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

[NOTE----this webpage will next be updated on Dec. 30]

DECEMBER 17, 2017:

TEXAS----female to face death penalty

Hundreds of jurors skip out on capital murder case leading to new delay

The jury selection process in the state's capital murder case against Sabrina Vielma came to a halt Thursday after 75 % of summoned jurors failed to appear. Vielma faces the death penalty for the Dec. 11, 2011, death of her 4-year-old son Davaughn Rodriguez.

Visiting Judge Stephen Ables told the crowd of 124 potential jurors that 500 people were asked to appear. Before hearing potential jurors who asked to be excused for various reasons, Ables said the court hoped to leave for the day with 125 potential jurors eligible to return Friday.

Instead, after listening to excuses and taking a brief recess, Ables announced at about 11:30 a.m. that everyone would be dismissed because too many of the summoned people failed to appear. The judge said a turnout of 215-220 people is needed to select a jury.

(source: Uvalde Leader-News)


3 teens have charges upgraded to capital murder in connection to alleged drug deal killing

3 teens face capital murder charges after an October drug deal gone wrong in Bexar County.

3 teenagers suspected of killing a man during a drug deal gone bad could face the death penalty after their charges were upgraded to capital murder.

Michael Aguilar, 19, Emmanuel Herrera, 18, and Charles Robnett, 18, had previously been arrested on murder charges in connection to the shooting death of Gary Barnhardt, 20.

Robnett was still in custody but Aguilar and Herrera were re-arrested Friday afternoon. All 3 had upgraded charges.

The killing occurred Oct. 16, when Barnhart and his friend met up with the 3 near Lake Bend East and Fountain Lake to sell them marijuana, Sheriff Javier Salazar said.

"They arrived not with the intention of buying the drugs, but robbing the victims of the drugs," Salazar said.

Things didn't go as planned, and Barnhardt and his friend were shot. Though his friend survived, Barnhardt died at the scene.

Neither Aguilar nor Herrera had anything to say as deputies brought them into custody.

"You have 5 young lives who are ruined forever over something as senseless as drugs," Salazar said.

The 3 suspects' bail amounts were set at $500,000 each.



Death Penalty for Mentally Ill Defendants?----That's not justice, argue mental health professionals

In recent years, policymakers have begun taking important steps in addressing how our criminal justice system approaches individuals with mental illness who commit crimes. As our understanding of the factors which lead people with mental illness to commit crime grows, "jail diversion" ( and other programs designed to divert people with mental illness into treatment instead of incarceration are being implemented nationwide, as well as in communities across the commonwealth ( However, much more remains to be done to reform Virginia's approach to the way it treats individuals with severe mental illness in its criminal justice system.

An important proposal that would contribute to this reform has been considered by the General Assembly during its last two sessions: a bill to ban the use of the death penalty for people with severe mental illness. The bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole for individuals who had active symptoms of a severe mental illness at the time of their offense. This is a much-needed reform, since, surprisingly, individuals with severe mental illness can still be sentenced to death and executed under Virginia law.

Severe mental illness is a subset of mental illness that includes the most serious disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. To be considered a severe mental illness, the condition must last for extended periods of time and significantly interfere with a person's major life activities, such as working, interacting with others or caring for oneself. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 4.2 % of U.S. adults live with a severe mental illness (; this equates to more than 300,000 adults with severe mental illness in the commonwealth.

Despite our growing understanding of severe mental illness and its consequences, there are no protections from the death penalty for those individuals whose disorder was pre-sent at the time of the offense. As a result, they continue to be sentenced to death and executed. One such individual was Adam Ward, who was executed by the State of Texas in 2016 despite recognition by Texas state courts that he had lived with severe mental illness "his entire life" and "was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on lithium as early as age 4" (

As mental health professionals, we strongly believe that individuals like Adam Ward should not be sentenced to death. We know firsthand that individuals with severe mental illness may, when experiencing a crisis, have difficulty using rational judgment; operate under strong paranoid and delusional thoughts that prevent them from fully understanding what is real and what isn't; or be unable to fully control their impulses. This is all relevant when deciding whether someone should receive society's ultimate punishment.

That these defendants continue to be sentenced to death is even more surprising considering that individuals with intellectual disability and juveniles were exempted from the death penalty by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago. The Court said that intellectual disability and youth are characterized by impairments that diminish a personís culpability even though they "do not warrant an exemption from criminal sanctions." Although intellectual disability and severe mental illness are different conditions, they bring very similar impairments, and we must treat equally those who live with either of these conditions.

This reform is all the more necessary because misconceptions about severe mental illness and violence cloud our approach to criminal defendants with these diagnoses. Instead of recognizing their conditions for what they are - impairments - juries, judges, and the general public often exhibit an "irrational prejudice against people with mental illness," a phenomenon that New York Law School Professor Michael Perlin has labeled "sanism" ( ).

These prejudices may include the idea - unsupported by empirical evidence - that people with mental illness are inherently dangerous. This belief is particularly concerning in death penalty cases. Indeed, studies have shown ( that capital jurors sometimes erroneously - and troublingly - consider evidence of mental illness aggravating instead of mitigating. This means that juries may confuse the legal standard and think mental illness should increase someone's punishment when it really is only supposed to be considered to decrease punishment. This should trouble all of us, and make clear that the only remedy is a categorical exclusion from the death penalty.

We urge the General Assembly to revisit this issue in its 2018 session. We must provide to individuals with severe mental illness the same protections we afford those with intellectual disability, and we need to recognize that their impairments make them undeserving of the ultimate punishment."

(source: Damien Cabezas is CEO of Horizon Behavioral Health and Rhonda Thissen is executive director the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI Virginia), on whose board of directors Cabezas serves. They wrote this column for The News & Advance)


Ohio politicians vying to abolish death penalty

A local lawmaker said she would like to abolish the death penalty.

Nickie Antonio introduced House Bill 389 hoping to sway her fellow lawmakers to join her in the effort to kill the death penalty in Ohio.

Representative Antonio said taking someone's life, for taking someone's life, is a bad practice and she wants Ohio "not" to do it anymore.

"It's wrong," Antonio said.

Antonio said if one does the crime, they should do the time, not die at the hand of the state.

"But if they committed this most heinous crime, our worst criminals, we as the state of Ohio and taxpayers should be better than them and so a sentence of life without parole I think is a very just punishment," Antonio said.

Antonio, who's from Lakewood, introduced the legislation to abolish capital punishment in Ohio.

She said minorities and the poor get hit the hardest.

Justice Pfeiffer has called capital punishment a death lottery because of how disproportionately people of color are impacted by it.

Cuyahoga County, while it has a small percentage of capital crimes, when compared to the other counties, it's sending the most people to death row.

"Currently, our criminals justice is not equal," Pfeiffer said.

Her colleague, fellow State Representative Stephanie Howse, co-signed the bill to get rid of the death penalty in Ohio.

"I do believe that we can find a way to administer justice, but do it in a way that is humane and right now I just don't think or believe that's it's a humane way to do it and a way to really try to help people make up for what they've done," Howse said.

Antonio added this reason to her argument.

"We have more than 6 folks in the state of Ohio who have been exonerated. That's means they were found not guilty but they were sitting on death row. They're free today, but if we had executed them we would have executed people who are innocent," Antonio said.

Actually, there have been nine people freed since 1976 for crimes they didn't commit and for which they were sentenced to die.

Another local politician, Republican, Nathan Manning from North Ridgeville, will decide if Antonio's bill will get any more hearings or stay in committee without further action.



An L.A. court mistakenly destroyed evidence a death row inmate says would free him. Now what?

From his small cell on Californiaís death row, Scott Pinholster swore he could prove his innocence. The proof, he said, was in the dried blood on a work boot and a pink towel recovered from his home years ago.

The condemned inmate insisted that modern DNA testing - nonexistent when he was convicted of a double murder in 1984 - would show the blood belonged to him, not the victims, as the prosecution argued at his trial.

But a recent search for the items has led to a disturbing discovery that could throw the case into jeopardy: The Los Angeles County courts mistakenly destroyed the evidence.

A judge must now determine what, if anything, should be done to remedy the high-stakes error.

Pinholster's attorney has asked for a hearing on how the destruction happened and says he will eventually ask for a new trial. Prosecutors, however, argue that a killer's life shouldn't be spared simply because of an innocent mistake by court staff.

How evidence once thought destroyed helped free a man after 39 years behind bars for murder he didn't commit

1 of the jurors who voted to send Pinholster to death row more than 3 decades ago was shocked to hear that the man convicted of fatally stabbing and beating 2 men might get a 2nd chance.

"Oh my God!" said the juror, who spoke on condition of anonymity, when recently contacted by The Times. "He's liable to get off then?"

Pinholster is 1 of 744 people awaiting execution in California - the largest death row population in the country. Although the state hasn't put anyone to death since 2006, that could soon change, as voters passed a measure last year to speed up the process. Of the state's condemned inmates, about 20 have exhausted their appeals, putting them at the front of the line. Among them is Pinholster.

California law requires that courts keep evidence until after a death row inmate is executed or dies behind bars - a safeguard put in place to preserve evidence for future testing. Mary Hearn, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Superior Court, said the court's procedure for destroying evidence, which was updated last year, now requires that staff first contact California's Supreme Court to confirm a death row inmate has died. The court, Hearn said, began a review of its procedure before learning of Pinholster's case.

Hearn said Pinholster, 58, is the only known example of evidence destruction in a case of a living death row inmate convicted in L.A. County. But a small number of cases around the country have raised similar legal problems.

On the eve of an execution in 2005, Virginia's governor reduced a condemned death row inmate's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole after learning that a court clerk had destroyed evidence in his murder case despite being warned by subordinates not to do so. 2 years later, a man on death row in Oklahoma was released from prison after a judge ruled that a police lab analyst had intentionally destroyed hair evidence that could have pointed to the inmate's innocence.

Elisabeth Semel, a UC Berkeley law professor who directs the school's clinic that defends condemned inmates facing execution, said destruction of physical evidence cripples the ability to examine an inmate's innocence claim.

"If the very evidence you need is gone ... how do you make justice happen for these individuals?" she said, describing the scenario as "terribly, terribly devastating."

The importance of such tests was highlighted last month when Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned a prisoner who spent 39 years behind bars for the 1978 killing of a young woman and her 4-year-old son in Simi Valley. After the prisoner, Craig Coley, exhausted his appeals years ago, a judge authorized the destruction of the crime-scene evidence. But a cold-case detective recently found the evidence and when tested, it helped clear Coley of the murders.

For Pinholster, prosecutors point to a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it difficult for prisoners to reverse convictions or reduce sentences unless they can show that evidence was destroyed in "bad faith." In Pinholster's case, prosecutors argue, the destruction was the result of "at most negligence, incompetency, recklessness," but not "bad faith."

At his trial, a prosecutor argued that the blood on the boot and towel found in the defendant's Van Nuys apartment belonged to at least 1 of the 2 victims - Thomas Johnson, 25, and Robert Beckett, 29. The men were stabbed and beaten to death at the Tarzana home of a marijuana dealer on Jan. 9, 1982.

The state's key witness, Art Corona, told police that he, Pinholster and a third man, Paul Brown, were all armed with buck knives when they barreled into the home looking to steal drugs and cash. Minutes later, Corona said, the 2 victims showed up. Pinholster attacked the men with a knife, his fists and his feet, Corona said, adding that Brown also stabbed 1 of the men.

Their loot: $23 and a quarter-ounce of pot.

Pinholster said he had stolen drugs from the home a few hours before the killings but never harmed anyone. When he took the stand, he seemed to revel in his criminal record. Asked for his occupation, he smirked and responded, "a crook," according to court documents. He also boasted to jurors of having committed hundreds of robberies, but insisted he'd always carried guns, not knives.

He was absolutely guilty. No question. - One of the jurors who decided Scott Pinholster should be executed for a double murder

A Sheriff's Department criminalist told jurors that he'd tested the right work boot and towel collected from Pinholster's home and found they came back positive for human blood, but technology at the time couldn't narrow down whose blood it was. The prosecutor suggested that Pinholster had stepped in a pool of blood at the Tarzana home and used the towel to wipe off the murder weapon.

Neither Pinholster nor his attorney argued at trial that the blood was from him - an omission the district attorney's office said undercuts his current claim. His new attorney said Pinholster was never asked during the trial who the blood belonged to.

Contacted recently, another juror who asked to be identified only as a 76-year-old woman said she was confident in the verdict.

"He was absolutely guilty," she said. "No question."

Even after 3 decades, she said, she can conjure a haunting memory of an image painted at trial by the prosecutor - Pinholster, wearing boots, kicking in the skull of one of the victims.

After his conviction, state courts rejected appeals from Pinholster, but a federal judge overturned the death sentence in 2003, ruling that his trial counsel had failed to tell jurors about the extent of Pinholster's mental health problems. In 2011, however, the U.S. Supreme Court restored Pinholster's death sentence.

After 11-year hiatus, could death penalty soon be carried out again in California?

"He's been very discouraged," said Sean Kennedy, Pinholster's current lawyer.

But months after having his death penalty restored, the inmate got good news. A judge had finally approved his request to have DNA testing done on the towel and boot. Pinholster contends that the bloodstains came from his repeated intravenous use of heroin.

A Los Angeles police officer was assigned to scour an LAPD storage room for the items in case the court had returned them after the trial. The search came up empty, so officers checked inside another police storage facility. Still nothing. As the hunt stretched into a 4th year, Kennedy grew suspicious. Finally, a prosecutor stepped in to help speed up the process.

"And that," Kennedy said, with a shake of his head, "is when they finally fessed up."

Court documents from January 1998 show that People vs. Pinholster was mistakenly listed among more than a dozen cases deemed eligible for evidence destruction. The trial exhibits, records show, were destroyed that summer. 2 top Los Angeles County Superior Court officials signed the destruction order - Judge John Reid and Ty Colgrove, an administrator who helped run the court's criminal operations. Both men have since retired.

Reached for comment, Colgrove said he didn't recall the case, as he'd signed hundreds of destruction orders over the years, but added that he relied on lower-level employees to properly sort through the cases.

It's almost like the judiciary is facilitating wrongful executions. - Attorney Sean Kennedy on the L.A. court's destruction of evidence in a death penalty case

Hearn, the court spokeswoman, said Reid could not comment, as he still sometimes fills in on the bench. In a recently signed declaration, Reid wrote that if he'd known the evidence from a capital case was going to be destroyed, he "would not have signed the order."

Kennedy, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School whose work on Pinholster's case carried over from his days as the federal public defender for the Central District of California, bristled at the rationale.

"It's almost like the judiciary is facilitating wrongful executions," he said.

Life on death row has worn on Pinholster. Last year, as California voters weighed 2 options - speeding up executions or banning the death penalty - Pinholster was quoted in a Times article, expressing apathy.

"After 30 years," he said, "you don't care 1 way or the other."

But there's still some hope for his exoneration, Kennedy said, pointing to trial exhibit 29 - a pair of bloodstained jeans also recovered from Pinholster's home years ago. While court employees have said they presume the jeans are lost or destroyed, they haven't found any documents showing they were, in fact, discarded.

Kennedy has asked for a special hearing so he can question the court officials who approved the destruction. A judge is expected to rule on that request early next year.

For Michael Kumar, the former marijuana dealer who lived at the home where the killings took place, the mention of Pinholster brings a rush of memories. Although he'd been out of town the weekend of the murders, the pain is still raw over the loss of Johnson, his best friend - a gentle giant who loved to play classical piano. When asked about the possibility of a new trial, Kumar sighed.

"It's preposterous to me.... It's completely a joke if this guy says he's innocent," said Kumar, 58, who now sells parts for and restores classic cars. "I'm not going to say he doesn't have the right, because I'm not sure what the technicalities are, but it's just that - a technicality."

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Death penalty trial for Palm Springs double cop killing suspect: Mental stuff fails

A 27-year-old ex-con charged with the ambush killings of 2 Palm Springs police officers at his home last year was ordered Friday to stand trial on charges that could land him on death row.

John Hernandez Felix, 27, is accused of fatally shooting veteran training Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, on Oct. 8, 2016, after the officers responded to a family disturbance call. Testimony earlier this year indicated the 911 call that preceded the gunfire was sparked by a fight between Felix and his sister over a remote control.

The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled 7 months ago but was delayed when defense attorney John Dolan declared doubts regarding Felix's competence to stand trial.

With criminal proceedings suspended, Felix underwent a 2-day mental competency bench trial in September, featuring testimony from 3 psychologists, after Dolan alleged that "traumatic amnesia" prevented his client from remembering much of the day of the shooting. The defense team said Felix remembered the argument with his sister that triggered the 911 call and police response, then has no memory of the day until law enforcement launched tear gas into the home and shot him with non-lethal beanbag guns about 12 hours later.

Criminal proceedings were reinstated after Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos ruled that even if such amnesia was genuine, it would not prevent Felix from contributing to an adequate defense.

So Villalobos, following Friday's 2-hour preliminary hearing, ordered Felix to proceed to trial on 2 counts of murder, 6 counts of attempted murder - 3 of which were newly added and pertain to officers who were fired on in front of the defendant's Cypress Avenue home - and special circumstance allegations of killing a peace officer and committing multiple murders.

The hearing featured testimony from sheriff's investigators who interviewed Palm Springs officers involved in the firefight, as well as a sheriff's SWAT member who took Felix into custody following a 12-hour standoff, in which he barricaded himself inside the house.

Testimony detailed the shootings of Vega, Zerebny and Officer Jeffrey Burton, who was hit in the hip and leg. Sheriff's Investigator Alberto Loureiro testified that Burton stated Felix screamed "Don't do it!" several times before firing on them through the metal screen door of his home with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The investigator testified that Officer Abraham Vargas heard Felix's mother pleading with Vega in Spanish not to approach the front door. Following the shooting, Vargas took cover near the house, saw Vega bleeding and told him to stay put. Instead, Vega moved back into the line of fire to get a rifle from his patrol vehicle and was shot again, Loureiro testified.

The court also heard of officers' efforts to remove Vega and Zerebny from the scene, which included driving patrol cars into the line of fire while loading the officers into vehicles, all while providing cover fire on the home.

Sgt. Shawn Flinn and Officer Mario Serrano, a trainee who graduated from the police academy just months prior to the shooting, were credited with helping load Vega into a patrol car that was spirited away to nearby paramedics. Serrano heard Vega softly saying "I can't breathe" while lying in the backseat of the patrol car, and was with Vega at a hospital when he was pronounced dead, according to testimony.

Officer David Etchason took charge of driving vehicles into the line of fire to retrieve both Vega and Zerebny, as other officers exchanged gunfire with Felix, investigators testified.

Zerebny was already dead when officers reached her, though Loureiro testified that Serrano and Officer Byron Farley opted not to leave her behind and loaded her into the open trunk of a patrol car, manned again by Etchason.

Felix barricaded himself inside the home until past midnight, when he emerged from the back of the home in a ballistic vest, T-shirt, shorts, according to Deputy Geoffrey Likins of the SWAT unit.

Likins said Felix was initially cooperative, but kept backing up until he reached an armored SWAT vehicle parked in the backyard and made a move to enter the "Bearcat." He was shot with non-lethal bean bag rounds and taken into custody, at which point Likins said he told arresting officers "You're all next," several times.

In addition to his vest, he was found in possession of a magazine for an AR-15 and a glass pipe. Additional magazines totaling about 50 rounds were found in the backyard. The rifle used in the killings was found inside a bedroom closet, loaded with another 30-round magazine, according to Investigator Steven Paixao. The rifle's serial number was "obliterated," Paixao said, indicating it was likely stolen.

Felix will return to court Jan. 19 for a post-preliminary hearing arraignment.

Vega and Zerebny were the 1st Palm Springs police officers to be killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. The only other death in the department was that of Officer Gale Gene Eldridge, fatally shot Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.

Vega had been with the department 35 years - 5 years past his retirement eligibility - and had planned to finish his career last December. He had 8 children, 11 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Zerebny had been with the department for a year and a half and had just returned to duty from maternity leave after the birth of a daughter, Cora, 4 months earlier.



Scott Peterson: 15 years later, a look back at a case that gripped a nation----The Laci Peterson case, 15 years later

Laura Ingle takes a look back at the murder case that captivated the country.

15 years ago this Christmas Eve, the nation turned its eyes and attention to Modesto, Calif., where 27-year old Laci Peterson, 8 months pregnant and ready to welcome her unborn son she had named Conner, had seemingly vanished.

It was 2002, and while many people were going about their plans for the holiday, family members and friends of Laci Peterson began a frantic search to find her, after her husband, Scott, said she was "missing".

He called Laci's mother Sharon Rocha in the early evening to ask if she was at their home, saying when he got home from a day of fishing Laci's car was in the driveway and their dog was in the backyard with his leash on, and that Laci wasnít home.

The word "missing" immediately struck a chord with Laci's mom, who said it was a strange choice because Laci wasn't the type to go missing.

That call at about 5:15 p.m. would set off a chain of events that would move an entire community, which jumped into action to try to find her while the rest of the nation watched with anticipation, hoping for an outcome that would bring her home safely.

As the days and weeks went on, the search became more desperate, as there were no signs of Laci Peterson anywhere.

Her husband claimed she was at home in the morning when he left that Christmas Eve to go fishing in the San Francisco Bay and that was the last time he saw her. Her family members went on TV to ask for her safe return and for any information to help find her.

Rocha asked the public in one news conference: "We've been through so much these last days, that I'd like to make a plea to the person or persons who have my daughter. Please bring my daughter home."

Attention quickly turned to Scott Peterson, who told family members and investigators he had nothing to do with her disappearance, though many started to question his alibi that he had left for a fishing trip after 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

Peterson repeatedly said that it wasn't uncommon for them to do things on their own.

In a January 2003 interview, Peterson gave to Gloria Gomez, a reporter at the time for KOVR-TV in Sacramento, he said: "You know, being 7 1/2 months pregnant she's not going to want to go out in a boat, but it's simply a leisure activity to pursue that day, and you know it was what our plans were."

Prosecutors would later contend she did go out on a boat that day after Peterson had killed her and took her body out to the San Francisco Bay to dispose of her and their unborn child.

1 month after Peterson's disappearance, police revealed her husband was living a double life, having an affair with a massage therapist who was living in Fresno by the name of Amber Frey.

The single mother went to police once she became aware that the man she thought was her boyfriend was quickly becoming a prime suspect in a nationally televised case.

Frey went on to wear a wire and helped police record her conversations with Peterson, which would play a key role in the trial.

Suspicion continued to mount against the man some once stood behind, but on April 13 2003, the body of a baby boy in south Richmond was discovered along the shore of San Francisco Bay.

The next day, the body of an adult female wearing maternity clothes was found nearby.

Months of searching and hoping came to a crashing end when the bodies were positively identified as those of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner, confirming her family's worst fears.

Her mother spoke out in a tearful news conference soon after, promising justice for her daughter and unborn grandchild.

"Laci and Conner left us on Christmas Eve, I know that God has been watching over them, he sent them back to us on Good Friday. Now we can bring them home where they belong," she said. "Laci and her unborn child did not deserve to die this way, and they certainly didn't deserve to die and dumped in the bay and sent to a watery grave as though their lives were meaningless. We will seek justice for her and Conner and make sure that that person responsible for their deaths will be punished."

Scott Peterson was arrested in San Diego just days after the bodies were discovered.

He had dyed his hair blonde, grown a goatee, and had many items in his car which led investigators to believe he may have been ready to run.

A partial list of items includes camping gear,12 tablets of Viagra, 4 cell phones, double-edged dagger with a T-handle, a backpack, water purifier, climbing rope, filet knife, duct tape and over $10,000 in cash.

The double murder trial would take over a year to begin, but at the end of 2004 Scott Peterson was found guilty of 1st-degree murder for killing his wife, and 2nd-degree murder for killing their unborn son. In 2005, he received the death penalty.

He is challenging his death sentence and requesting a new trial. There are currently over 700 inmates on death row at California's San Quentin State Prison. No prisoner has been executed in California since January 2006.

This Sunday, Fox News looks back at the murder case that gripped the nation.

Tune in to "Interview With a Monster: The Scott Peterson Case" at 8 and 11 p.m. ET as our panel of experts reflects on the case and analyzes his 2003 interview with Gloria Gomez.

(source: Fox News)


Former TV host Suhaib Ilyasi convicted for wife's murder

A New Delhi court convicted former TV serial producer Suhaib Ilyasi of murdering his wife in 2000 on Saturday.

Additional Sessions Judge S.K. Malhotra held Ilyasi guilty of his wife's murder and would hear arguments on quantum of sentence on December 20.

In 2014, the Delhi High Court had asked the trial court to add the graver charge of murder under section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Ilyasi for his wife's death.

He will face a minimum punishment of life imprisonment and the maximum of death penalty in the case.

Ilyasi, also the editor-in-chief of Bureaucracy Today magazine, has been facing the trial as an accused for the last 17 years in dowry death case of his wife Anju Ilyasi.

The high court's order had come on a plea filed by Rukma Singh, Anju's mother, challenging the February 19, 2011 order of a trial court which had rejected her plea for trying Ilyasi under the penal provision of murder.

Rukma Singh said her son-in-law was facing the charge of killing his wife for dowry under section 304 of IPC, which attracts much lesser punishment.

Anju Ilyasi died on January 11, 2000 at her Mayur Vihar house. Ilyasi was arrested on March 28, 2000 and charges were later framed against him in the case after his sisters-in-law and mother-in-law alleged that he used to torture his wife for dowry.

The trial court had framed charges against him relating to dowry death and subjecting a woman to cruelty (section 304 (b) and section 498 (a). After the high court order, it charged Ilyasi with murder.

Suhaib Ilyasi is best known for hosting the reality TV show India's Most Wanted.



Rapists of minors should be hanged within 6 months: DCW Chief

Lamenting the "delay" in carrying out sentence of December 16 gang-rape and murder incident, Delhi Commission for Women Chief Swati Maliwal on Saturday claimed the long winding legal process allowed the criminals to feel they can get away with such heinous crimes.

She urged the prime minister to bring in a legislation wherein at least those convicted of raping minors are given death penalty within 6 months.

Nirbhaya, a para-medical student, was brutally gang-raped on the intervening night of December 16, 2012, in a moving bus in South Delhi. The incident took place while she was returning with a friend after watching a movie. She died 13 days after the incident at a hospital in Singapore.

Of the 6 men arrested in the case, one of the accused Ram Singh hanged himself in prison in March 2013, while another man, who was a juvenile at the time of the crime, was convicted in August. In 2016, he was released from the correction home after serving the maximum sentence of 3 years in a reform home.

The other 4 - Akshay, Vinay Sharma, Pawan and Mukesh - were found guilty and sentenced to death by the Delhi High Court in September 2013. The Supreme Court also upheld the high court's decision.

"It's the 5th death anniversary of Nirbhaya incident and the fact is that nothing has changed in this country. Everyday girls and women are being brutally raped in this country," she said.

Maliwal also highlighted the need for having fast-track courts in the city so that rapists are punished forthwith.

Also, there is a need to upgrade the delivery mechanism of the forensic department as well as the accountability of the police, she said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The system has made the criminals confident enough to believe that they can get away with any crime perpetrated against a woman or a child. It is very unfortunate that even Nirbhaya herself has not got justice in this country. Nirbhaya's mother is still running from pillar to post in order to ensure that her beloved daughter can get justice," Maliwal said.

The DCW chief said that at least in case of rape of minor girls, there should be a law in this country in which such rapists should be punished and given death penalty within 6 months.

She also made an appeal to the prime minister to constitute a high-level committee on women's safety in Delhi, having the Union home minister, the lieutenant governor, the chief minister, the police commissioner and the DCW representatives as its members, to take effective decisions on issues of women's safety.

Drawing the prime minister's attention to the Nirbhaya fund, which has remained unutilised till date, Maliwal urged him to devolve the fund immediately to the states failing which the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' programme will lose its relevance.



2 BJP states contemplate death penalty for rape; face opposition----The Bill - Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2017 - is awaiting the President's assent

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Madhya Pradesh has passed a Bill in its Assembly to award capital punishment to those found guilty of raping children below the age of 12. The Rajasthan government, too, was contemplating of bringing a similar Bill.

Currently, the maximum punishment under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for rape convicts is life imprisonment. The state government has also suggested that the minimum punishment for rape be kept 14 years, and 20 years in case of gang rape.

The Bill - Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sanshodhan) Vidheyak, 2017 - is awaiting the President's assent.

The civil society said awarding death punishment would barely be a deterrent. "This is a knee-jerk reaction from the state government," said Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer and child rights activist. "Rapists would now kill victims to hide their identities. The state government should instead invest in policing and scientific techniques of investigation. Most accused get away scot-free because of shoddy investigation and victims turning hostile because of threats."

The Madhya Pradesh government brought the Bill following the rape of a teenager in Bhopal. The girl was returning from her coaching class when 4 men allegedly abducted and raped her.

The state reported the most number of rapes in 2016. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the state reported 4,882 rapes cases, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 4,816 cases and Maharashtra with 4,189 cases. Madhya Pradesh was also among the states that reported the maximum number of cases for crimes against children. Uttar Pradesh topped this list with 15.3 % of cases, followed by Maharashtra at 13.6 % and Madhya Pradesh at 13.1 %.

The Justice J S Verma Committee, which was set up to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law for speedy trial and enhanced punishment of criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women, had also suggested against imposing the death penalty. The committee was set up following public demand for death punishment in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case in Delhi in 2012.

"The committee rejected the proposal for chemical castration as it fails to treat the social foundations of rape. It opined that death penalty should not be awarded for the offence of rape as there was considerable evidence that death penalty was not a deterrence to serious crimes. It recommended life imprisonment for rape," said the summary of the report available on the website of PRS Legislative Research, a not-for-profit organisation.

After the Verma Committee report, the government amended the IPC through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, popularly known as the anti-rape Bill. It introduced several provisions, including Section 376A, which allowed for death penalty to be imposed in cases where rape led to the death of the victim, or left the victim in a persistent vegetative state. The maximum punishment was raised to life imprisonment in case of a non-death. 2 years later, the Law Commission recommended abolition of death penalty for all crimes except cases related to terrorism.

Madhya Pradesh, which is not bound either by the Law Commission report or the Justice Verma committee report, has proposed that death penalty should be given to those found guilty of raping children below the age of 12 years. "The Union government is finding it difficult to recommend the President to accept the state government Bill because of the divergent views. The matter has been referred to the Union Law ministry for its opinion," said an official.

Among the other changes, the Madhya Pradesh government has also passed a provision for a 3-year jail term for stalking.

Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told reporters that the state government was currently reviewing the Madhya Pradesh Bill and intends to bring its own Bill in the budget session.



Supreme Court gives factors to be considered before recalling one's death penalty

A ruling by a 3-judge bench led by Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, Justice Njoki Ndung'u and Justice Jacton Ojwang pronounced mandatory death penalties for capital offenses unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court on December 14 quoted Section 204 of the Penal Code, which states that mandatory death sentences are detrimental. The ruling, however, does not affect the validity of the death sentence.

The ruling came after talks in the topic with big organizations such as The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists Kenyan chapter, Legal Resources Foundation, Katiba Institute and the death penalty project taking part.

The talks leading to this ruling were nudged by two petitioners who asked the court to scrap off the mandatory death penalty. The 2, Francis Karioko Muruatetu and Wilson Thirimbu Mwangi have been convicts for the last 14 years. They were arrested for the murder of businessman Lawrence Githinji Magondu.

In Kenya, cases that commonly attract punishment by death are usually murder and robbery with violence.

For the past 7 years, over 50% of the counties under the United Nations (UN) umbrella have scrapped off death penalties on convicts.

The ruling means that over 7,000 convicts awaiting the hangman's moose will have a chance to redeem themselves over fresh sentences.

Some of the factors that will be considered in determining if the convicts should escape death are;

Age of the offender

The number of times the offender is accused

Whether the offender pleaded guilty or not

Current behavior of the offender

Whether the offense was gender violence related

Whether the offender shows remorse

Chances for rehabilitation on and social re-adaption of the offender



House must complete urgent changes to law

The enactment of the Constitution in 2010 paved the way for far-reaching revisions and amendments of existing laws to create a fair and clear framework for adjudication of disputes.

Several amendments have been made, although largely those with a bearing on politics, which indeed, dominates public discourse. But there are some fundamental yet covert stipulations that have been ignored.

In this category is the provision of mandatory death sentence that remains etched in the statutes in complete abrogation of the constitutional remit.

The challenge with the mandatory death sentence as construed in the Penal Code is that it ties the hands of the judges; there is no jurisdictional discretion to determine or entertain mitigating circumstances and give room for lesser sentence.

To be sure, the offences that carry death penalty are murder, robbery with violence and treason.


On occasions, judges have found themselves in the unsettling situation, where although an offender may be truly guilty of capital offence, the circumstances may not necessarily merit death sentence; forcing them to opt for acquittal for lack of an alternative.

This is the context that has informed the ruling by the Supreme Court in a case filed by convicts facing death sentence.

The court seeks to clarify the constitutional confusion, hence it has declared that mandatory death sentence is an illegality and should be expunged from the books.

Textually, the court argues, death penalty per se may remain in the books, but it should not be mandatory.


In other words, the law should provide a continuum that gives courts the latitude to determine each capital offence on merit and pronounce themselves appropriately as situation may so dictate.

For a good measure, the Supreme Court has submitted its ruling over the matter to Parliament and the Kenya Law Reform with the express intention of having them initiate the process of amending the applicable statues.

Clearly, this is a straight forward matter that should be speedily acted upon. The relevant authorities should seize themselves of the matter and commence drafting applicable amendments to clarify the controversial law, and any other such like, to align to the Constitution.

(source: Editorial,


UN Urges Iraq to Immediately Halt Executions

The United Nations rights office has urged Iraq to immediately halt all executions, stressing that putting to death 38 terrorist suspects was "deeply shocking."

"We are deeply shocked and appalled at the mass execution" at a prison in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Thursday, United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.

"It appears extremely doubtful that strict due process and fair trial guarantees were followed in these 38 cases," Agence France Presse quoted Throssell as saying on Friday.

The UN has learned of 106 executions in Iraq so far this year, including mass-hangings of 42 people in September.

"We once again urge the Iraqi authorities to halt all executions, establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and carry out an urgent and comprehensive review of the criminal justice system," Throssell said.

Dakhel Kazem, a senior official in the provincial council, said the prison executed "38 death row prisoners belonging to Al-Qaeda or ISIS accused of terrorist activities".

A prison source told AFP that those executed on Thursday were all Iraqis, but that one also held Swedish nationality.

Sweden had confirmed that among them was an Iraqi-Swedish citizen.

"The death penalty is an inhumane, cruel, and irreversible punishment. Sweden and the rest of the EU condemn its application in all its forms," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement.

Sweden on Friday summoned Iraq's ambassador over the mass-hangings.

Throssell also voiced deep concern over the reported shelling and burning of homes in the Iraqi city of Tuz Khurmatu, warning of a "serious risk" that violence could escalate.

The United Nations rights office pointed to reports that residential areas of Tuz Khurmatu, in the Salahaddin governorate, had been shelled on December 9 and 12, "causing casualties among civilians."

"It is not clear who is carrying out the shelling, which is reported to be coming from the mountains overlooking the area," Throssell told reporters.

Iraqi forces are working to determine where the shelling is coming from and who is responsible.

Tensions have been swelling in the disputed area of Tuz Khurmatu following September's independence referendum in the neighboring Kurdistan Region.

The city's population is a mix of Turkoman, Kurd and Arab communities, and Throssell warned that "there is a serious risk that given the ethnic and religious fault lines in the area, that violence could escalate and spread."

In recent weeks, clashes have raged between the Kurdish security forces also known as the Peshmerga and Turkmen Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs).

"This fighting has to date resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths in each group," Throssell said.

She said staff from the UN rights office visited the city on December 7 and again on the 14th to investigate reports of the burning of homes and looting of businesses.

They had seen "some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged," she said, adding that they had also spoken with people who had fled violence in the city and were currently staying in Kirkuk and Erbil.

In October, a similar number of houses were reportedly looted and burned by Turkmen PMUs and civilians, she pointed out.

As many as 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials had also been destroyed by explosives in the city, Throssell said.

"Thousands of residents, mainly of Kurdish origin left for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, apparently fearing repercussions, and to date many have not returned," she warned.

The UN rights office called for an end to "all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population."

"We also call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice," Throssell said.


DECEMBER 16, 2017:


Why Texas' 'death penalty capital of the world' stopped executing people

Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.

Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.

In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.

This is the 1st time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the 3rd year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.

The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.

"The practices that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is following are also significant because they reflect the growing movement in the United States toward reform prosecutors who have pledged to use the death penalty more sparingly if at all," said Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The city of Houston lies within the confines of Harris County, making it one of the most populous counties in the country - and recently it became one of the most diverse, with a 2012 Rice University report concluded that Houston has become the most diverse city in the country.

Under these new conditions, Kim Ogg ran in 2016 to become the county's district attorney as a reformist candidate who pledged to use the death penalty in a more judicious manner than her predecessors, though the longtime prosecutor didn't say she would abandon it altogether. Rather, Ogg said she would save it for the "worst of the worst" - such as serial killer Anthony Shore, who was rescheduled for execution next month.

But this year, Ogg appears to have held true to her promise of only pursuing the death penalty in what she deems the most extreme cases. It represents a break from a long pattern of Harris County prosecutors who pushed for the death penalty in nearly all capital cases.

"The overall idea of what makes us safer is changing," Ogg said. "We're reframing the issues. It's no longer the number of convictions or scalps on the wall. It's making sure the punishment meets the crime."

Ogg's approach has earned her recognition from experts, including those opposed to the use of capital punishment.

"She is a much more fair-minded prosecutor than we've seen in the past," said Kristin Houle, the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "She's very deliberate in her approach to the issues and appears to listen to the concerns of the community. But I think there are still a lot of opportunities for further reform in Harris County."

But Ogg said she cannot alone take credit for the recent drop in executions. The trend precedes her slightly and can also be connected to better educated and more diverse jury pools, as well as Texas' new sentencing option of life without parole. The state also has a more skilled group of indigent defense lawyers who build up mitigating circumstances - such as an abusive childhood or mental illness - for an alleged murderer's crime.

Even a state like Texas might stop sentencing alleged killers to death in the near future. And that trend could well extend nationwide.

"We've seen a deepening decline in the death penalty since the year 2000, and some states fell faster than others," said University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett, who wrote "End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice." He added that the declines are steepest in counties that had sentenced the most people to death.

"Juries are turning away from it, prosecutors are turning away from it, so [the death penalty is] withering away on the vine whether courts or legislators decide to do anything about it," Garrett said.

As for Ogg, she only said that she represents modern-day Harris County, not the one made famous for the number of people it executed.

She said that her office still has more than 80 pending capital murder cases and she'll examine each one thoroughly to decide whether the death penalty is the most fitting punishment.

"With other sentencing options and with an increased knowledge of science and technology, Americans feel responsible as jurors in a way they didn't in the past because there's more information to be considered," she said. "So I think attitudes toward the death penalty are changing."

(source: NBC News)


It's Debatable: Should death penalty be used more often?

This week, Arnold Loewy and Charles Moster debate states' use of the death penalty. Moster is a former litigation attorney in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential administrations who has offices in Lubbock, Amarillo, Midland/Odessa, Abilene and Georgetown, and Loewy is the George Killiam Professor of Law at Texas Tech School of Law.

Loewy: States eliminating capital punishment

Our topic for today is whether states that have eliminated the death penalty should re-establish it, and whether those who theoretically have it, but rarely if ever use it, should invoke it with greater frequency. For me, these are easy questions and the answer to both is clearly "no."

There are so many reasons that states have been eliminating capital punishment that I may not be able to name them all in the allotted space. First, in recent years without the benefit (or perhaps detriment) of the death penalty, the national murder rate has dropped precipitously. Second, a number of states, New Mexico for one, eliminated the death penalty because administering it was too costly. Some may be surprised to learn that caring for a prisoner for the duration of his life is less expensive than executing him, but the evidence is there to support that.

But what about good old-fashioned retribution, "an eye for an eye" and all that good stuff? Part of the problem is that we do not and constitutionally cannot execute all murderers. Those few states that have maintained capital punishment and even fewer that actually use it are limited to executing those, who theoretically are the worst of the worst. But that is not what happens. The major factors determining who is executed are the proclivities and proficiencies of the prosecutor, the race of the victim (those who kill whites are more likely to be executed than those who kill blacks), and finally, the race of the defendant (blacks are more likely to be executed than whites).

All of this would be bad enough if we always got the question of guilt or innocence right. But we don't. The reasons are well known and they include misidentification by an eye witness, a coerced and untruthful confession (yes, they do occur with alarming frequency), false testimony from an alleged jailhouse snitch seeking to curry favor with those who could reduce his sentence and junk science.

The last of these was responsible for the execution of a man from Texarkana, named Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was accused of murdering his three sleeping children by setting their house on fire while they slept, certainly a crime which had he committed it would be death penalty-worthy in a state like Texas that has the death penalty. The problem is that the forensic science, which was sufficient to persuade the jury that he was guilty, was later determined to be junk science. Although then-Gov. Rick Perry could have commuted the sentence, he did not and Willingham was executed. I am not saying that I know for sure that Willingham was innocent, but I do know for sure that there was no credible evidence to prove that this man who protested his innocence with his last breath was actually guilty.

Perhaps if there was some societal value to our killing people, we could tolerate the killing of a few who are innocent (although if it were someone I cared about, I might not feel so cavalier about it), but there isn't. People living in states without capital punishment feel vindicated when the killer of their loved one gets life without parole, whereas those in capital punishment states, (e.g., Texas) are more likely to feel cheated when their loved one's killer, as usually happens, does, does not get the death penalty.

Finally, most civilized democracies have rejected capital punishment completely. These countries frequently refuse to extradite a capital escapee to the United States because they refuse to be a part of a process in which an individual is at risk of being executed by a government.

So, with no meaningful deterrent value, haphazard, at best, retribution and the risk of executing an innocent person, it is no wonder that so many states have decided that it is no longer appropriate to saddle their taxpayers with the cost of continuing capital punishment.

Moster: Outraged by Manson's life term in prison

My stomach literally turned when it was reported that Charles Manson died of natural causes in Bakersfield, California, at age 83 while serving out his life sentence for the mass murders of 7 people, including actress Sharon Tate. The 26-year-old Tate was due to give birth to a son in 2 weeks and pleaded, "Please don't kill me. I just want to have my baby." Tate was stabbed 16 times and died in a pool of blood along with her unborn child.

Manson never denied these heinous acts and never showed any remorse. Manson was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole after California invalidated the state's death penalty statute in 1972.

I am outraged that Manson could live out the remainder of his life with excellent medical and dental care, lodging and 3 nutritious meals a day. I am quite certain that Professor Loewy would agree that Manson's benefit package was better than many hard-working Americans who fail to live out their actuarial life expectancy. This is a disgrace, plain and simple.

I firmly believe that states that have eliminated the death penalty should re-establish it and that it be administered with greater frequency. For the faint of heart, be forewarned that I have no problem whatsoever with an imperfect "death cocktail" causing extra suffering to these cold-blooded murderers on the way out or even a few extra twitches in the electric chair. These despicable monsters had no remorse for the pain they caused their victims and the lasting torture visited upon their families and loved ones.

The professor is correct that caring for a prisoner for the duration of his life may be less expensive than administering the death penalty. However, this cost likely results from the cycle of endless and futile appeals which overburden the legal system and tragically punish the victims by delaying the final (and deserved) act. As discussed in a prior debate segment, I would advocate that we eliminate the right of death penalty appeals in situations where the evidence is incontrovertible. Manson's case would be a perfect example where the evidence of the murderous rampage was indisputable, and the defendants admitted guilt. Certainly, the rapid administration of the death penalty would be less costly in these situations than fulfillment of a life sentence.

As to the professor's concern regarding erroneous convictions, we need to maintain and enhance safeguards in the current criminal justice system to allow for the use of post-conviction evidence, particularly DNA. For purposes of this discussion, I am advocating the reinstatement and administration of the death penalty in those cases where the evidence is without dispute and/or the defendant has admitted guilt. I see no logical or moral reason why justice should be delayed in these cases.

Finally, I would assert that retribution is sufficient legal justification for administering the death penalty. It is perfectly acceptable for society to determine that certain acts be punished by death without any need for elaboration.

Loewy: Which defendant gets term in prison, which is executed

Interestingly Moster's "stomach literally turned" at the thought of a life-termer having died of natural causes in a maximum security prison, but his stomach isn't bothered at all by the prospect of a state causing extra suffering to a sentient human being who has been convicted of murder in the process of killing him. Suffice it to say, I take our constitutional commitment to end cruel and unusual punishments more seriously than that.

Ironically, in successive paragraphs toward the end of his commentary, Moster advocates both reducing post-conviction remedies (perhaps a return to the bad old days where we arrested someone on Monday, tried him on Tuesday and hung him on Wednesday) and increasing them: "[W]e need to maintain and enhance safeguards in the current criminal justice system to allow for the use of post-conviction evidence, particularly DNA." The problem is ascertaining which defendant gets the benefit of the protective procedures and which one get summarily executed with Moster's shot of gratuitous pain for good measure.

To Moster, this is an easy question. He would say that "where the evidence is without dispute and/or the defendant has admitted guilt," he should be killed quickly and painfully. But how easy is that question? The very case that turned his stomach is way more complex than he would allow. With the exception of the testimony of the crazed killers and Manson's subsequent confession, we do not know that he was guilty.

Now just how reliable is this evidence? No prosecutor of whom I am aware would want to have to rely on the testimony of the crazed flower children who actually perpetrated the murder. Of course, all of the forensic evidence points to them, not Manson. As for Manson's admission, do we take the rants of a crazy man seriously? Ordinarily we would not. So, is the evidence all that "incontrovertible" or "without dispute?" I think not.

I am not saying that Manson was not guilty. I feel quite sure that he was. I am saying that the concept of incontrovertible evidence is not a meaningful one when someoneís life is at stake. For example, I am sure that in the Willingham case, the prosecutor might well have told the jury that we have incontrovertible scientific evidence that this fire was set intentionally. The DA would, of course, have had no way of knowing that a few years later this incontrovertible evidence would become controverted indeed.

In fact, the standard for proving guilt is, and for centuries has been, beyond a reasonable doubt. So, if the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt they would not have convicted the defendant in the first place. Yet, based on the number of death row exonorees, mistakes have been made and innocent men have been sent to death row.

Perhaps some of the readership saw the 4 part mini-series on the Investigation Discovery channel called "Killing Richard Glossip," which is the story of Oklahoma's efforts to kill a man whose evidence of guilt is almost exclusively the word of the actual murderer who was spared the death penalty if he would testify against Glossip. Guess what, he did, and unlike the probably innocent man on death row, the actual killer is not facing execution. Ironically, Glossip was the primary plaintiff in the challenge to Oklahoma's method of execution.

Finally, Moster's love of the death penalty seems partially predicated on his belief of the pleasantness of life imprisonment in a maximum security prison. As he puts it: "I am outraged that Manson could live out the remainder of his life with excellent medical and dental care, lodging and 3 nutritious meals a day." One would think that he was being sent to a high-end Hyatt, Hilton or Marriott to live the remainder of his life in palatial splendor. Of course, no such thing happens. Prisons are very unpleasant places and contrary to Moster's supposition, I do not believe that Manson lived anywhere close to the standard of almost all hard-working Americans. O. Henry might have made a living writing about bums and drunkards who loved going to jail for a day to get a good hot meal, but that is not what Charles Manson endured or Richard Glossip endures on a daily basis.

Moster: Death appropriate to punish murderers

Contrary to the professor's rather ghoulish assertion, I do not have "a love for the death penalty." That said, it is a perfectly appropriate and just remedy to punish defendants who have been properly tried and convicted of murder. It is a bizarre world, indeed, when we are making excuses or justifications for the likes of Charles Manson whose conviction is questioned by the professor - "With the exception of the crazed killers and Manson's subsequent confession, we do not know that he was guilty." Did we hear professor Loewy correctly? This guy was the personification of evil incarnate and proudly proclaimed his role in the barbaric killings which shocked the nation and the world. We must stop being apologists for mass murders and focus on the rights of the victims who are truly the recipients of cruel and unusual punishment by witnessing the coddling and protection of cold-blooded killers.

I do not see any inconsistency between my insistence of the rapid application of the death penalty in specific cases where guilt is incontrovertible and the safeguard of defendants' rights in other situations. The 1st category would be applied to monsters just like Charles Manson, who displayed his murderous acts as a badge of honor along with the Nazi tattoo on his brow. In such instances, the evidence establishes incontrovertible guilt and is augmented by the defendantsí confession. Upon the conclusion of the sentencing process, that person should be put to death as quickly as the so-called cocktail can be prepared and dispensed.

In other cases which would likely represent the majority of murder convictions, the evidence is more attenuated and the possibility for legal error exists. There, all legal protections, including appeals, must be preserved. I would further allow for the expansive use of post-conviction evidence which could exonerate a defendant, including DNA evidence and/or information proving that prior evidence was tainted.

I agree with the professor that prison life is not akin to a high-end hotel, however, the analogy is inapposite. The "high-end result" that these killers are experiencing is the very ability to remain alive along with the creature comforts denied to many hard-working Americans. It is time for the reinstatement of the death penalty across the country and the adoption of procedures to expedite its rapid delivery.

(source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)


Accused serial killer William Reece charged in death of 20-year-old Texas woman

A Texas man suspected in the cold-case killings of 2 women and 2 girls 20 years ago now faces 4 murder charges.

William Lewis Reece, charged in the deaths of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston, 17-year-old Jessica Cain and 12-year-old Laura Smither, has now been indicted for capital murder in the kidnapping and killing of 20-year-old Kelli Cox. Her remains were discovered outside Houston and identified last year.

Reece was already serving a 60-year prison sentence in Texas for kidnapping when he led police to graves where Cain and Cox's remains were found.

All 4 victims disappeared over a 4-month period in 1997. Smither was from Friendswood and Cain was from Tiki Island. Cox was from Denton, Texas, and Johnston was from Oklahoma.

Oklahoma prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty in the Johnston killing, and Reece has pleaded not guilty.

(source: ABC News)


Judge bars death penalty in Boca Raton case that could test state law

Setting up what could be the 1st-ever test of part of Florida's new death penalty laws, a Palm Beach County judge on Friday barred prosecutors from seeking a death sentence in a Boca Raton murder case from May because they missed a crucial filing deadline.

Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes' potential landmark ruling Friday in the case of Tashane Chantiloupe comes just days after his attorney noted a similarly missed deadline in an Osceola County murder case, which recently reignited a widely publicized death penalty feud between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando-area top prosecutor Aramis Ayala.

It has also triggered what could be months, if not years, of delays in the case as local prosecutors challenge a 45-day deadline Florida lawmakers imposed this past year for prosecutors to announce whether they will seek death sentences in new cases after defendants are arraigned. The rule was part of a drastic overhaul to Florida's death penalty system after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the old process as unconstitutional.

Chantiloupe, accused of killing 34-year-old Agustus Byam because Byam had identified him as the shooter in a 2016 attempted murder case, was indicted and arraigned in August on 1st-degree murder charges after Boca Raton Police say they found his DNA on the murder weapon.

The 1st mention of the death penalty in court records came on Oct. 13, when Assistant Public Defender Joseph Walsh noted that 56 days had passed since Chantiloupe pleaded not guilty and preemptively asked Kastrenakes to keep prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. While the new laws allow prosecutors to revise an existing death penalty notice after 45 days, Walsh argued, it provided no exceptions for missing the filing deadline.

"When the statute is clear, as this statute is, the court must apply its meaning," Walsh wrote, adding that prosecutors' failure to quickly announce a death-penalty pursuit violates a public defender's client's rights to immediately have access to the proper attorneys and resources necessary for a fair defense.

3 days later, on Oct. 16, Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts filed a notice of Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg's intent to seek a death sentence against Chantiloupe, and added that the 14-day filing delay posed no harm to Chantiloupe's defense because she and Walsh had yet to begin the process of trading evidence in the case.

