and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

FEBRUARY 26, 2015:


The worst criminals deserve death penalty

In reference To The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial printed on Feb. 19, 'Evidence Clear: Death Penalty Doesn't Work':

Excuse me but the death penalty does work for me and many other law abiding citizens! Is the author of that editorial saying that he or she believes it's OK for criminals to kill whomever they wish and as many as they wish, commit atrocious crimes and be rewarded by living the rest of their lives in rent-free housing, with free health care, 3 free meals a day, no employment, no worries and entertainment, all provided to them by the law-abiding, hard-working tax paying citizens of the country?

It would be fair to say that imprisonment doesn't work, since so many parolees go back to their previous criminal ways, but does that mean that we shouldn't punish criminals? I sure hope not! This is supposed to be a civilization, with civilized law-abiding citizens in it. Not some freeloading country where some people act like uneducated animals who steal, kill and do whatever they want.

Unfortunately, for too many people, there are no morals or fear of committing crimes against innocent law-abiding citizens or taking advantage of businesses. Criminals just waltz into Wal-Mart or Kohl's, for example, and take whatever they want and just waltz right out - it's unbelievable and a disgrace to humanity! How can they sleep at night? The criminals who commit the worst crimes must be eliminated because they deserve to be punished for taking someone else's life and not obeying the laws of our civilization.

Gladys Mowles




Death penalty moritorium: No truth in sentencing

The recent announcement by Gov. Wolf that he's instituting a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania comes as a shock to victims of offenders who have been or will be granted a reprieve.

Unfortunately for most of these victims, they learned of this turn of events through the media, either through news reports, or via phone calls from their local media asking for their reaction and comment. This is one more hill in the roller coaster ride for families whose loved one was murdered.

While local victim service providers and staff from the state Office of the Victim Advocate are available to provide aid and comfort, the news nevertheless inflames wounds that never truly heal.

In this public debate about the death penalty, families of murdered victims are most often overlooked. While it is clear that the death penalty is real for all of the 186 inmates on death row, and for their families, what's often lost to the public is the profound impact of the death and the sentence it imposes on the families of the murdered victims.

What remains out of the public eye is the ongoing pain and suffering for the families. They relive day after day, year after year, their loved one’s death scene, details of which are made clear at the trial, through detailed autopsy reports, crime scene photographs, and expert or witness testimony.

For victims in death penalty cases, they learn that the process only begins at sentencing. Having worked with district attorneys from across the commonwealth, it became clear that in deciding to seek the death penalty, they look to the opinion of the murdered victim's family. An extensive effort is made to help the family understand exactly what it means when a murderer is sentenced to death. Victims are told of the years of appeals, emotional ups and downs as the court decision winds its way through the courts. Despite this knowledge, they may never become emotionally prepared for that very difficult ride.

Victims do take comfort in other aspects of the sentence. The convicted murderer will spend all of that time on death row, away from the general population of inmates, without many of the privileges shared by other inmates. This often becomes the definition of justice for surviving family members while they wait.

So the question then becomes, what do victims want when it comes to the death penalty. Those of us who work with victims of crime come to realize that there is not one answer to that question. Some victims support the death penalty and some do not. They are as varied in their opinions as is the public.

But we do learn that victims want justice for themselves and their loved ones. And justice means truth in sentencing. They want to know that when a sentence is pronounced by the courts, that sentence will be carried out.

(source: Letter to the Editor; Carol L. Lavery, Shickshinny, Luzerne County, is a former commonwealth victim advocate of the Office of the Victim Advocate. She also is chair of the Crime Victims Alliance of Pennsylvania----Bucks County Courier Times)


Jermaine Wright case tests Delaware's death penalty

Jermaine Wright, once Delaware's longest-serving death row inmate, is a free man and could be just a few steps away from becoming the 1st person to permanently walk away from the state's death row.

Opponents of capital punishment will be watching the Delaware Supreme Court this spring to see if it will toss out Wright's videotaped confession. They say an exoneration in that case could jump-start stalled efforts to repeal the death penalty.

Wright was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1991 killing of Phillip G. Seifert, a 66-year-old disabled liquor store clerk, during a robbery.

Wright got a 2nd chance when the state Supreme Court ordered a retrial last year on the grounds that the prosecution withheld evidence about a 2nd robbery the same night.

This allowed Wright's attorneys to challenge the videotaped confession that is the linchpin of the prosecution's case.

A lower court judge agreed to suppress the confession in January, and the state released Wright from prison so it could appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court. That appeal was filed Feb. 11.

This confession video was key evidence in convicting Jermaine Wright of murder.

While it remains unclear when and how the Supreme Court will rule, local and national opponents of the death penalty are watching closely.

"It would demonstrate that the death penalty is not foolproof in Delaware," said Kristin Froehlich, board president of Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty. "It's unreasonable to state Delaware does it right every time."

Seifert's son, Royce, who supports the death penalty and believes Wright is guilty, said his recent release and possible exoneration is unfair.

"There is injustice being served, and that is not the way things ought to be in our judicial system," Seifert said. "I pray this will be reversed."

Death penalty debate

Delaware is 1 of 32 states in the nation that has the death penalty. It ranks 5th nationwide in the number of death sentences per capita, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The state's death row houses 15 male inmates, with the most recent execution being in April 2012.

Advocates of capital punishment have long argued it is a fair penalty for heinous murders and deters crime, but opponents say it violates human rights, is expensive, encourages a cycle of violence and is used disproportionately against minorities and the poor.

Similar concerns led Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf two weeks ago to issue a moratorium on the death penalty until it can be reviewed more thoroughly.

Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013. At that time, Maryland resident Kirk Bloodsworth, the 1st American death row inmate exonerated by DNA, was a strong force in lobbying for the repeal.

In Delaware, Senate Bill 19, which would have ended capital punishment, passed the Senate by a narrow margin in 2013, but then stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. A similar bill likely will be introduced this year.

Free after 24 years

After spending nearly 2 decades on death row, Wright, 42, was met by his mother when he was released from prison in Smyrna on Jan. 30. However, his freedom remains in jeopardy as the state's highest court weighs the suppression of his confession.

Wright was convicted for the fatal shooting of Seifert during a robbery of the former Hi-Way Inn on Governor Printz Boulevard on Jan. 14, 1991.

There were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence from the murder. Wright, who was 18 at the time, was arrested on an unrelated crime and confessed to the murder during a police interrogation.

That confession became the heart of the state's case and was challenged by the defense several times over the years.

In 2012, Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins Jr. overturned a conviction and death sentence based on that confession. The Supreme Court reversed Parkins' ruling but then reinstated it two years later on different grounds that the prosecution withheld from the defense evidence about a 2nd robbery at the Brandywine Village Liquors nearby that same night.

Wright was granted a retrial and his attorneys, Eugene Maurer Jr. and Herbert Mondros, filed a motion to suppress the confession, arguing Wright was high on heroin during the confession and was not properly read his Miranda rights.

They won, and the state is now appealing.

Wright's defense will likely argue to the Supreme Court that there were key discrepancies in the confession, including the time of the murder, the number of shots fired and the type of weapon. The defense previously relied on testimony about false confessions from James Trainum, a former homicide detective from Washington, D.C., who was featured in the popular podcast series "Serial."

"The State has been candid about one thing: the only evidence they have implicating Mr. Wright in this murder is his discredited confession," the attorneys said in a statement. "However, leading false confession experts around the nation agree that the circumstances under which Mr. Wright's confession were elicited and his condition at the time created a perfect storm for a false confession."

Deputy Attorney General Steve Wood said the issues related to the admissibility of the confession "have been extensively litigated in Delaware Superior Court and Supreme Court since 1991."

"The evidence heard by 2 separate juries was that Wright's video-recorded confession to the police contained numerous details of the crime that matches the forensic evidence and testimony from other eyewitnesses," Wood said. "While he was wrong about a few details, most of what he said was consistent with the other evidence."

Seifert also is convinced the confession was genuine.

"To discount it is a big mistake," he said. "The man confessed. He volunteered the information that only someone who was in there and did it [could know]."

If the Supreme Court suppresses the confession, it will make the state's case at a retrial difficult, if not nearly impossible, because more than 2 decades has passed. Wood, when asked about how he would handle that, said he would consider it if and when it arose.

Exonerations in Delaware

While Wright's case still has legal hurdles to pass before it would be considered an exoneration, opponents of the death penalty say it could be a noteworthy case for the state.

Nationwide, there have been 150 exonerations in 26 states since 1971. Only 20 of those have relied on DNA evidence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Although there are many different conditions for exoneration, the Death Penalty Information Center uses the definition that says a defendant must have been convicted and sentenced to death and then acquitted of all charges related to the crime.

"It has to be final, that the highest court being appealed to rules," said Richard Dieter, the center's executive director. "The key thing is going to be if the Delaware Supreme Court upholds this reversal, does the state have the opportunity to retry him? And if they do, then our list would wait until there isn't a chance for a retrial."

Wood noted the current issue in the Wright case is not about his innocence, but "is whether or not the defendant's video-recording confession is admissible."

Froehlich and Dieter said a Supreme Court decision in Wright's favor would demonstrate that Delaware makes errors, even in death row cases.

Opponents are also watching other death row cases in Delaware.

For example, the Delaware Supreme Court granted Isaiah W. McCoy, 27, a retrial in January in the case of the shooting death of 30-year-old James Mumford during a drug deal outside a Dover bowling alley. The ruling cited errors the prosecutor made in improperly vouching for the credibility of key witnesses and overall unprofessional conduct.

In another case, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take a case seeking to overturn convicted killer James E. Cooke Jr.'s death sentence for the May 2005 rape and murder of University of Delaware sophomore Lindsey Bonistall. Cooke's execution was scheduled for Dec. 4, but was put on hold as he tries to appeal in the lower federal courts.

That drawn-out process of appeals can be torturous on victims' families.

Seifert was surprised that 24 years after the murder of his father, the case would still be active.

Froehlich, whose brother was murdered in Connecticut in 1995, has taken a different approach to her family's tragedy by opposing the death penalty. Her brother's killer was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but eventually committed suicide.

"The death penalty never did me any favors," she said. "It made me feel powerless. It made me have to spend more years in a torture chamber waiting for the legal finality."

(source: The News Journal)


Poll: Should Delaware abolishl the death penalty?



Prosecutors to seek death penalty in Greensboro shooting

The Guilford County district attorney's office decided this week to pursue the death penalty against a Greensboro man if he is convicted of 1st-degree murder by a jury.

Brandon Jawon Pompey, 27, of 1133 Trent St. Apt. E, is charged with 1st-degree murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injuries.

Pompey is accused of shooting and killing Clarence Eugene Toran Jr., 24, and wounding Toran's younger brother, Terence, in the parking lot of the Timber Hollow Apartments in the 3300 block of Trent Street on July 11, 2014.

(source: Greensboro News & Record)

GEORGIA:----impending execution

Weather threat postpones Georgia's 1st execution of a woman in 70 years

Not since Lena Baker, an African-American convicted of murder and pardoned decades later, has Georgia executed a woman. The state was scheduled to snap that 70-year streak Wednesday before Kelly Renee Gissendaner's execution was postponed.

Just hours before the 47-year-old was scheduled to die by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson, the Georgia Department of Corrections announced it had postponed the execution until Monday "due to weather and associated scheduling issues," department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said in an email.

Gissendaner was convicted in a February 1997 murder plot that targeted her husband in suburban Atlanta.

She was romantically involved with Gregory Owen and conspired with the 43-year-old to have her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, killed, according to court testimony. Owen wanted Kelly Gissendaner to file for a divorce, but she was concerned that her husband would "not leave her alone if she simply divorced him," court documents said.

The Gissendaners had already divorced once, in 1993, and they remarried in 1995.

Details of the crime, as laid out at trial and provided by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, are as follows:

Owen and Kelly Gissendaner planned the murder for months. On February 7, 1997, she dropped Owen off at her home, gave him a nightstick and hunting knife and went out dancing with girlfriends.

Douglas Gissendaner also spent the evening away from home, going to a church friend's house to work on cars. Owen lay in wait until he returned.

When Douglas Gissendaner came home around 11:30 p.m., Owen forced him by knifepoint into a car and drove him to a remote area of Gwinnett County.

There, Owen ordered his victim into the woods, took his watch and wallet to make it look like a robbery, hit him in the head with the nightstick and stabbed Douglas Gissendaner in the neck 8 to 10 times.

Kelly Gissendaner arrived just as the murder took place, but did not immediately get out of her car. She later checked to make sure her husband was dead, then Owen followed her in Douglas Gissendaner's car to retrieve a can of kerosene that Kelly Gissendaner had left for him.

Owen set her husband's car on fire in an effort to hide evidence and left the scene with Kelly Gissendaner.

Story unravels

Police discovered the burned-out automobile the morning after the murder, but did not find the body. Authorities kicked off a search.

Kelly Gissendaner, meanwhile, went on local television appealing to the public for information on her husband's whereabouts.

Her and Owen's story started to unravel after a series of police interviews. On February 20, Douglas Gissendaner's face-down body was found about a mile from his car. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be knife wounds to the neck, but the medical examiner couldn't tell which strike killed Douglas Gissendaner because animals had devoured the skin and soft tissue on the right side of his neck.

On February 24, Owen confessed to the killing and implicated Kelly Gissendaner, who was arrested the next day and charged.

While in jail awaiting trial, Kelly Gissendaner grew angry when she heard Owen was to receive a 25-year sentence for his role in the murder. (Owen is serving life in prison at a facility in Davisboro, according to Georgia Department of Corrections records.)

She began writing letters to hire a 3rd person who would falsely confess to taking her to the crime scene at gunpoint.

She asked her cellmate, Laura McDuffie, to find someone willing to do the job for $10,000, and McDuffie turned Kelly Gissendaner's letters over to authorities via her attorney.

Seeking clemency

Kelly Gissendaner has exhausted all state and federal appeals, the attorney general said in a statement. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied her clemency request, Steve Hayes, a spokesman for the board, said Wednesday.

In the clemency application, Gissendaner's lawyers argued she was equally or less culpable than Owen, who actually did the killing. Both defendants were offered identical plea bargains before trial: life in prison with an agreement to not seek parole for 25 years.

Owen accepted the plea bargain and testified against his former girlfriend. Gissendaner was willing to plead guilty, her current lawyers said, but consulted with her trial lawyer and asked prosecutors to remove the stipulation about waiting 25 years to apply for parole.

According to her clemency appeal, her lead trial attorney, Edwin Wilson, said he thought the jury would not sentence her to death "because she was a woman and because she did not actually kill Doug .... I should have pushed her to take the plea but did not because I thought we would get straight up life if she was convicted."

Her appeal lawyers also argued that Gissendaner had expressed deep remorse for her actions, become a model inmate and grown spiritually. They said her death would cause further hardship for her 2 children.

Georgia parole board's posthumous pardon

Currently the only woman on Georgia's death row, Gissendaner could be the 2nd woman in the state's history to be executed.

The 1st was Baker, an African-American maid who was sentenced to death by an all-white, all-male jury in 1944. She claimed self-defense for killing a man who held her against her will, threatened her life and appeared poised to hit her with a metal bar before she fired the fatal shot.

60 years after her execution, Georgia's parole board posthumously pardoned her after finding that "it was a grievous error to deny (her) clemency."

Such pardons are rare, but so are executions of women.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, only 15 women have been executed in the United States since 1977.

(source: CNN)


Public Defender: LA death penalty study to include 16 parishes

When we last heard from the Capital Punishment Fiscal Impact Commission, the big question was how many parishes should the study consider when it comes to death penalty - or capital cases.

The Public Defender's Office now says 16 including EBR, Ascension and Tangipahoa.

"We open about 35 capital cases a year on average," said Jay Dixon, LA State Public Defender.

Dixon provided the commission new data Wednesday showing East Baton Rouge has 13 of Louisiana's 83 open capital cases.

The morning began hearing from Jim Craig, a defense attorney with 30-years experience working capital cases.

He says the costs of a death penalty trial, greatly depends on how promptly it's carried out.

"If no indication is given by the prosecutor about whether it's a capital case, at whatever point the prosecution decides it is a death penalty case, we have then done no groundwork with respect to the extensive investigation that has to be done," said Jim Craig, Co-Director, The Roderick & Solange MacArhur Justice Center.

Meantime across the hallway in another room, more members of the commission got together to discuss what other data the study should consider like psychological costs.

"How do you measure the loss of a child in dollars and cents and how does that equate to tax-payer dollars being spent," asked Liz Mangham, Capital Punishment Fiscal Impact Commission Subcommittee on Prosecution.

The commission hopes to answer that question at their next meeting.

They're hoping that happens by the end of March, before legislators go into session in April. If they can't get together then, they'll have to wait until the summer. The commission wants to finish the study by New Year's Day 2016.

(source: WAFB news)


Death Penalty Bill Passes Senate Committee

A bill abolishing the death penalty drew passionate debate Tuesday before passing a senate committee.

"He'd been on death row for about 20 years before I met him," said sister Joan Pytlik. She described her work with inmates as she spoke of a costly capital punishment system that she says is applied disproportionately to minorities and fails to bring timely justice.

"Law enforcement ranks the death penalty at the bottom of the list of tools effective as a deterrent to crime," Pytlik said.

But prosecutors urged lawmakers against a bill doing away with it.

"When someone premeditated and deliberately takes a life what we need to say as a policy from this state is 'you will pay with your life.'"

Both sides agree the current system is broken. All lethal injection drugs currently in the state's possession are expired. The rest were given away 5 years ago to corrections departments in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

"That doesn't mean we do away with it," said 20th Judicial District prosecutor Cody Hiland. "That means we fix it."

But opponents like State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, say Arkansas keeps poor company in its continuation of capital punishment.

"Yemen and Iran and China and people of that ilk," Elliott said.

Hiland didn't like the argument that most developed countries have abolished the death penalty.

"To me the United States is the gold standard and people should be comparing themselves to us not the other way around," he said.

Sister Pytlik says she's learned through her work with inmates that it's actually life without parole that's the tougher sentence.

"They all say this the death penalty is an easy exit," she said.

Despite passing through the committee Wednesday, the bill is a long shot to make it through the Republican controlled senate.

(source: Arkansas Matters)

MISSOURI----new execution date

Missouri sets April execution date

The Missouri Supreme Court has set another execution date.

Andre Cole will be put to death on April 14. Cole was convicted of murdering a man over a child support payment in 1998. Cole and his then-wife Terri, divorced in 1995. After missing several child support payments, the court order his wages to be garnished. After the first deduction was taken out of his paycheck, Cole forced his way into Terri's home and stabbed both her and Anthony Curtis.

Curtis died, Terri survived the attack.

Missouri's next execution is set for Cecil Clayton on March 17.

(source: KTRS news)


Another Execution Set in Missouri

The Missouri Supreme Court has set an execution date for a man who killed another man while he was angry over having to pay child support.

52-year-old Andre Cole is scheduled to die by lethal injection between 6 p.m. April 14th and 6 p.m. April 15th at the prison in Bonne Terre.

In August 1998, 52-year-old Andre Cole owed 3,000 dollars in back child support to his ex-wife when his employer began withholding money from his paycheck.

He went to her house and broke in by throwing a car jack through a window.

Court documents say Anthony Curtis was visiting Terri that night.

Cole stabbed Curtis 21 times before attacking his ex-wife and stabbing her repeatedly but she survived.

Before the attack Cole had reportedly told several co-workers he would kill his ex-wife before giving her any more money.

Missouri is next scheduled to execute 74-year-old Cecil Clayton March 17th for the 1996 murder of a Barry County sheriff?s deputy.



Jury weighing death sentence for Jodi Arias

A jury is once again considering the fate of convicted murderer and Salinas native Jodi Arias.

The retrial sentencing went to the jury Wednesday in Arizona. Jurors must decide if Arias will be sentenced to life in prison, or give her the death penalty, for killing her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Travis Alexander.

A defense lawyer made his final plea for mercy in the killing that grabbed global attention over the violent nature of the crime.

Arias was born in Salinas, Calif. on July 9, 1980 and grew up there until she was 12. Arias' family later moved to Yreka, Calif.

She returned to the Central Coast when she was hired in 2001 to work at the Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur. She fell in love with the man who hired her, Darryl Brewer, and they lived in Big Sur together from 2002 until 2006.

Arias broke up with Brewer soon after she met Travis Alexander in Las Vegas.

According to testimony, on June 3, 2008, the day before she murdered Alexander, Arias visited Brewer at his house in Monterey and he let her borrow 2 gas cans. Arias told Brewer she needed the gas for a long drive, and then bought a 3rd gas can in Salinas.

Her 2013 trial was broadcast live and became a sensation with its revelations that Arias had shot and slit the throat of Alexander.

Arias, 34, was convicted in 2013 of killing Alexander. However, the jury deadlocked on her punishment, prompting the penalty retrial, the wire service said.

A death penalty requires a unanimous vote by 12 jurors if Arias is to die by lethal injection, said Jerry Cobb, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

During the retrial, if all 12 jurors can't vote for death, then Arias will be eligible for 1 of 2 life sentences: life without the possibility of release or life with the possibility of release after 25 calendar years, Cobb said.

That means Arias and her legal team will need to persuade only one of the 12 jurors to vote against the death penalty for her to be spared from execution, Cobb said.

The 2013 trial was sensational, attracting a media circus and a national audience riveted by themes of sex, violence and 18 days of testimony by Arias, who detailed what she called an abusive relationship with Alexander but claimed she remembered nothing of his killing.

(source: KSBW news)


Jodi Arias death penalty retrial pales in comparison

Right now jurors in the Jodi Arias death penalty re-trial are resting up for day two of deliberations on Thursday morning.

They're tasked with a life or death decision weighing heavily on their minds.

This time around, the case is nowhere near the circus-like atmosphere witnessed in 2013 when Arias was convicted of murder in the death of her on-again, off-again boyfriend Travis Alexander. Back then, most of the major television networks and cable networks converged on downtown Phoenix, broadcasting the trial. But this time around Judge Sherry Stephens pulled the plug on the camera in the courtroom. She allowed one pool camera to capture the punishment phase on video, but media outlets are not allowed to broadcast the video until the jury has reached a verdict.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts says, "No footage means no Nancy Grace. No national outrage and nobody chanting on the courthouse steps to give her death."

During his bi-weekly news conference Wednesday, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery would not divulge the cost for his office to prosecute Arias in this matter. He said he will reveal the costs to taxpayers after the verdict. He said, "The only way you can get a fair defense is if you're rich or powerful. That's not the case in Maricopa County."

With a life or death decision in the hands of the jury, Roberts says Arizonans are saying this, "What I hear is, 'Please don't inflict her on us anymore. We don't want to know; we don't want to hear it. Wake us up when there's a verdict and then let's forget her.'"



ATC awards death penalty to 4 TTP men

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) while announcing verdict in Ichhra police attack case, handed death sentence to 4 terrorists linked with banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ARY News reported.

During the hearing, public prosecutor said that the accused had attacked Ichhra Police Training Center, where they killed 10 jail wardens from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who were under training at the center and injured 22.

He requested the court to award stern punishment to the accused.

On the other hand, counsels of the accused requested the ATC to acquit their clients on the basis of insufficient evidence and absence of witnesses against them.

However, the court after listening to both sides handed death sentence to four accused namely Zulfikar, Karamat, Afzal and Abdul Hakim on 21 different counts.

All the 4 convicts were associated with TTP Punjab.

AFP adds: The convicts were also fined 1.8 million rupees (18,000 dollars) each, he added.

Pakistan lifted a moratorium on executions in terror cases in December after Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people at a school.

The executions could take decades to be carried out, however, because of the lengthy appeals process allowed under Pakistani law.

The 4 TTP militants, all in their 20s, confessed to carrying out the attack on the residential quarters for prison staff in the densely populated Lahore suburb of Ichra, Saeed said.

After killing 10 during the dawn raid armed with Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades, they then stormed another building where around 30 police prison officers were sleeping.

Many were injured as they fled into neighbouring houses in a bid to save themselves from the volley of bullets, Saeed added.

The 4 men were arrested about a year after the attack when they were caught with Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades at a bus stand in Lahore.

Pakistan amended its constitution and set up military courts last month for speedy trial of terrorism cases.

24 people have been executed since Prime Minister Sharif lifted a 6-year moratorium on the death penalty in the wake of the December Taliban school massacre in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Heavily armed gunmen went from room to room at the army-run school killing 154 people, most of them children, in an attack that horrified the world.

(source: Ary News)


Fact check: No proof the death penalty prevents crime

With the fate of Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran seemingly decided by the Indonesian legal system, Australian advocates for the pair have been attempting to secure a reprieve through legal avenues and public pressure.

During a visit to Bali in February, Victorian Supreme Court judge Lex Lasry told ABC TV's 7.30 that the death penalty does not deter crime.

"There are all sorts of other punishments - life imprisonment and so on - but the idea that a government would take individuals out into the bush, as they would here, and shoot them is just something that I can never live with and never understand, and apart from anything else, from a legal point of view, no-one really claims now that it has any real deterrent value. It's just a terrible thing to do," he said.

ABC Fact Check looks at the research.

The death penalty

More than 1/2 of all the nations in the world retain the death penalty in some form or other. A small number retain it only for war-time offences and others have not used it for over 10 years, but there are a large number that retain and use the death penalty, predominately as a punishment for murder.

According to advocacy group Harm Reduction International, thirty-three nations retain the death penalty for drug offences. Of those, not all carry out capital punishment for these offences on a regular basis, and Harm Reduction International estimates that "executions for drug offences have taken place in only 12 to 14 countries over the [5 years to 2012]".

It lists 6 countries with a "high" rate of applying the death penalty in drugs cases: China, Iran, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Oxford University professors Roger Hood and Carolyn Hoyle say Indonesia, which resumed executions for drug traffickers in 2013, might soon be added to that list "if it carries out its threat to execute more drug traffickers".

In the 5th edition of their book The Death Penalty: A Worldwide Perspective released in January, Professors Hood and Hoyle write that Singapore, Malaysia and possibly Vietnam may be "ready to be downgraded to 'low application states'."

The United Nations has strict guidelines for the use of the death penalty, restricting it to the "most serious crimes".

A resolution of the Economic and Security Council, first made in the 1980s, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 1984, and updated in 1999 says that "capital punishment may be imposed for only the most serious crimes, it being understood that their scope should not go beyond intentional crimes with lethal or other extremely grave consequences".

Since the adoption of this guideline, other UN bodies have made rulings about how to interpret the "most serious crimes" provision, which exclude drug offences. And the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, said recently that Indonesia was a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its use of the death penalty for drug offences was "in violation of international human rights standards".

A review of Indonesia's use of the death penalty and the Bali Nine case by Colman Lynch, published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review in 2009, says capital punishment is also arguably against Indonesia's constitution.

Mr Lynch wrote that "though Indonesia had a legal obligation to abolish capital punishment as a punishment for drug-trafficking crimes under its constitution and applicable international law, as interpreted by relevant international bodies, its judiciary was able to find sufficient ambiguity in the wording of each obligation to buck the international trend of abolishing capital punishment".

The death penalty in the United States

Fact Check asked Justice Lasry whether he had any particular research in mind when he said the death penalty wasn't a deterrent. A spokeswoman for the Victorian Supreme Court said that the judge's comments were based on "a general body of research that indicates the death penalty has no real deterrent value".

In their book, Professors Hood and Hoyle say almost all the academic studies available for review are concerned with the deterrent effect of capital punishment on the rate of murder in the United States.

The authors say theoretical and methodological issues have "dogged the attempts to prove or disprove the existence of the deterrent effect of executions in the United States" and "a fierce controversy continues" in the United States over attempts to use econometric models to address the question.

After reviewing the literature they conclude that "it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment, as practised in the United States, deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment".

A comprehensive review of the research in this area over 34 years was conducted in 2012 by a committee of the American National Academy of Sciences National Review Council. The committee concluded that "research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates".

It said the studies it reviewed should not be used to influence policymakers. "Claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment," it said.

One of the main problems was that it was impossible to know what a jurisdiction's murder rate would be with different sentencing options. "The data alone cannot reveal what the homicide rate in a state without (with) a capital punishment regime would have been had the state (not) had such a regime."

A 2nd problem was "the use of incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers' perceptions of and response to the capital punishment component of a sanction regime".

Without this basic information, "it is impossible to draw credible findings about the effect of the death penalty on homicide".

Expert opinion

While that review found the evidence was inconclusive, Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University in the US, told Fact Check he believed that there was no evidence that showed the death penalty deterred.

Professor Fagan, who appeared as an expert witness for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran in an unsuccessful appeal in 2007, said there was "no credible scientific evidence that the death penalty deters criminal behaviour".

"Even when executions are frequent and well-publicised, there are no observable changes in crime. Executions serve only to satisfy the urge for vengeance. Any retributive value is short-lived, lasting only until the next crime."

His position is shared by the majority of criminologists in relation to homicide, according to a 2009 survey of members of the American Criminology Society, who were asked to limit their answers to their understanding of the empirical research and to exclude their personal opinions.

That study found that over 88 % of the criminologists did not believe the death penalty deterred murderers.

"In short, the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment," the study said.

Professor Franklin Zimring of the University of California, Berkley, told Fact Check the evidence wasn't there to support the argument that the death penalty acted as a deterrent to murder.

"The number of homicide studies over the past century is vast and there is no consistent evidence of marginal deterrent effect," he said.

Murder, the death penalty and Asia

Professor Zimring, with Professor Fagan and David T. Johnson of The University of Hawaii, conducted a study that compared Singapore - a country that does have the death penalty - with Hong Kong.

According to the study, in the mid 1990s, Singapore's execution rate was among the highest in the world. There was a steep drop off in the decade after 1997 - a reduction of an estimated 95 %.

Hong Kong abolished the death penalty in 1993.

The 3 concluded that "the Singapore experience magnifies the impact of American assertions [that the death penalty deters] to a patently silly status".

They found that "homicide levels and trends are remarkably similar in these 2 cities over the 35 years after 1973, with neither the surge in Singapore's executions nor the more recent steep drop producing any differential impact".

South Africa

In South Africa, the Constitutional Court considered the issue in 1995, and in a judgement that struck out use of the death penalty, said:

"We would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that the execution of the few persons sentenced to death during this period, and of a comparatively few other people each year from now onwards will provide the solution to the unacceptably high rate of crime. There will always be unstable, desperate, and pathological people for whom the risk of arrest and imprisonment provides no deterrent, but there is nothing to show that a decision to carry out the death sentence would have any impact on the behaviour of such people, or that there will be more of them if imprisonment is the only sanction."

The court rejected the argument of the Attorney General that the death penalty was a powerful deterrent.

The death penalty and drug offences

When it comes to assessing deterrence in relation to drug-related crime, Harm Reduction International says finding reliable ways to measure the impact of executions is a big challenge for researchers.

"A plethora of indicators could be used to consider deterrence with drugs," it says in its 2012 global review of the death penalty for drug offences.

"Might it be arrests for drug offences? Representation of drug offenders in the prison population? Hospital admissions for drug-related issues? Overdose statistics (which can be brought down anyway with simple and cheap harm reduction interventions)? Moreover, which drugs: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, so-called 'party drugs' like ecstasy? Would a reduction in arrests for marijuana represent a successful indicator for all drugs?

"Trying to prove or disprove the deterrent value of drug laws is extraordinarily difficult. Anecdotally, one could say harsh drug laws do not work. For example, Iran has some of the toughest drug laws in the world and a high prevalence of injection drug use. Sweden does not have the death penalty and it has comparatively low rates of problematic drug use."

In their book, Professors Hood and Hoyle agree that producing evidence is difficult. They write that in all 33 countries with the death penalty for drug offences, "it has been argued that the death penalty is an indisputable deterrent to drug trafficking, but no evidence of a statistical kind has been forthcoming to support this contention".

What's more they say it is unlikely that any such evidence could be gathered.

"The low rates of effectiveness of law enforcement, the relative immunity from the law of those who profit most from the trade in drugs, and the higher risks of violence and death they most probably run from others engaged in the drugs trade, all make it seem implausible that the death penalty in itself will have a marginally stronger deterrent effect than long terms of imprisonment, especially when ... only 11 of 33 countries with power to execute offenders for drugs offences have actually done so within the past 10 years."

In Mr Lynch's 2009 review of Indonesia's use of the death penalty and the Bali 9 case, he quotes Professor Fagan's expert testimony used in an attempt to appeal the death sentences for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran on a human rights basis.

Professor Fagan "described extensive studies showing that criminals are deterred more by an increase in their likelihood of apprehension than by an increase in the magnitude of their punishment, meaning that likely capture is a more effective deterrent than potential death," Mr Lynch wrote.

Professor Fagan argued that the comparative drug crime rates in Singapore and Indonesia, when compared with death sentences handed down showed that there was no deterrent effect.

"If capital punishment had a deterrent effect on drug trafficking, this would lead to less drug trafficking, and therefore higher wholesale drug prices, in Singapore. However, wholesale drug prices for both cocaine and heroin were significantly higher in Indonesia than in Singapore from 2003 to 2006, and drugs generally were more prevalent in Singapore than Indonesia in that period, indicating that drug trafficking was not deterred as a result of Singapore's high levels of capital punishment," the article says.

Mr Lynch wrote that a typical factor in drug-trafficking cases is the potential for large monetary gains, for which a trafficker might be prepared to risk even the death penalty. He quoted research discussing "the overwhelming effect of drug smugglers' potential financial gains, including one smuggler's comment that 'the money overrode any - any rational judgment'."

The verdict

There is scant research on whether the death penalty deters drug trafficking. Experts who have considered the issue of the death penalty as a punishment for murder, and in some cases drug offences, around the world, say there is not enough evidence to conclude that the death penalty deters.

Justice Lasry's claim that it has no real deterrent value is well founded.



Hundreds support Iranian mystic facing death sentence----Taheri was nearly done with his prison sentence when the court changed the charge to one that carries the death penalty.

A man who taught mysticism in Iran faces the death penalty after already serving almost 4 years in prison, in a case that has sparked outrage among hundreds of supporters.

Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of a popular spiritual group called "Erfan-e Halgheh," or "mysticism circle," has been kept in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since May, 2011. Taheri, who taught popular spirituality and meditation classes, was originally given a 5-year sentence for "insulting Islamic sanctities," an offense that does not carry the death penalty as it does not involve the deliberate insulting of the Prophet Mohammad.

But with just a year left in his sentence, authorities have changed the charges to "corruption on Earth," which can potentially lead to a death sentence, according to his family. Yesterday, Taheri's wife, daughter and brother attended a court hearing, when they were told to come back after the Iranian New Year, celebrated March 21, family members told

Hundreds of supporters gathered in protest outside the courthouse, prompting authorities to use tear gas and arrest more than 70, according to Taghato News.

Taheri has endured a dozen hunger strikes while in solitary confinement and attempted suicide four times, according to supporters.

His internal organs are now failing, according to his wife.

If he is executed, he will be just 1 of more than 1,200 prisoners executed since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August of 2013.

Iran has about 220,000 prisoners, in a country with a total population of about 75 million, according to Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran's chief prison official.

Taheri's teachings include belief that every human being deserves love, respect and equality before God and treating others as you would want to be treated. He also practiced a form of healing and relaxation through meditation.

"The government wants to call him a cult leader because his teachings go against what they want us to hear," said Anita Ghanaei, a student of Taheri's course. "The Iranian government has created an environment where people are in duress, and once a person is in duress it is easier to hate than love."

Taheri has been denied access to his lawyer, according to his family.

The case may go beyond that of Iranian authorities cracking down on a spiritual leader, according to Ghanaei, who says Taheri was arrested when a man, whose wife left him, blamed Taheri's teachings.

In July 2014, Taheri sent a letter to Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, detailing the abuses and torture he has endured.

(source: Fox News)


19 E. Java Workers Face Death Penalty in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia

19 migrant workers from East Java are facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, according to the province's Human Resources and Civil Registration Agency.

Thousands of other migrant workers from East Java are being prosecuted for breaking the law abroad, the agency was reported as saying on Wednesday. Their alleged offenses range from lack of proper documentations and getting caught after entering the country illegally, to involvement in drug abuse.

"We seek assistance from the Foreign Affairs Ministry," Edi Purwinarto, the head of the East Java Human Resources and Civil Registration Agency, told newsportal on Wednesday.

Nusron Wahid, the head of the Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI), said that there was a total of 229 migrant workers facing the death penalty and 38 of them had been convicted already.

"They, including the 19 migrant workers from East Java, are filing appeals," Nusron said.

The Indonesian government, which is facing international criticism over imminent execution of 11 foreign and local drug convicts, is providing legal assistance for the convicted migrant workers and is seeking to discuss the ongoing issue with Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.

(source: The Jakarta Globe)


Bali 9: Indonesian leader considering death penalty stance, says Abbott ---- Australian prime minister says he thinks Joko Widodo is 'carefully considering Indonesia's position' following conversation

Indonesia is "carefully considering" its position in relation to the execution of the Bali 9 ringleaders following a conversation between Tony Abbott and the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, the Australian prime minister has said.

Abbott spoke to his Indonesian counterpart overnight to plead for clemency for the Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

"It was a positive sign that the conversation took place," Abbott said on Thursday morning.

"I don't think it would help the case of these 2 young Australians if I was to start ventilating in public the contents of the conversation. Suffice to say that the president absolutely understands our position ... and I think he is carefully considering Indonesia's position," he said.

"I don't want to raise hope that might turn out to be dashed. I don't want to reflect on Indonesia or my friend president Joko Widodo. I want to ensure that as far as is humanly possible, I am speaking out for Australians and for Australian values. But I also have to respect and defend Australia's friendships. One of the very best of our friendships is that with Indonesia," Abbott said.

Abbott called on Widodo to spare the duo's lives, pointing to their rehabilitation while in Bali's Kerobokan jail.

It is understood Abbott expressed Australia's hope that Indonesia would show mercy to Chan and Sukumaran.

The leader of opposition business, Tony Burke, told Sky News that Labor and the Coalition "stand together" in efforts to save Chan and Sukumaran.

"There's been complete bipartisanship and support in the way the government has been trying to seek clemency here," Burke said.

The pair, who were caught trying to smuggle heroin into Indonesia in 2005 as part of the Bali 9 drug ring, are expected to be transferred in preparation for their execution after a last-ditch legal plea for clemency failed.

The ABC reported that leaders from France, Brazil and the Netherlands have called Widodo in relation to their citizens who are also facing the firing squad.

Bilateral relations have been strained since Abbott asked Indonesia to reciprocate for Australia's aid contribution following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami by sparing Chan and Sukumaran.

As part of a widespread backlash to Abbott's comments, Aceh residents began a social media campaign to repay the aid.

(source: The Guardian)

FEBRUARY 25, 2015:


Gov. Abbott Calls For 'Effective Death Penalty'

Today Governor Greg Abbott is speaking out for the 1st time about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' stay of execution in the case of Rodney Reed. A Bastrop County jury convicted Reed of the 1996 rape and strangling death of Stacey Stites.

Investigators say they found his DNA on the body. Prosecutors successfully argued the evidence tied him to the crime. But Reed's supporters claim he had a relationship with the victim.

Today we asked Governor Abbott about the hold on Reed's execution that we first reported Monday on KEYE TV News at 5:00 and the possibility of a new trial. He reiterated his support for what he calls "an effective death penalty in Texas." But he says that whenever it's applied we need to be certain the person commited the crime. Abbott adds, "I think that this is a healthy process that the court announced what it did so we can put beyond the shadow of any doubt whatsoever that he really is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted."

In the request for the stay of execution, one of the forensic experts who testified at Reed's trial says he now believes Reed's DNA could have been placed on Stites hours before she died ... perhaps even longer. New Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is reviewing the appeals court's order.

(source: KEYE TV news)


Rodney Reed wins a reprieve

Supporters see the Texas high court's decision to stay the execution of Rodney Reed as a first step in the fight to ultimately win his freedom, reports Elizabeth Schulte.

A week before his scheduled execution on March 5, Texas death row prisoner Rodney Reed won a stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Reed, his family and his supporters have maintained Rodney's innocence ever since his 1998 conviction for the murder of Stacy Stites in Bastrop, Texas. Reed's lawyers have long argued that if evidence uncovered in the years since then was properly heard in court, he would be exonerated and freed.

Law enforcement and prosecutors ignored the original suspect in the murder--Stites' fiancee, a local police officer with a violent history--and instead built a case against Reed. The all-white Texas jury easily voted to convict a Black man accused of killing a white woman.

The stay could provide an opportunity for a court to hear new evidence, including the conclusions of forensic experts that Reed didn't sexually assault the 19-year-old Stites, as prosecutors claimed, as well as evidence that Reed was nowhere near the victim at the time of her murder. Reed's lawyers also hope the courts will finally allow DNA testing on all the material in the case, which they have fought for, but have been denied before.

As Lily Hughes of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty said:

The stay of execution from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is excellent news and is just what we were hoping for at this stage. Now we are waiting for some indication from the court about how much of a hearing they will give the new claims that were raised in this appeal. We are looking for a full review of the explosive new medical findings, and we'd also like to see all the evidence tested for DNA that we have been asking for.

Whether it's through evidentiary hearings--or, even better, a new trial--we want a chance for all the evidence to be heard. Then we think the courts can have but 1 conclusion--Rodney Reed is innocent of this crime and must be freed from death row!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

There is nothing the Texas justice system would have liked more than for Rodney's case to be swept under the rug. But his family and supporters in the anti-death penalty movement have done their best to keep this injustice in the spotlight, where it belongs.

As Rodney's brother Rodrick told reporters at a press conference after the announcement of the stay, "Without people supporting us, backing us, getting out there and raising their voices, screaming at the top of their lungs, we may never have got this attention. They may have never even looked into it like they're doing."

On February 21, hundreds of people rallied in Austin at the state Capitol building to let Texas know that they're watching. Family members, exonerated death row prisoners and death penalty opponents gathered to show their support.

"We've been fighting tirelessly," Rodney's mother Sandra Reed told the crowd that day. "I will not give up this fight. I will not, regardless of what the outcome will be...There are too many innocent men that have gone, that are waiting, and that will go if we don't stop this murder--this murdering machine, the death penalty."

Supporters see the Texas high court's decision as a step in the direction of a bigger demand--freedom for an innocent man.

"Look into this case," Rodrick Reed told reporters after the announcement of the stay. "This man is innocent. Do the right thing. The lieutenant governor said, 'It's a new day in Texas.' I want to see that new day. I want to see justice done in this case, not just for Rodney, but for everybody."



Dallas-area man on death row for killing 2 loses appeal

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death sentence of a Dallas-area man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her daughter during a jealous rage 4 years ago.

Attorneys for 42-year-old Tyrone Cade of Irving argued that his trial in 2012 was marked by 44 errors, including problems with jury instructions, admission of evidence, improper testimony and insufficient evidence to support a death penalty verdict.

The state's highest criminal court Wednesday rejected each claim.

Cade's lawyers at his trial said he was insane when he fatally stabbed 37-year-old Mischell Fuller and her 17-year-old daughter Desaree Hoskins at their home. Evidence showed Cade's relationship with Fuller was deteriorating.

Evidence also showed Cade confessed to the slayings in a 911 call from a pay phone in a police station.

(source: Associated Press)


Chester County death sentence overturned in shooting case

Only 2 men have been sentenced to death by Chester County Common Pleas juries since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Now, 1 of them has been granted a reprieve - at least temporarily - because of his attorney's alleged ineffectiveness.

Last fall, U.S. District Judge James Gardner vacated the death sentence that was handed down more than 20 years ago against Darrick Hall, convicted of shooting and killing a Coatesville coin laundry manager, Donald R. Johnson, during an armed robbery 1 week before Christmas 1993. The decision came in the wake of Hall's habeas corpus petition filed on his behalf by the Federal Defender's Association.

The judge, in an exhaustive opinion, wrote that Hall's attorney, Robert Miller of Philadelphia, had failed to meet the legal standard for effectiveness of counsel in capital trials during the penalty phase, after which the jury returned its verdict of a death sentence. At the time, it was the only jury to impose that sentence on a defendant in the county in 18 years.

Gardner wrote in his Oct. 21, 2014 opinion that Miller failed "to investigate and present significant mitigating evidence in the penalty phase of (Hall's) trial regarding (his) abusive childhood, illnesses and injuries normally associated with developmental and cognitive delays, and his inability to adjust to a strutted environment during the years he attended a disciplinary school."

More specifically, Gardner stated, Miller, "failed to seek out, interview and present testimony from some of (Hall's) family, friends and employers, and failed to request readily available medical, educational and court records and failed to obtain evaluations by a mental health expert."

"This fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (Hall) suffered prejudice as a result of (Miller's) deficient performance," Gardner wrote.

Gardner, however, did not overturn Hall's conviction for 1st-degree murder. The case is now on appeal to the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia.

Hall, now 44, of Philadelphia, is currently housed in Graterford state prison, where he is still technically awaiting execution as his case makes its way through the appellate process. His appeal had been denied by the state Supreme Court, which had also ruled on the question of Miller's effectiveness and denied the claim.

Miller, who was hired by Hall's family to replace attorneys from the county Public Defender's Office who had represented Hall since his arrest, could not be reached for comment. A secretary at the office of another attorney with the same name - Robert S. Miller - said they had received inquiries about him in the past but could not offer forwarding contact information.

Miller's presentation at Hall's sentencing hearing was a stark contrast to other penalty hearings in county capital cases. He presented only 2 witnesses - a former girlfriend and Hall's mother - but they offered little in the way of testimony. Hall did not take the stand in his own defense, and Miller later told the judge overseeing the case - then Common Pleas Judge Paula Francisco Ott, now a member of the state Superior Court - that his client had told him not to offer any more in the way of evidence mitigating his case.

On the other hand, in 2 recent death penalty cases - those involving Coatesville crime figure Duron "Gotti" People and chainsaw killer LaQuanta Chapman - attorneys presented detailed testimony about their clients' troubled upbringings. Chapman's attorney included a videotape about the community where the defendant was raised in New Jersey, and Peoples took the stand to tell jurors about his childhood troubles himself.

Peoples was spared the death penalty last fall and sentenced to life for the contract murder case of a Coatesville barbershop owner he was engaged in a running feud with. Chapman was sentenced to death in November 2012 for the murder of a Coatesville teenager, whose body he dismembered with a chainsaw.

On Dec. 18, 1993, Hall and two other men engaged in a plan to rob the Coatesville laundromat located in the center of the city off East Lincoln Highway. 1 man, Troy Davis, acted as the getaway driver, while the other Tyrone Green stood inside the laundromat to act as bodyguard for Hall.

The 3 men had come to Coatesville earlier that month to sell a quantity of crack cocaine they had between themselves to raise money for Christmas presents, according to testimony at one of the 3 trials. But Davis used all of the drug himself, so the men decided they needed a quick robbery to recoup their funds. They chose the busy laundromat, on a Saturday morning, as their target.

Hall, brandishing a handgun, marched up to the manager's desk at the rear of the building, where Johnson, a well-liked 59-year-old man was seated. "What's up, Pops?" he said, according to witnesses, and pulled his handgun. When the manager made a move to disarm him, Hall fired 2 shots, hitting Johnson in his chest and in the back of his head. He died instantly.

In his closing argument at the end of the November 1994 trial, then District Attorney Anthony Sarcione, now a Common Pleas judge, pointed angrily at Hall, seated at the defense table, and said, "The only thing colder than the grave of Mr. Johnson is this guy's heart, because he put him there."

Writing in his October 2014 decision, Gardner agreed with Hall's appellate attorneys that a investigation into Hall's background would have found evidence of extreme childhood abuse cursory and a history of significant head traumas and seizures, according to the 180-page ruling. Indeed, Hall's previous attorney from the Public Defender's office testified he had begun that investigation when Hall's family decided to hire Miller, a private attorney, instead.

There was evidence that Hall's father regularly raped and beat his mother, pulled knives on her and threatened to kill her, Gardner found. Hall submitted an affidavit from his mother that Hall's father once kept her "in the house and repeatedly raped and beat her until friends were able to free her." 4 affidavits also show that Hall witnessed his father breaking his mother's arm.

Hall's father took money allotted for food and household expenses and used them for drugs, the affidavits showed. When Hall was 5, his father was arrested and his mother began a relationship with another man who beat Hall. Around this time, his mother "began drinking as a way to cope with the abuse," the court found, citing the affidavits.

Hall's medical history meanwhile includes seizures and a bicycle accident when he was 8 years old that resulted in the loss of consciousness, according to Gardner's ruling. A psychological evaluation showed he had an IQ score of 73, below average, according to the opinion.

The habeas petition was opposed by the state Attorney General's Office, which argued that Miller had been abiding by Hall's decision not to present mitigating witnesses or take the stand, even though Miller had explained to him what could happen. It said that Miller had "strategic reasons for presenting only 2 witnesses ... and for not presenting (Hall's) school records or employment history."

Green and Davis were also convicted of Johnson's murder. Green is serving a life sentence.



Pa. death penalty moratorium senseless

I wholeheartedly oppose the death penalty moratorium put in place by Gov. Wolf. It is senseless and stupid. Let the perpetrators pay for what they did, and let's put that money to a better use.

I am, however, all for raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania and legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. I feel that the last 2 measures are long overdue.

Harrisburg has a history of blocking the death penalty. It is time it learns to stop interfering with it.

Constance A. Rampulla-White

Bethlehem Township

(source: Letter to the Editor, Allentown Morning Call)


Death penalty facts have no liberal bias

When Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on Pennsylvania's death penalty, he stated that it is "error-prone, expensive and anything but infallible." He didn't just pull that out of the air. The report on Pennsylvania's death penalty conducted by no less than the American Bar Association said the same thing.

The ongoing legislative study of the death penalty began in 2011 and was created by a resolution introduced by Republican Senate Judiciary Chair Stewart Greenleaf. It is examining impact on victims' families, costs and potential biases in the system.

I find the statements of victims' family members, such as Marlene Lang, compelling.

Let's see what the report recommends. Since when do facts have a liberal bias?

FYI, I am not a Democrat nor did I vote for Tom Wolf. However, he is legally authorized to grant a reprieve here because, contrary to what the Philly District Attorney's Office pontificates, Williams still has viable avenues of relief, including pleadings filed long ago. Mr. Williams and the others on death row aren't going anywhere; we're not talking about releasing them. The worst that could happen is that they'd die in prison, a fate much worse than execution, in my opinion.


York College student


Ray Krone's sister weighs in on death penalty moratorium----Sister urges people to learn truth of death penalty

I just read the thoughts of York County District Attorney Tom Kearney, who said, "What Governor Wolf does not understand is the pain and anguish that victims' loved ones feel when someone they love is taken at the hands of another." I just can't help comment almost the same thing that he did, only from my point of view.

What Tom Kearney does not understand is the pain and anguish that the innocent death row inmate's loved ones feel when someone they love is taken at the hands of another.

I would love to have a conversation with those elected to serve their communities about my family's pain and anguish. It is just as bad when your loved one is sitting in prison for something they didn't do. Helplessness, hopelessness, discrimination, depression, anxiety, anger, rage, etc. I can talk about it because I was there for 10 years. I will talk about prosecutors, investigators, juries, expert witnesses and more.

I know families of those murder victims who do not support the death penalty. Don't kill people in their names. I know it cost much more for a death penalty case than for a life in prison without parole case.

Why do these elected officials hide behind the truth? They just need their "high" that comes from a death penalty case. Right or wrong, it's about them and their acting careers. There are so many sides to this, and I feel that Gov. Tom Wolf has the guts to address this death penalty issue and look at it fairly from all sides.

Educate yourselves, everyone, to the truth behind this. Don't let revenge ruin your heart.

Go, Tom, go.


Ray Krone's sister


(source for both: Letter to the Editor, York Dispatch)


Va. House kills lethal injection secrecy bill despite support of McAuliffe

In a surprising vote of support for transparency in state-sponsored executions, the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday killed a bill that opponents said would have shrouded lethal injection in unprecedented secrecy.

The controversial measure was intended to keep drugs used for lethal injection flowing into Virginia by shielding manufacturers from public scrutiny and political pressure.

Despite bipartisan support from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the Senate, the overwhelmingly Republican House killed the bill, 56 to 42.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), passed the Senate, 23 to 14, earlier this month.

Saslaw said he was surprised to see the bill fail, but cited opposition to the death penalty and concerns about government secrecy.

"The combination of the 2 (issues)" seemed to do the bill in, he said. "I would imagine within a year or 2, you're probably going to see a bill to just go back to the electric chair," he said.

In Virginia, inmates sentenced to the death penalty have a choice between the electric chair and lethal injection, but drugs are the default method of execution.

The issue was thrust into the national spotlight after foreign companies stopped selling such drugs as a result of pressure from their governments. That left some states unable to carry out death sentences and prompted others to experiment with chemicals that have been blamed for several ­high-profile botched executions.

Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) voted against the bill after making an unsuccessful attempt to put off the debate until next year.

"I think open government trumped secrecy today, and that's a good thing," he said.

The legislation would have prevented the public from scrutinizing most everything to do with the death penalty in Virginia.

The bill says that "all information relating to the execution process" would be exempt from the state's open records law. Although the names and quantities of chemicals used would had to have been disclosed, the names of the companies that sell them and information about buildings and equipment used in the process would have been withheld.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who voted for the bill, offered an amendment that would have let defense attorneys and their clients see confidential information about the drug formulation and who made the drugs.

His goal was "to make sure they weren't putting something in there that wasn't approved," he said.

In the House, all Democrats and a strong contingent of Republicans with concerns about privacy joined forces to kill the bill.

"I'm pleased that some sense of rationality and dignity prevailed," Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said. "Anytime somebody in the government wants to restrict information about what the government is going to do, I think we need to ask some really difficult questions and get some straight answers before we grant them that right."

The state Supreme Court is considering a case brought by Surovell over an open records request he filed - and the state denied - for records related to drugs, execution protocols and other issues. The U.S. Supreme Court is also reviewing lethal injections in Oklahoma.

(source: Washington Post)


ACLU of Virginia welcomes House of Delegates vote to reject secret execution procedures

Today the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia welcomes the Virginia House of Delegates decision to reject a bill (SB 1393, Saslaw) that would have shrouded Virginia's lethal injection execution procedures in secrecy.

"We were glad to work with the Catholic Conference, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and the Virginia Press Association to defeat this legislation that would have brought secret, experimental executions to the Commonwealth," said Frank Knaack, ACLU of Virginia Director of Public Policy and Communications. "By prohibiting the public from knowing anything about the lethal injection drug source, materials, or components, the legislation would have made the execution process almost entirely secret and subject to the unsupervised whim of the Director of the Department of Corrections. This level of secrecy and unchecked government authority is unacceptable, particularly when we're talking about the awesome power of the government to kill in our name," Mr. Knaack concluded.

"We are grateful particularly to those members of the House of Delegates who took a principled stand for transparency and accountability in government today despite accusations that to do so would be said to mean that they are against the death penalty," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. "We thank them for recognizing that transparency and accountability are necessary to democracy, not just buzzwords that you cast aside cavalierly in an election year. Whether you oppose the death penalty, as we do, or support its continued use, government in the sunshine is nowhere more important than where it involves the exercise of the government’s ultimate power over a person's life," added Ms. Gastanaga.

Senate Bill 1393 (Sen. Saslaw) would have allowed the Department of Corrections to contract with compounding pharmacies to make up drugs for use in lethal injection and exempt from public disclosure laws the manufacturer of and the materials and components used to create the drugs. The bill was part of Governor McAuliffe's legislative package and was actively lobbied by the Department of Corrections and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

(source: Augusta Free Press)

GEORGIA----impending (female) execution rescheduled for Monday

Parole board denies clemency in Kelly Gissendaner death penalty case

It's official: Kelly Gissendaner will die at the hands of the state of Georgia.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles announced Wednesday morning its decision to deny clemency for Gissendaner, the 46-year-old former Auburn woman accused of orchestrating her husband's murder in 1997. Her appeals already exhausted, the parole board was her last hope to avoid execution.

"In reaching its decision," parole board spokesman Steve Hayes said in an emailed statement, "the Board thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case. In addition to hearing testimony during the meeting on Tuesday, the Board, prior to the meeting had thoroughly reviewed the parole case file on the inmate, which includes the circumstances of the death penalty case, the inmate's criminal history, and a comprehensive history of the inmate's life."

21 people were at Tuesday's hearing in Atlanta to support Gissendaner's clemency application. Among them were 2 of her children, several Department of Corrections volunteers and many representatives from religious organizations.

The hearing was closed to the media, but Gissendaner's application was released prior to the hearing. In the 54-page document, the chairman of Georgia Prison Ministries called Gissendaner "a truly redeemed woman." The condemned prisoner's son and daughter vouched for their mother.

"It was by no means an easy road, but I learned that forgiving my mother was the best way to truly honor my father's memory and who he was," Gissendaner's daughter, who was 6 at the time of the murder, said. "My mother has become a woman full of love and compassion who is striving to become the best person she can within her situation."

Following Wednesday's announcement of the parole board's decision, the family of Doug Gissendaner - the husband that Kelly Gissendaner had killed by her lover, Greg Owen - released a lengthy statement through the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office.

"This has been a long, hard, heartbreaking road for us," the statement said, in part. "Now that this chapter in this nightmare is over, Doug would want us and all of the people who loved him to find peace, to remember all the happy times and cherish memories we have of him. We should all strive every day to be the kind of person he was. Never forget him."

The only question left is when Gissendaner will be executed. She had been scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Wednesday, but Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told the Daily Post on Tuesday night that the execution was likely to be rescheduled due to weather.

As of Wednesday morning, attempts to confirm that with the Georgia Department of Corrections were unsuccessful.

(source: Gwinnett Daily Post)


Ga. woman's execution rescheduled for Monday

Tonight's scheduled execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner has been rescheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. because of predicted winter weather.

The Department of Corrections, which carries out executions for Georgia, confirmed the change just hours before Gissendaner was to die even though the decision was made Tuesday night.

The news that Gissendaner execution had been pushed back was released more than 2 hours after the State Board of Pardons and Paroles announced it had rejected her application for clemency.

A press release from the board said it considered all the arguments and documentation in its review Tuesday.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 death of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, and sentenced to death. She conspired with her former lover, Gregory Owen, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death. Owen is serving a life sentence with a possibility of parole after 25 years in prison.

Gissendaner's appeal to the United States Supreme Court was denied October 6, 2014.

Gissendaner was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. Her execution warrant says she is to be put to death between noon today and noon this coming Wednsday. If that deadline passes, a new execution warrant must be signed.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)


Kelly Renee Gissendaner Execution Delayed, Possibly Due Georgia Storm Forecast

The state of Georgia on Wednesday delayed the execution of its only female death row inmate, ahead of a winter storm forecast to hit many areas with several inches of snow.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 46, had been scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. The execution has been reset for Monday, according to a Department of Corrections statement.

The department didn't give a reason in its statement. A winter storm was is forecast to hit parts of Georgia on Wednesday afternoon, closing schools and offices and prompting warnings about roads.

Gissendaner was convicted of murder in the February 1997 slaying of her husband. Prosecutors said she plotted with her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, in the killing.

Owen pleaded guilty and received a life prison sentence. A jury sentenced Gissendaner to death in 1998.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles held a clemency hearing Tuesday for Gissendaner but announced Wednesday that her request for clemency was denied. The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.

Gissendaner would be the 1st woman executed in Georgia in about 70 years.

Gissendaner told police her husband didn't return home Feb. 7, 1997, from dinner with friends in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta. His burned-out car was found 2 days later. His body was found about a week after that, roughly a mile from the car, in a remote wooded area. He had been stabbed several times.

Kelly and Douglas Gissendaner had a troubled relationship, splitting up and getting back together multiple times, including divorcing and remarrying, according to information provided by the state attorney general's office. Kelly Gissendaner repeatedly pushed Owen in late 1996 to kill her husband rather than just divorcing him as Owen suggested, prosecutors said.

Acting on Kelly Gissendaner's instructions, Owen ambushed Douglas Gissendaner at Gissendaner's home, forced him to drive to a remote area and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said.

Investigators looking into Douglas Gissendaner's killing zeroed in on Owen once they learned of his affair with Kelly Gissendaner. He initially denied involvement but eventually confessed and implicated Kelly Gissendaner.

Owen, who pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison, testified at Gissendaner's trial. A jury found Gissendaner guilty and sentenced her to death in 1998.

A clemency petition submitted by Gissendaner's lawyers was declassified and made public Monday by the parole board. It included several dozen testimonials from prison employees, clergy, educators and fellow inmates detailing Gissendaner's transformation through faith into a positive role model who has aided troubled inmates and helped prison guards keep order.

The clemency petition also included statements from 2 of Gissendaner's 3 children asking the parole board to spare their mother's life.

Kayla Gissendaner, who was 7 when her father was killed, wrote to the board that she'd gone through periods of not speaking to her mother and that it had taken her a long time to get over her anger and bitterness at her mother for taking her father away.

"It was by no means and easy road, but I learned that forgiving my mother was the best way to truly honor my father's memory and who he was," she wrote. "My mother has become a woman full of love and compassion who is striving to become the best person she can within her situation."

The clemency petition also included a statement from Gissendaner, who apologized to her children and to the Gissendaner family.

"There are no excuses for what I did. I am fully responsible for my role in my husband's murder," she said. "I had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment."

(source: Huffington Post)


Court hearing resumes for Clearwater man who hopes for the death penalty

A court hearing resumed Wednesday morning in the case of double-murderer Craig Wall, part of a process that will determine whether the 39-year-old Clearwater man will get the death penalty.

Wall, who is now acting as his own attorney, discussed procedural matters with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico on Wednesday, and then called a witness, a sheriff's deputy who once picked him up in a transport vehicle. The deputy said she did not remember Wall. The purpose of his questioning was not clear.

Wall recently pleaded guilty to murdering his girlfriend Laura Taft in 2010 and pleaded no contest to murdering their infant child Craig Wall Jr. He has said he wants to receive the death penalty.

This proceeding is known as the sentencing phase.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Youngest female killers on death row make desperate plea for a stay of execution as they call their impending death 'legal murder'

Tiffany Cole, 33, and Emilia Carr, 30, convicted of separate murder charges

Both are sentenced to die at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocarla, Florida

Carr is the youngest woman in America on death row

Both have filed appeals to have their sentences reduced to life

Tiffany Cole and Emilia Carr did not know each other before they were put on death row at Florida's Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocarla.

But now the women, who share incredibly similar stories, couldn't imagine life without each other.

Sexually abused when they were young, the cellmates were both convicted of separate murder charges they say are wrong and are fighting to have their death penalties removed from their sentences.

Carr, 30, is the is the youngest woman in the United States on death row, while Cole, 33, is the 3rd youngest.

'It's legal murder,' Cole told ABC News' 20/20 program during an interview with Diane Sawyer, which will air in-full on Friday.

'How many rich people go to prison?' Carr added.

'We're all minorities.

'We're all people who are either minorities or didn't have any, money - any way to say, ''Hey, let me buy my freedom'', because it's not free in this country.

'Unfortunately, equality is an illusion.'

Cole was 26 when she was found guilty of the kidnapping and 1st-degree murder of a Florida husband and wife.

Cole had lived next to them for years in South Carolina before moving to Jackonsville.

Cole and 3 men robbed the couple before tying them up, driving them across the border to Georgia and burying them alive.

The jury was shown photos of Cole and 2 co-defendants in a limousine, celebrating with champagne and handfuls of cash after the crime.

The jury voted 9 to 3 that she should receive the death penalty.

Cole claims she helped dig the grave but that she did not know it was for the victims.

She claims she thought the group were going to bury some of the items they had stolen.

'I am not the same person anymore,' Cole said.

'I have peace, I have joy. I have a sound mind.'

Emilia Carr was sentenced to death by lethal injection in 2011 for the 2009 murder of Heather Strong.

Strong was the wife of Carr's boyfriend, and both were convicted of her suffocating her with a plastic bag and dumping the body in a Florida storage unit.

Carr was 8 months pregnant at the time and now has 4 children, but is not allowed to see any of them.

She claims she had left before the murder was committed.

'Wouldn't there have been physical evidence?' she told ABC.

'I mean, duct tape is some sticky stuff, yet there's no finger prints, no DNA, no hair.'

Both women had never been to jail before they were arrested.

Now they spend 24 hours a day locked in a cell together.

3 times a week they are allowed outside for 2 hours, but the area is concrete.

'I haven't touched grass in 6 years,' Carr said.

'So it's the small stuff you take for granted, you really do.'

Carr struggles being away from her kids, but said she has taught herself to deal with it.

'I think about them every day,' she said.

'Before I really even came to know God, that was the hardest thing for me to cope with day in and day out, was being away from my kids.

'When I got here, my hair was falling out just from stress.'

Both women have lodged appeals, however the process takes an average of 10 to 12 years.

They are not fighting their convictions, but want their sentences reduced from death to life in prison.

They are both convinced they will not be executed.

'You can't have that mentality (that you're going to die), because that means you've accepted this,' Carr said.

'You've already died ... you're already dead if you accept that,' Cole said.

The women spend their days reading books.

They are both religious and say that god and self-help books have turned their lives around.

'It's not over,' Cole said.

'There is forgiveness and there is hope.'

However, the prosecutor in Cole's case, Jay Plotkin, thinks differently, telling ABC News: 'I was a prosecutor for more than 20 years. There was not any case that I prosecuted where the crime was more vile or cruel than the torture and murder of the Sumners.

'This case lingers on in the heart and soul of our community.

'Ms. Cole is certainly entitled to, and should, exhaust all of her legal rights to appeal.

'I am personally confident that she received more than adequate representation and a fair trial.'

Watch the full story, 'A New Nation of Women Behind Bars', a Diane Sawyer 'Hidden America' special, airing Friday, Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

(source: Daily Mail)


Webb seeks reforms to state death penalty policies

Some members of the Kentucky Senate are pushing for changes with the state's death penalty policies, hoping that by addressing issues from different angles, at least 1 proposal will stick in this year's legislative session.

Sens. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, and Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, are working to tackle Kentucky's rather controversial death penalty policies with 3 pieces of legislation.

Webb held a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol to discuss her bill (SB190) seeking to enact several reforms to current policies.

She made clear her bill is not angled toward abolishing the death penalty, but rather to "ensure it's fair" and that an innocent person is not executed.

Webb cited a 2011 study by the American Bar Association, which listed 95 specific areas of Kentucky's current policy that it felt needed adjustment. The ABA Kentucky Assessment Team then spent more than 2 years studying the administration of the death penalty in Kentucky.

"Our review led us to the inescapable conclusion that our current system is deeply flawed and in serious need of reform. The Kentucky Assessment Report was released over 3 years ago and, to date, not a single recommendation was been implemented," said Linda Sorenson Ewald, co-chair of the Kentucky Penalty Assessment Team.

Ewald brought with her to the press conference a large spiral bound book full of these recommendations.

Webb said since she has not heard any opposition, nor additional suggestions, in response to the assessment's release, it is time for her bill on reforms to be heard.

Some of these reforms include prohibiting the execution of the severely mentally ill; requiring interviews of suspects to be recorded for better accuracy in courts; requires ongoing training and competency on death penalty issues for law enforcement, public defenders, prosecutors, corrections officers and judges; and creates a statewide database of information for ongoing capital cases.

(source: Daily Independent)


Calls Intensify for Execution Moratorium in Kentucky

On back-to-back days late last week, separate courts overturned convictions in two cases of men on Kentucky's death row.

Those reversals have amplified calls from critics of the state's death penalty system to at least place a moratorium on executions.

Retired law professor Linda Ewald was co-chair of an 8-person team of lawyers and retired judges that found a multitude of problems with Kentucky's death penalty system. The group's American Bar Association report was issued in December 2011. "I'm disappointed that the governor didn't suspend executions, although we haven't had an execution in many years," Ewald says.

In reversing the death penalty conviction of Michael St. Clair on Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled evidence was "improperly admitted" during his trial. On Friday, a federal appellate court ruled in Roger Wheeler's case that a potential juror was "erroneously struck from the jury."

Ewald says the ABA report she coauthored uncovered 95 specific concerns about Kentucky's death penalty system.

"Well, I think it's a bit disconcerting that Kentucky has the death penalty and that we've assessed this in such a way to demonstrate that there are very serious problems in its administration," she states. Ewald says she's encouraged by legislation (SB190) filed earlier this month by state Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, which attempts to address lineups, interrogations, eyewitness testimony and biological evidence.

"I think it's a little misleading to say nothing has been done," she says. "I think people are working on this. These are changes that are going to require legislation. They're going to require changes in court rules. They may require public hearings."

Ewald adds while Kentucky was at the forefront in passing a post-conviction DNA testing law, problems remain with how biological evidence is handled after a trial.

"Unfortunately, Kentucky doesn't have any uniform protocols for preserving and retaining evidence after a conviction," she says. "And so, there's the risk that it's not being maintained properly. There's the risk that it's lost and won't be available.

"The ABA report called the system "broken and fatally flawed," but Ewald says it was not, in her words, "an abolition document." She says the report did not address whether Kentucky should have a death penalty.



Arkansas panel OKs eliminating death sentence as penalty

A proposal to abolish Arkansas' death penalty is heading to the state Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would eliminate the death penalty as a sentencing option in capital murder cases.

Arkansas has 32 inmates on death row but hasn't executed anyone in nearly a decade due to legal challenges over the state's lethal injection procedures.

State Sen. David Burnett, a former judge and prosecutor, said he no longer believes the death penalty is a deterrent to violent crime. The bill by the Osceola Democrat faces opposition from some prosecutors who say the death penalty helps while negotiating plea bargains with defendants.

The state hasn't executed anyone since 2005, when Eric Nance was put to death for the murder and attempted rape of a Malvern teenager.

(source: Arkansas Online)

MISSOURI----new execution date

Missouri sets execution date for Normandy man who killed ex-wife's boyfriend in 1998

The Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday set a mid-April execution date for Andre Cole, a man from Normandy who stabbed his ex-wife's boyfriend 22 times.

Cole, 52, has been on death row since his conviction in St. Louis County in 2001. He killed Anthony Curtis on Aug. 21, 1998, at a house in north St. Louis County.

Cole is scheduled to die by lethal injection at the state prison in Bonne Terre. According to the order by the Missouri Supreme Court, the death warrant is good for a 24-hour period, starting at 6 p.m. on April 14.

The victim, Curtis, was a 34-year-old Navy veteran from St. Louis. He was stabbed or slashed 22 times with a butcher knife. One of the wounds was 8 inches deep. It had pierced his back, shaved a rib, punctured his lung and cut his aorta.

Prosecutors at trial said that Cole was angry over child-support payments.

Cole and his wife, Terri Cole, divorced in 1995. He was ordered to pay child support for the couple's two children, but missed several payments. He was ordered to pay $3,000 through payroll deductions.

The 1st deduction appeared on his Aug. 21, 1998, paycheck. On the day his paycheck was garnisheed for back child support, Cole broke into the his ex-wife's home, in the 10100 block of Castle Drive, by throwing a car jack through a glass patio door.

The jury found that Cole then killed Curtis and wounded Terri Cole, who was also stabbed several times. Terri Cole survived and testified against her ex-husband at the trial.

Curtis, who lived in the 5600 block of St. Louis Avenue, died at a hospital.

In addition to 1st-degree murder, the jury also convicted Andre Cole of assault and two counts of armed criminal action.

Cole's defense attorney at the St. Louis County murder trial, Dorothy Hirzy, indicated in her opening statement that Andre Cole broke into the house to confront Terri Cole about custody of their children and was attacked by the couple. Hirzy suggested Curtis and Terri Cole stabbed each other after Andre Cole fled.



More jurors dismissed in Aurora theater shooting trial because of death penalty reservations

3 jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial were told Tuesday to return for the group questioning phase, bringing the total through 8 days of individual questioning to 34.

The jurors retained included 1 man whom the defense wanted dismissed because they said he was biased in favor of the death penalty.

The man, a middle-aged white man in a wheelchair, said he believed in "an eye for an eye" and said in a particularly heinous case, he would have trouble opting for a life sentence.

Public defender Katherine Spengler, 1 of the lawyers for accused gunman James Holmes, said the man had a "presumption" of a death sentence, which makes him an unfair juror.

Prosecutors and Judge Carlos Samour Jr. disagreed. Samour said the man proved during follow-up questioning that he could put aside his feelings on the death penalty and make a fair decision.

"I think he can be fair and impartial. I think he will be fair and impartial," Samour said.

Another juror who was retained previously worked as a volunteer victim advocate for Aurora police but said she could set aside her feelings about crime victims and be an impartial juror.

Even if she heard from victims and their families, the woman said she could judge Holmes fairly.

"At the end of the day, Mr. Holmes is still someone's family member, still someone's loved one," she said.

A man, who said he worked at a gas station and was a former drill sergeant at the end of Vietnam, was retained after he said the death penalty was warranted in some cases, but only after careful deliberation.

The prosecution and defense have largely agreed about the jurors who have been dismissed or retained for the next phase so far, but in a few cases like Tuesday's they have sparred.

Among the jurors released Tuesday were a man who now lives in Weld County and by law can't serve on a jury in Arapahoe County, a woman getting married in the middle of the trial, and a woman who said jury service would be a financial hardship. 3 jurors in the morning were excused because they said they couldn't sentence Holmes to death.

Including the initial phase of jury selection that started in January, the trial has lasted 23 days so far. Opening statements were expected to start in May or June, but with jury selection moving quicker than planned, Samour has said the trial could start in April or May.

The defense has asked for a delay several times but Samour has rejected their requests.

Holmes sat quietly at the defense table Tuesday wearing a blue button-up shirt.

Court is in recess until Wednesday morning.

(source: Aurora Sentinel)


Capital punishment debates highlight flaws in criminal justice system

In response to another My View about capital punishment debates, Wayne Overson explains how the death penalty hurts the justice system more than it helps it.

As a retired professor of criminal justice from Weber State University, the article by Marc Hyden ("Capital punishment legislation fails to consider real problems," Feb. 10) was of special interest to me. I would like to add to it.

I believe that keeping the death penalty "on the books" is based on our emotion. Not only is it possible to have executed the wrong person, but the death penalty can also be used to coerce an innocent person into pleading guilty in order to avoid being killed. An accused person may accept a plea bargain to a lesser sentence with the hope of later being proved innocent. In some cases, co-actors in a robbery, murder and/or other crime may lie as part of their plea bargain. Are eyewitnesses completely reliable? Quite often I see a person who strongly reminds me of someone else, even a good friend.

The death penalty does prevent future crime by the person who is executed. However, as Mr. Hyden pointed out, it cannot be proved that the death penalty prevents or deters crime that may be committed by others. In a Deseret News article from a couple of years ago, during the half-year prior to the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner, there were 26 homicides and there were 26 more in the 6 months afterward. In fact, 2 murders took place later in the day of his execution.

Mr. Hyden emphasized the waste of money for the years of court proceedings. My contention is that not only is it a huge waste of money, but there is a corresponding lack of money to prevent crime. How? There are at least three ways to prevent future violent and nonviolent felonies. Haven't we all heard of serial murder, rape, robbery, arson and so on? How many rape kits have not been processed? And why not? I would also propose the creation of 2 state law enforcement units. One unit would be assigned to investigate "cold" violent crime cases. Additionally, more funds should be spent to enlarge the unit of officers whose job is to search for, serve warrants on and arrest wanted felons.

Why not drop capital punishment completely and spend the money saved to prevent future crimes?

Maybe we should substitute the death penalty with a "virtual death penalty," where the convicted is never allowed visitors other than defense attorneys and prison guards. And, who knows, the convicted may later be proven innocent. A news article from 2014 reported that in 2013, in the United States, there were 87 prison inmates proven innocent and released.

In reality, our criminal justice system, due to human imperfections, is not free of errors.

(source: Wayne Overson is a retired professor of criminal justice from Weber State University----Deseret News)


Death penalty repeal stymied

Representatives have voted down a bill that would end capital punishment in Montana.

Members of the House of Representatives voted 50-50 on Monday to fail House Bill 370 on 2nd reading. 3 Democrats and 47 Republicans voted against the measure and 12 Republicans joined 38 Democrats in voting for it.

Republican Rep. David Moore of Missoula introduced the proposal in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13. Committee members passed the bill 11-10.

Representatives debated the repeal for more than 20 minutes. Supporters called for life imprisonment over death. Opponents said repealing the death penalty would be unfair to victims.

Similar bills have survived the Senate, but in the last 2 sessions have failed in the House.

2 men currently imprisoned in Montana have been sentenced to die.

(source: Associated Press)


My Jodi Arias trial prediction: 100 % guaranteed

I know exactly how the sentencing trial of the convicted murder Jodi Arias will turn out. And so do you.

Here's the verdict:


Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on a death penalty case that shouldn't have been a death penalty case in the first place. And we've spent a big bunch more on a sentencing trial that should not have been a sentencing trial.

After the 1st jury convicted Arias but failed to make a decision on the death penalty Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery should have left the sentencing decision up to Judge Sherry Stephens. Once the death penalty is off the table the judge would have sentenced Arias to life in prison, period, or to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Instead, we are after all this time and all this expense, getting final arguments from the Arias defense team and prosecutors in the sentencing trial.

If this 2nd jury also can't come up with a decision it will go to the judge, where it should have gone in the first place.

Not that it matters anymore.

Even if prosecutor Juan Martinez gets the death penalty that he has lusted after for so long there undoubtedly will be an appeal based on the numerous objections the defense already has raised. Who knows how much that will cost us. But the case will go on.

Arias will be in jail for all of this, of course, which is where she belongs.

But prosecutors could have, and should have, saved taxpayers a ton of money.

Arias murdered her boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008. That seems like a long, long time ago. There were nearly 30 knife wounds on his body. His throat was slit. He was shot in the forehead. It was an awful, ugly crime for which Arias deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison.

She may end up doing that even if this 2nd jury votes to give her the death penalty.

The appeals drag on and on.

There's no mystery left in this case, and no mysteries left concerning the outcome. Among the prosecutors and defense attorneys and the defendant there will be no clear winners, no matter what happens with the sentencing jury.

But there will be one very clear loser.


(source: Commentary, EJ Montini, The Arizona Republic)


Mohave County to retry death penalty case----High court overturned capital punishment in murder case

Every person deserves his or her day in court.

Some of them get more than 1.

More than 2 months after the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction - and subsequent death penalty - of Darrell Bryant Ketchner, 57, the Mohave County Attorney's office has decided to retry the case. They have done so despite the fact Ketchner will still remain in prison for the rest of his natural life due to convictions that were not reversed and add up to a 75-year term.

But that time would not be served on death row, where Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith firmly believes Ketchner should be.

On July 4, 2009, a raging Ketchner violated a restraining order and barged into the Pacific Avenue home of his estranged girlfriend, Jennifer Allison.

There, he stabbed Allison's 18-year-old daughter Ariel Allison 8 times, killing her. He also stabbed and shot Jennifer Allison in the head. Jennifer survived after a lengthy convalescence, which left her with no memories of that night.

Ketchner was found passed out on the Cerbat Cliffs Golf Course the next day. He had the handgun he used to shoot Jennifer Allison - it was hers - pornographic movies, sex toys, zip ties and medications in his possession.

Prosecutor Megan McCoy prosecuted Ketchner in a trial filled with drama and heartbreak.

Defense attorneys David Shapiro and John Napper never challenged the state's contention that Ketchner killed Ariel Allison and grievously injured her mother. Instead, they argued Ketchner did not intend to kill and maim that night.

Premeditation is a key component of a 1st-degree murder conviction, but the jury was not unanimous in that aspect of deliberations.

Still, they found 3 other aggravating factors did exist, and that was sufficient for all 12 jurors to hand down the death penalty.

They also found Ketchner guilty of attempted 1st-degree attempted murder, 1st-degree burglary and 3 counts of aggravated assault.

Why was it overturned?

The testimony of a single witness, Dr. Kathleen Ferraro, was sufficient for the Supreme Court to reverse the murder and burglary convictions, but the remaining convictions were upheld.

The high court reversed the murder and burglary convictions because justices believe Ferraro's testimony focused on "domestic violence patterns and the general characteristics exhibited by domestic violence victims and abusers," according to the Supreme Court opinion.

Napper objected to Ferraro testifying during the trial, arguing she would impermissibly create a profile that would unduly sway jurors. The issue was raised on appeal, and the high court agreed with Napper's argument that allowing Ferraro to testify was an abuse of discretion.

Ferraro also testified to separation assault. Jennifer Allison had requested and been granted no less than 3 protective orders against Ketchner, and one was in effect the night he went to her Pacific Avenue home and killed her eldest daughter and tried to kill her.

Ferraro said abusers are very dangerous when the victim attempts to end the relationship and they use violence to regain control.

Mohave County attorneys disputed the contention that Ferraro offered profile evidence, arguing that Ferraro was called to testify not to show Ketchner fit the profile of a domestic violence abuser profile, but to show the relationship between the two was typical of abusive relationships.

What now?

Chief Deputy County Attorney Jace Zack said the case will begin as if it were on the eve of trial.

While Zack has been advised Napper and Shapiro will again represent Ketchner, Napper is now the Yavapai County Public Defender and by law cannot retry the case. Whoever represents him, taxpayers will pay the bill.

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Ketchner remains on death row despite the Supreme Court's reversal of his 1st-degree murder conviction.

Whether he will be transferred to the Mohave County jail to await trial is up to the defense, said Zack. The issue will be decided based on which location would make it easier for them to communicate with Ketchner - here rather than at the Browning Unit, where death row is, in Florence.

State law calls for such cases to be retried within 90 days from the Supreme Court's decision, but Zack said capital cases "always take longer."

(source: Kingman Daily Miner)


Lawyer urges Jodi Arias jury to spare her life, with pictures of happier times

A defense lawyer displayed a series of happy images of Jodi Arias on Tuesday as he tried to garner sympathy from a jury that is deciding whether to send the convicted murderer to prison or death row.

Lawyer Kirk Nurmi put the Arias photo album on display as he urged jurors to spare her life. He called it a monumental decision as he asked jurors: "Would you kill Jodi Arias for what she's done?"

"In some ways, the choice before you is simple, right? Life or death," Nurmi said.

Nurmi showed jurors a series of photos from throughout Arias' life, including images of her family and victim Travis Alexander. He reiterated that the 34-year-old Arias has borderline personality disorder and suffered physical and emotional abuse from her parents and Alexander - claims that have never been corroborated but have become a centerpiece of Arias' efforts to avoid the death penalty.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez was scheduled to also make his closing argument Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Arias attacked Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their affair and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.

The closing arguments in the penalty phase came as a lengthy trial is drawing to a close.

Arias first went on trial in January 2013 in the deadly stabbing and shooting of Alexander. She was convicted of 1st-degree murder 5 months later after a salacious trial that revealed intimate details of her and Alexander's love life along with gruesome details of the killing.

The same jury could not agree on a punishment for Arias, creating a new penalty phase of the trial that began last year. That phase dragged on for several months amid a series of expert witnesses and the surprising October decision by Judge Sherry Stephens to remove reporters and spectators from the courtroom so Arias could testify in private. A higher court halted the testimony on its second day amid complaints from news organizations.

The retrial revealed few new details about the crime and was more subdued than Arias' first trial, which turned into a media circus. At the retrial, the judge barred the broadcast of footage from the proceedings until after a verdict is reached. She did, however, agree to allow live broadcast coverage of the sentencing verdict.

Arias passed up a chance Monday to address the jury, saying she wanted to make such comments but insisting the courtroom be cleared. She said she wouldn't make any remarks if she could be seen and heard from a remote viewing room. Stephens said an appeals court has forbidden Arias from making such comments behind closed doors.

(source: CBS news)


Brown must jump-start death penalty debate

New Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said last week she plans to continue a death-penalty moratorium imposed by her predecessor while she seeks a debate about "fixing the system."

It's the same narrow line that former Gov. John Kitzhaber was walking beginning in 2011, when he announced that he would block all executions during his tenure. Kitzhaber said at the time that he believed capital punishment is applied arbitrarily and called for a statewide vote on whether Oregon should continue to use the death penalty.

Then he did little to advance the issue, and it never gained much traction during the 2014 campaign.

So here's what Brown should do: She should ask the Legislature - this session - to refer the issue to Oregon voters. And she should vow to abide by the results for as long as she's governor.

It has been more than 3 decades since Oregonians weighed in on the death penalty in a statewide vote. It could very well be that the attitudes of state residents toward capital punishment have changed since then.

But the only way to find out for sure is to push for a statewide referendum.

And the best way to kick-start the statewide debate on the death penalty that Kitzhaber said he wanted and that Brown now says she wants is for the new governor to use some of her political capital with the Legislature to push the issue onto the ballot.

It's not clear why Kitzhaber didn't do more to deal with that issue in 2011 and 2012, after he unilaterally decided to give a reprieve to Oregon death row inmate Gary Haugen, convicted of 2 murders. You'll recall that Haugen didn't want the reprieve and sued over the issue, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the governor was within his powers.

Maybe it's that Kitzhaber thought he had bigger fish to fry at the time. Maybe it's that the Cover Oregon debacle started to draw too deeply into his store of political capital.

Whatever the reasons were, they don't apply to Brown. She has the opportunity now to revive the statewide debate. Our hope, as we have written before, is that the debate ends with a resounding vote to abolish the death penalty.

If Brown chooses to let this opportunity slide, however, she may well be vulnerable in 2016, when she is expected to run to fill the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's term, to the same tough question that dogged Kitzhaber.

That question goes like this: The governor takes an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Oregon. The death penalty - think of it what you will - still is the law of this state. We know, governor, of your position on the death penalty. What other laws will you choose to ignore?

(source: Editorial, Corvallis Gazette Times)


Time and justice at odds on Oregon's Death Row

Timing is everything in the renewed scrap over Oregon's death penalty.

Gov. Kate Brown has extended John Kitzhaber's moratorium on executions because she understands this may not be the time for a contentious "broader discussion" on the just rewards for Randy Guzek, Jesse Caleb Compton and Craig Bjork.

Given the suddenness of Kitzhaber's vanishing act, no one is yet prepared to resume hostilities over Gary Haugen.

And, finally, there's the crucial time stamp on those death sentences, a detail that is all but lost in the timeless campaign by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

In Kitzhaber's final days in power, OADP urged him to commute the sentences of the 34 long-suffering residents of Oregon's death row.

On Feb. 15, the advocacy group boldly announced, "While Governor Kitzhaber is still in office ... he has the power to commute death row sentences, changing them to life without parole."

Say again? "Life without parole."

"That is simply not true," Josh Marquis has countered, often, over the last 10 days.

Why? Because timing is everything. Marquis -- the district attorney in Clatsop County -- was the prosecutor in three of Guzek's four death-penalty trials. Should a governor commute a death sentence in Oregon, he argues, that inmate is subject to the next most severe penalty available at the time he or she was sentenced.

And for 7 of those found guilty of aggravated murder -- Guzek, Michael Martin McDonnell, Marco Antonio Montez, Mark Allen Pinnell, David Lynn Simonsen, Jeffrey Ray Williams and Robert Paul Langley -- life without parole is not an option.

"When they committed their crimes and when they were sentenced, 'true life' was not a penalty that existed in Oregon," Marquis says.

For the gentlemen sentenced before July 1, 1990, the only other option for the somber juries was life ... with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

It's been difficult to find someone who disagrees with this. Only one member of OADP's Board of Directors responded to phone calls or emails over the last week.

"I think you are right that commutation would make several people eligible for parole," Tom O'Connor, the former head chaplain with the Oregon Department of Corrections, wrote. "I will check on the website and let you know."

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the OADP's curious argument was still prominently featured on the website. Then, again, so was this Sister Helen Prejean quote:

"Government ... can't be trusted to control its own bureaucrats or collect taxes equitably or fill a pothole, much less decide which of it's (sic) citizens to kill."

The disdain for our imperfect union -- not to mention punctuation -- is almost as savage as Prejean's contempt for juries.

"Hundreds of jurors - 48 in Guzek alone - took the tortuous path in deciding death was the right decision in these cases," Marquis reminds us.

The last 12 Guzek jurors bumped into this problematic true-life issue in 2010. One of the reasons Guzek's fourth death-penalty trial became necessary is that the Oregon Supreme Court decided life without parole should have been an option for the jury in Guzek III.

At the onset of jury selection, however, Guzek delivered a 6-page legal brief, arguing that "the application of life without parole to my case" violated his constitutional rights on several counts. After Judge Jack Billings took true life off the table, Guzek was, once again, sentenced to death.

Unless these 7 death row waive ex post facto objections to sentencing options that didn't exist prior to July 1990, Marquis says, commutation would make them eligible for parole hearings.

In Guzek's case, that would force those who still love and remember Rod and Lois Houser -- murdered by Guzek and Mark Wilson in 1987 -- to listen to him preach about mercy and rehabilitation.

Time, I suspect, is pushing us in that direction. Time heals wounds. Haunts witnesses. Ages prosecutors. Fogs memories. Numbs us all.

(source: The Oregonian)


Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: Redemption is Always Possible, so Killing is Always Wrong

Imagine the worst thing you've ever done. Hold onto that thought for a moment. Now ask yourself: Does that moment define you? Should that moment define you? If you're like me, you'll find that even though we all make mistakes in life, even though we all fall short of our greatest ideals and hopes, our worst decisions don't necessarily reflect our true character. How many of us did stupid things when we were younger? How many have committed acts we regret? As we age, we make mistakes. As we make mistakes, we learn and grow.

How does it make sense, then, to brand convicted felons as permanently "unworthy" of life? If we were truly rational and consistent in our moral outrage, this possibility would be wholly untenable - for they, like us, possess the capacity to change - yet we persist in our delusional thinking about retributive punishment, character, and ethics. We forget why we condemn murder in the 1st place - its incredible and horrible finality, its absolute denial of any and all ability to learn and grow. This rebuff of human potentiality confuses justice for vengeance.

Don't get me wrong: The death penalty is about many things - retribution, punishment, anger, a misguided desire for some illusory "cosmic balancing" of the scales of justice. Yet it is most about imagination. Because even though society takes solace in a belief that the people we legally murder deserve death because they once caused it, this rationale lies in the realm of fiction, not reality. Because people change.

The men and women who were sentenced to death decades ago are not the same men and women alive today. After languishing for perhaps 15 years in solitary confinement, one finds a lot of time to think and to read and to reminisce and to regret and to immerse oneself in redemptive activity and thought. While of course not all death row inmates avail themselves of these opportunities, many do. Many go through a crucible of pain and suffering and emerge as better people, as people who are shed of past wrongdoings in character if not in deed, as people who are immersed in religion or philosophy or wisdom drawn from a well of mistakes made and sufferings suffered.

As a result of the mere existence of this natural process of change, we are (in a sense) executing innocent people: That is to say, we are killing men and women so far changed from who they were when they committed their horrendous crimes that to say we are doling out truly retributive justice - much less just justice - is nonsensical. We aren't executing the same person. We are killing, instead, a much-improved "version" of the criminal we sentenced, a person who bears little to no resemblance to the dumb, inexperienced kid who committed a heinous crime perhaps 15 or 20 years ago.

Anecdotes are plentiful. There is William Happ, who committed a brutal murder in 1986 only to recant decades later. There is Robert Waterhouse, who may well have been innocent in the legal manner rather than the manner I use the term in this essay, and who maintained his innocence until the end. The list is tragically long. For every death row inmate who didn't change for the better after his sentencing, there is another who recanted in sincere and moving ways. What good does it do to kill these people? What good, when they have made so much moral progress?

The death penalty is dying; it's only a matter of time. How many people will it need to take with it? Society rightly condemns murder because death is the very definition of finality. It can't be undone. So of course I understand why the impulse to kill those who kill exists. Faced with the death of a loved one, I sometimes wonder whether I myself would be able to uphold my ideals and forgo the impulse for retribution. I don't have the temerity to judge anyone who supports the death penalty.

But killing people who kill is wrong for the same reasons killing others is wrong: Death's finality denies all possibility of change. By killing people who kill, we either (1) kill men and women who have changed for the better or (2) deny murderers the possibility of reforming their characters and lives. This is repugnant to all moral systems, but especially Christianity. In the immortal words of Justice William Douglas, the "principle of forgiveness and the doctrine of redemption are too deep in our philosophy to admit that there is no return for those who have once erred."

Murder is the most heinous crime there is. But it is a better society where murderers, already justly suffering through a life in prison, can at least meditate on their crimes and redeem themselves by changing - mentally - for the better. Killing killers denies the possibility of redemptive change while perpetuating the very crime that put these people in prison in the first place.

If we are really consistent in our condemnation of murder, if we truly acknowledge the power of change and the possibility for redemption, we should not ourselves - through our votes and through our politics - become collective murderers.

Stop killing people.

(source: Michael Shammas, Harvard Law Record)


Boston Bar Asks Obama's AG Nominee To Remove Death Penalty In Tsarnaev Case

There's a new call for the death penalty to be taken off the table in the federal trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The Boston Bar Association is asking President Obama's nominee for U.S. attorney general to remove the death penalty from consideration.

The 1st president of the Boston Bar Association was the 2nd president of the country: John Adams. Almost 12,000 lawyers belong to the group. And its opposition to the death penalty is not new either.

But the BBA has found a new opportunity now, with the Tsarnaev trial headed for high gear.

Julia Huston, the president of the Boston Bar Association, is reaching out to Obama's nominee, federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, of the eastern district of New York.

"We are hopeful that the new attorney general will revisit the issue and perhaps give consideration to a plea agreement that involves life imprisonment as an alternative to the death penalty," Huston said.

The BBA statement says a sentence of life without parole for Tsarnaev "will more swiftly bring a close to this chapter in our history."


Why The Boston Bar Association Wants The Death Penalty Removed From Tsarnaev Trial

With a jury expected to be in place in the federal trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, there is a new call to take the death penalty off the table and allow a plea deal instead.

The call comes from the Boston Bar Association, which BBA President Julia Huston says has opposed the death penalty for more than 40 years. She joins Morning Edition to explain the group's position.

Why The BBA Is Pushing For This Now

Julia Huston: "The Boston Bar Association has opposed the death penalty for more than 40 years. In the latter part of 2013, we specifically studied the application of the death penalty in non-death penalty states, such as Massachusetts, in federal trials. And we recommended that the death penalty not be applied in such states due to systemic problems with the death penalty that make it impossible to administer fairly.

'3 Fundamental Problems With The Death Penalty'

1) 'Innocent people will die'

JH: "First, the inevitability of error in criminal cases makes it overwhelmingly likely that applying the death penalty will lead to the execution of innocent defendants. We know that this has happened - it happens a lot. So, innocent people will die."

2) Applied to miniorities unfairly

JH: "In practice, the death penalty has a disproportionate impact on members of racial and ethnic minorities."

3) Death penalty is expensive

JH: "Pursuit of the death penalty is incredibly expensive. It is often 8 times the cost of seeking a punishment of life without parole, and we think that that is not a sensible allocation of resources in a criminal justice system already laboring under huge financial strain."

On Why Emotion Should Not Drive Decision To Apply Death Penalty

JH: "Certainly, our hearts go out to the victims of this horrible crime. It is difficult to imagine a more horrible crime than the kind of mass terror alleged in this case. There is a lot of emotion around this issue. But we don't believe that emotions should drive the decision of whether to apply the death penalty if in fact Tsarnaev is determined to be guilty.

