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

OCTOBER 24, 2016:


The most broken system in Tennessee

Need a reason to be against the death penalty?

How about a dozen?

1. It's not reliable.

Since 1973, a long line of death row inmates have been exonerated, their innocence discovered years after their capital trial, meaning that what needs to be our purest, most trusted system of justice is our most flawed: We have imprisoned innocent people and, more than likely, executed them, as well.

Last year, the 156th inmate was set free.

"And those are just the ones we know about," Ray Krone told the Times Free Press.

In 2002, Krone became the 100th exoneree. Sentenced to die in Arizona for a crime he didn't commit, Krone was later released after DNA evidence proved his innocence. He now lives in Tennessee. With Sister Helen Prejean, Krone co-founded Witness to Innocence.

2. The death penalty is applied in unconstitutional ways.

Instead of being used in a majority of American courtrooms, death penalty sentencing only happens in approximately 2 % of all counties, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Such geographical arbitrariness - how can we have a system of justice that 98 % of all counties ignore? - makes it unusual, unequal and, many argue, unconstitutional.

3. Death row is a place of poverty.

"Almost all death row inmates could not afford their own attorney at trial," Amnesty International reports. "Court-appointed attorneys often lack the experience necessary for capital trials and are overworked and underpaid."

"From the U.S. to Iran, the single most common demographic amongst those on death row is poverty," adds Jack Todd in Borgen magazine.

4. Death row is racist.

"More than 1/2 of the people on death row in this country are people of color," reports the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala.

If the murder victim is white, there's a greater chance death row sentencing will take place, especially if the accused is black. Blacks are less than 15 percent of the U.S. population, yet more than 40 percent of the nearly 3,000 death row inmates.

Of the 63 males on Tennessee's death row, 30 are black.

"35 % of those executed since 1976 have been black," states the EJI.

A growing body of research illustrates the connection between the death penalty and lynching. As lynching became taboo and outlawed, the practice morphed into a legal version of itself: death row. If lynch-happy counties couldn't hang a black man anymore, they could legally sentence him to die in prison.

Between the 1870s and 1950s, Shelby County, Tenn., had one of the highest rates of lynchings in the South, according to the EJI.

Today, the majority of inmates on Tennessee's death row - 27 of 64 - come from Shelby County.

6. It's a money pit.

California has spent $4 billion on its death penalty system since 1976, according to DPIC. A North Carolina study shows death row trials cost $2 million more than life-without-parole trials.

With 64 inmates, how many millions is Tennessee's death row costing each year?

7. By shifting sentencing from death to life without parole, all that money could be spent elsewhere.

- Funding addiction programs.

- Aiding victims' families.

- Staffing prisons.

- Boosting police training to diagnose and aid the mentally ill.

A new coalition, Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion, is building support among communities, legislators and law enforcement on ways to exclude the mentally ill from death row sentencing.

8. Less than 1/2 of all Americans favor the death penalty, according to Pew Research.

9. Executions are at historic lows.

10. Research shows the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime.

11. The death penalty is hollow justice.

Victims' families wait years, if not decades, for an execution that sometimes never comes. Life without parole provides closure in a way the death penalty process does not.

12. Killing our own citizens is a bizarre and bloodthirsty practice at odds with democratic America.

"I believe the system is a disaster on every level," said the Rev. Stacy Rector. "It's falling apart."

Rector, a Presbyterian minister, is the executive director of Tennesseans Against the Death Penalty. Thursday evening, she will join a diverse panel - from conservatives to former cops - each of whom believes the death penalty in Tennessee ought to be abolished:

- Amy Lawrence, with Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty.

- Marc Easley, former Chattanooga police officer who's working with TASMIE. (And is one of the most powerful speakers I've heard).

- Krone, the 100th exoneree, whose story alone - which he'll tell - is reason enough.

(source: David Cook, Opinion; Times Free Press)


California Prop 62 would repeal the death penalty. A lifer says it doesn't go far enough.

California Proposition 62, which would abolish the state's rarely enforced death penalty, effectively condemns the 741 residents of death row to something worse: the grinding, hopeless death of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) inside California's broken, dysfunctional prison system. The plain language of the proposed law is neither ambiguous nor complex: "Violent murderers who are sentenced to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole in California are never eligible for parole. They spend the rest of their lives in prison and they die in prison."

What's accomplished by this initiative is merely changing the method of execution. No less a moral authority than Pope Francis has called LWOP terms of imprisonment "hidden death sentences."

Proposition 62 goes on to condemn us lifers to serve out the remainder of our sentences in "high security" prisons. These are the same prisons found to constitute cruel and unusual punishment by a conservative-leaning majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata. Prisons with extraordinarily high suicide rates, with substandard medical, dental, and mental health care, and with scant rehabilitative programs. Prisons rife with gang violence, racism, and despair. A cruel if not unusual enough death, to be sure.

The experience of serving LWOP is a subject I know all too well, and about which I've published tens of thousands of words. Over the years, I've tried to describe the indescribable. The sense of being dead while you're still alive, the feeling of being dumped into a deep well struggling to tread water until, some 40 or 50 years later, you drown.

In 1980, after a 2-day trial that seemed to bore my public defender, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that I was irredeemable, that my life, at the age of 19 years, was forfeit. I had admitted to the crime of killing Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight, and I was ready to be punished. Frankly, if anyone had asked me then, I probably would have agreed with the judge's assessment of my character and my prospects.

But neither of us could have foreseen the course of my life over the next 36 years. Dirk Van Zyl Smit, Professor of Comparative and International Penal Law at Nottingham University, England, a world authority on life sentences and a harsh critic of LWOP sentences in particular, has described them as "covenants with the past." They are just that:, a triumph of what happened then over anything that might be happening now.

I believe I have proven that the judgment from then is wrong now. I also believe that the vast majority of the thousands of men and women serving LWOP have done the same. As a leader in the movement to end LWOP, I've been privy to countless stories of transformations, acts of service and charity, and deep conversions from all over the country.

LWOP sentences, however, forever deny the humanity of prisoners, locking them into the worst moments of their lives.

Somewhere along the way, the death penalty abolitionist movement latched onto the idea that they could market a hardened version of LWOP as a "reasonable alternative" to the gas chamber and, later, lethal injection. On the ACLU's website, someone looking for guidance on this crucial civil rights issue during the last repeal campaign in 2012 would have found the following language urging a yes vote:

"Spending even a small amount of time in California's overcrowded, dangerous prisons is not pleasant. Spending thirty years there, growing sick and old, and dying there, is a horrible experience.... Prisoners condemned to die in prison are not given any special treatment and, in fact, have less access to programs than other prisoners. They are housed in high security facilities with few privileges, far away from any relatives, and in crowded group cells. Ironically, people on death row are provided much more comfortable single cells and sometimes gain celebrity and attention just by being there."

This kind of logic had 2 predictable side effects: It served to legitimize the sentence with the imprimatur of liberal civil rights defenders, and it began a flood of LWOP-sentenced prisoners.

According to The Sentencing Project, LWOP is now the fastest-growing form of life sentence in the United States. There are more than 50,000 LWOP sentenced prisoners nationwide, compared to a total of about 3,000 under a traditional death sentence. With the reassurance and support of civil rights groups that advocate for the deadly trade-off, the numbers continue to grow.

Why not abolish the death penalty and life without the chance of parole? The assumption would be that it is possible for human beings to become better than their worst act. It does not mean that all prisoners would succeed. Some wouldn't try hard enough, some wouldn't be able to make the requisite changes to satisfy a skeptical parole board and an elected governor's review, and some small percentage would continue to present an unreasonable risk to the public. No one, however, would be denied all hope.

Here's another important consequence of converting death row inmates to lifers without a chance of parole: death row prisoners are entitled (at least in theory) to additional appeals and better quality attorneys. Many falsely convicted death row prisoners have been exonerated over the past decade. One of the tricks of LWOP is that it operates under the legal fiction of not being a death sentence, therefore there are no additional appeals, no better quality attorneys, and no higher level of scrutiny. (This is probably the main reason many death row prisoners, who live on hope for an appellate rescue, have opposed ballot measures like Prop 62.)

Death penalty abolitionists generally ask the same two questions. "If we don't offer LWOP as an alternative, how can we get the public to end the death penalty?" And, "If not LWOP, what will be done with the worst of the worst"?

The facts are clear on the use of the death penalty - the vast majority of the world has abandoned it. Virtually every religious leader has condemned it. The United Nations, the European Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and every human rights organization on the planet opposes the death penalty. The truth is the death penalty is rapidly being swept into the dustbin of history along with so many other old, bad ideas.

In our peer group of democracies, there are maximum terms of imprisonment, even for murder. Of course, they reserve ways to extend imprisonment in those extremely rare cases where it's necessary; but the assumption is it isn't necessary unless proven otherwise.

The answer to what to do to the so-called worst of the worst without LWOP is even easier, because California has real-world experience. From 1967, when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, to 1978, when California voters restored it, the punishment for 1st degree murder was 7 years to life. Notorious examples like Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan are still serving life with the possibility of parole. Contrary to the claims of death penalty supporters and opponents, the Board of Parole Hearings is extremely stingy with findings of suitability for parole. And it's important to note that the small number of released murderers have the lowest rate of recidivism of all parolees. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation 2011 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluations Report, 860 convicted murders were released between 1995 and 2011. 5 were returned to prison; none for murder, attempted murder, or assault and battery. That's a total recidivism rate of less than 1 %.

Trading lethal injection executions for lethal terms of imprisonment does not end the death penalty, and this lie needs to be rejected. Life without the possibility of parole is the death penalty, pure and simple. There are ways to fix the system for life-term prisoners that protect victims, provide actual justice to all, and uphold the better values of our state. Prop 62 is not one of them.

(source: Kenneth E. Hartman has served more than 36 years of a life without the possibility of parole sentence in the California prison system. He is the Executive Director of The Other Death Penalty Project, a nationwide, grassroots, nonprofit organization of prisoners opposed to "all forms of the death penalty."


Heavy workload possible reason for 'serious mistakes' in Soumya case: Markandey Katju

Former SC judge Markandey Katju on Monday said the apex court had made some "serious mistakes" in the Soumya case by commuting the death sentence of the accused to life, and attributed it to "judges not being able to give much time to cases due to heavy workload of pending cases".

In a Facebook post, he said, "I genuinely believe that the Supreme Court had made some serious mistakes in its judgement by reversing the death penalty awarded by Kerala High Court".

"Possibly these mistakes were made because the court was so overburdened with work that it cannot give as much time to cases as they deserve, which they would have otherwise done, had it not been for this heavy load of cases to decide," he said.

The Former Press Council Chairman also said that when he first heard that he had been issued notice, asking him to appear before the court on 11 November, he was "upset" as he thought the SC was trying to "humiliate" him since he had criticised their judgement and such an order was "unprecedented".

Hence, he had initially said that he would not appear before the court as directed.

However, when he received the apex court's notice and read it, Katju said he realised the court used "very respectful language to me and had requested me, not ordered me, to appear since they seemed to be sincere about their desire to reconsider their judgement and did not have a closed mind."

"Since reading the Supreme Court notice, I felt that the judges had no intention to humiliate or insult me, rather were anxious to get my help in reconsidering their judgement, I have decided to appear on 11 November at 2 PM (the date and time fixed)," Justice Katju said.

Quoting celebrated British Judge Lord Denning, Katju said 'The Judge has not been born who has not made a mistake'.

"We are all humans, and all of us make mistakes, but a gentleman is one who realises his mistake, acknowledges it, and seeks to make amends," Katju said.

"This should apply to judges too. I myself have sometimes made mistakes in my judgements," he said.



Doubts over death sentence should delay its execution

Jia Jinglong is to be executed anytime soon, after he and his attorney were reportedly informed of the Supreme People's Court's approval of his death sentence.

We are not in the position to call a halt. Yet we feel strongly that the order must not be carried out. Not because social media are rife with cries against the ruling. But because the circumstances are anything but normal, and there are some outstanding questions that need to be properly answered. Legal experts, from professors to lawyers, deem the sentence problematic.

Jia shot and killed the head of his village in 2013, and he was convicted of murder. His death sentence is controversial, though, for the murder was a reaction to the ruthless, illicit forced demolition of his home that the victim allegedly masterminded.

Legal professionals have argued that Jia qualifies for a lesser sentence, a reprieve for instance, as he tried to turn himself in and confess to police afterwards.

Considering both the judicial authorities' new emphasis on prudence in applying the death penalty, and the reasonable doubts surrounding the sentence, we urge the court to demonstrate discretion, and avoid the double tragedy to which we are dangerously close.

Whatever happens, Jia's case should not be allowed to slip away as if it were just another regular criminal offense. Because it is not. Outside the courtroom, there are pricey lessons to be learnt.

"I am a victim...from the very beginning," Jia told the first-instance court in self-defense. "I would not have embarked on such a road of no return had there been a way out."

The murder took place months after his home was demolished by force. He called the police in the vain hope of stopping the demolition. He tried to negotiate for compensation afterwards. He lodged complaints to local authorities. He found himself helpless, hopeless, with no way to have justice done.

As in many similar cases, Jia used to be an ordinary citizen concerned primarily about living a normal life. Like others who ended up desperate, vengeful and hurting themselves and others to have their injustices noticed, Jia would probably not have acted as he did if his loss had been properly taken care of.

When residents are victimized by those who have power in their hand, they should not be deprived of the hope of having their wrongs addressed and justice delivered.

(source: Opinion, China Daily)

OCTOBER 23, 2016:


Federal judge: Georgia does not have to reveal execution drug provider

U.S. District Judge J. Clay Fuller on Thursday ruled that the state of Georgia does not have to reveal information about its 1-drug execution method. In a suit brought by 2 death row inmates challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi's execution method, the challengers sought to establish that there is a known and available alternative to Mississippi's 3-drug method, which they claim to be unconstitutional. It is known that Georgia uses only the barbiturate pentobarbital for its executions, but the identity of the provider of the drug is protected by a 2013 state law mandating that such information is a "state secret." Not knowing the identity of the provider, the Mississippi challengers are unable to prove that Mississippi could obtain the drug as an alternative to its current execution method.

Capital punishment remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court held that a trial court may not impose the death penalty unless the jury's recommended sentence of death is unanimous. Shortly before, the US Supreme Court vacate the death sentence of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in a case where the trial judge permitted family members to recommend the sentence to the jury. Also in October, a group of UN human rights experts spoke on the subject of the death penalty and terrorism, calling the death penalty ineffective, and often times illegal, in deterring to terrorism. And last month in Oklahoma, after a botched execution in 2014 and numerous drug mix-ups in 2015, Attorney General Scott Pruitt refused to set execution dates until new protocols have been approved.



Man sentenced to death for Okaloosa murders could be resentenced

The life of a convicted serial killer could be spared after spending almost 2 1/2 decades on death row.

Frank Walls was sentenced to death in 1987 after being convicted of 2 murders and confessing to 3 other killings, but the U.S. Supreme Court has since struck down Florida's strict IQ standards for determining intellectual disability.

His attorneys argue he functions at the level of a 12-year-old.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a new hearing to see if Walls' disability makes him ineligible for the death penalty.

It's a case so old, the trailer home where some of the murders took place isn't even here anymore, but justices want one last look at the death penalty for the man who admitted to killing 5 people in the 1980s.

"He was a mean man even at 20," said Don Vinson.

Vinson retired in 1996 after 32 years in law enforcement as the chief investigator for the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office.

"The excitement is in the chase and getting a clue from here and a clue from there," Vinson said.

Almost 30 years ago Vinson led the chase for frank wells, who brutally killed 5 people. Most like Audrey Gigi were stabbed multiple times and raped.

3 of the murders took place in this neighborhood in the Ocean City area near Fort Walton Beach, another in broad daylight on the beaches of Okaloosa Island as the victim sunbathed.

"He [Walls] said, I don't know why I did it, I just hear voices sometimes," Vinson said.

The 19-year-old killer is now in his late forties and on his last appeal to the state. Much has changed in more than 2 decades for the lawman.

A decision which could be weeks or months away. The state attorney says a hearing in front of an Okaloosa County Circuit Judge will determine whether or not Walls was intellectually disabled at the time of the crimes.

If the judge does not find him to be disabled, the state can proceed with the execution.

The state attorney's office told us they believe they have a strong case to move the death penalty forward. According to the prosecution, walls IQ score was 102, far above the level of incompetence.

No date has been set for the hearing.

(source: WEAR TV news)


Supreme Court overturns Goodwine, says ruling on death penalty premature

Fayette Circuit Court Judge Pamela Goodwine erred when she excluded the death penalty as a potential sentencing option in a murder and robbery case, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimouly ruled Thursday.

The decision affects the case of Trustin Jones, 23, and Robert Guernsey, 36, who are charged with murder and robbery in the 2013 shooting death of Derek Pelphrey. The case, which had been on hold while awaiting a decision by the high court, now goes back to Fayette Circuit Court.

In a decision last year, Goodwine granted a defense motion to remove the death penalty as a sentencing option for Jones and Guernsey if they were convicted.

Goodwine had said the death penalty "is the ultimate punishment and should be reserved and sought in cases involving only the most egregious set of facts one could possibly imagine."

But the Supreme Court ruled that Goodwine should have waited to hear the evidence at trial before deciding to exclude the death penalty.

While "the death penalty has fallen into disfavor in recent years, it remains a viable penalty in Kentucky authorized by our legislature in specific types of cases, including those in which the defendant is charged with committing murder in the course of the commission of 1st-degree robbery," the Supreme Court said in its opinion.

While a circuit judge has discretion to determine whether death is constitutionally proportional, "there is no authority for exercising that discretion pretrial before all relevant evidence is actually heard," the opinion said.

Had execution been excluded, a jury that convicts on a murder charge would have sentencing options of 20 to 50 years in prison, life in prison, life without the possibility of parole for 25 years, or life without parole.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn had no comment on the pending case.

Pelphrey, 23, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, apparently was targeted because he had been in communication with Guernsey, who thought Pelphrey carried a large amount of money, according to information disclosed in pretrial conferences. Guernsey relayed that information to Jones, who admitted to police he was the shooter. Pelphrey was shot to death in his car on Ridgepoint Road near Spangler Drive.

A 3rd co-defendant, Desmond Jones, 25, a cousin of Trustin Jones, pleaded guilty to criminal facilitation to 1st-degree robbery in 2015. A murder charge against him was dismissed. Before he is sentenced, Desmond Jones must testify at the trial of Trustin Jones and Guernsey.



Prosecutor seeks death penalty in Arkansas officer's killing

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for a man charged in the fatal shooting of an Arkansas sheriff's deputy.

Billy Jones, 35, is charged with 1 count of capital murder in the death of 66-year-old Sebastian County Sheriff's Cpl. Bill Cooper. Jones is accused of killing Cooper on Aug. 10 after Cooper and others responded to a domestic disturbance call near Hackett.

Jones also faces 10 counts of attempted capital murder, possession of firearms by certain persons, and killing or injuring animals used by law enforcement. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Jones fired from inside his home using an assault-style rifle and refused to negotiate a surrender until an armored vehicle backed up to his front door, according to a prepared statement from Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck. Investigators later searched Jones' home and found 11 guns.

In a letter filed Monday, Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue informed the judge in the case of the decision to seek the death penalty. A trial date has not yet been set.

Shue wrote that enough evidence qualifies Jones for the death penalty, including the seriousness of the offense, Jones' culpability, his criminal record, aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and potential victim-impact evidence.

Cooper's life was honored at the sheriff's office on Thursday. U.S. Sen. John Boozman visited the department to give his personal condolences, calling Cooper a hero.

Cooper died 6 hours after the shooting in a Fort Smith hospital. He was a 15-year veteran of the sheriff's office.

Jones' attorneys declined to comment about the case to The Associated Press.

(source: Associated Press)


Vote repeal to save Nebraska's death penalty

Vivian Tuttle, with a photo of her daughter Evonne, spoke in favor of the death penalty during a hearing Tuesday in Omaha. Evonne Tuttle was 1 of 5 people killed during a 2002 bank robbery in Norfolk.

Nebraskans are not a bloodthirsty people.

Many who have supported the death penalty for decades feel reservations about the potential, however small, for a mistake.

And there is a salient argument from death penalty opponents that Nebraska hasn't carried out an execution for nearly 19 years.

It's important to consider the findings of Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss that death penalty states pay more for criminal justice, though the difference is debatable.

A handful of public policies, however, are so fundamental to society as communal expressions of the limits of acceptable behavior that they cannot be argued away. The death penalty - and its underlying principle, that of a public stand against the most depraved killers - is one such policy. It is a statement of the outermost boundary of an ordered society. It draws a needed line: Those who do worse than kill, those who kill wickedly, risk losing their own lives.

In practical terms, the death penalty provides the clearest deterrent effect on criminals already serving life sentences. Prisoners must face consequences if they act out against guards or fellow inmates. Otherwise, little leverage remains to keep the worst criminals from killing with impunity.

And don't be fooled. Lawyers who argue the cruelty of the death penalty today would turn soon against the penalty of life in prison without parole if the death penalty were no longer an option. So there's a question of how long life would mean life.

Despite its flaws, the death penalty should remain an option for the worst capital crimes. Some people are so dangerous that society can never set them free. And some acts of violence are so heinous that the perpetrator forfeits the right to a long life behind bars.

Consider Gottlieb Neigenfind, the 1st man the State of Nebraska put to death, in 1903, after the state took over hangings from county sheriffs.

Newspapers described him as a "degenerate drunk" with a volatile temper. His wife, widow Anna Peters, was a mother of four. Their marriage lasted 5 months. On Sept. 11, 1902, he visited her family's farm near Pierce, demanding to see his new son. Told to leave, he later returned with a revolver. He gunned down Anna's father, then shot Anna's mother, who survived. He fatally shot Anna, then hiked up her skirt and shot her again. Anna's sister tore free from his grip and got away. The killer later fired on deputies.

Before he was hanged, Neigenfind said he had dreamed about the murders before he committed them and said, "My dreams always come true."

Each of the 22 men executed since then by the State of Nebraska earned his fate by destroying innocent lives in equally horrifying ways, from torture to rape to killing for sport.

These are the state's worst killers.



And who could forget John Joubert, the Offutt airman who in 1983 kidnapped, tortured and murdered Danny Joe Eberle, 13, and Christopher Walden, 12, in Sarpy County? He later admitted killing 11-year-old Richard Stetson in Maine.

His prison drawings illustrated torturing the boys. An expert testified Joubert would kill again if ever released. Joubert was electrocuted in 1996.

For killers like these, capital punishment should remain a viable answer. To be sure, it should be used sparingly, with reasonable court appeals to guard against errors.

Public opinion polling shows most Nebraskans agree. Petition circulators last year submitted 143,478 valid signatures - enough not only to ensure a public vote, but also to postpone repeal until after the general election.

State senators voting to eliminate Nebraska's death penalty deserve credit and respect. Their debate afforded this issue the seriousness it deserves. Decent people can disagree on significant issues. The question of whether to continue to allow state government to deprive a citizen of life is a personal, moral issue, guided often by faith.

While many Nebraskans are uneasy with Gov. Pete Ricketts' involvement in the petition process, it is voters who will ultimately decide this issue.

If the death penalty is restored, Ricketts, corrections officials and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson need to revise the state's drug cocktail. Options exist, from inquiring about the federal government's planned drug cocktail for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to exploring other states' methods. Nebraskans aren't out for blood. But if the state does have a death penalty, it must be able to carry out the sentence.

Nebraskans should vote REPEAL on Nov. 8 to restore Nebraska's death penalty.

(source: Editorial, Omaha World-Herald)


Death penalty opponent: Killing someone while stone-cold sober

Marylyn Felion stood outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 1994 watching the crowds gathered for Harold Lamont "Walkin' Wili" Otey's execution.

What she witnessed cemented her belief that the death penalty wasn't really about the person who had committed the heinous crime. It was more about the people gathered there that day and the society that allowed it.

The media called it a carnival atmosphere, with death penalty supporters and opponents separated by a snow fence.

On one side supporters held signs that read, "Fry Wili" and "Welcome to the Nebraska State Pen's First Annual Barbecue." They displayed swastikas. They shouted at opponents: "Why don't you sit on his lap?" They sang, "Hey, Hey Goodbye."

It was raucous, awful, hateful, Felion said.

"What it pulled out of the people on the other side of the fence was horrible," she said. "This was just proof of what the death penalty says about us."

The former nun, who spent 14 years with the Sisters of Mercy, leaving when she was 32, came to her conclusions more than 40 years ago.

"If we know that this person has killed, then that's on him or her. If we turn around and kill this person, then this speaks about us," she said. "It says that we, also, can kill."

That is shown on the death certificate of Robert Williams, executed in the state in 1997. The official cause of death is listed as homicide, she said.

Felion came to her anti-death penalty work after years of teaching children and social action.

After she left the Omaha convent, she taught in Omaha inner-city schools and traveled school-to-school working with kids with behavior problems.

But after traveling to Nicaragua in 1985 and witnessing the human rights violations and terrorist tactics of U.S.-backed and funded rebel groups, she returned to Nebraska, quit her job, sold her house and began working for peace.

Since last year, she has been one of the most active volunteers for Retain A Just Nebraska, campaigning to retain the 2015 law (LB268) that eliminated capital punishment in the state. Many days you can find her at the organization's Omaha office.

Just inside the Regency Parkway office entrance is a sign that asks, Retain A Just Nebraska? Visitors and volunteers have written their replies:

"If a person is already locked up, why do we have to kill him?"

"The death penalty is discriminatory. It does not apply to the wealthy."

"Save $."

"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

In rooms throughout the office are posters of Catholic popes' anti-death penalty teachings, bulletin boards with campaign notes and messages, and an artist's rendering of Williams, the last person executed in Nebraska.

The artist was Felion, who had developed a deep relationship with Williams in his waning years before his execution. Her drawing captured a peaceful smile on Williams' face, a smile she said she had witnessed that remained on his lips after his death in the electric chair. As his spiritual adviser, she knew he had been transformed, was remorseful, and ready to meet his fate.

Felion, now 79, had begun to question her own feelings about the death penalty when she was in her 30s.

She knew one issue that could condemn a person was the heinousness of the crime. And the death penalty, she said, should be for the most heinous.

"Well, but who decides?" she said. "And who draws the line? And where do you draw the line?"

How do you explain to parents that the murder of somebody else's loved one deserves the death penalty, but your child's murderer does not? she said.

Her mind was going in circles trying to figure out what she called a hierarchy of heinousness.

"And all of a sudden it was as if my perception, instead of being out there trying to establish a hierarchy, turned around and looked back at me," she said.

It was a startling moment when she realized it was not about hierarchies and murderers, but about the people who seek death as revenge or punishment, she said.

She thought about how judges, in determining heinousness, look at whether the murder was premeditated, whether it was cold blooded and ritualistic.

"Well, I want to tell you, there is nothing more premeditated and cold-blooded and ritualistic than an execution," she said.

If anyone else locked up a person and told him that on a specific date he was going to kill him, we would be horrified, she said. That's what the state does.

"Most murders are under the influence of drugs and alcohol and passion, right?" she said. "We do this stone-cold sober."

She says "we," she said, because in a democracy "we all have our finger on the button."

After the Legislature voted last year to eliminate the death penalty, Felion thought she could go home and put her feet up, and no longer worry about Nebraska prisoners being being put to death by the state.

But here she is again, she said, trying to ensure that Williams' execution be the state's last, as he prayed.

She understands there are people, including some victims' family members, who want revenge for heartbreaking murders.

"But our system of justice is not based on revenge," she said. "It's based on punishment and reparation, in so far as possible."

Nebraska surprised the world in 2015 with its vote to abolish the death penalty, she said, which made this conservative state appear to be one made up of positive, forward-looking people.

Nebraska voters must retain the law that eliminates the death penalty, she said.

"We've already done this. We've already moved into the future," Felion said."I think it's just going to be a shame if we step backwards."

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Catholic Church intensifies effort to abolish Nebraska's death penalty

The Catholic Church in Nebraska has stepped up efforts to convince voters to reject the death penalty.

The state's 3 bishops and the Nebraska Catholic Conference have joined the Catholic Mobilizing Network Nebraska to organize public presentations and an online advertising campaign. The group is urging Catholics and non-Catholics to vote to retain the Nebraska Legislature's 2015 repeal of the death penalty.

With modern penal systems, the death penalty is no longer necessary to protect society, the group argues. The church also encourages moving away from vengeance and toward mercy "even for those among us who have committed the most heinous of acts," said Alex Kelly, coordinator of the new group.

The group's online ad features the Rev. Craig Loecker, pastor at St. Leo Catholic Church in Omaha.

Death penalty proponents, who obtained the signatures needed for the Nov. 8 referendum, say capital punishment in Nebraska is reserved for a small number of killers who deserve to be executed. They also argue it helps protect prison officers from violence by inmates who would have nothing left to lose if the death penalty were eliminated.

The Catholic group plans to host informational events next week in Omaha, Grand Island and Lincoln. The events will feature talks by Joe D'Ambrosio, who wrongfully spent 20 years on Ohio's death row, and Marietta Jaeger-Lane of Montana, who co-founded a national forgiveness group after her 7-year-old daughter was slain by a serial killer in 1973.

(source: KWBE news)


DA candidates answer questions about death penalty, restorative justice

If elected, will you serve the entire term regardless of what office or opportunities become available?

Bruce Brown: District Attorney's are term limited to 2 terms. I will not ask voters to enlarge that term. I endeavor to serve voters effectively during my term and to plan for continuity to ensure a seamless transition to my successor. Personal opportunities would factor into a decision to serve the entirety of my final term.

Bruce Carey: Yes, I will serve the full term. I have no further political goals.

Sanam Mehrnia: If elected I will undoubtedly serve my entire term. I am an attorney and I have always been in pursuit of justice. My aspirations have always been to be an attorney and will remain so. As a defense attorney I seek justice for my clients, and as a prosecutor I will seek justice for my community and victims of crime.

Do you support or would you pursue the death penalty?

Bruce Brown: The law requires a District Attorney to consider the death penalty in first-degree murder cases where certain aggravating facts occur. The District continues to experience a historic surge in homicide and each new case leads the office to conduct an objective, fact driven analysis to determine the propriety of capital punishment. When asked by the Vail Daily in 2012, I publicly stated my general belief that the Aurora Theatre Shooting case did not merit the death penalty given a lack of criminal history by the perpetrator, despite the horrific nature of the crime. I recognize the reluctance of Coloradans sitting as jurors to impose the death penalty and would not seek the death penalty unless I was convinced such a sentence was consistent with our collective conscience.

Bruce Carey: Philosophically I do not support the death penalty. In the 27 years I have practiced law in this judicial district, there has been no occasion that I would have advocated for the death penalty. I would not use the death penalty as leverage in pursuing plea bargains and I don't believe it is an effective deterrent. I'm not suggesting we change Colorado law, I may consider the death penalty under the most egregious circumstance.

Sanam Mehrnia: I am opposed to the death penalty as it stands today and am of the opinion that it needs to be abolished. One innocent person put to death is one too many. Recently, we have had too many cases of death row inmates being exonerated through newly discovered evidence. It is unclear how many innocent people have been put to death without having the opportunity or benefit of new technology that could possibly prove their innocence. Further, the cost of putting an inmate to death is astronomical. To keep an inmate on death row is only one small portion of the cost. There are numerous other costs that the public may not be completely aware of, such as the cost of the many appeals that ensue. Until we as a society know with absolute certainty of someone's guilt and can reduce the cost to taxpayers, I stand in opposition to the death penalty. If in office, for all the reasons stated above, I would never pursue the death penalty.

Define your version of a restorative justice program, and how quickly would you try to institute one?

Bruce Brown: Restorative Justice programming currently exists within the District. Our Juvenile Diversion program keeps kids out of the courtroom and in the classroom by structuring a contract by which the delinquent child repairs the harm he or she has done, and includes authoring an apology letter to the victim. In certain instances, offenders and victims are asked to participate in a face-to-face meeting involving community members and trained professionals.

Bruce Carey: Restorative Justice is a program of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through repairing the harm done and reconciliation with victims and the community at large to allow victims and offenders to live harmoniously together in our communities.

The programs statistically are shown to reduce recidivism, improve victim satisfaction and reduce fear of re-victimization.

I will begin formal planning of the program on November 10th, 2016. The program will be outlined and we will begin implementation within my first 3 months of office. As we work through challenges, we will grow the program in scope and from county to county.

Sanam Mehrnia: Restorative Justice is a modern approach that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by a criminal act. It holds the offender accountable for their actions and it greatly reduces recidivism. Restorative justice recognizes that crime causes injury to the community, insists that justice repair those injuries and that all parties effected be involved in the process. Thus enabling the victim, offender and affected member of the community to be directly involved with responding to crime.

Victim Offender Mediation: Interested victims in this process have the opportunity to meet their offender in a safe and structured environment, engaging in discussion of the crime and its effect on the victim - facilitated by the assistance of a trained mediator. The goal is to permit victims to meet the offenders on voluntary basis in order to aid in their healing and to encourage the offender to learn about the impact of their criminal act and to take responsibility for the resulting harm.

Community Group Conference: Brings together victim, offender, and family, friends and other key supporters in deciding how to address the aftermath of the crime. It allows victims to be directly involved in responding to the crime, increases offender awareness, and engages the party's support system in order to aid in victim healing and to assure the offender does not reoffend. It allows for a sentencing plan that addresses the concern of all interested parties.

I would also focus on establishing Advocacy Groups for both Mental Health and our Veterans.

I would commence work on implementation of all mentioned programs as soon as I take office. The collaborative effort of the different departments and the community would be key to timely and effective implementation.

(source: Vail Daily)


Man accused of killing Modoc County deputy could face death penalty

Modoc County is a rural area of northern California close to the border with OR and he is believed to be the 1st sheriff's deputy killed on duty in their history.

Jack Lee Breiner shot and killed deputy Jack Hopkins Wednesday during a confrontation as Hopkins was responding to a report of a domestic disturbance, Undersheriff William "Tex" Dowdy said during an emotional news conference in Alturas Thursday morning. Hopkins, 31, was shot to death Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, while responding to a disturbance call, the Modoc County Sheriff's Office said.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Deputy Hopkins, his family, his co-workers, his many friends and to all those impacted by this tragic and senseless loss of a dedicated law enforcement professional and friend", said the statement.

The sheriff's office statement did not describe where on the property Hopkins was shot but said the deputy had "entered the property to investigate the call when he confronted the main suspect" and was killed. Authorities said Breiner was in a Redding hospital on Thursday and is expected to survive.

Hopkins is the fourth law enforcement officer in California to die in the line of duty in the last 2 weeks.

"We don't know when the suspect will be available for court proceedings", said Funk.

Hopkin's body was transported to his family in Redding Thursday morning, which was accompanied by a large procession of law enforcement.

"The streets were lined with several people from the community with banners", Wilburn said.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said Hopkins' killing showed how "each and every day, courageous men and women kiss their families goodbye and risk their lives in service of others".

Modoc County Sheriff's officials say Jack Breiner shot and killed Deputy Jack Hopkins.

Shortly after news of Hopkins' death spread, the Alturas Municipal Airport wrote on Facebook that he had been recently transferred from Alturas Police Department to the Sheriff's Office. He had five siblings and raised in the small community of Montague in Siskiyou County, Dowdy said.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office, under the direction of Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growden, is handling the criminal investigation into the murder of Hopkins and attempted murder of Poindexter.

A dispatcher received a call about an officer-involved shooting shortly after Hopkins arrived. Dowdy said planning for a memorial service is also under way, though a specific time and location had not been chosen as of Thursday.

Breiner is listed in California's sex offender registry as having committed lewd or lascivious acts with a child ages 14 or 15 and annoying or molesting a child under age 18.



Voters should end the death penalty in California

Voters on Nov. 8 will decide the fate of the long-dormant death penalty in California.

2 competing propositions address the controversial practice, which was last used by the state corrections system more than 10 years ago.

Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty and commute the sentences of those currently on death row to life in prison without possibility of parole. Proposition 66 would change death penalty case appeal processes and set a 5-year limit on state court reviews of such cases.

Whether to continue or end this ultimate, state-sanctioned punishment is a tough question. The ground has been shifting in this debate nationally, however. While 30 states, including California, still have a death penalty, 10 states have abolished capital punishment since 2007. 4 other states have governor-imposed bans on inmate executions.

The Desert Sun Editorial Board recommends voters approve Proposition 62 and reject Proposition 66 to bring an end to the death penalty here. It's time to end a system that has seen people of color and residents of particular areas of the state more likely to face this unfairly applied punishment.

If both initiatives are approved Nov. 8, the measure with the most yes votes will prevail.

Supporters of Proposition 62, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and ACLU California, argue that capital punishment has proven to be an ineffective, costly blunder for the Golden State, which has seen just 13 executions since 1978.

The most recent inmate executed - Clarence Ray Allen, who murdered a woman in 1974 and arranged the murders of 3 people from prison later - was put to death in January 2006 at age 76 after having spent more than 23 years on death row.

Death row inmates cost the state 18 times what those sentenced to life cost, yet this shouldn't just be about the dollars.

Proponents of capital punishment say justice for society and closure for victims' families require that the ultimate penalty remain an option for the most violent, despicable criminals. That could be a compelling argument indeed, were it not for California's haphazard, legally challenged history when it comes to capital punishment.

Waiting 23 years for a resolution by execution, having to go through the emotional highs and lows of appeals and hearings, cannot be the type of closure most families want. In fact, one of the co-writers of the ballot argument in favor of ending the death penalty is Beth Webb, the sister of a woman murdered in 2011.

"California's death penalty system is a long, agonizing ordeal for our family. As my sister's killer sits through countless hearings, we continually relive this tragedy. The death penalty is an empty promise of justice. A life sentence without parole would bring real closure," Webb wrote.

Backers of competing Proposition 66, including law enforcement associations, the California District Attorneys Association and DA Mike Hestrin, argue that the death penalty should remain an option when dealing with the most heinous crimes. Streamlining it via Proposition 66's changes would correct the problem of long delays, they say.

The changes, however, are complex and ripe for legal challenges and potential for actually increasing delays in an already clogged legal system.

Among these are the designation of Superior Court, where the cases originate, as the venue for initial appeals and limitation of successive appeals; a requirement that attorneys who take noncapital appeals also accept death penalty appeals; and placing an arbitrary, 5-year limit on the state court appeals process.

While backers argue these moves would speed up the process, adding the burden of such appeals to the originating Superior Court system is just as likely to do the opposite as well as create a conflict of interest. In addition, compelling appellate lawyers not experienced in capital cases to take such cases could result in many dropping that line of litigation or end up with an innocent condemned convict having inexperienced counsel to his or her literally fatal detriment.

Don't discount the odds of such an event. A 2014 study by University of Michigan law professor Samuel Gross estimated that 1 in 25 inmates sentenced to death across America from 1973-2004 was innocent. If California has a death penalty, it should be made as bulletproof as possible when it comes to questions about whether an innocent person might be condemned.

The best solution for California is ending the death penalty and offering victims and society the closure of having the worst offenders spending life in prison without parole.

Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on Proposition 66.

(source: Desert Sun Editorial Board)


Oregon needs a conversation about the death penalty

For almost 5 years now, Oregon's death penalty has been on hold. Gov. Kate Brown announced recently that will continue until at least the end of the year. If she is re-elected, it will continue through her term until 2018.

It would be better if the governor led Oregonians beyond the waiting game. We need to have an honest discussion about the death penalty and whether it continues to be the punishment a majority of voters favor for those who commit the most heinous crimes in this state.

Oregon's death penalty was adopted in 1864, rescinded in 1914, adopted again in 1920, rescinded in 1964, adopted in 1978, declared unconstitutional in 1981 and reinstated in 1984. With the exception of the 1981 court ruling, it was voters who decided to make the changes.

When then-Gov. John Kitzhaber put a moratorium on executions in 2011, he did so in part because he believed the penalty to be morally wrong. But he did more than simply slap a moratorium in place. Kitzhaber called for a "long overdue debate" among the state's residents and lawmakers about the death penalty.

That hasn't happened. It should. Brown should see that it does. There should be a vote of the people to decide what happens with the death penalty in Oregon.

(source: Bend Bulletin)


Death row inmate with low IQ can't be executed for double murder, judge says

A Portland judge has ruled that a double murderer sent to death row for shooting his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend has an "intellectual disability" and shouldn't be executed for his crimes.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Greenlick issued his written ruling after noting that Michael Davis' IQ was measured as low as 61 or 62 when he was a schoolboy. An IQ of 100 is considered average and people with IQs of below 70 are considered to have an intellectual disability.

The term has replaced the phrase "mental retardation" in professional circles. As the judge noted, it encompasses more than an IQ score: It also is defined by a person's inability to function in society.

The judge noted that ample evidence existed that Davis had such difficulties -- likely stemming in part from being beaten in the head and suffering brain damage as a child. Davis, who attended Los Angeles public schools, stuttered and was teased by classmates. He was labeled "educable mentally retarded" while he was in high school.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Davis' defense attorney, Andy Simrin, said several Oregon death row sentences have been reversed in light of the Supreme Court's ruling, but this is the 1st time he knows of it happening in a contested case when the prosecution and defense didn't agree whether the offender had intellectual disabilities.

Davis, now 60, was 35 in November 1991 when he barged into a motel room at the Ara'Bel Motel on Portland's Sandy Boulevard and shot to death 32-year-old Gerald Glenn Phillips. Phillips was dating Davis' ex-girlfriend, Belinda Fay Flannigan, 30. Davis also shot and killed Flannigan, police believe as she cowered near the motel room's sink.

Police immediately suspected Davis, but they couldn't build a case against him until nearly 11 years later, when in 2002 he was indicted for the double murder. He was sentenced to death in 2005.

Davis' long appeals process began after that.

Part of the process landed the case in Judge Greenlick's downtown Portland courtroomduring a 3-day hearing in June. Greenlick didn't issue his ruling until Wednesday.

During the hearing, the prosecution contended that Davis wasn't intellectually disabled and pointed to evidence that showed varying IQ results. The prosecution's expert pegged Davis' IQ between the high 70s to the low 80s.

Prosecutor Jeff Howes said the low-60s IQ score recorded while Davis was a student in Los Angeles was tainted by racial bias. Davis is African American.

Howes also pointed to essays and other writing by Davis, including his thoughts on the war in Iraq post-9/11. Davis, who has spent much of his adult life incarcerated, also complained in an inmate communication form about having to pay for some eyeglasses.

"He's writing better than a lot of lawyers I know," Howes said.

The prosecutor described Davis' "perfectly proper grammar," even down to the correct usage of "it's."

But the judge said in his ruling that there was "insufficient evidence" that Davis actually wrote the pieces submitted as evidence.

"(P)eople with intellectual disability often endeavor to hide their deficits out of embarrassment or shame, and people affected often enlist others to provide assistance," Greenlick wrote.

The judge said he was giving little weight to the testimony of the prosecution's expert -- and that he was puzzled at how the expert arrived at his analysis of Davis' IQ.

Instead, Greenlick said, he found all 3 of the defense's experts credible. Based on their testimony, the judge found that Davis' intellectual disability lowered "his capacity to understand information, communicate, learn from mistakes and experiences, engage in logical reasoning, control impulses, and understand the reactions of others."

In statements in response to Greenlick's ruling, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Oregon Justice Resource Center used Davis' case to criticize the death penalty for its long and costly process, which they say is riddled with problems.

Greenlick's ruling comes several weeks after another decision struck a blow to Davis' death sentence. Last month, a Marion County Circuit judge upheld Davis' aggravated murder convictions but reversed his death sentence because Davis wasn't evaluated for possible intellectual disability before he was sentenced.

That ruling opens the door for a new sentencing trial to determine if Davis should instead be sentenced to one of two lesser punishments: spending the rest of his life in prison or a life sentence with the possibility of release after 30 years.

For the time being, Davis is still on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary, along with more than 30 others. It's unclear if he will move anytime soon because his case is still in flux.

Among many questions left to be answered, attorneys for the state need to determine if they can appeal or whether they want to appeal.

Also of note, Gov. Kate Brown's office announced earlier this week that Brown plans to continue her moratorium on executions through her new term if she wins election.



Execution of Saudi prince brings praise for the monarchy

Saudi Arabia's rulers are not as popular as they used to be in the kingdom. With low global oil prices, officials have been forced to cut spending dramatically in a nation where most people depend on the government for salaries, education and other forms of welfare.

But the rare execution of a Saudi royal last week appears to have helped resurrect the monarchy's popularity - at least according to the reaction on social media.

Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, who was found guilty of shooting to death a Saudi citizen during a brawl, was executed last Tuesday as per a royal order by King Salman. He became the 1st member of Saudi royalty to be executed in the kingdom since 1975.

That drove Saudis to launch a hashtag in Arabic on Twitter that roughly translates to "decisive Salman orders retribution for a prince," a reference to Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. For days now, the hashtag has been trending in Saudi Arabia, with tweets sent by citizens, officials and royal family members praising the king for his "integrity."

One video shows King Salman telling officials that "any citizen can sue the royal family and seek justice." The video has gone viral in the kingdom.

Some on social media described the execution as "evidence of the justice which sharia law affirms," referring to the conservative Islamic codes that govern Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations. Others said the ruling demonstrated "the king's integrity in treating all citizens equally" and that "nobody is above the law."

Saudi courts have brought other royal family members, estimated to number a few thousand, to justice. In 1975, a prince who assassinated his uncle, King Faisal, was beheaded. 2 years later, a princess was executed for adultery.

But other royals were pardoned at the last minute by victims' families. This time, though, the victim's family turned down an offer of "blood money," reportedly in the millions of dollars to pardon the prince. Then, both the kingdom's appeals court and the Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty.

At a time when the monarch is implementing unprecedented austerity measures, even royal families welcomed the execution as decisive and fair.

"This is the law of God Almighty, and this is the approach of our blessed nation," wrote Khalid al-Saud, a royal family member, according to Reuters.

Another Saudi royal member, billionaire businessman Al Walid Bin Talal, recited a Koranic verse: "there is life for you in retaliation."

Details of the prince's last hours were revealed on social media, another rare development for the conservative, often secretive kingdom.

Mohammed al-Masloukhi, the Imam of Al Safa mosque, who was present while the victim's family was being offered the "blood money," described the prince's "heartbreaking last moments with his family members" who visited him for one last time in prison.

Al-Masloukhi said the convicted prince then prayed, reciting Koranic verses until sunrise. He was executed 4 1/2 hours later.

The execution, tweeted al-Masloukhi, was carried out in presence of the prince's father, who "broke down in tears" while the victim's father watched with "a fixed expression on his face."

(source: Washington Post)


Britain's overseas anti-drugs policy 'putting people on death row'----Funding for drug enforcement in Pakistan leads to vulnerable drug-smuggling mules facing death penalty, says Reprieve

Britain is supporting an overseas battle against drugs that critics say is leading to the arrest and potential execution of people either duped or coerced into becoming "mules".

The issue is a sensitive one for the prime minister. Theresa May has made combating people trafficking a priority for her government. But human rights groups say the UK is failing to recognise the consequences of its support for a number of operations abroad that target people being trafficked to smuggle drugs.

Britain has been funding and training Pakistani drug enforcement officers to intercept drugs at ports and airports through a UN initiative called the Container Control Programme. Documents dated 17 October show that the UK has given almost $200,000 (163,000 pounds) to the programme.

UK officials are also mentoring and training Pakistan customs agents, the Home Office confirmed. Last month, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that the programme had led to the seizure of drugs at Karachi airport that were bound for Saudi Arabia. 3 men arrested in connection with the seizures now face potential death penalties, according to the human rights group Reprieve.

There is evidence that some of those caught attempting to smuggle drugs from Pakistan are doing so under duress - to pay off family debt or because a relative is being held by a criminal gang. In other cases, those smuggling the drugs are poorly educated and unaware of the implications.

The UN special rapporteur on migrant workers is one of several experts who have raised concerns that some smugglers sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia are trafficking victims. Almost 4/5 of those on death row in the kingdom are foreign nationals, most of them migrant workers from India or Pakistan. There are about 8,000 people on Pakistan's death row, many of them being held for drugs offences. Since the country lifted the moratorium on the death penalty more than 400 people have been executed.

In a letter to home secretary Amber Rudd, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, warns that the "UK funding for counter-narcotics programmes may be not only contributing to the death penalty and other human rights abuse, but even leading to the arrest and execution of some of the very exploited people it is seeking to protect."

The Home Office denies funding the programme and insists all of its overseas engagement work is risk-assessed, which includes looking at any impact on human rights.

(soruce: The Guardian)


Wrongful hangings expose flaws in justice system

The wrongful executions of the two brothers in a southern Punjab district have exposed serious flaws in Pakistan's criminal justice system.

Possible complicity of prisons and judicial authorities in Punjab cannot be ruled out in the hanging of the 2 brothers, who were executed under highly questionable circumstances in Bahawalpur last year.

PHC temporarily halts militant's execution

Sources told The Express Tribune that the provincial home department had already launched a probe into this 'criminal negligence', and officials concerned also sought legal opinion on the matter from the advocate-general's office.

After these revelations, a debate started once again whether or not to abolish the death penalty in the country.

Case history

On October 6, while hearing 7-year-old jail petitions, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, acquitted the 2 brothers - Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar. They had been condemned to death for killing Abdul Qadir, Muhammad Akmal and Salma Bibi on February 2, 2002 in Rahim Yar Khan district.

However, things took a dramatic turn when it transpired that the 2 brothers had been executed on October 12 last year.

The case landed in the Supreme Court 7 years ago by way of jail petitions after the Lahore High Court dismissed the brothers' appeals and upheld their death penalty.

Later, the apex court appointed Aftab Ahmed Khan advocate to plead the case on behalf of the 2 brothers in 2010.

On June 10, 2010, a 2-judge bench, headed by Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed, took up the jail petitions for 1st time against their death sentence and granted leave only for re-examining evidence against them for the premeditated murder (Qatl-e-Amad) of Salma. However, the bench upheld their death sentence in 2 other murders.

On October 5 this year, the case was taken up again by the apex court, after which the bench found its order of June 10, 2010 to be 'anomalous' and decided to review it.

The ruling was intimated by the apex court's registrar to the secretary of Punjab Home Ministry and the federal secretary interior.

On June 6, the bench resumed the case hearing, wherein Additional Prosecutor-General Punjab Ahmad Raza Gilani and the counsel for petitioners, Aftab Ahmad Khan, also opposed the sentencing of the 2 brothers on 3 counts of murder.

After examining the entire record, the court issued an 11-page judgment, in which it held that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against the appellants.

Justice Malik Manzoor Ahmad, while authoring the judgment, allowed their appeals and set aside the judgments under which they were awarded death sentences.

"The appellants, Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar, are acquitted of the charges. Both of them shall be released forthwith." Legal opinion on affixing responsibility.

Against execution: Activists denounce capital punishment

Aftab Ahmad Khan, the counsel for both brothers, told The Express Tribune that when the court issued orders acquitting the 2 brothers, he wrote a letter to their family, but received no response.

Later, he said, he approached the Supreme Court's implementation branch for their release.

Finally, he personally talked with jail authorities in Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur, but was shocked to learn that both brothers had already been hanged last year.

The counsel said that he was moving an application in the apex court next week, requesting for launching a probe into the matter.

AAG Punjab Ahmad Raza Gilani believes that the jail authorities should have sought the opinion of the prosecution department before going ahead with the hangings.

Additional Advocate-General Punjab Qasim Chohaan contended that the apex court should have suspended the death sentences in its June 10, 2010 order.

(source: Express Tribune)


Justice can't be blind

The facts are not in dispute in the case of 50-year-old Imdad Ali. He killed a cleric in 2001 and was sentenced to death for the murder but he was also certified as suffering from schizophrenia by government doctors. Since Imdad's condition means he cannot understand both his crime and the punishment handed out to him, he should not be awarded the death penalty. But a 3-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Anwer Zaheer Jamali, rejected his appeal using the reasoning that schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and so does not fall within the definition of mental disorders. This is, to put it very mildly, an unenlightened view of mental illnesses. The Supreme Court relied on dictionary definitions of schizophrenia and a 1988 judgement by the Indian Supreme Court. Our understanding of mental disorders has progressed greatly in the last 30 years so that case was perhaps not the best precedent and it would have been better to rely on expert definitions rather than consulting a dictionary. The US National Institute of Mental Health calls schizophrenia a "chronic and severe mental disorder" and says "people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality." Since Imdad's schizophrenia is not in dispute, under this professional definition he should not be given a death sentence.

Pakistan's justice system has struggled to keep up with the times. When much of the world has made use of DNA testing to bring a greater degree of certainty in the guilt of accused criminals, we have been arguing about its merits. It was only in April of this year that Pakistan set up its 1st DNA testing lab. We have now shown ourselves to be similarly archaic in our understanding of mental disorders. It should be the duty of the state and the courts to provide defendants with every possible chance to prove their innocence, especially when the state has the power to take their lives. But, since the reintroduction of the death penalty, capital punishment has been handed out hastily and we are now seeing the consequences of that. Earlier this month, 2 brothers Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadri were successful in appealing their death sentences to the Supreme Court. The only problem was that they had already been hanged in Rahimyar Khan a year ago. How they were given the death penalty when all their appeals were yet to be exhausted will have to be explained and those who carried out the sentence made to face the consequences for what is essentially murder. Such cases do not get the attention they deserve because those given the death penalty are overwhelmingly poor and without the resources to properly fight their cases. They languish in jail for years - 15 in the case of Imdad - as the courts are too slow in taking up their appeals. That people who should not be imprisoned in the first place have to wait that long for verdicts is a denial of their rights to begin with. That they are then still executed only compounds the offence, turning it into a crime. Imdad, Ghulam Sarwar, Ghulam Qadri and many others like them deserve better from the justice system.

(source: Editorial, The News)


The barbarism of capital punishment

Barbarism. There is no other way to describe the senseless bloodlust and spiteful vindictiveness that characterises what passes for the criminal justice system in Pakistan. In a judgment that will long be remembered for its sheer idiocy and mindboggling insensitivity, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared that paranoid schizophrenia is not a mental disorder, and that those suffering from it can indeed by executed by the state. In deciding thus, the Court has sealed the fate of Imdad Ali, who suffers from the disease and has been languishing on death row after being convicted of murder in 2002. On at least 2 separate occasions, in 2004 and 2012, medical experts confirmed that Imdad Ali is a victim of mental illness, and that his condition is severe enough for him to not even understand what he has been convicted of or the nature of the sentence that has been decreed by the court.

The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits the punishment of those suffering from mental illness. Pakistan is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Medical experts around the world are unanimously of the view that paranoid schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder. Yet, despite all of this, the Supreme Court has defied Pakistan's laws, its international obligations, and conventional wisdom by simply deciding that because the disease can be treated and managed, it does not somehow qualify as the type of disorder that could impede an execution. In order to arrive at this this determination, the court relied on definitions of schizophrenia provided in 2 English dictionaries, as well as a precedent from an Indian court case from 1988. The real irony of this is that even on these flimsy grounds (note the absence of reference to contemporary medical opinion) there is little substantive content that supports the Supreme Court's conclusions. Instead, the judges have simply changed the meaning of paranoid schizophrenia by definitional fiat.

Condemnation of the Supreme Court's decision has been unsurprising and widespread. Yet, even as lawyers, doctors, and human rights groups continue to raise questions about the flaws in judicial process and reasoning that have brought Imdad Ali to the brink of execution, significant sections of the Pakistani populace have welcomed the decision. Once again, the medieval logic of an eye-for-an-eye has intruded upon the debate, with an army of armchair analysts and keyboard warriors frothily baying for blood; if someone is guilty of murder, they should be killed. It does not matter if they did not know what they were doing or lacked the mental faculties to understand the consequences of their actions; there is no room for empathy, compassion, or understanding in the justice system.

The problems with this argument are numerous. Those who simply demand blood and vengeance every time a crime is perpetrated seem to give very little thought to the purpose of punishment itself. Is the whole point to wreak terrible retribution upon the perpetrators of crimes, is it to prevent further crimes, or is it to offer the chance for rehabilitation and reform? Can it truly be argued that depriving someone of their liberty for decades is less severe a punishment than execution? Can a purely retributive and reciprocal principle of justice even be implemented in a just and meaningful way, particularly in a context like Pakistan, where weak law enforcement and judicial institutions preclude the possibility of foolproof investigations and trials? Does the state even have the right to take lives in this fashion, given the well-established fact that innocents are sometimes executed for crimes they did not commit? Most importantly of all, in the context of Imdad Ali, what possible purpose is being served by killing a man who does not even understand what is going on around him?

Capital punishment does not work. Evidence from around the world has shown this time and again. It does not deter crime, it is prone to abuse and severe miscarriages of justice, and it is often entirely disproportionate to the gravity of the offence committed. Yet, it continues to be championed as a panacea for all kinds of social ills in Pakistan. After a welcome moratorium on the death penalty that lasted for the better part of a decade, 425 people have been executed in Pakistan since 2014. This number includes people who were children when they were convicted of the crimes they allegedly committed, as well as others suffering from severe physical disabilities. The execution of these people (with thousands more death row prisoners slated to die in the years to come) has been justified in the name of national security, with the desire to punish terrorists serving as a basis upon which to reintroduce this form of punishment. How people accused of murder and other non-terror related offences can be executed on that basis is something that has yet to be clarified by the government and the courts.

However, it is here that it becomes possible to see that the execution of people like Imdad Ali has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with keeping up appearances. He must die, not because of adherence to some abstract principle of justice, but because the powers-that-be have decreed that capital punishment is a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism. To spare a life under these circumstances, no matter how legitimate the reason might be, would be to undermine the legitimacy of the whole exercise. To cast doubt on the rightness and justness of the state's right to execute people would be to potentially open the floodgates to further questioning about the utility and legitimacy of the death penalty.

We live in a country where a video of a female reporter being assaulted by a security official in Karachi is welcomed with a chorus of cries lauding the latter for putting the woman in her place, and where religious minorities are routinely persecuted by mobs egged on by the calls emanating from the loudspeakers of their mosques. We as a society have come to revel in brutality, and the bloodlust that demands satiation through the execution of Imdad Ali has absolutely nothing to do with justice.

(source: Hassan Javid; The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS----The Nation)


Justice Katju Will Appear Before SC To Explain Why Death Sentence Should Be Imposed On Govindachamy

Justice Markandey Katju, through his Facebook post, has said that he will be appearing before the Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi in Soumya Rape and Murder case. Saying that he received the Supreme Court notice in the matter, Justice Katju said: "I will be appearing before the Supreme Court in the Soumya case on 11th November at 2 explain why the judgment requires review, and the death sentence be imposed on the accused Govindachamy. "

Reacting to a comment in his post which suggested that death penalty should be abolished, Justice Katju said: "No, it should be retained in some types of cases, e.g. honour killing, dowry deaths, fake encounters by police, serial murders, brutal murders which shock the conscience, etc."

Shortly after the Supreme Court pronounced its judgment, justice Katju had said the Supreme Court must review its Thursday judgment in Soumya case, in which the apex court found accused Govindachamy not guilty of murder but only guilty of rape.

Last week, after the conclusion of hearing of arguments by the review petitioners in the Govindaswamy case, had issued notice to the former Supreme Court Judge to appear in Court in person, and participate in the proceedings on November 11 at 2 p.m.

Reacting to the said notice, Justice Katju had told Live Law that he would be happy to appear before the Supreme Court considering the Review Petition in Soumya Case, if the judges consider that a former Supreme Court judge is not debarred from appearing by Article 124(7) of the Constitution.



Kidnapping: Lagos to impose death by hanging

The Lagos State Assembly has recommended death by hanging as penalty for kidnapping in Lagos State. This was revealed yesterday when the Assembly held a public hearing on a Bill for a law to provide for the prohibition of the act of kidnapping and other connected purposes.

The bill sponsored by the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, stated that any person, who kidnaps, abducts, details or captures or takes another person by any means with intent to demand ransom or do anything against his/her will commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to death sentence.

The death penalty in the Bill by the Assembly is a stiffer penalty for the 21 years imprisonment at present provided in the state criminal code.

It is not only persons found guilty of kidnapping that would be penalised, those who participated in the process or attempted kidnapping would not go unpunished, as the Bill provides that any person, who knowingly or willfully allows or permits his premises, building or a place belonging or occupied to which he has control of, to be used for the purposes of keeping a person kidnapped is guilty of an offence under the law and liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of 14 years without an option of fine.

Also, a Chief Magistrate in Lagos State, Mrs Seri Sholebo said that it was fundamental to add conspiracy to kidnapping, disclosing that convicting offenders on the basis of conspiracy since 2011 had been a herculean task.

Meanwhile, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has said that to win the war against terrorism in Nigeria would require collaborative efforts among the citizens and strong synergy among security agencies.


OCTOBER 22, 2016:


Justices overturn decades-old death sentence

The Florida Supreme Court this week ordered a new trial for a convicted killer who has spent more than 4 decades on death row for a racially charged murder during civil unrest in the Jacksonville area.

The unanimous decision, a rarity in death penalty cases in which convictions are overturned, came amid intense scrutiny of the death penalty in Florida. The state's high court last week struck down a portion of a new death penalty law as unconstitutional because it does not require unanimous jury recommendations for the sentence to be imposed.

Jacob John Dougan, Jr., now 69, was convicted in the 1974 murder of Stephen Orlando, an 18-year-old white man, whose body was found in Jacksonville Beach accompanied by a note signed by the "Black Revolutionary Army."

Thursday's 58-page opinion upheld a lower court's ruling that Dougan should receive a new trial because of "multiple significant problems" in his trial, including the false testimony of a key witness who was a co-defendant in the case and who had received a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Dougan.

The court also found that Dougan's lawyer, Ernest Jackson, had 2 conflicts of interest "that adversely affected his performance" during the trial. Jackson had an extramarital affair with Dougan's sister and represented 2 other co-defendants in their appeals.

The lower court found that Jackson "essentially presented no defense" during the guilt phase of Dougan's trial.

Dougan, considered a leader in the black community before his 1975 conviction, was resentenced to death 3 times before Thursday's decision ordering a new trial.

"Clearly, this is a case of many tragedies. It is tragedy for the family of the young man who was murdered. It is a tragedy that over 40 years have passed since the murder occurred, of which Dougan has spent most of those years on death row. He now faces a retrial where he may be released from death row or even acquitted. It is a tragedy that Dougan, a young man with so much potential, was possibly involved in this murder that was motivated by racial hatred. It would be overly simplistic, however, to characterize this murder and trial merely as a byproduct of an earlier time when Jacksonville was dealing with deep wounds of past racial discrimination," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

Dougan's sentence should have been reduced to life imprisonment, Pariente wrote, agreeing with 3 dissenters in a 1992 Florida Supreme Court decision that upheld his death sentence.

"Justice is at times an elusive word, but by granting Dougan a new trial, we restore some small measure of justice to remedy the injustices that occurred at the time of his original trial," Pariente concluded.

In a separate ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing for death row inmate Frank Walls, convicted in the 1987 murders of 2 people in an Okaloosa County home.

The 5-2 majority opinion ordered the hearing to consider Walls' claim that his intellectual disability should make him ineligible for the death penalty.

The new hearing is necessary, the majority decided, because of a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hall v. Florida. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Florida's use of a "rigid" IQ score in determining whether defendants should be shielded from execution because they are intellectually disabled.

Prior to the decision in Hall, a defendant with an IQ above 70 could not present evidence regarding 2 other portions of a 3-pronged test - adaptive functioning deficits and manifestation before the age of 18 - used to determine whether defendants are intellectually disabled.

The majority in Thursday's Florida Supreme Court ruling relied on what is known as the "Witt analysis" to decide whether the Hall decision should be applied retroactively to other inmates. Under Witt, a change in the law is applied retroactively if it is issued by the Florida or U.S. Supreme courts, is constitutional in nature and "constitutes a development of fundamental significance," something the majority found the Hall decision accomplished.

"The rejection of the strict IQ score cutoff increases the number of potential cases in which the state cannot impose the death penalty, while requiring a more holistic review means more defendants may be eligible for relief," the majority opinion said.

The judge who sentenced Walls, now 49, found that he had been classified as emotionally handicapped, suffers from brain dysfunction and brain damage and functions intellectually at the level of a 12-year-old.

But in a stinging dissent Thursday joined by Justice Ricky Polston, Justice Charles Canady wrote that the Hall decision should not be applied to Walls' case.

Walls is unable to satisfy one of the conditions of the test for intellectual disability because his IQ scores were 102 at age 12 and 101 at age 14, Canady wrote.

"Based on these IQ scores, Walls could not establish that he met the 3rd prong of the test for intellectual disability, which requires that the condition be 'manifested during the period from conception to age 18,'" he wrote.

The dissenters also argued that the Hall decision should not be applied retroactively because it did not result in a "jurisprudential upheaval," but instead was an "evolutionary refinement" of Florida's death penalty law.

Applying the Hall ruling retroactively presents an "ongoing threat of major disruption to the application of the death penalty" in the state, Canady wrote.



Bondi's office looks for clarity on death penalty----Florida Supreme Court: Jury must unanimously agree on death penalty

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify a ruling last week that struck down a portion of the state's death-penalty law, arguing that failing to do so "will only generate confusion."

In a pair of opinions issued last Friday, the court found that a statute, passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Bondi's request for clarification came in the case of Larry Darnell Perry, who was convicted in the 2013 murder of his infant son. An appellate court had asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the law passed in March applied to cases that were already under way.

In last Friday's 5-2 decision in the Perry case, the court said that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."

The state contends that death penalty prosecutions can continue without a change in the law, so long as trial courts require unanimous jury recommendations to comply with last week's ruling.

But the Supreme Court majority did not address the issue of "severability," which would allow portions of the law that are not deficient to remain intact, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar wrote in the 11-page request filed Thursday.

"This omission unnecessarily invites continued litigation. The language leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys will assert that no valid death penalty law exists in Florida, demanding that trial judges strike notices of intent to pursue capital cases and refuse to impanel capital juries," she wrote.

However, "the state maintains that after severing the constitutional defect, current capital prosecutions should still be conducted as long as the trial courts ensure that the jury's final recommendation is unanimous," Dittmar continued.

The arguments "will no doubt be rejected by some trial courts and accepted by others," leading to more litigation in "an already overburdened system," Dittmar wrote.

"...This court's finding of a constitutional flaw will only generate confusion, absent some clarification as to trial court's authority to cure the legislative error," she argued.

But defense lawyers maintain that, a decade ago, the Supreme Court asked the Legislature to address the issue of unanimity. They say it's now the Legislature's job --- not the court's --- to fix the law.

"It's not clarification to ask the court to rewrite the statute," said Martin McClain, who has represented over 200 defendants facing the death penalty.

Like Bondi, legislative leaders and prosecutors --- who pushed for 10-2 jury recommendations in death-penalty cases over the repeated warnings of defense lawyers --- contend that the statute does not have to be changed immediately for prosecutions to move forward.

But an Ocala judge on Monday put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

Arguing for the state in the request for clarification, Dittmar wrote that the flaw in the statute "is easy to fix" through "accurate jury instructions and simple interrogatories" and "does not require any substantive rewriting of the law."

But defense lawyers say that allowing trials to proceed without changing the statute could be even more problematic.

Relying on judges to craft jury instructions in different cases "is a situation that will cause havoc," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman in the Ocala murder trial and who argued Coleman's case Monday. A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

"We literally could have dozens and dozens of different procedures, different jury instructions on the issue of death in individual cases. That, I think, would cause absolutely unnecessary complication in review," Graves said. "I don't for the life of me understand what their hurry is."

The state's death penalty has been in limbo since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. Following that decision, the Florida Supreme Court indefinitely put on hold two executions, which are still pending.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is 1 of just 3 --- including Alabama and Delaware --- that have not required unanimous jury recommendations for death to be imposed. Delaware's high court has halted that state's death penalty following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

The Hurst ruling did not address the issue of unanimity, which became a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as Florida lawmakers sought to repair the state's death penalty sentencing process to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Defense lawyers repeatedly told lawmakers that Florida's "outlier" status regarding unanimity jeopardizes the state's death penalty because the U.S. Supreme Court considers "evolving standards of decency" when considering the issue.

A Senate proposal originally required unanimous jury recommendations, but lawmakers ultimately struck a deal --- backed by Bondi and prosecutors --- in which at least 10 jurors were required to favor death for the sentence to be imposed.

"Refusing to make a steady, reasoned review of the situation is what led to the chaos our court system is now dealing with. Lives are literally at stake. Have patience. Take a breath," Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association's death penalty steering committee, said in a telephone interview Friday.

"If the Court attempts to fix this on their own, it could be a violation of the separation of powers recognized in our state's Constitution," Mills said. "They run the risk of misinterpreting what the Legislature will do. The Legislature might have bigger plans."

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who will take over as head of the chamber after the November elections, told The News Service of Florida this week that there was "no ambiguity" regarding the need for unanimous jury recommendations following the state Supreme Court opinions.

Negron, a lawyer, said that lawmakers could deal with the issue during next year's 60-day legislative session, which begins in March.

Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties, said he believes prosecutors can move forward because the state Supreme Court, in the decisions last week, "has established the procedures necessary if you're going to seek the death penalty."

But McCabe also said that the attorney general's concern about clarification is valid.

"We have cases pending that need to be resolved, and there is perhaps confusion over the proper mechanism over how to resolve them," he said.

McCabe said he is trying 2 cases in which he is seeking the death penalty that are at a critical stage.

"I think we can go ahead. Others will perhaps disagree," he said. "I can see where it might be helpful if the Supreme Court just came out and said, OK, judges here's what you do, and go ahead and do it."



Alabama appeals court rules on death penalty cases

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals is throwing out 1 inmate's death sentence and upholding another.

The judges on Friday upheld James Osgood's capital murder conviction and death sentence in the slaying of Tracy Brown in Chilton County in 2010. But the court threw out the sentence, ruling that a judge gave improper instructions to jurors.

Brown was found stabbed to death in her home.

The court separately upheld the conviction and death sentence of Jessie Livell Phillips from Marshall County. He was convicted of killing his wife Erica Phillips and their unborn child in 2009.

The court previously told a court to prepare a new sentencing order for Phillips, and it did. The appeals court says it now agrees with the lower court and upheld the sentence.

(source: Associated Press)


Citing aging inmates, Ohio says it will again move death row

Ohio is moving its death row for the 3rd time in little over a decade, this time because of the growing number of aging inmates serving death sentences, state prison officials said Friday.

Death row will go from Chillicothe in southern Ohio to the Toledo Correctional Institution, a trip of more than 3 hours. Toledo's prison is newer and designed to handle inmates with physical and mobility limitations, including those in wheelchairs, the state said.

The state will relocate 126 death row inmates in the "near future," said prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. She said she couldn't provide exact details because of security reasons. 3 other inmates at a medical facility in Columbus are being evaluated to see if they are healthy enough to be transferred.

The average age of Ohio's death row population is just under 50, with inmates' ages ranging from 21 to 75.

Executions still will be carried out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Ohio said earlier this month that it plans to resume executions in January following an unofficial moratorium of nearly 3 years that was blamed on shortages of lethal drugs.

The state hasn't put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried 2-drug combo.

Prison officials also hope the switch will help reduce crowding at the Chillicothe prison and other sites across the state. Areas now used to hold death row inmates in individual cells could be converted to double-bunked cells that could house twice as many high-security inmates.

The prison system's total population has increased 15 percent in about the last 12 years, according to a Correctional Institution Inspection Committee report from May. Overcrowding rates also are up. Currently, Ohio has almost 51,000 in its prison system.

Death row was moved from the supermax prison in Youngstown, where it had been since 2005, to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution at the beginning of 2012.

The state said the move to Chillicothe would save money by bringing inmates facing execution closer to the death house in Lucasville.

The union representing Ohio prison guards and other workers said the shift would disrupt the consistency for the staff, the inmates and their families.

"You keep shuffling all these guys around in the system, and it just puts more hardships on everyone," said Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state didn't have a firm estimate on how much the move to Toledo would cost. Smith said it wasn't "a fiscal decision" but rather one designed to increase safety and security while reducing density at the prisons.

The agency said the decision was made as part of its routine review of how it manages its inmate population.

Staffing in Chillicothe isn't expected to change, but more workers will be hired in Toledo, the state said.

To make room for death row inmates in Toledo, about the same number of inmates will be relocated to other facilities, Smith said.

The move is the 4th overall for Ohio's death row since the state re-enacted capital punishment in 1981.

(source: Associated Press)


Convicted cop killer lingering on death row, costly to taxpayers

It has been nearly 12 years since the night a Bristol, Tenn. Police Officer was killed responding to the domestic violence call, but the case is far from over.

The convicted killer, Nikolaus Johnson, has appeared in court time and time again, trying to avoid the death penalty.

News 5's Kristi O'Connor exposes an enormous expense for taxpayers as the cop killer lingers on death row for years.

News 5 calculated hundreds of thousands of dollars in court costs, housing and manpower to try him.

But that is just scratching the surface, and the bills are continuing to pile up the longer his execution is delayed.

It has been nearly 12 years since Karen Vance heard a knock on her door.

"As soon as I saw 2 police officers at my door, I knew something was wrong," Vance said.

She found out her son, 30-year-old Mark Vance, was killed in the line of duty.

Court documents confirm Vance was responding to a domestic disturbance. Nikolaus Johnson, 26, had been fighting with his 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend, urging her to get an abortion.

When Vance entered the home, Johnson ambushed him with one gunshot to the head. Court documents revealed comments he made during his arrest, that prove he had no remorse.

"I shot the f****** cop. I shot him in the head. He's dead. Ain't no use in going in there," Johnson said, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court opinion on the case in April of 2013.

9 years after her son's killer was sentenced to death, Karen Vance is still waiting for his execution.

"I would rather see it myself happen while I'm still here to see it," Vance said.

But it is likely she will not see justice served anytime soon. Johnson has filed for his conviction to be overturned for the 3rd time.

"It shouldn't take that long," Vance said. "I can't even imagine how much money they've spent just to keep him up."

News 5 wanted to find out how much it has cost taxpayers. We started with his court appointed defense team.

According to documents News 5 obtained from the Administrator of the Court, the experts and investigators used in the Sullivan County trial cost nearly $118,000. The attorney fees and co-council claims added up to nearly $67,000. In total, his indigent defense claim cost more than $184,000.

Sullivan County Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns estimates his office spent at the very least $150,000 during the trial. He says $32,000 went toward the 12 jurors who were sequestered for 17 days.

"We had to provide place for them to stay, food, one time we took them to the movie to try to help them to at least exist," Kerns said.

The rest of the money went toward travel expenses for witnesses, manpower to document every action involved in the case, meals for the jury and officers and the process to select the jury. Kerns says they send out hundreds of summons to select the jurors.

"Each time that it comes back to this court, if it's appealed, then we have to do the copy of the record. Send the record to the court of appeals. That's my clerk doing that," Kerns said.

Next we looked into how expensive it is to house Johnson. When he was in the Sullivan County Jail, it cost roughly $37.50 a day to house an inmate. He was in the Sheriff's custody for about 2 1/2 years, which adds up to $33,000.

Once he was sentenced to death, he was taken into to the Tennessee Department of Corrections custody. It costs $109.41 a day to house a death row inmate, compared to about $73 for a state inmate housed in the general population.

The extra cost is mostly because death row inmates are considered maximum security offenders, they require extra supervision.

"When a death row offender is being transferred from the facility say to court or to the hospital, it requires a minimum of 3 officers and 2 vehicles," TDOC Public Information Officer Robert Reburn said.

At $109.41 per day for about 9 years, tax payers have shelled out nearly $380,000 to provide for Johnson.

As the appeal continues, court goes on and costs rack up, Karen Vance will continue to wait, until justice is served.

"Justice won't be done, until it's completely over. And that's really all we want is for it to be over, but we are not sure if it's ever going to be really over," Vance said.

In total, we calculated roughly $750,000 have been paid toward Johnson over the last 12 years, but that is still leaving out a lot of expenses.

News 5 hit into a road block getting court costs from the Criminal Court of Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court. State agencies told us they either did not have the documents, or the information we requested was not recorded.

There were also expenses we did not track down, such as payment for court officers during hearings, officers assigned to guard the jury, transporting Johnson from prison to court and his medical care.

(source: WCYB news)


Catholic Church intensifies effort to abolish Nebraska's death penalty

The Catholic Church in Nebraska has stepped up efforts to convince voters to reject the death penalty.

The state's 3 bishops and the Nebraska Catholic Conference have joined the Catholic Mobilizing Network Nebraska to organize public presentations and an online advertising campaign. The group is urging Catholics and non-Catholics to vote to retain the Nebraska Legislature's 2015 repeal of the death penalty.

With modern penal systems, the death penalty is no longer necessary to protect society, the group argues. The church also encourages moving away from vengeance and toward mercy "even for those among us who have committed the most heinous of acts," said Alex Kelly, coordinator of the new group.

The group's online ad features the Rev. Craig Loecker, pastor at St. Leo Catholic Church in Omaha.

Death penalty proponents, who obtained the signatures needed for the Nov. 8 referendum, say capital punishment in Nebraska is reserved for a small number of killers who deserve to be executed. They also argue it helps protect prison officers from violence by inmates who would have nothing left to lose if the death penalty were eliminated.

The Catholic group plans to host informational events next week in Omaha, Grand Island and Lincoln. The events will feature talks by Joe D'Ambrosio, who wrongfully spent 20 years on Ohio's death row, and Marietta Jaeger-Lane of Montana, who co-founded a national forgiveness group after her 7-year-old daughter was slain by a serial killer in 1973.

(source: World-Herald)


Defendant wants Ceres death penalty case dismissed

Mark Edward Mesiti, who is legally representing himself, says his right to a speedy trial has been violated and he wants a Stanislaus County judge to dismiss his death penalty case.

But Mesiti wasn't ready to proceed with his defense motion Friday afternoon because, he said, there was sewage flooding near his jail cell.

He is accused of killing his 14-year-old daughter, Alycia Mesiti. On March 25, 2009, the girl's body was found buried in the backyard of the Ceres home where Mesiti lived at the time of her disappearance in August 2006.

Mesiti told the judge that there was sewage flooding Friday afternoon on his tier in the central jail in downtown Modesto. He said he had to return to his jail cell and move his court documents to prevent them from being damaged.

Sheriff Adam Christianson said floor drains and cell drains in a portion of the jail had backed up about 12:30 p.m. Friday. He said maintenance staff quickly cleared the drains, and the tier was cleaned.

"As jail flooding goes, this was a minor incident at best," Christianson said. "We deal with this issue all the time as the inmates regularly and intentionally flush material that clogs the drainage system."

A shift sergeant at the jail spoke to Mesiti as he was taken to court Friday afternoon, and Mesiti didn't say anything about fearing damage to property in his jail cell, according to the sheriff. He said Mesiti had his personal items stacked on his bed before he went to court.

After the hearing, Mesiti told jail staff members that none of his personal items were ruined. Christianson said he believes Mesiti was a bit disingenuous with the judge and used the situation to his advantage.

Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves scheduled Mesiti to return to her courtroom Oct. 31, when he can argue in support of his motion to dismiss.

Mesiti has argued before that jail officials have violated his constitutional rights by keeping his hands in cuffs while he is supposed to be preparing his defense. Reeves has rejected that claim, saying the defendant has a legal team at these meetings at the jail to assist him in reviewing documents and other evidence in his case.

Along with the capital murder charge, Mesiti is charged with more than 40 counts of sexually abusing his daughter, as well as sexual abuse charges involving 2 other girls, according to a criminal grand jury indictment. Mesiti's trial is scheduled to start Feb. 6.

(source: Modesto Bee)


U.S. on track for fewest executions since 1991

With public support for the death penalty at its lowest point in more than 4 decades, the U.S. is on track for its fewest executions in a quarter century.

So far in 2016, 17 inmates have been executed, according to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. 3 additional executions are scheduled for this year. If all 3 proceed as planned, the year's 20 executions will be the fewest since 1991, when 14 were recorded. The U.S. has executed at least 28 people in each year since 1992.

Just 5 states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Texas - account for the 17 completed and 3 scheduled executions this year. This represents the fewest states to carry out executions in any year since 1983. In 1999, by comparison, 20 states conducted executions.

1 reason for the national decline in executions has been a decrease in Texas, which is scheduled to execute 8 inmates this year, a 20-year low. Texas has long been the nation's leader in executions, carrying out nearly 5 times as many as any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. During that span, Texas carried out 538 executions, compared with 112 in Oklahoma and 111 in Virginia.

Legal and practical challenges have prevented some states from carrying out executions this year. Ohio, for example, has not executed anyone since 2014 amid difficulties acquiring the drugs needed to conduct lethal injections. The state announced this month that it will resume executions next year, using a new protocol.

The number of states with the death penalty on the books - currently 30 - also could decline this year. Voters in California and Nebraska will decide Nov. 8 whether to eliminate or retain their capital punishment laws.

In California, which has the nation's largest death row, Proposition 62 would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without parole. The measure would apply retroactively and, if approved, resentence the more than 700 people on death row to life without parole. A competing measure, Proposition 66, would retain capital punishment but change legal procedures related to death penalty appeals. (If both measures pass, the one with more "yes" votes will prevail.)

In Nebraska, voters will revisit a May 2015 decision by the state Legislature to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a maximum penalty of life without parole for the crime of murder. Referendum 426 asks whether to retain or repeal the state law that eliminated the death penalty.

A 3rd state, Oklahoma, will also vote on a proposal related to capital punishment. Question 776 would solidify the state's death penalty against legal or legislative challenges by adding provisions to the state constitution, including a declaration that capital punishment "is not cruel and unusual punishment."

A Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 found that 49% of Americans support the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 42% who oppose it. While the share of supporters reached a 4-decade low, voters remain divided along party lines. Nearly 3/4 (72%) of Republicans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 34% of Democrats.

Both major-party presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, favor the death penalty. The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, carrying out just 3 executions in the modern era of capital punishment.

(source: Pew Research Center)


'Shocking' sentence: Hebei man who killed village chief after house demolition to be executed

A Chinese man who killed a village chief who arranged for his house to be demolished will be executed in the coming days. The ruling against 30-year-old Jia Jinglong was delivered to his lawyer on Tuesday.

Jia is from Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province in northern China. After his house was demolished in 2013, he killed the chief in February 2015 with a modified nail gun.

His lawyer Wei Rujiu told US-backed Radio Free Asia that he received the verdict from the Supreme People's Court. It said that Jia's execution would take place within a few days, and that there was no chance of the decision being reversed.

According to US-backed news Voice of America, Jia was renovating the house in preparation for his wedding but the relationship ended as a result of a forced demolition by village chief He Jianhua.

The death penalty was approved by the Supreme Court in Henan on August 31, reported RFA.

William Nee, researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP that Jia's sentence is seen by many experts as harsh by Chinese legal standards.

"Given the fact that China currently has the policy of "killing fewer, killing cautiously", this case seems shocking," he wrote in an email.

He said that the short time period of 7 days between ratifying the sentence and execution is stipulated by law in China.

"Many scholars have identified this short period as problematic if China were ever to come into compliance with international law on the death penalty, since under international law a person who has been given a death sentence should be given the chance to apply for pardon or have the sentence commuted. But China doesn't have this sort of mechanism," he said.

Nationalistic tabloid the Global Times reported on Friday that several Chinese law experts had voiced their opposition to the immediate execution order. Zhang Qianfan, a law professor at Peking University, told the tabloid that the affair was also an institutional failure. "Any ordinary person could resort to the same means as Jia when facing unfair treatment," he said.

'Extremely cruel murder'

The tabloid cited a copy of the verdict it received as saying that the method of the murder was extremely cruel and caused severe social impact, and that the conviction was appropriate and accurate.

Wei told RFA that over 200 mainland citizens signed a petition on WeChat requesting that the death penalty be commuted. He said there were 3 reasons for the petition: one was that Jia was himself a victim of ill-treatment from He Jianhua; the 2nd reason was that Jia had turned himself in, and the 3rd reason was that he did not hurt innocent people while committing his crime. If Jia is executed, other desperate people may not consider sparing innocent bystanders, and other criminals may think that turning themselves in is unsafe, said Wei.

Although no recent reports of the case by mainland media could be found apart from the Global Times report, several posts about Jia's story were uploaded on WeChat by bloggers.

Nee adds: "the fact that the local newspapers have not reported the death penalty ratification also shows how the authorities sometimes manipulate public opinion about the death penalty by widely publicising the most horrific cases, while staying silent or even censoring news about potentially controversial cases."



'We might abolish the death penalty in 20 years': He Jiahong on justice in China

Born into China's cultural revolution, He Jiahong spent years working in the fields before studying law to win over his girlfriend's parents. Now he is a leading authority on miscarriages of justice, and a writer of hit detective novels to boot.

The undead take on a central role in Prof He Jiahong's extraordinary narratives of courtroom incompetence. They haunt the commanding certainties of the trial process and the execution yard.

But He is not a connoisseur of Halloween magic. As China's leading authority on miscarriages of justice and the author of a series of detective novels, the 63-year-old former prosecutor and acclaimed academic has exposed heart-stopping flaws in judicial procedures.

His meticulous and engaging research exposed the infamous case of Teng Xingshan, who was executed in 1989 for murdering his mistress. 6 years later Teng's supposed victim, Shi Xiaorong, was discovered to be alive.

In another case documented in He's latest book, Back from the Dead, She Xianglin was convicted of murdering his wife and imprisoned. 11 years later, she reappeared in her native village, astonishing her family. In both cases, the verdicts were belatedly overturned.

At a time when nationalism is on the rise, He's critique of a justice system on the opposite side of the world might seem like an esoteric diversion. But his ability to develop universal criminal justice lessons from forced confessions, the pressure of pubic opinion and misinterpretation of scientific evidence have chilling echoes in a country that jailed the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4.

Only this year, the UK's supreme court ruled that for the past 30 years British judges have been misconstruing crucial aspects of the joint enterprise guidelines, which may yet lead to scores, if not hundreds, of cases being reassessed and possibly retried.

Britain and China's judiciaries, if not on the road to convergence, are sharing more and more legal experience through exchange visits and lectures. In May, Lord Neuberger, president of the UK's supreme court, led a judicial delegation to Beijing. Prof He is an adviser to China's supreme court and director of the Centre for Common Law in Beijing, which works in co-operation with the Great Britain-China Centre and the University of Oxford's Faculty of Law.

In London this month to launch his book, He cuts a dapper figure in a neat blue suit, buttoned up at the neck. His English is crisp and fluent; his personal odyssey from agricultural labourer to pre-eminent legal scholar verges on the fantastical.

He was born in Beijing in 1953. During the cultural revolution he was sent to work on a farm. "I believed in communism," he recalls. After a few years, though, he began to feel he had been fooled, and started writing a novel to prove he possessed talent. When he completed it, he was allowed to return to the capital, where he worked as a plumber. There he fell in love with a beautiful young woman. "She was a doctor; it was a very good job," he says. Her parents tried to separate them.

They set up a challenge. "If I could pass a national exam for university ... they would be happy to meet me. I had had only 6 years of education," He recalls. "The examination was very competitive. I prepared for 6 months and passed."

On enrolment at university, he randomly selected law. "I didn't know [about it]," he admits. "Under the cultural revolution there was no law." 2 years later, after finishing his course in record time, he married his girlfriend. They have been together for 35 years, and have a daughter and a grandson.

He is an optimist. Accustomed to hard work on the farm, he believes the experience helped him power through academic challenges. "It's not a bad thing for people to have hard lives and frustrations when they are young,' he says. Of the cultural revolution, he is less forgiving: "My 2nd novel [published by Penguin] is entitled Black Holes. The cultural revolution was a black hole. It changed the lives of millions of people."

The death penalty, real and fictional, has been a recurrent theme in He's work. Eventually, he hopes, its use may cease. Opinion polls conducted in 2002, he says, showed public support for executions running at around 93% of the population. It was considered a natural part of Chinese culture.

"At the time, I said that we cannot abolish the death penalty. We have to respect public opinion. If you kill somebody then you should be killed. About 10 years later, I changed my mind," he says. "Public opinion can be changed with education. More and more people think that [considering human rights] the death penalty is not a natural role for human beings."

Around 2005, the Chinese authorities introduced a criminal justice reform known as the "kill fewer, kill carefully" reforms. In 2014, an amendment to the criminal law further reduced the number of offences that carry the death penalty.

Support for capital punishment is now around 70-80%, and coming down. He has advocated abolishing it gradually over the next 2 decades. "In fact, we may not abolish the death penalty [straight away]," he suggests. "We might not use it. We would wait and see; if we don't use the death penalty for a number of years, then people in China would be persuaded. Then we may legally abolish the death penalty in 20 years. But it all depends on the situation ... the government is facing the threat of terrorists [militant groups from within the separatist Muslim Uighur ethnic group] and drug trafficking."

The number of executions is a state secret. Figures are disputed. While as many as 12,000 people might have been killed in 2002, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights campaign group, the annual total estimated by foreign observers is more than 1,000 deaths.

"We should not keep secret the numbers ... policy has been changing in the supreme peoples' court in China," He says. "We should have stricter scrutiny of death penalties. We have to change the mentality of the decision makers. These wrongful convictions made [the authorities] have second thoughts."

In 2007, the authorities decided to return to the supreme people's court the power to review any death penalty. It had previously been entrusted to lower courts because there were too many cases for the supreme court to consider. Trafficking in the organs of those who have been executed has also been banned.

20 years ago, Back from the Dead could not have been published, He admits. "I started studying wrongful convictions in 2005. And at the time people thought it was wrong. It was difficult to have a dialogue openly in conferences at first.

"Chinese people would say: 'We have some dirty things, but we should not let foreigners know.' That was quite natural. But the leaders of the judiciary have had to accept that we must deal with the problem more openly, and that wrongful convictions can teach us lessons," He says.

"It is not a matter of viewing police or prosecutors as evil gangs. Mistakes can be genuine errors. The problems have a positive role in provoking judicial reform. I point out the loopholes ... perhaps other countries have better rules, but they still have miscarriages of justice one way or another. It's a challenge for all human societies."

In terror trials, He points out, there may be greater public demand to convict and to use torture on top of all the other pressures. Beatings were widely misused in the 1980s and 90s. "Now we have rules against torture. You can't say it's very good, but it's better [at preventing] illegally obtained evidence," he says. "And interrogations are videotaped. These things help to prevent torture."

Earlier campaigns against corruption were handled by the party's committees, which acted outside legal frameworks. "They ought to be restrained by criminal procedure law," He says. Chinese water torture, he points out, was not devised by the Chinese; it is originally from Vietnam.

He practised as a defence lawyer for several years in the 1980s before transferring to academia. Inspiration for the 1st in his series of 5 detective novels, Hanging Devils, came from his research into miscarriages of justice. It is set on a state farm in a city in the north-east of China.

The book's protagonist, Hing Jun, is a defence lawyer. "He has to travel up north to solve a wrongful conviction case. I had a problem with how to frame the story at first. In China at the time, defence lawyers had only 7 days to prepare the trial. It would not have been enough time to collect all the evidence.

"Then we revised our criminal procedure so that defence lawyers would have 2 months to prepare a case [on appeal]. In 2012 we made further progress when the accused were given the right to a lawyer at the 1st investigation. Crime fiction is just a way to tell the story."

(source: The Guardian)


Doubts Over Saudi-UK 'Assurances' on Juvenile Executions

3 Saudi juveniles remain on death row, 1 year after the UK began seeking 'assurances' that they would not be executed.

Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, Ali al Nimr, and Dawood al-Marhoon were aged 15, 17 and 17 respectively when they were arrested for allegedly taking part in protests in the country's eastern province. All 3 face beheading after they were sentenced in the secretive Specialised Criminal Court, on the basis of 'confessions' they signed following torture. Last September, the death sentences of the 3 were upheld, and they could now be executed at any time.

The UK has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and for the past year, the UK Foreign Office has sought regular 'assurances' from the Saudi government that the three would not be executed. Last month, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood told Parliament: "our expectation remains that they will not be executed."

However, the 3 juveniles remain on death row, and their families say that they fear the executions could go ahead without warning. Speaking to Channel 4 last month, Ali al Nimr's father, Mohammed al Nimr, said that his son was "waiting to be called" to the "execution square."

Concerns for the 3 juveniles have been heightened by recent reports of other rights abuses in the country. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Saudi authorities had executed a member of the royal family for the 1st time in 40 years; while Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, is said to be facing a new round of 'lashes' as part of a flogging sentence handed down for his criticisms of the government.

The British government has so far stopped short of calling for the 3 juveniles' death sentences to be scrapped - something that other governments, such as France, have done. Human rights organization Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking her to request that Saudi Arabia commute the sentences.

In January this year, several juveniles were among 47 prisoners executed en masse in the Kingdom. They included Ali al-Ribh, a teenager from the Eastern Province who, like Ali, Abdullah and Dawood, was arrested in school in the wake of protests. Last week, a UK Foreign Office minister said that she was "horrified" by news of the mass execution.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:

"It's appalling that Ali al Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon could be beheaded at any moment for the so-called 'crime' of attending a protest. Saudi Arabia's 'assurances' that they won't execute these 3 boys count for nothing when the Kingdom has continued to behead juveniles and other prisoners, many of whom were tortured into bogus 'confessions.' Theresa May must call urgently for these death sentences to be scrapped."


Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.



Mwalimu Nyerere views on Death Penalty

The Month of October to me means 2 things. The 1st and foremost is commemoration of Mwalimu Nyereres' Death and secondly marking of the World Day against Death Penalty.

Interestingly, Mwalimu Nyerere is in record of speaking aloud of his displeasure on the death penalty and coincidently his death commemoration goes together with the World Day against Death Penalty; precisely for the last 17 years we kept on paraphrasing his legacy yet forgetting this one!

