and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

JUNE 26, 2016:


Penn State researchers analyze death penalty findings

Penn State researchers studying whether racial bias affects the imposition of the death penalty have begun crunching the data, a move signaling the end of a 4-year saga of waiting on a state report that has officially halted executions in the state.

The Penn State findings might be made public before year's end.

While the analysis is in the early stages, the professor leading the research said he expects similar findings to what the Reading Eagle reported last week on the distribution of death sentences in Pennsylvania.

"I think it'll be a good complement to what you've done, with some details that will flesh out the issues that you've raised," said John Kramer, a retired Penn State criminology professor. "I don't suspect that it will erase the (Eagle's) findings."

In an investigation spanning 5 months, the Eagle found Pennsylvania has sentenced 408 defendants to death since 1978, at a rate of 1.6 death sentences for every 100 homicides. The rate for counties varied from zero to more than 7, indicating wide prosecutorial discretion.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia that found capital punishment unconstitutional, states created statutes that were intended to make its application less arbitrary, particularly for black defendants.

"Going back to the Furman decision, the question is: Have we controlled that kind of discretion adequately?" Kramer said. "I'm sure we will cite your article when we're reviewing our data."

The meticulous gathering of data on more than 900 1st-degree murder cases from 2000 to 2010 in 18 counties has been tedious and painstakingly slow, pushing a state report that was expected 3 years ago back several times.

Kramer's team has been out in the field since 2012 poring over court files in counties stretching from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to identify charging and sentencing patterns in 1st-degree murder cases. The death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for the crime of murder.

Researchers hope to learn whether race is a factor in who is charged capitally and ultimately sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

This investigation will be folded into the study state lawmakers called for in 2011. That report, by the Joint State Government Commission, isn't expected until six months after Penn State concludes its study for the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness.

As directed by lawmakers, the state report will examine 17 issues around the death penalty, including its cost, deterrence and quality of counsel.

The commission's reports often are completed within a year and include recommendations.

Recommendations in the long awaited report, however, will likely relate to data collection, which is sorely lacking. The Joint State Government Commission will not be recommending whether to continue to support or abolish the death penalty, said Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission.

"From the beginning, it was not the intent that the report would come up with some firm recommendations about what capital punishment should be in Pennsylvania," Pasewicz said. "We're going to leave the big questions to the Legislature itself. We'll provide them with as much information as we can, and they can sort it all out."

For years, Pennsylvania's death penalty system has been a source of consternation among those on both sides of the issue. Having sentenced hundreds in the modern era and executed only 3, it is widely perceived as dysfunctional.

Another round

It has been studied before.

In 1999, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court directed a study on whether racial or gender bias influences the judicial system, including the death penalty. In the committee's 550-page report in 2003, it made more than 170 recommendations, including issuing a moratorium on executions. Gov. Tom Wolf issued one last year, saying executions would not resume until the state report is completed.

"Based on existing data and studies, the committee concluded that there are strong indications that Pennsylvania's capital justice system does not operate in an evenhanded manner," the group's report said, noting the responsibility of ensuring equal justice under the law cannot fall to a single branch of government.

The committee also took aim at the quality of capital representation, which the Eagle explored last fall, finding nearly 1 in5 inmates sentenced to death in Pennsylvania the past decade were represented by attorneys disciplined for professional misconduct at some point in their careers.

The committee's report said of capital representation, "Unless the poor, among whom minority communities are overrepresented, are provided adequate legal representation, including ample funds for experts and investigators, there cannot be a lasting solution to the issue of racial and ethnic bias in the capital system."

The group also recommended original research to study the issue further.

"It's critical that we do our own studies," said Lisette McCormick, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, which conducted the review at the Supreme Court's direction.

'There are gaps'

Established in 2005 by Pennsylvania's three branches of government, the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness is tasked with addressing inequities in the court system.

McCormick added, noting there is no systematic data collection on Pennsylvania's death penalty: "There are gaps. You cannot conduct a valid study with gaps."

The Penn State report - Kramer said an internal draft would be completed next month - was commissioned in part to address this gap. McCormick's group is funding the report at a cost of about $325,000.

The Eagle's cost and sentence-distribution findings, McCormick said, were consistent with other studies she's reviewed for the current state study.

The shortage of original research on Pennsylvania's death penalty system, Kramer and McCormick said, is directly related to the difficulty of winnowing out information buried, oftentimes in storage, in hundreds of case boxes across the commonwealth.

Kramer's data collectors could examine, at their quickest pace, a maximum of 5 cases a day and averaged only 3 or 4. And some days, they would sift through case boxes and collect no pertinent data.

"There's just not any data that you can put together to do this study without investing a tremendous amount of time," Kramer said.

(source: Reading Eagle)


Markel Murder Suspect In Court No Bond Set

The man accused of killing FSU Professor Dan Markel, walked into a Tallahassee court on Friday and left in custody without bond being set.

Sigfredo Garcia, pled not guilty in court Friday June 24th, as defense attorneys argued there was not enough evidence to keep him in jail.

? Garcia, in handcuffs, appeared in court Friday morning for a hearing on whether there is substantial evidence for the state to deny a bond be set in the Markel murder case.

The hearing was supposed to determine whether there is significant evidence to deny setting a bond, but the defense argued that a lack of witnesses required the hearing to be pushed back to a later date.

The state argued they had clear evidence linking Garcia to the murder and recognized him as a flight risk, claiming that his indication to flee, along with his criminal history, makes Garcia a danger to the community.

Garcia's defense attorneys responded maintain the state has only presented hearsay statements that were not substantial evidence. Garcia's lead attorney, Jim Lewis, also argued that a proper hearing could not take place without questioning witnesses from law enforcement officials and asked that the hearing be moved until a subpoena could be issued.

The defense also asked to file motions regarding the state's plans to pursue the death penalty in the case, claiming his client should be provided with additional representation. He also asked to file a motion to improve Garcia's isolated living conditions in jail, which he claimed to be inhumane.

Judge Terry Lewis did not issue a ruling on the bond hearing, instead allowing for witnesses to be brought in for cross-examination. The court did not set an official hearing date, but it is set to be scheduled for next week.

Garcia is currently being held at the Leon County Jail under charges of 1st-degree murder in the case of Dan Markel's death. Garcia was arrested for Markel's murder in Broward County on May 25th, then extradited to Leon County on June 1st.

Garcia, along with co-defendant Luis Rivera, were charged with first-degree murder following the death of Dan Markel who was found shot to death in his driveway in July of 2014. The FSU law professor was divorced from his wife, Wendi Adelson who moved to south Florida with their children after his death.

Police say her family's desire to have Adelson and the children live in south Florida may have been motive for his murder.

(source: WTXL news)


20 years later, Baton Rouge child killer's death sentence has yet to be carried out as legal appeals proceed at snail's pace

20 years ago to the month, Dr. Stephen Speeg and 11 other residents of East Baton Rouge Parish convicted Frank Ford Cosey in the 1990 rape and murder of a 12-year-old Baton Rouge girl and decided he should die for what Speeg described on the jury verdict form as "an especially heinous, atrocious and cruel" crime.

2 decades later, Cosey's appeals continue to move at a snail's pace in the 19th Judicial District Court, the very court where he was unanimously found guilty of 1st-degree murder by Speeg - the jury foreman - and his fellow jurors, and sentenced to death.

But much to the chagrin of at least one Louisiana Supreme Court justice, and to Speeg to a degree, the 56-year-old Ford is no closer today to the death chamber than he was 20 years ago.

Speeg said Thursday he is all for a defendant receiving his due process under the law. But, he added, "It's just absurd that it takes this long."

He said his only concern is with the victim's family.

"That's where my prayers are," Speeg said.

In a ruling earlier this month in Cosey's case, Justice Scott Crichton voiced concern over what he described as "the inordinate span of time" that has elapsed since the jury recommended in June 1996 that Cosey die for his crime. A Baton Rouge state judge formally imposed the death penalty 3 months later.

Crichton noted that after the state Supreme Court affirmed Cosey's conviction and sentence in 2000 and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case the following year, Cosey himself filed in 2001 what is termed in legal circles as a "shell" application for post-conviction relief in the 19th Judicial District Court.

Crichton characterized Cosey's petition as "an apparent place-holder strategic maneuver."

Then, in 2012 and 2013, Cosey's post-conviction attorneys supplemented the bare-bones petition he filed more than a decade earlier.

Last year, state District Judge Don Johnson denied most of Cosey's claims, which include allegations that he received ineffective assistance from his trial and appellate attorneys.

"Now, in 2016 (after the savage murder, two decades after the verdict, and more than a decade after the ‘shell’ application) this case, on collateral review, has finally reached this Court," Crichton wrote June 17. "In my view, this gamesmanship and delay is unreasonable and unacceptable."

Cosey's current attorney, Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana director Gary Clements, believes gamesmanship is a poor choice of words.

"It's not a word I would have chosen. I wouldn't call it gamesmanship. I'd call it defense," he said.

Clements stressed that post-conviction cases are complicated and take time to resolve.

"The system has moved on," he said. "We're doing the best we can."

Johnson, the 19th Judicial District Court judge presiding over the Cosey post-conviction case, did offer Cosey perhaps more than a glimmer of hope in May 2015 when he ruled the condemned killer is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for execution.

The state Supreme Court, on June 17, did not disagree with Johnson on that point.

Clements said it is possible the hearing on Cosey's claim of intellectual disability, formerly called mental retardation, could be held this year.

Cosey served time for an armed robbery conviction and was on parole when he raped and killed 12-year-old Delky Nelson on July 6, 1990. She lived across the street from Cosey on El Scott Avenue off Joor Road.

Cosey was accused of beating the child; stomping on her face so hard that the last 2 letters of the word "Reebok" were imprinted on her left cheek; slitting her throat and leaving her nude body spread-eagled on her back in her mother's bedroom.

Cosey's fingerprints were discovered near the body, and DNA results proved his semen was found on a blanket near her body.

Cosey contends, and his trial attorneys argued to Speeg and his fellow jurors, that another neighborhood man - now-deceased Patrick Jenkins - killed the girl. Jenkins committed suicide in 1994, 2 years before Cosey's trial, after killing his girlfriend and their 8-month-old child. Speeg said the jury was an educated group that looked at all of the evidence, which he called indisputable. He said the death penalty was a just decision.

The state Attorney General's Office has been handling the case since 2009, the year East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III was sworn in and recused his office. Moore was 1 of Cosey's attorneys in the 1990s.

"In the best interest of our state, the Louisiana Department of Justice has and will continue to pursue this case fairly, diligently and efficiently," Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry, said Friday.

Cosey's trial attorneys included Tony Marabella, now a 19th Judicial District Court judge, and Frank Holthaus, a prominent Baton Rouge lawyer.

"That's counsel that you and I probably couldn't afford together,' Speeg said when told of Cosey's claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

(source: The Advocate)


Another Bonnie and Clyde----This 1929 crime of the century started, and ended, in New Castle

When people hear the expression "The trial of the century," many undoubtedly think of the infamous 1995 O.J. Simpson double murder trial in Los Angeles. But the phrase often was used to describe another sensational trial nearly 7 decades earlier – and much closer to the Mahoning Valley.

"It made national news, the [nationwide police] chase and the 2 murder trials," said Bill Warnock of Hookstown, Pa., whose love of history sparked his interest in the cases of Irene C. Schroeder and W. Glenn Dague, who were convicted in the 1929 killing of a Pennsylvania state trooper near New Castle and sentenced to death.

At least 20 newspapers from across the country as well as the Associated Press and numerous foreign correspondents covered Schroeder's 1st-degree murder trial in March 1930, the Beaver County (Pa.) Times reported in February 2011. Among those in the press corps was future longtime TV personality Ed Sullivan, then a syndicated columnist with the New York Daily News.

Locally, a Youngstown Vindicator reporter named Ella K. Resch covered the Schroeder trial, but was charged with contempt of court when she was called to testify and refused to reveal her sources for a story she had written, with the headline "Life of Irene Schroeder," which also was published in other newspapers. When she refused to answer, presiding Judge R.L. Hildebrand sentenced Resch to jail.

A while later - and after having remained in the Lawrence County jail - Resch was given a second opportunity to reveal where she had obtained her information but again dug in and refused to do so.

Also reinforcing Warnock's desire to learn more about the tragedy and the key players is the fact that his father, Theodore Warnock, a 27-year-old auto mechanic from East Brook, Pa., served on the jury that had convicted Schroeder.

Warnock recently shared his knowledge and insights of the long-ago case while next to a headstone that was dedicated to 25-year-old Cpl. Brady C. Paul of the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol, who was killed in a shootout with Dague, Schroeder and her brother, Thomas Coleman, on New Castle Road, now Old Butler Road, in Shenango Township. The headstone marks the spot where Paul, a 4-year veteran of the department, was gunned down along the road, which at the time was the only connector between Butler, Pa., and New Castle.

Warnock also had on hand a copy of the 2013 book on the case, titled "Family Secrets & Lies," by D.J. Everette, who is Schroeder's granddaughter.

According to reports, Dague, 33, Schroeder, 20, and Coleman had robbed the P.H. Butler Co. grocery store in Butler at gunpoint Dec. 27, 1929, after having driven to the area from Wheeling, W.Va., where she and Coleman had relatives.

Paul and another state trooper, Ernest C. Moore, who was in an attached sidecar, set up a roadblock on New Castle Road about 3 miles east of downtown New Castle after having received a description of the 2-door green Chevrolet containing the robbers. Soon after the holdup, Paul's boss, Sgt. Martin J. Crowley of the state police, passed along what information he had to the trooper, who was dispatched to the area on his motorcycle on the assumption that they were headed his way.

Paul and Moore stopped several cars, but when one matching the description of the suspects' vehicle arrived, Paul asked Dague for his driver's license and to step out of the car while Moore checked the rear license plate. Within seconds, Crawford, who was in the back seat, shot Moore in the face before Schroeder and Dague fired at Paul, hitting him 3 times. As Paul returned fire, they sped away.

Also in the car was Schroeder's 4-year-old son, Donnie.

Moments after the shooting, a local truck driver helped Paul into his truck and drove him back to New Castle. Moore survived his injuries, but Paul died a short time later in Jameson Memorial Hospital in that city.

"Tell the boys I did my duty; tell them I did the best I could. You will soon see Mother, because I am dying. Kiss Mother goodbye for me," Paul was quoted as saying just before his death.

After the shooting, the fugitives continued on to New Castle, where they carjacked a salesman, stole his Chrysler sedan near Cascade Street and left their bullet-riddled vehicle behind. The first of several pieces of evidence police found in the Chevrolet was a receipt for a scarf bought at a Wheeling department store and, after following up, authorities learned that the clerk had sold the item to a regular customer, Irene Schroeder, according to reports.

At the beginning of their run from the law, Schroeder and Dague left Donnie with relatives near Wheeling and nearby Bellaire, Ohio, and dropped Coleman off in the same area. Then they headed west and committed a series of hold-ups for a little extra cash - and didn't hesitate to shoot it out with any law-enforcement officer who got in their way.

"They were essentially a poor man's Bonnie & Clyde, robbing grocery stores, diners [and] filling stations in small-time jobs, seldom netting more than $100 a job," wrote Robert Walsh, a freelance true-crime writer from West Cornwall, England.

Nevertheless, it was Schroeder's 4-year-old son who would be his mother's undoing.

"Mommy shot a cop like you," the youngster reportedly told an officer from the Pennsylvania state police who had acted on the department-store tip 4 days after Paul's killing. "Uncle Tom [Coleman] shot another in the head. He shot right through the windshield."

By Jan. 4, 1930, the wanted fugitives had made it to St. Louis, the home of her brother, Arthur Crawford, but their arrival was anything but uneventful. After an officer named William Kiessling had stopped them for driving too slowly, Dague reportedly shot at him 3 times and, during a struggle between them, Schroeder fired 2 shots as Dague knocked the officer unconscious. He received a minor injury in the fight with Dague, but somehow was not hit in the shooting.

After stealing Kiessling's service revolver, the pair continued through the southern Plains states, robbing gas stations and picking up hitchhikers.

By mid-January, Schroeder and Dague had reached Arizona, but it wasn't long before 2 law-enforcement officers would have the misfortune of crossing paths with them. When a Pinal County sheriff's deputy spotted Schroeder at a gas station, she and Dague took him hostage at gunpoint before the fugitives reached Chandler, Ariz., where they shot the deputy and tossed him from the car during their escape, according to some accounts.

In another shootout, they killed a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy before abandoning their car and hiding in a cave in the Estrella Mountains near Chandler. There, Dague and Schroeder engaged authorities in another gun battle before finally surrendering and being extradited Jan. 21 by train to New Castle to face 1st-degree murder charges in the Paul killing, according to Lawrence County historical records.

3 or 4 days later, Schroeder and Dague arrived at the Pennsylvania & Lake Erie Railroad train station near New Castle and were greeted by a crowd of several thousand who had assembled to catch a glimpse of the infamous duo, the account says.

"They basically waved the white flag," Warnock said of their surrender, noting that they likely gave up because they ran out of ammunition.

By most accounts, the deck was stacked against Schroeder early on.

The youngest of 8 siblings lost her mother - who apparently had tried to abort her - when Schroeder was 8, and much of her childhood was spent in poverty and being shipped from relative to relative.

The Benwood, W.Va., native married at age 15, but less than 2 years later, Schroeder's husband, Homer, left her (some accounts contend she walked out on him). For a while, she worked as a server in a Wheeling restaurant.

Dague, by contrast, seemed to live an ordinary if not respectable life.

Before turning to a life of crime, he had been a World War I veteran, a devoted father of 2 young children, a used-car salesman, a Sunday school teacher and a Boy Scout leader and Scoutmaster.

But as fate would have it, the 2 met in August 1927 - literally by accident - when Dague unintentionally bumped Schroeder with his car as she crossed a Wheeling street, then insisted on getting her to a nearby hospital or home. Soon after, they began a 2-year affair.

While together - during which time Dague had left his family permanently in April 1929 - the 2 apparently drifted between Pennsylvania, Ohio and several other states, where they scraped by working odd jobs that included everything from selling washing machines and cars to trimming trees. By most accounts, their patchwork of employment failed to pay the bills, and soon after Dague and Schroeder decided to rob small stores and gas stations in Ohio, Kentucky and elsewhere.

The Dec. 27, 1929, holdup at the Butler grocery store was the latest in the lovers' string of robberies - and the one that led to the ill-fated encounter with Brady Paul.

In separate trials, Dague and Schroeder were found guilty of 1st-degree murder in the Paul killing and given the death penalty. On Feb. 23, 1931, both were executed at the Rockview Penitentiary in Bellefonte, Pa. The 22-year-old Schroeder, who also had acquired nicknames such as "Iron Irene" and "The gun girl," was the 1st woman put to death in the state's electric chair.

After the trial and executions, Schroeder's 4-year-old son, Donnie, lived for a while with his father, who had remarried. As an adult, he joined the Air Force, where he became a decorated military veteran for his service as a gunner in the Korean War, according to D.J. Everette, 1 of his daughters and author of "Secrets & Lies." Later, he studied engineering, moved to Florida and worked on several space missions for NASA.

In December 2009, the man who evidently had spent most of his life painstakingly distancing himself from the past and trying to forget the fateful car ride died at age 84.

Warnock said it remains a mystery to him why his father had a change of heart that led the elder Warnock to send Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot a telegram asking him to spare Schroeder's life - even after having been on the jury that voted for the death penalty. The telegram's whereabouts are unknown, Warnock continued, adding that in many ways, Dague's and Schroeder's crimes mirror those of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, famously known as Bonnie and Clyde, a few years later.

Also interested in the decades-old case was John R. Baldwin of Volant, Pa., whose father, Leal Baldwin, was 12 and living on New Castle Road when he witnessed the roadblock.

"He had never talked about it," Baldwin said of his father. "I never knew about it until he was older and did more research. As a child, he was too young to be called in as a witness or to serve on a jury."

Nevertheless, another relative later testified that Schroeder had indeed shot Paul, Baldwin continued.

Warnock's father also was tight-lipped about the case, except to dispel rumors that someone other than Dague and Schroeder could have gunned down the young trooper.

Paul is buried in Mount Prospect Cemetery in his native Washington County, Pa., where some of his descendants still live, Warnock continued, adding that Dague is buried in a family plot near Dallas, W.Va.

Even in death, however, Dague continued to generate controversy.

His headstone faced the opposite direction as those of the rest of his family, evidently to express their disappointment, though a 2nd inscription was eventually added to the other side of the headstone, Warnock noted.

Schroeder's final resting place is in Greenwood Cemetery in Bellaire, but curiosity seekers who visit the property looking for her tombstone or for other macabre reasons likely will leave disappointed and empty-handed, Warnock said.

"She has no marker, nothing," he added.

(source: Youngstown Vindicator)


Time to abolish the death penalty

"Leon Taylor was one of several people who have been executed but would have been a great asset to society if he'd been allowed to live, even in prison." ---- Rev. Sam Duckworth, chaplain

As a newly active member of the Springfield chapter of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP), I was excited to be part of a small delegation to the annual meeting held in Columbia on June 4, 2016. After a business meeting, there was a luncheon and, for me, the main event of the day, a panel discussion: "The Death Penalty and Prison Chaplains."

Three chaplains, Rev. Herb Conley, Rev. Sam Duckworth and Mrs. Patricia Duckworth spoke about the spiritual support they had provided to dozens of men on Missouriss death row. Each of the chaplains worked with death row prisoners at the Potosi Correctional Center, and the Duckworths witnessed the execution of Leon Taylor by his invitation. Rev. Conley took the unprecedented step of submitting affidavits to Governor Jay Nixon, unsuccessfully urging him to halt the executions of 2 men.

Asked the question, what is the purpose of capital punishment, Rev. Herb Conley stated that the actual use of the death penalty is detached from reality: "If a person is given the chance to restore himself in prison and does so, then eventually killing him serves no purpose. Instead, he should be given a permanent role in the prison community in the hope of restoring others in the prison population."

Each of the panel members expressed dismay that the good work some prisoners do to help and renew fellow inmates rarely prevents them from being executed. Leon Taylor was cited as being someone who was rehabilitated but was eventually put to death. Listening to the chaplains and their experiences working with death row prisoners provided the audience with additional reasons to oppose the death penalty.

Not only is it applied arbitrarily and subject to human error, it is often politically motivated. It has no demonstrated deterrent value, wastes the money of taxpayers and takes a toll on everyone involved. The death penalty is not logical.

Isn't it crazy that the prison system attempts to rehabilitate men, only to kill them eventually? The logical solution for the alternative to the death penalty is life without parole. Society deems some crimes the worst that can be committed. The people who commit those crimes are generally given the death penalty in Missouri.

Sentencing those offenders to life without parole makes it possible for healing for families to begin so much more quickly than the long death appeal process allows. Isn't it time for Missourians to abolish the death penalty?

(source: Opinion, Linda Green; The News-Leader)


Utah man sought sex from 2 women in Wyoming motel, documents say

The Draper man accused of stabbing 2 women, 1 fatally, at a Wyoming hotel told police he was there seeking sexual services, according to charging documents.

Bradley Ross Fairbourn, 18, was arrested early Thursday and charged with f1st-degree felony murder for the slaying of 29-year-old Naisha Rae Story, as well as 1st-degree attempted murder. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Charging documents say Fairbourn was staying at a hotel in Rawlins, Wyo., on Wednesday night as he made his way back to Draper. When he couldn't sleep, Fairbourn told police that he solicited prostitution services online.

Fairbourn allegedly found an advertisement offering "full service" for $300 at a nearby hotel in Rock Springs, according to the documents. He arrived about 1 a.m. Thursday and went to the room the ad listed, charges state.

2 women were in the room - Naisha Rae Story, from South Jordan, and a friend. The friend told police that Fairbourn forced his way in and attacked them. Story's friend ran to the hotel lobby and called 911 about 1:20 a.m. after Fairbourn stabbed her in the chest, documents state.

When officers arrived, they spoke with the friend, who is expected to recover, and found Story outside the room also covered in blood with multiple stab wounds. Story was transported to a local hospital, where she died from the injuries.

The room, documents state, showed "evidence that indicated a struggle had taken place" and the women's injuries "appeared to be defensive in nature."

After the confrontation with Fairbourn, Story's friend called her boyfriend for help, according to charging documents. On his way to the hotel where the 2 women were staying, the boyfriend drove past a man he said fit his girlfriend's description of their attacker. The boyfriend got out of the car and hit Fairbourn before alerting police, charges state.

Officers took Fairbourn to the hospital to get treatment for the minor injuries before booking him in jail. They later found a blade and sheath matching the weapon used in the attacks on the roof of a nearby building, according to the documents. Surveillance showed Fairbourn walking in the area before and after the incident.

In his initial appearance court on Friday, Fairbourn told Judge Craig Jones that he did not commit the crime. He is being held in Sweetwater County jail on $1 million bail and will have a June 30 preliminary hearing.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


It's Debatable: An appeal for, against appeals

This week, Arnold Loewy and Charles Moster debate the length of the appeals process for the death penalty. Moster is a former litigation attorney in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations who currently has offices in Lubbock and Amarillo, and Arnold is the George Killiam Professor of Law at Texas Tech School of Law.

Arnold: Appeals give chance to prove innocence

Our topic for today is whether the appellate and post-conviction processes for those condemned to death should be shortened. Specifically the concern seems to be that obviously guilty people are allowed to prolong their lives and delay their ultimate punishment for too long of a time and at too great an expense for the state. My answer to the propounded question is "no."

Undoubtedly my answer is informed by my more general opposition to the death penalty, predicated in part by our propensity to convict innocent people and our inability to distinguish the worst of the worst from the run of the mill murderer. At least the number of appeals and post-conviction remedies we have tend to ameliorate the harm of executing the wrong person (assuming you believe that there are some "right" people to execute).

Exhibit A is a young (at the time he was convicted) man named Juan Melendez. Juan was sentenced to death in Florida and remained on death row for 18 years until he was finally exonerated. Happily I got to know Juan when he appeared as a guest on my symposium on "Convicting the Innocent." He and I both spoke on the same panel: "The Death Penalty in a World where the Innocent are Sometimes Convicted." Juan was also a guest in my home at a pre-symposium dinner.

The reason this man was able to brighten up my symposium was he was not shortchanged on his ability to eventually establish his innocence. The fact it took him 18 years to do it is most unfortunate, but it sure beat the alternative.

Of course, one could argue that Melendez was innocent, what about those who are obviously guilty? Well, Melendez was convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed every person who was ever convicted of murder has been (in theory) found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are all sorts of reasons for this. Misidentification is very common. The witness who thinks she saw the defendant but got it wrong. False confessions are far more common than one might think, particularly in cases of a skilled interrogator and a not too bright or emotionally overwrought defendant. And, of course bad forensics (junk science), the invalidity of which takes years to determine. Finally jailhouse snitches frequently make up stories about fellow inmates in an effort to curry favor with the authorities.

But even if, contrary to fact, we never convicted an innocent person, there would still be the question of whether death was the appropriate sentence. Unfortunately not all defense lawyers are sufficiently skilled to bring up mitigating circumstances. And some prosecutors are sufficiently skilled to make an exceedingly ordinary murderer appear to be the worst person ever put on this planet.

But let's assume the clearest possible case. Imagine a mass murderer (similar to the Orlando nightclub killer, if he had lived and been brought to trial). One might legitimately ask: Why do we need to wait on him? He surely is the worst of the worst and a quick death is certainly appropriate.

Not necessarily. It is quite possible (maybe even likely) that such a mass murderer has some form of mental disease that while not a defense to the crime is a relevant circumstance that warrants something other than the death penalty. The true worst of the worst are probably Mafia contract killers who kill many people for big bucks and then turn on their superiors in exchange for a life of relative luxury in the witness protection program.

Charles: Worst of the worst deserve no appeals

Let's begin with consideration of what Professor Loewy refers to as the "worst of the worst," the cold-blooded mass murderers who commit the most heinous crimes such as the recent Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando that shocked the country and the world. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, gunned down 49 people in a 3-hour rampage. The total carnage hit 50 when this monster was taken out by law enforcement. Such result spared the families of the victims the torture of reliving these vile acts at the trial court level and endless appeals in the event Mr. Mateen were to be convicted. In my view, the appeal rights of those committing the most heinous acts should be cut off. There is no question in my mind that these murderers should be denied further appeals upon the fair disposition of their case by a jury or judge. Once convicted and sentenced to death, the penalty should be administered as rapidly as a gurney can be obtained and lethal cocktail made available.

As a preface to my argument, I would limit the cutoff of rights to appeal only in murder cases where the evidence is uncontroverted that the defendant committed the crime. I would exclude cases such as Mr. Melendez, who was wrongfully convicted, as well-pointed-out by Professor Loewy. I agree that the system can suffer egregious mistakes resulting from forensic errors, misidentification, and reliance on circumstantial evidence. In cases where the facts are in dispute, defendants should be granted full rights to appeal and judicial review. In fact, I would advocate for removing all impediments to allowing the consideration of post-conviction evidence that could lead to exoneration, including genetic testing.

My argument relates to monsters of civilization like Mateen, the Tsarnev brothers (Boston Marathon massacre), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), Dylan Storm Roof (Charleston church shooting), and Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City courthouse bombing). The one characteristic shared by all of these crimes is that the defendants did the evil act. The evidence that the crime was committed is uncontroverted given the nature of the heinous act, a myriad of witnesses, and oftentimes, the bragging rights touted by the perpetrator. In the event these defendants are convicted by a jury of their peers, all rights of appeal should cease at that point and any further effort is not only meritless but cruel. The readers will recall that several victims' families of the Boston Marathon massacre pleaded with the judge to avoid imposition of the death penalty given the unmitigated torture resulting from the onslaught of endless appeals and decades of reliving this hellish event.

The pursuit of meritless appeals also imposes an actual cost to society in the millions of dollars. Statistics in all states are evidence that the conclusion of a death penalty case from conviction to exhaustion of appeals runs into the millions of dollars. Each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million. This is approximately three times the cost of incarcerating someone in a single cell at the highest level of security for 40 years.

The final issue to consider is whether defendants should be allowed to raise appeals relating to the use of the insanity defense. Professor Loewy suggests this is a relevant consideration at the sentencing phase. I agree. However, I would also cut off any rights to appeal when the evidence is uncontroverted that the perpetrator was not acting under a mental infirmity but sought to carry out a calculated agenda, political, religious or otherwise. Case in point is Timothy McVeigh’s statement justifying the mass death of the innocents who happened to be at the Oklahoma City Federal Courthouse that day. Said Mr. McVeigh, "I am sorry these people had to lose their lives, but that's the nature of the beast. It's understood going in what the human toll will be."

When the evidence of conviction is uncontroverted, it serves the greater interest of society and certainly the families of the victims to end the appeal charade and to administer the death penalty swiftly. I would urge that the sentence be carried out within 24 hours of conviction.

Arnold: Heinousness isn't same as uncontrovertable

Mr. Moster appears to conflate heinousness with certainty. In fact the most heinous crimes, including the ones he mentioned, are not among those for which the evidence was most certain. Nobody witnessed McVeigh's bombing. Rather he was tracked by his rental of a Ryder truck that was believed to be the one used in the bombing. And, his alleged cohort, Terry Nichols, claimed innocence.

The Tsarnev brothers were convicted based on innuendo predicated on a grainy photograph taken by bystanders at the Marathon. And Adam Lanza was originally misidentified as his brother Ryan, a Wall Street businessman.

But, more importantly, an uncontroverted murder case is exceedingly rare. Suppose, for example, Omar Mateen had escaped from the nightclub after murdering 49 people. Suppose further that the next day someone was captured who looked like Mateen who claimed that he was sleeping alone at home at the time of the killing and had been subsequently captured the next day. Suppose further that he said: "I didn't do it. I know the witnesses say they saw me, but it must have been someone who looked like me (which in this case it was). After all, witnesses make wrong identifications all the time."

After our hypothetical defendant is convicted, would we say his guilt is uncontroverted. I hope not. Now let's vary the hypothetical and assume Mateen is captured the next day. He tells the same story, is disbelieved and convicted. Is his conviction more uncontroverted than the hypothetical defendant who was actually innocent? I really don't think so.

So, because there is no correlation between uncontroverted and heinousness, because any defendant wishing to cut off the fast track to execution could simply say he didn’t do it, and because the procedure for determining when guilt is "uncontroverted" would likely be unseemly and time-consuming (and maybe itself subject to the appellate process), I think that Mr. Moster's proposal is a bad idea that should not be adopted.

Mr. Moster does, however, make a powerful case for abolishing the death penalty. He tells us (correctly) how much more expensive it is to execute a defendant than to incarcerate him in maximum security for 40 years. He also tells us how much additional suffering capital punishment would have caused the families of the Boston Marathon victims. Again, he is totally correct.

But his solution will not fix the problem. I have no doubt that the necessary hearings to determine whether guilt was "uncontroverted" will prolong and not reduce the time between conviction and execution, and the expense attached thereto.

Mr. Moster's proposal does have surface appeal. Wouldn't it be great to go back to the Wild West of Dodge City where if you didn't lynch him first, you arrested him on Monday, tried him on Tuesday and hung him on Wednesday? Alternatively, couldn't we at least do that where we know the defendant is guilty? The problem is that we know no such thing.

As I have shown, heinousness is no proxy for certainty. God may be certain of guilt, but humans lack that skill. We have to use the best tools available. Most of the time we get it right, but sometimes we don't. When we don't, and nobody knows when that is, we need to have procedures in place to rectify our errors, and not just pretend that the case is so "uncontroverted" as to be impossible of error.

Or better yet, we could join with the victims of the Boston Marathon massacre and ask that the death penalty not be used, or maybe even abolished.

Charles: When evidence is uncontrovertable, do it

Professor Loewy makes his case by using hypothetical situations that exemplify the lack of certainty in proving up heinous crimes. However, I am unclear whether Professor Loewy would endorse my plan to eliminate appeals in cases where the murderous act is accompanied by uncontroverted evidence, which he concedes is exceedingly rare, but not impossible.

Let's try this hypothetical on for size and see if we can get to the truth of the matter. Suppose in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, Mr. Mateen survived along with four witnesses who could positively identify him as the perpetrator of the crime. Further suppose that Mr. Mateen had 2 Nazi swastikas tattooed on each side of his face in purple ink. Finally, let us suppose that three different video cameras captured images of Mr. Mateen executing his victims at 3 different locations at the Pulse nightclub with perfect views of his face and the tattooed swastikas. Given what I would offer up as uncontroverted evidence of murderous acts, would Professor Loewy still oppose my proposal to cut off all rights of appeal upon the conviction of this hypothetical monster by a jury of his peers?

From a pure logic standpoint, there is no rational basis for allowing a convicted murderer in the above hypothetical situation the right to pursue appeals of the trial court decision. The evidence of the commission of the heinous act is 360 degrees and then some. What possible interest could be served by allowing this monster to avoid the immediate administration of the death penalty? To the contrary, immediate execution would spare the victim families the horror of reliving the endless facade of meritless appeals and save the taxpayers millions of dollars right off the bat.

Finally, I would add the additional retributive element in support of my proposal to eliminate appeals in cases where the evidence of murder is uncontroverted. It is appropriate and correct for society to mete out the ultimate punishment to individuals who commit the most heinous acts. Any lesser punishment would negate the value society places on protecting lives. One of the most compelling justifications for the application of retributive justice is the following incident of murder recounted by Robert Macy, district attorney in Oklahoma City. "In 1991, a young mother was rendered helpless and made to watch as her baby was executed. The mother was then mutilated and killed. The killer should not lie in some prison with three meals a day, clean sheets, cable TV, family visits and endless appeals. For justice to prevail, some killers just need to die."

The above quote says it all. The demons of society have no right to take another breath or walk the Earth for yet another day upon conviction in the presence of uncontroverted evidence.

(source: Editorial, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)


Draft of Dems' policy positions reflects Sanders' influence

A draft of the Democratic Party's policy positions reflects the influence of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign: endorsing steps to break up large Wall Street banks, advocating a $15 hourly wage, urging an end to the death penalty.

Hillary Clinton's supporters turned back efforts by Sanders' allies to promote a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system and a carbon tax to address climate change, and freeze hydraulic fracking.

While the platform does not bind the Democratic nominee to the stated positions, it serves as a guidepost for the party moving forward. Party officials approved the draft early Saturday.

The Democratic National Convention's full Platform Committee will discuss the draft at a meeting next month in Orlando, Florida, with a vote at the convention in Philadelphia in late July.

Sanders said Friday he would vote for Clinton, the presumptive nominee, in the fall election, but so far has stopped short of fully endorsing the former secretary of state or encouraging his millions of voters to back her candidacy.

The Vermont senator has said he wants the platform to reflect his goals - and those representing him at a St. Louis hotel said they had made progress.

"We lost some but we won some," said James Zogby, a Sanders supporter on the committee. "We got some great stuff in the platform that has never been in there before." Added Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Sanders ally: "We've made some substantial moves forward."

Deliberating late into Friday, the group considered language on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, an issue that has divided Democrats. The committee defeated an amendment led by Zogby that would have called for providing Palestinians with "an end to occupation and illegal settlements" and urged an international effort to rebuild Gaza.

The draft reflects Clinton's views and advocates working toward a "2-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict" that guarantees Israel's security with recognized borders "and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity."

In many cases, Clinton's side gave ground to Sanders. The document calls for the expansion of Social Security and says Americans should earn at least $15 an hour, referring to the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour as a "starvation wage," a term often used by Sanders.

Sanders has pushed for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Clinton has supported efforts to raise the minimum wage to that level but has said states and cities should raise the bar as high as possible.

Sanders' allies wanted the draft to specify that a $15 per hour minimum wage should be indexed with inflation. Clinton's side struck down that idea, noting the document included a call to "raise and index the minimum wage."

The committee also adopted language that said it supports ways to prevent banks from gambling with taxpayers' bank deposits, "including an updated and modernized version of Glass-Steagall."

Sanders wants to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited commercial banks from engaging in investment banking activities. Clinton does not, but says her proposed financial changes would cast a wider net by regulating the banking system.

Also in the draft is a call for the abolition of the death penalty. Clinton said during a debate this year that capital punishment should only be used in limited cases involving "heinous crimes." Sanders said the government should not use it.

Sanders, a vociferous opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was unable to get language into the document opposing the trade deal. As a result, the party avoided an awkward scenario that would have put the platform at odds with President Barack Obama.

Clinton and Sanders have opposed the deal. Committee members backed a measure that said "there are a diversity of views in the party" on the pact and reaffirmed that Democrats contend any trade deal "must protect workers and the environment."

In a setback for Sanders, the panel narrowly rejected amendments that would have imposed a tax on carbon and imposed a national freeze on fracking.

The panel deliberated for about 9 hours following several late nights and long hours of policy exchanges between the 2 campaigns and the Democratic National Committee.

Sanders, in a statement, said he was "disappointed and dismayed" that the group voted down the measure opposing the TPP. But he was pleased with the proposals on Glass-Steagall and the death penalty - and vowed to fight on.

"Our job is to pass the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party," he said.

(source: Associated Press)


Kenyans to give views on death penalty from Monday

A debate seeking public views on the administration of capital punishment and management of capital offences will kick off on Monday in Kisii County.

The power of mercy and advisory committee and national crime research centre will be conducting the discussions in other 5 counties, in Nyanza region, within the next 2 weeks.

PMAC secretary general Michael Kagika said his committee and the NCRC will visit Kisii, Nyamira, Siaya, Migori, Homabay and Kisumu counties to seek views from representatives of churches, youth, women, local leaders and other members of the public on the subject of capital offences and capital punishment.

"The objective of the debate is to provide an open dialogue on what Kenyans want in regard to the handling of capital offenders and the management of capital offences," he said.

Kagika in a statement said on Sunday that the debate that comes after the conclusion of the 6th World Congress against the death penalty in Oslo, Norway provides a platform for Kenyans to express their opinions on capital offences and what form of punishment capital offenders should be subjected to.

He said Kenya had noted recommendations made to move towards abolition of the death penalty in the past Universal Periodic Reviews at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

He said the country had decided to continue debating the management of capital offences and administration of the death penalty before making a stance on the subject of abolition, retention or otherwise.

Kenya seeks to collect public views which will later be used to prepare a cabinet paper to inform our final decision.

Capital punishment was formally introduced into the Kenyan legal system by the British during the colonial era.

After independence in 1963, the country retained and continued to apply the capital penalty.

Kenya has 118 penal institutions with a holding capacity of 26,000 inmates. But, currently the average prisoners' population stands at 52,517 of who 32,300 are convicted inmates and 20,217 remands.

The average female prisoner population is 3,617 with about 400 children accompanying their mothers in prisons.

At present, there are 2,664 prisoners who have been handed the death sentence, 87 being female.

(source: The Star)


ISIS executes 5 media activists in Syria

The Islamic State murdered 5 Syrian media activists as it continues its assault on the press, maintaining tight control of the message that comes out of regions under the terrorist group's control.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has viewed a video released by ISIS in Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria. The video shows the execution of five media activists via 5 different, sadistic methods.

The militants also issued a warning that any journalists or media activists opposed to the group and working to reveal their crimes are not safe, even outside of Syria. They cite the killing of Mohammed Zaher al-Shirqat.

Shirqat worked for Halab Today TV, an independent satellite channel from Aleppo. He was shot in the neck at close range on the street in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in early April. He had previously received death threats from ISIS, who claimed responsibility for his murder.

The United States condemned the killing. "Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely report on the crisis in Syria, remains critical as reporters keep working to expose the truth about this brutal conflict and Daesh's atrocities," reads a statement issued by John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson for the US state department. "[W]e stand ready to support Turkey as it works to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on the media."

The 5 media activists killed in Deir Ezzor were executed on charges of "acting against the Islamic State, communicating with outside parties and receiving funds, and other charges," reported the Observatory on Sunday.

The Islamic State has murdered at least 3 other journalists in Turkey. The media advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) has urged Turkey to "take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee the security of Syrian exile journalists."


JUNE 25, 2016:


Unexpected career: Stoffregen steps down from public defender's office after 42 years as lawyer

Jack Stoffregen wanted to teach at a college level. He went to law school instead to impress his future in-laws.

"My fiancee's parents hated me," he said. "They didn't like me at all and they decided if I were to go to law school and be a lawyer then maybe I was worthy of their daughter."

The marriage didn't last but the law career did. Stoffregen turned 66 on Thursday and retired Friday after 42 years as a lawyer, with the last 9 as the 1st chief public defender of the Texas Regional Public Defender's Office, which exclusively handles capital murder cases.

Ray Keith, the assistant chief public defender, was appointed as Stoffregen's successor.

Stoffregen was born in Nebraska in 1950. However, his family moved around a lot because of his father's job as an engineer for a natural gas company. Stoffregen graduated high school in 1968 in Dumas and earned an undergraduate degree in government from Texas Tech.

After earning his law degree, he began working for the Lubbock County District Attorney's Office in 1974. He said the television show "The Defenders," which he watched as a boy, inspired him to practice criminal law. After a year as a prosecutor, he entered private practice.

"I wanted to make more money. That was a real motivator at the time," he said.

He was 33 years old when he first took on a capital murder case, defending Clarence Allen Lackey, who was accused of the abduction, rape and slaying of Toni Diane Kumpf in 1977.

Stoffregen was appointed to handle Lackey's appeal and successfully obtain a new trial, which he also tried. Lackey was convicted again and sentenced to death. He was executed in 1997.

"To hear the judge pronounce death was devastating," Stoffregen said. "At that point in my life I was surprised I went and did other capital cases."

Trying capital cases was making him a better lawyer, he said. He went on to defend more than 20 capital murder defendants in West Texas before he was appointed to lead the public defender's office,

In his time as a capital defense lawyer, he's seen improvements in the resources available to defendants.

"If the state has an expert, the defense is generally going to get one," he said.

In the early part of his career, counties gave indigent defendants a $500 limit to pay for their defense.

"I think the courts and judges are cognizant that they need to give us resources to make sure that if the state gets a death sentence that it's as close to 100 % as you can get," he said.

The quality of defense attorneys has also improved, he said.

Stoffregen said defending people charged with capital murder is a high-stress job with an 85 $ chance a jury will hand down a death sentence if that punishment is an option.

"The odds are really stacked in favor of the state in these types of cases," he said. "Every day I have to make decisions that may have a direct impact on whether somebody lives or dies."

The bulk of capital murder defense strategy is mitigation, he said.

"The act is generally so bad and so horrible that it's easy to paint the picture of the guy as a monster, and our job is to show he or she's not a monster, that they're a human being," he said.

Stoffregen said he used to be ambivalent about the death penalty. But his stance has changed since leading the public defender's office. However, he declined to specify how it's changed.

"I don't think I've ever had a client that I wasn't able to find something good in, something there that reminded me that he or she is a human and has parents and siblings and something has happened to that person, something's been done to that person that put him in the circumstances he's in today," he said. "A lot of people just do it to themselves. But something has happened to them always and it’s our job to dig and try to find that."

Matt Powell, Lubbock County's criminal district attorney, described Stoffregen as an honorable opponent in the courtroom.

"Jack is one of those guys that he will zealously advocate for his client and he'll fight you tooth and nail under the guides of the law," he said. "But he'll do it with character and with integrity, doesn't hide the ball, is honest with you. I've always respected Jack and thought he did a great job."

The Regional Public Defender's Office began in 2007 as a pilot program in Lubbock aimed at providing defense attorneys to indigent defendants facing the death penalty. With Stoffregen at the helm, the program quickly grew to include more than 160 counties, with 8 offices around Texas. The office has about 46 full-time employees with room in its budget for at least 10 more. Eligible counties must have a population of less than 300,000.

"He's just done a tremendous job," said Bill McCay a Lubbock County commissioner who was on the oversight board that hired Stoffregen. "He just doesn't have quit in him. And I don't know where he gets the energy but no matter how complex the problem or issue it just never seemed to bother him, he just seemed to take it with a grain of salt and figure out a solution and solve the problem."

As chief public defender, Stoffregen has trained and mentored attorneys joining his office, which has fulfilled his desire to teach.

"I really enjoy that, working with other lawyers that are trying to be better lawyers," he said.

He's also been proud of the honors his office has received, including achievement awards from the National Association of Counties.

The American Bar Association has also noted the office’s creation as a "significant step forward in the improvement of the quality of representation available to Texas' indigent defendants and inmates in death penalty cases."

"I'm really proud of that, that we've come through and received those high marks from a nationwide organization," Stoffregen said.

In 2000 Stoffregen defended Joe Franco Garza for his 2nd punishment trial. Garza was convicted in the 1998 strangling death of 71-year-old Silbiano Rangel and successfully appealed for a new punishment trial.

Jurors again sentenced Garza to death and Stoffregen thought he was through with capital murder cases.

"No one was more surprised as I was, that here I'm going to finish my career out handling exclusively capital cases," he said.

Stoffregen said he plans to spend his time in retirement in Lubbock, keeping his mind sharp by taking classes at Tech's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

"They have cooking classes that I want to get involved in and some wine-tasting classes," he said.

A family history of Alzheimer's and Lewy Body Dementia has motivated him to keep learning.

"That's in the back of my mind," he said. "That may be the direction I'm headed. So I want to do what I can to stay sharp. I want to get back to going to the gym on a regular basis."

But mostly, he plans to enjoy his free time.

"I want to try living a life where I don't have to be somewhere at a particular time," he said. "I've always got to be busy, I know that. And I'll find busy work to do but I'm going to do it on my schedule instead of somebody else's."

(source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)


exoneree to speak at Pitt-Bradford

Anthony Ray Hinton, a man falsely accused and convicted for murder who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama before being exonerated and released last year, will speak this fall at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

Hinton's story was featured on the television show "60 Minutes" and in attorney Bryan Stevenson's book "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption," which will be at the center of freshman seminar, writing, criminal justice and even some economics classes at Pitt-Bradford this fall. In addition, "Just Mercy" has been chosen by the Bradford Area Public Library's One Book Bradford selection.

Events on campus and in the community will explore racial bias in the justice system in the weeks leading up to Hinton's talk at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Bromeley Family Theater of Blaisdell Hall. The talk will be free and open to the public.

Organizers said they chose the work to help the community explore important, and sometimes uncomfortable, topics surrounding the fairness and humanity of the justice system.

"We really have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," said Kristin Asinger, director freshman seminar.

Pat Shinaberger, president of One Book Bradford, said the book is a departure from the group's previous lighter fare, but one that the committee supported.

"It's in the news, and it's something we need to know about," she said. "We all need to be educated about what's going on. We could have easily escaped paying attention to it, but we decided to get involved."

Creative writing, journalism and composition courses will study Stevenson's writing, the issues it raises and the tradition of activist writing, explained Dr. Nancy McCabe, professor of writing who is coordinating the events. In criminal justice and economics courses, the book will provoke discussions about race, class, identity and justice. The economic courses will be taught by Dr. Shailendra Gajanan, professor of economics.

Dr. Tony Gaskew, associate professor of criminal justice and founding director of the Pitt-Bradford Prison Education Program, will teach a special topics course with the book as the text. Gaskew will teach incarcerated students and traditional students alongside incarcerated educators at the Federal Correctional Institution-McKean.

Events leading up to Hinton's visit will be a book group discussion led by Dr. Walter Rhinehart, a former psychologist with the Bureau of Prisons, at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 10 at the Bradford Area Public Library.

Gaskew will also lead a discussion on inequity within the criminal justice system, highlighting the work of the Innocence Project and the Equal Justice Initiative at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the public library.

Closer to Hinton’s visit, Pitt-Bradford's Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences will host a symposium discussion on the death penalty. Details on the symposium will be announced at a later date.

Finally, members of the Justice Robert H. Jackson American Inn of Court, a group of lawyers and judges, will hold its annual meeting in conjunction with Hinton's visit and attend his talk.

(source: The Bradford Era)

GEORGIA----new (impending) execution date

Execution set for July 14 would be the 6th in Georgia this year

John Wayne Conner was scheduled Friday to become the sixth man executed in Georgia this year - a record number since the death penalty was reinstated here 40 years ago.

The time for his lethal injection for the 1992 murder of a drinking buddy was set for 7 p.m. on July 14.

Conner's scheduled execution comes as the pace of executions in Georgia is increasing. Yet, death sentences are being rendered in Georgia murder trials less often.

At this time, Conner is the only death row inmate who has exhausted his appeals, though several others are nearing the end of legal recourse.

On Jan. 9, 198, Conner, Beverly Bates and J.T. White went to a party in Eastman, Ga., but when it was over they weren't ready to call it a night.

So they returned to Conner's house to keep drinking.

But Conner, then 26, and White, 29, needed more bourbon. They walked to a neighbor's house in hopes of getting a ride to the liquor store but the neighbor refused, so they started walking back to Conner's house.

On the way, Conner told investigators, White "made a statement about he would like to go to bed with my girlfriend and so I got mad and we got into a fight and fought all the way over to the oak tree and I hit him with a quart bottle."

White ran and Conner chased him. The fight continued in a ditch by the road.

"He was swinging, trying to get up, or swinging at me to try to hit me," Conner told investigators. "There was a stick right there ... and I grabbed it and went to beating him with it."

Conner left White for dead in a ditch and went home to wake Bates. He told her they had to leave town because he thought he had killed White.

But he also needed to make sure, so they drove back to the ditch where White and Conner had fought.

Bates told investigators she heard a thud moments after Conner disappeared into the woods. He came back to the car, telling her he was sure. "Let's go," he said.

Conner, now 60, and Bates were picked up the next day in Butts County, which is where Georgia's death row is located.

The last time Georgia carried out an execution was on April 27, when Daniel Anthony Lucas died by lethal injection 18 years and four days after he murdered Steven Moss and his 2 children in their Jones County home.

This year Georgia has also executed Joshua Bishop, Kenneth Fults, Travis Hittson and Brandon Astor Jones.

The only other time Georgia has put to death as many as 5 people in a year was in 1987.



Triple-murder suspect faces new felony charge

A man accused of killing a Lockport woman and her 2 daughters Nov. 4, 2012, now faces an additional felony charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated escape.

David Brown, 38, of Houma, had already been charged with 1st-degree murder in the stabbings of 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela.

He is also charged with aggravated rape and aggravated arson. Prosecutors say he sexually assaulted Jacquelin and Gabriela Nieves and then set the family's apartment on fire to cover up the crimes.

A grand jury on Friday indicted Brown on the new charge. He remains in the Lafourche Parish jail.

Louisiana law defines criminal conspiracy as "the agreement or combination of 2 or more persons for the specific purpose of committing any crime" when "1 or more of such parties does an act in furtherance of the object of the agreement or combination."

Aggravated escape is "the intentional departure of a person from the legal custody of any officer of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections or any law enforcement officer or from any place where such person is legally confined when his departure is under circumstances wherein human life is endangered," according to state law.

District Attorney Cam Morvant II declined to comment on the details of the new allegations against Brown but said a conviction on this charge would carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years.

Morvant's office is seeking the death penalty on Brown's murder charges.

New Orleans attorney Kerry Cuccia and his Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana team are representing Brown.

Cuccia said Friday that Morvant informed him of the new indictment but that he hadn't reviewed the actual document.

"I have not had an opportunity to see the indictment, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time," he said.

Brown is set for trial Sept. 12 in state District Judge John LeBlanc's courtroom in Thibodaux. The judge and attorneys have been holding conferences each month and hearings as needed in preparation.



Arkansas death penalty drug expiring before use----Court OKs execution but requires wait; AG won't ask for a rush

1 of Arkansas' execution drugs will expire before a court decision upholding the state's execution law goes into effect, and might be impossible to replace.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday that she will not ask the state's Supreme Court to expedite finalizing its Thursday ruling that upheld Arkansas' execution secrecy law and drug protocol. The executions of 8 people are waiting for that ruling.

Generally, rulings are final 18 days after opinions are issued. Without the attorney general's request, the ruling takes effect July 11 - days after the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic the state uses in executions, expires.

"After careful consideration and analysis, the attorney general has decided not to seek an expedited mandate from the court. But once the court issues the mandate, the attorney general is fully prepared to ask the governor to set execution dates to see that justice is served," said Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere.

After the mandate is issued, the stays on the 8 executions would be lifted. But with 1 of the 3 drugs expiring June 30 and the supplier telling the state it would not provide more, it was unclear when the state could resume executions.

Solomon Graves, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said he would not speculate about what will happen after the supply of the paralytic expires. Deere said Thursday that the attorney general's office would not advise the Department of Correction to use expired drugs.

The inmates' attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said he did not have a comment on the attorney general's decision. He said he still plans to file a petition with the court asking for a rehearing before the mandate is issued.

The court ruled Thursday in a 4-3 decision that the state's 3-drug protocol and the law that allows Arkansas to keep its source of drugs confidential are constitutional. The inmates had argued that Arkansas' execution secrecy law could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state reneged on a pledge to share information.

But the high court said that a lower court "erred in ruling that public access to the identity of the supplier of the 3 drugs (the Arkansas Department of Correction) has obtained would positively enhance the functioning of executions in Arkansas. As has been well documented, disclosing the information is actually detrimental to the process."

The inmates argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride would lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The court agreed with the state that the agreement is not a binding contract.

Attorneys for the state said at least 5 other courts have ruled that the three drugs used in Arkansas' protocol are acceptable, including the sedative midazolam. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of midazolam last year.

(source: Associated Press)


Anti-death penalty org wants to prevent executions from being enshrined in state constitution

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) said Thursday at its annual meeting that the defeat of Oklahoma State Question 776 in November will be its top priority.

State Question 776, which goes to before Oklahoma voters in November, asks that all methods of execution shall be constitutionally allowed, and in any case where an execution method is deemed invalid, the measure would provide that "the death sentence shall remain in force until the sentence can be lawfully executed by any valid method."

State Question 776 would also forbid the death penalty from being construed as "the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments."

"We are ground zero in Oklahoma for eliminating the death penalty in America," said Connie Johnson, chair for the OK-CADP. "State Question 776 presents a great opportunity to raise awareness and to talk about why we should not have the death penalty in Oklahoma. We need you out there this year on the campaign trail against SQ 776."

The spotlight has been on Oklahoma since the infamous executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner.

Warner, who was executed Jan. 15, 2015 with the wrong drugs, uttered "my body is on fire" during his execution.

Since then, Richard Glossip's execution was delayed 4 times, lastly, due to a drug protocol mix up, which became the focus of a multi county grand jury investigation. That same "wrong drug" was used in the execution of Warner.

The problems with Oklahoma's execution were the focus of a Multi-County Grand Jury investigation into Oklahoma's execution process.

The 106-page grand jury report was released last month containing scathing critiques, citing "inexcusable failures" in the state's execution process.

Also this year a 1st-ever, bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, co-chaired by former Gov. Brad Henry, was formed to conduct a "thorough review of the state's capital punishment system."

A full report is expected to be released in 2017.

"How can even voters decide what is cruel and unusual?" said Darla Shelden, member of OK-CADP. "We are not supposed to kill inhumanely or under so much secrecy. Everything the state does with executions is behind a wall."

Oklahoma could become the 1st state to enshrine the death penalty into its constitution, if the measure is approved by voters.

According to Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, no other state has ever attempted to exempt the death penalty from the requirement of complying with the constitution.

"The Oklahoma ballot question does not simply say that the state will have a death penalty, it says that the state courts are prohibited from determining that the manner that the death penalty is carried out is unconstitutional," Dunham said. "It says that the state courts cannot rule that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which on its face means that the courts cannot consider whether the administration of the death penalty violates either the state or federal constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment."

According to Dunham, the law also says that the death penalty shall not be deemed to violate any other provision of Oklahoma's state constitution, which means that no matter how discriminatorily or arbitrarily the punishment is applied, the courts cannot say that it violates any provision of the state constitution.

"This referendum is not to say that the death penalty is part of state constitutional law; for that, it would need only to say that the penalty is authorized as a punishment," said Dunham. "The referendum is to ensure that the administration of the death penalty shall not be regulated by the law. There is no other state that, to my knowledge, has ever tried to codify in its constitution that the death penalty is above the law."

Johnson added that the referendum would also cost the taxpayers in terms of legal battles.

"This referendum is deeply flawed and does nothing to alter Oklahoma's ability to carry out executions, but could open up the state to further costly legal challenges paid for by taxpayers, said Johnson. "Our goal is to educate citizens about this expensive governmental overreach, and to urge them to vote 'No' to SQ 776". Meanwhile lethal injection debacles continue nationwide as states struggle to find drugs and carry out executions in secrecy. And now Pfizer, the last remaining, FDA-approved supplier of lethal injection drugs, says they "no longer want to be in the execution business."



Oklahoma state questions on criminal justice reform to be on November ballot

Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge said Friday that each measure required about 66,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. Each received about 110,000 signatures.

Benge's office counted the signatures and sent a report to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which makes the official certification for placement on the ballot.


Measures likely to be on ballot:

--State Question 780, changing simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Secretary of state's office counted adequate signatures to place measure on ballot. --State Question 781, specifying that money saved by easing drug possession classification shall be applied to county programs for mental health and drug addiction. Secretary of state's office counted adequate signatures to place measure on ballot.

--State Question 776, specifying that the method for implementing the death penalty can be changed. Referred to the ballot by the Legislature.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Arizona abandons use of sedative as a lethal-injection drug

The state of Arizona has eliminated its use of the sedative midazolam as one of the drugs it relies on in carrying out executions.

Lawyers for the state said in a court filing Friday that its current supply of midazolam expired on May 31 and that Arizona's sources of the drug have dried up because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty.

That leaves Arizona with other lethal-drug combinations, but the state's lawyers said they can't currently carry out executions because it has no access to supplies of pentobarbital and sodium thiopental.

The status of the state's lethal-injection drug supplies were revealed Friday in a court filing in a lawsuit that challenges the way Arizona carries out the death penalty.

Executions in Arizona were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney says the execution was botched.

/ Executions in Arizona remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.

A ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed parts of the lawsuit, but other elements of the case remain alive.

The state argued in its filing Friday that the lawsuit is moot now that midazolam is off the table.

Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing death row prisoners, said that even if the lawsuit's claims involving lethal-injection drugs are dismissed, his clients still have claims that Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan has abused his discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

"It's our belief that the unlimited discretion that the director has during the execution process violates the Eighth Amendment," which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, Baich said.

Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. Death penalty states refuse to disclose the sources of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies - organizations that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.

(source: Associated Press)


Church, activists fear reimposition of death penalty ---- Reintroduction will see many innocent and poor people executed in the Philippines, they say

Church leaders and human rights advocates marked the anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines on June 24 amid concerns that capital punishment may soon be re-imposed.

"Innocent people will inevitably be executed for as long as the death penalty exists in law," said Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the prison ministry of the Philippine bishops' conference.

Jesuit Father Silvino Borres, president of the Coalition Against Death Penalty, said that given the "imperfections" in the country's criminal justice system, the prospect of executing innocent people remains.

Incoming president Rodrigo Duterte announced this week his plan to revive capital punishment - death by hanging - which he said would serve as "retribution" for those who committed crimes.

The "death penalty to me is the retribution. It makes you pay for what you did," said Duterte.

Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a Catholic, signed a law abolishing capital punishment on June 24, 2006.

Crimes that had been punishable by death included murder, rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Diamante said the church will lead the lobby in Congress against the restoration of capital punishment.

"We will also pursue a continuing public education program against the death penalty and for alternative options for life," he said.

The long-time anti-death penalty campaigner said the proposal to restore the death sentence is "anti-poor" and works against the marginalized and the most vulnerable sectors of society.

"Experience shows that most, if not all persons meted the death penalty are poor and uneducated, who cannot afford to retain prominent criminal lawyers and have no political connections," said Diamante.



As Lindsay Sandiford turns 60, supporter claims there is hope for Redcar death row gran

As she marks what could be her final birthday, sources close to death row gran Lindsay Sandiford say she isn't about to be executed.

The convicted Redcar drug mule will spend her 60th birthday today in the squalid Indonesian prison she's languished in since she was sentenced to death in 2012.

There were fears that the birthday would be her last, with reports she may be among one of 16 people shot following the Muslim holiday of Eid.

However a supporter, who has flown to Bali to be with her on her birthday, has told the Gazette "Lindsay is not listed for execution."

Christie Buckingham of Bayside Church jetted in from Australia to spend time with her friend during what she said was a "very sensitive time" for the grandmother.

"At this stage she is concentrating on getting her appeal in place," she added.

Another senior source close to the case confirmed Sandiford is not scheduled to be 1 of the 16 prisoners executed in the latest round of executions.

"She is working on her appeal and still has legal avenues left which I expect her to use," said the source.

"Certainly there is no indication that she will be executed in the very near future."

The mum has been in Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison since she admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth 1.6m pounds on to the paradise island.

Despite her plight, it is understood she's shunned consular assistance since 2014.

Instead she has received backing from thousands of Facebook supporters as well as the church.

There had been hope she could be spared a trip to a beauty spot dubbed "death island", where the Government carry out executions.

Indonesian authorities had halted executions for "economic reasons" but they resumed again this year, with 2 of the mum's Australian friends killed.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: "We oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and have made repeated representations on the issue to the Indonesian government at the highest levels."



Statistics do not support the view that abolition of the death penalty does not affect the murder rate

Dear Editor,

In societies all over the world when the murder rate is deemed uncomfortably high citizens engage in fierce discourse on the merits and demerits of the death penalty; Guyana has been no different. Recently I have noticed that this discourse has been joined by a number of distinguished professionals and academics, who almost to a man state their opposition to the death penalty.

The Kaieteur News of June 13 informs is that Minister Ramjattan opposes the death penalty, arguing that he has "statistics to show that the use of such an extreme form of punishment does nothing to stop crime." Mr Ralph Ramkarran seems to have had the most to say on this matter. He echoes Mr Ramjattan's contention. He also claims that the "argument in favour of the death penalty has always been revenge." The truth is that the revenge argument is extremely old and is no longer seen as a serious argument. Since the 1970s modern criminologists are more inclined to talk about the death penalty as a deterrent instead. Mr Ramkarran shared many other views on this matter in his Sunday Stabroek column. However on those I will be silent for now, since they are controversial and a response would demand too much time and space.

Dr Hinds is said to have based his objection to the death penalty mostly on the fact that it is disproportionally meted out to racial minorities and the poor. Dr Hinds is right; there is overwhelming evidence in both the USA and Europe supporting his contention. However, the presence of discrimination and bias in sentencing is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather it is more an argument for ending discrimination along racial and class lines in the administering of justice. Further, Dr Hinds was reported as saying he considers the death penalty primitive and therefore having "no place in a modern civilized society." This contention I will comment on later.

Since the 2 distinguished lawyers mentioned above both cling tightly to statistics on the death penalty which in the words of Mr Ramkarran "does not support the assumption that it reduces cases of murder," I will direct my attention to their claim first. A perusal of the literature will reveal a wealth of information and studies that suggest a different conclusion.

Singapore with the second highest per capita execution rate in the world up to 1998 had one of the lowest murder rates in the world. Similarly Japan has the death penalty even though it uses same sparingly (only in cases of multiple murders; single murders rarely attract the death penalty), but it also has one of the lowest murder rates in the world. In fact Japan and Singapore hold 1st and 2nd place as the countries in the developed world with the lowest murder rates.

In the United States the state of New Hampshire had the lowest rate of murders (0.9 per 100,000 persons) for year 2014 even though the death penalty has not been abolished there. In the state of Maryland the city of Baltimore recorded below 200 murders for the year 2011, at that time Maryland still had the death penalty. However during the period January 2015 to the end of August 2015 Baltimore had already recorded 215 murders; the state of Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013. A study done in 2006 by Emory University in Atlanta found that "murder rates declined in counties where capital punishment was imposed" (Schmalleger, 2007). So in terms of statistics it is perfectly reasonable for those who support the death penalty to argue that its use or availability leads to a reduction in murders.

Here in Guyana President Granger has indicated an unwillingness to approve "the execution of any prisoner." While he did not, based on the report I read, elaborate and offer a reason for this unwillingness I suspect that his position, similar to that of Dr Hinds, is influenced by ethical considerations. On this I am at one with them. For me, when arguing against the appropriateness of the death penalty one is on surer ground when one expresses ethical concerns as the cornerstone for one's objections to this form of punishment, rather than reliance on statistics.

Morally how can the state support its claim of intolerance for killing perpetrated by others by itself carrying out acts of killing? The Jamaican criminologist Professor Bernard Headley puts it best: "If we are to expect all others in the society to respect human life and not deprive another of it, then the state must set the example." Secondly there is the uncertainty of the guilt of the condemned. Between 1989 and 2007 at least 143 state convicts were exonerated through the use of DNA tests in the United States of America. The death sentence once carried out cannot be reversed, it does not allow a society to correct its mistake. And since we claim to believe that it is best for 100 bad men to go free than for 1 innocent person to be punished, we have no alternative but to support abolishing the death penalty. This is especially so here in Guyana since DNA testing is not readily available. In any case the presence of DNA evidence at a crime scene is not proof of guilt of a crime.

Editor, the debate on the appropriateness of the death penalty will rage on. As a country pressure will be exerted by those international organizations and nations which feel small countries must follow their lead. As the pressure mounts small nations like Guyana can take courage from Singapore's response. Fighting off the UN's criticism on his nation's high level of executions of those who commit serious crimes, Singapore's representative at the UN said "the right to life is not the only right, and it is the duty of societies and governments to decide how to balance competing rights against each other."

In the Kaieteur News of June 15 I noted that the British government by way of its Ambassador is encouraging the Guyanese government to abolish the death penalty. Through the years in my quest for understanding I have come to accept that in human affairs the solution to a problem is all too often the creation of another. If we agree that the death penalty is inhumane and unjust we are likely to move to imposing life sentences for murders, as is being done in most countries that have abolished the death penalty. With Guyana's high murder rate coupled with its recidivist rate of over 80%, who is going to help Guyana foot the bill for taking care of murderers for life?

Yours faithfully,

Claudius Prince

(source: Letter to the Editor, Stabroek News)


Parliament Approves Bill Moved By MCP MP On Stiffer Penalties for Albino Killers

Members of Parliament (MPs) have passed a motion moved by Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) to amend the Anatomy Act to attract stiffer penalties for perpetrators of abduction and killing of people with albinism.

Most MPs spokes in supported the bill, saying people found guilty of killing persons with albinism should be slapped with life imprisonment or face the death penalty.

Chimwendo Banda said the bill will help punish people involved in rituals and deter unauthorised possession of human tissues.

He noted that in view of the continued killing of people with albinism and cognisance of the fact that the current penal provisions aimed at deterring would-be offenders are not having the desired effect, the amended of the Anatomy Act would help deter all would-be offenders from committing such offences.

Salima North West MP, Jessie Kabwila (MCP) said the bills will demonstrate the kick-start of solving the problem of ritual murders.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting," said Kabwila.

"This is a bill which should have been passed yesterday," she said.

Mulanje South MP, Bon Kalindo who has been advocation for death penalty and earlier on marched 'half-naked' to push for the same, supported the bill.

"Time has come , we need to do something," he said.

Kalindo said the bill should be supported even by government despite originating from opposition lawmaker in a private members motion.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the Anatomy Act is part of the larger Bill whose drafting has been concluded.

"We are developing a proper and appropriate legislation that will cover all issues," said Tembenu.

The minister added that the Disability Act, Human Trafficking, Child Justice Act and the Anatomy Act would also be amended in the Penal Code.

The faculty of law at the University of Malawi's Chancellor College recently faulted the Anatomy Act for the seemingly lighter sentences meted to perpetrators of crimes against people with albinism.

(source: Nyasa Times)


Husband of woman detained in Iran criticises Foreign Office

The husband of a British-Iranian woman who has been detained without charge in Tehran for 83 days has spoken of his anger over the Foreign Office's handling of the matter, saying he feels "gamed" by officials who value trade above the welfare of British citizens and objected to his going public with the case.

Richard Ratcliffe told the Guardian he felt trade relations had been prioritised over the welfare of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their 2-year-old daughter Gabriella. "I don't think Nazanin and Gabriella's case, nor any of the others, is a top priority at the moment," he said, referring to 4 other British passport holders he understands are being detained in Iran. "The top priority of the Foreign Office is trade."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation as a project manager, was arrested at Tehran's international airport by members of the country's Revolutionary Guard on 3 April. She had been about to return to the UK from a family visit in her home country. This month the Revolutionary Guard released a statement accusing her of fomenting a "soft overthrow" of the Islamic Republic, which her husband described as "farcical".

The 37-year-old charity worker has since been held in solitary confinement under interrogation and refused access to a lawyer. If convicted of espionage charges she could face up to 20 years in prison or the death penalty.

Ratcliffe did not meet Foreign Office officials until after he had made his wife's case public in May, 36 days after her arrest, and then only at his request. "It felt almost like the Foreign Office resented me for going public. I was angry, and I felt gamed," he said.

"We would have a series of calls and there would be a sort of strange dynamic where occasionally it felt like they were almost trying to get me on record as having said how helpful [they had been]. It's like dealing with a fucking insurance company trying to get out of paying a claim. This is a really odd definition of support, isn't it? It is a really odd dynamic to be covering your arse that early on."

Ratcliffe describes the government's position as: "'This is a delicate matter, we'll hope the Iranians will be nice.' It's like, delicate? I mean, if this was your wife? They can use political capital to force the situation. But there has been no public statement of criticism by a senior politician, and the Iranians notice that."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is 1 of 3 female dual-citizenship foreign nationals to have been detained by the Revolutionary Guard in the past 3 months. But whereas since March the US state department website has warned dual-passport holders not to visit Iran, the Foreign Office website does not.

Gabriella's British passport was confiscated by the Iranian authorities, and she is being looked after by her grandparents. Under Iranian law only her father or mother can bring her home. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being detained 620 miles from her daughter in Kerman prison.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have been supporting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family since we were first made aware of her arrest. Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has met personally with the family to reassure them that we will continue to do all we can on this case."

The matter is understood to have been raised with Iranian officials, including by the foreign secretary with the Iranian foreign minister.

(source: The Guardian)

JUNE 24, 2016:


Texas march against legal lynchings

Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement activists participated in the Juneteenth parade and festival on June 18 in Houston's historic Third Ward at Emancipation Park, which was bought and established by freed slaves in 1872. The Abolition Movement makes the connection between slavery and what exists on Texas prison farms today.

"We recognize the continuum from lynchings after the Civil War to the legal lynchings that occur now in Huntsville, Texas, where 537 people have been executed by the state of Texas since 1982,' said Joanne Gavin, a founder of the Abolition Movement in the mid-1990s and a veteran of Mississippi's Civil Rights Movement.

Joining the Abolition Movement at the parade were veterans of Houston's Black Panther Party, whose leader, Carl Hampton, was murdered by Houston police a few blocks from Emancipation Park. Houston cops were judge, jury and executioners of Hampton, a brilliant revolutionary and charismatic leader until his death in 1970. Also in the contingent was the Committee to Free Juan Balderas, who has been on Texas death row since 2015.

(source: Workers World)


Attorney for Orange County teen murder suspect argues trial should be delayed

Attorneys for Sanel Saint-Simon want his trial be delayed until the Florida Supreme Court makes a ruling on the death penalty.

"I have very serious concerns about rushing this to trial," said Carolyn Schlemmer, defense attorney.

His attorneys spent nearly an hour Friday arguing his case needs to take a back seat to the Hurst and Perry cases currently pending with the Florida Supreme Court.

Saint-Simon is accused of beating, then dumping his girlfriend's daughter, Alexandria Chery, in a field in 2014 near the Polk-Osceola County lines.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that Florida's death penalty cases were unconstitutional and didn't give jurors enough of a vote.

"We do not have finalized capital jury instructions," Schlemmer said.

A case tried right now would be lacking the instruction manual for how a jury should decide between life and death.

His trial has already been delayed once over questions about the future of Florida's death penalty.

The idea that the Hurst case could have any impact on new death penalty cases is legally questionable. But the Perry case is looking for answers on whether a full 12 members of the jury should be deciding on death instead of 10. And whether cases already under prosecution when the state revised the death penalty in March, should be covered by the new rules.

"We all want it done correctly. And we all want it to be done lawfully," said Ryan Vescio, assistant state attorney.

Meanwhile, Saint-Simon's attorneys tried to have the judge throw out potentially incriminating statements allegedly made by Saint-Simon when he was first questioned by investigators. The defense argued he thought he was under arrest when he was not.

The judge ruled the entire interview will be admissible at trial.

(source: WFTV news)


Evidence points to earlier Markel murder attempt

Prosecutors say Sigfredo Garcia and Luis Rivera traveled to Tallahassee in June 2014 during a thwarted attempt to execute Dan Markel.

A Leon County judge delayed the decision to set a bond for 33-year-old Garcia Friday as his attorney looked to interview Tallahassee Police investigators.

Garcia pleaded not guilty to charges of 1st-degree murder in the July 2014 shooting of Markel, a Florida State law professor and prominent legal scholar.

On July 18, 2014, Markel was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car with 2 gunshot wounds to the head.

Prosecutors say the June trip was cut short when a Miami rental car company found out Garcia and Rivera were in Tallahassee. The car was rented for local use only. Cappleman said the company pinged the GPS on the car and Rivera and Garcia immediately turned around and headed back to Miami.

Garcia was arrested May 25 in Broward County where he was held until transport to Tallahassee a few weeks later.

In a Broward County Jail phone call with his girlfriend Katherine Magbanua, Garcia said he wanted to put the ordeal behind him and once he was released, "get the hell out of Dodge," he said. "And just put all this sh** behind us."

His South Florida attorney Jim Lewis argued that the state has only circumstantial evidence against Garcia, nothing concrete. However, he indicated that local attorney Zack Ward could possibly join the defense team to work during the sentencing phase.

"All they've got is theories," Lewis said. "No facts. No eye witnesses. No physical evidence. No confessions. No statements. This man should not be held here without a bond."

Chief Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman is seeking the death penalty. She asked that Garcia be held without bond or at the minimum a $1 million bond.

She conceded concrete, physical evidence could not place Garcia as the shooter, but that other evidence would prove otherwise.

"As far as I know there is no DNA at the crime scene. I don't have a witness that will say 'I saw Mr. Garcia kill Mr. Markel, so (Lewis) is right to that extent," Cappleman said. "But there is a mountain of other evidence that I think will be sufficient to reach my burden beyond a reasonable doubt at trial."

Prosecutors released dozens of pages of investigative materials - which include crime scene and suspect photos, videos, cell phone records - used to build their case against Garcia, Rivera and others.

More arrests are expected in the case.

Court documents point toward members of Markel's ex-wife’s family, chiefly her mother and brother Donna and Charles Adelson as being connected to the murder-for-hire plot that ended in Markel's shooting.

Cappleman called Magbanua, who was in a romantic relationship with Charles Adelson and is the mother of two of Garcia's children, a suspect and possibly a witness in the case.

Police say Garcia and Rivera were "enlisted" to kill Markel, 41, in connection with the child visitation proceedings in the aftermath of his acrimonious divorce.

The motive for Markel's murder, court documents say, "stemmed from the desperate desire of the Adelson family" that his ex-wife Wendi Adelson and the couple's 2 young sons be allowed to move to South Florida.

Garcia and Rivera drove from Miami in a rented Toyota Prius, police say, and stayed in Tallahassee for several days before shooting Markel.

Garcia denied ever being in Tallahassee. Meanwhile, Rivera, who was questioned three days after Garcia's arrest, at first denied ever traveling to the Capital City. However, Rivera, an inmate in a federal prison outside Orlando on unrelated charges, changed his story when police showed him a photo of the 2 men in the Prius.

(source: Tallahassee Democrat)


Prosecutor: Marion County judge's ruling puts death penalty in jeopardy

A Marion County judge this week dropped the death penalty elements from a convicted murderer-rapist's sentence on the grounds that there were similarities to a Florida death sentence ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court this year.

Because Florida and Ohio have similar sentencing and procedural guidelines, defense attorneys argued that Maurice A. Mason, sentenced in 1994 for raping and beating to death Robin Dennis, then 19 and pregnant, should not be executed.

The case could have implications in other capital cases in Ohio, said Marion County Prosecutor Brent Yager, who disagreed with Monday's decision by Marion Common Pleas Court Judge William Finnegan.

"I was surprised," said Yager. "I believe that there is a distinction between the death penalty in Florida and in Ohio."

The Florida case, Hurst versus Florida, also involved a murder conviction, and was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in January that a Florida judge's ruling on the death penalty sentencing violated the defendant's 6th Amendment rights to a trial by jury.

Finnegan, in his ruling, wrote that the Hurst decision makes clear that the Sixth Amendment requires juries make specific findings to authorize the death penalty.

Ohio, he wrote, "has no provision for the jury to make specific findings related to the weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors," and thus is unconstitutional.

Yager said Ohio differs from Florida because juries here directly decide the aggravating circumstances in a capital case used in the penalty phase and sentencing, although judge's have the ability to commute the death sentence in lieu of life in prison.

In Florida, the court, or judge, must give "great weight" to the jury's recommendation, but then must independently weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances before rendering the sentence, the high court ruled 8-1, according to Finnegan's 50-page ruling.

Yager said the ruling is frustrating, in part because victim families and lawmakers expect swift and certain justice.

"Ohio and the state legislature have decided we still should have a death penalty in Ohio," said Yager. "But based on the judge's ruling here, if this stands, our death penalty would be unconstitutional. This decision does become a statewide issue."

Yager said he plans to file an appeal with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Lima.

Mason's attorney, Kort Gatterdam, said the decision should "withstand scrutiny from higher courts and will become the law of this state ... and could become the basis to eliminate the death penalty in Ohio."

The Dispatch highlighted the case five years ago to describe the difficulties in carrying out a death sentence given a barrage of appeals and legal filings.

Mason chased Dennis through a barren field, dragged her down, raped her and beat her to death with a nail-studded board.

A judge, based on the jury's recommendation, sentenced him to death on July 7, 1994.

4 years later, a federal appeals court ruled that Mason's attorneys failed to say enough about Mason's drug and violence-filled childhood during the penalty phase of the trial. That mitigating evidence typically is used by juries to balance out the aggravated elements, in this case that Mason had used a weapon and committed rape.

The case was ordered back to Marion County Common Pleas Court for a new sentencing. But legal maneuvers prevented that from happening within a required 180 day window. Eventually, the Innocence Project collected DNA evidence in hopes of proving Mason innocent.

Mason, now 52, has been moved from death row to a regular cell at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. With no sentence on record for the murder conviction, he technically is eligible for a parole hearing. But the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the parole board have said that won't happen his ultimate sentence for murder is resolved.

5 years ago, Dennis' father, Ted Travis, said: "No one can possibly believe this is the way the system is supposed to work."

Rep. Greta Johnson, a Democrat from Akron is a former death penalty prosecutor from Summit County, said families deserve better.

"There is really nothing we can do as lawmakers that will give them the day back before these acts happened. And that's all that they want."

(source: Columbus Dispatch)


Strong evidence against capital punishment

Just this week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was almost gleeful in stating her intent to set execution dates for several inmates on the state's death row. I worry about people who think capital punishment represents the great pinnacle of justice. Given her demonstrated proclivities to shill for all manner other ultra-conservative, anti-science and anti-environmental causes, the fact that she champions an ineffectual and draconian punishment philosophy is nauseatingly predictable. At least she's consistent.

Apart from the fact that Arkansans have elected themselves a philosophically dubious figure for their Attorney General, looms the fact that we as a state haven't figured out that the death penalty serves neither the interests of justice nor the taxpayers.

By way of preface, I understand why someone who was the victim of a violent crime or the people they leave behind might seek the stinging retribution that only an eye for an eye can bring. Even so, I don't come to my views as a mere spectator.

I have been present several times to watch someone take their last breaths after being shot. I've been at many grizzly crime scenes that give me haunting memories I will take to my own grave. I've heard the shrieks and howls of anguish. I've seen that last gasp push a mouthful of blood onto the dark street.

As such, I understand why another death might seem like the only possible way to even the human score. The question I always come back to in this debate is simple: Does capital punishment make us better as a society? The weight of evidence suggests it does not.

The most common argument for it is deterrence. In other words, when would be murderers see convicted killers put to death, they will think twice before committing their own crimes.

Few social science studies reach the near unanimity that death penalty researchers do about deterrence: the death penalty has almost no deterrent effect. In fact, states without capital punishment have much lower homicide rates. Add to that the fact that the South accounts for 80 % of U. S. executions and has the highest regional murder rate.

One can also argue against the death penalty from an economic cost perspective. Here again, researchers are nearly unanimous. The cost of an execution and the concomitant appeals process that every citizen of this nation is due - regardless how wretched they may be - far outpaces the cost of life imprisonment. It is actually much cheaper on average to incarcerate someone for life than it is to execute them.

Third, it's irrevocable. Once we've killed someone, they can't be brought back to life. Since 1973, 151 death row inmates have been exonerated. From 2000-2007, there have been nearly a half dozen every year. As science improves, this number will likely increase. For states like Texas that emphasize the speed from conviction to execution this sets up the very real potential of executing an innocent person.

As a comparison, 140 other countries either as a matter of law or practice abstain from capital punishment. This number includes a number of predominantly Muslim nations. On the other side of the coin, we share the retentionist spotlight with places like, Chad, North Korea, Uganda and Yemen.

These few facts alone give us enough pause to answer my basic question: Does capital punishment make us a better society? It allies us with some of the most barbarous societies on Earth. It is more costly than life without parole. It can't be undone. It has no demonstrable deterrent effect. In fact, it appears to have the opposite effect. It contributes to a culture of violence; and perhaps most importantly, it reduces us to committing the same fundamental deed as the monster we seek to punish.

Of course, the death penalty appeals to people who are governed by an overtly redneck and naive sense of right and wrong. It is simplistic. It calls to the baser urges of humanity. Fortunately, America is for the most part in the business of rising above a Hobbesian state of nature. It's time Rutledge and her ilk mature in their sensibilities.

(source: Pine Bluff Commercial)

USA----female faces possible federal death penalty

Death penalty possible for suspect in Grand Forks gas station murder

A woman accused of planning out and going through with the murder of a man at a Grand Forks gas station could face the death penalty in federal court. Krystal Lynn Feist of Grand Forks was arrested the same day police found 24-year-old Austin Brant Forsman of Grand Forks dead March 11 in a Chevrolet Malibu at the Flying J truck stop at 4401 32nd Ave. S.

As a federal meth conspiracy case linked to Forsman's death developed in April, the list of defendants grew without Feist, and the 31-year-old was charged in Grand Forks District Court with murder, a Class AA felony. She faces life in prison on the charge.

That case remains open - though there was a motion to dismiss it Friday - but Feist was added to the federal case Tuesday, and she made her 1st appearance on her federal charges Friday afternoon, pleading not guilty to all 3: death caused by use of a firearm during a crime of violence, murder in furtherance of drug trafficking conspiracy and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of a controlled substance.

All 3 charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, and 2 of the charges have mandatory minimum sentences. The conspiracy to possess charge has a minimum of 10 years in prison, and the murder in furtherance charge is 20 years in prison. Feist also could serve 5 years of supervised release, pay restitution to any victim in the case and pay fines up to $10.5 million.

There is a chance Feist could receive the death penalty on either of the murder and death related charges, though the U.S. Attorney's Office would have to get permission from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

North Dakota does not have the death penalty, and the 1st time it was used by federal prosecutors was with Alfonso Rodriguez, who was found guilty in 2006 of kidnapping, raping and murdering University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in 2003. He is appealing his sentence.

The death penalty was considered in a federal drug trafficking case involving the murder of East Grand Forks resident Lee Avila in 2005, but prosecutors decided not to pursue it.

Feist's trial, which is scheduled for Aug. 2, is expected to last four to eight days. However, some of the other defendants have asked for their trials to be pushed to October, and given the potentially hefty sentences and accusations associated with Feist's charges, there's a chance her trial could be delayed, too.

Feist will be in federal court again Tuesday morning to decide whether she'll have to stay in jail until her trial. The prosecution feels Feist shouldn't be released and considers her a "continuing danger to the community." Assistant U.S. Attorney Janice Morley also claimed Friday that Feist has shown "no remorse for her acts" to the prosecution.

One other defendant joins Feist in the murder in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy and death caused by use of a firearm during a crime of violence charges:34-year-old Modesto Alfredo Torrez.

Torrez and Feist are accused of intentionally having Forsman shot and killed after "substantial planning" and "premeditation" in order to further a drug conspiracy, according to an indictment that hasn't been made public.

Two other defendants in the case also have charges related to the murder. Christopher Ringsrud-Knowles, 33, is charged with accessory after the fact to murder, witness tampering and evidence tampering. Lorie Ortiz, 32, is charged with accessory after the fact to murder.

There's also a drug conspiracy charge Feist and many of the other defendants in the case face, accusing them of distributing more than 500 grams of meth in Minnesota and North Dakota. The other 9 are Vaughn Michael Scott, 35; Aaron Lee Morado, 26; Christopher Alan Anderson, 36; Darla Kay Jerome, 37; Andrew Robert Wiley, 26; Ryan Scott Franklin, 37; Andrew Neil Hills, 42; Ortiz; and Ringsrud-Knowles.

Court records show there are 12 defendants total, but one person's case has not been made public yet.

1 stays, 1 released

2 other defendants had hearings Friday, resulting in 1 being ordered to remain in custody and the other released to her mother.

Anderson had a hearing in the morning, where he asked to be released from jail leading up to his trial. He hadn't asked for this earlier in his case because he was serving a state sentence in Bismarck, but now that he's been released from that sentence, he asked to be released in his federal case, too.

"I think he should be able to get out and find some treatment," Anderson's attorney Charles Sheeley said.

Sheeley admitted Anderson had a history of fleeing and failing to appear in his early 20s, but that was years ago, and "the court should take strong notice of how old" those offenses are, he said.

Sheeley also referred to the "very serious superseding indictment" that brought charges related to the murder against some of the defendants, but Anderson was in custody when the murder happened. And from Sheeley's understanding, Anderson was the 1st one to be forthcoming with the prosecution and give information about the case.

"He's cooperated. He's going to continue to cooperate," Sheeley said. "We don't believe there's a danger to the community if he's out."

But because of Anderson's most recent parole violation landed him behind bars when the alleged murder occurred, Judge Alice Senechal decided Anderson could not be fully released but could serve his time at Centre, a nonprofit agency that provides rehabilitation services to individuals. Centre in Grand Forks has a long waiting list, meaning it could be months before Anderson gets a spot.

In the meantime, must remain in jail.

At a hearing a couple of hours later, Senechal released Ortiz into her mother's custody in Crookston, with some conditions. Ortiz must be on electronic home monitoring, submit to drug tests and have no contact with any of the defendants or witnesses in the case, among other conditions.

Ortiz also was ordered to make all of her court appearances for her pending charges in Polk County District Court, which include four misdemeanors for being under the influence while using a cellphone and having an open container with a minor in the car.



American Bar Association asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear Ricky Gray appeal

The American Bar Association is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the appeal of condemned killer Ricky Javon Gray.

Gray and accomplice Ray Dandridge, both 39, killed 7 people in Richmond in 2006, including 4 members of the Harvey family on New Year's Day. Gray was sentenced to death for the capital murders of the Harvey daughters, Ruby, 4, and Stella, 9. Dandridge was sentenced to life.

In May, Gray's lawyers asked the high court to hear his appeal, in part to determine the obligations of state courts to provide adequate review of alleged constitutional violations and the obligation of federal courts to resolve such allegations when state court review is inadequate.

The Virginia Attorney General's Office has until July 22 to respond to Gray's request.

Gray's lawyers allege Virginia courts "unreasonably failed to provide Gray with a meaningful opportunity to develop and present allegations challenging the constitutionality of his death sentence." Among other things, their petition complains that the Virginia Supreme Court did not order a hearing to get to the bottom of disputed allegations.

In a statement Thursday, the ABA said it filed a brief in the case because the state court, without an evidentiary hearing, dismissed allegations that Gray's death sentence was imposed in violation of his constitutional rights. The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

In its brief, the ABA wrote that the case "presents an ideal opportunity for the court to address an important, recurring question of federal law: What are the minimum post-conviction procedures that a state must follow when adjudicating claims that a death-sentenced prisoner's constitutional rights have been violated."

The ABA's 31-page brief questions whether a "state court fact-finding process that does not provide the type of adversarial process historically thought essential to the truth-finding function of a court is adequate for reaching reasonably correct results and for the ascertainment of truth."

Gray's execution had been set for March 16 but was stayed when his lawyer said they would appeal.

In arguing against the stay, the Attorney General's Office wrote earlier this year that there was no reasonable probability the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear the case "and no significant possibility" the appeals court decision would be reversed even if the justices took the case.

The ABA petition asserts that as part of a comprehensive review of death-penalty procedures in various states, an ABA expert assessment team confirmed that Virginia's post-conviction procedures are inadequate to present and develop claims of constitutional error.

"The system prioritizes finality and expediency at grave costs," the ABA wrote.

(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)


DA will seek the death penalty for suspect in 2014 double murder

Prosecutors in Columbus County will seek the death penalty for one of the suspects in a 2014 double murder case.

Justin Reynolds and Megan Haynes were arrested in February in connection to the murders of Jeanette Thut and Donna Gore.

Reynolds, who is Gore's son, and Haynes both face 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

At a press conference held earlier this year, Columbus County District Attorney Jon David said he would consider seeking the death penalty in this case.

We've learned the DA will seek the death penalty for Reynolds.

Thut's daughter, Kathy Hensley, said she was relieved to hear of the decision.

"What they did to them, our whole family thinks they deserve the death penalty," said Hensley. "If they don't get it, they definitely deserve life without parole."

Hensley said it could be years before the trial begins. She said forensic testing is still taking place and it could be a long time before the results are returned for a trial.

Hensley said her mother was good friend with Gore. The 2 had moved in together in a home in Bolton. Shortly after, Hensley's mother let Reynolds and Hayes move into a nearby camper of hers so they could "get on their feet."

Gore was reportedly strangled while Thut was stabbed about 17 times. Investigators found their bodies in a storage building behind Thut's house on Blacksmith Road in Bolton on Nov. 3, 2014.

"My mother gave them a place to live rent-free," she said. "She loved them like a grandmother and for them to go in their home and do this, it's unbelievable."

Hensley lives in Virginia but has been making trips back and forth to attend court hearings on the case. She is also working to become a victim's court advocate in Virginia, so she can help other families going through similar situations.

(source: WECT news)


Prosecutors seek death penalty for 2 suspects in doctor's murder, including her husband

Prosecutors in the murder case of a beloved Florida doctor announced Wednesday they plan to seek the death penalty for 2 suspects in her gruesome killing, including her husband.