Because of these systemic problems, we as a society need to look at the death penalty in a different way - not just in an emotional way in a single case, but as a system. And this is a system that does not work."

Boston Bar Says Plea Bargain Would Bring 'Speedy Closure' To Tsarnaev Case

"We believe that the better course for the residents of Boston and the people who were affected by this tragedy is to allow this defendant to plead guilty - should he wish to do so - in exchange for life in prison without parole. That will bring speedy closure to this case rather than years of uncertainty and appeals."

(source for both: WBUR news)


Guantanamo defense attorney: Emails portray Pentagon meddling in death-penalty trials

A USS Cole case defense attorney read aloud from just disclosed emails Tuesday in a ongoing bid to portray a recent order to war court judges to 5 permanently at Guantánamo as unlawful meddling meant to rush justice in the death-penalty case.

Navy Cmdr. Brian Mizer, defending Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, said the documents he got through a court order overnight demonstrated that the Pentagon office knew that the rule change adopted last month would not just make waves but could constitute the U.S. military crime of unlawful influence.

"In trying to speed up a trial, are we affecting its fairness?" wrote a legal adviser, Cmdr. Raghav Kotval, on the staff of the Convening Authority for Military Commissions. "If, for example, the judge is less inclined to grant a continuance because it means more time on Gitmo, is that adverse to the accused?"

The Nov. 14 email circulated among U.S. military legal staff reviewing a proposed war-court regulation for the Convening Authority, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary, the Pentagon-based overseer of military commissions. Less than a month later, on Dec. 9, Ary formally asked Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work for the change. Work did just that on Jan. 7, ordering judges assigned to Guantanamo cases to give up their prestigious day jobs.

Defense lawyers cast the open-ended relocation order to judges living with family in more comfortable settings in Italy and the East Coast of the United States as punishment that exiles them for not proceeding swiftly through a complicated pretrial phase to trials. The 9/11 and USS Cole case judges have spent years navigating thorny pretrial issues - such as torture and secrecy, CIA involvement in the court and evolving war court law.

A case prosecutor, Navy Lt. Paul Morris, dismissed the documents as nothing more than routine "brainstorming of potential issues" among colleagues. Another prosecutor, Army Col. Robert Moscati, said there was no proof that their boss, Ary, knew of the reservations they raised.

Ary was scheduled to testify Wednesday by video-teleconference from his headquarters outside Washington, D.C.

In a filing, prosecutors defend the judge's move-in order as simply surging staff to the war court for "the increased operational tempo that's expected."

The 3 war court judges hearing Guantanamo cases have not complied, in part, because the top lawyers in the Army, Navy and Air Force were taken by surprise by the decision that strips them of judges who handle the courts-martial of American service members, too.

Mizer cast Kotval as a potential whistleblower, and asked the judge to order his testimony along with that of 2 other U.S. military officers serving as Ary's legal advisers in the email chain that received this from Kotval:

"Issue: Are we coercing or by unauthorized means influencing the action of a judge?" he wrote. "If not, why are we intruding on what is not typically or traditionally a convening authority's role. What is the explanation for the action?"

Defense attorneys call the order an example of unlawful command influence - a crime in the U.S. military - designed to rush the judges to trial so they can leave this remote base. They want the case dismissed.

Nashiri, a 50-year-old Saudi, is accused of masterminding the al-Qaida suicide bombing that killed 17 U.S. sailors off the coast of Yemen, and the Pentagon prosecutor wants him executed if convicted.

But his trial has been mired in complex pretrial proceedings involving secrecy surrounding his 2002-06 detention in the CIA's secret prison network before he was brought to Guantanamo for possible trial.

Judge Spath, for his part, sounded troubled that there was no wider consultation, for example with the top lawyers of the different services, before Ary went to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

He left open the possibility that he might call some of the emailers in Ary's office as witnesses - as well as the Army's top lawyer, Lt. Gen. Flora Darpino, who according to another email that surfaced in the case was resisting the Pentagon order to provide judges to the war court declaring, "I can't afford to lose them to Cuba."

Spath said he was also troubled to see a staffer's email declaring - "The judges and the defense are aligned on this issue" and "The judges don't want to move" - and wondered aloud if the junior lawyers on Ary's staff got that impression from the boss.

Spath added that the question of "unlawful influence" could "permeate everything in a trial," and that he would address nothing else at Guantanamo until the issue was resolved.

"I want to get you a ruling while we're down here," he said, "so we can all then go to our respective places and deal with whatever fallout that might bring."

(source: Miami Herald)


Asia-Pacific countries most prolific users of death penalty, Amnesty report shows ---- Human rights report found use of capital punishment has been upheld and even re-emerged in the region, and criticised Australia for its detention of asylum seekers and Indigenous incarceration rates

Human rights regressed across the Asia-Pacific region in 2014, with governments restricting freedoms and violently cracking down on dissent, the latest Amnesty International report has said.

Australia was singled out for criticism for its record on detention of asylum seekers and rates of incarceration among Indigenous people.

The Asia-Pacific also remains the most active region in the world for the use of the death penalty, with at least 6 countries executing prisoners in 2014.

The Amnesty International report for 2014-15, titled The State of the World's Human Rights, showed the death penalty has been maintained, and even re-emerged, in law and practice across the Asia-Pacific.

In 2014, China continued its extensive, and often undocumented, use of the death penalty and executions were carried out in Japan and Vietnam, including for economic offences.

Malaysia commuted some death sentences, though reports indicated some executions were carried out in secret.

In the wake of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan lifted a 6-year moratorium on capital punishment and began executing prisoners convicted of terrorism-related charges. More than 500 prisoners in that country are at risk of execution.

Afghanistan continued to apply the death penalty "often after unfair trials", the report said. 6 men were executed in Kabul's Pul-e-Charkhi prison in October despite several of the accused saying their confessions were obtained under torture by police.

India, which lifted an 8-year moratorium on the death penalty in 2012, did not execute anybody in 2014. The supreme court ruled in January that undue delay in carrying out an execution amounted to torture, and that executing people suffering mental illness would be unconstitutional.

In 2014, the Papua New Guinean government conducted a "global study tour" to research methods of execution, but it has not carried out a capital sentence since reintroducing the punishment in 1991.

In Indonesia, 6 people were executed on 18 January this year, and another 9 are slated for death by firing squad imminently - including the Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Before the election of Joko Widodo as the president in October last year, the use of the death penalty had become less common in Indonesia.

No one was killed by the Indonesian state between 2008 and 2012, and 4 capital sentences were carried out in 2013. No one was killed by the state in 2014.

Amnesty's national director, Claire Mallinson, said the Asia-Pacific was the most active retentionist region largely because of China, which kills more prisoners than the rest of the world combined. But she said there had been progress in that country in improving judicial oversight of death penalty cases.

The supreme court in China now has review powers over the death penalty, and 1 case has been ordered for a retrial, and another conviction overturned. In one case in inner Mongolia the Chinese government admitted, after an execution, the conviction and sentence was wrong, and had offered compensation.

"When Amnesty started campaigning on this issue of the death penalty 30 years ago," said Mallinson, "there were 16 countries that had abolished the death penalty. Now it is 140 countries. More and more countries are saying 'no'.

"The global momentum is shifting. We have seen some knee-jerk responses to terror attacks [where countries have resumed the death penalty], and that is why countries need to have a principled, consistent opposition to death penalty."

More broadly across the Asia-Pacific - home to more than 1/2 of the world's population - the Amnesty International report said human rights regressed across the region in 2014.

"Despite some positive developments in 2014, including elections of some governments that have promised improvements in human rights, the overall trend was regressive due to impunity, continuing unequal treatment of and violence against women, ongoing torture and further use of the death penalty, crackdowns on freedom of expression and assembly, pressure on civil society and threats against human rights defenders and media workers," the report said.

Young populations in the Asia Pacific were increasingly politically active, with protest movements enabled by new and increasingly affordable social media technologies.

But governments had responded by using the military and security forces to repress dissent.

"In the face of increasing activism, authorities in many countries resorted to putting restrictions on freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly," the report said.

Australia had a "mixed" record on human rights, Mallinson said. The country had performed well in the UN security council in pushing for a ceasefire in Aleppo for humanitarian aid and championing the arms trade treaty.

But it "should be embarrassed" by its policies on mandatorily detaining asylum seekers, particularly children, and rates of Indigenous incarceration.

"Australia's hard-line approach to asylum seekers continued, with those arriving by boat either sent back to their country of departure, transferred to offshore immigration detention centres, or detained in Australia," the report said.

"Indigenous peoples continued to be heavily overrepresented in prisons despite comprising only a fraction of the population, with Indigenous youth being imprisoned at 25 times the rate of non-Indigenous youth. Regressive new legislation, introduced in the name of counter-terrorism and security, failed to protect the rights to privacy and freedoms of expression and movement."

Australia's pleas for clemency for Chan and Sukumaran would carry greater moral authority if the country's opposition to the death penalty was more consistently vocal and principled, and not limited to defending Australian citizens, Mallinson said.

(source: The Guardian)


Cleaner sentenced to death in Abu Dhabi for raping 7-year-old in school----The court ordered the school and the defendant to collectively pay the victim's family Dh5 million in temporary damages for the physical, psychological and social harms.

A 56-year-old private school cleaner was on Wednesday sentenced to death for the 2nd time in a year after he was found guilty of raping a 7-year-old girl and making death threats.

The Abu Dhabi Appeals Court had last year upheld the death penalty handed down to the Indian accused by the criminal court, after the victim's family refused to pardon the criminal and demanded retributive justice and maximum punishment for him.

The court ordered the school and the defendant to collectively pay the victim's family Dh5 million in temporary damages for the physical, psychological and social harms the child and her family faced as a result of the crime.

According to court records, the janitor waited for the girl to return from the school's administration office before forcing her into the kitchen to rape her. He threatened to kill the victim and her mother if she reported the heinous crime to anyone.

After the girl returned home, her family noticed physical signs of rape, which were later confirmed in a medical examination.

After Wednesday's verdict, the Judiciary Department - Abu Dhabi (JDAD) said it is the 1st time the Abu Dhabi Courts has pronounced a death sentence for a rape case. The JDAD said the UAE pays special attention to the protection of children under 14 years. A child under 14, the JDAD said, is not considered a 'partner' in a sexual assault crime.

The maximum penalty for raping minors as per UAE laws is the death penalty.

In March last year, the Abu Dhabi Appeals Court upheld a death sentence verdict pronounced by the criminal court. The public prosecution challenged the case before the Court of Cassation, which ordered a retrial. The defendant also had appealed the verdict, stating he gave his statement during investigations "coercively".

(source: Khaleej Times)


2 arrested, 5kg of cannabis seized in CNB operation

More than $199,000 worth of drugs were seized in a Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) operation against a suspected local drug trafficker on Monday, Feb 23.

According to a CNB statement, officers were deployed in the vicinity of Geylang Lorong 37 on Monday afternoon to conduct observations on a male Singaporean, 34, who is suspected to be a drug trafficker. He was believed to be receiving a fresh consignment of cannabis.

At about 4.20pm, a 45-year-old man, who is suspected to be a drug runner, arrived in a van and placed a brown cardboard box beside a dustbin, before leaving the vicinity. The 34-year-old man then arrived a short while later and was spotted picking up the cardboard box before driving away.

CNB officers intercepted the man's car along Geylang Road and arrested him. About five kg of cannabis, 164g of 'Ice', 137 'Ecstasy' tablets and 101 Erimin-5 tablets was found within the box and seized, along with a digital weighing scale, other drug paraphernalia and cash amounting to $26,000.

2 samurai swords and a machete were also found in the suspect's car.

CNB officers also separately apprehended the 45-year-old male driving the van at a petrol station near Ipoh Lane, and seized about one g of 'Ice'.

Both men will be investigated for drug trafficking. If convicted, they may face the death penalty.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, cannabis is a Class A controlled drug, and those convicted of trafficking in more than 500g of cannabis may face the death penalty.

(soruce: Asia One)


On death row: the main players in the fate of the Bali 9 duo

The fate of Australian duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, awaiting execution orders in Indonesia, is a complicated interplay of many legal, moral, political, social and other positions. Whatever your own stance on any of these issues, this summary of the various supporters and opponents of the two Australians, provides an extraordinary glimpse into the complex issues at work in this case.

The Bali 9 duo and their legal position

In 2005 9 Australians were arrested in Denpasar, Bali trying to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, as the ringleaders, were sentenced to death by firing squad. The 2 men have exhausted a number of appeal opportunities to get their sentences changed. They are awaiting the completion of their sentence via execution, however lawyers are currently lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court to ask President Joko Widodo to give individual consideration to each application for clemency. It is believed the President made his decision to reject clemency with little more than a list of names of people on death row, without a full understanding or documentation of the men's rehabilitation or the testimony of the former governor of Kerobokan prison.

Peter Morrissey from their legal team gave an update on their latest appeal to get these petitions individually assessed to the 7:30 Report:

It's really to get the Indonesian Government and court system to look at these boys in the face and look what they're like now and how they've changed from being junior, stupid drug traffickers doing some significant harm by their acts, into being an artist on the one hand, a pastor on the other hand who are just lovely, decent people, and once you know them, you'd want to save them.

Recent messages from inmates Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have described their great respect for Indonesia's people and its culture, but their fervent wish for President Joko Widodo to allow them to continue their work in Kerobokan prison, where they acknowledged prison officials and the Indonesian system have enabled them to set up useful programs for other inmates. They also acknowledged the rehabilitation process had made them better people.

The Australian public

From The Age journalist Michael Bachelard in February 2015:

Until recently, the dominant reaction in Australia to anything written about Sukumaran and his prison-mate Andrew Chan was indifference. ... When people could be bothered to express an opinion, most said something along these lines: "They're drug-dealers; they knew the risk they were taking; they deserve what they get."

2 years later, social media, not to mention the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, are suddenly clogged with people standing for mercy. They talk about hope and justice and their feelings of sadness.

In recent months numerous events, social media campaigns, candlelight vigils and petitions have been held and signed in support of the Bali 9 duo. Music for Mercy was held in Sydney's Martin Place on 29 January featuring high profile Australians such as singer-songwriter Megan Washington and actor David Wenham. Amnesty International organised similar vigils in Federation Square, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, and Byron Bay. The mercy petition attracted 150,000 signatures.

However juxtaposed against this recent public support is a Roy Morgan poll-via-SMS for Triple J in January, that found 52 per cent supported the execution of Australians for breaking foreign laws. Critics blasted it but it received widespread coverage in Indonesia. The Indonesian attorney general was even reported as using it to say there was strong support in Australia for the death penalty.

A percentage of the Australian public obviously does struggle to feel sympathy given the riches the men were seeking to make and the lives the drugs would have destroyed. See this piece by the ABC's Jonathan Green:

State murder is appalling, futile and unpardonable. But part of me is also appalled by the callous indifference of young men who would happily sacrifice the lives of others to fill their own pockets. And yes, with the leisure of this past decade, this pause for enforced reflection, they have changed; found God, learned to paint, gone off drugs, regretted their youthful indifference and greed.

They should still probably rot in jail. Tell the lover, parent or partner of a heroin overdose victim that the street smart punk who imported the drug now regrets that decision and you may not find a sympathetic ear. There's no chance for redemptive reflection for someone turned cold and blue with the needle still stuck and bloody in their stiff and livid arm.

The jail and fellow inmates

The positive effect of programs instigated by the Bali 9 duo has been recognised by prison officials and other inmates and is evident in the vastly different atmosphere of Kerobokan jail since they arrived. There are genuine fears what will happen when the men leave.

Jewel Topsfield summed this up for the Sydney Morning Herald:

This is what most saddens and frustrates all those who have come to know Sukumaran and Chan. The waste of 2 lives. Men who are making a profound difference within a once notorious jail.

Australian Lawyer Julian Mcmahon said his clients are worried about what the message of their execution sends to fellow inmates:

They say they have changed and if there is no reward for that kind of change, what incentive is there for any other prisoner to try and improve themselves and try and change for the better?

Australian government

As the execution orders have neared the Australian government has become more vocal. Some wonder if it's too little too late:

Michael Bachelard for The Age:

Dame Susan Mary tweeted on January 23, the day it was reported that Tony Abbott had met the family of Chan and Sukumaran: "Too little too late. Wouldn't expect other behaviour @TonyAbbottMHR."

It's a strain of criticism that holds the government responsible for not doing enough. It's true they have said very little in public over the years. I recall asking then foreign minister Bob Carr about it in Bali a couple of years ago and he said he would raise "the usual consular issues" but would make no public comments.

That was probably the right response. And Australian governments almost certainly were genuinely lobbying behind the scenes (though we can't be entirely sure). Government officials from the consulate in Bali have been regular visitors to all Bali 9 members and Corby during their time inside.

There are some concerns however that Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent comments, particularly those linking the aid given for tsunami recovery to pleas for clemency, may have damaged the Bali 9 diplomacy. This is what the Prime Minister said:

We will be making our displeasure known, we will be letting Indonesia know in absolutely unambiguous terms that we will feel grievously let down.

Let's not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars worth of assistance.

We sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief and Australians lost their lives in that campaign to help Indonesia.

I would say to the Indonesian people and to the Indonesian government, we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time.

The contradictory positions of Australian leaders has also been brought up by Indonesian officials that consider Australia to have double standards. In 2006 then Prime Minister John Howard made this statement following news of the death penalty in February 2006:

Can I just say to every young Australian, please take notice of this. I even beg them not to take the terrible risks that these young people have done - their lives destroyed in the case of 2 people. I feel desperately sorry for the parents of these people, I do ... but the warnings have been there for decades and how on earth any young Australian can be so stupid as to take the risk is completely beyond me.

Indonesian public

Analysts largely report overwhelming support in Indonesia for the death penalty for drug offenders and support Joko Widodo's decisive stance (more on this here). There are even reports a move to abolish the death penalty may have suffered with recent executions being viewed from a point of national pride that the West can't enforce its values on Indonesia. The Jakarta Post wrote of this: "But, as the saying goes, the harder they push, the stronger Indonesia pushes back." The Post also said Tony Abbott should prepare for disappointment. However there is also overwhelming support in Indonesia for the government releasing Indonesian citizens in similar situations abroad and critics have questioned the statistics about drug use in Indonesia often used by the government and public alike to justify the death penalty.

Like most people, Indonesians have great national pride and were grossly offended by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent comments linking $1 billion in tsunami aid to the mercy campaign for the duo and a campaign began urging people to collect coins to return to Australia. Social media is a big player in Indonesia and the Twitter campaign using the hashtags #KoinuntukAustralia, #coinforAustralia and #coinforAbbott have become popular.

Indonesian government

The Indonesian government lifted a moratorium on executions in January 2015 when it executed 6 drug smugglers. New President Joko Widodo has repeatedly said foreign nations have no right to interfere in his country's sovereign right to exercise the death penalty law and the executions will go ahead.

The Indonesian President alone has the the right to grant clemency and courts can not overrule a president's decision not to grant clemency. There are concerns however that Indonesia has chosen to carry out the executions while court processes are ongoing. Foreign policy analysts also said Indonesia was compromising any future efforts it might extend to uphold the rights of its own citizens abroad.

Australia has been quick to point this out. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Indonesia had sought mercy for its own nationals on death row and its Foreign Minister had been involved in those pleas:

We're asking Indonesia to show the same mercy as they seek to be shown to their nationals who are on death row in other countries.

Radio National's report details some of Indonesia's 'double standards' and is also useful for its explanation of those demonstrated by Australia.

International Pressure

Australia is not the only nation to recently exercise pressure on Indonesia for applying the death penalty for drug offences.

In January 2015 Indonesia executed 6 drug smuggling offenders from Brazil, The Netherlands, Vietnam, Malawi, Nigeria and Indonesia. Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors in protest. Another Brazilian man is expected to be executed along with the Australians.

Jakarta has repeatedly refused to bow to pressure, the president even stating at one time it was so used to international pressure it felt "normal":

Although there is huge pressure from abroad, I am accustomed to being pressured, so I consider it normal.

While this summary only touches on the issues at work in broad strokes, it's important not to forget that at the heart of this issue are the lives of 2 young men, who exist day to day in the knowledge that any day word could come of their execution orders. Whatever your position, that alone must engender sympathy, and in the words of their legal representative, Peter Morrissey, "it's always time to start praying".

(source: Asian Correspondent)


Indonesian protest group creates video calling for Bali 9 mercy

An Indonesian protest group has called on President Joko Widodo to grant clemency to Bali 9 death-row inmates Andrew Chan and Myruan Sukumaran.

In a video posted online, activist group Youth Against The Death Penalty calls on Mr Widodo to visit Kerobokan prison to see for himself the rehabilitation programs to which the pair have contributed.

Chan has turned to religion behind bars, delivering sermons as a Christian pastor, while Sukumaran has run painting classes.

"These projects have reduced recidivism rates and drug use throughout Bali," the group said.

"Chan and Sukumaran do more for reducing drug use, every day, than can be achieved by killing them.

"Jokowi, let them continue their rehabilitation programs."

In the video, Chan is seen praying with fellow prisoners, while one former inmate who participated in the programs calls on their lives to be spared. "I believe that Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan need to get forgiveness because the two of them have done a great job helping with rehabilitation in Kerobokan prison," the former inmate says.

The video ends with inmates and activists calling for "mercy please".

Chan and Sukumaran are expected to be transferred to the island where they are due to be executed in the coming days, with preparations reportedly "80 % complete".

Another appeal to Indonesian courts failed yesterday after lawyers for the pair argued Mr Widodo's decision not to grant clemency was not based on a full understanding of the case.

Their lawyers have 14 days to appeal and hope the timeframe will grant the men another few weeks to scramble any final legal challenges.



Indonesia is wrong: the death penalty is everyone's business

Indonesia is preparing to execute several foreign convicts for drug trafficking, and has rebuffed their countries' pleas for clemency. That may be illegal.

Indonesia has endured a great deal of criticism for continuing to execute men and women at an alarming rate. Things have come to a head thanks to the case of the Bali 9, a group of people convicted of drug smuggling that includes various foreign nationals.

Interventions from Australia, Brazil and France, all of whom have citizens lined up for execution, have fallen on unsympathetic ears. On February 25, Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo responded to international criticism by saying foreign nations should not interfere with Indonesia's right to use capital punishment, and that the executions were therefore justified in going ahead as planned.

But in terms of international law, Widodo is wrong on various counts.

Not acceptable

Widodo's claim that "there shouldn't be any intervention towards the death penalty because it is our sovereign right to exercise our law" would not have been correct 50 years ago, and is certainly not acceptable today.

The way a country uses capital punishment is of global concern. When international human rights law was laid down in the wake of World War II, the world initially disagreed on whether the death penalty is a matter for the international legal system - but in 1966, it was ultimately agreed that death penalty laws and practices should be regulated by international law.

Indonesia's recent wave of executions has involved numerous foreign nationals. The right of states to exercise diplomatic protection over citizens abroad goes back centuries, so there is nothing untoward about the likes of Australia, Brazil and France making representations to help their nationals facing execution. In fact, in a feat of sheer hypocrisy, Indonesia is helping its own nationals escape death sentences abroad.

Indonesia is imposing the death penalty for drug-trafficking offences. Even if we accept that states are permitted to use the death penalty, there is an unequivocal ban on the death penalty for non-fatal offences. The UN has made it abundantly clear that only those who directly cause a person's death are eligible for the death penalty, and has explicitly prohibited the death penalty for drug trafficking. To suggest that other countries should not speak out when a state is flagrantly breaching international law makes a mockery of the international legal system.

Widido has also said he will not consider clemency for drug offenders - yet international law makes it clear that each case for clemency must be considered on its individual merits. Yet again, when other countries are threatening to violate rules of international law, states are bound to intervene.

There are a host of other concerns with Indonesia's use of the death penalty against drug offenders. Widodo has said that the punishment is required in order to deter others from bringing drugs into the country, but there is simply no evidence to suggest that the death penalty has deterred people from trafficking drugs before. The evidence also suggests that the drug crisis in Indonesia is not as severe as state authorities have made out when attempting to justify their use of capital punishment.

In other words, the death penalty is neither necessary or effective. Not only is it morally questionable to impose death sentences in such circumstances, it is also legally dubious.

Small mercies

Only 1 element of this situation is short of a worst-case scenario. Indonesia is arguably meeting one standard of international law: the requirement that executions are carried out humanely and with respect for the dignity of the offender. This standard is by no means met in all the countries that still execute criminals.

In several states in the US, for example, the use of lethal injection has come under increasing scrutiny as evidence comes to light that people executed that way still feel pain, and that the method can go disastrously wrong. Even many states and countries that still embrace execution have rejected hanging, the electric chair, and the gas chamber because it was recognised that these methods of execution cause excessive suffering - yet many other governments still deploy these and other means.

By contrast, Indonesia's use of firing squads is more humane. Research has suggested firing squads, while by no means perfect, are the most reliable means of executing a person quickly and with minimal suffering.

But it says a lot about the death penalty that arguably the most effective and humane way of carrying it out involves pointing a gun at someone and shooting them. The boundary between officially sanctioned state killing and illegitimate homicide is easily blurred to say the least - and it seems that the only remotely laudable aspect of Indonesia's institutionalised death penalty is also one of the most disturbing.

(source: The Conversation)


Bali 9 pair's appeal against execution thrown out----Indonesia rejects appeal against execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

An Indonesian court has thrown out an appeal to examine the way in which the country's president considered the clemency request for Bali 9 pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

A preliminary hearing in the state administrative court heard arguments that president Joko Widodo should reconsider clemency for the Australians.

But Justice Hendro Puspito said the court does not have the authority to try the case, that clemency is a gift from the president, and that right is not part of an administrative dispute.

The team fighting to save Chan and Sukumaran from the firing squad said they would challenge the court's decision.

Todong Mulya Lubis, a leading lawyer in the case, said he was disappointed and had asked the Indonesian attorney-general to recognise that the legal process was still in play.

Mr Lubis said they had 14 days to appeal and would do so.

He called on Attorney-General HM Prasetyo to respect the rule of law and halt the executions pending the appeal.

"We live in a state based on law and this is part of the legal process," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Prasetyo said he wouldn't comment on the outcome as the challenge didn't involve his office.

Mr Joko meanwhile said no intervention would stop the executions of Chan, Sukumaran and other foreigners.

"It's our sovereign law, our political sovereignty," he told reporters on Tuesday, as quoted by

Barrister for Chan and Sukumaran, Julian McMahon, said the court's decision was disappointing.But the objective remained to have the merits of the men's case for clemency heard in a court.

The men were scheduled to be taken away from Bali last week to another island for execution, but that was delayed for technical reasons.

Mr Widodo has refused to consider pardoning any drug smugglers from the death penalty and admitted denying 64 clemency bids in one go.

Mr Mulya said his legal challenge centred on the president's alleged failure to follow due process and consider the cases properly.

Indonesia reconsiders foreign relations over execution protests

Meanwhile, Indonesia indicated it was willing to look at all aspects of its relations with foreign countries offended over the use of the death penalty.

A Brazilian citizen was executed by Indonesia last month and a 2nd is set to face the firing squad for drug crimes.

At the weekend Indonesia's ambassador to Brazil was recalled after he was denied without warning the chance to present his credentials in an official ceremony.

"The plan was I go 1st, but when my turn came I was called by their foreign affairs minister, taken to a room, and the minister said that the credentials for my turn is postponed," Toto Riyanto said.

Indonesia's foreign ministry said the action was undiplomatic and was looking at all aspects of its relations with Brazil.

Like Australia, Brazil has key trade and defence interests with Indonesia, and a high-profile member of Indonesia's political, security and foreign affairs parliamentary committee has talked about reconsidering deals to buy weapons systems from Brazil.

Indonesian foreign affairs spokesman Armanatha Nasir said his country was demanding their would-be ambassador be formally accepted by Brazil.

"Apologies will also be attached to it," he said.

Australia's effort to secure clemency for Chan and Sukumaran is receiving more attention in the local media, often portrayed as foreign intervention in a law enforcement decision.

Australia has not indicated what diplomatic protest it might take if the executions proceed, but Indonesia is sending signals to the rest of the world it is willing to put all strategic and trade relationships under review.

"This is an issue of law enforcement. Again we have conveyed that to every country," Mr Nasir said.

"Again this is not directed to any particular country. It's not directed to nationals of any particular country."

(source: The New Daily)


'It's like dying a little more each day': Brazilian family tells what it's like to wait on Death Island for their son to meet his fate Brazilian family tells of agonising wait for a decision on Indonesia's 'Death Island'

Rodrigo Gularte was arrested in 2004 for attempting to smuggle 6 kilograms of cocaine into Indonesia hidden inside a surfboard

He's been on the island for 7 of the 11 years since being sentenced

Relatives say he's schizophrenic and under Indonesian law, a mental health disease can provide for clemency in death penalty cases

His cousin Marlise urged the families of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran 'must be as strong as possible and keep their faith'

In the run down 3-star hotel where the family stays in Cilacap, opposite 'Death island' in southern Indonesia, Marlise Gularte de Cavalho describes what it's like waiting to see whether her cousin Rodrigo will be executed.

'For our family it is like dying a little every day,' she told Daily Mail Australia, 'it is hard to stay strong but you must.'

The executions last month on Nusakambangan Island - where Rodrigo is being held on death row - of 5 foreigners, including fellow Brazilian Marco Archer, and the scheduled executions of the Bali 9 duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, has turned up the heat for the Gulartes.

'It is alarming,' Ms de Cavalho said, sitting anxiously in her hotel as she waited to return home after her latest visit.

'We are in shock. It would be better to know he would be in jail 10, 20 years even, more than not knowing when, if, this is going to happen.'

Ms de Cavalho, who had taken time off from the wedding and party business she runs with her husband in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, said she had travelled in her past as a Club Med representative - even spending a year on Lindeman Island in Queensland - but that she and her family dreaded the trip to Indonesia.

But they could not abandon Rodrigo.

'You come here and then you have to return to your life, but we are always waiting and that is what is terrible.'

She has spent the past few weeks with Rodrigo's other cousin, Angelita Muxfeldt, and his mother Clarisse Muxfeldt taking the police ferry almost daily to visit Nusakambangan.

There they find 42-year-old Rodrigo in the relatively clean surrounds of the island's newest prison, Pasir Putih, which lies not far from one of its famed white sand beaches.

Angelita described the agony of waiting to find out whether her beloved cousin will face the firing squad as she sat alone in her hotel in in the port town of Cilicap.

'It's a torture for our family. 10 years in prison and then like in Bali you shoot them?'

She had just farewelled her aunt, Rodrigo's distraught 70-year-old mother Clarisse Muxfeldt, who may have made her final trip to see her son on Nusakambangan or 'death' island.

'She wants to come back but I don't know. We must look after her now,' Angelita said.

'I must stay here and fight to have him transferred off the island.

Angelita described Gularte as more like a brother than a cousin.

'He was such a lovely little boy. He is kind and gentle and that's what got him into trouble.

'It is unbelievable that they could shoot him here.

'When we found out there was no time it was such a rush to get here - no time to pack pictures of him.'

Rodrigo has been on the island for 7 of the 11 years since he was arrested with 2 other Brazilians bringing 6 kilograms of South American cocaine into Indonesia, secreted in surfboards.

As his devastated family have been insisting, to this day, Gularte is a paranoid schizophrenic who fell prey to drugs in his teens and to a Brazilian drug cartel in his early thirties.

He was so deluded, that when he was arrested he told Indonesian police his 2 fellow couriers had nothing to do with the scheme. They were sent home. A year later, he was sentenced to death.

Now, when Marlise and her family visit him, on the prison island, he tells them he doesn't believe that he will be executed.

He insists a manned satellite over Nusakambangan is stalking him and voices in his head tell him he won't be executed because 'the voices say the death penalty has been abolished'.

'For the 2 hours we are there I guess he would talk lucidly for about 10 minutes,' Marlise said.

Rodrigo is suspicious of Marlise 'because he thinks there are 2 of me ... the good Marlise and bad Marlise and he has to be careful of the bad'.

Angelita tried for years to make Rodrigo aware of the danger he was in, but afflicted by delusions he would tell her it 'was all a trick'.

'Now I don't tell him because he is calm and not frightened. Perhaps it ia better that way.'

The family is pinning its hopes on a recommendation by their lawyers that Rodrigo is taken from the island and placed in a hospital on the mainland to be psychiatrically assessed.

'The idea of it makes him scared. He thinks what could save him is the danger, ' Angelita said.

She said Rodrigo wanted to stay in the maximum security Pasir Putih priaon the island where other inmates were 'like family to him' and the guards 'like him'.

'He is a gentle man and wants to help everyone he can, he said.

'He doesn't realise execution could really happen.'

The family hired a government professor of psychiatry to examine Rodrigo in prison on Nusakambangan. The prison governor sent the professor's written diagnosis of Gularte's schizophrenia to the Indonesian Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo, but it was rejected.

'They say no,' said Ms de Cavalho, 'they won't listen, the president has the power over people's lives that should only be God's.'

Under Indonesian law, a mental health disease can provide for clemency in death penalty cases.

The Indonesian authorities told the Gularte family only a government doctor's diagnosis would be considered for Rodrigo's possible reprieve.

'What can we do?' Ms de Cavalho said. 'People have been very kind to us here.

'The Indonesian people we have spoken to, do not support the death penalty and I do not believe the majority of Indonesians do.

'But this waiting it is so heavy on the soul.'

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are likely to be moved from their Bali jail cells this week, with builders under orders to speed up construction of more isolation cells on the execution island.

Ms de Cavalho said if their families did, like her, end up in a hotel room in Cilacap waiting to take the ferry to death island that they 'must be as strong as possible and keep their faith'.

'It is in the hands of God.'

(source: Daily Mail)


Island firing range where Bali 9 duo will meet their end revealed

This is the firing range where Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will be executed.

The site is located behind a police station and near the water on the prison island of Nusakambangan in central Java, Indonesia.

It was inaugurated at a ceremony last November and is the same site where 5 drug traffickers were shot dead after midnight on January 18, News Corp reports.

The photo, taken at night, shows how the firing range will be flood lit for the impending executions of the Bali duo and 8 others.

It also shows the targets the firing squad use for practice, with the round objects on the target posts set at the average height of a person's heart.

The earthen wall behind the posts is for absorbing rounds behind where the condemned men will stand.

Each victim will face their own 12-man firing squad, with only 3 shooters in each squad issued with live rounds.

The firing range is set well apart from the high-security prison where Chan and Sukumaran will spend their final days in isolation cells.

News Corp reports that 10 coffins have now arrived in central Java in readiness for the executions.

(source: ninemsn 2015)


Iran Confirms Repatriation of 6 Citizens Sentenced in Qatar

Iran today confirmed the repatriation of 6 of its citizens sentenced to death penalties or long imprisonment in Qatar, a decision obtained thanks to the work of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said its spokesman, Marzieh Afkham.

Akfham said that the prisoners are already in Iran in virtue of the efforts of Tehran's Foreign Ministry, the Iranian embassy in Doha, and the result of the recent visit of Qatar's Minister of Justice, Masood Bin Muhammad Al-Ameri, and the interaction with Iranian judicial authorities.

The repatriated had been sentenced to life imprisonment, long sentences or death penalty for crimes related to possession of drugs.

(source: Prensa Latina)


We stand for mercy: Australia's top legal minds sign petition calling for clemency for Chan and Sukumaran

More than 140 of Australia's leading law professors, deans and academics have signed a petition pleading with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to use his constitutional powers to spare the lives of the Bali 9 pair, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

In ultimately deciding on clemency we believe the Indonesian Government should give the strongest consideration to the remarkable rehabilitation history of the 2 condemned.

Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Sydney, Mark Findlay, said the response from the legal fraternity over the past 24 hours has been "astonishing in its commitment and its concern".

"We are not lecturing the Indonesians, but rather we want to commend their prison system which seems to have assisted in the remarkable rehabilitation of our 2 fellow citizens," he said.

The petition says the academics seek the Indonesian president's mercy, "not as critics of Indonesia, or its legal system, nor of Indonesia's right to take the strong but ultimately humane action against drug traffickers who bring misery and addiction to many".

"While opposing capital punishment as cruel and inhuman we also condemn the exploitation which the drug trade represents," the petition says.

The academics say the Republic of Indonesia has earned growing respect and approval among the international community for its demonstrated commitment to protecting human rights, and has made an important contribution to human rights protection globally as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

"President Widodo himself has been a strong advocate for human rights, with the advancement of human rights a central plank in his 2014 presidential election campaign," the academics say.

"The deaths of Chan and Sukumaran would be a tragedy for them, and their families, while not addressing the underlying causes of the drug trade in Indonesia.

"In contrast, sparing the lives of these 2 young men, who have demonstrated remorse for their crimes and have been rehabilitated during their lengthy imprisonment, would be a signal of strength and mercy, an affirmation of President Widodo's deep commitment to human rights.

"Presidential clemency would serve as a turning point and opportunity for Indonesia to achieve its overriding national interest - combating the drug trade. It would do so by being a rallying call for Australia and other countries in the region to develop and implement an effective regime to stamp out the damaging drug trafficking trade once for all."

The petition includes the following statement signed by more than 140 academics:

"As lawyers, concerned academics and professionals, we join to speak out against the impending and tragic execution of our fellow citizens in Indonesia. We do not see this punishment as either an issue of national sovereignty or of just desserts.

"The Australian police gave up these 2 men to a capital punishment jurisdiction as part of an operation which could have led to prosecutions and trials in Australia where the death penalty is not an option.

"Capital punishment is said to be qualified by mercy. In ultimately deciding on clemency we believe the Indonesian Government should give the strongest consideration to the remarkable rehabilitation history of the 2 condemned. In opposing these executions we are not seeking to criticise the judicial process of another country.

"However, we want to see justice tempered with humanity. Right-minded Australians share the abhorrence of misery and addiction associated with drug abuse and the shameful trafficking trade. That said, nothing in our view can justify the killing of 2 men in circumstances such as these. At this final hour we add our voices to the calls for the death sentences to be commuted and for Australia and Indonesia to join in other ways to fight the harmful health consequences of drug abuse in all its forms."

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


Lawyers Fault Lagos Decision To Retain Death Penalty

Lawyers under the aegis of Avocats Sans Frontieres France (Lawyers Without Borders) has condemned the decision of the Lagos State government to retain the death penalty in its laws, describing it as a most unwelcome development.

In a statement signed by Akpa Esther, communication officer for Avocats Sans Frontieres France, also known as Lawyers Without Borders France, the state government has determined that the death penalty is a suitable deterrent for crimes such as murder and armed robbery, based on empirical research and randomly conducted opinion polls.

According to the statement, ASF France Head of Office in Abuja, Miss Angela Uwandu, expressed disappointment that the decision is in spite of the various aggressive death penalty abolition campaigns that have been launched in the state in the past decade, saying the decision casts a shadow on the status of the Lagos State government as a progressive pace setter in legal policies.


SAUDI ARABIA----execution

Saudi Arabia beheads Jordanian national for drug trafficking

Saudi Arabia has beheaded a Jordanian on charges of drug trafficking, bringing to 32 the number of executions carried out in the kingdom in the first 2 months of 2015.

The convicted Jordanian drug smuggler, identified as Omar Mohammed Abdul Muti al-Rubai, was beheaded in the northwestern al-Jawf region, on Wednesday, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.

The execution was carried out after the convict allegedly confessed to trying to smuggle a large amount of amphetamines across the northern Jordan-Saudi border.

This is while the increasing number of executions in Saudi Arabia has drawn growing concern on the international stage. Riyadh carried out the death penalty against 87 people last year, up from 78 in 2013.

The country has come under particular criticism from rights groups for the executions carried out for non-fatal crimes.

According to the London-based rights group Amnesty International's annual report on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia imposes death sentences "after unfair trials."

Amnesty International said Saudi Arabia, which has one of the highest execution rates in the world, has tortured or "otherwise coerced or misled [defendants] into making false confessions" before trial.

Muslim clerics have also slammed Riyadh for indicting and then executing suspects without giving them a chance to defend themselves.

Saudi authorities say the beheadings reveal the Saudi government's commitment to "maintaining security and realizing justice."

The execution "is committed to fighting drugs of all kinds due to the physical and social harm they cause," the Saudi government added.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi rule.

Saudi officials execute convicts by sword and then hang their corpses from a helicopter for the public to see.

(source: Presstv)


2 prisoners hanged in public in Kermanshah

As the executions of prisoners continue unabated in Iran, the celrical regime's henchmen hang 2 other prisoners in public in the western city of Kermanshah.

The 2 men were hanged in 2 locations in the city 10 in the morning local time on Wednesday.

The public hanging follows executions in several prisons in cities across Iran of which very limited have been officially announced.

According to the reports received from various sources dozens of prisoners have been hanged during the past weekend alone in prisons across Iran.

Official news websites reported that 4 prisoners have been hanged on Sunday in city of Arak and another prisoner has been hanged on Tuesday morning in the main prison in the city of Rasht.


4 men hanged in Arak

4 prisoners hanged in the main prison in the city of Arak on Tuesday, the judiciary's website in the Central Province has announced.

The prisoners were only identified by their 1st name and last name initials as Mohammad M., Ehsan J., Amirhossien Gh, and Reza Z.

The 4 men all had been charged with drug related offences.

According to the information received from various sources in Iran on over 2 dozen prisoners being executed in a number of prisons across Iran in past few days.

Last week, the Iranian regime's henchmen in the central prison in the city of Orumiyeh hanged at least 2 political prisoners.

Habibullah Afshari, 26 and his brother Ali Afshari, 34, hanged on Thursday, had been sentenced to death for supporting Komala, an Iranian Kurdish opposition group.

They were among the group of 6 political prisoners including Saman Naseem who were transferred to isolation on Wednesday. There is no information on the fate of the other prisoners.

(source for both: NCR-Iran)


Pakistan court gives 21 times death penalty to 4 al-Qaeda militants

4 al-Qaeda militants were on Wednesday handed down '21 times' death sentence by an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan for the 2012 killing of 10 under training jail wardens here.

The anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Lahore today announced the verdict after the prosecution counsel produced evidence against the al-Qaeda terrorists -- Afzaal, Abdul Hafeez, Zulfiqar and Karamat, a Punjab Province government statement said.

The finger prints of the militants and those found on guns matched and they were identified by the witnesses.

There were several charges on them and the court also handed down life imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10.8 million apart from the death sentence. The convicts were accused of attacking jail wardens hostel in Lahore's thickly-populated locality Rasool Park near Ichhra on July 12, 2012.

Over 2-dozen under training jail wardens had come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to take part in the course here.

10 of them were killed and as many suffered injuries in pre-dawn deadly attack by the militants carrying Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades.

The terrorists were arrested in 2013 from Lahore when they were planning another attack. They were booked under different sections of the penal code and the Anti-Terrorism Act.

(source: Daily News & Analysis)


Pakistan refuses to name drugs charge Britons on death row - Foreign Office

Pakistan has refused to give the names of 2 British citizens sentenced to death for drug offences. British diplomatic efforts to identify them have so far been in vain. The issue has put the UK's foreign aid to Pakistan under scrutiny.

The violation of diplomatic protocol means Pakistan could be in danger of breaching the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which stipulates that officials are obliged to tell British authorities if a British citizen has been arrested.

The revelations were made by Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood, who told anti-death penalty group Reprieve that authorities were unable to identify the detainees.

There are currently 21 British nationals facing the death penalty in Pakistan who are appealing their sentences. They are all receiving consular assistance.

But sources from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed there were 2 further Britons sentenced to death whose identities remain unknown.

Pakistan reversed its decision to ban executions following the attack on a school in which 130 people, mostly children, were killed. Executions resumed in large numbers, with roughly 8,300 people now on death row.

Ellwood said gaining information about the unidentified British citizens was a "challenge," claiming Pakistan were refusing to comply with international regulations.

"As you may be aware, as a co-signatory of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Pakistani authorities are under a duty to inform, without delay, the British Consulate of the arrest or detention of a British national if he/she request."

"However, in practice this rarely happens in Pakistan, and this is an issue that we have raised and will continue to highlight in contacts with the Pakistan authorities."

The British government would expect to be informed when a citizen faces the death penalty, Ellwood said.

An FCO spokesman said: "We are currently assisting 21 British nationals who potentially face the death penalty in Pakistan, none of whom have exhausted their appeals process. In addition, we are aware of 2 British nationals in detention who have been given a death sentence."

The British government currently gives Pakistan hundreds of millions of pounds in aid. The incident raises questions over whether aid money has given the UK any influence.

Last year, Pakistan was the biggest recipient of Britain's international aid, receiving 338 million pounds to help police counter the drugs trade.

The country is awarded aid based on the success of its counter-narcotics program. But with a conviction rate of 92 % and a self-confirmed "thirst" for arrests, critics believe British aid is not being used effectively and claim the system is corrupt.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said British aid for counter-narcotics programs is "hypocritical and untenable" while the death penalty is in force.

"The British government should change its position immediately and ensure that its counter-narcotics aid is strictly conditional on an end to the death penalty for drug offences," she said.



Pakistan lifting ban on death penalty a 'draconian and repressive' tactic: Amnesty report

Governments are failing to protect millions of civilians from violence by states and armed groups, Amnesty International said on Wednesday, describing the global response to widespread conflict from Nigeria to Syria as "shameful and ineffective" while highlighting how governments, including that of Pakistan in 2014 had reacted to security threats with "draconian and repressive" tactics.

Kenya passed anti-terrorism measures last year that opposition groups and activists said would threaten liberties and free speech, while Pakistan lifted a 2008 ban on the death penalty.

"Government leaders justify human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the world 'safe'", Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

"But knee-jerk reactions do not work. Instead they create an environment of repression in which extremism can thrive."

A year of catastrophic violence had led to one of the worst refugee crises in history, as the number of displaced people worldwide topped 50 million for the 1st time since the end of the World War II, the rights group said in its annual report

Almost 4 million refugees have fled a four-year civil war in Syria, and about 95 percent are being hosted by Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, according to the U.N. refugee agency, which has repeatedly urged rich nations to take more refugees.

"As people suffered an escalation in barbarous attacks and repression, the international community has been found wanting," Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty said in a statement.

"It is abhorrent to see how wealthy countries' efforts to keep people out take precedence over their efforts to keep people alive."

The growing influence of non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State was a major concern, Amnesty said.

Islamist militants Boko Haram have killed thousands of people in northeastern Nigeria in a 5-year insurgency, while Islamic State has taken vast parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in territory under its control.

Armed groups committed abuses in more than 35 countries in 2014, including the Central African Republic and India, the rights group said.

Amnesty said there would be more victims of abuse and persecution as the influence of such groups spilled across national borders.


The rights group urged the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - to renounce their veto rights in situations of genocide and mass atrocities.

Since 2011, Russia and China have cast four vetoes to block international action in Syria, where more than 210,000 have been killed since the conflict began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Security Council has failed to deal with conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Israel and Ukraine, even when civilians had been subjected to "horrific crimes", Amnesty said.

Amnesty also urged all governments to ratify and adhere to a global arms trade treaty, which came into force in December and aims to regulate the $85 billion industry and keep weapons out of the hands of human rights abusers and criminals.

A huge number of arms were delivered to Iraq, Israel, Russia, South Sudan and Syria in 2014, despite the likelihood of these weapons being used against civilians, it said.

(source: Pakistan Today)


ATC awards 2 criminals death sentences in Karachi

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) awarded death sentences to 2 criminals for the murder of Arsalan Haider here on Wednesday.

Mohsin Baloch and Abid were convicted of murdering Arsalan Haider the son of Mali Bar President Sallauddin Haider. The 2 were sentenced after proven guilty for the murder by the ATC.

Following the attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had approved lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty.



Pakistan's Death Row Prisoners Face Broad 'Terrorism' Charges, Harrowing Conditions, and a Crumbling Justice System

A lot has changed in Pakistan since the barbaric December 16 attack that targeted an army-run school in Peshawar and claimed 141 lives, most of them children. One of the most immediate consequences of the heinous incident was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifting the 2008 moratorium on executions, just 1 day later, for "terrorism related cases."

However, there was a glaring problem with that decision, as pointed out by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a Lahore-based rights organization. Not only does Pakistan have one of the largest death row populations globally - then totaling 8,526 - but more than 1 in 10 of every death row prisoner was tried as a "terrorist."

Sarah Belal, executive director at JPP, told VICE News that "using the death penalty as a form of punishment runs the risk of taking too many innocent lives," especially given the multiple loopholes in Pakistan's justice system, such as "a corrupt and ineffective police, an under-trained and under-funded prosecution department, the rampant use of torture by the police to extort confessions, and an under-trained lower judiciary."

'I would think of banging my head against the wall and ending my life.'

In a report titled Terror on Death Row, the group expressed concern over the vague and overly broad definition of terrorism used under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 (ATA). Zohra Yusuf, chairperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told VICE News that this legislation, which was introduced specifically to deal with terrorism cases and ensure speedy trials, had fallen victim to the same shortcomings as regular courts, such as delays and poor conviction rates. "The problem is that successive governments, instead of strengthening existing institutions, have responded to crises by introducing new legislation such as the Pakistan Protection Ordinance and now military courts," said Yusuf.

JPP's report further cites that the ATA was being greatly and inappropriately overused, evident from more than 17,000 pending terrorism cases as of July 2014. According to Amnesty International, Pakistan also led the number of death penalty convictions globally in 2013, with 226 people being sentenced to death, and defendants charged with ordinary crimes, such as robbery or kidnapping, were tried as terrorists without any justification. Not only were their basic rights violated but they were also handed indiscriminate, harsh punishments that had no meaningful impact on combating terrorism.

Shafqat Hussain, 25, is one of the victims caught in the midst of the country's knee-jerk attempt at mitigating terrorism. An anti-terrorism court sentenced Hussain to death in November 2004 at the age of 14 for allegedly kidnapping and murdering a child. According to JPP, the conviction came on the basis of a single piece of evidence: A confession extracted after nine days of beating and torture. "When the trial court passed the sentence, I was devastated. I remember having a terrible headache for days," Hussain told VICE News through his lawyer. "I would think of banging my head against the wall and ending my life."

Belal elaborated that Pakistan's death row is a "particularly harrowing place," where six to eight prisoners are stuffed in a single cell originally made for 2, and remain locked up 23 hours a day. Moreover, the inmates have to take turns to lie down and are made to use the bathroom in front of each other. This inhumane treatment results in many of them suffering from acute anxiety, depression, and stress associated with the trauma of confinement. Other prisoners develop more serious conditions, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders with psychotic features.

'Everyone, including terrorists, has a right to defense and to a fair trial.'

Hussain was slated for execution in early January 2015 and his family was instructed by authorities at Karachi's Central Prison to pay their final visit. A few days before the hanging, however, federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced that the government was going to halt the execution and announced an inquiry into the concerns raised by human rights groups regarding Hussain's conviction. "When the superintendent came to me to give me the news, I couldn't believe him," recalled Hussain. "When he told me, I sat down on the floor and cried in relief."

While Hussain got lucky due to the international attention his case received, there are many others who await justice but might not be as fortunate. "In the wake of the Peshawar attack, there is a palpable shift in the way the judiciary sees itself and its role in fighting the 'war on terror' in Pakistan," said Belal.

The judiciary, which currently faces a state narrative that attributes a considerable part of the blame to it for failing to "convict terrorists," now allows little room for any last-minute appeals or legal challenges for individuals sentenced to death for terrorism. For example, within 24 hours of the Peshawar attack, the state, in collusion with the judiciary, revised the existing ruling that gives a window of at least 14 days before the issuance of a death warrant and the date of execution. It was reduced to seven days in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab.

Human rights groups, however, continue to oppose the use of the death penalty as a solution to Pakistan's terrorism problem. "In a country where prosecution and investigation are weak and confessions obtained under torture, even convicted terrorists should not be given the death sentence," said Yusuf. "Everyone, including terrorists, has a right to defense and to a fair trial. The appeals process has to be expedited so that the [existing inmates] don't continue to languish in prisons."

If that happens, convicts like Aftab Bahadur, who has been in prison for the past 23 years on charges of murder, might get a glimpse of the world outside once again. "I can recall very little from the world outside. Everything seems like a blur," Bahadur told VICE News through his lawyer. "But I want to tell the Pakistani government is that it has been 23 years since I have been in prison. I am innocent. At least give me a chance."



Indonesia's looming executions add to a growing death penalty toll in Asia

In a matter of days, 11 convicted criminals in Indonesia are to be shot dead by a firing squad. The group, mostly convicted of drug trafficking, includes Indonesians as well as Frenchmen, Brazilians, and 2 Australian citizens whose families and government have been heavily lobbying Jakarta to commute their sentences.

But the executions will not be delayed or reversed, Indonesian president Joko Widodo vowed to reporters yesterday: "The 1st thing I need to say firmly is that there shouldn’t be any intervention towards the death penalty because it is our sovereign right to exercise our law."

Indonesia is far from the world's biggest death penalty practitioner - that accolade goes to China, where between 1,000 and 2,400 people are executed annually - but the looming mass execution will add to a recent uptick in the use of capital punishment across Asia

. According to a new report from Amnesty International, while much of the rest of the world is moving away from the death penalty, state executions have become most common in the Asia Pacific region. At least 6 countries in the region - Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, and Pakistan - carried out executions last year. In 2013, there were executions in 22 countries around the world, many of them in Asia.

Estimates for executions in North Korea and China are incomplete and likely higher, according to Amnesty.

One factor driving the number of executions in some countries may be the presence of new leaders intent on establishing their reputations as being harsh on crime. Since Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe took the helm in late 2012, for example, 11 people have been hung and 127 remain on death row.

Widodo appears similarly concerned with appearing firm, especially when it comes to drug-related crime. He campaigned on an anti-narcotics platform and has claimed that drug use claims 40 to 50 young people's lives every day - a statistic that many experts dispute. In January, 6 people, mostly foreigners, were executed for drug trafficking-related crimes, a move that prompted the Netherlands and Brazil to pull their ambassadors from the country

. The 2 Australian men have been jailed since 2005 and are convicted of coordinating a ring of heroin traffickers known as the "Bali 9." The lawyer for the 2 Australians say that they are reformed men who now teach Bible and cooking classes in prison.

Analysts say that Widodo's insistence on the executions may also have something to do with controversy at home over his selection for the country's top police chief, general Budi Gunawan. The appointment has set off accusations of corruption and a rivalry between the country’s police force and an anti-corruption commission, in a drama that has reflected badly on Widodo's image as a decisive leader.

So far, Widodo is on track to more than double the average number of executions his country has carried out in recent years: 5 people were executed in 2013 after a 4 year moratorium on the death penalty, and none were executed in 2014. Including the 11 slated for imminent execution in the coming days, 58 people remain on Indonesia's death row.



Thailand reverses death sentences for two men who murdered Australian Michael Wansley

A Thai court has reversed death sentences for 2 men convicted over the execution-style murder of prominent Melbourne insolvency expert Michael Wansley in 1999.

A former chairman of the Australian Red Cross who had been awarded the Order of Australia for services to charity, Mr Wansley, 58, was shot dead by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle while employed by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to investigate financial malpractice at Thai sugar mills.

The case that lingered through Thai courts for 16 years raised serious questions about the country's judicial system.

Thailand's Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the death penalty for sugar mill executives Somchok Suthiwiriwan and Sompong Buasakul, handing them life sentences.

The court upheld an earlier sentence of life imprisonment for Boonpan Suthiwiriwan, another mill executive.

The men were employees of a sugar mill in Nakhon Sawan province owned by the family of wealthy provincial businessman Pradit Siriviriyakul.

The court earlier upheld the sentence of life imprisonment for Boonpan Sutheevisawan, another mill executive.

Mr Pradit was initially charged with conspiracy to murder but was acquitted by a 3-judge panel which rejected police testimony he offered a $4 million bribe for the investigation to be dropped.

The panel accepted evidence that Mr Pradit told an employee "it was good the foreigner is dead" but found he made the comments after the murder.

The Australian government made repeated representations to Thailand during the case and Deloitte appointed former National Party leader and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer to act as an adviser amid doubts the Thai courts would deliver justice.

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


6 to die, 4 get life for murder in 3 districts

6 people were sentenced to death and 4 others to life imprisonment on murder charges in Chapainawabganj, Comilla and Netrakona districts yesterday.

Our Chapainawabganj correspondent reported that a tribunal sentenced 2 people to death for killing a minor girl after abduction.

The death penalty awardees are Shihab Reza, 24, son of Emran Ali of Ajaipur-Aburajpara Mohalla, Sagor Ahmed, son of Abdul Malek of Shankarbati Mohalla in Chapainawabganj municipality.

Judge Kobita Khanam of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-1 delivered the verdict. The judge also acquitted another accused named Jahirul Islam of Kaliganj-Phulbagan area of the municipality as charges brought against him could not be proved.

According to the prosecution, Shihab and Sagor kidnapped Kabita Khatun, 4, daughter of Korban Ali of Kaliganj-Phulbagan area in the municipality on August 30, 2014 and strangled her the same day.

On September 1, 2014, the kidnappers phoned Korban Ali and demanded Tk 5 lakh ransom for release of Kabita. Tracking mobile phone calls, Rab arrested Shihab and Sagor on September 4. On the basis of their statements, the elite force recovered the decomposed body of Kabita from underground.

Victim's father Korban Ali filed a case against Shihab and Sagor with Sadar Police Station the following day.

Inspector Sarwar Hossain, also the investigation officer of the case, pressed charges against Shihab, Jahirul Islam and Sagor on October 31 last year.

In Comilla, 3 robbers were awarded capital punishment and 4 others life imprisonment for killing an expatriate in 2000, reports UNB.

They are Abu Taher alias Saru Miah, 50, Abdus Salam alias Liton, 30, and Jahir Islam Jahir, 50, of Jashpur village in Sadar upazila.

The lifers are Bahar, 31,Mizanur Rahman, Arifuzzaman alias Imon, 35, and Abdul Mannan. Additional Sessions Judge's Court-4 also fined them Tk 50,000 each, in default they are to suffer 6 months more in jail.

According to the prosecution, Tofazzal Hossain, 35, an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, was stabbed to death by a gang of robbers at the village on October 1, 2000.

A case was filed with Sadar Police Station the following day. Police submitted charge sheet against the accused on February 24, 2004.

After examining the records and 18 witnesses, Judge Chamon Chowdhury pronounced the verdict.

In Netrakona, a man was sentenced to death for killing his wife in Durgapur upazila of the district in 2007.

The death penalty awardee is Abdus Salam, 40, son of late Ansar Ali of Dubrajpur village in the upazila.

According to the prosecution, Salam hacked his wife Shilpi Akhter, 36, to death following an altercation over a trifling matter at East Nanderchati village in the upazila on October 12, 2007. The couple used to work at a fish enclosure at the village.

After examining the records and 7 witnesses, Additional Sessions Judge Mohammad Abdul Hamid handed down the verdict.

(source: The Daily Star)


3 to walk to gallows for Tofazzal murder

A court in Comilla has awarded death penalty to 3 people and life term to 5 others for murder of Tofazzal Hossain in the district more than 14 years ago.

Comilla's 4th Additional Sessions Judge Chaman Chowdhury pronounced the verdict on Tuesday.

The death-row convicts are Abu Taher aka Chhoru Mia, son of late Ali Newaz, Abdus Salam Liton, son of Noab Ali, and Jahirul Islam Jahir, son of Monohar Ali. They all hail from Joshpur village under Adarsha Sadar Upazila of the district.

Those who got life-term are Md Bahar aka Rozen, Abdul Mannan, Saheb Ali, Arifuzzaman Iman and Md Mizanur Rahman.

The 5 have also been fined Tk 50,000 each, failing to pay which their jail-term will be extended by another 6 months.

Among the convicts, Mannan, Saheb Ali and Mizanur Rahman are absconding.

Public prosecutor Md Jalal Uddin said Tofazzal Hossain of Joshpur village under Kaliarbazar union, was stabbed to death on Oct 1, 2010.

His cousin Harun-ur-Rashid filed a case with the Comilla Kotwali Police Station against 20-25 unknown people over the murder.

Inspector of police's District Special Branch Md Sirajul Haq pressed charges against the 8 people on Feb 24, 2004.

The court recorded testimonies of 18 witnesses.



Fugitive Jabbar spared death due to age

Former Muslim League leader Mohammad Abdul Jabbar has been awarded imprisonment until his natural death, though he deserved capital punishment, for committing crimes against humanity, including killings, loot and arson, in Mathbaria of Pirojpur during the 1971 Liberation War, says a war crimes tribunal.

In its verdict delivered yesterday, the three-member International Crimes Tribunal 1, led by Justice M Enayetur Rahim, said for the offences Jabbar, 82, had committed, he deserved death penalty. But the punishment was committed to life-term imprisonment considering his age.

Jabbar, also a former Jatiya Party lawmaker, has been fugitive since 2009 while the prosecution and the investigation agency of the tribunal are unaware of his whereabouts.

The tribunal yesterday ordered the home secretary and the police chief to ensure the arrest of the fugitive convict with the help of the Interpol, if necessary.

Earlier 2 war criminals were given jail until death due to their old age. The convicts are former BNP minister Abdul Alim and former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam.

Apart from Jabbar, 4 other death row convicts have been absconding. They are Abul Kalam Azad alias Bachchu Razakar, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, Ashrafuzzaman Khan and MA Zahid Hossain Khokon alias Khokon Razakar.

Jabbar was also made accused in a case filed under the Collaborators Act after the independence. But he went into hiding after the war and remained a fugitive until the political changeover of August 15, 1975.

Later he became active in politics and was elected a lawmaker from Mathbaria in 1986 and 1988 with Jatiya Party tickets.

"...we cannot overlook the advanced age of the accused, the mitigating factor, which has come up before us for its due consideration.

"Undisputedly, accused Md Abdul Jabbar engineer is now an old man of more than 82 years. Mitigating factor of advanced age, particularly more than 82 years of the accused is taken into consideration by this tribunal for taking lenient view in the matter of awarding punishment to the accused. Having regards to the above facts and circumstances, we are of agreed view that ends of justice would be met if mitigating punishment is awarded, instead of capital punishment, for the crimes," the tribunal said in the judgement.

The 2 other members of the tribunal is Justice Jahangir Hossain and Justice Anwarul Haque.

Jabbar was found guilty in all the 5 charges brought against him. He was given imprisonment until death on 4 charges and 20 years' jail on the other that involves conversion of around 200 Hindus to Islam.

Founder of Mathbaria unit Peace Committee and Razakar Bahini, Jabbar aided the Pakistani occupation forces in committing the crimes, the tribunal said.

He was sentenced to imprisonment for life for the deaths of 2 freedom fighters - Abdur Razzak Biswas and Motaleb Sharif, and arson attack on over 100 houses at Phuljhuri of Mathbaria; for ordering his accomplices to shoot Sarada Kanta Paik to death and set 360 houses on fire at the same village; for his involvement in the killing of 11 people and looting and torching 60 houses at Naligram; and for the abduction of 37 Hindus from Angulkata and Mothbaria, killing 20 of them and looting the houses of the victims.

Jabbar was sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 20 years and a fine of Tk10 lakh, in default to suffer further simple imprisonment for two years, for forcefully converting around 200 people of a Hind para of Phuljhuri village.

"The 5 sentences shall run concurrently," the tribunal said.

Son of late Saden Ali alias Samed Ali Hawlader and late Sawhar Banu, Jabbar was born on November 30, 1932 at Khetachira village of Pirojpur. He obtained BSc engineering degree and joined the politics of Muslim League. Later, he became an influential leader of the party and was elected an MPA in 1964.

Jabbar was indicted on August 14, 2014 and the tribunal concluded the trial proceedings on December 3 last year and kept the case waiting for verdict.

The prosecution submitted the formal charges against Jabbar on May 11 last year. On May 12, the tribunal issued arrest warrant against him after taking the charges into cognisance. On July 8 last year, the tribunal appointed Mohammad Abul Hassan as counsel to defend Jabbar.

A total of 24 prosecution witnesses testified against Jabbar. The defence did not place any witness in favour of Jabbar.

The tribunal yesterday set at 11:07am and started to read the judgement just after 3 minutes.

In the beginning of the court's procedure, Justice Rahim said he had been appointed as the tribunal chairman the same day last year. It is the 5th judgement under his chairmanship. The same tribunal pronounced 3 more verdicts before Justice Rahim took office.

The judgement said: "Jabbar was the chairman of Mothbaria Peace Committee during the Liberation War in 1971 and under his leadership many atrocious activities were taken place.

"From the evidence of eye witnesses and documentary proof it has revealed that the accused had directly participated in the commission of offences of mass killing in addition to aiding, facilitating and abetting the members of auxiliary forces to have committed atrocious acts during the Liberation War."

The tribunal said: "Having considered the attending facts, legal position and the gravity and magnitude of the offences, committed by accused Md Abdul Jabbar Engineer, we unanimously hold that the accused deserves the capital punishment, particularly in those 4 charges."

Jabbar had formed the Mathbaria unit Peace Committee being invited and instructed by the leaders of its central unit, the tribunal said. Thereafter, he along with his followers started committing atrocious acts accompanied by the Pakistani invading forces in the locality.

The verdict said the local razakar force had been formed under Jabbar's leadership with 150-200 members people. "He rendered an appointment to his relative Iskander Mridha as the commander of that unit."

On May 16 of 1971, Jabbar held a rally on the playground of Tushkhali High School and ordered the collaborators to bring to him Abdur Razzak and Motaleb Sharif (trainer of freedom fighters) dead or alive. In line with the order, the armed razakars held the 2 freedom fighters and killed them.

According to a witness, Jabbar always instigated his followers to launch war on the Hindus. "He used to say 'Hindu's wealth and properties are for plunder and so the Muslims can use them. If the Hindus want to live in this country, they will have to become Muslims.'"

On October 6 of 1971, about 40-50 razakars led by Jabbar went to Angulkata village and detained 37 Hindus. Out of them, 5 were released in exchange for money while 22 persons were killed by gun shots.

The Hindus of Paik Bari under Phuljhuri village were converted to Islam in the last week of May. They were given Muslim names and forced to eat beef. Later the razakars established a mosque in the area and forced the Hindu women to marry Muslim men, the case says.

Sarada Kanta Paik was killed upon Jabbar's order while attempting to flee away on May 17. The collaborators also torched around 360 houses belonging to Muslim and Hindu families after looting.

On May 22, Jabbar shot dead Sokhanath Kharati in Naligram village while his accomplices, under his order, killed 10 others. Around 60 houses of the local Hindus were looted and set on fire the same day.

After the pronouncement of the verdict, prosecutor Jahid Imam said they were expecting death penalty for Jabbar since all the charges had been substantiated successfully. "But we obey the judgement. We will decide about filing appeal after receiving full text of the verdict," he added.

State-appointed defence counsel Abul Hasan said he had failed to communicate with Jabbar during the trial proceedings. "I failed to prove Jabbar innocent as I did not have proper documents in connection with the case."

Hasan said he learnt from government's documents that Jabbar had been staying in the USA.

(source: The Dhaka Tribune)


SC seeks concise statement on his appeal in 2 weeks

The Supreme Court yesterday asked both the state and defence counsels to submit in 2 weeks the concise statement on an appeal filed by convicted war criminal Motiur Rahman Nizami against his death sentence.

International Crimes Tribunal-1 on October 29 last year passed a death sentence on Nizami on 4 charges of war crimes, including murdering intellectuals. The 72-year-old was also awarded life imprisonment on the other four charges.

Nizami on November 23 last year filed the appeal with the SC challenging the ICT-1 verdict.

(source: The Daily Star)

FEBRUARY 24, 2015:


Rodney Reed: Texas appeals court grants stay of execution ---- Defence lawyers tell judges that new evidence proves Reed did not murder Stacey Stites in 1996 case and trial testimony was false

A Texas court has issued a stay of execution for Rodney Reed 10 days before he was scheduled to be put to death for a murder he insists he did not commit.

In a 6-2 verdict on Monday that was a response to an appeal filed by Reed's lawyers, the Texas court of criminal appeals stayed the lethal injection that had been set down for 5 March. The court did not explain its decision. Reed's attorneys argued they had new evidence proving his innocence and showing that the prosecution in the original trial presented false and misleading testimony. They are also calling for more DNA testing.

"The family is overjoyed, we're happy beyond belief, but at the same time that it's a major victory, it is just a step towards where we're trying to go," Reed's brother, Rodrick, told the Guardian.

"We're confident we're going to get a new trial and that he'll get exonerated with all the new evidence and the new witnesses."

Stacey Stites's body was discovered by a rural roadside in Bastrop, near Austin, in 1996. The 19-year-old had been engaged to a police officer, Jimmy Fennell, who is currently in prison for kidnap and sexual assault. He was initially a suspect but investigators turned their focus to Reed after his DNA was discovered inside Stites's body.

Reed's defence was that he was having an affair with Stites that they kept secret because it had the potential to cause a scandal in smalltown Texas since Reed is black and Stites was white.

Prosecutors persuaded the jury that Reed had raped and strangled Stites in the early hours of the morning after intercepting her on her way to work, but the timeline for that version of events relied on scientific evidence at the trial that has since been discredited.

Reed has been on death row for nearly 17 years. "We're extremely relieved that the court has stayed Mr Reed's execution so there will be proper consideration of the powerful new evidence of his innocence. We are also optimistic that this will give us the opportunity to finally conduct DNA testing that could prove who actually committed the crime," said Bryce Benjet, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project.

In their 12 February filing Reed's lawyers argued that Stites was killed several hours earlier than the prosecution claimed - placing the time of death during a period when she was almost certainly at home with Fennell. "3 of the most experienced and well-regarded forensic pathologists in the country ... have re-evaluated the case and determined that Mr Reed's guilt is medically and scientifically impossible," they wrote.

Reed's claim to innocence has attracted vigorous nationwide support from anti-death penalty campaigners and last week he was the subject of a television show in which a retired New York police detective examined the case and concluded there were serious problems with the conviction.

(source: The Guardian)


Explosive Allegations Provide New Hope For British Grandmother On Texas Death Row

New allegations in a high-profile death penalty case may help Linda Carty, a 56-year-old British grandmother who has been on death row in Texas since 2002, get the appeal she so desperately needs.

"When you see the consistent pattern [of allegations] we have from every single witness, it just cries out for a hearing," Michael Goldberg, Carty's attorney, told The Huffington Post Friday.

With signed affidavits as new evidence, Goldberg has requested an evidentiary hearing with the Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals in hopes a favorable ruling paves the way for new trial in appeals court.

A jury sentenced Carty to death in February 2002 after she was convicted of plotting the murder of a woman and child who lived in her apartment complex. The 4 men convicted of kidnapping the pair testified against Carty, who worked as a Drug Enforcement Agency informant, to avoid the death penalty themselves.

Last week, the Houston Chronicle published a scathing investigation containing allegations that the prosecuting attorney coached, coerced and otherwise threatened witnesses into giving testimony that suited her case.

Since the Chronicle's article, Goldberg said, "a lot of people [have] come out of the woodwork" with "things to say" about Assistant Harris County District Attorney Connie Spence.

The Chronicle's report included the affidavits, which were both signed in 2014 and supplied independent of one another to Carty's defense team. Christopher Robinson,1 of the 4 gunmen who testified against Carty at trial, wrote that Spence both coached and threatened him into giving damning testimony against Carty. Charles Mathis, the former DEA agent who recruited Carty in the '90s as a confidential informant, accused Spence of inventing a false affair between him and Carty to coerce him into testifying for her office.

According to court records, 4 gunmen burst into the home of Carty's neighbor, Joana Rodriguez, in May 2001. They demanded money and drugs before beating Rodriguez's husband and abducting her and her newborn son, the document notes. She was found dead a day later, tied and suffocated in the trunk of a car. The baby was found alive and reunited with his father.

Prosecutors alleged that Carty, a mother and a grandmother, was obsessed with having another baby to save her common-law marriage and orchestrated the kidnap and murder plot so she could pass off Rodriguez's newborn as her own. Carty's defense argued she was set up by the kidnappers - all of whom had prior drug or robbery convictions - as retribution for her ongoing work with the DEA.

In his affidavit, Mathis, who could not be reached for comment, wrote that Spence had "limited my testimony and only wanted me to testify only to a very tight set of facts." He wrote he was unable to speak to Carty's important work with the DEA, or the fact that he found her incapable of committing murder.

Though no execution date has been set, Carty's case has drawn significant interest and outrage in England and her native Saint Kitts. Her case has been well-covered by British media, and former model and human rights activist Bianca Jagger numbers among her supporters. In 2009, supporters staged a sort of demonstration in London's Trafalger Square to publicize her plea. Carty's case was even the subject of an episode of the Werner Herzog-directed miniseries, "On Death Row."

Goldberg noted the Harris County District Attorney's Office has not opened an investigation into the allegations against Spence; a Harris County district attorney told the Chronicle the office would wait for a response from the state before opening any kind of investigation into misconduct by the office's attorneys.

The Harris County District Attorney's office did not return The Huffington Post's calls or emails for comment.

Carty has lost a total of 3 appeals at the state and federal level, including 1 in which the British government filed an amicus brief as a friend of the court to the U.S. Supreme Court. Goldberg, who has been working pro-bono on Carty's appeals case for almost a decade, said on top of unethical tactics by Spence's office, Carty's court-appointed trial attorney was inept; lawyer Gerald Guerinot even failed to call Mathis to the stand or contact the British Consulate when Carty was arrested. The Houston Chronicle notes Guerinot has had 20 clients condemned to death row.

Goldberg said Carty is now waiting for the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to grant an evidentiary hearing based on the new evidence from the affidavits.

"It is very difficult to maintain your sanity being on death row for a decade," Goldberg said. "Linda has had so many highs and lows through 1st round of appeals and now she is in one of those highs thinking 'we got this!'"

Goldberg added: "But I'm trying to temper everything, because when you're dealing with the criminal courts, you can never say for certain."

(source: Huffington Post)


'Blind Faith' killer Robert Marshall dies in prison


Robert Marshall timeline

June 1983: Robert O. Marshall begins affair with Saraan Krausharr. By December, he begins plot to kill wife of 21 years Maria Marshall, 42, the mother of their 3 sons.

June 1984: Marshall pays Billy Wayne McKinnon, a former Louisiana sheriff's officer, $5,000 to meet him at Harrah's Casino and plan a murder around a faked robbery. Marshall offers a total of $80,000 for the job. He plans to collect $1.5 million on his wife's life insurance policies.

Sept. 7, 1984: Maria Marshall is murdered while the couple are on way home from a night out. Robert Marshall pulls into a Garden State Parkway picnic area, pretending to check a flat tire as Maria sleeps. He is knocked unconscious as part of the "robbery." She is shot twice and dies instantly.

Dec. 1984: Marshall is arrested, charged as an accomplice.

March 6, 1986: After a 6-week trial in Mays Landing, Marshall is convicted of contracting his wife's murder. He faints as he receives the death sentence. The jurors acquit Larry N. Thompson, one of three alleged accomplices and the suspected gunman. Other accomplices are McKinnon, who served 1 year, and Robert Cumber, who was sentenced to 30 years and granted clemency in 2006.

April 1988: Thompson sues Ocean County Prosecutor's Office seeking $25 million for improper arrest; prosecutors win.

Feb. 1989: Author Joseph McGinniss releases "Blind Faith," based on the Marshall case, which becomes a bestseller and NBC-TV miniseries in 1990.

Jan. 24, 1991: N.J. Supreme Court upholds Marshall's conviction and death sentence. His is the 1st death sentence upheld since New Jersey reinstated death penalty.

July 29, 1992: Marshall loses his plea for a life sentence; the death penalty is upheld by the Supreme Court.

Feb. 23, 1993: The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Marshall's initial appeal. A series of appeals follows.

March 5, 1997: After repeated losses for Marshall, the state Supreme Court rejects his appeal for a new trial.

April 4, 1997: Superior Court Judge Manuel Greenberg allows a 10-day extension before signing the death warrant.

June 21, 2001: Having exhausted state and federal appeals, Marshall loses again.

Nov. 2, 2005: Marshall, who was to die by lethal injection, wins a major appeal. The third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rules Marshall's lawyer inadequately represented him in the death-penalty phase after his 1986 conviction. Court orders new a death-penalty hearing or a life sentence.

Dec. 9, 2005: The N.J. attorney general appeals the U.S. Supreme Court lower court's ruling against Marshall's death sentence.

May 12, 2006: Prosecutors drop the death-penalty hearing due to the task of presenting evidence after more than 20 years had passed. Marshall receives a life sentence.

Dec. 2007: New Jersey abolishes the death penalty.

April 2014: Larry Thompson, who had been acquitted of being the triggerman, confesses to the crime. In prison in Louisiana for armed robbery at the time, he told authorities that witnesses who said he was in Louisiana when Maria Marshall was killed were lying or mistaken.

January 2015: New Jersey's parole board schedules a March parole hearing for Marshall.

Feb. 21: Marshall, 75, dies at South Woods State Prison in southern New Jersey, according to state Department of Corrections.


James Churchill was preparing to leave for a Florida vacation Monday morning when he received the call that Robert O. Marshall had died, 30 years after Churchill helped put the Toms River man on death row for arranging the murder of his wife, Maria Marshall.

The case of Robert O. Marshall was the subject of author Joseph McGinniss' book "Blind Faith" and a subsequent TV miniseries.

"I got the call from someone in the Prosecutor's Office and then my daughter called to tell me he died. It wasn't a surprise. I knew he was pretty much incapacitated and has been for about 6 months," Churchill said. Marshallwas a successful insurance broker in Toms River at the time of his wife's killing. Churchill was an investigator for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office who helped crack the case.

New Jersey's Department of Corrections says Marshall died Saturday at South Woods State Prison.

Churchill said he recently learned that Marshall suffered some sort of medical episode and was transferred to another medical facility from the prison.

Marshall's son Robby called Churchill about 6 weeks ago to let him know his father wasn't doing well, Churchill said.

Marshall was found guilty of conspiring with 2 Louisiana men to gun down his wife, Maria. Churchill's work helped prove that Marshall had been engaged in an extramarital affair and had taken out $1.5 million in insurance on his wife.

Churchill, 71, had been waiting for almost 30 years for a confession that he finally got in April, when triggerman Larry Thompson, who is in a Louisiana state prison on an unrelated charge, admitted his role in the 1984 killing of Maria Marshall. She was gunned down in a picnic area of the Garden State Parkway in Lacey Township as the couple drove home from an Atlantic City casino.

Last year, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato brought back Churchill, who retired in 1995, to work the Marshall investigation and obtain a confession from Thompson.

In 1986, Thompson, now 72, had been found not guilty in Marshall's killing, but her husband was convicted and initially faced the death penalty before it was abolished in 2004. He was then sentenced to life in prison.

"This was truly was a life sentence for him. He went to jail on Dec. 19, 1984, and never came out and it was a long road to get to his appeals," Churchill said.

Thompson's confession last year gave some closure to Maria Marshall's sons and now the death of their dad gives them the ultimate closure, Churchill said.

"His (Marshall's) death doesn't give me closure. When you work in this business for as a long as you do, when a case comes along you try to get as much information as you can to solve the case. It bothered me that we did so much work on this and some liars and people who were mistaken got (Thompson) off," said Churchill.

Marshall was scheduled to have his first chance at parole during a hearing next month.

"I really don't know if he would have gotten out. He is the 1st person to be sentenced to die and then to be able to come up for parole. I hoped he would not have gotten out. It would not have destroyed the work we did. But if he had gotten out it would be because the law says you get out after 30 years," Churchill said.

William Schievella, former deputy director of the state Division of Parole, said he has followed the case for the last 30 years, and while it was possible, it was also highly unlikely Marshall would have been granted parole.

Schievella, who now serves as director of the Police Studies Institute at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morris County, said if he had to place a bet, it would be 80-20 that Marshall would not have been released from prison.

"It is highly unlikely that such a heinous criminal with a crime of such notoriety would be released. This is because the parole process is designed with the public's safety as a paramount consideration," he said.

(source: Press of Atlantic City)


Gov. Tom Wolf did not impose a "moratorium" on Pennsylvania's death penalty. He has no such authority, and he knows that.

The governor was properly advised by Judge Timothy K. Lewis, former U.S. Court of Appeals judge, that there exists no authority in the Office of Pennsylvania Governor to declare a moratorium or suspend the death penalty.

What the governor did was to grant a reprieve to one death row inmate who was scheduled for an imminent execution.

The granting of a reprieve is one of the governor's powers with respect to clemency in Article IV, Section 9(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The other 2 are the power to commute a death sentence to life and to grant a pardon.

The latter 2, however, cannot be exercised by the governor unless recommended by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. With respect to commuting a death sentence to life, the recommendation must be unanimous.

Under Pennsylvania law, the issuance of execution warrants by the executive branch is a mandatory duty.

That precedent was established in Morganelli v. Casey, a case I brought in 1994 against then Gov. Robert Casey. Today, the governor is given 90 days to sign a death warrant after receiving the case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If the governor does not sign the execution warrant, the execution date must be set by the Department of Corrections, and the execution proceeds without the governor's signature.

Accordingly, Judge Lewis advised the governor that executions must proceed and that the use of the reprieve power was the only constitutional basis for creating a de facto moratorium.

The governor has stated that he will grant reprieves for subsequent scheduled executions for each death row inmate at least until the release of an impending study being done by a task force established by the Legislature.

The governor's objective is unlikely to succeed.

In Morganelli v. Casey, the court held that a reprieve exists only to afford an individual defendant the opportunity to temporarily postpone an execution for a particular proceeding involving that defendant - i.e. a pending application for a pardon, commutation or judicial relief.

It is unlikely that a court will allow a governor to grant "reprieves" based on a governor's concern about the fairness of the process or the release of a report that has no legal significance. If this was permitted, it would in effect allow a governor to commute death sentences to life, bypassing the Board of Pardons in contravention of Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Only the Legislature has the power to repeal the death penalty, and only the judiciary has the power to suspend the death penalty or declare it null and void as unconstitutional or in violation of due process.

Pennsylvania's death penalty was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court many years ago in the case of Blystone, and, therefore, the governor will not be able to derail Pennsylvania's death penalty by continuously granting reprieves in individual cases.

As someone who has personally litigated these issues, I predict that ultimately the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will find the governor's action outside of the intended purpose and scope of a reprieve.

Northampton County District Attorney Morganelli is a past president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association and in 1994 successfully prosecuted an unprecedented case against the governor of Pennsylvania to enforce Pennsylvania's death penalty.

(source: Opinion; John Morganelli, Lebanon Daily News)


DA to seek death penalty in Duquesne slaying, arson

The Allegheny County District Attorney's office announced Monday that it will seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing his estranged wife and setting her Duquesne home on fire.

James Karr, 47, is charged with criminal homicide after police said he wrapped his wife, Maureen Karr, 56, in wire, poured vodka on her and made a trail to the front door of her home on Friendship Street and set it on fire on Dec. 30.

To pursue capital punishment, the prosecution must prove at least 1 aggravating factor to a jury, and the jury must find that the aggravating factor outweighs any mitigation presented by the defense.

In Mr. Karr's case, the prosecution has identified five potential aggravating factors, including that the victim was a witness to another crime committed by the defendant and was killed to be prohibited from testifying; that he committed the killing while in the perpetration of a felony; that in committing the crime the defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death to someone other than the victim; and that at the time of the killing, Mr. Karr was the subject of a PFA by his wife.

The district attorney's office currently has 5 other death penalty cases pending.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania citing questions about the fundamental fairness of capital punishment.

Mike Manko, a spokesman with the district attorney's office, said the moratorium does not impact the decision to pursue capital punishment against Mr. Karr.

"The most immediate impact of the governor's recent announcement concerning the death penalty was to postpone events involving 1 defendant from Philadelphia," he said. "What the governor's announcement did not do was change the law. Capital punishment remains the law in this commonwealth and should be applied when appropriate as in the case of James Karr."

No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.

(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


Thoughts on Pa. death penalty moratorium opposition

Many people, present company excepted, employ the wrong word in speaking, either because they don't know better, have misheard it, or have confused the meaning.

Take the word moratorium.

It appears that some people think moratorium means to kill. After all, isn't a moratorium like a mortuary, where they take dead bodies? It fits right in with execution and death penalty. Moratorium means to pause, hold or suspend.

No sooner had Gov. Wolf signed an executive order placing a moratorium on executions, when the elephants began to trumpet. The first 2 into the clearing were the district attorneys of Cumberland and Dauphin counties, Dave Freed and Ed Marsico. Both men are at risk of running for higher office. When we didn't hear from York County District Attorney Tom Kearney, we figured he was giving the hometown boy a pass, but that all changed with the Feb. 22 edition of the York Sunday News. It turns out that Kearney was not only disturbed, he was deeply saddened.

In his opinion piece in the YDR, the district attorney allowed as how the governor not only usurped roles of our Legislature, but also the will of the people. Now Gov. Wolf has the Legislature, at least 4 district attorneys, and more than 12 million Pennsylvanians, whose wills were violated, clamoring for the return of the death penalty. The 4th district attorney is John Morganelli of Northumberland County.

Kearney says Wolf's action is a slap in the face to those who served on our juries and to the victims and their families, and Morganelli writes in his YDR opinion piece that Pennsylvania's death penalty was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and "therefore the governor will not be able to derail Pennsylvania's death penalty."

I greatly sympathize with the families in their anguish. We all want our pound of flesh when we're hurting as badly as they are. It's the others who puzzle me, but it fits the season doesn't it, the voices shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!"

Bill Schmeer, Thomasville

(source: Letter to the Editor, York Daily Record)


Death penalty to be sought against man charged with homicide in estranged wife's fire death

Prosecutors in western Pennsylvania say they plan to seek the death penalty against a man accused of having set a fire that killed his estranged wife.

47-year-old James Karr is charged in Allegheny County with homicide and arson in the Dec. 30 fire in Duquesne that killed 56-year-old Maureen Karr.

The victim had sought a protection-from-abuse order, alleging that her husband had threatened to burn down her home.

The district attorney's office said Monday that the death penalty will be sought if Karr is convicted of 1st-degree murder.

Prosecutors cited as factors supporting the decision the fact that the victim was to be a witness and the allegations that another person was threatened, torture was involved and the crime occurred during commission of a felony.

Karr's attorney declined comment Monday.

(source: Associated Press)


Is death penalty the only justice?

After Gov. Tom Wolf announced he was halting executions until the results of a bipartisan study on the fairness, cost and efficacy of capital punishment in the commonwealth are released and addressed, I was dismayed to read comments from the Dauphin County prosecutor calling the governor's decision a "punch in the stomach" to murder victims' families.

As a former prosecutor and capital defense attorney, I have witnessed the true suffering of murder victims' families first hand, and there is nothing more gut wrenching.

But it is cruel to tell victims' families that they need the death penalty to achieve justice or closure, because the death penalty isn't even an option in the vast majority of murder cases.

In 2013, there were 594 murders committed in Pennsylvania and three offenders joined death row that year. If justice for the victims' families is defined as the imposition of a death sentence, then what of the other 591 Pennsylvanians that were killed and their families, all of whom have suffered the horrors of a murder in the family?

Many of these crimes are never even solved, let alone prosecuted with the goal of getting a death sentence.

Even in cases where a death sentence is handed down, the promise of an execution frequently goes unfulfilled.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Pennsylvanians have imposed 412 death sentences since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974, and yet 250 of those death verdicts have been reversed on appeal due to serious errors, with only 6 death sentences reinstated, and yet justice was served.

Only 3 executions have been carried out in during this same period.

If awarding the death penalty were nothing more than a calculus of weighing the value of a murder victim's life against that of the offender, the victim's virtue would tip the scale every time. But justice is much more complicated than simply executing an offender in retribution for a victim's life.

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the automatic award of a death sentence upon conviction for capital murder since 1976, reasoning that juries must sentence the offender and not just the crime. Our criminal justice system looks at offenders, many of whom have had wretched lives that may explain - but never excuse - the terrible crimes they commit. Justice demands that criminal sentencing weigh all relevant factors around the severity of the crime and the culpability of the offender. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that juveniles and the intellectually impaired are less capable of making informed decisions and sound judgments, and therefore should be exempted from execution.

So why is the argument made that the death-penalty moratorium robs the victims' families of justice? Is justice for the victims only defined by executing offenders? Why is the victim's value defined by what happens to the person who killed him or her?

Surely there have been prosecutors in Pennsylvania who could have decided to seek the death penalty in death-eligible 1st-degree murder cases and chose not to, and yet justice was served. Surely there are prosecutors in Pennsylvania who initially filed capital murder charges against an offender, and then decided to offer a plea bargain for life in prison without parole, and yet justice was served.

In contrast to the death penalty, life without parole is a severe and certain punishment that means what it says: offenders will remain in prison until their natural deaths. Victims' families don't have to spend decades waiting for an execution that may never come.

It is a popular refrain that the death penalty is reserved for the "worst of the worse." However, in my experience, the death penalty is a punishment reserved exclusively for the poor, for the mentally ill and for offenders whose victims were white.

I submit that achieving justice is about much more than simply getting a death sentence. The late writer David Foster Wallace once said that leaders "help us overcome the limitations of our own individual ... weakness and fear and get us to do better, harder things than we can get ourselves to do on our own."

I urge the state prosecutors and the police who serve us all to join and support Gov. Wolf's leadership by making us all do the hard work to define what justice truly is in each and every case without resorting to the tag line that execution is the answer.

(source: Op-Ed; Stephanie A. Jirard is a criminal justice professor at Shippensburg University, but the views expressed herein are her own----York Dispatch)


Is Pennsylvania's death-penalty impasse fixable?

Sunday's editorial about Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's resistance to the state's death penalty struck a nerve with readers, pro and con. Many commenters took issue with the idea that capital punishment should be implemented in the most heinous killings, in cases in which guilt is not in doubt.

Others made the case that the U.S., in refusing to abolish the death penalty, goes against the tide of most developed countries and has more in common with brutal regimes.

Supporters of the death penalty say it's a just punishment for those who kill and meet the "aggravating" conditions for execution -- and it prevents them from getting out of prison and killing again.

Here's a sampling of the comments. Free free to add your voice to the conversation.

smallford said:

The so-called higher ups in the government should get rid of the death penalty. The lawyers are the ones making the money by filing appeal after appeal and we the poor fools that pay and pay and etc.

van243 responded:

So your way of fixing this is to ban it completely? We need the law on the books even if we never have to use it. It's a deterrent. I've heard it costs more to execute a person than jail them for life. Why can't we correct that part too?

Carmello agreed:

Nothing broken about this system. We have to enforce the death penalty. Do people who oppose the death penalty actually believe it's cheaper to house them for life? Firing squad is pretty cheap. Wouldn't it be better to execute those monsters? Especially since most probably have no remorse for their crimes.

It's strange how people can think abortion is a choice and the death penalty is murder.

peterkc countered:

The U.S. is the only developed country that still uses this barbaric system. We're horrified when rebels execute someone by beheading them, but we put people on 'death row' for years and then use torturous lethal injections to kill them -- how is that any better?

friendly_rationalist cited the inequality in sentencing and executions:

The death penalty has never been applied uniformly. As far back as Thomas Paine, he wrote, "Why is it that scarcely any are executed but the poor?" There's no take-backs once you kill someone. If you find new evidence, then what? States have killed innocent folks before. Don't repeat those mistakes.

Matt_PSU said:

For all intents and purposes, Pennsylvania does not execute anyone. Our appeals process is so endless that there are inmates who have been on death row longer than I've been alive. It actually costs more for the endless appeals than it does to just keep someone in prison for their entire life. The main reason I think we should keep the death penalty is that these animals in prison are already in for a life term, and then they kill another inmate. They know that there is literally no additional consequence to killing again.

bakerdude said the editorial view was nonsensical:

"Reasonable people support capital punishment," ET opinion staff? Sorry, you lost me at the third sentence. That is a nonsensical statement.

Gordie also differed with the editorial:

ET staff, you made a mistake in this statement. "Last week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for a national moratorium on lethal injection until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a suit brought by death row inmates in Oklahoma.

That's not his job, either."

Calling for common sense is not a job. It is common sense that anyone has a right to express. Till the Supreme Court rules and the nation comes up with a better means to execute, a stay on executions by anyone is the right course for a "so- called Christian" nation.

Fred1451 said:

The one advantage of having a death row, even if no one is ever executed, is we never have to worry about one of these monsters coming up for parole.

(source: Opinions;


Virginia bill shields companies producing lethal injection chemicals

Earlier this month, the Virginia state Senate passed legislation in a 23-14 vote that would make secret "all information relating to the execution process." This information would include the names of companies involved in producing, compounding, transporting and administering chemicals used in the state's lethal injection protocol. The proposed state law is currently being reviewed by the state House and prepared for a vote.

The legislation would mandate that anyone "engaged to compound ... manufacture or supply the materials ... for use in [an] execution," as well as "the name of the materials or components used to compound drug products for use in the execution," would be exempt from all requirements that the state reveal their identities under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the bill would hide all "names, residential or office addresses, residential or office telephone numbers, and social security numbers" of individuals involved in the administering of the lethal drugs.

The bill is similar to a number of legislative motions that have passed across the country, including in Ohio, where early last year death row inmate Dennis McGuire writhed in agony for nearly a half hour before succumbing to the effects of an experimental drug concoction.

Although a self-proclaimed opponent of the death penalty, Virginia's Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has been named as a "chief booster" of the bill, according to the Washington Post. Other supposed opponents of capital punishment have flocked to his side, demonstrating the complete lack of principled opposition to the death penalty within the political establishment.

Supporters of the legislation have attempted to present the action as a measure to ensure security for companies doing business with the state. Department of Corrections spokesperson Lisa Kinney implied that such measures were being taken due to the possibility that manufacturers of the lethal chemicals were in jeopardy from the public, citing fears of "harassment, threats, or danger."

"The death penalty exists in the commonwealth, and we're merely trying to ensure that those sentenced to death are able to have the choice of lethal injection," said Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran. "I continue to believe the majority of Virginians support the death penalty," he absurdly asserted, after having endorsed legislation that was enacted to protect executioners from public scrutiny.

Senate Minority leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, attempted to smear death penalty opponents by accusing them of engaging in a sadistic plot to make executions as painful as possible in order to bring more support to their movement. Claiming that it was in fact the opponents of capital punishment sought a return to the electric chair, he said their argument was that "if you make the death penalty too humane ... then people will think there's nothing wrong with the death penalty." He offered no evidence for this accusation.

The legislation comes as many states have had difficulty obtaining the drugs used to kill prisoners due in large part to a European Union ban on exporting drugs to be used in executions. Rather than ending the barbaric practice, states have sought out alternative methods, including untested drug combinations that often come from unregulated private sources, particularly compounding pharmacies that are only loosely regulated by state and federal authorities.

This has resulted in a number of grotesque execution scenes across the country, as inmates have been subjected to execution methods that violate the US Eighth Amendment clause barring cruel and unusual punishment. Virginia is also considering a bill that would authorize the use of the electric chair in cases where the necessary drugs are unobtainable, in addition to the law shielding companies from public accountability.

