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

AUGUST 19, 2019:

TEXAS----impending execution

The Role Of Scientific Forensic Evidence Questioned In Pending Texas Execution

Larry Swearingen is scheduled to be executed Wednesday by the State of Texas.

It was 19 years ago that Swearingen was convicted of the abduction, rape and murder of Melissa Trotter. This is the sixth time that Swearingen had a date with death in the Texas prison system. But lingering questions about his guilt have caused the courts to repeatedly step in.

“My name is Larry Ray Swearingen, I’m on death row — scheduled to be murdered August 21st for a crime I did not commit,” said Swearingen in an interview at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. “You have faulty forensic sciences that are upholding this conviction, and now they want to murder me to make sure the conviction doesn’t come undone.”

After 2 decades on death row, Swearingen was pudgy, bald and his skin was a pasty white. In all that time, he never stopped insisting on his complete innocence.

“No, I didn’t not take Melissa’s life. We were friends in the end. We’re friends now. We will always be friends,” Swearingen said.

But the police and prosecutors who worked to convict Swearingen of capital murder and who are working now to have him executed contend that was a lie — one of Swearingen’s many lies.

“There is no other perpetrator out there. There's no other bogeyman. There's no other serial killer that killed Melissa Trotter. It's Larry Swearingen,” said Kelly Blackburn with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. “There is a mountain of evidence that connects Larry Swearingen to the death of Melissa Trotter that he was convicted on — besides science.”

Forensic science is central to solving murders. Prosecutors rely on it every day. But in the Melissa Trotter case, some of the forensic science appeared to contradict the prosecution. However, Blackburn said there was a wealth of circumstantial evidence in the case that pointed directly at Swearingen.

“Larry Swearingen wasn't connected to this case through DNA or through science,” Blackburn said. “He was connected to this case and was convicted on evidence that put him at the scene that on a mountain of circumstantial evidence that put him in Melissa Trotter together ?— what happened before, during and after her murder. So that's why he was convicted.”

Swearingen admitted if someone only listened to the prosecutors’ narrative, he sounded guilty. But he said they consistently used junk science to pin a murder on him while dismissing legitimate forensic science that proved it was impossible for him to be Melissa Trotter’s killer.

“I was in jail on trumped up charges. It was determined that Melissa Trotter died at the time I was incarcerated in the Montgomery County jail,” Swearingen said.

Melissa Trooter, 19, went missing on Dec. 8, 1998, in Willis, Texas, north of Houston. She was an outgoing college student last seen alive at the student center at Lone Star College Montgomery County campus. Swearingen at that time was a 27-year-old electrician. He was driving a stolen red pick-up truck and had a history of problems with the law.

“I was a screw up. I was a violent screw up. 2 plus 2 and you get the wrong conclusion. 'Hey, he’s done these things before. Look over here; yeah we have a good suspect here,' ” Swearingen said.

Swearingen immediately became the suspect in the Melissa Trotter missing persons case. They had been seen together at the college the day she went missing. Three days after her disappearance, Swearingen was arrested on outstanding traffic warrants. He’s been behind bars ever since.

While being questioned by investigators in 1998, he told them he didn’t know Melissa Trotter and had never spoken to her.

“I don’t even know the girl. Up until that point I didn’t even know that the girl existed.” Swearingen told officers.

“Then why would she have your pager number?” an officer asked.

“She asked me if there was a way to get hold of my sister," Swearingen responded. “When I walked up to the marina she asked me, ‘aren’t you Becky’s brother?’ And I said yes.”

“You ain't never talked to her before?” an officer asked.

Swearingen responded, “No, never.”

On Jan, 2 1999 — 25 days after her disappearance — hunters found the body of Melissa Trotter in a remote location in the Sam Houston National Forest. She was partially clothed. Investigators determined she had been strangled with a leg segment cut from a pair of pantyhose.

It was now a murder investigation. And the evidence against Swearingen was piling up. Police searched his truck and found strands of Melissa Trotter’s hair.

Swearingen now admits she had been in his truck many times.

“We were dating. We were friends with benefits. We went out and had a good time. I enjoyed being with her, and she enjoyed being with me,” he said. “What we did or didn’t do is nobody’s business. There has to be some chivalry in the court system where you don’t degrade someone who can’t be here to say, 'yes, that’s true,' or 'no, that’s not true.' ”

While Swearingen was in the county jail, there was a strange twist in the case. A letter written in lousy Spanish claimed that Swearingen was innocent. In the letter, there were details about the case that had not been in the news — about the position of the body and the color of Melissa Trotter’s underwear. This letter could exonerate Swearingen, except for the fact that he wrote it.

“When they started printing in the paper that they were going to kill me -- that’s what prompted the Spanish letter,” Swearingen explained. “I was scared to death about it.”

Swearingen said he knew those incriminating details because he had the autopsy report and crime scene photos.

Prosecutors argued they had plenty of evidence that tied Swearingen to the Melissa Trotter murder: a cell phone tower “pinged” him near where the body was found, a match of the murder weapon pantyhose was found at Swearingen’s trailer. Polyester fibers from his truck were on Trotter’s coat.

Swearingen countered that cell phone tower “pings” are no longer considered legitimate evidence. He said claims of a pantyhose match were overblown and inaccurate and that polyester fibers are polyester.

“Fibers are not unique to anything. They’re mass produced,” Swearingen said, “So when you say, 'hey, this fiber here is unique.' No, it’s not. It’s similar.”

And there was the evidence that the prosecution dismissed. Blood under Trotter’s fingernails did not match Swearingen’s DNA. Trotter’s body was only lightly decomposed. Experts testified that it appeared Trotter’s body was in the woods for no more than two weeks — that’s when Swearingen was locked up in the county jail.

Blackburn said none of this matters. He said Swearingen is a killer who has proven that he will do and say anything to avoid paying for his crime.

“But even given all that, this isn't what convicted Larry Swearingen. The evidence that was presented in the totality of everything that we're looking at and the picture that was painted for the jury as to what they were to evaluate that put him before, during and after this murder,” Blackburn said. “That's what convicted him.”

On Friday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rejected Swearingen’s latest motion for a stay of execution.

Swearingen’s appeal now goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I hate to say it, everybody wants to live,” Swearingen said. “I mean it’s a fight or flight process. Nobody wants to die for a crime that they didn’t commit.”

Editor's Note: This is the first story in a three-part series that investigates Swearingen’s claim that he’s innocent.



How judicial conflicts of interest are denying poor Texans their right to an effective lawyer----For decades, Texans who can’t afford a lawyer have gotten caught in a criminal justice system that’s crippled by inadequate funding and overloaded attorneys. A growing body of caseload data — and a recent lawsuit — point to an even more fundamental hazard: the unchecked power of Texas judges.

It was going to be his last shift at the Velvet Lounge, and all Marvin Wilford felt was relief. It was November 11, 2017 — Veterans Day — and as he got dressed for work, Wilford put on his scarlet-colored Marine Corps cap. The Velvet Lounge, a strip joint in North Austin, billed itself on Facebook as “the official afterparty for the city,” but Wilford couldn’t say he had fun: As a doorman, he collected cover charges from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and did a lot of standing, sometimes outside. That evening, the temperature was in the 60s. Over his T-shirt and jeans, Wilford pulled on a green hoodie.

It wasn’t that he felt ungrateful. Bald, with an athletic build, the 61-year-old was a year away from collecting Social Security, and his veteran’s pension didn’t quite cover the bills. The club paid $100 a night—not the kind of money he’d made running his own building-and-maintenance company once upon a time, but enough to supplement what his wife, Christine Wilford, brought in as a technician at Voltabox, a company that specialized in lithium-ion batteries.

In fact, Marvin Wilford felt lucky. After serving as a combat Marine in Vietnam, he’d gotten in serious trouble. In 1991, he’d been arrested after assaulting a police officer and was sentenced to prison for 20 years. He’d been released early, but then in 2006 he’d been arrested for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and was sentenced to another 10 years. A diagnosis in 2015 of post-traumatic stress disorder, and medications, had given him a new start, but no one wanted to hire an aging felon. His nephew, who owned the Velvet Lounge, had thrown him a lifeline.

Still, after 3 months at the gig, Wilford was done. He’d had hernia surgery, and he was walking with a cane. Christine Wilford had been sick, too, wracked by a nagging cough. The club, with its drunken brawls, was too unruly a scene. “This is not working for me,” Marvin Wilford muttered to himself, throwing his cane in the car and heading west on U.S. 290. “There’s gonna be trouble.”

Sure enough, trouble came at around 4 a.m., when a fight broke out by the dance floor and a security guard, a 42-year-old named James Jones, escorted 2 women outside. Wilford, standing by the door, watched as Jones led the disheveled pair — one with no shoes — toward the parking lot. He and Jones had become friends, bonding over the troublesome revelers they had to deal with. Jones liked to call him Unc, out of respect.

“F— all you security guards!” yelled one of the women. She and her friend stumbled toward a car, vowing to return. Then they sped off.

Twenty minutes later, the same car screeched back into the parking lot. By this time, other patrons were spilling out onto the sidewalk. Though accounts of what happened next vary, multiple witnesses would later say they saw one of the women get out of the car, brandishing a tire iron, and lunge at the gathering crowd. Jones saw the woman strike Wilford. Wilford recalls trying to keep her away from other patrons. Someone hit the woman over the head with an empty vodka bottle. Someone else stomped on the hood of the car.

“She was trying to fight everybody,” Jones later recalled. Quickly, the security guard grabbed his pistol and shoved it into her hip. “Let go of the weapon or I will shoot you,” he warned.

Instead, the woman rushed back into the melee. Jones and Wilford heard gunshots from somewhere in the parking lot. “Unc, go in the club,” yelled Jones. Wilford ran inside as Jones pointed his pistol into the air, firing two warning shots. The crowd dispersed.

By the time the police arrived, just before 6 a.m., the fighting had ceased. Several officers interviewed those on the scene — Wilford, Jones, some additional security guards and the woman who had charged the crowd, whose head appeared to be bleeding. No one was arrested. When Wilford finally got in his car to drive home, it was light outside. “I’m through,” he told Jones before leaving. “Too much madness over here.”

The security guard nodded. “I don’t blame you,” he replied.

5 weeks later, Christine Wilford was going through the mail when she opened an unsolicited form letter from a lawyer — she does not recall who — offering his legal services. Her breath caught when she saw why. There was a warrant for her husband’s arrest, read the letter. The charge: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a 2nd-degree felony.

The charge didn’t make sense. As a felon, Marvin Wilford wasn’t allowed to own a gun, and didn’t. Neither he nor his wife had heard from the police. As Wilford skimmed the letter, his head began to throb. With his criminal record, a new conviction could earn him a life sentence. He felt his lungs constrict. He couldn’t breathe. Alarmed, Christine Wilford called the Veterans Crisis Line. Her husband was having an anxiety attack, she blurted into the phone.