And in a later request for Kastrenakes to keep prosecutors' death-penalty pursuit alive, McRoberts said other states with similar filing deadlines, like Washington, allow prosecutors to file death penalty notices later "if good faith is shown."

"As an aside, if the legislature wished, it could have explicitly so stated in the statute that failure to file the Notice within 45 days prohibits the State from seeking the death penalty," McRoberts wrote, adding: "It did not do so and this Court should not re-write the statute as the defense suggests."

In a 7-page written ruling following his pronounced order in court Friday, Kastrenakes cited Montana, Nevada and New Mexico as other states where the law allows exceptions to death penalty notice deadlines, but added that Nevada's Supreme Court in particular ruled that prosecutors shouldn't be allowed to file a late notice because of a mere oversight.

In his ruling, which could set the precedent for other death-penalty cases, Kastrenakes agreed with McRoberts that allowing for the late filing would not have violated Chantiloupe's rights. But, after noting that his ruling in Chantiloupe's case is the 1st of its kind he knows of in the state, Kastrenakes said Florida laws provided no exceptions to the rule.

"This Court believes that it would be wise for the courts of Legislature to 'read in' or proscribe a good faith exception to a delayed filing of the State's Notice to Seek Death, especially where the defendant suffers no prejudice, as herein. However, it is not for this Court to re-work, change or fashion laws plainly promulgated by the people," Kastrenakes wrote in a footnote to his ruling.

Until this past week, a similar test of the new law had been brewing in the case of Emerita Mapp, a 33-year-old woman accused of slitting the throats of Zackery Ganoe and Andrew Bickford after she robbed them at an Osceola County Days Inn. Although Bickford survived the April attack, Ganoe died of his wounds and authorities eventually charged Mapp with 1st-degree murder, a crime to which she pleaded not guilty in late August.

At the end of October, Ayala announced her office would be seeking the death penalty against Mapp, which would have made it the 1st death-penalty case her office pursued since March, when she made the controversial announcement that she would not be seeking the death penalty for cases in her circuit.

Gov. Scott responded by reassigning more than two dozen of her cases to prosecutors in Ocala and Ayala sued him over it, sparking a legal battle that ended up in Florida's Supreme Court. In September, Ayala walked back her death penalty ban and dropped a federal suit against Scott after the state's high court ruled against her.

Ayala said a death-penalty review panel she formed in the wake of the ruling decided that Mapp's case warranted a death sentence, but her filing in late October went well past the 45-day deadline. This prompted Gov. Scott's general counsel, Daniel Nordby, to send her a scathing letter earlier this month, saying the missed deadline at best "suggests negligence - and, at worst, willful disregard - in the faithful performance of the duties of your constitutional office."

"In any event, it is a clear disservice to the hardworking men and women of the law enforcement agencies in your circuit and to the crime victims and their families impacted by the offenses you are charged to prosecute," Nordby wore in the Dec. 4 letter. "They deserve better."

Ayala subsequently fought attempts from Mapp's defense to bar them from seeking the death penalty, and an Orlando judge had been set to hear arguments from both sides on the matter earlier this week.

But points became moot a week ago, when Mapp accepted a plea agreement for a life in prison sentence. Afterward, Ayala told The Orlando Sentinel that prosecutors had extended the life in prison plea offer to Mapp before the filing deadline had passed and had simply decided to honor the offer.

As for Chantiloupe, McRoberts made it clear in court Friday that she would be appealing Kastrenakes' decision. Kastrenakes set the next hearing in Chantiloupe's murder case in March, acknowledging that the case would not be able to go to trial until a higher court decides the appeal.

(source: Palm Beach Post)


Death penalty prosecution: How nearby districts compare to Orange-Osceola----6 death notices filed in 5th Circuit, 3 in 7th Circuit , 4 in 18th Circuit

There has been a lot of finger-pointing between Gov. Rick Scott and Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala when it comes to the death penalty.

News 6 investigator Louis Bolden took a closer look at how neighboring judicial circuits compare to Ayala's rate of seeking capital punishment.

In March, Ayala announced her office would not seek capital punishment in any case prosecuted by her office. In response, Scott reassigned more than two-dozen potential death penalty cases to neighboring Fifth Judicial District State Attorney Brad King. Ayala unsuccessfully sued the governor, claiming he overstepped his authority by removing cases from her office.

After a legal battle with the governor and a Florida Supreme Court ruling in Scott's favor, Ayala formed a death penalty review panel. Seven prosecutors reviewed the facts of each first-degree murder case to determine if it warrants the death penalty and the panel had to be unanimous, according to Ayala.

News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer said Ayala needed to set up a panel to regain credibility after initially saying her office would not seek the death penalty in any of its cases.

"From a practical legal perspective, this is probably a smart and sophisticated move, setting up this panel," Kramer said.

Since that change, the Ninth Judicial State Attorney's Office has filed 3 "notices of intent to seek death," which is not far from the number of death notices filed in neighboring judicial circuits, records show.

In the 18th Judicial Circuit, which includes Brevard and Seminole counties the state attorney has filed four death notices. Three have been filed in the Seventh District of Flagler and Volusia, and six have been filed by King's office in the Fifth Circuit of Lake, Marion and Sumter counties.

For comparison, in the Fifth District of Lake, Marion and Sumter, there were 29 murder-related arrests recorded last year, 19 murder arrests in the Seventh District of Flagler and Volusia, 80 murder arrests in the Ninth Judicial District of Orange and Osceola counties and 28 murder arrests in the 18th District of Brevard and Seminole counties, according to the 2016 Florida Department of Law Enforcement annual crime report.

According to the data, the districts with higher populations net more murder arrests, which could also mean more 1st-degree murder cases prosecuted by state attorneys.

Some of the death notices filed by King's office include cases reassigned by Scott from Ayala's office.

King and 18th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Phil Archer spoke to News 6 about how their offices determine to seek death in first-degree murder cases. Both said they meet with homicide prosecutors about potential capital punishment cases, but that they ultimately make the final decision whether their offices will seek the death penalty.

(source: WKMG news)

LOUISIANA----female to face death penalty

State will also seek death penalty for Ebony Sonnier

The State of Louisiana will seek the death penalty for Ebony Sonnier, the sister of Matthew Sonnier, for her alleged role in the murders of Kendrick Horn, Jeremy Norris and Latish White back in October in Rapides Parish.

Earlier this week, Matthew Sonnier pleaded "not guilty" to 3 counts of 1st degree murder, obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy, and carrying of a firearm by a convicted felon. He is being represented by Thomas Alonzo, a capital attorney in Lafayette.

Prosecutor Hugo Holland tells News Channel 5 that he will file the notice to seek the death penalty for Ebony Sonnier within the coming weeks. A notice to seek the death penalty for Matthew Sonnier has already been filed.

Holland will prosecute the case for Ebony Sonnier as well. There's no word yet on who her capital attorney will now be.

Matthew Sonnier's next court appearance is set for February.

(source: KALB news)


Attorney wants out of North Ridgeville murder case

A Parma man who could face the death penalty for the murder of a North Ridgeville man was arraigned Thursday, but there is now question of who will defend him in court.

John Rowan, 37, appeared in county Common Pleas Court for his arraignment on charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, abuse of a corpse and other charges. Rowan pleaded not guilty to all counts on the 16-count indictment and asked to have legal counsel appointed.

Common Pleas Judge Chris Cook, who handled the arraignment and whose court the case was assigned, appointed defense attorney Kreig Brusnahan, who is state certified and on the Supreme Court's list as being a first-seat trial lawyer for capital cases. Nick Hanek, who was appointed to represent Rowan in the lower court, also was kept on as part of Rowan's legal representation.

After the indictment was read in full, Rowan - by way of his attorney - threw the judge a curveball.

"Mr. Rowan has indicated that he does not wish to waive his statutory time for speedy trial," Brusnahan said during the proceeding. "I will not accept an appointment knowing full well that there's no way that any effective counsel, or any reasonable counsel that is certified to do death penalty work, can possibly prepare for trial in such a serious matter in 90 days."

Brusnahan asked to be removed from the case.

"I certainly am not going to be able to prepare this case," Brusnahan said. "It would be borderline malpractice for me to tell you I could try this case in 90 days."

Cook refused to remove Brusnahan from the case, though, saying he personally selected counsel to handle the case because of his "knowledge of their experience and reputation."

Cook scheduled a pretrial for 1:30 p.m. today to discuss the matter further.

"I want Mr. Rowan to have an opportunity to think this matter through, to perhaps talk a little further with his attorneys and to see if this is the decision he really wants to make. If it is, and he continues to express his desire to exercise his constitutional right to a speedy trial, we will accommodate him; we will find new counsel, if necessary. We'll get a hold of the state of Ohio's public defender's office, if necessary."

Jonathan Witmer-Rich, a professor of law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, said finding a qualified attorney to represent Rowan for a trial that could take place in 30 days could be difficult.

"The defendant has a right to a speedy trial, both under the Ohio Speedy Trial Act and then Ohio and federal constitutions, so it's not like he's out of line for not waiving his right," Witmer-Rich said. "It is going to be difficult to find somebody to take the case, but they need to find somebody. That's not a right that you can just kind of ignore because it's a complicated case."

Witmer-Rich said he can understand why Brusnahan might be leery of taking on the case if Rowan sticks to that time mandate.

"Capital cases are always incredibly time-consuming," he said. "The standards for the amount of work you need to do to prepare are really very, very high. It always depends, of course, on the particular facts of the case. The expectations in death penalty cases are very high for defense counsel."

Rowan arrested in October for allegedly killing Harold Litten, 60. Litten was reported missing April 18 by family members and his employer when he failed to show up for work, according to North Ridgeville police.

Detectives found Litten's body in an outbuilding at his home at 5490 Jaycox Road, on May 26 during a prearranged search of the property after several previous searches of the home turned up nothing.

Cook also changed Rowan's bond, which was set at $2 million by the lower court, to there being no bond, saying that the lower court set the initial bond prior to the case being indicted as a death penalty-eligible case.

(source: The Chronicle-Telegram)


Death penalty abolishment in front of OH lawmakers, again

For the 4th time in a row, State Representative Nickie Antonio from Cuyahoga County has introduced legislation at the Statehouse that would abolish the death penalty.

Her 3 previous attempts have been relatively fruitless in starting a debate about the issue at the Statehouse.

This time Antonio is hoping for a deeper dialog with members of the House Criminal Justice Committee the bill has been assigned to.

As was the case last year, at least one Republican has already agreed to be a co-sponsor on the bill, but unlike abortion, capital punishment is not necessarily a partisan issue.

House Bill 389 was given its 1st hearing this week, and Antonio hopes it will receive at least 2 more; 1 for supporters of the measure and 1 for opponents.

Antonio says now is a perfect time for both sides to take another look at capital punishment, how it has been handled in recent years and the trends being seen nationally; given recent events connected to the topic.

It will be up to State Representative Nathan Manning from Lorain County near Cleveland whether the bill will receive any more hearings or if he plans to let it languish in committee for the next year.

Meanwhile, an attorney for Brian Golsby has filed a motion to put his trial on hold.

Golsby is accused of kidnapping, raping, and murdering Reagan Tokes, and faces the death penalty.

The argument is that if Antonio's bill passes into law then the prosecution could not seek the death penalty in the case, so he wants the judge to put it on hold until the bill can be resolved.

However, one does not simply resolve a piece of legislation, and it is possible that Antonio's bill just sits there in the House Criminal Justice Committee for the next 12 months without any more movement.

At the end of the session, on December 31, 2018, the bill could fulfill one kind of resolution by failing.

According to Golsby's attorney, the judge has not yet ruled on his motion.

Antonio had no idea her bill was cited in this motion to stay, and when told about it she chose not to discuss Golsby's case.

Antonio did say, "There are people who have committed monstrous, monstrous things; and they should be punished to the full extent of the law."

She says those people should spend the rest of their natural-born life in prison, where they will have to wake up every day and look at themselves in the mirror and wonder, 'what have I done.'

She hopes those individuals suffer for a great length of time wrestling with that guilt, and says law abiding citizens should not stoop to the criminal's level and kill; that they should take the high road instead.

She also says several victims' families support her efforts because of the emotional toll the lengthy and frequent appeals process takes on them.

"Nothing we do will ever bring back their loved one, but they could at least have closure knowing that they person who took their loved one away will spend the rest of their life behind bars." said Antonio.

(source: WCMH news)


Arkansas Parole Board releases former death row inmate Timothy Howard

An Ashdown, Arkansas man is freed from death row after 2 decades of maintaining his innocence in the murder of a Little River County couple and attempted murder of their child.

Timothy Howard was released from prison 20 years to the day that Brian and Shannon Day were discovered at separate crime scenes.

Brian was shot and dumped inside a U-haul truck.

His wife, Shannon, was found strangled inside their home.

The couple's baby was found inside a duffle bag with a cord around his neck, injured but alive.

Howard was sentenced to 2 death sentences in 1999.

His convictions were thrown out in 2013.

Then in 2015, a new trial for Howard was ordered after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the lab compromised DNA samples.

Prosecuting attorney Bryan Chesshir represented the case 18-years later, and says there shouldn't have been questions regarding DNA.

He says the evidence was irrefutable.

"The person who testified for the DNA testified that the only way it couldn't have been him was if it had been a sibling with identical DNA," said Chesshir.

In the second trial, Howard was convicted on lesser charges of second degree murder and attempted second degree murder and sentenced to 38 years in prison.

He was denied parole in 2015, but released last Wednesday after 20 years behind bars, where most of that time was spent on death row.

Howard is currently on maximum suspension, which requires employment, periodic drug testing, no association with the victim or the victim's family and obedience to a curfew.

(source: KTBS news)


Arkansas executed more people than all but 1 other state

23 people were executed last year, the 2nd-lowest number since 1991, according to a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center. Yet Arkansas bucked that trend. The state successfully killed 4 men in April, which ranks Arkansas only behind Texas in terms of the number of people executed. Texas killed 7 men in 2017. Florida and Alabama each executed 3 inmates on death row.

The report also notes that death penalty support is at the lowest level in 45 years and that new death sentences (projected to be 39 for the year of 2017) are at "the 2nd lowest annual total since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972."

Arkansas also planned what would've been a 5th execution - and 9th planned for 2017 - when, just 4 months after saying that the executions in April needed to be held closely together because of the expiration of the controversial sedative midazolam, the state acquired more of the drug. The planned killing of Jack Gordon Greene was also stayed, as the Arkansas Supreme Court continues to determine the constitutionality of the role of the Arkansas Department of Correction's director in determining mental competency to be executed.

As the report notes, many executions are planned that never happen: "States scheduled 81 executions in 2017, but 58 of them - more than 70 % - were never carried out."

Moving forward, there is still debate on whether or not the April executions were "botched." Media witnesses and lawyers said that the execution of Kenneth Williams, the last of the 4 men to be killed, lurched and convulsed - indicating an improper execution - but state officials said nothing went wrong.

The way media witnesses view executions and the design of lethal injection as a method (which includes a paralytic), as we've written about, makes it difficult to determine if pain is felt by prisoners during an execution.


OKLAHOMA----new death sentence

Oklahoma man sentenced to death for beheading his co-worker

An Oklahoma judge on Friday sentenced a man to death for beheading a co-worker in 2014 at a food processing plant.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley accepted a jury's recommendation of the death penalty over life in prison without parole for Alton Nolen, 33. Jurors earlier this year convicted him of decapitating 54-year-old Colleen Hufford when he attacked her and others at the Vaughan Foods plant.

During the trial, prosecutors played recordings of Nolen confessing to the stabbings while he was hospitalized following the attack. In the recordings, Nolen says he doesn't "regret it at all" and that "oppressors don't need to be here."

Investigators said Nolen had just been suspended from his job at the Vaughan Foods plant when he walked inside the company's administrative office and attacked his co-workers.

His attorneys argued that he is mentally ill and that he believed he was doing the right thing because of his delusional misinterpretations of the Quran.

But prosecutors said Nolen knew right from wrong before he attacked Hufford.

Nolen had repeatedly tried to plead guilty and asked to be executed, but Walkley declined to accept his plea. One of Nolen's attorneys had questioned whether his client was mentally competent to enter a guilty plea.

(source: KOCO news)


Judge dismisses motion to suppress evidence in death penalty case

District Judge Dennis Morris denied the request of defense attorney Jason May to suppress recorded statements taken from his client, Craig Stanford, during Ardmore police interrogations in May 2016.

In ruling, Morris found the recordings - 4 in total - were made knowingly and voluntarily and without coercement and that law enforcement officials had informed the defendant of his constitutional right to remain silent in each instance. The ruling also states that Stanford on 2 occasions elected to waive his rights for the interrogations, finding that on one occasion, Stanford did not waive those rights but that the circumstances and the waiver of the rights the day prior "sufficiently informed and advised" Stanford of his rights.

Court documents also note that Stanford declined to answer a number of specific questions and on the fourth and final video interrogation in question - at the 32:26 mark - Stanford requested a lawyer, ending the interrogation.

The court also ruled that all out-of-court statements made by the defendant would be admissible as evidence.

"There really weren't any surprises when the judge issued his written decision yesterday regarding his rulings on the pre-trial motions in the Stanford case," District Attorney Craig Ladd said. "In my opinion, the Court made the appropriate ruling on each of them."

Stanford stands accused in the May 17, 2016 double-slaying of Aaron Lavers and Anthony Rogers. The charges carry a Bill of Particular, which allows the prosecution to seek the death penalty. Stanford is expected to face a jury trial in February.

(source: The Daily Ardmoreite)


Nebraska news outlets ask to join lawsuit over release of information on death penalty drugs

A coalition of newspapers and broadcasters in Nebraska has joined a legal battle over the state prison director's refusal to release public records related to lethal injection drugs.

The Lincoln Journal Star, the Omaha World-Herald and Media of Nebraska asked a Lancaster County District Court judge to direct the Department of Correctional Services to release the information.

The legal complaint comes after the Journal Star, World-Herald and the ACLU of Nebraska each filed separate public records requests with the Corrections Department, which denied them.

Asked once again during a Friday news conference why the state won't identify the source of the drugs, Gov. Pete Ricketts said "we don't have to disclose those things" under state law.

Ricketts suggested that Nebraska's prison system already is "probably the most scrutinized" corrections department in the country.

The ACLU sued the state Dec. 1, asking a judge to find that Corrections had violated the state's open records laws and to force its director, Scott Frakes, to release the records.

On Friday, Media of Nebraska, which is backed by the Nebraska Press Association and Nebraska Broadcasters Association, filed a complaint to intervene in the ACLU case.

While the ACLU actively opposes the death penalty, Media of Nebraska, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the state's print and broadcast journalism outlets, takes no position on the death penalty itself.

Its membership includes news organizations with editorial positions on both sides of the execution debate.

"However, all of the state's news organizations support public access to government records as required by the Nebraska Public Records Act," the Nebraska Press Association said in a press release Friday.

The Journal Star's editorial board has taken a stance opposing the death penalty, but that decision was made independently of newsroom staff who report on the issue. The World-Herald's editorial board has expressed support for the death penalty.

Allen Beermann, a former Nebraska Secretary of State and now executive director of Media of Nebraska, said the people of the state spoke "loud and clear at the ballot box" when they voted to reinstate the death penalty after lawmakers repealed it.

"Our only interest is to make sure any execution is done through an open, above-board and legal process," Beermann said.

In a 5-page complaint, Lincoln attorney Shawn Renner, who represents the journalists, said the prison's denial letters to the Journal Star and World-Herald failed to comply with the Nebraska Public Records Act because it didn't correlate specific records withheld to the reasons for the denials.

In a letter to the Journal Star, prisons spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith said they had records of communication between a Corrections team member and a supplier of the drugs; DEA forms; photos of packaging; invoices and purchase orders. But, she wrote, the records "will not be provided to you."

Smith said Frakes was denying access to the records based on a state statute related to the identity of the execution team being confidential and exempt from disclosure; and another statute that says records may be withheld from the public if they represent the work product of an attorney.

In Friday's filing, Renner said if Frakes considers a drug supplier or compounding pharmacy to be a member of the execution team, the practice would be inconsistent with Nebraska law and the execution protocol itself.

And, he said, none of the records are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Renner asked the court to order Frakes either to immediately release the records or tell the court why they aren't.

Last month, Frakes served notice on Jose Sandoval of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place. Sixty days following the notification, Attorney General Doug Peterson can ask the Nebraska Supreme Court to issue Sandoval's execution warrant.

The drugs purchased are diazepam, fentanyl citrate, cisatracurium besylate and potassium chloride. But the Corrections Department has not made public its supplier of those drugs or whether they came from a known drug manufacturer or compounding pharmacy. The department did say they were purchased in the United States.

In recent years, the department has revealed its lethal injection drug supplier.

"The ultimate penalty deserves the ultimate scrutiny," said Journal Star Editor Dave Bundy.


Nebraska asks court to dismiss lawsuit over Ricketts' support of death penalty referendum

Death row inmates' efforts to override the will of the people with novel legal theories lack a basis in law, the Nebraska Attorney General's Office argued in a brief Friday seeking dismissal of a lawsuit brought on behalf of the condemned inmates.

The ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit Dec. 4, challenging the referendum that followed the Legislature's 2015 repeal of the death penalty. A day later, Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Ryan Post asked to have it dismissed.

A hearing on the motion is set for Jan. 5.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU alleges the pro-death penalty ballot initiative violated the Nebraska Constitution's separation of powers and should be invalidated. It said Gov. Pete Ricketts was the driving force behind the 2016 referendum, exploiting government staff, resources and his own elected position to raise money for the ballot initiative and to persuade voters to support it.

In Friday's brief in support of the state's motion for dismissal, Post said "the creativity of their theories does not change the result."

"Since no set of facts could rehabilitate the plaintiffs' flawed interpretations of Nebraska law, this court should dismiss the plaintiffs' action," he wrote.

Post told Lancaster County District Judge John Colborn that he should dismiss the complaint because the inmates have another remedy: They can file motions for postconviction relief in their criminal cases.

7 of the 8 plaintiffs already have pending proceedings in state court or open appeals to the Nebraska Supreme Court, he said.

Their constitutional challenges, "if not meritless (which they are), would cause the death sentences against them to be voidable," so should be taken up in those cases, Post argued.

He said the initiative process gives the people the right to act as legislators. That's particularly important in Nebraska, Post said, given the state's unicameral legislative system "where, in the immediate term following the override of a gubernatorial veto, the people themselves may serve as a collective check on legislative excess. The Plaintiffs' novel claims squarely contradict these vital principles."

He called absurd the ACLU's argument urging the court to declare that the sentences of Nebraska's pre-existing death-row population were effectively commuted by the Legislature's decision.

And, Post argued, there is nothing to the separation-of-powers argument. Setting aside the "repugnance to the First Amendment" of impairing a private citizen's ability to express their views on a referendum, there's no basis for the argument in the state's constitution, he wrote.

"Merely advocating in favor of a referendum does not exercise legislative power," Post said.

If it did, every state employee would be prohibited from participating in or advocating in support of any referendum, he said.

In 2015, Ricketts vetoed a bill passed by state lawmakers repealing Nebraska's death penalty. But the Legislature voted to override his veto.

Soon after, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty was formed and raised just more than $913,000, 1/3 of it contributed by Ricketts and his father, Joe Ricketts.

The petition gathered 167,000 signatures, enough to stop the repeal from being in effect until a vote in November 2016. Voters ultimately chose 61 % to 39 % to keep the death penalty on the books.

(source for both: Lincoln Journal Star)


Bill stirs debate over costs of death penalty

The subject of the death penalty has been a source of controversy for years, but one lawmaker is hitting it from a different angle with a proposed bill for the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, wants the state to take a closer look at the costs connected with the death penalty and associated appeals versus the cost to house an inmate for life without parole.

"I was reading about what another state (Nebraska) was doing about costs and I wanted to look into Utah," said Handy. "When I started to ask around, I heard crickets - nobody knew because nobody had asked before. I decided to pitch a study item in 2012 for resources to have an analyst research it and he worked over several weeks with the assumptions of longevity being 75 years and how long the appeals process takes being about 25 years."

The appeals are taxpayer supported because the death row inmates don't hire an attorney Handy said, they use a public defender. "The study showed it cost (approximately) $1.6 million more of taxpayer money for appeals over the cost of a life sentence," he said. "I was trying to be fiscally conservative and add to the discussion but nothing happened. Then someone suggested I wasn't asking the right questions."

Last year Handy ran a similar bill HB187 but it did not pass. "This (new) bill has mostly the same language but has specific things asking for the legislative auditor to look at it," he said. "The auditor's office is excited to take on this study. It could take up to 9 months."

Handy is quick to point out that his bill is not intended to abolish the death penalty, simply to consider the costs. "Personally I've been all over the place with the death penalty," he said. "Iíd say I'm more against it but it's something I've struggled with all my life. It happens so infrequently here in Utah. I don't think the populace in Utah is ready to get rid of it but this lets people think about it."

Currently there are 9 inmates on death row in Utah according to the Utah Department of Corrections.

"If you talk to law enforcement they say the cost is not relevant, more of an eye for an eye," said Handy. "It's a very emotional topic. I could be convinced one way or another (on the death penalty) depending on the crime in front of me but this bill has nothing to do with the pros or cons."

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is also president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said he is supportive of gathering data.

"I haven't seen the language of the bill but I wouldn't be opposed to looking at costs," he said. "It's a positive thing to do research on the pros and cons of any issue. It helps to make the best decisions on determining costs and getting the facts. If it went to abolishing the death penalty that would be a different discussion. I've worked with Rep. Handy before and even if we don't always agree, I appreciate that he is good to work with."

Even if the bill passes there is no guarantee it will happen, said Handy. "The legislative audit committee decides where to put those resources and what the pressing needs are," he said. "They're doing a number of audits a year to give the legislature information. Theyíre the watchdogs for the public. The committee could still say 'not this year, maybe next year.'"

No matter the outcome, Handy believes it's an important topic. "I just want to have a robust study to look at the comparison on cost," he said. "We'll see where it goes, whether the public wants to pursue it. But it advances the discussion."

(source: The Davis Clipper)


Prosecutor to seek death penalty in cop killing

Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against a man accused of fatally shooting a San Diego police officer and wounding his partner last year.

Jesse Michael Gomez, 56, is charged with murder, attempted murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer.

Judge Michael Smyth granted a prosecution request to change the defendant's bail status from $5 million to no bail.

A preliminary hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 5.

Gomez is accused of shooting DeGuzman and Irwin - 2 gang-unit officers - about 11 p.m. on July 28, 2016, when they tried to detain him in the 3700 block of Acadia Grove Way. De Guzman, 43, was struck by 5 rounds while seated behind the wheel of his cruiser. His gang-unit partner, Officer Wade Irwin, 32, suffered a serious but non-life-threatening wound.

Gomez was critically injured by Irwin's return fire. He was taken into custody in a ravine off South 38th Street, a short distance from the scene of the shooting. He was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body.



Even trickling to a halt, US death penalty executions are an embarrassment

The death penalty always has been a test of how far we are willing to allow the government to go in punishing crime. We should constantly examine the exercise of that power with a well-informed but skeptical eye.

The sporadic and embarrassing use of capital punishment in 2017 serves as further proof that states with the death penalty are falling woefully short in what may be its final exam.

I know well how the system works - or, more accurately, doesn't work. From 1998 until 2001, when I was the attorney general for Virginia, the commonwealth executed 36 people. If you believe that the government always gets it right, never makes serious mistakes and is never tainted with corruption, then you can comfortably support the death penalty. I no longer have such faith in the government. I cannot and do not support the death penalty.

Capital punishment in the United States is slowly sputtering to a halt because ineptitude and deceit have thoroughly eroded the trust once afforded the government. A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) provides evidence of capital punishment's steep decline. Executions and new death sentences in 2017 remained near historic lows, trailing only the 2016 totals as the lowest totals seen in the country in more than a quarter-century.

Perhaps the most telling indicator of this erosion in public confidence comes from the most recent Gallup Poll. Support for the death penalty dropped to 55 % in 2017, its lowest measure in 45 years. Even the political divide may be lessening. Although a majority of Democrats oppose the death penalty and 72 % of Republicans favor it, Republican support dropped 10 % points since last year.

A revealing example of why the American public increasingly distrusts states to properly exercise the awesome power over life and death occurred on Nov. 15, when Ohio attempted to execute Alva Campbell. With severe pulmonary disorder, Campbell, 69, uses a walker and a colostomy bag. Corrections officials poked and prodded him for more than 80 minutes in a failed attempt to find a vein suitable for the lethal drugs they wanted to inject. Campbell's physical disabilities contributed to turning this final act of the criminal justice system into an uncertain medical experiment in the taking of life.

The state failed its test by every measure. The execution was halted, and Campbell was returned to his cell, pending another attempt scheduled for June 2019. More critically, the state did not meet its responsibility to act with respect and dignity in the treatment of human life.

Ohio is not alone in mishandling the death penalty. Criminal justice experts attribute the death penalty's gradual demise to many factors, especially the frightening realization that some innocent lives inevitably will be taken. DPIC's report recorded 4 more prisoners who were exonerated and freed from death row this year, bringing the total to 160 people since 1973, and 4 who were executed despite substantial questions as to their guilt. Both these exonerations and the executions are a clear reminder that the problem of innocence is not going away.

Only a few states regularly carry out executions; in 2016, 5 states executed inmates and this year, 8 states did. Just 4 states executed more than 2 inmates in 2017. Harris County, Texas - the nation's most prolific county for executions - had no executions for the 1st time since 1985.

Across the country, the 23 executions in 2017 were the second fewest in 26 years, and the projected 39 new death sentences were the second fewest in the modern era of the death penalty. Many states even in the Deep South had no death sentences this year. In cities such as Jacksonville, Houston and Philadelphia, which had been major sources of death sentences, voters in recent elections ushered in new prosecutorial leadership that is much more reluctant to use capital punishment.

The negative effects from wrongful convictions, the experimental use of drugs in the taking of life, and the lack of coherent rationale for executing a random few from the thousands eligible for the death penalty are compounded by the specter of racial bias. In 2017, in Arkansas, for example, 4 of the 5 men whose executions were stayed are white, and 3 of the 4 who were executed were black. Nationally, even though black people are victims in about 1/2 of murders, the majority of executions in 2017 were in cases with white victims.

The broken system is beyond repair. Each year, even the hobbled application of the death penalty is an embarrassing burden for all involved. In the death-penalty lottery, only a fraction of murder cases result in death verdicts, and family members of murder victims in those cases can feel little solace from a sideshow centered on the defendant. We could blame many government officials for the debacle of the death penalty, but the ever-mounting evidence of its failures casts grave doubt on whether it should continue at all.

(source: Mark Earley, Virginia's attorney general from 1998-2001, is a member of The Constitution Project's Death Penalty Committee----The HIll)


Trump calls for death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer

President Donald Trump is calling for the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.

Trump, while speaking at the FBI National Academy in Virginia on Friday, pledged to support law enforcement officers and condemned those who attack them.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to sign an executive order as president that would demand capital punishment for cop killers.

He has yet to do so.

The president was warmly received by the crowd of local law enforcement officers who cheered his calls for a crackdown on gangs and an end to chain migration.

The president painted a dark picture of a nation under siege by crime, at one moment wondering aloud "What the hell is going on in Chicago?"

The crowd laughed.

In an April speech to law enforcement officials, Trump was dismissive of officers who sought to protect suspects' heads while putting them in police squad cars.

"You can take the hand off," the president said to cheers.

Critics, including some police chiefs across the country, pushed back on the comments, which they saw as encouraging police brutality.



On this day: December 16, 1969 - MPs vote to abolish death penalty

On December 16, 1969 MPs voted for the abolition of the death penalty in Britain, as murderers could be punished by being hanged up until that year.

343 MPs voted in favour of its abolition compared to 185 voting against, resulting in cheers around Parliament as 'The Murder Act 1965' was passed.

MPs debated for nearly 8 hours over the issue until they finally voted, even though all 3 leaders of the major political parties (Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) argued in favour of its abolition.

The death penalty was originally suspended in 1965, although Duncan Sandys (a Conservative MP for Streatham) brought a petition to Parliament claiming to have a million signatures for hanging to remain.

The suspension of the death penalty provided evidence to MPs that it was not a sufficient deterrent, as between 1957 and 1968 murders numbered between 114 and 154 per year, showing no significant increase due to the suspension.

The Act was introduced to Parliament by Sydney Silverman in the form of a private member's bill.

The Act still allowed the death penalty to be used for high treason, arson in royal docklands, piracy with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm, espionage and offences under military law although the vote in 1969 signalled the end of executions in this country.

Britain is one of 103 countries that have completely abolished the death penalty as well as 30 who are abolitionists in practice.

6 countries have abolished the penalty for ordinary crimes, although 56 countries retain capital punishment.

Figures from last year shows China still execute over 1,000 people every year and Iran at least 567, showing the death penalty is still very real in many countries around the world.



December 16 gangrape: 2 death row convicts file review plea in SC

2 of the 4 death row convicts in the December 16, 2012 gangrape and murder case today moved the Supreme Court for review of its verdict upholding the capital punishment awarded to them.

The review petition by convicts Vinay Sharma and Pawan Kumar Gupta came after the apex court on December 12 completed the hearing on the review plea filed by another death row convict Mukesh.

A 23-year-old paramedic student was gangraped on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 inside a moving bus in South Delhi by a gang of 6 persons and severely assaulted before being thrown out naked. She succumbed to her injuries on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

The review plea, filed through advocate A P Singh for 2 of the convicts, claimed that death penalty was a premeditated and "cold blooded killing" of a human being by the state in the name of justice.

It said the investigation in the matter was not only flawed but also unreliable as many facts of the investigation pertain to recording of the dying declaration of the victim.

The apex court had on December 12 allowed the counsel to file review petition for another convict Akshay Singh and listed the matter for hearing on January 22.

The apex court had on May 5 upheld the death penalty to the four convicts - Mukesh (29), Pawan (22), Vinay Sharma (23) and Akshay Kumar Singh (31), saying the "brutal, barbaric and diabolic nature" of the crime could create a "tsunami of shock" to destroy a civilised society.

Another accused in the case, Ram Singh, had allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail, while a convicted juvenile has come out of the reformation home after serving a 3- year term.



Death row ruling sets stage for reviews

The Supreme Court pronounced itself on the controversial automatic hanging of murder convicts, partly bringing an end to a debate that has raged for decades. The landmark ruling evoked memories of some of Kenya's historic hangings, including that of Hezekiah Ochuka who was found guilty of plotting the 1982 aborted coup against President Moi. He was hanged in 1987.

The ruling by the highest court in the land declared Section 204 of the Penal Code unconstitutional. This means that some inmates could, after all, walk to freedom if the substituted jail term is equivalent to or lesser than the time they have spent behind bars.

It also means more than 2,500 prisoners awaiting the hangman's noose would have to be sentenced afresh. The judges ordered that death row prisoners appear before the High Court for fresh sentencing.

Without prejudice to aggrieved families who may have preferred that the harsh punishment be meted out on murder convicts, we believe the ruling was long overdue, given that the death penalty goes against the Bill of Rights.

In many countries including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, life is always sacrosanct. We believe countries such as ours should be re-angling their laws to reflect the very basic tenets of human rights and freedoms. The Thursday ruling sets the stage for us to continue reviewing our legal structures with diligence and respect to the local and international law. It can never be too late to get it right as a republic.


IRAQ----German female teenager faces death penalty

Jihadi bride facing death penalty after becoming Iraq enforcer sobs 'I've ruined my life'

The teenager, who could face the death penalty in Iraq, added: "I don't know where I got the dumb idea to join Islamic State."

Linda, 17, was speaking to the German TV programme Tagesschau for the 1st time since she was found in the rubble of IS stronghold Mosul back in the summer.

German diplomats are hopeful she will be spared the death penalty for joining Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Charges were laid against her and 3 other German women captured in the Isis stronghold of Mosul in July.

German officials admitted that Iraq is threatening a "protracted criminal procedure" in Baghdad.

Schoolgirl Linda fled to Turkey then into Syria last year from her hometown of Pulsnitz in eastern Germany after being groomed online by a Chechen IS fighter who she married.

He was killed in the savage fighting for Mosul while she was employed by the terror group enforcing the strict Islamic dress code on women in the city.


DECEMBER 15, 2017:


Harris County Sues Major Drugmakers Over Opioid Epidemic

Harris County has become the latest government body to sue major drug manufacturers for their hand in the opioid epidemic, alleging the companies conspired to push highly addictive medication that harmed its residents.

The lawsuit, which was filed today in Harris County's 133rd State district court, alleges drug companies including Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Abbott Laboratories along with 5 "pill mill" doctors all conspired to get Houstonians hooked on prescription drugs with devastating consequences.

"The defendants knew that the use of opioids had the potential to cause addiction and other health maladies," according to the petition. "Driven by profit, defendants engaged in a campaign of lies, half-truths, and deceptions to create a market that encouraged the over-prescribing and long-term use of opioids even though there was no scientific basis to support such use. The campaign worked, and resulted in an exponential increase in opioid abuse, addiction, and death."

Houston attorney Vince Ryan filed the suit against the defendants along with the help of prominent Houston plaintiff attorneys Mike Gallagher and Tommy Fibich. Ryan has a history of using contingent fee contracts to take on big industry defendants - a move that was blessed most recently in 2013 by Houston's First Court of Appeals when used by private lawyers to sue International Paper to force them to clean up environmental waste along the San Jacinto River. Several states around the country have also filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers to help offset $78.5 billion economic burden of prescription drug misuse and the State of Texas has joined a working group to investigate the opioid pharmaceutical industry's conduct. Earlier this year, Upshur County partnered with plaintiff lawyers in Dallas' Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett to file public nuisance, fraud and racketeering allegations against drugmakers in a lawsuit currently pending before U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap of Marshall.

(source: Texas Lawyer)


Money talks in the death penalty debate

Brent Ray Brewer has been sitting on death row since 1991.

John Balentine - since 1999. Brittany Holberg - since 1998. Travis Runnels - since 2005.

It says something about capital punishment when an individual has been on death row since before the Internet became commonplace. (In Brewer's case.)

These 4 Amarillo-area individuals (from Potter and Randall counties) are perfect examples of the financial cost of capital punishment.

No matter on which side of the death penalty debate you fall, there is no denying the significant financial cost of capital punishment - a cost which is brought up routinely by death penalty opponents.

However, what are the reasons for these costs? One of the primary reasons is a fact that death penalty opponents seldom mention - legal costs.

According to, "Each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million. That is about 3 times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. ('Executions Cost Texas Millions," Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992).'"

A significant chunk of that $2.3 million - a number which is undoubtedly higher now - is to pay for the legal expenses of those convicted of the most heinous crimes. (Speaking of heinous crimes, longtime Amarillo residents may be familiar with Holberg, who was convicted of killing an 80-year-old man in 1996 by stabbing him more than 60 times.)

Take our neighbor - Oklahoma. Again, according to, "Prosecutors (in Oklahoma) spent triple in pre-trial and trial costs on death penalty proceedings, while defense teams spent nearly 10 times more. Oklahoma capital appeal proceedings cost between 5 and 6 times more than non-capital appeals of 1st-degree murder convictions."

More often than not, the legal costs related to capital punishment are dropped on taxpayers - for individuals who sit on death row for decades.

The never-ending debate on the death penalty should include an honest and realistic portrayal - which means all the reasons capital punishment is so expensive should be examined.

The death penalty is not a major financial burden for taxpayers because death row inmates are living high on the hog behind bars and eating caviar. A primary reason is the legal expenses (paying the lawyers and attorneys) which drag on for decades.

(source: Editorial, Amarillo Globe-News)


Lawyer 'Disappointed' by Death Penalty Decision----Lawyer for man charged with cousin in deaths of 4 young men shot and buried on Pennsylvania farm says he's 'disappointed' by prosecutors certifying his case for capital punishment when it's cousin who's 'admitted killer'.

The Latest on 2 cousins charged with killing 4 young men found shot and buried on a Pennsylvania farm:

A lawyer for a man charged with his cousin in the deaths of 4 young men found shot and buried on a Pennsylvania farm says he's "disappointed" by prosecutors certifying his case for capital punishment when it's his cousin who's the "admitted killer."

Lawyer Niels C. Eriksen Jr. represents Sean Kratz. Kratz and his cousin Cosmo DiNardo have pleaded not guilty to murder and corpse abuse in the July killings. DiNardo is charged in 4 deaths, Kratz in 3.

DiNardo's attorneys say he admitted killing the men and told authorities where to find a body in exchange for prosecutors agreeing not to seek capital punishment. Prosecutors said Thursday they're "on track" to reach a deal with DiNardo.

Kratz's lawyer says he looks forward to "challenging the evidence."

1 victim's family says Kratz and DiNardo should be put to death.

(source: Associated Press)


N.C. death row becoming frail, aging----No new death sentences in 2017

North Carolina juries rejected the death penalty in 2017, refusing to impose death sentences at any of the 4 trials where prosecutors sought them and making this year the 3rd since 2012 with no new death sentences.

Juries in Wake, Granville and Guilford counties all chose life without parole instead of death this year. At a 4th capital trial in Robeson County, the jury said the defendant was guilty only of 2nd-degree murder and he was sentenced to a term of years.

Only a single person has been sent to N.C. death row in the past 3 1/2 years, and most of the state's district attorneys are no longer seeking the death penalty. North Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2006 because of ongoing litigation over the state's lethal injection procedures and racial bias in capital trials.

"There are some elected officials in North Carolina who still like to talk about the death penalty for political purposes, but that's about the only way it's being used anymore," said Gretchen M. Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham. "The reality is most citizens of North Carolina no longer have any use for the death penalty, not after seeing an innocent man like Henry McCollum spend 30 years there."

McCollum was released in 2014, after DNA testing proved he was innocent of the 1983 crime for which he was sentenced to death. Nationally, 4 more death row inmates were exonerated in 2017, bringing the total to 160. A Gallup poll released in October found that Americans' support for the death penalty had reached its lowest point in 45 years.

Also in 2017, more questions of innocence arose in North Carolina. Michael Patrick Ryan, who was sentenced to death in 2010 in Gaston County, is awaiting a new trial after a judge ruled in February that misleading DNA evidence was used against him and prosecution investigators intimidated Ryan's alibi witnesses. Scant credible evidence remains against Ryan, who has always claimed his innocence.

Phillip Davis from Buncombe County was also removed from death row in February and resentenced to life without parole after the court found that race played an improper role in selecting the all-white jury that sentenced him to death. Davis, who was just a few months past his 18th birthday at the time of the crime, spent 20 years on death row before being resentenced.

North Carolina's death row also shrunk this year because 5 inmates died of natural causes. Today, 140 men and 3 women remain on death row. Almost 1/2, 69 of them, are 50 or older. More than 3/4 of death row inmates were sentenced at least 15 years ago, in an era when North Carolina juries sentenced to death dozens of people a year under less enlightened laws.

At the time, the law forced prosecutors to go after the death penalty in almost every 1st-degree murder case, even when they believed the circumstances called for mercy or there were questions of innocence. Defendants on trial for their lives did not have basic protections such as qualified attorneys or laws requiring that confessions be recorded.

"If we were to restart executions, we would be putting to death people who were tried decades ago without basic legal protections," Engel said. "Executions would do nothing to solve the problems of today. We would be better served to choose life imprisonment instead and divert the millions of dollars we spend on the death penalty to law enforcement and corrections officers, who unlike the death penalty, make our society safer."

(source: The Center for Death Penalty Litigation is a non-profit law firm in Durham, N.C., that represents people on North Carolina's death


Defense attorney files rare death penalty motion

For the 1st time in Fresno County Superior Court history, a defense attorney has filed a rare motion, arguing a death penalty qualification on a jury panel for an African American defendant will deprive them of equal protection.

Attorney David Mugridge's client, Leroy Johnson spent almost 9 years in jail on murder charges.

Mugridge says studies show most African Americans are against the death penalty and he is worried those jurors will be disqualified based on their predisposition toward life rather than death.

He argues his client will not receive the right to a fair and equal sampling of all races.

"Theoretically as a defense attorney I'd love to have everybody on the jury be opposed to the death penalty, the people have the right to a fair and balanced jury just as much as the defendant does and I just want to make sure it ends up being fair and trial for both sides," said Mugridge.

Johnson's trial was supposed to start in January, but it could be postponed.

Mugridge also says this has only been done in the State of California once before.

(source: ABC News)


Indian American Store Clerk Killer Faces Death Penalty

Indian American Amritraj Singh Athwal, charged with the Nov. 13 murder of Madera, Calif., store clerk Dharampreet Singh Jassar, is facing the death penalty after new charges were added to his case at a Dec. 7 arraignment.

Athwal is currently being held at Madera County Jail without bail, Lt. Sheriff Bill Ward confirmed to India-West. He was transferred from Fresno County Jail after his arraignment.

In a press release issued after the arraignment, Madera County District Attorney David Linn announced that he had filed additional special allegations against Athwal. "The effect of these additional special allegations increases the potential penalties for Mr. Athwal to life, without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty," he said.

"We do not take capital cases lightly, however, based upon the facts that have been reported to us from law enforcement, we believe that either life without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty, is the appropriate sentence in this case," said Linn.

"Although prior election propositions and action by the State Legislature and Governor Brown have stripped law enforcement of effective tools to properly punish the defendant, my staff and I are fully committed to pursuing the most serious penalties available under existing California law," stated the District Attorney.

The press release did not list the additional allegations against Athwal. But John Bell, a senior administrative analyst in the DA's office, apprised India-West of the new charges.

Athwal had initially been charged with 1st-degree murder; Linn issued an additional charge - murder during the commission of a robbery. The suspect was also charged with robbery: 2 additional allegations involve the use of a fire-arm while committing a robbery.

Jassar, an Indian national, had just turned 20 and was in his sophomore year at Fresno State University, where he was studying both accounting and criminal justice, friends and relatives told India-West. He was killed late night Nov. 13 at the Tackle Box convenience store in Madera.

Surveillance video revealed that 2 men entered the store, stole cash and 2 large packing boxes of cigarettes. As they were leaving, 1 of the suspects fired several shots, 1 of which struck the employee and killed him, according to police reports.

The 2nd suspect is still at large.

Athwal's case is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Dec. 15.



Riverside County leads the nation in death penalty sentences again in 2017

For the 2nd time in the last 3 years, Riverside County has produced more new death row inmates than any other county in the United States.

California accounted for 28 % of all the new death penalty sentences across the country in 2017, according to a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington D.C. nonprofit which researches capital punishment. Riverside County accounted for 5 of the state's death row sentences, the most of any county in the U.S., despite a statewide moratorium on executions.

A Riverside County inmate has not been executed since at least 1978. No California inmate has been put to death since 2006.

A researcher with DPIC said the high rate could be an indicator of larger issues within Riverside County's criminal justice system, a notion the county's district attorney dismissed as "nonsense."

Robert Dunham, author of the report and DPIC executive director, said research showed death penalty sentences were an "accident of geography" and that Riverside County had long been an outlier.

"For every 7 1/2 death sentences imposed somewhere else, 1 is imposed in Riverside County," he said. "Riverside County has historically been much more aggressive in pursuing the death penalty than other counties its size and with its murder rate."

Dunham said that a high rate of death penalty sentences isn't something that occurs in a vacuum and can be indicative of a prosecutorial culture that "will do anything to win." He referenced the massive wiretapping operation built up by Riverside County prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration which accounted for 1/5 of all the wiretaps in the United States.

"You don't see counties that overproduce death penalties and are model citizens in the administration of justice as a whole," Dunham said.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said he "strenuously" objected to that sentiment and added his office prides itself on being responsible as it pursues the death penalty.

"That's just a bunch of nonsense and I would challenge this individual to come look at our cases," he said.

Hestrin has been more cautious in pursuing the death penalty than his predecessors, but said his office has pushed hard for death sentences - the office sought the death penalty 5 times this year and got it each time.

He added that while it's important to monitor the use of capital punishment and keep prosecutor's offices accountable, it's also important to think about the victims of these crimes and their families who deserve justice, which sometimes includes the death penalty.

The 5 people sentenced to death in Riverside County in 2017 were Elias Lopez, convicted of 2 homicides in Indio from 2014; Johnny Lopez, who was convicted of 2 murders, rape and attempted murder in Hemet from 2013; David Contreras, who was convicted of 3 murders in Perris from 2012 and 2013; Lorraine Alison Hunter, convicted of a murder in Moreno Valley in 2009; and Raymond Barrera, who was convicted of 3 murders near San Jacinto from 2013.

Between the 5 people sentenced to death this year in the county, there were 11 murder victims and 2 attempted murder victims.

"These are heinous crimes. Whenever someone's killing more than 1 person, it certainly weighs heavily on me," Hestrin said.

Riverside County Public Defender Steven Harmon said he believed the county has long overused capital punishment, largely due to the inclinations of Hestrin's predecessors. Hestrin was elected district attorney in 2014 and took office the following year.

"I must commend Mike Hestrin," Harmon said. "He has taken a far more measured approach to deciding in which cases he should seek the death penalty."

Harmon, who said he was personally opposed to the death penalty, said the county also did have a more conservative jury pool filled with "fine, good, justice-seeking people," but that prosecutorial discretion was the main driver behind death penalty sentences. Juries can only hand down a sentence of death if it is pursued by the DA's office.

Dunham said DPIC has studied Riverside County specifically since it's such an anomaly. From 2010 to 2015, Riverside County was second only to Los Angeles County in the number of death penalty convictions, though the latter has a much higher murder rate. He said the county sees death penalty sentences at a 9 times greater rate per homicide than the rest of California.

In 2016, California voters passed a statewide ballot measure to speed up executions and death penalty appeals. The state supreme court allowed the law to take effect, but threw out the provision that death row inmates had only 5 years to appeal their conviction.

In California, 746 people remained on death row in 2017.

A competing statewide measure, which would have repealed the death penalty, failed. In Riverside County, only about 1/3 of voters cast their ballots in favor of outlawing capital punishment. A long-debated issue in California, legal challenges to the death penalty have been ongoing since the 1960s. The state has not executed an inmate in more than a decade and a federal court ruling blocking executions until a new protocol was developed remains in effect.

Dunham said it was still unclear what effect the 2016 ballot measure would ultimately have.

Nationally, the trend seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. 23 executions took place and the report projected there would be 39 death sentences handed down by the end of 2017, the 2nd lowest in 25 years. Only 2016 saw fewer executions and death sentences, according to the report.

"The long-term trends, nationwide, are that the death penalty is still on the decline," Dunham said.

The report also indicated that national support for the death penalty had fallen in recent years, though more than 1/2 of Americans still support the practice for people convicted of murder, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

2017 also saw 4 death row exonerations in the U.S. and 4 additional death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Dunham pointed out that part of the reason why many people are sentenced to death in the U.S. is because people who are opposed to the death penalty cannot serve on death penalty juries.

"In a capital case, you don't get a jury of your peers," he said. "You get a jury composed only of members of the community who are willing to impose the death penalty."

(source: The Desert Sun)


Death Penalty Decline Signals 'Long-Term Change' in Capital Punishment

With executions and death sentences at near-historic low levels so far this year, the U.S. is witnessing a "long-term change in capital punishment," according to a report released Thursday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a Washington, DC-based advocacy group.

The report, entitled "The Death Penalty in 2017," notes that the 23 executions in 2017 were the 2nd fewest since 1991, and the number of total imposed or projected death sentences (39) this year is the 2nd lowest since 1972, the report said.

"The new death sentences imposed in 2017 highlight the increasing geographic isolation and arbitrary nature of the death penalty," said DPIC Director Robert Dunham in a press release accompanying the report.

Just 3 countries - Riverside, CA; Clark, NV; and Maricopa, AZ - were responsible for more than 30 % of the death sentences levied around the country.

Nearly 75 % of executions took place in 4 states: (Texas (7); Arkansas (4); Florida (3); and Alabama (3).

The report notes that Harris County, Tx., which once led the nation in the number of executions, and did not execute any prisoner or impose any death sentence this year, is symbolic of the decline.

