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

MARCH 24, 2017:

NEVADA:

Convicted killer's fate uncertain after receiving death penalty

Convicted killer Javier Righetti will join more 82 men on Nevada's death row, but he may never face the penalty as some state lawmakers try to put an end to capital punishment.

The 24-year-old received the death penalty on Tuesday, March 21st for the 2011 murder of 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba.

Despite dozens of people currently facing death in the state, executions don't often happen in Nevada.

Since Nevada reinstated capital punishment in 1977, the state executed just 12 people.

"We're very grateful for the jury's service and for the verdict that they've rendered," said Giancarlo Pesci, Clark County Prosecutor.

Speaking to reporters following the verdict Pesci said the death sentence is just.

"Hopefully people that are at the legislature that are considering that will take that into mind when they make their decisions," Pesci said.

Lawmakers introduced Assembly Bill 237 in the legislature last month.

The bill would abolish capital punishment in Nevada and reduce death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.

"The main reason is just economics. It is not cost effective," said State Sen. Tick Segerblom.

Sen. Segerblom co-sponsored Assembly Bill 237. In 2014, a legislative audit researched the fiscal costs of the death penalty using 28 cases.

The findings showed the cost of a capital punishment case is up to $1.3 million from the time of arrest to the end of incarceration.

The total is about $500,000 more than cases in which the state does not seek the death penalty.

"They have to double the number of attorneys, they have to hire a psychiatrist on both sides and then, of course, if you're convicted of the death penalty, the appeals process just starts," Sen. Segerblom said.

In 2015, legislators approved almost $860,000 to build a new death chamber at the Ely State Prison, where death row inmates are housed.

Construction is complete, but the state does not have the drugs needed for an execution.

Pharmaceutical companies across the country are refusing to sell legal injections to states, claiming their products are meant to enhance and save lives.

"There are opponents to the death penalty that say that the people of Nevada no longer want the death penalty. This verdict is obviously evidence to the contrary," Pesci said.

The last execution in Nevada was in 2006.

(source: lasvegas now.com)

IRAN:

Death Sentence Continued to Be Used for Arbitrary and Political Charges

A man and woman joined the ranks of those that are being executed or sentenced to death by the Iranian regime for a variety of charges, many of which are arbitrary or fall under the guise of immorality or sinning against God. According to the Tehran prosecutor, "The convicts were a man and woman who ran a sect and attracted people with sexually related content." Their case is now pending before the Supreme Court, but both have been sentenced to death for 'corruption on earth'.

Another man and woman were charged with providing drinks, encouraging corruption and prostitution at a private party. The man is an Iranian American citizen. No judgement for these two had been made as of mid-March.

Excutions 001

4 men were charged with armed robbery in Tehran and sentenced to death for 'waging war with God'. "The police will follow up on these dossiers decisively and the culprits will be dealt with," said the Tehran Chief of Police, according to an Iranian state run news agency.

Many of these individuals have been denied legal representation and face torture and ill-treatment during their prison terms prior to their execution being carried out. Political prisoners are not exempt from these harsh sentences.

Marjan Davari, a 50-year-old researcher and translator, was sentenced by Judge Salavati to death. Her charge was the spreading of corruption on earth. She was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated without access to a lawyer or legal advice. Her work included translations of a number books on such topics as spirituality and metaphysics.

Excutions women 001

Human rights activists have also been targeted, according to the Human Rights Watch's report on Iran in 2016. Reports continue to surface about various activists who are being detained, even in early 2017.

In May 2016, a revolutionary court sentenced prominent Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who had been detained for a year to a total of 16 years in prison. Her charges included 'membership in the banned campaign, Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty'.

Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur in Human Rights in Iran criticized Iran for its lack of freedom of speech, which led to the targeting of human rights activists, as well as journalists and bloggers.

"My concerns are that when people are arrested and threatened, they don't talk and when they don't enjoy freedom of speech, this is the result. Then we see they get sent to jail," said Jahangir during an interview with the VOA. She also noted that actions taken against political prisoners is meant to send the message that if you don’t agree with the regime, you will also receive this type of treatment.

Even those who do receive legal assistance, often find their lawyers are prevented from doing their work. Lawyers who defend political prisoners or prisoners of conscience are imprisoned afterwards.

(source: The Media Express)

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

Women are Being Arrested, Tortured, and Executed under Rouhani's Watch

All dictators are known to oppress their opponents, lie to society about their policies, and resort to any crime necessary to remain in power. Hitler believed a lie should be preposterous to make it believable.

As the world marks International Women's Day on March 8th, Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani has recently been making remarks about women's rights (!) in an attempt to cloak his portion of the Iranian regime's misogynist report card. Shahriar Kia wrote in 'American Thinker' on March 7, 2017, and the article continues as follows:

In his own memoirs, from page 571 to 573, Rouhani explains in detail how in 1980 he began enforcing mandatory hijab regulations as the mullahs began their historical campaign against Iranian women.

On a more general scale, Rouhani is known for his preposterous remarks. During the 2013 presidential campaign he once said, "Not only do I believe we should not have any political prisoners, but I believe we shouldn't have any prisoners at all."

This same Rouhani, in 1980 when he was a member of parliament, provided a theory on how to establish security across the country: "Conspirators must be hanged in public before the people during Friday prayers to have more influence," he said, according to the official Sharq website.

Rouhani's tenure has also been the hallmark home of systematic oppression against women, workers, college students, writers, journalists, dissident bloggers; imposing poverty and unemployment on a majority of Iranians; continuous threats made against the media; punishment of political prisoners have increased significantly even in comparison to the years of Iran's firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During Rouhani's human rights violations-stained tenure, an average of 2 to 3 people have been executed on a daily basis.

Iranian women are known for their high rate of college education. But Iranian women have a lesser chance of entering the workforce in comparison to their counterparts in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq. This despite the fact that Rouhani had pledged to set aside all barriers before women and provide them a larger share in politics and economics.

Statistics from the period of March 2015 to March 2016 show unemployment amongst young Iranians reached over 26%, and that 42% of young women were out of work.

"Based on numbers, around 300,000 women were working and enjoying social security insurance. However, these numbers have diminished to 100,000," said Soheila Jelodarzadeh, advisor to Rouhani's Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade to the official ILNA news agency.

On the salary gap between men and women working in factories, this advisor added in many cases women receive less than a third of the set minimum wage.

Rouhani had also pledged to establish a Ministry of Women's Affairs. Not only has no such ministry ever been formed, Rouhani's cabinet lacks even a single female minister.

During his 4 years in office, Rouhani has presided over the establishment of gender-segregated universities and women being restricted from many university courses. Many educational books have been changed to the detriment of women, and many fields are only allocated for men.

Perhaps the most atrocious of all crimes has been the phenomenon of regime hoodlums splashing acid on women. Not one individual was arrested after around 15 women were attacked with acid in the city of Isfahan.

Due to the nature of the mullahs' regime, there are no specific numbers of how many women have been arrested, tortured, and executed under Rouhani's watch. Yet rest assured, such statistics would be very troubling, to say the least.

On January 27th, 2016, coinciding with Rouhani's visit to France, the country's Members of the National Assembly issued an open letter to President Francoise Hollande published in Le Figaro:

"...the new version of Iran's Islamic Penal Code continues to legalize stoning to death. Generally, women are under the pressure of legalized discrimination in regards to marriage, divorce, parenting children and inheritance. Women, continued to be considered minors, are not permitted to work and cannot travel without their husband's consent. A 2013 bill was ratified in Iran's parliament allowing men to marry their adopted daughters once they reach the age of 13. This is tantamount to legalizing sexual harassment of children..."

This short slate of facts shows that despite all his claims of being a "moderate" or "reformist," Rouhani's report card, especially on women's rights, proves he is nothing but another mullahs' regime loyalist striving to maintain the establishment intact.

Despite Iran being one of the most ruthless regimes in respect to women's rights, it is believed that the women of Iran can bring about change if not suppressed.

(source: ncr-iran.org)

TRINIDAD:

'Hanging won't stop drugs or murders'

Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris, who last week submitted his resignation to Pope Francis on approaching the age of retirement, said yesterday calls to revive capital punishment reflected the will of a small group of "loud-mouthed" people in Trinidad and Tobago.

Harris spoke out against the reinstatement of the death penalty in a Facebook Live interview with CNC3, broadcast by the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, during which he confirmed the submission of his resignation to Rome, as is the custom on attaining the age of 75.

The Archbishop said he turned 75 last Sunday and sent his resignation to the Nuncio a few days before. However, the Pope is not obligated to accept and Harris said he is awaiting a response.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons state most bishops must submit resignations at the age of 75 and, once the Pope accepts, the bishop automatically ceases to hold any fixed-term office held on a national level.

Harris said he hoped he had impacted people's lives during his time, noting his support for improved conditions in the prison remand yard, his condemnation of child marriage, and his emphasis on missionary life.

Harris addressed the current debate over the Government's expression of interest in reviving the death penalty, which is law in T&T, as soon as is legally possible.

Last week, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley stated his own support for the death penalty as punishment for the crime of murder, and revealed he had enlisted the aid of former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj to navigate the judicial system to meet the standards of the Pratt and Morgan ruling, while allowing hangings to resume as soon as ­possible.

Harris said there had been "a pall" over the land in the aftermath of those 2 days when convicted murderer Dole Chadee and members of his gang were hanged in 1999 and that the root causes of crime are what need to be addressed.

'Who brings in the drugs?'

"If the death penalty is reinstated, at the end of it, having hanged 2 people or 3 people, what does that do to the nation?" Harris asked.

He said he recalled that after the hangings of Chadee and his gang, a lot of people wrote to say it felt "awful" and "barbaric" to hang 9 ­people in 2 days.

The act of hanging those men neither brightened the soul of the people nor had a lasting effect on crime, Harris said. "That may be the law of the land, but when we admit and want to reinstate hanging, we put ourselves in the company of a bunch of nations I don't want to be associated with," Harris said. He also questioned whether the Government and those calling for capital punishment were reflecting on that. "I think it reflects the will of a group of people who are rather loud-mouthed," he said, having been asked whether he did not believe the call for the reinstatement of the death penalty reflected the will of the people.

Harris also said: "Hanging will not stop drugs from coming into the country, hanging will not stop people fighting for turf. And so the murders will continue, the murders will continue.

"And you ask yourself, who brings in the drugs and who brings in the guns? It's not the poor boys from Laventille and Sea Lots and where else in Trinidad. They don't have the money to do that."

The Archbishop said there must be change in the education system and promised the church would do its part to address those concerns.

He said the education system "creates criminals" and nothing is being done about it.

The system does not take into account various learning styles and produces failures, he said, setting a situation where there is no hope but tremendous anger, the Archbishop said.

(source: trinidadexpress.com)

PHILIPPINES:

Duterte threatens EU with hanging over death penalty pressure

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday warned the European Union to stop pressuring South-East Asian countries over the death penalty, threatening to "hang all of you."

Duterte noted that most member countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have capital punishment and their leaders were being pressured by the European Union on the issue.

"You fools, you sons of bitches, stop interfering with us," Duterte said at an early morning press conference after returning to Manila from visits to Myanmar and Thailand. "No one will tell you, so I will tell you, you are all fools."

"I will just be happy to hang you. If I have the preference, I'll hang all of you," he added. "You are putting us down. You are exerting pressure in every country with the death penalty."

It was not clear exactly whom he was addressing with the remarks, but he was quoted earlier this week railing against European parliamentarains, who passed a resolution last week urging the Philippines not to reintroduce the death penalty.

Among ASEAN's 10 member-countries, only Cambodia and the Philippines have abolished the death penalty, but Manila has taken steps to reinstate capital punishment under Duterte's administration.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have carried out executions of convicts in recent years, while Thailand, Brunei, Laos and Burma have had no executions in decades. Vietnam's statistics on the death penalty are secret.

Duterte alleged that Europeans were against the death penalty out of guilt over the deaths of millions of people during World War I.

He said "genetics" were to blame for Europeans interfering with other countries on the death penalty.

"Your guilt, your conscience is almost genetics. It is passed on from generation to generation," he said.

(source: europeonline-magazine.com)

BANGLADESH:

Halt imminent executions of three men who tried to kill UK ambassador

Bangladesh must halt the imminent executions of 3 men sentenced to death for a grenade attack on the UK Ambassador, Amnesty International said.

Prison authorities in Bangladesh today confirmed that the executions of Mufti Abdul Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain Ripon - all alleged members of the banned armed group Harkat-ul-Jihad (HuJI) - would be carried out soon. They were all convicted of and sentenced to death over an attack in 2004 which injured the then-UK High Commissioner, Anwar Choudhury, and killed 3 people.

"These executions must be stopped immediately. While those found responsible for crimes after fair trials should be punished, the death penalty is never the solution. It's dismaying that the Bangladeshi authorities are looking to take more lives in the name of fighting 'terrorism'," said Olof Blomqvist, Amnesty International's Bangladesh researcher.

"The death penalty is always a human rights violation and is in no way a more effective way to tackle crime than life imprisonment. Sending these men to the gallows will not make Bangladesh safer, it will only add to the death toll."

On 19 March 2017, the Bangladeshi Supreme Court rejected the 3 men's final appeals. Their only remaining option is now to seek a presidential pardon to stop the executions.

Bangladesh is among the minority of states globally that still implements the death penalty. In 2015, four people were executed in the country, while almost 200 people were sentenced to death.

"We urge President Abdul Hamid to pardon these 3 men and spare their lives. Bangladesh should also immediately impose a moratorium on executions with a view to full abolition of the death penalty. More and more countries around the world are coming around to the fact that taking lives neither deters crime nor is an effective mean to deliver justice," said Olof Blomqvist.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the executions.

(source: amnesty.org)

MARCH 23, 2017:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Prosecutors to seek death penalty in slayings of Lancaster brothers

Prosecutors say they'll seek the death penalty against 2 18-year-olds accused of killing 2 brothers in their Lancaster home.

The Lancaster County district attorney's office on Wednesday filed notices of intent to seek death sentences against Joshua M. Proper and Juan Cristo-Munoz.

Proper and Cristo-Munoz are charged with homicide, robbery, and burglary in the Feb. 19 killings of 61-year-old Leroy Kinsey and 62-year-old Richard Walton.

The notices cite 4 aggravating circumstances for jurors to consider at sentencing. The district attorney's office says Proper and Cristo-Munoz committed the killings while committing felonies of burglary and robbery, and the pair presented a grave risk of death to another person in the home. Prosecutors added that torture was involved in killing 1 of the brothers.

Proper admitted to investigators that he and Cristo-Munoz went to the brothers' home in the 600 block of Poplar Street to steal money. He said they got into the house through a 1st-floor window and encountered Kinsey in the living room before stabbing him in the chest, shoulder and neck, the criminal complaint states.

The 2 then went to the 2nd floor and came upon Walton in a front bedroom. Proper told police that Cristo-Munoz used a large sword to strike Walton's lower body and legs.

Authorities said a caretaker who lived in the home escaped and called 911 after hearing suspicious noises.

Responding officers found Proper and Cristo-Munoz hiding in the basement. They said the 2 had blood all over their clothing, Munoz had a knife in his sweatshirt pocket, and Proper had Kinsey's wallet.

Proper and Cristo-Munoz remain in Lancaster County Prison without bail. Both waived preliminary hearings last week.

Arraignment dates in Lancaster County Court are scheduled for April 13.

(source: ABC News)

FLORIDA:

The Question of Death, not Deserving.

You may kill a cop, you may kill a pregnant woman, but do you also then deserve to die?

Death Penalty A short exchange of bullets, a choice by the officer not to retreat, and the response on part of the perpetrator - follow, and then kill. The gunshot left ripples along the coast of Florida, resulting in a region-wide manhunt for one Markeith Lloyd, who fled the scene from a Walmart parking lot where he had shot and killed a police officer who was laying on the ground, wounded from a previous shot. The manhunt stretched into the night and onto the next day and throughout the following week, with civilians and police throughout the area on high alert in search of the gunman for 9 long days. Lloyd was already on the run, having spent the previous month skirting around authorities after killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, injuring her brother and threatening several of her family members. But this time he killed a police officer, and there were witnesses. Lloyd was now known to be dangerous, armed, and not afraid of acting again, or in public.

When Lloyd was found and captured on January 17, 2017, there was a wave of relief throughout the police force and the local civilian population. There was nationwide agreement echoing from the news cycle that the capture of Lloyd was a massive relief, and that the death penalty was imminent. What else could result from the brutal murder of an unarmed pregnant woman, followed by the murder of a wounded police officer, laying helplessly in a Walmart parking lot when Lloyd followed the fatal shot? Lloyd was clearly dangerous, and had no qualms about striking again if his own safety depended on it. The death penalty, it was decided, was by far the rightful course of action, and it was only a matter of time before that was to be enacted.

However, just 2 months later it was revealed that the death penalty was not in Lloyd's future after all. Orange Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala revealed in a statement on March 17th that she would not be pursuing the death penalty for Lloyd, nor would she be pursuing capital punishment in any current or future case due to the current standards regarding the death penalty in Florida. Ayala cited a series of concerns, including question of benefits to public safety, to police officer safety, and economic concerns regarding the cost of execution in comparison to life imprisonment.

The news that the death penalty would not be pursued in the case of Lloyd upset many, causing a wide range of backlash against Ayala. However, Ayala is far from alone in her line of reasoning. In fact, use of the death penalty as a means of punishing criminals has dropped significantly nationwide as there is a scramble to find more ethical ways to execute charged criminals. Between the cost of executions, issues with the drugs that are typically used in executions being inaccessible and not entirely effective, and concerns regarding the best way for the death penalty to be enacted to begin with, many prosecutors are opting to fight for life imprisonment rather than bring the issue of a death penalty.

The line of reasoning here is that juries are more likely to accept a proposal for life imprisonment than they are to approve the death penalty right out. However, proponents for the death penalty continue to argue that charging life imprisonment puts unnecessary stress on the prison system, and creates undue mental stress on the prisoner, who will be kept in solitary confinement for the majority of their life sentence.

As charges of the death penalty continue to drop, questions regarding the most ethical and effective means of punishing crime and dissuading future offenders continues to be had. Whether or not the death penalty is the right course of action, the reality is that it is not the current course of action, even in cases as seemingly open-shut as that of Markeith Lloyd.

(source: Commentary, Doug Kaplan----orlando-politics.com)

ALABAMA:

Court appearance Friday for 4 young men charged with killing 2 men in 2015

Attorneys for Joseph Cowan, who is charged with capital murder in the shooting death of 2 Decatur men in May 2015, will ask a Morgan County Circuit Court judge Friday to take the death penalty off the table for their client.

Judge Jennifer Howell will consider a motion from Cowan's attorneys to rule that the state's capital murder sentencing scheme is unconstitutional or to bar the death penalty if he is convicted. Howell will hear other motions from Cowan's defense team, along with several motions filed by co-defendants Cedric Cowan, Amani Goodwin and Cortez Mitchell at Friday’s 10 a.m. hearing.

Other motions Howell will consider include dismissing the indictment against Cedric Cowan for possible double jeopardy, throwing out Mitchell's sworn statement to police, and for separate trials of the defendants.

Brian White, who is representing Joseph Cowan, said Alabama law allowing a judge to disregard a jury's recommendation that a person convicted of capital murder be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole and sentence the defendant to death is unconstitutional.

The motion leans heavily on the sentencing in a Florida capital murder case that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional because it allowed the judge to independently determine if the aggravating circumstances in a case warrant the death penalty.

"If the judge finds the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, then the judge can impose a sentence of death even if it contradicts the jury's advisory verdict," White and co-defense attorney Jake Watson said in their motion.

Florida since has changed its law to conform to the Supreme Court's ruling. White said separate bills in the Alabama House and Senate are being considered that would give a jury the final decision of life or death in a capital murder case.

White said Alabama is the only state that allows "judicial override" by a judge in sentencing of a capital murder case.

"These are interesting times in death penalty litigation," White said. "We may be arguing something that may take care of itself."

Joe Lewis, a Morgan County assistant district attorney, said in a reply to Joseph Cowan's motion that Alabama's death sentence procedure is different than Florida's because a jury here must find at least 1 aggravating factor to recommend the death penalty.

"The plain fact is, under present Alabama law, a trial judge may not issue a death sentence in a capital case without a unanimous finding of fact by a jury over and above the finding of guilt," Lewis said in a court filing.

Joseph Cowan is the only defendant who could face execution if convicted of capital murder in the shooting deaths of Antonio Hernandez-Lopez in his Southwest Decatur home's carport and Shane Davis, who was found dead in Wilson Morgan Park.

Joseph Cowan was 20, Goodwin was 17, and Cedric Cowan and Mitchell were both 16 when the crimes occurred.

Cedric Cowan, Mitchell and Goodwin face either life in prison without the chance of parole or life in prison with the chance of parole after serving 30 years, if convicted of capital murder. They are not eligible for the death penalty because they were juveniles when the crimes happened.

Howell in November denied youthful offender status to all four defendants. The maximum sentence for a youthful offender is three years in a juvenile facility.

Cedric Cowan's attorneys filed a motion to have his indictment dismissed because he has been charged with multiple crimes under the same state law and from a single act. Cowan and the others are charged with 1 count each of capital murder and robbery for the death of Hernandez-Lopez, Davis, and for both Hernandez-Lopez and Davis.

"Because it charges him with multiple counts of capital murder arising out of a single killing, the indictment exposes Mr. Cowan to double jeopardy," attorney Ed Blair said in the motion.

Cedric Cowan's attorneys are also asking for a transcript, exhibits and other materials from the grand jury proceedings from which Cedric Cowan was indicted.

Mitchell's attorney, Joe Propst, said he will ask Howell not to allow Mitchell's "confession" to be used as evidence at trial.

"We intend to show that at the time he gave the statement he was not competent to understand and appreciate his Miranda warnings," Propst said.

A psychologist will testify Friday about Mitchell's mental capacity, Propst said. Mitchell has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by mental disease or defect to the charges against him.

Police previously testified Mitchell said in a signed statement that Joseph Cowan fatally shot Hernandez-Lopez and Davis. He also said in the statement that Cedric Cowan shot Hernandez-Lopez when the victim was lying on the ground.

The 4 defendants were last in court in December when they pleaded not guilty to all charges of an 11-count indictment against each. Goodwin and Mitchell also pleaded not guilty by mental disease or defect.

They are each charged with 3 counts of capital murder, 8 counts of 1st-degree robbery, and 1 charge each of shooting into an occupied dwelling and shooting into an unoccupied dwelling.

(source: Decatur Daily)

MISSISSIPPI:

Cruel & Unusual? The Death Penalty's Trials in Mississippi

Richard Jordan, then 29, needed money, so he drove to Gulfport, Miss., looking for it back in 1976. There, he called the Gulf National Bank, asked to speak with a loan officer and was directed to Charles Marter. Once he had Marter's name, Mississippi Supreme Court opinions say Jordan ended the call, then looked up Marter's address in a local phone book and went to his house. He entered the home pretending to be an employee of the electric company, then kidnapped Charles' wife, Edwina, who was there alone with her 3-year-old son. The toddler was still sleeping upstairs as Jordan forced Edwina to drive them into a deserted area of the DeSoto National Forest.

What happened next in the woods is disputed in court records, but either way, Jordan shot Edwina in the back of the head. Jordan's defense team claimed that Edwina tried to run away, and Jordan attempted to fire a warning shot and missed. The State of Mississippi argued that Jordan killed Edwina as she kneeled in front of him "execution style." The bullet, court records say, entered her skull at the lower right area of her brain and exited her left eye.

Jordan left her body in the woods and disposed of the murder weapon in the Big Biloxi River. He called Charles Marter, claiming his wife was alive and demanding a ransom of $25,000. Charles was supposed to drop off the money on the side of Highway 49 on a blue jacket that Jordan left there for him.

When Jordan went to collect the money, 2 officers were waiting to arrest him. He escaped, but police later caught him at a roadblock. He confessed to killing Edwina and told the officers where to find her body. Jordan was first convicted and sentenced to death in 1976, and has been waiting to die for about 40 years due to multiple sentencing trials and shifts in Mississippi's death sentencing law as well as subsequent legal challenges to the use of certain lethal-injection drugs in the state.

The now-70-year-old has been sentenced to death 4 times as well as had 5 capital sentencing trials, litigation necessary because Mississippi law keeps changing. At one point, Jordan was sentenced to life in prison without parole - until the court determined that at the time, state law did not permit that sentence based on Jordan's case. Once the Legislature did change state law, Jordan asked for a life in prison sentence, but prosecutors decided to pursue the death penalty again instead.

The State might be able to kill Jordan and others on death row if an effort to change Mississippi's death-penalty law succeeds this legislative session. Still, litigation challenging several components of the state's lethal-injection procedures, including a drug the State plans to use, will likely keep the 46 inmates, by the state's public defender's count, on death row in limbo for the foreseeable future.

Time to 'Change the Language?'

The State of Mississippi is litigating legal challenges to the state's lethal-injection law directly. Mississippi last executed a prisoner in June 2012, Mississippi Department of Corrections records posted online show.

Currently, Mississippi's method of execution is lethal injection with a cocktail of three drugs. State law describes its chosen form of the death penalty this way: "The manner of inflicting the punishment of death shall be by continuous intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultra short-acting barbiturate or other similar drug in combination with a chemical paralytic agent until death is pronounced."

Mississippi has struggled in recent years to comply with this law, largely due to an inability to find those drugs listed in the statute, state officials say. In court records, the State claims it has struggled to obtain an "ultra short-acting barbiturate" or a "similar drug" to use in its place, and it is litigating challenges its proposed use of a drug called midazolam in its place.

In July 2015, the Mississippi Department of Corrections abruptly changed its lethal injection-protocol policies, claiming that it could not acquire pentobarbital, what was supposed to be the 1st drug in the 3-part series needed for executions. MDOC changed its protocol to include alternatives if it could not acquire the drug, including midazolam.

This change spurred the shift in focus in lethal-injection litigation for attorneys challenging the death penalty who argue that midazolam is not a substitute for pentobarbital, arguing among other things, that it's not in the same drug class. Midazolam is in the benzodiazepine drug class, while pentobarbital is in the barbiturate drug class that state law requires.

House Bill 638 would change this policy entirely. The language of the bill calls for "the sequential intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of the following combination of substances: an appropriate anesthetic or sedative, a chemical paralytic agent and potassium chloride, or other similarly effective substance."

Attorney General Jim Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat in Mississippi, has pursued the death penalty even in questionable cases, like that of Michele Byrom. He told reporters in January that the bill, which lawmakers also introduced in the 2016 legislative session before it died, is necessary for executions to resume.

"There's some language in there that says 'a fast-acting barbiturate,' and that's what we've been litigating all this time. ... Well, there are no more barbiturates out there that are fast-acting that are available for executions, so we want to take that out of there," Hood said at a press conference in January about his legislative priorities.

The legislation would also allow alternative methods of executions, including nitrogen hypoxia (death by inhaling lethal gas) and electrocution. Initially, Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, had included firing squads as an alternative in the bill he authored. That version passed the House, but the Senate took the firing squads out.

Foster says lethal injection is the best option, and that the bill is broad enough to enable the state to continue to use the method to kill inmates. The State would only choose other methods like a gas chamber or firing squad if lethal injection is deemed illegal, he said.

"If lethal injection continues to be challenged in the courts, we'll go back and use some methods that have been used for decades," Foster told the Jackson Free Press. "I think firing squad would be just as good as any of them, I mean it gets the job done, and it definitely makes the message clear. It's pretty much foolproof - that's why I would prefer the Senate not (have) taken that out."

Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, invited conference on the bill, meaning he did not concur with the changes the Senate made to the bill. This means there's still a chance that the option to add firing squad as an alternative back into the bill. He told the Jackson Free Press that he is inclined to keep the legislation alive, but said he had not decided on specifics by press time.

Attorney General Hood seemed optimistic that the State would be able to begin executing inmates again in 2017 during a January press conference. "I think towards the end of the year, probably. I think it's teed up to (where) the courts need to move on (some cases)," Hood told reporters then.

Legal wrangling could stall that hope, however. The lethal-injection litigation saga has continued into the new year with new constitutional claims in federal court against Mississippi's lethal-injection law.

Stopping 'Botched Executions'

Mississippi's lethal-injection litigation nightmares are coming mainly from the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans where attorney James Craig, who represents several Mississippi inmates on death row, works. In September 2015, three inmates on death row, including Richard Jordan, filed a federal complaint against the state for violating their rights to due process and "to be free from cruel and unusual punishment" under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers amended this complaint just months after the Mississippi Department of Corrections changed its lethal-injection protocol that July to substitute a drug called midazolam as one of the three drugs in the series that creates the lethal injection. Midazolam, Craig and other attorneys allege, could create a substantial risk of harm to those on death row.

Attorney General Jim Hood asked the Legislature to pass House Bill 638 to help move the State's pending litigation around the death penalty forward.

The State denies that midazolam creates a risk and but does admit in court documents that "MDOC intends to use midazolam as the first drug in Plaintiffs' executions and that midazolam is classified as a benzodiazepine."

The legal challenge against midazolam relies on the question of whether or not it is really "a similar drug" to the increasingly hard-to-get barbiturates, which Mississippi law currently allows. Midazolam is a sedative considered a "benzodiazepine" drug class - not a "barbiturate." Lawyers and advocates against the death penalty - and against the use of midazolam - argue that midazolam is not a true anesthetic, therefore not guaranteeing that it will render a person unconscious, which is its purpose.

Oklahoma state employees used midazolam in the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett in 2014; the procedure took 40 minutes before he finally died of a heart attack.

Arizona and Ohio officials also used midazolam in two executions where prisoners "showed visible signs of pain before dying," as Newsweek reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not deem midazolam unconstitutional in a case from Oklahoma, leaving the potential for future litigation about the drug open, since its ruling only applied to the evidence that Oklahoma inmates presented. In its 2015 Glossip v. Gross ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the prisoners failed to identify known and available alternative methods of executions that "entail(s) a lesser risk of pain." The 5-4 decision on June 29, 2015, came down just a month before MDOC announced that it would change its death-penalty protocols to include midazolam.

If House Bill 638 becomes law, this legal question will be moot - because the new wording broadens the language, allowing the state to legally use midazolam. Attorney General Hood sent a statement to the Jackson Free Press about the current bill to change the state's death-penalty law.

"Because we cannot obtain the 1st drug in the 3-drug protocol and now are experiencing difficulty obtaining the second and third drugs, we have requested a change in the language on the types of drugs to be utilized, as well as alternative means," the statement said.

Advocates oppose the use of midazolam as well as the broad language in the bill, however. The ACLU of Mississippi, which opposes the death penalty generally, also opposes House Bill 638. Blake Feldman, one of the advocacy coordinators there, said midazolam is to blame for several botched executions - and that it is disturbing that state officials would want to use a drug that has been the root of problems elsewhere.

"We can't ignore that what this bill does is it very seriously increases the chances of a botched execution. ... The death penalty is a gross injustice, but a botched execution by the State paid for with tax dollars in our name is as bad as you can get," Feldman told the Jackson Free Press.

While Richard Jordan, Ricky Chase and Thomas Loden's midazolam complaint will be moot if House Bill 638 passes, the 3 death-row inmates will continue to challenge the use of a 3-drug lethal-injection procedure as unconstitutional.

That is, the state's legal problems over the death penalty are far from over.

Likely 'More Delay'

Craig and lawyers representing Jordan, Chase and Loden still allege that Mississippi's 3-drug protocol is unconstitutional. Craig said he was surprised that Mississippi's proposed legislation does not change its death penalty more drastically. States embracing the death penalty use lethal injection, but the majority that actually executed prisoners in 2016 used a single-drug lethal injection, often made up of a high dose of pentobarbital. That is the kind of drug that Mississippi claims it cannot get, saying it needs to use midazolam in its place.

If House Bill 638 becomes law, Craig said he expects to amend Jordan, Chase and Loden's complaint in federal court accordingly. Discovery materials in the case are due in September 2017, meaning the trial will likely not be held until 2018, but amending that complaint could delay that litigation even longer and keep the 3 inmates alive until it is resolved. Craig said he could amend the complaint to add that nitrogen hypoxia and electrocution, both listed as alternative methods of execution in the proposed legislation, also violate his clients' constitutional right to no cruel or unusual punishment.

"I think we would end up bringing a different set of claims in Judge (Henry) Wingate's court. Assuming he doesn't immediately ban it, that's another almost year, 2 years delay to what's already going on right now," Craig said.

Judge Wingate himself was temporarily blocked from handling new cases last week after Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola directed court clerks to assign any new civil cases to 3 semi-retired judges instead of Wingate, the Associated Press reported. Wingate has a backlog of pending cases that need to be ruled on before he can take on any new cases.

Texas, Georgia and Missouri executed prisoners in 2016 using one-drug lethal injections that Craig says are more humane than the three-drug cocktail in Mississippi. He added that around 90 % of his legal claims against Mississippi's lethal injection procedure would be moot if the State moved to using a single-drug pentobarbital lethal injection.

State officials, including the attorney general, claim they have had trouble getting their hands on pentobarbital, however, but a recent public-records request by the MacArthur Center seems to challenge this.

MDOC released its lethal-injection drug inventory forms showing the state is in possession of midazolam - but does not have any other drugs necessary for the 3-drug injection.

Additionally, MDOC said that no records exist showing "any and all efforts or attempts made by MDOC to acquire" any such drugs. That is, it is unclear how hard the State is working to get the additional drugs in order to proceed with executions.

The 'Alternative Methods'

Mississippi would be the 2nd state in the country to enact a method called nitrogen hypoxia if House Bill 638 becomes law. Rep. Foster, aware that the lethal-injection litigation is stalling the death penalty, added several other measures the State could carry out in lieu of the lethal injection. Originally his bill added nitrogen hypoxia (lethal gas), firing squad and electrocution in that order as alternatives to lethal injection - if that method is deemed unconstitutional.

Most states with the death penalty use lethal injection to execute people. Oklahoma, after all its negative lethal-injection headlines seems to be moving forward with a new method: nitrogen gas.

In 2015, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill to allow the state to use the method to execute its prisoners on death row, and last September, the attorney general there suggested that the state needs to develop a protocol for the new method, the Tulsa World reported.

The only hang-up for nitrogen hypoxia is that there are no reports of it ever being used to legally execute a human, the Associated Press reported in 2015. In May 2016, a grand jury in Oklahoma issued a report about what went wrong in another botched lethal-injection execution, and in that report, suggested that nitrogen gas could be a better alternative for the state to use, The Oklahoman reported.

Robert Dunham with the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death penalties and executions nationwide, confirmed that Mississippi would be the 2nd state to add nitrogen hypoxia to state law. Dunham said no scientific evidence supports the method because it's never been done on humans before. Gas chambers that were previously used for the death penalty used different gas, usually cyanide, Dunham said. Hypoxia is sometimes used to put animals to death, but the American Veterinary Association guidelines say it is not appropriate for all species of mammals.

American Veterinary Medical Association developed guidelines in 2013 that describe hypoxia. "Some animals may exhibit motor activity or convulsions following loss of consciousness due to hypoxia; however, this is reflex activity and is not consciously perceived by the animal," it said. "In addition, methods based on hypoxia will not be appropriate for species that are tolerant of prolonged periods of hypoxemia."

Nitrogen hypoxia would most likely be subject to Eighth Amendment challenges for cruel and unusual punishment, Dunham said, as would electrocution. Tennessee lawmakers added the electric chair in 2014 as a back-up execution method, but courts there chose not to rule on if it is cruel or unusual punishment until the lethal injection method there is deemed unconstitutional. Mississippi switched from using an electric chair to a gas chamber to execute inmates on death row in the 1950s through the 1980s to kill 35 death-row inmates. In 1984, the Legislature first added lethal injection as an option, and then by 1998 removed the gas provision from state law.

'Let God Sort It Out'

While some lawmakers do not believe in the death penalty, based on how House and Senate members voted on the bill this session, most agree that the state needs to follow its own laws. Hood said in January that it is his job to enforce the law, and if the law is going to be changed, the Legislature will need to do that.

Based on the support for his firing-squad amendments in 2016 and this year, Rep. Foster says the House seems to be overwhelming for the death penalty in the state. House members passed his bill by a vote of 74-44 this session, and the Senate passed its amended version (with no firing squad) by a vote of 38-13.

Foster said he is in favor of executing those who commit the most egregious crimes with undeniable evidence.

"When people do just horrible acts of evil, not crimes of passion, but just terrible acts of evil, then I do think (there should be a death penalty). It does save us money if we do it earlier than drag it out for 50 years, but it's not so much about the financial side," he told the Jackson Free Press.

"It just sets a precedent. I don't think it's right for them to be able to live their life out in jail and get three meals and have access to workout equipment and access to medical care potentially better than we're giving to some of our veterans in some cases, for the rest of their lives. ... I think we need to send them on for their final judgment at that point and let God sort it out."

Dunham said national public opinion is not on the Mississippi Legislature's side when it comes to alternative methods of execution. Public support for lethal injection as a method of execution is waning, but a majority still favors it, however, over the alternatives. A YouGov poll from 2015 shows that a majority of those polled about methods of execution including hanging, gas chambers, firing squads and the electric chair believe that they are all cruel and unusual. Dunham said Mississippians' support of those alternatives could lead national public opinion - and business development in the state - to suffer as a result.

"Even if the public in Mississippi thought that (alternatives) were OK, it's bad for business because it creates an image of the state as being barbaric," he said.

"That is not a good atmosphere for economic development."

Mississippi is 1 of 31 states that have a death penalty. The number of state executions nationally has declined in recent years. The Death Penalty Information Center reported 28 executions country-wide in 2015 and 20 in 2016. Other states use different lethal-injection protocols, some using single-drug injections, while others use 3-drug injections like Mississippi. Dunham said House Bill 638 signals Mississippi is in line with national trends with states dealing with how to execute its prisoners by legal injection when drugs they want are no longer available or just difficult to obtain.

"Some states are looking to change the chemicals that they use, but not the process," Dunham told the Jackson Free Press. "Others are looking to move from multiple to single drugs, and others are looking to back-up methods of execution."

An Exhausting Legal Process

A person sentenced to the death penalty technically gets a chance at one federal and one state appeal, but several inmates in the state were able to file additional petitions after Mississippi created the Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel that did not, in some cases, raise the proper claims, leading to more litigation.

Andre de Gruy, the state public defender, said only about two of the 46 inmates on death row have exhausted their appeals outside of a lethal-injection claim, meaning the rest of inmates on death row are challenging their death sentences for other reasons.

"The vast majority of cases are not being held up because of this," de Gruy said.

Craig filed a separate post-conviction relief petition on Richard Jordan's behalf last summer. Because Jordan has had to wait 4 decades and is now 70, executing him should be considered "cruel and unusual punishment," the petition argues.

At one point, Jordan was eligible for an agreement to a sentence of life in prison without parole, but the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the "life" sentence was unlawful under law at the time of his crime. Craig argues that Jordan was at a disadvantage in court even in 1998 during his 5th sentencing trial.

"Jordan had to confront a jury that would, because of the deaths of (his) family members in the intervening years ... never experience the emotional force of testimony of those who loved him dearly," Jordan's latest petition to the Mississippi Supreme Court says. "In short, Jordan was denied the very type of evidence that routinely spells the difference between life and death in capital trials in Mississippi."

(source: jacksonfreepress.com)

NEBRASKA:

Chambers' new effort to repeal death penalty elicits emotional testimony before Nebraska Legislature

She spent what would have been her mother’s 52nd birthday asking Nebraska lawmakers not to stand in the way of executing her mother's killers.

Christine Tuttle urged members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to reject a bill that would pull their colleagues into yet another debate over abolishing the death penalty. Rather, listen to the 61 % of voters who went to the polls in November and reinstated capital punishment, she said.

Further, she told senators on the committee that they should feel ashamed for celebrating on the legislative floor 2 years ago when a different repeal bill passed. Her mother, Evonne Tuttle, was 1 of 5 people killed in the 2002 bank shooting in Norfolk.

"I watched you laugh and hug and high-5," she said. "You celebrated on the pain and sorrow of my family, and we have heard enough. This behavior hurt me and it angered me and it's not becoming of state senators, and I hope and pray that you do not make the same mistake again."

For State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, there was no mistake in championing the repeal, no shame in celebrating a victory that seemed unattainable in a conservative state like Nebraska. Instead, he only sounded resolved to take up the old battle once again.

"As long as I have breath in my body and I'm in this Legislature, I'm going to do what I think is right," Chambers said. "And I don't think the state should kill anybody."

Even as Chambers renewed the signature cause of his 4 decades in public office, some of his colleagues took another step to return capital punishment to viability. Members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced Legislative Bill 661, which would allow the Department of Correctional Services to hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers.

Secrecy laws in other death penalty states are credited with making it easier to carry out executions. LB 661 has a priority designation, which means it almost certainly will be scheduled for floor debate this session.

Legislative Bill 446, Chambers’ repeal proposal, has not been prioritized. So even if the Judiciary Committee votes to advance it, the bill probably would not be debated before the session concludes June 2.

Despite losing last year's ballot referendum, about a dozen death penalty opponents lined up to testify in support of the Chambers bill.

They used familiar arguments: The death penalty costs the state more than life in prison; it does not significantly deter crime; it risks executing the wrong person; it conflicts with "pro-life" beliefs.

"I don't trust the government to deliver the mail on time or fix potholes. How could I trust them to make life-or-death decisions," said Matt Maly with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Mark Metcalf urged senators not to be deterred by the referendum vote, arguing that lawmakers who carefully studied and considered both sides of the argument gained a better understanding of the death penalty.

"It should not be surprising that our senators could be right about something and we the people could be wrong," he said.

Testifying against the bill was Assistant Attorney General Corey O'Brien, who said the death penalty is intentionally reserved for a small percentage of the most heinous killers.

Also speaking in opposition was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who passed out photos and video of the celebratory scene in 2015 when the repeal bill passed. He said voters sent a clear message that Nebraska is a death penalty state and their elected officials should act accordingly.

The most compelling testimony was delivered by Tuttle, who described what it was like to see her mother on the bank surveillance video as 3 masked men walked in with guns.

"You want to yell, they're coming, but you can't," she said. "Before the robbery even starts, it's done and all 5 people are dead."

She listed the names of the others gunned down in less than a minute: Samuel Sun, Jo Mausbach, Lisa Bryant and Lola Elwood. The 3 gunmen are among the 10 currently on death row. And she gave a glimpse of the agonizing conversation she had that day with her 2 young sisters.

"Has anyone ever told a 3- and 5-year-old that their mother is dead?" she asked. "The goodbye hugs and kisses that morning were the last they would ever receive from my mom."

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln apologized, saying any displays of emotion on the floor of the Legislature were not intended as an insult to the families of murder victims. Rather, they said the scene reflected the kind of outpouring that naturally follows any difficult struggle over an issue people care deeply about.

Pansing Brooks also said that she resented the implication by the sheriff that she and other death penalty opponents were being intentionally disrespectful.

And Chambers told the sheriff the story of a favorite nephew, the victim of an unsolved homicide. He told how death penalty supporters wanted to know if he felt differently about capital punishment after death had struck such a blow to his family.

No, he said he told them, he never for a moment felt differently.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)

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

Senator: Restoring Nebraska's Death Penalty Was Wrong

A Nebraska senator who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty is trying again, arguing that the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha presented his repeal bill Wednesday to a legislative committee. It's unlikely to pass, but Chambers says a popular vote shouldn't decide issues such as capital punishment.

Lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 2015, overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot petition drive partially financed by Ricketts. Voters overturned the Legislature's decision and restored the punishment in November.

Nebraska's corrections department recently changed its lethal injection protocol after years of failed attempts to obtain the necessary drugs. Another bill would let the state hide the identity of its suppliers.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Chambers Renews Effort to Abolish Nebraska's Death Penalty

Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers, who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty in the state, is trying again.

Chambers says the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

He presented his repeal bill Wednesday to a legislative committee.

It's unlikely to pass, but Chambers says a popular vote shouldn’t decide issues such as capital punishment.

Lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 2015, overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto.

Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot petition drive partially financed by Ricketts and voters overturned the Legislature's decision and restored the punishment in November.

(source: KSCJ news)

CALIFORNIA:

Jury recommends death for serial killer convicted in Perris-area slayings

A jury recommended the death penalty Wednesday, March 22, for a Perris man convicted of 3 counts of murder in the random slayings of a man and 2 women in the Perris-Nuevo area. David Rey Contreras, 29, is scheduled to return before Superior Court Judge John Monterosso on May 12 for his sentence, according to a release from Riverside County District Attorney spokesman John Hall.

Contreras on March 8 was found guilty of the 3 counts as well as enhancements for use of a knife in each incident. A special circumstance allegation that he committed multiple murders ultimately made him eligible for the death penalty.

During the penalty phase, the defense argued that mental illness played a role in the slayings and that unusual behavior Contreras had exhibited before and after the murders was the result of paranoid schizophrenia. They asked jurors to consider an absence of felony convictions prior to the slayings as well as Contreras' behavior at work and with family members as reasons he did not deserve a death sentence.

The prosecution argued that Contreras' viciously hunted down and killed people and that he knew what he was doing. The prosecution asked jurors not only consider the viciousness of the crimes toward the victims, but also how the slayings impacted the victims' family members.

The 1st victim, Jose Apreza, 53, of Perris took his dog out for a walk the morning of Dec. 29, 2012, and never returned. His wife reporting him missing, and he was found dead in a field near his home with roughly 2 dozen stab wounds.

Maria Gonzalez, 51, and her daughter, Consuelo Gonzalez, 25, also were on a walk near their home when they were stabbed repeatedly Feb. 4, 2013, on Central Avenue near Ramona Avenue in Nuevo.

When charges were filed in August 2013, then-Riverside County sheriff's homicide Lt. Joe Borja noted that the law enforcement definition for a serial killer is 3 victims or more.

(source: Press-Enterprise)

MALAYSIA:

Azalina: Cabinet to review death sentence for drug offences

The cabinet has agreed that the mandatory death penalty for drug offences needs to be reviewed.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman Said told the Dewan Rakyat that the cabinet made this decision on March 1, after attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali gave them a presentation.

"The cabinet agreed and decided that amendments be made to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act by including additional clauses to give discretionary power to the courts to bestow other sentences, besides the mandatory death penalty, in certain situations," Azalina said today.

(source: malaysiakini.com)

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

China woman on death row fails in appeal

A 24-year-old woman from China, who was sentenced to death for trafficking 1,397.1gm of syabu failed in her appeal against the sentence at the Court of Appeal.

Justices Datuk Lim Yee Lan, Dato' Abdul Rahman Sebli and Puan Sri Zaleha Yusof unanimously dismissed the appeal by Cheng Jin Hui after hearing submissions from her and the prosecution as the respondent.

The court held that there was nothing in the appeal record that warrants the court's intervention on the findings made by the High Court.

Cheng was June 9, 2016 found guilty by the High Court here and convicted of committing the offence at 11.25pm on July 6, 2014 at the passengers' examination area at the arrival hall in Terminal 2 of the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA).

The offence under Section 39B(1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 carries the death penalty on conviction.

Earlier, counsel Ram Singh representing Cheng, submitted that it was a genuine case of an innocent courier who was asked to carry clothes samples to Malaysia by some African men in China.

Cheng did not realise the secret compartment inside the luggage contained drugs and she did check the content of the luggage and found nothing except clothes samples and her own clothes, submitted Ram.

Cheng's shock reaction could not be inferred as she knew drugs were inside the secret compartment of the luggage, he added.

Ram also submitted that the High Court judge misdirected herself when she held that there was trafficking of drugs as she had men's rea possession of the luggage and drugs inside the luggage.

The prosecution rebutted that Cheng was not an innocent courier.

Cheng knew the drugs were inside the luggage and her reaction of shock proved her conduct of mens rea in carrying the luggage with drugs inside, the prosecution submitted.

(source: dailyexpress.com.my)

INDIA:

Law Commission has recommended abolition of death penalty: Govt----The Law Commission in its 262nd report has recommended abolishing the death penalty for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war

The Law Commission has recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes except those related to terrorism, Rajya Sabha was informed on Wednesday.

Minister of state for home Hansraj Ahir said the Law Commission in its 262nd report has recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war.

"As Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure are in the concurrent list of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, the report has been circulated to all state governments and union territories for seeking their views," he said replying a written question.

(source: livemint.com)

BANGLADESH:

Mufti Hannan to seek presidential clemency

Convicted of killing in terrorist attack, the chief of Bangladeshi chapter of Harkat ul Islam, Abdul Hannan, will seek presidential clemency after the apex court dismissed his plea to review death sentence, prison authorities said on Wednesday.

Hannan, also known as Mufti Hannan, expressed his willingness to seek the pardon after officials read out the death warrant to the convict after the Supreme Court rejected his review against the conviction.

"Hannan He told us that he would file mercy petition to the president," senior jail superintended Mizanur Rahman said as the authorities were preparing for execution of the terrorist.

Inspector General of Prisons Brigadier General Syed Iftekhar Uddin told reporters that all preparations were taken to hang the militants.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday released full verdict that upheld its order confirming his death penalty for the 2004 grenade attack on then British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury.

Attorney General Mahbube Alam said that the execution of the convicted militant was a matter of time as the Supreme Court dismissed the review petitions of 3 death-row convicts, including Hannan.

A court in Sylhet on December 23, 2008 sentenced Hannan and 2 of his associates - Bipul and Ripon - to death for carrying out grenade attack on the British envoy at a shrine in the north-eastern city.

Choudhury escaped, but 3 people, including 2 security officials were killed in the attack on May 21, 2004.

2 other members of the banned militant group - Muhibullah alias Muhibur Rahman alias Ovi and Mufti Main Uddin alias Abu Zandal - were sentenced to life in prison.

The High Court confirmed the death penalty on February 11, 2016. The convicts however filed appeal with the Appellate Division, which rejected the militant's plea upholding the punishment on December 7, 2016.

Their reviews were dismissed on February 23 this year.

(source: newsnextbd.com)

MARCH 22, 2017:

TEXAS:

Fill gaps in capital case trial lawyers

The shrinking list of lawyers qualified to handle the growing list of capital murder defendants in Bexar County does not bode well for the criminal justice system.

With 68 capital murder cases pending and only 11 lawyers living in the county who meet the minimum requirement to represent indigent defendants who might end up on death row, the likelihood is high that many of those cases will not be resolved soon.

Most defendants charged with capital murder are at the mercy of the criminal justice system for their legal defense. They generally lack the financial means to hire legal counsel or post bond.

That means those accused of capital murder in Bexar County will spend a long time in the local lockup awaiting their day in court. It also means a long wait for resolution by the families of the victims in those cases.

Usually, 2 lawyers are assigned to each capital murder case. Texas law requires those assigned as lead lawyers in capital murder cases to have spent 5 years doing criminal law work; have experience challenging mental health or forensics experts in court; and be skilled at presenting mitigating evidence to a jury.

The rules are well intentioned given the growing number of death row inmates across the country who have been exonerated. In Texas alone, 12 people have been released from death row since 1973.

The problems with the strict appointment guidelines is that they do not allow the assignment of former prosecutors who may have tried capital murder cases or former judges who may have presided over such cases.

Lawyers on the list of candidates qualified to handle capital murder cases in Bexar County are vetted by a local selection committee, but the group of veteran lawyers and jurists serving on it are strictly bound by the state regulations.

Attempts by the Bexar County judiciary to broaden the rules to allow former prosecutors and judges to qualify for the appointments have met with stiff opposition at the state level.

The issue needs to be addressed.

Burdening a small group with the defense of the most serious of felonies is a disservice to the lawyers and their clients.

The cases can be emotionally and physically grueling on the defense team. The sheer number of cases each lawyer is handling makes a strong case for an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The shortage of lawyers to handle capital murder defense work is not unique to Bexar County. Express-News Staff Writer Bruce Selcraig reports that other jurisdictions are experiencing the same situation.

Establishing a public defenders office that would include lawyers who are experienced in capital murder defense is an expensive proposition. The same can be said for hiring defense lawyers from out of town to tackle the caseload.

The fee paid to court-appointed lawyers in capital murder cases is only $150 an hour for actual trial work, but the costs add up quickly for taxpayers footing the bill. If lawyers are brought in from out of town, there is the added cost for travel, lodging and meals.

The number of death sentences in Texas has been steadily declining since life without parole became a sentencing option. It has gone from 48 people sent to death row in 1999 to only 4 in 2016.

Lack of eligible lawyers to handle capital murders defense work could bring those numbers down further.

If that was the intent behind the strict rules on the criminal defense appointments, then let's be upfront about it and start a serious discussion on the future of the death penalty in Texas.

If not, the stressful workload piled on the few attorneys qualified to represent capital murder defendants needs to addressed.

It is simply unacceptable that defendants without financial means have limited access to defense lawyers in capital cases. The list of available attorneys needs to be broadened.

(source: Editorial Board, San Antonio Express-News)

VIRGINIA----impending execution

'Innocent on Death Row' event calls on McAuliffe to issue a stay of execution for man convicted of murder-for-hire----Ivan Teleguz execution date set for April 25

Over 200 students gathered in Clark 107 Monday to listen to attorney Elizabeth Peiffer make the case that Ivan Teleguz - a death row inmate convicted of hiring a man to murder his ex-girlfriend and who is set to be executed on April 25 - is innocent.

"He was charged with hiring someone to murder the ex-girlfriend and mother of his child, Stephanie Sipe," Peiffer, a staff attorney at the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily prior to the event. "After he was convicted a lot of evidence began to emerge that he was innocent of the murder."

The murder took place in July 2001 in Harrisonburg. Teleguz is alleged to have hired and driven 2 men - Edwin Gilkes and Michael Hetrick - from Lancaster, Penn. to Harrisonburg for the purpose of killing Sipe. Ultimately, Hetrick is believed to have cut Sipe's throat.

According to Peiffer, there was no DNA or physical evidence found linking Teleguz to the crime and 2 of the 3 men who testified against Teleguz have since recanted their prior testimonies.

Arianna Zoghi, president of Amnesty International at U.Va. and a 2nd-year College and Batten student, volunteers at Peiffer's law firm and explained Amnesty International's official position on this case. Amnesty International co-sponsored the event alongside the Roosevelt Society, the University Democrats and the College Republicans.

"Amnesty International as an organization is super opposed to the death penalty, and also in cases where there are questions of innocence," Zoghi said. "Amnesty recently put out an urgent action about this specific case."

At the event, Peiffer presented the timeline and facts of the case. The presentation was live-streamed on Facebook for members of the community who could not attend.

A jury convicted Teleguz of capital murder-for-hire in 2006 and subsequent appeals were denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, according to Peiffer, can examine the evidence and stop the execution by granting clemency.