In January of 2014, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire with an untested two-drug cocktail after failing to procure the standard 3-drug combination. The result was a horrifying, 25-minute process in which McGuire went into convulsions and writhed in pain, shocking the witnesses and provoking international outrage.

Virginia was the site of the very 1st execution in the Colonial United States, and executed more people than any other state between 1608 and 1976, with a total of 1,277, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Since the reinstatement of capital punishment by the US Supreme Court in 1976, Virginia has executed 110 people, 2nd only to Texas.

According to Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the victims of Virginia's execution regime include more women, and the youngest prisoners, of any state. In one notorious 1998 case, a prosecutor successfully argued that DNA evidence that may have posthumously exonerated Joseph O'Dell should be destroyed, as he had already been executed and "it would be shouted from the rooftops that ... Virginia executed an innocent man."

(source: WSWS news)

GEORGIA----impending female execution

Parole Board hears clemency plea for Auburn woman slated for execution

The 5 gubernatorial appointees on Georgia's Board of Pardons and Paroles met Tuesday morning behind closed doors to hear pleas for and against granting clemency for the only woman on Georgia's death row.

They were to hear 21 witnesses plea for clemency on behalf of Kelly Gissendaner of Auburn, Ga., who is scheduled for execution Wednesday evening for the 1997 murder her husband Doug. She would be the 1st woman executed in Georgia since 1945.

The hearing's morning session was devoted to her supporters, while the afternoon session allows the victim's family and prosecutors to speak. Then the board members will vote by secret ballot with the agency's attorney, who will tally the decision probably in early evening. The board will not hear directly from her except through a videotape and interviews with agency staff.

Witnesses for the condemned include a son and daughter, prison chaplains, preachers, a former inmate and a retired prison lieutenant.

"We've reviewed all of the materials that have been given to us by her attorneys. We looked at all of the court documents from beginning to end, looked at all of the trial documents, all of the appeals all the way up as well," said Board Chairman Terry Barnard. "The board is quite capable, quite able this morning to take up this issue."

In the written application for clemency, Gissendaner acknowledged convincing her boyfriend to kill her husband and expressed remorse, even though during her trial she maintained her innocence. She also authorized attorneys to appeal her case, arguing that procedural violations kept her from getting a fair trial, but none of the courts agreed.

Officials at the prisons where she has been awaiting her execution submitted statements in her clemency application describing her as a sincere Christian whose maturity and nurturing act as a calming influence on younger inmates who call her Mamma Kelly.

"Most of the time, those ladies would listen to Kelly, and it certainly made the lives of my officers easier and safer," wrote Lt. Marian Williams, a retired corrections officer. "She would talk to them and get them calmed down. They almost always listened because Kelly had been a friend to them."

Penal experts note that long-time inmates typically mellow over the years as they reconcile themselves to their sentence, explaining the irony that many murderers become model prisoners after decades behind bars.

Prosecutors, who will make their case before the board in the afternoon session, said during the trial that Gissendaner hatched an elaborate plan for her boyfriend Greg Owen to kidnap the victim and fatally stab him on a deserted road. He then burned the victim's car while Gissendaner staged an alibi with friends. Owen confessed and testified against her, saying the idea of murder was hers and that she repeatedly dismissed his suggestions that she merely get a divorce. Owen received a life sentence.

(source: Athens Banner-Herald)


Georgia to execute its 1st female prisoner in 70 years

Not since Lena Baker, an African-American convicted of murder in Randolph County, has Georgia executed a woman. The state is scheduled to snap that 70-year streak on Wednesday.

Kelly Renee Gissendaner, 47, was convicted in a February 1997 murder plot that targeted her husband in suburban Atlanta.

Gissendaner was romantically involved with Gregory Owen and conspired with the 43-year-old to have her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, killed, according to court testimony. Owen wanted Kelly Gissendaner to file for a divorce, but she was concerned that her husband would "not leave her alone if she simply divorced him," court documents said.

The Gissendaners had already divorced once, in 1993, and they remarried in 1995.

Nightstick and hunting knife

Details of the crime, as laid out at trial and provided by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, are as follows:

Owen and Kelly Gissendaner planned the murder for months. On February 7, 1997, she dropped Owen off at her home, gave him a nightstick and hunting knife and went out dancing with girlfriends.

Douglas Gissendaner also spent the evening away from home, going to a church friend's house to work on cars. Owen lay in wait until he returned.

When Douglas Gissendaner came home around 11:30 p.m., Owen forced him by knifepoint into a car and drove him to a remote area of Gwinnett County.

There, Owen ordered his victim into the woods, took his watch and wallet to make it look like a robbery, hit him in the head with the nightstick and stabbed Douglas Gissendaner in the neck e8 to 10 times.

Kelly Gissendaner arrived just as the murder took place but did not immediately get out of her car. She later checked on her husband to make sure he was dead, then Owen followed her in Douglas Gissendaner's car to retrieve a can of kerosene that Kelly Gissendaner had left for him.

Owen set her husband's car on fire in an effort to hide evidence, and left the scene with Kelly Gissendaner.

Story unravels

Police discovered the burned-out automobile the morning after the murder but did not find the body. Authorities kicked off a search.

Kelly Gissendaner, meanwhile, went on local television appealing to the public for information on her husband's whereabouts.

Her and Owen's story started to unravel after a series of police interviews. On February 20, Douglas Gissendaner's face-down body was found about a mile from his car. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be knife wounds to the neck, but the medical examiner couldn't tell which strike killed Douglas Gissendaner because animals had devoured the skin and soft tissue on the right side of his neck.

On February 24, Owen confessed to the killing and implicated Kelly Gissendaner, who was arrested the next day and charged.

While in jail awaiting trial, Kelly Gissendaner grew angry when she heard Owen was to receive a 25-year sentence for his role in the murder. (Owen is serving life in prison at a facility in Washington state, according to Georgia Department of Corrections records).

She began writing letters to hire a 3rd person who would falsely confess to taking her to the crime scene at gunpoint.

She asked her cellmate, Laura McDuffie, to find someone willing to do the job for $10,000, and McDuffie turned Kelly Gissendaner's letters over to authorities via her attorney.

Clemency to be considered Tuesday

Kelly Gissendaner has exhausted all state and federal appeals, the attorney general said in a statement. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider a clemency request Tuesday.

Kelly Gissendaner is currently the only woman on Georgia's death row. She would be the 1st woman executed in the state since Baker in 1945. Only 15 women have been executed in the United States since 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(source: CNN)


1 convicted, 1 gets hung jury in trial over double murder at Jacksonville Golden Corral

A Jacksonville man was convicted Monday of murdering 2 brothers in a drug deal in a case which a 2nd suspect's trial ended in a hung jury.

George Paul Carter Jr., 22, faces life in prison following his 1st-degree murder convictions in the deaths of Andrew Bohannon, 24, and Matthew Bohannon, 19, in July 2013 in the parking lot of a Golden Corral on Normandy Boulevard near Interstate 295. He was also convicted of firearm possession by a felon.

The trial of co-defendant Avery Damon Wood, 21, was in the same courtroom but before a different jury. Wood's trial ended in a hung jury. No new trial date has been set.

The brothers were shot in the face when they went to sell marijuana to Carter, Wood and 2 others. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for Jallil Dequan Graves, 21, who they say pulled the trigger. He is awaiting trial.

The 4th man charged, Steven Bennett, 20, pleaded guilty to 2 counts of 2nd-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing.



Pinellas man accused murder describes how he did it

Craig Wall has already admitted killing his girlfriend, Laura Tate and their son Craig Wall Jr. in February 2010. Monday, he described in detail how he did it.

Wall waived his rights to a jury trial and has dismissed his attorneys. He is now representing himself in the sentencing phase of the trial. Wall has previously told the court and even detectives working the case that he wants the death penalty for his crimes.

Terry Lenamon, an attorney who works for the Florida Capital Resource Center asked the court for standing in the case to represent Wall's interests.

Wall reacted angrily.

"This is my case. This is my life. All choices are mine alone," said Wall.

During the testimony of the medical examiner, Wall challenged her findings, even arguing over the angle of the knife blade as it entered the victim's body.

Wall then proceeded to demonstrate his version of how the murder happened.

The victim's neighbors testified how they saw him on the night of the murder and heard the victim scream for help.

Grace Thompson told the court how frightened she was, and then how she heard the victim's last breaths as they waited for an ambulance.

"I just heard some gurgling noises from her throat. She didn't really move at all," said Thompson.

Wall faces the death penalty.

Without a jury, the decision will be left to Pinellas Judge Phillip Federico.

(source: WFLA news)


Man accused in death of wife, son insists on death penalty

Craig Wall is insisting on his own execution but he isn't making the penalty phase easy on the court.

Wall, 39, entered a no contest plea earlier this month in the 2010 deaths of his then-girlfriend Laura Taft and their infant son, Craig Wall, Jr. Wall has primarily been representing himself and is seeking the death penalty.

In court Monday, Wall said he wants to "captain his own ship" by putting on his own defense because he will be sitting in "Old Sparky" by himself, referring to the electric chair. Florida once used that method of execution but switched to lethal injection.

A representative from the Florida Capital Resource Center, a group that aims to provide aid to defendants facing the death penalty, filed a motion to delay proceedings so special counsel can be appointed to prepare mitigating factors in Wall's case.

Wall dismissed the offer of help. He accused the representative and others who involve themselves in his case as being "foaming at the mouth, rabid-dog liberals" who have attempted to hijack the court and don't think he can make his own decisions.

"This is my case. This is my life," Wall said. "All choices are mine alone to make."

Wall was arrested Feb. 14, 2010, for violating a domestic violence injunction filed by Taft. The arrest affidavit requested Wall be held without bail because he was a suspect in the death of the couple's son. Instead, Wall was granted $1,000 bond and released. 3 days later, authorities say, he stabbed Taft to death.

The infant had died as a result of aggravated child abuse while in Wall's care, Assistant State Attorney Kendall Davidson said.

Taft's death was cold, calculated and premeditated, and a stab wound through her heart means she would have been fully aware of her impending death at the time, Davidson said in court Monday.

Wall chose to use a knife in Taft's killing because it was personal, Davidson said.

Members of Taft's family were in the audience Monday, buttons pinned to their chests displaying a photo of Laura Taft and her son.

While Wall said repeatedly that he wants and deserves the death penalty, he questioned the truthfulness of several witnesses.

Circuit Judge Phillip Federico forced Wall to drop his line of questioning with a state witness who spent some time with Wall after his arrest. Wall asked the man if he liked to tell lies, called him a criminal and said the man's son was a heavy drug user.

"I'm not going to have that, I'm not doing it," Federico said before dismissing the witness.

Federico told Wall he had been getting away with behavior that would not be tolerated by a lawyer, such as offering testimony while questioning witnesses, telling them their version of events were untrue, and interrupting prosecutors and witnesses out of turn.

The pentlay phase of the proceedings is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.

(source: The Tampa Tribune)


Capital murder indictment issued in killing of popular Huntsville artist Wade Wharton

A Huntsville man has been indicted on charges of capital murder in the beating death of a well-regarded local artist.

Ervin Akeem Tolbert, 20, is charged in the January 2014 death of Wade Wharton, a popular Huntsville sculptor.

Wharton was killed outside his home on Nassau Drive near Triana Boulevard. Tolbert lived with his mother across the street from Wharton.

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Jay Town said the state is still deciding whether to pursue the death penalty for Tolbert.

"This was a brutal and senseless murder," Town said. "At this time the state is strongly considering pursuing a penalty of death against Mr. Tolbert due to the cruel and heinous nature of this homicide."

During Tolbert's preliminary hearing last March, a Huntsville Police Department investigator testified that Tolbert's mother said her son woke her up shortly before dawn on January 15 and told her he'd killed Wharton.

Investigator David Owens said Tolbert's mother, Anna Hainz, told her son to go to bed and he fell asleep on the couch. When it was quiet, she went across the street, found Wharton's body and called 911 around 6 a.m., Owens testified.

Town said Tolbert was indicted on 2 different charges, murder committed during a robbery and murder committed during a burglary.

Owens said the 76-year-old Wharton was found at bloody crime scene. Tolbert initially denied to police that he told his mother about killing Wharton, Owens testified.

"He told us he went over to Wharton's house to tell him to turn his country music down," Owens testified. "And they argued."

Owens said Tolbert said he recalled Wharton "grabbing at him" but he didn't recall pushing him down or what was used to hit Wharton.

Owens said Wharton was found on his back in his carport.

A bin or 2 of power tools, that Tolbert's mother said weren't there the night before, were found in the living room of the family's house and a box of shaving accessories was also found, Owens said. What appeared to be the lid for that box was found at Wharton's house, Owens testified.

Tolbert is represented by court-appointed attorneys Robert Tuten and Barry Abston.

Tuten today called the case a "sad situation for all involved."

With the indictments Tolbert's case now moves to Madison County Circuit Court. It is not clear when a trial date might be set.



Ohio Supreme Court delays execution of man who killed Twinsburg police officer in 2008

The Ohio Supreme Court has delayed the execution date of a Twinsburg man convicted of aggravated murder in the 2008 shooting death of police officer Joshua Miktarian.

In a decision released Monday morning, the high court issued a stay of Ashford Thompson's date of execution, which had been scheduled to be carried out April 5, 2017, until all of his state and post-conviction appeals are exhausted.

Thompson, 30, has an appeal for post-conviction relief pending in Summit County Common Pleas Court.

The appeal was filed early this month. It claims that Thompson had a serious personality disorder at the time of the crime and should have been given a psychological evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial before the capital proceedings began.

Thompson also raised several issues claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in his trial and the penalty phase of the proceedings in which he was sentenced to death.

Trial evidence and testimony showed that Thompson shot Miktarian 4 times in the head, at close range, after Thompson had been stopped for playing loud music in his car in the early hours of July 13, 2008.



Catholic nun to speak out death penalty at Ohio college

A Roman Catholic nun who's been a prominent death penalty opponent will speak at a southwest Ohio college this month.

The Feb. 26 lecture by Sister Helen Prejean at University of Dayton is among a series of events about the death penalty. The author of "Dead Man Walking" will have a book signing afterward. Her book was made into an Oscar-winning 1995 movie of the same name.

She also plans an open forum with university students and to have lunch with local religious leaders and select students.

Dayton Opera is putting on the opera version of the story, with Prejean to attend the Feb. 27 performance.

Ohio executions are on hold until 2016 while the state tries to find supplies of lethal injection drugs.

(source: Associated Press)


Prosecutor asks jury for death penalty verdict

Using Hager Church's own words during a police interrogation, a prosecutor told a jury this morning Hager Church deserves the death penalty for setting a fire that killed 2 people.

"I ain't killed her for no reasons except for it was something that I always wanted to do," Prosecutor Juergen Waldick quoted Church as saying during a police interrogation.

Church's lead attorney, Greg Meyers, asked the jury to spare Church's life. He reminded jurors of Church's childhood, which included alcohol use at a young age and reports of sexual abuse.

"Is that an excuse, is that a defense? Am I sitting here saying, 'Oh, it's OK to murder?' No, it's not OK. He has to be punished," Meyers said.

The same jury deciding Church's fate convicted Church earlier this month of 2 counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications and aggravated arson. All jurors must unanimously vote for the death penalty, or the panel must choose a life sentence.

Church already is serving a life sentence with no chance for release for a 2010 murder. The crime that is the subject of this trial is the killings of Massie "Tina" Flint, 45, and Rex Hall, 54, at a house on Pine Street on June 14, 2009. Church initially beat Flint in the head with a pipe wrench to try to kill her before setting the fire to try to cover the crime.

The fire originally was labeled accidental, until Church started telling other inmates in prison and eventually sent a letter and map of the crime scene to authorities.



Hardships claim more than 1/2 of 1st group of prospective jurors in King Phillip Amman Reu-El murder retrial----Trial tied to deaths of 2 women slain in 2003

More than 1/2 the 64 Shawnee County residents called to perhaps serve on the jury of a man charged in a capital slaying trial were excused or released on Monday.

All of the 34 who were excused or released were based on hardships, many of them tied to their jobs.

King Phillip Amman Reu-El, 42, of Topeka, is charged with capital murder in the Dec. 13, 2003, shooting deaths of Annette Roberson, 38, and Gloria A. Jones, 42. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Amman Reu-El formerly was known as Phillip Delbert Cheatham Jr.

On Monday morning, the 1st group of prospective jurors were questioned only about hardships they said they would suffer if they served on a jury trial lasting several weeks.

Several who were excused were part-time employees who aren't paid by their employers while serving on a jury.

One was a woman who said she and her husband, who is employed, would lose their home because they wouldn't be able to make their house payments.

Others were self-employed workers - a hair stylist, a dog groomer, and a house cleaner - who would be unable to work and wouldn't be paid while serving on a jury.

1 prospective juror, who was the fill-in worker for coworkers absent from work, was excused from jury duty.

Others were full-time employees whose employers don't pay them while serving on a jury, including a Topeka public school police officer.

Another was a retirement-age man suffering a number of health issues.

1 man with 2 children wouldn't be paid if he was serving on a jury. Yet another was a mother who must pick up her children at school each day in the afternoon. The pickup time would be before court is recessed each day.

Another was a woman who is caring for her ill father and working as a human resources employee for a company with numerous branches.

On Monday afternoon, the remaining 30 prospective jurors were to be questioned about their general suitability to serve.

Then each was to be questioned individually about his or her attitudes about the death penalty, exposure to news coverage of the case and if that could be set aside, the cost effectiveness of the death penalty, any religious bias tied to the death penalty, and any racial bias a prospective juror might have. Amman Reu-El is African-American.

3 more groups of prospective jurors remain to be examined. It appears jury selection will continue the rest of the week.

Amman Reu-El also is charged with 2 alternative counts of premeditated 1st-degree murder of Roberson and Jones; attempted 1st-degree murder of Annetta D. Thomas, who was shot multiple times; aggravated battery of Thomas and criminal possession of a firearm.

Amman Reu-El has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

A new trial was ordered for Amman Reu-El in 2013 after the Kansas Supreme Court overturned his 2005 capital murder conviction and death penalty sentence for the killings in a home at 2718 S.E. Colorado.

(source: Topeka Capital Journal)


Experimental Executions: State Lawmakers Consider Untested Gas Asphyxiation

After Oklahoma's troubled execution last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review the state's lethal injection procedures and postpone all scheduled executions.

Amid the legal scrutiny and difficulty in obtaining drugs for future lethal injections, some state lawmakers are discussing a new, completely experimental method of execution.

Experimental Executions

Right now Oklahoma has 3 ways to execute someone. If lethal injections don't work, the electric chair and a firing squad are backups. But those have proven to be unreliable and gruesome.

Back in September during an interim study, Republican Representative Mike Christian said he found a logical answer to the death penalty question.

"The solution that we've come up with is nitrogen hypoxia. One, it's practical. Two, it's efficient. Three, it's humane. And it's innovative," Christian says.

But this method, which replaces a person's available oxygen with nitrogen through a mask or gas chamber, is new, and that concerns Richard Dieter from the Death Penalty Information Center.

"The problem is it's never been tried," Dieter says. "We've never put anybody in a chamber with just nitrogen gas, with a glass view, and watched what happens."

What little we do know about nitrogen hypoxia comes from suicide research. The method is even recommended as a more pleasant form of suicide for those suffering from terminal illness.

"These are referred to medically as deaths by asphyxiation, but essentially it's suffocation," says Matthew Howard, a professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has studied inert gas asphyxiation.

While there's no way to know for sure what this feels like, Howard says there's no evidence of suffering.

"Although it can be disconcerting for people to watch because there can be some moaning. There can be some gasping, and other kinds of involuntary movements of limbs and things, which can be distressing to the people that are watching," he says.

But Howard says there could be a big difference between suicide and death row, where many inmates may be less eager to die.

"It probably would be effective, but I think it would be a hands-on, unpleasant way to put someone to death," Howard says. "You'd probably have to sedate them. You'd have to restrain them. You might have to hold them down while the gas was taking effect."

A 'Mask' or 'Bag'

Earlier this month, Representative Christian's introduced a bill to the House Judiciary Committee. It passed without debate, and a similar version authored by Republican Senator Anthony Sykes passed in the Senate. Neither Christian nor Sykes responded to multiple requests for interviews.

But in a recent committee hearing, there were a handful of questions the Oklahoma City lawmaker had to answer, like when Democrat Representative Richard Morrissette asked about the $350,000 cost for building a gas chamber.

"I think there was some misinformation when I said we'd have to construct some kind of death chamber," Christian says.

"But no, they can actually use the same room that's currently in existence. Some of the folks we're talking to that are actually working on a delivery system said it'd be some kind of mask or some kind of bag that would be placed around the subject's face or around the head."

1st Time for Everything

During the committee hearing, Christian argued the procedure's experimental nature wasn't a reason to avoid its adoption.

"We would be the 1st state if we did execute someone, but there was a point where somebody was executed by lethal injection for the 1st time too."

Richard Dieter from the Death Penalty Information Center urges caution. He says using an untried gas is eerily similar to using an untried drug like the state did last year during Clayton Lockett's execution.

"It's an experiment, and maybe it won't go well. That's part of the problem Oklahoma got into with introducing a new drug. They didn't really know the potency that was needed, how long it would take, and that's why the Supreme Court is looking into what Oklahoma has done," Dieter says.

It's early in the 2015 legislative session, and the bill could be tweaked before reaching the floor. The current language proposes nitrogen hypoxia as a backup, but last fall, Representative Christian suggested it could become the primary method this year.

Richard Dieter says it's not that easy though. When the Supreme Court decided to review the state's execution methods, justices said the state's last experiment could've resulted in cruel and unusual punishment, and it's unclear whether using nitrogen gas could fall into that same category.

(source: KGOU news)


House deadlocks on bill to abolish death penalty in Montana

The state House deadlocked Monday 50-50 on a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana, likely killing the measure for the 2015 Legislature.

Rep. David "Doc" Moore, R-Missoula, the sponsor of House Bill 370, told members to "just vote your conscience" moments before the vote.

He said later he's undecided whether to ask the House on Tuesday to reconsider its action on HB 370, saying it could be difficult to pick up a single, additional vote to force another emotional debate and vote on the floor.

Monday's vote fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans against it - but it took 3 of the House's 41 Democrats voting "no" to reject the bill, which would abolish the death penalty in Montana and substitute it with life in prison without parole. Montana has 2 murderers on death row.

The vote also marked the closest that death-penalty opponents have come to getting a bill through the Montana House, which has blocked similar efforts for years. Bills to abolish the death penalty have been approved by the state Senate in recent legislatures, only to see them die in the House.

Supporters of the bill argued the death penalty does not act as a deterrent and costs the states millions of dollars on appeals and other prosecutorial costs.

Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, also said state prison workers shouldn't be put in the position of having to operate "the machineries of death."

"It is a ravaging, horrifying task to put in the hands of our state employees," she said.

1 longtime supporter of abolishing the death penalty, Rep. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls, spoke as though he thought supporters had the votes to pass HB 370 on Monday.

"This is an historic moment in the Montana House of Representative," he said. "It has never voted to abolish the death penalty on 2nd reading. This is a momentous moment and we are on the cusp of history. ...

"It is time for Montana to take her rightful place as a leader among all the great states of the union ... and time to be recognized as a leader on the world stage."

Opponents, however, offered their own emotion-charged testimony against the measure, saying the death penalty can help prosecutors extract plea-bargains out of terrible criminals and spare both the state and the victims' families the financial and emotional cost of a trial.

"How can you put a price on my emotions and what I was going through with my family?" asked Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, whose son was brutally murdered a dozen years ago. "All this bill does is reward the murderer, handicap the prosecutor ... and penalize victims like me."

Rep. Roy Hollandsworth, R-Brady, who opposed the bill, said those who want to abolish the death penalty should take it to the Montana public as a referendum - but they won't, because they know they would lose.

The public overwhelmingly supports the death penalty, he said.

"When you vote for this, whichever way you vote, I hope that the people ... remember in November when you run again," he said.

The 3 Democrats voting against the measure were Reps. Tom Jacobson and Bob Mehlhoff of Great Falls and Gordon Pierson of Deer Lodge.

(source: The Missoulian)


Bill to abolish death penalty in Montana fails after tie vote

A bill to end Montana's death penalty stalled Monday with a tie vote in the House.

House Bill 370, sponsored by Missoula Rep. Doc Moore (R), would have replaced the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

The House voted 50-50, defeating it.

Roundup Rep. Tom Berry (R) described his feelings about the murder of his son.

"Now you put him in prison without parole, why won't he kill again? A prison guard, another prisoner. It happens, people. All this bill does is reward their murderer," Berry said. "Handicap the prosecution and victimize, penalize victims like me."

The tie vote could be reconsidered if 51 representatives vote to do so.

Montana remains 1 of 32 states who use the death penalty in the United States.

(source: KXLF news)


Bad news for Ronald Smith? Montana bill to abolish death penalty fails

A bill to abolish Montana's death penalty was scuttled by a tie vote Monday in the lower house of the state legislature.

The proposed law could have affected the fate of Canadian Ronald Smith, 57, 1 of 2 individuals on death row in Montana.

Republican Rep. David Moore introduced the bill which would have abolished executions and replaced them with a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

The judiciary committee in the lower house of Montana's two-tier legislature stalled bills to abolish the death penalty in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. But last week it decided to allow this bill to be voted on by the House of Representatives.

Moore, who was optimistic that the proposed legislation would pass, said that a tie vote means the bill has failed.

"It's disappointing to get this far and to have it end in a tie and probably not for the right reasons," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"There was some passionate discussion on the house floor, but I think the reason is we had some people more worried about November elections than doing the right thing.

"I feel like I've let my northern neighbours down."

That means the matter will go on the backburner for at least 24 months since the Montana legislature only sits every 2 years.

Moore expects the issue will be back for public debate and he is hopeful of a different outcome.

"I would imagine it will come back again next session. I don't think this ends it."

Smith, who is originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been on death row since 1983 for fatally shooting 2 cousins while he was high on drugs and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and spend the rest of his life in prison. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty. He asked for and was given a death sentence.

Smith had a change of heart and has been on a legal roller-coaster for decades. An execution date has been set 5 times and each time the order was overturned.

Moore had indicated that bringing forward the legislation wasn't about seeking leniency for death-row convicts, but about eliminating the costs of protracted legal wrangling in a death-penalty case.

Ron Waterman, a senior lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Association, testified before the judiciary committee that the death penalty is flawed and there is the risk of executing an innocent person.

He said costs also mitigate the benefits the death penalty gives a prosecutor trying to negotiate a plea bargain.

Waterman is overseeing a civil case on behalf of Smith and another death-row inmate, William Jay Gollehon.

A hearing is scheduled for July on whether new drugs being proposed by the state comply with language in execution protocol requiring an "ultra-fast-acting barbiturate."

(source: Times Colonist)


Nevada death penalty costs reflect U.S. trends

When Nevada lawmakers were informed in November that death penalty cases in the state cost $532,000 more on average than other murder cases from arrest through the end of incarceration, the findings were consistent with other studies pushed by anti-death penalty advocates. The financial hit taken by taxpayers has become 1 of the central arguments death penalty foes have used in recent years in an effort to have states overturn that form of punishment.

A search of the Internet turns up little in the way of arguments that refute the cost studies, even though the majority of states have death penalty laws that continue to be defended by victims' rights organizations.

There are 18 states without the death penalty. Michigan has been on that list the longest, having been without a death penalty since 1846, while Maryland was last to join this group in 2013.

Nevada is among the other 32 states with the death penalty, with April 2006 being the last time the punishment was applied in this state. That's when lethal injection was used on Daryl Mack, a 47-year-old inmate who initially was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1994 strangulation death of one woman in northern Nevada. He was then given the death penalty when he was later convicted while in prison for the 1988 murder of another woman in Reno.

The report from Nevada's Legislative Auditor based its cost estimates by sampling 28 cases. Cases where the defendant was sentenced to death but not executed averaged $1,307,000, compared to $1,202,000 where prosecutors sought the death penalty but didn't get one, $1,032,000 when execution occurred, and $775,000 when the death penalty wasn't sought by prosecutors.

"Case costs, incorporating the trial and appeal phases, averaged about 3 times more for death penalty versus non-death penalty cases," the report concluded.

"For incarceration costs, the death penalty is the most expensive sentence for those convicted of 1st degree murder, but only slightly higher when compared to those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Costs for these 2 sentences largely mirror one another because incarceration periods are similar considering 'involuntary' executions are extremely infrequent."

The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that opposes the death penalty, posted on its website the Nevada report and similar studies from other states. Among the other findings:

--A Seattle University study released in January found that death penalty cases in Washington state cost $1 million more on average than similar cases where the death penalty wasn't sought.

--A 2014 report from the Kansas Legislature's Judicial Council concluded that defending a death penalty case in that state costs 4 times as much as defending a case where the death penalty isn't pursued.

--The Idaho Legislature's Office of Performance Evaluations reported last year that the State Appellate Public Defenders office spent almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant.

--A study published in the University of Denver Criminal Law Review in 2013 found that capital proceedings in Colorado require 6 times more days in court and take much longer to resolve than life without parole cases.

--The Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review published a study in 2011 concluding that if the governor of California commuted the sentences of death row inmates to life without parole, the state would save $170 million a year and $5 billion over the next 20 years.

The nonprofit website of Santa Monica, Calif., which strives to promote critical thinking by providing pro and con arguments on dozens of controversial topics, posed the question of whether the death penalty costs less than life in prison without parole. The vast majority of respondents said they believed death penalty cases cost far more than those involving life in prison without parole.

One of the few respondents in the minority was Tennessee lawyer Chris Clem, who was quoted by the website as saying: "Executions do not have to cost that much. We could hang them and reuse the rope. No cost! Or we could use firing squads and ask for volunteer firing squad members who would provide their own guns and ammunition. Again, no cost."

Florida attorney Gary Beatty, in a 1997 article posted on the website of the conservative/libertarian Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., stated:

"The overwhelming majority of citizens of Florida, as in the rest of the nation, support the death penalty. To claim that when citizens are educated about the high fiscal cost of administering the death penalty they always opt for life imprisonment is intellectually dishonest. If the multiple layers of appeal are pursued in an ethical and fiscally responsible manner, execution is less costly than warehousing a murderer for life. Any increased cost is caused by death penalty opponents."


Delays normal in death penalty cases

2 years have passed since a shooting on the Las Vegas Strip led to a fiery crash and the deaths of 3 people.

The man accused of those murders, Ammar Harris, still has not been brought to trial. An old adage says justice delayed is justice denied but it's also true the wheels of justice turn slowly.

As the I-Team learned, the reasons for that aren't always foot-dragging or delay tactics.

It was in February 2013 when reputed pimp Kenneth Cherry was shot in his Maserati as he drove away from the Aria resort. The mortally wounded Cherry crashed his car into a taxicab, causing an explosion that killed cabbie Michael Bolden and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund.

Since Harris was arrested the trial date in the death penalty case has moved three times and is now scheduled for July.

Bolden's brother, Tehran Bolden, worries about the toll the case continues to take on his 93-year-old mother.

"That's the justice system," Tehran Bolden told the I-Team. "It's been 2 years. My mother's aged 10 years in 2."

But he remains philosophical about the time it is taking for justice to prevail.

"Well, you can't blame anyone for dragging it out," he said. "I've already went through the blame game."

He said if anyone is to blame, it's Harris, who has already been prosecuted and convicted of 2 other felonies while awaiting trial in the triple murder case. The convictions were for a sexual assault prior to the carnage on the Strip, and for bribing a prison guard while serving time for the other offense.

"It's been my experience in the state of Nevada that a capital case rarely goes to trial inside of 2 years of the date that the person is arrested or taken into custody on the offenses," Clark County prosecutor David Stanton said.

Nevada death penalty costs reflect U.S. trends

A study released to the Nevada Legislature in November showed that the average death penalty case in the state takes more than 1,200 days, or 3 1/2 years, to complete. But if Harris goes to trial in July, it will have been roughly 2 1/2 years from the time of the crime.

Stanton: "And, so, the length of time is actually fairly quick compared to other cases."

I-Team: "But you haven't seen any foot-dragging tactics or delays on the other side?"

Stanton: "No. Not by defense counsel, and certainly not by the court."

The legislative study indicated death penalty cases routinely take more than a year longer to bring to trial than other murder cases. The chief reason is that death penalty cases involve both the guilt phase and the penalty phase.

Prosecutors can use during the penalty phase evidence of other bad acts or crimes they cannot use in the guilt phase.

"And they have to go through a painstaking and detailed investigation of Mr. Harris and his background and the incidences that the state is going to bring forward -- and, so, that takes time," Stanton said.

Less than 2 months ago, detectives finally were able to interview a former female associate of Harris. She told police a tale of mental and physical abuse by Harris that may be used at the penalty hearing. So police are making progress, even as victims' families wait for justice.

"People talk about closure and I don't think we'll ever have closure but you know, you get some sense of gratification to know that this part is over with," Tehran Bolden said.

Though it may seem these cases move at a glacial pace, statistics show it's not unusual for a capital case to take several years to get to trial. Witnesses' memories can fade and evidence can grow stale while waiting for trial, but police also can use the time to develop new information.

That's what has occurred in this case.

(source for both: KLAS TV news)


Suspect in shooting death of Tammy Meyers appears in court

The 19-year-old man accused of shooting a valley mother in an apparent road rage incident appeared in court for the 1st time on Monday morning.

It was a packed courtroom as Erich Nowsch was brought into the courtroom to face the judge. He is facing charges of open murder, attempted murder and discharging a gun.

The judge set Nowsch's preliminary hearing for March 10 at 9 a.m.

Nowsch is accused of shooting Tammy Meyers outside of her family's home on Mt. Shasta Circle on February 12, after what the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department initially said was a road rage incident. Nowsch was arrested at his home near Meyers' house after a 2-hour standoff on February 19.

Las Vegas police are still looking for another suspect in the case. Outside of the courtroom on Monday, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said that it is imperative the other suspect is found.

When asked if he will seek the death penalty for Nowsch, he replied: "Nothing is off the table."

Robert Meyers, who was married to Tammy Meyers, was inside the courtroom. When he left the courtroom, he told Action News he plans to be at every one of Nowsch's scheduled appearances.

Nowsch's attorney, Conrad Claus, said he is not ready to speak to the media just about his client.


Mom Forgives, DA Withdraws Death Penalty in Vegas Slaying

A family's forgiveness prompted a dramatic turnaround in a Las Vegas courtroom, where a judge agreed to let prosecutors withdraw a call for the death penalty for a man found guilty in a 2011 Las Vegas brew pub slaying.

Brandon Hill apologized Monday to victim Michael Portaro's mother, Cynthia Portaro, and she stood and asked Clark County District Court Judge Elissa Cadish to spare Hill's life.

Portaro and Hill family members embraced outside court.

Cynthia Portaro told reporters she's relieved because good Christians can't live with hatred, animosity and anger.

The 26-year-old Hill was convicted Friday and still faces life in prison at sentencing April 16.

Michael Portaro was a 22-year-old aspiring musician when he was shot dead during a robbery outside Tenaya Creek brew pub in northwest Las Vegas.

(source for both: KTNV news)


Jodi Arias trial: 'Death penalty or life in prison' closing arguments

The Jodi Arias sentencing retrial resumes Tuesday, as lawyers make closing arguments on whether the convicted murderer should receive life in prison or be executed for the 2008 killing of her former boyfriend.

Lawyers in the Jodi Arias sentencing retrial are scheduled to make closing arguments Tuesday on whether the convicted murderer should receive life in prison or be executed for the 2008 killing of her former boyfriend.

Arias was convicted in 2013 of murdering Travis Alexander, but jurors deadlocked on her sentence. A new jury that has been hearing testimony over the last 4 months will decide only her punishment.

Prosecutors said Arias attacked Alexander in a jealous rage after he wanted to end their affair and planned a trip to Mexico with another woman. Arias has acknowledged killing Alexander but claimed it was self-defense after he attacked her.

The retrial revealed few new details about the crime and was more subdued than Arias' 1st trial, which turned into a media circus as salacious and violent details about Arias and Alexander were broadcast live around the world. At the retrial, the judge barred the broadcast of footage from the proceedings until after a verdict is reached.

The new penalty phase also was marked by a judge's decision to kick the public out of the courtroom for the testimony of a then-unspecified witness, who cited personal safety concerns about testifying in a public setting.

An appeals court later overturned Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens' move to close the courtroom and revealed that the witness was Arias herself. Her testimony was halted before the prosecutor got a chance to question her, although he did so at her 2013 trial.

A transcript of her testimony in late October was eventually released, revealing few new details about Alexander's killing.

Arias passed up a chance Monday to address the jury, saying she wanted to make such comments but insisting the courtroom be cleared. She said she wouldn't make any remarks if she could be seen and heard from a remote viewing room. Stephens said an appeals court has forbidden Arias from making such comments behind closed doors.

Earlier in the retrial, the judge denied a bid by Arias' lawyers to stop prosecutors from seeking the death penalty on several grounds.

They alleged authorities examining Alexander's laptop destroyed thousands of files - including files from pornographic websites - that would have been beneficial in defending Arias. They said the computer files could have helped them argue that Alexander had treated their client in a sexually humiliating manner.

Arias' lawyers also asked the judge to dismiss the death penalty because three witnesses on her behalf have refused to testify in open court for fear they will be harassed.

(source: Associated Press)


The death penalty in California: Yes, no, maybe?----The state seems to lack the will to carry out executions that were twice endorsed by voters; will that change?

California has a death penalty on the books. Both the California constitution and the United States constitution specifically recognize capital punishment. Yet somehow California seems unable to actually execute anyone even though Texas, Florida and other states, which operate under the same federal constitution, manage to execute condemned prisoners with some regularity. Why is that so?

Let's look at the current Dramatis Personae. They are Jerry Brown, Kamala Harris, Kermit Alexander, Bradley Winchell, Jeremy Fogel and Shellyanne Chang.

Jerry Brown is the Governor of the formerly great state of California. He is in his fourth term (non-consecutive) in office. He was well known as a young man and Jesuit seminary student when he attempted to intercede with his father, who was at the time Governor, in the matter of Caryl Chessman. Chessman was on death row for kidnap-rape, which at the time was a capital offense. Chessman was eventually executed under his father's administration.

Jerry Brown has regularly said he has a personal objection to the death penalty, but would act in accordance with the law.

Kamala Harris is the state Attorney General. She was formerly the District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco. She was well-known for saying up front that, during her tenure in office, if elected, there would not be a death penalty prosecution in her bailiwick. She was, as far as it went, an honest politician. She caught heat from the SFPD when she refused a death penalty prosecution for a cop killer. Of course it didn't matter in the knee-jerk liberal haven of San Francisco; most of the voters applauded her for it. When she ran for A.G. she stated that she would enforce the law on the books.

There are now over 700 criminals on death row. One might almost think that Jerry and Kamala were slow-dragging the process of bringing California's death penalty into line with court orders.

Kermit Alexander and Bradley Winchell are private citizens. They have generated a legal action against the State of California to compel the state to bring its procedure into line and start executing condemned prisoners. Both men are related to murder victims whose killers have been caught, tried and sentenced. Kamala Harris submitted a brief in the case opposing their action on the basis of lack of standing. On February 9, 2015, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shellyanne Chang ruled in favor of Alexander and Winchell.

U. S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel, an in interesting interpretation of "cruel and unusual," has ruled that if there is even 0.001 % chance that a prisoner would experience pain during the execution that procedure is not constitutionally valid. He stayed the execution of Michael Morales, who raped, beat with a hammer, stabbed and strangled Teri Winchell, 17, sister to Bradley Winchell.

So, what will shake out? Within my memory California voters have twice endorsed the death penalty by referendum. Yet the state, or at least the state's political leaders, seem to lack the will to carry through. Is that likely to change in the near future? In my humble opinion, no.

Our political ruling class will continue to obfuscate slow-drag and use a cooperative court system and media to drag the system out and out and out ad infinitum, in the hopes the system collapses under its own weight.



Man Tied to Beaumont Crime Faces Death Sentence in Trial of Home-Invasions-Turned-Fatal----He's accused of crimes which began in 2004 in Desert Hot Springs, Thousand Palms, North Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Beaumont.

Opening statements are scheduled in the death- penalty trial of a 34-year-old Desert Hot Springs man accused of involvement in a violent spree of home-invasion robberies across and near the Coachella Valley, culminating in the driveway shooting death of a Desert Hot Springs man in August 2004.

Miguel Enrique Felix faces 25 charges, including murder, robbery, attempted robbery, burglary, kidnapping and a variety of firearms charges, stemming from the crimes, which occurred from the summer of 2004 until the spring of 2005, in Desert Hot Springs, Thousand Palms, North Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Beaumont and unincorporated county areas.

The opening statements Monday are at the Larson Justice Center will be followed by the prosecution's 1st witnesses.

Authorities have said Felix was 1 of several men who grabbed victim after victim as they were at or near their homes, forced them inside at gunpoint, then tied them up with zip ties, pistol-whipped and beat them, and ransacked their homes in search of money or valuables.

In some cases, victims were kidnapped and taken to automatic teller machines or other locations to obtain money, while their children or other relatives were held at gunpoint by accomplices, prosecutors said in court documents.

On August 11, 2004, Felix and an accomplice, Javier Rodriguez Hernandez, who has remained at large for more than a decade, went to a home in Desert Hot Springs to rob Armando Gonzalez, prosecutors said.

Felix and Hernandez allegedly confronted Gonzalez as he was backing out of his driveway, with his wife and children in the vehicle.

The men pulled him out of the truck at gunpoint, but the wife and kids were able to flee to a neighbors house, authorities said.

Gonzalez resisted and was shot 7 times, some of the bullets traveling through the palms of his hands in an indication of defensive wounds, prosecutors said.

Felix is also accused of kidnapping his own girlfriend at gunpoint in March 2005.

Also charged for involvement in various parts of the crime spree were Hernandez, Antonio Jesus Cantu, and Felix's girlfriend, Luisa Beatriz Lopez.



Crookston nuns devoted to blocking death penalty for Rodriguez

A small group of Catholic nuns who live in the hometown of convicted killer Alfonso Rodriguez is on a mission to save his life.

Sister Pat Murphy is one of about a dozen members of the Congregation of St. Joseph in Crookston. Without recognition or fanfare, the nuns have been devoting their lives to overturning capital punishment.

Sister Pat has been focusing on Rodriguez, who is on death row for the kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin. "We have laws against premeditated murder" according to Sister Pat. "Capital punishment is premediated - and it's murder."

Sister Pat knows that many people would rather see Rodriguez executed. "I know there are people here in Crookston who know Alfonso Rodriguez", she said. "I was in one of the local restaurants during the time (Sjodin) was still being looked for. Her parents were there in the restaurant; easy to identify. Just those little connections kept my antennae up."

"It's a risk for me because I've never stepped out and spoken publicly on issues like this, and I know (my views) are unpopular. Even within my own family, they won't understand it."

Sister Pat has written letters to the U.S. Dept. of Justice and U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson, who presided over Rodriguez's trial in Fargo. She received a reply from the warden of the federal prison in Indiana where Rodriguez is on death row. The warden referred her questions to Rodriguez's attorneys.

Sister Pat says she's realistic about what kind of impact the Congregation's work can have. She doesn't expect to change the entire justice system, but says she hopes to make a difference close to home.

(source: KFGO news)


A cause for optimism? States running out of ways to execute people

To borrow a speculative construct from pacifists about the fate of war should soldiers refuse to fight them, what would happen to lethal injections if pharmaceutical firms simply stopped selling execution drugs to prisons?.

We may find out. One of the U.S. manufacturers of midazolam, used by several states in multi-drug lethal injection protocols, says it won't sell the drug if it knows it will be used to execute someone.

Akorn Pharmaceuticals found itself dragged into an Alabama court record when the Illinois firm was listed in papers filed in connection with appeals by condemned murderer Thomas Arthur, who is challenging the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection protocol. The company said it has no record of its drug being sold to Alabama prisons, and objected to its inclusion in the court filing.

"To prevent the use of our products in capital punishment, Akorn will not sell any product directly to any prison or other correctional institution and we will restrict the sale of known components of lethal injection protocols to a select group of wholesalers who agree to use their best efforts to keep these products out of correctional institutions," Akorn investor relations director Dewey Steadman told the Anniston Star last week.

Remember, it was a revolt by (mostly) European-based pharmaceutical companies that made the executioners' drug of choice, sodium thiopental, nearly impossible to find. States have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are lightly regulated labs that primarily tailor drugs for individual patients, as an alternative source, but now some of those labs are balking at playing a role in capital punishment. And states are enacting laws making it a crime to identify sources of execution drugs, or those who take part. So in the name of justice we are moving closer to secretive executions.

Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a legal challenge to the use of midazolam in lethal injection protocols, a challenge based on a record of botched executions and that raises questions - again - about the nature of capital punishment.

I've argued before that the death penalty is an immoral act by the government, and that it is applied unfairly and arbitrarily, is an expensive system to maintain, and that it serves no purpose other than revenge. It is not justice.

Pharmaceutical companies don't want to be connected with it. The American Medical Assn. warns that "as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, [physicians] should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution." The American Public Health Assn. similarly tells members not to take part in executions. And the list goes on.

Of course, death-penalty states and proponents of executions will press for new ways of killing people, be it fresh drug cocktails or a reversion to the firing squad.

Let's hope that sanity, and civility, will take root, and the United States of America - the international beacon of justice - will end this despicable policy once and for all.

(source: Opinion, Scott Martelle----Los Angeles Times)


Aurora theater shooting trial judge adds to jury pool over defense objections----In addition to the two jurors who have previously served on a jury, Samour selected a woman who works as a special education teacher and a man who described himself in court as a "small town guy."

5 jurors in the Aurora theater shooting trial were sent to the group questioning phase Monday while another 6 were released from service.

The 5 jurors moving to the next round - which include 2 who have been jurors before - bring the total over 22 days of jury selection to 32, still far ahead of the pace Judge Carlos Samour Jr. had hoped for. Samour expected the court to need about 16 weeks of individual questioning to get the necessary 120 jurors for the next round. After just 2 weeks, the 2 sides already have a quarter of that number.

Among the jurors released Monday, 2 said they could never hand down a death sentence. 1 person worked at the mall adjacent to the theater and 3 said serving would be a financial hardship.

In addition to the 2 jurors who have previously served on a jury, Samour selected a woman who works as a special education teacher and a man who described himself in court as a "small town guy."

Samour also selected a young man over the defense's objection. The defense said the man seemed to view the death penalty as a starting point for a heinous crime, but Samour questioned the man a 2nd time and said the man was willing to consider life in prison or a death sentence.

Accused gunman James Holmes sat quietly at the defense table wearing a blue sweater.

Monday's hearing marked the 1st since Samour last week changed decided to call 11 jurors each day instead of 12. Samour had said he hoped the new system would mean court ended a bit earlier, but Monday's session stretched past 6 p.m. anyway.

Prosecutors also asked Samour to release a juror who had previously been sent to the next round. The juror, whio has a criminal record, was previously questioned and the 2 Samour sent him to the group questioning phase. Deputy District Attorney Rich Orman said the man recently called the DA's office and spoke to another prosecutor.

Orman said the man should be released, but Holmes' defense team said they "strongly object" to the man's dismissal.

What exactly the man said and whether he was released was unclear. Samour closed the courtroom to the public while the 2 sides discussed the man's phone call and adjourned court for the day before reopening the courtroom to the public and press.

Court is in recess until Tuesday morning.

(source: Aurora Sentinel)


Pakistan captures militant linked to Peshawar school assault

The Pakistani military has arrested a man suspected of taking part in December's attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar.

The army claim that Taj Muhammad was one of the commanders behind the Taliban assault.

The army is still searching for other militants linked to the attack, in which at least 150 people were killed, including 133 children.

All of the gunmen who stormed the school are believed to be dead.

Taj Muhammed was captured in a camp for internally displaced people in the Pawaka area of Peshawar.

Pakistani authorities believe 27 militants were involved in the attack. Nine gunmen were killed during the siege and several others linked to the attack have been captured.

The detainees could be brought before military courts and face the death penalty if convicted of terrorism.

Following the massacre, security has been stepped up in the region, with teachers now allowed to carry guns.

The group of attackers cut through a wire fence at Peshawar's Army School on 16 December before launching an attack on an auditorium where children were taking a lesson in first aid.

The gunmen, who were wearing bomb vests, then went from room to room shooting pupils and teachers in a siege that lasted eight hours.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban loyal to Mullah Fazlullah said they carried out the attack in revenge for the army's offensive against them in North Waziristan.

(source: BBC news)


Saudi court gives death penalty to man who renounced Muslim faith

Saudi Arabia, the United States' top Arab ally and birthplace of Islam, follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni Muslim school and gives the ulama control over its justice system.

An Islamic court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to death for renouncing his Muslim faith, the English-language daily Saudi Gazette reported on Tuesday.

The man, in his 20s, posted an online video ripping up a copy of Islam's holy book, the Quran, and hitting it with a shoe, the newspaper reported.

Saudi Arabia, the United States' top Arab ally and birthplace of Islam, follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni Muslim school and gives the ulama control over its justice system.

Under the Wahhabi interpretation of Syariah Islamic law, apostasy demands the death penalty, as do some other religious offences like sorcery, while blasphemy and criticism of senior Muslim ulama have incurred jail terms and corporal punishment.

Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually carried out by public beheading.

International rights groups say the Saudi justice system suffers from a lack of transparency and due process, that defendants are often denied basic rights such as legal representation and that sentencing can be arbitrary.

The Saudi government has taken some steps to reform its judicial system but has also defended it as fair.

Last year a court in Jeddah sentenced Saudi liberal Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for publishing criticism of the kingdom's ruling religious and political elite and calling for reforms in Islam.

The 1st of 50 of those lashes were carried out in January, but subsequent rounds of flogging have not occurred.

Officials have not publicly commented on the case, but insiders say the lashing appears to have been quietly dropped.

(source: The Rakyat Post)


Museveni wants death penalty for murderers

President Yoweri Museveni has asked judges to sentence murderers to death.

Opening the 17th Judges' Conference at Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe on Monday, Museveni said judges are unnecessarily lenient with murderers and that the lighter sentences given to killers are eroding the already suffering public confidence in the judiciary.

The President cited key suspects in the recent killings of a Muslim leader Sheikh Abdu Kadir Muwaya in Mayuge district and Tito Okware, an NRM leader in Namayingo district who were apprehended by the police after completing investigations, but were granted bail by courts.

"Those people who willfully kill others should be sentenced to death and hanged under the law. In Mayuge and Namayingo, people were fighting after the key suspects were hurriedly released," he added.

Museveni noted that releasing murder suspects before spending at least 180 days on remand may force the population to turn "extra-judicial actions".

"What's the hurry for? Do you want some of us to turn to extra-judicial actions?" the President asked.

He asked the judges to supervise and guide magistrates who handle petty thieves with kid gloves. Museveni explained that in many villages petty thieves have stolen livestock distributed to the population under the National Agricultural Advisory Services, but they have been treated with kid gloves.

"There is a very big problem in the villages. The thieves are stealing people's pigs and the police are giving them bond. The police and judiciary are empowering these parasites and some farmers have told me they have given up," Museveni added.

Commenting on the conference's theme; the role of the judiciary in accelerating the transformation of Uganda's economy, Museveni noted that there's ideological difference between the executive and the judiciary.

"The judiciary ought to play a role in protecting life and property and without doing this we cannot have transformation," he added.

He asked the judiciary to help him to protect life, property, freedom, stability, morality and governance of the society in line with the constitution.

The President noted that the police and judiciary have not taken the question of law and order seriously by punishing criminals leniently yet the 2 issues are very critical to development of any country.

According to official prisons records, the last time convicts were killed by hanging in Uganda under NRM government was in 1999 when 29 death row inmates were executed. 14 convicts had been killed earlier. Originally, it was mandatory for anyone convicted of a capital offence to be sentence to death.

However, the 2009 Supreme Court ruling on the Constitutional Court petition by Susan Kigula and 417 death row convicts left it to the discretion of the trial judge to hand down a death sentence or not after considering circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence.

The acting Chief Justice, Steven Kavuma, commended the government's efforts to increase the number of judicial officers, but said the number of judges at the Supreme court need to be raised from 8 to 88, from 12 to 32 at the Court Appeal, from 49 to 82 at the High Court and an extra 40 magistrates and 50 grade one magistrates.

"We want to make the Court of Appeal more visible upcountry," he added. Kavuma said the judiciary wants to play a role to play in the achievement of Vision 2040 by being efficient, reducing the cost of accessing justice and deepening access to justice.

Vision 2040, which is the government's long term plan seeks to transform the country from a peasantry state to a prosperous country by 2040, provides that the judiciary will be strengthened to make it more independent, proactive and responsive to the needs of the consumers of its services.

(source: New Vision)


'We wanted death penalty'

The prosecution has expressed its frustration over the life-term sentence handed to fugitive Jatiya Party leader Abdul Jabbar for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.

"We will have to respect the court's decision, but we were expecting a death sentence," Prosecutor Jahid Imam said after the verdict on Tuesday.

Bangladesh's 1st war crimes tribunal, headed by Justice Enayetur Rahim, delivered the verdict against Pirojpur's Mathbarhia Razakar militia leader Abdul Jabbar, who became a member of Parliament in independent Bangladesh.

The prosecution proved all the 5 charges brought against Jabbar beyond doubt, the 3-member tribunal said. It added that they were sentencing Jabbar to life in prison taking his age into consideration.

The verdict detailed how the former Muslim League leader collaborated with the Pakistan occupation army and carried out murders, genocide, loot, arson, forced Hindus to convert to Islam and forced many of them to leave the country from Mathbarhia during the Liberation War.

Jabbar's verdict is the 4th to be delivered in absentia. He was handed life-terms on four charges and 20-year prison-term along with a Tk 10 lakh fine on 1 charge.

Prosecutor Turin Afroze said, "We have got 2 types of judgements. The court had earlier said age cannot be considered in case of such crimes.

"But the court gave its verdict taking into consideration the age of the accused. Earlier, Ghulam Azam was handed a life-term on the same ground."

State-appointed defence lawyer Mohammad Abul Hasan said, "There would have been scope if the convict was present or if there was more information."

He added that he repeatedly tried to contact Jabbar but did not get any response. "I will ask him to surrender if contact is made."

"I do not have the authority to appeal against the verdict. Only the convict can appeal."

Jabbar, believed to be an octogenarian, is currently living in the US, according to the tribunal's investigation arm.

He can challenge the verdict within a month but, for that, he will have to surrender first.



SC seeks concise statements on Nizami verdict

The Supreme Court today asked both the state and defence counsels to submit in 2 weeks the concise statements on an appeal filed by convicted war criminal Motiur Rahman Nizami against his death sentence.

The four-member bench of the Appellate Division headed by Chief Justice SK Sinha passed the order as the appeal of Nizami came in its hearing list today.

A concise statement contains the legal points on which the lawyers place arguments before the Appellate Division during its hearing.

International Crimes Tribunal-1 on October 29 last year handed him the death penalty on 4 charges of war crimes, including murdering intellectuals. The 72-year-old was also awarded life imprisonment on the other 4 charges.

Nizami on November 23, last year filed the appeal with the SC challenging the death penalty verdict awarded to him by a war crimes tribunal for his crimes against humanity that he committed during the Liberation War in 1971.

In his appeal, Nizami claimed himself innocent and sought acquittal on the 8 charges he was found guilty.

Nizami in his 121-page appeal mentioned 168 legal reasons to establish his innocence.

On the other hand, the government did not file any appeal with the SC against the ICT-1 verdict on Nizami, as it was satisfied with the verdict.

(source: The Daily Star)


Sudan court denies opposition detainees bail as trial starts

A Sudanese judge Monday refused to release on bail 2 opposition figures detained since December for signing an alliance of anti-government groups, after a prosecutor demanded s6 charges against them.

The anti-terrorism court denied bail to Farouk Abu Issa and Amin Makki Madani after hearing the prosecutor's case, setting the next hearing for Monday March 2, according to an AFP correspondent at the trial.

The judge will decide whether to charge them after hearing from prosecution witnesses.

Abu Issa and Madani were detained on December 6 after signing the Sudan Call agreement, aimed at uniting opposition to President Omar al-Bashir, along with other political parties and rebel groups.

"The document called for the fall of the regime by any means, including military action and popular uprisings, and this constitutes a terrorist act," prosecutor Yasir Ahmed Mohamed told a judge.

The prosecutor is seeking 6 charges against the 2, including founding and running a terrorist organisation as well as inciting war and hatred against the state.

5 of the charges carry the death penalty.

The judge said because the 2 were being investigated for capital offences they could not be released on bail.

The courtroom was packed with supporters of the 2, many of whom clapped and embraced them as they entered.

Representatives from 7 foreign diplomatic missions also attended.

As the hearing took place around 300 people gathered outside, watched over by a heavy security presence, chanting and shouting slogans demanding Abu Issa and Madani's release.

The Sudan Call opposition accord came amid preparations in Sudan for April elections that are widely expected to extend Bashir's 25 years in power.

Abu Issa signed for a grouping of opposition parties he leads and Madani signed for civil society groups.

(source: Daiy Mail)


Samaha family calls for his immediate release

The family of former Information Minister and terror suspect Michel Samaha called Tuesday for his immediate release, rejecting claims by the justice minister that there was a plan to assassinate him.

"The judiciary must ... release minister Samaha considering the facts of the case, without taking into account the intelligence reports reaching the justice minister about an alleged threat to his life," the family said in a statement.

"This threat, supposing it's true, requires protecting him [Samaha] and not keeping him in jail arbitrarily under the pretext of his protection."

The family had cast doubt last week over claims made by Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi that there was a plot to kill Samaha.

Rifi had said the decision to move Samaha from his prison cell to a hospital had been cancelled due to the threat to assassinate him over information he had over the role of Syria in alleged terror plots.

They described Rifi's comments as "political intervention to pressure the military court not to release [Samaha]."

The family argued in Tuesday's statement that Samaha's 2 1/2 years in jail exceeded the normal durations of detention, saying his release does not mean he was innocent.

Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda last year recommended the death penalty for Samaha as well as a Syrian general and another individual holding the rank of colonel over the alleged terror plot to destabilize Lebanon.

The indictment charged the 3 men with orchestrating a plot to assassinate Syrian opposition figures and arms traffickers entering Syria from Lebanon.

(source: The Daily Star)


229 Indonesians face death penalty abroad

The Foreign Ministry stated on Tuesday that there were 229 Indonesians abroad facing capital punishment for various crimes.

"Most of them are in Malaysia with 168 cases, Saudi Arabia with 38 and China with 15," stated the ministry's directorate for Indonesian nationals' protection and legal aid as quoted by Antara news agency.

The directorate also revealed that 131 of the cases were related to drugs, while 77 of them were related to murder.

"Regarding the drug cases, 112 are in Malaysia, 15 in China, 2 in Laos, 1 in Singapore and another one in Vietnam," the directorate stated.The Foreign Ministry had handled 9,290 legal cases abroad as of September 2014, with most of the cases relating to migrant workers and ship crewmembers.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


Joko Widodo: No foreign interference on death penalty

Indonesian President Joko Widodo says foreign nations should not interfere in his country's right to use the death penalty.

He is under pressure from the leaders of Australia, Brazil and France, whose citizens are among 11 people facing death for drug trafficking.

Mr Widodo restated that the executions by firing squad would go ahead.

Earlier, a Jakarta court threw out an appeal by 2 Australians against their presidential clemency rejections.

Indonesia has some of the world's harshest drug trafficking penalties. It resumed executions in 2013 after a 4 year moratorium and new leader Mr Widodo is taking a much tougher stance on the issue.

In January, 6 traffickers - including 5 foreign nationals - were executed. A 2nd round of executions involving 11 people is expected in coming days.

'No right to rule'

Mr Widodo told reporters that "there shouldn't be any intervention towards the death penalty because it is our sovereign right to exercise our law".

Several nations have spoken out against the move in recent days, however.

1 Brazilian is among the 2nd group and last week, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff delivered a diplomatic snub by rejecting the credentials of the Indonesian ambassador to Brazil.

France summoned Indonesia's ambassador last week to voice its "extreme concern" over the fate of one of its nationals, Serge Atlaoui.

Australian authorities have also launched a major diplomatic campaign for the lives of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, the ringleaders of the Bali 9 group of drug smugglers.

Who are the Bali 9?

The 8 men and 1 woman were arrested in April 2005 at an airport and hotel in Bali, Indonesia after a tip-off from Australian police. They were trying to carry 8.3kg (18lb) of heroin back to Australia.

In 2006 a court ruled that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had recruited the others and paid their costs. They were sentenced to death. The other 7 are serving sentences of between 20 years and life, after some had death sentences revoked on appeal.

Chan and Sukumaran have repeatedly appealed against their sentences and say they are reformed characters - Chan teaches Bible and cookery classes in prison while Sukumaran is an artist.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott caused an uproar last week when he said Indonesia should remember the A$1bn provided in aid by Australia after the 2004 tsunami.

The comments were seen as a threat by the political rank and some of the general public in Indonesia.

Sukumaran and Chan, who are also in the 2nd group, were arrested for trying to traffic heroin out of Bali in 2005.

Responding to their latest challenge, Judge Hendro Puspito said the court had no jurisdiction to overrule the president's decision to not grant clemency, which is considered the final word in such matters.

"Clemency is the prerogative of the president ... the state administrative court has no right to rule on the challenge."

He said they had 14 days to lodge an appeal. Their lawyers said they would pursue that avenue.

(source: BBC News)


Indonesia rejects calls to pardon 11 foreign convicts

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has rejected calls from foreign countries, including Australia and France, to show clemency for 11 foreign convicts on death row.

Preident Widodo said no foreign country should intervene in the country's right to use the death penalty and added that the scheduled executions of 11 foreign convicts will not be delayed.

President Widodo said he took calls from the leaders of France, Brazil and the Netherlands about the death penalty.

But he told reporters: "The first thing I need to say firmly is that there shouldn't be any intervention towards the death penalty because it is our sovereign right to exercise our law".



Final challenge to appeal Bali 9 executions fails

A last-ditch effort from lawyers of the Bali 9 pair to save their clients from the firing squad has failed.

The transfer of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran from Kerobokan Prison to an island for the executions was delayed last week.

Yesterday, the nation's state administrative court heard arguments from lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis that Indonesian President Joko Widodo should reconsider their clemency bid, ABC has reported.

The court threw out the challenge on grounds it did not have jurisdiction over presidential decrees

Mr Mulya earlier told ABC he believed there was strong legal ground for the case.

Despite public vigils across Australia and appeals for mercy from Australian leaders, Mr Widodo has refused to grant the pair clemency from the death penalty over their roles as ringleaders of a heroin smuggling group.

But Mr Widodo has publicly confirmed he considered the pair's clemency bids as part of 64 such bids, rather than separately.

It is unclear whether the case will affect the government's decision.

(source: The Daiy Mail)


RP will not intervene on citizen's behalf

The Republic of the Philippines has pledged not to interfere with the death penalty leveled against one of its citizens for drug trafficking while Acehnese officials urged the Indonesian government to speed up the executions.

Representative of the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia Ramon CH conveyed to the Yogyakarta High Prosecutor's Office that the Philippine government would never interfere with the death penalty handed down by the Sleman District Court against Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso for smuggling drugs.

"Philippine Embassy envoy Ramon CH only said to us that whatever Mary was found guilty of that their only wish was that the execution be delayed," Sri Anggreani A., the prosecutor head in Veloso's case, said on Monday.

Ramon made his statement while he was accompanying Veloso's family when they visited their daughter on death row at the Wirogunan Penitentiary in Yogyakarta.Anggreani said the Attorney General's Office had asked her to provide assistance to Veloso's family, 2 staff members from the Philippine Embassy, a staff member from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and 2 priests who visited Veloso at the Wirogunan Penitentiary from Feb. 19 until Feb. 21.

During the 3-day period, Veloso's father Cesar S. Veloso, mother C. Veloso, sister Maritas Laurente and 2 sons Mark Danielle and Mark Darren all came to visit her.

"The family also expressed appreciation to the Attorney General's Office for giving them the chance to meet Veloso," said Anggreani.

Yogyakarta High Prosecutor's Office General Crimes Affairs assistant Tri Subardiman said Veloso was not included on the list of convicts who would be executed on Nusakambangan prison island, Cilacap, in the near future, as prosecutors were still waiting for a case review decision filed by Veloso at the Sleman District Court. Veloso filed for the case review several weeks ago.

The Sleman District Court is still waiting for Veloso's clemency documents from the Supreme Court.

Veloso was caught as she was trying to smuggle in 2.6 kilograms of heroin at the Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta on April 25, 2010. She arrived from Kula Lumpur, Malaysia, on an AirAsia flight.

Meanwhile, angered by comments made by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott about his country's donations during the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, students staged a rally in Banda Aceh asking the government to speed up the execution of the convicts.

"We urge the government and President Joko ["Jokowi"] Widodo to hurry up and punish the Australians in order to show that [Indonesia] will not be undermined by other countries," said the chairman of the Aceh branch of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI).

Separately, following a 1-week delay, it seems as though the transfer of the 2 Australian drug smugglers, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, to Nusakambang prison island will be conducted this week.

The chief of the Bali Prosecutor's Office, Momock Bambang Samiarso, confirmed that the transfer would be done this week if Nusakambangan prison island had already prepared their isolation rooms.

Meanwhile, the Ninth Regional Military Command (Kodam IX) Udayana commander Maj. Gen. Torry Djohar Banguntoro said on Monday that the Indonesian Military had prepared a squadron of Sukhoi fighter jets to guard the transfer of the 2 Australian drug traffickers on death row from Kerobokan Penitentiary in Bali to Nusakambangan prison island.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


PNG government defends death penalty as new guidelines approved

The PNG government defends its decision to reinstate the death penalty as the country prepares to execute 13 prisoners before the end of the year.The Papua New Guinea government has defended its decision to reinstate the death penalty as the country prepares to execute 13 prisoners before the end of the year.

Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, secretary for the Department of Justice and attorney-general, said people had had enough of serious crime and perpetrators should die for their crimes.

"In this country we have very strong support for the implementation of the death penalty," Mr Kalinoe told the ABC's Radio Australia." For example, one of the (radio) talkback shows I went to, 33 people called. Of the 33, 3 opposed the death penalty, 30 of them fully supported the government's role, to actually offer to be the executioner.

"That's how serious the citizens of this country are, serious in trying to make this place, a just safe and secure society."

Mr Kalinoe's comments came after the government approved new guidelines for the implementation of death penalty.The death penalty has not been used in PNG for more than 50 years, but was re-enacted last year when the law was amended to include more offences.The National Executive Council then approved 3 modes of execution - lethal injection, firing squad and hanging.

Since then, 13 people have been waiting on death row, but lack of infrastructure has meant there has been no method to enact the capital punishment.Recent reports suggest both Indonesia and Thailand have stepped in with offers of financial assistance and expertise.Mr Kalinoe said the government wanted to make the country safer in re-enacting the death penalty.

"Papua New Guinea, in particular Port Moresby, is regarded as one of the most dangerous cities of the world," he said. "That's a label that us Papua New Guineans live with, sometimes we're very embarrassed ... what a beautiful country but our reputation, fairly or unfairly, has gotten ahead of us, making this place a very unsafe sort of a place to live in.

"One of [the government's aims] was to strengthen police, strengthen the law and justice sector and implement whatever laws we need to implement." Last week the Archbishop of the PNG Catholic Church, John Ribat, spoke out against the death penalty and called for more community discussion on the matter.

The crimes in PNG that could attract the death penalty for those convicted included: treason, piracy, wilful murder, aggravated rape, robbery involving violence, and sorcery-related killings.

(source: Radio Australia)

FEBRUARY 23, 2015:


Boyfriend burned body of slain pregnant Texas teen: police

Firefighters found the slain pregnant teen's body at the center of this grass fire on Valentine's Day. Friends and family released dozens of balloons Saturday at the site where Dawanna Thomas' body was found.

A Texas teen learned she was having a baby girl just days before firefighters discovered her burned body at the center of an arson fire.

Her boyfriend, Courtney Velasquez, 19, has been arrested in connection to her Valentine's Day death. He allegedly confessed hours after drowning Dawanna Thomas, 18, in a rural creek near San Antonio, according to KENS-TV.

His pants were still wet when he apparently said "I killed her," relatives told police.

"I can't believe I did it," Velasquez allegedly told a family member. "I drowned her at the creek."

Bexar County Sheriff's Office investigators have yet to nail down a motive.

The girl's mother, Tear Bedford, said her boyfriend urged her to get an abortion and authorities believe allegations of infidelity preluded her death.

Courtney Velasquez, 19, faces capital murder charges after allegedly drowning and then burning his girlfriend’s body, killing her unborn child.

"There may have been some jealousy involved," Sheriff's spokesman James Keith told KSAT-TV. "She may have been talking to someone else at the time. We're still trying to sort all that out right now."

Bedford will advocate for the state's highest criminal sentence against Velasquez, the likely father of the victim's unborn child.

"I'm seeking the death penalty for whoever had hands in this because that was my grand baby," Bedford told KENS-TV.

In an open statement to her daughter's killer, Bedford said "God is going to get ya'll (sic). Every day he's gonna whoop ya'll until ya'll get it right (sic)."

Bedford feared for her daughter's safety during the 6-month relationship with Velasquez, describing him as violent, KABB-TV added.

(source: New York Daily News)


Death Penalty History and the Present for Massachusetts

Massachusetts has dealt with witches, anarchists, Quakers, pirates and gangsters in high profile executions. Massachusetts hanged 26 people for practicing witchcraft. The death penalty was abolished in 1984. A Boston Globe poll from 2013 showed that 1/3 of Boston's residents would favor the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The last time the death penalty was used in Boston, Massachusetts was in 1947. However, it was one of the first colonies to evoke capital punishment. John Billington was hanged for murder in 1630. It was until 1951 that public execution was mandatory for 1st degree murder. Tsarnaev's charges include the murder of an 8 year old boy.

345 people have received the death penalty in Massachusetts between 1947 and 1984. Mary Dyer was one of the "Boston martyrs" that was hanged in 1660 because Quakers had been banned from the Bay Colony. In 1692, 19 women were hanged during the Salem witch trials. Despite the public's belief of their innocence, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti received the death penalty by electric chair as accused anarchists in 1927. The last people to receive the death penalty in Massachusetts were Phillip Bellino and Edward Gerlson, gangsters, the bogeymen of the 40's and 50's. They got the death penalty for the kidnapping and murder of an ex-Marine.

A reporter who witnessed the Boston executions of Bellino and Gerlson was mortified and changed his view of capital punishment. 50 years later, in 1997, Russ Dallaire reported the account to the Boston Herald. He said, "The body stiffened so hard he almost came out of the chair. And with each succeeding charge, the body jerked with lessening effect until there was none at all." Dallaire also remembers the scent of burnt flesh.

Potential jurors have filled out a questionnaire, most against the death penalty. Those that made the cut then are questioned by Judge George O'Toole and if he approves the juror, the juror is then passed down to the attorneys for more questioning. The question about the death penalty makes potential jurors squirm and some cry. It has taken 19 days so far, to go through juror prospects. However, Judge O'Toole is confident that a full jury with alternates will be impaneled at the beginning of next week. Opening statements and the first set of witnesses will be heard the week of March 2nd.

Some potential jurors have stated that until actually presented with a person's life coming to a vote, concerning the death penalty they have no idea which way they would vote. Other jurors quote the 5th Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Still others quote the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." One juror prospect said she would not sentence someone to life in prison because she would not be able to tolerate it herself.

A former lawyer suggested that the trial would take 3 to 4 months and he wondered if the death penalty would be carried out. He referred to the governor in Illinois sparing those on death row and abolishing the death penalty back in 2011, and he hoped years from now the action would be seen as the right thing to do. No one wants to discover the innocent have been executed.

Tsarnaev is not the only one in Boston that could face the death penalty. The other case involves a man given a death sentence, after capital punishment was abolished in Massachusetts. Gary Lee Sampson was given a death sentence in 2003 that has since been overturned. Sampson's death penalty was revoked because it was determined that one of the jurors lied about being a victim of domestic violence, as well as her daughter's drug use and criminal record.

Sampson was a bank robber in North Carolina and then went on a murder spree, July 2001 in Abington. Sampson pleaded guilty to the stabbing murders of a 19-year-old college student and a 69-year-old man, claiming he wanted their cars. His resentencing trial begins September 15th. It will take time to determine jurors so there will not be any cause for retrial in this case, as well as the Tsarnaev case.

(source: Guardianlv)


And the envelope, please

So, you thought last night's Oscars was the last of the awards program.


There is 1 awards program that does not involve a red carpet, gowns or tuxes.

It is the Montgomery County District Attorney's awards program acknowledging staff members for their outstanding performances.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Falin, who heads the appeals division, received the coveted District Attorney Medal for taking on a well-funded and skilled team of anti-death penalty lawyers who wanted to overturn convictions and 3 death sentences handed down to a killer. The state Supreme Court sided with Falin.

The successful work by other prosecutors in the DA's office was acknowledged with commendations for their outstanding performances. Those receiving commendations included Assistant District Attorneys Douglas Lavenberg, Gabriel Magee, Kathleen McLaughlin, the team of ADA Christopher Daniels and county Detective Dirk Boughter, ADA Sophia Polites and county Detective Michael Begley.

County Detective Paul Bradbury also received a commendation for the "outstanding investigations" that he performed and that led to the convictions of 3 accused killers.

All these commendations are well deserved but what I like best about this program is that it also acknowledges not just the courtroom stars but those who play a major role, albeit behind the scenes, in the delivery of justice.

Staff secretaries Rachel Weaver and Amanda Stong, investigative analyst Charles Craig, extradition clerk Jason Edwards, domestic violence investigator Kiersten McDonald and, of course, technology guru extraordinaire Jonathan Perrone.

Also singled out for special attention was First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, who previously earned the District Attorney Medal. This time Steele was recognized with a special commendation for his "leadership, investigative skill and prosecutorial excellence" in giving up his vacation time to help the Adams County DA's office win a murder conviction and death penalty against a man who killed a wildlife conservation officer and convictions and 2 death sentences for a Montgomery County murderer charged with killing a grandmother and infant granddaughter in a botched kidnapping-for-ransom case.

Congratulations one and all.

(source: Commentary, Margaret Gibbons, The Intelligencer)


Only way to 'reform' the death penalty is to eliminate it

The Express-Times' Feb. 22 editorial, "Death Penalty system in Pa. needs reform," is a clear example of how ambivalence created by the conflict between emotional reactions to violent crimes and a thoughtful process to improve justice can lead to incoherent analyses and absurd solutions.

The editorial argues that now that we know some on death row were innocent, we now have a higher degree of certainty that those remaining are really and truly guilty. You failed to note that while DNA testing has resulted in the finding of innocence for some on death row, DNA evidence is only available to determine guilt or innocence in a small minority of capital cases.

The editorial spoke of the death penalty being appropriate for, and limited to, "truly heinous killings." What separates a "truly heinous killing" from any other killing? I cannot see how we can say that Eric Frein's killing of a state trooper is any more heinous than the cold blooded killing of an innocent child. From the perspective of the family of the victim, all murders are "truly heinous."

You recommend we limit the death penalty to cases "in which there is no question of guilt." What do you think the criteria has been for a jury to sentence someone to death? I am sure the juries that sentenced innocent people to death thought that "there is no question of guilt."

Do you not see that if we make the difference between sentencing someone to death or not is whether or not they left a hair containing DNA at the scene of the crime does more to diminish the value of human life than anything else our government does in our name?

There is no way to fix one problem with the death penalty without creating more problems, be they increasing the arbitrariness of selection for death or increasing the already exorbitant expenses of this useless and immoral system. The only way to solve the Gordian Knot created by the death penalty is to eliminate it instead of wasting our time trying to "reform" it.

David Rose


(source: Letter to the Editor, Express-Times)


Chesco death case overturned

Only 2 men have been sentenced to death by Chester County Common Pleas juries since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Now, 1 of them has been granted a reprieve - at least temporarily - because of his attorney's alleged ineffectiveness.

Last fall, U.S. District Judge James Gardner vacated the death sentence that was handed down more than 20 years ago against Darrick Hall, convicted of shooting and killing a Coatesville coin laundry manager, Donald R. Johnson, during an armed robbery 1 week before Christmas 1993. The decision came in the wake of Hall's habeas corpus petition filed on his behalf by the Federal Defender's Association.

The judge, in an exhaustive opinion, wrote that Hall's attorney, Robert Miller of Philadelphia, had failed to meet the legal standard for effectiveness of counsel in capital trials during the penalty phase, after which the jury returned its verdict of a death sentence. At the time, it was the only jury to impose that sentence on a defendant in the county in 18 years.

Gardner wrote in his Oct. 21, 2014 opinion that Miller failed "to investigate and present significant mitigating evidence in the penalty phase of (Hall's) trial regarding (his) abusive childhood, illnesses and injuries normally associated with developmental and cognitive delays, and his inability to adjust to a strutted environment during the years he attended a disciplinary school."

More specifically, Gardner stated, Miller, "failed to seek out, interview and present testimony from some of (Hall’s) family, friends and employers, and failed to request readily available medical, educational and court records and failed to obtain evaluations by a mental health expert."

"This fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (Hall) suffered prejudice as a result of (Miller's) deficient performance," Gardner wrote.

Gardner, however, did not overturn Hall's conviction for 1st-degree murder. The case is now on appeal to the Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia.

Hall, now 44, of Philadelphia, is currently housed in Graterford state prison, where he is still technically awaiting execution as his case makes its way through the appellate process. His appeal had been denied by the state Supreme Court, which had also ruled on the question of Miller's effectiveness and denied the claim.

Miller, who was hired by Hall's family to replace attorneys from the county Public Defender's Office who had represented Hall since his arrest, could not be reached for comment. A secretary at the office of another attorney with the same name - Robert S. Miller - said they had received inquiries about him in the past but could not offer forwarding contact information.

Miller's presentation at Hall's sentencing hearing was a stark contrast to other penalty hearings in county capital cases. He presented only 2 witnesses - a former girlfriend and Hall's mother - but they offered little in the way of testimony. Hall did not take the stand in his own defense, and Miller later told the judge overseeing the case - then Common Pleas Judge Paula Francisco Ott, now a member of the state Superior Court - that his client had told him not to offer any more in the way of evidence mitigating his case.

On the other hand, in 2 recent death penalty cases - those involving Coatesville crime figure Duron "Gotti" People and chainsaw killer LaQuanta Chapman - attorneys presented detailed testimony about their clients' troubled upbringings. Chapman's attorney included a videotape about the community where the defendant was raised in New Jersey, and Peoples took the stand to tell jurors about his childhood troubles himself.

Peoples was spared the death penalty last fall and sentenced to life for the contract murder case of a Coatesville barbershop owner he was engaged in a running feud with. Chapman was sentenced to death in November 2012 for the murder of a Coatesville teenager, whose body he dismembered with a chainsaw.

On Dec. 18, 1993, Hall and 2 other men engaged in a plan to rob the Coatesville laundromat located in the center of the city off East Lincoln Highway. One man, Troy Davis, acted as the getaway driver, while the other, Tyrone Green, stood inside the laundromat to act as bodyguard for Hall.

The 3 men had come to Coatesville earlier that month to sell a quantity of crack cocaine they had between themselves to raise money for Christmas presents, according to testimony at 1 of the 3 trials. But Davis used all of the drug himself, so the men decided they needed a quick robbery to recoup their funds. They chose the busy laundromat, on a Saturday morning, as their target.

Hall, brandishing a handgun, marched up to the manager's desk at the rear of the building, where Johnson, a well-liked 59-year-old man was seated. "What's up, Pops?" he said, according to witnesses, and pulled his handgun. When the manager made a move to disarm him, Hall fired 2 shots, hitting Johnson in his chest and in the back of his head. He died instantly.

In his closing argument at the end of the November 1994 trial, then District Attorney Anthony Sarcione, now a Common Pleas judge, pointed angrily at Hall, seated at the defense table, and said, "The only thing colder than the grave of Mr. Johnson is this guy's heart, because he put him there."

Writing in his October 2014 decision, Gardner agreed with Hall's appellate attorneys that a investigation into Hall's background would have found evidence of extreme childhood abuse cursory and a history of significant head traumas and seizures, according to the 180-page ruling. Indeed, Hall's previous attorney from the Public Defender's office testified he had begun that investigation when Hall's family decided to hire Miller, a private attorney, instead.

There was evidence that Hall's father regularly raped and beat his mother, pulled knives on her and threatened to kill her, Gardner found. Hall submitted an affidavit from his mother that Hall's father once kept her "in the house and repeatedly raped and beat her until friends were able to free her." 4 affidavits also show that Hall witnessed his father breaking his mother's arm.

Hall's father took money allotted for food and household expenses and used them for drugs, the affidavits showed. When Hall was 5, his father was arrested and his mother began a relationship with another man who beat Hall. Around this time, his mother "began drinking as a way to cope with the abuse," the court found, citing the affidavits.

Hall's medical history meanwhile includes seizures and a bicycle accident when he was 8 years old that resulted in the loss of consciousness, according to Gardner's ruling. A psychological evaluation showed he had an IQ score of 73, below average, according to the opinion.

The habeas petition was opposed by the state Attorney General's Office, which argued that Miller had been abiding by Hall's decision not to present mitigating witnesses or take the stand, even though Miller had explained to him what could happen. It said that Miller had "strategic reasons for presenting only 2 witnesses ... and for not presenting (Hall's) school records or employment history."

Green and Davis were also convicted of Johnson's murder. Green is serving a life sentence.

(source: The Daily Local)


Clearwater man who wants the death penalty represents himself in court

Craig Wall, a Clearwater man who pleaded guilty to murdering his wife and no contest to murdering his infant child, has appeared in court for a hearing today to help determine whether he should be executed.

Wall, 39, is acting as his own attorney during this week's proceedings, and he has said he wants to receive the death penalty.

Prosecutors will argue to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico that certain "aggravating circumstances" exist that make the death penalty a legally appropriate sentence.

Normally, defense attorneys argue "mitigating circumstances" - such as a defendant's mental health problems, for example - mean he should not get the death penalty. But in this case, Wall is the person in charge of his own defense, and he has said he wants the death penalty, so it's not clear how that side of the argument will go.

A representative of the Florida Capital Resource center appeared in court and argued that an independent attorney should be appointed for Wall. But Wall objected to any such motion by "scumbag liberals" who don't think he can make his own decisions.

"This is my case. This is my life," he said, saying he should be allowed to make "literally a life or death decision."

However, Wall does have previously appointed attorneys who are considered "standby counsel," available to help him as needed.

In another twist Monday morning, Wall said he needed more time to present his side of the case.

This is a highly unusual case, but these legal machinations reflect the highly complex nature of death penalty cases, which always involve years of appeals, sometimes in spite of the defendants' own wishes. Wall is known for courtroom antics, and has already been argumentative in these proceedings, tossing off 4-letter words and phrases such as "rabid-dog liberals."

After the testimony on aggravating and mitigating circumstances concludes, it probably would be several weeks before Federico issues his ruling on whether to impose the death penalty.

Because of his pleas, Wall is now legally guilty of killing his girlfriend Laura Taft and their child, Craig Wall Jr.

Wall, who spent 14 years in prison for robbery with a deadly weapon and armed burglary, met Taft shortly his release. Their child was born shortly after Christmas 2009.

5 weeks later, the boy had been killed, suffering broken ribs and brain trauma. Wall was considered a suspect almost immediately, but he was not arrested right away.

He was arrested a few days later on a separate charge, but the fact that he was a suspect in his baby's death was never mentioned in court. He was released on bail. 3 days after getting out of jail, police said, Wall crashed through a sliding glass door of Taft's apartment and stabbed her to death.

Taft's mother, Rhonda Lyon-Buttitia, was in the courtroom Monday.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)

ALABAMA----female faces death penalty

Woman heads to trial in granddaughter's running death

An Alabama woman is going on trial on charges of making her granddaughter run until she collapsed and died.

Prosecutors describe 59-year-old Joyce Hardin Garrard as the "drill sergeant from hell." They say she made 9-year-old Savannah Hardin run for hours as punishment for a lie about eating candy.

The defense says the girl's medical conditions and treatment decisions led to her death in February 2012. They deny that Garrard had any intention of harming the girl.

Final jury selection is set to begin in the case this week in Gadsden, Alabama, located about 60 miles northeast of Birmingham. Opening statements will follow.

Garrard is charged with capital murder. She faces a potential death penalty and could join only a handful of women on Alabama's death row if convicted.

(source: Associated Press)


Murder trial for Lisa Graham resumes after recess in jury selection

Lisa Graham's capital murder trial resumes today in a Russell County court after a recess in the process of selecting a "death qualified" jury.

"Death qualified" means jurors must not be so morally opposed to the death penalty that they could never impose it, nor so in favor of capital punishment that they would never consider life in prison.

Another complicating factor is that no potential juror may be closely connected to any of the dozens of witnesses expected to testify in the trial, which likely will last more than a week.

Attorneys hope to strike a jury on Tuesday, after which a hearing is expected on whether to admit evidence Graham, through jailhouse notes, tried to bribe the man who admitted killing her 20-year-old daughter on July 5, 2007. Kenneth Walton, who got a life sentence after pleading guilty to gunning down Stephanie Shea Graham, told investigators he did so at the mother's behest, and he's to testify against her. District Attorney Ken Davis has filed evidence Graham allegedly offered Walton $10,000 to take her "out of the equation." Defense attorneys object that Judge George Greene, who presided at Graham's 1st trial before declaring a mistrial in 2012, ruled the evidence was not admissible.

Greene's failing health forced him to retire before he died Jan. 1, 2014. After other Russell County judges recused themselves, the case went to Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III.

Davis has argued that because the 1st trial had no verdict and a new judge now has the case, such issues may be litigated again.

"The state would argue that there is a compelling circumstance to re-examine this point of law as there is a new judge hearing this case and this is a new trial," Davis wrote last week. "Additionally there was never a final judgment entered in the first trial of this case."

Defense attorney Margaret Young Brown contends the prosecution gave notice of its intent too late to pursue charges of witness tampering and bribery, and she says the evidence is more prejudicial than indicative of Graham's guilt.

Also, the evidence includes a note that Graham allegedly wrote by hand, which the defense needs more time to examine, she said, in part writing, "the defense would desire to have a continuance so that hand writing exemplars could be obtained."

A newspaper carrier found Shea Graham's body on Bowden Road, between U.S. 431 and Ala. 165 near Pittsview. She had5 bullet wounds in the head and torso, authorities said.

Earlier reports said she was shot six times, but during jury selection last week Brown's co-counsel, Robert Poole, specified that there were gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen, one to the head and one to the right eye.

Investigators said Walton, the last person seen with her, not only confessed to the homicide, but also acted it out, telling them he stopped to let Shea Graham out to relieve herself, then gunned her down as she squatted beside the road. Walton pleaded guilty June 14, 2012.

Authorities allege Lisa Graham wanted her daughter dead because she was frustrated by Shea Graham's drug use and feared the daughter would jump bail on charges she faced in a drive-by shooting in Columbus. Shea Graham was due in court the morning her body was found.

Poole last week told prospective jurors the daughter faced four counts of aggravated assault in Columbus and had been released on a $100,000 bond.

(source: Ledger-Enquirer)


Execution delayed for man convicted in officer shooting death

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Monday to postpone an initial execution date for the man convicted in the 2008 shooting death of a Twinsburg police officer.

The routine stay notice gives Ashford Thompson time to work through the appeals process, as is standard in such death penalty cases.

Thompson was found guilty in 2010 of 2 counts of aggravated murder after shooting 33-year-old Joshua Miktarian multiple times in the head during a late-night traffic stop.

During oral arguments before the state's high court last year, legal counsel for Thompson said his death sentence should be overturned due legal and procedural errors made during his trial, among other issues.

His legal counsel also argued that Thompson was a home health-care nurse and religious man who had no other convictions for violent crimes and who did not set out to commit murder.

Prosecutors, however, cited threatening comments made by Thompson at a bar before the shooting and other evidence in seeking affirmation of his death sentence.

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld Thompson's death sentence in a 4-3 decision in October, with a majority of justices agreeing that the legal process instituting a death sentence was conducted in proper order, and the penalty was appropriate for the crime.

The state's high court set an April 2017 execution in the case, though that date was expected to be postponed, as Thompson worked through the appeals process.

Justices agreed Monday to stay the execution date "until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings, including an appeals," according to documents.

(source: The Daily Record)


The Innocence Project May Have Framed A Man For A Crime He Didn't Commit

Truth, conspiracy, guilt and innocence all collide when a wrongfully convicted man takes on the professor who got him convicted.

For years, investigative journalist Bill Crawford hounded the powers that be in Chicago telling anyone who would listen, and shouting at those who wouldn't, that an innocent man was in prison, framed for a crime he didn't commit. So Crawford should be celebrating now. After more than 15 years behind bars, Alstory Simon was released last October when his conviction on a double murder charge was overturned by the state of Illinois. Instead, Crawford says, "There's a goddamn sinister thing going on here."

There's no doubt that Crawford is glad to see Simon free and his own work on the case vindicated. But that feeling is tempered by his doubt that the people ultimately responsible will ever pay for their role in Simon's imprisonment.

"It took 2 sides to get this thing done," Crawford says of the forces that pulled Simon into the murder case and put him in prison.

"This thing" Crawford refers to darkly is the collusion between overzealous state prosecutors and a high-profile leader of a since disbanded franchise of the Innocence Project, a nationally lauded legal program that gathers evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners. In this case Crawford and others allege that in its eagerness to free a prisoner on death row, the Northwestern University branch of the Innocence Project framed Simon, and Cook County prosecutors went along with it.

Simon was convicted in 1999 for a double-murder in Chicago in 1982 on the basis of what he says was a coerced confession and released on Oct 30, 2014 after being exonerated by a new investigation. Now, in a bid for restitution and maybe some justice, Simon has filed a $40 million lawsuit against Northwestern and former professor David Protess, famed founder of Medill’s Innocence Project.

According to Simon's lawsuit, "The horrific injustice that befell Simon occurred when defendants, Northwestern University professor David Protess, Northwestern University private investigator Paul Ciolino, and attorney Jack Rimland, conspired to frame Simon for the murders in order to secure the release of the real killer, Anthony Porter," the suit reads.

Porter was sitting on death row for the 1982 murders when Protess found him and decided to take up his case. Protess already had a national reputation from earlier work overturning wrongful convictions when he assigned Porter's case to his class at the Medill Innocence Project in 1998.

In the course of looking to exonerate Porter, Protess and his team landed on Simon and set about building a case against him. Simon had been one of several possible suspects identified earlier in the case dropped by police after multiple eyewitness accounts focused their investigation on Porter.

In 1999, Simon delivered a videotaped confession that he now says was made under false pretenses and duress. Protess's team delivered the confession and in a lighting turnaround Porter, who had been 48 hours from a scheduled execution, was free on bail 2 days later.

It was a high profile victory for the Innocence Project and, along with other cases, eventually led to Illinois abolishing the death penalty.

The problem, as Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a statement after Simon's release, was that the "investigation by David Protess and his team involved a series of alarming tactics." Those tactics, "were not only coercive and absolutely unacceptable by law-enforcement standards," Alvarez said, "they were potentially in violation of Mr. Simon's constitutionally protected rights."

One of those potential violations concerns Simon's defense lawyer Jack Rimland. Simon was introduced to Rimland by Ciolino, the Medill Innocence Project's investigator. The private eye and the lawyer were personal acquaintances, and Simon's lawsuit alleges that Rimland, working in concert with Protess, convinced him to plead guilty, based on the fabricated evidence gathered by Ciolino.

In the past, Rimland has denied working with Protess and said that Simon never expressed his innocence while he was representing him. He declined to comment when contacted for this story.

"There's a goddamn sinister thing going on here."

Protess is no stranger to controversy. He retired from Northwestern in 2011 after internal investigations alleged he had deceived witnesses in other cases to extract statements, and "knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions. He also misrepresented facts about these matters to students, alumni, the media and the public."

The aftermath of the investigation into Protess and his departure from Northwestern prompted changes in Innocence Projects across the country.

"When allegations against David Protess came about and we found out about them, it prompted us to reevaluate the decision to allow journalism projects in the network," said Seth Miller executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida and president of the Innocence Network, the coordinating board for local Innocence Projects across the country. The Innocence Network is no longer open to journalist projects, like the one Protess ran, because "it was clear to us that the ethical considerations that journalists and lawyers use were different," Miller said.

Despite the shadow cast over Protess' work, years went by before Simon's case got another hearing.

But Crawford argues the injustice done by Protess' team at Northwestern is only part of the story. What it leaves out, he says, are the people who ultimately had the power to put Simon in prison - the prosecutors.

"The other side of the equation is Gainer and Devine," Crawford says. That's Thomas Gainer, and Dick Devine...the former assistant state's attorney and state's attorney, respectively, who headed the prosecution of Simon.

Gainer now serves as a judge in Illinois' Cook County and Devine works in a private legal practice. Crawford's "sinister thing" is that neither man currently faces any legal or civil action for their role in prosecuting Simon, despite what Crawford and others say is evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.

In the Cook County State's Attorney investigation that ultimately freed Simon, it focused on Team Protess. No mention was made of wrongdoing by state officials, who were former members of that same office.

Yet a review of the evidence in the case shows a number of troubling irregularities. Thomas Epach is the former chief of the Cook County Criminal Division. He was the lead investigator of the murders for which first Porter, and then Simon, were convicted.

Testimony from an affidavit sworn by Epach reads:

"At the time of the release of Mr. Porter, I was aware not only that the purported confession of Alstory Simon was obtained by Paul Ciolino, who was working on behalf of Anthony Porter, but also that Simon was being represented by attorney Jack Rimland, who had close ties to both Mr. Ciolino and David Protess. I believed at the time that the circumstances of this purported confession needed to be thoroughly investigated before a decision was made to either release Porter or to charge Simon with the crime. I was also aware that there were substantial credible evidence to support the conviction of Anthony Porter and that no physical evidence existed which tied Simon to these murders. Nevertheless, a decision was made by Mr. Devine to immediately release Porter and to charge Simon with the murders of Hillard and Green."

And there were other serious problems with the case against Simon. When a grand jury was convened to reconsider the evidence after Simon's confession, the evidence still strongly pointed to Porter's guilt. But that grand jury was disbanded without ever delivering a verdict on the case. Following that, the case was brought before another grand jury. Only this time none of the witnesses implicating Porter were called to testify and the jury indicted Simon.

Terry Ekl, 1 of Simon's lawers who filed the lawsuit on his behalf against Protess and Northwestern, is a former Illinois prosecutor himself. Ekl believes the State's Attorneys "did a very inadequate job of investigating this case before they made the decision to cut Porter loose and go after Simon." But he said that holding them accountable is outside of his power.

"We could not fashion a lawsuit against the State's Attorneys office that would survive a motion to dismiss based on prosecutorial immunity," Ekl said. "The only thing would be a political ramification for doing a poor job as a prosecutor."

Crawford, who is writing a book about Simon's case tentatively titled "Justice Perverted: Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism" tells a story that suggests "political ramification" may be hard to come by in Cook County.

