parson said.

Parson, a former county sheriff, spent several minutes recounting murder cases that took place in Missouri, which included double murders committed by Steven Ray Thacker, who was later executed in Tennessee for another murder.

"There (are) cold-blooded killers out there," Parson said. "I looked (Thacker) in the face, and I can tell you today that ... he would (have) hurt somebody, he would (have) killed somebody again if (we had) let him out."

Parson is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, also spoke against scrapping the death penalty. The former prosecutor is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general.

While Wieland's bill is for all practical purposes dead, there are 2 bills in the Missouri House that would abolish the death penalty, 1 sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican. House Bill 1402 is sponsored by Jeanie Kirkton, D-Webster Groves, and House Bill 2064 is sponsored by T.J. Berry, R-Kearney. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing, though.

On the opposite end of the debate are bills that would allow for more methods of execution and would speed up the execution process.

(source: St. Louis Public Radio)


Kyle Flack capital murder case: Jury selection about half done in Franklin County District Court----Flack is charged with killing 3 adults, 1 toddler

Jury selection in the capital murder trial of defendant Kyle Trevor Flack, who is charged with killing four victims, is about half-way done as of Tuesday.

Beginning Feb. 1, 6 prospective jurors filed into Franklin County District Court in Ottawa during the morning court session, then in the afternoon session, to be questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The questioning will continue through Friday this week and is expected to continue a day or 2 next week, court administrator John Steelman said Tuesday.

After prosecutors and defense attorneys conduct the process that results in choosing 12 jurors and four alternate jurors, the 2 sides will make opening statements.

As of Tuesday, opening statements were scheduled for Feb. 17.

The Franklin County District Court mailed a summons to 600 county residents, and of that number, about 350 showed up to fill out jury questionnaires, Steelman said.

District Judge Eric W. Godderz and prosecution and defense attorneys whittled down that number to 136 prospective jurors, Steelman said. Some were eliminated because they no longer lived in the judicial district, and some had medical issues.

Flack, 30, is charged with capital murder in the slayings of Kaylie Smith Bailey, 21, and her daughter, Lana-Leigh Bailey, 18 months; 2 counts of premeditated 1st-degree murder of Andrew A. Stout, 30, and Steven White, 31; and criminal possession of a firearm by a felon. The 4 were killed between April 20 and May 1, 2013.

If convicted of capital murder, Flack could face the death penalty.

In Kansas, juries hearing death penalty cases 1st decide whether to convict or acquit the defendant.

If the defendant is convicted, jurors then resume deliberations to decide whether to recommend the death penalty or a life sentence without parole to the judge.

(source: Topeka Capital-Journal)


Senate committee set to take up bill to repeal death penalty

A state Senate committee is set to consider a measure that would repeal the death penalty in South Dakota.

The Senate State Affairs committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Arthur Rusch of Vermillion is the measure's main Senate sponsor. Rusch, a former judge, says he has personally prosecuted a death penalty case.

He says he's seen firsthand how costly and hard it was on jurors and court personnel.

The Senate State Affairs committee during the 2015 legislative session voted down 2 measures to repeal or limit the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)


Legislation would abolish Utah's death penalty

There are 9 men on Utah's death row, 3 of whom have been there for almost 30 years. A bill in the works from Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, would cap that population - abolishing the death penalty in future Utah cases, even though he once supported the practice.

"In 2015, you can only be theoretically in support of the death penalty, because it is broken," said Urquhart, an attorney. "Even for the most ardent supporter of the death penalty, you gotta question it."

Under the bill as it is being drafted, those currently on Utah's death row could still be executed, Urquhart explained, but the punishment would be off the table in all future prosecutions.

Eight of the death-row inmates were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death before 1999. One was retried in 2015 and again convicted and sentenced to die. The most recent death sentence in Utah was given in 2008, when Floyd Eugene Maestas was convicted of the stabbing and strangulation death of 72-year-old Donna Lou Bott during a 2004 break-in and robbery at her Salt Lake City home.

The last time Utah carried out the death penalty was June 18, 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad, an event that made international headlines.

Abolishing capital punishment might be an uphill climb. The practice has historically been supported by conservative Utahns and the Republican-dominated Legislature, even as its use nationally is on the decline and polls show the majority of Americans now prefer the alternative punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the most serious crimes.

Some 69 % of Utahns approve of the death penalty, according to a recent poll conducted by SurveyUSA for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

Fewer than 1 in 5 (19 %) of those surveyed disapprove of the punishment and 12 % were undecided, according to the data collected Jan. 6-13 from 989 registered Utah voters.

The overall poll question had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 % points.

More Republicans supported the practice than Democrats - 82 % to 53 % - although 62 % of independents also backed it. Support from men also outnumbers that of women, 72 % to 66 %, according to poll data.

Urquhart seems undeterred by the results, even though he said he knows he may face similarly vigorous opposition from his legislative colleagues.

Utah's conservative, sometime libertarian-leaning politics may actually help pass a bill, he said. Conservatives don't believe that government does many things well and certainly not perfectly, he said.

"And yet we arrogate to ourselves the power over life and death," he said. "There's a serious disconnect there."

Other red states have already grappled with the issue and changed course, including Nebraska, which last year voted to repeal the death penalty, although a petition drive to reverse the vote has blocked the decision from taking effect until after the 2016 election.

Other states, including Montana and Ohio, have imposed moratoriums on capital punishment in the past year after they were unable to obtain the drugs used for lethal injection. Oklahoma has suspended the practice after the investigation into a botched execution found it has used the wrong drug.

That is not necessarily an issue in Utah, which last year reinstated the firing squad as the method of execution in the event that lethal injection is not available. Urquhart voted for the bill.

Additionally, the risk of false conviction - an estimated 4 % of those on death row nationally are believed to be innocent - and the high cost of prosecution and appeals has also been a factor in many states.

In Utah, a 2012 study by legislative fiscal analysts found that, when compared to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, the costs associated with capital punishment are significantly higher.

According to the report, from trial to execution - a period averaging 20 years - state and local governments spent more than $1.6 million per death-row inmate. Counties bear the brunt of that financial burden at about $1.1 million, the state report showed.

Cost is an issue to consider, Urquhart said, but it's not his only concern.

"There is no deterrence in the death penalty right now if you execute someone decades after the crime," he said. "So you're left with good old-fashioned vengeance. That standing alone is not adequate justification. That is the reality of what we are doing right now. It just doesn't make any sense."

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, shares Urquhart's concern for missteps by government that have left some wrongly executed and said he doesn't understand why some defendants are sentenced to death while others avoid the penalty.

"I probably have said this more quietly than publicly, but I don't support the death penalty," said Hughes, who expressed discomfort with a sentencing process that pits the families of victims against those of the accused. "How do you have a guy who may have killed his wife and unborn child and put her in a mattress and not have the death penalty and have other circumstances where crimes have been committed and you have sentenced them to death. There's an arbitrary feel to it."

Data from the Utah courts show the outcomes in these cases are mixed, with prosecutors who charged a capital crime often trading the punishment away in exchange for a plea that resolved the case.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, who has sponsored most of the recent legislation to increase the number and type of death penalty-eligible crimes in Utah, disagrees with those numbers.

According to Ray, the calculation doesn't consider the number of appeals filed by inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of a parole, nor factor in the cost of medical care used by aging inmates nearing the end of life.

"I think the costs kind of even out," he said, "when you factor in those types of situations."

And then, Ray said, there is the matter of justice.

"I don't now how you put a price tag on justice," he said. "[The death penalty] is not really a deterrent to murder ... but it is justice and you need to have that form of justice available for certain individuals."

Ray said he believes Utah is one of the few states that gets the death penalty right, because the standards for prosecution are high and the punishment is used sparingly.

But, he said, he understands that individuals have strong personal philosophical differences on the issue.

"I'm open to the discussion," he said. "It's a fair discussion to have."

The Utah Justice Coalition, the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Libertas Institute, the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys all support Urquhart's effort.

Paul Boyden, director of Utah's Statewide Association of Prosecutors, said he could not comment on the bill because he has not yet seen it.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


Trial date scheduled in Smith murder case

A new trial date has been scheduled for a St. George murder suspect whose case has worked its way through court proceedings for more than 5 years.

Brandon Perry Smith, 34, will receive a 10-day jury trial scheduled to begin Oct. 17 in 5th District Court.

Smith is accused of killing a 20-year-old Leeds resident during a violent after-midnight incident at a downtown St. George home that also resulted in the shooting death of a 27-year-old St. George resident and the shooting injury of a male acquaintance on Dec. 11, 2010.

Smith's codefendant, Paul Clifford Ashton, who turns 37 later this month, is already serving a life without parole sentence for his role in the shootings.

Smith was previously scheduled to receive a trial last year, but his attorneys asked the court to postpone the trial while they pursued a failed attempt to appeal the judge's ruling that Smith's Miranda warning rights were not violated by St. George police investigators.

Unlike Ashton, Smith faced the prospect of a death penalty ruling if he is found guilty at trial, but the prosecution announced last week that it was dropping the bid for capital punishment in an effort to help move the case toward a swifter resolution.

"The state is taking this action at the request of the family of the victim in an effort to avoid delays associated with litigating a capital homicide case and to focus on bringing the case to trial as soon as possible," Deputy County Ryan Shaum said Feb. 3. "This was something we had spent a lot of time thinking about. ... In looking at what our end goal is in this case, we thought that we could still obtain justice and get the case resolved short of seeking the death penalty."

Although the death penalty is no longer being considered, the prosecution is continuing to pursue a first-degree felony charge of aggravated homicide against Smith, which could lead to a life in prison without parole sentence or at least a minimum of 25 years behind bars if he is found guilty.

(source: The Spectrum)


Repeal of the death penalty is a step toward peace

Antonyms for "peace" could be any of the following: War, disagreement, hate, discord, agitation, disharmony, distress, frustration, upset, worry, disturbance. We can add the "death penalty" as an antonym to "peace."

The American death penalty is the tip of the sword that is emblematic of the violent nature that continues to exist in much of our land.

The United States has a history of violence from its very beginnings. The decimation of the native peoples and a land that was built to a great degree with the labor of slaves are all parts of our national heritage that are shameful and should be left in the past.

As a country, as a citizen of the modern world, we should have matured enough that our moral fiber strains toward peace, not war, hate, or retribution. The continued use of the death penalty violates efforts toward peace, by hanging onto the acceptance of violent vengeance as a part of our identification as a nation.

National polls still shows a majority of those polled favor a death penalty - the bad news. The good news is that majority has been declining steadily for the past 2 decades. In 2015 there were fewer executions (28) than in the past 25 years, carried out by only 6 states. Also, there were fewer death sentences (49) handed down, a drop of 84.4 % since the 315 executions in 1996.

While the use of the death penalty and executions falls, it also narrows in its use to the southern states, those same "Bible Belt" states that supported slavery, that resisted civil rights, and many people continue to cling to the retributive citations from the Bible to justify this act of violence perpetrated by the government.

Retribution is a step away from peace. Retribution only adds to the level of violence. There are alternatives to execution in terms of imprisonment to keep the public safe.

While only 6 southern states carried out executions in 2015, 31 states still have it on the books as the law. The death penalty is a hollow icon for being "tough on crime."

The alternative is being "smart on crime," working to deter crime. Being "smart on crime" is using taxpayers' resources to rehabilitate the addicted, provide services to the mentally disabled, intervene into abusive households, enhance early childhood education and provide greater support for community policing. The death penalty is a failed public policy. The nation-wide repeal of the death penalty would be a step toward peace.

The "evolving standard of decency" is the judicial theory that led the United States Supreme Court, in 2002, to declare execution of those with "mental retardation" as unconstitutional. Then in 2005 the Court declared unconstitutional the execution of juveniles. It is time for the application of the "evolving standard of decency" to apply to all government executions and allow us to take a giant step toward peace in our land.

(source: Guest Column; Ron Steiner is a Board of Directors member of .Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Editor's note: Oregon is among the states that still has the death penalty law and has 34 people on death row awaiting execution. Since the death penalty was reinstated in a 1984 vote, 2 people have been executed and both had waived their rights to appeal----Herald and News)


Death row convict executed in Bahawalpur----A death row prisoner was hanged at the New Central Jail Bahawalpur on Tuesday morning.

A death row prisoner was sent to the gallows at the New Central Jail Bahawalpur on early Tuesday morning, Dunya News reported.

Death row convict Haider Shehzad was executed for killing a man named Muhammad Amin over a dispute. The dead body of Shehzad was handed over to his relative after the execution.

(source: Dunya News)


Peshawar school: Exceution of 2 attackers

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the execution of 4 men convicted by military courts for their involvement in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. A 2-member bench headed by Justice Dost Mohammed heard appeals filed by 4 death row convicts.

2 men namely Ali Rehman and Taj Mohammed were convicted of facilitating the deadly attack on Army Public School (APC) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 while Muhammad Zubair was involved in Nowshera bomb blast and Mohammed Ayaz was accused of opening fire on a security check post in Mohmand Agency.

During the proceeding, the defence lawyer argued that the concerned high court did not even look into the record of appeals against the military tribunals' decision.

The apex court observed that military courts should give a reason in their judgment. The attack on Army-run school, which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, led the government to lift a 2008 moratorium on the death penalty.

However, most of the nearly 300 people hanged since then have been convicted criminals, not militants.

Meanwhile, Justice Dost Mohammed issued notices to the attorney general of Pakistan as well as JAG branch to appear in court on February 16.

Earlier in December 2015, the authorities hanged 4 APS convicts at a high-security prison in the Kohat city.

The attack on army-run school, which was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban, horrified the country and led the government to lift a 2008 moratorium on the death penalty. However, most of the nearly 300 people hanged since then have been convicted criminals, not militants.

The military courts were established as part of a crackdown on militancy following the massacre. Parliament had approved the use of the courts for the coming 2 years, and cases are referred to them by provincial governments. But some have called for the trials to be more transparent.

The International Commission of Jurists has condemned the military courts as "secret, opaque" and in violation of fair trial obligations.

(source: The Asian Age)


Death sentence for killing students

A district court on Tuesday awarded death sentence to a man and life imprisonment to another for killing 2 students of Purnea district when they came there to write an examination 2 years ago.

Additional District Judge Rajesh Kumar Pandey awarded death sentence to Lala Chaurasia and life imprisonment to Chamo for pushing 2 polytechnic students to death from a mountain.

The court also slapped a penalty of Rs 10000 each.

4 students had come to write an examination in 2014 and had gone to a temple at Hiranya mountain where they were looted by 4 miscreants of their cash and ATM cards.

On finding they were told wrong PIN numbers they pushed the 2 students to death from a height of 300 m.

A 3rd student fell on a bush along with 1 of the attackers and survived, while the 4th student managed to flee from the scene.

(source: The Hindu)


Duterte bats for public executions anew

Presidential candidate and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's latest sound bite reinforced his iron-hand stance against crime: He not only wants the death penalty back, he also wants the execution to be opened to the public.

"I will work for the restoration of the death penalty. I will really bring it back, and make it in public, so that the people will see for themselves [how criminals are punished]," Duterte told a cheering crowd that attended a rally here on Wednesday.

Duterte first expressed his support for the restoration of the death penalty and the introduction of public execution before the campaign period in Davao City.

The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty, although it does not close its door to its restoration.

Section 19 of the Charter’s Bill of Rights (Article III) states: "Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall the death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua."

Duterte spoke to a crowd of about 3,000, mostly college students, inside the University of Cagayan Valley gymnasium here.

Repeating a promise he made earlier, Duterte asked voters to give him "3 to 6 months" to stamp out criminality in the country.

He said he would take "full responsibility, legal or otherwise" for any human rights or administrative charges that may be slapped against lawmen who would be accused of killing criminals.

The feisty mayor flew to this city without his vice presidential candidate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. From the airport, Duterte first met with Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg. His convoy then drove around the city, where people who lined up the main street chanted "Duterte! Duterte!"

In his 40-minute speech, the audience laughed every time he punctuated his statements with one-liners about his penchant for executing criminals.



Myanmar convicts to appeal Koh Tao murder verdict

A legal team is preparing an appeal against the guilty verdict and death penalty for 2 Myanmar defendants, who are at the centre of the high-profile double murder case on Thailand's Koh Tao island.

"We will lodge an appeal on February 24," the defendants' lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchart disclosed recently. "We are confident our appeal will carry enough weight".

Koh Samui Court has found Nakhon's clients, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, guilty of killing 2 British tourists - Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. They were also convicted of raping the female victim. Along with the guilty verdict, the court handed down the death penalty to the 2 defendants.

The brutal crimes, which took place in 2014, have made headlines both locally and internationally. The case has also received serious attention from authorities in Thailand, Myanmar and Britain.



2 men get death penalty for murdering 10-year old Maria in 2014

The other convict has been sentenced to 5 years in prison.

District and Sessions Judge AKM Enamul Haque delivered the verdict on the 2014 sensational murder case on Tuesday.

According to Public Prosecutor Haris Uddin, the convicts murdered the 4th grader and hid the body in July 2014 at Gazipur's Konabarhi.

Abdul Alim, 45, and Suman Sheikh, 22, were given death sentences, and Alim's wife Shefali Begum the prison term.

All 3 convicts have received different monetary penalties as well.

Jaydebpur Police Inspector Alam Chand, the investigation officer of the case, told, "Maria's father Akteruzzaman would often misbehave with the convicts, which led them to murder the child."

Alim worked as the gatekeeper at the deceased's house, while Suman was a co-worker of Akteruzzaman at a factory at Konabarhi.

On Jul 14, 2014, Maria set out for school in the morning, but never returned home at Konabarhi's Ershad Nagar Housing Estate, according to the case documents.

Her family started looking for the child. On being asked, Suman and Alim said they had seen Maria playing in front of the house.

The neighbours also joined the search, but the 3 convicts tricked them into not looking in the garage of the housing complex.

Later, Maria's body was found in the garage with a t-shirt wrapped around her neck. Her books and school bag were found in the reserve water tank.

Maria's father filed a murder case with Jaydebpur Police against those 3.

Although Alim was present before the court on Tuesday, Suman had jumped the bail during the hearing.

Konabarhi police had earlier said during primary interrogation that Suman had confessed to strangling the child following a failed rape attempt.



Retired HC judge appointed as war crimes convict's lawyer

A recently-retired High Court judge has been appointed as defence lawyers for a person convicted of crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war with Pakistan.

Nazrul Islam, a High Court judge who is now on pre-retirement leave, defended Mir Quasem Ali, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader awarded with death penalty by a special war crimes tribunal in 2014, put his argument in the case being heard by the Appellate Division.

During the hearing, Surendra Kumar Sinha, head of 5-member panel of appeal court judges, remained the retired judge saying those are taking privileges from the public exchequer as judges should follow the official rules.

The retired judge responded saying he was engaged pleading within the purview of law.

The appeal court adjourned the hearing until Monday as Wednesday was the s2nd day into the hearing as the defendant challenged the trial court's verdict handed down on November 2, 2014.

Quasem, known as one of the prime financiers of Jamaat-e-Islami and a member of the executive council of the party, was found guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity during the war.

Defence lawyer SM Shajahan submitted arguments in favour of his client.

Earlier on February 2, the Supreme Court fixed the date for 9 February to hear the appeal hearing of Mir Quasem.



Can Tsai Ing-Wen Change the Politics of Death?----The incoming president faces a debate over the death penalty.

Following her electoral victory last month, KMT lawmakers have clashed on several issues with Tsai Ing-wen, who will be inaugurated as Taiwan's 1st female president on May 20, and her Democratic Peoples Party. Among them, Tsai has been pushed to reveal her stance on the abolition of the death penalty.

While capital punishment remains relatively popular in Taiwan, Lin Hsin-yi, Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, has pointed out that none of the KMT lawmakers who attacked the DPP over the abolition of the death penalty have been reelected. For her, "this congress is more friendly to human rights." What will this mean for the death penalty in Taiwan?

In early June 2015, 6 death row inmates were executed at four locations around Taiwan. The executions attracted some positive domestic attention but raised numerous concerns internationally. Taiwan has come under fire from international human rights organizations on several occasions for failing to adhere to procedural guidelines and for apparently using capital punishment for political purposes. Such accusations could amount to violations under international law but this could change with Tsai and the DPP, which has tended to support abolition.

The Politics of Death

The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) has observed that, "all the executions since 2010, when the four-year moratorium was lifted, took place when the government approval rate was low."

Taiwan had a moratorium on capital punishment from 2006 to 2010.

In March 2010, then Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng voiced support for the abolition of capital punishment and stated she would refuse to sign any execution warrants. This fueled a pro-death penalty social movement led by entertainer Pai Ping-ping, whose daughter had been murdered in 1997. That led to Wang's resignation. Tseng Yung-fu took over at Justice and reinstated the death penalty. In April, negotiations surrounding a trade agreement between China and Taiwan saw public approval of the government plummet. On April 30, 2010 the first executions since 2006 took place.

The Ministry of Justice consistently denies allegations of impropriety, but has refused to provide records of its meetings on death row inmates or on the criteria for deciding the timing of an execution.

There have been executions, timed around episodes of low government approval, every year since the moratorium was lifted. The executions in June are emblematic.

In March 2015 4 subway commuters were killed in Taipei and in May an 8-year-old girl was killed at her school. Public outcry demanded the death penalty for the attackers. Abolitionist politicians and rights campaigners were harassed and threatened. In early June, then opposition party chairperson, Tsai drew considerable domestic media attention for a high-profile trip to the United States, at the expense of the already unpopular KMT. Amid public outrage over the heinous murders and growing popularity for the opposition party, the timing of the 2015 executions is suspect. There were also several legal irregularities.

The initial list of those to be executed included Chiou Ho-shun, who had been sentenced in 1989 following 4 months of secret detention and reports that he had been tortured into confession. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for his release.

3 of the men who were executed had filed special appeals on the day of their executions. This could reflect either a cursory or non-existent review. There has never been a successful case of a death row inmate filing a special appeal or commutation.

Lawyers for the 3 inmates were not notified of the rejection of the appeal until after the executions. More concerning, 2 of the men executed in June, Wang Hsiu-fang and Wang Chun-chin, had no legal representation at their final trial before the Supreme Court.

Taiwan's Criminal Procedure Code does not guarantee legal defense for final appeals. In 2012 a draft was proposed that would change this in cases involving a minimum punishment of three years but it has not yet become law. Many current death row inmates did not have lawyers at their final trials.

In 2012, the final appeal retrial in 1 death row case found the 3 defendants not guilty of the 1991 murder for which they had spent more than 20 years in prison.

This raises concern over the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to legal defense and appeal. If political calculations have been behind the timing of executions since 2010, it could constitute an arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, which would amount to a violation of the right to life.

International law does not explicitly ban capital punishment but places strict procedural guidelines on those countries that have not abolished the death penalty.

Taiwan and International Law

In 2009, Taiwan announced that it had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations but effective ratification was accomplished through the Implementation Act, establishing that all domestic law align with the Covenants.

Article 6 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to life and protection from arbitrary loss of life. It prohibits the death penalty when it may constitute a violation of other rights, most notably the prohibition against torture.

Preventing the arbitrary deprivation of life requires that any decision to impose the death penalty must be narrowly circumscribed by clear and transparent principles in line with the Covenant.

This requires strict adherence to Article 14’s right to a fair trial. The Human Rights Committee has noted that, "the imposition of a sentence of death upon conclusion of a trial, in which the provisions of article 14 of the Covenant have not been respected, constitutes a violation of the right to life."

Anyone sentenced to death is entitled to seek pardon. This is enshrined in ICCPR Article 6(4). Number 8 of the 1984 Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty adds that no execution shall be carried out pending an appeal, pardon or commutation. The right to seek pardon carries the expectation that in some circumstances a pardon may be granted, otherwise the right is relatively empty.

Although not legally binding, UN General Assembly resolution 65/206 calls upon all states to "make available relevant information with regard to their use of the death penalty, which can contribute to possible informed and transparent national debates." This is important for ensuring a fair trial and strict adherence to procedural rules at every stage of the process, from the initial trial to final appeal and scheduling of the execution.

Tsai Ing-wen's Challenge

While advocates for the abolition of the death penalty have felt Tsai Ing-wen hasn't been explicit enough in her position, KMT lawmakers have challenged her for supporting abolition. Among them was Alex Tsai, who was quite vocal on pro-death penalty issues during his campaign but was ultimately not reelected. This failure for pro-death penalty lawmakers points to a possible decrease in voter emphasis on maintaining the death penalty. This presents the best opening for a return to a moratorium and steps toward abolition without sacrificing political capital for the DPP.

Tsai Ing-wen is likely to face conflicting pressure moving forward, says Lin of TAEDP. The new president may face public pressure to carry out an execution from those in favor of continuing the death penalty.

Counteracting that is international pressure. In 2013, Taiwan received a delegation of independent experts to review its implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR. The 2nd review will take place in early 2017 and the death penalty is likely to be a high priority. If Tsai wants to demonstrate her commitment to human rights she will need to consider Taiwan's implementation of the 2 Covenants.

Who Tsai appoints as the Minister of Justice is among the 1st key indicators. Lawyer Gu Lixiong, known for his support for abolition, was assumed my many to be a likely appointee but his election to the legislature rules him out.

In 2009, abolition-minded Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng created a working group on the death penalty, which included NGOs, lawyers, and academics. Although the working group was dismantled shortly after her resignation, Tsai has been advised to create something similar, which could also support public education and participate in a national dialogue on abolishing the death penalty.

Even if abolitionist-minded lawmakers are able to float a bill, there’s too little understanding and support for the passage of any such law, which is where the importance of such a working group can be seen.

Moving Forward

Until a more thorough investigation into the use and potential political abuse of the death penalty takes place, Taiwanese human rights groups say Tsai should announce an immediate moratorium. She should promise to more closely implement the ICCPR and encourage the Legislative Yuan to establish a National Human Rights Commission in line with the Paris Principles. Although in December the Executive Yuan granted a Freedom of Information Request filed by TAEPD last August requesting the Ministry of Justice to reveal its decision making process on signing execution orders, the system remains far from transparent. How Tsai responds to these issues leading up to and following her inauguration in May will matter.

(source: Michael Caster is a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Previously he worked as a human rights advocate and civil society consultant based in East Asia----The Diplomat)


Belgian accused of killing son to be remanded another 6 weeks pending forensics report

A Belgian man accused of killing his 5-year-old son in their D'Leedon condominium home in October last year will be remanded in Changi Prison for another 6 weeks, pending the completion of a forensic investigation report.

Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart appeared in court via video-link on Wednesday. His case will be mentioned again on March 23.

The 41-year-old was charged on Oct 7, last year, with the murder of Keryan Gabriel Cedric Graffart. He allegedly committed the act at his 32nd-storey home at 3 Leedon Heights, the day before he was first brought to court.

He was then remanded for 4 weeks at the medical centre in Changi Prison for a psychiatric assessment.

He was subsequently remanded at the Central Police Division to assist in investigations.

Graffart worked for the Singapore investment management arm of Nordea, a company that describes itself as the largest financial group in northern Europe.

Graffart's lawyer Ramesh Tiwary told The Straits Times that he will study the forensic report once it has been completed.

Mr Tiwary also said that he has been in touch with his client, having visited him a few times in prison.

Asked about Graffart's condition, the lawyer said: "He's naturally very depressed about what's happened."

If convicted of his charge, murder with intention, Graffart faces the mandatory death penalty.



British Father Marks 600 Days of Illegal Ethiopian Detention

A British man who was kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia will this Saturday mark 600 days of illegal detention. Andargachew 'Andy' Tsege, a father of 3 from London who turns 61 today, has been held by Ethiopian security forces since his disappearance on 23rd June 2014, when he was forcibly taken from an airport in Yemen to Ethiopia. Mr Tsege is a prominent member of the Ethiopian opposition, and is held under a sentence of death imposed in absentia in 2009 in relation to his political activities.

Today Mr Tsege's partner and 3 children will deliver to 10 Downing Street a petition signed by nearly 130,000 people, calling on the Prime Minister to intervene to secure his release.

The Ethiopian authorities have refused to say whether Mr Tsege's death sentence will be carried out or not, and have not permitted him to see a lawyer or his British family. During recent visits to him by the British ambassador, Mr Tsege has indicated that he is not being held as a regular prisoner, and has not been told by the authorities what will happen to him.

Torture and mistreatment is common in Ethiopian prisons, and there are fears for Mr Tsege's mental and physical health.

Harriet McCulloch, a deputy director at human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege, said: "It is deeply disappointing that, nearly 600 days on from his kidnap, Andy Tsege is no closer to freedom. Andy has been subjected to an appalling ordeal - including rendition, illegal detention and an in absentia death sentence - as punishment for his political activism. There are now serious concerns for his mental and physical health. It's clear the Foreign Office views Ethiopia's actions as totally unacceptable - the government must do more to secure his release."

(source: Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay---- Common Dreams)


Court adjourns former President Morsi's trial for espionage

The Cairo Criminal Court has adjourned until Saturday the trial of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and 10 other members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood members over charges of espionage and for revealing national security documents to Qatar.

The public prosecution demanded on Tuesday handing down the death penalty on former President Morsi and his co-accused.

The defendants face charges of embezzling reports by military intelligence, the Armed Forces, the National Security Agency and the Administrative Control Authority that included confidential data.

The previous court session was adjourned to bring the 7th suspect from prison and hear testimony of Cairo's general transportation authority chief. It also ordered the summoning of a technical person to exhibit the CDs presented during the last session.

The court also ordered for a copy of the decision on the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and resumption of arrest of the suspects.

Meanwile, the Zagazig criminal court has on Tuesday sentenced 63 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to terms in jail ranging between 3 years to life.



You have no right to life

The letter came from the St Catherine District Prison (as it was called then in the 1980s), and from a man on death row. I was then the pastor of the Phillippo Circuit of Baptist Churches.

He said he had read my articles in the newspapers but had never seen one with my view on the death penalty, and he was urging me to write and make the public aware that even though he was convicted and sentenced to hang for murder, he had a right to life.

In my weird brain, I thought to myself, "What a curious expression and claim, for who can really guarantee life to anyone?"

This question of mine still occupies my mind, and I have chided the notion of a 'right to life' in sermons and studies arguing that life is a grace gift from God and not a right per se.

Very recently, it came back to me, so I asked an eminent lawyer friend if there is a conceptual difference between a right to life and a right not to be subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment.

He patiently walked me through sections of the most popular human-rights documents and a few prominent cases to show me that there is a conceptual difference.

Let it be abundantly clear that I do not agree with capital punishment, nor do I agree with the glib arguments about a right to life.

Christians who are horrified at my view here should bear in mind a caution from theologian, philosopher and lawyer John Warwick Montgomery: "... The Church's [reason for being] is the saving of souls. A live prisoner is at least in principle capable of conversion; a dead prisoner is not." (See his Christ As Centre and Circumference: Essays Theological, Cultural and Polemic, 2012, p. 599)

As I tell worshippers in the churches where I serve as pastor, "I am half-crazy in some of my views, so feel free to question me after any sermon."

Ponder this before you attempt to drop the fraction before crazy. Despite the fact that Jamaica has ratified most of the international human rights treaties, what is really there to prevent our authorities from hanging you after you have been found guilty of a most 'heinous murder' and sentenced to be hanged?


International opprobrium and castigation, all after the fact of your death? Think of the numerous ancient and recent breaches of international law by countries minus meaningful sanctions! Bear in mind, too, that developed and developing countries not only have the ability to do it, but have, in fact, eliminated citizens whom they regard as dissidents, enemies of the state, or inimical to the country's security.

Even if I fully concur with the milder and more defensible right not to be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, there is still no airtight, guaranteed entitlement here. There is many a slip between rope and neck, remediable only long after the fact.

I am just saying that we should raise questions on a so-called 'right' that we cannot safeguard in prospect but only attempt to address or remedy in retrospect after a breach.

Life is foundational to the enjoyment of every entitlement or good in life, but life itself is not a right but a gift or loan from the Almighty.

[Clinton Chisholm is a theologian]

(source: Letter to the Editor, Jamaica Gleaner)

FEBRUARY 9, 2016:


State Bar board affirms disbarment of prosecutor who sent innocent man to death row

The disciplinary board of the Texas State Bar on Monday affirmed the agency's decision to disbar Charles Sebesta, the former prosecutor who oversaw the wrongful death sentence of Anthony Graves.

Graves, who spent 18 years in prison, including 12 on death row, for a fiery multiple murder he did not commit, filed a complaint against Sebesta in January 2014. He asked the Bar to hold Sebesta accountable for withholding critical evidence of his innocence.

"The bar stepped in to say that's not the way our criminal justice system should work," Graves said. "This is a good day for justice."

In June, the Texas State Bar revoked the former Burleson County district attorney's law license finding that he had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in Graves' case.

Sebesta appealed that ruling, and last month his lawyers told the State Bar of Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals that he should not be disbarred based on technicalities in the rules that govern lawyer discipline. They argued that in 2007 the Bar had already ruled that there was no cause to disbar Sebesta and that the agency couldn't change its mind in response to a new complaint Graves filed.

But a lawyer for the commission for lawyer discipline at the State Bar argued, among other things, that lawmakers in 2013 had changed the statute of limitations governing prosecutor discipline specifically to allow the kind of sanction Sebesta faced. Under the new law, those who have been wrongly convicted have up to four years after their release to seek discipline against prosecutors who engage in conduct such as withholding evidence and eliciting false testimony.

Graves was sentenced to death in 1994 and close to execution twice. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves' conviction in 2010. The court found that Sebesta secured Graves' conviction through several instances of prosecutorial wrongdoing, including withholding key evidence and suborning false testimony.

In their ruling on the Sebesta's disbarment Monday, the disciplinary board called his conduct in the Graves case "egregious."

The board's decision on Sebesta's appeal is final.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Moral Monday rallies target Delaware's death penalty

About 20 people stood outside Dover's Legislative Hall on Monday morning, chanting and holding signs that called for an end to the state's death penalty.

Organizers promised to hold more of the rallies, called Moral Monday protests, to try and pressure lawmakers into ending the punishment.

"Lawmakers cannot just reject our desire to repeal the death penalty at the outset of the legislative session and expect us to simply go away," said the Rev. Donald Morton, executive director of the Complexities of Color coalition. "We intend to be here every week making a lot of noise with old fashioned protests, speeches and rallies to remind the politicians that they can't keep ignoring these festering issues of basic human rights."

A bill to abolish the state's death penalty failed in the state House of Representatives last month, 23-16. Organizers said they plan to push lawmakers to listen to their constituents.

"This is a growing coalition. More folks are going to come," said Jeremy Collins, a member of Delaware Repeal Project. "There are going to be demonstrations all across the state, but we're going to occupy this space until the Delaware Legislature makes up their mind that they are going to do the right thing."

Kristin Froehlich, board president of the Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty, said people should know that the death penalty does not bring the closure that lawmakers think. Because most death penalty cases linger in the court system for more than a decade, Froehlich said families of victims are often re-traumatized when the matter comes up for appeals.

Ending the death penalty brings legal finality and allows survivors to move forward, said Froehlich, whose brother was murdered in Connecticut in 1995.

"My Christian values support life," she said. "They don't support murder. They don't support killing."

While state lawmakers are not in session on Mondays, Morton explained that Moral Monday is a movement started in 2013 by the Rev. William Barber II, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and president of the North Carolina NAACP.

The rallies, started in response to several actions by North Carolina's government, have been characterized by civil disobedience.

"We wanted to make sure that there is a consistent proverbial badgering of individuals who have consistently voted 'No' against repeal," Morton said. "And to let them know that not only is it us symbolically gathering like this, but it is also to let them know that for those that occupy those seats that have voted 'No' continually that we want to make sure that we want candidates that vote 'Yes.'"

(source: The News Journal)


Prosecutors to seek death penalty against Griffin

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty against an Asheville man charged with murder in the deaths of 3 people, including 2 women whose disappearance sparked a week-long search of the French Broad River.

The office of Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams on Wednesday filed a request for a Rule 24 hearing in the case of Pierre Lamont Griffin II, 23. The hearing is typically a formality, required when state prosecutors want to notify the court that they intend to seek capital punishment.

It is the 2nd time Williams has requested such a hearing since he assumed the office 13 months ago.

The hearing request comes days after a Buncombe County grand jury indicted Griffin on 3 counts of 1st-degree murder stemming from a series of Oct. 27 shootings.

Officers allege that Griffin killed Tatianna Diz, 20, and Alexandra King, 22, before dumping their bodies in the French Broad. Their remains were found near a train trestle on Emma Road in the River Arts District more than a week later.

Shortly after those shootings, according to officials, Griffin went to the Pisgah View Apartments home of Uhon Trumanne Johnson, 31, fatally shooting him before leading police on a high-speed chase across three counties.

In addition to other charges related to the deaths and the chase, Griffin was also indicted in connection with the theft of three motorcycles in July 2015 from a Candler man.

That man, Kenneth Cryderman, on Monday said Griffin was a sophomore at Reynolds High School when he became friends with Crydermans' oldest son, also in high school at the time. Griffin, well-liked and bright, soon became a fixture in the family, including accompanying them on a trip to Myrtle Beach.

"Pierre was a very, very smart kid, a beautiful kid," Cryderman said. The charges were a shock, he said.

Griffin, he said, had asked to borrow a truck to move furniture while the family was on vacation. When Cryderman returned and realized the small, 2-stroke engine dirt bikes were missing, he confronted Griffin.

One had been taken to a pawn shop, where Buncombe County sheriff's deputies recovered it; two others had been ridden "full out, until the tops blew out of them," according to Cryderman, a general contractor.

"At that point, I cut him out of our lives," he said. In the previous several months, Griffin had sporadically worked for Cryderman's company doing odd jobs, but seemed like he was deteriorating.

"He would do anything from digging holes to building houses and he would do anything you asked him to do," Cryderman said. "But he was very erratic."

Cyderman said he feared Griffin was suffering from drug abuse. "He was struggling to just to get through the day."

(source: Asheville Citizen-Times)


A bill requiring a jury to have a unanimous verdict for recommending the death penalty is moving through the Florida Senate

The legislation (SB 7068) passed the Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.

Last week, the House passed a measure that requires only nine of 12 jurors to recommend capital punishment. Both chambers would prohibit a judge imposing the death penalty if the jury recommends life in prison without parole. A judge though could decide on life in prison, even if the jury recommends death.

Both chambers are tasked with revising Florida's sentencing process after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current method unconstitutional last month because it allowed a judge to decide independently whether there were necessary aggravating circumstances.

Sen. Greg Evers says he believes there are enough votes in the Senate for the bill to pass.

(source: Associated Press)


Bill requiring unanimous verdict for death penalty advances

Legislation requiring a unanimous verdict from the jury to recommend the death penalty will head to the state Senate floor after passing a committee vote Monday.

The Senate's Criminal Justice Committee passed its version of a bill (SB 7068) that would revise Florida's sentencing process for the death penalty.

The Legislature is tasked with rewriting how to sentence someone to death after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current method unconstitutional. In an 8-1 ruling last month in Hurst vs. Florida, the court said the sixth amendment was violated because state law allowed a judge to decide independently whether necessary aggravating circumstances exist.

The Senate and House bills are mostly similar except for one key matter: what it takes for the jury to agree to the death penalty. The Senate bill (SB 7068) requires a unanimous decision of all 12 jurors, but the House measure (PCB CRJS 16-07) requires only 9. Current Florida law requires a simple majority of 7.

"We're going to move our bill forward, because we believe that is what the Supreme Court says and that we are not an outlier with the other states," said Sen. Greg Evers, who is committee chairman.

According to data compiled by the Florida Supreme Court's Clerk's office, only 69 of 330 death penalty cases - 21 % - in the past 15 years had unanimous jury verdicts. The Senate committee said in its analysis of the bill that a decline in death penalty sentences was likely, but the level is undetermined based on the data because only a simple majority was needed in previous cases.

Both chambers are similar on other key points, including notifying defendants in sufficient time that prosecutors will seek the death penalty at the arraignment (45 days for Senate, 30 days for House), a jury having to unanimously agree on all aggravating factors and a judge not being able to override the jury's recommendation of life without parole by imposing the death penalty.

Florida was the only state remaining that called for a simple majority to find the presence of a sufficient number of aggravating factors. Now, if it isn't unanimous, life without parole can be the only sentence.

Public defenders support the Senate version while state attorneys are opposed because of unanimity. The prosecutors do agree with the House version.

Mark Schlakman, the senior program director of Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, said he believes the Senate bill is stronger because it responds to the Hurst vs. Florida ruling in a stronger way.

"If the Legislature in an effort to reconcile goes on the lowest common denominator (9-3 or 10-2, like Alabama) that doesn't insulate Florida from constitutional scrutiny," he said.

Evers said there is the possibility of some negotiations with the House but he believes that the Senate's bill has enough votes to pass.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who oversaw the House bill that passed committee last week, said the process is far from finished. The Legislature must agree by the end of session March 11. Florida has 389 inmates on death row, 157 of which have been there for more than 20 years. Florida is second to California in inmates sentenced to death.

(source: Associated Press)


Hillsborough prosecutors continue to seek death penalty amid statewide confusion

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing statute, Hillsborough County prosecutors are proceeding as if nothing has changed.

On Monday, prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty against a 30-year-old woman accused of murdering her parents-in-law in their Riverview home last November. Marisol Best, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of 1st-degree murder, is the latest to join the list of defendants who could face the death penalty in Hillsborough.

Currently, there are at least 17 such cases, the oldest of which has been awaiting trial for more than 5 years.

Prosecutors did not elaborate on their decision, but since the Supreme Court's ruling last month in a case called Hurst vs. Florida, prosecutors statewide have argued forcefully that the court's decision requires minor adjustments to state law and should not prevent death penalty cases from going forward.

This line of reasoning is only beginning to be tested in the courts. A Pinellas County circuit judge recently ruled the state can't seek the death penalty in a 1st-degree murder case that was scheduled for trial this month.

"This court concludes that there currently exists no death penalty in the State of Florida in that there is no procedure in place," wrote judge Michael Andrews.

In the Hurst decision, the Supreme Court said Florida's unusual sentencing procedure is unconstitutional because it does not give enough authority to jurors, who play an advisory role in recommending life or death. Judges must consider the jury's vote, but they can act independently, sentencing defendants to life or death regardless of the jury's opinion.

Since the Hurst decision came out, Hillsborough prosecutors have filed notices to seek the death penalty 3 times. Other than Best, the state's recent targets include a 46-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting a homeless woman and killing her and her male companion, as well as a 21-year-old man who authorities say beat an elderly woman to death during a robbery. He made off with $30.

Hillsborough public defenders are pushing back, using the court's decision as a cudgel against what they see as an alarmingly high number of capital cases. Last month, they filed a motion asking a judge to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against Carlos Ruben Rivas, 52, who has been charged with killing a homeless man in Tampa in 2012.

"The Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst basically eliminated the State's authority to impose death as a sentencing option," wrote Hillsborough Assistant Public Defender Theda James.

Prosecutors responded by arguing that the court's decision didn't invalidate the death penalty, but merely a facet of the state's sentencing scheme. With Rivas' trial scheduled for April, lawmakers would have plenty of time to amend the statute, they said.

Simply filing a notice to seek the death penalty does not mean prosecutors ultimately will.

Last week, without explanation, Hillsborough prosecutors withdrew the threat of the death penalty from the case of Rubin Jay Brooks, a man accused of a double homicide in Plant City. They did the same in 2014 to Julie Schenecker, who was convicted of fatally shooting her two teenage children. Shortly before her high-profile trial, prosecutors decided her mental health issues were so severe that the state Supreme Court would likely reject a future death sentence.

But as defense attorneys are quick to note, prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty colors everything about a case, from how slowly it moves through the court system, to the experience required of the attorneys who work on it, to the final bill shouldered by taxpayers.

"If I've got over a dozen of these cases pending and I've got 4 or 5 lawyers that are death-qualified, it could reasonably take us 5 or 6 years to try those cases," Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt said in an interview last month.

"I would venture to say that everyone is feeling the pressure of the number of cases we have," she said.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Florida's death penalty is shameful

Judge, jury and executioner: Although this idiom is meant to refer to someone having ultimate power and authority over one's fate, the legal system of the U.S. is designed in such a way that these 3 functions are meant to remain relatively distinct and act with a measure of independence from one another. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court found 2 of these roles to be a little too close for its liking in the case of Hurst v. Florida.

In an 8-1 ruling, the court found that Florida's methodology for imposing the death penalty was unconstitutional, violating the Sixth Amendment's stipulation that a defendant have the right to an impartial jury. The ruling was predicated on the premise that far too much power is allotted to Floridian judges when considering aggravating or mitigating circumstances (factors that, respectively, increase or decrease the severity of a sentence) that would qualify a defendant for the death penalty. In the eyes of the court, the Sixth Amendment requires "Florida to base Timothy Hurst's death sentence on a jury's verdict, not a judge's factfinding," according to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who delivered the majority opinion.

The opinion continues: "Florida's sentencing scheme, which required the judge alone to find the existence of an aggravating circumstance, is therefore unconstitutional." The case was reversed and remanded, meaning that it was now the Florida Supreme Court's responsibility to adjust Floridian law in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

Although the decision was issued Jan. 12, it would not be until last Tuesday, Feb. 2, that the ruling in Hurst v. Florida would have a discernible impact on our states legal proceedings. As reported in these very pages, the Florida Supreme Court delayed the execution of Cary Michael Lambrix. Lambrix, who was convicted of the murders of Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant in 1983, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection this Thursday.

After hearing arguments for and against applying the Hurst ruling retroactively - which would most likely result in Lambrix and others on Florida's death row having their sentences reduced to life in prison, rather than execution - it is now up to the justices on Florida's highest court to decide whether to go ahead with the execution of Lambrix and the 388 others languishing on death row. Concurrently, members of the Florida House of Representatives are working to draft a bill that would bring our state's death penalty statute in line with those of other states and the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

It should surprise few that we strongly believe this should never have been an issue to begin with. The death penalty is a barbaric punishment fit only for barbaric societies: It is morally presumptuous, a drain on our tax dollars, a prominent blemish on our democracy and, here in the U.S., tinged with a considerable degree of racism and classism. For a country that so emphatically prides itself on being a pluralistic, self-determining society, the U.S. seems all too comfortable in the same company as China, Iran and North Korea when it comes to murdering its own citizens.

Whether Lambrix and others are granted a permanent reprieve, we have no doubts that the Florida Legislature will find a way to ensure future sentences legally satiate their bloodlust.

(source: The Independent Florida Alligator)


Denise Amber Lee's murderer files appeal of death sentence

The man convicted of abducting and killing a 21-year-old mother and wife is appealing his death sentence as part of the ripple-effect felt by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Florida's sentencing is unconstitutional.

Denise Amber Lee was taken from her family's North Port home in 2008. Investigators said she did everything she could think of to save her life fighting her attacker to the very end.

The void in her husband, Nathan Lee's heart is too deep to ever be filled. It has been that way for 8 long years.

"It is hard every day. Waking up, Denise isn't there," he said. "The boys wake up and they don't have their mom."

A jury found Michael King guilty of her murder and sentenced him to death.

Now, cases like King's are being reviewed because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty sentencing process is unconstitutional. It said the method gives too much power to judges who are not bound by the jury's vote.

"Initially, I wasn't concerned because it was such a clear-cut case with a unanimous jury verdict. It seemed the trial was run so well," said Nathan.

During a scheduled hearing on another issue, King's lawyer appealed the death sentence, saying it should be changed to life without parole. The court did not rule on that, leaving Lee's family at a standstill.

"I don't think he deserves all these rights, but that's not the way the system works. I think about what Denise went through and what he did to her. It's really tough, but I understand there is a system in place. We have to respect that and hope it works," said Nathan.

(source: Fox News)


Woman accused of drowning ex-partner's daughter appears in court

A trial is now likely early next year for a woman charged with killing the daughter of her ex-girlfriend.

Kimberly Lucas appeared in court Monday.

She's charged with drowning 2-year-old Elliana Jamason and trying to kill the girl's 10-year-old brother.

This happened in Jupiter nearly 2 years ago.

The woman's attorneys are fighting attempts by prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case.

There'a hearing on that matter set in March.

(source: CBS news)


UWF to host lecture with lead prosecutor of Ted Bundy case

The University of West Florida will host George R. Dekle Sr. on Feb. 10, 2016, at 6 p.m. as he discusses the investigation, prosecution and execution of Ted Bundy. The lecture will take place in the Music Hall of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Building 82, on the UWF Pensacola Campus.

Dekle, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, served as the lead prosecutor in the late 1979 case, where Bundy stood trial for the kidnapping and murder of an 8th grade student. Bundy was captured in Pensacola on Feb. 15, 1978 - 5 days after being added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. He was convicted in February 1980 and received his 3rd death penalty sentence. Dekle also was integrally involved in the post-conviction defense of the judgment and death warrant and served as an official witness to Bundy's execution at Florida State Prison on Jan. 24, 1989.

Currently, Dekle serves as the director of the Criminal Prosecution Clinic at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. Additionally, he is the assistant director of the Criminal Justice Center and a master lecturer for the College of Law, where he teaches prosecutorial ethics, Florida criminal procedure, and criminal clinic - prosecution. A member of the Florida Bar for 43 years, Dekle has authored a number of books and professional publications including, "The Last Murder: The Investigation, Prosecution, and Execution of Ted Bundy." Before joining the faculty at the Levin College of Law, Dekle was 1 of Florida's most distinguished prosecutors from 1975-2005, with a 2-year stint as an assistant public defender prior to that.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the UWF Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at

(source: Univ. West Florida news)


Executions hardly an exact science

Federal defenders in Alabama wanted one attorney to be allowed to observe the placement of intravenous lines used to administer a lethal injection that killed their client, Christopher Brooks, on Jan. 21 at Holman Prison in Atmore.

They also requested access to a cellphone or landline during the execution in case something went wrong and they had to quickly call the judge because of a botch.

Phone access was a concern to them because Alabama used the drug "midazolam," which was also used in the ghoulish execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014, during which Lockett "writhed, groaned and convulsed" for 43 minutes before eventually dying of a heart attack in the execution chamber. Midazolam has also been used in 2 other cases that went awry.

Brooks' lawyers argued that, without access to a phone, their client would be "without meaningful access to the courts during his execution, as his only witnesses ... will be unable to contact the courts and seek intervention if something arises during his execution that warrants seeking a stay or other appropriate relief."

They pointed out that in the 2000 execution of Robert Glenn Coe by lethal injection in Tennessee, a federal district judge, Aleta Trauger, ordered just what they were requesting. Trauger based her order on Coe's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to meaningful access to the courts and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

Instead of extending to Brooks' lawyers the same kind of phone access, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Govan Jr., on behalf of the Alabama Attorney General's Office, said no. Specifically, Govan wrote to Brooks' attorneys:

"These requests are overbroad, unprecedented and are not relevant to any claim in any current litigation. Moreover, these requests appear to be premised on speculative concerns based on executions from other states involving different execution protocols. Finally, your requests could disrupt and interfere with the Department's ability to perform their duties and responsibilities in carrying out Brooks' execution."

Let's break that down.

Overbroad? No, the 2 requests were specific. Brooks' attorneys wanted to be able to see the executioner stick the IV in their client, and they wanted access to a phone in case something went wrong and they needed to get the judge involved quickly.

Unprecedented? As it concerns the phone request, no. The Coe case in Tennessee is one example of an attorney being allowed access to a phone during an execution - the gruesome execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona is another.

Relevant? It is hard to see why the request for a phone to call the judge in case of a botch would be irrelevant.

Speculative concerns? Midazolam was used in both Joseph Wood's execution in Arizona and Clayton Lockett's in Oklahoma, and it was used in Brooks' execution, too. What is there about Joseph Wood's 660 gasps, or Lockett's 43-minute execution as he "writhed, groaned and convulsed" on the gurney that is speculative?

Disrupt and interfere with the carrying out of the execution? Isn't it difficult to imagine a federal public defender (and officer of the court) who is observing a needle being inserted and happens to have a phone handy in case it goes bad being "disruptive" and "interfering" with the execution? Who does the Alabama Attorney General's Office think they are kidding?

Nevertheless, Chief Judge Keith Watkins of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama denied both requests by Brooks' lawyers.

Press reports noted that the execution went as "smoothly" as killing a reasonably healthy 43-year-old man can go. In any event, it appears there was no visible evidence Brooks suffered bodily distress as the lethal drugs were administered. This prompted Alabama Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn to say that the execution with the controversial sedative drug midazolam went ":exactly as planned."


Or, perhaps Alabama just got lucky this time? Hard to say, isn't it? As executions around the country demonstrate, killing another human being, even when done by the state, is hardly an exact science. But, in hindsight, in case it hadn't worked "smoothly" - like in the McGuire, Lockett, and Wood cases - wouldn't it have been prudent, and fairer, to allow 1 defense attorney to bring in a cellphone? You know ... just in case?

181 men and 5 women remain on Alabama's death row. If their executions go forward, shouldn't they be fair in every respect? And if a death row inmate in Alabama can't get the same basic rights as a death row inmate in Tennessee, shouldn't we abandon this dastardly practice, the death penalty, altogether?

(source: Column; Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender and worked, for 3 years, as an assistant federal public defender in the Middle District of Alabama - employed by the same office that represented Christopher Brooks-----Montgomery Advertiser)


State will seek death penalty in Memphis police officer';s death

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty in the case of the man accused of killing Memphis police officer Sean Bolton last year.

Tremaine Wilbourn was arraigned in Criminal Court Monday, and the state filed notice that it intends to seek the death penalty, according to documents in the case.

The state listed 3 aggravating factors in the decision: the victim was an on-duty police officer; Wilbourn has a felony conviction for a prior crime of violence, in this case a federal bank robbery in 2005; and the killing was committed to avoid arrest.

The tragedy began Aug. 1 in the Parkway Village area when Bolton, who would have turned 34 the week after the shooting, pulled in front of a red 2002 Mercedes-Benz that was stopped on the side of the street. Bolton got out of his cruiser and approached the car, police said, but the passenger got out and a struggle ensued.

Police say that Wilbourn pulled out a gun and fired at Bolton at close range. An autopsy report showed that Bolton was hit 8 times. Police later found drug paraphernalia as well as 1.7 grams of marijuana in the Mercedes.

A man who lives in the neighborhood picked up Bolton's police radio and called dispatchers for help. Bolton was rushed to the Regional Medical Center in critical condition, where the autopsy report shows doctors spent an hour trying to revive him, but could not.

After a massive manhunt, Wilbourn surrendered 2 days after the killing. Officials have charged Wilbourn, 30, with 1st-degree murder in Bolton's death. Although Wilbourn was officially being held on a $10 million bond, a judge revoked that potential bond Monday in light of the death-penalty filing. Wilbourn is due back in court March 7.

(source: The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal)


Death penalty to be considered in Kirsten Williams murder case

It could be years down the road, but Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich says she is prepared to consider the death penalty in the murder of 7-year-old Kirsten Williams.

4 men have been charged with 1st degree murder in the April shooting, which resulted in the death of the young girl as she played down the street from her home.

The preliminary hearing in this case will take place on June 23, but legal maneuverings have already begun on both sides.

Weirich explained the upcoming process to FOX13.

"If those charges are murder 1st degree, then the conversation begins with the D.A.'s Office about the death penalty and that's a decision that I make in meeting with the prosecutors assigned to the case," Weirich said.

FOX13 did some digging regarding both the statistics and recent histories concerning death penalty cases in Memphis and Shelby County. Our research revealed 3 convicted murderers have been sent to death row since 2010.

We looked specifically at Jessie Dotson, the infamous Lester Street killer of six, and Sedrick Clayton, who was convicted in 2014 for 3 murders.

Well before their respective trials, both underwent a mental evaluation. It is a process that's apparently being conducted with some, but not all, of the co-defendants in the Williams murder.

"The mental exams were on the co-defendants, not on Mr. Stokes," Carlos Stokes' Attorney, Marty McAffee, said. "I didn't see any problem at this point. No need to have an evaluation of Mr. Stokes at this point."

When the time comes, the District Attorney's office will have to make the call of whether or not they want to pursue the death penalty. For those having to make the decision, it is not a choice that is made lightly.

"It is a difficult decision to make and it's completely guided by the law of the State of Tennessee," Weirich said. "Not everyone in a 1st degree murder case is eligible for the death penalty."

(source: Fox News)


Missouri Senate debates repealing death penalty

The Republican-led Missouri Senate for the 1st time in years debated a bill to repeal the state's death penalty, though the measure is unlikely to advance.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers to implored their colleagues Monday to end capital punishment.

Missouri has executed 18 killers in the last 2 years.

Republican Sen. Paul Wieland of Imperial, who is Catholic, introduced the measure. He opposes both abortion and the death penalty.

Others who testified in support cited people on death row who were later exonerated. Some argued black defendants are disproportionately sentenced to death.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican running for attorney general, opposed it. He says killers sentenced to death commit the most egregious crimes.

Wieland says he doesn't think the bill has enough support to pass the Senate and doesn't plan to bring it up again.

(source: Associated Press)


Colorado bill would allow death sentence without unanimous vote----Lawmakers are considering legislation that would make Colorado 1 of just 3 states that do not require unanimous verdicts

5 months after 2 of Colorado's most notorious mass murderers received life sentences, lawmakers are considering legislation that would toss the requirement that death sentences be unanimous.

The bill would allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors vote for it. Removing the requirement would put Colorado in the minority of states - there are only 3 - that allow for non-unanimous verdicts in capital cases.

A unanimous vote would still be required to convict someone of a crime.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he is sponsoring the bill because he "wants to save lives" and have a penalty "that will cause the bad guy to think twice before they pull the trigger."

"Colorado has a death penalty sentence on the books. But in reality, I think we have set the bar so high through the process that it's impossible to actually garner a conviction in cases where it is so obviously deserving of the death penalty."

But critics peg the legislation - which could still be amended - as an effort to make it easier to obtain a death sentence.

"We require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all criminal charges to a unanimous jury," said Colorado public defender Doug Wilson. "So (under the proposed bill) someone charged with shoplifting would get a unanimous jury, and yet when we decide we want to execute one of our citizens, we would leave it to a jury of less than 12."

Rarely used in Colorado, the death penalty was center stage last summer as prosecutors sought the punishment for two men convicted of 2 devastating crimes. The trials of James Holmes and Dexter Lewis stretched on for weeks and months but ultimately ended in life sentences for each.

Holmes, who was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 inside an Aurora movie theater in July 2012, was sentenced to life during the final phase of sentencing, in which 3 jurors did not vote for a death sentence.

Shortly after, during the 2nd phase of Lewis' death penalty hearing, at least one member of a Denver jury found that the details of his life suggested mercy outweighed the details of the crime that suggested death. Lewis, who was convicted of stabbing 5 people to death in a bar in 2012, also was sentenced to life in prison.

Currently in Colorado, juries must have unanimous verdicts in each of the 3 phases of a death penalty sentencing hearing. Under the measure, a minimum of 9 jurors would be required to move through the first 2 phases and to hand down a death sentence.

Death penalty laws in Alabama, Delaware and Florida allow jurors to hand down or recommend a death sentence without unanimity. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of Florida's sentencing process that required judges - not juries - to make critical findings and gave judges the ability to disregard a jury's recommendation.

The high court has not directly addressed unanimity requirements in death penalty cases, but Florida lawmakers are considering legislation that would make unanimous verdicts mandatory.

"I'm not gauging my decision on what other states have said. I'm gauging my decision on what I have observed in Colorado," Lundberg said, referring to the Holmes case. "That proves that our system is inadequate."

Wilson said the legislation would violate defendants' rights and encourage prosecutors to file more death penalty cases.

But Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted Holmes, said the proposed change would not increase filings. It would foster a much-needed conversation about the death penalty, he said.

"What I would be in favor of is having a conversation about the status of the death penalty in the state of Colorado," Brauchler said.

Denver District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey, however, cautioned that, as it's currently written, the legislation could cause the state to repeat a previous mistake.

In 1995, Colorado briefly switched to a controversial law that allowed a three-judge panel, instead of a unanimous jury, to sentence a defendant to death. After that system was found to be unconstitutional and the state returned to unanimous juries in 2003, a handful of cases that ended in death sentences churned in litigation for years.

Morrissey saw the pressure and stress those cases placed on victims and warns against passing a law that could cause the same result.

"Why wade into this area when you have a statute that works, that's been upheld?" Morrissey said.

The bill is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.


Lawmakers debate 2 ways to make death easier in Colorado

Whether the Grim Reaper will register as a lobbyist remains to be seen, but Death's agenda is up for debate in 2 forms at the Capitol this week.

One proposed law on tap for legislators would make it easier for juries to sentence someone to death. Currently it takes a unanimous vote of all 12 jurors, but Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud wants to get that number down a little lower. Like, maybe 9. Or 10. Or maybe 11 jurors. But not all 12. That just makes executing someone in Colorado too hard, he says. He doesn't like the idea that 1 lone holdout could spoil a death sentence.

"If the policy is that the death penalty is appropriate for the worst of crimes, then a jury should not be composed of people who disagree with that basic point," Lundberg told The Colorado Independent about his bill. Critics of the measure say it might not pass constitutional muster, and the bar shouldn't be lowered for easing executions.

The senator will make the case for his legislation at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the Senate calendar.

(source for both: The Colorado Independent)

CALIFORNIA----new death sentence

Killer of 3 Pinoys in LA gets death penalty

The convicted killer of 4 people including 3 Filipinos in a boarding home in Northridge, Los Angeles, in 2012 was sentenced to death on Friday, a report on the Daily News said.

Ka Pasasouk, 34, was convicted in November for killing Teofilo Navales, Robert Calabia, Amanda Ghossein and Jennifer Kim on December 2, 2012. A separate report on Northridge-Chatsworth Patch, citing Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon, said the killings amounted to "a robbery gone wrong."

The victims were all shot to death.

The Daily News report said Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler ordered that Pasasouk be "put to death within the walls of San Quentin State Prison."

Pasasouk, who the defense said was a victim of abuse as a child growing up in a refugee camp in Thailand, showed no visible reaction during the hearing, the report said. The defense had requested mercy for Pasasouk, who they said has an intelligence level that is "near retardation."



Is it time to put an end to the death penalty in California? Question of the Week

Voters in California are more evenly split today on whether the state should eliminate the death penalty than they have been in recent memory.

2 years ago, about 40 % of California voters said they favored replacing capital punishment with life in prison without possibility of parole. A new Field poll found that 47 % of voters today support eliminating the death penalty, though another 48 % say they would prefer to see the state move more swiftly on executions.

Where do you stand? Tell us by answering our Question of the Week: Is it time for California to put an end to the death penalty?

This likely won't be the last time readers will be confronted with this question. 2 measures seek a spot on the November ballot: One would abolish the death penalty in California (an effort to repeal failed in 2012), the other would hasten executions.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections is moving ahead with proposed reforms to its execution procedures. It's been 10 years since a federal judge halted executions in California and ordered the state to improve its procedures, which called for injecting condemned prisoners with a lethal combination of drugs. A 2011 attempt to update the 3-drug protocol failed; now corrections officials are proposing a single-drug procedure that is still under public review.

What do you think?

Are you one of those California voters whose thoughts on capital punishment has shifted? What made you change your mind? Are you concerned about the cost of housing death-row inmates for decades while they appeal their convictions? Do you object to the death penalty on moral grounds? If you are a voter who changed your mind, what argument persuaded you most?

Or do you favor speeding up executions in California? Do cost concerns or moral issues factor into your position? How so?

Email your thoughts to Please include your full name and city or community of residence. Provide a daytime phone number. Or, if you prefer, share your views in the comments section that accompanies this article online.

(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Daily News)


4th man charged in fatal Downey home invasion robbery

A 4th person was charged last week with killing a Downey real estate agent in a home invasion robbery in January, authorities said.

Michael Harrod, a 24-year-old from Anaheim, pleaded not guilty Feb. 2 to murder, home invasion robbery and 1st-degree burglary with the person present, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Harrod is a white man, according to online sheriff's department records.

3 other men have also been charged in the crime.

Harrod, who is related to a longtime friend of the victim, Jim Rudometkin, 59, had known him "for some period of time," said Downey Police Sgt. Kevin McCaster.

Harrod was aware that Rudometkin was in the process of moving from his childhood home into an apartment, McCaster said.

"They believed him to be of some wealth, and possibly an easy target since he wouldn't be there," McCaster said.

Investigators believe Harrod helped plan the break-in at Rudometkin's home, and drove the other 3 men there on Jan. 17, McCaster said.

When the men arrived at the home and knocked on the door, they heard a television and Rudometkin eventually answered at the side door, McCaster said.

A neighbor saw the suspects push Rudometkin inside the home and called police, McCaster said. When officers arrived, the 3 men ran out the back door of the home and jumped over a fence. Investigators found Rudometkin inside, unresponsive. He had been tied up and beaten, and the cause of death was listed as blunt-force trauma and heart disease.