Teresa Sievers, 46, a holistic physician and mother of 2, was found bludgeoned to death in the kitchen of her Bonita Springs home last June. Investigators recovered a hammer with blood and hair on it nearby.

The doctor reportedly had returned home early from a vacation in Connecticut, leaving her husband and children behind to go to work.

Prosecutors initially filed murder charges against 2 men from Missouri: a friend of Sievers' husband and a man spotted at a Fort Myers Walmart near the Sievers' home the day before the doctor's body was found.

However, in December, investigators announced a stunning twist in the case. They said Sievers' husband, Mark, orchestrated the attack to cash in on insurance policies, and promised the 2 Missouri men a chunk of the $4.4 million payout.

Police had arrested the first 2 suspects, 26-year-old Jimmy Rodgers and 46-year-old Curtis Wayne Wright, in August.

Mark Sievers, 48, tried collecting the insurance weeks before those arrests, The News-Press reported. The insurance company, Ohio National Life, refused to pay him citing the criminal investigation.

Wright pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder in February in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence. He agreed to help prosecutors in their case against Mark Sievers, the newspaper added. The state also took custody of the children - ages 9 and 11 - in February.

After prosecutors announced they intended to seek the death penalty against Sievers and Rodgers, the husband's defense attorney Antonio Faga responded, "We are not surprised that the state has taken this position, however we feel it is not an accurate position based upon the fact Mr. Sievers is innocent." There was no immediate response from Rodgers' attorney.

(source: Fox News)


Lawyers: Condemned inmate mentally incompetent for execution

The U.S. Supreme Court has said death row prisoners must have "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why, but lawyers for a condemned Alabama inmate say stroke-induced dementia has left their client unable to pass that test.

A 3-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta seemed skeptical of the state of Alabama's arguments that Vernon Madison didn't need to remember the crime he was convicted of to have a rational understanding of it.

"If the state of Alabama thinks it can execute people who have no memory of what they did, that's a disconnect for me," Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan said.

His comment came during arguments in the case of the 65-year-old Madison, who was convicted in the 1985 killing of a Mobile, Alabama, police officer. The appeals court panel in May halted Madison's execution just 7 hours before he was to receive a lethal injection so it could consider his lawyers arguments that he is not mentally fit to be executed.

Angie Setzer, a lawyer for Madison, told the court Madison has no independent recollection of the crime and, therefore, cannot rationally understand why the state plans to execute him.

Alabama Deputy Solicitor General Brett Talley countered that a person does not need to specifically remember an event to have a rational understanding of it and argued that Madison does understand why the state is trying to put him to death.

Madison was convicted in the slaying of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte, who had responded to a domestic call involving Madison. Prosecutors said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

While the high court ruled condemned inmates must have a "rational understanding" that they are about to be executed and why, it has left it to lower courts to determine what that means.

At least 2 strokes, in May 2015 and January of this year, as well as other medical conditions, have left Madison unable to walk independently, disoriented and with significant memory deficits, Setzer said.

A defense expert testified in state court that Madison suffers from vascular dementia and is unable to connect the crime to the planned punishment, Setzer said.

Circuit Judge Charles Wilson asked Setzer why the court should rely on that expert's testimony when the testimony of a court-appointed expert seemed to contradict it. The court-appointed expert didn't disagree with the defense expert's findings but rather interpreted the issues in the case more narrowly and didn't believe those findings applied, Setzer said.

Not all death row inmates with dementia are incompetent to be executed, Setzer said, but a state court judge improperly excluded evidence of dementia and related impairment when weighing Madison’s competence.

Talley said the court-appointed expert found that Madison was able to remember very specific details from throughout his life, which strains the credibility of assertions that he doesn't remember the crime. When pressed by Wilson as to whether the court-appointed expert ever directly said that Madison remembers the crime, Talley said the expert testified that Madison remembers "the events surrounding the crime."

Circuit Judge Beverly Martin said she didn't see anything in the court-appointed expert's testimony that indicated that Madison understood that he killed the officer and why he was to be executed.

(source: Associated Press)


In Alabama death penalty cases, judges' opinions are routinely written by prosecutors

We have long been assured that state governments treat the death penalty with the utmost reverence and solemnity. There are lots of checks and balances to prevent the execution of innocent people. Prosecutors are extra careful to dot every "i" and cross every "t." Judges provide extra scrutiny. Appeals courts carefully review jury decisions. Defendants are given more than adequate representation. Executions follow strict protocols. And in the end, we're told, only the "worst of the worst" are subject to the ultimate penalty.

We now know, of course, that this is far from the truth. Those checks and balances have utterly failed at keeping frauds and charlatans from using fake science to send defendants to their deaths. In countless cases, prosecutors have been caught withholding exculpatory evidence, engaging in blatant racial discrimination during jury selection and making illegal and inflammatory statements to juries. We've also seen prosecutors, even entire district attorneys' offices, treat executions as a badge of honor.

Some police officials have perfected the art of ginning up fake testimony from dubious jailhouse informants to seal a conviction. Appeals courts are generally uninterested in revisiting the facts of capital convictions, only in seeing to it that trials followed the proper procedures. Criminal defense attorneys have been caught sleeping and drinking through capital cases. Those who are competent tend to be overworked. As we've seen in recent years, most recently in Oklahoma, despite the emphasis on largely symbolic rituals such as last meals and written protocols, the rush to execute often takes priority. Several recent executions have been badly botched, and in some cases were incredibly cruel. Some states are now buying the drugs they use to kill off the black market. Others are passing laws to make the entire process as opaque as possible. This is the most profound power we grant to government, and lawmakers are making it increasingly secretive.

Finally, far from the assertion that only the most violent, dangerous and clearly culpable defendants are sent to die, which people convicted of murder get executed is largely a lottery. We're executing the mentally ill, the mentally disabled and the elderly. In an Oklahoma case recently heard by the Supreme Court, a man who was alleged to have ordered a killing (and who maintains his innocence) was sentenced to death based almost entirely on the testimony of the man who admitted to committing that murder. The actual killer avoided death, largely because of his testimony. Missouri recently executed a man who was missing part of his brain. We've executed accomplices, in some cases while letting the actual killers live. And we've executed plenty of people for whom there was compelling evidence of innocence. In fact, you could argue that the system is more likely to execute the less culpable. The more culpable party is generally more likely to offer to testify against any accomplices. The guilty can sometimes spare themselves death by admitting guilt and taking a plea bargain. Meanwhile, the system tends to be particularly harsh on people who maintain their innocence.

I bring all of this up because a recent story out of Alabama may be the best example yet of just how un-seriously death penalty states treat capital cases. From the Marshall Project:

The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering whether to take up the case of [Doyle Lee] Hamm, an intellectually disabled and possibly brain-damaged man who was sentenced to death in 1987 for killing a motel clerk during a robbery. Doyle went to his fate after a rushed trial marked by an anemic defense and constitutionally murky decisions by prosecutors and the judge. That's sadly common in Alabama.

What happened next also is common in Alabama - but pretty much nowhere else.

12 years after Hamm was sentenced to death, an Alabama judge rejected an attempt by his new attorneys to win another sentencing hearing for their client. The lawyers wanted to present facts from Hamm's grim life that might have convinced a jury not to impose death - so-called mitigation evidence - that Hamm's 1st lawyer failed to unearth during his trial. That, too, happens all the time.

But in turning down the appeal, the judge exposed the entire process as a sham. He signed an 89-page order written entirely by the Alabama Attorney General's Office - and did it within 1 business day of receiving it. He didn't even take the time to cross off the word "Proposed" in the title, "Proposed Memorandum Opinion." Hamm's attorneys allege the judge never read the opinion before signing it, and no state attorney has ever refuted that.

This was to determine Hamm's sentencing, not his guilt or innocence. (Hamm’s guilt isn't really disputed, though he, too, may be mentally ill.) Still. The judge couldn't even write his own opinion? He couldn't even read the state's brief before adopting it as his order?

This is just 1 instance, you might say. It was a lazy judge. That isn't an indictment of the death penalty in general. But as Andrew Cohen explains, what happened in the Hamm case is actually common in Alabama.

In support of Hamm, a group of former Alabama judges and past state bar presidents told the justices in Washington that it is routine practice in Alabama for prosecutors to write proposed orders for judges in capital cases. In 2003, a study found that in 17 of 20 recent capital cases the judge had denied relief in orders written entirely by prosecutors.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to take up the case. That it's even up for debate speaks volumes about all of that reverence and solemnity with which the criminal-justice system allegedly treats the death penalty.

(source: Radley Balko, Washington Post)


Louisiana governor signs law reallocating money from death penalty appeals to local public defenders

Amid high-profile problems with its indigent defense funding, the state of Louisiana is revamping how its existing funds are allocated.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a law on Monday that changes how Louisiana's Public Defender Board allocates its funds. The law guarantees that at least 65 % of state funding for indigent defense would go to local offices. Currently, those local offices are receiving about 50 % of the funding.

Indigent defense funding is a major concern in Louisiana at the moment. As of March, 33 of the state's 42 public defender offices had started refusing cases, using waitlists or otherwise restricting services. Among those is the Orleans Public Defenders, whose district includes New Orleans, which was sued over its waiting lists in January by the ACLU. The lawsuit, which also names the head of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, argues that Louisiana has failed to adequately fund indigent defense at the state level.

That caused a backlash from some Louisiana prosecutors, who argued that funding is sufficient, but that the state Public Defender Board is moving money around to manufacture a funding crisis with the ultimate goal of abolishing the death penalty, according to the Advocate. Louisiana State Public Defender Jay Dixon denies this. Although capital cases are less than 1 % of all Louisiana criminal cases, Dixon says about 28 % of the board's budget goes to death penalty cases, which are notoriously slow and expensive.

The new law doesn't change the total amount allocated to the Louisiana Public Defender Board, but it affect how much of the state money can be allocated to capital cases. It also doesn't address local funding, which is the bulk of public defender offices' funding and comes mostly from local traffic tickets and court fees. As a result, Dixon told the Times-Picayune in April, this law doesn't address the underlying funding problem. It could help create more stability in funding for local offices, which could helpful for them - but it's also likely to slow down death penalty cases.

The Chief Justice of Louisiana, Bernette Johnson, told the state legislature in March that insufficient funding for public defenders could cost the state more in the long run because it puts convictions at risk of being retried or reversed, reported the Times-Picayune in an earlier story. A judge in New Orleans ruled in April that the state must release seven defendants accused of serious crimes because they had been held without counsel for several months.

(source: ABA Journal)


Both Sides of Debate React to Death Penalty Ruling

Arkansas' Supreme Court has upheld a relatively new and controversial death penalty law that could mean lethal injections will resume soon.

But questions remain about what will happen to 8 inmates already cleared for execution and 26 others on death row.

The decision came down 4-3 on the most crucial parts of the case overriding a lower court ruling saying Arkansas' death penalty procedure is unconstitutional.

After the ruling, both sides of the death penalty debate weighed in.

"It's the law," said State Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, who sponsored the 2015 legislation setting the 3-drug protocol to be used in lethal injections. It also provides public disclosure exemptions keeping secret the drug suppliers.

"The people have expressed their opinion, and the supreme court has ruled," he said.

"Everyone at the coalition was surprised," said Furonda Brasfield, executive director of Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "We were saddened by the ruling."

Lawyers representing death row inmates challenged the law, but the state supreme court says it does not violate protections for due process or against cruel and unusual punishment.

Last summer, the Arkansas Department of Correction acquired lethal injection drugs, but some are set to expire June 30, and supreme court rulings usually don't become final for 18 days

Therefore, it appears Arkansas will need to acquire new lethal injection drugs to resume executions.

That could be difficult as some suppliers have been reluctant to sell to states for use in administering the death penalty.

In the meantime, a lawyer for death row inmates says he plans to petition the supreme court for a rehearing.

"Once the stay has been lifted, I will inform the governor of the inmates that have exhausted all their appeals," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said during a phone interview on Thursday. "We'll ask that execution dates be set for those inmates."



Arkansas governor applauds execution ruling

A spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he applauds the Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling that upheld the state's execution secrecy law.

Spokesman J.R. Davis says Hutchinson believes the lower court judge had overstepped his authority by saying the state must disclose information about the drugs. Davis says Hutchinson is talking with the attorney general's office to determine "the appropriate next steps."

Hutchinson set dates in September for what would have been the state's 1st executions since 2005. Court challenges to different execution protocols and issues obtaining drugs had stalled executions.

Arkansas would have 7 days to conduct the 8 pending executions before its supply of vecuronium bromide, the paralytic in the 3-drug protocol, expires on June 30.


Death row inmates' attorney to seek rehearing

An attorney for the death row inmates who challenged Arkansas' execution secrecy law says he anticipates filing a petition for a rehearing due to the state Supreme Court's decision to uphold the law's constitutionality.

The court ruled in a split 4-3 decision Thursday to uphold the law and dismiss the inmates' challenge.

Jeff Rosenzweig represents 9 death row inmates, including eight whose executions have been stayed while the court heard the challenge.

He says he does not know when the petition would be filed.

1 of the drugs needed for the state's execution protocol expires on June 30.

(source for both: Associated Press)


There is no argument for keeping the death penalty in Utah

"Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy." -- William Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice"

If justice costs more, we pay for justice. If justice costs less - a lot less - we are, as the Bard said, "twice blest."

Last week, some members of the Utah Legislature were putting themselves though some unsightly, if not uncomfortable, contortions to try to get around the fact that carrying out the death penalty in Utah - and everywhere else in the United States - costs more than a life sentence.

How much more? About $1.6 million more per case.

That's because any sense of justice requires that the ultimate penalty not be dispensed sloppily. That every possible legal argument, every piece of evidence, every safeguard against the most ghastly of legal errors, be set in motion before the state commits an act of irreparable violence.

The state's own budget analysts and lawyers told the members of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee that those costs, borne by taxpayers in the counties where the cases are tried, are not something the Legislature has the power to influence.

They are the result of rules imposed by the federal court system. Any desire state officials may have to shorten the process, perhaps reducing the cost, simply will not happen.

And that is as it should be. While the chances of putting the wrong person to death are smaller in Utah than they are in the states (Texas, Florida) where the death house is practically an assembly line, no state should pride itself on the quick turn-around of its capital punishment machine.

The analysis also suggests that local prosecutors seek the death penalty in fewer and fewer eligible cases. Whether that's because of the cost to taxpayers, the additional emotional burden imposed on the families of murder victims or just disgust with the very idea of state-sanctioned homicide, the decision of which accused killers face the death penalty and which do not are increasingly a lottery that has little to do with justice.

Utah would obviously be better off following through on the effort that was made in the last session of the Legislature to just abolish the death penalty. The kind of conservative thinking that Utah politicians pride themselves on should have led to the realization that there is nothing at all conservative about giving the state, which is supposedly not competent enough to do much of anything, the power to kill people.

Keeping the death penalty would also lead to further debate over just how to do the deed. Lethal injection has proven to be anything but humane. Drug makers, who don't want their products associated with death, are less and less willing to provide the fatal concoctions.

And Utah's old firing squad is a relic of a brutal age that casts the state in the most negative light before the world.

The legal, ethical and financial arguments necessary to make the death penalty seem like anything other that what it is - thuggish, expensive vengeance that harms everyone it touches - are getter harder and harder to make, or believe.

It's time to end this practice, once and for all.

(source: Editorial, Salt Lake Tribune)


Judge: DA will stay in Baby Sophia case

As the battle between prosecutors and the defense continues, a Tulare County judge refused to remove the District Attorney's Office from a case involving the brutal death of an Exeter toddler.

Judge Joseph Kalashian denied a motion made by the public defender to remove the DA from prosecuting Christopher Cheary, a man accused of killing a toddler. If granted, prosecutors would have had to come in from an outlying area.

Cheary, 25, is charged with the 2011 death of 3-year-old child Sophia Acosta. Prosecutors added special allegations that Cheary committed forcible lewd acts on the toddler, which attributed to her death.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which the defense is also fighting to be tossed.

The defense argued in court on Thursday that due to the District Attorney Tim Ward's involvement at a bench dedication in Sophia's honor, prosecutors should be removed from the case. Additionally, they requested the judge change the venue of the trial to a different county.

"The district attorney chose to participate and speak at the bench dedication," Supervising Attorney Angela Krueger said. "They chose politics over justice."

The program for the event stated, "Bench dedication to honor the well-being of children". Although District Attorney Tim Ward and now Judge Anthony Fultz spoke during the rally, neither mentioned Sophia's name, according to prosecutors.

Photos of Sophia were placed at the podium and the only name mentioned during the event was Sophia's, the defense said. Additionally, her father, Obadiah Acosta, spoke while members of Sophias family presented the bench to the city of Farmersville.

"Standing together with county and state officials, including a judge, is a violation of the Eighth Amendment," Krueger said. "There is an obligation to ensure fair administration of justice."

Krueger said Ward and Fultz crossed an ethical line by participating in the event. The recusal wasn't a punishment but was a remedy, said Krueger.

"Would you say it was ill advised for the DA to be present knowing they were going to talk about Sophia?" Kalashian asked Heather Gimle of the Attorney General's Office.

"I will not concede that," Gimle replied. "District Attorney's don't have to be indifferent toward victim crimes. It's the role of the judge and jury to be impartial."

Gimle went on to state reasons for a district attorney's rescual, which included being a victim or witness in a case being tried.

"This is a highly disfavorable remedy," Gimle said. "I would ask the court to deny the motion."

The prosecution seconded those comments.

"The bench didn't say, 'dedicated to the person who killed Sophia Acosta,'" Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos said. "The issue they were addressing was stopping the abuse of children."

Kalashian denied the Krueger's motion to remove the DA's office and a motion by the defense to prohibit the death penalty based on evidence that the harvesting of Sophia's organs affected autopsy results.

The defense requested a hearing for 2 additional motions, a change of venue and to discuss the death penalty. Kalashian granted the request and scheduled the hearing for July 13 in Department 5.

Sophia's death and the arrest of Cheary:

--Officers arrived on May 7, 2011 at an Exeter apartment complex in the 800 block of West Visalia Road. There they found 3 people - Sophia's mother Erica Smith, Cheary and a neighbor.

--Sophia dies at on May 11 at Valley Children's Hospital from extensive internal bleeding in the brain and other injuries.

--An autopsy showed that the child died from blunt force trauma to the head. Reports also showed the child was sexually assaulted prior to her head being hit.

--Formal charges were filed on June 1, 2011 against Cheary, who faces 1st-degree murder.

--A jury trial has been set for Aug. 22 in Department 5.

(source: Visalia Times-Delta)


Cop killer must die: High court rejects appeal

The California Supreme Court Thursday upheld a man's death sentence for murdering a Maywood police officer and the owner of a Van Nuys market during a 5-month crime spree.

The state's highest court rejected the defense's contention that there were errors in Edgardo Sanchez's trial for the May 4, 1992, killing of Lee Chul Kim, the owner of Woodley Market in Van Nuys, and the May 29, 1992, killing of Maywood Police Officer John Hoglund, shot while responding to a silent alarm activated during a robbery at George's Market in Maywood.

Along with the murders, Sanchez was convicted of 1 count of attempted murder, 2 counts each of attempted robbery and assault with a stun gun, 5 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 26 counts of robbery stemming from takeover-style robberies starting on New Year's Eve of 1991 at a Sun Valley bar and stretching through mid-1992 at businesses in Paramount, South Gate and Maywood.

The state's highest court overturned Sanchez's conviction on a robbery count involving 1 of the 5 employees at a Van Nuys supermarket in April 1992, noting that the employee could not be located to testify at Sanchez's trial and finding that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction on that charge.

Sanchez was sentenced to death in March 1995, telling a judge and relatives of his victims, "I deserve it."

"I ask that the victims forgive me," he said through an interpreter. "At that time, I did not know what I was doing. I had no respect for God and I had no knowledge of love."

Sanchez - who testified during the penalty phase of his trial that he had undergone a religious conversion in jail - told jurors that he shot Kim only after the grocer shot him first, Chin noted in the ruling.

Kim dropped the keys to the store's cash drawer and a money bag he had been carrying after returning from a bank and tried to close a freezer door, then pleaded with a man identified by 2 of the store's employees as Sanchez not to do anything to him, according to the ruling. Kim was shot eight times by 2 different guns, and evidence indicated that he managed to get some shots off from his own .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun, according to the ruling.

25 days later, Hoglund's police vehicle was found parked in front of the market in Maywood with his bullet-riddled body partly inside the car with his legs outside and his firearm in its unsnapped holster after he responded to a silent alarm regarding a robbery in progress, according to the ruling. The 46-year-old father of 3, who was shot 3 times, was the 1st Maywood police officer to die in the line of duty.

On behalf of the panel, Associate Justice Ming W. Chin wrote that "eyewitness identifications were far from the only evidence connecting defendant to the crimes."

"He was caught on videotape robbing George's Market," Chin wrote.

The justices noted that Sanchez "literally ran out of his shoe" after robbing a restaurant in Paramount on May 17, 1992.

"The ballistics evidence, together with other evidence, strongly showed that defendant was the gunman who fired shots during 3 of the robberies," Chin wrote.

Co-defendants Benjamin Navarro and Jose Contreras, who were charged along with him in many of the crimes, also were convicted. They were sentenced to life in prison.



Foe of death penalty takes message to Oregon

The Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr. carried his message against the death penalty to like-minded abolitionists in Oregon.

"There is nothing personally redemptive or socially transformative about the death penalty," Sullivan said Wednesday (June 22) at the annual banquet of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"It calls for its adherents to be so consumed by their dark night of vengeance until they cannot embrace the bright dawn of hope that illuminates a path toward healing and reconciliation.

"This is why it is important for people who have lost loved ones to murder, and supported by allies and friends, to poignantly tell and retell our stories and speak our truths - even with tears in our eyes and shaking knees - about why we enthusiastically oppose the death penalty."

The banquet attracted more than 100, including former Gov. John Kitzhaber, to Madeleine Parish Hall in Portland.

Sullivan is executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation - and he is more than just its top official. His younger sister, Jennifer, was murdered in 1997.

Before his current position, Sullivan has been a religious leader, including executive minister of Northwest churches in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination.

About 3,000 inmates in the United States - 33 men and 1 woman in Oregon, according to the Department of Corrections - are on death row.

"We agree that murder is immoral and wrong," Sullivan said. "Yet there are many among us, particularly in 31 states and the federal government, who argue that the best and most appropriate way for us to proclaim how horrible murder really is is to kill those convicted of murder."

The eventual aim of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is to persuade Oregon voters to repeal the state’s death penalty, which voters reinstated by a constitutional amendment in 1984. Since the state assumed responsibility for executions in 1903, voters have gone back and forth on the issue.

Although the tone of his talk was largely somber, Sullivan quoted from Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" to make a point about what political candidates say: "People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear."

In a reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sullivan said:

"Some political camps at this very moment are vowing to take back this country - and who knows who stole it? - and make America great again by leading us through always rocky and unstable terrain of racial profiling, ethnic scapegoating, and religious bigotry. To many, these are green, beautiful, even huge ideas.

"However, if you are an observer in possession of a green thumb, you know they are just weeds rooted in confined creativity and old, tired, moldy and leftover thinking."

Oregon opponents

Sullivan was introduced by Becky O'Neil McBrayer, who is active in the national and state organizations, and whose mother and stepfather died in 2006 at the hands of her 25-year-old brother, Joseph O'Neil. O'Neil, who McBrayer said was mentally ill, was sentenced in 2007 to life without parole as the result of a plea agreement and is housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

McBrayer, now program director at Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church in downtown Portland, told her full story at the 2015 meeting of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"Reconciliation means that you cannot undo murder," she said. "But you can decide how you want to live afterward."

A surprise guest at the banquet was former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has made few public appearances since he resigned under pressure in February 2015 amid a still-unfinished ethics investigation.

Kitzhaber received two standing ovations for his 2011 moratorium on executions in Oregon - a moratorium that continues under Gov. Kate Brown - although he let 2 executions proceed during his earlier tenure in 1996 and 1997. (Similar actions have been taken by governors in Washington and Colorado.)

"You have stopped the machinery of death in Oregon and we are grateful to you," said Emily Plec, a communications studies professor at Western Oregon University, a member of the advisory council to the state group, and the mistress of ceremonies. "Now it is time for us to finish the job."

Kitzhaber did not speak, and OADP Board Chairman Ron Steiner said he did not know in advance that the former governor would attend.

Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, a longtime foe of Oregon's death penalty and the 2016 recipient of OADP's Sister Helen Prejean Award, said he asked Kitzhaber to attend.

"I have never had to confront this issue like the governor has," Shields said in reference to Kitzhaber's 2011 decision to grant a temporary reprieve to Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to die 2 weeks later if Kitzhaber had not acted. "When I called him, he did not hesitate. He wanted to come here and do what he could to further the cause (of abolition)."

(source: The Portland Tribune)


'Bring back the death penalty'

The family of 20-year-old Janet !Haoses who died under horrific circumstances allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend in Otjomuise want government to amend the constitution to bring back the death penalty.

A relative Claudia Namises, who attended the suspect David Soreseb's 1st court appearance in Katutura yesterday, wants the death penalty to be brought back "because a woman or child is killed every day by men".

But before Namises made her suggestion for the reintroduction of the death penalty a 33-year-old woman died Wednesday evening after she was hacked with an axe on the head, allegedly by her boyfriend in Grootfontein, in another case of savage domestic violence against a woman.

The incident occurred at approximately 20h00 in Blikkiesdorp informal settlement.

Namibian Police Force (NamPol) Otjozondjupa Regional Public Relations Officer, Warrant Officer Maureen Mbeha, yesterday confirmed the latest incident to Nampa. The deceased has been identified as Alexandrina Kashova Shikusho.

The suspect in the Otjomuise case, Soreseb, was denied bail and his case was postponed to September 26 for further investigation and to enable him to apply for legal aid, because of the seriousness of the charge.

Namises queried: "Until when will we ask for stiffer sentences? We really want our president to look into the constitution to be amended. We can't be dying like flies. We can't march to courts every day." Namises also invited President Hage Geingob to attend court proceedings to see how devastating it is for the victim's family.

However, Namises told Soreseb after court proceedings to pray to God as he has caused untold misery to the family - to which the suspect replied in the affirmative.

Soreseb appeared for murdering his girlfriend !Haoses who he had seemingly strangled with electric wire and stabbed several times with a knife. Soreseb had also tied the victim legs while committing these acts. It is further alleged !Haoses was bludgeoned with a hammer.

Another family member Elizabeth !Haoses-Gawanas stared at Soreseb being escorted away by the police after court proceedings and said she felt pity for him, despite the hideous crime he committed.

Nonetheless, !Haoses-Gawanas said the family didn't want him to get bail. "He hurt us badly. Our hearts are broken."

Only a handful of family members were present in court. The deceased's mother, said to be devastated beyond measure, was also not in court.

Public Prosecutor Fillemon Nyau objected to bail being granted to Soreseb, stating that the charge is a serious offence and that the accused might not stand trial as he is suicidal.

He also said the State objects to bail because it is feared the accused might interfere with investigations and intimidate witnesses. It is also not in the interest of the public and administration of justice, Nyau added.

Nyau said the matter enjoyed media coverage hence the accused's safety is also a concern to the State as community members might take the law into their own hands.

Nyau requested that as threats have been made against Soreseb, he be transferred from Katutura police holding cells to Hosea Kutako holding cells for his own safety.

Magistrate Michelle Bernedine Kubersky presided.

(source: New Era)


Gov't under pressure as National Assembly adopts controversial penal code

Lawyers marched in North west Cameroon on Thursday to protest the adoption of a revised controversial penal code heavily criticised by the opposition and the civil society.

Controversy surrounds section 127 which critics say gives immunity to members of government while in office.

"My attachment to human and Republican values will not let me remain silent in the face of several unconstitutional provisions which are in debate for adoption at this time in Yaounde. Because the immunity of ministers (Section 127) is contrary to good governance and the transparency of public finances. Imprisoning citizens because they owe 2 months of rents is a dispute which can be resolved by civil remedies instead of inserting drastic sanction in our penal code," Joshua Osih, Member of parliament and vice-president of Cameroon's opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, argued.

The minister of justice defended the section by arguing that government ministers have to enjoy this favour since they carry out instructions of the Head of state.

Legal experts have also been speaking out about the issues raised by the revised penal code bill.

"I would like to be categorical that it is a false alarm to assert that the bill currently before parliament confers immunity on members of government. Everyone with a reasonable command of the English language would not contend that the bill merely does provide that, where any law may confer immunity on "a member of government", inter alia, any judicial, legal or investigating police officer who conducts themselves contrary to the law so conferring immunity shall be punished. Much as there are sections of the bill we can make issue with, or even take exception to, the claim that the bill confers immunity on members of government is wholly fallacious or misconstrued," outspoken Supreme Court judge, Ayah Paul Abine wrote on his facebook page after comparing the controversial section 127 with that of 1967.

Opposition members of parliament have also decried the fact that the bill on the penal code gives the green light for judges to imprison tenants who owe up to 2 months of rents.

The government has also been under increasing pressure to remove the death penalty.

Other areas of discord between the government and critics of the bill on the penal code are related to bride price, homosexuality and adultery.

The amendment will open the way for the prosecution of adulterous husbands, who just like wives found guilty of adultery could spend 6 years in jail and pay fines ranging from 25.000FCFA to 100.000FCFA.

Unless the government decides otherwise, if adopted by the senate, the penal code will be signed into law by the president of the Republic.

The ruling Cameroon's People's Democratic Movement enjoys a comfortable majority in the senate where government bills usually sail through with relative ease.

The Cameroon Bar Association has called on the government to withdraw the bill and submit for national dialogue.

(source: Africa News)


Capital punishment for a minor

The Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the death sentence given in a lay judge trial to a 24-year-old man for murders he committed when he was a minor raises questions about the lay judge trial system and capital punishment. These include whether the lay judges correctly understood the spirit of the Juvenile Law in sentencing the defendant to death. It was the 1st death sentence handed down on a minor in a lay judge trial.

The murders took place in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in 2010 when Yutaro Chiba was 18 - meaning he fell under the purview of the Juvenile Law. Chiba was convicted of entering his ex-girlfriend's house and stabbing to death the girl's sister and a female friend of the girl with a butcher knife, seriously injuring a male friend of the sister and abducting the girl. Prosecutors said Chiba killed the victims because they were trying to separate him and his former girlfriend.

Since Chiba pleaded no contest to the key facts presented by the prosecution, the severity of punishment was the main issue in the trial, which was handled by a team of three professional and 6 lay judges, at the Sendai District Court. In its November 2010 ruling, the court said that in view of the heinousness of his crimes, the fact that Chiba was a minor at the time did not constitute sufficient reason to avoid capital punishment. The decision was upheld in 2014 in an appellate trial handled solely by professional judges at the Sendai High Court.

The district court trial lasted 11 days. 5 hearings were held and the judges spent two days deciding on the penalty. During the trial, Chiba's lawyers argued that he was mentally immature, that his crimes were not premeditated and that a doctor's record of his examination pointed to the possibility that he could be rehabilitated. A legitimate question is whether the judges had enough time to examine the family environment of the accused and whatever reflection he had over his crimes. It must be asked whether the judges had fully considered and discussed the prospect of his rectification, in view of the Juvenile Law's main principle of helping problem youths achieve rehabilitation.

Chiba's family was fatherless. Under the Juvenile Law, a family court can send a minor to prosecutors if its judges deem such a move is appropriate. But the law also says that in examining the behavior of a minor and his or her personal history and family environment, a family court should use the expertise of medicine, psychology, pedagogy and other branches of learning. Regarding a crime committed by a minor who is under the age of 18, a court cannot hand down a death sentence.

The Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry should consider whether lay judge trials, whose durations tend to be short, are suitable for handling serious crimes committed by minors. They also should think about whether it is appropriate to have lay judges participate in trials that may result in giving the death penalty because experience shows that handing down such a sentence puts an enormous psychological burden on lay judges.

In 1983, the Supreme Court adopted a criterion comprising nine factors for sentencing someone to death, which said in a nutshell that a court can hand down the death penalty only when it is unavoidable in view of the gravity of the crimes of the accused. Under this criterion, the age of defendants when they commit their crimes was considered a key factor in trials involving minors. But this trend changed when the Supreme Court in 2006 remanded the case involving the 1999 murder in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, of a 23-year-old woman and her baby daughter by a boy - who had just turned 18 - to the Hiroshima High Court. The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for him in 2012.

The judges in the Sendai trial are likely to have followed the trend set by the top court's handling of the Hikari case. In supporting the lower court rulings, the Supreme Court's First Petty Bench in a 5-0 ruling pointed out that in view of the serious nature of the crimes - that 2 people were murdered out of the accused's selfish motive - his criminal responsibility was extremely heavy even though he was a minor when he committed the murders and had no prior record.

The tendency to impose tougher punishment on crimes committed by minors appears to have set in. Through revisions of the Juvenile Law, the minimum age at which minors can face criminal punishment has been lowered from 16 years of age to 14 and the upper limit for a fixed prison term was raised from 15 years to 20. The Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry should rouse public discussions on whether imposing stricter punishment, including hanging, on minors will really contribute to reducing crimes by providing concrete data as well as information on how other countries cope with crimes by minors.

(source: Editorial, The Japan Times)


UN drugs agency report ignores global drug execution crisis

A new report by the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) fails to mention the use of the death penalty for drug crimes, despite a surge in executions of alleged drug offenders in countries where the UN agency funds counter-narcotics police.

UNODC unveiled its 2016 World Drug Report yesterday (23 June 2016) and warned that the number of drug users has risen worldwide. However, the 174-page document included no reference to the increased number of death sentences and executions in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, says the human rights organisation Reprieve.

While the UNODC's report lamented the number of deaths from drugs overdoses, it made no reference to the 638 alleged drug offenders who were hanged in Iran last year, up from 367 in 2014. UNODC recently announced a new $20 million funding deal for Iranian drug operations, which will support law enforcement training and equipment that has previously been linked to arrests and executions.

Earlier this year, 56 countries, including all 28 EU member states, signed a statement condemning the failure of a UNODC-administered summit to address the death penalty for drug crimes.

The statement also appeared to warn the UNODC over its human rights record, noting the need to "prevent criminal justice or other forms of international assistance resulting in a death sentence being applied, and to hold international agencies to account for compliance with this and all other human rights obligations."

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's Death Penalty Team, said: "The UN's World Drug Report completely ignores the global resurgence in the death penalty for drug crimes, which has seen states like Iran and Saudi Arabia execute hundreds of alleged drug offenders.

"This seems all too convenient an omission given that the body which authored the report, the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime, continues to fund Iranian and Pakistani drug raids which routinely send drug mules to death row."

She concluded: "Instead of whitewashing the world's drug executions crisis, UNODC should face up to its human rights responsibilities, and freeze its support for drug police in countries which apply the death penalty for narcotics offenses."



Mcweeney Says He Doubts Political Will To Ensure Death Penalty Is Carried Out

CONSTITUTIONAL Commission Chairman Sean McWeeney said yesterday that he doubts political leaders would be able to amass the political will needed to have the death penalty carried out despite widespread public support.

Mr McWeeney, QC, pointed to a significant philosophical divide among high-ranking Bahamians that cut across party lines as he contemplated the viability of calls for the government to enforce hangings.

He maintained that the only chance legislators had in ensuring capital punishment laws were enforced is to amend the Constitution.

"We recommended it might be worth the effort to amend the Constitution with the view to tying the hands of Privy Council," he said.

"That will be done by basically specifying the kinds of cases that would be worst of the worst rather than leaving to Privy Council to decided what is worst. I think philosophically the Privy Council is opposed to the death penalty and they will keep moving the goal post on you.

"The only hope you have is putting it in the Constitution specifying the criteria."

"They (the Privy Council) have demonstrated such intellectual ingenuity," he said, "they are in effect making social policy for The Bahamas and it stems from a deeply rooted philosophical objection to capital punishment. They think it's primitive and that they have a duty to bring us to new enlightenment."

His comments follow pronouncements by Opposition Leader Dr Hubert Minnis that the necks of "murderous scumbags" in the country must be "popped". Dr Minnis renewed his full support for capital punishment as he castigated the Christie administration for failing "miserably" in its obligation to keep Bahamians safe.

Mr McWeeney said he personally believes that capital punishment would have a deterrent effect in a small society like the Bahamas, if only impacting crimes committed by reoffenders.

He said: "I think a part of the problem is that both within government and the FNM there are a number of persons, high ranking persons, who also have philosophical objections to capital punishment. Unlike the issue of gender equality this is a true conscience vote. I don’t think you'll see the whip applied on this matter because there are politicians who are against capital punishment on moral grounds, and that also may be an impediment to getting the political will together.

"I know there are members in both camps that have a very deep opposition. There is no question if you do a referendum you would get 90 % support for it."

The last person executed in the Bahamas was David Mitchell in January 2000.

He was convicted of stabbing 2 German tourists to death.

Mitchell's execution was controversial because it was carried out while he had an appeal pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

International criticism of the move was followed by a moratorium on capital punishment, which lasted until the Privy Council's decision in the case of Maxo Tido.

In June 2011, the high court overturned 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".

Several months later, Parliament passed legislation to define the types of murder constituting the "worst of the worst" guidelines set out by the London court.

However, Mr McWeeney explained that the amendments to the Penal Code were inferior in the scope of the Privy Council.

During the 2016 Legal Year Opening Ceremony, Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley declared that "the death penalty is virtually dead."

Sir Hartman said it would take a massacre similar to the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris for the death penalty to be imposed in the Bahamas.

In the Paris attack, 12 people were killed after gunmen burst into the satirical magazine's office.

Yesterday, Mr McWeeney said: "It's a difficult situation to deal with because when the Privy Council sits on Bahamian cases it's doing so as a Bahamian court, it's constitutionally our final court. The problem is because of the composition of the Privy Council they will inevitably be influenced by whatever the prevailing social policies are in Britain and the First World.

"But even if we were to move to the Caribbean Court of Justice there is nothing in their jurisprudence which would suggest that they would do so, that may be a false hope.

"It's good to talk about it," he said, "(but) the only chance you have of reinstating it is by constitutionalising it."



Foreign Minister Calls on Leaders to Have Courage to Abolish Death Penalty

According to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera Legislators and jurors in Asian states including Sri Lanka, where the death penalty is yet to be abolished are unwilling to take the necessary steps to abolish the death penalty.

Addressing the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty at Opera House of Oslo yesterday the foreign minister said, "The unwillingness is expressed as they fear the knee-jerk reaction of a un-informed public opinion".

According to the Minister the common challenge faced by them today is persuading the respective people. Perhaps more importantly is having the collective courage to lead by acting.

However, changing public opinion is a time consuming and resource intensive process. And the evidence points out that, despite persistent advocacy, public opinion on the subject of the death penalty is relatively static in many countries.

Therefore, overcoming this key challenge requires an act of political courage.

According to the Minister, the Momentum is slowly building in Asia, where statistically more executions take place than anywhere in the world combined.

In South-East Asia the number of executions has declined significantly, in South Asia there have been both short and long de facto moratoria.

In 2007, twenty four Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium.

In 2014 that number had declined to 18.

The Minister added that Minister of Justice has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favor of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing with the 4 decades long de facto moratorium.

During his speech, the Minister pointed out occasions, where through history measures had been taken by Sri Lanka to abolish the death penalty.



Malawi Parliament approves bill moved by MCP MP on stiffer penalties for albino killers

Members of Parliament (MPs) have passed a motion moved by Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) to amend the Anatomy Act to attract stiffer penalties for perpetrators of abduction and killing of people with albinism.

Most MPs spokes in supported the bill, saying people found guilty of killing persons with albinism should be slapped with life imprisonment or face the death penalty.

Chimwendo Banda said the bill will help punish people involved in rituals and deter unauthorised possession of human tissues.

He noted that in view of the continued killing of people with albinism and cognisance of the fact that the current penal provisions aimed at deterring would-be offenders are not having the desired effect, the amended of the Anatomy Act would help deter all would-be offenders from committing such offences.

Salima North West MP, Jessie Kabwila (MCP) said the bills will demonstrate the kick-start of solving the problem of ritual murders.

"We don't have the luxury of waiting," said Kabwila.

"This is a bill which should have been passed yesterday," she said.

Mulanje South MP, Bon Kalindo who has been advocation for death penalty and earlier on marched 'half-naked' to push for the same, supported the bill.

"Time has come , we need to do something," he said.

Kalindo said the bill should be supported even by government despite originating from opposition lawmaker in a private members motion.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the Anatomy Act is part of the larger Bill whose drafting has been concluded.

"We are developing a proper and appropriate legislation that will cover all issues," said Tembenu.

The minister added that the Disability Act, Human Trafficking, Child Justice Act and the Anatomy Act would also be amended in the Penal Code.

The faculty of law at the University of Malawi's Chancellor College recently faulted the Anatomy Act for the seemingly lighter sentences meted to perpetrators of crimes against people with albinism.



Belarus to attend PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy session

MP of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, head of the National Assembly's delegation on contacts with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Nikolai Samoseiko has gone to Strasbourg on a visit to the PACE headquarters, BelTA learnt from the House of Representatives.

The visit of the Belarusian MP will last until 25 June. Nikolai Samoseiko will take part in a meeting of the PACE Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and the international seminar on death penalty.

Nikolai Samoseiko is also set to hold bilateral meetings with PACE representatives, foreign MPs and officials of the Council of Europe.

(source: Belarusian Telegraph Agency)


40 neophyte lawmakers take course on legislation

Some 40 neophyte lawmakers are prepared to pass legislative measures that would improve the socio-economic conditions of their constituents and protect human rights after completing yesterday the 4-day Executive Course on Legislation.

Actor-turned-Manila Representative-elect John Marvin "Yul Servo" Nieto, one of the "graduates", vowed to familiarize himself with the lawmaking process and pursue the passage of measures that would benefit the poor.

"I will work hard and push for the approval of the measures (ordinances) which I filed as a city councilor of Manila," he told reporters.

Nieto is one of the authors of the ordinance that strictly requires all law enforcement authorities to coordinate with the barangay and the city government before launching a legitimate operation. The ordinance was approved by the city council of Manila last year.

Ilocos Sur Rep.-elect Deogracias Victor "DV" Savellano, who was accompanied by his wife, actress Dina Bonnevie, said he would re-file a bill declaring his district as an economic zone.

He also pledged to actively take part in the budget process, citing Congress' crucial "power of the purse."

"The executive course is very helpful. We have to undergo this training even though we were experienced members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. My work now has a wider, national scope," Savellano, former vice governor, said.

Another member of the graduates, Bulacan Rep.-elect Jose Antonio "Jonathan" Sy-Alvarado, said he will seek the passage of the Magna Carta for the Poor to provide comprehensive assistance to his most needy constituents. The Magna Carta for the Poor was among the 80 bills vetoed by President Aquino.

Commenting on the proposed death penalty, Alvarado said he will consult his district leaders on this. "We are still gauging the sentiment of our constituents. The voice of my constituents matter so I will consult the leaders in the first district on this," he said


Kabayan party-list Representative-elect Harry L. Roque will work for the approval of measures that would safeguard and protect human rights, even as he renewed opposition against President Durterte's proposed death penalty by hanging.

He said the criminal justice system should be further strengthened and that the law enforcement agencies should be reminded of observing the rule of law, while hunting down criminal suspects.

Roque, a human rights lawyer, will bat for the compensation of human rights victims including journalists massacred in Maguindanao in November, 2009 when the 17th Congress opens on July 25.

"We should protect human rights, the rights of journalists. We will pursue measures that will preserve and protect human life," he said.

He also registered his opposition against Mr. Duterte's plan to lower the minimum age for child prosecution from 15 to 12.

"It is difficult for me to decide whether I would join the majority because I am against the proposals of the incoming administration," he said.

(source: Manila Bulletin)


Rody gov't promises 'conversation' over death penalty

The call for the restoration of the death penalty by president-elect Rodrigo Duterte would likely spark a debate on the morality and practicality of imposing extreme punishment, incoming presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday.

Abella, a former pastor, said he expects critics and supporters of capital punishment to have a "conversation" about the issue.

When asked how Duterte intends to push for the death penalty in a predominantly Catholic country, Abella said: "I'm sure there will be conversation regarding that. The conversation has to go through a process.

"Definitely there is a goal and the law must be imposed and implemented to its full powers, to its full limits," he added.

"There is law and it is a deterrent. But if the law is broken, there should be order."

Abella noted the statements made by Pope Francis regarding capital punishment.

Francis said in a video message on Tuesday that capital punishment is an offense to life, contradicting God's plan and serves no purpose for punishment.

Francis sent a video message to an anti-death penalty congress in Norway, expressing his opposition to the death penalty.

Abella, however, believes the pope was not singling out the Philippines when he issued the statement against the restoration of the death penalty.

"I don't know if it is in direct reference to the government's position. Is it? I don't think it was," he said. "In general, as you very well heard RRD (Duterte) in his speech in Sarangani, he did say his view on death penalty is that it is retribution. It is clear where he stands," he added.

Pope Francis maintained that the death penalty goes against God's plan and applies to both the guilty and the innocent.

The leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics also stressed that capital punishment promotes vengeance rather than justice.

"It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal," the pope said in a video message sent to delegates of the 6th World Congress against capital punishment in Oslo.

"Indeed, nowadays, the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person," the pontiff added.

A total of 140 nations, including the Philippines, have abolished the death penalty. This may change soon, however, as the revival of capital punishment is a priority of the incoming Duterte administration, which has vowed to suppress crime in 3 to 6 months.

The death penalty was scrapped in 1987 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino but was revived 6 years later under her successor Fidel Ramos. Crimes that were punishable by death include kidnapping, murder, drug trafficking and rape.

Capital punishment was abolished anew in 2006 under then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a devout Catholic.

Duterte, who claims to be a believer of God but not of religion, said the death penalty is more of a retribution for criminals rather than a deterrent.

"Death penalty to me is the retribution. It makes you pay for what you did," he said.

Duterte will have at least 2 former preachers in his Cabinet. They are Abella, who founded the religious group The Jesus Fellow Inc., and former rebel priest turned mayor Leoncio Evasco, who will serve as secretary to the Cabinet.

(source: Philippine Star)


Beware, death penalty is an addictive policy

The World Health Organization defines addiction or dependency as a complex health condition that often requires long-term treatment and care. Sadly, that is the case with Indonesia's policy on drug crimes.

To address the global problem of drugs, world leaders and activists gathered on April 19-21 at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in New York. Most countries represented moved from criminalization to decriminalization for personal possession or use. Some opted to regulate drug markets for certain types of drugs, mostly marijuana. Almost all delegates from the EU, Latin America, UN organizations and the special rapporteurs against torture and the right to health agreed to abolish the death penalty for drug offenders.

However, Indonesia was steadfast in preserving the death penalty as an effective measure to deal with drug problems. This stance marks not only a setback in Indonesia's commitment to human rights, but also a flawed reasoning to protect the country from drug trafficking.

Indonesian academics are among those appealing for evidence-based policymaking and the priority for public health in addressing drug problems, as they wrote in the Lancet medical journal last year. However, the current government has decided to start a new wave of executions of death row convicts, mostly drug traffickers.

The state indeed needs strong efforts in law enforcement and public health to reduce the negative consequences of drug trafficking. However, claiming that waging a war on drugs through executions is a powerful strategy to eliminate drug trafficking is even more dangerous. The excessive use of executions only demonstrates the country's failure to control drug problems.

National Narcotics Agency (BNN) chief Comr. Gen. Budi Waseso admitted the failure, saying that despite the executions, the number of drug use cases increased from 4.2 million in June 2015 to 5.9 million in November 2015.

The UN has called for the abolition of the death penalty for drug offenses due to the lack of a threshold to fulfill the "serious crime" category, based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

From 1979 to 2008 Indonesia executed at least 60 convicts, mostly convicted murderers and terrorists. Since 2014, executions were performed on drug convicts based on the drug emergency narrative. Death sentences have been on the rise without a guarantee of when and how this policy will be evaluated objectively and stopped if the policy goes wrong.

The war on drugs is an abstract reason for a state to deal with real problems in society where corruption, poverty, racism and marginalization of its own people are rampant. Drug trafficking may not disappear, but the crimes should be governed in an orderly way.

The disproportionate use of the death penalty requires scrutiny. In previous death sentences such as for Mary Jane Veloso of the Philippines, Rodrigo Gularte of Brazil and Indonesian Zainal Abidin, there was substantive evidence to show that capital punishment undermines the rule of law. Drug mules are at the highest risk under Indonesia's death penalty policy, rather than the drug kingpins.

Human rights outline principles, standards and guidelines to create a clear measure for a state to be able to fulfill its objectives. However, human rights are absent in Indonesia's drug policy framework. We have lost the capability to assess the real situation concerning drug abuse and thus have reacted irresponsibly.

Having assessed the characteristics of dependency, we could assume that Indonesia has faced the serious problem of failing to tackle drug offenses. The death penalty is seen as a quick fix and we have become addicted to it.

A better way to address addiction is proper and appropriate treatment. We can begin the treatment by setting sufficient guidelines and patiently educating ourselves to become aware of our own problems. We need to reform our drug policies and laws and transform them into scientific-based and proper evidence-based ones. In so doing we can capture the real underlying problems of drug offenses.

The treatment needs to be tested, assessed and renewed regularly in order to adequately represent reality.

Above all, respecting human rights is the key to achieving good results. Whatever drug policy approach we choose, human rights should be the mirror for us to set standards and principles.

Hopefully, we can stop the addiction to the death penalty in the long run.

(source: Asmin Fransiska; The writer is a senior lecturer in human rights at Atma Jaya Catholic University's School of Law in Jakarta and a PhD researcher at Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germa----The Jakarta Post)


President Mukherjee rejects mercy plea of 2 convicts of 2007 Jharkhand massacre----Death sentence was given to all the accused in the Jharkhand murder case that happened 9 years ago

The mercy plea of 2 convicts, who killed 8 members of a family including a physically disabled youth in Jharkhand nearly 9 years ago, has been rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee. The President has rejected the plea of the convicts-- Mofil Khan and Mobarak Khan, officials said on Thursday.

The duo had in June 2007 killed Haneef Khan with sharp-edged weapons when he was offering prayers at a mosque in Makandu village under Lohardaga district in the state. After killing him, they murdered his wife and his 6 sons which included the disabled youth. A case was registered by the local police against Mofil and Mobarak and 2 other assailants.

Following the probe, a local court there had given death sentence to all the accused. However, the Jharkhand High Court had upheld death penalty to Mofil and Mubarak and modified the sentence to life term for the 2 others. The Supreme Court in its final judgement in October 2014 also upheld the death penalty given to the convicts.

A mercy petition was then filed before the President through the Home Ministry. The plea, which was received in December last year at the President's secretariat, seeking mercy has been rejected by Mukherjee, they said.

After taking over as the President in July 2012, Mukherjee has rejected 26 mercy pleas so far including those of 26/11 terror case convict Ajmal Kasab and 1993 blast case convict Yakub Memon. The death sentence in 2 cases has been commuted to life by the President.

2 mercy petitions of Jeetendra Gehlaut alias Jeetu, convicted for killing5 women and 2 children during a robbery in Maharashtra, and Shabnam, who was convicted for killing 7 members of her family at Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, are pending with the President.


JUNE 23, 2016:


Public defender demands DA's recusal

The man accused of killing an Exeter toddler has been behind bars for the last 5 years. In August, a jury will decide if that's where Christopher Cheary will stay.

A jury trial has been set for Aug. 22 in Department 5 of Tulare County Superior Court.

Cheary is charged with the gruesome death of a 3-year-old child, Sophia Acosta. There are also special allegations that he committed forcible lewd acts on the child, which contributed to her death.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Cheary was in court on Tuesday where his public defender argued against a motion, filed by prosecutors, to reveal the names of additional subpoenaed witnesses.

"At this point we have disclosed all the witnesses we intend to call." Supervising Attorney Angela Krueger said. "We don't think we need to call those witnesses."

The defense will release witness names in a timely manner if they are subpoenaed, she said.

"This completely undermines the whole concept of a fair trial for the people," Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos said. "If they intend to call a witness they have to disclose that witness."

Judge Joseph A. Kalashian denied the motion by the district attorney.

"I'm relying on your representation of good faith," Kalashian told the defense.

At a hearing today, the defense will argue that due to the district attorney's office involvement at a bench dedication made in Sophia's honor, the DA's office should recuse itself from the case. Additionally, they are requesting the judge toss the possible death penalty sentence, if convicted, and change the venue of the trial to a different county.

"The District Attorney's continued participation in this trial is compromised by its participation in the Farmersville rally," court documents stated.

In April, the Tulare County Child Abuse Prevention Council held a bench dedication in Farmersville in memory of Sophia and all children of abuse. The Council invited a number of public officials including District Attorney Tim Ward, who spoke during the dedication.

"Because of constitutional violations in this case, the court should preclude the death penalty," the motion filed by the public defender stated.

However, the prosecution is arguing there is no evidence of misconduct in this case.

"District Attorney Tim Ward attended the event in support of Child Abuse Awareness Month," court documents stated. "He did not mention Sophia."

--Officers arrived at an Exeter apartment complex in the 800 block of west Visalia Road on May 7, 2011. There they found 3 people - Sophia's mother Erica Smith, Cheary and a neighbor.

--Sophia dies at Children's Hospital Central California, May 11 from internal brain hemorrhage and other injuries.

--An autopsy showed that the child died from blunt force trauma to the head. Reports also showed the child was sexually assaulted prior to her head being hit.

--Formal charges were filed by the district attorney's office against Cheary on June 1, 2011. If convicted, Cheary is facing the death penalty.

(source: Visalia Times Delta)


Iranian stars campaign to save lives of convicts on death row

Celebrities in Iran have joined a campaign to save the lives of convicts on death row, encouraging forgiveness in a country that has one of the world's highest records of executions.

Public figures including Shahab Hosseini, who won the best actor award at this year's Cannes film festival, have thrown their weight behind efforts to persuade families of victims to choose forgiveness over retribution.

Reports from inside Iran show that an increasing number of Iranians held on murder charges are being spared the gallows as the nationwide campaign gains traction.

According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR), which documents Iran's use of the death penalty, the number of people whose lives were saved last year after being pardoned outnumbered those who were known to have been put to death for murder.

Iran's Islamic penal code allows the victim's heir - walli-ye-dam - to personally execute the condemned under qisas (retribution) laws, in some cases even by pushing away the chair the convict is standing on. The same law also allows families to pardon the convict, often in exchange for a financial compensation known as diyah.

A recent event at Tehran's Koroush cinema, which was aimed at raising money for the families who are trying to secure a pardon, attracted big numbers with the likes of Hosseini attending. Also among the crowd were actor Mahtab Keramanti and the country's vice-president for women's affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi. Nearly 60,000 pounds was raised and at least 1 attendee donated her earrings.

Although the convicts in such cases are facing death because of murder or complicity in the crime, activists say people are showing sympathy because they favour forgiveness. Some, but not all, of such prisoners are women who have killed their husbands but activists say they were themselves victims of domestic violence. Others include juvenile offenders who have committed crimes under the age of 18, usually in a street brawl. Maryam Osoli and Sahar Mehabadi are both out of prison after being pardoned in recent months, according to activists.

"This is a welcomed phenomenon," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, an activist from the IHR, told the Guardian on the sidelines of 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo. "People, where they have the possibility, choose forgiveness instead of death penalty."

He added: "Traditionally families of murder victims are encouraged to choose retribution, but here they say no to retribution and refuse to take the responsibility of taking another life. You can see an increasing trend where more people choose forgiveness than retribution." Some Islamic scholars have highlighted that while Qur'an allows qisas, it also encourages forgiveness.

In 1 prison, at least the lives of 6 women have been spared in the past 6 months because activists have been successful in persuading families to accept the diyah. But countrywide numbers are believed to be much higher.

Under the Iranian law, the woman's blood money is only half that of a man, but earlier this year Iran approved a law making the blood money equal for both men and women in cases involving car accidents. The usual diyah is around 1.9bn rials (38,000 pounds) for unintentional killings but some families ask for much higher in other cases.

In 2015, at least 262 people on death row for murder were forgiven in Iran compared to 207 convicts executed for such crimes, according to the IHR. Although the history of people showing forgiveness is not new, many activists say a recent incident was a turning point in significantly increasing such pardons last year: in April 2014, an Iranian mother spared the life of a young man who had killed his son at last minute in an extraordinary episode that drew the world's attention and also appeared on the front page of this newspaper.

Despite this, Iran is still among the world's top countries with the most executions because despite pardons in cases involving murder, drug-related executions have continued to surge. In most cases in Iran people put to death for drug offences.

Madyar Samienejad, an Oslo-based human rights defender, appreciated efforts to save the convicts from the gallows but struck a cautious tone, saying that the ultimate change should come from a change in the law. "In some cases, families are demanding very unreasonable amounts of money for financial compensation in order to pardon the convict and this is not a culture that should become the norm. Only a change in the legislation can guarantee that we would ultimately see a country without death penalty."

Last year, Iran executed nearly 1,000 people, which was more than any other country apart from China. Executions in Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia accounted for 89% of the total known executions worldwide in 2015.

In first 6 months of this year, Iran is known to have executed between 182 to 201 people, which is a considerable drop compared to last year but activists were not sure if it amounted to an indication in a change in policy as the country went through parliamentary elections, a period when the authorities normally refrain from executing convicts.

(source: The Guardian travelled to Oslo for 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty on an invitation by its organiser, the French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM), which paid for its flight, accommodation and food)


DPP MP tells Amnesty International 'to go to hell with rights', says Malawi needs death penalty on albino killers

Mulanje South parliamentarian-cum-comedian Bon Kalindo popularly known as Winiko has blasted donors specifically global human rights body, Amnesty International "to go to hell" with their anti-death penalty campaign, saying Malawi needs to execute killers of people with albinism.

Kalindo, who organised a protest march to National Assembly with an aim to force the members of parliament to lift the moratorium on the death penalty, blasted the Amnesty International for dictating what Malawi should do by not implementing death penalty as doing so it shall be against right to live.

"Let me warn Amnesty International that this is not their country, to hell with their human rights issues, why should we protect criminals who are killing our sons, daughters and brothers? Do they (murder victims) don't deserve a right to live?

"Malawi is a sovereign state and we deserve respect no one should dictate us what to do, go to hell with your money," shouted angry Kalindo amid ululations and hand clapping from hundreds of people who joined him in the march.

Kalindo also took a swipe at local human rights bodies and activists calling them "gold diggers" who are not patriotic but love money from Western countries.

The MP who is also deputy spokesman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said "let me also warn those masquerading in town as human rights activists with your bodies that it's time you start putting the interests of Malawians at hearts before money."

He said only Billy Mayaya, who supported him the protests, is a true activist who really represent the interest of Malawians "not you busy dancing to the tune of donors forsaking your own people."

Kalindo and Mayaya are asking the Parliament to ensure that death penalty which is in the Constitution must be activated in order to serve as a deterrent to others from albino attacks.

"We refuse to be swayed by the decisions made by outsiders on how the people of Malawi should run its internal affairs regarding this matter.

"We demand Parliament to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. We found it awkward that we have a clear law in place and yet we have no use of it. This is an insult to Malawians", reads the petition in part.

It also propose the amendments be made in the Anatomy Act to sentences, demand transparency and accountability within the police to allay allegations of corruption in handling matters related to attacks on people with albinism.

Commenting on the petition after receiving it on behalf of the Parliament, Rumphi East parliamentarian Kamlepo Kalua told the gathering that it is the general concern not only to them but to the entire House and has since promised them that the legislatures will act on it.

Commission of inquiry

Meanwhile, Mzuzu University (Mzuni) students held a peaceful demonstration and petitioned petition President Peter Mutharika to take a bold step against attacks on people with albinism.

Mzuni Student Representative Council member Wazamazama Katatu said the students want the President to institute a competent commission of inquiry that should investigate vital information on the attacks.

He said the commission should establish destination for body parts of people with albinism and why the police are failing to maintain order.

"The country should quickly develop a comprehensive action plan with clear practical strategies; otherwise, as it stands, the country is addressing petty symptoms of the crisis. Having the commission in place will show seriousness in an attempt to gather facts and possible viable options," said Katatu.

The students also petitioned the office of the Speaker of Parliament, calling on members of parliament to "meaningfully discuss" the albinos crisis.

They want MPs to come up with "deliberate legal measures" to protect persons with albinism.

(source: Nyasa Times)


Death penalty study done, A-G's Chamber to prepare paper on amendments

The Attorney-General's Chamber will prepare a paper on the amendments of the death penalty legislation for submission to the government following the completion of a comprehensive study on the matter.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri said the study conducted by the International Centre for Law and legal Studies (I-CeLLs) was carried after the AG’s Chamber was tasked to undertake a comprehensive study on the issue of the death penalty in Malaysia.

The study was carried out with consultation from Professor Dr Roger Hood, Professor of Criminology and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College Oxford, one of the renowned experts on the death penalty, she said.

Nancy said this in her intervention note at the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty held in Oslo, Norway.

The 3-day congress kicked off on Tuesday. Her intervention note was faxed here yesterday.

She said: "There are positive signs in Malaysia, and a steady momentum towards possible change in the death penalty legislation.:

Currently in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for 12 offences, whilst 20 other offences are punishable by a discretionary death penalty.

"Murder, drug trafficking, and offences relating to (national) security are instances of offences which are punishable with a mandatory death penalty," she said.

Nancy said Malaysia does have some safeguards in law and practice to protect the right of the accused facing the death penalty, inter alia, the right to be promptly informed of the nature of the charge preferred against him, right to legal representative of his own choice and also the right to fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

"Although Malaysia is generally in compliance with international standards insofar as the relevannt safeguards are concerned, Malaysia's position on the death penalty has always been subjected to national and international criticisms.

"Amongst the criticisms are, although the death penalty has its place, it should only be implemented in the most serious of crimes and where there is no reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty," she said.

Nancy said there had been no empricial studies to prove that the death penalty did not have the deterring effect that such a penalty was hoped to create.



Death Watch: New Rodney Reed Filing----Death row inmate's lawyers seek retrial

Attorneys for death row inmate Rodney Reed have filed a supplement to the Feb. 2015 brief seeking a retrial on his death penalty case, arguing that new evidence has come their way that further indicates that Reed is not responsible for the April 1996 murder of Stacey Stites.

The brief, filed June 7 to the Court of Criminal Appeals and Reed's trial court in Bastrop, points to a conflicting detail in the timeline of former Giddings Police Officer Jimmy Fennell, Stites' fiance and the man Reed defenders believe is actually responsible for killing Stites. Since Fennell first gave his official statement to police 2 days after Stites' body was found, the understanding was that he spent the night of April 22 at home with his fiancee - beginning at 8pm or 8:30 - and that he slept through her early morning departure for work at H-E-B. (Fennell testified in court to this chronology, as well.) But according to a recent interview with Curtis L. Davis - a Bastrop County Sheriff's deputy who at the time was one of Fennell's best friends - Fennell told Davis that he spent the night of April 22 drinking beer with fellow police officers by his truck after Little League baseball practice. Davis said Fennell told him the next morning that he didn't return home to Stites until 10 or 11 o'clock that night.

Reed's lead counsel, Innocence Project attorney Bryce Benjet, explained in the 19-page brief that Davis revealed this conflicting detail during an April interview with CNN. The network is currently producing a special for its show Death Row Stories about Reed's case and the efforts to save his life. (Indeed, the Chronicle was in Livingston, where death row inmates are housed, when CNN's crew interviewed Reed.) Benjet wrote that he had not been aware of the interview until one of CNN's producers asked Benjet to comment "about certain statements made by Officer Davis." He said that a producer of the show allowed him and an assistant to view "portions of the interview with Officer Davis and to briefly review a transcript of the entire interview." CNN declined to release a copy of the interview or the transcript for use with the filing. Benjet expects the "relevant portions" of the recording to be part of the special when it airs. A representative for CNN told the Chronicle that there is currently no airdate for the episode.

Benjet argues that Fennell's conflicting chronologies concerning how he spent the evening before Stites' murder further represents evidence of Fennell's consciousness of guilt, and that the notion of his drinking well into the night on April 22 would put him out of his and Stites' apartment at a time that 3 forensic pathologists have concluded was the actual time that Stites was killed. The state's theory holds that Stites was abducted by Reed and killed on her way to work on April 23, around 3am. Reed's Feb. 2015 petition for a retrial was rooted in the scientific conclusion that Stites actually died before midnight, on April 22, and that her body was moved from one location to another after she had been killed. The 2015 filing also notes that Davis accompanied Fennell through much of what the state accepts to be his discovery process of his red pickup truck after the murder, and notes how Davis signed out of a 12-hour work shift on April 22 after only 1 hour because of what he described as a "broken tooth." Davis then spent the next 3 days away from work on leave for a "personal death." The filing further notes how there is no documentation of any attempt by the police to interview Davis or otherwise establish whether he could have driven Jimmy Fennell home after dispensing of Stites and the truck.

The idea that Fennell was providing conflicting statements in the aftermath of Stites' murder aligns with six other instances listed by Benjet in the initial 2015 application for a rehearing. Benjet also implies that Fennell provided false testimony during trial, and that the state's failure to provide this information on trial constitutes a violation of due process under Brady v. Maryland. (Fennell is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence that began in 2008 after he accepted a plea deal on charges that he raped a woman while on duty as a police officer in nearby Georgetown.)

"In this case, the State failed to disclose Fennell's inconsistent statement as to his whereabouts on the night of April 22, 1996," Benjet wrote. "Even though the trial prosecutors may not have been aware of what Officer Davis learned from Fennell, Officer Davis was a Bastrop County Sheriff's Officer. And the [BCSO] was the lead agency investigating Stacey's murder. Accordingly, Officer Davis' knowledge of what Fennell told him is imputed to the State."

Reed most recently faced an execution date of March 5, 2015, but saw his execution stayed 2 weeks earlier, as the Court of Criminal Appeals sought more time to review the merits of the claims made in his Feb. 2015 filing. There is currently no timetable for advancements in his case.

(source: Austin Chronicle)


Resentencing For death row Inmate Peeler Scheduled for July 1

Russell Peeler Jr., sent to death row for ordering the 1999 killings of Karen Clarke and her 8-year-old son Leroy "B.J." Brown in Bridgeport, is scheduled to be resentenced in Superior Court to life in prison without the possibility of release on July 1, attorneys and court officials said Wednesday.

Peeler, 44, will be the second of Connecticut's 11 formerly condemned prisoners to be resentenced since last month's Supreme Court ruling that spared their lives. The justices initially outlawed capital punishment for all in an August 2015 ruling, but the decision was appealed by prosecutors.

Cheshire home invasion killer Steven Hayes was resentenced last week in New Haven Superior Court to 6 consecutive life sentences without the chance for parole. Hayes' accomplice, Joshua Komisarjevsky, is scheduled for resentencing on July 26 in Superior Court in New Haven.

Peeler was sentenced to death in 2007 after a Superior Court jury in Bridgeport convicted him of ordering his younger brother, Adrian Peeler, to kill Clarke and her son at a Bridgeport apartment. The boy and his mother were slated to testify against the older Peeler at an upcoming murder trial.

Adrian Peeler, 38, is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his role in the slayings.

According to trial testimony, the Peelers ran a lucrative crack cocaine ring and Leroy witnessed an attempt by Peeler to shoot his mother's boyfriend in a drug-money dispute. Peeler went after the boyfriend a second time, killing him. Days before Peeler was to be tried for the slaying, Clarke and her son were found shot to death in their Bridgeport apartment.

Peeler was convicted of capital felony charges in 2000 but a jury deadlocked on whether to sentence him to death. A judge then imposed life in prison without the possibility of release. Prosecutors successfully appealed the judge's decision, arguing that the judge should have declared a mistrial instead. Though the high court also agreed with a challenge by the defense of the trial court's refusal to permit disclosure of a witness's psychiatric records to the jury, the justices said the mistake was harmless and ordered a new sentencing hearing for Peeler in which jurors voted for death.

The Supreme Court's 5-2 decision last month, which upheld its landmark August 2015 ruling that said capital punishment in Connecticut is unconstitutional, overturned Peeler's death sentences and ordered the lower court to impose a new punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Connecticut legislators abolished the death penalty in 2012 with the caveat that the new law apply to future capital crimes committed in Connecticut and that executions for those who committed capital crimes before the repeal could still take place. Attorneys representing those on death row argued in legal challenges that the new law violated the condemned inmates' constitutional rights.

Erskine McIntosh, one of Peeler's attorneys, said a life sentence is "the correct disposition" in the Peeler case.

"There were any number of legal theories that I believe would have resulted in the disposition we have today," McIntosh said.

(source: Hartford Courant)


Philadelphia Attorneys Balk at Post-Conviction Appointments

Philadelphia's First Judicial District has started taking steps to alleviate its growing backlog of post-conviction appeal cases that was uncovered earlier this year, but the court's methods have angered some attorneys and left many wondering if indigent defendants will receive adequate representation.

Philadelphia judges recently sent a letter to court-appointed attorneys telling them to start handling Post-Conviction Relief Act cases. However, according to attorneys, many who received the letter do not have experience handling PCRA cases, which can be very complex, and attorneys have found it difficult to be taken off the cases.

Ronald L. Greenblatt of Greenblatt, Pierce, Engle Funt & Flores, who serves on the executive committee of the Philadelphia chapter of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he has been approached by several lawyers who are worried they do not have the experience to properly handle the cases. He said some attorneys feel the court is pressuring them to stay on the cases, as they have been told they will no longer receive any court-appointed work if they refuse the PCRA cases.

"I'm never telling people what to do, but I wouldn't recommend attorneys taking these," said Greenblatt, who does not do court-appointed work. "I wouldn't do it. There's no consideration of the courts about the time [requirements.] There's no appreciation for the difficulty of the work."

PCRA appeals, according to most attorneys, are very difficult to handle, and require, not only a lot of work, but also experience in identifying improperly handled evidentiary issues and questions of law.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge Jacqueline Allen said the PCRA appointments are being made under the normal appointment protocol. Allen said the court recently held an orientation program for civil division judges, who are now handling PCRA cases along with judges from the trial division, but she has not received negative feedback from attorneys about the appointments, or any issues about withdrawing from cases.

"We look forward to the continuing working relationship with those attorneys who have made themselves available to take on this significant and important work," she said.

Judge Leon W. Tucker, supervising judge of the criminal division in Philadelphia, did not return calls for comment.

The court has taken some steps to address the competency concerns by organizing a $50, 3-hour continuing legal education class focusing on how to handle these cases. Temple University Beasley School of Law Professor Jules Epstein, who helped develop and put on the CLE, said the class was an important step. "PCRA practice, to be done properly, requires a tremendous knowledge of both law and procedure," he said. "To make sure the system works, we need lawyers who have the knowledge, and we need to be ready to pay them for their time and efforts."

(source: The Legal Intelligencer)


Death Penalty is on the table judge tells Eric Frein

A Pike County judge has rejected the plea by attorney for Eric Frein to take the death penalty off the table of his upcoming murder trial.

Judge Gregory H. Chelak says the death penalty has been previously upheld in Commonwealth courts when applied to capital murder cases, so the option is available in the Frein case.

Frein's attorneys cited several reasons why they believe the death penalty would be an unfair, inhumane form of punishment - the judge didn't agree.

He also rejected Frein's request to have the Aggravating Circumstances which raised the case to death penalty status removed.

Frein is charged with killing one Pennsylvania State Trooper in 2014 and critically wounding another after he allegedly ambushed them at their Pike County Barracks.

The Pike County District Attorney has yet to state publicly whether he will ask for the death penalty.



Request to bar death option in trooper ambush case denied

A Pennsylvania judge has denied a pair of defense requests that sought to prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against a man charged with fatally ambushing a state police trooper near a rural barracks.

Attorneys for Eric Frein (freen) had said the death penalty option was unconstitutional. A Pike County judge rejected the claims on Friday.

Frein is charged with fatally shooting Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and wounding another trooper in September 2014.

He led police on a tense 48-day manhunt before U.S. marshals caught him about 30 miles from the shooting scene. Frein has pleaded not guilty.

Court documents say Frein spoke of wanting to start a revolution in a letter to his parents and called Dickson's slaying an "assassination" during a police interview.

(source: Associated Press)


Murder case sentencing on hold for death penalty ruling

The former ice cream truck driver accused of killing 2 and injuring 4 others may not face the death penalty, in spite of prosecutors' requests.

They argue Michael Keetley was seeking revenge when he armed himself with a gun and started shooting at people standing on the front porch of a Hillsborough County home.

Prosecutors want Keetley to pay for the alleged crimes with his life, but a Hillsborough judge put the brakes on a possible death sentence, based on the latest ruling that Florida's death penalty is unconstitutional.

Attorney Anthony Rickman reviewed the decision for FOX 13 News and said, "we are back where we started 3 months ago where we have no death penalty in Tampa."

In her ruling, Hillsborough Judge Samantha Ward said state lawmakers did not go far enough when they rushed a new law in March.

Legislators were reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that struck down Florida's death penalty procedures because it gave all the power to a judge and not a jury. Lawmakers fixed that part, but did not require the jury's decision to be unanimous.

Instead, a jury could sentence someone to death on a 10 to 2 vote.

"What the judge said is, that is unconstitutional... The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution requires a unanimous verdict, not a majority of 10, or super a majority of 10," explained Rickman.

Judge Ward's decision comes on the heels of a similar ruling by a Miami judge. Both decisions will be appealed, Rickman believes, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rickman said it could all have been avoided.

"They rushed, they made it to try to appease everybody. They created a statute that had constitutional flaws, " said Rickman.

Those flaws, Rickman says, will be seized by a murder defendant who may be trying to plead guilty in an effort to dodge death and get a life sentences instead.

(source: Fox News)


State seeks death penalty against Sievers, Rodgers

The State Attorney's Office filed notice Wednesday that it will seek the death penalty against both Mark Sievers and Jimmy Ray Rodgers in connection with the June 2015 death of Sievers' wife, Teresa.

The attorneys for both men were officially notified by Assistant State Attorney Hamid N. Hunter.

Each defendant now has until 20 days before trial to notify of an intention to present testimony from a mental health professional citing mitigating circumstances.

Mark Sievers and Rodgers were indicted on 1st-degree murder charges in early May. Sievers is accused of coordinating with a lifelong friend, Curtis Wayne Wright, to have his wife killed at the couple's home in Bonita Springs. Investigators said Wright and Rodgers traveled from their home state of Missouri to carry out the killing.

Wright pleaded guilty in February to a 2nd-degree murder charge and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence.

(source: ABC news)


State of Florida will ask for the death penalty at Pablo Ibar retrial----The Spaniard of Basque descent has already spent 16 years on death row, after a conviction in the 1990s for a triple-homicide

The State of Florida has announced its decision to ask for capital punishment for Pablo Ibar, despite the Florida Supreme Court having vacated a death penalty sentence from the year 2000 and ordered a new trial.

Ibar, a Spanish citizen of Basque descent, was convicted of a 1994 triple homicide of a nightclub owner and 2 models. He has already served 22 years in prison, 16 of them on death row.

Andres Krakenberger, a spokesman for the Pablo Ibar Association Against the Death Penalty, told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday that the defense had received the state's notification. He said the decision was "predictable," though it has caused "profound disappointment," given that the prosecution is pressing charges against someone who has "clear proof of his innocence."

A spokesman for Ibar claims that he was wrongly convicted and has already had to serve 16 years on death row

Krakenberger said Ibar was wrongly convicted and has already had to serve 16 years on death row, while the Florida Supreme Court agrees that the "scant" evidence against him is "weak."

The court vacated the conviction in February saying: "Ibar's DNA was not found on a blue t-shirt recovered from the crime scene that was allegedly used to partially cover the face of the perpetrator, whom the state claimed to have been Ibar. [...] Ibar never confessed to the crime as he steadfastly proclaimed his innocence [and] presented an alibi as to his whereabouts."

The spokesman criticized "the coldness" of the notification the defense received. Krakenberger said it shows that capital punishment is seen as a "procedure" in the United States despite the fact that it is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" and "has no place in the 21st century."

Krakenberger told reporters that Ibar, who was transferred from death row to a county jail earlier this month, received the news with "a certain resignation," though he said, speaking broadly, that he was in good spirits because his situation "has improved."

Ibar's defense team needs $1.3 million to mount their case. They still need to raise $590,000. The defendant has received $50,000 for his legal fees from the Basque Country government, regional organizations and private individuals who have donated to the cause through the association's website.

(source: El Pais)


Court hears arguments over competency of Alabama death row inmate

An appellate court will hear arguments over whether strokes have left a 65-year-old Alabama inmate mentally incompetent to be executed.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing Thursday in the case of inmate Vernon Madison. The appellate court in May stayed Madison's execution just 7 hours before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection.

Madison was convicted in the 1985 killing of Mobile police Officer Julius Schulte. Prosecutors said Madison crept up and shot Schulte in the back of the head as he sat in his police car.

Lawyers for Madison argue that stroke-induced dementia have left Madison incompetent. Attorneys for the state say while his health has deteriorated, Madison still has an understanding of the crime he committed and the punishment he faces.

(source: Associated Press)


Man returned to Alabama's death row in 2010 slayings of 3

A man convicted in the 2010 shooting deaths of 3 people, and dumping their bodies along Birmingham-area roads, was re-sentenced this week to death and returned to Alabama death row after an appeals court recently ruled he had not been properly sentenced the 1st time.

Marcus Benn had been sentenced in January 2015 for his conviction on s7 capital murder charges involving the slayings of Jaime Gutierrez, Jose Colderon, and Evelyn Peralta. 3 of the capital murder counts were for having been convicted of murder in the 20 years prior to when the 3 were killed.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd held a sentencing hearing for Benn in December 2014, but held off and made a written ruling more than a month later imposing the death penalty based in part on the jury's recommendation.

Benn argued in his appeal to the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals that Todd should have pronounced his sentence in open court. The appeals court agreed in a decision on June 3.

"Specifically, Benn asserts that, because the circuit court did not pronounce his sentence in open court, a judgment of conviction was never entered and his appeal is not ripe," according to the opinion.

On Tuesday in a hearing that lasted no more than a few minutes, Benn was brought before Todd and she re-sentenced him to death.

"We're just happy that justice was served in this case and the judge followed the jury's recommendation," Deputy Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr said after Tuesday's hearing.

Ken Gomany, 1 of Benn's attorney, said Benn can now continue his appeal.

Marcus Benn, 38, in October was found guilty in the deaths of Jaime Luna Gutierrez, Jose Manuel Martinez Calderon, and Evelyn Peralta. A jury recommended death.

Benn, 40, was found guilty in the slayings in October 2014. The jury voted 10-2 to recommend he be sentenced to death.

Gutierrez, Calderon and Peralta were killed Dec. 27, 2010 and Benn was charged 3 days later.

Benn testified at his trial that he shot the 2 men because he was afraid for his life.

Gutierrez was shot numerous times - including 4 shots to the back of the head - and his body was left on 22nd Street off Ishkooda-Wenonah Road. Midfield police investigating a burned-out truck off Hartman Industrial Boulevard found Peralta's body in a nearby ditch. She was partially dressed and had been shot twice in the back of the head. Benn denied any knowledge of or involvement in Peralta's death.

After his arrest, Benn led investigators to Calderon's body, which was found in the 3500 block of Carver Avenue.

Birmingham police found a blood-stained jacket and 2 guns when they searched the home of Benn's girlfriend, an evidence technician testified. Blood on the jacket and on a pistol matched the victims.

Benn had been convicted of reckless murder in 1994 in the drive-by shooting - he was the driver not the shooter - of Parrish Tabb, 18, on April 1, 1993 on Dennison Avenue. He had originally been charged with capital murder in that case. He was released from prison in 2009 after serving 16 years.

Bill Myers and Philip Petersen also represented Benn. Deputy Jefferson County District Attorney Neal Zarzour also prosecuted the case.



Local attorney compares Angola death row to POW hot boxes

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson questions why the state has spent more than $1 million fighting to prevent air conditioning from being installed at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

In 2013, three death row inmates with medical problems filed a lawsuit against the state to get relief from the extreme heat and humidity at the prison. Currently, heat remediation measures consist of one cold shower each day, ice chests in cells and fans outside of cells.

Previously, Jackson ruled that the prison must keep the heat index at or below 88 degrees, stating it is unconstitutional to keep inmates in a building where the heat exceeds 88 degrees.

On June 15, Jackson heard testimony about the effectiveness of the measures implemented by the prison to keep prisoners cool. In April 2014, the state spent $29,000 hiring a private firm to monitor heat levels on death row, according to a report by the Associated Press. The total amount spent on the lawsuit so far is $1,067,000, and the case is still in litigation.

"Inmates spend 23 hours a day in their cell, under stifling heat and humidity," Peter Russell, managing partner with McBride & Russell Law Firm, LLC recently told the Louisiana Record. "It's similar to the hot boxes where POWs were held in Vietnam. Louisiana's death row looks like a throwback to the 1920s."

Russell believes that society has "dehumanized death row inmates, but it's not a partisan issue." The tough-on-crime culture created the attitude that the "criminal isn't deserving of respect." The reality is that everyone has basic human rights, Russell said.

"The state of Louisiana needs to do the right thing," he said. "It's just basic human dignity. The governor could order the prison to find money for the AC unit."

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, but Russell explained that the government has protections at both the state and federal levels.

"Judges tend to err on the side of government due to limited resources," he said.

Some prisons in Louisiana have air conditioning and some do not, according to Russell.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) insists that the refusal to provide air conditioning isn't political in nature. The DOC is concerned that this lawsuit could force the state to accommodate other prisoners. According to the Governor's Executive Fiscal Budget 2016-2017, the Correction Services budget is facing a $94 million budget cut over last year. Louisiana State Penitentiary will lose $26 million from its annual budget.

Jackson is trying to find solutions to keeping prisoners cool.

Both sides have until July 11 to submit memos on other measures that could be implemented to control heat and humidity on death row. Last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that any remedy should be limited to the 3 plaintiffs who filed the suit, not all 85 inmates who currently reside on death row.

In Texas, a federal judge just certified a class-action lawsuit for 1,400 inmates who are suing the state to install air conditioning in prisons to prevent heat-stroke deaths. In 2011, 10 Texas inmates died from heat stroke while at Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota.



Capital murder suspect in baby death found mentally fit to proceed with trial

A former Hot Springs man charged with capital murder for the death of his 3-month-old son last year was found fit to proceed to trial Monday in Garland County Circuit Court after a court-ordered mental evaluation.

James Antonio-Carlos Page, 35, now lists a Plattville, Ala., address, but has remained in custody in lieu of $1 million bond since his arrest Nov. 6, 2015. He was charged with 1st-degree domestic battery at the time of his arrest, but the charge was upgraded to capital murder 2 days later after the victim, Zayden Page, died at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock.

If convicted, Page could face up to life in prison or the death penalty in the case. Prosecuting Attorney Terri Harris confirmed Tuesday that the death penalty has not been formally waived at this point.

A motion for Page to undergo a mental examination was filed Feb. 10, 2016, and the examination at the Arkansas State Hospital was initially scheduled for April 19. It was later rescheduled for May 26 and completed. The mental evaluation report was sealed as part of an order limiting pretrial publicity, but Page was found to be fit to proceed.

Page appeared in court Monday with his attorney, Clay Janske, who did not object to the findings of the report. A pretrial date is now set for Oct. 31, with the trial set to begin Nov. 8.

According to the affidavit, on Nov. 6, 2015, around 7:30 p.m., Dr. Karen Farst, an emergency room physician at Arkansas Children's Hospital, notified Hot Springs police about a 3-month-old male brought into the ER with injuries that included a burn around his neck, a broken collarbone, rib fractures and multiple bruises to his head and face.

Farst stated the victim had been in the custody of his father, identified as Page, all day and that Page had said the injuries were due to a fall. Farst stated in her opinion it was impossible that the injuries were sustained from a fall.

According to hospital personnel, at one point Page stated he was leaving the hospital and fleeing back to his home state of Alabama.

Page later came to the HSPD voluntarily to provide a statement and was interviewed by police Detectives Chris Hays and Kenneth May. During the interview, Page stated he had taken his fiancee to work earlier that morning and arrived back at the residence around 10:30 a.m.

He said the baby was crying and continued to cry, so Page picked him up from his car seat and "shook him violently." After some time, when the baby continued crying, he said he threw the victim into his car seat and that the victim continued to cry after being thrown.

The affidavit notes Page is approximately 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and was standing up holding the victim when he threw him into the car seat, which was located on the floor.

Page admitted that after approximately 30 minutes he noticed the victim was not breathing and that he took him to the hospital at that point. The victim was initially taken to CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs and then airlifted to Children's.

(source: The Sentinel-Record)

OKLAHOMA----new death sentence

Jurors choose death penalty for Oklahoma City man convicted of rapes, murder

Jurors on Wednesday chose the death penalty as punishment for an Oklahoma City man convicted of raping his girlfriend and her friend before fatally beating the friend.

The Oklahoma County jury deliberated less than an hour.

Last week, the jurors found Albert Ray Johnson, 49, guilty of 1 count of 1st-degree murder, 1 count of assault and battery with intent to kill, 2 counts of forcible oral sodomy, 2 counts of 1st-degree rape, 2 counts of forcible anal sodomy, 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

After convicting Johnson last week, the jury chose life in prison as punishment for each count except the count of murder. Jurors on Wednesday decided the punishment of death for the murder count after listening to closing arguments.

During the trial

Prosecutors said Johnson forced his girlfriend to invite over a female friend so he could "rape and kill" her. Johnson was accused of threatening to kill his girlfriend and her 8-year-old daughter if she didn't comply with his request.

The former girlfriend testified during the trial and told the jury she was forced to call her friend, Rachel Rogers, 24, to her home in The Village. Prosecutors said the call to Rogers occurred about 1:30 a.m. June 13, 2014.

When Rogers arrived at the home shortly after the call, Johnson pulled her inside and put a knife to her throat, the girlfriend testified. The victim said Johnson then raped both of them at knifepoint.

After the rapes, Johnson tied up the women and beat them with metal objects, prosecutors said. Johnson fatally beat Rogers with a dumbbell, "crushing her face," prosecutors said.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Judge: Language on ballot initiative to restore death penalty not unfair

A Lancaster County district judge has ruled the language in the referendum aimed at restoring the death penalty in Nebraska is fair, striking down a lawsuit claiming the inclusion of a single word was misleading.

Beatrice attorney Lyle Koenig's lawsuit had challenged the attorney general's proposed ballot language that describes life in prison as the "maximum" sentence for 1st-degree murder, when in fact it is the only sentence.

In her order Tuesday, Judge Lori Maret said the proposed language used by Attorney General Doug Peterson clearly expresses the intent of the referendum petition as required by law.

"The inclusion of the word 'maximum' does not render the ballot title insufficient or unfair," Maret wrote.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty immediately launched the petition drive to retain the death penalty after the Legislature abolished it in May 2015 by passing LB268 on a veto override vote.

The successful petition drive to repeal LB268 put the issue on the November ballot.

Koenig's lawyer wasn't immediately available for comment on the order, which was filed Wednesday.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Cops Endorse the Death Penalty

Police don't want to kill anybody. Cops will tell you this. Fatally shooting somebody takes the officer off the street, away from his or her usual job, and into a ream of paperwork and lengthy interviews. Simply put, it's too much of a pain in the ass.

That doesn't mean cops aren't in favor of having someone else kill somebody. In fact, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the city's police union, is all about it. The POA is endorsing the Death Penalty Reform & Savings Act, a ballot initiative that would accelerate the execution process for the almost 750 condemned inmates on California's death row, and would set a timeline of no more than 5 years from death sentence to execution for future recipients of capital punishment.

The POA did not comment to SF Weekly. But the union endorsed the speedier death measure earlier this year, and in a recent article in the union's newspaper, the POA Journal, former police Captain Paul Chignell called it a "dynamic and positive change." (He also decried the "intellectual elite" in the media that "police officers face... on a daily basis," so here we are.)

Not that it matters much anyway. There hasn't been a death penalty handed down in San Francisco since 1991 - and with current District Attorney George Gascon an ardent opponent of capital punishment, it's unlikely to change. But it's good to know whose lives matter.



Marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the death penalty

Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the House of Commons vote to abolish the death penalty in Canada.

The final execution in Halifax took place in 1935. Daniel Sampson was arrested and charged with the murder of 2 young brothers who had been beaten to death near what's now the Armdale Rotary.

Sampson's execution followed a lengthy legal battle, including a new trial. He was visited by his mother the day before the execution, and reportedly signed a confession on his way to the gallows, admitting that he killed the 2 brothers.

But he said it was because they were tormenting him. Some believe that torment continues to this day.

"As I understand it, when janitors and other staff walk through there, they just get a very odd, creepy feeling - particularly in the attic area," said Halifax ghost tour operator Andy Smith.

The Nova Scotia Archives has a few pictures of the actual gallows, which stood in what's now the back parking lot.

For decades, rumours have persisted about what happened next.

"After the hangings ended, they took the gallows down and some of the wood that was used was placed in the courthouse building," said Smith.

Old court records are stored in the attic of the Nova Scotia Courthouse, but no sign of the gallows.

"We've had many people ask that same question," said court administrator Tanya Pellow. "We have looked for it, and never found any wood."

But perhaps for a place so steeped in history, such a tale is entirely appropriate - adding another layer of mystique in an impressive and imposing place.



5 get death for killing lawyer in Gazipur

A Gazipur Court sentenced 5 people to death penalty for killing lawyer Firozuzzaman Sohel in 2008.

Judge M Fazle Elahi Bhuiyan of Gazipur Additional and Session Judge Court handed down the verdict on Thursday noon.

The court also fined Tk 10,000 each.

The death-row convicts are one Abudur Rauf's wife Amena Begum, 53, a tenant of Rafiqul Islam`s house of Madha Chhayabithi area of the district, and his 3 sons- Sajal, 28, Tithi 31, and Bappi, 33, and Badal, son of Kafil Uddin Master of Fulbaria village of Kapasia upazila.

Abdur Rauf hailed from Madhya Madanpura of Baufal upazila of Potuakhali.

Assistant Public Prosecutor (APP) of Gazipur Court Ataur Rahman said the convicts killed apprentice lawyer Firozuzzaman Shohel over previous enmity.

After the incident, deceased's father Sohrab Uddin Vandari filed a murder case with Joydevpur Police Station, he added.



KRG to execute 7 prepetrators of 2014 Erbil bomb attack

A court in Erbil sentenced s7 members of Islamic State (ISIS) to death and sentenced 5 others to life in prison for their role in the car bomb attack against the Erbil Governorate building in November 2014, the Kurdistan Security Council announced on Wednesday.

"The criminals were directly involved in planning and carrying out the attack and were members of Daesh (ISIS) and also carried out several other attacks in the city of Kirkuk, the statement said.

The car bomb attack carried out at noon on November 19th 2014 killed 4 people and wounded at least 29 others.

Bomb attacks in the Kurdish capital of Erbil are rare, but occur almost on a daily basis in Baghdad, primarily in Shiite-majority areas, such as Sadr City.



Call to halt execution of 2 prisoners in western Iran

On Wednesday, June 22, coinciding with a visit by the Iranian regime's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to France and the Netherlands, and simultaneous with the global conference against the death penalty with the participation of more than 90 countries in Oslo, officials of the mullahs' regime in Iran have sent 2 prisoners by the names of Farzad Bizhani and Farhad Souri in Sanandaj Prison (western Iran) to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions.

On this very day the criminal public prosecutor in the city of Mashhad (northeastern Iran) requested hand amputation verdicts for 3 prisoners accused of robbery (state Tabnak website - June 22).

Continuous executions, torture and floggings even during the holy month of Ramadan, considered amongst Muslims in Iran and all Islamic countries as a month of tolerance, kindness and benevolence, brings an end to the myth of moderation within the religious, fascist regime ruling Iran that cannot even temporary halt these crimes for a few days to merely save face.

The Iranian Resistance calls for measures to save the lives of the 2 prisoners on the brink of execution and to prevent a verdict and implementation of hand amputation for the three inmates in Mashhad Prison. The Iranian Resistance also calls on all international humanitarian organizations to condemn these inhumane crimes. Furthermore, the international community is urged to condition its economic and political relations with this inhumane regime, being the source of all the devastations, pains and sufferings of the people of Iran and the entire region, on an improvement of human rights in Iran.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)


Catholic bishops challenge Duterte over death penalty

The Catholic Church in the Phillipines will petition the new president against reintroducing the death penalty in the country, according to Fides.