The presentation was followed by a question and answer session, with some questions coming from the Facebook live-stream. One audience member asked if the 3rd witness, Michael Hetrick, would change his testimony.

During her presentation, Peiffer said police had told Hetrick about the death penalty and had promised to "save him" if he he could help them implicate Teleguz.

"I don't know. I can certainly hope he will have the same conscience and realize what his testimony has wrought," Peiffer said. "[The] Commonwealth made very clear that Hetrick has the most serious thing at stake - his life. I wish he would but I don't think we can count on it."

Another audience member asked if granting clemency to Teleguz would mean that he would be released. Peiffer said the decision-making power lies with McAuliffe and there is a whole range of possibilities.

"[The] number one most important thing is for Ivan to be alive - he won't be able to prove his innocence if he is dead," Peiffer said.

A 3rd audience member asked if appealing to McAuliffe was the last measure. Peiffer said while they are also sending a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, what is most important to their case is for McAuliffe to look at the evidence and grant clemency.

Efforts to halt the execution through the judicial system have been unsuccessful thus far, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denying a motion for stay of execution on March 16.

Virginia Chambers, a first-year College student and communications coordinator for the University Democrats, said the University Democrats became involved because they wanted to spread awareness of the case.

"I think that this would probably just be another brick in the wall against the death penalty. I think U.Va. students could be instrumental but as long as we have voices coming from ... all segments of Virginia," Chambers said. "I think we could really make a big change here."

Adam Kimelman, a 2nd-year College student and incoming College Republicans chair, said the College Republicans encouraged their membership to attend.

"We did some research about Ivan's situation and felt that this situation transcended politics," Kimelman said. "We promoted it to our membership and encouraged them to go."

The event closed with the beginning of a letter-writing campaign to show support for Teleguz to McAuliffe.

First-year College student Savannah Quick attended the event and decided to write a letter in support.

"I did decide to write a letter because I don't feel like he deserves to be on death row," Quick said. "I feel like he's innocent and I feel that it's really important that Governor McAuliffe grants clemency."

Peiffer said getting the Governor to take action comes down to showing McAuliffe public concern about the case and support the casting of clemency.

Mary Garner McGehee, a second-year College student and member of the Roosevelt Society, said the Roosevelt Society's meeting next week will involve a discussion about the case and the justice system.

"I think [Peiffer] made a very compelling case, but I think it's good to have organizations like the Roosevelt Society where you can kind of talk about both sides of the case," McGehee said. "I personally think she did a good job of representing her client and that's important - to recognize the role of the lawyer."

(source: The Cavalier Daily)

GEORGIA:

Henry DA to seek death penalty in quadruple homicide case

Henry County District Attorney Darius Pattillo said Tuesday he will seek the death penalty against 2 men charged with shooting to death 4 people at a home in a rural part of the county.

A 1st hearing was set for Tuesday morning for Jacob Cole Kosky and Matthew Baker Jr. but was rescheduled for April 11 at 1:30 p.n. to allow time for Baker to find another attorney. Baker's attorney withdrew Monday because he does not handle death penalty cases.

Pattillo told a packed courtroom Tuesday that "the state is going to serve him today (with plans) to seek the death penalty." Pattillo told Judge Archer McGarity that he had filed his intention in court Monday. Baker was brought into the courtroom in shackles. Patillo served Baker papers that informed him that the state is seeking the death penalty as Baker's parents looked on from the back of the courtroom. Baker's attorney recently withdrew from the case.

Kosky, who has an attorney, did not appear in court.

The pair were indicted in January on multiple charges. Kosky, 23, was indicted on 4 counts of malice murder, 8 counts of felony murder, 4 counts of aggravated assault, 1 count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, 1 count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and 1 count of felony theft by taking.

Baker, 19, was indicted on 4 counts of malice murder, 4 counts of felony murder, 4 counts of aggravated assault, and 1 count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

On Oct. 26, the 2 men attended a bonfire and gathering at a home on Moccasin Gap Road in south Henry. The pair left the home at one point during the party. They returned with guns and allegedly began firing. 4 people were shot.

3 people were found dead inside the home in the early hours of Oct. 27. The dead were Matthew Hicks, 18; Keith Gibson, 29 and Sophia Bullard, 20. The 4th victim, 20-year-old Destiny Olinger was airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital where she died 2 days later.

3 other people at the party were charged with misdemeanor obstruction: Jacob Williams, 18, of McDonough, Kayla Head, 21, of McDonough and Brooke Knight, 19, of Locust Grove - were charged with misdemeanor obstruction for accused of not cooperating with police.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

FLORIDA:

Dozen sent to death row by Broward eligible to seek new sentences

There's more than 1 way to leave death row, and a dozen of Broward County's most notorious killers are looking to make their exit alive.

The convicted murderers include: the killer of a Broward deputy; a child killer who raped a little girl in front of her even younger sister before strangling them both; and a man who recruited his son to help him torment and kill his landlord. They are seeking to have new juries consider whether the state should put them to death.

Their legal window opened in December, when the Florida Supreme Court used a June 24, 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision as a cutoff to determine which death row inmates may be entitled to new sentencing hearings.

That 2002 decision, Ring v. Arizona, held that juries, not judges, were required to find the aggravating factors necessary to impose capital punishment. In a series of federal and state rulings last year, Florida's death penalty process was overturned twice - first because judges still had more power than juries, and later because the law failed to require a unanimous jury vote.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a new death penalty law last Tuesday, passed by the state legislature to resolve the issue for future cases.

But for those whose executions were ordered between 2002 and 2016, the Florida Supreme Court practically invited attorneys to challenge the sentence.

Palm Beach County has not sent anyone to death row since 1998, but Broward has sent 9 since the Ring decision. 4 others had appeals pending that were finalized after 2002.

4 leave death row, 1 stays on

4 of the Broward inmates who fit in the 2002-2016 window have already passed the 1st hurdle - Charles Anderson, and Lancelot Armstrong have each been granted a new sentencing hearing. Prosecutors are asking the state supreme court to reconsider those decisions.

Ault, 49, is the Fort Lauderdale man convicted of murdering DeAnn Emerald Mu'min, 11, and her sister, Alicia Sybilla Jones, 7, after luring them to his Fort Lauderdale home with the promise of Halloween candy. Originally sentenced to death in 1999, Ault was granted a rehearing and sentenced to death again in 2007. The jury voted 10-2 in favor of execution.

Hojan, 41, was sentenced to death for the 2002 murders of Christina Delarosa and Willie Absolu at a Davie Waffle House. According to trial testimony, Hojan ordered 3 victims onto their knees in the restaurant's freezer. The 1st victim survived. Absolu, 28, was killed instantly. Delarosa, 17, scrambled under a storage rack, screaming for her infant child when Hojan fired 2 fatal shots.

Hojan's jury voted 9-3 in favor of putting him to death.

Anderson, now 63, had already pleaded guilty in 1992 to attempting to sexually assault his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Keinya Smith. 2 years later, he got into a fight with her and, after she threatened to go to the police, drove her to US 27 in western Broward County, ran over her with his car and left her to die.

A jury voted 8-4 in 1999 to sentence Anderson to death. He was eligible to seek a rehearing because his initial appeals extended beyond 2002.

Armstrong, 53, was sentenced to death in 1991 for the slaying of Broward Sheriff's Deputy John "Jack" Greeney, 47, during a 1990 robbery at a Church's Fried Chicken on West Broward Blvd. and Northwest 34th Avenue.

The 1st jury voted 9-3 in favor of execution. A co-defendant was sentenced to life in prison for his role. The Supreme Court overturned his sentence in 2003 because jurors had been told about a prior conviction against Armstrong that was later overturned.

The 2nd jury listened to the evidence in 2007 and decided, again by a 9-3 vote, in favor of death.

For the inmates, being in the 2002-2016 window is not enough to guarantee a new sentencing hearing. Richard Knight, 38, convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and her 4-year-old daughter in Coral Springs in 2000 and sentenced to death in 2007, is not entitled to a new hearing, the .

In Knight's case, a unanimous jury found all the aggravating factors necessary to justify a death sentence, even though that was not a requirement under the law at the time.

The remaining inmates

Prosecutors anticipate sentencing appeals from the remaining inmates sentenced between 2002 and 2015.

Alex Pagan

Jurors voted 7-5 to send Pagan, now 47, to the electric chair for the 1993 execution-style murders of Freddie Lee Jones and his 5-year-old stepson, Michael Lynn. Pagan and a co-defendant were robbing Jones' home in Miramar. They tied up the victims, along with Jones' wife and the couple's other son, who was 18 months old. The wife and other son were shot and survived.

Pagan's co-defendant, Willie Graham, was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

The initial round of appeals in Pagan's case extended past the 2002 Ring decision, making him eligible to seek a new hearing. A motion seeking the new hearing was filed in January.

Robert Rimmer

Rimmer, now 49, and an accomplice were robbing a stereo store in Wilton Manors on May 2, 1998, and Rimmer decided to shoot the store’s owner, Aaron Knight, 31, and employee Bradley Krause, 19, in the back of the head. 3 customers, including a 3-year-old child, were left unharmed. On his way out, according to trial testimony, he looked at the customers and said, "Thank you for cooperating. Have a nice day."

The accomplice, Kevin Parker, 49, is serving a life sentence. Jurors voted 9-3 against the death penalty in his case.

The vote to execute Rimmer, by the same jury, was also 9-3. Although he was sentenced in 1999, his initial appeals extended beyond 2002. A motion seeking the new hearing was filed in January.

Lucious Boyd

Driving a church van on Dec. 5, 1998 in Deerfield Beach, Boyd came across Dawnia Dacosta, 21, whose car had run out of gas on Interstate 95. Boyd, son of the founder of Boyd funeral homes, offered Dacosta a ride back to her car from the gas station where he found her.

Her body was found two days later near an Oakland Park trash bin. She had been raped and stabbed 36 times with a screwdriver.

The recommendation to execute Boyd, now 57, was unanimous. He was sentenced to death 3 days before the pivotal 2002 U.S. Supreme Court Ring decision, but his initial appeals were not final until years later.

But the court has not made a final decision whether Boyd should get a new hearing anyway or whether he, like Knight, should stay on death row.

Ronnie Williams

Williams was convicted of murdering Lisashantill Dyke, 18, who was baby-sitting for her boyfriend's sister in Wilton Manors on Jan. 26, 1993. Williams burst into Dyke's apartment that night looking for his ex-girlfriend, and when he didn't find her, he fought with and stabbed Dyke repeatedly. Dyke was pregnant at the time of her death. Her baby survived, brain damaged.

After 3 trials, Williams was convicted and sentenced to death with a 10-2 recommendation from the jury in 2004. As of Friday, no motion seeking a new sentencing hearing had been filed.

Eric Patrick

Patrick, 53, has been on death row since 2009. A jury convicted him of the 2005 murder of Steven Schumacher, 72, in Oakland Park. A 10-time convicted felon, Patrick told investigators that he hog-tied, beat and strangled Schumacher during a robbery because Schumacher made a pass at him.

The vote in favor of execution was 7-5.

His motion for a new hearing was filed in February.

Darious Wilcox

Nimoy Johnson, 27, was the owner of a Lauderhill car wash who was found bound, beaten and shot to death in his Inverrary Village home on Feb. 3, 2008. Wilcox was arrested a week later in Miami.

The case generated little publicity, and the jury's recommendation for death was by a 7-5 vote. He was sentenced in 2011.

Wilcox, now 39, is in the process of challenging his sentence and conviction on separate grounds, which is not uncommon in death penalty cases. His next court date is scheduled for May 15.

Randy W. Tundidor

Tundidor, now 50, was sentenced to death in 2014 for the 2010 murder of his landlord, Nova Southeastern University Professor Joseph Morrissey. The victim had begun the process of evicting Tundidor's family from a Plantation townhouse. Tundidor recruited his son and namesake to kidnap Morrissey and his wife, forcing them to withdraw money from an ATM while the elder Tundidor stayed at the Morrissey's home alone with the couple's young son.

Tundidor then stabbed Morrissey to death and set Morrissey's home on fire. The victim's wife and son escaped. Tundidor's son testified against him and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

The jury that recommended death for Tundidor was unanimous, but defense lawyer Richard Rosenbaum has said he still intends to challenge the sentence because Tundidor would have put up more of a legal fight if he had known he had to convince only 1 juror to vote against death.

Tundidor's sentence is still in its earliest phase of appeals.

James Herard

Broward County's most recent addition to death row, Herard was part of a group of men tried and convicted of multiple violent robberies at Dunkin Donuts franchises in South Florida in 2008, including one that resulted in the death of customer Kiem Huynh, 58, in Tamarac. But Herard, now 27, was sentenced to death for a murder that was otherwise unrelated in which he wasn't the gunman.

Prosecutors explained that Herard goaded another man, Tharod Bell, to shoot and kill Eric Jean-Pierre, 39, a restaurant worker coming home to Lauderhill after day's work. Pierre was chosen at random as part of a "body count" competition. Bell pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

But the murder would not have taken place if not for Herard's insistence, prosecutors said. Jurors agreed by an 8-4 vote, and Broward Circuit Judge Paul Backman imposed the sentence in January 2015.

His sentence is still in its earliest phase of appeals.

(source: Concord Register)

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

Aramis Ayala's principled stance on death penalty not out of step with history

Make room in Florida's small hall of heroes. If John B. Orr Jr., were alive, he would be welcoming Aramis Ayala.

When in 1956, while everyone else in Tallahassee was losing their heads over school segregation, Orr was the only legislator who dared to vote against a scheme to perpetuate it. Speaking on the House floor, which he didn't have to do, he said segregation was morally wrong. He lost his seat but kept his honor.

Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, is in the gun sights of Gov. Rick Scott, the attorney general the police, the Legislature, and most other prosecutors for announcing that she will not seek the death penalty in any case. As bad luck had it, the first to arrive on her watch was that of an accused cop-killer.

Not satisfied that Scott reassigned the case to another state attorney, the mobs are gathering, if only figuratively. They're howling for Scott to suspend her. A Republican already has declared he will oppose her in 2020. He said would hire a former assistant prosecutor her predecessor had fired after he wrote on Facebook, following the Pulse massacre, that all Orlando nightclubs are "zoos, utter cesspools of debauchery." It will be a nasty campaign.

Although Ayala's courage is commendable, her judgment is questionable. The voters had no clue. As reasoned and right as it is, her stance on capital punishment should not have come as a postelection surprise.

The subject failed to surface in her expensive campaign last year against a Democratic incumbent and she had no opposition in November except for a write-in candidate who accomplished nothing but closing the primary - the actual election - to Republicans and independents. (Perhaps, the Legislature will finally get around to eliminating that glitch.)

The late Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer made no secret of her dislike for the death penalty, but she recognized that the law was the law and was prepared to impose it in cases that seemed appropriate. She sentenced Oba Chandler, who was executed for the savage drowning of an Ohio woman and her 2 daughters. Harry Anstead, a retired chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, who is one of Ayala's defenders, opposed it also but concurred in upholding it in "dozens, if not hundreds" of cases, he told me. Governor LeRoy Collins tried to abolish the penalty but signed 29 death warrants, believing it to be his duty. However, he also commuted death sentences 10 times. Bob Graham was the last governor who did, 3 decades ago.

Perhaps Ayala was beguiled by a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling last year, which reflected that only 35 % of the Florida public favored execution over other punishments and that more than 1/2 preferred life without parole, the existing alternative to execution. More than 3 in 4 said they would vote for candidates of their party despite disagreeing on that issue, and only 2 % said it was the one that most mattered to them.

Those questions, though, were asked in the abstract - not in the context of a notorious case like that of Markeith Loyd, who's accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and one of the officers who was hunting for him. As Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote in criticizing her, Ayala "rang a proverbial dinner bell for publicity-hungry politicians all over Florida."

Maxwell opposes the death penalty, by the way, and laments that "some people can't look beyond their emotional reactions to see capital punishment's systemic flaws as well."

Only emotion, not proof, supports capital punishment as a deterrent to crime. The process is markedly more expensive than life-sentencing. It is inconsistent, arbitrary, and dangerously prone to convict and sometimes execute the innocent. It does nothing well but help coerce guilty pleas and turn some defendants into state witnesses against others. That's why the prosecutors love it so.

They practice the same discretion that opponents say Ayala abused. It is the most consequential reason for racial disparities and other inequities in the criminal justice system. If a prosecutor doesn't seek the death penalty for a well-connected defendant, there is no appeal. If he consistently reduces the charges for whites but throws the book at minorities, there's no appealing that either.

The co-defendant who cops out may not be as culpable as the ones he helps send to death row, just simply smarter.

There was a notably notorious example in the 1990 execution of Jesse Tafero, the last person to die in Florida's electric chair. (His head caught fire, influencing the Legislature to opt for lethal injection). Walter Rhodes, a co-defendant, was allowed to plead guilty to 2nd-degree murder, even though 2 law enforcement officers had been slain. Nothing but his testimony placed the gun in Tafero's hand. According to an Innocence Project report, Rhodes recanted his testimony on 3 occasions before switching back to his original story.

One court said that there had been gunpowder residue on Rhodes's hands but not on Tafero's. Co-defendant Sonia Jacobs's conviction and death sentence were eventually overturned on grounds that would have spared Tafero, but too late.

Michael Radelet, a Florida death penalty expert who now teaches at the University of Colorado has a list of 14 other death-sentenced people whose co-defendants got life or less. Appeals removed most from death row, but 2 are still there.

Ayala is exactly right in assessing that the death penalty "is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice." It's not in the best interest of the families of victims, either, as it postpones, for decades or more, the closure they deserve.

"Punishment," she said, "is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly. Neither describes the death penalty in this state."

Orange, the larger county in her circuit, has a noxious reputation for the politics of death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of January 2013, it had more prisoners on death row than 99.2 % of all U.S. counties and was among the 2 % of counties responsible for more than 1/2 the executions. As elsewhere in Florida, however, death sentences have been declining there along with the crime rate and with the public's growing perception that life without parole is a suitably harsh alternative.

The last to join death row from Orange was in 2012.

Ayala is not out of step with recent history and, I believe, destiny. It's her harassers who are.

(source: Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times----floridapolitics.com)

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

Florida should review entire death penalty process

Last week Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation sponsored by Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, requiring that jury recommendations be unanimous (12-0) to impose death sentences.

The House companion was sponsored by Judiciary Chair Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.

While this legislation corrected a longstanding process anomaly, there is a range of other compelling process issues impacting the fairness, accuracy and impartiality of Florida's death penalty process.

More than 10 years ago, the American Bar Association invited a diverse group of 8 Florida-based experts - including a sitting elected state attorney, former public defender and former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court - to serve on its Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team. A University of Florida law professor chaired the effort and a pre-eminent circuit court judge who taught Florida's judicial capital-case sentencing course also was involved.

In 2006 that team reached a consensus and released findings and recommendations for reform. It didn't support or oppose capital punishment; rather it focused on the process.

Interestingly, in 2011 the Legislature disestablished Florida's Commission on Capital Cases, the statutory entity charged with monitoring the process and reporting back to all 3 branches of government. The rationale was to avoid $400,000 in annual costs.

That same year, the Criminal Law Section of The Florida Bar voted overwhelmingly to recommend state officials conduct a comprehensive review of Florida's entire death penalty process by all branches of government.

The Florida Bar's overall Board of Governors also has expressed support, given the magnitude and implications of these matters. Neither The Florida Bar nor the Bar's Criminal Law Section supported or opposed capital punishment.

The Legislature rarely demonstrates an appetite for advancing comprehensive death penalty process reform.

It could have required unanimity for jury recommendations of death last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court's Hurst v. Florida decision struck down a related aspect of Florida's capital-case sentencing process on the opening day of the 2016 legislative session.

Florida was the only state that allowed penalty phase juries to recommend death by a simple majority.

The nation's high court held Florida's process violated the Sixth Amendment under Ring v. Arizona, its 2002 case that requires juries, not judges, to determine the presence of aggravating factors to support imposition of the death penalty.

But a House bill supported by the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association prevailed that, among other things, increased the threshold from 7-5 to 10-2 despite the Florida Supreme Court's 2005 State v. Steele decision urging unanimity - the original Senate bill last year called for unanimity. The Florida Supreme Court subsequently rejected that 2016 House compromise, prompting the need for Bracy's bill.

Simply put, justice would be served if state officials were to conduct a comprehensive review of Florida's entire death penalty process by all branches of government without further delay.

(source: Commentary; Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, practices law in Miami----tallahassee.com)

ALABAMA----new death sentence

Death sentence given in Wicksburg nightclub triple killing

Houston County Judge Brad Mendheim sentenced Ryan Clark Petersen to death Tuesday for killing 3 people at a Wicksburg nightclub in 2012.

The sentence is what a jury recommended, by a 10-2 vote, after convicting Petersen of 3 counts of capital murder in December.

Petersen, 24, spent most of an August evening in 2012 at Teasers, drinking alone and acting strangely, according to some who were at the club the night of the incident. According to court testimony, club security removed Petersen from the establishment after a dispute with an employee. Petersen returned moments later armed with a handgun and opened fire, killing Cameron Paul Eubanks, 20, Tiffani Paige Grissett, 31, and Thomas Robins Jr., who was 59. He also shot Scotty Russell, 33, of Opp, who survived his injuries.

"Now, we appeal," said attorney Chris Capps, who represents Petersen. "We have 30 days to file a motion for a new trial. A date is usually set within 60 days. It could be denied. If so, we go to the next step, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. This case transcript is suspected to be approximately 10,000 pages. This journey is a 1,000 mile journey for us, and we have only completed the first 100 miles."

Houston County Assistant District Attorney Seth Brooks represented the state in the case.

"The district attorney's office asked for the maximum penalty to be given," Brooks said. "Justice needed to be served for the three victims that are deceased and the 1 victim that was fortunate to survive. The actions that occurred took place that evening was inhumane. These victims are members of someone's family. They are not just numbers. We have tried to put ourselves in the family members' place, but you can't do that. You can't put yourself in that position if you have not been affected that way. No, it's not easy to ask for someone's life to be taken away, but we had to give the victims justice. The family members of the victims will never see their loved ones again."

Cameron Eubanks was 1 of 3 victims killed by Petersen. Eubanks' mother, Belinda Finamore was in attendance for the sentencing.

"I believe justice was served here today," Finamore said. "My faith has got me through all of this and it will continue to get me through this. I have placed my trust in God and I know he will take care of everything that follows this sentencing today. I know the Lord is in control and he will handle everything. Many individuals may not know what kind of person Cameron really was. He was a loving and caring individual. He was always trying to make people happy. Today, I feel relief and I am grateful that my son got justice."

(source: Dothan Eagle)

ARKANSAS----impending executions

State hunting for volunteers to witness April's 8 executions

A shortage of required citizen witnesses to watch 8 lethal injections over a 10-day period next month prompted the state prison director Tuesday to call on Rotary Club members to volunteer.

Citizen witnesses are there to verify that the individual executions are carried out according to law. A volunteer must be at least 21 years old, an Arkansas resident, have no felony criminal history and have no connection to the inmate or to the victim.

"The last times these were set, we actually did not have enough people volunteer," Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley told Little Rock Rotary Club 99 members. "You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21. So if you're interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office."

The 8 executions are scheduled two at a time beginning April 17 and ending April 27.

Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said he does not have a current count on the number of citizen witnesses who have signed up for the role. Kelley is making informal inquiries to find more volunteers, he said.

"Depending on the response received, further recruitment may not be necessary," Graves said.

The state's death penalty law, A.C.A. 16-90-502, Section 3, requires that the prison director procure no fewer than six and no more than 12 citizen witnesses for each execution. Kelley must determine that witnesses meet the requirements and that they do not present a security risk.

Graves said that while the legal requirement pertains to each individual execution, "nothing prohibits a witness from service during multiple executions."

Judd Deere, spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said he could not speculate about the impact on the execution schedule if a sufficient number of citizen witnesses can't be found.

As the execution day approaches, "the attorney general will work in consultation with the governor and the Department of Correction director to make sure the law is followed as far as executions being carried out," Deere said.

Graves would not say whether the lack of witnesses would halt or postpone the executions, only that Kelley would "continue her informal recruitment efforts."

Finding volunteers among members of the Little Rock Rotary Club 99 may be difficult, said Bill Booker, acting president of the club.

"What I suspect is that some people might support the death penalty, but when it comes to witnessing something like that, it's a different story," Booker said Tuesday. "It may cause emotional trauma for quite a while. It would be one of the most significant things you'll ever see in your life."

Booker, a funeral director at Roller Funeral Home in Little Rock, said he will not volunteer for the task.

"It's a lot different to be involved after the death has occurred," Booker said, adding that he vividly remembers stopping to help at the scene of a fatal traffic accident 40 years ago and helping a young man as he was dying.

Viewing an execution would be too much for him, he said.

"At this point in my life, I don't know if I'd want to risk being traumatized by it," Booker said. "That doesn't mean that I oppose the death penalty."

Rotarian Charlotte Gadberry said she has no interest in volunteering as a citizen witness.

"I can't imagine she [Kelley] will get a lot of volunteers," Gadberry said. "I don't think I could handle it. I'm not real sure how I feel about the death penalty, but it seems like there should be a better way of treating our fellow man."

Rotarian Karen Fetzer said she would not witness an execution but that Kelley may find some volunteers in the Rotary Club 99 crowd.

"It's just a personal preference for me," Fetzer said. "But there are others in our population who may be up for it."

None of the handful of Arkansas residents interviewed Tuesday by the Democrat-Gazette said they would volunteer for the assignment.

Charles Moore of Camden, who served 2 tours during the Vietnam War, said he's seen enough death in his lifetime.

"I stacked bodies on top of each other in Vietnam," said Moore, a retired disabled veteran who operates the Camden nonprofit children's foundation Planting A Seed. "I don't believe in an eye for an eye."

The subject spurred an argument between Jayme Hickman of Little Rock and her mother, Linda Fitzhugh, of Sheridan as they were sitting on a hill in the River Market District in Little Rock watching Hickman's two children play.

"No," Hickman said, shaking her head. "I don't agree with killing a person. Both families lose in that situation."

Fitzhugh interrupted by directing Hickman's gaze to the 2 children.

"What would you do if they hurt your daughters? They should execute them," Fitzhugh said loudly. "We don't need to be taking care of them with taxpayers' money."

In the end, Fitzhugh admitted that she couldn't bring herself to witness an execution.

Betty Fernau of Conway, who has officiated at weddings in prison, suggested a solution to the problem.

"I've heard jury duty can be traumatizing, depending on the case," Fernau said. "It seems like this is part of our judicial system. Finding witnesses should work the same way as calling jurors to a trial.

"If I were called to witness, I would see it as my duty and I would appear. But I would not volunteer."

Graves said anyone interested in volunteering should contact Kelley in writing at P.O. Box 8707, Pine Bluff, Ark. 71611.

The pace of the scheduled executions -- prompted by the fact that midazolam, one of the three lethal-injection drugs, will expire at the end of April -- is unprecedented not only for the state, but for the nation.

If the 8 executions are carried out next month, Arkansas will be the 1st state to execute that many inmates in that compressed of a timeline since 1976 -- the year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

Arkansas has executed 27 inmates since 1976. The quickest pace for executions was 3 in 1 day on Aug. 3, 1994, and Jan. 8, 1997.

Department of Correction data show that 189 men and 1 woman have been executed in the state since 1915, when executions first began being tracked.

During that time, the most inmates executed in 1 year in Arkansas was 10 in 1926 and 1930. The most executed within close proximity on the calendar was 4 in one day on Feb. 12, 1926, and Nov. 14, 1930. There were 4 executions in the month of October 1959 and the month of May 1960.

Kelley said Tuesday that the close proximity of the 8 execution dates will not affect the department's readiness for the lethal injections.

"The staff will be prepared," Kelley said. "We will be doing practice rounds and having lots of meetings. The protocols are confidential, but we will be prepared. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible for the inmate as well as the staff in the room and the witnesses."

With the execution dates fast approaching, the atmosphere at the Varner Unit's Supermax -- home to 34 male death-row inmates -- is somber, Kelley said.

"I don't think the 8 executions in 10 days has anything to do with it," Kelley said. "I think the fact that an execution is set for any of them would make it somber back there."

No extra security has been assigned to the unit, Kelley said. When the proclamation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson setting the execution dates was released in late February, each of the inmates was seen in private. Prison chaplains have made repeated rounds on death row, helping each inmate determine whether he wants a spiritual adviser and, if so, assisting in appointing one.

"I've been down there since the date was set," Kelley said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the number of inmates being executed. It's just part of the process."

The last inmate to be executed in the state was Eric Nance on Nov. 29, 2005. The state has not put anyone to death since then because of legal challenges to the state's death penalty process and a federal lawsuit opposing the use of the drug midazolam. Death penalty opponents claim that the drug does not induce a complete level of unconsciousness, which allows the inmate to feel pain.

On Monday, attorneys for 9 death row inmates -- including the 8 scheduled to die next month -- filed a petition for a rehearing with the U.S. Supreme Court. The argument is that the 2 executions at a time within the 10-day time frame is "truly extraordinary" and presents substantial new ground for considering the prisoners' case.

"Executing 8 men in ten days is far outside the bounds of what contemporary society finds acceptable," the petition read.

According to the governor's proclamations, the executions are scheduled to be carried out as follows:

-- Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward, April 17.

-- Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson, April 20.

-- Marcell Williams and Jack Jones Jr., April 24.

-- Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams, April 27.

(source: Democrat Gazette)

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

Arkansas panel bats down execution curbs

Ending executions in Arkansas -- or at least significantly reducing their frequency -- was debated in a House committee Tuesday, with lawmakers broadly voicing support for the death penalty.

In a pair of voice votes, the House Judiciary Committee rejected bills proposing a prohibition of the death sentence for someone with serious mentally illness (House Bill 2170) and requiring the death penalty to be applied only if there is no doubt of guilt (HB1798).

Another proposal, House Bill 2103, was presented to the committee to remove the death penalty altogether from the state's sentencing statutes, but it was pulled down by its sponsor, state Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, who said later Tuesday that she would instead seek a legislative study on the matter.

Flowers said she is under no illusions about the feelings of the heavily Republican committee.

"There is an opportunity for us to move in another direction," Flowers said. "This was just the beginning of the conversation."

4 Democrats have seats on the 20-member committee. Only Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, the sponsor of HB1798, voiced support for both proposals.

Also sitting on the committee is Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers, whose 12-year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1999 by a man now on Arkansas' death row.

"It's not something I'm open to," Petty said of abolishing the death penalty.

Neither are Arkansans, both critics and proponents said. A public opinion researcher brought in by Flowers to testify said one 2014 poll showed more than 2/3 of Arkansans supported the death penalty, though he said that was down from previous decades.

Arkansas is among 31 states that have the death penalty. Arkansas has gone longer without an execution than any other Southern state since carrying out the last one. Legal challenges and trouble maintaining a supply of execution drugs have kept Arkansas' execution chamber quiet for more than a decade. Eric Nance, a convicted murderer, was put to death by lethal injection in November 2005.

That's set to change next month. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has scheduled eight inmates to die over the course of 10 days. The rapid pace of Hutchinson's execution schedule is due, in part, to 1 of the drugs expiring days after the last execution is scheduled to take place.

2 of the inmates set to die have clemency hearings scheduled for Friday. 3 more hearings are set for next week.

Death penalty critics pointed out that that innocent people have wound up on death row.

Citing statistics from the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Flowers said 156 people on death row have been exonerated, or about one for every 10 executions in the time period of the exonerations. Blake's bill, HB1798, would raise the standard of guilt to "beyond any doubt" for a sentence of death.

"We shouldn't be killing people if we're 95 % sure," Blake said.

Prosecutors doubted that standard could ever be met, and Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, who said he is against the death penalty, said it was not enough to ease concerns of killing an innocent person.

"Beyond a reasonable doubt is the only standard anyone can agree on," Whitaker said. "When the death penalty is an option, we can never be sure enough."

Petty said that if changes are made to Arkansas' capital punishment laws, they should be to hasten the process, such as limiting the appeals process.

"Grave crimes deserve grave punishment," Petty said. "It's time for justice to be served for these families."

(source: arkansasonline.com)

NEVADA----new death sentence

Javier Righetti sentenced to death for rape and murder of 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba

On deciding Javier Righetti's punishment for the rape and murder of 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba, a prosecutor on Tuesday urged jurors to look no further than the defendant's own words.

"I should just die," Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci said, quoting the defendant.

After about 3 hours of deliberation, weighing upward of 37 mitigating factors against 11 aggravating factors, the panel handed down capital punishment. At 24, Righetti becomes the youngest man on death row in Nevada.

Otremba was raped and fatally stabbed inside a tunnel less than 100 yards from her family's home on Sept. 2, 2011, her 1st week of class as a freshman at Arbor View High School. She had stayed home sick that day, but did not want to miss homework. She was headed out to borrow a geometry book from a friend when she was attacked.

Last week, the same jury found Righetti guilty of Otremba's murder. Righetti admitted to raping 2 other women inside the same tunnel. He also confessed to raping his cousin in Mexico just 3 months before Otremba's slaying.

Her mother spoke briefly to reporters after the sentence was read.

"We're grateful that justice has finally been done," Jennifer Otremba said. "In all honesty, this is not a win for anybody. 2 families have been destroyed, and this journey's been hard and it's just beginning for us, as well. We have the rest of life to live without Alyssa."

Pesci said the verdict also offered justice for Righetti's other victims.

"He represents a threat to people who should be protected, people who should be safe, young women should be able to walk to a friend's house to pick up a math book and not think they're going to be raped and murdered," the prosecutor said. "It's a very unsettling case because it can reach to everybody's hearts. It's very scary to think what could happen."

Before the jury decided his punishment, Righetti made a statement in the courtroom.

"I look around and see how many people I've hurt and failed," he said. "I truly am sorry for this entire tragedy."

Righetti's defense attorneys had asked jurors to send him to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

"No matter what, your verdict ensures that he dies in prison," said Deputy Public Defender Christy Craig, who declined to comment after the sentence was handed down.

Righetti previously told Las Vegas police that, after raping Alyssa, he tortured her by using a knife to stab her more than 80 times in the face and other body parts, according to testimony. He carved the initials "LV" on her body because he felt it was "gangster," and he returned later to burn the body.

Some killers "are so morally reprehensible that the only appropriate punishment is death," Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Fleck told jurors. "Javier Righetti is that defendant."

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

CALIFORNIA:

California DAs should consider Florida state attorney's approach to death penalty

A new Florida State Attorney, Aramis Ayala, made a bold move when she recently announced that capital punishment is "not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice," and vowed not to seek the death penalty in future cases.

In taking this courageous stand, Ayala recognizes that the death penalty is a false promise to victims' families and the community. She joins other newly elected prosecutors across the nation who are no longer pushing for a policy that is tremendously costly, arbitrarily doled out and risky in its implementation. The death penalty is deeply flawed, and its use and support continue to dwindle nationwide.

California district attorneys should take a cue from their colleague in Florida and review and reconsider their support of this outdated policy.

Voters deserve to feel that their elected prosecutors actually listen to them. Last year, a majority of voters in 15 California counties supported Proposition 62, which would have repealed the state's death penalty. In Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Francisco, Alpine, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Yolo counties, California voters supported replacing the death penalty with the sentence of life in prison.

And it's not just the voters. There are many other signs that the death penalty in California should be dismantled once and for all. It's broken beyond repair.

California has not had an execution in more than 10 years because of legal challenges and difficulty acquiring drugs. The state has spent a decade unsuccessfully trying to create a legally sound lethal injection protocol. Corrections officials also have no means to acquire safe or reliable lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies refuse to allow their lifesaving medicine to be used to execute people.

Proposition 66, which falsely promised to resume executions and was narrowly approved by the voters, is tied up in lawsuits because it is so deeply flawed legally and practically.

Fortunately, there is a viable alternative that is already available to prosecutors: life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is a severe punishment and ensures a lifetime behind bars. No one who has been sentenced to life without parole in California has been released, except those who were able to prove their innocence. The nation has evolved past the death penalty, and it’s time for prosecutors to follow suit.

California's district attorneys have the power to reject this costly and failed policy. They can and should use their discretion to do what the Florida state attorney did: stop sending new people to our state's overflowing death row and take a stand against this failed government program.

The voters across California have shown that this is a decision they would support. It's time our district attorneys be the leaders we elected them to be.

(source: Ana Zamora is criminal justice policy director at the ACLU of Northern California----Sacramento Bee)

USA:

Can Mentally Ill Americans Be Executed? It's Complicated

Several states are considering a ban on capital punishment for people with mental illnesses or brain injuries.

There is a difference between mental illness - which encompasses a wide range of diagnoses, including serious ones like schizophrenia and paranoia - and insanity, a condition that is much more narrowly defined and more difficult to prove.

Insanity can shield you from being put on trial, found guilty or executed. But serious mental illness can't.

Dylann S. Roof, who killed 9 African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, has been sentenced to death despite some evidence of mental illness.

Here is a primer on mental illness and the death penalty.

Yes. The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to shield mentally ill people from the death penalty, saying only that people who are insane cannot be executed.

But "the insane" is narrowly defined as "those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it" - a definition that excludes most people with severe mental illness.

Georgia executed Andrew H. Brannan, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, in 2015. Florida executed John E. Ferguson, who believed that he was the "Prince of God" and that his death would save the world, in 2013.

7 states are likely to introduce legislation this year that would bar execution for people with severe mental illness, according to the 8th Amendment Project, an anti-death-penalty group. The bills do not agree on a common definition of severe mental illness, but it would typically include schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

If enough states exempt people with such illnesses, the Supreme Court may decide that national standards of decency have evolved and follow suit.

Critics of executing people with serious mental illnesses, including the American Bar Association, say these people are more vulnerable to wrongful convictions. Among other things, they may be more likely to make false confessions.

Are other categories of people exempt from execution?

Yes. The Supreme Court has held in recent years that juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities should not be put to death because they are less culpable.

But the limits can seem arbitrary: Someone who is a day under 18 when they commit a crime cannot be executed, but someone who is a day past their 18th birthday can. And because intellectual disability is legally defined as a disorder that manifests before age 18, people with brain damage do not necessarily qualify. Someone who suffered a brain injury as an adult would not be exempt from capital punishment even if their cognitive function is similar to that of an intellectually disabled person.

Insane is different from mentally ill. The legal definition of insanity centers on the inability to comprehend the nature of one's actions, a lack of understanding of right and wrong, or, in some states, a lack of capacity to control one's actions.

The insanity defense is rarely used and even more rarely successful. For example, Andrea Yates was deeply psychotic when she drowned her 5 children in 2001, believing she was saving them from damnation. But that did not mean she did not understand the consequences of her actions or know they were wrong. At her first trial, the jury rejected her insanity defense.

And when it comes to execution, it is the person's mental state at the time of punishment that matters. No one argued that Alvin Bernard Ford was insane when he killed a police officer in 1974. But he later became obsessed with the Ku Klux Klan and came to believe that family members and prominent politicians were the victims of a prolonged hostage crisis. His case, Ford v. Wainwright, reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1986 that an insane person could not be executed.

3 years later, though, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Ford was not insane. He died on death row, of natural causes, in 1991.

Sanity can fluctuate. Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, argued that one of his former clients, Gary M. Heidnik, was incompetent to be executed (that is, insane) because he believed that the death warrant against him was fake. During a hearing, it was explained that the warrant had been signed by the real governor of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Heidnik accepted that it was legitimate.

"While on the stand, he became competent to be executed," Mr. Dunham recalled. "He was executed despite the fact that he was stone-cold nuts."

The Supreme Court and many state laws say that mental illness - along with things like childhood abuse, trauma and the lack of a previous criminal record - can be presented as a mitigating factor for jurors to consider during the punishment phase of capital cases. Mitigating factors weigh against the death penalty; aggravating factors, like torturing a victim, weigh in favor of death.

A jury declined to give a death sentence to James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012, because of his long-term mental illness. There is, however, a risk that jurors will view severe mental illness as inherently dangerous.

Dylann S. Roof represented himself during the sentencing phase of his trial and refused to allow the jury to hear evidence of mental illness. He wrote in a journal that psychology was "a Jewish invention." Court papers unsealed after the trial indicated that he had "social anxiety disorder, a mixed substance abuse disorder, a schizoid personality disorder, depression by history and a possible autistic spectrum disorder."

The judge in Mr. Roof's case had to determine not whether he was mentally ill, but whether he was competent to stand trial - in other words, to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense - and able to represent himself.

Mr. Dunham argues that if Mr. Roof had the delusional belief that mental illness did not exist, it was a mistake to deem him capable of making rational decisions on whether to present evidence of his condition, "because his views about mental illness were themselves a product of his mental illness."

(source: New York Times)

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

Pro-life conservatives and millennials should oppose the death penalty

The Declaration of Independence promises to protect our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The unborn, the most vulnerable among us, retain those rights despite the current policies in place.

That same pro-liberty, pro-life rationale, adopted by many millennials, logically and inevitably leads to supporting the abolishment of the death penalty.

Millennials have been characterized as the "liberty generation," embracing a libertarian-leaning mix of beliefs centered on entrepreneurship, individual liberties, and tolerance. Much of conservative media also has been abuzz about how public opinion polls have consistently shown that millennials are strongly in favor of protecting the unborn, in contrast to millennials' supposedly left-leaning views on other social issues.

In what might initially seem to be an unrelated trend, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that support for abolishing the death penalty has reached its highest level since the 1960s.

Millennial conservatives now have a historic opportunity to be the generation that finally ends the death penalty once and for all.

The typical arguments for and against the death penalty are as old as the penalty itself and likely have changed little throughout history. Proponents of the death penalty primarily make arguments about deterrence and justice while opponents argue about a certain punishment for an uncertain crime, disparate racial and socioeconomic impacts, and the potential for compassion and forgiveness.

However, for those who are liberty-minded and pro-life, the real abhorrence of the modern death penalty is that the state, as often is represented by a simple majority of voters at a particular time, is creating rules about when people are allowed to live or die.

No crime punishable by death is universally agreed on by everyone in society, which means that large portions of society are subject to having their lives taken away by shifting red lines despite never having consented to it.

The death penalty is a relic of a time when civilization was in a more brutish and savage stage. The death penalty doesn't seem to be anything exceptionally bad when society as a whole is full of war, crime, disease, famine, and a lack of social stability. When nearly every law-abiding citizen is greatly worried about living to the next year, caring for the lives of horrible criminals seems quite unimportant.

In our modern age, however, we have effective law enforcement, secure prisons, and a society where people are not stuck in a day-to-day struggle for survival. For a society as developed, plentiful, and peaceful as ours, the death penalty sticks out like a sore thumb from the days when villages, cities, and states were constantly on the brink of collapse and anarchy.?

The rest of the free world has largely abolished the death penalty. While the actions of other countries ought to not have any bearing on how Americans choose to live our lives and govern ourselves, the arguments, realizations, and value judgments that other liberal democracies have gone through may be useful for us to look over and learn from.

Legally, the means of abolishing the death penalty remain uncertain. Solutions from courts are either on uncertain constitutional grounds or would be inappropriate legislating from the bench.

The most powerful, both legally and symbolically, means of abolishing the death penalty would be passing a constitutional amendment. This would permanently end the death penalty for sure, as well as send a clear signal that our country has definitively moved past it.

The pro-life and liberty movement has not made abolishing the death penalty a key part of its agenda, but we must do so in order to be consistent in our liberty-centered constitutional worldview.

The argument is clear and the opportunity is now. If conservative millennials truly want to be the generation of liberty and life, abolishing the death penalty must be a key part of that agenda and we must be willing to fight for it.

(source: Commentary; Erich Reimer is a millennial conservative living in Charlottesville, Va.----Washington Examiner)

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

Lethal injections are best option for death penalty, but formula of mixed drugs needs to switch to single sedative

A botched execution isn't all that uncommon in America, thanks to the instability of state laws regarding the death penalty. Instead of forcing certain inmates to suffer, essentially instituting torture, one efficient and quick method to execute prisoners needs to be determined.

With 32 states having 1 of 5 forms of the death penalty, according to Statistic Brain, the chances of something going wrong are higher than Americans should accept.

While mismanaged executions account for nearly 3 percent of all executions, according to deathpenaltyinfo.org, there are still 276 deaths recorded over 120 years that have gone horribly wrong considering all methods of execution.

The death penalty should continue to use lethal injection, but without the cocktail of drugs used that make people suffer. 75 people have suffered from botched lethal injections, according to Sarat, which is less than every other execution method.

While America is clearly on the right path by mainly using lethal injections, the formula needs to be improved.

The problem with a random mix of drugs is that every person is different in terms of height, weight and tolerance. There's no way to tell which drugs will cause the desired effect needed.

In 1994, a prison inmate suffered for 13 minutes after a lethal injection of mixed drugs in Alabama, according to Vice News. The same article reports that 2 lengthy deaths happened in Oklahoma in 2014. The drug cocktail used for all three contained the same failed drug of midazolam, Vice reported.

If America is going to continue executing death row inmates, we need a more sound way to humanely kill dangerous criminals. One strong sedative drug that would simply put them to sleep forever is the ideal choice for lethal injection.

While those on death row have committed terrible crimes, they do not deserve to suffer, often in front of others. Lethal injections need to be quick, painless and must continue to be the main way to execute death row inmates.

With Mississippi considering renewing the use of a firing squad and gas chambers, according to the Washington Examiner, a new and blanket regulation and strict enforcement of those regulations needs to become the standard.

America shouldn't put people to death in such a barbaric manner. Death by firing squad is a gruesome way to die, not to mention costly.

The 2010 execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner by firing squad cost Utah about $165,000, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

For comparison, Vice reported that the cost of the tools needed to end a person's life with pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, costs around $861.60. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the firing squad method.

While lethal injections are by far the best option, they still need major improvements.

Considering there is a record of a lethal injections failing for over 100 years, the federal government should've taken that as a hint to figure out something better than a drug cocktail to kill someone.

With that in mind, it makes sense that one strong sedative would be the most humane way for a first-world country to punish inmates on death row. It's imperative to reign with an iron fist of justice, but the United States should do so with consistency and humanity.

(source: Opinion, Ashlyn Ramirez, The Daily Titan)

BELARUS:

1st death sentence in 2017

FIDH and its member organisation in Belarus Human Rights Centre "Viasna" denounce the first death sentence in 2017 and regret the Belarusian authorities continue to ignore calls to render Europe a death penalty-free zone.

On 17 March 2017, 32-year-old Aliaksei Mikhalenya was sentenced to death by the Gomel Regional Court of Belarus for 2 murders committed with particular cruelty. Although Aliaksei Mikhalenya has the right to appeal the sentence in Supreme Court in Belarus, the appeal court rarely commutes death sentences and the chances to get the Presidential pardon are illusionary, as revealed in the joint FIDH-HRC report "Death penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds". As the report demonstrates, throughout investigation and trial, self-incrimination is used by the prosecution as the main evidence of guilt, whilst the right to an effective legal defence is systematically violated. In general, the application of death penalty in Belarus is accompagnied by severe human rights violations at each stage of the judicial proceedings and during detention.

"The UN has confirmed the violation of the right to life in 6 decisions concerning the use of death penalty in Belarus. The application of capital punishment is an indicator of authorities disrespect of international human rights bodies and human rights in general", commented Florence Bellivier, former President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Furthermore, considerable secrecy surrounds the application of death penalty in Belarus. Information concerning the death penalty is withheld from the general public, whilst information on detention conditions for death convicts and execution procedures is not publicly available. The exact number of persons convicted to death and executed in Belarus is unknown. The families of death convicts are neither informed in advance of the date of the execution, nor immediately thereafter, the body is never handed over to relatives and the location of the burial site is kept secret.

"The name of Aliaksei Mikhalenya was held secret until yesterday when human rights defenders communicated his identity. Withholding the identity precludes us from providing legal aid to the person concerned and to his family", said Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign "Human rights defenders against the death penalty in Belarus".

Belarus is the only country in Europe that applies death penalty. For the duration of negotiations around EU restrictive measures against Belarusian officials and businesses, the executions had been on hold. However, upon the lifting of sanctions in February 2016, executions resumed and by December 2016 reached their highest number since 2008: 4 convicts executed in secrecy in 2016.

Being a founding member of the World Coalition against the Death penalty, FIDH and its member organisation HRC "Viasna" urge the EU and other actors to use all leverages at their disposal to put an end to the capital punishment in Belarus.

(source: FIDH)

PHILIPPINES:

When politics and principles clash on the death penalty

18 lawmakers who voted no to the RH bill under the 15th Congress voted yes to the death penalty measure under the 17th Congress. How did the Church mobilize against the 2 controversial measures?

PART 1: What happened behind closed doors to the death penalty bill?

Somber-looking nuns seated at the House of Representatives' plenary hall could only look from afar when 217 lawmakers gave their approval to reimpose the death penalty for drug convicts.

Under any other circumstances, the overwhelming number who voted for the return of capital punishment may have been surprising for the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country.

But not during the time of President Rodrigo Duterte, who openly said Catholic bishops are "full of shit" as he accused them of corruption and indulging in sexual escapades.

Duterte, who has not been mincing words against the Church, continues to enjoy strong support from the poor even as his bloody war against drugs has resulted in more than 7,000 deaths since July 2016.

The President also has the backing of at least 267 lawmakers allied with the majority bloc, whose party whips made sure the controversial death penalty measure - House Bill (HB) Number 4727 - would be passed on 3rd and final reading on March 7.

Lawmakers and political analysts alike were not surprised when legislators who thumbed down the Reproductive Health (RH) bill in the 15th Congress gave their thumbs up to the death penalty in the current 17th Congress.

Is there even a Catholic vote under the administration of Duterte?

Principled voters?

There were a total of 18 lawmakers who voted no the RH bill but said yes to the death penalty bill.

The RH bill waited for 14 years before lawmakers in the 15th Congress, in a close vote of 133-79-7, approved it on 3rd and final reading on December 17, 2012. 4 days before that, then-president Benigno Aquino III certified the measure as urgent.

Reimposing the death penalty, meanwhile, was a campaign promise of Duterte. The measure is also included in his list of priority measures. No less than his top ally in the House, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, was a principal co-author of HB 4727.

Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo is saddened by the reality that in Congress, it seems that political survival trumps the religious principles of lawmakers when they decide on controversial bills that are prioritized by the sitting president.

"What's frustrating is that you see the culture that there are many in the House who do not have convictions. So whoever is on the top, they just follow him or her," said Pabillo, who chairs the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on the Laity.

But for Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, the RH and death penalty measures "are 2 distinct bills."

"The reasons I voted against RH can be found in the records of Congress in the explanation of my vote. Particularly the legality/constitutionality of its provisions (and as predicted the Supreme court ruled against some of its provisions as being patently violative of the Constitution), the dangers they pose to women (and up to now there are still health questions that are derailing the drugs), and difference in policy and spending," said Nograles.

He still believes that population growth "will naturally adjust" without government intervention.

"The money will be better spent on primary healthcare, education to make sure our young population is healthy and educated so they will continue to help grow our economy sustainably for years to come, instead of spending it buying condoms, pills, etc," Nograles added.

Another curious case is that of Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro. The representative of Capiz' 2nd District was among the lawmakers in 2006 who agreed to abolish the death penalty under then-president and now Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

11 years later, Castro not only voted in favor of the death penalty but he was also a principal co-author of the measure along with Alvarez.

"I would just like to clarify first that I did not favor the abolition; I voted in favor of the suspension of the death penalty," said Castro.

"What is the reason? Because at the time, there was no need [for the death penalty], but this time, as you may know in my sponsorship speech, it has become so cruel, it has become so ugly, it has become so gruesome that this criminal has ignored even the minimum standard of norms imposed in civilized society," he said.

Just like the President, Castro believes capital punishment is retribution for the victims of heinous crimes.

According to Ateneo de Manila University political analyst Rene Raymond Raneses, lawmakers who were given the chance to vote on both the RH and death penalty bills can also ground their arguments based on their faith.

"It's about selectively choosing what the Bible says," said Raneses.

"On the one hand, there is this protection of life [argument against the RH bill], right? But on the death penalty, there is religious grounding on insisting the life of the greater majority when it comes to punishing criminals. So these are competing voices," he added.

A 'divided' Church

Pabillo admitted the Church may have mobliized too late to fight the death penalty in the House as well.

"There were signature campaigns. There were bishops who talked to House of Representatives members. And the faithful were asked to talk to the representatives if they know any of them," he said.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, and other bishops denounced the plan to revive the death penalty.

Catholics also staged the "Walk for Life" grand procession on February 18. The procession, attended by 10,500 Filipinos, aimed to oppose drug-related killings, the death penalty, and other measures labeled by the Catholic Church as "anti-life."

"But the problem is that the mobilization of the people was a bit too late, right? Unlike the RH where it was discussed for a long time, the discussion on this was fast. It's like it came out of nowhere," said Pabillo.

Pabillo explained the Church's time last year was divided between fighting the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country and HB 4727's passage.

This was a far cry from the years the CBCP led the charge against the RH bill for more than a decade.

In the book, "Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church" by the late Rappler senior investigative reporter Aries Rufo, the CBCP went head-to-head with former Health Secretary Juan Flavier when the latter promoted the use of condoms to combat HIV and AIDS.

When Flavier ran for senator in 1995, the Church mobilized its lay groups to campaign against him. Flavier won but wound up 5th, way below expectations.

Arroyo, a devout Catholic, also endeared herself to the Church not only by abolishing the death penalty in 2006, but also by aggressively promoting only the Church-backed natural family planning method.

The Church also remained relentless in its fight against the RH bill, with some dioceses even campaigning against pro-RH senatorial bets who voted in favor of the RH bill via its controversial "Team Patay" and "Team Buhay" tags during the 2013 polls.

Church losing hold over flock?

According to Aries Arugay, political analyst from the University of the Philippines, the Church has become more "politically obscure" in the past years.

"It has to play a more constructive role in terms of addressing the things that brought Duterte to power. The Church lost its ability to be the institution of the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden. They lost the ability to capture those sectors of society," he added. Pabillo argued, however, that Duterte's open attacks against the Church can be considered "unprecedented."

"It's the 1st time someone fights and curses like that openly. But we see that this is not only against the Church. This is against anything like the) UN (United Nations, former US President Barrack] Obama...That is something new. That is unprecedented," said Pabillo.

He admitted the Church is still figuring out the best approach to fight not Duterte per se, but his supposed "mismanagement of the government."

"For us, it is not against Duterte. It is against the mismanagement of whoever. We spoke against Gloria over corruption, against PNoy because he did not do anything. The problem with him (Duterte) is that he takes it personally," Pabillo said.