Dunham said the declining numbers coincide with a sharp drop in public support for the death penalty across the U.S., now at 55 % - a 45-year low.


*******************----book review

Federal Judges----The Hanging Judge: An Interview With Judge Michael Ponsor; An interview with a very rare individual: a federal judge and New York Times bestselling novelist.

Looking for some stocking stuffers for the lawyer or law student in your life? I have 2 items to add to the holiday gift guides we've previously published: 2 superb legal thrillers, The Hanging Judge and The One-Eyed Judge, by Michael Ponsor.

That name rings a bell - do you mean Judge Michael Ponsor? Yes, that's right. Within the legal profession, Judge Ponsor is best known as a Senior United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts, appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. But Judge Ponsor - a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, as well as a former Rhodes Scholar - is a man of many talents. How many federal judges are also critically acclaimed, New York Times-bestselling authors?

A few months ago, right before I went out on paternity leave, I interviewed Judge Ponsor about his fascinating authorial and judicial careers. After briefly chatting about the similarities in our backgrounds - 2 alma maters in common, plus the whole "lawyer turned novelist" thing - we plunged into the substance of our conversation.

Here's the (lightly edited and condensed) 1st part of our chat, centered on The Hanging Judge and Judge Ponsor's writing career. The 2nd part, focused on The One-Eyed Judge and Judge Ponsor's legal career, will follow next week. Enjoy!

DL: Congratulations on your success as both a judge and an author. Your legal career, while long and distinguished, is fairly straightforward. Can you give us an overview of your career as a writer?

MP: I've been trying to write fiction since my 20s. I wrote a complete novel when I was at Oxford called When the Bough Breaks, about a boy growing up in the Midwest. It was picked up by New York literary agency, and they were confident the book would find a publisher. I was ambivalent about law school so I thought, "Great! I won't have to go! I'll be a famous novelist instead." But there were no takers. Off I went to law school.

Then, in 1973, when I was still in law school, I had a short story published in Redbook. I got paid $1,500 for it, a sizable sum at the time. I was still ambivalent about being a lawyer, so this time I thought, "Great! I can be a famous short story writer instead."

Again, it didn't work out. Little did I know that the 1973 Redbook story would comprise my entire published literary oeuvre for the next 40 years, until The Hanging Judge came out in 2013. My main problem was that I wanted to be a writer but didn't have anything terribly profound to write about.

DL: And that's where your legal and judicial career comes in....

MP: What boosted me into a higher level of focus as a writer was presiding over a death penalty case in 2000 called United States v. Gilbert, involving a nurse at a Veterans Affairs hospital charged with killing 4 of her patients and attempting to kill 3 others.

The trial went on for more than 5 months. Massachusetts doesn't have a state death penalty, and this was the 1st death penalty case in almost 50 years. It was a harrowing experience - morally, to ensure a fair process where the stakes were so high, and emotionally, knowing that an evidentiary ruling of mine might either let a killer go free or send a woman to her death after a botched trial.

In the end, the jury found Kristen Gilbert guilty but declined to impose the death penalty. She didn't appeal - perhaps because, under Supreme Court precedent, had she "won" on appeal and gotten a new trial, she could have faced the death penalty again.

I wrote an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe about the experience of presiding over a death-penalty trial. I tried not to make judgments and focused on describing the objective challenges - here's a steep hill, here's a swamp, here lie dragons. My core point - not especially surprising, but powerfully hammered home for me by the trial - was that if we're going to have a death penalty, then we must acknowledge the reality that, on occasion, an innocent person will be executed. The process is brutally human, and human beings make mistakes.

The Globe piece turned out well, and people told me how helpful it was to read. But I also felt that in such a short piece I wasn't fully able to capture the atmosphere of an actual death-penalty trial. Ethical restrictions also prevented me from going into much detail about my real trial. So I thought I'd pick up fiction again and try to write a novel about the experience from the viewpoint of a fictional judge, whom I named David Norcross.

DL: At the time, though, you were still a very busy, very real federal judge... MP: Yes, I was still working full-time as an active district judge. I would set aside my Saturdays and Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., to write. I'd basically nail my door shut to block out distractions. I have a poster on my bulletin board with a picture of a dog on it, saying that to write successfully you have to give yourself the same command you give your dog: SIT! STAY!

DL: And how long did that process take, from starting to write the novel to the final publication of The Hanging Judge?

MP: About 7 years - to write, and re-write, and re-write the manuscript, to find an agent, to find a publisher, and to see the book published.

It was a humbling experience. If you're a federal judge, youíre used to having people defer to you. You enter the courtroom, and everyone stands up. You tell a little joke, and everyone has a hearty chuckle. Publishing fiction is a good antidote to that: you get treated like dirt!

My agent from years ago was no longer in the business, so I had to find a new agent. I got shot down by one literary agency after another. On one call to an agency, I got a young woman who sounded like she was about 18, and she was talking to me, like, "So Mike [munching noise], we're looking at your book [munching noise]...."And it dawned on me: she's eating a sandwich while she's talking to me! I wanted to say: "I'm a federal judge, for God's sake! Can you at least put your damned tuna fish down!" But I kept quiet, not wanting to be pegged as a pill. In the end, they didn't take the book anyway.

DL: So how did you eventually find an agent?

MP: It took about a year. My 1st manuscript was way too long - over 180,000 words. One agency told me that if I could get it down to around 100,000 words, they'd take another look. So I cut out tons of material, including a couple much beloved characters, got my draft down to 115,000 words or so, and sent it around again. Eventually it got picked up by Robin Straus, a wonderful agent. She's been fantastic.

DL: And then what about finding a publisher?

MP: Robin really liked the manuscript and was optimistic at the start of the process. But it took a little while; we had a number of near misses, nice letters from publishers that praised the book but passed.

After about a year, it was picked up by Open Road, a new publishing house launched by Jane Friedman, former CEO of Harper Collins and others. Open Road published The Hanging Judge in December 2013. They have given the book terrific support.

DL: And it took off from there - including hitting the New York Times bestseller list, and selling more than 40,000 copies.

MP: Actually, more than 54,000 copies as of September 30, and it's still selling. Everyone at Open Road has been very pleased how it has done, especially for a 1st novel. I'm over the moon, of course.

DL: How would you explain the book's success? Aside from its literary merit, of course - there are many excellent books that fail to achieve bestseller status.

MP: The book has, I think, 1 unique strength. It takes the reader right up onto the bench, where I've been for more than 30 years, and lets the reader see and feel what I've seen and felt as a judge, making tough decisions in a very intense environment. Anyone intending to practice law, to clerk, to litigate, or to get onto the bench is bound to find this viewpoint compelling. I gave the books to a district-court colleague, who liked them and passed them onto to his wife, so she could finally get a clear idea of how he spends his days.

Apart from the book's inherent merits, such as they are, The Hanging Judge had some great blurbs from writer friends of mine, including Tracy Kidder, Anita Shreve, Jonathan Harr, Joe Kanon, John Katzenbach, Elinor Lipman, and the late Joe McGuiness. This support helped a lot. I also received some strong reviews, including a great review in the Washington Post and a starred review in Kirkus.

Finally, I did many events - more than 60 readings in 10 months. I spoke at libraries, law schools, colleges, bar associations, and courts. I got lots of invitations. People were very interested in the book as a window into our justice system, viewed through the eyes of someone who'd been, so to speak, in the trenches.

DL: And I believe Justice John Paul Stevens was a fan?

MP: Justice Stevens sent me a letter that I think I'll be buried with. With his permission, we used part of his comments as a blurb for the back of my new book, The One-Eyed Judge.

DL: So you were doing all of these events alongside your rather demanding day job....

MP: Yes - it was very intense. I took senior status in 2011 and that helped, but not very much.

Springfield has only 1 active federal judgeship, for an area encompassing 4 counties, 100 cities and towns, and 850,000 people. Because the Senate didn't confirm my successor until the summer of 2014, some 3 years later, I couldn't really cut my docket upon going senior in 2011.

I was effectively still a full-time judge when the book came out in late 2013. I was handling complex civil cases, criminal cases with Speedy Trial Act issues, TROs, and... a lot of book readings.

DL: Sounds rather stressful. Did you enjoy it?

MP: Absolutely. I'm an extrovert. I like pulling into a library parking lot, walking in with my box of books, not knowing anyone, meeting new people, and talking about my books. The people I meet at readings are interesting, generous, and fun. The crowds would vary in size - sometimes large groups in packed rooms, and sometimes a handful of people.

I remember one event at the Barnes & Noble in Framingham. It was an evening in December or January, with terrible winter weather. The bookstore was nestled somewhere deep within a nest of malls. My GPS croaked on me, and I got seriously lost. I showed up at 1 minute before 7, for a 7 o'clock reading, with my bladder as big as a beach ball. 3 people showed up: a former law clerk of mine, an author trying to pitch me on her self-published book, and a homeless guy trying to get out the weather.

The homeless man had very interesting questions - not many teeth, but many good questions. I gave him a free copy of the book.

DL: How long did it take for The Hanging Judge to become a bestseller?

MP: It hit the New York Times bestseller list in May 2014. I still have that page from the Book Review tacked to my bulletin board.

DL: The Hanging Judge and The One-Eyed Judge are based in part on your experiences as a sitting judge. Do you have any concerns about the interaction between your work as a judge and an author? Are you worried that litigants might read your books and claim some bias on your part, or that lawyers might read them and think you're writing about them?

MP: I was a little anxious about this at first, but it has not turned out to be a problem. The plot of The Hanging Judge is nothing like the plot of my actual death-penalty case. The book starts with a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, where the murdered target is a drug dealer but a stray bullet also kills a young hockey mom. They catch the person they think is the shooter, and the ambitious U.S. attorney charges it as a RICO case in order to invoke the death penalty. It's nothing like my case of a nurse in a VA hospital.

The main concern I had before the book came out was that I didn't want to look like a blockhead - for example, by having a reviewer quote a poorly written passage I should have worked on more. I didn't want to put myself or my court in an embarrassing position.

To try to head this off, I sent the book out to 5 of my colleagues, including my chief judge, and asked them to read it. They all got back to me and said that they liked it. This was a good way of making sure I wasn't wandering into any area that would make me look clownish or unethical.

DL: Some readers might see similarities between you and your protagonist, Judge Norcross....

MP: Readers have said they see parallels. One colleague told me, "Come on, Michael - Judge Norcross is really you!" I told her, "Not true. Judge Norcross comes from Wisconsin. I come from Minnesota. They're totally different!"

Jokes aside, there are significant differences between Judge Norcross and Judge Ponsor. Judge Norcross has much less experience on the bench when he gets his death-penalty case, and he makes mistakes that I wouldn't make. He's greener than I am. In The One-Eyed Judge, he makes a decision not to recuse himself in a case where in real life I certainly would have recused.


We'll learn more about The One-Eyed Judge - as well as Judge Ponsor's writing process, the differences between fiction and judicial writing, and advice for aspiring federal judges - next week. For now, thanks to Judge Ponsor for his time and insights!

(source: David Lat is editor at large and founding editor of Above the Law, as well as the author of Supreme Ambitions: A Novel. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey; a litigation associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; and a law clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth


Prisoner Hanged On Murder Charges in Southern Iran

A prisoner was hanged at Shiraz Central Prison on the charge of murdering a forest guard.

According to a report by Iran Environment and Wildlife Watch, on the morning of Thursday December 14, a prisoner was executed at Shiraz Central Prison.

The prisoner was convicted of murdering a forest guard, named Manuchehr Shojayian, on Friday June 24, 2016. However, no information regarding the identity of the prisoner and the details of his case has been published.

According to Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty, 142 of the 530 execution sentences in 2016 were implemented due to murder charges. There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


UN 'shocked and appalled' at mass-execution in Iraq

The UN on Friday harshly criticised the mass-hanging of 38 men at a prison in southern Iraq this week, urging Baghdad to immediately halt all executions.

Iraq on Thursday hanged 38 jihadists belonging to the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda for terrorism offences at a prison in the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to provincial authorities.

It was the largest number of executions in Iraq on a single day since September 25, when 42 people were put to death in the same prison.

"We are deeply shocked and appalled at the mass execution on Thursday," United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.

The hangings, she warned, "once again raises huge concerns about the use of the death penalty in the country".

The UN had determined that all of the 38 executed prisoners were men and had been convicted for terrorism-related crimes, but could say nothing more about their identities, she said.

A prison source however told AFP that they were all Iraqis, but that one also held Swedish nationality.

The executions came after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday declared victory against the Islamic State group after a three-year campaign by government forces backed by a US-led coalition to retake territory seized by the jihadists.

The UN and rights watchdog Amnesty International have repeatedly voiced concerns about the use of the death penalty in Iraq, which ranks among the world's top executioners, after China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"Given the flaws of the Iraqi justice system, it appears extremely doubtful that strict due process and fair trial guarantees were followed in these 38 cases," Throssell warned.

"This raises the prospect of irreversible miscarriages of justice and violations of the right to life," she said.

The UN has learned of 106 executions in Iraq so far this year, including the mass-hangings in September.

"We once again urge the Iraqi authorities to halt all executions, establish an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and carry out an urgent and comprehensive review of the criminal justice system," Throssell said.



Landmark death penalty judgement must lead to full abolition of cruel punishment

Commenting after the Kenyan Supreme Court declared mandatory death sentencing unconstitutional, Oluwatosin Popoola, Amnesty International's Adviser on the Death Penalty, said:

"This landmark judgment is a significant step towards complete abolition of the ultimate cruel and inhumane form of punishment.

"It's now time for the Kenyan authorities to take the required legal steps to abolish the death penalty fully and join the 105 countries that have completely consigned the punishment to history."


The judgement was handed down following an application by 2 men who have been on death row for the last 14 years. It in effect means judges now have discretion and will no longer automatically sentence to death people convicted of murder or armed robbery - the only 2 crimes that still attract the death penalty in Kenya.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and under any circumstances, regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

(source: Amnesty International)


Death penalty will bolster the dignity of women, says court

Claiming that the decision to award death penalty to Ameerul Islam would bolster the dignity of women in society, the Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court observed that the brutal crime in the Jisha case was a clear demonstration of exceptional depravity and extreme brutality towards a helpless woman. "Her resistance at the cost of her life could be termed as a reflection of gender justice that shocked the collective conscience of the society. Hence, sympathy in any form would be misplaced and it would shake the confidence of the public in the administration of criminal justice system," the court said in its verdict.

The court observed that life had been a continuous battle for the victim.

"She lived in a small house at Vattolippady canal puramboku (a common land belonging to the government) till her death, braving financial crunch and neighbours' disdain for the family. Her father, late Kuttikattuparambil Pappu, had abandoned the family when she was a small child. However, she took the challenge to overcome all the hurdles that came in her way and her dream to become an advocate was just about to become a reality.

Her mother Rajeswary had been a strong pillar of support for her and the mother dreamt to see her daughter enrolled as an advocate so that the family can hope for a secured future," the court said. "However, all their dreams ended when the accused mercilessly raped and murdered her in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting and dastardly manner to arouse the intense and extreme indignation of the society. She was subjected to rape while she was all alone at her residence.

Her clothes were torn apart and partially pulled away from her body. When the victim persistently resisted the attempt of rape, the convict inflicted 38 injuries all over her body, out of which a majority of these injuries were on the abdomen and on the external genitalia that caused the death of the victim."

The injuries noted in the postmortem report are self-explanatory to show the inhuman behaviour of the convict. It is disheartening to note that, had the victim consented to the evil act of the convict, she would not have been subjected to brutal murder, the court said. "Though the defence counsel had made some wild suggestions with respect to the involvement of Anarul Islam and Hardath Baruwa in the crime, no positive evidence is brought in or adduced by the accused so as to even think about the complicity of another person in the crime.

"No incriminating evidence is brought out in evidence for the investigation to implicate any other person other than the accused. The investigation does not reveal the complicity of any other person in the crime." "In the absence of any other positive evidence to show the involvement of any other person, the only irresistible conclusion is that the accused and the accused alone has committed the crime using a shawl and knife," it added.

'Duty of the court to award death penalty'

In awarding the verdict, the court observed that when the collective conscience of the community is so shocked, it is the duty of the court to inflict death penalty, irrespective of personal opinion with regard to the desirability of imposing the death penalty. "In the interest of justice, the law leans in accordance with the perception of society and not 'judge-centric'. Hence this is a fit case for awarding death sentence to the accused," the court said.

(source: The New Indian Express)


11 Taiwanese to face Indonesian firing squad next year

Despite a brief reprieve this month, the 11 Taiwanese citizens who have been sentenced to death for drug offenses are still on track to face the firing squad as early as January of 2018, announced the Indonesian government Tuesday (Dec. 12), reported SETN.

The 11 Taiwanese sentenced to death for drug trafficking by Indonesian district and high courts have been identified as Chen Chia-wei, Wang An-kang, and Lo Chih-cheng, as well as 8 other Taiwanese citizens who have had their names partially concealed with the following surnames: Lin, Chen, Chuang, Li, Shih, Wu, Hung, and Yeh.

Although 8 of the 11 have not completed the judicial process, experts believe that given Indonesia's track record with death penalty cases, their chances of appealing their sentences are slim.

All death row inmates, including the Taiwanese were given a brief reprieve on Tuesday, when Indonesian prosecutors disclosed that they will not execute any more prisoners for the remainder of this year. However, they added that executions will resume as soon as Jan. 2018.

As part of the country's war on drugs, Indonesian President Joko Widodo is intensifying the severity of punishments, and has even told his police officers to "gun down" drug traffickers if necessary, especially foreigners, said John Chen, head of the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Indonesia. Chen was quoted by CNA as warning Taiwanese citizens "not for one moment to consider smuggling drugs to Indonesia."

Taiwan also uses shooting as the main method to execute criminals condemned to death, though it is delivered by a single handgun to the heart or the brain stem, as opposed to a squad of riflemen aiming for the heart, as is the case in Indonesia.

(source: Taiwan News)

DECEMBER 14, 2017:


Texas leads the nation in executions, but its death row population is dropping----Texas executed more people than any other state this year, but fewer new death sentences has led to a shrinking death row population.

The number of inmates on Texas' death row dropped again this year, continuing a decades-long trend.

The decline is caused largely by fewer new death sentences and more reduced punishments in recent years, according to end-of-year reports released Thursday by groups critical of the death penalty in Texas and across the country. But Texas still held more executions than any other state.

"Prosecutors, juries, judges, and the public are subjecting our state's death penalty practices to unprecedented scrutiny," said Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, in the release of the group's annual report. "In an increasing number of cases, they are accepting alternatives to this flawed and irreversible punishment."

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has supported death penalty practices in legal cases throughout the country, said he agrees that the decline is partially due to shifting attitudes among jurors and prosecutors, but added that death sentences are also down because there has been a drop in the murder rate nationwide.

"The support for the death penalty for the worst crimes remains strong," he said.

There are currently 234 inmates living with death sentences in Texas, according to the state's prison system. That number has been dropping since 2003. The death row population peaked at 460 in 1999, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Here's how the death row population has changed over the last year:

7 men were executed.

The same number of men were put to death this year as in 2016, which had the fewest executions in 2 decades. But even with its relatively low number, Texas was still the state with the most executions in the country. This isn't unusual given that the state has put to death nearly 5 times more individuals than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas accounted for 30 % of the nation's 23 executions in 2017. Arkansas was 2nd in the country with 4. Last year, Georgia put more people to death than Texas - the 1st time Texas hasn't been responsible for the most executions since 2001.

4 more men got cells on death row.

1 more person was sentenced to death this year than in 2015 and 2016, when only 3 men were handed the death penalty in each of those years.

The number of new sentences, which ranged in the 20s and 30s each year in the early 2000s, dropped in 2005 after jurors were given the option to sentence convicts to life without the possibility of parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Before then, if a capital murder convict wasn't sentenced to death, he or she would be eligible for parole after 40 years. About 10 people in Texas were sentenced each year after that until the additional decrease in 2015. 2 men died while awaiting execution.

Joseph Lave and Raymond Martinez both died this year before they were taken to the death chamber, even though they had had extended stays in prison. Lave passed away more than 22 years after his murder conviction, and Martinez had lived more than 30 years with a death sentence.

4 men had their sentences changed from death to life in prison.

2 U.S. Supreme Court decisions this year have so far resulted in the reduction of 3 death sentences to life in prison. The high court ruled against Texas in the death penalty cases of Duane Buck and Bobby Moore.

Buck reached a plea agreement with Harris County prosecutors to change his death sentence to life in October after a February ruling by the court said his case was prejudiced by an expert trial witness who claimed Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

In Moore's case, the justices invalidated Texas' method for determining if a death-sentenced inmate was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. Though Moore's case has yet to be resolved (Harris County has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reduce his sentence to life), 2 other men on death row with intellectual disability claims received life sentences after the ruling.

Another man this April received a new punishment hearing in a 1991 murder and pled guilty, landing four consecutive life sentences over the death penalty, according to the Texas death penalty report.

9 men narrowly escaped execution - for now.

Executions were scheduled - then canceled - for 9 men this year. 6 were stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in light of pending appeals, and one was stopped by a federal court, the report said.

1 man, Larry Swearingen, evaded execution in November because of a clerical error, and convicted serial killer Anthony Shore's death was postponed because prosecutors were concerned he would confess to the murder for which Swearingen was convicted.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Convicted killer asks judge for DNA test of evidence 35 years after murder

Convicted killer James J. Koedatich wants his DNA tested to prove he did not rape and murder Parsippany teenager Amie Hoffman in 1982, his lawyer told a judge Wednesday.

Koedatich, who was found guilty of murdering Deirdre O'Brien, 25, of Mendham Township 2 weeks after Hoffman was killed, sought to reopen just the Hoffman case. He filed a motion earlier this year to have his DNA compared to semen found in Hoffman's body during her autopsy.

Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Schellhorn said he is actively working with multiple agencies to determine whether slides containing the semen have been retained by authorities, including the state Medical Examiner's Office and the Morris County Medical Examiner's Office.

"My office is coordinating with all the offices involved," Schellhorn told Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong.

The questions that need to be answered are whether the slides have been retained and whether the samples are of sufficient quality to undergo DNA testing, attorneys said. If the samples are found, Koedatich would willingly provide a DNA sample for comparison purposes, his lawyer said. Testing would occur at a State Police laboratory.

Schellhorn noted that Koedatich's DNA was not tested against the samples from Hoffman's body in 1982 because the science was not established at that time. The Prosecutor's Office is not opposed to the testing. DNA was found to be scientifically reliable as evidence in New Jersey courtrooms in 1996.

Koedatich's motion pertained only to the rape and murder of Hoffman, 18, who was abducted on Nov. 23, 1982 after leaving her job at the Surprise Store at the Morris County Mall in Hanover Township. Her body was found 2 days later in a water holding tank in Randolph Township. The Parsippany Hills High School senior and cheerleader had died of multiple stab wounds.

Koedatich also was convicted of kidnapping and murdering O'Brien, Dec. 5, 1982. His motion does not seek to reopen the O'Brien slaying.

"Back then they couldn't determine whose semen that was," Bilinkas said after the hearing. "They didn't do DNA testing. Now, with all the procedures, they clearly can determine whether it was Mr. Koedatich."

If viable samples are found, compared to Koedatich's DNA and show he was not the source of the semen, the Hoffman case would be re-opened.

Hoffman's parents have since died, but her sister has been notified of the motion. Prominent victim's rights advocate Richard Pompelio is in touch with Hoffman's sister and was in court Wednesday for the brief hearing.

"He's got nothing else to do in prison. One of the many jailhouse lawyers put this idea in his head," Pompelio previously said of the motion.

Extra security was in place for Koedatich's appearance, including the state corrections officers, Morris County sheriff's officers and members of the Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team.

Koedatich's appeals of the 2 convictions have long been exhausted and he is serving consecutive life sentences at New Jersey State Prison.

His trials for the Hoffman and O'Brien murders were capital punishment cases in which the death penalty was sought. The O'Brien jury was not unanimous in voting for death so his sentence was life. The Hoffman jury voted for the death penalty but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new death penalty phase. The new jury did not vote for the death penalty.

According to 1982 published reports, women in Morris County were warned not to travel alone at night following the 2 murders. Koedatich brought himself to the attention of law enforcement in January 1983 by stabbing himself in the back then telling police he was run off the road and stabbed by an assailant. His vehicle was inspected as part of the investigation and a county sheriff's officer noticed the tires on Koedatich's car matched the tire prints left at the scene of O'Brien's abduction in Morris Township.

Koedatich also served 11 years in prison after being found guilty of killing his roommate in Florida in the 1970's. According to news accounts, while serving that sentence he killed another inmate, but it was ruled self-defense. He was released from the Florida prison in 1982, a few months before the murder of the 2 Morris County women, according to news accounts.

(source: daily


Cosmo DiNardo may still face death penalty in Bucks County murders

The suspect in the murders of 4 men, whose bodies were found buried on a Bucks County farm this past summer, may end up facing the death penalty after all.

Cosmo DiNardo, 20, had previously made a deal with prosecutors that would allow him to avoid the death penalty if he helped investigators.

On Wednesday, the Bucks County district attorney's office filed a notice in court that indicates prosecutors reserve the right to seek the death penalty if DiNardo is convicted and stops helping in the investigation.

DiNardo along with his cousin and alleged accomplice, 20-year-old Sean Kratz, are due in court for an arraignment Thursday.

A separate court filing on Wednesday indicates Kratz still faces the death penalty in this case.

Authorities say the four victims were lured to the farm and then shot back in July. Their bodies were then moved with a backhoe, burned and buried.

DiNardo is facing charges of conspiracy, murder, abuse of a corpse and robbery in connection with the deaths of Dean Finocchiaro, Jimi Patrick, Mark Sturgis and Tom Meo.

Their bodies were discovered in July buried on a DiNardo family farm in Solebury.

(source: WPVI TV news)


Santa Rosa County jury weighs death penalty in murder of Milton couple

A Santa Rosa County jury that convicted a man of murdering a Milton couple over oxycodone pills must now decide whether to recommend the death penalty in the case.

Last week, the same jury found Derrick Ray Thompson, 45, guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder for killing Steven and Debra Zackowski.

Thompson was doing electrical work at a home the Milton couple was building in 2014 and was being paid for the work in opioid pills. Thompson told the jury he became addicted to painkillers after he hurt his back at work 2 years ago.

Thompson believed Steven Zackowski was shorting him on pills, and on July 20, 2014, he went to the couple's home and shot and killed them both.

The state is seeking the death penalty for Thompson, claiming his actions were premeditated.

But defense attorney Michelle Hendrix claimed Wednesday that Thompson's debilitating addiction rendered him unable to comprehend what he was doing.

She said he bought the gun used in the murders the day before because he was planning to commit suicide.

The defense questioned expert witness Daniel Buffington, a forensic pharmacologist, about the impact of opioid addiction on patients.

He told the jury that everyone has a different tolerance level, but anyone who uses a drug will eventually gain a tolerance to it that pushes them to continue using more of it.

Thompson was prescribed increasing doses of oxycodone without much medical oversight, Buffington said. In the months before the Zackowskis' murders, he was being prescribed 135 pills per month.

"The drive for the substance begins to interfere with even everyday activities," Buffington said.

Prosecutor John Molchan asked Buffington how many opioid addicts had committed 1 murder - let alone 2 - and Buffington said he did not have those statistics.

Thompson wiped tears from his eyes as his former high school friend, Kevin Cobb, described their friendship and Thompson's reserved, quiet nature.

Cobb said he has been writing to Thompson during his incarceration, and the 2 men have discussed faith and Thompson's remorse.

When asked about Thompson's demeanor, Cobb said he was "broken."

The defense rested its case at about 2 p.m., and the state then brought forward its only witness.

Forensic psychologist Gregory Prichard said the defense's argument that Thompson didn't understand the criminality of his actions was irrelevant because of what Thompson did after the murders.

Police claim Thompson stole the Zackowskis' truck and drove to Panama City, where he killed another man, Allen Johnson. Thompson then allegedly stole Johnson's truck and drove to a hunting camp in rural Alabama, where he was eventually apprehended.

Thompson still faces 1 count of murder in Bay County for Johnson's death.

The jury will begin deliberating the death penalty portion of Thompson's case Thursday morning. Under new Florida law, the jury must unanimously recommend the death penalty for it to be imposed.

(source: Pensacola News Journal)


State Attorney Ayala not alone in missing death penalty deadline

When Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala missed a key deadline this fall to seek the death penalty against an accused murderer, Gov. Rick Scott blasted the elected prosecutor.

"It is absolutely outrageous that Aramis Ayala failed to seek justice in the case against Emerita Mapp," the governor said in a Nov. 17 statement. "I have been clear that I stand with the victims of crime and their families and they deserve answers from the State Attorney's Office on how this critical deadline was not met."

Likewise, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi expressed dismay with Ayala for missing the death penalty filing deadline by 3 weeks.

"What (Ayala) did is inexcusable in failing to meet a deadline required in a capital case," Bondi said in a statement earlier this week. "In no way do we condone her behavior. She continues to demonstrate that she is incompetent and unwilling to handle capital cases."

Yet when David Aronberg, the state attorney of Palm Beach County, recently missed a similar deadline to seek the death penalty in a murder case there, Scott and Bondi offered no public criticism.

Likewise, the governor and attorney general have not publicly demanded answers from Aronberg about why his office missed the filing deadline by 2 weeks.

"Only State Attorney Ayala has issued a blanket statement that their office wouldn't seek the death penalty," the governor's office told News 6.

Representatives with Scott's office did not answer specific questions posed by News 6, including whether the governor had contacted the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office about its delinquent death penalty filing.

"This is like comparing apples and oranges," said Bondi's spokesperson, Whitney Ray, who confirmed the attorney general's office has not issued any statements critical of Aronberg's missed death penalty deadline.

"State Attorney Ayala has been defiant in following the law, whereas Aronberg's office made one mistake," Ray said.

Palm Beach County prosecutor misses death penalty deadline

In October, Aronberg's office was 14 days late in filing court papers required to seek the death penalty against Tashane Chantiloupe.

Authorities in Boca Raton said Chantiloupe gunned down an acquaintance who had been a key witness in a previous criminal case against the accused murderer.

Under Florida law, prosecutors must file a notice to seek the death penalty within 45 days of the defendant's arraignment.

Aronberg's spokesperson declined to comment on why the deadline was missed, saying it would be in appropriate to comment on a specific case that is still being prosecuted by their office.

Aronberg has filed a motion in court attempting to seek capital punishment against Chantiloupe despite missing the filing deadline.

Unlike Aronberg, Ayala has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty.

"(Aronberg's) office seeks death in approximately 35 % of all 1st-degree murder cases and Ayala seeks them in none," Ray said. "(It's) an oversight versus a state attorney who refuses to follow the law."

Ayala previously fought death penalty

While Ayala has not personally directed her office to seek capital punishment, a panel of her employees tasked with making such decisions has filed death penalty notices in 3 homicide cases, 2 of which remain open.

Ayala has previously expressed reluctance to seek capital punishment, citing its high cost, lack of deterrence and lengthy appeals process. In March, Ayala announced her office would not seek capital punishment in any case prosecuted by her office.

Ayala's decision prompted Scott to reassign more than two dozen potential death penalty cases to a neighboring state attorney's office. In response, Ayala unsuccessfully sued the governor, claiming he overstepped his authority by removing cases from her office.

After the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Ayala had a legal obligation to consider capital punishment on a case-by-case basis rather than implementing a blanket policy against it, the state attorney established a panel of prosecutors to review potential death penalty cases.

Since September, Ayala's 7-member panel has unanimously recommended capital punishment in 3 cases, including Mapp.

In Mapp's case, Ayala blamed the missed death penalty filing deadline on Scott for failing to reassign the case to neighboring State Attorney Brad King.

"The governor missed it," Ayala told News 6, pointing out that other murder cases filed before and after Mapp's arrest had been reassigned to King. "If you look at the timeline, it was the governor who said he was reviewing it."

"It is outrageous State Attorney Ayala is attempting to pass the blame for her failure," Scott said in response. "Let's be clear - State Attorney Ayala failed to meet this deadline and she alone is responsible for not fighting for justice for the victims in this case."

Last week, Ayala announced that Mapp had agreed to a plea deal in which she will be sentenced to life in prison.

"The prosecutor felt it was in the best interest of justice to honor the offer (of life in prison), which was relayed prior to the 45-day (death penalty notice) deadline," Ayala said. "As a result of this plea, Emerita Mapp will ultimately die in prison and the family of the victims will not have to endure the long and difficult process associated with a death penalty trial."

Ayala cites missed deadline in Palm Beach County case

In a letter sent to the governor Monday, Ayala referred to the Chantiloupe case now being prosecuted in Palm Beach County.

In that case, the state attorney's office has filed a motion arguing that the delay in filing a death penalty notice has not violated the accused murderer's rights.

"To automatically punish the state for the 2-week delay in this nascent capital case would improperly elevate form over substance," Aronberg wrote.

In the motion, Aronberg cites several Florida laws he believes will allow him to seek the death penalty against Chantiloupe despite the missed deadline.

Prior to reaching a plea agreement with Mapp, Ayala suggested her office might use a similar legal strategy to keep the death penalty on the table.

"We were well-aware of relevant case law supporting the legal argument that a missed deadline creates no prejudice," Ayala wrote in her letter to the governor.


ALABAMA----new execution date

Execution date set for convicted killer in Alabama who is terminally ill

The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday set an execution date for a man who has spent 30 years on the state's death row.

Doyle Lee Hamm, 60, is scheduled to die on Feb. 22, 2018, according to Wednesday's order. Hamm has been at Holman Prison since December 1987 after being convicted in the murder of Patrick Cunningham.

Cunningham, an employee of Anderson's Motel in Cullman, was killed during a robbery that apparently netted about $410. In the course of the investigation, Hamm confessed to the murder; in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offense, 2 accomplices testified against him. Hamm was from Mississippi at the time.

His lawyer said in a press release also issued Wednesday that Hamm is terminally ill and that execution would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney Bernard E. Harcourt, his lawyer and a professor of law and political science at Columbia, said Hamm has been battling cranial and lymphatic cancer for over 3 years. Treatment for the illness has compromised his veins, and lethal injection would likely cause "cruel and needless pain," according to papers filed by Harcourt, who has represented Hamm since 1990.

"What we're litigating right now is the specific venous protocol for lethal injection as applied to Doyle's situation, given his lymphatic cancer, rather than the general cruelty of the drug cocktail in Alabama," says Harcourt, the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and executive director of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. "Overall, I have to say, it's inhumane to execute somebody who's at the end of his life suffering and battling with cancer."

Harcourt retained Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, to examine Hamm in late September 2017. Heath assessed Hamm's condition by using Harcourt's tie as a tourniquet to probe for veins because corrections officials did not allow him to bring medical equipment into the prison.

"There are no accessible veins on [Hamm's] left upper extremity (arm/hand) or either of his lower extremities (legs/feet)," Heath found. Use of one "potentially accessible" vein on Hamm's right hand "would have a high chance of rupturing the vein and being unsuccessful," he added in a written statement Harcourt filed with the court.

The inability of corrections personnel to inject the drugs properly could "cause Mr. Hamm to become paralyzed and consciously suffocate" and would be "an agonizing death," said Heath, whose research has documented problems in the administration of lethal injections nationwide.

7 % of lethal injections in the U.S. between 1890 and 2010 were botched, according to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Harcourt asked the court to order corrections officials to disclose how they would successfully complete venous access for the execution, to appoint a special master to oversee a proper medical examination in advance, and to approve an agreed-upon protocol to "humanely achieve lethal injection."

Harcourt has fought to have Hamm's death sentence reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, arguing, among other things, that Hamm was sentenced based on an unconstitutional prior conviction and after ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hamm's appeal.

Harcourt is assisted in the appeal by 2 students, Nika Cohen and Phoebe Wolfe, both in their 3rd year at Columbia Law School. Egon Von Conway, a 2017 graduate of Columbia College; Isadora Ruyter-Harcourt, a 2016 graduate of Barnard College; and Anna Krauthamer, executive coordinator of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, are also working on Hamm's case and supporting the legal team.

In court papers, Harcourt points to the case of David Nelson, a death row inmate in Alabama whose veins were found to be unusable. Heath examined Nelson and testified on his behalf. Nelson's execution was stayed in 2003; he died in prison in 2009.

Hamm's execution is the 2nd one already set for 2018.

The Alabama Supreme Court set Jan. 25 for the execution of Vernon Madison, who was convicted of killing a Mobile police officer more than 30 years ago. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled Alabama can execute Madison-- who claimed to be mentally incompetent and was granted a stay of execution in 2016.



Appeals court upholds decision in death penalty case

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld an Etowah County Circuit Court ruling dismissing a death-row inmate's post-conviction petition.

Timothy Scott Boyle was convicted and sentenced to die after the 2005 death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter.

The girl was taken to a Gadsden hospital Oct. 26, 2005, and later died as a result of brain swelling from a blunt force trauma injury to her head. She also was found to have bruises and a cigarette burn.

At trial, her then-5-year old sister testified that Boyle hit the girl's head on a car door while putting her in her car seat about a week before her death, and that the night before she went to the hospital, he threw the toddler against the side of the bathtub and held her head underwater several times.

The sister said Savannah threw up in the bed they shared that night, and the next morning, she could not wake her.

Evidence at the trial included vomit-stained sheets investigators found at the Rainbow City apartment.

Boyle's attorneys sough post-conviction relief claiming he had ineffective counsel during his trial and in the sentencing portion of his trial in 2009.

In March, Etowah County Circuit Judge David Kimberley dismissed the motion.

Boyle's lawyers appealed the decision to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld Kimberley's decision.



Mentor-on-the-Lake death penalty case: New trial confirmed by Ohio Supreme Court

It's official.

The former Perry Township man who was sentenced to death row for a Mentor woman's rape and murder will get a new trial.

The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its previous decision that reversed Joseph Thomas' convictions.

Thomas was found guilty in 2012 for the death of Annie McSween.

The 49-year-old victim's body was found on Nov. 26, 2010, in a wooded area outside of Mario's Lakeway Lounge in Mentor-on- the-Lake, where she worked as a bartender.

Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson said he is disappointed the high court did not grant his request to reconsider the case.

"In my opinion, the court's reasoning for reversal was both factually and legally flawed as pointed out in our motion for reconsideration," Coulson said. "Now we will have to retry the case."

A new trial date before Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. had not yet been scheduled.

Thomas will remain in prison until trial, the prosecutor said.

After Thomas was convicted, Collins chose to adopt the jury's recommendation of death rather than downgrade the sentence to life in prison. In a 4-3 vote in October, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and ordered a new trial be scheduled for Thomas.

The Lake County Prosecutor's Office then filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the high court's majority neglected to fully analyze the issues, confused legal standards and failed to use its own law, instead "cherry-picking cases from outside Ohio" to make its decision.

McSween was strangled and stabbed multiple times in the neck and back on Black Friday. The power lines to the bar had been cut, and McSween and 2 other women had their tires slashed.

Thomas has maintained his innocence and claimed he had no motivation to commit the crime.

Although Thomas had frequently been seen carrying a blue pocketknife before that night, it was not recovered during the criminal investigation. At trial, prosecutors introduced five other knives Thomas owned, describing them as "full Rambo combat knives."

Justice Terrence O'Donnell wrote the court's lead opinion, which determined the trial court committed plain error by admitting those 5 knives that prosecutors knew were not used in the crime into evidence. The majority found a reasonable probability that the error affected the outcome of the trial, and that reversal was necessary to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice.

"The state claims that the Court has ignored Ohio cases on this evidentiary issue, in favor of cases from other jurisdictions. That is a false and unfair accusation," Thomas' appellate lawyer Timothy F. Sweeney argued.

The 3 dissenting justices found the prosecution presented substantial evidence to support the jury's verdict independent of the admitted knife evidence.


CALIFORNIA----new death sentence

Jurors vote for death penalty for mother's boyfriend in torture killing of 8-year-old Palmdale boy

Jurors on Wednesday voted for the death penalty for a man convicted of fatally torturing his girlfriend's young son - a savage slaying that led to sweeping reform within Los Angeles County's child-welfare system.

The verdict ended a murder trial in which jurors heard and saw disturbing evidence about how 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez suffered repeated abuse at the hands of Isauro Aguirre, 37, who stared ahead expressionless as he heard the pronouncement.

After a bailiff escorted Aguirre from the courtroom, the jury forewoman read aloud from a public statement written by the panel, which had deliberated for about 7 hours over 3 days.

"We were plucked out of our everyday lives and brought together to serve," she said. "We came together to bring justice for Gabriel."

When paramedics arrived at the boy's Palmdale home on May 22, 2013, Gabriel was unconscious and had a cracked skull, broken ribs, burned and bruised skin, missing teeth and BB pellets lodged in his groin. He died 2 days later after being removed from life support.

During closing arguments in the penalty phase of Aguirre's trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami told jurors that in the months leading up to the boy's death, the defendant had reveled in his brutalization, forcing Gabriel to eat cat feces and his own vomit. The boy slept in a small cabinet, the prosecutor said, with his ankles handcuffed, his hands bound and his mouth gagged with a sock.

"No human with a heart and soul could do that to an innocent little boy," Hatami told jurors, arguing that Aguirre hated the boy because he suspected he was gay.

As the prosecutor detailed the abuse - the boy was punched in the face with such force, he said, that skin was missing from his chin and nose - 2 jurors cried softly and several closed their eyes.

Hatami asked the jurors to "show the defendant the exact same mercy he showed Gabriel."

Deputy Public Defender John Alan also spoke of mercy, asking jurors to sentence his client to life in prison without parole, instead of death.

"Mercy isn't something that's ever earned," he said. "It's something that is freely granted."

Alan reminded jurors that during the trial, some of Aguirre's family members and co-workers at a retirement home, where he worked as a caregiver for elderly people, had testified that they hoped his life would be spared as they knew him to be "gentle, kind, patient, respectful." A juror shook her head.

The defense attorney said even the lesser sentence of life in prison was "severe" and terrified his client, adding that Aguirre likely has a learning disability.

Last month, during closing arguments in the guilt phase of Aguirre's trial, his other attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Sklar, said although his client "was completely out of control," he hadn't tried to kill the boy. Aguirre had acted in a burst of rage, the attorney argued, and therefore was guilty of 2nd-degree murder, but not a higher charge.

Aguirre was convicted of 1st-degree murder on Nov. 15 and jurors also found true the allegation that the murder was committed using torture.

After the penalty was read Wednesday, the prosecutor appeared misty-eyed and held a tissue in his hand. Nearby, Gabriel's father sat solemnly, staring at the floor. As he walked out of the courtroom, he locked eyes with a sheriff's detective who helped investigate the case. "Thank you," he whispered. The detective nodded, patting him on the back.

Outside of the courthouse, a juror, who asked to be identified only as a 25-year-old who works in social media, said even a death sentence didn't seem like "enough justice." Throughout the trial, she said, she woke up each morning with Gabriel on her mind - he was there, too, as she fell asleep each night. The photographs of his small, battered body - the bruises and blood on his neck - will stay with her forever, she said.

"It's heartbreaking," she said.

Gabriel's death led as well to criminal charges against L.A. County social workers, who left the boy in the home with his mom and her boyfriend despite 6 investigations into abuse allegations involving his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, who is also charged with murder.

At a court hearing for the social workers earlier in the year, a judge said that their actions amounted to criminal negligence, adding that in the months before the boy's death "red flags were everywhere."

Sheriff's deputies also visited the home multiple times in the months before the killing and prosecutors noted in court papers that some of the deputies were later disciplined in connection with Gabriel's death.

Aguirre is scheduled to be sentenced on March 8.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Alleged 1980 child killer charged with murder, could face death penalty

On Wednesday prosecutors filed a special circumstances murder charge against Mitchell Lynn Bacom for the 37-year-old kidnapping and homicide of a young teen girl, capping off the surprise announcement this week that the case had been solved.

Bacom, 63, is accused of of murdering 14-year-old Suzanne Bombardier in 1980 by stabbing her to death. The lone charge carries enhancements that accuse Bacom of burglary, kidnapping the young teen, and molesting her, which could make him eligible for the death penalty.

Bacom denied a reporter's request to interview him in jail Tuesday.

Typically in special circumstances cases, the Contra Costa District Attorney's office forms a committee of veteran prosecutors to make a recommendation about whether to seek death. Recently-appointed DA Diane Becton, a retired judge who has spoken out against the death penalty, will have the final say.

If the death penalty is taken off of the table, Bacom will be looking at a possible sentence of life without parole, if convicted of murdering Suzanne.

"That process could take months," Deputy District Attorney Barry Grove said Wednesday, after he filed the case.

Bacom remains in county jail, and his arraignment has been scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. If he enters a plea, he is entitled to a preliminary hearing - where prosecutors publicly unveil the bulk of the evidence against him - within 60 days, but many defendants waive that right.

The unexpected news of Bacom's arrest has revived the shock and horror felt by the local community more than 37 years ago, when Suzanne turned up missing while babysitting 2 of her nieces.

Investigators determined that she was taken against her will during the early morning hours of June 22, 1980. Her body was found floating in the Antioch river 5 days later. Police recovered small, degraded biological material from her body, but it would take until 2017 before DNA technology improved enough to generate a usable profile, which was ultimately run through a federal database and matched to Bacom.

Bacom was employed as a truck driver who hauled chemical tanks and had held odd jobs over the years as both a truck driver and auto mechanic, according to Bacom's sister, Marsha Wooldridge.

Former lead investigators on the case said this week that Bacom knew the family and had tried to date Suzanne's sister, and their mother. He had been a longtime suspect in the killing, which went cold and frustrated all who worked on it. Local authorities credited retired Antioch police Cpt. Leonard Orman, who was hired back to work on this and other cold cases, with never forgetting Suzanne.

"Leonard is a pit bull when it comes to these cases and won't let go," Sgt. Tom Fuhrmann said after news of the arrest.

Bacom was convicted of attempted murder in 1973 after he sliced a woman's throat, and 25 years later admitted to a reporter he'd tried to kill her. Authorities say he is a person of interest in similar area killings, but have also cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

"You really need something tangible," said Paul Holes, chief of forensics for the Contra Costa District Attorney"s office. "It can't just be a suspicion."

(source: Contra Costa Times)


U.S. Sees 2nd Fewest Death Sentences and Executions in 25 Years

Public Support for Death Penalty Drops to 45-Year Low as 4 More Death-Row Prisoners Exonerated in 2017

Executions and death sentences remained near historically low levels in 2017, as public support for the death penalty fell to its lowest level in 45 years, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). 8 states carried out 23 executions, 1/2 the number of 7 years ago, and the 2nd lowest total since 1991. Only the 20 executions in 2016 were lower. 14 states and the federal government are projected to impose 39 new death sentences in 2017, the 2nd lowest annual total since the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. It was the 7th year in a row that fewer than 100 death sentences were imposed nationwide.

The report, graphics, and audio clips are available at

"Perhaps more than any place else, the changes in Harris County, Texas are symbolic of the long-term change in capital punishment in the United States. For the 1st time since 1974, the county that has carried out more executions than any other did not execute any prisoner or sentence any defendant to death," said Robert Dunham, DPIC's Executive Director.

"Across the political spectrum, more people are coming to the view that there are better ways to keep us safe than executing a handful of offenders selected from a random death-penalty lottery. There will be times when numbers fluctuate - particularly following historic highs or lows - but the steady long-term decline in the death penalty since the 1990s suggests that in most of the country, the death penalty is becoming obsolete," Dunham said. DPIC provides information and analysis and tracks data on the death penalty, but does not take a position for or against capital punishment.

The new death sentences imposed in 2017 highlight the increasing geographic isolation and arbitrary nature of the death penalty, Dunham said. "By themselves, 3 outlier counties - Riverside, CA; Clark, NV; and Maricopa, AZ - were responsible for more than 30% of all the death sentences imposed nationwide. The other 3,140 counties and parishes imposed fewer new death sentences than even last year's record low." Riverside imposed 5 death sentences in 2017, Clark 4, and Maricopa 3, and no other county imposed as many as 2. It was the 2nd time in 3 years that Riverside sentenced more people to death than any other county.

States scheduled 81 executions in 2017, but 58 of them - more than 70 % - were never carried out. Nearly 75 % of executions took place in 4 states: Texas (7); Arkansas (4); Florida (3); and Alabama (3). But Texas's state courts stayed seven other executions using new laws to permit those prisoners to obtain judicial review of false or misleading evidence, and its execution total tied 2016 for the fewest conducted by the state since 1996.

Systemic problems with racial discrimination, flawed or fraudulent forensic testimony, poor legal representation, and prosecutorial misconduct contributed to four death-row exonerations in 2017. In 1 exoneration this year, an African-American man in Louisiana had been convicted of killing his infant son, even though an autopsy showed his son died of natural causes.

Many believe that the risk of executing the innocent is one of the leading factors behind the public's decrease in support for the death penalty. According to the Gallup poll, public support for the death penalty dropped by 5 % in 2017, and Republicans registered a 10 % point drop since last year. This year's 55 % support marks the lowest level since 1972, just before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the nation's death penalty laws unconstitutional.

The Death Penalty Information Center ( is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. DPIC was founded in 1990 and prepares in-depth reports, issues press releases, conducts briefings for the media, and serves as a resource to those working on this issue.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Republicans reconsidering the death penalty

The mere idea of Republicans sponsoring death penalty repeal bills in great numbers was once considered an unlikely notion. However, Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty recently released a report revealing how Republicans are championing measures to end capital punishment at never-before-seen rates.

The shift is stunning. Consider this: From 2000 to 2012, the annual number of Republican repeal champions never rose above single digits. Yet, from 2013 onward, the number surged and has been gaining momentum. In fact, in 2016, Republicans accounted for more than 1/3 of all sponsors nationwide, and there were 10 times as many elected Republican advocates that year than there were in 2000. What's causing this massive shift?

The makeup of many legislatures across the country has been altered. Following the emergence of the limited government, constitutional Tea Party revolution beginning in 2009, numerous conservative activists were elected to state posts. As a result, legislatures have grown ever more conservative, and many of these Tea partyers, already suspicious of government's abuse of power, ultimately concluded that costs associated with implementing the death penalty clashed with their principles of fiscal restraint.

As many legislatures have swung to the right, their membership is also growing younger as more millennials are being elected. However, young Americans, especially Christian millennials, are statistically more likely to oppose the death penalty. Together, energetic Tea partyers and youthful legislators have joined with many of their more established Republican colleagues, including Catholics, who have disapproved of, or at least questioned, capital punishment for years. When these conservative factions intermingled, they realized that together they had a real chance at repealing the death penalty for the right reasons.

These same legislators have been emboldened by their constituents to take definitive action because voters across all population segments are turning against the death penalty. Support for the death penalty is at a 45-year low, with some surveys showing that a clear majority prefers repealing and replacing the death penalty. This polling is not lost on keen state legislators who maintain a pulse on their constituents' wishes. Furthermore, many capital punishment proponents simply aren't that supportive of the program. According to a Death Penalty Information Center poll, the majority of respondents claimed that they wouldn't vote against a legislator who supported repeal. With death penalty opposition rising and capital punishment supporters feeling less than impassioned, many freshman and veteran legislators alike feel that the time is right to make a move.

But what caused this drop in conservative support in the first place? While many had already been opposed to the death penalty, even steadfast proponents of capital punishment are shifting their views for a number of reasons. First, there has been an ongoing educational campaign to inform conservatives of the death penalty's many practical failures. Consequently, conservatives are recognizing that capital punishment is a broken government program that runs counter to conservatism's foundational tenets of valuing life, fiscal responsibility and limited government.

Moreover, the death penalty's high-profile failures are simply too much for Americans to ignore any longer. All too frequently new stories emerge of pitiable individuals being wrongly convicted and sentenced to die. The mistake-ridden program is also costly. Studies are continually released, exposing the death penalty's high costs to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the few states that still execute inmates far too often botch these executions - something the public clearly has no appetite for.