Nine days later, on Dec. 29, the couple drove to the Austin Police Department headquarters downtown to turn himself in. Marvin Wilford had spent several days at a Veterans Affairs hospital because of his panic attack. Now, sitting with a detective in an interrogation room, he learned that the officers who interviewed him at the Velvet Lounge had not found him credible. The woman in the fight claimed that she’d been threatened with a gun by a man wearing jeans and a green hoodie; she later picked Wilford out of a photo lineup. According to a police affidavit, Jones told the officers that Wilford kept a gun in his car. (Jones denies this, and when the officers checked the car that night, they found only Wilford’s cane.) There was video evidence from a witness, the detective told Wilford, as he turned on a laptop.

Watching the chaotic cellphone footage, Wilford tried to protest. Yes, there he was, in his green hoodie. But, he pointed out, he was clearly holding a cane, not a gun. And Jones, he added, had recently learned of his warrant and willingly signed a notarized statement to support him, affirming that Jones, not Wilford, had pulled the gun and fired it. Surely the police were interested in that?

The detective wasn’t persuaded. As Wilford was placed in handcuffs, his heart raced. He could not afford a lawyer. His wife’s job barely paid the bills, and their impending property tax payment that year — $4,500 for the home they’d inherited from his mother, in East Austin — loomed large. “I was really angry to be accused of something I didn’t do,” he said later. “Especially with the record I have.”

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that a person accused of a felony is guaranteed counsel even if the person can’t afford a lawyer. How exactly that counsel is provided, however, was left to states to decide, and in Texas, this “how” gets further relegated to the state’s 254 counties — meaning that each county decides how to appoint, and pay, lawyers for the poor. Last fiscal year, there were roughly 474,000 indigent cases in Texas. There are 19 public defender’s offices, which 39 counties rely on in some capacity, but the majority of counties contract with private lawyers, who are generally paid a modest flat fee per case. (This is the most common way that states fulfill their Gideon v. Wainwright obligations.) More than 150 counties also participate in a public defender program for death penalty cases.

Travis County, where Wilford was booked, has a limited public defender program — it serves juveniles and some mentally ill defendants — but relies primarily on a system of managed assigned counsel, in which an independent office assigns cases to a rotating cast of more than 200 private lawyers. After being transferred to the county jail in Del Valle, on the outskirts of Austin, Wilford waited.

He’d taken a few college classes on law after Vietnam, and he knew enough to feel hopeful. Surely his lawyer would look into his story. One evening in early January, he went to bed early — he was sleepy from the jail-issued anxiety meds — only to be shaken awake by a guard at 9 p.m. His lawyer, Ray Espersen, was there to see him.

A 58-year-old with strawberry-blond hair and thin glasses, Espersen was one of Austin’s most prolific lawyers: The previous year, he’d been paid for work on 331 felonies and 275 misdemeanors in Travis County, as well as 46 felonies in neighboring Williamson County — more cases than nearly any other Austin-area attorney. Such was Espersen’s workload, in fact, that in 2015 it had caught the attention of the public, when local TV station KXAN reported on the high number of cases appointed to him (the equivalent workload, by later estimates, of that of at least three and a half lawyers). After the report, the district attorney’s office had opened an investigation into apparent discrepancies between the number of jail visits that Es­per­sen had billed to the county and those recorded at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

Wilford did not know this. What he did know was that as he tried to explain — about the video, about the gun, about Jones — Espersen didn’t seem to be listening. The visitation room was tiny, and the two sat practically knee to knee, but “he was looking at the floor, scratching his head, looking everywhere but at me,” Wilford recalled. According to Wilford, Es­per­sen’s laptop remained closed, and he took no notes.

“Well, have your wife send me that video,” Espersen said at last, according to Wilford. (Espersen declined to comment for this story.)

“Hey,” said Wilford sharply, “I was just woken up to come talk to you, and I’m trying to tell you what happened because you asked. Now you’re not listening.”

According to Wilford, Espersen asked him to press the button that opened the room’s door. Unsure of what else to do, Wilford complied.

He would not see his lawyer again for 6 months.


Indigent defense in the U.S. is in crisis. More than 20 lawsuits filed in the past decade on behalf of poor plaintiffs — in California, Louisiana, Georgia and other states — point to this predicament, which has been acknowledged at the highest levels: In 2013, in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, then-U.S. attorney general Eric Holder bemoaned the number of unjust convictions and sentences borne by the poor. “This is unacceptable,” he declared, “and unworthy of a legal system that stands as an example to all the world.”

The main reason for this crisis is funding. Because the Supreme Court did not, in its 1963 ruling, specify how states should pay for counsel, local policymakers facing other costs — for schools, roads, law enforcement — consistently shortchange indigent defense. This is why public defender’s offices are chronically understaffed. It’s also why court-appointed private lawyers are overloaded: The fees they’re paid are often so low that they are forced to take on a multitude of cases just to make a living. Some overburdened lawyers, in turn, contribute to so-called plea mills, in which, critics say, they encourage defendants to plead guilty because they are either too swamped to investigate claims or incentivized not to. (In Travis County, for instance, court-appointed lawyers are paid $600 for a felony case whether they secure a plea deal or get the charge dismissed.)

The problem of funding is especially acute in Texas. Since 2001, when the state legislature passed the Fair Defense Act — a law that aimed to overhaul and standardize how the state’s poor received counsel — total spending on indigent defense has increased significantly, from some $91 million in 2001 to roughly $273 million in 2018. But Texas ranks among the states that spend the least per capita: Its counties, which shoulder most of the costs, are some of the fastest growing in the country, and what little the Legislature chips in to help — some $30 million last year — does not match demand. This creates a woeful game of numbers on the ground. In 2017, for example, the average court-appointed lawyer in Texas made only $247 per misdemeanor case and $598 per felony.

However, the problem goes beyond money. In Texas, the crisis is exacerbated by a key structural flaw: Indigent defense is largely overseen by judges. Contrary to the American Bar Association’s principles of public defense, which call for defense lawyers to be independent of the judiciary, judges in most Texas counties decide which lawyers get cases, how much they are paid and whether their motions — say, to reduce bail or test DNA — have merit. (Counties do have fee schedules for lawyers, but judges set the schedules and retain discretion over payment.)

Given that judges are elected based, in part, on the efficiency of their courts, this is an inherent conflict of interest. “Whatever the judge wants to do, it’s probably not acquit your client,” said Charlie Gerstein, a lawyer for Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that has spent the past several years challenging criminal justice abuses around the country. “The judge wants to move the docket. The judge wants to get reelected.” (Civil Rights Corps filed the class-action lawsuit against the bail system of Harris County in 2016.) Lawyers trying to work a case properly — by devoting more time or requesting an investigator — face a quandary: Why make the effort if a judge can retaliate by appointing them to fewer cases or cutting their pay?

In 1999, Houston Democrat and then-state Sen. Rodney Ellis introduced a bill that would, among other things, transfer oversight of indigent defense attorneys from judges to county officials. The Lege approved the measure, but judges, lawyers and prosecutors resisted, writing more than 300 letters to then-Gov. George W. Bush. (“The bill inappropriately takes appointment authority away from judges, who are better able to assess the quality of legal representation,” said Bush in his veto proclamation.) 2 years later, Ellis helped muscle through the Fair Defense Act, which provided, for the first time, some funding and oversight by the state, in the form of an agency now known as the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. The TIDC was tasked with administering funds, enforcing standards and responding to violations. But the law was also clear: “Only the judges ... or the judges’ designee” was allowed “to appoint counsel for indigent defendants in the county.”

For a long time, the combined effect of this judicial control and lack of funding — heavy caseloads, underserved defendants — was hard to quantify. But a surprisingly trailblazing move by the Legislature in 2013 gave Texas something almost no other state that relies on private attorneys has: comprehensive data. That year, lawmakers ordered every county to start reporting to the TIDC the number of indigent cases, and fees, given to lawyers in every court. They also instructed the TIDC to conduct a study on appropriate caseloads, the first of its kind mandated by a state government.

In 2015, the study’s results were released: In any given year, researchers found, a Texas lawyer could reasonably handle 128 felonies or 226 misdemeanors, or a weighted combination of the two. This set a benchmark against which to understand the growing database, which showed lawyers juggling two, three or even four times that load. Even the director of the TIDC at the time, Jim Bethke, said he hadn’t known “the magnitude of people who were getting run through the system on a super mass conveyor belt.”

Today, the TIDC database is staggering in its reach. With just a few clicks, anyone can look up lawyers by name and see how many indigent cases they took, and in what court and for how much. Finding the highest-earning attorney, or the most overloaded, takes minutes. Consider just a few names: In Harris County, in fiscal 2017, James Barr earned more than $131,000 for work on 433 indigent felony cases, which all came from the court of Judge Jim Wallace. In the Panhandle, Artie Aguilar won a contract in fiscal 2018 to handle all indigent felony cases in Dawson, Gaines, Garza and Lynn counties — a total of 322 cases, for a payment of $75,000. T.?D. Hammons, who takes cases around Amarillo, was paid $99,450 in fiscal 2017 for work on 129 felonies and dozens of misdemeanors. He reported that these took up less than 60% of his time, meaning that the rest of his time was devoted to additional clients.

Astonishingly, few judges — or lawyers or lawmakers — seem to be aware of these figures. Those who are will sometimes argue that caseload limits are unrealistic; it’s too arbitrary, they say, to impose a number when situations vary from county to county, or when judges are faced with too many defendants and too few defense lawyers. But as Texas grows and funding continues to lag, these figures offer a place to start—and one thing they show is that judicial oversight of an indigent defendant’s right to a lawyer is becoming untenable.

Just how untenable is left to poor defendants like Marvin Wilford to wrestle with — and for quixotic challengers around the state to try to change on their own, as one young, newly minted attorney named Drew Willey discovered for himself. After graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 2014, the green-eyed, sandy-haired 27-year-old learned that he couldn’t take indigent cases in Harris County right away — the public defender’s office was too small and competitive, and court appointments required a few years’ experience. So he’d ventured into nearby counties, and soon he found work in the misdemeanor court of Judge Jack Ewing, in Galveston County. There, Willey was assigned to the case of an 18-year-old named Wayne Lucas.

Lucas had been charged with burglary of a vehicle. But when Willey went to see him in jail, Lucas told a different story. He claimed that he’d been biking to a convenience store to buy cigarettes when a screw from his bike flew off. He’d been looking around for the screw, he said, when police officers showed up, saying that a witness had reported to 911 that a man who fit Lucas’ description was jiggling the door of a car in a driveway. The officers said the witness had filmed it with his cellphone.

Willey set into the case’s details. It was strange that Lucas was charged with burglary, rather than attempted burglary, since nothing had been reported stolen. The police report mentioned the video, but after Willey requested it from the district attorney’s office, he never got it. Willey asked Ewing to appoint an investigator, who interviewed the witness. The witness said that all he’d seen was Lucas try to open the car door without success. The witness also denied taking a video.

It was clear there wasn’t much of a case for burglary. Willey persuaded prosecutors to let Lucas plead to criminal mischief, a misdemeanor that he could eventually get expunged from his record. Lucas, who was training to become a manager at a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop, was thrilled. He’d been in and out of jail enough times as a juvenile. “I just wanted to get my life going,” he said.