Mwalimu Nyerere's remarks on the death sentences were conveyed to the right people at the right time and at the right place when he was bidding goodbye on his retirement to the law enforcing agents (Police, Prisons and Immigration) at the Prison Training College Ukonga, Dar es Salaam in 1985. His remarks were convincingly alarming and that something had to done but surprisingly, to-date nothing has come out of the ground.

Mwalimu said "as a President signing for execution order means, I am killing the 2nd person, therefore in 1 case 2 people have to die!" He did not end up there but also confirmed that one of the tasks he hated most as president was the obligation of facilitating the death sentence.

These saddening remarks made by Mwalimu Nyerere came out of his experience after he had constitutionally executed 161 condemned prisoners! And for the prison officials would wish this law could be scrapped out to save them from the horror of guarding the living dead.

Unfortunately statistics are difficult to come by from the official source. However through the Position Paper of Children Education Society (CHESO) some statistics could be obtained that at the time President Nyerere retired, he officiated the death penalty to 161 (6 female and 155 male) prisoners and the second phase President Mwinyi executed 77 prisoners.

I could not agree more with the action of the Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC) this year of filing a case against the Attorney-General to prosecute the Government to finding alternatives to death penalty since there is no proof in the death penalty preventing crime.

In this year's theme of the World against Death Penalty, "Execution is the terrorist tool: stop the cycle of violence" seems to have targeted to all those countries hesitant in abolishing capital punishment.

Among the African countries which have done away with death sentences include South Africa, Rwanda, Namibia where the 17 countries are in Africa while 140 worldwide have scrapped Capital punishment in their statute books.

Every human being has the inherent right to life and this right must be protected by law. The right to life is a supreme right without which, other rights become insignificant. International human rights instrument has guaranteed this right as the most sacrosanct in a number of treaties and international instruments including the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR), 1981, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Even the mother law, the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977 guarantees the right to life yet it continues to be violated through laws that impose the death penalty.

Last year Tanzania initiated its groundbreaking approach on abolishment of death penalty through Parliamentary Group for Global Action (PGA) in a Roundtable Meeting held in the country.

This roundtable was also attended by Chair of the Law Reform Commission of Tanzania Judge Aloysius Mujulizi who confirmed that the Commission has on two occasions recommended the abolition of the death penalty, reminding that the death penalty in Tanzania has no indigenous origin and thus does not have such a strong popular support as some may claim. However the last execution in Tanzania was in 1994, since then the country has maintained abolitionist de facto status.

MPs from all parties and relevant actors have been sensitised on the abolition of the death penalty, and several MPs have committed to introducing a private bill to abolish it. People on death row in Tanzania neither deterred nor decreased incidences of the crime of murder.

In terms of statistics in this regard, from 1961 to April 2007, a total of 2,562 Prisoners (2476 males and 84 females) were sentenced to death across Tanzania. During this period, 238 of the Prisoners (232 males and 6 females) were hanged.

Despite the fact that 238 prisoners on death row were hanged, the number of murder incidences has kept increasing tremendously from 46 in 1961 to 3,929 in 2013.

Currently, there are 228 condemned prisoners waiting for execution while 244 are waiting for their appeals. The death row syndrome is a psychological disorder that inmates on death row can go through when they are put in isolation.

Inmates on death row syndrome face suicidal attempts and psychotic delusions. According to some psychiatrists, the results of being confined to death row for an extended period of time, including the effects of knowing one will die and the living conditions, can fuel suicidal tendencies in an individual. According to the government stand on capital punishment would like it to be decided by people's wishes and not on the external pressure.

Capital punishment is simply popular because the general public has little confidence in the government and state agencies, universally perceived as corrupted, inefficient and ineffective.

At the level of the masses, the ignorance of the human rights approach to the death penalty, exacerbated by illiteracy, makes the acceptation of arguments in favour of the abolition of death penalty even more difficult.

The moment a crime assumes notoriety or begins to overwhelm law enforcement agents, public's response has been to impose the death penalty for such crimes that include rape, corruption and so forth. What advocates for the death penalty fail to understand is that the death penalty does not make the society safe.

It may pander to the outrage of society but it does not remove the crime; which should be the interest of government. Are we really ignorant of capital punishment?

(source: Daily News)

OCTOBER 21, 2016:


Tazewell man faces capital murder charge, death penalty

A Southwest Virginia man has been indicted on a capital murder charge and now faces the death penalty.

Tazewell County Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Dennis said that a grand jury has issued a true bill against Shaun Matthew Wakefield, 33, of Tazewell, for 1 count of capital murder, 1 count of grand larceny of a motor vehicle and 1 count of concealing a dead body. Wakefield was arrested earlier this year on March 29 for the murder of Danielle Louise Pruett, who went missing March 17.

The woman's body was found of state Route 720 near Bluefield, Virginia, after an extensive search of various law enforcement officers approximately 24 hours after she was reported missing.

Dennis said a preliminary report showed that Pruett suffered injuries that were indicative of blunt force trauma.

Wakefield is currently being held at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon.

At the time of the murder, Wakefield was on bond for a current felony charge of larceny, 3rd or subsequent offense and was subsequently charged with altering a drug screen on March 18, 2016, both of which are scheduled to be heard in Tazewell County General District Court. He is currently on probation for convictions out of Alexandria, Virginia, for burglary, larceny, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and drug charges.

"Based on the continuing investigation surrounding the brutal murder of Danielle Pruett, a young mother of three children, I believe the circumstances of this killing more than justifies our decision to charge Wakefield with capital murder," Dennis said. "Wakefield is now facing the death penalty."

This case was investigated by the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office, Bluefield Police Department and Virginia State Police with assistance from District 43 Probation & Parole Office and Officers with Community Corrections of Clinch Valley Community Action.

(source: Bristol Herald Courier)


Prosecutors to seek death penalty in murder of Bluefield, Va. woman

A man charged with the March 29 homicide of a Bluefield, Va., woman will face the death penalty, prosecutors announced Friday.

A special Tazewell County grand jury returned a true bill indictment against Shaun Matthew Wakefield, 33, of 160 Grace Street in Tazewell for 1 count of capital murder, Commonwealth Attorney Mike Dennis said.

The grand jury also returned indictment charges of 1 count of grand larceny of a motor vehicle and 1 count of concealing a dead body.

Wakefield was arrested on March 29 for the murder of Danielle Louise Pruett, who went missing on March 17. The woman's body was later found off of Route 720 near Bluefield, Va., after an extensive search of various locations by law enforcement officers approximately 24 hours after she was reported missing.

"Based on the continuing investigation surrounding the brutal murder of Danielle Pruett, a young mother of three children, I believe the circumstances of this killing more than justifies the decision to charge Wakefield with capital murder," Dennis said. "Wakefield is now facing the death penalty."

Tazewell County Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Lee Dennis announces that Shaun Matthew Wakefield of Tazewell, Va., was charged with 1 count of 1st-degree murder in connection with the murder of Danielle Louise Pruett of Bluefield, Va.

At the time of Pruett's murder, Dennis said Wakefield was on bond for a current felony charge of larceny, 3rd or subsequent offense and was subsequently charged with altering a drug screen on March 18. He is currently on probation for convictions out of Alexandria, Va., for burglary, larceny, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and drug charges.

He is currently being held without bond at the Abingdon regional jail.

The case was investigated by the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office, the Bluefield, Va. Police Department and the Virginia State Police.

(source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph)

ALABAMA----impending execution

Alabama Death Penalty

An Alabama inmate is asking an appellate court to stay his execution scheduled for next month.

Tommy Arthur asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay his execution until it hears his challenge to Alabama's lethal injection process.

Arthur is scheduled to be put to death Nov. 3 for the 1982 murder-for-hire of Muscle Shoals businessman Troy Wicker.

A federal judge in July dismissed Arthur's challenge that Alabama's lethal injection procedure causes unconstitutional pain and suffering. His attorneys appealed, arguing the judge prematurely dismissed the case after misapplying a requirement for inmates to name an alternate execution method.

Arthur had been scheduled for execution on 6 previous occasions, but was given court-issued reprieves. The state asked for an expedited execution date after the judge dismissed Arthur's challenge.

(source: Associated Press)


Alabama now alone on 'limb' with death penalty law

Alabama, Delaware and Florida were in a very small club at the start of 2016, but Alabama now stands alone - last in the nation to embrace a set of rules, deemed unconstitutional elsewhere, that increases the likelihood of a death sentence.

All 3 states were the only ones in the nation to allow judges to override jury recommendations for life without parole and instead impose the death penalty. And they also were the only states that didn't require jury advisory votes for the death penalty be unanimous.

Since January, however, courts have ruled those practices unconstitutional in Delaware and Florida. The most recent ruling came last Friday when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous.

That leaves Alabama as the only state that allows judges to override jury recommendations and the only one to allow split juries to recommend death. In Alabama, at least 10 of 12 jurors must vote for a death recommendation.

But there have been signals that the U.S. Supreme Court may be taking aim at Alabama.

"Alabama is out on the limb and the U.S. Supreme Court has already suggested it might be pulling out the saw," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

One sign that Alabama's death penalty law is on the U.S. Supreme Court's radar is that the high court this spring sent back the cases of 3 death row inmates for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to review. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't say in its brief orders what it was about each of those cases that the Alabama appellate court should consider because in all 3 the judges followed jurors' recommendations for death. One recommendation was unanimous and the other 2 split decisions.

Now the Alabama court must see if the sentences should be overturned in light of the federal decision in January. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law in Florida that allowed judges to override jury recommendations.

"That suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court is looking at this issue," Dunham said.

While the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals hasn't ruled on those 3 cases, that same court has since declared Alabama's death sentence law constitutional in light of the Florida case anyway.

That happened in June when the state appeals differed with Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd. The state court ordered Todd to vacate her March 3 ruling that declared the state's capital punishment sentencing scheme unconstitutional in the cases of 4 men charged with capital murder in her court. She had considered the Florida case in her order.

Then on Sept. 30, the Alabama Supreme Court weighed in. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in the case of Death Row inmate Jerry Bohannon that Alabama's death penalty law is constitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst v. Florida in January.

Alabama Death Penalty Controversy Explained

District attorneys and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange have said Alabama's law is not the same as Florida's.

The AG's office and district attorneys have said the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Florida case that a jury, not the judge, must find the aggravating factor in order to make someone eligible for the death penalty. Alabama's system, however, already required the jury to do just that in either the guilt or sentencing phase, they said.

Once a jury has unanimously made the factual determination that a defendant meets the criteria to be eligible for the death penalty, the judge may make the legal determination of whether to impose it or not, the attorney general has stated.

"The Hurst ruling has no bearing whatsoever on the constitutionality of Alabama's death penalty, which has been upheld numerous times," the AG's office has stated.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office declined an interview this week regarding Friday's new ruling in Florida regarding unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences, but a spokesman for the office offered a response.

"Florida and Alabama have different laws regarding death penalty sentencing," Mike Lewis, communications director for the attorney general. "Alabama's Supreme Court has already found Alabama's death penalty law to be constitutional."

Alabama's sentencing scheme in death penalty cases is the same as Florida's, which was ruled unconstitutional last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, a number of Alabama defense lawyers are arguing to get death sentences barred in their cases.

But Emory Anthony, a Birmingham lawyer who has filed motions for about 5 defendants seeking to have their capital murder charges dismissed in light of the Hurst decision, believes judicial override and non-unanimous will be changed.

"We're still trying to hold on to something that will have to be changed legally," Anthony said, adding that the state has been "dragging our feet" because elected judges and justices and prosecutors want to show the electorate that they're tough on crime.

"I think we are finding out that one individual should not be the final voice on whether someone should live or die. That should be a decision for 12 people," he said. "I don't know why we are so hard headed. It is almost stupid when you think about it."

At least 2 U.S. Supreme Court justices - Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer - have indicated in recent years that it may be time to look again at Alabama's death penalty sentencing law when it comes to overrides by judges.

Alabama is the only state in the last decade where judges have imposed the death penalty despite of contrary jury verdicts, according to the dissent. Since adoption of this statue, Alabama has imposed death sentences on 95 defendants when a jury voted to sentence them to life.

Within days after the SCOTUS decision in the Hurst case in Florida attorneys for Alabama death row inmate Christopher Brooks argued that his execution should be halted because Alabama's death penalty sentencing law was similar to Florida's.

SCOTUS declined to stop Brooks' Jan. 21 execution.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with whom Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed, noted in the court's denial of Brooks' motion that the court in Hurst v. Florida had overruled the 2 cases that underpinned Alabama's law, basically knocking out any legal foundation for Alabama's system. But procedural obstacles would have prevented the court from granting the stay of Brooks' execution, she wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer also wrote that SCOTUS has recognized that Alabama's sentencing scheme is much like and based on the one used in Florida that has been declared unconstitutional. "The unfairness inherent in treating this case differently from others which used similarly unconstitutional procedures only underscores the need to reconsider the validity of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote in the Brooks' opinion.

Sotomayor in a 2013 dissenting opinion in the case of Mario Dion Woodward, who was convicted in the shooting death of Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts, said it's time to look at Alabama's law again.

She noted that while Florida, Delaware and Alabama still had override laws at that time, Alabama judges were the only ones who were still using it. No one is on Delaware's death row as a result of an override and no death sentences have been imposed by override in Florida since 1999.

Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 112 times, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

"18 years have passed since we last considered Alabama's capital sentencing scheme, and much has changed since then," Sotomayor wrote. "Today, Alabama stands alone: No other State condemns prisoners to death despite the considered judgment rendered by a cross-section of its citizens that the defendant ought to live."



Fate of tape of alleged Pilkington confession lies in judge's hands

It is up to a Logan County judge whether or not a video that shows Brittany Pilkington allegedly confessing to killing her 3 children will be used in trial. After 2 days of testimony from both Logan County Prosecutors and Pilkington's defense attorneys earlier this week, both sides were given until Friday to file memorandums on the issue of whether a taped interview between Pilkington and Bellefontaine police should be used in trial.

A judge is expected to file his written decision in the next few weeks, according to Logan County Common Pleas Court records.

Brittany Pilkington, 24, of Bellefontaine has been charged with aggravated murder in the deaths of her 3 young sons over 13 months and faces the death penalty.

She's pleaded not guilty in the case and has been in a secluded cell at the Logan County Jail for more than a year since her arrest on Aug. 18, 2015.

(source: Dayton Daily News)


Death sentence upheld for Gary Kleypas in Pitt State student's 1996 rape and murder

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence of Gary Kleypas, who raped and murdered a Pittsburg State University student at her home in 1996.

Kleypas, Kansas' 1st death row inmate after lawmakers reinstated capital punishment, had to be tried twice for the rape, torture and murder of 20-year-old Carrie Williams in March 1996. His 1st capital murder conviction and death sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2001.

Jurors handed down a 2nd death sentence in 2008 after he was retried.

In a 166-page decision released Friday, the court said it found several errors - one of which required reversal of an attempted rape conviction - but that none warranted vacating Kleypas' capital murder conviction or death sentence.

Friday's ruling was written by Justice Marla Luckert. She is 1 of 5 Supreme Court justices seeking retention on Nov. 8.

Justice Lee Johnson dissented, saying the death penalty violated Kansas Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The decision marks the 3rd death sentence upheld by the court over the past year. It also has affirmed death sentences for Johnson County serial killer John Robinson Jr. - known for storing his victims' bodies in barrels - and for Scott Cheever, who fatally shot Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels during a drug raid in 2005.

Also on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld capital murder and aggravated arson convictions - but vacated an attempted rape conviction - of Douglas Belt, who sexually assault and decapitated Wichita housekeeper Lucille Gallegos in 2002.

Because Belt died in prison in April before his appeal could be heard, the court looked only at issues that could lead to his exoneration. The court held that the attempted rape conviction and the sentence attached to it must be thrown out because it was multiplicitous with his capital murder conviction.

The Kansas state Legislature reinstated capital punishment, by lethal injection, in 1994.

No one has been executed in Kansas since 1965. 10 men currently are on death row.


These 10 men are facing death sentences in Kansas (with county and year of sentencing in parentheses). They are listed chronologically in order of when their crimes were committed. An eleventh died in prison earlier this year while waiting for his appeal to be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court.

-- Gary Kleypas (Crawford County, 2008): For the March 30, 1996, rape and murder of 20-year-old Carrie Williams, a Pittsburg State University student. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned his sentence in 2001, but another jury condemned him to death again in 2008. His 2nd death sentence was upheld Friday.

-- John E. Robinson Sr. (Johnson County, 2002): For the murders of Izabel Lewicka and Suzette Trouten, whose bodies were found in barrels on his property in rural Linn County. He was also sentenced to life in prison for killing Lisa Stasi, who disappeared in 1985 and was never found. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in November 2015.

-- Jonathan and Reginald Carr (Sedgwick County, 2002): For 4 shooting deaths in Wichita during a crime spree in December 2000. Found guilty of invading a home, sexually abusing the 5 residents, forcing them to withdraw money from ATMs, then shooting them in a soccer field. Killed were Jason Befort, Brad Heyka, Heather Muller and Aaron Sander. The Kansas Supreme Court threw out their death sentences but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision and sent the cases back for further review in 2015.

-- Douglas Belt (Sedgwick County, 2004): For the June 25, 2002, sexual assault and decapitation of Lucille Gallegos in a vacant west Wichita apartment, where she was a housekeeper. Belt died in prison in April 2016, before his appeal could be heard. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed to take up issues that could lead to Belt's exoneration and upheld his capital murder conviction Friday.

-- Sidney Gleason (Barton County, 2006): For the shooting deaths of Miki Martinez and her boyfriend, Darren Wornkey, on Feb. 24, 2004. Prosecutors said Gleason and his cousin Damian Thompson worried that Martinez would tell police about their involvement in the stabbing and robbery of a 76-year-old man. The Kansas Supreme Court threw out his death sentence but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision and sent the case back for further review in 2015.

-- Scott Cheever (Greenwood County, 2007): For the January 2005 shooting of Sheriff Matt Samuels at a home near Virgil, where authorities also found a suspected methamphetamine lab. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned Cheever's conviction in 2012, saying his right against self-incrimination was violated by prosecutors who used a court-ordered mental evaluation from a different trial against him. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision, noting that Cheever's own expert raised the issue of whether methamphetamine use had damaged his brain. The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Cheever's death sentence in July 2016.

-- Justin Thurber (Cowley County, 2009): For the January 2007 abduction, sexual assault and killing of 19-year-old college student Jodi Sanderholm. Her body was found in a wooded area near where her car had been sunk in a lake. His appeal hasn't been heard yet by the Kansas Supreme Court. - James Kraig Kahler (Osage County, 2011): For the November 2009 murders of his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; her grandmother, 89-year-old Dorothy Wight; and the Kahlers' daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. Kahler was reportedly upset that his wife had allegedly taken a female lover and filed for divorce. His appeal hasn't been heard yet by the Kansas Supreme Court.

-- Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. (Johnson County, 2015): For the April 2014 shooting deaths of 3 people outside Kansas City-area Jewish sites. His appeal hasn't been heard yet by the Kansas Supreme Court.

-- Kyle Trevor Flack (Franklin County, 2016): For the shooting deaths of 3 adults and an 18-month-old child. His appeal hasn't been heard yet by the Kansas Supreme Court.

(source: Wichita Eagle)


Man Accused of Attacks on Homeless Ruled Mentally Incompetent to Stand Trial

A man accused of attacking 5 homeless men in various San Diego neighborhoods, killing 3 of them, is mentally incompetent to stand trial, a judge ruled Friday.

In a report to Judge Steven Stone, a court-appointed doctor said that Jon David Guerrero refused to be interviewed regarding his competency and the conversations with the defendant were limited.

A 2nd report recommended the involuntary administration of anti- psychotic medications to Guerrero.

The judge ordered Guerrero sent to Patton State Hospital for up to 3 years or until his competency is restored.

Guerrero, 39, 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.

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 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 to the scene 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 4 days later.

There are no indications that the suspect knew the victims, according to police.

The most recent attack happened shortly after 4:30 a.m. on July 15, when 2 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.



White supremacist could face death sentence in Oregon jail murder

A jury convicted the gang member of killing a fellow inmate with a homemade knife while the 2 were at the county jail in Salem in 2013.

A member of a white supremacist gang faces a possible death sentence after being convicted of aggravated murder in the killing of a fellow inmate.

A Marion County jury this week unanimously decided David Bartol stabbed Gavin Siscel with a homemade knife while the 2 were at the county jail in 2013. The Statesman Journal reports the victim was serving a 30-day sentence for contempt of court while Bartol was awaiting trial for a robbery.

The penalty phase of Bartol's trial began Wednesday and could last until mid-November. Jurors will consider whether Bartol should be sentenced to death. If given the penalty, Bartol would join 34 others on Oregon's death row.

Regardless of the punishment, the 45-year-old Bartol is unlikely to ever leave prison. Earlier this year, he was sentenced to 55 years in prison after a Portland jury found him guilty of attempted murder in a torture attack on 2 fellow Krude Rude Brood gang members.

In the jail homicide, authorities said Bartol made a shank and used it to stab Siscel in the eye while Siscel was watching TV in a day room. Officials said it appeared to be a random attack.

Bartol's criminal record spans 3 decades. Previous court records listed Bartol as a Salem resident.

During Bartol's sentencing in Portland, his attorneys argued he didn't understand the severity of his crimes because he is intellectually disabled and has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Court records show similar defense arguments in the Marion County case.

(source: Associated Press)


Yes on 62, no on 66: Abolish the death penalty

When 2 death-penalty ballot propositions appear in the November election, it illustrates that the system needs to change. And the fact that the state has put 12 people to death in the past 20 years proves this true.

But speeding up this inhumane, reductive practice - as Proposition 66 asks - is not the right solution.

Instead, voters should approve Proposition 62 and abolish the death penalty.

When juries must decide the fate of their peers' lives, succumbing to internalized racial and gendered biases poses a huge problem - and that manifests when Black criminals are far likelier to be sentenced to death than white criminals convicted of the same crimes.

As it works now, inmates on death row spend their lives tied up in expensive legal battles as they live from appeal to appeal, bogging down courts and living on the edge. Proposition 66 would fix this problem by creating stricter deadlines for appeals - making them more difficult - and changing the appeals process.

But speeding up an often unjust process is the wrong answer, especially when exoneration of death-row inmates abounds.

Society should strive toward more justice, always, and speeding up a barbaric practice that is routinely misused won't do that.

Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on 66 - for a California that respects itself enough to stop its participation in state-sanctioned murder.

(source: Editorial Board, Daily California)


The end of the inevitability of the death penalty

Recently, Georgia executed Gregory Lawler. When he was pronounced dead at 11:49 p.m. on Oct. 19, he was the 17th person executed in the United States this year. Texas and Georgia are responsible for 14 of those executions.

By year's end, 2016 will have the fewest number of executions in a quarter century. Public support for the death penalty is at its lowest point since the U.S. Supreme Court suspended capital punishment in 1972. A Pew Research poll published last month revealed that only 49 % of Americans now favor execution as an appropriate form of punishment.

The death penalty is largely symbolic. Most states that have the death penalty don't execute those condemned. A handful of states carry out executions and a very small minority do so on a regular basis.

Lincoln Caplan recently wrote about the decline of the death penalty in Harvard Magazine. Citing the various works of professors Jordan and Carol Steiker, including the siblings' recent book "Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment," Caplan explains the difference between symbolic states and executing states.

Pennsylvania is a symbolic state: It has executed only three people since 1976, and each was a volunteer - they chose not to continue their appeals. On the other hand, Texas is an executing state. Officials there have executed 537 people since 1976.

But, ironically, the rate of death-sentencing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is higher than in Harris County, Texas, which has had more defendants executed than any other county in the country.

Caplan further writes that 8,124 people had been sentenced to death between 1977 and 2013. Only 17 percent of those condemned were executed. 6 % died by causes other than execution and 40 % received other dispositions, including reversals of their convictions. The rest - 37 % - were in prison. In California in 2014, a federal judge found that, of the 748 inmates then on death row, more than 40 % had been there for more than 20 years.

In fact, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a 2015 dissent - joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - in Glossip v. Gross that it was "highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

The stage has been set for a dramatic confrontation with state-sponsored death. Capital punishment will be tested on Election Day in 3 states. The outcomes of those ballot measures will no doubt have an impact on the future of the death penalty.

In Nebraska, the issue pits the Republican governor against a bipartisan majority in the legislature. A coalition of lawmakers last year repealed the death penalty with the rallying cry of cost and the claim that the death penalty is not a deterrent. The governor is now strongly supporting a ballot measure where voters will be asked to reinstate capital punishment.

In Oklahoma, ardent supporters of the death penalty hope to protect it through a ballot initiative. The state has a long history of capital punishment and not all of it positive. The state has had several highly publicized botched executions and Justice Breyer's stunning dissent came in an Oklahoma case.

Oklahoma has not carried out an execution in 2016, and last fall 52 % of Oklahomans said in a News 9 poll that they support life-without-parole as an alternative to execution. State Ballot Question 776 appears to be the effort of legislators to prevent what happened in Nebraska from happening in Oklahoma.

Finally, California voters will face 2 competing initiatives on Election Day. Proponents of Proposition 62 say the state has spent $5 billion maintaining the legal and physical apparatus of capital punishment while executing only 13 people in 38 years.

Advocates for Proposition 66 want to "mend, not end" capital punishment by changing appellate rules to expedite capital cases, reduce the costs of the death penalty and the size of death row.

To paraphrase a famous English statesman, this may not be the end of the death penalty - may be the beginning of the end - but surely the end of the inevitability of the death penalty.

(source: Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, "The Executioner's Toll, 2010," was recently released by McFarland


More Action Needed! - Stop Execution of Man With Mental Disability (Pakistan: UA 222/16)

Imdad Ali, a death row prisoner with a mental disability, is at imminent risk of execution. Pakistan's Supreme Court rejected on 20 October his latest appeal to halt the execution on the ground that he has paranoid schizophrenia. As a result another execution warrant might be issued imminently.

Imdad Ali was arrested for the murder of a religious teacher in 2001 and convicted in 2002 under 302(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code. In 2012, he was diagnosed with "paranoid schizophrenia". Dr. Naeemullah Leghari, the head of psychiatry at Nishtar Hospital in Multan who examined Imdad Ali, described his condition in a medical report as "a chronic and disabling psychiatric illness" that "impairs the person's rational thinking and decision-making capabilities." International law clearly prohibits the use of the death penalty on people with mental or intellectual disabilities.

On 20 October Imdad Ali's appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court, which does not consider schizophrenia as sufficient grounds to halt the execution according to Pakistani law. It is likely that another execution warrant - his 3rd since 2015 - will be issued imminently. He remains on death row in Vehari, Punjab province. A mercy petition to Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain, who has the direct authority to commute his death sentence, is still pending, and has the power to save Imdad Ali's life.

The Pakistani Supreme Court has also rejected Imdad Ali's appeal previously in 2015, ruling that there was no evidence of his mental disability. However, the Supreme Court's judgment shows that Imdad Ali's lawyer had not included the 2012 medical report diagnosing him with paranoid schizophrenia as evidence. This oversight raises fair trial concerns.


Write a letter, send an email, call, fax or tweet:

-- Urging the President of Pakistan to accept Imdad Ali's mercy petition and commute his death sentence, reminding him that international law clearly prohibits the use of the death penalty against people with mental or intellectual disabilities;

-- Urging the authorities to re-establish the official moratorium on all executions in the country as a 1st step towards the abolition of the death penalty, in line with 5 UN General Assembly resolutions adopted since 2007;

-- Calling on them to ensure that any measures taken to combat crime do not violate Pakistan's obligations under international human rights law and that all safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty are respected. Contact these 2 officials by 2 December, 2016:

President of Pakistan

Honourable Mr Mamnoon Hussain

President's Secretariat

Islamabad, Pakistan

Fax: +92 51 920 8479

Salutation: Your Excellency

H.E. Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani

Embassy of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan

3517 International Ct NW, Washington DC 20008

Fax: 1 202 686 1534 I Phone: 1 202 243 6500 Ext. 2000 & 2001


Salutation: Dear Ambassador

(source: Amnesty International USA)


No noose----Criminologist warns that hanging will not stop crime

A recent study by this country's Criminal Justice Unit shows that 80 % of Barbadians support the retention of the death penalty on this country's statute books.

However, Kim Ramsay, a senior researcher with the Government-run unit, Wednesday night warned that this strong retentionist sentiment, which she expects local politicians to pay attention to, "comes into conflict with the broad jurisdiction of international human rights tribunals".

The island has been under pressure from international organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to do away with the death penalty, which was deemed too harsh and said to be in breach of international law.

Back in 2014, Government had announced plans to abolish the mandatory death sentence for murder with Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite stating at the time that he expected strong opposition to the plan, as many believe the death penalty was an appropriate punishment.

Brathwaite had also promised that Government would engage the population in a big public debate before the proposal was tabled in Parliament.

"Barbadians generally feel that once you commit murder you should forfeit your lives, but that is until one of their family members is involved," Brathwaite had said.

"I know it will be a battle but . . . . I believe that it is a better path for the country," he added at the time.

However, the provision remains on the statute books and delivering a lecture here last night on criminal justice, Ramsay revealed that an overwhelming number of Barbadians want it to remain there.

"80 % of our Barbadians, based on a study we did, indicated that they want the death penalty retained.

"So this retentionist sentiment, which obviously politicians have to pay attention to, comes into conflict with the broad jurisdiction of international human rights tribunals," she said, while warning that Britain has also been waving a big stick over this island's trade.

Therefore, "'if you do not comply with what I say, then we start to pull away things from you,'" she said in reference to pressure from the UK, while further cautioning that "it puts us in a very precarious position".

Ramsay, a criminologist of 14 years experience, went on to suggest that this was one of the reasons "why we have not had any executions since 1984".

She also explained why she differed with most Barbadians on the use of the death penalty, which remains on the island's statute books as the automatic punishment for convicted murderers, even though no one has been hanged here in 32 years.

"I don't believe that the death penalty is effective in reducing our criminal problems," she said, adding that she was yet to see how executions of condemned criminals would reduce crime in any jurisdiction.

"There is crime in any country, no matter what systems you have in place," she insisted, while highlighting the fact that the Caribbean has one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas.

"I have to agree with the international agencies, the international rights, the treaties that we've signed on to," Ramsay said while adding that she was a firm believer in dealing with problems at the root.

However, she argued that "a lot of our problems are societal problems.

"I think that is how we need to address crime, from a societal point, as opposed to coming in at the back end," she said.

(source: Barbados Today)


New hearing set in death penalty capital murder appeal

Another hearing has been scheduled concerning an appeal of the capital murder conviction of Micah Crofford Brown.

Brown remains in custody at the Hunt County Detention Center after being transferred from state prison in April.

A status hearing concerning the appeal which had been scheduled July 1 was not conducted, due to an elevator fire which forced the evacuation of the Hunt County Courthouse.

A hearing is now set in the court on Jan. 5, 2017.

Brown, 37, of Greenville, was convicted in May 2013 and sentenced to death by lethal injection in connection with the 2011 murder of Stella Michelle "Doc" Ray.

He does not yet have an execution date scheduled.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the conviction and sentence, but a separate post conviction writ was filed by the Office of Capital Writs, listing multiple alleged issues with Brown’s conviction and sentence, including ineffective assistance by the trial and appeals defense attorneys, improper arguments by prosecutors during the punishment phase, and failure to present evidence during the punishment phase that Brown suffers from an Autism Spectrum Disorder, which may have mitigated the jury's decision to issue the death penalty.

The First Administrative Judicial Region has appointed 196th District Court Judge J. Andrew Bench to oversee the proceedings.

(source: Herald Banner)


State Supreme Court suspends death penalty

For the 2nd time this year, a court has ruled that Florida's death penalty statute is unconstitutional.

This time, it was the Florida Supreme Court, handing down a pair of historic rulings on Oct. 14 that shifted Florida into the legal mainstream and are expected to cut the number of people sent to death row.

Florida has not executed anyone since Jan. 7 because of uncertainty about its death penalty, and Friday’s rulings are expected to extend that moratorium indefinitely.

'A clear outlier'

In the 1st case, the Florida high court threw out the death penalty given to a Pensacola killer, Timothy Lee Hurst, because jurors had not unanimously recommended it. Their vote was 7-5.

In the 2nd case, the court ruled that the Florida Legislature botched its rewrite of the statute this year. The problem: The new law required just 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence.

"The Florida Supreme Court said today that is has to be unanimous under Florida law," said Stephen K. Harper, a death penalty specialist at Florida International University College of Law.

Until the Oct. 14 rulings, Florida was 1 of 3 states that did not require a unanimous jury recommendation in death penalty cases.

The high court said that made the state "a clear outlier."

Called historic

As a consequence of last Friday's rulings, Florida currently has no death penalty.

Former Circuit Judge O.H. "Bill" Eaton Jr. called the rulings historic, pointing out that for the 1st time in 44 years, no inmates will be sent to Florida's death row without all 12 members of a jury agreeing that that is the right punishment.

In the Hurst case, the high court ruled that the defendant must be given a new sentencing hearing.

Still unclear, though, is what will happen to the other inmates on Florida's death row and to murderers given the death penalty under the new statute, which was signed into law March 7 by Gov. Rick Scott.

Blow to Bondi

Some attorneys had urged the court to automatically convert all Florida death sentences to life in prison, but the recent opinions did not order that.

The new rulings were a blow not just to the Florida Legislature but also to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who had defended the old and new laws.

Both of the Oct. 14 rulings were a consequence of an opinion handed down Jan. 12 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional because it required a judge - not a jury - to decide whether a defendant should be put to death.

Bondi had argued that the error was harmless, but in that January ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court disagreed but left it to the Florida Supreme Court to hash out who, if anyone, was harmed.

Huge backlog?

The Florida Supreme Court answered that question last Friday, but only in part. Hurst was harmed, the court wrote, so he should be resentenced.

It was silent about all other death penalty cases.

Belvin Perry Jr., former chief judge of the Orange-Osceola circuit, predicted that all 385 death-row inmates would now file paperwork, arguing that they, too, were harmed.

It might mean a huge backlog for the Florida Supreme Court and for trial courts, he said.

But Harper and Eaton predicted the rulings could apply to far fewer cases, primarily those with active appeals and those that have not gone to trial.

All 3 legal experts faulted members of the Florida Legislature. Eaton said they had been warned repeatedly since 2000 that they needed to rewrite the statute to require unanimous jury recommendations.

Opposed by speaker

The next speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, attacked Friday's ruling as "a miscarriage of justice ... and dangerous for our state."

"We will take a close look at today's rulings and consider our options going forward," he said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Scott wrote in an email that his office was reviewing the rulings. That was the same message from the office of outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and his successor, Joe Negron.

A spokesman for Bondi wrote the same thing, adding, "In the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty."

(source: Florida Courier)


Botched executions argue for restrictions on Florida's death penalty

Florida has sent a lot of despicable people to the state's execution chamber. Men like Ted Bundy, Danny Rolling, and Oscar Ray Bolin made the world a little brighter by their forced departures from this planet.

I hate to admit this, but I won't grieve if Dontae Morris joins them for murdering 2 Tampa police officers. If we're going to have capital punishment, it was made for offenses like that.

But the real question is, should we have it at all?

Florida likes to mete out the ultimate measure of societal retribution. Since 1979, when John Spenkelink was dragged to the electric chair, Florida has executed 90 men and 2 women.

That ranks 4th in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

As of this writing, 386 people are housed on the state's death row. All but 4 are men. There are 221 white males and 149 black men awaiting their final walk.

So what, you ask? These are bad people and we have a law that allows the state to kill them. It's the ol' eye-for-an-eye concept. If one of my family members or friends were a victim of 1st-degree murder, you betcha I would want to see justice served.

Like anyone else, though, I also would want to know with certainty that we had the right guy. Therein lies the problem.

According to , Florida leads the nation with 26 death sentences that were overturned when new evidence was presented. That means juries and prosecutors can get it wrong.

Sending 1 innocent person to death row is disturbing enough, but 26 is a travesty.

Maybe that's why we ought to pay attention when a report from Harvard University judged Hillsborough and Pinellas as 2 of 16 counties nationwide that are "outliers" for the large number of people they send to death row.

Translation: We appear a little too eager to sentence people to death.

Look, I get it, death sentences are society's way of saying that if you take someone's life, the state will take yours. That's been a popular sentiment for many years. Public opinion, though, is changing.

According to the Pew Research Center last month, support for capital punishment fell 7 % points last year to 49 %. That is the 1st time in 45 years that it has been below 50 %.

It is even more pronounced in our fair state. California researcher Craig Haney said a poll he conducted showed nearly 58 % of Floridians favor life without parole to the death penalty.

Why the shift? I think the number of botched executions, both here and nationwide, combined with the lengthy time it takes to actually carry out the sentence has made people believe there has to be a better way.

I don't think you can just look at the actual execution in a vacuum, either. The march to the death chamber, on average, takes about 15 years from the time an inmate is sentenced. Many have been there much longer, waiting 23 1/2 hours a day in a 6- by 9-foot cell with no air conditioning.

Some inmates have dropped their appeals, preferring death to living like that.

I wonder whether keeping the death penalty for only the worst of the worst offenses - terrorists like Tim McVeigh or anyone who kills a police officer - is a better way. Or maybe just scrap it all together.

The death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent, but the number of people awaiting execution suggests otherwise. So lock them up and never let them out, because our society says killing people is wrong - no matter who does the killing.

(source: Column, Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times)


Prosecutor seeks death penalty in killing of Arkansas deputy -- Family of victim consulted

The state of Arkansas will seek the death penalty against a rural Greenwood man who is charged with killing a deputy who answered a disturbance call.

Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue informed Circuit Judge J. Michael Fitzhugh of his decision in a letter filed Monday in the court case of Billy Monroe Jones.

Jones, 35, is charged with one count of capital murder in the shooting death of Sebastian County sheriff's Deputy Bill Cooper; 10 counts of attempted capital murder in the shooting at other law enforcement officers, including Hackett Police Chief Darrell Spells, who was grazed in the head by a bullet; 1 count of possession of firearms by certain persons; and 1 count of killing or injuring animals used by law enforcement or search and rescue dogs for the wounding of Kina, the Greenwood police dog who suffered gunshot wounds while sitting in a patrol car.

Jones has pleaded innocent to the charges. A trial date has not been set.

In the letter to Fitzhugh, Shue wrote that he considered the sufficiency of the evidence tying Jones to the crimes, the seriousness of the offense, Jones' culpability and mental state, his criminal record, aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and a potential victim-impact evidence.

"After consulting with law enforcement and the victim's family and considering the above listed factors, the state of Arkansas will be seeking the death penalty at this time and I am so advising the court," the letter said.

Cooper, 66, a 15-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was fatally shot about 7:15 a.m. Aug. 10 while responding to a disturbance call on Jones' family property at 4722 S. Highway 253 in rural Sebastian County. He died 6 hours later in a Fort Smith hospital.

According to reports, Jones fired from inside his home through small openings using an assault-style rifle and kept at bay law enforcement officers who converged on the property in response to the report that Cooper had been shot.

Many of the officers who were fired on were in groups formed to pull Cooper and Spells from the line of fire.

Jones refused to negotiate a surrender, and a standoff lasted 4 1/2 hours. At one point, officers sent in a robot to try to determine Jones' location, but Jones shot and disabled it, authorities said. Several law enforcement vehicles were damaged by gunfire.

Finally, an armored vehicle was backed up to Jones' front door and he surrendered.

Investigators from local, federal and state agencies searched Jones' home after his arrest and found nearly 60 spent bullet casings and 11 guns, including a Bushmaster XM15 semi-automatic rifle believed to have been used to shoot Cooper, Spells and Kina.

(source: Arkansas Online)


Prosecutor Turned Death Penalty Critic to Keynote Law Review Symposium

In 1984, A.M. "Marty" Stroud led the capital prosecution of Glenn Ford, who was convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death. Ford subsequently spent nearly 30 years on death row at Angola State Penitentiary. On March 11, 2014, Ford was exonerated and walked off death row. He died from lung cancer on June 29, 2015.

In a 2015 op-ed for The Shreveport Times, Stroud wrote, "I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie And Justice for All, 'Winning became everything.'"

Stroud will serve as keynote speaker for The Future of the Death Penalty, a symposium sponsored by the Arkansas Law Review. The symposium will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, in the law school's E.J. Ball Courtroom and will also feature panels with nationally respected experts. 12 guest scholars and practitioners will discuss arguments supporting and opposing the continuance of the death penalty in America.

Stroud's work toward putting a stop to the killing human beings in the name of justice has garnered him a place in the national debate about the continued use of the death penalty. He received the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Champion of Justice Award, and he has spoken to a variety of groups and media outlets about his experiences. He has appeared on 60 Minutes, 20/20 and CNBC and has been a guest on NPR and National Public Radio in Canada.

In the same 2015 op-ed Stroud wrote, "Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago. But I wasn't, and my inaction contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this matter. Based on what we had, I was confident that the right man was being prosecuted and I was not going to commit resources to investigate what I considered to be bogus claims that we had the wrong man.

"My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me."

Stroud was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He graduated from St. Louis University in 1973 and graduated with honors from Louisiana State University School of Law in 1976. After law school, he served as a law clerk for the Hon. Tom Stagg in the Western District of Louisiana. He then worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of Louisiana for 6 years, the last 2 of which he was chief of the criminal section. Subsequently, he became the first assistant district attorney in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and served in that office for 6 years.

In private practice since 1989, Stroud has general trial practice in the federal, state and local courts of Louisiana. He is a member of the Bars of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Western, Middle and Eastern District Courts of Louisiana.

The Arkansas Law Review Symposium is worth 6 hours of continuing legal education credit, and the public is invited to attend. Admission is free but registration is requested.

(source: Univ. Arkansas News)


SQ 776 stirs controversy over death penalty

The measure on the Nov. 8 ballot would make the use of the death penalty a part of the state's constitution. Opposing sides on the issue can't seem to agree on what impact the change would have on the death penalty.

The slogan of the opposition is 'Think Twice,' which could also apply to simply understanding what State Question 776 is about.

The measure on the Nov. 8 ballot would make the use of the death penalty a part of the state's constitution. Opposing sides on the issue can't seem to agree on what impact the change would have on the death penalty.

"It doesn't actually change the death penalty at all, that's the thing," said SQ 776 opponent Abraham Bonowitz, who hosted an informational event on the issue. "State Question 776 is not an up or down question on the death penalty; it's a question of whether we want to put the death penalty into the constitution."

State Rep. Mike Ritze said the bill adds into the constitution "what's already in the statute." He supports the initiative, which he says would allow the legislature to designate which type of executions take place.

"There really was not anything in the constitution, there was in the statutes, that basically codifies the death penalty," he said.

Frank Thompson, who conducted 2 executions in Oregon, says we 'have to be careful about messing with" the state constitution.

"Public policies need to be in a position where they can be easy, readily, and timely corrected, and when you put it in your constitution, that sort of mitigates against that ability," he said.

(source: KTUL news)


Death penalty raises issues

Does the fear of death enter into the mind of a criminal when he or she is planning or committing acts of violence? Some would argue that it does, and, as a result, they would claim any person inclined to commit an evil act, for fear of the death penalty, would have a change of mind and decide not to commit the intended crime.

Those in favor of placing the most heinous criminals to death would also ask us to recall all those injured by the most terrible amongst us. And it is true, there is no argument at all, unnecessary evil occurs every day, and some of the most terrible amongst us have caused a heartbreaking amount of destruction, pain, agony and sorrow.

Nevertheless, others would argue that the fear of death does not have any impact on whether a person is going to commit a monstrous act. They would reason that such an act is based upon the circumstances of the event.

For example, all people entangled in the distribution and/or consumption of illegal drugs presumably know that the risks involved in their chosen pursuit includes the risk of death, from many sources, including all others involved in the same pursuit. Yet, illegal drug participants remain involved in the criminal activity despite the fatal risks.

Those opposed to the death penalty would also argue that any person who is a minor, incompetent, mentally ill, alcohol or drug induced, and/or mentally underdeveloped is unlikely to change any given behavior for fear of death. That these individuals are incapable of evaluating the consequences of their actions, and therefore, they are incapable of changing their behavior even when the result is death.

Those supporting and opposing a death penalty will point to polls that lend value to their respective positions. These public surveys in all likelihood will be dissected by race, gender, income and political affiliation. Each side will also argue the history of the death penalty drawing attention to the constitutional basis, rational and limitations.

Certainly, each side will debate the Eighth Amendment of the Bill of Rights having to do with "cruel and unusual punishment," and the corresponding decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and various state supreme courts.

There will be an examination of what is done around the world in other societies. What is done elsewhere will be measured against our local standards and customs. There will also be countless examples of victims in pursuit of justice and innocents wrongfully condemned.

There will be a great deal of purpose and admonition on every side.

Those opposed to the death penalty will undoubtedly cite the moral or religious implications of such action, such as "2 wrongs do not make a right" or "thou shalt not kill." Those in favor of the death penalty will argue with equal passion "an eye for an eye" or "if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee." And like a sermon, there will be the most assured rebuttal of "turn the other cheek" or "let anyone amongst you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone."

What is the right answer, then? There is a lot to ponder!

Does the death penalty really reduce violent crime or are we just getting rid of one more bad person in the world? Does it really prevent or dissuade criminals or does it satisfy our sense of retribution against someone that committed a depraved, immoral act? What will satisfy our sense of justice: death, or life in prison without the possibility of parole where a person would have a lifetime to think about their actions?

As in all life or death decisions, the debate is detailed, complicated and replete with valid or invalid support, depending on your position.

There are no easy answers. But, hopefully, the outcome will be weighed, debated, considered and assessed in a manner worthy of a decision of such magnitude.

(source: Opinion; Frank A. Sedillo is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court----Albuquerque Journal)


Prop. 66's 'speed-up' in death penalty won't work

In November, voters get to decide whether to abolish the death penalty (Proposition 62), or to create a mechanism to try to "speed it up" (Proposition 66).

San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos encourages voters to vote for Proposition 66, to get the death train back on track. There is a certain dark elegance to Proposition 66, because it gives the illusion of a streamlined process.

I do not presume to guess what will help the family members of murder victims gain some measure of comfort after their ordeal. I also do not have the hubris to believe that I can change the core beliefs of death penalty supporters.

But I can tell you this. The death penalty is different from any other criminal sanction. The government can unwind erroneous non-capital convictions, but it cannot un-execute an innocent person. Nationally, there have been 344 exonerations through DNA testing alone ( In California, there have been 166 exonerations since 1989 (National Registry of Exonerations), and 3 were on death row ( California courts understand that "death is different," and they carefully, but not flawlessly, scrutinize death verdicts.

The poorly conceived Proposition 66 will do nothing but create another layer of litigation in capital cases. If the goal is to give families of murder victims some "closure," the better solution is to have death row prisoners serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole (LWOP). With an LWOP sentence, the condemned would join the ranks of 4,500 other nameless, forgotten prisoners who never get a parole hearing, who never have abolitionists taking up their cause, and who are scheduled to simply, and unceremoniously, die behind bars.

(source: Guest Commentary; Suzy Israel is a criminal defense attorney with Brown White & Osborn LLP, Redlands. She is a former deputy public defender for San Bernardino County----San Bernardino Sun)


Making California's death penalty more like Texas' is a mistake

Proposition 66 is an ill-conceived attempt to fix California's failed death penalty system, and its poorly written provisions will increase the risk of executing the innocent. The initiative proposes to re-make California's capital punishment process to be more like the "fast track" in Texas, even at a time when Texas, to its credit, has begun to seriously investigate the unreliability of certain forms of forensic science evidence and the problem of prosecutorial misconduct that has led to wrongful convictions and executions of the innocent.

Cameron Todd Willingham was one of those innocent people. In 1991, Willingham's house caught fire and tragically killed his 3 little girls. Willingham tried to save his daughters, but the fire rapidly engulfed the house. Using invalid science, the fire marshals incorrectly testified that Willingham spread accelerant throughout his house and intentionally set the fire. A jailhouse snitch, claiming he was promised nothing, also testified to a "confession." Willingham was convicted of arson murder and sentenced to death.

Willingham's innocence became clear as arson science evolved. Days before his execution in 2004, one of the world's leading arson scientists submitted a report informing the courts and the governor that the conviction was based on flawed science that had been discredited for more than a decade. But the execution proceeded anyway.

Since then, the nation's leading fire scientists and the Texas Forensic Science Commission have reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and agreed it was unreliable. The Texas State Fire Marshal has begun a review of old arson cases. And the Texas Bar has brought disciplinary charges against the prosecutor who tried Willingham's case because a deal with the jailhouse snitch was not disclosed to the defense.

Exonerations in capital cases are not rare lightning strikes. Since 1989, California exonerated three men sentenced to death in the same period that it executed 13 individuals. A 2014 study by the National Academy of Sciences recently calculated a false conviction rate in capital cases of "at least" 4.1 %. Prop. 66 would increase the chance of executing innocent people by stripping away protections that prevent unjust executions. It would sharply limit the ability of defendants to introduce new evidence of innocence. It would require inexperienced attorneys to take on death penalty cases, increasing the likelihood of mistakes, while impairing the rights of individuals to raise these concerns in court.

Ensuring innocent people are not executed takes time; Prop. 66 cuts that time short. Seven of the last 10 exonerations across the country occurred 25 years or more after the death sentence was imposed. Prop. 66 attempts to rush executions by enforcing arbitrary time limits for appeals and preventing courts from considering new evidence.

Prop. 66 has other unintended consequences as well. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Prop. 66 will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars with additional "unknown" costs in the future. The initiative will add 2 more layers of government bureaucracy by requiring local county courts to handle death penalty appeals first, before sending those cases to the state Supreme Court, potentially causing more delays.

Truth be told, the best way to prevent the execution of the innocent, save $150 million annually of taxpayer money and relieve overburdened courts is to vote "yes" on Prop. 62, which repeals the death penalty and substitutes life without the possibility of parole. In contrast, Prop. 66 promises a "speed up" that will never happen, values expediency over fairness and accuracy, dramatically increases costs and assures that California will execute the innocent - a morally intolerable event by anyone's calculus. Vote "no" on Prop. 66.

(source: Guest Commentary; Barry Scheck co-founded the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law----Orange County Register)


End the death penalty

Like America itself, the death penalty has a racist past it has yet to reckon with.

Some of the 1st capital crime laws in the colonies were written in response to a New York slave riot in 1712, when a group of slaves broke free and killed some white people. 21 slaves were sentenced to death, 20 being executed by burning and one died on a breaking wheel.

Many Southern states saw execution as a fitting punishment to crimes like bruising their owners. This mentality of capital punishment as social control of black people has stayed in the national mentality.

"If the death penalty were to be removed from our statute-book, the tendency to commit deeds of violence would be heightened owing to this negro problem," Arkansas governor George Hays said in 1927. In the face of race riots in the '60s, figures like George Wallace emboldened law enforcement to call for the death penalty to keep the "urban" population in check.

These instances of covert and overt racism in the justice system led to a death penalty that exists to protect white people and punish people of color.

Though worse in the South, a Santa Clara Law study found that while white Californians only represent about a quarter of homicide victims, people who kill white people make up 50 % of the offenders given the death penalty.

This not only shatters the misguided argument that All Lives Matter in the eye of the law, it exposes the arbitrary way the death penalty is applied to homicide cases. With capital punishment applied at the prosecutor's discretion, systemic inequalities can easily continue, and this means the state should cease to participate in the killing of its own citizens, especially when it has cost taxpayers billions of dollars since being reinstituted in 1978.

Proposition 66 would streamline a mechanism that is fundamentally broken, taking away the right of individuals to challenge their guilt before being put to death in a system that has been wrong far too often to be considered infallible. The Experience encourages you to Vote 'yes' on Prop 62 and 'no' on 66. End injustice, don't hasten it.

(source: Editorial, Los Medanos College)


Krude Rude Brood gang member found guilty in fatal jail stabbing

A Marion County jury unanimously found a 45-year-old man and member of the Krude Rude Brood gang guilty of fatally stabbing a fellow inmate while incarcerated in 2013.

Following an almost month-long trial, David Ray Bartol was found guilty of aggravated murder and may face the death penalty, according to the Marion County District Attorney's Office.

Bartol was accused of stabbing Gavin Siscel, 33, to death with a homemade knife in the Marion County jail's day room. Siscel was serving a 30-day sentence for contempt of court at the time of the attack.

Bartol had been incarcerated since March 2013 while awaiting trial for a robbery. The day before he stabbed Siscel, Bartol was arraigned on attempted murder charges in connection with a January home invasion shooting in South Salem.

The Oregonian reported that, during a separate trial, Multnomah County prosecutors said Bartol braided together and melted the threads of his jail uniform and formed them into a shank. He repeatedly pounded the shank into Siscel's eye with a sandal.

Siscel died 5 days later. Officials said it appeared to be a random assault rather than a fight that escalated.

In August, a Multnomah County jury found Bartol guilty of 24 counts - including aggravated attempted murder and kidnapping - for torturing 2 fellow Krude Rude Brood gang members. Bartol was accused of sanding gang members' tattoos off, injecting them with heroin and shooting them. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Bartol's arrest record spans almost 3 decades and includes convictions for attempted murder, robbery and assault. Previous court records listed Bartol as Salem resident.

During his sentencing in Multnomah County, Bartol's defense attorneys argued that he didn't understand the severity of his crimes because he is intellectually disabled and has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The Krude Rude Brood, a White supremacist gang, became notorious in Portland for dealing methamphetamine and torturing its enemies, according to The Oregonian. The gang's leader, David Corbit, 49, is currently serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison for drug trafficking and assault convictions.

The penalty phase of Bartol's trial began Wednesday and could last until mid-November. Jurors will consider whether Bartol should be sentenced to death for Siscel's murder. If given the death penalty, Bartol would join 34 others on Oregon's death row.

(source: Statesman Journal)


Look again at death penalty

And she believes this is the opportune time to do so.

Ramsay told attendees at a lecture hosted by the Criminal Justice Research Unit on Wednesday night, that the country continues to face pressure from donor countries over the retention of the death penalty.

"80 % of all Barbadians, based on a study we did, indicated that they want the death penalty retained. So this retention sentiment, which obviously politicians have to pay attention to, comes into conflict with the broad jurisdiction of international human rights tribunals, and we're also getting pressure from Great Britain," she said.

(source: Nation News)


Prisoner Executed on Drug Related Charges

A prisoner sentenced to death on drug related charges was reportedly executed on the morning of Tuesday October 18 at Miandoab Prison (West Azerbaijan province, northwestern Iran).

According to close sources, the prisoner has been identified as 39-year-old Fardin Soleimanpanah. Iranian authorities reportedly arrested Mr Soleimanpanah on May 5, 2015 for allegedly trafficking and possessing 600 grams of crystal meth and 150 grams of crack. He was sentenced to death by branch 1 of Miandoab's Revolutionary Court and the sentence was confirmed on August 2, 2016. Close sources say that Mr Soleimanpanah and another prisoner were transferred from their prison cells to solitary confinement on Monday in preparation for their executions. The other prisoner's death sentence was postponed for unknown reasons. Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have not announced Mr Soliemanpanah's execution.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Hongkonger could face death penalty over HK$723 million drug bust in China----More than 2 tons seized after tip-off from informant who donned "King of Monkey" mask as Guangdong officials announced shutdown of illicit factories

A Hongkonger could face the death penalty along with more than 10 others arrested in Guangdong province over the seizure of more than 2 tons of the drug Ice valued at HK$723.6 million that was reportedly destined for the city.

On a tip-off, mainland police confiscated 2,010kg of the drug, 2 imitation guns and more than 10 bullets along with manufacturing equipment when they shut down 2 illicit drug producing factories, according to the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department.

A Hong Kong government source said the haul had an estimated street value of HK$723.6 million. He believed the narcotics were not intended for local consumption because of the large amount.

"It is possible the Ice was destined for Australia or New Zealand, where it could be sold for 5 or 6 times what it would sell for in Hong Kong," the source said.

But he said the drug could be bought illegally for less than HK$50,000 per kg from illegal drug labs on the mainland.

It is understood 1/2 of the crystal meth, also known as Ice, confiscated in Australia and New Zealand in the past has come from the mainland via Hong Kong.

The massive seizure in Guangdong was partly based on a tip-off from an informant who received 30,000 yuan (HK$34,500) as a reward when the case was made public by mainland officials at a press conference on Thursday.

Last month mainland police set up a task force to investigate a drug-trafficking syndicate after identifying 3 men, including a Hongkonger surnamed Wong, who tried to produce crystal meth and smuggle it into Hong Kong, the Guangdong department said.

A department report stated mainland police raided a drug producing factory in Panyu in Guangdong last month and confiscated more than 1,110kg of drug Ice in solid and liquid forms along with raw materials and equipment.

"After the closure of the [Panyu] drug producing factory, Wong and his gang moved to Jieyang and other locations [in Guangdong] to continue drug-making activites," it said.

After an in-depth probe into its network and to track down the suspects, mainland police from Jieyang, Shanwei, Shenzhen and Guangzhou mounted a joint operation earlier this month and raided another drug producing factory in Jieyang where the Hongkonger and more than 10 suspects were arrested.

At the Jieyang factory, officers seized more than 90kg of crystal meth and another 810kg of the drug in liquid form along with manufacturing equipment.

Another source said it was possible the solution was being prepared either as a semi-finished product or for disguise as a detergent or shampoo to be smuggled out of the mainland to avoid detection.

The department said Guangdong police carried out a series of operations against drug-related activities this year. In the first 9 months of this year, they handled over 15,000 drug-related cases, arrested over 19,000 people, and confiscated more than 14,700kg of illegal drugs.

The sources said drug traffickers caught on the mainland could face the death penalty.

Hong Kong law enforcement officials seized 286kg of Ice in the first 7 months of this year, a 3.6 % uptick compared with 276kg over the same period last year.

On December 25, 2001, a Hong Kong drug lord and 4 of his associates in the city were sentenced to death by a mainland court for the production and smuggling of the world's largest haul of drug Ice.

In that case, Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court ruled that Chong Cho-sing, 40, was the leader of a narcotics ring that produced and trafficked more than 31 tons of "Ice" in factories they set up in Dongguan and Huizhou in Guangdong province, Wuhan in Hubei province, and Nanning in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, the court heard.

(source: South China Morning Post)


Chinese law experts oppose sentence of immediate execution

Several Chinese law experts have voiced their opposition to the immediate execution of a suspect who was sentenced to death for killing a village chief after his house was demolished, 20 days before his wedding.

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) approved the death sentence of Jia Jinglong, a villager in Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province, in August and the ruling was delivered to Jia's lawyer Wei Rujiu on Tuesday.

According to a copy of the SPC's verdict sent to the Global Times on Thursday, Jia bought and modified 3 nail guns after his house was demolished during the village's reconstruction campaign in 2013, and used them to kill He Jianhua, the village chief, in February 2015 for revenge.

The method of the murder was extremely cruel and caused severe social impact, said the ruling, adding that the conviction was appropriate and accurate.

However, Wei told the Global Times that Jia's house was maliciously removed, which was illegal, and directly led the man "who had lived a peaceful life" to commit a criminal homicide.

The order of immediate execution also sparked debates in China's legal field, with some professors arguing the penalty was too harsh.

"Apart from personal reasons, the killing was also an institutional failure. Any ordinary person could resort to the same means as Jia when facing unfair treatment," said Zhang Qianfan, a law professor with Peking University.

China strictly controls the death penalty and employs it with prudence, said a white paper in September, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The white paper, titled New Progress in the Judicial Protection of Human Rights in China, said China's stand on the death penalty is to ensure that it applies only to a very small number of extremely serious criminal offenders.

(source: Global Times)


Public executions on the rise in North Korea as Kim Jong Un worries about safety

The number of public executions in North Korea continues to rise under Kim Jong Un, according to Seoul's spy agency.

Pyongyang has staged 64 public executions in the first 9 months of 2016, Kyodo News agency reported on Thursday.

That figure is up from August, when the number of people publicly executed was 60, according to a source on North Korea.

Public executions are used as a means of controlling the population, as North Korea continues to require volunteer labor for state infrastructure projects.

The total count has doubled in 2016.

The changes indicate North Korea is no longer holding back despite international condemnations of its human rights record. Policy shifts may have occurred after the United Nations Security Council imposed tougher sanctions in March, according to Seoul intelligence.

(source: UPI)

OCTOBER 20, 2016:


Florida Supreme Court removes 2 longtime inmates from death row

A week after the Florida Supreme Court effectively halted executions in the state indefinitely, justices Thursday removed 2 longtime inmates from death row.

The court ordered a new trial for Jacob Dougan, 69, who has been on death row for more than 4 decades for a Jacksonville murder. He was accused of joining a handful of accomplices calling themselves the Black Liberation Army and randomly killing an 18-year-old white man.

In a rare unanimous decision, justices sided with a lower court in ordering a new trial for Dougan, citing a host of legal missteps in his original trial.

The lower court found his lawyer had a conflict of interest because he was cheating on his wife with Dougan's sister, who he later married.

Justices also agreed that prosecutors concealed evidence of a deal they had with another defendant in the case, who testified against Dougan.

In a separate 5-2 ruling, justices also ordered a new hearing for Frank Walls, 49, on death row for the 1987 murders of a couple at their Okaloosa County home during a burglary.

The majority agreed that Walls was entitled to having a court review his claim that his intellectual disability prevented him from receiving a fair trial. Walls has been assessed by doctors as functioning at the level of a 12-year-old and suffering from brain damage, brain dysfunction and major psychiatric disorders. The rulings follow a pair of decisions last week that threw out the state's existing death penalty sentencing law, likely halting executions at least for months in a state with nearly 400 death row inmates.

Justices said that juries must unanimously recommend death sentences before a judge can impose them and vacated the death sentence of Timothy Lee Hurst, convicted of killing a co-worker at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant in 1998.

In a separate decision involving Larry Darnell Perry, accused of killing his 3-month-old son in Central Florida in 2013, justices also blocked the law from being used in ongoing prosecutions - essentially freezing the death penalty in the state.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Lexington judge erred in prohibiting death penalty in murder trial, state Supreme Court rules

A Fayette Circuit Court judge erred when she decided to exclude the death penalty as a possible sentence in a murder and robbery trial last year, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine made headlines when she ruled in April 2015 that the death penalty would be a "disproportionate" punishment for Trustin Jones and Robert Guernsey in the 2013 shooting death of 23-year-old Derek Pelphrey, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

But in a unanimous opinion, the high court ruled Thursday that Goodwine should have heard evidence at trial before deciding whether the death penalty was appropriate.

"While the circuit court has the authority to determine whether a death sentence would be inherently disproportionate, the exercise of that power is proper only after the circuit court has heard all of the evidence relevant to the indicted charges, evidence subjected to the adversarial process in the guilt phase of the trial," the Supreme Court ruled.

In her pre-trial ruling, Goodwine noted that Pelphrey had a "significant amount of narcotics" on him when he was killed and the judge knew of no jury that had recommended capital punishment in a case involving suspected drug trafficking.

"The death penalty is the ultimate punishment and should be reserved and sought in cases involving only the most egregious set of facts one could possibly imagine," Goodwine ruled.

Goodwine also pointed out that then Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson sought the death penalty in every case that met the criteria.

"In the circuit court's view, this practice unnecessarily consumes time and resources that could be spent on other cases," Goodwine ruled, according to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court justices noted, however, that while the death penalty has "fallen into disfavor in recent years, it remains a viable penalty in Kentucky, authorized by our legislature in specific types of cases."

The case, which was put on hold awaiting a decision by the high court, has been sent back to Fayette Circuit Court.

(source: WDRB news)


Poll: California Measure To End Death Penalty In Danger, Most Other Propositions Have Strong Support

A statewide survey released Wednesday found almost all of California's 17 ballot measures are on track to pass next month, with the proposition to end the death penalty in California the only measure to have significant opposition.

The poll from Sacramento State's Institute for Social Research and its CALSPEAKS public-opinion project asked Californians about 14 ballot measures. A sample of 622 likely voters favored Proposition 67, the statewide plastic bag ban, 45-39, which was within the poll's 7 point margin of error, and opposed Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in the state, 45-37. All other propositions in the poll had comfortable support.

"Most striking in the big picture is that almost all of these are going to pass, if our polling is instructive," Institute for Social Research director David Barker said. "That's remarkable in our history. (Ballot measures) tend to fail more often than they pass."

More than 20 % of respondents were undecided in 8 of the propositions, with 34 % undecided over Proposition 59, which would advise the legislature to work towards a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. That U.S. Supreme Court decision cut back limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions.

"If you're a typical voter, there's a good chance you've never heard of Citizen's United," Barker said. "You can't respond to that with your gut."

The poll also found Attorney General Kamala Harris still has a double-digit lead against Rep. Lorerra Sanchez in their race for California's open U.S. Senate seat, 49-24. A previous CALSPEAKS poll found Harris had a 51-19 lead over Sanchez.

(source: KPBS news)


Possible return of death penalty in Turkey is condemned

The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates have signed a statement condemning the possible reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey.

A joint statement presented to the standing committee of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) by CCBE President Michel Benichou was signed by Scotland's 2 legal regulators.

The statement affirms the right to life is "an inalienable attribute of human beings" and "a supreme value in the international hierarchy of human rights".

The statement was also signed by other UK legal bodies, including the Bar Council of England and Wales, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland.



Netizens' reaction on the death penalty of Saudi Princess

After Saudi Arabia executed Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabir in the capital Riyadh for shooting dead Adel al-Mahemid, a Saudi, during a brawl, people widely shared a video on social media showing Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman saying that any citizen can sue the royal family.

Royal family member was executed after the family of the victim refused to accept millions of dollars to pardon the killer.

According to the news published in Arab News, Imam of Safa Mosque, Mohammed Al-Masloukhi described the last minutes of Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki Al-Kabeer, and confirmed that the family of Adel Al-Muhaimeed, the person that the prince had killed, declined to accept "blood money".

Meanwhile, Netizens' reacted to this execution and shared a video clip highlighting the previous speech by King Salman.

It is to be noted that tens of millions of riyals were offered to Adel Al-Muhaimeed's father, but he rejected.

After the execution, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal tweeted that he hoped Allah (SWT) will show mercy both to the victim and the killer.

It is to be mentioned that Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape and apostasy are all punishable by death.

The sentence reflected the kingdom's "fair justice system," Arab News quoted the victim's uncle Abdul Rahman al-Falaj as saying.



14 Prisoners Executed on Drug Charges at Ghezel Hesar Prison

14 prisoners were reportedly executed today on drug charges at Karaj's Ghezel Hesar Prison (Alborz province, northern Iran).

According to close sources, Iranian authorities hanged 14 prisoners at Ghezel Hesar Prison on the morning of Wednesday October 18. The prisoners were reportedly transferred to solitary confinement on Monday in preparation for their executions. According to close sources, some of the prisoners were transerred to Ghezel Hesar from Karaj and Fashavieh (Tehran) prisons. The names of the prisoners who were executed have been reported as the following: From unit 2, hall 2 and 3 of Ghezel Hesar Prison: Abbas Karami (charged with 40 kilograms of narcotics, was imprisoned for 5 years before he was executed), Hamid Saber, Hamid Babaie (was imprisoned for 9 years before he was executed), Hamid (Amir) Nazari (charged with 25 kilograms of heroin, was imprisoned for 8 years before he was executed, Peyman Sabalani (was imprisoned for 9 years before he was executed), Ganjali Chekezadeh (charged with 2 kilograms of crack, was imprisoned for 10 years before he was executed), Reza Sabzi, and Khodamali Pirzadeh. From Fashavieh Prison (Tehran): Khashiar Ahani and Mehdi Geravand. Karaj Central Prison: Saeed Zakaria and Morteza Amini, both from hall 2, Shahin Akbari, from hall 5, and Ali Akbari Reigi, from hall 4. These executions have not been announced or confirmed by Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary or the media. The 14 prisoners were executed at a time when the death penalty for drug-related charges is under review in the Iranian Judiciary.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Pakistan Supreme Court rules schizophrenia 'not a mental disorder' allowing mentally ill man to be executed----Judges say hanging Imdad Ali is legal because condition is 'a recoverable disease'

Pakistan's highest court has ruled that schizophrenia does not qualify as a "mental disorder" under the country's legal definition, paving the way for a mentally ill man's execution.

The United Nations warned it would be against international law to hang Imdad Ali, who was sentenced to death over the murder of a religious scholar in 2002.

In 2012, the 50-year-old was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis that doctors said impaired Mr Ali's 'rational thinking and decision-making capabilities", and was declared clinically insane in a medical report the following year.

But he lost his final appeal last year and has since had his execution stayed by a last-minute appeal lodged by his wife at the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, judges ruled that the execution can go ahead, after finding that Mr Ali's schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and varies according to the "level of stress".

Reprieve, a UK-based legal charity, said the court claimed that "it is, therefore, a recoverable disease, which, in all the cases, does not fall within the definition of 'mental disorder' as defined in the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001".

The decision Mr Ali could be executed as early as 26 October, despite a medical assessment in September concluding his illness appeared to be "treatment resistant".

Previously, the same court said a large proportion of prisoners in Pakistan suffer from mental illness and that authorities "cannot let everyone go".

Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said: "It is outrageous for Pakistan's Supreme Court to claim that schizophrenia is not a mental illness, and flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge, including Pakistan's own mental health laws.

"It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition.

"Pakistan's President needs to urgently intervene to stop this sickening attempt to hang Imdad."

The UN's human rights office has called on the government to halt Mr Ali's execution and to launch a re-trial "in compliance with international standards". "It is a violation of death penalty safeguards to impose capital punishment on individuals with a psychosocial disability," said a panel of experts from the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR).

"The courts have disregarded medical reports asserting that the defendant has a psychosocial disability and have not conducted an independent evaluation of his mental health status.

"Implementing the death penalty under these conditions is unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution, as well as a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment."

The body said Mr Ali was referred for mental health treatment a year before the alleged murder but that the illness was not mentioned in the court ruling sentencing him to death. In September, the 1st secretary of Pakistan's permanent mission to the UN said the government was examining the country's penal code to determine whether the death penalty could be "narrowed" amid criticism over Mr Ali's case.

More than 400 people have been executed since the government lifted a 4-year moratorium on the death penalty in 2014, following the Taliban s massacre at a school in Peshawar.

Capital punishment was initially only restored for terror offences but later reinstated for kidnapping, murder, blasphemy and other capital crimes, leaving more than 8,000 prisoners on death row.

(source: The Independent)


Georgia Executes Man For Killing A Cop In 1997----Gregory Lawler shot 2 police officers 19 years ago. It was Georgia's 7th execution this year.

Nearly 20 years after Gregory Paul Lawler shot and killed an Atlanta police officer and wounded another, the state of Georgia executed him late Wednesday, the Associated Press reported early Thursday.

The execution took place after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute request to halt his execution and hear his appeal. The request, which Georgia opposed, came after the Georgia Supreme Court denied his request for a stay. There were no noted dissents.

Lawler and his girlfriend were drinking at a bar in October 1997. They left the bar and had some sort of altercation in a parking lot, according to court records. Officers John Sowa and Patricia Cocciolone approached the couple, and Lawler ran home.

The 2 police officers escorted Lawler's girlfriend home, where they again encountered Lawler.

"Get the fuck away from my door," Lawler said, according to court records. After his girlfriend entered the apartment, Lawler tried to shut the door on the officers - but Sowa put his hand up to stop the door.

Lawler grabbed an AR-15 rifle he had placed next to the door and fired penetrator bullets that could pierce the bullet-proof vests the officers were wearing. He instantly killed Sowa and wounded Cocciolone.

After a 6-hour stand-off, a hostage negotiator convinced Lawler to surrender.

Lawler's attorneys asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant clemency, arguing that a new diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder helps to explain Lawler's erratic behavior and testimony. But on Tuesday, the board denied the request.

The request at the U.S. Supreme Court related to his autism spectrum diagnosis as well.

This was Georgia's 7th execution this year - tying Texas. No other state has carried out multiple executions this year.

The state uses a single drug called pentobarbital supplied by an anonymous compounding pharmacy that mixes the drug.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)


Dawson group speaks out against the death penalty

South Georgia death penalty opponents gathered for a vigil in Dawson in response to Wednesday's execution of Gregory Lawler.

Terrell County NAACP President Ezekiel Holley said the message was simple.

"It's time for the killing to stop," Holley said. "It's time for us as human beings to learn to love one and other."

Holley said he and others in the community make the trip from his office to the corner of Highways 82 and 520 when a state execution is scheduled. This year, there have been 7 in Georgia.

Recently suspended Dawson mayor Christopher Wright was among the crowd.

Holley said he hopes the outcry will convince others in the community to join the cause, and picketer Jamekia Johnson says it's important the next generation heeds that call.

"Kids today in the world don't know what's going on around you," Johnson said. "I think its important that we learn what goes on around us in our society."

Holley said fewer death penalty sentences are being handed down in courtrooms across the state, which is something he says is progress.

(source: WALB news)


Legislators preparing to readdress death penalty issue again

For the 2nd year in a row, Florida lawmakers will attempt to fix the state's death penalty sentencing scheme in response to court rulings finding that the process is unconstitutional.

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, who will take over as head of the Senate after the November election, said lawmakers will have to readdress the issue of jury unanimity, at the heart of rulings Friday by the Florida Supreme Court, when they reconvene next year.

"It's going to be a unanimous verdict requirement going forward," Negron, R-Stuart, said.

The court on Friday ruled that a statute, passed in March by lawmakers in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Last week's rulings left unanswered questions about the impact of the court decisions on Florida's 400 death row inmates. The state Supreme Court is expected to address the issue of retroactivity in other cases.

But Friday's decisions in 2 seminal cases - the Hurst case, which had bounced back to the Florida court, and another involving convicted murderer Larry Darnell Perry - made clear Florida justices believe a unanimous recommendation is required for the death penalty to be imposed.

Of 31 states that have the death penalty, Florida until Friday was 1 of just 3 - along with Alabama and Delaware - that did not require unanimous jury recommendations for sentences of death.

Delaware's high court put that state's death penalty on hold following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

There was "no ambiguity" in the Florida Supreme Court's ruling regarding the jury recommendation, Negron, a lawyer, said.

"There's no gray area. There's no confusion. It's very clear. I think we should pass a constitutional statute," he said.

Florida's death penalty has essentially been on hold since January's 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that the state's system was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

That decision said Florida's system gave too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing people to death.

The rulings Friday by the Florida Supreme Court dealt with an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court did not directly address - the issue of jury unanimity in sentencing recommendations.

Negron said lawmakers do not need to rush to deal with the matter during a special session but could resolve it during the 2017 regular legislative session that begins in March.

But some lawyers were hoping that the Legislature would address the issue earlier.

In Ocala on Monday, Circuit Judge Robert Hodges put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

"The effect of Perry is we have a bunch of cases that are now in limbo," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman and who argued Coleman's case Monday.

A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

The ruling also led to a delay of the Jacksonville murder trial of Donald Smith, charged with killing 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle in 2013.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is expected to ask the Florida Supreme Court for a rehearing in either the Perry or Hurst cases.

But court observers say it is highly unlikely the justices will grant a rare rehearing, especially given the 5-2 rulings in both cases.

If the court does not act, the Legislature must, lawyers on both sides agree.

"Somebody's going to have to do something," said Brad King, state attorney in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

Some judges are holding off on the sentencing phases of capital trials while proceeding with the portions of the trials to determine guilt or innocence.

But Friday's ruling on unanimity changes the landscape regarding jury selection because defense lawyers will now have to convince only a single juror to grant what is known as "mercy," a shift that could have a significant impact.

Defense lawyers want the courts to pause until the unanimity issue is settled.

"While we don't know the final outcome of what the rules or laws will be, how are we expected to question a jury about it?" Graves, the public defender, said.

The issue of unanimity was a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as lawmakers grappled with changing the sentencing scheme after the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The Senate originally supported a proposal requiring unanimous recommendations for death to be imposed, but ceded to a House plan - pushed by prosecutors, including Bondi - favoring the 10-2 recommendations.

"Do we understand that we're responsible for that? Yes. We understand that. We understood that when we made that decision," said prosecutor King, whose circuit includes Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties.

"But we thought that it was a position we should take in order to represent the victims' families and try to do the best we could for that group of people. Yes. We're responsible for that. As much as anybody else is, it was us," he said.

(source: Daily Record)


Men charged with killing Opelika taxi driver could face death penalty

Opelika Taxi driver William Foreman answered a call for a fare on the night of Aug. 30 that would be his last.

A driver discovered Foreman's body at the intersection of Lee County roads 401 and 170 just before 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 31.

Marquavious Tirrell Howard, 25, of Opelika and Martez Anthony Simmons, 25, of Opelika were arrested and charged with murdering Foreman.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Howard and Simmons' charges were bound over to a grand jury, and Lee County District Judge Steven Speakman ordered the men held without bond because the grand jury could return an indictment for capital murder.

Lee County Sheriff investigator Jennifer Bosler testified at the hearing that Simmons, who worked at the Burger King on Second Avenue in Opelika, saw Foreman come into the restaurant the evening of Aug. 30.

"Witnesses stated that (Foreman) has been known to carry $2,000 to $3,000 on his person," Bosler said.

Foreman had just won several thousand dollars on a bet on the Auburn versus Opelika high school football game, which Opelika beat Auburn 28-0, Bosler said.

Foreman received 2 calls from a phone that was traced to Simmons just after 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 30, Bosler said.

Forman's body was discovered with 2 gunshot wounds and a shell casing was found from a 9 mm Luger pistol.

Forman's white Chrysler Town and Country taxi cab was discovered at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 after it was set on fire north of Columbus, Georgia near an apartment complex where Simmons used to live.

Simmons told police Howard shot Foreman while they were riding in Foreman's cab.

"(Simmons) said he saw Howard pull a large sum of money out of (Foreman's) pocket," Bosler said.

After the hearing, Foreman's wife, Edna Foreman hugged family members and wiped away tears.

"Justice is going to be served," Edna Foreman said. "You can't take nobodies life and expect to live yours. They tore my family up."

She supported capital murder charges being brought against Howard and Simmons, and she didn't have a problem with the death penalty.

"I miss my husband every day, every hour, every minute," She said. "It's not going to bring him back, but I thank God for justice. Justice is going to be served."


OHIO----female faces death penalty

Mom's confession in death of 3 sons under review

A judge is reviewing recorded police interviews of a woman accused of suffocating her 3 young sons as he considers her lawyers' request to exclude her confession.

Attorneys representing 24-year-old Brittany Pilkington in the potential death penalty case claim the statements were obtained unconstitutionally and violated her Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

The defense team said authorities pressured Pilkington into confessing and she didn't understand what she was doing when she agreed to be interviewed without a lawyer. Prosecutors rejected that.

"These were not statements that were coerced but were given voluntarily," Logan County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric Stewart said.

Defense attorney Marc Triplett said police were aware of Pilkington's lack of mental acuity and she didn't understand when she signed a form waiving her Miranda rights.

Stewart countered by noting that Pilkington obtained her high school diploma and that she was advised of her rights by officers at the police station and then again at the sheriff's office.

Pilkington can be heard in the tapes telling officers that she was sleeping with her one son in bed and then woke up on top of him. She also was recorded saying she held a blanket over her other son's face.

Authorities allege Pilkington killed her 3-month-old son in August 2015, a 4-year-old brother in April 2015 and a baby brother in July 2014 out of jealousy at the attention her husband gave the boys. The couple's 5-year-old daughter remains in the custody of relatives.

The Bellefontaine woman has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder charges.

Her trial is scheduled for late February.

(source: Associated Press)


No decision yet in seeking death sentence for accused killer of St. Louis County officer ---- Teen charged with murder in morning shooting of St. Louis County police officer

Prosecutors have not yet made a decision of whether to seek a death sentence for Trenton Forster, who pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the shooting death of St. Louis County police Officer Blake Snyder.

The death penalty is "possible" but it's "too early for that decision," according to Ed Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch. Forster, 18, is charged with 1st-degree murder.

Police said Forster killed Snyder, 33, of Edwardsville, after the officer responded to a disturbance call in the 10700 block of Arno Drive in Green Park on Oct. 6. A 2nd officer then shot Forster multiple times. Forster was released from a hospital Wednesday and moved to the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton.

He was seated in a wheelchair for his mugshot Wednesday, but his condition remains unclear. Jail officials said federal health privacy laws prevent them from disclosing his medical status, and family members said they have not spoken to him since before the shooting.

Wednesday's arraignment hearing took place in Division 44 before Judge Richard Stewart. Forster's bail is set at $1 million.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


The death penalty is judicial murder

Imagine a golden retriever with gorgeous long fur, wide brown eyes, and an excited wagging tail, called Sam. Sam has a hard life. Sam was taken in by a man, called John. Now John is a drinker, he isn't nice, he makes Sam do things Sam doesn't want to do. When Sam doesn't listen, John kicks him, hits him, or chains him up outside in the rain.

After a few years, Sam has broken bones, clumps of hair hacked out from abuse. Sam is afraid, of everyone. He lashes out at people because he doesn't know that there are people who can help him. Sam lives the rest of his life in fear, anger and sadness.

One-day John lets Sam out in the yard. Jane is riding her bike on the sidewalk when she spots Sam. Jane is young, still naive to the world; she sees a dog and looks at it like a new friend. She enthusiastically hops off her bike and runs over to Sam to pet him. Sam sees her approach, sees her hands reaching out, sees her running over; Sam attacks.

Jane is bit, scratched, and clumps of dirt and grass mingle with the blood oozing from her injuries. That night, the police bang on John’s door along with animal control. An hour later, Sam is put down, like an animal, and no one bats an eye. No one protests, or screams, or begs for mercy. Now Sam is dead.

Now imagine a baby. Born into this world completely innocent. This baby is not prejudiced, scorned or manipulated by time. But time is inevitable. This baby is the victim of abuse; a broken home; an ineffective educational system; and a criminal justice system ready to make him another statistic.

30 years later, he is a man. He is hardened inside and out by a society that sees him as a nuisance. This man views the world as his enemy. One day this man makes a horrible mistake. This man's kills a person. He beats her to death in a park. This man is tried and convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Years of appeals, only lead to an execution date. He is executed 15 years after being put on death row. Now he's nothing more than a statistic.

If you get nothing else from these scenarios, remember this: Never look at a human being and see him or her as trash that needs to be thrown away.

At a lecture at my school, Saint Louis University School of Law, Steven Bright told a story of a general and a soldier. The soldier came to the general and said, "Sir, we have a problem." The general said, "We don't have problems, we only have opportunities." The soldier then said, "Sir, we have one hell of an opportunity."

Missouri has one hell of an opportunity. Missouri still has the death penalty. Taking another person's life is the definition of murder. To continue to have the death penalty implies that we don't value human life like we should. Someone commits a homicide, and then the state kills the alleged perpetrator. Now we have 2 people whose lives have been taken. 2 families who have lost a loved one.

2 wrongs don't make a right. 2 deaths won't bring back the deceased. We've got to stop looking at our criminal justice system as a form of vengeance. If we want people to practice their own form of justice, we can just go back to the time where people were lynched for crimes by angry mobs before they could even get a trial. We should look at the crime rates and asking ourselves, "What are we accomplishing by killing people and calling it justice"?

(source: Guest Column; Desiree Austin-Holliday is a student at Saint Louis University School of


If Nebraska Death Penalty Ban is Repealed, Changes will Need to be Made

If voters repeal the death penalty ban, Nebraska will have to make some changes in order to carry out executions. Attorney General Doug Peterson says they are already looking at options.

Peterson says when Nebraska switched from the electric chair to lethal injection the standard was to use a 3 drug combination. He says now only 1 drug is used so that is one issue that will need to be addressed. He says Nebraska may also want to consider a shield law where the identity of the person who compiles the drug remains unknown to the public.

Peterson says they have been doing their homework and monitoring how other states are carry out executions. He says they have provided models as to what changes need to be made here.

(source: WNAX news)


Former warden to give views on death penalty

A former iron hand of the law turned anti-death penalty advocate will share his views on the death penalty Friday in Lawton.

Frank Thompson, former Oregon State Penitentiary warden, will be guest speaker at the SQ776 Meet & Greet at 9:30 a.m., at the Percolator Coffee House, 605 SW E.

State Question 776 on the Nov. 8 ballot in Oklahoma as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment regarding the status of the death penalty in the state. To vote yes would prevent any changes or challenges to the method of administering the death penalty from preventing the death penalty from being carried out for death-row inmates.

(source: The Lawton Constitution)


Plaintiffs Want More Than A Promise From Arizona On Death Penalty Drug

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Arizona's death penalty want more than a promise that Arizona will never again use a controversial lethal injection drug.

Midazolam dominated the discussion during a federal court hearing Wednesday.

Judge Neil V. Wake called the hearing to ponder if Ohio's having recently obtained the drug defeats the state's argument that Arizona's inability to get more midazolam makes the lawsuit moot.

Lawyers for state followed up with a promise to never use midazolam again.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Ohio's plan to resume executions next year using midazolam show it's still available. Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas also have midazolam, they said.

A change in Arizona leadership could lead to the state using midazolam again, and the plaintiffs need a way to enforce the state's promise to refrain from using the drug, said Mark Haddad, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"That would be very unfair to end this case now without any ability for us to stop that change of decision," Haddad said.

Haddad also said he's open to discussions on resolving the case, and he's hopeful the sides can come to an agreement.

Attorneys for the state declined to comment.

(source: KJZZ news)


Judge questions vow not to use sedative again in executions

A judge presiding over a lawsuit that protests how Arizona carries out the death penalty extracted promises in court from the state Wednesday that it won't use the sedative midazolam in future executions.

Lawyers for the state are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit's claim that midazolam can't ensure that condemned inmates won't feel the pain caused by another drug in a three-drug execution protocol. The state said it won't use the sedative in the future even if it finds a new supply.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake said the state's decision to voluntarily end its midazolam use in executions could be changed in the future by a state prisons director or a governor.

"There is nothing to stop the director or a future director or a future governor from saying the world has changed," Wake said, marking the second time in recent months that he has questioned the solidity of the state's claim on finding midazolam.

Arizona announced nearly 4 months ago that it was eliminating its use of midazolam after its supply expired and another supplier couldn't be found because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty. Attorneys for the state say the lawsuit's midazolam claim is moot because the drug won't be used in the future executions.

Wake scheduled the hearing after learning that Ohio now has a supply of midazolam and plans to resume executions there in January.

Collin Wedel, an attorney representing the condemned inmates who filed the lawsuit, said the state's claim that it can't find the sedative doesn't hold water because Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas have already said they have a midazolam supply.

Jeffrey Sparks, an attorney representing the state, said the state wasn't arguing that there is no midazolam available anywhere, but rather that Arizona's prison system simply can't acquire it.

Wake hasn't yet decided whether to dismiss the lawsuit's midazolam claim.

Executions in Arizona will remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved. They were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 dozes of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.

Several of the lawsuit's claims have been dismissed, but lawyers for the condemned inmates want to press forward with allegations that the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

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

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.

(source: Associated Press)


Exonerees and Faith Leaders Work to End State Death Penalty

Death row exonerees Nate Fields and Sabrina Butler joined a diverse group of faith leaders to talk about the importance of ending California's death penalty during an interfaith breakfast hosted at Holman United Methodist Church on Oct. 10.

Fields and Butler were in California to support Prop 62, a statewide initiative on the ballot this November.

Most disturbing among all of the failed death penalty's significant problems - billions in costs, arbitrary and racially biased application, ineffective crime deterrent, an empty promise to victims' families - is the unavoidable risk that an innocent person may be executed.

Prop 62 ends that risk by replacing the death penalty in California with life in prison without parole. It guarantees that the worst criminals will never be released and requires convicted murderers to work and pay restitution to their victims' families. Prop 62 will save taxpayers $150 million a year according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

African Americans make up 36 % of the population on California's death row. Fields spent 20 years in an Illinois prison, including 11 years on death row, for a double homicide he did not commit. The judge who sentenced him was later indicted for taking bribes in murder cases, including Fields' case and Fields was found innocent after a 2nd trial.

"We're here in California for a very important moment, for a life-or-death situation. You can get the death penalty based on the color of your skin. But most importantly, you can get the death penalty based on a mistake. The death penalty requires perfection, and that will never happen," said Fields. "As we stand here today, we know there are innocent people on death row waiting to be executed. We know that 4 out of 20 murder convictions are overturned. I'm urging people to vote yes on Prop 62 because I don't want anyone else to have to go through what me and my family went through."

Butler was a Mississippi teenager wrongly convicted of murder and child abuse in the death of her 9-month-old son, Walter. She was exonerated of all wrongdoing after spending more than five years in prison, including 33 months on death row.

"My case was an overzealous prosecutor that wanted to make a name for himself. I had two attorneys. One was drunk to through the whole trial and the other did not do investigative work on my case," said Ms. Butler. "The death penalty system is deeply flawed and it's not right. So I'm going to tell my story wherever I can, and as long as I can, until I can't do it anymore."

"We all have a call on us now, to get the word out about Prop 62. The death penalty in the state of California is wrong and we need to end it, said Pastor William D. Smart. "Take the message to the people, and make sure they understand that now is the time."

Mr. Fields and Ms. Butler are part of Witness to Innocence, the nation's only organization dedicated to empowering exonerated death row survivors to be the most powerful and effective voice in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States.

(source: LA Sentinel)


The morality of preserving the death penalty

On election day, California voters will decide whether or not the death penalty stays or goes as the ultimate form of punishment for the state's most heinous killers.

Capital punishment abolitionists are heralding Proposition 62, which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole, as the rightful sunset of a barbaric practice. To them, it's a waste of taxpayer money and an immoral practice.

I couldn't disagree more. Not only do I think it's a good use of public resources, I believe it's the moral answer to society's most immoral people.

On October 1, 1993, 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped at knife point from her Petaluma home and was subsequently sexually molested and strangled to death. Her killer, Richard Allen Davis, was convicted of first-degree murder and four special circumstances - robbery, burglary, kidnapping and a lewd act on a child. He was subsequently sentenced to death.

Davis, who admitted to the murder, remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison while his attorneys continue to appeal his conviction.

Marc Klaas, Polly's father and the founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation, told me that if Prop. 62 passes, he and his family will continue to be victimized by Davis. "The killer [Davis] told psychiatrist Llewelen Jones that he 'Masturbates twice daily and thinks of tying up female victims of past crimes.' From my perspective that means that he not only sits in his cell on death row violating my daughter twice a day, but he will continue to do that until the day that he is put down. Polly deserves better than that. She, or her memory, will never truly have peace until the killer's vile thoughts and deeds cease to exist," he said.

Supporters of Prop. 62 have also admitted that if this initiative were to pass, banning life in prison without the possibility of parole would be next on their list.

Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, told the Sacramento Bee, "If the death penalty is abolished on Tuesday, the drive to abolish life without parole begins on Wednesday."

This would mean that the family members of murdered people would be forced to relive their trauma every time their loved one's killer comes up for a parole hearing.

That's exactly what has happened to Debra Tate, whose sister Sharon and her unborn child were brutally murdered by the Manson Family in 1969.

Manson, and other members of his "family" were sentenced to death for these brutal murders. However, their sentence was reduced to life in prison because the death penalty was abolished by the state Supreme Court in the early 1970s.

Now, Tate spends her life trying to keep the Manson killers behind bars. Tate told me, "There must be penalties for taking a life. If you're willing to take a life you should be willing to forfeit your own. ... The ever changing legal system has made it a monumental task to keep up with the amount of parole hearings and subsequent appeals by these predatory killers. Parole hearings are falling only a few months apart, followed by subsequent appeals."

There are also 2 stats that are important to the conversation and are completely irrefutable - the state of California has never executed an innocent person and the recidivism rate among those executed is zero.

In other words, the death penalty works. We are executing the right people and are preventing them from ever hurting anyone else again.

Marc Klaas believes it's incumbent on those of us who support the death penalty to make sure the process works. "Death penalty abolitionists crave the execution of an innocent man so that their indignation can run amok, while those who favor the death penalty pray that an innocent is never executed so that the fragile system of ultimate justice can be preserved," he said.

I'm voting no on Prop. 62 and I'm doing it because the death penalty is moral.

(source: Opinion; John Phillips is a CNN political commentator----OC Register)


California's Proposition 62 Can End the Suffering - and the Expense - of the Death Penalty

California's death penalty system has failed. We know the death penalty is racist in application and is used primarily against the poor and the poorly defended. It entraps and kills the innocent along with the guilty and is hideously expensive. Any of these facts should be reason enough to do away with the death penalty, yet attempts to make it meet constitutional requirements have continued for nearly 40 years.

As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said last year, "Despite the ... Court's hope for fair administration of the death penalty, 40 years of further experience make it increasingly clear that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, i.e., without the 'reasonable consistency' legally necessary to reconcile its use with the Constitution's commands."

California's 38-year attempt to make the death penalty constitutional has left us with more than 1,000 death verdicts and 13 executions - at a total cost of $5 billion. That breaks down to $384 million per execution. California now has the largest death-row population in the United States, with almost 750 men and women waiting an average of 25 to 30 years for the resolution of their constitutionally required appeals. As a result, approximately 10 times as many on our state's death row have died of natural causes or suicide than have been executed.

A tragic result of this awful, grinding process is the long-term incarceration and death of innocents. Ralph Thomas, a homeless African-American man, and Dennis Lawley, a diagnosed schizophrenic, both died after years on death row before their claims of innocence were verified.