For other voters, their death penalty views boil down to confidence. According to the Pew Research Center, distrust in the government remains near a record high. From 2013 to the present, only around 22 % of Americans said they mostly trusted the government. This pervasive lack of trust extends to the government-run death penalty, too, and for good reason.

Finally, conservative political leaders are increasingly voicing their death penalty concerns. I, along with Oliver North, Jay Sekulow, Ron Paul, Michael Steele, Ramesh Ponnuru and others, have spoken at length about why Americans should oppose capital punishment. This has demonstrated to many Republicans that, as conservatives, they ought to work toward the death penalty's repeal.

For me as a conservative, I know that government acts are fraught with mistakes. As a Catholic, however, my opposition comes from a perspective of faith. I could not imagine Jesus pulling the switch to end a life - especially when there are alternatives that still protect the community.

As state legislatures undergo their makeovers, the public turns against the death penalty, and political leaders voice their capital punishment concerns, we should expect to see even more from Republican officials. Republicans will likely continue to sponsor repeal bills with increasing frequency and reverse the flawed criminal justice policies once advocated by their ideological predecessors of the 1980s and 1990s.

(source: Richard Viguerie is pioneer of political direct mail for conservative candidates and is the chairman of


Supreme Court to decide on legality of the death penalty

The Supreme Court will on Thursday deliver a judgment on the constitutionality of the death sentence.

Death row convicts Francis Karioko Muruatetu and Wilson Thirimbu Mwangi, who have been in jail for the last 14 years since 2003, had filed the case at the apex court while seeking that the mandatory death penalty should be scrapped from the Kenyan law.


The duo were convicted alongside 5 other suspects, including the wife of former Lands Commissioner Wilson Gachanja, for the grisly murder of businessman Lawrence Githinji Magondu.

As of December 2010, 139 countries out of 197 under the UN had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The decision to be delivered is expected to be a landmark one.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists Kenyan chapter, Legal Resources Foundation, Katiba Institute and the Death Penalty Project are listed as amicus in the case.


Notably, in Kenya, there have been no executions since 1987 for accused persons sentenced to death.

Those sentenced to death are to serve a lifelong jail term unless pardoned by the President.

Murder and robbery with violence attract the death penalty in the Kenyan criminal law.


Mandatory death sentence now unconstitutional in Kenya

Mandatory death sentence is no longer lawful in Kenya.

This is after the Supreme Court on Thursday declared Section 204 of the Penal Code, which stipulates mandatory death sentence, as unconstitutional.


However, the top court specified that this decision does not affect validity of the death sentence.

The decision means death sentence is still lawful but not mandatory.

Murder and robbery with violence are the offences in the Kenyan criminal law that attract a death penalty.

The top court judges directed the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and other relevant agencies to prepare a detailed professional review of all murder and robbery with violence cases similar as pertains sentencing.

They also ordered that a copy of the judgment be forwarded to Speakers of Parliament and the National Council for Law Reporting to give way forward for any necessary amendments to death sentence.

The judges also ordered that the 2 Kenyans who filed the suit should have a priority hearing before the High Court and be freshly sentenced.


Death row convicts Francis Karioko Muruatetu and Wilson Thirimbu Mwangi, who have been in jail for the last 14 years, filed the case.

They asked the apex court to scrap mandatory mandatory death penalty from the Kenyan law.

The duo were convicted alongside 5 others - including the wife of former Lands Commissioner Wilson Gachanja for the murder of businessman Lawrence Githinji Magondu.

As of December 2010, 139 countries out of 197 under the UN had already abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists Kenyan chapter, Legal Resources Foundation, Katiba Institute and the death penalty project were listed as amicus in the case.

(source for both:


Egypt MP Proposes Draft Law to Execute Rapists

Aiming to limit incidences of rape and kidnapping against women and children, Member of Parliament Mona Monir has suggested amendments to Egypt's main penal code including the death penalty for perpetrators of such crimes.

The 1st suggested modification relates to rape and stipulates perpetrators of the crime should be sentenced to death as opposed to the current sentence of life imprisonment.

The draft law also suggests that the perpetrator of sexual assault against any person under 18, whether male or female, should receive the death penalty.

The draft law suggests that anyone found guilty of kidnapping a minor should also be sentenced to death or life in prison. A kidnapper who is a relative or guardian should immediately receive the death penalty.

"I strongly support the death penalty against those who commit kidnapping or rape crimes targeting female or male children or handicapped children [...] Perpetrators should receive the death penalty without any opportunity of appeal,"

Monir said.

She added that the draft law has been introduced to the Egyptian parliament's legislative committee which is assigned to review it and decide a date for discussion.

Monir also argued that there has been a significant rise of incidences of rape and kidnapping of children and that the recent rape of a baby pushed her to call for the death penalty for such crimes against minors.



People trading in fake medication should face death penalty, police chief says----Maj Gen Obaidli says fake meds can cost lives, so those who trade in them should lose theirs

The death penalty for trading in fake medication and hefty fines for buyers of counterfeit goods could be on the cards, if Dubai Police have their way.

Counterfeit traders will face tougher punishments under new rules being worked up by Dubai Police, who warn that the prevalence of fake medication is a serious threat to public health.

Maj Gen Abdul Quddus Obaidli, whose Dubai Police unit is tackling counterfeit goods, said fake medication, such as drugs used to treat heart diseases, could lead to deaths among patients. "This person who traded in those (fake) medicines must be executed, as he caused deaths," Maj Gen Obaidli said.

"The sale of counterfeit goods is a curse on health, environment and safety standards," he added.

Proceeds from the sale of counterfeit goods often sustained criminal gangs and could be used to fund terrorism.

"Trading of counterfeit goods is expected to cost the world's economy a total of $4.2 trillion, risking the loss of 5.4 million jobs by 2020," he added.

Fake medicine and knock-off designer gear, such as bags and watches, were among the most frequently counterfeited items detected by Dubai Police.

"In the United Arab Emirates, punishments dealing with counterfeit traders is considered the strictest among the Gulf Cooperation Council. Offenders trading in fake products (currently face) time in jail and a hefty fine. Some of these fines might reach up to Dh1 million," said Maj Gen Obaidli.

At present, fake goods sellers are fined Dh15,000 for the 1st offence and Dh30,000 for the 2nd offence.

Now there are plans to issue stricter punishments for dealers in counterfeit products - and authorities plan to take aim at buyers too.

"I support imposing rules to criminalise purchasers of illegal fakes," said Maj Gen Obaidli.

Most countries target the counterfeiters rather than buyers. However, in France tourists and residents can be fined up to 300,000 euros (Dh1.18 million). Italy has also targeted and fined buyers during summer campaigns, and while the UK's border agency confiscates fakes, if detected, the country decided against criminalising purchasing fake goods after a review in 2010.

Authorities are also educating citizens about the dangers of fake goods and the importance of intellectual property rights, including through new classes to be introduced for pupils across the emirate.

"The course might be taught next year as the director of the Ministry of Education issued instructions that a course of intellectual property be included in schools' curriculum as soon as possible," said Maj Gen Obaidli.

"Trading in counterfeit products has an impact on the national economy. Therefore, we are implementing tougher punishments on counterfeiters," he noted.

There has been ongoing cooperation between Dubai police and luxury brands.

In just the 1st half of 2017, Dubai Police confiscated 719,134 fake items with an estimated value of more than Dh70 million.

(source: The National)

IRAQ----mass executions

Iraq hangs 38 members of Daesh, al-Qaeda for 'terrorism'

Iraq hanged 38 extremists belonging to Daesh (ISIS) or al-Qaeda for terrorism offences Thursday in the southern city of Nasiriyah, provincial authorities said.

It was the largest number of executions in a single day since Sept. 25 when 42 people were put to death in the same prison.

"The prison administration executed on Thursday in the presence of Justice Minister Haidar al-Zameli, in Nasiriyah prison, 38 death row prisoners belonging to al-Qaeda or Daesh accused of terrorist activities," said Dakhel Kazem, a senior official in the provincial council.

Amnesty International has voiced repeated concerns about the use of the death penalty in Iraq, which it ranks as one of the world's top executioners behind China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.



Nirbhaya case: Reject death penalty review petition of accused, demands Delhi police

A 3-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, on Tuesday, pulled up advocate ML Sharma for alleging that his client, death row convict Mukesh, was framed in the Nirbhaya gangrape case even as the Delhi Police demanded that the top court reject the petition seeking a review of the death penalty awarded to the accused.

The Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan was hearing the review petition filed by Mukesh's counsel. It would begin proceedings on similar petitions moved by 3 other death row convicts in the case - Pawan, Akshay Singh and Vinay Sharma - on January 22.

On Tuesday, during the course of the proceedings in the review petition filed against Mukesh's death penalty, advocate ML Sharma made a slew of bizarre submissions - alleging that his client's statement that incriminated himself as an accused in the case was obtained by the Delhi police through custodial torture, the state government and Delhi police had "bribed" the parents of Nirbhaya (a name given to the gangrape victim by the media) and that Mukesh was not present at the scene of crime when the shocking incident took place on December 16, 2012.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra squarely rejected the submissions made by counsel Sharma, even sternly admonishing him at one point saying: "What are you arguing ... Please make a case for review. Tell us how our conclusion is wrong, prove our analysis of DNA and dying declaration was wrong, investigation was perverse etc. You are only repeating what you argued earlier and raising several new points which is not admissible at review stage (sic)."

Sharma's arguments were also contested by special public prosecutor Sidharth Luthra, representing the Delhi police. Senior advocate Luthra told the court that the arguments put forth by Sharma to challenge the death penalty awarded to his client Mukesh by the trial court and upheld by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court "did not stand in a review petition". Luthra submitted that Sharma had made similar allegations while arguing for his client in the trial court and the same had been scrutinised and then rejected at the trial stage as well as during the course of appeal in higher courts.

The special public prosecutor also took offence at Sharma's claim of bribe being paid to Nirbhaya's parents by the Delhi government and Delhi police while he rejected the charge that Mukesh's self-incriminating statement in the case was obtained through coercion. "There was not a whisper of complaint about torture in any of the lower courts," Luthra told the Supreme Court bench while asserting that the "trial court records were replete with instances of misconduct by the convict."

Background to the Nirbhaya gangrape case:

Late on the night of December 16, 2012, 23-year-old Nirbhaya - a paramedic student - and her male friend had boarded a bus from a South Delhi locality. Nirbhaya was brutally gangraped by 6 persons in the moving bus, including a minor, while her companion was also beaten up. The rapists had shoved iron rods into her private parts before dumping the profusely bleeding but still alive Nirbhaya and her friend on a roadside and fleeing from the spot. Following initial treatment at a Delhi hospital, Nirbhaya was flown to a hospital in Singapore for treatment where she succumbed to her severe injuries on December 29.

The case had shaken the entire country due to the extent of sexual violence involved in it and led to mass protests over the issue of lack of women's safety in the national capital. The then UPA government at the Centre was forced to constitute a committee headed by former Chief Justice of India JS Verma to advise a more stringent law against sexual harassment, rape and similar crimes. The report submitted by the late Justice Verma's panel had paved the way for stringent anti-rape laws in India.

5 of the accused in the case had been awarded capital punishment by the trial court while the juvenile accused in the case had been sent to a reformation home from where he was released in December 2015. One of the accused, Ram Singh, was found hanging in his cell in Delhi's Tihar Jail in March 2013. The Supreme Court had, on May 5, upheld the death sentence awarded to the remaining four convicts, including Mukesh, while stating: "If at all there is a case warranting award of death sentence, it is the present case".



Death penalty no solution to crimes against inter-caste marriage, say rights activists

The verdict in the Shankar murder case has raised a heated debate on whether capital punishment is the only solution to those violently opposing inter-caste marriages. Human rights activists are opposed to death penalty.

According to sources, a gang attacked caste Hindu Gowsalya and her Dalit husband V Shankar with sickles in daylight near Udumalpet bus stand on March 13, 2016. Shankar died on the spot and Gowsalya managed to survive.

Tirupur Principal Court Judge Alamelu Natrajan on Tuesday announced death penalty by hanging for 6 of the 8 accused, including Gowsalya's father P Chinnasamy and the 5-member gang involved in the murder. One of the accused was awarded life imprisonment and another 5 years imprisonment.

Gowsalya's mother C Annalakshmi, maternal uncle P Pandidurai and relative V Prasanna were found not guilty.

Coimbatore Human Rights Forum chairperson VP Sarathi told The Covai Post that the United Nations has passed resolutions several times calling upon member states to abolish death penalty both in law and in practice. Therefore, death penalty is illegal and has no deterrent effect, he adds.

Awarding death penalty in a sensational case like this will not provide justice to the victim's family. International research shows that such a penalty is not going to stop the crimes for which it has been awarded.

Instead, accused in such cases should be awarded double life imprisonment without any remission to set a living example and prevent such crimes in future.

"To create an impact on society, political parties and social organisations functioning on caste lines should come in open to declare it illegal and should encourage inter-caste and inter-religious marriages," Sarathi says.

Madras High Court former Justice D Hariparanthaman, who was in the city on Tuesday, told mediapersons that regardless of personal views, which do not support capital punishment, 'this judgment is welcome considering the specialty of the case'.

A women's right activist here said to avoid crimes like these, punishment should be severe creating social fear. Self-discipline should be promoted among every individual to put an end to crimes related to inter-caste marriages and against women.



Drug courier, wife bag life jail, sons gets death sentence

A criminal court on Wednesday sentenced a local drug lord to life imprisonment and his son to death for selling 20 kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine, a court official said.

His wife, Asama Saenlee, 67, also got life jail term for same offence.

Laota Saenlee, 77, long considered a drug lord in Thailand's Northern City of Chiang Mai, and 4 other suspects were arrested in a sting operation in October, 2016.

They were then charged with sales of illicit drugs and illegal possession of guns and bullets.

Laota and his wife, Asama Saenlee, 67, were handed life imprisonment instead of a death penalty typical for this type of drug offence, the court official, who was not authorised to speak to media, said.

The pair's more lenient verdict was due to their confessions, a common practice in the Thai judicial system.

However, Laota's 41-year-old son, Vijarn Saenlee, was sentenced to death as he pleaded not guilty, the official said.

Laota has long been suspected of being a key drug lord in the Golden Triangle, a border area shared by Thailand, Myanmar and Laos notorious for its opium cultivation and rampant drug trafficking.

He was known as an aide to Khun Sa, a Shan drug kingpin known in Myanmar as the "Opium King" who died a decade ago.

An ethnic Lisu, a minority from south-west China, Laota once joined anti-communist Kuomintang in the 1970's.

Laota and his family were given 30 days to appeal, the court said.


DECEMBER 13, 2017:


Moore and Berger play politics with the NC death penalty

The fact that North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger are lawyers makes their latest political gambit against Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein all the more shameless.

The 2 legislative leaders have called on Cooper and Stein to restart the death penalty in the wake of deaths of prison workers in Pasquotank Correctional Institution. 4 inmates are charged in the deaths, and prosecutors in Pasquotank say they'll seek the death penalty.

But for Moore and Berger to act as if Cooper and Stein, both of whom support the death penalty, are standing between criminals and the death penalty is absurd. Neither the governor nor the AG can restart the death penalty, which is under legal challenge on a multitude of grounds, as it is in many states. That's why no one has been put to death by the state in more than 10 years. Some of the challenges have to do with the method of execution. Then there are the objections of doctors who don't want to participate in the taking of a life.

The best decision on the death penalty would be to end it. Life without parole is a punishment of supreme consequence and suffering. And should someone convicted of a capital crime be found to be innocent - something that has happened - a punishment can be corrected if that punishment is something short of death.

The point here, though, is that the legislative leaders are so eager to knock on Cooper and Stein, 2 popular, extremely competent Democrats, that they'll demagogue the death penalty when they know that as long as legal challenges are pending, the death penalty can't be restarted as if the task were just like turning on a light switch.

Legislative leaders could do something constructive to boost prison safety, however. Instead of cutting virtually all agencies in state government (again, done in part to hurt the Cooper administrationís ability to serve the people who toppled a Republican to put Cooper into office), they could introduce legislation to boost salaries for prison guards and other personnel and thus make it possible to draw more people into that line of work.

More guards, better paid, would translate directly - directly - into safer prisons. Some of the problems in that state's prisons have had to do with inmates getting the drop on guards at a time when additional guards would have prevented that situation.

The crisis in prisons certainly could be interpreted as an emergency, one that could be addressed by the state's rainy day fund, now at an astounding $1.8 billion. Lawmakers who complain they can't go to the fund for something like prisons are insulting the intelligence of the people. Lawmakers could pass needed legislation to approve that money quickly - if they took some time off from attacking Cooper and Stein and instead decided to work with them.

(source: Editorial, The News & Observer)


Ayala's office to seek death penalty for man accused of killing Winter Park nanny

State Attorney Aramis Ayala's death penalty review panel recommended the harshest sentence for a man accused of kidnapping and killing a Winter Park nanny.

Ayala's spokeswoman announced the panel's decision Tuesday, the same day an Orange County grand jury indicted Scott Edward Nelson on a 1st-degree murder charge.

Nelson, 53, is accused of killing Jennifer Fulford, who lived in Altamonte Springs and worked in Winter Park.

Last week, Winter Park police announced they were charging Nelson with 1st-degree murder, kidnapping with a weapon, burglary of a home with an assault, carjacking, robbery and tampering with a witness to hinder communication with law enforcement.

Fulford's body was found in a wooded area in southwest Orange County. Her wrists and ankles were bound, court records show, and her face was wrapped in duct tape.

Fulford, 56, went missing on Sept. 27 in Winter Park. She was stabbed and suffocated before being dumped in the woods, according to court documents.

Nelson has been in federal custody since his arrest Oct. 1 for violating conditions of his probation. His defense lawyer in the federal case questioned his mental competency. He is scheduled to have a hearing in an Orlando federal courtroom Dec. 18.

Court records show Nelson previously served a 5-year prison sentence for a 2010 bank robbery in Daytona Beach. He has a history of mental illness and substance abuse.

This marks the 3rd case in which Ayala's panel will seek the death penalty since the Florida Supreme Court ruled that she must consider the punishment. Ayala announced in March that she would not pursue it in any case, sparking a battle with Gov. Rick Scott.

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


State Attorney's office recommends death penalty in Jennifer Fulford homicide

State Attorney Aramis Ayala's Death Penalty Review Panel unanimously recommended the death penalty for the man accused of killing Winter Park personal assistant Jennifer Fulford.

The Orange County Grand Jury issued a 1st-degree murder indictment against Scott Edward Nelson Tuesday morning, and a death notice was filed, according to the State Attorney's office. Nelson is also charged with the kidnapping of Fulford.

Nelson confessed to killing and kidnapping Fulford, according to court documents. Fulford disappeared in September from a Winter Park home on Webster Avenue, where she worked.

Investigators say Nelson entered the home with a cutting instrument and kidnapped Fulford on Sept. 27. He later killed the woman.

Fulford's body was found 3 days later in a wooded area off Apopka-Vineland Road in Orange County. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was stab wounds and asphyxia.

Nelson confessed to the crimes in mid-November, said authorities.

The Berman family, who employed Fulford, released a statement Tuesday afternoon in regards to the death penalty recommendation.

"While there is little comfort to be found in this terrible ordeal, we are grateful that the grand jury has seen this matter for what it is - an inexcusable and unexplainable act of violence," wrote the Bermans. "Our hope is that this matter will continue to move forward through the justice system with a proper conclusion and allow us to focus on Jennifer Fulford's memory rather than on the man who took her life."



Prosecutors likely to decide by Jan. 25 on death penalty in Seminole Heights murders

Prosecutors will likely know before the end of January whether they will seek the death penalty for the man accused in the four Seminole Heights murders.

A judge set the next court appearance for Howell Emanuel Donaldson as Jan. 25 and asked prosecutors Tuesday morning if they would know their intentions regarding capital punishment by then.

"Most likely," said Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon.

Donaldson, 24, was not present for his arraignment on 4 1st-degree murder charges. His attorneys waived his appearance and entered 4 pleas of not guilty.

But seated in a packed courtroom gallery were families of 2 people Donaldson is accused of killing.

"If he did it, he's got to pay for it," said Gloria Felton, sister-in-law to Ronald Felton. She said she wasn't sure about the death penalty.

"I think there's consequences for actions and that's all I'm going to say," said Yury Gutierrez, cousin to Monica Hoffa.

Florida court rules give prosecutors 45 days from the date of a defendant's arraignment to decide whether to seek capital punishment. The decision rests with State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Though he has taken a reserved approach to the death penalty in other cases, Warren has left it as a possibility for Donaldson. The wishes of the victims' families will be one factor he considers in making the decision, he said.

A grand jury indicted Donaldson last week on 4 counts of 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Felton, Hoffa, Benjamin Mitchell and Anthony Naiboa. The 4 were all shot in the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa throughout October and November.

The murders terrorized the neighborhood and spurred the Tampa Police Department into a massive search for a killer.

Donaldson was arrested Nov. 28 after he gave a food bag with a gun inside to a fellow employee of an Ybor City McDonald's, according to an arrest report. The employee notified police, who tested the weapon and determined it was the same one used in all 4 homicides.

Donaldson remains jailed without bail.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


FR. PHIL EGITTO: Bearing witness makes a statement about Florida's death penalty

Florida's death penalty system is broken and unjust.

I go to every Florida execution and I bring dozens of people with me. I've been doing this for nearly 20 years because I believe our presence outside the execution chamber is contributing to a changing tide in our state and in our country. Death sentences are down, and support for the death penalty keeps dropping. I believe if we don't go we are basically agreeing with the death penalty. So we go because we want to tell the governor, lawmakers and all of humanity that the state is killing "not in my name."

It all started for me in 1976 when Florida reinstated the death penalty. I was a student in Gainesville at the University of Florida. I was outraged that the state was going to go backward. Within a few years I began attending vigils outside the Florida State Prison.

Today, I am a Catholic priest in Daytona Beach. I believe all life is sacred and a gift. My faith says life is given by God and it is taken by God, and that the death penalty goes against the basic dignity of human life. Pope Francis has made it very clear: Catholics should be opposed to the death penalty. He recently shared how doctrine continues to grow and adapt to the times in which we live. Francis acknowledged the Catechism previously allowed for capital punishment when society could not be kept safe, but that with modern prisons the situation no longer exists.

I believe if we had thousands of people gathered together outside of the Florida State Prison during future executions that the governor and legislators would listen. The fact is, Florida's death penalty system is broken and unjust. Studies show racial bias in how it is applied and statistics show Florida leads the nation in death row exonerations. Money wasted on a death penalty that does nothing to make us safer could be much better spent on victim advocacy, crime prevention or even programs to reduce recidivism rates. Restorative justice programs could be instituted.

I find it to be interesting, and of no coincidence, that most of the times when we are holding vigils during executions there is a bizarre and unexplainable weather event or strange phenomenon. One time there was torrential rain and lightning, but above the exact location of the execution there were beams of bright sun streaming through an opening in the dark sky. It was as if the person who had just been executed was being transported to heaven.

Another time, the boyfriend of the victim of the man being executed was standing with us. He did not support the execution and felt strongly that killing begets more killing. As he was standing there waiting for the execution to take place a bird flew out of the sky and landed on one of his hands. I had never seen anything like it before or since. I remember another time we were suddenly in a swarm of bees, like one would only see in a movie, yet none of us were stung. I take these experiences as signals from the heavens that God is watching and calling upon us to seek peace and reconciliation in instead of seeking revenge.

When people are willing to voice that the death penalty is wrong and that it isnít solving anything, others start to recognize that the state of Florida does not need to execute people. The next time an execution is scheduled I hope you will join us and add your voice to the chorus, "not in my name."

(source: Egitto is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach----Letter to the Editor, The Daily Commercial)


State announces plan to seek death penalty for Matthew Sonnier

Matthew Sonnier, the man accused of murdering 3 people with the help of his sister back in October, was back in Rapides Parish court on Tuesday.

Sonnier was indicted in November for the murders of Jeremy Norris, Kendrick Horn, and Latish White. Sonnier was back in court on Monday for a few things; first was his arraignment.

Sonnier pleaded not guilty to 3 counts of 1st degree murder, obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy, and carrying of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Prosecutor Hugo Holland also announced that the State plans to seek the death penalty. Also, there was a motion filed to determine Sonnier's source of funds.

Sonnier's next court appearance is set for February 1. He is being represented by Thomas Alonzo, an attorney who handles capital cases out of Lafayette.

(source: KALB news)


State hasn't decided whether murder suspect will face the death penalty

The Douglas County District Attorney has not yet decided if it will pursue the death penalty against a Myrtle Creek man arrested in May for the alleged murder of another Myrtle Creek man, and kidnapping his girlfriend and her daughter.

Troy Russell Phelps, 34, was in a Douglas County Circuit Courtroom Monday morning as attorneys presented their cases on a motion to dismiss some of the kidnapping counts against him.

Phelps is accused of killing 26-year-old Brandon Michael on May 31 near Lawson Bar between Riddle and Canyonville, and the state has yet to determine if it will pursue the ultimate penalty in the aggravated murder case.

Police said Michael, who had recently moved to Douglas County from the La Pine area before the shooting, died from multiple gunshot wounds from a small caliber handgun.

On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Ann Marie Simmons refused to dismiss counts 1 and 2 of 2nd degree kidnapping, but a 3rd count was dismissed.

"She made it very clear that the state can't pursue multiple theories in either of those 2 counts,"said defense attorney Mark Sabitt. "One which alleges both the commission and the attempted commission of sex abuse. The state agreed that their theory was that it was by forcible compulsion, and not that the alleged victim was incapable of consenting," Sabitt said.

"1 count is going to go away but the other 2 are fine," said Steve Hoddle, the prosecutor with the district attorney's office. They were simply looking at the indictment and saying whether or not it sufficiently stated the charge against Phelps."

Phelps was charged with 2 counts of 2nd degree kidnapping in addition to the aggravated murder charge.

Police said he abducted Michael's girlfriend and her baby and took them to a residence in Myrtle Creek, after Michael was killed.

Judge Simmons said she is the judge who signed the search warrant affidavits that law enforcement submitted in their investigation, and, if either side challenged the searches, she would assign that to another judge to make the decision. But neither side has indicated that it would be an issue in their case.

A date for the trial has not yet been set, but another status check is set for Jan. 18 in Judge Simmons courtroom, and the prosecution could decide at that time whether it will seek the death penalty.

(source: The News-Review)


5 Prisoners Executed In Western Iran

5 prisoners were executed at Kermanshah Central Prison on murder charges.

According to a close source, on the morning of Monday December 11, 5 prisoners were executed at Kermanshah Central Prison (Western Iran). All of the prisoners were sentenced to death on murder charges.

1 of the executed prisoners was identified as Keykavus Ashouri. He was arrested and sentenced to death 15 years ago.

The execution of these prisoners has not been announced by the state-run media so far.

According to Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty, 142 of the 530 execution sentences in 2016 were implemented due to murder charges. There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.


Prisoner Scheduled To Be Executed in Public

A prisoner who was sentenced to public execution on the charge of murdering a police officer was transferred to solitary confinement.

According to a close source, a prisoner was transferred to solitary confinement in Isfahan Central Prison. The prisoner is charged with murdering a police officer, named Asghar Qezavi, while trafficking drugs in Naein (Fars Province) in April 2016. He was arrested and sentenced to public execution along with 4 other people.

The execution is apparently going to be carried out publically in Naein on the next morning.

According to Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty 33 people have been executed in public in front of large crowds including children in 2016. Public executions have been strongly criticized by Iranian human rights activists and sociologists.

(source for both: Iran Human Rights)


Iranian court upholds death penalty for researcher)

Human rights groups are reporting that Iran's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a disaster medicine researcher, Ahmadreza Djalali. Amnesty International reported Tuesday that Djalali's lawyers have learned that the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence "in a summary manner without granting them an opportunity to file their defense submissions."

Djalali, an Iranian-born resident of Sweden, was arrested in April 2016 during an academic trip to Iran and convicted in October of spying in what Amnesty describes as a "grossly unfair" trial. In an August letter from Tehran's Evin Prison, Djalali wrote that he was arrested for his refusal to use his academic and other ties in Europe to spy for Iran. Djalali holds a Ph.D. in disaster medicine from the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, and taught at the Universita` degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy, and at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium.



MP introduces draft law stipulating death penalty for rapists of women, children

Aiming to limit incidences of rape and kidnapping against women and children, Member of Parliament Mona Monir has suggested amendments to Egypt's main penal code including the death penalty for perpetrators of such crimes.

Egypt Independent obtained a copy of the draft law on Tuesday.

The 1st suggested modification relates to rape and stipulates perpetrators of the crime should be sentenced to death as opposed to the current sentence of lifetime imprisonment.

The amendment suggests that if the perpetrator of the crime is a relative of the victim or works as a servant for her, the death penalty should be applied.

The draft law also suggests that the perpetrator of sexual assault against any person under 18, whether male or female, should receive the death penalty.

The draft law suggests that anyone found guilty of kidnapping a minor should also be sentenced to death or life in prison. A perpetrator of kidnapping who is a relative or guardian should immediately receive the death penalty.

"I strongly support the death penalty against those who commit kidnapping or rape crimes targeting female or male children or handicapped children[...]

Perpetrators should receive the death penalty without any opportunity of appeal," MP Mona Monir told Egypt Independent on Tuesday.

She added that the draft law has been introduced to the Egyptian parliament's legislative committee which is assigned to review it and decide a date for starting discussion.

Egypt's penal code does not include the death penalty as a first punishment for perpetrators of rape and kidnapping crimes against children, Monir explained, arguing that amendments are necessary.

Monir also argued that there has been a significant rise of incidences of rape and kidnapping of children and that the recent rape of a baby pushed her to call for the death penalty for such crimes against minors.

(source: Egypt Independent)


Judge calls for death penalty for child who murdered father, 2 others

Beirut's First Investigative Judge Ghassan Oueidat Tuesday called for the death penalty in the case of a 15-year-old boy who killed 3 people, including his father, and attempted to murder 4 others.

Psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad al-Hashash said in a report that there was no evidence that the child, Ali Yunis, had mental health issues that would make him ineligible for trial.

In the early hours of Oct. 17, the decision read, the Internal Security Forces Beirut Operations Chamber contacted the Zoqaq al-Blat station about reports of gunfire in the Baghdadi alleyway near the area's Hosseiniyeh.

Yunis was later arrested for shooting multiple people with a 12-gauge automatic hunting rifle.

Yunis' victims were identified as his father, Mohammad Hussein Yunis, Mohammad Aadan al-Marabi and Mansur Ahmad Abd al-Salam. Those injured were identified as brothers Bassam, Mohammad and Ali Chehab and Salwa Hamad Mansur - the wife of the late Mansur Ahmad.

The coordinator of child protection NGO Himaya's legal unit, Basima Rummani, told The Daily Star that children cannot be sentenced to death in Lebanon.

"Lebanese law does not allow for minors to be sentenced to death at all, no matter what the scale of the crime they committed, the most they can be sentenced to is ... several years in prison," she said. "Will he be sentenced to death? No way. What kind of judge would call for the death penalty, even if it's an indictment, it's laughable," she added.

(source: The Daily Star)

DECEMBER 12, 2014:


Salvadoran man on Texas death row loses Supreme Court appeal

The U.S. Supreme has refused to review an appeal from a 48-year-old Salvadoran man on Texas death row for the slayings of 2 Houston store clerks during an attempted robbery more than 17 years ago.

The high court had no comment in its decision Monday in the case of Gilmar Guevara.

Attorneys for Guevara asked the justices to reverse lower courts' rulings rejecting arguments that he's mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

Guevara was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shootings of 48-year-old Tae Youk and 21-year-old Gerardo Yaxon. Youk was from South Korea and Yaxon from Guatemala.

Guevara, identified as the shooter, and 2 accomplices fled the scene in southwest Houston in June 2000 without any money.

He does not yet have an execution date.

(source: Associated Press)


Convicted killer Duane Owen wants off death row

Attorneys for a man convicted of 2 heinous murders in the 1980s and sentenced to death are fighting to save his life.

"Duane Owen is nothing more than a cowardly, misogynistic bully who preys on people he knows he can overcome," the state argued before a judge inside a Palm Beach County courtroom on Monday.

Decades after juries convicted him and judges sentenced him to death for two murders in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, Duane Owen wants to get off of death row.

Attorneys are trying to now use a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court ruling to vacate Owen's death sentence for the gruesome rape and murders of 14-year-old babysitter Karen Slattery and 38 year-old single mother Georgianna Worden.

Owen's attorney argues juries in both cases were split 10-2 when recommending death for Owen and the judges had the final say. Florida law now requires a unanimous verdict for the death penalty.

ďAt the end of the day, Mr. Owens was denied his rights in both cases," attorney James Driscoll argued. "We would ask for the court to grant relief in both cases."

"It disgusts me, that's how I feel. It disgusts me to think that we have to go there," said Jane Smith, who was one of Slattery's teachers. "Just pray for the family. It's been a heartache. You can't bring her back if you execute him but there's got to be closure, somewhere."

The judge didn't indicate when he'll rule or how long it could take.

(source: WPEC news)


Convicted killer sentenced to death for 3rd time----Jury unanimously recommended execution for Randal Deviney

For the 3rd time since a woman was brutally killed 9 years, a Duval County judge has sentenced Randal Deviney to be put to death for the murder.

In August 2008, when Deviney was 18 years old, he slit the throat of Delores Futrell and beat her during an attempted burglary. He then moved her body and staged the scene to make it appear that she had been sexually assaulted.

In October, after two days of testimony from detectives, forensic scientists, family members and psychologists, a jury unanimously recommended he be given the death penalty. On Monday, Judge Mark Borello formally sentenced Deviney to be returned to death row.

On Monday, Borello said the nature and cruelty of the crime and age of the victim were all factors that led him to give Deviney to the death penalty.

"All lives have value, but we are a nation of laws," Borello said. "Randall Deviney, you have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all."

This and all death sentences are automatically reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

Futrell's family was in court Monday, but did not comment after the hearing, but did make remarks after the jury recommended the death penalty 2 months ago.

"We're glad it's finally over (and) he got the sentencing he deserved," Futrell's granddaughter Raqia Blades said. "I'm glad we don't have to keep replaying the memories of what happened and keep asking the question, 'Why?'"

It was the 3rd jury that has been asked to sentence Deviney to death for the crime. The 1st conviction was overturned on appeal and his 2nd sentence was thrown out when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that death penalties are only constitutional if there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

Futrell, a dialysis technician and mother of four, was described in court this week as loving life and having a thirst for knowledge.

"A person like my mom should have died a peaceful death," said Jacquelynn Blades, Futrell's oldest daughter.

During the sentencing hearing, the defense presented 37 mitigating factors to try and convince the jury to spare Deviney from the death penalty. It called Deviney's father and a forensic psychologist to testify an abusive childhood.

Despite Deviney mental, sexual and physical abuse as a child, Borello said Deviney still had a loving family and that abusive history did not excuse Deviney's actions.

The crime

According to court documents, an officer responding to a 911 call from Futrell's townhome found her in a "sexual position." Deviney later told a psychologist that he placed her that way to make it look like someone else killed her. Investigators found no physical evidence that Futrell had actually been raped, court records show.

According to detectives investigating the murder scene, evidence showed that Deviney cut Futrell's throat near a Koi pond in the backyard before dragging her inside the home and trying to cover up the murder by making it appear to have been a sexual assault.

The autopsy showed that Futrell had struggled with her attacker before her throat was cut and that the wound sliced her larynx, preventing her from breathing. She bled to death, according to court records. The Medical Examiner also found evidence that Futrell's killer had tried to strangle her either after she was dead or while she was still dying from her neck wound.

DNA found under Futrell's fingernails was matched to Deviney by analysts from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Deviney claimed he just snapped while talking with Futrell one day, but prosecutors argued that the murder was premeditated because Deviney wanted to steal from Futrell.

Court history

Deviney was first convicted of killing Futrell in 2010. The conviction and death sentence were overturned after it was found that detectives had coerced a confession out of Deviney without reading him his Miranda rights.

In July 2015, Deviney was found guilty again, and a jury recommended he be sent back to death row with an 8-4 vote.

The state Supreme Court upheld that second conviction, but later ruled the death penalty unconstitutional unless there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

Deviney's case is 1 of 7 Duval County death sentences overturned this year by the Florida Supreme Court.

Over the years, Deviney's behavior behind bars came under scrutiny. Before the start of his 2nd trial, Deviney publicly made claims that Donald Smith, the man charged with murdering 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, had told him about another murder he committed years before. He even attempted to use that information as leverage for a shorter prison sentence. The State Attorney's Office said Deviney's claims were not credible.



State Attorney Ayala responds to Gov. Scott's death penalty questions----Ayala wants to know how Scott chose which murder cases to strip from her

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala issued a formal letter on Monday responding to Gov. Rick's Scott request for information about her office's death penalty review panel.

Ayala also asked Scott to provide her with information on his "arbitrary" and "questionable" process of choosing which first-degree murder cases would be stripped from her and reassigned to a neighboring state attorney after Ayala announced earlier this year that she would not seek capital punishment in any case.

"Your selection process has consequently threatened due process and equal protection under law. I too, stand with victims of crime. But I also stand boldly on, not just the Constitution, but all the amendments to it, including the 14th amendment," Ayala wrote.

In her letter, Ayala writes that her office has proved that it is willing to pursue the death penalty when appropriate.

She writes that in the case of accused murderer Emerita Mapp, her office communicated with Attorney General Pam Bondi's office about missing the 45-day deadline to file a notice to seek the death penalty and she was confident she could litigate that issue because Mapp had waived her right to a speedy trial.

Mapp entered a plea on Friday and has been sentenced to life in prison.

"I think you would agree, a plea to life in prison is a just resolution to this case. Since this case has been resolved, it seems most of your inquiries are rendered moot," Ayala wrote to Scott.

Ayala claims that Scott "failed to do what [he] said [he was] going to do" because he told the public he would continue to examine 1st-degree murder cases in Orange and Osceola counties, yet he reassigned cases both before and after Mapp's arrest without a clearly defined selection process.

Aside from wanting further information on Mapp's case, Scott's office also requested information about Ayala's 7-member death penalty review panel, which was established after Scott won his legal battle with Ayala regarding his authority to remove 1st-degree murder cases from her office against her will.

The letter gave Ayala until Monday to answer questions regarding how often the panel has met, how it was established, what cases it has reviewed and to supply written confirmation that Ayala's office does plan to pursue the death penalty when appropriate.

"By now, it should be clear to you that my office does consider the death penalty as a potential sentence in 1st-degree murder cases, and it should be obvious that I do, and have done, everything that I said I was going to do, including following the law," Ayala responded.

A death penalty notice was filed Wednesday against Jimmy Merritt, who is accused of beating one man to death with a hammer and fatally shooting another.

She started her response by noting that it would have been easier for Scott to have set up a meeting or phone call with her instead of issuing a letter to the media. She ended her letter by letting Scott know that her public records department will provide his office with the information regarding her legal invoices that he requested.



Ayala fires back, seeking information from Gov. Scott on death penalty cases taken from her office

1 week after Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to State Attorney Aramis Ayala demanding information about a missed death penalty case filing, she shot back Monday, requesting information of her own.

Scott sent the original letter after it was determined that Ayala failed to file a motion to seek the death penalty in the case of Emerita Mapp, who was accused of killing 1 man and injuring another at a Kissimmee Days Inn.

The prosecutorial conflict between Ayala and Scott started earlier in the year when Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office.

Scott responded by removing numerous potential death penalty cases from Ayala's office and reassigning them to another state attorney.

Scott's office had requested information as to why the 45-day deadline to file an intent to seek the death penalty in Mapp's case was missed.

On Friday, Mapp took a plea deal to avoid the death penalty and was given a life sentence, which makes the governor's request moot, Ayala said in a letter Monday.

Despite that, Ayala told Scott in the letter that she had been in direct communication with Attorney General Pam Bondi about the issue and was confident she could have sought the death penalty in Mapp's case, despite the missed deadline.

Her office could have re-arraigned Mapp, which would have reset the 45-day deadline, Ayala argued.

Scott had also requested information on Ayala's death penalty review panel, which she created to determine which cases prosecuted by her office warranted seeking capital punishment.

Ayala also placed the blame for the oversight in Mapp's case on Scott, who had publicly announced he would be looking at all potential death penalty cases that would possibly be prosecuted by her office.

"You re-assigned high-profile cases both before and after Emerita Mapp's case," Ayala wrote in her response to Scott. "However, I am curious to know why you did not take the Emerita Mapp case and reassign it to the Fifth Circuit with the other cases."

Scott has repeatedly touted that he stands by the victims of violent crime and would make sure the death penalty would be sought, when appropriate, as service to them.

Ayala countered Monday that she also sees herself as a representative of victims of crime, and went on to accuse Scott of endangering prosecution of cases by removing them from her office.

"Your selection process has consequently threatened due process and equal protection under the law," Ayala wrote. "I too stand with victims of crime. But I also stand boldly on, not just the Constitution, but all amendments to it, including the 14th Amendment."

Ayala then requested, via a public records request, information on the process Scott used to remove cases from her office, including writings, recordings, reports, memoranda, notes of meetings, written policies, news media stories referenced and communications with other individuals.

Scott also requested information on the amount of taxpayer money spent during Ayala's court fight with his office over the case removals.

Ayala wrote that the request had been forwarded to her public records department and that records would be produced "in short order."

Bondi's office released the following statement on Ayala's letter:

"Ayala's office reached out to my attorneys regarding an unidentified death penalty case well after she missed the deadline in an attempt to salvage the case. My office provided potential legal arguments in an attempt to defend a death penalty case, and in an effort to correct her egregious actions. What she did is inexcusable in failing to meet a deadline required in a capital case. In no way do we condone her behavior. She continues to demonstrate that she is incompetent and unwilling to handle capital cases. We will continue to lend support to any effort to follow the law and insure justice is done in any homicide in the Ninth Circuit."

(source: WFTV news)


Orleans Parish DA wants death penalty for suspect in NOPD officer killing

The Orleans Parish district attorney plans to pursue the death penalty for a man accused of killing a New Orleans police officer in an exchange of gunfire.

Darren Bridges, arrested on Oct. 13 in connection with the deadly officer shooting, was indicted Thursday by the Orleans Parish grand jury, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in an update.

Bridges is accused of fatally shooting New Orleans Police Officer Marcus McNeil, 29, around 12:13 a.m. Oct. 13 in the 6800 block of Cindy Place in New Orleans East.

"We're going to do our best to see to it that Mr. Bridges is never in a position to ever hurt anyone else again," Cannizzaro said.

(source: WDSU news)


Capital murder charges filed against Holsinger

5 capital murder charges and a variety of 1st-degree felonies were handed down in November against Jeffrey Ryan Holsinger by a Ross County Grand Jury, in connection with a summer crime spree that left 2 dead and another critically wounded on the 4th of July.

According to the indictment, which was made public on Monday, Holsinger was indicted on 5 counts of aggravated murder, all capital violations; one count of attempted murder, 1 count of kidnapping, 2 counts of aggravated robbery and 1 count of aggravated burglary, all 1st degree felonies; as well as 1 count of gross sexual imposition, a 4th-degree felony.

According to the indictment, all 5 of the murder charges relate to the death of Paul O. Robertson, who was shot and killed in Ross County near Greenfield on the 4th of July.

Earlier that evening, Holsinger shot and killed Steven Mottie Jr. in a Higginsville home - a crime to which he pled guilty in September in Highland County Common Pleas Court, as reported by The Times-Gazette.

He was sentenced to 25.9 years to life in prison, and is currently incarcerated at the Lebanon Correction Institution.

Holsinger will be arraigned once death penalty qualified counsel is appointed, according to Ross County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Schmidt.

(source: The Times-Gazette)


Man accused of abducting, killing Sierah Joughin appears in court

The man accused of kidnapping and killing University of Toledo Student Sierah Joughin appeared in court on Monday for another pretrial hearing.

James Worley, of Delta, is facing the death penalty for the abduction and death of 20-year-old Joughin in 2016. This most recent court appearance served as a way to tie up loose ends before the trial begins on January 16.

Worley entered the courtroom Monday in plain clothes with no handcuffs. He was seen asking his attorney questions throughout the hearing, where jury selection was discussed.

About 250 potential jurors are currently part of the jury pool. So far, 208 of those have filled out a lengthy jury questionnaire that attorneys will go through before jury selection begins in January.

The selection is expected to last about a week.

Several outstanding motions were also discussed at the hearing, such as the locations of cell phone towers used to gather data from Sierah and Worley's phones.

One final pretrial hearing is scheduled for January to make sure everything is read for the trial. The trial is expected to last up to a month.

(soruce: WTOL news)


Man could face death penalty for North Ridgeville murder

A 37-year-old man could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering a North Ridgeville man.

John Rowan was indicted by the Lorain County Grand Jury on the charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, felonious assault, robbery, tampering with evidence, theft and abuse of a corpse.

North Ridgeville police say Rowan killed Harold Litten Jr., 60, this past April.

Litten's family reported him missing on April 20 and his body was found in a shed outside his home on Jaycox Road on May 26.

Rowan will be back in court on Dec. 14

(source: WOIO news)


Arkansas Man Goes to Trial for Allegedly Beating Man With Ax

An Arkansas man will stand trial in a capital murder case after being accused of beating another man to death with an ax handle.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that 36-year-old Randall Jordan is scheduled for trial Tuesday in connection with the death of 59-year-old Larry Eugene Jones. Jordan faces a conviction that carries possible death penalty for beating Jones with an ax handle as he slept in his bed in June 2016.

Crawford County reports show Jordan had been living with Jones but was kicked out of Jones' house. Reports say a woman who was staying at Jones' house at the time witnessed the attack and contacted Jones' family members.

Reports say Jones' son confronted Jordan and drove his father to the hospital. An autopsy report says Jones died from head and brain injuries shortly after.

(source: Associated Press)


U.S. Supreme Court lets death penalty stand for man who murdered Kansas sheriff

The U.S. Supreme Court is letting a death sentence stand for a southeastern Kansas man who fatally shot a sheriff during a 2005 drug raid.

The high court declined Monday to review Scott Cheever's case a 2nd time. Cheever faces lethal injection for killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels as Samuels tried to serve a warrant at Cheever's rural home about 75 miles northeast of Wichita.

Cheever acknowledged shooting Samuels, but his attorney argued Cheever was too high on methamphetamine for the crime to be premeditated.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 2012 ordered a new trial for Cheever because prosecutors used a court-ordered mental evaluation from a different trial against him. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2013.

The Kansas court then upheld Cheever's death sentence last year.

(source: Associated Press)


California Chief Justice Expects More Death Penalty Lawsuits

The California Supreme Court has largely upheld the new, expedited death penalty procedure voters approved last November through Proposition 66, but the chief justice expects more challenges.

In a roundtable discussion with reporters, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye suggested 2 areas she thinks the court will likely have to rule: She says Proposition 66 puts competing pressures on the state's pool of attorneys who represent death row inmates in a certain type of appeal, called habeas corpus petitions.

"This entity, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center - that was originally contemplated to provide the attorneys for these habeas corpus petitions - are now having their salaries reduced, even though the effort is that they take on more work," Cantil-Sakauye says. "So I'm not sure how that's going to work out."

The measure also requires attorneys who do not work on capital cases to accept them, when death penalty attorneys are booked up.

Cantil-Sakauye did not take part in the Proposition 66 decision, since she oversees the state's courts, which must implement it.

(source: Capital Public Radio News)


Prosecutors seek death penalty in torture-murder of 8-year-old

Closing arguments concluded Monday morning and deliberations were beginning in the penalty phase of the trial for Isauro Aguirre, convicted of brutally beating his girlfriend's 8-year-old son to death.

A jury is being asked to recommend whether Aguirre, 37, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Aguirre.

Previous testimony convinced the 7-woman, 5-man panel of jurors Gabriel Fernandez, of Palmdale, died in May of 2013 after months of torture and abuse. Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture, making Aguirre eligible for capital punishment.

Among several family members, Gabriel's biological father, Arnold Contreras, served as one of the prosecution's witnesses. He said he felt guilty and hopeless and "should have been there" when he learned that his son had been beaten and was on life support.

Jurors were shown photos of Gabriel's tortured body lying on an autopsy table with injuries from head to toe and heard testimony from a Los Angeles County sheriff's detective that he had never seen a child with that many injuries in his 26-year career in law enforcement.

In court on Monday, prosecutor Jonathan Hatami gave the closing arguments.

"Death penalty is justified for what the defendant did to Gabriel Fernandez," Hatami urged the jury. He then put a blown up picture of Gabriel in front of the jury and asked them to always remember what this case is about.

Hatami told the jury the case is not about the defendant, his family or a paid prison expert. He reminded the jury about all the weapons he brought in that were used on Gabriel.

"There's nothing worse in our society than a grown man murdering and torturing a little boy," Hatami said.

He added that Gabriel didn't get a trial, didn't get pretrial motions -- Aguirre was the jury and the judge.

Hatami continued speaking to the jury, saying that as if they were all in a nightmare, they all heard how Gabriel was handcuffed and put in a box with a sock in his mouth.

"He was cold, afraid," he said, recalling that Gabriel had to defecate and urinate in that box, was forced to eat cat litter, cat feces and eat his own vomit.

Gabriel's emaciated body had nine BBs in it, broken ribs, a fractured skull and a bruised and burned penis. He suffered unimaginable amount of pain in the hands of the defendant, the prosecutor added.

"The defendant stole Gabriel's innocence," Hatami said, as at least 1 juror cried and wiped tears away.

"He must have felt abandoned by everybody. The defendant isolated him," Hatami went on."That day that the defendant beat Gabriel to death, he was in the bedroom. He picked Gabriel and carried him like trash and discarded him in the living room. No man with good in him would do that."

The prosecution said death was merciful to Gabriel's pain and suffering: "When Gabriel needed (someone) the most, no one was there to hold him."

In return, the defense asked the jurors to give Aguirre life in prison without parole. They added that throughout his time in jail, Aguirre has not had a single rules violation, and with a life sentence, he will "never hurt anyone."

Throughout the penalty phase, defense testimony has tried to convince the court that Aguirre was a model citizen until he met Pearl Fernandez.

Hatami told the jury that after all the testimony this week, "we need you to understand that the defendant is not a victim. His is family is not a victim. His friends are not a victim. No one who ever abuses a child could be a victim."

The defendant was relatively smart and sophisticated, the prosecutor said. He was involved in welfare fraud, was a security guard, worked in elderly care - "he could have just left," he added.

"The just punishment, the appropriate punishment? I don't need to tell you what it is because you already know," Hatami said in closing.

Gabriel's mother, Pearl Fernandez, is awaiting her own trial for murder.

(source: ABC news)


Terrorism offenders deserve death penalty - Trump

Individuals, convicted of terrorism charges, deserve "the strongest penalty allowed by law," including death penalty, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday.

On Monday, a man detonated a bomb inside a New York City subway passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, injuring 3 people.

The blast perpetrator sustained wounds in the explosion, too.

Authorities said the explosion was a terrorism-related attack.

"Those convicted of engaging in acts of terror deserve the strongest penalty allowed by law, including the death penalty in appropriate cases.

"America should always stand firm against terrorism and extremism, ensuring that our great institutions can address all evil acts of terror," Trump said in a statement.

The New York Police Department identified the Port Authority attack suspect as 27-year-old Akayed Ullah.

The media reported that Ullah was a Bangladeshi immigrant who lived in New York's borough of Brooklyn and used to work as a taxi driver and as an electrical.

NBC News broadcaster reported, citing law enforcement officials, that the suspect said he had detonated the explosive device after spotting a holiday display.

Media have drown connections between the New York attack and the 2016 terror act at a Berlin Christmas market, which resulted in 12 people dead and 56 others injured.

The individual reportedly told investigators he perpetrated the attack in the name of the Islamic State terror group to avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world.

The broadcaster also reported, citing police, that the bomb, used by the suspect on Monday, was made from a pipe, a 9-volt battery, matches, and Christmas tree lights.

The New York Times newspaper, in turn, reported, citing law enforcement, that Ullah said he had committed the blast in retaliation for the U.S. airstrikes in Syria and other countries, targeting IS members.