The fight continues

Now that the death penalty bill was passed by the House, how does the Church plan to stop the bill in the Senate?

According to Pabillo, "small groups" from within the Church have been meeting to draft initial plans of action.

One of the proposed plans is to once again campaign against pro-death penalty lawmakers who will run in the 2019 polls.

"Maybe we'll hold the representatives accountable. We'll make their votes known to the public. We'll post them in churches. We will remind them in 2018. At after that, we can put it on Facebook also. We are still going to strategize," said Pabillo.

The Church is also planning to stage another "Penitential Walk for Life" on Good Friday next month, with the Church targeting the procession to be held from Baclaran to the Manila Cathedral. Pabillo said the procession aims to "meditate on the Way of the Cross from the point of view of life."

The 217-54-1 vote for the death penalty bill at the House only shows that the odds are against the Church. But according to Pabillo, it is during times like these when the Church must continue fighting.

"Because I think we should not stop speaking about the truth. We should not stop defending life. That's part of the Church's mission," said the bishop.

"Because if we are silent, it's like accepting the bad things that are happening. Even if I am alone, even if it's just 1 voice, I'd still say, "Death penalty is wrong," Pabillo added.

****

When the House whips go to work for the death penalty

PART 2: Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas leads the charge to whip the votes and bring back the death penalty in the country, a pet bill of President Rodrigo Duterte

The passage of the controversial death penalty measure was expected, but key members of the House made sure it would be passed on 3rd and final reading.

House Bill (HB) Number 4727 is part of the legislative agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts at least 267 legislators as his allies.

The House leadership also allowed several amendments to HB 4727 to make the measure more palatable to a majority of lawmakers, who ended up voting 217-54-1 on the bill's final reading.

Who acted as Duterte's lieutenants in the House and made sure HB 4727 would be passed?

Whipping the votes

"The whips worked on that). I think the whips did their work because some of the people, some members of the House who would have voted otherwise, succumbed to the whip of the Speaker and definitely Malacanang," said Aries Arugay, political analyst from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.

"It only means the House is not sitting on the President's legislative agenda, but they are reflecting the people's will as expressed by Malacanang. They could have sat on it as with the freedom of information bill, but they didn't," he added.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez threatened to replace deputy speakers and committee chairmanships who either voted no, abstained from voting, or were absent during the proceedings.

But the person who led the charge of whipping the votes on the ground was Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Farinas, the Majority Leader.

Farinas is known to be diligent in reaching out to every member of the House. He admitted in a television interview that he even texts all 292 of his colleagues to remind them to show up for the 4 pm session every Monday to Wednesday.

Farinas also told Rappler that he discussed the death penalty measure with all congressmen.

"I simply talked to each member to discuss the bill with them. And out of mutual respect, I found out from them their position on the matter whether for or against. Those belonging to the latter even took the initiative of talking to me to explain the reason they were against it, which I respected," said Farinas.

Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez-Sato, a member of the House contingent to the powerful Commission on Appointments, said she had spoken to Farinas thrice regarding her no vote on the death penalty bill.

As a member of the justice panel, Sato had to make a written manifestation explaining why she will be voting against HB 4727.

"Of course, the Majority Leader read it. He said, "Oh I didn't know you would be voting no. It's like we were just joking about it."

Farinas had also called her days before the 3rd reading of HB 4727.

"He was just asking me what my final vote will be...But I must emphasize that there was really no pressure. It was a friendly conversation," said Sato.

She had also approached Farinas minutes before the session started on March 8 to reiterate her no vote.

Party consultations

It was a strategy that trickled down to the other parties in the House. The 22 members of the National Unity Party (NUP), for example, discussed the reimposition of the death penalty in their regular lunch meetings prior to the vote.

"We went through a process of consultations among ourselves, our respective districts, and constituents. We openly discussed the issues, the pros and cons, especially during the times when the number of crimes was reduced from 21 to 4 to just drugs," said Davao City 1st District Representative Karlo Nograles, chairman of the powerful committee on appropriations.

Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, who is NUP's vice president for political and electoral affairs, said they also did not impose a party stand.

"In the party, we are left with our own preferences. And we had our lunch with our members and I was just telling them that I don't even have to deliver any message for the members of the NUP. No need for any convincing because the members were independent," said Castro.

In the end, 20 NUP members voted in favor of HB 4727, while only 2 said no.

The party-list representatives, meanwhile, were whipped by their coalition president and AKO Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe, as well as coalition secretary-general and Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA.

"Yeah, we talked to members. We whipped all members to toe the line because that's the administration's priority, and 2nd, it's the campaign promise of President Duterte," said Batocabe.

He added that one of the rules for coalition officers is for them to support the legislative agenda of the President.

A total of 23 party-list representatives gave their nod to HB 4727. Another 18 said no and 6 were absent during the vote.

Weak political party system

The voting turnout for HB 4727 is generally not surprising, apart from a few lawmakers who voted either contrary to their previous public statements or against their party stand.

"The House under the leadership of Alvarez is just maintaining its reputation that it's easily swayed by Malacanang more than the Senate. The House is historically like that," said Arugay.

He added, however, that the 217-54-1 vote for the death penalty bill only confirms how the Philippines lacks a genuine political party system.

The once ruling Liberal Party (LP) is against the death penalty. Around a week before the House was scheduled to vote on the death penalty bill, the 32 LP congressmen met with Vice President Leni Robredo, former President Benigno Aquino III, and Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Franklin Drilon, and Francis Pangilinan.

It was during this meeting that the LP congressmen said they will be deciding whether or not to bolt the majority bloc after the vote on HB 4727. Their counterparts in the Senate are already in the minority after they were stripped of their leadership titles. Senator Leila de Lima is also in jail facing drug charges.

LP stalwarts emphasized that there will no sanctions on congressmen who will vote in favor of HB 4727.

On March 8, 15 LP congressmen said yes to reimposing the death penalty, while another 15 of them said no. 2 LP lawmakers were absent during the proceedings. The party was divided.

Among those who voted in favor of HB 4727 was Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo, the highest ranking LP member in the House, and Quezon City 4th District Representative Feliciano Belmonte Jr, former speaker.

"I think it reveals that for the existing parties, the party discipline is weak because the party line is unclear. There were LP [members] who voted yes. The reason given is because of the fact that their party is liberal - I think that's a stupid excuse that does not bode well [for] a viable party system. It should be very clear," said Arugay.

Loyalty check

Alvarez made good on his promise to remove deputy speakers and committee chairpersons who did not vote yes to the death penalty bill.

Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was ousted as deputy speaker, along with 11 other committee chairpersons, on March 15.

Alvarez used to be Arroyo's transportation secretary when the latter was president. It was during the Arroyo administration when the death penalty was abolished in 2006.

According to Ateneo de Manila University political analyst Rene Raymond Raneses, Alvarez' removal of deputy speakers and committee chairpersons was expected by Duterte's top ally in the House.

Raneses, however, advised Alvarez to make sure the replacements would be loyal to the majority.

The political analyst also believes those who will lose their posts will likely stay in the majority.

"If these people were replaced, I don't think it would strip away support from the administration coalition as long as the people he puts in there are people who have the same number of people behind them," said Raneses.

Lawmakers had previously agreed to give "full support" to Alvarez whatever he decides on the House reorganization.

Numbers game until the end

The death penalty bill may have breezed through the House of Representatives, but its fate in the Senate remains to be seen.

The measure is not a priority among senators and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said a "close fight" for the bill should be expected in the Senate.

Still, pro-death penalty senators are convincing their colleagues to consider accepting a version of the measure involving high level drug trafficking offenses only.

If there is one thing that is guaranteed after the House's 3rd reading of HB 4727, it is that Duterte will have a strong legislative shield against any impeachment complaints for now. Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano already filed the 1st impeachment complaint against the President.

"Pretty much Duterte is protected because we all know all impeachment complaints emanate from the House. We can even equate the vote for the death penalty to the possible purported legislative shield that Duterte will enjoy," said Arugay.

The death penalty vote turnout also shows that Duterte's allies in the House is no-nonsense when it comes to following the President's desires.

"I think this legislative bloc that is supportive of Duterte doesn't have time to be friends with everyone. It's very polarizing. Either you're with us or against us," said Arugay.

And this is a fact known to Alvarez himself. He said he will always be open to debates in the House, but he also knows he has the numbers to get what he wants.

"Because in a democracy, we always argue, but at the end of the day, if I have the majority, I will prevail," said Alvarez.

***********

What happened behind closed doors to the death penalty bill

It was a little past 10:30 am on February 8 when Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez walked out of his office towards Macalintal Hall at the South Wing Annex of the House of Representatives.

Reporters flocked around Alvarez and asked why he called for a meeting with around 100 lawmakers belonging to the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), the ruling administration party under President Rodrigo Duterte.

"I am meeting with them to tell them that the party stand is the restoration of the death penalty," said Alvarez, who is also PDP-Laban's secretary-general.

It was during the same interview that the Davao del Norte 1st District representative told reporters that he would be replacing administration-allied deputy speakers and committee chairpersons should they thumb down House Bill (HB) Number 4727.

After an exclusive meeting with his party mates that Wednesday morning, Alvarez attended another caucus with around 260 lawmakers.

A month after that Wednesday meeting, the House passed on 3rd and final reading the controversial HB 4727, which gives judges the options to punish perpetrators of 7 drug crimes with either life imprisonment or death.

A total of 217 lawmakers said yes, while only 54 said no with no abstentions.

Since Alvarez and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro filed the first version of HB 4727 on June 30, 2016, lawmakers and political analysts alike agreed the death penalty measure would be passed in the lower chamber.

How did the House manage to pass a controversial priority bill of the President in just 8 months?

Compromises

It was not smooth-sailing for HB 4727 in the beginning. As early as December 2016, it was clear that a handful of representatives were still ambivalent about their stance on the death penalty.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas broke down the numbers at the time. When he called for a majority caucus - which was attended by 100 of the 267 administration-allied legislators - 50 of the legislators were pro-death penalty, while only 15 were strongly against it. 35 were undecided.

They were torn between following the President's legislative agenda and following their conscience, forcing Alvarez to extend the debate to this year.

The House leadership then had to come up with various compromises to make the death penalty bill more palatable to lawmakers living in a predominantly Catholic country.

Various caucuses were held from December 2016 to February 2017 to decide on these amendments.

In attendance were PDP-Laban members and lawmakers who are members of parties that signed coalition agreements with the administration party - Lakas CMD, Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People's Coalition, National Unity Party, and the party-list-coalition.

The 1st compromise was the removal of the mandatory penalty of death provisions under the measure as well as the addition of safeguard measures for the accused.

Deputy Speaker Ferdinand Hernandez said more of his colleagues softened their hardline stance against the capital punishment bill when this was proposed.

"In fact, because of that position, many members of the House changed their position. Instead of hardline, a lot of them accepted, like they believe this is more palatable," said Hernandez.

The tipping point for the rest of the 217 lawmakers who voted in favor of HB 4727 was when the list of crimes under the bill was reduced from 21 to 7, all involving drug-related offenses.

House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali said this was finalized with the help of a survey conducted by the committee on rules.

"The Majority Leader and the Speaker distributed surveys, papers, to members to determine the sampling of the top 3 crimes they want in the bill)...It was really democratic and a showcase of how to build consensus," said Umali, who sponsored HB 4727 since he chaired the committee that approved the measure.

The top crimes that emerged from the survey were drug offenses, rape, plunder, and treason.

'Open' caucuses?

Another majority caucus was held on February 27, when Umali brought with him 3 versions of HB 4727 listing different combinations of the top crimes based on the survey. The lawmakers were supposed to choose which version was most acceptable to them.

According Castro, the mood was "so open" during their caucuses.

"Everybody could make suggestions. everybody could make motions. Everybody was free to state and everybody was invited to speak. It was democracy," said Castro.

But it seems "democracy" in the House could only go as far as the numbers game would allow.

Umali said that during the said caucus, a "big, loud" group at the back of Macalintal Hall was "very vocal" about limiting the death penalty bill to drugs only.

It was, after all, one of the recommendations of the committee on justice when it probed the narcotics trade at the New Bilibid Prison.

"'We couldn't agree. If some wanted to add rape, why not this other crime? So they just proposed to limit it to drug-related, heinous crimes," said Umali.

He could not give an estimate on the number of lawmakers in that group, but Umali said they were "big enough to be able to sway the majority and the Speaker to agree on going back to the original plan of just pursuing [the] drug-related crimes."

The majority bloc eventually favored the version that listed only 7 drug crimes to be punishable with death.

Riding on the war against drugs

According to Ateneo de Manila University political analyst Rene Raymond Raneses, limiting the offenses to drugs was a good strategy to have HB 4727 passed.

"I think it's a strategy because it actually made it more difficult on the part of those against the death penalty to denounce the reimposition of the death penalty because it's already very limited. They made it in sync with the popular and consensual war on drugs," said Raneses in a mix of English and Filipino.

"The argument of those against the death penalty is, the justice system cannot be trusted. So you have all these crimes. But limit the crimes that will be punished, it's more in sync with what the people want in the country. Some people don't want the death penalty, but there's an implicit consensus that the war on drugs is a good thing," he added.

Duterte won on a campaign anchored on a promise to eradicate drugs and criminality. He also promised to bring back the death penalty.

The President continues to enjoy strong support among the poor, even if more than 7,000 drug personalities have been killed in legitimate police operations and apparent summary killings nationwide.

Duterte taking a step back in the House?

Duterte, however, was not immediately informed about the amendments to the measure.

Reimposing the death penalty is one of his pet bills, but it seems the President preferred Alvarez to pull the reins in the House.

When the President was told that the bill was watered down because lawmakers "could not agree among themselves," Duterte said he would "let them solve" the issue on their own.

And so it was only during the same night when the House approved HB 4727 on 3rd reading that Alvarez personally explained to Duterte that rape, plunder, and treason had to be stricken out.

According to the Speaker, watering down the bill was needed to enable the House to have an "output" before the end of the 1st regular session.

"It's not a matter of convenience but you know, we have to be realistic. Because if we want the crimes to be added at the same time, but it would take a while for us to talk about it, then it's better if we do it one by one so we can accomplish something."

While the President was "thankful" the House passed the measure, he would have preferred that rape with homicide was included in the bill, too.

(source: rappler.com)

INDIA:

Abolish death penalty except in terror cases says Law Commission

The Law Commission has recommended that death penalty be abolished for all crimes. The commission however recommended that death penalty must remain for cases of terrorism. The same was informed by Hansraj Ahir, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Rajya Sabha.

The commission said that death penalty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code be abolished except in cases of terrorism since it does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment.

The panel while supporting death for those convicted in terror cases and waging war against the country said, although there is no valid penological justification for treating terrorism cases differently from other crimes, there is a concern raised that abolition of capital punishment for terror related cases and waging war will affect national security.

(source: oneindia.com)

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

Law Commission recommended abolition of death penalty

The Law Commission has recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes except those related to terrorism, Rajya Sabha was informed today.

Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir said the Law Commission in its 262nd report has recommended that the death penalty be abolished for all crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war.

(source: The Economic Times)

BANGLADESH:

Ready to execute Mufti Hannan after receiving government order, says IG Prisons

Jail authorities say they are prepared to carry out the death sentences of Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) chief Mufti Hannan and his two accomplices as soon as they get the government order.

"We are yet to receive the executive order to carry out the death sentences. The prison authorities, however, are always ready for the execution," Inspector General of Prisons Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin told a media briefing on Wednesday.

Mufti Hannan and 2 other HuJI activists, Sharif Shahedul Alam alias Bipul and Delwar Hossain alias Ripon have been awarded the death penalty for the 2004 grenade attack on the then UK envoy in Sylhet.

HuJI leader Mufti Hannan and Bipul are being kept at the Kashimpur High Security Prison in Gazipur while Ripon is lodged at the Sylhet Central Jail.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court published the verdict, rejecting their petitions for review of their sentences, which was read out to them on Wednesday.

After losing the last legal option, the 3 are now left with the only option of seeking presidential clemency by admitting guilt.

Kashimpur prison authorities said Mufti Hannan and Bipul hinted at seeking clemency while convict Ripon told Sylhet jail officials that he will give a decision later.

According to the jail code, they will now get 7 days to petition for pardon.

If the president rejects their pleas, the government will fix a date and prison authorities will start the process to execute the verdict.

In May 2004, then British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury came under a grenade attack while coming out of the Hazrat Shahjalal's shrine in his hometown Sylhet.

Police's Assistant Sub-inspector Kamal Uddin died instantly. Constable Rubel Ahmed and one Habil Miah succumbed to their injuries in a hospital later.

The envoy was injured along with nearly 40 employees of the Sylhet district administration.

In December last year, the Appellate Division upheld their death sentences.

The trial court had sentenced 2 others to life imprisonment, who moved the High Court but failed to secure a verdict in their favour. Their sentences are upheld as they did not challenge it at the Appellate Division.

(source: bdnews24.com)

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

Immediately Suspend Imminent Executions----Issue Moratoriums on Death Sentences as Inhumane Punishments

The Bangladesh government should immediately halt the imminent execution of 3 men convicted of a May 2004 grenade attack, which targeted the then British High Commissioner, Anwar Choudhury. Chowdhury survived the attack that took place outside the Hazrat Shahjalal shrine in Sylhet district, but was among dozens injured by the blasts. 3 police officers were killed.

On March 19, 2017, the country's apex court rejected the final review application of the 3 men on death row, all alleged members of the banned militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad (HuJI). The 3 men are: Mufti Abdul Hannan, HuJI founder, and 2 activists in the group, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain Ripon.

"Criminals need to be punished, but Bangladesh is moving in the wrong direction by invoking the death penalty," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "Bangladesh should instead initiate an immediate moratorium on capital punishment because it is inherently cruel and irreversible, and should never be used, regardless of the crime."

The evidence against the three men is primarily based on their confessions, statements that magistrates say were freely given in front of them but that the men have said were forcibly extracted through torture in police custody. Human Rights Watch has previously documented numerous cases of torture to coerce confessions, and due process violations in the Bangladesh criminal justice system that have made it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial, including in capital cases.

Noting that "custodial torture has become a persistent trend in Bangladesh," the country's National Human Rights Commission recently said that, "Indiscriminate order of remand for extracting confessions immensely contributes to a culture of custodial torture."

Court documents show that Hannan had spent 77 days, and Bipul and Ripon 40 days each, in police custody prior to giving their confessions. During this time and throughout their interrogation, the accused were not provided access to any legal representation. All 3 confessions were made during this period.

Bangladesh courts have accepted allegations in previous cases that torture takes place in police custody, and local, and international human rights organizations contend that the practice is widespread. Nevertheless, the appeals court stated that, "These confessions are natural, voluntary, inculpatory, and corroborative to each other," and were not "procured from them by means of coercion, duress, or torture."

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a signatory, has stated that there must be no "direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure from the investigating authorities on the accused, with a view to obtaining a confession of guilt. That all 3 convictions are based on interrogations without a lawyer present strongly suggests that they violated article 14 of the ICCPR on the right to a fair trial.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. A majority of countries in the world have abolished the practice. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly called on countries to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition.

"Delivering justice requires adhering to the highest standards, particularly when a life is at stake, and there can be no room for doubts or mistakes," Adams said. "Human Rights Watch has long supported justice and accountability for militant attacks, but we have also stated repeatedly that these trials have to meet international fair trial standards, and call upon Bangladesh to reject the death penalty."

(source: Human Rights Watch)

JAPAN----new death sentence

Man sentenced to death for killing 5 people in Hyogo Pref.

The Kobe District Court on March 22 sentenced a 42-year-old man to death over the killing of 5 people in Hyogo Prefecture in 2015, dismissing lawyers' arguments that he was mentally ill.

Tatsuhiko Hirano, 42, was handed the death penalty after being convicted of fatally stabbing 5 neighbors with a survival knife in 2 separate homes on Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture, on March 9, 2015. The victims, 3 women and 2 men, were aged between 59 and 84.

Hirano had a history of medical treatment for a psychiatric disorder, and in the trial he denied the allegations against him, saying that he was "manipulated by agents with magnetic waves."

The focus of the case was whether Hirano could be held criminally responsible for his actions.

Public prosecutors said that delusions bore no influence in the killings and that Hirano was mentally competent. Defense lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the killings wouldn't have occurred without the delusions brought on by Hirano's mental condition. They said that he either couldn't be held criminally responsible, or was of diminished capacity, warranting a lighter sentence.

(source: mainichi.jp)

INDONESIA:

Alleged drug dealer, 3 others caught

An alleged drug dealer and 3 others were nabbed by police yesterday moments after they had picked up 25 packets of Syabu paid for via a bank deposit to an unknown person.

The dealer, 29, from Bintawa Village was caught along with his friends, aged 25 to 49, after personnel from the Padawan Anti-Narcotics Unit stormed the lobby of an inn at Jalan Batu Kawa around 12.50pm.

Padawan District police chief Supt Aidil Bolhassan, who confirmed the arrest, said the main suspect was found holding a black box containing 25 packets of Syabu weighing roughly 55.50g.

"All 4 suspects subsequently tested positive for amphetamines. They also have prior arrest records for drugs," said Aidil.

According to Aidil, the main suspect admitted that he had purchased the drugs from an unknown dealer, who had instructed him to deposit money into a bank account before providing the location to collect the drugs.

"The main suspect confessed that the drugs belonged to him, while his 3 friends admitted to having consumed drugs," added Aidil.

Police have classified the case under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which carries the mandatory death penalty upon conviction, as well as the Dangerous Drugs (Forfeiture of Property) Act 1988.

(source: Borneo Post)

PAKISTAN:

Man gets death penalty for murdering wife

One Wali Muhammad Khaskheli was sentenced to death after he was proved guilty in a murder case while 4 other accused in the case were acquitted here on Tuesday.

Additional sessions judge awarded death penalty to Khaskheli, while set his mother, father, uncle and brother free.

As per details, Sumaira Naeem, wife of Wali Muhammad Khaskheli, was strangulated to death in the limits of Degan Bhurgari police station, taluka Kot Ghulam Muhammad, in 2012. A murder case was registered against Khaskheli, husband of the deceased, his father Muhammad Moosa Khaskheli, uncle Umer Khaskheli, mother Rasheeda and younger brother Gul Muhammad Khaskheli.

However, the prosecution could prove the offence only against the main accused, Wali Muhammad Khaskhel, the deceased's husband, while the other co-accused were acquitted. After the court gave the decision, convict Wali Muhammad Khaskheli was detained and sent to Central Prison Hyderabad.

(source: nation.com.pk)

VIETNAM:

Vietnam drug smugglers sentenced to death over heroin haul

Vietnam has sentenced 9 drug traffickers to death for smuggling nearly half a tonne (500 kilograms) of heroin into the country from Laos, a local government report said Wednesday.

9 others were jailed for life over the massive drug bust and "all illegal profits were seized", according to the official newspaper of the Hoa Binh provincial government.

The traffickers smuggled the drugs from neighbouring Laos for resale in China and pocketed $670,000 between 2012 and 2016, according to a separate report by the state-run Vietnam News Agency which gave no further details.

Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest anti-drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams (21 ounces) of heroin, or more than 20 kilograms of opium, can face the death penalty.

The "Golden Triangle" region covering parts of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar is one of the world's top producers of opium, and heroin and other drugs are often smuggled into Vietnam from the region.

In January 2014 30 drug smugglers were sentenced to death in Vietnam's largest narcotics case, after nearly 2 tonnes of heroin was seized.

Governments in Southeast Asia's Mekong region have vowed to redouble efforts to tackle the rampant trade in heroin and methamphetamines.

But crackdowns are hindered by the soaring demand for drugs, corrupt officialdom and the long, porous jungle borders between the neighbours.

(source: thepeninsulaqatar.com)

GAZA:

EU Missions condemn death sentences issued in Gaza

The European Union (EU) Representative and Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the sentencing of 2 men to death on Sunday by a military court in the Gaza Strip, after the men were found guilty of alleged drug dealing.

It reportedly marked the 1st time that the death penalty was used in Gaza for a drug-related offense, though a number of Palestinians have been sentenced to death in recent months after being found guilty of collaborating with Israel or of murder.

"The EU Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah recall their firm opposition under all circumstances to the use of capital punishment," the statement said.

"The EU considers that abolition of the death penalty contributes to the protection of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights. It considers capital punishment to be cruel and inhuman, that it fails to provide deterrence to criminal behavior, and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity."

The statement continued by calling on "the de facto authorities in Gaza," referring to the Hamas administration, to "refrain from carrying out any executions of prisoners and comply with the moratorium on executions put in place by the Palestinian Authority, pending abolition of the death penalty in line with the global trend."

The EU missions released a similar condemnation after a Gaza court sentenced a Palestinian man to death earlier this month for the premeditated murder of his wife.

Several Palestinians have been executed in Gaza after Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza approved the enforcement of death sentences last year.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced at the time that 13 Palestinians had been sentenced to death by Gaza courts and would be executed as soon as possible.

Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy -- usually Israel -- are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.

Despite this, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from President Mahmoud Abbas since 2010.

(source: Ma'an News Agency)

MARCH 21, 2017:

TEXAS----impending execution

Parents of slain Hurst Putt-Putt manager seek to halt killer's executio

The parents of a man slain during a robbery in 2006 in Northeast Tarrant County have signed an affidavit calling on the state not to execute one of the killers next month.

Glenn and Judy Cherry, whose son Jonas Cherry was killed at Putt-Putt Golf and Games in Hurst where he was an assistant manager, wrote a letter to state and local authorities requesting that Paul Storey's death sentence be commuted to life without parole.

"Paul Storey's execution will not bring our son back, will not atone for the loss of our son and will not bring comfort or closure," the affidavit states. "We are satisfied that Paul Storey remaining in prison until his death will assure that he cannot murder another innocent person in the community, and with this outcome we are satisfied and convinced that lawful retribution is exercised concerning the death of our son."

Cherry's parents, who are opposed to the death penalty, addressed the letter to Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, Gov. Greg Abbott, state District Judge Robb Catalano and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Glenn and Judy Cherry said they know how hard it is to lose a child and have no wish to see Storey's family suffer in a similar way.

"His family did not harm us and are innocent regarding our suffering," the letter states.

Jonas Cherry begged for his life during the crime, which took place about 8:45 a.m. Oct. 16, 2006. Storey and Mike Porter stood over Jonas Cherry, who pleaded: "Please! I gave you what you want. Don't hurt me."

They refused and shot him twice in the head and twice in his legs. Cherry, who was approaching his 1st wedding anniversary, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Storey and Porter were convicted of capital murder, but only Storey got the death penalty. Porter got life without parole after making a deal with the Tarrant County district attorney's office.

Storey is scheduled to be executed April 12. On Monday afternoon, Storey's lawyers continued their efforts to persuade the state to spare his life. During a hearing, attorneys Mike Ware and Keith Hampton said they plan to file their client's clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles this week.

Clemency, or mercy, is something attorneys representing death row clients routinely ask for but seldom receive. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 282 death row inmates nationwide have been granted clemency for humanitarian reasons since 1976, but only 2 of those inmates were in Texas.

According to documents filed in federal court, Storey's lawyers were never told that he was just barely functional intellectually. That information has, in part, led at least 1 juror to change his mind.

Sven Berger, a 36-year-old software engineer now living in Washington state, voted for the death penalty along with the other 11 jurors at the end of Storey's trial in 2008. The jury deliberated less than 2 hours before assessing the death penalty, Berger said.

"There was a definite sense in the room that a decision had already been made," Berger said. "Had I known he was mentally impaired there would have been a much longer conversation about my decision."

Berger, who has signed an affidavit detailing his change of mind, also said that prosecutors argued during the trial that Cherry's parents wanted the death penalty to be imposed. Ware recently told him that Cherry's parents wanted Storey to have a life sentence without parole.

"More than anything else that affected me," Berger said. "If the family of the deceased did not want the perpetrator executed, that would have been important for me to know, and I believe it would have been important to the other jurors."

Christopher Wilkins, who went on a 2-day killing spree in Fort Worth and was executed on Jan. 11, was the 1st person executed in the United States in 2017.

Berger said he got the impression during testimony that Storey was not very bright but was not a future danger to society. But he did not feel equipped at that time to sway other jurors to his way of thinking.

He said he never understood why Storey deserved a death sentence while his accomplice, Porter, received a life sentence.

"It seemed clear to me that Porter was the leader," Berger said. "It irritated me that he took the plea deal. It was infuriating to see Porter get life and Storey get death."

Storey's mother, Marilyn Shankle-Grant, said she spoke to Berger about his change of heart and forgave him.

"This young man was placed in the position of deciding whether someone was going to live or die," Shankle-Grant said. "He didn't want to go against the crowd. There were a whole lot of people who were going one way and he didn't want to voice his opinion.

"We all have things that we've done in the past that we wish we could have done differently. I can't hate him for that."

Shankle-Grant called the support that Cherry's parents are giving to the effort to commute her son's sentence remarkable. Shankle-Grant said she has never stopped thinking about the Cherry family.

"I'm just so grateful, extremely grateful," Shankle-Grant said. "I think about how difficult it must have been for her at Christmas and Thanksgiving to have that empty chair at the table. They must have the heart of Jesus Christ himself to want to have anything to do with the life of someone who was involved in taking their own son's life.

Shankle-Grant also said the idea that her son was involved in an act that caused these parents to lose their son is devastating.

"But Paul is my son," Shankle-Grant said. "As devastating as what he did was, he's still my son. I still don't want to see him die."

(source: Fort Worth Star Telegram)

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

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----543

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------April 12-----------------Paul Storey-----------543

26---------May 16-------------------Tilon Carter----------544

27---------May 24-------------------Juan Castillo----------545

28---------June 28------------------Steven Long-----------546

29---------July 19-----------------Kosoul Chanthakoummane---547

30---------July 27-----------------Taichin Preyor---------548

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

VIRGINIA:

Death penalty possible in brutal killing of Spotsylvania store clerk

A Spotsylvania County man is now facing the possibility of being put to death if he is convicted of the vicious Dec. 3 slaying of a convenience store clerk.

David Junior Washington, 50, was directly indicted by a Spotsylvania grand jury Monday on charges of capital murder and robbery. The charges stem from the death of Saleh Yousef Abukhait at the Sunoco in the 5300 block of Jefferson Davis Highway in Spotsylvania.

Washington had been charged with 1st-degree murder and had a preliminary hearing scheduled for next month. But the commonwealth's attorney's office decided to increase the charge Monday.

Commonwealth's Attorney Travis Bird declined to discuss the decision.

Washington's case has now been sent to circuit court, where a trial date will be set later. The only possible sentences for a capital murder conviction are death and life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The entire attack against Abukhait was captured on the store surveillance cameras. Investigators quickly identified Washington as the suspect after reviewing the film.

According to the evidence, the suspect entered the store early that morning and was there at least 10 minutes before the attack began. He appeared to be having a pleasant conversation with Abukhait.

The attacker suddenly picked up a stick he'd brought into the store and attacked the clerk behind the counter. Abukhait was struck in the head repeatedly.

He was attacked again with the stick after it had splintered and later was struck with hot dog tongs. The attacker then stomped on Abukhait's head before leaving with beer and money he'd taken from the store.

Another customer entered the store shortly after the slaying. That customer only got a short distance into the store when he saw blood, but no clerk. The clerk was behind the counter out of sight.

The man backed out of the store and called the Sheriff's Office. Deputies came and found the slain Abukhait.

Washington was arrested later that day at the Dunning Mills Inn in Fredericksburg. He was taken into custody and gave a statement to Spotsylvania detectives.

(source: The Free Lance-Star)

FLORIDA:

A wrong political argument to change the legal system

The administration of capital punishment in Florida has been at the mercy of activist judges for so long now that people can be forgiven for forgetting the Sunshine State actually has the death penalty.

The last death row inmate to fulfill his sentence, Oscar Ray Bolin, was executed in January 2016 - an atypical time lag under Gov. Rick Scott. Scott has ordered 23 executions since taking office in January 2011 - or fully 25 % of the 92 carried out since capital punishment was reintroduced in Florida 38 years ago.

We can thank Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala, the top prosecutor for nearby Orange and Osceola counties, for reminding us the death penalty remains with us. And she did so in an ironic way: by publicly stating she would never seek the death penalty in any 1st-degree murder case prosecuted by her office.

"What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I do have discretion to pursue death sentences, I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice," Ayala said at a press conference last week. "Florida's death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil."

She cited the cost and length of such cases and capital punishment's ineffectiveness as a deterrent as part of the reason for her position. But Ayala, who last year became the 1st black person to be elected state attorney in Florida, also believes the process is tilted against black defendants.

Her announcement touched off a firestorm, as might be expected.

On one hand, Ayala was showered with praise by civil liberties groups and civil rights leaders for standing up against a system of punishment that they maintain is biased toward blacks.

On the other hand, criticism rained down from law enforcement officials, tough-on-crime types like Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as Gov. Scott, who stripped Ayala of the Markeith Loyd case. Loyd is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend last December and subsequently killing Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton during a manhunt that lasted for a week and spilled over into Polk County.

Ayala has announced that she will fight her removal from the Loyd case.

The Orlando Sentinel reported recently that Ayala coyly chose not to discuss her views on the death penalty during last year's Democratic primary, in which she upset scandal-tarred incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton.

While she certainly is entitled to her opinions, it's a shame Ayala, who had been a public defender for 8 years before being elected as state attorney, was not candid with voters about her views last year. This is an issue they could, and should, have adjudicated through the political process.

Ayala foreshadowed her announcement last month during a debate with Ninth Circuit Public Defender Bob Wesley. She called her office's handling of death penalty cases "broken," and said she was working on some unspecified reforms. Oddly, according to news accounts, Wesley challenged Ayala's assertion, maintaining that the pursuit of death penalty cases in Orlando had been "very, very rational," and not done "randomly or capriciously."

Another oddity is that Ayala's pronouncement came shortly after Scott signed a bill requiring juries in death penalty cases to hand down unanimous verdicts in sentencing convicted killers. That was done after more than a year of judges - from the U.S. Supreme Court all the way to South Florida trial courts - repeatedly rejecting Florida's methodology.

The new law, the Legislature's 2nd attempt to appease a U.S. Supreme Court decision, may not make capital punishment obsolete, but it likely will ensure that it is exercised far less frequently than Floridians are accustomed to.

Ayala says she has the discretion to pursue the death penalty, and we can agree to some extent with her assessment of its merits. Bolin, for example, went 30 years after he murdered three Tampa-area women before completing his sentence. And Floridians certainly have not ceased killing each other since 1979.

Yet Ayala also has a duty to follow the laws of Florida - and the death penalty remains the law in Florida. After her announcement, Florida's other 19 state attorneys issued a statement through their professional association saying that enforcing those laws is "paramount to our oath of office." "The victims' families of Florida deserve our dedication to implement all the laws of Florida," the statement said. "That is why the people of Florida have elected us."

Well said. Ayala's arrogant posturing has done a terrible disservice to the families of Orlando-area murder victims - whose cases are pending or those in the future - who disagree with her. Given Loyd's case, it also makes her condemnation last year of the cop killers in Dallas and Baton Rouge ring hollow.

If she wants to affect public policy this way, and not abide her oath to execute our state's laws, she should step aside and work on changing the law from the inside as a member of the Legislature.

(source: Editorial, The Ledger)

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

Florida death penalty fight raises questions about race

Last November, Democrat Aramis Ayala became the 1st Black elected state attorney in Florida's history when she defeated incumbent Jeff Ashton for the position.

Within weeks of her election, Markeith Loyd, a young black man, shot and killed his girlfriend, Sade Dixon, a young black woman. When Orlando Police Lt. Deborah Clayton, also a young black woman, attempted to apprehend Loyd at a local Wal-Mart, Loyd allegedly murdered her, too, with an autopsy confirming that the killing shot having been fired execution style as Clayton was lying on her back.

Thus began a manhunt that took nearly three weeks before Loyd was taken into custody, where he now faces 2 counts of 1st degree murder along with a host of related felony offenses. It is also important to note that a 2nd law enforcement officer, Orange County Deputy Norman Lewis, a black man, was killed in a car accident during the Loyd manhunt.

Earlier this week, now State Attorney Ayala took the bold (and rare) step of announcing that her office would not seek the death penalty against Loyd.

With a nod to the statistical data that proves that since capital punishment was reinstated by the United States Supreme Court in 1976 that the same is disproportionately administered according to race, Ayala remained defiant despite calls from Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott for her to recuse herself if she could not bring herself to file notice to seek the death penalty.

When Ayala refused to budge, yesterday, Scott issued an executive order appointing Ocala State Attorney Brad King to handle the case.

Said Scott: "(Ayala) made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case to State Attorney Brad King...these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."

Since Scott's decision, both attorneys and laypersons of all races have weighed in via social and traditional media about Scott's decision, one whose effect has caused one of the more unusual unions of people of differing political ideologies and races who are joined together at this moment either in support of Scott, or in unison behind SA Ayala.

As a history major during my undergraduate and graduate school days at Morehouse College and Florida A&M University, as a former prosecutor, and as the only black attorney in my circuit who is state certified to serve as lead counsel in death penalty cases, this current controversy has been particularly intriguing to me.

The historian in me knows full well that Florida, like most of its former Confederate neighbors, once was a hotbed of lynching and had Loyd killed his girlfriend and directly or indirectly caused the deaths of two police officers 60 years ago, Loyd never would have seen the inside of a courtroom because a lynch mob would have murdered him within hours of his apprehension.

The former prosecutor in me knows that as a "minister of justice," as the ABA and Florida Bar rules require, where defendants meet the requisite aggravating factors to seek the death penalty, including whether they were prior convicted felons, whether the defendant caused a great risk to others by his murderous acts, and whether the murders were heinous, atrocious and cruel or committed in cold, calculated or premeditated fashion, then said prosecutor should file notice to seek the death penalty.

Indeed, when I considered a run for State Attorney in my circuit last year, one of the factors that gave me pause was my personal aversion to the death penalty and my knowing that if elected, it would be my duty to seek it when the facts warranted the same.

But the defense attorney in me, the one who has tried numerous murder cases and who knows the nauseous feeling that all defense lawyers get as we wait to hear whether the jury has found your client guilty or not guilty, or recommended the death penalty or life without parole, appreciates SA Ayala's personal dilemma with the death penalty as applied along racial lines. It is perspicuous that with all of the individuals that have been cleared by advocacy groups like the Innocence Project based upon DNA testing results, that there have been innocent individuals across America who have been executed for crimes that they did not commit.

But should that reality apply to Loyd, one who boasted about killing cops on social media amid overwhelming evidence of his guilt?

Should the families of Loyd's victims, or the public writ large, be denied retribution in the form of capital punishment if that is the overwhelming desire?

This last part, the public policy implications, vexes me the most in that it pits conflicting issues within my own historical and legal body of knowledge--- and my core value system. Meaning, does the public outrage at SA Ayala reticence to enact the death penalty come from the same outrage that used to fuel lynch mobs several decades ago? Separately, such also compels me to ask how can those of us who proudly exclaim that #BlackLivesMatter on the one hand, not give deference to the fact that Loyd's victims King, the unborn child, Clayton and Lewis were black? Since their lives mattered, would Loyd serving a life sentence truly recognize that fact, or would lethal injection or the electric chair be the only methods to square their lost lives?

The irony in this is that the Black Lives Matter movement began in earnest after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin by a Sanford, Florida jury in 2013. A year before his acquittal, Gov. Scott replaced then Sanford State Attorney Norm Wolfinger with Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey after Wolfinger dragged his feet for almost 50 days before finally recusing himself. Scott's move back then was applauded by many black lawyers, civil rights activists and concerned citizens who wanted to ensure that the highest charges and attendant punishments would be sought against Zimmerman.

Today, Scott is being blasted by some lawyers and activists for meddling in Ayala's use of discretion not to seek the death penalty. Now the key distinction is that Wolfinger recused himself while Ayala did not, one that could lead to a fascinating legal battle where the courts may have to determine whether Scott illegally overreached by replacing Ayala, or whether her refusal to follow his dictates allowed him leave to replace her.

Whatever the final decision on this matter, the fact remains that the anecdotal evidence on social media is clear that politics makes strange bedfellows where murder, capital punishment and race are concerned.

(source: Chuch Hobbs, thehill.com)

ALABAMA:

Former DA Says Vernon Madison Case is Perfect Example of Flaw in the Judicial System

Vernon Madison is a name 2 former Mobile prosecutors will never forget.

Madison was sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte. Prosecutors say Shulte was sitting in his car filling out a report when Madison came up and shot him in the back of the head. Madison was convicted and sentenced to death, but he never will fulfill his punishment.

"The death penalty has basically become a cruel joke," former District Attorney Chris Galanos said. "I haven't been the DA for over 30 years, and there are still cases that are pending adjudication."

Galonos said he thinks it's a flaw in the judicial system that Madison was able to evade his fate for 31 years due to the lengthy appeals process. Just last week a judge ruled that Madison is now mentally incompetent for the death penalty because he no longer remembers the murder or why he's even behind bars due to dementia-related strokes.

(source: WKRG news)

TENNESSEE:

Supreme Court denies review for death-row inmates claiming intellectual disability

The US Supreme Court on Mondaydenied the petitions of Pervis Payne, Michael Sample, and Vincent Sims, 3 Tennessee death-row inmates who argued they should not be executed due to their intellectual disabilities. In their petition, Sims and Sample argued that Tennessee failed to retroactively apply the court's ruling in Hall v. Florida, which prohibited states from relying solely on intelligence test scores to determine whether a death row inmate is eligible for execution or not in borderline cases. Payne's petition made the same argument. The Supreme Court outlawed the execution of those with intellectual disabilities in 2002.

The death penalty has been a pressing issue across the country. Last month the Mississippi house approved a bill allowing firing squad executions. Also last month a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio refused to lift a preliminary injunction that delays executions in Ohio. In January Judge Michael Merz blocked Ohio's lethal injection protocol by deeming it unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Also in January the US Supreme Court refused to consider a challenge to Alabama's death penalty system. In December a report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that the use of capital punishment in the US is at a 20-year low.

(source: jurist.org)

OHIO:

Vigil at St. Gerard calls on ending death penalty

The Catholic Church has long been known for its stance in defending the rights of unborn children.

However, a prayer vigil held Monday took a more controversial approach to the life/death issue.

The St. Gerard Catholic Church held a prayer service to end the death penalty. The Rev. Michael S. Sergi said the problem lies within everyone's definition of judgment.

"All life is sacred and precious to God, no matter who they are," Sergi said. "Justice is needed. However, death isn't justice, it is revenge."

Sergi said he wished that the church would have been filled to hear the message. With about 40 people in attendance, he said it still did not negate the impact that could be made.

"Jesus started with 12," Sergi said, "and look what he did."

Sergi recalled a time dealing with the death penalty himself when at a church in another state several years ago. A police officer at his parish was killed in the line of duty, and Sergi was called to help with the family during the grieving process. The killer was later captured and put on death row. Some of the family reveled in the capture and were eager to see "justice done." Sergi was called by the wife several years later after the killer was put on death row.

"She was in the hospital, but she was doing fine," Sergi said. "She had called me to say the date of execution had been finally set."

The wife was receiving hate mail calling on her to do the right thing and try and have the execution stopped. She asked Sergi what she should do.

"I told her I understood the hurt and the anger," Sergi said, "but that the state doesn't have the right to take a life. It is against the law of God."

Sergi said the woman knew he would answer that way, but that she had to hear it. Together, they prayed for her dead husband. She had since remarried. They then also prayed for the man on death row. He said that was the type of prayer needed to combat the issue.

"Tonight, we come with the powerful weapon of prayer," Sergi said. "We have to call upon the government, upon all of the governors, and change their hearts from revenge. We need to love our enemies. We need to stop the killing."

(source: limaohio.com)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas's Reckless Plan to Execute 8 Men in 10 Days Could End in State-Sanctioned Torture Before Death

Between April 17 and 27, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans on doing what should be inconceivable: executing 8 prisoners in 10 days.

After killing no prisoners in the last 12 years, the state is rushing to execute these 8 men before the controversial execution drug it needs to carry them out expires on April 30. The drug, Midazolam, has been directly linked to past botched executions, but that hasn't stopped Hutchinson from planning a killing spree in a few weeks. By racing to use a drug known to play a part in botched executions, the governor risks debasing the state of Arkansas, its citizens, and the very American traditions of justice by torturing prisoners to death.

In a hospital setting, Midazolam is prescribed by doctors to calm patients' nerves or act as a sedative for minor procedures. It is not used to put patients under for surgery, let alone anesthetize prisoners before killing them. And when Midazolam is combined with the 2 other drugs used during the execution - vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - it produces unspeakable pain before death.

We know this because it's happened before.

The most recent Midazolam botch occurred during Alabama's December execution of Ronald Bert Smith. His execution took 34 minutes, during which time Smith heaved and coughed for 13 minutes. His attorneys reported that he remained conscious, responding to corrections officials, well into the execution.

In 2014, the state of Ohio relied on Midazolam with the same horrific results. That same year, a similar nightmare transpired over the course of 2 long hours after Arizona used 15 repeated doses to execute Joseph Wood before he finally stopped coughing and, gulping once, died. These botches together have led an Ohio judge to halt future executions using Midazolam, while Florida and Arizona have also abandoned it.

Beyond the cruelty of using a defective drug to kill someone, Arkansas is upping the probability of something going terribly wrong by ratcheting up the pace of its executions. Double and triple executions are rare in the history of the U.S. death penalty and haven't occurred in close to 20 years. When they did happen, it was in a bygone era when states were annually executing 3 and 4 times as many people as they do today. Even then, no state attempted, as Arkansas plans for this April, 4 double executions in 10 days.

The last state to attempt a double execution was Oklahoma, when, also using Midazolam, it botched the execution of Clayton Lockett. The prison warden himself called it a "bloody mess." The scene in Lockett's execution chamber was chaos. A doctor was squirted with Lockett's blood as it spurted from a vein. The personnel were confused and distressed. Lockett did not die until 43 minutes later, after the execution had been halted and the shades drawn on the adjacent viewing room. Meanwhile, Charles Warner waited to die in the state's 2nd planned execution of the night. After the botch of Lockett's execution, Warner's was cancelled, and the state announced that it would no longer schedule more than 1 execution in a 7-day period.

Multiple dates, set so closely together, increase the risk of human error and resulting torture and injustice. Arkansas's previous botched executions - of Ricky Ray Rector in 1992 and Christina Marie Riggs in 2000, like Lockett's botch - each involved failure to place execution lines properly in the veins. This history highlights the role in executions of fallible human beings, who can't help but be affected by the pace and horror of multiple executions. As Sen. John McCain said of Joseph Wood's botched Midazolam execution, "The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That's torture."

History risks repeating itself when we don't heed its lessons. We don't need another state-sanctioned killing to be botched by the use of Midazolam or by the reckless clip of Gov. Hutchinson's scheduled killings. Assembly line justice - artificially paced to an expiring controversial drug choice - can only end in easily avoidable disaster.

(source: Brian Stull, ACLU Capital Punishment Project, aclu.org)

CALIFORNIA:

Man accused in homeless attacks ruled mentally competent, arraignment set

A man accused of attacking 5 homeless men in various San Diego neighborhoods, killing 3 of them, is mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Monday.

After reviewing reports from Patton State Hospital and a court-appointed doctor in San Diego, Judge David Danielsen ruled that Jon David Guerrero understands the charges against him and can assist his attorney at trial.

The judge reinstated criminal proceedings and set an arraignment for April 4.

Guerrero, 40, was arrested last summer in connection with the crime spree. In October, he was found to be incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Patton State Hospital for up to 3 years or until his competency could be restored.

Guerrero was sent back to San Diego in January after doctors at Patton found him to be mentally competent.

Guerrero is charged with 3 counts of murder and 2 counts of premeditated attempted murder, along with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey said more charges could be added at the arraignment next month.

San Diego police said the victims were brutalized - 2 of them set on fire - as they slept on roadsides, in open areas and under freeway bridges.

The 1st attack in the series occurred last July 3. About 8 a.m. that day, the burning body of Angelo De Nardo, 53, was found underneath an Interstate 5 offramp near the 2700 block of Morena Boulevard in Bay Park.

Witnesses described seeing a man running across the freeway near Claremont Drive, carrying a gas can.

The following day, Shawn Mitchell Longley, 41, was found dead at a park on Bacon Street in Ocean Beach, and 61-year-old transient Manuel Mason was severely injured near Valley View Casino Center in the Midway district, according to police.

On the morning of July 6, Dionicio Derek Vahidy, 23, was gravely injured in downtown San Diego by an assailant who fled after leaving a towel burning on top of him. Vahidy died in a hospital four days later.

There are no indications that the suspect knew the victims, according to police.

Another attack happened shortly after 4:30 a.m. July 15, when two San Diego Harbor Police officers in a squad car in the 1800 block of C Street heard someone underneath Interstate 5 in the East Village yelling for help, police said.

The officers pulled over and found a 55-year-old homeless man suffering from "significant trauma" to his upper body.

(source: CBS news)

USA:

States debate death penalty issues

Despite a 90 % decline of executions since the height of the death penalty in the 1990s, the death penalty is still a hot topic that is widely debated throughout the U.S. Here are a few of the top death penalty headlines that are currently capturing the nation.

Arkansas

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the execution dates for 8 inmates in the state, all occurring within an unprecedented 10-day span in April. Starting April 17, the state plans to execute its 1st death row inmate since 2005. The death penalty has been suspended since 2005 due to litigations and difficulties obtaining the drugs necessary for lethal injection, according to The New York Times.

During a press conference Feb. 28, Hutchinson said that the close scheduling of the executions was "not my choice."

"If we do not set the execution dates, that will not trigger a review and we'll never bring finality to this long and arduous process that really is so difficult on the victims and their families," he said.

It is believed that the urgency of executions is due to the state's dwindling supply of viable execution drugs. The New York Times reports that the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April.

Furonda Brasfield, a lawyer and executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agrees with the assessment.

"Why else would you take something that was going to take place over the course of 4 months and move it into the state of 10 days? The only logical conclusion is that they know the midazolam is going to expire at the end of April and they want to get as many executions done as they can before then," Brasfield told NCR.

Midazolam

Oral arguments began March 7 in Ohio to discuss the constitutionality of midazolam in the state's lethal injection protocol. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati heard arguments from attorneys representing three inmates who are currently on Ohio's death row.

On Jan. 26, Magistrate Michael Merz from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio issued a stay of execution for the state's 3 upcoming executions based on an evidentiary hearing against the use of midazolam. Attorneys argued on behalf of the inmates that the drug violates their Eighth Amendment right against "cruel and unusual punishment."

The ruling comes 3 years after the execution of Dennis McGuire Jan. 16, 2014, which utilized midazolam. During the Jan. 26 evidentiary hearing, Alan Johnson, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, testified about McGuire's execution, saying that McGuire "began coughing, gasping, choking in a way that I had not seen before at any execution. And I remember it because I relived it several times. Frankly, that went on for 12 to 13 minutes."

Midazolam was central to another court case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In June 2015, the court ruled 5-4 against inmate Richard Glossip's assertion that use of the drug was unconstitutional. Glossip is still sitting on Oklahoma's death row.

Supreme Court

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2015 that midazolam did not violate inmates' Eighth Amendment right against "cruel and unusual punishment," the drug keeps popping up in the nation’s highest court.

The Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case pertaining to the stay of execution of Thomas Arthur in Alabama. In the case, Arthur argued that a firing squad would be more constitutional than Alabama's lethal injection protocol, which includes midazolam.

In an 18-page dissent issued on Feb. 21, Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote that midazolam as a method of execution "may turn out to be our most cruel experiment yet."

"Like a hangman's poorly tied noose or a malfunctioning electric chair, midazolam might render our latest method of execution too much for our conscience - and the Constitution - to bear," she wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer joined Sotomayor in her dissent. 2 weeks later, Breyer wrote his own dissent in the case of Rolando Ruiz v. Texas. The Supreme Court refused to grant Ruiz an 11th hour stay of execution and he was subsequently executed March 7. Ruiz's appeal to the courts was also based on his Eighth Amendment right but on the premise that he has spent 22 years on death row, predominantly in solitary confinement.

"If extended solitary confinement alone raises serious constitutional questions, then 20 years of solitary confinement, all the while under threat of execution, must raise similar questions, and to a rare degree, and with particular intensity," Breyer wrote in his dissent.

The U.S. Supreme Court also refused to review and intervene in another case out of Texas. Christopher Young argued that he deserved a new trial after a potential jury member was removed from his capital punishment case based on their religious affiliation and involvement in a faith ministry. Over 500 faith leaders representing 44 states and 20 different faith traditions signed a letter stating their opposition to the removal of the potential juror.

However, in a glimmer of hope for advocates against the death penalty, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in favor of Duane Buck, sending his case back to the Texas courts to reconsider his death sentence. Buck argued that he was given the death sentence in part because of a testimony that said blacks are more likely than whites to commit crimes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Chief Justice John Roberts told the courtroom that "our laws punish people for what they do, not for who they are."

Montana

Every year since 1999, Montana legislators have considered bills to ban the death penalty.

This year's hopes ended March 1 after the bill was unable to make it out of the state's House.

"We probably had the votes to pass HB 366 out of the House but just didn't have a workable path to successfully get it out of the House Judiciary Committee after they tabled the bill" on a 9-10 vote Feb. 10, wrote Matthew Brower, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, in an email to NCR.

"The ball is moving in the right direction and we and the Montana Abolition Coalition are going to keep working this issue to make sure death penalty abolition becomes a reality in Montana," Brower wrote. "So we look forward to 2019 and begin laying the groundwork for those efforts beginning now."

Slain Florida priest

Catholic bishops from Georgia and Florida are speaking out on behalf of slain priest Fr. Rene Robert of the diocese of St. Augustine, Fla. In a Jan. 31 press conference outside a Georgia courthouse, Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, Ga., called for the state of Georgia to drop the death penalty, per Robert's request, in the case against Robert's murderer.

In 1995, Robert signed and had notarized a "Declaration of Life" where he stated that "should he die as a result of a violent crime, he did not want the individual or individuals found guilty of homicide for his killing to be subject to, or put in jeopardy of, the death penalty under any circumstances, no matter how heinous their crime or how much he may have suffered," according to Catholic News Service.

On April 18, 2016, Robert was found murdered in Georgia. Later, Steven J. Murray admitted in interviews that he was responsible for the death. Murray knew Robert - Robert had befriended Murray as part of his prison ministry.

"We have great respect for the legal system and we believe Murray deserves punishment for the brutal murder, but the sentence of death only perpetuates the cycle of violence," Estevez said at a news conference. "It is unnecessary and denies the dignity of all persons."

Ashley Wright, who at the time was the Augusta-Richmond County district attorney, said she would seek the death penalty against Murray. Wright has recently been named a Superior Court judge.