Proposition 62 will replace the death penalty with sentences of life without parole. It also will require inmates to work (which they cannot do on death row) and pay 60 % of their earnings to a general victims' restitution fund. The state's Legislative Analyst's Office says Proposition 62 will save Californians $150 million every year.

Currently, family members of victims have to relive the horror of a loved one's murder through years of appellate hearings. If Proposition 62 is passed, guilty parties will be put behind bars until they die, providing finality and ending the torture endured by victims' families. Eliminating the death penalty also gives convicts who aren't guilty the chance to prove their innocence.

Proposition 66, on the other hand, is another in a series of lame attempts to fix an irreparable death-penalty system. The proposition imposes additional levels of appeal, which lengthen the process. It attempts to limit the California Supreme Court to 5 years to resolve appeals that now take an average of 12, but it contains no provision to enforce such a limit. As Proposition 66 authors should know, limiting the court's deliberation time simply would mean making more mistakes and killing more innocent people.

Our state maintains a list of attorneys willing to accept appointment to handle appeals. Some are trained for and willing to accept capital - death penalty - appeals while others are not. Proposition 66 requires any of these attorneys, whether trained for capital defense or not, to accept death cases or be removed from the list. Forcing unwilling or untrained attorneys to handle the complex issues involved with capital defense guarantees costly, perhaps fatal, errors and ensures further appeals based on "ineffective assistance of counsel." Proposition 66 also pretends to save the state money by moving some costs to the counties, an unfair burden counties can't afford. Critically, Proposition 66 has no effect on the federal appellate courts, which already return 60 to 70 % of all death verdicts to the state for resentencing, retrial or further consideration.

Vote yes on 62 and no on 66.

(source: Mike Farrell,


Sierra LaMar murder trial gets firm January start date

More than 4 years after Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar disappeared on her way to a school bus stop, the Santa Clara County judge handling the capital case set a firm start date for the trial of the man suspected of killing her: Jan. 3.

Superior Court Judge Vanessa A. Zecher on Tuesday reminded the lawyers in the death-penalty case against Antolin Garcia-Torres, 22, to be ready to give their opening statements after the holidays, on the first Tuesday of 2017.

The court already has begun evaluating prospective jurors by having them answer a 32-page questionnaire containing 178 questions, so the trial has technically begun. But the start date for the so-called evidence portion of the trial, which starts with opening statements and then the prosecution's case, was not clear until now.

The date comes after many delays, which frustrated LaMar's family and friends, as well as the defendant himself. One reason it didn't start sooner was Garcia-Torres' lawyers Brian Matthews and Al Lopez were handling other cases. The trial is expected to last 4 to 6 months. Prosecutor David Boyd and co-counsel Dana Veazey long ago signaled they were ready.

LaMar, 15, vanished on her way to the school bus stop near Morgan Hill on the morning of March 16, 2012. Her body has not been found.

Hundreds of prospective jurors are being asked this week to fill out the questionnaire. The case is then set to reconvene in early November after lawyers for the prosecution and defense review the answers on the questionnaires. Questioning of prospective jurors is scheduled to begin Nov. 14.

One of the biggest challenges will be finding 12 jurors and up to 6 alternates willing and able to serve during the whole trial, which could last 6 months.

The lengthy jury questionnaire contains typical inquiries, including whether prospective jurors have ever been victims of crime or know the principals involved in the case, including the judge.

It also asks whether they belong to a variety of groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union. Because prosecutors allege Garcia-Torres' DNA was found on her discarded clothing and Sierra's DNA throughout his car, including on a rope in his trunk, jurors are asked their opinion of DNA evidence.

Prospective jurors are also queried about whether they have ever been a victim of a sex crime or known someone who was. Prosecutors believe LaMar may have been sexually assaulted. Only the lawyers and judge will review the answers, which will not be made public.

They are also asked about their feelings about masturbation. Garcia-Torres told authorities that his DNA could have been found on LaMar's clothing, which was discarded by the side of the road near Morgan Hill, because he had masturbated and threw tissues with his DNA out of his car.

The questionnaire also probes jurors' feelings about imposing the death penalty or life without parole.

(source: Mercury News)


Suspect charged with murder in fatal hit-and-run in San Leandro

The Alameda County District Attorney's office has charged a Richmond man with murder in the course of robbery, punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Kadeem Edwards, 27, of Richmond, was arrested Monday, Oct. 17 in connection with a fatal hit-and-run in San Leandro. Kadeem Edwards, 27, of Richmond, was arrested Monday, Oct. 17 in connection with a fatal hit-and-run in San Leandro. San Leandro Police Department.

The charges make Kadeem Edwards, 27, eligible for the death penalty, although Alameda County rarely seeks capital punishment in such cases.

San Leandro police said Edwards parked his white Ford F-250 pickup behind True World Foods, 1815 Williams Street in San Leandro, at 11:45 a.m. Monday and was in the process of stealing wooden pallets when 54-year-old Takeshi Watanabe ran outside and confronted him.

Watanabe, a 23-year employee, stood in front of Edwards' truck with his hands on his hood and his legs braced "as if he was preventing the vehicle from moving forward," San Leandro police Officer Michael Benz wrote in a probable-cause declaration.

Edwards got into the vehicle and drove forward about 15 to 20 feet, pushing Watanabe backward, before accelerating and running over him, Benz said.

Watanabe was dragged 100 feet before becoming dislodged from under the truck. Paramedics declared him dead at the scene.

The incident was caught on surveillance video, and police said footage and employee witness statements were included in an alert sent to local law enforcement agencies around 2 p.m. Monday about the truck.

At 5 p.m. Monday, Oakland police officers found the truck near an East Oakland pallet recycling facility and tried to make contact with Edwards but he ran away, police said. He was arrested a little over an hour later after they found him hiding under a vehicle.

Police said Edwards confessed to the killing during his interview.

At True World, officials expressed pain at the loss of a longtime employee and praise for law enforcement's swift arrest of a suspect.

"We grieve with his widow and three sons. Personally, I am tremendously moved by Takeshi's desire to stop what he saw as a violation of the company," True World Group president Robert Bleu said in a statement Wednesday. "I respect his courage, yet deeply regret that it cost him his life."

True World operations manager Sebastian Doroski joined in, praising Watanabe's volunteering and youth program efforts outside work.

"This is a tragic loss," Doroski said. "Takeshi was a valuable part of our team. He was best known for being a truly good-hearted person. He cared about his co-workers and they cared about him. Our hearts are heavy today. Our condolences are with his family and, of course, with all those who knew him and cared about him."

Kadeem did not enter a plea at his arraignment in a Hayward courtroom Wednesday afternoon. He is being held without bail and will return to court Nov. 2.

(source: East Bay Times)


East Hemet man guilty of murder in deaths of daughter, estranged wife----Johnny Lopez is also convicted of trying to kill his girlfriend. A jury will now decide whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison.

An East Hemet man who told a sheriff's investigator he had a contract with the devil to kill his 5-year-old daughter and estranged wife, and that he tried to kill his girlfriend to start a new life, is now facing either life in prison or the death penalty after being convicted in those crimes.

A jury found Johnny Lopez, 36, of Hemet, guilty of 2 counts of murder and 1 each of attempted murder, rape by force, burglary and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said.

The case will now enter the penalty phase, ending with the same jury recommending to the judge whether Lopez should get a life or death sentence.

In an interview with sheriff's investigators 2 days after the attacks, Lopez admitted to killing Mia Lopez, 5, and Joanna Barrientos, 36, referred to in court papers as Joanna Lopez. She was not Mia's mother but was raising the girl as her own.

Lopez told investigators that after he shot them each in the head, he drove about 2 blocks away from the Girard Street house, then turned around and came back to shoot each of them once more.

"In my mind I had that contract (with the devil). I can't believe I went through with it," he said during the interview.

Lopez left and went to a house on Sunset Lane where he sexually assaulted his girlfriend, slashed her throat and attempted to choke her with an electrical cord.

Lopez said he had been drinking alcohol and using methamphetamine and heroin that day.

His public defender, Brian Cosgrove, acknowledged Lopez committed the crime but told the jury his client suffered a "psychotic break." He intended to bring in experts and witnesses aimed at leniency.

(source: Press-Enterprise)


Governor should push to ban death penalty

Gov. Kate Brown offered elaboration this week regarding her position on capital punishment, saying that she would continue a moratorium on the death penalty through her 2-year term if she's elected in November.

To her credit, Brown made these comments before the Nov. 8 election; it's an extra piece of information voters can use as they weigh the gubernatorial race.

When she assumed office last year after the resignation of John Kitzhaber, Brown said she was personally against the death penalty and planned to continue the moratorium Kitzhaber had put in place. But she also said then that she planned to study the issue in more detail.

Well, apparently that study is over, according to a story this week in The Oregonian. A spokesman for Brown, Bryan Hockaday, told the newspaper in an email that "Gov. Brown will continue the death penalty moratorium, because after thoroughly researching the issues, serious concerns remain about the constitutionality and workability of Oregon's capital punishment law."

Hockaday said that reasons for Brown's decision include the "uncertainty of Oregon's ability to acquire the necessary execution drugs required by statute." (Hockaday declined to immediately release to the newspaper any of the studies or other information the governor relied upon to make her decision, but she should take pains to do that now and not wait for the inevitable records request.)

Hockaday added this note: "Looking nationally, America is on the verge of a sea change both by legislation and, more profoundly, through court decisions. The past few years have already seen a major shift in the landscape on capital punishment law, and Gov. Brown expects more changes are on the horizon."

That's probably a fair assessment. But it leaves work undone in Oregon, and if Brown is serious about this issue, she could help to lead that sea change.

The fact remains that the death penalty still is part of Oregon law. (Brown's opponent, Bud Pierce, has said he would follow the law and presumably would allow executions.)

Oregon voters haven't weighed in on the issue since 1984, when they approved the death penalty. Brown is right that a lot has changed in the three decades since then. It's possible that the state's voters might have a different view of the measure now. But we won't know for sure until we ask them.

Kitzhaber, for whatever reason, was reluctant to use any of his political capital to pursue the issue. But Brown should, assuming she wins on Election Day (and recent polls show her with a comfortable lead): She could push the 2017 Legislature to refer the issue to voters. Failing that, she could help drive an effort to use the initiative process to place the issue on a future ballot.

Even though Oregon still has 34 prisoners on death row, it's conducted only 2 executions in the last 50 years, and both of those occurred in the 1960s. No executions appear to be imminent in the state.

All that means that this would be an excellent time for Brown to show real leadership on the issue, instead of just hoping that she won't have the occasion to explain again to Oregon voters why she's unwilling to enforce what remains the law of the state.

(source: Editorial, Corvallis Gazette-Times)


Gubernatorial debate: Death penalty, Hanford, school funding

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant clashed over the death penalty, Hanford lawsuits and their visions of the state in their 3rd debate on Wednesday.

The debate, sponsored by the Washington State Debate Coalition, occurred at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

Inslee is a former congressman seeking his 2nd term as governor. He said Washington has the nation's best economy and was making progress on a host of problems.

"We are a confident and optimistic state," Inslee said. "I believe we ought to keep the ball rolling."

Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner, painted a picture of a state in dire straits because of a disengaged governor. He said he would be "an engaged, activist governor."

"Is there anyone who thinks we can't do better?" Bryant said.

The candidates were asked if they would support using the death penalty against the shooter in the recent mass killings in Burlington.

Inslee said he would continue his moratorium against the use of the death penalty, which he said is unfairly applied. Bryant said he would follow state laws that allow the use of the death penalty.

"The governor can't ignore the law," he said.

(source: The Herald)


Are odds stacked against blacks in court?

When it comes to capital punishment in America, blacks are nearly 4 times more likely to receive the death penalty than other races.

In 2015, 49 people received death sentences. 21 were black, 16 were white and the rest were of other races. In Alabama, 6 death sentences were given, and 4 defendants were black.

A previous study by the Death Penalty Information Center found that the odds of receiving the death penalty are nearly 4 times (3.9) times higher if the defendant is black.

The lack of minorities in the legal decision-making process is one argument why the death penalty is racially skewed. In the United States, 79 % of prosecutors are white men, 16 % are white women; only 4 % of prosecutors are men of color, and 1 % are women of color. That makes 95 % of the decision-makers white.

According to the study, prosecutors are key decision-makers in what level of charges and sentences are pursued. This can contribute to large racial disparities in sentencing.

Who are the decision-makers?

The death penalty could be sought after more than it actually is, particularly with other races, but often it is not. One of the likely reasons for this discrepancy is that almost all the prosecutors making the key decision about whether a person will live or not are white. Only 1 % of the District Attorneys in death penalty states are black, and only 1 % are Hispanic. The remaining are white, and almost all are men. In Alabama, of 41 district attorneys in the state, only 1 is black.

Another problem in prosecution is procedure. When a prosecutor is faced with a crime in his community, he often consults with the family of the victim as to whether the death penalty should be sought. If the victim's family is prominent, white, and likely to support him in his next election, there may be a greater chance for the death penalty to take place, according to the study.

Those who die because in these situations are not the individuals who usually evoke the public's sympathy. While they have committed horrendous crimes, but crimes are no less horrendous by white offenders or against black victims, yet those killers are often spared death.

Racism in court

Also, racial slurs aren't a thing of the past in courtrooms. Blatant racism can be seen and heard often in courts around the country. According to Deliberate Indifference: Judicial Tolerance of Racial Bias in Criminal Justice by Bryan Stevenson and Ruth Friedman, a prosecutor in Alabama gave as his reason for striking several potential jurors the fact that they associated with Alabama State University, an Historically Black University in the state.

In January, Superior Court Judge Roger Bradley of Georgia stepped down after being investigated for using a racial slur in open court.

"When I first moved up to this county in 1974, I was actually introduced to a fellow who lived right here behind the courthouse and he referred to himself, as did everybody else in town, not in a disparaging manner, as (n-word) Bob," the judge said.

Severity of crimes

Murder cases become death eligible through certain aggravating factors which make one murder "worse than another." The prosecutor is supposed to consider the presence of such factors as whether a murder was committed with grave risk to the life of others, whether the murder was committed in the course of another serious crime such as robbery or rape, whether torture was a factor, or whether the defendant had a significant violent history. The jury is similarly told to consider those factors when deciding whether the sentence should be life or death, once a guilty verdict is decided.

The race of the defendant is not supposed to influence whether a person is sentenced to death, but often it is a determining factor in whether a defendant will receive the penalty.

Race of the victims

The racial combination was most likely to result in a death sentence if the defendant was black and the victim was of another race, regardless of how severe the murder was committed, according to the study. Black-on-black crimes were less likely to receive a death sentence, followed by crimes of other defendants, regardless of the race of their victims. Few defendants of any race are likely to get the death penalty in a case involving defendants with no prior record and where the killing may have been accidental. The bulk of crimes in mid-range severity, blacks who kill non blacks are more likely to receive the death penalty than blacks who kill blacks, and they have death sentencing rate much larger than the rate for defendants of other races who commit similarly severe murders of black victims.

(source: Birmingham Times)


Egypt court overturns 14 Muslim Brotherhood death sentences----Court of Cassation upholds death sentences of 8 other defendants in the case pertaining to an attack on a police station in Kerdasa during anti-coup protests in July 2013.

Egypt's top court on Wednesday overturned death sentences given to 14 members of the Muslim Brotherhood over an attack on a police station in July 2013 while protesting the ouster of then-president Mohamed Morsi.

A military coup led by then-army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Morsi 3 years ago.

Since then, the international community and human rights groups have criticised Egyptian authorities for their crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group.

The Court of Cassation accepted appeals from the defendants filed last year against a lower criminal court ruling, and ordered them retried. It also threw out one 10-year prison term in the same case.

8 more defendants in the case were awarded the death penalty in absentia. The court upheld those sentences.

Under Egyptian law, an in absentia conviction automatically entitles the defendant to a retrial upon appearance.

The defendants face murder charges over the killing of a security officer at the police station in Kerdasa and the attempted murder of others in July 2013.

They are also accused of assault, rioting, sabotage, and illegal possession of firearms and knives.

The court gave no legal reasons for its decisions. However, in a few days it is expected to issue a written statement explaining the reasons behind its judgment .

In February, the court ordered the retrial of 149 people on death row in a similar case where the defendants were accused of an assault on the same police station in August 2013. In that assault 14 police officers were killed.

The attacks came after security forces dispersed 2 pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, killing hundreds of people in the process.



Picture death row and a life's art in a powerful exhibition opening this weekend

A unique and fascinating insight into the artistic and creative mind of a prisoner on death row is making its way thousands of miles across the Atlantic for a thought-provoking exhibition in Bridport.

Who Decides is part of a series of exhibitions for Art for Amicus, a legal charity that fights for justice on US death rows. Artists Isabelle Watson and Kenneth 'Kenny' Reams, who is currently on death row, will show over 50 works of art from pencil drawings, acrylic paintings and several installations from Saturday, October 22 to Thursday, November 24 at Bridport Arts Centre.

Kenny has been on death row in Arkansas since 1993 for a crime committed when he was 18. He has created pieces specifically about the practice and history of capital punishment in the US.

The aim of his exhibition and of Art for Amicus is to highlight the importance of art to those in difficult circumstances; and to raise awareness of the human rights issues surrounding the use of the death penalty.

Bringing Kenny's message and art to the UK was the brainchild of barrister Samantha Knights from Shute.

She first met Kenny in 2000. Her work on his legal case culminated with a prison visit to Kenny.

Contact with Kenny continued after Samantha returned home and she began to send Kenny art materials. Sometimes he was allowed them, sometimes and often, they were disallowed by the prison.

In 2014, Kenny had his first exhibition in Arkansas. From there, Samantha suggested a UK exhibition and two years later, Kenny's art is making its way across the pond.

Samantha said: "Through the medium of art it is hoped that people will reflect on issues of crime and punishment not just as it is carried out in the US but also more generally.

"That is what Kenny hopes to achieve through this exhibition."

A free special panel discussion on Saturday, October 22 at 2pm at the arts centre between Samantha Knight, Margot Ravenscroft - director of Amicus and local artist Ricky Romain will explore detention and the death penalty at the start of the exhibition.

Who Decides, is at Bridport Arts Centre from October 22 until November 24 and is open from 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

(source: Bridport News)


Jokowi told to assess deterrent effect of death penalty

Human rights watchdog Imparsial has urged President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to gather a team to assess the validity of his argument that the death penalty can create a deterrent effect for drug dealers.

Jokowi's insistence to keep the death penalty is groundless and has shown the current government lacks political commitment to uphold human rights, Imparsial researcher Evitarossi S Budiawan said in Jakarta on Wednesday.

Jokowi allowed the execution of 18 death row convicts during his administration.

Evitarossi cited a study conducted by Jeffrey A. Fagan, Columbia University director of the Center for Crime, Community and Law, who found that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that execution has a greater deterrent effect than long prison sentences.

"[Jokowi] has to [be able to] prove that execution in Indonesia actually creates a deterrent effect," Evitarossi said, adding that the research team should consist of experts. She believes the result of such an assessment would be a strong reason to scrap the death penalty from national law.

She asserted that Indonesia should join other countries already committed to the UN General Assembly's Dec. 18, 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on executions, a move by UN member countries toward abolishing the death penalty, since the right to live is a Constitutional right that should not be violated.

(source: Jakarta Post)


CBI seeks death penalty for 3 in Bilkis Bano gangrape case

While seeking death penalty for 3 accused in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told the Bombay High Court on Wednesday that it is important to send a message to society because it is a matter of communal violence.

CBI counsel Hiten Venegavkar told a Division Bench of Justice V.K. Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar said even before the incident took place, the accused were involved in communal violence and hence it is a case of pre-planned murder. The manner in which the woman was raped and members of minority community murdered makes for an immoral crime, he added.

While concluding his arguments, Mr. Venegavkar cited Supreme Court judgments listing the doctrine of rarest of rare cases laid down while seeking capital punishment for Jaswantbai Nai, Govindbhai Nai and Shailesh Bhatt who were convicted to life imprisonment in January 2008 by a special court in Mumbai.

The court was hearing the appeal of 11 people convicted in the gangrape of a 19-year-old Ms. Bano, who was 5 months pregnant then, in Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots. In January 2008, a special court sentenced 11 men to life imprisonment for the gangrape and murder of seven members of her family.

(source: The Hindu)


Karnataka HC stays execution of serial rapist Umesh Reddy

The High Court on Thursday stayed the execution of death penalty imposed on serial rapist B A Umesh Reddy.

Passing an interim order to this effect, the division bench of Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee and Justice R B Budihal asked the State and Central Governments to file objections.

Reddy also questioned the delay in disposal of his mercy petition by President of India. Recently Supreme Court had confirmed the death penalty on Reddy.

Reddy, who had several aliases was a former CRPF constable. He was convicted of back-to-back raping and murdering women who were staying alone across Bengaluru, Mysuru, Hubli and Davanagere in Karnataka, Mumbai and Pune in Maharastra and also in Gujarat.

He hails from Chitradurga district in the State.

Though Umesh had given slip to cops several times since 1997, he was arrested in 2002 near Bengaluru's Yeshwanthpur Railway Station, based on a tip off.

He was sentenced to death by the Sessions Court on October 2006 which was upheld by the High Court in 2009 and the Supreme Court in 2011. His mercy petitions were also rejected.

Supreme Court on October 3 this year, also rejected his review petition.

Reddy faced 21 criminal cases of which he was acquitted in 11. The remaining nine cases were related to rape, murder and robbery.

(source: The New Indian Express)

OCTOBER 19, 2016:


Death penalty vacated in 32-year-old Montgomery County murder case

A convicted killer, who for 26 years has awaited execution for the murder of a Bucks County man, had his death sentence overturned last week.

Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy issued the order vacating the capital punishment a jury handed to Thomas James Meadows for the 1984 killing of James Hayes of Ottsville. However, Meadows will never get out of prison since he will serve a life sentence without parole.

The removal of the death penalty is part of an agreement reached by the county district attorney's office, Meadows and his defense lawyers. In return for the judge vacating the sentence, the now 69-year-old Meadows has agreed to drop all legal challenges of the sentence and also agreed not to file any additional appeals.

The killing occurred on March 30, 1984, in Cheltenham, where the married Hayes was sharing an apartment with Amber Cintron, a woman with whom Hayes allegedly was having an affair, and her 2 children, according to news accounts.

Meadows reportedly demanded money, but Hayes instead gave Meadows what Hayes claimed was $15,000 worth of marijuana.

Meadows then shot Hayes, whose hands were tied behind him, "execution-style" in the back of the head, according to news accounts. Meadows also shot Cintron twice in the leg before fleeing.

Meadows remained on the lam for about 6 years before he was taken into custody.

A jury convicted Meadows of 1st-degree murder in July 1990, directing that he be put to death.

Meadows and his lawyers have been seeking to have that sentence overturned since that time.

(source: The Intelligencer)


Georgia executes Atlanta cop killer Gregory Lawler

Gregory Paul Lawler, 63, has been executed for murdering an Atlanta police officer 19 years ago.

Lawler was pronounced dead at 11:49 p.m. Wednesday at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson, where the state's death chamber is located.

The United States Supreme Court denied a stay of execution shortly after 11 p.m., clearing the way for Lawler to get a needle filled with a fatal dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

The lethal injection had been slated for 7 p.m., but executions are routinely delayed by last-gasp legal appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court announced Wednesday evening that it had denied late defense requests to halt the execution. And the state Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency request Tuesday that focused on Lawler's recently diagnosed autism.

Lawler was convicted of murdering John "Rick" Sowa, a 28-year-old Atlanta policeman, and wounding Sowa's partner, Pat Cocciolone, on Oct. 12, 1997, just moments after the 2 officers walked Lawler's intoxicated girlfriend to the front door of the apartment they shared.

Sowa and Cocciolone were sent to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman behind a business near the intersection of Lindbergh Drive and Piedmont Avenue. They found Lawler trying to pull his girlfriend, Donna Rodgers, who was drunk, to her feet. After Lawler walked away, Sowa and Cocciolone drove Rodgers home.

Lawler greeted the officers at the door with obscenities and told them to leave. When Sowa tried to stop Lawler from closing the door, Lawler grabbed an AR-15 loaded with armor-piercing bullets and fired at the fleeing officers.

Sowa was shot dead a few feet away. Cocciolone, gravely wounded, managed to call for help.

Both were wearing bullet-proof vests. Their guns were still holstered.

Lawler spent much of the day Wednesday visiting his brother, Gerald, at the prison. At 3 p.m. he was given a physical and was then served his last meal. Prison officials said he ate all of it.

Lawler becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Georgia, and the 67th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. The 7th execution in Georgia is the most carried out in a single year in that state since the death penalty was re-instated by the US Supreme Court on July 2, 1976.

Lawler becomes the 17th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1439th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: Atlanta Journal Constitution & Rick Halperin)


Judge considering moving man's 2nd death penalty trial

A federal judge is considering moving the 2nd death penalty trial of a Vermont man charged in the 2000 abduction and killing of a North Clarendon woman, but the judge isn't going to let the attorneys keep secret their request to move the trial.

Lawyers representing 36-year-old Donald Fell asked that their request be sealed in order to prevent what they called "reiteration of the press coverage."

Judge Geoffrey Crawford rejected their request Wednesday.

Fell's lawyers commissioned a survey and reviewed more than 630 newspaper articles to support their effort to move Fell's 2nd death penalty trial to a different location.

Fell is charged with killing 53-year-old Terry King after abducting her when she arrived for work.

Fell's 2005 conviction was overturned due to juror misconduct.

(source: Associated Press)

GEORGIA----impending execution

Georgia execution would mark milestones in death penalty dealings

Should the state of Georgia execute Gregory Paul Lawler as planned Wednesday night, it will mark a milestone in at least 2 different ways.

Lawler was sentenced to death for the 1997 killing of Atlanta police officer John Sowa. His execution, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, would be the 7th in Georgia in 2016. That would make 2 more than in 2015 and make Georgia the only state in the nation accelerating the rate of executions year over year. That's the 1st milestone.

As for the 2nd, Lawler's execution would tie Georgia with Texas for the number of executions this year. Texas generally leads the nation.

Richard Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said this is because something new is happening in Texas that isn't happening in Georgia.

"The state courts in Georgia are not granting hearings to consider evidence that there was police misconduct or prosecutorial misconduct or junk science that was being used," Dunham said.

State courts in Texas are considering those factors now that state law allows for it. The law was changed after a number of high profile exonerations in death row cases. Executions in Texas have been cut in half since 2015, as some inmates have won stays of execution.

Lawler's attorneys argued for clemency to Georgia's parole board on the basis of his recent autism diagnosis, according to court briefs. Were that evidence presented in court, the resulting decision would be public record. The parole board, appointed by the governor, is not bound by law to share details of its findings. The board denied Lawler's clemency request Tuesday.

Despite the increase in the number of executions in Georgia, the handing of down of death sentences by juries continues to slow. Lawler's conviction in 2000 came at the tail end of the peak for capital punishment in Georgia following its reinstatement in the 1970s.

Until 2000, the state averaged 10 death sentences a year. Since 2000 that number has been closer to 2 a year. There were no death sentences handed down in 2015, which was the 6th year Georgia juries could choose life without the possibility of parole instead of a death sentence.



Lawmakers to deal again with death penalty sentencing

Florida lawmakers will attempt again to fix the state's death-penalty sentencing due to to court rulings finding that the process is unconstitutional.

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, who will take over as head of the Senate after the November elections, said on Tuesday that lawmakers will have to redress the issue of jury unanimity when they reconvene next year.

"It's going to be a unanimous verdict requirement going forward," Negron, R-Stuart, said.

The court on Friday ruled that a statute was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Last week's rulings left unanswered questions about the impact of the court decisions on Florida's 400 Death Row inmates. The state Supreme Court is expected to address the issue of retroactivity in other cases.

But Friday's decisions in 2 seminal cases made clear that the Florida justices believe a unanimous recommendation is required for the death penalty to be imposed.

Of 31 states that have the death penalty, Florida until Friday was one of just three that did not require unanimous jury recommendations for sentences of death. Delaware's high court has put that state's death penalty on hold following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

There was "no ambiguity" in the Florida Supreme Court's ruling regarding the jury recommendation, Negron said.

"There's no gray area. There's no confusion. It's very clear. I think we should pass a constitutional statute," he said.

Florida's death penalty has essentially been on hold since January's 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that the state's system was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.

That decision said Florida's system gave too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing people to death.

The rulings Friday by the Florida Supreme Court dealt with an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court did not directly address --- the issue of jury unanimity in sentencing recommendations.

Negron said lawmakers do not need to rush to deal with the matter during a special session but could resolve it during the 2017 regular legislative session that begins in March.

But some lawyers were hoping that the Legislature would address the issue earlier.

In Ocala on Monday, Circuit Judge Robert Hodges put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

"The effect of Perry is we have a bunch of cases that are now in limbo," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman and who argued Coleman's case Monday. A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is expected to ask the Florida Supreme Court for a rehearing in either the Perry or Hurst cases. But court observers say it is highly unlikely the justices will grant a rare rehearing, especially given the 5-2 rulings in both cases.

If the court does not act, the Legislature must, lawyers on both sides agree.

"Somebody's going to have to do something," said Brad King, state attorney in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

Some judges are holding off on the sentencing phases of capital trials while proceeding with the portions of the trials to determine guilt or innocence.

But Friday's ruling on unanimity changes the landscape regarding jury selection because defense lawyers will now have to convince only a single juror to grant what is known as "mercy," a shift that could have a significant impact. Defense lawyers want the courts to pause until the unanimity issue is settled.

"While we don't know the final outcome of what the rules or laws will be, how are we expected to question a jury about it?" Graves, the public defender, said.

The issue of unanimity was a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as lawmakers grappled with changing the sentencing scheme after the U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Senate originally supported a proposal requiring unanimous recommendations for death to be imposed, but ceded to a House plan --- pushed by prosecutors, including Bondi --- favoring the 10-2 recommendations.

"Do we understand that we're responsible for that? Yes. We understand that. We understood that when we made that decision. But we thought that it was a position we should take in order to represent the victims' families and try to do the best we could for that group of people," said prosecutor King, whose circuit includes Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. "Yes. We're responsible for that. As much as anybody else is, it was us."



California Attorney General's Office Lies To Appeals Court In OCDA Cover Up

Inadvertently underscoring the warped condition of our criminal justice system, Deputy Attorney General Theodore M. Cropley entered a packed California Court of Appeal hearing on Oct. 17 and lied in the pending death penalty case of People v. Scott Dekraai.

According to Cropley, prosecutors in the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) had "no knowledge" of a valuable, hidden sheriff's records system at the core of the ongoing jailhouse informant scandal that's won national embarrassment and calls for a U.S. Department of Justice probe.

Like a skilled CIA operative trained to beat a lie detector test, the deputy AG casually repeated the falsehood at least 5 times during a 20-minute presentation to a 3-justice panel - Kathleen O'Leary, Richard Fybel and Raymond Ikola - in hopes of convincing them to overturn the historic recusal of Tony Rackauckas and his OCDA from Dekraai.

In March 2015, Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, a former prosecutor, booted OCDA from the case after watching law enforcement officials hide what we'd eventually learn was the sheriff's TRED system documenting inmate movements and commit perjury to cover up the existence of the records.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens poses dumbfounded about why anybody would care about the TRED evidence, but it doesn't just contain bureaucratic gobbledygook. As we've documented on these pages during recent years, the contents provide proof of illegal government operations designed to aid prosecutors win cases. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court banned law enforcement officials from questioning pre-trial inmates after they've been charged with a crime and who have legal representation. Trampling that constitutional prohibition, officials secretly employed jailhouse informants, relocating them to cells near targets and tasking the snitches with tricking inmates into making incriminating statements. To introduce that information in court, prosecutors then claimed the snitches accidentally obtained such evidence without government aid. Dekraai's defense lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, unraveled the scam.

By ignoring key facts, Cropley sculpted a counter-reality to that undisputable history. In one of his briefs to the appellate justices, the deputy AG insisted there is "no evidence" that "even remotely demonstrates" OCDA prosecutors have in the past or will in the future abandon their ethical obligation to seek justice rather than merely stockpile wins. He also labeled the "possibility of future misconduct" in Dekraai as nothing but "rank speculation." In his world, prosecutors didn't know about TREDs and thus can't be expected to have demanded their surrender or to have realized deputies were lying under oath about their existence.

Oops: This week, the attorney general's office tried to absolve OC prosecutors from the snitch scandal by claiming they were unaware of controversial TRED jail records, but the DA's office entered the above TRED document into evidence at a 2011 trial.

But the deputy AG's assertion is demonstratively false. Court records obtained by the Weekly show that high-ranking prosecutors tied to the snitch scandal - for example, Ebrahim Baytieh and Keith Bogardus - not only possessed TREDs in the 2011 trial stemming from the gruesome jailhouse murder of inmate John Derek Chamberlain, but also introduced them into evidence (see above, Exhibit 70) and questioned a deputy on the record about the contents. (According to Sanders, deputies shared TREDs in a few cases where an entry helped prosecutors win, an ugly reality that he says means the local criminal justice system can't be trusted.)

Denying knowledge of the TREDs is problematic for the DA and, of course, Cropley. Rackauckas has sent Baytieh on public relations missions to strenuously deny all OCDA culpability in the snitch scandal and to attack critics like Sanders and Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding dean of UC Irvine's School of Law. Bogardus appeared formally as an OCDA representative in Dekraai where the deputies lied about the existence of TREDs. With Goethals observing, Baytieh and Bogardus remained silent when colleagues Dan Wagner and Howard Gundy mocked Sanders as a nut case who'd concocted a jailhouse snitch scandal that was nothing more than a wild conspiracy theory.

Who else remained noticeably silent after it was clear that Seth Tunstall and Ben Garcia, 2 of the key deputies running the jailhouse informant program, committed perjury as Goethals detailed: Cropley, who sat in the front row behind his prosecutorial pals as the scandal unfolded.

(Rackauckas, Hutchens and Cropley - all well-paid government employees sworn to public service as a top priority - have refused to punish the offending officers.)

In the past, law enforcement officials here have misled the appellate court by taking advantage of the unwritten presumption that cops don't lie, but based on their keen questions at this week's Dekraai hearing, the justices seem alert to potential trickery.

Presiding Justice O'Leary, for example, observed it's puzzling that OCDA officials benefited for years from the sheriff's jailhouse informant program and simultaneously claim to be clueless about how they got so lucky.

Justice Richard Fybel rejected Cropley's contention that Goethals' recusal order was a knee-jerk emotional response rather than a legally reasonable conclusion that Rackauckas' office has proven it can't be independent from cheating law enforcement partners inside the sheriff's department.

Fybel also asked the most penetratingly insightful question of the hearing: If sheriff's deputies "deceived" prosecutors, too, where is the evidence that OCDA pressed them for the TREDs when they realized they'd been duped?

"I didn't see any evidence in the record that the DA's office ever asked the sheriff's department for the documents," the justice added.

Cropley stuck to his false narrative, responding, "It's difficult to ask for something of which you had no knowledge of."

He insisted the recusal was unfair to Rackauckas' office because "the DA is now in the best position to insure compliance" with Goethals' court orders.

On the other hand, Deputy Public Defender Scott Van Camp told the appellate panel that the prosecutor's office "showed it would do nothing" in response to cheating deputies, California Attorney General's Office Lies To Appeals Court In OCDA Cover Up (3)

The underlying notion of Fybel's question annihilates the presentation that OCDA officials have aggressively obeyed ethical rules.

As recently as a Sept. 22 hearing in Orange County's central justice center, a stunned Goethals asked government officials why they continue to disobey his January 2013 discovery order in Dekraai.

"When should I expect full compliance with my lawful orders?" the judge asked. "3 1/2 years isn't enough time?"

Deputy DA Wagner, the lead Dekraai prosecutor, and Elizabeth Pejeau, a deputy county counsel representing Sheriff Hutchens, hemmed and hawed. Both admitted additional records hidden from Sanders would be forthcoming but didn't give themselves a deadline as they continue to demand that the state execute the defendant. Goethals scheduled a follow-up hearing for next week.

Meanwhile, the appellate justices will determine within 90 days if Goethals' recusal order was legally permissible and, if so, the AG's office then must take over prosecution duties during the penalty phase of Dekraai.

(source: OC Weekly)


Pathologist alleges toddler died of infection in Roden death penalty trial

The defense of accused killer Randy Roden presented a key medical witness Tuesday as it tries to prove a flesh-eating bacterial infection killed 2-year-old Evangelina Wing.

Roden, 28, has been charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend Dorothy Wing's daughter and abusing her 2 sons, now 3 and 7, in a Seaside apartment the 2 shared 2 years ago. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The couple called 911 on Dec. 20, 2014, after discovering Wing's daughter unresponsive. Her 2 sons were also found injured and taken into protective custody. Prosecutors believe the children were tortured, burned, bitten and caged in the months before Evangelina Wing's death, in one of the worst cases of child abuse in Clatsop County's history.

Wing, who pleaded guilty in January to 1st-degree manslaughter and 2 counts of 1st-degree criminal mistreatment, testified last week. In exchange for testifying against Roden, she will receive a plea deal that brings her prison sentence down from a life sentence to approximately 15 years.

An autopsy found the toddler died of battered child syndrome with blunt force trauma to her head. But Roden's attorney, Conor Huseby, argues that Dorothy Wing caused her daughter's death through abuse, along with complications from the flesh-eating virus methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, which was found on the children. Huseby has sought to have the case dismissed because signs of the infection were never investigated.

On Tuesday, Huseby called Dr. Janice Ophoven, a Minnesota-based pediatric forensic pathologist hired by defense attorneys to provide expert testimony. Ophoven argued that while Evangelina Wing sustained abuse and neglect, she ultimately succumbed to septicemia, in which a bacterial infection enters the blood stream.

Burns or lesions?

Ophoven disagreed with the state's autopsy, arguing that some of the marks on Evangelina Wing and her brothers identified as burns were actually lesions from impetigo, a highly contagious skin infection that causes red sores.

"In my opinion, these children were literally covered with these open sores that were infected with bacteria," she said.

If bacteria enters the blood stream from such sores, she said, the toxins they create can inhibit the body's ability to maintain blood pressure.

"Children will eventually get to a condition known as irreversible shock," Ophoven said.

The shock causes the body to lose consciousness, she said, and stops circulation to the brain. "Once you enter irreversible shock, you're probably going to be gone within a couple hours or so."

Ophoven said the autopsy should have considered infectious causes of death, taking more samples from the lesions and the heart muscles, on which abscesses were found.

Is this trauma?

Under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Ron Brown, who is leading the prosecution, Ophoven said her last autopsy was in 2009. She said her last autopsy in a suspected child homicide was in the 1990s. Brown also pointed to an autopsy performed by Ophoven in the 1980s in which she concluded a child died of natural causes, before the mother later admitted that her boyfriend suffocated the child.

Brown led Ophoven through a series of photos showing the marks on the bodies of Evangelina Wing and her 2 brothers, asking her if it looked like signs of trauma. Ophoven said she agreed there was child abuse, and that trauma played a part in Evangelina Wing's injuries and death. But she maintained that the toxic bacteria entering the blood stream and leading to irreversible shock caused her death.

There should have been an infectious autopsy performed, she said, looking at things under a microscope instead of with the naked eye. "You have to look at it scientifically. We (forensic pathologists) are not supposed to speculate."

(source: Daily Astorian)


Q&A: the Sampson murder trial

The death-penalty trial of admitted serial killer Gary Lee Sampson began Sept. 14 in federal court in Boston with the process of selecting a jury. Opening statements could occur as soon as next week. Here's an explainer on the most high-stakes trial in Massachusetts.

What is the case about?

Sampson, 57, a drifter from Abington, said he carjacked and killed 19-year-old Jonathan Rizzo and Philip McCloskey, 69, in separate incidents during a violent spree in July 2001. During the same week, he also killed Robert "Eli" Whitney, 58, in New Hampshire. Although he admitted to the crimes, a jury must decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

Why does he face the death penalty?

Massachusetts does not have a death penalty, but the United States court system does for certain crimes, such as carjacking resulting in death. Federal prosecutors chose in 2001 to seek capital punishment based on the severity of the crimes.

Why is the case happening now?

Sampson pleaded guilty in 2003 and a federal jury condemned him to death that same year. After a lengthy appeals process, a federal judge vacated that jury's decision, however, after finding that 1 of the jurors lied during a screening process. An appeals court upheld the decision. Federal prosecutors agreed to seek the death penalty in a new trial.

(source: The Boston Globe)


Legislature must prioritize death penalty appellate counsel

The state of Texas's continued reliance on the death penalty as a method of punishment is one of the most divisive issues in state criminal justice policy. But this premise garners consensus: If we are to execute people, we must execute the right people, those who actually committed the crimes and who actually merit capital punishment under the laws of our state.

Unfortunately, Texas's inattention to a major hole in its provision of representation for those facing the death penalty is substantially undermining that protection. Under Texas and federal law, the primary vehicle for correction of error in a criminal case is the 1st direct appeal, taken immediately after a conviction. Following that direct appeal, all subsequent courts that hear challenges to a conviction will defer to many of the factual and legal findings made by that appellate court. Errors not raised or caught at that critical 1st appeal are in many instances forever forfeited. Indeed, Texas has recognized the significance of direct appeal in capital cases by providing that in only capital cases the state's highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, handles direct review.

Yet Texas has failed to ensure that death row inmates receive adequate appellate counsel in death penalty cases. While the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs provides well-funded and well-supervised counsel in post-appellate habeas proceedings, appointment of appellate counsel happens through a patchwork of county-level policies with little quality oversight. Contrary to the American Bar Association's standards for fairness, Texas provides only one, not 2 appellate lawyers for death-sentenced defendants and has poor mechanisms in place to screen lawyers for their skill in litigating appeals prior to appointment. Compensation set by counties for appellate counsel is frequently grossly inadequate and creates pressure on appellate lawyers to take on unmanageable caseloads. The deficiencies are all the more glaring given the superior resources of the state in most capital appeals, which are typically handled by large county district attorney offices with specialized appellate units and multiple lawyers assisting in briefing.

Such were the conclusions of a statewide taskforce of attorneys, legal scholars and former judges, which I chaired from 2011 to 2013. Our report's findings were powerfully amplified in a recent report issued by the Texas Defender Service, which detailed findings from analysis of direct appeals in capital cases from 2009 to 2015. That report found that the majority of death penalty appeals are handled by solo practitioners; that those lawyers often face vastly superior litigation resources from the state; that appellate defenders are commonly overburdened with caseloads that greatly exceed the norms in other death penalty states; and that the lawyers routinely render substandard performance by filing boilerplate briefs, waiving opportunities to submit reply briefs and failing to seek review before the Supreme Court. Critically, in the time period studied, only 3 defendants had their death sentences reversed on appeal; all were represented by 2 lawyers.

These issues should be given priority attention in the upcoming legislative session. A statewide appellate defender office, comparable to the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, would be a substantial improvement on the patchwork of appointment, oversight and compensation that currently characterizes capital appellate defense in Texas. Death-sentenced defendants should, as the American Bar Association recommends, enjoy the assistance of two lawyers in their appeals. At a minimum, the Legislature must shore up oversight of appointment and compensation standards that are currently fragmented and inadequate.

More than 150 years ago, Texas was in the vanguard in creating a right to trial counsel for defendants facing the death penalty, over half a century before the Supreme Court required it. But Texas has not kept up its commitment to fairness and accuracy in capital cases. Removing structural impediments to accurate determinations of who should live or die is a moral imperative. It is well within the capacity of the Texas Legislature to respond to that challenge.

(source: Opinion; Jennifer Laurin is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. She was the chair of the American Bar Association Texas Capital Punishment Team that produced the 2013 report "Evaluating Fairness and Accuracy in State Death Penalty Systems: The Texas Capital Punishment Assessment Report."----Austin American-Statesman)


High Court Hears Death Penalty Arguments

Connecticut's repeal of the death penalty for future murders last year violates the constitutional rights of the 11 men on the state's death row who still face execution, a public defender told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The 7 justices heard nearly 90 minutes of arguments on the repeal, which abolished capital punishment for all murders committed after April 24, 2012. The high court is expected to take several months to issue a ruling.

Tuesday's arguments came in the case of former Torrington resident Eduardo Santiago, who was sentenced to death for killing a man in West Hartford in 2000 in return for a pink-striped snowmobile with a broken clutch. The state Supreme Court overturned his death sentence last year and ordered a new penalty phase, 2 months after the repeal took effect.

Neither Santiago nor any supporters attended the arguments.

The case has drawn interest from across the country.

A group of legal scholars from several states filed a brief with the Supreme Court opposing Santiago's execution, saying no state has ever executed anyone after repealing the death penalty. They said his execution would violate both the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions.

The repeal eliminated the death penalty while setting life in prison without the possibility of release as the punishment for crimes formerly considered capital offenses. The law was passed after Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes were sentenced to lethal injection for killing a mother and her 2 daughters in a 2007 home invasion in Cheshire that made national headlines.

Santiago's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Mark Rademacher, says executing Santiago would violate his constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. He said it would be wrong for some people to face the death penalty while others face life in prison for similar murders.

Rademacher spent much of his time Tuesday arguing that the repeal created an unconstitutionally arbitrary factor - whether a murder was committed before or after the repeal took effect - in determining whether someone should face the death penalty.

"We should all be able to agree that we don't make decisions on who should live and who should die based on something as arbitrary as the date of repeal," Rademacher said.

Rademacher said Connecticut declared its opposition to the death penalty last year and it wouldn't make sense to execute anybody now.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Harry Weller told the justices that the repeal should stand and denied there were any constitutional problems with it.

"This is ... a judgment made by the people of Connecticut," Weller said. "This court should validate the statute and allow the statute to act the way the legislature intended it to."

Death penalty opponents say they have mixed feelings about the repeal, because it eliminates the death penalty for some, but keeps it for others.

"What was achieved last year was very important," said David Amdur, project director for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, referring to the repeal. "Last year was a good first step. Obviously there are 11 people (death row inmates) not covered by it. We do not support the death penalty in any circumstance in Connecticut."

It has never been clear whether Santiago was the one who pulled the rifle trigger and killed 45-year-old Joseph Niwinksi. 2 other men, Matthew Tyrell and Mark Pascual, pleaded guilty in the killing and are serving life in prison. Santiago and Tyrell pointed the finger at each other.

Prosecutors said the murder-for-hire plot was hatched by Pascual, who was infatuated with Niwinksi's girlfriend, believed Niwinski was abusing her and wanted him dead. Pascual promised Santiago the broken snowmobile if he killed Niwinski.

The Supreme Court overturned his death sentence last June, saying the trial judge wrongly withheld evidence from the jury of Santiago's troubled childhood, which included beatings and sexual molestation. Defense lawyers say that evidence may have prevented the jury from agreeing on the death penalty.

(source: Associated Press)


Man accused of killing Lyon sisters appears in court

The man accused of killing 2 girls back in 1975 appeared in a Bedford County courtroom Tuesday.

According to WDBJ7, prosecutors says Lloyd Lee Welch, Jr. killed Katherine and Sheila Lyon.

On Tuesday, the judge set a hearing about an immunity agreement in the case that Welch's attorneys say he had with investigators in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The attorneys say the agreement should also apply to the investigation in Bedford County.

Another hearing, set for January, will give attorneys the chance to argue whether or not Welch was given the right to counsel.

In recordings that were played in court on Tuesday, Welch is heard asking for an attorney several times. However, he wasn't given a lawyer until a later date.

The defense says comments he made to investigators before getting an attorney should not be admissible in court.

In one of the recordings, Welch can also be heard saying he didn't touch the girls.

At the January hearing, attorneys will also argue about the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1975, which is when prosecutors believe the crime occurred.

Back then, the law was different, and the death penalty was not legal in Virginia until after the alleged crime occurred.

The judge did rule on 1 motion on Tuesday, denying the defense's request to limit the use of the word "victim" in reference to the Lyon sisters.

The sisters disappeared from a Maryland shopping center in 1975, and officials believe they were killed in Bedford County. Their bodies have never been found.

The trial is set for April, and jury selection will be done in panels of 3.


GEORGIA----impending execution

Georgia preparing to execute man who killed Atlanta officer

Georgia is preparing to execute a man convicted of killing an Atlanta police officer and wounding a 2nd officer with an AR-15 rifle.

Gregory Paul Lawler is scheduled to die Wednesday evening by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson.

Lawler, who's 63, was convicted in the October 1997 slaying of Officer John Sowa. Authorities say he also critically wounding Officer Patricia Cocciolone.

Lawler's attorneys have argued that a recent autism diagnosis helps explain his actions that night and that his life should be spared. Legal maneuvers to save his life are pending in the courts.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is the only authority in Georgia with power to commute a death sentence, on Tuesday declined to grant him clemency.

(source: Associated Press)


Parole Board denies clemency for Gregory Lawler

Just an hour after hearing from those who wanted to see Atlanta cop killer Gregory Lawler executed, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his request for clemency.

Lawler, 63, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the Oct. 12,1979, murder of Atlanta police officer John "Rick" Sowa. Sowa's partner, Pat Cocciolone, was critically wounded in the shooting that came moments after the 2 officers had walked Lawler's drunk girlfriend to the door of the apartment they shared.

For 3 hours this morning, the 5 member board heard pleas from Lawler's brother and lawyers to spare him because Lawler just learned 3 weeks ago that he is autistic and that worked against him when he testified at his trial in 2000 and when he was interviewed by a board investigator last week.

Sowa's widow, his sister, Cocciolone and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard spent about 1 1/2 hours with the board Tuesday afternoon.

On a Sunday evening 19 years and one week ago, Sowa and Cocciolone were dispatched to investigate a report of a man hitting a woman with a bag in a parking lot hear the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and Lindbergh Drive. They came up on Lawler trying to pull his girlfriend, Donna Rodgers, to her feet. After Lawler walked off, the officers decided to drive the intoxicated woman home.

Moments after Rodgers had walked into the apartment she shared with Lawler, Lawler shot the fleeing officers with armor-piercing bullets. Sowa died on the lawn while Cocciolone, though wounded, called for help. Both officers still had their guns holstered.

If he is executed, Lawler will be the 7th person Georgia has put to death this year, which is more than any other year since the current death penalty law was adopted her 40 years ago. Only Texas has executed as many as 7 people since Jan. 1.

(source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)


Clemency denied for convicted cop killer facing death penalty

Officials deciding the fate of a Georgia man set to be executed for killing a cop and injuring another have made their decision.

After a clemency hearing Tuesday morning, the Georgia Parole Board has denied the request by attorneys for Gregory Paul Lawler. Lawler is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at the state prison in Jackson on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The 63-year-old was convicted of murder in October 1997 after shooting and killing Atlanta Police officer John Sowa and critically injuring officer Patricia Cocciolone. Prosecutors say Lawler, then 45 years old, shot the officers as they tried to help bring his intoxicated girlfriend home. During testimony a few years later, Lawler claimed that he didn't trust the police and was a victim in the crime, despite evidence to the contrary.

Lawler was sentenced to the death penalty in 2000. New unsealed documents from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles released Monday show Lawler's attorneys have asked the board to halt the execution after Lawler was diagnosed with autism. According to the man's attorneys, the recent diagnosis helps explain his actions that night.

The board, which is the only authority that can commute a death sentence, considered the request during the Tuesday hearing. The board said they came to their decision after reviewing all case materials from Lawler's file, including the life and criminal history of the inmate, and circumstances of the crime.

If there are no additional last minute stays, Lawler will become the 7th Georgia inmate executed this year.

(source: Associated Press)


Manatee death row inmates could be among those affected by court ruling

Since the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida deemed part of Florida's death sentencing law unconstitutional, now requiring death sentencing to be decided by a unanimous jury, it's still not clear what that means for the 386 inmates currently on Florida's death row.

Some lawyers and legislators argue the ruling means that death penalty sentencings could be thrown out and retried. Others say that it means from now on, juries must vote unanimously in death row cases.

3 of those death row inmates are from Manatee County, but only 1 was placed on death row by a unanimous jury vote.

Delmer Smith, who was convicted of the Aug. 9, 2009 murder of Kathleen Briles, was denied a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in 2015. The now-45-year-old's jury had voted unanimously for the death penalty at 12 to 0, but his case remains reopen despite the newly established constitutionality of the law. The next status conference on his appeal will be Jan. 18, 2017.

Daniel Burns, now 71, was convicted of 1st-degree murder in the Aug. 18, 1987, fatal shooting of FHP trooper Jeff Young with the trooper's revolver and has been on death row since June 2, 1988. In Burns' case, on May 12, 1988, a jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 10 to 2. Appeals to higher courts to overturn the death senetence have been denied, and his case still remains closed.

In Melvin Trotter's case, his jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of 9 to 3 in the June 18, 1986, stabbing of Virgie Langford during a Palmetto grocery store robbery. His case remains closed, according to the 12th Judicial Circuit website.

(source: Bradenton Herald)


Edwin Meese backs death row inmate's effort for case review

Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of an Alabama death row inmate he says could be "very likely actually innocent."

Bill Kuenzel was convicted of murdering convenience store clerk Linda Jean Offord in 1987. Kuenzel's attorneys are arguing that prosecutors withheld evidence at trial that would have raised doubts about the truthfulness of plea deal testimony from a roommate who said Kuenzel committed the killing.

Kuenzel's attorneys had missed a state deadline to raise the new evidence claim and are looking to the nation's highest court to order a review. Meese, who served as U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, filed a friend of the court brief saying "basic notions of fairness" require a look at the case.

"This Court should grant review and ensure that the compelling constitutional claims of a man who is very likely actually innocent are resolved on the merits," attorneys wrote for Meese.

Kuenzel's roommate, who had blood on his pants after the murder, testified that Kuenzel committed the crime. Accomplice testimony is required to be corroborated.

Kuenzel lawyer's said they found out in 2010 that a teenage witness - who testified she saw Kuenzel at the convenience store - had initially told a grand jury that she wasn't certain it was Kuenzel she saw. Defense lawyers said they've also learned that the roommate had a shotgun of the same gauge used to kill Offord and also initially told police that he had been at the convenience store with another friend, not Kuenzel.

Lawyers with the Alabama attorney general's office have argued the teenage witness only had slight variations in her certainty that Kuenzel was at the store, and there was other testimony and evidence that backed up the guilty verdict.

Lawyers for the state wrote in a brief that Kuenzel had tried to fabricate an alibi for the day of the murder and that he and his roommate had written notes in a notebook that suggested they were trying to coordinate their stories to police.

(source: The Republic)

OHIO----female may face death sentence

Woman facing death penalty laughs in court

Andrea Bradley was agitated as she was led into a courtroom Tuesday.

"I don't want those cameras on me," she said, as her attorneys repeatedly tried to quiet her. "Y'all want to kill somebody ... This is crazy."

Bradley, 30, apparently was referring to the fact that she still faces charges that could bring the death penalty. On Tuesday, she again turned down a plea deal in her daughter's death.

The hearing, in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court before Judge Robert Ruehlman, took place a day after another judge sentenced her onetime boyfriend to die by lethal injection in the killing of their 2-year-old daughter, Glenara. Glen Bates was found guilty last month of charges including aggravated murder.

Several times Tuesday, Ruehlman reprimanded Bradley after an outburst. At one point, she began to laugh as one of her attorneys told Ruehlman that she didn't want to enter a plea.

"There's nothing funny about this," the judge said.

Bradley's attorneys have argued that she cannot face the death penalty because she is intellectually disabled. Experts have determined that her IQ is in the mid-60s, below the threshold of 75.

Her attorneys also say she has been under psychiatric care much of her life.

"Andrea has documented mental issues from childhood on," her attorney, Will Welsh, said in an interview.

Her mother, Desena Bradley, said she believed Bradley had not been taking her medication.

"She has real serious issues," her mother said without being specific. She also apologized to reporters for Bradley's outbursts.

The next court hearing is set for Nov. 2. At that time, Ruehlman could decide whether Bradley has an intellectual disability.

Prosecutors say both Bradley and Bates were responsible for the death of Glenara, who was starved, burned, beaten and ultimately slammed against a door frame by Bates before she died in March 2015.

Bates lived on and off with Bradley, Glenara and five other children in a rented house in East Walnut Hills. Bates is the father of 3 of Bradley's children, including a child Bradley gave birth to last year while she was in jail, awaiting trial in Glenara's killing.

Glenara was the only child targeted for extreme abuse, according to prosecutors. She slept in a bathroom, and Bates told police that when the family went out, Glenara would be left behind "in a bathroom tub with a can of food."

In a video-recorded interview, a police detective asked Bates: "Why the bathroom?"

"That's just where she feeding her at," he said, referring to Bradley. "Cuz, like, I guess she don't want to clean up the carpet, or whatever."

Bradley's attorneys have called Bates controlling and abusive toward her.



Death Row Exoneree Ray Krone To Speak At Chattanooga State

Former death row inmate Ray Krone will share how DNA evidence led to his exoneration at an event at Chattanooga State Community College on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.

Panelists Amy Lawrence, coordinator for Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, Marcus Easley, former law enforcement officer, and Professor Michael McCamish will join Mr. Krone in discussing the failures of the capital punishment system, officials said.

The event is part of the Criminal Justice Speaker Series hosted by the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at Chattanooga State Community College.

(source: The Chattanoogan)


Secrecy for suppliers would fix death penalty law

At a recent forum sponsored by death penalty opponents in Hastings, the representative of the political campaign opposing the death penalty stated most people who vote will only spend "30 seconds learning about the issue." Her implication that overwhelming public support for repealing the Legislature's elimination of the death penalty was based on voter ignorance was as incorrect as it was condescending.

Contrary to her dismissal of voters as uniformed, I have found most voters asking serious and thoughtful questions about capital punishment. Unfortunately, too often facts about the death penalty in Nebraska are distorted and misrepresented by death penalty opponents.

A frequent talking point of death penalty opponents is that the system for carrying out the penalty is broken beyond repair. The "broken" assertion refers to the inability to obtain sodium thiopental, the anesthetic drug administered to produce unconsciousness during lethal injection. What capital punishment opponents do not tell voters is that the drug is only unavailable due to political activism and public harassment of companies that manufacture the drug. One single statutory change fixes the allegedly "broken beyond repair" system and enables legal access to sodium thiopental.

Statutory protection of the identity of the manufacturer of sodium thiopental would open a domestic source. 12 states already have shield laws. Transparency can be successfully guaranteed, making laboratory analysis of the drug publicly available for evaluation of purity and efficacy. If Nebraska voters repeal the Legislature's action, senators can quickly fix a system they have heretofore refused to repair.

Voters are likely unaware of the human cost of death penalty opponent's successful elimination of sodium thiopental from the U.S. market to protect the lives of convicted death row inmates. Sodium thiopental is a safe, effective, and FDA-approved anesthetic agent, considered a mainstay of anesthesia. Protests led the last U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental to cease production of the drug in 2009. Sandoz, a subsidiary of Novartis, manufactures the drug in Europe, but the company has banned its import into the United States to prevent its use in lethal injection.

The unavailability of sodium thiopental prompted the American Society of Anesthesiologists to appeal to the FDA to aid in importation, citing "a dangerous reduction in the availability of anesthesia induction medications" and "that the safety of American patients is now in jeopardy." The anesthesiologists stated the irony that many more lives will be lost or put in jeopardy as a result of not having the drug available for its legitimate medical use.

Propofol, the anesthetic drug substituted due to the lack of sodium thiopental, is not indicated for use in pregnant, geriatric, cardiovascular, or neurologic surgical patients because it causes dangerous drops in blood pressure and respiratory depression in newborns. A 2nd class of drugs, called pressors, are required to counteract propofol's negative effects. Propofol has also experienced production shortages, leaving physicians with less than optimal options for safely anesthetizing patients.

The assertion of sodium thiopental is considered "illegal" by FDA and the implication that it is unsafe is absolutely false. Sodium thiopental is an FDA-approved safe and effective drug. Its importation has been restricted by executive action of the DEA.

I opposed the Legislature's elimination of the death penalty on every vote. My research proves Nebraska's system is fixable. Senators have a straightforward, proven solution to make Nebraska's death penalty enforceable. Instead, previous Legislatures have failed to act and further complicated the system. Voters should not be misled, and patients should not be denied effective medical therapy to protect convicted killers.

(source: Opinion; Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell represents District 38 in the Nebraska Legislature----Kearney Hub)


Governor shares reasons for supporting death penalty

Public safety is one of my top priorities as your governor. One of the tools law enforcement needs to keep our families and communities safe is laws that are tough-on-crime. Criminal penalties like mandatory sentencing laws, 3-strikes laws and the death penalty act as deterrents and provide justice.

Last year, the Legislature passed Legislative Bill 268 to abolish the death penalty. There was an immediate effort to allow Nebraska voters to decide the issue on the ballot. During the summer of 2015, enough petition signatures were gathered not only to allow the people to vote, but also to prevent LB268 from going into effect until after the vote of the people this November.

Next month, voters will decide whether to abolish or keep the death penalty. The question on the ballot pertains to retaining or repealing the bill the Legislature passed. A vote to retain the bill passed by the Legislature will abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. A vote to repeal the bill passed by the Legislature will keep the death penalty in Nebraska.

I am a strong advocate to keep the death penalty because it is a critical tool for law enforcement and criminal prosecutors to protect public safety.

First, the death penalty protects our corrections officers and law enforcement. Every week, numerous men and women go to work in our corrections system. They risk their lives to provide security at our prisons as well as to deliver programming to help inmates become productive members of society upon release. In prison management, the death penalty is a safeguard against violent criminals who are already behind bars. Without the death penalty, an inmate sentenced to life in prison has nothing to lose by taking the life of a correction office. In fact, there have been a number of law enforcement and corrections officers who have thanked me for my support of the death penalty.

The death penalty also helps protect our communities. Those working to abolish the death penalty argue that life in prison will protect our communities, however, consider the story of Laddie Dittrich. In 1973, Laddie Dittrich was convicted of burglary and first degree murder. He received a life sentence. Prior to my administration, the Pardons Board commuted Dittrich's sentence to 80 years to life. Subsequently, Dittrich was paroled in 2014. Later that year, Dittrich was arrested for third degree sexual assault involving a 10-year-old girl. A life in prison sentence does not guarantee an offender will stay in prison, and it did not protect the community from Dittrich.

As we approach the vote, there is an increasing amount of misinformation. For example, out-of-state advocates are discussing wrongful convictions and the possibility of putting innocent people to death. This is an important conversation to have, however, nobody is claiming that any of Nebraska's 10 death row inmates are innocent. In fact, three of them are on video murdering 5 people in the attempted robbery of a Norfolk bank. Checks and balances in Nebraska ensure that the death penalty is used sparingly and applied justly, and rapid advancements in DNA technology will help to ensure accuracy in future cases.

Anti-death penalty activists paid a researcher for a study that said the death penalty costs the state more money. The study relies on out-of-state data rather than Nebraska statistics. Attorney General Doug Peterson identified "serious inaccuracies" in the study, noting that the study suggests Nebraska incurs 20 times the costs realized by other states. In fact, the Appropriations Bill advanced from the Unicameral’s independent legislative fiscal office found zero dollars in cost savings associated with abolishing the death penalty.

In the next couple of weeks, Nebraskans will weigh the arguments to abolish or keep the death penalty, and it's important people have the facts instead of bad information. It's also critical that you read the ballot language very carefully. A vote to retain LB 268 will abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. A vote to repeal LB268 will keep the death penalty in Nebraska.

(source: Gov. Pete Ricketts, The Fremont Tribune)


Time is right to abolish state's ineffective death penalty law

Nebraskans will make a historic decision Nov. 8 when asked to weigh in on the issue of capital punishment, and based on a number of convincing factors it seems time that life in prison is now a better option than maintaining a death sentence that ultimately can't be used.

Nebraska lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty in May of 2015, later overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. Death penalty supporters had no trouble getting enough signatures to put this question up to a statewide vote, and in the end that seems appropriate. This vote represents a significant life and death issue, and should be decided by all Nebraskans.

Though once a supported means of doling out punishment appropriate for only the worst of crimes, the death penalty now seems more of a costly exercise in futility. The state last executed a prisoner in 1997 and has been unable to acquire the necessary lethal injection drugs for several years. In effect, we've already been without capital punishment for almost 2 decades.

During that time, however, the state has spent an estimated $14 million a year dealing with appeal after appeal after appeal, which has become standard operating procedure. With life hanging in the balance, we understand the need to exhaust all legal challenges, but the end results suggest that this system simply isn't working as a means of fighting crime and/or deterring evil-doers from striking again.

During the past 43 years, more than 1,800 homicides have been committed in Nebraska, and yet only 10 prisoners now sit on death row. Those statistics raise all kinds of questions in and of themselves in terms of fairness and consistency, yet another strike against the death penalty provision. One could also argue that DNA testing has increased the possibility of death row inmates being exonerated years after the crime.

There is a growing wave of opposition to death penalty legislation nationwide, as Nebraska is now one of 20 states that have done away with capital punishment. The reasons for that are many and varied, including moral and religious rationale. On that note his is an issue of the heart and personal conviction.

The irony is, even if voters decide to revive the state's capital punishment law prison officials will be unable to carry out executions for the foreseeable future. That makes no sense whatsoever.

The time has come to accept the fact that sentencing the state’s worst criminals to life in prison is a better solution than placing them on a meaningless, costly death row.

Kurt Johnson

(source: Letter to the Editor, Aurora News Register)


Arizona court hearing to focus on lethal injection drug

A judge presiding over a lawsuit that protests the way Arizona carries out executions is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday over a sedative that was recently abandoned as one of the state's lethal injection drugs.

Lawyers for the state are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit's claim that the sedative midazolam can't ensure that condemned inmates won't feel the pain that's caused by another drug in a 3-drug execution protocol.

The state announced nearly four months ago that it was eliminating its use of midazolam after its supply expired and another supplier couldn't be found because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty. Attorneys for the state say the legal claim is moot because the drug won't be used in the future executions.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake scheduled the hearing after learning that Ohio now has a supply of midazolam and plans to resume executions there in January.

Executions in Arizona will remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved. They were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 dozes of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.

Several of the lawsuit's claims have been dismissed, but lawyers for the condemned inmates want to press forward with allegations that the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

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

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.

(source: Associated Press)


Arizona prosecutor with more death sentences than 99.5 percent of counties is up for re-election

Sheriff Joe Arpaio gets a lot of attention in Phoenix for being corrupt, infantile, fanatical, and power hungry, but he's not the only bad public servant out there. Bill Montgomery, the Maricopa County Attorney, is one of the nation's worst prosecutors. Montgomery, a Republican, is facing re-election on Nov. 8. His opponent, former prosecutor and Democrat Diego Rodriguez, has been critical of Montgomery's record. "People just want to know the County Attorney's Office matches their idea of justice," he said earlier this week. According to Rodriguez, Montgomery "is a political animal. He's not what I am comfortable having administer justice in this county."

Montgomery is bad on a whole host of issues - the death penalty, abortion, immigration, marijuana, sex crimes, racial justice, animal protection, transparency, and innocence claims, to name a few - and we will cover them all over the next few weeks. But for now, lets just start with the fact that Maricopa administers the death penalty more often than 99.5 % of other counties or county-equivalents. Yes, 99.5 %.

All of that is because of Bill Montgomery's office. In fact, between 2010, the year he was elected, and 2015, Bill Montgomery's office was responsible for 28 death sentences. From "Too Broken to Fix," a report from Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project:

Between 2010 and 2015, Maricopa County had 28 death sentences. Maricopa's rate of death sentencing per 100 homicides is approximately 2.3 times higher than the rate for the rest of Arizona. Though Maricopa has 1 % of the nation's population, it accounts for 3.6 % of the death sentences returned nationally between 2010 and 2015.

That puts Montgomery's office in the top 1/2 of 1 % when it comes to death penalty sentences. This, despite the fact that death penalty cases are insanely expensive for the taxpayer, and despite the fact that evidence shows that the death penalty isn't a real deterrent.

And, if the sheer number of cases alone isn't adequately concerning, the defendants share some troubling similarities.

Researchers from Fair Punishment Project attribute much of the high death penalty sentences to prosecutorial overreach. "What we saw in Maricopa County that struck us the most was the pattern of over-zealousness from the prosecution," said Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project and senior research fellow at Harvard Law School. "Both in terms of pushing the ethical and legal boundaries in cases, and also seeking the death sentence and obtaining it some of the most broken and vulnerable people."

Montgomery wants it both ways. He wants to sentence a ton of people to death while pretending he's not that bad. The Arizona Republic reported this week that "Montgomery said he has been bringing the number of cases down[.]" But the numbers are clear - Bill Montgomery continues to rack up death sentences more than virtually any other prosecutor, despite evidence of impropriety and racial bias.

Montgomery and Rodriguez are on the ballot in Maricopa County on Nov. 8.



Californians dying death penalty

Californians will abolish the death penalty sooner or later, it doesn’t really matter which argument ultimately convinces them, be it moral, financial or risk of executing innocent people. The sooner Californians discontinue the death penalty the better. It is a primitive system that kills people, it's end needs to come sooner rather than later.

On the ballot this Nov. 8 there will be 2 competing measures addressing the death penalty in California. Proposition 62 and proposition 66 both share the same overtones, being that the death penalty is a broken system in need of intervention, but don't see eye to eye on the prognosis.

Taxpayers For Sentencing Reform sponsored an online ad that said, "California's death penalty system was beyond repair" and plagued with "endless appeals" resulting in "millions of legal fees."

Californians aren't happy with the state of capital punishment in their state. In 1972 the California Supreme Court found that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and then reinstated it in 1978.

Since then 13 inmates were executed. Today there are 756 inmates on death row in California, 233 of them in Los Angeles County, and it's costing the state 150 billion per year.

Prop. 62 proposes to repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It would be retroactive, applying to inmates previously sentenced to death and it would require the inmate to work while in prison and give 60 % of their earnings to victim restitution.

"For me, it's about costs, it's money," former El Dorado County Supervisor Ron Briggs said during a debate in September. Briggs is the son of John Briggs, the lawmaker who successfully drafted the proposal to bring back capital punishment in California in the 70s, and one of the strongest advocate for Prop. 62.

"We thought we would save money," Briggs said. "We thought we would bring conclusion and closure to the victim's families. And on every single fact, we were dead wrong."

It's hard to say if the financial argument will be strong enough for voters. Surely it will add some grip to the already shifting sensibility of public opinion towards the death penalty.

In 1978 the death penalty was reintroduced with the support of over 70 % of the voters. In 2012, when another Californian ballot measure tried to repeal it, it failed 52 to 48 %. The majority of the voters still wanted to keep the death penalty, but not as many. In 2016 Pew Research poll in 2016 found the capital punishment had the lowest support in 40 years.

"Ideas in the community change. The supreme court has mentioned this a number of times, the consensus of the community evolves," attorney at law Nancy Haydt said during a panel presented by Capital Public Radio. "As to the death penalty, 7 states in the past few years have done away with the death penalty so there is a sense that people are looking more critically at the death penalty and are not feeling nearly as comfortable with it as they have in the past."

A study in 2009 proved that the death penalty isn't an effective deterrent to crime and according to the American Civil liberties Union's (ACLU) website between 1973 and 2015, 148 innocent death-row prisoners in 26 different states were exonerated and released.

It can only be speculated exactly how many people were wrongly executed, but a research shows that almost four percent of U.S. capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions.

The proponents of Prop. 66 agree that the system is broken but do not want to end the death penalty because they think it wouldn't be just for the families of the victims. They want to reform the execution process speeding up the appeals system.

"At the end of the day, once you have executed a condemned inmate, he can never kill again," the president of the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Association Michele Hanisee said during a debate on positions 61 and 66. One can hardly argue with her from a logical standpoint, but on every other level, there is much to say.

It is true, as she says, that there are people on death row that have served time for murder, got out, and killed again or that while serving life without parole killed another inmate or a prison guard, but saying that "to put it bluntly a dead person cannot commit another crime and that alone is a deterrent," is too simplistic to say the least.

The last person to be executed in California was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006. He was already in prison for murder when he orchestrated the murder of additional people.

"The belief that we are safe because they are in prison is a false promise," district attorney in Sacramento County, Anne Marie Schubert, said in the same debate.

That does not mean that we should put them to death because we don't know how to manage them? For her, a supporter of Prop. 66, this "is about the victims of crime. We are talking about roughly one thousand victims that have been murdered by death row killers, we are talking about well over 200 children who most of them have been raped and murdered, we are talking about child killers, serial killers, police officers who have been killed in line of duty, we are talking about mass murderers who walk into schools and kill people for no other reason than just kill people."

We are talking about criminals, but the state shouldn't have power over their life, to end their life. As monstrous as they are, they have rights. Inmates have rights. Some they lose, but some they get to keep. They keep the right, under the Eighth Amendment, to be free from "cruel and unusual" punishment.

It's about time start considering the death penalty as a cruel and unusual punishment regardless of the efficiency of the drugs used for the lethal injection. It is perverse to keep looking for a dignifying way to put inmates to death-as monstrous as their crimes can be.

(source: Marta Valier, Pasadena City College Courier)


Death penalty in double gang murder at Bob's hamburger joint? Owner accidentally killed

An 18-year-old reputed gang member who allegedly opened fire inside a burger restaurant in a Harbor City strip mall, killing a gang target and unintentionally murdering the eatery's longtime owner was facing capital murder charges Tuesday that could send him to death row.

Joey Alfred Mendoza, who wore some kind of mask during the attack, is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 16 at the Long Beach courthouse on 2 counts of murder stemming from the attack at Bob's Hamburgers last Wednesday morning that killed Charalambos Antonelos, 61, of San Pedro, and Louis Garcia, 23, of Wilmington.

Detectives say Garcia was the target, and restaurant owner Antonelos was struck by stray gunfire.

The murder charges, filed Monday, include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder carried out to further the activities of the defendant's "criminal street gang," along with an allegation that he personally and intentionally discharged a handgun.

Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Mendoza, who was arrested a day after the shooting.

Mendoza allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired several shots after approaching Garcia as he stood next to the restaurant's counter about 9:30 a.m. Garcia collapsed and died at the scene.

Antonelos, who had been working behind the counter, died at a hospital.

Witnesses and police said the gunman's face was covered during the attack.

"Harbor detectives identified the suspect through surveillance video, witness statements and gang intelligence," according to a statement released by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Mendoza has remained behind bars since he was arrested about 1:45 a.m. last Thursday.

An employee said Bob's Hamburgers had been operating for about 30 years, and distraught customers told reporters that the longtime owner was known for giving out free food to those in need.



Hercules: Convicted killer's past disseminated during death penalty hearing

Now that they've found him guilty of murder, a Contra Costa jury has been asked to decide whether Darnell Washington should live or die.

Washington, 27, was convicted in September of murdering Hercules resident Susie Ko, a 55-year-old retired kindergarten teacher who was stabbed to death in her home in 2012. At the time of her death, Washington was on the run from the law, having escaped from a San Bernardino County jail weeks earlier.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Washington. In her statements to the jury, prosecutor Molly Manoukian has said that Ko suffered before she died, and that Washington beat and stabbed her to death so that he could steal her car.

Ko was popular in the Hercules community; hundreds attended her funeral, and dozens have sat in on Washington's trial, including Ko's former students. Her abrupt death shocked residents in the small town, which had only a handful of homicides over the previous 10 years.

Less is known about Washington. He spent time in a group home as a child, but kept in contact with his mother. He got into fights in high school. He was arrested and convicted of robbery and carjacking as a teen.

In his early 20s, while awaiting trial on felony charges, he escaped from San Bernardino County Jail with the help of his wife. Days later, he got into a shootout with Southern California police, then fled to the Bay Area, stole a car in Fremont, attempted a robbery at a Kmart, and ended up at Susie Ko's Ash Court home.

He was arrested in Washington state after a brief police pursuit in October 2012. His wife later accepted a plea deal, taking 26 years for voluntary manslaughter.

The penalty phase of the trial is likely to put Washington's life under a microscope. On Tuesday, the prosecution presented its witnesses, including one woman who testified that Washington participated in an attempted robbery in 2004, and another who said he pushed her in 1999, when he was 11 years old. Washington was staying in a Los Angeles-area group home where the woman worked. He had been instructed to write something 200 times as a punishment for bad behavior when he became frustrated, shoved stuff off of the table he was writing on, and ended up shoving the woman, she testified.

During cross-examination, Washington's attorney, Tim Ahearn, asked the woman whether she remembered Washington as being bright and having potential.

(source: East Bay Times)


A death penalty by any other name

Proposition 62, the "Justice That Works Act," claims to end the death penalty in California. But if it is voted in, it will result in the death of thousands of prisoners. In this case, a death penalty by another name will kill no less effectively, no less cruelly.

Life without the possibility of parole, particularly after the passage of this ballot initiative, will mean exactly what it says. Or as the author of the proposition prosaically framed it: "They grow old in prison and they die in prison." Death is the expected outcome of the penalty; the death penalty in other words.

There's more to Prop. 62 that should warrant caution. The language calls for all of us so sentenced, while we're awaiting our old age and eventual deaths, to be housed in "high-security" prisons. In this state, home to the largest prison system ever found by the U.S. Supreme Court to be violating the cruel and unusual punishments clause of the Constitution, on an industrial scale, that means a lifetime of suffering and deprivation. It also means a virtual blank check being handed over to prison bureaucrats to exact whatever kind of brutality they see fit.

The language of the initiative elevates the expansions of the widely derided "felony murder rule" to the almost unchangeable level of constitutional, voter-approved law. Under the felony murder rule, in a case where the police shoot and kill a suspect, any accomplices, even a driver, can be charged with 1st-degree murder. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners serving life without the possibility of parole sentences due to the many contortions of this legal precept.

In case anyone has forgotten, these same arguments were made 4 years ago, and they failed. The difference this time is added provisions to increase the harshness of the sentence and an even more direct appeal to revenge sentencing. The conclusion of the professional death penalty abolitionists appears to be the only way to rid our state of the stain of capital punishment is to hand the voters a pile of stones to throw at prisoners.

The rest of the industrialized, democratic countries long ago abandoned capital punishment as a violation of basic human rights. They did it by outlawing the death penalty, plain and simple. There was no ugly trade-off. For some reason I can't quite fathom, our professional death penalty abolitionists settled on an appeasement strategy instead.

Within just the last few years, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that life without the possibility of parole sentences are a violation of human rights and banned them. The interesting thing is out of a continent of roughly 500 million people there turned out to be about 100 prisoners sentenced to the other death penalty. There are more than that in the building I'm assigned to; in California there are close to 5,000, in the U.S., 50,000. And even without these terrible punishments, somehow the Europeans manage to have a far lower murder rate.

Pope Francis, in an address to the International Association of Penal Law in 2014, referred to long life sentences as "hidden death sentences."

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty does not support Prop. 62, and Human Rights Watch, one of the world's premier civil rights organizations and committed abolitionists, does not support it either. These are the kind of telling details that should raise everyone's mental radar.

If Prop. 62 passes, I'm sure the backers will congratulate themselves for ending the death penalty in California. No doubt Mike Farrell, author and prime sponsor, will be given some kind of humanitarian award from his limousine-lefty pals.

The truth on the ground, inside the broken, violent, dysfunctional high-security prisons will be quite a different story. Almost 6,000 men and women will be forced into worse conditions, with severely restricted appeal rights, to grow old and die miserable deaths in prison.

I've now served almost 37 years for killing a man in a drunken fistfight when I was 19 years old. I was guilty, and I deserved punishment. I've worked hard to become better than my worst moment, and punished I most certainly have been. Anywhere else on this planet, I'd be out of prison by now. But here in California, in our enlightened, advanced state, self-appointed celebrity leaders of civil rights groups want my punishment just getting started. That's no way to end the death penalty.

If I could, I'd vote no on Prop. 62.

(source: Op-Ed; Kenneth E. Hartman is the founder and executive director of The Other Death Penalty Project, a nonprofit organization of prisoners dedicated to ending all forms of the death penalty, including life without the possibility of parole----San Francisco Examiner)


California Has a Bloated, Unsustainable Death Penalty

With 2 death penalty propositions on the November ballot, Californians are reexamining capital punishment. For fiscal conservatives, it should be a simple matter of dollars and cents.

California's death penalty has cost taxpayers over $4 billion since 1978, according to a 2011 study. Death penalty experts Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Professor Paula M. Mitchell estimate that "capital trials cost on average an additional $1 million more than non-capital cases," and "often cost 10-20 times more than murder trials that don't involve the death penalty."

Let those numbers sink in. What have California's taxpayers gotten for their $4 billion investment? 13 executions and three wrongful capital convictions. Meanwhile, the capital punishment system doesn't adequately protect society and is a harmful and traumatic process for murder victims' families.

So what exactly makes capital case trials so much more expensive? To begin with, capital cases have a minimum of 2 attorneys working on each side (for both the defense and the prosecution) rather than 1 per side typically found in most non-capital cases. Capital cases generally have multiple investigators and experts and an extended jury selection process. Furthermore, death penalty trials are much longer, and capital proceedings have an additional sentencing trial, which is unique to death cases. The initial trials are where the largest portion of the added cost is usually found, not in the appeals, as is often believed.

Additionally, the appeals process is very complex and expensive. Outside of the courtroom, the cost of housing death row inmates heaps a heavy burden on the shoulders of the California taxpayer as well. Housing them costs an additional $90,000 annually per inmate. After crunching the numbers, it is starkly apparent that California’s death penalty system is yet another example of a bloated and unsustainable government system. With California's November elections quickly approaching, there are two ballot initiatives that deserve further investigation before any votes are cast - Proposition 62 and Proposition 66. Prop. 62 would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the option of parole (LWOP). Additionally, those serving LWOP would be required to work and pay restitution to the families of their victims. Prop. 66, on the other hand, would do quite the opposite. Prop. 66 would keep the death penalty in place and attempt to shorten the appeals process.

The effects of instituting Prop. 62 would be largely beneficial - millions of dollars would be saved annually and California would no longer risk executing an innocent person. Meanwhile, former death row inmates would still be safely kept off of the streets under their new LWOP sentencing. Conversely, Prop. 66 would not only result in more of the same in terms of a huge financial burden, but the initiative could also have dangerous repercussions for those sentenced to death. By speeding up the appeals process Prop. 66 would heighten the potential of executing innocent people. Although costly, the lengthy appeals process has been put in place in order to ensure that those sentenced to die for their crimes are in fact guilty.

It has taken up to 17 years to release a wrongly convicted person from California's death row. Since 1989, 68 individuals in California have been wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated. State-sanctioned killing is a matter that should not be taken lightly. When a life is on the line, there is no acceptable margin of error.

The choice between these 2 propositions is clear - one will save California taxpayers millions of dollars each year, while the other will cost California taxpayers millions. To put this into real terms, the State's independent Legislative Analyst determined Prop .62 will save $150 million annually. That's $150 million a year that could be put to better use. That money could be returned to the taxpayers or it could be redirected into funding for education, public safety or crime prevention - all of which would positively impact far more lives than California's current spending on the death penalty.

(source: Op-Ed; Katherine Dwyer is a Charles Koch Institute Communications Fellow with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA----San Jose Inside)


Philanthropy And The Death Penalty

Savvy philanthropists know that change takes time. Whatever your political or philosophical beliefs, moving the legal or cultural norms of a country is no mean feat. A case in point: the campaign against the death penalty in the United States. It's an effort to change deeply entrenched values and policy in the face of very long odds.

The modern history of the fight to abolish the death penalty in the United States began in 1976 when the Supreme Court restored capital punishment, after having ruled in 1972 that as then structured it was unconstitutional. In the decades following its restoration, which were marked with widespread concern about law and order, a large majority of Americans supported capital punishment and states continued to impose and administer it. So why did Atlantic Philanthropies - one of the nation's biggest foundations - decide to invest nearly $60 million over 10 years in a campaign to end the death penalty in the United States?

By 2004, based on the success of its earlier anti-death penalty grants and the momentum of exonerations grounded in DNA evidence, Atlantic foresaw a turning point. In 2005, following the release of the documentary film After Innocence, the issue caught the public's attention. Though the death penalty remained legal in 38 states, executions had been on the decline for 5 years - down to 59 annually from a modern peak of 98 in 1999. Atlantic joined the cause by partnering with donors and advocates already working to abolish the juvenile death penalty - a more modest and achievable goal.

Indeed, in 2005, the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for juveniles. This was a critical moment. While Atlantic had been only one among a group of funders supporting the effort, and not the "first mover" - the Supreme Court decision suggested that abolishing the death penalty might ultimately be a winnable battle. "Because there was so much traction from the juvenile work," explained Atlantic program executive Annmarie Benedict, "we felt that we were in a good position to pull the field together with a big bet, and build on the lessons we learned as funders and advocates coming out of the juvenile work."

The path to eliminating capital punishment was not yet clear, but the successful fight on behalf of juveniles formed a rough blueprint: build momentum for abolition at the state level, with a Supreme Court ruling as the ultimate goal. Over the next 10 years, Atlantic invested nearly $60 million in the effort. Much of this went to a collaborative grant making organization, the Proteus Fund. The death penalty is a complex issue: the number of jurisdictions, organizations, and funders working in the field make it difficult to navigate. By using a trusted intermediary, Atlantic intentionally ceded some of its control. In turn, it could rely on experts that the Proteus Fund brought to the table.

Importantly, Atlantic also used its Atlantic Advocacy Fund, a 501(c)(4) entity that can fund a greater range of advocacy activities than the 501(c)(3) structure often adopted by foundations. Atlantic Advocacy Fund dollars could support direct lobbying, ballot initiatives, and voter mobilization - where more traditional grant funding might be restricted to organizations focused on research, litigation, and educational activities.

Policy change on this issue has been striking, though Atlantic's ultimate goal remains far from being achieved. Since 2007, 7 states have abolished the death penalty, at least partially due to campaigns funded by Atlantic. 4 other states have placed formal or informal moratoriums on executions. In 2015, states carried out the lowest number of executions (28) and new death sentences (in the mid-50s) in modern history. Other factors besides philanthropy have played a role, such as dramatically lower crime rates in many jurisdictions, as well as highly publicized mistakes, including exonerations based on DNA evidence and botched executions. While advocates continue to hope for a Supreme Court ruling abolishing the death penalty, there is no way to predict if or when this will happen.

Advocacy campaigns are natural platforms for philanthropy, but they require extraordinary patience and a willingness to work with others to achieve their objectives. It also requires donors to tolerate the risk not merely of coming up a bit short, but of achieving nothing at all. This has played out in efforts around gun control and abortion, where funders and advocates have not seen the needle move significantly for decades. Whether this will become the case for abolishing the death penalty is unclear. But it is conceivable to think that without funders, like Atlantic, advocates for this cause would not have the traction that they now do.

(source: Forbes)


Belarus Death Penalty Resumes After 2-Year Break

The Belarus death penalty has now resumed operations following an absence of 2 years from the nation. The 2-year pause ceased to exist following 8 months after European Union foreign ministers had opted to pardon asset freezes and travel bans for over 150 Belarus politicians and leaders, with President Alexander Lukashenko included as well.

According to Valiantsin Stefanovic of the Viasna Human Rights Centre, the death penalty tends to take place rather quickly, in about 2 to 3 months time following the court's decision. Moreover, the whereabouts of the bodies remain unknown, as they do not end up being taken to the relatives. Even the burial place of bodies that are victims of the Belarus death penalty is shrouded in mystery.

Reports claim that physical and psychological abuse is utilized on death row inmates in order to extract confessions and information. Such practices have only added to Belarus' criticisms, as it has been known to be slammed for issues regarding human rights under the 22-year-rule of President Lukashenko. As some may recall, President Lukashenko won a 5th term in the presidency just last year.

Since February, four people have already been sentenced to the Belarus death penalty. The capital punishment was first introduced to the nation during Soviet times, and has since executed 400 people following the independence of Belarus from the USSR in 1991.

Belarus is the last European country to retain capital punishment. For Sacha Koulaeva, the head of the Eastern and central Asia desk of Paris-based human rights organization, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), putting an end to the Belarus death penalty is an achievable goal with the right push on the government from the EU.

Koulaeva added that previous efforts that involved international intervention had been proven to be effective, as executions had nearly halted whilst the EU had been negotiating lifting sanctions between 2013 and 2015.

(source: The Morning Ledlger)

SAUDI ARABIA-----execution

Saudi prince executed for murder, interior ministry announces

Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, a prince from the Saudi royal family was executed on Tuesday for murdering a man during a brawl in the capital Riyadh, the Interior Ministry announced.

"The Interior Ministry, in announcing this, affirms to all that the Kingdom's government is determined to establish security, bring about justice and implement Allah's law against all those who attack the innocent," the ministry said.

Local media said the killing for which the prince was executed took place in 2012.

Prince Turki's death sentence had been upheld by the Appeals Court and the High Court, the Interior Ministry said.

Another royal prince welcomed the news, in the first public reaction from a member of the ruling family.

"This is Allah's law, and the way of our blessed kingdom. May Allah have mercy on the killer and his victim," Prince Khaled Al Saud wrote on Twitter.

Monday's execution brings to 128 the number of persons put to death so far in the country this year, German News Agency (DPA) reported.

On January 2, authorities beheaded 47 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric, on terrorism-related charges, leading to furious protests from regional rival Iran.

Saudi Arabia imposes the death penalty for offences including murder, armed robbery, banditry, rape, drug-trafficking and witchcraft.

(source: Daily Sabah)


Sudanese prosecutor explains charges against detained Czech journalist

A Sudanese prosecutor Monday accused a Czech journalist and 2 Sudanese pastors of espionage and undermining the constitutional system, which all carry the death penalty.

Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrested the Czech Petr Jasek four days after entering the country last October in his possession 2 suitcases, 1 carrying a laptop, a mobile and a camera while the other one contained his personal documents.

In the trial which resumed Monday, the prosecutor told the court that Jasek wrote reports in 2010 to condemn Sudan and tarnish its image before front of the international community. He stressed that the country has been suffering so far from these reports which negatively impacted Sudan's political, economic and security situations.

Prosecutor Abdel-Rahman Sotal-Arab told the criminal court in Khartoum on Monday that they seized an audio report by a member of Protection of Persecuted Christians Organization for which the Czech journalist works. In these statements, he stated that the genocide and destruction, happening in the Nuba Mountains area of South Kordofan State, is part of a systematic work that has started since the beginning of "Salvation Revolution", the regime of President Omer al-Bashir.

Also, he told the tribunal that Jasek and some members of the group went to the Nuba Mountains area and photographed civilians. After what they sent these pictures abroad with captures claiming they are facing persecution, torture and forced conversion to Islam by the Sudanese army. The statements further say that the army bombards their areas inflecting heavy losses to lives and properties, he stressed.

The prosecution pointed out that the Czech defendant admitted that their organization protects the persecutors who are subjected to the harassment of the security authorities. He added that the journalists and the 2 pastors attended a conference held in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last year where 1 of the pastors displayed photos of a burned young man and claimed he had been burned by the Sudanese security to force him to convert to Islam and therefore the authorities refused to treat him.

The prosecutor continued to say that following Addis Ababa press conference, the Czech defendant decided to come to Sudan and paid a visit to the burned young's home in Al-Haj Yousif neighbourhood, east Khartoum. At that visit the 2 pastors told the journalists that security agents used chemicals to burn the young man during a student protest. He underscored that the victim is a Sudanese Muslim from Darfur region.

He further said that the security authorities who were monitoring the foreign journalist stopped him at Khartoum International Airport and asked him give them his smartphone, laptop, a camera and 2 external memories.

The prosecutor added that he was apprehended when he refused to leave the country without his belongings in line with the National Security Act. He added the investigation resulted in discovery of photos and video footages in which appear the SPLM-N deputy leader Abdel Aziz Al-Hilu, civilians and photographs of military areas and trenches.

The trial of the 4 defendants started last August.

Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Also last August, the SPLM-N, called on the United States Special Envoy Donald Booth to help to secure the release of detained pastors and activists in Sudan.

(source: Sudan Tribune)


Man awaiting death penalty shot by police----Ashraf Al-Kazaz - who was wanted in several violence-related cases, convicted, and sentenced to death - was killed in a police raid amid allegations of extrajudicial killing

A man named Ashraf Al-Kazaz was shot dead by police forces on Monday during a security raid. The Ministry of Interior accused him of killing and planning to attack officers, while several human rights groups suspect he was killed following his arrest.

On Monday, the ministry released a statement clarifying that Al-Kazaz was killed in action because he resisted arrest. The statement mentioned that he was sentenced to death in a criminal case in which he was accused of killing officers and mutilating their bodies in 2013, following the forced dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in.

The statement clarified that he was involved in several attacks against security headquarters and the planting of several bombs.

Meanwhile, Al-Shihab Human Rights Centre and the Human Rights Monitor mentioned that Al-Kazaz was arrested and "eliminated" by police forces, accusing the authorities of committing the crime of extrajudicial killing.

Al-Kazaz, an Islamist, was reportedly active in anti-government protests in Giza since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Al-Kazaz, a carpenter, has been on the run for 3 years.

Several political suspects, involved in violence-related cases, have reportedly been arrested and then shot by police officers - a narrative the ministry rejects and condemns.



Stop the Hanging of a Child Bride In Iran----Islam's death wish for a young woman.

She was born into poverty and an abusive family. As a young innocent child she was forced by her family to marry an older man. According to the Islamic and Sharia law of Iran, this was a perfectly legal and moral arrangement. Islam encourages young girls to become child brides. Iranian authorities point out that the Prophet Muhammad's life also illustrates a similar model for his followers.

After being forced to marry, Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran was repeatedly raped. But in Iran's Islamist law, even if a husband beats and forces his wife into having sex with him, it is not considered rape or abuse of any kind, since they are married. According to the clerics, a wife's duty is to please the man. The Quran in Sura (Chapter) 2:223 says: Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like.