2 of the suspects, Henry Willie Sao, 28, of Long Beach, and Paul Darvais Misikei, 18, of Anaheim, were arrested shortly after police arrived. Investigators arrested 17-year-old Sakaopo Atanasio Folau of Anaheim on Jan. 19.

All 3 are charged with capital murder, home invasion robbery and 1st-degree burglary with a person present.

Misikei and Sao could face the death penalty if convicted. Folau, who has been charged as an adult, is ineligible for execution because of his age. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors have not yet said if they will pursue the death penalty in the case.

The 4 are due back in court Feb. 10 in Department J of the Los Angeles Superior Court's Norwalk Court.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


New HBO documentary features Hasan shooting

It has been more than 6 years since Nidal Hasan, a former Army major and psychiatrist, armed himself and entered the soldier readiness center on Fort Hood, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 42 others.

But now a popular streaming and entertainment channel is debuting a documentary tonight that sheds new light on Hasan, who was sentenced to death for the 2009 shooting.

The documentary titled, "Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma," will premier at 9 p.m. on HBO and is directed by Greg Baker. reported the documentary is a collaboration between Baker and Peter Bergen, the New York Times bestselling author of "United States of Jihad," which the documentary largely draws from.

Baker and Bergen previously worked together on the 2013 documentary, "Manhunt: The Search for bin Laden," according to

In their new documentary, Baker and Bergen speak with Nader Hasan, Nidal Hasan's cousin, who said the 2 grew up together near Washington, D.C.

Nader Hasan said his cousin lost both his parents and heard many harrowing confessions of possible war crimes from soldiers while he worked at the Walter Reed Medical Center.

Apparently, Nidal Hasan became so conflicted about the wars in the Middle East, Nader Hasan said he offered to repay his commission and leave the service.

Nidal Hasan was shot by an officer who responded to the shooting and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.

At the end of December, the military finalized Nidal Hasan's record of trial, which would begin the process of appeal in his case. In November, John P. Galligan, who is representing Hasan in his appeal, said those anxiously awaiting Hasan's death may be waiting indefinitely.

"Is the death penalty in this case going to be sustained on appeal?" asked John P. Galligan, a criminal defense attorney of more than 30 years in Belton. "I say, probably not."

Nidal is currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

(source: Killeen Daily News)


Supreme Court starts hearing Mir Quasem Ali's appeal against war crimes verdict

The Supreme Court has started hearing the appeal by Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali against the war crimes tribunal's verdict.

The 5-member Appellate Division bench led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha started the proceedings on Tuesday.

The hearing began with defence counsel SM Sajahan reading out the charges against his client. Attorney General Mahbubey Alam represented the State during the hearing.

The Jamaat leader has been given the death penalty by the International Crimes Tribunal for crimes against humanity on Nov 2, 2014.

A top financier of the party, he filed an appeal seeking acquittal on Nov 30 that year.

Mir Quasem is said to have been the 3rd man in vigilante militia Al-Badr's command structure during the 1971 Liberation War.

Under his command local collaborators of Pakistan Army let loose a reign of terror to suppress the Bengali freedom struggle in Chittagong.

An executive council member of Jamaat, he was arrested on June 17, 2012 from the office of newspaper Naya Diganta less than 2 hours after the tribunal issued a warrant for his arrest.



Palestinian human rights defenders condemn execution by Hamas

Palestinian human rights defenders are condemning the killing by Hamas of one of the resistance organization's own members in Gaza.

On Sunday, the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced it had executed Mahmoud Rushdi Ishteiwi.

In a brief statement on its website, Qassam said that the slaying of Ishteiwi implemented a death sentence issued by "the military and Sharia judiciaries of Qassam Brigades for behavioral and moral excesses that he confessed."

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which gave Ishteiwi's age as 35, condemned the slaying and called on the "attorney general to investigate it and take all necessary legal measures to ensure justice."

"Killing Ishteiwi in such a way constitutes an assault on the rule of law and might institutionalize a serious case of extrajudicial execution," PCHR added.

According to its investigation and information given to PCHR by Ishteiwi's sister Buthaina last July, her brother was arrested in January 2015 on suspicion of "collaboration with the Israeli forces, misappropriation of funds and behavioral excesses."

"Prosecuting collaborators with the Israeli forces is necessary, and the Palestinian armed groups play an important role in such prosecution," PCHR stated. "However, only official authorities should open investigations and hold the perpetrators to account."

Following news of Mahmoud Ishteiwi's execution, Buthaina Ishteiwi told the Wattan news outlet that she believed her brother had been killed due to a dispute with his superiors.

While PCHR's statement on Ishteiwi suggests that collaboration may have been one of the accusations against him, the Qassam Brigades statement announcing the execution does not make that claim.

Typically, when Hamas has announced killings of alleged collaborators, it has not published their names, supposedly to spare their families the public ostracism that comes with such a grave accusation.

Split authority

Under the laws of the Palestinian Authority, death sentences issued by courts can only be carried out after ratification by the PA president.

The West Bank-based PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has not ratified any death sentences in a decade.

Hamas has however continued the use of the death penalty in Gaza.

The surprise victor in legislative elections in 2006, Hamas took control of the internal governance of Gaza in 2007 after fierce battles with Abbas' rival Fatah party, which refused to hand over power.

This has meant in practice that most areas of governance, including the judicial system, have been split.

According to PCHR, a total of 172 death sentences have been issued since the PA was established in 1994, of which 30 were in the West Bank and 142 in Gaza.

84 death sentences were issued since Hamas took over in Gaza in 2007.

Up to 2010, according to PCHR, about 1/2 the death sentences were for homicides and about half for collaboration with Israel.

Earlier this month, a military court in Gaza, ostensibly operating under the Palestine Liberation Organization's Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, sentenced four individuals to death by hanging on accusations of collaboration with Israel, according to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

And last week, Hamas reportedly arrested a woman on suspicion of spying. The woman allegedly used a condolence visit to the families of Hamas fighters recently killed in tunnel collapses to try to glean sensitive information.

Rule of law

Collaboration is seen by Palestinians, as it has historically been seen among all occupied populations, as a serious threat to life and safety as well as to the operational security of resistance organizations.

Israel makes intensive efforts to recruit informants, preying on the misery that its nearly 9-year siege of Gaza and repeated devastating assaults have generated.

"Everything starts and ends with money," an agent from Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Shin Bet, which recruits Palestinian informants, told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz in 2014.

But Israel also tries to coerce collaboration in other ways, including blackmailing patients who require difficult to obtain permits to travel to Israel for life-saving medical treatment.

Israel has also periodically dropped leaflets over Gaza with telephone numbers for would-be Palestinian informants to contact its agents.

Hamas, for its part, has used a number of means to try to combat the phenomenon, from public information campaigns to executions, occasionally carried out gruesomely in public, as happened during Israel's summer 2014 assault.

It has not been rare for revolutionary and resistance groups in different countries to resort to such brutality against alleged collaborators.

But however serious the threat from informants, Palestinian human rights defenders have been adamant that even wartime collaboration must be dealt with according to the rule of law.

Both PCHR and Al Mezan have moreover long advocated the total abolition of the death penalty in all cases.

In the short film at the top of this article, titled "Against the Death Penalty" and released in December, PCHR highlights its campaign to end the practice once and for all.



92% of Pakistanis support hanging terrorists: survey

According to a Gilani Research Foundation Survey carried out by Gallup Pakistan, sweeping majority of Pakistanis (92%) support the rule of hanging terrorists.

A nationally representative sample of men and women from across the four provinces was asked, "Some people support the rule of hanging terrorists while others are against this. Please tell, to what extent do you support or oppose this rule?"

In response, 64% said that they support it a lot, 28% said that they support it to some extent and 6% said that they oppose it to some extent. 2% said that they oppose it a lot.

The study was released by Gilani Research Foundation and carried out by Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International.

The recent survey was carried out among a sample of 1826 men and women in rural and urban areas of all 4 provinces of the country, during December 21 - December 28, 2015.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a 6-year moratorium on executions on December 17, 2014, a day after Tehreek-e-Taliban militants massacred more than 150 people -- mostly children -- at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

Since that time Pakistan has executed more than 300 death row convicts.

Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

Supporters argue that the death penalty is the only effective way to deal with the scourge of militancy in the country. But critics say the legal system is unjust, with rampant police torture, poor representation for victims and unfair trials.

(source: Dunya News)


Andy Warhol artwork made of 14 ELECTRIC CHAIRS expected to fetch 6m pounds at auction

A giant Andy Warhol canvas made up of 14 small electric chairs is expected to sell for 6 million pounds at auction.

The American pop artist worked on a Death and Disaster Series which included images of electric chairs used to deliver the death penalty in the 1960s.

And in 1980 he revisited the theme as part of his Reversals series, which was a postmodern reworking of his best-known compositions.

The monumental piece is 2-metres high and features 14 electric chairs, which Warhol viewed alongside the dollar bill, Coca-Cola sign and Marilyn Monroe's face as all-American emblems.

It is regarded as Warhol's most hard-hitting "visual shorthand" for American national identity and also one of the most internationally renowned.

His electric chair paintings are in collections at the Guggenheim in New York and the Menil Collection in Houston.

This piece, which has been in private ownership for 20 years, is the star lot at Bonhams' Contemporary Art sale which takes place in London on February 11.

It has been given a guide price of 4 to 6 million pounds.

Ralph Taylor, Bonhams senior director of Post-War and Contemporary Art, said: "It is incredible to stand in front of this piece.

"Warhol's transformation of the electric chair motif into a striking abstract pattern encrypts the implications of the original image.

"The longer you look at it, the more its significance slowly dawns, gaining force from its very discretion.

"For me, this ironic twist is closely tied to an intense impression of Warhol's personal self-reflection as an artist. It is so rare to come across such a historic icon of post-war and contemporary art outside museums."

(source: The Mirror)


Cambodia arrests man wanted for Spaniard killing in Bangkok

The prime suspect in the grisly murder and dismemberment of a Spanish national in Bangkok was returned to Thailand yesterday after his arrest in Cambodia, police said.

Multiple body parts belonging to businessman David Bernat were found floating in Bangkok's Chao Praya river last month.

Police believe he was kidnapped and murdered for financial reasons, with investigators saying they have traced more than $1mn moved from the victim's bank account after his death.

Last week they named their chief suspect as Artur Segarra, 36, also a Spanish national, saying they were confident he remained inside Thailand because he had recently withdrawn money from a cash machine inside the country.

But Cambodian police said Segarra was apprehended in a restaurant on Sunday in the town of Sihanoukville.

"We arrested him yesterday late afternoon," Chuon Narin, police chief of Kampong Som province, said yesterday.

He was later handed over to Thai police in the eastern province of Trat. General Panya Maman, the officer leading the murder investigation, said Segurra would be sent to Bangkok for interrogation.

"A criminal court has issued an arrest warrant against Artur for premeditated murder and illegal disposal of a body," he told reporters.

If charged and convicted, Segurra could face the death penalty.

The gruesome case has dominated Thai media coverage in recent days with television networks airing grim footage of officers hauling Bernat's remains out of the river. Police questioned a Thai woman over the weekend who was allegedly seen with Segarra in recent days.

Investigators initially struggled to identify the victim. Last week police said they believed the man was of Asian origin and suggested that Chinese triads might have been involved because of the method chosen to dispose of the body.

The wide Chao Praya winds its way through Bangkok, which boasts a large network of canals, and it is not unusual for bodies to be dumped in the city's waterways. But it is rare for a foreigner to meet such a grisly fate.

Cambodian police have returned a number of high profile criminal suspects to Thailand in recent months, including 1 of the alleged perpetrators of last summer's Bangkok bombing and an Australian wanted for his alleged involvement in the murder of a fellow national and former Hells Angels member in Pattaya.

(source: Gulf Times)


Erdogan rules out meeting Egypt's Sisi over death sentences for Brotherhood

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he will not meet with Egyptian President Abdul Fatah Sisi until Egypt lifts the death sentences of Mohammed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

"My stance on that issue is clear; in the first place, I will not meet Sisi until the decisions of death penalty for Morsi and his friends are reviewed and lifted. Our ministers may meet with their counterparts," Erdogan said according to a Feb. 7 report by the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper.

Erdogan, a strong supporter of the Brotherhood, blasted Morsi's ouster in 2013 and later referred to Sisi as a "tyrant." Cairo responded by expelling the Turkish ambassador and Ankara did the same.

Following Moris's ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood was officially branded a terrorist group and outlawed in Egypt. Sisi's government continues to crack down on the Brotherhood and its supporters in the country.

Erdogan added that a meeting between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Egyptian counterpart would be acceptable as "Turkey and Egypt are 2 peoples, 2 countries which are from the same culture and believe in the same standards of judgments. Of course, we shouldn't break away."



Ali Mohammed al-Nimr: Saudi Arabia on verge of beheading protester 'tortured as a child into confessing'

A young protester who was reportedly forced to admit to crimes after being tortured when he was a teenager could be beheaded in the coming days.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012, along with 2 others who were also minors at the time, following anti-government protests in 2011.

In 2013, aged just 17, he was sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion.

He is the nephew of the outspoken Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed on 2 January without warning, along with 46 other prisoners.

His mother, Umm Bakr, told The Times she fears her son was used "as a card against his uncle", and says after he was arrested he was tortured into signing confessions for a number of false charges including carrying a weapon.

Mohammed al-Nimr, his father and the brother of Sheikh Nimr, believes his son was "just like any other youth," he said: "When the movement started, he joined, believing he would take on the burden for the people."

However, he claims police knocked Mr al-Nimr off his motorcycle and arrested him, informing his family he would only be released if "his uncle stops talking".

The mass execution sparked widespread protests around the world and lead to a sharp decline in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Following the mass killing of 46 prisoners earlier this year, the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia since 1980, the British government maintains it doesn't expect the Mr al-Nimr's sentence to go ahead.

But his father doubts he will be released: "Perhaps before 2 January, I might have believed that. Now unless I see him back home again, none of these assurances can give me any comfort."

(source: The Independent)


Taliban Reportedly Execute Afghan Woman For Adultery----The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says Ghor is among the provinces with the highest number of so-called Taliban "desert courts."

Afghan officials say a woman has been executed after being accused of adultery in a remote Taliban-controlled village in the western province of Ghor.

Abdul Hai Khatibi, a provincial government spokesman, said on February 8 that the execution was carried out in the remote Taliban-controlled village of Zanu on February 5.

The woman was identified by her 1st name, Zahra, but her age was unknown.

Khatibi said Zahra was detained by the Taliban along with a man, identified as Ayub. Ayub was shot while trying to flee and is currently in Taliban captivity, the spokesman said.

However, district Governor Muhammad Hussein Daneshyar told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the woman was shot dead by her husband, who accused her of having an extramarital affair.

Afghan official say the area has been under militant control for more than a year.

There was no comment from the Taliban.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says Ghor is among the provinces with the highest number of so-called Taliban "desert courts."


FEBRUARY 8, 2016:


Jurors to be scrutinized on death penalty

The trial of Antwan Andre Anthony is set to begin today, but it could be a month before prosecutors begin calling witnesses to testify.

Anthony, 33, is charged with 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of 3 cousins who were working together at their family's convenience store outside of Farmville.

He is accused of robbing, kidnapping and murdering Mokbel Mohamed Almujanahi, 16; Nabil Nasser Saeed Al'mogannahi, 26; and Gaber Alawi, 24, on April 1, 2012, as they were closing the Hustle Mart-3 convenience store on N.C. 121 north of Farmville.

(source: Daily Reflector)


Lawyer's own view of 'train wreck' performance doesn't justify resentencing, top state court says

An Arkansas judge should not have granted a new sentencing hearing for a death-row inmate based on his lawyer's concession that his performance in the trial's last phase was "a train wreck," the Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled.

The court said the judge considering the ineffective assistance claim by convicted murderer Brandon Lacy should have relied on an objective assessment of his lawyer's performance, rather than the lawyer's self-assessment, report the Times Record Online and the Associated Press. The court's Feb. 4 decision (PDF) remanded for a new hearing on ineffective assistance in the penalty phase of trial.

Lacy's lead lawyer, Steve Harper, had said his closing argument at the end of the trial's sentencing phase was "one of the worst I've ever given." He explained his work in the sentencing phase way:

"By the time that portion of the trial came around, I'd had to adopt a lot of the burdens of every portion of the trial and it was - it was a train wreck. By the time it came around I was physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted. I was beat dead, and I didn't give a good closing. ... Could have been a lot better."

Lacy's family members had testified in the sentencing phase that he had a difficult and abusive childhood, and he was drinking heavily beginning at an early age. Harper's opening and closing arguments in this phase were "very brief," the supreme court said.

Lacy had also contended his lawyers were deficient because they failed to present an affirmative defense of mental disease or defect during the guilt phase of the trial. The supreme court upheld the judge's determination that Lacy was not entitled to relief on that ground, citing findings by 3 psychologists that Lacy had no such impairment.

(source: ABA Jounral)


Missouri Senate to debate death penalty repeal this week

A Republican-sponsored proposal to repeal the death penalty is likely to come up for debate early this week in the state Senate.

Director of the State Public Defender System Michael Barrett supports a repeal. He says the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to murders and says the money spent arguing resulting cases could be better spent on more effective public safety items. He says those cases are far more expensive than the typical ones his office deals with.

"2 years ago we represented 74,000 individuals in this state - misdemeanors, felonies, sex offenses. You combine all the expenses, personnel, overhead costs, we resolved these matters for an average of $345 per case," said Barrett. "When you look at the death penalty costs, it's $166-thousand per case."

Barrett argues that money could go to other public safety needs.

"We are not eradicating the rape kit backlog. Look at the number of unsolved murders we have in the state and we don't have the resources to solve them. Look at the active warrants that are out there, where we don't have the resources to round up these guys," said Barrett.

Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) opposes a repeal, and tells Barrett he's not convinced 1 would make much difference in those needs.

"You saying we get rid of the death penalty, we put 1 drop into the bucket," said Onder.

Onder also disagreed with those that argue for a repeal in light of people sentenced to death and later set free.

"I think those are the cases that are few and far between. Those are the rare cases that you suggest making bad policy in response to," said Onder.

A repeal is supported by Democrats and some Republicans, but it considered unlikely to reach Governor Jay Nixon (D) in a Republican-controlled legislature, and Nixon supports the death penalty.

Missouri has always had the death penalty except during a national moratorium in the 1970s. The state Corrections Department lists 28 men as being sentenced to death.



Shame and joy behind 149 exonerations

The National Registry of Exonerations reported last week that 2015 was a banner year for clearing prisoners wrongfully convicted of major crimes, including homicide and rape. Last year, 149 prisoners across the country were excused. Good news for them, but awful news for the integrity of the nation's criminal justice system.

The fact that 149 people went through the dreadful ordeal of arrest, arraignment, prosecution and imprisonment - for crimes they did not commit - is shameful. The registry, produced by the University of Michigan Law School, underscores the need for significant criminal justice reforms to minimize the chances of wrongful prosecution in the future.

Some might dismiss such goals as a liberal utopian ideal, but the fact is that criminal justice reform is being embraced nationwide by tea party conservatives. Why? Because few things exemplify the overreach of an all-too-powerful government than one that yanks away an individual's freedom without legal justification.

The GOP-dominated Missouri Legislature needs to get in step. Conservatives in the heavily Republican Texas Legislature have embraced some of the most far-reaching criminal justice reforms in the country, according to the New York-based Innocence Project. And they did so even when Democrats were the authors and sponsors of reform bills.

We're talking about such measures as easing prisoners' access to DNA evidence in the appeals process, ensuring poor defendants have access to high-quality public defenders and radically altering the weight given to eyewitness lineup identification. Texas also has dramatically increased the compensation to prisoners whose freedom was wrongfully taken away.

1 of the 2 Missouri cases listed in the National Registry in 2015 involved an eyewitness who identified the wrong person - Cornell McKay of St. Louis - in an armed robbery case. He had faced a sentence of 12 years in prison until St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce dismissed the charges in May because the actual perpetrator had admitted committing the crime, and investigators reportedly hid their suspicions that they had the wrong man.

The other was a botched murder conviction that landed Russell Faria, of Troy, in prison for life. Exculpatory witness statements and evidence were hidden from Faria's attorneys before trial. In Texas, prosecutors who hide exculpatory evidence in order to win a conviction now can face disbarment and prosecution.

Connecticut, likewise, has implemented impressive reforms that repealed the death penalty and modified sentencing guidelines so that nonviolent drug offenders no longer face mandatory prison time.

There's always room for improvement. This state's record on racial disparities in the prison population, particularly in the over-representation of African Americans from low-income backgrounds, suggests more-than-ample room exists to level the playing field through reform. Let conservatives lead the way.

(source: Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Pull the plug on death penalty in California

It has been more than 10 years since an inmate on California's death row has been executed, and California citizens are split about what should be done about the state's death penalty law.

According to a recent Field poll, 47 % of Californians favor replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole. Support for getting rid of the death penalty increased by 7 % points since 2014. The poll also found, however, that 48 % of Californians support speeding up the execution process by limiting the number of inmates' appeals.

This year, 2 initiatives dealing with those opposing perspectives on the death penalty may be on the ballot. The 1st, "The Justice That Works Act of 2016," would formally eliminate the death penalty in California and replace all death sentences with life without the possibility of parole. "The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016" would limit the appeals inmates on death row may file, which would effectively speed up executions.

Today, there are 746 inmates on California's death row, up from 646 in 2006. Although 117 death row inmates have died since 1976, only 13 were executed. The overwhelming majority died from natural causes, such as old age, or suicide.

There are so many inmates on death row that California ran out of space to house them all. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown requested over $3 million from the Legislature to build more death row cells. It's clear that the current system is unsustainable. But would limiting death penalty appeals actually speed up the execution process, or "fix" a system that is arguably broken on its face? There's little evidence to suggest it would.

Indeed, in 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report that declared the death penalty in California "dysfunctional." The commission found it wasn't the lengthy appeals process slowing down the execution process, but, rather, the lack of available legal representation for inmates on death row - many of whom wait years for the state to appoint lawyers to their cases due to their indigent status.

"To reduce the average lapse of time from sentence to execution by 1/2" the report said, "[California] will have to spend nearly twice what we are spending now."

The death penalty is also expensive to maintain. According to that same 2008 report, California spends approximately $137 million per year just on the death penalty. If it were to expand the number of lawyers appointed to represent inmates to clear up the backlog, the state would have to spend another $95 million, or roughly $232 million per year.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel stopped all executions in California, stating that the state's execution process was flawed. In 2014, a federal judge declared capital punishment in California unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed in 2015 by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It's up to voters to decide what should be done about the death penalty, but evidence has shown capital punishment in California is a bungled, expensive mess. Even if it is "fixed" in the ways one of the ballot initiatives proposes, it's going to cost California taxpayers twice as much as it does now, with no real guarantee that additional executions are carried out.

Replacing this broken system with life without the possibility of parole would still ensure that the most heinous criminals die in prison, but would prevent taxpayers from spending billions on a system proven to be a complete failure.

(source: Opinion; Lauren Krisai is director of criminal justice reform at Reason Foundation----Orange County Register)


Gary Lee Sampson Case Heading Back To Court

Federal prosecutors and lawyers for a man sentenced to death in the 2001 carjack killings of 2 Massachusetts men will be in court this week to discuss his retrial.

Gary Lee Sampson pleaded guilty and was given the federal death penalty in 2003 in the killings of 19-year-old Jonathan Rizzo, of Kingston, and 69-year-old Philip McCloskey, of Taunton. He also admitted killing a third man, Robert Whitney, in New Hampshire during the same weeklong crime rampage and received a separate life sentence.

Sampson's death sentence was overturned in 2011 after a judge found that 1 of the jurors at his trial had lied.

A new judge recently took over the case and scheduled the retrial to begin in September.

A status conference is scheduled Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

(source: Associated Press)


Death By Hanging: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

List Price: $39.95

Review by Randy Miller III

During his wildly unpredictable career, director Nagisa Oshima (1932-2013) refused to make the same movie twice. Frequently changing aspect ratios, filming techniques, subject matter, and even color palettes, Oshima's most recent film perpetually stood in stark contrast to what he'd just completed...or what was lurking right around the corner. His 12th feature-length production, 1968's Death by Hanging, was released right in the middle of the director's most prolific period: Oshima helmed more than a dozen productions between 1965 and 1972, each one more than a little different than the last. Though it wasn't his most controversial film, Death by Hanging definitely ruffled a few feathers upon its original release and still manages to challenge audiences almost 50 years later.

The story sounds simple on paper...but whatever first-time viewers might expect out of Death by Hanging, they'll get something different. Our central figure is known as "R", and he's been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 2 young women; his story is based on the fate of Korean-born Japanese man Ri Chin'u, who was imprisoned as a minor and executed in 1962 for similar crimes). In Oshima's alternate universe, "R" survives the hanging: he's got a pulse 21 minutes after the failed execution but no memory of his crime or identity, and the bureaucrats in charge have no idea how to proceed. Known only by their titles---"Education Officer", "Priest", "Doctor", "Warden", etc.---they reluctantly agree to recreate the crimes to jog his memory and justify a second execution. This isn't exactly where Death by Hanging takes a sharp left turn: if we're being honest, the entire film is a series of sharp left turns. Yet from here onward, it moves further and further into the realm of pitch-black farce, never to return.

At once a scathing critique of the death penalty and an examination of the treatment of Korean-born Japanese citizens in the wake of World War II, Death by Hanging is an extremely tough film to process the first (or even second) time through. The film's wily, unpredictable nature runs the risk of alienating those who need to hear its message the most; as a result, only those sharp enough to connect all the dots might discover that Death by Hanging's finer points seem a little dulled by all the chaos. Luckily the terrific performances by almost everyone involved---none more than Do-yun Yu as "R", which was his only credited acting role---make the faces and characters almost impossible to forget, and the film's messy but efficient visuals complement many of its unspoken words and themes. As a whole, Oshima's film is a passionate and challenging production, which makes it easier to appreciate than enjoy.

Criterion's new Blu-ray edition of Death by Hanging actually marks the film's Region 1 debut, and this is a fairly well-rounded release that does it justice. The film's recent restoration looks great in high definition, and a handful of brief but appropriate supplements (including a terrific interview with Japanese film critic and historian Tony Rayns, who also discusses other segments of Oshima's career as a whole) that add another level of texture and background information for those intrigued by its interesting, unpredictable structure. Death by Hanging isn't exactly "blind buy" material for those new to Oshima's unique brand of filmmaking, but seasoned fans should enjoy this one.



Words about sentences: the Japanese vocab of crime and punishment

When reporting on Japanese trials, Western journalists occasionally describe a defendant as being sentenced to "life in prison." Technically, Japanese law does not have shushinkei, literally "punishment until the body is finished"). Instead, there is muki choeki, imprisonment with labor for an undefined term), the 2nd harshest punishment after shikei, the death penalty, also sometimes colloquially referred to as kyokkei, the "ultimate punishment".

Indefinite imprisonment may sound much like a life sentence (or what happens at Gitmo), and officially, it is. Sort of. But there is an important difference: hope. Even murderers sentenced to indefinite terms can aspire to kari shakuho, parole, if they can be repentant model prisoners for 2 or 3 decades.

There may be a trend toward kei no genbatsuka, harsher punishments, sometimes attributed to more severe sentences being meted out in trials before saiban'in, lay judge panels since that system started in 2009. Still, accounts by keimusho, prison insiders suggest kyosei shisetsu, correctional facilities full of criminals without hope would be much harder to manage. America could learn something here.

Japanese keibatsu, punishment, sometimes also rendered keijibatsu has a very different history from in the West, with a prominent theme being leniency. Ancient Japan adopted imperial China's baroque, highly relational system of ritsu, rules of punishment, but toned down their severity, never adopting, for example, the infamous ryochikei, death by a thousand cuts.

Astonishingly, in 818 Emperor Saga actually abolished the death penalty, a moratorium that lasted over 3 centuries, during which period politically important offenders, at least, were instead sentenced to ryukei, exile to remote islands like Sado or Oki. That ancient Japan went so long without a death penalty is a remarkable historical fact, one that seems inconsistent with the state's continued use of koshukei, death by hanging in the 21st century.

Currently Japan's keiho, penal code provides for 6 types of punishment. First, the rarely imposed and more rarely carried-out death penalty. Then there is choeki, imprisonment with labor, usually imposed for a defined term of up to 20 years, though multiple offenses can lead to longer terms. Muki choeki, discussed earlier, is rare - only 23 such sentences were meted out in the 2014 government year. There is also kinko, sometimes imprisonment without labor.

Choeki seems to be reserved for morally culpable or harenchizai, "infamous" crimes) like murder or theft, while kinko is more likely for negligent or political offenses. The difference may be largely theoretical, though, since most people sentenced to kinko reportedly volunteer for labor anyway.

Labor as punishment reflects the Japanese emphasis on kyosei, corrections, kosei hogo, rehabilitation and protection - particularly of juvenile offenders and shakai fukki, returning to society. Part of the exercise is thus for jukeisha - inmates, or literally, "people receiving punishment" to acquire skills and discipline, the lack of which may have gotten them into prison in the first place.

Choeki means many things are made at Japanese prisons: traditional and modern furniture, household items and car accessories, for example.

Most sentences of imprisonment are for just a few years, and those of 3 years or less may be suspended. If the convict does not re-offend during the suspension period, the original sentence is vacated. Suspended sentences may also be combined with hogokansatsu, probation.

Another form of punishment is koryu, short-term detention for a period of a month or less. Confusingly, it is a homophone for another koryu, which refers to pretrial detention, which is technically not a form of punishment.

Punishments that don't take your freedom take your money or stuff. A supplementary sanction in some cases is bosshu, confiscation of assets or property related to the commission of the underlying crime. Bakkin) are penal fines of 10,000 yen or more, while karyo are for lesser amounts. Here another homophone rears its head: karyo refers to the myriad nonpenal fines imposed by laws outside the criminal sphere. To distinguish the 2, penal karyo are sometimes referred to as togaryo, while nonpenal fines are referred to as ayamachiryo. What's the difference? Nonpenal fines do not result in zenka, criminal records. Moreover, you don't have to work them off in prison as you would if sentenced to a penal fine while broke. Drivers may be hit with hansokukin, a special administrative fine imposed for minor traffic violations; special because if you don't pay, you can end up in criminal court. Finally, there are tsuichokin, financial penalties that are most common in the world of tax and imposed when you fail to pay a tax or other public duty.

(source: Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto)----Japan Times)


Prisoners On Death Row To Get Life Imprisonment

Following a set of recommendations made by a committee appointed to look into the death sentence issued on several convicts, it has been decided to convert the death sentence imposed on 34 of those convicts into life imprisonment. President Maithripala Sirisena had taken the decision after considering the reports on the 34 convicts submitted by the committee which was appointed by the former President.

The committee has also finalized reports on another 60 convicts on death row and these reports will also be handed over to the President for his consideration, a committee member told The Sunday Leader.

Since the death sentence is not implemented in Sri Lanka an issue has arisen on the convicts who are on death row.

Human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government not to implement the death sentence despite pressure from some groups and individuals following a spate of gruesome murders in the country.

(source: The Sunday Leader)


NBA Ilorin Chairman suggests Death Penalty for corrupt public officers

NANMansuma Issa, Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ilorin branch, has advocated capital punishment for corrupt public servants in the country.

Issa, who made the suggestion in llorin, Kwara, on Sunday while speaking with newsmen, also said that the punishment should be extended to other African countries.

He decried the level of corruption in Africa, especially in Nigeria, and said that capital punishment would stem graft and brazen looting of public funds.

According to him, countries like Singapore, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea which adopted death penalty to curb corruption had succeeded in fight against corruption.

The NBA chairman said that corruption had become endemic in Africa and had necessitated the association's support for the corruption war being fought by the President Muhammadu Buhari's administration.

He lamented that funds which would have been spent on the health, education and agriculture as well as for the fight against terrorism were diverted to individual pockets.

He called for the strengthening of the judiciary so that offenders could face trial in accordance with the law.

Issa said that the Nigerian judiciary was still operating pre-independence pattern and in colonial courts where judges still wrote in long hands, describing the act as "very stressful and retrogressive".

He appealed to the federal and state governments to provide the judiciary with verbatim recording machines to ease their assignments.

He assured that judges in the country could still be trusted, especially in the fight against corruption.

Issa, however, admitted that there might be few cases of corruption in the judiciary and urged the disciplinary committee of NBA not to take the issue of corruption in the judiciary lightly.

He said that any judge found guilty should be dealt with accordingly.

On Constitution amendment, he said that the 1979 Constitution was well crafted except for the variation in the laws of the principles of federalism and the control of resources.

He called for the modification of those areas of the Constitution, noting that there was no "perfect constitution" anywhere in the world but a "workable constitution".

Issa disclosed that the greatest challenge facing NBA in Kwara was allegations of diversion of clients' funds by some of its members.

He warned that anyone found wanting in such allegation would be forwarded to the national disciplinary committee of the association for necessary action.

He urged the government to improve the condition of the prisons, saying that it was also part of the challenges the association faced while fighting for the right of its clients.

He described the condition of Nigerian prisons as embarrassing and dehumanising and said that inmates should not be treated as enemies of the people.



Egypt sentences more Muslim Brotherhood members to death

A court in Egypt has handed more death penalties to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military court in Alexandria gave the death penalty to 8 people. The defendants were charged with organizing a terrorist group tasked with targeting the military. Egypt has cracked down on dissent since former president Morsi was ousted.



Anonymous Calls For Saudi Arabia Ban from 2016 Olympics

Online activist collective Anonymous and @OperationNimr - a voice campaigning to nullify the death sentence handed to Saudi Arabian youth are both calling for the exclusion of Saudi Arabia from this year's Rio Olympics.

With a nod to Saudi Arabia's controversial human rights record, Anonymous and @OperationNimr are calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to keep out Saudi Arabia from the summer Olympic games, @OperationNimr revealed to Hacked.

Despite an outcry from activists and human rights groups, Saudi Arabia recently executed and crucified 47 people on January 2, 2016. A majority of those executed included prominent Arab Spring activists and pro-democracy supporters.

Anonymous has previously endeavored to shed light on the death sentences handed out by the Saudi Arabian government toward its youth. Known for its hacktivism, Anonymous took down several government websites in early September 2016. The targeted hacking run brought focus to a 2012 death sentence handed to the then-17-year-old teenager, Mohammed al-Nimr.

A Saudi court judgement noted that Nimr had "encouraged pro-democracy protests [using] a Blackberry."

In response, websites such as Saudi Airlines, the Ministry and Justice and more were taken offline.

"Hundreds of innocent people die each year because of the Saudi Government, and they (the Saudi Government) will now be punished for their actions," Anonymous said at the time.

In a report by Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia is revealed as "one of the most prolific executioners in the world." Executions are known to be carried out for "crimes" such as witchcraft, sorcery and adultery.

The latest call to ban Saudi Arabia is yet another attempt to bring the kingdom state's death penalty practices under the world's scanner. Between January 1986 and June 2015, at least 2,200 known people were executed in Saudi Arabia, 1/2 of whom were foreign nationals. Significantly, over 1/3 of these executions took place for offences that did not figure within the threshold of "most serious crimes." Under international law, "most serious crimes" is a category for which the death penalty can be imposed.



Hamas armed wing executes member 'for spying for Israel'

The armed wing of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said Sunday it had executed 1 of its members, with sources familiar with the case calling him a senior official accused of spying for Israel.

"The Al-Qassam Brigades announce that the death penalty pronounced against its member Mahmud Eshtawi has been applied today at 1600 hours," Hamas's armed branch said in a statement.

Executions have previously been carried out in the Gaza Strip, including in public squares in the Palestinian territory, but it appeared to be the first time Al-Qassam itself had sentenced one of its own through a court martial and executed him.

The statement did not provide details on the accusations against him other than to say that "the Brigades' military and Islamic judicial committee issued the sentence because he violated rules and ethics."

Eshtawi's duties included overseeing tunnels that have previously been used to store weapons and carry out attacks against Israel, the sources said.

According to the sources, he was in charge of a large unit and was previously a close associate of Mohammed Deif, the Al-Qassam chief who has been a frequent target of Israeli assassination attempts.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said in late December that 9 death sentences had been issued in the Gaza Strip in 2015 and 2 in the occupied West Bank.

Since the start of 2016, 4 Gazans have been handed death sentences after being accused of spying for Israel.

The Gaza Strip has seen 3 wars with Israel since 2008.

(source: Agence France-Presse)


Family of Murdered 7-Year-Old Boy Demands Death Penalty for Perpetrator

The family of the 7-year-old boy who was allegedly kidnapped and murdered on Sunday (07/02) has demanded the death penalty for the perpetrator.

Jamaludin - a 1st grade student at the SDN Beji 3 in Depok, West Java - was abducted by 35-year-old Januar Arifin, also known as Begeng, who was regularly seen in front of the boy's school. The 2 often used to hang out together and played video games at a rental store near the school.

The boy was last seen alive at 12 p.m. on Saturday while leaving the school in Januar's company. Januar allegedly gave the boy Rp 2,000 (15 cents) to convince him to go with him to his home in the Lubang Buaya area of East Jakarta.

The boy's parents reported that their son had been abducted after receiving a text message from the suspect. Police raided Januar's home in the early hours of Sunday. Jamaludin's body was found in the bathroom, with bruises and what appeared to be signs of strangulation on his neck.

The Depok District Police said Januar had apparently planned the abduction 3 days in advance, while reported that the suspect allegedly sexually assaulted Jamaludin before killing him.

"He must be sentenced to death. Don't let him live, because there will be more victims. Begeng is a psychopath. We don't want him to serve a light sentence," one of the deceased boy's relatives, Tuti Ningsih, said at the victim's home in Depok on Sunday.

The Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) has meanwhile renewed a call for the chemical castration of sexual offenders.

"We really appreciate what the police have done, but [other than] finding the motives behind [the abduction and] the murder, the government still has to create laws to legally punish child abusers," KPAI commissioner Erlinda said in Depok on Sunday.

Januar is currently being detained at the Beji Subdistrict Police Station for further questioning. An autopsy has already been completed on Jamaludin's body and the result was handed to the police, who will now complete their investigation. However, the KPAI has demand that the perpetrator should also be examined by a psychiatrist.

Jamaludin's parents buried their son in their hometown in Garut, West Java, on Monday.

(source: Jakarta Globe)

FEBRUARY 7, 2016:


In Orwellian move, NC State Archives blocks access to death penalty photo

In George Orwell's novel "1984," the luckless Winston Smith labors in a Ministry of Truth office where he "re-creates" the past by removing or changing historical documents to reflect Big Brother's political demands.

Winston doesn't know whether he's changing a fact or a fallacy another worker has already introduced. He erases some people entirely after the Party executes them.

I couldn't help but think of Smith's grim legacy recently. Last month, I requested from the North Carolina State Archives a photograph of the 1st inmate executed by lethal gas. I'd first seen Allen Foster's mug shot in a 2004 edition of the state's authorized history journal and wanted a high-resolution copy.

But the Archives - the state agency in charge of safeguarding the primary sources of our history - refused my request.

I dug deeper. I discovered that the Archives is blocking access to all historical material related to executions. This is especially important at a time when we as a state and a nation are engaged in a vital discussion about the death penalty. By blocking access to information, the state is harming education, stifling debate and undermining free speech.

The photo I sought is 80 years old. 3 conjoined panels depict 20-year-old Foster in custody in 1936. Foster allegedly robbed and raped a Hoke County woman in 1935. At the time, rape was a capital crime. Foster's mother unsuccessfully pleaded with Gov. J.C.B. Ehringhaus to spare his life. On Jan. 24, 1936, the state executed Foster, an African-American, the 1st in the state to die by lethal gas.

At the time, officials considered gas more humane than hanging. Yet Foster died horribly. The January cold prevented the gas from working properly. As sociologist Trina Seitz described in the North Carolina Historical Review, Foster gasped for 3 minutes before losing consciousness. Then "he convulsed wildly." In all, it took him 11 minutes to die.

Request denied

In her article, Seitz reproduced the photo I wanted, which she legally obtained from the archives more than a decade ago.

I requested the photo as part of work I was doing on a national exhibit on mass incarceration, coordinated by the Humanities Action Lab at New York's New School. Along with 20 other universities, 16 Duke students, a colleague and I were preparing our contribution, a history of the death penalty in North Carolina. The students read Seitz's article as well as a UNC-sponsored site that reproduces the photo from the NCHR.

Imagine my surprise when the state archivist replied that current interpretation of law prevented access. I reached out to other researchers and learned that the state archivist is denying access to all historical death penalty records.

Among the statutes she cites are GS 148-74 and GS 148-76, in part meant to protect prisoner privacy, a worthy goal for living inmates and their families. Specifically, GS 148-74 requires the state to "minimize duplication and maximize effective use of ... records and materials." My students' project achieves both goals. It's an overreach to apply this to a case 8 decades in the past.

GS 148-76 is meant to empower the Department of Public Safety to keep records that enhance the public's safety, irrelevant in the case of a man executed before World War II.

Worthy of Orwell

Claims of confidentiality are equally spurious. Foster's mug shot was public at the time of his execution as is the mug shot of every inmate in prison today. Just go the offender lookup page on the prison system's website, or peruse The Slammer at a gas station.

But it's not just 1 photo or a certain category of records. Suppressing historical documents on the death penalty is part of a wider effort by our current legislature to restrict or deny public access to information, an effort worthy of Big Brother. One new law shields the identity of companies that sell death penalty drugs to North Carolina. Another, which took effect Jan. 1, aims to silence whistle-blowers. Anyone who secretly gathers information in order to uncover and correct abuses can be sued by business owners for bad publicity and be required to pay a fine.

Newspapers like this one have and will continue to insist that the state release records that we as citizens have a right to. But why should we as citizens be content with a system that forces us to fight for every paper - or photo?

Foster's execution and his photograph are our history. To deny access is tantamount to sending the past down the memory hole for destruction. And the only point of that is to suppress what should be robust and informed debate.

(source: Op-Ed; Robin Kirk co-directs the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke


A death for a death solves nothing----Capital punishment isn't humane, no matter how it's done, nor does it prevent crime; it simply kills

The state of Georgia killed another one of its citizens last Tuesday.

His name was Brandon Astor Jones. The 72-year-old Jones was killed because in 1979 he killed Roger Tackett, a Cobb County convenience store manager.

According to the state, what Jones did to Tackett was murder; what it did to Jones was a legal execution.

So one killing begat another killing, the latter state-sanctioned.

That makes no sense ethically or morally. The only place it would seem to make sense is legally. But even there the legality of state-sanctioned killings - or "executions" as they are euphemistically called - is rather fuzzy.

O.C.G.A. 16-5-1, the state statute defining murder and felony murder, reads in part: "A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being."

It took the state 36 years to kill Jones, which seems to involve a great deal of preparation and premeditation.

While the state gets to define what is "lawful" and "unlawful," the difference between the 2 when it comes to killing another human being seems to be a rather fine line.

There is no question Jones deserved to be punished for his crime. The question is whether taking his life because he took another person's life was morally and ethically the right thing to do.

I once was an avid supporter of the "kill them all, let God sort them out" school of criminal justice. But as I have grown older and a bit wiser, and have seen the workings of the criminal justice system up close, it is quite obvious that it is neither efficient nor effective, particularly as it pertains to the death penalty.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Jones was the 61st person since 1976 to die at the hands of Georgia officials.

While that may seem a substantial number, it ranks only 6th on the national list of executions over the last 40 years, behind Texas (533), Oklahoma (112), Virginia (111), Florida (92) and Missouri (86).

Supporters of the death penalty claim it is a deterrent to those contemplating murder. But repeated studies have shown that this is simply not true.

According to Hugo Adam Bedau, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, "Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons heedless of the consequences to themselves as well as others."

That is an explanation, not an excuse for the crimes.

Proponents of the death penalty in search of religious justification usually trot out Old Testament citations from Exodus 21:23-25: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise," conveniently ignoring the fact that Jesus countermanded that in Luke in the New Testament.

Proponents also say that some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the ultimate penalty: death. In fact, there are crimes that are so heinous that those who commit them deserve to be removed from society forever. Think Jeffrey Dahmer, Timothy McVeigh and John Wayne Gacy.

While some would argue that utilization of the death penalty certainly deters those convicted of murder of ever being able to murder again, others argue that permanently removing them from society through a life-without-parole sentence does the same thing.

In some ways, death is easier; serving extended prison time is not. Just ask anyone who has spent time behind bars.

Yet there are cases in which those convicted of murder actually become useful members of prison society and, by extension, society as a whole.

Once such case involves Kelly Gissendaner of Gwinnett County. Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating her husband's murder in 1997. Convicted and sentenced to death, she underwent a religious conversion in prison and began ministering to other women who also were incarcerated. She was credited with preventing several suicides among female inmates.

Despite pleas from Pope Francis and Norman S. Fletcher, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia that she be granted clemency and be allowed to continue her prison ministry, the Star Chamber that is the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles refused.

Gissendaner was executed by lethal injection last September, the 1st woman killed by the state in 70 years.

Lethal injection is the current method of execution in 33 states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. But the term "humane execution" is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Lethal injection is nothing more than euthanasia; it is not the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" of which the Bible speaks. It is simply our way of trying to convince ourselves that when the government decides to kill someone, it does so in a manner that elevates us above those societies and cultures in which the guilty (and sometimes the innocent) were crucified, drawn and quartered, stoned, decapitated, burned at the stake or fed to the lions.

We congratulate ourselves for being a humane society because instead of actually killing people we just put them to sleep forever.

How is death by lethal injection any more humane than what the Islamic State does to its victims by burning them alive or tossing them off rooftops or cutting off their heads in front of a camera so the world can see?

One of the unanswerable questions about the death penalty is what does society gain from it other than the short-lived satisfaction of revenge and/or retribution?

An execution certainly does not restore the victim or victims and their families to what they were before the crime was committed. And society certainly learns nothing about why these individuals committed crimes in the first place.

We would be better served if those convicted of murder and other heinous crimes be studied to determine what sort of physiological, psychological or sociological flaws caused them to do what they did and try to put measures into place to keep others from committing similar crimes.

But to do that, we would need to stop warehousing in our prisons large numbers of people for nonviolent crimes and instead focus on those violent criminals or those prone to violence.

Even though the death penalty is considered legal justification for killing someone, just because something is legal, doesn't mean it is morally or ethically right.

The death penalty does not kill violent crime.

All it does is kill another person.

(source: Op-Ed; Ron Martz is a Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia----Gainesville Times)


The conservative case against the death penalty

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty statute by an 8-1 vote. The court's decision in Hurst v. Florida has once again brought the issue of the death penalty to the forefront. I felt this was a good time to ask my fellow conservatives who still favor the death penalty to re-think their positions.

Most conservatives share a deep and fundamental distrust of "Big Government" and its inability to effectively and efficiently carry out even menial tasks. The the death penalty process is a prime example of Big Government inefficiency. Mistakes happen, and a mistake in imposing the death penalty can mean the wrongful killing of an innocent person.

According to the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center, 156 people have been exonerated from death row since the death penalty was re-enacted following the 1972 Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court case, which struck down death penalty statutes across the country. Of those 156 exonerations, Florida has led the nation with 26. In 2014 alone, 6 death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence.

Make no mistake, innocent men have been executed. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting fire to his own home, killing his 3 daughters. 3 subsequent investigations have shown that the fire was not arson, and probably caused by faulty wiring. In 2015, the prosecutor on his case was charged with misconduct by the Texas Bar for withholding material evidence from Willingham's attorneys.

To some in our justice system, the execution of an innocent man is of no concern. Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy, who personally sent 73 defendants to death row, was quoted by The New York Times as stating that executing an innocent person is a sacrifice worth making in order to keep the death penalty in the United States. Also, when Louisiana death row inmate Glenn Ford was exonerated in 2014, the prosecutor admitted being partly responsible for Ford’s wrongful conviction because he was not as interested in justice as he was in winning.

From a taxpayer prospective, the cost of the death penalty far exceeds the cost of life without parole. In 2000, the Palm Beach Post reported that the 44 executions carried out in Florida between 1976 and 2000 cost an average of $24 million each. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, recently testified that Florida spends $51 million a year above and beyond what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison.

And the exorbitant cost is coming with little return. Florida has executed a total of 92 inmates since 1972. There are currently 389 inmates on Florida's death row, 13 having been there since the 1970s. At the current rate of execution, it would take over 150 years to execute just the inmates currently on death row.

Conservatives who have publicly stated their opposition to the death penalty include former U.S. Sen. Jack Kemp, Col. Oliver North, columnist Tucker Carlson, talk show host Laura Ingraham and George Will.

The United States is the only Western nation that still retains the use of the death penalty. Europe rid itself of capital punishment in the early 1980s, and the U.S. is now 5th in the world for the greatest number of executions after China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Is this the company we wish to keep?

(source: Op-Ed; James S. Purdy has served as public defender of the Seventh Judicial Circuit since 2005. As a former assistant attorney general, he argued death penalty cases in the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of the state of Florida. He served as chairman of the Volusia County Republican Party in 1999----Ocala Star Banner)


Ohio and its death penalty disparities

7 states have abolished the death penalty during the past decade. 30 states either do not have capital punishment or have not conducted an execution the past 8 years. Will Ohio follow in their path? The state already has put off executions until November of next year. Officials are having difficulty securing the necessary drugs to conduct a lethal injection according to standards. Drug-makers have balked at participating.

Of late, the complications for the death penalty have deepened. Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, released an analysis reinforcing concerns about racial, gender and geographic disparities in applying capital punishment in Ohio. He looked at the 53 executions in the state from 1976 to 2014. 34 involved white men, and 19 involved black men.

One striking aspect of the findings is that 65 % of the executions stemmed from cases in which the victim was white, even though whites accounted for just 43 % homicide victims. In a similar way, just 27 % of homicide victims were women, yet 52 % of the executions involved cases in which the victim was a woman.

Baumgartner found that the likelihood of a murder leading to an execution in Ohio is 0.53 %. That likelihood changes significantly when the victim is white (0.81 %) and when the victim is black (0.29 %). Add the element of gender, and things again alter dramatically. The likelihood of an execution climbs to 1.55 % when the victim is a white female, and falls to 0.25 % when a black man is the victim. The likelihood is nearly the same when the victim is a white man or a black woman.

All of this resonates more sharply in view of black men making up 44 % of homicide victims across the state. Crime statistics show that most homicides involve perpetrators and victims of the same race. Yet, as Baumgartner explains in assessing the Ohio executions, whites are likely to face the death penalty only when the victim is white. Blacks tend to face execution whether the victim is white or black.

Geography matters, too, more than 1/2 of the executions taking place in Summit, Lucas, Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties. These are higher crime areas, obviously. What is noteworthy is the disparity in execution rates. Baumgartner points out that the rate in Hamilton is more than double the rate in Cuyahoga and nearly 9 times the rate in Franklin.

County prosecutors have responded by noting that many factors are at work in seeking the death penalty. They have a point. At the same time, Baumgartner mostly bolsters previous examinations of capital punishment, the kind that set in motion a review of the death penalty in Ohio, pushed by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. That task force included a wide range of stakeholders and arrived at 56 recommendations to improve the process. A handful of the proposals have won legislative approval. Those who want to see capital punishment endure should be pressing for additional action.

Even then, Ohio should prepare to end the death penalty. As Summit County knows, it is expensive. And for what? The Baumgartner analysis further exposes the disparities.

(source: Editorial, Akron Beacon Journal)


Idaho death penalty rarely used

9 people are awaiting execution in Idaho. Only 3 have been executed since 1977 under Idaho's death penalty.

The issue of capital punishment continues to raise questions nationwide - financially and ethically. Those questions are now being asked in Canyon County, where prosecutors have filed papers to seek the death penalty against Brandon J. Shaw. He is the man accused of fatally stabbing Chelsey Rae Malone in November outside her home in the 2700 block of Berlin Place in Nampa. She was just 23 years old.

At only 23, Shaw may seem young to potentially sit on death row, but all nine inmates currently awaiting execution in Idaho entered prison between the ages of 20 and 36.

The oldest inmate currently on death row is 65-year-old Thomas Creech, who has been on death row since age 32 after he was convicted of beating an inmate to death in Ada County. Creech began his term on death row in January 1983.

The youngest inmate to ever enter Idaho's death row is James Hairston, who was convicted and sentenced to death in November 1996 for fatally shooting 2 people in Bannock County. Hairston was 20 years old when he entered death row.

Since 1977, the state of Idaho has executed only 3 people, including murderers Paul Ezra Rhoades, Richard Leavitt and Keith Wells - a statistic some might say is unusual given Idaho's conservative political climate. The state is 1 of 31 states that permits death as a sentencing option for 1st-degree murder convictions.


In the local case of Brandon Shaw, prosecutors filed the notice to seek the death penalty against him on Jan. 7, citing aggravating circumstances that made the alleged crime eligible for a sentence of death.

The notice stated the suspected "murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity" and "by the murder, or circumstances surrounding its commission, the defendant exhibited utter disregard for human life."

Shaw, who has no prior criminal history, is charged with 1st-degree murder with an enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon, assault with the intent to commit a serious felony and another enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon, and 2 counts of burglary.

The Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor's office declined to comment directly on Shaw's pending case.

"The Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney's Office goes through an intensive review each time the death penalty is considered," according to a written statement from the office. "This lengthy and detailed process involves the solicitation of thoughtful input from the victim's family, the investigating officers, the relevant chief (or sheriff), the handling attorneys, and the chief deputies of our criminal and civil divisions for the Prosecutor to consider. It is a decision fundamentally guided by our commitment to justice and the public safety, and, like each exercise of prosecutorial discretion this Office is required to make every single day, is not taken lightly.

The office, in general, does not comment on active cases.

"... We especially won't make public comment about the details of a case to explain a decision to file a death penalty notice, because those details could have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused and interfere with the right to a fair trial," the prosecutor's office said in the statement. "That said, we will publicly present our case to a jury at the appropriate time, and are confident in the charging decisions that have thus far been made in the case."

Shaw's next court appearance is set for 9 a.m. Feb. 26.


Nationwide statistics have shown the cost of sentencing someone to death exceeds the price of sentencing them to life in prison for a variety of reasons, including the price of trials, appeals and the execution itself.

In Idaho, a statewide fund is in place to protect counties from taking on the full financial burden of a capital punishment case.

Every county in Idaho, except for Jefferson County, utilizes a Capital Crimes Defense Fund established in 1998 to help counties pay for trial expenses. In 2014, the Canyon County Board of Commissioners contributed $66,436 to the Capital Crimes Defense Fund.

Pursuant to the fund, counties pay the first $10,000 of trial costs before submitting reimbursement claims to the fund, and they must pay the wages of the lead defense attorney.

In March 2013, a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee conducted a study regarding the state's death penalty statute and expenditures after 2 people were executed within 2 years.

According to the Idaho Legislature's 2013 study, 11 counties have been reimbursed more than $4 million for defense costs since 1998. In Canyon County, since 1998, there have been nine cases that utilized the Capital Crimes Defense Fund.

As of 2013 in Canyon County, $450,638 in claims have been paid for cases against 9 defendants.

: Part of those expenses come from the use of expert witnesses and the length of time it takes to complete adjudication in the process of reaching either a guilty verdict or an acquittal is lengthy.

Capital cases in Idaho, between 1998 and 2013, took an average of about 14.5 months to adjudicate, regardless of whether they went to trial. That's about 3.1 months longer than it takes to adjudicate non-capital cases, according to the state report.

For defendants who did go to trial, between 1998 and 2013, capital cases took 20.5 months to complete. Non-capital cases took about 7 months less time to complete trial. Those state averages were regardless of whether the defendant was found guilty or not guilty.

In a Jan. 19 meeting with the Canyon County Board of Commissioners, Chief Public Defender Tera Harden addressed Brandon Shaw's case and the financial issues surrounding capital punishment cases.

Harden said 3 public defenders will need to be approved and qualified by the Supreme Court to work on Shaw's case. Defense attorneys must be death penalty-certified to defend a potential capital punishment case and meet specific criteria mandated by the Idaho Supreme Court.

Harden also told commissioners that her office has 2 investigators assigned to the case and they will be having "enormous costs as it relates to experts" in trial.

According to minutes of the meeting, it is Harden's "personal opinion that it is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that can be done by anyone in a prosecutor's office, and costs will be staggering."


While initial trials can be pricey for counties, the cost of the multiple appeals death row inmates undergo is even greater.

The Idaho Department of Correction pays $88.24 per day to hold a death row inmate in custody at a maximum security prison - regardless if the inmate is on death row or not.

But that's where many of the similarities end.

The state has an Appellate Public Defender's Office with a capital punishment defense unit. From July 1, 2004, to Dec. 21, 2013, the office spent $477,716 on death penalty appellate litigation, according to the 2013 report. From 2001 to 2013, staff at the office spent an estimated 79,178 billable hours on capital litigation for 10 defendants sentenced to death - an average of 7,918 hours per defendant.

By comparison, during that same time, the office's appellate unit accumulated only 16,980 billable hours of litigation for 95 defendants with a life sentence - an average of only about 179 hours per defendant, according to the legislative report.


While neighboring states, such as Washington, have ceased carrying out executions, states such as Texas continue to perform them regularly.

On Jan. 27, 35-year-old James Freeman was executed by lethal injection for fatally shooting a game warden 9 years ago during a shootout after a 90-minute chase that began when he was suspected of poaching, according to the Associated Press.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has at least 8 other inmates set to die through July. Last year, 13 convicted killers were put to death in Texas, accounting for nearly 1/2 of all the 28 executions carried out nationwide, according to the Associated Press.

Many states, including Delaware, have not outlawed the death penalty, but they have put a stay on some cases.

In Delaware, at least 8 Kent County capital murder cases were put on hold Feb. 1 as the Delaware Supreme Court considers whether the state's death penalty statute is constitutional after a recent federal ruling.

Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden issued the order, which affects at least 40 cases being handled by the state's Office of Defense Services, according to the Delaware State News.

A series of Supreme Court decisions has affected multiple inmates on death row this month and last.

On Feb. 2, Florida's highest court delayed the execution of a condemned inmate, Michael Lambrix, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found flaws in the way the state sentences people to death.

Lambrix was scheduled to be executed Feb. 11 for the murder of 2 people in 1983 and the jury's death recommendation was not unanimous for either murder, according to the AP.

The U.S. Supreme Court found Jan. 12 that Florida sentencing procedure is flawed because it allows judges to reach a different decision from that of juries. Juries play only an advisory role in recommending death in Florida.

Judges have recommended death against the jury's recommendation in the cases of 3 of Florida's current death row inmates, state officials said. The last time it happened was 1999.

With the 2016 presidential election season in full swing, multiple candidates - both Democrats and Republicans - have been publicly questioned on whether to outlaw the death penalty, varying widely in their responses.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a recent debate he does not support the death penalty. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, has said throughout his campaign he is a proponent of the death penalty as a potential sentencing option.



Inmates on Idaho's death row, according to the Idaho Department of Correction:

--Azad Abdullah, 38, entered prison in November 2004, at the age of 27, for 1st-degree murder in the arson death of his wife in Ada County.

--David Card, 56, entered prison in September 1989, at age 29, for shooting t2 people to death in Canyon County.

--Thomas Creech, 65, entered prison in January 1983, at age 32, for beating an inmate to death in Ada County.

--Timothy Dunlap, 47, entered prison in April 1992, at age 23, for 1st-degree murder of a woman during a bank robbery in Caribou County.

--Zane Fields, 57, entered prison in April 1991, at age 33, for 1st-degree murder for a stabbing death in Ada County.

--James Hairston, 39, entered prison in November 1996, at age 20, for 2 shooting deaths in Bannock County.

--Erick Hall, 44, entered prison in October 2004, at age 33, for 2 counts of 1st-degree murder for raping and killing 2 women in Ada County in 2000 and 2003.

--Gerald Pizzuto, 60, entered prison in May 1986, at age 30, for beating two people to death in Idaho County.

--Robin Row, 58, entered prison in December 1993, at age 36, for the arson deaths of her husband, son and daughter in Ada County.


Since 1977, Idaho has only executed 3 people convicted of murder. There are 8 men on Idaho's death row and 1 woman.

In Idaho, 40 offenders have been sentenced to death since 1977. 21 of those inmates later received a sentence other than death, such as life in prison with or without parole. Since then, 4 died in prison, 4 were released from prison and 3 were executed.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, from 1977 to 2013, 1,359 offenders were executed in the United States, 2 of whom were executed by the federal government.

Since 1864, Idaho has executed 29 offenders, according to the study.

From 1998 to 2013, 251 defendants were charged with 1st-degree murder in Idaho, and prosecution sought the death penalty in only 42 of the cases. Of those 42, 7 were sentenced to death.

In Canyon County, from Jan. 1, 1989, to Feb. 5, 2016, there have been 46 1st-degree murder charges filed in the county.

Of those 46 cases, 25 were convicted, 1 was acquitted, two cases are pending, and 16 cases were dismissed. None of those people were sentenced to death. The Canyon County Courthouse only had records available for 1st-degree murder cases dating back to 1989.

The only death penalty sentence on record to come out of Canyon County was 56-year-old David Card's case. Card entered prison in September 1989, at age 29, for shooting 2 people to death in Canyon County on June 5, 1988. Qualifying for capital punishment

The proceedings in a jury trial for a capital punishment case are different than a standard felony trial, or even a non-capital punishment murder case.

To qualify for the death penalty, a jury must agree there are aggravating circumstances in the death without any mitigating circumstances that would cause a death sentence to be unjust, and the jury must have a willingness to impose a sentence of death.

An aggravating circumstance would include issues such as a previous murder conviction or if the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. A mitigating circumstance would include such issues as the absence of violent behavior or if the defendant was under extreme duress at the time of the death.

Capital cases have different sentencing procedures from non-capital cases in Idaho. The jury plays a significant role in whether a person is sentenced to death, whereas in other trials, jurors only declare a verdict.

If the jury finds no aggravating circumstances, the judge may sentence the defendant to 10 years to life in prison. If the jury finds at least one aggravating circumstance, but also finds mitigating circumstances sufficiently compelling to make the death penalty unjust, the judge sentences the defendant to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to the Idaho Statute, if the defendant is convicted of murder in the 1st degree, there will then be a separate sentencing hearing. At that hearing, additional evidence may be presented and the jury will be given additional instructions. Additional information other than just the facts around the suspected murder.

At the conclusion of that hearing, the jury will then decide if the defendant will be sentenced to death.


Defense attorneys in capital punishment cases

To defend a suspect in a murder case in which the prosecution has announced its intent to seek the death penalty, defending attorneys must meet certain criteria and be death penalty certified, according to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Lead trial defense attorneys in capital cases must meet the following criteria:

1. Be in good standing with the Idaho State Bar

2. Be experienced and active trial attorneys with at least 5 years of experience in criminal defense or prosecution

3. Have served as lead counsel in no less than 4 felony jury trials that were tried to completion and served as lead or co-counsel in one case in which the death penalty might have been imposed, or served as lead counsel during the sentencing of a death penalty case

4. Are familiar with the rules, practice and procedure of the district courts in Idaho

5. Are familiar with and experienced in the utilization of expert witnesses and evidence, including, but not limited to, psychiatric and forensic evidenc

6. Have attended and successfully completed at least 12 hours of Idaho State Bar approved training or educational programs which focus on capital cases within the last 2 years

7. Have demonstrated the necessary proficiency and commitment which exemplify the quality of representation appropriate to capital cases, according to the Idaho Supreme Court

Co-counsel defense attorneys in the cases must meet the following qualifications:

1. Be in good standing with the Idaho State Bar

2. Be experienced and active trial attorneys with at least 3 years of experience in criminal defense or prosecution

3. Have served as lead counsel in no less than 3 felony jury trials that were tried to completion

4. Are familiar with the rules, practice and procedure of the district courts in Idaho

5. Have attended and successfully completed at least 6 hours of Idaho State Bar approved training or educational programs which focus on capital cases within the last 2 years

6. Have demonstrated the necessary proficiency and commitment which exemplify the quality of representation appropriate to capital cases, according to the Idaho Supreme Court


In many 1st-degree murder cases, such as that of Adam Dees in Ada County, a defendant may plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to pursue the death penalty.

The 22-year-old Nampa man was charged for brutally killing 3 people in their Boise foothills home during a robbery. He pleaded guilty to 3 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of robbery.

Dees admitted to the March murders of 80-year-old Theodore Welp; his 77-year-old wife, Elaine Welp; and their 52-year-old son, Thomas Welp, who were found dead March 10.

Ada County prosecutors said the Welps' family also did not want to undergo a lengthy death penalty trial.

Dees was sentenced in September to 3 life sentences plus 25 years without the possibility of parole.