After the news conference, the bishops talked privately to Hank Syms, acting district attorney, and Estevez gave him petitions with 7,400 signatures. Neither Syms nor Wright would comment on the specifics of the case but according to NBC News, Wright said the district attorney "is supposed to be impervious to public opinion or public outcry about how a case should be handled."

(source: ncronline.org)

PHILIPPINES:

Don't misuse Bible to push death penalty, Philippines bishops say

Remember what Jesus' cross stands for, and don't misuse the Bible to justify the death penalty, the Philippines' Catholic bishops have said.

"To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?" the country's bishops asked.

"We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God's will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God's definitive Word to the world."

Their words came in a March 19 pastoral statement on the death penalty signed by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The statement was read at all Masses in the country on Sunday.

Jesus came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, the bishops explained: "Jesus was never an advocate of any form of 'legal killing'. He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her."

The letter opened with a quotation from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006. At present President Rodrigo Duterte, who is also leading a brutal crackdown on drugs, has advocated its restoration.

In their letter, the Catholic bishops recounted the passage of a House of Representatives bill that would restore the death penalty.

"It was Ash Wednesday when members of the lower House, on the 2nd reading of the death penalty bill, outvoted by voice-voting the nays with their ayes. Ironically, they were captured on television shouting in favor of death with their foreheads marked with crosses made of ashes," the bishops said.

"Could they have forgotten what that cross meant?"

They questioned whether the legislators had missed that the crosses on their foreheads "were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish."

According to the bishops, the saying of the Bible, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" was challenged by Jesus, who advocated non-retaliation of evil for evil and justice founded on mercy.

"Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime," they continued. "Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society. Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix."

The statement also spoke about the victims.

"We are not deaf to the cries of the victims of heinous crimes. The victims and their victimizers are both our brothers and sisters. The victim and the opressor are both children of God," they said.

They said the guilty should repent and make reparation for their sins. The bishops offered love, compassion and hope to crime victims.

The death penalty will be applied more to the poor, who cannot afford adequate legal defenses, the bishops said.

"As a law, death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most constitutions of countries that signed the universal declaration of human rights," they said.

The Philippines bishops called for prayers for the country's legislators.

"Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all," they said.

(source: patheos.com)

TRINIDAD:

Trinidad PM vows to bring back hangings after missing policewoman becomes latest murder victim

Following the discovery of the decomposing body of a 22-year-old policewoman who went missing last week, law enforcement officials have vowed to bring the killer to swift justice and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has made it clear his government will be taking whatever steps are necessary to resume hangings.

Joseph's body was found by a fisherman in the Gulf of Paria near Port of Spain on Wednesday, 6 days after she disappeared.

It had been disposed of in a crocus bag, but it became snagged in the fisherman's net and he brought it to the surface. He will receive a $25,000 reward that had been offered by Crime Stoppers for information about Joseph's whereabouts.

At least 3 people, including a woman who is said to have had an argument with Police Constable Joseph days before she disappeared, have been detained by police in connection with the murder.

1 of the men is the 36-year-old father of the female suspect's child. He was reportedly romantically linked to the woman, Joseph, and 3 other women. The 2nd man, 24, surrendered to police hours after Joseph's body was found. He is being questioned in connection with transporting the body out to sea.

The cause of Joseph's death has not been ascertained. An autopsy was inconclusive due to the state of decomposition, police said.

But Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams described the murder as "barbaric and vicious."

He stressed that those responsible would be brought to justice in the shortest possible time.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he was pained by the tragedy and, noting that the country was traumatized by the spate of murders, said his government would seek to revive the death penalty.

"I am a firm believer in capital punishment and it is not as a result of any deterrent, it is the punishment for the crime," he said.

The last execution in Trinidad and Tobago was on July 28, 1999 when Anthony Briggs was hanged for murdering taxi driver Siewdath Ramkissoon during a robbery 7 years earlier.

Joseph's mother Paula Guy has a broken heart, but she has decided to surrender the pain of losing her daughter to God. That is the only way she will cope with unanswered questions about the killing.

She admitted that she first thought of committing murder herself, as she wanted to take the life of the person(s) who left an irreplaceable void in her family.

"I wanted to kill him, break he neck, shoot him, all kinda thing I wanted to do. But as the days go by and I find my child body, I kinda let it go," she told the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.

"I had a lot of hate....You can't be blessed if you have people in your heart. I forgive him because I know what coming for him. God will deal with him or whoever."

(source: Curacao Chronicle)

PAKISTAN:

Court hands death penalty to man

A court awarded death sentence to an accused for his involvement in a murder case in Faisalabad on Monday.

The judgment was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Rana Shaukat Ali.

The prosecution told the court that accused Sajid and his accomplices Manzoor, Abid and Mubashir had gunned down a man Arshad over an old enmity a few years ago.

The local police registered a case against the accused and presented the challan before the court. After hearing the arguments, the judge handed down death sentence to Sajid along with a fine of Rs0.4 million as compensation money. However, the court acquitted Manzoor, Abid and Mubashir over lack of evidence. The accused was sent to District Jail Faisalabad.

Earlier on February 25, 2017, a court awarded death sentence to an accused for his involvement in a murder case in Sargodha. The judgment was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Chaudhary Muhammad Tariq.

Accused Hassan Sher, resident of Jabbi village, Tehsil Johrabad, had gunned down a man Munawwar Shahzad over a petty dispute in July 2015.

The local police registered a case against the accused and presented the challan before the court.

(source: tribune.com.pk)

INDIA:

Kerala court gives death penalty to UP labourer in Parampuzha triple murder case

A Kerala Principal District and Sessions Court on Tuesday sentenced to death Narendra Kumar, the migrant labourer from Uttar Pradesh prime accused in the Parampuzha triple murder case, where 3 members of a family were murdered on May 16, 2015 at Parampuzha, Kottayam . This is the 2nd death sentence announced in Kerala after Nino, the prime accused in the Attingal double murder on April 19, 2016.

District judge S Santhakumari termed Narendra Kumar's sentence as a warning to the migrant labour community involved in crimes.

According to prosecution,Firozabad native Narendra Kumar (26) murdered Lalson, 71 of Moolaparambil house, his wife Presanna Kumari, 62 and their elder son Praveen Lal, 28. Narendra Kumar killed the victims, by hacking and hitting their heads with a blunt object, before electrocuting them and pouring acid on their faces.

Narendra Kumar, who was in a debt of Rs 2 lakh and was employed at the victims' laundry shop committed the crime for money. The accused, who escaped to UP with money and gold ornaments, was later arrested by a police team led by Pampady Circle Inspector Saju Varghese.

The investigation team produced strong material evidence, including clothes worn by Narendra Kumar while committing the crime, his mobile phone, forensic reports of Kumar's samples recovered from murder spot in court. Police also recovered Presanna Kumari's ear at Narendra Kumar's house.

The prosecution had tried 72 witnesses, produced 60 documents and 42 items of material evidence in the case.

The Attingal double murder in April 2016 was the 1st case in Kerala where the accused, Nino, was awarded the death penalty. Nino and co-accused Anushanthi, both colleagues at an IT company in Attingal, Thiruvananthapuram were convicted of murdering Anushanthi's daughter Swasthika (4), and her mother-in-law Omana (60). The duo, who were having an illicit affair had also planned to murder Anushanthi's husband Lijeesh, who escaped and helped in Nino's arrest.

While both pled innocence, they were convicted and found guilty of plotting and executing the murders. While Nino was awarded capital punishment, Anushanthi was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2016.

(source: newindianexpress.com)

CHINA:

Policeman Who Killed Fellow Officer Sentenced to Death----After dispute over illegal gambling operation turned deadly, court in Inner Mongolia rules capital punishment for man who shot his brother-in-arms.

A police officer in northern China will have to pay for murdering a deputy station chief with his life, a court in northern China has ruled.

The officer, Du Wenjie, killed Bao Zhanquan on July 10, 2016, in front of the station where Bao worked. On March 16, 2017, the intermediate people's court of Tongliao, a city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, gave Du the death sentence, a local media outlet reported Friday.

The motive for the murder appears to be gambling-related. Along with a few flagitious friends, Du opened an illegal gambling den in Tongliao on June 18, 2016. The game room did well, with its 29 gambling machines generating over 400,000 yuan ($58,000) in profits in just the first 3 weeks. However, its success was short-lived: Local police raided and shut down the operation on July 10. That same evening, Du went to a police station in Horqin District to persuade the deputy director, Bao, to reconsider the gambling crackdown. When Bao refused, Du shot him twice in the head in front of the station. Within 10 minutes, Bao was dead.

Despite fleeing the scene in a police car and changing cabs several times to throw off the scent, Du was apprehended in a residential district at 7 a.m. the next morning.

According to the report, regulars at the gaming room confirmed that the place was owned by 5 people, including Du. The crooked cop, however, had not put up his stake, apparently believing his connections to local law enforcement were a sufficient contribution to the operation. When Du failed in his one responsibility of keeping the police at bay, he took drastic and immediate action.

How Du obtained bullets for his gun remains unclear. According to his police station, also in Horqin District, Du was issued an unloaded firearm on Jan. 8, 2016 - and police officer or not, it is illegal to buy or sell ammunition in China except under highly controlled circumstances.

In another odd turn, while fleeing the scene Du reportedly confessed to a taxi driver that he was responsible for what had happened in front of the police station and asked the driver to turn the murder weapon in to authorities, assuring his unwitting ally: "There aren't any bullets in here. Relax, I won't bother you."

The court did not accept the defense's argument that in giving the taxi driver his gun, Du was effectively turning himself in. In addition to receiving the death penalty for "intentional murder," Du was served both a 4-year prison term and a 30,000-yuan fine for his role in the gambling operation.

In 2016, a total of 362 police officers died in the line of duty in China, down from 438 the previous year.

(source: sixthtone.com)

MARCH 20, 2017:

TEXAS:

Severe mental illness and the death penalty

Over the course of our state's history, people with severe mental illnesses have faced serious consequences in the criminal justice system. All too often, these individuals faced capital punishment, a sentence that frequently extends an already emotionally difficult ordeal for family members, involves years of litigation and occurs at high financial cost to taxpayers.

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for persons with intellectual disabilities and for juveniles - because medical research shows those individuals do not have the same mental capacity as fully-functioning adults. People experiencing symptoms of severe mental illnesses are clearly in the same category and should be treated the same way.

Assessing capital punishment in these unique and infrequent cases disregards the growing scientific consensus that severe mental illness can significantly impair one's ability to make rational decisions, understand the consequences of one's actions and control one's impulses. The diagnosis process is lengthy, detailed and accurate. The capital punishment approach sweeps aside our collective responsibility to provide adequate care options for persons with mental health disabilities.

In January, the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health released its interim report and recommendations. The report acknowledged "an estimated 30 percent of inmates have one or more serious mental illnesses." To address the issue of individuals with serious mental illness, one must broach the complex relationships between the mental health community and the criminal justice system.

It is clear that a lack of access to treatment can directly result in costly, non-therapeutic criminal justice system involvement. Individuals who are guilty should be held accountable for their actions, but we propose that individuals who qualify for the severe mental illness exemption from the death penalty should be subject to criminal prosecution, and if convicted, should serve terms of life without parole.

Our proposed exemption would not apply to a broad range of individuals. Only those with medical diagnoses such as schizophrenia, schizo-effective disorder, paranoia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression should be considered. It would apply on a case-by-case basis; a judge or jury would consider all of the evidence to determine whether a person had a severe mental illness with active symptoms at the time of the crime.

When individuals with severe mental illnesses enter the criminal justice system and are not appropriately diverted to treatment, the state runs the risk of executing innocent people. Individuals with severe mental illnesses run a higher risk of being executed, typically after bending to police pressure, firing their counsel and representing themselves or refusing to help with their own defense. A 2012 study found that approximately 70 % of wrongfully convicted defendants with mental illness confessed to crimes they didn't commit. This compares to only 10 % of defendants without a mental illness.

Mental illness is not a choice. We as a society have already answered the question of how to address persons with severe mental disabilities as it relates to the criminal justice system. Our challenge nationally, and as a state, is to ensure this approach is now reflected in all aspects of the law.

Toni Rose, State representative, District 110

(source: Texas Tribune)

ALABAMA:

Lawmakers to vote on death penalty bill

Alabama lawmakers will vote next month on whether to prohibit a judge from imposing a death sentence when a jury has recommended life imprisonment.

Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to override a jury's sentence recommendation in capital murder cases.

The Alabama House of Representatives is scheduled to debate the bill on April 4 when lawmakers return from a 2-week spring break. The Senate has already approved the measure.

The bill is 3rd on the proposed debate agenda for the day.

According to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, since 1976 Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence.

The legislation would only affect future capital cases, not inmates currently on Alabama's death row.

(source: Tuscaloosa News)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas's Cruel and Unusual Killing Spree

Arkansas's plan to execute 8 men in 11 days next month is a recipe for disaster, one entirely of the state's making.

Although the state has not put anyone to death since November 2005, it now says that it must execute 2 people per day on April 17, 20, 24 and 27 because its current supply of midazolam, 1 of its 3 execution drugs, will expire at the end of the month.

This will be the fastest spate of executions in any state in more than 40 years, placing extraordinary pressure on the execution team and increasing the risk of errors. What's more, the state's rationale for the schedule - the expiration date on its supply of midazolam, a common sedative - is faulty, because the drug shouldn't be used in executions in the first place.

According to 16 pharmacology professors who signed an amicus brief for the Supreme Court, there is "overwhelming scientific consensus" that midazolam is incapable of inducing the "deep, comalike unconsciousness" necessary to ensure a humane and constitutional execution. (We have consulted with lawyers working on a number of the midazolam cases.)

In several botched executions over the past several years, midazolam did not perform as intended or caused prolonged suffering before finally killing the inmate. When Alabama executed Ronald Smith in December, he struggled for 13 minutes after the execution team administered midazolam. Mr. Smith's chest heaved, and he gasped and coughed and clenched his fist before the 2nd drug paralyzed him.

After Ohio's execution team gave Dennis McGuire midazolam in January 2014, he struggled and gasped for air. Witnesses said he made snorting and choking sounds until he died, almost 30 minutes later. A federal court blocked the state from continuing to use the drug, finding that midazolam will create "a substantial risk of serious harm."

Joseph Wood responded similarly during his July 2014 execution in Arizona - except that he gasped and heaved for almost 2 hours, even though he received 15 times the supposedly lethal dose of midazolam. In response to this episode and to litigation, the Arizona Department of Corrections announced in December that it would never again use midazolam in an execution.

The execution of Clayton Lockett by Oklahoma in April 2014 was particularly gruesome. A doctor and a paramedic struggled to set 2 IVs in Mr. Lockett's veins and eventually put 1 in a vein in his groin. 10 minutes after the doctor injected him with midazolam through that vein, he declared Mr. Lockett unconscious. But the IV became dislodged, and the next 2 drugs administered went into surrounding tissue instead of his bloodstream.

Mr. Lockett regained consciousness, which indicated that the midazolam had not kept him insensate to the pain of the subsequent drugs, and began to writhe and yell. It took 40 minutes for him to die.

Mr. Lockett's execution is a cautionary tale, not only about the failures of midazolam as an execution drug, but also about the perils of performing executions back to back. Oklahoma had planned to execute an inmate named Charles Warner the same day as Mr. Lockett, but canceled the 2nd execution after the disastrous outcome of the 1st.

Investigators from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety subsequently interviewed the execution team and found that several of them commented on "the feeling of extra stress" for all staff created by scheduling two executions on the same day. The state's report recommended that executions not be scheduled within 7 calendar days of one another "due to manpower and facility concerns."

If Arkansas were to heed the warning of Oklahoma's investigators, it would schedule its 8 executions over 2 months. Instead, Arkansas's execution team, which has not performed an execution in over a decade and has never performed an execution with midazolam, faces a daunting and relentless schedule of 2 executions per day, repeated 4 times over 11 days. The pressure on the team will be immense, and it will make mistakes more likely in a situation in which there is no margin for error.

There's no need for Arkansas to act so recklessly. While Gov. Asa Hutchinson has doubted whether the state will be able to get midazolam in the future, the state has not supported the claim that the drug is unavailable. To be sure, some pharmaceutical companies, including some of the manufacturers of midazolam, do not want to be associated with executions and have made their products unavailable for such use. But other states have obtained midazolam for executions. Ohio, for example, twice purchased large quantities of the drug at the end of 2016.

We have seen this before. For years, states have cited concerns about drug availability to justify extreme secrecy and recklessness in their efforts to get drugs and perform executions. Arkansas is following this playbook to defend rushing through 8 executions with a drug that science and experience tell us is wholly inadequate for the task and has already resulted in gruesome executions.

The fact that Arkansas's supply of midazolam is about to expire does not justify a rushed execution schedule with a dangerous and unreliable drug. The need is nonexistent, and the risk is enormous.

(source: Op-Ed; Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno are lawyers in the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law---- New York Times)

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

There is no compelling reason for revenge

Few things seem so clear: We ought not kill other people without a compelling reason to do so.

Most of us agree with this; what divides us is the definition of a compelling reason. If a scary man who says he means to do you harm is coming at you with a gun or a knife, you might be justified in shooting him. You can defend yourself, your family, or another person. In wartime, soldiers kill on behalf of nations. Some wars need to be fought.

But take a man from a cage, strap him to a gurney and pump him full of chemicals until his heart stops? That's unnecessary and unworthy of a sober nation. That is a retributive act, an attempt at cosmic balancing of accounts better left to higher authority. Society deserves better.

I understand the other side well enough to argue for it. The death penalty exacts an ultimate, awesome price and respects the majesty of the moral order. Some crimes are so heinous that life in prison seems an inadequate punishment; there are some crimes that cannot be countenanced. Obliteration is a fair tariff for monstrous acts.

The constitutionality of the death penalty is not in serious doubt; it is explicitly addressed in the Fifth Amendment that holds no person shall be "deprived of life ... without due process of law." We've no legal impediment to execution, only moral qualms and pragmatic problems.

If we could somehow ensure that it is genuinely reserved for the worst offenders, applied fairly and doesn't disproportionately affect the poor and powerless, maybe we can justify it. If it actually provides a measure of comfort to the families of victims or prevents other murders, we might consider it worth the costs.

But it's doubtful it does any of these things. Our justice system is flawed; money buys a better class of defense. Innocent people have been convicted and executed in this country. Dozens have been exonerated while on death row. Politics cause trials to become theater. And prosecutors are often elected officials with an incentive to play to the crowd--to present themselves as fearless avengers of society.

While no one can blame a grieving family for longing for the catharsis they imagine the death of a murderer might bring, there's evidence that it doesn't do that. A 2007 University of Minnesota study by anthropology and sociology professor Scott Vollum found only 17 % of victims' families--styled as "co-victims"--said the execution of their loved one's killer brought them a degree of comfort, as opposed to 20 % who said the execution didn't help at all. This isn't surprising since no one would suggest that they are made whole by the carrying out of the sentence. As one of Vollum's co-victims said, "Healing is a process, not an event."

As for the death penalty being a deterrent, there's little reason to believe murderers will be put off by the possibility of facing the ultimate punishment at some point in the future. (A 2008 study found that 88 percent of criminologists reject the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.) Most murders are committed out of desperation or in the heat of passion; those that are coolly contemplated involve many risks that are far more immediate than being caught and tried and sentenced to death.

While it's instructive to remember murder rates tend to be lower in places without the death penalty than in places with it, my real objection is that it's wrong kill people when you don't have to. And we don't have to kill incarcerated criminals.

Sure, there's always a possibility that if you don't erase a person, that person might prove troublesome or dangerous in the future. Killing them ensures they won't commit any more crimes.

And that also eliminates any possibility of them making future contributions to society. Yes, the possibility is remote, but we should also consider the effects of the death penalty on the innocent people--family, friends, attorneys and others--in the condemned's life. Last year sociologist Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado at Boulder compared "the retributive effects" of the death penalty on these folks and concluded "that the death penalty's added punishment over [life without parole] often punishes the family just as much as the inmate, and after the execution the full brunt of the punishment falls on the family. This added impact disproportionately punishes women and children."

This, he writes, undermines "the principle that the criminal justice system punishes only the guilty and never the innocent. The death penalty affects everyone who knows, cares for, or works with the death row inmate."

It affects all of us. It makes our world coarser, more brutal.

There's no compelling reason to do it.

(source: Opinion, Philip Martin, Arkansasonline.com)

USA:

Capital punishment is in decline

The numbers tell the story: Capital punishment in the United States is on life support, hanging on in the 2 % of counties that administer more than 1/2 of all executions, but losing its grip in wide swaths of the country. Whether the Supreme Court or attrition will deliver the final blow is unclear, but anti-death-penalty advocates believe it's possible that the day is coming when it will be relegated to the ash heap of history.

Consider the hard facts: 30 death sentences were handed down last year with 20 executions carried out - a 90 % decline since the height in the 1990s when several hundred people were executed each year.

Only 5 states carried out executions in 2016: Georgia (9), Texas (7), Alabama (2), Missouri (1) and Florida (1). As of this writing, 5 inmates have been executed in 3 states (Texas, Missouri and Virginia) in 2017, and 21 executions are scheduled in 4 states, including 5 in Arkansas over a 10-day period in April. Those 8, which were set in early March, represent a grim race to carry out the lethal injections before 1 of the approved drugs becomes unavailable or expires. Counting planned executions that have been stayed or are to be rescheduled, the current projected total for 2017 is 35 in 5 states.

In the last decade, 12 states have either abolished the death penalty or imposed a moratorium on its use. Public sentiment is shifting toward eliminating the death penalty altogether.

The national trend in declining execution rates "is enormously important, and it's not just that the number of death sentences is falling," said Jessica Brand, staff attorney at the Texas Defender Service and a member of the legal advisory council of the Harvard Fair Punishment Project. "I think there are a couple of reasons. One, we know we've probably executed innocent people, and people care about that. We also see people with serious mental illness, and disproportionately people of color [being sentenced to death], and those stories resonate with people."

As if to prove Brand's point about executing the innocent, January saw the 157th exoneration of a person on death row since 1973. At the height of its popularity, in the mid-1990s, 80 % of Americans supported the use of the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll, a figure that has been slowly dropping each year since. A 2014 Public Policy Research poll found that Americans (across gender, political, racial and geographic lines) disapproved of using the death penalty on the mentally ill by a margin of 2 to 1. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll found that 71 % of Americans think there is some risk of putting an innocent person to death, while 52 % say minorities are more likely to be put to death than whites. As a corollary, blacks make up 42 % of those on death row, while the 2010 U.S. census showed blacks to make up 13.6 % of the general population.

The Supreme Court outlawed the use of the death penalty for the intellectually disabled in 2002 and for minors in 2005; it has not ruled on the use of the death penalty for the mentally ill, even though the U.S. Department of Justice estimated in 2006 that 10 % of inmates in state prisons had a severe mental illness; the rate in the general public is 4.1 %. Mental Health America estimates that at least 20 % of people on death row have a severe mental illness.

Even in Texas, which is often considered the epicenter of capital punishment, the tide is turning. Voters in Harris County, home to the city of Houston, elected a new district attorney last November who has indicated an openness to using capital punishment less. Recent polling in the county showed support for the death penalty at 27 %. The state is also in the midst of a demographic change and will soon be majority non-white, which will have implications for juries in a place that has historically used the death penalty disproportionately against defendants of color.

Brandon Garrett, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, recently co-authored a data-rich report to be published this spring in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Among its major findings: death sentences are strongly associated with dense, urban counties with large black populations (such as Houston's Harris County or Los Angeles County), and homicide rates are unrelated to death sentences. That is, places with more murders do not necessarily return more death sentences.

"There is no connection between death sentencing and murders," said Garrett, who is also a member of the legal advisory council at the Harvard Fair Punishment Project. But "there is a really persistent pattern of racial discrimination [in the application of the death penalty]. It's really ugly. It looks biased. It looks arbitrary."

It also usually entails having bad legal representation, Garrett said. In fact, in a forthcoming book, Garrett details how relying on court-appointed defenders, as opposed to having a state-wide office for capital defense, is a predictor of death sentencing in a state. "Poor quality indigent defense in death penalty cases is a common feature of the counties that long accounted for most death sentences," he said.

"Overuse of the death penalty is a symptom of greater flaws in the criminal justice system," said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. "You see that where you have aggressive use of the death penalty, you tend also to see higher rates of police violence against civilians, higher rates of overcharging of juveniles, higher rates of racial disparity in the exercise of peremptory challenges [of potential jurors]. When you have a DA [district attorney] who is aggressively pursuing the death penalty, you tend to see someone who is not exercising choices in a way that would produce a fair and equitable criminal justice system."

Fair and equitable has of late been on the mind of Justice Stephen Breyer, the leading opponent of capital punishment on the Supreme Court. Breyer wrote in a dissent last December after the court turned down 4 petitions to overturn death sentences, "Individuals who are executed are not the 'worst of the worst' but, rather, are individuals chosen at random on the basis, perhaps of geography, perhaps of the views of individual prosecutors, or still worse on the basis of race."

The 8-member court has 5 justices with qualms about capital punishment, but any justice appointed by President Donald Trump to replace the late Antonin Scalia will likely be conservative and pro-capital punishment, as might any future appointments to replace Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Anthony Kennedy, and Breyer, who are all past retirement age.

Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee to fill Scalia's spot on the court, has not shown a tendency to grant relief in the use of the death penalty. Yet, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit Court, he was part of a 2007 effort to improve legal representation for low-income defendants in death penalty cases. The same year, according to The Washington Post, he met with highly regarded lawyers in Oklahoma to teach them how to present death penalty cases before an appellate court and to try to persuade them to take on more such cases.

Voters in Shreveport, La., Birmingham, Ala., and Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., all ousted incumbent district attorneys in the November elections and installed what Dunham called "reform candidates," which death penalty opponents are interpreting as signs of a diminishing desire among voters for the ultimate punishment. Whether that's the case is not clear, but it does touch upon a related issue, that of the enormous power the district attorney wields in these cases, every step of the way, including who gets charged, what they're charged with, whether juveniles are charged as adults, and the racial composition of the jury. Jury composition matters because all-white juries are more likely to convict defendants of color, and district attorneys who aggressively pursue the death penalty are more likely to strike jurors of color from the jury pool.

In many of the counties that carry out the most executions, "the prosecutorial overreaching is accompanied by a judicial failure to rein in the prosecutor," said Dunham, "and the justice system in many of these locations enables it by enfeebling the criminal defense function, appointing defense lawyers who have a history of not zealously representing capital defendants, or a history of denying defense counsel adequate resources to investigate cases fully and to retain and present necessary experts."

Analysis of sentencing trends by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that when there are major declines in the number of death sentences in those 2 % of counties, it tends not to be because the murder rate has also dropped, but because there is a new prosecutorial administration that is pursuing the death penalty with less zeal. In fact, the 5 southern California counties that rank in the top 16 counties in terms of the death penalty have neither the highest nor the lowest murder rates.

"The murder rate doesn't justify pursuing the death penalty as frequently as they do, and the frequent use of it doesn't drive the murder rate down. It demonstrates the arbitrariness and the fact that the death penalty does not deter," Dunham said. "And it again demonstrates that the driving force behind the American death penalty is the local prosecutor. It's not what you did, it's who was the DA where you were accused of doing it."

Garrett's research reaches the same conclusions, showing "just how counterproductive over-punishment is," he said, adding, "I think it's an exciting time. On the local level, people understand over-incarceration has to end."

The movement away from the death penalty is not partisan, said Dunham. "There is an emerging conservative movement away from it," he said, as well as among evangelicals and millennials.

"More and more fiscal conservatives and more and more people who denominate themselves as pro-life have been coming out against the death penalty," Dunham said. "If you value human life, and you think government should not be in the business of taking life, the facts are making it increasingly clear that you cannot carry out capital punishment without a substantial risk that somebody who is innocent is going to be caught up in it."

31 states still have capital punishment, including 3 that voted in favor of the death penalty in November: An abolition effort in California was defeated, Nebraska voters restored capital punishment to the books following a 2015 legislative repeal, and the death penalty was added to Oklahoma's constitution as a legal form of punishment. The Catholic church threw its weight behind abolition in all three cases, and many were disappointed.

Brand, with the Fair Punishment Project, didn't necessarily see those votes as a setback, though. "In California, voters were almost evenly split. That's enormous progress. If that vote had taken place 10 years ago, I don't think you'd have seen a split," she said, adding that the death penalty "is on the way out and will soon be a relic of the past. That's where the numbers have been going."

"What's happening in the states has a feel of inevitability to it," said Dunham, noting an ongoing bipartisan effort in Washington state to eliminate the death penalty and the retention of four justices in Kansas who were targeted for ouster in the November elections by pro-death penalty groups.

Those working in the faith community to abolish the death penalty have taken several tacks. In Texas, for example, Catholic bishops are working to change laws about juries, while other groups try to put a human face on the death penalty through education.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, said that her group is supporting a bill to eliminate a bizarre jury instruction law that prevents judges from informing jurors that it takes only 1 holdout to return a sentence of life over death. This statute compels judges to instruct that it requires two holdouts to return a sentence of life, even though a conflicting statute requires only one. In essence, the law Allmon's group has targeted for repeal necessitates that judges misinform juries.

"Jurors are broken over this," when they find out afterward that they might have returned a sentence of life in prison, said Allmon, who noted that judges are also confounded by it, but find their hands tied by the conflicting statutes. "It's a juror's rights bill. If a juror is sentencing a person to death, they have the right to know what their individual capacity is to save a life."

The bill will be introduced in the legislature in March, and Allmon is hopeful that it will pass by June.

"I don't understand how any legislature can hear the story and vote against it," she said. "A vote against this bill is a vote against the truth, separate from your position on the death penalty."

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, based in Washington, D.C., works in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to educate about not just the death penalty, but the criminal justice system and sentencing in general, including restorative justice.

Karen Clifton, the network's executive director, has found that opinions about capital punishment change when people hear the human stories of those who are incarcerated, even visiting those in prison - of whom there are now more than 2.2 million, including state and federal prisoners and those in jails.

"Our whole mission is to educate Catholics on the church's teaching, to connect this as a pro-life issue and the dignity of the human person. The church teaching says that any harm that occurs, the punishment needs to be retributive, but it also needs to be restorative. That's what we're teaching," said Clifton. "Facts and numbers are good, but we need to do the moral compelling of people. This is part of our faith. We can be restoring and forgiving, no matter how egregious the act that was done," she said. "We're not soft on crime - it's harder: making people acknowledge what they've done, asking forgiveness, and then making restitution. Restoring the community as best they can for the harm that they've done."

(source: National Catholic Reporter)

TURKEY:

Erdogan vows to reinstate death penalty as referendum opponents face 'attacks and imprisonment----In the build up to the referendum, the Turkish President promised he will introduce the death penalty in a campaign that has caused a diplomatic furore

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Saturday that he will reinstate capital punishment "without hesitation", ahead of the referendum on 16 April that could lead to a radical extension of his powers.

Speaking at a televised rally in Canakkale, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) promised that he would sign a bill on the death penalty, stating: "I believe, God willing, that after the 16 April vote, parliament will do the necessary concerning your demands for capital punishment".

His controversial comments come over a decade after Turkey completely abolished the death penalty in its efforts to join the European Union.

This isn't the first time the premier has introduced talks about reinstating capital punishment. He raised the idea after last year's failed coup of 15 July, suggesting it would bring justice to the families of the victims.

As the referendum approaches, Erdogan has been leading an inflammatory, anti-western campaign that saw him pushing a political narrative that depicts Turkey as a great nation that is being undermined by an imperialist Europe.

He attacked German chancellor Angela Merkel again on Sunday, accusing her of using "Nazi measures", according to Agence France-Presse. In a televised speech, he said: "You are right now employing Nazi measures," using the informal 'you' in Turkish in what has become an intense diplomatic dispute. He previously launched a scathing attack on Germany for stopping rallies in advance of the constitutional referendum, in which he repeatedly referred to Germans as 'Nazis'.

He erroneously labelled the Dutch as "Nazi remnants" in a desperate bid to appeal to voters in the Turkish diaspora. The Netherlands is home to approximately 397,471 people of Turkish origin, who make up 2.4 % of the total population. Most of them hold dual nationality and are therefore eligible to vote in the Turkish referendum.

A 'yes' in the referendum would rewrite the constitution and transform Turkey from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency, giving Erdogan unprecedented control to appoint ministers, pick senior judges, and dismiss parliament. Erdogan's campaign has understandably been met with criticism, with Turkey's main opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, urging Turks to vote no in the referendum, saying its approval would undermine democracy.

European institutions have also expressed concerns over the campaign. A Council of Europe inquiry noted there is an "excessive concentration of powers in one office."

According to the Associated Press, figures opposing the referendum in Turkey have faced threats, violence, arbitrary detentions, a lack of TV airtime and even sabotage in the campaign.

The AKP leader's shift towards an autocratic government has led to accusations of being 'dictatorial' by critics.

Erdogan came under fire in January after using Hitler's government as an example of an effective presidential system. He defended his argument that putting all political power in the hands of the presidency would be a success, by saying "there are already examples in the world [...] you can see it when you look at Hitler's Germany. There are later examples in various other countries."

The rocky campaign and talks of introducing a death penalty will undoubtedly cause long-term damage for ties between Turkey and European countries, and could end Ankara's efforts to join the EU.

(source: independent.co.uk)

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

Juncker warns Turkey death penalty is 'red line' issue

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned Turkey that any return of the death penalty would be a "red line" in the country's stalled EU membership bid.

"If the death penalty is reintroduced in Turkey, that would lead to the end of negotiations," he told Sunday's edition of Germany's Bild newspaper, calling it a "red line".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday he expected parliament to approve the restoration of capital punishment after next month's referendum on controversial consitutional changes to expand his powers.

Mr Juncker nevertheless said he was opposed to a complete halt to all membership negotiations with Turkey.

"It makes no sense to try to calm (Erdogan's) nerves by stopping negotiations that are not even taking place."

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel went even further, saying in an interview with Der Spiegel: "We are farther away than ever from Turkey's accession to the EU."

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 and the European Union has repeatedly made clear that any move to restore it would scupper its membership bid.

However Turkish ministers say they need to respond to popular demand for the return of capital punishment to deal with the ringleaders of an attempted coup in July.

"What Hans and George say is not important for me," Mr Erdogan said.

What the people say, what the law says, that's what is important for us."

Turkey and Europe are locked in a diplomatic crisis after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from campaigning for a 'yes' vote in the 16 April referendum, which opponents fear will create 1-man rule.

In response, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu threatened to "blow the mind" of Europe by sending 15,000 refugees a month to EU territory, which would endanger a year-old migrant deal between Turkey and the EU to reduce the flow of migrants.

"Turkey will not back out of the accord, even if Erdogan has told me several times he wanted to," Mr Juncker said.

Turkey has no interest in ceding "control" of its borders to "human traffickers and criminals".

(source: rte.ie)

IRAN:

2 Prisoners in Imminent Danger of Execution

2 prisoners at Shiraz's Adel Abad Prison who are on death row on drug related charges were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions.

According to close sources, the prisoners are: Cyrus Abedi, 36 years of age, and Farajbakhsh Amrollahi.

"Cyrus and Faraj were both arrested in 2012 on the charge of possession of 2 kilograms of crystal meth and a small amount of opium. They were sentenced to death by Shiraz's revolutionary court in the same case file," a confirmed source tells Iran Human Rights.

(source: iranhr.net)

PAKISTAN:

4 convicts awarded death penalty

A local court awarded capital punishment to 4 murder convicts while 2 of their co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment here the other day.

According to the prosecution, the accused - Gul Muhammad, Akram, Qalab Ali, Shehbaz shot dead four persons - Nawaz, Aslam, Siddiq and Lal Din in 2013 over enmity when they were on the way to appear in the court.

In light of the evidence, District and Sessions Judge Rai Nazir Ahmed awarded death penalty to the accused. 3 of the murderers were fined.

(source: nation.com.pk)

INDIA:

Calcutta HC Acquits Death Row Convict

The Calcutta High Court has acquitted a man who was sentenced to death penalty by the trial court finding him guilty of conspiring murder of his wife and maid servant.

The prosecution had accused Avik Ghosh of conspiring with other accused to commit dacoity in his own home and also of conspiring and abetting murder of his own wife and maid servant. The trial court acquitted three accused, but convicted Avik Ghosh and Somnath Tanti. The former was sentenced to death and the latter to life imprisonment.

A bench comprising Justice Ashim Kumar Roy and Justice Malay Marut Banerjee, on his appeal, observed that Avik Ghosh was convicted under Sections 302/109 IPC, but none of the co-accused, whom he allegedly abetted to commit murder, were found to be guilty for committing such murder.

Similarly, not only total 4 persons were charged, but at the conclusion of the trial all the 3 other accused were acquitted, except Somnath Tanti, and therefore, his conviction under Section 396 IPC cannot be sustained.

Answering the death reference in negative while allowing the appeals, the court also observed that the trial judge also relied on the alleged confessional statement of the convict Somnath Tanti allegedly made while in police custody, although the same is inadmissible in evidence according to the provisions of Section 25 of the Evidence Act.

(source: livelaw.in)

BANGLADESH:

Kushtia court awards death penalty to man for 2013 murder of college girl

A court in Kushtia has found a 30-year-old man guilty of murdering his wife 4 years ago.

In February 2013, Snigdha Akter Rimi, who went to the Kushtia Government College, was strangled to death at the district's Mirpur Upazila.

On Monday, the court of Kushtia's Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered death sentence for the husband Shihab Uddin Shishir, who has been absconding after securing bail.

According to court documents, Sishir and 2nd-year History student Rimi got married in 2011 without informing their families following a relationship.

Prosecutor Anup Kumar Nandi said that Shishir strangled Rimi to death on Feb 13, 2013 at a relative's house in Kushtia's Mirpur Upazila.

Shishir was arrested a month later from Tangail and confessed before a judge.

He later secured bail and has been absconding since then, said Prosecutor Nandi.

(source: bdnews24.com)

PHILIPPINES:

Senator Ejercito admits death penalty bill passage will not be easy

After its passage at the Lower House of Congress, the Death Penalty Reimposition Bill will be discussed next at the Senate.

Senator JV Ejercito has admitted that the passage of the bill will not be easy.

The senator said the bill is not as popular at the Senate as it is at the Lower House because there are several senators who have expressed opposition.

"The Liberal Party, the minority, will be against it. Most of the lady senators are against it. That';s quite a big number. But now, perhaps the anti is slightly leading," said Senator Ejercito.

Ejercito is one of those in favor of the reimposition of the death penalty on high-level drug trafficking.

The senator is convinced that death penalty is needed to fight illegal drugs that have long been a problem in the country.

"Among the ASEAN countries its only the Philippines which repealed death penalty and probably this is the very reason why the Philippines became the hub of international drug trade in Asia, kasi tayo na lang ang walang death penalty (because we're the only one without death penalty)," Senator JV Ejercito added.

Senator Manny Pacquiao supports the Death Penalty Reimposition Bill.

Meanwhile, Senator Ejercito believes there must be assessment whether rape and plunder will be among the cases punishable by death penalty.

(source: Yahoo News)

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

Duterte tells EU Parliament, 'Mind your own business'----'Why don't you mind your own business? Why do you have to fuck with us, goddamn it,' says the Philippine President

President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out against the European Parliament for demanding that the Philippines stop efforts in Congress to reinstate the death penalty.

"Do not impose your culture or your belief in what would be a government in this planet," said Duterte on Sunday, March 19, during a gathering of Filipinos residing in Myanmar.

He spoke in English in the middle of a mostly Filipino speech to make himself clear to Europeans.

Unable to contain his frustration, the President cursed at the body of European lawmakers for their resolution.

"These fools, I really don't - why are you trying to impose on us? Why don't you mind your own business? Why do you have to fuck with us, goddamn it," said Duterte.

He took issue with how the Europeans did not seem to respect how Asian countries continue to impose the death penalty. He said the death penalty used to be a "favorite" form of punishment among Southeast Asian countries.

"Do not impose on other countries, especially us. This, before, was the favorite of ASEAN countries because there's a death penalty in Indonesia, Malaysia and I'm trying to revive it," he said.

Other Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Brunei impose the death penalty.

Duterte pointed out that some European countries also impose capital punishment. Actually, all European countries save for Belarus have abolished the death penalty.

"As if the other countries of EU there's no more death penalty. There are still a lot," said Duterte.

The Philippine House of Representatives approved its version of the death penalty bill last March 7. It allows execution of drug convicts through hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.

The counterpart bill still has to go through another 3 readings in the Senate.

Duterte made no mention of the European Parliament's call for the immediate release of detained Senator Leila de Lima, one of his fiercest critics. But the Palace and his allies in Congress have condemned it as a form of interference.

(source: rappler.com)

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

Philippine bishops urge flock to fight the death penalty----In a special prayer, Catholic bishops have urged Filipinos to "make a stand" against restoring the death penalty. The bill, pushed by President Duterte, has already passed the lower house of the Philippine parliament.

The clerics read out the homily at all masses across the Philippines on Sunday.

"Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not allow our wells to be poisoned by bitter water. Let us uphold the sanctity of life and make a stand against death penalty," the Catholic bishops said in a pre-written prayer.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006. However, firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte launched a bid to restore it as part of his brutal crackdown on crime. Lawmakers already backed the bill in the country's House of Representatives and it is expected to pass the Senate as well.

Despite the death penalty being illegal, Duterte has repeatedly supported extrajudicial killings and police have reportedly executed thousands of suspects since he took office in June.

Jesus was not 'an advocate' of killing

On Sunday, the bishops said that the death penalty would be biased against the poor, who would not be able to afford a good lawyer, and argued there was no evidence that it deterred crime.

Referring to the upcoming Senate vote, they called on worshipers to "pray fervently for the legislators."

"Jesus was never an advocate of any form of 'legal killing.' He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood," they said, citing the New Testament story about Jesus opposing a stoning.

Around 80 percent of all Filipinos are Catholic, and the Church wields a significant influence in the country. At the same time, Duterte and his crusade against drugs are also immensely popular. When confronted by the Catholic Church earlier this year, Duterte accused it of greed, hypocrisy, and sexual abuse of children.

The pro-death penalty camp hopes to reinstate capital punishment by May this year.

(source: Deutsche Welle)

MARCH 19, 2017:

NEW HAMPPSHIRE:

It's time for N.H. to abolish the death penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court does not normally reveal the breakdown of votes to grant or deny a stay of execution in capital cases. Though that may protect high court justices from public opprobrium or worse, a protection lower court justices do not enjoy, the practice is wrong.

When the state makes a life-or-death decision in the public's name, the public should know who voted how and why.

Earlier this month, Justice Stephen Breyer did that. He dissented from the majority decision in Ruiz v. Texas, Rolando Ruiz's appeal of his death sentence for a murder committed decades earlier.

Breyer went public to prompt the court to consider questions it has ducked for years: How long does the sword have to hang over a convict's neck without falling before that in itself becomes cruel and unusual punishment? How long may a death row inmate be kept in solitary confinement before that becomes unconstitutional torture?

Ruiz, a gang member who killed a man's wife in a plot to get insurance money, spent 22 years in solitary confinement. In his dissent, Breyer reminded fellow justices that "this court long ago, speaking of a period of only 4 weeks of imprisonment prior to execution, said that a prisoner's uncertainty before execution is 'one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected.'"

Breyer went on to discuss the horrors of long periods of solitary confinement, but a stay was not granted. A few hours later, Ruiz was executed. Now it's time to bring New Hampshire, the only New England state that still imposes the death penalty, into the picture.

The House and Senate voted to repeal the death penalty in 2000 but Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's veto threat killed the effort. Repeal nearly occurred again in 2014 but failed when the Senate tied, 12-12. The votes are probably there for a repeal effort now, but Gov. Chris Sununu supports capital punishment. Because 157 death row inmates have been exonerated, thanks to the effort of the Innocence Project, we ask him to reconsider.

New Hampshire has one person on death row, Michael Addison, who killed Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006. Addison is alone in his cell but he is not, according to prison officials, in solitary confinement. He may join in any activity permitted high-security inmates. But he has now lived under a sentence of death for a decade.

Death penalty supporters say the long delay between a sentence and its imposition, 20 years is not uncommon, is the fault of convicts who avail themselves of every opportunity to postpone execution. Who can blame them, particularly the innocent among them?

Delays are also caused, however, by underfunded judicial systems, prosecutorial error, inadequate or incompetent defense lawyers, inhumane execution techniques and other factors.

Solitary confinement makes the system even less humane.

Breyer quoted from the high court's 1890 ruling. It cited studies that showed "a considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide, while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community."

In 1834, New Hampshire Gov. William Badger, in his effort to repeal the death penalty, quoted the state's constitution on punishment whose true design is "to reform, not to exterminate mankind," which is what capital punishment does.

It's time for New Hampshire to join the other New England states, and most of the civilized world, and abolish the death penalty.

(source: Editorial, Concord Monitor)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Life without parole better than death penalty

Last week, a Wake County jury refused to vote for a death sentence for the 8th time in a row. A Wake jury has not returned a death sentence in almost a decade, each time choosing the harsh and effective punishment of life with no possibility of parole instead.

When you look at the state of the death penalty today, it's no wonder juries don't want to impose death sentences. Nearly 160 innocent people have been released from death rows across the country, 9 of them in North Carolina. Executions have been on hold for a decade in North Carolina with no prospect of them restarting.

I was police chief in Southern Pines for 17 years and spent 30 years in law enforcement before retiring in 2005. I understand the toll that violence can take. In 1991, 1 of my investigators, Ed Harris, was shot to death in retaliation for a drug investigation.

At one time, I thought death sentences were needed to punish crimes like that. Now, I - just like the jurors who are increasingly rejecting death sentences - have seen enough to know that the death penalty is often little more than a false promise that does little to improve public safety.

Our society, including many public safety officials like myself, is beginning to see that the death penalty has no effect on murder rates, costs more than life without parole and sometimes results in terrible mistakes.

In the end, the whole costly exercise is often for nothing - as inmates sit on death row for decades with no prospect of execution. Meanwhile, the death-sentenced criminals continue with their appeals, and families of victims are left waiting for the "closure" that was promised to them.

Speeding up the process is simply not feasible, if we care about making sure that innocent people are not executed. Just look at Henry McCollum, who was proven innocent by DNA testing in 2014 - after 30 years on North Carolina's death row.

As a career law enforcement officer, I am not alone in my belief that the death penalty does not make us safer. I'm a member of a national organization, Public Safety Officials on the Death Penalty, which is made up of more than 70 law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and corrections officials who all believe it's time to ask serious questions about the death penalty's effectiveness.

Here in North Carolina, Jennie Lancaster, a former prison warden and Chief Deputy Secretary at the N.C. Department of Corrections, has joined with me to express her concerns about the business of state-sponsored executions.

After helping to manage 14 of them in North Carolina, Lancaster says that they create hardship for prison employees and serve no public safety purpose, since inmates who have committed murder can be - and are - managed within prison walls every day.

In the case of Harris, my officer who was killed in the line of duty, the killers were sentenced before life without parole was an option under North Carolina law, and received life plus 60 years. Had they been sentenced today, they would likely have received life with no possibility of parole.

That sentence would have assured that they remained where they belonged, behind bars and forgotten, paying for their crimes for the rest of their lives. In my opinion, that would have been far more just than sentencing them to death and putting Ed's grieving family through years of appeals and decades of waiting for an execution.

Life without parole is the kind of strong, swift and uncompromising punishment we need to consider in North Carolina.

(source: Op-Ed; Gerald Galloway is a retired police chief of Southern Pines----News & Observer)

FLORIDA:

NAACP Statement on Orlando County State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s Decision to Not Seek the Death Penalty in Future Cases

The NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks issued the following statement today regarding Orlando County State Attorney Aramis Ayala's decision to not seek the death penalty in future cases.

The NAACP applauds Orlando County State Attorney Aramis Ayala for her courageous decision not to seek the death penalty in future cases brought by her office, and we applaud Florida State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze for her steadfast support of this decision. The NAACP has long recognized that the death penalty has no place in modern society, for reasons both humanitarian and practical. As people of conscience, we cannot condone the killing of a human being, no matter how heinous their crime. The NAACP's opposition to the death penalty is strengthened by the fact that over one hundred innocent people have been sentenced to death and some have been executed. As 102 nations around the world have concluded, justice can be served without capital punishment.

The NAACP's support for State Attorney Ayala's decision is also rooted in the practical reality of the application of the death penalty in this country. The NAACP was founded to combat lynching, a form of mob violence that was often deployed against Black people. Both legalized and extra-legal lynchings have shaped the Black experience in America, and the racial disparities in the application of the death penalty continue this ignominious tradition. Black people make up 13 % of the population, but they make up 42 % of death row inmates and 35 % of those executed. In addition, many studies have found the race of the victim to affect who receives the death penalty, with homicides of white victims more likely to result in the death penalty. It is time to close this shameful chapter in our country's history.

###

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization

(source: naacp.org)

USA:

5 death penalty cases to follow in the US this year----There are an estimated 2,905 people on death row in the US. Here are five particularly controversial cases.

The United States has put to death more than 1,446 people since 1976, according to the Washington, DC-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

Texas leads the country in the number of executions carried out during that 41-year period, killing at least 540 people. Oklahoma and Virginia are tied for 2nd with 112 executions each.

Meanwhile, public opinion on the death penalty seems to have been gradually changing. In September 2016, the Pew Research Center found that support for the death penalty was at its lowest in 41 years.

Since 1973, at least 157 people have been exonerated and released from death row. But the DPIC says that, as of July 2016, 2,905 people remain on death row.

The following are some of the cases where legal teams or campaigners are hoping to have death sentences overturned.

Duane Buck

In 1995, Duane Buck broke into the home of his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, in Houston, Texas, after they broke up. Armed with 2 guns, he shot and killed Gardner and her friend Kenneth Butler while Gardner's 3 children were in the home. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1997.

Although Buck, now 53, never contested his guilt, the decision to deliver a capital punishment verdict rather than a life sentence has been thrown into question after a review of the racially charged testimony of an expert witness during the sentencing trial.

Psychologist Walter Quijano, who was introduced by Buck's own defence, testified that Buck would be dangerous in the future because he is African American.

In 6 other trials, Quijano testified to juries that black and Hispanic defendants were more likely to commit future crimes - the justification for sentencing them to death rather than life in prison.

In 2000, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, who is now a US senator, reviewed those cases and admitted that Quijano's race-based testimony in those s7 trials was "inappropriate".

2 years later, the other 6 death row inmates were granted new sentencing hearings, but Buck was not.

On February 22, 2017, the US Supreme Court ruled six-to-two in favour of granting Buck a chance at a new sentencing.

Jeffrey Wood

Jeffrey Wood, 43, was sentenced to death by a Texas court on March 3, 1996. His death sentence stems from the state's so-called Law of Parties.

During the early morning hours of January 2, 1996, then 22-year-old Wood and Daniel Reneau parked outside a Texaco petrol station in Kerrville, his hometown in central Texas.

While Wood waited outside, Reneau shot dead the station attendant and took off with an estimated $11,350 from the safe and cash register. Reneau was executed in 2002.

The Texas penal code defines a person as "criminally responsible for an offence committed by the conduct of another" if the individual acts "with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offence, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offence".

According to the DPIC, at least 10 people have been killed for their role as accomplices in murders since 1979. Five of those were in Texas.

Relatives and defenders of Wood, who reportedly has an IQ of 80, say he suffers from intellectual disability and emotional impairment.

On August 19, 2016, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas granted Wood a stay of execution and decided a state district court should re-examine the validity of testimony provided by Dr James Grigson, a forensic psychiatrist who testified that Wood was likely to be violent in the future despite never having examined him.

Grigson, who died in 2004, was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for providing testimony against people he had never examined.

He was known as "Dr Death" for testifying against people facing the death penalty.

Terry Williams

When he was 17 years old, Williams killed 50-year-old Herbert Hamilton in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was January 1984, and he reportedly lured Hamilton, who had allegedly repeatedly sexually abused the teen, and stabbed and beat him with a baseball bat until he died.

6 months later, Williams, then 18, and his friend Marc Draper lured Amos Norwood to a cemetery, where they beat him to death with a tyre iron. They later stole his car and took off to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

After surrendering himself to the police in July 1984, Williams was eventually convicted of 3rd-degree murder in the death of Hamilton and was sentenced to 27 years. For Norwood's death, however, he was convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death.

Williams, however, had been repeatedly raped as a child, and Norwood and Williams were allegedly among the perpetrators. Several others accused Norwood of sexually abusing them while they were young boys.

Many of those involved in his original trial have publicly changed their minds since Williams was sentenced to death. 5 jurors signed statements saying they wouldn't have voted for capital punishment if they had known of the evidence of sexual abuse.

In 2012, Norwood's wife Mamie signed a declaration that she did not want Williams to be executed for her late husband's murder.

A lower court in Pennsylvania found that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office had suppressed evidence that Norwood had sexually abused Williams.

In the 1980s, however, Ronald Castille was district attorney and personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against Williams.

Castille later became Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice and refused to recuse himself from consideration of the inmate's death penalty - despite the lower court's finding that the district attorney's office had suppressed evidence under Castille.

On June 9, 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-3 vote that Williams' constitutional rights had been violated.

Willie Jerome Manning

Willie Jerome Manning, 48, was convicted at 2 separate trials of 2 unrelated murders that took place in 1992 and 1993. He received 2 death penalty sentences. On death row for more than 2 decades, he has always maintained his innocence.

Manning was found guilty of the December 1992 killing of students Jon Steckler, 19, and Tiffany Miller, 22, in Starkville, Mississippi. He was later sentenced to death.

5 weeks after the killing of Steckler and Miller, 90-year-old Emmoline Jimmerson and her 60-year-old daughter, Albertha Jordan, were murdered during an attempted robbery. They were both beaten with an iron before their throats were slashed. A court also convicted Manning of their murders and eventually dealt him a 2nd death sentence.

In 2011, a key witness recanted his testimony that he had witnessed Manning entering Jimmerson's apartment and filed affidavits that his testimony was false and the result of coercion.

In 2013, Manning was given an execution date for the Steckler-Miller case. He came within hours of dying before the court granted him a stay of execution.

In 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted Manning a new trial for the Jimmerson-Jordan murders. He was exonerated and the charges were dropped.

Still on death row for the Steckler-Miller case, Manning has attempted to challenge hair and DNA evidence presented in his 1st trial.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has admitted that its forensic expert had made mistakes in testimony during the Steckler-Miller trial, and the US Department of Justice has told the prosecutor that "testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used" against Manning.