The president of the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, said he will seek a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte to urge him to stop his plans to reintroduce the death penalty.

Several bishops have challenged Duterte's plan to submit a measure to Philippine Congress to restore the death penalty, which was abolished in 2006.

He hopes to apply it for offences including drug offences, rape, robbery, car theft and corruption.

The Archbishop of Lipa, Ramon Arguelles, disputed Duterte's claim that the death penalty is a deterrent towards crime. He said he hoped the move "does not happen, especially while the Church celebrates the year of mercy".

Speaking at the Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo last week, Pope Francis called the death penalty "unacceptable".

"It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person. It likewise contradicts God's plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice," he said.

"Nor is it consonant with any just purpose of punishment. It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty."

Bishops in the Philippines echoed the Pope's sentiments.

"God alone has power over life. God gives life and God takes it away. No one should play God," said Bishop of Balanga, Ruperto Santos. Instead, the government should "reform... the judicial and prison system," he added.

(source: Christian Today)


Bishops in Philippines will oppose bid to restore capital punishment

The Catholic bishops of the Philippines will strongly oppose a bit by newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte to restore the death penalty, the Fides news service reports.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the president of the country's episcopal cofnerence, says that he will ask to meet with Duterte in a bid to dissuade him from his plan to reintroduce capital punishment. Several other bishops have made statements opposing that plan.

Duterte campaigned for the presidency on a tough law-and-order platform, and argued for the execution of criminals convicted of grave crimes.



Court sentences 4 drug smugglers to death

The Medan District Court on Wednesday decided on capital punishment for 4 Indonesians convicted of smuggling 270 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine from Malaysia to North Sumatra.

The 4 defendants are businessmen Ayau and Daud, alias Athiam, from Bengkalis, Riau, Lukmansyah, a security guard in Dumai, Riau, and Jimmy Syahputra, a resident of Deli Serdang, North Sumatra.

The panel of judges found that they violated the Narcotics Law, which carries a maximum penalty of death for traffickers.

"The defendants are proven to have conspired to traffic narcotics. With all the evidence, the judges rejected their defence and ordered the death penalty," said presiding judge Asmar while reading out the verdict on Wednesday night.

In October, the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), along with the Dumai Customs Office, foiled the smuggling in Medan, North Sumatra.

Almost 300 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, locally known as shabu-shabu, were packaged in 45 boxes.

The value of the substance is estimated to be Rp 500 billion, with the average price of meth in Indonesia Rp 2 billion per kilogram.

Indonesia is currently one of the main markets for meth trafficking in Asia. A number of smuggling attempts in large amounts have been successfully foiled by the authorities.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has implemented a tough drug policy by ordering executions of drug traffickers since he took office in 2014.

The government is currently preparing for a 3rd round of executions of 18 inmates, despite condemnation from human rights activists.

Asmar said the syndicate transported the meth from China to Malaysia and finally to Medan, North Sumatra.

Daud first met a person, identified as Lau Lai alias Aan alias Jecky who is still at large, at the CK Malaka Hotel in Malaysia in August.

They later plotted to smuggle the drugs to Medan. Lau Lai asked Daud to find a receiver and a warehouse to keep the meth in Medan.

Daud later contacted Ayau and Irwan Toni, also still at large, to find the meth storage place in Medan.

Daud also contacted Jimmy and transferred Rp 55 million to the latter's account to purchase a car to unload and transport the large amount of meth from Dumai port, Riau, to Medan.

The court also revealed that in September Irwan contacted Lukmansyah to tell him that the meth packages were on their way to Medan. It was at this time that the information was leaked to the custom officials in Dumai.

The meth arrived at Dumai in October and was initially to be kept in a water tank at the Jade Square warehouse complex on Jl. Yos Sudarso, Medan.

Authorities raided the warehouse a day after the meth arrived and arrested Jimmy and seized the meth packages.

The lawyer of the 4 defendants, Nurwadi Aco, said he would appeal the verdict.

"Several facts are still in dispute," he said after the trial.

(source: The Jakart Post)


Abolishing death penalty requires collective leadership - Mangala

Abolishing the death penalty requires persuasion and resolve but above all it requires leadership - the collective leadership of legislators, activists, editors, academics and jurors, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

The Foreign Minister said so delivering the opening address at the Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty, in Oslo, recently.

Excerpts of the speech:

Despite its widespread use, for millennia the death penalty has caused lingering societal discomfort and unease. Fairly early on in history many enlightened leaders have found the death penalty degrading of human dignity. For example, in ancient Sri Lanka a number of kings - influenced by the Buddha’s teaching - abolished the death penalty. In fact, for much of the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 13th centuries the death penalty was not employed in Sri Lanka.

This may help explain why for nearly a century there has been a consensus among the legislative leadership of my country that the death penalty ought to be abolished. This consensus was based both on moral grounds and on the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. As far back as 1928 the Ceylon Legislative Assembly voted 19 to 7 in favour of a resolution on abolishing the death penalty, which was moved by Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. In the end, abolition was only thwarted by the high-handedness of the colonial authorities of the time.

In 1956, a few years after Independence, my father, then the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, proposed a Bill ending capital punishment which was supported by Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. The Bill passed but tragically the death penalty was resumed a few years later as result of Mr. Bandaranaike's assassination until a de facto moratorium was instituted in 1976.

I daresay that even today the vast majority of my colleagues in Parliament find the death penalty morally repugnant and are aware of its inefficaciousness. However, as they fear the knee-jerk reaction of uninformed public opinion they have proved unwilling to take the courageous step the government took in 1956. I believe that this fear is true not only of legislators and jurors in Sri Lanka, but of other Asian states where the death penalty is yet to be abolished.

Therefore, the common challenge facing us today is persuading our respective people and perhaps even more importantly having the collective courage to lead by acting.

However, changing public opinion is a time consuming and resource intensive process. And the evidence points out that, despite persistent advocacy, public opinion on the subject of the death penalty is relatively static in many countries.

Therefore, overcoming this key challenge requires an act of political courage. Studies have shown that when people are asked to sit in mock judgement, rather than simply answer survey questions, no more than 30 % of people support the death penalty, even in the most serious of cases. In France, although public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of the death penalty in 1981, its abolition decided by the then President of France led to a change of public opinion. It is clear that the debate resulting from the process of abolishing the death penalty and the lack of change in crime rates after the death penalty has been abolished allays the public's fears. As a result there have been very, very few cases of reversal once the death penalty is abolished.

Momentum is slowly building in Asia, where more executions take place than the rest of the world combined. In South-East Asia the number of executions has declined significantly, in South Asia there have been both short and long de facto moratoria. In 2007, 24 Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium, in 2014 that number had declined to 18.

There is further good news: Sri Lanka's Minister of Justice, who will also be addressing a session at this Conference, has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favour of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing the four decades long de facto moratorium.

The Foreign Minister said, As momentum towards critical mass develops, I am confident that the coming years will see the death of the death penalty in our region.

(source: Daily News)


Prez rejects mercy plea of 2 convicts of Jharkhand massacre

The mercy plea of 2 convicts, who killed 8 members of a family including a physically disabled youth in Jharkhand nearly 9 years ago, has been rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee.

The President has rejected the plea of the convicts-- Mofil Khan and Mobarak Khan, officials said today. The duo had in June 2007 killed Haneef Khan with sharp-edged weapons when he was offering prayers at a mosque in Makandu village under Lohardaga district in the state. After killing him, they murdered his wife and his 6 sons which included the disabled youth. A case was registered by the local police against Mofil and Mobarak and 2 other assailants. Following the probe, a local court there had given death sentence to all the accused. However, the Jharkhand High Court had upheld death penalty to Mofil and Mubarak and modified the sentence to life term for the 2 others.

The Supreme Court in its final judgement in October 2014 also upheld the death penalty given to the convicts. A mercy petition was then filed before the President through the Home Ministry. The plea, which was received in December last year at the Presidents secretariat, seeking mercy has been rejected by Mukherjee, they said.

After taking over as the President in July 2012, Mukherjee has rejected 26 mercy pleas so far including those of 26/11 terror case convict Ajmal Kasab and 1993 blast case convict Yakub Memon. The death sentence in 2 cases has been commuted to life by the President. 2 mercy petitions of Jeetendra Gehlaut alias Jeetu, convicted for killing 5 women and 2 children during a robbery in Maharashtra, and Shabnam, who was convicted for killing 7 members of her family at Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, are pending with the President.

(source: India Today)


Death penalty sought for man over deaths of 2 women

Prosecutors sought the death penalty Wednesday at the Nagoya District Court for a man charged with murdering a woman in 2011, and causing his girlfriend's death in 2009.

The death penalty was sought for Keiji Hayashi, 43, in a lay judge trial over the murder of restaurant worker Madoka Morioka, 27, in Aichi Prefecture in central Japan in November 2011, and causing his girlfriend Eri Asano, 26, to kill herself in July 2009.

"The crimes are extremely atrocious as he used the victims to gratify his desire and did not treat (each of) them as a person," the prosecutors said. Hayashi is charged with murder, injury resulting in death and other charges.

The court is slated to hand down its ruling on July 15.

According to the indictment, Hayashi allegedly murdered Morioka by strangling her to death with his hands because he believed she was obstructing him from becoming intimate with another female worker at the restaurant where Morioka worked. He then abandoned Morioka's body in Lake Kuzuryu in Fukui Prefecture, also in central Japan.

Hayashi is also charged with compelling Asano to strangle herself with a chain at his home in Gifu Prefecture. Asano died of suffocation, the indictment said.

The defense counsel has accepted almost all the charges in the indictment, but said Asano strangled herself "of her own will."

The prosecutors said Hayashi treated his girlfriend "like a slave," and because he had such strong control over her, he did not leave her with any option other than strangling herself.

Defense lawyers have also argued that the defendant and his accomplice, Tomoyuki Watanabe, 38, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for murdering Morioka, had planned the murder of Morioka together. But Watanabe has testified that Hayashi alone planned the murder and he could not refuse to participate because he thought Hayashi would kill him.

(source: Japan Today)


port: China still harvesting organs from prisoners at a massive scale

A new report claims that China is still engaged in the widespread and systematic harvesting of organs from prisoners, and says that people whose views conflict with the ruling Chinese Communist Party are being murdered for their organs.

The report -- by former Canadian lawmaker David Kilgour, human rights lawyer David Matas, and journalist Ethan Gutmann -- collates publicly reported figures from hospitals across China to show what they claim is a massive discrepancy between official figures for the number of transplants carried out throughout the country.

They blame the Chinese government, the Communist Party, the health system, doctors and hospitals for being complicit.

"The (Communist Party) says the total number of legal transplants is about 10,000 per year. But we can easily surpass the official Chinese figure just by looking at the two or three biggest hospitals," Matas said in a statement.

The report estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year in Chinese hospitals.

According to the report, that gap is made up of executed prisoners, many of them prisoners of conscience locked up for their religious or political beliefs. China does not report its total number of executions, which it regards as a secret.

The report's findings stand in stark contrast to Beijing's claim that, since the beginning of 2015, China has moved from almost completely relying on organs from prisoners to the "largest voluntary organ donation system in Asia."

At a regular press conference Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China has "strict laws and regulations on this issue."

"As for the testimony and the published report, I want to say that such stories about forced organ harvesting in China are imaginary and baseless -- they don't have any factual foundation," she said.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission, which oversees organ donations in China, did not respond to a request for comment for this piece.

Secret transplants

According to the report, thousands of people are being executed in China in secret and their organs harvested for use in transplant operations.

So who is being killed? The authors say mainly imprisoned religious and ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, underground Christians, and practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

While much of China's organ transplant system is kept secret, official figures show that 2,766 volunteers donated organs in 2015, with 7,785 large organs acquired.

Official figures put the number of transplant operations at around 10,000 a year, which the report disputes.

The authors point to publicly available statements and records released by hospitals across China claiming they carried out thousands of transplant annually, and interviews with and official biographies of individual doctors who claim to have carried out thousands of transplant operations during their careers.

"Simply by adding up a handful of the hospitals that have been profiled in this (report), it's easy to come up with higher annual transplant volume figures than 10,000," the authors write.

According to official statistics, there are more than 100 hospitals in China approved to carry out organ transplant operations. But the report states the authors have "verified and confirmed 712 hospitals which carry out liver and kidney transplants," and claims the number of actual transplants could be hundreds of thousands larger than China reports.

'Ghoulish and inhumane practice'

The apparent gap in official transplant figures, the report claims, is filled by prisoners of conscience.

According to Amnesty International, "tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been arbitrarily detained" since the government launched a crackdown on the practice in 1999.

China regards Falun Gong as a "cult" and claims followers engage in "anti-China political activities."

"The government considers Falun Gong a threat to its power, and has detained, imprisoned and tortured its followers," says Maya Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The report says detained Falun Gong practitioners were forced to have blood tests and medical exams. Those test results were placed in a database of living organ sources so quick organ matches could be made, the authors claim.

This massive supply of organs served to benefit hospitals and doctors, making for an ever growing industry.

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from the report's authors on Thursday.

"China has been perpetuating perhaps some of the most gruesome and egregious human rights violations against the Falun Gong and other prisoners of conscience, yet has hardly faced any criticism, let alone sanctions, for these abuses," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement released online.

"The regime's ghoulish and inhumane practice of robbing individuals of their freedom, throwing them in labor camps or prisons, and then executing them and harvesting their organs for transplants is beyond the pale of comprehension and must be opposed universally and ended unconditionally."

'Good intentions'

For decades, Chinese officials strenuously denied that they harvested organs from prisoners, calling claims to the contrary "vicious slander."

Finally in 2005, officials admitted that the practice took place and promised to reform it.

5 years later however, Huang Jiefu, director of the China Organ Donation Committee, told medical journal The Lancet that more than 90% of transplant organs still came from executed prisoners.

China carries out more executions annually than the rest of the world put together, at least 2,400 in 2014, according to Death Penalty Worldwide. Official Chinese figures are not reported.

In late 2014, China announced that it would switch to a completely voluntary donation-based system.

This pronouncement was greeted with great skepticism however, given that between 2012 and 2013, only around 1,400 people signed up to donate (compared to the more than 300,000 in need of organ transplants every year).

Since then, the government has seen limited success in getting people to sign up to the national register.

One 86-year-old woman, surnamed Zhou, told CNN she had wanted to donate her organs in 1996 but at the time her local Red Cross chapter had never heard of someone doing so.

"Since I wasn't able to have a medical career myself, I want to make a contribution after I die," she said.

Zhou said that while her family was mostly supportive of her decision, "in China, the conventional wisdom is that it's improper to mutilate a body when someone is dead."

While people like Zhou have stepped forward to fill the gap left by prisoners, experts warn that there is nothing to stop those condemned to be executed from also "volunteering," and regulations legalizing the use of prisoners' organs remain in force.

The 2014 announcement "is only at best a statement of good intentions but has no force of law," the medical journal BMJ said.

The phasing out of executed prisoners' organs is a "semantic trick," Professor Li Huige of Johannes Gutenberg University said in a recent report commissioned by the European Parliament.

Why China will struggle to end organ harvesting from executed prisoners?

He pointed to statements by Huang to Chinese state media that "death row prisoners are also citizens."

"If (they) are willing to atone for their crime by donating organs, they should be encouraged," Huang told People's Daily.

By redefining prisoners as regular citizens, Li says, "China's national organ donation system may be abused for the whitewashing of organs from both death row prisoners and prisoners of conscience."

In an open letter to the Lancet, 5 doctors wrote that "China is still using death row inmates' organs. The only difference is that these organs are now been classified as citizens' voluntarily donated organs."

Huang did not respond to a request for comment. Speaking to the New York Times, he said his comments had been "distorted" and were not in keeping with government policy.

(source: CNN)


Foreign Office Emails Cast Doubt on 'Legal Access' for Death-row Brit

Newly-released documents show how the Ethiopian authorities repeatedly misled Foreign Office staff attempting to help a British man who was kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia two years ago. Internal Foreign Office emails and documents, obtained by human rights organisation Reprieve, show that throughout the last year, Ethiopian officials repeatedly obstructed and frustrated the efforts of British government staff who were seeking to assist Andargachew 'Andy' Tsege.

Mr Tsege, a British father of three from London, was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces and taken forcibly to Ethiopia on 23rd June 2014. Mr Tsege is a prominent figure in Ethiopian opposition politics, and he is being held under a sentence of death that was imposed in absentia in 2009, whilst he was living in London. In his 2 years' of detention, the Ethiopian authorities have severely limited his access to his family, and UK consular officials. Torture of political prisoners is common in Ethiopia, and there are fears for his mental and physical wellbeing.

In the Foreign Office documents - which date from throughout 2015 - Ethiopian officials repeatedly refused to confirm where Mr Tsege was being held, cancelling planned consular visits, and failing to answer basic questions over the legal basis for his detention. In a record of a conversation between Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond MP and his Ethiopian counterpart, Dr Tedros Adanhom on 24th June 2015 - 1 year after Mr Tsege's kidnap - Mr Hammond complained about Ethiopia's "repeated failure to deliver on our basic requests", saying "people were asking why we had a substantial bilateral relationship but were not able to resolve this".

The documents also show that Ethiopian officials have repeatedly told UK diplomats that there is no possibility of a legal process for Mr Tsege in Ethiopia - raising serious doubts over an announcement by Mr Hammond that Ethiopia has now promised 'legal access' for Mr Tsege, made earlier this month.

According to the documents, when asked by the Foreign Office about Mr Tsege's legal rights in May last year, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister insisted that there was "no case" for a lawyer, saying "the legal process ... was complete ... what was the need for a lawyer?" In July that year, the Ethiopian Prime Minister confirmed to the UK Secretary of State for International Development that "there was no appeal process" for Mr Tsege in Ethiopia, a fact later repeated by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister.

Reprieve has urged the Foreign Office to request Mr Tsege's release, and his return to the UK - a call that has already been made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the European Parliament, and several MPs.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "Throughout Andy's 2-year ordeal, Ethiopian officials have repeatedly run rings around the Foreign Office - making and breaking the most basic of assurances, and insisting, again and again, that Andy has no legal rights in Ethiopia. By relying on the latest empty promise of 'legal access', Philip Hammond is only compounding the abuses Andy has suffered in illegal Ethiopian detention. Enough is enough - the Foreign Secretary must call for Andy's release, so he can return to his family in the UK."

(source: Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.


The 6th UNGA Resolution for a Moratorium on Use of the Death Penalty

ORGANISERS Hands off Cain, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International On 18 December 2014, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) reaffirmed its broad support for the Moratorium on Use of the Death Penalty resolution for the 5th time since 2007.

Resolution A/ RES/69/186 was passed with a record 117 votes in favour, 38 against, 34 abstentions and 4 absent.

In December 2016, a new resolution will be put to the vote and the abolitionist movement faces a major challenge.


JUNE 22, 2016:


Ala. Death Penalty Scheme Is Constitutional

Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme is constitutional, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ruled June 17 ( State v. Billups, 2016 BL 194832, Ala. Crim. App., No. CR-15-0619, 6/17/16 ).

The decision puts the death penalty back on the table for 4 men facing capital murder charges, at least for now.

Just 2 weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an Alabama death row inmate's sentence and remanded the case back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, directing the court to consider this very same issue; does Alabama's scheme comply with the dictates of Hurst v. Florida, 2016 BL 7258 (U.S. 2016) (98 CrL 333, 1/20/16)?

Parsing Hurst

Jefferson County Judge Tracie Todd ruled March 3 that the state was barred from seeking the death penalty because Alabama's procedures violated the principles announced in Hurst, which struck down a Florida death penalty scheme for giving judges too much power to override a jury's recommendations about capital punishment.

But the Alabama appellate court, in an opinion by Judge J. Elizabeth Kellum, ordered Todd to vacate her decision, saying that she was reading Hurst too broadly.

In Hurst, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't strike down all sentencing override procedures as violative of the Sixth Amendment, the court said. Instead, the justices merely ruled that Florida's capital-sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because the procedure specifically conditioned a capital defendant's eligibility for the death penalty on findings made by the trial court and not on any findings made by the jury.

"In Florida, the jury did not have to unanimously find the existence of an aggravating circumstance before the jury could vote on whether to recommend a sentence of death or even before the jury recommended death," Kellum wrote.

By contrast, a judge can't issue an override under the Alabama scheme unless a jury first agrees beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one aggravating circumstance exists, the court said.

2 weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an Alabama death row inmate's sentence and remanded the case back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals for further consideration in light of Hurst.

In concurrence, Judge J. Michael Joiner argued that the circuit court judge lacked jurisdiction to pass judgment on the constitutionality of the Alabama law because none of the men had been sentenced, much less convicted. Joiner also criticized the circuit judge for basing her ruling on what appeared to be her personal opinions, instead of the law.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office, Montgomery, Ala., represented the state. The defendants were represented by The Myers Firm; Emory Anthony Jr.; the C. Burrell Law Group; and Katheree Hughes, Jr., all of Birmingham, Ala.

(source: Bloomberg News)


Kill the Death Penalty Initiative Makes the Ballot

California Voters will be asked this November to close death row. An initiative to repeal the death penalty in the state has qualified for the ballot. Backers gathered almost 405,00 signatures. The proposition would make life in prison without the possibility of parole the most serious punishment.

Voters may be confused by the ballot question, considering the state has has not executed an inmate in over 10 years. Inmate appeals can last years. And executions have been put on hold by the courts over concerns about the drug cocktail used to put someone to death.

"Effectively we have life in prison without the possibility of parole," says actor Mike Farrell, who lead the initiative. "The problem is we are still paying for the death penalty system which is costing us 150 million dollars a year."

Farrell says a better idea is to take the 743 inmates on death row and put them to work, saving the state millions and sending money where it needs to go.

"We would require that 60 % of the money they make while they are working be paid to the victim's family funds or fines and restitutions," Farrell told KABC.

A similar ballot initiative was defeated in 2012. Supporters of the death penalty also turned in signatures in hopes of getting an initiative on the ballot this fall.

(source: KABC news)


Pikesville man may get death penalty or life behind bars for fatal shooting during robbery

A Pikesville man has been indicted on a federal murder charge for a 2009 shooting during a commercial robbery.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging 26-year-old Stanislav "Steven" Yelizarov with using, carrying and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, resulting in death. According to the indictment, on December 26, 2009, Yelizarov allegedly shot and killed a man during a commercial robbery.

He now faces a maximum sentence of death or life in prison. He's currently in prison serving a sentence on unrelated state and federal charges connected to a conspiracy to rob an Owings Mills jewelry store.

(source: WBFF news)


Attorney appointed for suspect in Commerce double homicide

An attorney specializing in death penalty capital murder cases has been appointed for a San Marcos man charged in connection with the deaths of a mother and daughter near Commerce.

Meanwhile a benefit account has been established to assist with the funeral arrangements for the victims in the case.

Tyrone Jamaal Williams, 30, remains in the custody of the Hunt County Detention Center, being held in lieu of $1 million bond on a charge of capital murder of multiple persons. Williams had filed a writ of habeas corpus from the jail, seeking the appointment of an attorney.

During a Tuesday morning hearing in the 354th District Court, Judge Richard A. Beacom appointed an attorney from the West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases program to represent Williams on the writ. No additional hearings were immediately scheduled.

Williams is charged in the June 17 murders of Nichole Elizabeth Gonzales, 27, and her mother Vicki Ann Gonzales, 51.

Williams was reportedly the estranged boyfriend of Nichole Gonzales and they were the parents of 2 small children who were also found inside the residence where the murders occurred. The children were unharmed.

The Commerce Police Department reported Tuesday that a viewing for the Nichole and Vicki Gonzales is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. and a vigil from 7:30-8 p.m. Friday at Jones- Walker & Son, 1209 Live Oak Street in Commerce. The funeral home is also accepting donations for the family between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.

Hunt County has been a part of the West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases program since 2012.Each participating county agrees to pay a yearly fee, based on its population and the number of capital murder cases it has filed within the last 10 years. The cost of the program to Hunt County is on a sliding scale, with the costs rising each year to a maximum of $108,000.

There are some limitations to the program. In the event 2 people are charged with capital murder and are facing the death penalty in the same case, the office could only defend one of them. The office also doesn't handle the appeals of any convictions, nor does it pay for "2nd chair" defense attorneys, both of which would be still be paid for through the county. The office also does not handle capital murder cases where the death penalty is not being sought.

(source: Herald-Banner)


Taiwan 'moving toward' abolishing death penalty

The Ministry of Justice yesterday responded to EU calls to abolish capital punishment by saying that Taiwan's justice system is moving toward that goal in the long term, adding that a high percentage of Taiwanese still favor the death penalty for certain crimes.

Taiwan, China, Japan and the US were among the nations criticized in the Council of the EU's Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2015, which was released on Monday.

The report said that 101 countries have abolished the death penalty, as the EU reaffirmed "its opposition to the death penalty and use of all diplomatic tools at its disposal to advance the cause of worldwide abolition."

"The EU deplored the continuing use of the death penalty in various parts of the world: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Belarus, Egypt, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the USA were a particular focus of attention," it added, as the EU urged these nations to abolish capital punishment. Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang yesterday said the ministry's ultimate goal is to abolish capital punishment in Taiwan, "but current public surveys indicate that 82 % of the people are against abolition of the death penalty."

Chen said the ministry has undertaken 4 measures toward this long-term objective: ending legal requirements for "mandatory capital punishment" for certain crimes; taking steps for the judiciary to deliberate on "discretionary capital punishment"; handing out the death penalty with extreme prudence; and carrying out the death penalty with extreme prudence.

"We are currently reviewing and assessing this issue," Chen said. "The ministry will take very careful approaches on handling this issue and carrying out the death penalty, before our nation has formally abolished it," Chen said.

Other judicial officials said that the ministry is still responsible for policies on the death penalty, and that the nation's laws still retain the death penalty.

(source: Taipei Times)


My sister's murder and the death penalty----My sister, Kathy Lu McCoy, was murdered 42 years ago

My sister, Kathy Lu McCoy, was abducted off of the streets of Spokane, Washington in 1974, and found murdered several hours later. The crime was extremely brutal, and her last few hours of life were hell on earth.

Her killer, Harry Edward Brooks, was apprehended shortly after she was found, received a life sentence, and remains in prison 41 years later.

While not a hate crime by legal definition, it was a hate crime, similar to the thousands of homicides, and tens of thousands of rapes and other violent acts, committed against women each year simply because they are women. The inability of women to move about independently without having extra fear of violence because of their gender remains a great civil rights problem.

The cruelty of the crime against my sister made me feel, among other emotions, a visceral desire for retribution. It did not, however, change my opposition to, or my family's opposition to, the death penalty.

That opposition was rooted above all in the arbitrary and discriminatory manner in which the penalty had been imposed historically. It was patently obvious then, and remains so today, that this punishment, and other profound flaws in the criminal justice system, were inextricably linked to race and class. In fairness, many good people had worked to make it less so, as they do today, but the justice system ultimately mirrors some of our society's inequities and injustices.

Those who have lost loved ones to violence of course have every right to feel however they do about that crime, and about what the fate of their loved one's killer should be. Among life's nightmares, such outrageous injustice ranks at the top for horror and damage from which there is no full recovery.

When a killer targets victims because of their race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or other reasons motivated solely by hatred, that nightmare is even worse, because it rips the very fabric that binds us together as a nation and a people, and does violence to us all, never mind the added layer of violence to the victims' survivors. There are no adequate words for such crimes against humanity.

We hang on to the death penalty as a deterrent, with no persuasive evidence that it deters, and out of moral outrage and a belief that some crimes cannot be adequately punished without it. The logic and sentiment here make sense, but they do not make the death penalty any less imperfect in the way we employ it. It's bad public policy, in large part because it contains too many of the same biases and flaws that killers who receive it do. More and more people, including many family members of murder victims, hope we will stop using it, and make that fabric of our society stronger by doing so. My family and I are among them.

(source: Op-Ed; Pat McCoy is the Director of Action NC and a board member of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation----Charlotte Observer)


U.S. prosecutors to seek death penalty at Spaniard's retrial

Prosecutors in the U.S. state of Florida have officially announced their intention to seek the death penalty for Spaniard Pablo Ibar in his retrial for a 1994 triple-murder, supporters of the defendant said here Tuesday.

Though "expected," the prosecutor's decision has caused "deep disappointment," the spokesman for the Pablo Ibar Anti-Death Penalty Association, Andres Krakenberger, told a press conference in the northern Spanish city of Vitoria.

Ibar, who has spent 16 years on death row in the United States, will face a new trial, according to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that overturned his death sentence handed down in 2000.

Nightclub owner Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, 48, and models Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers, both 25, were killed during a June 1994 home invasion in the South Florida city of Miramar.

The now-45-year-old Ibar was initially tried for the triple homicide along with co-defendant Seth Penalver in 1997, but a mistrial was declared.

Penalver was convicted 2 years later and sentenced to death, but that conviction was subsequently annulled and he was acquitted in a new trial in 2012.

Ibar was convicted in 2000, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned that verdict by a 4-3 vote in February of this year based on, among other things, the fact that his DNA was not found on a T-shirt that was recovered from the murder scene and which one of the perpetrators had used to partially cover his face.

Krakenberger on Tuesday slammed the "coldness" of the document in which the state of Florida announced its intention to seek the death penalty at the retrial, which in his opinion showed that execution in the U.S. is considered just part of the procedure, despite it being "cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that has no place in the 21st century."

Krakenberger said that Ibar, who was taken off death row early this month, though he remains behind bars, took the news with a "certain resignation," but said that in general he is in good spirits and that his situation has improved.

The spokesman said he doesn't know when the retrial will take place because there are "too many variables" and the state of Florida might ask for a postponement.

He also said he continues to collect money for the retrial, since it will cost $1.3 million and for that another $590,000 are needed.

Finally, Krakenberger said that Ibar's defense has presented a series of motions to bar various pieces of evidence from the new trial due to their inconsistency.

He said that Ibar's family shows support for the victims of the "senseless" triple murder, which "must not go unpunished."

"The state of Florida must bring to justice those who were truly guilty," but Pablo Ibar "is innocent," he said.

(source: Fox News)


Man could face death penalty in Texarkana, Ark., drug-related home invasion

A man accused of wearing a mask when he fatally shot another during a drug-related home invasion in a Texarkana, Ark., apartment complex last year has been charged with capital murder.

Justin Damone Johnson, 28, faces death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole if found guilty of capital murder in the death of 22-year-old Travon Staten during a shooting Nov. 15 at the Beacon Point Apartments. Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Black signed a felony information Thursday formally charging Johnson.

According to a search warrant affidavit for cell phone records, Staten was allegedly selling controlled substances from his apartment and opened the door for a customer shortly before midnight on the day of his death. Several men with masked faces allegedly walked into Staten's apartment, where he was visiting with friend Rashod Rushing, 28. Staten's girlfriend and her infant child were present during the shooting but unharmed. Rushing, who allegedly told investigators he dropped to the floor when bullets started whizzing, said he grabbed a pistol as the smoke cleared and went outside. Texarkana, Ark., police spokeswoman Kristi Bennett described the shooting as a "drug-related home invasion," in earlier press statements.

Rushing allegedly found Justin Bolton, masked and suffering from a gunshot wound, crawling on the ground. Rushing is accused of firing 2 shots into Bolton that ended his life. Rushing is charged with 2nd degree murder in Bolton's death in an information signed by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell in February. He could receive 6 to 30 years if found guilty.

Johnson was at large for about 5 months before he was taken into custody by federal marshals.

Johnson has been accused of murder before. Johnson was accused in 2010 by authorities in New Mexico of killing 2 brothers and critically injuring a woman in a drug related confrontation. He was acquitted of the charges by a New Mexico jury in 2012. He is being held without bail in the Miller County jail on the orders of a Miller County circuit judge.

Johnson is scheduled to appear for arraignment on the capital murder charge before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson next month.



Suspect in Kansas detective's death waives extradition -- Man was released from hospital on Monday

The man accused of fatally shooting a Kansas City, Kan., police detective has agreed to be returned to Kansas from Missouri for prosecution.

Curtis Ayers had been hospitalized under guard until Monday since being shot May 9 by police during his arrest in Kansas City, Mo., hours after prosecutors say he killed Brad Lancaster near the Kansas Speedway.

The Kansas City Star ( ) reports Ayers on Tuesday signed extradition paperwork and agreed to be transferred to Kansas, where he faces a murder charge carrying the possible death penalty if he's convicted.

29-year-old Ayers also faces charges in Missouri's Jackson County and Kansas' Leavenworth County for alleged crimes that followed the shooting involving Lancaster.

Police used Lancaster's handcuffs on Ayers when they transported him Monday from the hospital to jail.

(source: Associated Press)


Suspect in fatal stabbing spree hopes to get death penalty

A man stabbed 4 women, killing 1, at a shopping mall in this northern city June 21, and told police he hoped to be hanged for the crime.

The suspect, Nobuyuki Matsuhashi, 33, was overpowered by a security guard and arrested on the scene.

"There is no question it was me," Matsuhashi was quoted as saying by investigators. "I stabbed them so I would get the death sentence. I wanted to kill someone and end it all."

His victims, shoppers and a store clerk, were aged between 49 and 76. They included a mother and her daughter. A 68-year-old woman died from stab wounds to her chest.

Investigators will likely request that Matsuhashi undergo psychiatric testing to evaluate his mental state and determine his criminal liability.

A neighbor of Matsuhashi said he confided in tears a few days earlier: "I'm very unstable right now. Do you think I should go and see a doctor?"

Local police rushed to the Aeon Mall Kushiro-Showa complex, located near the city's downtown area, after receiving an emergency call about the stabbing rampage around 3:15 p.m.

Police said Matsuhashi entered the mall from the 1st floor entrance at the eastern side of the building around 3:10 p.m., wielding a knife with a thin blade 22.5 centimeters long.

He then strode purposefully down the main corridor of the mall, lined by clothes shops and restaurants.

As he headed back the way from where he came, Matsuhashi set upon Masako Tonuma, a local resident aged 68, police said. She died of her injuries.

He injured 2 more customers--the mother and her daughter--and a mall employee.

Matsuhashi was subdued minutes later by a security guard and arrested by officers of the Kushiro Police Station on suspicion of attempted murder, which allows him to be held while more serious charges are considered.

The mall was bustling with more customers than usual because many shops were holding sales.

A shopper said she saw Matsuhashi astride a woman who had fallen facing upward and attacking her.

Investigators called it an indiscriminate act of violence that was likely premeditated as Matsuhashi purchased the knife at a hardware store just 2 hours before he drove to the mall.

Matsuhashi's job was delivering The Hokkaido Shimbun Press newspaper to households.

According to the company, he went about his morning delivery as usual, but did not show up at his workplace at 2:30 p.m. for his regular evening paper route.

The delivery office rang his cellphone, but it went unanswered.

(source: The Asahi Shimbun)


Malaysia 1 step closer to amending death penalty

Malaysia is 1 step closer to amending the mandatory death sentence, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri said.

Nancy told the World Congress Against The Death Penalty in Oslo, Norway, recently that a government-backed study on the death penalty had been completed and a paper is being readied by the Attorney General's Chambers.

"There are positive signs in Malaysia and a steady momentum towards possible change in the death penalty legislation," Nancy said.

The study was conducted by the International Centre For Law and Legal Studies (I-CeLLS). The consultant was then Professor Dr Roger Hood, Professor of Criminology and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College Oxford.

Currently, in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for 12 offences while 20 other offences are punishable with discretionary death penalty.

Murder, drug trafficking, and offences related to security are instances of offences which are punishable with death.

However, Nancy said empirical studies showed that the death penalty had not led to "the deterring effect that such a penalty was created".

"Although Malaysia is generally in compliance with international standards in so far as the relevant safeguards (on capital punishment) are concerned, Malaysia’s position on death penalty has always been subjected to national and international criticisms."

The global anti-death congress was the sixth edition. Nancy expressed her "deepest appreciation to Norway" for inviting Malaysia to participate.

(source: The Star)


Nancy Shukri: Study on death penalty completed

The Attorney-General's Chamber will prepare a paper on the amendments of the death penalty legislation for submission to the government following the completion of a comprehensive study on the matter.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri said the study conducted by the International Centre for Law and legal Studies (I-CeLLs) was carried after the AG's Chamber was tasked to undertake a comprehensive study on the issue of the death penalty in Malaysia.

The study was carried out with consultation from Professor Dr Roger Hood, Professor of Criminology and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College Oxford, one of the renowned experts on the death penalty, she said.

Nancy said this in her intervention note at the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty held in Oslo, Norway. The 3-day congress kicked off yesterday.

Her intervention note was faxed here today.

She said: "There are positive signs in Malaysia, and a steady momentum towards possible change in the death penalty legislation."

Currently in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for 12 offences, while 20 other offences are punishable by a discretionary death penalty.

"Murder, drug trafficking, and offences relating to (national) security are instances of offences which are punishable with a mandatory death penalty," she said.

Nancy said Malaysia does have some safeguards in law and practise to protect the right of the accused facing the death penalty, inter alia, the right to be promptly informed of the nature of the charge preferred against him, right to legal representative of his own choice and also the right to fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.

"Although Malaysia is generally in compliance with international standards insofar as the relevant safeguards are concerned, Malaysia's position on the death penalty has always been subjected to national and international criticisms.

"Among the criticisms are, although the death penalty has its place, it should only be implemented in the most serious of crimes and where there is no reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty," she said.

Nancy said there had been no empirical studies to prove that the death penalty did not have the deterring effect that such a penalty was hoped to create.



Australian Damian John Berg arrested on drugs charges in Philippines as nation prepares to bring in the death penalty

An Austalian arrested for selling ecstasy in the Philippines may fall afoul of 'shoot-to-kill' president-elect Rodrigo Duterte's promise to impose the death penalty on all drug crimes.

Damian John Berg and Canadian national Jeremy Eaton were arrested yesterday after being linked by Philippines police to a drug syndicate importing prohibited substances from Europe.

Philippines police allege the pair were selling ecstasy at a youth concert in Manila last month where 5 party-goers died of drug overdose.

It's a tough time to run afoul of the law in the Philippines.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has vowed he will put snipers in the streets, insisting his citizens must learn to fear the law - even smoking bans.

The 71-year-old, due to be sworn-in on June 30, says his goal is to 'end crime' within 3 to 6 months of taking office.

Capital punishment is to be applied to crimes involving murder, robbery, rape or drugs.

Other laws - as diverse as children being found walking on the streets at night - will be given much harsher penalties. In this example, parents will be jailed for 'abandonment'.

"If you resist, show violent resistance, my order to police will be to shoot to kill," he reiterated last month. "Shoot to kill for organised crime. You heard that? Shoot to kill for every organised crime."

Duterte, dubbed 'The Punisher', has previously said it does not concern him if this involves the deaths of tens of thousands of criminals.

"I expect you to obey the laws so there will be no chaos. I will hit hard on drugs and I promise them (law-breakers) hell," Duterte said.

"What I will do is urge Congress to restore the death penalty by hanging."

Duterte said he wanted hanging as a firing squad was 'a waste of bullets'.

He also plans to put the military on Philippines streets to enforce his will.

"I need the military to pitch. I need military officers who are sharpshooters and snipers. It's true. If you fight, I will have a sniper shoot you," he said.

High on his agenda are new laws to stamp-out drinking and smoking in public.

He says one of his first acts will be to extend local bylaws imposing a 2am curfew on drinking and smoking in his city of Davao to the whole nation.

This includes restaurants and hotels.

As Mayor, Duterte has been accused of organising vigilante squad to impose a rule of fear over the city of Davao. He boasted during the election campaign that he was behind the deaths of 1000 people - though he also intermittently denied the allegation.



Duterte: Death penalty a retribution not a deterrent

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte Wednesday stressed the need to revive the death penalty, which he said, would serve as "retribution" for those who committed crimes.

He said those who insist that death penalty is not a deterrent to crime do not understand his position on the issue.

"The death penalty might be a deterrence to commit a crime but that is one school of thought," Duterte said.

"Death penalty to me is the retribution. It makes you pay for what you did," he added.

The death penalty was abolished in 1987 during the time of President Corazon Aquino but was revived in 1993 under President Fidel Ramos.

Crimes that were punishable by death include murder, rape, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a devout Catholic, signed a law abolishing capital punishment in 2006.

Duterte reiterated that he would not hesitate to kill those who seek to destroy the youth, whom he said, is the future of the country.

"Do not destroy my country because I will kill you. Do not destroy my children because I will kill you," he said.

Duterte, who has pummeled critics of his strong anti-crime drive, said he would just ignore Commission on Human Rights Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon, who has been critical of his plans.

"If you know Gascon or if he is your friend, tell him I won't follow him,"he said.

Duterte also has an unusual threat against incoming Sen. Leila de Lima, who vowed to look into the law enforcement operations to be launched by the next administration.

"If De Lima does not shut her mouth, I will kill her - with love. If she agrees, I don’t know," he said.

Duterte to cops who kill criminals: 'I will protect you'

Duterte also vowed to help policemen who will face criminal charges for performing their role in his ruthless campaign against criminality and illegal drugs.

"I will take care of you I will protect you," Duterte said in a speech delivered before local officials in Sarangani.

"If you kill 1,000, tell them it was ordered by Duterte. Period. I will deal with everybody," he added.

Duterte, however, warned law enforcers not to lie to him or use his name to justify illegal activities.

"I told the police and law enforcers not to embarrass me by lying. If you committed a crime for personal reason, tell me and I'll help you. But do not lie to me," he said at a business forum in Davao City last Monday.

Duterte, whose successful presidential campaign has been attributed to his tough stance against crime, has vowed to suppress criminality in 3 to 6 months. He has also offered bounty to people who will kill drug lords and has encouraged ordinary citizens to arrest drug pushers in their communities.

"If you (policemen) are subpoenaed by the Ombudsman, tell them to send it to Duterte," the tough-talking leader said.

Duterte, who served as Davao City mayor for 22 years, also warned local executives who are involved in the narcotics trade.

"To the mayors who are into drugs: I will catch up with you. If we see each other, if we meet in one corner, I don't know. I'm warning you especially those who are still in government," he added.

Duterte previously told lawmakers that at least 35 local executives are involved in illegal drugs trade.

Reacting to the recent deaths of suspected drug pushers, Duterte said some drug lords may have silenced their accomplices to escape criminal liability.

(source: Philippine Star)


Executions in Iran prove Rouhani is not a moderate

British lawmaker Stephen McCabe has encouraged international support for a major "Free Iran" gathering planned in Paris on July 9.

Mr. McCabe, a Member of Parliament from the United Kingdom's Labour Party, in a video message said he is "very concerned" about the human rights abuses in Iran.

"There's been some 1000 executions in Iran in the last year," Mr. McCabe said, adding that regime's disrespect for human rights and international law shows that the mullahs' President Hassan Rouhani is not a 'moderate' as some in the West claim he is.

Mr. McCabe said he plans to attend the July 9 event in Paris in solidarity with the Iranian people and their democratic Resistance movement led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

(source: NCR-Iran)


Kenya delegation in Oslo on meeting to end death penalty

A Kenyan delegation is in Oslo, Norway to attend the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty.

The 3 day Congress, starting Tuesday, seeks to assist countries develop new strategies for universal abolition of the death penalty. This year's theme is Abolition Now!

The Kenyan delegation, under the leadership of the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (POMAC), is expected to present the Kenya position on the ongoing global debate on the death penalty.

POMAC is mandated to advice the President of the Republic of Kenya on the exercise of the power of mercy. It is a 9 member Committee that includes the Attorney General, who is the Committee's chairperson, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for Correctional Services, and seven professional part time members.

Michael Kagika the POMAC secretary and Gerald Wandera a director with the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) are leading the Kenyan delegation into the meeting.

The annual event, now in its 5th year running, brings together Government Representatives, Members of the Civil Society, Political Representatives, Lawyers, media, and other key stakeholders keen on raising awareness on the death penalty.

The Power of Mercy Advisory Committee was established through Article 133 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.

Since its inception on Nov 1, 2011, 4,500 death row inmates have so far benefitted from the Power of Mercy after having their death sentences commuted into life.

In addition to the constitutional mandate, The Power of Mercy Act, 2011 assigns the Committee with functions that support its work including to undertake or commission research and to collect data on matters relating to the power of mercy.

Currently, POMAC in partnership with the National Crime Research Centre is conducting a National Public debate to solicit views from the general public, on the subject of capital offences and capital punishment.

The objective of the debate is to provide an open dialogue on what Kenyans want in regard to the handling of capital offenders and the management of capital offences.



Indian Asked to Pay Penalty Before His Execution by Kuwait Government

Kuwait court has sentenced an Indian to death and imposed a penalty of 5,001 Kuwait Dinars (KD). According to the Police officials, the Indian killed an Afghani over debt of Kuwait Dinars 3,000.

The Police department has caught hold of the culprit with the help of his sponsor. The culprit was convicted of the charge against him. The Kuwait Court has issued a death penalty to the Indian, while directing him to compensate the victim's family with Kuwait dinars 5,001.



Saudi Prince to Meet Ban Ki Moon, as Juveniles Await Beheading

The UN Secretary-General must use a meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia tomorrow to call for the release of three Saudi juveniles who face beheading after allegedly attending protests, human rights organization Reprieve has said.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman will today meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in New York, in the latest of a series of diplomatic meetings that included a trip to the White House last Friday. The meeting takes place amid fears for the fate of three juveniles who have been sentenced to death after they allegedly attended protests in the Kingdom's Eastern Province in 2012.

Ali al-Nimr, Abdullah al Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon - who are assisted by Reprieve - were all under 18 when they were arrested and tortured into 'confessions', which were later used to convict them in secretive trials. Last autumn, they were informed that their final appeals had been rejected. They could now be executed at any time.

Saudi Arabia has executed a record number of prisoners this year; a mass execution carried out on January 2nd saw at least 2 juveniles killed. One of them, Ali al-Ribh, had been arrested in school in the wake of the Eastern Province protests.

The execution of juveniles and prisoners arrested for non-violent alleged crimes is prohibited under international law. Research carried out by Reprieve last year found that, of those prisoners identified as facing execution in Saudi Arabia, some 72 % had been arrested for non-violent crimes, including political protest.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "The Saudi authorities are engaged in unprecedented levels of repression - Prince Mohammed's trip cannot mask his government's skyrocketing use of torture, secret trials and beheadings. Among those who face execution for allegedly attending protests are juveniles Ali, Dawood and Abdullah, and it is crucial that Ban Ki Moon and other heads of state do not miss a crucial opportunity to raise their cases. The Secretary General must make clear to the Prince tomorrow that these terrible abuses in Saudi Arabia must stop - and that Ali, Dawood and Abdullah must be released."

(source: Reprieve)

JUNE 21, 2016:


Case against accused serial killer at a standstill over death penalty debate in Oklahoma

The case against an accused serial killer is at a standstill.

William Reece is currently serving a 60 year prison sentence for kidnapping after he abducted 19-year-old Sandra Sapaugh. Fortunately, she was able to escape and call police.

Recently, Reece has been linked to several unsolved murders across Texas and Oklahoma.

According to KPRC, Kelli Cox disappeared on July 15, 1997 after touring the Denton jail with her criminology class. She phoned her boyfriend to pick her up from a payphone nearby, but was never heard from again.

Nearly two decades later, Reece decided to lead investigators to Cox's remains.

Investigators in Oklahoma also decided to test Reece's DNA against an unsolved murder that occurred around the same time in Bethany.

On July 26, 1997, 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston was abducted from the Sunshine Car Wash in Bethany.

The next day, her body was discovered in Canadian County.

Cox and Johnston are 2 of 5 women who were kidnapped, murdered or disappeared in 1997 under similar circumstances.

All 5 are believed to be linked to Reece.

However, Reece has only been charged with Johnston's murder.

Oklahoma authorities allowed Texas to hold Reece in the Lone Star State so he could lead police to the victims' bodies.

Reece's attorney says his client would admit to his role in the murders and would lead police to the bodies in exchange for not getting the death penalty.

Texas officials agreed to the terms, but Oklahoma prosecutors have not.

"He didn't give his victims a chance to have their wishes heard, or anything. So why should he get what he wants?" Kathy Dobry, Johnston's mother, told KPRC.

Instead, Oklahoma officials have not decided whether or not to pursue the death penalty in this case.

"He took my daughter's life and his life needs to be taken too," Dobry said. "In the Bible, it says, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Reece moved to Houston in 1996 after serving time in Oklahoma for rape.

(source: KFOR news)


Death penalty fosters revenge, not justice, pope says

Use of the death penalty is an unacceptable practice that sows vengeance and does not bring justice to the victims of crime, Pope Francis said.

No matter how serious the crime, to kill a convicted person is "an offense to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person," as well as a contradiction of God's plan and "his merciful justice," the pope said June 21 in a video message to participants at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.

"It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance. The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty," the pope said in his message to the meeting in Oslo, Norway.

The June 21-23 conference, sponsored by the French association, "Together Against the Death Penalty," promotes the universal abolition of the death penalty. The group expected more than 1,300 people -- including government officials -- from more than 80 countries to attend.

Thanking the participants for their commitment to "a world free of the death of penalty," the pope said growing opposition to the death penalty as a legitimate means of social defense is "one sign of hope."

The Year of Mercy, he added, also can serve as an occasion globally to promote "more evolved forms of respect for the life and dignity of each person."

"It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal," he said.

While the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the death penalty can be used "if this is the only possible way" of defending lives from an unjust aggressor, it also stresses the importance of not removing the possibility of redemption from a person convicted of a crime.

"The cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent," the catechism states.

Pope Francis echoed the church's teaching, calling on conference participants to also work toward improving prison conditions "so that they fully respect the human dignity of those incarcerated" and promote the rehabilitation of convicts.

"There is no fitting punishment without hope!" Pope Francis said. "Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment."

(source: Catholic News Service)


Pope on death penalty: 'Thou shalt not kill' is absolute

Pope Francis is amplifying his opposition to capital punishment, saying it's an offense to life, contradicts God's plan and serves no purpose for punishment.

In a video message to an anti-death penalty congress in Norway, Francis declared: "The commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty."

Francis has gone beyond his predecessors and traditional Catholic teaching in saying there is simply no justification for the death penalty today. He said Tuesday that rather than rendering justice, it fosters vengeance.

Church teaching allows for recourse to capital punishment when it is the only way to defend lives "effectively" against an aggressor.

Francis said: "It must not be forgotten that the inviolable and God-given right to life also belongs to the criminal."

(source: Associated Press)


From death row to romance: ex-con couple beats the odds

She was headed for the electric chair in Florida, he for the gallows in Ireland: both escaped death row and are now an unlikely couple campaigning for an end to capital punishment.

The chances of them ever meeting were small. Frail but alert, Sunny Jacobs spent 5 of her 68 years in a small cell in total isolation, waiting to have 2,400 volts sent through her body.

Thousands of kilometres away, Peter Pringle, his hair and beard now white at age 77, was rotting away in jail, waiting for a noose to be placed around his neck.

'Peter and I, we don't often talk about it but sometimes things will remind us. That reminds me (of something) from inside, that reminds me (of something) from when we first got out,' says Jacobs, ahead of the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, being held in Oslo until Thursday.

'We very, very rarely mention the word prison. It's a visceral feeling you get when you say it.'

That's where she ended up after the murder of 2 police officers in 1976.

According to her version of events, she and then-boyfriend Jesse were in a car belonging to a friend along with their 9-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter.

During a routine check, police found a weapon in the car and a deadly gunfight broke out.

The friend, whom she says was holding a gun, later cut a deal, blaming the young couple. He received 3 life sentences, while Sunny and Jesse were sentenced to death.

'I was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people,' she says.

After 5 years, her death sentence was commuted to a life term, and she was finally released in 1992 having spent nearly 17 years behind bars.

Jesse Tafero was electrocuted in horrific circumstances: his face caught fire due to a malfunction, executioners had to start the chair 5 times, and then it took 7 minutes for him to die.

- 'Like an animal' -

In Ireland, Peter Pringle was just 11 days away from execution by hanging. Known to police for his past IRA connections, he was wrongfully convicted in 1980 for the murder of 2 police officers in an armed robbery.

From his death row cell, he could hear the guards who monitored him around the clock talking about his upcoming execution, about the bonus they hoped to get, about the fact that they would have to pull on his legs to ensure his neck vertebrae were properly broken.

'If the jailers learned to like the condemned prisoner or respect the condemned prisoner, then it would be very difficult for him or her to engage in killing that person cold-bloodedly because you don't kill people you like,' he suggests.

'So for their own protection, they would treat you like you were an animal, or less than human.'

Less than 2 weeks before his scheduled execution, he was informed that his sentenced had been commuted to 40 years in prison.

'It would have been political suicide to hang somebody in the country at that time,' he says.

He had already resigned himself to the idea of dying, but not to the idea of spending so many years in jail. He taught himself law and was exonerated after 15 years inside.

- 'It's about revenge' -

It was in a pub in Galway, Ireland, in 1998 that he met Jacobs, who was there to talk about the death penalty. They found they had a lot in common: their convictions, the happy endings, their interest in yoga and meditation that they had practised in prison, and more.

Married since 2011, they now run a help centre in Ireland for the victims of wrongful convictions. And they work tirelessly for the abolition of capital punishment.

'If you teach children that if you make me angry enough, or you do something (that) I think is completely wrong, (and that) it's just fine for me to kill you, then when they get angry enough, they get a gun.

'And then you have Orlando, you have Sandy Hook,' says Jacobs, referring to this month's massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub, and another shooting at a Connecticut school in 2012 in which 26 people were killed.

'The death sentence is not about deterrence,' adds Pringle.

'It's about revenge. It's a situation where society cannot rise above the lowest level. Society has to be capable of rising above that.'

At least 1,634 people were executed around the world in 2015, according to Amnesty International, the highest number since 1989.

(source: Gulf Times)


Which Pennsylvania counties impose the most death sentences?

Nearly 1/2 of death row sentences Pennsylvania since the state reinstituted the capital punishment in 1978 are from Philadelphia, though the city has a lower death-sentence rate than the state average and some of its immediate suburbs.

Homicide cases in Philadelphia and Chester Counties result in the death penalty slightly less often than the state average, while Delaware County has a capital-punishment rate well below normal and convicted killers in Bucks and Montgomery Counties are far more likely to be sentenced to death than those elsewhere in the state.

Those are some of the findings in a recent in-depth Reading Eagle report on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

The newspaper found what it described as "a far-from-even application of the death penalty in Pennsylvania," noting a wide disparity in which of the state's nearly 25,000 homicides between 1978 and 2014 resulted in death sentences.

During those three and a half decades, 408 people statewide were sentenced to death, a rate of 1.6 death sentences for every 100 homicides, the newspaper found.

Among the state's counties, the results varied widely: 14 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties had rates of more than twice the state average. 23 counties did not sentence anyone to death.

Philadelphia's raw numbers make the city stand out: The city has sent 186 people to death row and the 3 district attorneys who obtained the most death row sentences are all from Philadelphia (Lynne Abraham, with 85 death sentences; Ed Rendell, with 54; and Ronald Castille, with 50), according to the newspaper's data analysis.

But Philadelphia also has by far the most homicides in the state, and just 1.4 % of Philadelphia murder cases resulted in a death sentence, below the state average.

Here are the number of death sentences and the capital-punishment rate for local counties, according to the Eagle's figures:

Philadelphia: 186 death sentences, death-penalty rate of 1.4 %

Bucks County: 12 death sentences, death-penalty rate of 3.4 %

Chester County: 4 death sentences, death-penalty rate of 1.3 %

Delaware County: 7 death sentences, death-penalty rate of 0.7 %

Montgmery County: 15 death sentences, death-penalty rate of 2.7 %

The highest rate in the state was in Northumberland County, which had 4 homicides and a death-sentence rate of 7.3 %, the Eagle found. Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh had the 2nd-most death sentences, at 24, but a below-average rate of 0.9 %.



Man accused of killing Florida priest attempts to flood cell

A man accused of killing a Florida priest was transferred Monday to a jail in Clayton County after trying to flood his cell in Jefferson County.

Steven Murray had been transferred to Jefferson County jail in late May after a suicide attempt while housed in the Burke County jail. On Saturday, Murray broke a sprinkler head in the cell in his attempt to flood it. He was later moved back to Burke County, according to Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey.

After spending 2 nights in Burke County custody, Clayton County jail - located in Jonesboro - agreed Monday to take Murray. Coursey confirmed that he sent a request to the Georgia Sheriff's Association asking for another county to provide a cell for Murray. Less than 24-hours after making the request, Clayton County responded.

Murray, 28, was taken into custody April 13 after the body of the Rev. Rene Robert, who had been missing, was found April 18 in a wooded area in the northern part of Burke County.

The Burke County grand jury on May 19 indicted Murray, 28, on charges of murder and weapon violations in Robert's death. District Attorney Ashley Wright has filed notice that she intends to seek the death penalty against Murray.

Investigators believe Murray tricked Robert, who was trying to counsel the former Aiken resident, into going to Aiken to visit Murray's children on April 10. When Murray was denied access to the children, Murray forced Robert into the trunk of Robert's Toyota and proceeded to commit a number of burglaries and an arson in Aiken, according to earlier reports.

Murray told investigators that he pulled off the side of the road at one point, took Robert from the trunk and shot him there. The following week, Murray agreed to show law enforcement where he killed Robert, which was off River Road in Burke County.

According to the notice of the intention to seek the death penalty, Wright listed 4 statutory aggravating circumstances: the slaying was committed while Murray was committing kidnapping with bodily injury, Murray killed the priest while engaged in aggravated battery, that Murray killed Robert for money or something of value, and Robert's slaying was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or aggravated battery on the victim.

(source: The Augusta Chronicle)


Opening Statements Underway In Villegas Murder Trial

Opening statements got underway Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of killing Plantation attorney Melissa Britt Lewis then dumping her body in a canal.

Tony Villegas was originally ruled incompetent to stand trial and spent 10 months locked in a mental health facility. That decision was then overturned after 2 forensic psychologists found him mentally fit.

Melissa Britt Lewis was a law partner of notorious case convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, She was also best friends with Villegas' ex-wife, Debra Villegas, Rothstein's chief operating officer.

Despite conspiracy theories early on, investigators concluded Lewis was not a part of Rothstein's $1.6 billion Ponzi scheme and her death had nothing to do with him.

Prosecutors say Villegas killed Lewis in March, 2008 because he blamed her for the breakup of his marriage.

The defense may try to plant the suggestion that Rothstein was behind Lewis' murder because, as an attorney said in an earlier civil proceedings, "she knew too much."

The judge has forbidden the defense from bringing Rothstein into the murder trial, but that could change if any witnesses make unsolicited reference to the Ponzi schemer.

Defense attorney Bruce Fleischer offered no detail in his opening remarks to jurors, saying only that the death of Melissa Lewis was a puzzle.

"There will be pieces of the puzzle, important pieces of the puzzle, that when you analyze them, that are missing," Fleischer said.

Assistant State Attorney painted a seemingly overwhelming case against Villegas. His DNA was found on her suit jacket in her abandoned SUV. It was missing a button that had been torn off. A matching button was found on her garage floor. Also on the garage floor was pepper spray residue.

Villegas' roommate testified that when he came home the day of Lewis's disappearance, the defendant was washing pepper spray off of his hands and arms.

Police could not find the victim's cell phone. They say tracking records show it went back and forth between Broward and Miami- Dade on an FEC train line after her death. Villegas was a conductor on the train.

Debra Villegas was sentenced to 10-years in after pleading guilty to her role in Rothstein's scheme. Rothstein was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Villegas won early release for cooperating in the Ponzi investigation.

Debra Villegas is expected to testify against her ex-husband. She will say her estranged husband was violent and threatened to "chop her up and feed her to alligators" if she went through with the divorce. Villegas faces the death penalty if convicted of 1st-degree murder.

(source: CBS news)


SCOTUS demands new look at race of jurors of death penalty conviction in Alabama

The U.S. Supreme Court says lower courts in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi must re-examine 3 death penalty convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.

The court ruled Monday in the cases of Christopher Floyd of Alabama, Jabari Williams of Louisiana and Curtis Giovanni Flowers of Mississippi.

The brief decisions followed the court's May decision to overturn the conviction and death sentence of a Georgia man because of evidence that prosecutors intentionally excluded black people from the jury.

The May decision broke no new ground in efforts to fight racial discrimination in jury selection, but underscored a 30-year-old high court ruling that took aim at the exclusion of minorities from juries.

Flowers was convicted after 5 previous trials over the slaying of 4 people in a furniture store.

(source: Associated Press)


U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Another Alabama Death Penalty Case

For the 4th time in 2 months, the United States Supreme Court today overturned an Alabama death penalty case in which EJI challenged the conviction and sentence affirmed by state courts. This time, the Court reversed because of concerns about racial bias in jury selection.

Christopher Floyd was tried by an all-white jury in Houston County, Alabama, where African Americans comprise 27 % of the population. The prosecutor, Doug Valeska, has a documented history of racial discrimination in jury selection. The prosecution marked African American potential jurors with a "B" on its list of jurors to remove, then removed 10 of 11 qualified black prospective jurors.

1 of the black jurors barred from jury service provided answers to all of the prosecution's questions during jury selection, but the prosecutor said that she did not respond to any questions and so he could not provide a race-neutral reason for removing her. EJI argued on appeal that because the prosecutor's assertion was not true, relief was required. The state courts nonetheless refused to grant relief.

The Supreme Court today granted Mr. Floyd's request for review, reversed the state court decision, and ordered the state court to re-examine the case. The Court referred to its recent decision in Foster v. Chatman, in which it held that Georgia prosecutors illegally barred African Americans from serving on Mr. Foster's jury because of their race.

Racial bias has been a longstanding problem in Alabama, where more than 2 dozen cases have been reversed after courts found that prosecutors engaged in intentional racial discrimination during jury selection. The Equal Justice Initiative has long argued that racial bias in jury selection is a serious problem in Alabama, particularly in capital trials, where too few prosecutors have ended the practice of unfairly excluding African Americans.

(source: Equal Justice Initiative)


US Supreme Court orders Curtis Flowers Hearing

The US Supreme Court orders Mississippi to re-examine Curtis Flowers death penalty conviction for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.

Curtis Flowers has been on death row in the 1996 killing of Winona furniture store owner Bertha Tardy and 3 of her employees. The US Supreme Court threw out today the Mississippi high court's 2014 decision affirming Flowers conviction and death sentence and told the court to look again at Flowers' claim that African American jurors were excluded from his last trial in 2010 for racial reasons.

The decision didn't throw out Flowers conviction and death sentence but ordered the State Supreme Court to re-examine whether African American jurors were purposely excluded from serving on Flowers trial which could win Flowers a new trial.

(source: Delta News)


U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear 'Angola 5' member David Brown's effort to overturn death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case of David Brown, the "Angola 5" member whose death sentence for the killing of a prison guard during a 1999 escape attempt was overturned by a state judge, then reinstated in February by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The denial marked a victory for Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office.

Defense advocates had hoped the case would prompt the high court to scold Louisiana over what they describe as a persistent failure to adhere to Brady v. Maryland. That landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense all evidence favorable to a defendant, and Brown's attorneys argued that his case was strikingly similar to Brady's.

Brown had joined a group of prisoners in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the escape attempt, but he claimed he wasn't there when Capt. David Knapps was killed inside a bathroom.

Brown had helped drag Knapps there and got the victim's blood on his prison uniform, but he said he had left before other inmates killed Knapps. He said murder wasn't part of the plan.

The state never accused Brown, who at the time was serving a life sentence for a different murder, of striking Knapps. But it argued that he was guilty of 1st-degree murder for joining in a plot with the specific intent to kill, and a jury agreed.

At issue in his legal challenge was a statement from another state inmate, David Domingue, claiming that another man accused in the murder, Barry Edge, confessed that he and fellow inmate Jeffery Clark alone had decided to kill the guard. That statement never found its way to Brown's attorneys before his conviction and death sentence for the guard's slaying.

Retired Criminal District Court Judge Jerome Winsberg overturned Brown’s death sentence, but not his conviction, in 2014, finding that "there is a reasonable probability that the jury's verdict would have been different had the evidence not been suppressed."

An appeals court reversed Winsberg's ruling, and in February, the Louisiana Supreme Court agreed to keep Brown's death sentence in place. The justices ruled that Domingue's statement "provides no additional evidence as to who actually killed Capt. Knapps" and "simply does not exculpate Brown."

Connick's office argued that Brown jumped the gun in going to the U.S. Supreme Court when he can still ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to rehear the case.

Connick's office, which handled the prosecution after a series of recusals by other agencies, also argued that Domingue's statement wouldn't have been admissible at Brown's trial, and that even if it were, it was "neither favorable nor material" to his cause.

Prosecutors described Domingue's statement as "wholly extraneous" to their argument for a death sentence for Brown, which they said "focused on the fact that a life sentence would be the equivalent of no punishment at all because David Brown was already serving a life sentence at the time of the murder."

Brown's case was up for a decision Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court justices on whether to hear it. The court does not explain why it declines to hear cases.

Brown's attorneys say the fight to spare him a death sentence isn't over. They plan to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to rehear the case and, failing that, to try again with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Connick's office declined to comment on the decision, citing a policy of not commenting on open cases.

(source: The New Orleans Advocate)


Brandon Smith trial for 2010 murder delayed again

Brandon Perry Smith's long-delayed murder trial has been delayed yet again.

Smith stands accused of the murder of Leeds resident Jerrica Christensen during a grisly middle-of-the-night incident that took place at the home of Smith's co-defendant, Paul Clifford Ashton, on 600 South in St. George on Dec. 11, 2010. Ashton was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of St. George resident Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden and the attempted murder of James Fiske during the same incident.

Smith's trial, anticipated to last 2 weeks and scheduled for the middle of October, was rescheduled for the end of January 2017 after Smith's defense attorney, Mary Corporan, indicated she had a personal conflict with the October trial dates during a motion hearing in Judge G. Michael Westfall's courtroom in 5th District Court on Monday.

Last February, at the request of the victim's family, the Washington County Attorney's Office announced they would no longer be seeking the death penalty in order to expedite the legal proceedings and avoid more of the delays that come with the prosecution of a capital murder case.

Corporan told the court when the trial dates were scheduled following the state's decision against seeking the death penalty, she and co-counsel Gary Pendleton had anticipated she would be removed from the case due to the fact it was no longer a capital murder trial. However, Corporan has since been informed that the state's indigent defense fund will continue to pay for her to represent Smith at trial despite the state's decision, and a conflict she had with the trail dates would now be an issue.

Westfall, despite voicing concerns over Smith's right and the right of the victim's family to a speedy trail, agreed to reschedule.

Westfall set the new trail dates to run from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10, 2017. In a statement e-mailed to The Spectrum, Ellen Hensley, Christensen's mother, wrote, "Ironically, Jerrica's birthday is Feb. 5 - right in the middle of the trial. Bittersweet time for the memory of her last day on earth to fall on the memory of her 1st day on earth."

Both the prosecution and the defense then agreed to a series of deadlines leading up to the trial. The names of experts expected to testify at trial are required to be submitted by Sep. 1, motions relating to the trail will be filed prior to Oct. 1, the deadline for lists of rebuttal experts is Oct.15, and the deadline for jury instruction and jury questionnaire language submissions as well as motions relating to expert witnesses is Nov. 1.

Westfall also heard arguments from both the defense and the prosecution in relation to a defense motion regarding the constitutionality of Utah law relating to the mitigating circumstances surrounding murder charges during Monday's hearing.

Pendleton restated arguments he'd made previously in a memorandum to the court about the ways in which a defendant might approach a jury through jury instructions regarding any circumstances surrounding the murder that could potentially lessen the sentence or reduce the crime from aggravated murder to manslaughter. Pendleton said changes in Utah laws made in 2009 regarding murders committed under mitigating circumstances like extreme emotional distress, with the mistaken belief that the killer was acting in self-defense, or mental illness have created a situation in which there is "disparaging treatment between people that are similarly situated."

Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap rebutted Pendleton's motion by arguing that the 2009 law was intended to relieve the state from the burden of being asked to prove a negative, and that there is no disparity in the way different defendants are treated because the statute does in fact address different scenarios.

Westfall did not rule on Pendletons motion during Monday's hearing, instead stating that he would take the motion under advisement and issue a written ruling.

(source: The Spectrum)


Death penalty for Costa Mesa killer?

An Orange County Superior Court judge Monday dealt a setback to a convicted Costa Mesa killer, who wanted more time to make the case that he did not get a fair trial and should not possibly face the death penalty.

Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley Monday granted a motion by attorneys for Orange County to quash defense subpoenas for more information about the use of an informant in the case against Daniel Patrick Wozniak, who was found guilty of killing 2 people.

Last month, Conley granted an evidentiary hearing into allegations that informant Fernando Perez was improperly used to solicit incriminating evidence against Wozniak while the 2 were jailed together.

The evidentiary hearing was triggered by the recent discovery of an internal administrative log that detailed how sheriff's investigators handled informants. Wozniak's attorney, Scott Sanders, argued that he needed subpoenas to further investigate whether his client's Eighth Amendment rights were violated by having Perez pump Wozniak for more information about his case, which would be illegal since the killer was already represented by a lawyer.

Perez, however, could pass on any statements Wozniak volunteered without any prompting.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued that Perez's contact with Wozniak was irrelevant, and Conley agreed, since Perez never testified in Wozniak's trial. Murphy said prosecutors had no interest in using Perez as a witness in the trial because Wozniak had confessed and Perez offered nothing new.

Sanders focused much of his argument on a deputy who earlier testified in an evidentiary hearing related to another convicted killer that he did not have much to do with Perez. Sanders argued that the administrative log indicated otherwise and that the deputy ordered officials to read all of Wozniak's mail - incoming and outgoing - after talking to Perez.

Murphy argued that it is routine for prosecutors to seek a "mail cover" of defendants in murder trials to see if they say something incriminating in their correspondence. Prosecutors handed over all of the mail to defense attorneys shortly before his trial, but that hardly mattered since Wozniak couldn't have been surprised by his own correspondence as if it were some other type of evidence against him, Murphy argued.

Conley set a sentencing date of Sept. 23. The judge will also consider Sanders' motion for a new trial and a motion to have the death penalty set aside on that date.

Wozniak was scheduled to be sentenced last month, 6 years after the killings of 26-year-old Samuel Eliezer Herr and 23-year-old Julie Kibuishi.

Wozniak was deep in debt in May 2010, facing eviction and without money for his pending wedding, when he concocted a plan to kill his neighbor, Herr, and throw police off the trail by making it look like Herr murdered and raped his female friend, Murphy argued at trial.

Wozniak, who grew up in Long Beach, further tried to confound investigators by dismembering his 1st victim and dumping the body parts in the El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach, Murphy said.



Man to die for killing wife for dowry in Mymensingh

A Mymensingh court yesterday sentenced a man to death for killing his wife for dowry in Muktagachha upazila in 2012.

The death penalty awardee is Ashraful Islam, 28, son of Nowsher Ali of Gandappur village in the upazila. The court also fined him Tk 10,000, court sources said.

According to the prosecution, Ashraful, a day labourer, married Rekha Akhtar, 19, daughter of Billal Hossian of Nayanbari village under Phulbaria upazila in 2011.

Within nine months of their marriage, Ashraful demanded dowry several times, but Rekha's parents could not manage the money.

On January 18, 2012, Ashraful locked in an altercation with Rekha over the issue. At one stage, he stabbed Rekha, leaving her dead on the spot.

On information, police rushed to the spot, recovered the body and sent it to Mymensingh Medical College Hospital morgue for autopsy.

Victim's father Billal Hossian lodged a case with Muktagachha Police Station the following day, accusing Ashraful. Police arrested Ashraful, who confessed to the killing before the court under Section 164.

Police later submitted a charge-sheet against Ashraful. After examining the witnesses and evidence, Judge Md Helal Uddin of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal delivered the verdict.

Away in Bagerhat, a court yesterday sentenced a man to life imprisonment for killing his stepmother in Sadar upazila in 2015.

The convicted is Faruk Sheikh, 30, son of Mokshed Sheikh of Kartikdia village under the upazila. The court also fined the convict TK 20,000. In default, he is to suffer 6 months more in jail, reports our correspondent.

According to the prosecution, Hasina Begum, wife of Mokshed, was beaten to death by Faruk over a family feud on July 5, 2015. Locals caught him and handed him over to the police.

On July 6, the deceased's daughter Paira Begum filed a case with Bagerhat Model Police Station, accusing Faruk.

Sub-inspector Lutfor Rahman, also the investigation officer of the case, submitted the charge sheet against Farukh on September 8, 2015.

Examining all the records and 14 witnesses, District and Sessions Judge Mizanur Rahman handed down the verdict.

(source: The Daily Star)


Acquittal of 11 in Ahsanullah Master murder case stayed

The Supreme Court has stayed a High Court order that acquitted 11 accused in Awami League lawmaker Ahsanullah Master murder case. SC Chamber Judge Justice Hasan Foyez Siddiqui passed the order on Tuesday morning, in response to a petition filed by state side.

The full bench of Appellate Division, led by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, will hold the next hearing of the petition on July 14. The government filed the petition on Monday seeking stay on the acquittal of 11 accused.

A petition was moved with the Supreme Court so that the persons acquitted by the High Court could not be released from jail until after the full text of the verdict is released.

On June 15 BNP leader Nurul Islam Sarkar and 5 others were sentenced to death by the High Court for the killing of popular Awami League MP Ahsanullah Master. Ahsanullah Master was gunned down at a public function in Gazipur over a decade ago.

The court also commuted 7 convicts' death sentences to life terms and upheld the life term for another convict who was sentenced in 2005 by the Speedy Trial Court. The life term of 1 convict who did not appeal against his sentence remains unchanged in the High Court verdict.

The High Court also acquitted 11 people who were awarded death sentences or life terms by the lower court. 2 died during trial and were exempted from the charges.

The Speedy Trial Tribunal on April 16, 2005 handed down the death penalty to 22 people, including the main accused BNP leader Nurul Islam Sarkar and life in prison to 6 others for the high-profile murder.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Baldoz thumbs down death penalty for illegal recruiters

Outgoing Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz on Tuesday said she is not in favor of death penalty, even on convicted illegal recruiters, despite her earlier call for President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to put illegal recruiters in his order of battle.

"I am pro-life and I remain so. I am not pushing for the death penalty because I firmly believe even the most-hardened criminal should be given a chance to change his ways and get back to his family and community to lead a transformed life," she said in a statement.

Baldoz was clarifying reports that she is pushing for the inclusion of illegal recruitment among crimes punishable by death.

"I said that if some in our society believe that the penalty under existing law for illegal recruitment is not enough, the next stiffest penalty to life imprisonment is the death penalty and the next administration may want to review the heinous nature of the crime as basis for the imposition of the death penalty," Baldoz explained.

However, she believes that "strong remedial measures must be implemented to complement preventive efforts." "That is why we at the DOLE has never ceased coming up with ways... to educate Filipinos about the illegal recruitment menace," Baldoz added.

Baldoz also believes that since many aspiring overseas Filipino workers are being victimized, illegal recruitment "can already be considered a syndicated or heinous crime."

She added that illegal recruitment as economic sabotage "merits the review of the heinous nature of the crime" as it affects hundreds of lives and is "by nature" a transnational crime.

"Even illegal recruitment involving just a single person destroys a family and a community. It saps the fabric of society and affects our efforts towards sustainable economic development and prosperity," Baldoz said.

Republic Act. 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act, amended by R.A. 10022, classifies syndicated or large-scale illegal recruitment "as "economic sabotage" punishable by life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P2 million to P5 million."



Mother's fight to exonerate executed son exposes China’s justice-system failures

More than 2 decades after a young man in the northern province of Hebei was executed for the alleged rape and murder of a woman, his mother is anxiously awaiting a retrial to clear his name.

Ms Zhang Huanzhi's only son, Nie Shubin, was executed in 1995 - when he was 20 - for raping and killing a woman in a cornfield near Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital. A decade later, another man arrested for a separate crime confessed to the murder.

Ms Zhang had fought for years after this fresh evidence emerged to exonerate her son, but she kept on hitting a wall. The case is back in the public spotlight after the country's highest court, the Supreme People's Court, on June 6 ordered a court in the eastern province of Shandong to review the 1995 ruling, saying evidence that led to his death sentence was "unreliable and incomplete".

Ms Zhang's dogged pursuit, lodging repeated appeals at courts in her home province of Hebei and in Beijing, has helped turn Nie's case into an example of the flaws in the Chinese criminal justice system, including the use of torture, lack of due process and lax review of death sentences.

But Nie's is not the only incident of a possible miscarriage of justice reported in recent years.

In February, a man from the eastern province of Zhejiang, Mr Chen Man, convicted of arson and murder, was allowed to walk free after languishing in prison for 23 years when his sentence was overturned due to lack of evidence.

In late 2014, a court in Inner Mongolia said an 18-year-old killed by firing squad in 1996 for alleged rape and murder, was innocent. The Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court said the defendant, Huugjilt, was wrongfully convicted after being tortured into making a confession.

Nie's case had also galvanised the legal community, media and the public to scrutinise the gaping holes in the country's justice system.

"There is no doubt Nie will be exonerated soon," said Mr Ma Yulong, a former reporter at Dahe Daily, a newspaper in the central province of Henan, who has followed Nie's case starting in 2005.

Nie's retrial can help in some measure to restore public faith in China's legal system, said Mr Li Shuting, the lawyer representing his family.


The Shandong High Court in charge of reviewing the case said the evidence on which the original verdict was based was incomplete because many questions have gone unanswered, such as the exact time the crime was committed and the weapon used for the murder.

However, the court has not announced a date for a retrial.

Nie was sentenced for premeditated rape and murder on March 15, 1995 by the intermediate court in Shijiazhuang, after a closed-door trial, state media reports show. He was executed a month later.

In 2005, another suspect named Wang Shujin, arrested for a similar crime, confessed to raping and killing several women, one of whom turned out to be the victim in Nie's case. Mr Ma was the 1st to break the news, which attracted wide public attention to the case.

After this fresh evidence emerged, Mr Liu Jinguo, the head of the party's provincial Political and Legal Affairs Committee at the time, who oversaw the security and legal systems in Hebei, set up a special team to reopen Nie's case and ordered the results to be published within 1 month, Mr Ma told Caixin.

Mr Liu's order gave Nie's family a glimmer of hope, but it vanished quickly. The investigation stalled when Mr Liu was promoted shortly afterwards to Vice-Minister of Public Security in Beijing, said Mr Ma.

From then on, Ms Zhang Huanzhi has made countless trips to courts in Hebei and Beijing to appeal her son's case, but she was turned down by officials who said her documents were incomplete.

It was not until July 2007 when the Supreme Court in Beijing accepted Ms Zhang's appeal and ordered the Hebei High Court to review the case.

But this court never carried out the review. "We tried every means possible to get a retrial, but they were all in vain," said Mr Li.

In March 2007, the other suspect, Wang, received the death penalty for four counts of murder and rape. But this did not include the victim in Nie's case, although Wang admitted to the crime. In a twist of fate, Wang even appealed his verdict and insisted that he had killed the woman Nie was charged with murdering. But his appeal was turned down by the Hebei court in 2013.

Wang is now on death row, waiting for the Supreme Court to review his sentence, but the process has been delayed due to his connection to Nie's case, said Mr Li.

Mr Ma said he had learnt from sources in the Hebei public security system that officials had tortured Wang, forcing him to recant his confession connected to the 1994 murder in Shijiazhuang before the 2nd trial.

There are "invisible" forces in Hebei's police and legal system that have resisted the reopening of Nie's case, said Mr Ma.


In December 2014, the Supreme Court ordered a high court in another province, Shandong, to re-examine the files of Nie's case. The Supreme Court's June decision for a retrial, which comes after 4 delays, have rekindled the family's hopes to have Nie exonerated.

Mr Li told Caixin that there were many holes in the evidence presented including Nie's testimony, the murder weapon used and even the exact date of his execution. He has been collecting evidence that shows Nie was tortured while in custody and highlights deficiencies in due process when handling the case.

Mr Li said the case "is obviously a wrongful conviction with little complexity, but it has taken more than 10 years to get a retrial due to delays by officials in Hebei".

Police officers' over-reliance on harsh interrogation techniques to elicit confessions from suspects in criminal investigation cases have led to many wrongful convictions, said Mr Li. Some investigators and officials rush to close a case to secure bonuses and promotions, he said.

The former journalist Mr Ma said "the lack of independence of the judicial system had led to the miscarriage of justice. Without further legal reform, there will be other cases like this in future."



Vote 2016: Some voters want death penalty introduced for acts of terrorism, poll shows

More than 1/2 of voters would approve of the government introducing the death penalty for acts of terrorism, an exclusive SBS-commissioned Essential Media poll has found.

Some voters want to see those who commit terrorist acts receive harsher punishment, including the introduction of the death penalty, an exclusive SBS-commissioned Essential Media poll has found.

SBS asked voters whether or not they would approve of various actions the federal government could take to combat terrorism in Australia. Of those polled, 54 % said they would approve of the introduction of the death penalty for acts of terrorism.

There was wide-ranging support for the government to work with community leaders to combat radicalisation of young people, with 84 % of voters agreeing that that would be a favourable outcome. Only 15 % of voters thought giving Australian citizens more freedom to own guns to "protect themselves" was a good idea.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, 83 % of those polled said they would approve of the government taking measures to make it harder to purchase guns in Australia. The proposition of giving police more powers to detain people behaving suspiciously was fairly popular, with 69 % saying they would support it.

SBS has been asking voters for their opinions on various aspects of the major parties policies as the 8-week campaign draws to a close.

Elaine Dunwoody is an IT worker and mother of one who will be voting in the seat of Port Melbourne. Ms Dunwoody said anti-terrorism measures shouldn't come at a cost to civil liberties.

"I think it's important that the government puts something in place for anti-terrorism but at the same time you have to respect people's privacy," she said.

Jessica Downing-Ide is a young commerce student at the University of Queensland who said measures to curb terrorism shouldn't include the introduction of the death penalty.

"That's just an awful idea, it goes against everything that our criminal justice system and our society stands for," she said.

While Essential Media tried to get a snapshot of the nation, the response rate and coverage for the online poll meant an accurate cross section of Australia could not be ensured.



Executions won't fix the drug problem

For people convicted of drug crimes on Indonesia's death row, the Islamic Holy Month of Ramadan has added significance this year. After moving 15 prisoners to "Execution Island" last month and announcing that their deaths by firing squad could take place at any time, the country's attorney general conceded he might postpone the killings because "well, executing [during] fasting [month] is not good, is it?"

It's too bad that this moral sense isn't applied year-round. Although many countries punish people for their drug addiction, only 36 have laws that prescribe the death penalty for drug-related convictions. 7, including Indonesia, regularly enforce the death penalty as a sentence for drug offences (others include China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam).

Indonesia is currently the centre of international attention for a number of reasons - 1 of which is the fact that executions represent an abrupt about face for the country, which until last year had appeared to be upholding a de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The upcoming executions were set in motion less than a month after the country's delegation to the U.N. was booed from the gallery during a speech about the use of the death penalty to combat drug trafficking, and are just one part of a chilling series of executions planned for 2016 and 2017.

Another reason for the international spotlight is the fact that Indonesia is executing foreigners - with blatant disregard for international opinion. Neither the booing at the U.N. nor direct appeals by other countries has had any impact.

In 2015, following intensive efforts by Brazil and the Netherlands to win clemency for 2 citizens convicted of drug offenses in Indonesia, the pair were executed by firing squad along with an Indonesian woman and 3 other foreigners (from Nigeria, Malawi and Vietnam). A few months later, 8 more people were executed. Brazil, Australia and the Netherlands temporarily recalled their ambassadors in response to the executions, but with little effect. According to Amnesty International, Jakarta imposed at least 46 new death sentences in 2015 - including 29 for drug-related crimes - up from 6 in 2014.

The executions are partly tied to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's desire to play on the widespread belief that drug users are a menace to society - a fear inflated and dramatized in the war on drugs. Indonesia has a significant drug problem, but no reliable statistics on its size. Widodo declared a state of emergency over the country's drug use shortly after being sworn in. He cited government statistics that nearly 5 million people - or about 2 % of the population - are "affected" by drug consumption and that between 40 and 50 Indonesians die every day because of drug use.

Although academics from the country's top universities questioned the government numbers - and earlier this year Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency said that it had overestimated drugs deaths by nearly 20 % - the war on drugs and use of the death penalty appears to have popular approval in Indonesia. Widodo has vowed to reject all requests for clemency for people convicted of drug-related crimes.

Capital punishment, threats and arrests are the wrong answer for Indonesia's drug problem. The people being executed in Indonesia are not the primary drivers of the illicit drug trade. Some of them are "drug mules" who were vulnerable to exploitation; others were unaware they were carrying drugs in the first place. Indonesian scholars point to data showing that drug use has not been reduced by criminalizing the behavior. Instead, such policies have fueled hepatitis C and HIV epidemics and driven people away from health services that might otherwise have helped them overcome their addiction.

Executions are inconsistent with Pancasila - Indonesia's official philosophical foundation, which calls for a just and civilized humanity. They are also a violation of Indonesia's commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says the death penalty should be imposed only for the most serious crimes and that those sentenced to it should have the right to seek a pardon.

Widodo's presidential campaign - based on an anti-corruption platform, projecting a man of the people ready to support farmers, protect minority groups, and resolve past human rights abuses - attracted domestic and international support. The 1st president not plucked from political dynasties or the military, Widodo's election was seen as a significant step in Indonesia's evolution towards a free and united democratic society. This was to be the final phase in a national journey that began in 1998, when Indonesians pulled themselves out of half a century of repression, violence and instability.

Yet Widodo's approval ratings dropped within months of taking office. Having risen from the ranks of domestic politics, he is often criticized for lacking foreign policy experience - an area in which his predecessor was strong. A tough stance on drug use gives him a political platform for big talk on Indonesian sovereignty - and he's determined that national drug policy will not be swayed by foreign opinion.

Widodo's politicization of the drug challenges faced by thousands of Indonesian families is a betrayal of his stance as a man of the people committed to protecting the people. Drug use is complex, poorly understood and heavily stigmatized - it's an issue that needs to be addressed with reason, science and in consultation with the people involved; not a punishment-oriented approach designed to advance a political and moral agenda.

Indonesia's move toward democracy has often set an example for the region. It needs a public health response to its drug problem that will allow it to be a model for the rest of the world, and which is based on programs that have been proven to work. The country has taken steps in this direction, including introducing opioid substitution therapy and increasing access to clean needles, syringes and HIV treatment. Widodo should expand access to these initiatives and abandon his use of the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

The government's decision not to kill during Ramadan gives us hope that rationality and compassion can change Indonesia's policy on drugs. The death penalty is a punishment of the past that has little place in a country looking towards the future.

(source: Commentary; Naomi Burke-Shyne is a senior program officer with the Public Health Program at the Open Society Foundations----Reuters)


Father slams AFP deal in cyanide case

The father of a woman allegedly murdered with a cyanide-laced coffee has hit out at an agreement between Australia and Indonesia that his daughter's accused killer would not face the death penalty.

The agreement should be void if she were convicted on evidence that Jakarta police had gathered, he says.

Canberra had sought the assurance on the death penalty after Indonesian prosecutors asked for the assistance of the Australian Federal Police to gather evidence from the time the 2 women had spent in Australia.

On January 6, Wayan Mirna Salihin collapsed and began frothing at the mouth at a popular Jakarta restaurant after drinking a Vietnamese iced coffee that her friend, Jessica Kumala Wongso, had ordered for her more than half an hour earlier.

Speaking before the 2nd week of Jessica's murder trial at Central Jakarta District Court on Tuesday, Mirna's father Edi Dermawan Salihin alleged she "killed my daughter like (she was) a rat".

He said he had been "shocked" when Jessica became the prime suspect in the murder as she and his daughter had been very close, studying together at the design college Billy Blue in Sydney for several years.

But upon seeing the CCTV of the events that allegedly led up to the murder, Mr Salihin said he became convinced of her guilt.

Prosecutors allege the 2 women had a falling out around the middle of last year when Mirna discovered Jessica was in a relationship with a man in Australia.

No details have yet been revealed about the boyfriend but prosecutors allege Mirna objected to him.

After Jessica broke it off, prosecutors claim she decided to "to avenge her pain ... and take away Mirna's life".

CCTV on the day of Mirna's death allegedly shows Jessica arriving at the Jakarta restaurant well before her friend.

After ordering an iced coffee for Mirna, she arranges a number of shopping bags around the drink, blocking any view of it.

After a few minutes she then allegedly returned to her original seat, cleared away the shopping bags and pushed the coffee into the middle of the table.

"Jessica, she came alone (to the restaurant), only with the devil," Mr Salihin said on Tuesday.

Jessica maintains she is innocent.

Mr Salihin said he had been heavily involved with the police and prosecutors' efforts in bringing the case against the 27-year-old and had handed over "key evidence" to police.

He said the agreement with Canberra should only stand if she is convicted based on evidence gathered by the AFP.

"If we find the evidence here in Jakarta, myself and police, how come we have to accept their agreement?"

On Tuesday, Jessica's legal team applied to have the case thrown out on a number of grounds, including that the indictment presented to the court failed to properly outline the evidence on which the charge of premeditated murder had been brought.

Prosecutors, they argued, had not shown where the cyanide had been purchased and had thus failed to illustrate any "pre-planning" by Jessica.

But prosecutors rejected their application, saying poison by its very nature illustrates pre-planning.

The judge will hand down his decision on the application next week.

(source: Yahoo News)

JUNE 20, 2016:


New attorney in 'Scotty' murder case

The man allegedly at the center of the brutal murder of 3-year-old Scott McMillan has hired a new attorney to represent him in the death penalty case he faces, a move that is not expected to delay the eventual trial next year, according to those involved.

Gary Lee Fellenbaum III appeared in Common Pleas Court Monday before Judge William P. Mahon to formally ask that the 2 members of the Chester County Public Defender's Office representing him be removed from the case and his new, private attorney, allowed to appear on his behalf.

His new attorney, George Yacoubian of Philadelphia, entered his appearance on May 25.

First Assistant Public Defender Nathan M. Schenker, who along with Assistant Public Defender Loreen Kemps had represented Fellenbaum since his arrest in November 2014, asked Mahon to formally allow them to withdraw as his attorneys. Mahon did so after asking Fellenbaum if that was what he wanted.

Fellenbaum, 24, clean shaven and dressed in a black t-shirt and black pants, said it was. He did not elaborate on why he chose to switch attorneys.

"Are you comfortable with this?" Mahon asked Fellenbaum. "Yes," the defendant answered.

Afterwards, Fellenbaum was returned to Chester County Prison, where he has been held without bail since his arrest. Yacoubian declined comment outside the courtroom.

Yacoubian, a former prosecutor who has represented clients such as the lead defendant in the so-called "Tacony House of Horrors" case in Philadelphia, and who was briefly mentioned as a possible representative of former television personality Don Tollefson, will now get all the discovery and defense related material that the Public Defender's Office has received in the intervening months since Fellenbaum's arrest.

Yacoubian told Mahon that he would be prepared for a pre-trial conference to discuss scheduling later this summer, and that he expected to begin filing pre-trial motions on behalf of his client in September.

Mahon asked if he would be ready to try to case in May 2017, and Yacoubian indicated that he would, absent any unforeseen issues arising.

First Assistant Michael Noone, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Deborah Ryan of the DA’s Child Abuse Unit, asked whether Yacoubian was going to need assistance from a so-called mitigation counsel, who would handle the case if Fellenbaum is found guilty of 1st-degree murder and consequently faced a penalty phase in the trial. But Mahon said he did not expect that Yacoubian would have to answer that question.

"I am not going to get in and micro-manage this case," the judge said.

Scott McMillan was found unresponsive at the West Caln home that his mother, Jillian Tait, had beg sharing with Fellenbaum, her boyfriend, and his wife, Amber Fellenbaum, sometime in September 2014. She had 2 sons who lived with them, as well as Fellenbaum's child.

Beginning in October, according to the allegations set forth in the case against the Fellenbaums and Tait, Gary Fellenbaum began physically abusing both the boys in October. The abuse included punches and beatings, but also whipping with a crudely fashioned "cat o'9 tails," and tying the boys to chairs or hanging them upside down by their feet.

Allegedly Fellenbaum's beating of Scott McMillan escalated to the point where he could not hold down his food. Angered, Fellenbaum allegedly punched him in the face so hard he fell out of his chair, and later punched him in the stomach. The boy began vomiting and later passed out. Although Fellenbaum and Tait tried to revive him, they left him alone in a bedroom for several hours before finding him completely unresponsive.