In Canyon County, from Jan. 1, 1989, to Feb. 5, 2016, there have been 46 1st-degree murder charges filed in the county. Almost all of those cases were not death penalty cases, however.

Of those 46 cases, 25 were convicted, 1 was acquitted, 2 cases are pending, and 16 cases were dismissed. None of those people were sentenced to death. The Canyon County Courthouse only had records available for 1st-degree murder cases dating back to 1989.

(source: Idaho Press-Tribune)


NBA Chair Advocates Death Penalty For Corrupt Public Officers

The chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Ilorin branch ,Barrister Mansuma Issa has advocated capital punishment for any public officer found guilty of corruption.

He noted that countries like Singapore, China ,Taiwan ,Vietnam and South Korea which had adopted death penalty have succeeded in the fight against corruption.

Mansuma made the suggestion during an interview with newsmen in Ilorin, Kwara state.

The NBA chairman said the association is in support of the anti- corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari's administration. He lamented that funds that should ordinarily be spent on the health,education,agricultural sectors and terrorism were diverted to individuals pockets, stating that offenders either caught for capital or simple offenses should be treated in accordance with the law.

He said that the Nigerian judiciary was still operating in the pre-independence era and in colonial courts where judges still write in long hands. Mansuma appealed to the federal and state governments to provide the judiciary with verbatim recording machines to ease their assignments.

He bemoaned the deteriorating condition of the Nigerian prisons and called on the government to improve the condition of the prisons which he said, ordinarily, should serve as reformatory homes.



Ritual murders of people with albinism must end

The killing of a woman with albinism in Malawi highlights the government's shocking failure to protect the right to life and personal security of this vulnerable minority, said Amnesty International.

The mutilated body of Eunice Phiri, a 53-year-old woman with albinism, was found on 28 January in the Kasungu National Park. Her arms had been cut off - a practice common with ritual murders where people with albinism are killed for their body parts which are sold for use in witchcraft.

"It is deeply worrying that there's poor security for people with albinism in Malawi despite an increasing number of attacks against them," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for Southern Africa.

"The government's human rights obligations require them to protect everyone's right to life. They must ensure that the police have the resources to protect those at risk of attacks."

These crimes must be investigated and those suspected of responsibility brought to justice without recourse to the death penalty.

In 2015 alone, 45 incidents including killings and attempted killings, and abductions and attempted abductions, as well as opening of the graves of people with albinism were reported by activists in Malawi. Some of those who were abducted have never been seen again.

Attacks against people with albinism by individuals and gangs increased sharply in 2015. Children were withdrawn from schools by their families fearing attacks.

In November 2015, Amnesty International researchers met people with albinism and their families who described how they live in constant fear of attacks and abuses. Some had to move from rural to urban areas for their own safety.

"The government must take urgent action to protect people with albinism and to address the root cause of the violence and discrimination they suffer," said Deprose Muchena.

"They must also take steps to ensure that superstitions and harmful cultural beliefs which fuel the attacks are tackled."


According to police information, Eunice Phiri was tricked by three men, including her brother, into accompanying them on a trip to Zambia through the Kasungu National Park where she was killed and her body dismembered on 23 January 2016.

Erroneous beliefs and superstition have put the safety and lives of people with albinism at risk, including from killings, abductions, and mutilations.

On 19 March 2015, Malawian President Peter Mutharika issued a statement condemning attacks on people with albinism, and called on police to arrest perpetrators and provide protection to people at risk of attack.

Although some arrests were made, concerns remain about the inadequacy of police investigations and some perpetrators getting sentences which were not in line with the gravity of the crime.

(source: Editorial, Maravi Post)


19 face death penalty over albino killings in Tanzania

19 people have been sentenced to death after being convicted of killing albinos, the Tanzanian government has confirmed.

Home Affairs Deputy Minister, Hamad Yusuf Masauni told Anadolu Agency on Saturday that the convicted are among 133 people arrested and charged with killing people with albinism from 2006 to 2015.

"Other albino attacks and killings cases are in different stages in different courts countrywide," the minister said in a telephone interview from Dodoma, Tanzania's administrative capital.

Masauni said at least 75 people with albinism have been killed in Tanzania since 2006, while more than 100 people have been attacked and mutilated.

Such attacks are due in large part to widespread superstition in East Africa that body parts of people with albinism carry magical powers that witch doctors claim to harness, or other beliefs that view albinos as cursed or causing bad luck.

Commenting on the plea from people with albinism asking the government to implement death penalties for those convicted of the killings, the minister said the government is keen on exercising the court's ruling.

"Death penalties have long procedures and processes to be followed before implementation. Once we are done with the process, those found guilty will be executed," Masauni said.

Last year, the government formed a tripartite committee involving government officials, people with albinism, witch doctors who are believed to have a hand on albino killings and other stakeholders, as a strategy to combat attacks and killings of people with albinism.

The Tanzanian government has also targeted witch doctors, arresting more than 200 of them in different parts of the country, as part of the fight against albino killings.

The government, civil society and various groups including those with albinism have also joined hands to prevent attacks through special concerts, radio and TV programs in both public and privately owned media outlets.

Apart from Tanzania, albino attacks and killings have also been reported in other East African countries, including Burundi and Kenya.



Egypt court reduces death sentences for 8 convicted in 'Suez Cell' case----The case goes back to 2010, when 27 people were charged with planning attacks on the Suez Canal but were released due to lack of evidence. They were referred to court in November 2013

Cairo Criminal Court reduced Saturday death sentences on 8 convicted of terrorist charges to 10 years in prison in the retrial of the "Suez terrorist cell" case.

In March 2014, the court sentenced 26 people to death and one to 15 years in prison on charges that include planning attacks on ships passing through the Suez Canal, manufacturing missiles and explosives to carry out attacks, monitoring and planning to attack security targets, and illegal possession of guns, automatic rifles, explosives and ammunition.

The case goes back to 2010 when 27 people were charged with planning attacks on the Suez Canal. They were released due to lack of evidence. They were referred back to court in November 2013.

Since the March 2014 verdict, 6 defendants appealed and 2 others, tried in absentia, were arrested. The verdict can be further appealed.

Most of the convicted were tried in absentia, and thus given the maximum penalty for their crime - the death sentence.

If the rest of the defendants hand themselves in to the authorities, they can also appeal their initial death sentences.


FEBRUARY 6, 2016:


Court of Criminal Appeals Candidates Emphasize Experience

Although the Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in the state - and it deals with hot-button issues including the death penalty - its 9 judges don't attract much attention. That can make campaigning for a seat on the court difficult. Several candidates running for the court's open seats said they doubt most Texans know the court even exists.

But the 3 Court of Criminal Appeals races on the March 1 Republican primary ballot - for places 2, 5 and 6 - are worth paying attention to (the Democrats running don't have primary opponents). In 1 race, 3 Republicans are locked in a heated battle to take back the seat from an incumbent who defected to the Democratic party. In another, one candidate is calling for a complete overhaul of the court system. Across all 3 races, there are accusations of insufficient commitment to conservative values.

Voters across the state are eligible to vote in the Court of Criminal Appeals elections. Here's the breakdown:

Place 2

The current Place 2 judge, Democrat Larry Meyers, is the longest-serving member of the court; he's held the seat since 1992 and he's looking to stick around. But his isn't a typical incumbent story - he's switched parties since the last election, making him the only Democrat in statewide office in Texas, and he knows his chances of getting re-elected are slim.

This fall, Meyers will face the winner of 3 Republicans seeking to claim his seat - Judge Mary Lou Keel of Harris County, and Judges Chris Oldner and Ray Wheless, both from Collin County. Keel and Oldner are seeking to define the race by their criminal law qualifications, and both said they'd much prefer the other to Wheless.

Keel, a former trial and appellate prosecutor, has presided over 5 death penalty cases as a felony trial judge. Given the role of the Court of Criminal Appeals as the top appellate court for Texas death penalty cases, Keel said she is ready for the job.

"I've got more experience than both of my opponents put together," Keel said.

Oldner, a district court judge in Collin County, says his own experiences with the death penalty - when he was a felony prosecutor - has given him a unique perspective.

: "I think it's important that the court has people who have been in the courtroom, looked people in the eye and asked for the death penalty," Oldner said. "I've asked for convictions in the toughest cases."

Wheless, also a district court judge in Collin County, has emphasized his commitment to conservative values in his campaign materials and focused on the credentials that set him apart, including his double certification in civil trial law and personal injury law. Wheless has also highlighted his history with narcotics cases - he helped establish Collin County's 1st felony drug court program.

There is 1 point on which Keel and Oldner agree: Wheless should not be on the state's highest criminal court. Both say Wheless doesn't have sufficient experience in criminal appeals, pointing out that he is the only candidate who has not been board certified in criminal law. "There are 2 people in this race who are highly qualified and who would do a great job on the bench," Oldner said. "There is a 3rd person who has excelled at politics, and that's it."

"I don't understand why Judge Wheless wants to be on a court he's so unqualified for," Keel said.

Wheless worked in private practice and served as Plano's municipal prosecutor before being appointed to the Collin County district court. He says he's perfectly qualified and that ultimately the voters will decide, but he declined to comment on the specific nature of his opponents' complaints.

"I like criminal law, I like hearing criminal cases," Wheless said. "Criminal law is interesting to me."

Wheless, who's garnered endorsements from a number of prominent Tea Party organizations - including Texas Right to Life, Texas Home School Coalition and the Texas Eagle Forum - says his opponents' criticism does not bother him. "They are entitled to run their campaigns the way they want, and I am running mine," Wheless said.

Place 5

Brent Webster, Sid Harle and Steve Smith

Brent Webster, Sid Harle, and Steve Smith are 3 of the 4 candidates running in the Republican primary for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5.

The 4 Republicans vying for the Place 5 seat on the court also vary significantly in background and motivation. One says he is running to take back the court for conservatives, and another hopes to use the position to advocate for a total overhaul of the state's court system; another does not have a campaign website.

Sid Harle has the most judicial experience - he's served as a state district judge for 27 years and presided over several death penalty cases, and he served for 2 years on the Court of Criminal Appeals' rules committee. He also recommended the state convene the court of inquiry that led to Michael Morton's high-profile exoneration. Morton was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and served almost 25 years in prison before DNA evidence connected another man to the crime.

Harle said his background in forensics, including 2 years of service on the National Forensic Science Commission, make him especially qualified for the court.

"Arson, ballistics, DNA evidence - we're going to be seeing a lot of those cases," Harle said. "The Morton case dealt with one of those worst examples of bad science and bad gatekeeping by a judge - as a judge, a big part of the workload is looking at the underlying forensic science."

Harle's most vocal opponent is Steve Smith, a former Texas Supreme Court justice. Smith advocates merging the state's 2 highest courts, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court, and has focused on his opposition to what he calls "judicial lawmaking." Smith said he entered the race largely because he thinks Harle is too moderate.

"I got in at the last minute, right before the filing deadline, when it was clear Harle would not have competition," Smith said. "The balance between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans has shifted, and it's important that a proven conservative take this spot."

Smith cites Texas v. Villlarreal, a case in which the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-4 that blood drawn from drivers without their consent and without a warrant is not admissible evidence in a DWI case, as an example of a case that he says could've easily been decided the other way with a 5th conservative voice.

"Those important cases are being decided 5-4, and I think it's important to educate the voters that, contrary to public perception, the CCA is not far-right at the moment," Smith said. "That's cause for concern."

Harle has said it is not appropriate for judges to address how they would rule in specific cases in advance of hearing them in court.

"You can talk about your judicial philosophy, but you can't really broadcast what you're going to do to that degree, or you'd be subject to recusal," Harle said.

A 3rd Republican, Brent Webster, a Williamson County assistant defense attorney, has never served in public office. His campaign materials focus on major conservative themes - his commitment to defending 2nd-amendment rights, his anti-abortion rights stance, and a belief in fiscal responsibility.

"As a Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, not only will Brent bring these values to the bench, he will be guided by them," his website says. Webster could not be reached for comment.

The 4th Republican candidate, Scott Walker, a criminal defense attorney from Fort Worth, does not have a campaign website and did not return multiple requests for comment.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Betsy Johnson, a criminal defense attorney from San Antonio, in the fall.

Place 6

Richard Davis is challenging incumbent Michael E. Keasler in the Republican primary for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6.

Compared to the other Court of Criminal Appeals races, the Place 6 race has been quiet.

Judge Michael Keasler, a Republican who has served on the court for 17 years, is running to keep his seat. Keasler, 73, would hit the CCA's mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2 years, triggering a law that caps the normally 6-year term at 4 years. Keasler does not have a campaign website and did not respond to requests for comment.

Richard Davis, an attorney from Marble Falls, is Keasler's only Republican opponent - and Davis said he hopes voters keep Keasler's inability to serve a full term in mind when they head to the polls.

Davis added that although he's never served as a judge, his work as a prosecutor in Sherman and Ector counties qualify him for the role.

"My extensive trial experience gives me a more balanced view than my opponent, whose legal career prior to holding office was to prosecute in 1 county of this state," he said.

This fall, the winner will face Democrat Robert Burns, a district judge from Dallas County.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Don't mess with Texas, where law is hard, mistakes common

Among the 3,000 counties that make up the United States, there is 1 in Texas where it's best not to mess with the law, because justice is hard and mistakes are common.

Harris County has executed a record 125 people since the US Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1976.

"The best answer I know is that it's a huge county -- 4 million people -- that's very conservative, in an active death penalty state, and for a long time had a notoriously blood thirsty DA," Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan law school told AFP.

Home to the sprawling city of Houston, Harris County accounts for 9 % of all modern US executions.

It has executed more people than that any of the 31 states which administer the death penalty, except for the state of Texas as a whole.

"There are 4 major reasons why Harris County has put so many people on death row: overzealous prosecutors, poor legal representation, racial bias, and the absence of a life without parole sentencing option until 2005," said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty information Center.

Studies have shown that Harris County prosecutors were three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African Americans than against white defendants between 1992 and 1999. Juries there were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African Americans during the same period.

Lawyers for Duane Buck, sentenced to die in Harris County in 1997, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court Thursday because an expert witness told jurors he posed a higher risk of recidivism because he was black.

- Pleading guilty, even if innocent -

Harris County also accounted for 1/3 of the nation's exoneration cases in 2015, according to a study Gross published Wednesday.

Many of those who spent years behind bars until they could prove their innocence are African Americans like Alfred Brown, who was arrested in 2003 at the age of 21 for a double homicide and sentenced to death in 2005.

Prosecutors suppressed phone records showing Brown was at his girlfriend's home at the time of the crime and jailed his girlfriend on perjury charges until she agreed to testify against him, according to a series of columns which netted Houston Chronicle reporter Lisa Falkenberg a Pulitzer Prize.

Brown was released in June after 12 years behind bars.

The vast majority of exonerations are in drug cases where people caught up in the system are pressured to plead guilty because they have little hope of clearing their names.

"It's shocking but it is very common," said Jim Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School.

"They are pushed by the prosecutor and they are pushed by the defense attorney because the defense attorney is saying, 'if you don't plead guilty and you are convicted after trial, you're going to get a much bigger sentence'."

But the evidence which pushed them to confess was often flawed or even inadmissible.

The field tests used by police in Harris County and elsewhere in the nation are "notoriously unreliable," and "routinely misidentify everything from Jolly Ranchers (candies) to chalk to motor oil as illegal drugs," the University of Michigan report said.

"They are inadmissible as evidence in court but sufficient to justify an arrest and they may convince an innocent defendant that she is bound to be convicted at trial."

Some of those who plead guilty might have thought the pills or powders they were carrying contained illegal drugs when they did not, the study concluded.

Others, especially those with previous convictions who could not afford to post bail, agreed to "attractive plea bargains" rather than risking years in prison.

(source: Yahoo News)


A sad case of unequal justice from the 1930s

At 7:03 a.m. on June 8, 1931, Alexander McClay Williams was put to death in the electric chair at Rockview Prison in Centre County.

He was 16 years old.

Williams had been convicted in the stabbing murder of a matron at the Glen Mills Schools, where he had been a resident since the age of 12, when he was charged with setting a barn on fire.

More than 8 decades later, questions remain about the case and whether Williams was wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit.

The case has haunted local educator and author Sam Lemon, who has spent years examining the case and raised serious questions about Williams' guilt and a system of law that could so easily dispatch a young African-American youth to death.

Lemon believes strongly that the Williams case was a miscarriage of justice. In the process, his work offers a chilling look at how race received distinctly different forms of justice in 1931. Some would argue, given the events across the nation the past couple of years, that things have not changed all that much in 8 decades of the struggle for civil rights and equal treatment under the law.

Lemon's makes a strong case that the execution of Williams, believed to be the youngest person executed by the state of Pennsylvania, was anything but just.

Williams was convicted by an all-white jury of the murder of Glen Mills matron Vida Robare. She had been brutally stabbed 47 times with an ice pick.

Lemon has spent 30 years researching the case. He first heard of it from his grandmother, whose father, Lemon's great-grandfather, had the task of representing Williams in court.

William H. Ridley was the 1st African-American admitted to the Delaware County Bar Association. In October 1930, he was the only African-American attorney in Delaware County, and found himself by the court to represent the young Williams.

He would soon encounter several problems.

Lemon believes 3 of the youth's constitutional rights were violated: his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself; his Sixth Amendment right to confront any witnesses; and his 14th Amendment right to due process and equal justice under the law.

Lemon, who points out there was no physical evidence linking Williams to the murder, as well as no fingerprints or witnesses, believes the teen’s confession was coerced.

He's not the only one. Robert Keller, a former Delaware County prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney, reviewed Lemon's findings.

Keller agrees that Williams was questioned continually without counsel.

"It is clearly an important case for all to hear about," Keller said. "The justice system of the '30s clearly failed this young African-American."

Keller is working with Lemon to push for a pardon for Williams.

Back in 2005, the United State Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18. That came about 3/4 of a century too late for Williams. And it might not have kept him from a date with death anyhow. Adding insult to injury, Williams' death certificate appears to have been altered. It correctly notes his date of birth as July 23, 1914, but his age was clearly altered by someone who converted the 6 into an 8, making it appear as if Williams was 18.

Williams' case was certainly not the first time in American history where race cast a shadow over the justice system.

8 decades after he was walked to the death chamber, Lemon points to the Trayvon Martin case, unrest in several U.S. cities, including Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting of black youths by police, as evidence that while we've made great strides, the pursuit of justice for all Americans continues.

February is Black History Month. Every year we take time to note the accomplishments of African-Americans, and the continuing pursuit of the Rev. Martin Luther King's elusive "dream."

Alexander McClay Williams did not have much in the way of dreams. In his scant 16 years, he had a troubled life - and an even more troubling death.

We congratulate Lemon and others for their work in uncovering and seeking to redress the wrongs inflicted on Williams.

Maybe part of the dream is realizing the nightmare too many suffered along the way. And working to ensure they never occur again.

(source: Editorial, The Mercury)


Murder suspect calls his lawyers 'bums' and 'corrupt'

Calling his public defenders "bums" and "corrupt," a Riegelsville man facing the death penalty in a Easton homicide case on Friday sought to fire his lawyers, saying they were pressing him to plead guilty to murder.

A shackled and handcuffed Jeffrey S. Knoble Jr., who was placed in a wheelchair to restrain him, railed against the three attorneys standing feet from him in the Northampton County courtroom, and asserted his innocence in the slaying last year.

"They don't fit my needs," Knoble said of Chief Public Defender Robert Eyer and the two experienced public defenders, Matthew Goodrich and Matthew Potts, who are assisting him. "They're bums. They're corrupt." Knoble, 26, could face the state's ultimate punishment if convicted of 1st-degree murder in the early March 11 killing at the former Quality Inn on South Third Street. He is charged with shooting 32-year-old Andrew "Beep" White, who authorities have called a "good Samaritan" who had rented a room for Knoble that night because he had no place to stay.

Knoble appeared before Judge Emil Giordano after he wrote letters to the judge and the case's prosecutor, saying he wanted to fire his lawyers because "they sold me out" and were pressing him to accept a plea bargain under which he would receive life in prison without parole.

"It's my life," Knoble said in court to Giordano.

Giordano said he would issue a ruling on the request next week, but the judge told Knoble that if he cannot afford an attorney, he does not get to choose the lawyers he is appointed.

Knoble's defense team said little in court, even as their client lashed out against them in a room packed with deputy sheriffs.

"My appearance remains entered," Eyer said. "Mr. Goodrich's appearance remains entered. Mr. Potts' appearance remains entered, and we're ready to proceed."

Knoble was arrested the day of the shooting after his mother called police after her son showed her a cellphone video of a man's corpse, according to testimony. Knoble's lawyers have said they are preparing a mental-health defense, including the possibility that their client was insane or operating under diminished capacity.

Jury selection in the case's trial is slated to begin May 31.

Friday was only the latest time that Knoble has had outbursts in court. When he was formally notified in June that he would face the death penalty, Knoble thundered against the justice system and the media, saying there was no way he would receive a fair trial.

"I know how you guys work. You're all corrupt," Knoble told Giordano at the time.

But in his letters to Giordano and First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck, it was Knoble's lawyers who faced that accusation, with the defendant complaining "they are not doing anything for me." In the letters dated Monday, Knoble threatened to go to the press, saying they "would love it."

"I'm not stupid," Knoble wrote Houck.

In court, Houck tweaked Knoble over that letter, noting the defendant misspelled his 1st name as "Terance."

"If he's going to send anything else to me, I'd like him to spell my name right," Houck said.

Giordano several times pressed Knoble to offer specific complaints about his lawyers' performance, even as Knoble insisted that the judge had no choice but to give him new counsel.

"Right here's a paper trail," Knoble said. "So if you keep them on my case, I'm automatically coming back to you [on appeal.]"

Giordano said he appreciated the legal advice.

(source: Morning Call)


Suspects in 2 slayings could face death penalty

Suspects in the slayings of 2 women more than a year ago were told they could face the death penalty as they appeared before a judge for the first time Thursday.

Justin Gray Reynolds, 28, who has had addresses on Bitmore Road, Brunswick and most recently on Lee Ward Road, Nakina; and Megan Alicia Haynes, 27, of Howard Cox Road, Tabor City; were each charged late Wednesday with 2 counts of murder in the October 2014 killings of Jeanette Nancy Thut, 74, and Donna Lee Gore, 55, at their home on Blacksmith Road near Bolton.

Reynolds was Gore's son, a news release from the Columbus County Sheriff's Office said.

Family members who had last seen Thut on Oct. 24, 2014, reported her missing 11 days later, on Nov 4. A deputy who went to Thut's home, while looking around the grounds, noticed a "foul odor" coming from a storage building, Columbus County District Attorney Jon David said during a first appearance hearing for Reynolds.

Detectives would find the bodies of both women inside that building, David said, Thut wrapped in a piece of carpet or blanket with 15 to 17 stab wounds. Gore was found on the concrete floor. She had been strangled to death, the prosecutor said.

Sheriff's detectives working on the case developed new leads and evidence just this week, David said.

"The wheels of justice turn slow," David said earlier Thursday, "but justice never sleeps."

Determining motive isn't necessary in a criminal case, David said during a news conference held just before the court hearings.

"You can chase motive all over the courtroom and never catch it," David said.

David would not discuss motive, or details of the killings during the news conference.

"We do our talking in the courtroom," he said.

David alluded to theft, and the possibility of getting caught, as a motive during the hearing.

Reynolds and Haynes were living in a mobile home on the Thut property at the time of the killings, David said. Thut had discovered that the young couple had stolen some of her property, and "was in the process of notifying the Columbus County Sheriff's Office when she was killed."

Both Reynolds and Haynes took property from the Thut home and sold it at pawn shops in the days following her death, David said. Haynes is also facing credit card fraud charges in Bladen County, accused of using Thut's credit card in Elizabethtown after her death, the prosecutor said.

Death penalty

A "death penalty panel" made of up senior prosecutors will meet in the coming weeks to determine whether the state will seek the death penalty against either Reynolds, Haynes or both, David said.

That decision could come in about a month, and will be announced, he said.

Though both Reynolds and Haynes were calm before the judge, Haynes appeared confused and sad, and Reynolds could be heard cursing after he was escorted by deputies out of the courtroom.

District Court Judge Pauline Hankins heard Reynolds' charges first, and appointed Harold G. "Butch" Pope to represent him.

Retired Superior Court Judge William C. "Bill" Gore was appointed to represent Haynes, after declining to represent Reynolds. Gore explained that he'd already represented Haynes in another case.

Pope asked Hankins for a "reasonable bond" for Reynolds, noting that no decision has been made on seeking the death penalty.

Hankins denied Pope's request, ordering that Reynolds remain in custody without bond.

Gore, after hearing David outline specifics of the case during Reynolds' hearing, said he would "stipulate" to no bond for his client, eliminating the need for the prosecutor to explain why bail should be denied.

David agreed, but quickly added that Haynes had tried to escape through a rear window of her home when deputies came to arrest her, eliciting an excited "objection" from Gore that abruptly halted the prosecutor's explanation.

Probable cause hearings for both Reynolds and Haynes were scheduled for Feb. 25.

(source: Fayetteville Observer)


Death Row Sentences Still Uncertain for Most Inmates

In June 2002, The US Supreme Court issued its "Ring Decision" finding only a jury could determine if death was appropriate. Florida Justices immediately downplayed its significance..and judges were reminded of that decision this week by the Attorney General's office because they want to narrow the changes to existing death sentences. Justice Fred Lewis wrote the original opinion.

"We can be wrong. I have to be big enough to admit."

In January the nation's highest court did indeed say Ring applied to Florida. Just Barbara Pariente read it outlaid more than once.

"As we hold the sentencing scheme unconstitutional."

Death row attorneys are asking the court to re-sentence all 389 death row inmates to life in prison. The state wants the court to keep death sentences for everyone already there. Justice Lewis doesn't think that's fair.

"And that 1 person is executed today, but the 1 that comes up tomorrow is not, and there's really no difference between their cases" said Lewis from the bench.

Right now, there are 43 active death appeals here at Florida's Supreme Court. And because those appeals aren't final, all 43 will likely be be automatically re-sentenced to life in prison.

But what about the other 346? Since Ring, 40 inmates went to their death in Florida.

Rex Dimmig is the 10th Circuit Public Defender. "So they followed their normal procedural sorts of rules. Unfortunately it does result in people having been executed that we now know were unconstitutionally executed" says Dimmig.

Now the court must decide if it wants to chance getting it wrong again by keeping most death sentences. Or avoid that mistake by sentencing every prisoner facing death to life without parole.

State lawmakers are looking at new sentencing schemes for Florida. This week a House committee adopted a 9-3 jury recommendation. The Senate is considering requiring a unanimous verdict. Neither house is considering what to do about those already on death row.



Study shows racial bias in death penalties in Florida

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty statute because judges rather than jurors were making the ultimate decision about who should be sentenced to die.

This narrow ruling highlights a serious problem with Florida's capital punishment scheme, but new research suggests that this is just one of many flaws in how the state determines who should be executed.

I recently conducted a study that looked at the race of victims in all homicides in Florida since 1976, including those that resulted in execution.

I found that executions are very rare: just 0.3 % of homicides lead to an execution. Most murders involve people of the same race.

But there are tremendous disparities depending on the characteristics of the victim:

-- In fact, 72 % of all executions carried out in Florida between 1976 and 2014 were for crimes involving white victims despite the fact that 56 % of all homicide victims are white.

-- And 71 % of the executions carried out against black inmates were for homicides involving white victims.

-- No white person has been executed in Florida for a murder involving a black victim to date.

With 40 years of experience with the modern death penalty and more than 30,000 murders in Florida, the fact that no white person has ever been executed for killing a black person needs to be recognized for what it is: evidence of a severely broken system based on race.

We can quibble about racial disparities that are measured by a few percentage points. But these are stark results with effects measured by orders of magnitude.

They clearly show that Florida's death penalty system is plagued by vast racial and gender disparities and that black lives are not valued the same as white lives.

Bias enters the process at many different points, from the prosecutor's initial decision about whether to charge the crime as 1st- or 2nd-degree murder, to the decision to seek either life in prison or the death penalty.

This is exacerbated by the fact that Florida's death penalty statute is so broad that the vast majority of homicides could be charged as 1st-degree murders eligible for the death penalty and that decision is completely up to the discretion of the local prosecutor. Also Florida is the only state that doesn't require any unanimity in a capital jury verdict.

The homicide rate in counties that have produced no executions is significantly lower than the homicide rate in counties with executions. It's difficult to argue that executions are deterring future murderers with numbers like these.

Florida had almost 30,000 homicides from 1984 through 2012 and 89 executions through 2014: Just 0.3 % of homicides result in an execution.

Given the flaws and inequities my study revealed, maybe it's just not worth it.

(source: Column; Frank R. Baumgartner is a professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is the author of "The Impact of Race, Gender, and Geography on Florida Executions."----Florida Times-Union)


Why Florida Loves the Death Penalty

In Florida, there's no shortage of things that can kill you. It's the lightning-strike and shark-bite capital, as the Orlando Sentinel helpfully dubbed it. Also, alligators. But leaving natural phenomena aside, Florida is also one of the most execution-friendly destinations in America.

The Sunshine State has 389 death row inmates - more than any other besides California, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Alarmingly, Florida also leads the nation with 26 death row exonerations. "If you add it all together, Florida's the worst of the worst," when it comes to capital punishment, says Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Meanwhile, American support for the death penalty is near a 40-year low, according to a Pew Research poll conducted last spring. The fact that DNA evidence can exonerate people who were long ago falsely convicted has inspired many to doubt the efficacy of the criminal justice system, and laws around the country are changing to mirror that shift in public opinion. In January, the Supreme Court - which still leans in favor of the death penalty in the abstract - deemed Florida's execution sentencing protocol unconstitutional.

But rather than take the death penalty off the books, politicians in Florida are currently arguing over new justifications they might use for killing convicts. Which begs the question of why, in a swing state that's often considered a barometer for the the rest of the country, officials are so dead-set on preserving capital punishment.

Bob Dekle, a law professor at the University of Florida, says the death penalty has been a part of the state's culture as long as he can remember. First it was hangings, and then, in 1923, it was the electric chair. Dekle's granddaddy was a sheriff in Union County in northern Florida back around the time of World War I, when the state's executions were still carried out at the local level. The old man threw the switch on an inmate himself once, a duty Dekle says grandpa didn't particularly enjoy. But that was local custom - at least until 1941, when local sheriffs were replaced by black-hooded executioners.

Things carried on that way until 1972, when Supreme Court justices, in a 5 - 4 decision, said that the death penalty was cruel and unusual - and often had a racial bias. Florida was the first state to pass a new law in hopes of resuming executions later that year, but a national moratorium remained in place until the Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision. State officials were anxious to resume capital punishment, reflecting a sense of vigilante justice that permeates the Deep South, as well as some uniquely Floridian sensibilities.

"There's always been a sense in Florida that if you feel you have been victimized, you have an obligation to protect your honor by avenging what has taken place," Robert Snyder, a professor of American Studies at the University of South Florida, once told the Tampa Bay Times. "A sort of bestial spirit resides deep within the heart of people in Florida."

That bestial spirit produced a penal code that has been notoriously lax when it comes to executions. In most states, juries have to unanimously agree on aggravating factors to recommend a defendant be put to death. Florida is one of just 2 states where a simple majority is sufficient, and it's one of just 3 where judges can go rogue and take the execution route even if a jury doesn't call for it.

Suffice it to say Florida's death row tends to be pretty packed.

On May 25, 1979, a 30-year-old named John Spenkelink was the 1st person sent to Old Sparky once it got fired up again. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Spenkelink, who was convicted for murdering his roommate, was given 2 shots of whiskey before taking his seat in the chair. Dozens of men - and 2 women - were sent to die there in the coming decades. In fact, the frequency with which people were executed became a point of civic pride; in 1986, Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez ran for governor with the campaign promise that Florida's electric bill would go up if he were elected.

By the late 1990s, however, a number of malfunctions raised questions about whether or not the electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In March 1997, the state tried to electrocute Pedro Medina, but his head basically caught on fire as witnesses gasped for air. An official turned off the chair while Medina, who was mentally ill and possibly innocent, was still breathing.

Still, politicians grasped at straws, trying to justify the death penalty. State Senator Ginny Brown-Waite, who witnessed a particularly gruesome electrocution in 1999, said that the prisoner's nosebleed formed the sign of a cross on his shirt, which she suggested might be a sign from God that the execution was divinely mandated.

In 2000, Florida at least began granting prisoners the choice between Old Sparky and lethal injection; only 1 man has requested the chair since.

On January 7, Florida carried out the first execution in America this year. But on Tuesday, the State Supreme Court postponed the next one as lawmakers try to appease justices in Washington. The conversation will likely not address the racial issues brought up in the 1970s Supreme Court cases, although the degree to which the death penalty is imposed along those lines remains startling. (A January report authored by a professor at University of North Carolina found that no white person has ever been sentenced to death for killing a black person in Florida.)

For his part, Dekle - who has personally witnessed 3 executions in Florida - says other states passed stricter death penalty laws when capital punishment was reinstated decades ago specifically to discourage the Supreme Court from striking them down again. 43 Florida death row inmates have filed direct appeals and might see their sentences reduced to life in prison as a result of the January ruling.

"It's a mess that could have been avoided if the Supreme Court had 40 years ago said, 'Wait a minute, this ain't right," Dekle says of the troubled Florida law. "Eventually, they're gonna hammer out a new mechanism for imposing the death penalty, and quite likely people on death row are gonna get new sentencing hearings. And maybe 40 years from now, the Supreme Court will decide that's unconstitutional too."



Segura trial will go forward with death penalty in limbo

The death penalty - for now - does not apply in the brutal 2010 murder of Brandi Peters and her 3 children, a judge ruled Friday.

Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, however could not rule whether to allow the testimony of a witness Henry Segura’s attorneys say points to 2 other suspects.

Segura, 37, is charged in connection with the murders of Peters, 27, her twin daughters, Tamiyah and Taniyah Peters, 6, and their son, JaVante Segura, 3, who were found dead Nov. 20, 2010, at their Saddle Creek Run home.

The trial, set to begin Feb. 22 will go continue as scheduled, Lewis said. Prosecutors had requested a continuance to allow them to investigate the defense's new claims.

Lewis said he will not exclude the death penalty entirely, but the decision to allow it relies on how and when the Florida Legislature reworks guidelines for capital cases. Florida's sentencing scheme in death penalty cases was ruled unconstitutional last month by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"At this point I don't have any authority to impose the death penalty," Lewis said during a hearing Friday. "There are a lot of uncertainties."

Segura's defense attorney Nathan Prince said going ahead with trial with uncertain sentencing guidelines was troubling.

"I don't think there is any lawful manner with which we could move forward," he said in court.

Last week, Prince and co-counsel Chuck Hobbs filed motions suggesting Peters actually was killed because she was working as a drug courier, had been skimming drugs and refused to pay back upwards of $90,000 to a Mexican drug cartel.

The filings include testimony from James Carlos Santos, a former member of the Vice Lords gang in Chicago who's serving time in Tomoka Correctional Institute on charges including armed robbery.

His written affidavits casts doubt whether Segura is responsible for the murders and implies others may have committed them, Prince said.

But Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell said the allegations don't prove other suspects have a clear link to the crimes. He is distressed by the attempt to interject new evidence just before the trail. Past judges have ruled Santos' testimony could not be used at trial.

Prosecutors are also trying to exclude DNA evidence found at the scene of the murders. It was revealed in June that the DNA was a partial match to Colombian national Angel Avila-Quionens who had a connection to the same cartel Peters was reportedly skimming drugs from and was known by Santos.

Lewis did not rule whether it could be presented in trial.

"You don't let trash science come into the court room and don’t let trash testimony come in," Campbell said in court. "He's just going to be throwing rank hearsay around."

(source: Tallahassee Democrat)


Court, lawmakers must overhaul death penalty

The court found Florida's death penalty sentencing process was unconstitutional because it vests final authority in a judge rather than a jury. Under state law, judges give "great weight" to a jury's recommendation in a death penalty case. But the trial judge ultimately decides. In its 8-1 opinion, the court cited a 2002 case, Ring vs. Arizona, which established that juries and not judges shall decide the fate of defendants in capital cases. In response, the Florida Supreme Court issued an indefinite stay of the execution of Michael Ray Lambrix, which had been scheduled for Thursday, and is exploring whether the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling should apply retroactively to other cases. Simultaneously, legislators are proposing to rewrite the sentencing laws.

A House bill would require the 12 jurors to be unanimous in finding at least 1 aggravating factor in a capital case in order to recommend death. That change addresses the high court's Jan. 12 ruling in Hurst vs. Florida, which faulted the state for allowing judges - not juries - to determine the facts necessary to impose a death sentence. The bill also would require the vote of at least nine jurors to recommend a sentence of death. Until the high court threw out the law, Florida was the only state that allowed juries to recommend death by a simple 7-5 majority.

Though the Supreme Court did not address unanimity, that standard as a basis for justifying a death sentence is in keeping with the court majority's decision by putting more authority into the hands of jurors. Along that line, the Legislature should require jury recommendations for death to also be unanimous. The 9-3 requirement being proposed is a nod to prosecutors.

The Florida Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on the issue last week, should agree that applying Hurst retroactively makes both legal and common sense in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. That decision did not create a clear path for state Supreme Court justices because it did not directly address whether it should be applied retroactivity. But the state's argument - that Hurst is procedural in nature and that applying it retroactively, which could affect hundreds of cases, is too burdensome for the courts and victims' families - is pinched legal logic and shows contempt for fairness under the law. Attorney General Pam Bondi is once again on the wrong side of justice. This is not downplaying the horrific nature of these murders or ignoring the pain and suffering of the victims' families. It is about ensuring equal treatment, a cornerstone of our legal system.

Florida does not find itself in this mess because of the defense bar or activist judges. The U.S. Supreme Court set a precedent for this case in 2002, in Ring vs. Arizona, prompting the Florida Supreme Court more than a decade ago to urge the Legislature to reform death sentencing laws. That never happened. As the Tampa Bay Times' Anna M. Phillips reported, Florida has more than 170 people on death row today who might not have been condemned to die in any other state. Of the 389 people on Florida's death row, 4 out of 5 were sent there by a split jury.

The system for rendering an imperfect punishment is terribly flawed. The Legislature and the courts should not compound the damage by buying the state's flawed argument that certainty in sentencing can trump fairness guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

(source: Editorial, Tampa Bay Times)


From death row to parole? Killer could apply

2 men convicted of notorious murders in Kentucky as teenagers, including Kevin Stanford of Louisville, could become eligible for release because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The court ruled Jan. 25 that its 2012 decision banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for virtually all juvenile killers must be applied retroactively. That means hundreds of inmates serving sentences for murders they committed as youths could become eligible for parole hearings or new sentencing hearings.

They include 2 in Kentucky, Stanford and Sophal "Saggy" Phon of Bowling Green, whose lawyer this week asked the Kentucky Court of Appeals to apply the ruling to his case.

Stanford was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Baerbel Poore, when he was 17. With an accomplice, he repeatedly raped and sodomized her during a robbery of the gas station where the 20-year-old single mother worked as an attendant.

Citing his age at the time of the crime, Gov. Paul Patton in 2003 commuted his sentence to life without parole.

Stanford's lawyer, Tim Arnold, an assistant public advocate, declined to say whether his client, who is now 52 and housed at the Kentucky State Penitentiary, would seek a parole hearing or a new sentence.

(source: Courier-Journal)


Evidence of prior abuse against 8-year-old boy, killed in 2012, can be presented to jury at trial of accused killer, Supreme Court rules

A jury can hear about all of the prior physical abuse a Baton Rouge man allegedly inflicted on his 8-year-old son - including breaking the child's leg, shoving his head into a toilet and hitting, choking and punching him - leading up to the boy's beating death in 2012, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Michael Robertson, 50, is charged with 1st-degree murder in Xzayvion Riley's death on June 12, 2012. There is no trial date, and prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty.

Xzayvion's mother, Lavaughn Riley, 35, also faces a 1st-degree murder count. She will be tried separately. Robertson was her boyfriend at the time of the boy's death.

Prosecutors contend Xzayvion's death was the culmination of an escalating pattern of alleged abuse that included Robertson injuring the boy's mouth with a belt in November 2008; choking him and shoving his head into a toilet in August 2010; breaking his leg in February 2012 and neglecting to seek medical treatment; and, according to his sister, hitting and punching the boy "a lot" in the years leading up to his death and forcing him to run for unspecified amounts of time.

"Each of the acts at issue involves the battering and/or abuse of the victim by the defendant over the course of several years in his short life, and have independent and relevant bases for admissibility," the Supreme Court wrote Friday.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III hailed the ruling as a victory for Xzayvion.

"This defendant prevented this child from his ability to speak to this jury as to his past abuse. Through the court's ruling today, we are now able to have this defendant's prior acts of abuse presented to the jury," Moore said. "This child will be able to tell the jury the entire truth through the presentation of the prior abuse evidence."

Jim Craig, who is Robertson's lead attorney and co-director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans, noted that the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office investigated several of the alleged prior incidents of abuse and cleared Robertson of any wrongdoing.

"Criminal trials about the death of a child are always emotional, and there is a recognized danger that a jury may be unfairly influenced by allegations of other acts, even when the proof of these allegations is weak, as it is here," Craig said. "But assuming the Supreme Court does not reconsider this ruling, we will prepare to show the jury that these alleged incidents do not prove that Michael Robertson abused his son Xzayvion."

State District Judge Don Johnson ruled last year that the 2008 incident was too remote from the charged crime to be admissible at trial, but the high court disagreed Friday.

"The victim was only 8 years old at the time of his murder, and acts of abuse perpetrated against him in the years before his death are not so remote as to negate their probative value," the justices wrote.

They also reversed Johnson's decision to bar prosecutors from using the observations of Xzayvion's sister. The justices said the evidence she will testify about has independent relevance.

The 2010 incident, which left the boy with an injured neck and bruising to his upper and lower body and groin area, and the 2012 broken leg incident both are admissible as well, the high court said.

Johnson had determined that the neck injuries in the 2010 incident were more prejudicial than probative, and he allowed the introduction of the broken leg and lacerations and bruises from the February 2012 incident for the purpose of showing Robertson's identity only.

"We find that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding these 4 incidents or permitting the state to introduce them only for a limited purpose," the Supreme Court stated.

Following the alleged 2010 incident, the state Department of Children and Family Services put a safety plan in place to limit Robertson's involvement with his son, prosecutors have said. The plan was in place until April 2011.

Xzayvion's death was classified as a homicide. Coroner's officials found he died of overwhelming infection caused by a ruptured bowel from blunt-force trauma to his abdomen. An autopsy revealed 60 external signs of recent and past trauma, including a human bite mark.

Riley has acknowledged that she held her son down in 2010 while Robertson hit him with an open hand on the stomach.

Craig also noted that Riley has said some of Xzayvion's injuries occurred accidentally during what she described as horseplay between Robertson and the boy.

(source: The Advocate)


State asks justices to hear challenge to execution law

State attorneys are seeking an opportunity before the state's highest court to defend the constitutionality of the state's execution law and to conceal the source of the state's execution drugs.

Late Thursday, the Arkansas attorney general's office filed a brief challenging a trial judge's order to share the source of its supply of lethal drugs, and it also asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to hold oral arguments over a legal fight that began nearly 10 months ago with the passage of an execution law that shielded the source of execution drugs from public disclosure.

In its filing, Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt argued that attorneys representing a group of death-row inmates failed to state the proper facts and claims that would show Act 1096 to be unconstitutional.

They asked the Supreme Court to void a bench order that prison officials must share the source of the drugs, and asked the court to either dismiss the prisoners' suit or return the case to the trial court with instructions favorable to the state.

An attorney representing the inmates, Jeff Rosenzweig, declined to comment on the filing but said he was not surprised by the request for oral arguments.

"We're not going to contest [the request]. It certainly seems appropriate for oral arguments," he said. "We anticipate the Supreme Court will grant it."

Arkansas has not executed a prisoner since 2005. And for years, the death penalty process has been frozen by a series of lawsuits as well as difficulty in finding drug manufacturers willing to sell to the state for the purpose of execution.

The statute being challenged, Act 1096 of 2015, set down rules for prison officials to follow in obtaining and using a 3-drug execution cocktail. The act ensured that suppliers of the drug would remain confidential so they would not be subjected to harassment from anti-death penalty activists.

Rosenzweig filed suit the day the law was passed in April 2015, arguing that the constitutional rights of his 9 death-row clients were being violated.

Rosenzweig has argued that the new state law violates the agreement made between his clients and the state in a 2013 settlement that required the state to disclose the identity of any drug manufacturers.

Attorneys for the inmates argue that one of the drugs involved, midazolam, has resulted in botched executions elsewhere, which violates a condemned prisoner's constitutional protection against cruel or unusual punishment.

The prisoners, their attorneys argued, have a right to know where the drugs came from and to inspect them.

In September, Gov. Asa Hutchinson set execution dates for 8 of Rosenzweig's clients. The executions were stayed by the Supreme Court in late October.

In early December, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen refused to grant state attorneys' request for a summary judgment and a dismissal of the prisoners' suit.

Instead, he ruled that part of Act 1096 protecting the identity of drug suppliers was unconstitutional. The high court stayed Griffen's order pending the current appeal.

In Thursday's brief, state attorneys argued that past court rulings, including a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving midazolam, showed the drug was not likely to cause cruel or unusual punishment and its use was thus constitutional.

They also argued that the state has a compelling interest to protect the identities of drug suppliers and that such a protection does not violate the prisoners' rights to due process.



Let death penalty die

I am writing in support of the Editorial Board's opinion that defending our state legislature's abolition of the death penalty should be our number one priority for 2016 ("Editorial board agenda for 2016," Jan. 16). It's been almost a year since our legislature made the historic vote to repeal the death penalty and override the governor's spiteful veto. In a blatant and desperate attempt to sway the voting, Governor Ricketts spent $54,400 of state funds in an illegal attempt to purchase enough lethal injection drugs to kill 300 people from an overseas supplier. After his veto was overridden, Ricketts spent $200,000 of his personal funds and $100,000 from his wealthy father to mount a crooked campaign to bring the death penalty back.

We need to send a message that Nebraska values cannot be bought and sold, despite what our governor may be used to. The system of capital punishment is barbaric and broken beyond repair. It does not deter crime. Most violent crimes aren't committed by people carefully considering the consequences of their actions. It does not provide closure to victims families. The long, drawn out process of appeals can be even more traumatizing to endure than the initial impact of the crime, not to mention extremely expensive for all parties involved, including the state.

It isn't even reliable. Since 1973, 144 innocent people sentenced to death have since been exonerated by new evidence. It isn't justified. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, not morally superior. So, when we the people vote on November 8 this year, which I know you all who love this great democracy will do, let the death penalty stay dead. Let's move forward to putting our time and money towards more productive pursuits for the betterment of our state.

Audrey Nance, Lincoln

(source: Letter to the Editor, Lincoln Journal Star)

ARIZONA----death sentence overturned

Death Penalty Vacated for Ariz. Rape & Murder

A man who once scored 62 on an intelligence test - where an IQ of 65 or below qualifies as mental retardation - cannot be executed for a 1980 rape and murder, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday, converting the sentence to life in prison.

"There can be no doubt that the crime in this case was truly horrific," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote a divided 3-judge panel. "The Constitution, however, regards intellectually disabled defendants as less morally culpable for their crimes, and for this reason, prohibits their execution."

Robert Douglas Smith was sentenced to death in 1982 for the rape and murder of Sandy Owen in Tucson.

At the time of Owen's abduction in 1980, Smith had 5 failed marriages under his belt. He had been on a cross-country road trip with a couple, and was frustrated that they had intercourse in front of him, while he had no one with whom to be intimate.

The ruling describes in horrific detail Owen's rape and murder, in which both he and his friends on the road trip participated, saying the trio celebrated the killing afterward by playing "We Are the Champions" as they drove off.

In earlier years, Smith had been held back in every grade and sent to a special school for children for children unable to learn. He was only in the 8th grade when he turned 16 and dropped out.

Arizona did not outlaw the execution of people with intellectual disabilities until 2001, however, and Smith's trial occurred more than 20 years after the state created a framework to evaluate capital defendants for intellectual disability.

State courts that eventually evaluated whether Smith was intellectually disabled at the time of the crime concluded he was not, denying Smith's claim in 2012 under a landmark precedent. In the 2002 decision Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the execution of intellectually disabled criminals amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit converted Smith's sentence 2-1 Thursday to life in prison, saying Smith's IQ may have improved while in prison, but that he was clearly intellectually disabled at the time in 1980.

"Considering Smith's intellectual functioning test scores and his history of significantly impaired adaptive behavior," Reinhardt said Smith "demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning."

The dissent by Judge Consuelo Callahan meanwhile blasts the majority for "expressing supreme confidence in its own ability to detect past intellectual disability despite substantial conflicting evidence and the fact that Smith is not now intellectually disabled."

Callahan said Smith's testing in 2005, which revealed an IQ between 87 and 93, is "undeniable" evidence that Smith failed to meet his burden.

The dissent also emphasizes Smith's ability to live independently and support himself for 15 years after dropping out of school, before the murder.

The doctors who examined Smith in 1980 also "determine his competency to be tried found no signs of intellectual disability," according to the dissent.

Reinhardt, who authored the lead opinion, included a specially concurring opinion as well.

This lengthy addition complains about how Atkins has been applied in Arizona, which has 124 inmates on death row, the 8th highest number of any state, with 15 executions since Atkins.

"The constitutional infirmity of Arizona's statute creates a recurring problem with potentially far-reaching consequences," Reinhardt wrote, saying the court should have held that both aspects of Arizona's intellectual-disability statute "violate the Eighth Amendment because they permit the execution of individuals whom Atkins deems categorically ineligible for capital punishment."

Judge Mary Schroeder concurred in all but one 11-page section of the 55-page lead opinion.

(source: Courthouse News)


Death Row Diaries: The 1st inmate in the state to be executed by lethal injection

ABC15's "Death Row Diaries" takes a look at Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present.


Date of Birth: November 8, 1965

Executed: March 3, 1993

John George Brewer was the 1st Arizona inmate executed by lethal injection.

Brewer had repeatedly declared that he deserved the death penalty, and he never pleaded for his life, criticizing "'civil libertarians who seek to forward their own agenda on the back of my case."

He never pleaded for his life

In 1987, Brewer and his girlfriend, Rita Brier, were living together in a Flagstaff apartment. In the early morning hours of November 11, they argued about Brewer's excessive dependence on Brier.

Later that day, Brier told her 22-year-old boyfriend she was leaving him to help him learn to live on his own. Brewer locked the bedroom door and began to beat and strangle Brier. Brier fought for her life in a long struggle as Brewer bit her, tried to gouge her eyes out and choked her with his hands.

Brewer eventually used a tie to strangle his girlfriend to death. She was 22 weeks pregnant.

After taking some time to rest from the attack, Brewer took a shower. He then had sexual intercourse with the corpse, walked to a nearby bowling alley, called police, and turned himself in.

Brewer pled guilty to 1st-degree murder and was convicted in Coconino County Court. His automatic appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court was upheld.

In February 1993, Brewer's case entered the federal court system where Brewer's mother filed a petition challenging Brewer's competency.

She offered new evidence, specifically 2 letters written by Brewer from death row where he talked about his belief in the god "Dantain" who ruled the planet "Terracia." He also described "Fro," who he believed was the child of his god who lived in his girlfriend, writing, "I am the one who killed Fro, the savior of Terracia."

Despite this evidence, the Federal District Court ruled against Mrs. Brewer and her son was put to death on March 3, 1993.

(source: ABC news)


Death penalty for Northridge killer of 4; 'Thug' has 'resume of violence'

A 34-year-old man who killed four people outside a Northridge boarding home in 2012 was sentenced to death Friday.

Ka Pasasouk was convicted in November of 4 counts of 1st-degree murder for the Dec. 2, 2012, shooting deaths of Teofilo Navales, 49, of Castaic; Robert Calabia, 34, of Los Angeles; Amanda Ghossein, 24, of Monterey Park; and Jennifer Kim, 26, of Montebello.

The same jury recommended a month later that he be sent to death row.

In court Friday, Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler rejected an automatic motion to reduce the jury's recommendation of a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with a defense motion for a new trial.

In addition to the murder counts, he was also convicted of one count each of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, along with assault with a semiautomatic firearm, for confronting other people nearby shortly before the killings.

Jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, triggering the penalty trial in which they were tasked with determining whether to recommend death or life imprisonment without parole.

During the guilt phase of the trial, Deputy District Attorney Dan Akemon told the jury that Pasasouk was "fueled by drugs and alcohol" and had the "perfect opportunity for vengeance," along with the perfect opportunity for a robbery, when he came across Navales - with whom he had an altercation months earlier - in a dark and confined area and shot him twice.

Calabia, Ghossein and Kim were shot to death to silence them as potential witnesses as Pasasouk was "trying to get away with murder," the prosecutor said.

One of Pasasouk's attorneys, James Goldstein, had urged jurors to consider the lesser charge of 2nd-degree murder, arguing that his client's judgment was "impaired" by being under the influence and that he could not have premeditated the killings.

During the penalty phase of the trial, the prosecutor told the panel that Pasasouk has a "resume of violence" and has spent 20 years in and out of juvenile and adult correctional facilities.

"He has thumbed his nose at society at every turn in favor of leading a thug life ... He is a hardened career criminal," Akemon said. "Tell him he deserves the death penalty for what he has done ... In this case, there is only 1 just punishment, and that is the death penalty."

The prosecutor said Pasasouk robbed the 4 victims of their futures, fled the crime scene and discarded the murder weapon in an effort to get away with the killings. He was arrested 2 days later at a hotel-casino near the Las Vegas Strip.

Another of Pasasouk's attorneys, Larry Sperber, countered that justice has already been served by the jury finding Pasasouk guilty of the crimes.

He told jurors that his client was born at a refugee camp in Thailand and "is not a normal, healthy person." He acknowledged that Pasasouk "did some terrible things" and told jurors that he was asking for justice but not mercy for his client.

As early as age 14, Pasasouk was described in 1 report as having a "very dysfunctional and chaotic early life," with parents unable to be contacted by a probation officer when their son was 15, Sperber said.

He said that his client has a well-documented history of having a lack of learning skills, suicidal tendencies, alcoholism and drug abuse, and had begged not to be paroled from prison in October 2011 because he knew that he needed help and wanted to remain behind bars.

Pasasouk's attorney said there was a "lifelong pattern of mental disease that he's suffering from" and contended that his client is "not a career criminal."

Jurors also heard from Pasasouk's older brother, Torasonh, who is in a substance abuse program and described his parents as drinking "most of the time" during their childhood. He said their father was often abusive.

Last year, family members of the victims filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Probation Chief Jerry Powers, alleging they didn't do enough to protect the public from Pasasouk once he was released from prison in January 2012.

A judge dismissed the civil rights case in August, ruling that the government officials were immune from liability.



Death penalty foe returns to campus

A nun, an advocate and a writer. Sister Helen Prejean of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has spent her entire life as an advocate against the death penalty through writing and action. And she has brought that movement to Gonzaga, again. Tonight in Jepson's Wolff Auditorium, Prejean is scheduled to address the GU community to share her lifelong work.

Prejean began her career when she was a young woman working in the poor areas of New Orleans. During her term working in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, a man convicted for the murder of 2 teens, who was sentenced to die by electrocution in the Louisiana prison system.

Prejean repeatedly visited Sonnier in prison up until his execution in 1984. Prejean witnessed the execution.

She documented her experiences in her book "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty," which claimed a spot on the New York Times best-seller list for 31 weeks and was translated into 10 languages.

That same book was then turned into a major motion picture in 1996 featuring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. In addition to being nominated for four Academy Awards, Prejean's story gained international notoriety in literature and on the silver screen.

Making her 1st return to GU since 2013, Prejean will take the podium to address the death penalty, faith and her story.

(source: The Gonzaga Bulletin)


The problem with Hillary Clinton's stance on the death penalty

Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate included one brief exchange that showed some overlap but also a sharp philosophical difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on a persistently fractious issue: the death penalty.

The exchange came in response to a question by co-moderator Rachel Maddow, who asked Clinton whether she still stood by an earlier statement in which she "reluctantly" endorsed capital punishment.

"Yes, I do. And - you know, what I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary proof of effective assistance of counsel or they cannot continue it because that, to me, is the real dividing line.

"I have much more confidence in the federal system, and I do reserve it for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism. I have strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh received the death penalty for blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a day-care center.

"I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states are still implementing it. If it were possible to separate the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court, that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome."

Sanders staked out the opposite turf from Clinton, arguing that the death penalty is too prone to error to be trusted but also said more broadly that "of course there are barbaric acts out there. But in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing."

To her credit, Clinton has said she "would breathe a sigh of relief" if the Supreme Court were to ban the practice. But there are 2 underlying problems with her position as staked out Thursday night. First is the implication that effective counsel is all it takes to guarantee a fair trial, when many of the death penalty exonerations we've seen in recent years have hinged on prosecutorial or investigative misconduct (including hiding potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense) and lying witnesses. Even the best defense lawyers will have trouble overcoming such practices.

2nd is Clinton's suggestion that somehow the federal system has got it right on how to get a clean conviction and a method of execution that is not unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. She cited the case of McVeigh, whose atrocious act of anti-government terrorism killed 168 people, including children at a day-care center, in the federal Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. That was a heinous act of terrorism, and she called his execution "appropriate."

But it's only appropriate if you view vengeance as the purview of the state. McVeigh was irredeemable and caused unimaginable pain and loss, but that doesn't mean it was just for the government to kill him in return. If killing is wrong, then it's inconsistent to vest that power in the state. That's the moral argument against the death penalty. The pragmatic one - expensive, indiscriminate, prone to manipulation - doesn't inherently give the federal system a pass. In an adversarial judicial system, the goal is to win as much as it is to reach truth and justice.

Since McVeigh's execution, the federal government has put to death 2 more men: Juan Raul Garza just 8 days after McVeigh in 2001, and Louis Jones Jr. in 2003. Neither involved terrorism.

In the 1st case, the government executed Garza despite international protests that the courts had allowed the prosecutor to tell the jury that Garza, a major drug-trafficker convicted of ordering the murders of 2 people and killing a 3rd himself, was a suspect in more murders in Mexico - crimes for which he had never been charged and for which he could not mount a defense during the sentencing hearing. Would the jury have voted for death without that information? Who knows, but insinuation should not be evidence in determining whether someone lives or dies.

The execution of Jones was even more problematic. A highly decorated Gulf War vet with diagnosed psychiatric problems from his service, Jones' life fell apart after the war, propelled largely by his exposure to chemical agents. He was convicted of the 1995 rape and murder of a 19-year-old female Army recruit on a military base. A horrific crime, yes, but it seems to fall outside Clinton's endorsement of capital punishment "for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism."

And there's nothing to suggest that the federal system can't fall victim to the same sorts of manipulations that dog the state courts. And the federal death row includes people convicted of the same kinds of murders for which state courts invoke the death penalty. In fact, the only person on federal death row convicted of terrorism killings is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber.

Minorities also make up a disproportionate number of federal sentences (44% black, 39% white, 13% Latino and 2% Native American). It's hard to see much daylight between the federal and state capital punishment systems, other than a matter of scale. The 60 people currently under a federal death sentence (these are the eligible crimes) are dwarfed by the estimated 2,950 people on state death rows.

The death penalty isn't likely to be a pivotal issue in the nominating contests for either major party, nor in the general election. That's unfortunate. It's among the most pressing ethical issues of the day, and challenges to it could well bring more cases to the Supreme Court in the relatively near future.

As it is, Florida and Delaware are struggling to reconfigure their systems after a recent Supreme Court decision that juries and not a judge must determine death sentences. And here in California, voters may have a choice of 2 death-penalty initiatives, 1 to ban it and the other to speed up the execution calendar.

More candidates ought to be talking about it, and more voters should be bringing it up. And I hope Clinton will re-think her stance on it.

(source: Opinion, Scott Martelle----Los Angeles Times)


Democrats debate the death penalty

There was not much discussion of federal courts during Thursday night's Democratic debate, but there was an interesting exchange on capital punishment. (Kudos to debate moderator Rachel Maddow for asking substantive questions.) Here's the relevant portion of the MSNBC transcript:

MADDOW: Secretary Clinton, on the issue of the death penalty, here in New Hampshire, the one person who is on death row is there for killing a police officer. It's a crime that has caused anguish in this state, both among death penalty opponents and death penalty supporters.

The last time I had the chance to talk with you on this issue, on the death penalty, you said that capital punishment has a place in a very few federal cases, but you also said you would breathe a sigh of relief if the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty nationwide. Tonight, do you still support capital punishment, even if you do so reluctantly?

CLINTON: Yes, I do. And - you know, what I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary (ph) proof of effective assistance of counsel or they cannot continue it because that, to me, is the real dividing line.

I have much more confidence in the federal system, and I do reserve it for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism. I have strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh received the death penalty for blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare center.

I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states are still implementing it. If it were possible to separate the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court, that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome.

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, you have singled out the death penalty, and Senator Clinton's support for the death penalty, as an issue that makes it hard to consider as progressive in your mind ...

SANDERS: ... Look, I hear what the Secretary said, and I understand, but look, there are - all of us know that we have seen in recent years horrible, horrible crimes. It's hard to imagine how people can do, bomb, and kill 168 people in Oklahoma City, or do the Boston Marathon bombing, but this is what I believe, and for a couple of reasons.

Number one, too many innocent people, including minorities, African Americans, have been executed when they were not guilty. That's number 1. We have to be very careful about making sure about that.

But, 2nd of all, and maybe, in a deeper reason, of course there are barbaric acts out there. But, in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing. So, when somebody commits ...


SANDERS: ... Somebody commits any of these terrible crimes that we have seen, you lock them up, and you toss away the key. They're never going to get out. But, I just don't want to see government be part of killing. That's all.

(source: Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation----Washington Post)


Investigative Report: A Hospital Built for Murder----Tens of thousands may have been killed so the Tianjin First Central Hospital in China could transplant organs for profit

By 2006, from his base at the Tianjin First Central Hospital, Dr. Shen Zhongyang had performed over 1,600 liver transplantations, boastful Chinese media reports say. Tianjin First, a hospital whose transplant ward he led, was just getting a new, well-funded building courtesy of the local government. Shen had patented his own surgical technique for rapid liver perfusion and extraction, and official transplantation websites were calling him China's "great transplant pioneer."

With all the celebration in the Chinese press of the doctor's life-saving operations, little attention was paid to the sources of the organs he transplanted. Dr. Shen's career was being built on a pile of corpses - that much was apparent - but the real question was: where did they come from?

The official explanation, that only formally executed prisoners are used, relies for its credibility on the number of transplants corresponding roughly with the number of executions. In Tianjin, that would be about 40 executions a year - a number derived from calculating the city's population against the national death row total.

Official numbers from the hospital are scarce, but penetrating that secrecy makes clear that Tianjin First Central Hospital, one of the busiest and most acclaimed in the country, for years having enjoyed extensive official backing, transplanted many times more organs than a supply of executed prisoners could support. Moreover, it appears to have transplanted many times more organs than it says it did.

In a detailed study of its activities based on publicly available documents, Epoch Times found sufficient evidence to throw into great doubt, if not demolish entirely, the official narrative of organ sourcing in China. This is simply due to the number of transplants: they are far too high.

That's a problem for China.

It means that the vast majority of organs transplanted at the Tianjin First Central Hospital - and by extension, other major hospitals around the country - could not have come from executed prisoners. Nor did they come from volunteers in any significant numbers, given that it is only very recently that a voluntary organ donation system has been attempted in China, and it is still in its fledgling stages.

This inevitably raises another question, which the Chinese authorities have found particularly vexing but have never addressed: where did the organs actually come from? What is the secret organ source that in the year 2000 suddenly became the basis for a nationwide expansion of organ transplant capacity, for which the Tianjin First Central Hospital stands as an exemplar?

For years human rights researchers have alleged that the captive population of Falun Gong adherents, a persecuted Chinese spiritual practice, is the likely source. The gaping disparity in the Tianjin case, along with a variety of other circumstantial evidence, adds ammunition and urgency to their claims.

This issue has largely been dodged by luminaries in the international medical community. But the circumstantial evidence bolstering the alternative explanation - organized mass murder of prisoners of conscience, using the tools of medicine, in the service of profit, by the world's most populous nation - continues to grow, and with it frustration among doctors that nothing is being done.

A Surgeon Starting

In the late 1990s, Shen Zhongyang, a liver transplant surgeon, was at a definite ebb in his career: the organ transplantation industry in China was little developed, operations were risky, so willing recipients were few, and organ supplies were limited.