Zeinab was also repeatedly beaten after her wedding day. Despite the risk she knew she faced, she attempted to leave her husband multiple times, but with no success. She begged the police to help her, but they ignored her complaints, and reprimanded her for leaving her tormentor. The Islamist law of the land does not provide any protection for girls like her. In addition, neither her family nor friends would accept her if she left her husband.

More tragedies were to unfold for Zeinab. Her husband's brother began also repeatedly raping her.

She begged for a divorce, but her husband would not accept her request for one. She did not have any legal base according to Iran's Islamist codes to get a divorce. Everything was against this brave, unyielding girl. Yet, the worst was still to come.

At the age of 17, her husband was found stabbed to death. Because Zeinab had tried to escape him so many times, her community accused her of perpetrating her husband's death. She was arrested and tortured for the next few months. After endless abuse and torment, she was forced to confess that she was a murderer.

It did not take long for the judge to issue a death sentence for Zeinab. She was not allowed to have access to a lawyer at any point of her trial. Once more, men made the decisions about her life and her death.

Zeinab insisted that her brother-in-law was the one who killed her husband. He threatened her to be silent, and told her that if she pleaded guilty, he would pardon her, according to Islamic law, so she wouldn't be executed.

Just as she was about to be executed by the medieval method of hanging, it was discovered that she was pregnant. Soon after, she gave birth to a stillborn child, most likely due to the stress and physical abuse that she endured at the hands of her captors. Not long after she gazed at her lifeless baby, she was told by the Iranian authorities to be ready for execution.

. Philip Luther, Amnesty International's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: "This is an extremely disturbing case. Not only was Zeinab Sekaanvand under 18 years of age at the time of the crime, she was also denied access to a lawyer and says she was tortured after her arrest by male police officers through beatings all over her body."

Mansoureh Mills, the Iran campaigner at Amnesty International, pointed out:

"I can only imagine how extremely difficult her life must have been. That is why this case is extremely shocking and disturbing, She was relying on adults to protect her and unfortunately no adults were able to do that. Not the authorities and not her family. She tried the police, but they wouldn't help. She tried her family and they wouldn't take her back. And she is just a teenager so she had nowhere to turn and so she was forced back to this allegedly abusive marriage until the day her husband was killed."

The Islamic Republic has hypocritically signed on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the death penalty for and execution of children. But Iran repeatedly uses the death penalty to execute people under 18.

Zeinab is one case of many female children who live such tragic lives and then get executed. Last year, Iran executed Fatemeh Salbehi for reportedly killing her abusive husband at the age of 17.

According to the Islamic penal code of Iran, girls are treated as adults when they reach the age of 9.

Zeinab can be executed any day. Instead of continuing with sanctions relief and appeasement policies, the Obama administration should bring attention to Iran's crimes against humanity. Iran ranks as the world's top executioner per capita. It is incumbent on human rights organizations, the UN, Amnesty International and the international community to stop this execution and many other similar child executions, which are occurring in the Islamic Republic of Iran.



Urgent: 10 Drug Death Row Prisoners in Imminent Danger of Execution

On the morning of Monday October 17, at least 10 death row prisoners in Ghezelhesar Prison were transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions.

According to close sources, the prisoners were given their last visit with their families on Monday afternoon. The prisoners are all reportedly sentenced to death for drug-related offenses and may be executed as early as Wednesday October 19.

Iran Human Rights is aware of the names of 8 of the prisoners: Abbas Karami, Hamid Saber, Hamid Babaie, Hamid Nazari, Peyman Sabalani, Ganjali Chekezadeh, Reza Sabzi, and Khodameli Pirzadeh.

These prisoners are scheduled to be executed at a time when the death penalty or drug-related offenses is under review in the Iranian Judiciary.



House panel pushes restoration of death penalty to up 'fear factor' among drug fiends

The restoration of the death penalty for drug offenses topped the menu of legislation the House of Representatives' justice committee is proposing following its inquiry into the narcotics trade within the National Bilibid Prisons.

The committee recommended a number of legislative and administrative measures in its 24-page report on the inquiry, which was officially released Wednesday.

In an earlier interview, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo said the death penalty for drugs needs to be restored to increase the "fear factor" among offenders.

The inquiry, which was mounted after President Rodrigo Duterte publicly accused Senator Leila de Lima of benefiting from the drug trade at the NBP, saw witnesses, including 12 "high-profile" inmates and former law enforcement and jail officials, testify during lengthy hearings over 4 days against the former Justice secretary.

De Lima refused to participate in the House inquiry, which she said was intended to destroy her.

The proposed legislative measures:

-- Re-imposition of the death penalty on drug cases pending the reform of the criminal justice system

--Granting of exceptions to the Anti-Wiretapping Law, Bank Secrecy Law, and Anti-Money Laundering Act with respect to inmates and drug-related cases

-The Director and the Deputy Director of the BuCor shall serve a tour of duty not to exceed 3 years from the date of assignment.



SC Stays Execution Of 2 Death Row Convicts

The Supreme Court has stayed the execution of 2 death row convicts - Vikram Singh and Jasvir Singh @ Jassa, who were sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old boy after demanding a ransom of Rs 50 lakh from his father.

The bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Amitava Roy stayed the execution of death sentence and posted the matter to 2.00 pm on Monday (October 24th) for the final disposal.

The sessions court had issued death warrants for the execution of the 2 convicts on 25th of this month.

A petition for re-opening the review petition was filed by the convicts through Advocate BS Billowaria, in view of the Supreme Court judgment in Mohammed Arif @ Ashfaq vs. Registrar, Supreme Court.

In Arif's case, the constitution bench of the Supreme Court by 4:1 majority extended the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution by holding that hearing of cases in which death sentence has been awarded should be by a bench of 3 judges and the hearing of review petitions in death sentence cases should not be by circulation but should only be in open court.

Factual Background

The review petitioners were tried, convicted and sentenced to death under Sections 302 and 364A of the Indian Penal Code, for kidnapping and killing a 16-year-old boy and demanding a ransom of Rs 50 lakh from his father. The conviction and sentence awarded to them was affirmed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, and later by the Supreme Court.

Later, the review petitioners filed a writ petition before the high court challenging the constitutionality of Section 364A awarding death penalty, which also got dismissed.

Thereafter, they filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. A 3-judge bench had dismissed the appeal, and held that Section 364A awarding death penalty as a possible punishment, for kidnapping any person threatening to cause death in order to compel government or any other person, to pay ransom , is not unconstitutional.


Death Row Convict Umesh Moves Karnataka HC Seeking Commutation

Infamous serial rapist Umesh Reddy has approached the Karnataka High Court seeking directions for commutation of his sentence to life imprisonment citing 'compelling and supervening circumstances'.

The petition will be heard by the division bench comprising Chief Justice Subhro Kamala Mukherjee and Justice Budihal RB on Tuesday.

The accused contended that the death sentence has been rendered 'in-executable', owing to stated facts and circumstances. He cited that there was excessive delay of 2 years and 3 months in the disposal of mercy petition filed by his mother before the President.

It was also pleaded that he has been behind bars for more than 18 years, including a period of solitary confinement lasting 10 years, which has led to huge psychological impact on the prisoner who is currently on anti-psychotic medication.

The notorious former reserve police constable, often described as a psychopath serial killer, was involved in a series of rape, murder and robbery cases in Karnataka and other states.

He was convicted for rape and murder of Jayashree Maradi Subbiah on February 28th, 1998, in Peenya police limits.

The sentence was upheld by the Karnataka High Court in 2009 and later by the Supreme Court as well. His mercy petition filed before the President was also rejected.

The Supreme Court's October 3rd verdict quashing his review petition, confirmed the death penalty stating, "The petitioner is a menace and has become threat to the society".

Read more at:

(source for both:


LHC summons record of 6 death row inmates

A division bench of Lahore High Court on Tuesday summoned case record of 6 alleged members of a banned outfit awarded death penalty by military courts on targeted killing charges. The bench ordered for production of the required record until November 10. The military courts had convicted Sabir Shah, Abdul Rauf, Awais Gujjar, Suleman Pathan, Rafiullah and Sheikh Farhan for terrorism. Their family members had challenged the sentence awarded by the military courts. Applicants' counsel Zia Bajwa submitted that trial of the convicts was already in progress before anti-terrorism courts and evidence was recorded, when they were shifted to military authorities from Kot Lakhpat Jail. He claimed that whole process was illegal as the convicts were neither allowed to meet their families nor given a chance to hire a lawyer to plead their case in the military courts. He said that even habeas corpus petitions challenging detention of the convicts were pending before the high court when they were secretly shifted from jail. He said the convicts had come to know about the military courts' decision through a press release issued by the ISPR. He said that requisites of justice were not met by the military courts as they were not given right to defend themselves. He requested the court to set aside the military courts' decision.

(source: Daily Times)


NZer shot for mutiny remembered in UK

An Otago soldier executed for mutiny is to be remembered this year at the Shot at Dawn Memorial in England.

Jack Braithwaite, of Dunedin, volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in May 1915.

He served in Egypt and was later sent to France in April 1916.

While serving in France, he fell foul of the military authorities on a number of occasions, losing his rank as lance corporal in May 1916.

He went absent without leave, served at the front for a short time, and was later imprisoned after again leaving his unit, receiving further terms in military prison after seeking to escape.

His attempt to defuse an incident involving a group of Australian and New Zealand prisoners and a military policeman at a military prison resulted in his being charged with mutiny.

British military leader General Sir Douglas Haig confirmed the court-martial sentence, and he was executed on October 29, 1916 at Rouen.

He was 1 of at least 16 children of bookseller Joseph Braithwaite, who was mayor of Dunedin in 1905, and he was 1 of 6 sons from the family to die in World War 1.

The Shot at Dawn Memorial, created in 2000, is a monument at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, in Staffordshire, England.

There, 306 wooden posts remember the British Army and Commonwealth soldiers executed for desertion and other offences during World War 1.

Posts for Mr Braithwaite and 2 other "mutineers" - Scottish Gunner William Lewis and Welsh Corporal Jesse Short - will be added to the Shot at Dawn monument at a ceremony on October 29.

The trio were among the 309 soldiers granted formal pardons by the British Ministry of Defence in 2006, after a campaign for those executed by their own side, often after hurried and unsatisfactory courts martial.

The campaign battled for them to be declared victims of World War 1, because many of those shot were suffering from shell shock.

Because of the efforts of many concerned people, including historians and politicians, particularly former Invercargill MP Mark Peck, Mr Braithwaite and 4 other New Zealand servicemen who were executed during World War 1 were pardoned by the New Zealand Parliament in September 2000.

Brigadier Evan Williams, of New Zealand, will attend the ceremony on October 29, along with relatives of Mr Braithwaite, including his nephew David Braithwaite.

(source: Otago Daily Times)

OCTOBER 18, 2016:


3 reasons the death penalty is dying

Have you ever killed somebody? The question in and of itself is haunting.

Have you ever killed somebody? Each word rattles my soul.

Have you ever killed somebody? The more times I ask the question, the more times I'm brought face-to-face with my own complicity in killing.

Most people don't think about it like that. The more times I ask the question to others, the more times I get adamant denials of ever being involved in killing anyone. Yet in the midst of a quickness to absolve ourselves of any evil, there is our death penalty. Each time the State of Texas kills someone, the citizens are responsible. Since 1982, we have killed 538 people.

There is no hope to be found in what we are. There is only hope to be found in what we can become.

Recently, the Pew Research Forum reported that support for the death penalty hit its point lowest in four decades. I grabbed my heart and almost fell over. Though I'd known that support for the death penalty has been declining for a number of years nationally, this was the first time that I'd realized had fallen so low. Just under 1/2 of Americans now support the death penalty (49 %), while 42 % oppose it. Support is down from a high of 80 % in 1994. Support has even dropped 7 % since March of last year.

The death penalty is dying. How could this be? We've had that killer instinct for so long. People are changing. While I can't say for sure why, 3 possible reasons are worthy of deep thought.

1. The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. How do you teach someone not to kill by killing? The death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent to killing. But how could it be? Capital punishment teaches people that there are ethical ways of killing. We can't persuade people to stop killing by showing them how to do it again and again. The Death Penalty Information Center has consistently reported that the murder rates in death penalty states are higher than in states that don't have the death penalty. The death penalty is not a deterrent to murder. Some people are finally figuring out they are less safe with a death penalty than they are without one.

2. The death penalty costs too much. A Dallas Morning News article in 1992 showed that the death penalty costs multiple times the amount that it would cost to put someone in a maximum security prison for life. And the cost isn't going down, as the newspaper reported a few years ago that the cost of execution drugs had skyrocketed. Pharmaceutical companies don't want to sell drugs meant to save lives to people dedicated to taking lives. The cost to carry out these executions is only going to continue to grow. The bottom line is that we know it is far more expensive to execute someone than to put them in prison for life. The death penalty is starting to earn a reputation for being another expensive failed government program.

3. What if we execute someone who is innocent? That's a question that eats at the souls of those with knowledge about the death penalty. I think we already have. Surely out of the hundreds, there's got to be at least one. Was it Carlos De Luna? Was it Cameron Todd Willingham? Or was it someone else entirely? In 2014, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released a study concluding 1 in 25 sentenced to death in the U.S. is innocent. Despite recent exonerations, Texas has still probably executed many innocent people. There is no way to stop the execution of the innocent without stopping executions entirely.

The 3 reasons to abolish the death penalty meet to form 1 question.

Is the death penalty worth it?

(source: Jeff Hood is a Baptist pastor and activist in Dallas----Dallas Morning News)


Poll: Delawareans support keeping death penalty

The poll revealed 55 % of registered voters are in favor of the death penalty.

"Delaware is a historically a blue state, you'd expect a liberal position, which I take as being repeal of the death penalty to come out stronger, but on this issue there is that party divide as well," said Brewer. The Democrats who are in favor of repealing are in line with the majority opinion of their party, but not necessarily in line with the public as a whole."

(source: WDEL news)

GEORGIA----impending execution

Georgia board scheduled to hold clemency hearing for man set to executed

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is scheduled to hear arguments for clemency from representatives of an inmate scheduled for execution this week.

Gregory Paul Lawler is scheduled to die Wednesday by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. A clemency hearing is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The 63-year-old was convicted of murder in the October 1997 shooting death of Atlanta police Officer John Sowa. Authorities say Lawler also critically injured Officer Patricia Cocciolone.

Prosecutors say Lawler shot the officers as they tried to bring his intoxicated girlfriend home.

Lawler's lawyers say a recent autism diagnosis helps explain his actions the night the officers were shot. They're seeking a commutation of his sentence.

Lawler would be the 7th Georgia inmate executed this year.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty ruling could mean new sentencing for 386 murderers in Florida

The Florida Supreme Court's decision last week to require unanimous jury votes for executions has thrown the state's death penalty into disarray.

In a Friday ruling in Hurst vs. Florida, the justices eliminated part of Florida's death sentencing laws, but lawyers and legislators disagree about what comes next.

Some say that it could lead to sentences being thrown out for nearly 400 convicted murderers awaiting execution at Florida State Prison, and that it may cripple the state's death penalty long term. Others say the only thing that has changed is that a jury must now vote unanimously in favor of the death penalty.

What's clear is this: Even with the case decided, Florida's legal fights over capital punishment are far from over.

Death-row defense lawyers say the Hurst decision leaves Florida without a functioning death penalty until the state Legislature can convene and rewrite the law.

"This is so big," said Martin McClain, a Broward County lawyer who represents death-row inmates appealing their sentences. "I don't know of a way to overstate the significance."

But legislative leaders say that such action won't be necessary.

"With Friday's ruling, imposing the death sentence will require a unanimous verdict with or without legislative action," said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart. "In the past, the Senate has been supportive of the unanimous verdict requirement."

Buddy Jacobs, general counsel for the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which represents the 20 state attorneys, agrees that no legislative action is necessary.

"The death penalty is certainly still legal in Florida," he said. "The procedure is what the Supreme Court reacted to."

The court's ruling has raised other questions about how the state should handle the 386 inmates on death row under old sentencing rules that have since been thrown out. The Supreme Court has not indicated which inmates could be eligible to have their sentences changed.

Even the most experienced death-row defense lawyers don't know what to expect. McClain said he thinks the court will issue a ruling about which cases are going to be treated like that.

"Until we have that sort of broad picture," McClain said, "we're kind of stuck waiting."

Some death row inmates - including Timothy Lee Hurst, convicted of killing a co-worker in Pensacola in 1998 - will have new sentencing hearings. The court will bring in a new jury to hear evidence and decide whether Hurst should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.

But not all death penalty cases are the same. So it's possible the court could decide that certain kinds of cases are eligible for a re-sentencing and others are not.

For example, the court could throw out sentences from time periods when the death penalty laws were overturned as unconstitutional, or they could only allow a new jury for death-row inmates who raised certain complaints in their appeals.

But Maria DeLiberato, a defense lawyer with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel in Tampa, warns that could be seen as an "arbitrary and capricious" enforcement of the law and raise new allegations that Florida's death sentences flout the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

She's hopeful that the court would allow all inmates a new sentencing hearing, not just some of them.

The state attorneys worry about the high costs of a small wave of re-sentencing hearings, let alone 386 cases.

"We do not have the manpower to do that," said Jacobs. "We'd have to get assistance to do that from the Legislature."

With so much uncertainty, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has yet to publicly respond.

Asked Monday how Bondi believed the courts should handle the 386 cases in limbo, her spokesman Whitney Ray said, “We are still reviewing the ruling and considering a rehearing."

(source: Miami Herald)


75 Tampa Bay area religious leaders call for end to death penalty in wake of Harvard report

The names of those who signed the letter read like a who's who of the local religious community, with Catholics, Jews and various Protestant denominations represented.

There was James Favorite, the pastor of Beulah Baptist International Church. There was Betsy Torop of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon. There was Bishop Robert Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The 3 were among 75 Tampa Bay clergy members who urged Hillsborough and Pinellas prosecutors on Monday to put an end to the death penalty.

Addressed to Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, the letter referenced a report from Harvard's Fair Punishment Project, which found the two counties are among 16 in the nation that sentenced five or more people to death between 2010 and 2015.

Researchers accused prosecutors in both counties of being overzealous in pursuit of capital punishment, and noted racial disparities and cases in which defendants had severe mental illness or intellectual disabilities.

"None of us deny the need for accountability and severe consequences for those guilty of grave crimes," the group stated. "At the same time, our criminal justice system must recognize the dignity of every person, and not close off hope and the possibility for redemption."

9 Tampa Bay area pastors and priests carried the letter to a news conference in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in downtown Tampa. They stood together to denounce capital punishment before delivering their missive to the State Attorney's Office.

Ober, in a statement, didn't directly address the demand from the clergy members but said his office would continue its practice of reviewing cases individually, while following the law as interpreted by courts.

McCabe and his chief assistant were both unavailable for comment Monday, his office said.

After the Harvard report was released, both Ober and McCabe defended the handling of death penalty cases by their respective offices. Both said the report was unfair and written in a manner that favored an anti-death penalty position.

Appearing at the news conference across the street from Ober's office were the Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches; the Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson of the First United Church of Tampa; Pastor Robert Schneider of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico; Pastor Mel Harris of Destiny Baptist Church in Spring Hill and 5 other clergy who signed the letter.

"Right now, today, the time has come, the moment is here," Meyer said. "It is our opportunity as faith leaders and as people of good will from across the state of Florida and particularly Tampa Bay to say it's time to end the death penalty. It serves no public good."

Bishop Lynch, who leads Catholics in Tampa Bay and the north Suncoast, was among the most prominent names on the list. He signed the letter but could not attend Monday's gathering because he was out of the country, said Sabrina Schultz of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The Catholic Church maintains an official stance against the death penalty.

Meyer, who recited a litany of moral and legal objections, noted the death penalty's effect even on victims' families, who are often subjected to years of legal wrangling before an execution.

"It's punitive to the families of the victims," Meyer said. "Why would we put families who are victims of horrendous crime through decades of emotional torture?"

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Of course, Florida is the nation's slacker in death penalty reforms

We are, as usual, on the wrong side of normal in Florida.

By now, most states have come around to the idea that the death penalty should be a rare occurrence in our justice system. Too many exonerations, too much racial disparity, too many sentences overturned and far too many families of victims waiting for executions that never take place.

So the trend nationwide has been a higher bar and, thus, a lower number of death sentences.

And, yet, Florida remains stubbornly stuck in some spaghetti western version of America.

We represent about 6 % of the U.S. population, and yet accounted for almost 20 % of new death sentences in 2015. We've contributed about 15 % of U.S. executions over the past 4 years.

All of which explains the flurry of headlines you've seen recently about the death penalty. Alarming numbers are being tossed around, and advocacy groups are speaking out.

Yet, all the noise and activity means little compared to the widely anticipated decision handed down by the Florida Supreme Court on Friday.

Essentially, the justices told state legislators to get their act together.

Florida is one of a handful of states that doesn't require a unanimous jury verdict to impose a death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court slapped Florida back in January, and the Legislature tried to fudge its way past with a compromise law. And now the state Supreme Court has backhanded that idea, too.

"You have a great number of opinions on whether the death penalty is allowable from a theological point of view,'' said the Rev. Russell Meyer, the executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. "But there is unanimity on whether the application of the death penalty has been unjust in Florida.''

Meyer was among a group of clergy members who delivered letters to the state attorney's offices in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on Monday, demanding an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.

Their passion was obvious and commendable. Their aim, a little less so.

The clergy seemed to target prosecutors after a critical report by Harvard University's Fair Punishment Project spotlighted Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Pinellas as some of the most aggressive counties in the nation when it comes to death penalty verdicts.

The numbers from the Harvard project are indisputable, but they seemed to gloss over the point that Florida's death penalty laws are more lax than almost every other state. So, from a statistical point of view, it would make sense that the largest counties in Florida would have the highest number of cases.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe had not yet seen the letter on Monday afternoon, but suggested the clergy might direct their attention to lawmakers, not enforcers.

"Philosophically, I'm not opposed to unanimity as the standard for death penalty sentences,'' McCabe said. "My only concern is what do we do with all of the cases that came before (a new law).''

The reality is most of the nearly 400 residents of Florida's death row would never be executed even if the law was not changed. A Washington Post study last year showed that, during a 40-year span nationally, about only 16 % of prisoners sentenced to death were ever executed. Most had their convictions or sentences overturned and more than 1/3 spent decades on death row.

The point being, Florida lawmakers shouldn't worry about what happens retroactively to any death penalty sentences that were not the result of a unanimous jury decision. It would be a waste of money and energy to retry cases of inmates who are never going to get out of prison anyway.

Instead, we should be focused on fixing an unconstitutional and ineffective law.

Whether you believe in capital punishment or not, we should at least be able to agree that we need a higher bar for death sentences.

And Florida needs to join the rest of the nation in the 21st century.

(source: John Romano; Tampa Bay Times)


Report: Jefferson County sends more to death row than most counties nationwide

Jefferson County sent more criminal defendants to death row between 2010 and 2015 than almost every other county in the nation.

That's according to a report released last week by Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project. The report also states that all five of those sentenced to death in Jefferson County during that period were black.

Those numbers landed Alabama's most populous county on the short list of 16 outliers in the group's report "Too Broken to Fix."

"These outlier death penalty counties are defined by a pattern of bad defense lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct and overzealousness, and a legacy of racial bias that calls into question constitutionality of the death penalty," Rob Smith, one of the report's researchers, stated in a press release.

It's a report that Jefferson County's District Attorney Brandon Falls believes is flawed and doesn't address the underlying facts of the cases to explain why the defendants were sentenced to death.

"Educated minds can disagree about the effectiveness and appropriateness of the death penalty," Falls stated in an email to "The role of the District Attorney's Office is to protect the citizens of Jefferson County by enforcing the law as set out by the Alabama Legislature, the Alabama appellate courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court, and to do so ethically and without bias toward any individual. This responsibility is and always will be the highest priority of my office."

The 1st part of the report was issued in August and included a look at 8 counties, including Mobile County. The 2nd half of the report with the other 8, including Jefferson County, was released last week.

Nationwide, the report states, juries in 2015 returned 49 death sentences, which is the fewest number since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. That came from 33 counties in 14 states, according to the report. 31 states still have the death penalty.

But 16 counties were "outliers," imposing 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, the report states. Among these "outliers", 2 were in Alabama (Jefferson and Mobile) and 4 in Florida.

Meanwhile Alabama's reputation as being an outlier state when it comes to the death penalty also grew last week.

Florida and Alabama were the only 2 states that permitted a split jury to recommend death, the report noted. But that changed Friday when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that non-unanimous jury death recommendations are unconstitutional.

That now leaves Alabama as the only state to allow a jury to recommend the death penalty for a defendant on a non-unanimous vote - at least 10 of 12 jurors have to vote for death.

180 capital murder cases and 205 murder cases were charged in Jefferson County between 2010 and 2015 - JeffCo DA

Alabama also finds itself alone in allowing judges to override jury recommendations of life without parole and single-handedly increase the sentence to death. Florida's override law was declared unconstitutional early this year. Delaware had been the only other state to allow judicial override (although judges there didn't use it) but that state's supreme court in August also declared override unconstitutional.

Of the remaining 10 counties in the report's top 16, 5 are in Southern California, 2 in Texas, and 1 each in Louisiana, Nevada, and Arizona.

The report also found that:

--10 of the 16 counties had at least 1 person released from death row since 1976. -- The 10 counties account for more than 10 % of all death row exonerations nationwide.

--Jefferson had 3 men taken off death row in that period - Anthony Ray Hinton, Wesley Quick, and Montez Spradley, the report states.

--Jefferson County imposes about 1.47 death sentences per 100 homicides.

--All 5 of the cases in Jefferson County between 2010 and 2015 had non-unanimous jury recommendations on what the defendants' sentences should be. 2 had their jury recommendations for life without parole overridden to death by a judge. And 1/3 - 33 % - of the cases had defendants with intellectual disability, severe mental illness, or brain damage.

"The study does not address the facts of any of those cases, but those facts are worth noting for a better perspective of why they received that sentence," Falls said.

The report doesn't also consider the sheer volume of homicide cases in Jefferson County.

Falls notes that during that six-year period of 2010 to 2015 the report studied, there were 180 capital murder cases and 205 Murder cases charged in Jefferson County.

The report doesn't name the defendants in the 5 cases it reviewed for its report, but according to project officials the 5 death sentences imposed between 2010 and 2015 in Jefferson County are:

--Jeffery Tyrone Riggs - A jury in 2010 found Riggs guilty of capital murder in the 2008 shooting death of his girlfriend Norber Payne. She was shot 4 times with a .50 caliber pistol inside her Birmingham apartment. In a 10-2 vote the jury recommended he be sentenced to life without parole. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones, however, overrode the vote and sentenced Riggs to death. Riggs, however, won a new trial based on a problem with jury instructions. Another jury in February 2015 recommended in an 8-4 vote to sentence Riggs to life without parole. Jones this time followed the jury's recommendation and Riggs is no longer on death row. Falls said the new sentence should exclude Riggs from the study as he is no longer facing the death penalty.

--Justin White - A jury in December 2009 found White guilty in the July 2006 death of Jasmine Parker, whose nearly nude body was found inside a Birmingham apartment she shared with her mother. A pair of jeans was wrapped around her neck. The jury in Parker's death had recommended life without parole in a 9-3 vote but Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones overrode that recommendation and imposed the death penalty. By the time of White's 2009 trial, he was already serving a life without parole sentence for the 2006 rape and murder of a University of Alabama at Birmingham student, 20-year-old Sierra Black.

--Anthony Lane A jury in 2011 convicted Lane of capital murder during the commission of a robbery for the 2009 shooting death of 57-year-old Frank Wright, of Schererville, Ind., who was killed off Messer Airport Highway while en route to pick up his wife at Birmingham's airport. Following the jury's recommendation for the death penalty, a 10-2 vote, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones sentenced Lane to death. Lane claims he is intellectually disabled and shouldn't be executed. Falls said before the trial Lane was given the opportunity to plead guilty and receive a sentence of life without parole, which he refused.

--Dontae Callen - A jury in 2013 found Callen guilty of capital murder in the Oct. 29, 2010 stabbing deaths of his aunt, Bernice Kelly, 59; and his cousins Quortes Kelly, 33; and Aaliyah Budgess, 12, and setting fires in the Birmingham apartment after the slayings. The jury had recommended in an 11-1 vote to recommend Callen, who had confessed to the 3 slayings, be sentenced to death. Jefferson County Circuit Judge Laura Petro followed the jury's recommendation.

--Marcus Benn - Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd in January 2015 sentenced Benn to death for his conviction in the 2010 shooting deaths of three people, and dumping their bodies along Birmingham-area roads. Jurors had recommended in a 10-2 vote that Benn be sentenced to death for the slayings of Jaime Luna Gutierrez, Jose Manuel Martinez Calderon, and Evelyn Peralta. At the direction of an appeals court Todd in June re-sentenced Benn because she had originally sentenced him in a written order, not in person. Falls said the study fails to mention that Benn was convicted of murder in 1994 and was sentenced to life, but was released on parole in 2009.

Study: Mobile, Jefferson counties 'outliers' with death penalty

This week's report focuses on 8 of those "outlier" counties, including Mobile. The 2nd half of the report, which will provide details on Jefferson County, is to be released in September.

The report also reviewed 18 capital murder cases that were decided on direct appeal from Jefferson County - including both Birmingham and Bessemer divisions - from 2006 to 2015.

Of those 18 cases, 89 % involved black defendants. And six of the cases involved defendants with serious mental illnesses, brain damage, or intellectual impairment, including the case of former death row inmate Esaw Jackson, who was resentenced to life without parole in 2012 for the 2006 shooting deaths of 2. The judge found Jackson had an IQ score of 56 and could not be executed.

56 % of the 400 cases it looked at in the 16 counties nationwide in the study involved defendants with significant mental impairments or other forms of mitigation, such as the defendant's young age.

"It has become clear that a significant proportion of individuals we are sending to death row suffer from serious mental impairments, or are so young in age, that they appear to be nearly indistinguishable from the categories of people whom the Supreme Court has said we shouldn't be executing due to their diminished culpability," said Carol S. Steiker, Professor of Law at Harvard.



Judge: Triple-murder trial can continue in Lafourche

For the second time, a judge has rejected defense attorneys' requests to move a triple-murder trial out of Lafourche Parish and bar the death penalty from being considered.

David Brown's trial is now in its 6th week of jury selection in Thibodaux, and attorneys are expected to make opening statements Saturday, though that schedule could change.

Brown, 38, of Houma, is charged with 1st-degree murder in the Nov. 4, 2012, stabbings of 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela. He is also accused of sexually assaulting Jacquelin and Gabriela Nieves and then setting the family's Lockport apartment ablaze.

State District Judge John LeBlanc denied motions from the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, led by New Orleans attorney Kerry Cuccia. The defense team had unsuccessfully made the same requests to now-retired state District Judge Jerome Barbera in 2014, though for different reasons.

This time, Brown's attorneys argued that he couldn't get a fair trial in Lafourche because a sequestration requirement severely limited the number of potential jurors. They asked to bar the death penalty for the same reason.

Once jurors are selected, they will remain in a local hotel for the rest of the trial and won't have access to the news or be able to contact family members except for emergencies.

In court documents filed early this month, Cuccia said almost two-thirds of the potential jurors had been excused because sequestration would have presented too much of a hardship for them. Because so many people were eliminated, he wrote, the remaining pool may not be representative of the parish.

Among the groups underrepresented in the pool, Cuccia said, were black residents and working people.

LeBlanc sided with prosecutors, who noted that for most of the potential jurors released because of hardships, the defense asked that they be excused. In a written opposition to moving the trial, Assistant District Attorney Joe Soignet said potential jurors were dismissed for individual, legitimate reasons and not as a class.

"What the defense motion ignores is that jury selection, by its very nature, is a process of attrition," Soignet wrote. "It is designed to take a large (yet never mandated) number of potential jurors and reduce it to only 12. Thus, the mathematical proportions are always 12/x, with the only variable being the number of potential jurors the trial court decides to screen. ... The process employed in this particular case need only result in the selection of 12 jurors and four alternates."

(source: Daily Comet)

OHIO----female may face death penalty

Pilkington motions for separate trials, death penalty removed, confession thrown out

Court hearings for the Bellefontaine mom accused of killing her 3 young sons are scheduled to start Tuesday.

The hearings will mainly address 3 motions. Whether to holds 3 separate trials for each child, removing the death penalty specifications and throwing out Brittany Pilkington's alleged confession.

The 23-year-old Pilkington is charged with 3 counts of aggravated murder for allegedly suffocating her three young sons, Gavin, Niall and Noah over a 13-month period.

Authorities say she was jealous of the attention her husband, Joseph Pilkington, gave the boys.

Investigators say Pilkington confessed to killing her 2 sons and has pleaded not guilty to all the murder charges. Her defense attorneys' are arguing that the confession was coerced.

A judge previously denied motions to remove the death penalty option and moving her trial out of Logan County. Her jury trial is expected to start Feb. 27 and continue until March 24.

(source: WDTN news)


Wrongfully convicted man, Supreme Court Justice argue for ending Ohio death penalty

The death penalty is coming back to Ohio.

After a nearly 3-year legal fight over the drugs used in lethal injections, the state of Ohio plans to resume executions in January.

Some, including the man who wrote the current death penalty law, say it's time for the ultimate punishment to meet its own end.

September 26, 1988 was a day burned into the memory of Joe D'Ambrosio: the day he was arrested for murder.

"Being accused of doing the most heinous crime in the world that you can do," he said. "And you know you didn't do it."

Police, prosecutors, and a jury disagreed, and D'Ambrosio was convicted.

"Every day I expected them to come and open the doors [and say] 'we got the wrong guy. Sorry, go home,'" D'Ambrosio said.

Instead, he was sentenced to die. For more than 20 years, he sat on Ohio's death row.

"All I kept seeing was darkness. I'm like, if they don't listen to me, I'm done. I'm truly, truly done," she said.

One person did listen. Father Neil Kookoothe met D'Ambrosio through a prison ministry.

"My initial thought I think is anybody's initial thought: 'yeah right!'" said Kookoothe with a laugh. "You're all innocent."

Kookoothe, who has a law degree, examined D'Ambrosio's case file and what he found stunned him.

"There's a case of wrongful incarceration of a man on death row right here in Ohio," Kookoothe said. "It was devastating to realize...a guy could lose his life and there's evidence here that he's not responsible for this."

Kookoothe found gaps in the evidence that he believed proved D'Ambrosio's innocence.

In 2010, D'Ambrosio walked free. In 2012, he was exonerated.

"With just that bang of the gavel, I'm alive again," D'Ambrosio said. "Because when you're there, you're dead. But with that single bang of [a] gavel, it's like she shocked me and I was back to life."

D'Ambrosio and Kookoothe shared his remarkable story with the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Ohio Statehouse on October 7.

It was in the same statehouse in 1981 that State Senator Paul Pfeifer wrote the legislation that is Ohio's death penalty law. Now a Justice on Ohio's Supreme Court, Pfeifer wants it abolished.

"I call it the death lottery," Pfeifer said. "A really bad lottery. Because depending on which county in this state you commit capital murder, makes all the difference in the world whether or not you'll face the death penalty at all."

Today, just to be alive, D'Ambrosio says he is grateful. But for the irreversible injustice that almost ended his life, Kookoothe says there must be change.

"There is so much at stake, that the state and the government should not be about this business," she said.

Ohio's 1st execution since January 2014 is scheduled for January 12, 2017. Ronald Phillips was convicted of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl in Summit County in 1993.



Death row inmate still appealing conviction in police killing

Ohio plans to resume executions of convicted killers next year, and more than 2 dozen men have already been scheduled to die. Odraye Jones of Ashtabula is not among them.

Jones is still appealing his 1998 conviction in the shooting death of Ashtabula Patrolman William D. Glover Jr., according to Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci. The county cannot seek execution until every appeal has been heard and rejected, he said.

"My office would have to file a death warrant when all of his appeals are exhausted in order to have the execution scheduled," Iarocci said in an email message.

Jones, 40, is incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He has spent 18 years, nearly 1/2 his life, on Ohio's death row.

Earlier this month, officials said the state wants to resume executions after a lull of nearly 3 years. Ohio's last execution occurred in January 2014. The program was halted when the state was unable to obtain the chemicals needed from pharmaceutical companies.

Ohio will use a blend of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride to kill Ronald Phillips, who is scheduled to enter the death chamber on Jan. 12. He was sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

Executions have been scheduled into 2019, according to news reports. Bret Crow, Ohio Supreme Court spokesman, said execution dates are worked out in consultation with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Generally, the Ohio Supreme Court does not act until a county's prosecutor requests a date, Crow said. Jones has exhausted all his state appeals, but a writ of habeas corpus is pending in federal court, according to Iarocci.

A spokesperson at the Ohio attorney general's office, which is handling Jones' appeal, could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

Jones used the name Malik Allah-U-Akbar in a 2014 filing before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Glover, 30, had served on the Ashtabula Police Department only a few months when he was shot and killed Nov. 17, 1997, while chasing Jones in the area of West 43rd Street and Coleman Avenue. Jones was wanted on a felony warrant at the time. Glover suffered 4 gunshot wounds.

Jones was convicted after one of the longest trials in recent history. Jury selection began May 5, 1998, and the jury formally recommended the death penalty exactly 1 month later. Jones entered the Ohio corrections system on June 10, 1998, according to the ODRC website.

(source: Star Beacon)


SQ776 discusses death penalty, methods of executions

Every week until November 2, the Owasso Reporter will cover each of the 7 state question in detail and present both sides of the issue to give citizens a chance to decide for themselves whether to vote for or against it on the November 8 ballot. We will start with SQ777. All information is courtesy of the Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma State Election Board.

The 1st question on the November 8 ballot - State Question 776 - deals with the death penalty in Oklahoma and establishes state constitutional mandates relating to the issue and addresses methods of execution for inmates on or to be on death row.

If approved, SQ776 will add a new section to Section 9A of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, authorizing the Legislature to impose any form of execution, even if a specific means of capital punishment is deemed invalid. It also states the ballot item will allow death sentences to remain in effect until they can be carried out by any method not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

The Oklahoma death penalty law, enacted in 1976, has been consistently applied by Oklahoma elected officials, with the state executing 191 men and 3 women between 1915 and 2014 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (1 by hanging, 82 by electrocution and 111 by lethal injection). Statutes specifically allow gas inhalation, electrocution, and firing squad as backups to the primary form of execution by lethal injection. The death penalty is legal in 31 states and illegal in 19.

In October 2015, Oklahoma suspended executions for a review of lethal injection protocols. One of the drugs most commonly used for lethal injection is sodium thiopental, which is no longer manufactured in the United States. In 2011, the European Commission imposed restrictions on the export of certain drugs used for lethal injections in the United States.

As a result, many states no longer have the drugs used to carry out lethal injection. Oklahoma has turned to other drugs as a substitute for sodium thiopental. However, recent instances of executions around the country in which alternative drugs were used may have produced adverse outcomes, and recent problems with the administration of the death penalty in Oklahoma even led to a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

For example, during Oklahoma's attempted execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, his vein apparently ruptured, causing him to writhe for about 45 minutes before the execution was halted. He died of a heart attack minutes later. Another man on death row, Charles Warner, challenged the use of the drug midazolam in the execution protocol. In January 2015, he was executed. It was later discovered that the Department of Corrections had used the wrong drug.

A grand jury investigation of Oklahoma's botched executions did not return any indictments but did find numerous flaws in the state's execution protocol and in state officials' conduct related to executions. The courts put all executions in the state on hold during the investigation, and they remain on hold until Oklahoma approves a new execution protocol.

Arguing that Oklahoma's right to carry out the death penalty was under threat, lawmakers proposed Senate Joint Resolution 31 in 2015. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the measure, sending SQ 776 to the ballot. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state's execution protocol on a 5-4 vote in the case of Glossip v. Gross. However, a 2016 ruling in a death penalty case in Arkansas could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine its Glossip decision.

Supporters of SQ776 say that since the death penalty is legal in Oklahoma, it has a history of support from officials and the general public, and the state's ability to carry it out must be protected at a higher, constitutional level. Additionally, there is a chance that certain drugs used in lethal injections, or even the use of lethal injection itself, will be ruled unconstitutional. They say Oklahoma needs options so that the death penalty can continue to be used, and it should have more flexibility to designate and use any available, legal method of execution.

Opponents of the ballot item cite inconsistent application of it as a punishment, a preference for life sentences, and the increasing frequency of exonerations. They say this measure could make it much more difficult to rule Oklahoma's death penalty unconstitutional and could make use of barbaric practices such as the firing squad more likely. They also claim the amendment's only purpose is to undermine the current moratorium resulting from the recent mistakes in the administration of the lethal drug method of execution.

(source: Tulsa World)


Future of death penalty comes down to repeal or retain vote

This year's election includes the future of the death penalty in Nebraska and the fate of 10 men currently on death row.

The language on the ballot can be confusing because it's almost like a double negative. Last year, the Legislature voted to end the death penalty in Nebraska, but after a strong push from petitioners, the state now looks to voters for a final decision.

The actual vote is whether or not to repeal or retain what the legislature did. A vote to REPEAL means you want the death penalty. A vote to RETAIN means you want to do away with the death penalty.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has tried for years to abolish the death penalty. Last year was the first time he was able to convince enough senators to override the governor's veto. "When something is truly historic, it's never the work of one person. One person may have been the driving force or the catalyst, but it took a collection of people to get the job done."

Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., WOWT 6 News reporter Brian Mastre takes a closer look at the death penalty debate in a special "Brian Mastre Reports: Nebraska's Death Penalty: Dead Or Alive?"

(source: WOWT news)


Law enforcement speak against the death penalty

22 days to Election Day, veterans of the court system are encouraging voters to make sure the death penalty stays out of Nebraska.

It's often the argument of Nebraskans for the death penalty that capital punishment is supported by a variety of law enforcement.

That wasn't the case Monday in La Vista, when judges, police officers and a former police captain spoke against having a death penalty in Nebraska.

That decision will be on the ballot Nov. 8.

Several former law enforcement officers say they had originally supported the death penalty and changed their minds through experience with the criminal justice system.

A Creighton law professor, who helped prosecute serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, says the famed killer thought there was capital punishment in Wisconsin while he was killing people; when in reality Wisconsin didn't have a death penalty.

The law professor, Greg O'Meara, says he knows first-hand the threat of capital punishment does not deter crime.

"Nobody, first and foremost, thinks they're going to get caught when they commit a crime," O'Meara said. "That isn't going on in their minds. They don't think of the penalty at all. It doesn't really deter them. That's the psychology of how crime happens. It's impetus. It happens quickly."

The group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, says they have research that shows that the death penalty not only deters crime, it saves lives in states that have capital punishment.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty point to the state Sheriff's Association and the Nebraska County Attorneys Association, who have both endorsed the effort to overturn last year's decision to get rid of the death penalty from Nebraska.

(source: KMTV news)


Death penalty trial delayed after lawyers question defendant's mental capacity

A judge on Monday postponed the death penalty trial for a man accused of fatally stabbing his estranged pregnant girlfriend after his lawyers raised new questions about his mental capacity.

Prosecutors said during opening statements last week that Eric Covington stabbed 24-year-old Sagittarius Gomez more than 120 times in an hour because he did not want her to be with another man. She was seven months pregnant with their child.

This past weekend, defense lawyers had the 33-year-old Covington, who has been jailed since the November 2010 attack, re-evaluated by a psychologist.

Lisa Rasmussen wrote in court papers that she tried to discuss possible negotiations with Covington in the days before trial started.

"Those issues caused defense counsel to question the ability of Mr. Covington to process the information as one would expect," Rasmussen stated.

Although another doctor had previously found that Covington had an IQ of 77, the psychologist who analyzed Covington this weekend found that he had an IQ of 62.

"My provisional opinion is that Mr. Covington is a person with intellectual disability," Washington psychologist Mark Cunningham wrote. He added that "school records and family descriptions" indicated that Covington's "intellectual and adaptive limitations were present well before the age of 18."

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing inmates with "mental retardation" violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Prosecutors are expected to have another doctor evaluate Covington, and the judge scheduled a hearing for Nov. 29, with jurors slated to resume hearing evidence Dec. 7.

Covington described the killing in a statement to police, according to prosecutors.

Neighbors testified that they heard loud noises and screams coming from Gomez's East Sahara Avenue apartment in the early morning of Nov. 6, 2010, but none called police.

Gomez's bloody body was found the next day after police, responding to a welfare check, broke open her apartment's front door.

Besides 1st-degree murder, Covington faces 1 count each of manslaughter in the killing of an unborn child, burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Covington told police he went to the east valley apartment they once shared to discuss their relationship. When the talk soured, Covington began to stab Gomez, police said at the time.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Judge gives defense more time to prepare in Martinez death penalty case

A judge on Monday gave the defense more time to review evidence, declining the prosecution's request to schedule a preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez, who is accused of killing his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, along with her 2 daughters, his mother and his niece.

The 5 slayings occurred July 18, 2015, at Crews' home on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto. In addition to Crews, 38, the victims were her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martinez's mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and Martinez's 5-year-old niece, Esmeralda Navarro. Martinez was Rachael's father.

In a separate case, Martinez has already been ordered to stand trial on charges of murder and child abuse in the Oct. 2, 2014, death of Crews' 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley.

Martinez was arrested several hours after the 5 bodies were found in the home and has remained in custody since. Martinez has pleaded not guilty to 5 counts of murder.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Martinez. The preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial.

Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury said it's been 3 months since they finished giving the defense the evidence that will be used in a preliminary hearing. The prosecutor asked the judge to schedule the hearing in January, saying that would give Martinez's attorneys plenty of time to review.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu asked for more time, telling the judge there are about 6,000 pages of evidence the prosecution provided, along with about 100 hours of video and audio recordings.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova agreed with the defense. He said he recognizes that the victims' families might want to have this case proceed sooner rather than later, but that he doesn't want to rush this case.

Cordova scheduled Martinez and the attorneys to return to court Dec. 2.

Mury told the judge a preliminary hearing could take about 2 weeks to complete. Deputy Public Defender Maureen Keller said she's not sure about that estimate, telling the judge too much is being asked of them right now.

The trial in Christopher's death has not been scheduled.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge that if the defense is not ready to schedule a preliminary hearing in the 5 slayings on Dec. 2, she will ask the court to schedule the trial in the toddler's death.

Crews' son suffered severe head injuries on Sept. 30, 2014, while alone with Martinez.

The toddler died at a Madera children's hospital after 2 days on life support. A child abuse expert and pediatrician at the hospital testified that the boy's brain had suffered severe swelling. Bleeding also was found just outside the brain.

Modesto police investigators were about 2 weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher's death when the 5 other homicides occurred.

(source: Modesto Bee)


Jackson Browne to play anti-death penalty show in Sacramento

Hoping the California death penalty is running on empty? This is the concert for you.

Advocates of Proposition 62, which would repeal capital punishment in California, have enlisted Jackson Browne to play a benefit show at Sacramento's Crest Theatre on Oct. 26. Browne will also play a benefit concert in San Diego on Oct. 24.

"I wanted my audience to know that I feel strongly about it ... I want people to pay attention," Browne said in an interview. "We have to ban the death penalty in California - I think that would be very influential for the rest of the country."

Beyond the cost of enforcing the death penalty and its function of condoning state-sanctioned violence, Browne said, he was motivated to take a stand by conversations with people who were convicted and later exonerated.

"I've become aware over the years of how flawed our justice system is and how necessary it is to have laws that are fair, that are above reproach," Browne said. My most fundamental objection is in taking a human life, there's so many innocent people who are in jail."

Tickets for the Sacramento show run from $65 to $75 a pop - with the proceeds flowing into the campaign's coffers - and can be purchased online. Supporters of the measure have so far out-raised those who would preserve the death penalty.

Browne isn't the first celebrity to throw in for the cause. Former "M.A.S.H." star Mike Farrell serves as the initiative's key proponent, denouncing the death penalty as inhumane and racist.

Voters face divergent death penalty choices this November. For those who support executing the worst of the worst, which California has not done since 2006, Proposition 66 offers to expedite the process by curbing appeals. That measure's star proponent is former pro football player Kermit Alexander.

(source: Sacramento Bee)


Solana Beach woman works to abolish California death penalty

Kyle Wesendorf took a slightly unusual path to her current career as a vegetarian personal chef - before deciding to attend culinary school and take up cooking for a living, she worked in the legal field, specifically as an attorney handling the appeals of death row inmates.

"It's a weird resume," said Wesendorf, who runs her own business, a personal chef service called Brio.

Even though the 63-year-old Solana Beach resident no longer practices law, she hasn't left her passionate opposition to the death penalty behind - earlier this year, she joined a cause near to her heart by enlisting as a volunteer for Prop. 62, a measure on California's November ballot that will, if approved, abolish the death penalty in this state.

"I've always been against the death penalty," said Wesendorf, who retired from her legal career in 2003 after practicing in Illinois and California. "It's my abiding passion. I feel very strongly it's wrong. A great country like ours should not be killing people."

Wesendorf is a member of the board of directors of the Yes on 62 committee. In that capacity, she has helped organize the campaign, from raising funds and gathering signatures, to getting the word out about the ballot measure.

California voters last considered the death penalty question in 2012, when, by a margin of 52 to 48 %, they rejected an initiative that would have replaced the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life without possibility of parole.

This time around, Wesendorf is optimistic that the outcome will be different, and that voters will abolish the death penalty in California. Prop. 62 also calls for the imposition of life without parole instead of capital punishment.

Complicating things is a competing ballot measure, Prop. 66, which seeks to fix a broken death penalty system and speed up the process, streamlining appeals procedures and setting a 5-year time limit for the completion of death penalty appeals.

The last execution carried out in California was in 2006, due to legal issues surrounding the state's lethal injection procedures. More than 700 inmates currently remain on death row in California.

Among the reasons for abolishing the death penalty in California, said Wesendorf, are that it does not work as a deterrent, it is expensive (the state's legislative analyst estimated that elimination of the death penalty will save $150 million per year in legal and prison costs), and that its application is racially biased.

Many nations around the world have abolished capital punishment, and in the U.S., 24 states have either abolished the death penalty or put it on hold, according to the Death Penalty Information Center web site.

"When you look around the world at countries which continue to execute people... we're in very bad company," with such nations as Iran, China and North Korea, said Wesendorf.

But proponents of Prop. 66, which promises to streamline and maintain California's death penalty, said the goal should be to "mend, not end" the law.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Prop. 66 supporter, said she believes Californians want to keep the death penalty on the books in a way that protects the legal rights of defendants while speeding up the process.

"It's not working because those who don't want the death penalty have been part of the cause for how much it costs and how long it takes," she said.

Currently, she said, it takes more than 2 decades for a death penalty case to work its way through the appeals process. "We want to fix that."

The death penalty, said Dumanis, is reserved for "the worst of the worst," for such crimes as killing a police officer, or in the case of murder with aggravating factors such as lying in wait, torture, kidnapping or sexual assault.

She said race doesn't enter into the decision of whether to seek the death penalty; instead, she said, prosecutors consider the circumstances of the crime, the defendant's criminal history and other factors.

The legislative analyst's office concluded that Prop. 66 could save money by reducing the number of death row inmates in California and distributing those inmates to other prisons instead of housing them all in single cells at San Quentin Prison. But due to other changes in the appeals process, the total fiscal impact is "unknown and cannot be estimated."

The vote likely won't hinge on dollars and cents, according to Dumanis. "The bottom line is it's probably a moral decision. Either you believe in the death penalty or you don't believe in the death penalty. Californians have said for some crimes we believe in the death penalty."

If both measures receive majority approval on Nov. 8, the one with the most votes will win. A September poll by the Field Poll and UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies found that 48 % of voters supported Prop. 62, 37 % opposed it, and 15 % were undecided. The poll found that 35 % supported Prop. 66, 23 % opposed it, and a plurality of 42 % was undecided.

(source: Del Mar Times)


Survivor of serial killer fights for death penalty----Jennifer Asbenson urges voters to reject Prop. 62

The only known survivor of a serial killer, a man authorities say murdered 8 woman, is now worried voters might get rid of California's death penalty law she hopes her would-be killer will someday face.

Jennifer Asbenson is still is waiting for her would-be killer, Andrew Urdiales, to face the justice she says he deserves, 24-years after her attack.

"On the confession tapes, he said he stopped strangling me because his hands got tired," Asbenson said. "He says my face turned blue, my eyes started protruding. My eyes got bloodshot."

Asbenson thought she was going to die that September morning in Desert Hot Springs, 1992.

Asbenson said, "Anybody who would get into his car, he would take them somewhere and he would murder them."

She freed herself and escaped Urdiales, later convicted of murdering 3 other women in Illinois and Indiana in 1996.

A trial for the murders of 5 more women here in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties between 1986 and 1995 is about to begin in Orange County in February of 2017.

Julie McGhee, 29, of Cathedral City was shot and killed in a remote area of Palm Springs in July 1988.

Prosecutors say Urdiales also shot Tammie Erwin, 18, in April 1989.

"I've heard a lot of people say serial killers, or monsters like that, aren't afraid of anything. They are! They are afraid to die," said Asbenson.

She's using Facebook to spread her message.

She's against Proposition 62, which would end California's Death Penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. "It's justice. You're getting to know the person who did this is no longer on this earth," said Asbenson. " They can no longer hurt another human being and is gone because of what they did. And that's what's right," Asbenson added.

Hundreds of death sentences have been handed down in our state.

But since 1973, California has only carried out 13 executions, the last in 2006.

749 people are currently on death row waiting to die.

19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the punishment.

31 states still have the death penalty.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is among the critics who say some on death row have later been exonerated of their crimes. They want it to end.

Asbenson, Urdiales's only known survivor, says no. "There are definitely a lot of people out there who are pure evil and they do not deserve to live," Asbenson said.

She's supporting Prop. 66, which would require more attorneys to represent those on death row, speed up appeals and allow prisons to develop new execution methods.

She's been defriended, and has unfriended others online, but she feels it's worth it.

Asbenson said, "There's no reason for such evil to exist. There's no reason."

Urdiales escaped the death penalty in Illinois, when the state abolished it.

The Orange County D.A.'s office tells News Channel 3 a hearing on his California case was held last Wednesday.

His jury trial has been delayed a number of times, but is currently set to start on February 6th next year.

You can see those currently on California's Condemned Inmate List at:

(source: KESQ news)


Brown to maintain death penalty moratorium

The governor plans to continue a state moratorium on capital punishment that would extend through her upcoming term if elected, a spokesman said Monday morning.

"Gov. Kate Brown has made clear her personal opposition to the death penalty and her support of the current moratorium on Oregon executions," spokesman Bryan Hockaday told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Former Gov. John Kitzaber announced the moratorium two weeks before the scheduled 2011 execution of Gary Haugen, who then sought to speed his execution after waiving all appeals. After Brown took over the state's top office in February 2015, she said she would continue the stoppage of public executions until further study.

"Gov. Brown directed her General Counsel to conduct a review of the policy and practical implications of Oregon's capital punishment law," Hockaday said. "Though no executions are imminent, Gov. Brown will continue the death penalty moratorium, because after thoroughly researching the issues, serious concerns remain about the constitutionality and workability of Oregon's capital punishment law."

Hockaday declined to immediately release, pending a records request, any study or records related to how the governor made her decision.

Reasons for her decision include the "uncertainty of Oregon's ability to acquire the necessary execution drugs required by statute," Hockaday said by email. "Looking nationally, America is on the verge of a sea change both by legislation and, more profoundly, through court decisions. The past few years have already seen a major shift in the landscape on capital punishment law, and Gov. Brown expects more changes are on the horizon."

Oregon voters approved the death penalty in 1984, and the state and U.S. Supreme Courts have repeatedly upheld its legality.

Oregon's death row has 34 prisoners, all of whom stay in their cells 23 hours a day. In the past 5 decades, the state executed 2 men -- both in the 1990s. Those men had essentially volunteered for the death penalty after waiving their rights to appeal before their deaths.

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, an outspoken supporter of the death penalty in Oregon, a month ago met with Brown counsel Ben Souede about the issue. After hearing the news Monday, Marquis said he was seething.

"If she really believes the death penalty is so wrong, then she should have the guts to commute all those sentences," Marquis said.

If she were to take that extraordinary step, Marquis said about six or seven prisoners on death row could be released to the public within a year because they would qualify for an immediate parole hearing. He said those prisoners were sentenced after voters approved the death penalty and before the state adopted life sentences without parole in the early 1990s.

No executions may be imminent, Marquis argued, but at least three cases are pending in Oregon where defendants face aggravated murder charges, which bring a death penalty sentencing option if convicted. Brown's announcement could make it easier for defense attorneys to persuade jurors not to impose the death penalty, he said.

However, the assertion that death row inmates would walk free has been untested in Oregon courts, said Bobbin Singh, executive director of Oregon Justice Resource Center, an organization working to end the state's death penalty. Singh believes the governor has the constitutional authority to reduce sentences to life without parole.

He said Brown's announcement follows a trend by other states that have moved away from capital punishment.

"It's a complicated and an under-researched area of our criminal justice system in Oregon," Singh said.

Singh argues no nationwide evidence shows the death penalty deters criminals. Citing the Death Penalty Information Center, Singh said less than 2 % of all U.S. counties produce most of the death penalty cases today.

Since 1973, 156 people have been exonerated from their death sentences. The governors of several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, have also instituted moratoriums.

Haugen last year received an execution date for late January 2017, but his case continues to remain in limbo, said Jeff Ellis, his attorney. Haugen, who was convicted of aggravated murder in a prison death in 2004, has chosen to appeal the execution date. He claims the state took too long to issue the date after the expiration of a previous death warrant, Ellis said.

That argument is being heard before a federal judge, Ellis said, who declined to comment on the governor's announcement because he had not spoken to his client. However, Haugen called The Oregonian/OregonLive newsroom in late September before Brown's announcement.

"I'm just so frustrated," Haugen said. "They want to have the death penalty, but they don't want to kill anybody."



Supreme Court declines to rule in 1995 death penalty case

The US Supreme Court denied certiorari Monday in the death penalty case Elmore v. Holbrook. The main issue in the case was whether a defendant's counsel can present one mitigating factor at the sentencing phase, without thoroughly investigating the possibility of other mitigating factors. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented from the denial. Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted the case, and further, that they would find that the representation was a violation of the Sixth Amendment's right to effective assistance of counsel.

Elmore was convicted in 1995 for raping and murdering a teenage girl. It was the first death penalty case for his lawyer, Jon Komorowski, who is now the public defender of Whatcom County, Washington. At the sentencing hearing, the lawyer made a lengthy argument about Elmore's remorse rather than present evidence of Elmore's disabilities and possible exposure to harmful chemicals, a decision Komorowski later admitted was a mistake due to his inexperience. Attorneys for Elmore filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the court in January.

(source: The Jurist)


FBI moves to dismiss lawsuit over Charleston church shooting

The FBI wants a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the agency of negligence in last summer's South Carolina church massacre, arguing that the agency was stymied by state and federal limits on background checks and local errors in record-keeping as it reviewed Dylann Roof's handgun purchase.

The June 17, 2015, shootings by a young white man of nine black parishioners who had welcomed him to their Bible study renewed debates about race relations in the South. Roof was arrested in the shooting after posing online with the Confederate flag and telling a friend he intended to kill people at the historic black church to start a race war. The battle flag was subsequently removed from places of honor.

Lawyers for 3 survivors and the estates of 5 of the people slain inside Emanuel AME Church sued in July, arguing that if the FBI had done its job, Roof's prior drug arrest would have shown up and his purchase of the .45-caliber handgun would have been denied.

In its response filed on Friday, the federal government denied that any FBI negligence was a factor.

"The shooting at the Emanuel AME Church was an atrocity of unspeakable proportions. The perpetrator's actions were despicable," attorneys for the government wrote. "But the United States is not liable in tort for the tragic death of plaintiff's decedent."

The FBI response cited a statement FBI Director James Comey made shortly after the shootings. Comey promised a full review and said the transaction should have been denied, but cited local record-keeping errors as the reason why Roof's April 2015 gun purchase was allowed to go through.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon provided more details that summer, telling The Associated Press that a jail clerk entered incorrect information for Roof's February 2015 drug arrest, and that while the mistake was noticed within days, it wasn't fixed in a state database. So when Roof sought to buy the gun 2 months later, an FBI examiner spotted the arrest, but called the wrong agency to get his record. Without the necessary documents, the purchase had to go through.

"While the Brady Act authorizes the FBI to temporarily freeze firearms sales for 3 business days while it researches whether state or federal law prohibits a particular buyer from possessing a firearm, the FBI has no authority to prevent a sale if, after those 3 business days have elapsed, it has not yet found definitive information demonstrating that the prospective purchaser's receipt of a firearm would violate federal or state law," the government's lawyers wrote.

Congress has limited federal background checks to 3 days, although states can extend this window. South Carolina legislators filed a number of bills to increase the window after the shootings, but none advanced.

The FBI makes about 58,000 checks on a typical day, handled by about 500 people at a call center. The agency has reported that about 2 % of the checks end without enough information to give an answer within the 3-day window.

Roof is currently jailed pending death penalty trials in both state and federal court on charges including murder and hate crimes. His federal trial is scheduled for November, with his state trial planned for early next year.

(source: WHAS news)


SC summons Katju over remarks in Soumya case

In an unusual decision, the Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to its former judge Justice Markandey Katju for his personal appearance for saying that the apex court "grievously erred" by setting aside the death penalty of the convict in Kerala's Soumya rape-cum-murder case.

A 3-judge bench presided over by Justice Ranjan Gogoi decided to convert Justice Katju's blog into a suo motu petition. "We issue notice to Justice Katju, former judge of this court, and request him to appear in court in person and participate in the proceedings on 11th November, 2016, at 2.00 pm as to whether the judgement and order dated 15th September, 2016, passed by this bench suffers from any fundamental flaw so as to require exercise of the review jurisdiction," the bench said.

Katju had on September 16 sought an open court review of the judgement, saying it was "regrettable that the court has not read Section 300 (murder) of the IPC carefully." "Such a view coming from a retired judge of this court needs to be treated with greatest of respect and consideration," the bench added.

The court passed its order while hearing review petitions filed by the Kerala government and victim's mother against its September 15 judgement.

The court had on September 15 sentenced Govindachamy to life imprisonment for rape. It had set aside the death penalty awarded to him in the 2011 case, in which a 23-year-old woman died after being sexually assaulted in Kerala.

The bench had said it has not been proved that Govindachamy threw the victim, Soumya, out of the moving train or inflicted fatal injuries during the sexual assault that led to her death.

(source: Deccan Herald)


Death row convict Umesh Reddy moves Karnataka High Court

B A Umesh Reddy, serial rapist and now a death row convict on Monday moved the Karnataka high court seeking for commutation of death sentence imposed on him citing 'compelling supervening circumstances'.

The counsel for Reddy mentioned about the filing of the petition before a division bench headed by Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee on Monday morning, requesting for an urgent hearing on the plea. The bench said that it would be taken up on Tuesday.

In his petition, Reddy has claimed that there is an avoidable and excessive delay of two years and three months in disposal of his mercy petition (filed by his mother) and thereby execution of death sentence. He further adds that he had suffered solitary confinement lasting 10 years and also mental illness.

Citing a judgment of the Apex court in this regard, he contends that each of the reasons/circumstances are independently sufficient to render the death penalty in executable.

In addition, Reddy has also challenged the rejection of his mercy petition both by Governor of Karnataka and also President of India in May 2013. His mother had filed the mercy plea before the president in February 2011.The Supreme court rejected his review petition early this month.

In 2006, a trial court had convicted Umesh Reddy for rape and murder of Jayashri Maradi Subbayya ,a widow on February 28, 1998 in Peenya police limits. The same was confirmed by the Karnataka high court on February 18, 2009. Ultimately, even the Apex court upheld the said verdict.

Umesh Reddy, who was earlier employed as a police constable, hails from Chitradurga district. He is accused of rape, murder and robbery and related crimes at various places in Karnataka and also in Maharashtra and Gujarat as well. He also escaped from police custody more than couple of occasions and continued his activities.

(source: The Times of India)


Hoshiarpur boy's murder: SC stays death sentence of convicts

The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the execution order of Vikram Walia and Jasbir Singh convicted for killing Hoshiarpur teen Abhi Verma in 2005.

A bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A M Khanwilkar and Justice Amitava Roy issued the stay orders and posted the matter for further hearing on October 24.

Hoshiarpur session court had issued death warrants for the 2 convicts for October 25 after the President turned down their mercy petition. They, however, filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking stay on the execution of the orders. Advocate B S Billowaria appeared for the petitioners and pleaded that the mercy petition filed earlier be re-opened and the defendants be granted an open hearing in accordance with Supreme Court's ruling in criminal writ petition no 77 of 2014 of Mohammed Arif and others.

Vikram Walia, Jasvir Singh and latter's wife Sonia, had kidnapped Abhi, a Class 9 student of DAV School for a ransom of Rs 50 lakh, and killed him with an overdose of anaesthesia. On December 21, 2006, the district and sessions judge had awarded death penalty to all 3.

The Punjab and Haryana high court had upheld the sentence of all 3 convicts but the Supreme Court had commuted Sonia's sentence to life imprisonment. Walia and Jasvir had filed a mercy petition with the President after a 3-member Bench of the apex court had rejected their review petition in August 2015.

They are lodged in Patiala central jail.

(source: Hindustan Times)


Land dispute: Man awarded death penalty for murder

A district and sessions court in Dera Ghazi Khan sentenced a man to death on Saturday after he was found guilty of killing a man over a land dispute. A co-accused in the case has been declared a proclaimed offender.

According to the prosecution, the deceased named Laal Ahmed and the accused Jalil Ahmed and Muhammad Tariq had a land dispute for a long time. One day, Laal was going back home from work when Jalil and Tariq ambushed him and shot him dead. Later, Saddar police registered a murder case against the suspects and arrested Jalil while Tariq managed to flee.

While announcing the verdict, District and Sessions Judge Malik Khalid Mehmood ordered the convict to pay a fine of Rs500,000 to the heirs of the deceased.

Jalil would have to undergo 6 additional months in prison if he does not pay the penalty. The convict has been sent to the DG Khan Central Jail while Tariq has been declared a proclaimed offender.

(source: The Express Tribune)


The death penalty returns to Europe

A box of clothes arrives on a doorstep in a European country just over 1,620km (1,000 miles) from the UK.

It contains the belongings of a man executed by the state.

They will not know when it happened or where his body is buried - they simply know it has been done.

This is the reality of the death penalty in Belarus, sometimes called Europe's last remaining dictatorship, where executions have resumed, following a two-year pause.

The majority of people are killed by a gun shot to the head and the bodies are never seen again.

The decision to resume executions comes just 8 months after EU foreign ministers removed asset freezes and travel bans for more than 150 Belarusian politicians and leaders, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

That EU move came after Belarus had released 6 political prisoners.

But at least 4 people have been sentenced to death since February.

Valiantsin Stefanovic from the Viasna Human Rights Centre told BBC Outside Source: "There is a lot of secrecy around this problem.

"Sometimes it [death] happens very quickly, in 2 or 3 months after the decision of the court.

"Nobody knows what happens to the bodies, they do not give them to the relatives. The burial place is not shown."

The death penalty was introduced in Belarus during Soviet times and covered several crimes, such as forging money, as well as murder.

Public opinion still favours executions, and polls in some parts of Western Europe draw similar results.

"Public opinion has changed though," says Valiantsin. "The majority of people still support this punishment, but that is nothing special."

Belarus has been widely criticised over its human rights issues during the 22-year-rule of President Lukashenko, who won a 5th term by a landslide last year.

About 400 people have been executed in Belarus since the country gained independence from the USSR in 1991, more than 1 a month.

We spoke with Lyubov Kovaleva, whose 25-year-old son was executed in 2012 for terrorism offences.

She claims he was forced into a confession and the verdict was to shoot the accused.

"I was allowed only 3 meetings: before the trial, after the verdict was announced and before the shooting," she told Outside Source. "His lawyer met him only once."

Strict surveillance

Ms Kovaleva was instructed to discuss only private matters and talk about just family and friends.

"There was a police officer behind me who controlled our conversation. My son was behind the window and another police officer was behind him."

Before the 1st meeting she was given a piece of paper with questions she was allowed to ask.

"I could not do anything to help him - apparently it was Lukashenko's decision to execute my son."

A human rights report last week suggested rights to a defence in capital punishment cases were being "systematically violated" and "lawyers and judges lack independence".

Internationally the Belarusian government is now under pressure.

Europe's top human rights watchdog - the Council of Europe - deplored the situation. Its secretary-general Thorbjoern Jagland said: "I am deeply disappointed that Belarus has started using the death penalty again.

"I call on the authorities in Minsk to rapidly introduce a moratorium, as a first step towards abolition."

And the European Parliament lamented the fact that Belarus was showing no sign of progress on human rights.

(source: BBC news)



(source: The Chronicle)

OCTOBER 17, 2016:


Defense attorneys not surprised by Florida Supreme Court's decision to require unanimous verdicts in death penalty case

Attorney Bill Sheppard said he was "dumbfounded" by a change in the death penalty law made by Florida legislators in March.

Ann Finnell said she didn;t think the change, which required a 10-2 vote of jurors to impose the death penalty, would pass the muster of a U.S. Supreme Court decision months earlier.

And even some Duval County lawmakers who had a hand in the law knew the day would come where it would be changed.

Friday was that day, when the Florida Supreme Court decided the Legislature's tweak still wasn't good enough - death penalty cases instead need a unanimous jury decision.

It's the 2nd time this year the system has been impacted by a court ruling, but many didn't see it as a big surprise.

"I don't understand why in the world the Florida Legislature didn't correct it in the first place," said Sheppard, of Sheppard, White, Kachergus & DeMaggio.

His career has included defending clients in several death penalty cases, including work for Gary Alvord, who spent more than 30 years on death row.

"I think it was a waste," Sheppard said of the Legislature's attempt this year.

The law should have been changed to require a unanimous decision, he said.

2 members of the Duval Legislative Delegation who worked on crafting the law both believed unanimity among jurors was the way to go. Yet, like many issues in Tallahassee, there were trade-offs made.

"The choice was either to compromise at 10-2 or we would not have had a fix," said state Sen. Rob Bradley, who served on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Bradley on Friday said he supports the unanimous approach and thought even with the March fix "this day would come sooner rather than later."

State Sen. Audrey Gibson, vice chair of the criminal justice committee, said she also backed unanimity among juries for the death penalty.

"I'm not surprised," she said of the Florida Supreme Court's rulings. "It did seem they were heading that way, anyway."

Gibson said many states have changed their laws on the "very weighty issue," but Florida would need to continue to work toward a solution for both victims' families and those accused.

Both Bradley and Gibson said they expect the issue to come up early when the Legislature reconvenes in March, instead of in a special session that would be called before then.

It creates somewhat of a standstill on the matter, said Finnell, who has handled death penalty cases since the early 1980s.

Finnell, of Finnell, McGuinness, Nezami & Andux, said she suspects many past death penalty cases will get a new chance to seek life in prison.

That would end up creating a strain on the system - prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and others - that will have to dedicate a "tremendous" amount of time and resources on the issue, she said.

"I think we are going to go through a little scrambling here," Finnell said.

Sheppard agreed.

"Oh my God, it's going to take an avalanche of resources," he said, noting it would add to the already exorbitant amount spent on each case.

Long-term, Finnell thinks the court rulings are a positive step.

They bring Florida more into accordance with the rest of the country.

It also could result in prosecutors less frequently filing notices to seek the death penalty, which Finnell said often are used as leverage against defendants.

State Attorney Angela Corey's office, in a statement about Friday's rulings, said the decisions by the Florida Supreme Court "will not affect the way we determine whether to seek a death sentence in a case" and the law would be followed when such an outcome is sought.

The office said it expects the Legislature to amend the current death penalty statute to comply with the court's decision, which would then be applied to all pending cases.

(source: Daily Record)

OHIO----new death sentence

Glen Bates gets death penalty in toddler daughter's death----Jury recommended death penalty

Glen Bates was sentenced to death Monday morning, 19 months after his two-year-old daughter was beaten and tortured to death. Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan handed down the sentence to the 34-year-old. After a 7-day trial, the jury recommended a death sentence after only an hour of deliberation in September. Shanahan had the option to impose a lesser sentence than the jury's recommendation.

Bates' attorney said his client wants to appeal the sentence; he has 30 days to file an appeal.

In late September, Bates was found guilty of aggravated murder in the 2015 beating and killing of Glenara Bates. The jury said it found Bates to be "the principal offender" in the torture; the girl's mother, 30-year-old Andrea Bradley, is also charged with aggravated murder and is scheduled for a possible plea hearing Tuesday.

Glenara's 10-year-old sister testified last month that she saw Bates swing the toddler by the legs and bang her head against a wall until she stopped crying. The next day, Glenara's eyes were shut and she was motionless, her sister said.

That was the fatal blow, prosecutors said, and they drove that home in closing arguments during the trial. They said the bites, scratches and bruises were too numerous to count and that a gash on her forehead was held together by sewing thread.

"Imagine him swinging her around," the prosecution said at Bates' sentencing hearing. "Tell me he's not a monster."

The deputy coroner who performed the autopsy on Glenara Bates testified in court in September. She called Glenara's death "one of the worst I've ever seen."

Hamilton County Deputy Coroner Dr. Jennifer Schott said Glenara Bates weighed only 13 pounds when she died, less than 1/2 the average weight of a 2-year-old. Schott also testified that Glenara was covered in "C-shaped scars," determined to be bite marks.

Schott also highlighted severe diaper rash that extended from Glenara's lower back to her thighs. During Bates' taped interrogation, he said Glenara was often made to sleep in a downstairs bathtub because of a bed-wetting problem. Prosecutors said the tub was filled with feces.

The deputy coroner said she believes Glenara could have survived had she been taken to a hospital.

Jurors viewed more than 70 photos from the toddler's autopsy, detailing bruises, cuts and sores on her small body. Glen Bates' attorney tried to have the photos barred from evidence, but the 70 photos are only 25 % of those taken during the autopsy. Several jurors were in tears while viewing the photos.

The defense tried to create reasonable doubt about who exactly caused the wounds and fatal blow to the girl -- Bates or the girl's mother, Andrea Bradley. The deputy coroner testified that she could not be certain who caused the injuries on the girl.

Bates' attorney called character witnesses -- family and friends of Bates -- who called Bates "a protector" and "friend."

Stacey Jones, the mother of Bates' 12-year-old son, asked that the court not take the father away from the boy.

"My son would be devastated if his dad died," Jones said. "You can't have another father."

Bradley also faces the death penalty.

"It don't matter what I want," she said. "Give the world what they want. If they want the death penalty, give it to 'em. I don't care."

Tests show that Bradley has an IQ of 67, below the threshold for the death penalty. As her attorneys asked Judge Ruehlman to continue a hearing in September so they could renegotiate a plea deal with prosecutors, Bradley blurted out that she didn't care whether she got the death penalty or not.

Bradley chose not to take a plea deal that would have given her 15 years behind bars in May. This decision meant her case would head to trial.


He's on death row, but he never killed anybody. Should he be put to death?----The actual killer got a life sentence

Austin Myers became the youngest inmate on Ohio's death row 2 years ago after a judge sentenced him to the ultimate punishment for the 2014 murder of Warren County U.S. Navy recruit Justin Back.

Now the 21-year-old convicted killer is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to overthrow his murder conviction and death penalty sentence, arguing, among other issues, that he didn't actually kill the victim, yet he received a harsher sentence than his co-defendant, Tim Mosley, who he says carried out the actual murder.

"The imposition of the death penalty was so grossly unfair that it shocks the conscience in that the actual killer Mosley received life without (parole), while the accomplice Myers received the death penalty," says an appeal filed last month by Myers' attorneys, Timothy McKenna and Roger Kirk.

Indeed, legal experts say that executions of people who did not directly kill their victims are incredibly rare. The Death Penalty Information Center lists just 10 such cases out of the more than 1,400 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The case of a Texas man facing execution for a murder he did not directly take part in attracted national attention this summer. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the scheduled execution of Jeff Wood 6 days before he was set to die by lethal injection.

"(Myers' case) is a rare scenario where the actual physical killer cuts a deal and gets out of the death penalty," said Mark Krumbein, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney who's defended more than a dozen clients in capital murder cases. "I don't know how the (appeals) court would react to that."

But prosecutors in the case argue that Myers doesn't fit within that narrow category of convicted killers who face execution under Ohio's felony-murder laws despite not actually killing anyone.

(source for both: WCPO news)


Ohio execution drugs affect Arizona death penalty lawsuit

Ohio's ability to acquire a controversial drug used in lethal injections will affect an ongoing lawsuit over Arizona's execution practices.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports ( ) that U.S. District Judge Neil Wake has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 19 to discuss how Ohio's acquisition affects the ongoing lawsuit over whether inmates can press forward with allegations that Arizona abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has argued that it doesn't have any midazolam, making the lawsuit moot.

Ohio officials on Oct. 3 announced they would be able to use the drug for executions in January thanks to a secret drug supplier.

Wake says Ohio's drugs may defeat Arizona's mootness argument.

(source: Associated Press)


A Spiritual Take on California's Death Penalty

"2 rival death penalty initiatives are on the November ballot," writes columnist Andrew Fiala in the Fresno Bee (California). "Proposition 62 seeks to abolish the death penalty. Proposition 66 intends to make it more efficient. The moral questions raised are complex."

Complex indeed, although I probably would have gone with "perplexing" or "myriad." All the more reason, then, to keep this particular discussion focused on just one question: Is there anyone who is not capable of being redeemed?

Of course, no one can say for sure. That doesn't mean, however, that the question is not everyone's to consider.

Thousands of years ago, at least for the nascent Jewish nation, it wasn't so much a matter of one's ability as it was their worthiness of redemption. "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him," it says in the Bible. "And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."

Whoever wrote this wasn't saying people can't be redeemed, only that in certain situations, they shouldn't be allowed to.

Years later, it was a Jewish reformer who called this theology into question. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," said Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount, "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

As a kid it was pretty easy for me to understand the downside of taking an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" approach to justice. As the ever-thoughtful Tevye says in "Fiddler on the Roof," this would eventually leave "the whole world ... blind and toothless." But I still didn't get the part about turning the other cheek. Somehow that sounded weak, if not unwise.

But then, probably sometime in my early teens, I ran across what Christian theologian Mary Baker Eddy had to say on the subject. "'Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," she wrote, quoting Jesus, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. "That is, Fear not that he will smite thee again for thy forbearance."

I don't think she was suggesting that we should let those who have done something wrong off the hook, but rather, that we can't be harmed by giving them the opportunity to improve themselves, to be reformed, to be redeemed.

There were those in Eddy's day, and many today in fact who are familiar with her work as the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, who would say that her approach to redemption was to pretend that evil did not exist, that God was incapable of creating sinners and, therefore, that there was no need for punishment or reformation of any kind. This, however, was not how Eddy saw things.

"A sinner is not reformed merely by assuring him that he cannot be a sinner because there is no sin," she wrote in Science and Health. "To put down the claim of sin, you must detect it, remove the mask, point out the illusion, and thus get the victory over sin and so prove its unreality."

For Eddy, "put[ting] down the claim of sin" - exposing its unreality by challenging its veracity - involved a willingness to see one's self as something besides a mortal personality defined by mortal circumstances; to reject the idea that once you've chosen a particular path in life, there’s no turning back; to dismiss the notion that the grace of God is available to some but not all, and even then only in certain situations.

She didn't see redemption as merely possible, but inevitable - a divinely inspired, divinely supported process born of an innate though sometimes latent desire in all of us to live our lives in concert with God or good, as she often defined God.

Eddy also didn't see herself as being in a position to influence her fellow voters on the deeply moral political decisions of her day. "I am asked, 'What are your politics?"' she writes in The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany. "I have none, in reality, other than to help support a righteous government; to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself."

No matter what we decide in November with regard to the death penalty, we would do well to follow her lead.

(source: Eric Nelson,


Man's death penalty appeal rejected in Whatcom County case

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the death penalty appeal of Clark Elmore, who was convicted in 1995 of raping and killing his girlfriend's 14-year-old daughter in Whatcom County.

But the decision Monday drew a dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They argued that Elmore's lawyer - the current Whatcom County public defender, Jon Komorowski - had failed to present evidence that the defendant previously suffered from brain damage due to exposure to pesticides and Agent Orange.

Sotomayor wrote that such mitigating evidence might have persuaded a jury to impose a life sentence rather than execution. Komorowski later acknowledged it was a mistake, one he attributed to inexperience. It was the 1st capital case he ever handled.

Though Washington state has the death penalty, Gov. Jay Inslee has imposed a moratorium on its use.

(source: Associated Press)


Gazan accused of spying for Israel sentenced to death----Hamas-run court says 54-year-old man will be hanged for allegedly providing Jewish state with information since 1987

Courts in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip handed down 3 death sentences on Monday, including 1 for allegedly spying for Israel and 2 others for murder, authorities said.

In the 1st case, "the military court in Gaza decided upon death by hanging for the convict, 54, on charges on spying for the Israeli occupation," a court source said.

The court said the man had allegedly been linked to Israel since 1987 and had provided a large amount of information to the Jewish state since then.

The case was held behind closed doors and the defendant was referred to only by the initials E.A.

Another alleged spy was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Also on Monday 2 men from rival families were sentenced to death after tit-for-tat killings in 2013 and 2015 respectively, the public prosecutor said.

A series of death sentences have been handed down in recent weeks despite calls on Hamas from the European Union and rights groups to halt the practice.

The authorities in Gaza executed 3 men behind closed doors in May, the first time the death penalty had been carried out since 2014, drawing condemnation from the United Nations.

In Gaza, accusations of spying for the Jewish state are often brutally punished. During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, 18 alleged collaborators were shot dead in public by Hamas forces.

(source: The Times of Israel)


The crimes of serial killer and rapist Umesh Reddy, a man set to go to the gallows ---- The Karnataka High Court, while confirming the death sentence, called Umesh a "devil"

Lodged in Belagavi's Hindalga jail, notorious rapist and serial killer Umesh Reddy awaits a death warrant that is likely to be issued for his execution. He has spent over 18 years in jail, with some stints outside when he managed to escape custody.

Umesh was first arrested on March 2, 1998, in connection with the murder of a Bengaluru woman. He made news again in 2007, when the VII Fast Track Court, Bangalore, sentenced him to death for the rape and murder of the 37-year-old Bengaluru woman in front of her son. His death sentence was confirmed by the Karnataka High Court in October 2007 and the Supreme Court in February 2011.

The Karnataka High Court, while confirming the death sentence, called Umesh a "devil". Justice SR Banurmath, who was the 3rd judge appointed to rule on Umesh's sentence, said: "It is evident that even after punishments in cases of robbery, dacoity and rape, he has not reformed; no reformation can be expected from such a habitual offender and pervert criminal."

The judge added: "I do not understand why such a devil in man's garb should be maintained by society by locking him up in jail for life. It is a known fact that whenever there is an opportunity, he has a tendency to run away from custody and commit new, heinous crimes.

Belagavi's Central Prison in Hindalga, is the only prison in Karnataka which has gallows. The last execution was carried out in 1983.

In the trial court, the prosecution argued that Umesh raped and murdered the woman before robbing her. The prosecution also called him a serial rapist and psychopathic killer.

Umesh was born as Umesh BA in Basappa Malige village in Chitradurga district in 1969. Much of his story beyond this point, is a sensational or perhaps sensationalised one.

By some accounts, he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir while in the CRPF, where he is said to have attempted to rape a commandant's daughter. He was arrested, but managed to escape and return to Chitradurga.

The Hindu however, reports that Umesh was first employed as a police constable and was recruited in the District Armed Reserve (DAR) in 1996. In November-December that year, Umesh was accused of attempting to rape a girl in Chitradurga district.

Media reports vary in the number of accusations against him. In May 2002, Umesh faced 19 cases in Chitradurga, Ballari, Bengaluru, Vadodara, and Kunigal. In 2009, The Hindu reported that Umesh faced seven cases in Bengaluru alone. According to a Deccan Herald report from 2009, Umesh faced 25 cases, of which he had been acquitted in 10 and convicted in 9, but the offences of which he was convicted are not known.

Umesh is said to have murdered a string of women after raping them. He would then make off with their valuables.

In 2002, when the police arrested him after he gave them the slip on his way from Ballari to Bengaluru, the media began to claim that he was a transvestite or a cross-dresser.

A Kannada film called Khatarnak was made based on details of Umesh's life in 2013. However, its contents have been fictionalised.

In May 2012, when Umesh filed mercy petitions with the Karnataka government, the media reported that he had faced 15 rape cases. The Cabinet, headed by the then chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda, rejected his mercy plea.

In February 2012, Umesh's mother Gowramma filed a clemency petition with the President, which was rejected in May 2013. In her petition, she said that her son was the sole breadwinner of her family and that his brother was unwell. She also said that her son was "innocent" and that he had been picked up because the police could not arrest the real culprits.

Simultaneously, he approached the Supreme Court seeking a review of its own decision to confirm the death sentence awarded to him. This has now been rejected by the Supreme Court. Jail Superintendent at Hindalga TP Shesha told The News Minute that they had received a copy of the SC order, but the trial court had not, and that they were awaiting the issuance of the death warrant.

Director of the Centre on Death Penalty at the National Law School Delhi, Anup Surendranath, told The News Minute that the law mandated that the defence lawyer be present when a trial court issues the death warrant.

Anup said that Umesh could still challenge the death sentence awarded to him on technical grounds. He said that Umesh could challenge the rejection of his mercy petition by the President, first in the Karnataka High Court and if that failed, in the Supreme Court.

But this could be done if relevant material had not been presented to the President, or certain other grounds such as the mental health of the prisoner. He explained that in the Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India, 2 prisoners' death sentences had been commuted to life as they were found to be unsound of mind.

Anup said that the death penalty was often "misunderstood" as a means to punish the "rarest of rare" crimes on the basis of brutality. "It is the state's burden to show that a convict is beyond reformation, and that alternatives such as life imprisonment are foreclosed," Anup said. He explained that the government can, by invoking certain sections of the CrPC, remit the sentence of a convict. But in December 2015, the courts interpreted the law to hold that instead of the death penalty, they would be asked to undergo life sentence, disallowing the state from invoking powers of remission.

(source: The News Minute)


China refutes rumors of organ harvesting

Chinese health officials on Monday vowed to fight corruption in the organ donation system, pledging zero tolerance toward non-voluntary organ transplants and denying that organ harvesting continues from executed prisoners.

On Monday, organ transplant experts from the WTO, International Society for Organ Donation and Procurement (ISODP) and The Transplantation Society (TTS) gathered in Beijing to attend the 2016 China International Organ Donation Conference, the first such international meeting held on the Chinese mainland.

"All the organs transplanted after 2015 are from voluntary donors and we have a zero tolerance toward violations," Huang Jiefu, a former Chinese vice-minister of health and current head of the National Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, said at a press conference.

Huang blasted allegations that the number of organ transplants far surpassed the amount of organs donated as lacking evidence, saying that China performed around 8 % of the world's organ transplant surgeries, and also consumed 8 % of world's post-operative medications, which are all produced by foreign companies and are traceable.

China banned the use of executed prisoners' organs in January 2015, making voluntary donations the only legitimate channel.

However, the rumor that China is still using organs from dead prisoners and harvesting from living people has not died down.

CNN reported in June that China was still engaged in harvesting organs from prisoners, and that people were even being murdered for their organs, citing a report.

The law and regulations cannot stop all the violations and corruption, such as trading in organs, but the Chinese government has shown great resolution to fight against corruption in organ donation and will not tolerate violations, Huang said.

The rumors only make us stronger and more dedicated to making the system more open, fair, transparent and trustworthy, Huang said.

The Chinese government's resolve to reform the organ transplant industry was highly praised by many organ transplant experts, including Kimberly Young, former president of the ISODP, who said after the conference that she was highly impressed by the huge change.

"None of us would be here today if we did not trust that everything is continuing to be done to support this transparent and ethical process," Young told the Global Times.

"When we first received training [as a surgeon], we were encouraged not to interact with China because there were concerns about unethical practices going on, but what I have seen over the last 10 years is gradual engagement between the transplantation society and those leaders within China who are interested in changes," said Nancy L. Ascher, president of The Transplantation Society, at the conference.

Innovative procedures

The Chinese government puts great attention on the country's organ donation and transplant procedures, which directly concerns the lives of patients and also justice in society, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong said in a speech delivered at the conference.

China processed 2,950 organ donations in the first nine months of this year, with a 50 % increase year-on-year, the Xinhua News Agency quoted figures released by the National Health and Family Planning Commission as saying on Sunday.

At present, the annual average number of organ donations in China ranks 1st in Asia and 3rd in the world, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

WHO director general Margaret Chan on Monday praised China's "green channel" for organ transport, which sufficiently reduced delivery times for organs, as an innovative move from the country's health, police and transport system.

In May, a 31-year-old patient at a hospital in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, received a donated heart within 3 hours, 1/2 the time before the green channel went into operation.

The Chinese government started to pilot changes to the organ donation system in 2010, and criminalized the unauthorized trading of organs in 2011. In severe cases of violation, the death penalty could apply.

Moreover, a new system for organ management and distribution was launched in 2013 to better regulate donations.

Since 2007, China has apprehended 32 intermediaries involved in the organ trade, arrested 158 criminal suspects, investigated 17 medical institutions and closed 13 underground operation theaters.

(source: Global Times)


Prayers Needed Urgently For Christians Facing Death Penalty In Sudan

The 4 Christians in Sudan who are facing the death penalty were due back in court on Khartoum today.

Release International asked for Christians worldwide to pray for Pastors Hassan Abduraheem and Kowa Shamaal, Abdulmonem Abdumawla and the Czech citizen Petr Jasek.

The 4 men have been charged with 7 crimes, including funding rebel movements in areas such as Darfur and South Kordofan. The 2 charges that could lead to their execution are "waging war against the state" and spying.

Human rights groups are increasingly concerned about the growing persecution faced by Christians in Sudan.

World Watch Monitor reports that a crackdown on religious freedom is creating space for radical extremist groups to flourish.

The case was raised in the European Parliament last week when several hundred MEPs signed a resolution protesting the treatment of the men and highlighting their plight.

The resolution states that "the Sudanese authorities impose severe restrictions on freedom of religion; whereas threats against church leaders and the intimidation of Christian communities have continued at an accelerated pace over the past years; whereas Czech Christian aid worker Petr Jašek, Sudanese pastors Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour, Kuwa Shamal and Darfuri graduate student Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla have been detained for nine months already by the NISS [National Intelligence Security Services] and are facing trial on charges of highlighting alleged Christian suffering in war-ravaged areas of Sudan; whereas in recent years there has been an increase in trials on charges of apostasy and subsequent death sentences".

It calls on the African Union and the Sudanese Government to abolish the death penalty and reaffirm that freedom of religion, conscience or belief is a universal human right that needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone; and demands that the Sudanese Government repeal any legal provisions that penalise or discriminate against individuals for their religious beliefs, especially in the case of apostasy.

It also "expresses its concern with regard to the increased crackdown by the NISS on citizens who are civil society activists and calls on Sudan to release detainees immediately and unconditionally".

Last month, the former Bishop of Kadugli Diocese in South Kordofan said the government of Sudan was "not interested in the Christian religion". Andudu Adam Elnail said, "There is no freedom for us, we cannot build churches. We are treated as 2nd-class citizens."

Sudan, where Christians make up 1 in 20 of the population, is ranked at number 8 on the Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List of countries that have the worst record for Christian persecution.



Pillowcase Burglar could face death penalty if convicted in woman's death

The man dubbed the Pillowcase Burglar could face the death penalty if convicted in the death of a 57-year-old woman in Marion County.

Darren Decker, 42, won the nickname after a string of burglaries in Sumter, Marion, Levy, Alachua and Citrus counties committed with his 44-year-old wife, Jessica Baker. The investigation revealed that the couple forcibly entered the victims' residences through either the front or rear door. Once inside, they stole guns, jewelry and small electronics. Their signature was using pillowcases from the victims' homes to transport the stolen property.

Decker is also facing a charge of 1st degree murder in the death of Tamara Bedenbaugh of Ocala. Baker has not been charged in her death.

The prosecutor's office has announced it will be pursuing the death penalty due to the "heinous" nature of Bedehnbaugh's death. Her home showed signs of forced entry and Decker allegedly stole her wallet, jewelry and cash.



Death penalty debate may determine who is on the Kansas Supreme Court

It's been a half century since Kansas has executed a convicted killer and generally speaking, it's not much of a political issue in the state.

But conservatives are banking on capital punishment in their campaign to oust four state Supreme Court justices.

When it comes to whether or not the Supreme Court justices should be kept on the bench or voted out, we've heard mostly about school finance and whether the high court should even be a player in that.

But lurking in the background, especially around Wichita and in western Kansas, is the death penalty.

"There are a number of issues that are before this court that have to be decided that impact every Kansan. So the death penalty is definitely one piece of that," says Ryan Wright from Kansans for Fair Courts, the group leading the effort to retain the justices on the ballot in November.

The other piece is abortion. Over the years the justices have overturned some restrictions.

That resonates with pro-life voters but probably won't lure many others to oppose the justices.

But, the death penalty just might.

"I think good political consultants know which emotional buttons to push and fear is one of the most popular because it's one of the most effective," says Michael Smith, a political scientist from Emporia State.

School finance, he says, is too complicated. Voters just want their schools open, class sizes relatively small and stable funding. "Whereas when you talk about 'they let murders off,' which is not technically correct, but when you frame it that way that pushes an immediate and very visceral button."