Both allegedly gave incriminating statements to police investigators after their arrests.

In 2011, Yacoubian was hired to represent Linda Ann Weston, the alleged ringleader in the "Tacony House of Horrors" case. She was accused of a mountain of crimes, including 2 murders, kidnapping, racketeering, conspiracy, hate crimes, wire and mail fraud, sex trafficking and forced human labor.

Authorities said Weston and four co-defendants lured and abused mentally disabled people and stole $212,000 in disability payments.

6 adults and 4 children were victimized between 2001 and October 2011 in Philadelphia, Texas, Virginia and Florida, prosecutors said. Weston and her co-defendants were arrested in October 2011, after Philadelphia police discovered 4 victims locked in the filthy basement of a Tacony apartment building.

Yacoubian was removed from the case after it was transferred to federal court. At the time, the judge overseeing the trial decided that Yacoubian did not have enough experience with capital punishment cases in the federal system, according to news reports.

Last week, the United Way of Chester County dedicated one of its "Born Learning" trail initiatives at the Struble Trail in Downingtown to honor Scott McMillan's memory.

(source: Daily Local News)


Death Penalty Phase Resumes In Albert Johnson Murder Trial

Albert Johnson's defense and attorneys are calling their own set of witnesses in the death penalty phase of his capital murder trial.

On Monday there is a forensic psychologist on the stand, saying he diagnosed Johnson with a psychotic disorder while in jail. The psychologist says Johnson has an anti-social personality disorder and an IQ of 77. On cross examination, psychiatrist admitted he did not perform any tests on Johnson himself.

The same jury that found Johnson guilty on all counts last week must now decide if he should face the death penalty for the crimes he committed, which included murder, rape, kidnapping, and assault and battery.



False Promises----In the Battle Over Nebraska's Death Penalty, Victims' Families Refuse to Be Political Pawns

Miriam Thimm Kelle carries a grim treasury to illustrate the lack of closure the death penalty brings for families of murder victims: a thick album of news stories about her brother, James, the victim in one of the most violent and disturbing murders in Nebraska's history. She brought the book with her last year to the Nebraska State Capitol, where it sat by her side during a hearing in which she urged lawmakers to pass a bill abolishing capital punishment once and for all.

Kelle's father had begun collecting the articles after James's death in 1985, passing them on to his other children before he died. The first three pages of the album are about James's funeral. The rest chronicle the long saga that ensued, the trial and subsequent appeals. The lurid details of James's death appear again and again. "Each time I read through it," Kelle told me, "it's just more crazy and awful."

The man who killed James, a white supremacist cult leader named Michael Ryan, was sentenced to die in 1986, but in 2015 remained alive on death row. As decades passed, Ryan enjoyed notoriety and attention, while Kelle's family lived in a sort of "purgatory," endlessly awaiting an execution date. As Kelle spoke before lawmakers that day, Ryan was dying of cancer. She had no need to see him executed. But she felt betrayed by what she called the "false promise" of the death penalty. "Michael Ryan was sentenced nearly 30 years ago," Kelle testified. "At that time, my son was in diapers. Now my son has two children of his own. And Michael Ryan still sits on death row." Kelle said she would "give anything" to go back in time and ask for a life sentence.

Kelle was one of several witnesses at the hearing who were feeling hopeful. The abolition bill, LB268, had been put forward by veteran state Sen. Ernie Chambers - an outspoken champion of social justice who introduced anti-death penalty legislation every year. But recently a coalition of conservatives had joined the fight, reframing the death penalty as a wasteful government program - expensive, ineffective, and contrary to Christian values. Leading the charge was Republican state Sen. Colby Coash, who described how as a college student he had once joined the bloodthirsty throngs outside Nebraska's death chamber as an execution was carried out. Now he was a staunch fighter for abolition - and part of a growing trend that has seen transforming conservative attitudes about the death penalty.

In May 2015, 2 months after Kelle testified before lawmakers, the Nebraska legislature passed LB268, in a historic victory for abolitionists. In a 30-19 vote, lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts, making Nebraska the 1st red state to end the death penalty in 40 years.

Yet the battle over Nebraska's death penalty was far from over. In November, voters will have an opportunity to overturn LB268, thanks largely to the efforts - and considerable family fortune - of Gov. Ricketts. Denouncing the law as proof that "the legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska," Ricketts poured his own money into repealing it, funding a petition drive launched under the banner Nebraskans for the Death Penalty. Last summer, the group attracted enough signatures to put the issue on the November 2016 ballot; in September, the Lincoln Journal Star reported that the group had raised more than $913,000 - "1/3 of it from Gov. Pete Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts," the founder of TD Ameritrade. Last month the Nebraska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit alleging that the governor improperly downplayed his role driving the referendum in order to mask the "violation of his duty" to enforce state laws, even those with which he disagrees.

With the court set to rule on the lawsuit soon, anti-death penalty activists have launched Retain a Just Nebraska, organizing events throughout the state to convince voters to reject the death penalty in November. Sen. Coash has taken a leading role in the campaign, making his case in speeches and in the press. But as was the case in winning abolition in Nebraska, preserving it will also rely on murder victims' families who have worked behind the scenes for years. For people like Kelle, this means continuing to revisit a deep-seated trauma over and over again, as part of the exhausting work of changing hearts and minds.

Speaking over the phone after a recent work shift, Kelle was intent on describing the looming referendum as an opportunity to educate Nebraskans about why the death penalty is wrong. But her fatigue was also clear. "It took me 10 years to work through the anger and all the emotional aspects" of James's death, she told me. It took several more years to find the courage to tell her story. After 12 years fighting to end the death penalty, "I was hoping that we would be done. Because it's very traumatic to go over it every time."

The murder of James Thimm was shocking. Potential jurors for Michael Ryan’s 1986 trial were asked if they had "queasy stomachs." One district judge who upheld the conviction called it "the most horrendous torture and sickening murder imaginable." When she gives speeches, Kelle tries to let people know that "it's a difficult story," she said. "I use that as an option out."

Thimm was raised by foster parents in Beatrice, Nebraska, where he was part of a devout Mennonite community. At some point in his late teens, he became attracted to the religious cult led by Ryan, eventually moving to the cult's farm in Rulo, on the southeastern edge of the state. But Thimm began to question Ryan's messianic claims; Ryan responded by declaring that Thimm was the devil and ordered him punished. Over 3 days, he was brutally tortured by Ryan and his followers. In August 1985, months later, Thimm's body was discovered following a raid by law enforcement. He had broken bones and had been partially skinned. Buried next to him was the son of 2 cult members, 5-year-old Luke Stice, also killed by Ryan. At trial, cult members described how Thimm was "chained, whipped, shot in the fingers and forced to have sex with a goat."

As Kelle's family reeled from the trauma of her brother's horrific murder, prosecutors pushed them to support the death penalty for Ryan. "We were told this was the only option" that would ensure he couldn't hurt others, she said. "The state said he would be a danger to other people beyond James," including prison guards. "And we didn't want that." Ryan was convicted and sentenced to die.

Kelle had never been comfortable with the death penalty. She was a nurse as well as a Mennonite and leaned more toward healing and forgiveness. Over time, she found herself reaching out to those who had participated in her brother's murder. One of them had described himself as James's "best friend," yet admitted to torturing him, saying he'd been brainwashed. He was sentenced to 15 years. "I was really scared that he wouldn't be better when he got out," Kelle recalled. She feared he would remain in the grip of that same "false doctrine - we now call it radicalization." She began visiting him in prison, trying to work with him to ensure that he would be ready for release, a decision she acknowledges is "difficult for people to understand."

It was not until years later, after Kelle got a brief part-time job working at Nebraska's Tecumseh Prison, that she was finally able to publicly disavow the death penalty. The prison was home to death row, where Ryan was incarcerated. She saw firsthand how bogus the state's claim to her family had been - the prison's security was more than enough to keep Ryan from harming employees. Kelle reached out to Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and eventually met other murder victims' family members who were opposed to executions. "It was just so validating to know that they felt the same way," she said.

Today Kelle criticizes the way politicians treat grieving families like political pawns, "putting you on a chessboard to their advantage." If you agree with the state, they'll support you at trial and beyond, she said. But if you stand up against executions, "all of a sudden, along comes the big King, or in our case, Governor Ricketts, [to defeat you]. And that's really very disheartening when you work so hard and it costs so much emotionally to do this work."

This dynamic was on display in April of last year during the floor debate over the abolition bill. Lawmakers opposed to the bill described Thimm's murder in graphic detail, casting him as a "victim who is unable" to speak for himself. Kelle was not present, but her fellow activist Elle Hansen, who has lost three loved ones to murder, was at the Capitol that day. "I already have plenty of PTSD," Hansen told me. As she listened to Republican Sen. David Schnoor describe how Thimm had been sodomized with a shovel, she realized, "I could not sit and listen to that again." From that point on, Hansen brought earbuds to hearings and played the Sara Bareilles song "Brave" whenever testimony became too graphic.

For those who have lost loved ones to murder, such experiences are "horribly re-traumatizing," Hansen explained. Politicians exploit other people's tragedies when "they are not their losses to speak about, to dictate about." As she listened to lawmakers argue that day, Hansen felt increasingly unsettled by a meeting she had recently attended with the governor that she could not shake from her mind.

On April 7, 2015 - less than 2 months before the abolition bill passed - Hansen, Kelle, and a handful of other activists sat down with Gov. Ricketts in Lincoln. It was a chance to make their case for abolition. As Hansen recalls, she was telling the governor that if the state reinvested the money it spends on the death penalty toward crime prevention, the murder rate would decline, "and your likelihood of sitting here as a person whose lost a loved one to murder would go down considerably." The governor's response surprised her. "I actually have lost a loved one to murder," he told Hansen. Ricketts had never revealed this part of his family'a past. Hansen went home and researched the case. The victim had been Ricketts's 1st cousin, 22-year-old Ronna Anne Bremer, who went missing right before Christmas in 1988. A pregnant mother of 2, Bremer's death was confirmed only after an anonymous person mailed her skull to a sheriff's office. The crime was never solved.

Hansen could certainly empathize with the family's plight, but she was disturbed by Ricketts’s lack of transparency. As a relative of murder victims, she said, "I stood up ... and I said, 'Look, I have skin in the fight.'" She didn't see why the governor, as an elected official, should not be just as forthcoming. Afterward, Hansen watched as Ricketts personally funded the referendum to repeal the abolition law. "I thought for sure ... he was going to say something," Hansen said. But months later, petitions were being turned in, "and he still didn't say anything."

Hansen got angry. She had already been disgusted by Ricketts's unethical approach to executions, the way he had tried to import lethal injection drugs from foreign countries in violation of federal law. Now he was deploying his wealth and power to roll back the law she and others had fought so hard to win through the democratic process.

In September, Hansen met with Joe Duggan, a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald. She told him about the meeting with Ricketts. She also shared her own story, talking in detail about the 3 loved ones she'd lost to murder. Afterward, Hansen said, "I went to the bathroom in the coffee shop and I just bawled."

Later, Duggan broke the story about the meeting and Ricketts's cousin. The governor refused to comment, but a spokesperson issued a statement. "The Ricketts family continues to grieve Ronna's tragic death, and pray that the person who took her life will be brought to justice."

It is impossible to know how deeply his cousin's case has influenced Ricketts's views on the death penalty. But the contrast of Ricketts's personal war against abolition with the positions of Kelle and Hansen illustrates the different ways people react to a tragic loss. 29 murder victims' families publicly expressed their support for the abolition bill last year - but there are surely 29 others who might disagree. Within Kelle's own family, she said, there are those who would have liked to see Michael Ryan executed. But in the end they too experienced the disparity between how the death penalty works in theory and its cruel reality.

Michael Ryan died on May 24, 2015, after nearly 30 years on death row. 3 days later, LB268 passed, abolishing the death penalty in Nebraska. As the fight over abolition drags on, proponents of capital punishment will have a harder time pointing to Ryan as proof that the death penalty works. For her part, Kelle will continue to carry her collection of articles and to urge the state to stop wasting money on a policy that punishes the very families the death penalty claims to heal. "Resources could be used for so many other things," she said. "Victims' rights, cold cases ... I mean, just pick whatever you'd like. Anything but that."



Prosecutor: Roof Federal Case Conflicts With State, Holidays

The state prosecutor trying accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof says trying Roof in federal court in November for hate crimes and other charges interferes with both his scheduled January state trial and the victims' and jurors' holidays.

Roof's federal trial in the Emanuel AME shootings is set for Nov. 7 and attorneys say it could last six weeks. The 22-year-old also faces nine counts of murder in state court in January.

Scarlett Wilson, who said she raised the concerns during a brief court hearing Monday, said in an email to The Associated Press that November is "a horrible time for a trial for anyone."

And Wilson said the state has primary custody of Roof so he must serve his state sentence before a federal sentence regardless of who tries the case first. Both the state and the federal governments are seeking the death penalty.

The Post and Courier reported ( ) that during the hearing, Judge J.C. Nicholson said the state trial is now unlikely to happen in January because of the federal case. He made no immediate decision about the schedule.

Earlier this month Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel set Nov. 7 to begin selecting jurors in Roof's federal trial. The federal trial date has been delayed a number of times as the Department of Justice weighed whether to seek the death penalty.

The decision was finally announced last month by Attorney General Loretta Lynch who said she was compelled to seek the death penalty by "the nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm."

Wilson said in her email the state had been waiting for the decision.

"For 11 months nobody knew what they were going to do. Nobody," she wrote. "Meanwhile the state moved forward without hesitation. Now suddenly the federal court and the DOJ want to try this case without regard for the fact that it interferes with the previously scheduled trial and the victims' holidays."

She said the federal trial also interferes with the jurors' holidays as well as a second highly publicized trial - that of Michael Slager, the former North Charleston police officer facing a murder charge in the shooting death of a black motorist in April of last year.

That trial, which Wilson is also prosecuting, is set for Oct. 31. But Slager's attorney, Andy Savage, also represents several of the victims in the church shooting.

A hearing is set Tuesday in the Slager case in which scheduling is also expected to be discussed.

(source: Associated Press)


In State with Most Executions, a Texas Republican Judge Questions Constitutionality of Death Penalty

Texas' highest criminal court should consider whether the death penalty is being fairly applied and should still be constitutional, 1 of the 9 judges on the all-Republican court wrote in a dissenting opinion issued Wednesday.

Judge Elsa Alcala, who was appointed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2011 by then-Gov. Rick Perry, agreed with the court's decision to order a lower court to consider overturning the conviction of Julius Murphy, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 killing of 26-year-old Jason Erie. However, in a dissenting opinion she challenged the court's decision to reject, without elaboration, Murphy's lawyers' contention that "evolving standards of decency" show the death penalty should be deemed unconstitutional.

"In my view, the Texas scheme has some serious deficiencies that have, in the past, caused me great concern about this form of punishment as it exists in Texas today," Alcala wrote.

She wrote that the court has been ignoring similar claims from other inmates as a matter of routine without regard for "more current events," and said Murphy's appeal "has presented arguments that are worthy of this court's substantive review."

The court historically has shown little sympathy for condemned inmates, although Alcala has been critical of some past rulings. It is the last state judicial stop for condemned prisoners in Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other state - 537 since 1982.

In Murphy's case, the appeals court ordered the trial court to resolve Murphy's appeal and deliver its findings on challenges alleging that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence showing that two key witnesses were pressured into testifying against him and that one of the witnesses gave false testimony.

Murphy's attorneys argued that the U.S. executes fewer people than it used to, that more states have decided to abolish or to not use the death penalty, and that delays in carrying out death sentences mean prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for excessive lengths of time, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

They also questioned whether race has resulted in a disproportionate number of minority inmates on death row.

Murphy is black, like 44 % of the 246 Texas death row inmates. As of Jan. 1, 1,227 of the country's 2,943 condemned prisoners were black, or 42 % of them. Hispanics, meanwhile, make up 27 % of Texas' death row inmates and 13 % of the nation's.

"Given both state and federal case law and the history of racial discrimination in this country, I have no doubt that race has been an improper consideration in particular death-penalty cases, and it is therefore proper to permit (Murphy) the opportunity to present evidence at a hearing about the specifics in his case," Alcala wrote.

Murphy, 37, was convicted of killing Erie, who was attacked in September 1997 after his car broke down near his father's house in Texarkana. Murphy was scheduled to die last November but the appeals court gave him a reprieve. The same court stepped in to halt his scheduled lethal injection in 2006.

Alcala was elected to a full 6-year term on the criminal appeals court in 2012.

(source: Associated Press)


We need the death penalty

How soon we forget. Another police officer was recently killed. Another horrible and needless tragedy. Another good man gone. Another criminal turned murderer. We need the death penalty as a deterrent. Prison time is too easy.

It is time the public learned to respect the police and any directives they make. Incidents of police use of force would thus be avoided. The killing of an officer is the ultimate proof of lack of respect for all the police stand for which is law and order.

Parents have a job to do and that is to teach moral standards, common decency and respect for authority. It is not the responsibility of the taxpayers. It is time for us to demand cooperation as required or face anarchy. It is time to stop retribution against the police for doing their jobs. They put their lives on the line to protect ours. It's time to ask if we are worthy of their sacrifices.

Priscilla J. Ham


(source: Letter to the Editor, Worcester Telegram)


4-year-old murder case slated for trial

An Elizabeth City man accused of stabbing his former girlfriend to death at a local motel in 2012 is slated to go on trial - more than 4 years after he was initially charged in the crime.

The state's capital murder case against Gerard La’Tea Patterson is scheduled for trial the week of Oct. 31, District Attorney Andrew Womble said in a recent email.

Patterson, 28, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Shawntae McPherson. Patterson is accused of stabbing McPherson to death with a knife in a motel room in late April 2012.

If Patterson is found guilty of 1st-degree murder, the state plans to seek the death penalty against him.

According to Superior Court records, Chief Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Pellini said in a filing in January that the state plans to call an analyst from the N.C. State Crime Laboratory as an expert witness during the trial. The analyst is prepared to testify that the DNA profile obtained from the blade of the knife used to kill McPherson is consistent with a mixture of Patterson's DNA, Pellini’s filing states. The analyst also will testify that the predominant profile taken from the knife's handle matches the defendant's DNA.

Patterson's attorneys asked for a continuance in the case so a defense medical expert could review the medical records, documents show. Superior Court Judge J.C. Cole signed an order April 5 setting the case for trial during the Oct. 31 session of court.

Patterson remains confined at Albemarle District Jail, where he’s been since Elizabeth City police arrested him on April 22, 2012, the day after a police officer found a wounded McPherson in the lobby of the Elizabeth City Econo Lodge on South Hughes Boulevard.

Patterson was first charged with attempted murder, but after McPherson died at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia on April 24, 2012, he was charged with murder. Patterson's secured bond remains at $1 million.

Neither Patterson's attorney, Jack Warmack of Rich Square, nor attorney Sam Dixon of Edenton, who is assisting Warmack in the case, could be reached for comment.

Prosecutors first decided to seek the death penalty against Patterson in February 2013.

At the time, then District Attorney Frank Parrish met with Warmack, then-Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy Lamb and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett to discuss the state’s plans in the case.

Because the case involved a possible death sentence, Tillett had to order a second attorney to assist with Patterson's defense. Warmack has filed extensive motions with the court objecting to lethal injection as a form of punishment in the case.

Womble said last October that he still plans to seek the death penalty against Patterson.

(source: Daily Advance)


Up-to-date information on Onslow murder cases

The Onslow County District Attorney's office is currently preparing for eight murder cases, and law enforcement is working on four unsolved murder cases. Below, find where each case currently stands, recent updates and where the alleged offender is currently. For a more in-depth background on each case, visit the links below.

George Shafto

What: Shafto is accused of killing his girlfriend, who died April 2 after being found unconscious 3 days before.

Charge: Murder.

Arrest: June 16, 2016

Bond: None.

Suspect status: In custody in Tennessee, awaiting extradition to Onslow County.

Next court date: Not scheduled.

Case status: Shafto was arrested in Tennessee on June 16. The same day, his neighbor Wendy McFarlan was charged with accessory after the fact for allegedly driving him there.

Previous articles:

Nashid Porter

What: Porter is accused of killing a man in Duplin County on Nov. 12, 2014, and a man who was the key witness in his 2012 Pender County murder trial.

Charge: 1st-degree murder

Arrest: Nov. 13, 2014

Bond: No bond

Suspect status: In jail

Next court date: He was convicted of the Pender County case on Thursday. and the Duplin County trial dates will soon be decided.

Case status: Porter previously rejected a plea deal in the Duplin County case in May 2015, and the District Attorney's Office announced they would seek the death penalty on Feb. 25, 2016.

Previous articles:

(source: Jacksonville Daily News)


Death penalty bad for economic reasons

Whether you're a bleeding heart liberal or a right-wing tea-party conservative, or anything in between, you care about money.

The fact is, it costs millions more tax dollars to try a death penalty case and for subsequent appeals and incarceration, than for simply locking the individual away for life. That's millions of dollars times thousands of cases. Got a calculator?

Mat Graves, Monticello

(source: Letter to the Editor, Tallahassee Democrat)


The Death Penalty Case Where Prosecutors Wrote the Judge's 'Opinion' ---- Is that fair? The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide.

In "Case in Point," Andrew Cohen examines a single case or character that sheds light on the criminal justice system.

When judges make a decision - especially in a death penalty case - we'd like to think they weigh all sides, consider the law and come to a measured, independent conclusion. Not so in Alabama, where a judge's shortcut in the case of Doyle Lee Hamm has shown how often the state makes a mockery of the appeals process.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering whether to take up the case of Hamm, an intellectually disabled and possibly brain-damaged man who was sentenced to death in 1987 for killing a motel clerk during a robbery. Doyle went to his fate after a rushed trial marked by an anemic defense and constitutionally murky decisions by prosecutors and the judge. That's sadly common in Alabama.

What happened next also is common in Alabama - but pretty much nowhere else.

12 years after Hamm was sentenced to death, an Alabama judge rejected an attempt by his new attorneys to win another sentencing hearing for their client. The lawyers wanted to present facts from Hamm's grim life that might have convinced a jury not to impose death - so-called mitigation evidence - that Hamm's 1st lawyer failed to unearth during his trial. That, too, happens all the time.

But in turning down the appeal, the judge exposed the entire process as a sham. He signed an 89-page order written entirely by the Alabama Attorney General's Office - and did it within 1 business day of receiving it. He didn't even take the time to cross off the word "Proposed" in the title, "Proposed Memorandum Opinion." Hamm's attorneys allege the judge never read the opinion before signing it, and no state attorney has ever refuted that.

Many judges across the country routinely sign perfunctory orders drafted by lawyers, usually 1- or 2-page documents. But only in Texas and Alabama, evidently, is this done with substantive opinions on which appellate judges later rely.

In the Hamm case, the "opinion" is the lynchpin of Alabama's decades-long defense of its conviction and death sentence. It has been cited as gospel over and over again since 1999 by state and federal judges to justify their refusal to give Hamm a new sentencing hearing. Over and over again, the argument justifying this practice has been the same: it doesn't really matter who wrote the opinion or even whether the judge who signed it ever read it because Hamm hasn't proven that the contents of the order were wrong.

No one disputes Hamm's culpability in the murder of Patrick Cunningham. 2 accomplices, who at first claimed they had been kidnapped by Hamm, agreed to testify against him. But prosecutors probably didn't need them. Hamm confessed after a lengthy interrogation. The statement was read for the jury, which took just 50 minutes to come back with a guilty verdict.

It was the next phase of Hamm's trial - the sentencing phase - that raises the questions now on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hamm's trial attorney did virtually nothing to try to spare his client's life and called only two witnesses in his 19-minute defense: Hamm's sister and a bailiff. When prosecutors improperly introduced evidence of Hamm's prior convictions in Tennessee - convictions that may have been based on flawed procedures - Hamm's attorney did nothing to correct the error. It took the jury just 45 minutes to come back and recommend a death sentence.

Jurors were never told that Hamm had been diagnosed as borderline mentally retarded as early as 1969, nearly 2 decades before the crime. They were not told about a school record that repeatedly cited his intellectual deficits. Nor were jurors given any expert evidence about Hamm's lengthy history of seizures, head injuries and drug and alcohol abuse. The fuller portrait of Hamm's life was that of a barely literate, brain-damaged man with little impulse control, someone who might have been perceived as having diminished criminal responsibility.

Alabama prosecutors maintain that information would have made no difference in his sentencing. The 1999 opinion naturally took a took a dim view of the relevance and timeliness of the evidence presented by Hamm's new defense attorneys. The opinion states the evidence wasn't "new" but "cumulative" - essentially, repetitive - a legal standard that makes a difference in winning a new hearing. How evidence that was never introduced at trial could be considered "cumulative ' 12 years later was a question left unanswered.

No judge evaluating this case has ever declared the "Proposed Memorandum Opinion" invalid. The closest anyone came was last year, during oral arguments before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, when an incredulous Judge Adalberto Jordan questioned Alabama attorneys about the appearance of partiality created by the "opinion." Wouldn't you be hollering if the judge had rubber-stamped an 89-page ruling drafted by defense attorneys, the judge asked state lawyers? And isn't there something fishy about such a detailed opinion being signed on a Monday after being submitted on the previous Friday?

The state had no good answer to those questions, but it didn't matter. Jordan, like all the judges before him, shrugged and joined 2 other appellate judges in denying relief to Hamm.

Both in and out of court, Alabama has defended both Hamm's sentencing hearing and the ghostwriting episode. The "Proposed Memorandum Opinion" is sound no matter who wrote it, state lawyers argue, and there is no reason to think it unreasonable that the judge who signed it did so without considering its contents.

It would be one thing if the ghostwriting scenario that took place in the Hamm case was a one-off event. It is not. In support of Hamm, a group of former Alabama judges and past state bar presidents told the justices in Washington that it is routine practice in Alabama for prosecutors to write proposed orders for judges in capital cases. In 2003, a study found that in 17 of 20 recent capital cases the judge had denied relief in orders written entirely by prosecutors.

Sure, the criminal justice system would move more quickly if prosecutors ghostwrote appellate decisions in capital cases. No defendant ever would win an appeal. No conviction or sentence would ever be adjudged unfair or unjust. Judges could knock off early. But that's not how our system works, at least not beyond the borders of Alabama. Hamm may be a convicted murderer. But that doesn't mean the state can subvert his rights in such a blatant fashion.

This shouldn't be a tough call for the Supreme Court. The case presents a straightforward opportunity to send a clear message to lower court judges: whatever else due process means, whatever else federal habeas corpus rules mean, they require a judge to at least pretend to carefully consider the evidence before rendering judgment in a capital case. If the Supreme Court does this and no more in the Hamm case, it will be furthering the interests of justice.



Democrats back pot legalization, repeal of death penalty

The California Democratic Party on Sunday stayed true to its left-leaning political ideals, voting to support ballot initiatives to legalize pot and repeal the death penalty.

The party's executive board voted to endorse the recently qualified November ballot measures during a weekend meeting in Long Beach. Delegates at the party's convention in February already had voted to endorse initiatives to hike cigarette taxes, affirm a law banning plastic grocery bags and impose stricter gun control.

The only mild surprise was the party's decision to take no position on an initiative by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation to bar the state from paying more for prescription drugs than the cost negotiated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Drug companies have mounted an aggressive opposition campaign to the measure.

Among the measures supported by the party:

-- Marijuana : The so-called Adult Use of Marijuana Act would legalize recreational pot use, allowing those 21 and older to possess and use up to an ounce. The measure would impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug and require the state to regulate the cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational marijuana.

-- Death penalty : A measure that would eliminate death sentences and replace them with a sentence of life without parole.

-- Citizens United: A symbolic measure that asks voters whether lawmakers should attempt to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission. The ruling in favor of a conservative nonprofit group opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations and unions in federal candidate campaigns. The measure carries no force of law.

Among the initiatives opposed by the party's executive board:

-- Condoms: An initiative that would require porn actors to wear condoms.

-- Death penalty: The measure expedites appeals of death row inmates, with the intent of speeding up executions.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Church: shun culture of death

The incoming Duterte administration has promised a bloodbath in the war on drugs and criminality - but not if the Catholic Church can help it.

Led by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, the Church released yesterday an "oratio imperata" or mandatory prayer for incoming government officials. It is contained in a pastoral letter that will be read in all churches around the country, calling on the faithful to value human life and shun a "culture of death."

It was released as 7 more suspected drug dealers were gunned down by police yesterday, bringing the total body count since the election victory of Rodrigo Duterte to 42.

The prayer will be recited during masses from June 21 to 29 or for 9 consecutive days before the country's newly elected leaders assume their posts on June 30.

Apart from respect for life, the prayer also asks God to bless leaders with "true love for the poor and godly humility" and "passion for truth that liberates and integrity that inspires."

It also prays for "sincere generosity and courageous simplicity of lifestyle" and "spirit of heroic sacrifice and unrelenting fortitude."

"Loving God, look with favor on those who rule with authority over us. Through your loving hands, may prosperity and progress be achieved, may peace and harmony be assured, may freedom and justice be served and may this nation be healed and protected from harm through Christ your Son who is Lord ever and ever. Amen," read the prayer.

The prayer was included in a circular distributed to the archdiocese's priests, chaplains, superiors of religious communities and Catholic schools.

The prayer, available in English and Filipino, is also posted on the website of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Prior to the May 9 polls, leaders of the Catholic church found themselves in conflict with Duterte.

The CBCP criticized Duterte over his plan to restore the death penalty in the country and his reputation as an alleged "punisher" or "killer" of criminals as a long-time mayor of Davao.

It also blasted his policies perceived to be anti-life that were aired during the campaign.

Days before the presidential poll, the CBCP even released a pastoral letter suggesting to its faithful not to vote for Duterte.

Without naming names, the bishops urged Filipinos not to vote for "a candidate whose speech and actions, whose plans and projects show scant regard for the rights of all, [and] who has openly declared indifference if not dislike and disregard for the Church, especially her moral teachings."

Duterte, for his part, retaliated and branded the Catholic Church as the "most hypocritical" institution in the country.

Former CBCP president and retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas recently issued a statement in response to Duterte's tirades.

"Mine is the silence of respect for those who consider us their enemies but whose good we truly pray for, and whose happiness we want to see unfold," the prelate said.

(source: Philippine Star)


Longer, stricter prison terms better than hanging, says Atienza

How about a 40-year minimum prison term for hardened criminals instead of death by hanging? A prolife representative who is against the death penalty has proposed longer life sentences for heinous crime convicts as an alternative to the plan of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to reinstate capital punishment.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza has vowed to push for new legislation that would punish heinous crimes with a harsher form of lifelong incarceration, instead of death by hanging.

"Our alternative is tantamount to locking up a convict and throwing away the key," said Atienza, who earlier backed Duterte's aggressive stance against crime but cautioned against the "reckless" revival of the death penalty.

Under his proposal, those found guilty of grave crimes would receive a sentence called "qualified reclusion perpetua," which means the convicts will remain in prison for "an absolute minimum of 40 years," or until they reach the age of 70, whichever comes first, before becoming eligible for parole.

"The problem with the death penalty is that it leaves no room for rectification. We cannot bring a dead convict back to life, even if another party later confesses to having committed the crime for which the [innocent man] had been wrongfully condemned," said Atienza, a former Manila mayor.

He noted that the death penalty had long been abolished by 140 countries, including the Philippines, describing it as "a cruel and degrading punishment that violates the sanctity of human life."

At present, the maximum penalty in the Revised Penal Code is "reclusion perpetua," or a simple life term, which actually means 30 to 40 years in prison, with the convict becoming eligible for conditional early release after serving half of the term, or after 15 to 20 years, Atienza said.

A so-called "life termer" under existing laws is also entitled to good conduct or loyalty allowances, and a reduction of sentence for preventive detention or for time spent in jail prior to conviction, he said.

"But under our proposal, all these allowances and the benefit of a reduced sentence for preventive detention would not apply to convicts sentenced to qualified reclusion perpetua," Atienza said.

(source: Philippine Daily Inquirer)


Outgoing Labor chief wants Duterte to consider death penalty for illegal recruiters

Outgoing Department of Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz wants incoming President Rodrigo Duterrte to "consider" imposing death penalty on illegal recruiters found guilty of victimizing Filipinos who want to work abroad, according to a report by the Philipine News Agency (PNA) on Sunday.

PNA quoted Baldoz as saying that the activities of illegal recruiters should be regarded as organized or heinous crimes that deserve capital punishment.

"Right now, the law already provides the highest penalty of life imprisonment since it is considered as economic sabotage. So considering illegal recruitment for death penalty could be considered," the PNA quoted Baldoz as saying.

Currently, as stated under Rule IV, Section 5 of Republic Act 10022, a syndicate or a group of 3 persons or more found guilty of illegal recruitment that constitutes economic sabotage faces the penalty of life imprisonment or up to 40 years of incarceration.

Illegal recruitment is defined under the law as any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, or procuring workers for employment abroad when undertaken by non-licensee or non-holder of authority.

Yearly, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administrationthe reports about 400 to 500 cases of illegal recruitment of aspiring overseas Filipino workers, the PNA said.

Duterte is bent on restoring death penalty against criminals involved in illegal drugs, gun-for-hire syndicates, and those guilty of heinous crimes such as rape and robbery with murder.



SA could deport criminals to Botswana despite death penalty

Currently, South African law prohibits the extradition of criminal suspects to all countries that still use capital punishment.

The South African government have proposed amendments to the Treaty on Extradition allowing for the deportation of criminal suspects to Botswana where they face a possible death sentence.

According to Cabinet minutes published on the SA government website on June 8, Pretoria said it would soon amend the Treaty on Extradition to facilitate extradition requests from Botswana in order to improve law enforcement cooperation and ensure that South Africa did not become a haven for fugitives.

"South Africa will enter into an Amended Treaty on Extradition with the Republic of Botswana, in terms of article 231(1) of the Constitution."

The aim is for more effective cooperation between South Africa and Botswana to facilitate extradition requests received from Botswana, where the death penalty is a possible sentence.

"This underscores that South Africa will not be a safe haven for criminals by providing for the extradition of fugitives and to facilitate the effectiveness of law-enforcement authorities in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crimes," reads part of the proposal.

Currently, South African law prohibits the extradition of criminal suspects to all countries that still use capital punishment, a position which has previously strained relations with Botswana after several failed extradition attempts of suspects implicated in high-profile crimes which included car-jacking, murder and armed robbery.

Several South Africans are among the 47 people who have been executed in terms of the death penalty since Botswana gained independence in 1966. The executions have strained relations between the 2 countries after Botswana ignored pleas for clemency from South Africa, which abolished the death penalty in 1995.

According to the Botswana penal code, the death penalty can be applied to persons found guilty of high-profile crimes which include murder, aggravated and gruesome armed robbery, and treason, among others.

(source: The Citizen)


Malawi rules out death penalty for albino killers

Malawi has ruled out the implementation of the death penalty for people who kill albinos.

Information Minister Patricia Kaliati said such legislation would go against human rights agreements that the country had ratified.

"Malawi is a signatory to many human rights instruments and we would not want to contravene them. We would not like a former head of state answering a case at the International Criminal Court over the death penalty," Kaliati said.

A member of the opposition Malawi Congress Party, had said that a proposal would be tabled in Parliament to allow death sentences to be handed down.

The MP's comments have renewed calls for the death penalty with supporters saying it will clear society of albino killers.



Bring the death sentence, forget international institutions - says Nsanje chief

Though Malawi has signed various international agreements human rights, a local leader from Nsanje district has urged government to implement death sentence arguing that the constitution gives courts powers to hand out the penalty to murder convicts.

The call comes at a time when Malawi government disclosed that it will not implement death sentence in fear of international institutions that are in agreement with the country on human rights issues.

Death hangingReacting on the development, Chief Malemia said Malawi needs to stand on what its constitution say.

"I could be a lay person but that shouldn't be an excuse to counter our laws, we spend taxpayers' money in making these laws, this is Malawi, not international institutions for human rights," said Malemia.

Malemia added that death sentence will see the barbaric acts of killing people with albinism dying a natural death.

Meanwhile, Malawians expect the nude parade organized by Mulanje South Member of Parliament Elias Bon Kalindo to force government to have death sentence being practical in Malawi.

Section 201 of the Penal Code provides that individuals convicted of murder "shall be liable to be punished with death or with imprisonment for life."

Records show that from 1972 to 1993 during Kamuzu Banda’s era a total of 823 were sentenced to death. Out of the 823 convicts, 299 were executed and the remaining ones died in prison.

However, On April 27, 2007, the Constitutional Court declared that mandatory death sentences were unconstitutional, inhumane and a degradation to human dignity.

The court was ruling in a case where a murder convict Francis Kanfantayeni and 5 others were challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty.



Obaida's murder: Accused admits to murder, sexual assault charges ---- The public prosecution is pushing for the death penalty.

A man admitted in the Court of First Instance on Monday having sexually assaulted and strangled to death 8-year-old Obaida.

The Jordanian accused, 48, confessed before the Presiding Judge Orfan Attieh that he strangled Obaida, also Jordanian, to death after sexually assaulting him in Al Mamzar area.

He has been referred to court on charges including kidnap, premeditated murder, physical assault, making criminal threats and consuming of alcohol without a license and driving under the influence.

Answering a question by the judge whether he sexually assaulted the victim in his car, the defendant said: "Yes. But I can't remember what happened. I was under the influence of alcohol". He claimed he was in a 'coma' as he was unconscious when he committed the crimes.

He admitted strangling the victim with his hands and then squeezing a piece of clothes around his neck for around 5 minutes until the boy became motionless.

According to prosecution records, the defendant kidnapped the boy from outside his home in Sharjah. He denied, however, in court having kidnapped the victim claiming he went with him willingly.

The public prosecution is pushing for the death penalty.

The accused is believed to have lured the boy inside his car after fooling him he would gift him a scooter. He strangled him out of fear he would tell his parents. He dumped the body later under a tree on the Academic City road.

Obaida was last seen on May 20 when he was outside his father's car workshop. He was then reported missing and his body was found 2 days later.

Lawyer Mohammad Al Mazmi submitted to the court documents saying he would be representing the victim's parents in a civil lawsuit.

The court adjourned the hearing to June 27 for a defence lawyer to be appointed.

(source: Khaleej Times)


Rights Group Condemns Junta Death Sentences for 4 Journalists----The Arab Observatory for Media Freedom denounces the latest unjust sentences against media workers as an escalation of the junta campaign to further curb freedom of the press.

In a serious escalation in the junta's attack on freedom of the press in Egypt, the Cairo Criminal Court issued Saturday a final ruling dealing harsh sentences against 4 journalists and 2 citizens, in addition to jail sentences against others including Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, accused of leaking state information to Qatar.

On the same day, Qasr Al-Nil Court decided to postpone the second trial of Yehya Qalash, head of the journalists union; Gamal Abdel-Rahim, the union's general secretary; and Khaled Albalshi, the union's deputy, on charges of harboring wanted journalists. Also, on Saturday afternoon, Musaab Hamid, correspondent of the satellite TV channel Misr 25, appeared in a military court, having been arrested by coup security forces on July 10, 2015.

The Arab Observatory for Media Freedom (AOMF) reaffirms that the sentences handed down Saturday against media professionals is are purely political, aimed at punishing political dissidents, and also mean even less freedom of the press, preventing journalists from publishing information, which is the core of their work, with accusations of spying for just getting and disseminating information to fulfill the right of the audience.

This is the 1st time an collective execution ruling is issued against four journalists at once in a publishing case. The Egyptian Constitution rules out even jail terms for journalists in such cases (as in Article 71). The court here used the death penalty directly in clear contempt of human lives, and the most basic human right - the right to life.

Having considered the trial and prosecution evidence, AOMF affirms that all the 4 journalists were supposedly guilty of are matters relating to their professional duties and essential work in publishing information, obtaining documents and data and releasing them to the public.

Thus, these journalists do not deserve punishment for any of these actions. It also is absurd that the Egyptian authorities claim the journalists accused in this case (Ibrahim Hilal, Alaa Sablan, Ahmed Afifi, and Asmaa Alkhatib) were communicating with Qatari officials, but they made no mention of the names of those supposed officials. Furthermore, no charges were laid out against the said officials, which means the whole case is merely a matter of vengeful retaliation.

AOMF calls on all organizations and institutions concerned with freedom of the press locally and internationally for urgent action to save the lives of these journalists, and to save the freedom of the press in Egypt from systematic suppression in the guise of junta justice that in fact aims to turn the media into mere mouthpieces for the ruling regime, stripping away all the achievements and democratic gains of the January 25, 2011 Revolution.



Iran Regime Sentences Three Ahwazi Young Men To Public Execution

A senior Iranian regime judiciary official has issued the final confirmation of the death penalty for three Ahwazi rights activists, with another four sentenced to between 25 and 35 years in prison, as well as exile.

Gholam-Hossein Mohsen Eie'I, the First Deputy Head of the Iranian regime's Judiciary, confirmed the sentences in an interview with the regime-affiliated Moj News Agency, adding that the sentences issued by the 'Revolutionary Court' in Ahwaz had been upheld by the Supreme Judicial Court in Tehran on appeal.

3 of the defendants, Qais Obeidawi, Ahmad Obeidawi and Sajad Obeidawi were sentenced to death by public execution. Of the other 4, Mohammed Helfi and Mehdi Moarabi were sentenced to 35 years each, to be served in exile from the Ahwaz region (also known as 'Khuzestan province', the name it was given in 1936) in a prison in the city of Yazd, while Mehdi Sayahi and Ali Obeidawi were sentenced to 25 years each imprisonment. It should be noted that the 4 prisoners sentenced to lengthy prison terms were exiled to prisons outside the Ahwaz region in June of 2015.

The 7 men were arrested in April of 2015 in the city of Hamidieh in the Ahwaz region on charges of killing an Iranian policeman at a checkpoint. They were subjected to kangaroo trials held in secret without being allowed any access to lawyers, a flagrant violation of international laws and conventions. The prisoners have also been prevented from having any contact with their families since their detention.

Human rights activists in Ahwaz, who strongly suspect that the men were tortured into confessing to the crime, a standard regime policy towards detainees, have demanded that the United Nations' International Council on Human Rights intervene to prevent the executions from taking place, warning that they are expected to be carried out imminently.

The Iranian regime has stepped up its already brutal oppression of Ahwazi Arabs and other minorities in Iran under the administration of the "moderate reformist" President Hassan Rouhani. Since coming to power in 2013, Rouhani has presided over the execution of at least 1,800 people as well as public beatings, floggings, and amputations.

The real number of the regime's victims is believed to be far higher than the publicly admitted figure, with many executions reportedly unannounced. With Ahwazi Arabs and other minorities increasingly viewed as a threat to the Islamic Republic's leadership's consolidation of a homogenous Persian Shiite nation, the theocratic regime is stepping up its already brutal repression in an effort to crush dissent, as well as implementing a policy of population transfer within Ahwaz as a means of changing the demographic composition of the region.

The rights groups pointed out that the primary goal of such executions is to intimidate further and terrorise Ahwazi Arabs into silence and submission following a wave of protests for freedom and human rights which have swept the Ahwazi, Baluchi, and Kurdish regions.

It is imperative that international human rights organisations and the United Nations put pressure on the Iranian regime to force it to desist from its systematic violence and oppression against Ahwazis and other minorities, and to respect the fundamental human and civil rights of Ahwazi Arabs, including the right to be educated in their own Arabic language, which they are currently denied, as well as the rights to employment, freedom of expression, free assembly and free association, as enshrined in international law.

We urge all human rights organisations and all peoples of good conscience worldwide to raise their voices and to contact their political representatives in order to force the Iranian regime to abandon its unconscionable state-sanctioned policies of racial segregation, oppression and brutality, and to free all prisoners of conscience and individuals detained simply for participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Remaining silent in the face of such monstrous crimes against humanity should no longer be considered an option. In the words of Italian-American human rights activist Ginetta Sagan, 'silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.'



Death-row war criminal Mir Quasem transferred to Dhaka jail

Convicted war criminal Mir Quasem Ali has been moved to the Dhaka Central Jail from the prison at Gazipur's Kashimpur, reports bdnews24.comMir-Quashem

The prison van carrying him left for Dhaka around 7am on Monday, said Kashimpur jail's Superintendent Prashant Kumar Banik.

The senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader has been kept at the condemned cell after reaching the Dhaka jail around noon, said Dhaka Central Jail Senior Superintendent Jahangir Kabir.

Asked why he has been transferred, Kabir told, "He will be kept here."

The former Al-Badr commander was found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal and was awarded death penalty in 2014.

He challenged the verdict but in March this year, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence.

On Sunday, he filed a petition for a review of the verdict.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam, however, could not confirm whether the Supreme Court's vacation bench will hear the matter during Ramadan.

Once the matter of review is resolved and if the death sentence is upheld, the war crimes convict will have the opportunity to seek a presidential clemency.



Jamaat leader files plea against death sentence----Tarique's appeal in graft case rejected

Condemned war criminal Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali yesterday filed a review petition with the Supreme Court against its verdict upholding his death penalty for his crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.

Mir Ahmed bin Quasem, son of Ali, who submitted the review petition with the Supreme Court, said there were 14 grounds for seeking release of the convict in the war crimes case.

On June 6, the International Crimes Tribunal issued a death warrant for the Jamaat-e-Islami leader hours after the Supreme Court released the full text of its verdict upholding his death penalty.

On March 8, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for Ali for his crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 in a verdict had sentenced Ali in the port city of Chittagong in 1971, to death on November 2, 2014.

On November 30, 2014, Ali filed an appeal before the Supreme Court challenging the death penalty.

Among the total 14 charges brought against Ali for war crimes, the tribunal convicted him on 10 counts of charges and acquitted him from 4.

The 64-year-old top Jamaat-e-Islami financier was president of the Chittagong city unit of the Islami Chhatra Sangha, the student wing of the party, till November 6, 1971.

(source: Gulf News)

JUNE 19, 2016:


Law Provides Guidance On How Former Death-Row Inmates Will Be Housed

veryday life for Maryland's death-row inmates barely changed in 2014 when Gov. Martin O'Malley commuted their sentences to life in prison without the chance of parole.

"They were already housed in general population," Gerard M. Shields, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said about the four men facing execution in 2013, the year Maryland abolished capital punishment."We didn't have a separate death row and they had the same rights as everybody else, so nothing really changed for them in terms of their housing."

Now that capital punishment is officially in the history books in Connecticut, the question remains about how the lives of 11 formerly condemned prisoners will change.

Corrections officials are working to adjust their prison housing directives to comply with a state law regarding the incarceration of former death-row inmates and those now convicted of the crime of murder with special circumstances.

The law addressing those inmates, put in place when the death penalty was repealed in 2012, will likely keep the former death-row inmates away from the general prison population and locked up in maximum-security facilities.

All 11 former death-row inmates, as of Friday, were still being housed in a special unit at the maximum-security Northern Correctional Institution in Somers.

But now that Cheshire home invasion killer Steven Hayes has been resentenced, corrections officials are conducting a state-mandated "reclassification process" for Hayes that will dictate how he is managed in prison, Karen Martucci, acting director of the external affairs division of the state Department of Correction, said.

Martucci said Hayes, who received six consecutive life sentences during a brief hearing in Superior Court in New Haven on Wednesday, is the only inmate going through the reclassification process. As each former death-row inmate is resentenced, he also will go through reclassification, Martucci said.

Reclassification involves placing an inmate on a "special circumstances high-security status" and assessing whether an inmate could be dangerous to staff and other inmates and belongs in either "administrative segregation," also known as solitary confinement, or protective custody, according to the 2012 state law.

An inmate with a "special circumstances high-security" status will be placed with inmates with the same status in a maximum-security facility, the law states.

The conditions of confinement could include that the inmate's movements must be monitored and that he must be escorted by corrections officers. He could be moved to a new cell at least every 90 days, have his cell searched at least twice a week and not be able to have contact during social visits, according to the law.

Work assignments will be allowed only in the assigned housing unit and the inmate will be allowed no more than 2 hours of recreational activity per day.

The law allows the confinement conditions to be reviewed annually and changed "for compelling correctional management or safety reasons."

Martucci said the corrections department has its own classification system for prisoners but in the case of classification for the former death-row inmates, state law is superseding the department's policies.

"This statute is governing everything," she said.

Connecticut abolished the death penalty in April 2012 but made the law prospective, meaning it applied only to new cases. Attorneys representing those on death row challenged the law, saying it violated the condemned inmates' constitutional rights.

In August 2015, the justices ruled 4-3 to ban capital punishment for all defendants, saying in the majority decision that Connecticut's death penalty no longer fit with societal values and served no valid purpose as punishment, a ruling they echoed in a decision last month that essentially ended prosecutors' fight to keep execution possible for those already on death row.

Susan O. Storey, Connecticut's chief public defender, said attorneys in the capital defense unit representing former-death row clients are poised to move forward with additional resentencings once they are notified about how corrections officials are interpreting the 2012 law.

"We're waiting to get some clarification on how this law will be interpreted and enforced so that each of the lawyers can decide how they are going to proceed," Storey said.

Hayes' accomplice in the 2007 Cheshire home invasion and killings, Joshua Komisarjevsky, is scheduled for resentencing in New Haven Superior Court in New Haven on July 26.

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the resentencing in state court of Richard Reynolds, convicted of fatally shooting a Waterbury police officer, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, after the justices upheld his murder conviction but overturned his death sentence.

Hearings for Reynolds and the remaining 8 inmates have not yet been scheduled.

In older cases in which a sentencing judge has retired, the criminal presiding judge in that judicial district will assign a judge to hear those cases, Melissa Farley, executive director of external affairs for the state judicial branch, said.

(source: Hartford Courant)


es Cop Killer From Death Row

The Connecticut Supreme Court has upheld the murder convictions of a man who killed a Waterbury police officer in 1992, but has overturned his death sentence because of the court's earlier abolishment of capital punishment.

Justices ruled Friday on the appeal of Richard Reynolds and ordered a lower court to resentence Reynolds to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Reynolds fatally shot Waterbury Officer Walter Williams.

Reynolds' appeal said his public defenders failed to question jurors about racial biases and failed to introduce evidence that Reynolds suffers from an anti-social personality disorder.

The Supreme Court abolished the death penalty last year. One death row inmate, Steven Hayes, has already been resentenced to life in prison. The 10 men remaining on death row also will be resentenced to life.



Jury selection prolonged in capital case

The Randy Cagle murder trial began May 23 but not a shred of evidence had been presented as of Friday, June 17. In fact, opening arguments have yet to be given.

The delay has been the process of selecting a jury for the Randolph County Superior Court trial. Before the meat and bones of the trial can resume, there must be 12 jurors and 3 or 4 alternates seated.

The question on the minds of many is, why does it take so long to select a jury?

Capital murder

To start with, this is a capital murder case, meaning if Cagle is convicted of 1st-degree murder he could face the death penalty. If the jury finds him guilty of 1st-degree murder, they will then have to decide if his penalty should be death or life in prison without parole.

In such capital cases, a larger panel of potential jurors is summoned and the prosecution and defense attorneys are allowed to dismiss for cause more of those interviewed. Normally, they have 6 challenges but in this case they have 14 for the 12 jurors and one more for the alternates.

Charged with such serious decisions, more care is taken before accepting someone for the jury. Questioning can be long and tedious in a process that has been called "trying our best to make an educated guess" for both the prosecution and the defense.

The case

Cagle is charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder for the May 8, 2011, deaths of Davida Shauntel Stancil and Tyrone Clinton "Yogi" Marshall. Both stabbed to death, their bodies were found in a car parked near N.C. 705 southeast of Seagrove, a couple of miles from Cagle's residence.

Cagle's attorneys have made it clear that he admits to causing the fatal wounds but will plead self defense and mental debility. Those factors further muddy the waters of the case and, correspondingly, complicate jury selection.

Jury pool

Some 250 Randolph County residents were initially summoned last month for jury duty in the Superior Court trial. An additional 33 were moved over from another court date. Of the 34 applying for hardship dismissal, 11 were excused.

Those remaining who had reported for jury duty were divided into four panels, with one panel at a time being called to court for questioning. While the panel waits apart from the courtroom, each potential juror is called one at a time to be interviewed. When one is called, he or she is led into the courtroom and asked to sit in the witness chair.

Judge's questions

Judge Brad Long thanks the person for serving and tries to put the potential juror at ease. He gives assurances that the attorneys involved in the trial are "nice people."

Looking directly at the potential juror, Long says that responses to questions are to be truthful. "There are no right answers or wrong answers, just truthful answers," he says. "Don't worry about what anybody thinks of your answers. Just be truthful."

Long then introduces Cagle, the defense attorneys, the prosecutor, other members of the District Attorney's office in the courtroom and anyone else at the prosecution's table. He asks the potential juror of any familiarity with anybody in the courtroom, in the DA's office or on the witness list that has been previously provided. If the person is familiar with any of those people, he or she will be asked about the relationship.

Long then asks if the person is familiar with the murder case, and if so, what they know and how. He then asks the potential juror if he or she could follow the rules that will be provided in applying the law to the case.

Next, Long explains that a conviction of 1st-degree murder would automatically bring about a penalty phase in which the jury would decide whether life in prison without parole or death is the proper penalty. He gives instructions in how the process would involve weighing aggravating and mitigating factors to come to a conclusion.

Other questions Long asks include: Do you have strong feelings for or against the death penalty? Can you presume Cagle innocent during the trial even though he has admitted to causing the fatal wounds? Will you follow instructions given to the jury? Can you engage in the process of weighing aggravating vs. mitigating circumstances to determine Cagle's penalty in the event he is convicted of 1st-degree murder?

In some cases, a potential juror will be dismissed when the answers provided show Long that the person could not serve objectively in this particular case. He will then excuse them from further service.

Prosecutor's questions

When Long sees no reason to excuse the person, Chief Assistant District Attorney Andy Gregson is allowed to interview the potential juror. After attempting to make the person at ease, Gregson delves into the elements that Long has touched upon while also trying to get a sense of the person.

Typical questions Gregson asks include: Are you a person of common sense? Are you comfortable judging the testimony of witnesses? Can you apply the standard of reasonable doubt?

Gregson talks about the elements of proof for 1st-degree murder, including premeditated and deliberate thought, and felony murder which is murder committed while committing a felony. He says that premeditation is seldom proven by direct evidence, but instead must be proven by circumstances. "Can you follow that (reasoning)?" he asks.

The evidence to be provided at trial includes disturbing photos of the victims. Gregson asks if the potential juror can look at the photos closely and if he or she would "hold it against us?"

He also asks, "Can you consider both penalties (life without parole or death)?" "Is there any reason you couldn't be fair to both sides?"

When Gregson is finished with his questioning, he takes a few moments to confer with colleagues before saying if they are satisfied or not with the person.

Defense's questions

If the prosecution is satisfied with the person, questioning then goes to the defense attorneys, Frank Wells of Asheboro and Phoebe Dee of Orange County. Their interviews typically are longer and more tedious.

Wells reminds the person that Cagle doesn't deny stabbing the victims. The issue, he says, will be Cagle's mental capacity during the killings, whether it be his mental health or intoxication.

Again, the potential juror is asked what his or her thoughts are about the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Then there is another discussion about weighing aggravating and mitigating factors, in case the defendant is found guilty of 1st-degree murder. Wells or Dee explain that mitigating factors aren’t excuses but things that could be considered that could make life in prison the proper penalty.

"Could you consider those?" the potential juror is asked, with the understanding that a mitigating circumstance has to be proven to just 1 juror. Then all the jurors would have to weigh those factors together.

"Would anything make it difficult for you to engage in this process?" the potential juror is asked.

Other questions asked involve the person's life experience in regard to drug abuse, prescription painkillers or mental health issues. "Can you hear testimony by a psychologist or psychiatrist?"

The person may be asked, "Would it be a hardship for you to be here for 3 weeks or so?" "Is there anything else you want to talk about?" "Is there anything in your experience that tells you you shouldn't be in juror in this case?"

The defense team, when their questioning is completed, then confers for several minutes before announcing to Long either that they are satisfied with the juror or wish to exercise one of their challenges.

Final directives

Long then either tells the person that their service is ended and can leave, or provides further instructions if the person is accepted on the jury. Anyone serving on the jury is reminded not to talk to anyone about the case and to avoid news accounts of the trial.

It can take up to an hour to interview 1 prospective juror. Then after all that time they can be released from duty. In fact, according to Gregson, only 1 in every 6 to 10 persons interviewed winds up on the jury.

At the end of last Thursday's proceedings, the defense used its final challenge while Gregson had 6 remaining. At that point there were 11 jurors empaneled.

(source: The Courier-Tribune)


NC Bar Association award carries legacy of explicit racism

This week, at the annual gathering of the N.C. Bar Association, an African-American attorney will accept an award created to honor the "public service contributions" of Dr. I. Beverly Lake Sr. The association's description of the award belies the irony of this moment.

The elder Lake - not to be confused with his son, I. Beverly Lake Jr., who founded the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission and recently announced his opposition to the death penalty - is identified on the association's website as a former N.C. Supreme Court justice and dean of Wake Forest University School of Law. A key part of Lake's biography, however, is omitted: his legacy as a staunch and unrepentant segregationist.

Lake Sr., who died in 1996, was a prominent N.C. lawyer beginning in the 1950s and served on the state Supreme Court in the 1960s and '70s. Even in the context of Lake's time, his views on race were extreme.

In 1956, after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered public school integration in Brown v. Board of Education, Lake delivered a fiery speech before the N.C. State Bar. He warned that, for white families, integration would "destroy both their school system and their children's pride in their racial heritage." He urged the state to defy the court's mandate by closing the public schools rather than integrating them. (He later proposed a constitutional amendment that would have removed the requirement for a system of public schools.)

Lake Sr. said, "If we must choose between a generation of inferior education and the amalgamation of our races into a mixed-blooded whole, let us choose inferior education since that is an evil which another generation can correct, while miscegenation is a tragedy which can never be undone."

In a 1957 interview on WRAL TV, Lake Sr. attacked the governor for yielding to national pressure to integrate schools and asked that the SBI investigate the NAACP's membership, leadership and donors. He told viewers that the NAACP is "trying to condition your children, even before they are old enough to be conscious of sex, to accept integration not only in the classroom, but in the living room and the bedroom as well."

His rhetoric made him the de facto leader of the state's segregationists, and in 1960, Lake Sr. ran for governor on a platform of preserving Jim Crow. He lost that bid, as well as another in 1964, but he never expressed contrition for his divisive politics.

In a 1975 rape case, Lake Sr. wrote approvingly of a prosecutor's argument that "the average white woman abhors' the idea of sex with a black man. In a 1987 interview, he called it "a disgrace to have a state holiday for a man of deplorable character like Martin Luther King."

In 2004, the N.C. Bar Association, with a donation from the Lake family, created the Dr. I. Beverly Lake Sr. Public Service Award. For the next 11 years, the award was given to a succession of white male attorneys, with no mention of the racist ideology it invoked. This is especially troubling in light of the NCBA's history as a whites-only professional organization that did not admit its first black members until 1967, nearly 70 years after its founding.

Last year, when local attorneys expressed concern about the NCBA's decision to hold Lake Sr. up as a model for present-day lawyers, several NCBA leaders said they were unaware of his full history. Their response was to change the name to the Lake Family Public Service Award honoring both Lake Sr. and his son. The association also decided to give the prize for the 1st time to an African-American attorney, former Court of Appeals judge and NCBA President Charles Becton.

These changes are welcome but far from adequate. Lake's son, former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., has done much to improve our system of justice, and his work has helped free many innocent defendants. He has exhibited an admirable willingness to learn and evolve in his views. However, the addition of Lake Jr.'s name to the award, without any acknowledgment of Lake Sr.'s troubling record, simply whitewashes history.

The explicit and virulent public racism of Dr. I. Beverly Lake Sr. is not ancient history. We still live with its legacy today, even if we do not always realize it. The 1st step in leaving behind the dark days of segregation is to admit how very wrong we were - not to ignore our history while lionizing those who fought ardently for racist policies.

(source: Opinion; James E. Williams Jr. writes on behalf of the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers, of which he is a member----News & Observer)


Louisiana spends $1 million on litigation to avoid installing nine air conditioners in prison

Louisiana is broke.

The state is dealing with the "grimmest financial situation of the past 30 years - possibly ever in modern history," The Times-Picayune reported in February. Currently, the state is facing a $600 million budget gap.

Louisiana also incarcerates more people per capita than any other state. Last year alone, the state spent $700 million on prisons. Meanwhile, the state has significantly cut funding for public defenders. From The Atlantic:

The small chunk of [public defense] funding that comes from state appropriations - about $16.5 million in 2014 - is spread thinner every year to stanch mounting deficits[...] What's more, the 2017 annual budget, approved by the legislature, slashes public-defender funding by an additional 62 % - a cut "that would require additional service restrictions on a scale unprecedented in the history of American public defense," wrote the president of the American Bar Association in a letter to Louisiana's governor.

You may be surprised to find out, then, that Louisiana spent $1 million on court cases to fight the installation of air conditioning for death row inmates housed at Angola, widely considered the worst prison in America. The AP reports that "The state could spend roughly the same money - and possibly much less - on an air conditioning system that would satisfy a federal judge's order to protect death-row inmates from dangerous heat and humidity."

From the AP:

[T]he corrections department and attorney general's office have accrued at least $1,067,000 in expenses fighting the 3-year-old lawsuit filed on behalf of three inmates with medical problems.

A list of expenses incurred by the prison itself adds up to more than $100,000, including an April 2014 payment of nearly $29,000 to a firm that was monitoring the heat and humidity every 15 minutes.

A plaintiffs' expert has estimated it would cost about $225,000 - not including engineering fees or operating costs - to install air conditioning on death row's 6 tiers, which house dozens of inmates.

In 2014, an engineer hired by the state said nine air-conditioning units could adequately cool all eight tiers in the 10-year-old building that houses death row. An attorney for the state has said each unit would cost "several thousand dollars."

The money has been primarily spent on private attorneys, and some expert witnesses and contractors have also been paid tens of thousands of dollars.

While the state has not released its estimates to the public, even they seem to believe they are spending even more on litigation than it would cost to fix the problem. U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson, who is overseeing the case, said that "The state itself indicated that they could install mechanical air, fix this problem, end this case, for about -- what was it? About a million dollars." From the AP:

Judge Jackson said the bill is "stunning," given the painful cuts lawmakers are making to balance the state budget. He wondered out loud whether the state's refusal to give up the fight is based on prison management concerns, politics or ideology.

"Is this really what the state wants to do?" he asked. "It just seems so unnecessary."

Jackson is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on whether the state's current heat remediation measures - one cold shower a day, ice chests in their cells and fans outside - are adequately protecting the plaintiffs as Louisiana's sweltering summer approaches.

One of the poorest states won't fund constitutionally mandated public defense, spends all its money on prisons, and is facing a terrifying budget deficit. But sure, spend $1 million dollars on this. Okay.



Analysis: Death penalty case latest test for Arkansas court

A looming Arkansas Supreme Court decision over whether information about execution drugs should be kept secret could reveal whether the state's death penalty system is truly "broken," as Arkansas' last top attorney once claimed. It's the 1st major test for a court whose sharp divisions last year over another divisive issue - gay marriage - resulted in justices punting rather than deciding.

Unlike the gay marriage case, the state's highest court can't rely on the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and decide the issue. But the clock is still ticking, with days to go until part of Arkansas' execution drug supply expires.

Roughly a month has passed since justices heard oral arguments from lawyers for the state and the inmates. A lower court struck down the secrecy law, which lets the prison system withhold information about the manufacturer, seller and other information about the lethal drugs, even from the inmates themselves. 8 death-row inmates sued to overturn the law.

Arkansas has 34 inmates on death row, but hasn't executed an inmate since 2005, when Mike Huckabee, a Republican, was governor.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, signed death warrants while in office but completed 8 years in office without one taking place, because of legal challenges. He also said he would have abolished the death penalty if lawmakers sent him legislation doing so.

Beebe's successor, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is a death penalty supporter but has gone through the first year and a half of his term without an execution.

Hutchinson set dates last year for the first executions since 2005, but the court granted stays until the inmates' challenge was heard. At the time, he cast it as another step in the legal process.

"Had it not been set, then we would be sitting here 2 years, 3 years from now waiting for the next court challenge," Hutchinson told reporters. "Nothing moves if the governor does not set the date."

The window is closing for any of the executions to move forward, even if the state wins the case. Arkansas has until June 30 to execute the inmates with drugs it currently has on-hand. 15 doses of the paralytic vecuronium bromide expire at the end of next month, and the state's supplier has said it will not provide anymore. Sending the case back to Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who struck down the law, could narrow that window even further.

Complicating that timeline further is the fact that Supreme Court decisions typically take effect 18 days after they're issued - though justices can stray from that practice.

If justices were to allow executions to move forward, Hutchinson and state officials will be faced with the question of how - and if - the state should put 8 men to death in a matter of days. If justices agree with Griffen and strike down the execution law, it puts the state in a familiar position of trying to revive a death penalty process that's been in limbo for more than a decade due to court challenges and drug shortages.

It would also come nearly three years after former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel bemoaned the state of the death penalty system, saying he didn't see executions resuming anytime soon.

"I continue to support the death penalty, but it's time to be frank. Our death penalty system as it currently exists is completely broken," McDaniel said 3 years ago.

The uncertainty surrounding the case is similar to last year, when the state weighed whether to uphold a judge's decision striking down Arkansas' ban on gay marriage. That case was sidelined for months over an unusually public dispute over which justices could hear it. Justices ultimately dismissed the case hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

This case may not provide clarity on the future of executions in Arkansas. But it could indicate whether the state's highest court is willing to, at least this time, give a definitive answer on a controversial matter.

(source: Associated Press)


Illegal immigrant charged with murder in California fire had prior arrests, was never deported

The suspect charged with murder in connection with a vacant building fire in Los Angeles was in the United States illegally and had a string of arrests to his name -- but the feds never deported him, officials said Friday.

Johnny Sanchez, a 21-year-old citizen of Honduras, was initially arrested in 2012 for crossing the southeastern California border illegally, the Los Angeles Times reported. Authorities said they released him because he had no criminal history or previous immigration violations at the time.

He was arrested again in January on suspicion of domestic violence and twice in the ensuing months on suspicion of drug possession, officials said.

After he crossed the border, authorities reportedly placed him under supervision and ordered Sanchez to report to them regularly -- but he stopped doing so in 2014, the Times adds.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement never started the process of deporting him, spokeswoman Virginia Kice said, adding that the reason why was unclear. She told the newspaper it's ICE policy "to focus on individuals who pose a public safety threat."

The fire on Monday killed 5 homeless people. 4 of the badly burned bodies weren't found until Tuesday afternoon, when search dogs located them under a heap of debris on the 2nd floor.

Sanchez was in some kind of fight with the others and lit the fire with the intent to kill, Los Angeles Police Capt. Billy Hayes said.

The suspect was charged Wednesday with 5 capital murder counts and was ordered held without bail.

The charges against Sanchez, who's also homeless, make him eligible for the death penalty if he's convicted, if prosecutors choose to pursue it.

It took nearly 150 firefighters more than 2 hours to extinguish the fire in the green, two-story building that once was home to an acupuncture clinic. It is surrounded by strip malls and an apartment building in the Westlake District about a mile west of downtown LA.

The structure appeared to be singed and some of its windows were blown out. It did not appear seriously damaged from the outside, but the inside was badly burned and most of the roof was gone.

There had been complaints about the building recently, Terrazas said, and authorities had contacted the owner -- who has sought a demolition permit for the building -- about keeping people out.

(source: FGox News)


Modify but keep California death penalty

What is all the fuss about the death penalty in California? From my perspective, there has been a de facto moratorium on the death penalty for many years. What remains is the "threat" of the death penalty and even that is under attack.

Yet the death penalty threat serves as an important tool in the battle against the most egregious and horrific crimes imaginable. Many difficult cases have been solved by bargaining to remove the death penalty from consideration if additional information necessary to resolve this and other cases is given in exchange. Why would anyone want to surrender one of the most invaluable tools a prosecutor has in the quest for justice?

As for the chance that an innocent person may be executed, ask this question of an anti-death penalty advocate: "If all the prisoners on death row who have even the slightest doubt of guilt were returned to the general population of the prison with commuted sentences of life without the possibility of parole, would you then approve of the execution of the guilty?"

Ted Messerlian, Fresno

(soruce: Letter to the Editor, Fresno Bee)


Priced Out Of Dying In California

On June 9th, 2016, California became the latest state to allow physician-assisted suicide. For all of the recent debate over legalizing physician-assisted suicide, one point often fails to be mentioned: Americans who choose to take lethal drugs will be unable to afford it. In February, Canada-based Valeant Pharmaceuticals purchased rights to secobarbital, the medication most used for prescription aid in dying (PAD; more commonly known as physician-assisted suicide) in the United States. Shortly after, Valeant doubled the price of secobarbital to $3,000 per lethal dose.

Lack of effective alternatives and inconsistent insurance coverage contributed to secobarbital's price increase, just as they do for other generic medications. However, three unique factors complicate any response to high prices of drugs used in PAD: the public divide over its acceptability, existing socioeconomic disparities in its use, and the historical ties to drugs used in the death penalty. Unless policymakers address these factors, individuals hoping to access legal prescription aid in dying may be unable to do so.

Authorization, use, and support of PAD are increasing. PAD is currently authorized by statute or court opinion in 5 U.S. states: Oregon (since 1994), Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), and, most recently, California (2015). Most of these states authorize PAD for adults who submit a series of oral and written requests and who are certified by physicians to be mentally capable and have a terminal illness with estimated prognosis of 6 months or less. In Oregon, PAD is increasing in frequency as more people become aware of the practice and more physicians are willing to participate. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of prescriptions (114 to 218) and deaths from PAD (71 to 132) nearly doubled.

In the U.S., PAD requires patients to self-administer lethal drugs orally. Before 2015 in Oregon and Washington, most PAD cases used secobarbital (54 % in Oregon; 64 % in Washington) or pentobarbital (45 % and 36 %, respectively). Years of experience helped determine optimal doses of these drugs for PAD and other uses. Secobarbital's original patent was in 1934 to treat sleep disorders, and it is currently only available in an oral form. Pentobarbital has been used for many years as an anti-seizure medication. However, pentobarbital also has an intravenous form; in this form, it has been the drug most used for death penalty executions in the U.S. and physician-administered voluntary euthanasia in Europe.

This association with the death penalty has had important implications for access to PAD. In 2011, the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, Lundbeck, stopped manufacturing pentobarbital in the United States over concerns that it was used in lethal executions for prisoners, which is illegal and condemned in much of Europe. The subsequent drug shortage caused the price per lethal dose to rise from $500 in 2012 to over $15,000. As a result, pentobarbital essentially stopped being used for PAD in Oregon in 2015, with over 80 % of PAD patients relying on secobarbital. An alternative 3-drug cocktail of a long-acting barbiturate, a hypnotic, and an opioid - reported to cost approximately $400 per lethal dose - began to be used in 2015 in Oregon and accounted for 20 % of PAD cases that year. However, only a few willing specialized compounding pharmacies can supply this cocktail. Furthermore, the effectiveness and safety of this new cocktail are less well established.

No drugs have been approved safe and effective in PAD. This is in part because of a 1985 Supreme Court opinion in Heckler v Chaney, stipulating that the Food and Drug Administration is not required to regulate drugs used for lethal injection or PAD. As more medications or formulations enter the field, states could require evidence of safety and efficacy by mandating the reporting of doses, adverse effects before death, and time to death. However, no states yet require this, and layperson witnesses to the death might find reporting these measures to be difficult.

Public sensitivities regarding PAD also yield uneven and sometimes uncertain insurance coverage of PAD drugs. The Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997 prohibited federal program coverage - including Medicare, the federal component of Medicaid, and the Veterans' Health Administration. Insurance coverage has thus been left to individual state Medicaid or commercial plans. A recent bill in California proposes to mandate Medicaid coverage for drugs used in PAD, but state Medicaid and commercial insurance coverage remains unpredictable.

Insurance coverage for PAD would protect patients from costs by distributing risk to a large population, but it would not reduce the costs of lethal medications. To actually reduce the cost will require developing PAD drugs that are reliably effective and inexpensive. Perhaps the three-drug cocktail will accomplish this, as experience, use, and availability grows. However, this could take years - over which time many more states are expected to legalize PAD. Furthermore, a serious initiative to control the price of PAD drugs could be more difficult than similar efforts to cut costs of other drugs, since such a negotiation will reopen the fractious debate on PAD itself.

Further escalation in PAD drug costs may exacerbate existing disparities in its use. In Oregon, of those who died via PAD, 71 % had some college education or more, compared to 58 percent of the national population. These deaths were also more likely to be older white males dying from cancer. Fears of institutionalization or impoverishment could drive resource-poor individuals to want to accelerate the timing of death. However, inconsistent insurance coverage and higher prescription costs may make PAD unaffordable for poor people. Ironically, high costs for lethal medications might balance the effects of coercive financial situations, though long-term care costs still overwhelm the costs of PAD drugs.

Research to develop other PAD drugs that can only be ingested orally might engender competition and bring down prices. Currently, the number of individuals utilizing PAD is far too low to incentivize new drug alternatives. However, public support for PAD could spur demand to develop alternatives. Importantly, none of this would affect the price and availability challenges affecting death penalty cases, since those require injectable drugs.

Making secobarbital a focus of drug company profits is unsettling, even for those who have opposed legalization of PAD (including one of us). One would reasonably want people to live well as long as they can and to have little cause for seeking an earlier death. But in states where PAD is authorized, one would also reasonably want people to make choices about treatment and survival without being pressured by the high costs of PAD or of long-term assistance. This debate is vigorous enough when considering ethics and emotions. Drug pricing should not play a role in it.

(source: Dr. Parikh is a resident physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Lynn is Director of the Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness at the Altarum Institute----Huffington Post)


Alternative to death penalty proposed

A bill defining a new mode of life imprisonment for serious offenders will be filed by Buhay party-list Rep. Jose "Lito" Atienza when the 17th Congress opens.

Atienza said his proposal is an alternative to death by hanging pushed by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

The lawmaker earlier expressed support for Duterte's strong anti-crime stance but cautioned the incoming Congress against a "reckless" revival of the death penalty, saying executions will only breed a culture of violence and more brutal crimes.

"The problem with the death penalty is that it leaves no room for rectification. We cannot bring a dead convict back to life, even if another party later on confesses to having committed the crime for which the convict had been wrongfully condemned," Atienza, a former 3-term Manila mayor, said in a statement issued on Sunday.

His bill proposes a "qualified reclusion perpetua" for those found guilty of grave crime instead of the death penalty which, he pointed out, has been abolished by 140 countries including the Philippines as a punishment that violates the sanctity of human life.

Atienza explained that the maximum penalty in the country's penal code is 'reclusion perpetua' or a simple life term which means up to 40 years in prison, with the convict becoming eligible for conditional early release after serving just half of the term.

But in qualified reclusion perpetua, he said, a convict would stay in prison for a minimum of 40 years or until he or she reaches 70 years old, whichever comes 1st, before becoming eligible for parole.

"Our alternative is tantamount to locking up a convict and throwing away the key," Atienza noted.

Under existing laws, he said, convicts serving life terms are entitled to good conduct or loyalty allowances as well as reduction of sentence for time spent in detention before conviction.

"But under our proposal, all these allowances and the benefit of reduced sentence for preventive detention would not apply to convicts sentenced to qualified reclusion perpetua," Atienza added.

The lawmaker also wants those convicted of heinous crimes to perform productive labor while in prison, with the earnings derived from their work serving to indemnify victims.

For this purpose, Atienza urged the establishment of a new Victim's Indemnification Fund to be administered by the Department of Justice.

Duterte earlier said in a news conference that he would ask Congress to approve capital punishment, carried out through hanging, for heinous crimes such as drug-related offenses and rape.

But Atienza maintained that raising the certainty of punishment is the strongest deterrent to crime, as opposed to increasing the severity of penalty, and called for a total war against corruption to ensure arrest and punishment.

"If there was 100 % assurance of being apprehended and imprisoned for committing a crime, fewer people would do so," he said.

(source: Manila Times)


Somali court sentences 43 Al-Shabaab militants to death

A court in northern Somalia town of Garowe on Saturday sentenced 43 Al-Shabaab militants to death, APA reports quoting Xinhua.

Prosecutor of the court, Abdullahi Hersi Elmi said the militants who were arrested during the heavy clashes in Puntland early this year have been in prison for the past 5 months.

"The court carried out the death penalty to 43 Al-Shabaab militants in Garowe town today, 54 other Al-Shabaab militants remain in prison because they are young. These militants were arrested during the fighting in Nugaal and Mudug regions in March and April," Elmi said.

Elmi said the Puntland State forces arrested 97 Al-Shabaab militants during the 2 months of fighting, noting that the latest sentence is the biggest number of insurgents who have been convicted in a single day.



More than S$100,000 worth of drugs seized in CNB bust----In total, CNB officers seized about 1.1kg of heroin, 150g of 'Ice' and a slab of Erimin-5 tablets.

Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers seized about 1.1kg of heroin, and 150g of 'Ice' in an operation on Friday (Jun 17). The drugs are estimated to be worth more than S$100,000, CNB said in a media release on Saturday.

Officers were deployed to the area around Anchorvale Road on Friday to look out for a suspected drug trafficker, a 38-year-old Singaporean female. According to CNB, she was suspected to be receiving a consignment of drugs from her accomplice, a 39-year-old foreigner.

The accomplice was arrested in the vicinity of the suspected drug trafficker's hideout, and had more than S$15,000 of cash seized from him, according to CNB.

Officers then raided the hideout, and arrested the suspected drug trafficker. The heroin and ice, as well as a slab of Erimin-5 tablets, as well as over S$20,000 in cash were recovered.

Investigations into the drug activities of all suspects are ongoing, CNB said. Those convicted of trafficking in more than 15g of heroin could face the death penalty.



Death penalty for murder convict

Anti-Terrorism Court Judge Raja Perveez Akhtar on Friday awarded capital punishment on two counts to a man he convicted of murder.

Prosecution said on April 16, Nasir Hussain, a resident of Ahmadpur Sial, had beaten his wife after an argument, doused her with petrol and set her alight. They said the woman was taken to a hospital where she died. Hussain was arrested and confessed to killing his wife during the trial. After hearing the witnesses and examining the evidence, the judge awarded death penalty on 2 counts to Hussain. The court awarded death penalty under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and imposed a fine of Rs500,000 on the convict. The court also awarded capital punishment under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and fined the convict Rs500,000. The judge also awarded him life imprisonment under Section 336 of the PPC.

(source: The Express Tribune)


BCL in Tongi disappointed at HC verdict

BCL activists in Tongi yesterday formed a human chain expressing disappointement at the High Court partillay revising a lower court verdict that gave death sentences to 22 people and life terms to six others for assassinating Awami League lawmaker Ahsanullah Master on May 7, 2004.

They formed the human chain in Tongi College Gate area around 11:30am, organised by Tongi Thana and Tongi Government College unit BCL.

At one stage, the activists lay down on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway to press home their demand, halting the traffic movement, said police.

BCL activists left the area in the afternoon and the traffic became normal soon afterwards, said Firoz Talukdar, officer-in-charge of Tongi Police Station.

The High Court on Wednesday upheld death penalty of six persons, convicted earlier by a trial court, and sentenced nine convicts to life term imprisonment and acquitted 11 others in the case.

(source: The Daily Star)


2 Lao men arrested for carrying drugs en route to Vietnam

Border guards in Quang Tri Province in central Vietnam and Laos police on Saturday arrested 2 Lao men who tried to traffic 12,000 pills of drugs across the border.

Both men came from Savanakhet Province which borders Vietnam.

They were found carrying the tablets labeled WY, which is the logo for a kind of drug mixed from methamphetamine and caffeine.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or 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.

Yet drug trafficking activities across the Laos border remains regular.

The Saturday bust came just 3 days after 2 Lao men were arrested for trafficking 35 kilograms of opium into Vietnam.

(source: Thanh Nien News)


Govt open to replacing death with life

While the study on whether to keep the death penalty is ongoing, the Government is open to proposals on the matter.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri says the Government is considering suggestions to improve the current justice system including whether to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, as mooted by several parties including the Malaysian Bar.

"I really want to see the amendment to the mandatory death penalty be passed and implemented prior to the 14th general election," she tells Sunday Star.

Nancy, who is the minister in charge of law, points out that the study requires a long time as a very comprehensive review needs to be carried out.

The Government needs to balance the interest of the accused, victim and public at large before making a decision.

"Whatever decision made will be done in the best interest of the rakyat," she says.

Presently, the Attorney-General's Chambers is conducting an in-depth study on the death penalty in Malaysia, studying the legal issues, policies and effectiveness of the punishment.

Concurring with Amnesty International's call to abolish the death sentence, the Malaysian Bar hopes that it can be replaced - with life imprisonment instead.

Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo says the Bar has passed several resolutions over the years, calling for capital punishment to be done away with.

"We also call upon the Government to repeal all mandatory death sentences, because judges should be given the discretion in sentencing," he urges.

He explains that mandatory sentencing robs judges of the opportunity to exercise their discretion to hand down other forms of punishment apart from the death penalty.

"It is an executive interference in the independence of the judiciary," Khoo adds.

He also says the Government should release the findings of the study conducted on the death penalty once it is completed.

There are some who believe the death sentence should remain.

Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail stresses that Malaysia still needs the current mandatory death penalty for serious offences like drug trafficking and murder.

"Things should remain as per status quo. If we abolish the death sentence, there will be more crimes like drug trafficking.

"Although the death penalty has not reduced such cases in the past, removing it will only cause the number of cases to spike drastically," he opines.

Shaik Daud, once a prosecutor with the Attorney-General's Chambers, believes the death sentence is a deterrent and doing away with it will only embolden more criminals.

He also says that the death penalty should continue to be made mandatory for serious crimes such as terrorism and drug trafficking.

"In the past, before the death sentence was made mandatory for drug trafficking, judges had the option of handing down life sentences as an alternative.

"When I was prosecuting in such cases last time, most judges went for the alternative but it wasn't a strong deterrent," he says, adding that the Government later decided to do away with the alternative punishment and imposed the mandatory death sentence.

It is also more practical for the Government to keep the death sentence, he says.

"If we change all death sentences to life imprisonment, the Government would have to bear the costs of housing and feeding them (the convicted) to look after them for the rest of their lives.

"Why should tax payers be burdened by this when the criminals have done heinous crimes?"

Shaik Daud notes that such prisoners would have time to reflect on their deeds before their execution.

Senior lawyer Tan Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman says the death penalty should be used based on circumstances and only if the intent to commit serious crimes especially murder, is proven.

"Otherwise, it should be replaced with life imprisonment," says the former Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board chairman.

(source: The Star)


Ongoing executions, torture and floggings in holy month of Ramadan

The inhumane mullahs' regime is continuing its use of mass executions, barbaric punishments, floggings and widespread arrests during the holy month of Ramadan, which is considered amongst Muslims in Iran and all other Islamic countries as a period of friendship, kindness and benevolence.

Iranian authorities on June 15 sent 5 prisoners to the gallows in the central prisons of Bandar Abbas (southern Iran) and Yasouj (southwestern Iran). In the early days of Ramadan (2nd week of June) a deprived worker was horrifically flogged in public in the town of Ghir and Karzin in Fars Province (central Iran) under the pretext of eating during fasting hours. A number of other people in various cities including Hamedan, Isfahan and Islam Shahr have been arrested for similar reasons.

In another development, Mr. Iman Rashidi Yeganeh lost his life on June 10 after enduring 4 months of detention in appalling conditions in Parsiloun Prison of Khoram-Abad (western Iran) and being deprived of any medical care. He was mistakenly arrested back in March due to a name similarity. However, the criminal judge of the mullahs' so-called court refused to release this prisoner despite learning of his innocence and in the light of warnings issued by physicians.

The mullahs' inability and incapacity to temporarily put a lid on oppression, torture and executions, even in the sacred month of Ramadan, makes it crystal clear that the criminals ruling Iran cannot safeguard their rule for even 1 day without nooses and the use of torture against the people.

The Iranian Resistance calls on international human rights organizations to condemn the crimes of this regime and focus their efforts to entirely banish and expel the mullahs from the global community. The senior leaders of this regime, being a disgrace for modern humanity, must be placed before justice for their crimes against humanity.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)

JUNE 18, 2016:


Roberson Execution Stayed----Court of Criminal Appeals sends case back to Anderson County

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay on the execution of Robert Roberson Thursday, sending the case back to the Anderson County court where Roberson was initially tried. The 49-year-old was sentenced to death for the 2002 murder of his 2-year-old daughter Nikki Curtis.

Roberson, who is from Palestine, Texas, argued to the state's highest criminal court on a last ditch effort before his pending June 21 execution that the evidence used to convict him for his daughter's death was rooted in junk science. The state argued at his trial in 2003 that Nikki died after Roberson shook her - hard enough, prosecutors said, that she slipped into a coma. A jury agreed that Roberson, high on drugs the night that Nikki died, returned her to bed after he shook her, and left her there for hours, until she was unable to be saved.

Roberson always contested those claims. Since the questioning after his arrest, he has maintained that his daughter fell out of her bed. It wasn't until 2014, when a Houston case exposed new forensic theories on the phenomenon known as "Shaken Baby Syndrome," that Roberson was able to shift the nature of the effort to save his life from one dependent on his mental state to one centered on the actual facts of his case. A June 8 application for relief filed to the CCA by Office of Capital Writs attorney Gretchen Sween argued that Roberson should be granted a new trial due to the "prior medical understanding" that "a specific set of symptoms" - retinal hemorrhaging, subdural hematoma/hemorrhaging, and brain swelling - "could be viewed together as categorical proof of SBS/AHT," and because that flawed science resulted in a violation of Roberson's civil rights to due process.

In an order issued late on Thursday afternoon, the CCA agreed with Roberson's argument, offering little more than that the justices "find that his claims satisfy the requirements" of Article 11.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure - that the state relied on false, misleading, and scientifically invalid testimony. The CCA remanded Roberson's case to the trial court, taking his execution off the docket. The state now has 120 days to file an answer to Roberson's claims to the CCA.

Roberson's stay may not be the biggest news to come out of the CCA this week, however. Also on Thursday, in a concurring and dissenting opinion issued in the case of Julius Jerome Murphy, who was convicted in 1998 of killing stranded motorist Jason Erie in Texarkana, Justice Elsa Alcala argued that the remand hearing issued to Murphy should include not just claims that the state withheld evidence that could have spared Murphy, but that the court should consider altogether "whether the death penalty remains a constitutionally acceptable form of punishment under the current Texas scheme."

The 17-page opinion challenges the tenets of the death penalty on a wide variety of issues. Alcala questions the validity of allowing states to determine health standards for whether someone is too mentally ill to die, lists the vast number of (sometimes arbitrary) possibilities that could elevate a murder charge to capital murder (thus bringing the death penalty into play), the role race typically plays in determining death sentences, and the flaws present in considering whether a convicted Texan could be considered a future threat to society. She notes Murphy's claims that "the death-penalty scheme is plagued by excessive delays and that this has resulted in cruel and unusual punishment, partly because, throughout this delay, [Murphy] has been held in solitary confinement."

The opinion is notable for its contents as much as it is for its source. The CCA's reputation is that of a conservative court, long fundamentally unopposed to the death penalty as a practice. And while Alcala's opinion represents one solitary voice on a panel of 9 justices, it establishes a modicum of concern for whether the death penalty is truly moral.

"I do not decide the ultimate merits of applicant's arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional, though it should be evident from my numerous opinions on this subject that, in my view, the Texas scheme has some serious deficiencies that have, in the past, caused me great concern about this form of punishment as it exists in Texas today," Alcala wrote. "Rather than refuse to afford applicant the opportunity to factually develop his complaints as this Court does today, I would instead permit applicant to make an evidentiary record of his assertions and to have the habeas court make findings of fact and conclusions of law."

(source: Austin Chronicle)


Waterbury Cop Killer Richard Reynolds Resentenced After Death Penalty Abolishment ---- He will now face a new sentence by order of the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Friday that Richard Reynolds' murder convictions will be upheld, though his death sentence will be overturned, according to media reports.

Reynolds has been previously convicted for killing a Waterbury police officer and was sentenced to death, according to Fox 61. The state, however, has since abolished capital punishment as of last year.

Reynolds attempted to appeal his sentence, claiming his public defenders failed to question jurors about racial biases, according to the CT Post. They reportedly also failed to introduce evidence that Reynolds suffers from an antisocial personality disorder.

Justices ruled that Reynolds be resentenced to life in prison without possibility of release by a lower court, according to Fox 61. The 10 men remaining on death row are expected to be resentenced to the same punishment following Reyonlds' ruling.

In 1992, Reynolds shot Officer Walter Williams in the head after the officer stopped him during a routine patrol, as reported by The New York Times at the time. Reynolds was 24 at the time and wanted in New York on drug charges.

Information at the time suggested Reynolds intended to kill Williams with the pistol in his pocket after refusing to show his hands to the bullet-proof vest-less officer, according to The New York Times. While fleeing the scene, Reynolds reportedly fired 4 more shots (that missed) at the officer, who left behind 2 children and a wife who was expecting.



Uniontown couple charged with killing daughter could face death penalty

The former Greene County couple charged in the starvation death of their 23-month-old daughter at their Uniontown apartment could face the death penalty.

Fayette County District Attorney Richard Bower filed notice in court this week that he will seek the death penalty against Andrea Dusha and Michael Wright Jr. if convicted of 1st-degree murder in their daughter's death.

Bower wrote in his filing Wednesday that he came to the decision through aggravating factors such as the girl's age and because her death was caused "by means of torture."

Lydia Wright died of severe malnourishment and dehydration Feb. 24. Investigators said Lydia weighed only 10 pounds and they believe she had been dead for several hours before Dusha brought the girl to Uniontown Hospital after finding her unresponsive.

Her parents, Dusha, 26, and Wright Jr., 32, were arrested March 17 and charged with homicide, endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment. They were formally arraigned on the charges Thursday morning by Fayette County Judge Steve Leskinen. Both are being held without bond at the Fayette County jail while awaiting trial.

Dusha's attorney, Wendy Williams, and Wright's public defender, Jeffrey Whiteko, could not be reached for comment Friday.

The couple and 3 children previously lived in Cumberland Township before being evicted from the apartment in February 2015. They moved to Uniontown and lived there until the girl's death.

(source: Observer-Reporter)


State Seeks Death Penalty for Parents in Child's Starvation

A prosecutor will pursue the death penalty against a western Pennsylvania couple in the starvation death of their 23-month-old daughter, who authorities say weighed just 10 pounds when she died in February.

The prosecutor's office announced its intention Friday when 32-year-old Michael Wright Jr. and 26-year-old Andrea Dusha were formally arraigned on charges of criminal homicide, child endangerment and reckless endangerment.

Authorities allege the child, Lydia Wright, was left in a car seat for more than 13 hours at the family's squalid Uniontown home before she died of malnutrition and dehydration.

? The couple's attorneys didn't return calls for comment.

Wright's former attorney says Wright thought Dusha was caring for the child. Dusha's former lawyer says Dusha did "everything that she was supposed to do at the 1st sign of distress."

(source: Associated Press)


Dying for equality: Supreme Court ruling could affect NC death row inmates

Inmates on death row in North Carolina could soon have new hearings thanks to a ruling in Georgia by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A ruling last week by SCOTUS could give North Carolina death row inmates new avenues to challenge racial bias in capital trials and will force the state to confront discriminatory jury selection practices.

The Court ruled 7 to 1 in a Georgia case, Foster v. Chatman, that prosecutors violated the Constitution by excluding African-Americans from the jury in a capital case, and that the Georgia courts made a huge mistake by refusing to consider evidence proving that discrimination, according to information from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

In the Georgia case, the prosecutor got rid of all 4 potential black jurors. While he gave the court "race-neutral" reasons for his strikes, the prosecutor's notes showed that he highlighted the names of black jurors, marked them with a letter "B" and put them 1st on his list of jurors to strike.

The prosecution also ranked the African-Americans in case "it comes down to having to pick 1 of the black jurors," according to the CDPL.

Similar evidence of discrimination in jury selection has been uncovered in North Carolina.

Jay H. Ferguson is a capital defense attorney in Durham and said the ruling could mean new hearings since many of the people on death row in the state were convicted of a jury not of their peers.

"There are almost 150 people on death row in North Carolina," he said in a taped interview. "Almost 1/2 of those people were sentenced by juries that consisted of no more than 1 person of color. About 20 % of people on death row today were sentenced by an all white jury."