If the forensic evidence eventually comes back in Manning's favour, he will be the 1st person to be exonerated for 2 separate death sentences.

Kerry Lyn Dalton

In March 1995, Kerry Lyn Dalton was sentenced to death for the murder of Irene Louise May in a trailer park in Live Oak Springs, California, more than 7 years earlier. She was 28 years old and reportedly struggling with drug addiction at the time she was said to have killed May.

May's body, however, has never been located, and Dalton was primarily convicted based on confessions the prosecution alleges she gave to other people.

Victoria Ann Thorpe, Dalton's sister, wrote a book about the trial and has campaigned for Dalton's exoneration on the grounds that she was convicted on hearsay and there was neither a body nor a crime scene.

Dalton has yet to have an appeal heard, although her sister says it is prepared and they have been waiting for years.

Women make up less than 2 % of the total death row population, according to DPIC.

(source: Al Jazeera News)

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Death penalty might indeed be unconstitutional----It might indeed be unconstitutional

In a recent column ("Flawed Judicial Mindset," March 3), Dana Kelley argues that the death penalty is plainly constitutional. Therefore, he reasons, if the Supreme Court strikes down the ultimate sanction, the justices will be altering the U.S. Constitution rather than interpreting it. That would be an act of judicial "tyranny" because the Constitution may only be changed by Congress and the states via the formal amendment process set forth in Article V of our governing charter.

I disagree with Mr. Kelley's analysis in multiple respects.

Let me begin by disclosing my own biases. I believe that the death penalty is morally justified in principle. There are some crimes for which execution is a morally appropriate punishment. However, I also believe that the death penalty is not morally justified in practice.

While I hold this latter view on multiple grounds, the 2 most important are as follows.

-- 1st, according to the preponderance of the empirical evidence, the death penalty does not deter crime any more effectively than the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. -- 2nd, our criminal justice system, while the best and most reliable in the world, is far from perfect. A small but critical percentage of jury trials result in a wrongful conviction. This is demonstrated by, among other things, the string of exonerations of death row inmates over the last 3 decades thanks to improved analysis of DNA. Furthermore, many leading criminal law scholars have concluded that innocent people have in fact been executed in this country. Thus, the risk of imposing the death penalty on an innocent person is simply too great given that the punishment has no supplemental deterrent effect in comparison to life without parole.

The morality and legality of the death penalty are two different issues. And Mr. Kelley's piece concerns the law. So now let's turn to that subject. Mr. Kelley rightly points out that certain parts of the Constitution appear to presume the existence of the death penalty. In particular, the Fifth Amendment provides that no person "shall be held to answer for a capital ... crime, unless" the person is indicted by a grand jury. And the amendment also states that a person may not be "deprived of life ... without due process of law." He says that these clauses codify capital punishment; they establish that the Constitution "allows the government to impose a death sentence, as long as it is the product of due process." But the story is considerably more complicated.

To begin with, the Fifth Amendment grants no government powers. Instead, it places limits on such power. Thus, the authority to execute a criminal must first be identified elsewhere in the Constitution. For state governments, the power to impose capital punishment is provided by the 10th Amendment, which grants states general authority to regulate the affairs within their borders. For our national government, the power comes from Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which identifies the legal domains that are subject to federal regulation.

But here is the key point: Any exercise of government power--state or federal--is prohibited if it violates one of the rights-bearing provisions of the Constitution, such as those set forth in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment. For example, Congress is expressly granted the authority to regulate interstate commerce. But if it enacts a statute designed to govern the national economy that also happens to restrict the freedom of speech, then the law is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. The death penalty is subject to the same limitations. Application of the ultimate sanction must be consistent with not only the due process clause, as Mr. Kelley explains, but also with every other rights-bearing provision in our national charter.

One of the most important such provisions is the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It requires that governments not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, and several other grounds. Unfortunately, there is considerable racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. And much research establishes that the death penalty itself is applied in racially discriminatory ways. As a result, there is a powerful argument that capital punishment--as currently applied in the United States--violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

At most, the 14th Amendment only bars capital punishment until we can expunge disparate racial treatment from our enforcement of criminal law. Does any part of the Constitution go further? In particular, might the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment make the death penalty unconstitutional more generally? Mr. Kelley thinks the answer is absolutely not. He relies upon Justice Scalia's argument that the framers of the Constitution could not have believed that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment because they wrote the Fifth Amendment, which expressly contemplates that executions will be carried out in at least some circumstances. And, Justice Scalia continued, the Eighth Amendment must be interpreted consistently with how it was understood in the late 18th century.

The problem here is that there is considerable evidence that the framers thought that the meaning of "cruel and unusual" would change with time. After all, they used the word "unusual." What is unusual is constantly evolving as governments alter the laws of punishment. It is thus quite reasonable to believe that the death penalty, as a matter of constitutional law, is now cruel and unusual, even though it was not so in 1790.

Now, I actually agree with Mr. Kelley's conclusion about executions and the Eighth Amendment: I do not think that the death penalty is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. My point here is this: there is a plausible legal argument that Mr. Kelley and I are wrong. And thus, should the Supreme Court strike down the death penalty on Eighth Amendment grounds, that will clearly not be an act of tyranny. It will, at worst, simply be a case where the Supreme Court got it wrong on a legal issue over which reasonable and fair minds can differ. And if the High Court instead uses the 14th Amendment to invalidate capital punishment temporarily, the justices will be on even firmer ground. Indeed, I think they will be right.

(source: Op-Ed; Joshua M. Silverstein is a Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law. The opinions in this column are his own----Democrat-Gazette)

Editorial on 03/19/2017

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Progress on the death penalty

Just back to Colorado from Amnesty International USA's annual general meeting in Albuquerque March 10-12 where "No Ban, No Wall" was heard throughout the hotel halls. With so many activists in one place, it was dueling issues in a collegial atmosphere. I was there to report Colorado's failure to pass an abolition bill out of the Colorado Senate's Judiciary Committee Feb. 15.

I learned that Arkansas's execution injectables are almost timed out and tapped out, so Arkansas plans 8 executions over 10 days in April. But I read that Florida's State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not use the death penalty in her cases going forward. For a state its size, Florida has a huge death row - almost 400 people. Any move away from capital punishment is positive progress.

Amnesty International Executive Director Margaret Huang wrote, "Today's announcement is on the right side of history as momentum against the death penalty in the United States continues to build, and we commend State Attorney Aramis Ayala for her leadership. Other local prosecutors can take a critical step toward ending the death penalty nationwide by following her example. Government-sanctioned killing of prisoners is a gross violation of human rights and should be soundly rejected in the state of Florida and all other states in the country."

Ellen V. Moore----AI Colorado State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator

Nederland

(source: Letter to the Editor, Daily Camera)

GAZA:

2 given death penalty for Gaza drug smuggling

A Hamas military court on Sunday sentenced 2 Palestinians to death for drug smuggling in the Gaza Strip, in the 1st punishment of its kind in the enclave.

"The Gaza military court announced the death penalty for 2 civilians from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, for selling narcotics," the Hamas-controlled interior ministry said in a statement.

It said a 3rd suspect was sentenced to hard labor.

Authorities have seized drugs with a street value of around $1 million (900,000 euros) over the past few months, the ministry said.

They seized 1,250 packets of cannabis and 400 pills of Tramadol -- a powerful opiate-based painkiller -- in January alone, it said.

Until Sunday, only people guilty of spying for Israel or murder had received the death penalty in Gaza, controlled by Islamist Hamas since 2007.

All Palestinian death sentences in theory have to be approved by president Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas has long refused to accept his legitimacy.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says around a dozen death sentences have been passed down in Gaza since the start of 2017.

(source: The Daily Star)

BANGLADESH:

Mufti Hannan's death penalty upheld

The appellate division of the Supreme Court on Sunday upheld the death penalty of 3 men of banned militant outfit Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJi), including its chief Mufti Abdul Hannan, in a case filed for the grenade attack on the then UK envoy in Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury in 2004.

A 3-member bench of the Appellate Division led by chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha passed the order after dismissing the review appeal of the HuJi chief.

On 7 December last, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty of the 3 HuJi men.

On 11 February last year, a High Court bench, comprising justice M Enayetur Rahim and justice Amir Hossain, delivered the verdict upholding the death sentence of 3 of the accused - Mufti Abdul Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Alam and Delwar Hossain - and life-term imprisonment of 2 others - Mufti Hannan's brother Mohibullah and Mufti Moinuddin - handed down by the lower court.

Anwar Choudhury and 51 others were injured while 3, including 2 police officials, were killed in a grenade attack at Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) shrine in Sylhet on 21 May 2004.

Later, 2 cases - 1 for murder and another under the Explosive Act - were filed in connection with the grenade attack.

After investigation into the case, charges were framed against four people, including Mufti Hannan, on 31 July 2007.

The Divisional Speedy Trial Tribunal of Sylhet on 23 December 2008, awarded death sentence to Huji leaders Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain Ripon while Mufti Muhibur Rahman (Hannan's brother) and Mufti Mainuddin were awarded life term, and fined Tk 10,000 each in the murder case.

(source: prothom-alo.com)

IRAN----executions

3 Prisoners Hanged

Iranian authorities have hanged a prisoner at Dizel Abad, Kermanshah's central prison, and 2 prisoners at Choubindar, Qazvin's central prison.

According to close sources, a prisoner was hanged at Kermanshah's central prison on the morning of Monday March 13. The prisoner has been identified as Mohammad Reza Samadi Nasb, sentenced to death on drug related charges.

"Mohammad Reza was arrested in 2013 on the charge of trafficking 2 kilograms of crystal meth, but he always insisted on his innocence and claimed the charges against him were false," a source close to Mr. Samadi Nasb's cas file tells Iran Human Rights.

According to a report by the state-run news agency, Rokna, 2 prisoners were hanged at Qazvin's central prison on the morning of Tuesday March 14. The report identifies the prisoners as: Reza, 31 years of age, charged with possession of 400 grams of heroin and 890 grams of crystal meth; and Mehdi, charged with murder of a relative.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

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Marjan Davari's mother speaks out against the death penalty

In an interview on March 17, 2017, the mother of Marjan Davari called for abolition of her daughter's death sentence.

Ms. Davari's mother said, "Marjan did not deserve the death penalty. I don't know what happened in the middle of the way that the page turned ... As a mother I am burning. I hope that not only my own daughter but other youths would not go on the stool."

Marjan Davari, 50, a researcher and translator, was arrested on September 24, 2015, when the Path of Knowledge Institute was shut down and its instructors arrested. She received a death sentence on March 12, 2017.

(source: NCR-Iran)

PHILIPPINES:

CBCP to lawmakers: Christ was never for 'legal killing'

As the Senate considers the revival of capital punishment, leaders of the Philippines' Catholic Church on Sunday urged legislators not to use the Bible to defend the death penalty, which they say runs against the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In a pastoral letter read out at Mass services across the country, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said lawmakers must "interpret the Scriptures properly" and take note that Jesus "was never an advocate of any form of 'legal killing.'"

"To the people who use the Bible to defend death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible? We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God's will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God's definitive Word to the world," the letter read.

"Jesus was never an advocate of any form of "legal killing". He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her."

Christ, the CBCP said, pushed for "justice founded on mercy" in lieu of a system of retribution exemplified by the principle of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Senator Manny Pacquiao, a champion boxer and born-again pastor, has repeatedly used the Bible to defend the return of the death penalty. He said in January that that while the 10 Commandments prohibit killings, God approves of capital punishment to pursue justice and that even Christ was sentenced to death.

Capital punishment inched closer to reinstatement earlier this month after it was approved by the House of Representatives on 2nd reading on Ash Wednesday, March 1, as well as on final reading last March 7.

CBCP said it was ironic that majority of congressmen during the 2nd reading voted in favor of death penalty while their foreheads were marked with crosses made of ashes, a symbol of God's forgiveness.

"Could they have forgotten what that cross meant? Could they have missed out the contradiction between their vote and the crosses on their foreheads, which were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish?" the Church leaders asked.

The bishops said capital punishment has often been used by repressive governments as "a way of stifling dissent, or of eliminating those whom they regarded as threats to their hold on political power."

"Think, for instance why Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, or why Pilate had Jesus crucified. Think of the thousands of Christian martyrs who were put to death for sheer hatred for the faith," they said.

They added that capital punishment was never proven as an effective deterrent to crime and will likely target only the poor who cannot afford good lawyers and a guarantee of due process.

The CBCP ended its pastoral letter with an appeal for the public to pray for the enlightenment of the Senate ahead of its death penalty deliberations.

"Let us pray fervently for the legislators of our country as they prepare to vote on death penalty in the Philippine Senate. Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all," CBCP said.

(source: abs-cbn.com)

MARCH 18, 2017:

FLORIDA:

Florida propsecutor's anti-death penalty surprises many

The Florida prosecutor who thrust herself into the forefront of the anti-death penalty movement is a political novice who was elected just 7 months ago.

Aramis Ayala, a Democrat and former public defender and assistant state attorney, surprised many of her own supporters when she announced this week that her office would no longer seek capital punishment in a state that has one of the largest death rows. In response, the state's Republican governor promptly transferred a potential death penalty case - the killing of a police officer and a pregnant woman earlier this year - to another Florida prosecutor.

"I understand this is a controversial issue, but what isn't controversial is the evidence that led me to my decision," said Ayala, the 1st black state attorney elected in Florida.

She said there is no evidence that shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, and it's costly and drags on for years for the victims' families.

Advocates seeking to abolish the death penalty said Ayala sent a powerful message. Her decision reflects decreasing support for capital punishment in the U.S., said Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty.

(source: Associated Press)

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Convicted killer of Sarasota girl appeals death sentence

The man convicted of killing Sarasota 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in 2004 has been sitting on death row for more than a decade. Now, he is trying to be resentenced under the state's new death penalty law.

According to WWSB, Joseph Smith is appealing his sentence, arguing it's no longer valid under the new law, which requires a unanimous jury recommendation for death before the death penalty can be imposed.

"It appears almost certain that Joseph Smith's death sentence will be reversed," said Adam Tebrugge, who defended Smith in 2004, "and his case will go back to Sarasota County for a new re-sentencing trial."

Brucia was the subject of a days-long search after she disappeared in February 2004. Her body was found behind a Sarasota church.

Smith was convicted of abducting, raping and killing Brucia behind a car wash on Bee Ridge Road. He was sentenced to death in March 2006.

(source: WTSP news)

ARKANSAS:

Why Arkansas Plans to Execute a Historic Number of Inmates in a Span of 10 Days

The state government of Arkansas plans to execute 8 men over a period of 10 days in April because 1 of the key drugs in their lethal injection protocol is set to expire at the end of the month.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the dates between April 17 and 27 and will require the state's department of corrections to execute 2 men per day with a few days between each lethal injection.

"As required by law, I have set the execution dates for the 8 convicted of capital murder. This is based upon the attorney general's referral and the exhaustion of all appeals and court reviews that have been ongoing for more than a decade," Hutchinson said in a statement, though another statement added that the executions were placed so closely together because the availability of the drugs for future lethal injections was unclear.

On March 8, Arkansas acquired the final drug needed to execute the 8 inmates, under the execution protocols used by the state.

The men make up nearly a quarter of Arkansas's death row. All 8 were convicted of murders committed between 1989 and 1999, but none have taken the final walk to the execution chamber. That is because Arkansas' capital punishment has been held up since 2005 by numerous legal challenges and the state's consistent struggle to obtain lethal injection drugs.

Attorneys who represent the eight men persist in attempting to block the executions. Marcel Wayne Williams, one of the eight inmates, filed an application for clemency on Tuesday, citing childhood trauma - including physical and sexual abuse - as a failure of the justice system.

Though Arkansas hasn't executed anyone in 12 years and only Texas has successfully executed 8 prisoners in a month - in May and June 1997, according to the Death Penalty Information Center - the state's department of corrections and governor's office say they will have no difficulty carrying out the procedures.

"We're confident that the Department of Corrections has the resources and knowledge to do what they do," said J.R. Davis, the director of communications at the governor's office.

"You'd like to have more time, but because of everything that has happened, because of the clemency requests and the stays, and so on and so forth - this is where we are," he added.

While perfectly lawful, the rush to use the drugs before their expiration is unprecedented.

No state has executed 8 death row inmates in 10 days. No state has used this particular "cocktail" of drugs to execute 2 in 1 day, either.

"I think this particular action is extreme and unnecessary," argued Arkansas State Rep. Warwick Sabin, a Democrat who represents Little Rock. "It creates the possibility for grave error and draws attention to the state in a way that doesn't ultimately benefit us."

The problems with midazolam

Arkansas uses a 3-drug protocol in its lethal injection procedures. The 1st drug, midazolam, is meant to render the inmate comatose. The 2nd drug, pancuronium bromide, will cause paralysis and stop breathing. And the 3d, potassium chloride - which the state only acquired on March 8 - stops the heart.

Experts, however, point out that midazolam, the drug set to expire on April 30, has sometimes failed to effectively knock out subjects.

Medically, the drug's core function is an anti-anxiety sedative, not an anesthetic or execution device.

Death penalty experts say that increases the risk that the procedure could be rendered inhumane - and even constitute unlawfully cruel punishment.

"If the prisoner is placed under surgical anesthesia by the 1st drug, then the fact that the other 2 drugs cause pain wouldn't matter," explained Megan McCracken, a lethal injection expert at the University of California Berkeley School of Law's Death Penalty Clinic. "But if that 1st drug for any number of reasons doesn't work, then you have a person who is paralyzed who has been administered an incredibly painful drug that will cause cardiac arrest."

The states that deploy the drug are not necessarily cavalier about that risk - officials emphasize that they have a duty to conduct executions under law - and yet it is difficult to acquire stronger anesthetics. Many pharmaceutical companies now refuse to provide drugs for executions, citing medical standards or public pressure.

6 states have used midazolam in their lethal injection protocol: Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona and Ohio. The latter four saw cases of inmates waking up during the procedure with prolonged periods of heaving and gasping for breath when the sedative was used.

Florida replaced the drug with etomidate, an anesthetic, in January.

"The state has never used the midazolam protocol and, as far as we know, they have no or few personnel who were at the last execution," said Federal Public Defender John Williams, who represents 3 of the inmates. "We're worried whether they can handle this in the way that respects our clients' rights and doesn't cause them to suffer."

The secrecy statutes

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled to uphold a law that keeps information about the state's lethal injection laws secret. The majority opinion found that knowing the supplier of the 3 drugs would be "detrimental to the process" because pharmaceutical companies would be less inclined to provide the lethal injection protocol.

"There has always been some secrecy about these executions but it used to be around who these executioners were," McCracken said. "More recently in the past 5 or 6 years, the states have been adding to these secrecy statutes so that more information has become confidential and more secret."

Arkansas's secrecy statute protects the identities of those involved in the execution process or procedure and the entities or persons who make the drugs, but the department of corrections is supposed to "make available to the public" the package inserts and labels, reports obtained from an independent testing lab and the department's procedure for administering the drug."

So far, the state and the department of corrections have not provided the labels, reports or shared information on the procedure - despite numerous requests made by NBC News.

"It's not a surprise they got the potassium chloride," said Williams, after the state announced the acquisition of the drug earlier this month. "It is new that they refuse to show even the labels. Problems have occurred in the past when this type of secrecy is in place.

But lawmakers and activists are not just worried about the secrecy around capital punishment. They are concerned about what the lack of transparency could mean for the future.

"Today it's a secret where the drugs come from, tomorrow it could be what chemicals are used to treat our water," said Furonda Brasfield, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "That's an extreme example, but it's a very slippery slope."

Arkansas's execution infrastructure

The secrecy statutes also mean that it is unknown whether Arkansas has the organizational structure in place to pull off a historic number of executions in an unprecedented number of days.

NBC News has made numerous requests to the Department of Corrections to provide any details on the process, as there are concerns that the pace could lead to mistakes during the lethal injections.

"The rush to execute based upon expiration dates on vials of midazolam is irresponsible," said Dale Baich, an Arizona assistant federal defender who has worked on death row cases since the 1980s. "The stress on the prison and medical staff will be increased, and the risk of making mistakes is multiplied. This, along with using a drug that has been used in numerous botched executions, should make prison officials in Arkansas very nervous."

Baich is quick to cite a 2014 midazolam lethal injection case in Oklahoma that led to the painful death of Clayton Lockett, who woke up in the middle of the procedure. The state's Department of Public Safety noted after the incident that stress levels were raised among the staff because "2 executions had been scheduled on the same day."

The report then recommended the following: "Due to manpower and facility concerns, executions should not be scheduled within seven calendar days of each other."

But the Arkansas governor's office disagrees with the assessment.

"This is less stressful for the staff," claimed Davis, the governor's spokesman. "They're setting it up for one night at a time. It's the same protocol that will be used. It's more efficient and less stressful and will lead to fewer mistakes."

The state and the victims

Arkansas State Rep. Rebecca Petty knows what it is like to be on the victims' side of the discussion. Her daughter was abducted, raped and murdered in 1999, and the killer is currently on death row in Arkansas.

"When you go through the process of being a victim it's like it doesn't stop," said Petty. "It continues year after year after year especially in a death row case because there are a lot of appeals. It's just hanging out there and justice never comes."

But not all of her colleagues agree. Vivian Flowers, a Democratic state representative who represents Pine Bluff, introduced legislation to abolish the death penalty in Arkansas earlier this year. Flowers said she can't begin to imagine the suffering that victims go through, but as a society "we have to look beyond our feelings and emotions."

"It is not efficient and it does not curb crime," said Vivian Flowers, a state representative who represents Pine Bluff. "And in terms of a moral argument, it just does not stand."

A National Research Council report found that the perceived deterrent effect on murder rates is "fundamentally flawed." Research done by the Death Penalty Information Center added that the regions of the country with the greatest number of executions also have the highest rates of murder.

But in Arkansas, a 2014 poll conducted by Opinion Research Associates found that 83 % of Arkansans said that the perceived deterrence aspect of capital punishment was important to them and 67 % supported the death penalty.

"I'm one who believes a great crime deserves a great punishment," Petty said. "2 decades is a long time to wait."

(source: NBC news)

OREGON:

Trio of officials reflect on Oregon executions

Though a couple of them have since made their positions known, a full exchange of views finally took place between Gov. John Kitzhaber, Corrections Director Dave Cook and Frank Thompson, superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Only after Kitzhaber stayed the execution of Gary Haugen in 2011 during his return as governor - which also began Oregon's current moratorium on all executions - did he learn of Thompson's doubts 15 years earlier.

"I had no idea, and I never really talked to Dave about it," Kitzhaber said at the March 16 forum, which was sponsored by the Office of the Chaplains at Willamette University and Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Thompson is on the group's board. Kitzhaber, Cook and forum moderator Emily Plec, a communications studies professor at Western Oregon University, are on the group's advisory council.

The group advocates life imprisonment without parole for the 33 men and 1 woman currently on death row at the penitentiary in Salem. It has not signaled when it may push for a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty, which has been in effect since voters approved its current form in 1984.

Oregon is 1 of 31 states with the death penalty, but also 1 of 4 - including Washington - where the governor has declared a moratorium on its use. Voters in 2016 upheld it in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

In 1996 and 1997, during his 1st term, Kitzhaber signed the death warrants for Douglas Franklin Wright and Harry Charles Moore - even though Kitzhaber opposed the death penalty while a state lawmaker from Roseburg. The issue did not arise during his 1994 campaign.

"When I ran for governor, I did not think it was even a remote possibility one way or the other," he recalled.

Just before the executions occurred, he added, "I was the only person on the planet who could have stopped that execution - and I executed those 2 people just as much as the persons participating."

Both inmates had waived further appeals, as did Haugen.

How they felt then

Before he was named superintendent of Oregon State Penitentiary in late 1994, Frank Thompson was asked whether he could carry out an execution.

Thompson came to Oregon as a prison warden from Arkansas, where the state executed an inmate convicted of 2 murders - including a police officer - who also had a self-inflicted brain injury. Then-Gov. Bill Clinton interrupted his presidential campaign to oversee that 1992 execution.

"That execution bothered a staff person so badly that shortly afterward, that person resigned," Thompson said. "So I was thinking about my staff" when it came to preparing for Oregon's first execution in 34 years.

The previous 1962 execution involved gas, so new protocols had to be written for lethal injection.

Thompson sought employees with law enforcement or military experience to train for and carry out the execution. "They had been trained to take the life of a human being," he said.

By law, Thompson - not Cook - was responsible for executions.

Cook was busy overseeing the expansion of a prison system that eventually doubled to its March 1 population of 14,654.

"I had no doubt after going to the penitentiary a couple of times watching Frank's preparation for this ... that they would be successful in the act, putting aside the emotions from an execution," Cook said.

Before Cook was appointed in 1995 to succeed Frank Hall, Kitzhaber asked whether Cook was prepared to carry out an execution if need be.

"Having been a law enforcement officer for a number of years, you are prepared to be involved in a life-or-death situation," said Cook, who had been Benton County sheriff for 6 years.

"But it's an entirely different circumstance when it's an execution, as opposed to an event in which you are responsible to protect yourself or someone else."

Cook said he had conflicted feelings about executions because his father had been a doctor.

First-term conflicts

So was Kitzhaber, who contrasted his experience in saving lives as an emergency-room physician with his knowledge about what happens to the human body when a lethal drug is injected and the heart stops beating.

Still, he said, he was not certain he could alter the course of events.

"I did not wrap my mind around what was happening," he said. "I had this internal debate with myself about what to do."

But it became more real a few days prior to the executions, after two telephone lines were installed in his office, one to the attorney general and the other to the prison superintendent.

"They start testing the lines and you are sitting there by yourself while people are protesting out in the yard," he said.

Kitzhaber chose not to invoke the governor's authority to grant clemency in Wright's or Moore's cases.

Kitzhaber said it was only in the 8 years between his tenures as governor that he realized he could do something different. He said so at a forum in Salem during his 2010 comeback campaign, but his comment drew little attention at the time.

Shielding participants

Thompson said he never discussed his doubts with Cook, but the staff involved directly with the executions sensed them.

"We were good soldiers," he said. "We had a contract with the state - and it wasn't really us, but the state of Oregon that had this process in place."

Thompson said Wright's execution cost the state $80,000 in overtime.

"Frank did believe in the concept of training to the point where it became automatic," Cook said. "Maybe to a degree that helped people deal with the outcome."

Cook said he agreed with Thompson it was important to shield the identities of the employees participating in the execution. Observers saw only Wright and Moore strapped to a gurney just minutes before the lethal injections.

"There were some mighty angry people who felt they had been gypped out of being able to see the whole execution and all the detailed parts of that event," Cook said.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 1999 against the agency's administrative rules, which limited what observers including news media representatives could see. They were still at odds when in 2001, a compromise specified an overhead camera that allowed observers to see the process but not identify participants. It has not been invoked because no executions have taken place since 1997.

"There was a legitimate reason to oversee that," Cook said, referring to botched executions that have occurred elsewhere.

What they think now

Thompson, after his retirement in 1998, took it upon himself to advocate for change.

"When you have reasonable alternatives, such as life (imprisonment) without the possibility of parole, you should not have put staff in a position of having to take the life of another human being," he said.

Cook, who retired in 2002, concedes he isn't completely sold on life imprisonment. He wants to see a Spartan existence for such inmates, such as the intensive management unit already in existence at the state prison, although not isolation.

But he is no longer convinced the death penalty is an effective deterrent to aggravated murder.

"If executions are going to have any impact on reducing murders or saving lives, then the person committing the crime has got to be cognizant of the fact that the possibility (of execution) exists," he said. "If you believe that is true, I completely disagree."

Kitzhaber, who resigned in 2015, said the death penalty and much prison spending deal with social problems after the fact - and that public funds are better spent on preventive programs for infants and children.

"What we do is spend money on acute problems, whether it means the death penalty or incarceration or foster care or heart attacks," he said. "What we don't spend money is on investments that can prevent those things."

(source: pamplinmedia.com)

PHILIPPINES:

UN rapporteurs urge Phl lawmakers to reject death penalty

2 independent experts of the United Nations have urged Philippine lawmakers to reject the proposal to reinstate death penalty in the country.

In a joint statement, UN special rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Nils Melzer expressed concern over the passage of the proposal at the House of Representatives earlier this month.

"If approved, the bill will set the Philippines starkly against the global trend towards abolition and would entail a violation of the country's obligations under international law," they said.

Callamard is the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, while Melzer is the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

According to the experts, the Philippines has an obligation not to reimpose death penalty, citing the country's decision to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that forbids executions and commits the signatories to abolish the death penalty.

"Not only was the treaty ratified and widely advertised, but State authorities have also expressly confirmed on numerous occasions its validity and binding nature on the Philippines, without raising any concerns over the procedure through which it had been ratified," the rapporteurs said.

"The move would constitute a departure from the country's regional leadership and global position as advocate of the abolition of the death penalty in international forums," they added.

The UN experts noted that 141 states in the world, or 2/3 of all countries, have abolished death penalty.

"It is inconceivable that a country which has been at the forefront of the campaign against the death penalty would restore it, in clear violation of its obligations under the protocol," they said.

The rapporteurs also noted that the inclusion of drug-related offenses as those punishable by death is not permitted under international law as these are not among those identified as among the most serious crimes.

"Drug-related offenses do not meet this threshold," said Callamard and Melzer.

"The lack of any persuasive evidence that the death penalty contributes more than any other punishment to reducing criminality or drug-trafficking. Therefore, reintroducing this punishment as a deterrent for drug-trafficking is as illegal as it is futile," they added.

A top human rights policy official of Germany has also expressed alarm over the move of the House of Representatives to pass a bill reinstating death penalty in the Philippines.

In a statement, Barbel Kofler, federal government commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, said she is "deeply worried."

"Ever since it signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Philippines has been considered a close partner of those who, like the federal government, reject this inhumane punishment under all circumstances," she added.

She also lamented that nearly 8,000 people were killed since President Duterte began his war on drugs.

"Against this background, I see an urgent need for a visit by Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I call on the government of the Philippines to withdraw the conditions it has set and that to date have prevented Ms. Callamard from conducting a country visit."

(source: Philippine Star)

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

Youth say no to return of the death penalty----'Who are we to say that someone no longer deserves to live, especially when our justice system itself is flawed?'

One of the most controversial issues facing the country today is the reinstatement of the death penalty, which the House of Representatives recently passed on 2nd reading.

There are different opinions about whether the death penalty - which was suspended in 2006 - should be revived.

Let's see how the youth feel about it.

"I am against the death penalty because it goes against basic principles, laws, treaties and, most importantly, human rights. Moreover, in the case that we assume it to be truly necessary, I believe that our government is too chaotic and incompetent to implement it properly." -- Nio Atrigenio, Ateneo De Manila University

"Reimposing the death penalty will not deter the occurrence of crime since the root causes of felonies, poverty and economic inequality are not assuaged at a micro-level. Additionally, I think that reclusion perpetua and rehabilitation are more effective and efficient disciplinary actions that will result in a more positive outcome to both the felon and the Philippine justice system." -- Anna Urbano, De La Salle University

"The death penalty simplifies the complexities of human beings, it's as if we can only be categorized as bad or good people. I believe that it diverts attention from more pressing issues like the real causes of criminality in our nation, and suggests a cowardly solution that can't change anything in the long run. There's also a possibility that it will make things worse. More importantly, I believe that it could play a large role in dangerously polarizing our nation and creating false dichotomies that strengthen the act of pitting people against each other." -- Sam Mayoralgo, University of the Philippines Los Banos

"I am against the death penalty because it merely gives a faulty and corrupt government the power to go against the poor who do not have the means for legal aid." -- Abby Bonifacio, University of the Philippines Manila

"Personally, I am against the death penalty. I am saying this from an economic standpoint, not a moral, ethical or spiritual one. Human beings are the greatest resource of society. Within every individual is an endless supply of possibilities, knowledge and creativity. To kill a human being is to waste and get rid of the investment before it has borne fruit. The government should instead set up proper rehabilitation services." -- Maita Fernandez, University of the Philippines Manila

"Several studies have shown that the death penalty was ineffective when implemented in more advanced countries. With the unstable government we have now, how can we expect it to work?” -- Carmela Aquino, De La Salle University

"I don't think governments, especially ours today, should be given the right to kill people." -- Pita Ochave, University of the Philippines Diliman

"The government should serve as the driving force that influences people to do good and abide by laws that are rooted in protecting the rights of its citizens. I am strongly against the death penalty because implementing it defeats the purpose of the government's existence to protect human dignity and our rights." -- Elizabeth Gatmaitan, De La Salle University

"It's not so much the ethicality of capital punishment, but more of the context in which it’s being pushed. I don't think anyone should have the power to decide who gets to live or die." -- Ariane Lee, Ateneo De Manila University

"I am very much against the death penalty. Who are we to say that someone no longer deserves to live, especially when our justice system itself is flawed?" -- Chiara Ledesma, Ateneo De Manila University

"The government should straighten itself out first before implementing the death penalty. It needs to set its priorities - carnapping is punishable by death but treason isn't? It doesn't make sense." -- Patrick Baldeo, University of Santo Tomas “I agree with the legal idea that some crimes be subjected to the death penalty, or that by itself, capital punishment is not inherently unconstitutional. However, I think that this is flawed, and has an element of human misjudgment and error that make it untenable." -- Anonymous, University of Santo Tomas

"Humans have the power to choose whether to act good or bad. They can also choose to change for better or for worse. However, if the death penalty will be revived, the government will take away the chance for people to choose to be better. I believe that all humans, no matter how bad they are, still have some goodness in them. It is up to us to show them this goodness and help them change for the better. As long as the government keeps in mind that humans can change, the death penalty does not need to be implemented." -- Anonymous, University of Asia and the Pacific

(source: lifestyle.inquirer.net)

TURKEY:

Erdogan urges parliament to bring back death penalty

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said he expected parliament to approve restoring capital punishment after the April 16 referendum on expanding his powers, a move that would end Ankara's bid to join the EU.

Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its efforts to join the European Union, which makes its removal a non-negotiable precondition for membership.

"The families of the martyrs, the heroes [of the failed July 15 coup] don't need to worry. I believe, God willing, that after the April 16 vote parliament will do the necessary concerning your demands for capital punishment," Mr Erdogan told rally in the western city of Canakkale.

Legislation to restore capital punishment would still need to be signed by the president, and Mr Erdogan said he would do so immediately.

"When it comes to me I will approve it without hesitation," he said.

EU officials have repeatedly warned Turkey that reinstating the death penalty would bring an end to more than 50 years of trying to join the bloc.

But Turkish ministers and Mr Erdogan have said they need to respond to popular demand for the restoration of capital punishment to deal with the ringleaders of the July 15 coup bid.

Mr Erdogan, whose announcement was greeted by loud cheers, said he did not care what Europe thought about such a move.

"What Hans and George say is not important for me," he said. "What the people say, what the law says, that's what is important for us."

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly warned the EU of the possibility Turkey could restore capital punishment, but this is the 1st time he has directly called on parliament to approve it after the referendum on constitutional change.

Turkey and Europe are locked in diplomatic crisis after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from campaigning for a "yes" vote in next month's referendum.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly accused Germany and the Netherlands of behaving like "Nazis", comments that have left The Hague and Berlin aghast and prompted warnings from Brussels for the Turkish president to show moderation.

On Saturday, Germany's foreign minister openly accused Mr Erdogan of ramping up anti-European rhetoric to score political points ahead of the referendum.

Sigmar Gabriel said Mr Erdogan's comments were "ludicrous and absurd" but Europe should stop reacting, which only played into the Turkish leader's hands.

"He needs an enemy for his election campaign: Turkey humiliated and the West arrogant," Mr Gabriel told the German daily Der Spiegel.

Also on Saturday, Germany's foreign intelligence chief dismissed the Turkish government's claim that the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen was the mastermind of the July 15 coup attempt.

"Turkey has tried on different levels to convince us of that fact, but they have not succeeded," Bruno Kahl told Der Spiegel.

Turkish authorities have blamed a rogue military group led by Mr Gulen for the attempted putsch that left 248 people dead. Mr Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has strongly denied the accusation.

Mr Kahl said the Turkish government's purges of suspected Gulen supporters after the coup attempt would have taken place in any case.

"What we saw following the putsch would have happened regardless, maybe not on the same scale and with such radicalism," he said. "The putsch was just a welcome pretext."

Turkish authorities have arrested more than 41,000 people and fired or suspended 100,000 since July, many of them teachers, police, magistrates or journalists.

(source: Agence France-Presse)

PAKISTAN:

Miandad calls for death penalty for match-fixers

Former Pakistan skipper Javed Miandad has demanded death penalty for those involved in match-fixing.

"Why don't you take strong measures? You should give death penalty to such people. We must not tolerate such things," said Miandad. The remarks have come in the wake of a spot-fixing scandal in the Pakistan Super League. Abdul Qadir, the legendary Pakistan spinner, seconded Miandad's suggestion.

"Players like Sharjeel, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Danish Kaneria would have never been tempted to do such things had those involved in the past got the punishment they deserved," said Qadir. "Had you hanged Wasim Akram, Inzamam, Mushtaq Ahmed - there's an entire list - instead of giving them a slap on the wrist, what's happening now would've never happened."

Shahid Afridi, who has retired recently from international cricket, said the clean-up was impossible until the corrupt were banned for life. "Until an example is set, this issue will continue," Afridi said.

"When a player knows he will be forgiven and brought back into the national fold after 4 or 5 years, there isn't any fear or deterrence," he said.

(source: tribuneindia.com)

MARCH 17, 2017:

TEXAS:

Death row inmate's appeals continue after 1989 slayings

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that triple murderer Billie Wayne Coble may continue to appeal his death sentence by challenging the testimonies of state witnesses at his 2008 retrial.

Coble's latest application for writ of habeas corpus has been pending for several years with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The court rejected 5 of 7 of Coble's writ points of error Friday but said he may continue a portion of his appeal by filing supplemental briefs on the remaining 2 points of appeal.

Coble, who has had several stays of execution, is appealing a U.S. District Court ruling that denied his federal habeas claims.

Coble, 68, twice has been convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in the 1989 slayings of his brother-in-law, Waco police Sgt. Bobby Vicha, and Vicha's parents, Robert and Zelda Vicha, at their homes in Axtell.

Distraught by the failure of his 3rd marriage, Coble killed the Vichas, tied up 3 children from the Vicha family and kidnapped his estranged wife, Karen Vicha Coble. He drove her to Bosque County, where he said he was going to kill her before they had a wreck during a high-speed chase with authorities.

Coble spent 17 years on death row before his death sentence was overturned and he was awarded a new punishment trial because of changes in the special issues posed to jurors when trying to determine whether the death penalty or a life sentence is more appropriate.

Waco attorney J.R. Vicha, a former prosecutor, was one of the children Coble tied up before kidnapping his estranged wife. J.R. Vicha, whose father was Bobby Vicha, was 11 then and has watched impatiently as Coble's case winds slowly through the appeals process.

"Although very frustrating, hopefully this is just one step closer to receiving justice, which is almost 28 years overdue at this point," J.R. Vicha said Friday.

2 claims approved

The 5th Circuit ruled that Coble could file additional briefs to support his claim that "the unreliable, 'junk' science" testimony of Dr. Richard E. Coons, a psychiatrist, violated his constitutional rights.

Also, the court said Coble could pursue his claims that the "irrelevant, inflammatory, false and perjured testimony" of A.P. Merillat, an investigator with the state Special Prosecution Unit, also violated his constitutional rights.

Coons testified that there is a probability that Coble would continue to be a violent threat to society.

Merillat testified that his unit has prosecuted 94 inmates who were serving life sentences for killing other inmates and that many violent acts committed in prison are unreported.

The court rejected Coble's claims that he did not receive a fair trial because his retrial was "conducted in an inherently unfair venue," and that his lawyers were ineffective by failing to seek a change of venue.

He also claimed his lawyers were ineffective by failing to seek to recuse the DA’s office because J.R. Vicha was a prosecutor at the time and because they failed to present expert psychiatric testimony.

(source: Waco Tribune)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Defense: Don't bar jurors because they oppose death penalty

Attorneys for a federal prison inmate charged in the killing of a guard say potential jurors shouldn't be excluded from hearing the case simply because they have strong feelings against the death penalty.

40-year-old Jessie Con-ui is scheduled for trial next month in the February 2013 stabbing death of corrections officer Eric Williams at the Canaan federal prison in Waymart. Prosecutors allege that he was angry about a search of his cell.

The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens' Voice reports that defense attorneys say case law only supports barring jurors if it is clear that they would vote against capital punishment regardless of the evidence.

Con-ui is serving 25 years to life for a 2002 gang initiation murder in Arizona. Prosecutors didn't immediately respond to Tuesday's defense filing.

(source: Associated Press)

VIRGINIA----impending execution

Death row inmate set to be executed April 25 loses appeal

A federal appeals court has rejected a bid to stay the execution of Ivan Teleguz set for April 25, setting up a clemency bid to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The unanimous 3-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the stay and a related request without explanation Thursday.

The decision was reached, his lawyers said, "despite strong evidence that he is innocent. Teleguz had asked the Court to temporarily stay his execution so that the Supreme Court of the United States could have adequate time to review his appeal before Virginia executes him."

They said they will ask McAuliffe to halt the execution, arguing for clemency in light of what they said was new evidence pointing to his innocence that has never been examined fully by the courts.

They said more than 113,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking McAuliffe to stop the execution.

Elizabeth Peiffer, one of Teleguz's lawyers, said that although they were disappointed with the decision, they are hopeful that McAuliffe will intervene.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Virginia wrote McAuliffe asking that Teleguz's death sentence be commuted to life without parole.

"In addition to our concerns about the death penalty itself, we remain concerned about the procedures and protocols in place governing executions about which we wrote to you in January," wrote Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, the executive director.

Teleguz, 38, was sentenced to death for the 2001 capital murder-for-hire of Stephanie Yvonne Sipe, the mother of their 23-month-old son.

Sipe was stabbed to death in her Harrisonburg apartment. Evidence showed that Teleguz, who had moved to Pennsylvania, was angry that he had been ordered to pay child support.

He hired 2 men to kill Sipe for $2,000 and drove them from Pennsylvania to Harrisonburg. Sipe suffered defensive wounds and 3 other knife wounds - 1 wound went from the left side of her neck to the right side.

The body was discovered by a neighbor who also found her son, unharmed, in a bathtub full of water.

Teleguz's lawyers say evidence has emerged since the trial suggesting Teleguz may be innocent. Among other things, 2 of the prosecution's witnesses have recanted their trial testimony in sworn statements and said they lied during the trial.

"Prosecutors in 2006 relied heavily on the evidence of the 2 men, and no physical or DNA evidence was produced linking Teleguz to the crime," said a statement from his lawyers.

The actual killer, who testified against Teleguz, was spared the death penalty, Teleguz's lawyers said.

However, 1 of the witnesses has left the country, and the other refused to testify when told it would violate his plea agreement if he testified differently and he would face re-prosecution, according to lawyers for Teleguz.

(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

FLORIDA:

Attorney removed from Markeith Loyd case after anti-death penalty stance

The Florida state attorney expected to prosecute the murder trial of Markeith Loyd was removed from the case by Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday afternoon, March 16, 2017 after refusing to seek the death penalty in the case.

Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, said earlier Thursday that her office would not seek the death penalty in any cases.

Loyd faces 11 counts, including murder and firearm charges, for allegedly killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton. Loyd’s arrest followed an extensive manhunt. He was captured January 17.

Ayala's decision not to seek the death penalty for Loyd sparked immediate criticism from several Florida leaders, including Orlando Police Chief John Minda, who said he was "extremely upset" by it. Scott called on Ayala to recuse herself from the case midday Thursday. After she refused, Scott reassigned Loyd's case to 5th Circuit State Attorney Brad King, he said in a statement.

Markeith Loyd is accused of the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend in December and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton in January.

"[Ayala] has made it clear that she will not fight for justice and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case to State Attorney Brad King," Scott said. "These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."

Earlier Thursday, Ayala said capital punishment in Florida had led to "chaos, uncertainty, and turmoil."

She argued that evidence showed the death penalty was overly expensive, slow, inhumane and did not increase public safety. Ayala said after "extensive and painstaking thought and consideration," she determined that pursing the death penalty "is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice."

"Some victims will support and some will surely oppose my decision," she said. "But I have learned that the death penalty traps many victims, families in a decadeslong cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting."

Capital punishment has been in limbo in Florida recently. The US Supreme Court ruled in January 2016 that the state's death penalty process was unconstitutional, and the state's high court ruled against a proposed fix to that law late last year.

On Tuesday, the governor signed a new death penalty bill, which was crafted to stand up to those legal challenges.

Several organizations sided with Ayala.

"Today's announcement is on the right side of history as momentum against the death penalty in the United States continues to build," Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said Ayala's "acknowledgment that the death penalty system is irreparably broken puts her at the forefront of smart-on-crime prosecutors," according to a statement.

The stance is significant because Orange County, where Ayala is a chief prosecutor, is among 4 of Florida's 67 counties that has produced more than 5 executions since 1976, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said.

The county is also among 10 Florida counties that together account for 1/2 the state's death row population, the organization said.

Backlash to the decision

"I have seen the video of Markeith Loyd executing Lt. Debra Clayton while she lay defenseless on the ground," Mina said.

"She was given no chance to live. A cop killer - who also killed his pregnant girlfriend - should not be given that chance. The heinous crimes that he committed in our community are the very reason we have the death penalty as an option under the law.”

Loyd and Dixon had been involved in a relationship and had a child on the way, authorities said. He had been on the run since her fatal shooting at an Orlando residence.

Clayton received word January 9 that Loyd was near a Walmart and tried to confront him.

Mina said the suspect "basically opened fire on" Clayton as soon as she told him to stop and continued to shoot even after she was down.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, said it "sends a dangerous message" not to seek the death penalty.

"It is a blatant neglect of duty and a shameful failure to follow the law as a constitutionally elected officer,” Bondi said.

Shawn Dunlap, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Orlando Lodge 25, slammed the decision as an "epic injustice."

"The death penalty is the law of the land in the state of Florida, and I believe that if there ever was a case for its use this would be the one," Dunlap said.

Charges dropped against 2 accused accessories

Charges of acting as accessories after the fact against Zarghee Mayan and Jameis Slaughter were dropped, according to a review of an Orange County court docket.

Authorities said Mayan did not contact officials after meeting with Loyd, who allegedly told him he had killed Dixon.

Slaughter was accused of collecting money to give to Loyd, a former boyfriend, while police were searching for him, authorities said.

The court filing said the case is not suitable for prosecution.

Slaughter still faces a misdemeanor charge of giving police false information. She's accused of lying about her communication with Loyd while he was on the run.

Trials set

When asked to enter a plea this month, Loyd responded: "For the record, I want to state that I am Markeith Loyd. Flesh and blood. I'm a human being. I'm not a fictitious person. I'm not a corporation," he said.

Chief Judge Frederick J. Lauten entered a not guilty plea on Loyd's behalf.

Loyd had a series of verbal outbursts when he questioned why the court placed charges against him.

Court documents indicate Loyd has not been diagnosed with a mental issue, has 10 years' worth of schooling and has a GED certificate.

A pretrial hearing for the Dixon case is set for April 17, Lauten said. Jury selection for that trial will begin on May 1. The case is expected to last about 2 weeks.

On June 19, Loyd will stand trial, accused of killing Clayton. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for June 12.

The next status hearing is scheduled for Monday.

(source: WQAD news)

ALABAMA:

Inmate: Alabama secretive about execution details

Lawyers for a condemned Alabama inmate are arguing that a court should block an eight execution date for their client because there are multiple unresolved questions about the legality and humaneness of the state's lethal injection procedure.

In their motion filed in Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday, lawyers for Tommy Arthur argued that the Alabama Legislature has the responsibility to decide the execution drug combination but instead lets the Department of Corrections make the decision. They filed a related court challenge in Montgomery Circuit Court alleging that the state has unlawfully abdicated death penalty decisions to "unaccountable bureaucrats, whose secretive decisions are exempt from oversight by the people."

The prison system uses the sedative midazolam to render inmates unconscious at the start of the procedure, a drug that has come under criticism. "There are well-accepted scientific reasons why midazolam is not used as a general anesthetic," Arthur's lawyers wrote.

Arthur's lawyers said the state has refused to turn over records related to the state's last 2 executions, including one in which the inmate repeatedly coughed for the first 13 minutes of the procedure.

"Mr. Arthur requires these records ... to ensure that he is not subject to a similar botched execution," Arthur's lawyers wrote.

Arthur was convicted of murder in the 1982 slaying of Troy Wicker. Investigators said Arthur was having an affair with Wicker's wife and she paid Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband. Arthur was on a prison work-release program for the slaying of his sister-in-law at the time of Wicker's killing.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted Arthur's execution in November on the same evening he was set to die by lethal injection.

Alabama officials last month asked the state court to set an expedited eighth execution date for Arthur. The request came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Arthur's latest appeal.

"Arthur has successfully manipulated the state and federal courts with meritless litigation to avoid his execution date 7 times," Assistant Attorney General J. Clayton Crenshaw wrote in court papers filed last month.

(source: The Tribune)

ARKANSAS----impending execution

Execution Date Scheduled For Man Who Murdered Arkansas Teen

An execution date has been set for a man who brutally murdered a teenager in Boone County, Arkansas.

Jason McGehee helped kidnap, torture and kill John Melbourne,15, back in 1996. After nearly 2 decades on death row, McGehee's is scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 27.

"With all the appeals that he has done [over the last 21 years] and trying to get the death penalty taken out, it's been hard for the family," says Bill Melbourne, cousin of John Melbourne.

Melbourne is ready for justice; he says the last 21-years have been a roller coaster of emotion for his family.

"[John Melbourne] was 15 when it happened, today he would be 36, 37-years old," he says. "It's a hard thing for us to swallow."

According to court testimony, Jason McGehee was the leader of a group of teens, including John Melbourne, who were involved in several petty crimes in Harrison, such as passing forged and stolen checks.

Melbourne was picked up by Harrison Police for attempting to pass one of those checks and was later released.

McGehee accused the 15-year-old of talking or "snitching" to officers. He and the 2 teens kidnapped Melbourne, tortured him - both in Harrison and in Omaha -- and took turns strangling until he died.

"It's was real hard to hear how --what they did to him for 8 hours," Melbourne's cousin says. "I couldn't imagine going through what he went through."

Melbourne knows McGehee's execution won't bring his cousin back, but he says after 2 decades of waiting it will provide some relief.

"If it does happen ... there will be some closure for us, knowing some justice has been done," he says.

McGehee's is 1 of 8 people scheduled for execution in April. The executions will mark the 1st time someone has died from lethal injection in Arkansas since 2005.

(source: ozarksfirst.com)

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

Calls for Arkansas to halt executions of 8 inmates over 10 days

Death row inmates in Arkansas are seeking to stop the state from carrying out a string of executions over 10 days.

The case revolves around the use of lethal injection drugs, which lawyers for the inmates say are unconstitutional. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has asked a judge to dismiss the case. A motion to stop an execution for one of the 8 inmates was rejected by the Arkansas Supreme Court on March 16.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the executions are scheduled for April 17-27, at a rate of 2 inmates per day. Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, says it's unprecedented to carry out so many executions at one time.

"No one has carried out that many executions over that short period of time," Dunham said. "The most executions that any state has conducted in an entire month is 8 and that was Texas. Texas has only done that in t2 months."

He adds that a short supply of Midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs used to administer the executions, is behind the quick turnaround of the executions. Dunham says the drug has been controversial since the preferred drug of choice for lethal injection became unavailable. He says the drug is a sedative and not an anesthetic increasing the risk of consciousness when the state administers the more deadly drugs.

"The reason that Arkansas is doing it is purely expedience," Dunham said. "Arkansas' supply of Midazolam expires at the end of April. So they have a choice of carrying out the execution quickly, or carrying out the executions right.

There are currently 34 people on death row in Arkansas and the last execution was carried out in November of 2005 according to the state's Department of Corrections.

(source: Fox News)

MISSOURI----female to face death penalty

Prosecutors vow to seek death penalty in Pamela Hupp murder trial

Prosecutors here said Thursday that they would seek the death penalty if Pamela Hupp is convicted of murdering a 33-year-old disabled man last year.

Hupp, 58, faces charges of 1st-degree murder and armed criminal action in the fatal shooting of Louis Gumpenberger on Aug. 16.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar called the death penalty an "extraordinary remedy" but said the crime qualified as "one of the worst of the worst."

It is also extraordinarily rare for a woman. The last woman to be executed in Missouri went to the gas chamber in 1953. Lohmar said he could not recall a death penalty case against anyone in St. Charles County in at least a decade.

There are 17 "aggravating circumstances" that can qualify someone for the death penalty, and at least one must be present. In the case of Hupp, prosecutors said that the murder was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind."

Under questioning by reporters, Lohmar declined to go into detail about what made the killing merit the death penalty but did say that the victim had been chosen at random and cited "the wanton disregard for human life" in Gumpenberger's "execution."

In a court filing, prosecutors said the factors that supported Hupp's "depravity of mind" were that Hupp's choice of Gumpenberger as her victim "was random and without regard to the victim's identity" and "thereby exhibited a callous disregard for the sanctity of all human life."

Lohmar said Gumpenberger's family supported the decision to pursue a death penalty.

Hupp's attorney Nick Williams released a brief statement that said: "Another press conference. The prosecutor is doing his best to make it impossible to seat an impartial local jury."

Among the mitigating factors that would have to be considered by a judge or jury would be Hupp's lack of a criminal record and her mental state.

Lawyer Rick Sindel, who estimates that he’s handled more than 20 state and federal cases involving prosecutors seeking the death penalty, called the aggravating factor selected by St. Charles County prosecutors "kind of a stretch" for the circumstances of the Hupp case, but said that "you can probably shoehorn anything into it."

He said that juries, who will ultimately make the decision about whether an aggravating factor applies, were often "most worried about ... 'Is this person dangerous to my family and my friends?'" But before deciding that, they also may hear about any other "bad acts" by Hupp.

Sindel said very death penalty sentence would be reviewed by the Missouri Supreme Court, where it would be compared with others that cited the same aggravating factor.

He also said Lohmar's move could be a tactic to win a guilty plea from Hupp.

"Everything is a negotiating tactic in a death case," Sindel said.

If convicted and sentenced to death, appeals would delay any execution for years. Mark Christeson was executed on Jan. 31, almost exactly 19 years after he killed a woman from south-central Missouri and her 2 children.

The last woman to be executed in Missouri was Bonnie Brown Heady, on Dec. 18, 1953, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. But Heady's death sentence was a federal one - for the kidnapping and killing of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease Jr.