In May of 1994, he rendered Tianjin its first liver transplant after persuading a 37-year-old migrant worker suffering from cirrhosis to undergo a transplant. At the time, transplants were done free of charge for the recipients, largely due to the low success rate.

Years passed with no notable developments, and in 1998 Shen returned from Japan where he had obtained his M.D. Upon return, he spent his own money (100,000 yuan, or $15,000) to set up a small transplant unit at the Tianjin First Central Hospital.

Progress was slow at first: by the end of 1998 his transplant unit performed just seven liver transplants. In 1999, they performed 24.

In 2000, things quickly turned around as a new organ supply abruptly came online. Over the next decade Shen Zhongyang did some of the briskest organ transplantation business in China.

In Tianjin, numbers kept going up: 209 liver transplants by January 2002; and then a cumulative total of 1,000 by the end of 2003, according to a report in Enorth Netnews, the mouthpiece of the Tianjin municipal government.

Tianjin First Central Hospital's successes are a microcosm of the Chinese organ transplantation system: its operations are opaque; paramilitary ties lurk in the background; organ procurement remains unexplained and rapid, suggestive of a pool of donors waiting to be selected from; and the surgical techniques are consistent with live or close-to-live harvesting from donors.

Doing the Build-Out

The most significant moment for the expansion of Tianjin First, an apparent sign of confidence of continued abundant organ supply, was the 130 million yuan ($20 million) investment in December 2003 by the Tianjin Municipal Bureau of Health to construct a 17-story (including a ground and 2 basement levels) transplant building.

Named the Orient Organ Transplant Center, with a 500 bed capacity and floor space of 36,000 square-meters, it was to become a "comprehensive transplant center capable of liver, kidney, pancreas, bone, skin, hair, stem cell, heart, lung, cornea, and throat transplants," according to Enorth Netnews. The entire Tianjin First Central Hospital then consisted of an emergency ward, an outpatient center, and the transplant building towering above them both.

By 2004, while the Oriental Organ building was under construction, in order to accommodate demand, Shen’s transplant empire expanded to 5 branches sprinkled across Tianjin, Beijing, and Shandong Province. In their official materials, the group claimed to perform the highest number of liver transplants in the world, and the highest number of kidney transplants in China.

The Beijing branch was located in the General Hospital of the People's Armed Police, the Communist Party's 1-million strong paramilitary force, where Shen Zhongyang served as director of the transplant department.

If one transplant center in China had to be chosen for its notoriety, it would probably be the Orient. The facility became a major headache for Chinese authorities, Western apologists, and the official story behind China’s transplant industry.

Hospital With a History

Ethan Gutmann, a researcher whose 2014 book, "The Slaughter," documents what he says is the mass killing of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience for their organs, described the website as his "favorite party trick."

"I would speak to a college audience and ask anyone who had any doubts to visit the website on their smartphones," he said in an interview with Epoch Times shortly after the website advertising the services of the hospital was shut down in June 2014.

It was precisely this center that inspired an exasperated letter in early 2014 from the normally deferential international transplantation establishment, rebuking China for flouting recent promises to no longer use organs from executed prisoners.

"The Tianjin website continues to recruit international patients who are seeking organ transplants," the letter co-signed by The Transplantation Society says. "The underlying abuse by these medical professionals and widespread collusion for profit are unacceptable."

It was a high-profile operation targeting wealthy customers with a premium, very rare product: fresh human organs available at a rapid turnaround, no questions asked.

That a center so large and sophisticated would be built, staffed, equipped, and operated at high capacity for nearly a decade, when China had practically no voluntary donations, has chilling implications, researchers say.

"It means there's an absolute conviction that you're going to find donors to supply those organs," said Maria Fiatarone Singh, a professor of health medicine at the University of Sydney, in a telephone interview.

"In the context of no voluntary donation system, it implies a complete belief that this unethical supply will be huge and continuous, and that there's a huge profit to make from it." Singh is a board member of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, a medical advocacy group that raises awareness about transplant abuse in China.

But how many transplants did Tianjin First actually conduct?

The Trouble With Numbers

It is extremely difficult to get an accurate handle on the actual number of organ transplants conducted in China over the years, either in aggregate, or even at a single hospital. In a closed society, information of this sort is highly politically sensitive.

China did not even have a national organ transplantation system until recently. It was a Wild West of hospitals competing for business, doing deals with organ brokers, and getting their hands on human supply however they could. Statistical integrity, or any kind of reliable statistics at all, are the least of the victims.

In the United States, finding out the number of organ transplants that take place is simple. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, affiliated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, maintains a database that can be queried by dozens of criteria. The total number of transplants performed in the United States from January to September in 2015, for example, was 23,134.

Other datasets provide specific hospital information. The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients is able to spit out a report showing detailed transplant information at any given transplant center. The most active in New York state, for example, is the NY Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Univ. Medical Center. A report with data current as of April 2015 shows that it performed 110 liver transplants in 2013 and 142 in 2014. The 60 page report provides an abundance of information about those on the waiting list, donor types, transplant rates, and more.

Nothing like this information is available on Chinese hospitals - and for good reason: it's a state secret.

Dr. Huang Jiefu, the Chinese official who interfaces with the rest of the world on organ transplantation policy, was remarkably frank about why numbers are so hard to pin down, in a rare interview with Chinese journalists last year. The interview was part of an intense run of publicity as Huang sought to get out the message (later debunked) that China was no longer using organs from executed prisoners.

"The death penalty is a state secret," Huang said. "Organs were sourced from executed prisoners. If you know the number of transplantations performed, then you would know the state secret."

The reporter pressed further, and Huang countered again: "The issue you are talking about is too sensitive. That's why I cannot tell you that clearly. If you think about it, you will understand. Because the country has no transparency, you don't know how the organs were obtained; the number of performed transplantations was also a secret."

But numbers inevitably seem to trickle out from the holes in even the Chinese Communist Party's formidable propaganda machine.

In the case of Tianjin First Central Hospital, there are several ways of getting them. While the procedure may have a certain monotony about it, let us consider each in turn.

The Official Graph

The 1st datapoint is simply a graph from a now defunct but archived page belonging to the Orient Organ Transplant Center, showing the cumulative liver transplants from 1998 to 2004. The yearly numbers grow almost geometrically: 9, 24, 78, 129, 272, 289, and 800. These figures, however, are contradicted by figures in other official sources.

The same page advertises the waiting time for a liver transplant as 2 weeks - unheard of in countries with voluntary donation systems.

Livers are a useful organ for calculating how many executions must have been carried out for transplants, given that they are a vital organ, and a transplantation of a full liver requires a death. Given that executions in China have traditionally been the sole source of transplant organs - whether that has changed is another matter - the question of number becomes significant.

The problem with the graph is that it stops at 2004.

The Pastiche

Another method is to simply look at media reports that provide numbers. In this case, beginning in 2000, the number is 78 - same as above. The source is a puff piece about Shen Zhongyang in Science and Technology Daily titled "He brought liver transplant technique to the pinnacle of world medicine." A later source in 2000 gives a cumulative total of 100.

In 2001 there is no cumulative figure, but the annual total is 109 liver and 80 kidney transplants, the sources being a Chinese medical encyclopedia and news reports.

In 2002 there is no annual figure, but the cumulative is 300, according to a profile of Shen Zhongyang.

In 2003 the cumulative total in Tianjin is 645 (though up to 400 other transplants were performed by the Tianjin First team in other hospitals around China, according to an official news report) and the annual 253.

This is when a budget is approved at the end of the year for the construction of the 17-story Oriental Organ Transplant Center.

In 2004, no specific yearly total was published - but the cumulative total stood at 1,000, according to a report on Medical Education Net, a large Chinese online medical encyclopedia.

In 2005, no cumulative total was published, but the yearly total sat at 647 (according to an official, laudatory profile of Shen published in 2014.)

In 2006, 655 transplants were recorded, according to an official profile of Shen and a medical paper he authored. In that paper, he said that his center had surpassed the world record of liver transplants maintained by the University of Pittsburgh for 10 years.

And then ... radio silence.

Tianjin's Orient Organ Transplant Center officially opened on Sept. 1, 2006. It remains unclear why, right when the numbers would be expected to jump, annual data dries up.

Incidentally - or not - in March of 2006 allegations began emerging that Falun Gong prisoners were the major source of China's booming organ trade. Chinese officials dismissed the reports as nefarious propaganda, though never seriously refuted either their argument or inference.

In all available sources, only 2 numbers appear post-2006, both from the same source: a glowing profile of Shen Zhongyang by the Tianjin propaganda authorities.

The Official Profile

The official profile of Shen Zhongyang is published on The website is run by the Office of the Tianjin Municipal Government Human Resources Leading Small Group, and serves as the mouthpiece for the Tianjin leadership. "The Tianjin Party Committee and government pays a great deal of attention to human resource work," the About Us section on the website notes.

The profile discusses the incredible success of Shen Zhongyang, his enterprising spirit helping the construction of the Chinese transplant industry, and provides a few transplant numbers.

The early figures are roughly the same as those above, and while after 2006 no precise numbers are given, the profile declares that "for the next 2 years it became the foremost liver transplant center by volume, and made the Orient Transplant Center the largest scale transplant center in Asia." It adds that as of the end of 2013, the Center had performed the most surgeries in China for 16 years straight. Some of its techniques had become the "most advanced" in the world.

And, crucially, it provides two more numbers: A cumulative total of 5,000 liver transplants in 2010, and a cumulative total of "nearly 10,000" by the end of 2014, supposedly a quarter of the national total.

Graphed, the series now looks like this:


Those numbers are already disturbingly high, and extremely difficult to fit into the official narrative of executed-prisoners-as-organ-source.

It is still unclear why annual numbers ceased after the major new transplant center was built, which calls into question whether the neat, rounded numbers can be trusted.

The real number of transplants, according to other records, may have in fact been much, much higher.

There are 3 indicators of this probability: anecdotes of a booming business in providing organs to Korean tourists; significant transplant figures by Shen Zhongyang's colleagues; and a guerrilla analysis derived from Tianjin First Central's own renovation records, dredged from an obscure Chinese database.

Korean Connection

Korean patients began streaming into China, and in particular Tianjin - just a 90 minute flight from Seoul - in 2002, according to Li Lianjin, head nurse at Tianjin First Central Hospital. The hospital had provided organ transplants to over 500 Korean patients between 2002 and 2006, Li said.

Li spoke to Phoenix Weekly, a magazine run by the Hong Kong-based, pro-Beijing Phoenix television station. The article was titled "An investigation of tens of thousands of foreigners coming to China for organ transplants."

All this activity took place before the Oriental Organ Transplant Center came online in September of 2006.

So doctors improvised. One third of their original 12-story building was converted to house transplant patients; the 8th floor of another hospital (the International Cardiovascular Hospital) was also used for Korean recipients; and the 24th and 25th floors of a nearby hotel were also reserved for those waiting. 2 nurses were assigned to that location. "Even so, we're still short of beds," Li said.

Tianjin was an agreeable destination for Korean organ tourists because in Korea they could typically only receive partial liver transplants from living donors. But in China, they could get whole livers, "and the donor livers are of excellent quality," the report says.

Procedures were also expedited: foreign patients would simply fax their medical records then fly in. Waiting times were extremely short by international standards. "Originally, patients had to wait about a week. But now, because more and more people have joined the queue, the waiting times are longer. The longest time now is a bit over 3 months," the report says.

3 months is still a remarkably short waiting time to guarantee a liver.

The Chosun Ilbo, a large Korean daily newspaper, reported that Tianjin First Central performed 44 liver transplants in 1 week in December 2004, including 24 in a day (including kidney transplants), according to the Phoenix report.

Patients from other countries were also there: from Japan, Malaysia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. The cafe in the ward on the 4th floor became an "international club," where patients of different ethnicities met to exchange their experiences, reported Chosun Ilbo.

The report includes this anecdote: "Surgeons at the hospital are busy every day, shuttling between wards and operating rooms. They have no time to greet each other. Every day they mumble the same thing: 'Today I'm so busy, ten surgeries a day.' Some doctors spend the entire night in surgery."

No numbers are given in the report, but it at least confirms that the staff at Tianjin First had been extremely busy leading up to the completion of the new transplant building.


The Oriental Organ Transplant Center has 110 doctors participating in liver and kidney transplants, among whom 46 are chief surgeons and physicians, and 13 attending physicians, according to the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, a network of researchers who performed the monumental task of cataloging the staff of hundreds of hospitals around China.

Media reports, speeches by a select number of Shen Zhongyang's colleagues, as well as information on the hospital's own website and other records, indicate many of them had each completed a large number of transplants themselves.

For instance, by 2011, Vice President of the hospital Zhu Zhijun had completed at least 1,400 liver transplants, 100 of which were partial liver donations from living relatives, according to his profile on the website "We Doctors Group," a directory for Chinese doctors.

As of July 2006, associate chief surgeon Pan Cheng had personally performed over 1,000 liver transplants, and 1,600 liver graft procurements.

Chief surgeon Gao Wei completed over 800 liver transplants after ten years of practice, according to his undated profile on "Good Doctors Online," another well-known Chinese doctors database.

Associate chief surgeon Song Wenli from the renal transplant department performed around 2,000 kidney transplants; associate chief surgeon Mo Chunbo over 1,500, both according to undated profiles on the same site.

Some of those operations did not result in the killing of a donor - hundreds of donations were from living relatives, for instance (if they were indeed from relatives) - but many of them must have.

If the average total transplant volume of these surgeons was simply extrapolated to the rest of the staff - not necessarily a reliable methodology - the total transplant volume, as of 2014, would immediately be several times greater than the official number of 10,000. It is clear from just a few doctor profiles, however, that the figures are beginning to approach the totals announced by the hospital.

Of course, the doctors whose profiles are available may simply be outliers. Or they may be inflating their records, or have participated in joint operations - all distinct possibilities. In any case, even given drastic discounts, the surgeons' own organ numbers seem to far outstrip the official ones.

But building records indicate that the transplant volume could be much higher than even that.

Renovating a Transplant Center

Given that the municipal government spent about $20 million (130 million yuan) in building the Orient Organ Transplant Center, common sense dictates that there would be an intended use for it.

But this is China. Huge amounts of infrastructure spending is wasteful, often used to prop up local economic figures rather than create productive businesses. Thus, the mere fact of construction and renovation cannot tell us everything.

There is compelling evidence, however, that the new building was put into immediate and extensive use. This comes from the hospital's own building and renovation records in the China Construction and Remodeling Database, a public resource maintained by a variety of officially-affiliated agencies, providing details of construction and renovation work from across China.

These documents show what seems to have been deliberately hidden in every other available Chinese source: that it was full speed ahead at Tianjin First after the new transplant center came online in 2006.

The key evidence is a 22 page PDF file, available for download after creating a username and password on the site, which discusses the further renovations to the new building, completed in 2008.

The renovation described in the document is primarily to the main building, the outpatient building, and the emergency ward (the transplant building is left untouched), and included the addition of insulation to the facade "in order to save energy and increase the comfort of patients." Another floor would be also be added to the outpatient building, taking it from 3 to 4 stories.

The key line, though, is this: "There is a daily average of 2,000 outpatient services conducted per day; the bed utilization rate is 86 %; kidney and liver transplantation beds are at 90 % utilization."

The total number of beds devoted to transplantation at Tianjin First during this period was 500, at the Oriental Organ Transplant Center. Total bed count at the hospital sat at 1,226, with 726 originally available. Total floor space was 46,558 square meters, the document states.

Thus, according to these documents, 450 beds were used for transplants, whether livers, kidneys, or other organs.

According to Tianjin's advertising materials for foreign patients, the total time an organ tourist would expect to stay in the hospital could be between one and 2 months, depending on the wait time for an organ, and how long it takes to convalesce.

If an average patient stay was 30 days per transplant, then 5,400 transplants per year would have taken place at the Oriental Organ Transplant Center from late 2006 until the end of 2008. If the stay was two months, the total would be 2,700.

It is impossible to know the actual average length of stay at Tianjin First, but transplant surgeons who reviewed this report considered that either of those scenarios would be plausible.

But was this high level of utilization a mere blip in the 2 years following the opening of the new center? No, according to other renovation reports. It soon became the norm.

The next available datapoint on transplant-relevant bed usage rates at Tianjin First comes from a profile of the hospital on Enorth Netnews, the official Tianjin government mouthpiece, on June 25, 2014.

It says that it had "made progress" across various departments in 2013, and achieved a bed usage rate of 131.1 %, an increase of 5.7 % from 2012. (The report does not make clear how a utilization rate of over 100 % is possible, but it is common in Chinese hospitals to see extra beds wedged between established bedding places.)

By 2013 it had also added 300 beds, bringing its total number now to 1,500. The hospital had also adjusted the number of beds allocated to different departments, including the organ transplant center, though it did not specify how many beds were allocated to each area.

It is difficult to know how many of the 1,500 total beds, or 500 Orient Organ Transplant Center beds, were used for organ transplants in 2012 and 2013.

But there is a consistency in the reported utilization rates: 90 % utilization reported in 2009, and 130 % for 2013.

Whether that ratio plummeted for four years before soaring - or slowly grew, as the trend of official transplant numbers (though clearly manipulated) indicate - is impossible to tell, though a steady increase seems most intuitive and internally consistent.

Yet more construction took place in 2015 at a newly opened site, including an outpatient service able to process between 6,000 to 7,000 people per day, an emergency center able to process 1,200 daily, an underground carpark able to hold 2,000 vehicles, and a helipad.

The new construction, which began in July 2015 and was scheduled for completion at the end of 2017, will have a total of 2,000 beds. It is unclear how many of them will be devoted to transplants.

Guerrilla Numbers

What numbers emerge from this kaleidoscope of activity?

The hospital would have us believe that when their new transplant center came online, giving them hundreds of additional beds and much more sophisticated facilities, there was no increase in the transplant rate.

The only official data for the post-2006 period is a figure of 5,000 cumulative transplants in 2010, and 14,000 in 2014 - a neat, linear increase.

But the facts paint a different picture: anecdotal reports from Korean organ recipients say that occupancy was far more than the hospital could handle; building records showing the need for continued expansion after 2006; and impressive staff resumes showing thousands of transplants from a few of the over 100 doctors.

With utilization of the 500 beds at Oriental Organ Transplant Center near or above capacity from 2007 to end of 2013, the total number of transplants could range anywhere from around 20,000 to around 60,000, depending on the length of stay of patients. Only very rough estimates are possible given the many unknowns.

This is far higher than the claimed cumulative total of 10,000 liver transplants over 15 years reported in official sources. That number already presents an awkward dilemma to explain away - but the numbers based simply on bed utilization rates are far higher than any known source of organs is able to explain.

Of course, there is no way to know whether in its building renovation documents hospital staff are simply lying. But it's unclear what incentive the hospital would have for fabricating the data on its renovation plans, submitted to a national database years after the funds had been committed, and the construction completed, by municipal authorities. Floor space or numbers of beds are tangible infrastructure that cannot easily be falsified, and bed occupancy ratios, from 2 separate official sources, show the same upward trajectory of high-usage from late 2006 until end 2013.

There are many caveats to these estimates, however, including the fact that the number of executions implied by the bed occupancy rates is not clear. The ratio is likely not 1:1, given that the donation of a single kidney, to a relative, for instance, is neither fatal nor unethical. Tianjin First certainly engaged in this form of transplant activity. Further, one death can yield multiple transplant organs.

At the same time, Chinese media reports contain anecdotes of Shen Zhongyang going through several livers - each bringing death even as it carried potential life - for a single patient.

Given the multiple variables and vast unknowns, it would be foolhardy to suggest a firm estimate for the number of executions that may have taken place to fuel the business of Tianjin First. But whatever the figure, the implications are the same: the need for a mysterious, unknown organ source.

So, where did the organs come from?

Prisoners Can't Explain It

China's only serious source of organs through these years is, according to the official explanation, executed prisoners.

In an interview with China Health News in January 2015, Huang Jiefu, the official who serves as the voice of China's transplant policy, says: "For a long time China has not been able to establish a national donation system ... from the 1980s until 2009, there were only 120 cases of citizen donations. China is the country with the lowest donation rate in the world."

The number of executions in China is a state secret and no numbers are provided, but estimates have long been made by third party organizations. Those vary from 12,000 to 2,400 per year during the period in question, according to Duihua, a U.S.-based human rights organization focused on China.

If the nationwide death penalty was 6,000, for the purpose of our analysis, the number of executions taking place in Tianjin would be about 42 (given a population of about 7 million and a proportional distribution of executions.) If the number of executions nationwide was 5,000, there would only be 35 executions in Tianjin.

But many prisoners are not eligible organ donors because of blood diseases, drug addiction, age, and other disqualifying maladies. Procedures around executions involve the local courts and prisons, which have their own relationships with hospitals and doctors, as indicated by abundant testimony from Chinese officials and defectors. The fief-like nature of the Chinese bureaucracy means it’s not as though Tianjin First could have its pick from any execution taking place anywhere in China.

In particular, Tianjin First's build-up was not an isolated phenomenon: dozens, if not hundreds of other transplant hospitals in China were establishing training programs for surgeons, building new facilities, and promoting their ability to deliver fresh organs to recipients in short order - weeks or months at most.

In 2014 Xinhua, the state mouthpiece, reported that in past years there were 600 hospitals in China, vying and contending for organ sources. All of those transplant centers needed organs, too.

And then there are the unnerving advertisements on the hospital's website, which have since been taken down.

"It is true that the source of organ supply are fairly abundant in China compared with that in western countries," an archived page on the site says blithely in 2008, in English, obviously targeting foreign transplant tourists.

In the guide for prospective recipients, it outlines the few steps necessary to get a new organ. There's no waiting list. One simply emails the paperwork, pays $500, and gets on a plane. Step nine is "Staying in hospital to be carefully checked-up, to be well treated while waiting for a matching donor (1 month ± )."

The website's landing page in Chinese, on the other hand, advertised a waiting time of 2 weeks.

In another section, the question is posed: "What are the initial procedures while arriving?" The answer: "Once your data are set, the hospital will start to search all over China for an organ that matches."

"Just that 1 line is so shocking," said Maria Singh, the University of Sydney professor who sits on the board of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, in a phone interview. "We'll search the country far and wide for your organ,!" she continued. "Searching for your organ? To search the country for a donor when there is no registry for donors. What does that mean? It means that absolutely they're looking for the guy they can kill for your surgery. It's just outrageous. It's pretty hard to believe."

In a recent documentary with this very title - "Hard to Believe" - Arthur Caplan, the founding director of the division of medical ethics at New York University Medical Center, explains the contrast in starker terms: "In the U.S., in Europe, you have to be dead first in order to be an organ donor. In China, they make you dead."

This rapid matching from what appears to be a pool of prematched donors is consistent with both death row prisoner use and harvesting from prisoners of conscience.

But when it comes to volume, death row prisoners simply could not sustain the kind of supply Tianjin needed. Of course, by itself this is positive proof of nothing - except that the organs had to come from somewhere else.

Recognizing this is the critical first step in any further exploration of the problem: if the organs aren't from volunteer donors or executed criminals, then they must be coming from somewhere else.

"Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the trends of organ donations worldwide cannot accept the claims of miraculously replacing a huge and well established organ source from executed prisoners within a single year by voluntarily donated organs," said Dr. Jacob Lavee, the president of the Israel Transplantation Society and director of the heart transplantation unit at Tel Aviv University’s medical center, in an email.

Lavee continued: "If indeed the use of organs from formally executed prisoners has dwindled, the large number of organ transplants which, apparently, continue to be performed in Tianjin and elsewhere in China, must have an alternative organ source, which needs to be explained."

Into that breach come researchers who have raised allegations of a hidden and largely overlooked mass murder. Coupled with volumes of other evidence, they describe a crime against humanity in which the doctors stand alongside the murderers; the cause of death is the surgery itself, as organs are drained of blood and pumped with cold preservative chemicals.

David Matas, the co-author of a seminal report on organ harvesting from Falun Gong, said in a telephone interview: "What this research does is pose the question; it doesn't answer the question. But it does put into doubt the established answers that have been given."

The Forbidden Question

There's a potential clue about the organ source in one of the many hats that Dr. Shen Zhongyang is found wearing: he appears on the website of the Beijing Armed Police Forces General Hospital, where he serves as director of the organ transplantation department, in full paramilitary regalia. The People's Armed Police are a domestic standing army of 1.2 million, deployed around the country and mobilized to suppress riots.

The most fundamental obstacle in performing large numbers of organ transplants is a donor source. Given that China had no voluntary, open transplant system, political connections, often mediated through brokers, have been the only way to get bodies.

As Huang Jiefu himself remarked in an interview in early 2015: "Our country is very big. This source of using prisoner organs, this kind of situation naturally would come to have all kinds of murky and difficult problems in it. You know what I'm trying to say? It became filthy. It became murky and intractable. It became an extremely sensitive, extremely complicated area, basically a forbidden area." He then went on to blame the abuse of organ transplantation in China on Zhou Yongkang, the deposed former security czar. Prisoners of conscience, of course, never came up.

Theories about how Tianjin First Central turned on the organ spigot thus revolve around its political ties, including that of Shen Zhongyang, who became a member of the Communist Party's faux advisory body, the Chinese People's Political and Consultative Conference, in 2013. Shen is also a member of the standing committee of the Chinese Peasants' and Workers' Democratic Party, 1 of the 8 legal political parties in China that give a window dressing of democracy while stiffly following the Party line.

But it's his paramilitary title that is most significant for organ sourcing, given that military and paramilitary hospitals are plugged into the security apparatus that hold hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, and are believed to be involved in much of the illegal trafficking in human organs.

A handful of investigators have been tracking the military-organ nexus for years. In his 2014 book "The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China's Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem," American journalist Ethan Gutmann marshals a mass of evidence, collected over nearly a decade, to show that practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional spiritual discipline, have been primary targets for organ harvesting.

Falun Gong, a practice of self-cultivation which involves exercises and moral teachings, has been persecuted in China since 1999, after the Party leader at the time, Jiang Zemin, declared it a challenge to Party rule. By the late 1990s, the number of people practicing it seemed to exceed the membership of the Communist Party.

Hundreds of hospitals around China, like Tianjin First, all saw a dramatic spike in organ transplants in 2000, the year after the persecution began in July 1999.

"There's no national organ distribution at this point. There's no organ donation system. The official answer is the death penalty," says David Matas. "But then you've got organ size and blood type compatibility issues, hepatitis in prison, very short waiting times, all of that."

With no official explanation for the battery of unanswered questions, suspicions, and mounting circumstantial evidence, "you're pushed back into what myself, David Kilgour, and Ethan Gutmann have been saying," says Matas. "That it's prisoners of conscience." He continued: "The bigger the scale, the bigger the requirement for an explanation, and that explanation is not forthcoming. There's no obvious other source."

Gutmann, asked what he thought the likely source of Tianjin's organs was in a telephone interview, said: "I think the majority of these organs are being sourced from Falun Gong." He added: "There has been a large resident population of Falun Gong, of between 1/2 a million to a million at any given time within the laogai system through this entire period," using the Chinese term that refers to the system of labor camps.

"This is the only potential source, numerically, which they could be pulling from. There may be some Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans in there too, though the rates of disappearance are not as high for those communities."

Gutmann's interviews of hundreds of refugees found that 1 in 5, and sometimes 2 in 5, Falun Gong detainees were subject to blood testing while in captivity. Those released from labor camps also describe disappearances of those tested. In covertly recorded telephone calls with overseas investigators since 2006, doctors and nurses in China, believing they are speaking to a fellow doctor or the relative of an individual in urgent need of a new liver, have acknowledged that they source their organs from Falun Gong prisoners.

In his book, Gutmann describes the exams, which his interviewee, a Falun Gong refugee, thought little of. "What she described was terrifying and inexplicable - rather than the doctor administering a normal physical examination, it was more like he was already picking over a fresh corpse ... I remember feeling an unfamiliar chill as my safe, hedging cloak of skepticism fell away for a moment."

Tianjin Blood Exams

As in prisons and labor camps around the country, there are anecdotal reports of prisoners of conscience in Tianjin being singled out for blood and urine tests during the period in which Tianjin First Central was at its peak of operations.

These accounts are drawn from, a clearinghouse of first-hand information about Falun Gong in China. Articles on the site are typically submitted by practitioners of Falun Gong, friends, or family members, often documenting their experiences under persecution. The site is widely used by by academics and human rights researchers studying the practice or its repression, and is considered a reliable source for insight into the Falun Gong community in China.

A simple search across for the terms "blood test" and "Tianjin" reveals 9,720 results. Many of these are likely duplicates or do not refer to personal experiences of blood test at Tianjin, but a large number appear to do so.

A typical case, submitted on Nov. 9, 2007, is titled "The persecution I witnessed and experienced at the Tianjin Women’s Prison." Like many submissions on Minghui, the report is anonymous, for obvious reasons. It says: "The Third Squadron in the prison specifically targeted Falun Gong ... the squadron leader of every Third Squadron in each section of the jail called out the Falun Gong practitioners 1 by 1, and gave them blood and urine tests. They didn't call out criminal prisoners. The squadron leader said it was because they wanted to look after the Falun Gong prisoners." The prison is a little over 30 minutes away from the hospital.

The author, reflecting back on the experience, writes "I still wonder where those practitioners who disappeared ended up."

Other cases of blood tests are reported at the Qingbowa Re-education Through Labor camp. Qingbowa is a 23 minute drive from Tianjin First. The Shuangkou Re-education Through Labor is another camp in which, according to reports on Minghui, Falun Gong practitioners report having their blood tested while in detention. Shuangkou is also about a 30 minute drive from Tianjin First. Falun Gong practitioner Hua Lianyou reports having her blood taken in June 2013 in the Binhai Prison, which is about 45 minutes from Tianjin First. Xu Haitang, a practitioner of Falun Gong, reports having her blood drawn in June 2006 at the Banqiao Women's Labor Camp, which is about 90 minutes away.

Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, the Washington, D.C.-based medical advocacy group, conducted its own preliminary analysis on these reports of blood tests on Minghui, writing: "In screening of the survivor reports it was noted that medical exams were not unique occurrences. While single cases as outliers might lack significance, this data reveals a large number of victim accounts that are not isolated instances, and suggests a systematic use of various medical exams imposed upon detained Falun Gong practitioners."

Of course, none of this is proof that the blood tests were for the purpose of blood matching for organ transplant.

But it is also true that the actual reason for blood and urine tests is unclear, and even confusing: the incarcerated individuals are, after all, in prison due to a campaign, led from the highest levels of the Communist Party, to eradicate their belief system. They are typically subject to torture, electric shocks, and beatings in detention, in an attempt to have them renounce their beliefs. Falun Gong had been slandered in the state press, and adherents to it incited against, dehumanized, mocked, and declared to be enemies of the state. Thousands of deaths from torture have been reported, and no investigation or punishment takes place because of the state-sanctioned nature of the campaign. So why would prison officials be extracting blood for the benefit of the captives?

It's this context that has led analysts to believe that the blood tests and disappearances in captivity of Falun Gong, along with the transplant boom that took place soon after the persecution began, are most likely explained by mass organ harvesting.

The Awkward Silence

Even if the international medical community wished to refrain from concluding preemptively on a massive crime against humanity, one might expect at least a demand for further attention and investigation into just where the organs are coming from, and the extent to which prisoners of conscience have been targeted. It would, after all, constitute one of the most disturbing mass crimes of the 21st century.

Indeed, a number of respected organizations and individuals have made clear that they see a serious problem, and that the idea of mass harvesting from Falun Gong is not to be relegated to the realm of science-fiction conspiracy theories. The United Nations Committee Against torture in 2008 said: "The State party should immediately conduct or commission an independent investigation of the claims that some Falun Gong practitioners have been ... used for organ transplants and take measures, as appropriate, to ensure that those responsible for such abuses are prosecuted and punished."

Arthur Caplan, the ethicist at New York University's Medical Center, lent his name to a 2012 petition calling on the White House to "Investigate and publicly condemn organ harvesting from Falun Gong believers in China." In an interview at the time, he said: "I think you can't stay quiet about killing for organs. It's too heinous. It's just too wrong. It violates all ideas of human rights."

The recent documentary film "Human Harvest," which directly addresses the question of harvesting from Falun Gong, won a prestigious Peabody Award in 2014, the broadcast equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. The awarding of a Peabody requires the unanimous support of the 17 board members, who in their summary of the documentary described a "highly profitable, monstrous system of forced organ donation."

Some countries, including Israel and Taiwan, have adopted legislation aimed at preventing their citizens traveling to China to receive organs, after the reports of harvesting from Falun Gong emerged.

All this makes the reaction of some of the key players in the international transplant scene - the kind of individuals whose imprimatur would lend sufficient public heft to the allegations as to prompt broader international censure and calls for investigation - all the more jarring. They have been uncurious about the question of crimes against humanity, adopting instead a complaisant stance, part of Kissingerian-styled bid to help the project of China’s organ transplant reform.

Dr. Francis Delmonico, the former head of The Transplantation Society and previously the key international liaison with China on transplant issues, wrote in an email: "My only comment is to encourage the assessment of the Tianjin First Central Hospital to report verifiable data." The word "only" had been put in bold.

Doctors like Jeremy Chapman, the Sydney-based former head of The Transplantation Society, and Dr. Michael Millis, a liver surgeon at the University of Chicago medical school who has worked closely with Chinese officials, have also evinced little interest in pursuing the tough questions. When pressed about potential Falun Gong organ sourcing, Millis remarked in an interview with Martina Keller, a journalist with the German magazine Die ZEIT, "That is not my sphere of influence. There are many things in the world that are not my focus or interest."

The current head of the The Transplantation Society, Dr. Philip O'Connell, and the World Health Organization's liaison to China on organ transplant issues, Dr. Jose Nuñez, did not respond to emails. The WHO's Guiding Principles on organ transplantation require that the entire organ transplantation process be transparent and open to scrutiny - yet WHO officials have done little to make such public demands on China.

Responding to the relative dearth of attention afforded the question of the missing organs by doctors, Kirk Allison, a professor of ethics at the University of Minnesota, wrote in an email: "This kind of curiosity matters. First, because truth matters; moral hazard matters; human rights matter; and the lives of the exploited, even if dead, matter. They have a moral claim on us."

Dr. Lavee, the respected Israeli heart surgeon, wrote in an email: "I feel embarrassed that my colleagues worldwide do not feel, like me, the moral duty to request China to open its gates for an independent, thorough inspection of its current transplant system by the international transplant community."

He added: "As a son of a Holocaust survivor, I feel obliged to not repeat the dreadful mistake made by the International Red Cross visit to the Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp in 1944, in which it was reported to be a pleasant recreation camp."

(source: The Epoch Times)


Malaysian court drops charges against 11 Filipinos accused of waging discord

The charges against 11 of the 27 Filipinos accused of waging conflict against the Malaysian King and being a member of a terrorist group in connection with the Lahad Datu incident that took place in February 2013 were ordered dropped by the High Court of Kota Kinabalu on Friday, February 5, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur reported.

In a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Philippine embassy said Judge Stephen Chung found no prima facie evidence against the Filipinos. The prosecution was given 14 days to file an appeal for the dismissal of the charges. If no appeal is filed, 10 of the 11 acquitted will be released and eventually sent home.

One of the 11, Totoh bin Hismullah may remain in Malaysia as he had been found by the Court to be a Malaysian citizen and no longer a Filipino.

The remaining 16 Filipinos, however, have been ordered by the Court to present, through their legal counsel, evidence in their defense after prima facie evidence were found against them. This will give the Defense side an opportunity to rebut the Prosecution's evidence.

The determination made by the Court is only preliminary and was based on the evidence presented by the Prosecution. A verdict on the culpability, if any, of the 16 remaining accused will not be rendered only after the Defense has completed the presentation of its evidence, which is expected to begin later this month.

Majority of those accused were supposedly members the Sulu Sultanate's Royal Security Force (RSF). One of those allegedly charged is the nephew of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Datu Amir Bahar, who was captured not in Lahad Datu but in Sandakan.

The accused Filipinos were charged for violating 2 articles of Malaysia’s Penal Code: Section 122 (waging war against the King); and Section 130 KA (terrorism).

While Section 130 KA (terrorism) calls for a jail term of up to 30 years, Section 121 (waging war against the King) can fetch the death penalty.

The Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur has hired the services of Malaysian lawyer Datuk N. Sivananthan, one of the few Asian legal practitioners accredited by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and 6 Sabah-based counsels to represent the accused.

Their services were paid for by the Philippine government.

The Lahad Datu incident began when a group, all followers of Sultan Kiram, landed in Tanduo village on February 9, 2013 drove out the residents, and occupied it to signify a presence that stood for ownership of the land that belonged to the Sulu Sultanate but passed on by Britain to Malaysia in 1957 after granting independence to its colony once known as Malaya.

It ended with at least 3 people dead, a still undetermined number of wounded, and several members of the Sultanate of Sulu arrested.



Statement by the spokesperson on the application of death penalty in Iraq

Executive orders for the execution of 80 persons have recently been announced in Iraq, with further possible execution orders to follow. This is a regrettable development as, following the formation of a new Government in Iraq in 2014, a review of all pending cases was undertaken. This review and a possible permanent suspension of all executions had been seen as a positive signal by the EU, in line with its principled opposition to the use of the death penalty.

Capital punishment is counter-productive as a crime deterrent. The EU strongly encourages Iraq to reinstate a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.



Justice Minister Michael Keenan's approval required for AFP to assist with possible death penalty case in Indonesia

Justice Minister Michael Keenan would have to personally sign off on the Australian Federal Police assisting an Indonesian police investigation into a woman who could face the death penalty.

In a case that has gripped Indonesia, 27-year-old woman Jessica Kumala Wongso, who studied in Australia, has been charged with the premeditated murder of her friend, Wayan Mirna Salihin.

The AFP confirmed it had been approached by the Indonesian National Police for assistance but would seek ministerial approval before releasing any information.

Under the AFP guidelines on international police assistance in death penalty situations, ministerial approval is required if a person has been detained, arrested, charged or convicted of an offence that carries the death penalty.

Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin reportedly studied together at Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney and Swinburne University of Technology.

Ms Wongso worked for NSW Ambulance until late last year.

"The AFP has been advised by the Indonesian National Police of the arrest of Ms Wongso for murder, which attracts the death penalty," a spokesman said. "The AFP can confirm that they have not released any information to the Indonesian National Police in relation to this request and will seek ministerial approval for any such release."

The AFP faced criticism for handing over information to Indonesian authorities about the Bali 9, which led to their arrests for heroin smuggling in 2005. The coordinators of the Bali 9, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were executed in Indonesia last year.

New guidelines for the AFP's role in cases involving the death penalty were introduced in 2009 after a federal court exonerated the AFP from acting unlawfully in the Bali nine case but argued new protocols were needed.

The guidelines require senior AFP officials to take into account a series of factors before providing assistance in potential death penalty scenarios. These include whether the information is favourable to the defendant, the nationality of the person involved, the person's age and personal circumstances, the seriousness of the suspected criminal activity and the likelihood the death penalty will be imposed.

Australia's interest in promoting and securing cooperation from overseas agencies in combating crime is also a consideration.

This information would all be provided to Mr Keenan by the AFP to assist him make a decision.

A spokeswoman for Mr Keenan said the minister was yet to receive a formal request for approval of assistance from the AFP under the death penalty guidelines.

Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin met at Olivier Cafe in Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall on January 6.

Ms Salihin took a sip of the Vietnamese iced coffee, which Ms Wongso had reportedly ordered for her. She began to suffer convulsions and foam at the mouth and died on the way to the hospital.

Jakarta Police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said Ms Wongso had been arrested last Saturday. "She is being detained under article 340 (of the criminal code) for premeditated murder," he said.

Mr Iqbal said Ms Wongso and the victim had a connection with Australia which is why police had sought assistance from the AFP.

Ms Wongso's lawyer, Yudi Wibowo, said police had no proof of his client's involvement.

"What can the AFP provide? Criminal records, she has none. She and Mirna were just friends, nothing else. What's being reported (in the media) are all lies, not true."

He said Ms Wongso was doing fine, considering the circumstances. "Right now, we are just going along with the police investigation."



'Death Penalty Movie Week' to be held in Tokyo

8 films from home and abroad on the theme of capital punishment will screen at a Tokyo theater from Feb 13 to 19, providing Japanese viewers with an opportunity to contemplate the death penalty while their country maintains the policy in the face of a global trend towards its abolishment.

Films to be presented during the 5th "Death Penalty Movie Week" include "Freedom Moon" which depicts the struggle for exoneration by a death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister, as well as "Death by Hanging," directed by the legendary Nagisa Oshima in 1968.

Hakamada, a former professional boxer convicted of a 1966 quadruple murder, was released in March 2014 after a court decided to reopen the high-profile case. But despite his release, he remains on death row as prosecutors have appealed the court's ruling.

A movie on another death row inmate, Masaru Okunishi, who was convicted for the 1961 murder of 5 women, will also be shown.

Okunishi had once been acquitted over the murder known as "the Nabari wine poisoning case," but the verdict was overturned. While on death row for more than 40 years, he sought exoneration through retrial, but died of pneumonia last October at the age of 89.

From abroad, "The Sleeping Voice," a 2011 Spanish film set in 1940s Spain under the authoritarian rule of leader Gen. Francisco Franco, and 2 other European movies will also be screened.

"We need to give consideration through the screening to the fact that innocent people are sometimes killed in the name of the state," the organizer, Forum 90, said.

"At the same time we expect viewers to think about and discuss how a person who actually killed someone should be punished," the anti-death penalty group noted in its leaflet.

During the 7-day event at the Eurospace movie theater in Tokyo's Shibuya district, 4 movies will be shown per day, accompanied by sessions with guest speakers, including a lawmaker, scholars as well as Kim Sung Woong, director of "Freedom Moon," and Hakamada's sister Hideko.

Attracting around 4,500 viewers in total to the annual event during the past four years, Masakuni Ota, a Forum 90 member, said, "We have provided diversified standpoints in thinking about the death penalty by screening various movies."

"We welcome not only death penalty abolitionists but also those ardently supporting it" so the issue of capital punishment can be discussed from multiple points of view, he added.

Japan hanged 2 death row inmates in December, bringing the total number of executions under the second Shinzo Abe administration which began in December 2012 to 14. Around 70% of nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.

Tokyo was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014 to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty," but has legitimized its continuance by citing the outcome of a survey, which indicated more than 80 % of people in Japan support the death penalty.

(source: Japan Today)

FEBRUARY 5, 2016:


Bill proposes use of electric chair if lethal injections unavailable----Pharmaceutical companies refusing to offer execution drugs, Dunham says

A panel in the Virginia Legislature endorsed a bill Wednesday proposing to mandate the use of the electric chair as a means of execution in the event that lethal drugs are unavailable.

The bill was proposed by House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas).

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said ultimately the American pharmaceutical industry doesn't want its life-saving and preserving medicines used in executions.

"The pharmaceutical companies have corporate missions, and their mission is to save lives and not to take lives," Dunham said. "On top of that, pharmaceutical companies think it’s bad business."

As a result, some states look to import drugs from abroad, Dunham said. However, Europe categorizes the death penalty as a human rights violation. It is now illegal in the European Union to export medicines to be used in lethal injections to the United States or any other country.

"Given these difficulties some states have looked for alternatives ranging from different methods of execution to different types of drugs to abolishing the death penalty altogether," Dunham said.

But examining other forms of execution, like Virginia's proposal for the electric chair, can raise further difficulties, Dunham said.

"Other difficulties states face when they are choosing whether to abandon lethal injections in favor of other forms is that other forms of execution are unpalatable to the American public," Dunham said.

In a poll conducted by YouGov, lethal injection was the only execution method Americans believed was not cruel and unusual - every other option is distasteful to a majority of Americans, Dunham said.

Law Prof. Brandon Garrett said none of the legitimate pharmaceutical companies will sell their drugs for use in executions by states. This is due especially to states' lack of clear or public protocols in the use of these drugs.

"It is remarkable that the legislature is considering returning to a method that has been just as prone to botched executions, if not more so, than lethal injections," Garrett said.

Concerns about the death penalty also center on the risk of executing an innocent person and the cost to the public, Dunham said.

Many innocent people get sentenced to death for reasons ranging from prosecutorial and police misconduct to junk science and racial discrimination, Dunham said.

"Unless you can address all of those things and address them successfully there will always be the risk that an innocent person will be sent to death row and will be executed," Dunham said.

In regard to cost, economic costs are typically borne by taxpayers outside of the county in which the death penalty is being pursued, Dunham said. Further, most death sentences in the United States are a product of outlier counties.

Currently, fewer than 2 % of counties account for more than 56 % of all the nation's death sentences, Dunham said.

"There have not been death sentences in Virginia for several years now, and the death row has dwindled to seven individuals," Garrett said. "When given the choice, at a fair trial, in Virginia and across the country, more jurors and judges are choosing life sentences over death sentences."

Del. Miller could not be reached for comment.

(source: The (Univ. Va.) Cavalier Daily)


Georgia's declining death penalty

Georgia enters the New Year following the national trend away from the death penalty.

That may surprise some given Georgia's spate of executions in 2015, which include a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, a man with intellectual disabilities, and a woman who seemed to embody redemption by expressing remorse and ministering to others while on death row. Each of these executions occurred more than a decade after the person's conviction, and they really aren't much more than a remnant of the state's past affinity for capital punishment.

However, if you want a sense of the future of the state's death penalty, then consider how many death sentences that Georgia juries imposed in 2015: zero. This record low shows that, despite last year's executions, capital punishment is losing its hold in Georgia and for good reason.

The state's problems with the death penalty are nothing new. Georgia was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that first declared capital punishment to be unconstitutional and the case that paved the way for its return. After the death penalty was deemed legal again, Georgia resumed executions, but it quickly experienced the drawbacks that are inextricably linked to capital punishment. To date, the Peach State has executed 60 individuals and wrongly sentenced at least 6 people to die, which is a very troubling record.

Wrongly convicted death row inmates aren't the only ones who feel capital punishment's negative effects. Our death penalty system is far more expensive than life without parole due to legal requirements mandated by the Supreme Court and state and federal laws, but these safeguards are necessary and have been directly responsible for preventing innocent individual's executions. However, the hurdles guarantee that death cases will be exorbitantly expensive, and they have even accounted for tax increases.

In an embarrassing episode in Lincoln County, Georgia, the local commissioners raised taxes multiple times simply to cover the costs of a single death penalty case, and when they declined to fully fund the expensive proceedings, they were tossed in jail. However, these high costs aren't limited just to Georgia counties. Other states have conducted studies and found that the death penalty costs millions of dollars more than life without parole.

The public investment in the death penalty becomes even more objectionable when considering that it does nothing to keep the public safer. There's simply no evidence to suggest that capital punishment deters murder. In fact, murder rates often drop after states repeal the death penalty. The harmful impact that the capital punishment can have on murder victims' families is also a cause for concern. The death penalty can inflict additional pain on them due to capital cases' complex and lengthy legal proceedings and relentless media attention.

Nationally, death sentences, executions, and public support for the death penalty are near record lows. Taking into account capital punishment's plethora of failures, that's the logical response. With 84 people still on Georgia's death row, but fewer and fewer individuals being sentenced to die, the tide is turning against the Peach State's death penalty. National conservatives, including Colonel Oliver North, Dr. Ron Paul, and Jay Sekulow, are increasingly reassessing the death penalty because it violates our core principles of protecting innocent life, promoting fiscal restraint, and limiting government power. It's time for Georgia to do the same.

The underlying question is, if we are wary of government power, then should we really trust our state, which is prone to error and abuse, with the power to execute its citizens?

(source: Opinion; Marc Hyden is a National Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty and is a resident of Cobb County. He previously was a field representative with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Marc has also served as the Legislative Liaison/Public Affairs Specialist with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security and as the legislative aide to the Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore---- Savannah Morning News)


Dozens of Florida's death row inmates expected to challenge sentences

They live on death row, convicted of some of the worst crimes in Florida.

A Miami man stabbed an elderly woman 58 times in her Little Havana apartment. A Broward teenage gang member randomly executed a man walking down the street in a "body count contest." A Pasco County lawn man raped and murdered a woman who was 94 years old.

They are among dozens of condemned inmates whose sentences could be reduced to life without parole or who could get new sentencing hearings in the 1st wave of legal challenges to a Florida death penalty sentencing system struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled on Jan. 12 that Florida's system is unconstitutional because it does not require juries to make all findings of fact necessary to impose a death sentence. That means Florida is violating a defendant's right to a trial by jury.

The Supreme Court's decision involved Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing a co-worker at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant in 1998.

Hurst sits in his 6-by-9-foot cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to review his case as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

He's not alone. Death penalty experts and Attorney General Pam Bondi say that as many as 43 death row inmates could get life sentences without parole or new sentencing hearings.

It's partly a matter of timing.

Those 43 inmates have filed limited challenges to their death sentences known as direct appeals, which have not yet been acted upon by the Florida Supreme Court. Justices must now apply the Hurst decision to those cases.

Victor Guzman was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 80-year-old Severina Fernandez.

"It's sort of a given that these people get the benefit of Hurst," said Martin McClain, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents death row inmates in their appeals. "The question will be whether it leads to a life sentence or a new sentencing."

Those 43 cases in the post-Hurst pipeline involve some of Florida's most horrific crimes of the past 2 decades. They include:

-- Khadafy Mullens, who pleaded guilty to killing a store owner and a customer during a 2008 robbery of a food mart near St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field, a crime captured on the store's video surveillance camera.

-- Victor Guzman, convicted of the murder of an 80-year-old Miami woman who was found with 58 stab wounds.

-- John Sexton, a Pasco County yard maintenance man convicted of the 2010 rape and murder of a 94-year-old woman, a crime that the sheriff called pure evil. The victim's daughter said that short of Sexton experiencing the pain that her mother did, "the next best solution is to condemn you to death."

-- James Herard, a gang member, was convicted of participating in the 2008 execution of Eric Jean-Pierre, 39, who was gunned down in the 2100 block of Northwest 55th Avenue in Lauderhill on his way home from work.

Florida has 389 inmates on death row, 2nd only to California. The state's death penalty is experiencing its greatest turmoil since it was reinstituted 4 decades ago.

The Hurst case is expected to unleash a flood of new appeals and is forcing a conservative, pro-death penalty Legislature to hurriedly rewrite the law so that executions can resume.

As lawmakers craft a new law, the state's highest court agreed Tuesday to indefinitely postpone the scheduled Feb. 11 execution of Michael Lambrix. He has been on death row since 1984 after being convicted of 2 murders in Glades County.

Lambrix's case is much older than most death penalty cases, and a legal question is whether the Hurst decision can be applied retroactively to him. The court's decision to stop his execution is seen as an indication that justices want to analyze the impact of the Hurst decision.

In the cases of Lambrix and his other clients, McClain wants the state court to change every death sentence to life without parole, which Bondi opposes.

In case after case this week, Bondi's legal experts argued that those original death sentences must be carried out. The marathon legal battles are just beginning as more cases will appear on the court's argument docket in coming months.

"Finality sometimes has to trump fairness," Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar told the justices Thursday. "The citizens of this state, and certainly the families of these victims, need to have confidence that when a sentence is final, it will only be disturbed if there's a tremendously important reason to do so."

Dittmar made that argument in opposing a lifting of the death sentence of Michael King of Sarasota, who was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of Denise Lee, a mother of 2 children, in North Port in 2008.

The court had denied King's direct appeal, but his attorneys want it reviewed in light of the Hurst decision.

Asked about the state's repeated reference to victims' families, McClain said in an interview that the Hurst case is about defendants - not victims.

"Hurst is about the rights of capital defendants as to their constitutional rights," McClain said. "The impact on the victims is irrelevant."

In the case of Lambrix, he said, all the Florida Supreme Court has to do is change his sentence to life imprisonment without parole.

McClain will make a similar legal argument when he seeks to block the scheduled March execution of Mark James Asay, who was sentenced to die after being convicted of 2 murders in Jacksonville in 1987.

"Certainly, Mr. Asay should be permitted to litigate any claims arising on the basis of Hurst v. Florida, just as Mr. Lambrix has been permitted to do," McClain argued in court papers.

And in early March, McClain will tell the Supreme Court why it should also lift the death sentence of Terrance Phillips, 1 of the 43 post-Hurst cases, convicted of ambushing and killing 2 people in their Jacksonville apartment on Christmas Eve 2009.

At 24, Phillips is the youngest inmate on Florida's death row.

(source: Miami Herald)


Denise Lee Case----Killer's lawyer appeals sentence

Michael King, sentenced to death for the 2008 abduction and murder of Denise Amber Lee, should be resentenced to life without parole because of a federal court ruling that invalidated Florida's death-penalty sentencing system, his lawyer told the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

King's case has joined a number of other appeals from Florida Death Row inmates who are arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month in Hurst vs. Florida has rendered the death-sentencing law as unconstitutional and they now deserve either life sentences or a new sentencing procedure.

The state Supreme Court halted the Feb. 11 execution of Cary Michael Lambrix earlier this week as the justices consider the impact of Hurst on Florida's 389 death row inmates. The Legislature is moving forward with a revised sentencing bill that would require juries to unanimously agree on "aggravating" factors that would make a murderer eligible for the death penalty and require a jury vote of at least 9-3 to impose the sentence.

The invalidated Florida law allowed a jury to recommend a death sentence by a majority vote, with the Hurst decision finding that "advisory" procedure violated the constitutional right to a trial by jury.

An unresolved issue is whether the Hurst ruling should be applied retroactively to cases like Lambrix, who had exhausted his appeals, or King, whose 2009 conviction and sentence has been upheld on its initial appeal.

Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar told the Florida justices that Hurst should not apply to King, where a jury unanimously recommended the death penalty after they had found King guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering Lee, a 21-year-old North Port mother of 2 children. The jury heard a 911 call from Lee where the terrorized woman pleaded for help and repeatedly begged King to release her.

Although some have suggested a "fairness" standard should apply the Hurst ruling to all Florida death row inmates, Dittmar told the court that finality in the law "needs to trump fairness."

"Certainly the citizens of this state and certainly the families of these victims need to have confidence that when a sentence is final it will only be disturbed when there is a tremendously important reason to do so," Dittmar said.

In his questioning, Justice Charles Canady seemed to be in alignment with Dittmar's argument that the Hurst decision was a "limited procedural ruling" without retroactivity, rather than the argument from King and other inmates that the decision had "fundamental significance" and should apply to many if not all the death row inmates.

Canady said without finality in the law, a new decision could be used to "reach back and apply to any case no matter how remote in time."

"Every decision we make would mean that if someone had been convicted under a different understanding of the law previously, that would be up for grabs always," Canady said.

In addition to the Hurst challenge, King's lawyer told the justices that his sentence and conviction should be overturned because of fundamental mistakes by the lawyers who represented him at his initial trial.

Maria Perinetti, a lawyer with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel office in Temple Terrace, said King's trial attorneys failed to object when the state prosecutors rejected an 18-year-old African-American woman as a potential member of the jury.

The prosecutors eliminated her citing several "race neutral" reasons, including her statement that life in prison was worse than a death sentence and that her brother had previously faced a drug charge.

Perinetti said the removal of the female juror could have been challenged as a discriminatory move by the prosecutors. "A defendant is entitled to a non-discriminatory jury selection process," she said.

But several justices seemed to be skeptical of that claim as part of King's post-conviction appeal.

"We're sort of re-examining in a microcosm this few seconds of a trial where nothing affected the fairness of the conviction," said Justice Barbara Pariente. "So that's my problem."

The court will issue its opinion in the case at a later date.

(source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune)


2 men indicted in kidnapping, murder of Baton Rouge couple, TV station reports

2 men face the death penalty if convicted in the kidnapping and beating death of a Baton Rouge couple, WAFB reported Tuesday (Feb. 2). Ernesto Alonso, 42, and Frank Garcia, 48, were both indicted on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 2nd-degree kidnapping.

Denis Duplantier and Suzanne Duplantier were found parked at a Hammond truck stop on Oct. 19, 2015. Their home had been burglarized the night before, according to WAFB.



A death penalty trial has been postponed until August for an Illinois man charged with kidnapping a Kentucky woman and fatally shooting her along Interstate 75 in southwest Ohio

The trial of Terry Froman, of Brookport, Illinois, had been scheduled to begin on Feb. 22 in Lebanon. The Hamilton-Middletown Journal-News reports ( ) that the trial was continued Thursday to Aug. 15 due to medical issues with a mental health expert.

The judge says a new expert is set to testify.

Froman has pleaded not guilty to charges including aggravated murder and kidnapping in the September 2014 slaying of 34-year-old Kim Thomas of Mayfield, Kentucky.

Authorities say Froman killed his estranged girlfriend's 17-year-old son in Kentucky and then kidnapped and killed her along the highway about 30 miles north of Cincinnati.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty dropped from 2010 double-murder case

The prosecution in a 2010 double-murder case said the death penalty is now "off the table" for a suspect involved. The move was done at the request of the victim's family who want the case to be resolved sooner rather than later as the issue has been batted back and forth between dueling motions.

"We have been talking with the victim's mother in the case for some time," Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum said. "It was her desire to get this case moving."

The Washington County Attorney's Office filed its intent to seek the death penalty for Brandon Perry Smith, 34, in January 2014. Smith is accused of killing 20-year-old Leeds resident Jerrica Christensen Dec. 11, 2010. Smith was subsequently charged with 1st-degree felony aggravated murder.

Smith's co-defendant, Paul Ashton, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 27-year-old Brandie Jerden and the attempted murder of James Fiske.

Since the prosecution's notice to seek the death penalty, the defense has filed motions to attempt to have the option removed and to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional by the court.

Taking that off allows us to move this case along much quicker

"In light of our notice to seek the death penalty - that causes much more delay in the proceedings in litigating the death penalty issues," Shaum said. "Taking that off allows us to move this case along much quicker (and) allows (the victim's family) to get a quicker resolution, at least on the legal issues, at a quicker rate."

Though the death penalty is no longer on the table, Shaum said the prosecution believes there is enough evidence to secure a murder conviction.

"We felt we could retain justice and get the case resolved short of seeking the death penalty," Shaum said.

Ellen Hensley, Christensen's mother, who has been attending court hearings since the case began, said she was happy the case can now move forward. Multiple attorneys she consulted told her the case could carry on for another 5 years due to the continuing battle over the death penalty.

We deserve to be able to move forward with our lives

"We deserve to be able to move forward with our lives, to put this nightmare behind us," Hensley said. "We can't do that as long as we keep coming back to court."

Members of Smith's family were also present in the courtroom Wednesday. Following the hearing they also said they are glad the death penalty has been removed.

Gary Pendleton, Smith's attorney, was also pleased. It makes his job a little less complicated, he said, although the dynamics of the case have changed.

"It changes a lot, drastically," Pendleton said.

As the case will no longer be one of capital murder, Mary Corporon, who was brought in as co-counsel funded by the state's Indigent Defense Fund, could be removed from the case. It is a matter the attorneys will be addressing as the case moves forward. Should Corporon's services end up being defunded and leaving, Pendleton will have to take on case matters Corporon had been addressing.

The removal of the death penalty also makes way for issues that haven't been addressed yet, Pendleton said.

One of those issues relates to 2009 legislation that removed the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense in homicide cases where the suspect was under "extreme emotional distress." The defense has to prove that the extreme emotional distress is a mitigating circumstance justifying a manslaughter charge and not a murder charge. In a motion filed last month, Pendleton wrote:

"The net result of these amendments is that an offense that was formerly punishable as manslaughter may now be punished as capital murder unless the defendant is able to carry the burden of proving that he acted under extreme emotional distress."

"That, to me, is a significant issue," Pendleton said Wednesday.

Fifth District Judge Michael G. Westfall set a July 1 deadline for the filing of any new motions. A possible 2-week trial date has been tentatively set for sometime after mid-October.

In addition to a new motion regarding the 2009 legislation, Pendleton said he plans to get video testimony of a woman who knew Smith when he was a grade school student. The woman was a school counselor at the time, Pendleton said, and will testify to Smith's personality and the extreme emotional distress issue.

Pendleton has long said that his client was manipulated into killing Christensen.

Christensen would have been 26 years old on Friday, Hensley said. The family will be visiting her resting place with birthday cake, she said.

"It's funny how her birthday is harder than her death date ... simply because she loved her birthday," Hensley said. "(I) don't want to forget about birthdays."

(source: St. George News)


Death penalty upheld for man convicted of killing 4 people

The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a Stockton man's death sentence for murdering 4 people in 1997 with a gun he had stolen from the van of an Alameda County sheriff's deputy.

In the unanimous ruling, the court rejected defense arguments that police had coerced Louis Peoples into confessing to the murders during a marathon interrogation after his arrest.

Peoples had worked as a tow truck driver in Stockton for 7 months before being suspended in October 1997 for testing positive for methamphetamine. Later that month, prosecutors said, he called the company for a tow late one night, using an alias, and fatally shot the driver, James Loper, 29. Peoples called the company the next day, using his real name, said he was sorry to hear about Loper's death, and asked to return from his suspension but was turned down, the court said.

A week later, prosecutors said, Peoples robbed a liquor store and killed the owner, Stephen Chaco, 39. He was also convicted of robbing another liquor store a week after that and fatally shooting the owner, Beson Yu, 56, and a clerk, Jun Gao, 46.

Peoples, then 35, was arrested a day after the 2nd robbery. After questioning, police said, he led them to a vacant lot near his home where a pouch was found containing a .40-caliber Glock handgun that had been stolen in June 1997 from the van of Michael King, an off-duty Alameda County deputy who was visiting Stockton.

Police said they also found a folder in Peoples' backpack that was labeled "Biography of a Crime Spree" and contained news clippings about the crimes and a note saying he had been motivated both by revenge and the need to support his wife and 2 children when he was unemployed.

His lawyer said Peoples had been molested as a teenager, and presented psychiatric evidence of brain damage from his methamphetamine use. Because of extensive local news coverage, his trial was transferred to Alameda County, where an initial jury deadlocked on his sentence - voting 8-4 to spare his life, according to the defense lawyer. But a 2nd jury returned a death verdict in 2000.

In his appeal, Peoples' lawyers argued that detectives had unlawfully coerced him in a 12-hour interrogation session that lasted until 4:45 a.m.

The court said Peoples denied guilt for the first 9 or 10 hours before admitting the crimes. The detectives first tried to win his trust by suggesting he hadn't meant to shoot anyone, and later told him that his wife had implicated him and that they would "drag" her into the case and "lean on" his 12-year-old stepson if Peoples didn't cooperate, the court said.

Those tactics did not cross the line into illegal inducements or coercion, the court said.

The detectives "never offered him leniency for his confession and never threatened a harsher penalty if he remained silent," Justice Goodwin Liu said in the 7-0 ruling. While threatening to drag Peoples' wife into the case, the officers never suggested that they would charge her with a crime, Liu said. And although Peoples showed signs of fatigue during the questioning, Liu said, the detectives gave him numerous breaks, and food and drink, and repeatedly offered him the chance to speak with a lawyer, which he declined.

Additionally, Liu said the trial judge, Michael Platt of San Joaquin County Superior Court, spoke "discourteously and disrespectfully" to Peoples' lawyer throughout the trial but never did so in the jury's presence. A state commission later removed Platt from office for fixing traffic tickets and other misconduct.

Phillip Cherney, Peoples' appellate lawyer, said Thursday that Platt, with the Supreme Court's approval, had also allowed the prosecutor to present a misleading view of the defendant as a remorseless killer. Finding the proposed defense evidence unreliable, the judge excluded letters Peoples had written to his family, expressing remorse, and barred testimony by the pastor for 1 of Peoples' victims, who would have said he spoke with Peoples and considered him genuinely remorseful.

Platt's rulings prevented the jury from hearing "powerful evidence" that Peoples had become a changed man in his nearly 3 years behind bars, "once the meth was out of his system" and "it began to settle in what he had done," Cherney said.

The case is People vs. Peoples, vS090602.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


San Jose: DA to seek death penalty in brutal baby rape, killing

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen will seek the death penalty against a man charged with forcing a 16-month-old boy into a sex act so brutal that it tore up his lips and throat before suffocating him, the Mercury News learned Wednesday.

Rosen's decision to pursue a capital case against 42-year-old Alejandro Benitez, in an era when opposition to the death penalty continues to rise in California, is the 2nd time he has opted for the ultimate punishment against a defendant since taking office 5 years ago. Rosen is also seeking the death penalty against Antolin Garcia-Torres for the alleged 2012 kidnapping and killing of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, who disappeared just north of Morgan Hill on her way to her school bus stop.

Rosen issued a short statement after prosecutors notified the court of his decision Wednesday afternoon. An autopsy revealed that the boy, Kaden Bernard, had over 40 different injuries -- both old and new, internal and external -- covering his body from head to toe.

"This was a nightmarish and extremely violent crime against the most vulnerable of all victims," Rosen said. "It is the worst of the worst."