Also, Ullah told investigators he had been radicalised online.

Trump's recent statement is not the first in which the US president has called for death penalty for terrorism offenders.

Trump made the similar statement concerning perpetrator of the Nov. 1, terror attack in New York's Lower Manhattan, where a man drove a truck into a bike path, killing 8 people and injuring 11 others.

(source: P.M. News)


Physicians speak out against fentanyl-assisted executions: 5 things to know

Both Nevada and Nebraska are pushing to be the first states in the nation to use fentanyl for criminal executions, drawing pushback from death penalty opponents and some physicians, according to a report from The Washington Post.

Here are 5 things to know.

1. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. The substance has been a major contributor to the rising rates of opioid-related deaths across the country in recent years. More than 50 % of people who died of opioid overdoses in 10 states tested positive for fentanyl in the 2nd half of 2016.

2. The push for fentanyl-assisted suicide comes as states are struggling to obtain drugs long used for lethal injection. Pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply these drugs for the purpose of execution. The situation has spurred some states to implement new methods of execution and others to resurrect methods from bygone eras. For example, Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma have turned to novel drug combinations to carry out executions, while some states have passed laws sanctioning firing squads (Utah) or the electric chair (Tennessee) as backup options when lethal injection isn't available, according to the Post.

3. Supporters of capital punishment blame opponents for the current situation, as support for the death penalty has waned in recent years, according to Pew research data cited by the The Pew data suggests support for the death penalty among the public hit a 40-year low in 2016.

"If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates' pain, they would help reopen the supply," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an advocacy group for crime victims. "[Opponents] caused the problem we're in now by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply to these drugs. That's why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices."

4. Physicians opposed to fentanyl-assisted executions say the substance could result in botched executions. Nevada's planned execution for an inmate originally set for November called for the injection of diazepam (Valium), fentanyl and the drug cisatracurium, which would paralyze the muscles.

"If the first 2 drugs don't work as planned, or if they are administered incorrectly, which has already happened in so many cases ... you would be awake and conscious, desperate to breathe and terrified but unable to move at all," Mark Heath, MD, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University, told the Post. "It would be an agonizing way to die, but the people witnessing wouldn't know anything had gone wrong because you wouldn't be able to move."

5. A judge postponed the Nevada execution last month over concerns about the paralytic element of the drug mixture. The case is awaiting review by Nevada's Supreme Court.

(source: Becker's Hospital Review)


Military court denies Hennis request for additional support, but says Army could still provide funds

A military appeals court ruled last month that it was unable to force the government to provide additional support to the defense of convicted killer Timothy Hennis.

But a panel of 5 judges said there was nothing preventing the Army from providing that support, which includes a request to pay for the services of a lawyer with experience in capital cases, a mitigation specialist and a fact investigator.

The requests stem from an appeal of Hennis's 2010 convictions of killing a mother and two of her children near Fort Bragg. Hennis is currently awaiting a death sentence as a result of those crimes.

The case has received national attention and became the focus of several television specials, at least one book and a television miniseries. The attention was brought about not only for the crimes, but also the unique way the case played out in various courts.

Kathryn Eastburn and 2 of her daughters - 5-year-old Kara and 3-year-old Erin - were found killed in May 1985 at their Summerhill Road home off Yadkin Road. A 3rd child, then-22-month-old Jana, was found alive.

At the time, Kathryn Eastburn's husband, Gary, was in the Air Force and training in Alabama. Hennis, who had adopted a dog from the Eastburn family shortly before their deaths, quickly became a suspect.

The Fort Bragg soldier was tried first in 1986, where he was convicted in Cumberland County Superior Court and placed on death row. But after winning an appeal, Hennis was found not guilty during a new trial in Wilmington in 1989.

Hennis resumed his Army career, retiring in 2004 as a master sergeant. The Army brought him out of retirement two years later after DNA evidence not available at the earlier trials linked him to the murders.

After the 2010 court-martial at Fort Bragg, a military judge sentenced Hennis to death, stripped him of his rank and forced him to forfeit his pay and allowances. Hennis currently is incarcerated at the the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is 1 of 6 inmates currently on the military's death row.

Hennis's request for additional funds is part of a mandatory review of his convictions of 3 counts of premeditated murder.

An opinion filed Nov. 20 denying the motion, states the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces does not have the constitutional, statutory or regulatory authority to meet Hennis's request. It comes after an Oct. 10 hearing on the topic in Washington.

In the opinion, authored by Judge Kevin A. Ohlson, the court explains that its hands are tied. But it also notes "that Congress has clearly expressed its preference that military members charged with capital offenses be provided with learned counsel in the near future, federal law requires the provision of learned counsel upon request in federal death penalty cases, and most state jurisdictions which still have the death penalty have established minimum qualifications for counsel in such cases."

"Nevertheless, in deciding a motion such as the one now before us, this Court's task is not to require 'what is prudent or appropriate, but only what is constitutionally [and statutorily] compelled,'" Ohlson wrote. "Appropriate personnel in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps are not similarly constrained, however, and may most certainly do what is 'prudent' and 'appropriate' in the instant case."

During the October hearing, judges warned the Army that it needs to take the request by Hennis seriously.

"You're playing a very dangerous game," one judge said after chiding the Army lawyers arguing against Hennis's motion.

"You can win the battle and lose the war," the judge said. "The concerns the appellant are raising at this point about standards - they don't go away ... The fact that we can't do anything now doesn't make this whole thing go away."

Another judge said the government was playing "a morbid game of chicken" in regards to the case.

Capt. Tim Burroughs, the lead lawyer defending Hennis, has stated in court motions that he does not have the experience or resources to properly represent Hennis.

"Capital cases are among the most complex, long-lasting and specialized cases we try in our system," he said. "The case of Timothy Hennis is certainly no exception."

According to a motion filed in the appeal, Burroughs represents more than 2 dozen other soldiers in various stages of appeal, has never defended an accused at trial, participated in a murder trial or prosecuted a case of comparable complexity.

Over 5 years, 7 other Army defense lawyers have represented Hennis, Burroughs has argued. None have had the experience or resources to represent Hennis, none were able to review the entire record of trial and none have been assigned longer than 2 years.

(source: Fayetteville Observer)


Death penalty in India has no clear guidelines, new research reveals----Capital punishment is considered a deterrent by some, but judges have little guidance for deciding what can merit such a sentence

The death-penalty sentencing process in India is broken, and now there is fresh research that reiterates this fact. In pathbreaking work carried out by the National Law University in Delhi, 43 of 60 former judges of Indiaís Supreme Court interviewed for the research, who had adjudicated 208 death-penalty cases among them between 1975 and 2016, expressed grave doubts about wrongful convictions.

But 39 of the judges interviewed favor retaining capital punishment. 8 of them were former chief justices of India. Of the 60 judges interviewed, 47 adjudicated capital-punishment cases and confirmed 92 death sentences in 63 cases.

Judges of the apex court are regarded as the embodiment of the letter and spirit of the law, and are supposed to judge with objectivity, without letting their biases and prejudices creep into rulings. The death sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court are final decisions, unless they are reversed on review, which happens very rarely.

However, the report throws up a grave fact - that there is a lot of subjectivity in the nature of judgments. Many judges don't have clarity about the the legal statutes behind the sentencing procedure.

The report, which is in the form of an opinion study, kept the views of individual judges anonymous so as not to divert focus from the system to specific persons.

Justification for torture

The rampant use of torture, the study found, shows how deep the crisis in the criminal justice system is. Torture is used to generate evidence as well as to fabricate it. Though some former judges did offer justifications for this abysmal state of affairs, there was an overwhelming sense of concern about the integrity of the criminal justice system from multiple perspectives.

Of the 39 judges, only one thought torture by the police and other investigative agencies was not perpetrated. Of the rest who accepted that torture does take place, 12 thought it could be justified, given the pressures investigators are working under. The existence of torture was also rationalized by stating that investigating agencies are "either lazy, or don't have enough manpower, or do not know methods of scientific investigation," the report says.

The judges voiced their concerns, but it had little bearing on their views on the administration of capital punishment.

Judge-centric sentencing

In 1980, a 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in the Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case, laid down a binding doctrine on how death sentences are to be handed down. It was to be only in the "rarest of rare" cases, and the principles for determining this sought to take away the subjectivity caused by prejudices and views of individual judges.

However, the report reveals a shocking detail. Only 13 of the interviewed judges were able to articulate their views on how this doctrine was to be implemented.

One judge who confirmed a death sentence that led to an execution expressed helplessness about the subjectivity in sentencing: "The problem is so rampant, so obvious, that it is difficult to find any consistency in the approach, and it is difficult to see [the] rationale in awarding [the] death sentence in one case and not awarding in another, more severe case."

The report states: "For a significant number of judges, the 'rarest of the rare' was based on categories or description of offenses alone and had little to do with judicial test requiring that the alternative of life imprisonment be 'unquestionably foreclosed.' This meant that for certain crimes, this widely hailed formulation falls apart, rendering the sentencing exercise nugatory."

There is a growing consensus among criminologists that executions do not deter criminals. Despite this, deterrence emerged as the strongest justification for retaining the death penalty, with 23 former judges seeing merit in that argument. When former judges spoke of the deterrent value of the death penalty, significant differences emerged in their understanding of it.

The 1st of the 2 main strands that emerged viewed the fear of death for achieving deterrence. Judges in this category took the position that the qualitative nature of the death penalty distinguished it from any other punishment, and that the fear of death was an effective deterrent. A judge who has confirmed three death sentences in his 4-year tenure as a Supreme Court judge remarked: "What is the greatest fear of every human being? ... Death. Everything else you can swallow, but death you cannot."

Most of the judges felt that since there are very few executions, retaining capital punishment is justified. This, the researchers of the report regretted, did not factor in the intense mental agony and torture undergone by a person living with the threat of the gallows hanging like the sword of Damocles over his head for years on end.

In 2008, Amnesty International came out with a report that described the administration of the death penalty in India as a "lethal lottery" and made a strong point for its abolition in its entirety. The present report only buttresses this argument.

(source: Asia Times)


In Tamil Nadu Man's Public Killing On Camera, Father-In-Law Gets Death----Engineering student V Sankar was hacked to death at a market in Tamil Nadu's Tirupur in March last year. His wife, 19-year-old Kausalya, who was accompanying him, was also attacked by the bike-borne men, who had been hired by her parents

6 people have been given death penalty for the daylight murder of V Sankar -- the 23-year-old Dalit engineering student who married an upper caste woman -- which took place in March last year. Sankar was hacked to death at a market in Tamil Nadu's Tirupur. His wife, 19-year-old Kausalya, who was accompanying him, was also attacked by the bike-borne men, who had been hired by her parents. The gruesome murder, captured on local CCTV cameras, had shocked the nation.

Kausalya's father Chinnasamy and the 5 men who carried out the attack have been given death sentence. 2 others have been convicted as well. Annalakshmi, Kousalya's mother, her uncle Pandithurai and a college student, Prasanna, have been acquitted for want of evidence. Kausalya has welcomed the death sentence and said she could appeal against the acquittals.

The family, which belongs to the politically powerful Thevar caste, was allegedly unhappy with their marriage.

Sankar, a 3rd year student of engineering, and Kausalya had been married for around 8 months when the attack took place.

In the CCTV footage obtained from the market, they are seen walking and chatting when three men on a bike stop behind them and suddenly attack Sankar with sharp weapons. When the man stopped moving, they turn on his wife and slash at her till she collapses. The attackers then go away, apparently without any worry about being recognized.

Sankar had died in the hospital from excessive bleeding. Kausalya took a long time to recover. She now lives with Sankar's family, who are farmers.

It was the 3rd such incident in Tamil Nadu in 5 years.



Upholding academic's death sentence in secret shows utter contempt for right to life

The Iranian Supreme Court has run roughshod over the rule of law by upholding the death sentence of Ahmadreza Djalali, an Iranian-born Swedish resident and specialist in emergency medicine, through a secret and hasty process and without allowing any defence submission, Amnesty International revealed today.

Ahmadreza Djalali's lawyers learned on Saturday 9 December that Branch 1 of the Supreme Court had considered and upheld his death sentence in a summary manner without granting them an opportunity to file their defence submissions.

"This is not only a shocking assault on the right to a fair trial but is also in utter disregard for Ahmadreza Djalali's right to life. It is appalling that the Iranian authorities have deliberately denied Ahmadreza Djalali the right to a meaningful review of his conviction and sentence," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The Iranian authorities must immediately quash Ahmadreza Djalali's death sentence, and grant him the right to present a meaningful appeal against his conviction before the highest court. Failing to do so will be an irreversible injustice."

Since early November, Ahmadreza Djalali's lawyers had repeatedly contacted the Supreme Court to find out which branch his appeal petition had been allocated so they could present their submissions.

The established practice in Iran is for lawyers to be informed of the branch where the appeal will be considered before submitting the relevant documentation and arguments. Ahmadreza Djalali's lawyers said they were consistently told by court clerks that the case had not yet been allocated for consideration and that they should wait. As a result, the sudden news of the Supreme Court's decision came as a shock.

Ahmadreza Djalali, was on a business trip to Iran when he was arrested in April 2016. He was held in Evin prison by Ministry of Intelligence officials for seven months, 3 of them in solitary confinement. He has said that during this period he did not have access to a lawyer and was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to "confess" to being a spy.

No investigation into his allegations of torture and other ill-treatment is known to have taken place.

In October 2017, he was convicted of "spreading corruption on earth" for spying and sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial. His lawyers have said that the trial court relied primarily on evidence obtained under duress and produced no evidence to substantiate the allegation that he was anything other than an academic peacefully pursuing his profession.

In a letter written from inside Tehran's Evin prison in August 2017, Ahmadreza Djalali said he was held solely in reprisal for his refusal to use his scholastic and work ties in European academic and other institutions to spy for Iran.

International human rights bodies have consistently held that it is a violation of the right to life to pass a death sentence after criminal proceedings that violate fair trial guarantees. Moreover, under international law, the only category of crimes for which the death penalty may be allowed is "the most serious crimes", which, as interpreted by international bodies, means only crimes involving intentional killing.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

(source: Amnesty International)

DECEMBER 11, 2017:


Arson deaths case

Stanley Ford, 58, of Akron, was indicted on 29 charges. 22 are aggravated murder counts for 9 fire victims, with Ford charged under different parts of the law. He faces the death penalty.

Investigators say Ford set 3 fires in his neighborhood, with 2 people killed in 1 fire and seven perishing in the other, including 5 children. The 3rd was a car fire with no injuries.

Joe Gorman and Don Malarcik, Ford's attorneys, have asked that Judge Christine Croce remove the death penalty specification against Ford - who is African-American - because of the role race played in the decision to seek capital punishment.

The attorneys cite research that shows the race of defendants and victims and where crimes are committed in Ohio play a key role in deciding whether defendants face the death penalty. They also point to former Akron Police Chief James Nice's use of racial slurs, including the N-word, which was among the reasons the chief was forced to abruptly resign Aug. 27. Nice was the chief when Ford's case was investigated and was among those who spoke at a July 27 news conference to announce Ford's indictment.

Croce has ordered the prosecutor's office to hand over emails on the Ford case in response to Ford's attorney's claims of racism.

Ford will have a pretrial at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Croce's court.

(source: AkronBeacon Journal)


Man accused of abducting, killing Sierra Joughin to appear in court on Monday

The man accused of kidnapping and killing University of Toledo Student Sierra Joughin is scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing on Monday.

James Worley, of Delta, is facing the death penalty for the abduction and death of 20-year-old Joughin in 2016.

He is scheduled to appear in the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas in front of Judge Jeffrey Robinson.

Earlier this year, Worley's trial was postponed until January, 2018.

(source: WTOL news)


Trial set for suspect accused of killing Arkansas man with ax handle; state seeks death penalty

A Crawford County man is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday in a capital-murder case, and the state is seeking the death penalty.

Randall Jordan, 36, is accused of beating Larry Eugene Jones, 59, with an ax handle as he slept in his bed in June 2016. Jones died shortly after in a Fort Smith hospital.

The jury trial before Circuit Judge Mike Medlock is scheduled to last most of the week. Court records show Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune has subpoenaed more than 25 witnesses to testify.

Jordan has been held in custody in lieu of $500,000 bond since his arrest June 10, 2016.

According to reports by Crawford County sheriff's deputies, Jordan had been living with Jones but Jones kicked him out of his house at 5305 Grand Juniper Road in rural Van Buren. Jordan still had a key to the home and used it to get inside early June 10, 2016.

Reports said a guest, Melissa Qualls, who had been staying at Jones' house for 5 days, told deputies she was awakened about 5 a.m. to the whining of one of her dogs. Qualls said she also could hear someone gasping for air.

When she looked into Jones' room, she said she saw the shadow of someone striking down with a large object. Jones made a loud, grunting noise with each strike, Qualls told deputies.

Qualls gathered her dogs, ran next door and banged on the door of Jones' uncle, Walter Young, and told him someone was being hurt, according to reports. Young ran to the nearby home of Jones' son, Riley, and told him there was trouble and to get his gun.

Riley Jones told deputies he fired his gun into the air as he ran to his father's house because he didn't know what was going on inside, according to reports. He confronted Jordan, who was still holding the ax handle, in the dark standing in the doorway to his father's bedroom.

According to reports, Qualls told deputies that Riley Jones asked Jordan where his father was and Jordan replied that Larry Jones was fine and that he had run out the back door. Qualls told deputies that she could see Larry Jones' legs in the bedroom and called Jordan a liar.

Riley Jones gave his gun to Young and told him to watch Jordan until deputies arrived, then picked up his father and drove him to Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, according to the reports.

An autopsy report from the Arkansas medical examiner's office concluded that Larry Jones died from head and brain injuries.

Riley Jones later told deputies that his father kicked Jordan out of his house because Jordan wouldn't do anything around the house, wouldn't help pay bills or try to get a job, reports said.

Another report said Larry Jones' daughter-in-law, Cara Jones, told deputies that Jordan was depressed. He had lost his mother and his job and his wife had divorced him.



Nolen set to appear in court for sentencing hearing

In October, the Cleveland County jury that heard the 1st-degree murder case filed against Alton Nolen recommended he be sentenced to death. On Friday, Judge Lori Walkley will decide whether she will take that recommendation.

The jury convicted Nolen, 33, Sept. 29 for the 1st-degree murder of former Vaughan Foods employee Colleen Hufford, as well as 5 charges connected to assaults on other coworkers.

According to a Moore Police affidavit, Nolen had been fired from his production line job prior to the Sept. 25, 2014 incident due to a complaint at the business. He entered the front office with a knife, stabbing coworkers and beheading Hufford, before he was shot by company executive and Oklahoma County Sheriff's reserve deputy Mark Vaughan.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections records reveal, if Walkley decides to take the jury's recommendation, Nolen will join 48 other convicted murderers who are on Oklahoma's death row.

The last person to receive the death penalty for a Cleveland County crime was William Eugene Davis, who was convicted in 2010 for the murders of 2 sisters and 1 of the women's mother-in-law. He was found dead in his Oklahoma state penitentiary cell in 2012.

(source: The Norman Transcript)


Needles man indicted in county jail slaying

A Needles man, already in custody for his alleged role in a Bullhead City opioid ring, was indicted Thursday in the assault and eventual death of his cellmate.

A Mohave County grand jury indicted Gaven Timothy Robel, 25, on a charge of 1st-degree murder. He is expected to be arraigned this Thursday before Superior Court Commissioner Billy Sipe Jr.

Robel is being held in jail on a $5 million bond. A defendant convicted of 1st-degree murder faces the death penalty or natural life in prison.

Detention officers were alerted to an altercation on Nov. 20 between Robel and Rayan Wayne Couch, from Kingman, in a cell they had shared for several days in the medium security section at the county jail.

Couch, 41, who had been in jail since Nov. 2 for a probation violation, was flown to a Las Vegas hospital with serious head injuries. He died Dec. 3 from the injuries suffered in the assault, the sheriff's office reported.

Robel is also charged by the Arizona Attorney General's Office with fraudulent schemes and artifices, acquisition of a narcotic drug by fraud and forgery. Robel and 7 others are accused of involvement in an opioid ring in the Bullhead City area.

The alleged ringleader of the opioid ring, Amanda Lee Doyle, 29, of Fort Mohave, was arrested Nov. 6 at a Henderson casino. She is also charged by the attorney general's office with 26 felony counts. Doyle, who is being held on a $10,000 bond, was arraigned on the charges Thursday.

(source: Mohave Calley Daily News)


Iranian scientist from Belgium to be hanged in Iran for "spying"

An Iranian-Swedish professor connected to the Free University of Brussels (VUB) has been sentenced to death in Iran for collaboration with scientists from foreign, "enemy" states and his lawyer has not appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court.

The execution of Ahmadreza Djalali seems inevitable according to VUB in Brussels, where Djalali was a guest professor in the field of disaster medicine.

Iranian authorities detained Ahmadreza Jalali, a scientist at the Research Center in Emergency and Disaster Medicine (CRIMEDIN) run by the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy, and the Free University Brussels (VUB), during a visit in April.

Djalali, 45, is married with 2 children and works at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden on improving hospitals' emergency responses to armed terrorism and radiological, chemical and biological threats.

The verdict follows warnings by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime's heavily militarised ideological gatekeepers, of "infiltration" attempts by Iran's enemies.

It also comes with conservative opponents in Iran of a possible thaw with the West seemingly eager to project strength to their critics at home and abroad.

Jalali had traveled to Iran to attend a scientific workshop based on an official invitation from an Iranian university. He has been refusing to eat since December 26 to protest his arrest and the charges, and he seems to be in poor mental and physical condition.

An appeal should have been filed within three weeks but it appears that it never reached the Supreme Court. Since his conviction, 268,000 people have signed petitions in his defense. Despite the pressure on scientific and diplomatic level by Belgian, Swedish and Italian politicians, as well as by the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini, Iran continues to violate the rights of the professor, the university underlines.

Rights advocates have long accused Iranian courts of issuing politically motivated sentences. Trial proceedings, often held behind closed doors, can last only a few minutes, and charges and even verdicts are routinely left to public speculation rather than informing defence teams or family of pending charges.

Djalali told his sister that he had been forced to sign a confession, for which he will receive the death penalty. The Iranian government is calling it a matter of national security.



Top terror Shahadat's intimidation halts 16 cases

He's been staying abroad for 12 years, carrying out criminal acts of extortion and intimidating people back in the country over phone from abroad. He even managed to halt the trial process of 16 cases against him by intimidating the plaintiffs and witnesses of the cases from abroad.

This is none other than the top terror Shahadat Hossain. The fugitive criminal was awarded with death penalty in 2 cases while arrest warrants were issued against him in 13 cases. He has more than 200 general diaries (GDs) under his belt.

Hiding in India for a long time, Shahadat is controlling the capital's criminal activities and even giving interviews to the media, said police officials.

They added that the government has requested India to arrest Shahadat as Bangladesh handed over a number of Indian criminals to its neighbour.

However, Shahadat's deportation is yet to be decided, they also said.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner Md Asaduzzaman Mia told Prothom Alo that they are trying to bring Shahadat back through the Interpol.

If any family feels insecure or becomes victim of threat, the police will provide security measures, he added.

Once vice-president of Bangladesh Chhatra League's Shah Ali thana unit, Shahadat was a resident of Shinepukur Road in Mirpur's Shah Ali area.

The hardcore criminal used to be an activist of BCL Mirpur unit from 2001 to 2004. He came to talks in 1998 allegedly after killing a person in Gudaraghat area in 1998. Through this, he entered the underworld and murdered one after another as a professional killer. In 2005, he fled away in India after killing Aftab Uddin, a businessman of Mirpur. Since then, he has been living there.

On 12 August 2005, a group of miscreants killed Md Shahidullah, 45, owner of Prince Group near his residence in Mirpur. A case was filed then accusing Shahadat as prime suspect. The investigation of the case is yet to be completed even after 12 years.

Shahidullah's family members said Shahadat has been threatening them to withdraw the case.

Kazi Belal Hossain, brother of Shahidullah, told Prothom Alo that the main accused is yet to be arrested. The other accused who were arrested are now out of jail on bail.

Another businessman of Mirpur, Aftabuddin, was killed by Shahadat in 2005. A case was then lodged with the Mirpur police station in this regard. After an investigation, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)-4 submitted a case statement in 2007, accusing a total of 19 people including Shahadat.

Afrozuddin, brother of Aftabuddin and also plaintiff of the case, said that Shahadat has been threatening to withdraw the case by his sidekicks.

In the face of frequent threats, he sought security measures from the deputy commissioner of police (Mirpur zone) last week.

Moreover, the witnesses are also leaving the area, Afrozuddin alleged.

DMP deputy commissioner (Mirpur zone) Masud Ahmed told Prothom Alo that Mirpur police were instructed to provide Afrozuddin's family security.

In the face of Shahadat's threats, Russell Hossain, son of slain businessman Farhad Hossain, filed a total of 4 general diaries (GDs).

A group of extortionists shot Farhad to death on 14 April 2005. Police submitted a charge sheet accusing Shahadat and his accomplices in the murder case.

Russell told Prothom Alo that he received a death threat from Shahadat warning him to give no testimony in court.

A group of terrorists shot another Mirpur businessman Ripon Chowdhury to death on 18 June, 2006. Widow of Ripon told Prothom Alo that she has been receiving death threats from Shahadat for carrying the case procedures. Being intimidated, she no longer wants to take care of the case.

When contacted, Mirpur police station officer-in-charge Md Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo top terror Shahadat is now out of the country. "But, he masterminded several killings. We don't see that much activities of his cohorts now. The plaintiff of a case applied to us seeking his security and we've taken necessary measures accordingly."

Allegations are rife that Shahadat threatened the plaintiffs and witnesses of 9 murder cases. Prominent among them are BNP leader and ward commissioner Shawkat Ali murder case, satellite TV connection provider Shamsul Haque murder, transport worker Parvez killing and Mirpur businessman Abdur Rahman killing.

When approached, Dhaka University law department professor and former chairman of Bangladesh Human Rights Commission Mizanur Rahman said rights activists have long been demanding for the safety and security of the plaintiffs and witnesses.

"The state must ensure security for those who will testify in any case," he added.


DECEMBER 10, 2017:


Justice Delayed: Murder cases still piling up in Stanislaus courts

Judges, attorneys and Stanislaus court administrators have not removed a glut of local murder cases, 2 years after The Modesto Bee highlighted the troubling backlog with its high costs, financial and emotional.

Adjusted for population, murder cases here remain twice as high as the statewide average, according to data gathered from 50 of California's 58 counties in a new Bee analysis. And old Stanislaus murder cases, defined as waiting 5 years or more for trial, continue stacking up at a rate triple the statewide average.

2.6 Murder cases in Stanislaus courts, per 100,000 population, waiting at least 5 years for trial

0.7 California average

Players in the local system insist they're working hard and making progress. Others are frustrated that more hasn't been done to move the needle. Some families of murder victims are worried that witnesses' memories will fade as files grow moldy.

"We're all doing the best we can with what we have," said Ricardo Cordova, Stanislaus presiding judge. "There is no easy answer to this situation."

$4.2 million Annual cost for housing Stanislaus' 112 defendants awaiting trial for murder

Meanwhile, taxpayers are forced to cough up $4.2 million a year to house, in local jails, the 112 murder defendants still waiting for trial. That's about $102 a day for each, up from $99 2 years ago.

It wasn't always this way.

The startling rise in unresolved murder cases roughly coincides with 2 events: a 2005 change in how judges handle cases, and the 2006 election of District Attorney Birgit Fladager. She continues to blame the subsequent spike on the 2005 change, while some judges have suggested that Fladager's must-win approach to justice is bogging down the system. It's clear also that demands for continuances from defense teams, whose clients generally benefit from delays, have contributed to the logjam.

All agree that limited resources - a shortage of prosecutors, judges and courtrooms - is keeping them from clearing the pileup. In that respect, not much has changed in the past 2 years.

Evidence blunders cause delays

A new look at the problem turns up another potential factor which could become a campaign issue, as Fladager seeks a 4th term in elections next year. Her office's problems with handling of evidence has marred some court proceedings, including delays in murder cases.

Challenger Patrick Kolasinski said, "It's simple disorganization and mismanagement. It's a matter of what are your priorities, what matters most to you." He is a defense attorney, but doesn't represent murder suspects.

Another challenger from within the District Attorney's office, John Mayne, does prosecute murder cases and acknowledges problems caused by evidence mishandling, several documented in Bee reports. But he's not convinced that's a significant reason for the glut of 14 old murder cases; currently he's not assigned to any of them.

Fladager and members of her technology team say they're nearing a years-old goal of providing evidence to all attorneys digitally, erasing the need for paper changing hands, as well as chances for muffing it.

We are mindful of families impacted by homicides. Everyone is doing their best to try to move these cases so defendants' rights are honored, and victims' also. A major focus is to keep them moving through the system.----Birgit Fladager, Stanislaus District Attorney

Fladager says her office has made significant progress since The Bee shined a light on the accumulation of murder cases 2 years ago. Her prosecutors since have resolved 64 murder cases, she said, with a total of 79 defendants; some cases have more than one defendant.

"A lot of good work has been done in the last 2 years to address the backlog," she said.

The trend ' finishing 64 murder cases in 2 years, while absorbing 45 more in that time - suggests gradual improvement.

Making progess

Others say they sense that things are going in the right direction.

"I've noticed in the last few months a concerted effort to try to resolve some of these homicides," said Sonny Sandhu, Stanislaus County public defender (he is appointed, while Fladager is elected). "It's led to convictions, and good results for defendants as well."

For example, Andrew and Alicia Paffendorf in October were convicted in the death of their 16-month-old son after a wait of nearly nine years. Also in October, Andrew Briseno and Adolfo Leyva were sentenced for their roles in the murder of Erik Preciado, in a botched carjacking attempt, in 2007 (the shooter, Gary Spray, 2 years ago was sentenced to 30 years in prison).

"I've been waiting 10 1/2 years for this day," sobbed the victim's mother, Julie Preciado, at the sentencing for Briseno and Leyva. In an emotion-packed proceeding, she forgave the men and hugged their mothers in the audience, and both men cried while apologizing to the victim's family, including a now-teenage daughter who was 4 when her father was killed.

To take a possible death sentence off the table, Mark Mesiti in October admitted to sexually abusing and murdering his 14-year-old daughter, Alycia, 11 years ago, although he's now trying to withdraw the plea.

And in August, 2 men were sentenced for punching and kicking to death David Cingcon Jr., in a parking lot near Sylvan and Oakdale roads more than 9 years before.

Assistant Presiding Judge Dawna Reeves said recent resolutions give reason for hope.

"There is no blame to place. It is what it is," Reeves said. "The perception that things are taking too long - there may not even be a problem. Maybe it's just the way things have evolved."

Multiyear delays, however, seem like forever when someone is seeking justice for a slain loved one.

"5 years later and I'm still waiting," said Maisy Avila, whose 31-year-old son was murdered along with his fiancee and a teenage boy raised as Avila's grandson, in an alleged gang hit on McClure Road in early 2012. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against 3 men, and life sentences for 4 others.

Lack of closure for victims' loved ones

"I want justice to be served," Avila continued. "But the system is not for those of us who are left behind. It's for those who stand behind the bars and try to fight their way out of something they know they did wrong and they're trying to get off. It's not right. We deserve our day in court too."

Modesto Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer said she attends church with a woman and her 2 children whose father has been in jail 10 years waiting for trial - longer than they were a family before his arrest.

"It just seems to me that something is really wrong with our judicial system if we can't bring people to trial within a reasonable amount of time, and 10 years is not reasonable," Kenoyer said.

Time standards, adopted for California courts in 1987 and amended in 2004, call for all felonies to resolve within one year. Is that realistic?

Some counties get close. For example, Stanislaus' neighbor to the north, San Joaquin, closed out 98 % of felonies in 2015, the latest period for which data are available; that's tied for best in California, with Sacramento County, according to the California Judicial Council.

Stanislaus courts, by comparison, disposed of only 77 % of felonies that year, putting us 15th from the bottom in the state. And Stanislaus' achievement rate steadily slipped in each of the preceding few years, from a high of 87 % in 2011.

Stanislaus courts have been confronted with fewer and fewer cases of all types over that same 5-year span, from a high of 4,262 filings in 2011 down to 2,785 in 2015. With that trend, one might expect judges to catch up, but the opposite is true: dispositions also have steadily declined each year, from 4,085 per judge in 2011 to only 2,530 in 2015, according to the California Judicial Council.

118 Trials in Stanislaus courts, in 2011

68 Trials in Stanislaus courts, in 2015

The number of Stanislaus trials also sharply declined, from 118 in 2011 to only 68 in 2015.

"A high number of trials doesn't equate to more efficient justice," said Hugh Swift, executive officer of Stanislaus courts. All sides typically strive to resolve cases before trial; perhaps more end that way here because attorneys and judges are better at negotiating, said Cordova and Reeves.

And that could be thanks to the 2005 change in the way judges are assigned cases, they said. The switch from what was called master calendaring to direct calendaring resulted in judges keeping a given case from start to finish instead of different judges handling various segments as a case proceeds toward trial.

Fladager flatly blames the backlog on direct calendaring; when a trial finally begins, that judge's remaining caseload stacks up instead of being sent to another judge, she says. But court administrators and some judges dispute that, including Reeves, who came up through the district attorney's office.

"A defense attorney) can always say, 'You didn't give me all the discovery (evidence), and they can't be sure. I've had cases where the deputy district attorney hands me discovery that's already been received and says, 'I don't know if I gave you this before.'----Patrick Kolasinski, defense attorney Kolasinski says Stanislaus judges have become so accustomed to delay requests, often resulting from problems with evidence in the discovery process, that they routinely grant continuances without question. That rarely happens in neighboring counties, he said.

Unique culture of delay?

"I can get a continuance almost any time I want without batting an eye, because there is no pushback from the DA or from the judge," Kolasinski said. "When I go to other (counties), it's, 'Oh, hell no.' But here, I say I didn't get discovery, or I say I think there's more, and nobody questions it because the DA has no way of knowing what they already gave me. There is no centralized way of tracking this evidence."

Judges only have so much power to move cases along, Cordova and Reeves said.

"We can force it to go to trial, but the chances of being reversed (on appeal) are much greater," Cordova said. "It's extremely frustrating to all of us."

Reeves said, "Everyone is mindful of the age of these cases. You don't want to be viewed as an inefficient judge. But you also have to be mindful of everyone's rights."

These staff are struggling to function effectively under such burdensome caseloads. Mistakes may happen and cause delays as well as potentially jeopardize cases all the way through the appellate process.

District attorney narrative, Stanislaus County 2017-18 proposed budget

Budget documents for each of the past 3 years have mentioned Fladager's plan for improvement through paperless reports. Her evidence handlers "are struggling to function effectively under such burdensome caseloads. Mistakes may happen and cause delays," reads the latest narrative for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

For example, a preliminary hearing for murder defendant Frank Carson, who also is a prominent Modesto defense attorney, dragged on for 18 months partly because of evidence lapses by Fladager's office, including failure to turn over polygraph results for more than 2 years. A year ago, the exasperated judge abruptly released Carson and 2 others charged with murder on their own recognizance upon learning about more evidence that had not been shared with defense teams.

A preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez, accused of killing his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, and 4 others, began in August but was postponed until January because prosecutors failed to provide a large amount of evidence to the defense team, including Sandhu.

In upcoming budget talks, Fladager will push county leaders to give her office more money for more prosecutors, she said. Her people cooperated with county executives on a recent study of caseloads in comparable counties (San Joaquin, Merced, Sacramento, Fresno, Kern, Tulare and Monterey), with intriguing results:

-- Each Stanislaus prosecutor reviews far more new cases than the other counties, averaging 417 per year (Merced was 2nd at 360, and the 8-county average was 305).

-- We're 2nd in the number of murder cases per prosecutor (1.8), behind only Merced (2), while the average is 0.8.

A Bee analysis found an inverse correlation between caseload and trials per prosecutor; the more trials accomplished, the fewer murder cases a prosecutor has (the exception is Merced, where prosecutors have both a high caseload and go to trial more). Stanislaus prosecutors fared worst in this comparison, bringing the fewest number to trial (1.6 per deputy district attorney) while handling more murder cases than all others, except Merced.

Stanislaus County executives will agree with Fladager's plan to pay for more prosecutors with money freed up from clerk positions, which won't be needed as much as her office moves toward all-digital reports, she said.

Hemorrhaging prosecutors

Mayne said the office's biggest problem is retaining prosecutors, too many of whom have left for greener pastures, or lighter caseloads with less pressure. The office was forced to replace 17 prosecutors in the past year, he said, among 47 total.

"The current DA wants to place all the blame for slow resolution of cases on the courts," Mayne said. "I will look at what we can do better. If our people are not overwhelmed, we can avoid some of these delays."

When the backlog became public 2 years ago, major players - courts administrators, judges, prosecutors, the public defender, county supervisors and the county executive office - vowed to work together to change the delay culture and break the murder case logjam. Fladager said she was dismayed when the effort was sidetracked in favor of a more pressing concern: courthouse security.

A change in funding has provoked an ongoing dispute between county and state leaders, all sides said. They soon will return to the murder case backlog, they said.

"I guess I'm a little frustrated," said County Supervisor Terry Withrow, part of the county's delegation. "This has been going on for 2 years and we have not made any progress at all. I think we can do multiple things at once."

County Supervisor Vito Chiesa noted, "Other counties seem to have a method that works. We all need to try harder."

Avila, and many others waiting years for justice, would appreciate that.

She misses the "silly dance" that her son, Edward Reinig, would do every holiday.

"He's never coming home. He's never dancing again. Every holiday is hard," Avila said. "Yet we wait. We wait and we wait. I'm tired. Get your butts in gear and do your job, whomever it is. We deserve peace, too."

(source: Modesto Bee)


States choose new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation's opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now 2 states want to use the drug's powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.

As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country's 1st fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.

States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.

The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this spring as a backup method - something no state or country has tried. Officials have yet to say whether it would be delivered in a gas chamber or through a gas mask.

Other states have passed laws authorizing a return to older methods, such as the firing squad and the electric chair.

"We're in a new era," said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University. "States have now gone through all the drugs closest to the original ones for lethal injection. And the more they experiment, the more they're forced to use new drugs that we know less about in terms of how they might work in an execution."

Supporters of capital punishment blame critics for the crisis, which comes amid a sharp decline in the number of executions and decreasing public support for the death penalty. States have put 23 inmates to death in 2017 - the 2nd-fewest executions in more than a quarter-century. 19 states no longer have capital punishment, with 1/3 of those banning it in the past decade.

"If death penalty opponents were really concerned about inmates' pain, they would help reopen the supply," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which advocates the rights of crime victims. Opponents "caused the problem we're in now by forcing pharmaceuticals to cut off the supply to these drugs. That's why states are turning to less-than-optimal choices."

Prison officials in Nevada and Nebraska have declined to answer questions about why they chose to use fentanyl in their next executions, which could take place in early 2018. Many states shroud their procedures in secrecy to try to minimize legal challenges.

But fentanyl offers several advantages. The obvious one is potency. The synthetic drug is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

"There's cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone," said Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College who has studied the death penalty for more than four decades.

? Another plus with fentanyl: It is easy to obtain. Although the drug has rocketed into the news because of the opioid crisis, doctors frequently use it to anesthetize patients for major surgery or to treat severe pain in patients with advanced cancer.

Nevada officials say they had no problem buying fentanyl.

"We simply ordered it through our pharmaceutical distributor, just like every other medication we purchase, and it was delivered," Brooke Keast, a spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said in an email. "Nothing out of the ordinary at all."

The state, which last put someone to death in 2006, had planned its first fentanyl-assisted execution for November. The inmate involved, 47-year-old Scott Dozier, was convicted of killing a man in a Las Vegas hotel, cutting him into pieces and stealing his money.

According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, Nevada's protocol calls for Dozier first to receive diazepam - a sedative better known as Valium - and then fentanyl to cause him to lose consciousness. Large doses of both would cause a person to stop breathing, according to 3 anesthesiologists interviewed for this report.

Yet Nevada also plans to inject Dozier with a 3rd drug, cisatracurium, to paralyze his muscles - a step medical experts say makes the procedure riskier.

"If the first 2 drugs don't work as planned or if they are administered incorrectly, which has already happened in so many cases?.?.?. you would be awake and conscious, desperate to breathe and terrified but unable to move at all," said Mark Heath, a professor of anesthesiology at Columbia University. "It would be an agonizing way to die, but the people witnessing wouldn't know anything had gone wrong because you wouldn't be able to move."

John M. DiMuro, who helped create the fentanyl execution protocol when he was the state's chief medical officer, said he based it on procedures common in open-heart surgery. He included cisatracurium because of worries that the Valium and fentanyl might not fully stop an inmate's breathing, he said. "The paralytic hastens and ensures death. It would be less humane without it."

A judge postponed Dozier's execution last month over concerns about the paralytic, and the case is awaiting review by Nevada's Supreme Court. In the meantime, Nebraska is looking toward a fentanyl-assisted execution as soon as January. Jose Sandoval, the leader of a bank robbery in which 5 people were killed, would be the 1st person put to death in that state since 1997.

Sandoval would be injected with the same 3 drugs proposed in Nevada, plus potassium chloride to stop his heart.

Even at much lower concentrations, intravenous potassium chloride often causes a burning sensation, according to Heath. "So if you weren't properly sedated, a highly concentrated dose would feel like someone was taking a blowtorch to your arm and burning you alive," he said.

Fentanyl is just the latest in a long line of approaches that have been considered for capital punishment in the United States. With each, things have often gone wrong.

When hangings fell out of favor in the 19th century - because of botched cases and the drunken, carnival-like crowds they attracted - states turned to electrocution. The first one in 1890 was a grisly disaster: Spectators noticed the inmate was still breathing after the electricity was turned off, and prison officials had to zap the man all over again.

Gas chambers were similarly sold as a modern scientific solution. But one of the country's last cyanide gas executions, in 1992, went so badly that it left witnesses crying and the warden threatening to resign rather than attempt another one.

Lethal injection, developed in Oklahoma in 1977, was supposed to solve these problems. It triggered concerns from the start, especially because of the paralytic drug used. Even so, the 3-drug injection soon became the country's dominant method of execution.

In recent years, as access to those drugs has dried up, states have tried others. Before the interest in fentanyl, many states tested a sedative called midazolam - leading to what Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called "horrifying deaths."

Dennis McGuire, who raped and killed a pregnant newlywed in Ohio, became the 1st inmate on whom that state's new protocol was tried. Soon after the 2014 execution began, his body writhed on the table as he gasped for air and made gurgling, snorting noises that sounded as though he was drowning, according to witnesses.

The same year, Oklahoma used midazolam on an inmate convicted of kidnapping and killing a teenager; authorities aborted the execution after Clayton Lockett kicked, writhed and grimaced for 20 minutes, but he died not long after. 3 months later, Arizona used midazolam on Joseph R. Wood III, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father. Officials injected him more than a dozen times as he struggled for almost 2 hours.

Like officials in other states, Arizona officials argued that the inmate did not suffer and that the procedure was not botched. Later, they said they would never again use midazolam in an execution.

Joel Zivot, a professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University, called the states' approach ludicrous. "There's no medical or scientific basis for any of it," he said. "It's just a series of attempts: obtain certain drugs, try them out on prisoners, and see if and how they die."

The bad publicity and continuing problems with drug supply have sent some of the 31 states where capital punishment remains legal in search of options beyond lethal injection. Turning to nitrogen gas would solve at least 1 issue.

"Nitrogen is literally in the air we breathe - you can't cut off anyone's supply to that," said Scheidegger, who strongly supports the idea.

In addition to Mississippi, Oklahoma has authorized nitrogen gas as a backup to lethal injection. Corrections officials and legislators in Louisiana and Alabama have said they hope to do the same.

And yet, critics note, there is almost no scientific research to suggest that nitrogen would be more humane.

Oklahoma's legislature acted in 2015 based on a report solicited from 3 professors at a local university, none of whom had any medical or scientific background. They cited examples of airplane pilots passing out from nitrogen hypoxia and accounts of people killing themselves using nitrogen and helium gas. A financial analysis prepared for lawmakers said the approach would be "relatively cost effective," requiring only a gas mask and a container of nitrogen.

Zivot is among those skeptical that nitrogen would work as hoped.

"There's a difference between accidental hypoxia, like with pilots passing out, and someone knowing you're trying to kill him and fighting against it," he said. "Have you ever seen someone struggle to breathe? They gasp until the end. It's terrifying."

Dozier, the inmate Nevada hopes to execute soon with fentanyl has said he would prefer death by firing squad over any other method. In more than a dozen interviews, experts on both sides of the issue expressed similar views.

Of all the lethal technology humans have invented, the gun has endured as one of the most efficient ways to kill, said Denno, who has studied the death penalty for a quarter-century.

"The reason we keep looking for something else," she said, "is because it's not really for the prisoner. It's for the people who have to watch it happen. We don't want to feel squeamish or uncomfortable. We don't want executions to look like what they really are: killing someone."

(source: Washington Post)


Nevada and Nebraska seeking to use fentanyl to execute death row inmates

2 states want to take a drug from an addict's needle and add it to an executioner's arsenal.

Fentanyl has proven so adept at killing drug users that authorities in Nevada and Nebraska now want to use it to execute death row inmates.

The effort to weaponize the highly potent opioid has drawn opposition from doctors and death penalty opponents who warn that its use could lead to painful, botched executions, according to the Washington Post.

The turn toward fentanyl comes as several states have been forced to experiment with new drug cocktails due to shortages of traditional execution meds.

"We're in a new era," said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University.

"States have now gone through all the drugs closest to the original ones for lethal injection. And the more they experiment, the more they're forced to use new drugs that we know less about in terms of how they might work in an execution."

A highly addictive synthetic painkiller that's 100 times more potent than morphine, fentanyl is driving the nation's opioid epidemic.

As fentanyl deaths have piled up in recent years, an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying the traditional execution drugs.

Some states - including Florida, Ohio, and Oklahoma - have started experimenting with new drug combinations for executions.

Others have become so desperate that they've passed laws authorizing the return to such outdated methods as firing squads and electric chairs.

With its high potency and ample supply, fentanyl has an obvious appeal to states looking for new ways to kill - even as public health experts struggle to stem an epidemic that claimed the lives of roughly 64,000 Americans last year.

"There's cruel irony that at the same time these state governments are trying to figure out how to stop so many from dying from opioids, that they now want to turn and use them to deliberately kill someone," Austin Sarat, a law professor at Amherst College who has studied the death penalty for more than 4 decades, told the Washington Post.



Saudi Arabia On Track To Execute The Most People This Year In 2 Decades----Figures provided exclusively to BuzzFeed News reveal that, despite Mohammed bin Salman's attempt to present himself as a reformer, the country's approach to the death penalty has not changed.

Mujtaba al-Sweikat was 17 years old when he attended a protest against the government in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2012. That December, on his way to visit Western Michigan University, where he was to study English and finance, he was arrested at the airport of eastern city of Dammam, hauled away and convicted after a secret trial on charges that included overseeing a dissident Facebook page and photographing anti-government protests. His sentence: death by hanging, a verdict upheld by an appellate court over the summer.

The ascension of Saudi Arabia's ambitious new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman raised hopes for change inside and outside the conservative, oil-rich monarchy. He has announced drastic social reforms that include modernizing the nation's religious teachings and granting women more rights. But when it comes to the death penalty, Saudi Arabia remains stuck in its old ways.

The number of executions carried out so far this year is on track to match or possibly exceed the numbers of death penalties in each of the last 2 years. According to numbers provided exclusively to BuzzFeed News by the UK human rights group Reprieve, 137 people have been put to death this year in Saudi Arabia, 11 of them over the last 9 days. Saudi Arabia executed 158 people in 2015 and 154 in 2016, the highest numbers in 2 decades. A record-high 192 people were executed in 1995.

"These figures demonstrate that under Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi government has no intention of ending the use of executions as a tool to crush dissent," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve, a privately funded human rights organization which focuses on death penalty cases, said in an email.

Along with China, Iran and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is among the world's leading executioners, often deploying the death penalty as a tool for political repression, but also frequently against those charged with non-violent offenses.

This year Bin Salman ascended to the post of Crown Prince, making him next in line to the Saudi throne after his father, King Salman. MbS, as he's commonly known, has impressed some diplomats, investors, and journalists with promises of reforming the country's conservative religious rules and ridding the economy of corruption.

But more than 2/3 of Saudi Arabia's 2017 executions took place in the 5 months since the 32-year-old Saudi royal, who studied law at university, was named Crown Prince. Under the strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, in practice in Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is applicable as punishment for crimes ranging from murder to leaving the faith.

"Capital punishment, since it's in sharia law, is pretty difficult to change, and I have not heard anything from MbS to the contrary," Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Arabia Foundation, a Washington think tank close to the Saudi leadership, said by email.

Nearly 3/4 of the 2017 executions were carried out after US President Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh in May, according to numbers provided by Reprieve, with the rate of executions appearing to speed up after his visit. Shortly after Trump's visit, 4 people were executed for attending political protests, while 14 protesters had their death sentences upheld. (Following the visit, Trump treasury secretary Wilbur Ross cited a lack of protests in Saudi during Trump's visit as evidence of widespread contentment.)

"The Saudi authorities seem to have been emboldened after Trump's visit, when he notably failed to raise human rights," said Foa.

At least 54 of those executed were foreigners charged with non-lethal drug-related offenses, including at least 10 people who allegedly smuggled narcotics in their stomachs.

Increasingly, multiple convicts have been put to death the same day, a new trend which has disturbed rights monitors. On November 28, 7 people were put to death.

"This is unusual; in the past, executions have tended to happen individually, under the auspices of different provinces," said Foa.

Among those on death row are young men such as Sweikat charged with trying to organize political events through Facebook. Rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused Saudi Arabia of using the death penalty as a political weapon against the country's restive Shia minority. Saudi Arabia considers itself a patron of the Sunni branch of Islam and continues to promote a controversial and puritanical school of the faith that Bin Salman has vowed to moderate.

"While [Bin Salman] talks a good game about bringing in social reforms and supporting the Kingdom's young people, the reality is that under his leadership, scores of young people have been sentenced to death for exercising their democratic rights," said Foa. "It's perverse to describe the Crown Prince as a reformer, when he is threatening to execute young people whose only crime was attending protests calling for reform."

(source: Borzou Daragahi is a Middle East correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in


Should death penalty be abolished? Study presents a firm argument----The study points towards lack of uniform understanding of 'rarest of the rare'

At a time the debate on whether capital punishment should be abolished rages in the country, the study based on interview of 60 former Supreme Court judges brought out a non-uniform and rather contradictory approach by judges while awarding death sentences.

Significantly, these judges, which included eight former CJIs, had adjudicated 208 death penalty cases between them at different points during the period 1975-2016, and confirmed 92 of them. The study also goes on to expose the serious flaws in administration of death penalty in India and presents a firm argument for abolishing capital punishment.

The report showed that despite "rarest of rare" doctrine in death penalty as laid down by the SC in the Bachan Singh case, there existed no uniform understanding of the requirements of rarest of rare doctrine. "For a significant number of judges, the 'rarest of the rare' was based on categories or description of offences alone and had little to do with judicial test requiring that the alternative of life imprisonment be 'unquestionably foreclosed', said the report.

As per the 1980 Bachan Singh case, which had laid down the principles which still hold the field, death sentence can only be given in "rarest of rare" cases, offences of extreme depravity, and which shocks the collective conscience of the community. Death is also not given if there is a chance of the convict reforming.

1 judge who decided 9 death penalty cases in 6 years at the SC dismissed the entire concept of 'reformation', calling it "astrology". Another judge who presided over 13 death penalty cases in 5 years at SC did not see the point of reformation in serious crimes stating, "people out of habit go and do some small offences - he can be reformed a man who is determined to kill innocent persons,how do you expect to reform him?"