Things would not be as straightforward for Willey as for his client. When the lawyer submitted a voucher for $1,320 for his work, Ewing approved only $511, citing “excessive out-of-court hours.” (Although Galveston County pays attorneys by the hour, the court “expects no more than 3.0 hours for appointed counsel to visit with defendant, secure offer from District Attorney’s Office, convey offer to defendant and appear in court for the plea or modification.”) Willey filed two appeals, after which he received the full amount.

But Willey soon found himself in a pattern. When he secured a dismissal in another case and asked for $528, Ewing approved $330. (This time, Willey’s appeal was denied.) When he asked for an investigator again, Ewing denied the request. Meanwhile, Willey also began filing lengthy motions on behalf of clients who had been assigned to Galveston’s jail docket — a system in which defendants who couldn’t afford bond were forced, as he saw it, to plead in a hurried, assembly-line fashion. Then, in May 2016, Willey found out that four cases he’d been working on had been assigned to another lawyer.

Willey tried for several weeks to get a clear explanation from Ewing. Finally, in mid-July, he sought the judge out in his chambers. Worried that Ewing would claim that he’d been an ineffective lawyer, Willey decided to record the conversation so he’d have evidence of their exchange. (It is legal in Texas to record outside the courtroom and without the other party’s consent.) “Whoever I feel I need to appoint, I’m going to appoint,” the judge told Willey. Willey couldn’t argue with that. But why, he asked, remove him in the middle of these cases? Didn’t changing attorneys midstream hurt a defendant’s ability to get the best representation?

Ewing grew impatient. In the year and a half he’d been a judge, he explained, Willey was “the only attorney that has, on almost every case you’ve had in my court, asked for an appointment of an investigator.” (Willey says he asked twice.) Normally, he added, attorneys in his court billed three hours for pleading out a case, for about $198.

“I applaud your wanting to help and get the best deal you can for these people,” the judge continued, but Willey’s bills were excessive. “I can only count and pay for what would be reasonable.” (When reached for comment, Ewing did not dispute the words from Willey’s recording. But, he stressed, context was important. He wasn’t the only one to deny Willey’s full requested payments; so had two other judges in Galveston County, and Willey had not contested those. As for the reassignment of Willey’s jail docket cases, Ewing pointed out that the lawyer he gave them to had, unlike Willey, 28 years of experience. Furthermore, according to Ewing, it is not uncommon for jail docket defendants with other pending cases to be reassigned to lawyers who are already representing them.)

Willey was stunned. He was caught in a system, he realized, that didn’t allow him to really represent his clients. The judge, forced to apportion scant resources, was caught, too. “How could things have grown this bad?” Willey wondered as he left the judge’s chambers. “How could nobody stand up?”


Back in Travis County, Wilford tried to clear his head. Had he offended his lawyer? Did he still have a lawyer? Espersen had given him a business card. Before heading back to his cell, Wilford placed a call to his wife. The meds were making him fuzzy, he told her; he was worried he’d messed up, and he needed her to call Espersen.

Christine Wilford was used to calls from jail. She and Marvin Wilford had married in 2006, right as he began his second stint in prison, and much of their relationship had been defined by bars. A native of France, she wore small, chunky-frame glasses and kept her hair in golden-brown braids; a tattoo on her wrist featured her husband’s nickname, Blocko, in cursive letters. She told him not to worry.

The next morning, she reached Espersen, who briskly confirmed that he was her husband’s lawyer. But over the following few weeks, according to Christine Wilford, Espersen did not pick up or return her calls. Marvin Wilford called Espersen, too, with no success. The veteran tried to distract himself, doing push-ups in his cell and reading the Bible (“the book of Psalms, all the way through,” he said). Christine visited on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the two became friendly with his cellmate, a former Army Ranger.

At least twice, Wilford was given a court date only to learn that the hearing was delayed. By late March, he had sat in jail for almost 12 weeks with no word, according to him, from his lawyer.

What neither he nor his wife knew is that this was exactly how things were not supposed to go in Travis County. More than three years earlier, on the initiative of a judge named Mike Lynch, the county had revamped the system by which it provided for poor defendants. Lynch, who was well known around the courthouse — he’d worked as a defense lawyer, a prosecutor and for 2 decades as a judge — had grown troubled by the role of judges in overseeing indigent defense. For one thing, no one had the time to assess defense lawyers’ performances. The judges convened over lunch twice a year to review which attorneys were qualified to take appointments, but the process felt arbitrary and time consuming.

There were also disagreements over pay and allegations of favoritism. Although judges were supposed to appoint attorneys from a rotating “wheel” of names, they often did not; in 2014, for example, courthouse records showed that judges made almost half of their appointments from the bench. (“Several of them were always assigning the same handful of lawyers,” said criminal defense lawyer Betty Blackwell.) This meant that some lawyers got an overabundance of cases, while others felt overlooked. Amber Vazquez, a lawyer known among defendants as the Queen of Acquittals, said she was removed from the wheel in 2012 after multiple disputes with different judges. “I was challenging everything, as a defense attorney is supposed to do,” said Vazquez. “Then the pushback started.”

With a committee to help him, Lynch searched for an alternative. A full public defender’s office was too expensive — some $33 million a year — and would likely meet with resistance for cutting into private attorneys’ income. So instead, Lynch turned to managed assigned counsel, a model pioneered in San Mateo County, California, that had also been adopted in Lubbock County. In that system, the government still contracted with private lawyers, but an independent office — rather than the judges — oversaw appointments and payments. Lawyers had strict caseload limits and easy access to investigators, they were paid not just for taking cases but also for filing motions and working outside the courtroom, and they received frequent performance evaluations.

Intrigued, Lynch drafted a proposal to create a similar model in Travis County, and in early 2015, an independent office known as the Capital Area Private Defender Service opened its doors in Austin. In legal circles across the country, the move — highly significant for an urban county in Texas — was hailed with cautious optimism. Austin Lawyer called it “the culmination of decades of uneven attempts” to establish fair representation for the poor, while a government study out of Michigan would eventually report that “CAPDS provides a high quality model for reform.”

The office, located for a time on the seventh floor of the Travis County courthouse, was tiny, with no windows, and its first two employees — executive director Ira Davis and his deputy, Bradley Hargis — had experience as court-appointed attorneys, though none in a public defender’s office. Still, things felt hopeful. The next hire, ­Trudy Strass­bur­ger, had recently moved to Austin after working as a managing attorney at the Bronx Defenders in New York. She brought the energy of an outsider, as well as expertise in “holistic” defense: the idea that effective representation of low-income people requires not just legal but also social support. She persuaded the office to hire an immigration lawyer and two social workers.

Almost immediately, bench appointments plummeted. And now that lawyers did not have to persuade a judge to pay for an investigator — they asked CAPDS instead — investigations increased, from fewer than 100 per year to more than 400 per year. (The number of case dismissals also increased.) Any lawyer who wanted to receive appointments had to apply with a review committee; an analyst crunched numbers on case outcomes. Frustrated families could call CAPDS if they were having problems. “All day long, the phone rings,” Davis told me.

Christine Wilford learned about CAPDS from a social worker. Desperate for help, she asked the social worker to call the office. Was Es­per­sen still even her husband’s lawyer? Yes, came the answer. But, according to the Wilfords, they still did not hear from him. A court date of March 29 came and went with another continuance.

Finally, in the early morning of April 12, Christine Wilford received a call from her husband’s cellmate, who said that Marvin Wilford was on his way to court. She drove downtown, arriving at the courthouse well before 9 a.m. She made her way past security, up eight floors, to the courtroom of Judge Karen Sage, where she’d been told she’d see Wilford. Before taking a seat, she found the bailiff.

“Do you know if Mr. Espersen is here?” she asked. She had no idea what he looked like. After a prosecutor pointed him out, in an area reserved for lawyers and court staff, Christine Wilford waited for him to approach her.

Espersen declined repeatedly to be interviewed for this story, though I called and emailed many times over several months and followed him around the courthouse for a week. (When I asked for a chance to explain my reporting and include his perspective, he replied, “I like surprises.”) By all accounts, however, he is well liked by Austin’s judges, who appreciate his knowledge of Spanish and his willingness to take on unpalatable cases, such as aggravated sexual assault.

“He’s got tough skin, and he’s competent,” said Judge Brenda Kennedy, who has appointed him in the past to deal with uncooperative clients. “He’s still able to represent and sometimes get results for them.”

He is known as much for plowing through his daily caseload — 11 court proceedings on average, he told the Austin American-Statesman in 2014 — as for his sense of humor. “So this, here, is like a sexual act,” he once declared in a courtroom about jury selection, according to a blog post by prosecutor Mark Pryor. “We’re feeling each other out, getting to know secrets about one another.”

So it was likely not out of character for Espersen to walk over to Christine Wilford and, after she introduced herself, smile at the sight of her long braids. “Oh!” she recalls him saying. “Are you related to Milli Vanilli?” Before she had a chance to answer, he did a little dance.

“Girl, you know it’s true,” he sang, echoing the chorus by the famously lip-synching ’80s pop duo.

Christine Wilford, who had never heard of Milli Vanilli, was so taken aback that she no longer remembers the rest of their exchange, except for the fact that her husband’s court date was again pushed back. Espersen did not communicate with Marvin Wilford, who sat in a holding cell at the courthouse before being taken back to jail.

When Wilford returned to court a month later, his wife found Es­per­sen again. She wanted to get the lawyer materials that could be helpful to the case, she told him: a list of witnesses who could corroborate Wilford’s account, his medical and military records, the statement from Jones. That night, after the case got another continuance, she texted the list of witnesses to Espersen’s phone, then headed to the Dollar Tree to buy an envelope. Carefully, she wrote the address of Espersen’s office on it, stuffed copies of Wilford’s documents inside and mailed it.

On June 22, Wilford had another court date. According to him and his wife, the couple had still not heard from Espersen, and to their knowledge, no one had contacted the witnesses or Jones. (In fact, Espersen soon informed Christine Wilford that he never received the documents). But that day, Espersen requested that the case be put on the trial docket — a potentially favorable move, in that it might force the prosecutor to look harder at the case and perhaps even dismiss it.

In the courtroom, standing with Espersen before Sage, Marvin Wilford felt confused — and weary. He eyed his lawyer. It was the first time they were seeing each other since that disconcerting night in jail, yet Espersen barely spoke to him. The judge asked for his response to the charges.

“Not guilty, Your Honor,” said Wilford.


As he left Galveston, turning his white SUV onto Interstate 45, Drew Willey fumed. In the weeks after Ewing first removed him from his cases, he’d been so upset that he’d filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, listing the canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct that he thought Ewing was violating: “Most importantly, Canon 3, C. (4) by failing to exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit.” Now, as he saw it, the judge had spelled out in his own words what Willey had suspected all along: There were poor defendants who were not getting a fair shake. Willey called his wife in Houston. “You’re not going to believe what this guy just said,” he told her, his voice shaking with anger.

He knew what some of his lawyer colleagues would say — that he was too idealistic. The state commission was notoriously opaque. And the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which Willey also filed complaints with — over Galveston’s jail docket — couldn’t do much either. Technically, the TIDC could make recommendations, but judges were not compelled to follow those; the agency could also withhold state funding, but it had done that only once, in 2015, after it found that two attorneys in Hidalgo County received more than a third of all 1,900 juvenile indigent cases in one court. (2 years later, one of the attorneys was still receiving the second-most juvenile cases of any lawyer in the county.)