No decision regarding the death penalty has been made in another chilling case in which prosecutors charged a 22-year-old San Jose man last month with raping, beating and suffocating a 2-year-old boy as the child's mother slept in another room.

Benitez has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder in the commission of a serious and dangerous felony, which in this case is a lewd act on a child. His court-appointed lawyers, who had presented their case for life without parole to senior prosecutors on Rosen's special death penalty advisory committee, expressed frustration Wednesday. They pointed out that Rosen's decision came on the same day the National Registry of Exonerations reported a record 149 exonerations in 2015, including 5 inmates who had been sentenced to death. None of the 5 were in California.

"On the very day a report was issued showing five people sentenced to death were exonerated last year alone, we are extremely disappointed with Mr. Rosen's decision to seek the death penalty," said Brian Matthews, the lead attorney for Benitez. "His decision validates a deeply flawed system and disregards the substantial cost to the public."

The toddler's ordeal began the morning of April 11, 2012, when his mother dropped him off at the East San Jose home of baby sitter Juana Ayala. That afternoon, Ayala called police to report that the child had choked while drinking the bottle of milk his mother had left for him. Semen consistent with Benitez' DNA profile was later found on the boy's clothing.

Rosen's announcement comes as a recent Field poll found that 47 % of voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California, up from 40 % in 2014.

At the same time, the poll shows that 48 % of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate the state's notoriously slow system of resolving death penalty appeals to pick up the pace of executions. However, support for speeding up the process has dropped since from 52 % in 2014. Death penalty opponents are preparing a measure for the November ballot that would abolish California executions, while advocates of capital punishment are proposing a conflicting measure to reform and speed up the death penalty system. If voters were to approve both measures in November, the one with the most votes would settle the death penalty question in California for now.

Benitez's trial is unlikely to start before the November election, meaning if the ban passes, the prosecution would be forced to stop seeking the death penalty.

California voters rejected the last effort to abolish California's death penalty, in 2012, by a 52 to 48 % margin. However, the ban was approved in 7 of the 9 Bay Area counties, except in Solano and Napa. In Santa Clara County, the proposed ban passed with 54.7 % support.

The state has executed 13 inmates since 1978, but nearly 750 remain on death row, the largest in the nation.

Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, which is backing the measure to abolish capital punishment, said pursuing the Benitez trial will cost Santa Clara County alone an extra $1 million. Last year, the state Legislative Analyst's Office found that banning the death penalty would reduce state and local costs associated with murder trials, appellate litigation and prisons by about $150 million annually.

But Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, praised Rosen's decision.

"It's certainly not a waste if it's one of the worst of the worst crimes," Scheidegger said. "That's what a DA should do."


Other Potential Death Penalty Cases that came before DA Jeff Rosen

Paul Castillo: Charged with murder, kidnapping, assault on a police officer. DA decided in 2012 against seeking death penalty; he pleaded guilty and received life sentence without parole. Samuel Corona: Charged with murder, torture. DA decided in 2011 against seeking death; he pleaded guilty and received life sentence without parole.

Miguel Bacigalupo: Charged with robbery, 2 counts of murder. A jury returned a death verdict in 1987 that was reversed on appeal. DA in 2012 decided against seeking retrial of death sentence, converting it automatically to life without parole.

David Ghent: Charged with rape and murder; 1979 conviction and imposition of death penalty reversed on appeal. DA decided in 2013 against seeking death; case pending.

Kenneth Thomas: Charged with 2 counts of murder in a residential robbery. DA decided against seeking death; case pending.

Antolin Garcia-Torres: Charged with kidnapping, murder. DA in 2014 decided to seek death penalty; case pending.

Jonathan Wilbanks: Charged with carjacking, murder. DA decided in 2013 against seeking death penalty. He pleaded guilty and received life sentence without parole.



See which California counties still send criminals to death row, despite lack of executions

It's been exactly a decade since California last executed a murderer. But since then more than 180 California criminals have been sentenced to death.

The sentences have not been uniformly distributed. Some counties have stopped or almost stopped sending murderers to death row. Others continue to condemn prisoners with relatively high frequency.

It's unclear whether these criminals will ever be executed. California halted executions in 2006 following a court order related to whether the state's drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. State officials have worked to resolve that question. Late last year, they unveiled a new lethal injection method that for the 1st time in state history calls for the use of only one drug to execute inmates.

Proponents for competing ballot initiatives - one that would speed up the process for executions and one that would abolish the death penalty -- are collecting signatures for the November 2016 ballot.

Among large communities, Riverside County is the outlier, condemning murderers to death row at more than 5 times the statewide rate during the last 10 years.

More than 5 % of murder arrests in Riverside County resulted in a sentence of death during the last 10 years, according to a Bee review of data from the state Department of Justice and the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. By comparison, about 1 % of murder arrests statewide resulted in a sentence of death over that same period.

A few small counties, particularly Kings County and El Dorado County, sentenced murderers to death at a high rate - but those counties also have a relatively low number of murders, which potentially inflates their rates.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sacramento County saw almost 1,000 murder arrests in the last decade, and 4 murderers condemned, state figures show. None of the roughly 350 murder arrests in San Francisco over that period resulted in a sentence of death.

[sources: Arrest data from California Department of Justice -- Condemned inmate data from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation | Note: Condemned inmates shown are those sentenced from 2006 through 2015. Murder arrests shown are from 2005 through 2014. There is generally at least a 1 year lag between a murder arrest and a sentence of death]

(source: Sacramento Bee)


Clinton lays out rationale for death penalty support

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday night explained her rationale for continuing to support the death penalty in certain situations.

"What I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary proof of effective assistance of consult or they cannot continue it," Clinton said during the Democratic primary debate.

"Because that to me is the real dividing line. I have much more confidence in the federal system and I do reserve it for really heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism," she said. "I have strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh receive the death penalty for blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children in a daycare center."

But Clinton also offered some caveats.

"So I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment," Clinton said. "But I deeply disagree with the way that too many states still are implementing it. So if it were possible the federal from the state system by the Supreme court that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome."



Bernie Sanders had a powerfully simple message about the death penalty

After Hillary Clinton said during the MSNBC Democratic debate that she reluctantly supports capital punishment, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew a contrast. "I just don't want to see government be part of killing, that's all," he said.

Sanders added that he could understand Clinton's stance, saying that "all of us know that we are seeing in recent years horrible, horrible crimes and it's hard to imagine how people can bomb and kill 168 people in Oklahoma City or the Boston Marathon bombing," but too many "innocent people, including minorities, African-Americans, have been executed when they were not guilty." He also said that the world already has "so much violence and killing," and he doesn't believe "the government should be part of the killing. When somebody commits any of these terrible crimes that we have seen, you lock them up and you toss away the key, they're never going to get out. I just never want to see government in the killing."



Hillary Clinton will support abolishing death penalty once she's forced to

Hillary Clinton, asked about her support of the death penalty during Thursday night's Democratic debate, said that "for particularly heinous crimes, I do believe it is an appropriate punishment."

"I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh receive the death penalty for blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children in a daycare center," Clinton said, saying that it was particularly suitable punishment for acts of terrorism.

At the same time, Clinton made clear that, should the Supreme Court decide to place restrictions or prevent the states from carrying out capital punishment, she would support such a situation. "What I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary proof of effective assistance of consult or they cannot continue it," she said. "If it were possible the federal from the state system by the Supreme court that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome."

People of color disproportionately receive death penalty sentences, compromising "43% of total executions since 1976 and 55% of those currently awaiting execution" according to the ACLU. Since 1976, 1 out of 10 people sentenced to death have been exonerated after evidence proved their innocence. The majority of the Democratic Party supports abolishing the death penalty.

Bernie Sanders, asked the same question as Clinton, answered with fewer caveats. "Of course there are barbaric acts out there," he said. "But in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing."



Australian resident facing possible death penalty in Indonesia denies poisoning murder

The woman accused of being the 'coffee killer' is a permanent Australian resident who is facing the possibility of the death penalty after allegedly lacing her friend's iced coffee with cyanide on a holiday in Indonesia.

Jessica Kumala Wongso, 27, was charged with premeditated murder earlier this week over the death of her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, 27, on January 6.

If found guilty, the charge carries a minimum jail sentence of 20 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison or death.

Mirna died in Jakarta, Indonesia after having an iced coffee with Jessica and another friend, Hani, at the Olivier cafe in Grand Indonesia shopping mall earlier this month.

Police have accused Jessica of lacing Mirna's drink with cyanide after the newlywed reportedly sipped the iced coffee then started convulsing. She was rushed to hospital and died that day.

Jessica, who denies involvement in Mirna's death, was the one who ordered the drink that killed Mirna, according to police. can exclusively reveal that Jessica, her parents and 2 siblings have been permanent residents of Australia since emigrating from Indonesia about 8 years ago.

The family resides in Sydney.

A source close to the family told that Jessica was on holidays in Indonesia with her parents and was due to return to work as a graphic designer in Sydney just weeks after her arrest.

"She's innocent," the source, who is in contact with Jessica, said. "She's just a common Australian; a 27-year-old young lady who was having a coffee then got into trouble for something she didn't do.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and (now) she could die."

NSW Ambulance confirmed Jessica was employed with the service until just a few months ago.

"Jessica Wongso was employed as a temporary agency contractor in an administrative position within NSW Ambulance from July 2014 until her resignation in November 2015," a statement issued to from NSW Ambulance read.

"As this is a matter under police investigation, NSW Ambulance is unable to comment further."

The Jakarta Post reported the Australian Federal Police was contacted by Jakarta Police "to look into the relationship between Mirna and the friends during their time studying together", reportedly at Sydney's Billy Blue College of Design and Swinburne University of Technology.

Wayan Mirna Salihin died from suspected cyanide poisoning. Her friend Jessica Kumala Wongso has been arrested in relation to Mirna's death.

The AFP confirmed "it has been approached by the Indonesian National Police (INP) in relation to this matter".

"The AFP is currently considering this request in accordance with normal police-to-police assistance processes and policies," an AFP spokesman said.

"It is not appropriate for the AFP to comment on an INP investigation.

"As this is a matter for Indonesian authorities, further questions should be directed to the Indonesian authorities."

Indonesian chief detective Krishna Murti said police have gathered about 20 witness statements, including evidence from experts, and conducted a re-enactment.

"Jessica's statement is highly inconsistent with the facts we have gathered," Mr Murti told reporters. "We will confirm whether her statement as a suspect is still consistent with her one as a witness or if she will give another statement."

Indonesia National Police Commission member Edi Saputra Hasibuan said the cafe's CCTV footage allegedly shows Jessica moving "the coffee drink ... twice".

Jessica's lawyer Yudi Wibowo said the evidence was "legally insufficient" and fails to show "her physically pouring poison into the coffee".

Yudi said Jessica was innocent.

"She is not afraid. She is tough because she has done nothing wrong in relation to the case," he said earlier this month.

Yudi has questioned the autopsy process undertaken on Mirna's body, saying he did not believe she died from cyanide poisoning, as her friend Hani had sipped coffee from the same cup.

Police confirmed they found cyanide in Mirna's stomach and in the coffee she drank before her death.

Yudi has called for a 2nd autopsy to be conducted in another hospital, after it was first completed in Kramat Jati Police Hospital on January 10.

Mirna recently married her partner, Arief Soemarko.

Yudi also denied rumours there was a love triangle between his client and Mirna's husband.

"There is nothing like that. Jessica has a boyfriend overseas," he said, according to local media reports.

(source: The Cairns Post)


Hundreds of Indonesian Workers Face Death Penalty in Malaysia

A total 126 Indonesian Migrant Workers are facing the death penalty in Malaysia, according to Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, director for the protection of Indonesian nationals and legal aid at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"The government is looking for solutions to address the issue," Iqbal said at the Ponorogo Legislative Council (DPRD) on Thursday, February 4, 2016.

Iqbal suggested that issues with Indonesian migrant workers could be addressed by consultation, legal and diplomatic efforts. Institutions involved in conducting the efforts include the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Manpower Ministry and non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Over the last few years, the institutions had been cooperating to save migrant workers from the capital sentence. Iqbal revealed that a total of 282 migrant workers in Malaysia had been saved from the death penalty in the period of 2013-2015.

Migrant Institute Executive Director Adi Candra Utama said that drugs cases entangling migrant workers were caused by domestic issues. Based on investigations, Adi added, age manipulation cases were commonly found. "The [data] manipulation occurs starting from the lowest level (from the village)," Adi said.

The internal factor had resulted in 80 % of migrant workers' issues. Meanwhile, the external factors accounted for 20 % of migrant worker cases.

"We need to reform the system from the top to provide better protection for migrant workers," Adi suggested.



Murder and rape reignites death penalty campaign

A horrific murder and rape in southern Thailand has sparked a campaign to prevent death sentences from being overturned for those convicted of deadly sexual assaults.

Spearheaded by actress-turned-activist Panadda Wongphudee, its supporters call for an end to the right of convicted murderer-rapists to seek sentence reductions or pardons, which campaigners said allow the perpetrators to leave prison too soon and go on to repeat their crimes.

The petition comes in reaction to a group of men accused of holding a young woman in a jungle hut in Phatthalung province for 3 days before sexually assaulting her in front of her boyfriend, who they then killed, and leaving her for dead.

Although none of the 4 suspects arrested Monday is known to have been convicted of such acts or received early release from prison, the horror of the crime has again tapped into a well of anger over violence against women and the perception that the law does not take it seriously.

"They confessed and they are minors, so they will certainly get a reduced sentence, but they don't look repentant [on TV]at all," Panadda said. "So what can we do to make sure that they will really change their way?"



Death penalty: Convict to be executed on Feb 9

On 9th February 2016 death sentence of a criminal will be carried out in Central Jail Bahawalpur.Superintendent Central Jail Bahawalpur District and Session Judge Bahawalpur Rana Masood Akhtar issued a letter setting the date of the execution of Haider Shahzad. Shahzad was involved in a murder case registered in Hasilpur police station.

(source: The Express Tribune)


Death penalty: 'Rarest of rare' cases are not so rare in India now

A West Bengal court's verdict awarding death penalty to 11 convicts, including a Trinamool Congress leader, for the murder of a woman has raised questions over the doctrine of 'rarest of rare' propounded by the Supreme Court.

Aparna Bag, a resident of Ghughurgachi of Nadia district of West Bengal, was murdered by a group of people on November 13, 2014 over a land dispute. On Thursday, a court in Krishnanagar handed death sentence to the 11 accused.

Death penalty in India

In India, death penalty is prescribed for murder, gang robbery with murder, abetting the suicide of a child or insane person, waging war against the government and abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces. Capital punishment is also awarded under some anti-terror laws for those convicted of terrorist activities.

Murder convicts get life imprisonment

Generally, courts award life imprisonment to convicts in a murder case. Only in "rarest of rare" cases, murder convicts are given death penalty.

Death sentence is imposed on the convict only when the court comes to the conclusion that life imprisonment is inadequate having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case.

Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which was added to the Code in 1973, requires a judge to give "special reasons" for awarding death sentences. Capital punishment can be inflicted only in gravest cases of extreme culpability and in choosing the sentence the condition of the convict is also to be taken into account.

What is "rarest of rare"?

In 1980, in the Bachan Singh case, the Supreme Court propounded the "rarest of rare" doctrine and since then, life sentence is the rule and the death sentence the exception.

There is no statutory definition of "rarest of rare". It depends upon facts and circumstances of a particular case, brutality of the crime, conduct of the offender, previous history of his involvement in crime, chances of reforming and integrating him into the society etc.

Test for "rarest of rare"

The generally applied test while sentencing a convict to death is whether the survival of an orderly society demands extinction of life of the person who has committed the offence and whether failure to impose death sentence on him would bring to naught the sentence of death provided under Section 302 of IPC.

Pre-planned, brutal, cold-blooded and sordid nature of a crime, without giving any chance to the victim, are generally taken into account to decide whether a particular case falls within the parameters of "rarest of rare".

What does Supreme Court say?

"Death penalty should be imposed when collective conscience of the society is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability of otherwise of retaining death penalty," said the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh Vs. State of Punjab.

The crime has to be viewed from various angles - manner of commission of murder, motive for commission of murder, anti-social or socially abhorrent nature of crime and magnitude and personality of victim of murder.

Are trial courts following "rarest of rare" doctrine"?

But the manner in which death penalty is being given in a large number of cases raises a serious question. Are trial courts in India giving a go by to the 'rarest of rare' doctrine?

The question becomes all the more relevant because not all convicts awarded death penalty are executed in India.

The number of death sentences pronounced has been very high despite the "rarest of rare" doctrine that limits the scope of awarding capital punishment.

According to an Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) report - The State of Death Penalty in India 2013 - Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 370 death sentences, followed by Bihar (132). But sentences for 4,321 convicts were commuted from death penalty to life imprisonment during this period. This, of course, included many convicts who were given death penalty before 2001.

The highest number of commutation - 2,462 - happened in Delhi, followed by Uttar Pradesh (458). But thousands of convicts still remain on the death row.

Huge gap between death sentence and actual execution

Data show there is a huge gap between death sentences pronounced and actual executions. According to an ACHR report based on National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there have been several death sentences between 2001 and 2011, but only a few of these have actually been carried out.

Indian courts awarded death penalty to 1,455 convicts from 2001-11, an average of around 132 convicts per year. But an overwhelming number of death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment during this period.

The only convict to be executed during this period was Dhananjoy Chatterjee (2004) who was hanged for the murder and rape of a 14-year old girl in Kolkata. This was the country's 1st execution since April 27, 1995, when Auto Shankar, a serial killer, was executed in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

Thereafter, there have been only 3 executions - Mumbai terror attack case convict Ajmal Kasab in 2012, Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru in 2013 and Mumbai serial blasts case convict Yakub Memon in 2015.

Is SC becoming averse to death penalty?

The president and governors are exercising the power "to grant pardons, etc., and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases", given to them, under Articles 72 and 161, to save a fairly large number of convicts from the gallows.

While the executive have been refusing mercy pleas of only terror convicts, judiciary is not following the same.

Of late, the Supreme Court has refused to impose capital punishment in cases in which one would have expected it to send the convicts to the gallows. Many were surprised when the SC declined to award death sentence to the convicts in the Graham Staines, Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo murder cases on the ground that these did not fall within the category of "rarest of rare".

It commuted the death penalty of Rajiv Gandhi's killers to life imprisonment in February 2014 on the ground of inordinate delay in deciding their mercy pleas. A month later, it also commuted the death sentence of 1993 Delhi terror convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar to life imprisonment on the grounds of delay in deciding his mercy petition and that he suffered from a mental illness.

Punishment is natural response to crime

This principle is almost universally accepted and that letting off criminals can result in vigilante justice. Also, the punishment has to be proportionate to the degree of wrongdoing and mitigating circumstances have to be considered while deciding the quantum of punishment.

Should India abolish death penalty?

India has been voting against a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. But in effect, there has been a near moratorium on the death penalty in India.

According to Amnesty International, in India, at least 100 people in 2007, 40 in 2006, 77 in 2005, 23 in 2002, and 33 in 2001 were sentenced, but not executed, to death.

India's figure is minuscule compared to China which executed thousands, Iran (1,663), Saudi Arabia (423), the US (220) and Pakistan (171) during 2007-12.

ACHR director and coordinator of the National Campaign for Abolition of Death Penalty in India, Suhas Chakma, says: "The sanctity of the rarest of rare doctrine has been eroded considerably and awarding death penalty has become routine for courts in India.

"India should abolish death penalty altogether and join the comity of civilised nations that have done away with this extreme form of punishment," says Chakma.

(source: Hindustan Times)

FEBRUARY 4, 2016:


Georgia death row on my mind----I got Brandon Jones off death row 20 years ago. On Tuesday, the state of Georgia ended his life.

I knew I wouldn't sleep on Tuesday, when the state of Georgia geared up to execute Brandon Jones. At 72, Jones was the oldest prisoner to ever be killed there, and to me, he was no anonymous condemned prisoner: Jones was an old client of mine. More than 20 years ago, I got him off death row. Then, I moved away from Georgia, and some local lawyers managed to get him back on. His appeals failed; they made plans to end his life. So even though I was in London some 4,261 miles away, on Tuesday, my mind was on the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, its euphemistic name for death row.

Brandon always insisted that while he had taken part in his alleged crime - a robbery of a convenience store in 1979 - his co-defendant, Van Solomon, was the one who shot Roger Tackett, the unfortunate and entirely innocent attendant. Solomon was electrocuted in 1985, despite the heroic efforts of my good friend, lawyer George Kendall. I was more fortunate: In 1989 I managed to persuade a federal judge to order a new sentencing trial to decide whether Brandon would live or die.

It was a curious issue that seemed to save Brandon's life. In talking to the jurors, I learned that they had illegally taken a Bible into their deliberations. They had not turned to Matthew 5:7 and read that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Rather, they had relied on Exodus 21:24: "You shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. ..." Because of this smuggled guidance, Brandon got a new sentencing trial.

By the time Brandon was on trial again, in 1994, I had moved to Louisiana to set up a death penalty charity, and could not commute hundreds of miles to Cobb County, Georgia, for the case. I found him an excellent lawyer, but he and Brandon had a falling out, and Brandon ended up with 2 court-appointed lawyers who had no idea what they were doing. Tom Charron, a bloodthirsty local District Attorney who seems to relish the association of his name with the mythological ferryman Charon on the River Styx, successfully urged the jury to call for a second death sentence. I have participated in the retrials of every other client whose sentence I managed to reverse, and won every time. Brandon was the solitary exception. In that way, I, too, failed him.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, Brandon's death had been sanctioned by the narrowest of margins. The issue was whether Georgia's new secrecy laws were valid: The state now refuses to allow access to information about the drugs being used in executions after a spate of embarrassing challenges to the execution protocol - some concerning botched executions, some concerning the right of pharmaceutical companies to object to the government using their life-saving drugs to kill people.

5 of the 11 judges on the federal court of appeals voted for a stay. "Today Brandon Jones will be executed, possibly in violation of the Constitution," Judge Robin Rosenbaum predicted. "He may also be cruelly and unusually punished in the process. But if he is, we will not know until it's too late - if ever."

Even at the 11th hour, the battle was not over. Sickening as it sounds, I have often received a stay from some judge, anywhere between Atlanta and Washington DC, within an hour of an execution. Here, Brandon's execution was set for midnight GMT, [7 p.m. in Georgia]. His current lawyers filed a flurry of last minute pleadings, and they won Brandon extra time and extra life - albeit perhaps only temporarily. So the clock edged around as Brandon sat in the holding cell, close by the execution chamber.

"Brandon, a septuagenarian, had to wait for death alone, with perhaps a guard stopping by his cell door for company."

Almost 30 years ago, in 1987, I sat with Edward Johnson, the young man immortalized in the BBC documentary "14 Days in May" as he awaited death in Mississippi's gas chamber. But society has moved on, and we are even less civilized, now. So Brandon, a septuagenarian, had to wait alone, with perhaps a guard stopping by his cell door for company. I have been in those rooms before, watching the clock move at once too fast and too slow towards the dial of the appointed hour. It is excruciating.

It was 4 a.m. GMT when Justice Clarence Thomas, at the Supreme Court in Washington, vacated the final stay of execution. Now, after 36 years, this allowed the "Diagnostic Center" to set about killing Brandon. Problem is, despite their appetite for death, they are not very good at it. No doctor may take part - the Hippocratic Oath forbids it - so some inept technician probed and prodded Brandon for an hour, trying to find a vein. In the end, they had to insert the needle in his groin.

A journalist who was present from the local paper wrote that Brandon "fought death." I know he would have, but that was another euphemism. What she meant was that they botched it. Georgia uses 1 drug to execute its prisoners - a medicine originally designed for patients with severe epilepsy. Since the medicine is made to save the lives of patients, not end the lives of prisoners, the manufacturer had forbidden its sale to prisons for use in executions. But instead of heeding the manufacturer's wishes, the state turned to a shady compounding pharmacy and paid the pharmacist to mix up unapproved versions of the product so they could go ahead with executions; presumably this was the same pharmacist that had previously mixed up drugs for Kelly Gissendaner's execution, which were found to have "white chunks" in what ought to have been a transparent solution.

Secrecy surrounding Georgia's execution protocol means that the public could obtain no assurances regarding the quality of the drugs injected into Brandon's groin in the early hours of this morning. Anecdotal evidence doesn't inspire confidence: While Brandon's eyes closed within a minute of the warden leaving the execution chamber, a full 6 minutes later, his eyes popped back open. According to the witnesses, he looked at a clock on the wall, and then appeared to look at the man who prosecuted him in 1979, Tom Charron, who was sitting on the front row of the witness area.

How I hate to think of what was happening then. Charron was sitting in the same chair when they executed Nicky Ingram 20 years ago. I remember the bald patch at the back of Charron's head, and how he could not keep eye contact when I looked at him. I doubt he could hold Brandon's eye either.

When I would leave that execution chamber, always in the early hours, I invariably looked up at the stars - the same stars looking down on Brandon as he died were hovering over London last night.

And I have always asked myself: Did that ghastly event in there really make it a more civilized world?

(source: Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve----Al Jazeera)


Florida Supreme Court orders new trial for Spaniard on death row

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the murder conviction of Spaniard Pablo Ibar, who has been imprisoned for almost 22 years, 15 of them on death row.

The 4-3 decision means Ibar will get a new trial on charges he took part in the 1994 murders of nightclub owner Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, 48, and models Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers, both 25.

One of the high court's key findings in ordering a new trial was that Ibar's DNA was not found on the t-shirt recovered from the murder scene that the killer used to partially cover his face.

Ibar, 45, has always maintained his innocence, and his defense team emphasized in their appeal the lack of reliability in the DNA test, a blurred, grainy and soundless video recorded by security cameras at Sucharski's home and the testimony of a facial recognition expert that they said was unreliable.

The black-and-white video shows 2 individuals with their faces covered looking for objects of value in the home.

At the end of the tape, 1 of the men uncovers his face and, despite the poor quality of the image, the prosecution said at trial that the person was Ibar.

In an April 2014 hearing before the Supreme Court, defense attorney Benjamin Waxman insisted that Ibar had an ineffective defense at his first trial due to the "disastrous" representation he got from public defender Kayo Morgan.

"It's a time of great emotion for which we've been waiting a long time. The road is opening for Ibar to finally be able to prove his innocence," Andres Krakenberger, the spokesman for the Association Against the Death Penalty for Pablo Ibar, told EFE.

The man convicted in 2000 along with Ibar, Seth Peñalver, received a new trial in 2012 and was acquitted on all charges.

(source: Fox News)


Cop killer Dontae Morris seeks to overturn death sentence

The convicted killer of 2 Tampa police officers wants his death sentence reduced to life as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing law.

Dontae Morris, 30, is on death row at Florida State Prison in Starke, where he is also serving a life term for a 3rd Tampa murder.

He was sentenced to death for killing Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in 2010. He shot both officers in the head at close range as he was being taken into custody during a traffic stop.

Morris is among the first of dozens of convicted felons seeking to have their death sentences overturned by the Supreme Court because a judge, and not a Hillsborough County jury, made the critical findings of fact in his case. That system, used for decades, was held to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Hurst vs. Florida.

"In this case, this death sentence has to be vacated," Morris' attorney, Cynthia Dodge, told the Supreme Court in oral arguments Wednesday. Dodge asked the court to lift Morris' death sentence three days after the Hurst decision.

The justices could uphold Morris' death sentence, reduce his sentence to life or order a new trial.

Another death row inmate, Michael King of Sarasota, made similar arguments Thursday. King was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of a North Port mother of 2 children, Denise Lee, in 2009.

"Mr. King is entitled to an automatic life sentence," his lawyer argued in papers filed with the court.

The state's high court is also keeping a watchful eye on the Legislature. The Hurst case has forced legislators to rewrite state law to require juries to make unanimous all findings of aggravating factors that must exist to justify a death sentence.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar argued that Morris' appeal should be rejected because the death penalty itself has not been held to be unconstitutional by the Hurst case.

"It's very narrow. It's very easy to fix," Dittmar told justices.

The fix, she said, is a new special verdict form to be given to juries in capital cases in which they find aggravating factors.

But Justice Barbara Pariente appeared openly skeptical of her argument.

"We put the jury front and center in the most critical decisions in this criminal justice system," she said. "So to say it's just procedural, I think, flies in the face of what our country has been about."

Morris is 1 of the 43 so-called pipeline cases whose direct appeals are coming up for review by the Florida Supreme Court in the immediate aftermath of the Hurst decision.

The state court on Tuesday granted an indefinite stay of execution to Michael Lambrix, 55, a convicted double murderer who was scheduled to die Feb. 11.

The Supreme Court on Thursday also reversed the death sentence of Pablo Ibar, who was sentenced to death for 3 notorious Broward County murders in what were known as the Casey's Nickelodeon killings, named for a bar by that name owned by one of the victims.

Ibar, 43, has maintained his innocence, presenting an alibi defense at trial. His co-defendant, Seth Penalver, was acquitted at his retrial.

In a 5-2 decision, justices said Ibar's rights were violated as a result of a poor representation by his defense lawyer, Kayo Morgan, and is entitled to a new trial.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Arkansas Lawyer Asks For Mulligan In Death Penalty Conviction

Arkansas' high court says a death row inmate isn't entitled to a new sentencing hearing just because his lawyer may have delivered "one of the worst" closing arguments of his career.

The Arkansas Supreme Court Thursday reversed a Benton County judge's order for a new hearing and asked the lower court to reconsider the request with a more objective test to determine if Brandon Lacy's lawyer performed adequately.

Lacy was sentenced to death after he was found guilty of capital murder and aggravated robbery in the 2007 slaying of Randall Walker.

The Supreme Court's order also denied a separate appeal from Lacy. He said his lawyer failed because he did not argue Lacy had a mental defect because of alleged alcohol-fueled blackouts and memory lapses.

(source: Associated Press)


PBS revisits notorious Leopold and Loeb case in 'The Perfect Crime'

It was a time of unease for middle-aged Middle Americans. They were worried about their sons and daughters - the weird music, the scanty clothing - and also about the way the super-rich were getting away with everything.

The headlines told of the strange case of teenagers, convicted killers, who got off easy through their lawyer's novel defense that the boys were victims of affluent parents who hadn't taught them right from wrong.

Sounds like today, but it was actually 1924, when 2 19-year-olds, both from wealthy Jewish families in Chicago, committed a horrendous crime but cheated the hangman's noose thanks to a novel defense by their famous lawyer.

The trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, which riveted the nation and the world, will be re-examined Feb. 9 when PBS airs "The Perfect Crime" as part of its "American Experience" series.

Both Leopold and Loeb, raised by governesses in the lap of luxury, came to visualize themselves as incarnations of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch - as supermen so brilliant and exceptional as to be bound by neither law nor morality.

The 2 became lovers, with the handsome and charismatic Loeb as the dominant partner. They initially tested their theory with petty crimes, but then, at 19, went for the big time.

They decided to commit the perfect crime, one they believed would never be traced to them, by picking up Bobby Franks - a 2nd cousin of Loeb - in their car, first killing him with a chisel and pouring acid over his face and body to obscure distinguishing marks, then stuffing the corpse into a culvert.

The "perfect," untraceable crime collapsed almost immediately. Franks' body was discovered by a passerby, a pair of nearby glasses was traced to Leopold, and the murderers' alibis quickly fell apart.

Both men confessed that they had committed the murder for the thrill of it, while Leopold compared his deed to an entomologist dissecting an insect for further study.

At the trial, the 2 defendants, elegantly dressed, were unrepentant, smiling and smirking. A death penalty seemed inevitable. At one point in the process, when the prosecution hinted that the defendants had sexually molested Franks before killing him, the judge, John Caverly, ordered all female reporters to leave the court room so as not to soil their delicate ears - even though the word "moron" or "sex moron" was frequently substituted for "homosexual" at the time.

Desperate, the parents of Leopold and Loeb hired Clarence Darrow, the country's top criminal lawyer and an ardent opponent of the death penalty, to defend their sons and, specifically, to spare them from hanging.

With world attention focused on the case, Darrow pleaded his clients guilty to avoid a jury trial, thereby leaving the final verdict to the judge. He then proceeded to offer a groundbreaking psychological defense, arguing that his clients were not perpetrators but victims of stunted emotional growth, that Leopold had been sexually abused by his governess, and, for the 1st time, introducing Freudian concepts in an American trial.

Darrow called a string of psychiatrists (then called "alienists") to the witness stand and 2,000 Chicagoans lined up hoping to hear Darrow's final 3-day summation.

Surprisingly, in an era of rampant anti-Semitism fueled by the KKK and Henry Ford, the defendants' Jewishness, accompanied by their arrogance, was rarely mentioned in reports of the trial.

In a phone interview, Cathleen O'Connell, producer and director of the hourlong documentary, said that she and her staff spent much time checking coverage of the trial in the general and Jewish media and found hardly any allusions to the defendants' ethnicity and religion.

However, she did come across one article in the Chicago Tribune quoting a Jewish "spokesman" as observing that Loeb and Leopold's crime was due to their neglect of Judaism, O'Connell said.

1 explanation may be that their victim, Franks, was Jewish himself, although his parents had converted to Christian Science.

What made O'Connell's research most difficult, she said, was the absence of any newsreel coverage of the trial, and the judge, believing the testimony would be too salacious for the general public, aborted any radio broadcasts of the trial.

O'Connell contrasted this lack of firsthand material to the extensive coverage of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" 1 year later, in which Darrow defended a schoolteacher accused of violating Tennessee law by teaching evolution to his students. It was the 1st trial that allowed Americans to follow the proceedings by radio.

The documentary fills much of the gap through extensive use of still photos and by actors conveying the voices and personas of the main participants.

"The Perfect Crime" premieres at 9 p.m. Feb. 9 on KOCE, the PBS SoCal station.


IRAN----juvenile executions

2 Baluchi Juvenile Offenders Executed in Iran

According to close sources, 2 Baluchi prisoners were hanged to death at Yazd Central Prison on drug related charges.

The executions were reportedly carried out on Monday February 1. According to the Baloch Activists Campaign, the names of the prisoners are Khaled Kordi and Moslem Abarian. A relative of Khaled Kordi confirms to Iran Human Rights that both prisoners were under the age of 18 at the time of their arrests. Iranian authorities carried out the executions without informing the family members of the prisoners.

The 2 prisoners were reportedly riding a bus to work when they were arrested by Iranian authorities for drug offenses. The relative tells IHR that he believes Khaled and Moslem were innocent and the drugs were planted on them by someone else on the bus.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran is a signatory of, bans death sentences for offenses committed under the age of 18.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


U.N. panel rebukes Iran for allowing sex, execution at 9 years old

Iran must reform its laws that allows girls as young as nine to be executed for crimes or forced into sexual relations with older husbands, a United Nations watchdog said on Thursday.

Iran continues to execute children and youth who committed a crime while under 18 years of age, in violation of international standards, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said, after its 18 independent experts reviewed Iran and 13 other countries.

"The age of criminal responsibility in Iran is discriminatory, it is lower and lower for girls, that is to say 9 lunar years while for boys it is 15. At 9 a girl can marry, even if the law sets the age at 13," said Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, a panel member.

9 lunar years in the Iranian calendar is equivalent to 8 years and 9 months, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The age for boys having criminal responsibility is 15, but the age for girls at 9 is "extremely low", Idrissi said.

The experts deplored that Iran "allows sexual intercourse with girls as young as 9 lunar years and that other forms of sexual abuse of even young children is not criminalised". They called for the age of sexual consent to be raised to 16.

"The Committee is seriously concerned about the reports of increasing numbers of girls at the age of 10 years or younger who are subjected to child and forced marriages to much older men."Girls suffered discrimination in the family, in the criminal justice system, in property rights, and elsewhere, while a legal obligation for girls to be subject to male guard6ianship is "incompatible" Tehran's treaty obligations, the panel said.

Iran made "positive progress" last year with a new Criminal Procedure Code that introduced juvenile courts, but nevertheless there were very serious concerns, the panel's chairman Benyam Mezmur told a news briefing.

"The age of criminal responsibility is very low and there are instances where the death penalty can apply for persons below the age of 18 or for offences they committed while below the age of 18," Mezmur said.

There were no figures for the number of executions of children or juvenile offenders, nor those imprisoned, due to secrecy surrounding the cases, he added.

(source: Reuters)


European Parliament condemns death penalty, torture in Bahrain

The European Parliament has condemned the use of torture and the death penalty in Bahrain, demanding the release of a man sentenced to death after allegedly confessing under torture.

In a resolution passed on Thursday, the body called on Bahraini ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to pardon 32-year-old airport guard Mohammed Ramadan.

Ramadan was arrested on 18 February 2014 - allegedly without a warrant - on suspicion of involvement in a bombing that killed a member of the security forces 4 days earlier.

Ramadan and Husain Ali Mossa, who had been arrested previously, reported that they were tortured into confessing to the crime, and later retracted their confessions and complained of having been coerced.

Despite this, no investigation was launched and the pair were sentenced to death in December 2014.

The case has already been highlighted by five UN human rights experts, who in August 2014 expressed their concerns over the fairness of the trial to the Bahraini government.

A resolution was co-authored by Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, who called it "a strong message to our friends in Bahrain that we are confident Bahrain can move in the right direction.

"Today, the Parliament firmly condemned the continuing use of torture by the security forces against prisoners and the use of Bahrain's anti-terrorism laws to punish citizens for their political beliefs."

The resolution has been welcomed by Bahraini human rights organisations, who warned on Thursday that Ramadan had exhausted all legal avenues of appeal and stands at risk of imminent execution.



'I would like to apologise for all of the trouble I've caused': Final words of death row inmates give a unique insight into their state of mind minutes before death...and they're almost always POSITIVE----Psychologists analysed language in 407 statements of men on death row

Have you ever imagined what your last words would be as you face death? It's a morbid thought, but one that almost 3,000 people currently on death row in the US may be contemplating.

To get an insight into the state of mind of these inmates' final thoughts, psychologists have analysed statements of the condemned in Texas, spoken minutes before they were given the lethal injection.

The researchers found that despite their impending death, the words conveyed were extremely positive expressions that reflected the emotional processes of coping with their fate.

The study was carried out by psychologists Sarah Hirschmuller and Boris Egloff from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany.

They analysed emotional language in 407 statements from people facing the death penalty in the state of Texas.

The offenders were put to death at the Huntsville Unit, which houses the State of Texas' execution chamber - the most active in the US.

Poignant examples include the last statement of Daniel Lopez, who at the age of 27 was put to death on 12 August last year. It reads: 'I would like to thank you. I hope this execution helps my family and also the victim's family.

'This was never meant to be, sure beyond my power. I can only walk the path before me and make the best of it. I am sorry for putting y'all through this. I am sorry, I love you. I am ready. May we all go to Heaven.'


The researchers found the prisoner's words conveyed extremely positive expressions that reflected the emotional processes of coping with their impending death.

Some examples include:

Richard Masterton, 43: 'Sending me to a better place. I am alright with this, you have to live and die by the choices that we make. I have made mine.' (Executed 20 January, 2016)

Raphael Holiday, 36: 'I love you, love y'all, always going to be with y'all.' (Executed 18 November, 2015)

Juan Garcia, 35: 'To the Solano family, I want to tell them to forgive me. While I am still alive I bring suffer to you all. The harm that I did to your dad and husband, I hope this brings you closure to all of you. I never wanted to hurt any of you all.' (Executed 6 October, 2015)

Gregory Russeau, 46: 'I would like to thank my family and friends for what y'all have done for me. Thank you for being here with me that I do not have to transition alone. I have peace. To my daughter, I love you, to my grandbabies, sisters and brothers, I love you. I am ready to go home.' (Executed 18 June, 2015)

Lester Bower, 67: 'I am not going to say goodbye, I will simply say until we meet again.' (Executed 3 June, 2015)

Kent Sprouse, 42: 'I would like to apologise to the Moreno family and the Steinfeldt family for all of the trouble I have caused them. I would like to apologise to my family for all of the trouble that I have caused them. I would also like to thank my family for all of their support. I guess that's it.' (Executed 9 April, 2015)

Robert Ladd, 57: 'Teresa I am really sorry, please don't have hate in your heart. I really feel like this. I hope you can find peace in your heart and happiness. A revenge death won't get you anything.' (Executed 29 January, 2015)

Arnold Prieto, 42: 'There are no endings, only beginnings. Love y'all, see you soon.' (Executed 21 January, 2015)

Lisa Colemen, 38: 'I just want to tell my family I love them; my son, I love him. The girls on the row, I love them and keep their heads up.' (Executed 17 September, 2014)

Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, 44: 'I look into my family's eyes, and I see sadness. Don't be sad, I'm happy. I am sorry for what I have done. Be mindful that I am happy till the end.' (Executed 9 April, 2014)

Jose Villegas, 39: 'I am ok. I have peace in my heart and ready for the next journey. I'm really ok.' (Executed 16 April 2014)

Ray Jasper, 33: 'To the Christian hip-hop community, all the positive brothers I've done time with. To all the people that took the time to write a letter. Thank you. To my family, we are one. To my beautiful daughter, the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you endlessly. I am you and you are me forever.' (Executed 19 March, 2014)

Jerry Martin, 43: 'I would like to tell the Canfield family I'm sorry; sorry for your loss. I wish I could take it back, but I can't. I hope this gives you closure. I did not murder your loved one, it was an accident. I didn't mean for it to happen. I take full responsibility.' (Executed 3 December, 2013)

Kimberly McCarthy, 52 : 'This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love ya'll. Thank you, Chaplain.' (Executed 26 June, 2013)

Beunka Adams, 29: 'First, I want to let my mom know not to cry, there is no reason to cry, everybody dies. Everybody has their time, don't worry about me. I'm strong. To my family: my old man, my kids, daddy is sorry. I love each and every one of you.' (Executed 26 April, 2012)

Franklin Alix, 34: 'I got your letter. It touched me and changed me. What happened was I been wanting to apologize to yall for your son. They told me not to do it in court. I wrote him a letter but they told me that they tore it up in court. I am not the monster they made me out to be.' (Executed 30 March 2010)

Michael Sigala, 32 : 'I would like to ask forgiveness of the family. I have no reason for why I did it, I don't understand why I did it. I hope that you can live the rest of your lives without hate. I pray the Lord grant me forgiveness.' (Executed 2 March, 2010)

Danielle Simpson, 30: 'I want to tell my family I love ya'll...I'm gonna miss ya'll. I'm ready, ready.' (Executed 18 November, 2009)

However, there are also examples of statements that are mostly negative, where inmates profess their innocence. Others chose not to leave a statement.

Licho Escamilla, 33: 'Pope Francis, God's children has asked the State of Texas to switch my death sentence to life in prison. But the State of Texas has refused to listen to God's children, they will have to take that up with God. Let everyone know it's not over. (Executed 14 October, 2015)

Michael Yowell, 43: 'To Gerald: you're a zero.' (Executed 9 October, 2013)

Douglas Feldman, 55: 'I hereby declare, Robert Steven Everett and Nicholas Velasquez, guilty of crimes against me, Douglas Alan Feldman. Either by fact or by proxy, I find them both guilty. I hereby sentence both of them to death, which I carried out in August 1998. As of that time, the State of Texas has been holding me illegally in confinement and by force for 15 years. I hereby protest my pending execution and demand immediate relief.' (Executed 31 July, 2013)

Milton Mathis, 32: 'The system has failed me. This is a miscarriage of justice. There are people on death row that need help. I asked the Lord to have mercy on me and I hope He has mercy on these people carrying out this mass slaughter.' (Executed 21 June, 2011)

Lee Taylor, 32,: 'I am sorry that I killed him, but he would not have been in prison if he was a saint.' (Executed 16 June, 2011)

Steven Woods, 31: 'You're not about to witness an execution, you are about to witness a murder. I am strapped down for something Marcus Rhodes did. I never killed anybody, ever. I love you, Mom. I love you, Tali. This is wrong. This whole thing is wrong. I can't believe you are going to let Marcus Rhodes walk around free. Justice has let me down. Somebody completely screwed this up.' (Executed 13 September 2011)

Richard Masterton, 43, who died on 20 January, left the positive message: 'I am alright with this, you have to live and die by the choices that we make. I have made mine.'

Juan Garcia, 35, who died on 10 June 2015, said in Spanish: 'To the Solano family, I want to tell them to forgive me.

'While I am still alive I bring suffer to you all. The harm that I did to your dad and husband, I hope this brings you closure to all of you. I never wanted to hurt any of you all.

Previous studies of condemned inmates have revealed many seek forgiveness and turn to God in their final hours.

Other research has suggested people are automatically drawn towards emotionally positive information and use positive emotional words such as 'love' and 'happy' before death, in order to regulate their fear of the unknown.

Drs Egloff and Hirschmuller used a database of inmates' last statements available on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's website.

The pair used computerised quantitative text analysis to measure emotional language used in the final statements objectively.


Condemned people in Texas can have 5 witnesses at their execution, including immediate family, friends and a spiritual adviser, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Since 1996 the immediate family and close friends of a victim have been allowed to watch an execution too.

Inmates scheduled for execution are brought from death row to the Walls Unit early in the afternoon of their scheduled execution.

Unlike other states, Texas prohibits inmates from special meals because of abuse of the privilege by past prisoners and the rationale that they did not offer a meal to their victims.

Inmates can, but are not required to, make a last statement prior to their execution.

By law, executions are scheduled to begin after 18:00 Huntsville time.

On the afternoon of an execution, victim witnesses and their support people are given an overview of the process and schedule, as well as a list of people that will be present and information about the offender's offence.

Victim witnesses and the offender's witnesses wait in separate parts of the Huntsville Unit before the execution and are kept separated throughout.

The inmates are housed until that time about 30 feet (9 metres) from the door of the execution chamber.

The execution chamber is a 9ft by 12ft (3 metres to 4 metres) room with turquoise walls and a gurney. Executions are carried out by lethal injection, and have been since 1977.

2 adjacent rooms, which view into the execution room through glass windows, house 2 groups.

The viewing process takes between 7 and 8 minutes, from entering the viewing room, to watching the procedure and being escorted back to a secure area for a debriefing.

For some witnesses, the process is traumatic, while others hold a media briefing.


The duo relied on a recent text analysis program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC).

This counted the total number of words, percentage of categorised dictionary words, percentage of positive emotion words, and percentage of negative emotion words in each statement.

Examples of 'positive emotion' words are happy and love, while examples of negative emotion words are sad and hate, the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology explained.

The experts also analysed personal pronouns and 'social orientation words' in the statements, to explore how death row inmates referred to other people in their statements.

These are typically words revolving around family and friends.

'We determined LIWC results for cognitive-processing words (e.g., think, know, or because), indicating the extent to which death row inmates were concerned about intellectually understanding the topics addressed in their final statements,' the researchers explained.

They compared their findings to the rates of positive emotion word use in general using a sample of speech and writing from 23,000 individuals.

They also looked at words used in the contexts of contemplated death and suicide.

The researchers showed that the inmates' final words, spoken minutes before their executions, contained a significantly higher proportion of positive than negative emotion words.

'The final statements of Texas death row inmates conveyed extremely positive expressions that reflected the emotional processes of coping with mortality,' the study said.

The experts added that this positivity was significantly higher than positive emotion word use in usual speech and books, as well as among people contemplating suicide.

'Additional analyses showed that emotional positivity in final statements was associated with a greater frequency of language use that was indicative of self-references, social orientation, and present-oriented time focus,' the study said, meaning inmates tended to be philosophical and more socially aware, with some asking forgiveness for their actions.

The study continued that the death row inmates' statements contained a total of 42,328 words - an average 104 words per person.

'On the individual level, a positivity index, which was statistically different from zero on average, showed that statements by over 80 % of executed death row inmates contained more positive than negative emotion words,' they said



Hanging was means of execution in Texas between 1819 and 1923, when it changed to the electric chair.

A total of 361 inmates were electrocuted in the state.

They include Raymond Hamilton, a member of the 'Bonnie and Clyde' gang who had escaped death row but was recaptured and put to death on 10 May, 1935.

Capital punishment was declared 'cruel and unusual punishment' by the US Supreme Court on 29 June, 1972 but in Feburary 1974 executions were resumed.

Texas adopted lethal injection as means of execution in 1977 and the 1st man to be killed by this method was Charlie Brooks, for the murder of a Fort Worth mechanic in 1982.

Texas leads in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, while California, Florida, and Pennsylvania have the largest death row populations.

There are 5 methods of execution in the United States: lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, and firing squad.

The average time spent on death row before execution in Texas is 10.87 years. The shortest is 252 days and the longest, 31 years.

The average age of executed offenders is 39 and the youngest was Jay Pinkerton, 24, who was executed on May 15, 1986.

(source: Daily Mail)


Va. murder trial may become part of national debate on jail informants

When a Virginia man faces a possible death sentence in a murder trial later this year, his fate may rest on the testimony of four jailhouse informants, 2 of whom were initially found mentally incompetent to stand trial in their own cases.

The case of Joaquin S. Rams could soon become part of a growing national backlash over the government's use of testimony from "snitches" - inmates who offer information against other inmates in exchange for lighter sentences or other benefits - to obtain convictions, sparked by a significant number of wrongful convictions attributed to false informant testimony.

The issue erupted last year in Orange County, Calif., when a capital case against an admitted mass-murderer, and numerous other murder cases, stalled because of the discovery of a "snitch tank": a ring of county jail informants, closely managed by jail deputies, dedicated to testifying against fellow inmates. A judge ordered the county district attorney off the case, and the prosecution of a man accused of killing 8 people in 2011 has been delayed indefinitely.

And in Washington last year, a judge ordered a new trial for the man accused of killing federal intern Chandra Levy in 2001 after defense attorneys successfully challenged the history and credibility of a key jailhouse informant in the 2010 trial.

The use of informants is not new, nor are the challenges to their credibility. But informants' role in recent wrongful convictions and high-profile cases is causing lawmakers nationwide to look at regulating their use.

In Texas, the revelation of false testimony by a snitch against a man who was later executed led to the introduction of legislation to ban informant testimony in death penalty cases. In Illinois, the law requires courts to hold "reliability hearings" before a jailhouse informant can testify. A similar proposed law in North Carolina failed last year. In Washington state, the legislature is considering a bill requiring judges to weigh informants' "incentivized" credibility before trial. And several high-profile murder cases in the Tidewater area of Virginia took drastic turns in recent years when jailhouse snitches were found to be unreliable.

In Rams's case, in Prince William County, Va., one of the informants, who pleaded guilty to the murders of three people in Manassas, Va., in 2011, reported frequent hallucinations and said he knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Another was diagnosed as a "malingerer" who was purposely lying to evade trial.

In arguing to exclude the informants from the Rams trial, defense attorney Joni C. Robin argued that such testimony was "inherently unreliable, that it involves witnesses who categorically are more willing to lie or perjure themselves than other categories of witnesses."

Calls for safeguards

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school found in 2005 that of the 111 people sentenced to death since the 1970s and later exonerated, "snitch" testimony was involved in 45.9 % of the cases. "That makes snitches the leading cause of wrongful convictions in U.S. capital cases," the report concluded.

Defense attorneys and academics have long called on states to initiate safeguards so that jail cell information is either recorded or corroborated, but only Illinois has written anything into law.

"There have been multiple snitch scandals in multiple places," said Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor who studies wrongful convictions. "Since more states are looking at wrongful convictions, it's becoming part of the conversation."

Informants present dilemmas to both sides of a criminal case. For prosecutors, they must decide whether to believe that one inmate confessed crucial information to the informant, what the informant's history is, whether to wire the informant for recorded conversation with the target and what they are willing to trade for the information. For the defense, attorneys must try to refute a typically unrecorded conversation, investigate the background of the informant and then convince a jury that sworn testimony is a lie.

Officials with 2 national prosecutors' groups said they would tread very carefully with jailhouse informants. David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and a former deputy prosecutor in California, said prosecutors "have to be able to specifically articulate the reason you're using an informant and making a deal." And judges must exercise "court oversight before that testimony is admitted. Can you corroborate it, or did they just pick up the newspaper?"

But prosecutors don'tt necessarily favor laws that regulate informant use. Josh Marquis, a county prosecutor in Oregon who is with the National District Attorneys Association, said: "I think jurors are very discerning. We don't believe it's appropriate for Congress or state legislatures to take away from juries what weight to give evidence."

Defense attorneys strongly disagree. "Jurors believe jailhouse informants," said Doug Ramseur, a Virginia capital public defender. "They think criminals are not that smart and they sit around and brag about their crimes."

Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert, the chief prosecutor in the county for 47 years, said it was "amazing to me that these people [defendants] will talk [to informants], despite their counsel's advice not to. Informants do have very valuable information at times." Asked how his office corroborates an informant's claims, he said, "Many times they will know things that only the defendant would know."

Ebert acknowledged having to cut deals with convicts but added, "I've often told juries, 'Sometimes you have to pet a skunk to catch another one.'"

Ebert declined to discuss the pending Rams capital case, in which the defendant is accused of drowning his 15-month-old son in his Manassas home in 2012 to collect more than $500,000 in life insurance. Rams's attorneys argued in 1 motion that investigators "sought out and elicited the testimony of at least 2 jailhouse snitches" after Virginia's chief medical examiner reversed the initial autopsy finding of drowning and ruled that the child's cause of death couldn't be determined.

Potential witnesses

In October, prosecutors disclosed four jail informants who may testify against Rams. The most notable was Jose Reyes Alfaro, who in February 2011 fatally shot three people and nearly killed a fourth during a rampage in Manassas. In 2011 and 2012, a judge found Reyes Alfaro incompetent to stand trial. A psychologist wrote in 2012 that "Reyes Alfaro's reporting of past events, actions and relationships give me pause to question his ability to distinguish memories from fantasy."

Reyes Alfaro was later sent to Central State Hospital, administered psychiatric drugs and treatment, and found to be restored to sanity in 2013, although a psychiatrist noted that Reyes Alfaro "described a number of far-fetched ideas about his past" such as being a member of an elite paramilitary force and "claiming to know the existence of Osama bin Laden in Venezuela."

Reyes Alfaro also "has previously falsely incriminated other individuals," Robin, the defense attorney, argued in November, "leading to the arrest of those other individuals," who were later released. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to 3 counts of capital murder and received 7 life sentences.

In exchange for Reyes Alfaro's testimony, prosecutors said they asked the state Department of Corrections to move him away from Wallens Ridge State Prison, which houses many of the state's most serious offenders.

Prosecutors also want to use Jamal A. Thompson, an Oakland, Calif., man arrested on charges of prostituting a 15-year-old runaway girl at a Manassas hotel, against Rams. Thompson also was initially found incompetent to stand trial, but when he was sent to Central State, doctors there found him to be engaged in "volitional malingering .... intentional feigning or exaggeration of psychiatric, cognitive or physical symptoms for secondary gain, such as .... to avoid prosecution."

Prince William prosecutors also listed Gavin Simms, who had multiple convictions for theft, as a witness and said he received no considerations for his testimony. But when 1 of Rams's attorneys attended Simms's sentencing several weeks later, court records show, they found that prosecutors had agreed to dismiss 9 felony theft charges and recommend a sentence of 18 months. He faced up to 4 years in prison.

The prosecutors also said they may call Aric A. Smith, who pleaded guilty to randomly shooting and killing retired ATF agent Gregory Holley as he walked his dog in Woodbridge, Va., in 2013.

Rams's attorneys asked Prince William Circuit Court Judge Craig D. Johnston to hold a "reliability hearing" to determine whether the four informants could testify, similar to a "Daubert" hearing held in civil cases to rule whether scientific evidence is admissible.

Johnston declined. "There's no Virginia case that I know of that authorizes such," the judge said. "I understand the defense's frustration. .... But that said, that's the way we do business in criminal cases, rightly or wrongly."

Rams's attorneys declined to comment on the case. The trial was scheduled to begin this week but was postponed at the defense's request. Rams, 43, has maintained his innocence in the death of his son, Prince McLeod Rams. 3 other people who were in the house when the boy fell unconscious say that Rams did not kill him.

A 'snitch factory'

Before another capital murder trial, Ramseur was the attorney for Christopher Artis in a Suffolk, Va., case in 2012. Ramseur listened to jailhouse phone recordings because he had been warned that the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk "was a snitch factory." He said he found "there was a network of guys trying to corroborate stories so they could get on a capital case and reduce their own case. I heard a guy call his mother and instruct her on how to look at my client's file."

At trial, he said 4 informants were "clearly on tape admitting they were lying to get their sentence reduced." Prosecutors quickly agreed to a mid-trial plea deal for 2nd-degree murder and 10 years for Artis. In Virginia Beach, the 2010 slaying of a Norfolk police officer remains unsolved after prosecutors in 2014 dropped all charges against 2 men because they found jailhouse witnesses had lied.

Prosecutors in the District last year acquiesced in the ­high-profile Chandra Levy case, in which Ingmar Guandique was convicted largely on the testimony of jailhouse informant Armando Morales. Morales testified that Guandique confessed the slaying to him.

But Morales, a convicted drug dealer and gang member, lied when asked whether he had testified in other cases, and Guandique's attorneys claim the confession testimony was also false. Last May, the U.S. attorney's office dropped its opposition to Guandique's demand for a new trial.

Now, "we understand the full scope of just how problematic criminal informants can be," said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"The rules permit precisely this result. Weak discovery rules, unfettered prosecutorial discretion and payments to criminals. What did we think would happen? It's time to ask why the American criminal justice system permits these practices to exist."

(source: Washington Post)


Rev. Joseph B. Ingle lectures on U.S. Death Penalty at Mars Hill University Feb. 15----Chaplain to Death Row Inmates to Present Lecture on the Death Penalty at Mars Hill University

Rev. Joseph B. Ingle, a United Church of Christ minister and a leading voice in faith-based opposition to the death penalty, will be presenting a public lecture Monday evening, February 15, at 6pm in Belk Auditorium, Mars Hill University. The lecture will be titled, "Why does the United States execute more of its citizens than any country in the world?"

Ingle will also be holding a workshop about the same issue on Monday afternoon, 3- 4:30 pm in Bentley Fellowship Hall. The workshop is entitled: "...and the criminals with him." The workshop will be interactive, examining Jesus of Nazareth and Socrates of Athens, who were both convicted criminals, and what lessons they teach us about criminals today and our relationship to them. In addition to Christians and philosophers of various sorts, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, Others, and "Nones" are welcome.

Ingle, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary, has been the chaplain to dozens of people on death row over the past 40 years across the South.

In a January 2015 article in Faith and Leadership, the Duke Divinity School newsletter, Ingle said his interest in counseling inmates on death row began during seminary, from reading the biblical book of Isaiah and Mary's "Magnificat," along with declarations in the Bible about "freeing the captives." He realized that he had never even been inside of a prison. This interest grew, and he decided to dedicate his senior year in seminary to visiting prisons.

"What you find out when you visit prisoners is they're doing something for you. The ministry that goes on is not me ministering to the prisoners. It's the other way around, and I think Jesus really knew that and that's why he wanted us to get in the prisons."

According to Ingle, the U.S. prison system is a "giant killing and caging machinery," which meets out retributive justice. Ingle says those values are inconsistent with the values of the Christian Gospel, which promotes restorative justice.

Ingle is the author of Last Rights: Thirteen Fatal Encounters with the States Justice (1990), The Inferno: A Southern Morality Tale (2011), and, most recently, Slouching Toward Tyranny: Mass Incarcerations, Death Sentences and Racism (2015).

The events at Mars Hill University are sponsored and coordinated by the following programs and departments: the Department of Religion, History, and Philosophy, The Visiting Artists and, Lectures Committee, The Office of the Chaplain and the Religious Life Program, The Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, The Ethics-Across the-Curriculum Program, The Department of Criminal Justice, and The Advocates of Justice Club.

The public lecture on February 15, 6pm in Belk Auditorium is free to the public. Ingle's workshop on Monday afternoon is also free to the public, but admission is limited and an RSVP is required. If you are interested in this workshop please contact Dr. Katharine Meacham at; 828-689-1119.

Ingle will also be speaking at the university's Crossroads worship service on Tuesday, February 16 at 11am in Broyhill Chapel, with a message titled "Homecoming."

Mars Hill University is a premier private, liberal arts institution offering over 30 baccalaureate degrees and one graduate degree in elementary education. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of western North


GEORGIA----impending execution

Georgia is already preparing for the next lethal injection

After carrying out the execution of its oldest death row inmate this week, Georgia is already preparing for the next lethal injection.

In 2 weeks, Travis Hittson, 45, is scheduled to die for the April 1992 killing of Conway Utterbeck, who was hit with a metal bat while he was sleeping, shot and dismembered, his remains buried in two places. The 2 were Navy sailors stationed in Pensacola, Fla., at the time of the killing. Another sailor was also convicted in the killing and reached a plea deal for a life sentence.

Georgia has at least 3 other death row inmates eligible for execution, meaning all of their standard appeals have been exhausted.

On Wednesday, Brandon Astor Jones was pronounced dead at 12:46 a.m. after an injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital. He was convicted in the 1979 shooting death of suburban Atlanta convenience store manager Roger Tackett during a robbery.

Last year, the state's plan to carry out executions in rapid succession was temporarily thwarted by a problem with its drug.

After executing 2 inmates in January 2015, corrections officials postponed executions scheduled for March after they noticed white chunks floating in a syringe of the normally clear compounded pentobarbital they had planned to use.

Officials said they investigated the problem and a judge rejected a related legal challenge. Executions resumed in the fall, bringing the year's total to 5, the most Georgia had carried out in a calendar year since 1987. Jones was the first Georgia inmate executed this year.

4 news reporters, including one from The Associated Press, witnessed his execution but only one was present when Jones was strapped down and the IV lines that would deliver the lethal drug were placed on his body. That reporter said the process took about an hour and 10 minutes, which is longer than usual.

A doctor was called in to help the 2-person team place the IV lines, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath. One line was put in Jones' right arm and another in the groin area, which is unusual but follows the state's execution protocol if access through veins in the arm or hand is not possible.

Georgia doesn't announce exactly when lethal injections begin, and the injection isn't visible to observers. But the warden left the execution chamber at 12:30 a.m., and records from past executions show the lethal drug generally begins to flow within a minute or 2 of the warden's departure.

Jones was convicted in October 1979 and sentenced to death. A federal judge in 1989 ordered a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. He was resentenced to death in 1997.

Van Roosevelt Solomon, who was also convicted and sentenced to death for Tackett's killing, was executed by electric chair in February 1985.

(source: Associated Press)

FLORIDA----impending execution

Judge denies request to delay execution of Jacksonville white supremacist

A Jacksonville white supremacist will die on St. Patrick's Day unless the Florida Supreme Court stops his execution.

Wednesday afternoon Jacksonville Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador rejected Mark James Asay's request for a stay of execution. Asay's case will now go to the state Supreme Court for a final appeal before he is scheduled to die by lethal injection March 17.

But Asay's chances of another reprieve are likely, considering the Florida Supreme Court stayed - or delayed - a Feb. 11 execution of a Glades County man this week after lawyers argued there was too much uncertainty to execute Cary Michael Lambrix. It follows the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling declaring the state's death-penalty sentencing procedures unconstitutional.

Salvador said the decision on whether the U.S. Supreme Court case affects Asay was best left to the Florida Supreme Court, and she prefers not to speculate on what the higher court will do.

Asay, 51, was sentenced to death for the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in 1987. Both victims were black and McDowell was a cross-dressing prostitute.

Attorney Martin McClain, who represents both Asay and Lambrix, said the arguments for delaying Lambrix's execution apply to Asay as well.

"There's just too much uncertainty right now to justify executing someone," McClain said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 12 that Florida's death-penalty procedures are unconstitutional because the final decision on whether someone is sentenced to life or death is made by a judge instead of a jury. The ruling did not say how the decision would affect the 390 people now on death row, which means the Florida Supreme Court must figure it out.

McClain argued earlier this week that everyone on death row should be resentenced to life in prison. But for now he's mainly arguing that his clients should not be executed until legislative leaders and the court system determine how to deal with the problem.

"If Mr. Lambrix is being stayed it only makes sense to stay Mr. Asay," McClain said. "I'm disappointed that the judge didn't follow what the Florida Supreme Court has done."

While the Florida Supreme Court had the power to delay an execution, Salvador said she didn't have that ability.

"This court is without power or authority to stay defendant's execution set by the governor of this state," Salvador said in her ruling.

McClain also said he hasn't had time to prepare a defense for Asay because he only became Asay's lawyer on Jan. 13. He said many of the documents have been lost or destroyed and he was still waiting for materials until the deadline required for him to file motions in the appeal.

McClain also argued that new evidence that suggests Booker and McDowell were not killed with the same gun diminishes the reliability of firearms evidence presented during the trial.

Salvador rejected all of McClain's arguments. She found that the evidence presented during Asay's trial was enough to convict him and found that the new evidence wasn't enough to cast doubt on the verdict.