Crawford says that he called Gainer, now an acting judge, "about 2 weeks ago" to ask him question about the Simon case for the book he's finishing. Gainer wouldn't talk to him on the phone but Crawford says he got a message soon enough.

"48 hours later I've got 2 guys holding up badges at my door, armed to the teeth," Crawford said.

After inviting them in he found out they were assigned to the criminal intelligence unit of the Cook County Sheriff's office, dispatched to investigate threats against judges. "I said I know why you guys are here, come on in. They turned out to be gentleman. We sat down at the kitchen table I explained to them what I'm doing writing the book and they left my house laughing."

Crawford's account could not be corroborated with the Cook County criminal court, which did not respond to a request for comment before this story was published.

But Crawford isn't laughing when he talks about the case. His voice jumps like a man worried he's running out of time. "I'm glad that we are where we are," he says "but if Gainer skates on this," and his voice trails off before it jumps again. "He is not named in this goddamned suit. I find that an outrage."

(source: The daily Beast)


Scherrer has 1st court appearance on murder charge

Melvin Scherrer appeared late last week for the 1st time in the St. Francois County Courthouse on his murder charge.

Scherrer, 50, of the Cedar Lake development outside Bonne Terre, is charged with 1st-degree murder, armed criminal action, abandonment of a corpse, felonious restraint and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of tattoo artist Samuel "Tick" Francis.

Francis went missing Dec. 15, 2012 and his body was found in a septic tank outside Bonne Terre on July 25, 2013.

On Friday, Scherrer was assigned a public defender and filed paperwork to waive his right to formal arraignment or formal reading of the charges.

His co-defendant, Brent Bouren was just sentenced to 24 months in prison for amended charges of second-degree assault and felonious restraint in connection with Francis' death.

Otto Plopper, 43, of French Village, is also charged in the death with the Class D felony of abandonment of a corpse. A trial has not been set.

At the time of Bouren's sentencing, Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin said Bouren's involvement in the case was minimal but "important to us." He said even though the involvement was minimal, Bouren was able to provide them with information that was paramount to move forward with a possible death penalty sentence for Scherrer.

According to the probable cause statement, witnesses identified Bouren as being present when Scherrer assaulted Francis with a baseball bat and they also reported seeing Bouren assault Francis.

Witnesses reported Bouren threatened the same treatment toward them if they ever spoke of what they witnessed. They said Bouren held a gun in his hand and pointed it at others who were present at Scherrer’s home.

The witnesses said Plopper was present during the incident. They reported seeing him leave the home with Scherrer and Francis. They reported Plopper later admitted to helping Scherrer dispose of Francis’ body.

The murder charge wasn't their only legal trouble. Bouren and Scherrer were part of a 25-person drug indictment in the fall of 2013.

In December, a federal jury found Scherrer guilty of conspiracy to distribute meth, possession of meth with intent to distribute, 2 counts of felon in possession of a firearm and 1 of the 2 counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime.

A sentencing date has not been set since Scherrer was granted a request for a new attorney.

Bouren pleaded guilty and received 24 months in prison for the federal drug conspiracy charge, to run concurrently to the state case, for a total of 24 months.

He will be credited for the time he has already served.

(source: Daily Journal)


Religious leaders speak out against the death penalty

Looking over the crowd assembled in the Kansas Capitol, Donna Schneweis noted "people of all political stripes."

There were also people of a wide variety of religious backgrounds gathered the afternoon of Feb. 10.

And as emcee for the press conference, Schneweis, chairwoman of the board of directors for the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, introduced each religious leader.

All spoke with a common goal in mind - to ask state legislators to repeal the death penalty, which was reinstated in Kansas in 1994.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas represented the Catholic bishops across the state. He was joined by representatives of other faiths in presenting a letter imploring state legislators to repeal the death penalty.

In the letter, the signees argued that the ideal is to show compassion for the loved ones of murder victims while holding the perpetrators of the crimes accountable in an appropriate manner. But the death penalty, they continued, does neither.

The more than 430 faith leaders who signed the letter are advocating for the passage of House Bill 2129, which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole.

"We know that capital punishment is wrong," said the Right Rev. Dean E. Wolfe, ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Kansas. "Even our youngest children know that it's wrong to take a human life."

It is also, he argued, ineffective.

"It is not used fairly; it has failed to make society safer," agreed the Rev. Leonard Dale, director of evangelical mission for the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It reflects a message of "brutality and violence," he said.

The Rev. Kay Scarbrough, Topeka district superintendent with the Great Plains area of the United Methodist Church, touched on the idea that the death penalty ends the possibility for change, repentance and reconciliation in a person's life.

"We believe that all human life is sacred and created by God, and therefore we must see all human life as significant and valuable," she said.

She also noted the importance of doing all that is possible to bring comfort to the families and friends of victims in the aftermath of a violent crime.

Human fallibility and bias can lead to the killing of an innocent person anywhere the death penalty occurs, said the Rev. Peter Goerzen of the Western District Conference of the Mennonite Church USA, who is campus pastor of Bethel College.

"Our vision of justice is not retaliation, but restoration," he said.

Archbishop Naumann emphasized that in speaking against the death penalty, he does not attempt to take away from the pain anyone has suffered in losing a loved one.

Nor does he speak for all victims of murder when he shares the story of his own family.

His father was murdered when his older brother wasn't yet 2 years old, and his mother was pregnant with him.

"There are many problems with the implementation of the death penalty," he said.

He noted the potential to execute an innocent person, an appeal process that can force a family to continue to relive the pain of their loved one's death, and the costs of appeals that outweigh the amount of money it takes to incarcerate someone for life.

The religious leaders presented the letter to Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, who introduced the bill. Sharing the podium were Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kansas; Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick; and Rep. William Sutton, R-Gardner.

"3 weeks ago Kansas was called the most pro-life state in America," said Becker, referring to Gov. Sam Brownback's remarks on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22.

"That cannot be true," he continued. "That cannot be true as long as the death penalty is in the pages of our law books."

There is also work for people of faith to do, said Archbishop Naumann.

"I think our people are called to pray for this," he said.

He also encouraged contact with state legislators on the matter.

"Our legislators really need to hear from their people, from their constituents," said the archbishop. "So I think it's very important for all those concerned - whatever their faith - to write, to contact their state senators and state representatives."

(source: The Leaven)


Trial to begin in fatal stabbing at downtown Oklahoma City bus station----Isaiah Glenndell Tryon, 25, is accused of stabbing to death the mother of his child, Tia Bloomer, 19.

A death penalty trial is scheduled to start Monday for a man accused of stabbing to death the young mother of his child at the downtown Oklahoma City bus station while she was on her way to seek a protective order against him.

Isaiah G. Tryon, 25, is accused in the stabbing death of Tia Bloomer, 19, in front of multiple witnesses. He was charged with 1st-degree murder in Oklahoma County District Court in March 2012.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, claiming the slaying was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.

A known gang member, Tryon was on probation at the time of the slaying having been convicted previously of 4 counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm after juvenile adjudication, court records show.

Prosecutors claim Tryon is a continuing threat to society.

(source: The Oklahoman)


Tsarnaev's Lawyer Has Saved Notorious Clients From Death

With her arm around the young man's back, she gives him a gentle pat and leans in to whisper something to him. Judy Clarke could be his mother, with this simple, comforting gesture, but she is not.

She is a defense lawyer and he is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.

Clarke has defended those accused of horrific and infamous crimes, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who killed 6 people and injured 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in 2011. She saved all of them from the death penalty and hopes to do the same for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused in the 2013 marathon bombing that killed 3 people and injured more than 260 others.

In what has become a familiar refrain in Clarke's career, she faces tough odds. Tsarnaev, 21, faces a total of 30 charges in the bombings and the killing days later of an MIT police officer; 17 of the charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.

Lawyers who have worked with her say the same gentle quality she has shown with Tsarnaev has helped her connect with her other clients and, in turn, helped save their lives.

"During a time when the world was focused on my brother as a monster, she was able to see him as a human being and provide him with that kind of human contact and emotional support at a time when he had very little sympathy from anyone," said David Kaczynski, who made the difficult decision to turn in his brother after he suspected him in a series of bombings that killed 3 people and injured 23 others between 1978 and 1995.

"She really sees each human being as a human being and defines them not in terms of what they may have done or how sick they may be or how fanatical they may be, but through a kind of human core," David Kaczynski said.

Clarke, who grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, later told her local newspaper that she knew she wanted to be a lawyer at a young age.

"In the 7th grade, I decided I should be Perry Mason or Earl Warren," she told The Asheville Citizen-Times in 1995.

Clarke said she found it natural to devote her career to defending the accused.

"You're dealing with liberty," she told the newspaper. "It's the ultimate in legal issues to me, whether or not someone is free."

Clarke began her career as a federal public defender in San Diego and Spokane, Washington. A staunch death penalty opponent, she agreed in 1994 to help represent Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who drowned her 2 young boys by letting her car roll into a lake with her children buckled into their car seats.

Prosecutors portrayed Smith as a selfish woman who killed her children because she saw them as an obstacle to being with a man who had broken off their relationship a week earlier.

But Clarke described Smith as "one of the walking wounded" and told the jury about her troubled childhood: her father committed suicide when she was 6, she was molested by her stepfather, and she made 2 suicide attempts of her own as a teenager. Clarke said the drownings of her boys were part of another failed suicide attempt by a woman who "tried to cope with a failing life and snapped."

Lead prosecutor Tommy Pope said Clarke began to humanize Smith well before the jury had to make a decision on whether she received the death penalty. He recalled Clarke telling jurors the defense wasn't looking for their sympathy, but for their "understanding" of Smith.

"I think she took advantage of opportunities so by the time they got to the courtroom, I think the jury was more willing to hear the softer side or the human side of Susan Smith," Pope said.

In the Loughner case, Clarke negotiated an agreement with prosecutors that spared him the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea to 19 charges.

Jon Sands, the chief federal public defender for Arizona who recommended Clarke for the job, said she understands the pain the victims have suffered as well as the turmoil her clients have experienced.

"She often is very good at letting the prosecutor and the victims know why settling is in their interest, and you saw that in Loughner," Sands said. "She and her team ... were constantly meeting with Loughner and getting experts until the prosecution understood that he was terribly, terribly mentally ill and it was in everyone's best interests for him to take a plea."

In the Tsarnaev case, the U.S. Department of Justice has given no indication that it will entertain a plea agreement that would spare Tsarnaev's life. Prosecutors are going forward with a federal death penalty trial. Jury selection began Jan. 5.

Clarke and the rest of Tsarnaev's defense team began signaling their defense more than a year ago, indicating in court documents that they plan to argue that Tsarnaev was influenced - maybe even coerced - into participating in the bombings by his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout with police days later.

In court, Clarke has been soft-spoken and respectful when questioning prospective jurors.

With her plain, monochromatic suits, pageboy haircut and no makeup, Clarke, 62, has a modest, unassuming way about her. She declined a request to be interviewed, but instead suggested a story on her co-counsel, David Bruck, or the team of federal public defenders also working on the Tsarnaev case.

In a rare public speech about her work, Clarke told an audience at Loyola Law School in 2013 that many people charged with capital crimes have suffered severe trauma and cognitive development issues. She said many of her clients have been reluctant to plead guilty when she first meets them.

"They're looking into the lens of life in prison in a box," she said. "Our job is to provide them with a reason to live."

(source: Associated Press)


Australians on death row ask Indonesia to let them live

2 Australians on death row appealed to Indonesian president Joko Widodo on Sunday to let them live so they can continue helping fellow prisoners in a rehabilitation programme, their brothers said.

The kin of drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan made a statement to the media after visiting the pair in Kerobokan prison on Bali island.

"We see and hear many prisoners doing courses go on to jobs and better lives. Our brothers' great wishes for the President is to allow them to continue this help, to rebuild the lives of many more Indonesians for many more years to come," Michael Chan told reporters outside the prison.

The statement comes after Indonesia authorities delayed their execution by up to a month, backtracking on an earlier pledge to put the 2 men before the firing squad by the end of February.

Australia's government has voiced strong opposition to the planned executions.

"Our brothers are very grateful for the support and kindness shown to them by so many people, and we are amazed at their strength and resilience during this stressful time," Michael Chan said.

"As they reflect on their past they are also thankful to the Indonesian government, the prison officials and many volunteers that have allowed them to create a holistic rehabilitation programme that is now the envy of most prisons worldwide," he added.

Chan and Sukumaran, who have been on death row since 2006, claim they have themselves been rehabilitated. But Widodo, who has vowed a tough approach to ending what he has called Indonesia's "drug emergency", rejected their appeals for clemency.

"Myu and Andrew love Indonesia, they have a great respect for the Indonesian people and its culture, and it was through the support of the Indonesian justice system that they were able to help set up many programmes that have helped a lot of Indonesians and has also helped better themselves, and they are very grateful for that", said Chinthu Sukumaran.

Widodo, a vocal supporter of capital punishment, in January authorised the execution of 6 convicted drug smugglers including 5 foreigners.

Chan and Sukumaran are among 7 foreigners -- including citizens from France, Ghana, Brazil and Nigeria -- who have lost their appeals for presidential clemency, the final hope of avoiding the firing squad.

(source: Yahoo News)


'Nobody consoled Marco': Last rites denied for prisoner executed before Bali 9 duo

Indonesian authorities executed a Brazilian man last month without allowing a priest to perform the last rites as he waited for the firing squad.

The distressing mix-up, and horrific last minutes of Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, were relayed to Fairfax Media by Cilacap priest Father Charles Burrows, who was supposed to be called upon to comfort the man.

Usually there is a time when the minister or spiritual director gets to go forward to console them. Nobody consoled Marco.

The account comes as the Brazilian government took the extraordinary step of refusing to accept the credentials of Indonesia's new ambassador in protest over its refusal to offer clemency to another of its citizens on death row, Rodrigo Gularte. Indonesia responded by recalling its ambassador-designate.

Moreira was executed on January 18, the last of 5 drug felons shot by firing squads on Nusakambangan, Indonesia's execution island that sits within sight of Cilacap.

"He had to be dragged from his cell crying and saying 'help me'," said Father Burrows.

"He actually excremented in his trousers".

The guards hosed him down but, says Father Burrows, he continued to weep "all the time up to his last minutes".

Moreira was a Catholic and Father Burrows was supposed to administer the sacrament of reconciliation and penance and the extreme unction. But there was a mix-up and Father Burrows was not allowed on the island.

"I kept telling them I wanted to be there. The wardens were very polite but the attorney wouldn't give me a letter to get on to the island. The Brazilian embassy was very upset. They told me nobody went forward to look after him.

"Usually there is a time when the minister or spiritual director gets to go forward to console them. Nobody consoled Marco."

Brazil is also deeply angry about the treatment of Gularte, who is a paranoid schizophrenic, and therefore should be exempt from execution under Indonesian law.

Gularte, 42, has been on death row since 2004 for smuggling 6 kilograms of cocaine into Indonesia in surf boards.

"This is one of the reasons why the clemency should be assessed case by case. There should not be a blanket rejection," said Gularte's Indonesian lawyer Ricco Akbar.

"If it was done case by case, it would be known that Rodrigo was suffering a mental illness. His clemency would not have been rejected in the first place."

Mr Akbar called on the "wise" President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to reconsider the case.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said clearance for Indonesia's representative would be delayed while Brasilia and Jakarta remained at loggerheads over Gularte's execution.

The blanket denial of clemency for drug convicts on death row by Mr Joko will be the subject of an appeal to the administrative court on Tuesday by the lawyers for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the 2 Australians on death row in Bali.

Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday that Mr Joko rejected their clemency applications without considering the supporting documentation, which included information on their rehabilitation and efforts to train and counsel hundreds of Indonesian prisoners in Kerobokan jail.

With Mr Joko saying on Friday that he would not bow to international pressure and that there would be no delay in the men's executions, the lawyers for the Australians said they would pursue their case for clemency with unbridled determination.

"There are plenty of reasons why we will never throw in the towel," said Julian McMahon, one of several barristers working on the case.

"We are fighting in court, at this stage the Administrative Court. Our government is working hard on other fronts. There is also an international aspect to this. Perhaps most importantly, civil society in Jakarta is certainly now very interested.

"It may only be a few days, but may be longer. This extra time might enable the governments to talk more, to look more deeply at all that is going on and see if some better outcome than killing reformed prisoners is an option."

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


Australian Tourists Voice Disapproval to Tourism Boycott

Australian tourists visiting Bali have expressed their disagreement to the tourism boycott, which is a mark of protest over the imminent executions of Bali 9 ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

"I do not agree with the boycott because I still love Bali," Coally Ann, an Australian tourist stated on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Julia Ann, who is Coally's sister, also supports tourism in Bali.

"We will continue to support tourism in Bali," she noted.

However, they are protesting on humanitarian grounds against the execution sentence awarded to the 2 Australians.

"We do not agree with the death penalty. That is not correct because they are human beings," she noted.

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were granted death sentence in 2006 for leading a drug trafficking group known as the Bali 9.

They were arrested in 2005 at an airport and hotel in Bali for smuggling 8.2 kilograms of heroin.

"We have been following the current news. We are very sad about the death penalty," she stated.

The Australian government had appealed to the Indonesian government to spare the lives of the 2 citizens on death row.

The death penalty in Indonesia, especially imposed on drug offenders, does not contradict human rights and the international law, noted Desra Percaya, the Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations (UN).

The abolishment of death penalty is not a universal standard in human rights, and the discussion in the UN forum is still ongoing and has not yet reached a consensus, Desra noted.

"Every country has its unique challenges. The implementation of death penalty is the government's response to the unique challenges faced by Indonesia," the ambassador stated.

He also pointed out that the imposition of death penalty in Indonesia is not considered as extra-judicial killings or arbitrary executions that violate the human right norms.

The death penalty in Indonesia is an action that has been imposed through the legal process, he said.

"Indonesia praised the UN secretary general's effort to communicate directly with the government but deplored the approach, which is based on a narrow understanding," Desra remarked.

"This approach could impact the integrity of the UN secretary general as discussion on the issue of death penalty is still ongoing," he affirmed.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to Indonesia not to execute the prisoners on death row for drug crimes, including the citizens of Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban had spoken to Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Thursday "to express his concern at the recent application of capital punishment in Indonesia." "The UN opposes the death penalty under all circumstances," Dujarric noted in a statement on Friday.

"The secretary general has appealed to the Indonesian authorities that the executions of the remaining prisoners on death row for drug-related offenses should not be carried out," Dujarric stated.

The preamble of the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, admits that drugs pose a serious threat to the health and welfare of human beings and adversely affect the economic, cultural, and political foundations of the society.

(source: The Bali Times)


Hasina favours speedy punishment for Bangladesh arsonists

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Sunday called for "speedy" and "exemplary" punishment for arsonists and their backers in the strife torn country.

Ms. Hasina met senior officials and drew attention to the violence and anarchy that have been accompanying the blockade being enforced by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition, and said people must be saved from such anarchical activities, according to a report.

"There should be speedy punishment (for) those caught red-handed... those instigating the incidents, those who are funding them, those who are making the bombs and supplying them," she said.

The opposition BNP and its allies - having boycotted the general elections held January 5, 2014 - have enforced a non-stop nationwide blockade since January 6, demanding fresh parliamentary polls under a non-party caretaker government system.

More than 100 people have been killed so far in the ensuing political violence, and most of them have been killed after firebomb attacks on public vehicles. Numerous strikes have crippled normal life in the country.

A number of cases have been filed across the country, of which at least 4 name BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia as the key instigator of the turmoil.

The government has announced that it would be forming a special tribunal under the Anti-Terrorism Act to try these cases. Death sentence is the highest penalty for the guilty under that law.

(source: The Hindu)


12 Prisoners Executed in Iran

Iranian state media has reported about execution of 12 prisoners on Sunday 22 February.

According to the Iranian State Broadcasting eight prisoners were hanged in the prison of Bandar Abbas (Southern Iran) on Sunday. One of the prisoners was charged with rape, while the 7 others were sentenced to death for drug-related charges. The Young Journalists Club, run by the authorities, quoted Hormozgan prosecutor saying that these prisoners were charged with trafficking of 1 ton of opium, heroin and hashish.

None of the prisoners were identified by name.

Official website of the Iranian Judiciary in the Markazi Province (South of Tehran) reported about execution of 4 prisoners convicted of drug-related charges in the prison of Arak.

3 of the prisoners were identified as "Mohammad M", "Ehsan J." and "Amir Hossein G." charged with participation in production of 59 kilograms and 68 grams of the narcotic drug crystal. "Mohammad M." and "Ehsan J." were in addition charges with selling 2 and 13 kilograms of crystal that they had produced, respectively.

The 4th prisoner was identified as "Reza Z." charged with participation in possession and trafficking of 972 grams of heroin, said the report.

(saource: Iran Human Rights)


21 Prisoners Hanged in Iran During 48 Hours

21 prisoners in prisons from Adel Abad in Shiraz, Bam, and Bandar Abbas prisons were executed during last 48 hours. State-run sources are silent about these executions.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), during last 48 hours, 21 prisoners were executed by hanging in 3 prisons; Adel Abad in Shiraz, Bam, and Banda Abbas.

During last 48 hours, 9 prisoners with charges of drug related crimes and retributions were hanged in Bandar Abbas prison. 3 of them were from ward 1, 4 of them from ward 7 and 2 from ward 2 of this prison. Names of executed prisoners who have been identified so far are as follows: Sajad Ghochany, 27, from Tehran, Mohammad Gholami, 33, from Tabriz, Mohammad Kazem Yazdani Doboron, 55, from Mashhad, Alireza Razmi, 45, from Bushehr, Mehdi Shahdadi, 31, from Iranshahr, Mosa Nekoei Zadeh, 22, from Bandar Abbas, Ghasem Moradi Zadeh, 35, from Yazd.

Also according to HRANA's reporter's information, 9 prisoners were executed in Adel Abad prison, in Shiraz, whose identities is not known yet. They were accused with drug related crimes and retribution.

In addition, 3 prisoners, with drug related crimes, were executed during last 48 hours in Bam Central Prison. They were named: Mohammad Hojat Abadi, Rasool Naderi, and Hossein Mir Dost whose father named Shah Bakhsh.

Additionally, HRANA has received numerous reports of 2 public executions in the last 48 hours. One of them was a prisoner with drug related crimes in Kozeh Garai Square in Shiraz, and the other one was Hamid Mohammadi, 27, from Haji Abad, accused with Rape, and was executed in Fish Market place in Bandar Abbas, but HRANA is still unable to independently verify these 2 reports.

(source: HRANA News Agency)


Iran executes juvenile offender

Iran reportedly executed Saman Naseem, a juvenile offender who was 17 years-old when sentenced to death, despite international pressure to halt the execution. According to Iran Human Rights (IHR), it is unclear if the execution occurred on Thursday or Friday, but Naseem's family was asked to collect his body. Now 22, Naseem was charged in July 2011 with "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth." The juvenile was arrested because of membership in Party For Free Life of Kurdistan after a battle with the Revolutionary Guards. One member of the Revolutionary Guard was killed and 3 others injured. Naseem reported he did not have access to a lawyer during the investigations and was tortured prior to confessing. Prior to execution, UN human rights experts and Amnesty International (AI) urged Iran to halt the execution. Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pursuant to Article 37(a) capital punishment is prohibited for persons below 18 years of age. However, the Islamic Penal Code permits the death penalty for juveniles under certain circumstances.

Much international pressure has been directed toward Iran in recent years for its use of the death penalty. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Ahmed Shaheed urged Iran in April to immediately halt the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari. Jabbari was executed the following October despite international opposition. Last June former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned Iran's use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders and called on authorities to halt the announced execution of Razieh Ebrahimi, who was 14 years old when sentenced to death. Also in June a group of independent UN human rights experts condemned Iran's execution of a political prisoner, calling for the country to end the death penalty.

(source: JURIST)


Meth Use 'Skyrocketing' in Iran Despite Executions, Police Raids

Methamphetamine production and the use of "hard drugs" are "skyrocketing" in Iran despite police raids and the potential of facing execution for certain drug crimes.

It is estimated that "2.2 million of Iran's 80 million citizens already are addicted to illegal drugs, including 1.3 million on registered treatment programs."

According to the Associated Press, drug use "numbers keep rising annually even though use of the death penalty against convicted smugglers has increased too." Executions resulting from drug conviction now represent "more than 9 out of 10 executions" in Iran.

Narcotics officer Parviz Afshar said 2 meth labs appear for every one they shut down. And Majid Mirzaei, who manages a drug addict shelter in Tehran, argues that drug addition cannot be eliminated, but says it can be managed.

Mirzaei said: "When I set up this shelter authorities didn't support me. But after several years of hard work, they were convinced that it's better to provide care and shelter to addicts."

One of the reasons for the continued rise in drug use is their easy availability, via Afghanistan, which is "the region's top drug exporter."

In March 2014, Russia warned of the drug boom that would take place in Afghanistan once President Barack Obama followed through with pulling US troops out of that country. According to Iran's state-run PressTV, Russian drug tsar Viktor Ivanov claimed that even the "US House Foreign Affairs Committee [had] no counter-narcotics strategy for Afghanistan after international troops pulled out of the country."

By November, The Christian Science Monitor reported that "poppy cultivation" had reached a record high in 2014. And although they did not mention Obama's determination to pull out troops, they reported that "the uptick in production could be tied to increasing insecurity in Afghanistan."



2 arrested in Hanoi for hiding major amount of meth inside festive food

Police in Hanoi on Saturday arrested 2 people for carrying hundreds of methamphetamine pills on a taxi.

Doan Van Thieu, 28, and Bui Thi Kim Oanh, 30, told police, who stopped their taxi for a random check around 2:45 am, that they were returning home after visiting some local pagodas as part of their Lunar New Year celebration.

When the officers demanded to check their red plastic bag, Oanh said that it was just a "festive bag" carrying lucky food and objects from the pagodas, including a traditional rice dessert and a pocket of salt.

Police however found drugs hidden inside the cake and the salt pocket. Some were also concealed inside a camera.

The pills had an estimated street value of around VND300 million (US$15,000), police said.

The 2 traffickers told police that they had been hired to transport the drugs by an unidentified person. They claimed that they had not been told where they would deliver the drugs to.

Police are investigating into the case.

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

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

(source: Thanh Nien News)


Australia should lead in abolishing the death penalty in the Asia-Pacific----Instead of quiet diplomacy, the government needs a principled, consistent, and more vocal opposition to the death penalty, whether or not the lives at stake are Australian.

As Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran face execution in Indonesia, there is much soul searching about what more Australia could do to save their lives. Last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and opposition foreign minister Tanya Plibersek made eloquent and impassioned speeches in Parliament, and, at a news conference in Bali, Sukumaran's mother movingly pleaded for her son's life.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Tony Abbott joined the condemnation: "We abhor the death penalty, we regard it as barbaric."

There is little evidence that the softly softly approach has been effective ... it seems the death penalty is making a resurgence in Australia's neighbourhood.

Australia is in a position to be leading the charge in encouraging Asia-Pacific countries to abolish the death penalty, yet so far it hasn't done so. If Australia wants to stop executions of its nationals in the future, the government should rethink the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's traditionally low-key approach to capital punishment. Instead of quiet diplomacy, the government needs a principled, consistent, and more vocal opposition to the death penalty, whether or not the lives at stake are Australian.

There is little evidence that the softly softly approach has been effective. With five recent executions in Indonesia and more on the way, and a disturbing new interest in executions in Papua New Guinea, it seems the death penalty is making a resurgence in Australia's neighbourhood.

In PNG, after a moratorium of 60 years, the Attorney-General Dr Lawrence Kalinoe says the government will start implementing the death penalty this year. In recent years the PNG government has inched closer to executions by expanding the scope of crimes punishable by death, as well as the methods of execution. Fourteen people are currently on death row there. So far, neither Abbott nor Bishop have publicly registered concerns with the PNG government. Yet this is a country hugely dependent on Australian aid, where Canberra should be using its influence to press for the human rights of all Papuans.

Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, China and Vietnam also execute people. For Australia's voice to carry more weight against executions of people such as Chan and Sukumaran, it's important that Australia publicly registers its opposition to death sentences wherever and whenever possible.

In revising its policy on the death penalty abroad, the government should consider the British government's strategy, which entails a comprehensive public agenda for it to push for its abolition. The strategy paper includes clear benchmarks and goals to guide British embassies in advocating against the death penalty in countries in which executions continue. In addition to public and private pressure on individual cases, the strategy also includes support for civil society groups to raise awareness, and for lawyers to bring legal challenges. Britain credits successes in Barbados, Uganda and Kenya, which have each taken steps to reduce the use of executions, as examples of its impact.

Australia too could earmark development assistance to aid local lawyers and civil society groups in their advocacy efforts towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Andrew Chan delivered a heartfelt message via Amnesty International to a vigil in Sydney: "Please don't let this just be about myself and Myu, but about others all over the world who need your help." Let's not wait until more people are in their situation for Australia to lift its game.

(source: Elaine Pearson is Australia director at Human Rights Watch; The Age)


Fijian Drug Charge Woman Identified

The Fijian woman facing drug trafficking charges in Malaysia has been identified by the Fiji Sun.

Christin Nirmal, 26, of Narere in Nasinu is a mother of 3 - her eldest daughter is in Year 5 while her youngest son is merely 10 months old.

Her middle child lives with her estranged husband.

Christin's mother Nirmala Mariamm requested the Fiji Sun not to publish Ms Nirmal's photo because of the impact on the children.

Ms Mariamm is currently looking after 2 of the children.

She was at a loss yesterday to explain how her young daughter ended up in Malaysia.

"She was chatting with a South African man on Tagged (social networking site) for some months. He told her that he wanted to meet her and he purchased an open ticket from Fiji to Hong Kong and from there to Malaysia for Christin."

Ms Nirmal is understood to have stayed with the South African man in Hong Kong for 3 weeks.

"What we know is that he gave her sample school bags to take to Malaysia where another South African man was to pick it up from her. We have been told that Christin checked the bag and it was empty but when it was confiscated by the Malaysian customs, in another hidden compartment, they found some drugs," Ms Mariamm said.

"She is uneducated, having studied up till class 4 only. We are all very worried about her and don't know what will happen," an emotional Ms Mariamm said.

She said that given her own dire financial situation, she admitted she would not be able to financially support the children for long.

Ms Mariamm praised the Fijian Government for keeping the family updated with news about Christin. She said she was also thankful to Government for providing her daughter with consular assistance in Malaysia.

"I hope you understand why we are requesting that Christin's photo not be published. No one in our extended family knows that she has been arrested. Her daughter is in class 5 and seeing her mother's photo in the papers may have an impact on her."

Ms Nirmal will be appearing in court on March 17, and will be represented by Malaysian legal aid.

About 1.51 kilograms of methamphetamine was found at the Kuala Lumpur Airport while she was travelling from Hong Kong.

She is being held under Section 39 (B) of Malaysian Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952.

Carrying more than 50 grams of methamphetamines, also known as ice, can warrant the death penalty in Malaysia, which with its neighbours, has strict anti-drug trafficking laws.

(source: The Fiji Sun)


Notes from the underground: Conned in Pakistan, convicted abroad

60-year-old Nazir Ahmad, a Pakistani on death row in Saudi Arabia's Braiman prison, frequently tells his wife in Pakistan of his fellow inmates' executions. Faced with the recent surge in beheadings of convicts in the Kingdom, it looks as if he is preparing her for his most likely fate.

"He tells me that people [in Saudi jails] are executed without any notice," says Nazir's wife Tahira Bibi. "They are not even allowed to call their families," she adds with a quivering voice while speaking to The Express Tribune by telephone from her home in Lahore's Walton Road area.

Nazir is one of the 18 Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for whom the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a human rights law firm, is fighting for. The organisation has filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC), urging it to remind the government of its responsibility to these men.

2 of them have already been beheaded. The remaining 16, who hail mostly from Lahore, Sargodha, Faisalabad and Toba Tek Singh, face the death penalty as well.

Since November 2014, 11 Pakistanis have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

"The men we are raising our voice for are the poorest of the poor, "says JPP spokesperson Shahab Siddiqi. "They were either framed or coerced into smuggling narcotics. They have no history of committing the crime for personal gain."

"Their ignorance and hopes for a better life have been misused," he adds.

For Nazir, it was a relative who persuaded him to go to Saudi Arabia for work. The relative told Nazir he had contacts in Islamabad and got him to pay for a passport and visa. Enticed by better prospects, Nazir decided to quit his job as a driver for a relative of a politician and agreed to move.

In 2006, Nazir went to Islamabad after a recruitment agent told him his ticket had been confirmed. Upon reaching the capital, however, people he had never seen before locked him up and forced him to swallow packets of heroin at gunpoint. Nazir was then shipped off to Saudi Arabia and told someone would meet him there to recover the drugs.

"Nazir phoned us from Islamabad before leaving. He told us that he would call once he reached Jeddah," recalls Tahira. "But we received no response for the next 3 to 4 days."

Nazir did call eventually, says Tahira. In tears, he broke the news to his family that he had been arrested.

"We were shocked to hear what happened. My husband is innocent. He was forced to take the drugs with him."

Tahira has spent the last 9 year, hoping that Nazir will return one day. But she is afraid that it may never happen.

"My sons have left their education to work to support the family. In our home, there is no happiness, even on Eid. My children are just sad and cry."

JPP Legal Director Maryam Haq calls for bringing Pakistanis imprisoned in Saudi Arabia back home. "The government must bring these prisoners back," she says. "Their rights as citizens of Pakistan don't end at the border."

Haq points out that prisoners in Saudi Arabia are not provided a lawyer if they can't afford one.

"The accused, if he can't speak Arabic, depends solely on an interpreter, who may or may not translate correctly," she says. According to JPP officials, there has been an instance where an interpreter told a judge that the suspect had confessed even though the latter had denied the crime.

"As such, the Pakistan Embassy should provide legal assistance to nationals who are imprisoned abroad," Haq adds.

The bodies of those executed by Saudi authorities are also never returned to Pakistan. The men executed in the Kingdom are buried there only, JPP officials say.

"Why is it that these men are not stopped when they are in Pakistan?" asks Haq. "There must be a proper mechanism for investigating drug smuggling from Pakistan," she adds.

(source: The Tribune)

FEBRUARY 22, 2015:


Oral arguments denied in Larry Swearingen request for DNA testing

Death row inmate Larry Swearingen's request for additional DNA testing of evidence he believes could exonerate him in the 1998 rape and murder of college student Melissa Trotter is once again under consideration by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The court declined to hear oral arguments in a Jan. 9 notice to attorneys, but the case was submitted to the court Jan. 21.

Swearingen, who was sentenced to death for capital murder July 11, 2000, wants testing of Trotter's sexual assault collection kit; hairs recovered from her body, the gloves used to move her body and a hairbrush found on the ground near her body; all hairs collected from her clothing; the ligature and the pantyhose used to strangle Trotter, among other evidence his appellate attorneys believe contain biological evidence that has not been tested.

Trotter was last seen leaving the Montgomery College (now Lone Star College) campus on Dec. 8, 1998. Her body was found by hunters in the Sam Houston National Forest Jan. 2, 1999, north of Lake Conroe.

Judge Kelly Case, of the 9th state District Court in Montgomery Count, has granted a 5th motion requesting DNA testing, even though prosecutors and Swearingen's attorneys dispute whether the latest request is a supplement to the 4th motion or a new request, since it calls for testing of additional materials.

4 scheduled execution orders have either been halted or vacated by the Montgomery County trial court and appeals courts since 2007.

Swearingen's 1st execution date was set for Jan. 24, 2007, then stayed by the CCA for the trial court to resolve fact issues. A 2nd execution date was set for Jan. 27, 2009, but the CCA again stayed the execution for further review.

A 3rd execution was stayed July 28, 2011, and the most recent order for Feb. 27, 2013, was struck by Case to allow for more DNA testing.

During the previous legislative session in 2013, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, proposed a bill passed by lawmakers mandating DNA testing for all biological evidence in death penalty cases.

But a CCA decision last year denying DNA testing in the Swearingen case - on the basis he could not prove the existence of biological material that could exonerate him - has led to an effort by Ellis to clarify language in the law.

In the 84th Legislature, Ellis has filed Senate Bill 487, which seeks to expand the access to DNA testing by allowing courts to grant DNA testing that has a "reasonable likelihood" of containing biological material that is not apparent to the naked eye, as opposed to having to prove exculpatory results of testing would cause a different outcome in light of overwhelming evidence showing guilt.

The bill was filed earlier this month, after the CCA declined to hear oral arguments on the DNA testing issue.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said he does have some concerns about some of the specific language of SB 487, but Ligon said he would reserve further comment until he and Ellis discuss the bill in person, which he anticipates happening in the near future.

Assistant District Attorney Bill Delmore added that Ligon is appreciative of Ellis being willing to consider the concerns of the D.A.'s Office regarding potential effects of the bill.

Ellis said at a press conference earlier this month that the proposed bill is about making sure the right person is convicted and making sure communities are safe. Ellis added that he believes the changes are simple and would "provide the courts with the clear guidance that they have asked for."

Swearingen's request for DNA testing focuses on 2 primary issues - the appropriate burden of proof in seeking testing under the amended law concerning post-conviction DNA evidence; and whether the evidence in the record, including photographs, police reports, criminal laboratory results and expert testimony showing the existence of biological materials, is sufficient to prove that such materials exist.

James Rytting, an appellate attorney for Swearingen, said the CCA will have to heavily consider possible legislative action with the DNA testing request in the court's hands.

"The Legislature is about to react to the (2014 CCA) Swearingen decision," Rytting said. "The courts are supposed to interpret the laws as lawmakers pass them. And here we have a piece of legislation that clearly says they violated the spirit of the law and what the Legislature was trying to do. And now they have to go back and fix it. I think the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals understands that. The Legislature is basically saying they have interpreted this statute far too narrowly and now they've got to basically overturn the Swearingen decision in order to do what they originally were planning to do, which was make sure that people, where there is testable DNA that could show a client is innocent, gets tested rather than road blocked. That's what that bill is about."

During a phone interview with The Courier Dec. 29, 2014, Trotter's parents, Charles and Sandy Trotter, expressed frustration with Case's decision to stall Swearingen's execution date to allow for more DNA testing.

Like Montgomery County prosecutors, the Trotter family views the move as a delay tactic designed to distort facts of the case.

Their family still grieves more than 16 years later, and Charles Trotter said there is not a day that goes by without thinking of Melissa, who died at age 19 - whether they would have more grandchildren and the memories they have missed out on.

"We would just like to have some closure with this," Melissa's mother Sandy Trotter said. "With this case not resolved, you've got all of this unfinished business lingering in your mind. You're not really able to totally move forward and remember all of the good things because all of this is lingering."



Man accused of killing 2 sons sent photo of baby boy hanging from rope

A Texas man accused of killing his 2 sons sent their mother a series of gruesome text messages, including a picture of 1 boy hanging with a rope around his neck.

The photos were sent just hours before he strangled them, prosecutors said in a Texas court.

The man, 32-year-old Gabriel Armandariz, is on trial for capital murder, accused of killing sons Luke, 8 months, and Gatlin, 2, on April 13, 2011.

Prosecutors say he hid their bodies in a space underneath the house they shared with relatives in Graham, in north central Texas. Police searched the house for several hours before they found the bodies.

NY Daily News reports Armandariz sent his ex-girlfriend Lauren Smith, who lived in Sudan, northwest of Lubbock, a text hours before the murders. It read: "I commend the spirits of these 2 boys to the Lord. I would much rather be with them than to be out partying with friends."

Another said: "Look, I'm trying to offer you another opportunity to see our children. But as usual you would much rather be with your friends."

Mr Armandariz then sent a picture of their 8-month-old baby Luke hanging from a closet ceiling with what appeared to be a rope around the neck, prosecutors said.

He also took a photo between the 2 boys before they were killed on a bed. The caption read, "We love u, goodbye."

Texts sent to Mr Armandariz's phone by Ms Smith suggest she believed she was talking to a woman whom Armandariz was seeing at the time. One of the texts read: "If I were you I'd get the hell away from him. Looks can be deceiving."

According to the Graham Leader, Mr Armandariz called Ms Smith to confess to the murders 10 hours before police found the boys’ bodies. He claimed his ex-girlfriend made him do it.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.



Family of Death Row prisoner Rodney Reed beg for his freedom

With less than 2 weeks until the scheduled execution of prisoner Rodney Reed, people from all over the nation are joining together to fight for his freedom.

Saturday afternoon Reed's family made another plea to Gov. Greg Abbott to stay the execution.

"It's took'en 18 years, but we haven't slacked up one bit. We're here till the end," said Rodrick Reed, Rodney's brother.

The Reed family said it's time for Rodney to come home.

"My heart breaks every day. Every morning I wake up and I know where he's at and I can't be there to hug him, to hold him, to tell him I love him, you know what I mean. My heart breaks every day. Until he gets home, my heart will break every day," said Rodrick.

In 1996 Bastrop teen Stacey Stites' body was found by the side of the road. Evidence showed Stites was raped and killed by strangulation. 2 years later, Rodney was sentenced to death for the crime, but his legal team said new evidence shows the jury got it wrong.

Now, less than 2 weeks from Rodney's scheduled execution, his family and supporters are making 1 final push to get the case reopened.

"I feel that justice will prevail in the end. I don't think that they'll be able to execute my brother based on all the new evidence that has come up," said Rodrick.

Rodney's legal team said new evidence shows Reed and Stites were in a relationship. Lawyers for Reed say DNA will show that Rodney did not sexually assault Stites and that at the time of her death she was with her fiancee not with Rodney.

"Test all DNA, you know what I mean, and give us a fair trial. That's all I'm asking," said Rodrick.

The Reed family said the real killer was Jimmy Fennel, Stites' fiancee at the time of her death. Fennel went on to become a Georgetown police officer, but was sent to prison in 2008 for sexually assaulting a woman while on duty.

"We're going to stay strong. We're going to stay positive. That's the only way we can think. That's only way we can be. Anything else is out of the question," said Rodrick.

Its cases like Rodney's that made former north Texas District Attorney Tim Cole rethink the death penalty altogether.

"Because we can't do it perfectly. That means we're going to execute somebody, or have executed somebody, who was innocent," said Cole.

Cole said it's important to look at all DNA evidence introduced, even if it's found after sentencing.

"If we are going to keep the death penalty, we have to make sure that the people who we are executing are indeed guilty," said Cole.

As for Rodney, his fate sits in the hands of Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the only people who can stop the execution.

"I'm asking Governor Abbott to just look into his heart and just do the right thing," said Sandra Reed, Rodney's mother.

Saturday, protestors once again begged Abbott to look into the case because they fear time is running out.

Stacy Stites' sister Debra Oliver told FOX 7 last month that she believes "... Rodney Reed was the right person and he committed this crime." Reed's attorney has also filed a petition with the Board of Pardons and Paroles seeking a change in sentence from death to life. That board votes and delivers their recommendation to the governor.



Governor's death penalty moratorium violates oath of office

As a result of Gov. Tom Wolf's recent action on the death penalty, 186 people are celebrating. These 186 people are the worst people in the state.

Each has been convicted of the willful taking of at least 1 innocent life. But they are not just murderers. To be eligible for the death penalty, the murder must have aggravating circumstances: These most often involve killing a child or a police officer; raping and/or torturing a victim; killing more than one victim; or committing a prior murder.

Each then was sentenced unanimously to death by a jury after yet another proceeding in which the defense can, for the most part, present almost anything it chooses to introduce.

One of those celebrating is Landon May. May broke into a home in the middle of the night. He duct-taped, then tortured, the homeowners, stabbing, beating and shooting them. Terry Smith succumbed to his multiple wounds first. Lucy Smith was not so lucky. She fought for her life and suffered at least 147 separate wounds. May then sexually assaulted her prior to smothering her.

He confessed, there was a mountain of corroboration, and we found his DNA in the sperm he left inside Lucy Smith.

May was also convicted of a number of serious offenses prior to this horrific case, including shooting a man in the neck at random just for fun.

There is another group affected by the governor's act: the families of the victims. Their immeasurable wounds have just been needlessly ripped open. The families, who have suffered through the judicial process they trusted and want nothing but justice and truth in sentencing, have been thunderstruck by this unprecedented and unnecessary evisceration of the law, the courts, the juries and the entire system. The governor gave no warning, and the families he says he cares about are suffering because of him.

We prosecutors take no pleasure in seeking death. It is the most solemn decision. We do so in appropriate cases because we took an oath to follow the laws of the state. The governor took that same oath but has ignored the law, the constitution and his chief responsibility to execute the laws of this state. No one, including the governor, has the right to nullify a jury's unanimous verdict or to silence those very crime victims and their families who have suffered so much.

The Legislature makes the laws. The courts decide if they are constitutional. The executive carries them out. The governor has managed to trample on all of the above. He has ignored the law, the countless appellate courts that have upheld the law, and subverted his duties for his own personal and/or political agenda.

More troubling is that he does not have the authority. A Pennsylvania governor cannot lawfully issue a moratorium. He has called it a "reprieve" in a twisted effort to comply with the law. A reprieve, however, is merely temporary relief in a specific case for a specific legal event to take place; it is not a blanket moratorium.

The governor can issue a pardon, a reprieve as above, or he can bring the issue to a public debate in the Legislature. Open discussion should take place. Unlawful edicts should not. He was elected governor, not king.

The punishment should fit the crime, and there simply are some crimes for which the only remedy is the ultimate penalty. That decision should remain with the juries and the courts.

We meet with each family prior to pursuing the death penalty. They have no illusions as to the protracted appellate process we face if the sentence is death. Their input is critical, and I have never pursued a death verdict when a family is opposed and/or simply wants to avoid the appeals. Thus, each family affected by this moratorium knew what to expect. By this act, the governor has caused them more pain and shattered any remaining vestige of truth in sentencing.

The system is indeed flawed, as the governor says. However, the main flaw is that the federal defenders association has, in essence, taken the appeals process hostage with a virtually endless supply of taxpayer money and resources dedicated to overturning every sentence. I believe in a robust appellate process, particularly in death-penalty cases, but it should not be boundless.

The fact the governor fails to mention the well-documented abuses of the federal defenders described by Chief Justice Ronald Castille reveals how closed-minded he is on the issue. So closed-minded, in fact, that he refused to meet with our bipartisan state prosecutors' association to discuss this very issue.

The governor has demonstrated a severe lack of understanding of and concern for the issues involved, as well as for the devastating consequences of his actions on the most solemn process in our system and on the families of the victims. Those victims were forever taken from us without the ability to appeal their sentence.

I welcome open debate on the issue and remain sworn to uphold the laws the Legislature duly passes. I call upon the governor to do the same.

(source: Commentary; Craig Stedman is Lancaster County's district


Our state doesn't need to rely on execution, and it shouldn't

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf made a bold decision to grant a temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4. The governor vowed to grant other reprieves, in effect declaring a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania.

Williams would have been the 1st "involuntary" execution in Pennsylvania since 1978. 3 others who waived their appeals have died by lethal injection since then, the last in 1999. Currently, about 200 people sit on Pennsylvania's death row.

These inmates are convicted of serious and violent criminal acts. They deserve severe punishment for their crimes; but we must ask ourselves, is it necessary for us to put them to death?

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has long opposed the death penalty. The Catholic Church is committed to upholding the dignity and sanctity of every human life - even the life of a person convicted of a most heinous crime. Our Christian faith calls all people to grow in respect for human life and to oppose the death penalty in our modern society.

In "Living the Gospel of Life," the Catholic Bishops of the United States affirmed, "Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence."

Catholic opposition to the use of the death penalty should not be construed as a lack of compassion for those who have been affected by violent crime. People convicted of capital offenses must be punished effectively and appropriately for their crimes. Family and friends of victims, and society as a whole, demand this; but can true emotional, spiritual and even physical healing be found in vengeance?

Governmental authority has the right and duty to assure the safety of society, and to punish criminals by means of suitable penalties. Keeping the peace could require the imposition of the death penalty if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety, the authority should limit itself to such means.

Our society can appropriately punish without having to rely on execution. We can imprison and isolate offenders to promote the safety of citizens, correctional officers and other inmates. The finality of a life sentence without the possibility of parole, as opposed to decades of drawn out appeals and hearings, could help to release victims' families to begin their healing. Further, a life sentence gives the inmate time to focus on repenting of his crime instead of mounting his next appeal.

Some say that the possibility of the death penalty acts as a deterrent. Studies comparing murder rates in states that have the death penalty with states that do not conclude that the death penalty has no effect in dissuading murder. In fact, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, the murder rate in states that do not have the death penalty is consistently lower than states that do.

Nationwide, 150 people have been exonerated from death row, including six in Pennsylvania. As Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg has said, this is too many to "pretend that our criminal system is so precise and exact and just that we can be confident with the sentence of the death penalty."

A few years ago, the world watched as the families of the Amish students in Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, demonstrated profound forgiveness by supporting the widow of the man who murdered their children. They taught us that peace is not separate from the demands of justice, but it is fostered by mercy and love.

The Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment, established in 2011, will soon release its findings on the practice in Pennsylvania. Whether it recommends abolishing the death penalty or not, it will likely confirm that our current system of state sponsored executions is flawed, ineffective, unjust and expensive.

The death penalty creates a potentially greater harm to society by reinforcing the idea that violence is a solution to society's problems. The death penalty will not eradicate violent crime any more than abortion is a solution to unwanted pregnancy.

We, the people of Pennsylvania, have the power to abolish the death penalty and reinforce a modern penal system that provides alternatives to taking the lives of the guilty.

Punishment should reflect our belief in the inherent human dignity of each person, and taking a life to avenge the death of another does not create a culture of life.

The death penalty isn't necessary. We can do better.

(source: Commentary; Amy B. Hill is director of communications for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania's Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of


Suspend, then end, death penalty

Newly elected Gov. Tom Wolf cited the close calls of death row inmate Harold Wilson last Friday, Feb. 13, when he imposed a moratorium on Pennsylvania's death penalty. Twice, Wolf pointed out, Wilson was nearly executed, yet eventually he was exonerated. Wilson's brushes with unjustified death are the strongest reason to suspend, if not end, capital punishment altogether. But Wolf offered other compelling arguments in his statement, clearly outlining how Pennsylvania will save both lives and money by suspending it.

The death penalty, Wolf said, is "error-prone, expensive and anything but infallible," all points this newspaper has made in numerous editorials arguing against it. Some examples:

Error-prone. Not long ago in Ohio, the 1st execution in years took place, but putting Dennis McGuire to death took an excruciating 25 minutes, far longer than the usual lethal injection. McGuire's family asserted the grisly death amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. They have sued.

Expensive. The governor quoted a Reading Eagle analysis that estimated death penalty cases have cost taxpayers at least $315 million, thanks in part to the often decades-long appeals process.

Anything but infallible. Wolf noted that 150 people have been exonerated from death row, 5 others besides Wilson in Pennsylvania. One had served 21 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Wolf also cited numerous studies that challenge the "accuracy, and fundamental fairness, of Pennsylvania's capital sentencing system," studies that suggest a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor or a minority - and that the odds rise further if the victim was Caucasian.

Wolf's decision was not unilateral. He was acting on a 2 1/2-year-old request by the bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. The task force is studying the effectiveness of the death penalty in Pennsylvania and plans to make recommendations, and in 2012 asked former Gov. Tom Corbett to suspend executions until it concluded its study and report.

Gov. Wolf acknowledged his responsibility to victims of violent crimes and the feelings of family members and friends. But, he said, the justice system also has an obligation to make sure every defendant has appropriate counsel throughout the process, that the sentence is fair and proportional and that there is no risk of executing an innocent person. Only then will Pennsylvania achieve its goal of equal justice for all.

(source: Editorial, Pocono Record)


Pennsylvania's flawed death penalty system in need of a fix

What good is a death penalty system that, in Pennsylvania's case, might more accurately be called the "We Never Kill Motel"?

Not funny. Not intended to be.

The inability to enforce the state's death-penalty law stands in stark contrast to the brutality of crimes that causes reasonable people to support capital punishment. In declaring a so-called moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf was true to his campaign pledge, and, we suspect, his own moral compass.

But that's not his job.

Last week Wolf issued a temporary reprieve for a death-row inmate whose execution was scheduled for March. That's far from a stay of all executions; governors don't have that power. Wolf is buying time until a Senate task force studying the death penalty returns with its findings -- hopefully soon, and hopefully with some clarity on how to disentangle a system that has managed 3 executions in 20 years. Pennsylvania's death row houses 186 convicted killers, 4th most in the U.S.

The easiest way to eliminate endless appeals, lingering uncertainty about guilt and moral ambiguity is to eliminate the death penalty altogether. New Jersey and several other states have taken this route. Last week U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for a national moratorium on lethal injection until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a suit brought by death row inmates in Oklahoma.

That's not his job, either.

We respect the view of those who believe the state should not be in the business of killing. When you couple that with the tragedy of killing people for crimes they did not commit or who lacked competent counsel -- well, the government can't undo its own wrongful killings. The advent of DNA evidence and other scientific advances has led to the exoneration of 150 "convicted killers" across the nation, some posthumously. That remains the most powerful argument against capital punishment.

But those same advances allow for a higher degree of certainty of guilt in contested cases, and in other cases, there simply is no doubt. Truly heinous killings in which there is no question of guilt -- think Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing, or closer to home, Martin Appel in the cold-blooded killing of three in an East Allen Township bank -- should be subject to the ultimate punishment. (Appel is among those whose death sentence was overturned and converted to life on appeal.) Eric Frein, assuming he is convicted and proven to be of sound mind, should face the same fate for the sniping death of a Pennsylvania state trooper.

It's unlikely the Legislature is going reverse its support for the death penalty. Yet Pennsylvania doesn't have a death penalty. It has a Byzantine system that bills the taxpayer much more than a life-in-prison maximum would cost. It frustrates the families of the victims and mocks the intent and delivery of the law.

We can't fault Wolf for wanting some clarity from a legislative investigation. No matter how anyone feels about the death penalty, the choices are to fix it or get rid of it.

(source: Editorial,


Ruling: Clark County court correct in conviction

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled this week to uphold a 2013 conviction in a death penalty case held in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1.

The supreme court reviewed the case, which involves Jeffrey Weisheit, Evansville, setting fire to a home in 2010 while his girlfriend's 2 children, 5 and 7 years old, were inside.

The children did not escape the home and died as a result of the blaze, and Weisheit was subsequently charged with 2 counts of murder and 2 class A felony arson counts.

The Vanderburgh County case was held in Clark County because of the media attention it had garnered in the Evansville area and was presided over by then-Judge Dan Moore. During the trial's sentencing hearing, then-Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden informed Weisheit that he was sentenced to death. In Indiana, a death penalty sentence results in an automatic appeal to the state's highest court.

The appeal claims the court erroneously ruled on 8 separate issues. According to the court's ruling, those issues included the exclusion of testimony; insufficient evidence; a tainted jury pool; lack of suppression of statements made to investigators; and the lack of proper consideration to mitigating circumstances.

The supreme court judges considered each of the issues and drafted, at the conclusion of its 25-page response to Weisheit's appeal, " ... we affirm Weisheit's convictions for murder and arson resulting in serious bodily injury and his death sentence."

Moore was reached by phone Friday, but said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the court’s ruling at this time because he had presided over the trial.

A call to the Office of the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor was not returned before press time.

(source: News and Tribune)


Justices hear arguments on lethal injection law

A case that examines whether a 2013 law gives the state's correction department too much authority in setting lethal-injection protocol is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The court on Thursday heard oral arguments from an assistant state attorney general and a lawyer representing nine death-row inmates.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen last year put lethal injections on hold in the state. He said the law stipulating the department use a barbiturate wasn't adequate and gave the department too much leeway to decide what drugs to use and how they should be administered.

The ruling is a response to a 2013 lawsuit by the 9 death-row inmates who challenged the latest rewrite of the Method of Execution Act, which replaced the electric chair with lethal injection in 1983.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt said during oral arguments that the law provides "sufficient guidance" to prison officials.

Josh Lee, the inmates' public defender, said that the statute also allows the correction department to decide whether medical personnel should be present at an execution.

"What the General Assembly has said is, 'We can have a quick and painless death, or a slow and agonizing death. Department of Correction, it's up to you,'" Lee said.

He also said in an email after the hearing that "This case is really not about the death penalty. It is about making sure that government agencies don't exceed their authority. Not just prisoners but also Arkansas businesses and ordinary citizens need government agencies to stay within the limits of their constitutional authority."

(source: Associated Press)


Defense Says Arias Wanted to Give Secret Testimony Due to Threats and Hate Mail

Newly released court documents reveal Jodi Arias begged to testify in a closed-courtroom during her death penalty sentencing retrial last October because she feared court watchers were sending her threats and hate mail.

On Thursday, officials at the Maricopa County Superior Court released a transcript of a closed-door hearing where Arias' lawyers discussed their request to have the public and media barred from the courtroom. The defense argued Arias needed to testify in secret because she thought her safety was at risk.

"A lot of crazy people come to the jail and try to visit me," Arias told the court, according to a transcript of bench-conference conversations and a hearing that was unsealed on Thursday, reports USA Today.

Defense attorney Kirk Nurmi argued Arias had received hate mail threatening her over what she might say in her testimony.

"We know the people here today currently in the courtroom include some of the people who send her that mail," Nurmi said, referring to unidentified spectators in the court.

They also discussed a person who had tried to visit the convicted killer by impersonating her attorney and demanding to see her.

As a result, Nurmi claimed that Arias would be too nervous to think clearly if spectators were present during her testimony.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez, however, expressed concern that closing the courtroom based on claims that the defendant is too nervous to testify in public would set bad precedent and could trigger appeals, reports ABC 15 Arizona.

Initially Judge Sherry Stephens rejected Arias' reasoning for wanting to close the courtroom, however she ultimately granted Arias her request and kicked the media and public out of the court on Oct. 30, 2014. Arias then testified for 2 days, until the Court of Appeals overturned Stephens' decision and reopened the courtroom.

Although Arias was found guilty of 1st-degree murder last May in the gruesome death of her ex-boyfriend, jurors in her 1st trial failed to reach a unanimous decision on her sentencing. As a result, the retrial will determine whether she should be sentenced to death, life in prison or life with a chance of release after serving 25 years.

(source: Latin Post)


FM man indicted in child's death

A Fort Mohave man was indicted Thursday for the October murder of an infant boy.

A Mohave County grand jury indicted Tyler James Kirkpatrick, 20, of 1st-degree murder by domestic violence, 2nd-degree murder by domestic violence and child abuse by domestic violence.

He is expected to be arraigned on the charges Friday at the county jail. His case will then be heard before Superior Court Commissioner Billy Sipe Jr. Kirkpatrick is being held in county jail without bond. If convicted of the 1st-degree murder charge, Kirkpatrick would face either life in prison with the chance of parole after 35 years, natural life or the death penalty. Prosecutors have not made a decision yet whether to pursue the death penalty.

Sheriff's detectives arrested Kirkpatrick on Wednesday morning in connection with the Oct. 23 death of 15-month-old Kade Kryska. The baby suffered traumatic brain injury at his Fort Mohave home.

Kirkpatrick was arrested at the home he shared with the child's mother, his girlfriend. He locked himself in his bedroom and initially would not come out for detectives. Kirkpatrick eventually surrendered and was arrested without incident.

On Oct. 21, Kryska's mother returned from work to find her son had difficulty breathing. The child had been in Kirkpatrick's care all day. That night, sheriff's deputies responded to the Fort Mohave hospital where the child was determined to have suffered head injuries. The boy was flown to the Las Vegas hospital where he died 2 days later.

MCSO, the county attorney's office and Clark County Medical Examiner's Office conducted a 4-month investigation leading up to Kirkpatrick's arrest Wednesday.

(source: Mohave Daily News)


Defender asks for staff increase ---- Commissioners deny Adams' request

Kootenai County Chief Public Defender John Adams came in asking for an additional full-time attorney and an extra legal assistant.

The county commissioners on Friday turned him down on both, at least until budget season.

"I'm not a big fan of adding bodies outside the budget process," Commissioner Dan Green said.

"I have given the prior boards ample substantiation of why these attorneys are needed," said Adams, who has asked for additional attorneys in the past, too.

He said the Constitution mandates the county have more public defenders to provide adequate indigent defense services.

"You have to keep up with the growing population," Adams said.

His office handles more than 6,000 cases per year, he said, and caseloads of public defenders in the county have been pushed beyond constitutionally acceptable levels.

He knows his staff would give up pay raises to have extra people in the office to help share the workload.

"Don't take that out of context, that I don't want my people to get more money, but I think they would trade $300 per year for more companions in the trenches," Adams said.

The annual expense of the two additional positions Adams asked for Friday, including benefits, would have been $120,000. The cost would have been $70,000 through the remainder of fiscal year 2015.

While the board denied the request for those two positions, it did approve a raise and promotion for a temporary courier employee, who has been running files between offices for defense attorneys the past couple years.

The courier now becomes a full-time, permanent secretary in the public defender's office. She will get a pay raise from $10 per hour to $11.37, and she will also now get benefits, following the commission's vote Friday.

It's been roughly 3 years since Adams' office received additional staff. At that time he received 2 extra attorneys.

Also Friday, Adams asked for money to pay for a part-time attorney - working 30 hours per week - who could assist him with the defense of Angel Morales-Larranaga, who has been charged with the murder of his wife and 6-year-old stepdaughter in July.

Adams said the "capital" murder case of Morales-Larranaga, who is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, is an extraordinary amount of work for one attorney. The cost for some part-time help would be approximately $2,400 per month, Adams said.

"Now that there's a death-penalty case, there's a completely different funding mechanism potentially available to you," Green said.

Adams should be able to receive funds from the Capital Crimes Defense Fund, Green said.

"Let's use the insurance fund that we've been funding for all these years," Green said.

The fund was established by counties to fund costs in criminal cases when the death penalty is a legal possibility.

(source: Coeur d'Alene Press)


All the ways America has chosen to execute people since 1776

After a series of botched executions last year, the US Supreme Court has agreed to review whether a common method of lethal injection is constitutional. If not, many states will need a new way to kill people.

Utah is already moving forward with a bill that would bring back executions by firing squad, which it allowed until 2004. There may be no "humane" way to put a prisoner to death, but if states are going to consider alternatives, they could reach back in history. Here's a look at popular execution methods since the US was created in 1776:

The data were compiled from a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center and from research by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla.

Legal scrutiny of lethal injection comes as support for the death penalty has dropped dramatically in the US. In 1994, 80% of Americans said they were in favor of executing people convicted of murder; now it's just 63%, according to Gallup.

But the issue is increasingly polarized: Republicans have become more entrenched in their support, as the rest of the country grows more disillusioned with the practice:

Professor Austin Sarat, author of Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, surveyed executions from 1890 to 2010. He found that roughly 3% of executions were botched over that time, but in the current era of lethal injection, the portion of botched executions has risen to 7%.

These botched executions can be grisly. The Guardian reported that during the 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett, the doctor was splattered with blood as he tried to set an intravenous line. Lockett "groaned, writhed, lifted his head and shoulders off the gurney, and said, 'Man'." The warden called Lockett's execution "a bloody mess."

America no longer hangs its condemned, nor gas or electrocute them. And it's unlikely to return to those methods. For one, states now lack the expertise: Many have mothballed or destroyed their gallows, electric chairs, and gas chambers. There are also issues of appearance: Some methods carry more baggage than others, which is why a return to firing squads seems unlikely, even in Utah.



UK's drugs aid puts Britons at risk of execution ---- The Government is backing counter-narcotics raids in countries that have the death penalty

British citizens could be executed as a result of the Government's overseas funding for operations against drug-smuggling in counties where capital punishment is used.

The Home Office policy is "in effect helping to send large numbers of people, including British nationals, to the hangman's noose", according to the human rights group Reprieve. Britain has provided at least 12m pounds worth to 22 counter-narcotics projects in Pakistan - where 6 British nationals are on death row for drugs offences - with the aim of increasing the number of drug arrests and prosecutions, which can result in death sentences.

The UK is also a major funder of Pakistan's anti-narcotics force, which has a 92 % conviction rate and actively promotes on its website the number of death sentences it has secured for drug offences.

About 8,000 people are on death row in Pakistan, more than any other country in the world. A moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in December in the wake of the Peshawar school massacre, in which Taliban gunmen murdered 141 children and teachers. Since then, 24 people have been executed; another 500 are due to be killed in the coming months.

Although the Pakistani authorities stated that only those charged with terrorism offences would be executed, 2 murderers have since been hanged. Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, says it is "highly likely" that similar punishments could soon be carried out on those convicted of drugs offences.

Maya Foa, the head of Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "Pakistan has the largest death row in the world, and is now actively executing prisoners - placing a number of Brits at risk. The UK government has given a series of flaccid excuses for continuing to support anti-drug raids in Pakistan, which very often see drug offenders sentenced to death."

There appears to be confusion within the Government over which department bears ultimate responsibility for the funding of counter-narcotics projects overseas. The Home Office has previously directed queries on the issue to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), but earlier this month, Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone confirmed in a written parliamentary answer that her department was responsible.

"Now that the Pakistani authorities are once again carrying out executions, the lives of these people and many others are in grave danger," Ms Foa said. "If the UK is committed to ending the death penalty worldwide, why is British anti-narcotics aid supporting these drug convictions?"

More than 20 Britons are at risk of execution in Pakistan, according to figures published by the FCO earlier this month. Overall, a drugs-related offence is the most likely crime after murder to result in a British citizen facing the death penalty overseas.

The figures, released in response to a Freedom of Information request, also highlighted that up to 15 Britons are at risk of execution abroad due to drug-related prosecutions. 25 are facing the death penalty for murder, with others being prosecuted for offences ranging from blasphemy to terrorism.

The Government has previously given money to similar counter-narcotics projects in Iran - but in 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the funding had been withdrawn because of "concerns around Iran's use of the death penalty for drug offences". The Home Office must now take similar action in Pakistan, Reprieve said.

An FCO spokesman said: "It remains our long-standing policy to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. The British Government is not aware of any case in Pakistan where UK counter-narcotics co-operation has led to a death penalty sentence. We continue to review the situation as we have always done."

(source: The Independent)

FEBRUARY 21, 2015:


George W. Bush's finest hour as governor of Texas

George W. Bush did several things as president that earned my praise, although he would do many others - like starting 2 wars - that drew my harsh criticism.

But during his 5-year tenure as governor of Texas, there is really only one action by Bush I regarded as praiseworthy and even heroic, especially for one who at the time brandished the "tough guy" image and had campaigned as the candidate who would be harsh on criminals.

During his governorship, Bush presided over 152 executions, more than any other governor in the history of the state - until his successor Rick Perry came along. There were 278 people put to death on Perry's watch.

The most noted death penalty case under Bush was that of Karla Faye Tucker who, in 1998, became the 1st woman to be executed in Texas since 1863.

There was much pressure from all over the world for the governor to commute her sentence to life or, at the very least, to grant a 30-day reprieve for the woman who had become a born-again Christian while on death row.

Bush, who already had higher political ambitions, would not budge.

In a statement denying the delay, in which he acknowledged receiving calls for mercy as well those demanding accountability, the governor said it was his "responsibility to ensure our laws are enforced fairly and evenly without preference or special treatment."

When Bush allowed Karla Faye Tucker to die, capital punishment opponents saw little hope that anyone else on death row would ever receive anything resembling mercy from the governor.

Then, 4 months later, Bush did the noble thing in the case of Henry Lee Lucas, a notorious serial killer - and also a notorious liar, because it was determined that he didn't commit nearly the number of murders to which he confessed.

Lucas was a 1-eyed drifter who had killed his mother and probably a couple of other women before being arrested in Texas in 1983 on a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm.

While in custody, he began confessing to numerous unsolved murders in Texas and across the country. The number of victims he claimed to have killed eventually got up to 600, with jurisdictions clearing their books of more than 200 previously unsolved cases based on Lucas' confessions.

He was convicted of 10 murders, including that of an unidentified woman found north of Austin who was known simply as "Orange Socks," because that's all she was wearing when her body was discovered. For various crimes, Lucas received 6 life sentences, 210 years in prison and the death penalty for the Orange Socks killing.

As it turned out, the case for which Lucas was sentenced to die is one authorities became certain he could not have committed. Research by journalists for a Dallas newspaper, as well as time-lines established by investigators, showed that Lucas was likely in Jacksonville, Fla., at the time of the murder.

On the recommendation of Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, and over the objection of the Williamson County district attorney, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole advised Gov. Bush to grant a 270-day reprieve and to commute the Lucas' death sentence to life.

Bush agreed, noting, "The 1st question I ask in each death penalty case is whether there is any doubt about whether the individual is guilty of the crime. While Henry Lee Lucas is guilty of committing a number of horrible crimes, serious concerns have been raised about his guilt in this case."

I contend that this was Bush's finest hour as governor.

Greg Abbott should show the same courage and halt the scheduled March 5 execution of Rodney Reed. There is credible evidence that Reed is innocent.

(source: Opinion Bob Ray Sanders; Fort Worth Star-Telegram)


Family of murdered pregnant teen will seek death penalty

A grieving mother told Eyewitness News that the killer of her teenage daughter and unborn granddaughter deserves the death penalty.

Bexar County Sheriff deputies arrested 19-year-old Courtney Velasquez on Friday for capital murder. They said he confessed to relatives he drowned, then burned the body of his pregnant girlfriend.

What started as a grass fire on near Schuwirth Rd near FM 1346 turned out to be the scene of a crime. It's now a place where the family of 18-year-old Dawanna Thomas go to grieve.

Pregnant girlfriend murdered

"My love will never end for her," said Tear Bedford, the mother of the teen.

Authorities arrested Thomas' boyfriend Friday. They said Velasquez violently killed her. Thomas' mother told Eyewitness News her daughter feared for her life.

"(Velasquez) didn't want nothing to do with the baby he kept calling me saying he wanted to get an abortion, I said we don't believe in abortion I said my baby is going to have the baby," said the mother.

According to the affidavit, Velasquez's relatives came forward to police. A family member told detectives that he picked up Velasquez near a fast food restaurant near Rittiman Road and Highway 35 and that Velasquez pants were "wet". The relatives then told police that Velasquez said "I can't believe I did it", "I killed her" and "I drowned her at the creek by Rittiman Road".

The affidavit goes on to say that Velasquez continued to tell his relative "I took her clothes off, put her in a bag and put a log over it, up under the bridge...". The relative then told police Velasquez said They told detectives that he said he was "going to take her body and burn it somewhere".

"Justice has not been served for him just because he is locked up," said the grieving mother. "I'm seeking death penalty for whoever had hands in this because that was my 1st grandbaby."

Velasquez is charged with capital murder of Thomas and her unborn child.

(source: KENS news)


A Time Out for the Death Penalty

Is declaring a "time out" to the death penalty in Pennsylvania an abuse of the governor's power "ignoring duly enacted law," as prosecutors have claimed, or is it a much needed opportunity to step back?

Even a years-long moratorium would be a blink of the eye compared to what Nick Yarris endured before he was exonerated by DNA tests in 2004, after 21 years on Pennsylvania's death row. Now Yarris is part of the reason why Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a death penalty "time out" in Pennsylvania, which has the fifth largest death row in the nation. In reaching his decision Wolf concluded: "Pennsylvania's system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible."

Yarris' case shows just how much can go wrong in a high-stakes murder investigation. His case was not initially treated as part of a death penalty "system." He was arrested by local police after being pulled over. The incident turned south when he got into an altercation with the officer. In lockup he read in the newspaper about a serious rape and murder investigation and made a misguided offer to assist the local police. Detectives proceeded to interrogate Yarris and without recording the initial conversation, they later asserted without any notes or documentation, that he had offered 2 key details about the murder that had never been made public. He supposedly volunteered that the victim had been raped and that her Chrysler Cordoba had a brown "landau" (or fake convertible) roof.

The police also located eyewitnesses. They did not initially identify Yarris at lineups and described someone who looked different. Yet at trial they said they thought they saw Yarris at the shopping mall where the victim was abducted on the day of the crime. The potential malleability and unreliability of eyewitness memory is set out in detail in a landmark new National Academy of Sciences report [PDF] (by a committee which I should note I participated in). The police also tried to bolster their case by tracking down a jailhouse informant who claimed Yarris had bragged about the shaky eyewitness evidence in the case (and the inconclusive forensics), making the weakness of the prosecution's case all seem like a sinister plan. I describe this troubling testimony in my book, "Convicting the Innocent."

It was not an even fight at trial. Yarris had a lone defense lawyer (today two lawyers, plus investigative and expert resources are recommended for death penalty trials). The lawyer was privately retained—for just $1,500—and the trial judge refused the defense much needed experts to explain, for example, why someone like Yarris might falsely confess or why he posed no danger justifying a death sentence.

Yet the prosecution's house of cards fell apart decades later when a DNA test was finally obtained. Yarris' civil rights case later settled in the millions.

The problems that sent Yarris to death row persist in Pennsylvania to this day. There is still no statewide requirement that entire interrogations be electronically recorded to prevent contamination by law enforcement. (This despite how failure to record may lead to prosecution losses more often than wrongful convictions). There are no state guidelines on interrogating the mentally ill or intellectually disabled. There are no state requirements that best practices for lineups, like those recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, be adopted. Indeed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just ruled [PDF] that expert testimony on such false confessions is not admissible (although approving experts on eyewitness memory).

An American Bar Association report [PDF] in 2007 found still additional systemic problems in Pennsylvania. It takes special expertise and resources to handle a death penalty case. But in Pennsylvania there is no statewide authority to ensure adequate death penalty lawyers are appointed. Each county handles indigent defense on its own, with predictable failures to provide a sound defense. In addition racial disparity has not been studied; the governor noted data is simply not being collected. The governor should be applauded for allowing a bipartisan Task Force and Advisory Committee (chaired by Senators Daylin Leach and Stewart Greenleaf) to carefully study the problem without looming execution dates interrupting their work.

There is no rush. It took more than 20 years to uncover Yarris' innocence. Although many complain of protracted litigation delays in capital cases, that same litigation has exonerated those facing the nightmare of a wrongful execution. As more states have stepped back from the death penalty and others have become deadlocked in litigation over secret drug protocols and botched executions, it is refreshing to see calmer heads prevail in Pennsylvania.

Until criminal investigations and capital litigation are fixed on the ground, we cannot place upon them the exorbitant weight of a death sentence. And until that day comes, in Pennsylvania and in each of the other remaining death penalty states, we need to give the death penalty a time out.

(source: Guest Commentary; Brandon L. Garrett received his JD from Columbia University School of Law and is currently a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He is the author of "Convicting the Innocent" and "Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise With Corporations."----The Jurist)


Man convicted of killing Homewood girlfriend, 2 kids appeals death sentence

A man convicted of gunning down his Homewood girlfriend and her 2 children didn't get a fair trial because prosecutors were allowed to exclude jurors hesitant about the death penalty and allowed to use a confession he made after suffering a traumatic brain injury, the man claims in a death sentence appeal filed Friday in federal court.

An Allegheny County jury in 1996 convicted Gerald Watkins, 45, and sentenced him to death for the July 20, 1994, murders of Beth Ann Anderson, 30, Kevin Kelly, 9, and newborn Melanie Watkins.

All 3 were shot multiple times with a .22 caliber weapon.

The state Supreme Court on Feb. 9 denied his petition for a new appeal hearing.

His federal appeal claims that excluding 8 potential jurors who hesitated about whether they supported the death penalty violated his constitutional rights to a trial by an impartial jury.

"Even the slightest hesitation regarding capital punishment was treated as grounds for dismissal," federal public defender Christi Charpentier says in the appeal.

A brain injury Watkins suffered after the murders rendered him incapable of intelligently waiving his Miranda rights when he confessed to police, she said.

Watkins was treated at a New York hospital for the head injury and told doctors he couldn't remember how he became injured. He was arrested in Harlem on May 5, 1995.

2 Pittsburgh police detectives who drove Watkins back to Pittsburgh testified that he confessed to the murders during the drive and he subsequently signed a written confession.

At trial, he denied making the confession, claimed police forged his signature and that he was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike driving to New York when the murders happened.

2 witnesses put Watkins at his girlfriend's house minutes before the murders. Another witness said Watkins called him a day or so after the murders, confirming he had committed them. The witness said Watkins threatened to kill him unless he helped collect some money other people owed Watkins.



The death penalty won't bring my dad back

When I heard about Gov. Wolf's decision to declare a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, I felt a surge of pride for my home state. Pennsylvania is finally taking a critical look at the death penalty, much like a scientist has to take a critical look at all angles of an experiment.

And no one better to take a critical scientific look than my dad, Terry. He was the kind of dad who was in love with math and science, lights and gears, energy, and solving equations, and he showed me all of it with a sense of joy and fun. He's probably the reason I am now a middle-school math teacher. Tragically, he was brutally murdered before he ever got a chance to see just how he influenced my career.

In September 2001, when I was a senior in college, my dad and stepmother, Lucy, were tortured and killed in their Lancaster County home by my adopted stepbrother, Michael Bourgeois, and his acquaintances.

Even after all these years, I still don't understand the motivation for this crime. Michael, who was 17 at the time of the murder, is serving a life sentence. One of the other culprits, Landon May, is on Pennsylvania's death row.

The crime came as a complete surprise, and it turned my life upside down for a while. I was angry, hurt, helpless and full of nightmares.

A year later, as we prepared for the trials, I was presented with the notion that "justice would be served for me" and the death penalty would be sought for May.

What was a gut reaction in the office of the district attorney that day - that I just wanted my dad back, and death for someone else was so far removed from the things that mattered - became a long journey of educating myself about the death penalty and deciphering the meaning of the word "justice."

In the 14 years since my parents' deaths, I have come to 2 solid conclusions.

Most importantly, I want to live a full and joyful life without carrying the heavy load of bitterness and hatred that the death penalty brings. On this journey, I've had the opportunity to connect with people who have been through tragic situations like mine, and I have seen that this is possible. It is a choice and it takes a lot of work.

Second, I've figured out what justice actually is: It's everyone getting what they need to heal. In a story like mine, it's a victim's surviving family members being supported in the aftermath of a terrible crime. It's guidance on how to navigate the funeral, the trial, the money, the grief. It's the community getting what it needs in the form of safety and crime prevention programs, and the offenders being taken out of the community. It's also the offenders getting what they need - accountability, counseling, safety as well. All of these needs can be met without the death penalty.

It is clear to me - having seen the offenders in my case get both life and death sentences - that killing someone who has already been removed from the community is not necessary. It is not justice.

Pennsylvania's capital punishment system is broken in so many ways. It costs far more than imprisoning murderers for life. It is inconsistent and arbitrary. It is difficult to carry out. And we'll never be able to completely eliminate the possibility that an innocent person could be executed.

But all that aside, my voice is of a victim's family member who still just wants her dad back. The death penalty system, no matter how hard it tries, simply cannot do that. And it won't honor my father or stepmother to do more killing now.

Long ago, I made a choice to keep my dad with me every day and refocus my life away from a killer I never knew. Thank you, Gov. Wolf, for deciding to halt executions and take a closer look at the death penalty. (source: Commentary; Megan Smith lives in Asheville, N.C.----The Morning Call)


DA undecided on death penalty in Mount Holly double killing

Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell has not yet decided if he will seek the death penalty for the man accused of killing his girlfriend and her teenage son.

Peter Rivers, 41, is charged with 1st-degree murder in the deaths of his live-in girlfriend, Bridget Berry, 38, and her son, Treyvon "T.J." Berry, 17. The bodies of mother and son were found in their Mount Holly home after the house was set on fire.

Bell says he is still reviewing the case and will announce a decision on whether to seek the death penalty in court.

Rivers has been indicted by the grand jury on both counts. He is in Gaston County Jail without bond.

(source: Gaston Gazette)


3 to face death penalty----Arrests made in Uniopolis murder case

3 men were indicted this week in the June slaying of an Uniopolis man beaten to death inside his home.

All 3 will face the death penalty, Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce said Friday.

Aaron M. Dietrich Sr., 26, of Wapakoneta, Joseph R. Furry, 30, of Van Wert, and James P. Dinsmore, 28, all are charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder, and 1 count each of aggravated burglary, kidnapping and intimidation of a witness.

The arrests come this week, about 8 months into a lengthy investigation, Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said.

"I'm very pleased with these arrests. There is more work that needs to be done," Solomon said. "This brings hopefully some justice to the victims and the victim's family."

The men are charged in the June 9 death of Charles Hicks, 54, who was found dead in his upstairs apartment at 2 Main St., Uniopolis. Deputies were called to the apartment at 4:30 p.m. that day over a deceased man.

Solomon and Pierce would not discuss a motive or say how the three men became suspects. All 3 are being held on $5 million bonds.

The indictments filed this week gives a glimpse into a possible motive. One of the death penalty specifications said Hicks was killed to prevent his testimony as a witness in a criminal case.

Hicks' autopsy report said he was beaten to death. It said he had crushing injuries to the front of his neck that led to him suffocating.

Hicks' coworkers and friends began looking for him the morning of his death after he failed to arrive at his job. People visited his building once. Later, they returned. When they entered the apartment through an open door, they spotted blood throughout the apartment, according to the autopsy report.

They left and called for emergency help. A deputy quickly arrived.

Hicks' body was found under a pile of blankets on a bed. The autopsy report said he had been dead for a while based on stages the body goes through after death. The time of death was placed sometime in the 28 hours after 8 p.m. June 7, according to the report.

Hicks was bound. Someone used black duct tape to tie his wrists behind his back. Tape was also around his ankles.

The autopsy report lists numerous injuries associated with a severe beating including facial injuries and broken ribs. He had alcohol in his system.

The next step is an arraignment in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court. Furry's arraignment is scheduled for March 2. Arraignments for the others have yet to be scheduled.



Arkansas Supreme Court listens to oral arguments on lethal injection law

A case that examines whether a 2013 law gives the state's correction department too much authority in setting lethal-injection protocol is now before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The court on Thursday heard oral arguments from an assistant state attorney general and a lawyer representing 9 death-row inmates, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ) reported.

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen last year put lethal injections on hold in the state. He said the law stipulating the department use a barbiturate wasn't adequate and gave the department too much leeway to decide what drugs to use and how they should be administered.

The ruling is a response to a 2013 lawsuit by the 9 death-row inmates who challenged the latest rewrite of the Method of Execution Act, which replaced the electric chair with lethal injection in 1983.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt said during oral arguments that the law provides "sufficient guidance" to prison officials.

Josh Lee, the inmates' public defender, said that the statute also allows the correction department to decide whether medical personnel should be present at an execution.

"What the General Assembly has said is, 'We can have a quick and painless death, or a slow and agonizing death. Department of Correction, it's up to you,'" Lee said.

He also said in an email after the hearing that "This case is really not about the death penalty. It is about making sure that government agencies don't exceed their authority. Not just prisoners but also Arkansas businesses and ordinary citizens need government agencies to stay within the limits of their constitutional authority."

(source: Associated Press)


Columbia Residents work to Put the Death Sentence to Rest

Members of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, or MADP, gathered at the Methodist Church in downtown Columbia Thursday to discuss reforming capital punishment procedures. Convener for the Columbia chapter of MADP, Jeff Stack, said the organization hopes to one day see the death penalty revoked. But for now, the immediate priority is to have it reformed.

"This gathering tonight is looking at a common ground, to try to have a system be as fair as possible, and to try and prevent wrongful convictions," Stack said. "That's at minimum what we should agree to as a civilized society."

University of Missouri law professor Paul Litton gave a presentation at the meeting. Litton spent 2 years working in a committee sponsored by the American Bar Association studying Missouri death penalty procedures. His presentation highlighted the weaknesses of capital punishment legislation and addressed common misconceptions regarding the death penalty.

"If you support it because you think that some people deserve it, have you thought about the moral costs?" Litton said. "About how it's often arbitrarily imposed or distributed? And 2nd, have you thought about the financial costs? Most people think it saves us money. It's not true."

Litton said studies have concluded that it costs up to 3 times more to pursue an execution than to convict a defendant to a sentence of life without parole. Litton said legislative changes would improve accuracy and fairness of capital punishment sentencing.

MADP will continue to lobby for a moratorium of Missouri's death penalty and promote reforms to capital punishment procedures.

(source: KBIA news)


Amman Reu-El defense attorney: 'People of color' underrepresented as potential jurors in capital murder case

The number of prospective jurors in the retrial of King Phillip Amman Reu-El who are African-American or biracial is below the 12.7 % of "people of color" in Shawnee County, and the jury panel should be dismissed, the defendant's attorneys said Friday.

The question of the racial makeup of the prospective jurors in the Shawnee County District Court jury surfaced Friday during a motion hearing on Friday.

Amman Reu-El, 42, of Topeka, is charged with capital murder and is in the process of being retried in the 2003 shooting deaths of 2 women in southeast Topeka. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The retrial is more than 11 years after the 2 women - Annette Roberson, 38, and Gloria A. Jones, 42 - were killed and more than 9 years after Amman Reu-El was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 2005.

Defense attorney Paul Oller defined "people of color" as those who are African-American or who identify themselves as biracial.

Oller said that, of 4 panels of prospective jurors reporting for duty earlier this week, the 1st panel didn't have any "people of color," the 2nd had 6, the 3rd had 6, and the 4th had one, a total of 13.

"The representation of African-American-black and mixed race is less than 5.4 % of the total jury panel and is not representative of the community at large," Oller wrote in the motion to discharge the jury panel.

In the 2010 census, the racial composition in Shawnee County was 8.8 % who are African-American and 3.9 % of mixed race black, Oller wrote. That totals 12.7 %.

According to defense numbers, 240 people reported for jury duty in the 4 panels.

"Such under-representation of African-American-black and mixed race profiles violates Mr. Amman Reu-El's right to be judged by a jury representative of the community at large," the defense motion said. Amman Reu-El is African-American.

The jury panel should be discharged and a new panel should be called "in accordance with the law," the defense motion said. 12 jurors and 5 alternate jurors will hear the case.

Shawnee County District Court Judge Richard Anderson said he would take up that motion before the jury is to be impaneled.

Earlier on Friday, Anderson denied a motion by Amman Reu-El seeking to fire his defense attorneys in his capital murder retrial.

The courtroom was cleared of prosecutors and 2 spectators - including a Topeka Capital-Journal reporter - so Anderson could hear the reason Amman Reu-El wanted to dismiss John Val Wachtel and Oller as his defense attorneys.

Amman Reu-El, Anderson, Val Wachtel and Oller, were behind closed doors to discuss the motion before it was denied. A court reporter and a corrections officer also were in the courtroom.

Amman Reu-El is formerly known as Phillip Delbert Cheatham Jr.

The prosecutors in the case are chief deputy district attorney Jacqie Spradling and assistant district attorney Lauren Kohn.

A new trial was ordered for Amman Reu-El in 2013 after the Kansas Supreme Court overturned his capital murder conviction and death penalty sentence for the killings in a home at 2718 S.E. Colorado in Topeka's Highland Park neighborhood.

Court records said Amman Reu-El is charged with:

-- Capital murder in the Dec. 13, 2003, shooting deaths of Annette Roberson, 38, and Gloria A. Jones, 42.

-- 2 alternative counts of premeditated 1st-degree murder of Roberson and Jones.

-- Attempted 1st-degree murder of Annetta D. Thomas, who was shot multiple times.

-- Aggravated battery of Thomas.

-- Criminal possession of a firearm.

Amman Reu-El has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

When court resumes on Monday, prospective jurors will be questioned 1st about hardships - financial, work and personal - they might face by serving on the jury, then answer questions by prosecutors and defense attorneys about other topics.

Finally, the 12-member jury and 5 alternate jurors will be selected after 51 prospective jurors are approved.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will strike 17 people each, a total of 34 strikes, then 17 will remain. Those will be the 12 jurors and 5 alternates.

The capital murder case has 2 phases, the judge said earlier this week. First, jurors consider whether to convict a defendant of capital murder. If they convict him, they must decide whether to recommend sentencing him to death. That requires a unanimous vote by jurors.

The jury trial is expected to start on March 5. The whole process is expected to last 6 weeks. On Nov. 14, 2014, the Supreme Court disbarred Dennis Hawver, of Ozawkie, the 1st attorney who represented Amman Reu-El.

The Supreme Court said Hawver violated Kansas rules of professional conduct while defending Amman Reu-El in 2005. The court said Hawver engaged in "inexplicable incompetence" when defending Cheatham.

(source: Topeka Capital-Journal)


Judge Refuses to Step Aside in Los Alamitos Death Penalty Trial----The judge in a Los Al actor's double murder trial rejects defense claim that he can't be impartial because he once worked with an informant.

An Orange County Superior Court judge today said he won't voluntarily remove himself from overseeing a double-murder suspect's trial as a defense attorney has requested, setting in motion a legal process that will next have a judge in another county decide whether there's a 4th jurist switch in the case.

It likely means another 2- to 3-month delay in the expected trial of Daniel Patrick Wozniak, 30, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy.

That has angered family members of Wozniak's alleged victims, 26-year- old Samuel Eliezer Herr and 23-year-old Juri Julie Kibuishi.

"It's just constant delays," said Herr's father, Steve, of the defendant's attorney. "His case is against the prosecutors, the sheriff's investigators and now the judges."

Wozniak's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, cited Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley's work with a jailhouse informant in a case from the 1980s -- when Conley was a prosecutor -- as the reason the judge should recuse himself.

Sanders argues in a motion summarizing why the death penalty should be dismissed against his client that the Orange County District Attorney's Office has a checkered past dealing with jailhouse snitches going back to a case against Thomas Thompson, who was executed in 1998.

Sanders has also argued in court papers that Conley will be an "important witness" in his motion to dismiss the death penalty for Wozniak because the judge is "in the unique position of explaining how he and other members of his office responded to questions about the veracity of an informant who was a witness on multiple serious cases."

Conley said the only specific case cited by Sanders involved William Lee Evins, a murder defendant prosecuted by Conley more than 30 years ago.

"I do not believe that a person who was aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that I would be impartial, based on a case I handled over 30 years ago, where the defendant pled guilty and there was no appeal," Conley said.

Conley noted he worked in the District Attorney's homicide division for less than 2 years in 1980 to 1982.

Conley said he was unsure how the handling of jailhouse informants factors in Wozniak's case.

Herr agreed.

"This case has nothing to do with informants," Steve Herr said. "It's a moot point. Let's get this to trial."

An inmate did try to get information from Wozniak, but it was before he became an informant and the prosecution has no intention of using the statements in the trial, Murphy said.

If a judge from Los Angeles Superior Court or Riverside Superior Court or elsewhere denies to install a new judge on the case, then Sanders has the option of having Conley removed, but it's a 1-time chance.

There are only 2 other Orange County Superior Court judges left qualified to preside over capital cases -- Gregg Prickett and Patrick Donahue. But Sanders has signaled he will file a motion to have all of the county's judges recused.

If Sanders has Conley removed from the case, then he would have to file a motion showing good cause to have Prickett and Donahue recused.

Judge James Stotler had been presiding over the case, but stepped down last month when he concluded he could not guarantee he would be fair to Sanders.

The case was assigned to Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who has been hearing evidence of misuse of jailhouse informants in the case of convicted mass killer Scott Dekraai, another Sanders client.

Prosecutors, without saying why, objected to Goethals also considering the Wozniak case.

Wozniak's alleged victims were friends. He is accused of killing Herr at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and using the man's cell phone to lure Kibuishi home to her Costa Mesa apartment, where he allegedly shot and dismembered her, then disposed of the body parts at the Eldorado Park Nature Center in Long Beach.



Death penalty levied for Thermal vineyard killings

A man who killed 2 farm workers in a Thermal vineyard, days after taking the life of a teenager, is to be executed for the crimes, a judge in Indio ruled Friday.

Angel Anthony Esparza, 30, showed no emotion as Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins upheld a jury's capital punishment recommendation.

2 separate groups of people in the courtroom for the sentencing hearing at the Larson Justice Center declined to comment or say on whose behalf they attended the hearing. At least 1 woman sobbed.

Outside the courtroom, Esparza's attorney reiterated his philosophical opposition to the death penalty.

"This is an example of man's inhumanity to man," attorney John P. Dolan said. "I understand that the population still supports the death penalty. I can't see human beings being executed by the state -- referring to this case in particular and in general."

Prior to issuing the ruling, Hawkins denied defense motions to dismiss the conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence, and for a new trial.

"The court finds that the evidence supports the jury's verdict of death," Hawkins said.

Esparza was convicted last July of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder for the Dec. 19, 2009, vineyard killings. The jury also found true special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder in the commission of robbery and kidnapping, making him eligible for a death sentence.

Esparza was tried earlier in 2014 for the double murder and the Dec. 3, 2009, shooting death of 16-year-old Angel Luna, but that jury deadlocked on the vineyard killings, triggering a retrial on those counts.

"When you look at death and use your courage, you'll be able to look at Angel (Anthony) Esparza and say, 'You deserve death for what you did to Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia,'" Deputy District Attorney Jake Silva told jurors before they decided on a sentence last summer.

"Does he deserve something less than what he gave to Gregorio Juarez and Pedro Garcia?" Silva asked rhetorically. "Make no mistake -- in that vineyard on Dec. 19, 2009, Angel Esparza chose the death penalty."

He said Esparza decided where, when and how the victims died, and showed no remorse.

Dolan told jurors his client was born into "depravity'' to a mother who was a chronic drug addict. Esparza took care of her and was a good student until high school, when he was "crushed by our judicial system" and imprisoned for driving a car in a pursuit during which shots were fired, Dolan said.

"Are we to conclude Angel Esparza is a stone-cold, evil person who has no redeeming value?" he told jurors during the trial's penalty phase. "... Is life without the possibility of parole enough? I hope each of you can see the answer to that question is 'yes.' It is holding Angel Esparza accountable, it is holding him responsible ... it's justice tempered with mercy."

In the last month of 2009, Esparza was staying at the Thermal residence of Christina Zapata and her daughter, Cecilia Morin, while on the run from law enforcement, and on Dec. 19, Juarez and Garcia arrived with plans to pay to have sex with Morin, Silva said.

Esparza entered Morin's bedroom with a revolver and ordered Garcia and Juarez to the floor, took their wallets and bound them with cords and duct tape. He and Zapata drove them to a vineyard at Avenue 58 and Pierce Street, and Esparza dragged them into the vineyard, the prosecutor said.

Later, Zapata's boyfriend, obtained a can of gasoline, drove Zapata and Esparza back to the vineyard, and Esparza took the gas and a bag of the victims' belongings into the vineyard. The next morning, Juarez and Garcia were found shot in the head and burned "beyond recognition,'' Silva said.

Esparza was arrested at a relative's home in San Bernardino on Christmas Eve 2009, and authorities found a gun that matched markings found on a bullet in Garcia's head, Silva said.

Morin and Zapata refused to testify in the trial -- their previous testimony was read in court.

They each pleaded guilty in the case to 2 counts of 2nd-degree murder last year in exchange for sentences of 15 years to life in prison.

Esparza was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for the Dec. 3, 2009, shooting death of the teenager in Coachella. In a complicated legal calculation of his sentence, Esparza faces a total of 141 years-to-life in addition to the death sentence.