“It takes a lot of sacrifice, having that fight,” said Brandon Ball, a lawyer in the Harris County public defender’s office who has worked with Willey. “They beat you down. They beat you down. They beat you down.”

But the fight is what had attracted Willey in the first place. He’d grown up as a middle-class conservative in Arlington, the youngest of 4, with a love of math. Gifted and competitive, he was president of the student body at his high school. After majoring in business at the University of Texas at Austin and pursuing a master’s in tax accounting, he’d enrolled in law school to become a tax attorney.

A summer internship at the University of Houston’s death penalty clinic changed that plan. Willey was assigned to the case of Marvin Wilson, a 54-year-old mentally disabled black man from Beaumont who had been sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder of a police informant. Wilson claimed he was innocent, but the clinic’s lawyers hoped to spare him death by focusing on his mental fitness. Willey was tasked with retyping the transcripts from Wilson’s trial, and as he worked through them, he grew troubled by what he felt were grave missteps by Wilson’s attorney. The state claimed, for example, that both the victim and the murderer were black. But a strand of Caucasian hair was found in the victim’s hand, a fact that had not been explored.

Willey had leaned generally in favor of the death penalty, but the consequences of shoddy defense work made him do an about-face. He took it upon himself to investigate Wilson’s case, even interviewing witnesses in Beaumont — an impulse that exasperated his bosses, who needed his focus on other matters. When Willey visited Wilson on death row, he was struck by Wilson’s positive outlook. “You’re not giving up,” Willey remembers thinking.

But by Aug. 7, 2012 — the day Wilson was to be executed — all of the appeals on his behalf had been denied. That evening, Willey drove to a Bible study he regularly attended. He’d become more connected to his Christian faith in college, and now he felt despondent. At sundown, as the study leader cracked open a Bible, all Willey could think about was how Wilson was strapped to a gurney, drawing his last breaths. He was staring at the floor, lost in thought, when the leader read the night’s passage, Proverbs 31:8-9. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” it went. “Defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

The words hit Willey like a lightning bolt. His calling wasn’t tax law, he realized. It was to defend the poor. “My jaw was on the floor,” he said. “That message was my new guide in life.”

Willey signed up for a mentoring program through the public defender’s office and, after graduating from law school, worked a few months for a criminal defense attorney in Houston before getting on the appointments list in Galveston and Fort Bend counties. His ultimate hope was to work in Harris County, which he figured could use the help: Its lawyers were notoriously overburdened, and its judges had come under fire in the media for cronyism. In one famous example, the Houston Chronicle had reported in 2009 that attorney Jerome Godinich missed deadlines in death penalty cases and carried a high caseload. Six years later, Godinich still handled almost 500 felonies a year, including several capital murder cases. Most of his appointments came from Judge Jim Wallace; Godinich was one of Wallace’s top campaign contributors. (Godinich and Wallace did not respond to requests for comment.)

But Willey needed experience, so he focused on his work outside Houston. On his weekly drives, as he pulled away from his townhouse in the Montrose neighborhood, he thought often of Wilson, whose photo he kept in his home office. There had to be another way of doing this work, he mused.

In the fall of 2015 — as he was looking into the Wayne Lucas case — the answer came to him. A few defendants in Harris County had heard that he represented poor clients and called him from county jail; they wanted to know if he could take their cases because they weren’t hearing from their court-appointed lawyers. Willey turned them down. Without being appointed, he had to work pro bono, and he couldn’t afford to do so. Then, driving one afternoon, he had an idea: What if he could raise funds for the cost of defending cases?

On January 17, 2016 — just before Martin Luther King Day, a deliberate choice — Willey gathered friends and family at a restaurant and announced his plan: He was starting a nonprofit called Restoring Justice. To figure out an appropriate workload and how much money to raise, he would use the TIDC’s study on caseload limits. (For a first-degree-felony case, for instance, he figured he’d raise $5,000; this was far less than an attorney would charge a paying client but much more than most court-appointed lawyers receive.)

That spring, as his conflict with Ewing began to heat up, Willey threw himself into the nonprofit, filling out paperwork and enlisting board members. He also took on one of its first clients, a soft-spoken 27-year-old named Maurice Johnson, who was in jail for sexual assault of a minor. Johnson claimed that the victim, his girlfriend, had lied about her age, but he’d pleaded guilty after being told by the investigator that she and her father would testify against him.

Johnson’s court-appointed lawyer, Ruth Yvonne Burton, had not visited him in jail; they’d spoken only on days when he appeared in court. When Willey got the investigator’s notes, he realized that the investigator had never interviewed the victim or her father, that the victim had admitted to the police that she’d lied to Johnson about her age, and that the father had agreed to accept a lesser charge against Johnson — a fact that Johnson had not been told. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor asked for a sentence of 15 years. Willey persuaded the judge to give Johnson 3.

Burton was paid for work on 361 felonies in fiscal 2016. When I reached her in a brief phone conversation, she defended her caseload, pointing out that several investigators worked in her office. “I don’t encourage anyone to plead,” she said. “I will tell them what the facts are.” When it came to Johnson, she said, not knowing the girl’s age was not a defense. “That doesn’t make you not guilty,” she said.

As Willey saw it, though, having all the facts still made a difference. “It matters in how you negotiate for someone, in how you set punishment,” he said. “It matters a lot.”

Willey had known that Burton had a high caseload, but it wasn’t until months later that he realized just how high. He was at his desk one day, poring over the TIDC website, when he discovered that the agency not only issued caseload guidelines — as he knew — but also collected detailed data for all lawyers doing indigent defense.

Clicking around the database, Willey was shocked. He’d figured only a handful of lawyers didn’t have time for their clients, but there were scores of them — and not just in Harris County. Court-appointed lawyers all over Texas had workloads two or three times the recommended limit. “It was kind of a hallelujah moment,” recalled Willey. “I suddenly had this objective checkpoint on adequacy of counsel.” Now, it dawned on him, he didn’t have to rely on referrals or calls from jail. Thanks to the database, he could figure out who most needed help — and go after those clients himself.

He was still mulling this over when, in October 2017, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct voted to dismiss his complaint about Ewing. “In its discretion, the Commission determined that the judge’s conduct in this particular instance, while not necessarily appropriate, did not rise to the level of sanctionable misconduct,” ruled the agency. “The Commission remains confident that the conduct will not occur in the future.”

Willey shook off his disappointment. He would just move on, he decided, and double down on his nonprofit. So when, that same month, he received a phone call from Charlie Gerstein of Civil Rights Corps, Ewing was far from Willey’s mind.

Gerstein was calling for advice on a client, and as the two chatted, the conversation turned to indigent defense. Most lawsuits on behalf of the poor, said Gerstein, went after high caseloads and inadequate resources, but lately he’d been thinking about judges. If a lawyer faced resistance from a judge, then it didn’t matter if he had all the resources in the world. What if, Gerstein asked, there were a way to address judges’ retaliation against lawyers who tried to adequately defend their low-income clients?

“Wait a second,” Willey replied. “That happened to me!”

His and Gerstein’s minds began to race. Willey had been trying to bypass the system through his nonprofit, but maybe, it occurred to him, there was something bigger he could try.

5 months later, with Gerstein as his lawyer, Willey filed a lawsuit against Ewing.


On June 24, 2018, Marvin Wilford sat on his bunk in the Travis County jail and pulled out a notebook. Every other week, Christine Wilford sent him money for the commissary, and he’d been intentional with his purchases: $2.50 for the notebook, 50 cents for a pen, 42 cents for a stamp and envelope. He began to write a letter to Sage, the judge in his case. He was firing his lawyer, and over three pages, he did his best to explain why: Espersen barely communicated with him; it appeared he’d misplaced documents from Christine Wilford. “He didn’t use none of the state money ... to get an investigator to question the witness on my behalf, not even the Security Guard who fired the gun,” he wrote.

The thought that he might end up in prison for many years overwhelmed him. “When I was in combat, and my life was on the line, I fought for my life,” Wilford recalled. “And I realized, ‘I gotta fight for my life now, too.’ I was trying to write the letter so she would ­understand.”

For two weeks, neither he nor Christine Wilford got a response. She called the Capital Area Private Defender Service phone number repeatedly — more than 20 times, she thinks — and left message after message. Finally, in early July, she heard from director Ira Davis, who told her to attend her husband’s next court date, on July 13. More waiting, she thought. If CAPDS was supposed to be a recourse, it didn’t strike her as particularly effective.

The truth was, the staff at CAPDS was overwhelmed, too. The sheer volume of work — supervising more than 200 lawyers, handling their payments, coordinating investigators and social workers — was near impossible for such a small team. Not to mention the number of complaints they received. There was barely time to look into each defendant’s grievance, let alone a lawyer’s performance. Many complaint forms ended up half filled out, with no record of a follow-up.

Strassburger, the New York hire, was particularly frustrated. For all the promise of the managed assigned counsel model, she felt that CAPDS’ supposedly independent oversight was continually compromised. The use of investigators, while better, was not improving fast enough; by 2018, lawyers were requesting them in less than 5% of felony cases and less than 1% of misdemeanor cases. And while judges no longer assigned cases — this was left to court administrative staff — a lawyer could still show up for ad hoc appointments, circumventing the setup.

When CAPDS proposed a client’s bill of rights, declaring, among other things, a defendant’s right to see his lawyer, the Austin Bar Association refused to sign off on it. “Some lawyers were afraid that clients would use it to try and file grievances against them,” explained lawyer Betty Blackwell, who sits on the board for CAPDS.

Because judges had found it difficult to suspend poorly performing lawyers, CAPDS had formed a review committee of criminal defense lawyers to make the tough calls instead. But, as it turned out, lawyers found it just as difficult to sanction their peers. Committee members were loath to kick colleagues off the wheel, thereby depriving them of income; they also had trouble taking defendant complaints at face value. “People in the criminal justice system are unhappy,” explained Blackwell. “People are going to complain about their lawyers.”

Most exasperating to Strassburger, however, was that despite the county’s effort to wrest power from the judges, the judges were, in her view, still ultimately in control. The review committee actively solicited judges for input on lawyers. (Amber Vazquez, for example, who was booted off the wheel before CAPDS was created, still could not get high-level felony appointments in the new system; her application was denied due to unspecified “judicial complaints.”) The court staff that facilitated appointments also reported to the judges. Meanwhile, the judges refused to agree to stricter caseload limits. (The limit in Travis County is 100 misdemeanor cases and 90 felonies at any given time; Alex Bunin, the chief defender in Harris County, told me that lawyers in his office rarely go above 30 felonies at once.) Judges also, together with county commissioners, refused to increase lawyers’ fees, arguing that there wasn’t enough funding.

As a result, many lawyers still juggled big caseloads, racking up complaints. At first, Strassburger tried to keep detailed memos. In July 2015, for instance, she noted that several defendants had complained about Tom Weber, who that year was paid for 305 felonies and 104 misdemeanors. “All reported bizarre and unprofessional behavior,” she wrote. When she’d brought this to Weber’s attention, Strassburger also wrote, he had dismissed the credibility of his clients, calling them “monsters” and “scumbags” and “rapists.” (Weber did not respond to requests for comment.)