No women are currently facing a death sentence in Missouri. In recent decades, one woman who was once sentenced to death died, apparently of suicide, while her case was being retried, according to the department. 4 women who were facing death were re-sentenced to life without parole. 2 are still alive.

There is also no "death row" in Missouri. Inmates facing death are integrated in the general population. A woman sentenced to death would be held at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, the department said.

A complicated plot

Police and prosecutors claim that Hupp shot Gumpenberger on Aug. 16 in her home in O'Fallon, Mo., as part of a complicated plot to divert attention from herself in a reinvestigation of the death in 2011 of Hupp’s friend Elizabeth "Betsy" Faria outside of Troy, in Lincoln County.

Prosecutors speculate that Hupp posed as a producer for NBC's "Dateline" who was seeking someone to re-enact a 911 call. 2 other people say Hupp approached them with some variation of that ruse six days before Gumpenberger was killed.

Prosecutors claim Hupp picked up Gumpenberger outside his apartment in St. Charles, drove him to her home and invited him inside. Hupp then called 911 and pretended to be the victim of a home invasion while shooting Gumpenberger, they say.

When police arrived, she claimed that Gumpenberger had jumped into her SUV as she arrived home and held a knife to her neck while talking about getting "Russ' money." A note in his pocket had kidnap instructions and again referenced getting "Russ' money," promising a $10,000 bounty.

"Russ," investigators believe, is Russell Faria, who was convicted of his wife's fatal stabbing before the conviction was overturned and he was acquitted in a retrial. The conviction was overturned in part because Faria's attorneys weren't allowed to present Hupp as an alternative suspect in Betsy Faria's murder. Hupp was the last person, other than the murderer, to see Faria alive. She also became the beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy days before the murder.

After Faria's acquittal, federal investigators began to look into the case.

Investigators' doubts

Police soon began to doubt Hupp’s story about the shooting. Gumpenberger was disabled from a car crash and would have been unable to move as Hupp claimed, friends and acquaintances told the Post-Dispatch.

The serial number on a $100 bill found in Hupp's bedroom was sequential to four $100 bills found in Gumpenberger's pocket, something O'Fallon police Detective Kevin Mountain described in a court document as "extremely uncommon for 2 people who reportedly do not know each other."

Surveillance video shows Hupp's interactions with 1 of the witnesses who described the "Dateline" ruse.

Investigators also believe that Hupp bought the knife, along with paper matching that used for the kidnapping instructions, 8 days before the shooting, sources close to the case have told the Post-Dispatch.

The trial, subject to change, is set to begin Oct. 3. Lohmar said the death penalty issue could delay that date.

Hupp's attorneys are seeking to have jurors brought in from outside St. Charles County, citing the extensive publicity surrounding Hupp and Betsy Faria. Prosecutors are opposed.

The Faria murder was the subject of a joint Post-Dispatch-KTVI Fox 2 investigation in 2014 and has also been featured multiple times on "Dateline."

The death of Hupp's mother, Shirley Neumann, 77, has also been mentioned in court and in the news. Neumann was found dead in 2013 after an apparent fall from the balcony of her apartment near Fenton. Police said that they were taking another look after Hupp was charged with Gumpenberger's murder.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

NEVADA:

Jury deliberating death penalty in schoolgirl slaying case

A Nevada state court jury that found a 24-year-old man guilty of 1st-degree murder is now considering whether he should be sentenced to death in the 2011 rape, stabbing and mutilation killing of a 15-year-old Las Vegas girl.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports (http://bit.ly/2nNlkJd ) the jury spent fewer than 30 minutes deliberating before delivering its verdict on Thursday against Javier Righetti.

Trial this week focused on a narrow question of guilt on the capital murder charge, after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Righetti's guilty plea in February 2016 didn't specify that his attack on Alyssa Otremba was premeditated.

The jury hasn't been told that Righetti also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, raping and robbing Otremba, whose burned corpse was found in a vacant lot near a path home from school in northwest Las Vegas.

(source: Associated Press)

ETHIOPIA:

Boris Johnson: Ethiopia Allows Lawyer for Death-Row Brit

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has said that on his 1st trip to Ethiopia, he has received assurances that a British man who is illegally held on death row has been permitted to see a lawyer.

Mr Johnson said today that he had received undertakings that Andargachew 'Andy' Tsege, who is held illegally under sentence of death in Ethiopia, would have "regular access to a lawyer" in Ethiopia.

The announcement comes nine months after a similar promise of legal access was made by Ethiopia to Mr Johnson's predecessor, Philip Hammond.

Mr Tsege was kidnapped from an international airport by Ethiopian forces in 2014, and rendered to Ethiopia. He has been held there unlawfully for nearly 1,000 days, and is currently held at a prison that has been described as 'Ethiopia's gulag.'

Mr Tsege - who is a prominent critic of the Ethiopian ruling party - was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009, in a trial that the US State Department said was "lacking basic elements of due process."

The Foreign Secretary appears today to have refused calls to seek Mr Tsege's return, which have come from MPs, British legal experts and others such as legal charity Reprieve.

In a recent letter to the Foreign Office, former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, Labour Lord (Charlie) Falconer and Lib Dem peer Ken MacDonald argued that Mr Tsege's kidnap and rendition are grounds for a UK request for his return to Britain.

Their letter pointed out that the Ethiopian Government has said that Mr Tsege has no prospect of appealing his death sentence. The legal experts asked the Foreign Secretary to "call for Mr Tsege's immediate release to his family in London."

Commenting, Maya Foa - a director at Reprieve - said: "Boris Johnson appears to have missed a vital opportunity to press for the return of a British dad who has been subjected to a shocking litany of abuses over the past 1,000 days. It's clear that there can be no just process for Andy Tsege in Ethiopia, where he is held under an illegal death sentence. Boris Johnson must urgently listen to his own MPs and to Andy's family - he must secure the return of this British citizen without delay."

(source: commondreams.org)

IRAN:

Death penalty for woman writer protested by her lawyer

One of the lawyers of Ms. Marjan Davari announced on March 15, 2017, that her team of lawyers had objected to the death sentence issued for this writer and researcher.

Erfanian said it has not been any decision yet as to which branch would handle Ms. Davari's case. There are some points that the lawyers do not agree with and are going to explain about them in future, he added.

Marjan Davari was arrested on September 24, 2015, at her residence in Karaj. She was detained at the notorious Ward 209 of Evin Prison and spent 3 months in solitary confinement. She was sentenced to death on March 12, 2017.

(source: NCR-Iran)

MARCH 16, 2017:

VIRGINIA:

After Ricky Gray execution, Virginia Department of Corrections changes execution protocol

Execution witnesses in Virginia now will see less of the proceedings, no longer viewing inmates as they are led into the execution chamber and strapped onto the gurney or into the electric chair.

Recent changes in the Virginia Department of Corrections execution manual alter decades-old practices and appear, in part, to have been made in response to issues that arose during the Jan. 18 injection execution of Ricky Javon Gray, which drew more attention than usual because of a new chemical cocktail.

The new protocol calls for a curtain in the execution chamber to be drawn prior to the inmate being escorted inside by the execution team, blocking the view from an enclosed citizen and media witnesses area.

Executions are carried out in "L-Building" at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt. Inmates have a choice between execution by injection or electrocution, with injection the default means if they refuse to choose.

In prior executions, the curtain was open as the inmate entered and was secured to the chair or gurney, allowing a clear view of what was happening and the inmate's demeanor. The curtain was closed only while intravenous lines and the electrodes for the cardiac monitor were placed.

Under the revised procedures for lethal injections, the curtain will not be opened until the IV lines are in place and the execution is ready to be carried out. A microphone inside the chamber then will be turned on so witnesses can hear the execution order read and any last statement from the inmate.

A redacted copy of the 18-page document signed Feb. 7 by Harold Clarke, director of the Department of Corrections, was made available to the Richmond Times-Dispatch by the Department of Corrections following a request earlier this week.

Asked why the changes were made, Lisa Kinney, a corrections spokeswoman, said Wednesday that "the department periodically updates its internal policies and procedures to ensure adherence to best practices, with the safety and security of staff and offenders remaining at all times paramount."

"Waiting to open the curtain until after IV line placement reduces stress on the staff placing the lines, which in turn makes the process likely to go more quickly for the offender. Line placement will be finished by the time set for execution, when the curtain will be opened for witnesses. This change brings Virginia's practice into line with that of other states which carry out executions," she said.

The Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions across the country, agrees and disagrees. The center said a number of other states follow procedures similar to Virginia's new ones.

But Robin Konrad, director of research and special projects for the center, contends, "They're doing this in response to a question of why it took longer than normal to insert the IV lines. Their answer is now, 'Well, we're not just going to let you know when we start that process.'''

The center's executive director, Robert Dunham, said, "All of that is why the secrecy provisions are so problematic. There is no legitimate state interest in shielding what goes wrong from public scrutiny."

Bill Farrar, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said, "It's outrageous, it's shameful, it's unacceptable that under these circumstances in particular - less than 3 weeks after there were problems with the Gray execution - that they would enact new protocols that are more restrictive and more closed and more secretive."

If the April 25 execution of Ivan Teleguz is carried out, the curtain will not be opened until he is ready for the death warrant to be read and given a chance to make a last statement. Teleguz was sentenced to death in Rockingham County in a murder-for-hire case.

Inmates wear a mask during electrocutions. During lethal injections, the inmate's feet are closest to the viewing area and the head and face the farthest.

. Other changes in the new policy include explicitly permitting a physician, at his or her discretion, to use a stethoscope in addition to the heart monitor to determine when death has occurred during lethal injections.

The former policy called for the physician to observe the heart monitor. However, at Gray's Jan. 18 execution, a physician appeared from behind the curtain and used a stethoscope.

The Death Penalty Information Center said courts in different parts of the country have ruled differently on the issue of how much witnesses can and cannot see. In some states even the placing of the IVs can be seen.

Dunham said that, "given the nature of the changes, it seems clearly related to a state desire to prevent the public from seeing what might go wrong as opposed to any legitimate penological purpose."

He said a change targeted to prevent the public from learning about misconduct or a mistake "invites legal challenge."

Farrar, with the ACLU, said he spotted as many as 30 changes in the new manual - although some typographical and inconsequential - from the one in effect when Gray was executed.

"We don't know if there's more than the 30 because there are 39 places where the document has been redacted," he said.

Farrar said the ACLU wrote a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Jan. 24 expressing concerns about problems in the Gray execution and asked, among other things, that all executions be halted until the state's execution protocol can be reviewed.

He said the American Bar Association’s Execution Transparency Resolution of 2015 calls for the entire process to be open to full public view.

"Otherwise, what's the point of having witnesses?" he asked.

The 1st 2 things called for in the ABA's resolution are that authorities "promulgate execution protocols in an open and transparent manner and allow public comment prior to final adoption; and ... require disclosure to the public, to condemned prisoners facing execution and to courts all relevant information regarding execution procedures."

Virginia law calls for 6 citizens to serve as official witnesses and department policy allows up to 4 media pool witnesses. Others, such as prosecutors or police officers involved in a case, may also attend and view from the same enclosed area. Members of the victim's immediate family may also witness but do so from a separate viewing area and cannot be seen by the other witnesses.

Farrar said the ACLU is also concerned that information about the drugs used and their manufacturer remains secret. He said the ABA resolution calls for an independent investigation any time an execution is prolonged unusually or the inmate appears to suffer.

He said the ACLU also asked the governor for an independent investigation into Gray's execution but McAuliffe did not respond to the Jan. 24 letter, written 2 weeks before the Department of Corrections' new protocol went into effect.

Kinney, with the Department of Corrections, said the new policy also calls for the death warrant to be read to the inmate in front of the assembled witnesses. Previously, the warrant was read in a cell adjacent to the death chamber before the inmate was led into the execution chamber.

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. Virginia has executed 112 people since 1982. It was unclear Wednesday when citizen and media witnesses began viewing the executions, but the media did witness the seventh one in 1990.

(source: richmond.com)

ALABAMA:

Death row inmate found incompetent to face execution----Federal panel rules strokes left Vernon Madison unable to understand reason for death sentence

A panel of federal judges Wednesday ruled that a series of strokes rendered an Alabama death row inmate incompetent and prevented his execution.

The 3-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an Alabama court improperly found that Vernon Madison, condemned for the 1985 murder of Mobile police officer Julius Schulte, could rationally understand that he faced execution after a series of strokes.

Writing for the majority, U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin wrote that the lower court saying it misinterpreted a statement from court-appointed psychologist Dr. Karl Kirkland about Madison’s ability to comprehend his sentence.

"The only evidence in the record that does address this issue demonstrates that, due to his serious mental disorder, Mr. Madison does not understand the connection between his crime and his execution," Martin wrote in an opinion joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ford v. Wainwright in 1986 that executing a person who cannot understand the reason for his or her execution violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The panel stayed Madison's execution last May, just hours before the inmate was scheduled to die.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office had no comment on the decision Wednesday. A request for comment was left Wednesday with the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, which represented Madison.

Madison stood trial three times for the murder of Schulte. Madison shot Schulte in the head on April 18, 1985, while Schulte responded to a report of missing child at a home where Madison was staying. Madison also shot his then-girlfriend, though she survived the attack.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Madison's 1st conviction because prosecutors excluded blacks for the jury pool. A second conviction was set aside because prosecutors elicited expert testimony "based on facts not in evidence." A 3rd trial in 1994 led to Madison's conviction. The jury in that trial sentenced Madison to life in prison after hearing evidence of mental illness. Mobile County Circuit Judge Ferrill McRae overrode the jury's decision and imposed a death sentence.

The inmate suffered 2 strokes - 1 in May 2015 and one in January 2016 - that left him with memory loss and made it difficult for him to communicate, according to the court. Madison, according to the court, is "legally blind, cannot walk independently, is incontinent and has slurred speech."

Before a competency hearing, Kirkland, the court-appointed psychologist, evaluated Madison, as did Dr. John Goff, retained by Madison's legal team.

Both said Madison suffered significant damage from the strokes. Kirkland, though, said that Madison "appears to be able to have a rational understanding of the sentence." Goff said Madison could not remember the crime or the victim.

In court testimony, Kirkland said Madison could talk "about very specific things that would indicate that he could remember specific things about the time of the offense." Goff said he only knew of that from conversations with his attorneys.

The court accepted Kirkland's testimony and said Madison had not proven his incompetence.

Martin wrote that Kirkland's testimony was "insufficient" to support the court's ruling, writing the state never rebutted Goff's testimony that Madison could not remember killing Schulte, and that unlike Goff, Kirkland did not evaluate whether Madison understood that his crime was the reason for his execution.

"The conclusions in Dr. Kirkland's report appear to rely exclusively on Mr. Madison's ability to discuss the history of his case," the majority wrote.

In a dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote that he believed Madison was incompetent, but said the federal court lacked authority to give Madison relief.

"I acknowledge that Dr. Kirkland may not have performed the most exhaustive of examinations, may not have asked the best questions, and may not have provided the most pristine opinion," Jordan wrote. "But that is not dispositive because Alabama did not have the burden of proof."

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)

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

Inmate: Ala. secretive about execution details----Tommy Arthur's lawyers said the state has refused to turn over records related to the state's last two executions

Lawyers for a condemned Alabama inmate are arguing that a court should block an 8th execution date for their client because there are multiple unresolved questions about the legality and humaneness of the state's lethal injection procedure.

In their motion filed in Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday, lawyers for Tommy Arthur argued that the Alabama Legislature has the responsibility to decide the execution drug combination but instead lets the Department of Corrections make the decision. They filed a related court challenge in Montgomery Circuit Court alleging that the state has unlawfully abdicated death penalty decisions to "unaccountable bureaucrats, whose secretive decisions are exempt from oversight by the people."

The prison system uses the sedative midazolam to render inmates unconscious at the start of the procedure, a drug that has come under criticism. "There are well-accepted scientific reasons why midazolam is not used as a general anesthetic," Arthur's lawyers wrote.

Arthur's lawyers said the state has refused to turn over records related to the state's last 2 executions, including one in which the inmate repeatedly coughed for the first 13 minutes of the procedure.

"Mr. Arthur requires these records ... to ensure that he is not subject to a similar botched execution," Arthur's lawyers wrote.

Arthur was convicted of murder in the 1982 slaying of Troy Wicker. Investigators said Arthur was having an affair with Wicker's wife and she paid Arthur $10,000 to kill her husband. Arthur was on a prison work-release program for the slaying of his sister-in-law at the time of Wicker's killing.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted Arthur's execution in November on the same evening he was set to die by lethal injection.

Alabama officials last month asked the state court to set an expedited eighth execution date for Arthur. The request came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Arthur's latest appeal.

"Arthur has successfully manipulated the state and federal courts with meritless litigation to avoid his execution date 7 times," Assistant Attorney General J. Clayton Crenshaw wrote in court papers filed last month.

(source: Associated Press)

TENNESSEE:

AG's office seeks rehearing in death penalty appeal case

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office has filed a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for a rehearing in the case of a man prosecuted by Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich for a 1997 Memphis murder.

The Sixth Circuit ruled last month in favor of inmate Andrew Thomas in his death penalty appeal in the killing of armored truck guard James Day. The court found Thomas' prosecutor had a duty to disclose that an important witness against Thomas had been paid $750 by the federal government prior to the trial.

The witness testified she wasn't paid, and Weirich has said she didn't know about the payment. Thomas has maintained his innocence.

Thomas' attorneys and Assistant Attorney General Michael Stahl agreed that knowledge of the $750 payment is "imputed" to the state prosecutors. The meaning of "imputed" versus actual knowledge was discussed at a hearing in November before a panel of Sixth Circuit judges.

"Imputed knowledge suggests knowledge," Judge Gilbert S. Merritt said.

"That's right, your honor, it suggests knowledge, but there's no evidence that there was actual knowledge in this case," Stahl said.

In the recent filing, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, Solicitor General Andrée Blumstein and Associate Solicitor General Jennifer Smith argue imputed knowledge is "no knowledge."

The petition includes a suggestion for rehearing before the full Sixth Circuit court.

(source: commercialappeal.com)

MISSOURI:

Jury will be sequestered in Reginald Clemons murder retrial set for August

Jury selection in the capital murder retrial of Reginald Clemons, 45, charged in the 1991 killings of 2 sisters on the Chain of Rocks Bridge, has been set for Aug. 14.

As required by law, the 12 jurors and two alternates will be sequestered during Clemons' death penalty murder trial in St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison's courtroom. The trial is expected to take up to 2 weeks. Burlison said Wednesday that he planned to summon 120 prospective jurors to take qualification questionnaires Aug. 1 and 3. Opening statements are scheduled for Aug. 21.

Sisters Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, were killed on the closed Chain of Rocks Bridge in April 1991. Authorities have said Clemons was among four men who encountered the Kerry sisters and their cousin on the bridge, attacked them and forced them to jump into the Mississippi River. The women died; their cousin lived.

Clemons was convicted in the killings in 1993 but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned that conviction in November 2015 and sent the matter back to circuit court.

Rape and robbery charges refiled last year are expected to be tried after the murder trial in August. Clemons' public defender, Charles Moreland, asked Burlison Wednesday to dismiss the rape and robbery charges, arguing that it is double jeopardy to retry Clemons once a jury was sworn in Clemons' 1st trial in 1993.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office relinquished the case to the Missouri Attorney General's Office in December, citing limited resources and expected staff turnover after a new prosecutor took over.

Christine Krug, who recently left the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office to work for the attorney general, is prosecuting the case. She disagreed with Moreland in court Wednesday, saying the law at the time required a 1st-degree murder charge and other crimes to be tried separately and that the statute of limitations on rape and robbery had not expired when charges were refiled last year.

Burlison took Clemons' motion under advisement Wednesday.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

MALAYSIA:

Suhakam calls for moratorium on death penalty

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has called on the government to review the relevance of capital punishment, recommending for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Referring to the execution of brothers Rames and Suthar Batumalai on Wednesday, its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail opined that the mandatory death penalty must be abolished so that judges will be given discretionary powers for a convicted person.

"Suhakam reiterates that the mandatory imposition of the death penalty violates the basic right to life, as enshrined in international human rights law as it constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, as well as denies judges the possibility of taking into account the facts of the offence or the characteristics of each individual offender for the purposes of sentencing," he said in a statement today.

Rames, 45, and Suthar, 40, were sentenced to death in April 2010 under Section 302 of the Penal Code after being found guilty of murdering Krishnan Raman on Feb 4, 2006. The 2 have maintained their innocence.

In condemning the double execution, Amnesty International Malaysia pointed out that the new application for clemency was filed by their lawyer on Feb 23, while the executions, which were initially scheduled for Feb 24 and halted at the last hour, were fixed again for March 17, before being forwarded to March 15.

"International law clearly states that executions may not be carried out pending any appeal or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence," its executive director Shamini Darshni had said in a statement earlier.

(source: thesundaily.my)

ZIMBABWE:

Chipanga deplores capital punishment

ONE of Zimbabwe's most unsung word smith, social commentator, philosopher and self-proclaimed prophet, Apostle Hosiah Chipanga, could be heading on a collision course with the world's justice system after he sensationally accused sighted judges and magistrates of delivering flawed judgments that have allegedly left some plaintiffs seething with anger.

Apostle Chipanga recently made the sensational claims at his Dangamvura home in an exclusive interview with Choice Magazine's Penjeni Madzikangava.

The veteran preacher and singer who has in the past courted the ire of politicians due to his hard hitting and politically inclined satirical compositions, is religiously referred to as Mutumwa by his legion of followers of Messiah's Apostolic Prophetical Inspired People's Institution, MAPIPI whose motto is: Love, Truth and Wisdom.

The controversial Apostle Chipanga also took a swipe at nations that still upholds the death penalty arguing that capital punishment should be abolished and replaced with the gorging out of eyes of perpetrators.

"This is God's way of imparting and impacting justice in His Kingdom. According to God, justice should be blind for it to be fair and as such God's justice system can only be fair if it is presided over by those not sighted," said Apostle Chipanga.

"There is a lot of miscarriages of justice because the justice system is filled to the brim with fully sighted magistrates and judges.

"There is no way a sighted judge can deliver a partial judgment. Hundreds of people who were hauled before these earthly courts were left seething with anger and crying foul after presiding magistrates or judges handed downsome judgments that left a lot to be desired," said the Apostle.

Apostle Chipanga said, times without number, some presiding magistrates or judges ended up delivering controversial sentences because their judgments might have been swayed or impaired withfacial looks of the plaintiffs and defendants.

"A blind magistrate or judge will not see by eyes but brain eyes and brain eyes read from the creator.

"If a magistrate or judge uses their mind, they will be seeing by the mind. If the world were to train the blind into lawyers and magistrates, they won't be any need for magistrates to recuse themselves", Apostle Chipanga said.

The Apostle philosophically said, "If one is born blind he is a king and if one loses sight he is poor.

"Any blind person is a king because they would need a servant or aide to show them around.

"A blind magistrate would always be above board since they would not be able to compare and contrast visually.

"To me blindness should never be taken as a handicap but a blessing and a prerequisite for anyone who wishes to train as a magistrate."

Apostle Chipanga said, magistrates and judges the world over would pass fairer judgments if they were to conduct court proceedings blind-folded.

The Apostle who singled out theft, rape and murder as the worst forms of sins, said crimes linked to these are mostly committed by the sighted.

"The reason why God is against capital punishment is that it inflicts pain on the family of those who would have been condemned to death.

"The condemned would never feel the pain because they would have died for only the dead know death because they would have experienced it.

"But if eyes were to be plucked out of the sockets of the condemned, they would feel the excruciating pain and that punishment would signal the end of their criminal careers," said Apostle Chipanga. He also added that, "If this God inspired form of punishment is inflicted on the condemned, it would be deterrent enough because would be criminals would have to think twice before committing a capital punishment related crime.

The desired deterrent effect that the death penalty has dismally failed to achieve, can be achieved by the gorging out of eyes, or forced blindness or blindness by choice," concluded Apostle Chipanga.

(source: bulawayo24.com)

INDONESIA/SAUDI ARABIA:

Indonesians Freed from Death Penalty in Saudi Arabia

The Indonesian government has successfully released 2 Indonesians from death penalty in Arab Saudi in the past week. Director of Indonesian Protection at the Foreign Affairs Ministry Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, said that the liberation attempt was facilitated by the Indonesian Consulate General (KJRI) in Jeddah and the Indonesian Embassy (KBRI) in Riyadh.

The Indonesian protection team in KJRI Jeddah released Masamah binti Raswa Sanusi from death penalty imposed by a court in Tabuk located around 1,000 kilometers from Jeddah on March 13, 2017. Masamah, an Indonesian from Cirebon, was charged with death penalty for an alleged murder of her employer’s 11-years-old child back in 2009.

"The final decree was supposed to be read in a trial on March 13, 2017. However, the judges decided to postpone [the trial] to examine the testimony of the witnesses," Iqbal said in a written statement on Thursday, March 16, 2017.

While the trial was on hold, the Indonesian protection team take on the opportunity to approach the victim's father and persuade him to forgive Masamah, and succeeded.

The victim's parents read a statement in front of the judges, saying that they had forgiven Masamah unconditionally and without needs for an apology. Mussamah is currently in the process of being repatriated to Indonesia.

"I the event of a qishash death penalty, the only party that can extend forgiveness is the victim's heir. We need to be persistent in persuading the victim's father. That is what we've been doing for quite some time. Thank God, the results are good," said KJRI Jeddah consular official Rahmat Aming and Legal Attache of the KBRI in Riyadh Muhibuddin.

Meanwhile, in a court in Dammam, some 450 kilometers away from Riyadh, another Indonesian identified as Mimin bintin Samtari, had also been released from death penalty and has been repatriated to Indonesia in March 14, 2017.

Iqbal explained that Mimin was alleged for witchcraft against her employer and was arrested since March 2012. In an effort to free Mimin, the KBRI appointed legal attorney Abdullah Al Aqsa in Dammam to provide legal counsel. After 5 years, the Dammam court has finally decided to free Mimin.

"This is the result of the KBRI's and the legal attorney's long struggle. We have faith that Mimin was innocent from the very beginning," Muhibuddin said.

Currently, there are 19 Indonesians under threat of death penalty in Saudi Arabia. As many as 14 people were arrested for alleged murder, 4 were arrested for adultery, and 1 Indonesian was arrested for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

(source: tempo.co)

TRINIDAD:

Ramesh is helping Gov't carry out the death penalty

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, reacting today to the murder of woman police officer Nyasha Joseph, said he is "a firm believer" in the death penalty.

The PM also disclosed that Government had communicated openly with former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj on the issue and that he, Maharaj, was assisting in building the necessary pathway for executions to be carried out.

Maharaj was unavailable for comment when contacted by the Express this afternoon.

Rowley, speaking at the Post Cabinet briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, said his belief in capital punishment was not based on the practice as a deterrent to crime but rather as a punishment fitting the crime.

WPC Nyasha Joseph, 22, went missing last Thursday and immediately there were fears for her life as relatives said she would not have voluntarily left her 4-year-old daughter.

Joseph's body was found yesterday at the mouth of Caroni River into the Gulf of Paria by fishermen dragging the sea bed for shrimp.

Earlier this year Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi had said the Office of the Attorney General was working towards re-animating the death penalty locally and he emphasised that the law in Trinidad and Tobago still permitted hanging until dead for the crime of murder.

Al-Rawi said his office was actively tracking a handful of cases currently on death row and that part of the issue was that after a convict had served a particular period of time, human rights concerns came into play where the death penalty was involved.

As of December 2016, the Attorney General said that there were 32 inmates on Death Row, but none qualified to meet the hangman.

He said the cases were being tracked so that the State would be on the side of the law if and when it looked to assert its right to employ the death penalty.

This was noted by Rowley who also remarked that he was unapologetic about his position.

Rowley said a minority within the population had chosen the way of crime and also felt that there were no consequences to their actions and he was also not convinced that having a difficult life was an excuse to turn to crime.

At the start of addressing Joseph's murder, Rowley said that as a father of daughters who are often in the country, he too has moments when he says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Rowley said he felt the pain of the families involved.

Rowley noted that the security services in Trinidad and Tobago was being provided with all the resources necessary to deal with crime.

He said it was costing the Government $41 million to maintain the Ministry of National Security helicopters "to fight a handful of criminals". He said the Government was working on reducing that figure to $15 million.

The Prime Minister said the fight against crime should become a "national crusade" where citizens support the police and security services.

He pleaded with citizens to come forward with information which can assist officers in finding criminals.

(source: Trinidad Express)

MARCH 15, 2017:

FLORIDA:

Prosecutors: Death penalty decision months away in airport shooting

A decision is months away on seeking the death penalty for the Alaska man accused of killing 5 people and wounding 6 in a Florida airport mass shooting, federal prosecutors told a judge Wednesday.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Esteban Santiago said at a hearing Wednesday the death penalty decision process has only just begun. Santiago lawyer Eric Cohen said it will take 12 months for the defense to prepare a "mitigation" document showing reasons the death penalty should not be sought.

"We expect that it's going to be lengthy," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro.

"It will take a substantial amount of time," Cohen added.

Top Justice Department officials will make the final decision on whether to seek capital punishment against Santiago, who otherwise would get life behind bars if convicted. Trial is currently set Oct. 2, but U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said that is a "placeholder" date.

"I understand there is much information to review," the judge said.

Santiago, of Anchorage, Alaska, has pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the Jan. 6 shooting rampage at a baggage claim area inside Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Authorities say he flew from Alaska to Florida with a 9mm handgun and ammunition in a checked box, got it out in an airport bathroom and emerged firing randomly.

Santiago's attorneys also repeated that he suffers from schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder but is taking medication and is competent to assist in his defense and stand trial. The FBI said Santiago claimed to be under some form of government mind control immediately after his arrest, later insisting the shooting was inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.

The FBI has said no ties to terrorist organizations have been found.

Bloom said she was satisfied for now about Santiago's mental condition and would not order a formal competency evaluation. She said monthly status hearings will be held, and asked Santiago whether he understood why those hearings are necessary.

"Yes," he answered.

"Why is that, sir?" the judge asked.

"To see if I'm still taking my medicine. To see if I'm still mentally capable," Santiago replied in a steady voice.

(source: Associated Press)

ALABAMA:

Lone lawmaker looking to end death penalty in Alabama

Hank Sanders closed his eyes, pressed his hand to his forehead and tried to recall the 1st time he petitioned the state of Alabama to abolish the death penalty.

Was it 2000? Or maybe 1998, shortly after the American Bar Association called for a moratorium on capital punishment? The 74-year-old senator from Selma couldn't say for sure, so he asked his secretary to dig into the files.

For nearly 2 decades, Sanders has introduced bills to end Alabama's ability to take a person's life -- an unsuccessful endeavour in a state that has defied national trends away from capital punishment and still houses one of the country's largest death row populations.

Sanders is undeterred, arguing that the death penalty unfairly targets poor African-Americans. Again this year, as he has since 2000, he put forward legislation to stop executions in the Deep South state.

"You don't fight whether you'll win or not," Sanders said in his Montgomery statehouse office. "You fight based on whether you think your position is right."

If past years are an indication, his legislation will again die in committee.

Years ago, Sanders thought he could win support for a 3-year pause on executions. When that failed for 12 straight years, he began calling for a full repeal.

"It's a lonely fight," said Sanders, a Democrat in the state Senate since 1983.

An Alabama native, he grew up in a 3-room house, the 2nd of 13 children in a rural town during the racial segregation of Jim Crow. The African-American lawmaker has dedicated much of his career to civil rights.

He organized voter registration drives and walked in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Selma-to-Montgomery march that preceded the Voting Rights Act. The private law firm he co-founded doggedly pursued civil rights cases and won more than $1 billion for black farmers who alleged discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sanders said opposing capital punishment is yet another attempt to bring justice to Alabama.

"It's an extension of my fight for civil rights," he said.

Alabama's 183 death row inmates make that the 4th largest U.S. grouping of prisoners awaiting execution. More than half are black, though African-Americans make up about a quarter of the state's population.

People who study capital punishment say its more frequent application to minorities is linked to racial prejudice. "It is inseparable of historical discussion of race, slavery, lynching, Jim Crow," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

Nationally, the number of yearly executions has dropped dramatically over a quarter century, partly due to difficulty securing lethal injection drugs and waning public support, according to the center. Last year, 20 inmates were put to death, the lowest figure since 1991. Annual death sentencing rates are also down nearly 90 % since 2000.

31 states still allow capital punishment, but 10 states account for about 80 % of the country's total death row population. California, with the largest death row population by far at 749 inmates, has executed only 13 prisoners since 1976, figures from the Death Penalty Information Center show. Alabama has used capital punishment 58 times over the same period.

Sanders said the drop in executions is positive, but he holds out hope for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing the punishment.

Death penalty advocates say it deters crime and is less costly than life imprisonment. Both sides bicker over conflicting studies on whether it depresses homicide rates.

"At the end of the day, whether you go with Timothy McVeigh or Dylann Roof, the only way you're going to deter people from committing those heinous acts is to have a death penalty," said Republican state Sen. Trip Pittman. He referred to McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber executed in 2001, and Roof, recently sentenced to die for a South Carolina church shooting massacre.

People personally affected by vicious crimes said Sanders' attempts to repeal the only punishment that will bring them closure are doing justice a disservice.

"I don't understand why people have all this compassion for these people on death row," said Janette Grantham, executive director of the advocacy group Victims of Crime and Leniency. Her brother, a county sheriff, was murdered in 1979 by a man later handed a life sentence.

Sanders' efforts would make sense in a perfect world, she said, but "it's not a fantasy world to me to want fairness and justice."

Though Sanders' crusade has never gotten far, he insists many lawmakers quietly agree capital punishment should be ended but fear losing votes: "There have been other politicians who have said to me, privately, 'You're right, but I can't touch that.'"

(source: ctvnews.ca)

OHIO:

Prosecutors urge court to set 2nd execution date for Ohio inmate who survived 1st attempt

Cuyahoga County prosecutors are urging the Ohio Supreme Court to schedule a 2nd execution for Romell Broom, whose 2009 death by lethal injection was botched.

Romell Broom, convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 14-year-old Tryna Middleton in 1987, has "successfully stalled his execution" by creating a bottleneck of appeals that lasted seven years and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, prosecutors said in a motion filed Monday afternoon.

"At some point, this Court must declare that the debate is over; that finality has attached; and that the parents of Tryna Middleton have waited long enough for justice," assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Christopher Schroeder said.

Broom's lawyers have not responded to the motion.

Broom became the 1st person in Ohio to survive an execution attempt when, in 2009, executioners couldn't find a vein sturdy enough to hold up as they injected a lethal drug cocktail into his blood.

Death row staff spent 2 hours poking Broom with needles so many times that the puncture wounds became swollen and bruised. One needle inserted by the prison doctor struck a bone. Broom cried out in pain several times, according to court records.

Since then, Broom's lawyers have argued that trying to execute him a 2nd time would amount to double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected that claim, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear the case in December.

Broom's lawyers petitioned the court to revisit the case. That was also denied in February.

Broom has an appeal on the same claims pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. But, prosecutors say, the Ohio Supreme Court should not wait until a decision in that court to set Broom's death date.

Schroeder pointed out in the brief that the Court has already scheduled executions in every month into the year 2020, so Broom's execution is still likely years away.

"7 years of appeals on the same issue is enough," Schroeder said in Monday's filing.

(source: cleveland.com)

ARIZONA:

Arizona Supreme Court to rule on appeal of death row inmate

The Arizona Supreme Court is scheduled to rule Wednesday on the automatic appeal of an inmate facing Arizona death sentences for 2 killings as well as life terms for 2 Idaho killings.

The Arizona high court will rule on an appeal for Abel Daniel Hidalgo, sentenced to death for the January 2001 contract killing of Phoenix auto-body shop owner Michael Cordova and the killing of upholsterer Jose Rojas, a potential witness.

Hidalgo pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder and burglary as his trial in the Phoenix killings started. After a penalty-phase trial, a jury gave Hidalgo 2 death sentences.

Hidalgo pleaded guilty federal court in Idaho to the fatal 2002 shootings of two Shoshone-Bannock women, 21-year-old Leigha Tacunan and 42-year-old Margaret Fellows.

(source: Associated Press)

CALIFORNIA:

Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp dies

Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp, a liberal with strong consumer protection and environmental credentials, died Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 81.

Van de Kamp, a former federal public defender, was Los Angeles County's top prosecutor when he successfully ran for California attorney general in 1982. He won re-election in 1986.

"John Van de Kamp lived for the values of justice and opportunity that define the State of California," Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who worked at the state Department of Justice during Van De Kamp's tenure, said in a statement Wednesday. "John understood the higher calling of public service. He performed for the people of California like few others."

Gov. Jerry Brown said Van de Kamp "was a wonderful public servant and had a real sense of justice."

Van de Kamp was an early favorite in the Democratic primary race for governor in 1990. But he lost to then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who went on to lose to U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, a Republican, in that fall's general election.

He later went into private practice and served as president of the California State Bar in 2004 and 2005. He had been counsel in Mayer Brown LLP's Los Angeles office since 2012.

"It was a treat to have him here. He was a very special guy," said Philip Recht, a Mayer Brown partner and longtime friend of Van de Kamp's who called him "a man of utmost integrity."

"I don't think there's anyone who's had a career like this in the law," he said.

While attorney general, Van de Kamp led the state's early efforts to ban assault weapons after Patrick E. Purdy gunned down 5 children on a Stockton schoolyard in 1989. He worked with then-Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti and others to pass the 1st bill in the country that sharply restricted the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons.

Van de Kamp was an early adopter of a now-frequent campaign strategy by candidates for higher office: Sponsoring ballot measures. He linked his 1990 gubernatorial candidacy to a trio of ballot measures dealing with the environment, drug abuse, and political ethics, with Van de Kamp touting the latter as a way to "drain the political swamp" at the Capitol.

Yet Van de Kamp advisers came to 2nd-guess an expensive strategy of effectively running four campaigns at once as Feinstein surged ahead in the polls. Adding insult to injury, voters rejected all of the measures in November.

More recently, Van de Kamp, an ardent opponent of capital punishment, worked to pass unsuccessful efforts in 2012 and last year to end the death penalty. He was part of supporters' ballot argument in favor of last November's Proposition 62 and helped file the lawsuit to block Proposition 66, last fall's measure that speeds up the death penalty process.

As attorney general, Van de Kamp went to court to uphold Proposition 103, the 1988 ballot measure that overhauled the state's insurance marketplace. Insurance companies strongly opposed the initiative and quickly sued after its passage. Harvey Rosenfield, the proposition's chief architect, called Van de Kamp "an old-school, gracious public servant."

"He was a very determined advocate. He would be a model for an elected official in public service," Rosenfield said.

(source: sacbee.com)

PAKISTAN:

Pakistani army says 3 convicted Islamic militants executed

3 Islamic militants convicted by military courts were executed in a prison in central Pakistan on Wednesday, the Pakistani army announced.

The militants were associated with the Pakistani Taliban and a 2nd extremist group named Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami, the army said in a statement. They were convicted of involvement in the killing of soldiers and police officers, it said.

The Pakistani government began trying alleged Islamic militants in military courts and lifted a moratorium on executions following a December 2014 Taliban attack on a school that killed more than 150 people, most of them schoolchildren. Human rights groups have criticized the fairness of the military courts, but the army says all defendants have a right to appeal.

The 2-year mandate for the military courts to try alleged Islamic militants recently expired, and parliament has been debating whether to continue the practice.

Pakistan has been at war with Islamic militants for over a decade.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, gunmen intercepted the car of a bureaucrat, Abdullah Jan, in the southwestern city of Quetta, and abducted him, according to police officer Abdur Razzaq Cheema.

No ransom or any other demand has been made yet and no one has claimed responsibility. Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, is a hotspot for both Islamic militant groups and separatist insurgents who demand greater autonomy and a larger share of regional resources.

(source: The Jakarta Post)

IRAN----executions

4 Prisoners Hanged on Drug Charges

3 prisoners at Zahedan Central Prison and a prisoner at Chabahar Prison were hanged on drug related charges. Both prisons are located in Iran's Sistan & Baluchestan province (southern Iran).

3 PRISONERS HANGED

According to the Baloch Activists Campaign, three prisoners were hanged at Zahedan Central Prison on Sunday March 12 on drug related charges. The prisoners have been identified as Yar Mohammad Reigi, Ismael Reigi, and Rahim Reigi. Dozens of the family members of these prisoners reportedly gathered outside the prison the night before their executions calling on the Iranian authorities to stop their execution sentences.

1 PRISONER HANGED

On Saturday March 11, a prisoner, identified as Manouchehr Abkhiz, was reportedly executed at Chahabar Prison on drug related charges.

Iranian official sources, including the media and the Judiciary, have not announced these 4 executions.

The increase in the execution of Sunni prisoners is believed to be as a result of an alleged confidential order given by Iran's Judiciary Chief to "accelerate the execution of Sunni prisoners". Molana Abdul Hamid, a Sunni Friday Prayer Imam in Zahedan, has reportedly written a letter to Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei, expressing worry about the Judiciary Chief's alleged execution order and called for a follow up into the matter.

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

4 prisoners were reportedly hanged at Darya, Urmia's central prison (West Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran), on drug related charges.

According to the human rights news agency, HRANA, the executions were carried out on Tuesday March 14. The prisoners have been identified as Chengiz Badozadeh, Akram Hassanpour, Vahed Hamedi, and Kiumars Freydan (also known as Delawar).

According to the report by HRANA, Mr. Freydan was sentenced to death twice in 2 separate case files. In one of the files, he was charged with trafficking under 100 grams of narcotics, in the other, he was charged with trafficking under 500 grams of narcotics. One of his death sentences was reportedly commuted to life in prison. Mr. Freydan's wife is reportedly currently held in the women's ward of Urmia's central prison on drug related charges. Mr. Freydan's father, Effendi, was reportedly hanged by Iranian authorities in September 2016. Mr. Freydan's brother is reportedly held in Ward 14 of Urmia's central prison. Mr. Freydan's mother was reportedly released from the same prison recently.

The recent wave of executions in Iran comes at the same time time that the Iranian Parliament is reportedly reviewing a proposed bill to limit the use of the death penalty for drug related offenses.

(source for both: Iran Human Rights)

MALAYSIA----executions

2 brothers on death row hanged today

Brothers Rames and Suthar Batumalai, who were sentenced to death in April 2010 for murder, were hanged in the wee hours of today.

Amnesty International Malaysia, in condemning the double execution, said they were carried out despite a pending clemency application to have their case reconsidered.

"International law clearly states that executions may not be carried out pending any appeal or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence," its executive director Shamini Darshni said in a statement.

She said the capital punishment was also carried out 2 days ahead of their initial scheduled execution on Friday, with family members only informed of date change on March 14, less than 24 hours before the men would face the noose.

"It is simply cruel that the family of the prisoners were told to prepare for executions this Friday, only to find out with less than 24 hours' notice that they were given wrong information about the date of the execution.

"With the clemency appeal still pending, the brothers were denied of their opportunity to have their case reconsidered and have their clemency applications heard," she said.

Shamini pointed that the new application for clemency was filed by their lawyer on Feb 23, and that the executions, which were initially scheduled for Feb 24 and halted at the last hour, were set again for March 17, before being forwarded to March 15.

Rames, 45, and Suthar, 40, were sentenced to death in April 2010 under Section 302 of the Penal Code after being found guilty of murdering Krishnan Raman on Feb 4, 2006. The 2 have maintained their innocence.

Describing the case as deeply troubling, Shamini said the brothers should have been granted the opportunity to have their applications heard and the executions should have been halted until the full and fair hearing of this application.

"Executions continue to be carried out in secretive and opaque conditions. Malaysia must stop back-pedalling on human rights and start protecting them by halting all executions and moving to abolish the death penalty," she added.

(source: The Sun Daily)

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

Brothers' execution against international law, says Amnesty

Amnesty International Malaysia has condemned the execution of Rames and Suthar Batumalai despite a new application for clemency filed by their lawyer on Feb 23.

International law clearly states that executions may not be carried out pending any appeal or other proceedings relating to pardon or the commuting of a convict's sentence, the NGO said.

"With the clemency appeal still pending, the brothers were denied of their opportunity to have their case reconsidered and have their clemency applications heard," executive director Shamini Darshni said in a statement today.

Rames and Suthar were sentenced to death in April 2010 under Section 302 of the Penal Code after they were found guilty of murdering Krishnan Raman on Feb 4, 2006. The brothers, however, maintained their innocence.

During trial, they said they had intervened to stop 2 other men from attacking and killing the victim.

The executions, which were initially scheduled for Feb 24, were halted at the last hour. They were set again for March 17, but family members were informed only yesterday that the brothers would be hanged at dawn today, Amnesty said.

This was despite a letter yesterday informing them of the execution on March 17 and asking them to visit the two at Kajang Prison for the last time today.

"It is simply cruel that the family of the prisoners were told to prepare for executions this Friday, only to find out with less than 24 hours' notice that they were given wrong information about the date of the execution," Shamini said.

She added that the case was "deeply troubling' as the death sentence had been imposed as the mandatory punishment for a conviction based only on circumstantial evidence.

"They should have been granted the opportunity to have their applications heard and the executions should have been halted until the full and fair hearing of this application."

Shamini called for Malaysia to "stop back-pedalling on human rights" and to abolish the death penalty.

"Malaysia remains among the minority of countries that continue to use this archaic method of sentencing people in a cruel and inhumane manner," she said.

(source: freemalaysiatoday.com)

BANGLADESH:

Kushtia court orders death sentence for three in 2012 murder

A Kushtia court has awarded the death penalty to 3 persons for murdering a 57-year-old man.

In February 2012, Freedom Fighter Kahbir Uddin was strangled to death at a village in Daulatpur Upazila.

On Wednesday, the court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Reza Mohammad Alamgir delivered the verdict.

The death-row convicts are Abdus Salam, Jamil Mandal and Abdul Hamid Malitha.

(source: bdnews24.com)

PHILIPPINES:

3 Mindanawon reps lose committee chairmanship for voting "No" to death penalty

3Mindanawon representatives lost their chairmanship in key committees - Natural Resources, People's Participation, and Muslim Affairs - for voting "No" to HB 4727 or the death penalty bill.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday declared the post of Deputy Speaker for Luzon and the chairmanship of 11 committees vacant, on motion of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. The Deputy Speaker for Luzon, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the chairs of 11 committees, including the three Mindanawons, voted no to the restoration of the death penalty.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez Jr. last week warned that those who vote no to HB 4727 would lose their posts.

Stripped of their committee chairmanship were Mindanawons Kaka Bag-ao of the lone district of Dinagat Islands (Committee on People’s Participation), and party list members Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of Anak Mindanao (Committee on Muslim Affairs) and Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna (Committee on Natural Resources).

"This is to be expected and we stand by our principled decision to vote NO against the anti-poor death penalty bill," Zarate said, adding "it does not speak well for the House leadership to have resorted to arms-twisting and railroading just to ensure the passage of an anti-poor death penalty bill."

Zarate said Bayan Muna and the Makabayan Bloc "will have to seriously assess the situation and discuss our next move."

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was removed as House Deputy Speaker for Luzon. The death penalty, abolished in 1987, was reimposed in 1993 but abolished again in June 2006 under the Arroyo administration.

Also stripped of their committee chairmanship were Diwa party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (Women and Gender Equality), Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad (Government Reorganization), Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte (Land Use Special Committee), Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Poverty Alleviation ), Sorsogon Rep. Evelina Escudero (Basic Education and Culture Committee), Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto (Civil Service and Professional Regulation Committee), and Antonio Tinio (Public Information) and Buhay party-list Rep. Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. (Overseas Workers Affairs Committee).

A total of 49 of Mindanao's 66 representatives to Congress voted in favor of HB 4727. Nationwide, a total of 217 representatives voted for the bill, 54 voted against and 1 abstained.

Mindanao has a total of 66 representatives in the House of Representatives, 59 of them representing districts and 7 representing party list groups.

The reimposition of the death penalty is a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation.

(source: mindanews.com)

MARCH 14, 2017:

TEXAS----execution

Texas executes Fort Worth man who killed a father and an infant----The state carried out its 4th execution of the year, putting to death 61-year-old James Bigby. He was convicted in the 1987 murders of his friend and a 4-month-old during a killing spree in Fort Worth.

After nearly 26 years on Texas’ death row and 2 sentencing trials, a man convicted in the death of his friend and a 4-month-old during a Fort Worth killing spree was executed Tuesday evening.

James Bigby, a 61-year-old with a history of paranoid schizophrenia, was convicted in the 1987 murders of Michael Trekell, 26, and Trekell's infant son, Jayson Kehler, according to court filings. Bigby was also accused of killing Calvin Crane and Frank Johnson, but he wasn't tried in those murders.

Bigby told police he killed the men because he believed they were conspiring with his employer to undermine a worker's compensation case he had filed. He said he didn't know why he killed the baby.

Just after 6 p.m. Tuesday, Bigby lay on the gurney in Texas' execution chamber in Huntsville. He was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 6:17 p.m. and pronounced dead 14 minutes later, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He had no witnesses there on his behalf.

In his final statement, Bigby apologized to Grace Kehler, the mother of the infant he killed, and the families of Crane and Johnson.

"I'm sorry it went on for a terribly long time ... I hope that my death will bring you peace and closure," he said. "... I hope that you could forgive me, but if you don't I understand. I don't think I could forgive anyone who would of killed my children."

Aside from his statement, Bigby also wrote a letter to Kehler, apologizing again, telling her he tried to drop his appeals earlier, and blaming his old employer, Frito-Lay, for his actions.

"Frito Lay caused my actions and they alone are to blame for what I did and it was not about money ... attempts to kill me followed when I refused to settle or drop my legal suit," he wrote.

Bigby had not filed any late appeals before his execution, and, even though he had been on death row for more than a quarter of a century, Tuesday was the 1st execution date he received, according to his lawyer, John Stickels.

"I believe that [Bigby] is resigned to the fact that he's going to be executed, and I think he wants it over with," Stickels told The Texas Tribune on Friday.

The killing spree started on the evening of Dec. 23, 1987, when Bigby and Trekell were watching television and making dinner, according to court filings. Bigby shot Trekell and attempted to suffocate 4-month-old Jayson with cellophane before drowning him in the sink.

Later that night, he visited Crane, another friend. Bigby convinced Crane to drive around to investigate whether Bigby was being followed. In the car, Bigby told Crane to pull over, and he shot him and left him dead on the road, according to an opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Then, around 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve, the opinion said, he drove Crane's car to Johnson's house and shot him several times when he opened the door.

He was arrested 2 days later after a SWAT standoff at a local motel. The mother of the infant, Grace Kehler, told police she knew Bigby had been hospitalized for mental illness more than once and that he had said before he wanted to go out "in a blaze of glory," according to court documents.

During his trial, an insanity defense was shot down, and, at one point during a recess, Bigby got a hold of a gun Judge Don Leonard kept at his bench, went into Leonard's chambers and tried to take him hostage in an apparent escape attempt, court records said. Bigby was eventually subdued, and Leonard continued to preside over the trial.

"There's a lot of things about this case that, over time, made the news and made this a big case," said Helena Faulkner, Tarrant County assistant district attorney who has handled the Bigby case after his conviction.

Bigby spent a long time on death row because he was granted a new sentencing trial in 2005. The U.S 5th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his original death sentence because new sentencing procedures required juries to decide whether any mitigating evidence - like Bigby's mental illness - qualified a capital murder convict for the lesser sentence of life without parole. When Bigby was first sentenced to death in 1991, jurors were told they could "nullify" any such evidence.

During his original trial, the defense brought up Bigby's schizophrenia, telling the jury that he had various diagnoses and been hospitalized multiple times. A psychiatrist testified that "at the time of the offense ... Bigby was suffering from [this] serious severe mental illness and was not aware of the difference between right and wrong."

Still, after considering this evidence during the second trial, the jury again handed down a death sentence, essentially resetting the appeals process after Bigby had already lived 15 years on death row.

Under current law, mentally ill convicts can be sentenced to death (though at least one Texas lawmaker is hoping to change that). Defendants can present the illness as mitigating evidence, but ultimately, it is in the jurors' hands. In Bigby's case, the jury did not believe his schizophrenia was a reason to give him life without parole instead.

"Mr. Bigby was never found to be insane," said Faulkner. "The jury rejected any claims that he had any type of mental illness or defect that would warrant not imposing a sentence of death."

Bigby's execution was the 2nd from Tarrant County this year. The next 2 executions scheduled are also from Tarrant. Faulkner said the uptick in scheduled executions is because cases were delayed while the county did a review of capital cases and DNA analysis.

The execution was the 4th for Texas in 2017. Last week, the state put to death Rolando Ruiz after hours of uncertainty while the U.S. Supreme Court pondered pending appeals. Outside of Texas, only Virginia and Missouri have held executions this year - 1 in each of those states.

Bigby becomes the 542nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982, and is the 24th condemned inmate to be put to death since Greg Abbott became governor of the state.

Bigby becomes the 6th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1448th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: Texas Tribune & Rick Halperin)

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

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----24 Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----542 Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

25---------April 12-----------------Paul Storey-----------543

26---------May 16-------------------Tilon Carter----------544

27---------May 24-------------------Juan Castillo----------545

28---------June 28------------------Steven Long-----------546

29---------July 19-----------------Kosoul Chanthakoummane---547

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

VIRGINIA----impending execution

Virginia Execution Reset As Doubts Persist (USA: UA 55/17)

Ivan Teleguz, a Ukrainian national, is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on 25 April. He maintains his innocence of the 2001 murder for which he was sent to death row in 2006.

TAKE ACTION

Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

-- Calling for the execution of Ivan Teleguz to be stopped and his death sentence commuted;

-- Noting that two witnesses have recanted their trial testimony, and that the threat of the death penalty was used to secure the cooperation of a 3rd principal witness at trial, the person who killed Stephanie Sipe;

-- Expressing concern that before its sentencing decision, the jury heard highly prejudicial aggravating evidence against the defendant pointing to his involvement in a murder that did not occur as alleged;

-- Explaining that you are not seeking to downplay the seriousness of violent crime or its consequences.

Contact below official by 21 April, 2017:

Governor Terry McAuliffe

Common Ground for Virginia, P.O. Box 1475

Richmond, VA 23218, USA

Fax: +1 804-371 6531

Email (via website): https://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/

Salutation: Dear Governor

(source: AMnesty International USA)

FLORIDA:

Former Judge Expects Fewer Death Penalty Sentences In FloridaM

A former chief judge says the number of future death penalty recommendations will likely drop now that a unanimous jury recommendation is required.

Attorney Belvin Perry Jr. was Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court. He's been following Florida's legal tug-of-war over the death penalty that ended when Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that requires a unanimous jury recommendation.

The legal wrangling brought executions in Florida to a standstill. And Perry says needing a unanimous jury will slow them down.