There is too much diversity within the state for the lack of people of color on juries to be truly representational, according to Ferguson.

"In a state as great and diverse as North Carolina, that's absolutely unconscionable," he said.

Ken Rose is the senior attorney at The Center for Death Penalty Litigation and said he hopes the SCOTUS ruling means the laws against such procedures will now be enforced throughout the state and the country.

"The court sent a message that we must stop making excuses and start enforcing the law against discrimination in jury selection," he said. "The privilege and obligation to serve on a jury, regardless of race, is fundamental to our democracy. Yet, African-Americans in North Carolina are routinely denied the right to participate in the most important decisions our criminal justice system ever makes."

Lawyers like Ferguson who specialize in the death penalty say the ruling will give many men and women who are sentenced to death new rights to bring forward evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection at their own trials. Such evidence is usually barred if it is not introduced during the initial trial, according to the CDPL.

The ruling also will compel North Carolina courts to enforce laws that prohibit race discrimination in jury selection.

The N.C. Supreme Court has heard more than 100 cases where prosecutors were accused of intentionally getting rid of minority jurors, but it has never found a prosecutor's explanation for striking a black juror to be a cover for race discrimination, despite compelling evidence that the practice of excluding black jurors is prevalent, according to the CDPL.

"It has been illegal for 3 decades to exclude jurors based on race, but the reality is our courts have refused to enforce that law," Rose said. "The U.S. Supreme Court said that we cannot continue to ignore this blatant racism in our death penalty system."

North Carolina tried to fix the problem of discrimination in jury selection in 2009 by passing the N.C. Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to present statistical proof that African-Americans were systematically excluded from their juries.

Because of the Racial Justice Act, NCDL says North Carolina death row inmates have uncovered even stronger evidence of discrimination in jury selection than in the Georgia case:

-- In a Cumberland County case, defense attorneys discovered a prosecutor's handwritten notes that labeled prospective jurors with terms like "blk wino" and "blk, high drug neighborhood."

-- In a Forsyth County case, prosecutors struck all but a single black juror. According to a handwritten note attached to that juror's questionnaire, he was accepted because he attended a "multiracial" church, rather than a black one, and went to "predominantly white schools."

-- Several N.C. prosecutors attended training, sponsored by the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, where they were given a cheat sheet of "race-neutral" excuses that they could use to justify their illegal strikes of black jurors.

-- A comprehensive statewide study of capital cases from 1990-2010 found that prosecutors removed qualified black jurors from jury pools at more than twice the rate of white jurors. The disparity was even more pronounced when the defendant was black.

The Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013. More than 100 death row inmates who filed motions under the law are still pursuing their claims in court, but most have so far gone unheard.

"The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the importance of the evidence those defendants uncovered," said Rose. "North Carolina courts must finally begin to take this critical issue seriously. The illegal practice of excluding African-Americans from jury service must end."

(source: Morgantown Hews Herald)


Georgia executions rise, while death sentences plummet

It's Georgia's new death penalty paradox: the state is executing inmates at a record clip, but prosecutors almost never seek the death penalty anymore, and juries refuse to impose it when they do.

During each of the past 2 years, Georgia executed 5 inmates. If, as expected, the state carries out another execution later this year, it will have put more people to death - 6 - in 2016 than in any single year since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment 4 decades ago.

But the last time a Georgia jury imposed a death sentence was in March 2014. And district attorneys have been turning away from death as a sentencing option, more often allowing killers to receive sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A decade ago, state prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty against 34 accused killers. That number dropped to 26 in 2011 and to 13 last year.

How many times have Georgia DAs sought the death penalty so far this year? Once. And this was against a man accused of killing a priest - a clergyman who had signed a document saying if he died a violent death he did not want his killer to face the death penalty.

The incongruity of the increasing numbers of executions and the plummeting numbers of death sentences took both prosecutors and defense attorneys by surprise.

"Wow," Atlanta criminal defense attorney Akil Secret said. "Maybe the times are changing."

The precipitous declines raise the question of whether prior capital sentences were justified, Secret said. "If a life-without-parole sentence is sufficient for today's worst crimes, why isn't it sufficient for those crimes from the past where death was imposed?"

In March, Secret represented 1 of the only 2 defendants to face death-penalty trials in Georgia this year. In both cases, juries in Fulton and Newton counties unanimously voted for sentences of life without parole.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter also expressed surprise at the ongoing trends.

"It's certainly one of those odd occurrences," said Porter, who has three pending capital cases. "But part of me says these (current) executions were cases where the sentences should have been carried out long ago. Also, the option of life without parole was never an option for them. It's almost apples and oranges."

Asked whether he thought cases that received death sentences in the past should now be reconsidered for life without parole, Porter quoted a passage from the "Dune" science fiction series, "If wishes were fishes, we'd all cast nets."

Is the death penalty no longer necessary?

Brian Kammer, head of a nonprofit agency that represents condemned killers through their final appeals, said many inmates would not have been sent to death row had they been represented by competent lawyers. Today, he said, the state has a dedicated office with highly trained public defenders with the resources to thoroughly investigate their clients' backgrounds.

"Had such legal teams with adequate resources been available to these recently executed prisoners at the time they were tried originally, I am confident they would be alive today," Kammer said.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court used a Georgia case to abolish capital punishment. In 1976, in another Georgia case, the high court reinstated the death penalty. Since that ruling, Georgia has executed 65 condemned killers. There are now 63 inmates on death row.

There is a consensus among state prosecutors and defense attorneys as to why the death penalty is not being sought as frequently as it was in the past and why juries are reluctant to impose it. 7 years ago, state lawmakers unanimously voted to allow prosecutors to obtain a life-without-parole sentence without having to file a notice to seek the death penalty.

"It has made an enormous difference," said Chuck Spahos, head of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. "When you start talking about the expense, the years of appeals and the length of the process that goes on and on and having to put victims' families through that with no closure, the availability of life without parole with a guilty plea has become an attractive option."

Years ago, some state prosecutors sought the death penalty because all they really wanted to do was send a defendant to prison for the rest of his or her life, said Jerry Word, head of Georgia's Capital Defender Office. "Now they no longer have to seek death to get what they really want. And the polls show that the public is becoming much more comfortable with life without parole."

'We've lost our sense of outrage'

Doug Pullen, who made a name for himself obtaining death sentences as a Columbus district attorney in the early 1990s, said he believes society has become desensitized to violence.

"We've lost our sense of outrage at such things," said Pullen, who later served as a judge until he resigned amid an ethics probe. "For me personally, and I think for a large portion of my age group, it's just absolutely appalling."

A defense attorney once told him that the death penalty would become so expensive and time-consuming it would die a natural death, Pullen said. "I guess I knew it was coming, but that it got here this fast kind of surprises me."

Not only are death sentences rare, death sentences once routinely imposed for certain types of murders have become nonexistent.

Lawyers representing Brandon Astor Jones tried unsuccessfully to stop his execution in February. In 1979, Jones was sentenced to death for killing the manager of a Cobb County convenience store during an armed robbery. But death sentences for these kinds of armed robbery cases have not been imposed in Georgia in the past 20 years, an appeal filed on Jones' behalf said.

Layla Zon, the district attorney for Newton and Walton counties, said after she took office in 2010 she reviewed cases in which death sentences were obtained by her predecessors more than a decade ago. "You'd never get the death penalty in most of those cases today," she said.

"To me, it seems like a gunshot killing of a single victim is not going to rise to the level in jurors' minds of what it takes to impose a death sentence," Zon said. "Torture, depravity of mind, the killing of a child. That's what it takes."

Zon leads state in death cases

A recent motion filed on behalf of Rodney Young, sentenced to death in Newton County in 2012 for killing his ex-fiancee's son, accused Zon of being "pathologically enthralled" with the death penalty. It said she has sought death at a rate unmatched by any other district attorney in Georgia and noted she had a battery-powered toy electric chair, called "Death-Row Marv," in her office.

Zon, who said the toy was in her office when she became DA and that she has since removed it, said she seeks death in cases that warrant it. Since 2011, there have been 13 death-penalty trials in Georgia, with 4 taking place in Newton. Zon's office also obtained 2 of the state's 5 death sentences during that time.

Last month, Ashley Wright, district attorney of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, filed the first and only notice to seek death so far this year. She is seeking it against Steven James Murray, who is accused of kidnapping Catholic priest Rene Robert, forcing him into the trunk of his car and then driving him to Burke County, where he shot and killed him.

After the notice was filed, Wright said, Robert's Catholic diocese in St. Augustine, Fla., sent her a document that Robert had signed years ago. The document said that in the event he died a violent death, Robert, who had protested against executions, did not want his killer to get the death penalty no matter how heinous the crime or how much Robert had suffered.

Wright said she is proceeding with the capital prosecution.

"We make our decisions based on the facts and the law, not public opinion," she said.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


Alabama appeals court: Death sentence law constitutional

An Alabama appeals court on Friday ordered a Jefferson County judge to vacate her rulings earlier this year that declared the state's capital punishment sentencing scheme unconstitutional.

In its order the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals says the state's capital sentencing scheme is constitutional and told Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Tracie Todd to vacate her March 3 order in the pending capital murder cases of four men that says otherwise.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office had filed four petitions for a writ of mandamus asking the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to direct Todd to vacate her orders and allow the state to decide whether to seek imposition of the death penalty in those cases if it decides.

The cases involve Kenneth Eugene Billups, Stanley Brent Chapman, Terrell Corey McMullin, and Benjamin Todd Acton who were all indicted for various counts of capital murder. Chapman and McMullin are charged in the same case and the others in separate cases.

Before their trials, the men each filed a motion to bar imposition of the death penalty in their cases and to hold Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme unconstitutional based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in January declaring Florida's death sentencing system unconstitutional.

Todd had heard arguments from lawyers for capital murder defendants Benjamin Acton, Terrell McMullin, Stanley Chatman, and Kenneth Billups.

Todd agreed and declared the capital murder sentencing law unconstitutional in a 28-page order.

"The Alabama capital sentencing scheme fails to provide special procedural safeguards to minimize the obvious influence of partisan politics or the potential for unlawful bias in the judiciary," Todd stated in her ruling. "As a result, the death penalty in Alabama is being imposed in a "wholly arbitrary and capricious" manner."

The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, said Friday that it the state's capital sentencing law is constitutional.

"Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme is constitutional under (U.S. Supreme Court rulings) Apprendi, Ring, and Hurst, and the circuit court (Todd) erred in holding otherwise and prohibiting the State from seeking the death penalty in capital-murder prosecutions," the appeals court opinion on Friday states.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office established the prerequisites for the appeals court to issue an order to Todd telling her to vacate her opinion, the appeals court stated in its order. "Therefore, the circuit court (Todd) is directed to set aside its order holding Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme unconstitutional and to allow the State to seek the death penalty in capital-murder prosecutions if it chooses to do so.

The appeals court ruled that under Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme a capital murder defendant "is not eligible for the death penalty unless the jury unanimously finds beyond a reasonable doubt, either during the guilt phase or during the penalty phase of the trial, that at least 1 of the aggravating circumstances ... exists."

The court noted that Florida's law, which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in January as unconstitutional, was conditioned a first-degree-murder defendant's eligibility for the death penalty on a finding by the trial judge, rather than the jury, that an aggravating circumstance existed.

Judges Mike Joiner and Liles Burke concurred with the majority although they differed on some points in separate opinions.

Both Joiner and Burke criticized Todd's order.

Todd's order "contains sparse analysis on the application of Hurst to Alabama's capital-sentencing scheme," Burke wrote.

"The majority of the order is devoted to the trial court's opinions regarding partisan politics, the effects of an elected judiciary, court funding, and the propriety of the death penalty in general," Burke states. "Additionally, the trial court extensively cites secondary sources, including materials from "Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty" as well as from the Web site of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization whose attorneys are representing the defendants in this very proceeding."

"In reviewing the materials that were filed with this Court, I find no mention of these issues," Burke writes. "Thus, I question whether the trial court's (Todd's) ultimate conclusion is based on its analysis of Hurst or on the trial judge's personal opinions regarding Alabama's death penalty."



Opioid addicts overpopulate our nation's prisons and death rows

Addicts hooked on pain pills or "opioids" overpopulate our country's prisons and death rows - particularly in Alabama.

As Anne Hull's revealing article for The Washington Post ("The lonely road of staying clean: In a town where pills are currency opioid addicts have few options," June 11) describes, "[d]octors in Alabama prescribe more opioid painkillers than physicians in any other state in the nation."

Saucily noting that Walker County, Alabama, "is usually nowhere to be found in the pages of The Washington Post," Ryan Ray of Alabama Today reported, "the rural county one hour away from Birmingham was front and center in a long-form story about a family torn asunder by pill mills and opioid addiction."

Ray writes that The Washington Post story, "details in depth the suffering of thousands of mostly white, low-income Alabamians resigned to life that revolves around the cycle of drug abuse, poverty, and recovery." The pills that these profiteering quack-M.D.s in rural Alabama have over-prescribed, Hull writes, "are so enmeshed in the local economy that they're traded for lawn mowers and school clothes."

In poor, agrarian areas of Alabama, where manual labor and minimum wage mete out subsistence - where the best paying jobs are at a plant or a prison, and where pills are interchangeable with money - it's not hard to see how opioid addiction-related crime seeps into (or is directly implicated) in death penalty cases.

Hull's article, though it does not mention capital punishment, does note: "2 generations of prescription painkillers have changed the way people die here. Even more they have changed the way people live. Great-grandparents are now raising the children of addicted parents and grandparents. 4 out of 5 arrests in the county are drug-related."

When I worked in Alabama between 2012 and 2015 representing poor folks sentenced to die (as an assistant federal public defender), a recurring commonality among my cases and those of my colleagues - as well as other lawyers representing clients on the state's death row - was opioid addiction. Nothing has changed.

Indeed, in the office where I worked in Montgomery, we had psychopharmacologists and neuropsychopharmacologists (try saying those tongue twisters 3 times in a row) on speed dial. We'd hire these specialized experts all the time to help illuminate how opioid addiction, often generational in Alabama as Hull's article poignantly notes, should mitigate a client's sentence - usually, to LWOP, an overly-benign acronym for life without the possibility of parole.

Off of the top of my head I can think of a panoply of people facing execution - right now in Alabama - where opioid addiction either directly, or indirectly, played a part in the crime that put them on death row.

In the story of Jessica Kilpatrick's struggle with opioid addiction that Hull's article zones in on, Kirkpatrick's addiction began when she was over-prescribed pain pills (330 pills a month) for a volleyball injury.

Similarly, I worked on a death penalty case in Alabama where my client grew up in a county no different than the one where Kirkpatrick lives; the hardscrabble downtown area where my client went to school and where all local commerce took place was literally awash in prescription pain pills. The richest man in town was the pharmacist. His pharmacy was immediately adjacent to a "pain management clinic" that dispensed hydrocodone (an opioid) by the armful to my client, and before that, to my client's grandmother, aunts, uncles, and parents. This particular pharmacist, apart from owning one of the biggest, most expensive houses in town, had his last name carved into the local high school football stadium; that's a big-deal-statement of power in small-town Alabama.

It was in that very high school football stadium, during practice and in a game, that my client was knocked unconscious, developing back and other health problems as a result. Guess where he went for help to manage the pain?

In February, I wrote "why Flint's water crisis should give death penalty supporters pause," and how "unacceptable racial bias persists in capital punishment." This time, though, the reason I humbly beseech the United States to stop "tinkering with the machinery of death": Massive, long-standing societal addiction to opioids - a problem that is especially nefarious and pervasive in the hills, hamlets and countryside of Alabama - and in the stories of its death row population.

(source: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. and federal public


Trumbull prosecutor to judge: Strike Danny Lee Hill filing

The Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office has asked a visiting judge to strike the entire 419-page document filed this week by attorneys for Danny Lee Hill that ask for the judge to grant him a new trial.

Hill, 49, is on death row for killing Raymond Fife, 12, in September 1985 in a wooded area along Palmyra Road Southeast.

Visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove recently granted attorneys for Hill the opportunity to ask the judge for a new trial based on bite-mark evidence used at Hill's trial that Hill's attorneys said has been proven unreliable.

Hill's attorneys "filed a 47-page motion augmented with 20 exhibits on June 13, 2016," the prosecutor's office said in Thursday's filing. "This motion totals more than 400 pages, most of which have absolutely NOTHING to do with bite marks detected on Raymod Fife's lifeless body 30 years ago," the prosecutor's motion says.

"The state submits that the bulk of [Hill's] motion is so far beyond the scope of this court's [permission] that it should be stricken immediately."

As an example, Hill's filing includes an affidavit questioning whether Hill was too intellectually disabled to be interviewed by police, a question that "has been litigated and relitigated ad nauseam in the state and federal courts for 30 years," the prosecutor's office filing says.

"The defense here makes a brazen attempt to taint other heretofore uncontroverted evidence - separate and apart from the bite-mark evidence already at issue - which was accepted by a 3-judge panel and affirmed repeatedly as sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction on multiple counts, not just the oral rape of the victim, and the lawfully imposed death penalty."

The prosecutor's filing says a phone conference scheduled for Tuesday morning would be premature without the judge first reviewing the prosecutor's formal response to Hill's request for a new trial, to be filed later, as well as the entire case file, record and proceedings of the 3-judge panel that convicted Hill and imposed the death penalty.

"As has been discussed in previous filings, the considerable amount of other evidence positively identifying [Hill] as 1 of only 2 assailants in the systematic destruction of this child precludes the need for a new trial. He is no innocent man. The record and facts show he will always remain guilty."

In a separate filing, the prosecutor's office asks Judge Cosgrove to set a date for the prosecutor to file a response to Hill's motion for a new trial.



Psychiatrists to evaluate man accused of killing IMPD officer

Calling his public defenders "very disrespectful, evil and unprofessional," the man accused of killing an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer in 2014 once again asked a judge to allow him to represent himself in the death penalty case he faces.

Major Davis, 27, appeared in court Friday morning to ask a judge to allow him to fire his public defenders, Eric Koselke and Ray Casanova. Davis is charged with murder in the shooting death of officer Perry Renn.

Yet Marion Superior Court Judge Marc Rothenberg warned that a death penalty case is unlike other cases, and said the court must determine whether Davis is competent to both stand trial and represent himself.

Rothenberg appointed a forensic psychiatrist and a psychologist and plans to appoint another psychiatrist to evaluate Davis. After that, he said, he could determine whether Davis should proceed without an attorney.

"They are not my attorneys," Davis said. "I am asking you today to fire them."

Davis' attorneys presented the court with an affidavit from a doctor that said Davis suffers from "paranoia and delusions." Davis disputed the doctor's report.

Rothenberg noted that the doctors he appointed are not connected to the defense or the prosecutors.

Davis has repeatedly asked to dismiss his public defender, and has filed a series of requests with the court against the advice of his attorneys. In July, he asked for a speedy trial and for his murder charge to be dismissed without authorization from his attorneys. Rothenberg denied those requests because they weren't signed by the attorneys.

Davis in April told Rothenberg he wasn't getting along with his attorneys, and asked to represent himself. The judge said he would not grant the request until it was properly filed.

The judge scheduled a hearing on Aug. 2 to take place after the doctors have evaluated Davis.

(source: Indianapolis Star)


Oklahoma County jurors decide against death penalty in 'Cathouse' murders

Jurors decided Friday against the death penalty for the last 2 men convicted of the 2009 "Cathouse" slayings.

Instead, the Oklahoma County jury chose life in prison without the possibility of parole as punishment for all the murders. Jurors deliberated about 10 hours Thursday night and Friday morning.

"2 incredibly violent men, and dangerous men, are going to die in prison. And that's what this jury decided," Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger told reporters afterward. "If you're going to commit these kind of crimes, be prepared to spend the rest of your life, and die, in prison. ... These 2 men will never, ever see the light of day."

Monday night, jurors found Denny Edward Phillips, 38, of Salina, and Russell Lee Hogshooter, 38, of Oklahoma City, guilty of 6 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of conspiracy. The men were convicted in the deaths of an Oklahoma City drug dealer and 3 women.

Get complete coverage of OKC's homicides

Prosecutors charged the men with 6 murder counts because 2 victims were pregnant.

On Tuesday, the jury chose a punishment of 35 years in prison for the conspiracy count.

The men remained stone-faced Friday as District Judge Timothy Henderson announced their punishments. They didn't speak to reporters as they were escorted out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

During the trial, prosecutors said Phillips was the "puppet master" behind a plan to rob and kill the drug dealer, Casey Mark Barrientos, 32. Phillips was accused of directing Hogshooter and 2 other men to go to the south Oklahoma City drug house early Nov. 9, 2009, to carry out the plan.

The women at the house, Brooke Phillips, 22, of Moore; Milagros Barrera, 22, of Mustang; and Jennifer Lynn Ermey, 25, of Edmond; were killed to eliminate them as witnesses, prosecutors said. Brooke Phillips and Barrera were pregnant.

Prosecutors said the victims were stabbed, shot and their bodies were set on fire.

The case entered the national spotlight because Brooke Phillips, who wasn't related to Denny Phillips, was a prostitute on "Cathouse," an HBO reality show about a legal brothel in Nevada.

Denny Phillips and Hogshooter denied any involvement. The 2 other men involved in the killings, David Allen Tyner, 34, of Locust Grove, and Jonathan Allen Cochran, 37, of Oklahoma City, already have pleaded guilty to the murders and testified for prosecutors during the trial.

Tyner is serving 6 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. He accepted a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

Cochran received a 25-year sentence as part of his plea agreement.

Tyner testified Denny Phillips, a "war chief" in the Indian Brotherhood Gang, threatened to kill his family if he didn't participate in the plan. Tyner admitted to shooting each victim except Brooke Phillips.

Hogshooter was accused of attacking and torturing Brooke Phillips and then setting the house on fire.

Defense attorneys contended Tyner was the one who orchestrated the plan.

The trial lasted 5 weeks.

(source: The Oklahoman)


California Voters to Choose Between Abolishing the Death Penalty or Speeding Up Executions ---- A measure to abolish the death penalty has made it to the November ballot to compete with a measure aiming to increase execution rates.

An initiative that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole has qualified for the November ballot, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced today.

The initiative would apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. It would also require prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murder to work while in prison.

What backers dubbed as the "Justice That Works Act" required valid signatures from 365,880 registered voters -- 5 % of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election -- to qualify for the ballot, according to Padilla.

Passage of the initiative would result in a net reduction in state and local government costs of potentially around $150 million annually within a few years, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

"Because of all the problems with the death penalty, not a single person has been executed here in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, Californians continue to pay for it in many ways," said initiative proponent Mike Farrell, a longtime death penalty opponent best known for his portrayal of Army Capt. B. J. Hunnicutt on the classic 1972-83 CBS comedy "M.A.S.H."

"Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect. We have to do better in California."

An initiative aimed at expediting executions is alsso expected to appear on the November ballot.

"Justice is not easy, and it is certainly not gentle. But justice denied is not justice," said Kermit Alexander, the former NFL player who is the proponent of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act. Alexander's mother, sister and two nephews were murdered in 1984.

"We the people of California have consecutively and systematically voted to reinstate and preserve the use of capital punishment despite the efforts of those who refuse to carry out an execution."

Passage of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act would result in increased state costs that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually for several years related to direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings, with the fiscal impact on such costs being unknown in the longer run.

There could also be potential state correctional savings in the tens of millions of dollars annually, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

In the unlikely event both measures were approved by voters, the measure with more yes votes would go into effect.

A measure to repeal the death penalty on the November 2012 ballot was rejected by a 52 % - 48 % margin.



Measure to repeal state's death penalty qualifies for Nov. ballot

Californians will vote in November on whether to repeal the state's long-unused death penalty law, four years after a similar measure was defeated by 4 percentage points.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Friday that the initiative to eliminate capital punishment and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole had received more than the 365,880 valid signatures it needed to qualify for the ballot.

The measure is likely to compete with an initiative sponsored by prosecutors that seeks to speed up executions by requiring a large group of defense lawyers to accept capital cases, and by requiring the state Supreme Court to decide all death penalty appeals within 5 years. Supporters of that measure said they have submitted nearly 600,000 signatures to election officials, who are in the process of verifying them.

If both measures pass, the one with the larger majority would become law.

Backers of the initiative to repeal the death penalty cite an estimate by the Legislature's fiscal analyst that it would save the state $150 million a year in costs of prison housing and protracted court appeals. They also say opinion polls show a decline in public support for capital punishment since November 2012, when an initiative to end the death penalty was defeated by 52 to 48 %.

California has the nation's largest death row, with nearly 750 prisoners, but has executed only 13 since reinstating the death penalty in 1977. After the state's last execution, in January 2006, a federal judge ruled that flaws in the state's lethal injection procedures and prison staff training had created an undue risk of a botched and agonizing execution.

Prison officials have revamped their procedures several times since then but have encountered further obstacles in federal and state courts and have not found a source of injection drugs since the last U.S. manufacturer stopped making them. The state has settled a lawsuit by crime victims' groups by agreeing to switch from the 3-drug combination used in past executions to a single, lethal dose of a powerful barbiturate.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


Family meets Quasem at Kashimpur jail

Family members of condemned war crimes convict Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali met with him at Kashimpur jail in Gazipur this afternoon.

9 family members including his wife, son and daughter-in-law reached the jail gate around 12:45pm and left after an hour, said Subrata Kumar Bala, jail super of Kashimpur jail, told our Gazipur correspondent.

It was part of a regular meeting, the SP said.

The International Crimes Tribunal on June 6 issued a death warrant for Quasem Ali hours after the Supreme Court released the full text of its verdict upholding his death penalty.

On November 2, 2014, the ICT-2 handed down capital punishment to 63-year-old Quasem, chief of Chittagong Al-Badr Bahini, for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War.

Quasem is the 5th Jamaat leader to have got the death penalty for playing a notorious role in 1971.

The tribunal sentenced him to death on 2 charges and different jail terms on eight other charges. He later challenged the verdict at the apex court.

On March 8 this year, the SC upheld his death penalty for 1 charge -- the brutal torture and killing of young freedom fighter Jasim.

His conviction and punishment on 6 other charges were upheld by the 5-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha.

(source: The Daily Star)


Malawi maintains that it will not impose death penalty for fear of human rights institutions

Malawi government has disclosed that it will not implement the death sentence in fear of humiliation by international human rights institutions that include the Amnesty International which is also in the forefront against the killing of people with albinism.

The development comes at a time when some stakeholders are calling for the maximum sentence to people found guilty of murder in the country.

The stakeholders argue that death sentence can help in putting down barbaric acts of killing people with albinism in the country

But government spokesperson Patricia Kaliati said Malawi has its signature on various human rights instruments that forbids death penalty.

Kaliati added the country wants to put itself away from criminal cases even though some citizens think death penalty will help stop the killings of people with albinism in Malawi.

One of the advocates for death sentence is Paramount Chief Lundu who said the maximum sentence will help in bringing peace to people with albinism in the country.

Meanwhile, Mulanje South Member of Parliament Elias Bon Kalindo is set to parade in his birthday suit to force government to have death sentence being practical in Malawi.

The nude parade has been scheduled to take place on June 23 in the capital Lilongwe to force lawmakers to reinstate death sentence.



An eye for an eye: a case for death penalty for albino-killers

Granted, the 21st century world is essentially an era of the triumph of human rights. Ostensibly dancing to the tune of this era, there have been calls for the abolishment of death penalty. Proponents of death penalty have always argued that killing a human being as punishment is primitive, barbaric, and costly.

Without doubt, the calls for the abolishment of death penalty are and continue to be persuasive. And, true to that, a good number of people have been persuaded to this fold. However, the recent spate of albino-butchering has changed the penal terrain and has weakened the anti-death penalty calls. It is for this reason that calls for the death penalty on albino-killers are justifiable. And here is why.

Killing albino-killers clears society of albino-killers

Elsewhere people have justified death penalty on the basis of deterrence. However, research has shown that death penalty does not sufficiently deter people from committing the offence. Whether death penalty sufficiently deters offenders or not is a problem for another day, the simple truth remains that when you kill the killers the society becomes clear of killers.

It is an elementary fact of the social contract that people come together and form a society to run away from the brutal, cruel, and barbaric natural state of life. Society loses its meaning if people can experience the same brutality, cruelty, and barbarism life as happened in the state of nature. What will remain of a society if, after sacrificing some of their individual rights in exchange for security, all the people get is insecurity?

Again, it is a measure of a civilized nation that its citizens are accorded the fullest security. A nation is backward if its citizens live in perpetual insecurity. And the best guarantee of security is the meting out of punishment in full force to offenders. And this means, in case of the killing of albinos, giving death penalty.

Killing albino-killers avenges victims' death

Call it backward or what have you, it does make sense that the gap created by losing a family member in the calculated circumstances characteristic of the albino-killings will, to a certain satisfactory level, be filled by killing the killer.

The justification here being that the loss of a relative in such barbaric circumstances causes too much grief and resentment and the same can be suppressed if the perpetrator gets the death penalty. It should be emphasized here that punishment loses its touch if the offender of such grievous offences as slicing a fellow human being goes to prison and comes to see the light of day.

Killing albino-killers shrinks peoples' eagerness for mob justice

Call ourselves lucky to this moment that we have not heard of a mob justice on albino-killers. This is the case perhaps because no one has been caught in the act of killing an albino. Such mob justice will not be surprising given the fact that people are more than willing to kill suspected thieves.

Furthermore, people are not currently taking the law into their hands probably because they are pursuing the let's-wait-and-see attitude - that is, waiting to see the government's response. They may decide to act in the way they know best if they will not like the action taken by government. And it can only be speculated here that the people would not administer mob justice if they see government mete out death penalty to albino-killers.

This therefore means that the passing of death penalty to albino-killers will be in line with the human rights dispensation. This will be the case because, unlike mob justice, the suspected albino-killers will be allowed to exercise their right to legal representation and all the legal safeguards accorded to an accused person.

Killing albino-killers lifts the moral torture of feeding killers

Imagine. That albino family member of yours was killed, say, last month. You have grieved enough and things are seemingly returning to normal. And now you are buying your usuals - sugar, soap, matches, lotion, salt etc. - and tax is deducted. That tax forms the subvention to prisons which is used to buy food for prisoners including that prisoner who murdered your family member. Now imagine the psychological and moral torture you have to endure upon that realization!

Honestly, you do not have to suffer that way and endure all that. That psychological and moral torture gets lifted the moment the death penalty is pronounced. It can thus be seen here that death penalty has the added advantage of lifting the moral burden of feeding killers.

Albino-killers have no rights because they are not human beings

It is common knowledge in the human rights world that human rights are entitlements for human beings only. Accepted, a human being in an imperfect being; he can steal, stab, mob, or even kill. However, in doing all these bad things, a human being is guided by some residual sense of humanness. A human being who maims a fellow human being loses his sense of humanness and automatically seizes to be human. Albino-killers maim albinos and are thus not human beings.

Albino-killers chop the bodies of albinos into parts. In all conscience, such people cannot claim to have rights. Defending such people is not only preposterous, it is also outright wicked.

The foregoing may be outlandish. It may also be unthinkable or backward. That's your take and this is a free world. But for some of us, the above case is progressive. For many of us are tired with the prevailing mentality on albino killing which, in all fairness, appears to take the side of the offender rather than that of the victim. So, next time you argue that albino-killers have a right to life, think about the victims whose lives they needlessly and mercilessly take away.

Malawi has not abolished the death penalty; it is there in our laws. So do the needful courts, implement it. When you think about exodus 21:24 and look at punishments our good courts mete out to albino-killers you cannot help but ask: "Are our courts really serious?" Judge Madise's recent life imprisonment judgment starts the journey; let's hope the entire justice machinery will join. But hey, no offence intended our courts, this is only a case for death penalty for albino-killers! (source: Henry Chizimba,


Head of Japan lawyers' group criticizes media for naming ex-minor sentenced to death

The head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations on Friday criticized news organizations that reported the name of a man sentenced to death for a double murder committed when he was a juvenile.

"It is regrettable that the news reports violated the juvenile law, which bans publishing articles and photographs that could identify a juvenile delinquent," Kazuhiro Nakamoto, president of the federation, said in a statement.

The statement was issued after the Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that sentenced to death the man who was 18 when he killed 2 women and seriously injured a man in 2010.

Major newspapers including the Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun and Nikkei daily, as well as Kyodo News published the man's name on the grounds that the opportunity for rehabilitation ends when a death penalty is finalized, and the name of a person to be executed by the state should not be kept confidential.

Some other major newspapers, including the Mainichi and the Tokyo Shimbun, reported the Supreme Court decision without revealing the name of the man to be executed, saying the chance for his rehabilitation remains due to the possibility of amnesty or retrial.

The Japan Times has also chosen to name the man in its reporting.

Nakamoto said the dignity and the constitutionally-guaranteed right to the pursuit of happiness of a minor are not terminated with the finalization of a death sentence.

"While it is needless to say that constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of expression is important and it is necessary to report the details of a crime in order to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents, it cannot be said the real name and photo of a minor are indispensable factors for news reports," he said.

(source: The Japan Times)


Mother's Fight to Exonerate Executed Son Highlights Gaping Holes in Justice System ---- "Invisible forces" in police have delayed a retrial for Nie Shubin after fresh evidence, suggesting his innocence, emerged, says former journalist

More than 2 decades after a young man in the northern province of Hebei was executed for the alleged rape and murder of a woman, his mother is anxiously awaiting a retrial to clear his name.

Zhang Huanzhi's only son, Nie Shubin, was executed in 1995 - when he was 20 - for raping and killing a woman in a cornfield near Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital. A decade later, another man arrested for a separate crime, confessed to the murder.

Zhang had fought for years after this fresh evidence emerged to exonerate her son, but she kept on hitting a wall. The case is back in the public spotlight after the country's highest court, the Supreme People's Court, on June 6 ordered a court in the eastern province of Shandong to review the 1995 ruling, saying evidence that lead to his death sentence were "unreliable and incomplete."

Zhang's dogged pursuit, lodging repeated appeals at courts in her home province Hebei and in Beijing, has helped turn Nie's case into an example of the flaws in the Chinese criminal justice system, including the use of torture, lack of due process and lax review of death sentences.

But Nie's is not the only incident of a possible miscarriage of justice reported in recent years. In February, a man from the eastern province of Zhejiang, Chen Man, convicted of arson and murder, was allowed to walk free after languishing in prison for 23 years when his sentence was overturned due to lack of evidence.

In late 2014, a court in Inner Mongolia said an 18-year-old killed by firing squad in 1996 for alleged rape and murder, was innocent. The Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court said the defendant, Huugjilt, was wrongfully convicted after being tortured into making a confession.

Nie's case had also galvanized the legal community, media and the public to scrutinize the gaping holes in the country's justice system. "There is no doubt Nie will be exonerated soon," said Ma Yulong, a former reporter at Dahe Daily, a newspaper in the central province of Henan, who has followed Nie's case starting in 2005.

Nie's retrial can help in some measure to restore public faith in China's legal system, said Li Shuting, the lawyer representing his family.

Quest for Justice

The Shandong High Court in-charge of reviewing the case said the evidence on which the original verdict was based was incomplete because many questions have gone unanswered, such as the exact time the crime was committed and the weapon used for the murder. However, the court has not announced a date for a retrial.

Nie was sentenced for premeditated rape and murder on March 15, 1995 by the intermediate court in Shijiazhuang, after a closed-door trial, state media reports show. He was executed a month later.

In 2005, another suspect named Wang Shujin, arrested for a similar crime, confessed to raping and killing several women, one of whom turned out to be the victim in Nie's case. Ma was the 1st to break the news, which attracted wide public attention to the case.

After this fresh evidence emerged, Liu Jinguo, the head of the party's provincial Political and Legal Affairs Committee at the time, who oversaw the security and legal systems in Hebei, set up a special team to reopen Nie's case and ordered the results to be published within one month, Ma told Caixin on June 14.

Liu's order gave Nie's family a glimmer of hope, but it vanished quickly. The investigation stalled when Liu was promoted shortly afterwards to vice minister of public security in Beijing, said Ma.

From then on, Zhang Huanzhi has made countless trips to courts in Hebei and Beijing, to appeal her son's case, but she was turned down by officials who said her documents were incomplete.

It wasn't until July 2007, when the Supreme Court in Beijing accepted Zhang's appeal and ordered the Hebei High Court to review the case.

But this court never carried out the review. "We tried every means possible to get a retrial, but they were all in vain," said Li.

In March 2007, the other suspect, Wang, received the death penalty for 4 counts of murder and rape. But this did not include the victim in Nie's case, although Wang admitted to the crime. In a twist of fate, Wang even appealed his verdict and insisted that he had killed the woman Nie was charged with murdering. But his appeal was turned down by the Hebei court in 2013.

Wang is now on death row, waiting for the Supreme Court to review his sentence, but the process has been delayed due to his connection to Nie's case, Li said.

Ma said he had learned from sources in the Hebei public security system that officials had tortured Wang, forcing him to recant his confession connected to the 1994 murder in Shijiazhuang before the 2nd trial.

There are "invisible" forces in Hebei's police and legal system that have resisted the reopening of Nie's case, said Ma.

Fresh Hope

In December 2014, the Supreme Court ordered a high court in another province Shandong to re-examine the files of Nie's case. The Supreme Court's June decision for a retrial, which comes after four delays, had rekindled the family's hopes to have Nie exonerated.

Li told Caixin that there were many holes in the evidence presented including Nie's testimony, the murder weapon used and even the exact date of his execution. He has been collecting evidence that show Nie was tortured while in custody and highlight deficiencies in due process when handling the case.

The case "is obviously a wrongful conviction with little complexity, but it has taken more than ten years to get a retrial due to delays by officials in Hebei," said Li.

Police offices' over reliance on harsh interrogation techniques to elicit confessions from suspects in criminal investigation cases have led to many wrongful convictions, said Li. Some investigators and officials rush to close a case to secure bonuses and promotion, he said.

Fundamentally, "the lack of independence of the judicial system had led to the miscarriage of justice," said the former journalist Ma. "Without further legal reform, there will be other cases like this in future."



At Least 3 Prisoners Hanged at Bandar Abbas Central Prison on Drug Charges

At least 3 prisoners with drug related charges were reportedly hanged at Bandar Abbas Central Prison (in the Hormozgan province, southern Iran) on the morning of Thursday June 16. The official Iranian state-run news agency, Borna, has published the identities of the prisoners as: A.Z., Gh.A., and B.A.

The human rights news agency, HRANA, published a similar report, but listed the number of prisoners executed at Bandar Abbas Central Prison on June 16 as at least 4.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Mursi sentenced to 40 years in Qatar spy case----Court upholds death sentences against 6 other defendants for supplying Qatar with classified state documents under Mursi's rule

An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced toppled Islamist president Mohammad Mursi to a total of 40 years in prison after convicting him of jeopardising national security by having passed classified state documents to Qatar when he was in power.

The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Mursi to life in prison - a verdict equal to 25 years in Egypt - and 15 more years on 2 separate counts in the case.

The verdict is the latest in a series of sentences against Mursi who is already on death row.

2 ex-aides to Mursi were also given sentences of a total of 40 years in prison each in the same case.

The court confirmed initial death sentences it passed last month against 6 more defendants in the case after the verdicts had been ratified by the country's top Islamic legal official, the Grand Mufti.

"The accused deserve the penalty of death because they put the nation in danger," chief judge Mohammad Sherin quoted the mufti as saying in his advisory opinion to the court.

"They obtained state secrets with the intention of divulging them to a foreign country. Thus, they breached trust," the top Muslim cleric added, referring to the convicts.

Egyptian law requires the mufti to sign off on death sentences. His opinion is not binding, but is usually respected by courts.

All the rulings are subjected to appeal.

The leaked documents were pertaining to the Egyptian army, its armament and concentrations, the chief judge added in a statement broadcast live on Egyptian television.

The session was held at a makeshift courtroom in the Police Academy outside Cairo.

Qatar is a staunch backer of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood. Ties have soured between Egypt and Qatar since the army's 2013 ouster of Mursi following massive street protests against his 1-year rule. Hearings in this case, dubbed "espionage with Qatar", opened in February 2015.

Mursi is already on death row after another court sentenced him to death last year in a separate case related to orchestrating a big prison escape during the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak. Mursi was also given a life sentence after being convicted of conspiring with foreign organisations for the jailbreak.

The "Qatar spying" trial is one of several in which Mursi is charged with multiple criminal charges. Mursi, a senior leader in the now-outlawed Brotherhood, is being tried in another case related to insulting the judiciary. The Islamist leader insists he remains the rightful president of Egypt.

(source: Gulf News)


2 Al-Jazeera journalists given death penalty by Egyptian court

6 people, including 2 Al-Jazeera journalists, have been sentenced to death by an Egyptian court for allegedly passing documents relating to national security to Qatar and the Doha-based TV network during the rule of Mohammed Morsi.

The former Islamist president was also sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was ousted by the military in July 2013 and has already been sentenced to death in another case. Saturday's verdicts can be appealed.

The 2 Al-Jazeera employees - identified by the judge as news producer Alaa Omar Mohammed and news editor Ibrahim Mohammed Hilal - were sentenced in absentia along with Asmaa al-Khateib, who worked for Rasd, a media network widely suspected of links to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood was banned and declared a terrorist group after Morsi was ousted.

The 3 other defendants sentenced to death on Saturday are documentary producer Ahmed Afify, EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohammed Keilany and academic Ahmed Ismail.

Egypt's relations with Qatar have been fraught with tension since the overthrow of Morsi, who enjoyed the support of the tiny but wealthy Gulf state. Cairo also maintains that Al-Jazeera's news coverage of Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is biased in favor of militant Islamic groups.

Last year, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi pardoned two imprisoned journalists from the Al-Jazeera English news network.

Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-born Canadian, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed were arrested in December 2013. They were sentenced last year to 3 years in prison for airing what a court described as "false news" and coverage biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The prosecution of the 2, along with Australian Peter Greste - deported in February last year - drew strong international condemnation.

Their long-running trial was entangled from the start with the wider political enmity between Egypt and Qatar.


JUNE 17, 2016:

TEXAS----stay of impending execution

Court Halts Texas Man's Execution in "Shaken Baby" Case

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Thursday halted the upcoming execution of Robert Roberson, who was sentenced to death for killing his 2-year-old daughter in 2002.

The appeals court sent the case back to trial court in Anderson County after Roberson's legal team argued that his conviction was based on junk science. His execution had been scheduled for June 21.

Roberson, condemned for the death of his 2-year-old daughter Nikki in Palestine, has denied he murdered her, insisting she stuck her head after falling out of bed. But the Anderson County district attorney's office argued at trial that Roberson acted intentionally, pointing to experts who testified that Nikki's injuries were consistent with signs of shaking, bruising and blunt force trauma.

Other witnesses testified that Roberson had a bad temper and would shake and spank Nikki when she wouldn't stop crying.

Roberson's attorneys at trial did not deny he killed his daughter but argued he suffers from mental lapses due to a brain injury. His appeals attorneys argued that he didn't have a fair trial because his mental health expert was not not allowed to testify to that brain injury claim.

A 2nd legal team last year entered the fray, though, and argued that Roberson's appeals attorneys had conflicts of interest, which could have complicated his push for relief, and requested another attorney join the team to review their work. Both legal teams appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court with separate arguments to get Roberson's case another look. Both teams were unsuccessful, and his execution was scheduled.

Roberson is currently represented by only that 2nd legal team, which includes attorneys from the Texas Defender Service and the state's Office of Capital Writs.

Backed by affidavits from medical and other scientific experts who reviewed the case, Roberson's team argued in the stay request that Nikki did not have a broken neck, an injury often tied to Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Also, prosecutors had said at trial that Nikki was sexually assaulted, a claim later debunked and abandoned but an inflammatory claim that jurors nonetheless heard, his attorneys argue.

Experts, his defense counsel and the district attorney's office did not take seriously Roberson's claim that Nikki fell, an attorney with the Office of Capital Writs said in the request.

"Instead of taking Robert's explanation about a fall seriously or exploring all possible causes of the injury sustained by a chronically ill child who had been at the doctor’s office with 104.5-degree temperature only 2 days before," attorney Gretchen Sween wrote, "a tragedy was hastily deemed a crime and a father, doing the best he could to care for his daughter despite severe cognitive impairments, was branded a murderer."

If Roberson's trial were today, he would not be convicted or on death row, said Lee Kovarsky, Roberson's attorney with the Texas Defender Service.

"Robert was convicted under a scientific theory that, if offered as cause of death today, would consistently result in acquittal," he said via text message. "Texas courts will now have ample opportunity to do justice in his case."

(source: Texas Tribune)


Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----19

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----537

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

20---------July 14------------------Perry Williams--------538

21---------August 19----------------Ramiro Gonzales-------539

22---------August 23----------------Robert Pruett---------540

23---------August 31----------------Rolando Ruiz----------541

24---------September 14-------------Robert Jennings-------542

25---------October 19---------------Terry Edwards---------543

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Victims' Family Upset Over Death Penalty Reversal for Convict

The man whose daughter and mother were murdered over 20 years ago is speaking out against their killer.

The murderer's death sentence was tossed out and replaced with life in prison.

Oscar Palomo is angry because he believes the justice system failed his legally blind daughter and mother. He said not one day goes by that he doesn't think about his 4-year-old daughter, Amanda Marie and his 68-year-old mother, Esperanza.

Both were taken from him in February of 1995. He said he remembers the day clearly because he found them. They were inside a home in Madero. They were stabbed to death and sexually assaulted.

The man responsible and convicted for the crime was Jose Noe Martinez, who was 18 at the time.

"He knew what he was doing and broke into my mom's house did what he did. He knew what he was doing with the intention to do whatever, but he didn't have to kill them the way he did and abused them the way he did. That's my anger. My family feels that, and I feel it every day. Since 1995, my life has been not the same for myself, for my family," Palomo said.

He learned about Martinez's death sentence being tossed out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

"We're devastated by this decision the appellate court made. I ask everyone and I ask myself what about my mother, my daughter. They're buried 6 feet underneath the ground. ...They don't know what's going on. I know they are angels and they're among us, but still, I'm speaking out for them and that's my fight for justice, for them, for my daughter Amanda Marie Palomo and my mother Esperanza Valdez Palomo,” he said.

The higher court reduced Martinez's death sentence to life in prison, after agreeing with psychiatric findings produced 2 years ago. According to the Hidalgo County District Office, the findings were conducted by experts hired by Martinez's attorney and the state.

Both found Martinez was intellectually disabled.

The U.S. Supreme Court passed a law in 2002 that prohibits anyone who’s mentally impaired from being executed.

"Back then he was found to die by lethal injection and that was our fight, and we thought everything was at a standpoint, that everything was done. And then all of a sudden, all this popped out little by little that he was being tested for mental illness and all that. He knew what he was doing," Palomo said.

He said Martinez doesn't deserve to live.

"He's wasting tax payers' money. He's sleeping, eating, breathing air. What about my loved ones? They're dead, he stabbed them. He didn't care. He took 2 precious lives away from us. Where are their rights? That's my fight," he said.

The higher court's decision isn't stopping Palomo from trying to do something about it.

"I will fight for justice with God's help and true support of the community and my friends and my family. I will fight for justice," he said. "I will fight for justice at least I can do that for them."

Martinez is now 39 years old. The D.A.'s office said Martinez will be eligible for parole in 20 years.

But due to the nature of the crime he committed, he will likely not be released.

(source: KRGV news)


Death penalty sought against parents accused in infant's death----Michael Wright and Andrea Dusha are charged with homicide in the death of their 23-month-old daughter.

The Fayette County district attorney is seeking the death penalty against a Uniontown mother and father accused in the death of their infant daughter in February.

Michael Wright, 32, and Andrea Dusha, 26, were formally arraigned today on charges of homicide, endangering the welfare of children and reckless endangerment in the death of 23-month-old Lydia Wright. Trial dates have not been set.

According to a criminal complaint, Ms. Dusha brought her daughter to Uniontown Hospital Feb. 24 because the toddler became unresponsive while drinking a mix of water, Gatorade and Pedialyte from a sippie cup. The girl's eyes rolled into the back of her head, foam began coming out of her mouth and she stopped breathing.

An autopsy determined that malnutrition and dehydration caused the death of the child, who weighed about 10 pounds when she died.

Investigators searching the family's home found that it "was in deplorable conditions and unsuitable for children to be living in," police wrote in the complaint.

(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


Death penalty sought in Whitehall Township baseball-bat slaying

Lehigh County prosecutors have put a Montgomery County man on notice that he could face the death penalty if convicted in the baseball-bat beating death of 44-year-old a Whitehall Township resident during a jealous rage.

Larry Ray Yaw, 32, of Gilbertsville was arraigned Thursday before Judge Maria L. Dantos for the April 3 killing of Brian Frank, 44.

Following the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Michael T. Edwards filed notice of aggravating circumstances, a legal requirement to turn a homicide into a capital case. The aggravator in Yaw's case is that the defendant allegedly committed the killing while in the perpetration of a felony, court records say.

Police say Yaw burst into Frank's apartment in the 900 block of Third Street just before 8 a.m. carrying a handgun and aluminum baseball bat.

After kicking in a bedroom door that turned out to belong to Frank's roommate, police say Yaw went into Frank's bedroom. The roommate then heard loud noises and Frank screaming in pain, police say.

Yaw allegedly warned the roommate, "If you tell the cops I was here, I will be back for you."

After Yaw fled, police were called to the apartment. Officers found Frank bleeding from the face and the back of his head, convulsing and in obvious pain. Frank was unable to speak and was taken to an area hospital. He died the next day.

Yaw's girlfriend, Chyanne Carwell, testified in May that Yaw beat her and held her at gunpoint when he found out that she had slept with Frank on April 2. Carwell, 22, told detectives that Yaw threatened to kill her and her father if she didn't take him to Frank's apartment.

When Yaw was arrested, Carwell told police that Frank had drugged and raped her. She later testified that Yaw forced her to make up the story.

Yaw is charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, kidnapping and a firearms offense. He's being held in the county jail without bail.

(source: Allentown Morning Call)


Former death-row defense attorney turned judge chosen as chief judge of court

The D.C. Superior Court has a new top judge.

Judge Robert E. Morin was selected late Thursday as the court's chief judge in one of the most hotly judicial races the courthouse has seen in more than a decade.

Morin, 63, was selected over existing chief judge Lee F. Satterfield, who was seeking an unprecedented 3rd term. 4 other judges from the courthouse - including current chief Lee F. Satterfield, Judith Bartnoff, Erik Christian and Hiram E. Puig-Lugo - also vied for the position.

Morin was appointed judge in 1996 by President Clinton and previously served as presiding judge of the court's criminal division, where he helps oversee management of calendars for judges who handle criminal cases. He previously worked representing death-penalty clients at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

Morin, who oversees felony criminal cases, is currently handling the high-profile retrial of Ingmar Guandique, the man charged with the 2001 death of Washington intern Chandra Levy. That trial is scheduled to begin in October.

Morin was selected by the 7-member Judicial Nomination Commission. The Commission - composed of chairman and U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, four D.C. attorneys, a local minister and a representative of the AFL-CIO - decides on the court's top job. The Commission met with the candidates for a round of separate interviews on Thursday. The Commission also obtained numerous letters from lawyers, judges and court users regarding the candidates.

Earlier this month, 4 of the candidates met for a question and answer session at the University of the District of Columbia's Law School sponsored by the District’s Council for Court Excellence. Satterfield did not attend the forum, sending word he had a prior commitment that evening in California.

Satterfield, 57, has served as the court's chief since his 1st appointment in 2008. In 2012, Satterfield ran for a 2nd term. In April, Satterfield surprised many within the District's legal community by seeking a 3rd, 4-year term.

Satterfield had several health issues during his most recent term, including suffering a stroke while in the courthouse and then undergoing a heart transplant. He told Commission members his health challenges were behind him and that he was able to serve as chief judge again.

While several judges and court employees have voiced support for Satterfield, a few judges have said they have viewed his management style as divisive and harshly critical. Satterfield attribute his demeanor to his previous poor health.

Morin, however, had been seen by some as more collegial. At least 1 attorney organization, the Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association wrote letters to the Commission expressing their support.

The chief judge is often the public face and voice of the courthouse, and assigns judges to various cases and court calendars and often sets leadership initiatives for the courthouse's operations.

The chief job will begin on Oct. 1.

(source: Washington Post)


Jacksonville man convicted of murdering 2 with hammer gets off death row

A Jacksonville man charged with killing 2 men with a hammer in his home 8 years ago is now off death row after the Florida Supreme Court agreed Thursday with a trial judge who threw out his death sentence but upheld his first-degree murder conviction.

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the decision of Senior Circuit Judge Charles Arnold to throw out the death sentence of Raymond Bright, now 62. Bright bludgeoned Randall Brown, 16, and Derrick King III, 20, in his Sibbald Road home in 2008.

Defense attorneys said Brown and King had moved into Bright's house and were selling drugs, and Bright wanted them out. Bright said he killed them in self-defense when they attacked him. Prosecutors said Bright killed them while they were sleeping.

Arnold later threw out the death sentence after finding his trial lawyers did an incompetent job representing him during the penalty phase but upheld his murder conviction after finding that the same lawyers did a competent job during trial.

The office of State Attorney Angela Corey said it will seek to put him back on death row in a new death-penalty sentencing hearing.



Prosecutors seek death penalty for infant's death

Florida Panhandle prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a man accused of killing his girlfriend's 10-month-old son.

The Tallahassee Democrat ( reports that Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell filed the notice against 26-year-old Dajuan Barnes last week. He was arrested last month.

Authorities say Barnes called 911 when the infant stopped breathing and became unresponsive.

Medical examiners determined that the infant died of a broken spinal cord and a severed aorta. They said that the infant had been slammed against something so forcefully that it broke the baby's back and caused him to bleed to death within seconds.

Barnes was indicted on a 1st-degree murder charge several weeks after his initial arrest.

He has also been charged with aggravated child abuse.

(source: Associated Press)


Death Penalty Phase Underway In Albert Johnson Murder Trial

Prosecutors are presenting their evidence and witnesses in the death penalty phase of the Albert Johnson capital murder trial.

1 of the witnesses who testified is a woman who Johnson was convicted of raping back in 1983. She told the jury how he forced himself on her in a McDonald's bathroom, even while her children were inside the fast food restaurant.

She testified, "I thought I was going to die". She said Johnson beat her and raped her. She told the jury he tried to leave the restaurant with her but she managed to break free and run to 2 men who had just walked into the restaurant and beg for help. She says the experience changed her life forever.

Prosecutors showed the jury pictures of the bathroom and pictures of the victim, showing her injuries right after the attack. She was moved to tears during her testimony and seemed very afraid to be in the same room with Johnson.

Johnson was convicted and sentenced to 30 years for that rape.

Jury also heard from a 43-year-old man, who is the son of the 1983 rape victim. He was 9 years old at the time of the January 8, 1983 incident. He said he remembered seeing his mother's face was all beat up and she was in distress.

He also said he remembered seeing a black man trying to walk out with his mom and that his mom made a look to 2 men in the restaurant and they jumped to rescue her before the black man ran out the door. He too was moved to tears recounting the assault on his mother



Pro-firing squad lawmaker wants to shorten death-row appeals----Republican Rep. Paul Ray said he'd like to see the time from sentence to execution cut from as much as 30 years to 15 or less

A Utah state lawmaker who led the push to bring back the firing squad said Wednesday he wants to shorten the appeals process for death-row inmates.

Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield said he'd like to see the time from sentence to execution cut from as much as 30 years to 15 or less and is planning to propose a bill next year.

"You have to be a monster to get on death row in Utah," he said, though he acknowledged much of the appeals process is outside of state control in federal court.

Critics contend the lengthy, painstaking process helps ensure justice is done and streamlining it could mean important constitutional issues never come to light.

"Given how long it takes to prove innocence, shorter appeals pose a serious threat of executing the innocent," said Anna Brower with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah in a statement.

Utah spends about $1.66 million more on each death row inmate than it spends on a convict serving life in prison without parole, according to a new state report.

Some lawmakers sharply questioned whether the state could really save that much money if they did away with capital punishment, pointing to costs like care for elderly inmates.

"It is fair to say you don't know what, if any, savings the state would realize by eliminating the death penalty?" Republican Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross asked the state analyst who prepared the report. He demurred when asked questions like whether the attorney general could lower staffing if the state did away with capital punishment.

The Wednesday hearing came after lawmakers who approved bringing back the firing squad as a backup execution method in 2015 also seriously considered eliminating the death penalty this year.

Defense attorney Richard Mauro said a life-without-parole case is a "very large savings" over a death penalty case. Defendants don't automatically get a publicly funded lawyer when the death penalty is off the table, and hefty costs like expert witnesses can be eliminated.

But those in favor of capital punishment say that cost isn't the only factor.

"We're not going to throw out the death penalty to save money," said Ray, who sponsored the measure that made the firing squad the backup execution method when lethal injection drugs aren't available - a scenario that's looking more likely, he said.

The family of the victims of 1 Utah death-row inmate said they would be glad to see the appeals process shortened.

Linae Tiede Coats was kidnapped by 2 men who shot her mother and grandmother 26 years ago. One of those men, Von Lester Taylor, was convicted and sentenced to death.

"To me, the murderer that Von Taylor is, he doesn't need to be alive," she said. "It's absurd to me we're even at this point."

Taylor is appealing his sentence, arguing in part that his trial lawyer pushed him to plead guilty with little guidance or information. A co-defendant is serving life within parole.

(source: The Associated Press)


Biela appears in court asking for new trial in murder of Brianna Denison

A hearing for convicted murderer James Biela alleging he had ineffective counsel during his 2010 trial for the slaying of 19-year-old college student Brianna Denison is set for July 11 after a judge confirmed the date Thursday.

Biela was sentenced to death during the high-profile trial for Denison's murder as well as 4 consecutive life sentences for raping her and 2 other women. He's incarcerated at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. Biela exhausted his appeals of the conviction, but filed a motion for a new trial in 2015 stating he had ineffective counsel.

He appeared in court for a status hearing on Thursday where District Judge Scott Freeman gave the go-ahead for the July 11 hearing.

Biela's court-appointed attorney, Edward T. Reed, said they plan to call about 10 witnesses, including all of his counsel during the original trial and a DNA expert. Biela was linked to the crimes by DNA evidence. Reed said it was hard to predict Biela's chances, but any outcome would almost surely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

"If you look through his petition, which is very lengthy, and also our supplemental petition, we do allege I think over 80 grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel," he said. "And a lot of it has to do with DNA. A lot of it has to do with his trial counsel and what they did or did not present at the trial."

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Noble said she was confident none of Biela's claims would stand up to scrutiny.

"There are 82 of them, and the state expects to show that none of them have merit," she said.

Requests for new trials based on ineffective counsel are typical in death penalty cases, although they can be hard to prove, Reed said.

"Not that they aren't proven from time to time, but they are difficult to prove," he said.

The hardest part about hearings like this is the impact on victims, Noble said.

"What's frustrating, of course, is for the victims and the families, this process drags on and on," she said. "But another important point to make is that although he has alleged his counsel were ineffective, Mr. Biela was represented by some of the best attorneys in this state."

(source: Reno Gazette-Journal)

CALIFORNIA----death row inmate dies

Notorious killer on death row found unconscious in cell, dies

A notorious killer on San Quentin's death row died after being found unconscious in his cell early Thursday, prison officials said.

The Marin County coroner will now work to determine how 55-year-old Gilbert Rubio died after correctional officers found him unresponsive during a security check just after 6 a.m.

Rubio was sentenced to die on Sept. 20, 2000 for the 1998 murder and robbery of high school vice principal George "Skipper" Blackwell in his Long Beach home.

He was convicted of 1st-degree murder with the special circumstance of robbery and burglary by a Los Angeles County jury.

Rubio and 2 others, 59-year-old Monica Chavez and Alex Vega, 61, robbed and bound Blackwell during a home-invasion robbery on Jan. 12, 1998.

During the robbery, Chavez and Vega left the home to cash a $2,000 check written by Blackwell. When his 2 accomplices left, Rubio shot and killed his victim.

Chavez was sentenced to life without parole and remains incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Vega was sentenced to life without parole and remains locked up at the California State Prison in Corcoran.

Avoiding execution by perishing from other means is all but certain in San Quentin, the state's only death row.

Since the Legislature re-enacted the death penalty in 1978, 13 inmates have been executed while more than 100 have died from other means.

No one has been executed at the prison for nearly a decade after U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose ruled the state's protocol for capital punishment was badly flawed.

There are 747 people on California's death row.



Request denied: Death penalty case goes to trial

An effort to dismiss one of the worst child-abuse cases in Clatsop County was denied this week by a Circuit Court judge.

Judge Paula Brownhill ruled against the defense lawyers for Randy Roden, the live-in boyfriend accused of murdering his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter and abusing her 2 sons in their Seaside apartment.

During a 2-day hearing in April, defense lawyers Thomas Huseby and Robert Axford argued for the case to be dismissed, or at least to have evidence excluded, such as the adult-sized bite marks found on the 3 children, the blood spatter in the apartment and the use of the term "torture."

Judge Brownhill denied the defense lawyers' requests this week in a written opinion. She did defer her ruling on the bite mark evidence and asked for a private hearing before testimony is given at trial.

Overall, Chief Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown said he is pleased with the judge's ruling to move the case forward to trial in September, and to allow the prosecution to present the gruesome evidence.

"It's all systems go in September," Brown said.

Traumatized children

Roden, 28, who is facing the death penalty if convicted, is already serving an 8-year prison sentence for violating probation from a previous domestic violence conviction.

He is accused of torturing and murdering Evangelina Wing in December 2014. An autopsy found the toddler apparently died of battered child syndrome with blunt force trauma to her head.

Roden is also accused of abusing the 2 brothers, Patrick Wing, now 3, and Peydon Kahclamat-Harding, now 7. The boys are living with family in California.

Doctors describe the childrens' injuries as torture. A pediatric doctor testified in April that Peydon is one of the most traumatized children she had ever seen.

Prosecutors believe Evangelina Wing and her brothers were tortured, burned, bitten and caged in the Seaside apartment their mother, Dorothy Wing, shared with Roden.

Wing, 26, pleaded guilty in January to 1st-degree manslaughter and 2 counts of 1st-degree criminal mistreatment. She was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison, contingent on her truthfully testifying at Roden's trial.

Attempts to dismiss

Roden's defense lawyers attempted to dismiss the case by claiming doctors never tested the children's tissue for a dangerous flesh-eating virus known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection. The defense has an expert - Janice Ophoven, a pediatric forensic pathologist - who claims the toddler likely died from complications of the infection, rather than from blunt-force trauma. The 2 brothers also showed signs of the infection, she said.

"(The doctors) acted in good faith," Brownhill concluded. "Moreover, it was not apparent in December 2014 that testing more tissue for MRSA would produce evidence favorable to the defendant."

The defense lawyers tried to claim Roden does not qualify for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. Brownhill denied their request, concluding that Roden illustrated a history of bad behavior, not intellectually disabilities.

Throughout his school years in Georgia, Roden threaten to kill himself, threatened to kill teachers and other students, hit and slapped other students, threw things in class and used foul and vulgar language.

"He was in special education services in school because of his behavior, not his intellect," Brownhill wrote. "He earned good grades when he wanted to play football. His poor grades were due in large part to absenteeism and his refusal to work."

(source: Daily Astorian)


Brother of Charleston shooting victim wants death penalty for Dylan Roof

Malcolm Graham is not ready to forgive the man accused a year ago of murdering his sister.

But on the 1st anniversary of the killings of Cynthia Graham Hurd and 8 others during a prayer vigil at historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the former Charlotte state senator has formed some strong opinions about an appropriate punishment.

If Dylann Roof is found guilty of the murders, Graham believes he deserves to die.

Graham avoids saying the defendant's name. For the next 5 days he and his family will be in his native Charleston, his attention focused not on the confessed killer, but on the lives of his 54-year-old sister and the other victims.


Not now, he says. To forgive Roof, Graham must first spend time thinking about him. He refuses. The closest he came to dwelling on his sister's killer was at Roof's 1st court appearance. There, and perhaps for the 1st time in his life, Graham believed he was in the presence of evil.

For now, Graham says his spiritual energy is aimed at rebuilding his faith even as he tries to understand what has happened. The nature of his sister's death, he says, compels him to speak his family's truth.

"Our truth, unfortunately, is that our sister died in a church basement, simply because she was there and simply because she was black," Graham says. "That's the truth. That's something we should not run away from."

He believes his support of the death penalty is an intellectual response carved from his years as a state legislator, not simply a neural firing from his pain.

He ticks off Roof's alleged behavior like he's checking a series of boxes:

"You invite yourself into a church setting," he begins. "You are made to feel welcome there. You worship with those in your presence for an hour. You shoot and kill them. You terrorize 5 others. You say you want to start a race war. You show no sign of remorse.

"... If the death penalty is not applicable in this case, I think you should take it off the books."


Given what his sister went through, he believes it would border on the glib - a placebo for those unwilling to contemplate the hate and racism behind both the shootings in Charleston and last week's even larger massacre in Orlando, Fla.

2 days after the deaths at Emanuel, Nadine Collier, who lost her mother and 2 cousins, announced publicly that she had forgiven the killer. That quickly morphed into a catch phrase assigned to all 9 families and the city as a whole: Charleston forgives.

Graham says he's still not ready to play the scripted, feel-good role.

"Forgiveness is too passive a response," he says quietly. "What happened needed more understanding. More investigation. More awakening of consciousness.

"What occurred there was an attack against a race of people. ... It was an attack against humanity. And that deserves more consideration than a statement of forgiveness 2 days afterward. Certainly I understand where that feeling comes from. And my loss is no greater than any other family members'. So I respect that feeling. But I can't accept it."

Over the next 5 days Hurd, a longtime librarian, will have a library named in her honor. The University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston have started prestigious scholarships in her name. A mural depicting rows of Hurd’s beloved books will be unveiled next week.

And then at the close of it all, Cynthia Hurd will still be dead.


Graham says he's too busy trying to make sense of it all. It helps, he says, that he is rebuilding his relationship with God.

'Help me understand'

Carl Jung wrote often about "the tension of opposites." Is there good without evil? Can faith have any meaning without the existence of doubt?

Graham, 53, says the Charleston shooting shook his lifelong spiritual convictions. He crystallizes his doubts, emphasizing word after word, as if nailing them individually to a church door.

"How. Could. This. Happen. In. A. Church?" he says. "This is where God is. This is his home. They were just discussing his message. Why? Why? Help me understand."

He presses on. "This is where Cynthia felt the safest and most at home in the world, and this is where she was made to suffer the most pain."

He pauses. "It challenged me," he says.

He began talking daily with Dr. Clifford Jones, his longtime pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Graham says Jones offered him safe space for his spiritual crisis.

Jones describes the relationship of faith and doubt as “an unresolved theological issue, and it's one that confronts us in our realities. And Malcolm's reality is a murder, in a holy place. How does one reconcile the sovereignty of God with a hate crime?"

Jones said he advised Graham to be true to his feelings.

"Healing starts with honesty. You may not like where you are. You may not like the facts of the situations you're confronted with. Some may seem irreconcilable. But if that's what you have, then that's what you have to confront on your plate of faith," he says.

The continued role of violence, evil, hatred ... are they ever resolvable? Jones says he is not sure. At the very least there are no easy answers.

"Malcolm has to live the rest of his life with the loss of a sister who was murdered in a church," Jones says slowly. "There are 50 families in Orlando. Think of them. Their lives will never be the same. Never." He pauses. "There is so much anger in our world."

Forgiveness as decreed by Christ is easier said than done, the pastor adds. "But I think we are always moving in the direction of fulfilling that expectation."


"He's on the path of forgiveness," Jones says. "But he's not way down the road."

The gift of time

Malcolm Graham last saw his big sister alive at his older daughter's college graduation party in May 2015.

Kim and Malcolm Graham's brick home in University City was filled with family and friends. At one point Graham says he was looking for his next beer when his big sister pulled him out on the back deck. She told him, preached to him really, to recognize and celebrate the gifts of life.

2 weeks later, he and Kim were getting ready for bed when a news crawl appeared at the bottom of their TV screen. There had been a shooting at the Emanuel church. Graham says he immediately thought of Cynthia.

When the 1st of the Graham's 2 daughters was born, Hurd sent the new parents a book: Marian Wright Edelman's "25 Lessons for Life."

Graham read Lesson 10 during Hurd's eulogy. "Remember and help America remember that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society."

Graham gets up and goes looking for the book, finds it, then opens the front cover to share Hurd’s inscription. In her closing, she asked her brother and his wife to "believe in the future, with its hope, promise and everlasting renewal."

That takes faith. Graham says he's working on it.

(source: Charlotte Observer)


2 Lao men arrested for trafficking 35 kilos of opium into Vietnam

Vietnamese border guards and Laos authorities conducted a joint operation on Wednesday and arrested 2 Lao men who were trafficking 35 kilograms of opium into Vietnam.

Bua Thoong, 38, and Bua May, 35, were stopped while they were riding 2 motorbikes, trying to cross the border from Houaphan Province to enter Vietnam.

The drugs were found inside their bamboo baskets.

Officials said this was the one of the biggest drug busts in the area.

Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or 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)


Court says Gulberg massacre 'darkest day' in history of civil society; but rejects death penalty demand for 24 convicts

The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given death penalty, however the court rejected the demand.

Calling the Gulberg massacre as the "darkest day" in the history of civil society, a special SIT court here on Friday sentenced 11 convicts to life imprisonment in the case of burning alive 69 people, including former Congress MP Eshan Jafri in the 2002 post-Godhra violence.

Rejecting the demand for death sentence for all the convicts, the court said life imprisonment for the 11 will be till death if the state does not exercise power to remit the sentence.

The court awarded a 10-year jail term to one of the 13 convicted for lesser offences while 12 others have been given seven-year sentence each. The prosecution had argued that all the 24 convicts should be given death penalty.

While describing the massacre as the darkest day in the history of civil society, Special court Judge P B Desai refused death penalty saying, "If you look at all aspects, no previous antecedent has been placed on record".

Post the incident, 90% of the accused were released on bail, yet no complaints against them have been given even by victims, and there is no record to show that they committed any offence during the time of bail, the judge further said, while giving reasons why he thought that this was not a fit case to give capital punishment to the convicts.

The court said it has decided to award imprisonment for life without any time frame to 11 accused, who have been convicted for murder, while requesting the state not to use its power to remit the sentence after 14 years of imprisonment.

"CrPC provisions give power to the state to remit sentence after 14 years jail, section 433-A imposes some restriction on that power. In case the state does not exercise power to remit the sentence, life imprisonment will mean that it is till death," the court said.

"I cannot add beyond what has been prescribed under section 302, it is not necessary for a state to exercise power to remit sentence, state may not exercise power of remittance," the judge said, adding the court's direction cannot be binding as he cannot take away the executive powers of the state.

As regards the 13 others accused convicted for lesser offences not including murder (302), the court awarded 10 years imprisonment to one Mangilal Jain, while 12 others were awarded 7-year sentence each.

The Gulberg Society massacre, which took place here on February 28, 2002 when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister, shook the nation when a mob of 400 people set about attacking the society in the heart of Ahmedabad and killed the residents including Jafri.

It was 1 of the 9 cases of the 2002 Gujarat riots probed by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.



2 Saudis sentenced to death for planning to hijack plane

2 Saudi nationals have been sentenced to death for planning to hijack a plane and their involvement in terror crimes.

The Criminal Court in Riyadh convicted the 2 terrorists and handed to them the death penalty for the 2nd time.

They had been sentenced to capital punishment at first but the Saudi High Court overruled the verdict and sent the case back to the Criminal Court to be tried anew.

The court convicted them of perpetrated a spate of terror crimes, joining a terrorist group, resisting the armed forces and firing 60 bullets at policemen in an attempt to murder them.

The court has also indicted one of them of planning to hijack a plane, having a background in aviation.



New lawyers weigh in on restoring death penalty

The law profession is one of prestige and honor.

It's a feat to become legal counsel - from the rigors of law school, keeping up with the costs, and passing the bar exams.

Something that Roy Lawagan of Baguio City went through.

Lawagan said he entered law school upon the wishes of his parents - but added that he eventually took a liking for the course.

Later, he said he found out that it was not that easy.

He's a law student in the afternoon, and a security guard at night so that he could fend for his family.

He related there were times he wasn't able to catch up on his reading.

"During recitation, I would be called and would fumble for an answer."

Lawagan's message to those aspiring to take up law but with limited resources: Keep on holding to your dreams but it should be coupled with sacrifice so you could turn it into reality.

26 % of over 6,000 students passed the 2015 bar exams.

They are now full-fledged lawyers - after taking their oath at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City on Thursday.

They begin their new journey with controversial issues facing the legal profession.

Among them, President-elect Duterte's call to restore the death penalty.

Lawagan himself is for capital punishment - saying it would deter heinous crimes.

Bar exam second placer Athena Plaza is supporting Duterte as well - saying she would back up the incoming President's policy.

But not for bar topnotcher Rachel Angeli Miranda.

"From the experiences in our country and in other countries, it doesn't work. It's not a very good deterrent for crime." Miranda said.

She added that new lawyers should remember where they stand and to fight for what they believe in.

Meanwhle, Supreme Court Associate Justice Arturo Brion reminds the new lawyers to always uphold legal ethics.



Death Sentence in Sufi Shrine Killing

The leader of a group of Takfiri Salafists has been sentenced to death for his part in the killing of a guard at a Sufi shrine in the country's southeast. Others within the group received sentences varying from life imprisonment to five years for their part in the murder.

The Court learned that the unnamed victim had been on duty at the Sufi, Zaouia Sidi Abdelkader shrine at Menzel Bouzelfa (around 60km from the capital) in February of last year when the group of 13 hooded men approached and stabbed him to death.

The court sentenced the group's leader to death for "voluntary homicide." Another member of the group received a sentence of 36 years imprisonment for involvement in the murder. The remainder of the group received sentences varying between 5 and 10 years, with 3 acquitted.

Although it is still permitted by law, Tunisia voted in favor of the 2012 UN General Assembly moratorium on executions, with no executions having taken place since 1991. Prior to the moratorium, 135 executions occurred within Tunisia, the majority under former President Habib Bourguiba. However, though unused, the sentence remains upon the statute books as the Courts' stiffest sanction.

The death penalty is opposed on principle by many human rights groups. Speaking of its application in terrorist cases, Lotfi Azouz, Director of Amnesty International in Tunis said, "When a Terrorist commits a serious crime, they do so expecting death. This is their mindset. They expect to be a martyr and be sent to heaven, so the death penalty is actually working in their favor."

Sufism is sometimes regarded as the mystical dimension of Islam, cantering upon the internal spirituality of the individual. Sufism involves the search for divine love, which is believed to lead to the path of spiritual awakening.

Given its strong focus upon the internal, as well as the building of shrines to prominent Sufists, conservative and radical preachers tend to claim the sect is heretical and opposed to the fundamental teachings of the Qu'ran.



Crown Wants Death Penalty in McCartney Case

The Crown yesterday sought the death penalty for Thorne Edwards and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for Lyndera Curry who were both convicted of the murder of prominent businessman Kurt McCartney back in October 2013.

During yesterday's proceedings before Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs, prosecutor Roger Thompson said the convicts represented a clear danger to society and that their lack of remorse and admission of guilt indicates that they do not possess the ability to be rehabilitated.

It was furthermore stated that Edwards in particular was armed with a weapon therefore he had the intent to kill Mr. McCartney.

Thompson told the courts that the crime committed was brutal, inhumane and planned seeing that when the accused arrived at The Last Man standing bar, Curry while having a conversation with the deceased then signaled Edwards who then shot McCartney in the head.

The 2 then entered the deceased's vehicle, a Hummer, and fled the scene.

Geoffrey Farquharson, who represents Edwards, rejected the crown's submission holding that the death sentence is inappropriate and refuted other suggestions made by Mr. Thompson that robbery was also a motive because the convicts took Mr. McCartney's vehicle.

Pending a question, Sonia Timothy, who represents Curry has for a doctor concerned with the trial, the matter was adjourned until 9:30am this morning.


JUNE 16, 2016:


State seeking death penalty for man accused of killing child

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a man accused of killing his girlfriend's 10-month-old son in May.

On June 10, Assistant State Attorney Jack Campbell filed notice that his office is seeking the death penalty for Dajuan Barnes.

Barnes, 26, was arrested in connection with the death of Jeffrey "Baby J" Phillips III at the home of his girlfriend on May 6.

Leon County grand jurors indicted Barnes on 1st-degree murder charges May 26. He is also charged with aggravated child abuse and has pleaded not guilty.

Barnes was watching the infant at the west Tallahassee home when he called 911 to report Jeffrey was not breathing and was unresponsive.

Tallahassee police arrived at the Palmetto Apartments on Blountstown Street where Barnes lived with the child's mother. They found paramedics giving Jeffrey CPR before he was transported to the hospital.

Medical examiners said the infant died of a broken spinal cord and a severed aorta. The ME said it appeared Jeffrey had been slammed against something "so forcefully that it broke the baby's back and caused the baby to bleed to death" within seconds or minutes.

(source: Tallahassee Democrat)


Death penalty to stand for man over 2010 murder as minor

A death sentence given to a man convicted of murdering 2 women and seriously injuring another man in 2010 when he was 18 is set to be finalized after the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld lower court rulings.

The case of Yutaro Chiba, now 24, marks the 1st time capital punishment has been given to a minor under Japan's lay judge trial system that began in 2009.

In handing down the ruling, the top court's first petty bench said the defendant committed the crime based on a "very selfish motive" as he was determined to kill anyone who sabotaged his plan to run away with his former girlfriend.

According to rulings by the Sendai district and high courts, Chiba was guilty of stabbing to death his former girlfriend's older sister Misa Nambu, 20, and her 18-year-old friend Mikako Omori, and seriously injuring a man who was with them at the time of the crime on Feb. 10 in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

"Even if his age (as a minor) and having no criminal record is taken into account . . . his criminal responsibility is grave," the Supreme Court said, indicating that the death penalty cannot be avoided in line with the top court standards set in 1983 in the case of Norio Nagayama.

Chiba is the 7th person whose death penalty has effectively been finalized for a crime committed by a minor since the so-called Nagayama standard which, in applying capital punishment, took into account factors such as the number of victims, brutality and social impact of the crimes.

Nagayama was a death row inmate who was hanged in 1997 for killing 4 people when he was 19.

On Thursday, all 5 justices on the bench, presided by Justice Naoto Otani, unanimously rejected the appeal against Chiba's death sentence.

In terms of murders of 2 people for a person under 20 at the time of the crimes, Chiba will be the 2nd to be sentenced to death, following a man convicted of murdering a woman and her baby girl in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, when he was 18.

Outside court, Chiba's chief lawyer, Hiroyuki Kusaba, criticized the ruling as being unacceptable.

The court 'does not at all take into consideration how the defendant's environment affected his character, and also does not give any explanation about this," Kusaba said, referring to his client's difficult childhood.

According to court testimonies by Chiba, his mother, and others, Chiba was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was 5. His mother, who repeatedly divorced and remarried, suffered violence from her boyfriend and later became addicted to alcohol. He was then raised by his grandmother's side.

As demanded by prosecutors, a panel of three professional and 6 citizen judges gave the death penalty to Chiba at the district court in November 2010.

The court said it cannot just take into account his age when he committed the crime, given the brutality of the crime and the impact in terms of number of victims.

The Sendai High Court upheld the lower court's decision.

Chiba's lawyers had sought leniency for their client to avoid the death penalty, arguing he was "immature" at the time and that his crime was "not premeditated."

(source: The Japan Times)

TEXAS----impending execution

Death Watch: Shaken Science----Appeal rests on new research into Shaken Baby Syndrome

To have his federal habeas attorneys tell it, Robert Roberson is "dim-witted" and "mentally ill." The 49-year-old, sentenced to death in 2003 for the 2002 death of his 2-year-old daughter Nikki Curtis, was a "drug abusing petty criminal with a long family history of serious mental health issues," attorneys James Volberding and John Wright have said. But did that make him a ruthless killer? No, Volberding and Wright argued in a Sept. 2010 application for habeas relief made to the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Texas. Their client "probably did contribute" to the death of his daughter: "Just not knowingly or intentionally. Roberson is not the worst of the worst. Not even close." The 2 attorneys suggested a modified conviction of manslaughter, and a sentence of 20 years.

Much of the old argument hinged on the manner in which Nikki is believed to have died, and the way Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe manipulated the trial process to elevate the jury's belief in the ruthlessness of the crime. According to Roberson, Nikki died during a night when he was left alone with her and was high on drugs. Prosecutors said he shook her, hard, when he was angry with her - hard enough that she slipped into a coma. When that happened, they said, he put her in bed, and left her there for hours. Nikki was only taken to a hospital after being checked on 5 hours later, at which point it was discovered she was not breathing.

Roberson has maintained his innocence since the day he was arrested, saying that Nikki died after landing on her head during a fall from her bed. Medical professionals who testified at his trial quickly dismissed his claims as unlikely.

An examination of Nikki's body by a nurse upon her arrival at the Palestine Regional Medical Center revealed a "superficial tear to Nikki's anal cavity" and a rate of dilation to the anal canal that was considered faster than usual, suggesting what Roberson's attorneys described as "theoretical sexual penetration." Dallas pediatrician Dr. Janet Squires found no evidence of any sexual abuse, however - no deformities to her anal cavity, bruises, or markings on her vagina. Squires testified at trial that she found no semen or traces of sexually transmitted bacteria. She noted that the anal cavity usually dilates in the comatose state due to the nervous system shutting down.

The notion that Roberson sexually abused his daughter that night ultimately became irrelevant during trial. Lowe ultimately even attempted to have that charge dismissed. (Capital murder indictments can be secured in cases in which a murder occurs during a felony, is premeditated, or involves a victim who is younger than 6, making Roberson a candidate under 2 circumstances.) In appeals, Volberding and Wright argued that the notion of sexual abuse was only important to Lowe at the beginning of the trial: By securing an indictment of sexual assault from the grand jury, Lowe would have an easier time turning the jury against Roberson, thus making a death sentence - a more appropriate penalty, he considered, for the high-profile death of a small girl in a small town - a more likely outcome. Roberson's trial attorneys John Vanmeter and Steve Evans used a strategy that pointed to Roberson's longstanding mental illness, though they never actually argued that their client was insane, which would have raised questions of cruel and unusual punishment.

Since a final judgment was rendered in federal court in Sept. 2014, Roberson's effort has shifted away from the mental illness angle and instead toward the argument that "Shaken Baby Syndrome" (aka "Abusive Head Trauma") is a phenomenon rooted in junk science. Much of that shift has been Roberson's doing. In 2014, after learning of a Houston case involving a newfound understanding of SBS, Roberson wrote a letter to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that he be granted new counsel. That request eventually led to the Texas Defender Service taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it ultimately failed.

On June 8, 2 weeks before his pending execution, Gretchen Sween, an attorney with the Office of Capital Writs, filed 2 applications for relief (1 in Roberson's trial court and another with the Court of Criminal Appeals) as well as a motion with the trial court for a stay of execution. In each application, Sween argues that new forensic science could rebuke previous theorems of SBS, and corroborate Roberson's claims that Nikki - who had a temperature of 104.5 degrees only 2 days before her death - did fall from her bed. Among the claims, Sween has argued that Nikki's lack of any serious neck injuries indicates that she was not in fact shaken, and that the science surrounding SBS has evolved enough to change the course of Roberson's case.

"The prior medical understanding was that a specific set of symptoms could be viewed together as categorical proof of SBS/AHT," Sween wrote. "More specifically, in 2002-2003, when Robert was tried, the medical community invited doctors to infer conclusively that a child had been violently shaken from the presence of 3 symptoms: retinal hemorrhaging, subdural hematoma/hemorrhaging, and edema or brain swelling."

Roberson is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, June 21. As we go to press, he's still awaiting a response from the trial court and CCA. Should his latest efforts be denied, Roberson will be the 7th Texan executed this year and the 538th since Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

(source: Austin Chronicle)


Texas is scheduled to execute this man in 6 days - but 4 experts say he was convicted based on junk science

The scientific evidence was conclusive, doctors told a Texas jury in 2003: capital murder defendant Robert Roberson had violently shaken his 2 1/2-year-old daughter to death.

13 years later - and just days before Roberson is scheduled to be executed - 4 medical experts are now claiming that the scientific theory used to convict him has been thoroughly debunked.

Roberson, 49, is the next death row inmate in America scheduled to be executed, and will go to the death chamber June 21. He was sentenced to death in 2003 for the murder of his daughter, Nikki Curtis.

Last week, he filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus - essentially an appeal to stay his execution and be given a new hearing - to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state. A decision is expected within days.

At the time of Roberson’s trial, doctors believed that certain symptoms in a child could conclusively prove they were violently shaken or abused, based on a theory known as Shaken Baby Syndrome. But in the last decade, the 4 experts who submitted affidavits as part of his appeal say, there's been a sea change in the scientific understanding of the issue.

Now his best last hope to postpone an execution and get a new hearing is Texas' junk science law, which guarantees defendants a new trial if they can prove they were convicted based on scientific evidence that has since been discredited. It's seen as one of the most progressive laws in the country of its kind.

Roberson, whose lawyers say suffers from "severe limitations in intellectual functioning," was Nikki's biological father but essentially shared custody with the parents of Nikki's mother, whom she had lived with for the 1st 2 years of her life. He brought her home from her grandparents house in Palestine, Texas, on the evening of January 30, 2002, and put her to bed. Early the next morning, he was woken up by her crying, and found that she had fallen on the floor. She seemed OK, he told investigators, so he put her back in her bed and went to sleep. When he woke up again a few hours later, she was blue and barely breathing. Roberson rushed her to the hospital, and she was declared dead the next day.

Prosecutors dismissed Roberson's account, his lawyers say, and instead charged him with murdering his daughter by shaking or beating her. At the time, most doctors believed that they could determine that a child could be diagnosed with Shaken Baby Syndrome based on 3 symptoms: retinal hemorrhaging, subdural hematoma/hemorrhaging, and edema, or brain swelling. Roberson's jury was told that because Nikki had signs of all 3, she must have been abused.

The defense didn't contest that explanation or call any medical experts. On February 14, 2003, the jury convicted Roberson and sentenced him to death.

Now, however, a growing group of scientists disagree with this method of diagnosing Shaken Baby Syndrome. Research has shown that the same symptoms can be caused by other natural or accidental causes, the four experts who reviewed Roberson's case write. They present a range of possible causes for Nikki's death that were not explored during the trial: meningitis due to an ear infection; an injury before Roberson arrived; a short fall like the one he described or a congenital condition.

"The medical personnel in this case seemed to adopt the presumption that child abuse was the root cause from the outset, a presumption that appears to have imposed a cognitive bias that prevented them from investigating all reasonable possible causes of death either before or after her death," wrote Dr. Harry Bonnell, a forensic pathologist.

Notably, the experts - who also include 2 other doctors and a professor of mechanical engineering - agreed that "it is impossible to shake a toddler to death without causing serious neck injuries - and Nikki had none," the appeal states.

Across the country, there are several hundred people in prison for murder convictions based on Shaken Baby Syndrome, L.A. Weekly reported, even though the latest scientific findings would undermine their cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics now doesn't even use the term "shaken baby syndrome," based on an understanding that its effects are not only caused by shaking. (A smaller contingent of doctors, however, still believe the kind of evidence used to convict Roberson is conclusive.)

The prosecution in Roberson's case also originally charged him with sexually assaulting Nikki, and several witnesses talked about that theory in front of the jury. But no evidence was presented that any sexual assault took place, and the prosecution dropped the charge at the last minute. Roberson's lawyers argue that was highly prejudicial. "The State used this rank speculation to drive home its view that Robert was not just a poor, mentally impaired father struggling with sobriety, but a deviant - capable of raping and brutally shaking his own daughter to death," they write.

Gretchen Swenn, Roberson's attorney, declined to comment while the case is being considered by the court.

Last year, Roberson asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remove his previous lawyers, James Volberding and Seth Kretzer, alleging that they had failed to adequately represent him in his appeals. The justices declined to hear his case.

That means that this appeal is most likely Roberson's last chance at a stay of execution. He has an application for clemency pending at the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, but clemency for Texas death row inmates is exceedingly rare.

The state has not yet filed a response to Roberson's appeal. The Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to rule on his case in the next few days.

"When the trial record is viewed through the lens of current science and evidence-based medicine, it is clear that he is innocent of capital murder," Roberson's appeal states.



Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----19

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----537

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

20---------June 21------------------Robert Roberson-------538

21---------July 14------------------Perry Williams--------539

22---------August 19----------------Ramiro Gonzales-------540

23---------August 23----------------Robert Pruett---------541

24---------August 31----------------Rolando Ruiz----------542

25---------September 14-------------Robert Jennings-------543

26---------October 19---------------Terry Edwards---------544

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Texas Man Escapes Death Sentence in Police Chief's Murder

The killer of a small-town Texas police chief escaped the death penalty on Wednesday after a jury could not reach agreement on his punishment.

David Risner, a 59-year-old former police officer, will automatically be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He was convicted last Monday in the 2014 shooting death of Little River-Academy Police Chief Lee Dixon.

After hearing testimony for 5 days in the sentencing phase of Risner's trial, a Bell County jury deliberated for more than four hours before announcing it could not agree to sentence Risner to death.

"He's going to die in prison; we're going to take that home," Bell County Assistant District Attorney Nelson Barnes said after the sentencing. "We only hope he doesn't hurt someone in prison."

Almost 2 years ago, on June 19, 2014, Dixon arrived at Risner's house a little after 5 p.m. to investigate a complaint. The 2 talked for a few minutes, but when Dixon went to cite Risner for a class C misdemeanor, things escalated.

In a dashcam video played during the trial's closing arguments, the courtroom heard Dixon call out to Risner in an increasingly frantic voice as Risner brought a shotgun to the screen door: "David, show me your hands! Show me them!"

A gunshot sounded, and the shouting ceased. Another shot rang out a few seconds later.

Risner called 911 himself, and a sheriff's deputy arrived to find Dixon dead on the front porch, according to an arrest affidavit. In court, prosecutors showed an autopsy photo of Dixon, missing almost half of his face.

"What you did because you had a bad day was horrible, horrible," Lee Dixon's wife, Mary, said through tears to Risner after the sentencing. "I'm sorry, I just cannot forgive you."

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Risner served as a law enforcement officer in several departments east of Dallas. He was active in his church and described as a generous man.

Later, he took a contract job in Baghdad during wartime.

"David came back from Iraq a different man, a broken man," said Donna Risner, his wife. "It was hard for him to concentrate. It was hard for him to sit still. I heard him tell a doctor once it was like there were fire ants in his brain."

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that Risner suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. Multiple explosions rocked the compound where he worked as a security supervisor in Iraq, at least once blowing out the windows of his room.

The defense argued those disorders were the cause of the shooting, and because of that, Risner shouldn't receive the death penalty.

"He didn't choose to have these conditions," said Russ Hunt, Jr., Risner's attorney. "These conditions are a result of him serving his community."

Prosecutors said Risner couldn't use PTSD or a brain injury as an excuse because millions of people are affected by these conditions.

"A shotgun to the face is not the result of PTSD, and it is not the result of a brain injury" Assistant District Attorney Shelley Strimple said. "There's no excuse for blowing a man's face off."

Even with the lesser sentence, Risner will still die in prison, Hunt said. He only asked that his client be spared from execution.

"We're not asking for a pass," he said. "David Risner needs to be punished for what he's done."

Throughout the day Wednesday, David Risner smiled broadly at his wife and son in the courtroom and wiped tears from his eyes during discussion of his friends and family. When talk focused on Dixon, his face became still and unreadable.

Mary Dixon cried quietly and often. Several times, she left the room in tears.

In a plea to the jury to give her husband a life sentence over death, Donna Risner said, "I want David any way I can have him."

"How bad do you think Mary Dixon wants Lee?" Barnes asked on cross-examination. In his closing argument, he held Mary's hand as she sobbed and turned the jury.

"She would walk [Risner] out of this courtroom for just 5 minutes with Lee," he said.

In a death penalty sentencing, jurors must unanimously agree that the defendant will pose a future danger to society and that nothing in the defendant's background or character warrants the lesser sentence.

The defense pointed to a doctor's evaluation of Risner that said he was low-risk for future danger. Prosecutors said his multiple altercations with Bell County jail staff show that isn't the case.