Three weeks after that memo, the KXAN report about Espersen’s workload aired. According to the investigation, over two years, Espersen had billed Travis County for 40 hours of jail visits that were unaccounted for. In one instance, Espersen claimed to have met with an inmate named Rodney Thomas five times, for a total of 13 hours. But Thomas told KXAN that the lawyer visited him once — a week before his trial — a claim corroborated by jail rec­ords. Espersen had also billed for a visit with Robert Rivera, who told KXAN, “I did not so much as receive one visit from Mr. Espersen while incarcerated at Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle.”

In response to the KXAN report, the district attorney’s office opened a criminal investigation into Es­per­sen and a few other lawyers — including Weber — for the alleged overbilling. When the CAPDS review committee convened early the following year to decide which lawyers could take appointments, Strassburger, Davis and Hargis recommended in a joint memo that Weber not represent people with mental illness. He’d allegedly told one client to “go ahead and kill himself,” they wrote. They urged the committee to “seriously consider whether he should be defending indigent people at all.”

They also warned about attorney Phil Campbell, who was paid on 134 felonies and 300 misdemeanors in fiscal 2015. “Staff observations of Mr. Campbell and complaints from other attorneys indicated an attorney who was not truly advocating on behalf of his clients but merely conveying an offer and advising them to take it,” they wrote. (Campbell declined to comment for this story.) Later, they brought up Espersen. Some of his clients had learned of the DA’s investigation and written to CAPDS to complain. “I deserve a fair trial,” wrote one. “Please help.”

The review committee agreed to remove Campbell and Weber from cases involving people with mental illness. But that was it. Weber continued to receive appointments on high-level felonies until he was hired by the DA’s office. Campbell’s caseload, meanwhile, increased; he went on to take cases in nearby counties. (In 2014, he was paid for 106 felonies and 252 misdemeanors; by 2018, his misdemeanor caseload had grown to 428.) As for Espersen, the committee decided to delay action until the DA’s office concluded its investigation, which is still pending four years later. (The DA's office denied a public information request for records related to the investigation.)

As long as judges had this much say in the matter, Strassburger realized, little would improve for Travis County’s poor defendants. Her despair only grew when, in the fall of 2017, several judges approached CAPDS with a question. Was it fair, they asked, to look at a lawyer’s number of cases rather than clients? Given that some clients had more than 1 case against them at a time, why not instead suspend lawyers who had too many clients?

Strassburger was dumbfounded. This would have the effect of raising the caseload limit, and caseloads were terrible enough. In yet another memo, she outlined her concerns. “We are encouraging attorneys to quickly resolve cases and, in effect, punishing those attorneys who handle complicated cases,” she explained. In bold, underlined font, she added, “The attorney with the highest caseload (748) has not been suspended for exceeding caseload limits in the last 12 months.” A few months later, disheartened, Strassburger quit.

On July 13, Marvin and Christine Wilford appeared for his court date. They were joined by Espersen, who, per Marvin Wilford’s request, had agreed to remove himself from the case. Standing before Judge Clifford Brown — who was sitting in while Sage was at trial — Wilford listened attentively as the judge approved Espersen’s motion. Wilford sighed with relief. “Finally,” he thought.


“I’m a taller white dude with black cowboy boots,” said Willey. It was November 2018, and he was describing himself on the phone to Hattie Shannon, one of the most overloaded court-appointed lawyers in Harris County; the previous year, she’d been paid for work on more than 430 felonies. Willey was hoping to meet her at the courthouse.

In the eight months since filing his lawsuit, Willey had been busy: He and his wife had welcomed their first baby, a boy, and he was raising funds in earnest for Restoring Justice. He’d moved his office to a tiny room on the first floor of a house in the Heights neighborhood and was taking on more clients — by the end of the year, he’d have 19 active cases. It wasn’t a huge number, but as he liked to point out, the nonprofit had saved defendants a combined 49 years of incarceration.

He now mined the TIDC database regularly, cross-referencing the data with active cases listed on the website of the Harris County District Clerk. This is how he’d found his newest target: a 30-year-old woman arrested for PCP possession who had been sitting in jail for six months. Her lawyer was Shannon.

The woman’s bond had been set at $10,000, which struck Willey as exorbitant, since it was a nonviolent charge. Shannon had filed a few motions, but none were to lower the bond, so Willey visited the woman in jail and proposed taking her case. When Shannon did not object, the woman was thrilled. (Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.)

On the phone, Willey arranged to meet Shannon the next day in the courtroom of Judge George Powell to finalize the handover. Immediately afterward, he called the woman’s mother, who confirmed that the family could afford to pay a reduced bond. She had called Shannon several times, the mother said, but had reached her only on the night before her daughter’s court date. (Jail records show Shannon visited the woman once.) Her daughter, she continued, had made some bad choices, but she’d grown up in church and wanted to be a paralegal. Now Thanksgiving was around the corner. “I want her home for the holidays,” replied Willey.

He hung up and smiled. His lawsuit against Ewing had made national headlines, including in The New York Times, and he’d been receiving messages and donations to his nonprofit from all over the country. Lawyers around Texas had written to share their own run-ins with judges. A teacher in Florida had mailed him some framed quotes from the Gideon v. Wainwright case. They sat in his office now, near the photo of Marvin Wilson. “Every case I take over, I see the person has potential,” said Willey.

On its face, the lawsuit was a long shot. Judges, like prosecutors, enjoy broad immunity for their actions, on the principle that they should be free to make judgments without undue fear of retribution. In Texas, after two lawyers filed suits against judges — one in Travis County in 2006, another in Tarrant County in 2007 — for removing them from cases and appointment lists, both cases were dismissed. In Ohio, when a public defender sued a judge in 2012 for removing him from dozens of felony cases, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the judge.

But the lawyers in those cases sued on the basis of lost income. Willey’s case was deliberately different. He was suing not for damages but for the right to advocate for his clients. Willey’s lawsuit argued that government contractors — which court-appointed attorneys are — have the right not to be fired from their jobs for speaking up. In addition, Willey was asking for declaratory relief, a statement from the courts acknowledging that if Ewing retaliated against Willey again, he would be in violation of the law. The novelty of the approach gave the case a chance of success — and offered a possible precedent for how to force change in Texas.

The next morning, a chilly 35 degrees, Willey got in his SUV and headed to the courthouse. In a small, trapezoid-shaped room that was serving as a makeshift courtroom for Powell after Hurricane Harvey, Willey waited for Shannon. When she didn’t show, he approached the judge on his own to make his case for lowering the woman’s bond: Her parents wanted her back, and she’d served 6 months. The prosecutor, a young-looking man in a checkered blazer, objected, reading out the woman’s previous criminal charges — controlled substance possession, a couple of DWIs, possession of marijuana.

Willey pressed again, irritating the judge, who raised his voice. “At this point, you’re not even attached to the case,” said Powell. “Let’s handle that first and then get back together on it, all right?”

Outside, Willey rolled his eyes. “That’s the culture,” he fumed. “He basically said to get the hell out of his face.” He debated going back, then thought better of it. He didn’t want to make the judge angrier. He’d wait.

His bet paid off. A week later, Powell agreed to a personal bond. Willey was elated — his client would be home for Thanksgiving.

When I called Powell to ask about the case, he explained he’d grown testy in the courtroom because it wasn’t clear to him that Willey had filed the paperwork to take over. “The fact that he was discussing the case with me was an ethical issue,” he explained, “so I just shut things down.”

Powell said he hadn’t given much thought to why the woman had sat in jail on a $10,000 bond for several months with one lawyer and gotten out on a personal bond after a few days with another. “Ms. Shannon is a good attorney, and she works very hard,” said Powell. But he hadn’t known her caseload — or that 99 of the 430 felonies she’d been paid for the previous year were in his court. “I wasn’t aware,” he told me after I recited the numbers. “That’s interesting. Tell me the numbers again, please?”


“Are we ready on Wilford?” asked Sage. It was Nov. 30, 2018, and through a gray door, Wilford entered the Travis County courtroom, a sweater peeking out from under his jail uniform. His new lawyer, a 42-year-old with a scruffy beard named Andy Casey, patted him on the back. After replying softly to a few questions from the judge, Wilford was taken to jail one last time, for processing. With that, he was free.

After almost a year of waiting, it was an anticlimactic ending. Not even his wife was there to celebrate. She’d caught the flu and was stuck at home. To Wilford, the lack of fanfare was perfectly emblematic of how simple his case could have been. Casey had called Christine Wilford as soon as he was appointed to the case. It had taken a few months, but he’d examined the evidence, witness list and video, then negotiated a deal with the prosecutor: If Marvin Wilford pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault for being involved in the scuffle, the felony charges would be dropped. The maximum sentence was a year, which Wilford had already served. “The one thing you do see him carrying in the video is a cane,” Casey told me.

A month later, I went to visit Wilford at home in East Austin. For Christmas, Christine Wilford had bought him a ring to wear next to his wedding band, a symbol of all they’d been through together. Marvin Wilford had applied for a small business loan to start an online hat shop; his mother had loved hats, and he planned to name the venture after her: Marie Antoinette and Sons Hat Shop. He could not speak about Espersen without getting agitated. “How old does a black man have to be,” he said, “before y’all stop trying to destroy his life?”

When I met with Sage soon afterward and asked about Espersen’s caseload, she noted that the numbers can be misleading. Sitting in her office, she pulled up a spreadsheet from her own courtroom. “As of Jan. 2, I have the most cases [of any judge],” she declared — specifically, 1,200. “That’s not for the whole year. Just right now.” But one defendant on her list, for instance, was facing a whopping 20 charges. Handling 20 cases for one person, Sage stressed, is very different from handling the cases of 20 people.

It’s true that caseload numbers come with caveats. Casey, for example, is overloaded, yet he still managed to give Wilford the necessary attention. (It should be said that Casey’s caseload is not nearly as high as Espersen’s.) But it’s also true that Sage doesn’t deal with 1,200 cases by herself; she has a team of prosecutors who have their own staff, including investigators and assistants — resources that most defense attorneys do not have. In addition, it’s rare for a single person to face 20 charges; on average, one defendant in Travis County has 1.6 pending cases.

I pointed out to Sage that the caseload for a lawyer like Espersen reflects this average: In 2015, for example, his clients in Travis County numbered 384 and his cases 424 — not a huge disparity. Could she really make the case, I asked, that a lawyer with almost 400 new clients a year could serve all of them well, or even adequately? Sage spun back and forth in her chair. “That’s a lot of cases,” she said. “Lawyers have a personal responsibility. They know what they can handle. Do we really need to tell a lawyer, ‘Don’t do that’?”

That question would swirl around Austin for most of the spring. In a series of heated exchanges, criminal justice reform advocacy groups, supported by Democratic county leaders, argued publicly that the managed assigned counsel model had not solved either excessive caseloads or judicial interference — and that the only solution was to expand the county’s public defender’s office after all. But resistance from defense lawyers and judges was fierce, and it took until late May for Travis County to submit a proposal to the TIDC.