(source: The Desert Sun)


New Oregon Governor Kate Brown to extend death penalty moratorium

Oregon's new Democratic Governor Kate Brown said on Friday she planned to extend a moratorium on executions that her predecessor enacted in 2011, well before an influence-peddling scandal forced him from office earlier this week.

But like fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, Brown stopped short of formally commuting death sentences for the 34 inmates currently awaiting execution in the state, which has executed only 2 people in the past half century, both in the 1990s.

"There needs to be a broader discussion about fixing the system," Brown said in her 1st press briefing since she took Oregon's helm on Wednesday. "Until that discussion, I'm upholding the moratorium imposed by Kitzhaber."

In a major salvo in the nation's long-running battle over capital punishment, Kitzhaber imposed a blanket reprieve on all Oregon death row inmates in 2011, saying he believed the death penalty was morally wrong.

He had faced growing calls in the waning days of his administration to commute all Oregon death sentences to life in prison before leaving office following an ethics scandal over accusations his fiancee used her role in his office for personal gain.

But Kitzhaber, who has not been seen publicly since announcing his resignation last week, remained silent on that issue, although he did commute the prison sentence of a young man serving time for attempted murder in a non-capital case.

Brown, who had been Oregon's secretary of state before this week, said she met with Kitzhaber on Monday and he advised her of his legislative priorities and recommendations. In addition to her death penalty plans, Brown told reporters she supports raising the minimum wage, increasing transparency and improving access to public records.

(source: Reuters)


Prosecutor opposes moving trial for man facing death penalty prosecution for inmate's death

A prosecutor is urging a judge to reject a change of venue for the trial of a West Virginia federal prisoner charged in the slaying of a fellow inmate.

The government is seeking the death penalty for 34-year-old Patrick Franklin Andrews. He is charged in the 2007 stabbing death of 28-year-old Jesse Harris at the U.S. Penitentiary at Hazelton.

The Exponent Telegram reports ( ) that Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Cogar says in court papers that there's no evidence that news coverage of the case would prevent Andrews from getting a fair trial. Andrews is scheduled for trial in may in U.S. District Court in Clarksburg.

A co-defendant, 34-year-old Kevin Marquette Bellinger, was

(source: Associated Press)


Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Update: Defense Argues to Move Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Death Penalty Case Out of Massachusetts in Federal Appeals Court

Lawyers representing accused Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev presented arguments before a federal appeals court on Thursday to move the high profile case out of Massachusetts in order to give him a fair trial.

The 21-year-old suspected terrorist has pleaded not guilty to 30 charges connected to the explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, which killed three people and injured 264 others. In addition to planting 2 bombs at the race, prosecutors say that he and his now deceased brother, Tamerlan, also fatally shot a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer three days later. If found guilty, Tsarnaev faces the death penalty.

Earlier this year, lawyers began sorting through hundreds of potential jurors on Jan. 5. However, the process of selecting a panel of 18 people, which includes 12 jurors and 6 alternates, is taking longer than the district court had expected since many candidates have confessed that they already hold a bias against the suspect, reports Reuters.

As a result, defense attorneys continue to push for the trial to be moved outside of Boston, where the attack took place, in order to find an unbiased panel of jurors. They argue that they are unable to assemble an impartial jury due to "saturation publicity" about the case in addition to the many state residents who were personally affected by the 2013 bombing.

The local jury pool is "connected to the case in many ways" and cannot be counted on to be fair, said federal public defender Judith Mizner in arguments before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reports the Associated Press.

"This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself ... and an attack on the city of Boston," Mizner added.

Mizner pointed out that there is continual media coverage of the marathon and the recovery of the victims.

Tsarnaev's lawyers also made note that 68 percent of the 1,373 prospective jurors who filled out questionnaires already believe that Tsarnaev is guilty.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb argued that the presiding judge in the case has been weeding out people who have preconcieved notions about Tsarnaev. He added that people who have strong opinions about Tsarnaev have "unhesitatingly admitted them" during the interview process, leading him to conclude that the process is working, reports the New York Times.

Plus, the judge has already found 61 people he believes qualify to be impartial jurors, he said.

(source: Latin Post)


Should Turkey reinstate the death penalty?

Last week, the people of Turkey were emotionally shaken by the attempted rape and murder by a minibus driver of a 20-year-old university student named Ozgecan Aslan. Ozgecan's horrific death sparked nationwide protests concerning violence against women and calls for the reinstatement of the capital punishment in Turkey, which was abolished in 2004.

There are many reasons why what happened to Ozgecan sparked such highly poignant responses. She was an angelic, lively young woman, a successful and genuinely beautiful university student who was simply trying to go home on the night of her killing.

The prime suspect, Suphi Altindoken, a minibus driver, tried to rape her; and is accused of killing her for resisting, dismembering and burning her body in an attempt to destroy any evidence. Altindoken's father and one friend stand accused of helping him dispose of the body. In front of the courthouse, the suspects were almost lynched and still to this date, no lawyer has come forward to defend the trio.

"Those who are in favor of the death penalty claim the punishment will be a deterrent for such cases in the future. However, the statistical data suggests otherwise.

In this emotive environment, Ozgecan's death also started a nationwide debate on the reinstatement of capital punishment. Even some politicians like Aysenur Islam, the Family and Social Policies Minister of Turkey, expressed support for the reinstatement of the death sentences for such cases as a deterrent.

Capital punishment in Turkey

Judicial killing has not been carried out in Turkey since 1986, even though it was abolished in 2000 in principle and in 2004 Turkey permanently abolished the death penalty in perpetuity to ratify to the European Convention on Human Rights after Ankara's candidacy for EU membership was initiated. Turkey thus became the 1st Muslim majority country to abolish the death penalty. What happened to Ozgecan is evil and revenge is tempting, but this is when we must be most measured and reflective about 2nd and 3rd tier effects of making law by emotion.

Statistically ineffective

Those who are in favor of the death penalty claim the punishment will be a deterrent for such cases in the future. However, the statistical data suggests otherwise. The death penalty was ranked last when police chiefs were asked to name one issue as "the most important for reducing violent crime," with only 1 % listing it as the best way to reduce violence. The death penalty came in behind needing more police officers; reducing drug abuse; a better economy and more jobs and longer prison sentences. Almost 6 in 10 police chiefs (57%) agreed that the death penalty does little to prevent violent crimes because the perpetrators rarely consider the consequences when engaged in such violence.

The purpose of law enforcement

If the basis for law enforcement is to prevent crime and create a safe environment for citizens, life in prison without the possibility of parole also guarantees no future crimes. If we are after a moral society where human rights are held in high esteem, clearly capital punishment is against the Fifth Article of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are working against the death penalty across the world. As a result, it is no longer practiced in most developed societies.

Moral ground

Most importantly, capital punishment is, when all is said and done, state sanctioned murder; it is the practice of taking the life of a human being willfully and with intent. Seeking comfort through actions that we would normally qualify as crimes or atrocities (i.e. murder) eliminates the possibility of social reconciliation in society. How can we give permission for someone to kill another because that person committed a crime and even pay for this "service?"

In democracies, if "we the people" are the "state" then when the "state" kills, don't we all become participants? We do not torture prisoners as it is considered inhumane treatment of persons under captivity; in the same manner, executing prisoners is the ultimate in inhumane treatment to persons under captivity.

PKK and capital punishment

On another note, if Turkey is going to discuss reinstating the death penalty, the discussion would also likely involve the PKK terrorist leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Contrary to popular propaganda, Abdullah Ocalan was not sentenced to life imprisonment because he is a political prisoner: It was because he is a proven mass murderer.

Since the Turkish government's reconciliation talks with Kurdish groups are still on the table, the state of Ocalan and his ilk should be a concern regarding reinstating capital punishment. Let's not forget that Ocalan had already been sentenced to death in 1999 after being nabbed by Turkish Special Forces in Kenya but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the abolition of death penalty.

These points bring us to the question: "What can be done to prevent future Ozgecan Aslan cases?" As a voice of reason, Ozgecan's father also thinks capital punishment is no use for the slain. He said in an interview; "[The death penalty] may return to dissuade, but it is not a solution ... People should learn to control themselves instead." Nobody is born a felon, but they can be influenced and educated to become one. It is nurture, not nature that is to blame. We can raise the bar of public security through various measures, but first of all, we need to educate our youth to respect human dignity, the sanctity of life and to understand our origin in Divine creation. If we spend all our time and resources seeking vengeance rather than rooting out the reasons and ideas that create criminality, we will end up in a society full of mourning families on both sides.

(source: Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak----Al Arabiya)


President rejects 6 clemency pleas

President Mamnoon Hussain turned down on Friday clemency appeals of 6 prisoners on death row, who are likely to be executed over the next couple of days, sources in the Presidency told Dawn. All 6 prisoners are from Sindh.

Sources say the president's decision has been conveyed to the Sindh Home Department, which has directed the inspector general for prisons to carry out the executions.

The prisoners whose appeals have been turned down include Achar alias Bhai Khan, Abdul Aziz, Bashir Ahmed, Mohammad Faisal, Mohammad Afzal and Munawwar Ali. All 6 are said to have been convicted in various terrorism cases.

The president has already rejected 17 mercy pleas from criminals awarded the death penalty since last December.

The decision regarding the rejection of 6 men's appeals was not officially made public. Sources said it had been decided at the top level that such decisions would not be announced officially due to security concerns.

"The summary regarding the appeals of 6 convicts was initiated by the interior ministry and received by the Presidency through the Prime Minister Office.

After the president's decision, the summary was sent back through same channels for execution," the source said.

President Mamnoon, he said, would back all executive orders aimed at eliminating terrorists and had decided that no mercy appeal by any convicted terrorist would be accepted.

On Dec 17, 2014, President Mamnoon approved the abolition of a moratorium on the death penalty after the attack on Peshawar's Army Public School, which claimed the lives of 148 people, including 135 schoolchildren.

In the wake of the move, several executions have already been carried out in different parts of the country.

(source: Dawn)


Kamaruzzaman to file review petition

Death row convict Muhammad Kamaruzzaman today asked his counsels to file a review petition with the Supreme Court challenging its verdict that upheld the Jamaat-e-Islami leader's death penalty in a war crimes case.

If the apex court rejects the appeal, then Kamaruzzaman will decide whether he will seek presidential mercy, advocate Mohammad Shishir Manir, a counsel for Kamaruzzaman, told The Daily Star after meeting him at the gate of Dhaka Central Jail in the morning.

The 4 other counsels who met Kamaruzzaman at the jail gate are Tajul Islam, Ehsan A Siddiq, Moshiul Alam and Matiur Rahman Akand.

Earlier, the 5 lawyers went to the jail and talked to him for 31 minutes from 10:37am.

Manir said their client is mentally and physically well and is not worried at the SC judgment that upheld the verdict of International Crimes Tribunal-2 sentencing him to death for his crimes against humanity during the country's Liberation War in 1971.

Claiming himself innocent, Kamaruzzaman told his lawyer that he was not involved in any kind of offences leveled against him, Manir said.

The defence will file the review petition in 15 days from February 19, the day when Kamaruzzaman was informed about the release of full text of the apex court verdict, said the lawyer.

"Kamaruzzaman hopes that he will be acquitted if he gets justice as he is innocent," said another counsel Tajul Islam told The Daily Star.

The lawyers met with the Jamaat leader 2 days after ICT-2 issued an execution of death warrant against him in a war crimes case.

The tribunal issued the warrant after receiving the full text of the Supreme Court verdict that upheld the death penalty of Kamaruzzaman for his crimes against humanity during 1971.

Assistant secretary general of Jamaat, Kamaruzzaman was handed capital punishment for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.

Copies of the death warrant, wrapped in red cloth, were sent to Dhaka district magistrate, prison authorities and secretaries to the ministries of home and law, said Mustafizur Rahman, registrar at the tribunal.

The prison authorities later on the day read out the death warrant to the condemned war criminal.

On May 9, 2013, the tribunal-2 found Kamaruzzaman guilty of 5 out of the 7 charges brought against him and sentenced him to death on 2 charges - life term on 2 and 10 years' jail on another. He was acquitted of 2 counts of war crimes.

He had challenged this verdict with the SC, which on November 3 last year upheld the death penalty for the mass killing at Sohagpur in Sherpur on July 25, 1971.

(source: The Daily Star)


Independent National Commission On Human Rights Chairperson Wants Death Penalty For Rapists

The Chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights Cllr. Gladys Johnson has attributed the increase in rape cases to the lack of prosecution in the country. Cllr. Johnson said during the earlier stages of rape crimes in the country there was high level of women participations in anti rape campaign which made the crusade a nationwide concern.

Gladys Johnson noted that the momentum to fight the crime later declined as a result of the release of rape suspects in the society. She described rape as a war that has been brought against children by men in the society stressing the country needs to rise up and bring to an end such terrible act.

Cllr. Johnson said as Chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights, she finds it difficult to advocate for the abolition of death sentences when in fact older men are raping and killing children.

She wants those who are involved in what she described as a satanic act of killing another human to be sentenced to death. The Chairperson of the INHCR made the remarks recently when she served as keynote speaker at programs marking the public findings of the DIALOGUE forum on the ongoing Constitution Review exercise of Liberia, organized by the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiative.

Gladys Johnson is at the same time urging Liberians to be careful about their opinion of the revision of the Constitution. She said for 25 years, governance and constitutional reform have remained the missing link to addressing Liberia's corrosive governance challenges, post conflict stability, peace building and democracy.

In 2011, the 1st post-war referendum conducted ended in a complete disappointment, the government's entire propositions were defeated during the nationwide polls. The defeat offered a critical re-think at the overall revision of the Liberian Constitution. In August 2012, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf commissioned a 5 member Constitution Revision Committee CRC headed by former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott to review the 26 year old Liberian Constitution.

It is this gap the project the DIALOGUE; Taking the Constitutional Review Process to the people for their participation and ownership seeks to address.

But speaking at the program, the Legal Analyst of the Liberia Media for Democratic Initiative LMDI Zeo Mensah stressed the need for Liberians to focus on issues that should be included in the Constitution.

Mr. Mensah said spotlighting issues that are currently in the Constitution is a single facet of the revision process of any law.

The LMDI Legal Analyst also expressed the hope that the Constitution Review Committee will give consideration to important issues in order to promote good Governance.



Man Gets Death for Poll Violence Murder After Appealing Life Imprisonment Sentence

A man who appealed a life sentence for a murder charge during the 2008 PEV has now been given the death penalty.

Peter Rutto, 26, was found guilty of murdering Kamau Thiong'o at Kamura village in Timboroa county.

Witnesses told the court in 2012 that Rutto attacked Thiong'o, 67, with a panga when he fell after being struck with an arrow.

Nakuru Court of Appeal judges Roselyn Nambuye, Philomena Mwilu and Gatembu Kairu said Rutto's sentence was just.

They said he and other attackers were present when Thiong'o was killed, and that the evidence against him was sufficient.

(source: All Africa News)


5 Prisoners Hanged in Iran, More Executions in Coming Days

On Tuesday 17th February, 2 prisoners in Iranshahr prison and on Wednesday 18th February, 3 prisoners in Rajai Shahr prison in karaj were executed by hanging.

Also, 12 prisoners in Central Prison of Urmia, Central Prison of Bandar Abbas and Shahab in Kerman were transferred to solitary confinements to be executed.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), on Tuesday morning, 17th February, 2 prisoners who were charged with drug related crime, were executed by hanging in the prison of Iranshahr.

Also, on Wednesday morning, 18th February, 3 prisoners charged with murder, were executed by hanging in Rajai Shahr prison, in Karaj.

1 of them was an Afghani citizen, who had been transferred from Ghezel Hesar prison, Afghani prisoners' ward, to Rajai Shahr prison, in Karaj and was executed there.

The 2 other prisoners who were executed in Rajai Shahr prison, in Karaj, were named Mohammad Nadi and Mojtaba Shokohi.

On Wednesday, 5 prisoners in Shahab prison, in Kerman, with drug related crimes, were transferred to solitary confinements until their execution sentences would be carried out.

These 5 prisoners were named; Hossein Arab, Ghader Goltapeh, Behrooz Khoda bandehlo, Rahmatollah Barahooei and Azizollah Barahooei.

In Central Prison of Bandar Abbas also a prisoner, who was accused with murder, identified as Reza Sharifi, was transferred to solitary confinement after serving 11 years in prison, until he would be executed.

(source: HRANA)


2 Kurdish Political Prisoners Executed

A France-based organisation, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network claims that it has confirmed reports that brothers Ali and Habib Afshari have been executed.

They were arrested in late 2010/early 2011 on charges of 'waging enmity against God' through 'propaganda activities' and 'membership in a dissident group'.

In efforts to protest against the unjust charges and verdict, the brothers went on several hunger strikes.

At the same time in Iran, Amnesty International says the whereabouts of 22-year-old Kurdish political prisoner Saman Naseem are unknown. The young Kurd was sentenced to death in April 2013 on charges of "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth" due to alleged membership of the Kurdish armed opposition group Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). His execution had been planned to February 19 which triggered a massive campaign to revoke his death sentence.

In a recently published letter claimed to be by Saman Naseem, he said "I was 17 in the summer of 2011 when the Islamic Revolutionary Guards arrested me. They immediately began to savagely torture me. They seemed to really enjoy torturing me."

Human rights organisations including Amnesty International and thousands of Twitter users called on President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei to halt the execution and grant Saman Naseem a fair trial.

Saman Naseem was sentenced to death despite the fact that Iran has ratified both the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which strictly prohibit the use of the death penalty against people who were below 18 years of age at the time of the crime.

As many as 127 people have been executed so far in 2015 but the real number may be higher as Iranian authorities do not disclose actual figures to the public.



Iranian Resistance condemns execution of 2 political prisoners

The Iranian Resistance strongly condemns the execution of 2 political prisoner brothers, Razgar (Habibullah) and Ali Afshari, 26 and 34 years old, who were hanged at dawn on Thursday, February 19 in Orumiyeh, offers its condolences to their families and the public in Kurdistan, especially the young combatants in this region.

There is no doubt that the martyrdom of the young people of this territory by the religious fascism ruling Iran only doubles the will of the Iranian people to overthrow this inhuman regime.

The Iranian Resistance calls on the UN Secretary General, the Security Council and all human rights organizations to condemn these brutal executions and to take binding measures against brutal and systematic violation of human rights, and especially to save the lives of other political prisoners facing execution.

Afshari brothers, from the city of Mahabad (in Iranian Kurdistan), were arrested in early 2011 along with two other brothers, Jaafar and Vali, and were tortured for months and were sentenced to death in the clerical regime's sham courts under the fabricated charge of "Moharebeh" (waging war against God).

Ali Afshari, who was injured during the arrest by the suppressive forces' bullet, was in critical condition due to infection of his wounds, but the henchmen refused to provide minimum medical treatments.

They were among the hunger striking political prisoners in Orumiyeh prison and for this reason were threatened by the regime's henchmen that if they continued their strike, their death sentences would be carried out.

Jaafar and Vali, the 2 other members of the Afshari family are still in prison.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)


Top court revokes death sentence for forest ranger

Iran's Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence issued to a Dena Forest Ranger and returned the matter to a different branch of the penal court for review. The sentence had been confirmed 3 times at the Kohgilouyeh and Boyerahmad court.

In July of 2010, 3 forest rangers heard gun shots in the mountains of Dena National Parks, which turned out to be from a poacher. The rangers approached the poacher, later identified as Mohammad Payehgozar, and during the confrontation Payehgozar was killed by a gunshot. Gholamhossein Khaledi, 1 of the rangers, was charged with 1st degree murder.

Khaledi was sentenced to death without regard for the legal provisions allowing rangers to carry and use firearms in the course of their duties.

The Supreme Court has overturned the sentence and referred the matter to a different branch in view of the original court's error despite 3 attempts at review.

The sentence had been highly criticized by environmental groups, who said it has seriously demoralized rangers, who are already engaged in the highly hazardous work of protecting endangered Iranian wildlife.

(source: Radio Zamaneh)


Hangings of Kevin Barlow and Brian Geoffrey Chambers in Malaysia destroyed families' lives

The tragedy of the 1986 hanging of Kevin John Barlow and Brian Geoffrey Chambers behind the imposing concrete walls of Malaysia's Pudu Prison, was for me, not the death of the 2 men I had come to know, but in the victims it left behind.

I remember my 1st meeting with the 2 men inside the Penang Prison, a relic of the British Colonial justice system, built in the 1850s to house 350 prisoners but by November 1983, when Barlow and Chambers were arrested, stuffed to overflowing with some 2000 inmates.

Despite the crowded conditions, they were in good spirits. They shared a cell. The prison was old but kept meticulously clean by a tough but fair-minded prison warden of the old school. They were allowed the luxury of Western food and time to exercise and sit outside in the sunlight.

They had made a pact, they said, "not to get their families involved".

After all, it was only a "matter of time before things would be sorted, bribes paid and they we will be back in Oz again".

They had no sense of their plight - seemingly oblivious to the fact the Malaysian Government, in an attempt to crack down on a blossoming and insidious drug trade taking hold of the country, had recently introduced new laws making the death penalty mandatory for any one in possession of just 15g of a banned narcotic.

Barlow and Chambers had been arrested with 179g of low-grade heroin hidden in a suitcase - detained by an "observant policeman" who noticed Barlow's nervous demeanour as they tried to check in at the Malaysia Airlines 1st-class counter for a flight to Kuala Lumpur and a connection to Sydney.

I remember, too, just 18 months later - when their trial began on July 17, 1985 - that Barlow and Chambers would no longer look each other in the eye. They hardly spoke.

The local lawyer, Rasiah Rajahsingham, who had initially been engaged to represent both men, had quickly determined that given the evidence against them, he could at best save only one.

Now they would be represented by individual counsel - Barlow by charismatic political opposition figure and lawyer Karpal Singh, while Rajahsingham chose to stay with Chambers.

No one could possibly imagine the anguish of a last goodbye to a son or a brother, knowing that in the morning they will be taken out and killed at dawn.

They turned on each other. The parents and family members who Barlow and Chambers had early agreed to "keep out of it" now watched on helplessly from the court gallery, as each man tried to implicate the other in a desperate gambit that at best would send 1 man to the gallows while the other walked free.

Parents, sisters, brothers and supporters struggled to understand why the guilty party wouldn't own up and accept the blame so "my boy" could live.

It was a high-risk strategy that in the end meant only that in their efforts to save themselves, each had condemned the other to die.

The presiding judge found that by their own admissions, Barlow and Chambers had arrived, stayed, and were leaving together with an amount of illicit narcotics in their joint possession and therefore had a common purpose of trafficking drugs.

I remember too, the steamy, oppressive heat of the packed courtroom in Penang, where on August 1, 1985, Barlow and Chambers were sentenced to death by hanging; the angry, anguished glare of despair as Chambers turned on the Australian tabloid reporter who had dared demand a response to a shouted question as the condemned men were led from the courthouse: "How does it feel, Geoff, how does it feel?"

"How do you think it f---ing feels, you idiot!" he responded.

And I remember lying to Chambers' sister, Kathryn back at the hotel later when through her tears she asked: "They don't hang white men in Malaysia, do they?"

"No," I offered in reply, knowing full well they probably would.

What followed was a 12-month period of failed legal appeals, the intervention of Australian lawyers to no avail, passionate appeals for a stay of execution by both then Australian prime minister Bob Hawke and his foreign minister, Bill Hayden, a petition for clemency delivered to the governor of Penang, and finally a joint letter from Barbra Barlow and Sue Chambers to the king of Malaysia, Sultan Iskandar, pleading for their lives.

With each desperate manoeuvre came brief moments of hope, as the Malaysian officials' ditherings were interpreted as a possible weakening of their resolve to proceed with the hangings; only to be followed by heartbreak and angst as each was dismissed or rejected out of hand.

The families left no stone unturned enlisting the support of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and even the Pope, in a bid for mercy in order to save their loved ones.

But Malaysia's strongman prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, with a domestic political constituency to play to, was unmoved and determined to make an example of the "criminal Westerners".

He dismissed the argument that no one had the right to take another's life with the curt response, "you should tell that to the drug traffickers".

And I remember the gut-wrenching moment of watching Barbara Barlow and her children, Michelle and Christopher; Sue and Brian Chambers and daughters Margaret and Kathryn, returning from their last visit to the condemned men - heartbroken and distraught.

No one could possibly imagine the anguish of a last goodbye to a son or a brother, knowing that in the morning they will be taken out and killed at dawn.

This was not saying goodbye to a loved one who was dying of some illness; this was an attempt at parting words of love and comfort to those who would the subject of state-sanctioned murder. This was innocent bystanders being condemned to a trauma so uniquely painful and poignant to be unimaginable.

And I recall coming to the realisation at that moment, that the death penalty is not confined just to the prisoners whose lives it takes in the name of justice, but that it also condemns family and loved ones to a rollercoaster of hope and despair so wrenching and exhausting, that ultimately it extinguishes something deep inside them forever. All this in the name of justice.

The parallels between the cases of Barlow and Chambers and that of the Bali Nine ring leaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, are many.

Barlow and Chambers were not evil men. Stupid, naive - greedy, even, - but like Chan and Sukumaran, capable and perhaps deserving of redemption and a second chance.

I remember standing outside of Purdu Prison in the early hours of July 7, 1986, when at 6.50am a prison goods truck rolled through the big steel gates.

Inside were he bodies of Barlow and Chambers - their tagged and exposed feet providing proof to the waiting mean and women of the press that Malaysian justice had indeed been done.

Barbara Barlow would later say she felt her son's moment of death: "At 6.08 my heart skipped a beat. I knew it was over."

Sue Chambers released a handwritten statement: "I believe in God. No one has the right to take someone else's life. It is inhuman. There is no more to be said. But he will be free forever."

Chan and Sukumaran, like Barlow and Chambers, may well be freed forever by their state-sanctioned killings.

It is those who are left behind who receive a life sentence.

And it is for them, we should also grieve.

(source: Bruce Dover is a former South-East Asia correspondent for the Herald Sun and covered this case from the arrest of Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers to their hanging----Herald Sun)


TNI to safeguard prison island as Jokowi firm on execution policy

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo made it clear on Friday that the postponed executions of 11 death row convicts, including 2 Australians, was simply the result of technical problems in the field and it had no relation at all to Australia's pressure on Indonesia to drop the decision.

"No, there were no such issues. It is within our legal sovereignty [to execute the convicts]," Jokowi said at the Bogor Palace. "I believe the delay is due to technical issues; just ask the attorney general [about the details]."

The President then asked Vice President Jusuf Kalla to brief reporters about his telephone conversation with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Thursday, in which the Australian diplomat clarified the statement from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that was perceived as offensive to Indonesia. The Prime Minister said Australia would feel "grievously let down" if the executions proceeded despite the A$1 billion that was given in aid after the 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh and Nias in North Sumatra. Kalla, who previously denied speculations that the postponement of the executions was based on pressure from Abbott, said Bishop phoned him on Thursday to clarify Abbott's statement.

"Yesterday [Thursday], Foreign Minister Bishop explained, and certainly regretted, the misunderstanding," Kalla said.

According to the Vice President, Bishop also said that Abbott merely tried to emphasize the long history of good relations between the 2 countries, including the period in which Aceh was devastated by a tsunami.

Quoting the Australian diplomat, Kalla said Australia wanted to continue cooperating with Indonesia in a variety of areas, including the fight against drug abuse and trafficking.

Attorney General M. Prasetyo, whose office is responsible for carrying out the execution, reiterated that the government decided to delay the executions from the original date earlier this month simply for technical reasons.

He also warned Australia not to intervene in Indonesia's domestic affairs. "We never put pressure on others; we hope they also do not put pressure on us," said the attorney general.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Moeldoko supported the President's decision saying that he was ready to deploy military personnel to secure the execution site from any threats.

Moeldoko said that he would provide any support that the government needed to complete the executions of the 11 convicts, including the 2 Australians that the current controversy is centered around, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

"The TNI will never be influenced by anything or by anybody. On the death penalty issue, we have a clear stance; right or wrong this is my country," Moeldoko said.

Moeldoko said military leaders would hold a meeting with the Attorney General's Office (AGO) and the Law and Human Rights Ministry to discuss possible threats that might emerge before and during the executions.

"We will make a detailed emergency plan to prepare for any disruptions that may interfere with the executions," Moeldoko said.

Although Moeldoko declined to give further information on what kind of security threats might emerge as a result of the executions, he insisted that he had sufficient information from TNI intelligence reports.

"Of course we don't want to clearly state the threats that may come from certain countries. But the TNI understands that there are possible threats. This is why we asked the head of military intelligence to attend the meeting," he said, adding that he was ready to deploy military personnel whenever the government needed it.

For instance, the military will allocate its personnel to secure several areas in Nusakambangan prison island, Central Java, where the executions are set to take place.

"There are several empty roads on the island that need to be secured from outsiders," the 4-star general said.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


Indonesia recalls ambassador to Brazil in row over death penalty

Indonesia recalled its ambassador-designate to Brazil on Saturday as Jakarta's diplomatic rows worsened over the planned executions of convicted foreign drug smugglers.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff refused to accept the ambassador's credentials in protest over the death sentence of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte.

"We deplore the Brazilian government's decision to delay at the last minute the acceptance of the Indonesian ambassador-designate's credentials," the Foreign Ministry said.

"Indonesia is a democratic and sovereign country with an independent and impartial legal system, and no foreign country or any party can interfere in law enforcement in Indonesia," the ministry said.

It said envoy Toto Riyanto was already in the presidential palace when Rousseff decided to delay accepting his credentials.

Rousseff insisted that she plans to accept the Indonesian diplomat's credentials at a later date.

Jakarta said it had recalled the diplomat and "strongly protested the unfriendly action."

Brazilian authorities are trying to prevent the execution of Gularte, 42, who is on death row for drug trafficking in Indonesia. They argue that he is schizophrenic and should be receiving psychiatric care.

Brazilian Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira, 53, was executed on December 17 for drug trafficking in Indonesia. At the time, Rousseff said she was "outraged and shocked" and recalled her ambassador to Indonesia.

Australia has also clashed with Jakarta this month over the planned execution of two of its citizens for drug smuggling.



Bali 9: Philip Ruddock says he didn't know police planned to tip off Indonesia ---- Former attorney general says he would have raised concerns about the risk Australians facing the death penalty if he had known in advance

Philip Ruddock says he would have raised concerns about the death penalty had he known the Australian federal police planned to share intelligence on the Bali Nine with Indonesia in 2005, when he was attorney general.

But Ruddock says no one in the Howard government had power to give "any direction politically" to the AFP on its fateful decision, which has faced renewed criticism in light of the imminent executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Barrister Bob Myers, who tipped the AFP off about another Bali Nine member, Scott Rush, said the police had "not a legal but a moral obligation" to ensure a waiver of the death penalty as a condition for sharing intelligence.

Myers said the AFP would have known executions were likely when their agent wrote to Indonesian police the day after Myers's tip-off to request surveillance and suggest they "take what action they deem appropriate" if they suspected the group had heroin when leaving Indonesia.

Myers, who contacted the AFP on behalf of Rush's family on the eve of the group's journey to Bali, said he and his police contact were "used" by the AFP, which already had passport details for all except Sukumaran.

Myers said the AFP always knew there was a risk that people might die as a result of their actions. "They had no right or authority to do it," he said.

Ruddock told Guardian Australia that he had "no clear recollection" of his meeting with Myers.

"I certainly at no stage was informed of this matter [by the AFP] and if I had been, I think it is fair to say given my position on the death penalty, I would have been very conscious of it and said [that] others should be," Ruddock said.

According to AFP guidelines in 2004, the attorney general had decided that police would adopt a future policy where a lack of guarantees of no death penalty could be grounds for refusing requests from overseas police.

The guideline was adopted in 2009. It followed a federal court judge ruling in 2006 that while the Bali 9 were the "authors of their own harm", the case showed a need for the minister and the AFP chief to address the death penalty issue when the AFP itself was making requests overseas.

Ruddock said in 2004 he could only apply the policy when ruling on extraditions, and the justice minister, Chris Ellison, who had oversight of the AFP, was not "in a position to give [the AFP] any direction politically".

Asked if he imagined AFP officials regretted the outcome, Ruddock said: "I can't speak for the Australian federal police but I can't imagine that people wouldn't be looking back over what has happened and tried to ask themselves, could we have dealt with it differently?

"I can't imagine that they wouldn’t."

As Canberra continued to press its 11th-hour case with Jakarta to grant clemency, Ruddock said he "would like to think there's still hope but I can't speak with certainty".

"My focus is on seeking to have the penalties waived and I do that having been a member of Amnesty for 40 years and now being the co-chair of the parliamentary group that is seeking to have the death penalty removed universally," Ruddock said.

Myers said revelations that the suspected mastermind of the Bali Nine syndicate was living freely in luxury in Sydney after winning the lottery hammered home how the worst punishment was borne by low-level players.

He said a royal commission should be held to examine the AFP's conduct of the case "because it's almost as if police didn't want to find any more other than petty criminals like 19-year-old Scotty Rush".

Chan and Sukumaran had their transfer to Nusa Kambangan, the island of their planned execution, postponed this week.

Peter Russo and Stephen Keim - former lawyers for Pakistani doctor Muhamed Haneef, who was wrongly accused by the AFP of terrorism offences in 2007 - were speakers at a mercy vigils for Chan and Sukumaran in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Russo, a solicitor and now Queensland Labor MP, told Guardian Australia that only the AFP could disprove his belief that "there was no reason they couldn't have stopped them from leaving Australia".

"What always worried me about the AFP was [that] they always left me with the feeling [of], let’s get a conviction at any cost," he said.

"I think the AFP definitely need to give a more forthcoming explanation and they have to accept some culpability for what occurred.

"They'll never do this but they need to come out and say we made a mistake, we made an error of judgment, we wouldn't do that again.

"I think that would be cold comfort to the families but it would be good for their process to acknowledge they got it terribly wrong."

Keim, a barrister, told Guardian Australia the actions of the AFP regarding the Bali 9 were "wrong on all levels".

He said the police had violated national policy by "causing 9 Australians to be placed in danger of being subject to capital punishment", 14 years after Australia had signed up to the 2nd optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

"And the action was both vindictive and deliberately bloody-minded since any anti-drug importation objectives could have been achieved by allowing the individuals to land in Australia and arresting them at that time," Keim said.

"The failure to make a full explanation as to how these events occurred and who were responsible for them adds to the concern about the actions which were taken."

The AFP have declined to go into details of the Bali 9 operation but defended their actions in a statement to Fairfax radio this month, saying they had not been "in a position to prevent these people from travelling to Indonesia".

"The AFP had no evidence or lawful reason to detain, much less arrest or charge, any member of the Bali 9 before their departure from Australia," they said.

(source: The Guardian)

FEBRUARY 20, 2015:


Rodney Reed From Death Row: "I'm Not Giving Up"

About 4 hours east of Bastrop, in the small town of Livingston, is a maximum security prison better known as death row.

For the past 17 years, it's been Rodney Reed's home. He spends about 22 hours each day in a cell, clinging to hope and maintaining his innocence.

"It's not just what I'm going through, it's what my family is going through," Reed said. "I kind of get emotional when I think about what's going on with them."

At the moment, Reed said a radio is his only contact with the world.

As the days tick down on his life, he can't see the countless protests and vigils calling for his freedom taking place across the state.

The only updates come when family members see him through the glass.

"My baby boy, he tells me that he has faith," said Reed. "I have to hold on, I have to hold onto that."

Reed is scheduled to be executed March 5. A Bastrop jury convicted him nearly 2 decades ago for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacy Stites.

"I try not to entertain what the state is trying to do to me, I don't want to entertain it," Reed said.

But on Wednesday he was forced to.

Reed said that before his interview with KEYE TV he was told to complete paperwork for the state identifying which of his family members could be in the room when he's executed. It also outlines what to do with his remains.

KEYE TV asked Reed if he thinks it's possible the state will put him to death.

"I think that it's possible," he said. "I hope that they don't, but it's possible that they will."

Reed says he has known others on death row who have left and never come back, and he knows the routine, but it's not something he wants to focus on.

"I have to treat every day the same," he said. "I mean I'm not going to curl up in a corner -- nothing like that -- and stare at the celling all day. I'm going to continue to listen to my music, continue to read and continue to be me."

Reed also knows, as have others before him who have also maintained their innocence, that you can return from the brink.

At the moment Rodney Reed's fate rests with the courts and Governor Greg Abbott.

While campaigning for governor, Abbott spoke to KEYE TV in 2014 on his position on the death penalty in general, saying, "I want to ensure sure that it's administered with absolute fairness and justice."

Abbott said, "I led the advancement in this last session to ensure we would have broad-based DNA testing in any death penalty case. If the death penalty is going to be imposed we must be sure that the person who receives the death penalty really did commit the crime."

But at each recent hearing, the state consistently fought against additional DNA testing, along with new testing for evidence that's never been through the process, including the belt used to strangle Stites.

Reed's attorneys believe the state is ready to move forward with the execution, rather than admit the possibility that the new findings and testimony in Reed's defense show he's innocent.

"What the state is trying to do here, in our view, is rush the execution date before we can get to the evidence that establishes Mr. Reed's evidence," said Reed's attorney Andrew MacRae.

Their latest appeal argues new forensic evidence, from three renowned forensic pathologists, which they say shows it's impossible for Rodney Reed to be guilty.

There are also affidavits from 2 of Stites' coworkers saying they kncew Reed and Stites were in a relationship. It would back up the story Reed has been telling since his conviction.

"I've been in this fight, this struggle that long. I'm not giving up -- not my hope, not my faith," Reed said.

For now he waits, spending the majority of his time reading, thinking about family and supporters, and glancing at pictures.

"I look in their eyes, I look at their smiles, and I see the love," he said.

With lingering questions, did the state get it right or will an innocent man run out of time?

KEYE TV reached out to the office of the Governor and Attorney General for a comment on this case, but have not heard back.

(source: KEYE TV news)


Man who killed officer loses death row appeal

A convicted killer sent to Texas death row for fatally shooting a Dallas police officer working an off-duty security job at a club more than 13 years ago has lost a federal appeal.

Lawyers for 32-year-old Licho Escamilla argued before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that his trial attorneys were deficient for not producing evidence about his troubled childhood - evidence that could have persuaded jurors to sentence him to life in prison, the lawyers said.

But the 5th Circuit ruled late Wednesday that evidence of the crime outweighed any mitigating evidence not presented to jurors. Court records show that Escamilla had a history of violence and that Officer Christopher James was 1 of 2 people he killed.

James was shot multiple times in the head by Escamilla while working off-duty as a security officer at Club DMX in northwest Dallas on Nov. 25, 2001.

At Escamilla's 2002 trial, he threw a pticher of water toward jurors.

(source: Associated Press)


Death sentence in name only

Gov. Tom Wolf last week declared a "moratorium" on capital punishment in Pennsylvania, citing a "flawed system that has ... proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive."

The outrage was swift and included a rebuke from York County District Attorney Tom Kearney.

Wolf's action is "an affront to the memory of those murdered and their families," he said in a statement, adding the governor doesn't understand "the weight placed on a prosecutor" who seeks the death penalty.

"In one swift action this past Friday, Gov. Wolf has revictimized the very victims that we fight for each and every day by dismissing the tireless efforts of our juries," Kearney stated.

What the DA failed to mention is that Pennsylvania, for all intents and purposes, does not execute death row inmates.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States nearly 40 years ago, Pennsylvania governors have signed 434 death warrants.

In that time, just 3 people have been executed - and only then because they abandoned their appeals.

They basically left this world in control, having decided, perhaps, that death was preferable to life in a cage.

Does Kearney explain that to victims' survivors?

Does he tell grief-stricken family members that a death sentence in Pennsylvania means endless, expensive appeals that will regularly reopen emotional wounds ... but almost certainly will never end in an execution?

We hope so, because otherwise the DA is not being honest with survivors. That would be the real affront to them and their loved ones.

There are 186 condemned inmates - 13 convicted in York County - in Pennsylvania, making ours the 5th-largest death row population in the country. But we haven't actually meted out a capital punishment in nearly 16 years.

Critics argue Wolf doesn't have the authority to declare a "moratorium" on our phantom executions and say he'll face a legal challenge.

But Wolf certainly does have the power to grant temporary reprieves to condemned inmates, and his spokesman says he intends to use it.

Never mind the moral question the rest of the civilized world long ago answered.

Forget the astronomical cost - $370 million, based on one study - we spend on these lost causes.

Set aside the unacceptable risk of condemning an innocent person.

The reality is Pennsylvania has a death penalty only on paper.

It disrupts nothing to suspend the meaningless death warrants until the task force - a state Senate group that predates Wolf by about 3 years - finishes its study on the broader issues of capital punishment.

(source: Editorial, York Dispatch)


Why Gov. Wolf's so-called death penalty moratorium will fail

What the governor did last week was to grant a reprieve to 1 death row inmate who was scheduled for an imminent execution. The granting of a reprieve is one of the governor's powers with respect to clemency in Article IV, Section 9(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The other 2 are the power to commute a death sentence to life and to grant a pardon. The latter 2, however, cannot be exercised by the governor unless recommended by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. With respect to commuting a death sentence to life, the recommendation must be unanimous.

Under Pennsylvania law, the issuance of execution warrants by the executive branch is a mandatory duty. That precedent was established in Morganelli v. Casey, a case I brought in 1994 against then-Gov. Robert Casey.

Today, the governor is given 90 days to sign a death warrant after receiving the case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If the governor does not sign the execution warrant, the execution date must be set by the Department of Corrections and the execution proceeds without the governor's signature.

Accordingly, Judge Lewis advised the governor that executions must proceed and that the use of the reprieve power was the only constitutional basis for creating a de facto moratorium. The governor has stated that he will grant reprieves for subsequent scheduled executions for each death row inmate, at least until the release of an impending study being done by a task force established by the state Legislature.

The governor's objective is unlikely to succeed. In Morganelli v. Casey, the court held that a reprieve exists only to afford an individual defendant the opportunity to temporarily postpone an execution for a particular proceeding involving that defendant - i.e., a pending application for a pardon, commutation or judicial relief.

It is unlikely that a court will allow a governor to grant reprieves based on a governor's concern about the fairness of the process or the release of a report that has no legal significance. If this was permitted, it would, in effect, allow a governor to commute death sentences to life by passing the Board of Pardons in contravention of Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Only the Legislature has the power to repeal the death penalty, and only the judiciary has the power to suspend the death penalty or declare it null and void as unconstitutional or in violation of due process.

Pennsylvania's death penalty was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court many years ago in the case of Blystone, and, therefore, the governor will not be able to derail Pennsylvania's death penalty by continuously granting reprieves in individual cases.

As someone who has personally litigated these issues, I predict that ultimately the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will find the governor's action outside of the intended purpose and scope of a reprieve.

(source: opinion; Northampton County District Attorney John M. Morganelli is a past president of the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association and in 1994 successfully prosecuted an unprecedented case against the governor of Pennsylvania to enforce Pennsylvania's death penalty by signing death warrants for Josoph Henry and Martin Appel----Morning Call)


DA: Death penalty stay will not affect Frein case

The district attorney prosecuting trooper ambush suspect Eric Frein says the state's new moratorium on the death penalty will not affect the case. Governor Tom Wolf on Feb. 13 halted the further execution of death row inmates until the state senate approves a report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, which will make recommendations on how to prosecute capital cases more fairly. Wolf said he would issue a reprieve for every scheduled execution until the recommended improvements are in place.

"If we are to continue to administer the death penalty, we must take further steps to ensure that defendants have appropriate counsel at every stage of their prosecution, that the sentence is applied fairly and proportionally, and that we eliminate the risk of executing an innocent," Wolf said in a memorandum announcing the policy.

Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin said Wolf's decision will not stop him from pursuing the death penalty for Frein.

The head of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, Joseph Kovel, called the decision "a travesty because it prevents the commonwealth and the family of Cpl. Dickson from securing the penalty that is deserved. This decision also will affect the families of victims from all across the state who have had their loved ones torn from them due to senseless acts of violence from dangerous criminals."

Jeff Sheridan, Wolf's press secretary, confirmed that defendants in Pennsylvania can still be sentenced to death, and that prisoners on death row face the same fate as they did before the moratorium.

The governor's stay is part of a temporary reprieve for inmate Terrence Williams, scheduled for execution March 4 for killing 2 men. He admitted killing them while in his teens but now says both men had been sexually abusing him.

'An unending cycle' of appealTonkin opposes the moratorium, calling it a "potentially unlawful action." He said he believes state law requires the moratorium specify a time frame.

"This unilateral action will only cause more pain and confusion to families who have suffered the actions of the worst criminals," Tonkin said.

Wolf said families suffer more grief from an appeals system that has kept most Pennsylvania death penalty cases tied up in the courts for years without resolution.

"This unending cycle of death warrants and appeals diverts resources from the judicial system and forces the families and loved ones of victims to relive their tragedies each time a new round of warrants and appeals commences," Wolf said. "The only certainty in the current system is that the process will be drawn out, expensive, and painful for all involved," Wolf said.

Sheridan said the state's constitution gives the governor the power to grant reprieves, and that Wolf has in fact stated when he will lift the moratorium.

5th-largest death row

Death row in Pennsylvania currently has 186 inmates, making it the 5th-largest death row in the country. The commonwealth is mostly surrounded by states that have abolished capital punishment, including New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Maryland, which repealed its death penalty law in 2013.

Delaware and Ohio are the only neighboring states with the death penalty still in place. On Jan. 30, Ohio Gov. John Kasich postponed all 7 executions scheduled for 2015 in his state, after a series of lethal injections were botched last year. Delaware abolished capital punishment only briefly in its history, from 1958 to 1961.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 in Pennsylvania, only 3 inmates have been executed - even though governors have signed death warrants for 434 prisoners.

The high cost of capital casesTonkin said in a statement that he is "disappointed that the governor failed to respond to correspondence from the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association" before announcing the moratorium. The association said Wolf "turned his back on the silenced victims of cold-blooded killers."

Wolf said that among his chief concerns are the approximately 150 people on death row nationwide who have been exonerated over the past 39 years.

Sheridan said Wolf believes the crimes Frein is accused of committing "are heinous." He said the moratorium is meant only to give the commonwealth time to correct problems in its death penalty trials, including their high cost.

"If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible. Pennsylvania's system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible."

(source: Pike County Courier)


Deacons witness execution of Catholic inmate Warren Hill

The State of Georgia executed Warren Lee Hill, who had received the sacraments of the Catholic Church while on death row, the evening of Jan. 27.

Hill, sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of a fellow inmate, died by lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his application for a stay of execution earlier that day.

Hill's original prison sentence was a life term for the killing of his girlfriend.

In the years leading up to the execution, Hill had been granted reprieves from execution as attorneys representing him challenged Georgia's Lethal Injections Secrecy Act and also brought forward evaluations that Hill's sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment due to mental retardation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the death penalty cannot be applied if an inmate is mentally retarded, but left it to each state to determine how that standard is met. Georgia has the highest such standard to meet of any state.

3 men executed in Georgia since December, woman may be executed in February

Hill's death was the latest of 3 executions at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson since December.

Robert Wayne Holsey was executed Dec. 9, 2014, and Andrew Brannan on Jan. 13.

Deacon Richard Tolcher, head of the archdiocesan prison ministry, had provided spiritual ministry to all 3 men.

Deacon Tolcher baptized Hill on Feb. 14, 2013, the culmination of their meeting regularly since the fall of 2012. The deacon taught him about prayer, sacraments and the Catholic faith. The late Father Austin Fogarty, who regularly celebrated Mass at the prison, gave Hill his 1st Communion the same day and then confirmed him with the permission of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

"Archbishop Gregory heard his confession about a month ago," said Deacon Tolcher.

Hill asked Deacon Norm Keller and Deacon Tolcher to witness his execution. Although Hill declined offering any last words, he did want a prayer said.

Throughout the evening of the execution, Deacon Tolcher kept Archbishop Gregory and Bishop David Talley apprised of developments. Bishop Talley celebrates Mass for death row inmates each month.

Deacon Tolcher had also been meeting with Brannan, convicted of killing a police officer, in his final days. Brannan asked the deacon to witness his death and called his name out as he was dying.

"All of them sought and begged for forgiveness from the victims' families. None of them said, 'I didn't do it,'" said Deacon Tolcher. "Each of them faced their execution in full confidence of their faith."

The deacon said his goal was to "let them know that God loved them" and that they were "valuable human beings with human dignity."

When present at an execution, witnesses sit behind a glass window at the feet of the inmate. The prisoner's arms are extended outward and strapped down, and the upper body is elevated slightly.

The experience reminded Deacon Tolcher of the crucifixion.

Deacon Tolcher said jailhouse conversions are often ridiculed by the public or make prisoners seem weak in the eyes of other inmates.

"I'll take any kind of conversion," he said.

8 inmates on death row participate in weekly Mass

At the Jackson facility, 8 inmates, 7 of them Catholic, regularly attend Mass, held each Thursday. Priests celebrating Mass include Father John Adamski and Father Richard Tibbetts.

The inmates are often worried about their family members, and Deacon Tolcher said they pray regularly for them and for the loved ones of victims. In a sense, family members are additional victims of violence, he said.

There have been 57 men executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1973. Georgia's only female on death row, Kelly Gissendaner, is set to be executed Feb. 25 for planning and convincing her boyfriend to murder her husband. She is imprisoned at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto.

Recently, Deacon Tolcher offered to meet with 2 more death row inmates as a spiritual director.

The deacon is often asked how he can manage the emotional weight of prison ministry, particularly working with those on death row.

"How can I not do that?" he answered.

(source: The Georgia Bulletin)


Death Penalty Sought in Bradenton Killings

Tampa Bay area prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for a man accused of killing 3 people.

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown said he sent the death penalty notice to Andy Avalos' attorney on Wednesday.

Avalos is charged with 1st-degree murder in the deaths of his wife, Amber Avalos, neighbor Denise Potter and pastor James "Tripp" Battle.

Brown said he looked at "aggravating factors" in the crimes when considering the death penalty.

Officials said Avalos killed his wife and neighbor, then shot the pastor at his church.

(source: The Ledger)


Death-penalty defendants Donald Smith, Randall Deviney get new lawyers

2 Jacksonville men facing the death penalty have new lawyers after an appeals court removed the public defenders from the cases at their request.

Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper on Friday appointed attorney Julie Schlax as the new attorney for Donald James Smith. Smith, 58, is charged with abducting, raping and murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

Schlax was special assault director for the State Attorney's Office and departed when Angela Corey replaced Harry Shorstein as state attorney in 2009. She has been a defense lawyer since then.

Cooper appointed veteran defense attorney Jim Hernandez on Thursday to represent Randall Deviney. Deviney, 25, is accused of slitting the throat of 65-year-old Delores Futrell.

Smith and Deviney were both originally scheduled to go on trial in January but their trials were delayed due to uncertainty over whether the Public Defender's Office had a conflict of interest representing both men.

Deviney said he has information on another murder that Smith committed and wrote several letters to prosecutors and media saying he'd reveal all he knew if prosecutors would drop the death penalty against him and allow him to get out of prison at some point in his life.

Prosecutors said they had no interest in talking with Deviney and implied they didn’t think he was telling the truth. Both Cooper and the prosecution said the Public Defender's Office had no conflict since authorities weren't going to talk with Deviney.

But the appellate court decided the public defenders had to be taken off both cases because a conflict existed with representing both men even if authorities chose not to act.

Smith and Deviney have no money, so their new attorneys will be paid with taxpayers' funds via an hourly rate set by the state.

It will likely take Schlax and Hernandez months to get up to speed on the cases. New trial dates for both men have not yet been set.

(source: Florida Times-Union)


Company says it didn't sell execution drug to Alabama

Officials with a company identified in state court filings as a supplier of a drugs used in executions said Thursday that, according to their records, the manufacturer did not sell the drug to Alabama.

"We have no evidence of a direct purchase of midazolam from the state of Alabama, and records we have received from wholesalers indicate no shipments of Akorn midazolam product to the state of Alabama," wrote Dewey Steadman, director of investor relations for Illinois-based drug manufacturer Akorn, in an email to The Star on Thursday.

State court filings this week suggested that Akorn is the manufacturer of midazolam the state plans to use in lethal injections, and referred to Akorn's drug manual twice as "the manufacturer's package insert." The drug was used in botched executions last year in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio.

Steadman said Thursday that the company "strongly objects" to the use of its products in executions. He said the company won't sell its products directly to prison systems, and will restrict the sale of its products to distributors who "use their best efforts" to keep these products out of prisons.

It was the 1st time Akorn has commented on the controls it uses to keep its drugs from being used in executions. For nearly a year, death penalty opponents have asked Akorn to put such controls in place, but the company remained largely silent on the issue until Thursday.

Restricted sales

Steadman wrote that the wording used in the state's filing "is a disclosure attached to all labeling pulled directly from our website and is not present in printed labeling shipped with our products. If the state was trying to make an argument based on the label, any company's midazolam label could serve as an exhibit as they all are the same."

Company records show no sales of the drug midazolam to Alabama, Steadman said, speaking by phone Thursday.

"That's not 100 % guaranteed, but that's from the records that we've received from our wholesalers," Steadman said.

Steadman added Akorn's share of the market of that drug was 1 % in the 1st quarter of 2014.

Steadman also wrote that at least 8 other companies make midazolam. One of those, a U.S. company, suspended all drug manufacturing in 2013. Still 2 other U.S. company Steadman named have denounced the use of its drugs in executions, and have taken steps to limit that use. Another drug maker listed, based in Germany, no longer ships drugs used by prisons in executions.

Another company on Steadman's list is banned by the FDA from importing the drug into the U.S. from its Mumbai facility, and a London-based company in 2013 said it would begin restrictions on those sales as well.

Joy Patterson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said Thursday there would be no comment from the office to questions about which company supplies Alabama with the drug.

Lethal injection in Alabama

Uncertain sources

Alabama held its last execution in 2013. Numerous legal challenges from inmates claim that new drugs used in lethal injections could cause unnecessary pain and violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

European drug makers have largely stopped selling the lethal drugs to U.S. prisons, and Alabama switched to using pentobarbital as the 1st drug in a 3-drug protocol. Under pressure from death-penalty opponents, drug makers curbed sales of pentobarbital for use in executions, causing many states to switch to new combinations of drugs. Alabama plans to use midazolam as a substitute.

In 2014 a state representative presented an Alabama House committee with a bill that would make the identity of death penalty drug suppliers secret. The lawmaker said he wanted to protect drugmakers from "blowback" from death penalty opponents. He proposed the bill at the request of corrections officials, and acknowledged that the identity of drug manufacturers isn't currently protected by law. Alabama law states that "every citizen has a right to inspect or take a copy of any writing of this state ... except as otherwise provided by statute."

Still, prison officials at the time rejected requests by The Anniston Star and other newspapers for information on the state's death penalty protocol, saying it was not released as a matter of department policy.

Asked why Akorn remained silent after pressure both in the U.S. and internationally from death penalty opponents asking the company to set safeguards against the drug's use by prison systems, Steadman said it came down to staffing. The company at the time wasn't large enough to employ people able to communicate with the media, he said. He was hired in November.

Akorn did not respond to calls from the British newspaper The Guardian in July 2014 after midazolam was used in a botched execution in Oklahoma. The newspaper claimed at the time that Akorn appeared to have no controls regulating sale of the drug to wholesalers who could then sell to prison systems. "People respond to pressure," said Esther Brown, director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, an Alabama group that advocates for the end of capital punishment.

"Often people maybe haven't thought things through. That they are responsible. That there's no such thing as an innocent bystander," Brown said.

Brown applauded Akorn's newly announced policy, and said as more companies set such guidelines, others will be forced to as well.

Steadman said Akorn's safeguards were already in place informally before they were announced Thursday.

"It's something that the company has always believed, but had never formalized," Steadman said. "Now is as good a time as any."

(source: Anniston Star)

OHIO----new execution date

Execution set for Ohio man who killed cellmate

A man serving time in a southwestern Ohio prison for a 1978 West Toledo robbery and murder faces execution Jan. 12, 2017, for brutally murdering his cellmate 19 years later.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday set the date for the lethal injection of James Galen Hanna, 65, for stabbing cellmate Peter Copas, 43, in the eye and bludgeoning him with a sock containing a padlock at the Lebanon Correctional Institution in 1997.

Copas died nearly 3 weeks later.

Hanna has exhausted his state and federal appeals.

The sole dissent in setting a date came from Justice William O’Neill, a death penalty opponent who routinely refuses to schedule executions.

In a letter sent to an inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, Hanna called Copas, who was serving a sentence for corruption of a minor, a "maggot baby-raper-killer." He bragged that he "made him suffer pretty good" as he repeatedly stabbed him with a knife fashioned from a paintbrush and beat him for 2 hours until morning head count.

"He lived for 20 1/2 hours after that before he croaked," he wrote.

Hanna was in the prison in Warren County serving a life sentence for the murder of Edward V. Tucker, 18, who was working his 1st solo night shift at a West Toledo convenience store.

A recent high school graduate, Mr. Tucker planned to study chemistry that fall at the University of Toledo.

Hanna stabbed him numerous times and then turned on the district manager who surprised him by walking in on the morning robbery. Harvey W. Blitz, then 26, also was stabbed numerous times but survived. Hanna was convicted of attempted aggravated murder in that case.

Ohio executions are currently scheduled to resume in early 2016 and continue into 2017 at the pace of roughly 1 a month. Gov. John Kasich imposed a moratorium on executions through this year because of the state's continuing struggles to acquire its preferred execution drugs as well as pending execution-related litigation.

Hanna is a defendant in the pending challenge in federal court to Ohio's death penalty process, but he has not been granted a stay of execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Hanna's conviction and death sentence in 2013, prompting Warren County Prosecutor David P. Fornshell to request the setting of a date.

(source: Toledo Blade)


3 to face death penalty in Uniopolis murder

3 men were indicted this week in the June slaying of an Uniopolis man beaten to death inside his home.

All 3 will face the death penalty, Auglaize County Prosecutor Ed Pierce said Friday.

Aaron M. Dietrich Sr., 26, of Wapakoneta, Joseph R. Furry, 30, of Van Wert, and James P. Dinsmore, 28, all are charged with 2 counts of aggravated murder and 1 count each of aggravated burglary, kidnapping and intimidation of a witness.

The arrests come this week, about 8 months into a lengthy investigation, Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said.



Judge Throws Out Ohio Inmates' 'Kafkaesque' Lethal Injection Lawsuit

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by 4 death row inmates who challenged an Ohio law that shields the names of companies providing lethal injection drugs.

The inmates argued the new law violates free speech rights, contending in part that the measure restricts information that helps inform the public debate over capital punishment. Their attorneys have sought to stop provisions from taking effect in March.

But U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost ruled Tuesday that the inmates lacked standing, saying their challenge was not tied to "actual or imminent injuries."

Attorneys for the state had requested that the lawsuit be dismissed.

In a filing last month, Ohio's attorneys argued that nothing in the law infringes on prisoners' First Amendment rights or affects their ability to argue issues in court. They said the law denies inmates access to information in the state's hands, which is not the same as suppressing free speech.

Frost sided with the state in his decision. He wrote that the law does not suppress speech or the ability to oppose the death penalty.

"Rather, the statutory scheme simply cuts off Ohio and its employees as a source of specific information for both proponents and opponents of the death penalty," the judge said.

The inmates also allege the restrictions treat them differently than other groups, arguing that state lethal injection expert witnesses could have their identity shielded under the law, while defense witnesses wouldn't get the same protection. The state has disputed the unequal treatment allegation.

Frost noted that the dismissal "unquestionably handicaps" related litigation over Ohio's execution protocol.

"In order to challenge the use of a drug that will be used to execute them, inmates must explain why use of that drug presents a risk of substantial harm," he said. But he acknowledged that inmates aren't allowed to know where the drug came from, how it was manufactured or who was involved in its creation.

"A proponent of Kafkaesque absurdity might be proud of such a byzantine method for pursuing the protection of a constitutional right, even if the drafters of the United States Constitution might not," Frost wrote.

Supporters of the new law say shielding the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs is necessary to protect drugmakers from harassment and ensure the state gets supplies of the drugs.

Ohio executions have been on hold since a troubling 26-minute execution a year ago during which a prisoner getting a first-ever two-drug combo repeatedly gasped and snorted.

The state has ditched that 2-drug method and said it will use 1 of 2 different anesthetics in the future, neither of which it has on hand and both of which may be hard to find.

Attorneys for the inmates say there is no evidence whatsoever of companies being harassed.

The lawsuit was filed in December on behalf of Ohio death row prisoners Ronald Phillips, Raymond Tibbetts, Robert Van Hook and Grady Brinkley.

Cleveland attorney Timothy Sweeney, who represents Phillips, said they will appeal the decision.

"This extreme law needs to be fully evaluated by the courts prior to its implementation," Sweeney said in a written statement.

(source: Associated Press)


Anthony Apanovitch's 3 decades on death row another argument for ending the death penalty

In 1985, Anthony Apanovitch was sentenced to death in Ohio for the rape and murder of Mary Anne Flynn, a young nurse-midwife. Last week, after spending 30 years on death row, he was granted a new trial.

His case is yet another lesson in why the death penalty makes no sense -- for the accused, for taxpayers, or for the families of victims.

Death penalty cases arouse the strongest emotions and generate the greatest uproar. A dreadful crime creates horror and fear in the public and grievous suffering in the victim's family. There is intense pressure on police and prosecutors to find the perpetrator and get a conviction. But when the state seeks the penalty of death -- the 1 punishment that is irreversible -- there is a need for certainty that is at odds with the outrage of the public and the pressure on prosecutors.

In 1993, with Apanovitch nearing execution, his attorneys prepared a clemency video appeal for then-Gov. George Voinovich that presented evidence withheld by the state and not considered by the courts. They asked me to narrate it.

Because the U.S. Court of Appeals accepted a last-minute plea for reconsideration, the video was put on hold pending its decision. No one expected the appeal to sit on the court's docket for the next 10 years.

That court's eventual finding led to further litigation, time-consuming motions and hearings, a claim of destroyed evidence on the part of the state -- evidence that magically appeared later -- withheld DNA evidence and a report from an expert witness eventually shown to be incomplete. All of this kept the case in the system for many more years.

The video, never submitted to the governor, was evidently shown to some of Flynn's family. In 2007, they asked me to apologize for using my "time, talent and good name to get a guilty man out of prison."

Claiming that a DNA test had "proved that Anthony Apanovitch and nobody else was the stalker/rapist/murderer" of their sister, the angry and frustrated Flynns complained that I "and a lot of other people were duped." Among the others they listed "the second-guessers -- the anti-death penalty crowd that portrayed Apanovitch as a victim; The Cleveland Plain Dealer and their often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt editorials; and even a Catholic priest enlisting school children in a letter-writing campaign for a new trial."

Understanding their feelings, I responded to the Flynns that I was sorry for what happened to their sister and for the pain they had suffered. I explained I had not heard about the DNA test results and would check into it. But, I said, I could not apologize "for calling to the attention of the governor and the authorities the untested and unconsidered evidence that may have argued for Mr. Apanovitch's innocence. I believe that in these cases every piece of evidence has to be carefully considered before one makes a determination of guilt or innocence."

Last week, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Robert McClelland ruled in the matter of the murder of Mary Anne Flynn. He acquitted Apanovitch on one count of rape, dismissed a second rape count and removed the rape specification from the murder charge. What remains is a charge of murder and a charge of burglary. Because the facts have changed from the original trial and a DNA test actually excludes Apanovitch, the judge concluded he is entitled to a new trial. The judge also agreed to set bond, which means Apanovitch could be released pending the new trial.

For 30 years, the Flynn family has lived with nearly unendurable pain while those in charge of our system have struggled to justify killing Anthony Apanovitch.

Meanwhile, Apanovitch has remained in prison, living under the threat of imminent death while asserting his innocence. At one point, he was 5 days from execution.

Since 1976, when the United States reinstated the death penalty, 150 death row inmates have been exonerated: Their convictions have been overturned and they have been set free. The rate of exonerations has increased in recent years, with DNA testing and careful reinvestigation repeatedly revealing wrongful convictions.

It is too soon, even after 30 years, to call this case resolved. But it is not too soon to say that the death penalty system is a failure. In fact, it is long past time for us to declare that the death penalty does not serve the interests of society, the interests of victims, or the interests of justice.

(source: Opinion; Mike Farrell, who portrayed B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H, is president of Death Penalty Focus and author of "Just Call Me Mike; A Journey to Actor and Activist" and "Of Mule and Man."


Death penalty bill introduced in House

A bill to reinstate the death penalty in West Virginia has been introduced in the House of Delegates.

House Bill 2855, introduced by Delegates John Overington, Marty Gearheart, Steve Westfall, Rupie Phillips, Geoff Foster, Eric Householder, Saira Blair, Ron Walters and Michael Moffatt,calls for a person convicted of first degree murder to face the death penalty in certain circumstances, including if the victim was a member of law enforcement.

West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965, but the last execution was in 1959. Previous attempts by the Legislature, as recently as 2011, to reinstate the death penalty were rejected.

(source: Charleston Daily Mail)


Ky. legislature should find out death penalty's cost

Let's say you have no moral qualms about the death penalty. You also think, despite compelling evidence to the contrary, that our justice system is meting out the irreversible punishment fairly with negligible errors.

You still might not consider the perceived benefits of prosecuting and sentencing a criminal to death worth the cost when compared to some other sentence such as life without parole - if you knew the cost, which in Kentucky we don't.

Legislators, who are entrusted with budgeting tax dollars to meet many competing underfunded needs, should want to know the cost to taxpayers. In fact, they should demand to know.

Bipartisan resolutions have been introduced in both chambers that would authorize a task force to study the death penalty's cost to the state before the 2016 General Assembly convenes.

Senate Resolution 11 and House Resolution 30 have bipartisan support, which makes sense since their bottom line is making the best use of tax dollars, a bipartisan concern.

A blue ribbon panel of Kentuckians convened by the American Bar Association studied the death penalty in our state and issued a troubling report in 2011.

Since 1976 when Kentucky reinstated capital punishment, 78 people have been sentenced to death. Of those, 52 have had a death sentence overturned on appeal or been granted clemency - an error rate of about 60 %. 3 individuals have been executed.

The panel did not study how much that record has cost taxpayers, however, and neither has anyone else. A responsible legislature would fill the knowledge gap.

(source: Editorial,


Webb Files Bill to Reform Kentucky's Death Penalty

On the same day Pennsylvania's governor placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the Keystone state, a Kentucky lawmaker filed a bill to make what she says would be moderate reforms to Kentucky's laws.

State Sen. Robin Webb maintains there are so many problems with Kentucky's death penalty that Gov. Steve Beshear should do what Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did last Friday - suspend the death penalty.

"You know, we've had a lot of litigation over our manner of execution and lethal injections, and the cocktail and the protocol and all of that, which is expensive for the state," Webb points out. "And, you know, again there's a humanitarian aspect of this, but there's also a fiscal impact of this."

It was 3 years ago December that the American Bar Association (ABA) released a report outlining a myriad of problems with Kentucky's death penalty - citing 95 specific things that needed to be fixed.

Webb's bill calls for more law enforcement training on the use of lineups, interrogations, eyewitness testimony and biological evidence.

It also proposes more training for judges on mental-health issues. And, it attempts to improve DNA storage and testing - a crucial piece of the bill, says Webb, because of the dozens of wrongful convictions across the country.

"It's, you know, not too comprehensive," she concedes. "I'm a realist. I think it's things that we've talked about in the past and hopefully can reach a consensus."

Pennsylvania's governor said his state's moratorium will remain in effect until problems cited by an advisory commission are addressed - a situation similar to Kentucky's.

When the ABA issued its report in December 2011 the panel of lawyers, professors and retired judges recommended a temporary suspension of the death penalty.

(source: WMKY news)


Justices hear arguments on state's execution law

The Arkansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday about whether a 2013 law enacted by state legislators gave too much authority to the Arkansas Department of Correction to set lethal-injection protocol.

Last year, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen declared that Act 139 of 2013 violated separation-of-powers principles and was therefore a "clear violation" of the Arkansas Constitution. His ruling put lethal injection on hold in the state unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise or legislators rewrite the law.

Griffen's ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in April of 2013 by 9 death-row inmates who challenged the latest rewrite of the Method of Execution Act, which replaced the electric chair with lethal injection in 1983. The inmates had already prevailed in 2 earlier lawsuits challenging legislative rewrites of the law.

In his ruling, Griffen said that "Simply put," the 2013 law "suffers from the same separation-of-powers infirmity that caused our Supreme Court to declare its predecessor invalid."

In 2012, the Supreme Court said the Legislature "abdicated its responsibility and passed to the executive branch [the Correction Department] the unfettered discretion to determine all protocols and procedures, most notably the chemicals to be used, for a state execution."

The legislative branch of government can delegate its decision-making authority to an executive agency as long as the delegation is accompanied by "reasonable guidelines" that set "appropriate standards" for the agency to use that authority, Griffen said. He found that the 2013 law still gave the department too much leeway to decide what type of drug should be used and how it should be administered. He said that specifying only that the department use a "barbiturate" isn't adequate.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt told the justices that the 2013 version of the law "provides sufficient guidance" to prison officials and "accurately constrains" the department's discretion.

In response to a question from Justice Robin Wynne, Merritt said the words "ultra short-acting barbiturate" were removed from the state law because such a drug had become increasingly difficult to obtain. She said legislators tried to remedy the problem by enacting a "very broad statute," as most states have -- to which Wynne replied that his own research has found that "a number of states" specify the drugs to be used.

Justice Karen Baker noted that Act 139 "lacks any sort of requirement for medical personnel," to which Merritt replied that "selecting appropriate personnel is an executive function."

Josh Lee, an assistant federal public defender who is representing the inmates, said the statute gives the department the discretion on whether to have medical personnel on hand.

"What the General Assembly has said is, 'We can have a quick and painless death, or a slow and agonizing death. Department of Correction, it's up to you,'" Lee said.

He urged the justices to consider the dangers of vesting too much authority in the department, pointing out, "There is nothing in the lethal-injection act saying it has to be humane."

Statutes in Kansas and Ohio, unlike the Arkansas statute, specify that the lethal-injection protocol "should cause a quick and painless death," he said.

He answered affirmatively when Justice Paul Danielson asked if the law would be cured by specifying that the procedure must be "swift and humane." But Baker wondered how that phrase would be defined.

Lee said the 2013 revision of the law would permit whoever was designated to carry out a lethal injection in Arkansas to personally decide whether a particular inmate has a "slow and agonizing" death or a "quick and painless" death, based on the facts of the case that led to the death sentence.

Baker said that surely the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment and supersedes any state statute, would prevent that, but Lee said he isn't so certain.

While acknowledging that the Eighth Amendment doesn't require Arkansas to enact a "swift and humane" protocol, Merritt told the justices that "it is extremely difficult for the Legislature to codify everything," and said she feared that adding that phrase would generate "endless litigation."

When Baker asked how an executioner would choose which barbiturate to use, Merritt replied that the department's protocol would specify a particular drug. But she conceded that under the 2013 statute, "This act would allow any barbiturate."

Merritt tried to steer the justices away from questions about medical issues, reminding them that the issue is separation of powers.

Similarly, Lee said in an emailed statement after the hearing, "This case is really not about the death penalty. It is about making sure that government agencies don't exceed their authority. Not just prisoners but also Arkansas businesses and ordinary citizens need government agencies to stay within the limits of their constitutional authority."



MU law professor highlights 'serious problems' in Missouri dealth penalty process

2 bipartisan state bills focusing on death penalty reform - Senate Bill 393 and House Bill 561 - have more to do with fixing "serious problems" affecting the entire Missouri criminal justice system and less to do with the morality of executions, MU law professor Paul Litton said Thursday. Litton was co-chair of an 8-member team of prominent Missouri jurists tasked by the American Bar Association with studying potential flaws in the fairness and accuracy of the state's capital justice system. The group's 2-year, 400-plus-page report was released in 2012.

Litton highlighted some of the report's recommendations at a meeting hosted by opponents of the death penalty at the Missouri United Methodist Church. The event, "Moratorium Now: Promoting Reforms for Greater Fairness and Accuracy in Missouri's Death Penalty" drew about 40 people. Recommendations included changes to the state's investigative procedures, where the most serious problems were found, he said.

Other recommendations aimed at reducing wrongful convictions would require police departments to: record an entire interrogation with a suspect from beginning to end; inform eyewitnesses reviewing a police lineup that a suspect may not be in the lineup; and ensure the police officer leading the lineup doesn't know who the suspect is in order not to influence the results.

"These are relevant to the whole criminal justice system, not just death penalty cases," Litton said.

At Thursday's event, state Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said he has long supported reform in the state's capital punishment practices.

"Every single person I've ever met believes government makes mistakes," Webber said, adding that the death penalty is something where "you can't make a mistake."

Both SB 393 and HB 561 would create a task force to analyze the state's capital punishment system, while placing a moratorium on the death penalty until January 2018. The bipartisan Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph; HB 561 was sponsored by Rep. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, and cosponsored by 11 members including three Republicans.

Missouri has executed 81 people since 1976, including 10 last year, which tied it with Texas for the state with most executions.

(source: The Missourian)


Groups sponsor death penalty talk

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation will hold a program called "Moratorium Now: Promoting Reforms for Greater Fairness and Accuracy in Missouri's Death Penalty" at 7 p.m. Thursday in Whittler Hall at Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St.

Paul Litton, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, who co-chaired the Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Team, and other legal experts will talk about the state's death penalty system.

(source: Columbia Daily Tribune)


Judiciary Committee advances bill abolishing death penalty

By a slim margin, the House Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.

The panel voted 11-10 on to send House Bill 370 to the floor for debate.

The vote marks a dramatic turnaround for death penalty-abolishment advocates, as the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee has killed similar bills in several previous legislative sessions.

"I was shocked," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. David "Doc" Moore, R-Missoula. "I didn't expect it to come out of committee. I kind of feel I've got a tiger by the tail here."

The bill now advances to the House floor for debate. Moore said he figures the odds of the bill passing the full House are 50-50.

"I know everyone has their own personal beliefs on it," he said. "I don't think that anything anyone says on the House floor during deliberations is going to sway anyone."

2 Republicans - Reps. Clayton Fiscus of Billings and Bruce Meyers of Box Elder - joined all 9 Democrats to vote for HB370 in committee, while the other 10 Republicans opposed the bill.

"Our death penalty is a joke," Fiscus said Thursday.

After people are sentenced to the death penalty, he said taxpayers have to spend $3 million or $4 million providing them with public defenders, including one specializing in death penalty cases, to say they belong in prison.

Another reason Fiscus said he voted for the bill is that life in prison without parole "is worse than the death penalty" for the convicted person.

Fiscus said he also opposes the death penalty, to eliminate any worry about executing an innocent person.

Meyers explained his opposition to the death penalty by saying he came from a background of having a Native American father and a mother with a Christian background.

"That was part of my conscience, the way I was raised," he said. "Native Americans view all life as being sacred."

From a Christian perspective, Meyers said he prefers the New Testament, which "calls for mercy and grace" over the "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" philosophy of the Old Testament.

Moore recounted what he said in the committee hearing last week about the death penalty.

"You've got to decide yourself whether you personally could pull a trigger or press that button or pull the lever," he said.

(source: Ravalli Republic)

CALIFORNIA----new death sentence

Killer in 2009 triple murder rampage gets death penalty

In handing down a death sentence Thursday for a man who orchestrated the killings of his cousin and 2 other people in just over a month in 2009, a judge said the defendant went on a "murderous rampage" and deserved the ultimate punishment.

Robert Louis Caballero - who knocked over a chair as he was being led into court by more than a half-dozen Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies - blurted out an expletive as one of his attorneys asked that the jury's Sept. 16 death penalty recommendation be reduced to life in prison without parole.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen denied the request, calling the crimes "atrocious" and noting that 3 people were "brutally murdered."

"You went on a murderous rampage that shows a ... callous disregard for human life," the judge told the defendant.

Jurors deliberated about an hour before finding Caballero, 37, guilty of 1st-degree murder for the Sept. 29, 2009, shooting death of Armando Vidana of Pomona, the Nov. 5, 2009, strangulation of Lorraine Minjarez of Covina, and the Nov. 6, 2009, bludgeoning death of his cousin, David Padilla, of El Monte.

In addition to 3 counts of 1st-degree murder, Caballero was convicted of 2 counts of kidnapping and 1 count each of assault with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon and evading an officer.

Jurors found true gang and gun allegations, along with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait, murder during the course of a kidnapping and multiple murders.

Deputy District Attorney Sarika Kim told the panel that Caballero made Minjarez "sit and listen as her grave was being dug."

The 32-year-old woman's body was found in the Angeles National Forest along Mount Baldy Road. The prosecutor said Caballero lured Minjarez to a car in a "cold and callous way," gathered what he needed to kill her, forced her to hike to her gravesite, tightened a rope around her neck as she struggled to breathe and then directed co-defendant Pete Trejo Jr. to bury her body.

Padilla, 29, was bludgeoned and strangled and was found near the Union Pacific railroad tracks near Walnut Avenue in Chino. The prosecutor said Caballero ordered co-defendant Andrew Valenzuela to strangle Padilla because he had decided he didn't trust him any longer.

Caballero was arrested in November 2009 after a police chase that ended in a crash in Montclair.

At the time, authorities said he was wanted on a warrant for Vidana's killing. The motive for the 25-year-old Pomona man's killing was unclear.

One of Padilla's sisters, Inez Roacho, told the judge that "there are no adequate words to describe the pain, anger and despair that I've felt from his murder."

" ... What has kept me focused since David's murder is the promise I made to myself and my loved ones when I saw him laid out on the cold table at the funeral home, I promised that whomever did this to him that justice would be served and now I pass that promise on to you," she told the judge while asking him to impose the maximum sentence. "It is my wish that no one ever again would have to go through a tragedy like ours."

In a statement read by the prosecutor, another of Padilla's sisters, Isabel Garcia, wrote that "it's already been 5 years that he was taken from us, but the pain feels like it was just yesterday."

In comments addressed to the defendant, the woman wrote, "I pray to God every night that he will give me the strength to forgive you but as for now all I want is you to pay for what you did, because not only did you take a brother from myself and my sisters but because you took a father from my nieces and now they have to grow up without their dad. How do you do that? How do you live with yourself knowing you took someone's life, not just anyone's life, but your own cousin!"

Trejo and Valenzuela - who were tried along with Caballero - were sentenced Oct. 3 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Trejo was convicted of 1st-degree murder and kidnapping in connection with Minjarez's death, while Valenzuela was convicted of 1st-degree murder and kidnapping involving Padilla's death.



Gov. Brown says she'll keep Kitzhaber's death penalty moratorium

Taking rapid-fire questions from the press in her ceremonial office in the Capitol, Oregon's new governor Kate Brown didn't flinch.

Before anyone could ask her about it, she dispensed with the question of who would fill her shoes in her former position as secretary of state by saying she would make her selection Friday, March 6.

Otherwise, she fielded questions from a wide range of issues spanning the political spectrum as reporters tried to feel out where she will come down on issues.

She said she'll keep her predecessor's moratorium on the death penalty in place and "there needs to be a broader discussion about fixing the system. Until that discussion, I'm upholding the moratorium imposed by (former) Gov. (John) Kitzhaber."

In November 2011, Kitzhaber declared that no one on death row would be executed in Oregon under his watch. It set off a firestorm of controversy, and surprisingly, the man who led the charge against Kitzhaber was a convicted murderer on death row, Gary Haugen. Haugen argued Kitzhaber should follow the law and let him be executed.

In a phone interview with KATU's Steve Dunn earlier in the week - the same day Brown was inaugurated - Haugen said she hopes the new governor will "follow the will of the people and follow the law."

On education, Brown said she was committed to reducing class sizes and stabilizing funding, but she deflected on a question whether she favors keeping in place Kitzhaber's creation: the Oregon Education Investment Board.

She is now the chair of that board, which Kitzhaber envisioned as an overarching entity that would work to streamline the education system from birth to career. It was one of his top policy initiatives.

The Legislature this year will decide whether to keep the board or let it die.

Transparency was one of her mainstays as secretary of state, and many people view the lack of it got Kitzhaber in trouble, which eventually forced him to resign last week amid a whirlwind scandal involving his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. Newspapers, especially KATU's news partners at Willamette Week, published story after story detailing Hayes' private contracts that appeared to create a conflict of interest within the governor's office.

As she did during her inaugural speech, Brown pledged to be open with Oregonians.

"I will run an inclusive and transparent administration that’s focused on how to do what's best for Oregonians. I want to hear from all sides," she said.

She said she and her husband, Dan Little, are excited about moving into the governor's mansion, Mahonia Hall.

"The downside is that I don't have a dog at this time, so I won't be able to join in all the dog parties that apparently happen," she said.


Death row inmate Haugen wants Gov. Brown to follow the law

2-time convicted murderer and death row inmate Gary Haugen wanted former Gov. John Kitzhaber to let his execution go forward.

But in November 2011, Kitzhaber, a death penalty opponent, issued a moratorium on all executions while he was in office. Now that Kitzhaber has resigned, amid an ethics scandal surrounding his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, Haugen said he wants Kitzhaber's successor Gov. Kate Brown to "follow the will of the people and follow the law."

The law right now allows for the death penalty.

Haugen made his statements in a phone call he initiated with KATU's anchor Steve Dunn on Wednesday, the same day Kitzhaber stepped down and Brown took his place.

Haugen said he wants Brown to "not just pick and choose the pieces of the law you wanna follow or not."

Just weeks before Haugen was supposed to be executed by lethal injection in 2011, Kitzhaber declared that he wouldn't let anyone be executed on his watch as governor.

Haugen challenged Kitzhaber in court, saying he wanted to die, and his case went before the Oregon Supreme Court where justices ultimately ruled the governor had the authority to deny Haugen's wish to be executed.

Kitzhaber's moratorium expires 20 days after he leaves office unless Brown chooses to extend it.

"I'm still waiting," Haugen said, expressing displeasure that he believes he's been in limbo on the taxpayer's dime. "I said (Kitzhaber's) not going to do anything. He's just doing this out of ego."

Ultimately, Haugen said he wished Kitzhaber would have pardoned him as he left office.

"I mean, why not? The guy issued an unprecedented reprieve on me, which could have lasted up to 7 years or even longer, depending on whatever Kate decides to do, and a reprieve is a gift. It's a thing of grace you grant for some noble act ... and he did nothing, he just sat me here all wrapped up in Charlotte's Web wondering, geez, is this guy ever going to get around to following the people's will or is he going to do who knows? ... "I don't know what I did to deserve a reprieve, let alone an act of grace up until he supposedly left office," Haugen said. "Why not just pardon me? But what he did was he didn't do anything."

(source for both: KATU news)


Oregonians need to tackle death-penalty debate

Death penalty opponents were disappointed Wednesday morning when Gov. John Kitzhaber slunk out of office without commuting the sentences of the 33 men and 1 woman on Oregon's death row.

His inaction should not have surprised them. Despite Kitzhaber's stated revulsion over capital punishment, he took 1 - and only 1 - bold move with regards to Oregon's death penalty system. In November 2011, he stayed the planned execution of inmate Gary Haugen. Choking up at times, the governor who had twice previously presided over the lethal injections of death-row prisoners vowed he would allow no more executions on his watch and denounced Oregon's costly death-penalty system for failing "to meet basic standards of justice."

Kitzhaber then followed up his impassioned speech with... silence. Even after Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, introduced legislation in 2013 that would refer a constitutional amendment abolishing the death penalty to voters, Kitzhaber largely stayed out of the picture. When the bill came up for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, Kitzhaber sent a letter. The governor was out of town, Greenlick said. The bill died in committee.

In the 3 years since Haugen's reprieve, however, the death-penalty machinery has kept running. Oregon's death row added a new inmate, David Ray Taylor. A longtime inmate, Allen Gary Zweigart, died of natural causes. Another death row prisoner, Travis Lee Gibson, is now serving a life sentence after his death sentence was vacated in 2012. And inmate Robert Langley, whose multimillion-dollar case has been back and forth to the Oregon Supreme Court, has been sentenced to death for the 1987 murder of Anne Louise Gray -- for a 4th time.

But the immediate issue is what happens to Haugen, who had volunteered for execution in 2011 as a way to protest a legal system he considered corrupt. His request forced Kitzhaber's hand in the first place, but the reprieve dissolved with the governor's departure from office.

The next move is up to the state, but it is also unclear what path Haugen wants to pursue. He told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board in a phone call that part of him wants to proceed with the execution as a way to continue his protest. After all, he noted, what has changed? What has Kitzhaber's reprieve accomplished?

There are other reasons for Oregonians to consider once again whether they want to keep a legally flawed system that costs millions to administer but results in a life sentence for the vast majority of inmates.

Nationally, the mood toward the death penalty has shifted. Washington's governor declared a moratorium on executions in 2014, and Pennsylvania's governor similarly imposed a stay just this month.

With manufacturers refusing to make one of the drugs often used in lethal injections, states have revised their drug protocols -- raising questions of their role in recent botched executions. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has asked states to hold off on executions until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on an appeal from Oklahoma inmates challenging the constitutionality of its lethal injection drug protocol.

And, as always, there is the question of innocence. In the past 3 years, 11 inmates across the country who had been sentenced to die have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group whose board members oppose the death penalty. Mistakes occur in Oregon's legal system as well, from the quality of legal representation to the improper introduction of evidence.

Is Oregon ready to vote on a ballot measure? Greenlick, who has reintroduced his abolition bill for the 2015 session, told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board that he is unsure whether legislators will support it. And, as in 2013, it's unclear whether activist groups have the fundraising and organizational capacity to champion a campaign.

Still, he said, it's long past time to have the conversation, adding that he believes voters would approve abolition if the campaign could raise enough money to explain its reasons. "That's a big if," he said.

In his commanding November 2011 speech, Kitzhaber noted that lawyers, judges, victims' families and others agreed that the death-penalty system was broken.

"But we have done nothing," he said at the time. "We have avoided the question."

It's as if he could see into the next 3 years of his governorship and was summing up his own accomplishments on the death penalty front. It's time for the Legislature and Oregonians to move the conversation forward. We have avoided the question for too long.

(source: The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board)


Death penalty challenge going nowhere this year

A bill to abolish the state's death penalty died Thursday.

The state House Judiciary Committee did not address the bill Thursday, which was the last day that the committee will meet this week. Friday is the cut-off deadline for getting policy-only bills out of committee for any further consideration during the 2015 legislative session.

Committee chair Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said the general public is not ready to repeal the death penalty, and the bill's purpose this session was to promote public discussion on the topic. The thought is that discussion can prepare the way for a more receptive public in the future. She said the strategy is similar to the public gradually becoming more receptive to gay marriage.

A bipartisan group of four representatives had introduced the bill. A Wednesday committee hearing on the subject brought strong support for repealing the death penalty. Only the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs testified against the bill, which was introduced by Reps. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, and Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.

On Wednesday, Carlyle, Walsh, Orwall and Magendanz argued that imposing the death penalty is prohibitively expensive, and they pointed to the chance of erroneously sending an innocent person to death row.

9 people are on the state's death row. A year ago, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on executions that will last until he leaves office. Some death penalty opponents have criticized his approach as failing to resolve the question.

(source: Kitsap Sun)


Bill to abolish death penalty doesn't pass out of committee

An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state isn't moving forward in the Legislature this year.

House Bill 1739, which received a public hearing this week, was scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, but it was not brought up for a vote on the last day before a key policy bill deadline. The chairwoman of the committee said she's personally supportive of the bill, but said that she didn't think this was the right time to move forward with it.

The measure would have replaced capital punishment with life in prison, with no opportunity for parole. It also would have required those convicted to work in prison in order to pay restitution to victims' families.

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on capital punishment for as long as he's in office.

(source: Associated Press)


It's time to kill the death penalty

Following multiple botched executions in Oklahoma, the Supreme Court asked the state to halt executions until the court could review the process.

This week, the soon-to-be outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder proposed taking it a step further at a National Press event.

Holder called for a nationwide moratorium on executions until "fundamental questions" are asked.

This case in particular has been focused on whether lethal injection protocols are consistent with the Constitutional abolishment of cruel and unusual punishment.

But I would argue the court - and the country as a whole - should cast a wider net on the death penalty issue.

The legal developments of recent years regarding capital punishment should be enough to justify a more comprehensive review of the death penalty and how it is used.

Though questioning whether lethal injection is a proper way of carrying out the death penalty is important - as is questioning the virtue of having the death penalty at all - I would point to a question with much larger implications.

Is the death penalty levied unfairly against the poor and minorities?

And if it is, can we justify its existence at all?

Since Northwestern University's law school began evaluating and defending capital punishment cases through the Bluhm Legal Clinic, revelations about the legitimacy of death penalty convictions have been called into question.

The center has helped to exonerate several inmates and found 5.6 percent of convictions in Illinois alone were eventually overturned during a 25 year period.

Further, questions of why some receive the death penalty and others don't for seemingly similar crimes have arisen.

A study published in the Journal of Criminal Law in 2009 examined claims that courts unfairly applied the death penalty to the poor.

It found the ability to hire a lawyer significantly reduced and sometimes entirely eliminated the chance of a death sentence. The study also emphasized that, though there was significant anecdotal evidence of discrimination against minorities, there has been little effort to investigate the claims.

The discrimination against the poor and minorities by our justice system is a much more important question than whether protocols are appropriate or whether the death penalty should be legal on moral grounds.

Our justice system is built on a presumption of innocence and commitment to the principle that it is better to let a guilty man go free than to convict an innocent man.

We all understand mistakes happen and our justice system is not perfect. But when a person's life is at stake, a just society can't settle for "good enough."

To justify the existence of such a punishment, we need to ensure it isn't handed out solely to those who can't afford a good lawyer, and we need to ensure facts, not race, drive convictions.

Until we can guarantee the principles of our justice system are upheld in capital cases, we can't justify killing our own people.

(source: Jared Thompson, The (Univ. Indiana) Indiana Daily Student)


Market forces determine media coverage of death penalty decisions by state high courts.

What determines how death penalty cases are covered by the media? In new research, Richard L. Vining, Jr., Teena Wilhelm and Jack D. Collens argue that the press does not treat all cases equally, and that they are more likely to report on cases that will have broad appeal and increase their sales and profits. They find that a newspaper is nearly 60 % more likely to cover a death penalty case decision if the offender is a woman and about 30 % more likely if the sentence or conviction is overridden.

One persistent assumption among scholars of state politics is that capital cases are salient, or have the potential to be salient, to judges and citizens. That is, death penalty cases are more interesting to the public than others decided by state supreme courts. A Louisiana justice admitted to Melinda Gann Hall decades ago that he voted contrary to his preferences in capital cases to appease the public, largely because they had the potential to be newsworthy and generate unwanted negative attention. A steady stream of systematic, empirical research has reaffirmed the influence of constituents on death penalty decisions. One need look no further than the famous electoral defeats of multiple California justices (1986) and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White (1996) to see the potential consequences of shirking public and elite preferences in capital cases. However, we have little evidence regarding which death penalty decisions are likely to be salient for the press, public or elites. Although scholars have studied news about murder trials and executions, we lack systematic information about coverage of state high courts' death penalty rulings. Given that the media inform the public and elites about the activities of judicial institutions, we believe it is necessary to understand which cases the press finds newsworthy and why. In new research, we present a market-based model of state Supreme Court news, arguing that the press focuses on cases that are likely to attract a broader audience and therefore increase their revenues and profits.

Research by Doris Graber and others established that news outlets devote space in the news hole to events based on their potential impact, degree of conflict or scandal, familiarity, proximity (to the news outlets' base of operations), and timeliness (or novelty). While we acknowledge the importance of this research, we draw primarily on the economic model of news content advanced by James T. Hamilton. It assumes that news outlets seek to maximize revenues by drawing more readers/viewers and, as a result, more sales and advertising. This is achieved by providing a mix of hard and soft news of interest to a diverse audience. A key component of this theory is the need to provide news that appeals to both the typical hard news consumer and potential audience members who lack interest in news for its own sake.

We apply this framework to coverage of death penalty appeals in state supreme courts to determine whether case characteristics appealing to a mass audience influence the selection of news content. We identified factors that are novel or sensational (White, juvenile, female, or intellectually disabled offender, more victims, elderly or juvenile victims, and fewer executions in the state over time), indicative of higher stakes (amicus filings, constitutional issues, non-procedural issues), or dramatic (conviction/sentence overrides, dissent). We also controlled for (state-specific) institutional factors related to the type of judicial selection system and journalistic norms (gatekeeping via prior coverage).

Our analysis determined which factors lead to front-page coverage or any coverage in the most circulated newspaper in 27 death penalty states on the day after a decision. It includes about 3/4 of the capital cases from 1995 to 1998 in the State Supreme Court Data Archive compiled by Paul Brace and Melinda Gann Hall. We focus on the conditions associated with providing any news content about a state high court's decision in a death penalty case rather than only front-page coverage.

Likelihood of Any Coverage of Death Penalty Case Decision

Figure 1 above displays the predicted likelihood that a newspaper will devote attention to a death penalty decision if certain conditions are met. In red is a baseline prediction (an 18.6 % likelihood), which shows the predicted likelihood of covering a case with a male offender, one victim, no prior coverage, and an actual/non-procedural challenge. When the paper has recently covered a case, the likelihood of covering the outcome increases to 78 %. Sentence overrides (31.2 %) and conviction overrides (28.2 %) increase substantially the likelihood of coverage. This is not surprising as the decision to reverse a sentence of death or conviction is a dramatic event and implies that judges are shirking the public's wishes. Cases with only procedural challenges are about half as likely to be covered, as the likelihood drops from 18.6 % to 9.2 %.

Finally, the likelihood that a case receives media attention increases to 57.2 % when the offender is a female. The novelty of such cases makes them interesting to the public. However, their rarity also reduces our confidence in the prediction as indicated by the wide confidence interval for female offenders.

These results of the analysis are interesting because of both the significant findings and the factors that fail to influence coverage. General coverage of capital cases does not increase as a result of a fewer executions in the post-Gregg era (but we do find a positive relationship between execution novelty and front-page coverage). We also do not find that newspapers in states with elected judges pay more attention to death penalty decisions. This is surprising given the greater potential role of the press in elective rather than appointive selection systems. We also find that few case facts fail to influence coverage, though the number of victims and the offender's gender do so.

Our findings demonstrate that journalists are selective when deciding whether to cover state high courts' death penalty decisions. States' elite newspapers (and, by extension, the public) pay more attention to cases which are novel or sensational (with female offenders or a greater number of victims), have higher stakes (focus on non-procedural challenges), or result in more dramatic outcomes (conviction/sentence overrides). Typical indicators of legal salience including constitutional issues, amicus filings, judicial dissent, and offender/victim status fail to attract media coverage systematically. This means that we should not assume that media treat all death penalty cases equally, or that all death penalty cases are particularly high-profile and salient. Our results provide a more nuanced look at public fascination with our country's most punitive form of justice.

(source: This article is based on the paper 'A Market-Based Model of State Supreme Court News Lessons from Capital Cases', in State Politics & Policy Quarterly----London School of Economics)


Looking to the Founders: Capital Punishment

Last week, the Utah House reignited the capital punishment controversy by approving a measure to bring back the firing squad as a legal form of execution in response to growing court challenges over lethal injection.