Salvador also ruled that McClain has had enough time to properly defend Asay.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers will file motions this month to the Florida Supreme Court and oral arguments are now scheduled to occur during the 1st week of March, although the court could delay the execution without court filings or hearing oral arguments.



Justices weigh new trial for Morris in wake of death penalty ruling

Relatives and friends of 2 slain Tampa police officers sat in silence Wednesday as the Florida Supreme Court spent an hour debating with a public defender and state prosecutor about whether Dontae Morris deserves a new trial based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Morris, convicted of fatally shooting officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab in 2010, was the first death row inmate to have his direct appeal heard by the Florida Supreme Court after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Jan. 12 ruling that invalidated Florida's death penalty sentencing procedures.

The Florida high court is already struggling over how to proceed in light of that ruling, issuing an indefinite stay of execution for Cary Michael Lambrix while it considers arguments made Tuesday. Lambrix was sentenced to die Feb. 11 for the 1983 murder of 2 people in Glades County.

The U.S. Supreme Court's opinion has far-reaching implications, including whether Florida should require unanimous jury decisions instead of a simple majority in sentencing someone to death, and whether the high court's ruling should be applied retroactively to the 390 Florida death row inmates.

"We are still trying to figure this out," Florida Justice Barbara Pariente said during arguments.

The Florida Legislature is also grappling with the issue, with both the Senate and House holding hearings over how best to rewrite statutes to preserve the death penalty against future constitutional challenges. One House measure follows a recommendation by statewide prosecutors to require a 9-3 jury vote to impose the death penalty.

And circuit courts throughout the state are putting their death penalty cases on hold until the Supreme Court and Legislature come up with a solution.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Hurst v. Florida that the state's death sentencing statute violated the Sixth Amendment because Florida law gives a judge the right to override a jury's recommendation after reviewing the facts. The U.S. Supreme Court said only a jury can impose a death sentence.

"This statute has been declared unconstitutional on its face," Cynthia Dodge, a 10th Circuit public defender from Bartow who represents Morris, said during oral arguments Wednesday.

Morris was found guilty by a unanimous jury and sentenced to death in May 2014 for the shooting death of the 2 officers. A unanimous jury also recommended death.

Dodge's motion for a new trial was filed over a year ago and had nothing to do with the issues raised by Hurst, but rather rested on whether Morris had received a fair trial.

Dodge raised several issues in her motion, including whether Morris' right to an impartial jury was violated because of a change in venue, whether the court should have left out a redacted statement it allowed to be introduced as evidence, and whether the court should have let law enforcement identify the voice and image of the shooter on the police dash cam as that of Morris instead of leaving that for the jury to decide.

Dodge had 3 days after the U.S. Supreme Court's Hurst ruling to file a supplemental brief Jan. 15, laying out an argument that Hurst also applies to her client. She said the 12-0 recommendation by the jury didn't matter since "the required findings of fact regarding aggravating circumstances were not made by the jury."

In his 21-page order, Circuit Judge William Fuente said he gave great weight to 2 aggravating circumstances - the fact that the officers were killed in the line of duty and Morris' prior conviction for murder. Fuente said the 26 mitigating circumstances didn't outweigh the aggravating circumstances.

Pariente asked Dodge why she didn't ask for a new sentencing hearing that complies with Hurst. "Why isn't renewal for a new sentencing phase not an appropriate way to appeal?" Pariente asked.

Dodge said the case couldn't go back for resentencing because there is no longer a statute in place. Justice Peggy Quince also asked if there weren't still enough remnants of a statute in place to proceed with a resentencing hearing.

"Statutorily you have the judge sentencing, not the jury sentencing," Dodge said.

The Legislature would have to step in and write a new statute before any new resentencing trials are ordered, Dodge said.

Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar said Hurst doesn't apply to this case or other already decided cases because the procedures are still in place to conduct a fair resentencing hearing and it would cause an undue burden on the court system.

Florida has the 2nd-highest number of people on death row, after California.

Morris is 1 of 43 death row inmates who have filed direct appeals with the state following their sentencing and conviction. A direct appeal is the 1st appellate proceeding after the sentence of death has been imposed by a trial judge, Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters explained.

The Florida high court has several options in the Morris case: uphold the verdict, vacate the sentence, order a new trial or a new sentencing hearing, or commute Morris' death sentence to life.

"If they give him a new trial, all this Hurst stuff becomes irrelevant," Dodge said.

(source: The Tampa Tribune)


Judge rejects claims Alabama's death penalty system is unconstitutional, John Clayton Owens murder trial starts Monday

John Clayton Owens appears to be headed to trial Monday on charges he killed his elderly neighbor. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Owens is charged with killing his 91-year-old next-door neighbor Doris Richardson on Bide-a-wee Drive near Five Points in Huntsville in August 2011.

Owens' lawyers were unsuccessful Wednesday in persuading Madison County Circuit Judge Alison Austin that Alabama's death penalty system is unconstitutional.

Defense attorneys Brian Clark and Ron Smith argued that Alabama's system is essentially the same as Florida's. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hurst vs. Florida, on January 12, that Florida's death penalty system is unconstitutional because it gives judges the final say in death penalty sentencing, not juries.

Smith told the court the same holds true in Alabama. He pointed out that judges are allowed to ignore a jury's recommendation on whether a defendant should get life in prison without parole or the death penalty for a capital murder conviction.

Smith also argued the Hurst opinion found fault with the practice of allowing judges to hold an independent fact-finding process before sentencing - just like Alabama, after the jury has weighed in.

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Bill Starnes disagreed, telling the court that the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected a request to consider Alabama's death penalty law at the same time as it agreed to take up the Hurst case.

Starnes also noted that before the January 21 execution of Christopher Eugene Brooks, the Supreme Court was asked to stay the execution based on the Hurst ruling. A majority of the court rejected that argument.

Starnes said that showed the high court found Alabama's death penalty system was constitutional.

Judge Austin rejected the defense argument, also pointing out the Supreme Court could have considered the Alabama death penalty system along with Florida's, but it didn't.

The judge said the capital murder charge against Owens alleges that he killed Richardson in the commission of a burglary. The judge noted that burglary is among the "aggravators" jurors are to consider - normally during the post-conviction penalty phase - in weighing whether a defendant should be sentenced to death.

Austin said that if a jury convicts Owens of capital murder, that means it unanimously agreed that his crime included an aggravator, which would make him death-penalty eligible.

Defense attorney Brian Clark said the defense is still considering whether to appeal Austin's ruling to a state appeals court. That would likely delay the trial's start date.

Delaware's death penalty system is similar to Alabama and Florida's. Those are the last 3 states where a judge has the a, thority to override a jury's recommendation and issue a life or death sentence in capital murder cases.

A Delaware judge this week sent a request to the Delaware Supreme Court asking it to address questions raised by the Hurst decision. Delaware's death penalty cases are currently stayed, pending the state's Supreme Court opinion.

Owens' case is set to begin on Monday morning. 60 would-be jurors will be given questionnaires asking a range of questions, including their views on the death penalty.

The case is expected to take more than a week to complete.

(source: WHNT news)


Jury recommends death penalty in case of slain mentally challenged man

Dennis Hicks, 57, has been convicted of the death of Joshua Duncan, 23, in 2011. Hicks previously served a 25-year sentence for a 1979 double-homicide in Wayne County, Mississippi.

The Mobile County District Attorney's office tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the jury in the trial of Dennis Hicks has recommended the death penalty.

Hicks, 57, was convicted last week of the 2011 murder of Joshua Duncan, a mentally challenged man.

Duncan had been missing for a month when his remains were found in October 2011 in the former Mobile Police Firing Range on Cody Road. Duncan's body was decapitated and disemboweled.

Hicks was previously imprisoned for 25 years for a 1979 double-homicide in Wayne County, Mississippi. Hicks stabbed and shot those two victims. The bodies were later found in his vehicle.

While still a suspect in this investigation, he was arrested for theft of property in Spanish Fort, thus violating his parole. While in jail, he was charged with capital murder in the death of Duncan.

Lt. Paul Burch of the Mobile Sheriff's Office told in December 2012 that Hicks befriended Duncan at a church in west Mobile.

Although the DA's office has released information about the jury's recommendation, it is currently unknown how long the penalty phase of Hicks' sentencing will continue.



Tragic tales of injustice

Professor Marge Koosed of the UA School of Law hosted a panel to discuss race and the death penalty this past Tuesday. The event, titled "The Death Lottery: How Race Impacts the Ohio Death Penalty," featured 4 speakers who have firsthand experience with the issue.

A modest crowd attended the noontime discussion, which was held in the Student Union Theater. Koosed opened the event with Ohio capital punishment statistics, including the fact that 57 % of Ohio's death row inmates are minorities - while only 12 % of Ohio's population are minorities.

Then she turned the podium over to the afternoon's speakers.

The 1st speaker was Judge Stephen McIntosh, a former member of an Ohio task force asked to recommend changes to state death penalty laws - recommendations that included legislation that would prevent seriously mentally ill people from being executed.

Other recommended pieces of legislation would require absolute certainty that the defendant committed the crime before he or she could be condemned. McIntosh expressed frustration that people, especially people of color, are sentenced to death with little evidence. "You would be surprised to see how many people are on death row because of a single eyewitness or ... a jailhouse snitch," he said.

After that, the podium was passed to Jack Sullivan, Jr., an ordained minister and executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. Sullivan discussed the mission of his organization, which is primarily to abolish the death penalty.

Sullivan also recounted the tragic story of his younger sister Rebecca, who was murdered in Cleveland at the age of 21. He also spoke of the "Imperial 11," 11 African-American women who were kidnapped and killed in an Imperial Avenue duplex in Cleveland.

He expressed disgust with the legal system's response to both crimes, alleging that certain law enforcement personnel lack effort when investigating crimes involving African-Americans. "There's a thread of indifference at best, and a thread of lack of concern at worst," he said.

He stressed that he wants to see the killers captured, but not executed.

Next, Kwame Ajamu was invited up to the podium. Last year, Ajamu was exonerated for a 1975 murder that he did not commit.

The only witness for the case was a 12-year-old boy who recently admitted that law enforcement pressured him to falsely identify the murderers. "Not only did they fabricate the case, but they actually wrote my part into the story weeks later," Ajamu said.

For almost 25 minutes he told his tragic story, frequently pausing to dry his eyes with a handkerchief. He was arrested while playing basketball, assigned an apathetic defense attorney, and sentenced to death row.

"They came into an all-black neighborhood and left with 3 of its occupants," he said. "We wouldn't be back for 40 years. So many moments in life. 17 years in prison. Now, all of the seniors are gone. I'm a senior. My brother is a senior."

In his freedom, he stands as a staunch opponent of capital punishment. "If I could go back, man, I would do it all again," he said. "Just to stand as I do today and represent the eradication of this evil."

After Ajamu's emotional presentation, Abraham J. Bonowitz pointed to relevant resources and websites, including He encouraged the audience to join the fight against wrongful convictions and racial injustice in Ohio.



Execution Drug Supplier Won't Say If It Alerted Financial Crimes Unit

Missouri paid a family-run pharmacy in Oklahoma more than $30,000 in cash for execution drugs. Federal law requires recipients of large amounts of cash alert a federal financial crimes unit - but the pharmacy isn't saying whether it did.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, the state of Missouri has handed out $250,000 in cash to members of an execution team in an effort to keep their identities hidden. Its methods have raised questions about whether the state has followed federal law - but also whether at least 1 of the recipients of the cash payments complied with the law.

Most of the execution team payments were in increments of several thousand dollars. But one recipient, a pharmacy in Oklahoma that provided drugs for several executions, received payments of $11,091.

As BuzzFeed News revealed last week, the state has not been alerting the Internal Revenue Service to the payments. Experts said the state's methods raise the risk that the recipients could be evading taxes, and is likely in violation of federal tax law.

Further investigation of the "confidential execution team member receipts" reveals another potential legal issue. Anytime more than $10,000 in cash changes hands, the recipient is obligated to inform the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which investigates money laundering.

The Apothecary Shoppe, the pharmacy that received 2 cash payments of $11,091, apparently would have been subject to the law, an expert who spoke with BuzzFeed News explained, and therefore required to alert the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the payments.

"If any one of the payments was more than $10,000, then they should have made the filing with FinCEN," said Bryan Camp, a former IRS employee who is now a law professor at Texas Tech.

Attorneys have sometimes balked at the requirement of alerting the financial crimes unit of large cash payments, arguing it violates attorney-client privilege and their code of ethics. But a federal appeals court disagreed in a 1992 case, holding that an attorney had to disclose the information to the unit.

The penalties for not alerting the unit would be the same penalties the state could face for not disclosing the payments to the IRS. The penalties are relatively modest, starting at $100. But the penalties can add up, and increases if the violation was intentional.

The Apothecary Shoppe is currently under a court-ordered receivership. The receiver did not answer when asked if he would look into whether the pharmacy had alerted the financial crimes unit, or paid taxes on the large amount of cash it received. Since Missouri did not issue 1099s, the IRS would have no way of knowing to check for tax payments on the payments.

The pharmacy began supplying for executions in November 2013. In the 1st execution, the pharmacy was first paid $8,000. The state then increased its payments to the pharmacy to $11,091 per execution for another 2 executions. A corrections official testified that the extra cost was to pay for testing of the drug before it would be used.

In total, the Apothecary Shoppe received $30,182 for 3 executions.

The other members of the state's execution team did not meet that threshold in a single transaction. But other members cumulatively received well over $10,000 in cash. The law requires alerting the financial crimes unit if the payments are more than $10,000 in one "or more related transactions." A tax expert BuzzFeed News spoke with said it's unclear if the payments counted as "related transactions" for separate executions - meaning it's unclear if they would also need to alert the financial crimes unit.

In late 2013, St. Louis Public Radio discovered the pharmacy was selling drugs to Missouri despite not being licensed to do so in the state. Shortly thereafter, the pharmacy was sued by a death row inmate facing execution. He claimed the drugs that the Apothecary Shoppe was making would likely put him through severe pain.

The case was settled out of court. The terms were confidential, but the pharmacy agreed to not sell drugs for any more executions. The Apothecary Shoppe has refused to discuss its involvement in Missouri's executions, and the state found a new drug supplier.

Since then, the Apothecary Shoppe has defaulted on loans from the bank and their board resigned en masse. The bank sued the pharmacy, and put in place David Rhoades, a receiver who specializes in fraud.

Rhoades initially declined to comment on if the pharmacy paid taxes on the cash, and if it alerted the financial crimes division, since it took place well before his tenure. But when BuzzFeed News pointed out that the IRS could collect on the taxes, or could penalize the pharmacy if it did not alert the financial crimes division, Rhoades offered a brief statement.

"Regardless of what form revenue takes, it would be typical that it is recorded as income and therefore included in the tax preparation," Rhoades said.

Although he added, "I do not believe that it is a current issue for the pharmacies," Rhoades would not specifically answer questions as to whether the pharmacy paid taxes on the payments or alerted the financial crimes division.

The Department of Corrections did not respond when asked for comment. However, the director of the Department of Corrections, George Lombardi, was asked to explain the cash payments before the state legislature this week.

Lombardi could not point to an exemption that allowed the department to not issue 1099s, but defended its practice nonetheless.

"Is it your understanding that there is some sort of exemption for the department of corrections to skirt that federal requirement?" Rep. Jeremy LaFaver asked.

"It is my understanding that giving 1099s to these individuals would reveal who they were, and would mean the end of the death penalty, because these individuals wouldn't do it," Lombardi said.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who oversees the department of corrections, declined to comment.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)


Paul Wieland leads unlikely coalition to end death penalty

I knew Kent Heitholt, the late sports editor of the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, who was beaten to death on Halloween night 2001 in the parking lot of his paper. Kent was a big, tall man, probably close to 300 pounds. He was a nice person, a pro at his job and pretty mild mannered.

He was set upon by some punks who beat and strangled him.

One of those accused of the killing, Ryan Ferguson, was a 17-year-old high school student. Based on the testimony of a childhood friend, who himself pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder in the case, and the testimony of a janitor, Ferguson was arrested in early 2004 and convicted in 2005. By then a freshman at Mizzou, he was sentenced to 40 years for the killing.

In November 2013, Ferguson's conviction was vacated by a Missouri Court of Appeals after the 2 witnesses admitted lying on the stand during Ferguson's trial.

Kent lost his life. Ferguson lost nearly a decade of his.

Anytime there's news of prisoners wrongly accused or freed, or a discussion about the fairness of the death penalty, I think about Kent and the double tragedy of his case.

Last week was one of those times as a Missouri Senate committee took up a bill to formally repeal the death penalty in our state.

State Sen. Paul Wieland (R-Imperial) is the main sponsor and spokesman for the bill.

Wieland, a devout Catholic, is one of the most ardent and consistent pro-life members of the Legislature.

He is out front of a movement that may be pushed forward by an odd alliance of classic pro-lifers and government-can't-do-anything-right believers.

In the past, Republicans generally have been pro-death penalty and pro-law and order, which aren't necessarily the same thing, but which have a large overlap.

For decades, GOP candidates in campaigns have tried to paint Democrats as being more concerned about the rights of criminals than police officers.

So how have the Republicans come to be the party of no-death penalty? Because the party's extreme edge - hard as that may be to identify - has come full circle.

That element of the GOP has become so virulently anti-government (even as it presides over it) that it doesn't trust anything the government does, including executing people.

That growing attitude, coupled with some high-profile exonerations of people on death row, has joined the always pro-life forces to move this bill forward.

There are practical considerations, too, such as the potentially millions of dollars in legal costs it takes to execute a prisoner, dragged out over 2 decades or more. There also is a school of thought that says execution is too easy for them, that suffering in prison for 30 or 40 years is stronger punishment.

What I would call the classic pro-life stance has never differentiated which lives it finds sacred. The Catholic Church has been as adamant in its opposition to the death penalty as it has been to abortion or euthanasia. It's a 1-sentence stance - only God can make that decision.

To his credit, Wieland has been consistently pro-life. He and his wife, Terri, sued the federal Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 when Obamacare regulations forced them to accept health insurance that included contraception and abortion-inducing drug coverage. At the time, he said he filed the suit on behalf of his 3 daughters and his family's beliefs.

A federal judge threw the case out in 2014, ruling that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) superseded state law that allowed an opt-out of such coverage. The Wielands appealed and won that appeal in 2015, allowing the case to go forward. It has not yet been resolved.

It's always been a curious thing to watch many conservatives pledge their pro-life credentials on abortion to voters, but at the same time favor the death penalty.

For the religiously inclined, the Bible doesn't offer a clear answer. The Old Testament offers contradictory guidance. There are numerous references to "an eye for eye" which seem to endorse retaliation.

That sentiment is contradicted in Romans 12:19: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." In the New Testament, Matthew 5:38 references the original eye-for-an-eye quote and refutes it, urging disciples to turn the other cheek to an enemy.

Most of us, fortunately, have never been in the situation of the Heitholt family, or the thousands of other families affected by horrible crimes. It would strain anyone's beliefs to see a criminal smirking for his mug shot if his victim had been one of your loved ones.

Wieland and his church take a simple approach - all human life is sacred, period.

Senate Bill 816 was voted out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation last week. It may not become law, but you have to hand it to Wieland, who has introduced similar bills in past sessions, for consistently putting his beliefs on the line.

(source: Column, Patrick Martin;


Kansas v. Carr: Procedure and the Death Penalty at the Supreme Court

The debate over the constitutionality of the death penalty took on a renewed vigor last term in Oklahoma's lethal injection case, Glossip v. Gross, in which Justice Breyer in dissent suggested it "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment." While the Court decided 5-4 that Oklahoma's use of the lethal injection drug midazolam - part one of a 3-part drug cocktail meant to numb an individual from the pain caused by the other drugs working to stop the heart - was constitutional, the close vote and impassioned dissent highlighted a growing skepticism of capital punishment in the Court. Flash-forward to this term and the issue was high on the docket with four cases raising procedural questions about the death penalty. 2 have since been decided.

First, in Hurst v. Florida the Court deemed unconstitutional a sentencing scheme that charged the judge, and not a jury, with making the ultimate sentencing decision in capital cases. Decided 8-1, Hurst seemed to indicate the direction the Court would take in its three remaining death penalty cases. Then, just over a week later in Kansas v. Carr/Kansas v. Gleason, the Court voted 8-1 against recognizing additional Eighth Amendment procedural protections. What accounts for this difference? And what do these inconsistent results spell out for the remaining two death penalty cases, Foster v. Chatman and Williams v. Pennsylvania?

In Carr, the Kansas Supreme Court vacated three death sentences - those of the Carr brothers and of Gleason, a defendant in an unrelated case - because of the lower court's failure to affirmatively instruct the jury that mitigating factors need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and in the case of the Carr brothers, not allowing severance at the sentencing phase of trial. Kansas's attorney general challenged this decision, and the Court granted certiorari on the question of whether the Eighth Amendment demands the procedural protections recognized by the Kansas Supreme Court.

It became readily apparent that the respondents in Carr were in trouble. Justice Scalia halted oral argument to recount, at length, the grisly details of the Carr brothers' crime spree, known as the Wichita Massacre. It came as no surprise then, when the opinion for the case was handed down, that Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, used over 2 pages of his 18-page opinion to again hash out the horrendous facts. In the remaining pages, the Court found little trouble in dispensing with the respondents' arguments.

The Court first dismissed a jurisdictional objection brought by Gleason that the Kansas Supreme Court decision was based on adequate and independent state grounds. Next, the Court ruled that the instruction originally given at sentencing was sufficient and that "no juror would reasonably have speculated that mitigating circumstances must be proved by any particular standard, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt." The Court, legally dissecting the wording of the original instruction to reach its determination of what a reasonable juror would conclude, confusingly followed said determination with a reminder that jurors do not undertake such detailed analysis of jury instructions.

The Court likewise refuted respondents' argument that the joint sentencing proceeding for the Carr brothers violated their Eighth Amendment right to an "individualized sentencing determination." Again pointing out the "almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity" of the crimes, the Court concluded the joint sentencing proceeding was not fundamentally unfair in this instance and suggested instead its benefit in promoting reliability and consistency.

In the lone dissent, Justice Sotomayor did not challenge the majority's legal conclusions, but instead focused her disagreement on the grant of certiorari. Pointing out the state courts' unique function as "laboratories for experimenting with how best to guarantee defendants a fair trial," she feared the Court's intervention would act to dissuade states from implementing protections above and beyond the constitutionally mandated minimum.

Juxtaposing the result in Carr with recent Court decisions on the death penalty reveals a palpable shift. Justice Breyer, who previously called into question the constitutionality of the death penalty writ large, now sides with the majority. And while the issues did not go to the heart of capital punishment's validity, it seems unusual, just one week after guaranteeing increased protections in Hurst, that not one Justice argued that Carr's procedural protections might be constitutionally mandated.

It is possible that the shocking facts of Carr, which Justice Alito described as "some of the most horrendous murders that I have seen in my 10 years here," are accountable for this result. Undeniably, the facts played a part, with Justice Scalia sparing no effort in his opinion to remind the reader of their horrendous nature. But perhaps equally to blame is the nature of the procedural constitutional issues being raised. Unlike Glossip, which divided the Court 5-4 with a substantive question on "cruel and unusual punishment," procedural claims tend to be less compelling and pathos-laden than their substantive counterparts. The question of jury instructions and individualized sentencing determinations seem relatively insignificant, especially when presented in a case with such unsympathetic defendants. It is very possible that in Carr, the procedural questions were simply diminished by the overwhelming shadow of the facts.

What do these 2 different results in Hurst and Carr mean for the 2 death penalty cases currently pending before the Supreme Court? Both of the yet undecided cases involve questions of procedural protections in capital sentencing. Foster asks whether the Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize racially motivated juror strikes under Batson v. Kentucky. Williams asks whether an appeal judge's potential conflict of interest rose to the level of constitutional violation.

On their face, both issues - whether it is racial discrimination or bias in the judiciary - seem more cogent than the ones raised in Carr, and neither case involves crimes rising to the level of the Wichita Massacre. But while the death row inmates in Foster and Williams may still have hope in receiving a favorable decision from the Court, 1 thing is clear: The future of the death penalty at the Supreme Court is anything but certain.



San Jose: DA to seek death penalty in brutal baby killing

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen will seek the death penalty against a man charged with forcing a 16-month-old boy into a sex act so brutal that it tore up his lips and throat before suffocating him, the Mercury News learned Wednesday.

Rosen's decision to pursue a capital case against 42-year-old Alejandro Benitez, in an era when opposition to the death penalty continues to rise in California, is the 2nd time he has opted for the ultimate punishment against a defendant since taking office 5 years ago. Rosen is also seeking the death penalty against Antolin Garcia-Torres for the alleged 2012 kidnapping and killing of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar, who disappeared just north of Morgan Hill on her way to her school bus stop.

Rosen issued a short statement after prosecutors notified the court of his decision Wednesday afternoon. An autopsy revealed that the boy, Kaden Bernard, had over 40 different injuries -- both old and new, internal and external -- covering his body from head to toe.

"This was a nightmarish and extremely violent crime against the most vulnerable of all victims," Rosen said. "It is the worst of the worst."

No decision regarding the death penalty has been made in another chilling case in which prosecutors charged a 22-year-old San Jose man last month with raping, beating and suffocating a 2-year-old boy as the child's mother slept in another room.

Benitez has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder in the commission of a serious and dangerous felony, which in this case is a lewd act on a child. His court-appointed lawyers, who had presented their case for life without parole to senior prosecutors on Rosen's special death penalty advisory committee, expressed frustration Wednesday. They pointed out that Rosen's decision came on the same day the National Registry of Exonerations reported a record 149 exonerations in 2015, including 5 inmates who had been sentenced to death. None of the 5 were in California.

"On the very day a report was issued showing five people sentenced to death were exonerated last year alone, we are extremely disappointed with Mr. Rosen's decision to seek the death penalty," said Brian Matthews, the lead attorney for Benitez. "His decision validates a deeply flawed system and disregards the substantial cost to the public."

The toddler's ordeal began the morning of April 11, 2012, when his mother dropped him off at the East San Jose home of baby sitter Juana Ayala. That afternoon, Ayala called police to report that the child had choked while drinking the bottle of milk his mother had left for him. Semen consistent with Benitez' DNA profile was later found on the boy's clothing.

Rosen's announcement comes as a recent Field poll found that 47 % of voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California, up from 40 % in 2014.

At the same time, the poll shows that 48 % of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate the state's notoriously slow system of resolving death penalty appeals to pick up the pace of executions. However, support for speeding up the process has dropped since from 52 % in 2014. Death penalty opponents are preparing a measure for the November ballot that would abolish California executions, while advocates of capital punishment are proposing a conflicting measure to reform and speed up the death penalty system. If voters were to approve both measures in November, the one with the most votes would settle the death penalty question in California for now.

Benitez's trial is unlikely to start before the November election, meaning if the ban passes, the prosecution would be forced to stop seeking the death penalty.

California voters rejected the last effort to abolish California's death penalty, in 2012, by a 52 to 48 % margin. However, the ban was approved in seven of the 9 Bay Area counties, except in Solano and Napa. In Santa Clara County, the proposed ban passed with 54.7 % support.

The state has executed 13 inmates since 1978, but nearly 750 remain on death row, the largest in the nation.

Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, which is backing the measure to abolish capital punishment, said pursuing the Benitez trial will cost Santa Clara County alone an extra $1 million. Last year, the state Legislative Analyst's Office found that banning the death penalty would reduce state and local costs associated with murder trials, appellate litigation and prisons by about $150 million annually.

But Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, praised Rosen's decision.

"It's certainly not a waste if it's one of the worst of the worst crimes," Scheidegger said. "That's what a DA should do."

(source: Mercury News)


Push For Vote On Death Penalty Fizzling Out In Washington

An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state this year seems to be losing steam.

This fall, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys called on lawmakers to put the death penalty up to a statewide vote.

But in a preview of the legislative session, leaders from both parties said they are too busy working on education funding.

It's disappointing news to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. He points out, it has been 41 years since Washington voters weighed in on the topic.

Satterberg: "The question about the death penalty is not 'is it some day going to go away,' the questions is how. The Legislature could vote on it, but they've never been able to get a bill out of committee. The Supreme Court could rule on its constitutionality, but that hasn't happened."

The other option is a voter referendum campaign, but Satterberg says the prosecutor's group is not in a position to pay for that. Meanwhile, nine inmates currently on Washington's death row are protected by a moratorium on the death penalty by Governor Jay Inslee.

(source: KUOW news)


Why an Egyptian appeals court overturned 149 death sentences ---- The grounds for the appeals court ruling are still unclear, but the new trial will be held in a criminal court.

Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, on Wednesday ordered a retrial for 149 activists of the banned Muslim Brotherhood sentenced to death.

The activists were handed capital sentences for allegedly storming a police station in 2013 and killing 11 policemen and 2 civilians in a mob attack, a judicial source said.

The grounds for the appeals court ruling are still unclear, but the new trial will be held in a criminal court, and the defendants will have the right to appeal the verdict at the high court.

The initial ruling took place in February 2015, amid a series of death sentences and mass trials that were criticized internationally, as the government cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood activists and supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Mr. Morsi became Egypt's 1st democratically elected president after the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but was himself overthrown by the army in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. The overthrow of Morsi ushered in the worst domestic bloodshed in the country's modern history, according to human rights observers.

The Egyptian government has long drawn criticism from Western governments and human rights organizations for cracking down on Morsi supporters. Since the Egyptian leader was ousted from power in July 2013, hundreds of Morsi's Islamist supporters have been killed, thousands jailed, and dozens sentenced to death.

The United Nations has continually condemned the crackdowns and mass trials that have left thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters jailed, calling them "unprecedented in recent history."

Despite the outcry from rights advocates, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vowed to speed up the legal process to allow for quicker enforcement of death sentences last June after the assassination of Egypt’s public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat.

"The hand of justice is shackled by the law. We're not going to wait for this," Mr. Sisi said. "We're going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible."

But since then, things have changed with the court overturning several death penalties, a move that has been widely welcome by many rights advocates.

Last December, the same court overturned death sentences against Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 36 others who were accused of "setting up an '"operations room'" for the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in organized by Brotherhood supporters after the military toppled then-President Morsi, according to Al Jazeera.

Mr. Badie is, however, facing other trials, and has been sentenced to death in a separate case along with Mr. Morsi for plotting prison breaks and attacks on police during the 2011 uprising. Last month, the Egyptian Justice Minister vowed to make sure that Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood members convicted to death sentence will be executed if the appeal court upholds the sentences, the Middle East Eye reported.

Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the mufti, the government's interpreter of Islamic law, who plays an advisory role. If he approves, convictions are still subject to a lengthy appeals process.

(source: Christian Science Monitor)


DPC Supports Death Penalty For Corrupt Officials

The Democratic People's Congress (DPC) has thrown its weight behind the clamour for death penalty for looters of public treasury.

Speaking in Abuja, yesterday, the national chairman of DPC, Rev. Olusegun Peters said any public official who stole from the public should not be allowed to serve only prison time but should face the death penalty. He said this would serve as deterrent to potential looters of public treasury.

He urged the National Assembly to see how this measure can be incorporated into the nation's laws.

Peters while hailing President Muhammadu Buhari over his campaign and war against corruption, said that all patriotic Nigerians should rally round the president to ensure that the war is not a one man war, but a war supported and encouraged by all Nigerians.

He said that in the last 8 months President Buhari had succeeded in repositioning the country for the much needed development . He warned that it is too early to assess the current government given the enormity of the rot inherited from the last administration.

He also expressed support for the reforms in the judiciary which he noted was in order to give the needed impetus to the war against corruption. He added that the party supports the president in his lamentation that the judiciary needed to be encouraged more in order to eradicate corruption from the nation's polity.

He called on the authorities to resuscitate the giving of grants to political parties which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led administration stopped, insisting that such grants will ensure a level playing ground at the political field which is presently dominated by well financed parties.



Awaiting The Gallows

Pakistan has carried out more than 332 executions since lifting the moratorium in December 2014. Recently, amidst another terror attack on the country, the Supreme Court has asked the federal government to respond to a petition requesting that the appeals of the many thousand prisoners on Pakistan's death row be 'fast tracked'. These proceedings only serve to highlight the chaotic state of Pakistan's criminal justice system, in particular the handling of capital cases - arbitrarily and senselessly.

The petition noted that there were '7,124' inmates on Pakistan's death, who were at various stages of the appeal process and requested the early disposal of these appeals. The figure also included 532 mercy petitions before the president, where a number of these have been pending for 19 years while executions in 78 cases have been stayed on his orders.

Pakistan has the largest death row population in the world, and yet, there are no credible statistics on the exact number of prisoners sentenced to death in the country. Whilst it was reported here that there were 7,124 inmates on Pakistan's death row, recent figures given in a report to the Senate put the figure at 6,016 - both starkly different from the figure of 8,261 that was provided by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human rights in December 2014. But simply fast tracking the petition does nothing to answer the question of who we are actually executing, for what reason and who are waiting their turn.

In January 2015, the Minister of Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, told the House that 332 convicted 'terrorists' were executed since December 2014. However, less than 1 in 6 of those being executed is connected to terrorism. A further analysis of those executed conducted by the Justice Project Pakistan has found that the vast majority of those being executed are not the hard-bitten terrorists that the government would like us to believe. Rather, the majority are people convicted of ordinary crimes, often in extremely unfair trials, relying on evidence extracted through torture, and some of them convicted as children.

As advocated by many activists, the application of the death penalty must be reconsidered unless the judicial system is overhauled to ensure that those awaiting the gallows are indeed guilty of the crimes they are charged with. Fighting the war on terror must not be used as an excuse to forget procedural safeguards and the entire purpose of the justice system, which is to ensure that only those that are actually guilty pay the price. The judicial process desperately needs to be transparent and accountable - in order to correctly use capital punishment to deter crime and terrorism in the country. Until then, the appeals of those on death row must be considered with the utmost care.

(source: Editorial, The Nation)


West Bengal: Death sentence to 11 for killing woman in a 2014 case----Among those who were sentenced to death today is former Krishnaganj Trinamool Congress leader Lankeswar Ghosh, but the ruling party has said that he was not its member.

11 people including a former Trinamool Congress leader were awarded death sentence by Nadia district court in West Bengal on Thursday for killing a woman to grab government land about 14 months ago.

Judge Partha Sarathi Mukhopadhyay slapped death penalty on the 11 accused for shooting to death Aparna Bag on November 23, 2014. One accused, Manabesh Biswas is still absconding.

The 11 were convicted on Wednesday and the punishment was pronounced by the court on Thursday.

They were charged under sections 9B of Explosive, 27/35 of Arms Act, IPC 307 (attempt to murder) and 302 (murder).

Among those who were sentenced to death today is former Krishnaganj Trinamool Congress leader Lankeswar Ghosh, but the ruling party has said that he was not its member.

The woman was killed when Ghosh along with his gang tried to seize land at Ghungragachhi under Krishnaganj block, which belongs to Refugee and Refugee Rehabilitation Department of West Bengal Government.

The land was being tilled by 55 families for long and they claimed to have its possession. Some had even sold portions they claimed were theirs.

On November 23, 2014, Ghosh along with his men appeared on the field on a tractor and tried to take over the land by force and was faced with resistance by the tillers.

In the clash that ensued there was firing and 3 women received bullet injuries. Aparna Bag was hit on her chest and died. 2 other women - Shyamali Tarafdar was hit on her jaw and Latika Tarafdar on her head. A student Rajiv Mondal too was hit by a bullet on his leg. The 3, however, recovered later.

A complaint was lodged with the police by Dipankar Biswas of Ghungragachhi and a case was initiated and 11 out of the 12 accused were arrested and kept in jail.

Aparna's 2 daughters Devika and Nilima were the main witnesses.

The 11 sentenced to death were Ghosh, Palash Ghosh, Sanat Ghosh, Shyamal Ghosh, Jhantu Ghosh, Goutam Ghosh, Paresh Ghosh, Joydeb Ghosh, Nepal Ghosh, Rajkumar Ghosh and Basu Ghosh.



Men convicted for raping, killing BPO staffer in Pune seek mercy

2 men who raped and murdered a BPO employee in Pune in 2007 have moved a mercy plea before the Maharashtra Governor. The convicts - cab driver Purushottam Dasharath Borate and his wall-painter friend Pradeep Yashwant Kokade - were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court in May 2015 for raping and killing 22-year-old Jyotikumari Chaudhary. The apex court had said the 2 were a threat to the society and deserved no leniency.

Highly placed sources in the home department confirmed that the duo has sought mercy from the Governor. The department, however, has recommended no mercy plea for them.

Awarding the punishment, a bench of chief justice H L Dattu and justices S A Bobde and Arun Mishra had said the manner in which an innocent and helpless woman was raped and murdered shocked and repulsed the collective conscience of the community and the court, warranting award of death penalty to deter other potential offenders from committing such crimes.

"This court has no hesitation in holding that this case falls within the category of rarest of rare, which merits death penalty and none else. The collective conscience of the community is so shocked by this crime that imposing an alternate sentence, ie a sentence of life imprisonment, on the accused persons would not meet the ends of justice," it had said.

Jyotikumari had boarded the regular cab contracted by the company to report for night shift on November 1, 2007. Driver Borate and his friend Kokade changed the route, took her to a remote place and raped her. After sexually assaulting her, the duo strangled her to death and disfigured her face, inflicting injuries with a sharp weapon to hide her identity.

The court had expressed concern that such crimes against women were increasing and particularly against those working in night shifts. It had said there were a "shockingly" large number of cases where the sentence of punishment awarded to the accused was not in proportion to the gravity of the offence, thereby encouraging criminals and making justice suffer by weakening the system's credibility.

Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Dattu had said, "Society today has been infected with a lawlessness that has gravely undermined social order. Protection of society and stamping out criminal proclivity must be the object of law, which may be achieved by imposing appropriate sentence."

Borate had pleaded for leniency, saying he was the sole breadwinner for his family of a young wife, minor children and old parents. The bench had replied, "With the gruesome act of raping a victim who had reposed her trust in the accused followed by a cold-blooded and brutal murder coupled with the calculated and remorseless conduct of the accused after the commission of the offence, we cannot resist from concluding that depravity of the appellants' offence would attract no lesser sentence than the death penalty."



2 youths awarded death sentence for brutally killing child

2 youths were today sentenced to death by a local court for kidnapping and brutally murdering an eight-year-old boy in 2014.

Principal District and Sessions Judge Kishore Sonowane awarded the punishment to Rajesh Dhanalal Daware (21) and his friend Arvind Abhilash Singh (25) for killing Yug Chandak.

Convicting them under IPC sections 364 (a) (kidnapping for ransom) and 302 (murder), the judge said it was an act of vengeance and stemmed from their dream of minting money.

In a packed courtroom where both the convicts and the child's father were present, Judge Sonowane observed that though the accused were young, they deserve no leniency or mercy, and found them guilty of the brutal killing of the Class II student in September 2014.

The judge observed that as per High Court and Supreme Court guidelines to deal with kidnapping and killing of children, the court was satisfied with the evidences and motive of both the accused for killing the child.

The judge then ordered them to be hanged till death.

He also awarded life imprisonment to the 2 youths and imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 for conspiracy, and also sentenced them to another 7 years' imprisonment along with Rs 5,000 fine for destroying evidences.

The judge observed that both the youths had kidnapped Yug as they wanted to become rich by demanding ransom, and in the process killed the innocent child in a brutal manner and hit his face with stones to destroy evidence, and also buried the body. The perpetrators, both B Com students from a college at Kamptee Road, were convicted under sections 302 (murder), 364-A (kidnapping for ransom), 201 (destruction of evidence), and 120-B (criminal conspiracy).

Daware's 17-year-old younger brother, who assisted them in the conspiracy, has already been referred to a juvenile remand home.

About 26 injuries were found on Yug's body, including those on the neck.

None of the 50 witnesses examined by the prosecution turned hostile, as per Additional Public Prosecutor Jyoti Vajani, Chandak family's counsel Rajendra Daga and Investigation Officer (IO) from Lakadganj Police Station, Satyanarayan Jaiswal.

According to them, they brought to fore as many as 20 circumstances to prove complicity of the accused in the crime.

With a view to take revenge from Dr Mukesh Chandak, who runs a nursing home in eastern part of city, for what Daware claimed as humiliation meted out to him by the doctor and extract ransom, the accused hatched the conspiracy to kidnap and kill Yug.

The duo executed their plan and brutally killed the child by strangulating him on September 1, 2014.

They later buried the body in sand under pipes near a culvert on the desolate Gumthi-Gumthala Road near Patansawangi village, about 27 kms from Nagpur.

The duo had planned their escape after receiving money, but were arrested the next day after Chandak's family raised suspicion on Daware.

During interrogation, both the accused confessed to have killed the boy and led the investigators to the spot where they had buried the child's body.

The incident rattled Nagpur residents and many of them joined hands to condole Yug's death. Candle marches were taken out in support of the Chandak family and demand was raised for death sentence to the perpetrators of the innocent child's killing.

The court relied on a number of factors, apart from strong testimony of 50 witnesses to nail the culprits.

It included CCTV footage at a petrol pump where the accused filled up their bike tank after kidnapping the child, last seen theory of many witnesses, recovery of child's clothes from the spot shown by accused and Yug's earring which was traced to Arvind Singh's home.

Even the call details records and, more importantly, the testimony of Daware's girlfriend went against them.

2 school students from Patansawangi village, who saw the duo taking Yug on their bikes, were also made witnesses by the prosecution after requesting their parents.

According to police, Daware was familiar with the place where the body was buried as often used to take a break at the spot with his girlfriend while returning from a religious place.

The prosecution lawyers had earlier cited 3 landmark Supreme Court verdicts to press for death penalty to the accused, while terming the case as "rarest of rare" with no signs of reformation of the 2 accused.

(source: Press Trust of India)


Murder and Rape Reignites Death Penalty Campaign

A horrific murder and rape in southern Thailand has sparked a campaign to prevent death sentences from being overturned for those convicted of deadly sexual assaults.

Spearheaded by actress-turned-activist Panadda Wongphudee, its supporters call for an end to the right of convicted murderer-rapists to seek sentence reductions or pardons, which campaigners said allow the perpetrators to leave prison too soon and go on to repeat their crimes.

The petition comes in reaction to a group of men accused of holding a young woman in a jungle hut in Phatthalung province for 3 days before sexually assaulting her in front of her boyfriend, who they then killed, and leaving her for dead.

Although none of the four suspects arrested Monday is known to have been convicted of such acts or received early release from prison, the horror of the crime has again tapped into a well of anger over violence against women and the perception that the law does not take it seriously.

"They confessed and they are minors, so they will certainly get a reduced sentence, but they don't look repentant [on TV] at all," Panadda said. "So what can we do to make sure that they will really change their way?"

2 of the 4 suspects at police news conference on Feb. 2 in Phatthalung province

Panadda and her supporters, who are working on obtaining 100,000 signatures in a petition to forward to the military government, would also like to see minors given harsher sentences and remove the right to appeal for pardons in such cases.

But some rights activists urge caution, saying that tougher sentences, including executions, would not solve the problem of serious crime.

For Jaded Chouwilai, the director of the Women and Men Progressives Foundation, the most important thing is for prisons to reform sex offenders instead of just heaping lengthy jail terms on them as a punishment.

"I want society to look at the problem: how to make rapists in prison change themselves, how to make them acknowledge that they did wrong," Jaded said. "If we tell them that they are [inherently] bad people, they will just stay the same in prison. They will stay the same when they are released, because they are already branded as bad people."

His view is shared by Chamnan Chanruang, chairman of Amnesty International's chapter in Thailand, which has been campaigning for abolition of the death sentence in the Kingdom for years.

"They should focus more on the criminology system and society and see what factors drove people to commit crimes," Chamnan said.

According to Chamnan, tougher sentences would only affect poor and marginalized people such as migrant workers. As an example, he cited the disproportionately high rate of incarceration of black Americans in the United States.

"Only poor and marginalized people get the blunt-end of tough punishment. All the rich and wealthy people manage to get away," Chamnan said.

Voices Against Injustice

This is the 2nd time in as many years a horrific crime has ignited such a campaign. In July 2014, in the wake of the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl on a train in Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Panadda was the most public face of outrage calling for convicted rapists to be eligible for the death penalty without possibility of pardon.

Although the death penalty is enshrined under the law for serious offenses - including deadly sexual assault - Thailand has not executed any prisoner since 2009.

Those behind the current campaign however are pushing to remove opportunities for convicted offenders to get off the hook and face the full punishment handed down by judges.

One practical reason, Pannada said, is that many rape victims live in the same communities as their attackers, and often have to move away if their attackers are released and return.

"How much fear do victims have to live with? Why do victims have to move their homes? How long do they have to run? Is it fair for the victims?" she said.

She also wants to take away the legal rights of adult convicts in deadly sexual assault cases to seek a Royal Pardon from His Majesty the King.

"Rape and murder deserves execution," she said.

Misplaced Anger

Foundation director Jaded said anger over injustice in cases involving violence against women is understandable.

However the present campaign for tougher sentencing is "misplaced," he said, because he's unaware of any cases where someone convicted of sexual assault and murder won an early release and then repeated the crime.

Instead, he said, the society should focus on "real injustices," such as rape being classified a personal matter which can be settled out of court under the law, which allows perpetrators to buy their way out of justice, especially when their victims are from poor backgrounds.

"I am not accusing police of anything, but it's true that many victims were forced to settle. So many of them. And these cases don't get to the news. The society should pay more attention to this kind of issues." Jaded said, adding, "There are so many real injustices that don't make it to the press."



Pinoy facing drug charges in Malaysia offered chance to escape death penalty

A Filipino facing possible death sentence in Malaysia for drug trafficking has been offered the lesser charge of drug possession, an online report said Wednesday.

If convicted on the lesser charge, Hamid Ali, 34, will likely be sentenced to life imprisonment or not less than 5 years and a minimum of 10 strokes of the cane, according to a report on the Daily Express.

Drug trafficking, meanwhile, is punishable by death in Malaysia under Section 39B(1)(a) of its Dangerous Drugs Act, the report said. Ali was charged with drug trafficking on August 14, 2014 after he was found with 63.06 grams of shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride in front of a budget hotel in Ranau.

The report said the prosecution offered the alternative charge on Tuesday when Ali's case was brought for mention before High Court Deputy Registrar Mohd Zairi Zainal Abidin.

Abidin has set February 18 for Ali's hearing should the suspect pleads guilty to drug possession.

Ali currently serves a 5-year jail term and was ordered caned twice for taking drugs .


FEBRUARY 3, 2016:


Faces of Death Row

Here is a look at the 252 inmates currently on Texas' death row. Texas, which reinstated the death penalty in 1976, has the most active execution chamber in the nation. On average, these inmates have spent 13 years, 11 months on death row. Though 12 % of the state's residents are black, 42 % of death row inmates are.

(source: Texas Tribune)


How far should Florida go to reform death penalty? Lawmakers mull changes after SCOTUS decision

Florida lawmakers are considering changes in the state's capital sentencing law after the U.S. Supreme Court found one provision to be unconstitutional last month.

Legislators are debating how far to go in overhauling the law, the New York Times reports.

Florida law requires jurors to make capital-punishment recommendations by a majority vote, without informing the judge of the factual basis for their recommendation. The judge then considers aggravating and mitigating factors, and decides whether a death sentence is warranted. The judge isn't bound by the jury recommendation. The U.S. Supreme Court said that scheme is unconstitutional because the Sixth Amendment requires jurors, rather than judges, to find each fact necessary to impose the death sentence.

At the very least, Florida will have to change the law so that judges don't find aggravating factors independent of a jury's fact-finding, the Times says. But lawmakers are also considering other changes.

The Senate is "leaning toward" a requirement of unanimous decisions by juries for death sentences, the article says. The House, on the other hand, is considering a bill that would require at least 9 of 12 jurors to agree for a death-sentence recommendation and all jurors to agree on aggravating factors. The Villages Daily Sun investigated jury votes in cases of prisoners currently on death row. Jurors were not unanimous in death-sentence recommendations in 75 % of the cases.

(source: ABA Journal)


Death penalty ruling may impact Manatee triple murder case

There are new developments involving a triple murder case in Manatee County. A recent ruling by the U.S Supreme Court may impact Andres Avalos Junior's case.

Avalos is charged with 3 counts of 1st degree murder. He's accused of killing his wife, Amber, Denise Potter and Reverend James "Tripp" Battle, in December of 2014.

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty; however, Avalos' attorneys have filed a motion. The motion states that due to the ruling by the supreme court that Florida's death penalty process is unconstitutional, the state has no right to seek the death penalty against Avalos.

A hearing is set for march 22nd.

(source: WWSB news)


Judge to rule if death penalty will be allowed in LSP Trooper murder case

KPLC in Lake Charles is reporting that a Calcasieu Parish judge could rule Wednesday on whether the death penalty will be allowed in the trial of Kevin Daigle. Daigle, 54, is charged with the 1st-degree murder of Louisiana State Police Trooper Steven Vincent and the 2nd-degree murder of Daigle's former roommate Blake Brewer.

In August, Vincent responded to a pickup truck in a ditch that matched "the description of a previously reported reckless vehicle," the state police said.

Daigle armed with a shotgun fired at Vincent, hitting him in the head, police said.

During Vincent's 13-year tenure with the state police, he received 13 awards and commendations.

He is survived by his wife and 9-year-old son.

While being interviewed by State Police, Daigle led investigators to believe an altercation occurred between him and his roommate which led to Brewer’s death.

Daigle has previously been booked into the Jeff Davis Parish jail at least 12 times, dating to 1987. His arrest history includes bookings for theft, battery, drugs and DWI.

(source: KPLC news)


Ohio executions disproportionately African-American, especially if the victim is white

A Cleveland man hopes to see Ohio's death penalty abolished so that no one else experiences what he went through.

Kwame Ajamu was sentenced to death and later exonerated.

"I spent 3 years, 7 weeks and 8 hours on death row for a crime that I didn't do," Ajamu told an audience of about 40 Tuesday at a panel discussion on the death penalty in the University of Akron’s Student Union Theater.

Ajamu, formerly known as Ronnie Bridgeman, frequently wiped away tears as he recalled his experiences. He, his brother, Wylie Bridgeman, and their best friend, Ricky Jackson, were all exonerated after being sentenced to death for a 1975 murder in Cleveland. Ajamu was released from prison on parole in 2003, while Bridgeman and Jackson both were incarcerated for nearly 40 years. A judge declared them innocent in 2015 and all 3 were compensated by the state.

"They came into this neighborhood that is all black and left out of the neighborhood with three of its occupants," said Ajamu, who was 17 when he was arrested. "We wouldn't be back for 40 years. So many moments in life. 17 years in prison. Now, all of the seniors are gone. I'm a senior. My brother is a senior."

The panel discussion, called The Death Lottery: How Race Impacts the Death Penalty in Ohio, was part of UA's Rethinking Race forum, going on through Feb. 12.

The panelists, each with personal experience dealing with capital punishment cases, provided context for a newly released report that found racial, gender and geographic disparities in Ohio's death penalty process.

Convicted murderers executed in Ohio are disproportionately black, and executions also are disproportionate if the victim is white and the murderer is black.

"This study shows white lives matter and black lives don't," said the Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., executive director of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national organization working to end the death penalty.

Sullivan said "until all lives matter," he thinks the death penalty should be abolished in Ohio. His younger sister was murdered in Cleveland in 1997, with the person responsible never caught. Still, his group doesn't think the death penalty is the answer, especially because of racial problems in the justice system.

"As hurt as we have been, we don't see any hope for us in the execution of those accused for killing our loved ones," he said. "The death of the convicted person will not bring back our loved ones.

Short of getting rid of the death penalty, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh discussed some of the 56 recommendations for improving Ohio's capital punishment process recently made by the Ohio Supreme Court's death penalty task force, which he co-chaired.

The recommendations included requiring testing in capital cases to be done at accredited labs, specifying that interrogations of defendants facing the death penalty must be video taped, excluding people with mental illnesses from being executed, and establishing a statewide capital litigation fund to help pay for death-penalty cases in counties that can't afford them.

"Sometimes, whether you will be charged with a capital case depends on where you are in Ohio," McIntosh said.

Abraham Bonowitz, who heads Ohioans to Stop Executions, urged those who attended the event to consider writing to their state lawmakers and the governor to urge them to adopt the task force’s recommendations. He provided fliers on the recommendations and postcards to send to lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich.

After the discussion, Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP, said she plans to share the information at her organization's next meeting. She thinks the NAACP needs to be doing more on the local, state and national levels to push for changes in the criminal justice system.

"Conversation, we can do," she said. "We need to take it a step further."

The discussion also made an impression on students who attended.

"My eyes were pretty much opened," said Marissa Mariner, 17, a student at Akron's STEM high school who also is taking classes at UA. "I've been a strong believer that there should be a death penalty. Now, I'm questioning my own beliefs."

(source: Akron Beacon Journal)


Getting executions right is focus for Oklahoma AG's office

5 executions are now pending in Oklahoma, after the state Court of Criminal Appeals agreed last week to hold off on setting execution dates for 2 more death row inmates. The move by the court was proper and not surprising.

That's because the next time Oklahoma executes an inmate, everything about the procedure must be beyond reproach. That didn't happen in recent examples, leading Attorney General Scott Pruitt to investigate via a multicounty grand jury.

That work is ongoing. Meantime, Pruitt says he would like to see the state Department of Corrections work to obtain a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and for the state to consider establishing a compounding pharmacy. They are ideas that have merit.

Because the DOC does not have a license from the DEA, it cannot store execution drugs at the state prison in McAlester. Thus, the drugs used in executions are delivered to the prison on the day those executions are to be carried out.

Pruitt's grand jury is looking into how the wrong drug was delivered for the past two executions. 1 of the drugs in the state's 3-drug combination is potassium chloride. Instead, potassium acetate was delivered for Richard Glossip's execution in September. The execution was halted when the mistake was realized. Authorities subsequently learned that potassium acetate had wrongly been used in the January 2015 execution of Charles Warner, a violation of the state's protocol.

One question Pruitt has, he told The Oklahoman's editorial board last week, is "How can we do a more effective job?"

If a compounding lab isn't a possibility, he said, then some change is needed "that deals with these issues of access, because we can't keep doing what we're doing. It will continue to be a problem."

Pruitt said that if a compounding lab were created, it could allow attorneys for death row inmates to have access to execution drugs to ensure their efficacy. The current system, which keeps the drug providers secret and the drugs off-premises, has been a key point raised by litigants.

Oklahoma's execution protocol was overhauled in 2014 after a grisly execution in April of that year when Clayton Lockett writhed and groaned on the gurney before being declared dead 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation found numerous problems with the state's execution practices. But problems continued even after those practices were revamped.

The delayed executions are difficult on the families of the victims who have waited years for a resolution, but they're also difficult on the loved ones of those condemned. And, each misstep made in carrying out an execution adds fodder to the ongoing push to do away with the death penalty in the United States.

"Where we are right now as a state, if we don't make the right changes in the long term, it will bring about the ultimate demise of the death penalty," Pruitt said. He added later, "I don't think we're there yet." He's right about that - polling consistently shows the death penalty enjoys solid support in Oklahoma.

Yet Pruitt also is correct in saying that how the state responds to its current challenges is vitally important. He believes drug injection is the most humane way to carry out an execution. "So," he said, "our 1st step should be, 'How do we do that in the most effective way?'"

It's a question that must be answered correctly.

(source: Editorial Board, The Oklahoman)


Prosecutors withdraw their intent to seek death penalty in St. George killing

At the request of the alleged victim's family, the death penalty has been taken off the table for Brandon Perry Smith, who is accused of killing a woman in a St. George apartment in 2010. Prosecutors filed a motion Tuesday withdrawing their intent to prosecute the case as capital murder for the stabbing death of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen.

Smith still faces a charge of 1st-degree felony aggravated murder - which is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole - but he no longer can be executed if convicted.

"The state is taking this action at the request of the family of the victim in an effort to avoid the delays associated with litigating a capital homicide case," Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum wrote in court papers. "And to focus on bringing the case to trial as soon as possible."

Several trial dates have been set and delayed in the 6 years since Christensen was murdered, according to court papers. Before this most recent development, Smith's attorneys had been challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty and had sought to depose all of Utah's 29 county attorneys to determine why some seek the death penalty and others don't - though a judge struck down that request, saying if the defendant wanted to take depositions from state prosecutors he "must first show that his prosecution has resulted in a discriminatory effect."

Smith, 34, is accused of beating Christensen and cutting her throat with a pocket knife moments after his friend, Paul Clifford Ashton, shot and killed Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden and shot and wounded James Fiske.

In court papers, Smith's attorneys have said he killed the woman because he felt threatened by Ashton. Prosecutors have argued that Smith is cold-hearted and relished taking the life of a stranger.

They have alleged that several aggravating factors made the killing a death-penalty case: that Christensen was killed during a criminal episode in which two or more people were killed, that the homicide was committed incident to attempted kidnapping, that Christensen was killed to prevent her from testifying and that the homicide occurred in an "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner."

The defendant is expected in court Wednesday for a review hearing.

Ashton, 36, was sentenced in 2013 to life without the possibility of parole for killing Jerden. That same week, he was also sentenced to life plus 10 years after pleading guilty in federal court to kidnapping a homeless man and aiding in his murder in 2010. He is serving both terms in federal prison.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


Chinese National, Accused of Murder, Allegedly Executed in Mong La

Accounts surfaced this week that authorities in Mong La, a special administrative region known as a hub for illicit activity on the Sino-Burmese border, may have executed a Chinese national after he was found guilty of homicide and arson.

A statement bearing the official Mong La government stamp, published in the media outlet of an ethnic Kokang rebel group, announced that a 42-year-old man from Hunan Province had "murdered, made arson, bomb attacks and so on," and was to be executed by gunfire on Jan. 30.

A "court investigation" found him guilty of illegal arms possession and carrying out an arson attack resulting in the deaths of 7 people and the injury of 4 others, according to the statement, which appeared to have been issued by a regional court.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, a Mong La resident said that last week a man was paraded through the town on the back of a truck and brought to the local football stadium, where hundreds of people had gathered.

"They did not execute him at the football stadium, they killed him on top of a mountain," said the woman, who attended the public spectacle on the sporting grounds. She said armed guards explained that the condemned man was a criminal and would be shot to death, before they drove him out of view.

Photographs of the procession and the packed football field were uploaded on a Facebook community page called "Ethnic Region Military Information," which has more than 27,000 followers. The post was shared almost 1,000 times as of Wednesday morning. The account regularly posts updates about armed ethnic groups, but the identity of its administrators is unknown and its content has not been verified by any official rebel-affiliated sources.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Mong La Governor Sai Mauk said he was unaware of the incident as he was in Kunming, China, at the time it was said to have occurred. Mong La, also known as Shan State Special Region 4, is controlled by a non-state armed group called the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), and enjoys a high degree of autonomy from the central government.

The region, which borders China's Yunan Province, has a reputation as a nexus of illegal activity; Mong La's eponymous main town is home to sprawling casinos and brothels, and is a known destination for wildlife traffickers. Local authorities have estimated that about 800 vehicles enter Mong La from China every day for purposes of sex, gambling and trade. Despite its debauchery, Mong La is also reputed for strict and selective law enforcement, dealing heavy-handed punishments without due process.

While district-level courts in autonomous zones are authorized to issue the death penalty, the ruling would be subject to appeal at a national court, according to Sam Zarifi, regional director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

"If this is in fact an Autonomous zone district court, there should have been an appeal process," Zarifi told The Irrawaddy via email. "So, if the report is true, it's a major problem for the rule of law in the country."

Overextending the zone's judicial authority would be particularly problematic with regard to capital punishment, as Burma is considered a de facto abolitionist state and has not openly carried out an execution in decades. Further complicating matters is that the prisoner was a foreign national, and it is unclear whether he had access to consular support.

Zarifi said Burma "should not be even considering bringing back the death penalty in practice now, and especially not for a foreign national, based on an opaque judicial process that faces serious questions about its fairness and credibility and sits essentially outside the national legal system."

(source: The Irrawaddy)

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas Inmate Gustavo Garcia Receives Execution Date of February 16, 2016

Gustavo Julian Garcia is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CST, on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, inside the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. 43-year-old Gustavo is convicted of the murder of 43-year-old Craig Turski in Plano, Texas on December 9, 1990. Gustavo has spent the last 24 years on Texas' death row.

On December 9, 1990, Gustavo Garcia and Christopher Vargas entered a warehouse in Plano, Texas. Garcia was armed with a sawed-off shotgun and had additional shells in his pockets. Garcia ordered the clerk, Craig Turski, to hand over the money from the cash register, while Vargas took beer and placed it into their waiting vehicle.

Garcia then shot Craig in the abdomen at close range. Craig fled from the store. Garcia pursued him while reloading his shotgun. After reloading, Garcia shot Craig in the back of the head.

A female customer who had entered the store and promptly left when she saw Garcia forcing Craig to hand over the money, returned to the store with her husband. Upon finding the store deserted, they called the police. Craig was transported to a local hospital, where he eventually died from his gunshot wounds.

On January 5, 1991, Garcia and Vargas robbed another gas station. They took the clerk, Gregory Martin into the back room and shot him at point blank range with the same gun that was used to shoot Craig weeks earlier. Gregory died at the scene. Upon seeing Garcia and Vargas enter the store, Gregory told his girlfriend, whom he was talking to on the phone, that he thought he was going to be robbed. She alerted the police, who arrived quickly at the scene.

Police found Vargas standing over Gregory's body. Vargas alleged that he had just entered the store and found Gregory lying on the floor. Garcia was found hiding in a freezer area, close to where the shotgun was later discovered. Garcia confessed to both crimes.

Gustavo Garcia was sentenced to death, while Christopher Vargas was sentenced to life in prison. On Thanksgiving 1998, while on death row, Gustavo attempted, along with 6 other death row inmates, to escape from prison. Only 1 inmate made it past the prison fences. Gustavo and the others were recaptured. The escaped inmate was the 1st to successfully escape since a Bonnie and Clyde gang member escaped in 1934. The inmate was discovered to have drowned shortly after his escape.

The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to review the case of Gustavo. In refusing to review the case, they also rejected a request to stay his execution.

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Craig and Gregory. Please pray for peace for the family of Gustavo. Please pray that if Gustavo is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Please pray that Gregory will come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.



Bryan Man Originally Given Death Penalty Is Resentenced To Life In Prison

28 year old Christian Olsen, who was convicted of the beating death of a neighbor, 68 year old Etta Jean Westbrook, was officially resentenced Tuesday in Brazos County district court.

In April 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the death sentence handed down by a jury in 2009.

Initially, the Brazos County district attorney's office sought to reimpose death. But DA Jarvis Parsons cited 2 reasons for changing his mind.

One was the suicide of Olsen's girlfriend, who was in prison serving time for soliciting him to murder her mother. Parson says she gave a confession to authorities while in prison.

Parsons says they also discovered DNA evidence that would have been used to argue for the death penalty was mishandled and would have been challenged in court.

Parsons says at Tuesday's hearing, Olsen agreed to waive all future attempts to be released from prison and oppose anyone else who would attempt to do the same.

Parsons says Olsen will not be charged in the death of his girlfriend's mother, Geraldine Lloyd, because of the punishment Olsen received for killing Westbrook.

Lloyd was killed in her home several months before Westbrook was murdered.

(source: WTAW news)


State seeking death penalty in double Onslow County homicide

A judge has ruled the state can seek the death penalty in the case of a Jacksonville man charged with murder in the deaths of his girlfriend and 5-month-old son.

Local media outlets report the judge ruled during a hearing Monday in the case of 26-year-old Sebastian Mendez.

Mendez is charged with murder in the slayings of death of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Shaung Liu, and his 5-month-old son, Archer Liu back in July.

Authorities say that the woman was found dead in her car 3 blocks from her home in Jacksonville. The infant was found dead in a suitcase in the attic. Authorities say the victims were strangled.

During the hearing, Mendez again pleaded not guilty to the charges.

(source: WRAL news)


Bar dismisses grievance against lawyer who worked on Racial Justice Act cases

An N.C. State Bar disciplinary panel has vacated a five-month-old ruling against Cassandra Stubbs, a lawyer who worked on successful Racial Justice Act cases.

The panel issued a new order Monday that dismissed the grievance filed against the Durham defense attorney and entered a judgment in Stubbs' favor. The admonishment she received has been wiped off her record from a disciplinary case that raised many questions in the legal community about why the bar even filed a public complaint.

"Cassy Stubbs represents the best of lawyers," Alan Schneider and Bradley Bannon, the Raleigh attorneys who represented her, said in a joint statement Tuesday. "She could have used her talent and law license in any way, but she dedicated her professional life to serving the poorest and most disenfranchised people in our community. Her work in the Racial Justice Act litigation saved four lives and exposed widespread racial bias in the imposition of the death penalty in North Carolina. She should have received a medal for that work, not a Bar grievance. From day one, we have adamantly denied ethical wrongdoing and fought to clear her name, and we thank the disciplinary panel for ultimately doing the right thing."