"It's not difficult to persuade 12 people if the evidence is there to determine guilt or innocence. The heavy lifting comes in when you try to convince 12 people that an individual needs to die for the crime that they have committed. And all you need now is 1 person to disagree," said Perry.

Perry expects a number of cases with only a majority of jurors recommending the death penalty will have to make their way back to court.

(source: WMFE news)

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

Scott signs death penalty fix: Florida now requires unanimous decision

After more than a year of uncertainty, Florida is again poised to begin executions and prosecute death penalty cases after Gov. Rick Scott signed a law Monday aimed at fixing flaws in the state's capital sentencing procedure.

"Governor Scott's foremost concern is always for the victims and their loved ones. He hopes this legislation will allow families of these horrific crimes to get the closure they deserve," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement early Monday evening.

The new law - the 2nd death penalty "fix" in a year - came in response to a series of court rulings, set off by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2016 in a case known as Hurst v. Florida.

The 8-1 opinion, premised on a 2002 ruling in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, found that Florida's system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

The Legislature last year hurriedly passed a law to address the federal court ruling, but the Florida Supreme Court struck down the new statute. Florida justices said the law was unconstitutional because it only required 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death, instead of unanimous jury decisions.

The state and federal court rulings - and others related to it - created confusion regarding Florida's death penalty, with circuit judges split on whether they could move forward with capital cases until the Legislature addressed the issue of unanimity.

Although the Florida court recently decided capital cases could proceed even in the absence of a statutory fix, legislators nevertheless rushed to address the issue, making it the 1st bill passed by both chambers and sent to the governor by the end of the 1st week of the 2017 legislative session.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved the proposal (SB 280) Thursday, and the House approved the measure by a 112-3 vote the following day.

Under the law, juries will have to unanimously recommend death for the sentence to be imposed on defendants convicted of capital crimes.

With nearly 400 inmates on death row, Florida has more prisoners facing execution than almost any other state.

As of last year, Florida was 1 of only 3 states - along with Alabama and Delaware, which has since blocked the death penalty - that did not require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences to be imposed.

At the time, Florida required only a simple majority of jurors to recommend death. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst, which did not address the unanimity issue, forced Florida lawmakers to reconsider the state’s entire capital sentencing system.

The "fix" authorized by lawmakers last year, and signed by Scott, required, among other things, at least 10 jurors to recommend death. But a majority of the Florida Supreme Court decided that the state's constitutional right to trial by jury required unanimous jury recommendations, as in every other jury verdict, for death to be imposed.

Lawmakers backing this year's effort maintained that, even if they disagreed with the court-ordered unanimity requirement, they were willing to back the change to put the state's death penalty system back on track.

"It was important to me that, in the very first week of session, that we address this issue so we have a constitutional statute - as juries are being selected and as families of victims are in court in very stressful circumstances and in very difficult circumstances, we want a law that is orderly and structured and constitutional," Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Thursday, after his chamber's vote.

But public defenders and criminal defense lawyers contend that the state law remains flawed.

Requiring unanimous jury recommendations is "only 1 step in a long journey," 10th Judicial Circuit Assistant Public Defender Pete Mills told The News Service of Florida on Friday.

"Florida's death penalty still has problems of constitutional magnitude, including but not limited to the failure to limit the scope of its application, racial disparities, geographic disparities, and execution of the mentally ill," Mills, chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty Steering Committee, said after the House overwhelmingly approved the measure.

(source: Palm Beach Post)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas acquires drug for string of 8 executions next month----No prisoner has been executed in Arkansas since 2005. Next month, 8 are scheduled to die.

The state of Arkansas has acquired enough potassium chloride to go ahead with the executions of 8 death row inmates next month, prisons officials said Monday.

The state had run out of the drug, which is the 3rd administered in Arkansas' lethal injection sequence, at the end of January. Monday, officials said they had obtained enough to execute all 8 of the prisoners set to die next month, 2 per day on four different days.

Officials did not say where they acquired the new supply of potassium chloride due to a state law that keeps such transactions secret.

Arkansas, like some other states that use lethal injection as a method of carrying out death sentences, first administers midazolam to sedate the inmate before pancuronium bromide is introduced to paralyze them. The potassium chloride then stops the heart.

The state, which hasn't executed any condemned prisoner since 2005, aims to put 8 men to death before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of next month. The executions were scheduled after the U.S. Supreme Court declined earlier this month to hear the inmates' arguments that Arkansas' execution statutes are unlawful. After that refusal, Arkansas' high court ended a stay it granted last year.

"This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said March 2.

The men set to die are Don Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Johnson, Marcell Williams, Jack Jones, Jr., Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams. Davis and Ward are scheduled for execution on April 17, Lee and Johnson on April 20, Williams and Jones on April 24 and McGehee and Williams on April 27.

Lawyers for the condemned inmates have argued the 3-drug protocol is not efficient as an execution method, is torturous, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

(source: United Press International)

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

Mother's Killer Will Finally Be Put to Death After More Than 2 Decades

It's been 27-years since Daniel was gunned down and her family will finally receive a sense of closure next month when Davis is put to death.

After more than two decades of waiting, Susan Taylor Khani, daughter of Jane Daniel, will finally see her mother's killer put to death. Khani says it's been a long time coming but that doesn't make it any easier.

"What he put her through? I just can't imagine. This is the third or fourth time so... I hope this time it goes through. Been waiting for 25 years," said Khani.

Don Davis was sentenced to death on March 6, 1992 for the murder of Jane Daniel. He'll finally be put to death on April 17th, 2017. He shot and killed her, execution style, in the back of the head after robbing the house. More than anything, Khani said this will bring closure to her years of suffering.

"I've been living with this for a long time. It was something that the state promised. I'm just ready for it to be over. I forgave him back when he was accused. But now i don't have to deal with this anymore. It'll be done and he won't be able to say my mom's name anymore," said Khani.

Khani thinks the reason it's taken so long for Davis to receive the death penalty is the opposition to the death penalty. Even after all of these years, Khani hasn't changed her mind about Davis.

"Her life was cut short. She never met my son. My son never had a grandmother. He took that away from my mom and from me. He's a very cruel person. He needs to be put to death," said Khani.

While the pain of losing her mom will never fade, Khani says she is grateful for the closure she has received.

"He was found guilty. The evidence was huge. A lot of families don't have the closure that i have," said Khani.

Khani is not happy but relieved this part of her life will finally be put to rest with Davis' death. She will attend his execution in Pine Bluff on April 17th.

(source: nwahomepage.com)

ARIZONA:

Arizona's Death Penalty Procedures & Professional Ethics

JURIST Guest Columnist Tasha Russell discusses ethical issues that arise from the death penalty plan in Arizona, which attempts to put the onus on the lawyer's of convicted criminals awaiting the death penalty to provide the drugs to be used in their client's execution.

Just recently, it has come to light that the State of Arizona has put forward a new death penalty plan given the lack of availability of anesthetics and sedatives previously used in the death chamber, namely, Pentobarbital and Sodium Pentothal. The plan being put forward is a provision that puts the onus on a death row inmates’ lawyer to provide the drugs so the State can follow through with the planned death penalty. To say that this plan throws some ethical issues in the face of those lawyers would be a great understatement.

One of the main duties of any lawyer is to act in the clients' best interests and in accordance with their instructions. Here we have a situation where Arizona is attempting to put a duty on a lawyer to act in the state's best interests and per their instructions rather than the clients. This flies in the face of the duties of a lawyer to their client. This is before we even take into account the fact that it is against Federal law in the US to import these drugs. It should be noted that a lawyer is bound to not assist or take part in criminal conduct with their client but here, Arizona expects a lawyer to commit a criminal act for the State so that they can execute their client? One could say that the plan is rather nonsensical when compared with a lawyers professional responsibilities. Not to mention the fact that committing a criminal act can be seen to indicate that the lawyer is not fit to practice and can amount to professional misconduct.

In addition to working in their clients best interests, it is also a professional conduct rule that lawyers must work with diligence in representing their client and with dedication and commitment to the interests of the client. I don't think anyone could argue that assisting the state to execute your client, assuming that it is against their wishes of course, is hardly working in an effort to seek the best results for their client with the dedication and commitment that a lawyer is bound to put into their work.

We could also turn our mind to the matter of professional ethics which stipulates that a lawyer must act independently and impartially in providing legal services but the plan being put forward is essentially asking the lawyer to be a slave to the aims of government and hammer their client to the stake, so to speak. Further, when acting with this independence the lawyer is given the right to refer to considerations such as moral, social and political factors in addition to matters of law. So in the few US jurisdictions that allow voluntary euthanasia, a doctor cannot administer end-of-life drugs to a terminally ill person because this goes against a doctors ethics, otherwise when voluntary euthanasia legislation is discussed in jurisdictions that are debating whether to implement this kind of legislation all we ever hear is "How can this fit with the ethics of being a doctor?". Never mind that though, it is perfectly fine for a lawyer to buy end-of-life drugs for someone who is not choosing to die, when there is a likelihood that they do the work that they do with death row inmates because they are not in favour of the death penalty for their clients.

Even more ironic than any of the above would have to be the professional rule that Arizona lawyers are bound by, which insists that a lawyer should reveal any information they receive that could prevent their client from committing a criminal act that would result in death. But here we are expecting a lawyer to commit a criminal act that results in the death of their client?

At the end of all that, we can also add the fact that the lawyer has also likely engaged in conduct that could be seen to be prejudicial to the administration of justice. Now we could potentially end up with a bunch of lawyers who will have been acting in the way they have so been ordered by the State, yet are likely in prison themselves for importing an illegal substance into the US. Of course, this is in addition to the fact that all the years of study, continued research and self-directed legal education is now irrelevant as the lawyer has potentially been disbarred for professional misconduct. Is Arizona trying to ensure the end of the lawyers that advocate for these people too?

(source: Tasha Russell is the Legal Director for a euthanasia advocacy and activism organisation, Exit International----jurist.org)

NEVADA:

Nevada Legislature to consider eliminating death penalty

Nevada could soon join 19 states and Washington, D.C. in ditching capital punishment. Assembly Bill 237, to be introduced later this legislative session, would abolish the death penalty and commute the sentences of current inmates on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

"I am philosophically against the death penalty," Segerblom said. "I just don't believe that society has the right to decide who lives and dies, but the primary reason is that it doesn't work. No one is ever going to actually be executed in Nevada; in the meantime, we're wasting millions of dollars trying to enforce capital punishment."

Nevada has executed just 12 inmates since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1977, and most recently executed Daryl Mack in 2006 for the 1988 rape and murder of Betty Jane May, a Reno native.

Experts say the punishment will grow increasingly rare due to the lack of availability of the combination of drugs used to make the lethal injection. One of the 2 drugs required has expired, and the state has searched to no avail in recent months for a pharmaceutical company willing to replenish its supply.

"We have no way to kill somebody even if the appeals ran out and the individual is just sitting there on death row, we couldn't kill them," Segerblom said. "We'd have to get a new set of drugs or go back to the electric chair, firing squad or hanging, and any change in the process would require a huge amount of testing."

Dr. Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, explained further that a change to the method of killing inmates or to the lethal injection itself would simply lengthen the time spent in the courts.

"If they make any change then that is grounds for an appeal. So there you've just added maybe 2 years [to the trial]," he said.

The appeals process is a long, last-ditch effort for defendants sentenced to death. For this reason, such defendants are in court almost up until the day they receive the injection. This also comes at a great cost to the public.

Sen. Segerblom postulated the cost of maintaining the death penalty to Nevadans at 1 to 5 million dollars annually. Once a defendant is sentenced to death, the prosecution and the defense double their numbers of lawyers. Each side hires psychologists, psychiatrists and any change in court proceedings may garner another appeal.

"The amount of errors that can take place is incredible," Segerblom said. "When you look at the appeals process and the rights to have a conviction challenged, you realize even the most heinous criminal probably has all kinds of psychological issues, the jury pool is easily tainted, the prosecutor probably overreached and the defense attorney was probably incompetent."

Herzik said there is a lack of evidence in academic literature that states whether or not capital punishment is affecting the calculus of potential murderers. He also discussed the social vengeance aspect of the death penalty.

"In the Nevada Revised Statutes and in sentencing, you are sentenced to a term of 'x' years for punishment," Herzik said. "There is nothing about rehabilitation, and you can make that argument that 'I don't care what it costs. I don't care that it's not a deterrent.' It brings closure to the case."

There's also the matter of systemic racism within the justice system. Of Nevada's 81 inmates on death row, 42 are racial minorities. 33 of those inmates are African Americans. Accounting for just 9.3 % of the state population, African Americans make up 41 % of Nevada's population of inmates on death row.

Even so, Herzik cautions against applying a racial or ethnic lens to the actual use of capital punishment.

"If they say it's disproportionately applied to minorities, that's incorrect," Herzik said, alluding to the fact that no executions in Nevada are presently scheduled. "It's disproportionately given to minorities, but there's not a lot of evidence indicating that African Americans are more likely to actually be executed. African Americans are far more likely to get harsher penalties and they’re disproportionately represented in prison populations and you can carry that over to death row, but then be careful about the actual application."

Ahead of the Nevada Legislature's 79th Session, lawmakers have maintained that restorative social vengeance is an efficient justification for capital punishment in the state.

"It's a philosophical question," Herzik said, "and there is no social science answer to that one."

(source: The Nevada Sagebrush)

USA:

Is the death penalty a form of psychological torture? This author says yes

Recent "botched executions" resulting in painful deaths for inmates have stirred controversy over the use of the death penalty. But could capital punishment also be rejected on the grounds that it amounts to psychological torture? That is the case that University of Baltimore law professor John Bessler makes in his new book, "The Death Penalty as Torture: From the Dark Ages to Abolition."

"The U.S. needs to start looking at the psychological aspect of the death penalty, in terms of the psychological pain or suffering, because that is part and parcel of the definition of what is torture is, as defined by the U.S. ratification of the Torture Convention," Bessler told CNA in an interview.

Capital punishment is not legal in 19 states, and 4 states have a governor-imposed moratorium on the death penalty. Of the 31 states where it is used, only 4 - Georgia, Texas, Florida, and Missouri - account for 85 % of executions in the U.S. since 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The overall number of executions in 2016 fell to 20, its lowest number since 1991 and down from 28 executions in 2015, the Death Penalty Information Center noted. This continued a long decline in the number of executions from 1999, when the number was 98. The Pew Research Center has also reported a continuing drop in public support for the death penalty.

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the U.S., but actions by drug companies and the European Union - which bans the use of the death penalty - to prevent drugs to be used for capital punishment have significantly factored into the decline in the number of executions, the Death Penalty Information Center says.

Drug companies including Pfizer, Akorn, and Par have moved to prevent or limit the sale of drugs to be used in capital punishment. The European Union has limited the export of drugs that are also used in executions in the U.S. As a result, states are finding it harder to obtain drugs for lethal injections and they are resorting to other means of obtaining the drugs. In some cases, they imported them from a supplier in India, as BuzzFeed News found in 2015, as Arizona and Texas ordered shipments of the drug sodium thiopenthal which were blocked by the Food and Drug Administration when they reached the U.S.

States have also legalized other methods of execution if drugs for lethal injection are not available, or if that method is ruled unconstitutional. Utah in 2015 allowed death by firing squad to be used for capital punishment. Oklahoma has legalized the gas chamber for such instances, and Tennessee the electric chair. Arkansas recently scheduled eight executions in 10 days in April, before its supply of Midazolam, the sedative used in the execution process, expires.

However, the current processes of lethal injection have invited controversy for the physical pain they can inflict on subjects, most notably in "botched executions" like in Oklahoma in 2015 where an inmate was given a sedative and was supposed to be unconscious, but writhed in pain once the lethal drugs were administered before dying of a massive heart attack.

"The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty," Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City responded to the botched execution. "And I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether."

Lethal injection is, in some states, a 3-step process, with the 1st step involving a sedative meant to render the patient unconscious before the following lethal drugs are administered. If their sedative does not work properly in the lethal injection process, the physical pain that these inmates could endure from the chemicals would definitely constitute torture, Bessler argued.

In the 2015 case of Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the inmate Richard Glossip who claimed that the sedative Midazolam, used by Oklahoma in executions, was not certain to work properly and could result in a painful execution that violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor dissented and argued that Midazolam might not work as intended and thus would not sufficiently dull the pain inflicted on the subject's body by the ensuing drug potassium chloride. As a result, the painful effect of the drugs could essentially result in "the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake" if Midazolam does not work, Sotomayor stated.

The inventor of Midazolam, Dr. Armin Walser, has stated that he does not want it used for executions. Recent Supreme Court cases on the death penalty have shown an "obsession with will there be physically excruciating pain" for an inmate at the time of death, Bessler noted. However, the psychological state of inmates awaiting death could also be torturous, he added: "the helpless of the condemned person on the gurney is one of the elements of torture."

And it was Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent in Glossip that "really does start thinking about the psychological aspect of what we're doing with use of the death penalty," Bessler noted. First, Breyer wrote of how prisoners on death row are kept in solitary confinement for most of the day - a practice that, if carried out over weeks or months, could damage the psyche of an inmate. Breyer cited studies that show prolonged solitary confinement to cause serious psychological problems like hallucinations and stupors. And inmates on death row can often be kept in solitary confinement.

However, "the dehumanizing effect of solitary confinement is aggravated by uncertainty as to whether a death sentence will in fact be carried out," Breyer wrote. And this condition can be prolonged for years or even decades due to modern policies regarding death sentences. Laws require reviews of death sentences and evidence of crimes, and appeals can be filed, but this extends the time inmates spend on death row waiting for their execution.

The average time between sentencing and execution has steadily grown to its peak of 198 months in 2011 - or 16 1/2 years - before falling slightly to 190 months in 2012, the Death Penalty Information Center noted. In one case of Brandon Jones, executed in February of 2016 by Georgia, he was on death row for 36 years after receiving a death sentence in 1979.

"Psychologists and lawyers in the United States and elsewhere have argued that protracted periods in the confines of death row can make inmates suicidal, delusional and insane," the Death Penalty Information Center says, noting that some experts have even called such a condition the "death row phenomenon."

Breyer, in his dissent, had referenced an 1890 Supreme Court opinion that found "when a prisoner sentenced by a court to death is confined in the penitentiary awaiting the execution of the sentence, one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected during that time is the uncertainty during the whole of it."

When considering whether the death penalty meets the criteria for cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment, the Supreme Court must also consider the possibility that it is psychological torture, Bessler insisted. "Even if you could guarantee a pain-free execution," he said, "the concept of torture includes psychological torture in the modern era, and that’s something that the courts in the United States have not yet wrestled with head-on, and they need to."

Bessler argued that in private cases, under "common parlance" when a murder is described as a "torture murder," the factor "turns a 1st-degree murder into a 'torture murder' is the awareness of one's impending death." One example of this is the 2008 case of ex parte Donald Deardorff, he said, where a murder victim had been "threatened with death," bound, confined in a closet, and forced to walk with a hood over his head before being shot to death. The Alabama Supreme Court said that the whole ordeal preceding the murder was "psychological torture."

With the death penalty, "you kind of have that issue on steroids, because the person has an awareness of their impending death for literally decades," Bessler added. "And in a lot of cases you're seeing multiple death warrants being issued. There's cases where more than 10 death warrants have been issued for a given individual."

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person," and the purpose of which includes their punishment. The inclusion of severe "mental suffering" in this definition, as well as any such suffering inflicted as punishment, makes it clear that the psychological anguish an inmate can experience on death row qualifies as torture, Bessler insisted.

South Africa, European countries, and 19 states do not use the death penalty, he said, and the rest of the U.S. is "really kind of behind the times in terms of thinking about this as a human rights violation." The countries that are routinely executing people, he added, mostly make up "kind of a rogues gallery of human rights abusers," including Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and China. And, he added, both international law and U.S. law regard a "mock execution" as an "act of torture." If this is the case, he said, "it's hard to see how a real execution should not also qualify under that legal rubric."

(source: angelusnews.com)

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

Men face death penalty in fatal Cairo bank robbery attempt

A 7-count superseding indictment has been returned in Benton against 3 people in connection with an attempted robbery of First National Bank in Cairo on May 15, 2014 that resulted in the deaths of 2 bank employees.

A release from U.S. Attorney Donald Boyce stated count 1 of the indictment was returned against James Nathaniel Watts, 32, of Cairo. It alleged that during the robbery attempt, Watts killed 2 employees and critically injured a 3rd.

A 2014 report from KFVS stated Anita J. Grace, 52, of Olive Branch, Illinois, and Nita J. Smith, 52, of Wickliffe, Kentucky, were stabbed to death during the robbery attempt. Grace was the bank's president.

The 3rd employee, a 23-year-old woman, was also stabbed. She survived the attack, KFVS reported.

Count t2 of the indictment, the release stated, was returned against Watts alleging that he was a convicted felon in possession of a ".380 caliber semi-automatic pistol which had previously traveled in interstate commerce."

The 3rd count of the superseding indictment alleges that Otha D. Watkins, Illinois of Cairo aided and abetted Watts in the fatal bank robbery attempt. The 4th count, also against Watkins, alleged that the 33-year-old man knowingly lied to a FBI special agent.

The 5th count alleges that Watkins owned a Ruger 9mm pistol as a convicted felon.

Watkins and Watts did conspire, alleges the 6th count, on or about May 12, 2014 to "to commit robbery, which robbery would obstruct, delay, and affect interstate commerce, in that they agreed to take United States currency belonging to McDonalds restaurant, in Charleston, Missouri" in the presence of employees and against their will by brandishing a firearm.

The last count of the indictment alleges that Sharita S. Tipler, 30, of Ullin, gave the Ruger 9mm pistol to Watkins with reasonable cause to believe that he was a convicted felon.

If convicted, both Watkins and Watts face either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

Tipler faces up to 10 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines and 3 years of supervised release.

Watts and Watkins have been in custody since mid-May 2014. Tipler was arrested Monday and has a bail hearing Tuesday in Benton

(source: bnd.com)

INDONESIA:

Man on death row claims innocence as execution imminent

"They betrayed my trust," Santa said when The Jakarta Post visited the 43-year-old father-of-one at the Salemba detention center in Central Jakarta, recently. He repeated the phrase several times throughout the conversation, expressing strong disappointment in his business colleagues, several Chinese nationals whom Santa believes put him on death row.

It all started in April last year when Santa, who ran a small business offering driving services, got an order to pick up 4 Chinese nationals at Jakarta's SoekarnoHatta International Airport.

One order led to another, and the Chinese men became his business partners in distributing children's toys imported from China.

1 of the men, whom he referred as Jia Bo, called him on the evening of June 3 last year, asking him to come to a toy warehouse in North Jakarta for a Mandarin-Indonesian translation job.

Alas, 12 police officers from the Jakarta Police were waiting when he arrived and immediately arrested Santa over allegations of possessing 20 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, locally known as shabu-shabu. The police also arrested four other Chinese men that evening, Tan Weiming aka Aming, Shaoyan aka Xiao Yan Zi, Shi Jiayi aka Jia Bo and Qui Junjie aka Junji.

The West Jakarta District Court sentenced Santa to death on March 3, but the court sentenced the 4 Chinese citizens to life imprisonment.

All of them were indicted under articles 112, 113 and 114 of Law No. 35/2009 on narcotics. The law stipulates sentences of a minimum of 6 years and a maximum life sentence for drugs trafficking. Santa's lawyers from the Jakarta-based Community Legal Aide Institute (LBH Masyarakat) slammed the sentence as "blatant injustice."

LBH Masyarakat decried the sentence due to several irregularities, one of which was the absence of a lawyer during an interrogation by the Jakarta Police's investigator on June 4. Santa was allegedly forced to admit that he imported the meth and that he had consumed the drugs. A urine test later showed that Santa was clean, said one of his lawyers, Muhammad Afif.

Afif said the trial was illegitimate because so many hearings had been delayed due to the failure of prosecutors to present witnesses and translators. "We were given only 30 minutes to prepare our final defense statement," Afif added, elaborating that the defendant would normally have at least 7 days to prepare the final defense statement. "It seems like the trial was a mere formality and that the judges had made their decision before the end of the process."

Human rights campaigners have called on the government to impose a moratorium on capital punishment due to the country’s corrupt legal system and have denounced President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's decisiveness on the policy.

In a recent hearing with the House of Representatives' Commission III overseeing legal affairs, Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo reaffirmed that Indonesia would continue to use death penalty.

Prasetyo admitted that the government had temporarily put executions on hold to avoid criticism while Indonesia was vying to be a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Over the weekend, at least 7 death row convicts were transferred to the secluded prison island Nusakambangan in Cilacap, West Java, along with 50 convicts from various penitentiaries in the country.

An authority in charge of Nusakambangan, Abdul Aris, confirmed this. "It's true. 50 prisoners from Salemba [penitentiary] and 6 from the Magelang [penitentiary] were transferred here on Friday [last week]," he said.

The last time death row convicts were executed on Nusakambangan was in July 2016. 4 drug convicts were executed from the 14 listed at the time, including an Indonesian man and 3 Nigerians.

(source: Jakarta Post)

SOMALIA:

Al-Shabaab militant behind Somalia bombing sentenced to death

A Somali military court on Monday sentenced an Al-Shabaab militant to death and 2 others to 15 years in jail after convicting them of being behind a deadly bomb attack on November 26, 2016.

Chairperson of the court in Mogadishu Hassan Ali Nur Shute said the 3 militants are proved to have been behind a car bomb attack that left 30 people dead and 43 others injured at a market in Waberi district.

Abdukadir Abdi Hassan, 40, who admitted that he had carried out the terrorist attack, was sentenced to death, Shute said.

Mohamed Abdulahi Negaye, 60, and Abdinasir Omar Hassan, 23, who facilitated the attack and kept the car in a garage before the mission, got 15 years in army prison, Shute added.

The military court chairperson added that the court released 4 others who were also arrested in operation after that attack.

(source: Xinhua news)

MARCH 13, 2017:

NEBRASKA:

Omaha man faces competency exam before death penalty hearing

A judge has ordered tests to determine whether a former doctor convicted of killing 4 people connected to an Omaha medical school is competent to face a death penalty hearing.

Anthony Garcia sat silent in court Monday at a hearing to determine his competency. Judge Gary Randall warned Garcia that if he didn't answer questions, he'd be sent to the state psychiatric hospital for testing. Garcia remained mum, so Randall ordered him to the hospital.

In October, Garcia was convicted of killing the 11-year-old son and a housekeeper of Creighton University faculty member William Hunter in 2008 and killing pathology doctor Roger Brumback and his wife in 2013.

Prosecutors say Garcia blamed Hunter and Brumback for his firing 15 years ago from Creighton's pathology residency program.

(source: Associated Press)

NEVADA:

Jury hearing unusual issue in Las Vegas death penalty case

A jury in Nevada is hearing an unusually narrow question that will decide if a Las Vegas man can face the death penalty after pleading guilty to murder in the case of a 15-year-old high school sophomore who also was raped, tortured and mutilated.

Testimony resumed Monday for jurors being asked to decide if Javier Righetti's attack on 15-year-old Alyssa Otremba was a premeditated act, which would make him eligible for the death penalty.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled last month that Righetti's plea to the murder charge was unacceptable because he didn't specify that it was willful, deliberate and planned. Righetti also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, robbery and rape.

Premeditation is one of three legs of the prosecution theory supporting the murder charge. The others were that Otremba was tortured and that the murder occurred while she was kidnapped, robbed and raped.

Righetti was 19 at the time of the slaying and is 24 now. If sentenced to die, he would become the youngest inmate on death row in Nevada. His plea came with no promise he would not be put to death.

Righetti's court-appointed defense attorney, Christy Craig, cited the flaw in the plea and argued to the state high court that prosecutors had lost the ability to seek the death penalty.

The court unanimously disagreed and sent the case back to Clark County District Court.

Righetti still awaits sentencing on the other charges, which could get him life in prison.

Otremba was stabbed more than 80 times, and her burned corpse was found in 2011 in a vacant lot near a path from school to her home in northwest Las Vegas.

Authorities said there was no evidence that Righetti knew Otremba, who texted her mother to say she was walking home from school just minutes before she disappeared.

Righetti told police he wanted to prove he could be as brutal as the most notorious Las Vegas gang member, although police said there was no evidence he was in a gang.

Craig said in an interview Monday that she is not able to present a defense to the jury because her client has already pleaded guilty.

"He doesn't have a presumption of innocence," she said.

Prosecutor Giancarlo Pesci declined to comment. In court, he has said that jurors won't be told that Righetti pleaded guilty to murder.

(source: Associated Press)

USA:

When a Common Sedative Becomes an Execution Drug

When a chemist named Armin Walser helped invent a sedative more powerful than Valium more than 40 years ago, he thought his team's concoction was meant to make people's lives easier, not their deaths.

Yet decades after the drug, known as midazolam, entered the market, a product more often used during colonoscopies and cardiac catheterizations has become central to executions around the country and the debate that surrounds capital punishment in the United States.

"I didn't make it for the purpose," Dr. Walser, whose drug has been used for sedation during 20 lethal injections nationwide, said in an interview at his home here. "I am not a friend of the death penalty or execution."

Midazolam's path from Dr. Walser's laboratory into use in at least 6 of the country's execution chambers has been filled with secrecy, political pressure, scientific disputes and court challenges.

The most recent controversy is the extraordinary plan in Arkansas to execute 8 inmates in 10 days next month. The state is racing the calendar: Its midazolam supply will expire at the end of April, and given the resistance of manufacturers to having the drug used in executions, Arkansas would most likely face major hurdles if it tried to restock.

In Arkansas, where no prisoner has been put to death since November 2005, midazolam is planned as the 1st of 3 drugs in the state's lethal injections. The drug is intended to render a prisoner unconscious and keep him from experiencing pain later in the execution, when other drugs are administered to stop the breathing and heart.

Supporters of midazolam’s use, which the United States Supreme Court upheld in a case from Oklahoma less than two years ago, say it is a safe and effective substitute for execution drugs that have become difficult to purchase. Death penalty critics, citing executions that they say were botched, argue that midazolam puts prisoners at risk of an unconstitutionally painful punishment because the condemned may be insufficiently numbed to the agony caused by the execution drugs.

"The states will be watching the legal proceedings out of Ohio, but also the on-the-ground experiences out of Arkansas, Virginia and elsewhere," said Megan McCracken, who specializes in lethal injection litigation at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley. "Time and time again when you see executions with midazolam, you see, at best, surprises and, at worst, very bad executions."

States have resisted such critiques, and during arguments last week before a federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Eric Murphy, the Ohio state solicitor, said midazolam's use in a 3-drug protocol "does not create a substantial risk of pain that is sure or very likely to occur." The relatively recent emergence of midazolam at the center of far-reaching legal battles has startled Dr. Walser, who was working in New Jersey for Hoffmann-La Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, when he helped to invent the drug in the 1970s. It was a water-soluble alternative to Valium, and, as Dr. Walser recounted in a company publication, the discovery "required the coincidence of several events and also a portion of luck."

Midazolam was patented in the years after it was synthesized, and it evolved into a medical star. An anesthesiology textbook described midazolam, sometimes referred to as Versed, as "the most frequently used benzodiazepine in the elderly," and in 2011 the World Health Organization added the drug to its Model List of Essential Medicines.

But court filings and depositions show that by the time of the W.H.O.'s decision, American corrections officials were more than a year into their consideration of midazolam for a new purpose: sedating condemned prisoners for execution. In 2009, Ohio adopted midazolam as part of its backup execution protocol.

It was a matter of years before midazolam went from being part of a backup procedure in a single state to a crucial drug in at least six, as prison systems increasingly struggled to buy the barbiturates they had long used to sedate prisoners for executions. In 2013, Florida added midazolam to its execution protocol and became the 1st state to carry out an execution involving the drug.

"The way executions have proceeded in the United States has been, in a sense, through the herd mentality: One state does something and it appears to work, and others hop on board," said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a research group.

Most executions involving midazolam drew little sustained criticism, but problems emerged during some. In Ohio, a murderer's execution took longer than previous injection-induced deaths in the state. Testifying later in Federal District Court in connection with a lawsuit over Ohio's lethal injection protocol, a reporter said the prisoner had been "coughing, gasping, choking in a way that I had not seen before at any execution."

Midazolam was also used in an execution in Oklahoma that state officials said had gone awry because of an improperly placed intravenous line. Critics said the episode still proved the inadequacy of midazolam's effectiveness during lethal injections.

And in Arizona, the execution of Joseph R. Wood III took nearly two hours, long enough that a federal judge was holding an emergency hearing about the matter at the moment Mr. Wood died.

An outside review commissioned by the Arizona Department of Corrections "found no breakdowns in the implementation of the process or the mechanical systems supporting the execution," and the department's director said Mr. Wood was "fully sedated, was totally unresponsive to stimuli and as a result did not suffer."

Arizona later agreed that it would "never again use midazolam, or any other benzodiazepine, as part of a drug protocol in a lethal injection execution."

In some ways, Arizona's pledge, in December, was unsurprising: Earlier last year, the state had said its midazolam supply had expired, and pharmaceutical companies have tried to curb the drug's use for lethal injections. Dr. Walser's former employer, for instance, said in 2015 that it "did not supply midazolam for death penalty use and would not knowingly provide any of our medicines for this purpose."

"Drugs are supposed to be used to cure people, to help them, and I'm surprised that any drug is used to kill people," said Dale A. Baich, an assistant federal defender in Phoenix who witnessed Mr. Wood's execution and helped to negotiate the banishment of midazolam from Arizona’s lethal injections.

But the drug's critics have found limited solace in the courts, including the Supreme Court, which last month declined to hear cases from Alabama and Arkansas, both of which include midazolam in their lethal injection protocols. Those moves amounted to reinforcement of a ruling in 2015, when Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for a divided court, noted that the court had found "that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain."

He continued: "After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether."

Indeed, some supporters of the death penalty, including people who have witnessed executions that included midazolam, have defended lethal injections and any pain they might cause violent offenders.

Proponents also acknowledge that midazolam is far from a drug of choice for executions, but they blame abolitionists for effectively leaving states with limited choices.

"No state would use it if they could get the barbiturates," said Kent S. Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. "The opponents have created the situation where states are forced to use a drug that is not the optimum."

Some people have already begun to wonder when or whether another drug will materialize as a substitute for midazolam, a development they predicted would lead to more contentious litigation.

In Tucson, where Dr. Walser excitedly sketched organic structures on his patio on a recent morning, the retired chemist has been left to grapple, uncomfortably, with what has come of his team's innovation. He said he hadn't known about midazolam's use in executions until a reporter from Oklahoma called him in 2015.

"I didn't feel good about it," he recalled. Then, with resignation, he said, "The doctors can do with it what they want."

(source: New York Times)

VIETNAM:

Death penalty proposal submitted for 11 drug traffickers in Hoa Binh

The death penalty was submitted on Thursday by the People’s Procuracy of Hoa Binh Province against 11 defendants for "illegally trading and storing drugs" as part of a massive trans-national heroin trafficking operation.

The case, which involved 23 people, saw 1,415 heroin bars being smuggled.

The 11 death sentences were proposed for Tran Duc Duy and 10 other men.

Duy was also charged for allegedly "storing weapons for military use".

Life imprisonment was proposed for 8 other defendants.

20 years in prison was proposed for 3 others, while a 24 to 38 month-imprisonment proposal was submitted for a woman named Vu Thi Thu Thao for "not denouncing criminals."

According to the indictment, in January 2015, Ministry of Public Security’s Criminal Investigation Police Department caught red-handed Duy, 31, residing in Luong Son District of Hoa Bình Province transporting 94 heroin bars, a pistol and seven bullets in Doc Ma area in Hoa Bình Province.

Further investigation found 22 other smugglers involving in the trans-national ring, appropriating VNÐ13 billion (US$578,000) and over CNY700,000 ($101,000)

The court hearing will last 20 days, beginning from February 27. The lawyers' debate starts from Friday.

(source: vietnamnet.vn)

INDONESIA:

Indonesia transfers US citizen to 'execution island' ---- Transfer of Frank Amado, who faces death penalty for drug trafficking, prompts fears of new round of executions

Indonesia has transferred a convicted US citizen to its so-called execution island, prompting fears among rights organisations that the government may be preparing another round of firing squads.

Human Rights Watch said Frank Amado, who faces the death penalty for drug trafficking, had been moved to facilities on Nusa Kambangan island, the site of previous recent executions.

Indonesian press is reporting 6 other foreign nationals on death row may have moved along with him, including Chen Weibiao, Xiao Jin Zeng and Lo Tin Yau, from China; Malaysian citizen E Wee Hock; Frank Nwaomeka from Nigeria; and Lai Siu Cheung Anika, from Hong Kong.

No US citizen has ever been executed by the Indonesian government.

"This is a worrying development. But we can't be entirely certain if these transfers are part of preparations for new executions, due to the lack of transparency that is just 1 of many problems with Indonesia's penal system," said Ricky Gunawan, director of the Community Legal Aid Institute, an organisation in Jakarta that has worked with Human Rights Watch to monitor Amado's case.

"The most recent executions were preceded by transfers to Nusa Kambangan, which is often called execution island here, but the government also sometimes moves prisoners there for other reasons.

"There are serious irregularities in Indonesia's death penalty system and we call for a halt to this round of executions with a view to implementing a new moratorium and then abolition."

After a halt on executions between 2009 and 2012, Indonesia has carried out 3 rounds of executions, the last of which took place in July 2016. 4 of 14 death row prisoners were executed, and legal experts in the country are still unsure why the other 10 had their deaths postponed.

Human Rights Watch and Gunawan say Amado technically has one more appeal round available to him, but that in the past the Indonesian government has carried out the death sentence in similar situations.

These 2 groups are not working closely with the other death row prisoners reportedly transferred recently, but like many international organisations they call for a stop to all executions in the country.

Amado has said in previous interviews that he wasinvolved in the storing of shabu, a local name for a drug similar to crystal meth, but that since his arrest in 2009, he has seen that the Indonesian justice system is marked by abuse and corruption.

In 2011, US government representatives said they would not intervene in the case.

Neither the US embassy in Jakarta nor the Indonesian attorney general's office immediately responded to requests for comment.

(source: The Guardian)

IRAN:

Iran conditions death penalty for drug offenses

Capital punishment will be removed for all drug-related offenses with the exception of 3 cases, vice-chairman of Parliament’s Judiciary Committee told MNA on Sunday.

MP Yahya Kamalipour told MNA that the judiciary needs to report to the Parliament the figures related to those sentenced to death and the severity of their crimes, after which the Parliament would be able to make the necessary decisions on revising the bill on capital punishment.

"At the moment, it is reported that those carrying methamphetamine, crack cocaine and derivatives of heroin up to one kilogram will be sentenced to death, but one should note that this will increase the number of offenders on the death row," he added.

Noting that 80 % of inmates currently imprisoned on drug-related charges have carried over one kilogram of drugs, he said "it was decided that the judiciary should announce the accurate figures of drug offenders sentenced to death and the amount of drugs they had been carrying at the time so that we would know how many offenders would be charged with capital punishment based on this."

"In the main clause of the revision plan, it is noted that capital punishment for drug offenses will be removed with the exception of 3 cases," he said. "For example, if the offenders have been armed while carrying drugs, or if they had been imprisoned for more than ten years, or if the case is related to organized crime, they will get the death penalty."

According to Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iranian High Council for Human Rights, 90 % of the executions carried out in Iran are related to drug-trafficking crimes; therefore, a revision of the existing laws would dramatically decrease the number of executions in the country.

(source: Mehr News Agency)

MARCH 12, 2017:

PENNSYLVANIA:

Prosecutors considering death penalty for mom of Allentown girl killed in 'rape-murder fantasy'

Prosecutors say they haven't decided whether to seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania woman charged along with her boyfriend in the rape, death and dismemberment of her adopted daughter.

42-year-old Sara Packer has pleaded not guilty Friday to homicide, rape, kidnapping and other charges in 14-year-old Grace Packer's death last year.

Bucks County prosecutors say aggravated circumstances exist to seek the death penalty because Grace was kidnapped and tortured before she was killed.

Defense lawyer Keith Williams say there's no evidence Sara Packer raped or killed the girl.

Prosecutors say Packer watched 44-year-old boyfriend Jacob Sullivan act out a rape-murder fantasy they shared. He faces his formal arraignment March 21.

Sara Packer is also charged with illegally collecting more than $4,000 in government benefits after Grace's death.

(source: Associated Press)

CHINA:

Death penalties in China only apply in extremely severe cases: supreme court

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) said Sunday China's courts only handed out death sentences to an extremely small number of criminals for extremely severe offenses in the past 10 years.

In a work report to be delivered by Chief Justice Zhou Qiang at a plenary meeting of the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress, the SPC said the capital punishment had been strictly controlled and applied prudently since 2007, when the SPC reserved the right to review all death penalty decisions handed out by lower courts.

The report did not give an exact number of cases where death sentences had been applied.

It said courts had strengthened efforts to protect human rights in judicial practices.

(source: xinhuanet.com)

IRAN----execution

Unidentified Prisoner Executed in Public on Murder Charges

An unidentified prisoner was reportedly executed in public on murder charges.

According to a report by the state-run news agency, Jaame Jam Online, the public execution was carried out on Thursday March 9 in the city of Yazd in front of the parking lot of Mullah Ismail mosque. The report claims that the unidentified prisoner and his brother robbed a jewellery store in August 2015 and killed the jewellery store owner's son in the process.

(source: IOran Human Rights)

MARCH 11, 2017:

FLORIDA:

Mesac Damas set to stand trial in September in deaths of wife, 5 kids

Nearly 8 years since he was accused of slaughtering his wife and 5 children inside their North Naples home, Mesac Damas is slated to face a jury in September.

Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt on Friday morning scheduled Damas' 4-week trial to begin on Sept. 5. Damas, 40, who is charged with 6 counts of 1st-degree murder, could receive the death penalty if the jury unanimously agrees on a guilty verdict.

"I think it's time we set this case for trial," Hardt said during a 9 a.m. case management conference.

Several trial dates have been set in the past, but each was pushed back. Damas' case has been delayed by lawyer changes, stays in state mental hospitals and, most recently, years of legal wrangling over Florida's death penalty law.

But his attorneys seemed confident Friday the trial would go forward in September.

"I think it's going to go this time," said James Ermacora, 1 of 2 lawyers representing Damas. "There are still some issues with the law people are raising, but I mean, this case is getting pretty old."

State Attorney Steve Russell, who attended Friday's hearing, declined to discuss the case with a reporter.

Like other death penalty cases in Florida, Damas' case has been in legal limbo for years due to challenges to the state's death penalty laws.

The state Legislature rewrote Florida's death penalty law last March after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the state's previous law was unconstitutional. The old law allowed judges to reach a different decision than juries, who only had an advisory role in recommending death.

But the state Supreme Court ruled the new law also was unconstitutional because it only required 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death.

State lawmakers are expected to rework the law in the coming days requiring jury unanimity, giving Hardt confidence to begin moving Damas' case toward a conclusion. He directed prosecutors to begin drafting jury instructions and verdict forms in case the Florida Supreme Court hasn't produced its own by September.

"I anticipate, based on the number of cases that are pending at this time that the Supreme Court will timely come up with new jury instructions so we won't have to rely on the wisdom of either the state or ourselves to craft jury instructions," Kevin Shirley, Damas' other lawyer, said after the hearing.

Hardt set a variety of deadlines for the prosecution and defense lawyers, including a pre-trial conference on July 21.

Damas sat quietly in the courtroom wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, his arms and legs shackled. Ermacora patted him on the back at the end of the hearing. When asked after the hearing how Damas is doing, Ermacora said he is "reasonably patient, let's put it that way."

"I think he would have liked to have it move perhaps a little bit sooner," Ermacora said, 'but it's been explained to him that the last year at least has been the result of nothing to do with the case or him, but the state of the law in the state of Florida. So he understands that."

Ermacora said he has "no indication" that Damas' previous mental health concerns would delay the trial any further.

Early in the case, Damas was repeatedly disruptive in court and uncooperative with his attorneys. In 2014, he was found temporarily incompetent to stand trial after doctors determined he had a "major mental illness." Last April, Damas' lawyers said they believed he suffers from a traumatic brain injury.

Damas is accused of killing his wife, Guerline Dieu Damas, 32, and their 5 children - Meshach "Zack," 9, Maven , 6, Marven, 5, Megan, 3, and Morgan, 19 months - inside their Hampton Circle home. Their bodies, discovered on Sept. 19, 2009, had been stabbed and their throats slashed.

Authorities arrested Mesac Damas days later in Haiti, where he confessed to a Daily News reporter that he committed the killings, blaming an evil spirit and saying "I want death."

At the time, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk called the killings the "most horrific and violent event" in county history.

Shirley said the trial could take longer than the 4 weeks it's tentatively been scheduled.

"I believe it's going to take us every bit of 2 weeks if not more to get a jury," he said, citing pretrial publicity of the case and jurors' views on the death penalty as possible obstacles.

(source: news-press.com)

OHIO:

Parole board denies mercy for condemned Ohio killer of 2

The state's parole board has rejected a plea for mercy by a condemned inmate who killed his wife and the man who had let the couple live in his home.

Raymond Tibbetts was sentenced to die for stabbing Fred Hicks to death at Hicks' Cincinnati home in 1997. Tibbetts also received life imprisonment for fatally beating and stabbing his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, during an argument that same day over Tibbetts' crack cocaine habit.

The 67-year-old Hicks had hired Crawford as a caretaker and allowed the couple to stay with him.

Tibbetts is not deserving of clemency in part because Hicks' killing was "particularly senseless and gratuitous," the board said in an 11-1 decision released Friday. The board also said that the psychological link that Tibbetts' current attorneys allege exists between his traumatic childhood and the murders is "belied by the fact that Tibbetts was largely able to refrain from violence for many years preceding the murders."

"We are disappointed that more members of the board were not persuaded by the impact of Ray's traumatic upbringing on his development," Jacob Cairns, a lawyer for Tibbetts, said in an email Friday.

However, Cairns said, they remain optimistic that Republican Gov. John Kasich "will spare Ray's life in recognition that his jury never heard the significant evidence that demonstrates he is not among the worst of the worst."

One board member believed that life without parole was warranted because Tibbetts' circumstances from the day he was born presented a "recipe for a disaster," according to the report. The board member also noted that Tibbetts' requests for help with mental health and substance abuse issues were routinely met with inadequate responses from social service agencies and other professionals.

Tibbetts is scheduled for execution July 26. Kasich has the final say.

The impact of Tibbetts' traumatic and chaotic childhood was on trial before the parole board during a January hearing.

Tibbetts, 59, grew up with an emotionally distant mother and an absentee father whose few appearances were usually accompanied by drunken and violent rages, according to his attorneys. An older sister, then about 8, often cared for Tibbetts as a baby.

Tibbetts and his siblings later spent time with abusive foster parents and then cycled in and out of state custody and the juvenile justice system, his attorneys said.

"Based on the extreme level of physical and emotional abuse, abandonment, and neglect he endured, it is not surprising that Ray Tibbetts' life spiraled downward, and resulted in a very negative outcome," his attorneys wrote in a Jan. 10 filing with the board.

Hamilton County prosecutors argue that what Tibbetts went through doesn't outweigh his crimes. That included stabbing Crawford after he'd already beaten her to death, then repeatedly stabbing Hicks, a "sick, defenseless, hearing-impaired man in whose home Tibbetts lived," they said.

Prosecutors note that Tibbetts told the parole board that he doesn't deserve clemency and believes he had a fair trial.

"In nearly every case this board reviews, inmates assert that their poor childhoods, drugs, or some other reason mitigate their actions," Ron Springman, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, told the board in a Jan. 12 filing. "The mitigation in this case does not overcome the brutality of these murders."

Tibbets was originally scheduled to die next month. Kasich pushed back his execution because of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's new 3-drug lethal injection method. The state has said it's confident it will win that case, currently before a Cincinnati federal appeals court.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Brothers could face death penalty in Greene Co. double slaying

The Greene County prosecutor released new information about the double-homicide investigation against 2 brothers accused of killing a man and woman just outside the village of Yellow Springs.

"It's a potential death penalty case," Greene County Prosecutor Stephen K. Haller said.

Dustin Merrick, 26, and Bret Merrick, 24, are being held on $5 million bond each in the Greene County Jail. Dustin Merrick is charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder and his brother, Bret, is charged with felonious assault and 2 counts of complicity to aggravated murder. They are accused in the Jan. 15 deaths of William "Skip" Brown, 44, and Sherri Mendenhall, 63, found shot to death at a duplex on East Enon Road.

It will take weeks for a grand jury to hear all the evidence in the case against the brothers, Haller said.

"We have 2 defendants, the investigation is exhaustive and there's a lot of evidence," he said. "We're still collecting evidence and analyzing evidence."

Greene County Sheriff's detectives said Dustin Merrick worked for Brown, and when the 2 parted ways this past fall, Brown owed money to Merrick.

"Mr. Merrick expressed to me that he had asked to change his hours to accommodate his desire to be with his family, girlfriend and their child, and Skip would not accommodate that," said Detective Kelly Edwards.

A grand jury is expected to hear testimony from investigators and newly released evidence, including autopsy results. A grand jury also will decide whether 1 or both brothers should face the death penalty

(source: WHIO news)

OKLAHOMA:

Sequoyah County man convicted of Oklahoma trooper’s death seeks new sentence

A Sequoyah County man convicted of the 1999 killing an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper will be back in federal court in Muskogee, Okla., this month in an attempt to vacate, or set aside, the death penalty.

Kenneth Eugene Barrett, 55, was sentenced to death in 2005 after being convicted in federal court of intentional killing of a state law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his duty. Barrett was ordered to serve 2 consecutive life sentences for 2 federal firearms convictions related to the same case.

Appellate lawyers filed a motion in 2009 on Barrett's behalf, asking the court to grant relief from sentences meted out for convictions previously upheld on appeal. A judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Oklahoma denied that request in 2012, but a 3-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing, which is scheduled to begin March 27.

The federal charges were filed after Barrett was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in Sequoyah County District Court during a second trial - the 1st trial ended with a hung jury - for killing Trooper David "Rocky" Eales during a drug raid at Barrett's home near Vian. Eales was a member of the OHP's tactical team that, according to court documents, led a no-knock, midnight raid on Sept. 24, 1999, with District 27 Drug Task Force members to serve a warrant.

The appellate court limited the hearing to a single issue raised among seven during Barrett's appeal of the judge's order denying his motion for sentencing relief. The evidentiary hearing will focus on whether Barrett's trial lawyers failed to develop mitigating evidence during the penalty phase of his trial to an extent that it constitutes grounds for ineffective assistance of counsel.

Barrett's legal team argues the trial court denied funding requested by defense lawyers for "investigative and expert resources" and failed to respond to concerns about his trial lawyers' lack of experience with death penalty cases. Those factors, Barrett's lawyers conclude, resulted with an incomplete assessment of the defendant's mental health and other issues that might have resulted with a lesser sentence.

Federal prosecutors contend the evidence they expect to be presented will show Barrett's trial lawyers "possessed ample investigatory material upon which to make a sound tactical choice to omit mental health evidence from the mitigation case." Prosecutors, in documents filed with the court, state the defense tactic was based upon a "desire to maintain a rapport with the defendant" and portray him "as a beloved family member rather than the victim of familial dysfunction."

Defense lawyers argued in both state trials and during the federal trial that Barrett was defending his home and his teenage son because he couldn't see who was attacking in the dark. Prosecutors contended Barrett knew he was shooting at law enforcers and planned to kill as many of them as he could during the raid.

(source: swtimes.com)

UTAH:

Death row inmate's case returns to trial court to argue whether attorney failed him

The case of a man twice sentenced to death row for killing a woman prepared to testify he had raped her is being returned to district court as he argues his attorney didn't sufficiently defend him at trial.

In an order issued Wednesday, the Utah Supreme Court directed that part of Douglas Lovell's appeal be heard in 2nd District Court. Lovell claims that the attorney representing him in his 2015 trial, Sean Young, didn't sufficiently prepare witnesses to testify in the case, didn't call certain witnesses to testify and didn't adequately cross-examining another witness.

Lovell is also accusing his lawyer of failing to object when, at the sentencing portion of the trial, attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints advised that the bishops called to testify about their interactions in prison were restricted from addressing certain topics, including whether they believed Lovell was remorseful.

Lovell, 59, was found guilty three years ago of kidnapping and raping Joyce Yost in 1985, then killing her to silence her testimony. A jury sentenced him to die by lethal injection. At the time, Lovell's attorney, Michael Bouwhuis said that considering his age and the years it would take to appeal the conviction, Lovell didn't believe he would ultimately end up being executed.

Lovell first pleaded guilty to murdering the South Ogden woman in 1985 but was spared the death penalty on the condition that he lead authorities to her remains. When he failed to do so, he was sentenced to die in 1993.

The Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea in 2010 and the new trial was ordered.

Because a life sentence without parole was not a legal option when Yost was murdered in 1985, if the jury hadn't chosen the death penalty for Lovell, the only other option was life in prison with a possibility of parole.

No hearing dates had been scheduled as of Friday.

(source: desseretnews.com)

NIGERIA:

Apo 6 killings: Court sentences 2 Policemen to death after 12 years

12 years after the infamous killing of 6 Igbo traders in Apo area of Abuja, an FCT High Court on Thursday sentenced 2 policemen, Ezekiel Acheneje and Emmauel Baba, to death for the killing of 2 of the traders in cold blood on June 8, 2005.

The court found the 2 policemen guilty of extra-judicial killing of Augustina Arebun and Anthony Nwokike at the Gaduwa Estate of Abuja and later buried them in a shallow grave in Jabi District to cover up their tracks.

The Chief Judge of FCT, Ishaq Bello, while delivering judgment in a nine-count criminal charge brought by the Federal Government against the policemen, said that the court had no option than to convict the 2 men on account of their own confessional statement that they shot the 2 traders upon instruction from a superior officer.

Justice Bello held that the action of the 2 policemen was callous and barbaric. By law, he said the officers were supposed to protect and preserve life of innocent citizens, not take it.

The judge further said that the action of the convicted policemen was condemnable, because there was no evidence that the two traders committed any crime or constitute threat to the policemen at the time they were killed.

According to the judge, the killing of the traders was particularly painful because they were arrested by members of the public alive and handed over to the policemen only for the same police to take laws into their hands by summarily executing them.

Justice Bello had during the trial dismissed as an afterthought the retraction of the confessional statement made by the two convicted policemen which he declared as outright confession of guilt.

Four of the slain Igbo traders, however, did not get justice as 3 other policemen, including a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Alhaji Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalami and Sadiq Salami, who were charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide contrary to sections 97 and 221 of the Penal Code, were discharged and acquitted by the court for want of evidence.