Since his arrest almost 2 years ago, Risner has been in altercations with jail staff over his medication and his laundry, defense attorney Jeff Parker said. He said jail staff was able to handle it easily both times, indicating the prison system would be able to control Risner.

The prosecutors have also pointed to Risner's several run-ins with law enforcement before Dixon's death but after Iraq as evidence that he should receive the harshest punishment.

He fired a shot above an officer's head in 1 incident and told a dispatcher he would kill the officer if he ever returned to his home. Years later, he became argumentative with an officer after a traffic stop, and officers found a rifle in his trunk.

"He's no different today than when he killed Lee Dixon," Barnes said. "He's still going to hate cops, and he's still going to hate authority."

Hunt argued that Risner is only a danger when he has guns: "Is he going to have any guns in prison? No."

The defense focused on Risner's behavior before Iraq to justify a life sentence. Hunt pointed to several examples where Risner gave money or even the title to his truck to strangers in need, and the Risners created a Sunday school program at their community church. In 1992, he was named officer of the year for the Van Zandt County Sheriff's Department.

"Underneath the David Risner that [killed Dixon] ... there is a good cop," Parker said. "You need to judge his whole life, not just the worst part of his life."

The last death penalty trial in Bell County was in 2007, when Richard Tabler was sent to death row, Barnes said. There have been 3 death sentences in Texas this year.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Judge on Top Texas Court Questions Death Penalty's Fairness

Texas' highest criminal court should consider whether the death penalty is being fairly applied and should still be constitutional, one of the nine judges on the all-Republican court wrote in a dissenting opinion issued Wednesday.

Judge Elsa Alcala, who was appointed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2011 by then-Gov. Rick Perry, agreed with the court's decision to order a lower court to consider overturning the conviction of Julius Murphy, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 killing of 26-year-old Jason Erie. However, in a dissenting opinion she challenged the court's decision to reject, without elaboration, Murphy's lawyers' contention that "evolving standards of decency" show the death penalty should be deemed unconstitutional.

"In my view, the Texas scheme has some serious deficiencies that have, in the past, caused me great concern about this form of punishment as it exists in Texas today," Alcala wrote.

She wrote that the court has been ignoring similar claims from other inmates as a matter of routine without regard for "more current events," and said Murphy's appeal "has presented arguments that are worthy of this court's substantive review."

The court historically has shown little sympathy for condemned inmates, although Alcala has been critical of some past rulings. It is the last state judicial stop for condemned prisoners in Texas, which executes more prisoners than any other state - 537 since 1982.

In Murphy's case, the appeals court ordered the trial court to resolve Murphy's appeal and deliver its findings on challenges alleging that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence showing that two key witnesses were pressured into testifying against him and that one of the witnesses gave false testimony.

Murphy's attorneys argued that the U.S. executes fewer people than it used to, that more states have decided to abolish or to not use the death penalty, and that delays in carrying out death sentences mean prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for excessive lengths of time, which amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

They also questioned whether race has resulted in a disproportionate number of minority inmates on death row.

Murphy is black, like 44 percent of the 246 Texas death row inmates. As of Jan. 1, 1,227 of the country's 2,943 condemned prisoners were black, or 42 percent of them. Hispanics, meanwhile, make up 27 percent of Texas' death row inmates and 13 percent of the nation's.

"Given both state and federal case law and the history of racial discrimination in this country, I have no doubt that race has been an improper consideration in particular death-penalty cases, and it is therefore proper to permit (Murphy) the opportunity to present evidence at a hearing about the specifics in his case," Alcala wrote.

Murphy, 37, was convicted of killing Erie, who was attacked in September 1997 after his car broke down near his father's house in Texarkana. Murphy was scheduled to die last November but the appeals court gave him a reprieve. The same court stepped in to halt his scheduled lethal injection in 2006.

Alcala was elected to a full 6-year term on the criminal appeals court in 2012.

(source: Associated Press)


Convicted Killer Is 1st Death-Row Inmate Resentenced to Life

1 of 2 men sentenced to death for the slayings of a mother and her 2 daughters during a 2007 home invasion in Connecticut has been resentenced to life in prison.

Steven Hayes is the 1st of 11 death-row inmates to be resentenced since the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in August that their sentences violated the state constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

State lawmakers abolished Connecticut's death penalty in 2012, except for those already sentenced to death.

A judge on Wednesday imposed six consecutive life sentences on Hayes for the murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 17-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Michaela, in Cheshire. Hawke-Petit's husband and the girls' father, Dr. William Petit, was badly beaten but survived.

He didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

(source: Associated Press)


Johnstown judge allows death penalty option in retrial of 2004 Hollidaysburg slaying

A federal judge in Johnstown has upheld a ruling allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a man accused killing a woman more than a decade ago.

U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson rejected a defense attorney's argument last week that a lower court had wrongly ruled against Paul Aaron Ross, according to an Altoona Mirror report. The judge also denied any further hearings at the District Court level.

Ross is charged in the 2004 death of 26-year-old Tina Miller, whose body was found partially submerged and bound with duct tape at Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg.

Ross won a retrial after an appeals court ruled his attorney didn't have enough time to fully prepare a defense.

Ross' death penalty attorney, Thomas Hooper, wasn't immediately available for comment.

(source: Associated Press)


Killer avoids death penalty for Craigslist car deal shooting

A Reading man avoided the possibility of being sentenced to death after he admitted Wednesday to the fatal shooting of an Allentown businessman during a Craigslist car deal.

Tyrell Young pleaded guilty to 3rd-degree murder, a person not to possess a firearm and receiving stolen property in connection with the April 2014 killing of 41-year-old Eric Ervin in East Allentown.

Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty against Young if he were convicted of 1st-degree murder.

Under the deal, Young was instead sentenced to 30 to 60 years in state prison. Young was on parole at the time of the murder for a Northampton County carjacking, and will also have to serve the remaining nine years in that case.

Judge James Anthony recommended Young not be paroled at all, and serve the entire 60 years in prison.

The sentence came after a handful of Ervin's family members, most carrying photographs, tearfully described the gentle giant taken so suddenly from their lives.

Richard Ervin has been counting the days since Eric, his first-born son, was killed -- 657 days as of Wednesday. When the elder Ervin woke up on Wednesday, he thanked God he wouldn't have to count anymore since Young would be pleading guilty.

"Then I realized, I'll have to count till I'm gone," he sobbed. "I miss him so much. I don't know how to go on."

Ervin's mother, Linda, wore a T-shirt from her son's business to court. She spoke through sobs as she described the earlier death of her daughter, Crystal, and then the stunning blow of Eric's murder.

Linda Ervin said she was able to say good-bye to her daughter, but never had the chance with Eric.

"Why didn't you let my son go?" Linda Ervin asked Young. "Why you had to do this, I don't understand. ... I hope you rot. ... You have devastated us. We're destroyed."

Young apologized to the family, and said there was a confrontation before the shooting but that he wasn't using that as an excuse.

Defense attorney Earl Supplee said Young suffers from paranoia, and brought a gun to the car deal after Ervin insisted on Young paying cash.

Young "lost it" in the trailer and shot Ervin, Supplee said.

Prosecutors said Young shot Ervin the night of April 8, 2014, during a deal to purchase Ervin's BMW. Ervin's body was found early the next morning at Aces High Auto Detailing, his business in the 600 block of Nelson Street in Allentown.

The Lehigh County Coroner's Office said Ervin died of a gunshot wound that entered his shoulder and exited his neck, ruling his death a homicide.

Ervin's girlfriend reported him missing at 1 a.m. April 9, 2014; his body was found in a trailer at his business and a shell casing was recovered at the scene.

After Ervin's body was discovered, police put out an alert for a silver BMW. The car was stopped in Reading and Young was driving, police said.

Young's defense attorneys said at trial they would have introduced evidence of Young's mental health diagnosis: schizoid personality disorder, paranoia, depressive personality traits.

Supplee said the plea deal was the appropriate resolution in the case.



Judicial Override in Law Grad's Death-Penalty Appeal Eyed by High Court

During oral arguments Wednesday, Delaware's chief justice pressed a public defender on his argument that the state's death-penalty statute is unconstitutional because it allows judges to override juries' findings of fact in the sentencing phase.

The statute, Section 4209 of the Delaware Code, had come under scrutiny after the U.S. Supreme Court's January decision in Hurst v. Florida struck down a capital-sentencing scheme in Florida, which gave judges the final say in whether to impose a sentence of death.

In an 8-1 decision, the nation's high court ruled in Hurst that the "Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death."

On Wednesday, Santino Ceccotti, an assistant public defender in the appellate unit, told the state Supreme Court en banc in Dover that Delaware's statute suffered from the same constitutional infirmities as the Florida law because it allows a judge to independently weigh aggravating and mitigating factors after the jury makes its own sentencing recommendation based the same findings.

The arguments came in a test case involving Benjamin Rauf, a Temple University's Beasley School of Law graduate.

The Delaware case is captioned Rauf v. State.

Rauf, who graduated from law school in 2015, was charged in the Aug. 23, 2015, killing of a classmate, Shazim Uppal, that took place in a parking lot in Hockessin. Law enforcement officials have said the murder was the result of a drug deal gone bad.

Prosecution of his case has been delayed under an order of Superior Court President Judge Jan R. Jurden, who stayed all capital case trials in the First State in the wake of the Hurst decision. Rauf is being held without bail, a Department of Justice spokesman said.

Delaware's death-penalty law, Ceccotti argued, allows a judge to make factual determinations that can enhance a sentence in capital cases and relegates the jury's involvement to the kind of "advisory" role that was found to be unconstitutional in Hurst.

"The most basic tenet of the Hurst decision is that fact-finding subjecting a defendant to the death penalty must be made by a jury," he said. "That does not occur in this state."

But Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. led a barrage of questioning from the bench challenging the idea that Delaware juries are deprived of the ability to make the initial factual finding that makes a defendant death-eligible.

"Isn't the question ... who, constitutionally, has to make that judgment in the 1st instance," Strine asked, referring to the jury's weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors.

The discussion sparked a follow-up from Justice Randy J. Holland, who indicated that the jury's initial finding of at least 1 statutory aggravator constituted the factual finding necessary for the court to proceed with a death sentence.

"As I understood your argument on Hurst, it was relying on anything that's necessary prior to the imposition of death, and in Delaware, prior to the imposition of a death sentence, you have to find the aggravators outweigh the mitigators," the justice said.

Holland's statement aligned with the position of state prosecutors seeking to uphold the statute, who in their briefs tried to differentiate Delaware's law from Florida's sentencing scheme.

Deputy Attorney General Sean P. Lugg said Delaware's law is consistent with Supreme Court precedent laying out the elements required to impose a death sentence. The requisite "overt balancing and weighing process," he said, is not required to be done solely by a jury.

"The element here that elevates the availability - and that's important - the availability of the death penalty to a sentencing judge is the finding, unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, of the existence of that statutory aggravator," Lugg said.

"Thereafter, there is a legislative determination that a judge needs to be involved."

A final ruling from the court is expected sometime within the next month to a case that has sparked national interest since the state Supreme Court in late January agreed to hear the case at the request of the Superior Court in the wake of the Hurst decision.

Three amici groups have filed briefs in the case, all arguing that Delaware's statute is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, all capital cases have been stayed, and Delaware lawmakers have suspended an effort to repeal the death penalty, both pending a decision from the high court.



Prosecutors look into cellphone of Cleveland quintuple homicide suspect facing death penalty

Forensic scientists will review cellphone data of the man facing a death sentence in a 2014 quintuple homicide on Cleveland's East Side.

James Sparks-Henderson, 20, appeared in court Wednesday as attorneys settled confusion over how his cellphone data would be preserved and copied.

Defense attorney Fernando Mack filed a motion to preserve the accused shooter's cellphone as evidence. In order to extract the data necessary to study Sparks-Henderson's activity leading up to the shooting incident, however, forensic scientists will have to dismantle the phone.

After hearing testimony from JoAnn Gibb, a forensics expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Mack agreed that a copy of the phone's data chip would be sufficient, even though the phone itself may not be salvageable.

Prosecuting attorney Blaise Thomas told Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P O'Donnell that the state's forensics experts could deliver Sparks-Henderson's defense team a copy of the cellphone data as soon as it is extracted.

Defense attorneys have retained their own forensic cellphone expert to review the state's work.

Sparks-Henderson, of Shaker Heights, was indicted on capital murder charges in April. He is accused of firing into a home on East 93rd Street on Nov. 21, 2014. The gunfire took the lives of four people inside, prosecutors say, along with an unborn child.

The shooting led to the deaths of Lemon Bryant, 60, Shaylona Williams, 17, Ja'rio Taylor, 18, and Sherita Johnson, 41. Johnson's unborn son, Juwan, was also killed.

After a plea deal fails to materialize, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty is now seeking the death penalty against a man accused of a quintuple homicide in May 2014.

O'Donnell did not set a date for trial, although a September starting date was discussed during the hearing. Another pretrial hearing was scheduled for June 23 at 11 a.m.



'Dangerously hot': Death row inmates still face health problems from heat years after order to cool it down

The state has done "little if anything" to keep the sweltering heat on Louisiana's death row below 88 degrees, a Baton Rouge federal judge said Wednesday while warning he won't shy away from making a "tough and unpopular" decision to protect the health and safety of 3 ailing condemned killers.

It's been 2 1/2 years since Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ruled the state is violating the 3 Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates' constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment and ordered state corrections officials to maintain heat indexes on death row at or below 88 degrees.

At a hearing he called Wednesday to determine whether the state's 2nd heat remediation plan adequately protects the prisoners from Louisiana's searing summer heat and humidity, Jackson said the plan's measures - once-daily cold showers, chests filled with ice, an extra ice machine and additional fans - have failed to halt heat indexes from topping the 88-degree mark.

Jackson said he won't "sit idly by" while Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee continue to suffer, noting that 14 inmates have died in neighboring Texas from the heat since 2007.

"Nobody wants that here in Louisiana. That's what this case is about," the judge said.

Jackson will rule sometime after both sides file post-hearing briefs, which are due July 11.

The state's initial court-ordered heat remediation plan included air conditioning, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled last summer that while the 3 inmates deserve some relief, they aren't entitled to air-conditioned quarters.

James Hilburn, an attorney for state corrections officials, argued at Wednesday's hearing that the appellate court did not order the 88-degree threshold, but an agitated Jackson added the appeals court didn’t undo it either.

"It's been proven with scientific certainty that (88-plus degrees) is a hazard to their health," the judge said. "I've already ruled. 88 degrees is the standard."

Jackson added that just because a remedy is "costly or inconvenient" doesn't trump the Constitution.

Nilay Vora, 1 of the inmates' attorneys, asked Jackson to order implementation of the state's 1st heat remediation plan. Vora said death row without air conditioning exposes Ball, Code and Magee to "serious risk of substantial harm."

Hilburn defended the state's latest plan, saying, "This was not a flippant plan."

Jackson, who did not rule out ordering "mechanical air" for the inmates, warned he could sanction the state if it doesn't remedy the constitutional violations that he and the 5th Circuit found - that the high heat indexes violate the 3 inmates' Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

"A court can't simply sit on its hands and allow a constitutional violation to persist," he said.

Ball, Code and Magee - shackled and dressed in bright orange prison garb - testified in the cool confines of Jackson's courtroom and said they continue to suffer from dizziness, nausea, headaches and profuse sweating due to the unrelenting heat in their cells.

"It ain't got as hot as it's going to get," Ball noted.

Summer doesn't officially begin until Monday.

"It's too hot" on Louisiana's death row, testified Dr. Susi Vassallo, of Texas. "It's dangerously hot."

Vassallo, a medical doctor who specializes in heat-related illnesses, said the components of the state's 2nd heat remediation plan, either considered individually or collectively, do not reduce the substantial risk of serious harm to the 3 inmates. She described the plan's components as comfort rather than safety when dealing with heat indexes exceeding 88 degrees.

"If we set the bar at death, that is too high," she said.

Colin Clark, an assistant state attorney general, said in court that the Louisiana Department of Corrections has not had a single heatstroke incident in the last 9 years.

The 5th Circuit last year suggested the state could open the doors to the air-conditioned guard pods and divert cool air into the death-row tiers, but Jimmy Cruze, the death row warden, testified Wednesday the appeals court's suggestion was rejected by the state because it poses a security risk.

"It's a bad security move," he said. "We don't leave doors open."

Mechanical engineer Frank Thompson, who designed death row, testified the death-row core is air-conditioned but the death-row tiers are equipped only with cross ventilation and a central heating system. Death row, he said, meets commercial building standards.

Air conditioning is the only plausible way to stop heat indexes from surpassing 88 degrees, Thompson added.

Ball is on death row for fatally shooting a beer delivery man during the 1996 armed robbery of a Gretna lounge.

Magee was condemned to die for the 2007 shotgun murders of his estranged wife and their 5-year-old son in a subdivision near Mandeville.

Code received the death penalty for the 1985 murders of 4 people at a house in Shreveport.

(source: The Advocate)


Man sentenced to death in Sharp County's 1st death penalty case may get new sentence

The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the death penalty sentence for Steven Victor Wertz June 9 on a technicality regarding jury forms. Wertz was finally convicted in Sharp County's 1st death penalty case in 2007 for the 1986 shotgun and throat slash slayings of Terry and Kathy Watts of Ash Flat as they slept. Terry's 11 month old son Joshua was unharmed as he slept between his father's legs.

Wertz was free for 20 years before being brought to justice and tried and convicted of the killings and sentenced to death by lethal injection by a Sharp County jury.

After 9 years behind bars on Arkansas death row, June 9, the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed what took investigators 20 years to solve and jurors 2 weeks to hear and less than 2 hours to produce a unanimous guilty finding to the capital murder charges and death penalty. Wertz could get a new sentence in the horrific shotgun murders.

Although Wertz was always the primary suspect in the crimes, because the motive for the slayings was determined early on to be a result of the loss of a child custody case between Belinda Wertz, who was married to Wertz at the time and was Terry Watts' ex-wife. The Wertz's were due to return the female child to Terry. In 1987, officials with the Sharp County Sheriff's Department traveled to Oklahoma, where Wertz and his wife Belinda were living, but Wertz's alibi seemed to check out. The case then went cold.

It was not until the Spring of 2002, under Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver, investigator David Huffmaster essentially reopened the case in 2001, and over the next few years and began conducting interviews with people who had been previously interviewed. Belinda, who by that time was divorced from Wertz and had married James Guthrie Burr Snyder Jr. of Georgetown, Ken. Snyder was the 1st person to give viable evidence that would lead to Wertz's arrest. Snyder, who was a friend of the family at the time of the murders was the person who helped collaborate Wertz's original alibi in 1987, and would later be charged as an accomplice to the crimes.

Wertz was arrested and charged with 2 counts of capital murder in April, 2006.

Wertz exhausted 3 Rule 37 hearings, all before Circuit Judge Harold Erwin in Oct. 2008, Aug. 2010 and finally, in April, 2012 when Erwin held to the original findings, not granting Wertz a new trial on the grounds of ineffective council. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed his convictions on direct appeal.

Wertz, argued the state did not raise the question when only a single set of penalty phase verdict forms were submitted following his conviction on 2 charges.

According to Arkansas Code 5-4-603, requires any jury deliberating a possible death penalty sentence to complete 3 forms in addition to the verdict form. The first requires the jury to determine whether any statutory aggravating factors exist beyond a reasonable doubt. The 2nd form requires jury findings in regard to any mitigating factors and the final form requires the jury to determine whether any existing aggravating circumstances outweigh any existing mitigating circumstances and whether the aggravating circumstances justify a death sentence.

In Wertz's case after the sentence was handed down, the jury was only given a single set of forms listing the aggravating factors as the commission of the capital murder knowingly created a risk to a person other than the victim and the purpose of the murders was to prevent an arrest or effect an escape from custody. The 2nd form listed no mitigating circumstances. On the final form, the jury determined there were aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt outweighed any mitigating circumstances and that the aggravating circumstances warranted the death sentence. The verdict form gave all jurors the option to select either life in prison, or the death penalty, and the jury unanimously voted to hand down the death sentence.

Wertz argues the combining of the penalty phase forms violated the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments by sentencing him to death without unanimously finding beyond a reasonable doubt each fact necessary to impose the death penalty. The Supreme Court found no merit in the claim.

They however agreed with his 2nd claim, a single set of penalty-phase verdict forms on the 2 counts of capital murder constituted a defect or breakdown in the appellate process.

The court stated the single submission "makes it impossible to determine whether the jury applied the aggravated to Terry's murder, Kathy's murder or both murders." The court said the single set of forms was an error that impacts the validity of the death sentence. The Supreme Court's Citation states there were no objection made to the verdict forms during the trial.

The final ruling in Wertz Motion to Recall Direct Appeal Mandate states, "The motion to recall the mandate is granted, the sentence of death is reversed, and the matter is remanded for re-sentencing on both capital murder convictions." 3 judges dissented with that motion.

Justice Paul E. Danielson said "My review of our cases addressing capital murder convictions under Section 41-1501(1) (c) reveals that a person charged under that statute with causing 2 or more deaths was historically charged with, tried for, and convicted of only one count.." He said it is unclear that Wertz was actually convicted on both counts. The courts judgement and commitment order lists the total counts as 2, but only 1 offense, capital murder, is listed below the line. He went on to say, "I would order supplemental briefing from the parties on the issue of whether a double-jeopardy violation occurred."



Sheley wants death penalty off the table

An Illinois man already serving 6 life sentences for murder in that state tried to avoid the possibility of getting the death penalty in Missouri today.

Nicholas Sheley killed 6 people during a 2 week spree in Illinois in 2008. He is now facing murder charges in connection with the killings of Jill and Tom Estes of Sherwood, Arkansas.

Police say the couple was attacked outside a Festus, Missouri hotel after leaving a graduation party.

On Tuesday a Jefferson County judge heard 19 motions from Sheley's defense attorney, including one that would have declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

The judge denied the motion, meaning that if Sheley is found guilty of the Estes' murders he could be put to death.

Sheley's next court appearance is in September.



Death penalty debate on again in Utah Capitol

A debate over whether Utah should abolish the death penalty was renewed at the State Capitol on Wednesday, as lawmakers began an interim study focused on the costs of its use and the length of time between conviction and execution.

Those issues were front and center earlier this year, when lawmakers came close to passing a ban on capital punishment during the 2016 legislative session that ended in March.

Then and at Wednesday's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee hearing there was plenty of disagreement and questions about the facts: Do death penalty cases cost more, or don't they? Would the state save money or pay more if the practice ends? And what are the reasons that these cases take - on average - 21 years to move from conviction to execution.

A 2012 study by state fiscal analysts found that from trial to execution, Utah spends about $1.6 million more on each death row inmate than on those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

"I'm not sure we should be doing justice based on cost. We should be doing justice based on justice," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, who challenged the numbers. "We're not going to throw out the death penalty to save money."

Analyst Gary Syphus told lawmakers the figure reflects only "direct and measurable" costs, but doesn't consider more specific information, such as medical care for geriatric inmates or ongoing legal expenses for inmates serving life sentences without parole.

The causes of delays seem more clear, according to Assistant Utah Attorney General Andrew Peterson, who said many are tied to the filing of abusive and repetitive claims by inmates and the snail-like pace of the U.S. District Court.

"The federal district court is where most of these cases linger," he said. It's unlikely Utah lawmakers could do anything to speed up the process, said Peterson, the state's capital case coordinator.

State appeals processes have improved since 2009, Peterson said, after legislators passed a law to better define what types of claims can be raised and the judiciary enacted new rules for post-conviction.

? But defense attorney Richard Mauro, who represented defendants in 15 capital murder cases and is a member of the state's sentencing commission, told lawmakers he believes the state would see significant savings in a death penalty-free system.

Those reductions could include less spent on mitigation and investigative work, a reduced need for expert witnesses and savings in the courts, such as shorter trials and fewer overtime hours for court personnel and bailiffs.

Cases resulting in life-without-parole sentences see fewer, if any appeals, Mauro said. That's because most are negotiated plea deals that are conditioned on giving up the right to appeal.

Mauro said he shares the frustration of lawmakers and others that capital cases take so long, but he said defense attorneys are ethically bound to follow every thread of a case.

Of the 9 men on Utah's death row, 2 were originally convicted as long ago as 1985. All but 1 of the rest were convicted before 1999, although 1 case was retired last year but resulted in a 2nd capital murder conviction.

All 9 have active, ongoing appeals underway.

Utah last carried out the death penalty in June 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad, drawing international attention to the state.

Data from the Utah State Courts, however, shows prosecutors from Logan to St. George are rarely pushing for capital convictions, even as they file the 1st-degree felony-level aggravated crimes that could include such punishments.

Since 2010, prosecutors have filed aggravated murder charges 58 times.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


DA seeking death penalty in Vegas liquor store clerk killing

Prosecutors in Las Vegas will seek the death penalty against 2 of 3 men charged with killing a liquor store clerk who police said couldn't open a store safe during a robbery.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said Wednesday he's seeking capital punishment for 22-year-old Ray Charles Brown and 21-year-old Lee Dominic Sykes in the April 18 robbery-slaying of Matthew Christensen.

He says prosecutors won't seek the death penalty for another co-defendant, Sykes' 22-year-old brother Lee Murry Sykes.

A judge is expected on July 5 to set a trial date in the case.

Parts of the Lee's Discount Liquor store robbery were captured on security video, including images of the 24-year-old Christiansen surrendering with his hands raised before he was shot.

Wolfson has characterized the killing as an execution.

(source: Associated Press)


A Speedier Death: The Battle Over California's Death Penalty

At the stroke of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, February 20, 2006, Michael Morales was scheduled to die.

After 23 years on California's death row, following his conviction and subsequent death sentence for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell, Morales' stay in San Quentin State Prison would end like this: Wearing brand new prison denims and an incontinence pad, he would walk into a lime-green room with a person-shaped gurney in it. He would climb onto the gurney and lie down. After his arms and legs were secured with straps, a needle would be stuck into a vein in his arm, where he would receive an injection that would shut down his lungs and stop his heart in the name of the People of the State of California.

The U.S. Supreme Court had turned down his appeals, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had turned his back on his pleas for clemency. Morales phoned his family, ate his last meal - 2 pork chops, a B.L.T., a chocolate milkshake, and strawberry shortcake for dessert - and waited for the time to die.But 2 hours before midnight, 2 court-appointed anesthesiologists, there to oversee the procedure and ensure Morales did not wake up or suffer extreme pain during the fatal dosing - 2 things that a study in the medical journal The Lancet concluded are likely to happen when using the state's 3-drug lethal injection "cocktail" - suddenly refused to participate.

California had executed 13 men since 1978, when the state reinstituted capital punishment (although it took until 1992 for the first execution to take place, after the condemned's lengthy legal remedies had been exhausted). Morales would be the 14th - and there were more than 750 on death row waiting behind him.

"Everybody's upset," Winchell's brother, at San Quentin to witness the execution, told the Chronicle upon hearing about the delay. "I guess they're just going to have to pump him full of poison one way or the other."

The state tried to counter the anesthesiologists' collective conscience with a proposal for a single drug injection - a massive dose of sodium pentothal, something that had never been tried before - but a subsequent court order said that, instead of prison officials, the drug would have to be administered by a licensed medical professional, in the same room as Morales, as opposed to feeding a tube running from an adjacent room, and wearing "appropriate clothing to protect their anonymity."

California rejected that proposal, and meanwhile, the clock went into the next day, negating the death warrant.

Morales went back to his cell on death row, where he remains today.

In 2010, the prison unveiled a new lethal injection chamber, with 5 times the space and 2 more viewing rooms - now smartly separating victim's family, inmate's family, and the press - than the one where Morales was supposed to make his exit. The state-of-the-art facility cost taxpayers $850,000, but so far, it's never been used.

Whether it stays that way or becomes suddenly very busy in 5 years is up to voters.

The messenger is conspicuous - not because of his message, but because of where he delivers it.

He's a clean-cut white dude of indiscernible middle age wearing a gray hoodie, and he's wielding a clipboard like a landing beacon, guiding those outside the sliding glass doors of Berkeley Bowl toward his petition. He advertises it as reform of the death penalty, a fix for a broken system, a way to save taxpayers millions of dollars.

It's a potent argument, as shown by the number of scrawled signatures he's collected. If he and hundreds like him at grocery stores, Starbucks, and bus stops around the state get enough of them, the initiative will make it on the upcoming November ballot, its fate left for California voters to decide.

What's odd, however, is that he's collecting signatures here, in this bastion of liberalism within a generalized progressive region. If he were down in Riverside County, where 44 death penalty convictions have been handed down over the past decade, okay. But he's in Alameda County, where only 7 people have been sentenced to die over that same period. (Across the bay in San Francisco, only 2 people have been sentenced to death in the last 40 years, the latter back in 1991.)

This initiative - known officially as the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016 - will fix the system not by ending the death penalty, but by allowing the state to execute more prisoners more quickly by removing legal safeguards.

While you can trace the origins of California's use of capital punishment to the posses that roamed the West or to the gallows at turn-of-the-century San Quentin, the fight over the death penalty is really a judicial struggle, so the story begins in 1972.

That April, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's death penalty procedure - at the time, a mixture of electrocution, gas inhalation, and even a few lingering hangings - was unconstitutional. But a few months later, voters erased that verdict, passing Proposition 17 with 67.5 % of the vote to reverse the decision.

Killing prisoners proved popular with the people.

Since the repeal 44 years ago, 13 people have been executed by the state - the most recent being 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen, who was given the shot a few months after the most prominent, original gangster Crip-turned-motivational speaker and author, Tookie Williams, was executed in December 2005 - while 68 death row prisoners have died of natural causes. That is, if you are sentenced to death, it has become much more likely you'll die in prison before ever seeing the execution chamber.

The system had become satire. If the wheels of justice turn slowly, the gears of the death penalty rusted solid.

Fast-forward to summer 2008. As the junior senator from Illinois galvanized the country around hope and change, a bipartisan committee in California concluded four years of investigating the state's death penalty process.

The verdict: one giant shitshow.

"California's death-penalty system is dysfunctional," the intro of the California Commission of the Fair Administration of Justice's report states. The largest issue was the decades passing between the sentencing to death and the actual execution.

"[T]o keep cases moving at this snail's pace, we spend large amounts of taxpayers' money each year," the members wrote, coalescing their frustration into a number. "By conservative estimates, [we spend] well over one hundred million dollars annually."

With those nine figures, the tone of the death penalty fight changed. No longer was it centered on Hammurabian concepts of justice, revenge, and an ultimate deterrent to protect honest citizens from rampant lawlessness.

It became a more calculating and logical debate, based on the question of whether the value derived from throwing the switch - or, in California's case, putting the needle in the arm - is worth the exorbitant cost.

That shift got repeal advocates thinking they could finally overturn Prop. 17, so they tried.

In 2012, a coalition including L.A's mayor and D.A., the ACLU, the California Nurses Association, and Hyatt CEO Nicholas Pritzker introduced Proposition 34, which would have commuted the state's death sentences - at the time, 725 - into lifetime prison terms, without the possibility of parole.

Less-publicized portions of this effort included additional restitution for victims' families and earmarking $100 million for use in homicide and rape investigations, showing the role that money had in this new debate. The prop failed, but not by a lot: The gap was 52 % to 48, a difference of 500,000 votes in a state of 38 million.

The argument - repeal the death penalty, save California money - had legs 4 years ago.

But this year, the pro-death penalty side is also playing the savings game.

"If we fix the appeals process, that could save tens of millions of dollars," says Mike Ramos, the San Bernardino County District Attorney and a leading proponent of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act. (He has also announced his intent to run for California attorney general in 2018, and if successful in speeding up executions, could become a conservative standard-bearer.)

The "fix" is in carving away the waste in the process, bit by bit.

One reasonable-sounding argument shifts death row prisoners from San Quentin back into "regular state prisons." They will no longer be housed alone - Scott Peterson, convicted in a sensational trial of murdering his wife and unborn child, would get a cell mate - allowing for fewer correctional officers and, thus, cutting costs.

Another puts prisoners "to work" earning money to pay victim restitution, doing basic manufacturing gigs under surely heavy security, but the initiative doesn't specify beyond saying that prisoners who fail to do so will result "in the loss of special privileges," things like phone privileges, time to mingle outdoors, or control over the TV remote.

The most straightforward cost-cutting measure is the boldest. It states that "[w]ithin five years ... the state courts shall complete the state appeal and the initial state habeas corpus review in capital cases."

This means that, once the gavel drops after a death penalty conviction, a timer will start ticking. When it dings in 5 years, that prisoner is out of appeals.

While that might sound sensible, experts say it's probably not constitutional.

"To dictate that to the courts takes away their constitutional authority," says Elisabeth Semel, founding director of the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic. "It's a violation of the separation of powers."

Apart from the arcane arguments over which branch of government does what, there's also an issue of simple math. There are currently roughly 300 death penalty appeals, each of them essentially in a holding pattern, waiting for an oral argument before a judge.

Over the last 5 years, the California Supreme Court has ruled on about 24 death penalty cases a year. So, even if the court put every other type of case on hold, it would take more than 10 years to get the backlog down to zero. This is a non-starter, logistically speaking.

Plus, that length of time - and the fact there isn't a clock ticking down on how long the appeal process of the initiative can last - is a feature, not a bug. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case, Jones v. Davis, that argued the dramatic stretch of time between ruling and execution violates the Eighth Amendment's "cruel and unusual punishment" clause.

A lower federal court had decided that locking a human in stir for decades, waiting for the legal process to exhaust itself before killing him, was indeed cruel and unusual and put a hold on all California executions.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed - in its ruling, the word "dysfunction" appears f5 times - and revved the machine back up.

"Delay, in large part," they wrote, "is a function of the desire of our courts, state and federal, to get it right, to explore exhaustively, or at least sufficiently, any argument that might save someone's life." In other words, these cases should be lengthy.

But let's close our eyes and picture a world where the court abides by this (impossible) deadline. It's time for the next hurdle, the "5 years or more," on average, that the condemned have to wait for (almost always court-appointed) lawyers to represent them.

As Ramos points out, "Can you imagine sitting on death row, and you don't even have an attorney for 5 years?" (Spoiler: The 743 people the People of the State of California plan to kill can.)

So out of the goodness of their hearts, the death penalty reformers "solve" this by forcing judges to appoint attorneys immediately upon sentencing.

"This is a magical part of the proposal," Semel says. "Where are these lawyers going to come from?"

The initiative furnishes a solution for that, too, by expanding the pool of attorneys available to argue death penalty cases, so that legal "[e]xperience requirements shall not be limited to defense experience."

In other words, give us whoever ya got.

"We have some very competent attorneys out there," Ramos says. "There are more than enough component attorneys that can handle these cases."

While it seems there are more California lawyers than palm trees, there are fewer "competent" lawyers - in terms of death penalty law, at least - than there are Kardashians.

"Stripping qualifications runs smack into the requirement that you have the right to not just a lawyer, but a competent lawyer," Semel says.

Know a real estate or personal injury lawyer? Now picture them arguing a death penalty case and you may begin to see the issue with expanding the pool. (Not to mention the cost from the inevitable appeals that'll come out of those botched defenses will only throw more cases onto the docket, which is not exactly a path to savings.)

Even if an army of qualified lawyers landed on California's beaches, hankering for some sweet death penalty work, it still wouldn't necessarily speed up the process, because another piece of business that needs resolution is how we execute.

Because, right now, the state has no legal way to do it.

The main reason that Michael Morales' execution was kiboshed in 2006 was that two court-appointed anesthesiologists - there to oversee the procedure and ensure Morales did not wake up or suffer extreme pain during the fatal dosing - refused to participate, citing ethical reasons. No other medical professional would step in, for the same reason.

With nobody to oversee an execution as mandated by the courts, no one's been executed in the state since.

California's lethal injection cocktail consisted of sodium thiopental, a quick-acting general anesthetic known as "truth serum" that knocks people out in spy flicks; pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant that stops respiratory muscles; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Everything is supposed to happen quickly and relatively painlessly, but witnesses have described executions as ghastly scenes, full of gagging, thrashing, and screams from the dying that their bodies are on fire.

Hence, bids to tweak the cocktail. But every proposed change falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which forces the proposal to a public hearing where anyone can comment.

But - here's the catch - if every comment logged during the hearing isn't responded to, the protocol change automatically fails.

"It's a tool to block the use of a single-drug protocol," Ramos says. "The last time this came up, there were over 7,000 comments, from a majority of people who don't even live in California, a lot from the ACLU. We missed seven responses and that terminated the hearing."

Part of the initiative will "solve" this by allowing "[n]o licensing board, department, commission, or accreditation agency" to oversee the executions.

The counter to this idea is the fact that between 1982 and 2010, the error rate for lethal injections in America was 7.1 %. That is, 7 of 100 lethal injection executions went wrong. And they do: Raymond Landry's 1988 execution was preceded by a syringe popping out and spraying the cocktail at the witnesses. Medics in 2009 gave up trying to find suitable veins in Romell Broom after 2 excruciating hours, and he remains on death row today. Maybe changes to these drug protocols should be overseen.

"Unmasking the process allows us to see why injections go wrong," Semel says. "Which drugs were used, are the personnel carrying out the executions qualified, are the drugs expired? That [kind of] secrecy allows governments to hide their mistakes and missteps."

But the current proposal's biggest deception may be that, even if it can do what it says - which, thanks to the courts, and thanks to the legal system, it can't - it still won't save the state money.

None of the improvements - the additional lawyers taking on these cases, the bailiffs, and court reporters burning the midnight oil to plow through a decade's worth of appeals - are free.

"The irony is that it will not save a penny, but cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars," Semel says."The changes cannot be made without the infusion of enormous sums of money."

"That's a legitimate argument," Ramos admits. "[The costs] may increase several millions of dollars at the beginning when you hire more attorneys. But you're going to save tens of millions of dollars."

There's still a dissonance. Combing through the initiative's 16 pages is like looking through the first draft of an undergraduate paper. The wording is vague, unfocused, and feels tossed off. Yet money from a coalition of district attorneys, law enforcement, and victims' families is being spent to gather enough signatures so this rushes onto the ballot.

Why the race to put California back in the death business?

"When I read how muddled it was, how impossible some of its key features are, it's anyone's guess why they're doing it," says Paula Mitchell, executive director of the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Law School. "Other than to defeat the repeal measure."

About that repeal measure. It's called the Justice That Works Act of 2016, and if passed, it, too, would end the death penalty in California.

Once again, the repeal argument leaves the heartstrings alone and instead tugs on wallets. It solves the "dysfunctional" death penalty system with 2 quick fixes: Raise the percentage of prison wages that can be garnished toward victim restitution from 50 to 60 %, and commute death penalty sentences to life without parole. And it, too, claims to save taxpayers an estimated $150 million a year.

Although Prop. 34, the last attempt to end the death penalty, was defeated in 2012, anti-death penalty advocates feel good about their shot this year. A recent Field Poll shows support for repeal rising from 40 %, in September of 2014, to 47 % earlier this year. Meanwhile, those who want to "speed up the execution process" dropped from 52 % to 48 % in the same time frame. That shift, along with a presidential election bringing in more voters, was enough to get the repeal coalition Taxpayers for Sentencing Reform to throw its initiative into the ring.

And this points to why Reform and Savings is fighting to get on the ballot alongside the repealers.

"It's a political chess game between two factions," says Peter Keane, dean emeritus at Golden Gate University Law School. "What [Reform and Savings] is mainly looking for is to get more votes than the anti-death penalty initiative."

Since both appear headed to the ballot - each snagged the requisite signatures, Justice That Works gathering 8,000 more - it means that if both receive 50 % "yes" votes, then the fight goes mano a mano. Whichever gets more votes, wins.

The trick to winning that strategy is changing the argument from the death penalty being about emotions to one that's about finances.

If both sides are offering the concept of savings - the bold print of Reform and Savings promises "tens of millions of dollars" while Justice That Works says "$150 million annually" - and not enough people read the fine print, then those persuaded by that will vote "yes" on both proposals.

What the Reform and Savings folks need, then, is for a revenge-seeker voting bloc to turn out and put them slightly over the edge.

November's voting booth may also be the scene of the other potential strategy, wherein voters pull the curtain behind them, plow through the front of the ballot, and blow a fuse at the Proposition section.

If there are two measures that seem to be about the same thing, voters will vote "no" on both, better safe than sorry.

"It would change the dynamic considerably if there were 2 competing measures on the ballot," says Quentin Mecke, the former San Francisco politico now serving as spokesperson for Justice That Works.

In this strategy, the role of Reform and Savings is to play defense by dragging both proposals down below 50 percent, keeping everything status quo until the next inevitable fight over the death penalty in 2020.

When I ask Ramos if either of these is the actual reason for trying to get on this year's ballot, he denies it, saying the proposal has been in the works since 2012. (Technically, Reform and Savings was submitted to the Secretary of State 1 month after Justice That Works, a hastiness that perhaps accounts for the sloppy copy.)

"We won [the battle over Prop. 34 in 2012] because we told the public we're going to fix the death penalty," Ramos says. But the close call also gave them a script to use during this bout.

"We're showing the counterargument of the finances," he says. "They can argue one side, and we can argue the other."

But the actual fight's about more than dollars and cents, and everyone knows it. At the end of our conversation, Ramos swerves into what he feels it's really about.

"All [repeal advocates] can talk about is finances," he concludes. "I would say, how can you put a price tag on a little baby girl or boy, on kidnap victims brutally murdered. Or a police officer killed in the line of duty. You can't put a dollar figure on that. You cannot."

Which takes us back to Berkeley Bowl, where the signature-hunter is doing a good job at filling that clipboard.

Snazzy headlines about "reform" sell; who doesn't want things to get better? So does the word "savings," especially now that Californians have heard for the past eight years about how the death penalty system is hemorrhaging more money than a Powerball winner.

He's getting his signatures, despite the proposal being unable to accomplish either goal it claims to, despite the viewpoints of the signee probably not being ideologically aligned. Because of the linguistic subterfuge, the proposal will make its way onto the November ballot, its worth to be judged by the general California electorate who are almost evenly split on what to do with the death penalty.

According to that Field Poll from earlier this year, 48 % of Californians want to speed up the death penalty, and 47 % want to abolish it.

Voters have already decided that the death penalty is broken, but will the fix come by ending it or by pushing the process into hyperspeed?

As the moral question is weighed, the gurney in San Quentin's unused death chamber collects dust. And the line of those waiting to get strapped on - 743 and counting - continues to grow.



Young man accused of killing woman, raping another faces death penalty

The man accused of murdering an elderly woman and raping another in a violent home invasion in Del Cerro faces the death penalty.<>P> San Diego Deputy District Attorney Marisa DiTillio said 20-year-old Eduardo Torres is not only responsible for murder, but for sexually assaulting and torturing his victims.

"Very vicious. This is frankly everyone's worst nightmare," said DiTillio.

Torres, who looked disheveled and worn out as he faced a judge for the 1st time at San Diego Superior Court, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Torres is accused of holding 2 women captive at their home on Mill Peak Road in the Del Cerro neighborhood on Sunday night.

According to Ditillio, Torres was unable to break into a home nearby, then broke into a 2nd home with a 56-year-old man, 74-year-old woman and another woman in her 50s inside. The man was able to escape. Prosecutors said Torres then held the women hostage at knifepoint.

"He proceeded to sexually assault the 50-year-old victim while inflicting injuries, lacerations and stab wounds to the elderly woman who ultimately died of those injuries," said DiTillio. "He continued to harm the victims while the SWAT officers were there trying to save their lives."

San Diego police identified the woman who died as Ut Nguyen of San Diego. The surviving woman was visiting from Chicago.

Torres was charged with burglary, torture, rape and murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

"The special circumstances that are alleged in this case, the attempted rape, the oral copulation, the torture and the residential burglary make him eligible for life without parole or the death penalty," DiTillio said.

Torres is being held on no bail. His status hearing is scheduled for June 29.



Death penalty for alleged arson killer of 5 homeless?

A 21-year-old homeless man could be facing the death penalty after he was charged Wednesday with killing 5 people by allegedly setting a fire in a vacant office building in the Westlake District.

Johnny Josue Sanchez was charged with 5 counts of murder and 2 counts of attempted murder in connection with the blaze, which broke out about 7 p.m. Monday in a 14,351-square-foot building at 2411 W. Eighth St. near MacArthur Park.

The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of an arson. Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Sanchez.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gustavo N. Sztraicher ordered Sanchez to be held without bail while awaiting arraignment July 27.

Authorities allege Sanchez, who was taken into custody about 8 p.m. Monday, had a dispute with other transients living along with him in the building.

"It was a dispute between Sanchez and other individuals that were residing in the building that was the cause of him ultimately lighting the fire," said Los Angeles police Lt. William Hayes.

After a male victim was declared dead Monday as a result of the blaze, the bodies of 4 more homeless victims - 2 men and 2 women - were found Tuesday in the ruins of the 2-story structure.

2 of the victims were identified as Jerry Dean Clemons, 59, and Mary Ann Davis, 44, according to the District Attorney's Office. The other 3 have yet to be identified.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the additional victims found Tuesday were located together under debris on the building's 2nd floor.

"It took some digging, but our firefighters we were able to extricate the bodies," he said. Crews used a ladder truck to lift the bodies from the unstable building.

Cadaver dogs and their handlers discovered the additional victims inside the burned-out building, according to fire department spokesman Peter Sanders, who said all 5 victims appeared to be transients.

Firefighters used ladders to rescue 3 people from second-story windows during the blaze, Sanders said.

"1 of those victims was transported to a local hospital and the other 2 were treated and released on scene," he said.

As parts of the structure began to tumble down, firefighters went into a defensive posture - meaning they battled the blaze from the exterior - about 20 minutes into their operation.

Investigators are working to determine exactly how the fire was set.

A total of 147 firefighters fought the fire for 2 hours and 22 minutes, bringing it under control at 9:25 p.m. Monday. No firefighters were injured.

The long-vacant building, which had no functional fire sprinklers, had been the site of past fires, according to a fire department official.

The fire chief asked the public to assist by informing the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety of any vacant structures by dialing 311 in Los Angeles or (213) 473-3231 outside the area. Terrazas said firefighters would assess their districts for vacant buildings and work with safety officials to secure them.



Less than 5 months before the federal government's death penalty trial of Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, South Carolina's top federal prosecutor is leaving the post

Less than 5 months before the federal government's death penalty trial of accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, South Carolina's top federal prosecutor announced his immediate departure from the office Wednesday, saying he is returning to private law practice.

During an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said he had long planned to leave the post, to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010. Nettles said his 6-year tenure made him South Carolina's longest-serving U.S. Attorney since the 1960s.

With the election in November, whoever becomes president will make his or her own selections for U.S. Attorneys across the country.

Nettles, 54, opposes the death penalty and spent much of his more than 20-year private practice career on criminal defense, at times fighting to keep defendants off death row. When he took office, Nettles told The Associated Press he would "follow the law as it's dictated by Washington," even in potential death penalty cases.

"My opinions don't matter when I work for the Department of Justice," Nettles told the AP on Wednesday, pointing out that he could put personal opinions aside while serving as a prosecutor. He called himself an "unlikely choice" for the office in the first place, in part because of that stance, as well as the fact he had never worked as a prosecutor prior to his appointment.

Asked about the Charleston case and his personal convictions, Nettles said that he had spent hours in conversation with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she contemplated whether the federal government would seek the death penalty against Roof. The 22-year-old faces federal hate crime and other charges for the shooting deaths of nine members of Emanuel AME Church last June during Wednesday night Bible study.

"I am deeply grateful to the attorney general," Nettles said of Lynch's willingness to hear his point of view on how to handle the case. "It wasn't lip service. ... She has been very receptive to letting me speak my mind."

Roof's federal trial has been set to begin in November. He also faces a possible death sentence in state court if convicted in a trial scheduled for January.

During his 6 years in office, Nettles says he's proud of expanding South Carolina's federal prosecutions of white collar and public corruption cases. When he came in, Nettles says such cases were less than 25 % of the office's work. Now, they represent more than half.

Nettles said he's also proud to have worked on ways to find alternate ways to handle cases, like sending low-level drug cases to state court and trying to figure out if addiction might be at the root of a defendant's problems, and if so, to find help.

"I never viewed my job as putting people in jail," he said. "My job was to make South Carolina a better, safer place."

With Nettles' departure, federal prosecutor Beth Drake will serve as acting U.S. Attorney until a new choice is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At his own firm, Nettles said he will take a variety of cases and also will pursue setting up a mediation practice for false claims cases against the federal government, an area on which he's proud to have focused as a prosecutor.

"I'm going to be a lawyer," Nettles said with a smile. "I'm going to be an advocate for my client, whoever my client may be. ... I enjoy advocacy, and I enjoy the fight."

(source: Associated Press)


'Alcatraz' for drug lords pushed

Of the country's 7,107 islands, 1 can have a special purpose.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III said he would start his stint in the 17th Congress by reviving his proposal to have an "Alcatraz-style" prison island for convicted drug traffickers, who could allegedly still run their lucrative business from the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.

Sotto on Wednesday said he would refile his Senate Bill No. 3326 on July 1. The bill calls for the segregation of so-called VIP prisoners, who would otherwise be sent to the lethal injection chamber if the country is still imposing capital punishment.

If passed, he said, the bill would do away with the need to reimpose the death penalty on high-level drug lords, as being espoused by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Senado forum, Sotto said the proposal to reimpose the death penalty would not be retroactive and thus not applicable to convicted drug lords who continue to find ways to operate behind bars.

Even if there was optimism that the Senate measure might be passed in 3 to 5 months, Sotto said there was no assurance that the death penalty would be implemented because some groups would likely challenge it in the Supreme Court.

Still, he said, he intended to refile his bill in order to stop the continued operations of the drug convicts.

"Segregation is allowed by the Constitution," Sotto said. "If you segregate (high-level drug convicts) and establish a national penitentiary for high-level drug crimes, this will be more restrictive as they will be confined in 1 place and they can be watched closely."

"If they are confined in a rocky island in Palawan ... Alcatraz-style, they cannot operate anymore. There will be no phones, no cell sites."

This would be a big change from their current condition at New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, which is also coping with overcrowding and "where a lot of things are happening," he said.

(source: Philippine Inquirer)


Gabriela to join 'super majority' despite opposition to death penalty

Although it is joining the "super majority" coalition in the incoming Congress, Gabriela Women's party-list will still oppose President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's plan to reinstate the death penalty. Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus said the group is against bringing back capital punishment since the state of the country's justice system leaves much to be desired.

The revival of death penalty is 1 of the 3 priority measures of the Duterte administration, the other 2 being the shift to federalism and the lowering the age of criminal responsibility for minors.

Despite disagreeing with Duterte's stand on the death penalty, De Jesus said Gabriela and other progressive party-list organizations under the Makabayan bloc will be part of the super majority coalition led by the emerging dominant party, the PDP-Laban. She said their decision was borne out of optimism to give Duterte's administration a chance to make good on his promises.

However, the lawmaker maintained that their membership in the majority bloc is not tantamount to keeping silent on pressing issues.

Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, Duterte's choice as the next Speaker, said at least 200 lawmakers from various political parties have joined the super majority bloc in the House. Its size is expected to help fast-track the passage of the incoming administration’s priority bills.

For his part, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said he is hopeful that the minority bloc in the incoming Congress will actively do its role in holding the Duterte administration accountable no matter how small its composition will be.

"I hope the minority will become the fearless few," said the Liberal Party stalwart, who has expressed his desire to become part of the minority.

Alvarez earlier said he plans to reduce the membership of the House minority coalition to a "bitesize" of around 20 lawmakers.

Among the parties that have expressed interest in joining the minority is the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay. LP, meanwhile, is in talks with PDP-Laban to join the super majority coalition.



Legal & int'l complications over the death penalty

IN 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a "moratorium on the use of the death penalty" in member countries around the world. The resolution proposed a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in the future. It was passed by a vote of 104 in favor - the Philippines among them, with 54 against, and 29 abstentions. A subsequent resolution in 2008 was adopted with increased support from 106 states, with 46 against, and 34 abstaining.

In 2010, the General Assembly approved a new resolution drafted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by a broader margin of support - 109 votes for, 41 against, and 35 abstentions. The resolution renewed its call on "states that still maintain the death penalty to progressively restrict its use, reduce the number of offenses for which it may be imposed, and to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. States which have abolished the death penalty are called upon not to reintroduce it."

The Philippines became the 1st country in Asia to abolish the death penalty when it incorporated in the Constitution of 1987, in the Bill of Rights, Article III, Section 19(1): "The death penalty shall not be imposed unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress thereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua." In 1993, however, following a series of crimes described as heinous, RA 7659 reimposed the death penalty for 46 crimes, to be carried out by lethal injection, no longer by electric chair as before.

After 7 executions in 1999, President Joseph Estrada issued a moratorium on executions in observance of the "Jubilee Year" of the Roman Catholic Church. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lifted the moratorium following a rise in drug trafficking and kidnappings, "to sow fear in the hearts of criminals." But no further executions were actually held, as the administration issued reprieves.

Today, the incoming Duterte administration has announced that it will renew executions as part of its campaign against crime, preferably by hanging. Secretary of Justice Emmanuel Caparas, however, has pointed out that the Philippines approved the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at abolition of the death penalty in 2007. In the absence of a withdrawal mechanism in the protocol, he said, once a state ratifies it, the death penalty cannot be reintroduced without violating international law.

The outgoing Aquino administration has urged the incoming Duterte administration to conduct a thorough study of the issue in view of these complications involving international law and international relations. There could be sanctions, such as withholding of international cooperation and aid. A referendum on the issue has also been suggested - this would help to determine the people's - not just the officials' - views on this most critical issue.



China has scaled down death penalty and increased checks since 2012, gov't report says

China says that it has scaled down its use of capital punishment since 2012 and 2nd trials of death penalty cases have all been conducted in open courts. The country has also put tighter checks on the death penalty, according to a government report on its 2012-2015 human rights action plan.

An oversight office to review death penalty cases was established in 2012 in an effort to increase checks on legal procedures related to the death penalty, according to the report, released Tuesday.

A criminal law amendment adopted last year cancelled the death penalties for 9 crimes, reducing the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty from 55 to 46.

The 9 crimes include smuggling weapons, ammunition, nuclear materials or counterfeit currency; counterfeiting currency; raising funds by means of fraud; arranging for or forcing another person to engage in prostitution; obstructing a police officer or a person on duty from performing his duties; and fabricating rumors to mislead others during wartime.

'Top executioner'

The number of death penalties carried out in China is a state secret, but Amnesty International estimates that thousands were imposed in 2015. China remains the top executioner in the world.

"There are signs that the number of executions in China has decreased in recent years, but the secrecy around the death penalty makes this impossible to confirm for certain," Amnesty said in a recent report.

The government also announced on the same day that it is formulating its human rights action plan for 2016-2020, China's 3rd such national plan.

The Chinese government's report follows Monday's Supreme Court decision for a retrial of Nie Shubin, who was executed for the rape and murder of a woman in 1995.

(sourcec: Hong Kong Free Press)

JUNE 15, 2016:


Appeal in 1997 Texarkana capital murder to be reviewed

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals says a 37-year-old man on Texas death row for a robbery and fatal shooting in Texarkana nearly 19 years ago will get a review of an appeal in his case.

Attorneys for convicted killer Julius Murphy argue Bowie County prosecutors at his 1998 trial improperly withheld evidence that 2 key witnesses were pressured into testifying against Murphy and that one of the witnesses gave false testimony.

The state's highest criminal court Wednesday sent the appeal to Murphy's trial court to be resolved. It also rejected an argument that evolving standards of decency show the death penalty is now unconstitutional.

Murphy was condemned for the slaying of 26-year-old Jason Erie, who was attacked after his car broke down near his father's house in Texarkana.

(source: Associated Press)


Court Changes Texas Death Row Inmate's Sentence to Life

A man who fatally stabbed a 68-year-old woman and her 4-year-old granddaughter during a 1995 burglary in Hidalgo County will no longer face execution after he has been determined to be intellectually disabled.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, changed Jose Noey Martinez's sentence Wednesday to life in prison. The court agreed with a lower court's ruling that Martinez, now 40, "is a person with intellectual disability" and "is constitutionally ineligible for a death sentence." Martinez had been on death row almost 20 years.

Martinez broke into the home of Esperanza Palomo to steal a TV and stereo, according to court documents. Palomo was babysitting her blind granddaughter, Amanda. Shortly after breaking in, Palomo confronted Martinez with a baseball bat. He stabbed the grandmother, who fell to the ground immediately, and raped her.

After killing the woman, Martinez told law enforcement, he heard the granddaughter crying in another room, court documents show. He told officers that he stabbed her to death.

A Hidalgo County jury found Martinez guilty of capital murder in 1996 and sentenced him to death. On appeal, Martinez's attorneys had claimed that he is mentally retarded and argued that executing him would violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Delaware court considers constitutionality of death penalty

A silent vigil was held outside the Delaware Supreme Court as the court weighs the constitutionality of capital punishment in Delaware.

The ongoing debate over Delaware's death penalty has made its way to the state's highest court.

For nearly a year, the discourse has drawn protests and emotional pleas at Legislative Hall, but the issue, now sitting squarely before the Delaware Supreme Court, drew a much more pensive tone in a Dover courtroom on Wednesday, as the court heard arguments over whether the way people are sentenced to death in Delaware is constitutional.

The quandary before the court arose after the U.S. Supreme Court found in January that Florida's death penalty law was unconstitutional because it gave judges - not juries - the final say to impose a death sentence. Delaware and Alabama are the only other states that allow judges to override a jury's recommendation of life. Delaware judges, however, have not been using that power.

Confusion over the rulings implication in Delaware led the state's Supreme Court to agree to hear arguments and weigh in.

In front of a packed courtroom Wednesday, a prosecutor argued to the Supreme Court that the state's death penalty process avoids the pitfalls that made Florida's statute infirm, especially since juries make the initial decision about whether a defendant is eligible for the death penalty in Delaware. A public defender countered that the state violates the Sixth Amendment when juries are routinely told that their sentencing decision is merely a recommendation.

"The most basic tenant of the [Florida] decision is that fact finding subjecting the defendant to the death penalty must be made by the jury," said Assistant Public Defender Santino Ceccotti "That does not occur in this state."

Delaware is 1 of 32 states with capital punishment. The last execution in the state was in 2012, when Shannon Johnson, 28, was killed by lethal injection.

All pending capital murder trials and executions for the 14 men on death row are currently on hold while the state considers the constitutionality issue.

The process for sentencing someone to death in Delaware requires multiple steps. Once a person is found guilty of 1st-degree murder, the jury must unanimously agree that the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that a least once of 22 statutory aggravating factors exists.

?Then, each juror has to decide whether the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors. That decision does not need to be unanimous, and the judge is not bound by those findings. The judge then has the final authority in sentencing someone to death.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Sean Lugg argued that Florida's death penalty process looks similar to an older version of Delaware's statute that existed before the General Assembly in 2002 changed it in response to another court ruling. The more recent ruling was a way to get Florida in line with the prior decision, Lugg said.

Ceccotti countered that legislative change is still needed for Delaware's law to pass constitutional muster. Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. repeatedly questioned how, if the court were to find the statute unconstitutional, would the legislature write a new statute with a judge still involved in any aspect of the sentencing.

Ceccotti responded, saying that to be in line with the Florida decision, the fact finding can not be in the hands of judges.

Florida and Alabama are also still grappling with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Last week, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments over whether the death penalty statute lawmakers in Florida hurriedly passed after the January decision is now acceptable. Like Delaware, Florida's new law requires juries to unanimously determine at least one aggravating factor before defendants are sentenced to death. Alabama has been far less willing to act, but the U.S. Supreme Court has told the Alabama appeals court multiple times recently to reconsider its statute.

The state court's future decision will be significant for Delaware. A bill to abolish the death penalty failed in the state House of Representatives earlier this year, but instead of filing a motion for reconsideration of the bill, the bill's sponsors said in March they would suspend legislative action until the Delaware Supreme Court rules.

Abraham J. Bonowitz, Delaware's death penalty abolition coordinator for Amnesty International, said at a silent vigil with about 15 people outside the Supreme Court building Wednesday that the court's decision could help toward the goal of abolishing the death penalty.

"All of us here are praying that the Delaware Supreme Court finds ... that the death penalty is unconstitutional," he said. "And then it will be on the legislature to fix it, rather than end it. We should be able to stop a fix as it's always easier to stop bad legislation than to pass progressive legislation."



Napolitano: Orlando Terrorist's Wife Could Face The Death Penalty

Fox News's senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano says that the Orlando terrorist attacker's wife could face the death penalty as a result of her role in the terrorist attack.

Appearing on "America's Newsroom" Wednesday, Napolitano said, "There's a long list of charges that she could face, from providing assistance, to agreeing to participate."

Noor Zahi Salman, Omar Mateen's wife, knew of Mateen's plans but did not stop him, reports Fox News. Moreover, Salman said that she was present when Mateen bought ammunition and a holster. Last Sunday, Mateen killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

"The highest and greatest charge, the reason I mention this is because the federal government likes to charge you with the highest and greatest charge supported by the evidence, would be conspiracy to commit mass murder," Napolitano said. "A conspiracy is an agreement by 2 or more people to commit a crime. Once the crime is committed and the person actually commits it is dead, the remaining conspirators in this case one person we believe, is as liable as the person who pulled the trigger."

As a result of her role, Napolitano said, Salman could face "the death penalty."

"Now, I don't know if the federal government wants to pursue that with her, they probably will because by charging her with the highest and greatest crime they would expect her to plead guilty to something less which would incarcerate her for the rest of her life, get a dangerous person off the street, send a message to other bad guys and other confederates 'We will come after everybody that we can.'"

Referring to the guidance of "see something, say something," Napolitano says that Salman might have had a "legal" obligation to tell authorities about Mateen's plans.



Will the Supreme Court Crack Down on Louisiana’s Rogue Prosecutors?

In a Louisiana case now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for a death row inmate named David Brown are asking the justices to put a stop to what the outspoken jurist and author Alex Kozinski has called an "epidemic" of prosecutorial misconduct. One of the most common forms of such misconduct is the withholding of evidence that might exonerate or mitigate the guilt of a defendant. Failure to turn it over, according to the court's seminal 1963 decision Brady v. Maryland, is a violation of due process. Brown's lawyers argue that nothing less is at stake in their client's case than the future of Brady and the right to due process in criminal proceedings.

Although prosecutors have bristled at Kozinski's charge, there is certainly plenty of evidence to back up his claim. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project at the University of Michigan Law School, 933 of the nearly 1,800 exonerations to date involve official misconduct by prosecutors, police, or other government officials. 35 of those exonerations come from the state of Louisiana alone, where prosecutors have a dismal record of complying with their legal obligations. According to Pace University School of Law professor Bennett Gershman, a leading expert on prosecutorial misconduct, many of Louisiana's prosecutors "have an incomplete and even warped understanding of the Brady rule, and their enforcement of their Brady duty is deficient." In Kozinski's estimation, it is the duty of the courts to solve the misconduct problem. "Only judges can put a stop to it."



Report: Each death row inmate costs Utah $1.66 million

A new state report finds that each death row inmate in Utah costs $1.66 million more in taxpayer money than one sentenced to life in prison without parole.

State lawmakers weighed the costs of capital punishment Wednesday at a hearing that came after the legislature both brought back the firing squad and seriously considered eliminating death sentences altogether.

Some lawmakers sharply questioned whether the state could really save that much money if they did away with capital punishment, pointing to costs like care for elderly inmates.

Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield sponsored the proposal that brought back the firing squad as a backup execution method, and now wants to streamline the death-penalty appeals process from about 30 years to 15 or less. Critics say that could give defendants short shrift.

(source: Associated Press)


Money for executing mentally ill inmates would be better spent helping them

To the editor: The poor, the mentally ill and the disabled - those are the people who are sentenced to die in this state. ("A sane approach to dealing with mentally ill death row inmates," editorial, June 11)

The death penalty is expensive. Sentencing someone to die costs taxpayers considerably more than sentencing someone to spend the rest of his or her life in prison. Money spent on the death penalty could be spent on education, law enforcement, victim assistance and mental health treatment.

Attempting to speed up executions will cost even more money and will increase the likelihood that an innocent person will be executed. Attempting to speed up the death penalty will impose a tremendous strain on the already overburdened courts.

The only question that remains is why the lawmakers in this state are unwilling to publicly state what they all know - that the death penalty is irreparably broken and should be abolished?

Jennifer Friedman, Los Angeles

The writer is a Los Angeles County public defender.

(source: Letter to the Editor, Los Angeles Times)


Man to die for killing uncle

A Pirojpur court yesterday awarded death penalty to a man for killing his uncle in Sadar upazila in 2013.

The convict is Nibash Shil, 30, son of Sukhoranjan Shil of Tona village under the upazila.

Md Golam Kibria, district and sessions judge Pronounced the verdict in the presence of Nibash at noon. The court also fined him Tk 20,000.

According to the prosecution, Nibash went to his maternal uncle Hemlal Shil's house at Sholoshato village under Nazirpur upazila in the district on September 8, 2013, to get back Tk 1 lakh that Hemal had earlier borrowed from Nibash's mother.

As Hemlal refused to give the money, Nibash locked in an altercation with his uncle. At one stage, he stabbed his uncle, leaving him dead on the spot.

Hemlal's family members caught Nibash and handed him over to the police. Hemlal's son Shyamol Shil filed a case, accusing Nibash, the next day.

(source: The Daily Star)

TEXAS---death sentence changed

Death row inmate ruled mentally disabled, gets life sentence

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has reduced death row inmate Jose Martinez's sentence to life in prison after agreeing with his trial court's findings that the convicted killer of a Rio Grande Valley woman and her 4-year-old granddaughter is mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

The 39-year-old Martinez has been on death row more than 19 years for fatally stabbing 68-year-old Esperanza Palomo and her granddaughter, Amanda, during a 1995 burglary at her home in Mission in Hidalgo County. Martinez was 18 at the time. Amanda Palomo was partially blind and staying at her grandmother's house that night.

His lawyers argued in their appeal resolved Wednesday it would be unconstitutional to execute Martinez under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits execution of mentally disabled people.

(source: Associated Press)


Ohio Supreme Court won't reopen death penalty case

The Ohio Supreme Court has rejected a request to reopen legal proceedings in the 1997 murder of a Youngstown bar owner.

The decision Wednesday came without comment, other than a note among the court's daily announcements that Scott Group's application for reopening had been denied.

Group was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 56-year-old Robert Lozier, owner of the Downtown Bar in Youngstown.

According to documents, Group, a deliveryman for a wine company, forced Lozier and his wife into a restroom and shot them both in the head before stealing more than $1,200. Sandra Lozier survived the attack and testified against Group at trial; Lozier's blood was found on Group's shoe when he was arrested.

Group filed an application to reopen the case last year, alleging his legal counsel did not effectively represent his appeals or challenge issues from his original trial.

"I had no rapport or communication with either of my appellate attorneys," Group said in an affidavit filed with the court. "I never spoke with [the attorney representing him on appeal] ... I never spoke directly with any of them. They never came to see me, and I could only communicate with them by mail."

The application for reopening was a standard part of the appeals process for death penalty cases, though Group was supposed to submit the request more than a decade ago.

No execution date has been sought or set yet for Group.

(source: The review)


On death penalty, DA Ramos advocates reform over repeal; County's top prosecutor co-chairs November ballot measure

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos immediately knew he would seek the death penalty against San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik.

As the Dec. 2 terrorist attack evolved into a chase for the 2 suspects, Ramos spoke to Sheriff John McMahon over the radio.

"I said, 'If you catch these 2, if you get them, I want you to secure them in San Bernardino County jail,'" Ramos recalled Tuesday at a Victorville Rotary Club meeting, "'because I'm having an emergency chiefs meeting and we're going to seek the death penalty on these 2."

Ramos also acknowledged the DA's office would have sought jurisdiction over federal authorities on the incident. But it never got that far; Farook and Malik were killed in a gun battle with authorities after killing 14 - mostly county workers - and injuring 22.

Now Ramos, who plans to run for state Attorney General in 2018, is the co-chairman of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, which promises to fix a broken death penalty system in California. The November ballot initiative would expand the pool of available defense attorneys, appoint defendants a lawyer quicker and require condemned inmates to work and pay restitution to victims while also being given fewer special privileges, among other things.

Ramos said he envisions reform as the better approach to the death penalty, acknowledging Tuesday he's also fighting the American Civil Liberties Union's effort to repeal the death penalty altogether.

"We're already getting beat from the bottom," he said about recent public safety legislation, "now they're coming at us from the top."

It should be no surprise then that he added he opposed Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot initiative to expand parole for thousands of inmates in an ongoing effort to reduce an overcrowded prison population and comply with a federal mandate. It's a plan in the same vein of Assembly Bill 109 and Prop. 47, pieces of Ramos-opposed legislation that sent more would-be prison-bound criminals to local jails and reduced penalties for certain crimes.

"It's another factor that we're going to have to deal with," Ramos said.

Speaking hyper-locally, he described property crimes as one of the more far-flung issues impacting the region and noted that San Bernardino was currently dealing with gang violence problems. To that end, he said it was revealed this week that High Desert law enforcement would be assisting gang authorities down the hill.

(source: Victorville Daily Press)


Dubai's Attorney General calls for death penalty for Obaida's killer

The Attorney General of Dubai has called for the death penalty against the alleged killer of 8-year-old Obaida Al Aqrabawi, who was kidnapped, strangled and then murdered last month.

Essam Eisa Al Humaidan said the 48-year-old Jordanian, who police said admitted the crime, should be executed.

The man has been referred to Dubai Criminal Court on charges of kidnapping, child abuse and 1st-degree murder.

The body of Obaida, who is also Jordanian, was found on May 22 under a tree on Academic City Road in Dubai's Al Warqa. He had been strangled and there were signs of sexual assault. He had been kidnapped 2 days before that in front of a garage in Sharjah's industrial area where his father worked.

Mr Al Humaidan said that prosecutors have completed their investigations into the case in less than 2 weeks and that they call for a speedy trial.

The investigation team listened to the testimonies of the victim's father, uncle and all the officers who were involved in gathering evidence and arresting the defendant. The team also watched a re-enactment of the crime involving the defendant, who is said to have confessed in detail.

The Attorney General added that the death penalty has been demanded by prosecutors because he pleaded guilty and there is sufficient evidence from witnesses and forensics proving that he committed the crime.

The defendant was also charged with consumption of alcohol and driving under the influence.

(source: The National)


Former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook fires lawyers, threatens to undo exoneration deal

2 days after his legal team secured an agreement that could lead to his exoneration in a high-profile 40-year-old murder case, former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook fired the very lawyers who set him on a path that could finally clear his name.

In a series of Facebook missives and incensed email screeds, Cook accused lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project and the Innocence Project of Texas of betraying him by accepting a deal with Smith County prosecutors that he never agreed to. Cook maintains that the deal lets prosecutors escape accountability for years of repeated misconduct that kept him behind bars and nearly resulted in his death.

Now, the 60-year-old former inmate says he plans to represent himself in court and prove to both the judge and Smith County prosecutors that he didn't brutally kill Linda Jo Edwards in 1977.

"I am completely devastated by what has been done wirh [sic] my 40 year struggle for truth & justice," Cook wrote in an email to his former lawyers. "This corporate take-over of the truth of my story has left me still publicly convicted and the district attorneys office exonerated."

It's the latest strange twist in a case that has been marked by continued oddities over 4 decades.

Cook was convicted in 1978 in the gruesome slaying of Edwards, a 22-year-old who was found beaten, stabbed and mutilated in her Tyler apartment bedroom. Through 3 trials that courts said were tainted with prosecutor misconduct, 20 years on death row and even since his release in 1999, Cook has maintained his innocence. DNA tests also have revealed the DNA of another man - Edwards' married lover - on the panties she wore the night of her death.

Smith County prosecutors, however, remain resolute that Cook is guilty. Last week, they agreed to drop the murder charges only after a key witness admitted he lied during Cook's trials. Cook's lawyers struck a deal with Matt Bingham, the Smith County district attorney, in which they agreed to drop claims of misconduct by previous prosecutors in exchange for the state dismissing the long-standing murder charges. Bingham, however, said he would continue to oppose Cook's claims of actual innocence, which would allow him to receive compensation for the 2 decades he spent on death row.

A hearing on the actual innocence claim is scheduled for June 29.

In court last week, Cook told the judge that he had agreed to the deal, which would require final approval from the state's highest criminal court.

But in dramatic emails and Facebook posts in the days after the hearing, Cook said that agreement "exonerated" the prosecutors who helped secure his wrongful conviction. He accused his lawyers of bullying him into taking the deal and said he would rather die than accept it.

Cook ordered Innocence Project lawyers who have helped exonerate hundreds of inmates in Texas and across the country to withdraw from the case. He wants the agreement he signed with Smith County prosecutors nullified. And he has vowed to represent himself going forward, a move many equate with legal suicide.

"This stress may kill me," Cook wrote in an email Saturday to his former lawyers. "But as I have told you repeatedly during the course of your representation if [sic] me, some things are worth dying for and the truth about how I wound up on Texas death row completely innocent in a case that has become known as the worst case in America, is one of them."

Even if a court were to rule that prosecutors engaged in misconduct in Cook's case - a move that is rare - it's unclear what consequences, if any, the former state lawyers might face.

In unusual, high-profile cases like those of Michael Morton and Anthony Graves, the prosecutors who oversaw their wrongful convictions were punished by the State Bar of Texas. But under state law, complaints like those must be filed within 4 years of an innocent person’s release from prison. Cook was released in 1999.

Innocence Project lawyers said they made the agreement with Cook's best interests in mind and an eye toward securing his exoneration. Nonetheless, they agreed to withdraw from the case.

"It is our firm belief that ?Kerry is innocent of this murder and that he has finally received justice and a recognition from Smith County that his prosecution was based on false testimony and he never had a fair trial," Innocence Project lawyers said in an emailed statement. "The attorneys who have worked on Kerry's behalf for many years hope that whatever course of action he ultimately pursues will end in his complete exoneration."

Bingham declined to comment.

George Kendall, a defense lawyer who has represented inmates who spent decades behind bars, including former Texas death row inmate Delma Banks, said it's not unusual for those who've spent years in prison to have rocky relationships with their lawyers.

"Having gone through what he's gone through," Kendall said, "it would surely be understandable for him to have some real problems trusting people connected with the criminal justice system."

But, he said, Cook should reconsider his plan to represent himself in court.

"Our legal system makes resolution of the kind of case Kerry has much more difficult than it needs to be," Kendall said. "The issues involved in his case are complicated and they are tricky."

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Judge allows death penalty option in retrial in 2004 slaying

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has upheld a ruling allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty when they retry a man who was convicted of the 2004 death of a woman whose body was found in a state park.

The (Altoona) Mirror reported ( Wednesday that the federal judge rejected the defense argument that a federal magistrate and state courts had wrongly ruled against Paul Aaron Ross on the death penalty issue.

Ross is charged in the 2004 death of 26-year-old Tina Miller. Her body was found partially submerged and bound with duct tape at Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg.

He was convicted at his 1st trial and the state judge sentenced him to life in prison. But the Pennsylvania Superior Court in 2011 ordered a retrial.

Ross' death penalty attorney, Thomas Hooper, wasn't immediately available for comment.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty arguments to be heard by Delaware Supreme Court

The Delaware Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty today, bringing an issue that has been debated for months closer to conclusion - and potentially opening up a whole new deliberation.

Rauf v. State of Delaware will be argued at 9:30, with the Department of Justice and Public Defender's Office representing opposing sides. The Department of Justice contends the state's capital punishment statute is not in violation of the U.S. Constitution, while the Public Defender's Office believes it contradicts the right to jury trial.

Anyone interested can watch online at

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty is unconstitutional because it allows the judge to sentence death. Delaware's death penalty law has similarities to Florida's, with a judge having some sway over whether to sentence a person to death.

Even if the court rules that portion of the law is unconstitutional, it may not strike down the death penalty as a whole. If the justices hold, however, the language in question is invalid and cannot be separated from the greater death penalty provision, capital punishment in the state would be at least temporarily eliminated.

Responsibility would fall to the General Assembly to craft a new law, and there may be enough opponents of capital punishment in the 2 Democratic-controlled chambers to block an attempt to overhaul the law.

Santino Ceccotti and Elizabeth McFarlan are the lead attorneys for the Public Defender and Justice Department, respectively.

(source: Delalwalre State News)


Delaware justices hear arguments on death penalty law

Delaware's Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the state's death penalty.

The court agreed in January to answer questions from Delaware's Superior Court to determine whether the state's death penalty law meets constitutional muster. Meanwhile, all death penalty trials in Delaware are on hold.

Questions were raised about the constitutionality of Delaware's law after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down Florida's death penalty sentencing statute. That statute required a judge, not a jury, to find the factual existence of an "aggravating circumstance" making a defendant eligible for the death penalty.

Delaware's law is similar to Florida's, but prosecutors argue that it nevertheless is constitutional.

/ In advance of Wednesday's hearing, the court accepted written briefs from the attorney general's office and public defender's office.

(source: Associated Press)


Trial Set for Parents Accused of Torturing Son to Death

A married couple accused of raping and torturing their 6 year old son until he died are both slated to face a jury next month. The father faced a judge in a Benton County, Arkansas courtroom Monday afternoon.

The prosecution and defense say Mauricio Torres' August 22 trial date is on track to happen.This comes after it being pushed back multiple times.

In a court hearing yesterday, a series of motions from the defense were denied; 1 being a motion asking the state to declare Mauricio Torres the main offender or the accomplice in 6 year old Isaiah Torres' murder.

Police say Mauricio Torres and his wife Cathy Lynn Torres brutally abused their son to death.The 2 are both facing capital murder, rape and 1st degree battery charges.

Mauricio Torres' next hearing is scheduled for July 29. His trial is set for August 22.

Cathy Lynn Torres has a hearing in Benton County Tuesday. Her trial is set for August 22.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in both cases.



2 Oklahoma men convicted in 2009 'Cathouse' murders; jurors to deliberate over potential death penalty

2 Oklahoma men were convicted of 1st-degree murder Monday in the 2009 slaying of an HBO reality show star and 3 other people.

Investigators said Brooke Phillips, a "Cathouse" prostitute from the show about a legal Nevada brothel, and another woman killed at an Oklahoma City drug dealer's home were both pregnant at the time. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty after a jury found both Denny Phillips, 38, and Russell Hogshooter, 38, guilty for 6 counts of murder and 1 count of conspiracy.

"6 people were gunned down and slaughtered," Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger said during closing arguments, according to The Oklahoman. "This is one of the most violent crimes I've ever seen. Actions of sheer evil were involved that night."

Gieger said Denny Phillips, who isn't related to the TV show star, was the "puppet master" who enlisted Hogshooter, and that "these 2 guys had the plan all along."

2 other men have already pleaded guilty to the Nov. 9, 2009, slayings. Investigators said Hogshooter attacked Brooke Phillips, 22, tortured her and set the home on fire as part of a plot to kill drug dealer Casey Mark Barrientos and eliminate the 3 women in the house as potential witnesses.

Moonlite BunnyRanch owner Dennis Hof, who appeared alongside Phillips on the show, told KFOR-TV he hopes to watch the two murderers get executed.

Missing brothel worker found, she was 'distraught' over Odom

"It was disgusting. I was crying in the courtroom. It's just terrible, it's killing me. This is a wonderful, caring, giving girl that all she wanted to do was have a baby," Hof said while tearing up outside court Monday night. "The BunnyRanch will never get over it. We miss her dearly."

A lawyer for Denny Phillips argued he had no reason to want Barrientos dead and that David Tyner, who pleaded guilty and testified that Phillips threatened to kill him if he didn't participate in the murders, was the one who was actually angry at Barrientos.

Hogshooter's lawyer questioned the accounts of Tyner and the other man who has pleaded guilty, Jonathan Cochran, and denied his client was at the 1-story brick South Oklahoma City home at the time of the killing.

An Oklahoma County jury convicted them both after 3 hours of discussion in the death penalty trial that started last month. Jurors were slated to begin deliberating over their sentences Tuesday.

(source: New York Daily News)


Prosecutors Show Body Cam Video At Albert Johnson Capital Murder Trial

On Monday morning, the jury in the Albert Johnson capital murder trial was shown body cam video from the first responders who responded to the crime scene.

That video was very hard for the victim's families to see. Many of them came out crying in the hallway of the courthouse after prosecutors began playing the tape.

Despite listening to hours of testimony and seeing the video for himself, Johnson did not show any emotion or remorse for the June 2014 attack.

Johnson remained stoic and silent and listened to both a police officer and police detective with The Village Police Department testify about what they saw when they responded to the 911 call coming from a home on Lakeside Drive.

They testified how there was blood all over the floor and the walls and how they found 24-year-old Rachel Rogers' unconscious body in one of the rooms.

The officers testified how they tried to give her CPR to save her life but it was too little too late.

The entire time, friends and family of Rogers and Johnson's former girlfriend were inside the courtroom, listening to every painful word.

They also saw all of the body cam footage from The Village Police Department as officers processed the crime scene and tended to the victims.

Johnson's legal team does not deny Johnson attacked both women, but said they are now fighting for his life.

Johnson is pleading guilty by reason of insanity for the attack that left Rogers dead, and not guilty to the rest of the 9 felony counts he faces.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in this case.



Trio Accused Of Contract Killing Plead Not Guilty

3 men accused of stabbing a woman to death last year and hiding her body in a shallow grave near Rockerville have pleaded not guilty to a variety of charges against them, including 1st-degree murder.

The 3 are facing life in prison or the death penalty for the apparent contract killing of 22-year-old Jessica Rehfeld. Investigators accuse Jonathon Klinetobe, Rehfeld's ex-boyfriend, of offering David Schneider and Richard Hirth money to kill Rehfeld. 2 other men charged as accessories to the murder have also pleaded not guilty. Klinetobe, Hirth, and Schneider are scheduled to appear for evidentiary hearings on June 20. Story from May 27, 2016 below.

A Pennington County grand jury has indicted 3 men accused in the contract killing of a Rapid City woman.

Jonathon Klinetobe, of Sturgis, Richard Hirth, of Rapid City, and David Schneider, also from Rapid City, face a number of charges, including 1st degree murder.

Last week, the 3 were arrested for the killing of Jessica Rehfeld. Police officials allege Klinetobe hired Hirth and Schneider to kill Rehfeld in May 2015. 1st degree murder carries a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum of the death penalty.



Judge wants update on Arizona's supply of execution drugs

A judge presiding over a lawsuit that protests the way Arizona carries out the death penalty has told lawyers to be prepared later this month to reveal the status of the state's supplies of lethal-injection drugs.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake says attorneys in the case also should be prepared at the June 29 hearing to discuss whether there are any issues to litigate in the lawsuit if execution drugs aren't currently available in Arizona.

Nearly a month ago, the judge ruled that condemned prisoners could press forward with the lawsuit.

The suit comes as the state has faced difficulties in obtaining drugs for executions.

Executions in Arizona are on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.

The lawsuit seeks more transparency in the state's execution process.

(source: Associated Press)


Arizona woman charged with stabbing 3 sons to death, hiding bodies in bedroom closet

An Arizona mother who prosecutors say stabbed her three young sons to death and stashed their bodies in a bedroom closet in her north Phoenix home has been indicted on murder charges, according to an indictment made public on Tuesday (June 14).

Octavia Rene Rogers, 29, was charged with 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of her sons, aged 2 months old, 5 years old and 8 years old, in the Maricopa County Superior Court indictment handed down on Monday.

Police said the 2 oldest boys, Jaikare Rahaman and Jeremiah Adams, were found partially dismembered amid clothes and boxes inside the closet. 2-month-old Avery Robinson was discovered in a suitcase.

The cause of death was multiple stab wounds to each child, police said.

Rogers was hospitalised with what the police described as self-inflicted stab wounds to her abdomen and neck on June 2 and booked into custody 3 days later.

The authorities were called to the house by Rogers' brother, who also lived there. He said Rogers, in a conversation in the garage, talked about religion and how she found the answer to life before locking him out. The brother broke in and found her bleeding and called 911.

Arriving officers found the bleeding woman in the bathtub, police said.

The woman initially said the children were being cared for elsewhere, but the authorities searched the home and found the 3 dead children.

It has not yet been determined whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty, a Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesman said.

(source: Reuters)


U.S. Attorney Nettles stepping down on eve of Roof trial ---- Sources: Nettles didn't want the federal government to seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof

Bill Nettles is retiring Wednesday as U.S. attorney for South Carolina, just before the federal death penalty prosecution of Dylann Roof, one of the highest-profile trials the state has seen.

In recent months, Nettles quietly lobbied high officials in the Justice Department not to seek the death penalty against Roof, the accused white supremacist killer of 9 African-Americans last June in a Charleston church, sources said.

Nettles, who usually signs major documents, noticeably did not sign the Justice Department's recent notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Roof.

To Nettles, a former criminal defense lawyer who represented a dozen clients in death penalty cases, it sufficed that state prosecutors were seeking the death penalty and had scheduled a January trial.

But Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who in May made the final decision to seek death, overruled Nettles. Now, the federal trial has been set for November, jumping ahead of the state's death-penalty trial.

In an interview, Nettles declined to confirm his position in the death penalty deliberations in the Roof case, the highest-profile criminal matter his office handled on his watch.

"I will say this, when I took the job, I joined a team. And there is no 'I' in team," said Nettles. "I am grateful to the attorney general. She allowed me to discuss with her my thoughts (on Roof). At the end of the day, I respect the decision she made and appreciate the opportunity to have been involved in the process."

Apart from the Roof case, for 6 years, Nettles has brought changes to how the federal government pursues South Carolina criminal and civil offenders, according to those close to the office and how it works.

Since 2010, Nettles has shifted the office's focus away from drug cases, instead prosecuting more white-collar crimes and getting involved in initiatives designed to prevent crime.

"It's time to go," Nettles, 54, said in a wide-ranging interview about leading the U.S. attorney's office, a band of some 60 prosecutors and civil attorneys who work with federal law agencies like the FBI, the DEA and the IRS to press charges statewide against wrongdoers.

"Our office's role is to get involved in South Carolina anytime the state government is unwilling or unable to act - civil rights, for example, and guns," said Nettles, who earns $154,000 yearly as the chief federal law enforcement official in South Carolina.

Under Nettles, federal prosecutors sent longtime Lexington County Sheriff James Metts to prison on a charge involving freeing illegal Mexican workers from his county jail, levied a $1 million fine against a major S.C. farm for employing undocumented workers, sent prominent Midlands lawyer Richard Breibart to prison for swindling nearly 100 clients out of millions and prosecuted a Blythewood man who had fleeced the Veterans Administration for more than $1 million in disability benefits.

However, the number of defendants charged with federal crimes each year in South Carolina while Nettles was in office dropped from 1,190 in Nettles' 1st year, to 828 in 2015.

"That's by design," Nettles said. "I shifted the focus from going after street level drug dealers - the state can prosecute those - to white collar crime and fraud cases."

But federal initiatives against big drug operations in South Carolina continue. The FBI and local law officers recently rounded up dozens of alleged drug violators in Sumter and Orangeburg counties.

Key initiatives overseen by Nettles include:

-- White collar crime. Under Nettles, the office began to focus on white collar crime, large and small.

"He showed there is more crime in South Carolina than just black crime," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP.

-- Public corruption. Nettles oversaw the cases of Metts, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants and served a year in prison; former Williamsburg County Sheriff Michael Johnson, who received 30 months in prison for a credit scheme; and former Lee County charter school director Benita Dinkins-Robinson, who received 42 months in prison for embezzling $1.5 million in federal funds.

-- Civil fraud cases against major corporations that were allegedly defrauding the federal government. In these cases, the government will file its own civil lawsuit against an alleged wrongdoer after a "whistleblower" brings the case to its attention.

In the past year, Nettles' office has brought whistleblower cases against Lexington Medical Center and a large Columbia-area physicians' group, Family Medical Centers, alleging that millions of dollars in Medicare billings were overbilled. The cases are pending.

"He has developed a national reputation in those cases," said Bart Daniel, U.S. attorney in South Carolina from 1989-92 who initiated the far-reaching General Assembly corruption scandal called "Lost Trust."

When Nettles took office, his lawyers were recovering only several million dollars a year in civil fraud cases. Now, with the civil litigation staff increased to 7 from 2 lawyers, his office is on track to recover $200 million in 2016. That money flows into the U.S. Treasury and pays for Nettles' 120-person office, with its annual $9 million budget, many times over.

Apart from prosecutions, some give Nettles high marks for reaching out to the South Carolina's large black population after several shootings of African-Americans in North Charleston, Columbia and North Augusta by white police officers.

"At one time or another, we would communicate about every officer-involved shooting that we had," said SLED chief Mark Keel in an interview. "We talked many times."

Nettles' involvement helped Keel - whose agency had initial responsibility for investigating the potentially explosive shootings by white officers - send a message to the African-American communities that both the federal and state government were taking the incidents seriously.

Nettles himself takes pride in what he calls "community-based law enforcement." These involved initiatives to reduce crime by methods other than the traditional prosecuting and sending someone to prison.

"We've opened avenues other than incarceration," Nettles said. "Our job is not to put people in prison - it is to make South Carolina a safer place."

For example, in Charleston and Columbia, Nettles worked with police, civic and church groups to rid small neighborhoods of drug dealers and keep them that way. His office started an outreach to adult and juvenile serious offenders, making it clear to them that once freed, they would be subject to stiff federal prison sentences -15 years minimum; far stiffer than state law provides - should they be found with a gun.

And he pioneered federal drug courts that allow some drug offenders, if they pass intensive screening, undergo drug counseling and become law-abiding citizens, they can avoid prison.

Nettles also did not emphasize long prison terms as much as some prosecutors.

For example, it was a federal judge, not Nettles, who insisted that Metts serve at least some time in federal prison for betraying the peoples' trust. Nettles' office had agreed to a non-prison sentence.

"Him pleading guilty and surrendering his career would have sufficed," Nettles said.

Nettles will be going into private practice, serving clients across the U.S. and state. His practice will include whistleblower and mediation cases, but he can't take any cases that he was involved with as U.S. attorney.

Asked what he will miss, Nettles laughed and said, "People probably won't return my calls as fast or laugh at my jokes."



Shahid Hamid murder case: Non-bailable arrest warrants issued for Altaf Hussain and 3 other MQM leaders

An anti-terrorism court has issued non-bailable warrants for Muttahida Qaumi Movement supremo Altaf Hussain and 3 other senior MQM leaders Nadeem Nusrat in the murder case of former KESC MD Shahid Hamid.

During the hearing on Wednesday, the Karachi police submitted the charge sheet in the court declaring Altaf Hussain and others absconder in the case. The ATC, later on, issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the MQM leaders.

Last month, the widow and son of Shahid Hamid identified the co-accused in his murder case, during an identification parade. Co-accused Minhaj Qazi was produced before a local court in Karachi for identification parade on May 24th, where widow of Shahid Hamid, Shehnaz Hamid and his son Umer Shahid Hamid identified him.

Saulat Mirza, the main accused in the case got the death penalty by the court and was hanged in Machh jail on 12 May, 2015.

Nadeem Nusrat and Altaf Hussain were convicted for plotting the murder of Shahid Hamid. Both the MQM leaders are not in the country and are likely to be brought back through the Interpol.

Shahid Hamid was murdered along with his driver Ashraf Brohi, and his guard Khan Akbar in the neighborhood of Defence Housing Authority, Karachi on the 5 July 1997.

(source: Daily Pakistan)


6 to hang for Ahsanullah Master murder

The High Court on Wednesday upheld death penalty for 6 people and life term for 3 accused on charge of killing former parliament member Ahsanullah Master in Gazipur's Tongi in 2004.

The 6 death row convicts are Nurul Islam Sarker, Nurul Islam Dipu, Mahbubur Rahman Mahbub, Shahidul Islam Sipu, Hafiz alias Kana Hafiz and Sohag alias Shuru.

The HC upheld life terms of Tipu and Nurul Amin.

The High Court bench, comprising justice Obaidul Hasan and justice Krishna Debnath, commuted death penalty of seven accused to life terms. They are Mohammad Ali, Syed Ahmed Hossain Majnu, Anwar Hossain alias Anu, Ratan Mia alias Baro Mia Ratan, Jahangir alias Chhoto Jahangir (1), Abu Salam alias Salam and Mashiur Rahman alias Monu.

A total of 11 people were acquitted in the murder case. Of them, 7 death row convicts - Amir Hossain, Jahangir alias Baro Jahangir, Faisal, Rony Mia alias Rony Fakir, Khokon, Lokman, and Dulal Mia - were acquitted by the High Court, while four lifers - Monir, Rakib Uddin Sarkar alias Pappu, Aiyub Ali and Jahangir - were also acquitted of the murder charge.