Court sentences man to death for rape of housemaid

A special court has sentenced an Indian businessman and his domestic help to death for the brutal rape and murder of a 25-year-old housemaid in their home in Noida city on the outskirts of the national capital in 2006.

The court of India's Central Bureau of Investigation pronounced the quantum of punishment, a day after holding businessman Maninder Pandher and his aide Surinder Koli guilty in the crime they had committed in their house in Nithari village in Noida.

This was the 9th of a total of 16 cases in the macabre serial killings that took place in Nithari in 2005 and 2006.

While Koli has been found guilty in the earlier 8 cases and awarded death penalty, Pandher was convicted in 3 cases and sentenced to death in 2.

Handing down the punishment in the latest case, special CBI judge P.K. Tiwari said both Koli and Pandher were involved in the rape and murder of housemaid Anjali in 2006, and they deserved to be punished in the strictest manner.

"Koli had dragged the victim inside the house and made her unconscious, raped her, and then ate her flesh, therefore death sentence is the only option in law.

"Pandher was also involved in the crime. Both will be hanged till death," the court held.

Anjali, who used to work as a housemaid in Noida, was reported missing in October 2006.

Her killing came to light after Koli's arrest in December that year when police discovered skulls and bones of 16 persons, mostly children, near Pandher's house.

The CBI took over the case from the local police subsequently and charge sheets have been filed in 10 out of 16 cases.

The other cases are under trial.



Rajasthan hacking: Afrajul's family demands death penalty for accused

Family members of Mohammad Afrajul Khan, who was brutally killed in Rajasmand district of Rajasthan, have demanded the main accused Shambhu Lal Regar be hanged to death. On the other hand, his neighbours have asked for security for over 400 migrant construction labourers working in the Rajasmand district.

The demands were raised in front of Trinamool Congress ministers and MPs, including party's Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandopadhyay and municipal affairs and urban development minister Firhad Hakim, who went to meet the grieving family at Saiyadpur village in Malda district of West Bengal on Saturday.

While Afrajul was laid to rest at his native village on Friday, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had called up his wife Gurfar Bibi and assured all government help to the bereaved family. He was the sole bread earner of the family.

Meanwhile, accused Shambhu Lal Regar has told media in Rajsamand that Afrajul was threatening to kill his family after Regar opposed the marriage of a girl of his locality with a Bengali Muslim construction labourer from Malda. However, relatives of Afrajul has refuted the claims.

On the other hand, Udaipur inspector general of police Anand Srivastava told media that the motive for the murder is yet to be ascertained. The accused had warned in his videos that he killed Afrajul as a retribution for 'love Jihad' and had warned of similar attacks on 'Jihadis' if they did not quit India.


DECEMBER 9, 2017:


Top lawmakers demand NC resume carrying out executions

2 days after prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against 4 inmates charged in a failed escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution that left 4 prison workers dead, legislative leaders called Friday for executions to resume in North Carolina.

No one has been put to death in North Carolina since 2006 because of a raft of legal challenges, from the since-repealed Racial Justice Act to physicians not wanting to participate in executions to questions over how the death penalty is carried out. Access to drugs used in lethal-injection executions also could become a problem, as it has in other states.

"In light of the prosecutor's decision to pursue the death penalty, Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein need to make certain, should a jury sentence these men to death, that those sentences are carried out," House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement.

"For over a decade, death penalty opponents like Roy Cooper and Josh Stein have imposed a de facto moratorium on capital punishment in North Carolina, using every legal trick possible - including inaction - to delay death sentences handed down by juries and deny justice to victims," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "No matter what they say, Cooper's and Stein's indifference and failure to fight the moratorium endangers the lives of prison employees in close proximity to hardened murderers with nothing left to lose, who see no possibility they will face execution for killing again."

Cooper consistently backed the death penalty during his 16 years as attorney general, and spokeswoman Noelle Talley said he still does.

"Legal challenges halted capital punishment in North Carolina, and only the courts can restart it," Talley said in an email. "Capital punishment remains the law of the state, and Governor Cooper has a long history of upholding it."

Likewise, Stein plans to "uphold the law in North Carolina," spokeswoman Laura Brewer said in an email.

There are 143 inmates on death row, including a Davidson County man who has been there for 31 years.

(source: WRAL news)


Prosecutor wants execution drug law 14 years after ambush

For the death penalty to mean anything in South Carolina, the killer who ambushed and killed 2 law officers in South Carolina in 2003 needs to be executed when his appeals run out, said the prosecutor whose office handled the case.

Solicitor David Stumbo said South Carolina's lack of drugs to carry out executions is changing the way fellow prosecutors do their jobs, adding another hurdle as he and families consider whether to seek the death penalty in murder cases.

Stumbo spoke Friday at a ceremony marking 14 years since Abbeville County Sheriff's Deputy Danny Wilson and state constable Donnie Ouzts were killed by a family angry over a highway widening project outside their Abbeville home.

Steven Bixby and his parents were charged with murder. They have died, but Bixby, 50, remains on death row after being convicted.

"If we are to have the death penalty in South Carolina, which the vast majority of our citizens are in favor of, it has to mean something," Stumbo said in a statement.

Executions in South Carolina are on hold because the state does not have the drugs needed for lethal injection. State prison officials want a law passed allowing the companies who provide the drugs to remain secret so they can sell the needed drugs without facing scrutiny.

Dozens of people packed a room at the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office on Friday to remember Wilson and Ouzts.

Wilson went to the Bixby home on Dec. 8, 2003, to speak to the family after they picked up survey stakes and threatened workers on the widening project for state Highway 72 that would have taken about 20 feet (6 meters) of their land.

Bixby shot Wilson through the door as he approached, dragged him inside, handcuffed him with his own handcuffs and left him to die, prosecutors said.

Ouzts was shot about 20 minutes later as he came to check on Wilson after dispatchers hadn't heard from him.

Over the next 14 hours, Steven Bixby and his father hid in their home and fire hundreds of rounds at officers, including several who managed to drag a mortally wounded Ouzts to an ambulance. No other officers were injured, a result that then State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart called a miracle.

The Bixby house is still standing, decrepit and full of bullet holes. But a local businessman has bought the property and is talking to the county about clearing the land for a memorial, Abbeville County Sheriff Ray Watson said.

"We wanted to burn it. Like I wish we would have done that night when the propane tank caught on fire," Watson said. "We're going to tear it down ... and we want to put some kind of memorial up."

(source: Associated Press)


Man convicted of killing 2 people in 2008 resentenced to death

A 63-year-old man convicted of killing 2 people with a hammer in 2008 is going back on Florida's death row.

Citing inadequate legal representation, the Florida Supreme Court last year ordered Raymond Bright re-sentenced and the chance to avoid the death penalty for the murders of Derrick King and Randall Brown.

Prosecutors said the victims were killed what during a drug-related dispute.

In part, the Supreme Court described Bright's "nightmarish childhood," which included significant abuse, and said such issues were not adequately raised during the original sentencing to try to spare Bright from the death penalty.

"The jury never learned who Raymond Bright is," the Supreme Court opinion said. "Therefore, competent, substantial evidence supports the findings of the post-conviction court that Bright was prejudiced by the deficient performance of his penalty phase counsel."

But after a sentencing hearing in the Duval County Courthouse Friday morning, Judge Russell Healey re-sentenced Brown to two death sentences. He will be returned to the Florida Department of Corrections.



Death-penalty trial likely to be rescheduled

The trial for a Fort Wayne man facing the death penalty in the slayings of 4 people -- 1 of them his unborn child -- will likely be pushed back.

Prosecutors and a lawyer for Marcus Dansby told Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull on Friday that depositions and other documents still must be gathered. The trial had been set to start Feb. 21, and a new trial date has not been set.

Gull set a pretrial conference for Jan. 12.

Dansby, who was in court Friday morning, is charged with killing Traeven Harris, 18, Consuela Arrington, 37, Dajahiona Arrington, 18, and her unborn child, which was later determined to be his. Trinity Hairston suffered gunshot and stab wounds but survived.

The killings happened in a home on Holton Avenue on the morning of Sept. 11, 2016.

According to court documents, a man inside the house woke up to the sound of gunshots around 4 a.m. He called police and went upstairs to find Dansby, covered in blood, placing something that looked like a sheet over Consuela Arrington, investigators said. Dajahiona Arrington was 8 1/2 months pregnant at the time and was shot in the head.

Police at the scene found a knife and a gun, each covered in blood.

Dansby is charged with 4 counts of murder and 1 count of attempted murder. Prosecutors in January filed paperwork to seek the death penalty.

(source: The Journal Gazette)


Omaha attorney signs on to help fight Jose Sandoval's execution

An Omaha attorney will represent condemned killer Jose Sandoval in his bid to fight the state's attempt to execute him via lethal injection.

Attorney Stu Dornan filed a motion in Madison County District Court this week arguing that Sandoval, 38, should be resentenced to life in prison or have another capital sentencing hearing.

? The Legislature repealed the death penalty in May 2015, then nullified the governor's veto of the bill (LB268) with another vote. The repeal, Dornan said, went into effect Aug. 30 before it was suspended again because of an initiative referendum vote.

"Mr. Sandoval is subject to a uniquely cruel and unprecedented form of psychological suffering through alternating periods of relief and terror as he has been told that his life would be spared, and then told again that he would be executed," the motion said.

That raises constitutional issues that must be addressed, Dornan said Friday. It's possibly the 1st time that something like this has happened.

Among other issues, the motion argues the repeal of the Legislature's bill was unconstitutional because it imposed a new death sentence on condemned inmates without an additional court hearing or trial.

Madison County Attorney Joe Smith, who prosecuted Sandoval, Erick Vela, Jorge Galindo and Gabriel Rodriguez for killing five people at a Norfolk bank in 2002, said it was his view the death penalty repeal never went into effect, and so there was never a lapse in the death sentences. That's what he would argue, he said.

Attorney General Doug Peterson declined to comment Friday on the Sandoval motion. Both he and Solicitor General James Smith have filed with the court as attorneys to represent the state in the case.

No request to the Nebraska Supreme Court for an execution warrant for Sandoval has been made, but Corrections Director Scott Frakes served notice to Sandoval of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place. The combination of drugs chosen has never been used in an execution.

Medical research highlights the psychological and emotional pain felt by those who face impending death, and how that anxiety is aggravated when uncertainty does not allow a person to prepare adequately. The motion compared it to a form of torture.

"The state has ping-ponged Mr. Sandoval from death to life and to death again," the motion said. "His individual fate became hostage to an ongoing political contest between the Legislature, the governor and the voters."

Sandoval has been in prison since 2003, sentenced for 14 crimes, including 5 death sentences for murders of 5 men and women in a U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk, and 2 life sentences for murders of 2 other men in Madison County.

Dornan took on Sandoval's case after he was asked by ACLU of Nebraska to file the motion in Madison County. He also agreed to a different request to accept an appointment in federal court as the local attorney for any lawsuits or appeals that would be filed there.

As the previous Douglas County Attorney, Dornan has prosecuted cases that sought the death penalty. He has represented people in capital cases, but has not represented a condemned prisoner fighting execution, he said.

The death penalty is important to all Nebraskans, Dornan said.

"I believe there is no higher calling for a lawyer than to represent an indigent person on an important question of constitutional law, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in death penalty cases," he said.

In the motion, Dornan said those who led the execution reinstatement petition drive went beyond campaigning for the state to keep the death penalty, by focusing on the execution of Sandoval, and others on death row.

Television advertisements showed pictures of the men and described their crimes while ominous music played in the background, the motion said. An ad linked to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty website opened with a photo of Sandoval and talked about how the men on death row terrified communities and devastated families, and how the death penalty protects the public, acts as a strong deterrent and gives justice to families.

Dornan said other lawsuits on behalf of death row inmates are pending, including ACLU litigation regarding the legality of the ballot initiative, a separation of powers issue involving Gov. Pete Ricketts, and the secrecy of lethal injection drug suppliers.

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Suspected Golden Killer Could Face Death Penalty In Utah----Austin Boutain told judge 'My wife is innocent,' during a procedural hearing Friday. The couple are suspects in a Golden homicide.

A man accused of killing University of Utah student with a weapon stolen from a slain Golden, Colorado man wants a judge to let his wife go.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Austin Boutain asked for permission to speak during a procedural hearing Friday and said, "My wife is innocent. Please let her go." He then said he would give his life for hers.

His wife Kathleen Boutain isn't charged with murder but faces other related charges because prosecutors say she helped hatch the deadly carjacking plot that led to the death of Chenwei Guo on Oct. 30 in Salt Lake City. She didn't make any comments in her brief court appearance Friday.

Austin Boutain, an ex-convict, could face the death penalty because he's charged with aggravated murder.

(source: Associated Press)


Juan Martinez Will Seek Death Penalty in Serial Street Shooter Case

Maricopa County prosecutor Juan Martinez has another high-profile capital murder case, and suspected Serial Street Shooter Aaron Saucedo got an early Christmas present of his own.

He's now facing the death penalty.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office filed notice before yesterday's deadline that it will seek the death penalty for Saucedo. If convicted he would become tied as the most prolific serial killer in Arizona history.

The Maryvale Shooter, as the killer was popularly known as his rampage of drive-by shootings in that neighborhood escalated in summer 2016, is believed to have killed nine people in a dozen shootings.

Convicted Baseline Killer Marc Goudeau also killed 9 people a decade ago.

Martinez, made famous by the Jodi Arias spectacle, did not articulate in court documents the rationale for seeking the death penalty for Saucedo.

Saucedo is accused of these shooting deaths in Phoenix:

August 16, 2015: Raul Romero, his mother's boyfriend, in the gravel parking lot of his house at 920 East Montebello Avenue.

January 1, 2016: Jesse Olivias, 22, shot dead just after midnight. This was the 1st of the apparently "random" killings.

April 1: Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, 21.

April 19: Krystal Annette White, a 55-year-old prostitute turning tricks to raise money for her daughter's wedding, at 500 North 32nd Street.

June 3: Horacio de Jesus Pena, 32, killed outside his house at 6700 West Flower Street.

June 10: Manuel Castro Garcia, 19, shot to death outside his house, near 6500 West Coronado Road.

June 12: Stefanie Ellis, 33, and her 12-year-old daughter, Maleah, shot to death outside their home near 6300 West Berkley Road. Friend Angela Linner, 31, shot and later died.

Records released to date show that police have built their case on similarities between bullet fragments and shell casings found at the scene of the crimes and the guns Saucedo had at the time. There are also similarities with bullet casings found in cars he was driving at the time.

(source: Phoenix New Times)

CALIFORNIA----new female death sentene

Woman who murdered spouse for insurance sentenced to death

A death sentence was handed down for a Moreno Valley woman who fatally shot her 56-year-old husband to collect more than $1 million in life insurance proceeds.

A Riverside jury in August convicted 62-year-old Lorraine Alison Hunter of murdering Albert Thomas in 2009 and ultimately recommended that she receive capital punishment for the slaying.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher agreed with the jury's recommendation, rejecting a defense plea for Hunter's sentence to be reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Along with 1st-degree murder, jurors in her 2-month trial found true special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing for financial gain.

The prosecution's key witness was Hunter's now-23-year-old daughter, Briuana Lashanae Hunter, who confessed to plotting with her mother to kill Thomas.

Briuana Hunter pleaded guilty last year to 3 counts of attempted murder and 1 count of voluntary manslaughter. She's slated to be sentenced Wednesday to 18 years, 9 months in state prison.

The young woman, who's being held without bail at the Indio Jail, testified that her stepfather was a "calm, quiet person,'' who was "never overly aggressive'' in the 7 years that she and her mother lived with him in Moreno Valley.

The witness stated that he held down 2 jobs -- 1 as a short-haul trucker and another as a clerk at a Moreno Valley Auto Zone.

According to Hunter, her mother frequently argued with Thomas about not having enough money to spend. Deputy District Attorney Will Robinson described the elder Hunter as "money hungry'' and not interested in holding down a job to contribute to the household.

Briuana Hunter said she aided her mother in filling out at least three life insurance applications, naming her stepfather as the insured party and Lorraine Hunter as the principal beneficiary. The woman forged Thomas' name on each application.

Hunter took out a $750,000 policy, as well as a $10,000 policy, Robinson said. A 3rd policy apparently lapsed before Thomas was killed.

Thomas additionally had a $450,000 policy through the trucking company for which he worked, according to court papers.

In the 2 months before he was killed, Lorraine Hunter planned to shoot Thomas 3 other times -- twice on walks through their neighborhood in the area of Day Street and Eucalyptus Avenue, and another time outside the victim's workplace -- but each time the presence of too many witnesses foiled the plots.

Briuana Hunter admitted being there on each occasion, knowing beforehand what her mother had planned.

On the evening of Nov. 3, 2009, Thomas and the defendants left their apartment and strolled to his big rig, where he wanted to grab a sweatshirt that he had bought for his then-15-year-old stepdaughter, according to trial testimony.

The 2 of them climbed into his truck, and Thomas ducked into the rear sleeper compartment to find the shirt, while Hunter and her daughter sat in the front seat.

Robinson said Lorraine Hunter pulled a small-caliber handgun she'd stolen from a member of her church and shot the victim point-blank in the back of the head twice, then shot him twice in the upper back as he knelt in the compartment. Sheriff's deputies found him dead in a kneeling position.

Hunter and her daughter fled the scene with the help of a relative, and the case went cold for 2 years, until the same relative confessed everything she knew to investigators after being arrested herself for an unrelated offense.

Robinson theorized during Hunter's penalty trial that she was a sociopath with blood on her hands when she married Thomas.

The prosecutor argued to jurors that she had masterminded, and probably carried out, the slaying of her previous husband, Allen Brown, who was gunned down in what appeared to be a random act of violence in Inglewood in 1996. The circumstances were eerily similar to Thomas' death, with Brown shot in the back, and like Thomas, the victim was a truck driver.

No charges were ever filed in the case, which remains officially unsolved.

(source: KESQ news)


Man could face death penalty in slayings of 4 family members

A Sacramento prosecutor said he will seek the death penalty in the murder case against Salvador Vasquez-Oliva, a man who stands accused of killing his wife, 2 children and niece in their South Land Park home earlier this year.

Vasquez-Oliva was silent as Thien Ho, a Sacramento assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, made the announcement Friday morning at the Sacramento Superior Court's Lorezo E. Patino Hall of Justice.

"The prosecution will be seeking the death penalty in this case," if Vasquez is convicted, Ho said.

Vasquez-Oliva, was almost unrecongizable from his March mug shot during Friday's hearing. His hair was longer, combed back to reach the back of his neck. He wore glasses and had a greying beard as he stood inside the courtroom's holding cell.

Vasquez-Oliva faces 4 counts of murder for the death of his wife, 2 children and a niece, all who were found March 23 in their South Land Park home on 35th Avenue. Their bodies were found after Sacramento Police Deparment officers were asked by a relative to check on the family.

The wife, identified as Angelique Vasquez, 45, was a worker at the state's Employement Development Department. Vasquez-Oliva, 56 at the time of the incident, also worked at the department, public records show.

The 2 married in June 2002 in San Francisco, according to county records. Vasquez-Oliva was arrested the same day his family's bodies were found, near the city's Pierce Street and Golden Gate Avenue. The location is not far from an apartment on Turk Street where Vasquez-Oliva once lived, online records show.

The couple's children were identified as 14-year-old Mia Vasquez, a student at Sam Brannan Middle School, and Alvin Vasquez,11, who attended John Cabrillo Elementary School and was an avid basketball fan. A niece, 21-year-old Ashley Coleman, was also found dead in the home.

A felony complaint filed by prosecutors in the Sacramento Superior Court alleges Vasquez and her children were killed with a blunt-force instrument sometime on March 22, a day before police arrived to the South Land Park home. A knife was used to kill Coleman, the complaint alleges.

"It's a very sad case," attorney Jessica Graves, who stood in for Linda Parisi, the defense attorney for the case."There's many issues that still need to be resolved and we look forward to using the court process to solve them."

Ho declined to comment on a possible motive in the case.

Vasquez-Oliva is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 26 at 8:30 a.m.



Church in South America Passes Statement Opposing Death Penalty----Document was drafted with input from the world church's Biblical Research Institute.

Delegates from the 8 countries that make up the South American Division (SAD) church region voted to accept an opinion statement on capital punishment and its promotion within local churches at the regional year end meetings in Bahia, Brazil, in early November. The statement was drafted by the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), the world church's advising body on theological matters, after a specific request from the regional church.

The document contextually discusses biblical texts and passages that seem to support the application of the death penalty by governments, to conclude that "Adventists believe that violence and capital punishment have no place within the Church. In other words, it is not the task of the Church to take human life."

The statement of opinion by the BRI shed light not only on the topic of capital punishment but on how biblical doctrinal studies should be tackled, said some of the theologians attending the SAD year end meetings.

"The document is interesting not only for its contents but for the hermeneutical principles it explicitly states," wrote South American Publishing House editor in chief Marcos Blanco in an email exchange with Adventist Review. "We should never react to isolated texts without their wider theological context.... Against that background, I think the document agrees with the general nature of Scriptures and historical positions of the Adventist Church on similar topics."

The Crafting of the Document

BRI associate director Ekkehardt Mueller, who coordinated the BRI Ethics Committee (BRIEC) team that drafted the voted statement, sent Adventist Review an email detailing the crafting process of the document. "This is not a full-fledged approach to the issue of capital punishment," he wrote.

"Adventists believe that violence and capital punishment have no place within the Church. In other words, it is not the task of the Church to take human life."

Mueller explained that it was written after a request and in response to a specific situation in South America, where the topic was causing unrest among members in some local churches. Most South American countries do not contemplate capital punishment in their legislation, except for specific military charges in times of war.

The opinion nature of the document, however, does not mean that the BRI took its assignment lightly. Months before the BRIEC meeting, members received reading materials on the topic by different authors with different positions, explained Mueller. BRI director Elias Brasil de Souza also prepared a paper that was read before the committee. "We spent about half a day discussing the topic, and substantial time the next day to discuss and modify the statement/opinion that was written overnight," shared Mueller. "After the meeting, BRI members continued to tweak the document before sending it to the SAD."

What the Document Says

The document states that even though the Bible does not ignore the suffering of those affected by heinous crimes, the question is raised whether capital punishment is an appropriate response. The application of capital punishment "is often fraught with procedural difficulties," and "is irreversible," something that "should make us very cautious."

As the document states, however, the key task is to get to know the biblical view of capital punishment by studying biblical texts on the topic in various contexts. It is also important to understand it from "a robust biblical anthropology," as over the years, the Adventist Church has issued official statements "against violence, war, and euthanasia, and in favor of tolerance and noncombatancy," it reads.

"The Church shares the biblical teaching of the immense value of all life and the sanctity of human life especially, which was created in the image of God," reads the statement. Accordingly, "[it] seeks to preserve and protect human life."

After explaining that under the Old Testament theocracy, "the death penalty is mentioned in a variety of cases," the statement goes on to read that "in the New Testament [the capital punishment] legislation is not applied to the Christian church." And it adds, "with His first advent, Jesus brought to an end the Jewish theocracy and established His kingdom ethics."

Citing a specific example of an incestuous relationship mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, the document states that in the New Testament, "capital punishment is no longer practiced by the people of God." Within that context, "killing heretics, as practiced by some Christian churches in the past, is not only unwarranted but absolutely wrong and unlawful from a biblical perspective," the document reads.

Governments and Capital Punishment

The statement goes on to discuss 2 specific biblical texts - Genesis 9:5, 6 and Romans 13:4 - that are commonly used to support the execution of the death penalty by governments. After a contextual analysis, the document voted acknowledges that "currently, there is no agreement on the interpretation of these texts in the larger Christian community or in the Adventist Church." And it adds, "Consequently, there is also no agreement on the issue of whether, from a biblical perspective, governments are allowed or even required to institute capital punishment."

Despite that lack of agreement on the specific role of governments on the application of the death penalty, the voted document states that the church should not adopt an active role in promoting it. "In view of the fact that capital punishment has no place in the Christian church, it is not right for the church to be seen as a quasi agent in advocating capital punishment, even though the state might carry it out," it reads.

In the closing paragraph of the document, BRIEC members recommend church members not to get involved in campaigns promoting the death penalty. "The mission of the Church is not to promote death but to announce life and hope," it states.

To read the original English version of the document voted, see: Penalty An Opinion rev7 copy.pdf

(source: Advent Review)

DECEMBER 8, 2017:


Texas district attorney who prosecuted Jeff Wood now wants him off death row

The prosecutor in the death penalty case of a man who didn't kill anyone has asked the parole board and Gov. Greg Abbott to change his sentence to life in prison.

Now the Kerr County district attorney, Lucy Wilke was the prosecutor in the 1998 murder trial of Jeff Wood - a man whose scheduled execution last year prompted lawmakers to question when the state should put accomplices to death. Although she originally decided to seek the death penalty for Wood, she said in a letter to the prison parole board that "the penalty now appears to be excessive."

Wilke asked the board to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott grant clemency and change Wood's sentence to life in prison. The letter was sent in August, but The Texas Tribune received a copy from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Thursday after a Wednesday court order referred to it.

"While I am aware that requests for clemency in Death Penalty Capital Murder cases are normally considered when there is an execution date pending, I respectfully ask that you consider this request for commutation of sentence and act on it now, in the absence of such an execution date, in the interest of justice and judicial economy," she wrote.

The letter was co-signed by Kerrville Police Chief David Knight, who was an officer at the time of the murder, and the district judge who is handling Wood's current appeal, Keith Williams.

A spokeswoman for Abbott did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter, but the governor has not changed a death-sentenced individual's sentence since he took office in 2015. A spokesman for the parole board did not say whether members have voted on the request.

Jeff Wood's case gained national attention in August 2016, as his execution date neared. Wood, now 44, was convicted and sentenced to death in a 1996 Kerrville convenience store murder - he was sitting outside in the truck when his friend, Daniel Reneau, pulled the trigger that killed clerk Kriss Keeran.

As an accomplice, he was sentenced under Texas' felony murder statute, commonly known as the law of parties, which holds that anyone involved in a crime resulting in death is equally responsible, even if they weren't directly involved in the killing. Wood's attorneys claimed he didn't go to the store with the intention of having Keeran killed and didn't even know Reneau brought a gun. Prosecutors disputed that fact, saying Wood knew Reneau would kill Keeran if he didn't cooperate.

In the months before his scheduled death, Wood's case drew the spotlight on Texas' law of parties, and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers sought to stop the execution. Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said more than 50 House members signed onto a letter he wrote asking Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to reduce Wood's sentence.

In this year's legislative session, lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to limit death sentences for those convicted under the law of parties.

6 days before his execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped it and sent the case back to the trial court in Kerr County to review Wood's claim that a jury was improperly persuaded to hand down a death sentence because of testimony from a highly criticized psychiatrist nicknamed "Dr. Death."

Wood's lawyers claimed the psychiatrist, Dr. James Grigson, lied to jurors about how many cases he had testified in and how often he found a defendant would be a future danger. The lawyers claimed he almost always found they would be. A person can only be sentenced to death if a jury unanimously agrees that he or she would present a danger.

In her letter, Wilke cites the issues with Grigson's testimony as reason for requesting a change of sentence. She claims she was unaware at the time of the trial that he had been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians.

"Had I known about Dr. Grigson's issues with said organizations, I would not have used him as the State's expert witness in this case on the issue of future dangerousness," she wrote.

Wilke said she wants clemency for Wood because of Grigson's testimony and other factors including: the fact that he wasn't the shooter, his documented history of low intelligence and his nonviolent history in and out of prison. She mentioned that 3 jurors have submitted affidavits saying they would not have agreed Wood presented a future danger if they'd been aware of Grigson's issues.

In April, the Kerr County court paused its review of the Grigson claims after Wood's lawyers said they and the state's lawyers were in discussions about a "possible settlement," according to a Wednesday court order by the Court of Criminal Appeals. The order directed the trial court to resume its review regardless of the prosecution's request to leadership that Wood's sentence be changed.

If Wood's sentence is changed to life in prison, he would become eligible for parole 40 years after the crime - in 2036.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Berks death-row inmate gets reprieve

A Berks County man who was set to be executed at the end of the month for the killing of a Sunday school teacher in her Reading home has been granted a reprieve.

Michael Pruitt, 53, was scheduled for execution by lethal injection on Dec. 29 at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County. But Pruitt's execution was stayed Monday by Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel had signed a notice of execution on Nov. 8 for both Pruitt and Sheldon Hannibal, 45, of Philadelphia, who would have been the first prisoners executed in the state since 1999.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015. However, the law allows the governor or the secretary of the Department of Corrections to sign execution warrants. Wetzel, who earlier in his career worked at the Berks County Prison, has been signing all of the warrants since Wolf issued the moratorium.

A Berks County jury sentenced Pruitt to death in May 2005 after convicting him of 1st-degree murder in the Sept. 28, 2002, strangulation of Greta A. Gougler, 69, of 521 N. Ninth St. Police said Pruitt raped, robbed and killed Gougler, who taught Sunday school at the former St. Stephen's United Church of Christ, after watching her working in her yard and then following her into her home, telling investigators that he wanted to steal money to buy drugs.

Pruitt's sentence was upheld in June by the state Supreme Court, which ruled there was enough evidence to support the death sentence.

Hannibal, who was sentenced to death in October 1994 for the 1992 murder of Peter LaCourt in Philadelphia, had his execution stayed on Nov. 9 by Judge Gerald A. McHugh Jr.

Pruitt and Hannibal are in the State Correctional Institution at Greene, Greene County.

Gary M. Heidnik, who raped and killed 2 women in Philadelphia, was the last inmate put to death in Pennsylvania, executed by lethal injection in July 1999.



Murder for pills: Man found guilty on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder

It took the jury 3.5 hours to find Derrick Thompson guilty on 2 charges of 1st-degree murder.

Thompson is convicted of murdering Steven and Debra Zackowski in 2014. Thompson allegedly worked as an electrician for the Zackowskis, who paid him in pain pills. After a disagreement over how many pills were to be paid for his services, Thompson killed the couple and stole about 35 pills from a safe inside their home.

During closing arguments Thursday, Assistant State Attorney John Molchan showed the jury the murder weapon, a Cobra .380. Arguing the murders were premeditated, Molchan cited the receipt, which showed Thompson bought the gun on a Friday and killed the Zackowskis the next day. Molchan also showed photos of the crime scene and the deceased victims, as well as DNA evidence and autopsy reports.

Describing the murders as "quick and impulsive", Defense Attorney Martin Lester argues the murders were not premeditated. He said Thompson wanted to foster a relationship with the Zackowskis in order to have a steady supply of pain pills, adding an altercation between Thompson and Steven Zackowski is what really led to the murders.

A first degree murder conviction carries a sentence of life without parole or the possibility of the death penalty. Thompson's sentence hearing will take place Wednesday, December 13 at 9 a.m.

(source: WEAR TV news)


State Attorney Aramis Ayala's Office Recommends The Death Penalty For Jimmy Merritt

The Death Penalty Review Panel considered and unanimously recommended death on the case of State v. Jimmy Gary Merritt (2017-CF-013832), Merritt is accused of 2 different murders.

"Jimmy Gary Merritt is being held without bond and is charged with 1st degree murder with a firearm in the death of Benny Clyde Hallmark, 64.

According to Orlando Police detectives, firefighters found Hallmark's body on the morning of Friday, Oct. 20, lying in a reclining chair in a home on the 3100 block of Lauressa Lane. A medical examiner ruled Hallmark's death a homicide.

On Tuesday, detectives learned that Merritt admitted to someone that heíd killed another person, they said. According to the witness, Merritt said he buried that person in the backyard of a home."

(source: Orlando Political Observer)


Judge denies gas station murder suspect's request to bar death penalty

A Shelby County Circuit Court judge has denied a request to bar the death penalty in a case against a 44-year-old Alabaster man who is facing allegations he shot and killed a clerk at a local Chevron gas station in 2016.

Judge William Bostick denied the request from Michael Anthony Powell, who lists an address on Simmsville Road, during a Dec. 5 hearing at the Shelby County Courthouse.

In motions filed in Shelby County Circuit Court on Oct. 19, Powell's attorney Everett Wess filed requests to bar the death penalty in the case and to allow Powell to be released from jail pending trial. Wess later withdrew the request to grant Powell bond.

Powell was indicted by a Shelby County grand jury in November 2016 on a capital murder charge originally brought against him by the Alabaster Police Department on Oct. 30, 2016.

Powell is facing allegations he shot and killed 54-year-old Pelham resident Tracy Latty Algar while Algar was working a Sunday morning shift at Alabaster's Kirkland Chevron off U.S. 31.

In the Chevron shooting, Alabaster Police Chief Curtis Rigney said the suspect allegedly entered the gas station, took Algar into the bathroom and shot her in the top of the head, killing her. The suspect allegedly stole a "couple hundred dollars" in the robbery before fleeing the scene on foot, Rigney said.

He has been held in the Shelby County Jail without bond since his Nov. 4, 2016 arrest, and allegedly attempted to identify himself as another inmate in the jail in early December 2016, according to his arrest warrants.

In the request to bar the death penalty in Powell's case, Wess claimed Powell's "indictment fails to allege the existence of any aggravating circumstances which would authorize a sentence of death."

"The failure of the indictment to allege one or more aggravating circumstances precludes the state from requesting the death penalty, and bars this court from sentencing the defendant to death in the event that he is convicted of capital murder for the reasons stated in this motion," read the request.

As of Dec. 7, a new court date had not been set for Powell in Shelby County Circuit Court.

(source: Alabaster Reporter)


Death penalty possible in North Ridgeville killing

A Cleveland man could face the death penalty after being indicted on aggravated murder charges for the April slaying of a North Ridgeville man.

John Rowan, 37, of Cleveland, was indicted on 2 charges of aggravated murder, 2 counts of murder, 3 counts of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, 2 counts of robbery, 2 counts of tampering with evidence, 2 counts of theft and abuse of a corpse, according to the indictment release Thursday.

Rowan was arrested in October for the murder of Harold Litten, 60, of Jaycox Road. Litten was reported missing April 18 by family members and his employer when he failed to show up for work, according to police.

Detectives found Litten's body in an outbuilding at his home, 5490 Jaycox Road, on May 26 during a prearranged search of the property after several searches of the home turned up nothing.

Rowan turned himself in to the Lake Erie Correctional Facility for an unrelated charge 3 days after he allegedly killed Litten and tried to cover up the homicide. He was transferred to Lorain County Jail in October and is listed as a current inmate.

(source: Chronicle-Telegram)


Jose Sandoval argues he was illegally sentenced to death when Nebraskans voted to restore capital punishment

Mass killer Jose Sandoval argues in a new court filing that he was illegally sentenced to death when voters restored capital punishment last year at the ballot box.

Omaha attorney Stu Dornan this week filed a motion for post-conviction relief that challenges the state's efforts to make Sandoval the 1st inmate to be executed in Nebraska in 20 years. It's possible the motion could delay the setting of an execution date for Sandoval early next month.

"The state's recent legislative repeal of the death penalty, followed by reinstatement through referendum, is an extraordinary circumstance raising constitutional issues that must be addressed," Dornan said Thursday.

Madison County Attorney Joe Smith said he is hopeful a judge can quickly reach a decision in the first motion filed on behalf of Sandoval in several years. But he disagreed with the argument that the Legislature's repeal in any way changed the sentences of Sandoval or the others on death row.

"With death penalty cases there are frequently a lot of motions filed for the purposes of delay. I don't know that this is any different," Smith said Thursday.

A similar post-conviction action was filed this week on behalf of death-row inmate Erick Vela, who along with Sandoval and Jorge Galindo, participated in the 2002 fatal shootings of five people inside a Norfolk bank. All 3 men were sentenced to death for the killings of four U.S. Bank employees and a customer.

Prison officials notified Sandoval on Nov. 9 they have obtained four drugs to carry out his lethal injection. Under the execution protocol, the state must now wait at least 60 days before asking the Nebraska Supreme Court to issue a death warrant.

When the Nebraska Legislature repealed the death penalty in 2015, it converted the sentences of Sandoval and the 9 others on death row to life in prison without parole, Sandoval's motion argued. When voters restored capital punishment in November 2016, they took a legislative action that sentenced the inmates to death.

The Constitution requires the judicial branch to decide individual punishments for crimes, not the legislative branch, Sandoval's motion said.

Dornan said Nebraska is likely the 1st state where a legislative repeal of the death penalty was overturned by voters. That created questions surrounding the death penalty that have not been addressed by the courts before, he added.

Allowing voters to not only set policy on capital punishment, but to impose a death sentence on Sandoval, violates the Eight Amendment rule against cruel and unusual punishment, Dornan said.

Smith, the prosecutor who worked to convict Sandoval and his co-defendants, said the repeal law passed by the Legislature in May 2015 was put on hold after nearly 144,000 valid signatures were submitted by death penalty supporters in October 2015. Those signatures prompted the 2016 vote that overturned the repeal.

In a related development this week, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 11 men currently on death row. Among other arguments, the lawsuit alleges Gov. Pete Ricketts overstepped the constitutional limits of his office by helping to lead and fund the pro-death penalty petition drive.

A spokesman for the governor called the lawsuit a "frivolous" attempt by the ACLU to overturn the will of Nebraskans who voted to keep the death penalty.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


Lawmakers should decide what to disclosure about death penalty protocols

Gov. Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Department of Corrections seem willing to do whatever it takes to keep the source of the state's lethal injection drugs secret.

The effort began a year ago, when Ricketts proposed a revised death-penalty protocol that would conceal the identity of those suppling the drugs. Ricketts dropped that provision after strong objections were raised at a public hearing last December.

Then State Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, who often aligns with Ricketts, proposed a change to state law that also sought to shield the identity of the state's drug suppliers and compounders. The bill stalled, lacking enough support for passage.

Now, by trying to keep most of the information secret anyway, the administration appears to be circumventing both state law and the Legislature's prerogative.

The appropriate approach should be either to follow Nebraska public records law or work to change it.

Instead, the Corrections Department is arguing an overly broad approach to attorney- client privilege because the state is being sued. Such a broad state interpretation of exceptions risks rendering the public records law moot. State and local governments are often sued. Consider ACLU Nebraska, which is suing the state over prison crowding, failure to disclose the drug supplier and the validity of the state's older death sentences.

The state also appears to be again arguing it doesn't have to reveal its drug supplier, under the new execution protocol - despite pulling back from that position in January. The state contends that the law reviving the death penalty allows Corrections wide latitude in designating members of its execution team, including perhaps a compounding pharmacist and/or drug supplier. It hasn't specified which are included. But designating a supplier as part of the execution team is a legal stretch.

Hiding such information is not in taxpayers' interest. For example, the public records law enabled taxpayers to learn about the 2015 debacle when Corrections wasted $54,000 on drugs from a supplier in India because the drugs could not be legally imported.

The department should honor the intent of Nebraska public records law, which requires disclosure of how state tax dollars are spent. The law says fiscal records of a public body should be "liberally construed" as public records, a standard reinforced by previous attorney general opinions and years of case law.

The state spent $10,500 on drugs for its new protocol. Taxpayers deserve to know the identity of the supplier and details, including how much the state paid to compound the drugs into a usable formula for executions.

State law also requires Corrections to describe the contents of any records withheld and specific reasons for the denial, which the department has failed to do adequately.

Nebraska voters strongly supported reviving the death penalty, as did this newspaper. But the state remains obligated to follow legal procedures in carrying out the penalty.

The state's current effort has introduced more delays into the process by triggering legal challenges.

The administration should show its commitment to the spirit and letter of public records law by reconsidering its stance and releasing the records in question. If a change is warranted in the transparency of death penalty procedures, that decision should rest with the Legislature. And it should be decided after full, vigorous - and open - debate.

(source: Editorial, Omaha World-Herald)


Announcement expected Friday in Montour murder cases

The 4th Judicial Circuit District Attorney will make a public announcement about the case of Edward Montour Friday afternoon.

The man accused of beating his daughter to death in 1997 and then killing a jail guard in 2002 has run through over a decade of court proceedings.

District Attorney Dan May will host a press conference in front of the courthouse on Tejon, across from the Pioneer's Museum at 1:30 p.m.

Other law enforcement figures will be there, including Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey and Dr. Leon Kelly from the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

According to the DA, in March '97, Montour beat his 11-week-old daughter while her mother was at work. Little Taylor Montour suffered a broken femur, multiple broken ribs, a skull fracture and bleeding in her brain.

She would later die.

A jury of his peers found Montour guilty of 1st-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death the following year, the DA's office says.

He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Time would pass before Montour was again in court, this time for allegedly killing Eric Autobee, a prison guard at the Limon Correctional Facility's kitchen.

While fighting those charges, he tried to revisit his conviction for killing his daughter. The DA says he was trying to lessen the consequences he would eventually face for killing Autobee.

Autobee's surviving family asked the DA to stop trying to get the death penalty for Montour - during the 12 years of trials. Eventually, prosecutors did once Montour pleaded guilty - and agreed to a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

In their release announcing the press conference, the DA's office refers to Montour's alleged "endless legal maneuvering, misinformation introduced as fact and seemingly never-ending delays," in his case.

Those lines are most likely referring to, among other things, Montour's legal team's successful lobbying in April 2014 to have the cause of his daughter's death changed from "homicide" to "undetermined."

His legal team would then ardently, if unsuccessfully push that he was wrongly convicted of his daughter's death - an outcome that allegedly led him to kill Autobee.

He also pleaded not guilty to killing Autobee in 2013 by reason of insanity - a plea that would be later dropped.

In 2003, he was ordered to be put to death by a judge. The ruling went all the way to the state's Supreme Court where it was decided only a jury could put someone to death.

The DA is expected to talk about Montour's case during their press conference: what made it so unique, challenging and interesting? They'll also discuss what they call the importance of the court's ruling.

(source: KUSA TV news)


Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Phoenix Serial Killings

Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against a former city bus driver charged in a string of deadly nighttime shootings in Phoenix that led some people in neighborhoods where the attacks occurred to stay inside after dark.

A notice of intent to seek the death penalty against 23-year-old Aaron Juan Saucedo was filed Wednesday in 8 of the 9 killings in which Saucedo is charged with 1st-degree murder. It's not known yet whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty in the 9th killing.

Prosecutor Juan Martinez said in court records that the death penalty was being sought because the killings were committed in a cold and calculated manner.

Thomas Glow, an attorney representing Saucedo, declined to comment on the plan to seek the death penalty against his client.

Saucedo has pleaded not guilty to charges of 1st-degree murder, attempted murder and drive-by shooting in attacks that killed 9 people and wounded 2 others during a nearly 1-year period that ended in July 2016. At court hearing in May, Saucedo declared that he was innocent.

Investigators said the victims were shot by Saucedo as he prowled the neighborhoods in a car and opened fire from inside it or stepped out briefly to shoot before driving away. The victims were outside their homes or sitting in cars during the attacks.

Most of the killings were in a mostly Latino neighborhood.

Police said the victims included a 21-year-old man whose girlfriend was pregnant with their son and a 12-year-girl who was shot to death along with her mother and a friend of the woman.

Authorities say a 9mm shell casing was found in Saucedo's car when it was seized by police. Police say the casing was fired from the same gun as the shells found in the aftermath of 9 of the 12 attacks.

The killings stumped investigators for months, but they got a break in April when Saucedo was arrested in the August 2015 fatal shooting of 61-year-old Raul Romero, whose girlfriend was Saucedo's mother. It's unclear whether prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Saucedo in Romero's death.

(source: Associated Press)


Media challenges judge's order on not naming prosecutor in murder case

High in a tower at the Maricopa County Superior Court complex in downtown Phoenix, prosecutor Jeannette Gallagher was fighting to put John Allen on death row for killing a 10-year-old girl by locking her in a plastic footlocker overnight.

Meanwhile, in another courtroom in another Superior Court tower, Gallagher was the victim in the trial of a man who had stalked her repeatedly after she put him in prison in 2008.

When Gallagher's involvement in the 2 cases intersected, a court order was issued that appears unprecedented in Maricopa County.

In a hearing Nov. 6, Superior Court Judge Erin Otis weighed a request from The Arizona Republic for a still camera to be allowed into the Allen trial. She approved the camera but ordered The Republic not to show the lead prosecutor, Gallagher. Then she went further: No one would be allowed to use Gallagher's name, not on the newspaper's website or in its print edition, not on TV news, not in any media coverage.

Gallagher's name already had been published in news reports in the early stages of Allenís trial and throughout court proceedings for his wife and other relatives tried for related crimes.

As she issued her order from the bench that day, Otis said she was protecting the integrity of the stalking case that was not playing out in her courtroom. She did not mention whether anyone had asked her to do so or why.

The attorney representing The Republic in the hearing to request camera access argued against the order in court. Now, The Republic and other media companies are challenging it, accusing the judge of violating the U.S. and Arizona constitutions on First Amendment grounds.

At issue was the legal concept of "prior restraint," which is a pre-publication censorship of the media.

The media companies contended that Otis was blocking them from reporting facts - in a death-penalty case, no less - that any member of the public easily could discover by walking into the courtroom during trial or going on the Internet and reading the court record or viewing past news stories about Allen and the 10-year-old victim.

In essence, the media companies asked, if a judge could bar them from publishing something as fundamental as the name of the prosecutor in a death-penalty case, what other parts of a public court proceeding could be kept secret, too?

The Republic, joined by the Associated Press, 12 News, and Channels 3 and 5, filed what is known as a special action with the Arizona Court of Appeals, seeking a higher court's ruling that such prior restraint violates the public's right to know.

Otis and Gallagher filed responses saying the issue was moot because the cases were decided shortly after Otis' order was made, and the bar on using Gallagher's name was lifted.

On Tuesday, both sides appeared before a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals. Their arguments over a few sentences spoken from the bench Nov. 6 could affect future courtroom news reports for decades to come.

The Allen trial was in its last day of testimony Nov. 6 when attorney David Bodney, who represents The Republic and other media outlets, attended a morning hearing about The Republic's camera request.

Otis had found The Republic's initial request a week earlier to be "untimely" because it had not been submitted early enough but set a hearing for seven days later.

Even earlier, a TV station initially had submitted a request to video record the trial but did not send a representative to its camera-request hearing. Otis had declared that request abandoned.

For decades, camera requests had frequently been made and granted on short notice at Maricopa County Superior Court trials. But recently, perhaps in the wake of high-profile cases that went viral in the media, judges have begun enforcing a rule that requires applying seven days "before the trial date."

Otis, when she made the order, said that she did not want the jury in the stalking trial to know that Gallagher was in the middle of a capital-murder trial.

Bodney told Otis that her order placed an unconstitutional prior restraint on the media. He pointed out that Arizona court rules state that victims and witnesses can be protected from being photographed or video recorded in certain circumstances, but there is no mention that prosecutors should be shielded from view, as they are the representatives of the government.

Bodney also pointed out that this was no ordinary case but rather a death-penalty murder case, one of the highest seriousness.

Otis responded that the media could freely use the name of the 2nd-chair prosecutor in the case, and the media would be able to use the lead prosecutor's name again when her other case had come to a close.

Bodney suggested to Otis that there were less-limiting means to protect the integrity of the stalking trial, such as ordering jurors not to follow media coverage.

As Bodney would later describe to the appeals court, there were no judicial findings, no explanation of why Otis was intervening in another trial, no arguments - just an order.

In his pleadings to the appeals court, Bodney quoted Otis' response as, "I just don't want her name in print or her image on the news until that trial comes to completion."

Otis' final word in the trial court: "That's my order, and I need to get going."

Jeannette Gallagher has been a prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office since 2000, the year she came up from Pima County. She has prosecuted accused child abusers, a notorious prison hostage-taker and countless murderers.

She is a strong supporter of the death penalty and, under County Attorney Bill Montgomery, she is the bureau chief of the office's capital litigation section. In effect, she is in charge of the office's death-penalty prosecutions.

A former social worker, she has told The Republic that she remembers the name of every victim in every case she ever prosecuted.

Gallagher is known for her hard-driving style. She is famous for being combative, so much so that she has ardent fans, many of them former jury members, who come to her trials to watch her in action.

Otis, the judge in the Allen case, was a sex-crimes prosecutor at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office from 2003, the year after she graduated from law school, until 2012, when she was appointed to the bench. She and Gallagher worked at the office at the same time, although not in the same bureaus.

It is not unusual for a former prosecutor to become a judge. Of the 94 judges at Maricopa County Superior Court, 51 - more than 1/2 - were prosecutors, and 32 came from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. By contrast, only 7 judges on the Maricopa County bench specialized as public defenders.

And it was not unusual that Gallagher would lead the prosecution of John Allen.

Allen was accused of murdering his wife's cousin, 10-year-old Ame Deal, in July 2011. He had locked the girl in a plastic footlocker as punishment and left her there overnight.

Allen's wife, Sammantha Allen, already had been sentenced to death for the same murder, and 3 other relatives have been sentenced to prison for crimes related to the girl's death.

Gallagher had tried the Sammantha Allen case as well, and her name had been printed in numerous stories about that trial and her husband's.

On Nov. 8, 2 days after Otis barred the media from identifying the prosecutor, Allen was found guilty. 8 days later, the jury sentenced him to death.

A stalking case

In her earlier order issued from the bench, Otis told the attorneys and the media that she was barring use of Gallagher's name in the John Allen case because of an order in another case, presumably the stalking case.

The Republic has not been able to locate that specific order. During Tuesday's Court of Appeals hearing, the attorney for the state did not know what kinds of instructions had been given to the jury in the other case.

Otis said she did not want the jury in the other case to be influenced by Gallagher's appearance in the Allen case. That jury, as with juries in all cases, presumably would have been under admonishment from the court not to read or watch or research any news coverage or social-media discussion of the case.

Gallagher was personally represented in that trial by two attorneys who specialize in victims' rights. To demonstrate her vulnerability, prosecutors had filed on her behalf a motion to bring a "facility" dog into court to accompany her during her testimony. It was essentially a service dog that would sit with Gallagher to calm and assure her.

"The witness is anxious about testifying in front of a group of people," said an appendix to the motion. "The service dog met the witness this past Friday in preparation for the trial. Think of the dog like an interpreter, an aid to get the witness' testimony across to you more clearly."

The defendant was Albert Karl Heitzmann, 69, a tall, slender man with glasses and unruly white hair and an apparent dislike for Gallagher that dates back to 2007.

According to court records, Heitzmann was a substitute math teacher at the Adobe Mountain School, a reform school and juvenile prison run by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

While there, he became acquainted with an inmate named Brian Womble and, when Womble was released from Adobe Mountain, Heitzmann let him live in his home. In 2002, Womble asked Heitzmann to store 2 handguns in his safe-deposit box, and Heitzmann agreed to do so.

Womble later used those guns to murder a man, and when he went to trial, Gallagher was the prosecutor.

She called Heitzman as a witness. After she had obtained death sentences for Womble and his accomplice, she charged Heitzmann with misconduct with weapons, perjury and tampering with a witness.

Heitzmann went to prison for 2 1/2 years. He got out in May 2010. 2 years later, he sent a letter to an attorney saying he had a plan to assassinate Gallagher.

Heitzmann was sent back to prison for another 4 years for intimidation and another weapons charge. He was released in September 2015.

According to statements made by prosecutors in court Nov. 9, he already had filed a notice of claim against Gallagher. And then, the next year, in September 2016, he showed up twice in courtrooms where Gallagher was appearing at hearings, though he was forbidden to have contact with her.

He was charged with 2 counts of stalking and one count of misconduct with weapons. According to court filings, he could spend up to 15 years in prison on each of the counts.

On Nov. 7, a Maricopa County Superior Court jury found him guilty on both stalking charges. The next day, the jurors found aggravating factors that would allow the judge to impose a stiff sentence.

The weapons charge was severed from his trial because the gun in question had nothing to do with the stalking. It was to go to trial before a new jury later in December.

Arguments before the appeals court

There was no official court document lifting the ban on using Gallagher's name or image in coverage of Allen's murder trial. Instead, the week after Allen was convicted, a Superior Court public information officer sent an email to Bodney saying his clients were "free to use the prosecutor's name."

The media companies' special action on Otis' order in the Allen case was filed after both Allen and Heitzmann had been convicted.