Wyoming approved a similar law in January, joining Oklahoma as the only states with the firing squad approved in the event of court rulings against lethal injection.

Too often, the death penalty debate centers on what the Founding Fathers meant by the phrase "cruel and unusual punishments," and many death penalty appeals request further court guidance and intervention.

What did the Founding Fathers mean when they wrote the Bill of Rights? And more importantly, what did they do in practice?

English Common Law

The Founding Fathers were an exceedingly educated group of men, with 30 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention being college graduates.

While many pursued several (and varied) careers, 35 of them were also accepted to the bar to practice law.

An enormous part of their education was learning the traditions of English Common Law from Edward Coke's Institute:

What the medieval cases and traditions were to Coke, Coke's Second Institute and the decisions of the common law courts he discusses or that followed him, were to the American lawyers before the Revolution.

Of all of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson is probably the best known for quoting from Coke's Institute - Jefferson's copy is on display at the Library of Congress. It was also quoted numerous times in early U.S. Supreme Court cases in the various justices' opinions.

It is through Coke's Institute that we can see the common - and gruesome - punishment of the day for the treasonous:

After a traitor has had his just trial, and is convicted ... he shall have his judgment: to be drawn to the place of execution from his prison, as being not worthy anymore to tread upon the face of earth whereof he was made. Also, for that he has been retrograde to nature, therefore is he drawn backward ....

And whereas God has made the head of man the highest and most supreme part, as being his chief grace and ornament, he must be drawn with his head declining downward and lying so near the ground as may be, being thought unfit to take benefit of the common air.

For which cause also he shall be strangled, being hanged up by the neck between heaven and earth as deemed unworthy of both or either, as likewise, that the eyes of men may behold and their hearts condemn him.

Then he is to be cut down alive, and to have his privy parts cut off and burnt before his face as being unworthily begotten and unfit to lead any generation after him. His bowels ... taken out and burnt, who inwardly had conceived and harboured such horrible treason.

After, to have his head cut off, which had imagined the mischief.

And lastly, his body to be quartered and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place, to the view and detestation of men, and to become prey for the fowls of the air.

And this is a reward due to traitors whose heart be hardened. For it is a psychic of state and government to let out our corrupt blood from the heart.

Coke added that a traitor's assets would be seized by the Crown as further punishment for the crime (often leaving their family in poverty).

This was the punishment that the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence faced when they gave their solemn oath to each other:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Nearly 100 years after the ratification of the Constitution, the Supreme Court defined, for the 1st time, the meaning and limits to "cruel and unusual."

In Wilkerson v. Utah (1878), the court upheld Utah territorial law requiring 1st degree murderers to face death by "being shot, hanged, or beheaded."

The court ruled that "cruel and unusual" applied only to drawing and quartering, public dissection, burning alive, or disembowelment.

1st Federal Execution

The federal government didn't have to wait long to be faced with its 1st capital case. In fact, the defendant waited in jail for a year for the federal courts to be organized under the Constitution.

A small British slave ship wrecked off the coast of Falmouth, Massachusetts (current site of Portland, Maine) under suspicious circumstances.

The captain had been murdered, and only 4 people were on the boat when it was rescued: an American, a Norwegian, a Brit, and a teenage African boy.

The British sailor, Thomas Bird, was arrested and charged with murder, mutiny, and other maritime crimes. Massachusetts courts initially planned to handle the case, but deferred to federal courts once Massachusetts had ratified the Constitution.

While waiting a year for trial, Bird carved toy boats for the jail keeper's children, which was recounted by 1 during an interview when he was in his 90s.

Falmouth had been burned and razed by the British Navy during the Revolution, and some accounts suggested the ensuing trial was a form of retribution.

Without lengthy wrangling or constant appeals, Bird was executed by hanging, with the U.S. Marshall's service in charge of the execution.

The First Congress had enacted that the U.S. Marshall was responsible for carrying out all federal executions, highlighting the fact that the Founding Fathers anticipated the need and usage of capital punishment.

America, 2015

In 2014, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote a scathing dissent in the Arizona death penalty case of Joseph Rudolph Wood III:

Executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.

At the heart of his dissent was his opinion that foolproof, but gory methods of execution like beheading or firing squads should be brought back - that the state shouldn't try to conceal the brutality of the act.

Kozinski also noted that the average death row inmate in California was more likely to die from old age than from execution.

At the time of the Founding Fathers, the time between conviction and execution could be measured in days. A century later, the courts argued that being held in solitary confinement for 4 weeks prior to execution imposed "horrible feelings" in the condemned.

Currently, death row inmates average 190 months of incarceration prior to execution.

While this is mostly caused by their own appeals, it creates a system where the punishment is too distant from the crime itself, and sometimes these appeals exonerate the convicted.

Since 2007, 6 states have abolished the death penalty, raising the total number of states without a death penalty to 18.

When Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the bill abolishing the death penalty in 2012, he pointed out that:

In the last 52 years, only 2 people have been put to death in Connecticut - and both of them volunteered for it. Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don't deserve.

Malloy has a point; it is often cheaper for the state and more comforting to the victim's family for the convicted to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

There is no doubt that the Founding Fathers intended there to be a death penalty in the United States. But in 2015, we should consider alternate sentencing that removes criminals from society with the smallest cost or risk of wrongful execution.



Is the death penalty Christian?

The attorney general, Eric Holder, yesterday called for an end to executions in America, or at the very least, a lengthy moratorium. This naturally raises the question about what the Christian view of capital punishment is. It's a question worth answering.

Capital punishment was instituted by God following the flood of Noah. According to Genesis 9:5-6, God says, "From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his image."

Here God is clearly delegating his authority to man - "by man shall his blood be shed" - to carry out the death penalty for the wanton taking of innocent human life. God himself is the one who is requiring this "reckoning for the life of man," because the murderer has destroyed someone created "in his image." Murder defaces and destroys the image of God, and for that God demands an accounting.

Prior to the flood, capital punishment was not allowed as a punishment for crime or as a deterrent for homicide. In fact, God himself declared that he would take vengeance "sevenfold" on anyone who punished Cain for his cold-blooded murder of Abel (Genesis 4:15).

It is as if God was saying, "Alright, you think capital punishment is barbaric. We'll do it your way for 1700 and see how that works out." And so mankind did, from the days of Cain until the days of Noah. How well did this kinder, gentler approach to justice work?

It lead to vigilante justice and barbarism, as men took matters of punishment into their own hands. Said Lamech, "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold" (Genesis 4:23-24). So vigilante justice, without God's authorization, was almost immediately exercised for non-capital offenses.

And by the time Noah arrived, the lack of a system of justice had so contributed to social deterioration and the collapse of character that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and...every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). There was nothing for God to do but wipe everything out and start over. It was much like finding an 18-month old carton of cottage cheese in the back of a refrigerator when the power's been out during the heat of summer. There's nothing to salvage. You have to dump the lot and start with a fresh container. This was the story of the flood.

So God established a new rule following the wild, wild East of the pre-flood days. From now on, God said, murder will be dealt with through capital punishment.

This standard is re-established in the Ten Commandments, where God succinctly commands, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).

The King James version, "Thou shalt not kill," has led some to erroneously believe that God was prohibiting killing of every kind, but he most certainly was not. The Sixth Commandment is specifically a command against cold-blooded murder. Killing in self-defense, war, and as punishment for murder are not only permitted but prescribed in the Scripture.

In fact, on the next page on the book of Exodus, in chapter 21, there are 6 specific crimes for which capital punishment is the prescribed penalty. As an aside, it's worth noting that the death penalty was mandated for participation in the slave trade: "Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:16).

In other words, if the United States had simply followed the standards found in Scripture, slaves never would have appeared on our shores, slavery never would have been an issue, and the Civil War would never have been fought. Then, as always, the Scriptures show us the way forward not just personally but politically as well.

Capital punishment is reaffirmed by the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans as the antidote to vigilante justice and social chaos. He tells us in Romans 12:19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" How does the Lord exact vengeance? As Paul immediately goes on to say, through the instrumentality of the state. Civil government has been invested with God's own authority to execute justice, including capital punishment. Government "does not bear the sword in vain," Paul says in Romans 13:4. A sword, of course, was an instrument of lethal force.

And for what purpose does civil government bear the sword? Paul immediately explains: "For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4).

It bears emphasizing that capital punishment is thus not just an Old Testament concept, but is reaffirmed as a principle of justice under the terms of the New Covenant in Christ.

Solomon adds an important word of wisdom, on the subject of deterrence. Many argue - falsely it turns out - that capital punishment is no deterrent at all. Well, it certainly deters the murderer from killing anybody ever again, which sounds like deterrence to me.

But the Scripture indicates that unless capital punishment is carried out in a timely manner, it not only loses its deterrent force but actually makes things worse instead of better. "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Keeping murderers and serial killers alive on Death Row for a decade or more has no deterrent effect whatsoever, and yet that's what we're doing. According the Bureau of Justice, the average time between sentencing and execution in America is now up to 169 months, or just over 14 years. This is up from 50 months in 1977.

By the time the sentence is carried out, the public - and potential murderers who might have had some sense scared into them - have forgotten all about the crime. There is simply no connection in the public mind between crime and capital punishment.

Contrast this, for instance, with the fate of the conspirators who worked together to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865. The plotters had been apprehended, tried, and hung by the neck til dead by July 6, a scant 83 days later.

According to polling data, there still is a significant residue of Judeo-Christian morality left when it comes to the death penalty. Gallup found as recently as 2010 that 64% of Americans support the death penalty while just 29% oppose it. This is an encouraging result, given the relentless brainwashing from the left to convince us otherwise. (It's worth noting that as recently as 1995, the split with 80-16 in favor of executing murderers.)

Bizarrely, in 2004 fewer people who went to church weekly favored the death penalty (65%) compared to those who never went (71%). This is likely due to the way in which the gospel of Christ has been feminized by the modern church, all its firm edges sanded off in order not to offend. It's sobering to think that people outside the church have a more biblical view of justice than those inside the church, which certainly is an indictment of the teaching coming from America's pulpits.

Critics argue that capital punishment demonstrates a low view of the value of human life. It's exactly the reverse. It is imposing the death penalty that enables a culture to declare its highest regard for life. With the death penalty, society says that human life is so valuable that if someone takes a human life without just cause he must forfeit his own life in return. Justice truly is, as the book of God's truth says, "Life for life."

(source: Bryan Fischer,


Israeli foreign minister on Facebook: Palestinian prisoners should be executed

Israel's hardline right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman plans to introduce a bill into the country's parliament, the Knesset, which would implement the death penalty for Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli lockup.

Alongside a photo reading "Death penalty for terrorists," Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page that his party - Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) - supports the death penalty for Palestinian prisoners.

"The struggle against terror is the largest challenge for the 21st century world. This is also Israel's great challenge, but there's a large gap between what Israel preaches and what is done here [in Israel]," Lieberman wrote.

"The 1st law that Yisrael Beitenu will propose is a death penalty for terrorists, because otherwise we're ordering up more terror and yet more terror," Lieberman continued. At the time of writing, Lieberman's post had already received more than 1,400 "likes" and had been shared 185 times.

The Middle East Monitor first reported on Lieberman's Facebook post early Thursday.

An estimated 6,200 Palestinians were in Israeli jails as of 1 December, according to Addameer, a Ramallah-based group that monitors the arrests and detentions of Palestinians.

Despite Israel's claims to be a democracy, more than 99 % of Palestinians tried in its military courts are convicted, according a military document leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz in 2011.

Prisoner swaps

Lieberman also said that Israel should not negotiate any more prisoner-release deals with the occupied West Bank-based Palestinian Authority or Hamas, the Palestinian political party that governs the besieged Gaza Strip.

"Releasing terrorists, including those who carried out the most terrible attacks, like the Ramallah lynch[ing], is the worst possible message that can be conveyed in the war on terror," he wrote, referring to the killing of 2 Israeli soldiers in that city at the outset of the 2nd intifada in 2000.

"You've got to signal to terror that you're changing your direction," he said. "That there are no more deals."

In 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli occupation soldier who had been held in captivity in Gaza for 5 years. Dozens of Palestinian prisoners released in that agreement were subsequently re-arrested, despite the lack of new charges against them.

Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in 4 waves as part of precondition to returning to "negotiations" with the Palestinian Authority in 2013. Yet, after the 1st 3 stages were completed, Israel reneged on the agreement and did not let the last 26 prisoners go home.

Meanwhile, numerous conditions were imposed on prisoners who were released and many from the West Bank were forcibly transferred to Gaza.

Another war on Gaza

Lieberman concluded by claiming that another war on Palestinians in Gaza is on the horizon. "It is clear to everyone today that a 4th engagement with Hamas is inevitable, and that what's important is to plan ... now how to avoid the 5th," he wrote.

Lieberman's post framed the wars on Gaza as a war against Hamas, although Israeli forces target Palestinians of all political stripes in its military offensives in Gaza.

"Every military operation must end decisively; otherwise we erode our capacities and our deterrence," Lieberman claimed. "The fact that we enter into a military confrontation with Hamas every other year makes it impossible for the State of Israel to make long term plans, like a normal state could, in the realms of policy and economics."

Israel's latest assault on Gaza - dubbed Operation Protective Edge - ended with a ceasefire in late August. During that attack, Israel targeted Palestinians by air, land and sea and more than 2,200 Palestinians - mostly civilians - were killed, according to United Nations monitoring group OCHA.

Lieberman did not specify what he meant by a "decisive" conclusion to war on Gaza, but he has in the past advocated for Israel to reinstate its on-the-ground occupation of the area. Though Israel's settlers were evacuated from Gaza in 2005, it enforces a suffocating siege on Palestinians in Gaza.

Shortly before Israel's latest attack on Gaza began, Lieberman called for the "full occupation of the strip," reported Haaretz last June.



Senior judge says death penalty should be debated after young woman's death

The newly elected head of the Supreme Court of Appeals has joined calls from the government for the reinstatement of the death penalty after the Feb. 11 killing of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan on a minibus in Tarsus.

Supreme Court of Appeals President Ismail Rustu Cirit, who is said to enjoy good relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) led government, said on Wednesday that the reinstatement of the death penalty should be debated. "If a simple survey is carried out among the public, it would show that at least 80 % [of respondents] want the reinstatement of the death penalty," Cirit told reporters.

Key political figures within the AK Party earlier voiced their support for reinstating the death penalty after Aslan's murder. Critics say the AK Party is using the tragic case to reinstate the death penalty and that such a reinstatement would have negative outcomes in light of the country's already eroding democracy.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci posted a message urging the re-adoption of the death sentence via his Twitter account on Sunday night, as nationwide protests against the brutal murder of the university student continued. "I wish God's mercy upon our child Ozgecan Aslan and express my condolences to her family. I hope God places our child in the most beautiful place in heaven. We need to carefully discuss and reinstate the death penalty for murders such as that of Ozgecan Aslan," he wrote.

After Zeybekci opened the debate, a number of high-level government officials and politicians expressed their support for the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002 under reforms aimed at initiating Turkey's European Union membership by a 3-party coalition government led by the Democratic Left Party (DSP). Then a partner of the coalition, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not block the government from going ahead with the proposal, but did vote against it in Parliament.

Binali Yildirim, President Erdogan's chief adviser, said while answering questions from journalists on Monday that "for this [Aslan's murder] and other incidents like this not to remain unpunished, reinstating the death penalty must be widely debated in the public [sphere]."

3 suspects were arrested in connection with Aslan's murder after a court order was issued late on Sunday, with protests against increasing levels of violence against women taking place across Turkey.



Condemned man shown his death warrant

Authorities at the Dhaka Central Jail yesterday afternoon read out a death warrant issued by the International Crimes Tribunal to condemned 1971 war criminal Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, who is also assistant secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

"I have read out the death warrant to Kamaruzzaman at around 2:30pm. He wanted to talk to his lawyers to decide on his legal recourse," said Farman Ali, senior jail superintendent at the Dhaka Central Jail.

Earlier in the day, a tribunal in Dhaka issued the death warrant against the Jamaat-e-Islami leader in a war crimes case.

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 issued the warrant after receiving the full text of the supreme court verdict that upheld the death penalty of Kamaruzzaman for his crimes against humanity during 1971 liberation war.

The copies of the death warrant, wrapped in red cloth, were sent to the Dhaka district magistrate, the prison authorities and secretaries of the home and law ministries, Mustafizur Rahman, registrar of the ICT, told reporters at a briefing.

ICT acting deputy registrar Aftab-uz-Zaman left the office at 1:03pm to deliver the copies.

The apex court on Wednesday released the full verdict on Kamaruzzaman's appeal after all the 4 judges, who had delivered the verdict on November 3 last year by a majority decision, signed the 577-page judgment.

The judges are chief justice SK Sinha, justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, justice Hasan Foez Siddique and justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik.

With this development, Kamaruzzaman has now 15 days to file a review petition with the supreme court on its verdict that has upheld his death penalty for war crimes. The countdown, however, started from Wednesday, said attorney general Mahbubey Alam on the same day.

On May 9, 2013, the tribunal-2 found Kamaruzzaman guilty of 5 out of the 7 charges brought against him and sentenced him to death on 2 charges, life term on 2 and 10 years' jail on another. He was acquitted of 2 counts of war crimes.

He challenged this verdict with the supreme court, which on November 3 last year upheld the death penalty for the mass killings at Sohagpur in Sherpur district on July 25, 1971.

Justice SK Sinha, now the chief justice, headed the 4-member supreme court bench.

The supreme court has so far completed the trials of 2 war crimes accused, while the trials of 7 others are pending with it.

Kamaruzzaman's counsel Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said his client cannot be executed until the review petition, if filed, is not disposed of by the supreme court. The government has to wait 15 days to execute Kamaruzzaman even if he does not file the review petition, said Hossain while addressing a press conference at the Supreme Court Bar Association auditorium yesterday afternoon.

The counsel added that they have not received the certified copy of the supreme court verdict although they have applied to the authorities for a copy.

If the supreme court rejects the review petition, Kamaruzzaman will get the opportunity to petition the president for mercy. If rejected, then the government can execute Kamaruzzaman, said Hossain.

(source: Gulf-Times)


Iraqi MPs demand ratification of death sentences .

The head of the Shia parliamentary bloc of the Iraqi National Alliance revealed on Thursday that 100 MPs from different parties have signed a petition demanding that State President Fuad Masum should ratify around 1,000 death sentences.

"The signatures were handed officially to the Speaker of the Parliament," Hassan Salem told Anadolu. "The petition included a request to host the Iraqi president in the parliament at a time to be determined, to find out the true reasons behind the lack of his endorsement of the death sentences against those convicted by the judiciary."

Paragraph 8, Article 70 of the Iraqi Constitution states that, "The President of the Republic shall assume the power to ratify death sentences issued by the competent courts."

Salem added that President Masum may find the signature of his predecessor, Jalal Talabani, on a previous agreement with the European Union not to ratify the death sentences. This would be a good excuse for not approving them, he suggested, but taking this position would be "contrary to the Iraqi Constitution and the law."

Talabani, who was president of Iraq for 2 consecutive terms from 2006 to 2014, refused to ratify death sentences in compliance with the EU agreement. Instead, he authorised his deputy, Khadr Alkhozai in June 2011 to sign and ratify the verdicts on his behalf. All death sentences from that date until 2014 were ratified but since Masum took office last July nobody has been executed for terrorism.

The UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) issued a statement last October in which it demanded that the Iraqi authorities should stop the executions. "Iraq must stop the widespread use of the death penalty," said the UN body, "which is unfair and flawed, and only leads to igniting the sort of violence that is meant to be prevented by such a sentence."

From January to August 2014 the Iraqi ministry of justice executed 60 people, whereas 177 were executed in 2013.

(source: Middle East Monitor)

JAPAN----new death sentence//foreign national)

Chinese man sentenced to death in Japan for murder

The Nagoya District Court on Friday sentenced a Chinese man to death for fatally stabbing a Japanese woman and her son, injuring another of her sons and taking 200,000 yen in cash at their home in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, in 2009.

A panel of 3 professional and 6 citizen judges handed the death sentence to Lin Zhenhua, 31, who was a student at Mie University at the time.

Presiding Judge Toshiya Matsuda, heading the panel, found Lin guilty of stabbing Kihoko Yamada, a 57-year-old company employee, and her 2nd son Masaki, 26, with a knife and injuring her third son Isao, who needed 2 weeks to recover.

Police arrested Lin in October 2012 on suspicion of stealing a car.

In December that year, police served a fresh arrest warrant on Lin on suspicion of the 2009 murder and robbery after his DNA matched saliva found at the murder scene.

Lin pleaded guilty at the 1st hearing of the trial in January and prosecutors had sought the death penalty.

But Lin's defense counsel argued he killed the woman in a panic after she discovered him in her home.

(source: abs-cbnnews)


NGOs Welcome Removal Of Death Penalty

The NGO Coalition on Human Rights (NGOCHR), has commended the Fijian Government on repealing the death penalty from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Act.

Despite strong opposition against this by Opposition Members of Parliament, the amendment was voted through by the Fijian Government last week. In a statement yesterday, chair of NGOCHR Shamima Ali commended the move.

"The repeal of the death penalty was one of the recommendations accepted by the Government during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in Geneva last October, and it is pleasing to see that the Government has taken the necessary steps to give effect to this recommendation," said Shamima Ali, the chairperson of the coalition.

"The human rights community in Fiji has always opposed the death penalty and is pleased that arbitrary state-sanctioned killing is no longer available as a form of punishment in Fiji."

The coalition hopes that Government will also take constructive steps to implement the other recommendations from the UPR and welcomes continued dialogue with the Government in this respect.

A fiery debate took place in Parliament when Government sought to repeal the death penalty.

Speaking out against this very vocally was National Federation Party member Tupou Draunidalo.

However, despite her impassionate speech, in which she also launched a scathing attack on the UN, more Members of Parliament voted in favour of death penalty removal.

(source: Fiji Sun)


Politics and pride muffle pleas for mercy for Bali 9 duo----Indonesian President Joko Widodo's push to punish drug dealers is popular and he is wary of appearing to bow to foreign governments.

The mood was one of utter despair.

As Myuran Sukumaran and his family gathered on Tuesday morning in a small courtyard in Bali's Kerobokan prison, an awful realisation was enveloping them. Almost 10 years after Sukumaran was arrested on his 24th birthday for drug smuggling, his journey from selfish criminality, angry denial and then transformation into a man to be proud of seemed to be at its end.

"We were all standing around barely talking," recalls Chinthu Sukumaran, Myuran's younger brother, his voice shaking with emotion.

"We were trying to tell each other there was still hope but it just felt like we were lying to each other."

The previous day, Bali's prosecutor had revealed plans were well advanced to move Sukumaran and his fellow death row inmate Andrew Chan to Nusakambangan, the island in Central Java where the pair would be taken to a clearing in the jungle, trussed to a wooden stake and shot dead.

A move on Tuesday was "unlikely" but the men might be transferred on Wednesday, a spokesman for the prosecutor had said. It would "definitely happen this week".

Once on Nusakambangan, the conventional wisdom held, there could be no reprieve for the 2 Australians.

As members of the family wept, Myuran moved around, comforting them. Others in the Sukumaran clan busied themselves, collecting Myuran's treasured art books and canvases.

"He was trying to be strong," Chinthu says. "It was very difficult. For him to stay strong at a time like that, he really didn't need people crying around him."

This unimaginable anguish was suddenly interrupted just before noon when news filtered through that the transfer had been delayed.

It later emerged that Indonesian authorities had had plans in place to move them at midnight. It was - almost to the minute - an 11th-hour reprieve.

"Myuran smiled. He talked. He got back to his painting," Chinthu says. "We had something to eat. Myuran said he could actually taste the food. That hadn't happened for a long time."

And for the 1st time in weeks, Chinthu's brother slept deeply that night. For once, the sound of a gate banging in the wind, or a yelp from a fellow inmate, didn't make him awaken with sudden, adrenalin-fuelled dread.

Despite the reprieve, the men, their families and lawyers are under no illusions that the outlook is anything but grim.

The prospect that a prison guard will knock on the cell doors of Sukumaran and Chan, shackle their hands and feet and whisk them away to Nusakambangan remains all too real.

Indonesia's Attorney-General HM Prasetyo told Fairfax Media on Tuesday that the postponement of the transfer did not mean a delay in their executions.

Even so, he conceded he did not have a date for their appointment with a firing squad.

Moreover, one of the main arguments posited by Indonesia for the delay - that Nusakambangan was not ready for them, that isolation cells needed to be prepared and execution fields cleared - was disputed by the official who runs the prison complex.

And 3 other foreigners on the list of 11 death row convicts slated to be killed have been given strong indications that they will be allowed to pursue legal appeals or - in the case of Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte - assessed to see if they are mentally ill and therefore unable to be executed under Indonesian law.

These are all small but positive signs that the headlong rush to execute Chan and Sukumaran has eased a little.

The delay, if nothing else, is a welcome relief from a torment that had been closing in at a frightening pace.

And it's a chance to redouble legal and diplomatic efforts to forestall the executions and convince Indonesia to grant clemency to the two heroin smugglers whose remarkable rehabilitation has long earned them admiration among Kerobokan's guards and inmates and is now, finally, resonating with their fellow Australians.

"We are grateful that we have this time. We are trying as best we can to use this time constructively," says Michael O'Connell, SC, one of a team of lawyers who have taken on the case of Chan and Sukumaran pro bono.

The immediate task is to pursue 2 legal appeals. The first, to be heard by the state administrative court on Tuesday, is a direct challenge to the refusal of Indonesia's president Joko Widodo - universally known as Jokowi - to grant clemency to the pair.

Indonesian law requires that Jokowi's decision be made "after thoroughly considering the clemency application".

As revealed by Fairfax Media this week, Jokowi made his decision to reject the petition for mercy without the documentation that was lodged with his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, much of it outlining the transformation of the men behind bars.

He acted upon little more than a list of 64 drug offenders on death row, making a blanket decision that they all must be killed.

There is also a separate bid for Indonesia's judicial commission to examine allegations that the judges who first handed Chan and Sukumaran the death penalty had asked for bribes in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The commission has asked for more "technical" information but there is cautious optimism it will at least thoroughly investigate the claims.

Overarching the legal actions though is another, critical consideration.

Can Jokowi and his government be persuaded to reconsider their hard-line stance on the executions? Is there a way there can be some kind of backdown that allows the Indonesian president to save face?

To achieve this requires extraordinary diplomacy, and a favourable turn in the domestic political climate.

Jokowi has declared that Indonesia is gripped by a drugs emergency that threatens to lay waste to a generation. He and his ministers constantly refer to statistics of dubious merit that the country has 4.5 million addicts and 50 people die each day from drugs.

His remedy for the "crisis" is simple - execute drug traffickers.

A quintessential political outsider with a reputation for personal integrity and decisiveness, it has been a difficult first few months in office for Jokowi.

He is battling the hostility of the old elites who continue to dominate the parliament and has been excoriated for mishandling of a bitter feud between the notoriously graft-ridden police and the country's anti-corruption commission.

"With a poor political base of his own, Jokowi needs to be popular to survive," says Endy Bayuni, senior editor at the Jakarta Post.

"To get public support, declaring a war on drugs was the easiest way ... I was surprised when he suddenly declared a war against drugs. It was hardly mentioned at all in the election campaign. My opinion is he was using this to shore up his authority."

Few doubt that Jokowi is sincere in his efforts to tackle the scourge of drugs, but there is little doubt he is milking it.

David McRae, of the Lowy Institute, recounts an incident at the opening of a mosque in Kalimantan last month, just 2 days after the first group of drug offenders were executed, where Jokowi made an address that resembled a campaign stump speech.

"Just imagine, 18,000 dying each year, every day 50 people. So the other day six people were executed. Everyone agrees, right?" Jokowi said.

"Agree," was the response from the crowd.

"I'm sure everyone agrees," Jokowi replied.

There is little doubt that Jokowi's hard-line stance is popular and it is against this backdrop that Australia is making its diplomatic entreaties.

After months of working largely behind the scenes, the Australian government has ratcheted up the rhetoric in the past week.

First came Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's observation that Australians might reconsider their holiday plans if the executions took place, comments that gave momentum to a "Boycott Bali" campaign.

This rankled Indonesians: why punish a peaceful Hindu island for a law that is applied nationwide? There was an inevitable backlash with many claiming fewer yobbo Aussies would be no great loss. Others posted idyllic photos of Bali on Twitter to point out what Australians were missing out on.

The I Stand for Mercy campaign also failed to gain traction in Indonesia. For one, there were no Indonesian voices in the campaign. "It doesn't resonate well," says Jakarta-based international relations expert Pierre Marthinus. "If it had been a collaboration between Indonesia and Australia it would have sent a much more powerful message."

Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised the $1 billion in aid that Australia gave Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, saying Indonesia should "reciprocate" by sparing Chan and Sukumaran.

Marthinus believes Abbott has "jumped the shark" with the comments.

It was like "looking into the eye of a child who lost their parents and saying: 'You know what? We gave you money, now we want something in return'."

Australia is not the only country to make its displeasure known. The French, Philippines and Brazilian governments have been protesting about the pending executions of their citizens. The European Union and the United Nations have also very publicly urged Jokowi to reconsider.

"It was a big story but now it's bigger story and it's about foreign actions and how Jokowi will respond to international pressure," Bayuni says.

"This is unfortunate because it becomes a debate about foreign intervention, not a debate about the death penalty or the case of the 2 Australians."

Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer in international relations at the Indonesia Defence University, said foreign pressure puts the Indonesian president in a predicament.

"The last thing Jokowi wants to have is the image of him kowtowing to foreign governments," he told Deutsche Welle.

"The opposition and the media would have a field day condemning the government and that also runs counter to the image that Jokowi wants to cultivate, which is the image of him as a decisive leader."

Even so, it would be wrong to suggest that the international agitation over the executions has had no beneficial impact whatsoever.

Tim Lindsey, a professor of Asian law at Melbourne University, believes the highlighting of the "blatant double standard" of Indonesia's stance over the death penalty - fighting for the lives of its citizens on death row overseas while proceeding with executions in Indonesia - is gaining traction, especially in elite circles.

Last year Indonesia paid $2.1 million in "blood money" to stop the beheading of a maid who was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for murdering her employer's wife and stealing money.

There are some 230 Indonesians on death row abroad and, if future attempts to save vulnerable Indonesians fail due to the hypocrisy of Indonesia's policies, the local backlash could be severe.

To pull away from the executions, Tobias Basuki, of Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says Jokowi will likely need something "tangible".

On that score, Bayuni says a significant contribution to assisting Indonesia's battle against drugs could be helpful.

"This movement towards executions for drug offenders is ultimately about fighting drug abuse," he says.

Indeed, Fairfax Media understands that Australia has been workshopping ideas with interlocutors in Jakarta about new measures to fund drug rehabilitation projects in Indonesia.

Ultimately, the best hope for Chan and Sukumaran is time itself. If the executions can be delayed for a few months, the political heat in Indonesia could subside.

As Sulaiman points out, Jokowi "could use the oldest trick in the book - just do nothing and people will forget about it".

Indonesian human rights groups are preparing an appeal to Indonesia's constitutional court about the validity of the death penalty.

A previous petition to the court was rebuffed but its decision ordered the government to review its capital punishment regime and urged that death row inmates be given 10 years to repent and rehabilitate to earn a permanent stay of execution.

Its recommendations have not been acted upon, and the human rights groups believe they have fresh grounds for a challenge.

"The petition is complex. There is not much time and a lot work to do [to get the legal case in order to submit it]," Bayuni says. "But, if it goes before the court, there should be a moratorium on executions while it is being considered.

"For me, that's the only way to get a stay of execution."

For the Sukumarans and the Chans, there is only gut-wrenching, agonising uncertainty. The diplomacy, the political intrigue, the strategies - and the critiques of strategies - are overwhelming and hard to navigate.

In the end, it boils down to one simple and profound plea.

"We just want mercy," Chinthu says.

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


RI firm on fate of Australian drug smugglers: Kalla

Vice President Jusuf Kalla has denied speculation that the Indonesian government will postpone the execution of 2 Australian drug convicts because it is under pressure from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"No, not because of that [Abbott's statement]. The legal process is still going," Kalla told reporters after giving an address to the national meeting of the United Development Party (PPP) in South Jakarta on Thursday.

He said that the decision to delay the execution of 2 Australian nationals, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, was due to technical issues.

Earlier, Attorney General's Office (AGO) spokesman Tony Spontana revealed that the reason for the postponement was to give the Australian government more time to arrange a reunion between the 2 death-row inmates and members of their families.

Australian media outlets recently reported that Australian Prime Minister Abbott had called on the Indonesian government not to forget the aid given by Australia to Aceh during and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the province. He expected that the Indonesian government would cancel the executions in return for Australia's assistance.

Abbott stated, as reported by Reuters, that Australia would feel "grievously let down" if the executions proceeded despite the roughly A$1 billion in assistance it gave after the 2004 disaster.

He said he was referring to "the obvious strength of the relationship" between the 2 countries.

"I was pointing out the depth of the friendship between Australia and Indonesia and the fact that Australia has been there for Indonesia when Indonesia has been in difficulty," Abbott told reporters in Tasmania. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also criticized the double standards of the Indonesian government, which she said made every effort to save its citizens facing death row overseas, despite pushing ahead with executing foreign criminals at home.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told reporters in Jakarta he hoped Abbott's statement did not "reflect the true colors of Australians".

"Threats are not part of diplomatic language and no one responds well to threats," he said.

Analysts said that Abbott had made a blunder with his statement.Hikmahanto Juwana of the University of Indonesia (UI) said that Abbott's statement would only anger the Indonesian public and harden the resolve of the government.

"Abbott's statement is regrettable," he said.

Hikmahanto said Abbott gave the impression that Indonesia was dependent on Australia because of tsunami aid.

"The humanitarian relief was given to make Indonesia dependent on Australia and at present, Australia is using this dependence to save the 2 Australians, but in reality Indonesia never depends on Australia," he said.

UI analyst Makmur Keliat said Abbott's statement was a bump in the road in the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia. "The statement did not reflect changes in the substantive bilateral relationship between the 2 countries," Makmur said.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to Indonesia not to execute prisoners for drug crimes. Also facing the death penalty in Indonesia for drug offenses are citizens of Brazil, France, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

The 2 Australians were accused of being leaders of the Bali 9, a group of 9 Australians arrested on the resort island in 2005 and convicted of attempting to smuggle 8 kilograms of heroin to Australia.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Kalla, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly and Attorney General HM Prasetyo have all insisted that despite increasing calls from the UN and foreign governments for Indonesia not to proceed with the executions, the government would still execute 11 death-row convicts, 8 of whom were foreigners sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

The 11 prisoners that the AGO has listed for the upcoming batch of executions are Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, Filipina Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso, Frenchman Serge Areski Atlaoui, Ghanaian Martin Anderson, Nigerian Raheem Agbaje Salami and 4 Indonesian convicts - Syofial alias Iyen bin Azwar, Zainal Abidin, Sargawi alias Ali bin Sanusi and Harun bin Ajis.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


Bring back death penalty: Lambie

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie says Australia should bring back the death penalty for citizens who fight for terrorist organisations overseas.

Senator Lambie had previously called for citizenship to be revoked, but took it a step further on Friday morning, calling for courts to have the ability to sentence terrorists returning to Australia to death.

"I'm asking that everyone who assists any of the terrorists trying to take out our defence force personnel, that the death penalty be introduced," she told Southern Cross Austereo radio.

"But that should be determined by the jury.

"I want to give them the option, for terrorism only."

While she concedes there is little chance she will get the numbers to support the idea, Senator Lambie says it's good to bring issues like this to the public's attention.

Her statement comes just a day after Australian David Hicks was cleared of his terrorism conviction by an American military court, after spending more than 5 years as a prisoner at US Navy base Guantanamo Bay.

(source: AAP)

IRAN----juvenile execution

Juvenile Offender Saman Naseem Was Executed

The Kurdish political prisoner Saman Naseem who was sentenced to death for offences he allegedely committed at 17 years of age, was executed in the prison of Urmia (Northwest of Iran). Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported earlier that Saman's family were contacted by the authorities yesterday to meet at the prison to collect Saman's belongings on Saturday. According to several independent sources, Saman's family have been asked earlier today to collect Saman's body tomorrow, Saturday 21. February. It is still unclear whether Saman was executed yesterday (Thursday) or today.

IHR strongly condemns Saman Naseem's unlawful and inhumane execution. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson of IHR, said: Ali Khamenei, the Iranian authorities' Supreme leader must be held responsible for the inhumane treatment and execution of Saman Naseem. We urge the international community to strongly condemn this execution. Saman Naseem's execution takes place despite repeated calls from the international community. Iran's continuous violations of the basic human rights must have consequences for the Iranian authorities".

Also FIDH (a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty) and its Iranian member organisations, the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) and the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) have strongly condemned "the illegal execution of juvenile offender Saman Naseem that reportedly took place yesterday morning in Iran".

Saman Naseem was transferred together with 5 death row prisoners of conscience from his prison ward to an unknown location on Wednesday 18. February. There is no information about the other 5 death row political prisoners: Yunes Aghayan, Habibollah Afshari, Ali Afshari, Sirwan Najavi and Ebrahim Shapouri. There is increasing concern that also these prisoners may be executed soon.

Despite ratifying the United Nations' Convention for the Rights of the Child, Iran is the world's biggest executioner of juvenile offenders.

Saman Naseem was sentenced to death in April 2013 by a criminal court in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province, for "enmity against God" (moharebeh) and "corruption on earth" (ifsad fil-arz) because of his membership in the Kurdish armed opposition group PJAK, and for taking part in armed activities against the Revolutionary Guards. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2013. Has was 17 year old at the time of his arrest.

According to reports Saman Naseem didn't have access to his lawyer during early investigations and according to a letter he wrote from the prison he was tortured, which included the removal of his finger and toe nails and being hung upside down for several hours.

In the letter, Saman said: "During the first days, the level of torture was so severe that it left me unable to walk. All my body was black and blue. They hung me from my hands and feet for hours. I was blindfolded during the whole period of interrogations and torture, and could not see the interrogation and torture officers."

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Illegal execution of juvenile offender

FIDH (a founding member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty) and its Iranian member organisations, the League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI) and the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) strongly condemn the illegal execution of juvenile offender Saman Naseem that reportedly took place yesterday morning in Iran.

"The continuing execution of prisoners of conscience and juvenile offenders by the Iranian authorities is illegal and reprehensible," stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. "Moreover, the regime's deliberate policy of denying information to families of death row prisoners, intended to intimidate the Iranian people, violates international law and basic human rights."

Our organisations received information that Saman Naseem's relatives were contacted by the Iranian authorities yesterday afternoon and were told to collect his personal effects from prison on Saturday and to keep quiet. Naseem was reportedly executed yesterday morning in the presence of representatives from the Office of the Prosecutor and the Ministry of Intelligence.

Naseem was sentenced to death in 2013 after being convicted of vague charges including moharebeh ("waging war on God") and "corruption on Earth" for his alleged participation in armed activities in 2011 as a member of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK). He was only 17 years old at the time of his alleged crimes, making his death sentence and execution illegal under international law: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which Iran has ratified, prohibit the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Nevertheless, Iran ignored international law and calls from international human rights groups, the United Nations, and the European Union to halt Naseem's illegal execution.

5 other prisoners of conscience had also reportedly been sent to solitary confinement yesterday, in apparent preparation for their execution: Habibollah Afshari and Ali Afshari (2 brothers accused of collaboration with Kumala, a Kurdish opposition group), Sirvan Nejavi and Ebrahim Shapouri (both convicted of collaboration with PJAK), and Yunes Aqayan (also spelled Younes Aghayan, a member of a religious minority group who was sentenced to death for moharebeh). The fate of these 5 individuals is yet unknown.

Our organisations are firmly opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances as it constitutes an inhuman treatment, and call on the Iranian authorities to introduce a moratorium on executions as the 1st step toward the abolition of death penalty. In particular, death sentences and executions against minors and for prisoners of conscience must cease immediately.

(source: FIDH)


Kurdish Brothers Executed by Iranian Regime

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network has confirmed that 2 brothers, Ali and Habib Afshari, who were in the group of 6 political prisoners imprisoned in Urmia prison have been hanged.

Activists Habib and Ali Afshari were declared guilty of "corruption on earth" and "acting against God's will" by the Iranian revolutionary court of Mahabad. On January 16, 2012, they were sentenced to be executed.

The statement made by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network is as follows:

The partner of Ali Afshari has told the Kurdistan Human Rights Network that on Friday 20th of February, at noon the Office of Intelligence Service of Iran contacted Mrs Afshari to inform her of the execution of Ali and his brother Habib. 1 of the relatives of the 2 brothers was also called to the Intelligence Services Offices to be formally informed of the execution of both Ali and Habib Afshari.

The family has also been informed that they are not permitted to hold funerals for the executed men in mosques or public places and that they are not permitted to speak to any media agencies. They are to have a quiet and secret gathering in their homes only.

A third brother, Jafar Afshari, who was arrested along with Ali and Habib in 2009-2010 was sentenced to 5 years in prison. The 3 brothers had been on hunger strike several times demanding a fair-retrial and end to torture.

Reports came in yesterday that Saman Naseem, a young Kurdish man in the group of 6, who was sentenced to death at the age of 17, and for whom an internatioanl appeal was made to stop his execution, was also executed.



Court releases 3 prisoners facing death penalty

A divisional bench of Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday released 3 prisoners facing death penalty due to lack of evidences.

Justice Sikandar Salim and Justice Khalid Mehmood of divisional bench of LHC began the hearing in the case in which the 3 convicts Qamar Hussain Bhatti, Wasim Ashraf and Ali Khan were produced before the court.

Police Station (PS) Saddar Bairooni officials arrested the three accused in 2010 on account of kidnapping Rehmat Ullah for ransom and later murdering him.

The prosecution told the court that the 3 men were charged with kidnapping and murdering a man in 2010.

He told the court that the 3 accused demanded ransom from the family and later murdered him when the family refused to pay the amount.

The court was told that Anti Terrorism Court Number 2 has passed out a death penalty in the case. However, the accused challenged the verdict of ATC with LHC.

The prosecution pleaded the court to reject their acquittal and uphold the verdict of ATC No 2 in the case.

Arguing before the court, the defence lawyer said that the police and prosecution have failed in providing or proving the substantial evidences about demanding of ransom or murdering the man. Therefore, the defence lawyer said, the court should release his clients. The divisional bench of Lahore Court, after conclusion of arguments of both parties, declared the death penalty null and void and ordered release of the 3 convicts due to lack of evidences.

(source: The Nation)

FEBRUARY 19, 2015:


Dealing out death in Pennsylvania----It is not a punishment humans are equipped to administer

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would stop all executions in Pennsylvania, citing deep concerns about errors and biases inherent in the system.

Studies consistently show that the race of the victim, the county where a crime is committed and access to financial resources often determine who will get the death penalty more than the severity of the crime. As death penalty lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative, has said: "When it comes to the death penalty, you are better off being guilty and rich than poor and innocent."

Despite having one of the largest death rows in the country - with 186 inmates - Pennsylvania has been losing steam when it comes to actually executing people. We've had only 3 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, and the last execution was in 1999. It seems like death is on its last leg - and not just in the commonwealth.

Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley, signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in his state in 2013. New Jersey abolished it in 2007. In fact, for the 1st time in decades, a majority of states have abandoned the death penalty in law or in practice.

In 2014, just 7 states carried out executions - 3 of which accounted for 80 % of them (Texas, Missouri and Florida). Last year, death sentences in the United States hit a 40-year low, and executions were at a 20-year low.

Recent polls show that for the 1st time in decades a majority of Americans prefer life in prison over the death penalty. And this is even more pronounced among young people - including young people of faith, who are deeply troubled that 85 % of executions take place in the Bible Belt.

There are many reasons the death penalty is on life support. There have been several botched executions recently, such as that of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. Lockett writhed in pain for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack. The prison warden called it "a bloody mess."

Then there are the exonerations. Ricky Jackson was released last year after spending 39 years in prison in Ohio for a crime he didn't commit. Mr. Jackson was convicted solely on the testimony of a 12-year-old boy who later recanted. We now have 150 of these stories, 6 of them from Pennsylvania. That means for every 9 executions carried out in the United States, 1 person has been found to be innocent. What if an airline crashed 1 out of every 10 flights?

Victims' groups, such as Journey of Hope, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation and the Forgiveness Project, are gaining traction as they insist that capital punishment creates a new set of victims and perpetuates violence instead of healing. As you listen to them, you can't help but be convinced that we can do better than killing to show that killing is wrong.

Several states are on the brink of total abolition - Montana, Nebraska and Kansas among them. In many states, political conservatives concerned about the high cost of the death penalty are leading the way, pointing out that all the money wasted on the death penalty could be better used to support victims, prevent crime and repair broken schools and families.

Pennsylvania - home of the original U.S. Capitol and Gettysburg and Independence Hall - holds an important place in American history on this issue. That is because the commonwealth was founded by Quakers, who had denounced slavery in 1688, nearly 200 years before it was brought to an end.

I can't help but think old William Penn was smiling down on us as Mr. Wolf made his announcement last week. Penn was a pacifist and a Quaker with serious reservations about the death penalty. His Quaker heritage held that every human being carries the essence of God, and that no one should ever take the life of another, not even the state.

Pope Francis, a similarly vocal critic of the death penalty, is coming to Philadelphia this year. Mr. Wolf's latest action will give him 1 more thing to celebrate as he visits the City of Brotherly Love in September.

(source: Commentary; Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way, a Christian organization in Philadelphia, is an activist and author----Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


The Last Execution by Electric Chair in Chicago

February 18, 2015, was the 270th anniversary of Italian Physicist Alessandro Volta. Volta is credited with inventing the 1st chemical battery and actually separated and identified the odorless gas, methane. You can probably deduce by his name that the term to describe electric potential (the volt) is named in his honor. Actually, since he also discovered methane, we should also probably be saying, "Oops! I volted!" after consuming too many beans or onions but I digress.

Not fully understanding how my mind works the thought of Alessandro Volta lead me to the thought of electricity which ultimately led me to the electric chair which led me to wonder who the last person was who was executed by electric chair in Illinois. That brought me back to June 16, 1956.

On that day, Detective John J. Blyth Sr. and his partner, Detective Daniel Rolewicz, of the Stockyards Station were on duty for less than an hour when they heard shots ring out near the New Mount Baptist Church at 223 W. 47th St. They rushed to investigate and got into a foot pursuit with James E. Dukes.

Prior to the officers' arrival, Dukes, 31, had gotten into a heated argument and started beating his 16 year old girlfriend, Lorretta Green. A deacon of the church, Charles Leggons, 49, and head usher, Thomas J. Sylvester, 23, exited the Church to assist Ms. Green.

As Sylvester and Leggons emerged from the Church, Dukes pulled a 9mm automatic pistol from the purse of Green who ironically was carrying it for Dukes. Dukes screamed, "I'll kill you all!"

Dukes fired 3 shots at the men striking Sylvester in the chest and Leggett in the right leg. Both men survived.

Detective Rolewitz and Blyth gave chase and Dukes fired 3 shots at Rolewicz from a range of three feet and missed. As Blyth rounded the corner of the alley, Dukes shot him in the chest. Rolewicz went to comfort his partner until the ambulance arrived and Blyth told his partner, "I'm going to die." They prayed until Blyth lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at Evangelical Hospital.

Later that same day, Dukes (alias Jesse Welch) was found hiding under an automobile at 4802 Wentworth Ave with a bullet wound in his forearm and shoulder.

Detective John J. Blyth Sr.'s end of watch was June 16, 1956. He was 40 years old and a 17 year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He was the 3rd generation of law enforcement in his family and his Badge # 1395 (the same as his father's) was retired that same year. He left behind a wife as well as 2 sons and 2 daughters. He was laid to rest at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Meanwhile James Dukes was tried twice and convicted twice of the murder of Detective Blyth as well as the shooting of Sylvester and Leggons. He was sentenced on August 16, 1956 to die by electrocution in Cook County's electric chair.

Duke's home on "The Wing", as death row was called at the Cook County Jail, was the maximum security wing in the basement of the Cook County Jail where inmates were in 7 foot by 4 foot cells for 21 hours of the day. The electric chair was down the hall in the same level.

After many appeals and legal maneuvering, Dukes was led out of his cell at 7 minutes after midnight on August 24, 1962. Dukes had converted to Catholicism while incarcerated and asked that his body be buried in consecrated ground. He had refused his last meal and left written messages to his family. He left a copy of Plato's "Apology" as a statement to the press. It read, "The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways, I to die and you to live. Which is better God only knows."

Dukes was pronounced dead at 12:10am by 3 doctors including the Cook County Coroner and was, ironically, buried in the same cemetery as Detective Blyth.

Dukes was the last execution in the County and the State of Illinois for 27 years. When executions resumed in 1990 the means was changed to lethal injection.

Currently there is no death penalty in the State of Illinois.



TN Supreme Court to hear challenge of electric chair law

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to hear a legal challenge over a law allowing the state to electrocute death row prisoners if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

The challenge is part of a lawsuit filed by 34 death row inmates over Tennessee's death penalty protocols - both lethal injection and electrocution. The state wants the court to dismiss the challenge to electrocution protocols because none of the inmates are currently scheduled to die by electrocution.

The new electrocution law was meant to jumpstart the state's stalled execution process, but it opened the door to new legal challenges.

The hearing is scheduled for May 6 in Knoxville.

The high court also is considering whether the state must release the identities of the people who carry out executions.

(source: Times Free Press)


Family of Jill Frey wants death penalty reformed, will help seek justice for others

The family of Jill Frey fought 25 years to see that her killer was brought to justice. On Wednesday of last week, it finally happened. The state of Missouri executed Walter Timothy Storey.

Storey brutally murdered 36-year-old special education teacher and Highland native in February 1990 in St. Charles, Mo.

Storey, 47, was sentenced to death 3 separate times in the case, but botched legal proceedings and fight over the drugs Missouri uses for lethal injections kept the proceedings going, year after year.

"Unfortunately, too many families are involved in fighting for the rights of the victim when it seems the justice system and political landscape protects the people who commit these brutal crimes against innocent people," Jeff Frey, Jill's brother, said in an email on Monday.

Jeff Frey said the execution brought closure for his family, but it could not give them what they really wanted.

"Nothing will ever bring Jill back," he said.

According to prison officials, Storey released this final statement: "For this world full of anger, hate and revenge, I would like to pray for peace, forgiveness and love! I love everyone, even those who are doing this deed."

He also mouthed what appeared to be "I love you" to witnesses before his drew his final breath.

But Jeff Frey said Storey's final statements rang hollow.

"His comments just before the execution were that he wanted to forgive us and the people carrying out the execution. Not once in 25 years did he ever reach out to our family to ask for forgiveness or offer his remorse or apology for his unspeakable actions that dreadful night," he said.

While the case is now over, Jeff Frey said his family will continue to push for the rights of other victims and their families.

"We are hoping to help others, just as Jill would have wanted," he said.

Frey family statement

The night of the execution of Walter Timothy Storey, Jeff Frey, brother of Jill Frey, gave a statement on behalf of the family. A video of the statement can be seen on the website (search for "Jill Frey"). The following is that statement in its entirety.

First of all, we would like to thank the tireless efforts of the law enforcement officers, Richard Plummer, Michael Miller and Joe Dresselhaus, along with victims advocate Brenda Porter, who was our family's and especially our mother's steady support through the years, and Kimberly Evans, the Victim Services coordinator for (the) Missouri Department of Corrections, who has offered all her time and support preparing for today.

Also, to Gov. Nixon and Attorney General Koster for staying the course, upholding and fighting for victim's rights, and supporting the people's choice for the death penalty

My attempt to give a brief statement about this event and the past 25 years can never explain the overall effect this senseless and brutal murder has had on so many people. Jill was a tremendous person, daughter, sister, aunt, godmother, cousin, teacher and friend.

To go back 25 years (almost to the day) when we received the tragic news, to what has taken us through three trials over the next 10 years, then waiting another 15 years for the courts to set an execution date has needless to say had an undeniable impact on Jill's family and friends.

Over this period of time, several of our family members have passed away including both our mother and father. From the outset, this tragedy took its toll on our father. He passed away shortly after the 3rd trial, and unfortunately, his quality of life went from bad to worse beginning that dreadful day of Feb. 5, 1990, when he lost his oldest daughter. Our mother passed away in 2011 - 6 months after we finally received the news that the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeal.

Mom and Dad's (lives), for the most part, reverted to following every step of the case hoping to find closure to this sad and devastating ordeal. Mom compiled over 10 binders, which stacked 3-feet tall of everything related to the 3 trials, countless appeals, hearings and opinions, etc. After Dad's death, Mom devoted the rest of her life to seeing this through. She was always fearful this animal would be freed to kill another innocent woman.

Just to give you a rundown of what our family had to endure over the past 25 years:

1. Feb. 5, 1990 ... The tragic news

2. 1991 ... Initial trial ... Convicted of 1st-degree murder and armed criminal action, 2nd-degree burglary and tampering with evidence ... Sentenced to death.

3. 1995 ... Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but reversed and remanded the death penalty sentence due to ineffective counsel.

4. 1997... 2nd jury trial and again the sentence was the death penalty.

5. Missouri Supreme Court again reversed and remanded the death sentence because the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury.

6. 1999 ... 3rd jury trial again recommended the death sentence.

7. 2000 ... Our father passes away after 10 years of pain and suffering.

8. 2001 ... Mo. Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty.

9. 2010 ... U.S. 8th District Court rejected all appeals.

10. 2011 ... Finally! The U.S. Supreme Court denied all appeals.

11. 2011 ... 6 months later, our mother passed away without achieving her goal of seeing this through.

12. 2015 ... Feb.11 - the time has come and now passed.

13. Jill was buried on Feb. 9, 1990 - 25 years and 2 days ago.

We know Jill, Mom, Dad, and all of our family and friends are relieved that this is finally over and justice has been served. Unfortunately, we have had to endure and suffer through all the countless delays and re-trials when there was absolutely no doubt that 2 days after this brutal murder took place they had the right guy - a guy that we can truly call a terrorist.

It is sad that the courts play politics and protect murderers when surveys show that from 60-70 % of Americans support the death penalty. But the system allowed this terrorist to beat it for 25 years. It is sad all the lawsuits and dollars wasted over the drugs used in carrying out these executions.

The people of the state of Missouri, like the majority of states, have voted for the death penalty. So, why are we arguing over what is cruel and unusual punishment - of a murderer, of a terrorist? Why do we continue to allow the argument about the secretive process of obtaining and using lethal injection drugs?

Is it because this process might cause a brutal murderer to suffer a painful death? What is a painful death? What is cruel and unusual punishment? Is it a twitch of a finger? Is it a squinting of an eyelid? Is it a curling of a savage killer's toes, or maybe violent tremors of the body for several minutes?

Or is cruel and unusual punishment when a man breaks into a woman's home in the middle of the night while she is in bed, proceeds to brutally beat and assault her, break 6 ribs, hit her in the face and head 12 times suffering injuries to her forehead, nose, cheek, scalp, lips, tongue and even her eyelid torn off?

She had defensive wounds to her arms and hands, abrasions to her knee, a 6-inch stab wound to the abdomen, and 4 internal impact injuries to her head all before she lost consciousness!

What is cruel and unusual punishment? Is it a minimum of 20 blows to Jill's body before cutting her throat to her spine? Jill died of blood loss and asphyxiation from not 1 but 2 6-inch cuts across her throat, cutting through both of her jugular veins, her airway, her esophagus and into her spine.

If not enough, he then threw her off the bed and stomped on her so hard it broke her shoulder blade. Along with all of the evidence, blood, finger prints, etc. - a deep shoeprint stamped into Jill's night shirt and back. The shoes were found under his bed.

What is cruel and unusual punishment? Is it a little sting that we get when the IV needle goes in the arm or the burning sensation when the drug is flowing into the veins? Or is it going back into the victim's apartment the next day, trying to wipe everything down of all fingerprints, and even using her own toothbrush to clean under her fingernails because while struggling for her life Jill took fingernails full of skin from his chest.

What is cruel and unusual punishment? We just witnessed a terrorist close his eyes and go to sleep! Now, let's remember the kind of death Jill experienced.

This guy had choices many times through that dreadful night. He could have stolen the keys, the money and left. But, to have a knife with him and do what he decided to do, he has now paid the price for those choices. Everyone makes decisions in their life and unfortunately that night his choice was to end Jill's life in the most brutal fashion. Why are we so concerned about cruel and unusual punishment when executing a brutal murderer? This guy had no mercy on Jill, but now we are expected to have mercy on him.

Jill did not deserve this brutal attack. She made all the right choices in her short life of 36 years. She dedicated her life to special needs children and their families. Her goal was to mainstream special needs children into a regular classroom. She always volunteered for Easter Seals camps, Special Olympics and several other related organizations.

Jill has a memorial scholarship in her honor presented every year to a senior at Highland High School in Highland, Ill. A memorial garden was built at United Services in St Charles, Mo., where Jill was teaching before her death. An annual memorial leadership award is presented to a Special Olympic athlete in her name. Jill also received several awards while living her dream and applying herself to the fullest in her profession. One that meant much to her was being named the "Outstanding Young Educator" by the Illinois Jaycees.

But most of all, she was a loving, caring, and giving person and everyone she came in touch with became a better person having known her. Jill, we are so proud of you and your love and dedication to everything and everyone you believed in!

To say Jill was a special person is an understatement. Having Jill taken from us not only affected her family and friends lives but all the special needs children that she taught and loved, all the children she could have taught and been enriched by her love. Her never-ending desire was to give of herself always. This world lost a very special and beautiful person.

So, the execution brings a sense of closure to a part of this unspeakable tragedy in our lives. It will not bring Jill back, nor will it ever lessen the pain and suffering we go through every day. Going through three trials has etched in our memory everything that happened to Jill that night. We can never erase the thoughts of the struggle Jill endured trying to survive. We will never forget.

Just think for a moment if this attack happened to your family or even one of your friends. How would this affect your family? What would you consider justice under the law? This guy had a choice, and now his sentence has been carried out according to the law but in a very peaceful way compared to what he did to Jill.

After 25 years, we now can try and close this chapter. We do not have to worry about another trial or appeal, lawsuits or anything else. We hope by hearing our tragic story the people of this country will push to change this process and stop these lengthy lawsuits and appeals. 25 years is tragic.

Jill, Mom, Dad, and all the rest of our family at your side, we know you are here and you saw it through with us. We know you are finally at peace!

We, all family and friends, can only hope to find that same peace and begin to go on with our lives. We all know you are forever at our side until that day when we meet again. We miss you all each and every day.

(source: Belleville News-Democrat)


Move to abolish Montana death penalty that would save Red Deer man passes significant hurdle

Legislation to abolish Montana's death penalty received a significant boost this week as the bill, which would impact Canadian Ronald Smith, passed a major hurdle.

The judiciary committee in the lower house of Montana's 2-tier legislature stalled earlier bills to abolish the death penalty in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013. They had been introduced and then passed by the state senate.

This year the bill, which was introduced by Republican Rep. David (Doc) Moore, started out on the house side and made it past the judiciary committee by an 11-10 vote.

"I am shocked it got out of committee. I was as surprised as anybody," Moore said in a telephone interview. "I've really got a tiger by the tail now."

Moore says the bill, which would abolish executions and replace them with a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole, must now be voted on by the state house of representatives no later than Feb. 27.

"I honestly don't know what will happen," Moore said. "I think there's enough votes on the house floor for it to pass."

If it passes, it would go through a similar process in Montana's senate.

Moore is worried there may be another attempt by proponents of the death penalty to refer it to another committee in order to kill it.

"The people who are against it are really against it."

If passed as written the legislation would be retroactive to include Smith, 57, and another death-row inmate, William Jay Gollehon.

Smith, who is originally from Red Deer, Alta., was convicted in Montana in 1983 for shooting to death 2 cousins while he was high on drugs and alcohol near East Glacier, Mont.

He refused a plea deal that would have seen him avoid death row and spend the rest of his life in prison. 3 weeks later, he pleaded guilty. He asked for and was given a death sentence.

Smith had a change of heart and has been on a legal roller-coaster for decades. An execution date has been set 5 times and each time the order was overturned.

Moore said bringing forward the legislation isn't about seeking leniency for those on death row, but about eliminating the costs of the protracted legal wrangling involved in a death penalty case.

Ron Waterman, a senior lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Association, testified before the judiciary committee that the death penalty system is flawed and there is the risk of executing an innocent person.

He said the costs also mitigate the benefits the death penalty gives a prosecutor trying to negotiate a plea bargaining.

"Once triggered, the defendant is entitled to massive exposure to defend against such charges. No prosecutor will spend over $400,000 just to try having a tool to use in a plea bargaining," Waterman said.

"The death sentence does not deter crime or other capital crimes."

(source: Calgary Herald)


Defense Calls Psychologist Back to the Witness Stand in Death Penalty Retrial----Psychologist Reads Text Messages Arias Sent to Travis Alexander After Killing Him

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sherry Stephens told jurors on Feb. 12 to expect to continue reporting to the courthouse until the end of February since there could be testimony from rebuttal witnesses as late as Feb. 26, according to The Associated Press.

During the mitigation phase of the trial, the defense team will have another opportunity to persuade the jury not to sentence the convicted killer to death due to different mitigating factors, reports USA Today.

Following the last witnesses, Arias will be allowed to address the jury directly and offer a plea for her life. Both sides will then end with a closing argument before the jury begins deliberating a life in prison or death sentence.

Although Arias was found guilty of 1st-degree murder in May 2013 in the death of her ex-boyfriend, jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision on her sentencing. As a result, the retrial will determine whether she should be sentenced to death, life in prison or life with a chance of release after serving 25 years.

According to medical examiners, Arias stabbed Alexander 27 times, primarily in the back, torso and heart in his Phoenix home. She also slit Alexander's throat from ear to ear, nearly decapitating him, and she shot him in the face before she dragged his bloodied corpse to the shower and took pictures of him.

(source: LatinPost)


Why the U.S. won't stop executing inmates even as a Supreme Court ruling looms

On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he supported the idea of halting all lethal injections in the United States until after the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the issue. The Supreme Court is hearing a case about lethal injection in Oklahoma this spring, with a ruling expected in the summer, to determine if that state's procedures are constitutional.

"From my perspective, I think a moratorium until the Supreme Court made that determination would be appropriate," Holder said during remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

This idea has been raised before in the weeks since the justices said they would hear a lethal injection case. In court filings and orders, in arguments and motions, attorneys and judges and justices have questioned whether any executions should take place when it is known that the Supreme Court is going to rule on the issue very soon. Yet the suggestion does not seem to be taking. While 4 executions have been postponed due to this particular case, this has not translated into a broader moratorium.

Holder noted that he was speaking personally, rather than as a government official, in making his pronouncement, and he has said in the past he is opposed to the death penalty. He said his opposition centered on "the ultimate nightmare" of someone being executed due to a mistake, something he described as an "inevitable" feature of a death penalty system that relies on the fallible judgments of human beings.

"There's always the possibility that mistakes will be made," he said Tuesday. "Mistakes and determinations made by juries, mistakes in terms of the kind of representation somebody facing a capital offense receives ....There is no ability to correct a mistake where somebody has, in fact, been executed."

The fact that there is currently no moratorium points to the differences between the last time the Supreme Court considered lethal injection and the current case. The Oklahoma case represents the Supreme Court's 1st examination of lethal injection - the primary method of execution in the United States - since 2008. That ruling ended what had become a de facto moratorium on executions, because it involved a form of lethal injection used by dozens of states. In the years that followed, the lethal injection landscape, and by extension the capital punishment landscape, has dramatically shifted in the United States, leaving the justices with a very different situation.

When the court acted in the Baze v. Rees decision in 2008, it upheld a form of lethal injection that has since become obsolete, because a drug shortage has caused the dwindling number of states still carrying out executions to scramble and improvise in an attempt to execute inmates. At the time, the court's action meant that the lethal injection protocol used by dozens of states was acceptable. The Oklahoma case, meanwhile, seems to center on the use of the drug midazolam, which has been involved in 3 problematic executions but has not found widespread adoption; it has been used in just 15 of the 82 executions carried out since the beginning of 2013, almost all of them in Florida. (One of those problematic executions occurred in Ohio, which said it will no longer use midazolam and delayed all executions scheduled for this year so it can find new lethal injection drugs.)

"It was a different issue in that all states were using essentially the same method, whereas now it's a more specific and narrow case that the court has taken," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in an interview Wednesday.

When the court acted in 2008, it dissolved a de facto moratorium and allowed a surge of executions to begin in the country. There were no executions between the end of September 2007 and early May 2008, the period between the court's decision to hear the case and its ruling. Dozens of executions occurred in the months after the Baze decision, and in 2009, the 1st full year following that decision, states carried out 52 executions. (That number has since dropped, falling to 35 executions last year, the lowest annual total in 2 decades.)

States soon began dealing with a drug shortage caused by European objections to the death penalty, a situation that meant the 3-drug combination they had previously used was replaced by a patchwork system where different states use varying drugs or combinations. That, in turn, has been followed by problems with executions; an inmate in Oklahoma grimaced and kicked during his execution last spring, 3 months before an Arizona inmate gasped, snorted and took nearly 2 hours to die. Both of these executions, along with the lengthy lethal injection in Ohio last year, involved midazolam, a drug questioned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissent the week before the Supreme Court said it would take the lethal injection case.

In the time since the Supreme Court said it would consider lethal injection, voices at various levels of the process have considered whether executions should be delayed until after the justices rule. The Supreme Court, at the request of Oklahoma, said it was staying three executions scheduled in that state until the justices ruled. The court also declined to stay a Missouri execution that had cited the coming Oklahoma decision. (Missouri has used midazolam to sedate inmates before executions, but has not used it as one of the lethal drugs.) The Florida Supreme Court this week said it was staying an execution scheduled there because the state's execution protocol and the one used in Oklahoma use the same amount of midazolam.

"The standards the Supreme Court are going to lay out, certainly they're going to focus on midazolam, but they're going to give a blueprint for any new, untried method," Dieter said. "That could affect every state. We are in an uncertain period with lethal injection drugs."

There are currently 10 executions scheduled between now and the beginning of oral arguments in the Oklahoma case at the end of April. 7 of them are in Texas, with the other 3 set for Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice "does not intend to delay executions" due to the Supreme Court's review of Oklahoma, Robert C. Hurst, a spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday. "The agency does not use the same drug combination, but instead utilizes a single, lethal dose of pentobarbital to carry out executions," Hurst said. "The agency has used this protocol since 2012 and has carried out 39 executions without complication."

Missouri's Department of Corrections said it remains prepared to carry out an execution next month, noting that the execution warrants in that state are issued by the Missouri Supreme Court. The Georgia and Tennessee Departments of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

While other court action or government intervention could affect some of these executions, it appeared unlikely the country's highest court would step in. Just a week before Holder spoke, an inmate in Missouri who argued that his execution should be postponed while the Supreme Court considers lethal injection was put to death after the justices declined to step in. The situation pointed to how divided the court is as well as a quirk of how the court operates: The 4 justices who dissented from a decision allowing an Oklahoma execution to go forward last month are the same 4 who would have stayed the Missouri execution. While it takes five justices to stay an execution, only four are needed to accept a case.

(source: Mark Berman, Washington Post)


In a final verdict, 4 sentenced to death for 2006 rape in Egypt----The verdict sentences also 5 to life, and a minor to 15 yrs in prison on in the same case in Kafr El-Sheikh in 2006

Egypt's Court of Cassation has upheld the death sentence on 4 defendants to death, 5 others to life in prison, and a minor to 15 years in prison after they were convicted of raping a woman in Egypt's Nile Delta governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh in 2006.

The attack on the victim took place when a group of men kidnapped her in the Nile Delta city before alternately raping her.

A criminal court issued a preliminary death sentence for the four defendants in November 2014.

Upon hearing the verdict, the families of the convicted broke down.

Meanwhile, the convicted defendants desperately repeated verse from the Quran "We Belong to God and to Him we shall return."

Egyptian law punishes crimes of rape with the death penalty.

The government has also recently stiffened prison sentences for crimes of sexual assault and harrasment.

(source: Ahram Online)


Hugo Selenski avoids death penalty, sentenced to life in prison

A jury on Wednesday spared the life of the man convicted of strangling a pharmacist and his girlfriend in 2002 and burying their bodies in his yard, granting a defense request to show mercy despite the brutal nature of the crimes.

Hugo Selenski, 41, was convicted last week on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the killings of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett during a robbery at the pharmacist's home. He showed no reaction to the jury's decision, which means he will serve life without parole.

Prosecutors had asked for a death sentence, saying Selenski and a co-conspirator brutally beat Kerkowski to compel him to reveal the location of tens of thousands of dollars he kept in his house and then plastic used flex ties to strangle him and Fassett.

The pharmacist had pleaded guilty to running an illegal prescription drug ring and was about to be sentenced when he and Fassett were reported missing in 2002. Authorities found their decomposing bodies about a year later, along with at least 3 other sets of human remains on Selenski's property near Wilkes-Barre.

Prosecutors argued Kerkowski was tortured, one of the aggravating circumstances they urged jurors to consider in deciding Selenski's fate.

"The defendant has repeatedly used fear and lies and pain and death in order to obtain frivolous, material things," Sam Sanguedolce, Luzerne County first assistant district attorney, told jurors in his closing argument Wednesday. "The defendant has earned his sentence."

Selenski's attorney, Edward "E.J." Rymsza, begged the jury to spare his client's life, asking them to ignore "voices of vengeance and retribution."

The defense tried to cast Selenski as a good father, brother and uncle even behind bars, with family members testifying earlier Wednesday that he wrote frequently and gave life advice.

2 of Selenski's daughters and 4 of his sisters spoke of their love for him, calling him an intelligent and caring man who's protective of his family - a portrait starkly at odds with the greedy, manipulative killer described in earlier trial testimony.

The 2 youngest sisters, both nursing students in their 20s, said he served as a father figure while briefly taking care of them more than a dozen years ago while their dad, now deceased, was ill.

"I wouldn't be who I am today without him," said Katlyn Selenski, 22.

Selenski has spent most of the last 20 years in prison, with convictions for a 1994 bank robbery, a 2003 home invasion and robbery, and now murder.

In 2006, he beat 2 other homicide charges in the deaths of 2 suspected drug dealers whose charred remains were also found in his yard north of Wilkes-Barre.

The 5th body found on the property was never publicly identified.

Selenski, who escaped from the county lockup in 2003 using a rope fashioned from bed sheets, will now spend the rest of his days in a maximum security state prison.

Even if the jury had sentenced him to die, Selenski would likely have spent decades on death row - and might never have received a lethal injection.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf recently declared a moratorium on the death penalty, called the current system of capital punishment "error prone, expensive and anything but infallible." Philadelphia's district attorney has filed a legal challenge to the moratorium.

Pennsylvania has executed only 3 inmates since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976, the last one in 1999. All 3 had voluntarily given up their appeals.

(source: Morning Call)


DA Seth Williams challenges Gov. Wolf over death penalty

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed a legal challenge Wednesday to Gov. Tom Wolf's death penalty moratorium, telling the state's highest court that the action was illegal and unconstitutional.

The challenge by Williams came 5 days after Wolf said he would issue reprieves at least until he receives a report from a legislative commission that has been studying the issue since 2011.

The case raised in Williams' filing involves Terrance Williams, who was convicted of the 1984 robbing and fatal tire-iron beating of another man in Philadelphia. His death sentence has been fought in state and federal courts.

"The governor's supposed reprieve is flagrantly unconstitutional, and should be declared by this court to be null, void, and absolutely without legal effect," the district attorney's legal challenge said.

Williams' execution had been scheduled for March 4. But Pennsylvania inmates facing execution have routinely been able to win delays, with the state's last execution carried out in 1999.

Wolf, a Democrat, took office Jan. 20 after pledging on the campaign trail not to sign death warrants until certain concerns raised about the death penalty had been addressed.

Pennsylvania has executed only 3 people since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. All had voluntarily given up their appeals.

Wolf's office stands by the constitutionality of reprieves - Pennsylvania law does not appear to place time limits on the length of a reprieve, legislative lawyers say - and a spokesman said Pennsylvania's system of capital punishment is "ineffective, expensive and many times unjust."

Williams has exhausted all of his appeals in state and federal courts, according to prosecutors. His lawyer in his most recent case in front of the state Supreme Court did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment.

Williams, who was 18 at the time of the murder, testified at trial that he did not know the victim and did not kill him. Prosecutors say he had had a history of violent felony convictions, including another murder. In his later appeals, Williams said both victims had sexually abused him for years, thus motivating him to kill.

The reasons for the state's lack of executions are the subject of debate, with some attributing it to death penalty opposition among judges on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or to aggressive tactics by lawyers who defend people facing execution. Others point to the number of stayed or overturned death sentences as evidence of flaws in how those cases are handled, particularly when it comes to providing adequate representation at trial.

(source: ABC news)


Wolf oversteps authority by suspending death penalty in Pa.

Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, imposed last week, is the easy way out, politically speaking.

Wolf has circumvented a standing law of Pennsylvania, stretching the executive power of his office beyond that of both existing legislation and judicial decisions made over which he should have no say.

There may be arguments against the death penalty, both its continued use and the means by which such sentences are carried out. And Pennsylvania has had an essential moratorium against the death penalty for decades.

Just 3 state inmates have been put to death since 1976, and in all 3 cases the convicted men decided to forgo additional appeals that, quite likely, would have had them still drawing breath today absent the intervention of nature.

Criminal convictions are to be rendered beyond a reasonable doubt. That is not entirely a comfortable level of certainty when it involves taking the life of an individual, regardless of his crime. As has been shown in the last few years, there have been inmates awaiting execution who did not deserve to be on death row - or even in prison.

Science and technology, including DNA evidence, have become powerful tools of justice often used by those fighting the death penalty.

But science is neutral. And while eyewitnesses can have questionable recollections, prosecutors can be blinded by high-profile cases into miscarriages of their offices, and juries can be too bloodthirsty, science remains, implacably, science.

DNA evidence can, today, greatly increase the certainty of an individual's guilt in a death penalty case. The presence of incontrovertible scientific evidence, combined with eyewitnesses and strong police and prosecutorial work can allow for verdicts far beyond those of reasonable doubt.

Had we done away with the death penalty decades ago due to its lack of certainty, it would have been difficult to argue. But as technology advances, so does the ability to have greater confidence in the development of capital-punishment cases. And with greater confidence should come less patience in the eternal appeals process now allowed in these cases.

Eliminating the death penalty now will be an argument not about the certainty of guilt but the underlying morality of the sentence.

And we say without apology that there are some crimes so awful that no other punishment will answer to the victims of them. We support the death penalty in those cases.

We think of the families and survivors of the victims of these crimes. Is it justice, especially now, if they have already been told that the perpetrator of the crimes against their loved ones is going to be executed, to instead see that sentence reduced to a life term? Yes, a life in confinement, but nevertheless, a life.

Wolf's action has drawn sharp criticism from law enforcement, including the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association, which represents the state's top county prosecutors, and the Pennsylvania State Trooper's Association, which called the moratorium a "travesty" and "a sad day for Pennsylvania."

State Sen. John Rafferty Jr. blasted Wolf for pandering to his liberal political base. "Gov. Wolf made a political decision to protect the worst of the worst in our society and did so at the expense of the families of the victims of these heinous crimes. This was the result of a single stroke of the pen as opposed to the accepted principles of democracy, the voice of the people expressed through our jury system."

If Gov. Wolf has the courage of his convictions, let him fight an open battle on the death penalty. Don't ignore the law. It's a terrible precedent. Perhaps he learned it from watching Washington, D.C., lately, where President Obama routinely ignores Congress and imposes his will by executive fiat.

(source: Editorial, Potts Mercury)


Death penalty in Pa. deserves a hard look

Many of the men sitting on death row for murders probably deserve to die for their crimes.

York County capital cases include the likes of Mark Spotz, who killed an innocent local woman while in the midst of a murderous cross-state rampage, Harve Johnson, who beat 2-year-old Darisabel Baez to death with a video game controller, and Kevin Brian Dowling, who concocted a whodunnit-style alibi to cover up the cold-blooded robbery and killing of an innocent frame shop owner.

There's little doubt that those men are guilty of the crimes that landed them on death row.

But those 2 words - little doubt - nag at the conscience.

What if some of those men are not guilty?

Unlikely, you say? Perhaps. But here are 2 more words that should trouble the conscience: Ray Krone.

This man was convicted - twice - of killing a young woman in Arizona. He spent nearly a decade in prison, part of it on death row, before he was proved innocent of the crime.

His case was hardly an anomaly. In fact, he was the "100th former death row inmate freed because of innocence since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the United States in 1976," according to The Innocence Project, a legal group that has exposed widespread problems with capital punishment in the United States.

If that many innocent people can be convicted of murder "beyond a reasonable doubt," there's something wrong with the system.

And any system that risks the irreversible execution of an innocent person is not worthy of a nation that espouses and aspires to the highest moral and ethical standards.

That's why Gov. Tom Wolf was right last week to impose a moratorium on executions in the state, calling for a thorough study of the process.

Granted, Pennsylvania has long had what essentially amounts to a moratorium on executions. Just 3 have been carried out since 1976 - and those only because the suspects suspended their appeals.

Many people chafe at the extensive appeals process in death penalty cases, saying the families and friends of victims wanting "closure" are tortured by the long process. Some have called for a streamlining of the appeals process and a hastening of executions, Texas style.

The pain and loss experienced by those loved ones is terrible, but how could we in good conscience short-circuit an appeals process that has uncovered so many wrongful death penalty convictions?

Some have argued Pennsylvania is not plagued with the injustice we've seen in other states, but The Innocence Project lists 10 wrongful Pennsylvania murder convictions on its website. 3 were homicide convictions, 1 of which resulted in a death sentenced. One of those 3 wrongful homicide convictions was Barry Laughman, a mentally disabled Adams County man who was exonerated by DNA evidence testing.

Let's take a good, hard look at the process.

Let's debate whether the death penalty is a moral or effective punishment.

Let's consider whether it is cost-effective - and whether capital punishment is a deterrent to murder, as many contend.

These cases drag on for decades, and the litigation is expensive.

Might it not be more effective to put killers behind bars for life - essentially in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day?

That way, if there's a wrongful conviction, we can partially rectify it, and citizens don't have the blood of an innocent victim on their hands.

Let's study this issue and decide logically, unemotionally, unencumbered by the hatred many understandably feel: Does a demonstrably flawed death penalty make sense in Pennsylvania?

Can we live with the possible execution of an innocent person on our collective conscience?

Obviously, Gov. Wolf can't.

(source: Editorial, Daily Local)

GEORGIA----impending female execution

Only woman on Georgia death row set to be executed

Georgia is set to execute its only woman on death row next week.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told Channel 2's Tony Thomas that the crime committed by Kelly Gissendaner has stuck in his mind since it happened in 1997.

Gissendaner is accused of plotting to kill her husband.

Porter said the 1 thing that strikes him about her case is that there was such an easy alternative to this murder: a simple divorce.

Years later, almost all the appeals are over and the same district attorney who called for the death penalty then will now be a witness to the planned execution.

"I think I'm obligated to be down there," Porter said.

Boxes of evidence from the trial sit outside Porter's office. He says he remembers most details of the 1997 case.

"Kelly was pretty much at the controls," Porter said.

In 1997, Gissendaner's husband, Doug, disappeared. Kelly Gissendaner played the loving and concerned wife, holding press conferences in her living room pleading for help.

"If he's somewhere where he can get to a phone, just for him to please call home and let someone know he's all right. That's all I want. I want him home," Kelly Gissendaner said back in 1997.

Days later, the man Kelly Gissendaner was having an affair with, Greg Owen, confessed to Doug Gissendaner's murder, and said Kelly Gissendaner planned it and even helped him burn the car after the fact.

"It's almost like she had to go back and take a trophy or something," Porter said.

Kelly Gissendaner would plead for mercy at trial, but was sentenced to death. She has been the only woman on Georgia's death row for 17 years, and is scheduled to die by lethal injection next Wednesday night.

"I think I have a moral obligation to see the sentence carried out. Otherwise, I think you are just playing politics," Porter said.

Thomas has been selected as a media representative to witness the execution. One day before, on Tuesday, Kelly Gissendaner will have 1 last shot to ask for clemency from state leaders.

(source: WSB TV news)


Avalos triple murder case----State seeking the death penalty for accused Bradenton triple murderer Andy Avalos

The state attorney's office announced Wednesday that it is seeking the death penalty for accused Bradenton triple murderer Andres "Andy" Avalos.

Assistant State Attorney Art Brown said he sent the death penalty notice to Avalos' attorney, Franklin Roberts, Wednesday afternoon. Roberts declined comment on the case.

Avalos, 33, is charged with 1st-degree murder in the deaths of his wife, Amber Avalos, neighbor Denise Potter and pastor James "Tripp" Battle.

Investigators say on Dec. 4 Avalos hanged his 33-year-old wife from a cord in the laundry room of their northwest Bradenton home, then beat and shot her. He then shot Potter, 46, who was visiting their home, before going to Bayshore Baptist Church and shooting Battle in front of his wife, Joy Battle.

"When we consider the death penalty for any case, we look at the aggravating factors," Brown said. "In this case, we decided the death penalty was appropriate."

Aggravating factors can include details such as the age and number of victims; whether the suspect was convicted of previous felonies' if the suspect was a criminal gang member; if the act was "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel;" or if the act was committed, "in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification."

If convicted of 1st-degree murder, Avalos will be sentenced to either death or life in prison without parole.

Brown said Avalos gave a full confession to the killings in early interviews with Manatee County detectives, but Avalos pleaded not guilty to original charges of 2nd-degree murder, according to court records.

Criminal defense attorney Adam Tebrugge in 2005 represented Joseph Smith, who was convicted and sentenced to die for the rape and murder of Carlie Bruscia in Sarasota. Tebrugge, who has an office in Bradenton, said he doesn't think the death penalty would be appropriate for Avalos.

While the state tries to prove the aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense will be looking into the suspect's life mitigating factors, such as signs of mental illness or past good character, Tebrugge said.

"I understand that the crime in this case is outrageous and unsettling, but the state seeks the death penalty far too often. It doesn't feel necessary here," Tebrugge said. "The family context gives a lot of opportunity for mitigating circumstances."

Tebrugge added that seeking the death penalty means rather than a timeline of 6 months, the case could take 2 or 3 years to get to trial.

Tebrugge said he knows felons on death row now that have been there for more than 30 years after being sentenced.

The family of Amber Avalos has hinted that Andy Avalos had problems with drug abuse and drinking, and that his wife had tried to make him seek help. The couple had 6 children together. Potter had 3 children and Battle had 2.

After the crimes, deputies searched for Avalos for 51 hours before he was arrested near Bayshore Baptist Church.

Avalos's next scheudled appearance in court is April 9.

(source: Bradenton Herald)


Court document may reveal Alabama's death penalty drug manufacturer

Lawyers for an inmate on Alabama's death row say the state has kept them in the dark about most of the details of its new protocol for execution by lethal injection.

In a bid to get approval for Alabama's 1st execution since 2013, state officials may have tipped their hand on something they tried for months to keep secret: the identity of a supplier of drugs used in lethal injection.

Court documents filed this week suggest that Akorn Pharmaceuticals, an Illinois-based drug manufacturer, made the anesthetic Alabama plans to use as the 1st drug in its 3-drug death penalty protocol. That drug, midazolam, was used in botched executions last year in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio.

It's unclear who made the midazolam used in those executions, largely because states have become increasingly secretive about their use of death penalty drugs.

"A number of states are protecting their sources," said Richard Dieter, director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. "This information is going to become harder and harder to find out."

1 year ago this week, Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, presented an Alabama House committee with a bill that would make the identity of death penalty drug suppliers secret. Greer said he wanted to protect drugmakers from "blowback" from death penalty opponents. Greer, who said he proposed the bill at the request of corrections officials, acknowledged that the identity of drug manufacturers isn't currently protected by law. Still, prison officials at the time rejected requests by The Anniston Star and other newspapers for information on the state’s death penalty protocol, saying it was not released as a matter of department policy.

Greer's bill didn't get past the Senate, but prison officials still won't say who makes their death penalty drugs.


The blowback that worried Greer was real. Boycotts from Europe, where a number of critical drugs are made, have had death-penalty states scrambling in recent years to obtain enough drugs to kill inmates. In March of last year, Alabama officials acknowledged that the state couldn't conduct executions because it didn't have enough drugs on hand.

That changed in September, when the attorney general's office asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine of the 194 people now on death row. State officials said they had a new lethal injection drug combination: midazolam hydrochloride as an anesthetic, rocuronium bromide to relax the muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart. They also said they had enough of the drugs on hand to execute all 9 men.

Thomas Arthur, imprisoned since the 1980s for the murder-for hire of a Muscle Shoals man, was to be the 1st person executed under the new formula. The court initially set Feb. 19 - this Thursday - as his execution date.

Arthur and 7 other inmates have challenged the new drug formula in court, on the grounds that it will lead to a painful death - a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Midazolam is a key element of their complaint. The drug was used last year in an Oklahoma execution that took 43 minutes, an Ohio execution that lasted more than 20 minutes and an Arizona execution that lasted nearly 2 hours.

Arthur doesn't appear to be on the way to execution this week. A federal court granted him a stay of execution until after a hearing in May. But in an appeal to that decision filed earlier this week, lawyers for the attorney general's office argued that Arthur's claims about midazolam were "inconsistent with the manufacturer's package insert for midazolam." Attached to the court document is a copy of the manufacturer's instructions for the drug - branded with Akorn's logo.

No disclosure

The state's motion refers to Akorn's drug manual twice as "the manufacturer's package insert." There's a 3rd reference to "the manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheet," with a link to a drug safety document put out in 2007 by Ohio-based Ben Venue Laboratories.

Ben Venue would seem to be an unlikely source of Alabama's midazolam, however. Accounts in Ohio newspapers and the magazine Crain's Cleveland Business indicate that almost all manufacturing at the company halted in December 2013. A new owner, London-based Hikma, bought Ben Venue in July, press accounts indicate, but had not resumed production by the end of September - after Alabama had acquired its new execution drugs.

State officials wouldn't comment on whether Akorn, the Illinois company, is indeed the maker of Alabama's midazolam.

"Because of the ongoing litigation, we're not releasing any information about the protocol," said Bob Horton, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Alabama attorney general spokesman Mike Lewis said the office had no comment. Arthur's lawyers, through their spokesman Paul Holmes, also said they had no comment.

Multiple attempts to reach Akorn for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

State records show no purchases of Akorn products by the state in the past year, though the state has done business with 2 medical suppliers, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, that are listed by Akorn as distributors of midazolam.

British activists called on Akorn last year to put controls in place to prevent its midazolam from being used in executions. That call led to speculation in the media that the company was a supplier of drugs for one of last year's botched executions.

But lawyer Dale Baich, who represented Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood before he was executed last year, said no one but the state knows who made Arizona's midazolam.

"We asked for the information and the state would not disclose it," he said. "We went to court in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We have never been provided with the information."

Baich was a witness to Wood's execution in July. At first, the drugs appeared to be working.

"His breathing appeared to stop," Baich said. "About 10 or 12 minutes in, his mouth opened and he gasped. The breathing went on for about an hour and 40 minutes" before Wood died, Baich said.

If defense lawyers had known the manufacturer of the drug, Baich said, they would have been able to get more information about the quality of the drug and its expiration date.

Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said there are several companies that could be providing the drugs to various states. Earlier mainstays of lethal injection, such as thiopental and pentobarbital, had few suppliers and could more easily be shut off.

"That's the appeal of this drug," he said. "There's enough in the stream of commerce that it can't be pinned on 1 company."

Greer, the lawmaker who first proposed the death penalty secrecy bill, said he wasn't familiar with Akorn. He said corrections officials never told him who is supplying the drugs for executions.

"We've never known where it came from," he said. "I don't think that's something the Legislature would know."

(source: The Anniston Star)


Lawsuit over death penalty secrecy law dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by 4 death row inmates that sought to overturn a law shrouding Ohio's execution process in secrecy.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory L. Frost threw out the lawsuit at the request of Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine, rejecting the contentions of the condemned men that the new law muzzled free-speech rights.

The inmates claimed that House Bill 663 unconstitutionally violated First Amendment rights by depriving the public of access to government information and proceedings surrounding the death penalty.

The law forbids the release of the identities of compounding pharmacies that prepare lethal-injection drugs for at least 20 years and forever keeps confidential the names of execution-team members and physicians.

"Rather, the statutory scheme simply cuts off Ohio and its employees as a source of specific information for both proponents and opponents of the death penalty."

Frost also found that the inmates lacked the standing needed to continue to pursue their lawsuit, saying they could not demonstrate "actual or imminent injuries" to their First Amendment rights.

Cleveland lawyer Tim Sweeney, who represents death row inmate Ronald Phillips, said he would appeal Frost's ruling to the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

"Ohio's secrecy law overreaches the Constitution by creating an entirely new category of speech which can be legally suppressed. This extreme law needs to be fully evaluated by the courts prior to its implementation. No one benefits from shutting down debate about the death penalty and Ohio's lethal injection process; in fact, the public is harmed by this suppression of free speech about public policy, which is the cornerstone of democracy," Sweeney said.

Prison officials insist executions in Ohio cannot proceed unless the state promises secrecy to compounding pharmacies that could face possible protests and retaliation for providing the lethal drugs. No executions will occur before 2016 as the state seeks to secure the needed drug combinations.

The law permits the public and the condemned to learn what lethal-injection drugs will be used and their quantity, but withholds the identities of the pharmacies preparing the deadly drug cocktails.

The public and those scheduled to die need to know the identities of pharmacies to check on their backgrounds and ensure the state is conducting executions in a safe and humane manner, the lawsuit stated. The law violates free-speech rights by forbidding communication with pharmacy owners, it claimed.

Frost wrote that part of the law appears to "defy common sense."

"in order to challenge the use of a drug that will be used to execute them, inmates must explain why use of that drug presents a risk of substantial harm. But the inmates are not allowed to know from where the drug came, how specifically it was manufactured, or who was involved in the creation of the drug."

Frost said the law does not grant death row inmates, and by extension the courts, the ability to evaluate the reliability of the lethal drug-manufacturing process.

"A proponent of Kafkaesque absurdity might be proud of such a byzantine method for pursuing the protection of a constitutional right, even if the drafters of the United States Constitution might not," Frost wrote.

Frost also is presiding over a lawsuit challenging the manner in which Ohio administers lethal injections. He must approve the state's new drug combination and procedures.

The challenge came after killer Dennis McGuire gasped and choked for about 10 minutes on Jan. 16, 2014 as he was killed with a never-before-used combination of drugs. McGuire was pronounced dead after 26 minutes.

(source: Columbus Dispatch)


Hager Church deemed borderline psychopath

As death penalty trials go, the penalty phase of the Hager Church murder trial was off to a rather mundane start Wednesday until just after lunch.

After finishing with a forensic psychologist who testified about Church's troubled childhood, that included the status as borderline psychopath, Church made statements that he wanted the death penalty without the jury in the Allen County Common Pleas courtroom.

"Please give me death row. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in prison. Kill me today," he said looking at the media in the courtroom.

Church's attorneys attempted to calm him but his emotions remained elevated. Deputies escorted Church out of the courtroom. The jury was out of the courtroom at the time as attorneys set up for a presentation.

About a half-hour later, Church was brought back in and Judge Jeffrey Reed announced the trial would be placed on hold until Monday after the sudden death of a family member to one of the attorneys in the case. Reed did not say which attorney.

The judge said it was only appropriate to give the attorney a chance to be with his family and the judge offered condolences without naming the attorney.

Church, who had calmed down, remained calm.

The jury convicted the 30-year-old Church of 2 counts of aggravated murder and 1 count of aggravated arson the day before. The trial is now in the penalty phase where the jury has to decide whether he should receive the death penalty or life in prison.

Church already is serving a life sentence with no chance for parole for the 2010 killing of Deb Henderson at her home in Lima. In the case at hand, Church was convicted of killing Massie "Tina" Flint, 45, and Rex Hall, 54, on June 14, 2009, by setting a house on fire at 262 S. Pine St.

The day started with Church's lead attorney, Greg Meyers, telling the jury Church rose to the occasion when he alerted authorities of the murders when they believed the 2 died accidentally in a fire.

"He is guilty of those crimes and he will be punished but with his life? Or for the rest of his life?" Meyers said.

Prosecutor Juergen Waldick told the jury Church should pay with his life.

Forensic Psychologist Thomas Hustak was the only defense witness who testified in the penalty phase Wednesday. He spoke of Church's poor behavioral record in school and a learning disability. He said Church was not properly medicated for mental illness as a child.

Church also suffered sexual abuse and has large mood swings, Hustak said.

"He isn't a fun guy to be around," Hustak said.

At 17, an evaluation showed Church was a borderline psychopath, Hustak said, a point Waldick jumped on in cross-examination asking if that same person kills 3 people as an adult would it raise that score to psychopath level, which the psychologist said it could.

Waldick also asked about Church's failed treatment for substance abuse and other problems while incarcerated, and whether Church sought treatment when he was outside of prison or jail. Hustak said no.

The judge told the jury to return Monday morning to resume the penalty phase.



McManus' Attorney: 'Right Decision' to Overrule Death Penalty Conviction

13 years on death row could end without execution for an Evansville man.

Paul McManus was convicted of killing his wife and 2 kids in 2001, but now a federal appeals court overturns his conviction and sentence.

He could walk free because of his mental state at trial 13 years ago. His defense attorney, Genn Grampp clearly remembers his demeanor, feeling McManus was incapable of standing trial. He says Wednesday's ruling justifies what he says should have happened in the 1st place.

February 26th, 2001, a toddler, 8-year-old and their mother are murdered in a neighborhood north of Evansville.

After the murder, he drove to the twin bridges and jumped from the top in a suicide attempt, but he was pulled from the frigid February waters and went on trial a year later, facing the death penalty.

Grampp says, "there wasn't any question that he did it," but he believes he didn't deserve to be executed.

"He became a mess during that trial, and he really did not know what was going on," says Grampp. "He had a panic attack after we selected the jury, and during the 1st day of evidence, he had a panic attack."

Grampp remembers McManus being taken out of the courtroom on a stretcher, he "went to the hospital a couple times; they changed his medication unbeknownst to us."

Despite repeated requests for a mistrial, Grampp says the judge continued and McManus was convicted and sentenced to death.

A decision Grampp feels was wrong. "There was no question in my mind that he was impaired to the point he could not assist his council, could not make decisions."

It's because of that, what Grampp says was a drug-induced stupor, A U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the 13 year-old decision Wednesday.

Vanderburgh County Prosecuting Attorney, Nick Hermann, didn't try the case in 2001, but he reacts today in "a little bit of a surprise, just that it came out and what it was, but you know, its part of the business."

Grampp believe justice is now being served. "It might not make a lot of people happy, but its the right decision taking the facts into account," he says.