And there is nothing more visceral around the death penalty in Kansas than the Carr brothers murder case.

The Carrs murdered 5 people in Wichita in 2000. They were sentenced to death but the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the sentence, though not the convictions. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death sentences and the Carrs are back on death row.

Republicans fiercely maintain that 4 of the justices up for retention ignored the law and struck down the Carrs' death sentences for political reasons.

The state Republican Party passed a resolution at its convention in May calling for the ouster of justices Carol Beier, Dan Biles, Maria Lucket and Chief Justice Lawton Nuss. Though any mention of the death penalty was left out of the party platform.

The newest member of the high court, Caleb Stegall, has not been targeted by the conservatives because he's seen as a conservative himself. Stegall was Gov. Sam Brownback's chief legal counsel before being appointed to the Court of Appeals and then going through the merit selection process that landed him on the state Supreme Court.

House GOP leaders are leading the charge against the other 4. Their Facebook page and Twitter feed are dotted with memes targeting the justices, including 1 with a red slash over their faces.

While House Republicans regularly send out incendiary emails and tweets, no one would agree to an interview. Not Speaker Ray Merrick from Stilwell. Not Majority Leader Jean Vickery from Louisburg. Not party director Clay Barker.

But Senate President Susan Wagle was tough on the high court on a recent episode of KCUR's political podcast, Statehouse Blend. She's from Wichita.

"My community is very upset with this court because of the Carr brothers murders," Wagle says. "They overturned that death penalty and we had to go to the Supreme Court, spend a lot of money, to get our court back in line. So to me, they have overstepped their authority."

In February, a Fort Hays State University poll showed only 21 % of Kansans were dissatisfied with the high court, while 61 % were dissatisfied with the Legislature.

Ryan Wright from Kansans for Fair Courts is pretty confident the justices will be kept on the bench. "Even with that case in Wichita I think that we're going to see voters rally behind these courts because they think it's important to have fair and impartial courts in Kansas."

A bipartisan quartet of Kansas governors also think so and recently went on a barnstorming tour of the state to campaign in favor of retention.

Because there's more politics surrounding the court this year than ever before, most believe this may be one of the closest judicial retention elections in Kansas ever.

(source: Sam Zeff is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas----Salina Post)


Challenges increase for death penalty in Oklahoma

The challenges of translating the death penalty from courtroom sentence into concrete reality continue to grow, along with the frustration of many Oklahomans.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a review of a death sentence handed down in Oklahoma, saying relatives of murder victims in that case should not have been allowed to ask the jury to impose the death penalty.

This will strike many Oklahomans as fundamentally wrong. Families often serve as a voice for those no longer able to speak for themselves. And their pain is certainly real. It's understandable that Oklahoma state law has long allowed for victims' families to present statements to juries.

The killer in this case is not sympathetic. Shaun Michael Bosse was convicted of killing 25-year-old Katrina Griffin and her 2 young children in 2010. Bosse stabbed Griffin to death. He stabbed her 8-year-old son, Christian Griffin, to death. Griffin's 6-year-old daughter, Chasity Hammer, wasn't stabbed, but died because Bosse locked her in a closet and then set the family's mobile home on fire. DNA evidence proved the victims' blood was on Bosse's clothing.

Now Bosse complains it's unfair that relatives of those children were allowed to urge a jury to sentence him to death. If that's unfair, it pales in scale with the lack of fairness embodied by Bosse's actions.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled that juries are prohibited "from considering victim impact evidence" that does not "relate directly to the circumstances of the crime." In the short term, that means Bosse's case will be remanded to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, where judges will determine if victim-family statements had any impact on Bosse's sentence.

In similar cases, courts have typically found that family statements were harmless and death sentences have been carried out. This was true of Clayton Lockett, who shot a 19-year-old woman and watched as 2 accomplices buried her alive in 1999. Bosse's actions appear just as savage and despicable as Lockett's, so there's reason to think his death sentence will also be upheld.

Bosse, by the way, overpowered a guard and temporarily escaped from the McClain County jail while awaiting trial. He's not likely to become a poster boy for anti-death penalty activists who seeks examples of potentially innocent men on death row.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma district attorneys will no longer ask victims' relatives for sentence recommendations. And prosecutors will have to deal with additional appeals from other convicts seeking to have their death sentences overturned based on this latest technicality, even as the state also struggles to obtain the proper drugs required for lethal injection.

Recent polling suggests a large majority of Oklahomans are willing to enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution even as a majority are also open to abolishment of the death penalty, so long as those who would typically be sentenced to death are instead given life sentences without the possibility of parole, forfeit all property and pay restitution to victims' families.

Those apparently contradictory findings are no doubt driven by Oklahomans' awareness of the growing challenges of actually carrying out a death sentence. If justice can't be served via the ultimate penalty, most Oklahomans still want it served in some form.

(source: The Oklahoman Editorial Board)


Nebraska law enforcement split on death penalty vote

A group of Nebraska law enforcement plans to hold an event Monday to express their opposition to the death penalty.

As the November election approaches, law enforcement agencies on both sides of the issue are trying to get their message out.

Current and former police, prosecutors and judges will speak at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Against the Death Penalty conference in La Vista Monday. It comes just a few weeks after 38 Nebraska Sheriffs voiced their support for the death penalty during a yearly meeting in Kearney.

Nebraska Law Enforcement Against The Death Penalty they say they will discuss why the death penalty is broken and how the state will be better if voter's uphold its repeal.

(source: WOWT news)


Bacon, Ashford weigh in on death penalty debate----The 2nd District Congressional candidates outline their stances

Second district Congressional candidates are weighed in with their views on Nebraska's death penalty laws as the Nov. 8 election nears.

Voters will decide in November whether to bring the death penalty back to Nebraska. In this edition of Chronicle, we talk to supporters and opponents of capital punishment, and break down the potentially confusing language on the ballot.

Voters in Nebraska will decide the death penalty legislation's fate following a successful petition, signed by Don Bacon, the Republican rival of Democrat incumbent, Brad Ashford.

"I support the death penalty," Bacon said. "I think life is very precious and went to life is taken, 1st-degree murder, and you know the guilt of the individual, I think you show value to that life by punishing the person who did the murder with their own life."

Ashford's staff said the congressman was unavailable for an interview, but issued a statement, saying, "It is clear that the Nebraska death penalty is a broken system that must be addressed. I believe it is an issue that each voter must decide after reflection and significant deliberation. We must maintain the federal death penalty for criminals and terrorists who attack our communities."

It's a softer stance than when Ashford voted as a state senator to advance a bill repealing Nebraska's death penalty in 2013.

"Public safety is not enhanced by having the death penalty on the books, and the cost is great," Ashford said on public radio at that time.

Bacon responded, saying, "I think there is a place for the federal death penalty. The Oklahoma City bomber who killed men and women and children."

(source: KETV news)


As More Americans Turn on Death Penalty, Some States Weigh Harder Stance

In Oklahoma, a scandal over the state's execution methods has inspired a move to enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution.

In Nebraska, a governor unhappy with lawmakers' repeal of the death penalty has bankrolled a campaign to bring it back.

And in California, where condemned killers wait decades to meet their fates, residents will decide either to speed up the process or ban it entirely.

These 3 states sit at a crossroads in America's conflicted relationship with capital punishment, with voters set to determine next month whether the practice continues to fade away or stubbornly persists.

The ballot initiatives come at a critical time, as the death penalty appears to be slouching toward obsolescence.

20 states have abolished capital punishment, and another four have stopped the practice by decree of governors. The 15 people executed so far this year is the lowest number since 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a drop-off driven in part by shortages of execution drugs and successful challenges to capital sentences. National polls show that the public's support for the death penalty has been declining for decades, while opposition has grown.

But the number of Americans who approve of it still outnumber those who don't.

And in places where the death penalty has come under attack, proponents are seeking ways to keep it alive.

"What you have are attempts here not to mount any kind of revival of the death penalty, but to stop the bleeding," said Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

None of this is surprising to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. When a social or government institution appears imperiled, it is natural for adherents to rally around it.

"The death penalty is eroding everywhere," Dunham said. "One by one, states are eliminating it, and even in states that keep it, prosecutors are seeking it less and juries are returning it less frequently. You can see the public support draining away. So for those with a vested interest in retaining the policy, they feel under siege. And they respond."

The revolt underway in Nebraska is in response to last year's move by the Republican-controlled state Legislature to repeal the death penalty on grounds it was costly, inefficient and wrong (the state hasn't executed anyone since 1997). Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed it, and the lawmakers overrode him.

Ricketts and his wealthy father then helped finance a campaign to take the issue directly to voters with a Nov. 8 referendum that asks whether the death penalty ban should be reversed.

"There's a storm going on in Nebraska," Dunham said, part of the broader "political climate change" underway in regard to capital punishment.

The results will test whether America's slow turn against the death penalty can move into the country's deeply conservative areas.

Oklahoma is a different matter. It pursues the death penalty more aggressively than most states, with 112 executions in the last four decades, and another 47 people on death row. But a series of botched lethal injections forced Gov. Mary Fallin to issue a moratorium on executions until the state adopted new procedures.

Death penalty proponents responded by getting a referendum placed on the Nov. 8 ballot that seeks to add capital punishment to the state constitution. That would make it harder to repeal it, and would protect it from court rulings. But critics say the move subverts government checks and balances.

"The referendum in Oklahoma looks very much like a disproportionate response by individuals who feel as though the policy is under siege," Dunham said. Then there's California, which has the largest number of people on death row (741), in large part because the appeals process is so burdensome. There have been no executions there in a decade, compared with 13 in the previous 3 decades.

California voters rejected an attempt to abolish the death penalty 4 years ago. But abolitionists believe they'll have better luck next month. They've gotten a question on the Nov. 8 ballot that asks whether the death penalty should be repealed.

But death penalty supporters, who acknowledge that the system is deeply flawed, back a 2nd ballot question that asks to make the appeal process faster, a change that would speed the rate of executions.

If that measure passes, executions would begin again, and momentum could shift in favor of counter-repeal efforts elsewhere.

But if the repeal question wins, it will mark a huge leap toward ending the death penalty nationwide, said Douglas Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University who specializes in criminal law and sentencing.

"If they do repeal, to me that will not only speed the path for politicians nationwide feeling comfortable with voicing their own repeal affinities, but will also embolden judges who, although they're not supposed to follow the election cycle, are shaped by a sense of which way the winds blow," Berman said.

Because the ballot questions are separate, both might pass. In that scenario, the one that received the most yes votes would prevail.

Barring a comprehensive ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Berman said, the death penalty will probably never disappear in America.

That's because, between the stalwart proponents and abolitionists, a sizable proportion of people understand the death penalty's shortcomings but don't want to preclude using it in the most heinous crimes, Berman said.

He predicted that use of the death penalty will diminish to the point where it's applied in those narrowest of circumstances.

Robert Blecker agrees. He's a professor at New York Law School and author of "The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst." Support for the death penalty, he said, is rooted in a "deeply felt moral intuition" that particularly horrific crimes should be punished with death.

"There are those of us who will stay angry and morally focused and care about justice," he said. "We will not be argued out of it on the basis of cost and inefficiency."

(source: NBC news)


Court of Appeal Orders Fresh Hearing of Death Penalty

Procedural irregularities have served a resident of Mtwara Region, Khalifa Museven, from being hanged to death for allegedly killing his colleague, Mohamed Rashid, alias Wayaga, after suspecting him of stealing a bag of cement.

Instead, the Court of Appeal ordered fresh hearing of the matter after nullifying the proceedings, conviction and the death sentence imposed on Museven by the High Court on November 30, last year.

Justices Nathalia Kimaro, Semistocles Kaiage and Shaban Lila noted that the trial judge had not guided properly court assessors when providing the summing up of the murder trial.

They also found another defect relating to the type of questions that were put by the assessors to the witnesses, as did not seek clarification on the testimony rather amounted to cross examination of witnesses.

"The trial in this case suffers shortfall of undetailed directions in the summing up to the assessors on the ingredients of the offence, the evidence that was intended to be relied upon by the prosecution and the failure to direct the assessors on the type of questions to ask witnesses," they said.

They pointed out that the duty of the trial judge was to supervise and control the assessors on the questions they were allowed to put to the witnesses as they were neither allowed to examine or crossexamine witnesses. What the law allows them to do, they said, was to seek clarifications.

"Exercising powers of revision under section 4 (2) of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, we declare the High Court proceedings a nullity. We order a retrial before another judge sitting with different assessors," the justices declared.

It alleged that on March 29, 2013, the appellant went to a place known as Kijiwe cha Nice within Mtwara Municipality, tracing for the deceased whom he had earlier on blamed for having stolen a bag of cement from him.

Although the deceased attempted to run away, he was apprehended because the appellant shouted thief, thief. Having been arrested, the appellant left with the deceased saying he was taking him to the police station.

(source: Tanzania Daily News)


Chinese official who had 24m pounds cash at home given suspended death sentence ---- Wei Pengyuan is found guilty of corruption after being accused of taking bribes to approve coal projects

A Chinese former senior energy official who had more than 200m yuan (24m pounds ) in cash at his home has been given a suspended death penalty after being found guilty of corruption, state news agency Xinhua said on Monday.

Wei Pengyuan had been deputy director of the coal department at the National Energy Administration until he was put under investigation in 2014, with officials saying at the time the cash found was the largest amount ever found in a corruption case.

The court in the northern city of Baoding handed Wei a death sentence, suspended for2 years, which in practice means he will spend life in jail and not be eligible for parole or early release, Xinhua said.

Wei abused his position to approve coal projects and took 212m yuan in bribes, the report said, citing the court judgment.

"Wei Pengyuan had a vast amount of assets which obviously exceeded his legal income, and could not explain its source," Xinhua said.

It was not possible to reach relatives or legal representatives of Wei for comment.

Liu Tienan, who had been head of the energy administration, was jailed for life in 2014 after being caught up in his own bribery scandal.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies" is his fight against pervasive corruption, warning, like others before him, that the problem was so severe it could affect the Communist party's grip on power.

(source: The Guardian)


Call for Aust to reject death penalty

A Liberal MP has called on the new federal parliament to reject the death penalty.

Moving a motion in the lower house on Monday, Trent Zimmerman said there was no place for capital punishment in the modern world.

"It is appropriate that this new parliament commences with a recognition Australia must be steadfast in its opposition to the death penalty for all crimes, in all nations and that that cause enjoys bipartisan support," he said.



A compassionate campaign for a cold hearted nation

A recent survey on Singapore's opinion of the death penalty revealed a crushing amount of support for capital punishment. Conducted by government feedback agency Reach, the survey found that a staggering 80 % of Singapore residents supported the death penalty, while only 10 % voiced a need to abolish it.

While majority of the nation stands firm in its belief in capital punishment, a small group with a large voice finds courage to stand up to the dominant narrative. The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign (SADPC) has fronted multiple campaigns against the sentencing of death-row inmates over the last few years. This month, it's fronting another campaign.

Led by human rights lawyer, Mr. M Ravi, the SADPC is now taking action to appeal the death sentence that has been dealt to Prabagaran a/l Srivijayan on the counts of drug trafficking.

Prabagaran is a 29-year-old Malaysian who has been found guilty of bringing 22.24g of Diamorphine into Singapore. He was arrested at the Woodlands Checkpoint on April 12, 2012, after immigration officers discovered 2 black bundles containing the drugs in the armrest console of his Malaysian-registered Hyundai car.

Prabagaran claimed willful blindness in his situation - the car was borrowed from a friend and Prabagaran had no knowledge of the drugs in the car. During the trial, prosecution argued that Prabagaran's accounts were irreconcilable with evidence.

The law states a 3-months period to file clemency after conviction, followed by a 3-months consideration period for a pardon, and 3 weeks immediately thereafter, an execution for the death penalty.

According to Ravi, Prabagaran's clemency was filed in March. The team is expecting the delivery of judgment from the Court of Appeal on November 15, which would set Prabagaran's execution date in the 1st week of December.

Sharing Prabagaran's story on Facebook with a video interview with Prabagaran's mother, Madam Eswari, Ravi attempts to rally the nation together to put a stop to Prabagaran's death penalty.Sharing Prabagaran's story on Facebook with a video interview with Prabagaran's mother, Madam Eswari, Ravi attempts to rally the nation together to put a stop to Prabagaran's death penalty.

News of Prabagaran's impending execution in the following month has forged a sense of urgency within SADPC. Their campaign to save Prabagaran will be launched in Singapore and Malaysia, and will rely heavily on the group's international networks, including the United Nations.

Ravi aims to highlight the unequal treatment under international law in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) memorandum. 'There is a statute under ICJ which talks about customary international law - where you cannot be discriminated against. I will address this particular article of ICJ, as to how the Malaysian government can file an ICJ stay action in International Court of Justice. This is the route.'

This strategy could mark the 1st attempt by an Asian country to dispute a death penalty on the grounds of an individual's nationality by going to the International Court of Justice. 'Europeans have gone - Germans especially - it's rare to go with this route. But this is the only route that Prabaragan has in terms of the law', says Ravi.

While Ravi takes it upon himself and the activist group to provide the Malaysian government with this route, the group ultimately aims to remind through this memorandum that countries have a moral duty to defend their citizens.

Ravi recounts a similar situation in 2007, where 18-year-old Nigerian footballer, Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi, was convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore. 'If the government of Nigeria refuses to file an ICJ action, the lawyers in Nigeria can file action to compel their government in court, to file' says Ravi. Activists, who protested Tochi's innocence, carried out a hunger strike that lasted over a day, leading up to Tochi's execution. Tochi was executed by hanging on 26 January 2007 in Changi Prison.

The SADPC wants to raise awareness amongst Malaysians of the disproportionate application of the death penalty towards the minorities.

Despite the dominant Singapore narrative on the death penalty, the scene in Malaysia differs. An online poll conducted by Barisan Nasional (BN) component party Gerakan, showed 55 % of 1,523 anonymous Internet users in support of abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia. The online #BetterMalaysia poll was designed to help Malaysian policymakers better understand public perceptions and to bridge the gap between the Malaysian public and policymakers.

With regards to Prabagaran's situation, Ravi says 'at the end of the day, Singaporeans are not going to make a difference. The people who are going to make a difference are Malaysians.' With slightly more positive results from the Malaysian online poll, the SADPC might stand a better chance of overturning Prabagaran's situation.

(source: The Independent)


For Murder Accused on Death Row, Reopening Review Petition Only Hope----Vikram Walia and Jasvir Singh, charged with abduction and murder, are due to hang on October 25 unless their sentences are delayed by review petitions.

Even as the countdown has begun for the hanging of 2 convicts, Vikram Walia and Jasvir Singh, at Patiala central jail at 9 am on October 25, their lawyers have moved the Supreme Court to reopen the hearing of their review petitions, which were dismissed in chambers in 2011.

The court has listed their pleas for hearing by a 3-judge bench on October 18.

The 2 convicts were found guilty of kidnapping Abhi Verma alias Harry, aged 16, from outside his school in Hoshiarpur and killing him with an anaesthesia overdose. Their death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2010, while the court commuted the death sentence of their sole accomplice, Singh’s wife Sonia, to life imprisonment.

Walia was about 26-years-old, Singh was 24 and Sonia 29 when the offence was committed. When explaining why it had commuted Sonia's death sentence, the Supreme Court said:

"Keeping in view the overall picture and the fact that at the time when Abhi Verma had been kidnapped from outside the DAV School, Sonia had not been present and that she may have got embroiled in the conspiracy with her husband and Vikram Singh on account of having come under their pressure, some leniency must be shown to her."

In 2015, the court dismissed Singh's challenge to the vires of Section 364A of IPC, which prescribed the death sentence for the offence of kidnapping. Their contention was that the punishment prescribed under Section 364A was disproportionate to the gravity of the crime.

The court held that as Section 364A also gave the sentencing judge the option to prescribe the lesser sentence of life imprisonment, it cannot be said to have compromised judicial discretion in sentencing a convict under it.

The court also held that the appellants were found guilty not only under Section 364A, but even for murder, punishable under Section 302 of the IPC. The court refused to revisit the question of their sentence thus:

"A sentence of death in a case of murder may be rare, but, if the courts have, upon consideration of the facts and evidence, found that the same is the only sentence that can be awarded, it is difficult to revisit that question in collateral proceedings like the one at hand."

President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petitions on August 7 this year, having received the necessary recommendation from the home ministry on June 23.

Having exhausted almost all the available legal remedies, the plea to reopen their review petitions is perhaps the last glimmer of hope for the 2 convicts.

The Supreme Court had granted this relief to death row convicts who could not avail the option of their review petitions being heard in open court by a 3-judge bench in Mohd. Arif case in 2014.

A 5-judge constitution bench in that case, by a majority of 4:1, had held as follows:

"We are conscious of the fact that while awarding a death sentence, in most of the cases, this court would generally be affirming the decision on this aspect already arrived at by two courts below, namely the trial court as well as the high court. After such an affirmation, the scope of review of such a judgment may be very narrow. At the same time, when it is a question of life and death of a person, even a remote chance of deviating from such a decision while exercising the review jurisdiction, would justify oral hearing in a review petition ...We feel that this oral hearing, in death sentence cases, becomes too precious to be parted with .... However, when it comes to death penalty cases, we feel that the power of the spoken word has to be given yet another opportunity even if the ultimate success rate is minimal."

The bench continued:

"Review petitions are inartistically drafted. And oral submissions by a skilled advocate can bring home a point which may otherwise not be succinctly stated, given the enlarged scope of review in criminal matters....

Although the bench had provided an outer limit of 30 minutes for the oral hearing of such review petitions, post Mohd.Arif, the court has been very liberal in granting more time than the limit for review petitioners to make their submissions.

In Mohd. Arif, the court reasoned as follows:

"We feel that the fundamental right to life and the irreversibility of a death sentence mandate that oral hearing be given at the review stage in death sentence cases as a just, fair and reasonable procedure under Article 21 mandates such hearing, and cannot give way to the severe stress of the workload of the Supreme Court."

The Supreme Court held in Mohd. Arif that the right of a limited oral hearing in the review petitions where a death sentence is given shall be applicable only in pending review petitions and such petitions filed in the future.

The court held as follows:

"It will also apply where a review petition is already dismissed, but the death sentence is not executed so far. In such cases, the petitioners can apply for the reopening of their review petition within one month from the date of this judgment. However, in those cases where even a curative petition is dismissed, it would not be proper to reopen such matters."

As Walia and Singh did not apply to reopen their review petition within a month from the date of the judgment in Mohd Arif, that is, September 2, 2014, they have first filed a petition to condone this delay.

Their review petitions were dismissed on April 20, 2011 by the bench of justices Harjit Singh Bedi and J.M.Panchal.

On October 18, a bench of justices Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy and A.M. Khanwilkar will decide whether to condone the delay and stay the warrant of execution of the death sentence on October 25 at 9 am, as ordered by the Hoshiarpur district and sessions judge on September 27. The court, in all probability, will fix a date for the oral hearing of the review petitions.



JMB leader Asadul hanged for killing 2 Jhalakathi judges

Asadul Islam alias Arif, a leader of banned militant outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) who was convicted of killing 2 Jhalakati judges in 2005, was hanged tonight at Khulna district jail.

"The sentence was executed at 10:30pm on Sunday," a Khulna stringer reports quoting Jail Superintendent Kamrul Islam.

The body will be handed over to Asadul's family tonight, the jail superintendent said.

Khulna Deputy Commissioner Nazmul Ahsan, DIG Prisons (Jessore) Tipu Sultan, Magistrate Md Nur-e-Alam Siddique, Civil Surgeon Dr Md Abdur Razzak and Jail Superintendent Kamrul Islam were present during the execution.

Earlier in the day, family members including his wife, 2 daughters and 6 sisters met the death row convicted criminal in jail, where Asadul has been kept since 2008.

Senior assistant judges -- Jagannath Pandey and Sohel Ahmed -- were killed in a suicide bomb attack at Purba Chadkati in Jhalakathi town on November 14, 2005.

The incident followed the series bomb blasts across country in 2005.

The Appellate Division had upheld death penalty of 7 JMB leaders including JMB chief Abdur Rahman, his 2nd-in-command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, Asadul and 4 other militants in the sensational Jhalakathi judges' killing case.

Death sentence of the militants except Asadul were executed on March 29, 2007.

Asadul, who was absconding and later arrested on July 10 in 2007, filed the petition with the SC this year seeking review of its judgement.

On August 28 this year, the Supreme Court cleared the way for executing the JMB leader for killing 2 judges of Jhalakati in 2005.

A 5-member bench of the Appellate Division headed by SK Sinha dismissed a petition filed by Asadul seeking review of its earlier judgement that upheld his death Khulna district jail.

(source: The Daily Star)


Bangladesh accelerates trials as Islamist leader hanged

Bangladesh said Monday it is fast-tracking trials of Islamist extremists, hours after a senior leader of a militant group was hanged for a 2005 blast that killed 2 judges.

Asadul Islam, also known as Arif, was a senior leader of the banned group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which the government has blamed for a deadly siege on an upmarket Dhaka cafe on July 1.

Bangladeshi security forces launched a crackdown against Islamist extremists following the cafe attack, which shook the image of Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim nation.

Since July, police have shot dead nearly 40 suspected extremists including JMB's new leader Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen of Bangladeshi descent who allegedly masterminded the cafe carnage.

Bangladesh's courts have also accelerated the prosecution of Islamist extremists, sparking concern among rights activists who say such actions may be politically motivated.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP the government was "trying to fast-track all the militant-related cases", including bomb attacks on a court complex outside Dhaka, a cultural function in a northern town and a new year's festival in the capital.

Police spokesman A.K.M Shahidur Rahman said there were "at least 64" Islamist extremists on death row and their appeals were being heard in the higher courts.

But Human Rights Watch said there was no conclusive evidence the death penalty acted as a deterrent.

"When terror attacks happen, governments often feel under pressure to show that they are doing something," South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told AFP.

"What is needed instead is careful investigation to identify and prosecute perpetrators with proper evidence."

JMB was founded in the late 1990s and seeks to impose sharia law on Bangladesh, a Muslim majority but officially secular nation of 160 million people.

It shot to prominence when it carried out a coordinated bombing attack in August 2005, that involved more than 400 small blasts across the country.

Arif's body was buried amid tight security in his home town shortly after his execution, local police chief Pankaj Chandra Roy told AFP.

(source: Hindustan Times)


Death penalty on prison drug dealers sought

The death penalty should be restored to prevent prison inmates from turning into drug dealers, a lawmaker said on Sunday.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, chairman of the House Committee on Justice that probed the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison, made the call a day ahead of the release of the committee report on the investigation.

"The revelation in this committee hearings made it more imperative for us to re-impose death penalty. Look ... these criminals who are facing life sentence ... what would they be afraid of except for death? They won't fear anything except death," Umali said in a radio interview.

About a dozen inmates testified during the House justice panel hearing, accusing former Justice secretary Leila de Lima, now a senator, of allowing the drug trade and other illegal activities such as prostitution and gambling in the Bilibid in exchange for payoffs.

De Lima, who was Justice secretary from 2010 to 2015, denies the claims and has accused the government of pressuring the inmates to testify against her.

Director Benjamin Magalong, head of the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detention Group, also testified that inmate Peter Co has been on top of the drug trade in Bilibid since 2002.

Fear factor

Umali said the prison system had not reformed inmates. "You have to raise the level of the fear factor among these convicted felons so they won't find themselves enjoying in Bilibid with the drug trade. They are not being reformed anymore," Umali said.

Capital punishment was abolished in 1987 during the presidency of Corazon Aquino but was re-imposed in 1993 under President Fidel Ramos. Crimes that were punishable by death included rape, kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo scrapped the death penalty anew on June 24, 2006 after approving Republic Act 9346.

Umali said the House Justice panel was also likely to recommend amendments to the Anti-Wiretapping Law and the relaxation of the Bank Secrecy Law to allow authorities to monitor drug-related activities of convicts and the flow of drug money.

Umali also proposed putting all the jails in the country under the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) of the Department of Justice (DOJ), for centralized supervision and control.

The Bilibid is under BuCor, while the city and provincial jails are under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology under the ambit of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

"We have to standardize our prison facilities and manpower," Umali added.

De Lima to be summoned

The DOJ is set to summon de Lima, after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd formed a panel of prosecutors tasked to investigate the lawmaker over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Subpoenas are expected to be issued by the panel of prosecutors against de Lima and the other accused in separate complaints filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and 2 former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) deputy directors, Reynaldo Esmeralda and Ruel Lasala.

Aside from de Lima, other respondents to the case include her former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, former DOJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan 3rd, former NBI deputy director Rafael Ragos, Presidential Security Group member Joenel Sanchez, Jose Adrian Dera, Wilfredo Ely and high-profile convict Jaybee Sebastian.

De Lima and the other respondents are accused of violating of Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 26 (b) (conspiracy) of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Aguirre said the 2 complaints would be consolidated by the panel of prosecutors.

The DOJ chief insists he is not abusing his powers to pin down de Lima, a leading critic of the President's war on illegal drugs.

"These are not new. It's just that the tide is turning on her," Aguirre stressed.

De Lima, he said, was experiencing "karma" as she did the same to several politicians, including former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when she was DOJ chief.

De Lima knows the DOJ has the power to conduct a preliminary investigation against her and forward its findings to the Office of the Ombudsman, Aguirre said.

"In 2014, she said that selective justice was not a valid defense and that the DOJ has concurrent power with the Ombudsman. Now that it's happening to her, why is she questioning the DOJ's concurrent power?" Aguirre said.

Aguirre urged de Lima to respect the legal processes and come up with evidence to dispute the charges, instead of running to the media and accepting speaking engagements.

"All she's been saying are general denials and even personal attacks. That's not the way you defend yourself. You should be proving you're not protector of drug lords, that you did this and that during your term to cleanse Bilibid," he added.

The panel will be lead by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong. Named as members of the panel were Senior Assistant City Prosecutors Alexander Ramos, Leila Llanes, Evangeline Viudez-Canobas and Assistant State Prosecutor Editha Fernandez.

(source: The Manila Times)


House eyes Con-ass to amend 1987 Constitution, restore death penalty

2 committees of the House of Representatives are eyeing the approval this week of the resolution recommending constituent assembly (Con-ass) as the mode of amending the 1987 Constitution.

The Con-ass is also seen as a venue for restoring the death penalty for heinous crimes.

Liberal Party Rep. Roger Mercado of Southern Leyte, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said his committee will proceed with the voting this Wednesday on a motion to constitute Congress into a Con-ass.

"We will proceed with the voting before we adjourn this week, because this is a very important proposal," Mercado said.

Last week the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments started hearing at least 29 measures seeking to overhaul the 1987 Constitution.

But the hearing was ended after near fisticuffs between Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Rep. Prospero L. Pichay of Surigao del Sur following their debate whether to vote on a motion to constitute Congress into a Con-ass.

PDP-Laban Rep. Alfredo B. Benitez of Negros Occidental, author of a resolution calling for the Con-ass, said the advantage of a Con-ass is there is no need for another costly elections.

"There has been a clamor for change in the system of government, a shift to a federal form of government, provision of more autonomy and empowerment of the local government, less restrictive economic policies and other proposals that necessitate in the present Constitution," said Benitez, a senior vice chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, during his sponsorship speech.

Benitez added the resolution proposes convening the Congress into a Con-ass to introduce and adopt revisions and/or amendments to the Constitution as it is the most expeditious and less costly than the other modes for Charter change.

Benitez, chairman of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development, said despite the country's economic growth, uneven development and poverty are still among the main problems of the Philippines, as development and social services have been centralized in the National Capital Region.

He also added that inclusive growth has not been achieved, that's why the Philippines needs to change its government structure.

"There is glaring disparity between the share of NCR and other regions in the GDP [gross domestic product]; 37 percent of the GDP in 2014 is concentrated in the NCR," he said.

There are three modes of amending the constitution - through Con-ass, constitutional convention (Con-con) or a people's initiative.

Meantime, after its investigation on the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs inside the National Bilibid Prison (NBP), the House Committee on Justice is also eyeing the approval of a report recommending the imposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes.

In a radio interview, PDP-Laban Rep. Reynaldo V. Umali of Oriental Mindoro, the panel chairman, said his panel is set to approve this week a report recommending the restoration of the death penalty "to raise the level of fear among criminals."

After the committee approval, Umali said he will sponsor and defend the committee report for plenary approval before Congress goes on Halloween break on Wednesday.

"We're almost ready to submit our report to the committee on Monday for deliberation and approval. Hopefully, within the week, before we close and go on a break, we would have gotten the approval also of the plenary on this committee report," Umali said.

Umali said the leadership of the lower chamber will not recommend the prosecution of any individual, including Sen. Leila de Lima, but will craft new laws to stop or prevent illegal-drugs trade inside the NBP.

He added that the panel will reopen the House probe once Ronnie Dayan appears before the committee. Dayan is allegedly the senator's bag man for drug money collected inside the NBP.

(source: Business Mirror)


56 Prisoners Executed During 17 Days

In a concerning statistical jump, in less than 3 weeks, more than 56 prisoners with different charges were hanged in 10 different cities of Iran.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), in 17 days, 56 executions were registered in Shahrood, Gorgan, Uremia, Minab, Tabriz, Mashhad, Taybad, Nayriz, and Shiraz.

According to the statistic centre of HRANA, on September 13th, 17 prisoners in Vakil Abad prison with drug related charges, 3 prisoners in Adel Abad in Shiraz, 2 of whom were charged with robbery and 1 other was charged with rape, were hanged.

The new month started with the execution of 1 prisoner in public. A prisoner who was charged with rape, murder, abduction and robbery was hanged in Nayriz stadium, in Fras province.

On Saturday, September 24, 4 drug offenders were hanged in Tabriz central prison.

In Taybad and Uremia on September 25 and 26, 2 prisoners charged with drug related charges were executed.

On September 27, HRANA reported that on 2nd quarter of September, 2 prisoners in Shahrood and 1 in Gorgan were executed.

On September 28, the execution of 7 prisoners with drug related charges was registered.

In continuation of this trend, on September 29, 11 prisoners were executed with the charges of drug smuggling, homicide, and armed robbery.

Finally, 8 prisoners, including 1 woman were hanged in Uremia prison for drug related charges.

(source: HRANA News Agency)

OCTOBER 16, 2016:


Murder suspect denies wanting to represent self----Man charged in guard's death files motions without his lawyers' input

A Texas prison inmate accused of beating a Barry Telford Unit guard to death last year was asked at a hearing Friday if he wants to represent himself.

Billy Joel Tracy, 38, appeared Friday afternoon before 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart for a pre-trial hearing in his capital murder case. The state is seeking the death penalty for Tracy in the July 15, 2015, death of correctional officer Timothy Davison.

Tracy is represented by Mac Cobb of Mount Pleasant, Texas, and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, and the court has approved an investigator and mitigation expert for the defense team at state expense. However, Tracy continues to file motions and pen letters to Lockhart without his lawyers' input.

"I'm going to look you in the eye right now and ask you a question," Lockhart said to Tracy at the beginning of Friday's hearing. "Do you want to represent yourself?"

Tracy quickly responded.

"I have no intention of representing myself," he replied. "But I do want us (Tracy and his lawyers) to be on the same page."

Tracy has filed motions complaining that the state has refused to return personal property, including a hot pot, noodles and a typewriter, since he was transferred from Telford after allegedly beating Davison to death with a tray slot bar. The typewriter is being held as evidence and the food items have been disposed of because of their age, according to prior court discussions.

Tracy has also filed motions requesting a speedy trial, and in a letter he penned last month to Lockhart, he complains about Cobb. Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said her office is concerned Tracy might be plotting for his appeal in the event of a conviction.

"(District Attorney Jerry) Rochelle wants me to put on the record that the state is ready for trial. We were ready at the last trial setting and we're ready now," Crisp said.

Rochelle asked Lockhart if the court wants the state to respond to Tracy's filings or if the state is only required to respond to motions filed by his lawyers.

"I think he's laying land mines for you," Crisp said of the defense team. "I think he's setting up a claim of ineffective (assistance of counsel) for down the road."

Also discussed at Friday's hearing was Tracy's request for copies of the documents the state has provided to the defense. At earlier pre-trial meetings, the state has handed over boxes containing thousands of pages of evidence and reports. Crisp said it is not uncommon for inmates to have "stacks" of papers in their cells concerning their cases. Inmates are not allowed to have computers or other devices capable of reading electronic media, such as might be stored on a flash drive. Lockhart said he has no intention of ordering TDC to alter its policies to accommodate Tracy's desire for copies of court records. Crisp said she does not object to Tracy having the material so long as sensitive information, such as a witnesses' personal information, is redacted.

The case is scheduled for jury selection in September 2017. Tracy allegedly slipped a hand free of its cuff and grabbed a metal tray slot bar from Davison, which officers use to manipulate the opening in cell doors, wielding it like a baseball bat to strike him again and again in full view of multiple prison surveillance cameras. Davison was transporting Tracy back to his cell in administrative segregation following an hour of recreation when the inmate allegedly attacked.

Tracy has a long history of violence both in and out of prison. Tracy's prison history began in 1995 when he was just 18 and sentenced to a 3-year term for retaliation in Tarrant County, Texas. 3 years later, Tracy was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, plus 20 years for burglary, aggravated assault and assault on a public servant in Rockwall County, Texas. In 2005, Tracy received an additional 45-year term for stabbing a guard with a homemade weapon at a TDCJ unit in Amarillo, Texas. Tracy was sentenced to 10 years in 2009 for attacking a guard at a TDCJ unit in Abilene, Texas.

Lockhart scheduled Tracy's next pre-trial hearing for December.

(source: Texarkana Gazette)


10 years after Briggs' murder, no rush to repeal death penalty

While the wheels of justice are moving slowly, it might not be another 10 years for all appeals to be exhausted for Michael "Stix" Addison, the man convicted of murdering Manchester patrolman Michael Briggs.

Meanwhile, the election this November could hold the key to whether New Hampshire becomes the 21st state and the last state in New England to repeal capital punishment.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court decided last January to unanimously uphold the death sentence for Addison, concluding that the sentence was not "under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other factor."

New Hampshire has among the most narrowly-drawn death penalty laws in the country. The punishment only applies in the murder of a law enforcement officer or judge or a premeditated murder while engaged in a kidnapping, contract killing, robbery, major drug deal, rape or while serving a life sentence in prison. No one has been executed in New Hampshire since 1939.

Then-Gov. John Lynch signed the last expansion of the death penalty in 2011, applying it also to home invasions after the brutal slaying of Kimberly Cates in Mont Vernon.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who as attorney general was the chief prosecutor in the Addison case, said a pivotal part of convincing the jury to apply the death sentence was Addison's long criminal history.

"I made that a key part of my closing, namely that he had committed and been convicted before of so many crimes. On his past alone he could have been charged with a life sentence even if this had not been a death penalty matter," Ayotte said. "I do believe this helped convince the jury that this was the proper punishment."

The jurors agreed there were 13 aggravating factors in this crime that included Addison being found guilty of assault and battery; threatening to commit a crime; assault with intent to kill; assault and battery; possession of a firearm without a permit; armed robbery; and 2 counts of assault and battery with a knife.

In the days leading up to Briggs' murder, Addison and his friend Antoine Bell-Rogers had been on an armed crime spree, robbing the El Mexicano restaurant in Manchester and a 7-Eleven in Hudson. Both were convicted of those crimes.

Addison can, and is considered likely to, pursue his appeals in the federal court system. Lawyers for Addison have already filed several appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which have been rejected.

The state Supreme Court ruling was the last direct appeal Addison had at the state level. The justices here looked at 10 other cases of police officers killed in the line of duty. In 8 of those 10 cases, the defendant got the death penalty.

Defense lawyers maintained Addison did not purposely intend to kill Briggs and thus should not be put to death.

"We are not persuaded by the defendant's attempt to negate the significance of the death penalty cases relied upon by the state," the court said in its nine-page ruling. "Under New Hampshire law, a defendant is not eligible for a death sentence unless a unanimous jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt both that the defendant is guilty of capital murder for knowingly causing the death of another under 1 of 7 specific circumstances, and that the state has proved 2 statutory aggravating factors, 1 of which is that the defendant acted purposely when committing capital murder."

At the State House, the drive will continue next year to repeal the death penalty, and the race for governor could become a decisive factor.

Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern of Concord said he would support its repeal but would not want it applied retroactively to spare Addison.

"The murder of officer Briggs was a horrible crime, and his (Addison's) sentence was justly rendered by a judge and jury," Van Ostern said.

Republican nominee Chris Sununu of Newfields feels otherwise and supports keeping the law in place, adding that, as written, it has served the state "fairly well."

Outgoing Gov. Maggie Hassan, now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, had given the repeal effort momentum as the first New Hampshire chief executive in decades to say she would have signed the law's repeal.

As a state senator, Hassan helped convince the Legislature to create a death penalty commission. The panel deadlocked on whether to repeal the law, but confirmed that it costs taxpayers more to put someone to death than to have them live out a capital murder sentence in state prison.

Hassan only favored the law's repeal if it did not apply to the Addison case.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, had opposed the law's repeal and said the Briggs murder complicated matters.

"Trying to have it both ways was problematic for proponents of the bill - execute 1 person but repeal it prospectively," Bradley concluded.

"That was a bridge too far for a lot of people."

(source: The Union Leader)


Dover death row inmate Sykes sentence stayed in Supreme Court

The case of a death row inmate convicted of a 2004 capital murder in Dover has been stayed until issues in other similar cases are resolved, a Superior Court judge determined on Wednesday in a 6-page order.

Ambrose L. Sykes, 44, formerly of Hartly, can also amend a 2nd motion he filed for post-conviction relief, which hinges on other case decisions tied to Delaware Supreme Court’s finding that the state's current death penalty is unconstitutional.

On June 27, 2006, Sykes was found guilty of 1st-degree counts of murder and rape of a 68-year-old woman at her apartment in Dover. Other convicted charges included burglary and kidnapping.

Now, a determination in another capital conviction case - Powell v. State - may affect retroactive claims that Sykes could bring in an appeal, according to order.

Derrick Powell - on death row after the murder of a Georgetown police officer in 2009 - earlier filed a motion for post-conviction relief after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier ruled in the Hurst v. Florida case regarding the Sixth Amendment and a jury's role in determining death sentence eligibility, not a judge.

On Aug. 2, 2016, Delaware Supreme Court ruled the state's current death penalty structure was unconstitutional in the Rauf v. Delaware case involving a former Temple University law student charged with a murder in August 2015.

According to the order, Sykes believes he may be retroactively eligible for relief through decisions in the Hurst and Rauf matters, which could be confirmed by a decision in the Powell case.

Also, Sykes argued, a Superior Court judge issued a stay in a similar case, as did the Supreme Court in 2 others.

"Deciding the issue while [the Powell] appeals pending thus holds the potential to waste judicial resources and the time of the parties," Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. ruled.

"The Court finds it appropriate to follow the same logic that prompted the entry of stays in the other cases cited by the Defendant, and enter a stay until Powell can be decided."

(source: Delaware State News)


Report: Court ruling could change death penalty for deputy's killer

A man sentenced to death for killing a St. Lucie County deputy in February 2013 likely will be resentenced following a Florida Supreme Court ruling Friday, The Post's news partners at WPTV NewsChannel 5 reported Saturday.

Eriese Tisdale was found guilty this year in the slaying of Deputy Sgt. Gary Morales during a traffic stop. A jury this year voted 10-2 for the death penalty, and a judge agreed. The Supreme Court on Friday, however, said death sentences require unanimous juries.

Defense attorneys for Tisdale had argued for a life sentence in prison, in part because the state's death penalty could some day be overturned, said Diamond Litty, the St. Lucie County public defender.

Family members of Morales told WPTV that they were disappointed at the ruling and that they dreaded going through a trial again. Litty, however, said the case likely would require only a sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors declined comment on the Tisdale case, saying they had not yet read the Supreme Court decision.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


State Supreme Court overreaches - again

Florida residents recently witnessed an example of the judicial activism that drives - or should drive - proponents of constitutional boundaries batty.

The state Supreme Court last week ruled that juries in death penalty cases must vote unanimously to issue the ultimate penalty, rendering obsolete the Legislature's efforts from this past spring to accommodate the U.S. Supreme Court's guidelines for fixing the death penalty.

The effect of this new ruling almost assuredly means the end of the death penalty in Florida. Yet whether you cheer that or boo that, all of us should be wary of the Supreme Court's effort to usurp the role of lawmakers and craft new law from the bench.

Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Florida's methodology for meting out the death penalty was unconstitutional. Since the 1970s, Florida juries that found defendants guilty of capital murder gathered for a second, post-trial period known as the penalty phase. Much like the trial itself, jurors heard and weighed evidence that determined whether execution was warranted. If they agreed to that, a simple majority of 7 jurors could recommend death. The finding was then provided to the trial judge, who handed down the punishment.

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court said that under the Constitution the jury must decide the punishment.

It was unclear why death penalty cases belonged to this special precinct of jurisprudence. After all, in every other criminal case, the jury decides whether a defendant is guilty, and if so, the judge then issues the sentence.

Nonetheless, state lawmakers complied and revised the law so that juries must vote for death. Under the new methodology, the jury must unanimously agree on one of the prosecutors' reasons for seeking death, and if they reach that point, then a defendant could be ordered to die if 10 of the 12 jurors voted for that.

Barely 2 months after reaching that compromise, a Miami judge decided he knew better. "A decedent cannot be more or less dead. An expectant mother cannot be more or less pregnant. And a jury cannot be more or less unanimous," Judge Milton Hirsch glibly wrote in his order in May in dismissing the new protocol. "Every verdict in every criminal case in Florida requires the concurrence, not of some, not of most, but of all jurors - every single one of them," Hirsch added. Again, he did not explain why in every other case the judge and the jury have different roles in the sentencing process.

Last week, though, the state Supreme Court reiterated Hirsch's view, agreeing in 5-2 vote that the 10-2 requirement was constitutionally insufficient.

"Requiring unanimous jury recommendations of death before the ultimate penalty may be imposed will ensure that in the view of the jury - a veritable microcosm of the community - the defendant committed the worst of murders with the least amount of mitigation," the Supreme Court majority said in its ruling.

"This is in accord with the goal that capital sentencing laws keep pace with 'evolving standards of decency,'" the ruling added.

Public opinion polls suggest those "evolving standards" are resonating with the public. For the 1st time since the death penalty was reinstituted, a majority of Americans have voiced opposition to capital punishment, based on a recently released opinion poll. News reports say as many as 57 % of Floridians now oppose capital punishment.

But the minority in the recent decision by the state's high court - Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston - was more on point: the majority was "unnecessarily disrupting" the administration of capital punishment in Florida.

In other words, the Legislature had already made the changes and, lest we forget, lawmakers wrote into the new law a provision for a unanimous decision to sentence a defendant to death.

Murder remains largely a state crime, and the penalty for it should be left to the states, and more specifically to state lawmakers. Judges should not interject their biases into the system. If the people of Florida, as the poll suggests, now oppose the death penalty and want change, then let's litigate that at the ballot box. After all, it seems opposing the death penalty would be a winner with voters.

But we think Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, said it best: "Those impacted most by this miscarriage of justice are the families as they watch the perpetrators of some of the most heinous and vicious murders and tortures continue to live the days their loved one were denied," he said in a statement. "This decision is indicative of a court that comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result. That is antithetical to the rule of law and dangerous for our state."

(source: Editorial, The Ledger)


Warren County highway slaying suspect wants specifications dismissed----New attorneys for an Illinois man charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of his ex-girlfriend on Interstate 75 in Warren County want death penalty specifications dismissed because of where the victims were killed.

A new motion by attorneys for 42-year-old Terry Froman argues death penalty specifications for Froman that allege he killed more than 1 person should be tossed because 1 of the slayings occurred outside Ohio.

Froman faces charges in the September 2014 kidnapping and slaying of ex-girlfriend Kimberly Thomas. He's also charged in the slaying of Thomas' son, 17-year-old Eli Mohney, in Kentucky.

Froman has pleaded not guilty to charges in the slayings.

The Warren County prosecutor says Ohio law doesn't require that multiple homicides be committed in one state to apply the specification.

Froman's next court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22. A new trial date has not been set.

(source: Associated Press)


Man who killed Gary officer in 1981 to be released

The verdict still stands that he murdered city Police Lt. George Yaros during a bank robbery 35 years ago - a crime punishable by death.

He said he has seen some of his closest friends on Indiana's death row marched off to the prison execution chamber.

But Zolo Agona Azania has avoided 3 of his own death sentences, and on Feb. 8 he is scheduled to be freed. He says he is entering a changed world as a changed man.

"I know what suffering is," Azania said in a telephone interview with The Times from the Miami Correctional Facility near Bunker Hill, Indiana, where he is finishing his 35th - and last - year of a 74-year sentence.

He said, "I've learned some things I wouldn't have, if I had not gone through this. I've seen people just give up on life. I dealt with the situation as it faced me. I never gave up hope. I try my best to be a positive individual, to have something positive to say. Perhaps I can help someone."

To the family and friends of the fallen police officer, he remains Rufus Averhart, the name Gary police knew him as when they were chasing him with guns blazing Aug. 11, 1981, after the 57-year-old police veteran died in the line of duty outside the Gary National Bank branch near 37th and Broadway.

Averhart had the courts change his name to Zolo Agona Azania in 1991.

They are still galled by his public-relations campaign from his death-row cell, in which he has claimed his conviction was a racist conspiracy, and the court decisions that invalidated jury and judicial recommendations that Azania be put to death.

"I feel like I failed my dad," Tim Yaros, a son of the fallen officer, said recently. "My wife and I and kids have been fighting this for years at his trials and hearings. Now, he's going to walk the streets."

"He doesn't deserve to be on the street," Philip Pastoret, a retired 30-year Gary police veteran said.

Azania said, "I know I'm innocent." He declined to recount the day of the crime or return to his fiery indictment of the criminal justice system that convicted him, simply observing, "Human-made laws aren't infallible."

His extensive court records begin with a 1972 conviction for the manslaughter of Leonard Wick, 69, of Gary. It was overturned many years later, but he served several years in prison. On his release he graduated at the top of his Martin Luther King Academy class and won a scholarship to Purdue University.

The late Ernie Hernandez, a local reporter, did a feature story on Azania's release from prison and rehabilitation, which was published only days before the fatal bank robbery.

Pastoret, the retired Gary police officer, said the day Lt. Yaros died "is imprinted on my mind."

Yaros' journey

"It was a sunny day. I was working traffic," Pastoret said.

"I saw Yaros that morning driving on Ridge Road when an alarm went off at the Gary National Bank. Yaros was about a minute and a half, maybe 2 minutes, ahead of me. As I turned up at the bank, I could hear gunshots in the back."

Police and prosecutors said the robbers, wearing plastic masks and gloves, disarmed the security officer, looted the teller drawers and were leaving the building when Yaros confronted them about noon that day.

Wally DeRose, another retired Gary police officer, said, "I had stopped at a restaurant and was a 1/4 of a mile away from the bank when I heard the call that there was a chase on and a shooting at the bank."

DeRose, who wasn't an eyewitness but did conduct an initial investigation into the crime, said, "The bank's alarm went off all the time. But when George got there he called out that it was real this time. He did everything right. He got behind his squad car, they came out and shot through his car and wounded him, and then went over and finished George off."

Pastoret said, "I saw the 2-tone blue Ford LTD coming out of the drive-up window going the wrong way and drove past me. I took off after them."

He said the high-speed chase continued northwest through Gary. "Averhart was wearing a powder blue suit. He and his buddy were leaning out the back windows of the car shooting back at me," Pastoret said.

"Because it was a hot summer day and my air conditioner was broke, my windows were down on my car, so I had a chance to fire back at them until my gun was empty. Averhart jumps out of the car and runs. There are 2 more in the car in the front and the back. I took off after them.

"They tried going into the Delaney (Housing) Projects. I came right up onto their rear bumper and floored it and drove us right into a tree and jammed their doors," Pastoret continued.

"The driver was trying to climb out the passenger window. I jump out of my car and run around there, pulled him out. He was struggling. I said, you better hold still or I'll blow your brains out. But I didn't have a gun. I handcuffed him.

"Little did I know the guy in the back seat was about to shoot me in the back with a .44 magnum, and Officer Ron Flournoy, had seen me chasing them and just like in the movies, puts a gun to that guy's head and told him, 'pull that trigger and you are dead.' That is how we got those 2."

Pastoret said Officer Chuck Oliver arrested Averhart, who was on foot, about the same time, nearby.

Tim Yaros remembers, "I was working at a brick factory on Martin Luther King Drive. It was a hot day. I heard over the intercom, 'Tim, you have an emergency phone call.' My boss handed me the phone. It was my wife, and she said something happened to dad."

He said as he arrived at the old Gary Mercy Hospital, at 5th and Polk Street, "I saw all these police cars. A police officer came up to me and said, 'Tim, I don't think he made it.' 16 minutes later, they told me he passed away. You could see the powder burns. They shot him at point-blank range."

DeRose said of Yaros, "He was in World War II, as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. He jumped into France on D-Day, he jumped into Holland in August. Then he was in the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded, and in a field hospital that was captured by the Germans - and then to die in the streets of Gary."

Azania's journey

Azania and 2 co-defendants were originally charged with murder and murder in the perpetration of a robbery in Lake County Criminal Court in Crown Point. The trial was moved to Fort Wayne's Allen County Court after Averhart's defense lawyer argued he couldn't get a fair trial in Lake County because of pretrial publicity.

A jury heard 7 days of evidence before finding the 3 men guilty of robbery-murder and recommending Averhart's execution on state's evidence he shot Yaros at point-blank range.

Former Allen Superior Judge Alfred Moellering imposed the death sentence a month later. The accomplices each received 60-year prison terms, which they completed several years ago.

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld Averhart's murder conviction in 1993, but overturned his death sentence on grounds Azania's trial lawyer failed to present compelling testimony or arguments why his client's life should be spared.

The high court also ruled the prosecution withheld from the defense inconclusive gunshot residue tests. The tests showed no residue on Averhart's hands. Although Averhart was wearing gloves, the court said residue might have collected on his hands through holes in those gloves.

Three years later, the death penalty phase was retried and the 2nd jury condemned Averhart to death again.

The Indiana Supreme Court overturned the 2nd sentence in 2002, because of a computer glitch in Allen County that caused blacks to be underrepresented on his jury.

Shortly before a 3rd death penalty trial was to begin in 2007, the Yaros family agreed to let the Lake County prosecutor drop the capital punishment request in return for Azania accepting a 74-year sentence the Yaros family had hoped would be tantamount to a life sentence.

The sentence was shortened, because Azania earned credit for the prior years he had served for good behavior in prison.

Azania, now 61, said, "I wanted to go back to school, but I need a livelihood to support myself. I want to work with computers. I'm in a computer class in career development training. I'm learning how to do resumes and job applications on the computers and how to do banking."

Hernandez wrote 35 years ago that Azania's accomplishments were an argument against capital punishment.

"They never retracted that," Tim Yaros said.

"Ernie Hernandez was right," Azania said.



Indiana, putting mentally ill to death is indefensible

Indiana, if you commit a crime while suffering from serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the state may sentence you to death. This is not justice; it is not morally right.

Now, the Hoosier Alliance for Serious Mental Illness Exemption (HASMIE) is joining with leading mental health experts in opposing the use of capital punishment for those with serious mental illness.

In legislation to be introduced in the 2017 Indiana General Assembly, those who are proven to be seriously mentally ill at the time of the crime will be exempted from consideration for the death penalty. This does not exclude a defendant from being found guilty or receiving a sentence of life without parole.

Hoosiers have already decided that people with intellectual disabilities and juveniles are ineligible to receive the death penalty largely due to their inability to understand the consequences of their actions. We should protect the seriously mentally ill from execution as well.

We encourage all Hoosiers to visit and support this important legislation.

Matthew Ellis, Project Director, HASMIE

(source: Letter to the Editor, Indianapolis Star)


Death penalty too fallible to endure

The bottom line on the death penalty deserves to be at the top of any discussion of the death penalty, so here it is:

To support the death penalty, you must be willing to take the chance that the state will execute an innocent person.

The development of DNA technology proved how often the criminal justice system can go awry. Scores of death row inmates have been released after they were cleared by DNA evidence.

1 of them was Ray Krone, who spent 10 years in prison, including 3 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. At least 1 of the votes in the Legislature to repeal the death penalty came after the senator talked with Krone.

If it happened to Krone, a former Air Force sergeant with no criminal record, "It can happen to anybody," Krone says.

Could you sit across a desk from Krone and tell him you don't care if the occasional innocent person is executed?

Nebraskans know how fallible the criminal system can be. The "Beatrice 6" were railroaded into prison for a murder they did not commit. Finally DNA showed someone else committed the crime. Now Gage County is on the hook for $28.1 million in damages. It has been described as the largest false confession case in American history.

Jerry Givens executed 62 people in Virgina. He was within days of executing No. 63, but before he pulled the switch on the electric chair one more time, the inmate won a reprieve. Ultimately the inmate was exonerated and given a full pardon on the basis of DNA evidence.

Now Givens opposes the death penalty. "If I execute an innocent person, I'm no better than the people on death row," he said.

Most of the errors in the criminal justice system are made by well-meaning people who simply make mistakes.

There's another way that the justice system can miscarry. Sometimes people act with actual malice. They try to take the law into their own hands. The former head of the Crime Investigation Unit in Omaha was sentenced to prison for planting evidence that led to the wrongful arrest of 2 men for the murder of Wayne and Sharmon Stock, found shot to death in their farm house near Murdock in 2006. 2 other people were convicted for the crime.

Experts have been working for hundreds of years to rid death penalty system of the possibility of error. All they have done is add seemingly endless routes of appeal that make the death penalty horrendously expensive.

A better option than risking the possibility of executing an innocent person is replacing the death penalty with life in prison. That's why we urge Nebraskans to retain the repeal voted into law by 32 state senators.

This is the 1st of 2 editorials on Referendum No. 426 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Tomorrow's editorial lays out the conservative argument for replacing the death penalty with life in prison.

(source: Editorial Board, Lincoln Journal Star)


Death penalty in Nebraska: Periodic rise and fall of opposition

Voters will consider a historic ballot measure next month to restore Nebraska's death penalty after the Legislature repealed it in 2015. The World-Herald is exploring several aspects of capital punishment, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. Today: the evolution of the death penalty.

* * * * *

Iowa eliminated its death penalty during the last wave of opposition to capital punishment across the United States.

It was 1965. Democrats had gained control of the State Legislature. Gov. Harold Hughes, a fervent death penalty opponent, had handily won re-election.

A majority of Iowans had come around to his view, with polls that year showing 57 % favored repeal.

Soon after convening for the year, lawmakers of both parties voted for the repeal, and Hughes quickly signed it into law.

A half century later, Iowa remains without a death penalty, and despite occasional debates, lawmakers say it's generally considered a settled issue.

"Iowans have grown up without the death penalty," said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. "We know that it's not needed."

Now, Nebraskans are deciding whether to revive their state's death penalty as a new wave of opposition to capital punishment builds across the nation.

The vote will join other milestones in the history of the death penalty in the United States.

It's a history older than the country itself and one marked by the periodic rise and fall of opposition. It's also a history in which the overarching trend has been away from state-sponsored execution.

Currently the number of states without a death penalty stands at an all-time high, the number of executions is approaching a 25-year low, and polls are finding support for the ultimate punishment slipping for both pragmatic and moral reasons.

The death penalty is not dead, however. It remains the law in the majority of states, the latest poll shows more support than opposition, and religious institutions remain divided over its morality.

Opponents cite the actions of a conservative Nebraska Legislature as evidence that momentum is in their favor.

State lawmakers last year overrode a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts to repeal the death penalty. Ricketts and other capital punishment supporters responded with a referendum petition.

The petition's success put the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot, meaning voters will decide whether to let the repeal stand or to undo it and put the death penalty back on the books.

Nebraska is 1 of 20 states that have done away with their death penalties. 8 have done so in the past decade alone.

That marks a major shift for a punishment that has been part of the United States since the early days of European settlement.

Punishment for murder, arson, horse-stealing

In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, all 13 colonies had the death penalty.

Most prescribed death for murder, arson, piracy, treason, sodomy, burglary, robbery, rape, horse-stealing, slave rebellion and sometimes counterfeiting.

Some states developed longer lists of capital crimes, especially related to slavery.

In 1837 in North Carolina, for example, people could be executed for slave-stealing, hiding a slave with intent to free him, inciting slaves to rebel and circulating seditious literature among slaves.

In both Nebraska and Iowa, the death penalty dates to their pre-statehood days.

In Nebraska, the punishment was carried out by individual counties until the turn of the century.

The cases include the 1887 hanging of Jack Marion in Gage County. He was executed for the 1872 murder of John Cameron, his former traveling companion.

Marion maintained his innocence throughout 2 trials and an appeal. It turned out he was telling the truth.

Four years after the hanging, Cameron was found alive and well in Kansas City, Missouri.

Iowa ended its death penalty in 1872, only to see mobs take matters into their own hands. The death penalty was reinstated in 1879, in part to prevent vigilante lynchings.

Scope of death penalty limited

Opposition to capital punishment has had almost as long a history in the U.S. as the death penalty itself.

The essay "On Crime and Punishment" by Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria was especially influential. It was published in English in 1767.

In it, Beccaria argued for abolishing capital punishment. He said the sole justification for state-sponsored execution would be the rare case in which no other means could ensure the security of a nation. He also argued that capital punishment was ineffective in deterring evil-doing.

Reformers made some inroads during the nation's 1st century. Several states narrowed the list of capital crimes. Many also passed laws barring public executions.

Michigan became the 1st state to do away with the death penalty, in 1846. The number of other states without capital punishment rose and fell during the years that followed.

11 had abolished it by 1916, but only 4 were without it from 1939 through 1956.

Meanwhile, the number of executions in the U.S. reached an all-time high during the Great Depression. There were 197 executions in 1935 and 196 the following year.

Historian William McFeely noted the increase in executions during the 1930s came as mob lynchings of African-American men almost ceased.

Legal executions of African-Americans continued at disproportionate rates. From 1900 through 2002, 4,122 African-Americans were executed in the U.S., compared with 3,625 whites.

African-Americans never accounted for more than 12.3 % of the general population during those years, according to census figures.

A new wave of opposition to the death penalty arose during the 1960s, along with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests.

Iowa was among the states that did away with their death penalty during that turbulent decade. Although 40 states maintained their laws, the number of executions fell to zero by 1968.

Polls showed that public support for the death penalty had dropped to 42 % in 1966, while opposition was at 47 %.

The wave culminated in 1972 with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a Georgia case involving an African-American defendant, William Henry Furman. The court ruled that the death penalty, as applied in most states, was unconstitutionally arbitrary and discriminatory.

The ruling effectively suspended the death penalty by overturning state laws, including Nebraska's law. Hundreds of death sentences nationwide were commuted to life imprisonment in the wake of the decision.

Country turns more conservative

But support for the death penalty rebounded strongly following the ruling, as the country turned more conservative.

States quickly revised their laws to comply with the court ruling and reinstate capital punishment. Nebraska did so in 1973. The 1976 Supreme Court, ruling in another Georgia case, gave the constitutional stamp of approval to the revisions.

The new laws required a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors and required the sentencing phase of a death penalty case to be separated from the guilt or innocence phase.

35 states revived their death penalties by 1979, with another three doing so by 1995.

Iowa lawmakers debated reinstatement multiple times in the 1990s, but the proposals all failed, as did a bill introduced last year by Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull.

It would have allowed executions in cases where a child was kidnapped, raped and murdered. Feenstra said he offered the proposal because of a pair of heinous murders of young girls, although he knew there was not support for changing the law.

"It was more of a conversation with other legislators and a conversation with society," he said.

By 1994, polls showed that 80 % of Americans backed the death penalty while only 16 % opposed it.

The support was spurred in part by a steep increase in crime during the preceding 2 decades.

But that represented the peak year of support for capital punishment, dating back to 1936, when the polling firm Gallup began asking about the issue.

The tide has been turning away ever since, with support for the death penalty dropping along with murder rates.

The most recent national poll, released at the end of September, showed that 49 % of Americans favored the death penalty and 42 % opposed it.

Backing for the death penalty appears higher in Nebraska, however.

More than 143,000 registered voters signed the referendum petition in 2015, enough to put the issue before voters and to keep the repeal law from taking effect before the vote.

An August survey of likely voters, commissioned by a pro-death penalty group, showed that 58 % would vote to keep the death penalty and 30 % would vote for the law repealing it. Opponents criticized the survey because it did not tell people that the death penalty would be replaced with life in prison.

Declining national support has been followed by an increase in the number of states eliminating the death penalty.

At the same time, those with capital punishment are sending fewer and fewer people to death row. Last year, 49 people were sentenced to death nationally, compared with 295 in 1998.

Executions also are dropping off. There have been 16 so far this year - the fewest since 1991, when 14 people were put to death. Eleven states with the death penalty have not executed anyone in at least 10 years. Nebraska's last execution was in 1997.

Few death sentences carried out

State and national observers say several factors are contributing to the most recent wave of opposition.

One is the number of death row inmates who have been exonerated: 156 nationally since the death penalty was revived in 1973.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the growing power of DNA testing has proven some inmates innocent.

Their cases, in turn, have called into question other evidence prosecutors used to win convictions, from coerced confessions to prison informants who give false testimony.

Nebraska has had its own experiences with exonerations, including the 6 people wrongly convicted of a 1985 slaying in Beatrice, and the case of Darrel Parker, who was wrongly convicted in the 1955 rape and murder of his wife in Lincoln. None of the 7 were on death row, although the Beatrice 6 were threatened with the death penalty.

Dunham said there is strong evidence that innocent people have been executed in recent decades, although there are not formal exonerations of those people. Courts generally do not consider claims of innocence regarding people who are dead.

"We now know, and the American people accept, that there is a risk innocent people can be executed," he said.

A 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 71 % of Americans believe there is "some risk" an innocent person will be put to death. Even among people who favor the death penalty, 63 % believe there is a risk.

But William Otis, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University and special counsel to President George H.W. Bush, said there are areas in which society is willing to risk innocent lives for a larger goal.

Higher speed limits, for example, get people to their destinations faster but mean more fatal accidents. The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed more than 200,000 people but likely speeded up the end of World War II.

"For some crimes it is worth it even though it has high costs," he said.

Another factor has been the emergence of conservative opponents basing their positions on pragmatic arguments.

Eric Berger, a law professor at the University of Nebraska, said such state senators played a critical role in the Nebraska repeal.

He said they may support capital punishment in theory but argue that in practice it has become a failed government program, one that costs too much and doesn't achieve its goals.

Death penalty cases cost more than those involving life imprisonment, according to numerous national studies.

A recent analysis by Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss concluded that having the death penalty costs Nebraska an average of $14.6 million annually. Death penalty supporters contested his conclusions, saying the difference in costs is minimal.

Meanwhile, the long, cumbersome appeals process and the difficulties obtaining lethal injection drugs have meant that few death sentences are ever carried out.

No more than 2 % of death row inmates have been executed in any of the past 15 years.

"If we really care about the sanctity of life and about the victims of all those crimes, couldn't we put all that money to better use?" Berger asked.

Supporters of capital punishment, however, argue that getting justice for murder victims and their families is worth the costs and obstacles.

"I support it because some murders are so grotesque that prison is not enough," Otis said. "That is the reason I think the death penalty has continued to enjoy popularity."

Polls show that, by far, the top reason people back the death penalty is their belief that the punishment fits the crime. More than 1/2 gave that reason for their support in both 1991 and 2011 polls.

Other arguments have lost favor. 6 % of supporters in the more recent poll said the death penalty deters crime, down from 13 % in 1991.

Many supporters believe the death penalty is needed "for the worst of the worst," said Lisa Kort-Butler, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

"There seems to be a symbolic argument that this is something we have to have to say that we’re tough on crime," she said.

Evolving - religious views

Another factor has been the evolution of religious positions.

While the Catholic Church previously taught that the death penalty was acceptable as a means to defend society, the church now is working to end capital punishment.

Pope John Paul II declared in a 1995 encyclical that modern society can protect itself from criminals without denying them the dignity of human life and the possibility of reform.

This summer, the current pontiff, Pope Francis, called for a world "free of the death penalty." Church leaders have been integral to the repeal effort in Nebraska.

A Pew poll this year found support for the death penalty had fallen to 43 % among Catholics, while it was at 69 % among white evangelical Protestants.

But even among evangelicals, attitudes are changing. A year ago the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents nearly 40 evangelical Christian denominations, revised its position statement on the death penalty to acknowledge differing views on the issue. The group's previous statement supported capital punishment.

The past few decades also have seen the United States become increasingly isolated in its use of the death penalty.

According to Amnesty International, an average of 3 countries have renounced the death penalty each year since 1990.

As of June, 103 countries had no death penalty, including Canada, Australia and almost all of Europe and Latin America. 6 countries allow it for exceptional circumstances only, and 31 have it but have a practice of not using it.

The 58 countries with the death penalty, however, include some of the world's largest: China, Russia, India, Japan and the United States.

They also include almost all of the Muslim majority countries. Islam accepts capital punishment for murder and crimes that harm or threaten the state.

Kort-Butler, the sociologist, and Otis, the Georgetown law professor, questioned whether Americans are influenced much by the international trends. He noted that the U.S. has a different history, culture, law and demographics.

"I think the death penalty is symbolic," Otis said. "For opponents, it is a symbol that the state is not going to go forward with killing out of principle. For supporters, it says we should have the moral confidence to say 'no' and mean it."

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


Canadian on death row hangs hopes on Liberal government

A Canadian on death row in Montana has been living on borrowed time since admitting he murdered 2 young men more than 3 decades ago, but he says he has renewed hope he might be able to return home with the support of Justin Trudeau's government.

"I'm ready to come home," said Ronald Smith, 59, in an interview with The Canadian Press last week at Montana State Prison. "If you're willing to take me back, I'm willing to come home,"

Smith, who is originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1983 for fatally shooting Harvey Madman Jr. and Thomas Running Rabbit while he was high on LSD and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

It's a statement Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued in February following a meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that is giving Smith new hope.

"If the government of Canada does not ask for clemency for every Canadian facing the death penalty, how can we be credible when we ask for clemency in selective cases or countries?" Dion asked. "We must end this incoherent double standard. Canada opposes the death penalty and will ask for clemency in each and every case, no exceptions."

That's a marked shift from the former Conservative government, which initially decided against seeking clemency for Smith or any other multiple murderer facing the death penalty in a democratic country. A court ruling later forced the government to abandon the policy but Smith's lawyer accused it of "treachery" for its handling of a clemency hearing in 2012.

"I'm considerably more optimistic," Smith said. "I'm considerably more positive about the Canadian government becoming involved at least, and with their involvement I think it bodes well for me."

Smith, who will become a great-grandfather next year, hasn't changed much over the years. His red hair is still shoulder length and the only grey is in his moustache.

Back when he was first charged, he refused a plea deal that would have seen him get a life sentence and instead asked for the death penalty.

Smith had a change of heart and has been on a legal roller-coaster for decades. An execution date has been set five times and each time the order was overturned.

He said the only reason he changed his mind about accepting his death sentence was because of his daughter, who he reconnected with about 10 years ago.

"I figured the way the law worked that the appeals process would run out in 10 years and then I would be executed. I was wrong," Smith said. "I didn't think it was going to be possible to stretch this out."

While Smith's family is anxious to see him spared, the family members of his victims have lobbied for his death.

"The decisions he made he has to pay for," Running Rabbit's son told Smith's clemency hearing in 2012. "He had no mercy for my father -- a person I have never met."

It's unclear when there might be movement in Smith's case either way.

All executions in Montana have been on hold since 2008 when a court fight began over the types of drugs used during the process.

A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada confirmed last week that the Canadian government supports Smith's bid for clemency, but didn't elaborate.

"The government of Canada is working with Mr. Smith and his legal representatives to support his case for clemency," said John Babcock in a email.

Smith, who has been considered a model prisoner during his time in Montana, said he understands the anger of the family members of his 2 victims. But he said he has grown up since he committed his crimes.

"I think that's what so many people don't understand, is separating the crime from the person," Smith said.

"It was a drunken aberration is what it was and I think some people finally have started to realize that. It's not who I was.

"I was drunk and stupid and committed a heinous crime during that time."



Death row survivor, author, artist coming to Rocky next week to speak

Damien Echols acknowledges the anniversary of his execution date the way others celebrate a birthday.

It's been more than 20 years since Echols was sentenced to die on May 5, 1994, for murdering three 8-year-old boys in 1993 in West Memphis, Ark., a crime for which he has maintained his innocence.

Thousands rallied to his defense - including his future wife, Lorri Davis, musician Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and actor Johnny Depp - and fought for more than a decade to free him from prison.

Several documentaries about the murders shed light on the trial, where Echols, who was 18, and 2 co-defendants were found guilty of capital murder. Echols received the death penalty and Jason Baldwin, 16, and Jessie Misskelley, 17, were sentenced to life in prison.

Echols was known as the leader of the West Memphis 3, a name the media dubbed them during the high-profile trial. A new generation of students at Rocky Mountain College, not yet born when Echols was sent to prison, read his memoir, "Life After Death," this fall as part of the Big Read project. The campus is hosting Echols next week with a free public lecture at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Fortin Center.

In a telephone interview with the Billings Gazette from his home in Harlem, N.Y., Echols, now 42, said he is excited about his 1st trip to Montana, "somewhere where I am not jostled around like I am in New York." During his talk, he will give an overview of the trial and his life in and out of prison and then open the discussion to questions.

Echols wants to tour Billings during his visit here with his wife.

"I like to look around, I like to go on foot. I want to see every coffee shop, cupcake shop and bookstore, places people would walk by and not think about."

After spending a decade in solitary confinement, Echols was overwhelmed when he was released in 2011. So much had happened during the 18 years he was on death row - cell phones, laptops, Facebook. He had to adjust to it all.

"I can't even remember the first year I was out. I was in such a deep state of trauma," Echols said.

Echols credits his spiritual practice and his relationship with Davis for helping him through the hellish years in prison and aiding him in his transition to life outside. Davis, a landscape architect, and Echols wrote each other thousands of letters when he was in prison. Their love story is told in the book "Yours for Eternity."

"Even when you are in the worst environment on the face of the earth, you have to find a reason to live, something to focus on. I think if I would have focused on the prison, I would have lost my mind," Echols said.

In a complicated legal process, Echols and his co-defendants withdrew their original not guilty pleas, entered an Alford Plea and were re-sentenced to time served. The court ruling did not exonerate them from their conviction but allowed them to be released from prison. An Alford Plea is not an admission of guilt, but an acceptance that the prosecution has enough evidence that a jury would find them guilty.

Echols has said in interviews that without the plea, he could easily have been killed in prison by a fellow inmate for $50.

Because he wore heavy metal T-shirts, had long black hair, and was "poor white trash," Echols believes he was singled out by West Memphis law enforcement and accused of the murder. He said that profiling is as much based on class as it is on race.

"If all the people on all of the bottom layers got together, it would be an unstoppable force, but they are being distracted by race," Echols said.

West Memphis is the most judgmental place imaginable, he said. He was seen as a freak and accused of worshiping the devil because of his looks.

"Almost anywhere is more accepting. You would find a place in the Middle East that is more accepting."

Echols said he knew who he was by the time he was 7, and can't understand people who are trying to find themselves.

"Read what you want, watch what you want to watch, be friends with who you want to be friends with. One thing I did learn, life is short. I'm 42 years old, and there's no time to waste on crap like what other people think."

Echols is covered in tattoos, most of which he designed himself. He is working as an artist, and views his art as an extension of his spirituality. He opened a show in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 15, and has a show opening in Chicago in December, and London in April. Echols and his creative partners call their collective The Hand.

"A hand is what we use to shape the world," Echols said. "We didn't want to do art just for art's sake. Art isn't what you buy because it matches your couch."

There is DNA evidence available from the case, but Echols said the law enforcement in West Memphis continues to resist putting it in a national database to try and find the real killers. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence and tries to make up for the years he lost in prison.

"I have 20 years to make up for. I want to see things, to touch them, and taste them. You have a choice in this life whether you want to constantly sit and stew or enjoy the moment you're living in. If I sat around and thought about the people who harmed me or have beaten me or tried to kill me, I would be pretty negative."

In a recent podcast, Echols responded to the question of whether he is happy. He paused a minute, then said, "I have my own trauma, but I think I'm as happy as I could possibly be."

(source: Billings Gazette)


Temecula couple lost loved one to Night Stalker but now fights the death penalty

At first, they wanted Richard Ramirez to die. But they forgave him and now back Prop. 62 to repeal capital punishment in California.

Temecula residents Don and Patty Nelson, once staunch supporters of the death penalty after his mother Joyce Nelson was murdered by serial killer Richard Ramirez, have changed their mind and now oppose it.


What it would do: Repeal California's death penalty.

Details: It would apply retroactively to existing death sentences. Offenders now facing a death sentence would be resentenced to life without the possibility of parole. It would increase the portion of life inmates' wages that may be applied to victim restitution.

Argument in favor: California's capital punishment system has failed. Prisoners should work and pay restitution, instead of sitting on death row. No innocent person should be executed.

Argument against: It's wrong to repeal the death penalty for brutal killers. Murderers should not live the rest of their lives at taxpayers' expense, with free healthcare, long after their victims are gone.

[source: California Secretary of State]


What it would do: Change procedures governing state court challenges to death sentences.

Details: It would set time limits for challenges and adopt rules to increase the number of attorneys available for handling them. Condemned inmates could be housed at any state prison. Today, they are kept only at certain state prisons.

Argument in favor: The death penalty system is bogged down by decades of appeals. It should be reformed; not repealed.

Argument against: It would not be real reform. All of its consequences aren't known and it would add layers of bureaucracy.

[source: California Secretary of State]

Devout Catholic Don Nelson was about as pro-death penalty as one can be.

Then his mom was beaten to death with a tire iron by Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who broke into her home.

"She was 2 years away from the retirement she was looking forward to," Nelson said.

The 72-year-old Temecula man choked up in an interview Thursday, Oct. 13, as he recalled her brutal murder 31 years ago, and the day a short time later when authorities captured Ramirez, ending the trail of terror he blazed that brutally hot and fearful summer.

His wife Patty Nelson, 71, said they rejoiced when the self-professed Satan worshiper was sentenced to death for 13 murders.

"All the jurors voted for the death penalty, and we were so happy," she said. "Just because I knew that he was going to be gone. He deserved it."

Fast forward 3 decades. The Nelsons’ anger and pain remains.

"Even today I don't think there really is closure," Don Nelson said. "How do you find closure when you have to go to a grave to visit your mom?"

But the Nelsons have forgiven Ramirez and no longer believe anyone should be put to death for a crime.

The members of St. Mother of Teresa of Calcutta parish in Winchester are poised to vote in favor of Prop. 62, which would repeal California's death penalty.


California voters once again are being asked to wrestle with their consciences on capital punishment.

In 2012, voters rejected Prop. 34, which would have eliminated the death penalty. On Nov. 8, they will face that decision again in the form of Prop. 62, which seeks to replace the maximum sentence of death with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It would retroactively apply to existing death sentences.

A competing measure on the ballot, Prop. 66, would preserve the death penalty. It also aims to speed up the slow process of litigating appeals for death row prisoners.

"We need to fix it or get rid of it," said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. "Prop. 66 is a group of common-sense reforms to the death penalty. I think it makes sense to give these reforms a try."

(source: Press-Enterprise)


On death-penalty measures, consider murder victims' voices: Letters

Consider victims' voices on death-penalty props

Re "Abolishing death penalty is right choice" (Endorsement, Oct. 13) and "Reject questionable death-penalty fixes" (Endorsement, Oct. 13):

I found your anti-death penalty editorials lacking in truth and opposed to what most Californians and Americans think about the death penalty.

It appears the 2 main reasons you're against the death penalty are the cost and the actual lack of executions.

Liberal attorneys and judges, encouraged by the ACLU, have created an endless stream of appeals for even the most heinous murderers.

Now that they've created this problem, they and you want to use it as an excuse to not fix the system. Using an excuse of poorly trained defense lawyers is really a stretch, and blaming the cost of appeals, which was created by the very people against the death penalty, itself is a ridiculous argument.

I'm not saying every accused murderer isn't entitled to a fair trial and necessary appeals, but there is no reason a convicted murderer should be languishing on death row for 25 or more years.

You blame the fact there is no accepted execution procedure. Yet again, those against the death penalty have determined that hanging, the electric chair, the gas chamber and now lethal injection are not appropriate for executing convicted murderers.

I wonder how much thought was given to the survivors of the victims of these terrible murders, people who will never see justice for those who took their loved ones' lives.

Our society has become overzealous with sympathy for the wrongdoers. Who will stand up for the victims?

- Andy Peranelli, Torrance

(source: Letter to the Editor, The Daily Breeze)


Nepal requests Sri Lanka to reconsider death penalty

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is presently in Goa in course of attending the BRICS- BIMSTEC Outreach Summit, today called on Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena.

On the occasion, matters relating to operating direct flights between the two countries and hosting the stalled 19th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation ) Summit were discussed at the meeting held at local Leela Hotel.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Dahal said though Nepal and Sri Lanka are somehow far in terms of geographical location, both countries need to play role in the overall development of the South Asia and in the maintenance of cordial relations among the SAARC countries.

Emphasizing on the need of holding the Summit of the regional body as soon as possible, he said the member countries should have common views regarding this.

The Prime Minister, on the occasion, also requested the Sri Lankan President to reconsider the capital punishment handed by Sri Lanka to a Nepali citizen Chet Bahadur Thapa ( Lalitpur) on a case of drugs smuggling and make effective measures to control trafficking of Nepali women to the gulf countries via Sri Lanka.

Stating that Sri Lanka shares friendly relations with Nepal, the Sri Lankan President underscored the need of making collective efforts to organised the SAARC Summit. He said Sri Lanka was positive towards the concerns put forth by Nepal.

(source: my


Erdogan restates he would approve capital punishment

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reiterated his support for a restoration of the death penalty in Turkey "if the Parliament passed."

Speaking to several hundred people chanting "death penalty" in the northern Black Sea city of Trabzon, Erdogan pointed to Turkish soldiers killed in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to justify his stance.

"I would approve that [death penalty] because we cannot forgive the murderers of my Mehmed martyred in Gabar mountains, we cannot forgive the murderers of my Mehmed martyred in Tendurek," said Erdogan referring to soldiers with a common Turkish male name affectionately used for troops.

The PKK and Turkish Army have been locked in a renewed warfare in the Kurdish mountainous heartland including Gabar Mountain in Sirnak Province neighboring the Kurdistan Region and Tendurek Mountain in the East near the Iranian border.

Discussions in public and political spheres of Turkey over capital punishment began immediately after the failed July 15 military coup attempt when Erdogan gave a series of speeches to his supporters in Istanbul.

Erdogan also slammed Western countries for opposing such a move, stating they had to respect the Turkish Parliament's decision should it pass a law backing the death penalty.

In July, both the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini warned Turkey it could not join the EU if the death penalty were reinstated.

Turkey has not applied the death penalty since 1984 and removed it from the law in 2004 as a part of accession negotiations with the EU.


OCTOBER 15, 2016:


Florida Supreme Court strikes down new death penalty law----High court says death sentence requires unanimous jury recommendation

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that jury recommendations to impose the death penalty must be unanimous, finding unconditional a law passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this year allowing the death penalty if the jury recommendation was at least 10-2.

The Legislature passed the new death penalty rules in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said Florida's death penalty system gave too much power to judges, not enough to juries.

"We conclude that juror unanimity in any recommended verdict resulting in a death sentence is required under the Eighth Amendment," the justices wrote in the much anticipated Hurst v. Florida opinion. "By requiring unanimity in a recommendation of death in order for death to be considered and imposed, Florida will achieve the important goal of bringing its capital sentencing laws into harmony with the direction of society reflected in all these states and with federal law."

The ruling states that existing cases where death sentences were imposed with less than a unanimous jury recommendation are not required to be commuted to life in prison. While awaiting the Supreme Court opinion, several death penalty appeals have already been filed, and many more may follow now that the ruling calls for unanimous recommendations.



Florida court right to make it harder to kill people who kill

The process of sentencing criminals to die in Florida just received another level of difficulty. And that's as it should be.

On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state's revised death-penalty law is unconstitutional. It declared that when a jury recommends a sentence of death to a judge, jurors' decision must be unanimous and a judge does not have the final say. Taking the life of a felon is the ultimate penalty meted out by the state. It's a decision that should not be made by a jury that is in disagreement.

Justices also struck down a newly enacted law that allowed a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 of 12 jurors recommended it. That one was the result of the Legislature's attempt to mollify the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year struck down the state's law that let a judge overrule a non-unanimous jury recommendation and impose a death sentence. When lawmakers convened to address it, they tacked on the 10-of-12 provision.

The latest ruling basically said, Nope, not good enough, and now triggers the potential re-sentencing of hundreds of Florida inmates on death row.

This heightened requirement is fair, especially in a state that has seen the most exonerations of the wrongly convicted. But prosecutors opposed the unanimous-jury decision, saying that not even serial killer Ted Bundy received a one. However, a jury's job is figuring out the most just penalty, not making prosecutors' jobs easier.

Justices set them straight: "We conclude that the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury mandates that under Florida's capital sentencing scheme, the jury - not the judge - must be the finder of every fact, and thus every element, necessary for the imposition of the death penalty," the court wrote in its 5-2 ruling.

Up to now, Florida was the only state among 31 remaining death-penalty states that allowed juries to render advisory verdicts involving both the presence and sufficiency of aggravating circumstances and also recommendations of death by a simple majority vote.

Unfortunately, the latest ruling is a legal Pandora's Box for the state. What happens now to the nearly 400 convicted killers on death row? Some say they now have the right to request a similar unanimity in their death sentencing.

That the courts had to step in highlights Florida's legislative inaction. In 2013, the Florida Bar's Board of Governors recommended that there be a comprehensive review of the state's death-penalty process by all branches of government. Lawmakers fiddled, inmate advocates burned. Nothing was done, and the courts were brought into the picture.

The state Supreme Court's ruling is the latest in a slow dismantling of the old way Florida has killed those who kill - from the lethal medical cocktail used to the basic guidelines followed. It began in January, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the state's death-penalty law that allowed a judge to overrule a jury verdict and impose a death sentence.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU in Miami, said the new procedures will reduce the number of death sentences.

But incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran told the Associated Press the ruling is the courts' ongoing effort to "subvert the will of the people."

We disagree. In death-penalty cases, the will of a unanimous jury is, indeed, the will of the people.

(source: Editorial Board, Miami Herald)


Florida Supreme Court: Florida's current death penalty is unconstitutional

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a Pensacola murder case that in January prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Florida's death penalty statute unconstitutional. An attorney for murderer Timothy Hurst asked the state's high court to direct a trial judge to resentence the defendant to life in prison. Assistant State Attorney General Carine Mitz asked it to rule that despite the high court ruling, Hurst still should be put to death.

In a long-awaited decision, the Florida Supreme Court today ruled that the Florida Legislature fumbled a re-write of the state's death penalty statute earlier this year, meaning that Florida currently has no death penalty.

The court also ruled that Timothy Lee Hurst, the man whose death penalty prompted the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year to declare Florida's death penalty unconstitutional, must be given a new sentencing hearing.

The court was unequivocal on one overarching point: For Hurst or any defendant to be given the death penalty, all 12 jurors must recommend it.

Those 2 rulings, released at the same time this morning, were a blow not just to the Florida Legislature but also to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who had argued that the error identified by the U.S. Supreme Court was harmless.

Not immediately clear, though, is what will happen to other Florida death row inmates and to murderers given the death penalty under the new statute.

Some attorneys had urged the court to automatically convert all Florida death sentences to life in prison, but the court today said no to that.

Both of today's ruling were a consequence of one handed down on Jan. 12 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional because it required a judge - not a jury - to decide whether a defendant should be put to death.

The case involved Timothy Lee Hurst, a Pensacola man convicted of murdering his boss at a Popeyes Fried Chicken restaurant in Pensacola in 1998 with a box cutter then putting her body in a freezer.

The state had argued that the error was harmless, but in that January ruling, Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote that the court disagreed but left it to the Florida Supreme Court to hash out who, if anyone, was harmed.

The Florida Supreme Court today answered that question, but only in part. The court ruled that Hurst was harmed, that his death sentence was invalid and that he should get a new sentencing hearing.

Not clear is what will happen in other death penalty cases.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott's office wrote in an email that his office was reviewing the ruling. That was the same message from the office of outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and his successor Joe Negron.

A spokesman for Bondi wrote the same thing, adding "In the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty."

The Florida Legislature rewrote the state's death penalty statute this spring, and on March 7, Gov. Rick Scott signed it.

But today, the Florida Supreme Court threw it out. That ruling came in a separate case, one involving Osceola County death row inmate Larry Darnell Perry.

"The Act ... is unconstitutional because it requires that only ten jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, twelve-member jury," the court wrote. "Accordingly, it cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor or Hurst in January, the state halted all executions.

The Legislature approved a 10-2 jury recommendation despite warnings that it would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

In May some of the state's most influential attorneys, including three former Florida Supreme Court judges, urged the Tallahassee high court to commute the sentences of all 390 people on death row to life in prison.

That did not happen today.

Before the Jan. 12 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida judges were free to imposed the death penalty if as few as 7 jurors recommended it.

In the Hurst case, jurors had voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


ACLU Responds to Florida Supreme Court Ruling State's Death Sentencing Statute Unconstitutional

The Florida Supreme Court today ruled that the state's system of issuing death sentences is unconstitutional. The Florida Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring a jury vote of at least 10-2 for a person to be sentenced to death, revising a previous statute that required only a bare majority of jurors to agree. The Court Friday ruled that the statute was unconstitutional, and that a death sentence in Florida must result from a unanimous jury decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the ACLU Capital Punishment Project filed amicus briefs urging the court to find the statute unconstitutional.

Responding to Friday's ruling, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon stated:

"For years, we have warned the Florida legislature that unless they rewrote our state's broken death penalty statute, the courts would take the issue out of their hands. We require a unanimous jury in all other situations except death sentencing. A person should not be sentenced to death by a less than unanimous jury.

"Just as we said they would, the Florida Supreme Court has inserted some much-needed fairness in our death penalty process by declaring that anything short of a fully unanimous jury on every necessary issue is unconstitutional.

"Florida, with its non-unanimous jury requirement, has seen more death sentences reversed than any other state. Racial disparities, over-zealous prosecutors and a lack of resources for defense counsel continue to plague death penalty cases.

"We are heartened by the court's decision which should reduce both the number of death sentences, as well as the number of wrongful convictions that have plagued our state. But the unanimity issue was just one aspect of a crumbling death penalty system which is getting harder every day to justify.

"All defendants on Florida's death row whose cases are pending on direct appeal must now receive new sentencing hearings unless the State can prove its heavy burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in their cases would not have affected the jury verdicts in capital sentencing, a very difficult standard to overcome. The full impact of the decision remains to be seen as the Florida Supreme Court has yet to decide whether new rulings will apply retroactively to those defendants who cases were already decided on direct appeal. The question of retroactivity is pending in the Lambrix case, a case briefed but not yet decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

"The Florida legislature should not attempt any further small fixes of the unsalvageable death penalty. No one should have to die from the flaws in our judicial system - the racial bias, the extreme variation from county to county in the use of the death penalty, the definitions of intellectual disability that don't match science and medicine, and so many more.

"We see other states wrestling with the same problems and coming to the same conclusion: capital punishment must end."


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.



Advocates, officials react to Supreme Court's death penalty ruling

Friday morning, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty sentencing law, declaring that all death sentences should be decided by a unanimous jury.

"I am profoundly disappointed by today's Florida Supreme Court opinion that found a component of our death penalty law unconstitutional. ... Make no mistake, those impacted most by this miscarriage of justice are the families as they watch the perpetrators of some of the most heinous and vicious murders and tortures continue to live the days their loved one were denied," said Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran in a statement. "This decision is indicative of a Court that comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result. That is antithetical to the rule of law and dangerous for our state."

Spokespeople for Gov. Rick Scott Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and President-designate Joe Negron said they were reviewing the court's ruling.

So did Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. "We are reviewing the Florida Supreme Court ruling, but in the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty," said spokesman Whitney Ray in a statement.

Here's how advocates and elected officials responded in the hours following the court's ruling:

"It was a pretty simple question. We either found a compromise or nothing happened and doing nothing was not a reasonable outcome," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who also said he was not surprised by the court's ruling. "If we had done nothing then there would not have been a law that the Supreme Court of Florida could pass judgment on. Now we have direction and so we needed to act at the past session in order to end the delays in the death penalty system."

"I supported unanimous juries in the past and I think it's probably the right decision," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "This is just really a trend of what supreme courts have been doing around the country on this issue."

"We enforce the laws, the Legislature writes the laws and the Supreme Court interprets the laws," said Buddy Jacobs, general counsel of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which opposed unanimous juries. "So we will be talking and meeting on Monday to try to come up with some sort of road map of where we go from here based on this opinion." "For years, we have warned the Florida legislature that unless they rewrote our state's broken death penalty, the courts would take the issue out of their hands," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, in a statement. "Just as we warned the Florida Legislature that they would, the Florida Supreme Court has inserted some much-needed fairness in our death penalty process by declaring that anything short of a fully unanimous jury is unconstitutional."

"Today's opinions released by the Florida Supreme Court continue to reveal a broken, mistake-prone death penalty system that fails victims' families, the innocent, and taxpayers. It is time to end the use of Florida's failed death penalty government program," said Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, in a statement. "For more than a decade, prosecutors have known full well that Florida's death sentencing scheme was seriously flawed and could be unconstitutional, yet they downplayed concerns and advised against reforms. Victims' families were dragged through long, repetitive, and painful procedures, record numbers of innocent people were sentenced to death, and Florida taxpayers paid the enormous costs."