In 2005, a speedy Trial Tribunal sentenced 22 to death and awarded life term to 6 accused for the murder of Awami League leader Ahsanullah master. 17 of the convicts are in prison while 9 others are absconding.

2 of the death row convicts, Al Amin and Ratan alias Chhoto Ratan, died.

Hearing on the appeal against the verdict began in January this year, which concluded in June.



Controversial Muslim cleric leaves country

A Muslim cleric who has previously suggested the death sentence for gay people has left Australia following a public outcry at his entry into the country for a speaking tour.

British-born Farrokh Sekaleshfar has boarded a flight at Sydney Airport on Tuesday night after it emerged his visa was under review, according to the ABC.

His Sydney tour came under fire in the wake of the Orlando massacre at a gay nightclub after a video emerged of the Muslim leader preaching death as a compassionate sentence for homosexuals.

Mr Sekaleshfar said he made the "voluntary decision" to leave Australia and his visa, which had been under review by the immigration department, had not been cancelled.

"All I want to say, because I know this got caught up in the political area and everything, that never have I incited hatred or violence against human beings," he told the ABC at Sydney Airport.

The cleric had been slated to give a talk at the Imam Husian Islamic Centre in Earlwood, but he said they asked him to leave.

"It is a decision that IHIC thought it was in my best interests and for the best interests of the community and I didn't want to go against the committee's decision," he said.

Mr Sekaleshfar told the ABC he condemned the Orlando attack, where 49 people were killed and more than 50 others injured by a gunman.

He said the death penalty should only apply in Islamic countries when homosexual sex was committed in public view.

In a 2013 YouTube video titled "Islam and Homosexuality", the cleric delivered a talk at the University of Michigan where he said if homosexuals died they would sin less.

"Out of compassion let's get rid of them now, because he's contaminating society ... his eternal life will be saved to some degree rather than if we were to let him continue with his ways," he said in the video.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier said he had zero tolerance for hate preachers wanting to come to Australia.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the man was not welcome in Australia with his abhorrent views.

"I don't know how on earth that fellow got a visa," he told reporters in Perth.


JUNE 14. 2016:


Man facing Capital Murder charge for death of EPPD officer pleads 'not guilty'

The man accused of intentionally crashing into police officer David Ortiz pleaded 'not guilty' in court Tuesday morning.

45-year-old John Paul Perry is charged with Capital Murder and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle, the same vehicle he allegedly drove into Officer Ortiz's motorcycle in East El Paso, killing him.

ABC-7 learned Tuesday Joe Spencer is Perry's new court-appointed defense attorney.

"We just got appointed late last week. I visited with Mr. Perry and I'm very confident after visiting with him, that Mr. Perry did not intentionally mean to cause any harm to anyone," Spencer said.

Spencer said the district attorney's office has to make a decision on whether it intends to seek the death penalty. "We're going to wait for that decision. I think the judge gave them a pretty short deadline and hopefully by next week we're going to know what that decision is and we'll be able to proceed with this case.

ABC-7 has confirmed with Sheriff's officials that Perry, believed to be a member of the Barrio Azteca gang, is being held at the Downtown jail in "separation," meaning he is being kept away from the general population.

Police charged Perry with Capital Murder, claiming he intentionally ran over Officer Ortiz.

Perry was also charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. That vehicle is the 2006 Kia Optima that Perry allegedly drove into Ortiz's motorcycle at an East Side stop light on March 10.

ABC-7 spoke with the owners of the Kia Optima listed on the incident police report, but they said they sold the car more than two years ago and it was apparently never re-registered by the new owner. They could not recall who they sold the vehicle to.

(source: KVIA news)


Tommy Zeigler trial plagued by 'significant' problems, report says

An investigative journalism center on Monday published a critical probe of death-ow inmate William "Tommy" Zeigler's 1976 trial, finding that evidence supporting his innocence went overlooked by authorities who investigated the quadruple murder inside his Winter Garden furniture store.

The new report by students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism comes as a judge considers Zeigler's latest request for DNA testing, an attempt to prove he did not kill his wife, in-laws and a customer 40 years ago on Christmas Eve. It also adds to a growing body of work that questions Zeigler's conviction, including a television movie and a book.

In particular, the report examines new ballistic evidence and what would have been the testimony of 2 key witnesses who were never called to the trial. The students also interviewed Zeigler, now 70, 3 times at Union Correctional Institution near Raiford.

"The students' findings challenge, in many ways, the basic foundations of the entire prosecution," said Alec Klein, the professor who leads the award-winning, national investigative journalism center. "Given that a person's life is on the line here, facing the death penalty, I wonder how the court could justify not allowing Tommy Zeigler to go forward with the DNA testing."

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office has stood by Zeigler's conviction over the decades. Most recently, prosecutors opposed a pending request to have blood-stained clothing from the crime scene retested with more modern DNA techniques. At a March hearing, Assistant Kenneth Nunnelley cited 2 previous opinions from the Florida Supreme Court, which found that evidence about whose blood was on Zeigler's shirt wasn't enough to exonerate him.

Since Zeigler's 1976 trial, prosecutors have alleged Zeigler planned the murders because he wanted to claim his wife's insurance policies, and he shot himself in the stomach to make him seem like a victim too. Eunice Zeigler, her parents Perry and Virginia Edwards and store customer Charles Mays were killed. Zeigler argued they were attacked in a store robbery instigated by Mays.

The Medill report contends it's "practically unheard of" for a person seeking to cover up a crime to choose such a risky - even deadly - way. An analysis of the gunshot wound to Zeigler's lower torso shows he would have used his non-dominant left hand, based on the angle of the bullet, to shoot himself and did not press the muzzle to his body for stability. More often, cover-up attempts include shots to limbs, Klein said.

The report also zeroes in on 2 witnesses, Ken and Linda Roach, who said they drove by the store around the time of the masscre and heard 12 to 15 gunshots within four seconds. An expert interviewed in the story said it's "virtually impossible" for 1 person to fire a single person to fire a non-automatic weapon so quickly, lending more credibility to Zeigler's claim that he and his family were attacked by a group of people led by Mays.

The Roaches told Medill that authorites weren't intersted in their account and didn't tell them how to contact Zeigler's attorneys. 1 of Zeigler's trial attorneys brought up the Roach evidence in a 1986 appeal to a federal appellate court, which won Zeigler's a temporary stay from impending execution.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


7 Sunni Prisoners Sentenced to Death by the Revolutionary Court

On May 25, 2016, the death sentences of 7 Sunni prisoners in Rajai Shahr prison was notified to them. This verdict was issued by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court headed by judge Moghiseh.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), Davood Abdollahi, Kamran Sheikhi, Farhad Salimi, Anvar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat, Ghasem Abesteh and Ayoub Karimi, are the 7 Sunnis prisoners who were detained since December 7, 2009 and have been sentenced to death.

The hearing of these prisoners had been held at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court headed by judge Moghiseh, on May 25, 2016.

The prisoners appealed in writing so the case will be reviewed by the Supreme Court for the final result.

They did not have the opportunity to defend themselves in the court and were not allowed to benefit from the presence of a lawyer of their own choosing.

The Sunni prisoners have been sentenced to death by the judiciary on charges of acting against national security, propaganda against the system, membership in the Salafist groups, corruption on earth and Muharebeh. The details about their activities have not be published by authorities and judicial organs.

According to the information which HRANA was provided with, the defendants denied involvement in armed conflicts and said that they had been arrested only because of their believes and religious activities such as attending meetings and distributing religious literature.

It is worth noting that HRANA has previously published the names of 27 death row Sunni prisoners in Rajai Shahr prison whose sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

(source: HRA News Agency)


Inmate's Sudden Execution Reignites Death Penalty Controversy in Taiwan----Taiwan's former justice minister has stirred up controversy over the death penalty in Taiwan.

"There was nothing extraordinary about his life, because every person's life is invaluable, and every soul has the same high significance." Such were the words of Taiwan's former Justice Minister Luo Ying-shay, after she approved the execution of death row inmate Cheng Chieh last month.

Uproar ensued.

23 at the time of his death, Cheng had gone on a stabbing spree on Taipei's metro 2 years ago, taking 4 lives and injuring over 20. He was dubbed the "Monster of the Metro" by local media outlets including Apple Daily and the United Daily News, and showed little to no remorse in both interrogation and the trials that followed.

In late-April, he received a death sentence. 19 days later, he was dead. It was what Cheng had longed for: during interrogation, he informed prosecutors that he had set out to kill people so he would be given death penalty in return. "I wanted to commit suicide, but I'm afraid it would hurt too much."

The crudeness of the excuse was not lost on the Taiwanese people, many of whom called for his death online.

A week before the new government stepped into office, the Ministry of Justice held a press conference, shortly after Luo decided to carry out Cheng's death sentence at night.

His lawyer and family had not been notified, and Luo's reasoning was that, "If we announced the execution beforehand, none of the death penalties would be carried out. Relevant people would only continue to seek retrials and extraordinary appeal."

Luo's reasoning was shocking: it sounded like the Justice Minister had created her own loophole in the judiciary system to defy the legal procedure every Taiwanese citizen is granted by law.

Luo ordered Cheng's immediate death because, even behind bars, he posed as an "immense threat to the society's stability and security," and his death would serve as a reminder for those tempted to kill for the same reasons.

Despite Cheng's unacceptable rationale for his actions and long history of demonstrating a love for violence (as shown on his blog and in conversations with classmates), many people in Taiwan also saw Luo's sudden order to execute Cheng as an atrocity. Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi spoke to the media shortly after Cheng's death, saying that, "We can not allow the government to decide if the need for procedural justice is essential under different circumstances." Inexcusable Abandonment of Due Process?

As brutal as the crime had been and as important as it was to remind the community that such actions would not be overlooked, Cheng deserves to be walked through the complete judiciary procedure with his legal team and his family deserves to be notified before his death.

How long should the government wait, from the moment when a death sentence is finalized until the actual execution? In Cheng's case, the government has chosen the simplest and most "convenient" manner by which to end one of the most complex social issues existing, said Taiwanese lawmaker Tuan Yi-kang.

Tuan supports the abolition of Taiwan's death penalty. Those who were against abolition were quick to blame the anti-death camp for several homicide cases that occurred in the 2 years following Cheng's crime, saying that potential murderers are on the prowl because they knew the government does not take the death penalty seriously.

It may, of course, take many generations to accept the relatively newer concept of a judiciary system that forgoes the death penalty. It may take possibly even longer for this concept to be adopted and implemented; but, in the meantime, the government should look into Cheng's case, hopefully turning this negative incident into a positive lesson for Taiwanese society.

Killing people on the metro is an act of violence and so are the gunshots that rang through the night Cheng died. The state is granted the right to carry out this specific type of violence because it is codified in the law - law that is solidified by social recognition. Nevertheless, this does not change the nature of the violence enacted by the state.

Luo has denied vehemently that Cheng's life became a pawn in Taiwan's most significant power exchange in history, but in the eyes of many, she has proven to the people that top government officials have no respect for the law or for a human life.

(source: The Diplomat)


Family concern over journalist held without charge in Bangladesh ---- Magazine editor, aged 81, could face death penalty if charged with sedition

An elderly British-Bangladeshi journalist facing a potential death sentence has been denied bail by a Bangladesh court. Now his family fears for his health while under detention.

I reported 2 months ago that Shafik Rehman, a prominent 81-year-old journalist, had been arrested on a charge of sedition and remanded in custody. But he has not been charged.

He applied for bail, which was denied at a hearing last Tuesday (7 June), following several weeks in solitary confinement, without a bed. He was taken to hospital last month and remains in a hospital wing of Dhaka central jail.

It is thought that the arrest of Rehman, a former speechwriter for the opposition Bangladesh National Party, was politically-motivated.

The authorities have suggested that he will be charged over an alleged plot to kidnap the son of the Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

But the government has not provided any evidence to support the existence of a kidnap plot, or Rehman's involvement in it. In 2015, a US judge - who had reviewed similar plot allegations as part of a separate American trial - dismissed the allegations on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Rehman's incarceration comes amid criticism of the Bangladeshi government following a series of recent attacks and arrests involving journalists, bloggers and opposition activists.

In last month's human rights report on Bangladesh, Britain's foreign office called for "an effective justice system" in the country and "a vibrant civil society and free media, able to challenge and hold authority to account."

Rehman's family are being assisted by the human rights organisation, Reprieve. The director of its death penalty team, Maya Foa, said: "It is deeply worrying that the Bangladeshi authorities have seen fit to deny bail to an elderly journalist, in what is clearly part of a wider crackdown on the government's critics."

She pointed out that the authorities have failed to make any case against him. "Meanwhile, his family in Britain are desperately worried that he could face the death penalty, or that his health will fail in detention."

Foa called on the UK "and other countries with close ties to Bangladesh" to urge Rehman's release "before it's too late."

For many years, Rehman edited Jai Jai Din, a mass-circulation Bengali daily. More recently, until his arrest, he edited a popular monthly magazine, Mouchake Dhil.

(source: The Guardian)


Death penalty won't stop crime, but could reduce ranks of poor

In a sense, the propagandists are right: the Duterte administration will "hit the ground running." Despite the frail composition of the incoming Cabinet, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is showing unquestionable resolve in at least 2 areas - 1, in his proposed collaboration with the communists, and 2, in his proposed reimposition of the death sentence. In both cases, the implementation appears to precede even his formal assumption of office.

The announced resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party/New People's Army/National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway follows, rather than precedes, the announced decision of the incoming President Duterte to name nominees of the CPP/NPA/NDF to his Cabinet, thereby launching a coalition government with the Left.

This is an inversion of the correct process. Ideally, the Cabinet appointments should have come only after a comprehensive peace agreement has been concluded between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF.

This subject is more elaborately treated in a paper written by former National Security Adviser and Secretary of National Defense Norberto B. Gonzales (The Philippine Road Map to Communism), and appearing on the National Transformation Council Facebook page and the NTC Website.

Reviving the death sentence

With respect to the proposed reimposition of the death sentence, Duterte's announced support for vigilantism has gained strong support from local executives and police chiefs, who have put up bounties on the head of notorious drug trafficking suspects. Duterte's intended P1 billion bounty for the death of thousands of drug dealers has drawn an immediate response from 20 alleged drug lords, who are reported to have decided to raise a P1 billion kitty for the assassination of Duterte and the new Philippine National Police chief.

Duterte has drawn enthusiastic support from the incoming members of the new Congress who have abandoned their old sinking ship to board Duterte's adopted flag carrier, the PDP-Laban, which used to have not more than a handful of members. They are eager to support the reimposition of the death sentence, which the 1987 Constitution has abolished, except for certain heinous crimes which Congress may define for "compelling reasons."

The political butterflies are more than eager to pass the needed law, as though it were no more than a city ordinance.

At the Senate, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, who expects to be crowned Senate President despite his being the only PDP member of the Senate, said the death penalty should be in place by October, four months after the 1st regular session of the 17th Congress opens on July 25. There was no mention of the need for extended debate, so it appears that the decision to reimpose the death sentence could precede the formal proposal for its reinstatement.

Atienza's dissent

Except for Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza, three times Mayor of Manila and Cabinet member under the Arroyo administration, no incoming member of Congress has expressed any strong misgivings about the proposed reimposition, and the kneejerk reaction to it in the social media and various other places.

While fully supporting Duterte's proposed war on crime, Atienza, a pillar of the national pro-life movement, has warned that reimposition of the death sentence would be the wrong solution to crime. His objection is grounded on high moral ground and a wealth of empirical evidence. At least 102 countries have abolished the capital sentence, and among those that still have it in their books, 38 have not carried it out in the last 10 years. This is a trend the world can hardly ignore.

Weighing in

I am fundamentally against the capital sentence, and this is not the first time I am compelled to weigh in.

In 1992, on the 1st year of my 1st term in the Senate, seven Senate bills sought to impose the appropriate penalties for certain heinous crimes. All except one proposed the death penalty as the maximum. This was consistent with Article III, Section 19 of the Constitution, which provides: "Excessive fine shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall 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."

When the 7 bills were consolidated, the committee in charge chose to scale down the proposed penalty from death to reclusion perpetua. Sen. Jose Lina Jr., the committee chair, asked me to co-sponsor the committee report, and on Nov. 18, 1992, I delivered my sponsorship speech on the floor of the Senate. My speech, "The Death Penalty Will Not Solve Crime," has since been reproduced in a number of publications, and appears in one of my books of Senate speeches, "Guarding the Public Trust." I revisited it the other day, and found that none of the premises have changed.

Against UN accord

Now, as then, the reimposition of the capital sentence would violate or at least disavow a formal and solemn commitment of the Philippine government when it acceded to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Second Optional Protocol on Jan. 23, 1987, which provides: "No one within the jurisdiction of a (signatory) state shall be executed." And no party to the agreement may do anything to prevent or delay the abolition of the capital sentence.

What are we now to say to the rest of the world, were we to turn around and do the exact opposite of what we had committed to do under the Covenant and its companion protocol?

Shall we simply say, "Sorry we did not know what we signed, and we have now changed our mind"? Or shall we say, "there is a general breakdown of law and order, and the restoration of the death penalty is the only way to solve crime"? This was what we heard then, and this is what we are hearing again now. What, if any, has changed? 24 years ago I said:

“Our citizens despair of protection not only from criminals but also from those who are supposed to protect them from criminals. Rightly or wrongly - fairly or unfairly - many among them have learned to believe that they are as much in danger from the police as they are from criminals. Rightly or wrongly - fairly or unfairly - they have come to believe that the justice system does not work; that nobody is ever arrested anywhere anymore; or if that criminals do get arrested, they are never tried; if tried, they are never convicted; if convicted, they are not made to suffer the remorse of living hell but given the privileges of honored guests in a pre-paid inn.

"That is the heart of the problem. If we miss that, then we miss everything. We end up trying to cure everything except the disease that needs to be cured, or trying to cure one disease with a cure meant for another. This is what the proposal to reimpose capital punishment means.

"Were the death penalty reinstated today, it would probably be met with cheers from among its proponents. For a while it would satisfy their cry for blood and raise their expectations about the government's capability to combat crime. But it is the wrong solution and because it is the wrong solution to a serious social problem, it will do no such thing. In the end, it would simply frustrate and enrage the majority when they see that criminals still went unpunished and the increased penalty has not deterred crime.

Need for reforms

"The solution to the problem does not lie here. It lies somewhere else. It lies in reform. Reform the police and law-enforcement agencies. Reform the prosecution arm of the government. Reform the judiciary and the legal profession. Reform the prison system. Reform the social and political institutions. Reform the media and the educational system. Reform the society as a whole.

"Do all these and the state will not need to execute a single criminal to make justice and the law, and the people's faith in them, live again. Look for the solution elsewhere, and the state will remain powerless to deal with crime, even if the government combined the harshest cruelties of the Mosaic Law, the Code of Hammurabi and King Nebuchadnezzar and decreed the execution of the entire village along with every condemned individual."

St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest philosopher of all time, grants that under certain conditions, the State, in the exercise of its right of self-defense, may execute a criminal.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms the moral validity of this proposition when the death penalty is the only available means to protect the society from a grave threat to human life; although never when other means more respectful of human life are available to punish criminals and protect society from them. The advance of human civilization has rendered the killing of criminals by the state virtually unnecessary and non-existent.

The fallible state

There are grave practical reasons for this too. The State is not infallible, and should be able to correct its mistakes. But the death penalty is irrevocable, irreparable and irreversible once carried out; it can no longer be corrected even after it is shown to have been a mistake - and there are many instances when the penalty was shown to have been a mistake.

But does it not at least deter crime?

This is the biggest and loudest argument behind the proposal. Many seem to believe, to use Arthur Koestler's words, that legal murder by the state prevents the illegal murder by criminals, "just as the Persians believed that whipping the sea would calm the storm."

This, however, is not supported by the evidence. Albert Pierrepoint, the last century's most famous and longest employed executioner, said before he died that capital punishment never deterred anyone from committing a capital crime.

Criminals don't learn

Koestler records, as does Camus, that at a time when England used to hang pickpockets, other pickpockets worked the crowd that watched the hanging. They usually chose the time when the strangled man was swinging above them to exercise their talents, because they knew that everybody's eyes were fixed on the wretched creature at the scaffold. Of 250 pickpockets who were hanged, says Camus, 170 had previously attended 1 or 2 executions. In 1886, out of 167 condemned men who had gone through the Bristol prison, 164 had witnessed at least 1 execution.

Prior to the abolition of capital sentence by the 1987 Constitution, death convicts used to pack the national penitentiary to the brim, while awaiting execution. Among these hundreds, if not thousands, of death convicts, not more than a handful came from well-to-do families; almost all had wretched economic and social backgrounds. Did this mean that only the poor were capable of committing capital crimes?

By no means. But it means they had no means to hire good lawyers, or to bribe the police, the fiscals and the judges in order to escape arrest, prosecution or punishment. This situation has not changed at all. The poor still lie at the bottom of the criminal justice system. So a revival of the death sentence can only revive that same outrageous situation.

The death penalty will not solve crime. But if and when the state begins to kill again, it would be killing the poor and only the poor. So while the secretary of central economic planning tries to limit new births to a maximum of three children per family, and the new anti-life and anti-family members of the Senate try to railroad same-sex marriage and other means of population control, capital punishment could be used to drastically reduce the ranks of the poor on the other end. So if it doesn't work to solve crime, it could probably be justified as an "anti-poverty measure."

(source: Francisco Tatad, The Manila Times)


Man who killed 6 people during a shooting spree in Shanghai executed

A man who killed 6 people, including a soldier, and injured 4 others in Shanghai in 2013, has been executed by the Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court, the court announced today.

Fan Jieming, 65, was convicted of murder and robbery, and illegal possession of guns, was given the death penalty in July last year.

The 6 who died during the shooting spree included 4 of Fan's colleagues, with whom he had disputes over company matters, an unlicensed taxi driver, a military sentinel from whom he stole the gun.

(source: Shanghai Daily)


Death penalty for Algerian who killed Chinese man upheld

An Algerian man who murdered a Chinese man and stole more than Dh1 million from him has failed in his appeal against a death sentence.

The Court of Appeal heard there was conclusive evidence to show that the murder was premeditated as he had been monitoring his victim's movements for 3 days before committing the crime.

On the day of the murder, he entered the Chinese man's building armed with a knife and wooden stick and attacked him in the lift, reported Aletihad, the sister newspaper of The National.

He then stabbed the Chinese man twice, killing him instantly, before running away with the victim's briefcase, which contained Dh1.02 million in cash.

(source: The National)


lanco County man indicted in baby's death----John Lawrence, 24, charged with capital murder, aggravated sexual assault

A Blanco County man has been indicted by a grand jury in the death of a 14-month-old baby girl.

John Lawrence, 24, is charged with capital murder and aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 6 in the death of Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort.

Lawrence and the child's mother, Jamie Petronella, 23, were arrested in May after police were called to their home in Blanco when the baby stopped breathing.

Sunny died at University Hospital.

Petronella was indicted on charges of injury to a child by omission. She could face 5 to 99 years or life in prison, if convicted. Lawrence could face the death penalty.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the case.

(source: KSAT news)


Ga. man pleads guilty in killings of woman, homeless man

A man accused of killing 3 homeless men and a woman walking to her car pleaded guilty Monday to murder and other charges in 2 of the deaths just outside Atlanta and received 2 consecutive life sentences without a chance of parole.

Aeman Presley entered the pleas Monday in DeKalb County Superior Court, telling Judge Gregory A. Adams that he does "accept and take full responsibility for the crimes I have committed."

DeKalb County prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for the 35-year-old Presley in the December 2014 shooting of hair stylist Karen Pearce and had also charged him in the September 2014 killing of Calvin Gholston. He still faces charges in the fatal shootings of 2 homeless men in neighboring Fulton County, and prosecutors there are seeking the death penalty.

Presley's attorneys Jerilyn Bell and Crystal Bice said he accepts "unmitigated responsibility." They still believe, though, that he has a form of schizophrenia which played a role in the killings. They declined on Monday to discuss the possibility of a plea in Fulton County and said the case there is moving forward. A spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard declined comment on Monday.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James said a guilty plea that ensured Presley could never be released was the best resolution. He also expressed reluctance to pursue the death penalty when a defendant is willing to accept responsibility and a life sentence.

"The most important thing for us was a sentence where he would never see the light of day again," James said. "Someone that commits such a random act of violence ... deserves to be in jail for the rest of their life."

Police have said Presley shot Gholston, 53, multiple times as he slept outside a shopping center near Atlanta on Sept. 27, 2014. A woman who found Gholston's body told officers he had been living in an alleyway near the shopping center for at least 2 months, according to a police report.

He then killed Dorian Jenkins, 42, on Nov. 23, 2014, followed by Tommy Mims, 68, on Nov. 26, 2014, police have said. Both men were homeless and were wrapped in blankets sleeping on the sidewalk in Atlanta when police say Presley shot them to death. Jenkins was shot 5 times and Mims 7 times in what police described as "overkill."

Just over a week later, on Dec. 6, 2014, Pearce, 44, was robbed and fatally shot as she walked to her car after a dinner out with friends in downtown Decatur, just outside Atlanta.

A statement from Pearce's parents read aloud on Monday said she was studying to become a nurse and wanted to help others. The statement said Pearce's mother frequently has nightmares about her daughter's final moments and described the family as "shocked to the core of our being."

"Our hearts suffer from the deepest wound from which it will never recover," the statement read.

Presley later read aloud from a pre-written statement, saying he is "not a serial killer" and wants his daughter and 2 sons living in other states "to know what taking responsibility for your actions truly is."

"What I did was ungodly, unrighteous and dishonorable and plain wrong," he said, speaking quietly but clearly. "Although I can't change the past for your loved ones, for you or even for myself, I can only apologize to the families, the friends and the loved ones."

(source: Associated Press)


Murder case headed for August trial----Prosecutors to seek death penalty for parents in child's death

Prospective jurors will be questioned in groups of 3 for Mauricio Torres' capital murder trial.

Torres, 46, and his wife, Cathy Torres, 44, of Bella Vista are charged with capital murder and 1st-degree battery in the death of their son. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Mauricio Torres and Cathy Torres are being held without bond in the Benton County Jail. Cathy Torres is scheduled to appear in court at 8:30 a.m. today for a hearing in her case.

Maurice Isaiah Torres, 6, was pronounced dead at an area hospital on March 29, 2015. A medical examiner determined the boy suffered from chronic child abuse, and his death was from internal injuries caused by rape, according to court documents.

Jeff Rosenzweig, one of Mauricio Torres' attorneys, requested Monday prospective jurors be questioned individually. Rosenzweig was concerned prospective jurors could be tainted by listening to the responses of other people. Nathan Smith, Benton County prosecutor, objected to individual questioning.

Circuit Judge Brad Karren denied Rosenzweig's request. Karren will use the same format used to select juries in past death penalty cases in Benton County. Jury selection is scheduled to begin 1 p.m. Aug. 22.

Prospective jurors will report to Circuit Judge Robin Green's court where Karren will do the initial questioning. Jurors will then be put in groups of three and given a time to report back for jury selection.

That format was used in Zachary Holly's murder trial. Holly was found guilty of killing a Bentonville girl and sentenced to death. Four panels of prospective jurors were questioned each day, and it took 4˝ days to select the jury for Holly's case.

Karren also took under advisement a motion concerning whether prosecutors will attempt to enter testimony concerning Mauricio Torres abusing other children.

Rosenzweig said it was the defense's opinion any physical abuse concerning someone else should be excluded.

Smith said the prosecution's only witness in the guilt phase is one of Maurice Isaiah Torres' sisters. The boy lived with his parents and 2 sisters. The 2 girls were put into Arkansas Department of Human Services custody after their parents' April 2015 arrest.

The girl's testimony concerns only abuse to her brother, Smith said. Karren will rule on the issue if it comes up at trial.

Karren also denied a defense motion seeking to declare the state's death penalty unconstitutional. Those type of motions routinely are filed in death penalty cases.

Karren still must rule on a suppression motion filed by the defense. Torres' attorneys want to prevent statements he gave to Bella Vista police from being used as evidence against him. The suppression hearing will be at 9 a.m. July 29.

The Torreses also were arrested in connection with rape, but prosecutors didn't include that offense in the charging documents because the suspected rape occurred in Missouri, not in Benton County, Smith said.



7th Oklahoma death row inmate now eligible for execution date

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the final appeal on Monday of Oklahoma death row inmate Scott Eizember, whose 2003 crime spree resulted in the deaths of an elderly couple.

Since Eizember has exhausted his appeals, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt would normally ask the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set an execution date.

However, Pruitt has asked that all executions be delayed until the Oklahoma Department of Corrections finishes a report on the state's lethal injection process. Pruitt told the state appeals court in January that it would be inappropriate to move forward with executions while the protocol is being investigated.

Pruitt said he would not request an execution date until at least 150 days after the corrections department has issued its report.

The state has not executed an inmate since January 2015.

There are now 7 Oklahoma death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals.

The investigation of the state's lethal injection protocol was prompted by the discovery that a pharmacy had delivered the wrong drugs for the Sept. 30 execution of Richard Glossip.

Before that, the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection protocol had gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was narrowly upheld. The challenge stemmed from the trouble-plagued execution in 2013 of Clayton Lockett.

Eizember, who is now 55, was given the death penalty for killing A.J. Cantrell in the Creek County town of Depew.

Eizember had taken Cantrell and his wife, Patsy, hostage in their home; A.J. Cantrell grabbed his shotgun and shot at Eizember, but his shot killed his own wife. Eizember then beat Cantrell to death with the gun.

Eizember was convicted of 2nd-degree felony murder for Patsy Cantrell's death.

After killing Cantrell, he shot a man and beat a woman who were related to his ex-girlfriend and lived across the street from the Cantrells. After days in hiding, he forced a couple to drive him to Texas, then beat the husband and tried to shoot the wife before he was captured.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his arguments last year that 2 jurors in his trial should have been excused because they were improperly biased in favor of the death penalty.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined without comment to review the appeals court decision.

(source: The Oklahoman)


3 of the 5 men arrested for the death of Jessica Rehfeld plead not guilty

3 men accused of killing 22-year-old Jessica Rehfeld last May each pled "not guilty" in court Monday.

Jonathan Klinetobe, Rehfeld's ex- boyfriend allegedly hired David Schneider and Richard Hirth to kill Rehfeld.

They each face 2 counts of 1st degree murder.

1 of those counts will be dropped, depending on the evidence the prosecutor gathers.

The murder charges carry a maximum penalty of death.

The defendants also face conspiracy and kidnapping charges, each of which are punishable by up to life imprisonment.

The men will appear in court again on June 20th for a motions hearing.

(source: KOTA TV news)


Man Accused of Murder in Husband's Death Appears in Court

A Utah man appeared in court Monday for the 1st time since being charged with aggravated murder and arson in the house-fire death of his estranged husband, an LGBT pioneer and restaurateur in Salt Lake City.

Craig Crawford, 47, spoke to a judge through a jail video link during the brief hearing held to inform him of the charges. He spoke little, only answering "yes, ma'am" when asked to confirm his name.

His lawyer Jim Bradshaw waived a formal reading of the charges and another hearing was set for July 1. Bradshaw declined to comment outside court.

Crawford is accused of starting the late-night fire to kill his husband, John Williams, 1 of the first openly gay people in Utah's business community in the 1970s.

Williams, 72, died on May 22 after being trapped on the 4th floor of his home when flames engulfed a staircase. Prosecutors said Crawford watered the plants outside while it burned.

Firefighters heard Williams' screams for help but couldn't get inside until they climbed ladders and cut through an exterior wall. They found Williams dead of smoke inhalation in a bedroom.

Crawford could face the death penalty if he is convicted.

The blaze started less than three weeks after Williams filed for divorce from Crawford following a decade-long relationship.

Williams had said he was afraid of his estranged husband and sought a temporary restraining order that was rejected, according to court documents.

Williams owned the popular Market Street Grill and New Yorker restaurants, among other establishments.

(source: Associated Press)


Utah lawmaker wants to speed up death penalty process

A Utah lawmaker is once again targeting the death penalty.

Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), well known for bringing the firing squad back to Utah, says inmates sit on death row too long.

He wants them to die quicker.

"If you're sentenced to die, you're going to die for doing that," Ray said.

The Republican plans to look for ways to shorten the process, holding up 2 states -- Virginia and Texas -- as examples.

"Typically, 7 to 10 years is how long somebody's on death row" in those states, Ray said. "We may look at putting in some of the measures that they have to expedite the time on death row."

Utah has 9 inmates on death row. All but 1 have remained there more than 15 years.

Every time Ray touches the death penalty on Utah's Capitol Hill, it ignites a political firestorm. That will be the case this time as well.

"I don't understand his fascination with the death penalty," said Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Hart says Ray's latest effort is contrary to Utah values.

"If that process is shortened, Utah would be joining other states like Virginia and Texas who I don't think value human life like Utah does," Hart said.

Ray says he expects opposition, but he still plans to bring this issue to Capitol Hill on Wednesday in the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. After studying it, Ray hopes to draft a bill later this fall.

Last session the Utah Senate passed a bill that would get rid of the death penalty, but that bill failed in the House.

(source: KUTV news)


SC weighs in on Dylann Roof and the death penalty

A new University of South Carolina poll says most African-American South Carolinians don't think Dylann Roof should get the death penalty. They say it won't bring justice and the accused Charleston church shooter should instead face life without parole.

On the other hand most Caucasian South Carolinians said Roof should get the death penalty.

The same poll found most people, regardless of race, supported the decision to charge former North Charleston officer Michael Slager with murder in the shooting death of Walter Scott.

They were also nearly unanimous in wanting more police officers to wear body cameras.

The majority of African-Americans polled also said police are too quick to use deadly force.

(source: WSPA news)


Robins airman found guilty of striking tech sergeant in 2nd trial

A military jury on Friday found Senior Airman Charles Amos Wilson III guilty on charges he struck a technical sergeant who was his girlfriend at the time of their altercation.

Wilson was sentenced to 6 months of confinement and a reduction in rank from senior airman, the Macon Telegraph reports. He was found not guilty on other related charges in this case.

Proceedings against Wilson, 28, assigned to the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, were broken up into 3 courts-martial in April.

On June 2, during his 1st court-martial, Wilson was found not guilty of felony murder, aggravated arson, conspiracy and other charges in the death of friend Demetrius Hardy, a civilian employee at Robins, as part of what authorities described as an insurance-fraud scheme. Prosecutors had alleged that Hardy set fire to Wilson's trailer so the 2 men could collect insurance money. Hardy died several days later from injuries sustained in the blaze.

Wilson will stand trial 1 more time for the alleged premeditated murder of his fiancee, Tameda Ferguson, and her unborn child in 2013. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

(source: Air Force Times)


Stall attendant faces death penalty for rape, murder

The trial of a general goods kiosk attendant accused of raping and killing a 9-year-old girl in October last year began at the West Jakarta District Court on Monday.

The defendant, Agus Dermawan, alias Agus Pea, 39, is being charged under articles 340 and 338 of the Criminal Code on premeditated murder and murder, respectively, both of which carry a maximum penalty of death.

"The defendant is also being charged under Article 76D of the Child Protection Law on forcing a child to have sexual intercourse," Agus' lawyer Restu Sri Utomo said after the closed-door preliminary hearing at the court.

Article 76D carries a maximum penalty of 15 years behind bars and Rp 15 billion (US$1.1 million) in fines.

Monday's hearing was closed to the public because the case dossier contains subject matter that has been deemed inappropriate for the public.

Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment regarding what evidence they will submit to support their case.

However, the Jakarta Police have previously said that DNA tests had confirmed that several droplets of blood found on a mattress at Agus' house were from the victim.

Investigators also found Agus' DNA on a sock that was allegedly used to cover the victim's mouth so she could not scream while he was committing the rape.

The alleged rape and murder hit the headlines and became the talk of the city's residents around 8 months ago after the body of the victim, Putri Nur Fauziah, was found inside a cardboard box in Kalideres on Oct. 2 last year.

It took around 8 days for police investigators to arrest Agus because, as the police said, he had destroyed most of the evidence.

Agus, who the police said was close to the victim's parents, allegedly disposed of the cardboard box near a road located around 7 kilometers from his home. He then returned home and burned pieces of evidence such as a school bag, uniform and a pair of underpants.

During the course of their investigation, the police also found that the 9-year-old girl was allegedly not Agus' 1st victim. On Oct. 2, Agus was arrested for allegedly raping another 15-year-old girl, who studied at the same school as the victim. The 2nd case is still being investigated. The police have said there might be other students at the school who had fallen victim to Agus that they did not yet know of.

A number of serious rape and murder cases have emerged in several locations throughout Greater Jakarta, as well as several other cities in the country recently.

The brutal nature of the crimes, that were often rape-murders, has stirred up public anger and spurred President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to issue a government regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) legalizing chemical castration for convicted rapists.

(sourcec: The Jakarta Post)


Indonesia to execute 16 inmates after Ramadan

16 people are set to face a firing squad in Indonesia this year, with the Attorney General saying they have the budget to execute another 30 in 2017.

Attorney General Office Spokesman Muhammad Rum has told AAP the exact timing of the executions will be decided after Indonesia's Eid al-Fitr July national holiday, Lebaran (Ramadan).Mr Rum says drug offenders will be a 'priority' but this still needs to be confirmed.

He says the most likely site for the executions is Nusakambangan - the notorious island prison where Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were shot by firing squads in April last year. Under the state budget a further 30 people are scheduled to face the death penalty next year, Mr Rum said.

He said the most likely site for the executions to take place is Nusakambangan - the notorious island prison where Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were shot by firing squads in April last year.

But, Mr Rum said, the location also still needs to be confirmed.

'One thing for sure, it's after Lebaran, 16 people. That's all,' he added.Speaking after a hearing into the budget in parliament on Monday, Attorney General HM Prasetyo told Metro TV: 'We will not stop the execution ... The budget is ready'.

'We still have 58 death convicts of drugs cases and 152 for all kinds of crimes - murder and there's also terrorism. All we will (execute).'

Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan has previously said he did not want to see a repeat of the 'drama' or 'soap opera' such as that which occurred in the lead up to the Australians' executions, where Indonesia faced intense diplomatic pressure, as well as strident international appeals and pleas from family members.

Indonesian law stipulates authorities only need to give 3 days' notice of an execution taking place.

Speaking during the anniversary of Chan and Sukumaran's death this year, their Indonesian lawyer and long time anti-death penalty campaigner Dr Todung Mulya Lubis said while he could not see the abolition of the death penalty in the country happening 'any time soon', he hopes a bill tabled before parliament might provide a middle way.

Under the proposed changes, if people show they have rehabilitated themselves, they could see their execution commuted to a life sentence.

(source: Sky News)


resident promises 'to respect' accused cyanide-coffee killer death penalty deal

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo will intervene if an Australian resident charged with murder is sentenced to death. Indonesia's Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly says Indonesia will honour a guarantee to Australia that Jessica Wongso will not be executed.

"As a state we have to respect the international agreement," Mr Laoly said.

He has also revealed that Wongso may never have gone to trial but for Australian Federal Police (AFP) assistance with the case.

Wongso will face a Jakarta court on Wednesday charged with the murder by cyanide poisoning of her friend Mirna Salihin.

Ms Salihin, who had also lived in Australia and studied in Sydney with Wongso, died shortly after drinking a Vietnamese iced coffee ordered by her friend in an upmarket Jakarta cafe.

Police say Wongso poured cyanide into the coffee.

Wongso lived in Sydney until shortly before Ms Salihin's death, and the AFP helped Jakarta detectives work on the case.

Jakarta police travelled to Australia as part of their investigations and worked with AFP officers.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said he approved AFP assistance after Indonesia promised Wongso would not face the death penalty if convicted.

Australian evidence crucial in case against Wongso

District Court spokesman and judge Jamaluddin Samosir, who will try the case, told the ABC earlier this month that a deal to strike-out the death penalty "was not possible".

Judge Jamaluddin said: "The judges can decide any penalty they want. We are independent, there can be no intervention."

That statement caused a stir in Indonesia.

"Of course the judges have independence. But in a state system, the institutions will respect an agreement made with another country," Mr Laoly responded yesterday.

"If the judicial process ignores the guarantee, the president has power (to give clemency)."

Mr Laoly said the AFP assistance was crucial in helping the case become "clearer".

"She almost got away for the sake of regulations," he said.

"If we did not get the evidence provided by Australia, how could we proceed?"

Prosecutors repeatedly refused to accept a police file on the case because of a lack of evidence in the brief of evidence.

Under Indonesian law, suspects must be released after 90 days in custody if the case has not been passed on to prosecutors.



British pair may face firing squad during new 'wave' of executions in Indonesia----A grandmother and a father may be among 16 executed after Ramadan ends

Indonesia is to perform a wave of executions after the end of Ramadan, meaning 2 British people on death row may face the firing squad sooner than expected.

The country's government announced it plans to put 16 convicted prisoners to death after Eid holiday in early July, the 1st executions since the start of a hiatus in April last year.

Lindsay Sandiford, a grandmother from Teeside convicted of trafficking cocaine with a street value of 1.6 million pounds, was given the death penalty in August 2013 and remains on death row.

Gareth Cashmore from Yorkshire was convicted for smuggling crystal meth in the country and has been in custody since September 2012.

It is not yet clear whether Ms Sandiford or Mr Cashmore will be among the group of prisoners executed next month.

Mohammad Rum, spokesman for the Indonesian attorney-general, told AFP the executions would take place soon but refused to specify who would face the firing squad or on what date.

"We could not do it earlier because the government was trying to improve our economy, but now we will take some action after Eid," he said.

Executions were temporarily halted in the spring last year after the 'Bali 9' drug-traffickers including 2 Australians were killed by firing squad in April, a case which caused international outrage and criticism of the Indonesian government.

Indonesia claimed at the time the country's economic troubles had forced the suspension of executions, although many argued the true motivation was political.

12 foreigners were executed in 2015 in total, all on drugs charges.

Ms Sandiford, 59, has repeatedly insisted she was manipulated and used as a mule to transport the cocaine as a means to protect her sons, aged 22 and 24.

She launched an appeal to have her sentence reduced but it was rejected, as the majority of appeals for drug offences are.

Despite the attempted intervention of prime minister David Cameron during a visit to Jakarta in 2014, Ms Sandiford's position remains unchanged.

Prosecutors said Mr Cashmore was attempting to transport crystal meth worth up to 800,000 pounds when he was arrested at Soekarno-Hatta Airport.

Rum confirmed the executions would take place on the island of Nusakambangan near Java, where they are typically carried out.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo says the policy of executing drug smugglers is "necessary" because of the mounting problem with substance abuse in the country.

The Independent has contacted the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for comment.

(source: The Independent)


21 Nigerians Among 121 Death Row Inmates In Indonesia

21 Nigerians are among the 121 prisoners on death row in Indonesia.

30 of the prisoners will be executed before the end of 2017. 18 of them will be executed after July 6, the Eid el-Fitr Muslim holiday, which ends the holy month of Ramadan.

Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora to President Muhammadu Buhari, disclosed this to Independent on Monday.Bambang Waluyo, Indonesian Deputy Attorney General, announced the execution schedule during a parliamentary hearing in Jakarta. The Justice Ministry said those on death row in Indonesia are mostly convicted of drug-related crimes and that at least 35 of them are foreigners.

In 2015, Indonesia had equally executed 14 convicts, all but 2 of them foreigners, in a move that drew international condemnation. Dabiri-Erewa noted that one Nigerian was executed in the last batch of execution. Under Indonesian law, each convict would face a squad of 10 gunmen.

Dabiri-Erewa, who was chairman, House of Representatives' Committee on Diaspora before her present appointment, noted that when a Nigerian delegation visited Indonesia in 2010 to plead for Nigerians on death row, that the Indonesian government made it clear that the death penalty is the law.

"As the world keeps appealing to Indonesia not to kill them, we must also admonish our citizens to avoid crime and be good ambassadors wherever they find themselves", she said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who took office in 2014, has taken a tough stance against drug trafficking, saying that the country is facing a drug emergency.



SADPC: Gather passions and determination to reform the criminal justice system

The recent hanging of Kho Jabing despite exhausting all legal avenues was a dampener. There are insurmountable obstacles staring down at those amongst us who take up the dogged fight of standing up for the repeal of the death penalty in Singapore.

The amendments to the Penal Code in 2013 following the celebrated judgement of Yong Vui Kong which spared him from the gallows, allowing judges greater discretion in meting out alternative punishments rather than being compelled to sentence the accused to death by hanging according to the mandatory death penalty. This is a start and an inch closer towards eventual repeal of the death penalty. But it is also equally pertinent to note that the move towards greater discretionary sentencing did not come about by chance nor handed to us on a silver platter. It was won and fought for by activists, lawyers, idealists and most importantly, us Singaporeans. The collective action of civil society groups have helped raise awareness amongst the public about the injustices of the death penalty and compelled the administration to take heed of the compelling arguments against the mandatory death penalty.

The work put in by civil society too, has led to the release of annual statistics of execution after it was stated in civil society groups' submissions to United Nation's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore in 2010 that there was a lack of transparency in the number of executions carried out. However, there is still much more work to be done. Other information surrounding the death penalty in Singapore, such as demographics of the inmates on death row and identities of inmates who face imminent executions, continues to be shrouded in secrecy.

It goes without saying that more should and can be done to pressure the authorities into greater transparency of such information. It cannot be that our government continues to justify the death penalty by regurgitating often-mentioned arguments that it 'deters crime'. We are all aware of the mendacity of the arguments that continue to be cited by the government in favour of retaining the death penalty, but what should stir our consciences more is the incomprehensible lack of public debate and deliberation on the death penalty. It says a lot when our citizenry are not active stakeholders in an issue as complex as the death penalty compared to foreign NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Such issues have far reaching implications on the kind of values we want to promote, justice and security. It is high time that we the people begin to become that spark- to illuminate and create a backdrop of enlightened, passionate deliberation and consultation on our views of the death penalty. Such ground-up efforts will not only serve as a clear, unequivocal message to the authorities on the general public's stance on such issues, but also help strengthen our sense of ownership, rights and understanding of natural justice.

Where we have met with adversity and vilification, let us instead show fortitude and magnanimity. Let us come together to ensure that we can build a a system that we can all be proud of, where natural justice prevails. There goes a proverbial saying that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, travel together. The road ahead may be paved with obstacles, but if we rally together and gather our fierce passions and determination to reform the criminal justice system, we will overcome.

Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) was formed in 2005 by a group of us. We are going to witness a spate of executions in the coming months. It's going to be a very trying period.We intend to organize training and advocacy workshop and other activities to equip new anti death penalty advocates with local and international advocacy.



Baig could be back on death row soon

As deadline to appeal HC order that gave him lifer looms, accused in 2010 GB blast case faces state filing for a stay; his kin don't seem to be in a hurry to file their plea

In a major development, the lone arrested accused in the 2010 German Bakery blast that rocked Pune, Mirza Himayat Baig, is likely to be placed on 'death row' once again. The 35-year-old had in March this year been acquitted of terror charges by the Bombay High Court (HC), with his death penalty reduced to life imprisonment.

As the 90-day time limit to file an appeal in the case approaches, Baig or his family members do not seem to have shown much interest in filing a plea in the Supreme Court (SC) to acquit the convict of all charges, as they had earlier declared. However, the state home department is all set to file its own SC appeal against the HC's order, with just 4 days left for the deadline to end. Due to ongoing summer vacations, the appeal will be filed on the very 1st day of the apex court's reopening - June 28.

Special government pleader Raja Thakare, who has been appointed for this task, confirmed the development, saying, "Since the deadline is nearly over, we decided to file an appeal in the SC and drafted a plea. We are going to challenge and request a stay on the HC order, which found Baig guilty only under certain sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Explosive Substances Act, but not for terror charges."

He added, "The appeal period is going to end on June 17, but due to the holidays, the SC will resume function on June 28. The appeal will be filed on the very 1st day and we will demand death penalty. We will also request that the Pune trial court's order be upheld, as there is no doubt in our mind that Baig is the mastermind behind the 2010 GB blast conspiracy."

Baig had been sentenced to death by a special Pune court soon after he was nabbed for his involvement in alleged terror activities. However, the HC had later found him guilty only of the charge of possession of explosives and affirmed only life imprisonment for him on March 17 this year.

An officer from the state home department said on condition of anonymity, "The draft plea is ready to be filed and its main focus is on how the HC ignored major testimonies of witnesses against Baig and reduced the capital punishment. The evidences with the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) clearly indicate his direct role in the blast conspiracy."

Advocate Mehmood Pracha, who defended Baig in the HC, was surprised by this news. "Baig and his family members were supposed to file an appeal in the SC to get complete acquittal in this case. However, nobody has approached me, nor have they filed an appeal. Now, Baig is likely to go to death row again if the state manages to get a stay on the HC order," he said.

Quizzed about this development, Baig's elder brother Tariq was quite relaxed as he said, "The case is being handled by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and the SC lawyer is yet to be finalised. Since death penalty is no longer a problem for my brother, we are hopeful that SC will uphold the HC order or acquit him of all charges."

A session's court had in 2013 sentenced Baig to triple death for his role in the bomb blast inside Koregaon Park's German Bakery on February 13, 2010, which left 17 dead, including five foreign nationals, and injured 58 others. Baig is currently lodged in the Faansi Yard of Nagpur Central Jail.

The case is being handled by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and the SC lawyer is yet to be finalised.



Senators won't reimpose death penalty just to accommodate next president

Some senators frowned yesterday on the idea of putting a sunset provision on the proposed restoration of the death penalty, saying lawmakers should vote on the measure based on their convictions.

Incoming Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said the 17th Congress should not pass the measure reimposing the death penalty for just the 6-year duration of the incoming administration only to satisfy President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte as he goes all out in his campaign against illegal drugs and syndicated crime.

Lacson said he does not believe reimposing the death penalty only during the 6-year term of Duterte would be feasible.

"I don't agree. The Senate is a self-respecting institution and should not legislate to please the incumbent president of the Philippines, which obviously is what will be projected to our people if we include a sunset provision limiting the effectivity of the proposed legislation on the restoration of the death penalty," Lacson said in a text message.

"My take is, either we vote for or against the measure once it reaches the Senate floor depending on our own conviction but definitely not to accommodate the President of the Republic," he said.

It was Sen. Ralph Recto who earlier proposed that death penalty be restored but only during the 6 years of the Duterte administration.

For his part, Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said he sees no need for a sunset provision on the measure since laws can be repealed.

"That's a novel approach, but we might open new debates about that on the constitutionality of the provisions," Pimentel said in an interview over DWIZ.

(source: Manila Bulletin)

JUNE 13, 2016:


Deceased witness' testimony may be allowed in murder trial

The testimony of a deceased witness may be allowed, pending the judge's review.

The Pender County murder trial for Nashid Porter, 38, was rescheduled this week after presiding Judge Charles Henry had a death in his family, the StarNews of Wilmington reported.

The trial is now scheduled to begin Monday when Henry is planned to announce whether the testimony of the late Obediah Hester IV will be allowed.

Hester's body was found riddled with bullets in Duplin County while Porter was out on bail for the Pender County murder charge, The Daily News reported. Porter is accused of fatally shooting Brian Grant in Wilmington in 2012.

Porter was arrested in connection with Hester's death and District Attorney Ben David has asked Henry to allow the jury to hear about Porter's alleged involvement with Hester's shooting, the Star News reported.

The Sixth Amendment would typically make the testimony inadmissible in court because the defense will be unable to cross-examine Hester, but David argued that Porter - who is representing himself after firing four court-appointed attorneys - is the reason Hester won't be taking the stand, the Star News reported.

Henry said he'd likely rule in advance of the trial beginning, according to the Star News.

Porter will be tried in Duplin County for Hester's death and District Attorney Ernie Lee announced he would seek the death penalty, The Daily News reported. A trial date will be scheduled in Duplin County once the Pender County case has concluded.

Porter will be represented by Walter H. Paramore, of Jacksonville, in the Duplin County case and on May 20, The Daily News reported the Indigent Defense Services of Durham appointed Richard McNeil was appointed to serve as co-counsel.

(source: Jacksonville Daily News)


Islamic scholar says the government - not vigilantes - should have executed Orlando gays

Less than 3 months ago, Islamic scholar Farrokh Sekaleshfar gave a talk at the Husseini Islamic Center just outside Orlando where he said that the sentence for people who are found guilty of homosexuality should be death. Despite this, he is condemning Orlando shooter Omar Mateen for massacring 50 gay people in a club this weekend.

In an interview with Fusion, Sekaleshfar explained that even though he believes in the death penalty for homosexuals, he doesn't think that gives anyone the right to go out and massacre them at a nightclub. He also noted that four people need to witness a gay person having sex in order for them to be convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death.

"I never gave the call to a death sentence," he said, while claiming that his remarks had been taken out of context. "I was explaining what Islamic law - in a country whose people democratically desired Islamic law to be exercised - states in relation to NOT homosexuals, but rather in relation to when the act of anal copulation is executed in such an aforementioned public."

For the record, this is what Sekaleshfar had to say in late March about the proper Islamic penalties for homosexuality:

Death is the sentence. There's nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence ... We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it's the same. Out of compassion, let's get rid of them now.

It's entirely possible that someone could hear this declaration and use it as justification to take it upon themselves to kill gay people - after all, if an Islamic scholar says "let's get rid of" gay people now, most people listening won't be attuned to the nuances of when it is or isn't purportedly "appropriate" to kill homosexuals just for being themselves. The easier path is to just say, "Killing homosexuals is wrong."



Crucial Details Surface in 40-Year-Old Murder Case----Medill Justice Project investigation finds ballistics evidence raises new questions

Crucial details were overlooked in the 40-year-old Florida murder case involving a man sentenced to death row for killing 4 people found in a furniture store, according to a new Medill Justice Project investigation.

The team of students at Northwestern University's renowned investigative journalism center discovered ballistics evidence and conflicting accounts from key witnesses that raise new questions about the guilt of Tommy Zeigler. Now 70, Zeigler was convicted in 1976 of the murders of his wife, her parents, and a furniture store customer on Christmas Eve near Orlando, Florida.

"The students' discoveries are remarkable and significantly challenge the conviction of a man facing the death penalty," said Alec Klein, director of The Medill Justice Project. Klein, a professor in the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, oversaw the work of the 10 undergraduate and graduate students as part of a class.

The new findings come at a critical time in Florida and across the country. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death-penalty sentencing process, fueling the ongoing national debate. Meanwhile, a pending petition would release crime-scene evidence for new DNA testing in Zeigler's case.

Among The Medill Justice Project's findings:

-- Witnesses Ken and Linda Roach question Zeigler's guilt, but their accounts were never heard at trial. The Roaches said they heard 12 to 15 gunshots within 4 seconds while driving by the furniture store, but authorities were not interested in hearing their story and wouldn't help them contact the defense attorneys. It would be virtually impossible for a single person to fire a non-automatic weapon so quickly, according to ballistics experts.

--Zeigler, who has maintained his innocence, was discovered at the crime scene with a gunshot wound in his lower torso. The prosecution argued the wound was self-inflicted to make Zeigler look like a robbery victim. But people rarely shoot themselves in such a vulnerable spot to cover up a crime, experts told The Medill Justice Project. Moreover, based on the angle of the bullet as it passed through his body, Zeigler would likely have had to use his non-dominant left hand to fire the weapon. Ballistics evidence suggests Zeigler would have had to shoot himself with the gun positioned away from his body, depriving him of the ability to stabilize the gun's muzzle against his torso.

-- The 2 key witnesses against Zeigler have changed their accounts over the years while details have disappeared, according to interviews with sources, police records, trial transcripts and other court documents, as well as investigative reports. About The Medill Justice Project

The Medill Justice Project, founded at Northwestern University in 1999, is an award-winning national investigative journalism center that examines potentially wrongful convictions, probes national systemic criminal justice issues and conducts groundbreaking research. As journalists, MJP advocates only for the truth.



Tommy Zeigler trial plagued by 'significant' problems, report says

An investigative journalism center on Monday published a critical probe of death-row inmate William "Tommy" Zeigler's 1976 trial, finding that evidence supporting his innocence went overlooked by authorities who investigated the quadruple murder inside his Winter Garden furniture store.

The new report by students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism comes as a judge considers Zeigler's latest request for DNA testing, an attempt to prove he did not kill his wife, in-laws and a customer 40 years ago on Christmas Eve. It also adds to a growing body of work that questions Zeigler's conviction, including a television movie and a book.

In particular, the report examines new ballistic evidence and what would have been the testimony of two key witnesses who were never called to the trial. The students also interviewed Zeigler, now 70, three times at Union Correctional Institution near Raiford .

"The students' findings challenge, in many ways, the basic foundations of the entire prosecution," said Alec Klein, the professor who leads the award-winning, national investigative journalism center. "Given that a person's life is on the line here, facing the death penalty, I wonder how the court could justify not allowing Tommy Zeigler to go forward with the DNA testing."

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office has stood by Zeigler's conviction over the decades. Most recently, prosecutors opposed a pending request to have blood-stained clothing from the crime scene retested with more modern DNA techniques. At a March hearing, Assistant Kenneth Nunnelley cited 2 previous opinions from the Florida Supreme Court, which found that evidence about whose blood was on Zeigler's shirt wasn't enough to exonerate him.

Since Zeigler's 1976 trial, prosecutors have alleged Zeigler planned the murders because he wanted to claim his wife's insurance policies, and he shot himself in the stomach to make him seem like a victim too. Eunice Zeigler, her parents Perry and Virginia Edwards and store customer Charles Mays were killed. Zeigler argued they were attacked in a store robbery instigated by Mays.

The Medill report contends it's "practically unheard of" for a person seeking to cover up a crime to choose such a risky - even deadly - way. An analysis of the gunshot wound to Zeigler's lower torso shows he would have used his non-dominant left hand, based on the angle of the bullet, to shoot himself and did not press the muzzle to his body for stability. More often, cover-up attempts include shots to limbs, Klein said.

The report also zeroes in on 2 witnesses, Ken and Linda Roach, who said they drove by the store around the time of the masscre and heard 12 to 15 gunshots within four seconds. An expert interviewed in the story said it's "virtually impossible" for one person to fire a single person to fire a non-automatic weapon so quickly, lending more credibility to Zeigler's claim that he and his family were attacked by a group of people led by Mays.

The Roaches told Medill that authorites weren't intersted in their account and didn't tell them how to contact Zeigler's attorneys. One of Zeigler's trial attorneys brought up the Roach evidence in a 1986 appeal to a federal appellate court, which won Zeigler's a temporary stay from impending execution.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Lawton man's trial in deaths of father and brother restarts

A 2nd week of testimony has begun in the murder trial of a Lawton man in the deaths of his father and teenage brother.

The Comanche County District Court clerk's office says testimony resumed Monday morning in the trial of 20-year-old Thorsten Rushing.

Rushing has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the January 2014 shooting deaths of 50-year-old Uwe Rushing and 14-year-old Stefan Rushing.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Witnesses have testified that Rushing wanted money from his father's life insurance policy.

2 co-defendants have pleaded guilty to murder in the case and are serving life in prison. 2 other co-defendants are in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and being accessories after the crime.

(source: Associated Press)


Judge Rules The Charleston Church Shooter Will Be Tried By A Jury----The court will not allow the accused Charleston shooter to have his case heard by a judge instead of a jury.

The judge presiding over Dylann Roof's federal death penalty trial has denied the accused Charleston shooter's request to have his case decided by a judge instead of a jury.

In his ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said that because the government did not consent to waiving the trial by jury at either the evidence or sentencing phase he is denying Roof's request.

On Monday, the government filed its reply to Roof's request for a bench trial, stating that it would not give its consent to waiving the jury trial.

Jury selection in the case is slated to begin on November 7 and is expected to take up to a month. The court is considering calling 1,200 to 1,500 potential jurors from around the state to be considered to sit on the jury.

Roof is also scheduled to face charges brought by the state of South Carolina at a trial which is currently scheduled for January 2017. He faces the possibility of the death penalty in that case, too.

On the evening of June 17, 2015 Roof allegedly attended a Bible study at the Emanuel AME church and sat with the group for an hour before opening fire, killing 3 men and 6 women.

According to survivors of the attack, Roof told the African-American churchgoers, "You rape our women, and you're taking over our country, and you have to go."

In a court filing in May, the Department of Justice said Roof's racial motivation in the killings were a factor in the federal government's decision to pursue the death penalty.

Roof is represented by David Bruck, one the country's most notable and sought after trial lawyers for defendants facing the death penalty. He most recently represented Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his federal death penalty trial last year.



Death sentences, life imprisonment for Ainkawa suicide car bombers

The Erbil Criminal Court today handed down death sentences and life imprisonment for those responsible for a suicide car bombing in Ainkawa in April 2015 that killed 2 and wounded many others.

"The Erbil Criminal Court issued death sentences for 7 perpetrators of the Ainkawa bombing after the security agencies finished investigations and transferred the cases to the court," Dr. Tariq Nuri, head of Erbil's security [Asayish] department, told Rudaw.

Nuri added that another "10 terrorists also involved in the terrorist act received life imprisonment."

The perpetrators involved in the attack were arrested based on information received from the public and, "in some cases, family members," the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) confirmed following their arrests. They subsequently confessed to their role in the attacks.

A car bomb struck near the US Consulate in the Ainkawa neighborhood of Erbil on April 17, killing 2 Turkish civilians and the attacker, and injuring 8 others.

The large explosion occurred at 5:40 pm, a busy time in the Christian neighborhood of Ainkawa popular with Westerners. The explosive-laden car detonated outside the heavily guarded gates of the US consulate and compound that houses diplomats and staff.

The alleged mastermind of the bombing was killed in a targeted airstrike on the town of Hawija, west of Kirkuk, in late April 2015. "He [Abu Qasim] also had a hand in many other terrorist attacks, especially inside Kirkuk," read a statement issued by the KRSC at the time.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.



Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death

In the wake of America's deadliest mass shooting ever - at a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday - we decided to update our map of LGBT rights around the world.

Hover over the countries below to see which category each falls into. Below the map, we take a closer look at the 10 countries - or parts of countries - in which homosexuality is punishable by death.

Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punishable by death:

Yemen: According to the 1994 penal code, married men can be sentenced to death by stoning for homosexual intercourse. Unmarried men face whipping or 1 year in prison. Women face up to seven years in prison.

Iran: In accordance with sharia law, homosexual intercourse between men can be punished by death, and men can be flogged for lesser acts such as kissing. Women may be flogged.

Iraq: The penal code does not expressly prohibit homosexual acts, but people have been killed by militias and sentenced to death by judges citing sharia law.

Mauritania: Muslim men engaging in homosexual sex can be stoned to death, according to a 1984 law. Women face prison.

Nigeria: Federal law classifies homosexual behavior as a felony punishable by imprisonment, but several states have adopted sharia law and imposed a death penalty for men. A law signed in early January makes it illegal for gay people countrywide to hold a meeting or form clubs.

Qatar: Sharia law in Qatar applies only to Muslims, who can be put to death for extramarital sex, regardless of sexual orientation.

Saudi Arabia: Under the country's interpretation of sharia law, a married man engaging in sodomy or any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim can be stoned to death. All sex outside of marriage is illegal.

Somalia: The penal code stipulates prison, but in some southern regions, Islamic courts have imposed Sharia law and the death penalty.

Sudan: 3-time offenders under the sodomy law can be put to death; 1st and 2nd convictions result in flogging and imprisonment. Southern parts of the country have adopted more lenient laws.

United Arab Emirates: Lawyers in the country and other experts disagree on whether federal law prescribes the death penalty for consensual homosexual sex or only for rape. In a recent Amnesty International report, the organization said it was not aware of any death sentences for homosexual acts. All sexual acts outside of marriage are banned.

(source: Washington Post)


Back to capital punishment

As promised in his campaign, president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has begun mobilizing congressional support for the restoration of capital punishment. With his "super majority" in place in the House of Representatives and his new allies also in control in the Senate, any public opposition to the plan is likely to be set aside and the death penalty may soon be back, with the only question to be settled being the mode of execution.

Nations approve state-sponsored executions not just to eliminate threats to society but also as a crime deterrent. Predominantly Catholic Philippines abolished capital punishment, but the landslide victory of Duterte is just the latest indication of public support for extrajudicial methods of law enforcement.

This support can be attributed mainly to the weakness, corruption and inefficiency of the criminal justice system. This weakness will not be corrected by bringing back the death penalty. Restoring capital punishment must be backed by structural changes to strengthen the rule of law.

Law enforcement agencies must be purged of corruption and given more resources and skills training so that crimes are solved and impunity does not prevail. The same must be done with the prosecution service.

The judiciary must clean up its act. This is beyond the jurisdiction of the executive, but it is possible to inspire better performance from the judiciary by improving compensation for judges, for example, and improving courtroom and prosecution facilities. The vetting process for magistrates must be as depoliticized as possible; the current system of appointments in the judiciary is easily and routinely undermined by politicians and religious groups.

A database can be set up to monitor the progress of court cases so that judges with the slowest adjudication rates or with the most number of temporary restraining orders can be easily identified. Such measures lack the shock value of state executions, but it takes more than a fear of a double hanging to deter criminality.

In case capital punishment is restored, improving the efficiency of the judiciary is also crucial to avoid any miscarriage of justice that would send an innocent person to the gallows. There are valid observations that in the final years before capital punishment was abolished, only poor convicts who could not afford good legal advice were the ones executed. The judiciary has long cried out for reforms; this becomes more urgent with the planned revival of the death penalty.

(source: Editorial, Philippine Star)


Anti-death penalty

Fr. Silvino Borres Jr. SJ, president of the Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said that noting the "imperfections" in the criminal justice system, the prospect of executing innocent people remains. "Death penalty renders judicial errors irreversible," Borres said in a statement posted at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website. Borres said several studies show it does not deter crimes.

Father Jerome Secillano, who is an executive secretary of public affairs committee of the CBCP, said that death penalty requires an enormous amount of judicial process because it involves life. It would be in the best interest of all if the country's criminal justice system is reformed first, he added.

Vice president-elect Leni Robredo; incoming Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Sec. Judy Taguiwalo, who was detained and tortured during martial law, and Senator-elect Leila de Lima have expressed opposition to the restoration of the death penalty.

Robredo has been very firm that she is against the reinstatement of the capital punishment, believing that its imposition is not the answer to the high crime rate of the country and does not prevent the commission of heinous crimes. Also, it is not up to her nor the President, but the Congress to decide, she added. But she cleared that her opposition should not be a source of conflict between her and President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

As for Senator Panfilo Lacson, he supported the idea of heinous crime offenders being meted the death penalty but not the manner in which Duterte carried out which is by hanging, saying it is too medieval. He also issued some sort of warnings to Duterte on the matter of a stoppage of investigations in Congress, noting the Senate will conduct investigations whenever necessary and nobody, not even the President, can stop them from fulfilling their duty.

Meanwhile, the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) superintendent Venancio Tesoro, who served as an execution supervisor at Bureau of Corrections, has expressed support for the revival of death penalty. He said that death by hanging will have more impact than lethal injection to tell the world they are not joking. He further said that the measure will not have a deterrent effect on criminals but the "certainty of being caught."

Meanwhile, amid concerns over the rising number of minors involved in criminal activities, the senators also expressed readiness to look into proposals that seek to amend the Juvenile Delinquency Act (JDA), which President Duterte had earlier vowed to pursue amendments to the juvenile justice system since it is high time for Congress to lower the age of discernment for youth offenders who commit a crime.

(source: Ernesto Maceda, Philippine Star)


Senate member proposes to introduce death penalty for terrorists

Senator Serik Akylbai proposes to cancel death penalty moratorium in Kazakhstan. The statement was made today in the parliament after the meeting of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation, the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.


It is necessary to toughen penalties for terrorism in the Criminal Code up to capital punishment. We have a moratorium on the death penalty. One person cannot initiate all these, a group of deputies is needed, but I think, such proposal is probably under preparation in the bowels of the government.

(source: Kazakh TV)


End the death penalty in NH

To the Editor:

There are many reasons to be concerned about New Hampshire's death penalty. Our local group, Monadnock Concerned Citizens, and the New Hampshire Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty are working together to bring information to the public about candidates who are running for offices this fall and support the repeal of the death penalty.

The death penalty system kills innocent people, and the numbers are sobering. Studies estimate that at least 340 people executed since 1972 were likely innocent. Also since 1972, 156 inmates have been exonerated from death row. The existing system is arbitrary and biased, including economic bias, geographical bias and racial bias.

The death penalty does not deter violent crime. Studies by the National Research Council concluded that the death penalty does not deter homicide rates.

The costs in New Hampshire, with one person on death row, have risen to over $5 million, and more expenses will be forthcoming. These dollars could have been put to better use, examples being investigation of cold cases, prevention of crime, rehabilitation of offenders, restoring victims' families, and protecting the public better.

Killing others is a traumatic experience. Executioners, wardens, nurses, doctors and witnesses are bound legally to be at all executions. These participants suffer greatly after taking part in the killing of an inmate.

The death penalty does not help inmates' families. Killing is not justice, nor does it give closure to the families.



(source: Letter to the Editor, Union Leader)


U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to review Angola inmate's death sentence

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't weigh in often on whether convictions should be overturned because prosecutors failed to turn over evidence - 4 times in the past 2 decades.

3 of those cases came from Louisiana. Each time, the high court chastised prosecutors for violating the rights of defendants and the state's courts for letting the problem slide.

Yet, according to defense advocates and national legal scholars, Louisiana still hasn't gotten the memo. They're urging the Supreme Court to step in again with a stronger lesson.

The high court is expected to decide this week whether to hear the case of David Brown, the "Angola 5" member who was accused of plotting to kill a prison guard in 1999. His death sentence was endorsed in February by the Louisiana Supreme Court after a district judge had overturned it.

Brown's attorneys, in their petition for a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, say the facts of the case are alarmingly similar to Brady v. Maryland, the landmark 1963 ruling that required prosecutors to turn over to the defense all evidence favorable to a defendant.

The similarities point to a pattern of stubborn refusal by Louisiana state courts to follow the Supreme Court's directive, according to a group of law professors and legal ethicists who have filed a "friend of the court" brief in the case.

Louisiana courts have "an abysmal history of consistently misinterpreting and misapplying the Brady doctrine, and there's very little accountability," said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a law professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who co-authored the brief. "The lesson has not been learned."

Brady violations rarely turn up until long after a conviction and sentence - when Louisiana convicts have the right to review the state's complete case file. Since only those condemned to death are afforded a state-appointed lawyer after their convictions, such allegations of misconduct arise frequently in death penalty cases.

Of the 127 death sentences reversed in Louisiana from 1976 to 2015, convictions were overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct 25 times, including 9 cases of Brady violations, according to a recent study by University of North Carolina political science professor Frank Baumgartner and statistician Tim Lyman.

Only 2 of those cases were overturned at the state level, Lyman said.

"It gives a good insight as to what's going on in Louisiana (in regard) to Brady," he said. "It's mostly federal court" where convictions or death sentences get reversed.

Federal district courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have vacated numerous convictions when they've found that Louisiana courts botched the decision.

Parallels to earlier case

In their petition for Brown, attorneys Billy Sothern and Letty DiGiulio highlighted parallels between their defendant's situation and the original Brady case.

In the Brady case, the high court faulted prosecutors for not turning over a statement from John Brady's alleged accomplice in which he admitted killing someone during an armed robbery. Brady acknowledged he was present at the murder, and there was evidence that he urged the other man to strangle the victim. But the U.S. Supreme Court said suppressing the statement violated Brady's due process rights, so it vacated his death sentence.

David Brown has claimed he wasn't there when a guard at the State Penitentiary at Angola, Capt. David Knapps, was killed, although he helped drag Knapps inside a bathroom, getting the victim's blood on his prison garb during a group escape attempt. Brown has claimed he left before other inmates killed Knapps and that the murder wasn't part of the escape plan.

The state never accused Brown, who at the time was serving a life sentence for a different murder, of striking Knapps. But it argued that he was guilty of 1st-degree murder for joining in a plot with the specific intent to kill.

Prosecutors Hugo Holland and Tommy Block, however, didn't turn over a transcript of a statement from another state inmate, David Domingue, claiming that another man accused in the murder, Barry Edge, confessed that he and fellow inmate Jeffery Clark alone had decided to kill the guard.

Retired Criminal District Court Judge Jerome Winsberg, who was handling the case, overturned Brown's death sentence, but not his conviction, in 2014. Winsberg found that "there is a reasonable probability that the jury's verdict would have been different had the evidence not been suppressed."

But a state appeals court panel reversed Winsberg's ruling, and the Louisiana Supreme Court then found that Domingue's statement "provides no additional evidence as to who actually killed Captain Knapps" and "simply does not exculpate Brown."

To Brown's attorneys, the ruling marked another instance in which the Louisiana Supreme Court skewed the evidence.

"A comparison of the facts of this case makes clear that the due process violation in Mr. Brown's case is even more apparent than in Brady," the attorneys wrote, "and the Louisiana Supreme Court inserted its own judgment without displaying the forbearance and restraint required by Brady."

'Extraneous' objections?

In their response to Brown's petition, prosecutors argued that Brown jumped the gun in running to the U.S. Supreme Court when he could still have asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to rehear the case; that Domingue's statement wouldn't have been admissible at Brown's trial; and that even if it were, it was "neither favorable nor material" to his cause.

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office, which picked up the case after other jurisdictions recused themselves, described Domingue's statement as "wholly extraneous" to what prosecutors argued when they persuaded the jury to sentence Brown to death.

That argument "focused on the fact that a life sentence would be the equivalent of no punishment at all because David Brown was already serving a life sentence at the time of the murder," wrote Connick and prosecutors Juliet Clark and Terry Boudreaux.

Even if Brown really had left the prison bathroom while Knapps remained alive, he "participated in the attack on Knapps such that he was already awash in the blood of his victim," and he left the captain "to the tender mercies of Jeffrey Clark and Barry Edge" while moving on to further the escape plan, they argued.

Defense advocates say the decision in Brown's case warrants a rebuke for the state judiciary. They say the Louisiana Supreme Court's ruling in the case may only embolden prosecutors to narrow their view of what they need to disclose before a trial, with little fear of reprisal if they withhold something.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 set a high bar on civil judgments against district attorneys' offices in the case of former death row inmate John Thompson, denying him a $14 million judgment over withheld evidence.

Thompson was freed after a private investigator found that Orleans Parish prosecutors had hidden a crime lab report. Thompson won the judgment, but the U.S. Supreme Court negated it. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the 5-4 majority that Thompson had failed to show that former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick was "deliberately indifferent to the need to train the attorneys under his authority."

Brown's defenders claim the Thompson ruling protects district attorneys from financial peril for dirty tactics, and that the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision in Brown's case signals another forestalled avenue for discipline.

They cite a Feb. 29 letter from Charles Plattsmier, chief disciplinary counsel for the state Attorney Disciplinary Board, dismissing a complaint against Holland and Block, the prosecutors in Brown's case.

"Because the same court that would consider the potential ethics violation has already determined that (Domingue's) statement was not favorable" to Brown, Plattsmier wrote, "the filing of a disciplinary charge in this matter cannot be sustained at this time."

Previous allegations

Brown's case wasn't the 1st run-in with disciplinary charges for Holland, who has made a career out of seeking the death penalty in parishes across the state.

Holland formerly worked in Caddo Parish, where district attorneys were responsible for prosecuting 1/2 of the 10 cases resulting in death sentences in Louisiana between 2010 and 2015.

In a 2000 murder trial, defense attorneys argued that Holland withheld witness statements that would have exculpated 16-year-old Corey Williams, who was found to have an intellectual disability when the crime occurred.

More recently, Holland and Lea Hall - another prosecutor in Brown's case - were asked in 2012 to resign from the Caddo Paddo District Attorney's Office for falsifying paperwork to procure 8 automatic weapons for the office.

Defense advocates note that just 1 Louisiana prosecutor in a generation has been disciplined for prosecutorial misconduct.

In their "friend of the court" brief, the law professors and legal ethicists argue that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear the Angola 5 case "because the state courts need guidance, other methods for holding prosecutors accountable have not functioned, and, left alone, the Brown ruling has the potential to usher in a new, darker age of disregard for Brady."

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to review the case.

(source: The Advocate)


The high costs of court system

Any way that you calculate it, the criminal court system is a labor-intensive business, from law enforcement on the front end to lawyers and judges and wardens on the back end.

Those costs are causing conflicts around the state and in the State Capitol.

In a dispute between the state's oversight board for public defenders and the powerful district attorney's lobby, a district attorney-backed bill will mandate a percentage of state funding to local offices, presumably diminishing the power of the state public defender board.

That new measure is unfolding amid a funding crisis for public defenders, with several offices such as that in New Orleans announcing it will no longer take some new cases because lawyers are not available to handle them.

All the time, public defenders are saying they are underfunded because of the state’s money woes, and district attorneys point the finger at costly death-penalty cases. Louisiana district attorneys may be powerful, but they cannot override the U.S. Supreme Court, which has added to the requirements for what is an effective defense in those capital cases.

And since a scandalously big percentage of the capital prosecutions are overturned on appeal, often because of prosecutorial misconduct, it's a fight that is apt to be renewed every year, as finances continue to be strained. The state board does a good job overseeing local public defenders' offices, but that's not so popular with prosecutors, their opponents.

The new debates are likely to re-open questions of how necessary operations of the court system are to be sustained - thorny issues that were worked through a decade ago after a round of contentious meetings. Now, we'll probably see more of those meetings.

At the local level, governments and prosecutors have financial issues that lead to conflicts. In Lafayette, the City-Parish Council voted to cut its contribution of $500,000 to the 15th Judicial District Attorney's Office, a decision expected to be challenged in court.

District Attorney Keith Stutes, who took office in 2015, argues city-parish government is required by law to cover all reasonable costs for his office. His predecessor should never have used other funds to pay for salaries and related benefits, because that masked the extent of the city-parish's obligations.

"I decided not to kick that can down the road," Stutes said.

We like that approach, as too much in government is based on short-term expedience. But what is the ordinary citizen to think of all this?

We see the public defense crisis, for that is what it is, as a challenge to order in society. If you don't have a constitutional defense for a defendant with no money, you don't have the public benefit of getting bad guys off the street, and keeping them away from us.

We do not object to the death penalty, but we smell hypocrisy when those who want prosecutions don't want to pay for elements of the process that the Supreme Court has mandated. Now, it's a political mess that ought to provoke a wider discussion of all the costs - capital cases and ordinary trials - of our labor-intensive court system.

The parts have to work together, or the system breaks down. And that fills up jails, further raising costs.

(source: Editorial, The Advocate)


Former death row inmate charged with drug possession

A former death row inmate has been charged with felony drug possession, 9 years after being set free.

Curtis Edward McCarty, 54, was charged in Oklahoma County District Court after a police officer reported finding methamphetamine in his backpack during a traffic stop in southeast Oklahoma City about 4 a.m. May 20.

He was a passenger in a pickup that was pulled over for an expired tag. The officer also reported finding 10 small empty baggies and a set of digital scales in the backpack.

McCarty "appeared to be fighting back tears" when he was questioned about the items in the backpack by the police officer, according to the officer's arrest report.

McCarty "said he was ashamed because he was given a 2nd chance after being falsely accused of murder and held for approximately 19 years in prison," Oklahoma City police officer Jeremy Looper wrote. McCarty "said he was just really lonely and that he had trouble finding his place in society after his eventual release."

McCarty was charged June 2. He is free from jail on bail. The police report lists him as a transient. He did not return messages left at a phone number listed for him on the police report.

In speeches, McCarty said he lived at first after his release like a recluse at his parents' house in Moore.

After several months, he began speaking out against the death penalty, the 1st time in Nebraska, to legislators, at the urging of the Innocence Project. He since has traveled across the United States and to other countries.

He was accused of killing Pamela Kaye Willis, 18, on Dec. 10, 1982, at a southwest Oklahoma City house. Authorities alleged an unknown accomplice helped. Willis was stabbed with a kitchen knife and strangled with a rope.

McCarty was convicted at a jury trial in 1986 of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to die. After winning an appeal, he was convicted again at a 1989 retrial and again sentenced to die.

He was sentenced to die a 3rd time at a resentencing in 1996.

In 2005, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his 2nd conviction - and vacated his death sentence - because of misconduct in his case by fired Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist. In 2007, days before another murder trial was set to begin, an Oklahoma County district judge dismissed the murder charge because of that misconduct, and McCarty was freed.

He often is identified by death penalty opponents as exonerated, but police and prosecutors insisted even after the dismissal that he was involved.

Prosecutors also allege he was involved in the fatal beating of a 7-year-old girl in 1983. He was not brought to trial in that case because he made a deal to cooperate against another suspect, prosecutors said. He led authorities to the girl's decomposed body, according to testimony at his 1st trial.

In 1985, he pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree rape and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. The victim was 14.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Death penalty not warranted for Darnell Williams Jr.

Earlier this month, an Alameda County jury recommended the death sentence after finding Darnell Williams Jr. guilty for 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. This is the only case that Nancy O'Malley, the current Alameda County District Attorney, has pursued since she took office in 2011.

In 2013, Williams Jr. shot and killed an 8-year-old girl who was visiting the home of her friend, a member of whose family was believed to be involved in the death of a close friend of Williams Jr. He had planned to avenge his friend's death with "street justice," according to police reports.

A few months later, Williams Jr. shot and killed a 22-year-old man in West Berkeley in an attempted robbery during a game of dice.

Williams Jr. grew up in the East Bay with parents who were both convicted felons. His father sits on death row in Indiana for the robbery and murder of 2 people who allegedly owed his friend money. Mitigating circumstances included regular employment, a reputation for aid and kindness to family members and no prior criminal conduct. It's clear that this was a crime born out of desperation and economic disparity, but he received the ultimate sentence anyway.

The statistics for children with an incarcerated parent vary greatly depending on race. 1 in 9 Black children versus 1 in 57 white children have an incarcerated parent, according to a study by Rutgers University. In California, Black men constitute the largest population on death row.

By the time Williams Jr., who is Black, was in kindergarten, he had already experienced unspeakable traumas. The horrors continued throughout his childhood and well into adulthood.

The United States' justice system has done nothing for Williams Jr. other than further his disadvantage in life. He was raised in and became a product of a system that was never meant to provide justice for him or people like him. It's no surprise then that he took justice into his own hands when he committed the crimes he's now set to die for.

During the trial, it was made clear that Williams Jr. suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as psychopathic symptoms. Had our justice system focused more on prevention - by providing psychological treatment and economic support for him - instead of relying simply on punishment, he may have had a chance to escape the system that led him to death row.

It's worth noting that the United States is one of the few countries in the developed world that still has death row. Pfizer - the last open market source for lethal injection drugs - refuses to sell to states that enforce the death penalty.

Whether one thinks a government-issued death can sometimes be warranted or not, it's clear that, in this case, the death of Williams Jr. will be the product of a deeply flawed system.

(source: Editorial, The Daily Oklahoman)


Killing Charleston shooter Dylann Roof won't kill white supremacy ---- The death penalty won't deter anything

Dylann Roof, the unrepentant racist who killed 9 people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is, without question, a monster. He prayed with people before reciting racist cants and annihilating people. After his heinous acts, it was discovered that he was a rabid racist who had wrapped himself in the Confederate flag. Does he deserve the death penalty? No.

The death penalty is the kindest thing that could happen to Dylann Roof, and he does not deserve our kindness. The death penalty provides some of us with immediate satisfaction, a sense of revenge. And it lets him off the hook. Imagine, instead, that this slug is sentenced to life in prison and forced to live with the consequences of his action. Imagine that he is incarcerated with people who look just like the folks he killed. Imagine that, daily, he has to negotiate the racial realties of our nation's prison system, a system that disproportionately incarcerates African American men.

Imagine that he is vilified as a symbol of our nation's ingrained racism. Imagine that he, perhaps, has a "come to Jesus" moment where he renounces the racism that caused him to act. Or, imagine that he simmers in his evil and reminds others how heinous he is.

The death penalty is inhumane no matter how it is applied. African Americans are disproportionately sentenced to death more than others are, and that is part, but not all, of the point. The rest of the point is that "an eye for an eye" leaves us all blind. The good people of Mother Emanuel AME Church were overflowing in their forgiveness of Roof. Do these forgiving, God-fearing people now oppose the commandment that says, "thou shall not kill"?

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, nearly 3000 people sit on death row. While African Americans are just 13 % of the population, we are 43 % of the death row inmates. Most people don't believe that the death penalty deters crime, and many believe that enforcing the death penalty is a waste of taxpayer money.

Most prefer alternatives - life sentences without parole, and perhaps with restitution. Dylann Roof can turn into a Confederate martyr if he is killed. Instead, imagine him as a decrepit old man living his life out in prison, constantly faced with his crimes, constantly reminded of his heinous acts. His life, not his death, will constantly remind us of the hate that hate produced. Because, make no mistake, Dylann Roof is not an isolated phenomenon. He is the product of the Confederate flag, the product of the Ku Klux Klan, the product of the ugly, repugnant, vicious hate that produces a flawed and crippled white supremacy.

We don't kill white supremacist hate by killing Dylann Roof. We don't eliminate the ugly sentiments that propelled this extremely sick young man into a church with a gun by taking his life. Instead, it seems to me, the sole purpose of his life might be to serve as a symbol of hate, to remind us that there will be no peace without justice.

Justice does not mean extracting a death penalty that is, inherently, unfair to African Americans. Justice means abolishing the death penalty that is still upheld in 31 states.

The friends and relatives of the Emanuel AME Church murdered were exceptional in their rapid expressions of forgiveness for Dylann Roof. They understood the brokenness that caused him to kill and, even as they mourned their loss, they offered their forgiveness as evidence of their faith. Can we do anything less?

I say that Dylann Roof ought to be put under somebody's jail, allowed only a Bible and minimal bland food. I say that he needs to be deprived of every pleasure his victims have been deprived of. I say he needs to be surrounded by black folks just like the ones he killed. I'm not wishing him violence or harassment, just reflection. Killing Roof won't kill white supremacy. Keeping him miserably alive may, in fact, deter others from imitating him.

(source: Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist----The Charlotte Post)


For 50 Years, You've Had "The Right to Remain Silent"----So why do so many suspects confess to crimes they didn't commit?

"You have the right to remain silent."

If you've ever watched any of the tens of thousands of hours of television devoted to crime dramas, you know the 1st warning given to suspects who are arrested and questioned. And the s2nd: "Anything you say can and will be used against you." The Miranda warnings - named for Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 Supreme Court decision that required them - celebrate their 50th anniversary on June 13. In that period, they have become so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget their origin and purpose.

Miranda was the culmination of 30 years of Supreme Court cases that were designed to protect criminal suspects from abuse in police interrogations. The earliest of these decisions prohibited violence and torture. The 1st concern was to prevent confessions that are "unreliable"- that is, false.

In 1966, false confessions seemed like a rare problem. 50 years later, we have seen hundreds of exonerations of innocent defendants who confessed to terrible crimes after they received Miranda warnings.

It's a good time to take stock.

Do innocent people really confess without torture?

Why would an innocent person ever confess to a murder or some other terrible violent crime?

Torture would explain it. That was the issue in Brown v. Mississippi in 1936, the 1st case in which the Supreme Court excluded a confession from a state court prosecution. 3 suspects had been tortured for days. Asked how severely one defendant was whipped, the deputy in charge testified: "Not too much for a Negro; not as much as I would have done if it were left to me."

Between 1936 and 1966 the use of torture to extract confessions declined greatly, a major accomplishment by American courts and criminal justice reformers. When Miranda was written, a shift was underway to more "modern" methods of interrogation: isolation, deception, manipulation and exhaustion rather than beating. Without torture or threats of death or violence, it seems implausible that an innocent suspect would confess to a serious crime. That is precisely why confessions are such powerful evidence of guilt. But we know it happens, time and again.

The National Registry of Exonerations has collected data on 1,810 exonerations in the United States since 1989 (as of June 7, 2016). They include 227 cases of innocent men and women who confessed, 13 % of the total, all after receiving Miranda warnings (at least according to the police). Nearly 3/4 of those false confessions were homicide cases.

But these exonerations deeply understate the extent of the problem.

First, most suspects who falsely confess - probably the great majority - are never convicted at all. In a classic 2004 study, Steven Drizin and Richard Leo identified 125 proven false confessions in the United States from 1971 through 2002. Only about 1/3 were cases of exoneration after conviction. In most, charges were dismissed before trial or never filed at all because of indisputable proof of innocence.

2nd, few convictions based on false confessions are cleared by exoneration. That's true for all wrongful convictions, but especially for those based on confessions. It's very hard to convince people that a defendant who confessed is innocent. We see this in the cases: Exonerations of defendants who confessed are more likely to depend on the most unassailable evidence, DNA, to overcome the weight of a confession. 42 % of exonerated defendants who had confessed were cleared by DNA tests, compared to only 21 percent of exonerees who had not confessed.

In some cases, even exculpatory DNA evidence doesn't help. In October 1992, after a grueling four-day interrogation, 19-year-old Juan Rivera falsely confessed to the rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl in Lake County, Illinois. In fact, he confessed twice. His 1st confession was so riddled with factual errors that the detectives made him do it again to "clear up" the inconsistencies, even though Rivera was plainly in a state of mental collapse.

Rivera was convicted of murder in 1993, and again in 1996 after his 1st conviction was reversed for a host of legal errors. In 2005, DNA tests proved that a different man was the source of semen recovered from the body of the victim. Rivera's conviction was vacated but the prosecution took him to trial again, and in 2009, despite the DNA evidence, Rivera was convicted a 3rd time. Finally, in 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that River's conviction was "unjustified and cannot stand" and dismissed the charges.

Juan Rivera barely overcame his false confession even with conclusive DNA evidence of innocence. Without it, he'd be in prison today - together with other innocent defendants who confessed but did not have DNA tests to rescue them.

False confessions by co-defendants

In many cases, innocent suspects who confess implicate others who are also innocent. Some do it because that's the story their interrogators want to hear. John Kogut, for example, not only falsely confessed to his own involvement in murder, he also said he did it with 2 friends Dennis Halsted and John Restivo, both of whom (like Kogut) spent 20 years in prison before they were exonerated in 2005.

And some innocent suspects who confess blame others to deflect responsibility and reduce their punishment. Richard Ochoa, for example, was facing the death penalty for the murder of Nancy DePriest in Austin, Texas in 1988. He confessed, named his roommate Richard Danziger as the actual killer and agreed to plead guilty and testify against Danziger. Both were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Both were exonerated by DNA in 2002.

The Registry includes 195 exonerations with confessions by co-defendants who implicated the exonerees, 11 % of all exonerations. The net result is that in 19 % of all exonerations in the United States - and in 34 % of homicide exonerations - the innocent defendant confessed or was implicated by a false confession of a co-defendant, or both.

Who falsely confesses?

All sorts of people falsely confess, but two groups are particularly vulnerable: young suspects and those with mental disabilities.

In 1983, for example, Earl Washington, a 22-year-old black man with an IQ of about 69, was arrested in Culpeper, Virginia, for burglary and malicious wounding. Over 2 days of questioning, Washington "confessed" to 5 separate crimes, 4 of which were not pursued because his confessions did not match the actual crimes and the victims could not identify Washington as the criminal.

Washington's 5th confession, however, was to a murder, that of Rebecca Lynn Williams. His initial version - before police officers cleaned it up - was riddled with errors. He did not know the race of the victim (white), the address where she was killed, or that she was raped. Nonetheless, Washington was convicted and sentenced to death in January 1984. He was exonerated by DNA 16 years later, in 2000.

Overall, of exonerees with reported mental illness or intellectual disability, 72 % had confessed.

Young suspects fared almost as badly. 40 % of exonerees who were under 18 at the time of the crime falsely confessed, including 53 % of 14- and 15-year olds, and 86 % of the few who were 13 years old or younger. By comparison, only 7 % of adult exonerees without reported mental disabilities falsely confessed.

Why do all these innocent defendants confess?

Innocent suspects confess because they are terrified and confused and exhausted; because they are deceived or tricked; because they don't understand what they are doing; because they feel hopeless and helpless and isolated. But what leads to this desperate predicament? Miranda sets the stage.