The proposal asks the state for about $24 million over five years and commits the public defender’s office, if expanded, to strict caseload limits based on TIDC recommendations. (It also asks for more resources for CAPDS.) The TIDC, which received a funding boost from this year’s Legislature of about $14 million a year, must now decide whether to fund the requested state grant; a decision is expected at the end of August.

Of course, for longtime observers of Texas’ criminal justice system, it’s precisely this piecemeal approach — a few extra public defenders here, some added funding there — that dooms poor defendants to inadequate representation. “The only way to do this correctly is to have a statewide system with standards that’s properly funded,” said Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo-based lawyer who founded the Innocence Project of Texas. Class-action lawsuits are forcing this issue elsewhere: In New York, for example, after a historic settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state will spend $250 million a year on indigent services, a burden once shouldered almost entirely by its counties.

It’s likely that no such class-action suit will take place in Texas anytime soon — the idea of a statewide public defender system does not have broad constituency in a place this large and diverse — so until then, change at the state level will require action by the Legislature. And as a practical matter, that won’t happen without approval from judges, as former state Sen. Rodney Ellis found out 20 years ago. “Judges who will remain nameless still try and tell me that the judge picking the lawyer is better,” said Ellis, who is now a commissioner for Harris County, “because they pick people who are capable. How do you say that with a straight face?”

Even the TIDC is an example of this complicated dynamic. Though by law it has the power to set maximum caseloads for lawyers across the state, it has never done so. Only the agency’s board can approve such a move, and the board is led by Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. “We really do think that people in the local jurisdiction know best,” she explained to me. When I mentioned that caseload data shows some lawyers doing what the TIDC’s own study says is the work of at least five lawyers, she replied, “I don’t even know if that’s wrong. The guidelines are a point of reference, and they’re not absolute.”

In the meantime, it may be that lawsuits at the individual level, like Willey’s, are the surest way to force incremental change. In April, the Houston lawyer saw his efforts resolve quietly when his suit against Ewing ended with a settlement and both parties agreed “not to cause or ask others to violate the Texas Fair Defense Act.” It wasn’t exactly a bold finish — “Nothing in this settlement should be considered as an admission by Judge Ewing of any wrongdoing,” read the files — but Willey saw it as a limited victory.

“There’s a federal judgment now, dictating that he must agree to follow the law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harris County had seen its own changes: After a sweep of Democratic judges came into office in November, the public defender’s office budget nearly doubled, to $21 million a year. Its juvenile division — whose attorneys had been receiving an average of 141 cases per year, versus the 300-plus cases per year given to some private attorneys — had started receiving enough cases to hire three more lawyers. The county was also exploring managed assigned counsel for its court appointments, including — in a radical move — a proposal that lawyers adhere to TIDC caseload recommendations. (When the print edition of Texas Monthly with this story went to press, Harris County’s felony judges had not agreed to such a proposal.) “Travis County did it backward,” explained chief public defender Bu­nin, who was feeling hopeful about these changes. “You need a public defender and then a managed assigned counsel.”

When I last saw Willey, in June, his fundraising for Restoring Justice was going so well that he’d hired an executive director; he’d also secured a partnership with the Houston Texans. But the change in Harris County judges had also spelled change for him. Suddenly, he was getting court appointments in Houston and being asked to host fundraisers for friends who were now in the judiciary. That month, he’d been given work in the misdemeanor courts of judges Genesis Draper and Franklin Bynum, both former public defenders.

Willey was glad for the appointments, of course, but he was also developing a nagging sense of discomfort. He showed me a message he’d received from a supporter after the news of his settlement with Ewing.

“I hope you didn’t settle because you are going to become like them and forget about justice for all and the underserved community,” texted the supporter. “I hope you don’t become a good old boy.”

For a minute, Willey stared at his phone. He would save the message, he said. So that he wouldn’t forget.

A lawyer responds: Bill Ray explains his workload in Tarrant County

Despite efforts to reach a number of the state’s most overloaded lawyers, few agreed to speak for this story. One lawyer who did, however, was Bill Ray, who in fiscal 2018 was paid for work on more than 200 felonies, 80 misdemeanors and five capital murder cases in and around Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth.

Ray, like many lawyers and judges in Texas, insisted that caseload numbers can be misleading. A few of his five capital murder cases have been going on for several years, he explained, and the work he gets paid for on these in a given year isn’t always intensive. (For instance, he might file one motion for a new DNA test.) Not all of the felony cases are work intensive either — many, in fact, are probation revocations, in which he represents people accused of violating the terms of their probation. “I usually have one appearance for those,” he said. “I have a half-hour visit to the jail. That’s it.”

Still, said Ray, “I probably have more cases than many other lawyers could handle.” There is no caseload limit in Tarrant County. “I don’t ask for these appointments,” he continued. “I tell the judges I’ll do them. I didn’t ask for the capital murder case I got last night. I’m gonna do it.”

Tarrant County has no public defender’s office whose outcomes might provide a baseline for measuring the work of a court-appointed attorney. But in 2009, one probation revocation case involving Ray did raise some eyebrows. A woman named Sandra Wilson alleged that, as her lawyer, Ray had ignored clear indications that she had severe mental illness and had tried to kill herself. Her 15-year prison sentence could have been lowered, she claimed, if Ray had brought up her mental illness.

A federal judge agreed, writing that she might not have gone to prison at all if Ray had brought up her limitations. The lawyer’s “conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and was outside even the widest range of reasonable professional assistance,” wrote the judge. Ray declined to comment on this case, noting that the judge’s opinion should have been sealed. (It is easy to find online.) Tarrant County judges have continued giving him appointments.

When Ray and I spoke in December 2018, he told me that he did not have any paying clients; the bulk of his workload was reflected in the TIDC database. But he did have side gigs. In fact, as we were talking on the phone, he was on his way to see a witness in a case in which the district attorney had recused himself. The judge had appointed Ray — not to defend but to prosecute.

Want a public defender? Take it up with the judge

In many Texas counties, interest in creating more public defender’s offices is growing. To be effective, however, these public defenders will need both resources and strict caseload limits — as in Harris County, where lawyers recently decided to take on no more than 128 felonies a year, down from the current limit of 150. In Dallas County, by contrast, public defenders can be just as overloaded — often more so — than their court-appointed counterparts. (In fiscal 2018, more than two dozen public defenders in Dallas each took on more than 300 felony cases.)

Crucially, public defense models will also require buy-in from judges, which has not always been easy to come by. In Harris County, for instance, juvenile public defenders received fewer and fewer appointments over several years, so that in 2017 they each had an average load of 140 juvenile cases, which is below the office’s imposed limit of 200, while a handful of private attorneys — some of whom happened to be generous contributors to judges’ campaign coffers — got more than 300. In interviews, two of the county’s juvenile judges insisted that they knew nothing of these numbers and that their court coordinators were in charge of appointments. But since last fall, when these judges lost their reelection bids, juvenile public defenders have been reporting an increase in their caseloads.

In the Texas Panhandle, where there’s long been a dearth of qualified lawyers, a clinic at Texas Tech University Law School began representing clients from across the region in 2012 who had been charged with misdemeanors. For the first 2 years, it did so at no charge to counties that participated; after that, counties had to generally pay only $100 per case. The clinic’s law students took 4 misdemeanor cases to trial, winning 2 outright — both of them DWI cases — and a 3rd, on theft charges, on appeal. In the fourth case, the client was convicted of marijuana possession but was sentenced to time he’d already served — a few days — and charged a small fine. He’d been facing a sentence of 6 months.

The clinic seemed like a success, but it stopped receiving appointments from Knox County in 2013 after students won one of the DWI trials. The clinic also no longer gets appointments in Garza County, where the theft case was won on appeal.

The judge who presides over misdemeanors in Garza County, Lee Norman, said he stopped using the clinic because of “scheduling issues.” (Patrick Metze, a law professor at Texas Tech, said that the clinic is staffed year-round.) Stan Wojcik, the judge who presides over misdemeanor cases in Knox County, said the decision to stop using Texas Tech was made before he was elected, but he’s upheld it in part due to distance: The clinic, in Lubbock, is more than 100 miles away. “We do like to use our local attorneys,” he said. “It is easier on clients to have someone local at their disposal. It’s better for them, actually.”

Both judges insisted that anyone who needs a lawyer in their counties gets one. Still, Wojcik acknowledged that more lawyers are needed in the Panhandle. “We do have a limited number of attorneys to pick from,” he said. “Someday, we might need to rethink our use of Texas Tech.”

The executive director of the clinic, Donnie Yandell, hopes that this will be the case. “Commissioners are always concerned about how money is being spent, and the taxpayer is always concerned about how money is being spent. We’re charging 100 bucks, and we can’t get appointments. As a taxpayer, I’d be livid.”

(source: Neena Satija is a former reporter for The Texas Tribune and currently a reporter for The Washington Post. This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists----Texas Tribune)


6 death row prisoners in North Carolina to get their day in court

In 2002, Quintel Augustine went on trial accused of murdering a Fayetteville police officer — a notorious case that forced prosecutors to pick a jury in Brunswick County, 90 miles away.

Augustine was 25 but had already served two terms in prison.

The officer, Roy Gene Turner Jr., was a 5-year veteran of the Fayetteville force, who left behind a fiancee and a 6-month-old child.

But another distinction has kept this case in disputeever since: Augustine was black, and the officer, like every member of the jury that handed down the death penalty, was white.

Court filings argue that Cumberland County prosecutors improperly used race as a primary factor in choosing Augustine's jurors. In one case, a potential juror was described in handwritten notes as a "black wino," and then rejected. Notes for a white juror, who was accepted, read "drinks--country boy--OK."

Next week, the N.C., Supreme Court will consider whether Augustine and 3 others on death row should have their sentences reduced to life in prison.

This reprieve had already been granted to all 4 of them under the state's Racial Justice Act, which let prisoners seek relief when they could show racial prejudice in jury selection. But their death sentences were restored when the legislature repealed the law in 2013.

2 more death row defendants will argue that their cases were tainted by the same racial bias the courts have already found with the other four defendants, and they are requesting a hearing to present that evidence.

Their advocates argue the Supreme Court has the chance to restore a tool created to root out widespread prejudice in the legal system dating back more than a century.

Death row debate

In 2009, when the Racial Justice Act was passed, the minority population in North Carolina had reached 34 percent, according to the nonprofit Center for Death Penalty Litigation. But of the 142 prisoners on death row, nearly 1/2 were convicted by juries with no minority representation.

A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Batson v. Kentucky, forbid prosecutors from rejecting jurors on the basis of race alone. But researchers at Michigan State University found in a 2012 study of North Carolina death-penalty trials that black jurors were 2.5 times more likely to be struck.

Critics of the law called it so broad that it created a loophole for any defendant given capital punishment. When he signed its repeal in 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory said, “Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act,” according to the Associated Press.

But its defenders at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation cite “a mountain” of evidence that already shows decades of bias, and overturning the law serves as a means for ignoring it.

“Whether you look at it from a legal perspective or a common-sense perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to say we’re going to create this mechanism to see if there’s racial bias, we’re going to find all this evidence and then we’re going to repeal the law,” said David Weiss, attorney with the center.