But McManus isn't a free man just yet. There will be appeals, and potentially a new trial in Vanderburgh Co. "There was a lot of strong evidence in it," says Hermann, "We wouldn't hesitate in the slightest to try it again if it came to that."

A plea agreement is also a possible outcome, but the prosecution says it needs time to review.

"It's going to be a matter of getting the case and talking to all the parties involved, and determine where we are and how to move forward from there," adds Hermann.

The Indiana Attorney General's office is now reviewing the ruling and will decide in the next 15 days whether to appeal to the U.S Supreme Court.



Judge says death penalty an option for St. George man

A judge is upholding a ruling that would allow southern Utah prosecutors to seek the death penalty if a man charged with 1/2 of a 2010 double murder is convicted.

The Spectrum of St. George reports ( ) that Judge G. Michael Westfall said Thursday that he agreed with a prior magistrate's decision about the 33-year-old Brandon Perry Smith.

Smith is charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen.

Christensen was killed in a December 2010 altercation at a St. George townhome that also left 27-year-old Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden dead.

Another man, 34-year-old Paul Ashton, pleaded guilty in July to killing Jerden in his home. He's been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Smith is awaiting trial.

(source: Associated Press)


The Death Penalty Is in Decline, So Why Is Utah Trying to Resurrect Firing Squads?----The state joins Oklahoma as the only other place in America to still use the antiquated execution method.

In 2014, the U.S. executed the lowest number of peopler in 2 decades. Recent cases of botched executions have brought new scrutiny and skepticism to the death penalty.

Yet last week, Utah's House of Representatives passed a measure to resurrect the firing squad. The bill is headed to the state Senate.

Utah's proposal comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on an Oklahoma death penalty case. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday told a Washington forum: "It is one thing to put somebody in jail for an extended period of time, have some new test that you can do, and determine that person was, in fact, innocent. There is no ability to correct a mistake where somebody has, in fact, been executed - and that is, from my perspective, the ultimate nightmare." On Friday, Pennsylvania's governor imposed a moratorium on executions, and Montana's legislature is considering a measure to abolish the death penalty. So it's understandable that Utah's House of Representatives voted carefully on this issue.

Part of the story of Utah's firing squad push rests with the bill's chief sponsor, Paul Ray, a Republican who sits on the state legislature's law enforcement and criminal justice committee. Ray has argued that death by firing squad is faster and more humane than lethal injection. His argument is also financial. During 1 debate on the legislative floor, Ray said, "We are facing a situation where we are going to have to go to court, and it's going to cost millions of dollars for the state of Utah to defend what we're doing."

The financial argument is debatable. One 2011 study found that California taxpayers would save about $170 million a year if all the state's death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life without parole.

During some firing squad executions, marksmen bearing rifles aim to shoot a cloth placed over a prisoner's heart. Not all firing squad executions are foolproof. Take the case of Wallace Wilkerson, convicted of murder in Utah in the late 1800s and sentenced to death. Wilkerson chose death by firing squad rather than hanging or decapitation, according to media accounts. On execution day, Wilkerson sat in a chair in the jail yard unbound to the chair. Wilkerson apparently stiffened, and seconds later, the squad opened fire. Wilkerson was shot in his torso and arm, but he wasn't pronounced dead for 27 minutes.

A 2012 study examined 9,000 U.S. executions that took place in the 20th century and found that 270 of them were bungled in some way. Botched executions have recently made headlines. In April, Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack a full 43 minutes after prison officials in Oklahoma administered the lethal injection.

According to Amnesty International, more than 2/3 of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. But 54 countries still allow capital punishment by shooting or firing squad. That puts Utah in the same category as countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran.

Wyoming, which authorizes lethal gas only if lethal injection is found unconstitutional, is also considering a bill that would make firing squads an alternative method of execution. Utah was the 1st state to resume executions just after the Supreme Court lifted its moratorium on capital punishment in 1976. Since then, only 2 people in the U.S. have been executed by firing squad, and both cases were in Utah. In 2004, a bill was passed in Utah to make lethal injection the primary method of execution.

"This is not just a conversation about different ways of the state putting people to death," said Utah House Minority Leader Brian King on the House floor. King, a Democrat who voted against the firing squad bill, added, "It's a question about moral and fiscal responsibility and whether the state of Utah chooses, or not, to be a moral and fiscal leader on such a controversial topic."

According to the Utah Department of Corrections, 8 people sit on Utah's death row, but the state does not have any lethal injection drugs on hand. Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City told The Salt Lake City Tribune that the state is probably 3 to 4 years away from its next execution. Where Utah decides to stand - with a growing number of states and countries rejecting capital punishment or with a more archaic practice from its past - remains to be seen.



Las Vegas killer appealing death penalty

A Las Vegas killer is asking the Nevada Supreme Court to overturn his death sentence, alleging his lawyer was ineffective during the penalty hearing.

James M. Chappell, 35, was convicted in 1996 in the fatal stabbing of his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Panos, 26, who was the mother of his 3 children.

The court today said it will hear oral arguments March 3 on his petition.

(source: Las Veags Sun)


Judge Considers Perjury Findings Against Deputy For Death Penalty Case Testimony

Law enforcement cheating in courthouses usually gets ignored because otherwise-decent cops, prosecutors and judges remain mum, and the offenders go unpunished or, worse, win promotion. But the beginnings of a potential, cleansing tidal wave is moving through California's criminal-justice system. Last month, a 3-judge panel at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit shattered that silence on government officials lying.

Though the use of jailhouse informants is a well-established police tool, it's also known that rats--commonly the most despicable inmates--won't hesitate to lie to juries in exchange for valuable, government-supplied perks. Cops and prosecutors, as theoretical guardians of truth and justice, would never allow an informant to give false testimony. But as Ninth Circuit panel of judges Alex Kozinski, Kim McLane Wardlaw and William A. Fletcher knows, reality isn't so immaculate.

A recent appellate case, Baca v. Adams, sparked the panel's ire because of numerous outrages committed to win and maintain a conviction in a 1995 double murder in Riverside County. A key prosecution witness, who was an informant, bolstered credibility to a jury by deceitfully claiming he wasn't receiving government benefits in exchange for testimony. At a 2nd trial, a 2nd prosecutor got the 1st prosecutor to give false testimony about the informant; the 2 prosecutors allowed the informant to escape perjury charges. The California Attorney General's (AG) office tried to hide the informant's sweetheart deal from a state court of appeal--in effect covering up the ethical breaches. The AG's office refused to discipline the 2 prosecutors, and then the office, now occupied by Kamala D. Harris, urged the federal appeal panel to ignore all the transgressions.

During Jan. 8 oral arguments, Kozinski asked Deputy AG Kevin Vienna if Harris "really wants to stick by a conviction obtained by lying prosecutors." If so, he said, the judges would write an opinion that would "not be pretty." Weeks later, the AG, a San Francisco Democrat hoping to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate, agreed to set aside the Baca conviction "in the interest of justice."

In Orange County, it's far less likely--if not unheard of--for judges to hold dishonest government agents accountable. I've covered our courthouses for 2 decades and can't recall a single time when a judge punished a law-enforcement officer for lying. For example, Judge Robert Fitzgerald in 2005 ignored fraudulent statements by a police dog handler and declared that "innocent people get convicted, too," before sending James Ochoa to prison for a robbery the Buena Park teenager was later absolved of committing. And Judge Sarah S. Jones protected Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) investigator Christopher Catalano during a 2009 hearing in which the deputy denied threatening an Anaheim suspect, but an audio recording captured him promising to "make something up" if he didn't win a confession. Plus, Judge John Conley in 2011 refused to officially rebuke 2 OCSD deputies, Michelle Rodriguez and Brad Carrington, after they gave false testimony concealing critical, exculpatory evidence in a Laguna Niguel burglary trial.

Given the entrenched willingness to allow dirty cops to go free, it's not surprising testilying continues. But, at least for now, the who-polices-the-police question isn't entirely hidden from public view. Inside the courthouse domain of Judge Thomas M. Goethals, several deputies, including Seth Tunstall, are hoping to outrun perjury charges in People v. Scott Dekraai, the case of the confessed killer in the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre.

They better run fast.

50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massiah v. United States that the constitution bans government agents, including surrogates such as informants, from eliciting incriminating statements from individuals who have been charged with a crime and are represented by an attorney. If a defendant freely blabs on his or her own, the information is usable. But officials cannot take steps to violate the protection by, say, moving jailhouse informants into locations designed to elicit statements or having informants ask their questions.

There are basically two ways for defense lawyers to see if Massiah is obeyed: Officers such as Tunstall, assigned to the OCSD's Special Handling unit in the jail for a decade, honestly answer questions and faithfully comply with the court-ordered surrender of jail records. In Dekraai, there has been a lingering question: Did officials violate the Constitution when Fernando Perez, a Mexican Mafia killer and prolific informant, landed in a cell next to the defendant and obtained crime details as well as legal strategies pertaining to a possible death-penalty punishment?

Prosecutor Dan Wagner insists the placement of the two men together in a pool of 6,000 inmates was accidental, but it didn't help his cause that he spent years concealing related records from Scott Sanders, the assistant public defender representing Dekraai. After an intense, year-long investigation, Sanders produced a 505-page report describing how OCSD officials routinely hid jail-informant records and committed perjury to cover up questionable activities in dozens of felony cases.

Over the protests of prosecutors, Goethals conducted a four-month evidentiary hearing into the allegations in 2014 and, in August, ruled officials hid records, faked memory losses and committed perjury. But the judge declined to name the liars and, in additional lame judicial gymnastics, declared the cheating hadn't been malignant. He also accepted that Perez's cell placement hadn't been a Massiah scam.

Sanders, who is quite the detective, continued to dig after the ruling and uncovered new evidence that Tunstall committed a hoax on Goethals. It turns out that OCSD maintains a secret records system called TRED, which indicates special handling deputies had, after all, controlled Perez's whereabouts near Dekraai. Worse, the agency has been concealing the existence of TRED records for 25 years. That's a huge deal. During that period, tens of thousands of defendants were convicted without knowing if those entries contain exculpatory evidence.

In the wake of the revelations, the judge this month reopened the special hearings, and Tunstall, who'd pretended the records didn't exist during 6 days of 2014 testimony, now claims that he, the author of thousands of TRED records, simply forgot about them. Besides, the 16-year OCSD veteran suggests, his answers might have been technically accurate if, like him, someone is confused about the difference between "informant" and "information provider." He also said he can't be responsible for his informants' plots to evade Massiah prohibitions because, while he received their notes detailing the planned scams, he hadn't bothered to digest the contents, but, by golly, he can now see his alleged laziness was an error.

To Sanders, the claims by a deputy with a doctorate in clinical psychology are preposterous. He may not be alone. Goethals, who has advised Tunstall of potential obstruction-of-justice charges, wanted to know if the "first place" to look when questioned about inmate movement should be TRED records.

"Yes," the deputy replied. "That would be a place I would look."

So why had he pretended the records didn't exist?

The answer is ugly: OCSD officials think they can pick which judicial orders to obey--and concoct ridiculous excuses for secrecy when caught. After all, they short-changed Sanders, then blamed him for delaying the Dekraai case. Memory loss aside, Tunstall, who declined an interview, told Goethals the public agency deemed the information "confidential" to itself.

The judge now has a 2nd opportunity to hold the cheaters accountable.

(source: Orange County Weekly----This article appears in the print edition as "Massiah Complex: Orange County Sheriff's Department Officials Reluctantly Admit They Hid Records from Trials For 25 Years.")


Supporters of new bill say ending death penalty makes financial sense

Supporters of a bill to end the death penalty in Washington state say the capital punishment law doesn't make sense financially.

"King County has spent more than $12 million on 2 cases alone," said District 36 Representative Reuven Carlyle.

Carlyle, who is sponsoring House Bill 1739 with other representatives from around Washington state, told a House committee Wednesday morning the death penalty is not a financially responsible policy.

More than a dozen people testified Wednesday in favor of the bill, which would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life in prison, with no opportunity for parole.

The measure follows Gov. Jay Inslee's decision last year to impose a moratorium on capital punishment. Inslee, who was criticized last year by several Republican lawmakers over his moratorium decision, has said he supports the bill.

The House committee is scheduled to vote on HB 1739 on Thursday.

Despite losing a loved one to murder, former state Senator Debby Regala supports the bill.

"People expect public policy to keep family safe," Regala said. "However, the "death penalty is not a deterrent to murder."

"What we would like is to have that family member back, but nothing can make that happen," she added.

Not everyone who heard testimony agreed with the bill. State Representative Jay Rodne said he has heard similar arguments for about 12 years. The cost argument is disingenuous, he said.

"To argue the cost ... it's akin to someone who murders their parents and then asks for leniency because he's an orphan," he said.

Rodne suggested the state limit the appeals process for the death penalty.



House committee weighs bill to abolish death penalty

Families of murder victims and opponents of capital punishment testified Wednesday in support of a measure to abolish the death penalty in Washington, saying that the costly and drawn out appeals process only prolongs the pain of the crime.

More than a dozen people spoke before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of House Bill 1739, which would replace capital punishment with life in prison, with no opportunity for parole. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, would also require those convicted to work in prison in order to pay restitution to victims' families.

Former Sen. Debbie Regala, whose brother-in-law was murdered in 1980 and whose killer was never caught, said that she knows that families have differing opinions on the death penalty.

"I do think that all of them would agree with me that we would like the perpetrator caught and prevented from killing another person. Of course more than anything what we would like is to have that family member back, but we know nothing makes that happen," she said, her voice choked with emotion.

Regala, who sponsored previous bills to abolish the death penalty while in the Legislature, said that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and is not good state policy. She said she believes life in prison is.

"It provides public safety, it lowers the cost to tax payers, and it can ensure swift certain equal justice that we should all be concerned with," she said.

The measure comes following Gov. Jay Inslee's decision last year to impose a moratorium on capital punishment for as long as he's in office. Inslee has said he supports the bill. The House committee is scheduled to vote on Thursday.

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 32 states, including Washington and Pennsylvania, where a moratorium was just issued by the governor last week. Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, with Maryland being the most recent.

The niece of an 88-year-old World War II veteran who police said was beaten to death in Spokane in 2013 said she was glad the case was not eligible for the death penalty due to the accused teens' ages. One was sentenced this month to 20 years in prison for the death of Delbert Belton; the other is scheduled for trial.

"Because there will be no long drawn out of process of appeals, our family is already in the healing process," said Tyana Kelley, of Spokane. "If we were forced to go through years or decades of hearings trials it would just reopen this wound again and again."

The only person to testify against the bill was Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"Our prosecutors use the death penalty very, very judiciously," he said. "This is not done arbitrarily."

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has not taken a position on the bill because its members are split on the issue, said Tom McBride, executive secretary of the association.

A recent study from Seattle University that found death penalty cases in the state cost $1 million more than similar Washington cases where capital punishment is not sought. Rep. Jay Rodne, a Republican from Snoqualmie who is a member of the committee, stated during the hearing he didn't find the cost argument compelling, saying that the state could just streamline the appeals process if money is a driving cost. He said earlier this week that he personally believes the death penalty is appropriate in certain cases.

Rodne also asked a bipartisan panel of lawmakers who support the bill whether there's any scenario in which the death penalty is warranted.

"It concerns me when the state has the ability to take a life, period," said Rep. Chad Magendanz, a Republican from Issaquah who is a co-sponsor of the bill. "As awful as the crimes are, do we lower ourselves as a government to punish with death? That is a legitimate question to be asking right now."

Currently, 9 men are on death row. Death penalty cases in the state are still being tried and continue to work through the system. Inslee's moratorium means that if a death-penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which means the inmate would stay in prison rather than face execution.

(source: Tri-City Herald)


New bill would replace death penalty with life sentences

As 2 high-profile death penalty trials are in progress, lawmakers are considering shutting down executions in Washington State for good.

House Bill 1739 was discussed at a public hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.

The bi-partisan bill would replace the death penalty with a life sentence with no parole.

The state's current statute dates back to 1981. Since then, 33 people have been sentenced to death. 5 have been executed.

"To me, it's a little like playing God if we're sentencing people to death," said Rep. Maureen Walsh at the hearing.

The effort to abolish capital punishment has failed in previous years, but supporters think they've gained momentum since Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty last year that lasts as long as he is in office.

There are 18 states that have abolished executions. The most recent is Maryland.

The bill would also require those convicted to pay restitution to victims and their families.

"I fully support the bipartisan bills introduced this year to end the death penalty. I put a moratorium on the use of capital punishment last year because of its unequal application in our state, the soaring costs and delays, and the fact that nearly 80 % of the death sentences issued in our state since 1981 have been overturned," said Inslee in a statement released after the hearing.

Executions in Washington are carried out by lethal injection, or, at the election of condemned person, by hanging.

(source: KIRO news)


Replacing the Noose With a Needle: The Legacy of Lynching in the United States

Ida B. Wells said it best, "Our country's national crime is lynching."

Last week, we were reminded of this when the Equal Justice Initiative released its report, "Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror." A gruesome history of these carnivals of torture and death from the Civil War until World War II, the report documents the racial terrorism designed to keep black Americans across the South destitute and powerless.

As I read EJI's report, my mind immediately went back to an interview Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, gave to the Los Angeles Times last summer. The interview was stark evidence of our failure to recognize how race distorts our criminal justice system up until the present day. I cringed at the following exchange:

Why have most other Western countries abolished the death penalty?

Most of these countries have in their recent past abused it. I'm not really surprised or unhappy that Germany has outlawed the death penalty. They sort of misused it within living memory, so they probably ought not to be trusted to have one.... In this country by and large we've had executions done with due process. We've had a sad history of lynchings in the South, but in the Wild West they had trials, some measure of due process. It's not that we're guilt-free, but we have less to account for than other countries.

That is clearly not the case as EJI shows in ghastly detail. Lynchings cannot be dismissed as a footnote to our criminal justice system. They were cruel, widespread, hate-driven acts of terrorism, with an enormous social cost we're still paying for today.

Until the 1950s, lynchings were advertised and attended like they were state fairs. People came from all around to witness the torture, humiliation, and murder of human beings. Individuals purchased lynching postcards and traded them like baseball cards. Children were permitted to attend the "show," to watch the mutilation of another person. Photos were taken, souvenirs gathered from the chopped, charred, and often castrated bodies.

EJI documented 3,949 racial terror lynchings of African-Americans between 1877 and 1950 across 12 southern states, including an additional 700 lynchings that were previously unknown. Georgia and Mississippi had the highest number of verifiable lynchings of African-Americans – 586 and 576, respectively. We will never know how many African-Americans disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. Clearly, what we do know belies the suggestion that that America has "less to account for than other countries."

If we are to ever fix our broken criminal justice system, we must first acknowledge the baggage it carries.

This must begin with acknowledgement of our torrid, bloody history of executions without a semblance of due process. Lynchings were a method of organized, socially accepted extra-judicial violence that terrorized millions of African-Americans across the South for nearly a century. We also need to be honest that no one has ever been held accountable for these horrific crimes. No white person was ever convicted for the lynching of an African-American during the period covered in the study.

And yet the unjust execution of African-American men thrives today on the same soil as the lynching trees: Only now the noose has been replaced with the needle. African-American men are over-represented on death row, in executions, and in exonerations. To boot, African-American jurors are systematically excluded by prosecutors in jury service. Race is one of the most disturbing explanations for innocent men, like Glenn Ford in Louisiana and Henry MCollum in North Carolina, ending up on death row for crimes they did not commit.

We cannot continue to ignore the racial injustice of our death penalty system, past or present. I do agree with one comment made by Judge Kozinski, "we ought to come face to face with what we're doing. If we're not comfortable with what we're doing we should not be doing it."

It's time to get uncomfortable.

(source: Angel Harris, ACLU)


Judge denies emergency psych exam for Michigan man facing death penalty

A U.S. District judge has denied an emergency psych exam request for a man awaiting the death penalty.

Back in 2002 a jury convicted Marvin Gabrion of killing Rachel Timmerman then dumping her body in a lake in Newaygo County.

Gabrion was seeking an emergency psychiatric review to determine his mental functioning at the time of the crime, when he stood trial and what his mental status is now.

This week a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Gabrion failed to show that such a review is necessary.

Michigan does not have the death penalty but the sentence was issued because the crime happened in a federally owned national forest.

(source: WWMT news)


Samaha may appear before Hariri court: Lebanon justice minister

Arrangements are being made for terror suspect Michel Samaha to appear before the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's justice minister said.

"Samaha knows a lot of things which he did not confess to over fear from the Syrian regime," Ashraf Rifi said in remarks published in Saudi newspaper Al-Watan Thursday.

"Arrangements are being made to bring Samaha before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)," he added.

He lamented the delay of Samaha's trial by a Lebanese military court, saying "some military judges are still afraid of this trial and intend to slow down."

Earlier this week, Rifi said a decision to move Samaha from his prison cell to a hospital had been cancelled due to a threat to assassinate him over information he possessed about the role of the Syrian regime in alleged terror plots.

Samaha's family, however, cast doubt over Rifi's claims, saying his remarks were a "political intervention to pressure the military court not to release [Samaha] after spending 2 1/2 years without trial."

Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda last year recommended the death penalty for Samaha as well as a Syrian general and another individual holding the rank of colonel over the alleged terror plot to destabilize Lebanon.

The indictment charged the three men with orchestrating a plot to assassinate Syrian opposition figures and arms traffickers entering Syria from Lebanon.

(source: The Daily Star)


Return of death penalty to nations' books not a proven deterrent

Papua New Guinea is preparing to carry out the executions of 13 inmates before the year is out, at the same time neighbouring Indonesia is caught up in a war of words with Australia over its expected executions of the coordinators of the Bali 9 trafficking group.

Australia's prime minister yesterday argued that its aid contributions to Indonesia should be considered.

It's an unsettling precedent, and one which PNG will probably monitor in the coming weeks.

(source: Radio Australia)


RI urged to halt imminent executions of 11 people

Rights group Amnesty International (AI) says the Indonesian government must halt the imminent execution of 11 people and scrap plans to put even more people to death this year.

"President Joko [Jokowi] Widodo is apparently trying to show that he is tough on crime, but there is no evidence that the death penalty is more of a deterrent than other forms of punishment. Instead, he should be ensuring that the criminal justice system prevents and detects crime, and ensures fair trials," AI Asia Pacific director Richard Bennett said in an open letter on Thursday.

AI made the open letter to respond to Attorney General HM Prasetyo's statement that the 11 executions of death row prisoners, which include both foreigners and Indonesian nationals convicted for drug trafficking and murder, would be carried out imminently.

6 convicts were executed on Jan. 19 and the Indonesian government has announced plans to put 14 more to death throughout the year. The executions are following the government's decision to reject all clemency appeals of death row prisoners out of hand. AI said the clemency rejections had effectively denied the prisoners a meaningful review of their cases, something guaranteed in both international and Indonesian law.

"These killings must stop immediately. By respecting human rights and adopting a more effective approach to crime, President Widodo should demonstrate real leadership," said Bennett.

At least 2 prisoners have appeals pending before the Supreme Court and no executions should be carried out while appeals are not finalized, AI points out in the open letter.

At least 3 prisoners, all foreign nationals, may not have been provided a legal representative who could have assisted in filing appeals, it further says.

AI also highlights the case of Brazilian national Rodrigo Gularte, 1 prisoner who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, an illness that has deteriorated while on death row.

"International law prohibits the use of the death penalty against those with mental or intellectual disabilities," it said.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


Indonesia urged not to execute Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, who has been diagnosed as mentally ill ---- Gularte is due to face the firing squad for drug crimes alongside Australian Bali 9 pair Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

Rodrigo Gularte is on death row in Indonesia for drug smuggling. He is due to be executed along with members of the Bali 9.

The family of a Brazilian man in line to be executed in Indonesia along with 2 Australian drug smugglers has appealed for a reprieve, saying he has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who is delusional with psychotic tendencies.

Rodrigo Gularte, 42, was sentenced to death in 2005 after he was caught smuggling 6kg of cocaine into Indonesia hidden inside surfboards.

The Brazilian surfer is among 11 death row inmates, including the two Australians convicted for their part in the 2005 Bali 9 drug smuggling plot, and citizens of France, Ghana, Nigeria and the Philippines. All were due to be executed by firing squad this month.

As diplomatic pressure has mounted and public outcry in Australia has grown, the executions have been postponed, but officials say the delay is only temporary.

The Gularte family knows they are in a race against time to bring the details of their case to light.

With no legal representation in court during his trial in 2005 - his lawyer took the money and ran - questions about Gularte's mental stability are only just emerging.

To his family, Gularte was a goodhearted but troubled teenager who started using drugs to treat his depression and ended up down the wrong path.

Rodrigo Gularte was a keen surfer as a teenager. He was arrested while smuggling 6 kilograms of cocaine into Indonesia hidden inside surfboards.

After he was sentenced to death Gularte attempted suicide by self-immolation in his prison cell and his mental state has continued to deteriorate since.

"Rodrigo is very sick and needs treatment," his distressed cousin, Angelita Muxfeldt, told Guardian Australia, as she spread out a handful of medical reports by teams of psychologists and psychiatrists across the table.

"We heard that people here think that we are lying about his mental condition," she said, "but last year we hired all these doctors to examine him, look here are all the dates."

Last year the Gularte family, with the assistance of the Brazilian embassy, requested that his mental health be thoroughly examined.

A group of specialists that conducted bi-monthly visits to the prison from July until November last year diagnosed Gularte with paranoid schizophrenia and recommended he be taken to hospital for immediate intensive treatment.

The specialists described Gularte's psychological condition as unstable and noted that he had become increasingly withdrawn and delusional, "leaving his room only to eat and go to the library" and was "observed talking to himself, and talking to the water pump".

A separate report by a different team of specialists this month confirmed Gularte has paranoid schizophrenia.

For years the family has been trying to convince Gularte to seek outside treatment, but he refuses to acknowledge any illness and is unwilling to take medication.

Detained at Nusa Kambangan, the maximum-security prison island off Java, Gularte is reportedly too scared to leave.

"He is afraid to leave the prison," noted his Brazilian cousin, "He thinks the prison is a secure place and that it will be dangerous to go out, that the hospital is a dangerous place."

During her visits, Muxfeldt said her cousin recounted surreal stories about being in contact with satellites, bombs at night and hearing different voices, including in African languages. One voice, she said, even told him the death penalty had been universally abolished.

"He told me, 'Oh, a voice came and told me last night that the death penalty is finished in Indonesia and all the world.' And I said, no, Rodrigo, it's not true, but he said I was lying," Muxfeldt said.

"He said, 'The voice told me that I am going home, that the death penalty doesn't exist any more. I listened, I know.'"

The Indonesian attorney general's office said it had received a request from the head of Nusa Kambangan prison to have Gularte's mental state examined in a hospital outside the prison and listed it as one of several reasons for the recent delay in executions.

"While there is uncertainty about whether Mr Gularte suffers from a mental illness it is difficult for us to conduct the execution," Tony Spontana, a spokesman for the attorney general, said on Tuesday. "We have to be sure he is fully recovered before the execution."

The Gularte family has submitted a comprehensive medical report to the Indonesian government and is praying it will be considered.

Brazilian national Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira was executed in January and it is unclear how long the current delay will last.

Gularte's 70-year-old mother, Clarisse, is in Cilacap, the closest town to the island of Nusa Kambangan, where she is permitted to see her son twice a week, while Muxfeldt lobbies in Jakarta with the help of the Brazilian embassy.

The Brazilian ambassador recalled following the death of Moreira has since returned, and president Dilma Rousseff is believed to have written to the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, about the issue.

Under Article 44 of the Indonesian penal code, a person who has a mental disorder cannot be sentenced for their criminal act and should be taken to hospital. The execution of a mentally ill person also runs contrary to international law.

Indonesian human rights activist Haris Azhar urged the Indonesia government to look into the case, arguing that without legal representation for Gularte in 2005, "there is very valid evidence that law enforcement was conducted without any fulfilment of a fair trial".

"After 10 years there is no correction for what has been done," Azhar said. "The Indonesian government should be ashamed if they execute Rodrigo."

(source: The Guardian)


Attorney General discusses execution of convicts on death row

Attorney General H. M. Prasetyo met with the heads of several prosecutors offices here on Wednesday to discuss the execution of the death sentences given to drugs convicts.

According to Tony Tribagus Spontana, a spokesman for the Attorney Generals Office (AGO), the heads of the high prosecutors offices explained the preparations being made for the executions.

In addition, chief of the high prosecutors office of Bali, Momok Bambang Samiarso, expressed his readiness to send the convicts to the Nusa Kambangan prison in Cilacap, Central Java.

Moreover, the AGO decided to postpone the execution of the Australian drug convicts to meet the demands of the Australian government and the families of the convicts.

"This is our response to the demands made by the Australian government and the families of the convicts who asked for more time for them to be able to meet with (the 2 convicts)," Spontana stated recently.

The AGO plans to execute 11 convicts given the death penalty, including the drug convicts from Australia Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, following the rejection of their pleas for clemency by President Joko Widodo.

3 convicts who face execution over murder charges are Indonesian citizens Iyen bin Azwar, Harun bin Ajis, and Sargawi alias Ali bin Sanusi.

6 other convicts, including 5 foreigners, to be put to death over narcotics cases are Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso from the Philippines, Serge Areski Atlaoui from France, Martin Anderson alias Belo from Ghana, Indonesia citizen Zainal Abidin, Raheem Agbaje Salami from Cordova, and Rodrigo Gularte from Brazil.

(source: ANTARA News)


Dressed in white, tied to a pillar and a maximum of 3 minutes to 'calm down' before being shot through the heart: The sick video watched by millions of Indonesians describing how Aussies will die

Indonesian TV has shown mock-up of execution faced by 2 Australians

Chilling film shows firing squad's target practice and black-hooded convict

Millions of Indonesians have watched on television exactly how Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan will be executed on 'Death Island'.

Chilling video has emerged of the mobile paramilitary brigade called Brimob in firing practice ahead of the last round of executions on Nusa Kambangan, where Chan and Sukumaran are due to be shifted 72 hours ahead of their deaths by firing squad.

This comes as coffins arrived at a Christian Church in Cilacap, the nearest port to Nusa Kambangan, where a local Indonesian caretaker was pictured preparing four caskets in preparation for the executions.

Bali Police Chief A.J. Benny Mokalu on Wednesday confirmed the procedures that will lead to the executions.

The condemned Australian pair would be taken from Bali's Kerobokan prison to Ngurah Rai airport during the night and flown 900 kilometres west to Cilacap, in central Java, then transferred by boat to Nusa Kambangan.

Exactly when this will take place is still unknown. Indonesian officials have repeatedly rejected appeals from the condemned men's lawyers and the Australian government to stay the executions of Chan and Sukumaran, who were convicted on heroin trafficking charges in 2006.

The footage of the execution practice round was aired on television on January 17 to demonstrate to Indonesian viewers just what would take place when 5 foreign drug traffickers were executed the following day.

Those executions, of nationals from Brazill, the Netherlands, Malawi, Vietnam and one Indonesian, were the first since President Joko Widodo came to power last October.

A tough stance on drug criminals was part of his campaign, and he has been uncompromising about using the death penalty despite pleas from foreign governments and rights activists.

The video shows the Brimob executioners dressed in military fatigues with semi-automatic rifles aiming loud volleys of fire repeatedly at bullseye targets.

Even more horrifying is the spooky step-by-step recreation by Channel 1 Indonesia of the execution, using a white figure with its arms tied behind the back and a black hood over its head to represent the condemned man.

In the recreation, the firing squad is represented by a row of toy or robotic looking figures. The television report also lists a 27 point manifesto about how the execution will proceed, including the execution 'commander' raising a sword 'as a symbol for the firing squad to aim at the heart of the convict'.

Points 24 and 25 give specific instructions for doctors to check the condition of the convict immediately after the shooting, 'and if the doctor thinks that the convict is still showing signs of life ... the firing squad commander must put a pistol to the temple just above the ear of the convict' and finish the job.

Some of the last words the men being executed will hear are 'laksanakan, laksanakan' - meaning 'execute, execute' in Indonesian - shouted by the firing squad commander before 3 live rounds and 9 blanks are loaded into the 12 rifles of the firing squad shooters.

Part of the process includes clergy attending to 'give offenders a last chance to calm down for a maximum of 3 minutes' before they are shot.


The 27 rules for execution by firing squad in Indonesia

1. Convict is given clean, simple, and white clothing before being taken to a place or location of the implementation of the death penalty

2. When brought to the place or location of the implementation of the death penalty, the convict can be accompanied by a member of the clergy

3. The support team is ready at the appointed place two (2) hours before the time of execution of the death penalty

4. Team shooters have been gathered in preparation at the location of the implementation of the death penalty, one (1) hour prior

5. Team shooter sets the position and puts the 12 (twelve) rifles in front of the pole position of the implementation of the death penalty at a distance of five (5) meters up to ten (10) feet and back to the prep area

6. Execution commander reports his team's readiness to prosecutors executor by saying 'report execution of the death penalty is ready'

7. Execution attorney conducts a final check of death row and the weapons used for the implementation of the death penalty

8. After the inspection is completed, the prosecutor orders the executing commander calls out 'execute' and then repeats the utterance 'execute'

9. The executon commander orders the firing squad commander to fill and lock arms ammunition into twelve (12) rifles with three (3) rounds of live ammunition and nine (9) roundsof blanks

10. The prosecutor orders the commander of the execution squad to bring the convicted man to a position shooting and release his handcuffs and tie his hands and feet to a pillar in a standing, sitting, or kneeling psoition, unless otherwise specified by the prosecutor

11. The offender is given a last chance to calm down a maximum of 3 (three) minutes, accompanied by a clergy member

12. The commander team places a black cloth over the eyes of the covnicted man, unless the convict refuses

13. Doctors place a black mark on the convict's clothes right over the heart as the place to shoot at. Then the doctor withdraws

14. The commander reports to the execution prosecutor that the convicted person is ready to receive the death penalty

15. The execution prosecutor gives the sign/gesture to the commander to begin immediately implementing the shooting of the convict

16. Commander provides a sign / gesture to the firing squad commander to bring the firing squad to the front position

17. Execution commander takes his place in front of the right side facing of the firing squad

18. The execution commander ensures the firing squad is ready to fire

19. The implementing commander draws a sword as a symbol for the firing squad to aim towards the heart of the convict

20. The executing commander brandishes the sword forward as a cue to the firing squad to unlock weapons

21. The executing commander brings down the sword as a gesture to tell the firing squad to perform simultaneous shooting

22. After shooting is finished the executing commander sheaths his sword as a cue to the firing squad to stand their weapons

23. The executing commander and doctors check the condition of the convicted person and if the doctor thinks that the convict is still showing signs of life, the prosecutor makes an order to the shooting commander

24. The executing commander and doctors check the condition of the convicted person and if the convict is still breathing orders that a pistol be put to his temple just above the ear for a final shot

25. Shooting can be repeated, if according to a doctor's certificate is still signs of life

26. Execution of the death penalty is declared finished, if the doctor has stated that there are no more signs of life on the convict

27. Completion of the firing squad and the shooting commander orders its members to remove the magazine and empty their weapons


At at Wijaya Pura port in Cilacap, there are currently no signs of the horror awaiting the 2 Australians or the 7 other people who may also be executed at the same time - 4 from Indonesia and 1 each from Brazil, Ghana and Nigeria.

The topical island appeared idyllic on Wednesday, and children jumped in and out of the calm waters of the port.

(source: Daily Mail)


54 % of Lagos Residents Want Death Row Convicts Executed

More than 1/2 of all Lagos residents want the government to execute convicted prisoners on death row, a survey by the government has shown.

The survey showed 54 % of those polled said the government should not spare the convicts.

The revelation came as the government announced Wednesday that it was retaining the use of the death penalty in the state's Criminal Justice Law.

Ade Ipaye, Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, made this known in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Mr. Ipaye said the council arrived at the decision after a survey showed that majority of Lagos residents were in support of capital punishment in the criminal justice system of the state.

The attorney-general said majority of the respondents were of the view that the retention of the death penalty would serve as deterrence against violent crimes, such as murder and armed robbery.

Mr. Ipaye said following several abolition campaigns and international advocacy which were addressed to the government, the council considered the proposition to abolish or retain the death penalty in its laws.

"In taking its decision, the state commissioned an empirical research that surveyed the perception of Lagos residents and elicited their opinion on the abolition debate, including the question whether they believe the death penalty currently deters violent crime.

"The survey was undertaken in two categories: public survey (random selection of 2,000 members of the public) and the experts' survey (selected 100 persons who have close contact with the criminal justice process and systems).

"Majority of the respondents surveyed supported the use of the death penalty in Lagos State.

"The survey also revealed that over 54 % of the respondents advised the Lagos State Government to execute convicts on death row," Mr. Ipaye said.

According to him, a large number of respondents also believed that the death penalty should be retained because it serves positive retributive and deterrence purposes.

(source: All Africa News)


Senior judge says death penalty should be debated after young woman's death

The newly elected head of the Supreme Court of Appeals has joined calls from the government for the reinstatement of the death penalty after the Feb. 11 killing of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan on a minibus in Tarsus.

Supreme Court of Appeals President Ismail Rustu Cirit, who is said to enjoy good relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) led government, said on Wednesday that the reinstatement of the death penalty should be debated. "If a simple survey is carried out among the public, it would show that at least 80 % [of respondents] want the reinstatement of the death penalty," Cirit told reporters.

Key political figures within the AK Party earlier voiced their support for reinstating the death penalty after Aslan's murder. Critics say the AK Party is using the tragic case to reinstate the death penalty and that such a reinstatement would have negative outcomes in light of the country's already eroding democracy.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci posted a message urging the re-adoption of the death sentence via his Twitter account on Sunday night, as nationwide protests against the brutal murder of the university student continued. "I wish God's mercy upon our child Ozgecan Aslan and express my condolences to her family. I hope God places our child in the most beautiful place in heaven. We need to carefully discuss and reinstate the death penalty for murders such as that of Ozgecan Aslan," he wrote.

After Zeybekci opened the debate, a number of high-level government officials and politicians expressed their support for the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002 under reforms aimed at initiating Turkey's European Union membership by a 3-party coalition government led by the Democratic Left Party (DSP). Then a partner of the coalition, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) did not block the government from going ahead with the proposal, but did vote against it in Parliament.

Binali Yildirim, President Erdogan's chief adviser, said while answering questions from journalists on Monday that "for this [Aslan's murder] and other incidents like this not to remain unpunished, reinstating the death penalty must be widely debated in the public [sphere]."

3 suspects were arrested in connection with Aslan's murder after a court order was issued late on Sunday, with protests against increasing levels of violence against women taking place across Turkey.

(source: Todays Zaman)


Nawaz orders immediate hanging of death convicts

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday directed the authorities concerned that all cases of death penalty in which mercy petitions had been rejected should be proceeded further for execution of the convicts.

He urged provinces to implement decisions taken under the National Action Plan (NAP) speedily, by inculcating a spirit of healthy competition to rid the country of extremism and terrorism. Chairing a meeting of Balochistan Apex Committee at the Governor House here at the provincial capital, the Prime Minister said objective of the meeting was to review the progress on National Action Plan and see if there was any problem, or impediment hindering their implementation. Prime Minsiter assured that the government along with the Pakistan Army would ensure that the problem areas and obstacles, if any, in implementing the decisions be removed. He said the NAP was in real terms a national plan, made with consensus and difficult decisions were taken with a spirit to eradicate terrorism from the country.

He said the whole nation backed the government in its fight against terrorism. The apex committee meeting was attended by Chief Minister Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik, Governor Mohammad Khan Achakzai, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Minister of State for Petroleum Jam Kamal, former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Commander Southern Command Lieutenant General Nasser Khan Janjua, Senior Minister and PML-N President Sardar Sanaullah Zehri. The Prime Minister recalled that representatives of all the political parties stood together and took tough decisions following which the Parliament did the necessary legislation.

He said that the federal government, provincial governments and Pakistan Army were on the same page and stood united in ridding the country of the threats of extremism and terrorism. The Prime Minister directed that all cases of death penalty in which mercy petitions had been rejected should be proceeded further for execution. The Prime Minister lauded the measures taken by the provincial government for maintaining law and order in Balochistan and said tangible improvement was visible with the implementation of NAP.

He asked the provincial government to check the incidents of law and order to make the people feel more secured, besides making concerted efforts to ensure safety and protection of people of all communities. He also directed effective steps to stop re-emergence of proscribed organizations. He said the Madaris involved in terrorism and violence be identified and dealt as per relevant law. Chief Minister Balochistan said that priority of the provincial government was to improve law and order situation and said funds were being provided for capacity building of police. He said a counter-terrorism department had been set up, however, he pointed out that it needed to be strengthened.

The Chief Secretary Balochistan gave a presentation reviewing progress on the implementation of 20 points of NAP as well as an overview of law and order situation in the province. He briefed the Prime Minister about the action taken by the provincial government against sectarianism, armed groups and militias, since the formulation of NAP. In this regard 80,000 unregistered mobile phone SIMs had been blocked in the province, the chief secretary said. The provincial government also conveyed its reservations about the use of SIMs from Afghanistan working within Pakistan. The Prime Minister was informed that three meetings of the Balochistan Apex Committee had taken place so far.

(source: Daily Times)


Kamaruzzaman's death warrant sent to Dhaka jail

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 sent death warrant for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman to Dhaka Central Jail authorities on Thursday.

The Dhaka jail senior warden Md Forman Ali said, "Dhaka Central Jail authorities have received Kamaruzzaman's death warrant."

Earlier in the day, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) issued death warrant for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman in a war crimes case.

The ICT-2 issued the warrant after receiving the full text of the Supreme Court verdict that upheld the death penalty of Kamaruzzaman for his crimes against humanity.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on Wednesday released the full verdict on war crimes charges against Jamaat-e-Islami assistant secretary general Muhammad Kamaruzzaman.

The text of the full verdict was received at the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) around 8:00pm, said tribunal registrar M Mostafizur Rahman.

The Supreme Court, in a judgement on 3 November 2014, upheld a High Court division bench's verdict giving death sentence to the Jamaat leader.

All the 4 SC judges headed by Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, who had delivered the verdict, signed the 577-page judgment.

The Jamaat leader will now get 15 days to file a review petition before the Appellate Division, from the date of issuance of the certified copy of the full verdict, law minister Anisul Haque told reporters at his office.

He added that the certified copy of the verdict would be ready once the full verdict reaches the concerned section of the SC next on Sunday.

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 on 9 May in 2013 sentenced Kamaruzzaman to death on charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, abduction, torture, rape and mass killing, during the War for Independence in 1971.

Kamaruzzaman was the organiser of Al Badar Bahini, an anti-independence outfit that collaborated with the Pakistani occupation forces during the war, in the greater Mymensingh region.

On 6 June 2013, the convict appealed to the Supreme Court challenging the tribunal verdict.

Kamaruzzaman was convicted of 5 charges among 7 brought against him. The tribunal awarded him death penalty for committing mass killing in Sohagpur Bidhaba Palli and murdering Golam Mustafa (3rd and 4th charges).

He was sentenced to suffer life imprisonment for killing Badiuzzaman and Dara (1st and 7th charges).

Besides, the tribunal jailed him for 10 years for torturing the then Sherpur College principal Syed Abdul Hannan.

The tribunal also accused him of forming Al Badar Bahini that conducted numerous crimes, including killing and rape, during the war in 1971.

The prosecution, in this regard, submitted a copy of Daily Sangram dated 16 August 1971 to the tribunal as a proof.

The newspaper in a report said, "Al Badr Bahini chief Kamaruzzaman presided over a symposium in Mymensingh Muslim Institute marking the 25th day of independence of Pakistan."

(source: Prothom Alo)


14 Prisoners Executed in a Single Day in Iran

On Monday 16th February, 14 prisoners were executed in Central Prison of Urmia, Vakil Abad prison in Mashhad, Bam prison, and Central Prison of Bandar Abbas.

According to the report of Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran (HRANA), in the morning of Monday 16th February, 6 prisoners with drug related charges were executed by hanging in Bam prison.

Also, on the same day, 5 prisoners with drug related charges were executed by hanging in Central Prison of Urmia (Darya).

In Central Prison of Bandar Abbas, 2 prisoners, who were charged with drug related crimes, were taken to the gallows and Ali Sadeghi was executed but Majid Ghoreishi was returned to his cell by getting more time from the complainants.

On Monday, 2 prisoners with drug related charges were executed in Vakil Abad prison, in Mashhad.

None of these executions were announced by the Iranian official media.

(source: HRANA News Agency)


7 Prisoners Executed in Iran

3 men were hanged in Rajaishahr prison of Karaj (West of Tehran) early Wednesday morning 18. February. According to sources Iran Human Rights (IHR) as been in contact with 2 of the prisoners were identified as "Mohammad Naderi" and "Mojtaba Shokohi" from the ward 1 of Rajaishahr prison, while the 3rd prisoner was an unidentified Afghan prisoner from Ghezelhesar prison. Mohammad Naderi and Mojtaba Shokohi were convicted of murdering 1 Revolution Guard Corps general and sentenced to retribution. These executions haven’t been announced by the official Iranian sources yet.

1 man was hanged publicly in Shiraz (Southern Iran) yesterday 17. February reported the state run Mehr news agency. He was identified as "M. R. P." and convicted of murder and Moharebeh for armed robbery said the news.

An unidentified 66 year old man was hanged in the prison of Mashhad (Northeastern Iran) yesterday 17. February, reported the Khorasan daily newspaper. He was convicted of a murder in 2008 and sentenced to qisas (retribution).

2 men were hanged in the prison of Rasht (Northern Iran) on Saturday 14. February reported the official website of the Iranian Judiciary in Gilan Province. 1 of the prisoners was identified as "M. P." (43 year old) convicted of murder while the other prisoner was identified as "M. B." (34 year old) and convicted of possession and trafficking of 15 kilograms of opium and 4860 grams of crack, said the report.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Iran halts hanging of Kurdish juvenile offender Saman Naseem but 'international pressure must continue'

Iran has halted the execution of Kurdish juvenile offender Saman Naseem following the outrage of right groups.

It is not yet clear why the execution was stopped and whether his death penalty has been overturned.

"We understand that the Office for the Implementation of Sentences told Saman's family that the execution did not take place this morning," Bahareh Davis, Amnesty International's researcher on Iran, told IBTimes UK.

"However, the authorities will not tell the family where Saman currently is being held and he has not been transferred back to the prison ward. We are trying to obtain further information now."

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson for NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), said that the inmates at the Orumiyeh prison have not seen Naseem since he was transferred on Tuesday (18 February).

"Unofficial reports indicate that the sentence has not been implemented yet, but that he remains in great danger," Amiry-Moghaddam said.

Naseem, now 22, was arrested and was sentenced to death after being charged with "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth" when he was 17. The execution by hanging was scheduled for Thursday.

Naseem was arrested after a gun battle between the Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish militant organisation PJAK, of which he is believed to be a member, took place in Sardasht.

He was then reportedly forced to make a confession, aired on national TV, in which he admitted to having fired towards the guards. However, he retracted his confession during the 1st court session in which he said he had only fired in the air.

Naseem was first charged and sentenced to death in January 2012, but the country's Supreme Court overturned the sentence and sent the case back for a retrial, arguing that he had been under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crimes.

He then was tried and sentenced to death again.

"International pressure is an important factor especially now that Iran is trying to improve its relations with the West, continued Amiry-Moghaddam. "If the political 'costs' of Saman's execution become high enough, the Iranian authorities will have to back off.

"Now is time to show that also the human rights can benefit from these dialogues and improvement in the relations. Every single individual in the free part of the world can contribute in making a difference. I hope everybody continues the campaign to save Saman."

Execution in breach of domestic and international law

The EU issued a statement on Wednesday (18 February) urging Iranian authorities to "abide by international laws under which the execution of juvenile offenders is a violation of international minimum standards, and not to carry out the execution of Mr Naseen or any other juvenile offender."

Amnesty International explained that Iran allows capital punishment for juveniles in case of qesas (retribution-in-kind) and hodoud (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law). However, article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code excludes the death penalty if the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about the their mental capacity.

"Iran has willingly ratified treaties that oblige the country to not use the death penalty for individuals under the age of 18," Davis said.

"Saman Naseem was 17 at the time of the crime he was accused of, he should have never been sentenced to death. The authorities' treatment of his case is in breach of both international human rights law and Iran's domestic laws," she continued.

(source: Intrnational Business Times)


'Treaty does not allow death penalty for Salem'

The defence in the 1995 murder of builder Pradeep Jain murder, told a special Tada court on Wednesday that brutality, diabolical and grotesque nature of a crime, are not circumstances based on which, death penalty can be given. Defence advocate Sudip Pasbola opposed the prosecution's plea seeking the death penalty against extradited gangster Abu Salem and his driver, Mehendi Hasan, found guilty in the murder, earlier this week.

"Every murder is brutal, so heinousness or brutalities are not indicators. There is nothing to show the execution was carried out in a diabolical manner or something that repulsed the mind," Pasbola told special Tada judge G A Sanap.

Pasobla reiterated that Salem could not be awarded the death penalty as it was against the guarantees in the treaty signed between India and Portugal in 2002. Special public prosecutor Ujjawal Nikam will present his arguments on this aspect on Friday. The quantum of sentence will be pronounced only after all arguments are completed.

Pasbola argued that the object of the criminal conspiracy was to gain property from the Jain brothers and murder was was incidental. Referring to Hasan as just a fringe player, he argued that if the assailants had previously been awarded life imprisonment, then he could not be awarded death. He further pointed out that the accused had been in jail for 10 years and was never an absconding accused.

Nikam had sought 7 years' imprisonment for wheelchair-bound V K Jhamb (86), who was convicted only on extortion charges. He is on bail granted on health grounds. Defence advocate Srikant Shivde told the court that even a month's jail would seem like a life term and he, at the most, be sentenced to the 9 months already spent in incarceration along with a fine.

(source: The Times of India)

FEBRUARY 18, 2015:


Prosecutor Urges Death Penalty for Man With Bodies in Yard

A prosecutor is urging a Pennsylvania jury to send a man to death row for killing a pharmacist and his girlfriend in 2002.

Hugo Selenski was convicted last week on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the 2002 strangulation deaths of Michael Kerkowski and Tammy Fassett. Police found their bodies, along with 3 other sets of human remains, in Selenski's yard in 2003.

First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said Wednesday in his closing argument that Selenski tortured Kerkowski before killing him and has a long history of violent crime. Those are 2 aggravating circumstances the jury can use to sentence Selenski to death.

Pennsylania's governor recently declared a moratorum on the death penalty, but the law remains on the books.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty sought in East Tampa triple-slaying

Prosecutors plan to seek a death sentence for a man accused of killing 3 people in front of his 3-year-old nephew during a domestic dispute in December.

Angel Luis Perez, 22, is charged with murder in the deaths of his brother-in-law, Jorge Gort, 25; Gort's girlfriend, Brittany Snyder, 23; and Perez's girlfriend, Oliva Miller, 22.

Police said Perez forced his way into Gort's home in East Tampa on Dec. 6 and shot Gort and Snyder, who died at the scene. When he returned to his car, he argued with Miller and shot her, police said.

Perez drove Miller and his nephew, Gort's son, to Tampa General Hospital, where she later died and Perez was arrested, police said.

The child, who goes by the nickname Gordo, wasn't injured.

Police said the shootings were the result of a custody dispute over the boy, but Gort's sister, Millie, said the 2 men were arguing about a woman.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office notified the defense last week that it intends to seek a death sentence for Perez for all 3 slayings.

(source: Tampa Bay Online)


Cruel and unusual? Florida's lethal injections in question

Florida's scheduled Feb. 26 execution of a quadruple murderer has been put on hold because of questions about the 3-drug cocktail the state uses to carry out the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court voted 5-2 to stay the execution of Jerry Correll because the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing whether Oklahoma's use of a "virtually identical" mixture of drugs for its lethal injections amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Florida and Oklahoma both use a blend of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride for executions.

Correll, now 59, was convicted in 1986 of stabbing to death his ex-wife, their 5-year-old daughter and his ex-wife's mother and sister in 1985 near Orlando.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Indiana Supreme Court upholds Weisheit's conviction, death sentence

The Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the murder convictions and death sentence of Jeffrey Weisheit, a former Vanderburgh County man who killed 2 children in 2010.

In November, Weisheit's attorney, Steven Ripstra, had argued the trial court judge should have allowed a witness to testify in the case on prison operations in a way that would have given insight on Weisheit's ability to be in the prison system without harming himself, other prisoners or staff.

Not allowing the witness - former Indiana Department of Corrections Commissioner James Aiken - left jurors to question whether Weisheit posed a danger in the event he was sentenced to life without parole, Ripstra sargued.

The state argued the Supreme Court should uphold Weisheit's death penalty conviction and that Aiken's testimony was based on a 35-minute interview with the defendant. Concerns centered on whether the former commissioner had an updated knowledge of current prison protocol

Weisheit was sentenced to death in 2013 on a jury's unanimous recommendation following his conviction on 2 murders and of arson in the deaths of Caleb Lynch, 5, and Alyssa Lynch, 8, in a fire at his home in northern Vanderburgh County in April 2010.

Weisheit's trial was held in Jeffersonville because of intense media coverage in the Vanderburgh County area. Autopsies concluded the children died of smoke inhalation, which indicated they had been alive when fire was set to the house.

Because Weisheit was sentenced to death, he was able to appeal directly to the state Supreme Court.


Appeals court orders judge to reverse ruling in McManus death penalty case

A federal appeals court has ordered a U.S. District Court judge to grant a Vanderburgh County man's petition for release and to set aside his conviction and death sentence for killing his family.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Tuesday sent Paul McManus' case back to the lower court with instructions to grant his petition unless the state elects to have a new trial.

The appeals court ruled that McManus was forced to appear before the jury in a "drug-induced stupor" in violation of federal case law.

The ruling, however, did not disagree with previous state and federal court rulings that found McManus was not so mentally disabled that executing him would violate a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The panel of 3 appeals court judges, including Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood, concluded that state courts did not properly consider federal standards for determining a defendant's competency when looking at McManus' highly medicated condition at the time of his trial.

Shortly after his trial began, McManus began having severe panic attacks requiring hospital emergency room visits. He was treated with a "potent combination" of psychological medications throughout the trial, including one known to impair memory, as well as an opiad painkiller.

In a hearing on the issue during McManus' trial in 2002, according to court records, one doctor testified that the drugs prescribed McManus effectively "turned his brain into 'a neuropsychopharmacological soup' that significantly impaired his ability to make rational decisions and understand the proceedings."

According to the federal appeals court: "The powerful effect of the medications alone created substantial doubt about McManus's mental fitness for trial, but the judge never ordered a competency evaluation."

The federal appeals court judges concluded that: "...regardless of what caused the attacks, the drugs administered to curtail them clearly affected McManus's cognition during trial. We cannot see how new testimony before the district court could possibly provide the necessary information to retrospectively assess his competency under the applicable legal standard."

McManus was sentenced to death in 2002, after being convicted of fatally shooting his estranged wife, Melissa, 29, and their 2 children, Lindsey, 8, and Shelby, 23 months on Feb. 26, 2001.

During his trial, the shootings were not contested but a jury rejected his mental illness defense.

After exhausting his state appeals and having his request for appeal denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, McManus petitioned U.S. District Court for a writ of habeas corpus - a request to release him from prison and set aside his conviction and sentence on constitutional grounds.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied all 6 grounds for appeal cited by McManus' defense attorneys, including a claim that his execution is barred because of his mental disability.

In a 2002 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally disabled people violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, although states can define mental disability.

McManus was separated from his wife. He had been arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, during which he threatened to kill "everyone," according to court records. During the weeks before the shootings he spoke about suicide and killing his family.

On the morning of Feb. 26, 2001, McManus' wife served him with divorce papers. That same day, he bought ammunition at a gun store and retrieved a handgun from his brother's house.

After the shootings, McManus jumped from one of the U.S. 41 twin bridges into the Ohio River in an apparent suicide attempt, but was pulled out by rescuers.

(source for both: Courier & Press)


Mom Tries to Save Son From Death Penalty Even Though He Killed Her Parents

The debate over the death penalty couldn't be more personal for the mother of Brendan Johnson.

In June 2014, Johnson and his then-girlfriend, Cassie Rieb, were arrested and charged in the murders of his grandfather and grandmother, Charles and Shirley Severance, in the eastern Colorado community of Sterling. A few months later, prosecutors announced they would be seeking the death penalty against the pair - a prospect that distresses his mom, even though Charles and Shirley were her parents. Hence, the creation of Saving My Son - Death Penalty, a Facebook page on which she shares anti-death-penalty posts as a way of fighting against the punishment that could eventually end Brendan's life.

There's no denying that reports about the Severances' deaths, drawn from arrest affidavits, are horrendous - and may disturb some readers.

As we noted last year, Johnson contacted police May 29 on a supposed medical call for his grandfather. Charles was dead upon the cops' arrival, and the fact that he had been killed a week-plus earlier goes a long way toward explaining why an autopsy didn't find immediate signs of trauma to his body.

In a subsequent interview, Johnson reportedly maintained that Charles had given him a couple of checks adding up to $4,500, as well as permission to drive his 2009 Chevy truck. He's said to have used the money and vehicle to attend a concert in Denver during the days leading up to the body's discovery.

Shirley, for her part, was missing, and in a separate interview with investigators, Rieb allegedly denied knowledge of her whereabouts - although the affidavit quotes her as admitting that Johnson actually wrote and signed the checks supposedly given to him by Charles.

Armed with this information, the cops went back to Johnson. The affidavit says he and Reib subsequently confessed to killing the Severances, and their explanations about the botched process are chilling.

The murder plot reportedly came together in early May, with the goal focusing on Johnson collecting his inheritance early.

On May 20, the affidavit says, Johnson and Rieb entered the Severances' place, with him assigned to smother Charles and her tasked with doing the same to Shirley. But things didn't go as planned.

The document says Charles struggled so much that Johnson eventually had to choke him to death - although the 70-year-old may have suffered a fatal heart attack while fighting for his life. And Shirley was even less cooperative. She apparently tried to run away, and when she couldn't escape, she pleaded with the teens not to kill her and even offered them money to go away.

They didn't. Johnson reportedly allowed her to get some water - but while she was drinking, he tried to cut her throat. Instead, he slashed her jaw, prompting Shirley to try fleeing again. She failed to get free, however, and Johnson is accused of repeatedly stabbing her as she pleaded for her life.

Finally, Johnson strangled Shirley with a string, the affidavit says. Investigators believe that's what finally killed her.

The teens took the couple's bodies to a bedroom and left them there until the next day, police say. After the cleanup at the murder site was complete, they used the truck to transport Shirley's body to Prewitt Reservoir, a short drive from Sterling. There, they're accused of dousing it with gas and setting it ablaze - and while it burned, they tried to hack off an arm and a leg.

The body was initially buried in a reservoir fire pit. But they apparently didn't feel it was secure enough there, so they returned on May 28, dug it up and took it to a remote location in Nebraska before returning home. Johnson alerted the cops to Charles's death the next day.

We can only imagine the heartbreak Johnson's mother has suffered as a result of these incidents and those that followed. Then, in November, she launched the Saving My Son Facebook page with the following message:

Most of you have been FB friends with me since June 2nd, when our lives took a drastic, sorrow filled turn. Some of you are new friends that are unaware of my family's story or perhaps only know of it from newspaper/television articles. To summarize, my son (and his then-girlfriend) confessed to murdering my parents. In early September, the DA announced that she was going to seek the death penalty for my son, Brendan, and his then-girlfriend.

Although I will never understand, condone or accept what has happened, I have now come out of my fog and realized that if I don't start trying to do something, I may lose my son and I'm doing nothing about it.

All during this, I have tried to post things to my FB page to live out loud, as some friends and family have called it. I still plan to do that. However, I have decided to create a separate FB page for it to allow others to post to it if they have articles, feelings, websites to share.

During the intervening months, Brendan's mother has regularly posted stories about the death penalty, including one from Westword about Bob Autobee, who opposed the execution of his son's killer. She's also shared a pledge from the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and most recently praised Pennsylvania for its decision to halt capital punishment there.

For the most part, she has avoided commenting on Brendan's situation. The closest thing to an exception was a January post featuring the following photo: The caption on the pic reads: "Brendan with his little brother September 2003. He has always been so protective of his little brother."

And she is protective of him, despite the awful acts to which he's admitted.

(source: Westword)


John Kitzhaber leaves governor's office without commuting any death-row sentences

After 5 days of speculation, John Kitzhaber stepped down as governor Wednesday without commuting the sentences of any death row inmates.

At least Kitzhaber issued no statement that he was exercising his executive power to grant clemency to any or all of the state's 34 prisoners sentenced to die.

Kitzhaber isn't required by law to publicly disclose his decision, but word would certainly travel fast and a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Corrections said she'd received no news from Kitzhaber's office that he commuted the sentences of any inmates as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. That's when Kate Brown was sworn in as governor.

Kitzhaber had remained silent on the subject since last Friday when he announced his pending resignation in the midst of an ethics scandal. In the following days, players in the criminal justice system pondered what the governor would do -- either excitedly or anxiously, depending on which side of the debate they fell.

Capital punishment opponents and supporters suddenly were jockeying for a moment with the governor in hopes of persuading him either way. A defense attorney on Tuesday renewed a clemency request for the state's oldest death row inmate, 66-year-old Mark Pinnell.

An Oregonian/OregonLive poll drew more than 3,000 participants, with 73 % saying Kitzhaber should commute the sentences of those condemned to die to life in prison to add something positive to his legacy.

The question made national headlines, with academics from Harvard Law School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill writing an opinion piece for The Huffington Post titled "Gov. Kitzhaber: Your Job Is Not Done."

In arguing against Kitzhaber granting clemency, Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis noted that by law seven of the death row inmates would be eligible for parole after 30 years while the rest would have to serve out their entire lives in prison with no hope of release.

Although some observers thought it was unlikely Kitzhaber would empty out death row, others pointed to the unusual circumstances of his departure and wondered if the clearly angry politician would close out his career with a bold move on an issue that deeply concerned him.

It wouldn't have been unprecedented.

In 2003, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of more than 150 death row inmates just before leaving office.

Just a few weeks ago, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley granted clemency to the last four inmates on death row one day before his political term was up. O'Malley had previously succeeded in pushing lawmakers to abolish Maryland's death penalty, so no new inmates were being added to death row.

Even without any action from Kitzhaber, Oregonians are now looking toward the state's new governor and how she will act.

Under Oregon law, Brown has the same powers: She could reinstate Kitzhaber's 2011 moratorium on executions or she could grant clemency to inmates. She also could push state lawmakers to repeal -- or at least send to voters a repeal -- of the state's death penalty, which was reinstated by voters in 1984.

Brown, however, has given no indication of her position on the death penalty. Spokesman Tony Green said he didn't have information to share about Brown's position. But in 2005, Brown supported a bill to expand the death penalty.

One factor that might encourage Brown to put a hold on all executions: On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for a national ban on all executions until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of whether lethal injection is constitutional.



New bill would replace death penalty with life sentences

As 2 high-profile death penalty trials are in progress, lawmakers are considering shutting down executions in Washington State for good.

House Bill 1739 was discussed at a public hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning.

The bi-partisan bill would replace the death penalty with a life sentence with no parole.

The state's current statute dates back to 1981. Since then, 33 people have been sentenced to death. 5 have been executed.

"To me, it's a little like playing God if we're sentencing people to death," said Rep. Maureen Walsh at the hearing.

The effort to abolish capital punishment has failed in previous years, but supporters think they've gained momentum since Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty last year that lasts as long as he is in office.

There are 18 states that have abolished executions. The most recent is Maryland.

The bill would also require those convicted to pay restitution to victims and their families.

"I fully support the bipartisan bills introduced this year to end the death penalty. I put a moratorium on the use of capital punishment last year because of its unequal application in our state, the soaring costs and delays, and the fact that nearly 80 % of the death sentences issued in our state since 1981 have been overturned," said Inslee in a statement released after the hearing.

Executions in Washington are carried out by lethal injection, or, at the election of condemned person, by hanging.

(source: KIRO news)


Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdus Subhan to hang for war-time atrocities in Pabna

The International Crimes Tribunal-2 Chairman, Justice Obaidul Hassan, handed down the maximum penalty on Wednesday.

With 6 of the 9 charges levelled by the prosecution having been proven beyond any shred of doubt, Subhan was sentenced to be hanged till death.

The other 2 tribunal members, Justice Md Mujibur Rahman Mia and Justice Shahinur Islam, were also present at the time of the sentencing - the 16th conviction for crimes against humanity.

Subhan was the chief of Jamaat's Pabna unit and sat on the party's highest policymaking body during the post-Liberation War era.

It came to light in the trial that Subhan, with Pakistani soldiers, had indulged in murders, mass killings, arson and lootings once 'Operation Searchlight' was launched on the night of Mar 25, 1971.

He is the 9th top Jamaat leader to be convicted for war crimes committed during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan.

Who is Subhan?

A former MP from Pabna town, Subhan was born on Feb 19, 1936, in the Tailakundi village at Sujanagar.

His father was Sheikh Naimuddin, and mother, Nurani Begum.

In 1954, he passed the Kamil exams from the Aliya Madrasa in Sirajganj. He later became the head Maulana of the same institution, and subsequently the superintendent of the Ulot Senior Madrasa in Arifpur.

He was appointed the chief of the Pabna district unit of the Jamaat once it was formed.

From 1962 to 1965 he was a member of the Provincial Council.

He contested in the 1970 election but lost to Awami League candidate Amjad Hossain.

Subhan was the General Secretary and subsequently the Vice-President of the 'Peace Committee' in Pabna during the 1971 war, formed to help the Pakistani forces in suppressing the freedom struggle of the Bengalis.

It was under his leadership that units of the Peace Committee, Razakars, Al Badr, Al Shams, and Mujahid were formed in police station areas of Pabna district.

Witnesses testified that Subhan orchestrated killings, loot, abductions, and other atrocities in various villages with the help of these vigilante groups and Pakistani soldiers.

Korban Ali, the 6th prosecution witness, identified Subhan standing in the dock as the man who, brandishing a pistol, had rounded up villagers and shot them, and told the Pakistani soldiers to shoot as well.

The tribunal was also told that, during the war, Subhan had prepared and supplied to the Pakistani forces a list of local Awami League leaders and activists and Hindus.

Sensing the fall of the Yahya Khan regime towards the end of the independence struggle, he, along with Jamaat guru Golam Azam, went over to Pakistan.

Subhan later returned to Bangladesh following a change in the political scenario and went on to become a member of parliament.

The case timeline

Investigation into Subhan's war crimes by the prosecution's investigating officers Motiur Rahman and Md Nur Hossain began on Apr 15, 2012.

The charge-sheet against the Jamaat leader was filed on Sep 15, 2013.

He was arrested at the toll plaza of the Bangabandhu Bridge on Sep 20, 2012. He was was later shown arrested in the war crimes case and sent to jail.

The International Crimes Tribunal-1 began Subhan's trial on Dec 31, 2013 on the basis of 9 charges brought against him.

The case, however, was shifted to Tribunal-2 on Mar 27, 2014 before the deposition by witnesses had begun.

The hearing got under way on Apr 1, 2014 with the opening arguments by prosecutors Sultan Mahmud Simon and Rezia Sultana.

31 witnesses including investigators Motiur Rahman and Md Nur Hossain testified for the prosecution.

On the other hand, the defence was unable to produce any witness, although 3 had been initially named.

The tribunal had kept the verdict pending after hearing ended on Dec 4, 2014.

The 16th verdict

The much-awaited trials for crimes against humanity committed during the war began with the constitution of the International Crimes Tribunal on Mar 25, 2010.

The tribunal in the 1st verdict sentenced to death former Jamaat-e-Islami member Abul Kalam Azad alias 'Bachchu Razakar' on Jan 21, 2013.

The collaborator of the Pakistani occupation army could not appeal against the verdict as he was absconding.

In the 2nd verdict, delivered on Feb 5 the same year, Jamaat Assistant Secretary General Abdul Quader Molla was awarded life term in jail.

The judgement triggered protests by youths at Dhaka's cultural hub, Shahbagh, who thought the verdict was 'too lenient' and demanded maximum punishment for Molla.

The protests were joined by tens of thousands, leading to the emergence of secular platform Ganajagaran Mancha demanding capital punishment for all war criminals.

The movement rippled across Bangladesh, forcing the government to amend the tribunal law giving the prosecution a chance to appeal against verdicts.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court finally sentenced war criminal Molla to death on Sep 17, 2013. He was executed on Dec 12 the same year.

Jamaat Nayeb-e-Ameer Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death in the 3rd verdict, delivered on Feb 28, 2013.

His supporters in Jamaat strongholds went berserk after the judgement.

According to the government, over 70 people, including police personnel, were killed in violence during the protest against the verdict.

Hearing Sayedee's appeal, the apex court lessened his punishment to imprisonment until death on Sep 17 last year.

The tribunal sentenced to death another assistant secretary general of Jamaat, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, on May 9, 2013.

The Appellate Division upheld the verdict on Nov 3.

Ghulam Azam, who headed Jamaat during the war against Pakistani oppressors, was sentenced to 90 years in prison on Jun 15, 2013 for plotting, planning and instigating crimes against humanity. It was the 5th verdict.

The former Jamaat leader died at the age of 92 in a hospital on Oct 23, when his appeal was being heard.

Jamaat Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed was handed down capital punishment on Jul 17, 2013.

In the 7th verdict, BNP Standing Committee member Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury was sentenced to be hanged by his neck until death.

Both Mujaheed and Chowdhury have appealed to the Supreme Court.

On Oct 9, 2013, former BNP minister Abdul Alim was sentenced to prison until death.

The 83-year-old war criminal died on Aug 30 last year. He had served 11 months in a prison cell of a hospital.

Al Badr commanders Ashrafuzzaman Khan and Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin were given the capital punishment on Nov 3, 2013 for killing intellectuals during the war. Both are on the run.

The 10th verdict was delivered on Oct 29, last year.

This time, Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, who was the chief of the Al Badr vigilante during the war, was sentenced to death.

The verdict observed that he used Islam willfully and consciously to uproot the Bangali nation.

He, too, has filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.

As Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) closest ally, Nizami served as a minister during the 2001-6 tenure of Khaleda Zia.

Chittagong Al Badr commander Mir Quasem Ali was sentenced to walk to the gallows. The Shura member of the party is said to be its main financier.

On Nov 13 last year, Faridpur Razakar commander Zahid Hossain Khokon was sentenced to death.

Brahmanbarhia Razakar commander Mobarak Hossain, expelled by local Awami League, got the death sentence on Nov 24 last year.

Former Muslim League leader from Habiganj, Syed Mohammad Kaiser, who became a state minister during military dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad's regime, was also sentenced to death for war crimes on Dec 23.

The last verdict was delivered on Dec 30, sentencing Jamaat Assistant Secretary General ATM Azharul Islam to death.



Sudan prosecutor seeks 6 charges against opposition detainees

Sudan's prosecutor on Tuesday called for 2 political detainees to face a raft of charges, some of which could incur the death penalty, their defence told AFP.

Farouk Abu Issa and Amin Makki Madani were arrested in Khartoum on December 6 after returning from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where they signed an agreement aimed at uniting opposition groups.

The prosecutor submitted its case recommending 6 charges against the 2 to a judge in Khartoum, said Moaz Hadra, spokesman for the detainees' defence.

The judge will also hear the prosecution case in a court on Monday February 23, before deciding whether to press the charges against the opposition figures.

The charges were founding and running a "terrorist organisation," as well as "undermining the constitutional order, inciting war, inciting hatred against the state and publishing false reports," Hadra said.

All except publishing false reports carry the death sentence as the maximum penalty.

Abu Issa and Madani were arrested after returning from Ethiopia where they had signed the agreement uniting political parties, rebels and civil society groups opposed to the government.

Abu Issa signed for a grouping of opposition parties he leads and Madani signed for civil society groups.

The opposition accord came amid preparations in Sudan for April elections that are widely expected to extend President Omar al-Bashir's 25 years in power.

He seized power in a 1989 coup, but won a 2010 election that was criticised by observers for failing to meet international standards and was marred by opposition boycotts.

(source: Agence France-Presse)


Lagos re-okays death penalty to prevent murder, armed robbery

Contrary to several campaigns to have death penalty removed from the Lagos justice system, the state government Wednesday re-endorsed capital punishment, to serve as a deterrence against violent crimes, such as murder and armed robbery.

The endorsement was informed by an expert survey on the issue, where majority of the public felt that the death penalty is effective for deterrence and retribution for heinous crimes.

State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Ade Ipaye said it was in the light of the results of the perceptions and expert survey that the Lagos State Executive Council adopted the position that the death penalty should be retained in the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

Ipaye said following several abolition campaigns and international advocacy which were addressed to the Lagos State Government, in particular as the pace setter in justice sector reforms, the State Executive Council considered the proposition to abolish or retain the death penalty in the Lagos State Common Law.

In taking its decision, the State commissioned an empirical research that surveyed the perception of Lagos residents and elicited their opinion on the abolition debate, including the question whether they believe the death penalty currently deters violent crime.

The objective and outcome of the survey is to inform the development of a state policy on capital punishment that relies on empirical evidence and is based on consultation with citizens and justice sector stakeholders.

Ipaye noted that the survey was undertaken in 2 categories: public survey (random selection of 2,000 members of the public) and the experts' survey (selected 100 persons who have close contact with the criminal justice process and systems).

Over 1/2 of the respondents (51.1 %) advised Lagos State Government to execute convicts on the death row while only 38. 5 % maintained otherwise. 9.7 % were undecided while 0.8 % did not proffer any opinion.

"Whilst 61.9 % of the respondents believed that the death penalty is a necessary retributive tool, as much as 59 % opined that the death penalty does not bring a sense of happiness to the family of the victim(s). A majority of the respondents (67.2 %) however recommended that Lagos State should retain the death penalty," he said.

The study also found that gender, age and religion play important roles in understanding the orientation of Lagos residents on the issue of capital punishment.

"Hence while majority of the people support death penalty across the socio-demographics, more males, older people and less religious people support the death penalty.

"Majority of the respondents surveyed supported the use of the death penalty in Lagos State. The survey also revealed that over 54 % of the respondents advised the Lagos State Government to execute convicts on death row. A large number of respondents also believed that the death penalty is a necessary retributive tool and a majority of the respondents recommended that the State should retain death penalty because it serves positive retributive and deterrence purposes," Ipaye said.

(source: Nigeria Guardian News)


30 prisoners hanged in 4 days

In the latest wave of executions and repression in Iran, at least 30 prisoners have been hanged in prisons across country since Saturday. The victims included a 60-year-old man that had already spent 20 years in prison.

The executions were carried out in prisons in several cities across Iran. Some executions were carried out in groups.

On Tuesday, a group of 6 were hanged in Karaj's Gohardasht prison. They included 3 men identified as Vahid Lalabadi, Ayob Farhadi, 33 and Amir Davoodi, 39, who had been transferred to isolation the day before. Another prisoner was hanged in Shiraz on the same day.

On Monday, at least 14 prisoners were hanged in the cities of Bam, Uromiyeh and Bandar Abbas. A group of 6 prisoners were sent to gallows in the city of Bam in southern Iran. A group of 5 prisoners were executed in Darya Prison in the city of Uromiyeh which included 3 residents of Kurdistan province and 2 residents of Azerbaijan province. One of the victims was identified as Rahim Soleimani, 60, who had already spent 20 years in prison.

On Monday, 2 other prisoners were hanged in Mashhad and 1 more prisoner was hanged in Bandar Abbas.

On Sunday, 4 prisoners were hanged in Shiraz's Adel Abbad Prison and Kerman's Shahab Prison.

On Saturday, 2 Baloch prisoners were hanged in Chahbahar Prison and another was sent to gallows in the northern city of Rasht.

Meanwhile, simultaneously with the new wave of executions aimed at rising fear in society, on Tuesday, a group of 3 men were paraded and humiliated in public in the city of Mashhad without being charged or sentenced.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran)


Saman Naseem transferred to solitary confinement for possible execution

A group of 6 Iranian political prisoners including Saman Naseem being held in the central prison in the northwestern city of Uromiyeh were transferred to solitary cells on Wednesday for possible execution.

The other 5 political prisoners are: Yones Aghat, Habiballah Afshari, Ali Afshari, Sirvan Nezhavi, and Ibrahim Shapoori.

There is a growing concern that the political prisoners are transferred to isolation to await their execution.

International Human rights organizations have issued statement calling for immediate halt to planned execution of Mr. Saman Naseem who had been arrested at the age of 17.

According to the Amnesty International Naseem is due to be executed on February 19 after being arrested on July 17, 2011.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a press release on February 13: "That the Iranian authorities are preparing to put to death a young man who’s been tortured for 97 days to 'confess' when he was 17 years old beggars belief."

In a letter seen by Amnesty International, Saman Naseem, now 22 years old, described how he was kept in a 2 x 0.5 meter cell and constantly tortured before being forced while blindfolded to put his fingerprints on 'confession' papers. He was forced to admit to acts that lead to his conviction for membership of an armed opposition group and taking up arms against the state. He was 17 years old at the time.

"This is the reality of the criminal justice system in Iran, which makes a mockery of its own statements that it does not execute children and upholds its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

According to an Urgent Action issued on Monday by Amnesty International, Naseem was beaten on Sunday to force him to make TV 'confessions.'

"Saman Naseem was allowed no access to his lawyer during early investigations and he said he was tortured, which included the removal of his finger and toe nails and being hung upside down for several hours," Amnesty statement said.

"Saman Naseem called his family on 15 February and told them that earlier that day men in plain clothes had taken him to the security department of the Oroumieh Prison. He said the men, who he believed belonged to the Ministry of Intelligence and were carrying cameras and recording equipment, beat him for several hours to force him into making video-taped 'confessions', but he refused to do so," AI statement added.

(source: NCR - Iran)


UN experts urge 'immediate halt' over scheduled execution of juvenile

The Government of Iran must comply with its international human rights obligations and immediately halt its planned execution of a juvenile offender, 2 United Nations human rights experts urged today.

"Regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime, the execution of juvenile offenders is clearly prohibited by international human rights law," Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, and Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, declared in a press release issued earlier today.

"The imposition of the death penalty in Iran contrasts the current international trend of abolishing the death penalty in law and in practice," they added.

Saman Naseem, who was 17 at the time of his arrest in 2011, was allegedly subjected to torture and made to confess to the crimes of "Moharebeh," or "enmity against God," and "Ifsad fil Arz," or "corruption on Earth," for his suspected involvement in armed activities with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan. He was sentenced to death in April 2013.

According to a UN human rights report released last year, the new Islamic Penal Code that entered into force in 2013 now omits references to apostasy, witchcraft and heresy, but continues to allow for juvenile executions and retains the death penalty for activities that do not constitute most serious crimes in line with the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty such as adultery, repeated alcohol use, and drug possession and trafficking.

Nonetheless, the independent experts recalled the "repeated assertions" by Iranian authorities that confessions obtained under torture were inadmissible under Iranian law while noting that the country was also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Iran has witnessed a surge in executions over the past 2 years.

At least 852 individuals were reportedly executed between July 2013 and June 2014, representing an "alarming" increase in the number of executions in relation to the already-high rates of previous years, according to UN estimates. In addition, at least 60 persons, including 4 women, have reportedly been executed in January 2015 alone.

(source: UN News Centre)

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas death row inmate's lawyers cite new evidence in push for for re-trial ---- Rodney Reed's lawyers have filed an appeal citing multiple problems with his conviction and urging a stay and a re-trial - as execution looms just weeks away

The alarm was raised around dawn on 23 April 1996 when Stacey Stites failed to show up for her 3.30am shift as a produce stocker at a supermarket in Bastrop, near Austin, Texas.

That afternoon, the 19-year-old's body was discovered by the side of a country road on the outskirts of town. Nearby was a belt that appeared to have been used to strangle her, less than 3 weeks before her wedding day.

Rodney Reed was convicted of her murder and is scheduled to be executed on 5 March. His attorneys say they have new evidence that proves his innocence, the latest twist in an 18-year legal process his supporters believe is laden with errors, racism and corruption.

Last Thursday, 3 weeks before Reed was set to die by lethal injection in the Texas state penitentiary, his lawyers filed an appeal to the state's criminal appeals court citing multiple problems with his conviction and urging a stay of execution and a re-trial.

"3 of the most experienced and well-regarded forensic pathologists in the country ... have re-evaluated the case and determined that Mr Reed's guilt is medically and scientifically impossible,' they write, in response to a lower court's decision in November to deny new DNA testing of evidence including 2 beer cans found near the body.

That same month the US supreme court declined to review Reed's case.

'I don't believe'

Anti-death penalty advocates and Reed's backers gathered at a Quaker meeting house in Austin on Sunday to show solidarity with the 47-year-old on death row.

Among them was Stites' cousin Heather Stobbs. She said that while her family is split, she is convinced Reed is innocent and made contact with his relatives last year after researching the case.

"I don't believe, and I have other family members that don't believe, Rodney has anything to do with this," she said. "I think that [the case against him] was taking advantage of that he's black and it kind of sensationalised everything."

Reed was a black man having an affair in a small Texas town with a white woman who was engaged to a white police officer. Reed's brother, Rodrick, said that at the time it was "pretty rough" to be a black man living in the area. He said that after his brother's arrest, "I was pretty much blackballed in the county, got fired from my job, couldn't get a job in Bastrop, period, for years. A lot of people looked at me as if I had leprosy or something. They were programmed to believe that my brother did it. They were led astray."

He believes the investigation was botched and that the trial was a miscarriage of justice, in part because officials were too willing to believe in the guilt of a black man rather than an alternative suspect: Stites' fiance, the police officer.

"It took years for the truth to finally start coming out - other evidence, other witnesses, other things to start showing up. And then people started saying, 'Wait a minute, something's wrong here.' But in the beginning they took it as the gospel. Now 18 years later they see it was nothing but a big sham," he said.

Jury unconvinced of affair as a defence

Last week's court filing alleges that suspicion should fall on Stites' fiance, Jimmy Fennell. No longer a police officer, Fennell is in prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman while he was on duty in 2007. Investigators originally viewed him as a suspect but decided it was logistically impossible for him to have committed the crime. Reed's defence disputes that, arguing that there was no thorough investigation of whether Fennell had an accomplice, potentially one within the police department.

Months after the killing, police turned to Reed. His DNA was on and inside Stites' body. Police found a match because of a previous, unrelated, allegation of sexual assault against him. And when questioned about Stites, he initially claimed not to know her.

Timing and DNA analysis were crucial to the state's case. Prosecutors said that Stites was killed in the early hours of 23 April. The jury heard expert testimony that this indicated she had been sexually assaulted around the time of her murder, because of an incorrect assertion that sperm can only remain intact after intercourse for about 24 hours.

Reed's court-appointed attorneys failed to effectively challenge this view, which seemed to fit the prosecution's argument that Reed had intercepted Stites as she drove to work from the home in Giddings she shared with Fennell, then raped and killed her.

But in 2012, the key medical expert, Roberto Bayardo, said that the prosecution had misinterpreted his testimony in several ways, including his analysis of the timing.

"My estimate of time of death ... should not have been used at trial as an accurate statement of when ... Stites died," the former medical examiner told the Austin Chronicle.

In addition, the filing states, the science presented in the original trial was faulty. The new forensic pathologists - Michael Baden, Werner Spitz and LeRoy Riddick - "conclude that Ms Stites was actually murdered before midnight on April 22, 1996 and that she was placed in the location and position where she was found at least 4 hours after the murder."

That timeframe would place Stites at home with Fennell when she died, Reed's lawyers contend.

At trial in 1998 the jury were not convinced by Reed's defence: that he and Stites were having a secret relationship that, because it was interracial, might have caused a scandal if word got out. And the interpretation of the DNA evidence contradicted his claim that he had not had sex with Stites since about 2 days before she died.

Federal and state appeals courts have repeatedly affirmed the original verdict and not been persuaded of the credibility of witnesses who testified that they knew about the affair, but Reed's attorneys say that 2 new witness have come forward to confirm that Reed and Stites were seeing each other and that her relationship with Fennell was strained and she feared his violent temper.

Sister Helen Prejean, a longtime anti-death penalty activist, said at the Quaker meeting on Sunday that Reed's conviction is "one of the most outrageous" she has ever seen.

"It's riddled with almost, I think, every mistake that could be made in the justice system. And of course a black man paid for it," she said.

(source: The Guardian)


Lawyers cite moratorium, say no death penalty for guilty man

Lawyers for a man convicted of strangling 2 people during a 2002 robbery have asked a judge to bar jurors from considering the death penalty because Pennsylvania's governor has declared a moratorium.

The penalty phase of Hugo Selenski's capital murder trial is scheduled to open Tuesday, 4 days after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Selenski's attorneys filed a motion Tuesday asking Luzerne County Common Pleas Judge Fred Pierantoni III to remove the death penalty as a sentencing option.

Selenski was convicted last week of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and his girlfriend, Tammy Fassett.

Police found the victims' bodies, along with 3 other sets of human remains, on Selenski's property north of Wilkes-Barre in 2003.

(source: Associated Press)


Halting death penalty diminishes justice

The Saturday front-page story, concerning Gov. Wolf's halt to justice being administered, is but one reason I did not believe he is qualified to hold office.

Each time wise benefactors such as him intervene in the legal system, the family and friends of victims and their right to see justice carried out are diminished. They are but an afterthought to folks of the liberal ilk in their quest to impose wisdom on us, the great unwashed.

While I do not wish any ill to anyone, I believe I am not alone when wondering if their benevolence would be as strong if someone close to them was brutally assaulted and harmed.

Mark Porcaro

Lower Mount Bethel Township

(source: Letter to the Editor, Morning Call)


Amnesty International USA Responds to Pennsylvania Death Penalty Moratorium

Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins issued the following response after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that he is issuing a moratorium on the death penalty in his state:

"Amnesty International USA welcomes Gov. Wolf's decision to halt executions. The world is moving away from this cruel and barbaric punishment, and today, the state of Pennsylvania just got a bit closer to doing the same. Pennsylvania is now moving toward the national consensus that the death penalty is broken, costly and needs to be abolished. The United States cannot truly be a global leader in human rights while the death penalty remains the law of the land."

(source: Amnesty International; AI is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning global movement of more than 7 million people in over 150 countries who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.


Hiding the details of lethal injection

It has to be one of the creepiest bills ever considered by the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 1393, sponsored by Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), would drop a veil of secrecy over how Virginia executes prisoners by lethal injection. Its backers, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), are pushing it against a backdrop of global politics and questions of morality.

Virginia is among 32 states that allow capital punishment. Since 1982, it has killed 110 prisoners, either by lethal injection or in the electric chair.

The preferred method is lethal injection. In the process, a doomed prisoner is strapped in a gurney and given a series of 3 shots. 1 is to anesthetize; another is to paralyze; and the 3rd is to stop his or her heart from beating. In some states, 1 drug may be used. Usually, there are witnesses to the execution, including members of the news media.

But Saslaw wants to start hiding crucial aspects of the gruesome practice. His bill would make information about lethal drugs and the companies that make or compound them exempt under the state Freedom of Information Act.

There are persistent national shortages of drugs used in the death process. According to The New Yorker, the sole U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making the key, killer drug in 2011. Death penalty states looked to European manufacturers, but the European Union, which crusades against capital punishment, forbids European drug companies to export it if it will be used in executions.

(source: Opinion, Peter Galuszka, Washington Post)


Florida halts executions until Supreme Court considers controversial drug----Appeal to be heard from Okla. inmates in case citing signs of pain during execution

Florida's highest court put executions on hold Tuesday while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether use of a controversial general anesthetic constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment of condemned killers.

The state Supreme Court stopped the execution of Jerry William Correll next week because the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a challenge some Oklahoma inmates brought against use of midazolam hydrochloride as the 1st of 3 drugs used in lethal injections. Florida uses essentially the same formula, the court said in a 5-2 ruling.

The state switched to midazolam as an anesthetic in 2013 when some foreign drug manufacturers quit supplying other drugs previously used in executions. The Department of Corrections said 11 lethal injections have been carried out with midazolam in Florida since then.

Florida courts have approved midazolam, but the nation's highest court agreed Jan. 23 to hear an appeal by 21 Oklahoma inmates in a case citing prolonged executions and signs of pain reported in that state, Arizona and Ohio.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that if the nation's highest court rules in favor of the prisoners, "then Florida's precedent approving the use of midazolam and the current Florida 3-drug protocol will be subject to serious doubt as to its continued viability."

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented, saying Florida should proceed with Correll's execution unless the U.S. Supreme Court stays it. Canady wrote that a stay in another state does not automatically require one in Florida, and that agreeing to review Oklahoma's use of the drug means the justices will forbid it.

Canady said Oklahoma agreed to postpone 3 pending executions, while Florida has not agreed to suspend lethal injections. Correll, scheduled to die Feb. 26, was the only Florida inmate with an active death warrant.

He also noted that lower federal courts have approved Oklahoma's use of the drug and said it is "purely speculative" whether the Supreme Court will reverse them.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said the Supreme Court appeal is a toss-up.

"They might affirm it," Dieter said. "But it would be terrible to go ahead with an execution when the person's life or death depends solely on his having a date between the Supreme Court agreeing to hear the case and its decision in that case."

Correll was convicted of the 1985 murders of his ex-wife, 5-year-old daughter and former mother-in-law and sister-in-law.

(source: CBC news)


Pool of more than 100 jurors summoned for Lisa Graham death-penalty trial

The parking lot was overflowing and so was the courtroom Tuesday as more than 100 prospective jurors were summoned for the second Russell County capital murder trial of Lisa Graham, accused of hiring a family worker to kill her daughter in 2007.

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III divided the pool roughly in 1/2, 1st having jurors whose last names started with the letters A through J come in as a group to convey any excuses they had for not serving, then hearing from those whose last names began with the letters K through Z.

Walker is presiding at the trial because Russell County Judge George Greene declared the 1st proceeding in 2012 a mistrial, saying he could not continue to hear the case because of his failing health. Green retired from the bench before he died Jan. 1, 2014.

Walker took the case after other Russell County judges recused themselves.

Attorneys expect to spend the rest of this week questioning potential jurors. Because it's a capital case, jurors must be "death qualified," meaning they may not be so morally opposed to the death penalty that they could not impose it, nor so in favor of execution they could not consider the option of life in prison.

Testimony in Graham's trial is to begin Monday. District Attorney Ken Davis has said he expects to call about 30 witnesses and may need 7 to 8 days to present the prosecution's case.

Judge Walker this week also may hold a suppression hearing on evidence Davis said shows Graham through her fellow Russell County jail inmates tried to slip notes to Kenneth Walker, the man she's accused of hiring to kill her daughter. Graham offered Walton $10,000 if he promised to "leave her out of the equation," Davis said.

Graham's attorney Margaret Young Brown has objected to admitting such evidence, arguing Greene already had ruled it inadmissible. Davis said Graham is getting a new trial with a new judge, so "all issues are new."

20-year-old Stephanie Shea Graham's body was found July 5, 2007, on Bowden Road between U.S. 431 and Alabama 165 near Pittsview. She had 6 bullet wounds in the head and torso, authorities said.

Investigators said Walton, the last person seen with her, confessed to the homicide. After pleading guilty June 14, 2012, Walton was sentenced to life in prison with possible parole.

Authorities allege Lisa Graham wanted her daughter dead because she was frustrated by Shea Graham's drug use, and feared the daughter would jump bail on charges she faced in a drive-by shooting in Columbus.

(source: Ledger-Enquirer)


Jury convicts Church, must decide on death penalty

A jury convicted Hager Church on Tuesday after more than 5 hours of deliberations for setting a fire that killed 2 people in 2009 in a crime that may have gone unnoticed if not for Church talking about it in prison.

The jury of 8 men and 4 women will return Wednesday morning to begin the 2nd phase of the trial to decide whether Church should receive the death penalty. The jury also can choose the option of life in prison.

While Church's team of lawyers presented no closing argument and did little to challenge the strong evidence by the prosecution, it's expected his lawyers will mount a big fight to try to save his life.

Church, 30, showed no reaction as the verdicts were read.

During her closing argument Tuesday, Assistant Allen County Prosecutor Jana Emerick carefully walked the jury through the charges of 2 counts of aggravated murder and one count of aggravated arson with three specifications that carry the chance for the death penalty.

She told jurors the clear confession Church made to a police investigator admitting to killing Massie "Tina" Flint, 45, and Rex Hall, 54, on June 14, 2009, by setting a house fire at 262 S. Pine St., matched all the evidence.

'Hager Church indicated to Detective [Steve] Stechschulte that Hager Church needed to get something off his chest, which was the terrible crimes he committed in 2009," Emerick said. "You heard the confession."

A coroner testified Flint had head injuries that matched Church's statement that he beat her in the head with a pipe wrench. Church also knew intimate details of the crime scene including the location of where the fire started in the home, and where the bodies were found, information only the killer would know, Emerick said.

"If he was just making that up, even if he knew there was a fire, of course like numerous people did, Hager Church would have no way of knowing where that fire was started," Emerick said. "All the evidence from fire investigation supports Hager Church's confession in every way."

On top of that, he wrote a letter of confession before investigators knew about the crime and he drew a detailed map of the crime scene, Emerick said. Church wrote the letter and drew the map in November 2012, more than 3 years after a Lima fire investigator ruled the fire accidental.

Emerick carefully covered the death penalty specifications including how Church burned down the house to try to cover up the crime and that he killed 2 or more people in the course of conduct that was similar.

The jury found Church not guilty on 1 of the specifications on Hall's death as it relates to a course of conduct of killing people. No reason was given but Hall's death was somewhat different in the fact he was a man and Church did not beat him in the head. The jury still convicted Church of purposefully killing Hall.

The conduct for which the jury found Church guilty, as it relates to specifications necessary for a potential death sentence, included killing Deb Henderson just over a year later by beating her to death with a hammer. Church was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for release for that crime after pleading guilty to aggravated murder.

The final death penalty specification accuses Church of committed the crimes as the principal offender. Emerick said that was not disputed because he did not have an accomplice.



State pursues death penalty in Cambridge murder

Guernsey County Prosecutor Daniel Padden said he's "absolutely" pushing for the death penalty in the Adam Burris murder case.

The sentencing phase began Tuesday morning with a 3-judge panel hearing testimony from Burris' family, Padden said. A 3-judge panel is mandated in all state cases involving a capital punishment specification. They will determine whether to pursue capital punishment, life in prison without parole, or something else.

Burris, 33, pleaded guilty last month to 5 felonies - kidnapping, theft of a motor vehicle, attempted rape, aggravated robbery, and aggravated murder - in connection with the December 2013 murder of 26-year-old Kayla Thompson. Burris' attorney moved to dismiss capital specifications, but the judges denied that request.

"We're pursuing the death penalty," Padden said. "This was initially indicted as a death penalty case, and we just feel that's what's appropriate."

Thompson, a pizza delivery driver and mother of 2, was reported missing around 2 p.m. Dec. 26, 2013, after she failed to return from Burris' home. A sheriff's deputy responded to Thompson's last delivery on McPherson Avenue and spoke with a woman there who said Burris left driving a pizza delivery vehicle.