Stubbs, described by her peers as "an absolute beacon of integrity," tearfully fought accusations of professional misconduct levied against her in an anonymous complaint. As a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, she was among a team of attorneys who used the short-lived Racial Justice Act to convert the sentences of four North Carolina death-row inmates in 2012 to life without possibility for parole.

The Racial Justice Act, repealed by state lawmakers in 2013, allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences by using statistical evidence to show racial bias played a role in their cases. The bar allegations against Stubbs focused on inconsistencies between court records and sworn statements that the defense team introduced from men who had been part of a 1994 jury pool but not selected for the panel in the case of Marcus Reymond Robinson, the 1st death-row inmate to have his sentence converted.

The judge who heard the Racial Justice Act cases ruled in 2012 that the inconsistencies were immaterial and unintentional and did not weigh into his rulings.

Similar allegations were lodged against Gretchen Engel, director of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation. A different disciplinary panel considered Engel's case last year after the initial Stubbs' decision and came to a different conclusion. Engel was cleared of any wrongdoing and her case was dismissed.

Since then, the bar reconsidered the Stubbs case and the N.C. Supreme Court vacated the four Racial Justice Act rulings.



Georgia Executes Its Oldest Death Row Inmate

Georgia executed its oldest death row inmate Tuesday, after courts rejected a challenge to a state law that keeps secret the names of providers of lethal injection drugs.

Brandon Astor Jones, 72, was convicted in 1979 for the killing of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery. A judge ordered a new sentencing hearing in 1989 and he was later resentenced to death in 1997.

Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan confirmed that Jones was executed at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday. His execution had been scheduled for 7 p.m. but his lawyers filed filed a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court refused to halt the execution in an order made hours after that time had passed.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 6-5 not to hear before a full court Jones' challenge of the state law that keeps secret the company that manufactures drugs used in lethal injections.

The majority cited a decision Monday by a 3-judge panel that denied a motion to stay the execution. It ruled Jones' lawyers were unable to show the challenge was likely to succeed, and noted the drugs from undisclosed sources have been used 7 times "without incident."

But 5 judges dissented, and 4 of those said Georgia's law keeping secret the name of the company that compounds pentobarbital. They said the secrecy law could violate Jones' right of access to the courts.

"Today Brandon Jones will be executed, possibly in violation of the Constitution. He may also be cruelly and unusually punished in the process," the 4 judges said in their dissent. "But if he is, we won't know until it's too late - if ever." States have been scrambling to find alternatives or alternative sources of the drug after its manufacturers refused to sell it for executions.

Georgia along with other states relies on small compounding pharmacies to produce the drugs, and the state instituted a secrecy law in order to keep supply lines open. A court upheld the law in May.

The shortage of drugs has forced some states to delay executions. Ohio in October scrapped all executions until 2017 because it has been unable to obtain necessary drugs.

Jones was sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of Roger Tackett, a convenience store manager killed during a robbery.

A court threw out his 1st conviction in 1989 because jurors had a Bible in the room during deliberations, and he was retried and resentenced to death in 1997, NBC station WALB reported.

Another Georgia inmate - Travis Clinton Hittson, sentenced to death for killing a Navy sailor in 1993 - is scheduled to be executed Feb. 17, the state Department of Corrections said.

Jones becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death in Georgia this year and the 61st overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. Only Texas (533), Oklahoma (112), Virginia (111), Florida (92), and Missouri (86) have executed more inmates than Georgia since the US Supreme Court re-legalized the death penalty on July 2, 1976.

Jones becomes the 5th condemned inmate to put to death in the USA this year and the 1427th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: NBC news & Rick Halperin)


Death penalty bill clears House committee

A House panel signed off on a bill that would revamp Florida's process for sentencing killers to death, a move prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state's method is unconstitutional.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the legislation (CRJS7) after more than an hour of debate earlier today.

The bill would require jurors to unanimously find at least 1 aggravating factor - including whether the crime was premeditated or heinous - before recommending a sentence of death in capital cases.

But it would not go as far as some death penalty experts have recommended and require unanimity among jurors when they actually make a recommendation of death. Instead, it would increase the number of jurors required to recommend death from a simple majority of 7 out of 12 to a super-majority of 9.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's sentencing scheme for death penalty trials in a case involving Pensacola killer Timothy Lee Hurst. Justices in an 8-1 ruling found that Florida's process violated Hurst's Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury because it allowed the judge alone to find the existence of aggravating circumstances.

The bill surfaced out the House committee last week in a move designed to bring state statutes in line with the high court ruling. The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice is expected to propose its own bill soon.

(source: Tallahassee Democrat)


House Panel Approves Death Penalty Fix

A House panel on Tuesday approved proposed changes to the state's death-penalty law in an effort to address a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Florida's capital-sentencing structure as unconstitutional.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee's 11-2 vote on the measure (PCB CRJS 16-07) came less than 2 hours after the Florida Supreme Court issued an indefinite stay of execution for Cary Michael Lambrix, who had been scheduled to die on Feb. 11. The court heard oral arguments in the case Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers in both chambers are hurriedly preparing legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, issued on the opening day of the 2016 session, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida. The Jan. 12 ruling overturned the state's capital felony sentencing system, which gives judges - and not juries - the power to impose the death penalty.

The high court's decision came in the appeal of convicted murderer Timothy Lee Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of fast-food worker Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola. Harrison, an assistant manager at a Popeye's Fried Chicken restaurant on Nine Mile Road where Hurst worked, was bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times. Her body was found in a freezer.

The 8-1 decision focused on what are known as "aggravating" circumstances that must be determined before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges.

Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty, based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

The House would allow death sentences to be imposed only if juries - after weighing aggravating and mitigating factors - unanimously decide that at least 1 aggravating factor exists. The proposal would also require at least 9 jurors to vote for the death penalty. The legislation is based on the recommendations of state attorneys.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is one of only three that do not require unanimous jury decisions about imposing death sentences. Florida law only requires a simple majority of the jury to recommend death. The only other 2 states that do not require unanimous decisions - Alabama and Delaware - require at least 9 jurors to vote in favor of capital punishment.

Whether death-penalty jury verdicts should be unanimous has been a major source of debate during discussions about the Hurst ruling, which did not specifically address the issue. Nearly all experts - with the exception of prosecutors - recommend that the state adopt a unanimous jury requirement to avoid the risk that Florida's sentencing system could be struck down again in the future.

"The question arises, do you look simply at the narrow issue that Hurst addressed or do you look at the whole body of cases that the United States Supreme Court has talked about?" 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Rex Dimmig told the panel Tuesday.

But prosecutor Brad King argued that the measure goes "well beyond the dictates" of the Supreme Court's order. And King, the state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, said it is impossible to predict how the court will rule in years to come.

"To think we can sit here today and presume to understand what the U.S. Supreme Court can do ... in the future is honestly a pipe dream," he said.

Requiring unanimous decisions on death-penalty sentences would allow a single juror "to hold hostage the entire process," King argued, pointing out that some of Florida's most-notorious crimes failed to result in unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty.

But University of Miami Law Professor Scott Sundby, who trains Florida judges in the death penalty, said research shows that 92 % of juries that voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty returned the same result if required to reach a unanimous decision.

"In other words, in 92 % of the cases, when they deliberated to unanimity, they still came out as death," Sundby said.

Not requiring a unanimous decision would put Florida in danger of having its law struck down again, he predicted.

"I promise you this would invite a lot of constitutional litigation, and the odds of it being reversed by the (U.S.) Supreme Court are quite high," Sundby told the committee.

The House panel rejected an attempt by Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, to amend the bill to require unanimity on death sentences.

"There is great racial and gender and geographical discrimination in how the death penalty is applied," Bracy, who is black, said. For example, "no white person has ever been sentenced to death for killing a black person" in Florida, Bracy said. In contrast, murders involving white women are 6.5 times more likely to result in the death penalty.

"1 way to reduce the bias is require unanimous juries," said Bracy, 1 of 2 Democrats on the subcommittee who opposed the bill.

But Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a former prosecutor, said Bracy's concerns rested more with the application of the death penalty than with the sentencing phase.

And, he said, the proposal is far from a done deal.

"By no way, I think, is this a 100 % finished product," Trujillo, R-Miami, said. "I'm sure all of these recommendations will come to play at some point."

Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters Tuesday that "there a lot of members in our chamber that would prefer a unanimous decision."

But the Senate may cede to the House's 9-3 position to finalize a bill before the session ends next month.

"What's important is that we get an agreement done, and we pass something this session to address what's been brought forward by the U.S. Supreme Court. And I think we're on track to do that," Gardiner, R-Orlando, said.



Lawyers for man accused in 'ritual' child killing say death penalty unconstitutional

Lawyers for a Gadsden man accused of killing his toddler daughter in 2013 with either a sword or knife told a judge today that Alabama's death penalty statute is unconstitutional.

Stephon Lindsay, 38, accused of killing his daughter, 20-month-old Maliyah Tashay Lindsay, was in court today before District Judge Billy Ogletree in Gadsden.

His lawyers, Morgan Cunningham and Jacob Millican, have filed several motions contesting the death penalty, as well as the judge's prerogative to override the jury's recommendation in the trial's penalty phase.

Gadsden police discovered the body of Maliyah Lindsay in a wooded area at the dead end of Plainview Street in Gadsden on March 12, 2013 after Stephon Lindsay was arrested in connection with the child's disappearance.

Relatives later said Lindsay may have killed the child as a result of some kind of ritual. An autopsy ruled the child died of blunt force trauma and that a knife or sword was used in her death. Lindsay is set for trial Feb. 22.

In a hearing today, Cunningham focused on one argument - that Alabama's death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it closely mirrors Florida's. On Jan. 16, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of Florida's death penalty statute because it did not give jurors a large enough role in determining whether defendants should be executed.

Etowah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid said the court did not strike down all death penalty statues, but merely Florida's. He also said Alabama's statute had been held up by the court, and that the court had turned away an request for a stay from Alabama inmate Christopher Brooks, who was executed less than a week after the Supreme Court's Florida decision.

"It's not as though the Alabama statute is unknown to the United States Supreme Court," Reid said.

Ogletree said he would rule later this week on the motion. Ogletree also stated that both Lindsay's defense team and prosecutors are waiting on the results of a 2nd medical exam as to Lindsay's mental state at the time of the crime.



Executions in Ohio: Race and gender statistics

The panelists in a discussion on the death penalty at the University of Akron Tuesday discussed a new report that found racial, gender and geographic disparities in how Ohio's death penalty is administered.

The report, released last week, was done by Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The report looked at executions in Ohio from 1976 to 2014 when 53 people were executed, all men. The findings included:

-- 65 % of the executions were for crimes involving white victims, despite the fact that 43 % of homicide victims are white.

-- 27 % of homicide victims are women, but 52 % of executions were for homicides involving female victims.

-- 4 out of Ohio's 88 counties - Summit, Lucas, Cuyahoga and Hamilton - or just 5 % of the counties, produced more than 1/2 of the state's executions. (These also are among the state's most populous counties.) -- Only 3 counties - Summit, Cuyahoga and Hamilton - have had more than 5 executions each. (Summit had 6 executions during this period.)

-- More than 3/4 of Ohio's counties - or 69 - have never had an execution.

The report only examined people who were executed, and didn't look into those who are currently on Ohio's death row.



Additional discovery sought in death-penalty case

Defense attorneys are seeking additional discovery in a 2013 capital murder case where prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Howard Dallas Short II, 40, is being charged with capital murder in the death of 64-year-old Michael Wayne Robb, who was found dead in his home at 27 Wilson Road in Greenbrier on Aug. 6, 2013. Short also faces a fleeing charge.

Defense attorneys James W. Wyatt and Dale E. Adams filed a motion for additional discovery in Faulkner County Circuit Court requesting prosecutors provide more information that could potentially be used against Short.

The motion, filed Jan. 25, stated the defense has received the autopsy report and photographs released from Arkansas State Crime Laboratory experts but also requests reports from all experts involved.

The defense asked for any notes, data and summary sheets written by any and all experts involved in its motion. The defense also asked that the state provide employee history binders that include "curriculum vitas, competency tests, logs of both external and internal proficiency tests, training logs, testimony logs, testimony evaluations, cases reviews, complaints, results/findings of any both internal and external audits and corrective action reports" from each expert involved.

The last death penalty conviction in Faulkner County was in 1982. Rickey Ray Rector of Conway was sentenced to death following the murders of Arthur Criswell and police officer Robert Martin, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. He was tried separately for the 2 murders and was lethally injected on Jan. 22, 1992.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Hugh Finkelstein said the state is seeking the death penalty in Short's case because it believes the murder was committed for pecuniary gain and was "someone the defendant knew or reasonably should have known was especially vulnerable to attack because of either a temporary or permanent severe physical or mental disability which would interfere with the victim's ability to flee or defend himself."

The murder was also committed in "an especially cruel or depraved manner," he said.

Short's jury trial initially was scheduled for Feb. 2-12. Faulkner County Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson Jr. ruled in favor of the defense's request on Jan. 8 to continue the jury trial to July 12-29, excluding weekends and Mondays.

The trial was moved to allow Adams the opportunity to familiarize himself with the case. Adams took over former co-counsel Robert L. Thacker's position in the case after Thacker requested to withdraw. Thacker noted in his Jan. 8 motion to withdraw that defense attorneys had "recently discovered that at least 4 attorneys who are employed in the office of Mr. Thacker and who are subject to his administrative authority and oversight have previously represented a witness who will or may be called by the Plaintiff in the prosecution of the Defendant herein," causing a conflict of interest.

(source: Log Cabin Democrat)


Becker's anti-death penalty bill appears doomed; measure was sidelined to House Judiciary Committee

A disappointed State Rep. Steven Becker is "confident" a bill he sponsored to abolish the death penalty won't get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Buhler Republican and former judge pushed a death penalty bill last year only to see it sidelined in the Judiciary Committee, with no hearing and no advancement to the House floor for a vote. The strategy this year was to find a wide range of lawmakers to sponsor a bill and to start the legislation through the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Introduced Jan. 22 with over 15 diverse sponsors, House Bill 2515 promptly was assigned by Speaker of the House Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, to the Judiciary Committee.

The News was unable to reach Judiciary Chairman John Barker, R-Abilene, but the committee's ranking minority member, Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, echoed Becker's prediction.

"I think it's unlikely that Chairman Barker is going to call that up for a hearing," Carmichael said.

The Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty pushed back against Merrick's action. On Tuesday, it appealed on Facebook for death penalty foes to contact Merrick's office and "strongly request" he reassign House Bill 2515 "to a committee that will let it be heard."

"It is important that important public policy issues like the death penalty are fairly debated and discussed by the legislature," the coalition stated on Facebook.

However, this particular death penalty bill contains more than policy, Carmichael said, and that could be a weakness.

Each bill is supposed to have a single subject, Carmichael said.

House Bill 2515 would abolish the death penalty and take the savings in legal expenses from appeals - "We could be talking, easily, millions of dollars," Carmichael said - and give it to the Department of Corrections.

With that provision, Carmichael said, some could argue the bill violates the single subject expectation. He said the Legislature has mixed policy and funding in education and judicial bills, and those bills drew criticism.

The state's top attorney, Attorney Gen. Derek Schmidt, addressed Republican lawmakers Tuesday about the death penalty and a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the Kansas death penalty in the case against the convicted Carr brothers, according to Rep. Jan Pauls, R-Hutchinson. Schmidt, who favors the death penalty, also was scheduled to talk to the House Judiciary Committee today about the same topic, Pauls said.

Pauls, who sits on Judiciary, was in the Legislature in 1992 and voted for the death penalty Becker is trying to repeal. She favors retaining a death penalty.

"I don't know that there's a lot of push to have it heard," Pauls said of Becker's bill. The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the death penalty "probably reduced the incentive to have the matter discussed further," she said.

A moderate Republican with less than 4 years in office, Becker is not taking an active role in the efforts to urge Merrick to reverse course.

"I don't think I carry a lot of weight with the Speaker's office," Becker said.

(source: The Hutchinson News)


Kansas Panel Requests Additional Money For Defense In Death Penalty Cases

Court-appointed lawyers in Kansas say they need more money to defend high-profile murder cases, like the Carr brothers from Wichita.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the death penalty sentences handed down in that case and in another Kansas murder case. Because of the ruling, court-appointed attorneys will have to continue working on those cases, and that will take more money.

"This is a 1st for Kansas," says Patricia Scalia, with the Kansas Board of Indigent Defense Services. "Staff are not experienced, therefore they do not meet the standards established by the American Bar Association. Outside help is needed. We've got attorneys who have never seen this case before needing to get entirely up to speed on something that has proceeded over the course of 10 and more years."

Scalia is requesting more than a half-million dollars in additional support for the current fiscal year.

(source: KMUW news)


Don't expand Colorado death penalty

I just read the Denver Post editorial on the Colorado death penalty. I am shocked that Sen. Lundberg now wants the death penalty imposed if 9 of 12 jurors votes for it.

There are many reasons people are reluctant to impose such a drastic penalty, chief among them the fact that many people on death row have been exonerated because of DNA evidence.

I just finished reading Bryan Stevenson's "Just Mercy," an excellent book written by the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He dealt mostly with cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. I was thankful Colorado didn't have the kind of "justice" often found in the deep South, and now Sen. Lundberg wants to bring it to Colorado.

I lived in Texas for over 30 years, and they were death penalty happy, particularly in Harris County. When we hear of terrible crimes, such as the murder of children or of mass killings the first thing we think is "death penalty." Understandable. But mistakes happen in the justice system. If Sen. Lundberg feels the death sentence isn't imposed enough perhaps it should be eliminated. There is no perfect solution, but it is better to err on the side of caution.

Sharon K. Yonkees


(source: Letter to the Editor, Times-Call)


Human traffickers could face execution under plan

Human traffickers could be sentenced to death if victims are killed in commission of the crime under a bill advanced Tuesday by a House committee.

"I think we all know how heinous of a crime human trafficking is. We have kids that are being trafficked for sexual purposes, for labor," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the sponsor of HB136. "We just think it's a good move to make this available to the prosecutors to have in their arsenal if they need to go at it."

Ray's legislation makes engaging in human trafficking an aggravating factor that makes a homicide eligible for capital punishment.

In the past, Ray sponsored legislation making deaths resulting from child abuse eligible for the death penalty and he argued Tuesday that they type of abuse victims of trafficking suffer should warrant the same kind of punishment.

"This is the most heinous of crimes," said Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. "This is the death of a child who has been tortured through abuse or sexual assault."

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-3 to move the legislation to the full House for a vote, which could come by the end of the week.

Ray had originally envisioned the bill to just apply to child trafficking, but expanded it Tuesday to include adults, as well. It would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek capital punishment.

Opponents argued the death penalty is arbitrary in its application, costly to the state and that the resources would be better spent helping victims of human traffickers.

"Don't consider spending this kind of money on this kind of an action that really only ends up over-criminalizing conduct that is already criminal when you're leaving your victims without support and without resources," said Virginia Ward, who works with victims of trafficking.

The Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement to the committee that race, socio-economic background, effectiveness of attorneys and other factors determine whether capital punishment is imposed and Ray's bill "keeps moving Utah in the wrong direction."

"We ought to be using this money wisely and the death penalty is not a wise use of resources," said Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "It also engages the citizens of this state and this body in killing of its citizens. ... We cannot sanitize it any way."

It is estimated that a death-penalty case costs taxpayers about $1.6 million to work through the court system and carry out the execution, an expense paid for by the county seeking the death penalty.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said it is "absolutely appropriate" that human trafficking be added to the list of crimes in which the death penalty is an option.

"If we get right down to the morality of it ... and the reason they're being prosecuted for the death penalty, for me it really does not become a very challenging issue," he said. "The fact is they've done things that are horrific. They're heinous. ... This bill makes perfect sense to me."

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


McStay defendant to represent himself again----Chase Merritt faces possible death penalty if convicted of killing Fallbrook family of 4

A judge on Tuesday ruled that the welder accused of killing the McStay family of Fallbrook can act as his own attorney in the potential death penalty case.

The decision by San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Smith marks the 2nd time that defendant Charles "Chase" Merritt has been cleared to represent himself in the quadruple-murder case.

Merritt, 58, fired his attorneys nearly 2 weeks ago.

Merritt is accused of killing his business associate Joseph McStay, 40, as well as McStay's wife, Summer, 43, and the couple's children, Gianni, 4, and Joey Jr., 3. He has pleaded not guilty to 4 counts of murder.

McStay ran a company that provided indoor water fountains, and often hired Merritt to craft custom products.

The family vanished in February 2010. Their bodies were found in 2 shallow desert graves in San Bernardino County in November 2013. Merritt was arrested a year later.

2 months after his arrest, Merritt fired his attorney. At that time, he told the judge he wanted the case to move along faster, and was subsequently granted permission to represent himself.

Merritt reversed course in May and hired a team of attorneys - who he fired nearly 2 weeks ago. However, court records indicate that Merritt may be trying to rehire one of those attorneys.

Thus far, the public has only heard the prosecution side of the case. At Merritt's preliminary hearing last June, prosecutors presented evidence that Merritt's DNA was on the steering wheel and gear shift of the family's abandoned car; that suspicious checks were written to him from Joseph McStay's business account shortly before and after the family disappeared; that someone - presumably Merritt - tried to delete that checking account the day after the family vanished; and that Merritt's cellphone was used in the remote area near the gravesites.

(source: San Diego Union-Tribune)


Defense motions to dismiss death penalty case, recuse DA's Office, set for March

Defense attorneys for a Fairfield man accused of the 2013 strangulation death of a young girl agreed Tuesday to delay making arguments to dismiss the case, remove the Solano County District Attorney’s Office from the case, and bar the death penalty from being sought until March.

Anthony Lemar Jones, 35, appeared in Solano County Superior Court anticipating a hearing into an allegation that prosecutors withheld information from his defense team that could have helped mitigate a decision to seek the death penalty in his case. Jones is charged with the special circumstances murder of 13-year-old Genelle Conway-Allen, whose naked and lifeless body was found Feb. 1, 2013, in Allan Witt Park.

In April 2015, prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty in the case.

In recent weeks, defense attorneys for Jones have filed a handful of motions that center on an alleged meeting between prosecutors and Genelle's family members in which they expressed their desire not to have the death penalty sought in the case.

In a motion to dismiss the case due to outrageous government conduct, defense attorneys for Jones state they presented evidence before a committee of prosecutors in March 2015, offering evidence that would mitigate a decision to seek death. Defense attorneys allege that prosecutors knew as early as February 2015 that family members did not wish to have the death penalty sought and did not share that information with the defense team prior to making their presentation.

Prosecutors recently responded to the allegation in a handful of court filings that indicate there was never a discussion or meeting with members of Genelle's family in February 2015.

In separate motions, defense attorneys also are asking a Solano County Superior Court judge to bar the death penalty in Jones' case and remove the Solano County District Attorney's Office and appoint the state Attorney General to assume the role of prosecutor.

Prosecutors, in their response to the defense motions, called them frivolous.

A hearing has been set for March 21.

According to testimony from a November 2014 probable cause hearing, Jones is alleged to have followed Genelle in his vehicle as she walked home from school on Jan. 31, 2013. A student who was walking home with her that day testified that he saw Genelle get in Jones' car.

Genelle, according to testimony, did not return home that day, leading her foster mother to report her missing.

She was found dead the following morning.

The special circumstance allegations prosecutors have included allege the murder was committed during the commission of a kidnapping, sodomy and lewd or lascivious act.

A jury trial is set for Sept. 7.

Jones has pleaded not guilty and remains in Solano County Jail custody without bail.

(source: The (Vacaville) Reporter)


Death sentence for 149 suspected Islamists quashed

The death penalty of 149 suspected Islamists accused of killing 13 Policemen in 2013 has been quashed by Egypt's Court of Cassation.

Justice officials said the constitutional court ordered that the accused be retried by a court other than that which convicted them a year ago.

The 149 were sentenced to death on February 3 2015 in a speedy trial.

The United Nations has criticised the hasty and arbitrary trials meted out to suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood including deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

Since Mr. Morsi's ouster on July 3 2013, the courts have sentenced hundreds of Islamists to death including the former president.

International rights organisations have accused incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of eliminating dissent and instituting a more repressive regime than former president Hosni Mubarak.



Mir Quasem's appeal hearing deferred till February 9

The Supreme Court has deferred until February 9 the hearing on an appeal by Jamaat-e-Islami's key financier Mir Quasem Ali, seeking review of his death penalty for war crimes.

A 4-member bench of the Appellate Division led by Chief Justice SK Sinha fixed the date yesterday, responding to a time plea filed by the defence lawyers.

Earlier, the apex court set February 2 for commencing the appeal hearing.

On November 3, 2014, Mir Quasem, a commander of al-Badr during the war, was awarded capital punishment by the International Crimes Tribunal 2.

The tribunal handed down death penalty in 2 charges for killing 7 people, including one Jasim Uddin, after abduction. He was awarded a total of 72-year imprisonment on other charges of abduction, conspiracy and planning. 4 charges were not proved.

On November 30, 2014, Quasem Ali appealed to the Supreme Court against the death sentence.

Mir Quasem joined Islami Chhatra Sangha, then student wing of Jamaat, in 1967 while studying at Chittagong Collegiate School. He later became its Chittagong City unit general secretary.

He played an important role in forming al-Badr Bahini that orchestrated systematic killing of freedom fighters and intellectuals.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Top court seeks report on death row convicts

The top court directed the federal government on Tuesday to submit a report on the status of thousands of death row prisoners languishing in jails for years.

A 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, took up a petition filed by Barrister Zafarullah, who requested the court to convert the sentences of death row convicts into life imprisonment.

The petitioner also asked the SC to decide the fate of the condemned prisoners in view of the terms they have served and the various changes occurred since the Law Reforms Ordinance 1972.

Capital punishment is legal in Pakistan. There had been a moratorium on executions since 2008, but it was lifted for terrorism cases as of December 16, 2014, following the massacre of nearly 150 people, mostly pupils, at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

It has been reported that there are more than 6,000 death row prisoners in Pakistan - more than anywhere in the world. Pakistan has executed 239 death row convicts since the APS tragedy.

The bench directed Deputy Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti to file a report on the status of death row prisoners within 15 days.

Last year the SC - while dismissing a plea of the same petitioner against abolition of the death penalty in Pakistan - had observed that the right to life and liberty is not absolute in nature; such a right is, however, circumscribed and subject to law.

Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, while authoring the judgment, observed that the petitioner had referred to Article 9 of the Constitution, which says no person shall be deprived of life or liberty. But the court clarified that the right to life and liberty is not absolute in nature and a person cannot be bereft of his life and liberty except in accordance with the law.

Referring to Article 4(2)(a), the court said a person could be deprived of his life and liberty if it is provided and prescribed by any law.

The judgment also said the petitioner had failed to show the court that on the basis of 2 constitutional clauses, the top court could direct the abolition of the death penalty in Pakistan and annul any law.

Regarding the petitioner's argument that Article 9 was not properly worded, the parliament should make necessary amendment, said the judgment. "As regards the argument that the criminal justice system is unfair, unreasonable and convicts and death punishments lack due process, suffice it to say that this by itself is not a threshold or touchstone for striking down any law, rather if there is deficiency in the relevant law, it is the duty of parliament to provide it or correct the law by amendment."

Referring to Article 10-A, the court said that if any person is aggrieved on account of lack of fair trial or due process of law, he has the remedy of approaching the appropriate forum to challenge such a trial and conviction.

(source: The Express Tribune)

FEBRUARY 2, 2016:

FLORIDA----stay of impending execution

Florida Court Halts Feb. 11 Execution Of Cary Lambrix

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an indefinite stay of execution for Cary Michael Lambrix, who had been scheduled to die Feb. 11.

The order came hours after the court heard oral arguments that focused on the impact of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this month that struck down the state's death-penalty sentencing system.

Original report: Oral arguments began Tuesday morning for Florida's 1st death penalty case since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty system unconstitutional in mid-January.

Florida's Supreme Court justices heard arguments for whether they should grant Cary Lambrix, a man scheduled to die Feb. 11, a stay of execution until it can be determined how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The judge's decision is expected to arrive at any time before Feb. 11.

Lambrix's defense team, including attorney Martin J. McClain, quickly addressed the issue of retroactivity, which is when a law or court decision affects already existing rights.

In this case, it would determine whether the state would issue him a stay of execution or life in prison in lieu of the death penalty on the basis on Florida's unconstitutional death penalty system.

The U.S. Supreme Court found Florida's law flawed because it allows judges to decide on death sentences and override a jury's recommendation.

Lambrix murdered 2 people - Clarence Moore and Aleisha Bryant - in 1983 near LaBelle in Southwest Florida and was convicted on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. The jury recommended the death sentence by votes of 10-2, for Moore, and 8-4, for Bryant.

McClain argued for the court to think of the U.S. Supreme Court case as retroactive. He also argued for the court to delay the execution and grant Lambrix a life imprisonment sentence on the ground of insufficient aggravating circumstances.

Florida's "statute is different," McClain said. "Our statute says there has to be sufficient aggravating circumstances. The purposes of aggravating circumstances are too narrow to ensure that it's the worst of the worst."

Scott A. Browne, a prosecutor for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office, said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling does not apply retroactively and wants Lambrix executed on Feb. 11.

The Supreme Court case "is not retroactive," he said. "It's procedural."

Florida Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis questioned the validity of that statement.

"But at the same time, there's got to be something to the law that is beyond just technicalities," he said. "A man who is executed today, but one comes up tomorrow that is not, there's really no difference in their cases."

"I'm struggling with word games," Lewis added. "I appreciate all those things, I understand the differences, but doesn't there come a point in time where one has to look at this and say, 'What are we doing?"'

William Hennis, another attorney for Lambrix, said he hoped the court issued a stay of execution instead of a complete decision.

"That will allow us to go to state court, circuit court in Glades County," he said.

Hennis said he'll head back to Starke, Florida, to see Lambrix and discuss the case.

"Obviously, he'll be interested in hearing how the argument went," he said. "We'll obviously wait for a decision from the Florida Supreme Court as to going to the United States Supreme Court. I'm hoping that a stay will be entered."

Bondi hasn't yet issued a statement on the case.

(source: WUFT news)


State lawmakers propose death penalty for human traffickers in homicide cases

Human trafficking that results in the death of the victim could be charged as a capital offense under a bill a House committee approved Tuesday.

HB136 would add human trafficking, human trafficking of a child, and aggravated human trafficking to the list of crimes for which the state may seek the death penalty if they involve a homicide.<

"We just think this is a good move to make this available for prosecutors to have in their arsenal if they need to go at it," said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. "It's not just the act of trafficking. There's a death involved."

Utah law already allows crimes such as aggravated arson, rape and aggravated child sexual abuse to be charged as capital felonies when a death occurs, he said.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill 6-3. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The ACLU of Utah, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued against the legislation, saying executions are expensive and won't deter human trafficking.

"The death penalty is not going to solve the problem. I think we need to be looking at real solutions to the problem and not just simply expand the use of the death penalty," said Jean Hill, Catholic Diocese government liaison.

Virginia Ward, who works with crime victims, said there are organizations in Utah that receive state funding to help trafficking victims.

"That's a problem," she said. "So if we're going to spend this kind of money on an issue such as expanding the use of the death penalty, it doesn't make sense that we're not giving those resources to the individuals who are truly affected."

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who heads the state police chiefs association, said sometimes the death penalty is about punishment, not deterrence or sending a message.

"This is the most heinous of crimes," he said. "This is the death of a child that has been tortured through abuse or sexual assault."

(source: Deseret News)


Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Execution Stays Granted Doubled Last Year

Texas' highest criminal court halted more executions in 2015 than in any of the last 9 years, which some legal experts say is a sign of a legal shift in the nation's most active death penalty state.

The state has garnered a reputation for having a record number of executions to occur year after year throughout history. Even with the noticeable decline in executions, the number that occurred in 2015 was still higher than in any other state nationwide. Of the 28 executions that took place in 2015 across the United States, 13 occurred in Texas.

"There are many legal and cultural explanations for why Texas executes far more people than any other state and is doing so at a pace that has no parallel in the modern era of the death penalty in the U.S ... Texas has become ground zero for capital punishment. Between 1976 (when the Supreme Court lifted its prohibition on the death penalty) and 1998 Texas executed 167 people. Next in rank was Virginia which executed 60 during the same period."

Reports also say that in 2015, the state's high court granted stays to 8 inmates who had been sentenced to be executed, which is the highest number reported since 2007. According to Texas criminal appeals lawyer Mick Mickelsen, execution stays are critical for inmates who may be entitled to a different outcome than warranted by an initial trial. Says the Dallas based criminal defense lawyer, "statistics show that Texas has been a national leader in the number of exonerations of defendants who were wrongfully convicted. There is no turning back once someone has been executed, therefore it is important that defendants are given every reasonable chance to have a proper and thorough review of their case during appeal."

A Changing Landscape for Texas Criminal Appeals?

The recent reports have led some to now question whether changing attitudes on a national scale will influence changes in the Texas legal system in the years to come.

Some experts suggest the dramatic increase in Texas execution stays may be in part due to new members being appointed to the state's Court of Criminal Appeals. Others say a national shift in attitudes may also be having an impact.

Lee Kovarsky, a University of Maryland law professor, is quoted by the AP as stating of the issue "I strongly suspect that the (Court of Criminal Appeals) would still rank very close to the pole representing the least hospitable areas, although the spectrum itself may have shifted a little ... I think the drift of the court is certainly toward a little bit more caution in allowing executions to go forward."


GEORGIA----new execution date

Georgia Set to Execute Former Navy Sailor Later This Month

A former Navy crewman convicted of killing a fellow sailor in central Georgia is scheduled to be executed later this month, state corrections officials said Tuesday.

Travis Hittson, 45, will be put to death by injection of pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Feb. 17, Department of Corrections Commissioner Homer Bryson said in a news release. On Monday, Houston Judicial Circuit Chief Judge George F. Nunn Jr. had set an execution window beginning at noon Feb. 17 and ending at noon Feb. 24.

Hittson was convicted in February 1993 of malice murder in the death of Conway Utterbeck.

Hittson was a 21-year-old Navy crewman stationed in Pensacola, Florida, in April 1992 when he and Utterbeck went with a third sailor, Edward Vollmer, to Vollmer's parents' home in Warner Robins for a weekend, according to court filings.

Prosecutors have said Hittson told investigators that the second night they were there, he and Vollmer went to several bars while Utterbeck remained at the house. As they drove back to the house, Vollmer said Utterbeck planned to kill them and they should "get" him first, prosecutors have said.

Vollmer gave Hittson an aluminum baseball bat and entered the home, where Utterbeck was sleeping, prosecutors said. On Vollmer's instructions, Hittson hit Utterbeck several times in the head with the bat and then dragged him into the kitchen where Vollmer was waiting, according to prosecutors.

Hittson told investigators that Utterbeck screamed, "Travis, whatever have I did to you?" according to court filings. Vollmer stepped on Utterbeck's hand and Hittson shot him in the head, prosecutors have said.

About 2 hours later, Vollmer said they needed to cut up Utterbeck's body to get rid of the evidence, prosecutors said. Hittson told investigators they used a hacksaw to cut off Utterbeck's hands, head and feet but that he became sick after removing a hand and Vollmer finished dismembering the body, according to prosecutors.

The 2 then packed Utterbeck's remains in garbage bags and buried his torso in Houston county, prosecutors said. They then cleaned up Vollmer's parents' home, hid the baseball bat in the shed and drove back to Pensacola, where they buried the rest of Utterbeck's remains, prosecutors said.

A woman saw a black Ford Thunderbird with Florida license plates leaving a little-used dirt road in Houston County and noted the tag number because it seemed suspicious to her. When loggers found Utterbeck's torso in June 1992, police determined the car the woman had seen belonged to Vollmer.

Investigators questioned a number of Utterbeck's fellow sailors. When Hittson was questioned, he gave a statement that implicated him and Vollmer and then told investigators where Utterbeck's body parts were buried. He and Vollmer were arrested.

Hittson was convicted of malice murder, aggravated assault, possession of firearm during the commission of a crime and theft by taking. He was sentenced to death for the malice murder conviction.

Vollmer reached a plea deal and is serving a life sentence. He was denied parole in 1999 and again last year. Reconsideration of his case is set for 2020, parole board spokesman Steve Hayes said in an email.

(source: Associated Press)


Georgia Supreme Court denies stay of Brandon Astor Jones execution

In a 5-to-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Georgia has denied a stay of execution for convicted murderer Brandon Astor Jones.

Jones is scheduled to be put to death at 7 p.m. today by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

Jones, 72, was sentenced to death in Cobb County for the 1979 murder of Roger Tackett, who was the manager of a Tenneco gas station and convenience store that Jones and his co-defendant, Van Roosevelt Solomon, broke into after hours while Tackett was doing paperwork.

Solomon was executed in 1985, the court statement said.

In addition to denying Jones' motion for a stay of execution, the high court has also denied his request to appeal a ruling Friday by the Butts County Superior Court.

The Superior Court both denied his motion for a stay and dismissed his claim that the execution would be unconstitutionally "cruel and unusual" and "an arbitrary and disproportionately severe sentence."

Justices Robert Benham and Carol Hunstein dissented with today's ruling.

(source: Albany Herald)


Lawyer for Callaway mom accused of murdering her son claim death penalty is unconstitutional

A Callaway mom accused of murdering her toddler late last year makes another appearance in court where her attorney claims in a court filing the death penalty is now unconstitutional in Florida.

27-year-old Egypt Robinson is charged with 1st degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of her 3-year-old son Aries Juan Acevedo. Acevedo's body was found by Bay County Sheriff's Office investigators wrapped in a sheet stuffed in a suitcase behind a Callaway home in late December. Investigators say Robinson confessed to her roommate that she killed her son.

Prosecutors have announced their intention to seek the death penalty for Robinson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Robinson's attorney, Kimberly Jewell, has asked the court to strike the state's notice of intent to seek the death penalty. Jewell says a recent United States Supreme Court ruling makes the death penalty unconstitutional in Florida.

In its recent ruling, he Supreme Court said the way Florida sentences offenders to death is unconstitutional because it gives to much power to judges and not enough consideration to a jury's wishes. The ruling didn't strike down the death penalty, just the way its imposed.

Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet did not issue an immediate ruling to Jewell's motion.

Robinson's next court date is set for March 7th.

(source: WJHG news)


Supreme Court Ruling Has Florida Scrambling to Fix Death Penalty Law

In the wake of a United States Supreme Court decision that struck down part of Florida's capital punishment law, the State Legislature and courts are grappling with proposals that could significantly change how criminals are sentenced to death in a state with 1 of the nation's most crowded death rows.

For now, the ruling has closed the state's pathway to death row: Death penalty prosecutions are stalled, and state lawmakers are hustling to write and pass a new death penalty law before their session ends in 6 weeks. Also in question is whether the 390 inmates awaiting execution in Florida will remain on death row or be resentenced to life in prison. As of last week, more than 40 inmates had appeals pending.

The Florida Supreme Court has set a hearing on Tuesday to consider whether the Supreme Court's Jan. 12 decision striking down part of the state's death penalty law is retroactive. At the same time, Florida's highest court approved the Feb. 11 execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, whose appeals had run out before the Supreme Court decision. Another inmate's execution is slated for March.

Already, 1 Pinellas County judge has told prosecutors they cannot pursue capital punishment in a coming 1st-degree murder trial because Florida currently has no death penalty.

In the State Capitol, the Republican-controlled Legislature is debating how best to change Florida's unorthodox law, with some pushing for a thorough overhaul to blunt future legal challenges and others vying for an easy fix that would simply address the court's narrow ruling. The Legislature has refused for years to address the law's numerous constitutional frailties - namely that it requires only a simple majority of a 12-person jury to recommend a death sentence to a judge - despite the urging of the Florida Supreme Court to do so a decade ago, said Raoul G. Cantero, a former state justice who has called for change.

Florida, a state that enthusiastically embraces the death penalty, is second only to California in the number of death row inmates, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The Florida governor, Rick Scott, issues death warrants routinely. But the state also leads the country in death row exonerations, with 26, something that critics of Florida's law said could be traced to the death penalty statute.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that Florida's death penalty system gave too much power to judges and not enough to juries, a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The decision rested on one point of the Florida law: To recommend a death sentence, a jury must agree on at least one aggravating factor, a circumstance that makes the murder so horrific that it merits putting the killer to death rather than imposing a prison sentence. The aggravating factor could be that the crime was especially heinous or that it was committed after substantial premeditation.

But Florida is the only state in the country that does not require a jury to unanimously agree on aggravating factors. Jurors here also do not tell the judge which factors they chose. So after a jury makes its recommendation, the judge can hand down a death sentence based on different aggravating factors altogether, an anomaly that the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional.

In the court's majority opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "the Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death." She added that allowing judges to find aggravating factors "independent of a jury's fact-finding" made the system in Florida unconstitutional. It is one provision the Legislature must fix if it is to reinstitute the death penalty here.

"This is the issue most observers of the capital system saw as unconstitutional for a number of years," said Scott E. Sundby, a University of Miami law professor who is an authority on capital punishment.

Even with that fix, Florida would still provide the easiest procedural path to a death sentence, Mr. Sundby said. Under Florida's system, the jury provides only a recommendation to the judge and a recommendation of death does not have to be unanimous.

Alabama and Delaware are the only other states that do not require a unanimous jury verdict in death penalty sentences. Delaware and Florida require a simple majority; Alabama requires a supermajority, a vote of at least 10 to 2. The 3 states are also the only ones that allow judges to override recommendations for life in prison and impose the death penalty.

The Supreme Court opinion for Florida did not weigh in on the issue of unanimous or advisory juries. But legal experts said those issues make the law vulnerable to constitutional challenge.

"This is your opportunity," said O. H. Eaton Jr., a retired Florida judge and death penalty expert. "If you fix those problems, then you will have as good a death penalty law as any in the country."

If not, Mr. Eaton warned, "a different problem but the same song comes up again and we would end up clearing out death row."

A recent investigation by The Villages Daily Sun newspaper found that Florida juries failed to agree unanimously on death sentences in 75 % of the state's 390 death row cases. It also found that only 43 % of the prisoners would have been sentenced to death under a 10-to-2 supermajority jury vote.

One important unanswered question is whether the Supreme Court's ruling will affect the inmates on death row here. It is possible that dozens of those whose appeals are still pending could see their death sentences reduced to life in prison, legal experts say.

For now, the state's death row numbers will not grow. Capital cases that are in the pipeline are being delayed until the law is sorted out, possibly by March, when the legislative session ends, lawyers said.

State lawmakers are arguing passionately about how far to go in rewriting the law, with the Senate leaning toward requiring unanimous death verdicts by juries and the more conservative House tilting toward requiring a supermajority jury vote of at least 9 to 3 for a death sentence recommendation. The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association favors requiring a supermajority of jurors, not a simple majority, to agree on death verdicts. Aggravating factors, though, would need to be decided unanimously, said Glenn Hess, the president of the association.

Some, though, said that political motives were preventing a more thorough overhaul that would require unanimous jury verdicts for death sentences. State Senator Thad Altman, a Republican who has tried for years to change the law, said unanimity required greater deliberation by jurors, which was only fitting for a death sentence. If convicting criminals in Florida required a unanimous jury, condemning them to death should be no different, he said.

"The Legislature here is very pro-death penalty," Mr. Altman said. "They don't want to be perceived as being soft on crime in any way and make it more difficult to sentence someone to death."

(source: New York Times)


SCOTUS Decision Leaves Florida Death Row Inmates in Limbo

A recent SCOTUS decision leaves Florida death row inmates in limbo and the state without a death penalty law. On Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court held a hearing to see whether the decision would apply to pending executions, as well.

The recent Supreme Court ruling could change the way Florida sends inmates to the death row for good. Florida, which has the 2nd-most crowded death row in the nation, after California, sentences inmates to death by a judge's decision, not by an unanimous jury decision as in other states. This is why, U.S. justices concluded that Florida's death penalty legislation is at odds with the Sixth Amendment.

As a result, the Sunshine State's lawmakers will be struggling to come up with a new method to sentence convicts to death in the next 6 weeks, before their session expires.

In the meantime, lawmakers and courts need to decide whether the 390 people on the death row would continue to stay there or have their sentences commuted to life in prison. About 40 inmates have an ongoing appeal.

But for 2 inmates the situation is critical. Cary Michael Lambrix, 55, who has spent 31 years on the death row, is slated to be executed Feb. 11. Plus, he can no longer appeal because all his appeals ran out before the SCOTUS ruling. Another inmate waits to be executed in March under the old death penalty law.

In Pinellas County, a court ruled that death penalty cannot be applied to an incoming murder case because the state currently lacks a death penalty law.

Lambrix asked the state's top court to block his execution on Tuesday. The 55-year-old Florida man landed on the death row after being sentenced for a double murder he committed in 1984. According to court papers, he killed a couple during a visit at his trailer.

The Governor issued his death warrant last fall, and he is expected to die by lethal shot next Thursday. In January, the state's top court refused to block his execution, but allowed him oral arguments after the Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 12, 2016.

The inmate admitted that he killed the man visiting his trailer but only in self-defense. Reportedly, the victim assaulted the woman and Lambrix tried to protect her. His attorneys also said that he might be innocent since prosecution didn't include DNA tests on samples from the victims' clothing and the murder weapon.



Attorneys for Donald Smith ask death penalty sentence to be off table

Attorneys are asking that the death penalty sentence be taken off the table for accused killer Donald Smith.

Smith appeared in court Tuesday morning. He is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle more than 2 years ago.

Lawmakers in Tallahassee Tuesday began the discussion on how to move forward with the death penalty system in Florida.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the current system unconstitutional because it gives the judge a final say on the death penalty instead of the jury.

Bills introduced by State Sen. Thad Altman and Rep. Jose Javer Rodriguez would require a unanimous vote from jurors. If those bills pass and Smith is found guilty of his crimes, a jury could decide to put him to death.

There are about 390 inmates in Florida on death row.



Obeying Tax Law "Would Mean the End of the Death Penalty," Missouri Official Testifies

A secretive circle of drug suppliers, doctors and nurses could be subverting U.S. tax law while carrying out state executions, but that's no problem as far as Missouri Department of Corrections director George Lombardi is concerned. In fact, during a tense budget hearing yesterday in Jefferson City, Lombardi admitted that his executioners wouldn't do their jobs if it meant getting a 1099 form accessible to the IRS.

And that would be a bad thing, presumably, because Missouri can't kill people without relying on anonymous executioners who get paid with cash-stuffed envelopes.

"It is my understanding that giving 1099s to these individuals would reveal who they were, and would mean the end of the death penalty, because these individuals wouldn't do it," Lombardi said, responding to questions from State Representative Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City).

LaFaver's questions were triggered by a Buzzfeed News investigation from former St. Louis Public Radio reporter Chris McDaniel. McDaniel reported that the state corrections department had handed out more than $250,000 in cash to executioners since November 2013, all of it seemingly in violation of federal tax law.

Without vendors being issued 1099 forms, the IRS has no way of tracking recipients who'd be required to pay taxes on their payments - one reason just about every single business in America a) refuses to pay its contractors cash, and b) gives them a 1099. Not the Missouri DOC. Apparently, the people participating in executions insist on being paid under the table to avoid generating the type of public records that would make them identifiable to the public - and the state goes right along with it.

During the hearing, Lombardi explained that executioners are considered private contractors and paid in cash, but he could not identify a policy that allowed the department to ignore the 1099s. Lombardi added that his staff counsels executioners to report their cash payments to the IRS, but clarified that the practice is not reflected in any policy.

"It's just something we do," Lombardi said.

Granted, quibbling over tax law can often seem petty and pedantic. But at the same time, Monday's hearing showcased the kind of legal and moral contortions that keep Missouri's capital punishment machine chugging along. Many observers, including some Missouri Republicans, don't like what they see.

Toward the end of the hearing, LaFaver questioned Dave Dormire, the prison official whose name appears on confidential memorandums requesting cash payments for executioners. LaFaver asked why the payments aren't reflected in the department's budget.

"We don't include a whole lot of things that are expenses; we try to hit the highlights of the major items," Dormire said. Questioned further, Dormire couldn't identify another example of an expense not included in the budget.

"I respectfully submit and request that executing somebody, it's a big deal," LaFaver shot back. "If we're going to spend money to do that, I think it should be included in the description, that this is the area of the budget where money goes in envelopes in cash to kill people. Maybe worded differently, I understand you probably would. I probably wouldn't."

(source: River Front Times)


Judge rejects legal action in Nebraska death-penalty vote

A Lancaster County judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the death-penalty question going to Nebraska voters in November, but has also prevented a pro-death penalty group from being part of another suit challenging ballot wording.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports ( ) that judge Lori Maret issued orders Friday dismissing the case brought by death penalty opponents Christy and Richard Hargesheimer. She also dismissed a motion by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty to intervene in another suit filed by attorney Lyle Koenig of Beatrice.

The Hargesheimers' suit sought to keep Secretary of State John Gale from placing the question on the ballot. They said the process shouldn't be valid because it failed to disclose Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor.

The argument in their case largely came down to who qualifies as a sponsor of a petition, which isn't defined in statutes.

The Hargesheimers' attorney, Alan Peterson, argued that Ricketts should be included in the language because Nebraska law requires a sworn list of every person sponsoring a referendum.

Omaha attorney Steven Grasz, who represents Nebraskans for the Death Penalty in addition to Judy Glasburner, Aimee Melton and Bob Evnen, who are listed as petition sponsors, argued that sponsor refers to those who assume statutory responsibility for the referendum once the petition begins.

Maret said she was persuaded by the argument that Ricketts wasn't required to be listed as a sponsor because Grasz's clients said they were willing to assume the statutory responsibilities once the petition process commenced.

Koenig's issue with the question had to do with the title and explanatory statement Gale chose to appear on the ballot.

Maret found that the group didn't file the motion within the time allowed to challenge the decision on wording or provide an alternative.

(source: Associated Press)


Attorney General: Removing Privy Council A Major Task

ATTORNEY General Allyson Maynard-Gibson yesterday said while The Bahamas is "obliged" to enforce the death penalty in accordance to law, the removal of the London-based Privy Council would require "serious consideration" and "extensive consultation" with the Bahamian people.

Mrs Maynard-Gibson, speaking with students at the Eugene Dupuch Law School, suggested that while the country has an unfettered obligation to execute capital punishment as per the laws "on the books", the abandonment of the Privy Council - whose views have made it harder for hangings to be carried out in this country, is a decision that "no politician, no member of parliament should take on their own".

She also said it is "challenging" to define "the worst of the worst" as related to criminal matters, citing the Privy Council's previous stance on whether convicted persons should receive the death penalty.

The enforcement of capital punishment and the abandonment of the Privy Council as this country's highest court would seemingly go hand in hand, as it is the Privy Council that has served as an obstacle to The Bahamas carrying out the death penalty after declaring in 2006 that the country's mandatory death penalty upon a murder conviction was unconstitutional.

In June 2011, the high court overturned Maxo Tido's death sentence in connection with the killing of 16-year-old Donnell Connover, whose body was found off Cowpen Road, battered and bruised and her skull crushed. There was additional evidence that parts of her body were burned after her death.

But the Privy Council concluded that the murder was not an example of the "worst of the worst".

Last week, retired Justice Neville Smith, QC called for the country to abandon the London-based Privy Council and establish its own final court of appeal.

Justice Smith said the country should not allow itself to become a "hostage" to the Privy Council, arguing that the country would be much better served utilising a 2-tiered court system minus the Privy Council, with the Court of Appeal serving in its place. Justice Smith suggested that a 5-judge panel could be utilised for "more complex appeals".

"I think that is something that cannot be done lightly; it's something that requires serious consideration and most importantly extensive consultation with the Bahamian people," Mrs Maynard-Gibson said yesterday. "The system of justice is here to serve our people, and that's a decision that no politician, no member of parliament, should take on their own."

"Regarding capital punishment, Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley said last month it would take a massacre similar to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris for the death penalty to be imposed in The Bahamas. The attacks Sir Hartman referred to, which took place a year ago, resulted in the death of 12 people at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo when gunmen burst in and opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

That prompted some, like Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller, to label Sir Hartman's line of thinking as "utterly ridiculous and stupid"; the firebrand MP also questioned "what world" Sir Hartman lives in. Democratic National Alliance leader Branville McCartney also asked "how many more must die" through violence before lawmakers do what is necessary to protect the public and carry out capital punishment.

"Undoubtedly this is a real challenge," Mrs Maynard-Gibson said. "What I want to say is capital punishment is on the books of our country; it is a law of the land. When I had to go and defend our human rights record in Geneva in 2012, and I was under severe attack for us still having capital punishment on our books, I pointed out to those countries that were attacking the Bahamas, that every single one of those countries, bar none, has capital punishment on their books.

"Think about the United States of America. Acts of terrorism, what's the punishment? Do I need to go on? It's on our books. Now it is challenging to define the worst of the worst. What we have to do, in my view, is keep pushing, keep pushing. Because it's easy for things to collapse when after a conviction or an appeal has been filed, it gets thrown back some place."

She added: "We define law by making sure it gets before the courts and we give the courts an opportunity to make decisions and we respond to those decisions."

In November 2011, parliament passed legislation to define the types of murder constituting the "worst of the worst" guidelines set out by the High Court.

Despite this, Sean McWeeney, QC, chairman of the Constitutional Reform Commission, doubted whether the changes will matter to the Privy Council.

Speaking on the matter in April 2013 in response to a question raised at the commission's 1st town hall meeting, Mr McWeeney said that "as long as the Privy Council remains your final court of appeal, it is extremely doubtful that you will ever be able to hang anyone".

The last person executed in The Bahamas was David Mitchell in January 2000.



Zimbabwe top prosecutor charged with obstruction of justice in Mugabe bomb plot


Zimbabwe's Prosecutor General was on Tuesday charged with abuse of office and obstructing justice after he dropped a case against two men accused of plotting to bomb President Robert Mugabe's dairy farm, only for the 2 to turn state witness.

Johannes Tomana, an avowed supporter of Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party, is unpopular with the opposition for his zealous prosecution of anti-Mugabe activists when he was Attorney General from 2008 to 2013.

Tomana, who was not asked to plead, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He was freed on $1,000 bail and ordered to surrender his passport.

State prosecutor Timothy Makoni told a magistrates court that 1 army corporals, a retired soldier and a 4th man were arrested on Jan. 22 outside Mugabe's dairy farm north of the capital Harare and were found carrying ammonia and petrol bombs.

The men were initially charged with possession of weaponry for sabotage and with money laundering for terrorism purposes.

But Tomana freed 2 of them, who then turned state witnesses, in a decision the state said amounted to criminal abuse of office.

On Tuesday, new treason charges were levelled against the 4. Makoni said the accused, who face the death penalty or life in prison, hatched a plan to set up a militia base to the west of Harare from where they planned to unseat Mugabe's government.

Lawyer Thabani Mpofu said the new constitution passed in 2013, which created the post of prosecutor general, gave Tomana power over whom to prosecute. He said the court had no authority to try Tomana.

Several political activists, including the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, have in the past been tried for terrorism and treason but have been acquitted.

(source: The Star)


Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh's death sentence quashed by Saudi court----Panel of judges downgrades punishment for apostasy conviction to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes

A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence of a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, imposing an 8-year prison term and 800 lashes instead. He must also repent through an announcement in official media.

The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh's lawyer argued his conviction was seriously flawed because he was denied a fair trial. In a briefing on the verdict, Abdulrahman al-Lahem said the judgment revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

In a memo posted on Twitter, Lahem details Fayadh's new punishment. He is sentenced to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes, to be carried out on 16 occasions, and must renounce his poetry on Saudi state media.

Lahem welcomed the overturning of the death sentence but reaffirmed Fayadh's innocence and announced they would launch an appeal and ask for bail.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: "Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging. No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence."

The author Irvine Welsh said: "When this twisted barbarism is thought of as a compromise, it's way past time western governments stopped dealing with this pervert regime."

The death sentence imposed in November provoked a worldwide outcry.

Hundreds of leading authors, artists and actors, including the director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon, the British poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and actor Helen Mirren, have appealed for his release. More than 60 international arts and human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the writers' association PEN International, have launched a campaign calling on the Saudi authorities and western governments to save him. Readings of his poetry in support of his case took place in 44 countries last week.

Jo Glanville, the director of English PEN, which appealed for Fayadh's release, said: "It is a relief that Ashraf Fayadh no longer faces execution, but this is a wholly disproportionate and shocking sentence. It will cause dismay around the world for all Ashraf's many supporters. The charges against him should have been dropped and he should be a free man today. We will continue to campaign for his release."

Fayadh, who has mental health problems, has spent almost 2 years in prison in Abha, a city in the south-west of the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The 35-year-old Palestinian refugee rose to prominence as an artist and curator for the British-Saudi art group Edge of Arabia. He went on to curate shows in Jeddah and at the 2013 Venice Biennale, which showcased an emerging generation of Saudi artists.

But in August 2013, he was detained by the mutaween (religious police) following a complaint that he was cursing against Allah and the prophet Muhammad, insulting Saudi Arabia and distributing a book of his poems that promoted atheism. Fayadh said the complaint arose from a personal dispute during a discussion in a cafe in Abha.

Although he was released after one day he was arrested again on 1 January 2014 and detained at a police station before being transferred to the local prison 27 days later. At his trial in May 2014, he was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 800 lashes by the general court in Abha.

He was also found guilty of storing images of women on his phone, which friends and colleagues said were artists appearing in his show at the Jeddah art fair.

After his appeal was dismissed Fayadh was retried on 17 November 2015 and sentenced to death by a new panel of judges, who ruled that his repentance did not prevent his execution.

But appeal documents submitted by his lawyer last month argued that Fayadh's conviction was based on uncorroborated allegations and ignored evidence that he had a mental illness.

Fayadh's father had a stroke after hearing his son was to be beheaded. Fayadh was unable to visit him before he died last month, nor was he allowed to attend his funeral.

In documents considered by the panel of judges on Tuesday, Lahem argued that Fayadh's initial arrest in 2013 was unlawful as it was not ordered by the state prosecution service. The allegation of apostasy made by Shaheen bin Ali Abu Mismar, who is alleged to have had a personal dispute with the poet, was not corroborated by other evidence, which goes against the principles of sharia law, he argued.

The appeal document also stated that the November ruling ignored testimony by defence witnesses in Fayadh's 2014 trial who said Abu Mismar was lying, and from the accuser's uncle, who indicated he was not truthful. It contended that the "judiciary cannot rely on [his evidence] due to the possibility that it is malicious".

(source: The Guardian)


Saudi overturns Palestinian poet's death sentence

Saudi Arabia overturned the death sentence of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh on Tuesday, although he will still face 8 years in jail and 800 lashes.

A panel of judges came to the decision after Fayadh's lawyer argued that his client had been denied a fair trial.

Fayadh's lawyer posted a document on Twitter on Tuesday showing the new sentence reached by the judges:

Though campaigners welcomed the decision, many protested the still harsh punishment, despite the fact that Fayadh's lawyer maintains his client's innocence.

"No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence."

Fayadh had been sentenced to be executed on the charge of apostasy and "spreading atheism" in 2014 by Saudi Arabia's General Court after the court of appeal overturned an initial dismissal of the case.

He was also charged with violating the country's Anti-Cyber Crime Law for allegedly taking and storing photos of women on his phone.

However, some of his supporters have argued that he was punished for posting a video online showing police in the south-western city of Abha lashing a man in public.

Campaigners had long protested that Fayadh had not received a fair hearing under the Saudi justice system.

"For 1 1/2 years, they promised him an appeal and kept intimidating him that there's new evidence," said Mona Kareem, a migrant rights activist from Kuwait.

"He was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested. Then they said you must have a retrial and we'll change the prosecutor and the judges. The new judge didn't even talk to him, he just made the verdict."

As a poet and artist, Fayadh - who was born in Saudi Arabia - has played a major role in bringing Saudi art to a wider audience, including as part of the Saudi-British collaborative project Edge of Arabia.



Black History & case of unequal justice in Delco----Author and educator Sam Lemon has spent decades investigating the circumstances surrounding the trial and execution of a 16-year-old black youth for the murder of a Glen Mills matron back in 1930.

At 7:03 a.m. on June 8, 1931, Alexander McClay Williams was put to death in the electric chair at Rockview Prison in Centre County.

He was 16 years old.

Williams had been convicted in the stabbing murder of a matron at the Glen Mills Schools, where he had been a resident since the age of 12, when he was charged with setting a barn on fire.

More than 8 decades later, questions remain about the case and whether Williams was wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit.

The case has haunted local educator and author Sam Lemon, who has spent years examining the case and raised serious questions about Williams' guilt and a system of law that could so easily dispatch a young African-American youth to death.

Lemon believes strongly that the Williams case was a miscarriage of justice. In the process, his work offers a chilling look at how race received distinctly different forms of justice in 1931. Some would argue, given the events across the nation the past couple of years, that things have not changed all that much in 8 decades of the struggle for civil rights and equal treatment under the law.

Lemon's makes a strong case that the execution of Williams, believed to be the youngest person executed by the state of Pennsylvania, was anything but just.

Williams was convicted by an all-white jury of the murder of Glen Mills matron Vida Robare. She had been brutally stabbed 47 times with an ice pick.

Lemon has spent 30 years researching the case. He first heard of it from his grandmother, whose father, Lemon's great-grandfather, had the task of representing Williams in court.

William H. Ridley was the 1st African-American admitted to the Delaware County Bar Association. In October 1930, he was the only African-American attorney in Delaware County, and found himself by the court to represent the young Williams.

He would soon encounter several problems.

Lemon believes 3 of the youth's constitutional rights were violated: his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself; his Sixth Amendment right to confront any witnesses; and his 14th Amendment right to due process and equal justice under the law.

Lemon, who points out there was no physical evidence linking Williams to the murder, as well as no fingerprints or witnesses, believes the teen's confession was coerced.

He's not the only one. Robert Keller, a former Delaware County prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney, reviewed Lemon's findings.

Keller agrees that Williams was questioned continually without counsel.

"It is clearly an important case for all to hear about," Keller said. "The justice system of the '30s clearly failed this young African-American."

Keller is working with Lemon to push for a pardon for Williams.

Back in 2005, the United State Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for anyone under the age of 18. That came about 3/4 of a century too late for Williams. And it might not have kept him from a date with death anyhow. Adding insult to injury, Williams' death certificate appears to have been altered. It correctly notes his date of birth as July 23, 1914, but his age was clearly altered by someone who converted the 6 into an 8, making it appear as if Williams was 18.

Williams' case was certainly not the 1st time in American history where race cast a shadow over the justice system.

8 decades after he was walked to the death chamber, Lemon points to the Trayvon Martin case, unrest in several U.S. cities, including Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting of black youths by police, as evidence that while we've made great strides, the pursuit of justice for all Americans continues.

This week we mark the beginning of Black History Month. Every year February is set aside to note the accomplishments of African-Americans, and the continuing pursuit of the Rev. Martin Luther King's elusive "dream."

Alexander McClay Williams did not have much in the way of dreams. In his scant 16 years, he had a troubled life - and an even more troubling death.

This coming Sunday, Lemon will present his findings and preview his book at Media Fellowship House in Media.

If you're looking for a fitting way to take note of Black History Month, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example.

We congratulate Lemon and others for their work in uncovering and seeking to redress the wrongs inflicted on Williams.

Maybe part of the dream is realizing the nightmare too many suffered along the way. And working to ensure they never occur again.

(source: Editorial,


Delaware halts all death penalty cases as Supreme Courts weighs legality

Delaware has put all of its nearly 40 pending death penalties on hold as the state's Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of its capital punishment system. The move comes on the heels of a Florida case, during which the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has until April 14 to review and answer 5 questions from Superior Court judge regarding the roles of judges and juries in Delaware death penalty cases.

On Monday, Judge Jan Jurden ruled a temporary stay of the pending trials, penalty hearings, and applications related to the capital 1st-degree murder cases.

The decision stems from Rauf v. State of Delaware, but applies for the all of the state's 39 pending cases. Benjamin Rauf has been indicted on charges that include Murder in the 1st Degree (Intentional Murder) and Murder in the 1st Degree (Felony Murder) and is currently awaiting trial.

"In light of the Hurst decision, this Court certified [on January 28] 5 questions of law to the Supreme Court of the State of Delaware in a pending capital murder case," Judge Jurden wrote. "Specifically, the determination will control the procedure to be applied in all such cases."

The move overall, is based on the Hurst v. Florida case, in which the state's Supreme Court ruled in favor of convicted murder, whose defense claimed that death penalty sentence was violating the Sixth Amendment. At the heart of the matter was the sole power of state judges, not juries, to make decisions to deal out capital punishment.