Only four people had sentences reduced under the act before its repeal: Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters, Marcus Robinson and Augustine — all of them convicted of murder in Cumberland County. The other two seeking the same chance: Andrew Ramseur and Rayford Burke, both from Iredell County.

Their attorneys come from the center, the ACLU, the NAACP, the state appellate defender’s office and private practice. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein’s office will handle the case for the state. A spokeswoman for Stein’s office declined to comment on active litigation.

Black jurors rejected

In Ramseur’s case, a black 21-year-old defendant got the death sentence from an all-white jury. All of the qualified black jurors were rejected, his attorney Daniel Shatz wrote in a 2016 brief.

During his 2010 trial in Statesville, four rows of courtroom seats were cordoned off with crime-scene tape, forcing his family to sit in the back, Shatz wrote. Racially charged comments appeared on a local newspaper website, including “He should be hanging from the nearest traffic light as a warning to the rest.” The court declined to change the trial location or allow a Racial Justice Act review.

Walters, one of the few women on the state’s death row, was sentenced to death in 2000 for her part in a series of gang-related murders in Fayetteville. During her trial, prosecutors rejected 10 out of 14 qualified black jurors and 4 of 27 whites, wrote center attorney Shelagh Kenney in her brief.

One black woman was struck, Kenney wrote, because her brother had been convicted on an unrelated gun charge. The woman told prosecutors that she and her brother were not close and his criminal record would not affect her jury service. At the same time, a non-black juror was chosen despite having a brother jailed on a murder charge and writing him regular letters.

In Robinson’s case, the prosecutor asked a potential black juror if he had graduated from high school or had trouble reading — questions not asked of any others, wrote ACLU attorney Cassandra Stubbs in a 2018 brief. Half the black jurors were rejected compared to 14 % from other groups.

Robinson was the first to be granted relief under the act.

“Never before has any legislature enacted a statute designed to remedy suspected systemic racial bias in capital sentencing,” Stubbs wrote, “only to repeal such a statute when the racial bias was found.”



Condemned to death, Tampa cop killer returns to court seeking new trial----Dontae Morris is on death row for the 2010 shootings of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

Almost a decade ago, 2 Tampa police officers were murdered.

A city grieved. A legion of cops hunted a killer and demanded justice. A jury would later see video of the officers shot in the head as they attempted to arrest a man during a traffic stop. The same panel decided the killer should be executed.

This month, a crack opened on the past and death row inmate Dontae Morris returned to the Hillsborough County Jail just before noon on Aug. 1. He brought with him hopes of a new trial in the slaying of Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab.

Lawyers for Morris are set to present evidence in a Tampa courtroom this week as they try to persuade a judge that his 1st trial was not a fair one.

They say a key witness against Morris lied, that the jury was tainted by video images of the aftermath of the shootings, and that the trial attorneys failed to present evidence concerning Morris’ mental state.

The effort is a long shot. The state’s highest court has previously upheld Morris’s convictions and death sentences. But the hearing will feature some new arguments and testimony that might look like a trial.

In addition to the officer killings, Morris was convicted in the separate murders a few weeks earlier of Rodney Jones and Derek Anderson.

He received a life sentence for killing Jones, and a third death sentence in Anderson’s murder. The sentence in the Anderson case was later overturned because the jury was not unanimous in its recommendation for capital punishment. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek a new death sentence in the case.

Morris, now 33, was the subject of the largest manhunt in Tampa history in the four days that followed the June 29, 2010, slayings of Officers Curtis and Kocab.

At 2:13 a.m. that day, Curtis stopped a red Toyota Camry that had no license tag. The car pulled over on the southbound side of 50th Street, just north of Interstate 4. The driver was Cortnee Brantley. In the passenger seat was Morris.

The dashboard camera in Curtis’ patrol car captured the officer’s brief conversation with the pair. When asked his name, the passenger could be heard saying, “Morris … Dontae … D-O-N-T-A-E … M-O-R-R-I-S.”

Curtis scribbled down the name and Morris’ birth date on a notepad, and returned to his car. When he ran the name through a police database, he discovered Morris had an active warrant for writing bad checks.

He called for backup. Kocab arrived. The 2 officers walked to the car’s passenger side. Curtis told Morris he had a warrant and asked him to step out. Morris rose, as though he was going to comply. But he quickly drew a gun and shot both officers.

He then ran off. Brantley sped away.

The officers lay dying before passersby saw them a few minutes later and dialed 911. Both men were declared dead at Tampa General Hospital.

A confidential informer later brought Morris to a South Tampa law office, where he was delivered to police in exchange for $90,000 in reward money.

Key to the state’s case was the testimony of Ashley Price, a 1-time girlfriend of Morris who testified that Morris spoke with her in the hours after the shootings and confessed to killing both officers.

But lawyers for the office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency that represents death row inmates, say they have 2 witnesses who can testify that Price lied. They argue that she was pressured to cooperate with police and prosecutors to secure a conviction.

The lawyers have also challenged the decision to let jurors see portions of dashboard camera video in which panicked officers try to revive their colleagues. And they question Morris’ death sentences, arguing that his trial lawyers failed to adequately probe his background and upbringing.

What’s more, the new appeal rehashes findings from psychological experts that were presented to a judge but not the jury. These experts found that Morris has a below-average IQ and “borderline intellectual functioning."

New evidence includes the results of brain scans Morris underwent while on death row. The exams revealed signs that he may have suffered a brain injury, according to his appellate attorneys.

“The flaws in the system which sentenced Mr. Morris to death are many,” they wrote in a court paper. “These errors cannot be harmless. The results of the trial and sentencing are not reliable.”



Man accused of ambushing, killing 2 Kissimmee officers heads to trial Monday

The man accused of killing 2 Kissimmee police officers will head to trial Monday.

If Everett Miller is convicted, state prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

It's been 2 years since the Kissimmee Police Department suffered its most painful loss in the history of the department.

The area near Cypress Street was turned into a solemn crime scene 2 years ago where officers tried to help Sgt. Sam Howard and officer Matthew Baxter and track down the person who ambushed and fatally shot them.

Cellphone video later posted on Snapchat shows Baxter minutes earlier with Miller and Baxter calling Howard for backup.

Gunfire is heard erupting minutes after Howard arrived to disperse Miller and several others along the street.

Miller was later captured at a neighborhood bar and charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

During Miller's trial, an array of mental health experts will testify about his state of mind in the days leading up to the night the 2 Kissimmee officers were killed.

The most recent judge's order last week denied Miller's request to wear his Marine Corps uniform at trial.

(source: WESH news)


DeWine Rejects Idea Of Using Fentanyl In Executions

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is dismissing a legislator's proposal to use fentanyl to execute death row inmates as the state struggles to find a lethal injection protocol that will be approved by the courts.

DeWine says fentanyl, which has led to thousands of fatal overdoses in Ohio, isn't an option and likely would not pass "constitutional muster." Republican State Representative Scott Wiggam is seeking co-sponsors for a bill to use fentanyl seized by law enforcement agencies for executions. The State of Nebraska used fentanyl obtained from a pharmacy to execute a prisoner last year. DeWine canceled the execution of convicted killer Warren Henness in January after a federal judge expressed concerns about Ohio's lethal injection protocol.

(source: Associated Press)


‘Boy Next Door Killer’ convicted of murdering Los Altos native

A jury has found an aspiring actor who prosecutors called “The Boy Next Door Killer” guilty of fatally stabbing two Los Angeles-area women, including a Los Altos High School graduate who was killed the night she was planning to meet actor Ashton Kutcher for drinks.

The jury on Thursday (Aug. 15) in Los Angeles also found Michael Gargiulo guilty of the attempted murder of a woman who fought back and sent him fleeing, leading to his arrest in all 3 cases and a 4th for which he’s awaiting trial in Illinois.

Gargiulo, 43, was convicted in the murder of 22-year-old Ashley Ellerin in her Hollywood home in 2001 on a night when she was about to meet Kutcher, who testified at the trial. Her father was in court for the verdict.

Ellerin grew up in Los Altos and attended Santa Rita Elementary School, Egan Junior High School and Los Altos High. After graduating in 1996, she was accepted into the UCLA Fine Arts program.

At the time of her death, Ellerin was a student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Gargiulo also was convicted of the 2005 murder of 32-year old Maria Bruno in her El Monte home, and the 2008 attempted murder of Michelle Murphy in a stabbing attack in her Santa Monica apartment.

Jurors who deliberated for 3 days also found Gargiulo guilty of several special-circumstance allegations, including lying in wait and multiple murders, which make him eligible for the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole.

A final phase of the trial is set to start Tuesday, when jurors will determine whether Gargiulo was sane at the time of the killings.

Gargiulo sat in court in a lavender dress shirt and slacks with eight sheriff’s deputies standing behind him. He showed no reaction when the verdict was read.

A native of the Chicago area who moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Gargiulo had acting aspirations and worked as an air conditioning repairman and Hollywood nightclub bouncer at the time of the attacks.

Little physical evidence

With little physical evidence tying him to the scenes of two killings, prosecutors urged jurors to look at the cases connectively, citing uncannily similar patterns in home-invasion attacks that were all in places near his residence at the time.

While some media outlets referred to him as “The Hollywood Ripper,” prosecutors dubbed him “The Boy Next Door Killer.”

Allowed to cite evidence from the Illinois case, they said all four attacks were the work of a skilled serial killer who studied the lives, homes and habits of victims that he stabbed quickly, powerfully and repeatedly with a knife that he knew how to use, and studied ways to cover his tracks.

“Those similarities point to one man, one killer: Michael Gargiulo,” Deputy District Attorney Garrett Dameron said during closing arguments.

The defense relied heavily on the lack of forensic or eyewitness evidence putting Gargiulo at the scenes of the killings. A shoe-covering bootie with Bruno’s blood and Gargiulo’s DNA was found near her apartment in a complex where they both lived.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that you can make a case against someone when you can’t even prove where they were,” defense attorney Dale Rubin said during closing arguments.

Gargiulo’s attorneys suggested that both women were killed by the last men who saw them alive: Bruno by her estranged husband, Ellerin by her apartment manager, with whom she’d had a sexual relationship.

Gargiulo’s attorney Daniel Nardoni suggested the apartment manager was driven to a jealous rage because of Ellerin’s upcoming date with Kutcher.

Kutcher’s testimony

Kutcher, who in 2001 was a rising star of “That ’70s Show,” testified early in the trial that he and Ellerin were just getting to know each other and had made plans to go out together for drinks. He said he arrived at her Hollywood home very late and assumed she had gone out without him when he got no answer at the door. “I remember the next day, after I heard about what happened, I went to the detectives and said, ‘My fingerprints are on the door,’” Kutcher testified. “I was freaking out.”

The first and most important witness in the case was Murphy, a fitness buff who fought off the much larger Gargiulo in 2008 and caused him to cut himself, leaving a trail of blood as he fled. That evidence against him was so overwhelming that defense attorneys conceded it was him though they argued his mental state was such that he did not know what he was doing.

In the prosecution’s closing argument, Dameron praised Murphy, whose resistance against Gargiulo led to his arrest.

“Michelle Murphy, because of her strength and courage, allowed investigators to work backwards,” Dameron said. “This case begins and ends with Michelle Murphy.”