"Florida finally joins the rest of the states in requiring what everyone has known for a long time -- that at least, the imposition of the death penalty requires a unanimous verdict," said Miami defense lawyer Philip Reizenstein, who handles death cases. "What remains is for Florida to join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty."

"The Florida Supreme Court's ruling that jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous is a long overdue recognition of the state's fatally flawed capital punishment regime," said Professor Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami School of Law in a statement circulated by the Fair Punishment Project. "The prosecutors who relentlessly pursued death sentences despite being repeatedly placed on notice that the state's death penalty regime was constitutionally defective should be held accountable for the emotional and financial costs they have imposed on victims' families and on taxpayers."

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


State will seek death penalty for 'pillowcase burglar'

The state is pursuing the death penalty against an Ocala man accused accused in a string of burglaries and at least one murder.

A grand jury indicted Darren Decker, 42, on 1 count of 1st-degree murder in late June. The charge stems from the death of Tamara Bedenbaugh, 57, who was found dead in her Northwest County Road 225-A home on Jan. 25.

Bedenbaugh seemed to be the victim of a home invasion. The Marion County Sheriff's Office reported at the time that her front door showed signs of forcible entry. It reported that jewelry, cash and a wallet were missing.

Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt said the decision to pursue the death penalty reflects the violence of the crime.

The Sheriff's Office has not yet released the cause of death, according to Lauren Letellier, assistant public information officer. Berndt said the circumstances of the murder made it fit several of the legally specified "aggravating factors" needed to justify a death sentence.

Namely, Berndt said, the killing was "heinous, atrocious and cruel"; was committed for financial gain; and was committed during the commission of another felony - in this case, burglary.

The arrest of Decker and his longtime girlfriend, Jessica Baker, 44, came in April as the result of a multi-agency investigation into a months-long string of burglaries. Decker and Baker are accused of targeting homes throughout Alachua, Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties. Authorities dubbed the duo the "pillowcase burglars" in reference to their alleged habit of hauling off guns, jewelry and small electronics in a pillowcase taken from the targeted homes.

At least 1 arrest affidavit, filed in Alachua County, suggests Baker played a minor role in the scheme. She is not charged in Bedenbaugh's murder. Court records indicate she is not facing any burglary- and theft-related charges in Marion County.

Decker, on the hand, faces at least 28 burglary- and theft-related charges in Marion County alone. This includes 2 in the indictment pertaining to Bedenbaugh's murder.

Decker is not charged in a 2nd murder for which authorities named him a suspect at an April press conference. Don "Terry" Plumeri, 71, a well-known composer, was found dead in his home in Dunnellon on April 1.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office investigated that murder. Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino said the State Attorney's Office continues to consider that case.

(source: Ocala Star Banner)


Man accused of fatally shooting Jefferson Parish deputy seeks change of venue

The man charged with fatally shooting Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy David F. Michel Jr. claims he cannot receive a fair trial in Jefferson.

Jerman Neveaux, 19, who faces a possible death penalty if convicted of fatally shooting Michel in June, asked a judge Friday to move his trial to another jurisdiction, citing the extensive news coverage that accompanied the deputy's shooting death.

Michel's death generated outrage and an outpouring of grief in the community.

Jefferson Sheriff Newell Normand described the killing as "cold-blooded murder."

"Even if jurors assure the trial court that they will try to be impartial, such anticipated protestations of impartiality cannot be taken at face value," defense attorney Martin Regan wrote in a court filing.

Neveaux on Friday pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges. He's accused of fatally shooting Michel outside a Dunkin' Donuts shop in Harvey after the deputy tried to search him.

In an unusual move, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick said Thursday that his office will seek the death penalty against Neveaux.

(source: The New Orleans Advocate)


Judge: Man incompetent to stand trial for killing officer

A man accused of fatally shooting an Indianapolis police officer 2 years ago has been found incompetent to stand trial.

A Marion County judge's Friday ruling means 27-year-old Major Davis won't stand trial until he is deemed able to understand proceedings and help with his own defense. Davis is accused of shooting and killing Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Perry Renn in 2014 during a gun battle. He is charged with murder and faces the death penalty if convicted.

Davis will be taken to a secure state facility after the judge issued a committed order to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration's Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

Davis has previously asked to represent himself in his case. His attorneys previously told the court Davis suffers from "paranoia and delusions."

(source: Associated Press)


First TV Ad Supports Kansas Supreme Court Rulings On School Funding And Death Penalty

Those who want to oust the justices don't like the tone of the ad at all. "We are extremely offended that Kansans for Fair Courts continue to lie about who gets to pick the justices," says Amy James with a group called Kansans for Justice.

James points out that any new justice would have to come through the merit selection process. A 9-member committee vets applicants and sends three names to the governor, who makes the final choice. "To call this a power grab is just not the case," James says.

The spot touches on school funding, saying the court "ruled Brownback's" plan unconstitutional. This is a reference to the block grant funding passed by the Legislature 2 years ago and that expires at the end of the current fiscal year. Brownback called for a repeal of the former formula in his 2015 State of the State address.

In Wichita, the hottest debate around retention concerns the death penalty. The high court overturned the death sentences of the Carr brothers who killed 5 people in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty and the brothers are now on death row.

The ad ignores the Carr case but says, "They upheld the death penalty and kept us safe," over a head line that says the court upheld the death sentence for the man who killed the Greenwood County Sheriff in 2005.

But Kansans for Justice, which is a group made up of friends of family of the Carr brothers' victims, says the ad misrepresents the Greenwood County case. The Kansas Supreme court originally overturned the death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that improper and sent the case back. The state justices, using the guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court, then upheld the death sentence.

The justices overturned a string of death sentences in Kansas until recently. In addition to ultimately upholding the death sentence in the Greenwood County case, they also upheld the death sentence of serial killer John Robinson last November.

While the ad supports retaining all 5 justices on the ballot, Republicans have called for the ouster of only 4. Conservatives want to retain Justice Caleb Stegall, who previously worked for Brownback.

(source: KCUR news)


Candidates differ on state's death penalty situation

The death penalty and prison overcrowding were the hot topics at what may be the final debate for the two candidates in District 33 of the Nebraska Legislature.

Incumbent Les Seiler of Hastings voted to end the death penalty in Nebraska while challenger Steve Halloran of rural Adams County has been a staunch supporter of what he calls a major deterrent for crime.

While voters are set to decide on Nov. 8 if the state will maintain or discontinue the death penalty, the candidates talked about the details of the system during a debate Friday at Good Samaritan Village.

The debate was hosted by the Hastings Area League of Woman Voters in conjunction with the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, Hastings Public Access Channel, Hastings Area Retired Teachers and YWCA of Adams County.

Halloran expressed frustration with the state's inability to execute anyone even when there is clear-cut proof of the person's guilt.

"That's the part that needs fixing," he said. "Texas has a very clear cleanup system of appeals, very limited time and number of appeals. Texas is perfectly capable of dealing with the drug protocol to accomplish the death penalty and the question of deterrent is an important one. I believe it's less of a deterrent if we only use it every 19 years."

Halloran said he would like to see absolute DNA proof as part of the criteria for sentencing someone to death. That way there would be clear evidence and no need for a dozen or more appeals.

Seiler said the question of ensuring the right person is put to death can be summed up in the case of the Beatrice 6. 6 innocent people were sent to prison for a 1985 rape and murder later tied by DNA to another man.

Additionally, he mentioned a man in Omaha whose DNA was supposedly found at a crime scene and he was found guilty. It was later determined the person testing the DNA planted the suspect's DNA and now that state employee is serving time in Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.

On the issue of the actual drugs used in lethal injection, Halloran said the drug protocol needs to be fixed as there are states like Texas that have the recipe and drugs and are able to perform executions.

"There's a plethora of drugs. We don't have to rely on 1 drug company to come up with the magic drug," Halloran said. "I know several veterinarians who can come up with a simple concoction and put a horse down in 30 seconds without pain. We're making a large thing about the drug protocol but that is something that is manageable by and controllable by the Legislature."

Seiler, who is currently serving his 5th year in the Legislature, explained that all the major drug companies in the United States refuse to sell those drugs to the state of Nebraska for executions.

On the issue of sentencing someone to death, Halloran said he believes it is a much greater deterrent than life without parole. Those people essentially have "nothing to lose," making them the perfect candidates to create prison violence and injure or kill officers because there's no punishment left.

"I wouldn't want my son or grandson to be a correctional facility guard under those circumstances because their lives are under threat all the time," Halloran said. "I think we need to give our law enforcement community more backing than we're giving them now."

In his closing statement, Seiler asked people to consider voting for him to allow him to continue his work as chairman of the judiciary committee, which is currently entrenched in addressing issues within the state's corrections system.

"I'm asking for your vote to send me back to that position to see if we can get this cleaned up," he said.

(source: Hastings Tribune)


Trial opens for man accused of stabbing estranged pregnant girlfriend to death

Eric Covington stabbed his estranged girlfriend, Sagittarius Gomez, more than 120 times over the course of an hour because he did not want her to be with another man, prosecutors said Friday during opening statements of his death penalty trial.

The 24-year-old was 7 months pregnant with their child.

"I didn't want to see my baby around no other n-----," Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Fleck said Covington told police.

Covington went on to describe the slaying "in cold-blooded, chilling detail," according to the prosecutor.

Neighbors testified that they heard loud noises and screams coming from Gomez's East Sahara Avenue apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 6, 2010, but none called police.

Gomez's blood-covered body was found the next day after police, responding to a welfare check, broke open the front door of her apartment.

Fleck told jurors that "immediately it became abundantly obvious that 1 person was responsible for this grisly killing" and looked toward Covington, seated at the defense table.

Along with 1st-degree murder, Covington, now 33, faces 1 count each of manslaughter in the killing of an unborn child, burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon and robbery with a deadly weapon.

If convicted, he faces capital punishment. The trial is expected to last through next week.

Defense attorney Lisa Rasmussen asked jurors whether the killing reached the "requisite level of intent" that constitutes 1st-degree murder.

"We submit to you that it does not," she said, adding that prosecutors would not be able to prove burglary or robbery charges.

Rasmussen also said the killing did not constitute "torture or mutilation."

George Vance Hayes, who lived nearby at the Villas at Sunrise Mountain apartment complex, told jurors he heard a woman's "horrific, very loud scream," and he regretted not calling authorities.

Covington told police he went to the east valley apartment they once shared to discuss the state of their relationship. When the talk turned sour, Covington produced a knife and began to stab Gomez, 24, police said at the time.

After he decided the knife he brought "wasn't working," he took a butcher knife from a kitchen drawer and continued stabbing her, according to police.

Police later found Covington hiding at his parents' house in the northwest valley.

He had ditched a switchblade and his bloody clothes, the prosecutor said.

Covington, who had lived with Gomez before the slaying, had a history of domestic violence, police said at the time.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Eliminate the death penalty in California

California voters should pass Proposition 62 and abolish the death penalty in the state. But at the very least, they should reject Proposition 66, which seeks to speed up the imposition of the death penalty and therefore increases the risk of executing innocent people. Because these 2 ballot measures are obviously incompatible, the one that gets the most votes will be implemented if both are approved by the voters. But my strong hope is that people will vote "yes" on Prop. 62 and "no" on Prop. 66.

The debate over the death penalty is not new. Yet, the overwhelming trend is toward abolishing it. Since 2000, 8 states have eliminated the death penalty. It now exists in 31 states, but it is rarely used. Only 7 states have carried out an execution in the past two years. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 in California, more than 930 people have been sentenced to death row and just 13 people have been executed.

The U.S. is the only Western nation that still has the death penalty. In fact, an Amnesty International Report in 2014 documented that there are only nine countries in the world that still use the death penalty and the U.S. is in the company of nations like Iran, China, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and North Korea.

Why eliminate the death penalty? Some believe that it is wrong for the state to kill people. But why should someone who believes in the morality of capital punishment vote to pass Prop. 62? There is too great a risk of executing an innocent person. Any human system will make mistakes and the reality is that innocent people are wrongly convicted. Across the country, DNA and other new evidence have proven the innocence of more than 150 people after they were sentenced to death. In California, 66 people have had their murder convictions overturned because new evidence showed they were innocent.

Moreover, there is a greater likelihood of wrongful convictions in capital cases. As Justice Stephen Breyer has explained: "[T]he crimes at issue in capital cases are typically horrendous murders, and thus accompanied by intense community pressure on police, prosecutors, and jurors to secure a conviction. This pressure creates a greater likelihood of convicting the wrong person."

Also, the death penalty is administered in a racially discriminatory fashion. Many studies have documented that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites on the same factual record. For example, a study in Philadelphia found that African Americans were four times more likely than whites to receive a death sentence for similarly severe crimes, controlling for the prior criminal records of the defendants. Numerous studies have documented that individuals accused of murdering white victims, as opposed to black or other minority victims, are more likely to receive the death penalty. Over 20 years ago, Justice Harry Blackmun, explained that "[p]erhaps it should not be surprising that the biases and prejudices that infect society generally would influence the determination of who is sentenced to death."

Nor does the death penalty have any benefit in preventing crime. For every year between 2008 and 2013, the average homicide rate of states without the death penalty was significantly lower than those with capital punishment. A few years ago, the National Research Council (whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) reviewed 30 years of empirical evidence and concluded that it failed to show that the death penalty had a deterrent effect.

Prop. 62 would replace the death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole. This actually would save the state a great deal of money. The state's independent Legislative Analyst confirmed Prop. 62 will save $150 million per year. A death row sentence costs 18 times more than life in prison.

The death penalty is so rarely carried out in California that its administration is arbitrary. The average delay between sentencing and execution in California is 25 years. A few years ago, Orange County federal court Judge Cormac Carney in a carefully reasoned and meticulously documented opinion explained: "Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary."

Why not just deal with this aspect of the problem by speeding up the imposition of the death penalty, as Prop. 66 seeks to do? It would have trial courts hear post-conviction proceedings and require that their proceedings be concluded within 5 years. Even if one believes in the death penalty and rejects Prop. 62, Prop. 66 is a terrible idea. It does not deal with the underlying causes of delay: the process of direct review by the Supreme Court, the lack of qualified attorneys to handle death penalty cases, the need for multiple levels of review. An initiative cannot create more lawyers able to competently handle death cases. Nor is faster better when it comes to handling death cases. Eliminating procedural protections exacerbates the likelihood of executing innocent people.

The time has come to eliminate the death penalty in California. Prop. 62 would do just that.

(source: Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Irvine School of Law----Opinion, Orange County Register)


No on Proposition 66

If there is 1 thing opponents and proponents of the death penalty in California can agree, it is that the current death penalty system doesn't work. With one of the largest death rows in the world, California has over 740 people awaiting execution, few of whom are likely to be executed.

Most of this backlog has to do with the robust, if complex, system of appeals, part of which happens in state courts and also federal courts. Proposition 66, backed by the California District Attorneys Association, purports to expedite the death penalty by addressing the state appeals system.

To address the lack of trained lawyers available to represent those sentenced to death, the measure would expand the pool of available lawyers by requiring attorneys currently qualified to handle non-death penalty appeals cases to accept appointments to death row cases or be prohibited from handling appellate cases entirely.

Given the long, complicated nature of such cases, it is possible many lawyers will simply choose not to practice appellate cases. We also wonder if forcing attorneys without the background to take on death penalty cases makes much sense.

The measure also sets an arbitrary 5-year time-limit by which courts are supposed to decide a series of appeals. Expedience should not be the goal in a system that could potentially execute an innocent person. To date, more than 150 people nationwide have been exonerated from death row, including 3 in California.

That there are over 740 condemned inmates and no currently accepted execution procedure suggests the most we would achieve is a further burdening of the already strained court system with added caseloads, while spending millions in the process.

California has spent billions of dollars on the flawed death penalty system since 1978. Potentially unworkable tweaks to a failed system aren't what California needs.

The Editorial Board recommends a no vote on Proposition 66 on Nov. 8.

(source: Editorial Board, Press-Enterprise)


Islamic State foils planned revolt in Mosul, executes 58

The Islamic State (ISIS) militant group has put down a planned revolt against their rule in Mosul after one of their own commanders attempted to mutiny and support the Iraqi military's upcoming offensive.

Reuters reported that the militants killed 58 people who they suspected of taking part in the plot which they discovered last week. Residents still in Mosul reported that the suspected mutineers were drowned and then buried in a mass grave outside the city.

1 of the men suspected of the attempted mutiny was an aide of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who infamously declared the formation of the Islamic States' so-called caliphate following the group's takeover of Mosul in June 2014.

The mutineers seemed to have attempted to weaken the group before the onset of the long anticipated Iraqi offensive, backed by the US-led coalition and Kurdish Peshmerga, which is soon set to recapture the city.

Their plot was reportedly uncovered after one of the mutineers was discovered to have a message on his phone discussing a transfer of weapons which he later confessed, under duress, were hidden in 3 houses across the city where the mutineers would acquire them and use them to support the incoming Iraqi Army.

ISIS raided those houses and seized those weapons on October 4.

"This is a clear sign that the terrorist organization has started to lose support not only from the population, but even from its own members," Iraq's Counter-terrorism Service spokesman, Sabah al-Nuamni told Reuters.



Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Iran's Death Penalty Debate, Says Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi

Despite statements from some Iranian officials doubting the value of capital punishment, no action has been taken to end or reduce the high number of executions in the country, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

"Unfortunately, for years Iran's judicial officials have repeated statements in response to protests by the United Nations and human rights organizations without really responding. In other words, whenever countries criticize Iran for having the highest number of executions in the world after China, the Iranian government resorts to repeating statements suggesting that they are trying to end capital punishment, but don't actually do anything about it," said Ebadi on the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty, on October 10, 2016.

"I hope, unlike previous years, Iran will go further than words and introduce a practical plan to reduce executions."

Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, was responding to comments made on October 8 by Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian Judiciary's Human Rights Council, who supports the death penalty, but said he agrees with ending it for petty drug traffickers.

"I am in favor of changing the law, but that does not mean we should stop the fight against drug-trafficking," said Larijani, adding that 93 % of hangings in Iran were for drug-related crimes.

Larijani, the brother of Judiciary Chief Ali Sadegh Larijani, continued: "We have an 800-km border with Afghanistan and the production of opium in Afghanistan has increased 40 times since NATO's invasion. The death penalty should be limited to drug kingpins and if we do this, the number of executions will fall immediately. Of course, this is currently being debated [in Parliament], but if we are realistic we can make it happen. No one should think that Iran will weaken her resolve in the fight against drug-trafficking, but we are changing tactics to make it more practical."

However, Larijani also recently called for the executions of drug traffickers to be carried out with greater speed.

"Naturally, executions are not an ideal solution, but we need to act quickly and firmly against harms to society and the destruction of families [caused by drugs]," said Larijani on September 29, 2016. "I ask prosecutors across the country to carry out executions as soon as the verdicts are issued."

Ebadi, a lawyer who headed the now banned-Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) in Iran before it was disbanded by the government and she was forced to leave the country, noted that if the Islamic Republic was sincere about ending capital punishment, it would not have condemned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi to prison for being a member of the DHRC.

"If Iran truly intends to end the death penalty for drug traffickers, then why have they condemned my colleague Narges Mohammadi to 10 years in prison for opposing capital punishment and being a member of DHRC? Aren't they just trying to deceive the international community with their words?"

In addition to drug traffickers, the execution of suspected political activists on national security charges have also increased, added Ebad.

"Unfortunately, the Iranian government uses the death penalty against individuals accused of national security and political crimes, and in the past year the number of these executions has increased. We have seen individuals being hanged for minor charges such as political opposition to the state, or for waging war against the state. There have been 2 mass executions of political prisoners this year," she said.

In 2015 Iran executed 1,052 people - the highest per capita execution rate in the world.

Policy Change?

According to Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi, a member of the Iranian Parliament's Legal and Judicial Committee, more than 150 members of Parliament have signed a proposal to amend the law to make it harder to condemn drug-related criminals to death.

"The large majority of those who have been executed or are on death row are petty [drug] dealers who are 1st-time offenders and their deaths harm families," said Jahanabadi on October 4, 2016. "In essence, we are proposing to add an amendment to the current law for fighting drugs which states that the death penalty would apply if certain conditions are met, such as carrying and using a gun, or being an international drug kingpin, or having a commuted death sentence and repeating the crime," he added.

"There are a lot of people waiting to be hanged right now and the question is whether all these executions carried out so far have stopped the spread of drugs or not? If there haven't been any benefits, we need to think of alternative punishments," he added.

In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, criticized the high number of executions in Iran for non-violent drug-related offenses in a report, noting that changes in Iran's drug laws in 2010 increased to 17 the number of drug offenses that could be punished by death.

Iran is also one among a handful of countries still sentencing people to death for crimes they allegedly committed as juveniles.

According to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of 18. Iran is party to both treaties.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Murder case: Ex-DSP, son awarded life term, death penalty

A former district superintendent of police has been awarded life imprisonment while his son sentenced to death for murdering a boy in Dera Ghazi Khan in January over a petty dispute. The judgment was announced by Additional District and Sessions Judge Muhammad Fawwad Arif on Friday.

According to the prosecution, 15-year-old Usman Chandio was playing cricket with his friends near the former DSP Abdul Karim's house. During the match, the ball went into the policeman's house.

When Usman asked the DSP's son Muhammad Ali to return the ball, Abdul Karim and Ali got enraged and opened fire at him, killing the boy on the spot.

After the incident, Usman's father Ishaq Chandio registered a case against the retired DSP and his son at the City police station in January.

While announcing the verdict, the court awarded death sentence along with a fine of Rs400,000 to Muhammad Ali, while Abdul Karim was awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs150,000. The convicts will have to undergo another 6 months of imprisonment if they fail to pay the fine.

Earlier in September 2016, an anti-terrorism court in Dera Ghazi Khan had awarded death sentence to a notorious gangster from Punjab for allegedly killing 3 policemen after abducting them.

The court handed down death sentence on 3 counts and life imprisonment on 2 counts to Ibrahim Ladi, chief of Ladi Gang of DG Khan.

The judge also ordered confiscation of his movable and immovable properties. Ladi had killed 3 police officials and injured a DSP in 2014 after taking them hostage.

Similarly in January 2016, an anti-terrorism court in Gujranwala sentenced former SHO Shahzad Warraich to death four times for murdering Daska Bar president Rana Khalid Abbas and Advocate Irfan Chauhan. The court also awarded 30-year jail term to the convict for inflicting wounds to 5 other lawyers.

(source: The Express Tribune)


Aasia Bibi's case

The Supreme Court usually makes the right call on cases of alleged blasphemy. It has never upheld a death sentence for blasphemy before because the evidence is at best circumstantial and the accusations usually proved tied to personal hatred or an attempt to steal property from the accused. Will the Aasia Bibi case prove an exception? The accounts vary as to precisely what happened in the incident involving the poor Christian woman - the mother of 5 young children - from the Sheikhupura area, who was sentenced to death in 2010. A cleric in the area received a complaint that Aasia had committed blasphemy after some Muslim women expressed anger towards her for drinking from the same water source as them. Aasia Bibi herself has claimed this was revenge for a trivial quarrel. In November 2010, just over a year after the incident, a district judge in Sheikhupura sentenced her to death. The case against Aasia Bibi has been contested by many rights activists and according to legal experts, court records show numerous inconsistencies in the evidence presented. But in October 2014 the LHC dismissed Aasia's appeal and upheld the death sentence. A clemency appeal to the president of Pakistan was made by her husband and her lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court, which in July 2015 suspended her death sentence until the appeals process could be completed.

Aasia Bibi has already spent seven years in jail and there was expectation on Thursday that the case would be decided justly and wisely, even if the culture of intimidation that has always surrounded the case made itself felt once again with the orthodox Lal Masjid clerics threatening to take to the streets in case Aasia Bibi were to be released. With thousands of security personnel on alert in Islamabad, the Supreme Court punted on a possible release when one of the judges from the 3-member bench hearing the case recused himself from the case on the basis that he had heard the Salmaan Taseer murder case. The appeal has now been postponed indefinitely. The timing of the honourable judge's recusal is a curious one. He had known he would be part of the 3-member bench long before and could have withdrawn from hearing the case much earlier and allowed a new judge to be picked. One also wonders where exactly the conflict of interest comes in. One could have ruled for the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri on the simple basis that murder has the punishment of death in Pakistan without having to give an opinion on Aasia Bibi's case. It is regrettable that the case of one woman has become so intertwined with political and religious sentiment that judges feel their verdicts will be seen as compromised. The blame for that lies in a society that has accepted the blasphemy laws being manipulated for personal ends and an extremist element that threatens, and in many cases commits, violence against those who merely want the laws to be amended so that false accusations are not so easy to make. It is now past time to develop the will and the courage to set right what is wrong.

(source: Editorial, The News)


92 suspected drug offenders arrested in 11-day operation

A total of 92 suspected drug offenders were arrested after an 11-day islandwide operation by the Central Narcotics Bureau from Oct 3 to Oct 14, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said on Friday (Oct 14).

In its press release, CNB said it also seized about 315g of heroin, 136g of Ice, 113g of ketamine, 41g of cannabis, 232 Ecstasy tablets and 97 Erimin-5 tablets. The areas covered by the operation include Ang Mo Kio, Balestier, Bishan, Bukit Merah, Hougang, Jurong, Pasir Ris, Punggol, Senja, Tampines, Toa Payoh, Woodlands and Yishun.

The agency added that one of the cases involved CNB officers arresting a 28-year-old Singaporean man at Tampines Central who was a suspected drug trafficker. Officers recovered about 90g of heroin, a small amount of Ice, a weighing scale and numerous empty plastic packets from the man. Within the man's residence, 2 suspected drug abusers - a 26-year-old female and a 29-year-old male, both Singaporeans - were arrested, it added.

Investigations into the drug activities of all the arrested people are ongoing, CNB said. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of diamorphine, or pure heroin, trafficked exceeds 15g.


OCTOBER 14, 2016:


Defense attorneys: Lloyd Welch Jr. should not face death penalty if convicted of killing Lyon sisters

Defense attorneys say the man accused of killing 2 sisters should not face the death penalty.

Lloyd Welch Jr. is charged with murdering the Lyon sisters in 1975.

His attorneys say Welch should not face the death penalty now, because it was not legal until several months after the alleged crime.

A hearing is scheduled for next week in Bedford.

(source: WDBJ news)


Andrew Warren seizes on death penalty report that slams Mark Ober's office

Considering that he's the underdog running against a 4-term incumbent, it would be political malpractice for Andrew Warren NOT to make hay out of a damning national report released Wednesday that calls out Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober's office as being plagued by "persistent problems of overzealous prosecutors, ineffective defense lawyers, and racial bias."

The Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project's report lists Hillsborough County as just 1 of 16 in the nation - or 1/2 of 1 % - that imposed 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. It criticized Hillsborough for "systemic deficiencies" and "structural failings" that lead to "the wrongful conviction of innocent people, and the excessive punishment of persons who are young or suffer from severe mental illnesses, brain damage, trauma, and intellectual disabilities." It also found that the "legacy of racial bias lingers" in Hillsborough's use of the death penalty.

Ober has blasted the report, saying it is nothing more than a "position paper" written by a group that opposes the death penalty.

"It makes no attempt to be fair and balanced. Instead of attempting to consider all the relevant factors in each case, it simply declares the death penalty to be broken, and criticizes prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and jurors based on its own arbitrary criteria and false assumptions," he said on Wednesday.

Naturally, Warren disagrees.

"This is yet another example of an independent agency giving our current state attorney a failing grade in a critical area of criminal justice," he said on Thursday. "To be singled out as one of the worst counties in the country is embarrassing and unacceptable. As state attorney, I will fix this and make sure our use of the death penalty is constitutional."

Ober said that in every death penalty case, his office makes sure to carefully review the evidence and the facts surrounding the case. "We carefully consider all the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining whether it is appropriate to have the jury and judge consider the death penalty as a sentencing option," he said. "We do not take lightly our responsibility to charge accurately in any case, especially a death penalty case. We seek justice one case at a time. We do not make decisions based on arbitrary standards that a special interest group opposing the death penalty establishes."

The report spotlighted the case of Michael Mordenti, who was originally prosecuted for murder by Ober's predecessor. But after the Florida Supreme Court reversed Modenti's conviction by finding that prosecutors had withheld evidence, Ober's office tried him with 1st degree murder charges 2 more times, despite the fact he said he was innocent and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Ober's office ultimately offered Mordenti a 2nd-degree murder plea, which would allow him to go free. The report says none of the 3 juries heard from the victim's husband, Larry Royston, who told his attorney prosecutors had charged "the wrong man" before Royston eventually committed suicide. Mordenti spent 17 years in prison.

Warren says he finds those facts "disturbing."

"The death penalty should be reserved for the most egregious cases - not where there are mitigating factors such as mental illness," he says. "And it should not be used unfairly as leverage to coerce pleas. A person's life is a not a bargaining chip."

There is now less than 4 weeks to go in the state attorney's race.

Ober has raised slightly more than $300,000 in the race as of Sept. 30, and has more than $190,000 cash-on-hand.

Warren has remained extremely competitive, having raised $276,858, with more than $162,000 cash-on-hand.



3 years later, convicted killer charged in north Alabama slaying

Nearly 3 years after Eric Monte Watkins was fatally shot in Florence, police believe they finally have his killer in custody.

Authorities had to travel hundreds of miles this week to bring the suspect, Justin Antonio Butler, back to the Shoals to face trial.

Butler, 25, was jailed in South Carolina on an unrelated murder conviction when the Lauderdale District Attorney's Office arranged his transportation back to Florence. A Lauderdale County grand jury earlier this year indicted Butler on a capital murder charge, Florence Police Sgt. Brad Holmes said.

Butler, a Florence man, also is known by 2 aliases, "Pop-A-Molly" and "Jona McCoy," court records show.

Watkins, a 32-year-old Muscle Shoals resident, was killed while he was in his vehicle on Marion Avenue near Chisolm Road during the late night hours of Nov. 10, 2013, Holmes said.

The grand jury indictment accuses Butler of "intentionally" causing Watkins' death.

Butler originally is from California, but moved to Florence as an adult, Holmes said. The suspect was living with his family at the time of the killing.

Capital murder is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Butler is being held in the Lauderdale County Jail without bail.



Lower judge to decide if death row inmate gets new lawyer

The Mississippi Supreme Court says a circuit judge should decide whether a man facing the death penalty needs new lawyers in state court.

Justices ruled Thursday on requests by Robert Simon, convicted of murdering 4 Quitman County residents in 1990.

The court isn't deciding whether Simon should get another state court appeal.

Quitman County raised taxes to pay for the defense of Simon and co-defendant Anthony Carr. Mississippi later created an office to provide death penalty defense. However that office defends Carr and says representing Simon would be a conflict of interest.

Simon's lawyers argue he's too mentally ill for execution, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim in March. Lawyers want that court to reconsider. The same lawyers seek to represent Simon in state court.

(source: Associated Press)


Jerman Neveaux to be Jefferson Parish's 5th death penalty case since 2004; here are the others

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. said Thursday that he will seek the death penalty for Jerman Neveaux Jr., the man accused of killing JPSO Detective David Michel Jr. That's an option Connick has sought with less frequency since 2004, prosecuting 4 previous capital punishment cases since then, of which 2 resulted in death sentences.

Neveaux, 19, of New Orleans, is accused of shooting Michel three times in the back June 22 after authorities say the deputy stopped Neveaux in Harvey. A witness told deputies Neveaux continued firing while Michel was on the ground.

Connick, in a statement, said the circumstances of the shooting "warrant the harshest penalty."

This marks the 5th time Connick will seek capital punishment since 2004. That's a marked difference from his first 6 years after he took office in 1997. During that 1st term, he oversaw cases that sent 10 Jefferson Parish defendants to death row.

In 2009, Connick told The Times-Picayune that his office's view of capital punishment had evolved. He said prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges "have to do the perfect case" in 1st-degree murder cases, because of the high level of scrutiny during appeals.

"It has to be, in our opinion, the worst of the worst," Connick said then. "The facts of the case have to be heinous."

Here are the 3 most recent capital punishment cases Connick's office has prosecuted, and their outcome, starting with the most recent:

2013: Matthew Flugence

Flugence was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of 6-year-old Ahlittia North. The girl was abducted from her mother's apartment in Harvey on July 13, 2013. Deputies discovered a pool of her blood behind an apartment building nearby and finally found her body 2 days later, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag and a blanket and stuffed in a garbage can that had been rolled to the curb. Flugence pleaded guilty last March to 1st-degree murder, in a plea agreement that netted him a life in prison sentence.

2005: Isaiah Doyle

Doyle was accused of carrying out a crime spree that included several West Bank robberies and culminated with the Aug. 10, 2005, killing of Hwa Lee, 26, as the store clerk tended to the cash register in her parents' convenience store in Marrero. Doyle shot her point blank 4 times, prosecutors said. Doyle argued he was forced to participate in the crimes under threat of death by members of the Latin Kings street gang. Jurors convicted Doyle, who in July 2011 was sentenced to death.

2004: Dustin "Shorty" Dressner

Dressner, of Avondale, was accused of the June 6, 2002 murder of Paul Fasullo, co-owner of a Piggly Wiggly store in Gretna and the attempted murder of Fasullo's wife during a bloody home invasion in Marrero. Fasullo's wife, who was stabbed more than 20 times as she held the couple's 2-year-old daughter, survived the attack. Dressner was sentenced to death in 2004.

(source: New Orleans Times-Picayune)


Longtime Tennessee death row inmate to get new hearing

A Nashville judge says a man who has long been on Tennessee's death row will get a new hearing.

65-year-old Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman has been on death row since 1987, when he was convicted of 1st-degree murder and other counts in the fatal stabbing of Patrick Daniels and attack on Norma Jean Norman, who survived, according to reports from the Tennessean ( Abdur'Rahman has argued that prosecutors discriminated against African-Americans during jury selection but has been unsuccessful challenging his convictions.

However, a new order from Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will give Abdur'Rahman's lawyer a chance to argue that again.

Watkins wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court case Foster v. Chatman potentially created new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing for Abdur'Rahman. In the Foster v. Chatman case, justices found that prosecutors struck all four African-American potential jurors based solely on their race.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held for 30 years that lawyers cannot excuse potential jurors solely based on race.

(source: Associated Press)


Appeals Court Reverses Itself, Says Missouri Execution Drug Supplier Can Stay Secret----After hearing more information from the state and the anonymous supplier, a conservative panel of judges said Missouri's execution drug supplier doesn't have to be revealed.

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that the supplier of Missouri's execution drugs can remain secret - a reversal of the 3-judge panel's ruling from last month.

Death row inmates in Mississippi are seeking information on how other states carry out the death penalty. In pursuit of that, the inmates subpoenaed information from the Missouri Department of Corrections, including documents that would identify the supplier of the state's lethal injection drugs.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's office attempted to quash the subpoena, but a federal district court and a panel of conservative 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judges declined to step in, finding that the state's concerns were "hearsay" and "inherently speculative."

But on Thursday, after the state and the anonymous supplier submitted more information, the panel reversed course and granted the states request to quash the subpoena.

If inmates wish to challenge their executions, they have to argue a better method by which to be put to death. The Mississippi inmates sought out Missouri's supply of pentobarbital - Mississippi uses midazolam, a sedative used in several botched executions over the past few years.

But the supplier, filing under the pseudonym "M7," said that it would stop supplying execution drugs if its identity were revealed.

"[B]ecause M7 would not supply pentobarbital to Mississippi once its identity is disclosed, we conclude that M7's identity has no relevance to the inmates' Eighth Amendment Claim," the panel wrote.

"Second, even if M7's identity had any relevance to the inmates' claim, M7's declaration also establishes that the disclosure of M7's identity will result in an undue burden on" the Missouri Department of Corrections, as the supplier would stop selling the state drugs.

The supplier also argued it feared for its personal safety, something the Mississippi inmates disputed.

"But even if M7's fears are unfounded, that does not change the fact that M7 has already declared a clear intention to cease supplying if M7's identity is disclosed," the panel wrote. "Thus, we conclude that the harm to MDOC clearly outweighs the need of the inmates, and disclosure would represent an undue burden on MDOC."

The pharmacy also argued it has a First Amendment right to sell execution drugs, which it called "an expression of political views, no different than signing a referendum petition or selling a t-shirt." The court made no ruling on that claim.

Jim Craig, a lawyer for the Mississippi inmates with the MacArthur Justice Center, noted that neither Missouri nor M7 challenged the trial court's finding "that the Missouri Legislature did not shield lethal injection drug suppliers from production of information about their sales to a taxpayer-funded agency."

As to Thursday's reversal, Craig told BuzzFeed News, "Litigation is designed to be a search for the truth. But in this case, condemned prisoners like Richard Jordan and Ricky Chase have been denied the basic truth-seeking tools of the legal process. We are studying the Court of Appeals' opinion to determine what steps we should take next."

The panel's ruling is likely to complicate death row inmates' efforts to challenge their executions. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, they have to argue a feasible and readily available alternative. But courts have so far been strict in limiting discovery or allowing subpoenas in furtherance of finding an alternative.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)


Missouri appeals court 'punts' on man's claim of innocence in 1982 St. Louis killing

Had Rodney L. Lincoln been sentenced to death for the 1982 slaying of JoAnn Tate and the slashing of her 2 daughters in a Hyde Park apartment, his most recent claims of innocence may have been handled differently by the criminal justice system.

Lincoln, 71, who was convicted for manslaughter and 2 counts of 1st-degree assault, is serving 2 life sentences at Jefferson City Correctional Center for the crimes.

He now argues that the trial was inadequate because expert analysis of hair that placed him at the scene has been discredited by DNA and because a then-7-year-old daughter of the victim, now in her 40s, has recanted damning eyewitness testimony.

He argues that records about the young witness's being coached and making impeachable statements were withheld and that his trial attorney was ineffective at exposing the matter.

These claims, however, didn't sway the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.

On Tuesday, the appeals court ruled that it will not examine Lincoln's "actual innocence" claim unless the Missouri Supreme Court clearly states that such claims will be examined in non-death penalty cases.

"Because the Missouri Supreme Court has not recognized a freestanding claim of actual innocence in cases where the death penalty has not been imposed, we are not at liberty to expand Missouri habeas jurisprudence to permit consideration of the claim in this case," Appellate Judge Cynthia L. Martin wrote in the ruling.

Sean O'Brien, one of the attorneys representing Lincoln in the appeal, called the ruling "scary."

"The literal holding of the court is that innocence is not a good enough reason to release a prisoner," said O'Brien. "In other words, this is not a miscarriage of justice to sentence an innocent person to die in prison of natural causes?"

Greg Mermelstein, deputy director of the Missouri Public Defender System, said the case raised the issue of whether the Constitution protects the right to a fair trial or the innocence of people who have been wrongly convicted.

"The Western District is more concerned about procedural fairness than fair outcomes," Mermelstein said. "Even if the petitioner is actually innocent, the court won't give him relief, because the court is concerned only about procedural fairness and finality of convictions.

"Where is the finality for innocent people who sit in a prison cell every day of their life hoping someone will look at the outcome of their case? To say that your trial was procedurally fair, but reached a wrong and non-correctable result, is little consolation."

Rodney Uphoff, of the Missouri Supreme Court Criminal Procedure Committee, said he was surprised by the ruling and viewed it as a punt to a higher court.

"Normally, one would think that the DNA evidence would raise some real concerns about the reliability of the conviction," said Uphoff, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law. "The case is ripe for a potential injustice because of what we know about the fallibility of eyewitness testimony."

The appellate court upheld a June 16 ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green, who believed Lincoln had fair trial in 1983 and upheld the judgment. According to Green's ruling, Lincoln didn't make "a clear and convincing showing of actual innocence that undermines confidence in the correctness of the judgment."

Green did not find credible the daughter's recantation, triggered 33 years after the initial trial by a television program suggesting another culprit, serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who was executed in Texas in 2014.

Martin wrote in Tuesday's appellate ruling that the court did an "exhaustive review" of the petition records. "Because the jury convicted (Lincoln) based primarily on (the young daughter's) testimony, and not on the now discredited expert witness testimony (of the hair), (Lincoln) cannot establish that his conviction violated his due process to a fair trial."

Martin wrote that a review of the trial transcript shows that that the young witness was "thoroughly cross-examined" at trial.

O'Brien said he and an attorney with the Midwest Innocence Project would soon seek to have Lincoln's case appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Lincoln had dated Tate about a year before her death. Lincoln had served prison time before her murder for killing a man in a drunken dispute in 1973.



Death row opponents speak in Dakota City

Death row exoneree Ray Krone and Beatrice 6 county attorney Randall Ritnour made an appearance in Dakota City Monday night to discuss their different experiences but similar position on the death penalty.

Their goal was to convince voters to "retain" life without parole on the ballot in November as opposed to bringing back the death penalty.

Krone was exonerated in 2002 after spending more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he didn't commit. He was the 100th person found incorrectly placed on death row and exonerated. That number today is 156.

He had been convicted of murder in the late 1980s on limited evidence despite having an alibi.

At sentencing, prosecutors asked him if he was sorry and he truthfully responded that he couldn't be sorry for something he didn't do.

"They called me an unremorseful monster and sentenced me to death," Krone said.

In April 2002, Krone was released after DNA evidence proved his innocence.

"It was because of my family and friends and people who don't even know me who said this doesn"t sound right," Krone said. "I didn't get out because of the system. I got out in spite of the system."

He added that it's not just the wrongfully accused who suffer.

"It's their families, too," Krone said. "Every year I was in prison, my family set a plate for me at holidays. Imagine how my mom felt, my little sister felt looking at my empty seat knowing I was sitting on death row."

On the other side of the law, former county attorney Ritnour felt strongly in favor of the death penalty before he worked on the Beatrice 6 case, which was the largest false confession case in U.S. history.

"You can get people to confess to anything if you wear them down long enough," Ritnour said.

This was the case of the Beatrice 6 trial, where several wrongfully convicted individuals confessed to a heinous murder after hours of rigorous interrogation. It was later discovered, through DNA evidence tested at the persistence of Ritnour, that all 6 were innocent.

Even though Ritnour is against the death penalty, his reasons are different from most.

"I sympathize with the families of murder. If you commit murder, you deserve the punishment that could be given to you," he said. "The problem is that it's clear that we get it wrong sometimes. Murderers do deserve the death penalty, but if we reenact the death penalty, we are risking putting innocent people to death and I don't think that's the kind of people that we are."

(source: Dakota County Star)


Advocates for and against death penalty take part in public discussion

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg urged voters to "repeal the repeal" of the death penalty when they cast their ballots in the November general election. He, along with former state Sen. Annette Dubas, were the featured guest speakers at Wednesday night's death penalty discussion at the Norfolk City Council chambers. Dubas represented the Retain a Just Nebraska organization that seeks to eliminate the death penalty.

A decision by the Nebraska Legislature last year to repeal the death penalty - and the subsequent successful petition drive to give voters a chance maintain capital punishment in the state - is one of the most controversial issues in the November general election.

Nearly 80 members of the public and the media gathered at the Norfolk City Council chambers on Wednesday evening to take part in a discussion led by advocates on each side of the issue.

The Norfolk Daily News and Norfolk radio station 106 KIX co-sponsored the forum that featured 2 special guests - former Nebraska Attorney General and current state treasurer Don Stenberg representing Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, and former state Sen. Annette Dubas, representing Retain a Just Nebraska, a group seeking to maintain the death penalty repeal.

Both Stenberg and Dubas were given the opportunity to make opening statements explaining their respective positions on the death penalty, and they subsequently answered questions posed by Jerry Guenther with the Daily News and Paul Hughes with 106 KIX.

The guests also each answered questions submitted by members of the audience in attendance, as well as those at home watching on Facebook Live. The discussion was also live-streamed by the Daily News and broadcast live on 106 KIX.

Among those in attendance were Madison County Attorney Joe Smith, Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, Madison County Judge Mike Long and Vivian Tuttle, the mother of one of the persons killed in the 2002 U.S. Bank shootings in Norfolk.

In her opening comments, Dubas told the audience that she had remained conflicted about the death penalty until she served in the Nebraska Legislature. Capital punishment did not fit in with her deeply held personal pro-life beliefs, but she also wanted criminals convicted of horrific crimes to pay, Dubas said.

However, sitting through the first death penalty debates helped her clarify her beliefs, she said.

"Our criminal system is not infallible. Innocent people have been and can be convicted of crimes they did not commit," Dubas said.

She pointed to the recently exonerated "Beatrice 6," a group of people wrongly convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in Beatrice.

"They collectively served 75 years of their lives (in prison) for crimes they didn't commit," Dubas said.

She also pointed out that the state could save $14.6 million by retaining the repeal of the death penalty and that it is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure Nebraska has "effective, fiscally sound policies."

Dubas also said there is a "very strong message from the faith community" that has allowed her to take a stand against the death penalty.

Stenberg's opening remarks began with a call back to when he took office as the Nebraska attorney general in 1991. At that time, Nebraska had not carried out a capital sentence in more than 30 years, he said.

"In my time (as attorney general), we carried out three. To me, the death penalty, at least in part, is a matter of public safety. ... Someone serving life (sentence) really has no deterrent for not killing a corrections officer other than the death penalty," Stenberg said.

In order to provide the maximum protection for law enforcement officers, children and the public, the death penalty must be in place, he said.

"The 2002 bank robbery and murders here in Norfolk ... when someone commits mass murders, when someone tortures a young child or children and then murders them, in all of those cases, really the only just punishment is the death penalty," Stenberg said.

He also pointed out that the Nebraska Constitution provides for a board of pardons, that can commute any prisoner's sentence, including a life sentence.

"There really is no such thing as a sentence of life without parole," he said.

The possibility of escape must also be considered, Stenberg said, as 2 inmates at a Lincoln correctional facility escaped this year for a period of time before they were captured.

Additionally, the Legislature's fiscal office, which is non-partisan, looked at the death penalty repeal and "determined there would be no appreciable cost savings on repealing the death penalty," Stenberg said.

The 1st question asked of the 2 was whether the state's criminal justice system is meant for rehabilitation or for retribution. Stenberg and Dubas each answered they feel it is both, with Stenberg saying that one purpose of the criminal justice system is to deter crime and another is punish it.

"That would be the most desirable outcome is that crimes not be committed in the first place. ... Society demands that someone that commits the most heinous and serious mass murders and torture murders, retribution is appropriate. Historically, it has been deemed appropriate," Stenberg said.

Dubas said the criminal justice system is both about rehabilitation and retribution, and that the public must be kept safe first and foremost.

"The most heinous crimes, we have to keep (criminals) behind bars for life. But I think there's a chance for rehabilitation," Dubas said.

Another question asked was whether the death penalty is a deterrent, since states without capital punishment don't necessarily have lower murder rates.

Dubas said she doesn't feel the death penalty is a deterrent.

"I don't believe people who are committing those types of crimes are thinking 'Maybe I shouldn't do this.' We're applying rational thought to people who aren't thinking rationally," Dubas said.

She said Minnesota does not have the death penalty, but that state has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

Stenberg said that just because capital punishment doesn't deter everyone, it still deters some criminals. He said the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the issue of deterrence in a death penalty case and cited 2 studies.

One study showed that "each state execution deters about 14 murders every year," and the other showed that "each execution on average deters 18 murders per year," Stenberg said.

Stenberg and Dubas also were asked about the religious implications of the death penalty since there are persons of faith on both sides of the issue.

Dubas said it is known that there is strong opposition from the faith community against the death penalty that "comes in the belief of the sacredness of life, forgiveness and moving forward."

Stenberg said that while he would not try to convince anyone about what their religious beliefs should be, "for myself, I don't see any Biblical injunction against the death penalty." The Old Testament makes it clear that capital punishment "is appropriate for responding to a heinous murder, and nothing in the New Testament raises an objection to the death penalty," he said.

Both of the guests were given the opportunity to ask the other a question during Wednesday's discussion.

Dubas asked Stenberg how he could support the death penalty in light of cases like the Beatrice Six and the possibility of a wrongful execution.

"Our criminal justice system is not infallible. Innocent people can and have been convicted for crimes they didn't commit," Dubas said.

Stenberg answered that not even death penalty opponents have pointed to anyone currently on death row in Nebraska who is believed to be innocent.

"The Nebraska system is very careful, especially in the last 30 or 40 years. Does the possibility exist? Yes. But it's never happened in Nebraska in the modern era," Stenberg said.

His question to Dubas concerned families of victims, like those who were killed in the U.S. Bank murders in Norfolk in 2002.

"Why do death penalty opponents feel that the loved ones, the relatives will now have to pay taxes to support these three (convicted murderers) for the rest of their lives with food, housing, medical care?" Stenberg asked.

Dubas said that "in no way, shape or form do I want the people of Norfolk to think I think those men deserve any mercy or that I think I should know how they should feel."

She also said that there has not been an execution in Nebraska in the last 2 decades, and she doesn't believe another execution ever will take place here, especially in light of the state's difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and accusations that recent drugs were purchased illegally.

"I think this is just an ongoing false promise to the families here in Norfolk as well as any on death row that something is going to happen, when it's not going to happen," Dubas said.

Both she and Stenberg reiterated their opening remarks as they gave closing comments.

Stenberg said he supports the death penalty as a matter of public safety "to protect corrections officers, law enforcement officers, kids in school, people that go to a bank to do business."

"There's no such thing as life without parole. ... If you want to keep the death penalty, you need to vote to repeal the repeal," Stenberg said.

Dubas also recalled her arguments that the death penalty in Nebraska is draining $14.6 million that could be going into the corrections system.

"It is not a deterrent. It is strongly opposed by the faith community, and there is still the very real possibility that an innocent person's life could be taken," Dubas said.

(source: Norfolk Daily News)


U.S. Supreme Court rules ---- Sends Bosse sentencing back to Court of Criminal Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside the death penalty for a Blanchard man convicted nearly 4 years ago in the brutal murders of his Dibble girlfriend and her 2 young children.

A McClain County District Court jury convicted Shaun Michael Bosse of 3 counts of 1st degree murder and 1 count of 1st degree arson in October 2012.

Killed on July 23, 2010, were Katrina Griffin and her children Christian and Chasity. Bosse stabbed Katrina Griffin and Christian Griffin multiple times and locked Chasity Griffin in a closet before torching the house in an attempt to cover up the murders.

Jurors needed just 4 hours to return guilty verdicts on all counts.

During the sentencing phase, the panel heard testimony by family members who all said they wanted Bosse to die for the murders.

It took the jury just 5 hours to return the death sentence.

They found 3 aggravating circumstances in the slaying of each victim. Just 1 aggravating circumstance is sufficient to justify the death penalty.

Those circumstances were Bosse knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person; the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel and Bosse committed murder to avoid arrest or prosecution.

Family members of the victims were allowed to testify during the sentencing phase, telling the jury that they wanted Bosse to die for the murders. That testimony proved problematic for the justices, whose ruling Tuesday found fault with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals which upheld Bosse's death sentence.

The state had argued that even if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was wrong in its ruling on victim impact testimony, that error didn't affect the jury's determination of sentence and that Bosse's rights were protected by the state's mandatory sentencing review.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in a 1987 case out of Maryland that the Eighth Amendment "prohibits a court from admitting the opinions of the victim's family members about the appropriate sentence in a capital case."

"It is this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. "In vacating the decision, this Court says nothing about whether (the Maryland case) was correctly decided."

The decision returns the case to Oklahoma "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion."

District Attorney Greg Mashburn told The Purcell Register The Supreme Court's decision doesn't actually overturn the death penalty ruling.

"They found an error in asking the family for their thoughts," Mashburn said.

"This merely sends it back to the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to see if the error affected the trial. The CCA will review to see if the error affected the conviction and sentence."

The DA said he feels confident the CCA will uphold the conviction and sentence.

(source: Purcell Register)


Despite Lack Of Execution Drugs, Sandoval Won't Abolish Death Penalty Or Recommend New Method

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he won't propose abolishing the death penalty after Nevada ran out of lethal injection drugs.

But the Republican also told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wouldn't be proposing an alternative method of capital punishment, such as a firing squad.

The state has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty because 1 of the 2 drugs needed for the lethal injection has expired, and the state has been unable to find a company willing to restock its supply.

Nevada budgeted nearly $900,000 to create a working execution chamber in Ely, but may have to use that space for storage.

More than 80 people are on death row, but there are no executions pending.

Sandoval's plan doesn't preclude a lawmaker from proposing a workaround.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty? Don't abolish it - improve it: Letters

Re "Abolishing death penalty is right choice" (Editorial, Oct. 13):

The editorial says prisoners on death row are more likely to die of natural causes than be executed and the current system is flawed. This is correct, and Proposition 66 will help to correct that.

There are serial killers on death row. Releasing them into the general prison population will endanger other prisoners and guards, to say nothing of the general public if they are ever released. If A kills B and A is put to death for killing B, A cannot later kill C, D or E.

Ending the death penalty will take away tools of law enforcement. "Tell us where you buried the body and we will take away the death penalty."

Vote no on Proposition 62 and yes on Prop. 66.

- Bill Simpson, Rancho Palos Verdes

(source: Letter to the Editor, Daily Breeze)


Accused cop killer faces justice: Death penalty for Palm Springs shooter?

The accused killer of 2 Palm Springs police officers is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and other charges that could land him on death row.

John Hernandez Felix, 26, is accused of fatally shooting veteran training Sgt. Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, Saturday afternoon. He also allegedly wounded a third officer, who was released from the hospital Sunday, and fired on 2 others.

"This individual knew what he was doing," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said during a news briefing in downtown Riverside. "His actions were deliberate. He attacked these officers for no other reason than they were there, answering a call for service."

The 2 murder counts include special circumstance allegations of murder of a law enforcement officer, lying in wait and taking multiple lives in the same crime. Felix was also charged with 3 counts of attempted murder and single counts of unlawful possession of an assault rifle, being a convicted felon in possession of a gun and being in possession of stolen property, with sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.

The special circumstance allegations make Felix eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Hestrin said a decision on whether to seek capital punishment will be made in the next 3 weeks.

The district attorney was joined by Palm Springs police Chief Bryan Reyes, who declined to answer specific questions related to the investigation, which he characterized as "complicated and emotional."

"There's no question, we're going to put all our efforts into a thorough investigation. This is one step in a long road ahead," Reyes said.

According to Hestrin, Felix's motive was simple: "This individual wanted to kill police officers. He armed himself to kill police officers. He wanted to gun them down because they wear the uniform."

The county's top prosecutor acknowledged a "false narrative" about the actions of law enforcement that could influence the behavior of some people, who draw their conclusions based on videos of officer-involved shootings.

"It's important to remember that police officers go into dangerous neighborhoods. They put themselves in harm's way to protect others, no matter where they're called," Hestrin said.

Felix is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

Palm Springs police went to the probationer's home around 1 p.m. Saturday in response to a woman's call reporting that her adult son was causing a disturbance, authorities said.

According to sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez, when the officers arrived, they were informed that the defendant was armed with a weapon. The 3 officers spoke to Felix through a metal screen door and told him to step outside, at which point he fired on them "without provocation or warning," Vasquez said.

The defendant was wearing body armor and fired armor piercing rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Hestrin said.

After the shootings, Felix holed up in his house in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, culminating in a 12-hour standoff and his eventual surrender. He was treated for superficial injuries and booked into jail.

Vega had been with the department for 35 years - 5 years past his retirement eligibility - and had planned to leave in December. Zerebny had been with the department for 18 months and had just returned to duty from maternity leave after the birth of a daughter 4 months ago. Her husband is a sheriff's deputy.

Saturday marked the `st time a Palm Springs police officer was killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was fatally shot Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.

"I'm heartbroken over what happened," said Hestrin, whose father was a Palm Springs cop. "But we don't do this job based on emotions. Yes, it hurts, but we have to maintain the highest level of professionalism."

Felix was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 2 years in prison for a 2009 crime that originally drew an attempted murder charge but was pled down. He was also convicted of street gang activity.

After his release from state prison, he was accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police on the same street where he allegedly shot the 3 officers Saturday. Court records also show he was on probation at the time of the shooting for a misdemeanor DUI conviction.

Final respects will be paid to the 2 officers at a public memorial service Tuesday at the Palm Springs Convention Center. All Riverside County supervisors, as well as numerous other officials, are planning to attend.

Donations to Vega and Zerebny's families can be made at



Woman, 1 of 4 suspects, found guilty in beating death of USC grad student

A jury found an 18-year-old woman guilty of 1st-degree murder Thursday in the 2014 beating death of a USC graduate student from China. Alejandra Guerrero was also found guilty of 2nd-degree robbery, attempted 2nd-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. She is 1 of 4 defendants accused of murdering Xinran Ji, 24.

In July 2014, Ji was walking home when authorities said video captured Guerrero and her co-defendants - Andrew Garcia, 20, Jonathan Del Carmen, 21, and Albert Ochoa, 19, - stopping Ji on the street to rob him. They were armed with a metal bat and a wrench.

Security cameras from the electric engineering student's apartment building captured him as he returned home bloodied after the attack. His roommate found Ji dead inside the apartment the next morning.

"No outcome will bring back their son. But they don't want their son to die in vain," said Rose Tsai, the attorney for Ji's parents. "They are very appreciative for our system to give them the justice they've been hoping for and deserve."

The assault with a deadly weapon charge was for a 2nd attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler State Beach, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Guerrero is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 28. Her co-defendants' trials are scheduled to start in November.

Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty against Garcia and Del Carmen, while Ochoa and Guerrero are not eligible for the death penalty.

(source; KABC news)


Europe's last dictatorship brings back the death penalty----Belarus has resumed sentencing people to death, just 8 months after the EU dropped sanctions, a study has found.

The last European country to retain capital punishment has resumed sentencing people to death since EU sanctions against its president were dropped this year, according to a landmark investigation.

In recent months Belarus has executed 1 person and condemned 4 more to death, with more cases pending in which capital punishment is likely, according to investigators with the Paris-based human rights organisation FIDH, and the Viasna human rights centre in Minsk.

Described by investigators as a "scandal at the heart of Europe", about 400 people have been executed in Belarus since independence in 1991 - more than 1 a month.

The human rights report documents the physical and psychological abuse used to extract confessions and the shocking conditions in which death row inmates are kept and later executed.

Interviews with local journalists and lawyers reveal a practice shrouded in secrecy, with statistics on the numbers killed by the state closely guarded by Belarus's government.

The time and locations of the executions, as well as the places of burial, are also kept classified, with the bodies of prisoners never released to families.

Sacha Koulaeva, head of the FIDH's eastern Europe and central Asia desk, said the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus was an achievable goal if the European Union put pressure on the government. "We would like to mobilise the international community to call for Europe to be a death penalty-free zone," she said.

Koulaeva said evidence suggested international intervention had already proved effective: while the EU was negotiating lifting sanctions between 2013 and 2015, executions almost stopped.


Sanctions were imposed on Belarus by the EU and US after the 2010 presidential election, during which protests were violently put down and opposition figures jailed by the intelligence services. The sanctions affected 170 people, including President Lukashenko himself. Brussels suspended them for four months in October 2015 after Mr. Lukashenko was re-elected peacefully (though in distinctly dubious circumstances). It agreed to drop them altogether in February this year, citing "improving EU-Belarus relations". There is evidence that as Mr. Lukashenko warmed to the West he has cooled towards Russia, hitherto his close ally, though it remains a member of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. In particular, Minsk has hosted Ukraine peace talks and remained neutral over the conflict.

Maya Foa, a director at the UK human rights group Reprieve, said the report showed the EU needed to do more to end the practice.

"The EU and member states are regularly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and this is now more important than ever," she said. "Executions are on the rise around the world and it is critical that the EU not only stands by its 'strong and principled opposition to the death penalty', but actively advances this principle in its diplomatic and trading relationships with executing states."

In response to the report's finding, members of the EU mission to Belarus, including the deputy head, Jim Couzens, called for an immediate moratorium on the practice.

The death penalty was introduced in Belarus during Soviet rule as a punishment for murder, "economic crimes" (such as producing counterfeit money, bribery and speculation), as well as "counter-revolutionary acts" including treason and espionage. Since 1991, the government has continued to apply several clauses of the Soviet-era criminal code, the last of the former USSR countries to do so.

Alexander Lukashenko, who assumed office in 1994, has broadened the powers of the president over his 22 years in office, earning Belarus the nickname of Europe's "last dictatorship".

The authorities and state media outlets enthusiastically defend the use of the death penalty by claiming its use reduces crime. However, new analysis by the FIDH and Viasna shows this justification to be false: in 2015, the internal affairs ministry reported 4,018 counts of serious crime, an increase of 17% on 2014.

Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign against the death penalty led by Viasna, told researchers the conditions in which inmates are held had deteriorated. He spoke to witnesses who have worked in Belarus's death row facilities, who described cells just 3 metres large, fitted with video cameras to watch inmates at all times.

A former staff member of Pretrial Detention Centre no 1 in the centre of Minsk,told Viasna: "From the very beginning, they face maximum security restrictions ... The rules prohibit them from lying or sitting on the plank beds from 6am to 10pm. They usually walk around the cell all day long."

Another former staff member said death row inmates were kept in complete isolation and treated as if they are no longer "among the living". Those condemned to death are kept without any information about their execution date, a practice Koulaeva described as "cynical" and one that distresses the prisoners.

The report also reveals the trauma inflicted on the families of those sentenced to death.

Though the Belarusian criminal code stipulates that one family member must be notified in the event of an execution, it does not specify how. In most cases, families learn that an execution has been carried out only upon the delivery of personal belongings after death.

Tamara Sialiun, whose 27-year-old son Pavel was convicted of 2 counts of murder and mutilating a dead body in 2012, told investigators that the first she knew of her son's execution was when a package arrived containing his prison uniform. He had been shot in the head.

"After everything that happened, I received a notification from the post office to pick up a parcel from Minsk. It was the robe and boots of my son. When I got home, I just didn't know what to do," said Sialiun, 1 of 3 women interviewed. She has since filed a complaint to the UN human rights committee over the treatment she and her son received.

Koulaeva said the report painted a vivid portrait of the process by which men were being convicted and killed, a process she described as deeply flawed and carried out with "total disregard to international obligations".

"The conditions in which this action takes place are terrible," she said. "[It is] a terrible ritual, and a terrible thing to witness."

(source: The World Weekly)


58% of Serbs Vote to Bring Back the Death Penalty - Poll

If a referendum on the need to bring back the death penalty was held today a record 58 % of Serbs would say "yes," according to the latest poll conducted by the public advocacy group Serbia Against the Death Penalty.

The rash of shocking crimes recently committed in Serbia, like the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl, would certainly make anyone see red. In an interview with Sputnik, sociologist Sandra Radenovic said, however, that the public wrath was in large part excited by the local media's sensationalist coverage of such incidents which he described as a new tactic all too eagerly embraced by Serbian media.

"They are breaking the most elementary norms of journalistic ethics by constantly bombarding people with all sorts of grisly details. We emotionally react to this of course and immediately think about what we would do to this bastard. The problem is, however, that in our thoughts, we become just like him or even worse," Sandra Radenovic told Sputnik. Virtually every 3rd citizen of Serbia voted for capital punishment with only 11 % saying a flat "no."

The death penalty was abolished in Serbia in 2001 but it remains very much alive in the minds of the people who fear criminals feel no compassion for murderers, child molesters and drug dealers. They simply want them dead, criminologist Zlatko Nikolic said.

Compassion is something that comes to us as we become socialized. It doesn't "turn off" our innate instinct of self-protection though and we are ready to fight for our kids, to stay alive, for our home and our sources of food and water. The mere fact that while answering the pollsters' questions, people do not consider compassion means that the basic instincts they are endowed with at birth prevail," Nikolic added. Sandra Radenovic still sees this as a sign of the demoralization of Serbian society.

"The issue of the death penalty is an ethical or, rather, bioethical issue. It's about the value of human life, whether some people's lives have less value than others," she said. Zlatko Nikolic pointed to the selective and very slow judicial process as a reason why so many people voted for the return of capital punishment.

"The Anglo-Saxon judicial system we have today with all these endless negotiations with criminals is a sign of a weak state, that's why people want to take the law into their own hands. Uncertainty is killing your heart and soul. If you see someone who caused you harm being tried forever you start asking questions. In Serbia and just about anywhere else people don't understand why the courts take so much time handing down sentences. But, as lawyers say, 'it's better to let 100 guilty people walk then execute someone who is innocent,'" Nikolic said.

He added that at the start of her 1st term as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bent under public pressure and brought back the death penalty. This didn't help as the average crime rate never changed.



Supreme Court upholds acquittal of man sentenced to death

The Supreme Court upheld Thursday a High Court decision that Hsu Tzu-chiang, who has repeatedly appealed convictions for kidnapping, extortion and murder of a real estate businessman in 1995, was not guilty of all the charges.

Hsu was declared innocent by the High Court last year in the ninth retrial of his case, in which he was accused of playing a role in the September 1995 kidnapping and murder of Huang Chun-shu, a real estate broker, whose kidnappers originally demanded a ransom of NT$70 million (US$2.2 million).

The High Court overturned the conviction last year, as the ruling in his 9th retrial found that there were major flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence and testimonies.

Hsu is 1 of 3 men sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder.

The 2 other suspects - Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung - were found guilty of being the main perpetrators, and were each given the death penalty.

During their trials, the 2 men said Hsu also participated in the kidnapping.

The High Court upheld District Court rulings on Huang and Chen, and the Supreme Court rejected their appeals in 2000, making their death sentences final. Extraordinary appeals were filed on the behalf of the pair and Hsu in the following years.

Activists and Hsu's lawyers criticized Hsu's conviction on the grounds that it was based on the confessions of his co-defendants.

(source: The China Post)


Questioning capital punishment

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations' recent call to abolish capital punishment should serve as a catalyst for informed and broad public discussions. Both the Justice Ministry and the lawyer group have an important role to play in making necessary information available to ensure those discussions are meaningful. The ministry's responsibility is especially heavy - the secrecy surrounding this nation’s death penalty system is often blamed for the lack of public discourse on the issue.

The bar federation adopted a resolution calling for ending capital punishment at its Oct. 6 meeting in Fukui for promoting protection of human rights, with 546 of the 786 participants supporting it. Some lawyers who support capital punishment criticize that it is unreasonable for the organization not to accept letters of attorney from members who could not attend the meeting. Still, the declaration by the organization comprising some 37,600 Japanese lawyers and hundreds of registered foreign legal professionals is significant. The federation in the past always stopped short of calling for an outright end to death penalty, although at a similar meeting 5 years ago it called for starting broad discussions on abolishing capital punishment and requested that the justice minister suspend executions.

A key factor behind the move is an international trend. According to Amnesty International, 102 countries had abolished the death penalty as of the end of 2015, a sharp increase from 60 in 1996, and another 38 countries have not carried out executions for 10 years or longer. Of the 35 OECD member countries, only Japan, the United States and South Korea retain capital punishment as an institution, although South Korea's last execution was in 1997. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee urged Japan to "give due consideration in the abolition of the death penalty."

Since the current Abe administration came to power in December 2012, a total of 16 inmates have been executed. The bar federation calls for abolishing capital punishment by 2020, when the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is to be held in Japan.

More fundamental factors behind the resolution are inherent problems in the death penalty system, including its vengeful nature as criminal punishment and its cruelty. While noting that even the worst offenders stand a chance of reintegrating with society, the federation charges that if an innocent person or an offender not truly deserving death is executed, the human rights violation is irrecoverable. The risk of false charges and convictions have been highlighted by the fact that 4 inmates on death row were exonerated in retrials in the 1980s and by the freeing in 2014 of Iwao Hakamada after spending 48 years behind bars. He had been sentenced to death for the 1966 murders of 4 people on the strength of evidence apparently fabricated by the police.

Supporters of the death penalty refer to the sentiments of crime victims and their family members - who are inclined to think that killers deserve execution - as well as public opinion that favors capital punishment. In the 2014 version of a survey conducted every 5 years by the Cabinet Office, 80.3 % of respondents said the death penalty is unavoidable, while only 9.7 % called for abolishing the system.

At the same time, 40.5 % of those who endorsed the death penalty system said it can be abolished in the future "if the situation changes." Of all the respondents, 37.7 % said the death penalty should be scrapped if life imprisonment without parole is introduced. Currently, a person serving a life sentence has a chance of being paroled after serving at least 10 years in prison. The JFBA's declaration proposed introduction of either life imprisonment without parole or granting parole only after the inmate has spent 20 to 25 years behind bars - in place of hanging.

But discussions about capital punishment should not just focus on substituting stricter varieties of life in prison. The Justice Ministry should not only provide sufficient information about Japan’s system but study and disclose criminal punishment policies and public opinions on the death penalty in other countries. This kind of information is indispensable for informative discussions.

The government should gather and provide information as to whether capital punishment is an effective deterrent to crime, including through comparison of examples of countries that maintain the death penalty and those that have abolished it. Relying just on public opinion endorsing capital punishment to justify its existence does not stand up to reason.

Another point to consider is whether the treatment of death row inmates is humane enough. Such prisoners in Japan are kept in solitary confinement and their communication with people outside is tightly restricted. Currently, the ministry doesn't give advance notice of executions to the inmates nor to their lawyers and relatives, and it is not clear what criteria is used in deciding when a prisoner is to be executed.

Since the introduction of the lay judge system in 2009, it is now possible for ordinary citizens to take part in handing down a death penalty. That alone calls for more public discussions on capital punishment. Relevant authorities and parties should not dismiss the JFBA's call but use it as material for the public to think about the issue, irrespective of which position they take on the matter.

(source: Editorial, The Japan Times)


Public Defender Challenges Execution Order Against Iranian Child Bride for Alleged Crime Committed as Juvenile

The execution order against Zeinab Sekaanvand Lankarani, who was married off at 15-years-old to the man she allegedly killed 2 years later, is being challenged by her public defender. Lankarani, imprisoned at Urmia Central Prison in northwestern Iran, is accused of killing her husband when she was 17 years old.

"Zeinab admitted to the murder while she was being interrogated, but in court she denied it and said her husband's brother carried out the crime and told her to take the blame," Rita Tootoonchi, Lankarani's court-appointed lawyer, told the International Campaign for Human Rights on October 12, 2016. "In the Appeals Court I presented evidence that showed Zeinab may not have been the murderer ... Zeinab is right-handed, but the direction of the knife wound showed that it had to have come from the opposite hand."

"I am hoping my request will be accepted and the execution will be postponed by the Supreme Court after considering the fact that she was under 18 years old at the time of the crime," she added.

Tootoonchi also told the Campaign that she had not been in contact with her client since she was informed by judicial authorities on October 3 that Lankarani's execution would be carried out "within the next few weeks, unless the victim's family agrees to stop it."

"I asked the victim's family to pardon Zeinab and told them that it's not really clear that she was the murderer. She may have had an accomplice who actually made the blows. But unfortunately the victim's family have not agreed and they want retribution," she said.

"All I can do at this point is ask the court to consider Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code, so that maybe then her life could be spared. Unfortunately, Zeinab does not have anyone to look after her case, and the victim's family has not pardoned her, unfortunately," added Tootoonchi.

According to Article 91: "... if mature people under 18 years do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age, they shall be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter."

According to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Iran is party to both treaties. Nonetheless, Iran remains one of a handful of countries still putting juveniles to death. Lankarani was born in Maku, in Kurdistan Province. She was arrested on March 1, 2012 and charged with killing Hossein Sarmadi, who she was married off to 2 years earlier at the age of 15. She was sentenced to death on October 22, 2014 by Branch 2 of the Urmia Criminal Court. The ruling was later confirmed by the Supreme Court, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported on October 4, 2016.

According to official Iranian statistics, tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are married off by their families each year in Iran. The United Nations has categorized child marriage as a human rights violation. Civil and children's rights activists in Iran have opposed religious conservatives who advocate child marriage.

(source: Iran Human Focus)


Iran Holds the Highest Number of Executions Per Capita in the World

The mayor's office in Paris' 1st district hosted an exposition into executions in Iran on October 10, The World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The exposition, organized by the Support Committee for Human Rights in Iran (SCHRI), featured speeches from politicians, human rights activists and witnesses of human rights violations from Iran.

It focused, most notably, on the 1988 Iranian Massacre but also the continued execution of political prisoners which has been denounced by the U.N. Secretary General.

Jean-Francois Legaret, the mayor of Paris' 1st district, said that there is "a battle to fight against the death penalty and other barbaric acts in Iran".

He stated that the West must not negotiate with Iran's barbaric regime.

Henri Leclerc, Honorable President of the League for Human Rights, said that the West could not let Iran's extensive use of the death penalty go unchallenged and warned that "unpunished crimes will recur."

During 1988, the Iranian Regime murdered 30,000 political prisoners; mainly members of the People's Mojahidin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Further evidence of the Iranian Regime's role in the massacre was revealed in August after an audio recording of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri admonishing a Death Committee was leaked online.

Speaking of the 1988 Massacre, Leclerc said: "It is a crime against humanity when we know that thousands were executed while they were in prison. This must be denounced and we must act. We have sufficient materials. I hope that the U.N. conducts an investigation which brings those responsible to trial."

Leclerc said that the victims "died for liberty around the world; these men, women, and children have a right to justice. If we leave such crimes unpunished, it is our future that will truly be tragic."

The speakers emphasized the importance of bringing those responsible for the 1988 Massacre before an international court to account for their "crimes against humanity".

Jacques Boutault, the mayor of Paris' 2nd district thanked the Iranian Resistance and those who fought to bring human rights to Iran. He highlighted that the Iranian regime is complicit in Syrian Civil War and called on the French government to denounce Iran's crimes in Syria.

Iran holds the highest number of executions per capita in the world and executed 1,000 people in 2015 alone.

(source: iranfocus)


CJ nominee David Maraga says MPs to decide fate of death penalty

The Chief Justice nominee, Justice David Maraga, has stated that the responsibility of withholding or abolishing the death penalty rests with Parliament.

Speaking when he appeared before the National Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee for vetting, Justice Maraga, who was nominated for the position by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), said that as the Chief Justice, he would not have any powers to decide the fate of death penalty since it has to be abolished through an Act of Parliament.

"The world is moving away from the death penalty and this issue is also being debated in other countries. It is a fundamental issue but can only be dealt with by the Parliament; the court can only come up with principles of law within the given legal framework," he said.



Kenya takes death penalty debate to the people

The 2nd and final leg of the Kenyan national public debate on capital punishment has begun.

The debate is to solicit views from Kenyans on the administration of capital punishment and management of capital offences.

The public discussion, which is being spearheaded by the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (POMAC) and National Crime Research Centre (NCRC), will be conducted in 28 counties countrywide, within the next 2 months.

The debate provides a platform for Kenyans to express their opinions on capital offences and what form of punishment capital offenders should be subjected to.

According to the Kenyan law, 5 types of offences attract capital punishment. These are: murder, treason, and robbery with violence, attempted robbery with violence and oathing with intent to commit a felony.

After the debate, the committee will document findings of the public views and make appropriate recommendations.

The 1st public dialogue took place in June in the first 19 counties.

In 2009, former President Mwai Kibaki commuted the sentences of all those on death row to life imprisonment. The decision affected over 4,000 prisoners and at the time was said to be one of the largest commutation of death sentences anywhere in the world.

According to the Kenya Prisons Act, executions are to be carried out by hanging. The last hanging in Kenya took place in 1987 after the plotters of the August 1982 coup attempt were sentenced to death.



Filipino fit to enter plea, stand trial: Insp

A 36-year-old Filipino charged with murder is fit to enter his plea and stand trial, the Magistrate's Court heard on Wednesday.

Inspector Azaman Hamat, prosecuting, informed Magistrate Jessica Ombou Kakayun on the outcome of a report obtained from Hospital Mesra Bukit Padang on Ismail Rasad.

Ismail was referred to the psychiatric centre months ago following a request from his counsel to observe his mental condition.

Azaman, however, applied for another mention date since the medical report has not been received yet.

The court fixed Nov 23 for mention of the case.

Ismail, a Bajau holding the IMM13 document, is accused of committing the offence on one Md Adzmar Alex, 19, also a Bajau holding the IMM13 document at 11.30pm on May 1 at Kampung Rampayan.

No plea was taken from him under Section 302 of the Penal Code which carries the death penalty on conviction.

Ismail was represented by counsel Timothy Daut.

(source: Daily Express)

OCTOBER 13, 2016:


A story of Revenge, Change and Forgiveness

He was a "Lone Wolf" - years before the term was appropriated to describe self-inspired individuals on a killing rampages who use religion as vindication of their actions.

In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Mark Stroman began "hunting Arabs," - as he described it - his nights occupied by prowling the highways and running victims off the road.

To avenge the deaths of the twin towers, he graduated to shooting people whom he believed were Muslims from the Middle East - they were actually immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and a Hindu from India. He killed 2 and partially blinded a young man from Bangladesh.

Thankfully, he was arrested before he could commit his planned massacre of dozens of Muslim worshipers at a local Dallas Mosque. Stroman was going to make a statement "like Muhamad Atta (the hijacker of the first 9/11 plane) did" trying to avenge the senseless killing of innocent Americans by killing innocent Muslim worshipers. To his friends, he had said that he planned to die in the carnage and mayhem. Luckily police got to him first.

The Press at the time described Stroman as an "American terrorist." Today we might as well call him an "American Lone Wolf."

From 2004 and for the next 7 years, filmmaker Ilan Ziv met and befriended Mark Stroman on Texas' infamous death row, where he had been since his capital murder conviction in 2002. At trial Stroman was described by the prosecutor as a "monster, a cancer to society", yet Ilan was perplexed to meet a complex man full of contradictions, who shared the same troubled soul as the most recent "lone wolves" who used Jihad as a cover for their personal failings and justification for their crimes. By then, Stroman had become a man in search of meaning and redemption. So Ziv set out to document what he called "the enigma of Mark Stroman."

The result is a fascinating portrait of a serial killer, and a unique insight into the profound changes he went through.

Ziv chronicled his relationship on film, but also set up a blog for Stroman. Unbeknownst to both the filmmaker and Stroman, among the growing readership was Rais Bhuiyan, Mark's only surviving victim.

An Islamic pilgrimage seeded in Rais a desire to forgive Mark and to spare his life. He had a "strange" idea: if he was ever to be whole, he must reenter Stroman's life. He longed to confront Stroman and speak to him face to face about the attack that changed their lives.

Mark asked for forgiveness from his victims and Bhuiyan publicly forgave him, in the name of his religion and its notion of mercy. Then two months before Mark's execution, Rais waged a legal and public relations campaign against the State of Texas and Governor Rick Perry, to have his attacker spared from the death penalty.

An Eye for an Eye is the record of this riveting human drama of revenge, change and forgiveness, and of the surprising friendship that developed between the Israeli born filmmaker and Mark Stroman, who by his own admission, had never travelled beyond Dallas let alone Texas.

It is a tale that stands as a poignant message in times when fear, hate and revenge are part of the daily rhetoric.

3 days before his execution, Mark Stroman declared in an interview; "If a terror attack happens again, stay united and do not stereotype the Muslims ... Don't be a dumbass ... do not be a Mark Stroman." Those words are more relevant today than when they were recorded just 5 years ago.

In theatres October 28th

New York - Cobble Hill Cinemas

Dallas/Ft. Worth - AMC Grapevine Mills 30

Houston - AMC Studio 30

Los Angeles - Laemmle Music Hall

New York

Cobble Hill Cinemas

265 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA

Phone: 718-596-4995

Dallas- Ft. Worth

AMC Grapevine Mills 30

Grapevine Mills, 3150 Grapevine Mills Pkwy, Grapevine, TX 76051, USA

Phone: 972-539-5909


AMC Studio 30

2949 Dunvale Rd, Houston, TX 77063, USA

Phone: 713-977-4431

Los Angeles

Laemmle Music Hall

9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, USA

Phone: 310-478-3836



DA to seek death penalty in killing of deputy

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty for the man suspected of fatally shooting a Sheriff's Office deputy earlier this year. District Attorney Paul Connick announced the decision Thursday morning after a grand jury indicted Jerman Neveaux on a count of 1st-degree murder in the death of Deputy David Michel.

Authorities have said Neveaux shot Michel during a struggle after Michel stopped Neveaux on Manhattan Boulevard in June.

"We believe the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Detective Michel warrant the harshest penalty," Connick said in a prepared statement. "After consulting with my staff and Detective Michel's family, I have decided that my office will seek the death penalty."

Neveaux also was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm, 2 counts of resisting arrest by force or violence and one count of possession of a stolen firearm.

(source: WWL TV news)


Motions to take death penalty off the table denied

The death penalty remains a possible sentence for accused cop-killer Jonathan Renfro.

Motions to take execution off the table for Renfro were denied Wednesday by District Court Judge Lansing Haynes during a pre-trial hearing at the Kootenai County Safety Building.

Filed by Renfro's public defense attorneys after several similar motions were denied last month, the motions considered Wednesday argued a variety of reasons Renfro, 27, should be spared execution if convicted of f1st-degree murder for the May 2015 killing of Coeur d'Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore.

One of the motions denied called for the judge to preclude the death penalty because the Public Defender's Office receives inadequate funding to do its job effectively. Public defenders argued their case load in Kootenai County is too high, making it difficult for them to provide adequate representation for any defendant.

"Based on the evidence and those arguments, the court is going to deny the defendant's motion to preclude the death penalty," Haynes ruled.

Renfro was present at Wednesday's hearing at the Kootenai County Public Safety Building, donning a red-and-white striped jumpsuit.

Also in an another attempt to avoid the death penalty, Renfro's defense motioned to suppress video evidence gathered during Moore's interaction with Renfro, claiming it shows an unreasonable seizure.

According to police reports, Moore stopped Renfro around 1:30 a.m. when he walked down the sidewalk of a dark and quiet Coeur d'Alene neighborhood which had been targeted by car prowlers. Moore reportedly called in Renfro's driver's license information over the radio shortly before the shooting.

Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams said an unconstitutional seizure ruling would bump the first-degree murder charge down to a 2nd-degree murder charge. The death penalty cannot be invoked with a 2nd-degree murder case. That motion was also denied.

"This court finds that Mr. Renfro was never detained or if he was, slightly detained, during the call-in of information to the dispatch center," Haynes said. "That was a reasonable action by the police as it led to learning that Mr. Renfro was on probation and that further inquiry was reasonable police conduct."



PCHR: 20 Years Against Death Penalty; Facts on Death Penalty in Palestine and PCHR's Position

"On the World Day against Death Penalty, we stress that our struggle will continue on all levels to abolish this penalty ... We believe, as everybody else do, the purpose of this punishment is reform and deterrence. However, death penalty does not achieve both sides of this purpose.

This was proven with facts and researches made by the countries that apply this penalty the most ... Justice is meant to bring safety and serenity not revenge".

Lawyer Raji Sourani:


Death penalty is considered one of the most controversial issues in the Palestinian community for its social, religious and security dimensions in the Palestinian community particularly and Arab countries generally.

PCHR has had an obvious position against death penalty since the very first day it was established although PCHR has realized such a position will not be reasonable for a big sector of the community that has been affected by different misinterpretations of the religious text concerning this penalty or the common concept of deterrence gained by this penalty, which has not been proved by facts nor researches.

PCHR has worked throughout over 20 years against death penalty, created a social controversy against it and dedicated a big part of its efforts towards stopping this penalty paving the way for its abolishment.

PCHR's position is based on legal, reasonable and moral justifications explained in this paper below.

The split of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2007 frustrated the efforts aiming at the abolishment of death penalty.

It should be noted that PCHR has practiced huge efforts upholding a penal code without death penalty. PCHR went far on this track through meetings with decision makers, making correspondences, awareness-raising campaigns and debates until a draft of the Palestinian Penal Code was issued excluding death penalty.

On the 20th Anniversary of its Establishment, PCHR Launches Documentary Titled "PCHR: 20 Years of Experience"

Nonetheless, the split happened and not only obstructed all these efforts, but increased the application of this penalty also. There has a been a significant rise of this penalty following the Palestinian split, mainly in the Gaza Strip.

Death penalty in the PA is regulated by 3 penal codes. One of them is military and was issued by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) while the 2 others were civil; 1 of them is applicable in the West Bank and the other is applicable in the Gaza Strip.

These laws are flawed for the over-imposition of death penalty concerning many crimes, some of which are political such as "conspiracy to overthrow the government".

Military courts apply this penalty the most and practice their jurisdiction even on civilians in some cases, especially concerning collaboration with the Israeli occupation.

Bringing civilians before military courts is a grave violation of human rights and the Palestinian Basic Law (PBL) that stressed each person's right to be presented before his/her natural judge.

PCHR has always highlighted its bias for the victims of death penalty.

However, PCHR stressed that its position does not mean to be lenient with criminals or abandon the requirements of security. All of this does not distort PCHR's message of justice and righteousness that demands commitment to the justice requirements.

Justice requires that attributing a crime to its doer should be done without any logical doubts and any slight doubt found should be in favor of the accused person.

Moreover, the punishment must be commensurate with the crime and must not be degrading or severe, taking in consideration the punishment is imposed for reform not revenge.

This interpretation of justice is supported with studies and researches on which PCHR's position is based, especially concerning the relation between death penalty and security.

PCHR underscores that its vision regarding death penalty relies on legal, impartial and moral justifications that do not in any form contradict with the Islamic Shari'a goals, which glorify life and human dignity.

PCHR believes that the insistence on the application of this punishment, which is irreversible, although the conditions and requirements for applying it are not available may put lives of innocents at stake and jeopardize the community's serenity and security that are the main aims of justice.

Therefore, PCHR emphasizes on the World Day against Death Penalty, 10 October, that efforts will go on to abolish this inhumane penalty, taking in consideration the public interest and justice requirements that reject the killing of an innocent person.

This paper briefly displays facts about death penalty in Palestine and PCHR's position towards it in eight items. Moreover, it includes recommendations for decision makers. The 8 items are as follows:

1.Using death penalty before Palestinian courts.

2.Application of death sentences in Palestine.

3.Laws regulating death penalty in Palestine.

4.Number of crimes requiring the application of death penalty in the Palestinian law.

5.International obligations on the PA concerning death penalty.

6.Conditions required for the application of death penalty in Palestinian legislations.

7.To what extent Palestinian legislations related to death penalty fit the international standards.

8.PCHR's position.

First: Using Death Penalty by Palestinian Courts

Death penalty is defined as putting a person to death by a sentence issued by a competent court in due process. The Palestinian laws stipulate death penalty before Palestinian courts, whereas 10-15 death sentences are issued annually.

The majority of these sentences are issued in the Gaza Strip on grounds of collaboration with Israeli forces. Following are statistics relevant to using death penalty before Palestinian courts:

1.Facts on death sentences issued in 2016

--Death sentences that has been issued in 2016 so far are 16. All of them were issued in the Gaza Strip. Four of the sentences were issued by high courts upholding previous sentences.

--In 2016, 12 death sentences have been issued by military courts so far.

--In 2016 also, 4 death sentences have been issued by civil courts so far.

2.Facts on death sentences issued since the establishment of the PA in 1994 until now:

--Death sentences issued by different courts (civil and military) are 180.

--Number of death sentences issued in the Gaza Strip: 150.

--Number of death sentence issued in the West Bank: 30.

--Number of death sentences issued in the Gaza Strip following the Palestinian spit in 2007: 91.

--Number of death sentences issued by military courts since the split in Gaza: 67.

Second: Application of Death Sentences in Palestine

The number of death sentences applied in the PA so far are 35. 87 convicted persons are waiting in the Palestinian prisons for the application of death sentences. Following are facts relevant to the application of death penalty in the PA:

1.The Gaza Strip:

--The majority of death sentences in the Gaza Strip were applied following the internal split. All of them were applied without the ratification of the Palestinian President, as the previous government's Council of Ministers in Gaza approved all the sentences in a clear violation of the law, especially the 2003 PBL. There are 3 sentences that were applied following the formation of the unity government in 2014.

--Number of sentences applied upon the ratification of the President: 11.

--Number of sentences applied without the ratification of the Palestinian President in violation of the law, mainly article 109 of the PBL, and all of them were in the Gaza Strip: 22. 3 of them were applied after the unity government was formed.

2.The West Bank:

No death sentences have been applied in the West Bank since 2002 and the Palestinian President has not ratified any death sentence since 2005. In the West Bank, 2 death sentences have been applied since the establishment of the PA.

Third: Laws Regulating Death Penalty in Palestine

6 laws regulate death penalty in the PA; 3 of which are penal codes that identify criminalized acts and punishments imposed on them.

The 3 other laws are procedural, as they include certain texts relevant to the issuance or application of death sentences. Some of these laws are applicable in the Gaza Strip only while the others are applicable in the West Bank only. However, there are laws applied in both areas.

Following are these laws and in what areas they are applicable:

--Penal Code no. 74 issued by the British Mandate authorities for 1936. (Applicable in the Gaza Strip)

--Penal Code no. 16/1960. (Applicable in the West Bank)

--1979 Revolutionary Penal Code. (It was issued by the PLO and is applicable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip)

--2001 Penal Procedure Law. (Applicable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip)

--1979 Revolutionary Tribunal Law. (Applicable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip).

--2008 Military Justice Code. (Applicable in the Gaza Strip)

Fourth: Number of Crimes Requiring the Application of Death Penalty in the Palestinian law

The Palestinian penal codes identified the crimes the require the application of death penalty. These crimes were many; the majority of which were political. Following are a demonstration of a number of crimes punishable by death in the Palestinian law:

--The civil law (1939 Penal Code applicable in the Gaza Strip and Penal Code no.16/1960 applicable in the West Bank) provides that 15 crimes are punishable by death.

--The military law (1979 Revolutionary Penal Code) provides that 45 crimes are punishable by death.

Fifth: PA]s International Obligations relevant to Death Penalty:

In 2014, the State of Palestine acceded to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) without any reservations.

Thus, Palestine became bound by all the ICCPR's terms, including Article 6 which imposed guarantees and obligations on countries to apply this penalty until it is cancelled. Article 6 stipulates that:

"2- In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court .... 4. Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases. 5. Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women. 6. Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant."

Despite PCHR's persistent calls, the State of Palestine has not acceded yet to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Sixth: Conditions Required for the Application of Death Penalty in Palestinian Legislations

The Palestinian laws stipulate a number of procedural and impartial guarantees to issue or apply a death sentence. These guarantees are proper and meet the conditions required by the international standards, which impose such conditions on countries that have not so far abolished death penalty.

These guarantees are flawed for the absence of the rule of law in the Palestinian society and poor Penal Code.

--The death sentence should be unanimously issued by a competent court.

--The convicted person's crime should be among the crimes punishable by death penalty according to the Palestinian Penal Code.

--The sentence should be based on certainty not doubts.

--The sentence should be issued after providing the convicted with all the guarantees of the right to defense as ensured in the law.

--The sentence should be definitive and exhausting all steps of appeal.

--The sentence requires the PA President's ratification to be applied.

--The perpetrator should not be a pregnant woman (if the sentenced woman was proved to be pregnant, the punishment should be changed into hard labor for life according to 2001 Penal Procedure Law)

--The convicted should be 18 when committing the criminal act.

--The perpetrator should not be mentally ill.

--Death penalty should not be executed on public holidays.

--The sentenced should be allowed to see his relatives and a clergy man adopting his religion.

--Neither a public pardon (by the Palestinian Legislative Council) nor a private one (by the PA President) is issued for the convicted person.

Seventh: To What Extent Palestinian Legislations Related to Death Penalty Fit the International Standards

The legislations regulating the death penalty in the PA violate the human rights standards and rule of law as explained below:

--Penal Code no. 74/1936 applicable in the Gaza Strip stipulates death penalty for 15 crimes; most of which are political. The Code's criminalization items are open to interpretations so that any act against the Mandate's policies in Palestine would be liquidated. Moreover, some crimes that are punishable by death penalty do not fall within the most serious crimes. Thus, the terms of this Code constitute a clear violation of the intentional standards.

--Penal Code no. 16/1960 applicable in the West Bank violate the international standards as it stipulates that 15 crimes are punished with death penalty; most of which are political crimes related to national security and incitement. The Code's terms are also open to interpretations due to which they can be easily employed in the liquidation of political opponents.

--The 1979 Revolutionary Penal Code stipulates 45 crimes punishable by death; most of which are political crimes. The law does not differentiate between the times of war and peace, particularly treason crimes. Moreover, some crimes punishable by death are not categorized within the most serious crimes such as "Offending and inciting against the revolution."

--The 2008 Palestinian Military Justice Code regulates sentences related to the application of death penalty in Articles (91, 96, 102 and 104), emphasizing death penalty. It should be mentioned that this law was enacted by the Change and Reform Bloc, which holds its sessions on behalf of the PLC in the Gaza Strip.

Eighth: PCHR's Position

PCHR is basically rejecting death penalty for human reasons par excellence. However, PCHR's hard work in this field is not only motivated by this position, it is rather based on the justice requirements.

As mentioned above, there are a number of constitutional and legal guarantees for the application of death penalty included in the Palestinian laws.

The PA, especially in the Gaza Strip, cannot be committed to these guarantees, which violates the PA obligations according to article 6 of the ICCPR.

Following is an explanation of PCHR's position towards death penalty and the basis on which death penalty should be abolished in the PA.

1.PCHR's Position against Death Penalty in General:

PCHR's position against death penalty relies on humane and moral grounds. PCHR believes that its position does not conflict with the spirit and teachings of Islam that aims at maintaining the human life. Grounds on which PCHR's position is based are:

--Death penalty is inhuman and considered as an unjustifiable murder in the name of justice.