The Sixth Amendment grants defendants the right to have their verdict decided by a jury if the death penalty is involved, the highest federal court ruled. However, in Florida's death sentencing system the judge could only consider the jury's recommendation, without being bound by it, thus, this diminished the jury's role to "advisory only." The practice is also known as "judicial override".

This is the case with Delaware's death sentencing law, too. There the jury can also be allowed to recommend a death sentence non-unanimously.

"If they don't know whether they have a constitutional statute, they won't want to try the case just to discover they have to redo it," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said, according to the Huffington Post.

Last Thursday, in a 23-16 vote Delaware lawmakers rejected a bill to abolish the death penalty in the state.



CUAB exhibit takes students to death row

UNC students are going to prison.The Carolina Union Activities Board is bringing "Windows on Death Row: Art from Inside and Outside the Prison Walls" to the halls of the Student Union. The free exhibit will feature a keynote speech Tuesday by creator Anne-Frederique Widmann and former death row inmate Ndume Olatushani.

Widmann will be speaking at the event from the point of view of someone on the outside of the system who has gone inside to gain deep insight into the everyday lives of death row inmates.

She said she hopes to reveal to the world their humanity and suffering.

But Olatushani is speaking from a perspective he can relate to - the prisoner. He spent 28 years on death row, convicted of a crime he said did not commit. He was freed after new evidence came to light, and he accepted a plea deal that allowed him to be freed without formally exonerating him.

Widmann said she hopes the exhibit opens peoples' eyes to the raw humanism of death row.

"Its not about crime," creator and organizer Widmann said. "This project - it's really about what comes after. It's about justice; it's about our collective response to crime. It's about the sentence and the way it's delivered."

The 2nd aspect of this work is the political cartoon collection. Although vastly different, it blends smoothly with the inmate work to display a gallery of harsh ironies, truths and the raw experiences associated with the American justice system and the death penalty.

Widmann said they will also be calling current inmate Kenneth Reams of Varner Unit high-security prison. Reams has been on death row since age 18 and has found art as an outlet in his solitary confinement.

"What he's saying, I think it really interesting. He said 'OK, I have no power to open the door of my cell, but I can try to do something positive with my life while I'm inside," Widmann said.

Boateng Kubi, a junior and CUAB's vice president of outreach and public relations, said he hopes the event will spark conversation among students.

"I think that it's going to foster really inclusive dialogue on the death penalty, and after tomorrow, we expect campus to be buzzing with noise about the art gallery," he said.

Already the exhibit seems to have caught the attention of students passing through the Union. Many stop, take a look at one piece of art and soon are moving down the entire gallery, inspecting each piece.

Senior Meghana Shamsunder found herself in this situation walking through the gallery of the Union. "I literally was walking, turned to a picture and stopped and was like, 'That is actually very true,'" she said.

"It hurts your heart to see some of these pictures turn out to be true in real life."



Accused ISIS plotter in North Carolina charged with earlier murder

A North Carolina man was indicted on Monday in the murder of a 74-year-old neighbor police said he killed months before federal authorities arrested him on allegations that he planned mass shootings to support Islamic State militants.

Justin Nojan Sullivan, 19, of Morganton, North Carolina, is charged with murder in the December 2014 slaying of John Bailey Clark, said Burke County District Attorney David Learner.

Sullivan also faces 7 federal charges related to supporting Islamic State and plotting murders, according to an 11-page federal indictment unsealed Monday. He faces trial on those charges later this month.

Islamic State is a militant group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has vowed attacks on the West.

"Justin Sullivan had elaborate plans to kill hundreds of innocent people to show his support for the terrorist organization, ISIL," said FBI Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong.

The 1st-degree state murder charge is punishable by life in prison without parole or the death penalty.

The federal charges range in punishment from 20 years in prison for attempting help Islamic State to 8 years for lying to a federal agency.

Attorneys for Sullivan could not be reached Wednesday.

The FBI began tracking Sullivan in September 2014 after his parents, with whom he was living, told police he supported Islamic State and was destroying Buddhist objects at home.

In December, 2014, Clark was killed with the .22-caliber rifle later identified as one that Sullivan stole from his father and hid under their house, according to the indictment.

Beginning on June 6, 2015, Sullivan began talking about his Islamic State loyalties with an undercover federal agent Sullivan took for a fellow supporter.

"I liked IS from the beginning then I started thinking about death and stuff so I became Muslim," Sullivan told the agent, according to the indictment.

Over the next 2 weeks, Sullivan told the agent that he wanted to kill hundreds or thousands with an assault rifle and silencer, and planned to practice killing with minor assassinations, the indictment said.

He instructed the agent to obtain weapons, had the agent make and mail him a silencer to use, planned to buy an AR-15 at a gun show and tried to buy hollow-point bullets.

When his parents questioned him about the silencer, he tried to hire the agent to kill them, the indictment said.

He was arrested in late June 2015 and remains in federal custody, authorities said.

(source: Reuters)


DA goes after death penalty in murders of mother & baby

The district attorney for Onslow County announced he will seek the death penalty in the case of a man accused of murdering his girlfriend and their baby.

Sebastian Mendez appeared in Onslow County Superior Court Monday morning. That is when District Attorney Ernie Lee announced this is now a capital murder case and he will seek the death penalty against Mendez.

Mendez, 26, is accused of strangling his girlfriend, Shuang Liu, and their 5-month-old son, Archer Liu, in July of 2015. Investigators said Mendez was found outside Liu's home the night of the murders with a knife sticking out of his back. They said Mendez stated it was Liu who had stabbed him. After an investigation, deputies arrested Mendez for the murders. Investigators said they found the bodies of the mother and the child stuffed inside suitcases.

Mendez is also charged with trying to pay someone to kill a witness in the case. According to arrest warrants, Mendez offered to pay a fellow inmate $9,000 to kill the witness. The inmate alerted authorities to Mendez's plan. Mendez is charged with solicitation to commit murder for that. Mendez will return to court June 27.

(source: WCTI news)

GEORGIA----new execution date

Georgia set execution of former sailor for Feb. 17

As Georgia prepares to execute a 72-year-old man on Tuesday night, the state has also scheduled the lethal injection for another death row inmate for later this month.

On Monday, a Houston County judge signed the execution warrant for former sailor Travis Hitton for murdering and dismembering a fellow shipmate from the USS Forrestal, an aircraft carrier based in Pensacola, Fla.

The warrant says he should be executed between noon on Feb. 17 and noon on Feb. 24. The Department of Corrections sets the specific time and usually the agency chooses 7 p.m. on the 1st day of the window, which would be Feb. 17.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. Georgia is scheduled to execute Brandon Astor Jones for the 1979 murder of the manager of a Cobb County Tenneco convenience station and gas station.

Hittson was 21 years old in 1992 when he and another sailor visiting Houston County killed Petty Officer Edward Vollmer.

Vollmer had invited Hittson and Conway Utterbeck to go with him to his parents' home in Warner Robins for the 1st weekend in April in 1992.

They spent most of that Saturday hanging out in the house - Vollmer's parents were out of town - until Hittson and Vollmer decided that evening to hit the bars.

As the 2 were headed back to the Vollmer house, Vollmer told Hittson that Utterbeck had a hit list with their names on it and he was "going to get us." Vollmer said they needed to kill Utterbeck before he could kill them.

When they pulled into the driveway. Vollmer put on a bulletproof vest and then a long trench coat. Vollmer took out of the car a sawed-off shotgun and a .22-caliber hand gun for himself and gave Hittson an aluminum bat.

Utterbeck was asleep in a lounge chair when Hittson hit him in the head. As Utterbeck begged for his life, Hittson and Vollmer shot him.

They cut up his body, burying some parts in Houston County and taking others with them back to Pensacola.

A logger found Utterbeck's torso buried in Houston County. Almost 2 months after his death, Navy investigators linked Hittson and Vollmer to Utterbeck's disappearance and his murder.

Hittson eventually told detectives he and Vollmer murdered and dismembered Utterbeck. His recorded confession was played for the jury during the punishment phase of his trial.

Vollmer reached a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to life in prison.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


Parole Board Denies Clemency for Georgia Inmate

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied a clemency request from the state's oldest death row inmate.

The board announced its decision Monday after holding a hearing on the request from Brandon Astor Jones. The 72-year-old is scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson.

The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.

Jones was convicted in the 1979 killing of Cobb County convenience store manager Roger Tackett.

A federal judge granted Jones a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. He was resentenced to death in 1997.

Another man convicted in the killing, Van Roosevelt Solomon, was executed in 1985.

(source: Associated Press)

FLORIDA----impending execution

Execution Delay Sought In Jacksonville Double-Murder Case

Attorneys for a man convicted of 2 Jacksonville murders, who's scheduled to be put to death on St. Patrick's Day, are asking the Florida Supreme Court for a stay in his execution. They're arguing that case records - including some stored in an insect-infested shed - were destroyed.

Death row inmate Mark James Asay hasn't had a lawyer to represent him in state court for nearly a decade and had no legal representation when Gov. Rick Scott signed the warrant ordering his execution, Asay's new attorney wrote in a motion filed 2 weeks ago.

A Jacksonville judge appointed Marty McClain to represent Asay, 5 days after Scott signed the warrant scheduling Asay's execution for March 17.

McClain argued a 27-page filing that proceeding with the case "would be a violation of due process, equal protection and fundamental fairness."

He added, "Providing an attorney without the client's files and records is the equivalent of providing no counsel at all."

Scott may not have been aware that Asay did not have a lawyer, as required by state law for inmates on death row, when the governor signed the death warrant.

"Given that the statute requires that collateral counsel be in place at all times, I would think it would be wise for the governor's office to make sure that the statute has been complied with before a warrant is signed," McClain said in a telephone interview.

In the court filing, McClain wrote that Scott's staff contacted the state agency that represents death row inmates after the warrant was signed on Jan. 8. Capital Collateral Counsel for the Northern Region Robert Friedman told the governor's representative that his agency did not represent Asay.

Scott's staff then contacted Thomas Fallis, a private attorney who had represented Asay in federal court. Fallis told the governor's aide that he no longer represented Asay.

"What additional steps the governor's office took to notify Mr. Asay's state court counsel of the death warrant is unclear," McClain wrote. "What is clear, however, is that despite being given information that at a minimum, Mr. Asay's representation was unknown, Governor Scott did not pause or delay the execution date in order to ensure that Mr. Asay was or would be represented by competent post-conviction counsel."

Asay was convicted in 1988 of the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in downtown Jacksonville. Asay allegedly shot Booker, who was black, after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was dressed as a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. According to court documents, Asay later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him out of money in a drug deal.

McClain said he and his partner, Linda McDermott, started trying to locate Asay's files after they were assigned to the case.

"What was learned was quite disconcerting. Numerous boxes, probably a majority, of Mr. Asay's files and records had been destroyed, while those records that theoretically still exist, have yet to be located," McClain wrote, adding that 33 boxes of records pertaining to Asay's file are missing or were destroyed.

Asay was once represented by the predecessor of the Capital Collateral Counsel for the Northern Region, but the Legislature shut down the agency in 2004. At least some of Asay's records were transferred to Mary Katherine Bonner, a lawyer who once worked on his case, according to McClain's brief filed Tuesday.

Fallis, who represented Asay in federal court from 2010 through 2014, obtained about 10 boxes of documents from a shed that was "infested with snakes, rats and insects" where Bonner stored them, McClain wrote.

Fallis decided the files were "worthless due to the condition in which they were stored" and ultimately destroyed them, McClain wrote.

McClain, who has worked on death penalty cases for nearly three decades and represented more than 250 clients, and his partner "have never found themselves in such dire and disturbing circumstances when representing a capital post-conviction defendant with an active death warrant," the lawyers wrote.

During a case-management hearing, lawyers with Attorney General Pam Bondi's office and the state attorney who prosecuted Asay told McClain they would provide copies of their records regarding Asay's case. Bondi's office was unaware that Asay had gone so long without a lawyer, McClain wrote.

McClain is also trying to get copies of other case files from the Department of State's archives, but he is unsure when the documents will be provided, he wrote.

"Historically, this (Supreme) Court has been especially vigilant to the need for procedural fairness in capital proceedings, and has accordingly not hesitated to enter stays of execution in order to ensure that capital petitioners are treated fairly in the litigation of claims for relief during the pendency of a death warrant," McClain wrote.

The Florida Supreme Court has granted stays in at least 2 other cases when new lawyers for inmates scheduled for execution needed more time. In 1990, the court delayed the execution of Paul Christopher Hildwin to give his lawyers extra time to review his files. In 2014, the court threw out Hildwin's death sentence based on new DNA evidence.

(source: WJCT news)


Florida Supreme Court considers stay for death row inmate Cary Michael Lambrix

A Florida prison inmate who has spent more than 1/2 his life on death row will ask the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday to block his execution, scheduled for next week.

Michael Lambrix, 55, was sentenced to die in 1984 after he was convicted of killing a man and a woman who had visited him at his trailer in Glades County. He has been on death row for more than 31 years.

Gov. Rick Scott signed Lambrix's death warrant in November. He's scheduled to die by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke on Feb. 11.

The state's high court last month denied Lambrix's motion for a stay of execution. But justices agreed to hear oral arguments after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 12 that Florida's death penalty sentencing system is unconstitutional because it limits the jury's role, a violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Lambrix has denied committing the 2 1st-degree murders. He said he killed Clarence Moore in self-defense after Moore assaulted the other victim, Aleisha Bryant.

In court documents, Lambrix's lawyers raise a series of arguments that his rights were violated, including not being able to conduct DNA tests on the victims' clothing and on a tire iron that the state says was the murder weapon.

Attorney General Pam Bondi argues that Lambrix has repeatedly used "dilatory" tactics to delay his execution and that he should die as scheduled.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Attorneys for Florida inmate argue for execution delay

Attorneys for a condemned inmate in Florida are scheduled to argue that his execution should be delayed after the U.S. Supreme Court found the state's death penalty system to be unconstitutional.

Tuesday's arguments are scheduled before the Florida Supreme Court, and Michael Lambrix is scheduled to die by lethal injection Feb. 11.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office argues that Lambrix should be executed as scheduled.

Lambrix was sentenced to death for the 1983 slayings of two people he met at a bar. Prosecutors said he killed them after inviting them home for a spaghetti dinner.

The U.S. Supreme Court found Florida's death penalty system flawed because it allows judges, not juries, to decide death sentences.

Lambrix's attorneys want the state to give their client a new sentencing hearing.

(source: Associated Press)


Multiple Jacksonville death-penalty cases returning to court this week

The confusing and uncertain status of the death penalty in Florida will be the focus of multiple hearings and oral arguments this week in Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Days after Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant of Florida white supremacist Mark Asay, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state's death-penalty procedures are unconstitutional. But as of right now, Asay is still scheduled to be executed on St. Patrick's Day.

Defense attorneys for Asay are saying he cannot be executed because of the Supreme Court ruling, and that issue was the focus of a hearing Monday morning in Jacksonville.

Prosecutors say the ruling doesn't preclude Asay's execution because the crime, conviction and appeals occurred well before any Supreme Court ruling occurred.

A similar argument could occur Tuesday for Donald James Smith, who is charged with the rape and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Smith has not been convicted of the crime and his attorneys will argue that he cannot face a possible death sentence since the state no longer has constitutional death-penalty procedures.

It's unclear if Smith's argument will occur Tuesday or if Senior Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper will set another date.

The Supreme Court ruling found that Florida's death-penalty procedures violated the U.S. Constitution because the final decision on whether someone gets sentenced to death rests with the judge. Justices said that decision must be made by a jury.

Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court will consider the convictions and sentences of Jacksonville death row inmates Raymond Curtis Bright and Jacob Dougan this week. Bright's oral argument is Tuesday while Dougan's will be Wednesday.

Bright's death-penalty sentence was thrown out, but his conviction was upheld after the trial judge found that his lawyers did an incompetent job defending him during the penalty phase of his trial. Dougan, who has been on death row for over 40 years, had his conviction and death sentence thrown out over allegations that his trial lawyer was sleeping with Dougan's sister and that prosecutors did not reveal the full nature of agreements they made with a co-defendant who testified against Dougan.

The U.S. Supreme Court will factor into the cases of Bright and Dougan, with lawyers for both likely to argue that the ruling precludes the state from executing them.

The planned Feb. 11 execution of Glades County resident Cary Lambrix also is being discussed before the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday, and whatever the justices decide with Lambrix could have an impact on Asay, Bright and Dougan.

Lambrix, 55, has been on death row for 31 years following his conviction in the killings of a man and a woman in Glades County in 1983.

During Monday's hearing Asay's lawyer Martin McClain argued that no death-penalty execution could go forward because the state has no death-penalty procedure.

But prosecutors disagreed and said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was not retroactive, meaning that people already sentenced to death can be executed.

McClain also argued that he needs more time to come up with a proper defense for Asay because he was only appointed to the case last month. Monday he argued that he needed more time to look into claims that Asay may not have been the shooter, as well as examine Asay's mental health.

Assistant Attorney General Charmaine Millsaps argued that Asay has had decades of appeals, and all arguments against his execution have been examined and found to be lacking.

McClain also represents Lambrix and plans to be in Tallahassee for his appeal Tuesday morning. He will argue that Lambrix also cannot be executed because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court has instructed Jacksonville Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador to issue a ruling on whether Asay gets a stay of execution by the end of the day Wednesday. That puts Salvador in a difficult situation because she doesn't know how the Supreme Court will rule in Lambrix's case. If her ruling conflicts with what the Supreme Court rules for Lambrix, Salvador's ruling will likely be overturned.

After Salvador rules, her decision will go to Florida Supreme Court for review the 1st week of March. If Salvador and the Florida Supreme Court reject Asay's appeal, he is scheduled to be executed on March 17.

Asay, 51, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in 1987. Both victims were black and McDowell was a cross-dressing prostitute.

Dougan, 68, was convicted of killing 18-year-old Stephen Orlando in 1974. Prosecutors said Dougan, who is black, killed the white Orlando as part of a plot to start a race war.

Circuit Judge Jean Johnson threw out Dougan's conviction and death sentence in 2013 after finding that his original trial attorney, Ernest Jackson, had a conflict of interest because he was having an affair with Dougan's sister, Thelma Turner, during the trial. Jackson later left his wife and married Turner.

The judge also found that prosecutors hid evidence of a deal they had with another defendant in the case, William Lee Hearn, who testified against Dougan.

Bright, 62, was convicted of bludgeoning Randall Brown, 16, and Derrick King III, 20, with a hammer in 2008. But Senior Circuit Judge Charles Arnold threw out the death sentence last year, citing concerns about the performance of trial attorneys Richard Kuritz and James Nolan, particularly about not looking into Bright's history of mental health and substance abuse.



Death penalty sought in officer's slaying

A man accused of killing a Danville police officer and Newark native in January could potentially be put to death for his alleged crimes.

Herschel R. Jones III, 32, was charged Monday in Knox County Common Pleas Court with aggravated murder with a death penalty specification. Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville announced the charges Monday afternoon after a meeting with the grand jury earlier that day.

Jones is accused of shooting Danville Officer Thomas Cottrell Jr. on Jan. 17 behind the Danville Municipal Building. Jones was located several hours later and arrested by police for a violation of his parole.

Under Ohio law, killing a police officer is 1 of the aggravating factors for a potential death sentence.

Jones also was indicted on charges of tampering with evidence; 3 counts of grand theft of a firearm; 1 count of grand theft of a motor vehicle; and charges of assault, kidnapping and aggravated burglary.

Some of the charges date back to November 2015, when Jones is suspected of robbing a person at gunpoint in a home in the Mount Vernon area.

McConville said a man woke up to find someone, wearing camouflage and a mask, inside the home. The victim was reportedly duct-taped and 2 firearms, a .380-caliber pistol and a .22-caliber revolver, were reported stolen.

Jones was not able to be identified as the suspect in that robbery at the time.

The victim identified a Jennings .380-caliber pistol recovered from Jones at the time of his arrest - following Cottrell's death - as being his, McConville said.

Detectives said the .380-caliber weapon matched 2 shell casings recovered at the crime scene at the Danville Municipal Building. The weapon also matched 2 bullets, officials said: 1 recovered in Cottrell's cruiser and a 2nd recovered on Cottrell.

Jones is suspected of stealing Cottrell's Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser and his firearm before fleeing the Municipal Building scene.

Cottrell's 9 mm service weapon was recovered near Jones at the time of his arrest, officials said. Jones had reportedly tried to burn several items, including pieces of Cottrell's uniform, McConville said. The tampering with evidence charge is tied to that alleged action.

According to reports, Jones' relatives had called his parole officer a week before Cottrell's death about allegations of drug use and domestic violence.

In October, Jones' girlfriend had accused Jones of assaulting her and threatening to shoot a police officer and steal his uniform. Charges against Jones in that case were dismissed a short time later because the woman later recanted her story.

The indictment filed Monday does include a charge of assault related to the victim in that case.

The parole officer responsible for Jones' supervision has been placed on administrative leave, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Jones has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for illegal assembly and receiving stolen property in 2012, receiving stolen property and burglary in 2009, breaking and entering and carrying a concealed weapon in 2008, breaking and entering and receiving stolen property in 2005, and intimidation and receiving stolen property in 2002.

Knox County has not indicted a capital case since 2011, when Matthew J. Hoffman was charged with the deaths of three people and hiding their remains in a hollow tree.

McConville said capital cases are lengthy, and he expects more than 100 motions to be filed in Jones' case, including motions for competency evaluations.

Since Cottrell's death, Knox County law enforcement officers have been on edge. Danville Police Chief Daniel Weckesser said Monday a threat was posted on social media over the weekend that was directed at law enforcement personnel.

Weckesser said the threat will be investigated, but it is not clear what agency will lead that investigation.

Weckesser said the Danville Police Department has been overwhelmed with support in the days and weeks following Cottrell's death. He said the department had planned to make Cottrell a full-time officer in the "near future" and had hoped to make him a school resource officer once the resources were available.

Jones is being held in the Morrow County Jail. He is expected to appear in Knox County for an arraignment at a later date.

(source: Newark Advocate)


Missouri Corrections Head Defends Cash Payments Before State Legislature----Director George Lombardi was questioned about $250,000 in cash payments to executioners - all without disclosures to the Internal Revenue Service. The practice was revealed by BuzzFeed News last week.

Days after BuzzFeed News revealed that the state of Missouri has paid $250,000 in cash payments to those who help the state carry out the death penalty, the head of the department of corrections defended the practice before a state budget committee.

A high-ranking corrections official hands out envelopes filled with thousands of dollars in cash before each execution. The state does not disclose the payments to the Internal Revenue Service, as is required by federal tax law. Without filing a form called a 1099 with the IRS, the agency has no way of ensuring the recipients are paying taxes on the payments.

Experts BuzzFeed News spoke with said the practice possibly violates the law, and that the state could be contributing to considerable tax evasion.

Director George Lombardi could not point to an exemption that allowed the department to not issue 1099s, but said the policy was essential.

"Is it your understanding that there is some sort of exemption for the department of corrections to skirt that federal requirement?" Rep. Jeremy LaFaver asked.

"It is my understanding that giving 1099s to these individuals would reveal who they were, and would mean the end of the death penalty, because these individuals wouldn't do it," Lombardi said.

"What we do is counsel those folks that they need to report that [to the IRS]," Lombardi said.

"Is there a document that proves that?" the lawmaker continued.


"Is it in a written policy?"

"No, it's just something we do."

Lombardi seemed agitated that he was being questioned about the cash payments. At the beginning of the inquiry about it, Lombardi said "I don't intend to answer that question as it's under litigation." He also would not answer who is delivering the envelopes of cash, although BuzzFeed News has reported that it is David Dormire, the director of Adult Institutions.

Lombardi also was questioned about a 2015 audit that criticized the department for not following its procedures on the cash payments.

"The auditor was correct in calling us on that, and we changed it immediately," Lombardi said, adding that witnesses are now documenting the exchange.

However, "confidential execution team member receipts" from well after the audit show discrepancies. Some are lacking a witness signature, others are entirely blank, and many of the witnesses signed the receipts on different days than Dormire.

The department of corrections would not provide any explanation of the discrepancies.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)


Jury selection begins in quadruple murder in Kansas----Court administrator said at least 600 jury summons were sent

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a man accused in the 2013 killings of 4 people at a Kansas farm, including an 18-month-old girl.

2 weeks have been set aside to pick a jury for Kyle Trevor Flack's trial. He is charged with capital murder in Franklin County in the shooting deaths of Kaylie Smith Bailey, 21, and her young daughter, Lana-Leigh Bailey. He's also charged with 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Bailey's boyfriend, Andrew A. Stout, 30, and his roommate, Steven White, 31. Prosecutors have announced plans to seek the death penalty.

District court administrator John Steelman said in an email that 600 jury summons were initially sent out. After examining questionnaires, 137 potential jurors were summoned to appear in groups of 6.

The 4 victims were killed over several days in April and May of 2013. The bodies of the 3 adults were already decomposing when concerned friends and relatives summoned police to Stout's farm in Ottawa, about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City. A crime lab worker testified at Flack's preliminary hearing that Kaylie Bailey's wrists were tied behind her back with black zip ties, and she was naked from the waist down.

Bailey's daughter's body was found a few days later in a suitcase in an Osage County creek.

Authorities say Flack, who has been in custody since shortly after the bodies were discovered, was friends with Stout.

At Flack's preliminary hearing, Franklin County Sheriff's Detective Jeremi Thompson testified that Flack told investigators before he was formally charged that Stout argued with White over rent and followed him to the garage carrying a shotgun. Flack told authorities that Stout fired on White, hitting him in the chest, and then handed the gun to Flack.

"I shot him, he dies," the investigator said Flack told him.

Thompson said Flack then said he and Stout put a tarp over White's body and placed cinder blocks on the tarp before they went back in the house to smoke marijuana.

Flack previously served prison time for shooting a former employer in 2005 after being fired, according to court records.

(source: Capital Journal Online)


SD Death Penalty Repeal Up For Debate

A retired circuit judge who presided over a death penalty case has found 2 dozen fellow South Dakota legislators joining his effort so far to end executions in the state.

District 17 Sen. Art Rusch (R-Vermillion) has filed Senate Bill 94 as its prime sponsor. Rusch presided over the retrial of Donald Moeller in the 1990 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. Moeller was found guilty and sentenced to death in the 1997 retrial. He was executed in 2012 by lethal injection.

Rusch's current legislation would go further than past efforts to repeal the death penalty. His bill would commute current death sentences to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

"I am the 1st legislator in the history of the state of South Dakota who has personally tried a death penalty case and sentenced a man to die," he told the Press & Dakotan in a previous interview. "Doing that (experience) changes how one looks at the death penalty. It's too hard on the people who have to participate in it - it's too expensive - and it doesn't work."

Rusch also questioned the deterrent effect and fair use of capital punishment.

"The only people who have been executed in South Dakota are the murderers who use it to commit suicide," he said at the time. "The others, who don't want to be executed, aren't being executed."

District 30 Rep. Timothy Johns (R-Lead), also a former circuit judge, is the bill's prime sponsor on the House side.

Johns brings a great deal of credibility in seeking to overturn the death penalty, Rusch told the Press & Dakotan this weekend.

"Although he never personally tried a death penalty case, (Johnson) certainly saw the experience in Lawrence County where they had such expense for their 3 cases," Rusch said. "And (he) is generally familiar with the criminal justice system and would know how ineffective the death penalty is as far as deterring future conduct."

Rusch said his effort has already drawn the backing of nearly 1/4 of the Legislature. The repeal legislation has been sponsored or co-sponsored by nine Senate and 15 House members, representing 24 of 105 lawmakers in the 2 chambers.

"We were able to get 22 additional sponsors to sign on, for a total of 24. The bill is set for hearing on February 10 before the Senate State Affairs committee," Rusch said. "I suspect we have an uphill battle on this (effort). Hopefully, people who are opposed to the death penalty will contact their legislators and let them know what their feelings are."

The Rusch and Johns bills have received bipartisan support, the retired Vermillion judge noted. Besides Rusch, the southeast South Dakota legislators co-sponsoring the bill include District 17 Rep. Ray Ring (D-Vermillion), District 18 Sen. Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton), District 19 Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland), District 21 Sen. Billie Sutton (D-Burke) and District 21 Rep. Julie Bartling (D-Gregory).

Even if the death penalty repeal passes the Republican-dominated Legislature, the measure seems headed for a veto by Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

"I don't support repeal (of the death penalty)," Daugaard said during a Press & Dakotan interview.

The governor said he found some crimes so depraved and heinous that they deserve capital punishment.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley couldn't be reached for comment Monday. However, he has previously told the Press & Dakotan he supports keeping capital punishment, which was reinstated in South Dakota in1979. He argues the death penalty is needed for vile crimes.

"South Dakota has imposed capital punishment on only the most dangerous defendants," he said at the time. "These are individuals who not only visited unspeakable suffering to their victims but who also pose a serious risk of future harm to South Dakota citizens."

Hunhoff, who has led past efforts to ban the death penalty, said the current effort will hopefully gain new momentum.

"A lot of people have taken notice that judges like Senator Rusch as well as 2 of South Dakota's previous attorneys general are now strongly opposed to the death penalty," he said. "It doesn't fit South Dakota's values of respecting life. The thought that we can kill our way to a better society is misguided."

The only justification for the death penalty would be that it might be a deterrent, Hunhoff said.

"But any reasonable review of the statistics shows the opposite is probably true. It coarsens the values of a society," the Yankton lawmaker said. "States without the death penalty are generally less violent. And worldwide, countries that still impose the death penalty are some of the cruelest places to live - (places) like China, North Korea, Iran and Iraq."

Hunhoff argued it's impossible to impose the death penalty in a fair manner. He added that some death row inmates were wrongly executed and later exonerated.

"Race has been a factor in South Dakota. And long ago, we even hanged an innocent man," he said. "Government makes mistakes even in the best circumstances."

Hunhoff noted both Rusch and Johns are highly respected retired judges who have taken leadership on the death penalty issue. This year's legislation has also gained bipartisan co-sponsors, he added.

"So I'm hopeful we can have a good discussion in the 2016 Legislature," Hunhoff added.

On the Republican side, Schoenfish has signed as co-sponsor of the death penalty repeal on financial and political grounds.

"The death penalty requires a tremendous use of taxpayer dollars and a great deal of power entrusted to the government to carry it out," he said. "The death penalty is arbitrary and may not be one of the most efficient aspects of government, as the number of people executed every year is very small compared to the number of people actually on death row. While it is an emotionally charged issue, an evidence-based, cost-benefit debate on it is appropriate."

The Press & Dakotan also sought comment from Ring, Sutton and Bartling but had not received responses by the deadline for this story.

The death penalty issue cuts across the political and religious spectrum of the Legislature.

As one example, District 18 Rep. Mike Stevens (R-Yankton) has dealt with the death penalty in the courtroom as well as in the Legislature. The Yankton attorney has represented an individual charged with 1st-degree murder and facing the death penalty. Ultimately, the case resulted in a plea bargain.

Stevens previously told the Press & Dakotan he supports the South Dakota death penalty as it is currently implemented. He doesn't see the South Dakota Legislature moving to repeal capital punishment.

Hunhoff credits Denny Davis, a Catholic deacon from the Vermillion area, with spearheading the repeal effort through his work with the group, South Dakotans For An Alternative to the Death Penalty.

Davis, in turn, credits Rusch for stepping forward and sponsoring SB 94.

"I think Art Rusch is a big plus this year because he is a credible witness to the psychological damage death cases do to all those involved," Davis said.

"Judges, juries, defense and prosecuting attorneys - deciding who lives or dies is not something anyone wants to decide. Judge Rusch presided over a death case in South Dakota, so he has first-hand experience."

Johns, as a retired West River judge, also brings credibility to the House bill, Davis said.

Davis isn't sure about the impact of an election year on legislators' votes. He does expect an uphill battle in repealing the death penalty.

"Will it be easier this year? I don't know," he said. "Obviously, the governor's support on this issue would mean a lot, (because) it would take a majority to override a veto. If we could get it to that level, I'm not sure this Legislature would challenge him."

Davis challenged legislators to overturn the death penalty in South Dakota.

"Death cases are more expensive than life in prison," he said. "If this Legislature says it is pro-life, then that means all of life, not just the unborn."

The time may be right for change, Davis said. "I think we have a chance this year to end the barbaric practice. I pray it will happen," he said.

Rusch referred to the Catholic Church's leader as an inspiration for abolishing capital punishment.

"Pope Francis has designated 2016 as the Year of Mercy," Rusch said. "I can't think of a better thing to do this year than repeal the death penalty."

(source: Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan)



The Execution Of 12 Prisoners In Rajai Shahr Prison Postponed For The 2nd Time

For the 2nd time in 2 weeks, the execution of 12 prisoners of Rajai Shahr Prison was halted, and the prisoners were sent from solitary confinement back to the ward.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRANA), these prisoners, who have been charged with murder and sentenced to death (retaliation in kind), were transferred to solitary confinement for the implementation of the sentences.

This group of 12 prisoners had been transferred to solitary confinement previously on the 13th of January, but were taken back as the executions were postponed.

Hossein Moini, Naser Karim-Nejhad, Mehdi Kahe, Reza Teymouri, Javad Sadeghi, Ebad Mohammadi, Mostafa Ejlali, Sajjad Nemati, Javad Mozafari, Mohammadreza Abbasi and an inmate with the 1st name Anoush, are among the announced prisoners who were sent to solitary confinements.

The authorities and judiciary organs have not announced anything about the dossiers and the reason for the repeated dispatch of these prisoners to the solitary confinements.

(source: Human Rights Activists News Agency)


Criterion Tackles the Death Penalty with Nagisa Oshima's DEATH BY HANGING

The Criterion Collection has been good to Japanese provocateur Nagisa Oshima. His celebrated, explicit-sex shocker In The Realm of the Senses (along with its sorta-sequel, Empire of Passion) have seen disc from the company, and Criterion has also released a shotgun blast of his 1960s films via their lower-fi Eclipse series.

Now Oshima's 1968 film, Death By Hanging, joins the collection as spine #798. It's not a title I was familiar with prior to now, but I had a great time familiarizing myself with it in this format, and am surprised there isn't more conversation about this film and its seemingly inexhaustible formal daring. (As the liner notes themselves point out: with Death By Hanging alongside 2001, If..., Once Upon a Time in the West and Rosemary's Baby among others, 1968 was one hell of a year for filmmaking, wasn't it?)

Shot in high-contrast black and white almost entirely in a single, deceptively elaborate set, Death By Hanging pops off the screen on Criterion's blu-ray, as Oshima charts a strange, spiral-shaped course through his story.

The setup is nicely high concept. Tasked with executing a convicted criminal named R, a group of prison officials go about their grisly business right up until the moment when R sort of, uh, fails to die. "R'S BODY REFUSES TO BE EXECUTED," the first of a series of cheekily metaphysical intertitles asserts.

This kicks off an all-points legal quandary, as the prison officials, lawyers, magistrates and witnesses attempt to determine the precise logistics around re-executing someone who has, technically, already been executed. The scenario opens up an odd theological point as well, as the Catholic chaplain asserts that having already received last rites, R's soul has been forgiven and is on its way to heaven - and that from a certain point of view, therefore, R's body is exempt responsibility for the crimes for which R was being put to death in the first place.

As a point of satire, this would be more than enough to make a meal of, but Oshima has barely gotten started. The prison officials begin attempting to revive R's memory of the crimes he has committed (he has post-strangulation amnesia) through increasingly elaborate - and, by necessity, appalling - pantomime and role-play. We learn that R raped and murdered two women; and then watch in gruesome fascination as the other men (lead by an unhinged Education Chief) reenact the details of both rapes, first with reluctance, and then with greater and greater diabolical gusto.

As all this unfolds, we delve into a further layer: R is of Korean descent, a minority culture in Japan. The conversation becomes racially charged and inherently bigoted (instructed to "act more Korean," one of the players immediately mimes whipping out his penis and urinating all over the rest of the group). As the common consensus among the men begins to fracture, we watch this ad-hoc society strenuously attempt to maintain the institutional othering that people like R have had to face in Japanese society. Poverty and crime are linked, as are R's displacement from "proper" society" and his dissociative fantasies of achieving something like a normal life.

It's an uncommonly rich broth of ideas. By the third act, furthermore, the rules of what you or I would call "reality" have been firmly... well, if not thrown out altogether, at least thoroughly questioned.

The film clips along as questions of class, race, gender and citizenship double back on themselves over and over again. State-sanctioned murder - capital punishment and war - are consciously linked, monetized, and gendered.

It's an eerily relatable piece of filmmaking in 2016, revolving as it does around how wealth disparity and criminalization work together to enforce social rules, all set against a painfully contemporary question of immigration and assimilation whose argument has, sadly, only strengthened with time.

While Criterion's audio-visual presentation of Death By Hanging is excellent, I have to point out that the supplemental content is surprisingly thin this time around. The most interesting extra on the disc is a 25-minute documentary film by Oshima called Diary of Yunbogi, which also deals with the Korean immigration question, through 1st-person narration and a series of still photographs taken by the director himself.

There's also a half-hour interview with Asian cinema critic Tony Rayns, who does a good job of positioning Death By Hanging amidst the haphazard independent entries in the director's 1960s output. You'll be digging out your Eclipse box set of Oshima's Outlaw Sixties as soon as you put Death By Hanging on the shelf, to follow his inquiry into anti-Korean racism into Three Resurrected Drunkards and Sing a Song of Sex.

Additionally, at this point I think it's time to say farewell to the Criterion Collection's printed insert booklet. They seem to have moved permanently to single-page fold-outs, which still puts them ahead of every other DVD racket in the market, who have abandoned liner notes altogether; but still feels a bit cheap and awkward, even if you're only likely to read the essays once. Nonetheless, Howard Hampton's piece here - along with Oshima's own director's statement from 1968 - is well worth a look.



Bangladesh hands death penalty to 2 war criminals

A special tribunal court in Dhaka has sentenced two war crimes convicts to death over crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.

4 out of 6 charges pressed against Obaidul Haque Taher and Ataur Rahman Nani razakars of Netrakona, The Daily Star reported.

According to the 2 charges that earned Taher, 66, and Nani, 62, death penalty, they were accompanied by other razakars and the Pakistan army attacked Laufa village under Barhatta Police Station on October 19, 1971, and detained 10 people.

7 of the detainees were later shot dead while one survived with bullet injuries and 2 were freed. The razakars also raped women there.

Between November 15 and 16, the duo along with other razakars detained 7 people.

(source: Free Press Journal)

FEBRUARY 1, 2016:


Delaware capital murder trials and hearings halted while state justices mull death penalty law

A Superior Court judge has halted all trials and penalty hearings in capital murder cases while Delaware's Supreme Court mulls the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law.

The order was issued Monday President Judge Jan Jurden, head of the Superior Court system.

Last week, the Supreme Court accepted several questions submitted by a Superior Court judge regarding the roles of judges and juries in Delaware death penalty cases. Those questions were prompted by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Florida's death sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because a jury, not a judge, must find each fact necessary to impose a death sentence.

Delaware's sentencing scheme is similar to Florida's.

Meanwhile, a bill to abolish Delaware's death penalty was defeated in the state House last week.

(source: Associated Press)


First State freezes all death penalty cases

Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden is halting all 39 of Delaware's pending death penalty cases as the state's highest court weighs the system's constitutionality.

The official stay from Jurden comes just days after another Superior Court judge asked the Delaware Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the state's capital punishment program.

Part of the First State's system resembles Florida's, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional last month.

In Delaware, juries have to unanimously find at least 1 aggravating factor to recommend a death sentence. Then, a judge weighs all relevant information that came out at trial before either sentencing that person to die or giving them life in prison.

All but 1 Supreme Court justice found putting more power in the hands of judges unconstitutional in their recent ruling.

State lawmakers in the House rejected a bill that would overturn capital punishment in Delaware altogether last week.

The Public Defender's Office and the state will file arguments to the Delaware Supreme Court in the coming weeks, with a ruling expected before the summer.

(source: Delaware Public Media)


Shawn Legrand pleading guilty to 3 murders

Shawn Lee Legrand halted his death penalty trial today by pleading guilty to the November 2011 murders of Krystle Price Papile, Gregory Steven Fitzgerald and victim Ardell Paige Jr.

Jury selection in Cumberland County Superior Court had been scheduled to start today, but the 49-year-old Legrand this afternoon decided to plead guilty.

By doing so, Legrand avoids the death sentence. Instead, he is to get 3 sentences of life in prison without parole, District Attorney Billy West said.

West said Legrand's offer to plead guilty came as a surprise to prosecutors.

Legrand stabbed to death Papile and Fitzgerald, and shot to death Paige. He also shot Bennie Darwin King and Stephanie Lashaun Croom, but they survived. The violence was in a residence on Ingram Street in Fayetteville on Nov. 26, 2011. He was arrested following a car chase and shoot-out with two Fayetteville police officers.

The officers severely injured Legrand. In court today, he appeared in a wheelchair.

(source: Fayetteville Observer)

GEORGIA----impending execution

Lawyers: Death row inmate sentence excessive in murder case

Lawyers for a Georgia death row inmate set to die this week asked the state's highest court on Monday to throw out his sentence, arguing that it's disproportionate to his crime.

Brandon Astor Jones was convicted in the 1979 killing of a convenience store manager and is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday. At the time of his conviction, a death sentence for a murder committed during a robbery at a business was rare, and it has become even more unusual recently, with none imposed in any such case in Georgia in the past 20 years, Jones' lawyers argue in their filing with the state's Supreme Court.

The state and federal constitutions "prohibit a criminal sentence that is excessive, or that is arbitrarily or rarely imposed," the lawyers wrote.

Jones' lawyers say they reviewed other cases of murders committed during armed robberies in Georgia, including some that were more brutal or involved more victims. Dozens of those defendants served their sentences and have been released on parole, the lawyers wrote.

The "community conscience is now, and has been for at least twenty years, that a spontaneous murder committed while carrying out the armed robbery of a retail establishment - while extremely serious and deserving of serious punishment - is not among the 'worst of the worst' offenses for which the death penalty is constitutionally reserved," the lawyers wrote.

Additionally, the state's evidence doesn't prove that Jones shot store manager Roger Tackett, and Jones has consistently denied firing at him, the lawyers wrote. They argue that the other man convicted in the killing, Van Roosevelt Solomon, fired all of the shots that hit Tackett. Solomon also was convicted and was executed in Georgia's electric chair in 1985.

A lower court judge last week denied Jones' request to have his execution halted and his death sentence tossed out. The judge ruled that Jones has made many of the arguments previously and that they are, therefore, procedurally barred. There has been no change in the facts or law and Jones has failed to establish a miscarriage of justice, Towaliga Circuit Chief Judge Thomas Wilson wrote.

Jones has another appeal challenging the constitutionality of the state's execution secrecy law pending before 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law classifies as a confidential state secret the identity of any person or entity involved in an execution, including the drug producer.

Jones was convicted in October 1979. A federal judge in February 1989 ordered a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. Jones was resentenced to death in 1997. The 11th Circuit last week rejected another appeal that challenged the effectiveness of Jones' attorneys during the 2nd sentencing trial.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles - the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence - held a clemency hearing for Jones on Monday but did not immediately release its decision. At age 72, Jones is the state's oldest death row inmate.

(source: Associated Press)


Ohio man faces death penalty for slaying of police officer

An Ohio man accused of shooting and killing a police officer could face the death penalty after a grand jury on Monday returned aggravated murder charges against him, county prosecutors said.

A Knox County grand jury handed up a 10-count indictment that included aggravated murder, grand theft auto and tampering with evidence against Herschel R. Jones III for the murder of Danville Police Officer Thomas Cottrell in January.

Knox County Prosecutor Mitch McConville said his office plans to seek the death penalty for the Jan. 17 shooting.

Cottrell was found shot dead behind a municipal building in the central Ohio village of Danville, about 60 miles northeast of Columbus, less than 30 minutes after police received a call from a woman warning her ex-boyfriend, "had left with weapons and was looking to kill an officer."

Cottrell was found shot in the head, and his gun and police cruiser were missing.

2 hours later, officers spotted Jones, 32, running from a home, officials said. After a short foot chase, he was captured.

Jones, who has been held in police custody on a parole violation, attempted to burn Cottrell’s clothing and dispose of his gun and police cruiser after the shooting, prosecutors charged.

Jones was also charged with aggravated burglary, kidnapping and assault stemming from a separate incident in November.

A judge has not yet been assigned to try the case.

(source: Reuters)


Judge dismisses suit challenging death-penalty question going to voters

A Lancaster County judge has rejected a lawsuit challenging the death-penalty question going to Nebraska voters in November, but refused to allow a pro-death-penalty group to be part of a 2nd suit challenging the ballot wording.

Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret issued orders late Friday afternoon dismissing the case brought by death penalty opponents Christy and Richard Hargesheimer and dismissing a motion by the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty to intervene in another suit filed by Lyle Koenig.

The Hargesheimers had contended that the petition process should be deemed invalid because it failed to disclose Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor. Their suit sought an injunction to keep Secretary of State John Gale from placing the question on the ballot Nov. 8.

Koenig's issue with the language, drafted by Attorney General Doug Peterson, is the title and explanatory statement Gale chose to appear on the ballot.

At a hearing in November, the argument in the Hargesheimers' case came down, largely, to who qualifies as a "sponsor" of a petition, which is not defined in statutes.

No one disputed that Ricketts and his father contributed 1/3 of the $913,000 raised by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty. Ricketts raised money for the campaign, and his close allies took roles to promote it.

Attorney Alan Peterson, who represents the Hargesheimers, argued that Ricketts should be included because Nebraska law requires a sworn list of every person sponsoring a referendum.

He stopped short of suggesting a definition of "sponsor" but suggested that the governor was "in actuality the primary initiating force" behind the referendum, which was a good start toward a reasonable definition.

On the other side, Omaha attorney Steven Grasz, who represents Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and Judy Glasburner, Aimee Melton and Bob Evnen, who are listed as petition sponsors, argued that to construe the statute to encompass all supporters, contributors and political leaders would put petition drives in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

"Sponsor," he said, refers to those who assume statutory responsibility for the referendum once the petition begins.

In an 11-page order, Maret said she was persuaded by the argument that because Glasburner, Melton and Evnen identified themselves as willing to assume the statutory responsibilities once the petition process commenced that Ricketts was not required to be listed as a sponsor.

"The court agrees," she wrote, citing then-Chief Justice John Hendry's reasoning in a concurring opinion in a similar case before the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2003.

Maret said the Legislature long ago removed the financial contribution reporting requirement to the process and now requires that ballot committees disclose financial contributors, like Ricketts, in a report to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

She said a strict reading of "every person ... sponsoring the petition," as it says in the statute, could have a potentially chilling effect on people lending support of a referendum effort and "would hinder, rather than facilitate, the people's referendum rights."

Maret called it a fatal defect in the complaint and dismissed it.

"We do expect to file an appeal," Alan Peterson said Monday.

The attorney who represents the Hargesheimers said the primary authority Maret relied on in her opinion was a single judge's opinion, "which is inconsistent, we think, with the majority opinion."

He said he hopes the appeal is expedited. "If we're going to win this case we're running out of time," Peterson said.

Maret also dismissed a request by the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty to be allowed to intervene in the Koenig case, which seeks to change a single word to the title when it goes before voters.

It challenges the Attorney General's proposed ballot language, which describes life in prison as the "maximum" sentence, when in fact it is the only sentence.

Maret found that the pro-death penalty group didn't file within the time allowed to challenge the decision on the wording or provide an alternative. In fact, the group admitted it wasn’t dissatisfied with the proposed title.

The group's "desire to assert its opinion on this issue is not a sufficient direct and legal interest that would require intervention” under the statute, she wrote.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Judge dismisses lawsuit claiming death penalty voter petition drive is invalid

A ballot referendum to restore Nebraska's death penalty has survived a legal challenge brought by foes of capital punishment.

Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret dismissed the lawsuit filed last fall by death penalty opponents who argued the voter petition drive was invalid because it failed to list Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor.

In her ruling, the judge said the lawsuit was "predicated on an erroneous interpretation" of the law regarding voter petition drives and "is defective as a matter of law."

Lawyers for death penalty opponents argued that citizens should know the full extent of the governor's involvement in an initiative petition he helped fund. They also argued the law requires the listing of all sponsors so voters can be fully informed before deciding whether to sign.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, the group that gathered the signatures to put the question on the November general election ballot, argued they properly listed 3 sponsors when submitting official paperwork for the petition. Ricketts' political and financial support of the petition drive did not constitute sponsorship, they said.

Death penalty supporters collected about 143,000 valid signatures to put the question on the ballot. The number also was enough to put the repeal on hold until the vote.

Last May, state senators abolished capital punishment over the governor's veto. In the months that followed, Ricketts solicited contributions for the referendum drive and gave $200,000 toward the $1.36 million effort. His father, Joe Ricketts, contributed an additional $100,000.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


The Case Against The Death Penalty

5 judges have already said he's innocent, but 57-year-old Kevin Cooper is nevertheless scheduled to be the next prisoner executed in the state of California. Cooper received a death sentence in 1985 for allegedly slaying a family of three and another child in a suburb of Los Angeles, the Daily Mail reports.

Neither the one survivor of the attack, an 8-year-old boy, nor 2 witnesses who said they saw three men driving away from the house in a station wagon after the murder, implicated Cooper in the attack.

But local law enforcement became fixated on Cooper because he had recently escaped from prison and was staying in a nearby house, Daily Mail reports. In 2004, the Ninth District Court ruled much of the evidence used to prosecute Cooper was illegal a few hours after then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused Cooper's request for clemency.

The case is just one of many which shows that overzealous prosecutors have often been inept in their investigations, which has resulted in massive wastes of taxpayer money in addition to the loss of innocent human lives.

156 people have been exonerated from death row since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Some of them often within hours of execution, or in some cases, after the execution has already taken place.

In one case, a Texas man was executed for allegedly setting his house on fire and killing his children, but multiple investigations later showed the fire was most likely caused by faulty wiring, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. The prosecutor in that case was later found guilty of misconduct for withholding evidence from the accused man's attorneys.

Additionally, it is often argued that the death penalty is cheaper to administer than life in prison without parole. This is false; housing costs for death row inmates are over $3 million higher per inmate. 44 executions in Florida between 1976 and 2000 cost an average of $24 million per execution, the News-Journal reports.

Finally, as the Journal points out, the death penalty is incredibly inefficient at actually doing what it is meant to do; execute prisoners on death row. In Florida alone, 92 inmates have been executed since 1972, but there are currently 389 inmates currently on death row.

Ultimately, saying the death penalty should be reserved for only "the worst cases" is problematic, because prosecutors have not exactly shown themselves to be impartial arbiters of justice in the time capital punishment has been in place; they are people, and like all people, they make mistakes. Unfortunately, when those mistakes cost both innocent human lives and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars, it means we need to seriously reconsider the death penalty as a viable punishment for serious offenders.



Death penalty: A uniquely unjust form of justice

Capital punishment is still with us as a stain upon mankind passed down from the dark pages of history. It is an unjust and loveless measure left over from a more barbaric past. Over the centuries, the peoples of the world have witnessed killings at the hands of states, princes, kings, pharaohs and the priests of the Inquisition. In the 21st century, however, the time has now come for modern legal institutions to abandon this irreversible sanction.

Today, death penalty has been abolished by 102 U.N. member countries. Seven countries still apply death penalty only for crimes committed in wartime, while another 50 have abandoned it in practice for at least 10 years. 37 countries still use it both in law and practice. Of these 37, only the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and Singapore are industrialized countries. Apart from Belarus, no European country applies death penalty.

In 2014, there were 1,652 executions across the world, more than 1,000 of which were committed by communist China. 500 prisoners were executed in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen or North Korea.

One significant country with no proper place in this sinister picture is the U.S. 31 American states still carry out death penalty, principally Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia. Over the last 40 years, 1,422 people have been put to death in the U.S. as a whole while another 3,000 are still waiting on death row. The U.S., the leader of the modern Western world in so many areas, must treat its people with greater affection.

American history is full of shameful episodes on this subject. Twenty thousand people have been executed since the country was founded. The new states that came into being following the expansion of the U.S. towards the west in particular applied capital punishment on a wide scale. Due to a period of lawlessness in the Wild West, death penalty was enforced for many crimes, such as robbery, rape, murder and plunder. As the lawlessness increased, judges became ever more ruthless. Death penalty became used, not to provide justice, but simply to ensure order in those towns. At the same time, lynchings were a part of daily life in southern states as well. Between 1882 and 1920, 4,742 people were hanged or lynched without trial. Of these, 3,345 were African Americans hanged, burned or beaten to death in appalling acts of violence after the Civil War.

By now, the 21st century, this lynch-mob mentality should long since have come to an end. Punishment should no longer be a vehicle for revenge to bring people to heel, but should be aimed at ensuring justice and rehabilitating criminals, rather than killing them.

In addition, capital punishment has varied depending on the time, the communities and cultures involved, and socioeconomic status. Many crimes that used to be punished by death have long since disappeared in modern society. It is therefore improper to claim that any crime deserves to be punished by death. The courts of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages condemned tens of thousands of people to be burned to death on the basis of false confessions extracted through torture. Even in more recent times, just 300 years ago, 24 people were condemned to death for witchcraft in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Yet such crimes are no longer covered by the penal law at all.

Court proceedings are also generally complex and intended to reach a given conclusion. Many convictions are based on debatable and equivocal evidence and techniques of judicial review change over time. The FBI has determined that the results of its own inquiries were false in 90% of 3,000 cases dating back before 2000 that it re-investigated. The jury system is another aspect that is quite liable to error. Death sentences awarded may be relative and vary depending on the personal prejudices of the members of the jury, the way they are brought up, ethnic identities, gender and age.

Death sentences are also becoming increasingly racist in the U.S. Although African Americans make up only 12% of the population, they represent 41% of those on death row. Statistics show that death penalty is more easily enforced if the condemned person is black. Death penalty is also enforced in an unjust manner against the poor, minorities and members of ethnic and religious communities.

This unjust punishment, that allows no scope for "repentance" or "self-education," is not something for which amends can be made by saying, "We have made a terrible mistake." 156 condemned to death have subsequently been found to be innocent and released since 1973. The majority of these people spent decades in prison for no reason. It is barbaric for the state to murder an innocent man. It puts the state on a moral par with murderers.

The idea that capital punishment lowers crime rates is also completely false. There has been no rise in the homicide rate in states in which death penalty has been abolished. In a poll of criminologists in 2009, 88% of respondents said that they did not think that death penalty actually prevented killings.

It is believed that about 5% of convicts in the U.S. are entirely innocent. This means that 10,000 people are wrongly convicted every year. Another piece of research shows that 4.1% of people condemned to death are innocent. That same research shows that 340 innocent people have been put to death since 1973.

The "Innocence Project" instituted in 1992 has to date secured the release of 329 wrongly convicted people. 18 of those were on death row. 28 of those released had pleaded guilty in order to avoid a harsher sentence. Putting people on death row due to judicial or technical errors clearly results in irreversible errors and injustice. Obviously, death penalty cannot be rectified at a later date when the person concerned is deceased.

The decrease in the enforcement of the death penalty in the U.S. has made some segments of society uneasy. While 98 people were put to death in the U.S. in 1999, that figure fell to only 19 in 2014. Nonetheless, governors who do not put death sentences on their agenda are often harshly criticized for being "soft on crime," and officials responsible for the death chambers complain about the way they are increasingly being used less. 70 % of the public still approves of capital punishment.

Yet the U.S. should be a role model to the world in terms of efforts to abolish capital punishment. Politicians and judicial institutions must act responsibly, and capital punishment must cease to be an institutionally recognized measure. The death penalty is no way to seek retribution. Since people are prone to make mistakes it is inherently impossible to completely eliminate the possibility of innocent people being put to death. The execution of a single innocent person is nothing less than state-sanctioned homicide.

(source: Harun Yahya;


Crime boss says death penalty should be revived for jailed journalist Dundar

Sedat Peker, a notorious figure convicted on charges of organized crime, threatened jailed journalist Can Dundar with reviving the death penalty on Monday after Dundar referred to him in one of his columns.

The Cumhuriyet daily's Dundar was arrested on Nov. 26, 2015, on charges of espionage and revealing confidential documents after publishing a report with photos of weapons it said were being transferred to Syria in trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

Dundar recently referred to Peker in 1 of his columns and wrote: "I wish we were murderers. We are arrested just because we took a pen in our hands and wrote, because we wrote news reports and they demand 2 lifetimes in jail (plus 30 years) for us. I was wondering [the kind of] people who are released pending trial."

Releasing a statement on his website, Peker responded to Dundar by saying he should be grateful to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "If one of the millions who think the way I do became the president, their 1st job would be to revive the death penalty and the 2nd would be to hang you [everyone who had anything to do with the MIT trucks]."

Peker also said that he can abide having his name linked with someone who is involved in a criminal activity, but he cannot stand for it to be compared with "traitors" like Dundar. Accusing Dundar of betraying national values, Peker also accused media outlets of being unfair to him and said he would establish a media group if he has to.

Peker drew strong criticism after threatening academics who signed a statement calling for an end to the ongoing clashes in southeastern Turkey to "spill their blood" and "bathe in it." Also in an anti-terrorism rally he organized on Oct. 9 last year, he threatened those who criticized Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government by saying they will pay the price for their critical stance.

Dundar wrote in his column that even after making those threats Peker was released pending trial and argued that he himself is in jail just for doing his job.


SAUDI ARABIA----execution

Saudi Arabia sentences man to death

Saudi authorities executed a Saudi national on Monday for the murder of a compatriot, bringing the number of executions by capital punishment to 56 in the kingdom this year.

Ahmed al-Harbi was found guilty of stabbing and shooting Fahed al-Balawi during a quarrel, according to a statement by the interior ministry published by state news agency SPA.

Harbi was executed in the northern city of Tabuk. Most executions in Saudi Arabia are beheadings carried out by sword.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia ordered the execution of 153 people, the majority of which were death penalty sentences given for drug trafficking or murder, according to an AFP tally.

On a single day last month it put 47 people to death for "terrorism", including influential Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Amnesty International reports that the total number of executions in the kingdom in 2015 was the highest for 2 decades.

Saudia Arabia enforces a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.



Mendez scheduled for death penalty hearing

A Rule 24 hearing is scheduled today for Sebastian Mendez, 25, of Onslow County.

A Rule 24 hearing is held in 1st degree murder cases. The purpose is to decide whether the state will be seeking the death penalty in the case.

Mendez is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Shaung Liu, and 5-month-old son, Archer Liu back in July in the Hunter's Creek area of Jacksonville. Shaung was found dead in her car 3 blocks from her home, while Archer was found dead in a suitcase in the attic.

Last month, Mendez was charged with trying to pay an Onslow County inmate to kill a witness in the case. He was charged in the incident and moved to Central Prison due to safety concerns.

The Rule 24 hearing was originally scheduled for last Thursday, but was delayed and rescheduled for today.

(source: WNCT news)


Defendant in triple murder case has history of courtroom disruptions

When potential jurors arrive at the Cumberland County Courthouse today for the triple murder trial of Shawn Lee Legrand, they may encounter a spectacle in the courtroom.

Legrand, who has tried to fire his lawyers, gotten in trouble for throwing his bodily wastes at jailers, and been labeled suicidal by a psychiatrist, told the judge that he will disrupt the trial if he doesn't get his way.

"Thank your punk (expletive) for getting this done," Legrand said in an Aug. 26 letter to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons. "If not I will half the time not show up for trial & when I do disrupt your (expletive) courtroom."

He signed it: "Sincerely Shawn LeGrand."

Prosecutors will attempt to seek the death penalty in a trial projected to last up to 3 months. Indictments say Legrand, 49, killed 3 people and tried to kill 2 others in a triplex home on Ingram Street on Nov. 26, 2011. He was arrested following a car chase and shoot-out with police officers who were responding to reports of a stabbing. Legrand was injured in the shooting.

At the residence on Ingram Street, Krystle Price Papile and Gregory Steven Fitzgerald were fatally stabbed. Ardell Paige Jr. was killed by a gunshot to his head.

Surviving victims Bennie Darwin King and Stephanie Lashaun Croom were shot in their faces.

Years behind bars

Prior to the homicides, Legrand had spent most of his life behind bars for assault, robbery and burglary charges. He was released in July 2011 when he was 44 years old.

His time in custody since his arrest on murder charges in November 2011 has been troubled, court papers say.

At least 6 times, judges have signed orders that sent Legrand to the state prison system while awaiting trial instead of letting him stay at the Cumberland County Detention Center. Ammons wrote that Legrand has thrown feces at officers and spit on one. Superior Court Judge Claire Hill said Legrand endangers the other inmates and the jail staff at the county detention center.

In a letter to Ammons dated Dec. 13, Legrand asked to be moved back to the county jail because he wanted to consult with a woman and a man in Cumberland County.

It's not clear in Legrand's letter what these people do - they may be medical professionals as he says the woman "offered me to stay at the hospital for a week or 2 and I would like to do that."

Legrand said the letter is not a ploy to stop or delay his trial - he said he is upset it was postponed to today from a previous date.

"I give you my word I will not assault any staff at the jail," Legrand wrote.

He also said he hoped "to see the one friend I have" if he were allowed to stay at the jail.

Legrand said he was not talking to either of his lawyers. "My attorney's (sic) really don't give a damn about my well being," he wrote.

A judge on Jan. 7 signed an order to keep Legrand in the prison system.

A forensic psychiatrist wrote in September that Legrand wants to fire his lawyers and represent himself because he wants to be sentenced to death. Legrand's request to represent himself has been denied, one of his lawyers said.

A 1st-degree murder conviction carries 2 possible punishments: death or life in prison with no chance for parole.

The mother of victim Krystle Price Papile said she wants Legrand to get the life sentence.

"I am a very Christian woman," said Denise Oteri of Weymouth, Massachusetts.

For the past 4 years she said she has "hated him, wanted to kill him myself with my own bare hands for what he did to my baby, my youngest daughter."

Oteri said that hate has allowed Legrand to make her a victim.

"I'm not going to have that anymore. I'm not going to let him decide how my emotions, or my life is run. So I have decided that I'm going to forgive him," Oteri said. "And that forgiveness is for my own healing, and part of my grieving process."

(source: Fayetteville Observer)

GEORGIA----impending execution

Panel to Hear Clemency Request From Georgia Death Row Inmate

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles plans to consider a clemency request from the state's oldest death row inmate.

The board plans to hold a hearing on the request from Brandon Astor Jones on Monday. The 72-year-old is scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson.

The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.

Jones was convicted in the 1979 killing of Cobb County convenience store manager Roger Tackett.

A federal judge granted Jones a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. He was resentenced to death in 1997.

Another man convicted in the killing, Van Roosevelt Solomon, was executed in 1985.

(source: Associated Press)


A Life on Death Row----Facing Execution at 72, Georgia's Oldest Death Row Inmate Exposes Death Penalty's Racist Roots

The 1st time Michael Marcum saw the byline "Brandon Astor Jones," he was working as a jail commander in San Francisco. It was 1993; Marcum can't recall what the article was about. But he remembers it made an impression - and when he saw the author's bio, he was taken aback. Jones was a man on Georgia's death row.

Jones sent his articles everywhere, from newspapers in Atlanta to Australian political journals. His musings on politics and prison life found a particularly receptive audience abroad, where he had a number of devoted pen pals. Marcum wrote to Jones at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison, asking permission to reprint the piece in his jail newsletter.

It was an unusual publication, produced by prisoners and staff alike. But then County Jail #7 was an unusual jail. In the era of "3 strikes" and the 1994 crime bill, it was an experiment in corrections, where prisoners raised plants in a greenhouse and tended to buffalo. Marcum had helped design it, firm in his belief that if the state of California was going to build new jails, they should be places for education and vocational training. Instead, Marcum saw the country going in the other direction.

Jones wrote back to Marcum, granting his permission to reprint the article. The 2 soon began exchanging letters. "We wrote a lot about our childhoods," Marcum recalled. They found unexpected overlaps in their lives: Jones had grown up on the South Side of Chicago, where his favorite pizza joint belonged to Marcum's father-in-law. Marcum continued to publish Jones' writing in the newsletter; he saw it have a positive influence on inmates and staff alike. "Some of the prisoners saw Brandon as a role model," he said.

But what really connected Marcum and Jones was the search for redemption. In 1966, when Marcum was 19 years old, he had shot and killed his own father with a hunting rifle - the violent culmination of years of domestic abuse against Marcum and his mother. It was Marcum who called the police; later he pleaded guilty and got a sentence of 5 years to life. When he was released in 1972, he said, "I felt I had to prove my value as a human being." He was lucky. His parole officer helped him get into college and Marcum began an unlikely career