At Tuesday's hearing in appeals court, Bodney called Otis' decision to protect jurors in the stalking case "speculation upon guesswork upon conjecture."

Were the judges coordinating with each other? he asked.

"Where does that end if the court does not send a message?"

"Was it to get convictions for Ms. Gallagher in both cases?" he asked.

He emphasized the lack of judicial findings. Generally, a judge would be expected to explain her reasoning and weigh the respective constitutional rights of the defendant, the victims and the media.

Gerald Grant, a deputy Maricopa County attorney who represented the court and the prosecution, said the request for Otis' order did not come from his office.

Grant also argued there was no need for Otis to issue a formal order indicating she had lifted the media ban because she said at the outset that it would expire as soon as there was a verdict in the case in which Gallagher was the victim.

Asked by the appellate panel what he wanted from the court, Bodney said he wanted a ruling to prevent the same kind of order from happening in the future.

"Where does that end if the court does not send a message?" he asked.

Grant's answer was that the circumstances were unique, "incapable of repetition, and there's no need for the court to get involved in it."

The court took the matter under advisement. The panel gave no indication when it would issue its decision.

(source: Arizona Republic)


Death sentence upheld for Antioch man who killed pregnant wife and daughter

The state Supreme Court upheld the death sentence Thursday of an Antioch man who killed his pregnant wife and their 2-year-old daughter in 1996, and later told his mother he did it because his wife "wouldn't stop blabbing" about his bank robberies.

Christopher Henriquez was 24 when he strangled his wife, Carmen, 25, who was 8 months pregnant, and clubbed and choked their daughter, Zuri, in their apartment in August 1996. He admitted the killings to police.

Henriquez had been paroled from prison in New York in July 1995 after a robbery sentence and, the court said, robbed 2 banks in San Francisco a month before the murders. His wife moved out that month but, according to relatives, returned to her husband after he promised not to rob another bank.

The killings occurred a day after the couple and their child returned from a trip to Disneyland. His mother, Deborah Henriquez, who was also on the trip, testified that her son came to her house the day after they got back, looking dazed. The next day, she said, he told her that he had killed his wife and child in a fit of anger.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


Capital punishment is obsolete - this is why it should be abolished

There is overwhelming evidence why the United States should abolish capital punishment.

Former President Jimmy Carter in his 2014 book, "A Call to Action," said have done so.

The only nations in Europe, North, Central and South America that still execute its citizens are the United States, Belarus and Suriname.

In 2007, Nebraska became the 19th state to abolish the death penalty.

The Michigan Law School has a registry of 1728 exonerated folks who had been incarcerated for an average of 11 years for crimes they did not commit.

Since there is no fail-safe example of a way a jury can reach a verdict of 1st degree of murder, there is an enormous danger of taking the life of an innocent person.

Cameron Todd Willingham of Corsicana, Texas was executed for the arson murder of his 3 children based on false evidence.

More than 3 years later, the Houston Chronicle, with input from The Washington Post, detailed how Willingham's conviction was based on false testimony of a jailhouse snitch to benefit himself through a lesser sentence and the prosecution misconduct of 2 district attorneys.

Poor and black? You won't get a fair shake in death sentences, new report confirms

A new report raises troubling questions about the fairness of Pennsylvania's criminal justice system.

Middleweight boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, spent 19 years in prison. He was accused of murdering 3 white people in New Jersey, and convicted by an all-white jury, mostly on the testimony of 2 thieves who later recanted their stories.

Following his release, he found injustice until he died in 2014 at the age of 76. Fortunately, he had received life without parole instead of the death penalty.

To quote Carter, "Perhaps the greatest argument against the death penalty is its extreme bias in its use against the poor, minorities, and those with diminished mental capacities.

Although homicide victims are 6 times more likely to be black than white, 77 % of death penalty cases involve white victims".

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court banned capital punishment of the intellectually disabled and in 2005 adolescents under the age of 18. Studies have shown it is not a deterrent.

Violent crime defined as murder, rape, and armed robbery reached its peak in 1990 and has dropped remarkably since with 58 % in Washington D.C., 70 % in Dallas, 74 % in Newark, 75 % in Los Angeles.

What caused the previous peak?

Is lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment?

?Most consider lethal injection a far more humane form of capital punishment than hanging or the electric chair.

An investigative reporter, Kevin Drum, from Mother Jones wrote, "The American real criminal element was lead."

A HUD counselor, Rick Nevin, noted there was a link between lead exposure and juvenile delinquency.

Also there is a marked fall in the IQ of children when exposed to lead. Lead is known to be toxic to brain neurons and causes shrinkage in the size of the frontal cortex responsible for judgement leading to antisocial behavior and adult violence.

Graphs of blood lead levels from 1937 to 1986 show it peaked about 23 years before the violent crime peak in 1990.

The biggest source in the post-war years was not lead paint but leaded gas. In the 1920's, General Motors, in order to prevent engine pinging and knock, added tetraethvl lead to gasoline.

In 2000, Nevin concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from autos explained 90 % in the variation in violent crime.

In 2007, Nevin showed lead data curves peaking 20 years or so before violent crime; this fit astonishingly well in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain, Finland, Italy and West Germany. During the 1970's and 80's stringent environmental agency regulations led to less pollutants as did the catalytic converter.

Ending capital punishment means that some guilty of the most heinous crimes and serial killers will remain in prison for life.

(source: Guest Editorial; Dr. James P. Bond is a retired oncologist who previously practiced in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and currently lives in Beaumont, Texas. He is a retired Pennsylvania Prison Society


Nithari Killings: Death sentence to Pandher and Koli

Special Central Bureau of Investigation Judge PK Tiwari had held them guilty on Thursday, saying that they both deserved to be punished since both were involved in the crime.

A CBI court in Ghaziabad has awarded death penalty to businessman Maninder Singh Pandher and his aide Surinder Koli guilty in the rape and murder of housemaid Anjali in 2006.

Special Central Bureau of Investigation Judge PK Tiwari had held them guilty on Thursday, saying that they both deserved to be punished since both were involved in the crime.

Maninder Singh Pandher has been found guilty in 3 cases - he has been sentenced to death in 2.

His aide, Surinder, has also been also awarded death sentence in the 8 cases he has been guilty in. Chargesheets were filed against the 2 accused in 16 of the 19 cases, out of which 9 cases have been decided to date.



New study: Former top judges acknowledge crisis in criminal justice system, yet back death penalty----A fascinating new study involving 60 former Supreme Court judges brings out the problem of arbitrariness in awarding capital punishment.

Judges, especially those from the Supreme Court, have an aura of infallibility around them. They are expected to be objective enforcers of the spirit of the law, keeping aside their prejudices. Ideally, they are to be guided by the law alone. But there are areas in criminal jurisprudence where objectivity slips away and discretion takes over. This can have serious implications, especially if the matter involves the question of life and death.

A fascinating new study undertaken by the Centre for Death Penalty and published by the National Law University, Delhi, brings out the many contradictions that plague the process of awarding the death penalty in India. As the debate on whether capital punishment should be abolished rages on, the study, which involved interviews with 60 former judges of the Supreme Court, has exposed serious flaws in the system and presents a solid argument in favour of getting rid of the death sentence.

Many of the judges interviewed agreed to the fact that the criminal justice system is broken. That the police resort to all sorts of illegal means to ensure a conviction - they torture the accused, plant evidence and abuse laid down procedures. A weak legal aid infrastructure means that the accused, especially those from weaker sections of society, have no meaningful help to challenge these abuses.

More disturbing, however, is the undermining of guidelines the Supreme Court put together in determining a fit case for death penalty. This is often referred to as the "rarest of rare" doctrine. Responses from the judges in the study suggest there was hardly any consistency in how they determined if the case was among the "rarest of rare", with socio-economic background, individual predilections and how the judges as individuals perceive the brutality of the crime often determining the end sentence. Worse, despite the Supreme Court itself having rejected public opinion as a guiding principle in awarding capital punishment, several judges pointed to the effect the crime committed on the public psyche as an important factor in sending the accused person to the gallows.

The picture the study paints is this: despite attempts to regulate the award of death sentences, arbitrariness in determination is rampant. This leads to the next obvious question: if discretion drives decision-making, has the "rarest of rare doctrine" failed?

The study

The study, conducted over the last 18 months, interviewed 60 former judges of the Supreme Court. In India, any death penalty imposed by the trial court has to be confirmed by the High Court. The convict can then approach the Supreme Court in appeal. The decision of the apex court is final, keeping aside the Constitutional power of the President and Governors to commute the sentence or pardon the convict.

The interviews are a fascinating window into the workings of the judges' minds when they deal with cases of capital punishment. The 1st part of the study involved eliciting the views of the judges about the current state of the criminal justice system.

A criminal case typically involves 3 stages: filing of the case and investigation, judicial trial, and sentencing, which is essentially the awarding of punishment for the crime committed.

The 1st stage depends heavily on the quality of the investigation agencies and the law that guides the process. The judges' responses clearly show that the police rampantly abuse procedures established by law to successfully prosecute those it believes have committed that particular crime.

In the study, 38 of the 39 judges who discussed the use of torture in investigations believed that it was rampant. Only one judge, a former chief justice of India, said torture did not happen.

12 judges, in some way, justified torture. Of these, 5 said that the police resorted to torture because investigation agencies work under strenuous conditions, without being given adequate time and independence to do their work. 17 judges believed that torture undermined the criminal justice system.

Questions were also posed on the misuse of Section 27 of the Evidence Act. This provision allows the admission of a statement the accused person made to the police if such a statement led to a fact or evidence. Across the country, the police are known to plant evidence to fix accused persons. There have been many instances where signatures of the accused have been taken on blank sheets of paper and later filled up with concocted stories, which show that the statement led to the recovery of evidence such as a murder weapon. 38 judges were of the view that investigating agencies abuse this provision. One judge said he was not sure if there were any genuine cases under the provision.

These responses clearly show how broken the investigation apparatus is. It is startling that the same flawed investigation, which abuses procedures and uses brutal methods like torture, is relied upon to confirm a death sentence.

Neetika Vishwanath, who was part of the study, said while there was widespread acknowledgement of the problems in the investigation system, this did not have much effect on the final sentencing.

"Somehow, when the judges spoke about death penalty, problems with the system were not concerns," she said.

There was also an almost unanimous opinion that legal aid in India was substandard. The quality of legal representation facilitated through legal aid networks was mostly unsatisfactory, these judges pointed out. Some of them had headed the legal services authority in their respective states.

This means that a combination of illegal investigation techniques and poor legal representation is affecting the system - a fatal flaw especially for those from poorer sections of society who do not have the power to challenge the might of the prosecuting state effectively.

43 judges acknowledged the existence of wrongful convictions in India. This was attributed to improper investigation and substandard legal representation. Some judges said the justice system was susceptible to money, power and political influence.

Rarest of rare doctrine

But perhaps the most disturbing part of the report are the views of the judges on the "rarest of rare" doctrine - the very foundation on which capital punishment is determined in India.

The doctrine was developed by the Supreme Court in the 1980 Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case to restrict the number of death penalties. The court put in place guidelines for determining whether a particular criminal act deserved capital punishment.

The court awarding the sentence is expected to analyse aggravating and mitigating circumstances, balance them, preferably in a tabulated form, and then make the final decision. The judges have to be sure that the possibility of a life sentence is completely foreclosed.

There are several mitigating circumstances. The socio-economic background of the convict, age and possibility of reformation are some mitigating factors, according to the Supreme Court.

There was also the question of predetermination in the crime committed.

However, the responses from many of the judges in the study showed that the brutality of the crime was almost a determining factor in awarding the death sentence. Rarest, in that sense, has been construed as the rare nature of the crime itself.

13 of the 22 judges who provided detailed responses on this subject recognised that the "rarest of rare" doctrine "was subjective to such an extent that it has no real standard at all". This meant that it was applied differently by different judges.

For example, some judges felt the doctrine was too "offender-centric" and did not focus sufficiently on the victims and their families. Crime against women, minors, persons with mental instability and national leaders were considered some of the aggravating factors. Some forms of crime like terrorism received special attention.

Quite stunningly, at least 6 judges said the very concept of "mitigating factors" was irrelevant, something that runs contradictory to the Bacchan Singh guidelines. Mitigation was seen as an excuse for crime. "Circumstances of the criminal can never be an 'excuse' for the crime committed, and that there was no real reason to explore such circumstances," the judges said. One judge said that trying to determine if a criminal would reform was like "astrology".

There was also a recognition that discretion played a key role in whether capital penalty was awarded or not. This discretion was guided by the judges' class, cultural and religious background, though the judges were cautious in terming this discretion as arbitrariness.

Further, a sizeable number of judges said public opinion mattered. A crime became graver depending on the effect it had on the collective conscience. This again is in direct violation of the 1980 guidelines, which exhorted courts to neglect public opinion and go by the law. There was an acknowledgment that media and public pressure played a part in sentencing.

The judges had heard 208 death penalty cases between them in the Supreme Court and confirmed 92 death sentences in 63 cases.



Malawi Judge calls for scrapping of death penalty

A Supreme Court of Appeal Judge has urged the Community of Saint Egidio in the country to continue advocating for the abolition of death penalty in Malawi.

Speaking at the commemoration of day of abolition of death penalty in Blantyre, Justice Dunstan Mwaungulu said the Community of Saint Egidio should push for abolition of death penalty in Malawi.

"It is therefore my call that Saint Egidio should lobby for the change of this law at Parliament, for they are the ones to revoke the law," said Mwaungulu.

He added that the community has lived to stand for the prisoners who are taken as sinners.

Mwaungulu cited the Biblical story of an adulterous woman whom people wanted to stone to death as per the law but later was saved by Jesus Christ.

Concurring with Mwaungulu, lawyer Alexious Kamangila who is also a member of Community of Saint Egidio said the country needs to abolish capital punishment that is still in Malawi's penal code.

"Capital punishment has no deterrence as its proponents suggest, acts as a legitimization of violence, irreversible yet the system has room for error as well as discriminatory as it is more likely to be imposed on the poor," said Kamangira.

He further faulted the courts for capital punishment sayings it was "violation of the right to human dignity".

The Commitment of the Community of Saint Egidio in the fight against capital punishment dates back to 1995 when it began to write prisoners. It is from this commitment that Saint Egidio commits itself to advocate for the abolition of death penalty.

Later, the community launched a movement for global moratorium in 1998 that was endorsed by United Nations (UN).


DECEMBER 7, 2017:


Former Texas Nurse to Be Arraigned in Deaths of 5 Children

An imprisoned former nurse who prosecutors believe could be responsible for the deaths of up to 60 Texas children is set to be arraigned on murder charges in the deaths of 5 children in the early 1980s.

Genene Jones, who is 67, will be arraigned Thursday in San Antonio. The Bexar County district attorney's office has announced the 5 indictments over the last year.

Jones is serving concurrent 99-year and 60-year sentences in state prison for the killing of a 15-month-old and the sickening of 4-week-old. She was scheduled to be freed from prison in March under a mandatory release law in place when she was convicted.

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood said Wednesday he'll try each new case separately. Jones faces up to life in prison on each charge.

"This is an enormous step in the right direction to secure justice for these slain children, their families and our community as a whole," said LaHood, who said the investigation continues into other cases.

During Jones' time working at a San Antonio hospital and a clinic in Kerrville, northwest of San Antonio, children died of unexplained seizures and other complications. LaHood said they'll first try the case of 11-month-old Joshua Sawyer, who investigators say died in 1981 of a fatal overdose of an anti-seizure drug.

LaHood said Jones was indicted in the cases this year for murder instead of capital murder - which could include the death penalty - because they were "grandfathered into the law at the time."

LaHood said prosecutors are open to the possibility of a plea bargain but would not comment on what terms would need to be met in order for prosecutors to agree to that.

"Our goal, my goal is that she takes her last breath from behind bars and she meets the Lord from behind bars," LaHood said.

Jones' attorney did not immediately return a call Wednesday for comment.

Prosecutors at Jones' 1984 murder trial said the nurse lethally injected children at the Kerrville clinic to demonstrate the need for a pediatric intensive care unit at a nearby hospital. Other prosecutors theorized that her tactic was to take swift medical action and save some of her victims so she could appear to be a sort of miracle worker.

LaHood said Wednesday that current prosecutors "don't really know" her motivation. "To me, evil is evil is evil," he said, "All I know is these children were stolen from family."

(source: Associated Press)


Kountze man accused of murdering toddler headed for trial

A Kountze man charged with capital murder in a 4-year-old girl's 2011 killing will go to trial early next year and could face the death penalty if convicted, Hardin County's District Attorney said.

David Sheffield said jury selection in 40-year-old Jason Wade Delacerda's capital murder trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 9.

Sheffield is seeking the death penalty for Delacerda, who was indicted in 2011 along with his then-girlfriend Amanda Nichole Guidry, 36, in connection with her daughter's death.

Breonna Nichole Loftin, 4, died at a Beaumont hospital on Aug. 17, 2011. According to previous Enterprise reporting, Breonna's cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Hospital staff told Hardin County investigators the girl had burn marks, bruises and signs of sexual abuse, a sheriff's investigator wrote in a 2011 arrest affidavit for Guidry and Delacerda.

According to that affidavit, witnesses told authorities that Breonna was forced to stand barefoot on water bottle caps as a punishment after she had been kicked and spanked.

Guidry, the girl's mother, was released from jail in December 2014 on a reduced $250,000 bond. Her original bond was set at $1.5 million.

Sheffield said he plans to prosecute Guidry next year but is not seeking the death penalty. She faces life in prison if convicted.

Delacerda remains in the Hardin County jail and has been denied bond.

Delacerda's case, the county's oldest capital murder case, has been scheduled for trial several times since his 2011 indictment, but delays have led to multiple postponements, Sheffield said. Most recently, Tropical Storm Harvey prevented an October trial date.

"When the death penalty is being sought, we do everything to ensure that it is ready to be prosecuted," Sheffield said, addressing the trial delays. "We're intent on getting the most justice possible."

Ryan Gertz, one of Delacerda's attorneys, said the defense is ready for the trial to proceed.

He described the trial as a "who done it," saying a jury will have to decide which defendant - his client or Guidry - is responsible for Breonna's death.

"This trial is asks how did the child die?" said Gertz, whose co-counsel for the trial is James Makin. "Not how were they treated before they died but how did they die ... I expect there will be some name calling and finger pointing."

Gertz estimated jury selection could take up to 4 weeks. He suspects the actual trial will take 2 weeks.

"The logistics in this case are both exceedingly complicated and relatively straight forward," Gertz said.

Hardin County has 3 pending capital murder cases - Delacerda, Guidry and another - that Sheffield said he believes will be settled in 2018.

The other case is against Donny Dominique Ratcliff, who was arrested in February of 2015 in connection with the death of his 9-month-old son, Donatello. An autopsy showed that the boy's cause of death was asphyxia, possibly manual strangulation or smothering.

(source: Beaumont Enterprise)


Prosecutors want the death penalty for prison inmates accused of killing officers

The 4 prisoners accused of carrying out the deadliest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history could now face the death penalty.

Prosecutors in Pasquotank County announced Wednesday they will ask for the men to be executed, according to reports from TV stations WAVY and WTKR.

Inmates Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady, Seth Frazier and Jonathan Monk have been charged with 1st degree murder as well as other crimes related to their failed escape attempt in October.

The men were working in a sewing plant at Pasquotank Correctional Institute when they attacked the only guard on duty, Justin Smith, as well as the plant manager, Veronica Darden, officials have said.

Smith and Darden died that day, and 2 other corrections officers, Wendy Shannon and Geoffrey Howe, died later from injuries they sustained during the chaos.

Funeral services for Veronica Darden, 1 of 4 corrections employees killed in a failed prison escape, were Oct. 21, 2017. Hundreds of law enforcement officials from across North Carolina and the region attended.

The four inmates stand accused of attacking officers with tools like hammers and scissors, setting a fire at the prison as a distraction, and finally fighting hand-to-hand with guards who caught up with them as they tried to get out.

One of the accused, Buckman, wrote a letter to the Charlotte Observer in which he admitted to trying to escape but nothing more. He said one of the other inmates told him about their plan at the last minute and he joined in because "all I want to do is see my children and tell them I love them." Buckman called the officers "innocent people."

The local district attorney said the state wants the 4 men executed because they attacked law enforcement officers, WAVY reported.

Corrections officers in North Carolina don't have to be law enforcement officers - a fact that has raised the ire of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. The lobbying group wants prison workers to get that classification so they can receive better benefits. SEANC had been pushing for the change before the Pasquotank attacks but has ramped up its pressure on lawmakers since then.

It's unclear what might befall the inmates if they are convicted and sentenced to death.

While the death penalty does still technically exist in North Carolina, the state has not executed anyone since 2006. Since then, at least 7 men who had been convicted of murder have had their convictions thrown out and were freed from prison. 5 of them had been sentenced to death.

There are still 143 people on death row, including 140 men and 3 women.



Prosecutors seek death penalty for inmates accused of killing Pasquotank Correctional Institution employees

Prosecutors in North Carolina told a judge Wednesday that they intend to seek the death penalty for 4 inmates involved in a deadly attempted prison escape in Pasquotank County.

Authorities have charged 28-year-old Mikel Brady, 29-year-old Wisezah Buckman, 33-year-old Seth J. Frazier, and 30-year-old Jonathan M. Monk with 2 counts each of 1st Degree Murder for the deaths of Correctional Officer Justin Smith and Correctional Enterprise Manager Veronica Darden.

They're also facing charges of felony riot and burning a public building.

The incident occurred Thursday, October 12 around 3 p.m. when officials say inmates started a fire around 3 p.m. in the facility's Specialty Sewing Plant, where about 30 inmates work producing embroidered logo items, safety vests and other sewn items. After the fire was set, several inmates unsuccessfully attempted to escape.

The next court hearing in this case is scheduled for March 1.

(source: WTKR news)


Shock Belt Tainted Ga. Death Penalty Trial, ACLU Lawyers Say

Lawyers for a Georgia death row inmate are asking for a new trial based on something the defendant was wearing during his original murder trial: a 50,000-watt stun belt.

NOVA Security Group is the Florida company that makes the stun belt Rodney Young wore during his murder trial 5 years ago.

A promotional video for the product shows a series of defendants suddenly attacking people in courtrooms, except for the ones wearing stun belts. They fall to the ground seconds after they stand up.

"So the whole design is essentially for high-risk security transports and to enhance courtroom security for inmates or subjects that could be potentially violent, have a history of escape or escape attempts," said Brian Dillard, an instructor with NOVA security.

But lawyers for Rodney Young argued last week in court that none of that was the case for their client.

"In fact, all the testimony at the hearing was that our client was perfectly peaceful and perfectly well behaved in court," said attorney Brian Stull with the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.

"There was a juror in this case, and he actually made a report to the court officers and said this guy looks very anxious, and that's making me anxious," Stull said. "I want you to make sure the security is high because I don't know why he's looking so anxious. And we know why."

The stun belt, Stull argued, not only terrified his client but made it hard for him to participate in the trial. Young's lawyers want a new trial, citing the device and a number of other reasons, including what they say is his intellectual disability. They expect a ruling to take months.

Young was convicted for the 2008 murder of his ex-fiancee's son in Newton County.

The use of a stun belt during trial did lead an appeals court in Indiana to throw out a death sentence there just this August.

The manufacturer said defendants are told how the product works before it's put on them, and that it's no more threatening than court officers already on hand.

(source: WABE news)


Trial starts for man accused of killing Milton couple over oxycodone

The attorney for a man accused of killing 3 people has asked the jury to closely consider the definition of premediated murder and keep in mind the power of addiction.

Derrick Ray Thompson, 45, could face the death penalty if he is convicted of 2 counts of murder in the deaths of Steven and Debra Zackowski at their Milton home in 2014.

Thompson's trial began Monday with jury selection in Santa Rosa County, and testimony began Wednesday morning.

Authorities say Thompson murdered the Milton couple on July 20, 2014, and then killed another man, Allen Johnson, in Panama City the next day. His current trial is only for charges related to the Zackowskis' deaths.

In the months before the Zackowskis' deaths, Thompson was doing electrical work on a house the couple was building in Milton, and he was being paid for his work in opioid pills, namely oxycodone.

Prosecutor John Molchan said Thompson told investigators when he was arrested that he believed Steven Zackowski was shorting him on the pills he was owed, so he went to the home to kill him. Molchan said Thompson bought the gun used in the murders the day prior, arguing the attack was premeditated and was intended to rob the couple of their pills.

Thompson's defense attorney, Martin Lester, didn't deny that his client shot the couple. But, he said, Thompson was suffering from a strong addiction to painkillers and did not plan the murder.

Lester said Thompson broke his back at work in 2012. He was prescribed opioid pills to manage the pain and then became addicted to them, his attorney said.

"It is for some people a very highly addictive medication... . That is what you're going to hear happened to Derrick Thompson," Lester said in his opening argument.

Lester urged the jury to consider the facts of the case closely, as well as the legal definition of premeditation. He argued that if anything, his client should be found guilty of manslaughter or second-degree murder, not first-degree murder, which, if convicted, means Thompson could face the death penalty.

Lester said Thompson was honest when he described to police how he killed the Zackowskis.

"You will see not a defiant man, but a broken man who is telling the truth about what happened," Lester said.

The state presented crime scene photos during trial Wednesday showing that Steven Zackowski was shot in the head in his living room and his wife was shot in a bedroom closet next to an open safe.

Prosecutors claim that once Thompson robbed the safe for oxycodone pills, he traveled to Panama City and killed Johnson, stole the businessman's car and took it to a hunting camp near Troy, Alabama, where authorities ultimately found him. The murder case involving Johnson's death is continuing in Bay County.

Thompson's Santa Rosa County trial is expected to continue through the rest of the week.

If the jury finds him guilty of 1st-degree murder, the case will immediately move into the penalty phase. The same jury would then hear aggravating and mitigating factors to ultimately determine whether Thompson should be placed on death row.

Under a new law, the jury would need to reach a unanimous decision to recommend the death penalty.

(source: Pensacola News Journal)


State to seek death for man accused in Orlando homicide

The State Attorney will seek the death penalty in the trial of the man accused of an Orlando homicide and thought to be connected to another on the same street.

The Death Penalty Review Panel unanimously recommended pursuing death in the case of Jimmy Gary Merritt, who faces a 1st-degree murder charge in the slaying of 64-year-old Benny Clyde Hallmark.

Firefighters found Hallmark's body Oct. 20 in a recliner in his home on the 3000 block of Lauressa Lane in Orlando. He had been shot to death.

While investigating that case, homicide detectives found a badly decomposed body wrapped in plastic and blankets under a pile of items in the garage across the street from the home Hallmark was found in.

Orlando Police identified that person as 60-year-old Billy Wayne Deaton.



Convicted killer Bessman Okafor to get new sentencing next year

A convicted killer sentenced to death row went before a judge Wednesday as he begins the process to get a new sentence.

Bessman Okafor killed Alex Zaldivar, 19, and wounded 2 others in 2012.

He has to be re-sentenced because the state Supreme Court ordered all death sentence decisions must be unanimous.

The victim's father said reopening this case is painful.

"Everybody has to relive this all over again. It's like we never moved on. It's a never-ending story," he said.

The judge scheduled Okafor's new sentencing phase for November of next year.

The sentencing should take 2 weeks, with the 1st for jury selection and the other for witness testimony.

Okafor will go before an Orange County judge to get an attorney and schedule a new sentencing phase.

"It's opening up old wounds. It's terrible for our family," Rafael Zaldivar aid.

Okafor was sentenced to death in November 2015 for killing Alex Zaldivar and wounding 2 others during an Ocoee home invasion in 2012.

The 3 were set to testify against Okafor in a separate home invasion before the killing.

Rafael Zaldivar said he thinks about his son every day.

"He was a good and loving son. Unfortunately, he barely passed his 18th birthday," he said.

State law has changed since the previous jury voted 11-1 to send Okafor to death row.

Jurors must now all agree on the death penalty.

Rafael Zaldivar believes that will happen.

"I'm very confident they're going to do it again," he said.

Months after the Supreme Court ruling, Orange and Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty during his tenure.

Gov. Rick Scott then gave Okafor's case, along with dozens of others, to State Attorney Brad King in Ocala.



State to seek death penalty against father accused of drowning toddler

A Lady Lake man could face the death penalty if he is convicted of murdering his 18-month-old daughter.

Jeremy Main was taken into custody Oct. 9 after he turned himself in at the Sumter County Sheriff's Annex in The Villages. Hours earlier, Main had called his wife, who was at work in Ocala. He reportedly told her he had killed their daughter. She made a frantic 911 call and soon Lake County sheriff's deputies rushed to her home on Redbug Road in rural Lady Lake.

Deputies forced their way into the home after there was no answer at the door. They discovered the little girl had been drowned in a bathtub. Main had fled the home.

The 39-year-old continues to be held without bond at the Lake County Jail.

Last week, Assistant State Attorney Hugh Dean Bass Jr. filed a notice indicating the state will seek the death penalty in the case.

In the filing, Bass indicates the crime was "especially heinous" and was "committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification."

Main's wife has filed for divorce.



Mitigation specialist to come in for death penalty case

Steven Mages, the man accused of killing his girlfriend and unborn child in Goshen Twp., appeared in court on Nov. 29.

Mages' defense scored something of a win from Clermont County Common Pleas Judge Victor Haddad, who ruled that the court would pay for a mitigation expert on behalf of the defense.

On Aug. 30, Mages, who is 38, allegedly killed his 35-year-old girlfriend Natasha Marie Wilson. He faces 3 counts of aggravated murder, all of which include the death penalty specification.

That fact, that it's a capital case, is something Gregory W. Meyers, 1 of the defense attorneys for Mages, used as a selling point at the hearing on Nov. 29: he's the one in the courtroom with capital case experience, not Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Scott O'Reilly and not even the judge himself.

"I want to respectfully argue this because I understand as fate would have it, I've litigated by default and part by design an awful lot of capital trial cases and thatís not the case for other lawyers in the room," he said.

Stephen Haynes, the director of the public defender's office in Clermont County since 2015, is also defending Mages.

A mitigation expert acts as the criminal defense team's researcher and investigator.

O'Reilly argued to Haddad that he saw no statutory precedent for the court paying for the defense's mitigation expert.

Meyers saw it differently, however.

To Meyers, it's fundamental in capital cases to get a mitigation expert whose skillset differs from a criminal investigator.

State council has "most of the aces" right now, Meyers said, so their duty as the defense is "effective investigation preparation for litigation," which entails that expert.

O'Reilly, holding up a large stack of papers up to the judge, called what the defense had provided a "large tome."

"What it's lacking is any actual precedent. This is literally propaganda of what a mitigation expert is," O'Reilly said.

A curricula vitae, otherwise known as a resume, has yet to be provided, O'Reilly added.

O'Reilly said there's just no precedent for taxpayers or the state to fund the mitigation expert.

"I don't know what that is," O'Reilly said. "They have yet to cite what kind of expertise this individual is going to have."

In essence, O'Reilly sees the defense as asking for a "blank check" from the state.

Haddad then turned to Meyers and asked him to define what a mitigation expert is.

"This is transparently not a request for a blank check," Meyers said.

A mitigation specialist, as Meyers calls it, said that role requires "soft tissue-type skills."

"When we have a mitigation specialist whose training is designed to equip them with the human talent, skills and judgment necessary to uncover and unveil the depths of the background of our client in ways that criminal investigators do not," he said. "It has more to do with a social worker approach."

It's about sitting in the room of a client's family and uncovering those skeletons in the closet, Meyers said, which isn't the skillset of a seasoned criminal investigator.

"It's an entirely different orientation," Meyers said.

Meyers added that it's "reasonably necessary" for the defense to be funded by the court in regards to a litigation investigation.

"Likewise, this is a capital case. They've put Mr. Mages life on the line. We are entitled to a thorough investigation," he said.

Meyers said this is particularly necessary for a client like his with a history of mental illness.

The mitigation expert will be Paul Burke, who is listed under the trial services division of Ohio Public Defender's office.

Burke has experience with death penalty cases, Meyers said.

The court has also decided that Mages is indigent (meaning, he's poor), which plays into Haddad's decision to rule in the defense's favor in allowing the court to pay for this specialist.

"I will agree with the state that I don't know exactly what Mr. Burke does because I've never done of these before and I know you haven't either [speaking to O'Reilly], but...I will assume, as an officer of the court, that if you say he has some history and experience and training in these types of cases, I'm going to take your word for it," Haddad said to Meyers. "Death is different."

It's super due process, Haddad said.

Burke will be paid at $35 an hour. For now, Haddad has approved a $3,500 ceiling for Burke's services.

"I realize the state is concerned about the taxpayers, but I think anybody that knows me there's nobody tighter than me about doling out money for anybody," Haddad said.

The next hearing is scheduled before Haddad on Dec. 21 at 1 p.m in Court Room 201.

(source: Clermont Sun)


It's just plain wrong

It just had to come up: Republicans want to revive the death penalty in Iowa during the next legislative session. It saddens us that Iowa would even consider lowering itself again into barbarism, state-sponsored murder. Thirst for revenge is a powerful force in politics. That's what drives capital punishment, those Old Testament eye-for-eye rules. We forget the New Commandment, to love one another, because it is so much harder.

Let's forget religion for a moment. We will come back to that. Let's think of the practical aspects:

-- Juries can be wrong. Northwestern University journalism students in Chicago discovered several death-row cases where the inmates were innocent, often done in by crooked cops or prosecutors. Who wants the execution of an innocent man or woman on the conscience?

-- Minorities are the victims. In Iowa especially, blacks have an inordinately high share of the prison population. It has drawn the attention of the Iowa Supreme Court, especially in how juries are selected. Capital punishment is skewed against minority communities.

-- People who commit murder in Iowa, unless they are juveniles, are sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. If it's revenge you're after, Fort Madison may be worse than the hell to which the executioner assigns the convict.

-- When you execute your only witness you foreclose important information about a threat to society that the convict may disclose from behind bars in hopes of getting better treatment. Why would we ever want to execute a terrorist who could give up information even 10 years later?

Now back to the moral part:

It's wrong.

Republicans profess to be pro-life. We are pro-life. Almost all forms of abortion are morally wrong, as we were taught, but it is not something we are capable of legislating. As a people, we are hopelessly divided on this issue. There is no political solution in a pluralistic society, which is why the Supreme Court had to decide the issue. It is hard for us to see how you go back or craft penalties. We accept that as a tragedy and move on to the areas we can defend: Capital punishment is a grave evil that can be stopped by the political process. There is no exception to its nature as a wrong - there is no saving the life of the mother in an execution. Capital punishment is wrong in every instance.

When half the children in Iowa are born into Medicaid - that is, they are born poor - and they are denied a full education and they are subjected to every sort of depravation we can hurl at them, is that pro-life? And then, when they turn out all bad, we electrocute them or drug them to death or shoot them in the head - Which is cruelest and most unusual? - because they are a threat to or a burden on society.

Civilized societies do not use capital punishment. Nations like Iran do. It solves nothing. It makes the remaining victims feel no better, it does not bring closure. It brings more horror and less respect for life. If we value life, prove it. Drop the capital punishment talk now.

(source: Editorial, The Storm Lake Times)


Gov. Brad Henry and Andy Lester: OBA and DAC lead the way on death penalty reforms

When we agreed to be co-chairmen of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, we viewed it as an opportunity to better understand a difficult issue. The bipartisan commission included 5 women and 6 men representing diverse legal, educational and government experience. Together, we spent more than a year analyzing, debating and hearing from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, families of murder victims, those wrongfully convicted and others.

In April, the commission released a nearly 300-page report and announced more than 45 recommendations. Our report concludes that our state's death penalty system is not working, and without major changes, Oklahoma risks executing innocent people.

After the release of our report, commissioners traversed the state, meeting with different groups that have the power to act on our recommendations and with those who would be affected by them. Now, in the months after the commission outlined a way forward, we are hopeful. We already have seen 2 major stakeholders - the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) and the District Attorneys Council (DAC) - take up our recommendations and commit to reforms.

After our meeting with the OBA, we were pleased to see it quickly take action. OBA President Linda Thomas created a task force to address standards for defense counsel in death penalty cases. The 11-member task force, headed by Oklahoma City attorney Mack Martin, crafted a framework for minimum standards of practice for the capital defense bar.

The OBA House of Delegates passed these standards, and the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee is now drafting rules for capital defense lawyers consistent with these standards. We look forward to the submission of the rules to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. If the court adopts the rules, they will have the force and effect of the law.

As the commission noted in its report, "effective defense counsel acts as a safeguard against wrongful convictions (and) requires specialized training and experience in the complex legal framework that governs capital cases." We are so pleased that the OBA, too, understands the importance of a qualified lawyer in death penalty cases.

Along with the OBA, the DAC has also undertaken recommendations from the commission. Notably, this summer, it provided training on common causes of wrongful convictions. The DAC also is considering the formation of a best practices committee. We encourage the DAC to form this committee and use it to its greatest extent to ensure the best-trained prosecutors are in our courtrooms.

The commission took on an issue of immense proportions and we know our recommendations are not small asks of the legal system. It took the commission more than a year to develop our recommendations, and we do not expect that they will be implemented overnight. However, the actions taken by the OBA and DAC are essential steps toward reforming Oklahoma's death penalty system. It is our hope that these actions have laid the foundation for future efforts from these groups and others in the legal system.

We are encouraged that two major players in Oklahoma's capital punishment system are working to improve standards and training for defense lawyers and prosecutors. Without effective lawyers on both sides, we cannot guarantee that our system is just and fair. Most important, we cannot ensure that no innocent person is put to death. We are gratified that the commission's work is having an impact and our report continues to serve as a resource for Oklahomans.

(source: Brad Henry served as governor of Oklahoma from 2003-2011. Andy Lester is a partner in the law firm Spencer Fane LLP. Both served as co-chairmen of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission----Tulsa World)


Livermore man's death sentence upheld for rape-murder

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the death sentence of a Livermore man for raping and murdering a woman he met at a bar in Contra Costa County in 1986.

The court said it wouldn't 2nd-guess state court findings that jurors hadn't been tainted when a prosecutor reminded them that California voters had overwhelmingly approved capital punishment.

The trial of Guy Rowland was marred by defense attorneys' errors in addition to the prosecutorís improper comments, but a mistake-free trial would probably have reached the same result in light of Rowland's "monstrous criminal history," said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The court said it was required by federal law to be "highly deferential" to the state Supreme Court ruling that upheld Rowland's death sentence.

Rowland was 24 when he met Marion "Geri" Richardson, 31, at a bar in Byron in March 1986. An off-duty bartender testified that Richardson brushed off Rowland's advances, stayed in the bar after he left and later headed for home in her car.

According to medical testimony, Rowland beat Richardson, raped her, then choked her to death after forcing her to swallow a potentially lethal dose of methamphetamine. He then drove her body to Half Moon Bay and dumped it in the ocean. He later asked his girlfriend to help him clean the victim's blood and hair from his truck, but she called the police, the court said.

Rowland had recently served a prison sentence for kidnapping 2 13-year-old girls and raping 1 of them in 1980, the court said. Prosecutors also presented evidence of uncharged beatings and rapes, including assaults of his stepsister and another woman less than a week before the murder.

According to defense evidence, Rowland's family was abusive, his mother twice attempted to drown him in the bathtub as a baby, and he had been diagnosed with several mental disorders. One witness, psychiatrist Hugh Ridlehuber, conducted a brief evaluation and testified that Rowland was still suffering the effects of his traumatic childhood, but said after the trial that he probably would have presented evidence of brain damage if he had been given time for a more thorough analysis.

In Wednesday's ruling, the court said Rowland's trial lawyers had been ineffective by failing to contact Ridlehuber earlier or prepare him adequately. But under the deferential standard of federal law, the state's high court "could have reasonably concluded" that the verdict would have been the same because of the brutality of the crime and Rowland's record, Judge John Owens said in the 3-0 ruling.

The court had a similar assessment of the prosecutor's comments to the jury in closing arguments at the penalty phase - that California's voters had overwhelmingly approved the death penalty and had removed 3 state Supreme Court justices from office in 1986 for overturning death sentences.

"We disapprove of the prosecutor's comments," Owens said, but they did not "minimize the jury's responsibility" to reach is own conclusions.

Michael Levine, one of Rowland's appellate lawyers, said he was disappointed by the ruling and would probably ask the full appeals court for a rehearing.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


The Supreme Court has the chance to end the death penalty. They should take it

There is no question that Abel Hidalgo has committed some awful crimes. As a gang member in Arizona, he accepted $1,000 in 2001 to murder auto repair shop owner Michael Cordova and also killed another man, Jose Rojas, who showed up at the shop at the wrong time. It took a year and an informant's tip to lead police to Hidalgo, who by then was in federal prison for the drug-related murders of 2 women (1 of them a former girlfriend) on a Native American reservation in Idaho.

Hidalgo is just the kind of person from whom society needs to be protected, and he should be locked away. Few would disagree about that. A more complicated question - even for those who support capital punishment - is whether an Arizona jury was right to sentence him to death.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that states must design their capital punishment statutes so that only truly egregious crimes are punished by death. But Hidalgo argues that Arizona has added so many "aggravating circumstances" - factors that turn a run-of-the-mill killing into a capital crime - that pretty much any murder in Arizona can now qualify for the death penalty.

Hidalgo's argument circles back to two key Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s. The 1972 Furman decision struck down the death penalty entirely on the grounds that it was being applied so arbitrarily that it violated the 8th Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments." States then began rewriting their death statutes to try to reduce their arbitrary application, and in 1976 the court ruled that the death penalty could resume in states with statutes limiting the death penalty to particularly atrocious crimes.

Now Hidalgo argues that Arizona's list of death-eligible crimes is so expansive that it's entire capital punishment system is unconstitutional, and he has a point. If nearly every murder can be eligible for a death sentence, then the system has swung back to arbitrariness - leaving the decision whether to seek capital punishment up to the whims of prosecutors, and its application to juries. On that, Arizona shares some common ground with California, which has 3 dozen "special circumstances" that can make a murderer subject to the death penalty.

The Times opposes the the death penalty under all circumstances. We take a "Green Eggs and Ham" approach - we don't like it here, there or anywhere. But if states are going to engage in such a barbaric practice, they must at least follow the Constitution, and we hope the Supreme Court accepts the case and, at the very least, strikes down such broad definitions of death-eligible crimes.

But Hidalgo raises another, even more challenging issue and could conceivably lead to an even more radical decision. The death penalty, Hidalgo argues, is inherently unconstitutional because the nation has been unable to use it without descending into an unreliable system in which the poor and minorities are disproportionately affected, and too many innocent people have been sentenced to death. (There have been 117 death row exonerations since 1989.) The problems with the convictions range from prosecutorial misconduct to erroneous witness identifications to confessions gained through coercion or by playing on the inadequacies of the intellectually disabled. Exonerations often don't come until years after conviction. Meanwhile, executions often occur so long after the underlying crime was committed that they serve no penological purpose. So far this year, 23 people have been executed after spending an average of 19 1/2 years on death row.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer invited this sort of review in his dissent in the 2015 Glossip decision upholding use of the drug midazolam in lethal injections. "Rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time," he wrote, "I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution." Whether Hidalgo's case is the one that will finally get the court to recognize the fatal flaws in the death penalty is hard to say. But we hope so. It's a medieval system too fraught with human error to be relied upon for determining whether someone should live or die.

(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)


Death row inmate caught trafficking drugs inside prison, prosecutor asks he get death penalty, again

Indonesian authorities ranging from President Joko Widodo to National Narcotics Agency (BNN) Head Budi Waseso, have justified the country's use of the death penalty on drug offenders (and the shooting of drug suspects at the slightest provocation) by arguing that the country is in the midst of a full-blown drug emergency. The statistics they use to make that claim are flawed, but there is a very clear law enforcement emergency taking place - inside of Indonesia's prisons.

One of the reasons why the Indonesian people also strongly support the death penalty for drug dealers is because of numerous stories about criminals who manage to run narcotics operations even while in jail.

The latest such incident involves a prisoner in Medan's Tanjung Gusta prison who was caught ordering 25 kg of crystal methamphetamines to be delivered to his penitentiary for distribution.

What makes the case unique is that the 60-year-old prisoner, Togiman, was in prison after being sentenced to execution for smuggling large quantities of crystal meth and ecstasy. After BNN officers found a shipment of crystal meth Togiman had ordered delivered to Tanjunggusta in May, he was once again charged and underwent trial for trafficking. At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday the state prosecutor asked that Togiman be sentenced to death, again.

"(We ask for) this heavy punishment against the defendant Togiman because he had previously received the death sentence," state prosecutor Dewi Tarihoran said as quoted by Tribun.

In addition to Togiman, the prosecution asked that the 4 other involved in the drug smuggling operation be given life sentences.

On top of the ridiculousness of sentencing a man to death twice (what'll they do, execute his ghost?), Togiman's case highlights the serious problems that exist within Indonesia's extremely understaffed, underfunded and notoriously corrupt prisons. Togiman was actually able to set up the drug order using a mobile phone from inside the prison and his operation was only caught by BNN officers who intercepted his delivery before it reached Tanjung Gusta .

In June, BNN announced that they had discovered a drug criminal living in a "luxury cell" at East Jakarta's Cipinang Prison, complete with AC, wifi and even an aquarium. The warden, who claimed to have no knowledge of the prisoner's deluxe accommodations, was fired.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. If the Indonesian government is at all serious about actually tackling the nation's drug problem, then it must also be serious about reforming the penal system to prevent such outrageous acts from taking place.

But instead, what we're seeing is both the president and the BNN chief espousing rhetoric advocating the shooting of suspected drug criminals at the slightest provocation, which has already led to a sharp increase in the number of police shootings this year.



African Union calls on Egypt to 'immediately' suspend death sentences

The African Union has called on the Egyptian government to repeal the death sentence in 20 new cases.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, a body within the AU, has urged the Egyptian government to "immediately suspend" the death sentences.

This measure came after the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the party of ousted former President Mohamed Morsi, sent a complaint to the commission on behalf of the prisoners set to be executed.

The FJP called on the commission to intervene and order an immediate suspension of the death sentences.

"The Egyptian authorities have entirely ignored the commission's moratorium on the death penalty by failing to observe the defendants' right to a fair trial as per the guarantees included in the African Charter and other international treaties," the complaint reads.

The complaint also claimed that evidence was gained via confessions through torture and denial of the right of access to lawyers. In one case, evidence in the complaint shows, one of those sentenced to death was in custody at the time of a bomb attack he was alleged to have carried out.

The prisoners have all had their death sentences confirmed and are without further rights of appeal. 16 face imminent execution, the lawyers representing the case have said.

The death sentences were imposed in trials following the military coup in 2013 which saw the removal and detention of Egypt's 1st democratically elected president.

The Egyptian government has been criticised for its apparent lack of regard for human rights. Human Rights Watch, in its 2017 annual report, said that "Members of the security forces, particularly the Interior Ministry's National Security Agency, continued to routinely torture detainees and forcibly disappeared hundreds of people with little or no accountability for violations of the law."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was notified of the measures in a letter sent to him on 29 November by the African Commission.

The commission's letter to Sisi sets out the body's intention to fully investigate the allegations made in the complaint and asks the Egyptian government to provide its report on the implementation of the suspension within 15 days of the letter.

The FJP's complaint was sent to the commission by the London-based ITN solicitors. Tayyab Ali, a partner at ITN, said he was pleased with the commission's decision to investigate the matters raised by the FJP's complaint.

"All Egyptians are entitled to the legal protections guaranteed in the African Charter," Ali said in a statement.

"This principle is all the more important where the right of life is at stake."

Morsi remains in detention, along with hundreds of others who protested against the coup. Last year, an Egyptian appeals court overturned a death sentence handed to Morsi.

In 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced 529 individuals to death following a mass trial that lasted less than 2 days and was condemned for widespread irregularities.

The FJP at the time had previously sent a request to the commission to intervene in the death sentences. This led to the Egyptian authorities suspending those sentences.

(source: Middle East Eye)

DECEMBER 6, 2017:


Delacruz appears in court; capital murder trial slated

A San Angelo capital murder suspect appeared in court Tuesday for the 1st time since his trial was postponed last-minute in July.

Isidro Miguel Delacruz, 27, stands accused in the slaying of Naiya Villegas - his ex-girlfriend's 5-year-old daughter - on Sept. 2, 2014. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

119th District Judge Ben Woodward made several rulings on Tuesday and laid out the rules with attorneys, including the conditions and etiquette to follow on some of the more convoluted aspects of the trial.

Woodward allowed digital media presence outside of the courthouse and the McNease Convention Center - where jury selection from a pool of 350-400 people will take place Jan. 11.

He ruled Delacruz will be addressed as "the accused" and the child will be referred by her name rather than the "complaining witness."

Trial had been slated to begin July, but Woodward granted a continuance because of some last-minute disclosures of evidence by local law-enforcement agencies.

Woodward told attorneys he hopes to finish the case in mid-March.

There are 23-pages of potential witnesses to be called.

51st District Attorney Allison Palmer is prosecuting the case.

Defense attorney Robert Cowie, of the Lubbock Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases, is court appointed.



Capital murder indictments unsealed against 2 prison inmates in 2006 beating, arson death

2 prison inmates from Waco have been formally charged with capital murder in the beating and arson death of a woman in 2006.

Tony Wayne Swinnie, 46, and Gerald Wayne Brown, 60, were charged in sealed indictments last Wednesday that were unsealed and made public on Tuesday. Waco police charged Swinnie with capital murder in May 2007 in the June 2006 death of Gloria Campos Viera, but he was not indicted in that case until last week.

Neither McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna nor his first assistant, Michael Jarrett, returned phone messages Tuesday, leaving it unclear why the DA's office did not pursue an indictment in the case for more than a decade, including the last 4 years of former DA John Segrest's term.

One reason could be that Swinnie is serving a life prison term in the August 2006 aggravated robbery of Martha Jane's Liquor Store and a consecutive life term in the July 2006 assault of a 67-year-old man in Dallas County.

The fire at Viera's house, 512 N. 16th St., was classified as arson, and an autopsy showed she died from blunt force injuries to her head and neck and smoke inhalation.

Judge Ralph Strother of Waco's 19th State District Court sentenced Swinnie to life in prison after a jury convicted Swinnie of smashing a liquor bottle over the head of Martha Jane Ezar, assaulting her with a cash register and then threatening Ezar's grandchildren before fleeing that former package store at 1500 Colcord Ave.

In sentencing Swinnie, Strother said, "Mr. Swinnie, you have turned yourself into a human predator and a modern-day barbarian. You seek out the defenseless and unsuspecting."

A year later, a Dallas County jury sentenced Swinnie to life in prison after he knocked out a 67-year-old man with a single punch and robbed him while standing in line at a McDonald's in Grand Prairie.

Court records show Brown was sentenced to 40 years in prison for arson in 1993 and released on parole in April 2004. He was sent back to prison in March 2011 after violating his parole.

Brown has a projected release date in 2021.

It was not clear Tuesday if the DA's office intends to seek the death penalty in the 2 cases.

(source: Waco Tribune)


Trial delayed for man accused of killing wife, Prince William officer

Ronald Hamilton - the man accused of shooting 3 Prince William County police officers after killing his wife last year - won't face a jury until August, now that his trial has been delayed a second time.

Hamilton's lawyers and county prosecutors agreed on the delay in a Nov. 6 hearing in Prince William County Circuit Court, pushing back proceedings that were originally set to begin March 5.

The 33-year-old Army veteran is facing a slew of charges, including capital murder and 1st-degree murder, in connection with one of Prince William's most high-profile shootings in recent memory. Police believe Hamilton shot and killed his wife, Crystal, at the coupleís home on Lashmere Court in Woodbridge, then opened fire on police responding to a 911 call about the incident. Officer Ashley Guindon was killed, while officers Jesse Hempen and David McKeown were wounded.