Deputies used Burris' cellphone to track him, and Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers stopped him in the delivery vehicle on Interstate 70 in Guernsey County around 7:15 p.m. Burris eventually led detectives to Thompson's body near a boat ramp at Dillon State Park.

Padden said the kidnapping and murder are thought to have occurred at the McPherson Avenue address. A competency evaluation was conducted last year, and Burris was deemed fit to stand trial.

The 3-judge panel is composed of Judge David Ellwood, of Guernsey County; Judge Linton Lewis, of Perry County; and Judge Kelly Cottrill, of Muskingum County.

The sentencing phase is set to continue Thursday, and should conclude by Friday afternoon, Padden said.

(source: Zanesville Times Recorder)


Indiana bill could impose death penalty for school shootings

Indiana lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal that could impose the death penalty for school shootings.

The bill's in response to last year's deadly shooting at Purdue.

It would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty or life in prison without parole for murders that happen inside schools.

That includes universities and colleges.

The prosecutor in the Purdue case told lawmakers Tuesday he was shocked to learn he couldn't seek the death penalty for the gunman.

"Unfortunately as we learned from the case in Lafayette this individual researched the actual punishment and made a decision that 30 years was worth it 10 so it begs the question what if he knew the death penalty or life without parole was facing him?," said Pat Harrington, the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor.

The measure still has to pass the full Indiana House and Senate.

(source: WSBT TV news)


Iowa Lawmakers Look At Bringing Back Death Penalty

Some elected leaders in the Iowa Senate would like to bring back the death penalty, but only for a certain kind of crime.

Senator Randy Feenstra from Sioux Center wants people to think very carefully about what a criminal might do if faced with the possibility of death.

The Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison marks the last place a criminal was executed in Iowa.

A look back at old newspaper headlines tells the story of Victor Feguer.

The federal government sentenced him to death.

In 1963 he was hanged at the Iowa State Penitentiary, and two years later Iowa abolished the death penalty.

And now there's an Iowa Senator who wants to bring it back, under certain circumstances.

"That would be a situation where a minor gets kidnapped and raped. Right now they get life in prison. If they get killed in the process they also get life in prison," said Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Sioux Center.

It's been 50 years since Iowa had capital punishment. Senator Feenstra says if it becomes law again, it might save lives.

"If we can save a life by that person thinking through, wow if I kill this person, I get the death penalty myself..if we can save just one or two it made the difference," Feenstra said.

The Senate will now take a look at this bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa says it shouldn't pass.

"Iowa should focus on the more affective alternative of permanent imprisonment," said Erica Johnson, with the ACLU of Iowa.

The lawmakers leading the charge disagree.

They say life in prison isn't enough, and the death penalty would be a better way to try and stop the murder of a minor.

"This most heinous crime should be looked at and say, it might need the death penalty," Feenstra said.

(source: ABC news)


Death penalty option upheld in St. George murder

The judge presiding over a St. George murder case has upheld a prior magistrate's decision allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty if the defendant is found guilty at trial.

Fifth District Judge G. Michael Westfall filed a written decision and order Thursday allowing the case to proceed against Bloomington Hills resident Brandon Perry Smith, 33, who is accused of killing Leeds resident Jerrica Christensen in December 2010 at a downtown St. George townhouse.

Defense attorney Gary Pendleton had asked the court to quash prior Judge James Shumate's ruling allowing the death penalty based on four criteria including evidence that Christensen was killed incident to an event in which other people were murdered or victims of attempted murder, that the slaying was part of an attempted kidnapping, that Christensen was killed in an attempt to prevent her from being a witness to other elements of the crime, and that her slaying was "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or exceptionally depraved."

Pendleton has not challenged the prosecution's evidence that Smith allegedly murdered Christensen, but has concentrated on battling the court's decision that the evidence justifies the prosecution's plan to seek Smith's execution.

Smith's co-defendant, Paul Clifford Ashton, who was convicted in 2013 of killing St. George resident Brandie Sue Dawn Jerden in the townhome and seriously wounding James Fiske immediately before the pair allegedly went after Christensen, was sentenced to life in prison.

Pendleton has argued that Smith was coerced into playing a role in the incident after Ashton deceived him into thinking Ashton's life had been threatened, and that Smith did not plan the killings or take some type of perverse pleasure in making Christensen suffer.

Westfall's ruling notes that for the sake of the preliminary evidentiary hearing in which Smith was bound over for trial on a charge of aggravated murder, the court only needs to determine that believable evidence of all the elements of the crime exists, and that determining whether the evidence is a correct representation of what happened when the evidence is disputed is left to a jury to decide.

The Supreme Court has clarified that, "an inference (by the prosecution) is reasonable unless it falls 'to a level of inconsistency or incredibility that no reasonable jury could accept,'" and "the court may not assess whether an inference in favor of the prosecution 'is more plausible than an alternative that cuts in favor of the defense. That is a matter ... left for the jury,'" Westfall wrote.

Westfall found the prosecution's evidence shows Smith may have been aware of Ashton's plan to kidnap the victims and that the victims' deaths or injuries were linked together as part of a single criminal event, while leaving the jury to decide whether Smith was manipulated as Pendleton has argued.

Westfall also ruled the prosecution's evidence supports allegations Smith knew Ashton wanted to keep Christensen from being a potential witness after Ashton shot Jerden and Fiske, and that Smith may have beat, strangled and cut Christensen with a depraved state of mind that rejected a form of killing Christensen that wouldn't have prolonged her suffering. Westfall again notes that the defense's alternative theories will be left to the jury to decide which is more believable.

Deputy County Attorney Ryan Shaum said the ruling was "the best possible news" for the prosecution. No further proceedings have been scheduled yet, but typically the court would next establish a hearing to set deadlines for any new motions that may yet be filed before the trial, and possibly a date for the trial as well, he said.

Fiske and Christensen's mother, Ellen Hensley, have stated Christensen was helping Fiske move his friends out of Ashton's home during the middle of the night and that she didn't know any of the others she was helping. Hensley has expressed particular frustration at the length of time required to reach a resolution of the case.

"4 years ago, (my daughter) was murdered. Worse yet, she was murdered in a very brutal manner," Hensley said during a December courthouse vigil honoring Christensen and other victims of violence, describing the friendship between mother and daughter and the hooded sweatshirt Hensley let Christensen wear the night she was killed.

"The man who took her life covered her with it after he placed her in the tub in the bathroom because she was bleeding profusely out on the floor," Hensley said. "Too many times I've walked through the doors of the Washington County courthouse to attend hearings. Too many times, hearings have been reset or set at a much-delayed date. It has been one of the most frustrating and challenging experiences of my life, to say the least, as the entire court process is out of my hands."

(source: The Spectrum)


Commute Oregon's death sentences to life imprisonment

I know what it is like to execute someone.

I am a retired prison superintendent who conducted the only 2 executions that have taken place in Oregon in the past 53 years.

The death penalty in Oregon comes at a high cost to our state in both human and fiscal resources. I call on Gov. Kitzhaber to convert 35 death sentences to life without the possibility of release before he leaves office at mid-morning on Wednesday.

Based on my experiences as a correctional professional, capital punishment is a failed public policy - especially in Oregon where we have funded a death penalty system for over 30 years, yet only put to death 2 inmates who volunteered themselves for execution by abandoning their appeals. No other corrections program exemplifies such a complete failure rate.

During my more than 2 decades of running correctional facilities, I saw the population of those who are capable of extreme violence up close.

I have no doubts at all that these offenders did not think about the death penalty for one second before committing their violent acts. Instead, research has been shown that public safety is greatly improved when our limited tax dollars are redirected to law enforcement agencies to solve cases and prevent crimes.

I understand exactly what is being asked of public employees whose jobs include carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary to end another person's life. The burden weighs especially heavily on my conscience because I know firsthand that the death penalty is not applied fairly or equally in Oregon. I have known hundreds of inmates who are guilty of similar crimes yet did not get the death penalty because they reached a plea bargain of life without parole simply because they had the means for professional legal assistance.

I also understand, from my experiences in corrections, the potential awful and lifelong repercussions that can come from participating in the execution of prisoners. Living with the nightmares is something that some of us experience. This is particularly the case with those of us who have had more hands-on experience with the flawed capital punishment process, and/or where an execution under our supervision did not go smoothly.

Since the last execution took place in Oregon in 1997 under my watch, 77 people have been released nationally from death row due to evidence that they were wrongfully convicted. I get a chill each time I read about new evidence exonerating inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Let me be clear: Converting the sentences of death row inmates to life without the possibility of release does not excuse the horrific acts these individuals have committed. Requiring decent men and women who work in our correctional facilities to take a human life in the name of a public policy that does not work is indefensible.

(source: Frank Thompson of Salem is retired from the positions of assistant director of institutions and superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary----Statesman Journal)


Nun urges Oregon death penalty repeal

The nun whose memoir of ministry on death row became an Oscar-winning film told a Portland audience Feb. 4 that what is true for everyone is true of murderers - they are better than the worst thing they've done in their lives.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph from Louisiana, has become the nation's leading opponent of the death penalty. Her 1993 book, "Dead Man Walking," made her a celebrity.

"What is it in us that makes us think we need to mimic the worst behavior in the world, to do just what they did to their victims?" she told the crowd, which had jammed into the chapel at Lewis and Clark College.

Sister Helen, a Sister of St. Joseph, said early in her life as a woman Religious, she focused on following the rules, being a good classroom teacher and doing charity. Then, she says, the gospel got to her.

"The bent of Christianity is to be on the side of the marginalized - radical inclusivity," she said.

She realized the difference between her and people who are poor and in jail is not virtue, but her own privileged upbringing as a white southerner in the Jim Crow era.

Sister Helen decided to move into a New Orleans housing project in the early 1980s and then was asked to counsel Catholic death row inmate Patrick Sonnier. He and his younger brother were convicted of double murder and rape in the 1977 slayings of 2 Louisana teens. Sister Helen's was the last face Patrick Sonnier saw before being hooded and electrocuted in 1984.

Sister Helen has accompanied 6 men in executions. Some of them, she is convinced, were wrongly convicted. That's the basis of her 2006 book, "The Death of Innocents." She calls the U.S. criminal justice system "broken," since defendants who are poor routinely have worse outcomes than those who are rich. She reports she has witnessed police under pressure ask leading questions and do biased work.

On top of that, low-income African American crime victims in the south still suffer neglect, Sister Helen claims.

"I know mommas whose sons got murdered and there wasn't even an investigation," Sister Helen told the Portland crowd. "They had to live in the projects and every day see the guys who killed their sons running around scot-free."

Sister Helen admits her biggest mistake was a failure to reach out to the parents of the teens murdered by the Sonnier brothers. She says she was afraid what they would think of her, since she was counseling the man who had taken their children. But the father of one victim reached out to her and taught her some lessons.

Later, she began attending support groups for survivors. She heard them say that they become isolated because no one wants to be around them.

Oregon now has 35 people on death row, but has not had an execution in decades. Gov. John Kitzhaber, who allowed the last executions in the 1990s, has said he will block any others while he is in office.

Sister Helen urged students to write letters to the editor and call lawmakers, urging Oregon to repeal capital punishment.

To hear a panel discussion on the death penalty aired by KBVM-FM radio, go to and find the Jan. 19 archives. It includes the story of St. Andre Bessette Parish staffer Becky McBrayer, whose faith pulled her through when a family member was murdered. Father Tim Mockaitis and Ron Steiner of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty also spoke.


Death penalty foes urge Kitzhaber to commute sentences

Oregonians for Alternatives to Death Penalty is urging outgoing Gov. John Kitzhaber to commute death row sentences, changing them to life without parole, before he leaves office today.

"When the governor leaves office his moratorium on the execution of death row inmates is extinguished," the organization said in a statement. "As the law provides, Secretary of State Kate Brown will becomes the governor. As it was with Governor Kitzhaber, the law provides the power to the new governor to declare a moratorium in her name. If there are still inmates under the sentence of death, we will then strongly encourage Governor Brown to declare a moratorium at her earliest possible opportunity."

The organization is asking Oregonians to phone the Capitol at (503) 378-3111 and leave a message making the request of the governor.

(source: Catholic Sentinel)


Oregon death row inmate Mark Pinnell renews clemency request on last day of Kitzhaber's tenure

Less than 24 hours before Gov. John Kitzhaber officially resigns, a federal public defender is renewing a request for clemency for Mark Pinnell, who has been on death row since 1988.

Pinnell was among the 1st to seek clemency after Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions in November 2011.

Pinnell, who at 66 is the oldest on Oregon death row, is suffering from a severe case of chronic pulmonary disease, and his co-defendant is a free man who left prison in 2011 after serving nearly 26 years behind bars.

"Mark's case is a perfect example of how uneven and arbitrary the death penalty can be, and underscores the Governor's longstanding concerns about such an irreversible penalty,'' Teresa A. Hampton, supervising attorney in the federal public defender's office in Idaho, said in a prepared release Tuesday.

The Oregonian wrote about Pinnell in July 2013 when he first requested clemency. The federal public defender's office received no response from Kitzhaber's office then.

The Idaho office is representing Pinnell because a conflict of interest prevented the Oregon office from taking the case.

Since Kitzhaber announced his resignation under fire last week, he has not given any indication whether he'll exercise any last-minute executive powers to commute death sentences before he leaves office at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The governor has said publicly only that he's "proud that Oregon has not invoked the death penalty during my last 4 years on the watch."

Meanwhile, Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is urging the governor to vacate death row, while others have argued that a mass clemency would throw the system into disarray.

Heidi Moawad, Kitzhaber's public safety adviser, said Tuesday afternoon that she had no comment.

Pinnell and co-defendant Donald E. Cornell both robbed and killed 65-year-old John Wallace Ruffner at his Tualatin apartment in 1985.

Mark Pinnell's clemency application

A jury convicted Pinnell of multiple aggravated murder counts, including aggravated murder by torture, and he was sentenced to death. Cornell was tried later and acquitted of all aggravated murder charges by another jury.

Pinnell was appointed an attorney with no capital punishment experience, while Cornell was represented by a seasoned capital punishment attorney, Pinnell's federal public defender argues.

Cornell was found guilty of felony murder, a less serious charge, after his attorney successfully argued that the killing was unintentional. The attorney also argued at trial that the victim's death wasn't prolonged but happened quickly, thus not rising to torture.

Cornell was released from prison on Sept. 23, 2011, after serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He served 25 years and 11 months. He was released from parole a year later.

10 days before the 2 killed Ruffner, they had robbed a Clackamas County man they met responding to a sex ad in the Swing N Sway magazine. They gagged the man, but he survived and, as they suspected, did not report the crime. He was gay and a member of the military.

The duo then contacted Ruffner through a sex ad in the same magazine and arranged to meet him at his apartment on Sept. 19 , 1985. When they arrived about 10 p.m., Ruffner opened his door, Pinnell grabbed him and Cornell pushed his way in.

Cornell said he punched Ruffner in the stomach and took him to the ground. Together, he said, they tied his hands and feet behind his back with electrical cords ripped from appliances. When Ruffner began to yell, they shoved tissue paper in his mouth and covered it with a scarf. Ruffner died of asphyxiation.

According to the federal public defender's office, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown last month found that Pinnell's lawyers at his re-sentencing failed to show that the medical examiner had admitted there was "likely no intent to kill or torture the victim'' and that Pinnell's co-defendant had a history of "hog-tying'' other robbery victims.

The medical examiner during Cornell's trial conceded during a cross-examination that moisture may have caused the large wad of tissue paper in Ruffner's mouth to drift back slightly and block his airway and that his death was possibly accidental, Hampton said.

"Judge Brown opened the way for Mark to prove he would have been spared a death sentence had jurors at the re-sentencing known about this evidence,'' Hampton wrote.

She argues that the facts of her client's crime, the "lopsidedness of his sentence" as compared to his co-defendant, and his deteriorating health justify executive clemency.

Pinnell is asking Kitzhaber to at least spare his life or give him a chance to seek parole.



House committee weighs bill to abolish death penalty

A House committee is set to hear public testimony on a bill to abolish Washington state's death penalty and replace it with life in prison, with no opportunity for parole.

House Bill 1739, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle, will be heard Wednesday morning before the House Judiciary Committee. The measure is seeking to take the next step on Gov. Jay Inslee's decision last year to impose a moratorium on capital punishment. The bill is scheduled to be voted on later in the week.

A companion bill that was introduced in the Senate has not received a public hearing, and the House bill is likely to have challenges gaining any traction in the Republican-controlled chamber if it makes it through the Democrat-controlled House. Inslee, who was criticized last year by several Republican lawmakers over his moratorium decision, has said he supports Carlyle's bill.

(source: Associated Press)


Holder Supports Death Penalty Moratorium in US

Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he personally opposed the death penalty and would support delaying all executions until the Supreme Court takes up whether lethal injection is constitutional.

In his latest remarks on capital punishment, Holder, the outgoing attorney general in President Barack Obama's administration, said seeing an innocent person executed by mistake was "the ultimate nightmare."

"Our justice system is the best in the world ... but there's always a possibility that mistakes will be made. For that reason I am opposed to the death penalty," Holder said.

He said it was appropriate for there to be a delay in place until the Supreme Court takes up the issue of lethal injection in April.

Several death row inmates recently have undergone apparent suffering during their executions using this method.

After the problems arose in the executions, Obama called on the Justice Department to review lethal injection executions.

"That review is still under way. Unfortunately, it won't be completed under my time as Attorney General," said Holder, who is stepping aside. Obama has nominated Loretta Lynch as his replacement.

Despite his misgivings about capital punishment, Holder sought the federal death penalty for the suspected perpetrator of the April 2013 Boston marathon attack.

It is "one thing to put somebody in jail for an extended period of time... (but) another" to execute them, with "no ability to correct a mistake," the attorney general said.

In 2008, the high court ruled that lethal injection was constitutional, and not a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

But since then, a majority of states have changed their drug protocols due to a shortage of the products used in the past.



Justice system and death penalty both flawed

Poison gas is inhumane, but a lethal injection is acceptable.

If it takes someone 42 minutes to die, it's shocking and cruel, but 10 minutes is more than OK.

Killing is wrong, but killing a convicted killer is right.

Discussions about the death penalty are rife with inconsistencies, little lines that somehow separate civility with savagery without really making any difference at all.

On Feb. 13, newly elected Gov. Tom Wolf placed a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, ensuring no one will be executed in the commonwealth until a task force investigating capital punishment completes its report.

It's absolutely the right call. But ideally, the task force will confirm what more and more Americans are realizing: The death penalty is arcane, and the fact that humans are fallible means we could be executing innocent people.

The desire for justice in families who have lost someone is understandable. Their pain is something I’m lucky enough to have never experienced and cannot fathom. For the United States government, however, execution should fall outside the legal definition of justice and into the category of cruel and unusual punishment.

According to Amnesty International, "Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row."

More than 130 people have been wrongly sentenced to death. The fact that the justice system will make mistakes is inevitable; it is a system orchestrated and overseen by humans who, by definition, are flawed.

But we cannot bet people's lives on our beingcorrect. If even one life is wrongly extinguished because of capital punishment, the entire system isn't worth whatever other justice it carries out. Killing an innocent person - robbing someone of a future - is the most heinous crime a person can commit. Our government should be held at least to the same standards as its citizens. The death penalty is also used disproportionately against minorities, something Wolf also mentioned in his Feb. 13 statement about the moratorium.

"While data is incomplete, there are strong indications that a person is more likely to be charged with a capital offense and sentenced to death if he is poor or of a minority racial group, and particularly where the victim of the crime was Caucasian," the statement said.

It's true. A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that black defendants receive the death penalty 3 times more than white defendants when charged with the same crime.

The racial inequalities this country is grappling with are well-documented. The recent "black lives matter" protests, and the white fear which accompanied them, showed how little many people of authoritycare about overt killings of black men and women. The entire criminal justice system, in fact, is riddled with racially skewed data.

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's website, African Americans represent 12 % of the total population of drug users, but make up 38 % of those arrested for drug offenses and 59 % of those in state prison for a drug offense. They are sentenced more harshly, too. African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense as whites do for a violent offense.

These miscarriages of justice are a major problem and need to be addressed. But with the death penalty, inequality is a life-or-death issue.

When humans stop being racist and stop making mistakes, maybe there will be a place for the death penalty in our society. Until then, let's send it the way of the firing squad: Into the cringeworthy annals of our history.

(source: Laura Byko, The Globe)

US MILITARY (historical item)

Conscientious objector sentenced to death at Camp Roberts, World War II week by week

Death penalty cases in San Luis Obispo County are thankfully rare. Currently the 4 men from the county on San Quentin's death row were found guilty of 1 or more grim murders.

1 man in county history was sentenced to death by a military court because he didn't want to kill.

Pvt. Henry P. Weber, 27, refused to drill with fellow troops at Camp Roberts. His stand was based on personal political conviction rather than constitutionally protected religious reasons.

It was a sign of wartime urgency that a draft board selected a man almost a decade past his teens and working productively in the critical wartime industry of shipbuilding.

At this moment in 1945, front-line conscripts in the Nazi and Soviet armies knew deserters would be shot by their own troops. Roving units behind the front line enforced each dictator's orders at gunpoint without benefit of court martial.

The Japanese code of honor at the time required either a fight to the death or ritual suicide. It was relatively rare for Americans to capture a prisoner in the Pacific. America did not need death squads or a cult of suicide to win the war, but the story was not simple.

A Telegram-Tribune story from Jan. 27 had said there were 18,000 troops absent without leave from American lines in Europe. Some were working selling black market goods in France.

Stories of heroic battlefront engagements were common at the time. Occasionally the gritty brutality of war was hinted at, but most stories were simplified. A few stories did not fit the template.

Telegram-Tribune Editor Elliot Curry wrote this front-page story Feb. 9, 1945, about an incident that had become national news.

Weber Defends His Loyalty; Welcomes Investigation

"I am as patriotic as anybody could be," declared Pvt. Henry P. Weber yesterday at Camp Roberts, where he is being held at the stockade under sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor for refusal to drill.

"My loyalty to my country is like that of Mark Twain," he added, "who once said that his loyalty was to his 'country, not its institutions.'"

Pvt. Weber is the 27-year-old Vancouver, Wash., soldier, whose death sentence, passed Feb. 2 by a Camp Roberts court martial, suddenly stirred national concern. Wednesday the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment.

Informed yesterday that his case had been brought before Congress by Sen. Burton K. Wheeler and Congressman Savage, Pvt. Weber smiled broadly and said he would welcome a congressional investigation. It was also news to him that the Socialist Labor Party, of which he is an ardent member, has promised to "see that he gets justice."

Sets Precedent

Pvt. Weber's case has aroused national interest, not alone because of the death penalty passed by the court martial, but because it is one of the first cases of conscientious objection for political rather than religious reasons. Conscientious objectors for religious reasons are protected by well-defined laws, but conscientious objections based on political views present a new issue.

Neither the death sentence nor the prospect of life imprisonment have shaken Pvt. Weber in any of his views. He doesn't want to kill anybody or have anything to do with killing. He shows no animosity toward either his officers or fellow soldiers.

No violence is concerned in the case, Pvt. Weber stated. He simply declined to drill and told the officers that he preferred to be arrested.

Asked if he thought that his rights as a citizen had been fully protected, he said that the officers of the court martial had asked him if he desired counsel. He had declined assistance and stated his own case. He had no objection to the procedure of the trial, but he admitted that he thought the death penalty, particularly the death sentence, was "rather severe."

Socialist Views

As a member of the Socialist Labor Party since 1939, Pvt. Weber has come to believe that the world is decidedly out of joint.

"We have reached a place in the world where we have plenty for everybody without fighting," he said. "What we need is better distribution. Instead we are killing each other, through greed and selfishness. The little people of the world are being used as tools in a war that can only lead to World War III."

That's Pvt. Weber’s creed, and the record seems to indicate that he is sticking to it. Pvt. Weber, born in Eau Claire, Wis., was employed in the Kaiser shipyards at Vancouver as a foreman in the marine pipe section until his induction into the army last July. His wife and 4-year-old son and his parents all live in Vancouver.

Of husky build, and medium height, Pvt. Weber was brought from the stockade yesterday afternoon to pose for news pictures and make any statement he desired. He obliged cheerfully and talked freely.

"This country has a great future to look forward to," he said, as he headed back to the stockade under an armed guard.


United Press updated the story Feb. 14, 1945, with word that Pvt. Weber's death sentence had been reduced in a series of review hearings that eventually went up to the judge advocate general. The sentences were reduced first to a life sentence of hard labor, later to 20 years, and then to 5 years' confinement.

That same day, news was reported that an Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany, had taken place. Other cities had been higher on the military target list during the war.

The city was filled with refugees fleeing the Soviet advance. The ensuing firestorms from the 3-day bombing killed and cremated an estimated 20,000 to 600,000 persons, many civilian women and children.

After the war there were questions about the military value of a city known mainly for architectural beauty.

The headline at the time said the city was targeted in an attempt to assist the Soviet advance.

(source: San Luis Obispo Tribune)


Convicted Malaysian cop Sirul Azhar Umar breaks silence about death of model Altantuya Shaariibuu----Convicted cop would not be sent back to face death penalty

A Malaysian police commander sentenced to hang in Kuala Lumpur has broken his silence from Sydney's Villawood detention centre, saying he was ordered to kill a Mongolian socialite at the centre of high-level corruption allegations in Malaysia.

Sirul Azhar Umar said he was acting under orders when he twice shot glamorous 28-year-old translator Altantuya Shaariibuu in the head as she begged for the life of her unborn child and then wrapped her body with military explosives and blew her up.

"I was under orders. The important people with motive are still free," Sirul, a former bodyguard of Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak, told the Malaysiakini news portal by telephone.

"It is not like I do not love the police (force) or the country, but I acted under orders," he said.

Sirul told Malaysiakini he has been negotiating a tell-all interview with Australian television stations where he is considering revealing why he and police colleague Azilah Hadri killed Ms Shaariibuu in a jungle patch on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

"I haven't decided (on whether) to do the interview," he said.

Allegations have simmered for eight years that Ms Shaariibuu was murdered to keep her quiet about purported kick-backs to high-level Malaysian officials over the US$2 billion purchase of 2 French and Spanish-built Scorpene submarines when Mr Najib was defence minister.

Ms Shaariibuu, described as sophisticated jet-setting party girl, worked as a translator in the later stages of negotiations.

Mr Najib strongly denies ever meeting Ms Shaariibuu or having any link to her and his government denies any wrongdoing in the submarine purchases, which are the subject of an investigation by magistrates in France.

A motive for the murder of Ms Shaariibuu was never revealed during the trial of Sirul and Azilah who were sentenced to hang after Malaysia's highest court on January 13 upheld a previous conviction that had been dismissed by another court on a legal technicality.

Sirul told a judge during his trial he was "the black sheep who has been sacrificed to protect unnamed people."

Azilah is on death row in a Kuala Lumpur prison awaiting execution but Sirul had travelled to Queensland months before the January hearing where he was detained on immigration charges on January 20.

Australia has made clear it will not agree to a Malaysian request to extradite Sirul unless the government in Kuala Lumpur gives an undertaking he will not be executed, leaving him facing prolonged detention in Villawood.

Malaysian authorities have said they will take legal action to try to overturn Australia's decision.

Approval would be required from Australia's immigration department for Sirul, a 43-year-old divorced father of two, to give a television interview in Villawood that could be politically explosive in Malaysia.

He told Malaysiakini he was doing fine in the detention centre and is allowed access to a mobile telephone as well as the internet.

Sirul also claimed he had never met Abdul Razak Baginda, a former friend and adviser to Mr Najib, who was initially charged with abetting the murder but released before any evidence was led against him.

Ms Shaariibuu was a former lover of Mr Baginda and admitted in a letter found after her murder she allegedly wanted US$500,000 to remain silent about her knowledge of the submarine deal.

Mr Baginda is believed to be living in Britain.

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)


Death row Britons: 75 facing execution abroad for offences including murder, drugs, terrorism and blasphemy ----They include grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, from Cheltenham, on death row in Bali after she was found with 1.6million pounds worth of cocaine

Up to 75 Britons are facing execution abroad for crimes ranging from blasphemy to terrorism, new figures reveal.

As many as 23 of the British citizens have been sentenced and are awaiting their fate on death row.

They include grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, from Cheltenham, on death row in Bali after she was found with 1.6million pounds worth of cocaine.

The 57-year-old is facing death by firing squad but claims that she was forced to transport the drugs.

The other 52 are due to be tried or are already on trial and face the possibility of being handed the death penalty.

Of these, 21 are in Pakistan, with the others held in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Thailand, the UAE, St Kitts & Nevis and the US.

Figures show that 17 are accused of murder and 10 are up on alleged drugs offences.

The others are charged with blasphemy, dangerous driving with intent to kill, kidnapping, murder and conspiracy, and terrorism.

The 23 already sentenced to death are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and the US.

They have been convicted of murder, blasphemy, drugs offensive and terrorism.

The figures have been released by the Foreign Office in response to a freedom of information request.

A spokesman said: "The British Government takes a strong and principled stance on the death penalty, lobbying for its moratorium or removal from statute globally.

"It is the longstanding policy of HMG to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances and we aim to do everything we can to prevent the execution of any British national anywhere in the world."

(source: The Mirror)


Iran urged to halt execution of Kurd arrested as a minor

International human rights groups have appealed to Tehran to halt the planned execution an Iranian-Kurdish man who was 17 when he was arrested.

Saman Naseem, 22, is due to be executed on Thursday for his alleged membership of a banned Kurdish party and involvement in armed confrontation.

He was sentenced to death in April 2013, after allegedly being forced to confess by the use of torture.

The UN has voiced concern about a rise in executions in Iran since 2013.

"Time is running out for Saman Naseem. The fact that Iran is willing to execute a man who was tortured to confess to a crime he is accused of having committed as when he was a child, shows the state of injustice in the country", Amnesty International's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

It was not too late to stop his execution and launch "a thorough judicial review of his case", she added.

Cardboard cut outs made to resemble humans stand with nooses and blind folds as demonstrators protest Iranian President Hassan Rouhani outside the United Nations on September 25, 2014 during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York Cardboard cut-outs stand with nooses and blindfolds outside the UN as President Rouhani arrived for the UN General Assembly in 2014

The international Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also demanded a halt to the execution and called for the death sentence against him to be overturned.

"The continued detention and ill-treatment of Saman Naseem is unacceptable and a violation of international law, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The FIDH says Mr Naseem was denied access to lawyers when arrested and that his original conviction was based on "forced confessions obtained through torture."

It also points out that Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which makes imposing death sentences on juveniles illegal.

'Surge in executions'

The Iranian authorities found Mr Naseem guilty of membership of the rebel Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) after arresting him when he was still a minor. He was also convicted of an armed confrontation with the Revolutionary Guards.

According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, a total of 586 executions were reported in Iran in 2014, although the government only announced 206.

The foreign-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) says on its website that 14 people were executed in Iran on drug-related charges on Monday with no mention in Iran's state media.

In October the UN expressed concern about what it called "a surge in executions" in Iran under President Hassan Rouhani who took office in August 2013.

(source: BBC news)


Juvenile Offender Saman Naseem Scheduled to Be Executed in 24 Hours

The Kurdish political prisoner Saman Naseem is scheduled to be executed on Thursday morning February 19 according to reports from Iran.

Saman Naseem was sentenced to death in April 2013 by a criminal court in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province, for "enmity against God" (moharebeh) and "corruption on earth" (ifsad fil-arz) because of his membership in the Kurdish armed opposition group PJAK, and for taking part in armed activities against the Revolutionary Guards. His death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2013. Has was 17 years old at the time of his arrest.

According to reports Saman Naseem didn't have access to his lawyer during early investigations and according to a letter he wrote from the prison he was tortured, which included the removal of his finger and toe nails and being hung upside down for several hours.

In the letter, Saman said: "During the first days, the level of torture was so severe that it left me unable to walk. All my body was black and blue. They hung me from my hands and feet for hours. I was blindfolded during the whole period of interrogations and torture, and could not see the interrogation and torture officers."

Iran Human Rights (IHR) urges the international community to react in order to save Saman's life. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson og IHR said: "Saman's death sentence is a clear violation of UN Convention for the Rights of the Child that Iran has ratified and which bans death sentence for offences committed at under 18 year of age. Besides, Saman Naseem has been subjected to torture, forced confession and unfair judicial process. We call on the United Nations and all countries with diplomatic ties with Iran to react before it is too late. International pressure can save Saman's life."

Saman Naseem has been subjected to forced confessions on the Iranian TV. According to Amnesty International Saman called his family on 15 February and told them that earlier that day men in plain clothes had taken him to the security department of the Oroumieh Prison. He said the men, who he believed belonged to the Ministry of Intelligence and were carrying cameras and recording equipment, beat him for several hours to force him into making video-taped "confessions", but he refused to do so.

Iran is the world's biggest executioner of juvenile offenders. At least 14 juvenile offenders have been executed in 2014 in Iran.

Background (source: Amnesty International)

Saman Naseem was arrested on 17 July 2011 after a gun battle between Revolutionary Guards and the armed opposition group Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), in the city of Sardasht, West Azerbaijan Province. After his arrest, he was held in a Ministry of Intelligence detention centre without any access to his family or a lawyer.

His family members were not informed of his arrest and first learned about it through a video clip of Saman aired on state TV, in which he "confessed" to taking part in armed activities against the state. Court documents indicate that during the fight, a member of the Revolutionary Guards was killed and three others wounded.

In January 2012, Saman was sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court after being convicted of "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth" because of his alleged membership of PJAK and taking part in armed activities against the Revolutionary Guards.

During the trial, he retracted his earlier "confession" and said that he fired into the air and not towards the Revolutionary Guards. He also told the judge he was tortured but he dismissed this and relied on his "confessions" as admissible evidence. His lawyers have been prevented from pursuing his defence.

In August 2012, the Supreme Court had overturned the death sentence and sent his case to a lower court for a retrial on the grounds that he had been under 18 at the time of the crimes of which he had been convicted. However, Saman was sentenced to death in April 2013 by a criminal court. The Supreme Court upheld this death sentence again in December 2013.

The prison authorities verbally informed Saman that his execution is scheduled for 19 February.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Zhou Yongkang will get suspended death sentence at least: report

The sentence given to disgraced former CPC Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang will depend on precedents, the amount of money involved, the severity of his crimes and his attitude, according to Chinese news web portal Sohu.

Officials who embezzle over 100,000 yuan (US$16,100) automatically receive a minimum of ten years in prison according to Chinese law, although life sentences can also be given for this amount. The law was promulgated at a time when the billions embezzled by Zhou would have been unimaginable, so judges do not have any baseline for sentencing in cases involving larger sums.

Although the sums involved in embezzlement have been on the increase, the number of corrupt officials given the death sentence is in decline. Corrupt officials are generally spared the death penalty if they plead guilty and express regret for their crimes.

The number of death sentences handed down over the past few years accounted for under 10% of total sentences in such cases. Since 2000, only 5 senior officials have been executed. Among those executed, Hu Changqing, Cheng Kejie, Wang Huaizhong and Zheng Xiaoyu were involved in economic crimes while Lu Debin hired someone to kill his wife.

Suspended death penalties have amounted to 26% of all sentences over the past few years while life in prison represented around 14% and fixed prison sentences made up around 50%.

Zhou's alleged crimes are likely to be viewed severely, as he was referred to as "comrade" in documents that the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) published in July last year. The former political heavyweight will likely receive the death penalty or a suspended death penalty.

Officials whose crimes are purely financial are often given life sentences, although there are exceptions. Liu Zhijun, the disgraced former railways minister, was given a suspended death sentence for embezzling 64 million yuan (US$10.3 million). Former head of the China Food and Drug Administration Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced to death, although his economic crimes only involved 6.5 million yuan (US$1 million), because negligence on his part endangered lives.

Non-compliance with authorities can also lead to harsher punishments being meted out, former vice Anhui governor Wang Huaizhong, for example, was given a death penalty for denying his crimes, despite them being relatively minor.

(source: Want China Times)


Prosecution demands death sentence for gangster Abu Salem

The prosecution in the 1995 Pradeep Jain-murder case on Tuesday sought death penalty for gangster Abu Slem for orchestrating the murder. The defence lawyer, however, told the court that as per the extradition rules, Salem can only be given a sentence of up to 25 years of imprisonment and that asking for death penalty is a mockery of the prosecution. The court has reserved its order on the quantum of punishment against Salem and 2 others till February 18.

A TADA court on February 16 found Salem and 2 others guilty of shooting the builder Pradeep Jain 17 times, outside his Juhu bungalow in March, 1995. The police alleged that he had refused to give up a huge property in Kol Dongri to Salem. The court convicted the trio under various sections, of the TADA and Indian Penal Code. Salem, an accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, was extradited from Portugal on November 11, 2005, after a prolonged legal battle and is since in judicial custody.

Claiming that Abu Salem had a "Taliban mindset" the special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam argued in court that Salem was an incorrigible criminal who cannot be deterred with a lesser sentence than death, for killing the builder.

As grounds for seeking death penalty as quantum of punishment, Nikam submitted that Salem hatched criminal conspiracy in order to grab properties of the Jain builders and that Salem is a contract killer, nothing "less than a merchant of death". Nikam also argued that the muder of Jain was committed after previous planning and "the brutality and the cruelty of Abu salem is proved not only from the fact of the murder of Pradeep jain but also by his subsequent conduct".

Nikam reminded the court of Salem's conduct by stating that he "ridiculously" called the victim's wife Jyoti Jain on phone on the 13th day after his demise and kept laughing.

Nikam also argued, "Salem crossed all such limits of shamelesness. I would call Abu Salem as a sadist person. Sadism is a typical perversity in human life. If nature is to be prevailed then such saddist perversity must be crushed by the iron hands of law only on gallows." (sic)

The prosecutor also urged the court to provide death penalty to Salem's driver Mehendi Hasan, claiming that he also "played a very key role in the criminal conspiracy behind the killing of Pradeep Jain.

Questioning whether the state of Maharashtra was not bound by the Extradition Act, the defence counsel for Salem, Pasbola argued that the prosecutor's arguments "do not hold water to be tenable in law". Pasbola submitted that as per section 34 (C) of the Extradition Act, if the convict has committed an offence attracting death penalty, he is only liable to life imprisonment.

"Isn't the prosecution aware of the solemn promises given to the Portugal government? What is the point of calling him a curse to the society? The law does not provide for death sentence for Abu Salem," Pasbola argued.

The defence lawyer submitted that as per the agreement between the 2 countries, India and Portugal, Salem cannot be sentenced for more than 25 years. "These were the assurances given to the Portugal government," Pasbola said. As per an excerpt of letter sent by L K Advani as the then deputy prime minister, while seeking Salem's custody to be tried in the country, the Government of India had solemnly assured the goverment of Portugal "that it will exercise its powers conferred by the Indian laws to ensure that if extradited for trial in India, Salem would not be visited by death penalty or imprisonment for a term beyond 25 years".

"By asking for death penalty we are giving the Portugal government an opportunity to intervene and that no country will allow a person to be extradited despite giving solemn assurances. This way Europe shall become a safe haven for mushrooming underworld dons," Pasbola contended. Nikam asked 7 years for the 3rd convict, Virendra Jhamb, a builder, as he was 60-year old. Jhamb is alleged to have sold the 3 Andheri properties believed to have belonged to Jain brothers and sent the money to Dubai to Abu Salem.

(source: Indian Express)


PNG government defends death penalty as new guidelines approved

The Papua New Guinea government has defended its decision to reinstate the death penalty as the country prepares to execute 13 prisoners before the end of the year.

Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, secretary for the Department of Justice and attorney-general, said people had had enough of serious crime and perpetrators should die for their crimes.

"In this country we have very strong support for the implementation of the death penalty," Mr Kalinoe told the ABC's Radio Australia.

"For example, one of the (radio) talkback shows I went to, 33 people called. Of the 33, 3 opposed the death penalty, 30 of them fully supported the government's role, to actually offer to be the executioner.

"That's how serious the citizens of this country are, serious in trying to make this place, a just safe and secure society."

Mr Kalinoe's comments came after the government approved new guidelines for the implementation of death penalty.

The death penalty has not been used in PNG for more than 50 years, but was re-enacted last year when the law was amended to include more offences.

The National Executive Council then approved three modes of execution - lethal injection, firing squad and hanging.

Since then, 13 people have been waiting on death row, but lack of infrastructure has meant there has been no method to enact the capital punishment.

Recent reports suggest both Indonesia and Thailand have stepped in with offers of financial assistance and expertise.

Mr Kalinoe said the government wanted to make the country safer in re-enacting the death penalty.

"Papua New Guinea, in particular Port Moresby, is regarded as one of the most dangerous cities of the world," he said.

"That's a label that us Papua New Guineans live with, sometimes we're very embarrassed ... what a beautiful country but our reputation, fairly or unfairly, has gotten ahead of us, making this place a very unsafe sort of a place to live in.

"One of [the government's aims] was to strengthen police, strengthen the law and justice sector and implement whatever laws we need to implement."

Last week the Archbishop of the PNG Catholic Church, John Ribat, spoke out against the death penalty and called for more community discussion on the matter.

The crimes in PNG that could attract the death penalty for those convicted included: treason, piracy, wilful murder, aggravated rape, robbery involving violence, and sorcery-related killings.

(source: Australian Broadcast Corporation)


Justice department chief explains PNG death penalty stance

The Papua New Guinea Government says the people have had enough of serious crime, and perpetrators must now die for their crimes.

This comment comes as the government of Peter O'Neill is preparing to execute 13 prisoners who are on death row before year's end.

The PNG government recently approved the guidelines for the implementation of death penalty.

Reports also say Indonesia and Thailand, which have the death penalty, have offered assistance to PNG in this regard.

(source: Radio Australia)


Reinstatement of death penalty in Turkey unlikely

The brutal murder of a 20-year-old female university student in the southern province of Mersin last Friday has caused nationwide protests, and also reignited discussions about the death penalty. However, established practices and Prime Minister Davutoglu's remarks indicate that the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey is unlikely.

The vicious murder of Ozgecan Aslan, 20, has deeply shocked the nation. Activists and politicians, including Cabinet members, voiced support for bringing back the death penalty, which was abolished in 2004 and replaced with aggravated life imprisonment. Family and Social Policies Minister Aysenur Islam said on Sunday that the death penalty could be an option for the murderers of Aslan. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci also supported the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty. "We must discuss the possibility of reintroducing the death penalty for brutal murders like Ozgecan Aslan's case," he said on his Twitter account.

In contrast, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir said on Monday that the death penalty should not be evaluated with emotion and that the state should sentence criminals with the harshest punishment under the scope of the law while expressing his sorrow over the incident.

Regarding discussions on the death penalty, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu underlined that perpetrators will be punished within the current legal framework: "There might be different opinions [about the death penalty] that are declared in public, however we believe that the perpetrators deserve the harshest punishment within the current legal framework." Davutoglu said at a press conference on Monday evening: "This is a savage and barbaric assault that can never be accepted by human conscience. Therefore we understand the outrage of the community and we share the same feelings. However, in this issue, we believe that the Turkish judiciary system will hand down the severest punishment to the perpetrators of the crime."

The established practices in Turkey also reveal that reinstatement of the death penalty is not likely. Turkey abolished the death penalty more than a decade ago and replaced it with aggravated life imprisonment. In addition to this, Turkey has not executed any prisoners since October 1984.

In 1991 death sentences exceeded nearly 500 and they were converted to 10-year jail terms. Later in 2002, all converted jail terms were changed to life imprisonment.

Prior to this date, executions usually took place after military interventions and mainly political prisoners were executed. Adnan Menderes, who served as prime minister, was hanged on September 17, 1961 following the 1960 coup, along with 2 other Cabinet members, Fatin Rustu Zorlu and Hasan Polatkan. Student leaders Deniz Gezmis, Huseyin Inan and Yusuf Aslan were hanged on May 6, 1972 after the 1971 coup.

(source: Daily Sabah)


SC releases full verdict of Kamaruzzaman

The Supreme Court today released the full verdict upholding the death penalty for Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman in a war crimes case.

Earlier in the day, all the 4 SC judges, who had delivered the verdict on November 3 last year by a majority decision, signed the 577-page judgment.

They judges are Chief Justice SK Sinha, Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, Justice Hasan Foez Siddique and Justice AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury Manik.

The government can now start process for executing Kamaruzzaman as the Supreme Court released the full judgment upholding his death penalty, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said after the release of the verdict.

There is no legal bar for the government to fix a date for the execution of the Jamaat's assistant secretary general, he told The Daily Star.

He however said the execution process will be suspended if the convict files a review petition with the apex court challenging his death penalty.

Now, the SC will send its full judgment to the International Crimes Tribunal-2, which has sentenced Kamaruzzaman to death, he said.

After receiving the SC judgment, the ICT-2 will issue death warrant against Kamaruzzaman and then the jail authorities will execute him, the attorney general said.

The Jamaat leader will get 15 days from today for filing the review petition, he added.

The Appellate Division might take maximum a week for hearing and disposing of the petition, he said.

If the apex court dismisses his review petition, Kamaruzzaman can seek presidential mercy to save his neck, the top law officer of the state said.

If not, he will be execute within a day or 2, the AG said, expressing hope that all the procedures regarding his execution might be finished in next 3 to 4 weeks.

The ICT-2 handed capital punishment to the key organiser of the infamous Al-Badr Bahini On May 9, 2013.

The SC upheld the death penalty to the 79-year-old for the mass killing at Sohagpur of Sherpur on July 25, 1971.

Justice SK Sinha, now the chief justice, headed the 4-member SC bench.

The apex court commuted Kamaruzzaman's death sentence to life term imprisonment for killing Golam Mostafa at Gridda Narayanpur village of Sherpur.

It also found the Jamaat-e-Islami leader guilty of 2 more charges relating to killing and torture, but acquitted him of another charge of killing.

The SC has so far completed the trials of 2 war crimes accused, while the trials of 7 others are pending with it.

(source: The Daily Star)


Govt to start Kamaruzzaman's execution process Ahmed Zayeef -- As part of the execution process, the government will now fix a date for the execution of the Jamaat leader

The government will now start process for executing condemned war criminal Kamaruzzaman as the Supreme Court has released the full judgment upholding his death penalty, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam has said.

Alam said this to the journalists at his office in the Supreme Court on Wednesday after the release of the verdict.

As part of the execution process, the government will now fix a date for the execution of the Jamaat leader. He, however, said the execution process will be suspended if the convict files a review petition with the SC challenging his death sentence. The Jamaat leader will get 15 days from today for filing the review petition.

The SC will now send its full judgment to the International Crimes Tribunal 2 which handed down death penalty against the Jamaat leader for committing crimes against humanity in 1971. After receiving it, the tribunal will issue death warrant. The death warrant copy will be sent to the jail authorities through the district magistrate.

The jail authorities will inform it to condemned war criminal Kamaruzzaman. Then, the convict can seek president's clemency over his death penalty.

If he does not do so, the jail authorities will execute the verdict.

On May 9 last year, the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced Kamaruzzaman to death for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War. He appealed against the judgement after a month.

On November 3, 2014, the Appellate Division upheld the death penalty. Kamaruzzaman was an al-Badr leader in 1971.

He was also a top leader of the greater Mymensingh Islami Chhatra Sangha, the then student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, and was also the office secretary of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Defence claims 'legal and factual mistakes' in verdict

International Crimes Tribunal-2 has made "legal and factual mistakes" in the verdict that awarded death penalty to Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdus Subhan in a war crimes case, a defence lawyer has claimed.

"We will bring the mistakes to notice when we will appeal for the verdict with the higher court," defence lawyer Shishir Manir told reporters after coming out of the International Crimes Tribunal-2 that pronounced the judgement today.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the verdict, he said, "We hope that we will get justice in the appeal".

While voicing reaction over today's verdict, Nesar Ahmed, son of the convict, told The Daily Star that his father is completely innocent and had absolutely no relationship with the war crimes.

They would appeal with the higher court and hoped to get justice, he said.

International Crimes Tribunal-2 handed death penalty to Jamaat Nayeb-e-Ameer Abdus Subhan on 3 charges of killing, torture and confinement during the country's Liberation War in 1971.

(source: The Daily Star)


Filipina in Indonesia not up for execution

The Filipino woman on death row in Indonesia was not among those set for execution as her case was still up for judicial review, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.

The DFA made the clarification after wire reports said that the unidentified Filipina was among 8 convicted drug smugglers who would be transferred to a prison island this week for imminent execution.

The convicted drug smugglers were to be transferred to the Nusa Kambangan prison where they would face a firing squad, the death penalty as set by Indonesia.

DFA spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta confirmed that "the Filipino had not been taken away and was still in her prison cell at the Yogyakarta penitentiary."

"Meanwhile, we are still awaiting the schedule of a hearing of the judicial review we requested," Jose said in a text message.

The report on the imminent execution of the foreigners convicted for drug smuggling in Indonesia came as the DFA said it was taking note of the appeal made by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for Indonesia not to push through with the executions.

The Filipina, who came in as a tourist, was arrested at the Jakarta airport in 2010 for possession of heroin. An Indonesian court convicted her of the crime and sentenced her to death. Her death sentence was recently upheld by the Indonesian high court and the Philippine government has asked for a judicial review of her case.

"In line with our commitment as a signatory to the second optional protocol of the international covenant on civil and political rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty and in line with our mandate to safeguard the rights of our citizens overseas, the Philippines continues to exhaust all remedies available under Indonesian law to save the life of the Filipino national," the DFA said in a statement.

(source: Philippine Inquirer)


Pinay on death row in Indonesia case still for review

Reportedly, a Filipina is on death row in Indonesia, however, she was not with the others set for execution since her case was still up for judicial review.

Department of Foreign Affairs clarified the issue after wire reports said that the unidentified Filipina was included in the 8 convicted drug smugglers who would be transferred to a prison island this week for imminent execution.

The drug smugglers who were already convicted will be taken to the Nusa Kambangan prison. There, they would face a firing squad, the death penalty of Indonesia.

According to DFA spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta, "the Filipino had not been taken away and was still in her prison cell at the Yogyakarta penitentiary."

"Meanwhile, we are still awaiting the schedule of a hearing of the judicial review we requested," Jose said in a text message.

The said Filipina came to the country as a tourist. She was arrested at the Jakarta airport in 2010 for possession of heroin. The court of Indonesia convicted her of the crime with a death sentence. Her death sentence was recently approved by the Indonesian high court and the Philippine government has requested for a judicial review of her case.



Bali 9 in review----Calls to outlaw death penalty, primarily from the Western countries, are political in essence and do carry a stink of bias.

Just days before Indonesia is set to execute 2 condemned prisoners of the Bali 9 drug-traffickers, Australia has come out with an extraordinary mercy plea. In a rare gesture from the echelons of power, all of the living former prime ministers of Down Under have made a united plea to spare the lives of the drug pair on death row. 2 Aussie citizens Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaram were sentenced to death in 2006, for leading a drug cartel, and that too on a tip-off from Australian police. The 8 men and 1 woman, known as Bali 9, were arrested in Bali. The other 7 are serving life sentences.

Why this humble petition has been made is anybody's guess, but it goes without saying that the intention is to further the envelope that advocates life-term over capital punishment. The Who's Who that have signed the mercy plea are: John Howard, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Julia Gillard, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd. Their contention is that the Aussie pair had "demonstrated genuine rehabilitation" and that "justice should be based on human understanding". Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the other day joined the chorus, and said that he believed there were still legal options open in the case. This motion will be debated for long in the political and legal quarters worldwide with far-reaching consequences.

How far can this argument pass the litmus test in the court of law is difficult to say, but it is an extraordinary effort in extraordinary times when the world is uniting against agents of terror - be they gun-runners, drug-barons or human-traffickers that maim others to make a life for themselves. Australia itself has been a victim of terror, and of late had become a hub for recruitment at the hands of extremist organisations such as Daesh and the like. Drug-traffickers too are no different from assault-rifle wielders, as their networks are often interwoven behind the scenes.

Calls to outlaw death penalty, primarily from the Western countries, are political in essence and do carry a stink of bias. Had it not been so, the European Union and at times officer-bearers of the United Nations would not have protested against lifting of moratorium on executions by Indonesia, Pakistan and some of the countries in the Middle East. The point is that capital punishment is meant to deter horrible crimes and terrorism, and is a mean to an end. Nonetheless, there is always room for ensuring that justice has been done, as doors of the appellate forums can be knocked. Irrespective of what final decision Jakarta makes in this case, Australia has set a precedent by making an earnest endeavour to save its citizens from the shooting squads. Taking into account the troubled relations between the 2 countries and the fact that Indonesia has some of the toughest drug laws, it won't be an easy choice to entertain the clemency petition.

(source: Opinion, Khaleej Times)


Aussie response to Bali 9 death sentences: 'Pull the bloody foreign aid' to Indonesia

The Australian prime minister, in an effort to win the release of 2 Australians on death row in Indonesia, is suffering a diplomatic fallout after reminding Jakarta about the substantial aid Canberra sent following the 2004 tsunami.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott seems to have calculated incorrectly that Indonesia might be willing to release Australian nationals Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, sentenced to death on charges of drug smuggling, since Australia had donated $1 billion to Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 disaster.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Abbott emphasized that Australia would "feel grievously let down" if Indonesia went ahead with the executions.

"Let's not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami Australia sent a billion dollars' worth of assistance, we sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief and Australians lost their lives in that campaign to help Indonesia.

"I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian government: we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time."

Abbott pleaded on behalf of the condemned men, who were part of the so-called Bali 9 group of Australians arrested on April 17, 2005 in Bali, Indonesia, as they were attempting to smuggle 8.3kg (18lbs) of heroin from Indonesia to Australia, that they did not deserve the death sentence.

"In fact, they have become, it seems, thoroughly reformed characters in prison in Bali and they are now helping the Indonesians fight against drug crime. So much better to use these people for good than to kill them," Abbott said.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir expressed alarm that the Australian PM had connected the past extension of tsunami assistance with "the issue now in Indonesia."

"I hope this does not reflect, the statements made, the true colors of Australians," Nasir said on Wednesday. "Threats are not part of diplomatic language and from what I know, no one responds well to threats."

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi emphasized that the death sentence was not "directed at a particular country," but rather a case of "law enforcement against an extraordinary crime."

Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities announced on Tuesday that they were delaying the planned transfer of the pair to Nusa Kambangan, known as Indonesia's Alcatraz prison. They also informed that the executions were unlikely to be carried out this month.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop welcomed the decision.

"Any delay in plans by the Indonesian authorities to execute Mr. Chan and Mr. Sukumaran will be a relief to the men and their families," Bishop told the ABC on Wednesday.

"It gives us an opportunity to continue to engage on the best way forward with the Indonesian authorities so we will continue our representations at the highest level across the Indonesian government."

Asked how the government would respond if Jakarta went ahead with the planned executions, Abbott said it would not be ignored.

"I don't want to prejudice the best possible relations with a very important friend and neighbor," he said.

"But I've got to say that we can't just ignore this type of thing, if the perfectly reasonable representations that we are making to Indonesia are ignored by them."

Other Australian politicians, meanwhile, were much more direct as to how they believed Tony Abbott should handle the bilateral row.

Controversial Senator Jacqui Lambie said the prime minister had to "put his foot down" and "pull the bloody foreign aid."

"My heart goes out to their families and friends, there is no doubt about that. I know if it was my mates or my sons I would certainly be feeling the pinch. I'd remind Australia that they give $500 million in foreign aid to Indonesia," Lambie said, as quoted by the Australian newspaper.

Meanwhile, an interesting argument to grant the Australians clemency was forwarded by Jeff Hammond, a Jakarta-based pastor who has been counseling Andrew Chan.

Hammond argued that executing the 2 men would send a message to other individuals on death row that any efforts at personal rehabilitation was senseless because the men would be killed regardless, he told ABC radio.


SAUDI ARABIA----executions

Saudi Arabia beheads 2 alleged murderers, marking 31st execution this year

2 Saudis condemned to death for murder in separate cases were beheaded by the sword in Riyadh Sunday, taking to 31 the number of executions in the kingdom this year.

Interior ministry statements published by the official SPA news agency said that both Nawaf al-Shemmari and Saad al-Houzaimi had been found guilty of stabbing relatives.

According to Amnesty, trials in capital cases are often held in secret.

Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program, said the fact "that people are tortured into confessing to crimes, convicted in shameful trials without adequate legal support and then executed is a sickening indictment of the Kingdom's state-sanctioned brutality."

The desert kingdom continues to execute convicts despite pressure from human rights groups.

Drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom's legal code that follows a strict Wahhabi version of Sharia.

The Gulf nation executed 87 people in 2014 according to an AFP tally. More than 2,000 people were executed in the kingdom between 1985 and 2013, Amnesty International claimed in a report.

However, not only felonies amount to a death penalty punishment in the oil-rich kingdom. The Saudi terrorism law issued in early 2014 casts a wide net over what it considers to be "terrorism."

Under the law, punishable offenses include "calling for atheist thought in any form," "throwing away loyalty to the country's rulers," and "seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion."

Human Rights Watch urged the Saudi authorities to abolish the Specialized Criminal Court, the body that sentenced 5 pro-democracy advocates, including prominent activist and cleric Nimr al-Nimr, and many others to death, saying that analysis revealed "serious due process concerns" such as "broadly framed charges," "denial of access to lawyers," and "quick dismissal of allegations of torture without investigation."



The death penalty: what the numbers say

If Indonesia executes Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, as it says it will, it will put that country among the most prolific killer-states where charges related to drugs are concerned.

The execution of 6 people last month made 2015 the most deadly for drug offenders in Indonesia since 2008, when 10 people were killed. In fact, there had been only 1 year since then, 2013, that executions had taken place at all.

If, as expected, 11 people are to stand before the next firing squad, it will bring this year's count to 17 -- the largest count in the post-Suharto era. And the year is still young.

But Indonesia is not the only place in the world where the state will kill you for using, selling or moving drugs. Historically, it doesn't even rank in the top echelon.

In its 2012 report into the death penalty for drug offences, the most recent report available, Harm Reduction International (HRI) classified Indonesia as a "low application" state -- one that applied its death penalty provisions for drugs only rarely.

Indeed, when that report was written, it had been 4 years since a single person had suffered the death penalty in Indonesia for any offence, according to the Death Penalty Worldwide database kept by Cornell University.

Over that period, China is estimated to have executed at least 17,000 people, according to the database. It's not known how many of those were killed for drug-related offences, but according to HRI, the conviction rate for such offences that carry the death penalty is nearly 100 %.

In all, 33 countries around the world will give a death sentence for drug offences. In 13 of those, the sentence is mandatory for particular offences.

Iran, which is a distant 2nd to China in the ranks of countries that actively apply the death penalty, does so in large part for drug-related offences. According to HRI, more than 80 % of the 676 deaths by capital punishment in Iran in 2011 were for drug offences.

In that year, a new offence introduced the death penalty for trafficking or possessing more than 30 grams of "specified synthetic, non-medical psychotropic drugs, and for recruiting or hiring people to commit any of the crimes under the law, or organising, running, financially supporting, or investing in such activities", according to HRI.

Iran also has a mandatory death penalty for 'heads of the gangs or networks', but the statute does not define what a gang or network is.

Mandatory death sentences for drug-related offences exist in Singapore and Malaysia, both of which neighbour Indonesia. Between 2009 and 2011, at least 290 people received death sentences in Malaysia, at least 196 of them for drug offences. In 2011, 2 people were actually executed, 1 for drugs.

Over the same period, according to the US state department, Indonesia's population of drug users grew by about 14 per cent between 2009 and 2011 to 4.1 million people. The problem has persisted.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) in 2013 said Indonesia was home to one of the world's largest markets for amphetamine-type substances, such as ice. It said the country housed 1.2 million "problem drug users", and 90 pe cent of these were users of amphetamines.

Brookings Institute senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown that year called Indonesia a "hot and rapidly expanding meth production center", and noted that it "is no longer just a transit country for illicit drugs heading to Australia, China, and Japan, but is also increasingly a destination country", where an increasing number of the cooks were native Indonesians rather than foreigners.

"The expansion of the synthetic drugs market and the domestication of production have potentially large transformative effects on Indonesia's landscape of organised crime," she wrote.

As journalist Greg Sheridan noted this week, Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seemed to lose his appetite for executions after the last of the Bali bombers was killed in 2008. Perhaps for that reason, Indonesia didn't feature prominently among the countries that actually kill people for drugs (as opposed to those that sentence people to death who then languish in jail for extended periods).

New President Joko Widodo seems less concerned.

(source: Sydney Morning Herald)

FEBRUARY 17, 2015:

FLORIDA----stay of impending execution

Florida Supreme Court blocks execution of Orlando killer Jerry Correll

The Florida Supreme Court today stayed the execution of a death-row inmate who killed 4 people in Orlando in 1985.

Jerry William Correll was convicted in the stabbing his ex-wife, Susan, and their 5-year-old daughter.

Also killed were Susan Correll's mother, Mary Lou Hines, and her sister, Marybeth Jones.

Correll's attorneys have filed appeals to block his planned execution on Feb. 26.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Judge denies inmate's request to block death-penalty hearing

A federal judge won't block the Casper district attorney from once again seeking the death penalty against a Wyoming inmate convicted of killing a Montana woman.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne on Friday denied a request from lawyers representing inmate Dale Wayne Eaton to bar the state from seeking the death penalty against him for the 2nd time.

Eaton was convicted in 2004 of murdering Lisa Marie Kimmell, 18, of Billings, Montana. Eaton's lawyers don't dispute he killed her.

Johnson in November overturned Eaton's original death sentence, ruling he didn't get an adequate defense at his state trial. The judge said prosecutors could seek to convince another jury to resentence him to death or opt to send Eaton to prison for life without parole.

Eaton's lawyers had asked Johnson to reconsider giving the state the option to seek the death sentence again and asked him instead to order Eaton to serve life in prison without parole.

Eaton's lawyers argued that too many witnesses have died who could have testified about Eaton's background to try to convince a jury that his life had value.

Eaton's lawyers also argued that years of negative publicity fueled by what they claimed to be improper statements from prosecutors to the media would make it impossible for him to get a fair rehearing on whether he deserves the death penalty.

Eaton had been the only inmate on death row in the state before Johnson overturned his death sentence. His case has received extensive media coverage, including some that has included law enforcement speculation that he was a serial killer.

Johnson, in his order on Friday denying Eaton's requests, stated that Eaton's arguments that he can't get a fair hearing need to be addressed in the state court system.

Cheyenne lawyer Terry Harris is on the legal team representing Eaton in Johnson's court. Harris declined comment Tuesday on the judge's order.

Kimmell disappeared in 1988 while driving alone across Wyoming. Fishermen later found her body in the North Platte River.

Investigators tied Eaton to the crime in 2002 when DNA evidence taken from Kimmell's body linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges. Investigators then unearthed her missing car on his property. Authorities say Eaton kept Kimmell captive for a time in his rundown compound in Moneta, west of Casper, and raped her before killing her.

Casper District Attorney Mike Blonigen recently filed notice that he would once again seek the death penalty against Eaton. Blonigen was the original prosecutor against Eaton.

An attempt to reach Blonigen for comment on Tuesday was unsuccessful. In a recent interview, Blonigen said he has always followed the rules of professional conduct in speaking with the media about the case.

"You have to appreciate that you have to say something when these cases of great public interest occur," Blonigen said last month. "We haven't commented on specific evidence, or argued the case in the press."

(source: Associated Press)


Gov. Kitzhaber: Your Job Is Not Yet Done

Governor Kitzhaber has given 35 years of steadfast service to the people of Oregon. His tirelessness and courage have helped to forge a State that is the envy of the nation -- a community as strong and prosperous as it is just and fair. But the job is not yet done. In his last few hours in the Capitol Building, Governor Kitzhaber has the opportunity to undertake perhaps the most courageous act of his career, one that would create his most enduring legacy -- the Governor can commute the death sentences of the 34 men and one woman on Oregon's death row.

A decision to commute the death sentences would align with contemporary standards of decency in Oregon, and increasing it aligns with the norms of the nation. A recent poll in the Oregonian showed that 74 % of respondents would support a Kitzhaber decision to commute all existing death sentences. This same sense of decreasing support for capital punishment resonates throughout the country. Within the last decade, six states have abolished the death penalty. Even in states like Oregon where the punishment is authorized on paper, jurors rarely impose it. Indeed, 2014 brought the fewest executions in over 20 years and the fewest death sentences in the modern era. From Alabama to Louisiana, Mississippi to Texas, death sentences and executions are in a steep decline.

The death penalty will end nationally when the United States Supreme Court detects a national consensus against its use. A decision to commute the death row in Oregon would help push the country towards the tipping point. Last year, in a case called Hall v. Florida, the Supreme Court counted Oregon "on the abolitionist side of the ledger" noting that Kitzhaber had "suspended the death penalty" and the State had "executed only 2 individuals in the past 40 years." A bold move to clear death row could ensure that Oregon permanently remains "on the abolitionist side of the ledger." It also could reverberate beyond the State's borders, creating needed momentum for governors in other moratorium states -- for instance, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington -- to follow Kitzhaber's lead.

In the end, though, the most sacred duty of the Governor is to preserve the basic human dignity of the people of Oregon. This duty extends to each of Oregon's citizens, including those whom have committed serious crimes. The people who occupy death row tend to be people who suffer from serious mental illness, intellectual impairments, torturous childhood abuse, and other extreme disadvantage. Often times these individuals do not receive adequate legal representation; and, in states across the nation, innocent men and women emerge from the ranks of the condemned.

Recognizing these shortcomings, Governor Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on the death penalty back in 2011. He labeled the State's practice of imposing death sentences "neither fair nor just" and concluded that a "compromised and inequitable" capital punishment system is not befitting of Oregon. Nothing has changed and nothing will: the death penalty in Oregon is too broken to fix.

In his resignation letter, Governor Kitzhaber told us that he was proud to not have presided over any executions. Yet, as Governor, he presided over a state that has sentenced people to death under the same unjust system that led him to impose the moratorium. The Governor has the power to leave the troubled history of this disreputable death penalty system in Oregon's rearview mirror; and doing so would enhance the integrity of the criminal justice system without compromising public safety.

Governor Kitzhaber: You lit the torch in 2011; and now, in these few remaining hours, please carry that torch across the finish line.

(source: By Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law; Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice -- This post was co-authored with Rob Smith, Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill----Dupont Circle Communications)


Marvin Gabrion, awaiting death penalty, files 'emergency' request for psychiatric exam

Awaiting the death penalty, Marvin Gabrion is seeking an "emergency" psychiatric review to determine his mental functioning when he killed Rachel Timmerman in 1997, when he stood trial and now.

His attorneys are seeking an order as part of an "exhaustive claim" to show Gabrion's trial counsel's representation was below the standard required under the law.

"Mr. Gabrion's mental functioning was a primary focus, and rightly so, at trial," his attorneys wrote. "Mr. Gabrion's current functioning is important to how counsel moves forward in these proceedings and is also relevant as to whether Mr. Gabrion is even competent to be executed ... ."

They have asked that Gabrion, 61, undergo an evaluation on Wednesday, Feb. 18, at USP Terre Haute, a high-security federal penitentiary in Indiana. A psychiatrist is scheduled to meet with Gabrion but the prison will not reserve a room without a court order, attorneys Scott Graham, Monica Foster and Joseph Cleary wrote.

The government opposes the motion "for the reason that there is no emergency in this case, and that there is no basis for concluding that a fourth mental assessment is necessary," Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy VerHey wrote in court records.

He said Gabrion has feigned mental illness in the past in an attempt to avoid responsibility.

"Gabrion has been exhaustively evaluated by mental health professions," the prosecutor wrote. "He was assessed for competency no fewer than three times during the course of the proceedings before this court, and each time he was found to be competent. In fact, the evaluations concluded that Gabrion was malingering."

VerHey said the defense wants to use an assessment "apparently to cast doubt upon the efforts of his trial counsel. However, even if (the psychiatrist) determines that Gabrion suffers from some new, previously undiscovered mental condition, that does not translate into a basis for overturning the verdict and sentence," VerHey said.

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel earlier overturned the death penalty, but the full court, by a 12-4 vote, affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Gabrion showed "utter depravity" when he killed Timmerman, 19, in a shallow, remote lake in the Manistee National Forest, the federal appellate court said. He kidnapped her 2 days before he was to stand trial in Newaygo County for raping her.

He bound and gagged her, weighed her down with a concrete block, then threw her into the water and she drowned. He also killed her 11-month-old daughter, Shannon Verhage, whose body has not been found, the government says.

Federal investigators believe he killed 3 others.



Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: Redemption Is Always Possible, so Killing Is Always Wrong

Imagine the worst thing you've ever done. Hold onto that thought for a moment. Now ask yourself: Does that moment define you? Should that moment define you? If you're like me, you'll find that even though we all make mistakes in life, even though we all fall short of our greatest ideals and hopes, our worst decisions don't necessarily reflect our true character. How many of us did stupid things when we were younger? How many have committed acts we regret? As we age, we make mistakes. As we make mistakes, we learn and grow.

How does it make sense, then, to brand convicted felons as permanently "unworthy" of life? If we were truly rational and consistent in our moral outrage, this possibility would be wholly untenable -- for they, like us, possess the capacity to change -- yet we persist in our delusional thinking about retributive punishment, character, and ethics. We forget why we condemn murder in the first place -- its incredible and horrible finality, its absolute denial of any and all ability to learn and grow. This rebuff of human potentiality confuses justice for vengeance.

Don't get me wrong: The death penalty is about many things -- retribution, punishment, anger, a misguided desire for some illusory "cosmic balancing" of the scales of justice. Yet it is most about imagination. Because even though society takes solace in a belief that the people we legally murder deserve death because they once caused it, this rationale lies in the realm of fiction, not reality. Because people change.

The men and women who were sentenced to death decades ago are not the same men and women alive today. After languishing for perhaps fifteen years in solitary confinement, one finds a lot of time to think and to read and to reminisce and to regret and to immerse oneself in redemptive activity and thought. While of course not all death row inmates avail themselves of these opportunities, many do. Many go through a crucible of pain and suffering and emerge as better people, as people who are shed of past wrongdoings in character if not in deed, as people who are immersed in religion or philosophy or wisdom drawn from a well of mistakes made and sufferings suffered.

As a result of the mere existence of this natural process of change, we are (in a sense) executing innocent people: That is to say, we are killing men and women so far changed from who they were when they committed their horrendous crimes that to say we are doling out truly retributive justice -- much less just justice -- is nonsensical. We aren't executing the same person. We are killing, instead, a much-improved "version" of the criminal we sentenced, a person who bears little to no resemblance to the dumb, inexperienced kid who committed a heinous crime perhaps 15 or 20 years ago.

Anecdotes are plentiful. There is William Happ, who committed a brutal murder in 1986 only to recant decades later. There is Robert Waterhouse, who may well have been innocent in the legal manner rather than the manner I use the term in this essay, and who maintained his innocence until the end. The list is tragically long. For every death row inmate who didn't change for the better after his sentencing, there is another who recanted in sincere and moving ways. What good does it do to kill these people? What good, when they have made so much moral progress?

The death penalty is dying; it's only a matter of time. How many people will it need to take with it? Society rightly condemns murder because death is the very definition of finality. It can't be undone. So of course I understand why the impulse to kill those who kill exists. Faced with the death of a loved one, I sometimes wonder whether I myself would be able to uphold my ideals and forgo the impulse for retribution. I don't have the temerity to judge anyone who supports the death penalty.

But killing people who kill is wrong for the same reasons killing others is wrong: Death's finality denies all possibility of change. By killing people who kill, we either (1) kill men and women who have changed for the better or (2) deny murderers the possibility of reforming their characters and lives. This is repugnant to all moral systems, but especially Christianity. In the immortal words of Justice William Douglas, the "principle of forgiveness and the doctrine of redemption are too deep in our philosophy to admit that there is no return for those who have once erred."

Murder is the most heinous crime there is. But it is a better society where murderers, already justly suffering through a life in prison, can at least meditate on their crimes and redeem themselves by changing -- mentally -- for the better. Killing killers denies the possibility of redemptive change while perpetuating the very crime that put these people in prison in the first place.

If we are really consistent in our condemnation of murder, if we truly acknowledge the power of change and the possibility for redemption, we should not ourselves -- through our votes and through our politics -- become collective murderers.

Stop killing people.

(source: Michael Shammas, Huffington Post)


Prosecutor wants death penalty for man with bodies in yard

A prosecutor has asked a jury to send a Pennsylvania man convicted of strangling 2 people during a 2002 robbery to death row.

The penalty phase of Hugo Selenski's capital murder trial opened Tuesday, 4 days after Pennsylvania's governor declared a moratorium on the death penalty.

Selenski's attorneys filed a motion asking the judge to preclude jurors from considering a death sentence, but he told them they are to consider either life or death for Selenski.

Selenski was convicted last week of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and his girlfriend, Tammy Fassett.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino says Selenski tortured Kerkowski and deserves death.

Authorities found at least bodies in Selenski's yard in 2003. He beat 2 previous homicide charges.

(source: Associated Press)


Capital punishment in Florida is death by judicial whim

The premise underlying Florida's death penalty is that it will be carried out fairly. To borrow a phrase, that is a bright and shining lie.

As the 1st to re-enact capital punishment after the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 1972, Florida's Legislature provided specific criteria for death sentences and required the state Supreme Court to review each one.

In upholding that law, the state court promised in 1973 that "the reasons present in one case will reach a similar result to that reached under similar circumstances in another case ... the sentencing process becomes a matter of reasoned judgment rather than an exercise in discretion at all."

The U.S. Supreme Court bought it.

But it was sophistry then and it is sophistry now. The Florida Supreme Court rarely sees the vast majority of murder cases that result in life sentences rather than death, and so it cannot compare them for true proportionality. When an appeal forces it to consider the disparate fates of co-defendants, its scales of justice are often out of balance.

Emilia L. Carr helped her boyfriend strangle his estranged wife in Marion County 6 years ago. She's on death row. He's not.

Heather Strong died slowly. She was duct-taped to a chair, beaten with a flashlight and suffocated with a plastic bag. Those were what the law calls aggravating circumstances.

Still, Joshua Fulgham was equally guilty.

As the court rationalized in upholding Carr's conviction and death sentence this month, the pair had separate trials before separate juries. And although the court invited her to protest the disparity in a subsequent round of appeals, three of the seven justices believed there was already enough in the record to justify executing her alone.

That concurring opinion, written by Justice Ricky Polston, said she was "more culpable" because her intelligence was superior to that of her low-IQ lover, whom she probably manipulated into carrying out the murder.

Carr, who is 30 and has been on death row for 4 years, will be a lot older before her fate is sealed.

And Florida taxpayers will be out a lot more money than it would cost them if a life sentence rather than death hung in the balance.

The Miami Herald once calculated that Florida was spending $3.2 million for each death case, 6 times the total for litigation and incarceration of a life sentence. More recent studies in other states vary from twice to 5 times the cost of death over life, and figured in Maryland's recent decision to abolish capital punishment. In declaring a moratorium on executions pending a legislative study, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday, "This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive."

There is something inherently foul in a system that gives life to the co-defendant who cops a plea and death to the one who might be less guilty.

Jesse Tafero, executed in 1980, was put in the electric chair by a co-defendant, Walter Rhodes, who said Tafero was the triggerman in the deaths of 2 law enforcement officers. Rhodes later recanted, saying he had been the shooter, but the courts wouldn't believe him. The execution a month ago of Johnny Kormondy owed similarly to a co-defendant's subsequently recanted testimony. The same thing happened to John Marek in 2009 despite the sworn testimony of other inmates that a co-defendant serving life - and subsequently murdered in prison - had boasted of being the actual triggerman.

Carr's is another of those cases in which the jury did not recommend death unanimously - the vote was only 7 to 5 - but Florida allows the judge to make his or her own decisions. Most often, the Supreme Court approves them.

That's just one of the ways the 1972 law perpetuated discretion. Some judges and juries are harsher than others. Prosecutors have great leeway in deciding whether to accept a plea or go for the kill, and their decisions can't be appealed.

In fiscal 2014, 1,056 people went to prison in Florida for murder or manslaughter. Of those convictions, 384 were for 1st degree murder, the only kind eligible for death. But of those 384, only 12 were death-sentenced. Those 12 are the only cases the Supreme Court is required to review. Appeals of the others rarely go beyond the 5 district courts of appeal.

There's a man serving life from Collier County for killing his mother and sister with a pipe bomb. That would seem to be more diabolical than what Carr did. But his case never figures in any proportionality review.

Once upon a time, Florida governors commuted sentences to prevent comparative injustice. The last to do so was Bob Graham, in 1983. There has been no commutation for any reason since then.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Harry Blackmun eventually despaired of finding justice in capital punishment.

"From this day forward, I no longer will tinker with the machinery of death," he wrote in a 1994 solitary dissent. " ... The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution."

He was right. Florida remains in the wrong.

(source: Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, North

ALABAMA----stay of impending execution

Judge halts state's plan to execute Arthur

Death-row inmate Tommy Arthur's Thursday execution has been stayed by a federal judge in Montgomery.

The order this morning from Judge Keith Watkins said that Arthur has met his burden and is entitled to a stay.

"Arthur's February 19, 2015, execution date is stayed pending a trial and final decision on the merits of his claims," the order states.

A trial will be held in U.S. District Court May 5-6 on objections Arthur's attorney's raised to the lethal injection methods the state plans to use for the execution.

A spokeswoman for the Alabama attorney general's office said it had not comment on the stay.

Last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the 2012 stay preventing Arthur's death has expired.

The Alabama Supreme Court in December scheduled Arthur, 73, for execution Thursday. However, a federal judge ruled the 2012 stay issued by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remained in place.

Lawyers for the state attorney general's office last month asked that the 2012 stay be lifted, arguing it applied only to Arthur's previously set execution date and Arthur's challenge to the lethal injection procedure the state used at that time.

Alabama in September adopted a new drug combination that uses midazolam hydrochloride as the sedative to render a prisoner unconscious at the start of an execution.

Arthur's lawyers have argued the new drugs should not be used until a court has time to review them.

Arthur has challenged the state's various drug combinations as potentially cruel and unusual.

Arthur was sentenced to die for the 1982 murder-for-hire of a Muscle Shoals man.

On the day of the murder, Arthur is said to have walked away from a work release program in Decatur and driven to Muscle Shoals.

(source: Decatur Daily)


Shoals killer Tommy Arthur gets another stay, 2 days before his scheduled execution

Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur has been granted another reprieve 2 days before he was scheduled to be executed. He has been on death row for 32 years and this is the 6th time he's been granted a stay.

Arthur's lawyers had filed an emergency motion late Monday in an effort to postpone his execution. They learned today the U.S. District Court has granted their request until a hearing about the matter in May. Arthur is protesting the combination of drugs Alabama uses to execute inmates.

Arthur had been scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday, February 19 at 6 p.m. at Holman Prison in Atmore. He was scheduled to be moved to the room known as the 'death chamber' today. Arthur was sentenced to death for the contract killing of Troy Wicker of Muscle Shoals in 1982.

Arthur has filed several previous court challenges against the combination of drugs used for lethal injection executions. There are many similar challenges from death row inmates in other states.

(source: WHNT news)


Witnesses Against a British Grandmother on Death Row Say Texas Prosecutors Blackmailed Them Into Testimony

Key witnesses against a British grandmother on death row in Texas have claimed that prosecutors in her 2002 trial intimidated, threatened, and blackmailed them into testifying against her, raising serious questions about a conviction which has been long protested by campaigners and the UK government.

Linda Carty was convicted for the kidnap and murder of her 25-year-old neighbor Joana Rodriguez, who was abducted along with her 4-day-old son by 3 men in May 2001. The baby was found alive, yet Rodriguez was found suffocated in the boot of a car. It was claimed during the trial that Carty had hired the gang of men to steal the child so that she could raise him as her own. According to the Houston Chronicle, the 3 men who abducted Rodriguez and her child all had criminal records, but only Carty was prosecuted for capital murder.

Carty, now 56, has been on death row ever since. The US Supreme Court refused her appeal in May 2010.

Carty has always maintained her innocence, and campaign groups, as well as the British government, have highlighted serious flaws in her trial. According to human rights organization Reprieve, Carty was forced to accept a court-appointed lawyer, Gerald Guerinot, whose poor professional reputation has been covered in detail by the New York Times and whose astonishing tally of clients given the death penalty has been described by the American Bar Association Journal as a "possible record" in modern times. The British government complained that they were not notified of Carty's case, and that there was "ineffective assistance of counsel." It raised the issue with the then governor of Texas, Rick Perry, during his visit to the UK in 2013.

Yet it has now emerged that key witnesses have stepped forward with affidavits, signed in 2014, which allege that they testified against Carty because of intimidation, threats and blackmail from Harris County prosecutors. Christopher Robinson, who was arrested in connection to the case and was the only person to testify that he had seen Carty commit the murder, said that Texan District Attorneys Connie Spence and Craig Goodhart had "threatened me and intimidated me, telling me I would get the death penalty myself if Linda Carty did not get the death penalty." The affidavit, available via the Houston Chronicle, goes onto say that "they (Spence and Goodhart) were alternating between coaching me and threatening me to get me to say their version."

Former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Charles Mathis also produced an affidavit, stating that Carty worked as a confidential informant for him. The affidavit alleges: "Shortly after the initial investigation I was contacted by DA (District Attorney) Connie Spence. Spence called me on the telephone and I told Spence that I did not want to testify against Linda."

The affidavit goes on to state: "I told Spence that I had known Linda for a long time and I knew that Linda did not have it in her to kill anyone. Spence provided me with no option to testify against Linda: Spence threatened me with an invented affair that I was supposed to have with Linda."

A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office told VICE News: "We are not commenting on the allegations or the case at this time due to pending litigation."

In light of the new testimony, Carty's lawyers are asking for an evidentiary hearing, a request being considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve said: "If Linda is not granted a new hearing, she faces the death penalty based on lies extracted by prosecutors desperate to secure an execution at any cost. The behavior of prosecutors in this case has been so appalling it takes the breath away. They have stooped to targeting the marriage of one witness with invented slurs, while using the threat of death to force another to produce the lies they needed for conviction. Linda's last hope is that Texas recognizes that she deserves a new - and this time fair - trial."

A former teacher, Carty was born in St. Kitts when it was a British colony, and holds a UK passport.

A spokesman for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office told VICE News: "While we respect the USA's right to bring those convicted of a crime to justice, the UK is deeply opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

"In Linda Carty's case, we have additional, deep concerns about how this case was handled. We were not notified of her detention until after she had been convicted and sentenced to death. We also strongly believe her defense was very weak.

"We will continue to support Linda's case and remain in close contact with her legal team."

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, seven women are currently on death row, including Carty. Its website boasts that "Texas leads the nation in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976."



Death penalty violates human rights, fails to serve purpose

The death penalty in the United States has failed as a form of punishment in the criminal justice system.

If a country is going to use the death penalty, it should be reserved for those who commit an act of terror against the state, not for person on person or property crimes.

Texas is a prime example of how the death penalty has failed.

11 years ago, former Gov. Rick Perry sentenced Cameron Willingham to the death penalty. Willingham was convicted of setting his home on fire, killing his daughters.

When new evidence had come up indicating that Willingham was not responsible for the murders, there was a petition for a stay of execution, which Perry refused to grant.

Willingham was executed. Since his execution, evidence has been confirmed clearing Willingham for causing the fire.

Wrongful convictions are not rare; having incarceration as the primary method of punishment, however, makes it easier to amend a wrongful conviction.

You cannot undo the death penalty.

The death penalty, if used, should be used as a last resort, which is currently not the case.

There should be a lot more scrutiny on the injections being administered to convicts receiving the death penalty. Currently, the cocktail in use is a 3-drug method, which could be switched out for a single drug method that would help eliminate risks associated with the current cocktail.

Risks associated with the cocktail include reports that, following administration, convicts often writhe or make sounds that indicate pain.

It also takes a considerable amount of time for this 3-drug method cocktail to kill the convict; some cocktails have taken up to 2 hours.

Take for example Robert Ladd, a convicted murderer who was considered intellectually disabled, executed on Jan. 29. He died 27 minutes after the administration of the pentobarbital.

Manufacturers of the cocktail are primarily based in Europe and are closing down because they do not agree that the drugs are not being used in accordance with medical indications.

Some manufacturers also do not want their drugs being used in departments of corrections in the United States.

As more and more manufacturers of the cocktail are closing down, it would behoove states to look at the financial cost of these lethal injections versus incarceration.

There have been recent discussions in Europe about reinstating the death penalty. I believe this is a reactionary response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

It would be unfair to presume that the use of the death penalty would fail in Europe just because it has failed in the United States, but I still do not envision the death penalty being successful in Europe.

The European Union (EU) has acknowledged the death penalty as being a violation of human rights for a very long time, and this ethical and moral foundation is very ingrained in the various legal systems there.

There are also several treaties made in France that would be broken if they adopted any form of death penalty.

The world believes the death penalty is wrong. Our government should too.

It is unlikely that Texas will do away with the death penalty. However, there has to be substantial revisions made to the administration of this capital punishment across the board. These revisions include decreasing the amount of wrongful convictions, as well as finding a better method by which we ascertain the lethal injection.

The death penalty is ineffective and becoming increasingly more inhumane due to a lack of transparency in the process.

The discourse surrounding the death penalty needs to work on a transition into other methods of punishment, or perhaps disbanding lethal injection as a whole.

(source: Bryanna Estrada,


Hugo Selenski's lawyers, citing moratorium, say no death penalty

Lawyers for Hugo Selenski, the man convicted of strangling 2 people during a 2002 robbery, asked a judge on Tuesday to bar jurors from considering the death penalty in his trial because Pennsylvania's governor has declared a moratorium.

Selenski's defense team filed its motion just before the penalty phase of his capital murder trial was scheduled to open and 4 days after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, who took office last month, called the current system of capital punishment "error prone, expensive and anything but infallible" and said the moratorium will remain in effect at least until he receives a report from a legislative commission that has been studying the topic for several years. Selenski's motion asked Luzerne County Common Pleas Judge Fred Pierantoni III to remove the death penalty as a sentencing option or, alternatively, to delay the penalty phase indefinitely.

"As the sole elected official responsible for signing execution warrants, the Governor's words and actions are compelling and reinforce the various imperfections of Pennsylvania's capital sentencing system under both state and federal constitutional principles," the motion said.

The death penalty remains on the books in Pennsylvania, and it wasn't immediately clear whether the judge has the ability to preclude jurors from considering it. Prosecutors and defense lawyers were still meeting in the judge's chambers Tuesday hours after the penalty phase of Selenski's trial was supposed to begin.

Pennsylvania has executed only 3 people since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. All 3 had voluntarily given up their appeals. The last execution took place in 1999.

Law enforcement groups are considering a legal challenge to Wolf's moratorium.

Selenski was convicted last week on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of pharmacist Michael Kerkowski and his girlfriend, Tammy Fassett. Prosecutors said Selenski and another man killed the couple in a plot to rob the pharmacist of tens of thousands of dollars from an illegal prescription drug ring.

Police found the victims' bodies, along with 3 other sets of human remains, on Selenski's property north of Wilkes-Barre in 2003.

(source: The Morning Call)


Death penalty already dying

When Gov. Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty last week, he merely formalized reality. Fact is, there hasn't been an execution in Pennsylvania in 15 years.

Since 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court, only 3 prisoners have been executed in this state out of 412 death sentences. And the 3 prisoners who were executed all waived at least part of their appeals and asked to be put to death.

Here's more reality: 60 % of all death sentences in Pennsylvania - 250 at last count - have been overturned by state or federal courts. And if the pool of death sentences is restricted to those who completed ordinary appeals, the reversal rate is more than 90 %.

So, the fact of the matter is that the death penalty in Pennsylvania exists on paper only. In imposing a moratorium, Wolf cited more realities, calling the current system of capital punishment "error prone, expensive and anything but infallible."

He's right.

That so many sentences have been overturned by higher courts speaks to a system riddled with errors and, in its application, injustice. Numerous studies clearly indicate that racial minorities and the poor receive death sentences at a significantly higher rate than others convicted of capital crimes. And those sentences, as the appeals courts have found, often are related to inadequate legal representation at trial.

What's more, unimpeachable DNA evidence has provided a clear and troubling picture of just how flawed the system is, as scores of wrongly convicted people have been released from prisons across the nation - excluding those who, hauntingly, were put to death.

Making the situation all the more nightmarish is the cost of the death penalty.

Using data from a Maryland study, which concluded that death penalty cases cost $1.9 million more than cases involving life sentences, the Reading Eagle newspaper estimated in a 2014 series that the 185 people then on death row cost Pennsylvania taxpayers an additional $351.5 million. And that's a conservative estimate, because the figure didn't include overturned cases.

Finally, the prestigious National Research Council, based on a review of more than three decades of research, concluded the death penalty hasn't had a deterrent effect on murder rates despite other studies to the contrary. And so the council urges that such studies, which it determined to be flawed, not be used to guide public policy about capital punishment.

What emerges as the new public policy in Pennsylvania will, in part, be determined by a report from a legislative commission that has been studying the issue for about 4 years. That and Wolf's reasoned declaration that if the state "is going take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible."

Nothing less should be acceptable.

(source: Editorial, Bucks County Courier Times)


Governor Calls for Halt on Death Penalty in Frein Case

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's call for a halt on the death penalty won't keep the Pike County district attorney from seeking the punishment against accused cop killer Eric Frein.

Frein is accused of the ambush shooting last September which killed 1 Pennsylvania State Trooper and injured another.

Pike County DA Raymond Tonkin released a statement saying if Frein is found guilty he will still ask the jury to weigh the aggravating circumstances.

Tonkin had filed notice to seek the death penalty in January.

Wolf's moratorium will stay in effect until a state Senate committee's study on the punishment is finished.

(source: WICZ News)


Goal isn't vengeance

The Old Testament's recommendation of an "eye for an eye" to compensate an injured party has been cited over the ages by proponents of capital punishment. Meanwhile, death penalty opponents note the New Testament's directive to set aside the desire for retribution and "turn the other cheek" when slapped.

No biblical debate is required, however, to determine the value of capital punishment. There is more than enough empirical evidence to show that the practice is neither fair nor cost-effective and that it fails to deter violent crime.

No wonder most countries no longer sentence prisoners to death. It's a shame that the United States not only still executes prisoners, but is listed among the rogues' gallery of the 5 countries with the most executions since 2010, which also includes China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen.

That unsavory distinction could go away if more states abolish the death penalty. New Jersey did in 2007, and Pennsylvania took a giant step in that direction last week, when Gov. Wolf suspended all executions pending the release of a state task force's report on capital punishment.

Wolf made it clear that he wasn't motivated by sympathy for death-row inmates, including Terrance Williams, who was scheduled for execution on March 4 for a 1984 murder. "I take this action because the capital punishment system has significant and widely recognized defects," Wolf said.

Perhaps the biggest defect is the death penalty's fallibility. Evidence revealed after conviction has led to the exoneration of some 150 people sentenced to die in this country since 1973. No one knows how many of the 1,200 people executed during that period were also innocent.

Racial bias is a factor in imposition of the death penalty. A 2007 Yale study showed that black defendants were 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites when victims were white. An American Bar Association study that year concluded that 1/3 of Philadelphia death-row inmates would have been sentenced to life in prison instead if they were white.

Of course, a death sentence rarely means death. Pennsylvania has executed only 3 people since the penalty was reinstated 40 years ago, and all had voluntarily abandoned further appeals. 2 of the 186 people still on the state's death row have been there more than 30 years, and one has been scheduled for execution 6 times. Shouldn't that qualify as "cruel and unusual" punishment?

But it's not just cruel to prisoners spending year after year in mortal limbo; it's cruel to the families of victims. The certainty of a life sentence might not be as satisfying for those who seek vengeance for their pain, but it would keep them from having to relive their tragedies each time a defendant is due for appeal.

States without the death penalty have lower murder rates, and after reducing lengthy appeals and cutting incarceration costs, they also have more money for education and other budget needs. Those facts are expected to be corroborated by the task force report, giving Pennsylvania all the evidence it needs to end capital punishment.

(source: Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer)


WIS Investigates: Is the death penalty on hold in South Carolina?

It was September 1991. A crowd cheered as the body of the most notorious serial killer in modern South Carolina history, Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins, was taken from Columbia's Broad River Correctional Institution. On that day, Gaskins became the fourth death row inmate to be executed since the reauthorization of capital punishment in the Palmetto State.

During the next 2 decades, 39 more men would follow Gaskins sometimes in rapid succession. There were 19 over 4 years beginning in 1996, but scenes like this are now rare.

In the last nearly 6 years, just 1 inmate has entered the death chamber at Broad River Correctional Institution. S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling is not expecting that number to change anytime soon.

"There are no current orders for execution," Stirling said. "Everything is under appeal at this time."

Experts say it's not that prosecutors here or elsewhere have become reluctant to seek death sentences.

"We have found that generally on average the state across the country seeks death in approximately 17 cases a year," said Emily Paavola, of the S.C. Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center. "And we have not found that to decline in recent years."

Even opponents of capital punishment say they don't see that public opinion has turned against it in this state.

"I think our state is still predominantly in favor of capital punishment," said Charles Grose, of the S.C. Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center.

But several factors have combined to virtually shut down the death house.

Among them are advances in DNA technology, legal rulings protecting inmates with severe mental disorders, and most recently, the inability of states executing by lethal injection to get one or more of the drugs they use. That is a problem in South Carolina.

"Right now, what we're doing is we are looking and reaching out to pharmacies and suppliers et cetera to try to find pentobarbital," Stirling said. "We have thus far not been successful at that."

Pentobarbital is an anesthetic - the 1st component of a 3-drug series that also includes a paralyzer, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. South Carolina had been using a different anesthetic, such as sodium thiopental, until the Drug Enforcement Administration cracked down on the use of that foreign-made ingredient in 2011.

"The opponents of the death penalty have been very good at stopping states from obtaining the necessary drugs to carry out an execution," Stirling said.

But it's not a drug shortage that's kept Tommy Sease and his family frustrated for more than 30 years.

"We think about how she suffered. And we just don't feel like the justice system has worked here," Sease said.

Sease is the nephew of Newberry County schoolteacher Elizabeth Sease Lominack, who was robbed, raped, and murdered in her Pomaria home in 1982. Her killer is Fred Singleton, who went to death row a year later. He is still there, and his sentence blocked by a 1991 court ruling that determined Singleton was mentally incapacitated.

"We feel like -- I mean our family's been violated," Sease said.

Sease said his family and many in the Newberry area believe capital punishment is a deterrent to others who would commit serious crimes, if it is carried out after appeals are exhausted within a reasonable amount of time.

While Singleton is the longest serving death row inmate, there are others among the 42 residents with sentences dating back to the 80's. They include Jamie Wilson, who shocked the nation in 1988 by gunning down 11 people, killing 2 in a Greenwood elementary school. He pleaded guilty, but mentally ill - the 1st in South Carolina to be sentenced under that statute.

"The way we do capital punishment is absurd," said Bob McAlister, opponent of the death penalty.

McAlister said seemingly endless delays in the capital punishment system are troubling. He says that from the perspective of a counse