--PCHR believes that death penalty is a form of degrading torture, so it must be stopped.

--Death penalty is irreversible. Thus, if the sentenced person was later found out innocent, the remedy is impossible. The judicial history reveals many cases where convicted persons were later proved innocent after applying death sentence against them.

--Death penalty has not proved any special deterrent capability. However, studies related to death penalty application in the USA proved that crime rate in some states, which use death penalty, has not decreased compared to those not using death penalty.

--The rule and enforcement of law not death penalty is a real deterrence to the crime.

--Death Penalty dishonors the human dignity for the sake of which human rights organizations were established, as it is considered the most serious form of cruel and inhuman treatment.

--Around 141 countries legally or effectively abolished death penalty. Thus, the world is moving towards the abolition of this inhuman punishment. 2.PCHR's Position against Death Penalty Particularly in the PA-Controlled Areas:

PCHR opposes the use of death penalty in the PA controlled areas due to lack of adequate guarantees for the application of such serious and irreversible punishment. PCHR's position justifications are as follows:

--Lack of necessary potentials in the PA to conduct a thorough investigation into crimes. Moreover, the absence of an independent forensic department and lack of a forensic laboratory defeat the possibility of having accurate results, which is indispensable to reach a conviction based on certainty. Criminal justice requires that conviction is based on certainty and not doubts. It is worth noting that confession or in flagrante in itself is not sufficient for conviction based on certainty. The judicial history around the world has unveiled that many of those who confessed themselves committing crimes or were caught in flagrante were later found innocent.

--The serious impacts of the Palestinian split on the judiciary, particularly the unity of the judiciary and constitutionality of its formation, requires stopping an irreversible punishment like death.

--Concerns relevant to using this penalty on political grounds, especially in view of the internal split, which will lead to the absence of serenity and security.

--The abolishment of death penalty in Palestine does not contradict with the Palestinian people's beliefs, as the abolishment goes in harmony with the spirit of the Islamic Shari'a, which imposed tough restrictions on its application and allowed suspending punishments during hard economic or social times. Moreover, the Shari'a confirmed that punishments must not be applied in case of any doubts. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said, "Prevent punishment in case of doubt", and said also, "Avoid legal punishments upon the Muslims as much as you are able". In light of the presence of the Israeli occupation in Palestine and the poor economic, social and cultural conditions left behind, the negative psychological and social impact on the Palestinian civilians and the Palestinian split and its negative impact on the judiciary, stopping the application of death penalty is not only permissible in Islam but obligatory also.

--The legislations applicable in the PA-controlled areas cannot be a penal reference in Palestine, especially when talking about a punishment that is as serious as death penalty. One of the laws applicable in the PA-controlled areas that stipulates death penalty was issued during the British Mandate; it is the Penal Code 74/1936 applied in Gaza, which is considered an immoral law because it was issued then to deter any attempts to claim the Palestinian rights. This negatively affected the provisions of the law that criminalize any act against the government. On the other hand, the 1974 Revolutionary Penal Code is unconstitutional because it was issued by a body that is ineligible in the PA. Moreover, many of its provisions violate the minimum standards of justice. A number of the 1960 Penal Code provisions applicable in the West Bank were mainly set to deter any political opposition.

Ninth: PCHR's Recommendation

PCHR calls upon the Palestinian President to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to issue a Presidential decision to halt the application of this penalty until it is abolished by the PLC when convened;

1.Calls upon the PLC, when convened, to consider the Palestinian legislations and laws relevant to this punishment, mainly the Penal Code no. 74/1936 applied in the Gaza Strip and the Jordanian Penal Code no. 16/1960 applied in the West Bank, and to enact a unified penal code that goes in harmony with the international human rights conventions, including those relevant to death penalty.

2.Stresses the Palestinian President's position to not ratify any death sentence and highlights that ratifying death sentences is an exclusive power of the President according to the constitution and relevant laws. Moreover, no death sentence can be applied without the President's ratification.

--Raji Sourani is the Director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and winner of the Right Livelihood Award known as Alternative Nobel Prize in 2014.

(source: International Middle East Media Center)


Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif confirmed death sentence of 10 terrorists

Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif today confirmed death sentence handed down to 10 terrorists by military courts for their involvement in killing civilians, polio workers and armed forces personnel.

The 10 condemned terrorists, belonging to the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) rebel outfit, were convicted by speedy trial in military courts.

"These terrorists were involved in heinous offences related to terrorism, including killing of innocent civilians, polio workers, NGO employees, police officials and armed forces personnel," army said.

Fire-arms and explosives were also recovered from their possession.

The military courts were set up in Pakistan to expedite the trial process for terror-related offences following the December 2014 Talibans massacre at an army-run school in Peshawar in which over 150 people, mostly school children, were killed.

Following the attack, the government had lifted the moratorium on the death penalty and the Parliament passed the 21st amendment which established military courts which was challenged in the Supreme Court.

The top court ruled in favour of setting up of the courts in August last year.

It is not known where the trial was held and when the verdict of conviction announced, as the military courts work in secrecy due to fear of backlash by terrorists.



Death row: Be more transparent, Pardons Board, Prisons told

Amnesty International-Malaysia (AI-M) has urged for better transparency from the Pardons Board and the Prisons Department when it comes to the death penalty.

Speaking to FMT, AI-M Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu elaborated on her recent call for greater transparency in the use of the death penalty.

Shamini said at the moment, when the Pardons Board made a decision, it could go both ways, with an inmate either receiving clemency or being executed almost immediately.

Shamini said this was why better transparency was needed in how the Pardons Board and Prisons Department operated.

At present, due to a lack of transparency, inmates and families were not given sufficient notice, with some families being informed only 72 hours before an execution took place, making this a travesty of human rights.

Shamini said such short notice also meant a smaller window of opportunity for lawyers to file a last minute appeal or to present new evidence which could help change an inmate's fate.

Yesterday, Shamini called for greater transparency in the use of the death sentence after the handing over of birthday cards from Malaysians nationwide to Shahrul Izani Suparman, a death row inmate.

On Sept 25, 2003, Shahrul was arrested at a roadblock and police found 622g of cannabis, wrapped in 2 newspapers and placed in separate bags. He was sentenced to death on Dec 8, 2009.

The birthday cards effort was an initiative by Amnesty International Malaysia in conjunction with the 14th World Day Against Death Penalty, which falls on Oct 10 every year.

Shamini also supported a recent call by DAP lawmaker Ramkarpal Singh, who urged that the Pardons Board impose a time limit on clemency petitions for death row inmates as it was unfair to keep the condemned prisoners waiting as they languished on death row after exhausting all legal appeals.

Shamini said without a timeframe, death row inmates and their families were left in the lurch.

The Bukit Gelugor MP had voiced hope that the Pardons Board in every state would set a timeframe in deciding whether to approve petitions for clemency.

At present, there is no time limit for the board to dispose of such petitions.

The most recent execution in the country was that of former aircraft cabin cleaner Ahmad Najib Aris, who was hanged on Sept 23 for the murder of IT analyst Canny Ong Lay Kian in 2003 at Jalan Klang Lama, Petaling Jaya.



Texas death row inmate Danny Bible loses at US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused an appeal from Texas death row inmate Danny Paul Bible, who was convicted of the 1979 icepick slaying of a woman who went to his house in Houston to use a telephone and was found later stabbed 11 times, raped and dumped on the bank of a bayou.

The high court offered no comment on its rejection.

Bible, 65, does not yet have an execution date.

Court records show Bible has confessed to 4 killings, including 20-year-old Inez Deaton, whose slaying went unsolved for nearly 2 decades. He wasn't tied to her death until 1998 when he was arrested in Fort Myers, Florida, for a Louisiana rape and told authorities about killing Deaton in Houston and a woman and her baby west of Fort Worth in North Texas.

Bible previously served prison time after pleading guilty in 1984 in Palo Pinto County to killing another woman. Texas Department of Criminal Justice records show he arrived in prison with a 25-year sentence for that slaying plus 20 years for a robbery conviction in Harris County but was released in February 1992 to Montana.

While out of prison on a form of parole known as mandatory supervision, Bible "lived a life of extreme violence," according to a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier this year when Bible's appeal of his death sentence was rejected. It's that appeal that went to the Supreme Court.

At his 2003 capital murder trial in Houston for Deaton's death, prosecutors provided evidence of robberies, thefts, assaults and abductions, including the rape of an 11-year-old girl in Montana and his confessions to repeated sexual assaults of young nieces from 1996 to 1998.

Bible contended in his appeal that his lawyers, during the punishment phase of his capital murder trial in Houston, were deficient for not objecting to prosecutors' re-enacting a rape and how Bible tried to stuff his victim into a duffel bag. He also said in the appeal that he is disabled and in permanent pain after the prison van carrying him to death row in 2003 crashed, killing a corrections officer and the driver of another vehicle involved in the wreck.

Bible's appeals attorney, Margaret Schmucker, said Tuesday that her next option could be to seek clemency from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, although Abbott and previous governors have little history of commuting death sentences to life in prison.

Bible is "not a danger to anybody," Schmucker said. "He can't get out of a wheelchair by himself. He can't lift his arms. He can't do anything."

He also has a Louisiana sentence of life without parole, she said.

(source: Associated Press)


Race shouldn't matter in sentencing, but it does

In 1995, Duane Edward Buck was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her friend. During his sentencing hearing, the prosecution presented evidence of Buck's potential for recidivism, based on his criminal history, conduct, and demeanor. In defense, his court appointed attorney called a clinical psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, as an expert witness, who stated that he believed Buck's "black" race increased the likelihood of future dangerousness. Buck was subsequently sentenced to death and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence.

On October 5, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an oral argument on Buck's case. His new attorney, Christina A. Swarns, claims that his previous counsel was ineffective by knowingly calling an expert witness who testified that race was a factor in evaluating future dangerousness. Although the circumstances of Buck's conviction were not up for debate, his attorney asked the Justices to order "a new, fair sentencing hearing."

Although the Justices described what happened during the sentencing phase of Buck's case as "indefensible" and "abysmal," they raised considerable concern that the outcome of his case wouldn’t be impacted, if a new sentencing hearing were granted. The circumstances surrounding Buck's arrest were aggravating. His crimes were gruesome, he wasn't remorseful, and he had committed various acts of domestic violence prior to the murders. However, his defense attorney maintained that, "putting an expert scientific validity to this pernicious idea that Mr. Buck would be more likely to commit criminal acts of violence because he's black" led to an arbitrary death sentence decision. Her argument centered on the fact that the expert witness' testimony directly impacted the jury's future dangerousness determination, which is the prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas.

The attorney for the State, Scott A. Keller, did not defend the competency of Buck's public defender nor the racially bias statements made by the expert witness. Instead, he focused on the fact that the prosecutors did not use the expert witness' testimony to make their claims for capital punishment and that a new sentencing hearing would not change the outcome. To support his argument, Keller described how the "Petitioner executed a mother when she was on her knees in front of her children with her daughter jumping on her." He told the justices that Buck laughed about the murder of his victim and stated, "she got what she deserved," after the crime.

Despite the seriousness of the offense, the Justices continued to question why this case in particular should not be reopened. In 6 other cases in Texas, the court reopened cases, which used race as an aggravating factor in sentencing. However, in these six other cases, the State confessed error, which Keller contends is a different issue than race being introduced as an aggravating factor by the defense.

One of these cases involved Victor Hugo Saldano, who was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1996. In that case, the prosecution called the same expert witness that was called by Buck's defense attorney, Dr. Walter Quijano. In Saldano's case, he testified that " . . . because [Saldano] is Hispanic, this was a factor weighing in favor of future dangerousness ... African Americans and Hispanics are over-represented in prison compared with their percentage of the general population."

Since certain sociological issues are debatable, expert witness testimony can vary. Different studies can produce polarizing results due to disparate sample sizes and heterogeneity, research method quality, and analytic strategy, as well as error and bias. There are few issues that conclude with a scholarly consensus, but the nexus (or lack thereof) between race and crime is one of them. Although black and Latino males are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States, this is absolutely not a result of a higher proclivity for violence or crime. For decades, researchers have remarked on the differential treatment between white and non-white offenders at nearly every stage of the criminal justice process, sometimes due to racial bias. Moreover, modern research concludes that race has absolutely no bearing on the likelihood of recidivism.

Although it unclear whether Buck's death penalty sentence will be reaffirmed at a new sentencing hearing, the fact that race is being introduced by "experts" as an aggravating factor in sentencing determinations is incredulous and a further testament to the critical need for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

(source: Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco is the author of "Hidden in Plain Sight: America's Slaves of the New Millennium." She holds a Ph.D. in criminology, law and society from George Mason


Indigents at risk in death penalty cases

The state ensures that the indigent are not disadvantaged anywhere in the court system, but it has a high moral obligation to do so in capital cases.

"Lethally Deficient," a scathing recent report, reveals glaring disadvantages for indigents contesting death sentences on direct appeals. The nonprofit Texas Defender Service, which works to make the criminal justice system fairer, found that court-appointed attorneys undertaking these appeals are:

Outgunned. The defense "team" is limited to one attorney, though the standard is 2 in such cases. These attorneys lack the resources of district attorneys. And while these defense attorneys are required to meet minimum qualification standards, the selection method does not ensure that.

Underpaid. Flat fees and capped compensation create a "perverse incentive" for direct appeal lawyers to accept a high number of cases and reduce the hours devoted to each case.

Overworked. See above. They are accepting a high number of cases to make ends meet.

The result is that direct appeal lawyers are not adequately briefing their cases, communicate minimally with their clients, sometimes plagiarize from other appeals that may or may not have relevancy to their cases, and otherwise ignore "discretionary legal procedures," claims that might mean swift relief or obtain federal review.

The Texas Defender Service reviewed 84 death penalty direct appeals decided by the Court of Criminal Appeals between 2009 and 2015. Convictions were overturned on 3 cases - all of which had 2 attorneys working on them.

The report is a wake-up call for the Legislature. The report recommends that lawmakers create a capital appellate defender office to ensure better resources, establish a statewide appointment system that controls caseloads and provides uniform compensation, and require that 2 qualified attorneys be appointed to such cases.

These are sensible recommendations. The risk of innocent people being executed is simply too high.

(source: Editorial, San Antonio Express-News)


Texas tops death penalty markers

Texas is ranked No. 2 in state executions per capita at 0.207 behind Oklahoma from 1976 to February 2015, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. At the same time, Texas is 1st in the number of executions in the U.S. since 1976 by almost 5 times more death sentences than Oklahoma, which only sentenced 112.

Barney Ronald Fuller Jr., who was convicted of shooting his neighbors to death in May 2003 in East Texas, was executed at 6 p.m. on Oct. 5.

Fuller plead guilty to the crime in July 2004.

According to Texas' Office of the Attorney General, "Fuller was known to fire weapons on his rural property," and entered into a dispute with his neighbors, Nathan and Annette Copeland, after allegedly shooting their electric transformer. He was first charged with making a terroristic threat against Annette Fuller when he telephoned her stating, "Happy New Year, I'm going to kill you."

After notification of the charge, at approximately 1:30 a.m., "[Fuller] went on a shooting rampage at the Copelands' home, killing Nathan and Annette, wounding their 15-year-old son Cody in the shoulder," while unsuccessfully locating their 11-year-old daughter Courtney to cause her harm as well.

Fuller turned himself over to authorities that morning and confessed to the crime. Following his conviction and death sentence, Fuller sat on death row for 12 years.

On average, death row inmates await the ultimate sentence for capital murder convictions - a death sentence - for more than a decade. Some sit on death row for as long as 20 years.

DPIC states that many believe it is a double punishment: the wait in solitary confinement, which is used sparingly for general-population prisoners and can deteriorate their mental faculties, and the death sentence itself.

Texas reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and has since sentenced 521 to death row. Of that, Harris County accounts for more than 280. There are 254 counties in the state of Texas, and "136 have never sent a single offender to death row," according to DPIC.

Out of 21 states that have called for a stay of execution, more than a dozen cited lethal injection protocols and procedures. 2 of the states that are on a list of those experiencing death penalty flux - Nebraska and New Mexico - abolished the death penalty altogether.

In most states, the governor has the ability to impose a stay of execution and temporarily suspend a court order. That's not so in Texas. The governor does not have that authority and would need a constitutional amendment approved by voters before they could do so.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice lists John Battaglia - convicted of killing his 6- and 9-year-old daughters in May 2001 - as the last death row inmate scheduled for execution in 2016, but already has 5 more listed for execution in the first 4 months of 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court rarely takes on an argument that would challenge death penalty rulings as a whole. In May, justices refused to hear the case of a Louisiana man who was convicted of killing his 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend, who claimed he was unfairly sentenced to death not because of the crime itself but because of the color of his skin and the geographical area his case was tried, he and his lawyers charged.

Most argue the death penalty's unconstitutionality because each time it violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban of "cruel and unusual punishment."

On the same day as Fuller's execution, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an oral argument concerning the case Buck v. Davis, a Texas case that sentenced Duane Buck to death after "expert testimony from a psychologist who called Buck more likely to commit acts of violence in the future because he is Black."

Justices at least seem ready to take on social injustices in death row declarations.

Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer said percentages of COAs, or certificates of appealability, issued by U.S. Court of Appeals are arbitrary in cases such as the Fifth Circuit compared to its counterparts. A COA must be issued before a defendant can appeal a decision. The Fifth Circuit Court, serving Texas as a federal court of appeals, denies cases 60 % of the time compared to only 6 % and zero %, respectively, in the Eleventh and Fourth circuits.

For the moment, the fight is primarily contained to the lower federal courts 6 of the 8 seated U.S. Supreme Court justices mostly refuse to enter the fray.

(source: The Sealy News)


Florida Counties Buck National Trend In Death Penalty Sentences

Florida is an outlier when it comes to sentencing people to death.

A new report looked at each of the 3,143 county or county equivalents in the country to compare sentencing practices. Only 16 counties sentenced 5 or more people to death between 2010 and 2015, and 4 of those counties are in Florida.

Last year, 49 people were sentenced to death nationwide, less than half than in 2009. But Miami-Dade, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have consistently bucked that national decline in death penalty sentences over the past several years.

"We found that you have a combination of a personality-driven death penalty: you have these few prosecutors that are seeking and obtaining death sentences," said Robert Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard law school, which published the study. "Across the 16 [outlier] counties, they tend to have this over-zealous pattern."

He says this combined with inadequate defense lawyering creates a deadly combination.

He points to the recent defeat of Fourth Judicial Circuit Court State Attorney Angela Corey - whose district includes Duval County (Jacksonville) - as evidence of pushback from an electorate that does not support unusually harsh punishment for criminals.

"The idea that these communities are somehow different and somehow want the death penalty more is flatly false and that the much better explanation is these are places where you have a personality-driven death penalty," said Smith.

The report also found the vast majority of the people sentenced to death were individuals of color or with a history of mental illness.

Credit Fair Punishment Project

Florida is 1 of 2 states that currently allows non-unanimous juries to hand down death verdicts, a component of the sentencing process that came under scrutiny when the Florida Legislature was forced to re-write the sentencing process after a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down the previous method.

(source: WLRN news)


Prosecutors defend death penalty practices in wake of Harvard report that singled out Hillsborough, Pinellas

The state attorneys in two Tampa Bay area counties disputed criticisms in a Harvard University study Wednesday that called both "outliers" in their use of the death penalty.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober issued a lengthy statement defending his record and seeking to discredit the Fair Punishment Project, the Harvard Law School group that produced the study.

"The group releasing this report opposes the death penalty, and its report is nothing more than a position paper to support its cause," Ober said. "It makes no attempt to be fair and balanced."

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe called the study "intellectually dishonest."

"They use trigger words," McCabe said. "They use incendiary language."

The Fair Punishment Project placed Hillsborough and Pinellas among 16 counties in the nation that imposed 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, a finding it attributed to overzealous prosecutors, a lack of regard for mitigating factors like mental illness, and racial disparities.

The Tampa Bay Times received an advance copy of the report, embargoed until Wednesday morning's editions, but prosecutors did not - and therefore were at a loss to comment until after it was made public.

"The number of murder cases in those five years. One death penalty per year? You know, I just don't see where that rose to the level of blood lust or whatever they're trying to say," McCabe said. "What I saw looked more like a position paper than an academic study."

In a statement sent on campaign stationery, Ober said the report had simply declared the death penalty to be broken, based on "arbitrary criteria," rather than consider all relevant factors.

"In every death penalty case, my office carefully reviews the evidence and the facts surrounding the case," he said. "We carefully consider all the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining whether it is appropriate to have the jury and judge consider the death penalty as a sentencing option.

"We do not take lightly our responsibility to charge accurately in any case, especially a death penalty case. We seek justice one case at a time. We do not make decisions based on arbitrary standards that a special interest group opposing the death penalty establishes."

Ober went on to reference the case of Humberto Delgado, which was mentioned specifically in the report. Delgado, who was convicted of the 2009 shooting death of Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts, later had his death sentence overturned by the Florida Supreme Court due to his history of severe mental illness.

"After hearing all the evidence, a judge and a jury agreed that the death penalty was appropriate," Ober wrote of the Delgado case.

He also noted the cases of Dontae Morris, who was sentenced to death for murdering 2 Tampa police officers, and Edward Covington, sentenced to death for the brutal killings of his girlfriend and her 2 kids.

"I believe the people of Hillsborough County agree with my office's decision to seek the death penalty in these brutal and heinous cases," Ober wrote.

Bill Loughery, a retired Pinellas County prosecutor who sent killers Patrick Evans and Genghis Kocaker to death row, noted the jury heard all the evidence in both cases, including aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

"None of the evidence was hidden from the jury by the state," Loughery said. "They got to consider those things, and they recommended death. Maybe Harvard just disagrees with the jury."

Robert Smith, one of the report's researchers, reiterated Wednesday that the group itself has no official stance on the death penalty, but he personally believes it is unconstitutional.

"While we are not an advocacy organization," Smith said, "I believe that the results of our study are consistent with the view that the death penalty is administered in an unconstitutional manner."

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Death penalty recommended for Dothan man in Henry County murder

A Henry County jury returned late Wednesday with a recommendation of death for a 21-year-old Dothan man convicted in a 2014 shooting.

Attorney T.J. Haywood said the jury recommended the death sentence for all 3 of the capital murder convictions faced by his client, Justice Knight. The jury found Knight guilty late last month in the fatal shooting death of Jarvis Daffin. The jury found Knight guilty of capital murder during a robbery, capital murder during a kidnapping and capital murder during the shooting of a vehicle.

Haywood said the jury recommended the death sentence on an 11-1 vote on all 3 convictions. Haywood said a vote of 10-2 or more was required in order for the death sentence to be recommended.

The court can now choose to affirm the jury's recommendation or issue its own sentence. Knight faces the death penalty or life in prison without the opportunity for parole at his sentencing hearing.

Haywood said Knight will have a sentencing hearing before Circuit Court Judge Brad Mendheim on Oct. 27 at the Henry County Courthouse in Abbeville.

The 2-day sentencing phase of the capital murder case against Knight concluded late Wednesday. He was convicted of the capital murder charges late last month.

Prosecutors alleged during the week-long trial that Knight conspired to kill Daffin in order to take his tax refund money. District Attorney Doug Valeska said Knight and another man, Antwain "Duke" Wingard, participated in the murder. However, prosecutors said evidence indicates Knight is the trigger man.

Knight's 2nd attorney, Shaun McGhee, argued Knight was present but did not participate in the murder and that prosecution witnesses had favorable connections to Wingard and were motivated to point the finger at Knight.

Capital murder charges against Wingard are pending.

(source: Dothan Eagle)


Mobile DA Talks Alabama's Death Penalty

The death penalty has been a topic of debate recently in Alabama.

Earlier this month the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on the practice, determining it to be constitutional.

The statute was challenged by a former Mobile County defendant, Jerry Bohannon, who argued Alabama's death penalty was unconstitutional because it allowed judges not juries to have the final determination of a defendant's sentence.

However, the court ruled "that Alabama's capital sentencing scheme is consistent with the Sixth Amendment."

Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich says some crimes are heinous that some offenders deserve the death penalty.

"It is not easy to do. Prosecuting a death penalty case is emotional and there are no winners," said Rich. "There are no winners but it is our job."

A recent Pew Research study found that for the 1st time in 45 years Americans' support for the death penalty has dipped below 50 %.

Rich says a death sentence is about justice for both victims and their families.

"These were all senseless acts. Senseless killings, horrific killings in some cases gruesome bloody deaths. That is exactly why we have the death penalty in the state of Alabama," said Rich.

(source: WKRG news)


30 Years on Death Row----In an incredible miscarriage of justice, a prosecutor admits his cowardice and indifference led to the wrongful murder conviction of a man sentenced to death

The following is a script from "30 Years on Death Row" which aired on October 11, 2015. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Ira Rosen and Habiba Nosheen, producers.

There may be no greater miscarriage of justice than to wrongfully convict a person of murder and sentence him to death. But that's exactly what happened to Glenn Ford. He spent nearly 30 years on death row, in solitary confinement, in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison until new evidence revealed he did not commit the murder.

He was 1 of 149 inmates freed from death row since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. In all those exonerations, you have likely never heard a prosecutor admit his role and apologize for his mistakes in sending an innocent man to death row. But tonight, a prosecutor's confession. Marty Stroud, speaks of an injustice he calls so great it destroyed two lives: Glenn Ford's, and his own.

Marty Stroud: I ended up, without anybody else's help, putting a man on death row who didn't belong there. I mean at the end of the day, the beginning, end, middle, whatever you want to call it, I did something that was very, very bad.

It was 1983, Shreveport, Louisiana, and 32-year-old prosecutor Marty Stroud was assigned his first death penalty case. A local jeweler, Isadore Rozeman had been robbed and murdered. Quickly, Stroud zeroed in on Glenn Ford. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and was known to be a petty thief, and he admitted he had pawned some of the stolen jewelry. All that was enough to make him the primary suspect. Stroud knew a conviction would boost his career.

Marty Stroud: I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.

Bill Whitaker: Win regardless of the facts, the truth?

Marty Stroud: Looking back on it, yes. There was a question about other people's involvement. I should have followed up on that. I didn't do that.

Bill Whitaker: Why didn't you?

Marty Stroud: I think my failure to say something can only be described as cowardice. I was a coward.

Stroud now admits the cards and the system were stacked against Ford from the beginning: his court-appointed lawyers had never practiced criminal law.

Bill Whitaker: What kind of law did they practice?

Marty Stroud: One individual had general civil practice, and another one did succession, wills and estates.

Bill Whitaker: In a murder trial?

Marty Stroud: Here they are in a murder trial in Louisiana where a man was on trial for his life. And at the time I saw nothing wrong with that. In fact, I snickered from time to time saying that this was going to be...we're going to get though this case pretty quickly.

Stroud's case wasn't strong. There was no physical evidence linking Ford to the crime. The main witness incriminating Ford admitted in court she'd been coerced by police to make up her testimony. But what was more important to Marty Stroud was the composition of the jury.

Marty Stroud: There were no African Americans on the jury.

Bill Whitaker: Was that by design?

Marty Stroud: At the time of the case, we excluded African Americans because we-- I felt that they would not consider a death penalty where you had a black defendant and a white victim. I was the person that made the final call on the case with respect to jurors. And I was-- I was wrong.

Caddo Parish, Louisiana, is predominately white. Yet 77 % of those given the death penalty here in the last 40 years have been black.

Marty Stroud: So, when Glenn Ford walks into that courtroom, he's got a count of zero and 2 against him, and a fast ball's coming right at his head for strike 3.

It took the jury less than three hours to find Glenn Ford guilty. Afterwards, Stroud and his legal team went out and celebrated sending Ford to death row.

Marty Stroud: I had drinks. I slapped people on the back. We sang songs. That was utterly disgusting. You know, it-- I-- you see Mother Justice sometimes, and-- a statue. And she has a blindfold over her eyes. She was crying that night because that wasn't justice. That wasn't justice at all.

Ford was put in solitary confinement in one of the most infamous lock ups in America: Angola. The maximum-security prison has a well-earned reputation for harsh penalties and harsher conditions. Summer temperatures on death row commonly exceed 104 degrees.

Marty Stroud: Death row, you have maybe a 5x7 foot cell. You're in there every day. You get out one hour a day to walk around and you come back in. You do that day after day, year after year, and that's it. He was basically thrown in to a cell and forgotten.

Ford would become one of the country's longest-serving, death row inmates. Stroud went on to a successful legal career.

But all that changed when one of the initial suspects, a man named Jake Robinson, told a police informant he had killed the jeweler 3 decades earlier. Robinson is now in prison for another murder.

A court review of the new information found there was "credible evidence ... Glenn Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman."

Stroud's reaction when he was told Ford was innocent?

Marty Stroud: I thought I was going to throw up. Nauseous as it-- and I felt my face was just turning, like a fever. But then, the horror of knowing that yours truly had caused him all this pain.

Last year, Ford was exonerated and released from Angola. Pictures of his first free moments captured a rainbow in the sky and a smile on his face.

Bill Whitaker: What was it like to step outside the walls of that prison?

Glenn Ford: Like stepping in a brand new world; like breathing fresh air for the first time. It felt good.

But that good feeling didn't last. Shortly after being released, Ford learned he had stage IV lung cancer. Doctors told him he had only a few months to live. When we met Glenn Ford he was living in New Orleans, in a home for released prisoners.

Glenn Ford: And that hurt.

Bill Whitaker: Just to swallow water?

Glenn Ford: Feel like a flame!

Bill Whitaker: You were on death row for 30 years. Did you ever come close to an execution date?

Glenn Ford: Came within a week because the judge said he was retiring. And he wanted to put a death date on me.

Bill Whitaker: Did Mr. Ford get justice in this case?

Dale Cox: I think he has-- gotten delayed justice.

Dale Cox, the acting district attorney of Caddo Parish, got Glenn Ford released after receiving the informant's information. As he sees it, the justice system worked and no one, including Marty Stroud, did anything wrong.

Dale Cox: I don't know what it is he's apologizing for. I think he's wrong in that the system did not fail Mr. Ford.

Bill Whitaker: It did not?

Dale Cox: It did fact...

Bill Whitaker: How can you say that?

Dale Cox: Because he's not on death row. And that's how I can say it.

Bill Whitaker: Getting out of prison after 30 years is justice?

Dale Cox: Well, it's better than dying there and it's better than being executed----

There may be no more controversial prosecutor in the U.S. than Dale Cox. Between 2010 and 2014, his Caddo Parish office put more people on death row per capita than anywhere else in the country.

Dale Cox: I think society should be employing the death penalty more rather than less.

Bill Whitaker: But there have been 10 other inmates on death row in Louisiana who have been exonerated. Clearly, the system is not flawless. Are you sure that you've gotten it right all the time?

Dale Cox: I'm reasonably confident that-- that I've gotten it right.

Bill Whitaker: Reasonably confident?

Dale Cox: Am I arrogant enough, am I narcissistic enough to say I couldn't make a mistake? Of course not.

Bill Whitaker: But until this information came out, the state was convinced that Mr. Ford was guilty.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: He could have been killed.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: And it would've been a mistake.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like you're saying that's just a risk we have to take.

Dale Cox: Yes. If I had gotten this information too late, all of us would've been-- grieved beyond description. We don't want to do this to people who are not guilty of the crime they're charged with.

According to Louisiana law, Glenn Ford was entitled to $330,000, about $11,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment. But the state is denying him the money. Why? In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman's jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn't report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that's reason enough to deny him.

Bill Whitaker: Do you believe he should be compensated for the time he spent in prison?

Dale Cox: No, I think we need to follow the law. And the statute does not require that you be charged or convicted or arrested for any of these other crimes. The statute only requires that Mr. Ford prove he didn't do these other crimes.

Bill Whitaker: So he's guilty until proven innocent in this case?

Dale Cox: No, because it's not a question of guilt or innocence. It's a question of whether he's entitled to money...taxpayer money.

Bill Whitaker: But you say he has to prove that he's innocent of these other charges, these other crimes for which he's never been charged, for which he's never been tried.

Dale Cox: That's correct.

Bill Whitaker: He has to prove he's innocent of them in order to get the compensation?

Dale Cox: That's correct.

Bill Whitaker: I'm trying to understand. He was punished for something that he might have done. That doesn't seem fair.

Dale Cox: You want fairness...

Bill Whitaker: Isn't the law supposed to provide fairness?

Dale Cox: It is supposed to provide justice.

Bill Whitaker: You don't think he deserves compensation

Dale Cox: I think that the law must be followed.

Glenn Ford: What law is this? I never heard of such law where it says it's OK to do what they did to me without any type of compensation.

There was some compensation. Glenn Ford was given a $20 gift card the day he left Angola prison.

Glenn Ford: Gave me a card for $20 and said "Wish you luck."

Bill Whitaker: How long did that last you?

Glenn Ford: One meal. I had some fried chicken, tea and the French fries came with it. I had $4 and change left.

Bill Whitaker: After 30 years in prison?

Glenn Ford: Right.

Bill Whitaker: 30 years on death row in solitary confinement and the state of Louisiana releases Mr. Ford with a $20 gift card.

Dale Cox: You're trying to portray the state of Louisiana as some kind of monster. I got him out of jail as quickly as I could. That's what the obligation of the state is.

"I'm not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business."

Bill Whitaker: And that's the end of the state's obligation?

Dale Cox: As far as I'm concerned.

Bill Whitaker: What about compassion? Have you no compassion for what Mr. Ford has been through?

Dale Cox: Well, you don't know me at all, do you? But you have no problem asking that question.

Bill Whitaker: No, I'm asking 'cause I'm seeking an answer.

Dale Cox: I'm not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business. I think the ministry is in the compassion business. We're in the legal business. So to suggest that somehow what has happened to Glenn Ford is abhorrent, yes, it's unfair. But it's not illegal. And it's not even immoral. It just doesn't fit your perception of fairness.

Bill Whitaker: I would say in this case many, many, many people would see this as unfair.

Dale Cox: I agree. I can't disagree with that.

For his part, Marty Stroud says Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed him. He went to see Ford to apologize.

Bill Whitaker: How do you apologize to someone for taking 30 years of his life from him?

Marty Stroud: Well, there's no books you can read to do that. I just went in and apologized.

Bill Whitaker: Do you forgive him?

Glenn Ford: No. He didn't only take from me; he took from my whole family.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like you don't think you could ever forgive him.

Glenn Ford: Well, I don't. But I'm still trying to.

Bill Whitaker: Do you think you deserve his forgiveness?

Marty Stroud: No. If somebody had done that to me, I don't know if I could forgive them.

Bill Whitaker: You say you destroyed his life. Sounds like this incident destroyed your life too.

"It was a train to injustice, and I was the engineer. Glenn Ford will be a part of me until the day I die."

Marty Stroud: I've got a hole in me through which the north wind blows. It's a sense of coldness, it's a sense of just disgust. There's just nothing out there that can fill in that hole that says I-- it's alright. Well, it's not alright. It's not alright.

Singer: "Keep your eyes on the prize....hold on...hold on..."

Three weeks after we met him, Glenn Ford died, penniless. His final months he lived off charity. Donations covered the cost of his funeral.

Dale Cox: There was a tragic outcome. And these tragic outcomes happen all the time in life. It's not like the Glenn Ford case is the only tragedy you'll ever see or I'll ever see in our lifetime. The question is, was there anything illegally done, improperly done that led to this. And-- and I can comfortably say, based on the review of the record, no, there was not.

In Glenn Ford's will, he directs that any state money he might receive go to his 10 grandchildren so they can have a better chance than he did. And Marty Stroud? He has asked the Louisiana Bar Association to discipline him for his role in the Ford case.

Marty Stroud: It was a train to injustice, and I was the engineer. Glenn Ford will be a part of me until the day I die.

(source: CBS news)


Death sentence overturned for Cleveland man convicted in 1985 murder

A federal appeals court has overturned the death sentence of a Cleveland man convicted of murder 30 years ago.

Percy "June" Hutton, 62, was convicted in 1986 of fatally shooting Derek "Ricky" Mitchell and trying to kill Samuel Simmons in a dispute over a sewing machine. He was sentenced to death in 1987.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Hutton's sentence saying the judge who presided over the trial did not give the jury proper instructions before it deliberated on a recommended sentence.

The majority opinion says that the jury that recommended Hutton's execution was not given instructions on how to weigh what are known "aggravating circumstances." These are a set of facts in a death penalty trial, such as the heinous nature of the crime, that a jury must consider when recommending execution.

However, juries in capital cases are also required to compare such factors against "mitigating circumstances" that weigh in favor of sparing a defendant's life, such as mental illness or childhood abuse.

"... The jury could not have determined that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt without knowing what the aggravating circumstances were," Judge Bernice Donald wrote for the court. "Without this finding, a death sentence cannot stand."

Judge John Rogers, in partially deviating from the majority's ruling, wrote that Hutton's death sentence should stand because Hutton did not properly raise the issue in previous appeals. Donald acknowledged this, but wrote that the interests of justice outweighs Hutton's failure to raise the issue.

Ohio Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Jill Del Greco said the office was still reviewing the case and whether to challenge the appeals court's decision.

A call left for Hutton's attorney was not immediately returned.



Nashville judge gives death row inmate new hearing

A Nashville judge says a man on death row for nearly 3 decades will get a new hearing to determine if prosecutors discriminated against potential jurors based solely on their race.

Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, 65, has been on death row since 1987 when he was convicted in Nashville of first-degree murder and other counts in the robbery and fatal stabbing of Patrick Daniels and attack on Norma Jean Norman, who survived. Abdur'Rahman, also known as James L. Jones Jr., previously challenged his convictions arguing that prosecutors discriminated against African Americans in jury selection, but was not successful.

However, a new order from Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will give Abdur'Rahman's lawyer a chance to argue that again.

Watkins writes that the U.S. Supreme Court case Foster v. Chatman potentially created new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing for Abdur'Rahman. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In May the justices reopened a case against Georgia inmate Timothy Foster after finding that prosecutors struck all four African American potential jurors based solely on their race. The U.S. Supreme Court has held for 30 years that lawyers cannot excuse potential jurors solely based on race.

Brad MacLean, Abdur'Rahman's lawyer, declined to comment on the judge's order since the hearing is pending. But, he said implicit bias is a problem that leads to the arbitrary implementation of the death penalty.

"Racial bias is a factor that contributes to the arbitrariness of the system," he said. "That racial bias can affect different phases of the case. It can affect the decision whether to seek the death penalty, it can affect how jury selection is conducted, it can affect the attitudes of jurors, whether they're aware of it or not."

In June, MacLean filed a new motion to reopen Abdur'Rahman's appeals citing two other recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He argued that a Brentwood lawyer, Ed Miller, had analyzed more than 2,000 1st-degree murder cases showing that the death penalty was arbitrary.

Watkins said the issue should have been raised on prior appeals or was more appropriate to be taken up in federal court.

And, like several other Tennessee judges have done in regards to other inmates, he found that the nation's top court in deciding the same-sex marriage case known as Obergefell last year, did not apply to inmates. Abdur'Rahman and several others on death row have argued that the justices affirmed a fundamental right to life that extended to condemned inmates.

"This court must conclude that while Obergefell indeed states a new rule of constitutional law related to same-sex marriage, that new rule does not alter the long-standing precedent under which the death penalty does not deny an individual his fundamental right to life," Watkins wrote.

There are 64 inmates on death row in Tennessee. The last execution in the state was in 2009. For several years, the state's single-drug lethal injection protocol has been challenged in court by more than 1/2 of those people on death row.

That issue, whether the protocol is constitutional, is currently being weighed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Some say the state could resume executions if the court rules the protocol is constitutional.

(source: The Tennessean)

MISSOURI----new execution date

Missouri Supreme Court sets execution date for killer despite ongoing federal appeal

The Missouri Supreme Court issued an execution order Wednesday for a man convicted of killing a mother and her 2 children in 1998, despite an ongoing appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Barring a stay from a federal court, Mark Christeson's execution date is set for the 24 hour period beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2017.

In 1998, Christeson, then 18, and his 17-year-old cousin, Jesse Carter, broke into the home of Susan Brouk near Vichy, Mo. Armed with shotguns, they had planned to steal her car.

Once inside, Christeson raped Brouk. He and Carter later drove her and her 2 children to a nearby pond. Brouk, who was 36, and her son Kyle, 9, were stabbed and thrown into the water to drown. Her daughter Adrian, 12 was suffocated.

Carter later testified against Christeson and was sentenced to life in prison.

Christeson was originally sentenced to executed on Oct. 29, 2014, but adjunct professors and Death Penalty Clinic students at St. Louis University Law School helped him win a stay of the execution just hours before it was scheduled.

Christenson had been too poor to afford counsel and was represented at trial by state public defenders. When his state appeals were exhausted, a federal judge in western Missouri appointed new attorneys to handle his federal appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution after finding those attorneys missed the federal appeal deadline by 117 days. They also admitted they hadn't met with Christeson until 6 weeks after the appeal was due, with no evidence they communicated with him before that.

New attorneys were appointed again, who sought to bring in experts to testify to Christeson's mental impairment, which they argue left him totally reliant on lawyers. But a U.S. district court only provided $10,000 of the $161,000 they asked for, with no explanation as to why funding was slashed.

Now, attorneys from 3 leading criminal defense organizations and the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis are hoping to overturn the decision denying the funding, but the execution order makes for a tighter deadline.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Missouri won't Exonerate Innocent Man Because He's not on Death Row

Eyewitness testimony from a 7-year-old girl who saw her mother stabbed to death was the "linchpin" that put Rodney Lincoln behind bars for life for the April 1982 murder of a St. Louis woman.

The deciding factor for the outcome is now doubting her own story, and she wants her mother's supposed killer to go free.

On Tuesday the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District denied Rodney Lincoln a writ of habeas corpus that would have forced a retrial of his 1983 conviction.

In the opinion filed Tuesday by the Western District, the court agreed with the Cole County's June ruling that Lincoln's Constitutional right to due process was not threatened because he was not on death row.

Lincoln's attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project challenged the Constitutionality of Lincoln's imprisonment using a 2003 case, State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, in which Missouri man Joseph Amrine was wrongly convicted of a prison murder based on false witness testimony.

The Missouri Supreme Court ordered a retrial when 3 witnesses subsequently recanted their statements. Amrine was released after prosecutors declined to retry him.

In 1982, JoAnn Tate was found stabbed to death in her St. Louis apartment, lying face down in a pool of blood. Tate's daughters, then aged 7 and 4, were found stabbed but alive. The testimony of the older sibling, Melissa Davis (who now goes by Melissa DeBoer) was key to finding Lincoln guilty of murder and 2 counts of assault.

A relative identified Lincoln, who used to date Tate, as a suspect based on a composite sketch of the killer made with the help of Davis. Davis picked out Lincoln in his mug shot, next to a picture of a distant relative, and later in a lineup.

After his 1st trial ended in a hung jury, Lincoln was sentenced a year after the murder to life in prison without parole.

Deboer's 1st doubts about Lincoln's guilt surfaced last year after she participated in a true-crime TV show that speculated whether serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who had once lived in St. Louis, might instead have been the culprit.

Until the Missouri Supreme Court recognizes that "continued incarceration ... of an actually innocent person violates principles of due process, we have no authority to presume that Missouri's habeas jurisprudence permits such a claim in a non-death penalty case," Presiding Judge Cynthia L. Martin wrote in the court's opinion. Judges Gary Witt and Rex Gabbert concurred.

"Because the Missouri Supreme Court has not recognized a freestanding claim of actual innocence in cases where the death penalty has not been imposed, we are not at liberty to expand Missouri habeas jurisprudence to permit consideration of the claim in this case,"

"It's hard to wrap your brain around, but as it turns out innocence is not a good enough reason to release a prisoner in Missouri," Sean O'Brien, one of Lincoln's attorneys, told KSHB on Tuesday.

More than faulty eyewitness testimony was allowed into Lincoln's murder trial, Lincoln's attorneys say.

In 2005, when Lincoln successively petitioned for DNA testing of the hair found at the scene of the crime, a lab determined that the hair did not belong to Lincoln. An expert witness had testified in Lincoln's trial that DNA from a strand of hair found at the crime scene was a "match" to Lincoln's.

In 2013 the Eastern District agreed with prosecutors who downplayed the significance of the hair for the conviction. The judge concluded that DeBoer's testimony, not the discredited DNA evidence, was the "linchpin" that determined Lincoln's guilt.

Is a serial killer to blame?

DeBoer now believes serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was the man who attacked her.

"When the veil fell from my eyes I was horrified," DeBoer wrote in a November Facebook post announcing her belief in Lincoln's innocence according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I have kept an innocent man in prison for 34 years ... I did not know I was wrong but I was."

Sells was convicted for the 1999 murder of a 13-year-old girl in Del Rio, Texas. Police connected him to at least 17 other killings, while Sells claimed credit for dozens more before he was executed in Texas in 2014.

When Lincoln's daughter contacted a private investigator, he confirmed that Sells lived in St. Louis at the time of the murder.

When Lincoln petitioned for release from the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Cole County court in June, DeBoer appeared in court to recant her key childhood testimony fingering Lincoln as the murderer of her mother.

DeBoer said investigators manipulated her to accuse Lincoln, and that the experience had left her traumatized.

DeBoer's sister, Renee Tate, who was unable to identify Lincoln in lineups in 1982, has since died from natural causes, leaving DeBoer the only survivor.

The Cole County judge didn't find her change of opinion credible. He also noted that a jail log found by the prosecution indicated Sells was in juvenile custody in Arkansas at the time of the murder.

"[F]or a freestanding claim of actual innocence to support habeas relief, a petitioner must establish that his continued restraint is manifestly unjust because it violates the constitution or laws of the state or federal government," the Western Court's opinion says.

Unlike life imprisonment "executing an innocent person, in the face of clear and convincing evidence of innocence is a manifest injustice," the Western District concluded.

Lincoln, now 72 years old, isn't done fighting.

"I've lasted this long because I know I'm innocent. I want everybody in the world to know I'm innocent," he told KSHB. "The confidence in the system has slipped some, but not the expectation that I will walk through that front door," he said.

Lincoln’s attorneys are considering appealing to the Missouri Supreme Court, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly. "This cannot be the law of a just society," the Midwest Innocence Project wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. "We are not done fighting."



Death penalty conference set for Oct. 22

On Oct. 22, the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty will host its Annual Abolition Conference, with this year's theme being "The Kansas Death Penalty: What A Waste!" This event at St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Olathe is free and open to the public.

Speakers for the event include: Darryl Burton, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated; Celeste Dixon, who has called for an end to the death penalty after her mother's murder; Roger Werholtz, retired Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections; and Al Terwelp, former Chair of the Libertarian Party of Kansas, who will speak on the death penalty's cost.

These speakers will highlight the human and fiscal toll of Kansas's death penalty. Across the country, the death penalty is in sharp decline, with executions and death sentences at record lows.

Kansas's last execution was in 1965. According to a Kansas Judicial Council study from 2014, death penalty trials cost 3-4 times more than similar cases where the death penalty is not sought.

(source: McPherson Sentinel)


Judge denies motion to preclude death penalty for accused killer of Coeur d'Alene police officer

A Kootenai County judge on Wednesday denied several defense motions, including another attempt to take the death penalty off the table, in the case against a North Idaho man accused of killing a Coeur d'Alene police officer in May 2015.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes denied the motion by Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams to preclude the death penalty for Jonathan Renfro, who is charged with 1st-degree murder in the shooting death of Sgt. Greg Moore. Adams based the motion on an argument of insufficient funding for a defense of a capital crime.

Haynes also denied Adams' motion to suppress police video footage of the shooting and to dismiss several counts of the indictment, including 1st-degree murder, robbery and concealing evidence, based on lack of evidence presented at Renfro's preliminary hearing.

Renfro, 27, a Rathdrum resident, was walking late at night in a residential neighborhood in northwest Coeur d'Alene on May 5, 2015, when Moore stopped to question him and check his identification. Renfro allegedly admitted to investigators that he shot the officer because he feared Moore would discover he was carrying a gun in violation of his felony parole.

Haynes previously has denied motions by the public defender's office that sought to exclude the death penalty from the potential punishments if Renfro is convicted. The trial is set to start Feb. 6, 2017.

(source: The Spokesman-Review)


Death Row Inmates Weigh in on Capital Punishment

If where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit ... when it comes to California's Capital Punishment, 746 people sitting on death row stand to provide unparalleled perspective.

San Quentin State Penitentiary has the largest death row in the Western hemisphere, made up of 5 cell blocks of men sentenced to death for special circumstances murders. Not one inmate is scheduled to have that sentence carried out. But voters have the power to change all of that this Election Day.

"Gimme mines, I'll go in front of everybody," said inmate Jamar Tucker.

Tucker was convicted in 2005 for a deadly Los Angeles home invasion. He was awaiting trial for another murder when he killed his cellmate.

"I don't regret nothing. It's just a choice, I never did anything to innocent people," said Tucker.

Tucker's only question about the death penalty seems to be why it takes so long.

"What am I supposed to do for the rest of my life, just sit here? I'm ready to go," said Tucker.

To understand these inmates' point of view, there are at least 3 basic things to know about California's death row.

The state hasn't executed an inmate in more than 10 years, won't start until a new lethal injection protocol has been approved, and even then, the average appeals process takes over 20 years.

In November, voters will decide whether to do something about that. Prop 66 would speed up the death penalty process, saying it's possible to go from conviction to execution in 10 years.

Prop 62 to would abolish capital punishment and commute the sentences of current death row inmates to life in prison.

"They should execute us, stop playing, they put us in here for a reason, stop playing," said Tucker.

We only had to go 1 cell over to get a different opinion.

"You can't listen to the people that say 'kill us' that's just crazy to me," said Juwann Graham.

Graham was convicted in 2006 for shooting and killing 2 people on a Riverside freeway. He claims they were trying to run him off the road.

Life in a cage may not seem like much of a life, but for some, it beats the alternative.

"Of course I'm against it. Nobody wants to be executed," said Paul Tuilepa.

Tuliepa was convicted in 1986 of a Long Beach armed robbery. He's been going through appeals nearly 30 years. He rejects any proposal that would make that process faster.

"You're dealing with people's lives, you can't speed things up, you gotta take all the time you need," said Tuliepa.

Time is something that's not in short supply.

William Dennis was convicted in 1988 in Santa Clara for killing his ex- wife and her unborn child. He says he's only guilty of manslaughter, and should not be on death row. Nevertheless, he opposes the death penalty.

"It's just a waste of money, and it doesn't really solve anything, and California, as slow as it's going, it's not doing California people any good," said Dennis.

Both Prop 62 and Prop 66 would require inmates to work to pay restitution to victims, however, Dennis points out a flaw in their plans.

"There's only a handful of jobs and there's 34 people for about 5 jobs," Dennis said.

To fill their days, inmates find humor and hobbies where they can.

"I'm trying to write a book," Anthony Wade said.

Wade was convicted in 2013 for admittedly raping, beating, stabbing and robbing an elderly woman in Orange County. He is one of the youngest people on death row. He has been waiting 3 years just to be assigned an appeals lawyer. The 31-year-old doesn't believe he'll be executed.

"At this point, it's not like they're going to execute you, most of these dudes been up here for like 30 years or something like that, so that's not really my concern," Wade said.

It seems like every inmate FOX40 spoke with was evidence of what supporters of both of California's capital punishment initiatives agree on, California's death penalty is broken.

"They've side tracked me, I can't get anything done in court, I've been here 33 years," said Douglas Clark.

Even infamous inmates like Clark, one of the Sunset Strip killers, is more likely under the current system to die of old age, suicide or sickness than by execution.

"I've been waiting 38 months for the state supreme court to do something. I think they're just waiting on their ass for me to die of old age," said Charles Case.

Case was convicted in 1993 of a double murder robbery at a Sacramento bar. He maintains his innocence but is in favor of the death penalty.

"After 20 years in this place I'm more in favor of it than I've ever been in my life," said Case.

He says overcrowding, like the type that's led to this 5th San Quentin death row cell block being opened, is a reason he would rather speed up the appeals and execution process than abolish the death penalty.

"You give all these guys life without instead of giving them the death penalty, you give all the new guys life without, 10, 20 years from now you're going to have 33 prisons loaded up with guys doing life without. What are you going to do with everyone else who's stealing cars?" asked Case. Yes, the inmates of San Quentin's death row have incomparable insight into the death penalty debate, but while their stances are as diverse as they are, they have no say in the issue.

Instead, come November, what happens to them is up to voters.

(source: Fox News)


'Chessman' explores crucial moment for Brown family, California death penalty ---- The new play "Chessman" features former Gov. Pat Brown and current Gov. Jerry Brown as characters. Director Buck Busfield discusses the challenge of casting famous historical figures.

Buck Busfield is pondering the finer points of one of the most important phone calls in California political history.

It was Feb. 18, 1960, the eve of the long-delayed execution of Caryl Chessman. A 21-year-old Jerry Brown, recently departed from the seminary and now a student at UC Berkeley, called his father, then-Gov. Pat Brown, asking him to grant a reprieve for the condemned inmate.

Across the world, millions awaited the fate of a man they had taken up as the poster boy for ending the death penalty. The freighted decision tore at Pat Brown, whose Catholic faith taught him that execution was immoral.

At the moment, however, Busfield is more concerned about the type of telephone Jerry would have used. During a recent rehearsal for "Chessman," a new play about the case debuting this week at the B Street Theatre, director Busfield asked his stage manager whether they could hang a phone on the wall for the pivotal scene.

"When I was in college, which wasn't that long after this, we only had 1 phone on the wall in the hallway," he said. It's his job to consider these details, so the audience can forget the distractions and focus on the story. "We'll get letters: 'Well, the play was great, but that phone was wrong.'"

That is perhaps among the lesser challenges for the creative team behind "Chessman," a side project of political consultant Joe Rodota. The production attempts to capture the international, O.J. Simpson-like frenzy and divisiveness that surrounded Chessman for more than a decade, while also asking the audience to look beyond its cast of iconic California figures to a family split by a deeply personal, ethical dilemma.

It also strives to keep a neutral distance and a historical sheen on one of California's most inflammatory political issues, just as voters are weighing 2 November ballot measures on capital punishment: 1 to abolish it and 1 to expedite the process.

"This is not a documentary for or against the death penalty," Rodota said.

So how did a former aide to Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger come to write a play about arguably the greatest political struggle of one of the state's most enduring Democratic leaders?

Rodota, a graduate in history from Stanford University, said he began a "2nd career" a few years ago as a writer. While he continued to run Forward Observer, his bicoastal consulting firm, Rodota began searching for "overlooked moments in political history" that he could turn into a play.

After Busfield suggested he focus on something relevant to California, Rodota thought of the Chessman case. He remembered reading about it in Pat Brown's 1989 memoir, "Public Justice, Private Mercy: A Governor's Education on Death Row," and more intimately, from daughter Kathleen Brown's 1994 run for governor against Wilson, whose re-election campaign Rodota worked on.

Pressured for months to explain her position on the death penalty, Kathleen Brown held a news conference at the historic Governor's Mansion. There, she discussed how her family history informed her opposition to the punishment then supported by 80 % of Californians: a Catholic upbringing, watching her father review briefing binders on capital cases after dinner, the "mortifying" experience of hearing her mother booed at the opening ceremonies of the 1960 Olympic Games while her father stayed home wrestling with the Chessman decision.

"I could no more contemplate being politically correct on this issue than I could contemplate disavowing my family," she said at the time.

Rodota found his entry point to the incident that reverberated for the Browns, professionally and personally, for decades: "I basically started from scratch looking at the case through the eyes of the family."

Using trial transcripts and other documents from an extensive Chessman archive at the California State Library, a Brown family oral history housed at UC Berkeley, and the counsel of Pat Brown biographer Ethan Rarick, Rodota began constructing a narrative.

Caryl Chessman was 27 and already a convicted felon when he was found guilty in 1948 of a series of robberies and rapes around Los Angeles. The "Red Light Bandit," as the perpetrator was dubbed, had visited lovers' lanes pretending to be a policeman and mugged couples in their cars.

On several occasions, Chessman took the young women back to his vehicle and sexually assaulted them. Under California's since-discarded "Little Lindbergh Law," named for the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son, Chessman was sentenced to death for kidnapping with bodily harm, though he had killed no one.

Chessman maintained his innocence and continued to fight his conviction. By 1954, he had been on death row for 6 years, longer than anyone in California history until that point. The unusual delay for his execution was gaining notice, and it would soon explode into sensation with the publication that year of his 1st memoir, written secretly and smuggled out of prison.

Translated into more than a dozen languages and adapted into a movie, "Cell 2455, Death Row: A Condemned Man's Own Story" captured the public's imagination with its searing and brutal dispatch from inside San Quentin State Prison.

"The slugging impact of a death sentence upon the psyche is often terrible and always tormenting, with the result that as often as the death row ennobles it degrades," Chessman wrote. "Some men reach the point where they would literally sell ... their own mothers for another day of life, and the knowledge that this is so can make you want to vomit."

As "Fortnight" magazine put it in its Feb. 3, 1954, issue: "The crime problem appears to have found its tongue."

Blockbuster sales for "Cell 2455" and 3 more memoirs paid for his lawyers and dozens of appeals over the years. Chessman managed to avoid execution deadline after execution deadline. Eventually, his case came before the newly elected Pat Brown, a death penalty opponent.

By then, Chessman had become a worldwide phenomenon. Thousands of letters and a petition signed by 2 million Brazilians streamed into Brown's office. Figures ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to Marlon Brando and Shirley MacLaine lobbied on his behalf. Even the Vatican urged clemency.

While many argued against capital punishment, others felt that death was too extreme a punishment for Chessman's non-murder case or that his writings proved he had been rehabilitated. Some disputed that he was guilty at all.

The controversy also came at a relative highwater mark for opposition to the death penalty, when Americans were about evenly split on the issue. This allowed Pat Brown to openly grapple over Chessman's fate without committing "automatic political suicide," the biographer Rarick noted at a recent panel on the case.

"He always looked for the best with everybody. He was inclined toward mercy, but inclined toward upholding the law," Rarick said.

Because Chessman had prior felonies, Pat Brown could not commute his sentence without the approval of the California Supreme Court, which voted 4-3 to uphold the conviction. Chessman was going to die.

But the night before the execution was scheduled to proceed, Jerry Brown called his father urging him to grant a 60-day reprieve and pursue a moratorium on the death penalty in the Legislature. As Pat recounted in "Public Justice, Private Mercy," he believed there was not "1 chance in a thousand" that lawmakers would act.

"Then Jerry said, "But Dad, if you were a doctor and there was 1 chance in a thousand of saving a patient's life, wouldn't you take it?'

"I thought about that for a moment. You're right, I finally said. I'll do it."

For his decision, Pat Brown received a slew of negative responses - and a 16-page letter from a "surprised and grateful" Chessman.

With his usual aplomb about the social significance of his case - "the burning hope that my execution would lead to an objective reappraisal of the social validity or invalidity of capital punishment" - Chessman suggested that Brown put forth a proposal excluding him from the mercy granted to others, if it would persuade the Legislature to end the death penalty.

"I do not overstate when I say I gladly would die 10,000 gas chamber deaths if that would bring these truths into hearts and minds of those who make our laws," he wrote.

Lawmakers, however, had little interest in taking such a decisive step, particularly in an election year. Brown's bill to abolish the death penalty was quickly swatted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee after a lengthy and highly publicized committee hearing.

Chessman was eventually gassed to death on May 2, 1960, his ninth scheduled execution date. The story appeared on the front page of newspapers from Italy to Brazil. Pat Brown ultimately believed he suffered greatly for his choice, blaming it in part for his loss to Ronald Reagan while running for a third term in 1966.

Jerry Brown has never publicly discussed the phone call with his father, but the Chessman case seems to have resonated deeply with him as well. In 1977, during his 1st term as governor, he vetoed a bill to reinstate the death penalty before being overridden by the Legislature. He continued to advocate against capital punishment during his 1992 presidential run, and on his '90s radio program, "We the People," where he described it as "state murder."

By his 2010 campaign to return to the governor's office, however, he had struck a more conciliatory tone: "You want to reinvent the world. But we have the world," he said at the time. "At this point in time, it's relatively settled."

In the play, almost all of Chessman's dialogue is pulled directly from the historical record, notably transcripts from his trial, where he famously served as his own attorney and conducted what Rodota called "horrifying" cross-examinations of his victims. Other scenes take place as imagined confrontations with Pat Brown, where Chessman "enters Pat's brain and takes over his space," Rodota said.

Just don't look for an obvious moral. Director Busfield said the show intentionally does not take sides and allows the audience to make up its own mind.

Which is not to suggest others involved don't have strong opinions about the material.

At the rehearsal, a scene between Chessman and his mother came to a halt as the cast broke out into discussion over execution by firing squad, which Utah brought back last year.

"I don't give a s--- if it hurts. I just want them to be dead," said Phil Cowan, the local radio personality who plays Pat Brown. "Regardless of how I feel about it, if you’re going to do it, do it efficiently."

The real Pat Brown, Busfield noted, would have disagreed.


Where: B Street Theatre, 2711 B St., Sacramento

When: 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13. 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14; Oct. 18, 19, 20, 21. 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15; Oct. 22

Tickets: $30-38; $26-$36 for seniors or students

For more information: For tickets, call 916-443-5300 or visit



Analysis: Death Penalty Columns Misses Some Marks

I read Rich Rifkin's death penalty column with interested, he started it with a note that was interesting pointing out that Prop 62 asks voters to get rid of a "death penalty that we don't have." I see the proposition somewhat differently - it aligns our laws with our practices and despite Mr. Rifkin arguing that under Prop 62 "not much will change," he is flat out wrong.

His analysis is largely outcome based - it has been 38 years since the death penalty was instituted in California, only 13 have been executed, and none since 2006.

But the death penalty isn't just an outcome it is a process. An expensive process. A lengthy process.

Mr. Rifkin makes a good case for why he doesn't "believe in California's death penalty" despite his overall support for the concept. He argues, "the extreme delay removes the death penalty’s value as a deterrent." He also correctly notes that "when an inmate is killed, it feels arbitrary."

He correctly points out that while most opponents of capital punishment are opposed to it on moral grounds, but Proposition 62 is based on practical rather than moral arguments. There is a tactical element to that, not to mention you are not going to change people's morality, the death penalty is going to disappear because it doesn't work.

He notes, "The official case in favor of 62 is focused on expense, DNA technology and the superiority of sentencing people to life without parole."

This is where I start to part ways with Mr. Rifkin's analysis. He grants that the state "we would save some money in California if we got rid of the death penalty." The legislative analyst determined, "reduced costs would likely be around $150 million annually within a few years."

However, then he attacks "left-wingers" for arguing in favor of cost consciousness. He notes, "I certainly have never heard anyone on the anti-death penalty side call for competitive bidding in government contracting. That would save the state billions of dollars per year."

The problem is that Mr. Rifkin is condensing this part of the argument down to cost rather than wasted resources - the problem here isn't that it costs a lot as there are things that cost a lot that many of us support. The problem is that we are spending money on a system that does not work in a wasteful and inefficient way. And I might add on something a good many of us believes is immoral.

There are indeed conservatives and libertarians who have turned against the death penalty system based on waste of money. That doesn't mean the proponents of Prop 62 are advocating for maximizing government savings across the board. Mr. Rifkin here is not making an argument against Prop 62, he's simply poking the left.

The DNA argument he next makes is important. He calls it "even stranger," but here he really failed to do the research.

The pro-62 side writes, "The risk of executing an innocent person is real ... DNA technology and new evidence have proven the innocence of more than 150 people on death row (across the United States) after they were sentenced to death."

He argues, "That says to me that because we have DNA technology, it is now less likely we will slay an innocent person. Those 150 were not killed. If our state executes anyone in the future, it will be more certain he was truly guilty."

This is simply not true and it is a misunderstanding of wrongful convictions.

DNA Exonerations

This chart from the National Registry of Exonerations and it shows that overtime, the number of exonerations has greatly increased. But the % of them based on DNA is quite low. Between 25 and 30 in 2015's exonerations were based on DNA evidence, but that is out of 150 or so. That's 1 out of 6.

The advent of DNA has helped us prove beyond any doubt the presence of innocent people on death row, but the number of cases that have DNA evidence is so low, it is not having a practical impact on the number of wrongful convictions and therefore it does not make it less likely that we will slay an innocent person.

In fact, in 2015, decades after the advent of DNA testing, we exonerated 150 people from wrongful convictions. That is a scary number, but scarier still is that this represents the tip of the iceberg.

Research from Ronald Huff at Ohio State University conservatively estimated that 0.5 % of the nearly 2 million convictions that occur in a given year are those of innocent people. That number doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that about 10,000 people each year are potentially wrongfully convicted and only 150 in 2015 were exonerated.

Mr. Rifkin then looks at the remedy, life without parole. He writes, "Under Prop. 62, the death penalty will be replaced with a strict life sentence. Those convicted of the worst crimes will never be released. Instead of being housed in expensive private cells on death row, murderers will be kept with other maximum-security inmates."

He argues that locking people away for 60 to 80 years "strikes me as immoral."

This is again where Mr. Rifkin would benefit from more research. One of the biggest debates in the anti-death penalty community is over the issue of LWOP - but not just LWOP but the loss of automatic, state funded appeals.

In 2012 when the last death penalty measure came on the ballot, most of the death row inmates and their families were opposed to it. Why? Because if they wrongly accused, they lose their state funded appellate attorneys. So they would be stuck incarcerated in boxes for decades without the possibility of parole and without the hope of an appellate attorney getting their sentences overturned.

My hope would be that the legislature would use the $150 million in saving to create a system whereby cases could be evaluated and real claims of innocence would be eligible for state funded defense, but that's just a hope.

So yes, I think there is a real problem here with Prop 62 and it comes down to weighing the current problems with the system with some of the unintended consequences for commuting all death sentences to LWOP.

Finally, we get to Prop 66. Mr. Rifkin writes, "There is a 2nd death penalty initiative on our ballot - Proposition 66. Its sales pitch is "to speed up the death penalty appeals system while ensuring that no innocent person is ever executed.'"

He adds, "I am not sure Prop. 66 will work. But I'm willing to give it a try, because I continue to believe in a functioning death penalty for our most vicious killers."

There are a lot of problems with Prop 66. First, I would argue it is probably not constitutional. Second, it is infeasible - the state simply does not have the attorneys at its disposal to be able to run appeals at the rate that Prop 66 would require.

Third, as the ACLU presentation I attended last week noted, while the initiative would possibly speed up the state level appellate process, that’s only part of the slow down. The other part is the federal process which Prop 66 would not impact.

Finally the biggest problem with Prop 66 is it doesn't deal with the biggest problems of the death penalty. First, the death penalty is geographically biased. There are 4 counties in California that enact an overwhelming percentage of the death sentences. So if you commit the same crime in one county you get LWOP and in another you get the death penalty. That's a problem if you are actually executing people.

Second, you have a race based problem. People are more likely to get the death penalty if they are people of color, but an even bigger factor is that people are more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white rather than a person of color.

Third, you have the imbalance in resources - so people with more resources are more likely to get sentences other than death.

Finally, you have the problem of wrongful convictions and the length of time it takes to discover those wrongful convictions.

I think if Prop 66 passes that it will get thrown out and even if it does not, it will prove too difficult to implement.

(source: David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard)


The Intellectually Disabled Face Higher Risk Of Execution In Death Penalty 'Outlier' Counties----More than 1/2 of death row sentences in 16 outlier counties were imposed on the intellectually impaired.

A handful of U.S. counties that buck the nation's overall downward trend of using the death penalty have emerged as particularly deadly places for criminal defendants who have intellectual disabilities, severe mental illness or brain damage, according to a new report from Harvard Law.

From 2006 to 2015, 56 percent of cases in 16 so-called "outlier" counties involved defendants with "significant mental impairments or other forms of mitigation, such as the defendant's young age," according to a report released Wednesday by Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project.

The report, "Too Broken To Fix," highlights the 16 counties (8 counties in Part 1 of the report, and 8 in Part 2) that share a pattern of overzealous prosecution, inadequate defense resources and racial bias.

"It has become clear that a significant proportion of individuals we are sending to death row suffer from serious mental impairments, or are so young in age, that they appear to be nearly indistinguishable from the categories of people whom the Supreme Court has said we shouldn't be executing due to their diminished culpability," Harvard Law Professor Carol Steiker said in a statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 landmark case, Atkins v. Virginia, that executing people with intellectual disabilities was "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants who have a mental illness but are not considered clinically insane may be executed.

But the trio of overzealous prosecution, poor defense lawyering and racial bias contribute to defendants ending up on death row despite having mental impairments that should otherwise exempt them, according to Rob Smith, one of the researchers on the report.

"In the end, you are left with an excruciatingly rare punishment," Smith said. "And, in the few places where it is still used with any regularity at all, it is the brokenness of the system and not the culpability of the defendant that leads to death verdicts."

In addition to the rates of death sentences handed down to defendants with intellectual disabilities - as high as 67 % in places like Pinellas County, Florida - the outlier counties have a track record of significant error: The 16 outlier counties have a combined 20 death row exonerations since the death penalty resumed in 1976.

Smith said the outlier counties act in a way that's inconsistent with the constitutional requirement to apply the death penalty to "the worst of the very worst."

"What we're seeing in these 16 counties time and time again that they're the most broken and the most vulnerable people [sentenced to death]," Smith said. "It's just not consistent with our own dignity to punish people so impaired."

(source: KimBellware, Huffington Post)


A Handful of Counties Are Keeping the Death Penalty Alive

The death penalty, it seems, is slowly dying. Public support for capital punishment in the U.S. is lower today than it has been in more than 4 decades: 49 % of Americans favor the death penalty for defendants convicted of murder, versus 80 % in 1994. Amid that declining support, a handful of counties across the country are clinging to the practice and regularly doling out death sentences. In 2015, death sentences were issued in only 33 counties out of the 3,143 counties in the U.S. Just 16 of those 33 imposed 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, according to a report published Wednesday by Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project.

"This is about overzealous prosecutors paired with severely inadequate defense lawyering in most of the counties," Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, told TakePart. Among the counties were Pinellas, Florida; Jefferson, Alabama; and San Bernardino, California.

The report is the 2nd half of the project's in-depth examination of where the use of the death penalty is concentrated and why. Focusing on eight counties in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and California in the newest report, researchers reviewed all the appellate opinions of the states' supreme courts between 2010 and 2015 to uncover commonalities.

In the counties that sentenced 5 or more people to death over this 5-year period, the report's authors noted persistent patterns of racial bias, ineffective defense lawyers, and "overzealous" prosecutors. The researchers also found that more than 1/2 of the defendants sentenced to death in these counties had significant mental impairments. 73 of the defendants were people of color, and 46 % were black.

'It's not an accident that many of these counties have had ongoing struggles with racial fairness and equality, and those are the same places that are holding on to the death penalty," said Smith. Alabama's Jefferson County is home to Birmingham, the site of some of the civil rights movement's most influential protests. Florida, which is home to 4 counties on the report's list, is the state with the 3rd-largest number of hate groups in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, including active Ku Klux Klan and black separatist groups. Florida falls behind Texas and California, both of which also have counties on this list.

Smith also noted that people of color are routinely excluded from juries in these jurisdictions, interfering "with the ability of communities most impacted by violence to take part in governing themselves." The dismissal of black jurors from juries that decide cases involving black defendants is a national problem and directly contributes to the racial disparities in death sentences illustrated by this report.

Alabama and Florida share another distinction when it comes to juries: They are the only 2 states in the country that permit nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. 5 of the 16 counties studied by the Fair Punishment Project were in those states, and of the 71 cases reviewed in those counties, 89 % had nonunanimous verdicts. Until August, Delaware also allowed non-unanimous verdicts in capital trials. On Aug. 2, the state's supreme court ruled the statute that allowed such verdicts unconstitutional and struck it down.

"One of the biggest reasons you see so many death sentences in those counties is because they don't require a unanimous cross-section of the community to agree," said Smith. "Juries sometimes debate these cases for less than an hour because they don't need to reach unanimity to decide if someone lives or dies."

Of all the states that are home to the counties studied in these reports, Florida boasts the most. The state's Duval, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties lead Florida's death sentencing practice. Since the state resumed executions in the 1970s, 92 people have been executed, and 26 have been exonerated, according to Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"No one knows how many more innocent people are on death row, or God forbid, have been executed," Elliott said in a statement.

(source: Yahoo News)


Congo warlord surrenders 5 years after escape from prison

A wanted warlord in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has surrendered, 5 years after he escaped from prison following his conviction for crimes against humanity, the provincial governor said on Wednesday.

Gedeon Kyungu, leader of regional separatist group Bakata Katanga, turned himself in with a bout 100 of his fighters at a ceremony in the village of Malambwe on Tuesday, Haut Katanga governor Jean Claude Kazembe said.

It was not immediately clear why Kyungu had surrendered, what would happen to him now or whether the staged nature of his return suggested some sort of deal had been agreed.

Authorities have struggled for decades to end violence in the east, where militia groups have attacked civilians and plundered vast mineral resources.

Kazembe said he thought Kyungu wanted to take part in the government's rebel demobilization program, a scheme that rights activists have criticized for integrating violent insurgent groups into the national army.

The region where Kyungu operated before his arrest became known as "the triangle of death" because of the suffering inflicted on civilians there.

News of the ceremony organized to mark his surrender angered some campaigners. "The welcome that was reserved for Gedeon was a great disappointment and an insult to all of his victims... Gedeon's place is in prison," the president of the African Association for Human Rights, Jean Claude Katende, told Reuters.

A Congolese military court sentenced Kyungu to death in 2009 for his role in killings in the copper-rich Katanga region. Congolese courts can impose the death penalty but no executions have been conducted since 2003 when a moratorium was imposed.

He escaped from prison in the provincial capital of Lubumbashi in 2011. U.N. experts said in a 2014 report that he had close ties to high-ranking politicians.

The name of his separatist group, Bakata Katanga, means "cut off Katanga" in Swahili.

(source: Reuters)


Govt snubs UN advice on death penalty

The Botswana government is yet to implement recommendations from the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold a public debate on the death penalty and ensure that the executed persons' bodies are handed over to families for burial.

This despite the fact that the country is expected to report back on progress made since the last Universal Peer Review in the UNHCR in 2018.

The said recommendations passed during an interactive dialogue and sponsored by the Republic of Uruguay were examined and supported by Botswana under the representation of the then Minister of Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Dikgakgamatso Seretse.

The recommendation read: "Hold a public debate on the death penalty, in which all the aspects of the issue should be highlighted in a holistic manner, in order to repeal it from the domestic legal order and to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Uruguay)".

It was further recommended that, "Meanwhile, Provide information to concerned families, so that they can know in advance the date of execution of their relatives and ensure that the executed persons' bodies are handed over for private burial (Uruguay)".

Despite promises, Botswana has not yet held any debate and indications are that there will not be any soon.

At the commemoration of World Day Against Death Penalty on Tuesday, the director of Ditshwanelo, Alice Mogwe called on President Ian Khama to impose a moratorium on capital sentence, as a 1st step towards abolition.

The issue of death penalty will be put to vote at the 71st session of the UN General Assembly in December 2016.

The European Union, which co-hosted the event with Ditshwanelo reaffirmed their strong and unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and for all cases, further adding that death penalty is incompatible with human dignity.

"It is inhuman and degrading treatment, does not have any proven significant deterrent effect, and allows judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal. Abolition of the death penalty is a distinctive achievement in Europe. It is a prerequisite for membership in the Council of Europe, and the absolute ban of the death penalty under all circumstances is inscribed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union," Alexander Baum, EU Ambassador to Botswana and SADC, said.



House eyeing death penalty for drug lord convicts

How do you punish convicts already serving life sentences who continue operating a multi-billion-peso drug trade inside the national jail?

Revive the death penalty, said a congressman on Thursday.

"They fear nothing except death," said Representative Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice. "For the meantime that the needed reforms in the criminal justice system [have] not been addressed, we need something that will strike fear in the hearts of criminals," he said.

The Committee on Justice wrapped up on Thursday its hearing on the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison. It heard 47 hours of testimonies of 22 witnesses, including 14 convicts.

Inmates may have been granted immunity from what they testified on, but cases against them can still be filed if other witnesses present evidence against them, Umali said.

Next steps

It was imperative that inmates already serving out life sentences be held accountable for the illegal drug trade inside Bilibid, Umali said.

The next logical step would be to schedule hearings on bills filed to bring back the death penalty, he added.

The death penalty was imposed for heinous crimes in 1993, but was abolished in 2006. In July, at the resumption of the 17th Congress, House Speaker Bebot Alvarez filed a bill to bring back the death penalty.

Four subcommittees-investigation and enforcement, prosecution, judicial reforms, correctional reforms - in the Lower House have been set up to draft bills to stop the illegal drug trade inside Bilibid.

Umali added that there was a need to amend the bank secrecy and anti-wiretapping law.

Enacting the prison modernization law of 2013

Prison officials expressed wariness on the next steps to be taken by lawmakers.

They noted that there is already an existing law, Republic Act 10575, or the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Modernization Law.

"The BuCor modernization law is the permanent solution to all problems we are facing right now," said Insp. Eusebio Del Rosario Jr., head of the Public Information Office of the Bureau of Corrections.

Officials are rushing work on requirements set by the Department of Budget and Management to finalize the implementing rules and regulations of the law, said Del Rosario.

The law, signed in 2013 by then President Benigno Aquino III, mandates a complete overhaul of the country's flawed penal system, which for one, allowed criminals to continue with illegal activities inside the jail.

The first phase of the penal overhaul is estimated to cost P2.3 billion, according to the Department of Justice, which oversees the BUCOR.

Meanwhile, Budget Undersecretary Luz Cantor said the implementing rules and regulations were being throughly studied.

She hoped these rules and regulations could be signed before the year ends so that BuCor personnel can be entitled to salary increases in 2017. The money to cover this will be sourced fom the P96-billion Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund, Cantor added.

BuCor modernization law provisions

At present, Philippine jails are 158 % congested, and there is 1 security personnel for every 68 prisoners.

The 2013 law is long overdue and will address the problem of decongestion, since more facilities will be constructed. It will bring the guard to prisoners ratio down to 1 for every 7 prisoners, once salaries are doubled.

The law will place the BuCor at par with international jail management standards, and give ranks of Undersecretary and Assistant Secretary to the prisons' director-general and his deputies.



Supreme Court acquits man in controversial death penalty case

The Supreme Court upheld Thursday a High Court decision that Hsu Tzi-chiang, who has repeatedly appealed convictions for kidnapping, extortion and murder of a real estate businessman in 1995, was not guilty of all the charges.

Hsu was declared innocent by the High Court last year in the ninth retrial of his case, in which he was accused of playing a role in the September 1995 kidnap and murder of Huang Chun-shu, a real estate broker, whose kidnappers originally demanded a ransom of NT$70 million (US$2.2 million).

The High Court overturned the conviction last year, as the ruling in his 9th retrial found that there were major flaws and inconsistencies in the evidence and testimonies.

Hsu is 1 of 3 men sentenced to death in 2000 for the murder.

The 2 other suspects -- Huang Chun-chi and Chen Yi-lung -- were found guilty of being the main perpetrators, and were each given the death penalty.

During their trials, the 2 men said Hsu also participated in the kidnapping.

The High Court upheld District Court rulings on Huang and Chen, and the Supreme Court rejected their appeals in 2000, making their death sentences final. Extraordinary appeals were filed on the behalf of the pair and Hsu in the following years.

Activists and Hsu's lawyers criticized Hsu's conviction, on the grounds that it was based on the confessions of his co-defendants.

Hsu was found guilty and given the death penalty in his first 6 trials until 2009. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in the 7th and 8th appeals.

He was released in 2012 under a new rule that requires the release of suspects who have been detained for 8 years without a final resolution of their cases.

(source: Focus Taiwan News Channel)


Pakistan delays Asia Bibi blasphemy appeal----Top court adjourns final appeal in case of Asia Bibi, on death row since 2010, after a judge recuses from bench.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has delayed an appeal into the country's most notorious blasphemy case against a Christian mother on death row since 2010, after one of the judges stepped down.

Thousands of security troops had been deployed in the capital, Islamabad, as the court prepared to hear a final appeal in the case of Asia Bibi on Thursday.

The court did not immediately set a new date for the appeal.

But the threat of violence was largely abated when one of the 3-judge bench, Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman, told the court he had to recuse himself from the case.

"I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that," he told the court.

Taseer, a liberal provincial governor, was shot dead in Islamabad in 2011 after speaking out for Bibi.

His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged earlier in 2016 in a step welcomed by liberals in the country, but which brought hardliners into the streets calling for Bibi's death.

A senior police official said that up to 3,000 forces were deployed in the capital on Thursday.

"Security is very tight in Islamabad all around today. Additional troops have been deployed on checkpoints and city junctions in general. There is also deployment of paramilitary force Rangers and FC [Frontier Corps] on some additional points," a police source told AFP news agency.

Up to 100 officers, many in riot gear, were stationed outside the Supreme Court as Bibi's lawyer and husband arrived for the hearing, with more throughout the city.

"I have made my preparation, we are very hopeful," Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Malook told AFP earlier.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan.

Rights groups complain that the controversial legislation is often abused to carry out personal vendettas, mainly against minority Christians.

Bibi was convicted and sentenced to hang in 2010 after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Her supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute.

But successive appeals have been rejected, and if the Supreme Court bench upholds Bibi's conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.

She would become the 1st person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be "tremendous" if that happens, said Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer.

Observers have warned of possible violence if the conviction is overturned, with some calling the case a battle for Pakistan's soul as the state walks a line between upholding human rights and appeasing hardliners.



Facing the Death Penalty for Blasphemy in Pakistan----Supreme Court to Hear Appeal of Aasia Bibi

In June 2009, Aasia Bibi, a low-paid farmhand, responded angrily when her co-workers refused to drink water that she offered them, claiming it was "unclean" because she was a Christian. More than 7 years later, Aasia Bibi remains in prison and on death row for doing what many people would have done in a similar situation - protest bigotry. In Pakistan, it's all too easy for people objecting to insult and discrimination to end up facing the gallows.

In November 2010, Aasia Bibi became the 1st woman in Pakistan's history to be sentenced to death under the country's "Blasphemy Law," which carries a mandatory death penalty. No one has yet been executed for a blasphemy law conviction, but since the 1980s, at least 53 people have been killed in violent incidents around accusations of blasphemy - which are largely used to target members of religious minorities. Yet in what appears to be state appeasement, successive Pakistani governments have rarely brought charges against people who violently attack those accused of blasphemy.

Aasia Bibi's case is just one example of the law's toxicity, but she is not alone. Junaid Hafeez, a university professor, remains imprisoned on charges of blasphemy for sharing an allegedly "blasphemous" post on Facebook. Religious extremists killed Rashid Rehman, the lawyer representing Hafeez, in May 2014. And just last month, Nabeel Masih, a 16-year-old Christian boy, was charged with blasphemy and arrested for allegedly "liking" a photograph of the Kaaba on social media.

The government's indifference to the blasphemy law, and the violence it provokes, is both discriminatory and violates rights to freedom of religion and belief. Soon the matter will be before the courts: The Supreme Court of Pakistan is scheduled to hear Aasia Bibi's appeal on October 13. The case presents the court not only an opportunity to address the injustices of her arrest and conviction, but to rule more broadly on the blasphemy law and those many adversely and unfairly affected by it.

(source: Human Rights Watch)


Ghana marks World Day against Death Penalty

Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, says government had accepted the report of the Constitutional Review Commission to abolish the death penalty from the country's laws.

She said on June 15, 2012 government published a white paper accepting the report and turned death punishment to life imprisonment and a bill to that effect is awaiting gazetting after which a referendum would be conducted on the issue.

Speaking at the 14th World Day Against Death Penalty in Accra, she said although Ghana has made a defacto moratorium on death penalty since 1993, after the firing squad execution, it is yet to abolish it from its laws.

The day was organised by the French Embassy in collaboration with Amnesty International, Ghana.

Mrs Appiah-Oppong explained that the law on death penalty as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution is entrenched and could only be amended through referendum.

"That Chapter by itself is entrenched and to amend it you need a referendum. The Drafters of the Constitution did it so to make it impossible for people to temper with it." she added.

Mr Francois Pujolas, French Ambassador, said the day also coincided with the 25th anniversary of abolishing of death penalty in France.

He said annually his country organises the session to discuss abolishing in Ghana and that universal elimination is a great concern for France.

Mr Pujolas said so far 123 countries have abolished the death penalty from their books; 58 countries and territories are retentionist; 30 countries are abolitionist in practice, 65 countries and territories retain the death penalty for terrorism.

He said despite the victory and hopes they must continue to advocate until they achieve total abolishing and urged civil society organisations, governments and the development partners to collaborate to achieve the necessary result.

Mr William Hanna, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Ghana, also reiterated the need for the intensification of efforts to achieve the goal.

He commended Ghana for moving forward in other areas of human rights and pledged the EU's commitment to continue to discuss with the country to see where it could collaborate.

Professor Emmanuel Victor Dankwah, Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, said referendum processes are expensive and if care is not taken and the people are not well informed they would vote against the motion.

He, therefore, called on all partners to intensify their public education and advocacy to inform the public well in advance to achieve success.

The five top executioners in 2015 were United States, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

In the last 10 years, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Tunisia and others have adopted laws that expanded the scope of the death penalty, adding certain terrorist acts to the list of crimes punishable by death.

More recently, Pakistan and Chad resumed executions in the name of the fight against terrorism, putting an end to moratoriums that had lasted for years.

(ource: GNA)


UN Chief Says Death Penalty for Terrorism Often Unfair

Death sentences for terrorism are often handed down after unfair trials by special courts that disrespect human rights and the rule of law, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in remarks commemorating World Day Against the Death Penalty.

While 65 countries retain the death penalty for terrorism-related offenses, experience shows that executing "terrorists" mostly fuels propaganda for their movements by creating perceived martyrs, Ban said.

"The death penalty is a cruel and inhumane practice. It has no place in the 21st Century," Ban said. "To be legitimate and effective, counter-terror measures, like all security operations, must be anchored in respect for human rights and the rule of law."

He also warned against states that criminalize free expression through vague anti-terror measures.

"Let us be clear: participation in peaceful protests and criticism of a government - whether in private, on the Internet or in the media - are neither crimes nor terrorist acts. The threat or use of the death penalty in such cases is an egregious violation of human rights," Ban said.

The U.N. General Assembly has repeatedly called on countries to restrict the use of the death penalty. However, according to U.N. experts, some countries have instead introduced or expanded the scope of the death penalty for terrorism-related offences - with 15 nations having carried out executions in terror cases over the last 10 years.

In 2015, capital punishment was imposed for terrorism offences in at least 7 countries, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Maintaining the rule of law and respect for human rights - even in the face of terrorism and violent extremism - is an obligation that will boost society's ability to address terrorist threats," Ban said.

(source: Associated Press)


Tunisia sentences 76 over soldier killings

A Tunisian court Wednesday handed jail and death sentences to 76 people for killing 8 soldiers in a jihadist hideout near the Algerian border in 2013, the prosecution said.

Only 7 accused, all Tunisian, appeared in court during the trial that started in late 2014 over the killings in the mountainous area of Chaambi, prosecution spokesman Sofiene Sliti said.

4 received 7 years in jail, 1 was handed a 13-year term and another was condemned to death, while the 7th was cleared of all charges.

The remaining 69 accused, all on the run and mostly Algerian, were given sentences ranging from 40 years to the death penalty, Sliti said, but did not give a total number of death sentences.

They were found guilty of charges including "terrorist crimes", he said.

Tunisia has faced a rise in jihadist attacks since the 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The army has been tracking jihadists in the Chaambi area since 2012.

Jihadist attacks in Tunisia have cost dozens of lives among security forces as well as civilians, and 59 foreign tourists were also killed in 2015.

Tunisia has executed more than 100 people since independence from France in 1956, but has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1991.

(source: The Daily Mail)

OCTOBER 12, 2016:


Death penalty ruling delayed in Sievers case

Mark Sievers, the man accused of planning the murder of his wife Teresa Sievers, fought for his life Tuesday in a Lee County courtroom. His lawyer asked that the death penalty not be on the table for Sievers's 1st-degree murder charge.

Judge Bruce Kyle did not make a ruling on the death penalty, but he did decide not to give Sievers' attorneys access to the grand jury testimony. The defense argued there are several stories from Curtis Wayne Wright but don't know which was taken to the grand jury.

"We have 2 statements prior when Wright says he had no involvement," said attorney Mike Mummert. "One where he was outside and one where he had a hammer in his hand."

In the motion to strike the death penalty, the defense said the state filed late and incomplete documents.

"They're asking to take my client's life," attorney Mike Mummert said. 'If they're going to ask that, they need to do so properly."

The state pointed out a recent change in the law that made them unaware of requirements. Kyle reserved his ruling on the motion until later.

The ruling on grand jury testimony could be changed later.

(source: WZVN news)


Sandra Jaggard, state lawyer who worked most Miami death-penalty cases, dies at 51

Known for her encyclopedic command of the law, Florida senior assistant attorney general Sandra Jaggard helped keep some of Miami's most notorious killers on death row.

Jaggard was a unique person with a unique job.

A one-time engineer who worked on the Space Station, Jaggard forged a niche as the prosecutorial authority on capital litigation in South Florida, writing complex briefs, making concise arguments before judges and earning the trust of people whose loved ones had been murdered, sometimes decades before.

Jaggard died unexpectedly Tuesday of a suspected heart attack. She was 51.

Her death stunned colleagues at Miami's criminal courthouse, where Jaggard was a fixture not only in arguing appeals but helping prosecutors.

"I always marveled at her legal talents. Sandy was the go-to person if you needed a case on point or wanted a sounding board to explore legal arguments," said Associate Deputy Attorney General Carolyn Snurkowski, a colleague of more than 2 decades.

"She was a brilliant lawyer," said Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Penny Brill, the head of her office's legal bureau who worked alongside her on appeals. "It's such a loss to both offices. She meant so much to us."

Jaggard was born May 2, 1965, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Along with her family, she moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and later attended Vanderbilt University, earning a degree in biomedical engineering in the early 1980s.

Her father, a physician, died at age 52, also of a heart attack.

After college, Jaggard worked at Boeing, focused on the life-support module for the Space Station, according to her family and friends.

Jaggard later moved to South Florida, where she enrolled at the University of Miami's law school. She graduated in 1994 and was soon hired at the Florida Attorney General's Office.

It was here that she built her reputation working in the complex field of capital litigation, working to keep intact convictions and death sentences. She could recite minute details from transcripts of a decades-old trial, every sort of criminal-court rule and arcane and complex case law.

"She had a phenomenal memory," said Miami-Dade prosecutor Fleur Lobree, her best friend and longtime roommate. "She was really an intellectual person. She liked the intellectual challenges of the most significant cases."

Jaggard wrote the briefs and did oral arguments in the notorious 1994 torture murders of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton, committed by a crew of Miami bodybuilders.

The convictions and death sentences for the killers, Daniel Lugo and Adrian Noel Doorbal remain intact. Her work remains the authority on racketeering murder cases, said Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine, who tried the case and worked often with Jaggard.

"She really felt the pain of Frank and Krisztina," Levine said. "She had a passion for what she did. She understood the difference between good and evil."

Jaggard spearheaded the appeals virtually every major death-penalty case in Miami-Dade, including Thomas Knight, who murdered a husband-and-wife and a prison guard; Manuel Pardo, the ex-Sweetwater cop who became a serial killer, and Marshall Lee Gore, a serial rapist and killer. Each man was executed in recent years.

"Sandra Jaggard was a tenacious and passionate lawyer who spent her career protecting victims and Florida's citizens from the most violent criminals," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said. "She will be greatly missed."

Before she died, Jaggard was handling 27 capital cases. For the scope of her work, she was honored for "outstanding appellate advocacy" by the Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation in 2010.

In court, Jaggard had a tough exterior with a wry sense of humor, her colleagues remembered - but she never failed to mentor young lawyers.

"Her heart of gold was always just below the surface," Snurkowski said. "She prided herself as being tough but in fact was a very warm and caring person."

Outside of court, Jaggard loved cooking and baking, marking every holiday season by passing out fudge and other treats to fellow lawyers. She also loved to travel. Despite an often-punishing work schedule, Jaggard rarely missed a holiday gathering with her siblings and eight nieces and nephews.

"She was a pretty doting aunt, exceptionally so," said her brother, John Jaggard.

Jaggard is survived by her siblings: Susan Jaggard-Ottemiller, Cindy Jaggard-Everett, Clarence Jaggard Jr. and John Jaggard. Services are pending.

(source: Miami Herald)


State's death penalty process a farce

The last 3 of Tennessee's death row inmates to die, died of old age. On death row, being in your 60s is old when you've spent 20 or 30 years sitting around letting your arteries harden.The official cause of death is natural causes. Death row lawyers need to sue to see if hardening arteries, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are constitutionally allowed forms of execution. It seems to be only way the death penalty can be administered these days.

The latest issue before the state Supreme Court is deciding which "cocktail" for killing the condemned is constitutional. Hey, what do I know? People die of heroin overdoses every day, but we can't find a chemical cocktail that can constitutionally end a life? Are we afraid they'll get high on their way to hell?

Why do we continue to pretend we have a death penalty? We keep inmates on death row for 20 or 30 years while we pay extra to house them, pay for lawyers to defend them and give them medical care until they kick off. Create a Super Max, make it life without parole and forget about it.

We know the death penalty is applied unequally depending on the race of the victim and the brutality of the death. We also know that DNA evidence has cleared over 150 death row inmates nationwide who were convicted largely on faulty eyewitness testimony.