Hamilton's attorneys have indicated in a series of pre-trial motions that they believe he is mentally unstable, perhaps as a result of his service in the Iraq War, and have told prosecutors repeatedly that he is willing to enter a guilty plea if they agree to take the death penalty off the table. But Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert and his deputies filed a notice in circuit court on Sept. 13 that they intend to seek the death penalty in the case, continuing Ebert's preference toward capital punishment over the course of his long career.

But it will be months before a jury decides whether Hamilton becomes the 1st person since 2010 executed for a crime in the county. He was originally set to go to trial in June, but his attorneys pressed for a delay until March 2018 over concerns about the workload associated with the case. Hamilton is represented by a pair of lawyers with the state's capital defense program, in addition to private attorney Gene Hart.

A flap over some of the county's document filing practices has pushed Hamilton's trial even deeper into 2018.

On Oct. 3, county prosecutors filed notice that they would introduce evidence at trial about Hamilton's past encounters with law enforcement, including a series of assault accusations in several different states and domestic disputes with his wife over the past few years.

That move incensed Hamilton's lawyers, who claimed that the filing came far later than a court-imposed deadline of December 2016 would allow. In a motion, they wrote that this delay would "greatly impede" their preparation for trial by putting them at a disadvantage in investigating those incidents.

In a response, prosecutors stressed that the defense has had access to information about most of the incidents for months, but they conceded an "oversight" led to their office only preparing a formal filing in October.

But Hamilton's lawyers argued that it was actually a "pattern and practice" for Ebert and his deputies to miss similar deadlines, noting that the "issue has recurred in every death-eligible capital case handled by the specific prosecutors in this case and their office in the past since at least 2010."



Prosecutors mulling death penalty for Pasquotank inmates charged in failed prison escape

Prosecutors are expected to meet Wednesday morning to discuss a possible harsher punishment for 4 inmates allegedly involved in a deadly attack at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

The purpose of the hearing is to determine if the state will seek the death penalty against those inmates accused of trying to escape.

State officials say the inmates started a fire in the facility's sewing plant in October. According to police, the inmates then tried to escape the prison, but were caught before leaving the prison yard. During the chaos, several people were hurt and hospitalized. 4 prison workers died in the attack.

Prosecutors charged the inmates with 1st-degree murder in connection with the incident. In October, the inmates were indicted on several other charges, including burning a public building, felony riot and assault with a deadly weapon.

The prison has remained on the lockdown since the deadly attack. Meanwhile, the prison's sewing plant where the ambush happened has been closed indefinitely.

The capital penalty determination hearing is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m.

(source: WAVY news)


Attorneys for man charged with killing 2 during bank robbery in Conway ask for more time

The man charged with the deadly CresCom Bank robbery this past August appeared in federal court Monday afternoon and his attorneys pleaded for more time.

Brandon Michael Council Sr., 32, went before a judge for a pre-trial/status conference and the attorneys who represent him said the case is moving too fast, saying it is moving at "unprecedented speed" and they can't adequately represent Council at the pace it's going.

Police say Council killed Donna Major, 59, of Conway, and Kathryn "Katie" Skeen, 36, of Green Sea, during an armed bank robbery on Aug. 21 in Conway.

He has been charged federally and locally, but Monday's hearing was for the federal case only. Council pleaded not guilty during a hearing in October.

But prosecutors say the case isn't moving faster than others, noting that the case is moving at the same rate as Dylann Roof's.

Prosecutors wanted an April deadline for arguments for and against the death penalty so that the Department of Justice can review.

But Council's attorney's argued that April deadline was too soon and said they won't be able to prepare reasons against the death penalty that fast.

A final decision wasn't made today.

The judge says he'll be somewhat flexible and didn't set a court-ordered deadline.

He says he could have status hearings month to month to get updates from prosecutors and defense attorneys as to where they are in the case.

(source: WPDE news)


Shock Belt Tainted Ga. Death Penalty Trial, ACLU Lawyers Say

Lawyers for a Georgia death row inmate are asking for a new trial based on something the defendant was wearing during his original murder trial: a 50,000-watt stun belt.

NOVA Security Group is the Florida company that makes the stun belt Rodney Young wore during his murder trial 5 years ago.

A promotional video for the product shows a series of defendants suddenly attacking people in courtrooms, except for the ones wearing stun belts. They fall to the ground seconds after they stand up.

"So the whole design is essentially for high-risk security transports and to enhance courtroom security for inmates or subjects that could be potentially violent, have a history of escape or escape attempts," said Brian Dillard, an instructor with NOVA security.

But lawyers for Rodney Young argued last week in court that none of that was the case for their client.

"In fact, all the testimony at the hearing was that our client was perfectly peaceful and perfectly well behaved in court," said attorney Brian Stull with the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.

"There was a juror in this case, and he actually made a report to the court officers and said this guy looks very anxious, and that's making me anxious," Stull said. "I want you to make sure the security is high because I don't know why he's looking so anxious. And we know why."

The stun belt, Stull argued, not only terrified his client but made it hard for him to participate in the trial. Young's lawyers want a new trial, citing the device and a number of other reasons, including what they say is his intellectual disability. They expect a ruling to take months.

Young was convicted for the 2008 murder of his ex-fiancee's son in Newton County.

The use of a stun belt during trial did lead an appeals court in Indiana to throw out a death sentence there just this August.

The manufacturer said defendants are told how the product works before it's put on them, and that it's no more threatening than court officers already on hand.


State Attorney in hot seat after Gov. Scott demands answers on death penalty decision

In 6 days, State Attorney Aramis Ayala must answer to Governor Rick Scott as to why she failed to seek the death penalty in a violent murder case here in Central Florida.

The State Attorney has not commented on the issue.

Earlier this year Ayala said she wouldn't seek the death penalty in any case in the 9th Judicial Circuit. The Supreme Court said under Florida law, she has to review each case individually.

In response, she created a panel within her office to do just that and decide whether to recommend the death penalty.

Despite their recommendation to seek the death penalty in the case against Mapp, she didn't file to seek the death penalty.

Retired Judge Eaton says the law is pretty clear and now that the deadline has passed - death is off the table.

Now he says the question is whether this request from the Governor's Office could pose a threat Ayala's career as a state attorney.

"The law provides the Governor with the ability to suspend or remove any public official for malfeasance or non-malfeasance in office, and I don't know if negligence amounts to malfeasance," said retired Judge Eaton.

According to the notice from the Governor's office, they also ask for the billing documents from the time Ayala retained an attorney to represent her case against the Governor in that previously mentioned Supreme Court decision. She has until March first to supply those.



Jury selection begins for man accused of murdering Milton couple, Bay County man

A man accused of killing 2 people in Milton was in a Santa Rosa County courtroom on Monday.

Jury selection began for Derrick Thompson. He's charged with 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Steven and Debra Zackowski.

They were killed in their Milton home in 2014.

Thompson is also charged with killing Allen Johnson in Bay County.

Prosecutors said, if convicted, they will seek the death penalty.

The trial was put on hold in January 2017 while the U.S. Supreme Court decided on Florida's revision of death penalty trial procedures.

The State Attorney's Office said jury selection could take up to 2 days.

(source: WEAR TV news)


Shreveport man freed from death row files suit in hopes 'injustice never happens again'

The lawsuit filed by former death row inmate Rodricus Crawford is about more than justice for Crawford; it's about getting Caddo Parish officials to change their death-penalty-dealing ways, one of the now-freed man's attorneys said during a recent interview.

"Rodricus seeks justice not only for himself and for all that he lost, but also for people who might - God forbid - face similar circumstances," Crawford's attorney David J. Utter, counsel with The Claiborne Firm in Savannah, Georgia, said during a Louisiana Record email interview. "This lawsuit provides parish and city officials do the right thing by examining what went wrong in Rodricus' case, and instituting checks and balances to ensure such an injustice never happens again."

Those checks and balances were severely lacking when a Caddo District Court jury handed down the capital punishment sentence the following year against the Shreveport man in the 2012 death of his 1-year-old son Roderius "Bobo" Lott, according to Crawford's lawsuit.

"Mr. Crawford was convicted and sentenced to death based upon false evidence as a result of the failure of Defendants to conduct an unbiased autopsy based on professional standards of practice, and to properly train and supervise prosecutors in Caddo Parish," said the lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court for Louisiana's Western District.

"Because of the lack of training and supervision and adherence to professional standards, the prosecution was illegally based upon both race and religion, and a complete indifference to the evidence. In addition, Mr. Crawford raises state law negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims; but for the reckless and willful conduct of defendants, Mr. Crawford would not have been prosecuted let alone convicted of capital murder."

In his lawsuit filed on behalf of himself and his minor daughter, Crawford claims he did not receive his constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial. Named defendants in the case include Caddo Parish Coroner's Office, Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office, Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart, former Caddo Parish District Attorney Dale Cox, Shreveport Fire Department and Coroner James Traylor. Crawford's lawsuit asks for a jury trial.

The Caddo Parish District Attorney's office did not respond to a Louisiana Record request for comment.

"Defendants knowingly participated in the investigation, arrest and capital prosecution driven by Caddo Parish, Louisiana's well-known history of racism and the arbitrary application of the death penalty," Crawford's lawsuit said. "But for Defendants' actions, no prosecution and conviction of Mr. Crawford would have occurred."

Crawford was taken into custody after bruises and other injuries were discovered on the child's body. Crawford reportedly told police his son had fallen in the bathroom and Crawford consistently maintained that he had never harmed his son.

His attorneys also consistently maintained that the jury relied on bad forensic science, and pointed to strong medical evidence that the child was suffering from pneumonia and died of sepsis.

"The conduct of the officials in this case, particularly the coroner Dr. Traylor and the prosecutor, were particularly egregious, outside the norm of a mistake or error," Utter said. "There was intentional misconduct."

By the time Crawford's conviction was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 2016, Caddo Parish juries were widely noted for having sentenced 5 people to death in 6 years, 38 % of the state's total death sentences.

The state's highest court ordered a new trial for Crawford after finding serious issues with the case, including unconstitutional exclusion of black jurors. Louisiana prosecutors dropped charges against Crawford this past April and he was freed soon after that.

"As the result of Defendants' unconstitutional, negligent and intentional acts, Mr. Crawford spent 4 years, 9 months, and 6 days illegally in custody," Crawford's lawsuit said.

Utter credited Baton Rouge lawyer Cecilia Trenticosta Kappel, his co-counsel in Crawford's lawsuit who is active with the Capital Appeals Project and the Promise of Justice Initiative, for much of the work done to exonerate Crawford.

"Cecelia is the real hero amongst the lawyers on the case," Utter said.

Crawford's lawsuit is necessary to get defendants and others to do the right thing, Utter said.

"Unfortunately, many innocent people who spent time in jail or prison have to file a lawsuit before officials will do what is right," Utter said, referring to the overturned murder conviction of Sabein Burgess in Maryland.

"Rodricus only filed because the officials responsible for this miscarriage of justice failed to apologize and offer to discuss a settlement that provided justice to him, his family and ensure something like this never happens again in Shreveport," Utter said.

(source: Louisiana Record)


Court docs: Golsby seeing $300 an hour psychologist while in jail

The man charged in the rape, kidnapping and murder of Ohio State student Reagan Tokes has been seeing a clinical psychologist while in jail, according to court records uncovered by 10 Investigates.

What's more - taxpayers will likely foot the bill.

Brian Golsby has been declared indigent - meaning he can't afford his own attorney, according to court records. That means taxpayers are potentially going to pay for the $5,000 tab for the clinical psychological services of Dr. Howard Fradkin.

According to the order posted online December 1, Judge Mark Serrott approved a defense request for $5000 to pay for the services of Fradkin to address "trauma related matters," but does not give specifics.

According to Fradkin's LinkedIn Page, he has trained "over 2,000 professional colleagues on the topic of male survivors of sexual abuse" and "is available for consult with attorneys about criminal cases involving male survivors."

An invoice provided to the court shows that Fradkin's rate is $300 an hour and that he has billed the court for 23.5 hours for a total of $7075. Serrott's order approved the sum of $5,000.

The invoice states that he has met with Golsby's attorneys repeatedly and met with Brian Golsby personally 4 times in late October and early November. It is not clear what was discussed in those meetings.

Golsby's defense attorney Kort Gatterdam did not respond to an email seeking comment. A voice message left with Fradkin's Columbus office was also not returned Tuesday.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien told 10 Investigates he had "no knowledge of that matter." O'Brien's signature is not included in the court records obtained by 10 Investigates.

While it's not clear from the records what trauma Golsby may have endured, a Franklin County deputy hinted that there had been issues during Golsby's jail stay following his arrest in February for the murder of Reagan Tokes.

During that November 13 hearing, O'Brien asked Sgt. David Reiner with the Franklin County Sheriff's Department: "Deputy is there anything that has happened during the defendant's confinement that would cause you to add to the normal "security" that you had described for Judge Serrott?"

Sgt. David Reiner: "Since the defendant has been incarcerated in our jail, there have been a number of incidents that have been recorded if you like. ..."

Judge Mark Serrott: Well, let's hold on a minute ..."

The conversation then continued in the judge's chambers. The hearing resumed several minutes later and O'Brien rephrased his question. Reiner said that there were no past issues that would affect court security at Golsby's upcoming trial.

In another defense motion filed Friday, Golsby's attorneys are continuing their efforts to get the death penalty wiped off the table. The defense team alleges that there is a racial disparity in Franklin County - accusing Prosecutor Ron O'Brien of being more prone to seek death penalty indictments against African-American suspects. O'Brien has opposed the motion, calling it "frivolous."

He released this statement to 10 Investigates Tuesday:

"The Golsby Memo on the death penalty continues to present the court with a patently frivolous position that tries to posture his case as some sort of class action attacking the Ohio death penalty. He does this by pointing to other cases that have nothing to do with his case and his crime. As the state's memo reflects Golsby is a sexually violent predator who is also a repeat violent offender who kidnapped, raped and executed the victim in this case shortly after he was released from prison and while he was on parole. Any Prosecutor with the death penalty at his/her disposal would seek that punishment. He is trying to divert attention from his horrific crime by talking about other offenders that are not comparable."

The next hearing in the case is set for December 20. Golsby's trial is set for February.



Retired priest to receive 'Carl Braden Lifetime Achievement' award

The Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression will present the "Carl Braden Lifetime Achievement" award to Father Patrick Delahanty, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Father Delahanty said in a statement that he is "honored" to receive the award.

"This award is possible because of all the hard work of abolition supporters over the past 30 years in Kentucky," said Father Delahanty. "The goal is in sight. With the continued financial contributions of supporters and their willingness to contact and urge Kentucky lawmakers to support abolition, we will prevail."

Kentucky legislators can be reached at 1800-372-7181. Contributions can be made by visiting

(source: The Record)


Bank Murderers Want Resentencing in Death Penalty Case

2 men lined up on Nebraska's death row believe they don't deserve the death penalty.

Jose Sandoval, the ringleader in a 2002 failed robbery in Norfolk that left 5 dead, filed a motion for post conviction relief Monday evening. One of his partners in crime, Erick Vela filed the same motion.

Their attorneys argue in court documents that they were effectively resentenced to life in prison as opposed to death when the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 268 in 2015, which repealed the death penalty. Their attorneys say resentencing them to death now, without a trial, is a violation of their constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

Madison County Attorney Joe Smith says, "The theory they have is that at the time they committed the crimes there was a death penalty statute, and the time they were sentenced there was a death penalty statue. The legislature, perhaps attempted to repeal the death penalty and was unsuccessful and the voters had a election. As I read into the theory it's that thats analogous to the defendants being sentenced to death, being sentenced to life and resentenced to death without a hearing."

Sandoval was sentenced in 2002 for the murders of 5 people at the U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk. His other 2 accomplices, including Vela are on death row.

His convictions were upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court and again in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his petition for review.

Smith says they usually file a response within 60 days of post conviction but in this case it will be filed a whole lot faster.

(source: Nebraska News Network)


Nevada inmate asks judge anew to let execution proceed

Condemned killer Scott Dozier, urging his own execution, was back in front of a judge Tuesday for the 1st time since he was supposed to die.

He told District Judge Jennifer Togliatti, who last month delayed the execution, that he doesn't object to the use of a paralytic drug in his lethal injection, though it could mask suffering. In response, prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider her previous ruling.

But the man convicted of 2 killings, including the 2002 Las Vegas murder of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller, whose body was mutilated and stuffed in a suitcase, must continue to wait for his death wish to be granted.

"We had I-don't-know-how-many conversations where I said, 'Be careful what you wish for,'" Togliatti told Dozier, who appeared via videoconference from Ely State Prison. "There's just a certain amount of manipulation of the court process I'm not going to allow. You pursued this relief, you got this relief, and now you want a do-over, I guess."

Through his lawyers with the federal public defender's office, Dozier had asked for a review of a drug known as cisatracurium, 1 of 3 drugs in the execution protocol.

Togliatti ruled that using it in combination with Valium and fentanyl was too risky. And after the judge struck the paralytic from the protocol, lawyers for the Nevada Department of Corrections initially said they would not continue with the execution.

"My contention with my counsel has always been that, with sufficient fentanyl, I was OK with the paralytic," Dozier said Tuesday. "I recognize I represented to you that the paralytic was important to be removed. It is still important to the federal public defender's office to be removed. I personally am not concerned with the paralytic."

Dozier's lawyers argue that ensuring an unbotched execution is about more than the inmate who wants to die at the moment.

All but 1 of the 12 executions carried out in Nevada since the death penalty was reinstated have been conducted on inmates, like Dozier, who asked to be killed.

After the judge ordered the paralytic drug removed, prison attorneys were granted a stay and the Nevada Supreme Court was expected to review the process of lethal injection.

Then Dozier sent the judge a letter saying he didn't mind suffering. That's when prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider her decision.

Dozier's lawyers argued that the judge's order should stand.

"Now that NDOC's feigned concern for the humaneness of the execution has been exposed as a sham, the only reasonable interpretation of its prior conduct is that it was intended to goad Mr. Dozier, a volunteer, into submitting to a torturous execution," the lawyers wrote in court papers. "NDOC sought and obtained the stay of execution which caused Mr. Dozier to submit the very letter it now relies upon to argue the case is moot."

For more than a year, Dozier has reiterated to the judge in court and in writing that he was "resolute and steadfast" in his death wish.

The state's last execution occurred in April 2006, when Daryl Mack, another man who dropped his appeals, was put to death.

Lawyers in the Dozier case are expected back in Togliatti's courtroom next month.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Man sentenced to die for 1995 killing of DPS trooper convicted in California murder

A man sentenced to die in Arizona was convicted of a 2nd murder in California on Monday, finally closing a legal process that spanned 2 states and 22 years.

The cases of Ernesto Salgado Martinez, 42, reach back to 1995 and Indio, California, where Martinez started a road trip to visit family in Arizona.

As he drove along the Beeline Highway, Martinez was pulled over by Arizona state trooper Bob Martin. Martinez shot and killed Martin and headed back to California before running out of gas.

Martinez then walked into a mini-mart in Blythe and demanded cash. When the cashier, Randip Singh, refused to empty the register, Martinez shot him, too.

He was 19 at the time.

The murders set off a tumultuous 2 decades in which Martinez was convicted of Martin's killing in Arizona and sentenced to death, and then taught himself law while awaiting a 2nd trial. He was moved to California in 2010 and spent the next 7 years filing motions to delay his case.

"He is incredibly dangerous because he is so bright," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin told The Desert Sun in 2015. "I would like to get him out of our system and out of our jail. And one of the ways to do that is to get this case to trial as quickly as possible."

Martinez's IQ tested in the 90th percentile and he was found to have elite "non-verbal, problem-solving skills," according to court records obtained by The Desert Sun.

Martinez was convicted Monday of murdering Singh.

He also represented himself against charges of the attempted murder of his cellmate, who was stabbed 50 times in 2011. Martinez, who said the stabbings were in self-defense, was acquitted of the attempted-murder charge Monday.

Prosecutors in California plan to seek the death penalty in Singh's death. But no matter how Martinez is sentenced, he will then be returned to Arizona, which issued the death penalty in 1998.



Commentary: Why Iraq should limit Islamic State trials

At the height of its power in Iraq, Islamic State controlled 40 % of the country's territory and the daily lives of millions of Iraqis. Tens of thousands of Iraqis came to serve the IS administration, including as doctors, teachers, judges, cooks, and lawyers, arguably contributing to the group's control of the cities it occupied.

Just as Iraqis were forced to join the Baath party under Saddam Hussein, many in IS-controlled areas say they were forced to join the group to keep their jobs - though no doubt some also supported IS's extremism.

But today, under Iraqi law - and as urged by various United Nations resolutions - Iraq is trying to prosecute them all. Those convicted face life in prison or the death penalty merely for IS membership. But such broad prosecutions would be a grave mistake if Iraq is ever to establish some modicum of national reconciliation.

There is global sympathy for Iraqi popular demands for justice against the IS criminals who mercilessly, even proudly, caused unimaginable suffering, death, and destruction in Iraq (and Syria) for 3 years. Our 21st century is now scarred with the modern medievalism of captive Yezidi women sold as slaves and journalists in orange jumpsuits beheaded with giant swords on live camera. Beyond the daily tyranny IS inflicted on Iraqis under their control, from public killings for minor offenses to strict codes of religious conduct ensnaring ordinary families, it caused the deaths and injuries of thousands of Iraqi soldiers deployed to defeat it. And IS militants certainly showed no respect for the laws of war or human decency in how they treated captured Iraqi soldiers.

After Islamic State

The UN has established a special investigative team to gather evidence of IS crimes to assist Iraqi courts in their prosecutions. But the international community has chosen to look away from the mass vengeance still under way at the hands of Iraqi soldiers: grotesquely torturing, beating, and executing IS suspects while arbitrarily detaining thousands of IS-related women and children in makeshift camps and prisons.

While this vigilantism in the heat of war may well subside, the trials, jailing, sentencing, and execution of at least 10,000 IS suspects will go on for years, sustaining new grievances for a much greater number of Iraqi families, tribes, and communities. Our research into these prosecutions shows that they are rife with the same due process violations that have for decades tainted the Iraqi judicial system - detention in inhumane conditions based on flimsy evidence; allegations of severe torture to coerce confessions; no prisoner access to lawyers or families, who often don't even know if their loved one is alive; and summary trials, some lasting as little as 15 minutes but resulting in hastily-issued death sentences.

Sadly, these trials don't even have the merit of establishing a judicial, historical account of IS's crimes against the Iraqi people and a real sense of justice for the victims. Instead, the only charge IS suspects regularly face is "membership in Islamic State," quite easy to prove with a 1-sentence confession, but with no effort to establish the full record of crimes, such as genocide under international law or rape and murder under Iraqi criminal law. There's no strategy to prioritize prosecution of those most responsible for the gravest abuses, instead of the "first in, first out" factory-line process, where, as one senior Iraqi judge insisted to us, "the Islamic State cook is as guilty as the Islamic State fighter."

Victims of IS crimes, who should be able to testify about abuses they suffered and have the satisfaction of seeing the wrongdoers face justice in a court of law, are not included in these trials, leaving a vast disconnect between victims and the justice system. We already know that Iraqi courts have prosecuted at least 7,282 IS suspects under the counter-terrorism laws, and executed 92. Without a dramatic shift in approach, we will see hundreds more, if not thousands, executed, and ten times that number clogging Iraqi courts and prisons for decades.

Men identified by Iraqi security forces as suspected Islamic State militants are presented at a media conference at the Iraqi military intelligence directorate in There is an alternative to this disappointing and dangerous outcome and it is well within Iraq's practical reach, if not within its immediate political will. Iraq can, and should, find alternatives to prosecution for the thousands of IS suspects who carried out no serious crimes or acts of violence. Let's face it: The reasons someone may have joined IS are complex and touch upon a long history of Sunni isolation, for which many in Iraq are to blame.

A better (though no doubt imperfect) way to address the community betrayal such membership most deeply represents is to allow these IS members to participate in a national truth-telling mechanism that can also create a meaningful record of IS crimes, and to make amends through service to the Iraqi communities to which they and their families ultimately belong. There is ample precedent for this. In many other post-conflict situations, governments have decided to choose such alternatives to prosecution as the best way forward. Given the deeply fractured state of Iraqi society, this may also be its best chance to unite and rebuild a peaceful country.

(source: Commentary; Sarah Leah Whitson is the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch----Reuters)


Khartoum appeals court upholds death sentence for college student

The Khartoum Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued a ruling upholding the death sentence against the university student Asim Omer for the alleged killing a policeman during protests last year.

Last September, Khartoum North Criminal Court found Omer guilty of premeditated murder of a police officer and sentenced him to death by hanging.

The Khartoum Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued a ruling supporting the conviction of a 21-year-old university student and member of the opposition party.

He accused of killing an anti-riot policeman who died after a hit by a Molotov cocktail during the student protests in April 2016.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese Congress Party (SCoP) on Tuesday has warned of carrying out the death penalty against the student.

In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune Tuesday, the SCoP expressed confidence on his innocence, vowing to resist the court ruling until all rights to appeal have been exhausted.

The SCoP said he is facing a "political charge", warning against serious consequences if the death sentence is executed.

"Our promise to Omer is that he will come out free and honoured against the will of the executioners who know with certainty that causing a little harm to him would ignite a far-reaching sedition," read the statement.



Bishop criticizes death-penalty call for cow slaughter----Bishop Vincent Barwa says the demand by a radical Hindu group seeks to create religious divisions

An Indian Catholic leader has slammed an inflammatory call by a radical Hindu group for the execution of people who slaughter cattle or transport beef.

Bishop Vincent Barwa, who chairs the bishops' office for ethnic minorities and lower caste people, said the demand by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council-VHP) sought to create violence and religious divisions.

The senior prelate was responding to following media reports that the VHP had resolved to press for a national law against cow slaughter stipulating death sentences for violators.

Orthodox Hindus revere cattle. Laws restricting the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks exist in 20 of India's 29 states.

Since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power nationally in 2014, India has witnessed more than 20 mob lynchings connected with what is generally referred to as "cow slaughter".

The media have widely reported orchestrated attacks on Muslims and Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, by so-called cow vigilantes.

A report, compiled by IndiaSpend, India's 1st data journalism outfit, found that Muslims were targeted in 51 % of violence connected with bovine issues between 2010 to 2017.

Hindu leader Narayana Maharaj Shinde during the recent VHP meeting defended cow vigilantes and said those who sell cows were as much culprits as those who slaughtered them.

Bishop Barwa said demands for capital punishment for cow slaughter targeted Christians, Muslims, Dalits and indigenous groups who had no religious prohibition on the eating of beef.

He said attempts by some Hindu groups to exploit the issue for political purposes would fail because India remained a peace-loving country.

Vinay Kumar, of the National Federation for Dalit Land, expressed concern that even without a draconian capital punishment law, Dalits would continue to be murdered with impunity in the name of cow protection.



MP: 8-year-old minor raped after Parliament passes death penalty bill

Hours later MP assembly has passed the bill awarding death penalty to child rapists, an 8-year-old minor child was raped by her neighbor in MP. The incident is reported from Indore's Depalur tehsil were the accused Sandeep Chaganlal (19) reportedly entered the minor 8-year-old victim's house in absence of her parents while she was busy watching TV along with other children says Deccan Chronicle's report.

The Police has filed FIR against the accused who had reportedly raped the minor after sending the other children out. The enraged parents barged into the accused neighbour's house on knowing the incident said India Times.


DECEMBER 5, 2017:


For 1st time in more than 30 years, no Harris County death row inmates executed

For the 1st time since 1985, no Harris County killers will be executed by the state of Texas this year, a landmark shift for a county once known as the "capital of capital punishment."

Despite a slight uptick in executions nationwide, Harris County's 1 execution this year was cancelled after a desperate death row plot led to a last-minute stay for serial killer Anthony Shore in October. 2 U.S. Supreme Court rulings spared 2 other inmates.

"This has been an important year in terms of death penalty litigation," said District Attorney Kim Ogg. "I view it as a positive thing. I don't think that being the death penalty capital of America is a selling point for Harris County."

Nationwide, executions reached a high water mark in 1999, and Texas executions topped out at 40 the next year. But it's Harris County courts that have kept the death chamber busiest, with 126 executions since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

"Harris County has always symbolized America's death penalty because it has executed more people than any other county and - apart from the rest of Texas - more than any other state," said Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center. "It is both symbolic and emblematic of the change in capital punishment in the United States. For the 1st time in a generation, the nation's largest executioner has executed no one."

In part, that's due to the long-range impact of the Lone Star State's introduction of life without parole as a sentencing option starting in 2005. Before that, jurors on capital murder cases had to pick between death and the possibility of eventual release.

But it's also due to the more immediate impacts of court actions this year. In October, death row inmate Duane Buck was given a life sentence after the Supreme Court granted him a new hearing in light of testimony from an expert who told the jury that Buck was more likely to be a future danger because he is black.

Then in November, Harris County prosecutors asked for a life sentence for Bobby Moore, months after the Supreme Court determined that Texas did not properly consider whether he was too intellectually disabled to face execution.

Falling murder rates and changing political tides have also contributed to the decline in capital punishment.

"Perhaps the most important change is that the public is substantially less supportive of the death penalty than it has been at any time since 1972," Dunham said, citing a recent Gallup poll. The research group's October findings showed that 55 % of U.S. adults support capital punishment for convicted murderers, a low not seen since March 1972.

Outspoken death penalty supporter Dudley Sharp blamed the drop on the length of time between sentencing and execution.

"At this point it's more than doubled since the 1980s, which would dramatically lower the execution rate," Sharp said.

Even without Harris County, Texas regained its spot this year as the busiest death chamber in the nation with seven executions. Nationwide, 23 prisoners were put to death - 3 more than the year before - amid an otherwise downward trend.

A generation ago, it was a different story.

A year before Karla Faye Tucker's execution grabbed national headlines amid the tough-on-crime efforts of the 1990s, Harris County saw 11 killers in 1997 executed. Tucker, the 1st woman executed in Texas since the 1800s, was convicted of a brutal pickaxe slaying; she blamed the killing on drugs.

The next execution in Texas is Jan. 18, when "Tourniquet Killer" Anthony Shore is slated to die by lethal injection.

Shore's execution on Oct. 18 was halted at the last minute after he told investigators of an abandoned confession plot with fellow death row inmate Larry Swearingen, a Montgomery County killer whose execution was also delayed.

A handful of other Harris County killers who are nearing the end of their appeals process could potentially net 2018 execution dates, including Carlos Ayestas, a Honduran man convicted in a 1995 slaying. The court heard oral arguments in the case in October and is expected to offer a decision next year.

No new death sentences, however, were imposed in Harris County this year - Ogg's 1st to helm the district attorney's office.

"I think it reflects both the new administration and the new skepticism about the death penalty and life without parole all combined with a dash of Harvey," said local defense attorney Pat McCann. "And then of course there's the simply bizarre continuing tale of Mr. Shore and Mr. Swearingen and the frankly inexplicable turn of events there."

Next year could be different, however.

"When you have an historic low one year it's not surprising to see the numbers rise slightly the following year," Dunham said.

Death row exoneree Anthony Graves lauded local prosecutors for their role in the shifting tides.

"Kudos to the administration for being out front on criminal justice reform," he said. "Because this is what it is, this is what it looks like."

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Judge issues gag order in Riggs capital murder case, grants pre-trial defense motions

35th District Judge Steve Ellis has issued a gag order in the Ryan Riggs capital murder case and granted several pre-trial motions the attorney for the 21-year-old capital murder defendant has filed.

Those motions deal with topics ranging from a court clothing allowance for Riggs to modifying conditions of the defense team's jailhouse visits with Riggs.

The gag order heavily restricts the comments members of law enforcement, attorneys and family members of Riggs and murder victim Chantay Blankinship can made to the media. Ellis wrote in the order that its intent is to ensure a fair trial.

Ellis earlier appointed John Wright of Lubbock, regional public defender for capital cases, as Riggs' attorney. Wright has asserted in pre-trial motions that the state is seeking the death penalty and that Riggs, who is charged in the May 13, 2016 murder of Blankinship, "is therefore literally fighting for his life."

District Attorney Micheal Murray has given no indication to the court whether the state will seek the death penalty against Riggs.

Sheriff Vance Hill, answering a question from commissioners during the commissioners court meeting Monday morning, said Murray "has not decided if he's going to seek the death penalty at this point. We're still checking on several things during the course of the investigation. There are a lot of contributing factors that go into that."

Wright has also filed a waiver of arraignment on behalf of Riggs, meaning he will not appear in court on Dec. 11 as previously scheduled.

In response to one of Wright's motions, Ellis signed a court order last week directing any jail visitation between Riggs and the defense team, including experts working for the defense, be private and not recorded. Ellis also ordered that the sheriff's office "may not use any means to monitor or record the audio portion of these visitations."

Ellis further ordered that Riggs will not be shackled or handcuffed while visiting with the defense team or experts working for the defense.

Wright requested in his motion that Riggs be permitted "private, unrecorded and unmonitored unshackled and un-handcuffed contact visitation" with the defense and experts.

Defense team members previously met with Riggs in the jail "in a separate room in which 2 video cameras are readily visible. Mr. Riggs is required to remain seated on a metal stool."

In another motion, Wright sought, and received, a $500 clothing allowance for 4 shirts, 3 pants and a belt for Riggs to wear when he appears in pre-trial hearings and in a trial that is expected to last up to 3 weeks.

In the commissioners court meeting Monday morning, commissioners approved a $3,600 payment to Parabon NanoLabs of Reston, Va., the company that created a drawing of what the suspect in the Blankinship murder might look like based on DNA. Sheriff's officials have said Riggs confessed shortly after the drawing was made public.

The sheriff's office and district attorney's office have agreed to split the cost using drug seizure money from their offices, Hill told commissioners. The question about the death penalty came up as commissioners approved the action.

Riggs remains jailed on 2 charges - capital murder, with bond denied, and an unrelated illegal dumping case.

(source: Brownwood Bulletin)


Maslon gets inmate off Texas death row

Witness by witness, statement by statement, inkling by inkling, a pro bono team at Maslon put together a habeas corpus case that got its client off death row in a Texas prison.

Douglas Tyrone Armstrong was not exonerated of a murder he says he didn't commit, but he will get a new punishment hearing and will be removed from death row, where he has been in solitary confinement for all but 10 hours per week for 10 years. He was represented by Maslon's pro bono committee chair Julian Zebot, Catherine Ahlin-Halverson, Michael McCarthy and Nicole Narotzky. Many others were involved in the case during the 11 years the firm worked on the case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 5-4 opinion, determined that Armstrong's defense counsel failed to conduct a constitutionally adequate investigation of mitigating evidence. The lower court also found that the defense failed to investigate, but that Armstrong was not prejudiced thereby.

The team has brought other habeas issues that are yet to be resolved, including Armstrong's claim of actual innocence.

"Tyrone has consistently proclaimed his innocence," Zebot said. His trial lawyers were ineffective at the culpability phase as well as the punishment phase - "essentially he didnít get much of a defense at all."

He added, "We are going to fight for the client's complete exoneration."

The eyewitness testimony changed several times during the process, shifting in a direction unfavorable to Armstrong, he said. Additionally, the physical evidence doesn't match up to the rest of the evidence, he said.

Wiggins standard

The Texas court relied on Wiggins v. Smith, a 2003 Supreme Court opinion where the court said that the standard of review is whether counsel's investigation was reasonable under prevailing professional norms, including a context-dependent consideration of the challenged conduct as seen from counsel's perspective at the time. It's unusual for a court to grant relief under Wiggins, Zebot said.

Maslon lawyers dug deeply into Armstrong's history and presented additional evidence of his disadvantaged background and entirely new expert testimony with respect to his mental state at the time of the offense, not evidence that was essentially more of the same character of evidence presented at trial. A Wiggins claim is not barred by the presentation of some mitigating evidence by the trial counsel, if the habeas counsel provided new evidence that demonstrated a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have held out against the death penalty, the court said.

The most compelling evidence to the Texas court appeared to be the new mental health evidence, and it relied primarily on that to conclude that there was a reasonable probability of a different outcome had that evidence been available.

But to get to that expert testimony, the lawyers needed to develop more lay testimony, mostly from Armstrong's family. They interviewed witnesses and were assisted by a mitigation investigator. They looked for school and medical efforts but most of them had been destroyed.

"The family was so brave in sharing their stories. They were willing to offer this really traumatic history to the experts and the court," Ahlin-Halverson said. "You're asking people to share extraordinarily painful personal history."

"You could hear a pin drop when the family was testifying. It was absolutely riveting," she said.

The lawyers and investigators worked to establish trust over time, Ahlin-Halverson continued. "The 1st time we met with the family members we didn't learn everything. Every time we spoke with them we got a deeper and more comprehensive understanding.

"To me, the most important thing we did was stick with them, and be where we said we would be so they could learn to trust us."

Critical to the success of the case is the strong internal team at Maslon.

"We had so many attorneys, paralegals and staff running around in different directions, gathering affidavits. The case was going to rise or fall on the strength of the people working on it," Zebot said.

"It demonstrates Maslon's commitment to pro bono. We literally spent thousands of hours," Zebot said. It was also a significant financial commitment, he added.

History of abuse

The family member's testimony included accounts of physical abuse endured by all the children, including Armstrong. Armstrong was frequently locked in an empty room for days at a time, with no food or access to a bathroom. The parents were alcoholics and both beat the children with some kind of tool. Armstrong was beaten in the head.

His siblings also learned to physically abuse him. Armstrong and his sister were the only siblings who had the same father, and he raped the sister, resulting in a pregnancy. There were other instances of sexual abuse in the family. Additionally, the parents spent all their resources on alcohol and never bought food for the children. The family moved constantly because the parents did not pay their rent. Armstrong was introduced to alcohol by his brother at the age of 5.

Neuropsych evaluation key

The experts were Dr. Phillip D. Harvey, a clinical psychologist in the field of study and diagnosis of cognitive impairment; and Dr. Robert Lee Smith, a forensic psychologist and addiction specialist.

Harvey's neuropsychological evidence was the "linchpin" of the court's opinion, Ahlin-Halverson said. His diagnosis was borderline intellectual functioning and acquired dementia. The dementia was likely caused by substance abuse, repeated traumatic brain injury and extreme life stress, he said. Those symptoms were fully formed by the time of the murder for which Armstrong was convicted.

Smith diagnosed Armstrong with dysthymic disorder (long-standing depression), substance dependence and personality disorder-not otherwise specified. He attributed the dysthymia to environmental factors in Armstrong's past.

The absence of psychological evidence was prejudicial, the court determined. The court could not determine that the state's evidence would clearly outweigh the totality of the mitigation evidence, the court concluded.

Armstrong is incredibly grateful to his lawyers, Ahlin-Halverson said. He speaks of his love for his family often, she said.

At some hearings the judge has allowed Armstrong to greet and hug (unshackled) each of his family members, including his son. "That really brings it home, what he's been through," Zebot said.

"You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved," Ahlin-Halverson said.

(source: Minnesota Lawyer)


Death Sentence Commuted to Life For William Gregory, Double-Murderer of Flagler Beach

The murders happened on August 21, 2007, at a house on John Anderson Highway in Flagler Beach. William Gregory, 24 at the time, walked in on his ex-girlfriend Skyler Dawn Meekings, 17, and her boyfriend of 2 months, Daniel Arthur Dyer, 22, as they slept together, and shot them both at close range with a shotgun. A 1-year-old child Gregory had with Meekins was sleeping in a bedroom nearby.

He was tried, found guilty, and in 2011, sentenced to death in the culmination of a case that had drawn such notoriety locally that it was moved to Volusia County. It eas tried before Circuit Judge William A. Parsons.

But the jury's recommendation for death in 2011 was by the slimmest possible margin of 7-5, back when Florida was 1 of just 2 states that still allowed death sentences to be imposed after less than a unanimous jury verdict. That changed less than 2 years ago, when U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court decisions found Florida's method of sentencing defendants to death unconstitutional.

Recommendations must now be unanimous. In Gregory's case, the Supreme Court in August threw out his death sentence and returned the case to circuit court in Flagler County for a new sentencing phase.

That would have meant an elaborate process, similar to a trial, involving pre-trial hearings, the impaneling of a jury, the questioning of witnesses at a sentencing hearing and jury deliberations. In other words it would have meant bringing back Meekins's family to relive those events again.

It would have also raised other procedural issues Gregory's attorney raised in 2016, claiming there would have been grounds for a mistrial in the original case.

Monday morning, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig commuted Gregory's death sentence to life in prison without parole on both counts.

"We looked at the case and and consulted with the family," Assistant State Attorney Jason lewis said. "They did not want to go through the process again." So the prosecution agreed to a commutation in what amounted to a hearing lasting all of 5 minutes. Gregory had been brought in from his death row cell at the state prison near Raiford.

"We'd have to basically do a whole new penalty phase," Lewis said, "and we take the family's wishes very seriously. That's what they wanted."

The families' positions were no mystery, as Daniel Dyer's big sister had expressed it in her statement to the court before the 2011 sentencing: "The worst thing about Dan's death," she wrote, "is the way he died. He didn't die in an accident or a health condition. He was murdered by a cowardly little twit. He was such a coward that instead of confronting Dan, like a real man, he crept in the dark into Skyler's room, and shot them both in the head while they were asleep. The wounds were so horrible that we couldn't even have an open casket for Dan so we could see him one last time."

She had asked for the death penalty. "He had the right to a judge and jury," she'd written, 'but what about Dan and Skyler's rights? They had no judge, no jury, only a 12-gauge shotgun to the head while they slept." Using Gregory's nickname, she went on: "And what has Billy done this entire time? He shows no remorse, no sorrow, he just sits there, so arrogant, that somehow he thought he ws smart enough to get away with it, that he had the right to play God and kill 2 innocent people. Foe what? The simple fact that Skyler had left him for a real man."

The families of the victims were not in court this morning. But Skyler's aunt Deborah Meekins had written the court 6 years ago that while she had never been much for the death penalty, "what I do know - Billy is all for it. Billy sentenced Skyler and Dan to the death penalty, right there, that night, as they slept together alone for the 1st time."

Skyler's father, Hap Meekins, had written of his daughter in 2011: "Skyler was very talented. A straight-A student with ambition. But the thing that I remember the most was her dedication toward anything she did. Being the youngest of 3 girls did not matter. Like the summer she spent fishing on the Pier. The 3 girls would spend hours fishing for King Fish. She caught a 30-lb. King Fish which didn't go over well with her sisters. She never minded getting her hands dirty whether it was fishing, playing soccer, or helping me with the garden. She was very unselfish; she would help me [with] anything I asked." And he'd concluded: "My memories will keep me going for the rest of my life. I love you Skyler always and forever. No one can take that away."



Rick Scott continues death penalty fight with Ayala----Scott gives Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala's office until Dec. 11 to provide answers about seeking the death penalty in the Emerita Mapp case.

Gov. Rick Scott's office demanded that Orange/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala provide a series of answers about the pursuit of the death penalty in a case involving an April murder in Kissimmee.

In a Monday letter, Scott's general counsel said Ayala failed to "file a timely notice of intent" to seek the death penalty against Emerita Mapp, who had been charged with 1st-degree murder in the stabbing death of Zackery Ganoe.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that a notice to seek the death penalty was filed by Ayala's office in October after a panel of seven attorneys in her office recommended the death penalty.

Ayala's decision to form the panel came after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Ayala was wrong in refusing to pursue the death penalty. After the verdict, Ayala said she would comply with the ruling.

But Scott's general counsel, Daniel Nordby, insisted in a 3-page letter to Ayala on Monday that she her office had failed to file notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Mapp.

"As you should have been aware, Florida law required a notice of intent to seek the death penalty to be filed within 45 days from the date of Mapp's arraignment," Nordby said. "Inexplicably, the notice was not filed until Oct. 31, 2017 - well beyond the 45-day deadline and more than 35 days after you acknowledged your 'responsibility to follow the law.' on Sept. 1."

Nordby charges that Ayala knew the deadline had lapsed, but "knowingly" filed the notice.

"This suggests negligence - and, at worst, willful disregard - in the faithful performance of the duties of your constitutional office."

He outlined several steps her office needed to take before Dec. 11, including:

-- The procedures of the death penalty review panel, the number of cases reviewed and the number of cases that have resulted in an unanimous decision to seek the death penalty;

-- The date on which the panel unanimously recommended the death penalty in the case against Emerita Mapp and the date State Attorney Ayala accepted that recommendation; and

-- Explanation of State Attorney Ayala's decision to refuse State Attorney King's offer of assistance in developing a procedure to review cases for death penalty consideration.

Eryka Washington, a spokeswoman for Ayala's office, said Scott's letter was received Monday afternoon. She said a comment will be forthcoming once it is reviewed.

(source: Tampa Bay Times)


Trial for man facing death penalty delayed

Michael Allen Tharp didn't go on trial Monday as scheduled for allegedly killing his step-father. Instead, his capital murder case was continued until at least 2018. The reason for the delay isn't immediately known.

Tharp was arrested for the December 2012 death of 68-year old Joseph Bernard Hendley, found shot to death in his Cowarts home. Prosecutors say robbery was the motive.

Defense attorneys argued Tharp, who is from Houston County, was not mentally competent to stand trial but after a hearing last month where an expert testified Houston County Circuit Judge Kevin Moulton ruled he is competent. If convicted, Tharp could be sentenced to death.

Court records, as of Monday, didn't reveal why the continuance was requested. A new trial date will be set later.

(source: WTVY news)


Supreme Court Declines Death Penalty Case Involving Jury Selection

The Supreme Court won't take up a death penalty case from Alabama in which attorneys said African-American jurors were improperly excluded from the jury.

The justices said Monday they would not take the case of Christopher Floyd. Floyd's attorneys have said that the prosecutor in the case marked potential African-American jurors with a "B" to indicate their race on the jury list and could not give a reason for excluding at least 1 of the African-Americans he'd objected to from the jury.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a brief statement agreeing with the decision not to take up the case. She said the manner in which the jury was selected "raises serious concerns." But she said the "unusual posture" in which the claims were raised made it unsuitable for review.

(source: Associated Press)


Man challenges death sentence, says actual killer given life

A condemned Ohio killer is challenging his death sentence on the grounds that the man who fatally stabbed the victim received a life sentence.

Austin Myers was sentenced to die for the 2014 killing in southwestern Ohio of childhood friend Justin Back, who was about to enter the Navy.

Authorities say the 18-year-old Back was killed during a burglary and his body dumped in a rural area.

Attorneys for Myers plan to argue before the Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday that his death sentence is disproportionate because of the life sentence given to co-defendant Tim Mosley.

Records show the 22-year-old Myers held Back while Mosley stabbed him.

Prosecutors say the case against each man must be addressed individually. They also say there's overwhelming evidence of Myers' role in planning the killing.

(source: Associated Press)


Warren County murder case: Wife doesn't want jury trial

The wife of a South Lebanon man facing the death penalty is scheduled for a one-day trial in January on lesser charges stemming from the same violent incident.

This morning, Jacqueline Kirby, 31, waived her right to a jury trial and agreed to a 1-day "bench trial" before Judge Donald Oda II on Jan. 29 in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

She is charged with tampering with evidence, receiving stolen property and misuse of credit cards in the case.

Facing the death penalty is Christopher Kirby, 38, held on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, murder, attempted murder, felonious assault, grand theft and tampering with evidence in connection with the beating death of his sister and severe beating of her husband.

His adoptive sister, Debrah Power, 63, of South Lebanon, was pronounced dead from head injuries Sept. 15 at her home in South Lebanon. Her husband, Ronnie Power, was badly beaten in the attack and remains in serious condition, according to authorities.

The 4 people involved in the case shared a house in South Lebanon. "Jacqueline stated during her interview, they used Mr. Power's cell phone to contact drug dealers. She said they were trying to sell a television they'd taken from the residence," an investigator alleged in a search-warrant affidavit.

The tampering with evidence charges stem from the Kirbys' alleged disposal of the cell phone and Debra Power's purse on Interstate 75, where they were arrested.

Christopher Kirby remained in the county jail without bond. Jacqueline Kirby's bond has been reduced from $250,000 to $20,000, but she also remained in jail while her lawyer, Tamara Sack, worked on a place for her to stay upon her release.

(source: Dayton Daily News)


Ohio Supreme Court to hear local man's death penalty appeal

On Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court is to preside over a legal debate over whether the death penalty should be executed on a young Clayton man - the 2nd youngest on Ohio's death row - for the murder of an even younger Warren County man at his home outside Waynesville in January 2014, according to the Journal-News.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell will personally argue for the state to continue forward toward the execution of Austin Myers, now 22, of Clayton, although another Clayton man, Timothy Mosley - like Myers 19 years old at the time - actually stabbed to death Justin Back, 18, a 2013 Waynesville High School graduate about to enter the U.S. Navy.

"Austin Myers killed Justin. Tim was his weapon of choice," Fornshell said last week, quoting Back's stepfather, Mark Cates, a local prison guard.

It will be Fornshell's 1st appearance before the high court on behalf of Warren County.

Lawyers appointed to appeal Myers' death sentence have identified 18 violations of law they claim should convince the state's high court to set aside his death sentence, including his age and the lesser sentence - life in prison without parole - Mosley received in exchange for his testimony.

3 years later, Myers is still the 2nd youngest of 140 Ohio prisoners facing the death penalty. Damantae Graham, 20, convicted of killing a Kent State University student, is the only one younger.

Myers' lawyers also claim errors or misconduct by the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case, decided more than 3 years ago in Warren County Common Pleas Court, should convince the high court, including appointed Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice of Ohio's 11th District Court of Appeals, to spare his life.

"Mr. Myers's rights under the Constitution of the United States and the Ohio Constitution were violated and he was denied a fair trial and sentencing proceeding. Accordingly, this Court should reverse and discharge the defendant or grant a new trial. In the alternative, this Court should vacate the death sentence, remand for a resentencing hearing, and order the life sentence imposed," lawyer Timothy McKenna said in his brief to the high court.

(source: WCPO news)


Lawsuit says governor exceeded powers on death penalty

A lawsuit says the 11 men on Nebraska's death row can't be executed because their death sentences were converted to life in prison when the death penalty was repealed in 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed the complaint early Monday, naming Gov. Pete Ricketts and several other officials. The lawsuit seeks a court order barring the state from carrying out any executions.

After lawmakers abolished the death penalty, they overrode Ricketts' veto. Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot petition drive partially financed by Ricketts. Voters overturned the Legislature's decision and restored the punishment in November 2016.

The ACLU says Ricketts overstepped the Nebraska Constitution's separation of powers clause because he funded and controlled the petition drive.

(source: Associated Press)


Jury begins death penalty discussion for convicted killer Bryan Clay

The convicted killer of a Las Vegas mother and her daughter asked jurors to spare his life.

Bryan Clay, 27, became emotional when he took the stand Monday in the penalty phase of his trial at the Regional Justice Center.

Prosecutors say he deserves to die for raping and murdering Yadira Martinez and her 10-year-old daughter, Karla, in April 2012.

"I've heard God's forgiveness is limitless," Clay told jurors. "I hope he can forgive me."

Clay took a moment to thank his attorneys, the prosecution and even the jurors who found him guilty.

"I don't know how to express my remorse; I can only express love," he said. "And know these actions have caused so much pain."

But while he was on the stand with a prepared statement, Clay quickly went off script, with emotion taking over.

"Just to sit for 6 years and think about something you don't remember doing, I went crazy," he said. "First thing I tried to do in jail was kill myself."

Clay reiterated that he didn't remember breaking into the Martinez home in the middle of the night and committing the heinous attacks, attacking the victims in their beds. He says the Martinez family is in his prayers.

It's for another little girl, however, why he wants to live ' his 5-year-old daughter, Nicole.

The jury was shown video and pictures of the child Clay calls his pride and joy.

"If not for my attorneys and daughter, I'd be begging you for death," Clay said. 'But I don't want that for myself. I don't want my attorneys to have to sit through it. I don't want anybody else to sit through it."

Prosecutors say Clay deserves the ultimate punishment, stating that what happened to his victims was not an impulsive act, but a crime that took hours to commit.

Clay's lawyers said the death penalty is nothing more than revenge.

The jury began deliberations Monday night and ended around 5:30 p.m. They will resume at noon Tuesday.