In part, Miranda was a step in the Supreme Court's campaign to eliminate violence in interrogations. But Miranda also ratified the "modern practice of in-custody interrogation [which] is psychologically, rather than physically, oriented." Miranda described how this is done:

The officers who conduct "modern" interrogations may lie about the evidence and tell the suspect that his fingerprints were found at the scene; that a codefendant already confessed and put the blame on him; that he was seen by an eyewitness. They routinely say that they already have him dead to rights and that this is his only chance to tell his side of the story and help his cause; that the victim must have provoked him; that what he did is understandable. They may describe dire consequences if he does not come clean, perhaps the death penalty, and imply leniency if he does. This can go on for days, in isolation, with police officers constantly repeating that they know the suspect is guilty, that the evidence is overwhelming, that this is his only chance to help himself.

The Supreme Court recognized that this process "exacts a heavy toll on individual liberty, and trades on the weakness of individuals," but it did not forbid any of these practices. As a result, Miranda is regularly cited as authority for the legality of all of these coercive techniques.

Instead of regulating the process of non-violent interrogation, the court required police to give warnings before they start, and then only continue if the suspect waives his right to silence. But most do waive their rights at the outset of the ordeal; it’s hard to tell an officer who has you under arrest that you won't talk to him. After that, the issue almost never comes up again.

By the time they confess, Miranda is a distant memory, if not entirely forgotten. The process works. Many suspects confess after Miranda warnings and most are guilty; that's why these techniques are used and trusted. But some are innocent.

Can we do better? Here again, Miranda is a good starting point.

The court noted that it's difficult to regulate interrogations because we don't know what goes on: "Interrogation still takes place in privacy. Privacy results in secrecy, and this, in turn, results in a gap in our knowledge as to what, in fact, goes on in the interrogation rooms."

That's changing. 50 years ago almost no interrogations were electronically recorded. The FBI, for example, prohibited recording. Now the FBI requires it, as do 23 states and many local police forces, at least in homicide cases. It should be universal. Recording greatly helps us evaluate any claim that a confession was false, and it has taught us how to improve the conduct of interrogations. It's a good start.

(source: Commentary; Samuel Gross is the editor and co-founder of the National Registry of Exonerations and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Maurice Possley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and senior researcher at the registry----The Marshall Project)


Government planning to execute 14 more people in 2016, 30 more in 2017

If all goes ahead as planned, the administration of President Joko Widodo will have executed 58 people before 2018.

According to the Attorney General's office, the government is planning to send 14 more people to the firing squad this year (after the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, of course) after executing 14 people for drug-related offenses last year. They are planning to execute more than double that number in 2017, budgeting enough money to go ahead with 30 executions next year.

"The completion of general criminal cases has been budgeted at Rp 463 billion (for 2017), including the (execution) of 30 sentenced to death," Deputy Attorney General of Development Bambang Waluyo said in a meeting with House Commission III today as quoted by Detik.

Attorney General HM Prasetyo said that they had actually budgeted enough money to execute even more people this year than the planned 14.

"We prepared a budget for 18 on death row. However things have been slightly delayed due to several factors," Prasetyo said, citing economic instability as one of those factors.

The Attorney General did not give any hints as to who might be among those in the planned executions. However, all of those executed in the 1st 2 rounds of executions under President Jokowi's administration were convicted of drug-related charges.

The Indonesian Government claims the country is facing a drug emergency that is killing 50 people per day (a statistic that is almost certainly wrong) and that the death penalty is a deterrent, despite the government's own figures stating that the number of drug users has dramatically increased since the last round of executions.



Many sentenced but none stoned to death----No stoning executed for many years

Saudi Arabia's laws include stoning to death but the penalty has not been executed for many years because convicts can avert it by pleading not guilty, according to a former Saudi law enforcer.

Mohammed Al Zahrani, ex-director of the Saudi prisons department, said many people had been sentenced to stoning to death over the past year for committing major crimes in line with the law but none of them has been stoned.

He said many sites had been prepared for stoning at cemeteries in Riyadh and other cities in the past years but none of them has so far been used.

"Many convicted criminals had been sentenced to stoning to death in the past years but none of them has been stoned," he told the Saudi Islamic TV channel Al-Resala.

"The reason is that they retract their confessions before the execution of the sentence. This is because Islam gives a chance to these convicts before they are stoned. They are informed that they can avoid being stoned if they change their statements and all of them have done so just before they were stoned."



Death penalty is murder, Bangladesh. Not justice----Genocide should not be forgotten. But can you try people on mere suspicion?

Bangladesh is a neighbour country, liberated by India in the famous war of 1971. It has a geography - at once fertile and fragile. Its population is 162 million with tribals and non-Muslims.

Imagine 1950 when India became a republic with around 350-odd million people. If we had that population now, both development and socioeconomic justice would have assured. But that was not to be.

Bangladesh's demography has it within its power to achieve many of these aims and objectives. Bangladeshis are a formidable people.

Their cricket excels, their export ventures are successful. They are industrious and the economy is poised to thrive.


But their democracy is tragically flawed in 2 distinct ways. The rise of Islamic terrorism (not Islamism) has led to people being hacked to death.

At the end of April and May 2016 there were ten cases of such gruesome killings. There is no way that this madness will stop. Violence breeds violence.

Bangladesh has gone through dictatorship for long periods of time. Its return to parliamentary democracy has been slow and vindictive. 2 women have dominated the political process.

Sheikh Hasina, the founder of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's daughter and her archrival Khalida Zia wife of the dictator Ziahur Rehman. Before Pakistan left Bangladesh they ordered "operation searchlight to ferret out people whom they arrested and killed".

The present prime minister puts the figure at three million dead. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) observed there was systematic elimination not incidental violation Sheikh Mujibur enacted up the Bangladesh Collaboration (Special Tribunal) Order 1972.

Later he was murdered. After the amnesty of 1973, about 752 were jailed for rape, murder, arson, looting, one (Chikon Ali) was sentenced to death.

Decades later, following Sheikh Hasina's electoral commitment the dormant International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was revived in 2012. This was not an international tribunal in the sense of Nuremburg, Serbia, Rwanda. It was a self-styled creation - virtually like a Star Chamber which could do what it likes. The watch agencies were alarmed.

Human Rights Watch reported on the death sentence of Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid (Jamaat-e-Islam) and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury (Bangladesh National Party) - both of the Opposition. Geoff Robertson QC's exposition is detailed in its information and pungent in its criticism.

Last time, I wrote of the Salahuddin Chowdhury case, it was alleged that he committed several crimes in the 1971 civil war. I read the judgment of 2015 with dismay.

A death warrant was issued and Salahuddin was hung. He had a perfect defence: he was not in Bangladesh at the time. Witnesses were prepared to prove this. They were not allowed to do so. After reading the article, Salahuddin's son was in touch with me. We commiserated together. He is a brave young man who is determined to fight on.


Now the Supreme Court has convicted Motiur Rahman Nizami for murder, rape and mass killing. It appears 197 people have been sentenced to death in Bangladesh, including four by the ICT.

On May 10, 2016 Nizami was put to death. During the trial the prosecution were allowed 22 witnesses, the defence only 4.

Defence lawyers, I was informed, were not allowed to cross-examine an important prosecution witness. The prosecution had almost 2 years to prepare their case, the defence 3 weeks.

The ICT, cases are not justice but murder. A tribunal cannot provide legitimisation to either the process or the regime. They might as well have been hung without the farce of a tribunal.

There are 3 important points. The 1st is that those guilty of genocide must be tried. We are now looking at facts of 1971 (45 years ago). Proof has aged into doubt.

It is time for conciliatory amnesty and justice commissions. The ICT is no answer - certainly not through a crooked and unfair process with a revenge motive emanating from a motivated regime devoted to vindictiveness.

2nd, due process is the heart and soul of the law. Without it all legal processes are unfair, arbitrary and unconstitutional. Without due process and substantive procedural reasonableness the law is dictatorial based not even on suspicion but finger pointing. This is uncivilised.

3rd, I, for one, am against the death penalty. Killing by authority of law is a murder of its own kind. In India, we say, it should be done in the rarest of rare cases - even that is unworkable. We cannot thirst for revenge and simultaneously talk of peace.


Peace does not come easily to a trouble nation. The area known as Bangladesh has suffered many times over. It suffered the agony of death and destruction during 1947 Partition. Then, again in 1971.

There can be no compromise with genocide. These are crimes against humanity.

To allow memory to obfuscate tragedy is to lose one's sense of history and humanity. Genocide should not be forgotten.

But can you try people on suspicion, without fairness; and carry out sentences of death?

Unproved cases are half-baked fake cases - more sinned against the sinning. There can be no justice without humanity.

We may not forget, but should we punish those who are not proven guilty? We may not forgive, but we are not absolved from finding the truth.

Whether the law should permit the state to kill is another matter. Bangladeshi justice stumbles at the 1st step of justice: due process and proof. In these matters only proof beyond all reasonable doubt will do.

(source: Opinion, Rajeev Dhavan;


South African man nabbed at Vietnam airport with 1.7 kg of cocaine

Police and customs officers in Ho Chi Minh City last week arrested a South African man for smuggling 1.7 kilograms of cocaine into Vietnam.

The 32-year-old man, whose name was withheld, was caught with the drug hidden in separate plastic bags in his luggage, when he arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport on a flight from Qatar's Doha on June 10.

The batch could have been sold for US$300,000 and the man had been promised $3,500, the man reportedly told the police.

Investigation is ongoing.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Those convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or cocaine 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)


Confessions of a former hangman ----From spending time with the condemned in their isolated cells, to watching them eat their final meals, to operating the trap door sending them falling to their deaths, a former prison guard shares his experience of executions. He speaks on condition of strict anonymity

The recent execution of convicted serial murderer and rapist, Patrick Gabaakanye continues to send ripples through public discourse, reinvigorating the debate around capital punishment.

In the midst of the furore, a former prison guard this week approached Mmegi to share his experience of the execution process in Botswana. The guard worked in Gaborone and other prisons countrywide in the 1990s and 2000s, during which Botswana attracted international attention for several high profile executions. The prison warder, Kgomotso Peloethata*, asks for his identity to be kept absolutely secret for fear of victimisation and reprisals from certain sections of the public.

Peloethata recalls details about the Gaborone Maximum Prison Execution Chamber and the several death row inmates who took their final walk to the trap doors. "I have directly participated in seven executions, sometimes instructed to release the trap door handle. The Officer in Charge of the Prison selects an execution team comprising of male and female warders.

"The person who opens the trap door can be the most senior officer or any other officer of the team."

He reveals that during the countdown towards execution, the condemned inmate's last supper is his/her choice of favourite dishes. The inmate is also offered an opportunity to make a will that will later be handed over to family members.

According to Peloethata, those allowed access to the execution chambers include an accounting officer who may be the permanent secretary of the relevant ministry or any senior officer, as well as a medical doctor who is required to verify the success of the execution.

Condemned prisoners are led to the execution chambers with black hoods covering their faces.

"After the noose is tied around their neck, the trap doors are opened and the prisoner struggles briefly while fading to the final breath," he says.

"The body is then cleaned by a coroner from within the department, and placed in a decent coffin for burial by the warders. "It is not true that fellow prisoners are made to dig the graves.

That is the duty of the prisons warders who also do the burial." From the time a convict is sentenced to death, they are allocated a separate and isolated cell from other prisoners. Their only companion is a prison warder on watch around the clock.

Peloethata says a relationship tends to build between the death row inmate and the warders, out of sympathy. "You would imagine yourself in the shoes of the convicted murderer and imagine what he is thinking. It is tough to digest and pretend as if nothing is happening. "However, one has to honour the code of conduct and the duties. I am a proponent of capital punishment, but I would feel sympathetic to them, especially towards the last days."

Prison warders involved in the executions are offered pre- and post-execution counselling, says Peloethata. He, however, says few are left traumatised by the experience as they take the presidential directive very seriously. "I have never heard of any case of an officer experiencing post-execution trauma. You should always remember that it is a directive from the President, after failed clemency pleas, and it has to be followed."

According to Peloethata, as the days progress and the execution looms large, many death row convicts confess their crimes to their warders and describe the scenarios of their crimes. He says this particularly happens when the President turns down the clemency plea. Peloethata, who is now self-employed, recalls some notable executions.

Tekoetsile Tsiane

"Teko, as he was commonly known, beat up some warders and some of them can share testimony to the scars that he left on them. "The guy was very dangerous and all warders were well aware of his martial arts background and the physical strength he possessed. Necessary restraints were applied. "Like any other fight or war, one would come back with signs of the effects such as missing shirt buttons, torn trousers. "Even those assigned to escort him to the trap doors came back with memories of his violence."

Marietta Bosch

"Before she was executed, we were given the usual instructions and made aware of the protocols to be followed. "She seemed remorseful of her deeds in her last hour although she did not reveal why she actually killed her best friend. "She was only concerned about her plea for forgiveness and covenant with the heavens. She only realised very late the gravity of the reality of execution minutes before she was walked to the noose. "She would often talk about her daughter's ailment, which she said was diabetes."

Letlhogonolo Kobedi

"He was a remorseful and lonely figure prior to his execution. I noticed he had no energy even long before execution, as he was unable to walk by himself. He had poor physique and lack of energy as he was led to the trap door." Despite criticisms, the death penalty is unlikely to be scrapped any time soon. This week, Botswana Democratic Party secretary general, Botsalo Ntuane said government's position was clear.

"Very few Batswana are against capital punishment. We also want to challenge the opposition parties in Botswana to provide their position in this matter, but until then, capital punishment will remain applicable in this country."

*Not his real name



Lacson: Senate shouldn't pass death penalty law to please Duterte

Senator-elect Panfilo "Ping" Lacson has thumbed down the proposed restoration of the death penalty only during the 6-year term of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

"I don't agree. The Senate is a self-respecting institution and should not legislate to please the incumbent President of the Philippines which obviously is what will be projected to our people if we include a sunset provision limiting the effectivity of the proposed legislation on the restoration of the death penalty," Lacson said over the weekend.

"My take is, either we vote for or against the measure once it reaches the Senate floor depending on our own conviction but definitely not to accommodate the President of the Republic," he added.

Lacson, who is in favor of the death penalty, was responding to reelected Senator Ralph Recto's statement that the proposed restoration of the death penalty should have a sunset provision that it should be imposed for 6 years only.

"I am personally against the death penalty but assuming it will be restored, I will propose it be imposed only for 6 years or only during the term of President Duterte," Recto said in a text message to reporters last Friday.

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on justice, was also cold to Recto's proposal, saying there was no need for such a provision since the law could be repealed anyway.

"That's a novel approach but we might open new debates about that)..." he said of Recto's proposal.

"Anyway, it can be repealed any time. There’s no irrepealable law so anytime, when the time comes, it can be repealed" Pimentel said.

(Anyway, if the people's mood changes, if the mood of the legislators and policymakers change, it can be repealed any time. There's no irrepealable law so anytime, when the time comes, it can be repealed; having a sunset provision won't be necessary.)

Pimentel, who is said to be the next Senate president in the 17th Congress, believes that the death penalty should be reimposed on heinous crimes involving illegal drugs.



'Hanging is too mild for such a savage': The story of the youngest man executed by the Irish State

William O'Neill was executed four days after Christmas, on the 29 December 1927. He was 19 years old.

The valley of Glenmalure, situated in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, is surely one of Ireland's most beautiful, and isolated, places.

It has a strong tradition of Irish rebellion and many Irish freedom fighters spent time hiding in the vast expanse - most noticeably Michael Dwyer.

There have also always been hardy local folk willing to eke out a living from the lonely mountains and valleys. Peggy O'Farrell was one such woman whose family had a long history in the area. She was 84 years old and lived in the remote townland of Carriglineen in the valley.

She had never married so resided alone in her neat 1-storey cottage which lay several miles from the nearest village. She did have close neighbours, one within 50 yards of her dwelling, and she lived happily on her well-kept 6 acre farm, employing a labourer who aided her with sowing oats and potatoes as well as keeping fowl, pigs and cows.

She was also known to have a good deal of money, drawing an old-age pension while also receiving an inheritance totalling 100 pounds a year from a deceased brother who had gone to Australia.

Her nephew James Byrne also lived in the locality, 1/4 of a mile up the valley.

On the night of the 7 May 1927, Byrne went to visit his aunt arriving at 10.20pm. He was a dutiful nephew and called to her frequently. His aunt seemed her usual self at the time and the pair talked and had tea together for over an hour.

Byrne did think that he heard noises out in the yard on 2 occasions but saw nothing when he went out to check. He left at around 11.30pm, closing the door and gate after him to keep the dog in.

He did not meet anyone on his way home.

At 11am the following morning Mary O'Brien called to O'Farrell's to get some milk. To her surprise, she found the front gate and door open and objects strewn all over the house.

Badly beaten

There was no sign of Peggy in her home so Mary went out to the back garden where she found her neighbour. She had been badly beaten and was dead. Her hands were bound tightly with a blue belt over her head and a scarf was tied around her mouth. The lower part of her clothing had been disturbed and her body was covered with a sack.

Mary ran to the neighbouring Byrne house to summon help.

Gardai and the doctor arrived from nearby Rathdrum quickly. The doctor, on removing the scarf, discovered Peggy's mouth and ears were covered in blood. Her face had been struck with several heavy blows. Death was due to shock, exposure and partial suffocation.

She had also been 'outraged', the term most commonly used for sexually assaulted at the time.


The house was in disarray and had clearly been ransacked. Despite the fact that it was known that Mary had kept large amounts of money at home, there was no notes or coins present and an expensive silver watch was missing.

There was also a stick on the bed which did not belong to her. A huge crowd attended the funeral on 11 May, the locals expressing their shock at such a brutal crime occurring in such a tranquil rural place.

The national media also took a huge interest in what must have been a particularly distressing crime, one regional newspaper commenting:

One would have thought that such an abominable outrage was impossible in a civilised or Christian country.


Gardai were very quick to arrest a potential suspect. William O'Neill was about 19 years old, although he was unsure of his own age. He was an illiterate casual labourer who was known for working anywhere and occasionally sleeping rough, despite his father and sister living in Rathdrum.

His mother had died 9 years before, and his father admitted that his youngest son "had to look after himself the best he could".

William was arrested on 8 May on the way to Peggy O'Farrell's wake.

Gardai had found out the day after the murder that O'Neill had shown a silver watch and chain to 2 men which he claimed he'd won playing cards. When gardai heard this, they were immediately suspicious that it was the same one missing from Peggy O'Farrell's house.

They questioned O'Neill, who initially denied possessing a watch.

When he was confronted with the sworn testimonies of the 2 witnesses who had seen him with it he admitted he had shown it to them, but swore that he had found it the year before.

He had then hidden it in a field on Byrne's farm, where he had been labouring for some time. When questioned as to why he had hidden the watch, O'Neill claimed that he was "afraid he would break it getting up on a horse".

He brought the gardai to the field where he claimed to have left it but it was nowhere to be found. He did lead the gardaí to a dilapidated house nearby where he kept a suit, shoes, a mirror and razor. The shoes had the appearance of having been vigorously scrubbed.

After a 7-hour search of the rest of Byrne's farm, the gardai finally found incriminating articles.

A silver watch was discovered in a patch of bushes, while 17 pounds in 1 pound and 5 pound denominations was found rolled up in a collar. On one of the notes the name Margaret O'Farrell was written clearly.

On the 10 May, William O'Neill was charged with wilful murder, to which he replied "very well, charge me with whatever you like".

His trial began in Dublin on the 14 July 1927. As O'Neill entered the courtroom, his demeanour was cool and he smiled at acquaintances. He walked to his father with an outstretched hand.

His father shouted "Go away, go away."

The younger O'Neill then showed signs of agitation, sitting down and saying, "Don't take it that way."

His father gave evidence of his son's movements on the night, stating that the younger O'Neill had arrived home after 1am on the morning of the murder and given his father several half-crowns, a rare occurrence, before going to bed.

On the day of the murder O'Neill told the court that he had been working on Laurence Byrne's farm. That evening Byrne had went to a wake in Glenmalure and O'Neill also claimed to have attended the same event, although none of the mourners could vouch for his presence.

He also said he did not hear about the murder until the day after it had occurred and had not been near the deceased woman's house. James Toomey, neighbour of Peggy O'Farrell, contradicted this, however, asserting that he had met the accused walking towards Carriglineen at 11pm on the 7 May and they exchanged greetings.

O'Neill pleaded not guilty.

His defence said that he had not been in trouble with the law before. He had been working regularly for several farmers in the district, and was therefore in no great need of money.

When the accused took the stand himself he denied emphatically having anything to do with the murder. His story had, by now, changed about his movements on the night in question.

He was left alone in Byrne's house when the farmer had gone to the wake. O'Neill had shaved before going out into the field with 2 dogs hunting rabbits. He had then slept briefly but was awoken by the dogs so he got up and took the "shortcut" to Rathdrum arriving home at 1am.

He had not been to the wake or near Ms. O'Farrell's house and had found the silver watch the next day. He did not know why he had said he won it or told other lies. He explained that the money in his pocket was earned by himself in his labouring but the money found in the field was not his.

O'Neill admitted he was in the habit of telling lies and found it easy to do so but added that he was now definitely telling the truth because "he was cautioned".

2nd trial

In the 1st trial the jury could not agree. The 2nd trial began on the 30 November, hearing the same evidence. This time, O'Neill's pathological and persistent lying worked against him and he was found guilty of the murder of Peggy O'Farrell and sentenced to death.

He had brutally and callously ended the life of an old woman. In doing so, he inadvertently brought about his own death.

One newspaper had said before the trial that "hanging is entirely too mild for such a savage".

William O'Neill was executed 4 days after Christmas, on the 29 December 1927. He was, in all probability, 19 years old and the youngest man ever executed by the Irish State.

(source: Colm Wallace has written a book Sentenced to Death: Saved from the Gallows about 30 Irish men and women who had the death penalty imposed on them between 1922 and 1985----The Journal)


Government cannot continue to justify death penalty by saying it deters crime, say anti-death penalty activists

The following is a press release by Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign.

The recent hanging of Kho Jabing despite exhausting all legal avenues was a dampener. The are are insurmountable obstacles staring down at those amongst us who take up the dogged fight of standing up for the repeal of the death penalty in Singapore.

The amendments to the Penal Code in 2013 following the celebrated judgement of Yong Vui Kong which spared him from the gallows, allowing judges greater discretion in meting out alternative punishments rather than being compelled to sentence the accused to death by hanging according to the mandatory death penalty. This is a start and an inch closer towards eventual repeal of the death penalty.

But it is also equally pertinent to note that the move towards greater discretionary sentencing did not come about by chance nor handed to us on a silver platter. It was won and fought for by activists, lawyers, idealists and most importantly, us Singaporeans. The collective action of civil society groups have helped raise awareness amongst the public about the injustices of the death penalty and compelled the administration to take heed of the compelling arguments against the mandatory death penalty.

The work put in by civil society too, has led to the release of annual statistics of execution after it was stated in civil society groups' submissions to United Nation's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Singapore in 2010 that there was a lack of transparency in the number of executions carried out. However, there is still much more work to be done. Other information surrounding the death penalty in Singapore, such as demographics of the inmates on death row and identities of inmates who face imminent executions, continues to be shrouded in secrecy.

It goes without saying that more should and can be done to pressure the authorities into greater transparency of such information. It cannot be that our government continues to justify the death penalty by regurgitating often-mentioned arguments that it 'deters crime'.

We are all aware of the mendacity of the arguments that continue to be cited by the government in favour of retaining the death penalty, but what should stir our consciences more is the incomprehensible lack of public debate and deliberation on the death penalty. It says a lot when our citizenry are not active stakeholders in an issue as complex as the death penalty compared to foreign NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Such issues have far reaching implications on the kind of values we want to promote, justice and security. It is high time that we the people begin to become that spark- to illuminate and create a backdrop of enlightened, passionate deliberation and consultation on our views of the death penalty. Such ground-up efforts will not only serve as a clear, unequivocal message to the authorities on the general public's stance on such issues, but also help strengthen our sense of ownership, rights and understanding of natural justice.

Where we have met with adversity and vilification, let us instead show fortitude and magnanimity. Let us come together to ensure that we can build a a system that we can all be proud of, where natural justice prevails. There goes a proverbial saying that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, travel together. The road ahead may be paved with obstacles, but if we rally together and gather our fierce passions and determination to reform the criminal justice system, we will overcome.

Singapore Anti death penalty Campaign (SADPC) was formed in 2005 by a group of us. We are going to witness a spate of executions in the coming months. It's going to be a very trying period.We intend to organize training and advocacy workshop and other activities to equip new anti death penalty advocates with local and international advocacy.

If you are interested to join us , please contact us at

M Ravi

Co-founder - Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign


JUNE 12, 2016:


The end of executions in Connecticut

For Connecticut, at least, the decision late last month by the state Supreme Court most likely spoke the final words in the decades-long death penalty debate.

Ruling 5-2 in Connecticut v. Peeler, the justices rejected a plea from prosecutors to reverse the court's 2015 decision. That leaves in place the 2015 ruling, which found that abolition of the death penalty also applies to those condemned to die before Connecticut outlawed capital punishment in 2012.

The 2012 repeal made Connecticut one of 19 states to end the death penalty. From the moment Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the law, it was clear that there would be challenges to the capital sentences of the 11 men then on death row.

The Day has consistently argued for abolition of capital punishment and for the repeal to apply to those already sentenced. State-sanctioned killing "disproportionately targets minorities, has no deterrent value, cannot be undone if there is a mistake, and is a barbaric act that lowers the state to the level of the killer," the newspaper said in 2014.

One of the previously condemned, Eduardo Santiago, brought the appeal that resulted in 2015's 4-3 decision that declared his death sentence in a 2000 murder-for-hire unconstitutional.

In asking the court to reverse that decision, prosecutors made their appeal based on a particularly despicable case - Russell Peeler's death sentence for ordering the 1999 murders of a mother and her 8-year-old son. The boy was to have been a witness against Peeler in another shooting.

The divided court and the effort by prosecutors to revive the death penalty reflect the continuing passionate disagreement as to whether Connecticut's pre-repeal death penalty was unconstitutional, as decided in the Santiago case. It is unquestionably illegal for murders committed since April 25, 2012 to be subject to the death penalty, but the door the legislature left open on past sentences led to the appeals to the Supreme Court.

The court's announcement of the newest decision ends any confusion. It came in a brief opinion that said, in effect, it is premature to revise a decision that is less than a year old. The strongly worded dissents of 2 justices, Peter T. Zarella and Carmen E. Espinosa, criticized that as insufficient reason for ruling against an appeal in such a vital matter.

Society continues to move away from capital punishment, not only from a sense that the state should not be killing people but also because it has become increasingly unlikely that executions will be carried out in a manner that meets the constitutional requirement to be neither cruel nor unusual. Physicians and drug companies, whose participation used to be a matter of business as usual, now largely refuse to be a part of putting someone to death.

Initiatives like the Innocence Project keep identifying mistakes made in prosecuting crimes, some of which have resulted in executions of people who weren't guilty. That won't happen again in Connecticut.

The end of capital punishment in Connecticut ends one of the great moral and policy debates of our time, setting apart 20th- and 21st-century morals and ethics from the pragmatic, largely unquestioned execution practices of societies in other eras. Connecticut now fully joins most of the world in moving beyond the eye-for-an-eye mentality of the death penalty. In 2015, only 4 countries had more confirmed judicial-ordered executions than the United States - China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. When it comes to honoring human rights, that is not good company to keep.

The Connecticut Supreme Court's Peeler decision May 26 aroused little public debate. This is a sign, perhaps, that the public has largely reached a consensus, at last, not to punish killing with killing.

(source: Editorial, The Day)


Sentenced to death: A waiting game for 'the worst of the worst'

When Antwan Andre Anthony was sentenced to death in April for the 2012 killings of 3 convenience store workers in Farmville, it marked the end of a long wait for justice and the start of another.

Anthony, 33, became the f4th man since the early 1990s to be sentenced to death for a conviction of murder in Pitt County. He is one of 150 death row inmates in North Carolina. Before Anthony, the last inmate to be received on death row was in 2014.

Most of North Carolina's death row inmates - 111 of the 151 - have been there for 15 years or longer, with much of that time spent in the appeals process. The state also has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, and the last execution was 10 years ago.

Will Anthony ever meet the fate assigned to him by a jury and judge in Pitt County? It's not likely, according to Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has spent nearly 20 years studying the death penalty.

"65 % of the time, death sentences are overturned on appeal, and those reversals might come 3 years later, 5 years later, 10 years later, but that's an especially shocking number," he said.

Across the country, more than 8,000 death sentences have been handed down, but many of those sentences are overturned, with the defendant then receiving a sentence of life without parole, Baumgartner said.

\"The 2nd-largest number of people who have been sentenced to death have simply languished on death row for 20 or 30 years," he said. And the least likely outcome is that the person will be executed.

"Nationally, it's not uncommon that the few executions that do take place, the crimes took place in the '80s," Baumgartner said.

The average delay is about 20 years.

For Anthony, Baumgartner said, "what happens now is going to be a very long waiting game."

Automatic appeals

Anthony and other defendants sentenced to death automatically are entitled to 2 rounds of appeals, 1 on the state level and another on the federal level, Baumgartner said.

It is not uncommon for the process to take 10 to 20 years, said Jeff Welty, associate professor of public law and government at the School of Government at UNC.

Generally, there are 4 steps to the appeals process, he said. In the initial step, called the direct appeal, the inmate and his defense team identify what they believe to be legal errors during trial and appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court.

"If that's not successful, we go to step 2, which is sometimes called the state collateral review, and at that point, the defendant files something called motion for appropriate relief and they file it with the superior court in the jurisdiction where they were tried," Welty said.

That already has happened in the Anthony case.

Anthony's attorneys filed a motion for appropriate relief about a week after he was sentenced on grounds that a sheriff's office employee reportedly made improper comments within earshot of jurors during the trial. The comments allegedly included the employee's opinion on what should happen to Anthony.

A hearing to determine if that occurred and if it is cause for a new trial or sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1.

"The grounds for reversal have to be very serious findings from appellate court," Baumgartner said. "It would have to be some very serious flaw that could have changed the outcome, either in the trial for guilt or more likely in the penalty phase."

If the superior court does not rule in favor of the defendant on a motion for appropriate relief, the defendant can appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court, Welty said.

"If that step doesn't bear fruit, then the case moves on to step 3, which is federal habeas review," he said. "... The idea there is to allow federal courts to take a look and make sure that state courts are carrying out their constitutional responsibilities."

That process begins in federal district court and can be appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If all of those avenues of appeal fail, the defendant's last opportunity is to make a request for clemency to the governor, Welty said.

Sticking points

North Carolina is 1 of 31 states where the death penalty is legal. It has been abolished in 19 states. While North Carolina has not declared any official moratorium on the death penalty, there have been no executions since 2006.

"There's been a whole bunch of litigation about different aspects of the death penalty that has had the effect of creating a de facto moratorium," Welty said.

The 3 sticking points have been the requirement that a licensed physician be present during an execution, concerns about the lethal injection procedure and uncertainty surrounding claims filed under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act.

"The Medical Board took the position that doctors couldn't participate in executions, and that caused litigation between the state and the Medical Board," Welty said. A bill that became law last year removed that requirement and allows for other medical professionals, a nurse practitioner for example, to be present instead of a doctor.

One of the next hurdles is the contention about lethal injection.

"Around the country, there's been so many controversies about lethal injections that have gone wrong," Baumgartner said, "so you can bet your bottom dollar that when they schedule the 1st execution, there will be litigation about what drug will be used and how can we guarantee the safety of the drug supply and where do they get the drugs, and all those complicated wranglings will start happening about the lethal injection process."

Last month, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer took steps to prevent distribution of its products for use in lethal injections. Pfizer limited the sale of seven of its products to wholesalers, distributors and direct purchasers under the condition that the products would not be resold to correctional institutions.

Pfizer's move further complicates the lethal injection process in states that used its products for that purpose.

There already is ongoing litigation over the Racial Justice Act, which was enacted in 2009 and allowed inmates to challenge their death sentences based on racial disparity statistics, related mostly to jury selection, Baumgartner said.

Nearly all death row inmates filed claims under the act, and 4 cases were heard in court, with each defendant seeing success. But the act was repealed last year.

A Cumberland County judge assigned to hear the 4 inmates' appeals on Thursday volunteered to remove himself, following months of arguments by defense attorneys that he had conflicts of interest. Another judge will be assigned to hear the appeals.

"Lawyers will be arguing probably for more than another year about whether the inmates who filed have a right to have their case heard under a law that no longer exists," Baumgartner said. "You have to be a lawyer to figure that one out, but it's still part of the landscape here in North Carolina, so I don't think we're going to be looking at the resumption of executions anytime soon."

'Worst of the worst'

Experts say there has been a sharp decline in the number of death sentences. In the last 5 years, 7 men have been sentenced to death in North Carolina.

Between 1993 and 1999, the number of defendants to receive the death penalty statewide generally was in double-digits. Now, the number of death sentences each year ranges from 0 to 3.

"The main reason is prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty as much, and juries are loathe to hand it out anymore," Baumgartner said. That may be because a high number of the accused have had their convictions overturned after it was determined they were innocent, he said.

"There's been about 1,400 executions nationally since 1976 and 158 exonerations," he said. "In North Carolina, there have been 42 (executions) and 5 or 6 exonerations. So it's almost like 1 in 10. That's a pretty scary, pretty low batting average of getting it right."

Some might ask why the state even goes to bat for the death penalty if so many sentences are overturned and there have been no executions in the last 10 years.

"The death penalty is still on the books," Pitt County Assistant District Attorney Clark Everett said. "I think you have to have the death penalty there for the worst of the worst. It's got to be there.

"You have to do it because who knows what's coming next week," he said. "If you don't follow the law and have some threshold where you say, 'Alright, this is a death penalty case,' then it pretty much puts you in a situation where you're never going to be able to."

The threshold includes 3 components: The murder must be particularly horrible, a double or triple homicide, for example; overwhelming evidence of guilt; and a defendant with significant criminal or violent history.

Juries who have found a defendant guilty in a capital trial face the task of determining if he should receive a sentence of life in prison without parole or death, but for now, Baumgartner says there isn't much of a difference.

"The odds are that the person won't be executed, even though the state may try its best to make it happen," he said.

Nationally, there is only a 13 % chance it will be carried out, he said. Among those, the executions come decades later, after several appeals, which serve as a routine reminder of the crime. But defendants sentenced to life without parole are not guaranteed the same automatic appeals.

"LWOP is a death penalty by another name because you don't leave prison alive, and there's nothing light about that penalty," Baumgartner said. "It's like 2 forms of a death penalty we're talking about: one where you get automatic appeals and the most likely outcome is you end up on LWOP eventually, just after many years of appeals, and the other is you just go straight to LWOP, and that's the end of the story."

For Anthony, the process is just beginning.

"What will happen now is he'll get automatic appeals, and there will be a lot of money spent and, most likely, he'll never be executed," Baumgartner said.

"It's just a tragedy all the way around," he said, "because it's not helpful to anybody in the system to have a death penalty in name only."


Capital punishment timeline

Important dates in the development of North Carolina's death penalty:

1910 - North Carolina takes over administration of the death penalty. Before this, public hangings were common. The electric chair is now in use.

1932 - John Myers becomes the first Pitt County defendant to be executed since the state assumed administration of the death penalty.

1936 - State begins use of the gas chamber. Pitt County defendant Willie Tate is executed.

1942 - Pitt County defendant William Long is executed.

1948 - Pitt County defendant Booker T. Anderson is executed.

1953 - Pitt County defendants Bennie Daniels and Lloyd R. Daniels are executed.

1983 - Persons to be executed in North Carolina are allowed to choose between lethal injection and the gas chamber.

1993 - Warren Gregory is sentenced in Pitt County to death (still on death row).

1994 - Vincent Wooten is sentenced in Pitt County to death (still on death row).

1998 - Lethal injection becomes the only method used in North Carolina.

1999 - Pitt County defendant Harvey Lee Green is executed.

2000 - Mark Squires is sentenced in Pitt County to death (still on death row).

2001 - Pitt County defendant David Junior Ward is executed.

2004 - Pitt County defendant Sammy Crystal Perkins is executed. Perkins is the 9th and last Pitt County defendant to be executed.

2006 - Samuel Flippen, a defendant in a Forsyth County case, is the last to be executed in North CarolinaM

2009 - Racial Justice Act signed into law. It was repealed in 2013 but nearly every death row defendant filed an appeal under the law.

2015 - Bill signed into law no longer requires doctors be present during executions but instead allows nurse practionioners or other medical professionals to be present, clearing one of the hurdles to resuming the death penalty. Challenges to lethal injection as a form of execution remain.

2016 - Antwan Andre Anthony is sentenced in Pitt County to death.

(source for both:


Most SC blacks say Dylann Roof should get life without parole

A majority of black South Carolinians say Dylann Roof should be sentenced to life without parole - not death - if he is found guilty of murdering 9 African-American members of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

But most white South Carolinians say Roof should be sentenced to death if he is found guilty, according to a University of South Carolina poll.

Roof faces federal and state charges in connection with the Charleston massacre. Both federal and state prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

The difference of opinion over Roof reflects historically differing attitudes toward the death penalty between black and white South Carolinians, according to the USC poll, released Saturday.

The poll - on race relations a year after the Emanuel 9 massacre - also found stark differences in how South Carolina's white and African-American residents view the criminal justice system.

The poll found:

-- A majority of black South Carolinians - 64.7 % - said Roof should be sentenced to life without parole if found guilty.

-- Just 3 in 10 African Americans - 30.9 % - said Roof should be sentenced to death. Another 4.4 % said they didn't know what the punishment should be, according to the poll, which surveyed 800 random S.C. adults.

-- The majority of whites - 64.6 % - think Roof should be sentenced to death.

-- Only 29.9 % of whites think Roof should be sentenced to life without parole; 5.6 % of those surveyed said they didn't know.

'We can empathize with anyone'

The question of whether to seek the death penalty against Roof divides the families of those slain in Charleston.

Some family members oppose the death penalty. Others say it would be justice.

The findings of the USC poll reflect most black South Carolinians' consistent opposition to the death penalty and most whites' consistent support for it, said Monique Lyle, a USC political scientist who co-conducted the poll with USC's Bob Oldendick.

The majority of black South Carolinians - 64.9 % - oppose the death penalty, according to the poll. The majority of white South Carolinians - 69.4 % - favor it.

The African-American community's opposition to the death penalty reflects its history with the criminal-justice system, said Kylon Middleton, senior pastor of Charleston's Mount Zion AME Church.

"Most black people would not want someone to be executed because" so many African Americans have been executed, said Middleton, a longtime friend to Clementa Pinckney, the Emanuel pastor and state senator who was among the 9 slain.

"We have been brutalized in this country, therefore, we can empathize with anyone ... who would receive ultimate judgment," Middleton said, citing America's history of slavery.

Beyond that history, African Americans also tend to be extremely religious, said state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, noting the Bible commands: Thou shall not kill.

In addition, a life sentence without parole now means that a defendant will spend life in prison. "That seems to be sufficient for most African Americans as punishment," even in the case of Roof, Rutherford said, an attorney.

The African-American community also believes in a rehabilitative and repentant society, said state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, who declined to discuss Roof specifically. (Malloy, an attorney, represents the family of Sen. Pinckney.)

African Americans also have concerns about the fairness of the justice system, said Todd Shaw, a USC professor of political science and African-American studies.

"I don't think there would be an exception for someone such as Dylann Roof," Shaw said, adding some African Americans feel "bringing about his death will not bring about justice."

White, blacks differ on use of deadly force

While they differ over the death penalty and Roof, black and white South Carolinians are in general agreement in some areas.

Both agree, for example, that it was right to charge a white North Charleston police officer with murder in connection with the shooting death of an unarmed black motorist, Walter Scott.

That racially charged incident, which was videoed, occurred 2 months before Roof entered Emanuel AME.

A majority of whites and blacks who recalled the Scott shooting said it was the right decision to charge the officer - Michael Slager - with murder.

In the USC poll, 89.6 % of blacks said it was the right decision to charge Slager with murder, and 79.4 % of whites agreed.

The poll also found:

-- South Carolinians are nearly unanimous - 100 % of blacks and 98.7 % of whites - in saying it is a good idea for more police officers to wear body cameras, a post-Scott reform that legislators still are trying to pay for.

-- A majority of white South Carolinians - 85.5 % - and black South Carolinians - 61.3 % - feel mostly safe with police in their community.

-- 30.9 % of blacks said police in the community make them feel mostly anxious, a feeling shared by only 12.2 % of whites.

But white and black South Carolinians differ strongly on whether police are too quick to use deadly force.

The majority of blacks -78 % - said police are too quick to use deadly force. However, the majority of whites - 77.5 % - said police use deadly force only when necessary.

That difference in opinion reflects the real-world experiences of black South Carolinians, USC's Shaw said.

The shooting also triggered underlying sentiments and fears.

Rutherford used himself as an example, saying he is 45, the leader of Democrats in the S.C. House and a lawyer.

"And I still tense up when I see a police officer behind me," Rutherford said. "And I know I'm not doing anything wrong."



2 men again accused of murdering 3 in 2006

Case timeline

Sept. 17, 2006: Becky Friedli, Vicki Friedli and Jon Hayward are found dead at their home in Pinyon Pines, which had been set ablaze.

Oct. 2, 2007: Sheriff's detectives serve search warrants and seize shotguns from the homes of Robert Pape - Becky Friedli's ex-boyfriend - and his friend Cristin Smith, but the men are not arrested.

April 2009: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approves a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.

Summer 2012: Despairing that the Sheriff's Department case has stalled, the Friedli family hires private investigators and erects billboards along Interstate 10 encouraging anyone with information to call a hotline.

April 2013: After re-opening the case against Pape and Smith, homicide detectives present their evidence to the Riverside County district attorney, who requests further investigation.

December 2013: The case is resubmitted to prosecutors, who decide to present it to a grand jury.

March 4, 2014: The grand jury begins hearing evidence from 30 witnesses as prosecutors ask to return murder indictments on Pape and Smith.

March 11, 2014: The grand jury returns indictments recommending t3 counts of murder for both men. Pape and Smith are arrested in the Coachella Valley. Charges have to be re-filed against Smith because he was a juvenile at the time of the killings.

March 26, 2014: Smith undergoes a preliminary hearing and is ordered to stand trial.

Oct. 3, 2014: Charges are dismissed against Pape and Smith at the Riverside County district attorney's office request. Officials say charges may be refiled.

10 years after 3 people were found burned in a house in the Riverside County mountain community of Pinyon Pines and 2 years after murder charges were dismissed against the 2 suspects, charges have been refiled in the case.

The original suspects, Robert Lars Pape, 28, and Cristin Conrad Smith, 27, each were charged Friday, June 10, with three counts of murder and a special circumstance of committing multiple murders. Both are in custody.

Becky Friedli, 18, Vicki Friedli, 53, and Jon Hayward, 55, were killed the night of Sept. 17, 2006, the same night Pape and Smith were to have gone hiking with Becky.

Hayward and his longtime girlfriend, Vicki Friedli,were found fatally shot inside the burning home. Becky's body had been set ablaze in a wheelbarrow outside.

"Nobody who works outside of the criminal justice system really understands the anguish that families go through when their loved ones have been murdered," District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at a news conference attended by Hayward family members. "It tears a hole in the fabric of the community, and it tears a hole in the fabric of the family. Their anguish is endless."

Hestrin inherited the case from Paul Zellerbach, who inherited it from Rod Pacheco.

"18 months ago when I took office, I said I would review this case with a fresh set of eyes. We have done just that. ... We went through the case exhaustively and determined we needed to start over and have a complete and new investigation," Hestrin said.

Hestrin thought the investigation, bolstered by the Sheriff's Department, would take several months. Instead, it took a year and a half.

Hestrin said he was able to refile charges because investigators discovered new evidence, and unspecified, previously unavailable "cutting-edge technology" shed new light on old clues.

A grand jury had indicted Pape and Smith in March 2014. But in October of that year, Zellerbach requested that charges be dismissed.

Friday, Hestrin said Zellerbach "mishandled" the case during the grand jury proceedings.

Nonsense, Zellerbach said in a phone interview Friday.

"Any allegation that I mishandled the case is terribly wrong and uniformed," he said.

Zellerbach said his predecessor, Pacheco, had declined to file charges after the Sheriff's Department submitted its findings. Zellerbach's office, after meeting with sheriff's investigators and doing its own investigation, filed charges.

Zellerbach acknowledged that the prosecutor he assigned to the case made some legal mistakes in front of the grand jury. Zellerbach said evidence favorable to the defendants was not presented. And after the prosecutor promised that the grand jury that it would hear certain evidence, 1 of the witnesses asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and failed to provide that testimony.

After a judge said he was likley to grant the defense motion to dismiss the case, Zellerbach said he believed he had no choice but to drop the charges with the hope of refiling at some point.


Pape was arrested about 7 a.m. Friday, June 10, during a vehicle stop in Cathedral City, and was booked into Robert Presley Detention Center. He is being held without bail. Smith was arrested at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Sacramento.

The special circumstance allegation makes Pape eligible for the death penalty. Smith is not eligible because he was a juvenile, 17, when the crime occurred.

Hestrin said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

He has assigned his chief of operations, John Aki, to head the prosecution of the case.

(source: Press-Enterprise)


Exonerated man decries Oregon's death penalty law

No one has a higher right than Kirk Bloodsworth to wear a garish necktie decorated with the double helix of DNA.

Bloodsworth was the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence. He became Catholic before he ws freed in 1993 from the Maryland State Penitentiary.

In May, Bloodsworth came to Oregon from his home in Pennsylvania to criticize this state's death penalty law.

Asked why the average person sitting in the pew at Mass should care about overturning capital punishment, Bloodsworth thinks the answer is obvious.

"Because it could happen to the average person in church, like it did to me," he said May 12 at a gathering in Portland’s Pearl District.

At 17, he joined the Marines and became a military policeman. The idea of shooting someone troubled him. It seemed like power inappropriate for a human.

"There is only one Cat I know who is omnipotent," he says.

In 1985, he was convicted of rape and 1st-degree murder in the death of a 9-year-old girl in Rosedale, Md. 5 witnesses said they saw him with the girl.

In prison, some days he was angry, some days sad, some days indifferent. He began to read the work of Father Andrew Greeley and felt drawn to Catholicism. A deacon visited and eventually Bloodsworth was confirmed and made a profession of faith.

"The Catholic Church gave me a place to stay in a sense - a sanctuary," he explains.

He describes the experience of being wrongly convicted, sentenced to death and waiting on death row for 8 years as akin to "The Twilight Zone," the eerie show from the early days of television in which surreality curses the protagonist.

"People think, 'It'll never happen to me," he says. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."

By 1993, DNA evidence pointed to another man, who eventually confessed to the murder.

Bloodsworth contends that though Oregon doesn't use its death penalty, as long as the law is on the books, there is a chance that an innocent person could be sentenced or killed. He likens the Oregon law to an old throw rug that should be put in the trash so no one will trip.

Bloodsworth keeps in touch with other exonerated people. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Others are addicted to narcotics. Most have trouble getting work.

But Bloodsworth has learned the art of jewelry making and hopes someday to have his own shop. While in Portland, he met with a hero of his, the downtown Portland jewelry designer Paul Bartnik. Bartnik embraced the exonerated man.

Bloodsworth was brought to Oregon by the Oregon Innocence Project, which trains law students and searches out wrongful convictions. The organization, begun 2 years ago, has had more than 200 inquiries from Oregonians who've been convicted of a crime and are making a claim of innocence. The project is now working on 5 cases.

About 160 people have now been exonerated from death row in the U.S.

(source: Catholic Sentinel)


German Bakery blast: State to file appeal in Supreme Court against Baig's acquittal

The state government is all set to file an appeal in the Supreme Court against Bombay High Court's order acquitting the lone convict Mirza Himayat Baig in the 2010 German Bakery blast case in Pune.

Baig was handed over death penalty by a special court for his involvement in the alleged terrorist act. The Bombay High Court had, however, found him guilty of the charge of possession of explosives and confirmed life imprisonment under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Indian Penal Code and Explosive Substances Act but not for terror charges.

A highly placed source told dna "the draft of appeal is in the process and it will be filed once the apex court is re-opened after the summer vacation on June 29. Despite the testimonies of witnesses against Baig, the court had wrongly ignored them and granted relief to the accused."

Baig is currently in Arthur Road Central Jail, where he is currently lodged after his acquittal from terror charges.

As many as 17 people died and over 50 were injured in the blast. In April 2013, when he was being awarded the death sentence, Baig had wept in court, pleading innocence and saying he was "the 18th victim of the blast". The Maharashtra ATS had claimed he was the blast "mastermind".

The charge of IPC section 474 (possession of document, knowing it to be forged and intending to use it as genuine) was also confirmed - the maximum punishment of 7 years will run concurrently.

The prosecution had claimed recovery of RDX from the blast site, matching with traces found in Baig's house.



Pollachi double murderer's death sentence reduced to life in prison

An order of a trial court in Coimbatore, awarding death sentence to a man, who committed multiple murders in connection with a land dispute, was commuted to life term by the Madras High Court. Hence, the referred trial and the appeal.

"We find that this case does not fall within the category of the rarest of rare cases. Therefore, we find it difficult to confirm the death sentence. We are inclined to impose life sentence, however, with a direction that the accused shall not be entitled to any remission for 20 years," a division bench of Justices S Nagamuthu and V Bharathidasan has said. The judge was disposing of a referred trial from the IV Additional District and Sessions Judge in Coimbatore and partly allowing a criminal appeal from the accused Rajiv Gandhi alias Marimuthu, challenging the conviction and sentence to death. According to prosecution, Rajiv Gandhi, a resident of Sungam village in Pollachi taluk, murdered two women - Palani Ammal and Jothimani - in connection with a land dispute in February, 2012. And the trial court in Coimbatore found him guilty, among other things, for offences under Sec.

302 of the IPC (murder) on several counts and holding that it was a rarest of rare cases, awarded death sentence to him. Hence, the referred trial and the appeal. With regard to the totality of all circumstances, both the aggravating as well as the mitigating circumstances, by balancing these 2 and also applying several judgments of the Supreme Court, the judges said that imprisonment for life would be the adequate punishment. "Thus we find it difficult to confirm the death penalty imposed by the trial court," the division bench of Justices S Nagamuthu and V Bharathidasan said.



Palace on death penalty: People should be heard

Malacanang on Sunday said that the Filipino people's voice should be considered by the incoming administration as President-elect Rodrigo Duterte calls for the return of the death penalty.

Asked to weigh in on Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas' statement that the United Nations (UN) may sanction the country if it restores the death penalty, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said, "The Secretary of Justice is affirming that the country has existing commitments to the United Nations and that reinstituting the death penalty is a vital policy change that needs to be thoroughly studied by the incoming administration and the 17th Congress."

"The people's voice needs to be heard, too, to ascertain whether indeed the majority would like to see this come to pass," he added.

The death penalty was abolished in 2006 by former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who claimed that there was no proof that it deterred crime.

But Duterte, to bolster his promise to end criminality within six months, said he wants death penalty reintroduced and perpetrators of heinous crimes executed by hanging.

Groups opposing the move claim that the death penalty will make only make poor people, who do not have money for proper legal assistance, vulnerable.



PH faces UN sanction over death penalty

The United Nations (UN) may sanction the Philippines if it re-imposes the death penalty, Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas said.

The incumbent Justice secretary issued the warning in the wake of incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s pronouncements that he will push for the revival of the death penalty as part of his campaign promise to end illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption within six month of his term.

Caparas advised Duterte to conduct a thorough study of the matter.

"We do have international obligations, we do have commitments. And these obligations and commitments have to be reviewed as well because that will have an impact on us," he told reporters in a recent press conference.

Just recently, human rights lawyer and Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) chairman Jose Manuel Diokno reminded the incoming administration that the Philippines is bound by the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was signed by the government on September 20, 2006 and ratified on November 20, 2007.

Under Article 1 of the Protocol, "No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed." It also states that, "Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction."

Caparas warned that if the country fails to uphold its end in the agreement, sanctions from the international community "could be in the form of aid, this could be in the form of international cooperation and others."

"This is not a simple matter, it has to be studied," Caparas stressed.

"There are experts around who will be able to weigh in on that and provide appropriate advice to the (incoming) president and his Cabinet," he added.

(source: Manila Bulletin)

JUNE 11, 2016:


We welcome Supreme Court scrutiny in 2 Texas death penalty cases

The Supreme Court has agreed once again to scrutinize the way Texas implements the death penalty. Rejecting Texas' arguments that they need not interfere, at least 4 justices in each case decided that circumstances were unusual enough to merit another look.

We welcome that scrutiny, and so should Texas.

One case in particular reveals Texas' stubbornness: Bobby James Moore. It's as clear as a red stop sign to Texas officials and everyone else in the country that individuals with intellectual disabilities may not be executed. But Texas insists that its decades-old method for testing a defendant's mental capacity is sufficient, despite widespread improvements in medical evaluations that have been adopted across the U.S.

When a judge ruled that a modern test had shown that Moore, who's been awaiting execution since his 1980 conviction for murder, suffers from intellectual disability severe enough to keep him out of the death house, Texas appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. That court ruled the modern test invalid, arguing that only the outdated methods maintained by Texas officials could suffice.

Lawyers for Moore have called that absurd; we agree. In seeking the Supreme Court review, they noted other state high courts have ruled that "current, established medical standards in assessing intellectual disability" should be used.

Texas' insistence that only its older testing methods are valid is unreasonable. It also marks the state out as a unnecessary holdout against capital punishment limits that have proven wise and human. Texas serves no higher public good by being so stubborn.

The other case involves another inmate on Texas' death row, though its challenge is not so pointedly directed at the death penalty. Instead, it asks a broader question: "Whether and to what extent the criminal justice system tolerates racial bias and discrimination."

When jurors were determining whether to sentence Duane Buck to death, his lawyers called an expert witness who, astoundingly, told jurors that Buck would be more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is black. That helped persuade the jury to sentence him to death. So far, lower appeals courts have said that isn't enough to win review of his sentence, but we welcome Supreme Court's review of the case.

It's a technical point, but the fact that such an obviously racist statement was allowed to be made in the influence of a life-or-death decision is extraordinary.

Both cases show the importance of Supreme Court scrutiny of the way Texas imposes the death penalty. The review is so critical because once imposed, an execution can never be undone. We can't allow ourselves to forget how human, and therefore inescapably fallible, the process leading up to a death sentence is.

We were reminded of the potential error in death penalty cases once again last week when Smith County prosecutors finally dropped charges against Kerry Max Cook, the man who they have said for 40 years was behind one of East Texas' most notorious killings. He's another flesh-and-blood reminder of how important it is to get the process right; some punishments can't be be undone.

(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)


Blanco County man charged with capital murder in infant's death

A man accused of killing a 15-month-old child in Blanco County could now face the death penalty after a grand jury indicted him on capital murder charges this week.

John Cody Lawrence, 24, is also facing a charge of super aggravated sexual assault after a Blanco County grand jury indicted him and the infant's mother, 23-year-old Jamie Petronella, on Wednesday, according to the Blanco County district attorney's office. Petronella is facing 2 charges of injury to a child.

The couple lived together with Petronella's 3 children at a home in the 500 block of Jones Street. They had only been living in Blanco for a short time, police have said.

On May 2, either Petronella or Lawrence called 911 after the youngest child, 15-month-old Sunny Dakota Bort, stopped breathing. Bort had several bruises around her chin and jaw. The 2 other children also showed signs of abuse, including a 3-year-old boy who had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Bort died while in treatment at a hospital in San Antonio on May 5.

The capital murder charge against Lawrence is new because Bort had not died yet when Lawrence was arrested and charged with injury to a child.

Blanco police chief Mike Ritchey has said Lawrence's arrest was "the worst child abuse case I've ever seen," and that he was disturbed by the lack of emotion both Lawrence and Petronella showed at the time of their arrest.

Child Protective Services had visited the couple the week prior because the 3-year-old boy had broken his arm. Lawrence said it happened when he was roughhousing with the child, Ritchey said.

Lawrence was also arrested in Austin in April 2015 when police said he tried to choke his then-girlfriend.

(source: Austin American-Statesman)


Argentine mom hopes Pope Francis can save her son in Texas

Pope Francis always has a packed schedule, but on Saturday he made time to meet a troubled fellow Argentine and mother of 4: Lidia Guerrero, whose son, Victor Hugo Saldano, has spent 20 years on death row in Texas waiting to be executed, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling finding racial prejudice in his sentence.

"I'm sure [Francis] will do all that is in his hands," Guerrero told journalists in Rome after her private audience with the pontiff.

"My son finds hope in my meetings with the pope," she added.

She refused to reveal many details of the meeting, only saying she felt welcomed by the pope, who "allowed me to share everything I wanted to."

This is the 2nd time Guerrero has had the opportunity to talk with Francis, the 1st coming in 2014, at the end of one of the pope's public audiences, a few months before she saw her son for the last time in November 2014.

"My son's situation is desperate," she said on Saturday, at a press conference hosted at a hotel.

"In 3 opportunities, he's asked to be killed ... what he leads is not a life, but psychological torture."

Saldano is confined in isolation, and according to his mother, the lack of contact with other humans has led him to want to die. Yet the 2 talks his mother has had with the pope, she said, "give him hope."

His only contact with the world outside are letters and the books his family send through two bookshops in Cordoba, Argentina, which had to be approved by the prison.

During her talk with journalists, Guerrero was accompanied by her lawyer, Juan Carlos Vega, who helped present the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"This isn't just 1 more death penalty case," Vega said.

Saldano was born in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1972. On November 25, 1995 he and a Mexican friend, Jorge Chavez, kidnapped American Paul King at a parking lot of a supermarket in Plano, a wealthy suburb in Dallas.

They drove him to a wooded area, stole $50 along with a plastic watch, and Saldańno shot him 5 times.

The Argentine confessed, and by July 1996 he had been sentenced to death.

As her mother said on Saturday, he was on drugs at the time. Guerrero and her lawyer don't argue that he's innocent, but that he deserved to be sentenced to life in prison rather than to death.

1 basis for the death sentence was the report of a psychiatric expert, who claimed that Saldano was prone to backsliding if he lived because that's what statistics allegedly show among Latino convicts.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the death sentence back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for review because of ethnic discrimination. In 2005, he was once again sentenced to death.

Yet according to Vera, the 2nd ruling is even worse than the 1st, because it doesn't take into consideration the fact that according to a precedent from a case called Soering vs the United Kingdom, Saldano was mentally incapacitated.

Vera contends the ruling, from 1989, established that after 4 years on death row a person's psyche is broken, meaning Saldano was incapable of defending himself the 2nd time.

"What we want is for him to leave death row and be placed in a federal psychiatric institution, because today he can't be anywhere else," he said.

Guerrero said she's praying Francis is able to do something on her son's behalf, and for all those in the death row around the world - currently over 3,000 in the United States alone.

If Francis does intervene, it wouldn't be unprecedented: In 1999, Pope John Paul II won a reprieve from Missouri's then-Governor Mel Carnahan on behalf of a prisoner scheduled for execution who instead was ordered to serve life in prison without parole.

The Argentine pontiff has appealed for a global end to capital punishment several times, the last one being this February, when he told thousands gathered in Rome's St. Peter's Square that the sixth commandment "You shall not kill" applies to the innocent as well as the guilty.

Last September, when he addressed a joint session of the US Congress, the pope said, "Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes."

He also offered encouragement to those convinced that just punishment must never exclude hope and the goal of rehabilitation.



Spaniard taken off death row in US----Pablo Ibar, whose death sentence was overturned in February by the Florida Supreme Court, has been transferred to a regular prison

The Florida Supreme Court vacated Ibar's sentence and ordered a new trial, citing several flaws in the state's arguments against him.

45-year-old Ibar, who is of Basque descent, will appear before Judge Jeffrey Levenson in a Fort Lauderdale court, in Broward County, on Friday. Levenson presided over his case in 2009, nearly 10 years after the Spaniard was sentenced to death for the triple murder of a nightclub owner and 2 models.

Ibar, who has served 22 years in prison, 15 of them on death row, has always maintained his innocence.

"Ibar is already listed as being transferred to a jail in Broward County," said Andres Krakenberger, a spokesman for the Pablo Ibar Association Against the Death Penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court underscored one of the most important arguments used by the defense: the fact that "Ibar's DNA was not found on a blue T-shirt recovered from the crime scene" and which was allegedly "[used] by the perpetrator to partially cover his face."

Benjamin Waxman, Ibar's lawyer, filed 7 motions in Broward County questioning the basis of the prosecution's case. He argued against the strength of a key piece of evidence, a "soundless, blurry, grainy" home surveillance videotape that a facial identification expert said could not prove "with certainty" that the killer was in fact the defendant.

Ibar will appear before Judge Levenson on Friday for a short hearing to decide "future steps to be taken in the procedure leading to the retrial."

Ibar, who has served 22 years in prison, 15 of them on death row, has always maintained his innocence. The defense will ask the court to release him on bail and under the supervision of his family while awaiting the new trial.

During the 1st trial, which began in 1998, a Broward County jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict and the judge threw out the case because there were no fingerprints or DNA linking Ibar to the murders. But he was convicted on August 28, 2000 after a 2nd trial. Ibar is the only Spanish citizen to have been sentenced to death in the United States.

(source: el pais)


Another judge rules death penalty law unconstitutional

For the 2nd time in a month, a circuit judge has ruled that Florida's new death-penalty sentencing law is "patently unconstitutional" because it does not require unanimous jury decisions for death to be imposed.

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Samantha Ward on Thursday sided with defendant Michael Keetley, an ice cream truck driver who was charged with murdering 2 men and injuring 4 others in 2010.

Florida lawmakers hurriedly crafted a new death-penalty sentencing process this year, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that overturned the old law because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries.

Under the new law, juries have to unanimously find that at least 1 aggravating circumstance exists in order for defendants to be eligible for the death penalty. The law also requires juries to weigh whether sufficient mitigating factors exist to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, but the law is silent about whether those decisions must be unanimous. The law also requires at least 10 jurors to recommend the death penalty, a departure from the old law, which required a simple majority of jurors.

But, agreeing with Keetley's lawyers, Ward ruled that the new law "runs afoul" of the Supreme Court decision, which came in a case known as Hurst v. Florida. Prosecutors argued that the requirement to find at least one aggravator, unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt, was sufficient to comport with a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona.

"But it defies logic, and the dictates of Ring through Hurst, to have the jury find one of the prerequisites unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt (that at least one aggravating factor exists), but not the other two prerequisites (that sufficient aggravators exist and that they outweigh the mitigating circumstances)," Ward wrote.

Ward's decision Thursday was the 2nd time a circuit judge has found that Florida's new law is unconstitutional. The Florida Supreme Court has also been inundated with arguments about the constitutionality of the law and is poised to decide on the issue.

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch ruled May 9 that unanimous decisions are required in imposing death sentences, rather than recommendations from majorities or super-majorities of juries.

Ward's ruling dealt with the fact-finding phase of the sentencing process.

The Sixth Amendment guarantee to a trial by jury "unequivocally demands that a jury unanimously find the existence of any fact that subjects a defendant to a sentence in excess of that statutorily authorized by a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt," Ward wrote Thursday. "Florida's existing death penalty sentencing scheme is incongruous with this decree."



Prosecutors allowed to dismiss jurors opposing death penalty in Seman trial

Prosecutors will be allowed to excuse potential jurors opposed to the death penalty when a Green Township man goes on trial for murdering a child and her grandparents.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney has denied a motion filed by the attorney of Robert Seman, who is accused of setting the March 31, 2015 Youngstown house fire that claimed the lives of 10-year-old Corinne Gump, 63-year-old William Schmidt and his 61-year-old wife Judith.

The fire occurred just hours before Seman was scheduled to go on trial for allegedly raping the child.

Seman, 47, faces 10 counts of aggravated murder and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

His attorney had asked the court to prohibit the prosecution from dismissing potential jurors who have doubts about the death penalty during the jury selection process.

Seman's trial is scheduled to begin in September.

(source: WFMJ news)


A look at the 10 Kansas inmates on death row

As the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to hear 2 cases challenging the death penalty, Kansas' most recent addition to death row, Kyle Trevor Flack, joins the 9 other inmates who have been awaiting death by lethal injection, some for more than a decade.

Flack, of Ottawa, was convicted in March of capital murder for shooting to death a toddler and her mother; he was also convicted of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of 2 men.

Kansas has not put anyone to death since 1965. That year the state hanged 4 men, George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham who had been on a cross-country killing spree, and Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock for the infamous Clutter family murders.

Up until 1965, all capital murderers had been hanged except 1, John Coon, who was executed by firing squad in 1853.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively instituted a moratorium on Kansas' death penalty along with that of 3 dozen other states in Furman v. Georgia. That moratorium was lifted in 1976. And in 1994, Kansas statute re-established the death penalty, this time by lethal injection.

Chances are that Flack, serving his time at the El Dorado state penitentiary, and his fellow death-row inmates will spend many more years in prison as their legal battles continue to wend their way through the courts.

So what is life like on Kansas death row?

First of all, Kansas doesn't actually have a death row. Inmates sentenced to death are held in "solitary confinement," which the penal system calls administrative segregation, said Adam Pfannenstiel, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Most of the cells are 83 square feet - about the size of a small bedroom - and have concrete walls and floors, 1 small window and a solid door so that inmates are unable to look through bars to visit with other inmates.

The bed is a concrete slab or metal, covered with a thin plastic mattress. Metal shelves with a sink and an attached backless stool are located along part of 1 wall. A metal toilet is adjacent.

Each cell has a telephone, but calls can be expensive, Pfannenstiel said. Currently in Kansas state prisons, collect and prepaid collect calls cost 18 cents per minute, while debit calls cost 17 cents per minute.

The cost of telephone calls is expected to be reduced over the next couple of years. The Federal Communications Commission issued an order in October that would reduce the price to 11 cents a minute for debit and collect prepaid calls.

Inmates may have a list of up to 20 individual phone numbers that they can call. All conversations except with the inmate's attorney are subject to monitoring.

Cellphones are considered contraband, and only certain digital devices considered learning tools are allowed, Pfannenstiel said.

"They are able to have certain types of property, puzzles, literature, pen and paper," he said.

Inmates can receive books from the prison library.

Inmates can earn television privileges, but they must pay for their own television and hookups out of their own funds. Cable is available but no premium channels, Pfannenstiel said.

They receive the same food as all inmates, but it is served in their cells.

"Food is brought to them and put through a sally port," Pfannenstiel said.

Death-row inmates stay in their cells 23 hours a day, except when they have visitors, which is limited to Saturdays, Sundays and special holidays.

Visitors must be on a special list monitored by the Department of Corrections.

During the visit the inmate is placed in what is called a noncontact video-visitation booth, where a telephone-type device is used for talking while a screen displays video of the individuals, Pfannenstiel said. The Kansas Department of Corrections monitors all those discussions.

In some states death-row inmates have been able to marry.

For example, in Texas there is a practice called proxy marriage. The inmate signs an affidavit that allows him to marry without being present at the ceremony, which has raised the specter of benefits and insurance fraud in that state.

But Pfannenstiel said no Kansas death-row inmates have gotten married.

"We haven't had any wedding ceremony," he said.

Inmates have 1 hour outside of the cell each day to shower or to exercise in an outdoor recreation cage made of wire grates that is 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 10 feet high.

The following is a list of the 9 inmates besides Flack who have been sentenced to death:


Reginald Dexter Carr Jr., 38, and brother Jonathan Daniel Carr, 36, were convicted in 2002 for the "Wichita Massacre," a weeklong spree of random robberies, rapes and murders. During the spree they robbed a man, seriously wounded a cellist and librarian who later died, and then shot 5 people execution style. Only 1 survived.

The Carrs were apprehended after a particularly cold-blooded act in which they broke into a house where 3 women and 2 men were spending the night. They forced the victims to strip and tied them up. They repeatedly raped the women and forced the 5 to have sex with one another.

After taking them to ATM machines to empty their bank accounts, the Carrs shot each of the 5 in the back of the head. But a woman survived after her hair barrette deflected the bullet. After walking more than a mile, naked, in snow, she made it to safety and, based on her information, the Carrs were captured.


John Edward Robinson Sr., 72, a serial killer, con man, embezzler and forger who was living in Johnson County, was convicted of 2 capital murders and 1 1st-degree murder in 2003. He later confessed to killing 5 others, and detectives say there may be more.

Robinson maintained what appeared to be a normal life. He and his wife had 4 children. He was a Boy Scoutmaster, a baseball coach and Sunday school teacher. But that started falling apart when he was arrested for embezzling and spent 60 days in jail and said he had joined a sadomasochism cult and had become a slave-master.

Robinson is connected to murders that began possibly as early as 1984. He sought out women who had little money. In 1 case, he promised a woman with a child a job as a sales associate in Chicago. The woman disappeared, and Robinson gave a child to his brother and sister-in-law, saying the mother had committed suicide.

Police became aware of Robinson over the years as his name cropped up in several missing persons cases.

Robinson was arrested in 2000 on his farm near La Cygne. The police searched the farm and found 2 bodies in 85-pound drums.


Sidney John Gleason, 37, was convicted in 2006 in the shooting deaths of a couple. Gleason had learned that the woman who had taken part in a robbery with him in Great Bend was talking to police. He and his cousin Damian Thompson killed the man and shot the woman and kidnapped her. They took her to a secluded area where she was choked, shot and finally killed. Thompson cut a deal with police to testify against Gleason and also revealed where the woman's body was. Thompson pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder and received life in prison.


Scott Dever Cheever, 34, was in a house making methamphetamine in Hilltop when Greenwood County Sheriff Matthew Samuels and 4 other officers, acting on a tip, showed up with warrants for Cheever's arrest.

Cheever hid in an upstairs room, and when he heard Samuels on the stairs, he leaned out from the room and shot him. When 2 officers tried to get the wounded sheriff, Cheever shot him again. He also shot at least 4 officers who were trying to arrest him.


Gary Wayne Kleypas, 60, became in 1996 the 1st person to be sentenced to death in Kansas in more than 3 decades. Kleypas was convicted of killing Carrie Williams, 20, who was a student at Pittsburg State University. Kleypas had already killed by the time he met up with Williams. He had been convicted of the rape and murder of a 78-year-old woman in Missouri and received a life sentence. After serving 1/2 of it, Missouri gave him probation and transferred Kleypas to Kansas for supervision, and he was allowed to enroll at Pittsburg State.

Kleypas lived near Williams, and in the early-morning hours in March 1996, he knocked on Williams' door. When she opened it a crack, he pushed it open and dragged her to the bedroom. After raping her, Kleypas later told police, he decided to kill her so there would not be a witness.


Justin Eugene Thurber, 33, was convicted in 2009 in the violent death of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm, who was a member of a dance team at a Cowley Community College in Arkansas City. Thurber kidnapped Sanderholm in January 2007 and took her to a wildlife area, where he tortured, raped and killed her, authorities said.


James Kraig Kahler, 53, was convicted in 2011 of killing his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; 2 daughters, 18 and 16; and Karen Kahler's 89-year-old grandmother in Burlingame.

Kahler was upset that his wife had a lesbian lover. On Thanksgiving weekend 2009, he stormed into Karen Kahler's house and shot her. Karen Kahler was standing next to their son, but Kahler allowed his son to flee. Then he shot the rest of the family. He was convicted of capital murder and 4 counts of 1st-degree murder.


Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. (also known as Frazier Glenn Miller), 75, was convicted in 2015 of 3 murders at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community. Cross, a white supremacist, had gone on a rampage in 2014 because he said he wanted to kill Jewish people. None of the people he shot was Jewish.

(source: Lawrence Journal World)


Activist: Death penalty incompatible with faith, humanity

The death penalty has survived not in spite of Christians, but because of them, according to Shane Claiborne, social activist, author and pioneer in the New Monasticism Movement.

For a long time, Claiborne believed that scripture supported the death penalty: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth ...

But his gut told him something else.

He believed it was not as simple as good versus evil, right versus wrong and life versus death.

"I went back to study Scripture, and I saw how complex it is," Claiborne said during a recent visit from Philadelphia to Lincoln and Omaha, as part of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and Retain a Just Nebraska -- both efforts to retain a state law abolishing the death penalty.

More than 200 people attended Claiborne's June 7 presentations, which coincided with the release of his newest book, "Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us." The book examines the death penalty from all angles: religious, moral, just and practical. Many Nebraska stories are included in the 300-page book.

Claiborne's appearance was the 1st in a series of guests invited to Nebraska over the coming months to help convince voters to uphold LB268 which calls for abolishing capital punishment in the state, said Dan Parsons, spokesman for Retain a Just Nebraska.

For Christians, faith and the belief that no one is beyond redemption are reasons to end the death penalty.

But beyond Jesus' teachings and Scripture, Claiborne argues that capital punishment is also costly, fallible, unjust and offers false promises of "closure" to the the families of victims. In fact, he said capital punishment often is treated as a sacred cow, in which the voices of victims who oppose it are squelched and in some cases punished by the courts for speaking out.

A native of Tennessee, Claiborne said he grew up in the Bible Belt.

"The Bible Belt is the death belt," he said, noting that more than 85 % of state executions over the last 38 years occurred in the South and Middle West, where strictly conservative Christian beliefs often prevail.

Death penalty defenders often point to Old Testament law given to Moses indicating which crimes deserve death. But as Claiborne notes, Moses himself killed, but was not put to death. Same for David and Saul of Tarsus -- killers who were punished by God, but not executed.

"The Bible is a love story -- it's about a God who so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save it -- not condemn it to hell," Claiborne writes in his book.

Put simply, Claiborne said: "We can do better than the death penalty."

"Why is it a crime for individuals to kill, and it is just for the government to kill?" he asked. "The story of God's grace is that no one is beyond redemption."

That is not to say there is no such thing as "evil," Claiborne said.

Evil exists.

Evil deeds should be punished, he said.

"But we don't rape those who rape," Claiborne said. "We don't maim those who maim. So why kill those who kill?

"There is no doubt that we have to protect society from dangerous people. But it has become so clear there are other and better ways of protecting society than saying we've got to kill someone."

For his book, Claiborne interviewed dozens of people -- families of murder victims, families of murderers, killers and executioners.

"The stunning thing I discovered as I did my research was hearing from many murder victims' families ... who have not found that execution fulfilled the promise of closure and justice," Claiborne said.

In fact, many families and executioners have said they are haunted by the murder of the killer.

Most murderers are not born killers. They are made that way, Claiborne noted. Some are mentally ill. Many have grown up amid horrendous trauma. They are broken, abused, addicted and lost.

And for the most part they are minority and poor, according to Claiborne.

"To this day, even though African-Americans make up only 13 % of the nation's population, 42 % of death row inmates are black, and 34 % of those executed since 1976 have been black," Claiborne writes in his book.

The justice system is far from infallible -- 160 people on death row in 26 states have been proven innocent, Claiborne said. Together, they served 1,800 years for crimes they did not commit.

For every 9 people executed, 1 has been exonerated, Claiborne said.

"We are not killing the worst of the worst," Claiborne aid. "We are killing the poorest of the poor."

Claiborne recalled his interview with Ron McAndrew, a former warden and executioner in Florida. McAndrew is a strong believer in "do the crime, do the time," but overseeing executions took a toll, Claiborne said.

"The men I killed sat on the edge of my bed and haunted me," McAndrew told Claiborne.

McAndrew was in charge of Pedro Medina's electric chair execution. The chair malfunctioned. Medina caught fire. It took 30 minutes for him to die.

Later, McAndrew worked to replace the electric chair with lethal injection. But in the end, that was no better for him, Claiborne said.

"He is convinced there is no good way to kill someone. ... We have to have consequences, but execution is cruel and unusual punishment," Claiborne said.

Putting an end to the death penalty is not just about following the teachings of Jesus, it's about putting an end to a broken system, he said.

"To take a life is wrong," Claiborne said. "Yet, we reinforce the very thing we are trying to rid the world of by doing 'legal homicide.'"

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


A sane approach to dealing with mentally ill death row inmates

California's death penalty system has been broken for so long, you could forgive people for thinking that it no longer exists. The last person executed at San Quentin was Clarence Ray Allen, who arranged the murders of 3 people in Fresno - 1 who revealed details of a burglary Allen had planned, and 2 others who testified against him. His January 2006 execution came 23 years after his conviction.

Since then, legal challenges have left California without a constitutional method of executing prisoners. The state has proposed a new lethal-injection protocol, but more lawsuits will likely stall the resumption of executions for the foreseeable future, and an initiative headed for the fall ballot would ban it outright. It's unclear how many executions have been forestalled by the freeze. Of 747 people on California's death row - most of them men held at San Quentin - only 18 have exhausted their appeals and could be slated for execution should the "machinery of death," as Justice Harry A. Blackmun once described it, ever be turned back on.

We hope it won't be. The result of a too-easily manipulated system, the practice is barbaric, immoral and applied disproportionately to people of color. As Paige St. John reported recently in our news pages, there also are many condemned prisoners in California who can't legally be put to death. The Supreme Court has held that the state can’t execute someone who doesn't have a "rational understanding" of why he or she is about to be executed.

The state historically has argued that it could not acquiesce in removing a convicted killer from death row unless it believed there was a miscarriage of justice. And the mental state of a condemned person does not become a legal issue until execution is near, in part because many forms of mental illness come and go.

But now, under an agreement worked out with the state-funded office that coordinates death sentence appeals, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has taken the unusual step of joining the defense in asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate the death sentence of Ronnie McPeters. McPeters, a panhandler convicted of the 1984 murder of Linda Pasnick in Fresno, converses with a nonexistent wife and children, hoards his feces and says he's tormented by the voices of his victim's relatives.

One inmate continually bangs his head against the wall, believes he is controlled by computer chips and says he dies every night only to be reborn [every day].

Though we wish that Harris, who personally opposes the death penalty, would use this opportunity to make a broader call for its abolition, we welcome her efforts to move inmates such as McPeters off death row. Working with defense lawyers to identify those ineligible for the death penalty earlier in the appeals process keeps the state from wasting time and resources pursuing executions that are constitutionally barred from occurring. No public interest is served by the state doggedly fighting a battle it knows it can't win, and we hope the state Supreme Court affirms this new process.

What depths of insanity are involved here? One inmate continually bangs his head against the wall, believes he is controlled by computer chips and says he dies every night only to be reborn the next morning. Another seesaws between delusions and catatonia, spending days at a time naked and smeared with his own feces on the floor of his cell. Several have had their appeals indefinitely delayed because they are too incapacitated to assist in their own counsel, yet they remain on death row ostensibly awaiting execution. If they're too crazy for court, they're certainly too crazy for the death chamber.

Victims' families have legitimate grievances, and a right to want the guilty punished. But executions do not achieve justice; they are revenge killings conducted by the state on behalf of the victims, and serve no broader societal or judicial purpose. And fighting to push the insane closer to the needle moves the practice into the realm of the absurd.

If a condemned person doesn't understand why he or she is to be killed by the state, the state must recognize that and place the convicted in circumstances that will ensure basic constitutional rights are protected. Even the guilty are human beings, and must be treated as such.

(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)


Death penalty for SC racial killings? Mother of murdered cop says throw the switch

Dylann Roof, who killed black churchgoers because of hate, wants a judge instead of a jury to decide if he gets the death penalty or life in a prison.

There is a woman in Lancaster who needs no judge or jury to say what should happen to a murderer who kills because of racial hatred. There is no debate over the death penalty for Myra McCants.

Throw the switch, she says.

"What good is the death penalty if you never use it for the worst murderers?" McCants asked.

Her son, York County sheriff's Deputy Brent McCants, was shot and killed in 1992 by a black man named Mar-Reece Hughes. Hughes killed McCants during a traffic stop after Hughes had committed another crime. Hughes killed McCants because Brent McCants was white and Hughes hated white people.

Hughes, in jail waiting for trial after he killed McCants, smuggled in a shank and killed another prisoner, who was white. In two decades, his alleged mental status - and his lawyer's claims that Hughes is incompetent because he apparently likes to kill white people but does not relish dying much himself - has kept him from the electric chair.

Myra McCants has endured what racial hatred and gun violence do. She has dealt with it for nearly a quarter of a century. The other guy involved in killing her son, another black man named Dwayne Eric Forney, got life in prison. Forney's mother asked McCants so long ago not to hate, that the family did not have racial hatred. The mothers embraced. A killer's mother, and the victim's mother.

McCants has preached love and racial harmony ever since.

"Every person on this earth has a soul that has no color," McCants said. "The man who killed my son, he hated white people. This white man in Charleston, he killed those black people because he hated black people. He went into a church where God is, and he killed them because they were black.

"We are all people."

Don't take Myra McCants' beautiful heart for being soft on crime, though. Her courage and stand for racial harmony does not mean she does not think Hughes should not get the death penalty. That does not mean she does not think Roof should not get the death penalty.

McCants belives in equality, yes. She also believes in justice. She wants it, and for 24 years she has not had it.

If South Carolina brought in a firing squad for her son's killer, she would be 1st in line to watch the triggers pulled.

She would hold the hands of the families of the Charleston 9 murder victims and tell them they are loved - if Roof is put to death.

These racial hatred gun killers - and although Roof has not been convicted, there appears no doubt he is guilty as his lawyers have offered to plead him guilty for life in prison instead of death - seem to have all the rights, McCants said.

"What about the rights of the victims?" she wondered. "The killer has rights, and the victim has none. All these court hearings, all these things, are about the murderer and his rights.

"Where are the rights of those black people shot down in that church? Their families? Their kids and mothers? Where are the rights of my son?"

Myra McCants has cried and wailed and wept and rushed in and out of courtrooms for 24 years to try to get the state of South Carolina to do what it said it would do - execute Hughes for killing Brent McCants over hate.

If Roof gets the death penalty in federal or state courts, there will be so many appeals that last for years and likely, decades.

Myra McCants has lived with appeals and court orders for 24 years.

She does not hate. It is Hughes and Roof who hated. But after what Myra McCants has been through, she's left with little else but to ask:

"Where the hell is the justice?"



Capital punishment drugs

People die every day from drug overdoses. So why is there a problem getting drugs for executing criminals? I am not a pharmacist or a lawyer, so I am not qualified to comment on this. But it still strikes me as odd. I guess that some details of legislation prevent an obvious solution to the problem.

Recently we learned that the entertainer Prince died of a drug overdose. It seems to have been a legal opium-related remedy for pain and stress. Why can't it be used in executions? Fentanyl is a drug that kills quickly and has flooded the illegal market.

Hangings, electric chairs, and firing squads have been means to officially kill people. If deterrence is a reason for execution, public hanging is the best way. With modern media any dramatic death can be viewed by millions. But it's not clear that potential criminals are deterred from crime by seeing punishment enacted. A violent personality might actually enjoy the sight.

Cruel and unusual pain is cited as a reason for benign execution. In that case, why kill at all. Perhaps because lifetime imprisonment is crueler than a quick death. But it is not quick when one is on death row for years.

Maybe legislators don't want people to die happy. If popular drugs that make people high are used, it will be a nicer death than is proper for punishment. Maybe ordinary drugs take too long to kill, too long for observers to wait.

Socrates' friends were able to talk with him while he drank the hemlock, a nice social occasion. Perhaps the death-penalty could be administered like euthanasia. This would blend society's desire to kill, with the criminal's reasonable desire to get it over with.

George Weckman is a retired professor and director of music at Christ Lutheran Church

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Athens Messenger)


Death-row war crimes convict Mir Quasem Ali to seek review of top court verdict

Convicted war criminal and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali will file a petition for reviewing the Supreme Court's verdict upholding his death sentence.

Mir Quasem's lawyers met him at Gazipur's Kashimpur prison on Saturday.

"He has told us to initiate the process of a plea seeking a review of the verdict," counsel Matiur Rahman Akan told the media at the jail.

He said that they filed an application to the Supreme Court's registrar for a certified copy of the verdict.

Jail authorities said 5 lawyers, including Mir Quasem's son entered the prison around 11:45am.

They left after 40 minutes, said Prison Superintendent Prashant Kumar Banik.

On Jun 6, the top court released the full verdict and sent it to the International Crimes Tribunal, which then issued the death warrant before forwarding it to the jail authorities.

Mir Quasem now has 15 days, starting from the day of the verdict's publication, to file a review petition.

Once it's resolved and if the death sentence is upheld, the war crimes convict will have the opportunity to seek a presidential clemency.

If the Jamaat leader is denied pardon, the government then will order the jail authorities to hang him.

Mir Quasem was the Al-Badr's 3rd most important functionary after Jamaat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid.

Bangladesh has executed both Nizami and Mujahid for 1971 war crimes.

Mir Quasem, a terror during 1971 in Chittagong, has proved to be a shrewd businessman and politician.

The 63-year old media tycoon pumped billions into the Jamaat since the mid-1980s to put it on a firm financial footing in Bangladesh.

Police arrested him on Jun 17, 2012 from the office of 'Naya Diganta' newspaper less than 2 hours after the tribunal had issued a warrant for his arrest.

In 2014, the International Crimes Tribunal found him guilty and awarded the death penalty.

He challenged the verdict and in March this year, the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence.

The 244-page full verdict was released on June 6, when the tribunal issued the warrant and sent it to the Dhaka Central Jail authorities, which was read out to Mir Quasem the next day.



Singapore's heartless death penalty for drug traffickers

On the 1st of June, I watched the conclusion of a capital punishment heroin trafficking case in Singapore's Supreme Court. I was left profoundly disturbed.

As Judge Choo Han Teck announced the sentences in court, the family members of the defendants erupted in pain. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, sons, daughters - their bodies shuddered in agony and tears streaked down their pained faces. Their heartbreaking cries reverberated softly through the crowded courtroom. 2 of the 3 co-defendants, Kalwant Singh and Norasharee Bin Gous, were sentenced to death by hanging. The 3rd defendant's life was spared for his "substantive assistance" to the authorities. He will be imprisoned for life instead.

Yet even in the presence of such acute intense human suffering, the courtroom proved to be the most unsympathetic of places. The judge, while allowing the families of the defendants to spend some time with their loved ones before they were taken to prison, declared that they could only meet for 10 minutes because he had "another matter to attend to". The public prosecutor instructed the guards to stop some family members from talking to the defendants, presumably because they were not part of the "immediate" family. Could the Singaporean justice system treat these defendants and their families with any more cruelty and indifference?

Even as controversy over capital punishment rages worldwide, support for the death penalty in Singapore remains remarkably strong. Though a legislative change in 2012 made the death penalty no longer mandatory for drug traffickers, prosecutors and judges continue to impose capital punishment for non-violent drug offenses. The dominant Singaporean narrative is that the death penalty has been an effective deterrent against drug crime, despite a complete absence of academic evidence backing up such a viewpoint. As Oxford University professors Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle explain, "It has been argued that the death penalty is an indisputable deterrent to drug trafficking, but no evidence of a statistical kind has been forthcoming to support this contention." In fact, the death penalty is so accepted that it is often left out of mainstream public discourse. Not a single Singaporean media outlet covered this case or the resulting announcement of death sentences - a situation that would be unthinkable in other developed nations.

There is also a perception that Singapore has robust legal safeguards that prevent it from wrongfully convicting drug traffickers. Admittedly, Singapore enjoys strong rule of law. However, many might be surprised by the flimsiness of evidence that is accepted with such deadly punishments at stake. In this case, there is a serious question as to whether, Kalwant Singh, who acted as a drug courier, was actually aware that he was trafficking heroin. Singh has consistently claimed that he believed he was transporting "panparak" - a preparation of Indian betel leaf, areca nut and tobacco that is regularly consumed in Southeast Asia.

The only major piece of evidence that contradicts Singh's account is testimony from a co-defendant, Mohamed Yazid. Very conveniently, Yazid was spared the death penalty for his testimony against Singh. Singaporean law allows drug trafficking defendants who provide "substantive assistance" to the authorities to escape the death penalty, providing a strong incentive to testify against others, even dishonestly.

By the Court's own admission, "a person facing a capital drug offence may falsely implicate his co-accused so as to save himself from the gallows". Despite this recognition, in his written opinion, the judge comes to the conclusion that "Yazid ... had spoken the truth", thereby convicting Singh and sentencing him to death.

We should never be comfortable executing people on the basis of such questionable evidence.

Moreover, the fact that the majority of people caught up in the drug trade worldwide come from impoverished backgrounds is too often overlooked. It emerged that one of the defendants in the case was earning a measly one hundred Malaysian Ringgit (about 25 US Dollars) for each "bundle" of drugs that he delivered. That means he was making a pitiful few hundred dollars every time he took the risk of losing his life. The word "drug trafficker" often evokes images of a wealthy drug kingpin profiting royally off the suffering of addicts. In reality, those executed are very rarely the kingpins who command the drug trade. Instead, like the defendants in this case, they are mostly poor, low-level drug couriers who may have little knowledge of what they are getting themselves into.

There should be little doubt that Singapore's attitude towards the death penalty for drug traffickers is fraught with misperceptions and half-truths. With a better appreciation of the academic evidence on deterrence, uncertainty in the legal process and the impoverished background of most convicted drug traffickers, one would hope that Singaporeans might reconsider their position. Given the facts, it is hard to fathom how imposing the death penalty for non-violent drug crimes is consistent with basic ideals of fairness and proportionality.

After the verdict was delivered, the agonizing scene I encountered is one I will never forget. The distraught defendants and their families, separated almost entirely by glass, tried desperately to touch each other through a paper-thin slit in the wall. They barely managed to grasp each other's fingers or meet their lips for a fleeting last kiss. Perhaps, it is only by witnessing the utter state of despair in the courtroom, that people can truly comprehend the gravity of the death penalty. Maybe, after watching a drug trafficking case unfold for themselves, they will leave just as disturbed as I was.

(source: Arjun Malik,


On death row, Godhra convict seeks aid for family

Prime accused in the Godhra Sabarmati Express carnage case of 2002, Haji Bilal Sujela, who has been awarded death penalty, has appealed to the Godhra municipality seeking assistance for a house. Bilal has stated in his application that his family was living in a state of poverty and needed the assistance.

Bilal has moved an application through the Vadodara Central Jail officials stating that his family was living in a state of poverty as he was in the prison since several years. He has stated that his wife Tahera Sujela had a plot for residential purposes in her name and that aid should be given to construct a house. He has attached his wife's BPL ration card with the application, sources said.

Bilal's son Ashraf Sujela said that his father had been in the prison for 14 years now and the family was facing difficult times ever since his father was sent to jail. "We are 2 brothers and 2 sisters. There is a family home, but my 2 uncles stay there. We have to stay in a rented house in the Hayatni Wadi area," said Ashraf.

Ashraf added that the family was involved in the scrap business, but the business was not doing well because of the slowdown. "My mother (referring to Tahera), we 2 brothers, our wives and 2 children share the same house," he said. .

The Godhra municipality, however, has limitations in providing aid for constructions of a house. "While there are provisions under the Mukhymantri Gruh Yojana to provide constructed houses to the poor and other sections of the society, there is no scheme for aiding construction," said Godhra municipality chief officer Nitin Bodat. He added that if the family applied for a house under the scheme, it could be considered.

When told about this catch, Ashraf said that the family would then take whatever was offered to it. Bilal, like others, has challenged his conviction in the Gujarat high court.

(source: The Times of India)


Madras High Court commutes death penalty for convict

The Madras high court has commuted the death sentence awarded to a convict in a double murder case to life imprisonment, after holding that this case does not fall within the category of rarest of rare cases.

Disposing of the referred trial preferred by the state government to confirm the death sentence and partly allowing an appeal from the accused Rajiv Gandhi alias Marimuthu, a division bench comprising Justices S. Nagamuthu and V. Bharathidasan made it clear that the case of Rajiv Gandhi should not be considered for any remission for 20 years.

On February 11, 2012, Rajiv Gandhi murdered a woman and her daughter and also assaulted another daughter over a land dispute in Sungam village at Pollachi taluk in Coimbatore district.

A case was registered and he was arrested on February 14, 2012. After trial, the IV additional district and sessions judge, Coimbatore, had on March 3, 2016 convicted him and awarded death sentence to him.

Upholding the conviction, the bench said from the medical evidence, it has been clearly established by the prosecution that the death of the 2 persons was due to injuries caused by this convict. On the quantum of punishment, the bench citing various judgments of the Supreme Court and said that this case does not fall within the rarest of rare doctrine.

But the killing of 2 women is "brutal and gruesome", the bench said. There were also some mitigating circumstances in favour of the accused - his age, the fact that the motive was land dispute and the occurrence was preceded by a quarrel.

"We are of the view that so far as the murder of 2 women is concerned, imprisonment for life would be the adequate punishment. Thus, we find it difficult to confirm the death penalty imposed by the trial court upon the accused," the bench said.

(source: Deccan Chronicle)