I believe that the death penalty is constitutional. I believe that if the populace demands of the Legislature that the death penalty be a form of punishment, then the Legislature has a duty to follow the will of the people. But I hope the people come to the conclusion that it's not a good idea. Sentences are arbitrary. Appeals are endless. It costs many multiples of the average cost per prisoner to maintain a person on death row. If it takes 30 years to kill an inmate, and a natural cause gets him first, can we really say we have a death penalty? Or do we just have an elaborate charade where judges who are opposed to the death penalty find excuses to delay, delay, delay. And those who favor it are often faced with faulty trial court decisions and technicalities. Because it shouldn't be easy to decide to take someone's life.

Do district attorneys general argue to keep the death penalty as a bargaining chip to extort guilty pleas, making their job easier? Are death sentences only handed out when the public is shocked by a heinous crime that gets a lot of media attention? Do we have shifting standards on who is a target for the death penalty? We certainly get a lot of satisfaction out of a death penalty verdict for a particularly terrible murder. We can congratulate ourselves that justice was done and forget about it. After all, who wants to keep up with the case for the next 20 years except for the grieving family?

We should have a system in which we have confidence that the suspect did it (DNA evidence or the like), that we have a uniform system of deciding who gets it or not and we expeditiously move to administer the sentence. If we can't do all those things, then just lock people up for the rest of their lives.

What we have now is a farce.

(source: Frank Cagle, Knoxville News-Sentinel)


Execution by gas gets Arkansas panel flak

An 11-year hiatus in executions in Arkansas led one lawmaker to propose studying the method of gas asphyxiation, but her proposal was criticized Monday over fears that it would only add to the state's legal burden of defending death-penalty laws.

A self-described opponent of the death penalty, Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, proposed that the House Judiciary Committee commission a study on the "hypoxia" method of death, saying it is the responsibility of the state to determine "the least painful solution" if it wants to conduct executions.

There are 34 men on Arkansas' death row. Lethal injection is the method currently mandated in state law, but the state has not executed anyone since 2005, in part because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining drugs.

Hypoxia executions would be conducted using nitrogen or another inert gas devoid of oxygen to asphyxiate the condemned. The method is different from the traditional gas chamber, which uses cyanide or another gas to poison the prisoner.

According to Andrew Fulkerson of Paragould, a retired prosecutor and judge who studied the hypoxia method and approached Broadaway about its use in Arkansas, the method has the potential to be less painful than lethal injection.

Oklahoma is the only state to have legalized hypoxia executions, approving the practice last year after a botched lethal injection and a nationwide shortage of execution drugs. A spokesman with Oklahoma's Department of Corrections said nitrogen hypoxia has not yet been put to use and that there is no approved protocol for how it would be carried out.

"This is not a referendum on the death penalty; this is about Arkansas having chosen to have the death penalty and having problems getting the drugs," Broadaway said.

Broadaway's proposal came days after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito denied a request by a group of Arkansas' death-row inmates for more time to file their appeal in their challenge to the execution statute. However, Jeff Rosenzweig, a lawyer for the prisoners, repeated Monday his earlier assurances that he would file their case before the Oct. 19 due date.

The prisoners allege their rights under the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions are violated by a provision of a state law, passed in 2015, that exempts the suppliers of execution drugs from public disclosure. Eight of nine inmates involved in the lawsuit have had their executions scheduled but placed on hold as they mount their appeal.

In recent court filings, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office has cast the prisoners' requests for more time as attempts to push the lawsuit past January, when the state's supply of potassium chloride -- 1 of the 3 execution drugs -- expires.

Because the current 3-drug-cocktail method of execution has been declared constitutional by the state Supreme Court, Rutledge's legislative director, Cory Cox, told the Judiciary Committee on Monday that the state should not look at approving more methods of execution that could prompt another lawsuit.

Although he said the attorney general's office wouldn't object to a study, he asked that lawmakers hold off on taking action on any conclusions that might be made.

"We would caution as attorneys for the state anything that might look as throwing doubt at what has been declared constitutional by the state Supreme Court," Cox said.

At the request of the committee chairman, Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, Broadaway agreed to withdraw her request for the study. Even so, Fulkerson was called to testify before lawmakers.

Broadaway told reporters after the meeting that her proposal was not a "deliberate" attempt to authorize a new way to execute the inmates, though she said it made sense to have a backup. Broadaway added that while she is not seeking re-election next month, she will support any attempt to raise the issue during the next legislative session, which begins in January.

"If we want to stick our heads in the sand, and we don't want to look at anything until we are proven that [the current law] is an unconstitutional method which is simply preventing us from implementing our death penalty. ... I think we're being very short-sighted," Broadaway said during the meeting.

Oklahoma was the 1st state to develop the 3-drug lethal-injection protocol in the 1970s, and it soon became the most popular form of lethal injections. However, Fulkerson said in his testimony that Oklahoma failed to research or consider the method, which led to trouble obtaining drugs and a botched execution in 2014.

Recent botched executions in several states have prompted questions about the ethics of the execution method and caused states like Arkansas to clamp down on disclosing the source of the drugs.

"[Oklahoma] also introduced hypoxia with a similar lack of in-depth study on the issue, so I would encourage [Arkansas] to do that," Fulkerson said.

A spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction said in an email that the state never used the gas chamber method of execution. Before enacting lethal injection, the state used the electric chair, which remains the legal alternative if lethal injection is invalidated in court.

Before Fulkerson's testimony, Rep. Laurie Rushing, R-Hot Springs, questioned whether it was necessary to find the most humane method of execution.

"If you've ever had a child that was murdered, have you ever had a child that was raped, have you ever had a child that was left out, just left out to suffer?" Rushing said. "If you have, then you would understand why even if it's in the least-humane way, and this way may be more humane, but we have people right now that have done those crimes that need to be punished instead of wasting taxpayer money."

In a text sent later Monday, Rushing said she was "sticking up" for her colleague, Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers, whose daughter Andi Brewer was kidnapped and killed in 1999 by a man who now sits on death row.

"I don't think it is appropriate to ask me what my personal experiences are with regard to having a child that's been murdered," Broadaway responded. She said adopting a new method would allow the state to carry out executions if the current law is declared unconstitutional or the state is unable to replace the drugs that expire next year.

The 8 inmates whose executions are on hold are Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee, Terrick Nooner, Don Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Marcel Williams, Jack Jones Jr. and Kenneth Williams. A 9th death-row inmate, Ledell Lee, is involved in the case, but his execution has not been set.

If the prisoners file their appeal on time, the stay on their executions will remain in place as long as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering their case.



Supreme Court vacates Oklahoma inmate's death sentence

The United State Supreme Court vacated an Oklahoma inmate's death sentence, remanding it back for further court proceedings, the court announced Tuesday.

Bosse was convicted and given 3 death sentences for the 2010 deaths of 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Bosse was also convicted of arson for burning the family's mobile home.

In his appeal Bosse argued that the testimony of 3 of the victim's family members recommending the death penalty violated his 8th amendment rights. In a 1987 case, Booth v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that a jury cannot consider victim impact statements that do not "relate directly to the circumstances of the crime." That case was reconsidered by the Court in 1991 in Payne v. Tennessee, and reversed itself on parts of its findings, but not all.

In its statement, the Supreme Court said the state court erred in ruling that because it reversed part of the Booth decision that all of the case was reversed.

"Booth also held that the admission of a victim's family members' characterizations and opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence violates the Eighth Amendment,' but no such evidence was presented in Payne, so the Court had no occasion to reconsider that aspect of the decision," the decision reads.

Evidence showed Katrina Griffin and Christian Griffin were stabbed to death and Chasity Hammer died of smoke inhalation and burns. Bosse was arrested after investigators learned he had pawned items taken from the home. Bosse's appeal included claims of improper evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense counsel, improper jury instructions and improper admission of photos of the victims.

(source: Fox news)


Supreme Court overturns death sentence in Oklahoma triple murder

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the death penalty of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing a woman and her 2 children.The high court ruled that the judge in the case should not have allowed relatives of the victims to tell the jury a death sentence was proper.

Shaun Michael Bosse was convicted of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in the 2010 killings in McClain County of Katrina Griffin and her children, Christian and Chastity.

Bosse's attorney objected during the sentencing phase when a prosecutor asked Griffin's relatives to recommend a sentence to the jury, according to the Supreme Court opinion released Tuesday.

In an unsigned opinion, the justices pointed to a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that the Eighth Amendment "prohibits a capital sentencing jury from considering victim impact evidence" that does not "relate directly to the circumstances of the crime."

(source: Tulsa World)


Some death row inmates have been executed despite same error in their cases; one resentenced to life

Over and over, Oklahoma death row inmates have raised the same issue.

They've complained about the fairness of their trials, saying relatives of murder victims should not have been allowed to ask jurors to impose the death penalty.

Over and over, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected those arguments.

Federal judges, though, over and over have agreed with the inmates. One murderer won a resentencing in 2013 because of the issue. Other murderers have been executed anyway, after federal judges ruled the error to be harmless. A few murderers still are hoping for relief on that issue.

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has been wrong all along. Justices stated such victim impact evidence is banned because of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Justices admonished the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, saying the state court remains bound by a 1987 ruling prohibiting "characterizations and opinions from a victim's family members about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence unless this Court reconsiders that ban."

The ruling means the Court of Criminal Appeals will have to reconsider the issue in the case of death row inmate Shaun Michael Bosse.

Bosse, 33, of Blanchard, was convicted of murdering a woman and her two children in 2010 inside a mobile home near Dibble. He had briefly dated the woman. At his trial, 3 victim impact witnesses, the woman's father, stepmother and mother, asked the jury to sentence him to death.

McClain County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said the Court of Criminal Appeals, hopefully, will find the error harmless and uphold the death sentence.

"Anytime we've done it, we've been very careful not to expound and let them ... run on and on about it," Mashburn said. "The times it has actually become a problem is when you've let the victim's family kind of roll on about it."

The prosecutor pointed out that Oklahoma law specifically allows such victim impact testimony. He said he won't be asking victim's relatives for their opinions on punishment anymore because of the Supreme Court ruling.

"No, there's no way, now that the Supreme Court has specifically addressed it," Mashburn said. "Why take the chance? Although I really believe the jury should hear that. That's my personal opinion. The jury needs to know. But you've also got to follow the law."

New sentencing

Winning a new sentencing on the issue was Rocky Eugene Dodd, who killed his next-door neighbors in 1994 in Edmond. The victims' throats were slashed.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 ordered that Dodd be resentenced because 7 witnesses had called during his trial for his execution.

"This presentation of victim requests for the death penalty was not a one-off or a mere aside. It was a drumbeat," the federal appeals court wrote. "We have found 10 decisions in which we decided that such testimony was harmless. ... This case is different. It is not just the sheer volume of such testimony. This was also a significantly weaker case for the death penalty."

Dodd, now 48, was resentenced by a judge in 2014 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The new sentence was the outcome of an agreement with prosecutors which required him not to appeal any further.

Other cases

Among those who were executed despite the same issue was Clayton Lockett, who shot a 19-year-old woman and watched as 2 accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found victim impact testimony at his trial unconstitutional but harmless.

Problems during Lockett's 2014 execution led to national scrutiny and widespread criticism of the death penalty process in Oklahoma.

Among those still raising the issue is Kevin Ray Underwood, 36, who is on death row for killing a 10-year-old Purcell girl in 2006 because of his cannibalistic fantasies.

The grocery store employee admitted that he killed a neighbor, Jamie Rose Bolin, tried to have sex with her body and used a dagger to try to remove her head. He said he became disgusted with himself and did not eat any of the body.

He told an FBI agent, "I'm going to burn in hell."

The girl's body was found in a large, blue taped-shut plastic tub in the bottom of the bedroom closet of Underwood's apartment.

At trial, the girl's parents asked jurors for the death penalty.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Convicted Kansas serial killer exhausts direct appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case of a convicted serial killer from Kansas - leaving his capital murder conviction and death sentence intact, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release.

The high court's denial means John Robinson's conviction and death sentence, which previously were affirmed by the Kansas Supreme Court, will stand on direct appeal, according to the news release.

Now 14 years since Robinson's conviction, the case will next be returned to the Kansas courts for further proceedings under the Kansas death penalty statute, Schmidt said in the release.

Robinson was convicted in 2002 in Johnson County District Court of capital murder in connection with the serial murders of at least six women, according to the release. This is the 1st death penalty case to exhaust direct appeals since the Kansas Legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1994, Schmidt's office said.

Robinson is 1 of 10 people under sentence of death in Kansas.

Kyle Flack was convicted in March of capital murder and other crimes in a quadruple homicide that took place in spring 2013 west of Ottawa. Flack received the death penalty.

In addition to Flack, other death penalty cases that remain pending at various stages of direct appeals before the Kansas Supreme Court include:

-- Craig Kahler (Osage County)

-- Scott Cheever (Greenwood County)

-- Gary Kleypas (Crawford County)

-- Jonathan Carr (Sedgwick County)

-- Reginald Carr (Sedgwick County)

-- Sydney Gleason (Barton County)

-- Justin Thurber (Cowley County)

-- Frazier Glenn Miller (Johnson County).

In an 11th case, Doug Belt (Sedgwick County), the defendant died in prison, but the appeal remains pending and the Kansas Supreme Court heard oral argument Sept. 16, according to the release.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court's action marks the end of Robinson's direct appeals, under both Kansas and federal law Robinson has remaining options to seek further judicial review through collateral proceedings, according to the release.

(source: Ottawa Herald)


Hearing sorts out death penalty debate

With the death penalty issue on the November ballot, a public hearing was held Tuesday night on the UNO campus.

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale scheduled these public hearings. By state law, the hearings are required to be held in each of Nebraska's congressional districts whenever a petition issue is on the general election ballot.

Referendum No. 426 will ask voters to either retain or repeal Legislative Bill 268. In 2015, state lawmakers voted in favor of LB 268, which abolished the death penalty and also set a maximum penalty for a first-degree murder conviction at life in prison.

It was clear some people were convinced they'd be voting one way or the other. It was also clear a number of Nebraskans haven't made up their minds about the death penalty.

Vvian Tuttle's mind is made up. Her daughter was killed by bank robbers and she wants them to face what she did. "3 people came in and in 40 seconds they killed my daughter and 4 bank employees. So you know I'm here to talk about retaining the death penalty."

Tuttle has traveled up and down the state to get petition signatures and wants people to vote. "That's her 3-year-old and 5-year-old that never got to see their mother after she went to the bank."

A majority attending the hearing did not agree. "The death penalty does not bring closure to victim's families," said Vicki Pratt. "Nebraska does not have the drugs to carry out an execution."

Some likely voters aren't sure what to make of the tough choice ahead of them. "I think there's kind of some things wrong with the justice system that puts people on death row in the first place," said Carley Adams.

The purpose of the hearings is to allow the public to voice their side and to get answers. "I think that people are becoming much more aware that it's not a simple issue," said Secretary Gale. "The death penalty is a very complex issue."

The actual wording on the ballot has already been an issue for some. "I didn't really know which box I was supposed to mark because the wording on it just seemed very confusing to me," said Jacqueline Schumacher.

The state government has already approved a measure that would overturn the death penalty. What's left is either choosing to retain the vote to get rid of it or repeal the choice and keep the death penalty.

Hearings will also be held at the UNK campus in Kearney on Thursday and at the State Capitol in Lincoln next Tuesday.

(source: WOWT news)


Ricketts donates another $100,000 to death penalty campaign

Gov. Pete Ricketts has given another $100,000 to a ballot campaign seeking to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska after lawmakers abolished the punishment over his veto last year, according to fundraising numbers released Tuesday.

The contribution brings the governor's total donation to $300,000 since Nebraskans for the Death Penalty launched a statewide ballot drive to overturn the Legislature's decision.

The campaign had raised more than $1.2 million as of last week, according to its filing with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. A group working to keep the death penalty off the books collected more than twice as much, with nearly $2.7 million.

Ricketts' father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, contributed $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty last year but has not given since Jan. 1.

"The death penalty remains a critical tool to protect public safety, and this will help raise awareness that Nebraskans who support the death penalty will need to vote to repeal (the repeal law) to keep the death penalty," the governor said in a statement.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty also reported another $100,000 donation from the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative group focused on the judiciary. Last year, the group contributed $300,000. The Denver-based group Citizens for a Sound Government gave another $50,000 on top of the $125,000 it contributed last year.

The death penalty opposition group Retain a Just Nebraska reported donations from more than 2,600 people, including $10,000 from the late Democratic philanthropist Dick Holland and $500 from actress Susan Sarandon.

"After blanketing the state the past few months, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on statewide television, radio and digital advertising, we are confident Nebraskans are understanding the same issues their elected representatives did when they voted to end a failed and costly government program," said Dan Parsons, spokesman for Retain a Just Nebraska.

Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, using the electric chair, and has never carried one out using its current lethal injection protocol. Opponents argue that the punishment wastes tax dollars because of seemingly endless legal and logistical challenges that have kept the state from imposing it.

Supporters say the punishment is used judiciously and can be restored once state officials obtain the necessary drugs. State officials have floated other options, such as changing the state's 3-drug protocol to gain access to drugs that are easier to obtain.

Ricketts announced last year that his administration would not move forward with any executions until voters have decided whether to overturn the Legislature's decision and reinstate the death penalty. Nebraska currently has 10 men on death row.

(source: Associated Press)


New Mexico Wants to Bring Back the Death Penalty

While California has been in the news for competing death penalty measures, New Mexico quietly brought a bitter House debate to an end, passing HB7, a measure to restore the death penalty in certain circumstances.

New Mexico's governor, Susana Martinez, must be pleased. She's been pushing for the state to resume prisoner executions.

Now it's up to the Senate to decide whether the legislation will more forward. Even so, it's a bad sign for death penalty opponents who are fighting to ban this archaic form of punishment across the country.

In 2009, New Mexico banned the death penalty on the grounds that it was highly costly and used so infrequently that it didn't make sense to leave it on the books as a punishment.

But the state's Republicans claim that the death penalty should be part of the judicial toolbox. They argue that the cost projections related to administration of capital punishment are inflated.

The number of people eligible for the death penalty might be so small as to make it virtually unused, but evidently Republicans want the option just in case -- especially in rare cases when people kill law enforcement officers on the job.

The bill makes an appeal to emotion by suggesting the death penalty should be available in the case of child murders and killings of police and correctional officers.

For lawmakers, it's a wise move to target members of the public who might be on the fence about the death penalty except in extreme cases. But it also creates a slippery slope, opening up the possibility of legalizing it in a growing number of circumstances.

Regardless as to one's personal stance on the death penalty, the bill has a glaring legal problem, according to Nicole Knight: It imposes an IQ cutoff for executions, which the Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional.

The cutoff is set at 70, a largely arbitrary number. Some people with lower IQs could potentially be found competent to stand trial, while those with higher IQs might not be legally competent. These assessments are based on evaluations of individuals, not sweeping judgments on the basis of a single number.

The phrasing around methods of execution is also vague, indicating only that prisoners should be executed by being given enough of a "substance" to cause death. One reason for that wording is the repeated legal challenges to specific drugs used in executions. The shrinking availability of approved compounds is also a factor, as pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply drugs for executions.

New Mexico Republicans are clearly hoping to build in a bit of a buffer for themselves, but that may not be great news for justice.

Democrats argue that the bill was snuck through the House in the middle of the night -- which it was -- with a lack of transparency for members of the public who might have an interest.

Legislative transparency and hastily-passed bills have been a bit of a theme in 2016, as opponents of North Carolina's HB2 have noted.

Democrats may get the last laugh in the Senate, though. The bill is unlikely to pass, ensuring that it stalls out in the lower house and never actually makes it to the books -- at least, until the makeup of the House and Senate changes and death penalty supporters make up the necessary majority.



Support for death penalty stronger in Utah than nationally, poll shows

Utahns still support capital punishment at a rate much higher than the nation as a whole, a new poll shows.

Some 71 % of likely Utah voters say the state should continue to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases, according to the survey of conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

That's 10 points higher than the 61 % of Americans who said they favor capital punishment in a national poll conducted last year by Gallup.

Nationwide, backing of the death penalty has been slipping since reaching an all-time high of 80 % support in the 1990s. That hasn't been true in Utah, where conservative political and religious views have kept support high.

In the Dan Jones survey, 22 % of respondents said they disapproved of capital punishment and another 7 % either didn't respond or said they didn't know.

Support was higher among Utah men (75 %) than women (67 %), and highest among Republican respondents at 84 %.

Democrats were more evenly divided - with 49 % against the death penalty and 45 % for it.

Capital punishment won backing among Utah's major religious groups - including 79 % of active Mormons, 71 % of Protestants and 54 % of Catholics.

Conducted Sept. 12 to 19, the overall poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 % points.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who has been the primary driver of pro-death penalty legislation on Utah's Capitol Hill, is not surprised by the results. They fit, he said, with what he hears from constituents even amid a national push to end the practice.

"A very large majority of people still support it," he said. "And the fact that we do it carefully [in Utah] and we don't have 45 people on death row shows that citizens have a comfort level with the way we do it."

Even so, Utah opponents say they are optimistic that the state eventually will end executions.

A bill to repeal capital punishment - as at least 7 other states have done in recent years - cleared the Utah Senate earlier this year. While it failed to get a vote in the House, it got further than any expected.

"That tells me that, poll numbers aside, the people who are responsible for making our laws in the state are really beginning to rethink the death penalty," said Mark Moffat, a defense attorney who sits on Utah's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). "I think it's time we examine whether we, as a state, have it on the books."

Marina Lowe, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, sees an appetite for that conversation. Lowe was among the advocates pushing lawmakers toward repeal.

An interim legislative committee and the CCJJ are examining the issue, she said, including looking closely at how prosecutors use capital-punishment laws, the appeals process and the legal costs Utah incurs in pursuing drawn-out capital cases.

The last person the state executed was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010, by firing squad. 8 of the 9 men currently on death row were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death before 1999. The last time a capital conviction was secured in a new case was in 2008.

Utah prosecutors bring capital charges more frequently than those numbers suggest. But, in nearly every instance, those cases resolve in ways that carry lesser sentences, including life in prison without the possibility of parole. That costs the state far less than capital cases, each which can run state and local governments an additional $1.6 million.

Sharing that kind of data with Utahns statewide is critical to advancing the conversation around repeal, said Ralph Dellapiana, a defense attorney who heads Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"People who don't know about the problems with the death penalty are unsurprisingly going to support it; it's the law," he said. "But the more people learn about it, the more they go, 'this is horrible.'"

Dellapiana said he and other advocates are working to renew a repeal effort during the 2017 Legislature, although they have yet to find a sponsor.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


Former Marine begins trial in 2014 death of pregnant wife of fellow Twentynine Palms Marine

A former U.S. Marine is expected to begin trial Tuesday for the death of 19-year-old Erin Corwin, the pregnant wife of a fellow Twentynine Palms Marine.

Former Marine Cpl. Christopher Brandon Lee, 27, is charged with o1 felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement of having intentionally killed the victim by means of lying in wait.

Both sides were expected to deliver their opening remarks this morning at San Bernardino Justice Center, 247 W. 3rd St. The case moved to San Bernardino from the desert last year.

Corwin, of Twentynine Palms, disappeared on June 28, 2014. Her husband reported her missing the following day.

An intense 7-week search for Corwin covered more than 300 square miles including the areas of Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, Amboy, Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base and areas covered by Bureau of Land Management.

Her body was found on Aug. 16, 2014 in an abandoned 140-foot mineshaft in a remote desert area outside of Twentynine Palms. Lee was arrested the next day in Anchorage, Alaska and extradited back to San Bernardino County to face charges.

Investigators learned of an affair between Corwin and Lee. Homicide detectives said they were able to trace the affair as far back as February.

Lee has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He could face the death penalty, if convicted.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty, who is a member of the District Attorney's Major Crimes Unit.

(source: San Bernardino Sun)


The Dark Side of History: Edmund Kemper

The story I am about to tell is about murder and mutilation. It happened in Aptos ... Seacliff to be specific. The exact address of the crime scene is not confidential but I will not disclose it in this article. If you do find the address, don't disclose it and don't bother the current residents. They may not know this history and may not want to know.

As I mentioned in my last article, the "dark side of history" these events are definitely not feel-good stories but nevertheless are part of our history and as a historian, I feel they are to be told and remembered.

On April 24, 1973, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department received a phone call from Edmund Kemper. He told them that he was responsible for murdering his mother (Clarnell Strandberg) and her close friend (Sara Hallet). Kemper placed the call from a payphone in Pueblo, Colorado, and made a desperate plea, "Stop me. I'm an inch from doing it again."

This wasn't the 1st time Kemper had placed a phone call admitting to the murder of a family member. When Edmund was 15 years old, he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in North Fork, California. On August 24, 1964, Kemper shot his grandmother because, according to him, he “just wondered how it would feel to shoot grandma." He then shot his grandfather stating, "I didn't want him to see what I had done." Kemper then called his mother to tell her what he had done. She notified the authorities and Edmond was arrested and charged with murder.

During his trial, it was decided that a psychiatric hospital would be more beneficial than a penal institution. On December 6, 1964, Edmund entered Atascadero State Hospital where he would spend the next 5 years of his life. It was during this time that they discovered a big part of Kemper's psychological issues stemmed from his strained and toxic relationship with his mother.

Even though the doctors at Atascadero recommended that Edmund never be returned to live with his mother, the Youth Authority did just that. At 20 years old, he was released to his mother, who by this time had moved to Santa Cruz to work at the University.

Kemper was actually a very likable guy. He used to frequent the Jury Room, a bar across from the Santa Cruz County Courthouse, and became friendly with many police officers in town. They even gave him the nickname "Big Ed," which captures Kemper's impressive 6'9", 280 pound stature. Kemper was so well liked that when he made that call from Pueblo, Colorado, the police thought he was playing a practical joke. Little did they know Kemper had spent the last ten months on a murdering spree.

Between May 1972, and February 1973, Kemper had murdered 6 young female hitchhikers. They were all college students, which earned him the nickname, "The Co-Ed Killer."

Kemper's killing process is the disturbing part of this story. Again, read at your own discretion. After murdering his victims, he would often bring their bodies back to his mother's house in Aptos where his victims were decapitated and dismembered and most of the time, their body parts were scattered throughout the county.

Kemper was sick. And he knew it. He was riddled with guilt but had no way to control the urges when they would strike. He tried to stop several times but was never successful. He was also experiencing paranoid fantasies and was certain he would soon be caught. He knew something had to be done.

On April 21, 1973, at 5 a.m. in the Aptos home he shared with his mother, Kemper arose from bed and retrieved a claw hammer that was kept in the kitchen. He walked into his mother's bedroom stood over her sleeping body and struck her right temple, killing her.

He quickly cleaned up the mess, flipped the mattress over, and dragged his mother's body into the closet. He then left the house and went to the Jury Room for a drink.

Later that night, he returned to the scene of the crime and the paranoia set in. He decided he would explain his mother's absence by telling people she had left town with her best friend, Sara Hallet. For that story to work, Mrs. Hallet would also have to disappear. Edmund called Mrs. Hallet and told her he wanted to surprise his mother with dinner and a show that night.

She happily accepted his invitation and showed up that evening around 8 p.m. She entered the room, removed her sweater, and Kemper quickly hit her in the stomach. He then choked her until her body went limp.

The next day, Easter Sunday, he jumped into Mrs. Hallet's car and drove east. He assumed the bodies would be discovered the next day and a warrant for his arrest would be issued. However, as the hours past and turned into days with no mention of the crimes on any of the radio news stations, Kemper decided he would have to be the one to make the call.

He was picked up and transported back to Santa Cruz where he was indicted on 8 counts of 1st-degree murder. On November 8, 1973, the jury found him sane and guilty on all counts. Kemper, who tried to commit suicide twice during the trial, asked for the death penalty but due to the moratorium placed on capital punishment at the time, was given a life sentence, which he is still serving today.

During the period from 1970 to 1973, there were 26 murders committed in Santa Cruz by three serial killers all active at the same time: Edmund Kemper, John Linley Frazier, and Herbert Mullin. For a more in-depth discussion of when Santa Cruz was known as "The Murder Capital of the World,' please join us on Saturday, October 29 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Rio Sands Hotel Community Room as part of the Aptos History Museum's "Coffee, Tea, and Mystery." $15 donation benefits the museum and reservations are required.

(source: Kevin Newhouse;


Vote to end the death penalty in California

On your November ballot, you have the choice of voting to reform implementation of the death penalty or end it in California. Or you could vote against both initiatives and leave the system alone.

California has 747 inmates on death row, nearly double the number of the next highest state, Florida. Since we re-instituted the death penalty in California in 1977, the state has executed only 13 people.

This is clearly a system that is not working.

Proposition 66 seeks to fix that system through a series of legal reforms to speed up the appeals process. It now takes 20 years or more for a death penalty case to wind its way through the courts. The measure also would change how the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation deals with death row inmates in an effort to save money.

Proposition 62 would abolish the death penalty in California, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Both measures would apply to the 747 inmates now on death row as well as future cases.

We urge a yes vote on Prop. 62 and a no vote on Prop. 66.

You can address the death penalty issue on 2 levels. First is whether we are doing it correctly. Second is whether we should be doing it at all.

On both points, we believe California should join the 20 other states and vast majority of nations in the world and abolish the death penalty.

Prop. 66 would set time limits on how long courts have to consider the majority of appeals in death penalty cases, change the system for which courts hear those appeals, broaden the base of attorneys eligible to handle those cases and alter how the state handles inmates sentenced to death.

The appeals system for these cases is absolutely broken. There is a long list of inmates waiting up to 5 years for the California Supreme Court to simply name their attorney to start the process of handling their basic appeal.

But this is a classic example of legislating by the ballot box. Opponents to Prop. 66 make cogent arguments that the effort to speed up the system could actually slow it down by adding new layers of courts to hear the appeals. The plan to broaden the base of attorneys could shift the burden from the state to counties. With 9 death row inmates from Ventura County involved in basic habeas corpus appeals, that could run up $2.7 million for the county in new legal costs.

This is a complex issue that involves courts changing their systems. We should not be making such decisions by asking California voters to raise their hands yes or no.

If Prop. 66 passes, there remains the issue of legal challenges to the implementation of the death penalty. Federal courts have halted all executions in California because of the way the state has handled lethal injections. A state judge has ruled that the arbitrary system and long delays violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Prop. 62 is one of the rare instances of an issue that is suited for the initiative process. It is clear and straightforward: Do you want to continue the death penalty in California?

We had the same issue on the ballot only 4 years ago. At that time, 52 percent of voters did not want to abolish capital punishment.

Since then, the number of states and nations banning the death penalty has grown. Last year alone, Fiji, Madagascar, Suriname and Congo joined the list. Only 25 nations still have the death penalty, and 89 percent of the executions are in only 3 nations: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The death penalty is not a deterrent. The death penalty is immoral. It is inhumane. The current system prolongs the trauma of victims' families rather than end it. Its administration, even if legal hurdles are cleared, remains based on the state or county where you commit the crime and the quality of your legal adviser.

It is not equal justice. It fails to allow for the growing exoneration rate of inmates. We can no longer support it.

We support locking up those convicted of these terrible crimes for the rest of their lives, with no possibility of parole. But we must abolish the death penalty. Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on Proposition 66.

(source: Editorial, Ventura County Star)


Father of slain Palm Springs officer calls for death penalty

Lesley Zerebny was wondering what direction her life should take when a television show pointed her to Palm Springs.

She and her father, David Kling, were watching an episode of "COPS" set in the city when Kling suggested his daughter consider joining the Palm Springs Police Department. Kling's 30-year career with the California Highway Patrol made him think she'd be a good fit.

Zerebny was working at a restaurant in Oceanside at the time. A year later, she was on the force.

"When she decided she wanted to do something, that's exactly what she did," Kling said Tuesday.

Zerebny and fellow officer Jose "Gil" Vega were shot and killed Saturday after responding to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance at a Palm Springs home. A 3rd unidentified officer was shot but is said to be recovering well after being released from the hospital Sunday.

An outpouring of support has brought some relief to Zerebny's family over the ensuing days, Kling said.

Zerebny, 27, was the youngest of his 3 children. She graduated from West Valley High School in Hemet, where she still lived with her husband, Zach Zerebny, a Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy.

Zach and Lesley Zerebny celebrated the birth of their 1st child, a girl named Cora, 4 months ago. Police say Zerebny had recently returned to work after maternity leave before she was killed.

"She followed in my footsteps and we were able to talk about her work and my experience, and it has just been brutal dealing with that," Kling said.

The Palm Springs Police Officers Association is accepting donations that it can direct to Zerebny's family.

Police say John Hernandez Felix, a 26-year-old with gang ties and a previous felony conviction, shot the 3 officers, leading to a 12-hour standoff that ended with Felix's arrest early Sunday. He is being held in a Riverside jail and is expected to be charged Wednesday.

Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty, but Kling is adamant that they must.

"I want the death penalty," Kling said. "This individual here is what that law was written for. He laid in wait, he had a loaded gun, he wore a vest. He ambushed my daughter, Vega and the other officer in that house."

Vega appeared in at least 1 episode of "COPS." The Palm Springs police have been featured on the show multiple times, including the premiere of the 27th season in July 2014.

Memorial services for Vega and Zerebny on Tuesday are expected to draw law enforcement officers from around the country. Kling said he's already hearing that at least 2 agencies in North Dakota, where his other daughter lives, plan to send representatives.

The service and its expected crowd of thousands will be the largest show of support yet for the officers and their families.

A smaller gesture came over the weekend, along the three-miles of rural road near Hemet where Kling and his wife live. Neighbors had decorated the road, and the stop sign was festooned with more than a dozen blue balloons.

"And then along the way up our street," Kling said, "every mail box and fence post had signs saying how much they appreciated Lesley and the sacrifice she gave."



Justices divided over jury racism, privacy

Supreme Court justices agreed Tuesday that juries should not be tainted by racism, but they disagreed on whether their verdicts should be thrown out as a result.

In a case that balanced a Colorado defendant's right to a fair trial against the sanctity of private jury deliberations, the justices appeared closely divided. To some, guarding against racial discrimination was paramount. Others worried that piercing the privacy of a jury room over race would lead to challenges concerning religion, gender, sexual orientation -- even a defendant's political persuasion or driving skills.

The case involves a racetrack employee's conviction for sexual battery involving teen-age girls and a single juror's statements -- revealed by 2 other jurors only after the verdict was announced -- that he must be guilty "because he's Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want."

Lawyers and judges seek to dismiss potentially racist jurors before and even during a trial, but federal and state rules seek to protect jury verdicts from impeachment after the fact.

Jeffrey Fisher, the lawyer for Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, said the Supreme Court has ruled in many cases that "race is different" and "racial bias is never the lesser evil" among competing interests. "Race is a particular poison," he said.

That appeared to be a winning argument with most of the court's liberal justices, though they struggled with how to differentiate a juror's racial statements from those affecting other protected traits, including gender.

"Suppose somebody in the jury room, say it's an automobile accident, says, 'What do you expect of women drivers? Women shouldn't be allowed to drive cars. Every woman I know is a terrible driver,'" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former women's rights appellate lawyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said granting Pena-Rodriguez a chance at a new hearing would lead to challenges based on religion and other types of discrimination or improper behavior. Roberts said a biased juror could say, "That witness lies all the time." Alito asked what would happen to a verdict determined by "flipping a coin."

But Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan took strong stands on the defendant's behalf, agreeing with Fisher that race and ethnicity should get extra protection -- as they already do in 18 states.

"We have the best smoking-gun evidence you're ever going to see about race bias in the jury room," Kagan told Assistant Solicitor General Rachel Kovner, whose office sided with Colorado.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently the swing vote on the court, asked Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger if a juror's racist comments could be ignored if it was a death penalty case. "Would the government of the United States come and make this argument -- that the person can be executed despite what we know happened in the jury room?" he said.

(source: USA Today)


Gaza Strip executions need to stop, argues European Union

Hamas must stop meting out death penalties in violation of Palestinian law, argued the European Union Tuesday as it sharply criticized the latest death sentence issued by the de facto government of the Gaza Strip.

"The de facto authorities in Gaza must refrain from carrying out any executions of prisoners and comply with the moratorium on executions put in place by the Palestinian Authority," the EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah said after the most recent death sentence, issued Sunday, following a man's conviction for killing another man.

Capital punishment must be approved by the president under Palestinian Basic Law. The sentences signal an escalation between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank.

The Islamist movement announced in May that it had approved a measure allowing executions to be carried out in Gaza, without being first ratified by Abbas.

Gaza Strip courts have issued 15 death penalties this year, 3 of which have been carried out by hanging.

"After Hamas took control of Gaza, the courts have been acting as de facto courts," Samir Zaquot, director of the law unit at Al Meznan Centre for Human Rights, told dpa.

His comments echo concerns from the United Nations and human rights groups on whether those sentenced to death were given fair trials.

From July 2007 to October, Hamas-ruled courts have issued 120 death penalty sentences, Zaquot said, adding that "61 had been executed."

Hamas, which has been on the EU's list of terrorist organizations since 2001, has pushed to have the designation removed. A top court adviser to the EU recommended the group's delisting late last month.



5 charged with kidnapping, face death penalty

5 of the 9 men arrested in a daring kidnapping case early this month were charged with abduction and wrongful confinement at the magistrate's court here.

The 5 were jointly charged with abducting and wrongfully confining a 60-year-old money changer for a RM3 million ransom.

The 5 are T.Shasitaran, 32, M. Ashogan, 33, Mohamad Sultan Ahmad Kabil, 37, Ong San Chia, 31, and Yeoh Shyh Ming, 27.

They allegedly committed the offence sometime between 10.30am and 10.45am on September 28 at the roadside of Jalan Rumbia near the Crystal Gardens apartment.

All 5 were charged under Section 3(1) of the Kidnapping Act 1961 for abduction and wrongful confinement for ransom which carries the death penalty upon conviction.

No plea was recorded from all 5, 3 of whom were represented by Mathan Anandaram, while Ong and Yeoh were represented by Jason Khor.The prosecution was represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor Nurul Fatin Hussin.

Magistrate Mohamad Amin Shahul Hamid fixed December 14 for mention of the case.

The 5 were alleged to have kidnapped the money changer by dragging him into a van as he was walking out from his house.

The 60-year-old businessman was held in an apartment while his abductors demanded for RM3 million in ransom from his family.

The businessman was rescued on October 3 when police arrested one of those involved who led the police to where the victim was held.

Police had remanded 9 suspects in connection with the case. It is believed the other 4 other suspects are still under investigations.



Mother of death-row inmate: Pray for my son----Sapenah Nawati's son receives birthday cards as Amnesty International appeals for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment.

Sapenah Nawati put on a brave face as she stood in front of the entrance of the Sungai Buloh prison, where her son Shahrul Izani Suparman sits on death row.

Fighting hard to hold back her tears, the 58-year-old mother of 4 vowed not to give up hope. He could be executed at any time.

"I am asking everyone to pray for my son as we attempt to save him from the gallows for the last time," she pleaded, her voice cracking a little, before thanking those who had offered her support.

"Whatever happens, happens."

Sapenah was speaking to reporters after passing Shahrul, her 2nd child, birthday greeting cards from Malaysians nationwide, including children.

The birthday cards effort was an initiative by Amnesty International Malaysia in conjunction with the 14th World Day Against Death Penalty, which falls on Oct 10 every year.

As part of Amnesty International Malaysia's campaign against the death penalty, Malaysians can sign an online petition to urge the Selangor Pardons Board to commute Shahrul Izani's death sentence to life imprisonment.

"This campaign is to call for reform towards death penalty laws. Shahrul's case is only 1 of many.

"The public rarely has information on who is being executed and for what crimes. Transparency on the use of capital punishment is important as it is an essential safeguard that not only allows for greater scrutiny to ensure the rights of those facing execution are fully respected, but is also a pre-condition for informed and meaningful debates on the issue," AI Malaysia Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said Tuesday.

On Sept 25, 2003, Shahrul was arrested at a roadblock when police found 622 grammes of cannabis wrapped in 2 newspapers and placed in separate bags.

He was subsequently charged with drug trafficking under Section 39B (1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 and sentenced to death on Dec 8, 2009.

For 13 years, Shahrul Izani had maintained he did not know the drugs were stashed in the basket of the motorcycle.

He has already exhausted all his appeals.



Amnesty decries India's death penalty record

----Says capital punishment used in flawed bid to combat terror

India is among around 20 countries that resorted to death penalty in a "flawed" anti-terror drive in 2015, Amnesty International has said as it called for a complete ban on executions.

In its report 'Stop the Cycle of Violence: The Use of the Death Penalty for Terrorism-related Offences' coinciding with the World Day Against the Death Penalty on Monday, the Amnesty said countries are "increasingly resorting to death penalty in a flawed attempt" to combat terrorism-related crimes.

Besides India, at least 20 countries sentenced people to death or carried out executions for terrorism-related crimes last year and it included Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Congo, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, UAE and the USA.

"Although the use of death penalty for such offences is often shrouded in secrecy, in recent years Amnesty International has documented a notable rise in its use," it said.

Rubbishing governments' argument that death penalty serves as a deterrent, it said examples of Cameroon and Iraq undermine claims in favour of the death penalty's role in deterring violent armed attacks.

Authorities in Cameroon introduced the 2014 anti-terrorism law, prescribing the death penalty for acts of terrorism, specifically to combat violent attacks by Boko Haram, but since then, the outfit has "significantly increased its attacks, including suicide bombings," the Amnesty said.

From July 2015 to July 2016, the group carried out at least 200 attacks, including 38 suicide bombings. The frequency of Boko Haram's attacks in northern Cameroon peaked between November 2015 and the end of January 2016, with a record of 1 attack every 3 days, it said.

On Iraq, it quoted the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, which said, "the government's view according to which the death penalty is a deterrent to violence, including terrorism, appears not to be valid, given the deteriorating security situation over the past years."

"Majority of the states, 103 countries, have now abolished death penalty for all crimes. These countries have accepted that crime in whatever shape or form can be addressed without using death penalty. It is time for countries that use death penalty for terrorism-related offences to accept this fact," it added.

(source: Deccan Herald)


Emergency Advocacy Letter Delivered to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S.

Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian and mother of 5, is on death row. Pakistan's Supreme Court is set to hear the final appeal of her case tomorrow - Thursday, October 13th. Today, we delivered an emergency letter in support of Asia to Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States. Our letter requests that he do everything in his power to advocate for Asia's freedom, and for "the protection of the rights and religious freedoms of all Pakistani citizens."

Asia has been death row for her Christian faith for 2,164 days - nearly 6 years. She was accused and convicted of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad's name. Under Pakistani law, blasphemy is punishable by death, and Asia was sentenced to death by hanging. Her only "crime," however, was publically affirming her faith in Jesus Christ.

Asia was arrested back in 2009, after an argument occurred between her and her co-workers. As we informed the Ambassador:

Asia, who was picking berries, took a break from her work to get a drink of water and offered some water to the other women working with her. Her co-workers informed Asia that they could not drink water from the hands of a Christian woman, because, by handling it, she had made the water haram. Asia's co-workers then demanded that she convert to Islam to be cleansed of her impurity. Asia refused and instead publically affirmed her faith in Jesus Christ.

We've reported before how events then escalated, leading to Asia's arrest 5 days later. Asia's subsequent trial was full of errors, and in November 2010, Asia was sentenced to death. Asia appealed her conviction to the Lahore High Court, which - 4 years later, in October 2014 - upheld her conviction. Now, Pakistan's Supreme Court is about to hear Asia's final appeal.

Our letter to the Pakistani Ambassador discusses Asia's case and addresses key aspects of Pakistani law, as well as its obligations under international law.

Pakistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It also voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states: "[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

According to the ICCPR, "[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference," and "[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression." Freedom of expression under article 19 includes the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." The right to impart information and ideas of all kinds clearly includes communicating and expressing religious opinions to others. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are, on their face, not only contradictory to these provisions, but restrict Pakistan's ability to fulfill obligations it has agreed to with the international community through the ICCPR.

Moreover, article 6 of the ICCPR limits the "sentence of death" to only "the most serious of crimes." Neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment is by any standard proportional punishment to the "crime" of blasphemy.

While the Supreme Court hearing Asia's appeal is a positive development in her case, it does not guarantee that Asia's conviction will be overturned. By becoming a party to the ICCPR Pakistan has voluntarily undertaken the obligation to ensure that religious freedom is guaranteed to all its citizens. Pakistan needs to honor its international legal obligations and release Asia Bibi.

In addition to this letter to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., we are also sending similar emergency legal letters to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.N., and the U.N. itself.

You can join with over 475,000 people from around the world who are also advocating for Asia's freedom by signing our petition.

As we continue to aggressively advocate for this Christian mom, Asia Bibi, across the globe, our team on the ground in Pakistan will be attending the Supreme Court hearing. We will keep you updated as the fight for her freedom progresses. Please sign the petition and earnestly pray.



425 executed since abolishment of moratorium on hanging----Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said a total of 425 people have been hanged since Pakistan resumed executions in December 2014.

Pakistan has hanged 425 people since the abolishment of moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases, becoming one of the top countries in the world to hand down death sentence to convicts. "By executing 333 convicts in 2015 alone, Pakistan joined the ranks of the top executioners in the world. Courts continue to award capital punishment to suspects at a rapid rate," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said. The commission said a total of 425 people have been hanged since Pakistan resumed executions in December 2014.

In the aftermath of the deadliest attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, in which more than 150 people mostly children were killed, Pakistan had lifted a moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases. "As many as 225 individuals had been sentenced in 2014 and 411 in 2015. The number of convictions had already reached 301 by the end of September this year," it said.

The HRCP has also demanded reform of the criminal justice system before continuing with the death penalty under the National Action Plan (NAP). "Owing to critical and well-documented deficiencies in the law and administration of justice, death penalty allows a very high probability of miscarriage of justice, which is unacceptable in any civilised society, particularly when the punishment was irreversible," said HRCP Secretary General I A Rehman.

"It is obvious that none of the reasons for stopping executions in 2008 have changed. Things have rather deteriorated. We have seen how real the possibility of hanging minors and mentally and physically challenged individuals can be," he said. Noting that "grave concerns" have arisen over the denial of fair trial and due process rights in trial by military courts, Rehman said in such circumstances it was imperative to immediately halt executions, restore the moratorium and move towards abolition of the death penalty.

He said "investigation methods" of police and chronic corruption also added to the troubles of those who were charged with capital offences. "The system of justice is loaded against the poor and lack of financial means put those accused of death penalty offences at a serious disadvantage," Rehman said.

Noting that religion is often invoked to justify capital punishment, he said yet in fact no more than a couple of the 27 death penalty offences on the statute books in Pakistan are mandated by religion. According to latest Amnesty International data on executions around the world, Pakistan is one of the 5 death penalty purveyors in the world, behind only China and Iran.

(source: The Indian Express)


Iranian child bride to be put to death after giving birth to stillborn baby----Zeinab Sokian faces the death penalty for killing her husband in 2012

A child bride is facing execution for the murder of her husband after giving birth to a stillborn baby in prison.

Zeinab Sokian was sentenced to death in 2012 when she just 17 for allegedly murdering her husband in her village in northern Iran.

Under Iranian law, murder carries the death penalty but pregnant women cannot be executed.

Ms Sokian, who was just 15 when she first got married, was pregnant from a relationship she formed with a fellow prisoner while in prison but delivered the stillborn child on 30 September.

Now Iranian authorities have told her she will be executed in the next couple of weeks as she is no longer pregnant.

During her trial the court had disregarded her testimony that she had been frequently beaten and abused by her husband, Human Rights Watch reported.

Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which outlaws the use of the death penalty on a person who was under 18 when they committed a capital offence but has already executed at least 1 child in 2016.

Another 49 people who were children when they committed the offence are currently on death row.

Origins of forced marriage cases

According to Iran's Civic Code a girl can be legally married at 13 and a boy at 15 despite the CRC saying the minimum marriage age should be 18.

It comes as Save the Children released analysis which showed one girl under 15 is married every 7 seconds.

Girls as young as 10 are being forced to marry men, often a lot older than themselves, in countries such as Iran, Niger, India, Yemen and Somalia.

One girl under 18 is forced to marry every 2 seconds.

In India, which has the most total number of child marriages due to the size of its population, 47 % of girls - around 24.6m - are forced to get married under the age of 18.

Save the Children's new CEO Kevin Watkins said: "Child marriage isn't just a form of discrimination, it's a form of violence.

"Forcing girls to marry much older men robs them of their freedom and amounts to sexual slavery. Instead of being in school, married girls face domestic violence, abuse and rape.

"They fall pregnant and are exposed to STIs including HIV. Bearing children before their bodies are ready means girls suffer complicated deliveries and even death."

(source: The Independent)


World Day Against Death Penalty, Commemoration of 1988 Massacre in Iran

The World Day Against the Death Penalty was celebrated at the mayor's office of Paris' 1st district. On October 10, an exposition about executions in Iran took place. Organized by the Support Committee for Human Rights in Iran (SCHRI), the exposition was interspersed with speeches from elected officials, human rights defenders and witnesses of human rights violations from Iran.

The exposition emphasized the execution of political prisoners in Iran, which often take place en masse in the country with the highest number of executions per capita. These executions were denounced by the U.N. Secretary General's most recent report on Iran submitted to the General Assembly.

In 1988, in the space of just a few months, more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed following the issuing of a fatwa by Khomeini. The majority of the dissidents who were victims of this slaughter were members of the People's Mojahidin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The recent publishing of an audio recording from Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, then heir-apparent to Khomeini, has revived this nearly-forgotten crime against humanity. Montazeri opposed this crime and was thus expelled from leadership in the same year and placed under house arrest.

The speakers at the exposition underlined the need to bring those responsible for this crime to justice. Many organizers of the massacre today occupy high government offices and continue to sentence Iranians to death by hanging throughout the country. Human rights groups from around the world have denounced Iran's use of capital punishment, but we often forget the Islamic Republic of Iran, with more than 1,000 annual hangings, executes more people than the rest of the world combined in proportion to its population.

The mayor of Paris' 1st district, Jean-Francois Legaret, who hosted the exposition in his office, opened the exposition by underlining that there is "a battle to fight against the death penalty and other barbaric acts in Iran", such as the 1988 prison massacre. He said he hopes that this campaign to raise awareness will go on until those responsible are judged before an international tribunal. Mr. Legaret insisted that even if commercial exchanges are important, we must never negotiate with a "barbarous regime" such as that of the Mollahs.

The mayor of Paris' 2nd district, Jacques Boutault, thanked those who fight alongside the Iranian Resistance to bring human rights to Iran. Mr. Boutalt also recalled that the Iranian regime is complicit in the war in Aleppo and called upon the French government to summon the courage to denounce the crimes that Iran has perpetrated in Syria.

Mr. Henri Leclerc, Honorable President of the League for Human Rights, said that "in Iran, the use of the death penalty is massive and we cannot let this go unchallenged." He also stated that "unpunished crimes will recur." Regarding the massacre of political prisoners in Iran, he added: "It is a crime against humanity when we know that thousands were executed while they were in prison. This must be denounced and we must act. We have sufficient materials. I hope that the U.N. conducts an investigation which brings those responsible to trial."

Mr. Leclerc finished by saying that the victims of the 1988 massacre "died for liberty around the world; these men, women, and children have a right to justice. If we leave such crimes unpunished, it is our future that will truly be tragic."

(source: NCR-Iran)


Abduction, rituals now attract death penalty in grabbing, kidnapping, others 25 years jail

Ogun State House of Assembly, OGHA, Tuesday passed into law a bill stipulating a 25 years imprisonment as penalty for anyone caught engaging in forceful takeover of landed property across the state with the use of any fire arms.

In a situation where life is involved, the Ogun Assembly's bill entitled 'H.B. No. 03/2016,' further stipulated death sentence for anyone found guilty of placing on any land or landed property, "any agent for the purpose of forceful takeover of the said land with the use of any fire arms, offensive weapon, obnoxious or chemical materials or the said offender causes any form of injury or uses violence on any person."

The bill was titled: 'H.B. No. 03/2016 - 'A Bill for a law to Prohibit Forcible Entry and Occupation of Landed Properties, Violent and Fraudulent Conducts in a Relation To Landed Properties: Armed Robbery, Kidnapping, Cultism and Allied Matters and For other Matters Incidental thereto or Connected Therewith.'

The passage of the bill during the House's plenary session presided over by the Speaker, Hon. Suraju Ishola Adekunbi, followed the presentation of the report of the Special Joint Committees on Lands and Housing as well as Justice, Ethics and Public Petitions led by the Assembly's Deputy Speaker, Hon. Olakunle Oluomo, who sponsored the bill.

Oluomo had moved the motion for the adoption of the bill, which was seconded by Hon. Adebiyi Adeleye and eventually supported by the Whole House. Other provisions in the bill included that in case of kidnapping, abduction, violent rituals resulting in death or grievous bodily harm, forcible detention and related offense "where the person kidnapped, restrained, detained, kept, abducted or seized dies in the course, the offender shall be liable on conviction to such punishment as provided for the offense of murder under Section 319 (1) Criminal Code Law of Ogun State, 2006 or such other law for the time being in force."

The bill further added that where "the person does no die in the course, the offender shall be liable on conviction to punishment for life with hard labour and without an option of fine."

The new bill also spelt out punishment for robbery, as any person held for robbery shall upon trial and conviction be liable to a sentence of 21 years imprisonment, while anyone convicted for armed robbery attracts death sentence.

Following the passage of the bill by thestate Assembly, Hon. Adekunbi however, ordered that a clean copy of the bill be sent to the state governor, Ibikunle Amosun, for assent into law.



Abolition of Death Penalty - MPs Say Their Hands Tied

Legislators have said their hands are tied over abolition of death penalty in Zimbabwe, saying scrapping the sentence rests more with the executive and political party leaders than Parliament.

Speaking during commemorations of the World Day against Death Penalty this Monday, legislators from the parliamentary parties - MDC-T and Zanu PF - said the laws of the country give their superiors control over what MPs do in the August House.

MDC-T legislator Jessie Majome, who also chairs Parliament's Legal committee, said the whipping system compromises their role.

"Our parliament is an arena of party politics. That's the way it is. We take positions in parliament according to what our party decides or doesn't decide.

"I come from a party that has a minority in Parliament therefore I couldn't master enough support when I challenged the death penalty in the house," she said.

Fortune Chasi of Zanu PF concurred, saying MPs could only deliberate and pass such laws with the blessing of the executive.

"The Zimbabwean parliament reacts to what the executive brings before it," he said.

The MPs were responding to advocate Fadzai Mahere who had accused the legislature of dragging its feet on aligning the Criminal Procedure, Evidence Act with the section 48 of constitution which guarantees the right to life.

The constitution now limits the death penalty to cases of aggravated murder while exempting women and only men below 21 and above 70 years.

The death penalty is being challenged on the basis that it is irreversible, colonial, lacks evidence of deterring others from similar crimes while innocent people have been executed in the past.



Belarus resumes executions after EU sanctions dropped ---- Human rights report details abuse used to extract confessions in only European country to use death penalty

The last European country to retain capital punishment has resumed sentencing people to death since EU sanctions against its president were dropped this year, according to a landmark investigation.

In recent months Belarus has executed one person and condemned four more to death, with more cases pending in which capital punishment is likely, according to investigators with the Paris-based human rights organisation FIDH, and the Viasna human rights centre in Minsk.

Described by investigators as a "scandal at the heart of Europe", about 400 people have been executed in Belarus since independence in 1991 - more than 1 a month.

The human rights report documents the physical and psychological abuse used to extract confessions and the shocking conditions in which death row inmates are kept and later executed.

Interviews with local journalists and lawyers reveal a practice shrouded in secrecy, with statistics on the numbers killed by the state closely guarded by Belarus's government.

The time and locations of the executions, as well as the places of burial, are also kept classified, with the bodies of prisoners never released to families.

Sacha Koulaeva, head of the FIDH's eastern Europe and central Asia desk, said the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus was an achievable goal if the European Union put pressure on the government. "We would like to mobilise the international community to call for Europe to be a death penalty-free zone," she said.

Koulaeva said evidence suggested international intervention had already proved effective: while the EU was negotiating lifting sanctions between 2013 and 2015, executions almost stopped.

Maya Foa, a director at the UK human rights group Reprieve, said the report showed the EU needed to do more to end the practice.

"The EU and member states are regularly vocal about their opposition to the death penalty, and this is now more important than ever," she said. "Executions are on the rise around the world and it is critical that the EU not only stands by its 'strong and principled opposition to the death penalty', but actively advances this principle in its diplomatic and trading relationships with executing states."

In response to the report's finding, members of the EU mission to Belarus, including the deputy head, Jim Couzens, called for an immediate moratorium on the practice.

Most families only find out a family member has been executed after their prison uniform is sent in a package after their death. The death penalty was introduced in Belarus during Soviet rule as a punishment for murder and economic crimes, as well as "counterrevolutionary acts" including treason and espionage. Since 1991, the government has continued to apply several clauses of the Soviet-era criminal code, the last of the former USSR countries to do so.

Alexander Lukashenko, who assumed office in 1994, has broadened the powers of the president over his 22 years in office, earning Belarus the nickname of Europe's "last dictatorship".

The authorities and state media outlets enthusiastically defend the use of the death penalty by claiming its use reduces crime. However, new analysis by the FIDH and Viasna shows this justification to be false: in 2015, the internal affairs ministry reported 4,018 counts of serious crime, an increase of 17% on 2014.

Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign against the death penalty led by Viasna, told researchers the conditions in which inmates are held had deteriorated. He spoke to witnesses who have worked in Belarus's death row facilities, who described cells just 3 metres large, fitted with video cameras to watch inmates at all times.

A former staff member of Pretrial Detention Centre no 1 in the centre of Minsk, told Viasna: "From the very beginning, they face maximum security restrictions ... The rules prohibit them from lying or sitting on the plank beds from 6am to 10pm. They usually walk around the cell all day long."

Another former staff member said death row inmates were kept in complete isolation and treated as if they are no longer "among the living". Those condemned to death are kept without any information about their execution date, a practice Koulaeva described as "cynical" and one that distresses the prisoners.

The report also reveals the trauma inflicted on the families of those sentenced to death.

Though the Belarusian criminal code stipulates that 1 family member must be notified in the event of an execution, it does not specify how. In most cases, families learn that an execution has been carried out only upon the delivery of personal belongings after death.

Tamara Sialiun, whose 27-year-old son Pavel was convicted of 2 counts of murder and mutilating a dead body in 2012, told investigators that the first she knew of her son's execution was when a package arrived containing his prison uniform. He had been shot in the head.

"After everything that happened, I received a notification from the post office to pick up a parcel from Minsk. It was the robe and boots of my son. When I got home, I just didn’t know what to do," said Sialiun, 1 of 3 women interviewed. She has since filed a complaint to the UN human rights committee over the treatment she and her son received.

Koulaeva said the report painted a vivid portrait of the process by which men were being convicted and killed, a process she described as deeply flawed and carried out with "total disregard to international obligations".

"The conditions in which this action takes place are terrible," she said. "[It is] a terrible ritual, and a terrible thing to witness."

(source: The Guardian)

OCTOBER 11, 2016:


Texas will see lowest number of executions in 20 years

For the 1st time in 20 years, the number of Texas executions will fall out of double digits this year.

The 7 men put to death this year are the fewest since 1996, when executions halted amid legal challenges to a new state law intended to hasten the death penalty appeals process, according to data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Only 1 more execution is scheduled for 2016.

"There is clearly a change going on in Texas," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Judges and appellate courts rescheduled or stopped executions 15 times for 11 people in 2016. At least 2 judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have said better lawyering by defense attorneys - including bringing forward better arguments and challenging "junk science" convictions - has contributed to the recent stays.

The state's highest criminal court sent multiple cases back to trial courts this year to resolve claims relating to potentially faulty evidence, including that of Jeff Wood, who didn't pull the trigger in a murder and claims his sentencing trial was tainted by misleading testimony from a highly criticized psychiatrist nicknamed "Dr. Death."

"Texas courts are now aware of the dangers associated with forensic sciences and are closely scrutinizing this evidence," said Greg Gardner, a capital defense attorney who represents John Battaglia, the man scheduled for the last execution of the year for killing his 2 daughters.

2 death penalty cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court could also be affecting decisions on setting execution dates, Dunham said. Duane Buck and Bobby Moore are currently fighting their death sentences in the nation's highest court.

Some experts think the enforcement of the death penalty - carrying out executions - is an indicator of the status of the punishment.

"Looking at the number of executions as a measure of the usage of the death penalty, it shows the death penalty is declining in Texas," Dunham said. "I think even more importantly in the long term is that new death sentences continue to be low. That means there will be fewer and fewer people on the row subject to execution in the future."

The number of new sentences dropped significantly after 2005, when life without parole became the alternative for jurors in death penalty trials, but the past 2 years have seen even lower numbers. Texas counties have sentenced 3 men to death this year, and only 2 received the penalty last year, according to TDCJ. Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said the answer may be as simple as fewer murders.

"Could it simply mean there are a lot less murders in Texas these last 15 years, so naturally the number of death-eligible defendants is way down as well?" he said in an email. "That, coupled with life without parole option, means less death penalties."

Murder rates in Texas steadily decreased from 1996 to 2013, dropping from 7.7 to 4.4 murders per 100,000 people, according to FBI crime data. The rate increased slightly the next 2 years.

Aside from lower murder rates, national support for the death penalty is also declining, according to a recent poll by Pew Research Center. Just under 1/2 of Americans support the punishment, the lowest number in four decades. The poll did not highlight Texas in its report.

While Texas is seeing a record low in executions, the country's dip is even larger. Nationwide, there have been 16 executions, the fewest in 25 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The decrease in Texas plays a major role in the national scope - the state usually accounts for the largest share of the country's executions - but issues with finding and using lethal injection drugs and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated Florida's death sentencing process have affected the numbers as well, Dunham said.

In Texas, there are currently 243 men and women on death row, the lowest in almost 30 years, according to the Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics. The number peaked at 460 in 1999 and has been steadily dropping since.

Experts were unsure if the drop in executions and new sentences would continue in the future. The numbers seem to ebb and flow, Kepple said.

(source: KHOU news)


Texas bishops call for abolition of death penalty

"Capital punishment vitiates our hearts' capacity for mercy and love," the Texas bishops said in a statement released by the Texas Catholic Conference in Austin. "The death penalty not only does not correspond to the common good, it actually does great harm to it."

The Catholic bishops of Texas Oct. 10 called for the abolition of the death penalty, denouncing its effects not only on victims and others immediately affected, but also on society.

"Capital punishment vitiates our hearts' capacity for mercy and love," the bishops said in a statement released by the Texas Catholic Conference in Austin. "The death penalty not only does not correspond to the common good, it actually does great harm to it."

The statement, released on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, comes at a time when support of the death penalty among Americans - including Texans - is declining.

Survey results released Sept. 29 by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans' support for the death penalty is the lowest it has been in more than 4 decades. It said only 49 % of Americans currently favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder. That's a drop from 56 % who said in March 2015 that they supported it. The new survey shows 42 % of Americans now oppose the death penalty.

In Texas in 2015, 56 % of people surveyed said they supported the death penalty for convicted murderers, down from 75 % in 1993.

The bishops' statement also served as their annual address to Texas Catholics during Respect Life Month, observed by the U.S. Catholic Church every October.

The month offers Catholics an opportunity to "reflect on the precious gift of life and recommit ourselves to working toward a culture that truly welcomes and protects human life in our society," the Texas bishops wrote.

"This year we bishops draw particular attention to our consistent call for the abolition of the death penalty in Texas, as we recognize this is undeniably a pro-life issue," they said.

In their statement, the bishops cited several ways they said carrying out the death penalty inflicts harm:

-- Capital punishment "is used disproportionately on the poor, minorities and people with mental disabilities.

-- Costs involved in capital punishment cases "are 3 times" that of cases in which the convicted are sentenced to life imprisonment.

-- The "finality of death" does not allow for rehabilitation of prisoners, nor does it provide "consolation for victims' families."

-- Studies have shown that states have executed innocent people and that crime rates are not affected by a state's use of the death penalty.

"The death penalty negatively influences our children's moral formation and our culture as it fails to allow for mercy and redemption," the bishops said.

"Our call to abolish the death penalty is not a call to deny justice," they wrote. "On the contrary, it is a call to the whole community to recognize that the death penalty does not fulfill justice, nor does it console the inconsolable."

A news release said the Texas Catholic Conference, which is the bishops' public policy arm, will be working in the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature to improve the rights of jurors serving in death penalty sentencing cases.

According to Jennifer Carr Allmon, the conference's executive director, Texas law "is intentionally misleading as it requires judges and attorneys to lie to jurors about the level of unanimity required for a death sentence."

"While we will continue our efforts to end the use of the death penalty in Texas, this legislation will at least improve the fairness of the current system," she said in a statement.

Fewer Texas juries are giving death sentences than at any time in the past 2 decades, the Catholic conference said. Texas's highest court for criminal cases - the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - has granted a high number of reprieves over the past 2 years, it said, because of concerns "about the fairness and accuracy of death penalty convictions."

Texas has the highest rate of executions of any state. This year, the state will carry out its lowest number of executions since 1996.



Texas Ends 6-Month Streak Without Executions

Last week, the Lone Star State concluded a record-breaking gap in executions, reports The Houston Press.

Before last Wednesday, the State of Texas had gone 6 months without putting anyone to death. That's the longest stretch without an execution since 2008. Back then, a moratorium had been called while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the legality of lethal injections.

It's now been 40 years since SCOTUS reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Kathryn Kase is Executive Director for the Texas Defender Service. She has pointed to several death-penalty cases in which serious questions remain about whether the punishment is appropriate. Kase said there seems to be greater and greater questioning of capital punishment in Texas. "I just get this increasing sense that this is hitting people, at all levels," she said.



Donald Smith scheduled for hearing in Cherish Perrywinkle death; trial faces likely delays

Donald James Smith is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 17 in the abduction, rape and strangulation of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

But the chances of actually starting on time are increasingly remote. It's possible Smith's trial will be indefinitely delayed Tuesday during a pretrial hearing in front of Senior Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper because of uncertainty over the status of the death penalty in Florida.

Prosecutors are seeking to put Smith on death row, but the death penalty is in a moratorium as the Florida Supreme Court seeks to determine the constitutionality of the state's new sentencing procedure and guidelines for how juries should be instructed in such cases.

Until that happens, judges will be reluctant to move forward with any death-penalty trials out of concern that any verdict would be overturned on appeal.

It also is unclear whether the lead prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Mark Caliel, will still be a prosecutor when the case goes to trial. Caliel and Assistant State Attorney's Patricia Dodson and Bernie de la Rionda comprise the senior management team that help run the office for State Attorney Angela Corey. Corey lost her re-election bid Aug. 30 to former Assistant State Attorney Melissa Nelson and will be out of office the 1st week of January.

Nelson has not said whether the top people in Corey's office will keep their jobs, but if she decides not to retain Caliel or if he decides he doesn't want to work for Nelson, it will likely take another prosecutor months to get up to speed on the case.

Nelson, who has told the Times-Union she will not comment on any pending cases before taking office, also could seek a plea deal that waives the death penalty in return for Smith pleading guilty to the crime.

Cooper also recently ruled that recordings of conversations Smith had with another man facing death row, Randall Deviney, can be used in Smith's trial.

Caliel said the 2 men began communicating with each other via a pipe chase - a tunnel-like space for hiding pipes or to run electrical conduit - that existed between their t2cells. Both men were being kept in isolation and weren't supposed to talk with other inmates.

When police and prosecutors were tipped off that the 2 were talking, a recording device was put in the pipe chase.

Deviney later said he had information on another murder Smith committed and offered to tell prosecutors if they let him avoid death row. Prosecutors for both Deviney and Smith said they weren't interested.

Prosecutors say Smith befriended Cherish, her mother and siblings at a Dollar General store in June 2013 and convinced them to go to Wal-Mart on Lem Turner Road in his van after offering to buy them clothes and food.

Perrywinkle told police that Smith offered to buy the family hamburgers at the McDonald's inside the Wal-Mart. Cherish went with him to get the food, and they did not return.

Cherish's body was found near a creek off Broward Road the next morning.

(source: Florida Times-Union)


Death Row Inmate Describes Exoneration by DNA Evidence, Prison Reform Activism

"My name is Kirk Bloodsworth, and I'm the 1st person in the United States to be freed by post-conviction DNA testing from a capital conviction. I spent a total of 8 years, 10 months and 19 days in prison for a brutal crime I did not commit."

With these words, Bloodsworth opened his talk in Myron Taylor Hall Thursday, speaking to students in a Psychology and Law class taught by Prof. Valerie Hans, law, and Prof. Jeffrey Rachlinski, law. Hans cited Bloodsworth's case as exemplary case of issues with witness identification, police work and human perception.

Bloodsworth described his life as a crab fisherman in Cambridge, Md. before his imprisonment, as well as the events leading up to Aug. 9, 1985 - the day police officers arrested him for the murder and rape of 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton, whose body had been found several months earlier.

"I opened the door, lights are shining in my face. I hear, 'Step outside, Mr. Bloodsworth. You're under arrest for the murder of Dawn Hamilton, you son of a bitch,'" he said. "By the time it hit the news in The Baltimore Sun the next day, I became the most hated man in the state of Maryland, if not the nation."

Detailing his interrogation by police, the evidence presented against him during his trial and the nearly nine years he spent in prison, Bloodsworth pointed out various errors and incidents of misconduct on the part of law officials on his case. These included the lack of any physical evidence linking him to the crime and a heavy reliance on eyewitness testimonies from 5 people - 2 of whom were young boys under the age of 10, whose initial descriptions did not resemble him.

"This and many other things were falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system and I was the one who fell along with them," he said.

Throughout the judicial process, Bloodsworth maintained his innocence to anyone who would listen, but he said his protests fell on deaf ears.

"After 2 weeks [of trial] on March 27, 1985, the gavel came down on my life and my sentence was life," he said. "The courtroom erupted in applause. They shouted, 'Give him the gas, kill his ass!' People were laughing at my mother and father in the front pew, laughing at me."

Bloodsworth spent the next 9 years in Maryland Penitentiary - 2 of them on death row - where he said he received particularly brutal treatment from other inmates due to the nature of the crime of which he had been convicted.

"When that 300-pound door slammed shut, my life was over," he said. "All they wanted me to do was die. Somehow I had to figure out how to live."

When he wasn't writing letters - always signed 'Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, A.I.M.' (An Innocent Man) - Bloodsworth spent a large amount of his time in prison reading. He said he was struck by an idea after reading an account of a murder case in England, in which DNA evidence was used to convict a perpetrator.

"That is where I had my epiphany," Bloodsworth said. "If [DNA] can convict you, then why can’t it free me?"

Bloodsworth cited the difficulty of requesting a DNA comparison as another shortcoming of the justice system. After he asked for access to the DNA evidence, the original prosecutor informed him that the evidence had been inadvertently destroyed.

"Something dawned on me at the point," Bloodsworth said. "I figured they just didn't know were it was. And your life should not be relegated to a treasure hunt."

When Bloodsworth's lawyer eventually found the DNA, he said he was released from prison in 1993 and granted a full pardon.

Bloodsworth also discussed his activist work and involvement in instigating death penalty reform around the country. He has been instrumental in the abolishment of the death penalty in numerous states, according to Hans, and currently serves as a board member of a Pennsylvania commission dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted individuals.

"My life has been changed indelibly by this. I've been in front of Congress. I have a DNA law in my name, and we're trying to get that reauthorized. I've helped to abolish the death penalty in my home state," Bloodsworth said. "I wanted to kill the thing that almost killed me."

In a discussion with the class after the talk, Bloodsworth suggested ways in which students can take part in prison reform and death penalty repeal activism. These include supporting innocence projects around the United States, conducting letter-writing campaigns and simply breaking the silence associated with the subject.

"You must stand up for life," he said. "You have to stand up for what's right in this world. You have to get up, sit up, hold your head up and never give up."

Thursday's guest lecture marked Bloodsworth's 10th visit to Cornell.

(source: The Cornell Sun)


Sentencing for Henry County murder suspect to start Tuesday

The sentencing phase for a Dothan man recently convicted of multiple counts of capital murder will begin Tuesday at the Henry County Courthouse in Abbeville.

A Henry County jury found 21-year-old Justice Knight guilty of 3 counts of capital murder late last month. The jury found Knight guilty in the 2014 shooting death of Jarvis Daffin. The jury found Knight guilty of capital murder during a robbery, capital murder during a kidnapping and capital murder during the shooting of a vehicle.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors hear evidence from the state in support of the death penalty, and evidence from the defense in support of a life without parole sentence.

Jurors must recommend the sentence for Knight from either the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors alleged during the week-long trial that Knight conspired to kill Daffin in order to take his tax refund money. District Attorney Doug Valeska said Knight and another man, Antwain "Duke" Wingard, participated in the murder. However, prosecutors said evidence indicates Knight is the trigger man.

Knight's attorney, Shaun McGhee, argued that Knight was present but did not participate in the murder and that prosecution witnesses had favorable connections to Wingard and were motivated to point the finger at Knight.

Capital murder charges against Wingard are pending.

(source: Dothan Eagle)


Pew Survey Shows Lowest Public Support For Death Peanlty In 4 Decades

The state has scheduled a December 1 clemency hearing for the 1st inmate scheduled for execution next year with a new lethal injection cocktail.

In 2013, the Ohio Parole Board voted against clemency for Ronald Phillips. Meanwhile, A new survey by Pew Research shows 50 % of Americans do not support capital punishment, the lowest number in 4 decades. Kristin Collins with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation says with more than 150 people on death row exonerated in recent years, including 9 in Ohio, shifting opinion often starts with a broken system.

The survey shows that while support has declined across the political spectrum, Republicans favor the death penalty by more than 2-to-1, compared with Democrats. Collins says people are beginning to understand a life sentence is not the "country club" atmosphere sometimes portrayed in movies.

There are 137 men and 1 woman currently on Ohio's death row.

(source: WCBE news)


Lawmakers told to not look for new Arkansas execution method

The Arkansas attorney general's office warned legislators Monday not to explore alternative execution methods after the state's lethal injection protocol and execution secrecy law were found constitutional by Arkansas' high court.

The House Judiciary Committee heard a proposal for an interim study on hypoxia - replacing the oxygen in a person's lungs with an inert gas like nitrogen - as a backup method for executions. But the committee decided not to vote after the attorney general's legislative director, Cory Cox, advised members to "let sleeping dogs lie."

Cox said the office doesn't think it's necessary to pursue alternatives after the Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling.

"We were curious, if we have a constitutional method of lethal injection, why we would re-litigate that," he told the committee, saying an alternative method could create new reasons for litigation. "We would caution as the attorneys for the state that anything that might look as throwing doubt on what has been declared as constitutional by the state Supreme Court could be problematic."

Supporters of the study said lethal drug supplies are drying up and new approaches to executing death row inmates should be studied in case the state runs out of options to obtain the drugs.

Rep. Mary Broadaway, who requested the study, said she doesn't generally support the death penalty but thinks it's appropriate for Arkansas to "start looking at other options" if lethal drugs become unavailable.

"This is not a referendum on the death penalty," said the Democrat from Paragould in northeast Arkansas. "What this is about is Arkansas at this time has chosen to have a death penalty and there has been a trend around the United States with having problems implementing the death penalty."

The state's current execution law allows either a 1-drug barbiturate method for lethal injection or a 3-drug method of midazolam to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide to paralyze the lungs and stop the inmate's breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. The law states that if lethal injection is ruled invalid, the state shall use electrocution to carry out death sentences.

Attorneys for the inmates who brought the challenge of the law have until Oct. 19 to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court's split decision from June.

(source: Associated Press)


Nebraska Sens. Coash, McCoy to debate death penalty at UNL

State Sens. Colby Coash and Beau McCoy will debate the death penalty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Oct. 25 as part of the Thomas C. Sorensen Policy Seminar Series.

McCoy, who represents District 39, supports the death penalty. The Omaha native is on the Government Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee in the Legislature. He's also the chair of the Select Committee on Committees and the national chair of The Council of State Governments.

Coash, of District 27, will argue against the death penalty. The Lincoln native, who is the chair of the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee, introduced the legislation that repealed the death penalty in 2015.

Fred Knapp, an NET reporter and producer, will moderate the debate.

Capital punishment was abolished in Nebraska in 2015, but a petition circulated the state soon after and brought the issue back to life. It gathered enough signatures across the state, so a measure on the November ballot will ask voters whether they want to repeal the Legislature's decision to abolish the death penalty.

In the United States, 19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the death penalty.

The event is free and open to the public. The debate will be held 3:30-5 p.m. in the Nebraska Union Centennial Room.

Sponsors of the event include the Center for Civic Engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, the Department of Political Science and the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center.

(source: Daily Nebraskan)


How 'MASH' actor Mike Farrell became a leading voice against the death penalty in California

The day in 1979 that Tennessee Rev. Joe Ingle landed in Los Angeles and made his way to the set of the popular television series "MASH," he wasn't starstruck. He was angry.

As he drove his rental car through the Santa Monica Mountains to the sprawling 20th Century Fox Ranch near Malibu Canyon, Ingle thought of John Spenkelink, a death row inmate. After years of talks with politicians, countless legal filings and many sleepless nights, the state of Florida put his close friend to death in the electric chair, Ingle said.

"We had 220 people on death row in Florida at the time, and many of them had no lawyers," the United Church of Christ minister said. "We were up against a state machinery of killing that was engaging in full gear, and we could see what was coming."

Ingle said he thought "MASH" actor Mike Farrell, who had risen to fame as the warm and charismatic Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt, could help the anti-death penalty cause given his stated opposition to executions in a magazine interview. Farrell ended up doing more than that.

Over the past 4 decades, Farrell, who has wielded his celebrity to bring attention to social and political issues in Central America, the Middle East and Africa, has become a leading voice against the death penalty. This year, he is the author of a ballot measure that seeks to end capital punishment in California. For Farrell, the cause has taken precedence over others because at its root, he says, is the idea that some people are dispensable.

"We have determined that some human beings are not human, are not worthwhile or capable, and that we can just do away with them," he said. "If you set up that belief system in a society, you can justify torture, assassinations by drone, just about anything."

The death penalty has been in place continuously in California for almost 40 years, though executions were suspended in 2006 after the current method for lethal injection was challenged in court.

A federal judge in July 2014 ruled the system unconstitutional, finding it arbitrary and ridden with delay. But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision in November.

Now more than 740 inmates are awaiting execution, almost double the amount in Florida, the state with the 2nd highest death row population in the country. More than 400 do not have lawyers, while the average death penalty appeal takes 25 years or more to go through the process.

But on the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will weigh two competing measures that aim to address what some people on both sides of the issue agree is a broken system. Although both initiatives would require death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims, Proposition 62, which Farrell sponsored, would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence without parole.

It has fierce opponents.

Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly was kidnapped and killed by a person now on death row and who has debated Farrell on a town hall stage and on the radio, argues the public does not want to do away with a punishment reserved for the most vicious members of society.

"There is this moral, elitist certainty that Mike and others of his ilk wrap themselves in, that they are doing this to save a human's life," Klaas said. "It gets to a point that they can work to save the lives of death row inmates, giving no consideration to the victims of these people."

Now ivory-haired and 77, Farrell gained a following from his time on "MASH," giving him a platform to support the issues he cares about, he said.

The longest running sitcom in TV history and one of the highest rated, "MASH" beamed into millions of American living rooms for 11 seasons. The show captured the trials of Army doctors working in a mobile hospital under the strenuous conditions of war.

As Hunnicutt, Farrell was the best friend and straight man to funny man Alan Alda, the martini-drinking, laid-back Capt. "Hawkeye" Pierce. Fans all knew B.J. Hunnicutt and that he lived in Mill Valley, Calif.

Farrell was born in Minnesota and grew up in the small, then-unincorporated West Hollywood. He was 1 of 4 siblings in an Irish Catholic family, who once delivered groceries to movie stars and had dreams of fame.

As his own star rose, Farrell raised money for union workers and stood up against a 1978 ballot measure that would have banned gay teachers from working in California schools. But his involvement with the death penalty, one of his longest and most passionate causes, dates to the final days of "MASH," when Ingle paid him a visit.

For years, he had been meeting with death row inmates in southern states and recruiting lawyers to take on their cases. He spoke out against capital punishment, and what he called its arbitrary and racist application on the poor and the poorly defended. With high crime rates and tough-on-crime rhetoric in full steam, his views were unpopular, even dangerous. He received death threats at his home and office, he said.

Ingle took Farrell to see a death row at the Tennessee State Prison. Farrell said he did not know what to expect.

"We'd been fed this stuff about people on death row," he said. "They are deadbeats, they are animals ... they are child-eating, fang-toothed monsters."

What he saw were mostly black and Latino men with little to no education, he said.

"Some of them very, very sorry for what they had done," Farrell said. "Some of them crazy. Some of them so angry they could hardly speak. And some who said they were innocent."

Across the country, following mounting legal challenges, legislation and a number of botched executions that have sparked national outcry, at least 20 states no longer have the death penalty.

With 28 executions last year in the United States - the lowest since the four-year, de facto moratorium on the death penalty ended in 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed its constitutionality - lawyers and activists say California has become a litmus test for the nation on whether people, not courts or governments, want to continue the practice.

Over 3 decades, support for the death penalty has dwindled in California, its supporters and opponents said, but not enough to end it. The last time voters weighed a ballot measure similar to Farrell's current proposition was in 2012, when it was rejected by 52% of voters.

This year, Proposition 66, which was written by death penalty prosecutors, intends to speed up the system. Instead of the California Supreme Court, it would allow the lower court in a case to hear habeas corpus petitions challenging a conviction, and would limit the appeals process to within 5 years of a death sentence.

A unified campaign to defeat Farrell's Proposition 62 and bolster the opposing measure has pulled in $4.2 million in donations and garnered wide support from police, sheriffs and prosecutors statewide.

But competing efforts have garnered nearly $6.5 million in donations, and Proposition 62 has attracted some prominent supporters, including billionaire Tom Steyer, hip-hop artist and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Polls have shown mixed results as to which is in the lead.

Farrell said he has witnessed a shift in policy and public opinion against the death penalty "little by little," as more than 155 men and women nationwide have been exonerated since 1973 - some having come within hours of execution before their convictions were overturned.

As the former president of the nonprofit Death Penalty Focus, founded in 1988, he has raised defense funds for those inmates he believes are innocent, no matter how grim their cases.

Criticisms that the group champions murderers over victims upsets him, Farrell said, as he and fellow activists have lost loved ones to crime. "I don't think a victim is benefited by someone else being made a victim," he says.

But their opponents argue that most of their cases, including all of those reversed in California, have been dropped or dismissed on technicalities, such as ineffective counsel or an improper jury instruction.

San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos said he only wishes Farrell could stand in his shoes, when comforting a grieving mother whose daughter has been savagely raped and killed.

"I believe in the death penalty for a very small percentage of individuals," Ramos said. "He is not in the justice system. He doesn't see what we do every day."

Tami Alexander, wife of former NFL player Kermit Alexander, says she respects Farrell. But she wants to see Tiequon Cox executed. More than 30 years after the gunman went to the wrong address and killed her husband's mother, sister and 2 nephews, he remains on death row.

"I applaud Mike, I really do," she said. "I feel he has dedicated his life to a very toxic issue, but he doesn't have a dog in the fight."

On a recent Sunday in West Los Angeles, Farrell sat in the front pew of the Holman United Methodist Church, with more than a dozen people from across the country who have formed the Witness to Innocence project.

Alongside Farrell was Nathson Fields, who was acquitted in 2009 in the deaths of 2 rival Chicago gang members after spending 20 years in prison. And Lawyer Johnson, whose charges were dropped after he spent 10 years in prison for a 1971 slaying in Massachusetts.

And Harold Wilson, whose conviction was overturned in 2005 based on DNA evidence after he served more than 16 years for the slayings of 3 people in South Philadelphia.

In the church foyer later that morning, Wilson's voice shook with rage at the thought of prosecutors who still denied his innocence. When he was locked up, he said, his daughter was 3 years old. "I am still suffering," he said.

Outside, Farrell shook hands with patrons, some of whom remembered him from his "MASH" days and had watched the show with their parents or grandparents. People often question why Hollywood actors meddle in politics and social causes. But Farrell says he sees himself as a concerned citizen, not an activist.

In debates and panels, he says, his critics have often told him death row inmates "don't deserve to live."

"But the really important question people don't ask is, 'Do we deserve to kill?'"

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Marathas set 14 December deadline for Maharashtra govt to accept demands----The 9 demands put forth by the Marathas include death penalty for the culprits in the Kopardi rape case and a 16% quota in government education and jobs

Maratha organizations holding protest marches across Maharashtra have asked the government to meet their demands by 14 December, failing which they will take their agitation to capital Mumbai.

The state coordination committee of Maratha activists met at Aurangabad on Sunday to take stock and decide future moves. A committee member said, requesting anonymity, that Marathas will hold their biggest march yet in Nagpur, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis's hometown, also on 14 December.

"We want the government to accept our demands by 14 December, the day when we organize our biggest march that would lead to the state legislature in Nagpur. If the government does not accept our nine demands by then, we will hold an even bigger protest march in Mumbai and continue our agitation till all demands are met," the committee member said.

If the government's response is not satisfactory, "special efforts will be made to make the Mumbai rally a historic one", according to a resolution passed at the committee meeting.

The Maharashtra legislature meets for its winter session in Nagpur from 5 December. The organizers are estimating a turnout of 2 million for the Nagpur rally. The 2011 census counted Nagpur city's total population at 2.4 million.

The Maratha charter of demand started nearly a month after a Maratha teen was raped and murdered allegedly by 3 Dalit youths in Kopardi village of Ahmadnagar district on 13 July. On 9 August, the 1st silent march and rally was held in Marathwada's Aurangabad. Since then, similar silent marches have been held in 23 of the total 36 districts in Maharashtra, including 1 in Mumbai's satellite town of Navi Mumbai. Each of these rallies has seen a turnout of at least 100,000.

The Marathas' primary demand is death penalty for the Kopardi culprits and a fast-track trial within 6 months. The government has filed a chargesheet in the case, naming 3 Dalit men as accused.



Relevant agencies back end of death penalty

On the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which falls on October 10 of every year, related agencies have joined in a discussion on the death penalty, which the majority suggested should be abolished.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Veerapong Ramangkul, along with representatives from several concerned agencies, took part in the discussion to exchange opinions concerning the death penalty. Among the participating agencies were the National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of International Organizations, the Union for Civil Liberty and the Office of the Attorney General.

Most of the participants expressed the view that imposing the death penalty on law offenders is not an effective solution. Instead, they were supportive of the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent violations and take sensible action against perpetrators. Member of the National Human Rights Commission Chatchai Suthiklom proposed that life imprisonment is set as the maximum penalty, to be given in accompaniment with mental rehabilitation. He also said clear guidelines should be established for the consideration of parole.

According to Amnesty International, 140 countries around the world have repealed the death penalty, whereas another 58 have not. Although Thailand belongs to the latter group, the country has not put any convicts to death since August 2009 or for a period of 7 years. If no death penalty is given for 10 consecutive years, Thailand would be considered by the United Nations as having practically abolished the penalty.



Day against death penalty observed

Activists of the Hyderabad chapter of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) observed the 'World day against death penalty' on Monday and urged the government to abolish the death sentence.

They gathered outside the local press club carrying banners and placards and shouting slogans against death penalty in the country.

Leading the demonstration, Hyderabad HRCP task force coordinator Dr Ashothama Lohana and activists Lala Abdul Haleem, Prof Imdad Chandio, Makhdoom Aqil, Ghufrana Arain and others appealed to the government to do away with the capital punishment in the country immediately.

They also urged the government to ratify the UN convention against death penalty.

They said the criminal justice system of the country and method of the police investigation were so poor that innocent people often were hanged while powerful and influential persons, who committed crimes, were exonerated and released.


'Countries without the death penalty have lower crime rates'

A large number of civil society activists and residents of the federal capital held a protest against the death penalty in Pakistan at F-6 Markaz on Monday.

The protest was organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in connection with the World Day against the Death Penalty.

Speaking at the protest, HRCP representative Nasreen Azhar said the severity of punishment cannot reduce the crime rates though the certainty of punishment can.

"Our law enforcement agencies do not investigate cases due to which poor, innocent people suffer. We have precedent of those people being executed who were not mentally stable, or had not reached the age of criminal liability when the crime was committed."

She added that some countries which do not have the death penalty enjoy lower crime rates than those which do.

"We have to improve our police system in order to reduce the crime rate and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) also needs to be improved," she said.

Rights activist Farzana Bari said Scandinavian countries did not have the death penalty but had the lower crime rates, which, she said, proved the perception of executions leading to decreased crime rates wrong.

"I believe that God gives life and only He has the right to take it back too. It is better to award a sentence of life time imprisonment than to execute them, because putting someone behind bars for life is more painful than killing them," she said.

"The Pakistani judicial system is very weak. Even a prime minister was executed and the judges later said the decision was not right," she said.

Another rights activist Tahira Abdullah said there was also the precedent of a person dying after spending 25 years in jail and the courts declaring him innocent after his death.

"A country which does not have justice should not have the death penalty. We demand that Pakistan sign the UN convention against the death penalty. We want to enjoy the facilities of the Generalised Scheme of Priorities Plus but do not want to implement the European Union' s recommendation for a ban on the death penalty," she said.

Since the start of carrying out the death sentence in December 2014, Pakistan has hanged 425 individuals and by executing 333 convicts in 2015 alone Pakistan joined the ranks of the countries which carry out the most executions.

Pakistani courts continue to award capital punishment with 225 death sentences awarded in 2014 and 411 in 2015 while the number of death sentences awarded till September this year is 301.

Meanwhile, in a joint declaration, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjřrn Jagland said the EU reaffirms strong and unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and for all cases. They said the death penalty was incompatible with human dignity and did not have any proven significance as a deterrent. It does, however, allow judicial errors to become irreversible and fatal.

The abolition of the death penalty is a distinctive achievement in Europe and is a prerequisite for membership to the Council of Europe as inscribed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the statement added.

"The Council of Europe and the European Union welcome the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment. Today more than 2/3 of all countries have abolished the death penalty in either law or practice. However, the Council of Europe and the European Union regret that the number of executions have risen in some of those countries that retain the death penalty and that some countries which had a de facto moratorium carried out executions," said the statement.

"Both the organisations are particularly alarmed when this involves the execution of minors which is contrary to the international law. Some countries continue to apply the death penalty for drug-related offences, also in violation of the international law," it said.

(source for both:


Asia Bibi prepares for final appeal on death sentence; non-stop prayer campaign for her freedom continues

Christians around the world are pledging to join in the 24-hour prayer rally that has been organised in support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for her faith.

Bibi, from Pakistan, is a mother of 5. She is gearing up to fight her case at the final appeal before Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday. The persecution watchdog group that has organised this event warns that after the hearing this week, the Islamic extremists who are involved in this case may lash out violently against Christians.

Bibi's battle for her faith began back in June 2009, when she had an argument with her Muslim coworkers. Upon defending her faith, she was accused of insulting Prophet Mohammed.

Christian Post reports that she denied the charges, but was sentenced to death by a local judge. This week, Bibi's final appeal is all set to take place in Islamabad. The appeal's outcome will determine whether Bibi will escape the death penalty. Should she be sentenced to death, this would make her the first woman in the country to face such an extreme sentence for blasphemy.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is now calling upon Christians all over the world to take part in a 24-hour prayer rally in support of Bibi.

Kiri Kankhwende, the Senior Press Officer at CSW, explained in an interview with Christian Post, "Unfortunately, when a non-Muslim is accused of blasphemy, their entire community is vulnerable to attack and Asia Bibi's case is no different."

She went on to add, "We hope for an acquittal in her case and we pray that there will be no reprisals against her, her family or the Christian community, but any situation that involves an accusation of blasphemy is highly dangerous for all involved. It's vital that we pray."



Activists demand end to capital punishment ---- Death penalty, a slap of retributive justice in ancient times, should have no place in modern society

Activists of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and civil society on Monday held demonstration to call for putting an end to capital punishment on the eve of October 10 World Day against the death penalty.

The protest led by renowned HRCP activist Akhtar Baloch and PFUJ leader Khurshed Abbasi, Asad Iqbal, Nida Palwasha and others holding banners and placards chanted slogans of stop execution, stop death penalty etc here before the Karachi Press Club.

Speaking to gathering, the HRCP activists said highlighted that in present circumstances, it is imperative to immediately halt executions and restore the moratorium to move towards abolition of the death penalty in Pakistan.

The HRCP activists disclosed that Pakistan is the top ranking in the executions of the world over, which the data shows since resuming executions in December 2014 Pakistan hanged 425 individuals, while 33 convicts in 2015 alone they said.

They said courts have continued to award capital punishment to suspects at a rapid rate, as many as 225 individual were sentenced in 2014 and 411 in 2015 report said. The number of convictions had already reached 301 by the end of September 2016.

HRCP coordinator told that the authorities have decided to put execution of death sentences convicts at the top of the 20th point of National Action Plan (NAP), so that it is essential to assess, if the objectives for resumption of executions have been achieved.

HRCP leaders have expressed grave concern over the rising denial of fair trial and due process rights in trial by military court in a situation, added due to the critical and well-documented deficiencies of the law and administration of justice in Pakistan. The death penalty allows for very high probability of miscarriage of justice, which is unacceptable in any civilized society.

HRCP activists claimed that the religion has often invoked to justify capital punishment, yet the fact is that no more than a couple of 27 death penalty offences on the statute books in Pakistan are mandated by religion. Capital punishment smack of re