Justice Bello said that the evidence placed before the court could not establish the charge of conspiracy because of the inability of the prosecution to convince the court that the men met and agreed to kill the 6 traders on June 7, 2005 while returning from a night club along Gimbiya Street in the Area Eleven area of the FCT.

The judge said that in the case of DCP Ibrahim who was alleged to have seized an AK47 to shoot the traders in their vehicle on the fateful day, the allegation collapsed in the face of contradictions from 2 prosecution witnesses who gave contradictory evidence on the alleged gun seizure and shooting.

Justice Bello said that there was no dispute as to the fact that the DCP was having a service pistol on him and that there is no dispute as to the fact that he never fired any shot with the service pistol.

The judge, however, expressed his displeasure over the shoddy conduct of investigation into the killing by police authorities which he said fell short of expectation.

He reasoned that had the finger prints of the DCP been taken and analysed through forensic examination, the prosecution would have been established whether the police officer handled the gun used in killing the traders on the day of the incidence.

On the other 4 traders that where killed in their Peugeot 406 vehicle, the judge said that the issue remains ambiguous and vague because the prosecution was unable to establish those responsible for their murder.

In one way, the judge said that a witness told the court that DCP Danjuma was responsible for the shooting of the 4 traders, while another witness in his own testimony said that it was patrol teams invited to Gimibiya Street on account of a distressed call that fired the vehicle of the traders, when they allegedly refused to stop at a stop and search point mounted by the police to track down the suspected robbers that had allegedly robbed Crown Guest Inn on Gimbiya Street Abuja.

Justice Bello said in the face of the contradiction it was practically impossible to hold anybody responsible for the death of the 4 traders more so where no name was mentioned among the patrol team allegedly invited to reinforce the ambush squad that was trailing the suspected robbers.

Justice Bello also said that it was not in doubt that the occupants of the Peugeot car failed to stop at the stop and search point mounted by real policemen, adding that the decision of the occupants to reverse at a high speed on sighting the police may have raised suspicions that led to the attack on them.

CSOs Applaud Judgment

Meanwhile, some civil society organisations on Thursday described the conviction of 2 policemen involved in the killing of 6 traders in Apo, Abuja in 2005 as victory for tenacity and democracy.

Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform (PER), said in Abuja that the judgment showed that the judiciary could stand up expediently to deliver justice.

Nwagwu said that death sentence on the police officers was well-deserved, adding that it was a show of perseverance by the public.

"This judgment symbolised what perseverance and doggedness can do. When citizens don't give up on the pursuit of justice, they are likely going to get the results that they desire.

"It was because the 'Apo 6' issues were not allowed to die that we were able to get the kind of the result we had today.

"So, it is victory for doggedness, perseverance and victory for democracy as well as justice to the ordinary person," he said.

He urged Nigerians to stay strong on what they believed and what was right, saying "when advocacy is very strong on any matter, the desired result will be achieved".

Frank Tietie, President, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), said the judgment was a welcomed development for the nation's democracy and portend safety of life of the common man.

He said that the spate of taking citizens' lives illegally by law enforcement agents had been on the rise, but that the judgment by Justice Bello would send a strong message to perpetrators.

"This will trigger a sense of respect for lives to all Nigerians, especially the arms-bearing law enforcement agents, that when they deprive anyone the fundamental right to life as provided in Section 33 of the constitution, there is penalty.

"They would be punished and be possibly given the death penalty as in this case.

"Nigeria is one of the countries that still retain the death penalty. This is underscored by the value of human life in Nigeria.

"Therefore, anyone who takes the life of another deliberately and in cold blood must also be deprived of his or her life.

"However worrisome is the length of time it took to dispense with the case. In an act of crime which took place as far back as 2005, it has taken about 12 years just at the court of first instance to give judgment," Tietie said.

He urged the judiciary to step up its judgment, especially in cases that had to do with taking the life of another deliberately in cold blood and ensure that anybody involved should also be deprived of his or her own life.

(source: nationalaccordnewspaper.com)

IRAN:

Highest number of juvenile executions in 2016

The Islamic Republic of Iran has reportedly executed the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world during the past year, according to the report by the Special Rapporteur from the UN assigned to Iran.

"Despite an absolute ban on the practice under international law, the penal code continues to explicitly retain the death penalty for boys of at least 15 lunar years of age and girls of at least 9 lunar years for qisas (retribution in kind) or hudud crims, like homicide, adultery or sodomy," according to the report.

Iran updated its penal code in 2013, which requires judges to access the mental capacity of juvenile offenders before issuing a death sentence, to determine if they understood the consequences of their actions at the time they committed hudud-related crimes. Amendments to the penal code also repeal capital punishment for juveniles found guilty of violating drug-related offences.

However, judges still have the flexibility to sentence juveniles to death. Even though juveniles who were sentenced prior to the 2013 changes to the penal code can appeal their sentence, few have had their sentences overturned.

Iran Death Penalty For Juvenile Offenders

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) expressed great concern about the ongoing execution of juveniles, and called on the Iranian government to rescind reservations that sanction judicial disregard of CRC provisions. It also called on the Iranian government to define juveniles as anyone under the age of 18, in line with CRC standards, and to raise the age of criminal responsibility without discriminating between boys and girls.

According to non-governmental sources, the vast majority of executions of persons convicted as juveniles are not officially reported by the Iranian government. The figures of convicted children are not known, but there are definitely over 78 on death row as of December 2016. Some of them have been languishing for years under a death sentence.

At least 5 young men, who were below the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offence, were executed in 2016. 3 others were reportedly at imminent risk of execution for crimes they allegedly committed while there were below the age of 18 as of the end of 2016.

The Special Rapporteur also noted that in July 2016, the Iranian government introduced legislation to the parliament for review. One of the key parts of this legislation was that the judiciary should consider an alternative punishment of 2 to 8 years' imprisonment in a juvenile correctional facility for juvenile offenders convicted of crimes that carry the death penalty or life imprisonment. Yet little progress has developed regarding the adoption of this law during the 2nd half of 2016 and early 2017.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Iranian government to establish an immediate moratorium on the executions of persons convicted while they were under the age of 18, to accelerate the adoption process of the Juveniles and Children's Criminal Procedure Bill and to commute all death sentences handed down on minors, turning them into sentences in line with international juvenile justice standards.

(source: The Media Express)

MARCH 10, 2017:

FLORIDA:

tate seeks death penalty for men accused of killing 92-year-old woman----Deputies: Men stole money for drugs from her before burying her body

State prosecutors filed a motion Tuesday seeking the death penalty for the men charged in connection with the February murder of a 92-year-old Leesburg woman.

Krystopher Laws, 21, and Joshua McClellan, 20, are charged with 1st-degree murder and home invasion robbery in the killing of Rubye James. Investigators said that the 2 men killed James over money they wanted to use to buy drugs.

James' body was found buried in a wooded area behind McClellan's house, deputies said.

An autopsy revealed that James' cause of death was "multiple sharp and blunt force injuries," according to the affidavit.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office said that Laws admitted that he and McClellan had walked to James' house to get money for drugs, and that once she opened the front door, the men walked in and struck James in the head, which caused her to fall to the ground, and stabbed her multiple times, according to the affidavit.

McClellan has continuously denied his role in James' killing, saying during his arrest last month, "I was the only one that was ever really there for her."

Assistant State's Attorney Hugh Dean Bass Jr. called the murder "cold, calculated and premeditated" in the affidavit. He added, that "the victim of the capital felony was particularly vulnerable due to advanced age or disability."

The state is seeking the death penalty because the murder was committed during a robbery. Trial is expected to begin this summer.

(source: WKMG news)

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

Florida's death penalty step closer to returning

Moving closer to getting Florida's death penalty back on track, the Florida Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would require unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences to be imposed.

Lawmakers are rushing to pass legislation to address a series of court rulings that have kept the death penalty --- and executions --- in limbo for more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, struck down the state's capital sentencing process as unconstitutional.

The Hurst decision, premised on a 2002 ruling in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, found that Florida's system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

The Legislature early last year passed a law to try to address the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

But in a pair of decisions in the fall, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the new law --- which required at least 10 of 12 jurors to recommend death sentences --- also was an unconstitutional violation of the right to a trial by jury because, unlike all other jury verdicts, it did not require a unanimous recommendation. The ruling dealt only with the sentencing phase of death-penalty cases, not the guilt phase, which already requires unanimous verdicts.

Thursday's Senate vote --- on the third day of the 2017 legislative session --- would ostensibly fix the weaknesses identified by the majority of the Florida Supreme Court with the current law.

"I believe this is a great first step in getting this right," Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat who sponsored the measure (SB 280), said before the 37-0 vote.

The Florida House could pass the proposal as early as Friday. Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to sign the measure.

“It was important to me that, in the very first week of session, that we address this issue so we have a constitutional statute --- as juries are being selected and as families of victims are in court in very stressful circumstances and in very difficult circumstances, we want a law that is orderly and structured and constitutional,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said.

But the change to the statute won't do anything to settle the fate of more than half of the nearly 400 inmates on Florida's death row who are likely to be granted new sentencing hearings as a result of the previous court rulings

. Before the Senate vote on the death penalty measure, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday issued opinions in 4 capital cases, overturning death sentences in two cases and upholding the death penalty in 2 others.

In 1 of the cases, the court unanimously refused to grant a new sentencing hearing for convicted double-murderer Cary Michael Lambrix. Scott ordered last year that Lambrix be executed, but the death warrant was put on hold by the Florida Supreme Court shortly after the federal Hurst decision.

Lambrix was convicted of the 1983 murders of Aleisha Bryant and Clarence Moore in Glades County. According to court documents, Lambrix met the couple at a LaBelle bar and invited them to his mobile home for a spaghetti dinner.

Lambrix went outside with Bryant and Moore individually, then returned to finish the dinner with his girlfriend. Bryant's and Moore's bodies were found buried near Lambrix's trailer.

Lambrix was originally scheduled to be executed in 1988, but the Florida Supreme Court issued a stay of that execution. A federal judge lifted the stay in 1992.

The Florida court on Thursday decided that Lambrix did not deserve a new sentencing hearing because his case was finalized before the 2002 ruling in Ring, even though non-unanimous juries recommended death on 2 occasions.

The court also refused to grant a new sentencing hearing to convicted murderer Dale Glenn Middleton, who already received a new hearing before the state court and who was sentenced to die in 2012 after a jury unanimously recommended death.

In contrast, the court vacated death sentences in the cases of 2 other death row inmates --- Charles Anderson and Howard Ault --- because of issues related to the Hurst decision.

Negron said Thursday afternoon that lawmakers are focused solely on making sure judges and prosecutors can move forward with death penalty cases, which have been essentially on hold for more than a year.

"Our goal was that death penalty cases proceed in an orderly manner, under a law that is constitutional. That was our focus," Negron told reporters.

(source: Fox News)

LOUISIANA:

Path cleared for execution----U.S. Supreme Court denies writ for hearing for X-box triple murderer

The U.S Supreme Court has cleared the path for the execution of the Shreveport man convicted and sentenced to death for a triple homicide over an X-Box in October 2013.

In September, the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death penalty conviction of Marcus Reed in the August 2010 deaths of 18-year-old Jarquis Adams, 20-year-old Jeremiah Adams and 13-year-old Gene Adams.

Reed killed the brothers because he believed they stole an X-box from his girlfriend's house.

So, in November, defense attorneys filed a writ asking for a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. On Feb. 27, that writ was denied.

The U.S. Supreme Court notified the Louisiana Supreme Court of its decision, and the state high court then sent certified letters to the trial judge, Caddo District Judge Katherine Dorroh, the Caddo District Attorney's office, which were received today.

It took a Caddo Parish jury only 67 minutes to convict Reed of the murders, and after hearing a day-and-a-half of testimony, a little more than 2 hours to impose the death penalty.

In his appeals, Reed charged racism, though the three victims and 4 of the jurors on the panel were African American.

The high court's denial of the writ opens the door to schedule an execution date for Reed, who will celebrate his 40th birthday April 7th on Angola's death row.

(source: arklatexhomepage.com)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas's Rush to Execution

In the space of 10 days in April, Arkansas plans to execute 8 men - nearly 1/4 of its entire death-row population, and more than 1/3 as many people as were put to death in America in 2016. It would be the fastest spate of executions in any state in more than 40 years.

All of the men have sat on Arkansas's death row for decades. Why the sudden rush to kill them now? The answer is as mundane as it is absurd: The state's batch of a lethal-injection drug is about to expire.

That drug, the sedative midazolam, is supposed to render the inmate unconscious, and thus lead to a "quieter" death. In practice it has been associated with multiple botched executions resulting in intense pain and suffering for inmates - "the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake," as Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court described it in 2015. Legal challenges have made it harder for states to obtain midazolam, and have slowed the pace of executions around the country. Arkansas has not executed anyone since 2005, mostly because of litigation surrounding its lethal-injection protocol.

But for now the drug is still legal, and last month the Supreme Court declined to review the last of the Arkansas cases, paving the way for the state to set new execution dates. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he would prefer to spread the executions over a longer period, but "that's not the circumstances that I find myself in."

In other words, he's justifying a state-sanctioned killing spree driven by the use-by date stamped on a bottle. Arkansas has also run out of potassium chloride, another drug in the 3-drug lethal cocktail, but says it expects to be able to get more by April.

The paradox is that it's not hard to kill people if you're willing to tolerate some gore. Arkansas could change its law to allow the use of a firing squad, for instance, which is faster and more reliable than lethal injection. Instead, like almost all other states, it has opted for a "medically sterile aura of peace," as Justice Sotomayor wrote in February, dissenting from the court's decision not to hear a challenge to Alabama's use of midazolam. More bluntly, Americans want to indulge their bloodlust without having to think about the blood. Lethal-injection protocols indulge this squeamishness, and in the process disregard a condemned person's constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

But killing in the government's name is a brutal business, no matter the method used. The American death-penalty debate would be more honest if the public were forced to face that fact. States that kill their citizens, Justice Sotomayor wrote, "should not be permitted to shield the true horror of executions from official and public view."

Until that changes, the elaborate, bloodless theater of gurneys, needles and doctor's scrubs will continue to fool Americans into believing they can hold on to their humanity even as they take part in barbarity.

(source: Editorial, New York Times)

JORDAN:

Jordan's mass execution revives debate on death penalty

Jordan's execution of 15 men as dawn broke on March 4 in Swaqa prison, south of Amman, has raised questions and concerns among death penalty supporters and opponents alike.

The executions - the 1st in more than 2 years - were unprecedented in Jordan's history both in scale and in speed: 5 of the hanged men had only lost their appeals 1 month earlier. Dubbed the "Irbid terror cell" by local media, the suspected Islamic State (IS) militants had been arrested during a shootout with police in Irbid in March 2016 and were sentenced to death in the final days of December.

The executions appeared to target the new generation of jihadis: Of the 10 men hanged for terror offenses, 8 had been convicted during the last year for crimes ranging from the killing of intelligence officers to the shooting of journalist Nahed Hattar.

They were convicted in closed trials in Jordan’s State Security Court, whose procedures fall short of international fair trial standards, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Member of parliament Saleh al-Armouti, the former head of the Jordan Bar Association, expressed concern over the judicial process. "I support the death penalty, but only when there is a fair trial. ... Even Interpol does not recognize this court," he said, referring to the State Security Court.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Armouti said the speed of the trials and the hangings were also troubling. "The executions were carried out very quickly, and there is no justification for this. ... These sentences were the swiftest judgements ever made, and they were the most recent cases," he said, noting that other death row inmates have been waiting more than 20 years to be executed. "There is no justification for how they chose."

Attorney General Ziad Dmour said the executions were a signal "to anyone trying to tamper with Jordan's security," while government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani warned, "Anyone who dares to engage in terrorist activities against Jordan will face the same destiny."

Analyst and journalist Yousef al-Bustanji told Al-Monitor that while the executions sent "a very clear message" that any attempt to undermine Jordanian security would face a swift response, the hangings also renewed public confidence in Jordan’s ability to tackle terrorism.

Jordan has been largely insulated from the uprisings and civil wars that have swept through its neighbors in recent years, but the kingdom has suffered a spike in Islamist attacks over the last year.

"Everybody knows that Jordan is in the middle of a war zone and in an extraordinary situation," said Bustanji. "The executions aimed to calm people's fears."

But Armouti suggested that a more cynical message was addressed outside the kingdom, specifically to Washington.

"The government decided to do the executions so it can be said that the government is fighting terrorism. Whoever is fighting terrorism will receive aid," Armouti said, noting that US President Donald Trump had pledged to work with Jordan to fight terrorism.

Jordan received $1.6 billion in US funds during the final year of President Barack Obama’s administration and is hoping to continue the flow of assistance from the new White House, despite Trump’s pledges to cut spending on foreign aid.

Internally, the Jordanian government sought to rally public support for the hangings by carefully selecting the other 5 men who were hanged along with the 10 terrorists. They were convicted for rape and murder, according to lawyer and death penalty expert Iyad al-Qaisi.

Each had been convicted of particularly grisly crimes that had captured the public's attention; they, too, were relatively recent arrivals to death row.

The high profiles of their cases, which are still fresh in the public's mind, decided the men's fate on March 4: They were populist choices, said Qaisi, a consultant for the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide.

Among those executed was a carpenter convicted of raping and impregnating his teenage daughter; she died when he performed an improvised abortion on her using a blade, a needle and thread. Also executed was Mohammad Khazaleh, convicted of stabbing to death Nour al-Awadat in a bus station in Zarqa. Photos of Awadat, a university student of Sharia, accompanied local media reports of the executions.

Sensationalist media reporting of the crimes was a factor in the prisoners’ swift executions, and it had also influenced their trials, said Qaisi. Meanwhile, Amnesty International warned that the use of torture in Jordan made the executions "especially problematic."

According to court papers seen by Al-Monitor, Khazaleh's conviction for the murder of Awadat was largely based on a confession that was inconsistent with the crime scene report; there were no witnesses. In court, Khazaleh retracted his confession, testifying that it was extracted by torture.

Jordan's reinstatement of the death penalty in December 2014 after an 8-year de facto moratorium was presented as a response to public demand, but for Qaisi, the scale of the public's appetite for executions has been overstated.

After the moratorium was broken, the families of the remaining death row inmates rushed to reconcile with the victims' relatives; as settlements were reached, dozens of prisoners were granted reprieves, in line with Jordanian law, Qaisi said.

Meanwhile, moves toward reconciliations have already begun in response to the March 4 executions, he said, citing the willingness of victims' families to negotiate such settlements as evidence that the Jordanian public is ready to accept alternatives to the death penalty.

But even for staunch supporters of capital punishment like Armouti, the circumstances of the March 4 executions were disturbing. Hanging can be a bloody procedure, Armouti said, and the March 4 schedule did not even leave time to clean the death chamber between executions. "Human beings have dignity. To execute them in the same place, on the same day, it was a violation of human dignity. ... They shouldn't have done that."

(source: al-monitor.com)

EGYPT:

Egypt sentences man to death for killing Christian

An Egyptian court sentenced a Muslim man to death on Thursday for murdering a Christian for selling alcohol, security and judicial officials said.

The court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria issued its sentence after receiving approval from the mufti, the official interpreter of Islamic law whose role is advisory.

The verdict can be appealed.

Adel Abu Al-Nur el-Sayed, 50, was accused of killing 61-year-old Youssef Lamei, a Coptic Christian, on January 2 in Alexandria.

Sayed had walked up to Lamei as he sat outside his liquor store and slit his throat, the victim’s son Tony Youssef, who witnessed the murder, told AFP.

Sayed, who sports a long beard in the manner of Muslim fundamentalists, later told the court that he would kill all alcohol sellers if he could, judicial sources said.

Consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Islam.

Sayed was present in court on Thursday, according to a security official.

The Coptic minority has been on edge after a series of attacks.

On December 11, a suicide bombing claimed by the Daesh group struck a Cairo church during a service, killing 29 people.

The group's Egypt branch said in December it would continue attacks against "every infidel and apostate in Egypt, and everywhere."

The jihadists had mostly targeted Egypt's security forces in the north of the Sinai Peninsula since the army overthrew Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.

(source: Arab News)

IRAN----executions

2 Prisoners Executed on Murder Charges

2 unidentified prisoners were reportedly hanged at Sari Prison (Mazandaran province, northern Iran) on murder charges.

According to the state-run Iranian news agency, Rokna, the executions were carried out on the morning of Monday March 6. The two prisoners allegedly committed a murder crime in March 2013. According to the report, one of the prisoners was 21 years of age at the time he allegedly committed murder.

(source: Iran Human Rights)

JAPAN:

High court overturns death penalty for man convicted of child murder

The Osaka High Court on March 10 overturned a death sentence given in a lay judge trial to a man accused of kidnapping for the purpose of sexual assault and murdering a 6-year-old girl, handing down a life sentence instead.

The high court changed the sentence on grounds including that the crime was not premeditated.

The victim's body was found in a wooded area in Nagata Ward, Kobe, on Sept. 23, 2014. Nearby resident Yasuhiro Kimino, now 50, was arrested on suspicion of murder, kidnapping for sexual purposes, abandoning a body and damaging a body.

In the 1st trial at the Kobe District Court, it was ruled that Kimino had approached the girl on a road in Nagata Ward and told her that he wanted her to be an art model. He then kidnapped the girl and brought her to his home to sexually assault her. The court found that he then strangled the girl with a rope and abandoned her body. Kimino admitted to all the allegations except for kidnapping the girl for the purpose of sexual assault.

The Osaka High Court's decision was the third time that a higher court has overturned a death penalty ruling delivered in a lay judge trial for the murder of a single victim. In all cases the higher court has delivered a life sentence instead.

Kimino's attorneys argued that "the lower court's ruling was excessively influenced by the victim's family's desire for punishment, and erred in its decision on the severity of that punishment." The Osaka High Court's presiding judge agreed that handing down the death sentence had been a mistake. A main point of contention in the trial was how appropriate it was to give the death penalty in a case with only 1 victim.

In reference to the alleged motive that Kimino killed the girl so she would not make a commotion while he sexually assaulted her, the court said, "The defendant's goal of satisfying his sexual desires deserves condemnation, but it cannot be said to be an extremely selfish one." The ruling supported recognition by the lower court that Kimino decided to kill the girl after he had invited her into his home, and thus the murder was not premeditated.

The ruling followed the trend of past rulings, and read, "The lack of premeditation should be viewed as important. Compared to premeditated killings, the punishment should be lighter."

While the presiding judge said he could "well understand the victim's family's desire for a harsh punishment," he added, "The spontaneous side of the incident cannot be denied, and we cannot say that (the defendant)'s disregard for life was extremely prominent."

He concluded, "We cannot say that there is no option but to give the death penalty."

Kimino's defense attorney had argued that the girl's kidnapping was not sexually motivated. However, the ruling rejected this argument, stating, "Considering evidence such as the fact that the defendant frequently looked at obscene videos of young girls before the incident, we can deduce that he had a sexual motive."

In a February 2015 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that death sentences should be considered carefully and fairly, and urged that such sentences also be balanced against court precedents.

. (source: mainichi.jp)

DR CONGO:

Congo court sentences 9 rebels to death over killings

A Congolese court on Friday sentenced to death 9 rebels and acquitted 2 others as the government seeks to hold a rebel group accountable for attacks that have killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Congo since October 2014.

The convicted were prosecuted for crimes against humanity, terrorism and participation in a rebellion, presiding judge Lt. Col. Jean-Paulin Esosa Basema said. They are members of the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group founded in neighboring Uganda that is now based in Congo. A 3rd defendant was transferred to a court for minors, the judge said.

The trial of more than 100 defendants began in December.

Beni residents said they were satisfied with the first sentencings in the trial, and they said they hope it brings further international intervention against the violence in the region.

The ADF rebels are among scores of armed groups vying for control in mineral-rich eastern Congo. The ADF rebel movement has been active since the 1990s but intensified its attacks inside Congo several years ago.

The president of the local human rights group, Omar Kavota, said that while he welcomed the trial and the great consideration given to the convictions, he did not welcome the death sentences.

(source: Associated Press)

MARCH 9, 2017:

TEXAS----impending execution

Death Watch: "No Need" for Mental Tests----James Bigby will be the 4th Texan executed in 2017

James Bigby, 61, is scheduled to be the 4th Texan executed this year when he goes to the Huntsville gurney on Tuesday, March 14. The Fort Worth native has spent the last 25 years on death row after a 2-day killing spree that left 4 people dead.

The murders began on Dec. 23, 1987. Bigby was convinced that several of his acquaintances were conspiring against him when he arrived at his friend Mike Trekell's Fort Worth home for dinner. Trekell was cooking when Bigby shot him in the head, then drowned Trekell's 4-month-old son in the kitchen sink. He then moved on to the houses of 2 more friends - Calvin Crane and Frank "Bubba" Johnson - killing both. He was arrested at an Arlington hotel on Dec. 26.

Bigby confessed to the crimes when he was arrested and again later in a written statement. At his trial, during a recess, Bigby grabbed a gun from the bench, broke into chambers, and threatened his trial judge at gunpoint. Though he was disarmed before anything happened, the incident influenced the jury's decision in determining Bigby's future dangerousness; he was convicted of capital murder in March 1991, and sentenced to death.

Prior to his killing spree, Bigby had a history of robberies and sexual assault, which prosecutors focused on during sentencing. His defense argued their client suffered from schizophrenia and depression, and that he was a product of a neglectful upbringing. (The defense also addressed Bigby's newfound reverence for religion.) Appeals have focused on the trial counsel's failure to address Bigby's family's history - a violation of Bigby's right to assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Court records indicate that Bigby's mother gave away each of his siblings to relatives, which caused him to fear he too would be abandoned. Bigby also detailed his unhealthy relationship with his mother - noting that she breastfed him until he was 7 - as well as her alcoholism, and her attempted suicide. None of those hardships have done anything to sway any appeals court. Bigby has had no sustainable luck finding relief at the state or federal levels - however, in 2005, the district court wherein he filed his appeal vacated his death sentence after ruling that his trial jury was given inadequate instructions regarding death penalty sentencing, citing the 2001 case Penry v. Johnson. In 2006, he attended a 2nd sentencing trial and was handed a 2nd death sentence.

In March 2015, Bigby filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, though the effort was rejected by SCOTUS 2 months later. In September 2016, the state filed a motion to issue an execution date, but according to the order written by Tarrant County Judge Robb Catalano, Bigby's counsel requested additional time. Bigby "had been uncooperative and uncommunicative with him, such that he was unable to 'rationally evaluate' the Defendant's state of mind or mental ability," wrote Catalano. Bigby's attorney filed a report stating "no need" for a mental examination on Oct. 27, 2016 - Bigby "understands the reason for his execution." An execution warrant was signed a few days later. If all goes the way the state intends, Bigby will be the 2nd Tarrant County resident executed this year and 542nd in Texas since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

(source: Austin Chronicle)

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

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----23

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----541

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

24---------March 14-----------------James Bigby-----------542

25---------April 12-----------------Paul Storey-----------543

26---------May 16-------------------Tilon Carter----------544

27---------May 24-------------------Juan Castillo----------545

28---------June 28------------------Steven Long-----------546

29---------July 19-----------------Kosoul Chanthakoummane---547

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

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

Court affirms conviction, death penalty for Petetan

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday affirmed the April 2014 capital murder conviction and death sentence of Carnell Petetan Jr.

A 19th State District Court jury convicted Petetan, 41, in the September 2012 shooting death of his estranged wife, Kimberly Farr Petetan, a few months after he was released from a 20-year prison sentence.

8 judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals voted to reject Petetan's 30 points of appeal, while Judge Elsa Alcala dissented, saying she preferred not to rule on Petetan's case while the Texas standard for determining whether someone is intellectually disabled is in legal flux.

The McLennan County jury found that Petetan constitutes a continuing threat to society and rejected his claim that he is exempt from execution because of mental impairment.

Petetan, a Port Arthur native, denied that he broke into his estranged wife's Lake Shore Drive apartment and shot her in front of her daughter and 2 men who rode from South Texas with him earlier that day. He also kidnapped the girl after shooting her mother.

Both of those men and the girl testified that they saw Petetan shoot his wife.

Kimberly Petetan started writing Petetan in prison in 2009 after a chance meeting with Petetan's brother. A recovering drug addict who was studying to be a drug abuse counselor, Kimberly Petetan shared her story with Petetan's brother and he suggested that Carnell Petetan, then serving prison time for 3 violent assaults, could benefit from her kindness.

Petetan was in prison at the time for shooting 2 men and attacking another man with a chair in separate incidents when he was 16.

Petetan essentially has been locked up since he was 13, being placed on juvenile probation for attacking a teacher before continuing to do poorly and being sent to a state juvenile facility in Brownwood.

At his trial, prosecutors established that Petetan sexually assaulted 3 other inmates while in prison, assaulted guards and was a member of the 357 Graveyard Crips prison gang.

(source: Waco Tribune)

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

Death Sentence Upheld for Man Convicted of Killing Wife

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction and death sentence of a Port Arthur man convicted of killing his wife in Waco in 2012 a few months after getting out of prison where he met her as a pen pal, exchanging letters.

Carnell Petetan was condemned for fatally shooting his estranged wife, Kimberly. He was serving 20 years for assault and she was studying to be a drug abuse counselor when they met.

Petetan's attorneys raised 30 points of error from his 2014 trial where defense attorneys contended Petetan was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Appeals court Judge Elsa Alcala said Wednesday she would have waited to rule until the Supreme Court decides another case questioning the constitutionality of how Texas determines intellectual disability.

(source: Associated Press)

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

Bill to bar death penalty for mentally ill faces uphill battle----State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, has filed long-shot House Bill 3080, which would prevent offenders proven to have had a severe mental illness at the time of their crime from being sentenced to death in a capital murder case.

In Texas, as in the rest of the nation, juries can still sentence mentally ill offenders to death. In a state with one of the busiest death rows in the country, one lawmaker has filed a bill to change that.

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, has filed long-shot House Bill 3080, which would prevent offenders proven to have had a severe mental illness at the time of their crime from being sentenced to death in a capital murder case.

The most high profile of such offenders is Scott Panetti, a diagnosed schizophrenic who killed his wife's parents in 1992 and has lived on Texas' death row for more than 20 years. Panetti represented himself at his trial, dressing as a cowboy and trying to call witnesses such as the Pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.

Panetti has not yet been executed because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his precedent-setting case that a death-sentenced inmate must be able to understand that he's about to executed, and why. But there is no law governing handing down a death sentence in the first place; defendants can either plead not guilty by reason of insanity, or, if convicted, hope the evidence of mental illness in the sentencing trial is enough to persuade juries to hand down a life sentence instead.

"These illnesses are not a choice," Rose said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the bill. "Severe mental illness can cripple an individual and significantly impair one's ability to make decisions and control their impulses and understand the consequences of their actions.

Under Rose's bill, a defense lawyer would be able to ask for a hearing at least 30 days before a capital murder trial to determine if a defendant had a severe mental illness. To qualify as exempt from the death penalty, defendants would have to prove they had a medical diagnosis or documented symptoms of one of the following: schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression. They also would have to prove that they acted as a result of psychotic symptoms that limited their ability to exercise rational judgment or understand the consequences of their actions. If mental illness was confirmed, the maximum penalty a jury could hand down would be life without parole.

Rose's bill, along with others seeking to curb use of the death penalty in Texas, faces an uphill battle in the GOP-led Texas Legislature.

While The Texas Tribune couldn't get many Republicans to weigh in on the measure, last year, conservative Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Elsa Alcala hinted that she wanted the Legislature to look at the issue in her opinion in the case of mentally ill death row inmate Adam Ward.

"As is the case with intellectual disability, the preferred course would be for legislatures rather than courts to set standards defining the level at which a mental illness is so severe that it should result in a defendant being categorically exempt from the death penalty," Alcala wrote in the March 2016 opinion. Republican state Rep. James White, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said this week that he wants to look at the bill, but wasn't sure his GOP colleagues would be interested.

White has filed his own bill to create a state-funded office to help represent death penalty defendants during their appeals. That bill - which could be difficult to pass in a tight budget year - will be considered by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday.

Todd Hunter, the Republican chairman of the House Calendars Committee and vice chairman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, said Wednesday he hadn't yet heard about Rose's bill and is open to learning about any legislation. He added that in the last couple of years, more people have become educated on the death penalty in general.

Alongside bill supporters from the mental health and religious communities on Tuesday, Rose argued that people with severe mental illness should get the same protections from the death penalty that minors and people with intellectual disabilities get. She also touted the bill's fiscal impact, arguing it would save taxpayer money by eliminating a sentencing trial if the defendant is ruled severely mentally ill, and cut down on appeals of mentally ill death row inmates.

7 other states have filed or plan to file similar legislation this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. No states have passed it.

"We know of examples of people who ended up on death row despite being profoundly ill," said Greg Hanch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "Some are eventually executed. Others are ping-ponged back and forth in the appeals process for years, even decades, while the taxpayer foots the bill."

(source: Texas Tribune)

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

A long fight against the death penalty

Mike Farrell, an activist and actor best known for playing Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt on the classic TV show M*A*S*H, was in Concord on Friday night at the invitation of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The Monitor was there, too, to be recognized along with the Portsmouth Herald and the Keene Sentinel for our "persistent editorial advocacy of death penalty repeal." We have tried many times over the years to raise awareness about the most barbaric component of a deeply flawed criminal justice system, but our contribution feels infinitesimal compared to what Farrell has been doing all of his life.

For those who lost track of Farrell after M*A*S*H ended its run in the 1980s, you should know that he has continued to do what he has always done, even before he gained television fame: tirelessly fighting for human rights.

"I learned more in jails and prisons that crush already wounded souls," he told the audience. "It schooled me, opened my eyes and my heart, and kick-started a life of investigation and involvement around issues that chew people up."

Farrell exudes kindness and empathy, but he is no bleeding heart. If we are angry that the death penalty still exists here in New Hampshire, and we are, Farrell is apoplectic. "I hate this system," he said. And then he said it again, and again, and again.

"I believe we are committing a kind of national, moral suicide by accepting the idea that disposing of certain human beings is right, proper and consistent with our principles," he said.

As Farrell will tell you, it's difficult to argue with a death penalty supporter. You can cite statistics on wrongful convictions, racial bias, the cost of executions versus life imprisonment and how capital punishment has never nor will it ever deter violent crime, but they cannot see beyond "an eye for an eye." To many of them, the death penalty is justice in its purest and simplest form. Death penalty supporters long for a utopia where the threat of execution is enough to prevent murder. When that theory is revealed as fantasy, they comfort themselves with the idea that capital punishment eliminates, one by one, the worst among us, the unredeemable.

But what they don't see is the truth that is so clear to Farrell and other abolitionists, and so many others before them.

Albert Camus, who wrote for a French resistance newspaper during World War II and was witness to the worst human atrocities imaginable, put it this way in a post-war editorial series titled "Neither Victims Nor Executioners": "The world people like me are after is not a world in which people don't kill one another (we're not that crazy!) but a world in which murder is not legitimized."

That is the purest, most unassailable argument against the death penalty. Whether you believe somebody deserves to die is irrelevant; the state shouldn't be in the business of taking lives. Capital punishment is murder legitimized.

We leave the final words to Farrell: "Please consider 4 simple hypotheses: One, no matter how deeply it may have been buried, there is intrinsic value in every human being. 2, no one is only the worst thing she or he has ever done. 3, no matter the horror of the circumstance presented, there is always a reason for human behavior. And 4, state killing lowers the entire community to the level of its least member at his or her worst moment."

(source: Editorial, Concord MOnitor)

CONNECTICUT:

Justice criticized for death penalty ruling reappointed by lawmakers

The legislature has confirmed the reappointment of Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard N. Palmer, but not without criticism from some Republicans that he overstepped his authority in controversial rulings, notably the repeal of the death penalty.

Palmer's confirmation easily cleared the House with a 101-46 tally, but saw a 19-16 vote in the Senate that fell largely along party lines on Wednesday.

The legislature unanimously confirmed Gregory T. D'Auria, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's other nominee to the state Supreme Court. D'Auria replaces Justice Peter T. Zarrella, who retired at the end of last year.

Even Palmer's supporters noted concerns about his tenure as a justice, which began with his 1st appointment in 1993 by then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker.

Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, expressed concern about Palmer's courtroom style and demeanor in some of his opinions. Tong said Palmer addressed those concerns while fielding tough questions during the Judiciary Committee's hearing last month.

Republicans focused their attention more on some of Palmer's more controversial rulings. He was part of majorities that legalized gay marriage in Connecticut and abolished the state's death penalty.

"I do not believe it is appropriate for judges, especially supreme court justices, to legislate and attempt to set policy from the bench," said Rep. William Petit, R-Plainville. "We expect our judges to interpret our laws and not politicize their decisions."

Other Republicans characterized Palmer as having a similar approach, pointing to the majority opinion he wrote in support of the 2015 ruling that repealed the death penalty for those on death row.

Lawmakers approved a bill in 2012 that abolished the death penalty for all future cases but upheld sentences for those already on death row. Many legislators, including those who voted for the bill, said they didn't want to get rid of death sentences for the 2 men who killed Petit's wife and daughters after invading their Cheshire home in 2007.

Palmer cited that law as part of his reasoning to repeal existing death sentences, but also said capital punishment "no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose."

Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, said that logic allows judges to second guess any laws passed by a legislative body.

"When you take that approach, then you've undermined the meaning of any law and any part of our constitution," he said. "You basically have arrogated the power to yourself and taken it away from the lawmakers and the people who wrote those documents."

Tong defended Palmer's ruling, saying Palmer was able to explain how the ruling was based in law. He also said rejection by a federal court of President Donald Trump's initial ban on travelers from 7 predominantly Muslim nation's shows the need for judges who aren't "flinching in the face of tough decisions."

"We're getting, as a nation, a master's class in separation of powers," he said.

Malloy agreed, saying Palmer has served "honorably and well," and people should not focus on select rulings when voting on his reappointment.

"I don't think individual disagreements with decisions is the measurement of whether someone continues on the bench," Malloy said.

(source: myrecordjournal.com)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Accused Gunman in Poconos Barracks Ambush Faces Death Penalty as Trial Gets Underway

In a courtroom 150 miles from the crime scene, lawyers are to begin picking a jury in the capital murder trial of an anti-government sharpshooter charged with killing a Pennsylvania State Police trooper and critically wounding another in a 2014 ambush at their barracks.

Eric Frein, 33, who led police on a 48-day manhunt in the Pocono Mountains before his capture by U.S. marshals, could face the death penalty if he's convicted in the attack that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson II and injured Trooper Alex Douglass.

Jury selection will take place Thursday in Chester County, outside Philadelphia. The prosecution and defense agreed to pick an outside jury because of blanket news coverage of the Sept. 12, 2014 sniper attack in northeastern Pennsylvania, and its prolonged aftermath.

A defense lawyer who has tried death penalty cases said Frein's lawyers have a daunting task ahead.

The ambush "was planned. It was thought out," said Joseph D'Andrea, who is not associated with the case. The gunman, he said, "laid in wait to randomly (shoot) 2 troopers."

Prosecutors say Frein spoke of wanting to start a revolution in a letter to his parents and called Dickson's slaying an "assassination" in a police interview after his arrest. Frein allegedly told authorities he wanted to "wake people up" and "make a change (in government)."

Defense lawyers are trying to get Frein's videotaped confession suppressed, arguing he invoked his right to remain silent and wasn't told by investigators that his family had hired a lawyer.

Authorities have said there is a wealth of physical evidence tying Frein to the crime, including spent shell casings in his SUV that matched those found at the crime scene.

Police also recovered a journal allegedly written by Frein in which the gunman describes how he opened fire on 2 state troopers - watching 1 of his victims fall "still and quiet" - and then made his escape.

Frein, who has pleaded not guilty, will be held in Chester County for the duration of jury selection. Opening statements are scheduled for early April.

After the jury pool is whittled down during the initial phase, potential jurors will be questioned individually.

Prosecutors will be looking for jurors who say they can impose a death sentence. The defense, D'Andrea said, hopes to find a juror who "may be sympathetic and just wouldn't be able to, if he's convicted, vote for the death penalty."

(source: nbcphiladelphia.com)

ALABAMA:

Alabama moves step closer to ending judicial override on death penalty

Lawmakers moved a step closer to passing legislation that would prohibit judges from imposing a death sentence when a jury has recommended life imprisonment.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that had already cleared the Alabama Senate.

Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to override a jury's sentence recommendation in capital murder cases

The bill by Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road would give the jury the final say, instead of the judge.

According to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative, since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence.

The legislation would only affect future capital cases, not inmates currently on Alabama's death row.

(source: al.com)

ARKANSAS:

Cathy Torres Takes Plea to Avoid Death Penalty in Son's Murder

Cathy Torres took a plea of agreement on Wednesday to avoid the death penalty. Torres pleaded guilty to capital murder and battery and was sentenced to life without parole for the capital murder charge and 20 years for the battery charge, according to Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith.

Torres was accused of brutally abusing her son until he died. She was facing capital murder and 1st degree battery charges.

In November 2016, Torres's husband Mauricio was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to the death penalty. In his trial, the defense argued that Mauricio didn't know his actions killed Isaiah. During his trial, Torres' children and step children described to the jury what life was like growing up in the Torres household.

Many gave tearful testimonies that said Mauricio sexually abused them growing up.

(source: nwahomepage.com)

CALIFORNIA:

'Serial killer' convicted in 3 Perris-area slayings; could face death penalty

A Perris man described by authorities as a serial killer was convicted of 3 counts of murder on Wednesday, March 8, after less than a day of deliberations by jurors.

David Rey Contreras, who will turn 29 on March 16, also was found guilty of special circumstances in the slayings of three people just weeks apart in late 2012 and early 2013. Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin is seeking the death penalty in the case, DA spokesman John Hall said in a news release.

Contreras is accused of killing a mother and daughter in Nuevo in February 2013 and a man walking his dog in Perris in December 2012. DNA evidence found on items at his home, including a dog leash taken from one of the victims, linked him to the crimes. He also lived within walking distance of both crime scenes.

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon said there was no readily identifiable motive behind the deadly attacks, which appeared to be random acts of violence.

The first victim, Jose Apreza, 53, of Perris took his pit bull out for a walk the morning of Dec. 29, 2012, and never returned. His wife reporting him missing, and he was found dead in a field near his home.

The Coroner's Office found the victim had been stabbed roughly two dozen times in the torso, back and thighs.

Maria Gonzalez, 51, and her 25-year-old daughter, Consuelo Gonzalez, also were on a walk near their home when they were stabbed repeatedly Feb. 4, 2013, on Central Avenue near Ramona Avenue in Nuevo.

About a week after the slaying of the Gonzalezes, Contreras was detained near the Nuevo crime scene. He had a baseball bat concealed in the back of his sweatshirt and a kitchen knife under a back-brace belt he had on.

He denied involvement in the stabbings, and wasn't charged with murder for months, until DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.

When charges were filed in August 2013, then-Riverside County sheriff's homicide Lt. Joe Borja said the law enforcement definition for a serial killer is 3 victims or more.

"There's nothing that connects the victims or the suspect in this case. It's totally random and unprovoked," Borja said at the time. "I would say his actions - they account for what you would consider a serial killer. And if not stopped, I believe there would have been more victims in the area."

Progress in the case was delayed for more than a year after questions were raised about Contreras' mental competency. Court records detailing the investigation painted a picture of a disturbed individual whose family had begun to question his mental stability. Contreras' brother, who lived with him, told investigators that Contreras said "he has seen the devil," according to the documents.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Contreras had successfully completed a program to become a certified welder and had a Facebook page that suggested he was able to maintain a fairly normal social life. Judge John M. Monterosso ruled Contreras was fit to stand trial.

The penalty phase is set to begin Tuesday, March 14, in Monterosso's courtroom at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley. Jurors will hear testimony and determine whether Contreras should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to Hall.

(source: Press-Enterprise)

USA:

Federal prisoner facing possible death penalty prosecution loses attorney

A 37-year-old Oklahoman accused of murdering a fellow prisoner Nov. 6, 2015, at U.S Penitentiary Hazelton has lost one of his attorneys.

Marricco Sykes had been represented by Claire G. Cardwell of the Richmond, Virginia, firm of Stone, Cardwell & Dinkin PLC.

Cardwell has been elected by the Virginia General Assembly to serve as judge in Virginia's 13th Judicial District. She begins that posting July 1.

U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley has asked the remaining attorney for Sykes, Assistant Federal Defender Nicholas Compton, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Cogar, to file briefs on "whether new learned counsel" should be appointed to replace Cardwell.

Those court filings are due at the end of this week to Keeley, who's seated in Clarksburg.

Sykes was indicted by federal grand jurors on March 1, 2016. He's facing a 1st-degree murder charge that, if convicted, could carry the death penalty.

The court file indicates the office of then-U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II had sought guidance from the Department of Justice on whether to pursue a death penalty prosecution. The Department of Justice makes all such decisions. There is no indication in the court file whether that decision has been made. The office of Acting U.S. Attorney Betsy Steinfeld Jividen declined to comment on whether a decision had been handed down from the Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, the court file also indicates that Keeley has received 2 psychiatric reports on Sykes, last June 10 and last Oct. 27.

No trial date has been set yet, according to court filings, although several entries on the electronic docket have been sealed.

Cardwell is one of the leading defense attorneys in the Richmond area and has handled high-profile cases in that role, according to published reports. She also previously worked as a prosecutor.

The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Special Investigative Services have accused Sykes of killing inmate Zakii Wahiid, 60, by assaulting and strangling him.

The Preston County News & Journal previously reported that Wahiid was serving 5 1/4 years for bank robbery out of the Northern District of Illinois and had been in custody at Hazelton since Aug. 3, 2015.

Sykes was 18 when he was sentenced to 220 months (over 18 years) in federal prison on May 21, 1998, out of the Northern District of Oklahoma.

Sykes' sentence was for possessing a firearm during the Nov. 9, 1997, robbery of a Tulsa Git-N-Go convenience store and a Nov. 12, 1997, robbery of the Tulsa Jump Start Club, the Tulsa World reported on May 22, 1998.

In imposing the 20-year term, a senior U.S. district judge "said he considered grand jury testimony which indicated that Sykes may have attempted to shoot at a Git-N-Go employee during the Nov. 9 (1997) robbery," the Tulsa World reported back in 1998.

The senior judge "also said he had heard that Sykes" had been "an 'aggressive' prisoner while awaiting sentencing," the Tulsa World reported in 1998.

Sykes discharged his prior sentence March 14, 2016, but has remained in Bureau of Prisons custody pending prosecution on the murder charge. Sykes is being held at Federal Medical Center Butner in Butner, North Carolina, according to Bureau of Prisons records.

(source: The Exponent Telegram)

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Stephen Breyer vs. the Death Penalty----In a dissent, the Supreme Court justice makes a stirring case to eradicate capital punishment.

On Tuesday night, Rolando Ruiz was executed in Texas after spending more than 2 decades on death row. The legal team representing Ruiz, who killed Theresa Rodriguez as part of a murder-for-hire scheme in 1992, filed multiple petitions with the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, one of which argued that his fate constituted cruel and unusual punishment. All of those petitions were denied.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented from his colleagues' denial of certiorari, believed Ruiz's Eighth Amendment claim was "a strong one" and worth a closer look. "This Court long ago, speaking of a period of only 4 weeks of imprisonment prior to execution, said that a prisoner's uncertainty before execution is 'one of the most horrible feelings to which he can be subjected,'" wrote Breyer. Ruiz, Breyer notes, endured that uncertainty for 22 years.

Ruiz was 1 of the nearly 40 % of death row prisoners in the U.S. who have spent 20 or more years awaiting execution. Breyer pointed out that like most inmates sentenced to death, Ruiz lived in solitary confinement, where he suffered hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and depression. These psychological symptoms are common among prisoners placed in solitary confinement, and they run rampant among Texas inmates. As I described in a piece published earlier this week, death row inmates in Texas "spend 23 hours per day isolated in 60-square-foot cells. They exit only to shower or exercise and are handcuffed, stripped naked, and subjected to a full body search when they do leave their cells." Combining that isolation with a looming and uncertain execution date, Breyer argued in his dissent, does profound psychological harm.

In part because of the poor representation so frequently provided to capital defendants, a lengthy appeals process is unquestionably necessary. Without it, a defendant's potentially valid legal claims may never be heard in a court of law.

Ruiz's case is a telling example. A federal district court judge in 2005 recognized that "the quality of representation petitioner received during his state habeas corpus proceeding was appallingly inept. ... [Ruiz's] counsel made no apparent effort to investigate and present a host of potentially meritorious and readily available claims for state habeas relief." These potentially viable claims included allegations that his trial lawyer should have presented mitigating evidence that might have convinced a jury to sentence him to life. Ultimately, that court ruled that the claims were procedurally barred - another complicated and devastating aspect of our nation's death penalty laws.

This is not the 1st time Breyer has challenged the constitutionality of long delays before execution or the use of solitary confinement. In a dissent in the 2015 case Glossip v. Gross, he stressed that "excessive delays from sentencing to execution can themselves 'constitute cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.'" And prolonged isolation, Breyer wrote, "produces numerous deleterious harms."

Justice Anthony Kennedy has also expressed grave concern about the confinement of death row prisoners. In a 2015 case about jury selection, Kennedy dedicated 4 pages of his concurring opinion to questioning solitary confinement. The defendant, Hector Ayala, had spent more than 25 years in isolation. "Research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total isolation exact a terrible price," wrote Kennedy.

Pointing to Kennedy's opinion in Ayala, Breyer wrote this week that Ruiz's case is an opportunity to consider solitary confinement with "constitutional scrutiny." In the last paragraph of his 3-page dissent, Breyer noted, "If extended solitary confinement alone raises serious constitutional questions, then 20 years of solitary confinement, all the while under threat of execution, must raise similar questions, and to a rare degree, and with particular intensity."

(source: Rebecca McCray is a writer in New York and a journalism and research fellow with the Fair Punishment Project----slate.com)

JAPAN:

Man convicted of killing 2 in Osaka has death sentence reduced to life in prison

The Osaka High Court commuted a death sentence for a man convicted of indiscriminately murdering a man and a woman here in 2012 to a life prison term in a ruling on March 9.

"Considering that the crime was not carefully premeditated, it cannot be said the death penalty is unavoidable," Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Nakagawa said, while recognizing that the accused was mentally competent to be held responsible for his actions.

The Osaka District Court had sentenced the defendant -- Kyozo Isohi, 41 -- to death in a lay judge trial, as demanded by prosecutors.

The defense counsel, which had appealed the lower court ruling to the high court, told the court that their client heard a voice saying "Stab" due to auditory hallucinations caused by the aftereffects of his use of stimulants in the past, and pointed to the possibility that he was of diminished capacity.

Therefore, the degree of his capacity to take responsibility for his actions and sentencing were key points of contention in the case.

In its ruling, the high court deemed that the outcome of a psychiatric test on Isohi, which concluded that the effects of his auditory hallucination were limited, was rational, and recognized that he was competent to be held responsible for the crimes he is accused of committing.

"His auditory hallucinations only contributed to the defendant's decision and action to carry out the crimes," the presiding judge said.

Nakagawa then discussed whether the death sentence handed down by the lower court was appropriate.

Pointing out that Isohi bought a knife he used in his attacks shortly before the incidents, the presiding judge determined "it cannot be recognized that the accused had carefully premeditated the crimes."

Nakagawa noted that in all the past cases of fatal indiscriminate attacks in which the defendants were sentenced to death, courts recognized that the crimes were carefully premeditated. The judge then pointed out that because of this it is difficult to hand down a ruling that deviates from the judicial precedent.

Furthermore, Nakagawa said it was necessary to take into account the defendant's auditory hallucinations, which he said may have had certain effects on his actions, in sentencing.

The presiding judge then concluded that he has "no choice but to hesitate to choose the death penalty for the defendant even though the bereaved families of the victims requested a harsh penalty for the accused."

According to the ruling, Isohi stabbed Shingo Minamino, 42, a producer at an event organizing company, and Toshi Sasaki, 66, a restaurant operator, on a street in the Higashishinsaibashi district of Chuo Ward, Osaka, on June 10, 2012.

(source: mainichi.jp)

IRAN----executions

5 prisoners hanged in Iran

Official and unofficial sources have reported on the executions of 5 prisoners in various Iranian prisons. The executions were carried out between Saturday and Sunday.

3 prisoners hanged at Ghezelhesar Priso--Alborz Province, northern Iran

According to close sources, on the morning of Saturday March 4, a prisoner was hanged at Hamedan Central Prison on murder charges. The prisoner has been identified as Bahman Faridi, 35 years of age.

There are currently 22 prisoners in Hamedan Central Prison who are in imminent danger of execution after their death sentences were confirmed. 9 of these prisoner are in danger of execution for murder charges, the rest of the prisoners are sentenced to death on drug related charges.

A prisoner hanged at Hamedan Central Prison--Hamadan province, western Iran

According to the human rights news agency, HRANA, 3 prisoners were executed at Ghezelhesar Prison on drug related charges. The executions were reportedly carried out on Sunday March 5. Sources close to Iran Human Rights have also confirmed these 3 executions. The prisoners have been identified as Isa Charami, Mostafa Ghorbani, and Mehdi Jafari.

A prisoner was hanged in public in Buin Zahra count--Qazvin province, northern Iran

The Iranian state-run news agency, Mehr, has reported on the execution of a prisoner in public on Sunday March 5 in Buin Zahra (Qazvin province, northern Iran). The prisoner was reportedly on death row on murder charges. The report confirmed the execution by quoting the press department of the Qazvin Judiciary. According to the report, the execution was carried out in front of a crowd of people.

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4 Prisoners Executed

2 prisoners were hanged at Garmsar Prison (Semnan province, northern Iran) on drug related charges and 2 prisoners were hanged at Urmia's central prison (West Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran) on murder charges.

According to the human rights news agency, HRANA, the 2 prisoners at Garmsar were hanged on Monday March 6 on the charge of possession and trafficking 820 grams of narcotics. The prisoners have been identified as Parviz (Behrouz) Nedaie and Bahram Moradgholi.

According to HRANA, the 2 prisoners at Urmia's central prison were also hanged on Monday. The prisoners have been identified as Ramezan Sabzi and Yousef Alizadeh (approximately 60 years old).

Close sources have reported on 3 death row prisoners from Urmia's central prison, charged with serial murder, who were transferred out of the prison. Close sources believe the Iranian authorities plan to execute these 3 prisoners in public.

Iran Human Rights had previously reported on 2 executions on drug related charges which were carried out at Urmia's central prison on Sunday March 4.

(source for both: Iran Huma n Rights)

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