Fix ‘retroactive’ death-penalty bill in special session

Senate Bill 1013 was the Oregon Legislature’s attempt to get as close as possible to abolishing the death penalty without going to voters. By significantly narrowing the definition of aggravated murder — the only crime that carries the possibility of capital punishment — lawmakers could largely shut down the pipeline of people to death row.

It was both a clever strategy and a pessimistic one. Legislators leveraged their statutory authority to take away the death penalty as an option long before a case ever got to a jury. But it also reflected their suspicion that, if asked, Oregon voters would reject a call to amend the constitution and abolish capital punishment.

However, as reports by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Noelle Crombie show, SB 1013 was an even bigger legislative sleight of hand. The law doesn’t just guarantee fewer death-penalty cases in the future; it rewrites the possible outcomes for existing death-penalty cases for crimes committed decades ago.

Although the bill’s champions, Rep. Jennifer Williamson and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, repeatedly assured colleagues and the public that the bill was not retroactive, they failed to explain how selective their definition of “retroactive” was. Even prosecutors and top attorneys at the Oregon Department of Justice, which handles death penalty appeals for the state, didn’t understand until recently the potential impact of the new legislation on an unknown number of pending aggravated-murder cases. The lack of transparency and outright misdirection that has tainted the legislative process should offend Oregonians regardless of their position on the death penalty.

While Williamson denies that there’s any problem with the legislation, Prozanski, to his credit, concedes the new law needs additional work to limit the reach of SB 1013. Without Williamson’s support, he has asked Gov. Kate Brown to convene a special session before the law goes in effect on Sept. 29. The governor should acknowledge the legislation’s fatal lack of transparency, recognize the public interest in having an informed debate incorporating all the implications of this bill and grant Prozanski’s request.

From the start, Williamson and Prozanski repeatedly assured colleagues, prosecutors and the public that the new definition of aggravated murder created in SB 1013 would not be “retroactive.” Under SB 1013, the charge of aggravated murder can only be filed against defendants accused of killing 2 or more people in a terrorism act; killing a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation, killing another person while incarcerated for a previous murder; or killing a law enforcement, correctional or probation officer. The law designated other crimes previously included in the aggravated murder category as 1st-degree murder.

Unfortunately, we’re all learning now that the legislators’ use of “retroactive” is far different from the way a layperson — and even top justice attorneys — understand the word. While many would assume that the new definition of aggravated murder would apply only to crimes occurring on or after SB 1013’s Sept. 29 effective date, the reality is that the legislation imposes the new definition on proceedings for which the expected sentencing date occurs on or after Sept. 29. So under SB 1013, any death-penalty defendant who wins a new trial or a new sentencing on appeal would have their charges re-evaluated under the narrower definition of aggravated murder.

This only came to light after a recent Washington County decision in the case of accused killer Martin Allen Johnson. Johnson, originally convicted and sentenced to death for the 1998 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, won the right to a new trial after an appeals court found in 2017 that his first trial was compromised by ineffective counsel. But with the passage of SB 1013, his attorneys successfully argued that the girl’s killing no longer met the standards for aggravated murder. With the lesser charge of first-degree murder, Johnson won’t face the possibility of the death penalty. The state’s solicitor general then recognized the broad implications of the law, alerting prosecutors earlier this month in an email, which reporter Crombie obtained.

It seems strange that justice officials, including the solicitor general, would not be aware that the law would so dramatically change the nature of the death penalty appeals that his team handles. But as Aaron Knott, DOJ’s legislative director noted to The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board, the clear message from Williamson and Prozanski was that the law would not be retroactive. Knott, who spoke with the editorial board before Williamson clarified her views, had assumed there was a drafting error in the law that failed to incorporate the legislators’ intent.

Williamson made other misleading comments that raise questions about the integrity of the process surrounding this bill. She specifically told The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Aimee Green in early July that SB 1013 would not affect the resentencings of defendants granted reversals through appeals. She noted that legislators had specifically passed another bill, Senate Bill 1005, to prevent that for death-row defendants, including Angela McAnulty, who killed her 15-year-old daughter, and Billy Lee Oatney, who raped and murdered a 34-year-old woman, both of whom are awaiting resentencing.

Williamson told Green that lawmakers “wanted their intent to be clear so they added the language, on the advice of legislative lawyers,” the story states.

In a call with The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board last week, Williamson offered shifting explanations for why she made those statements. First, she ascribed it to a mistake on her part and then suggested she had misstated the bill number that SB 1005 was fixing. (SB 1005 primarily resolves a retroactivity problem in SB 1008, a juvenile-justice reform bill). She also theorized that she might have thought McAnulty and Oatney’s crimes would still be considered aggravated murder under the new definition. They are not.

In any event, her position now is clear. She does not support Prozanski’s efforts to limit the law so that those facing resentencing — as opposed to those whose convictions are overturned — fall under pre-SB 1013 definitions.

This law and its potential impacts have created a mess. Legislation, particularly bills on such life-and-death issues with broad impact, should not turn on the semantic games that legislators play. Victims’ families, who already endure a long appeals process for death penalty defendants, don’t deserve to be collateral damage in the Legislature’s attempted end-run around the death penalty.

There is a strong case to be made that the death penalty is inhumane, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Elected leaders and criminal justice reform advocates could easily show Oregonians all that the state would gain if they would vote to amend the constitution and abolish capital punishment.

But that’s the key element. It should be up to voters to get rid of the death penalty, not legislators. If lawmakers and the governor want to preserve that chance, they should recognize how such questionable maneuvers as those in passage of SB 1013 put their goal at risk. There are six weeks before the law takes effect. They should use them well to come clean with Oregonians.

(source: Editorial, The Oregonian)


Notes from inside death row in Singapore

I was sentenced to death on May 2, 2017. The judge said that even though my involvement was just as a courier, he has no any other choice because the DPP of Singapore did not want to issue the certificate of co-operation.

I saw my family break down with my very own eyes, they couldn’t believe what was happening.

At that moment, the lowest point of my life, I mustered the strength to stay strong for my family and consoled them by saying, “I can still appeal, there is hope.”

It hurts to see our loved one in this sort of situation. Words can’t describe the burden which I had placed in their hearts.

All my family ever did was love me for who I am and be there for me and all I have given them is burden and pain that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. This realisation hurts more than the sentence could ever itself.

I was transferred from B2 TO A1 SHU (Special Housing Unit), the death row. Once I arrived here, the first thing the officer did was to shave my head bald and give me a white T-shirt and shorts to wear.

They then led me to cell No. 26 and told me that I have to remain in this cell for 2 more months at least, before they can transfer me to different cell which has a TV.

I was given soap, brush, a small white towel, toothpaste and a bucket. I stumbled into the cell and my mind was just blank, I hadn’t recovered yet at that point. Everything happened so fast that I couldn’t collect my thoughts.

The cell was quite creepy and I felt unsettled, to say the very least. It wasn’t even 5 minutes yet but I already felt alone. I guess that is the point of this place.

It’s a very a dark and gloomy place and you can almost see all the sadness, disappointment and loneliness the place bears. It feels like it could even devour you alive.

For someone who’s not on this side of the bar, like the officers or counsellors, they probably don’t really understand how we death row inmates feel; some of them think they do understand or that they know but I beg to differ.

In here you are only for yourself and only God is your solace if you are a religious person. If you’re not a believer, it’s going to take an immense amount of mental strength and fortitude to find the light of hope in this darkness.

The next day, I was informed that the state will provide a lawyer to do my appeal if I can’t afford one, and if the appeal doesn’t go in my favour, then I can send a petition of clemency and if that too doesn’t go well, then I would be hanged, an estimate of 14-15 months.

Great! Could any news make me feel "better" than this one? I don’t think so. It makes me feel so much "better" until I can’t sleep at night.

To think what lies ahead for us (death row inmates) is not something encouraging to do, for you will be torn apart in the war between hope and reality.

For the first 2 weeks, I was locked down in cell No. 26 with no access to the one-hour yard time. This meant that I stayed inside the cell 24/7, for 2 weeks, with the lights turned on the whole time 24/7.

It was very hot and I couldn’t sleep, if you use the floor mat given, you would feel hotter, so I just slept on the floor with the lights on.

Most of the time I slept not because I wanted to, but because my eyes were too tired to be open any longer. I would wake every 1 or 2 hours after I had fallen asleep.

I don’t know why they would give this form of psychological torture to someone who is already sentenced to death, who is already suffering mentally and emotionally.

I don’t know what joy they take in watching their fellow human being been treated in such a way. Reminds me of the stories I’ve read of the Nazi concentration camps, although the prisoners there would have suffered far, far worse than I have.

After 1 week, I got access to newspapers, but still no yard time. Only after 2 weeks was I allowed to go to the yard.

I was allowed to keep books which were taken from the yard library. The food is better than before and there are slices of bread available every evening that you can take as much as you can eat.

The food menu is mostly chicken, egg, sardine, some vegetables, fish and sometimes anchovies. The menu rotates every day.

The cell is consisted of a toilet and a big iron bar door with four iron rods in between for the air to come in. The cell is just 6 or 7 normal footsteps in length and in width.

Each cell has a CCTV that runs 24/7 at the top corner of the ceiling where the toilet is. It is not something new, I was living my life for the past five years like this. Doesn’t matter if you’re taking bath or a dump, there were always people watching you.

Even in B2, as a remand, you would have to strip and get naked five days a week whenever we entered the yard. There will be two officers at the yard’s gate entrance to see your bare body and genitalia twice — in and out — and you will feel humiliated.

Before they take your life itself, they will try to take everything else they can from you –- your freedom, dignity, rights, dreams, hope, value, and respect.

Everything, like a vacuum cleaner, is sucked away before your life is ended. That why I mentioned earlier that the others who are not in our shoes, they don’t know what it is like.

There are more things that I could describe here but this is a little summary of pretty much most of it.

There isn’t a fan inside the cell, each cell has a fan fixed outside of it. The wall colours are very dull, pale pastel yellow as though it has been purposely chosen so that your brain would become dull too as you are going to see it every day. Oh, and the floors are grey.

I (and all prisoners) was only provided with one floormat and two blankets which look like they’ve been used in World War 2, and no pillows.

So one blanket becomes a makeshift pillow. One of the most advanced and safest cities in the world, and they can’t even provide us inmates a pillow, most mornings you wake up with a pain in your neck and every day the officers see us as a pain in their ass.

After two weeks on death row I was told that the coming Friday someone was going to be hanged. A guy who was also convicted on a drug case –- a Singaporean — and that Thursday evening, he came to my cell to say his last goodbye.

I didn’t know what to say to him. It was hard to imagine this healthy young man was going to be hanged the next day.

Can you imagine seeing someone today, and knowing that tomorrow his/her life will be taken away? This person would cease to exist anymore. I personally didn’t know him but I still can’t imagine how hard it must be for him to go through all this.

I will pray for him, at the very least that’s what I can only do, and pray for his family too. After two months I was transferred to cell 6 which had a TV inside the cell, apart from that, the cell was the same as the previous one.

Fast forward to April 2019, it’s been two years now for me on the death row. My appeal was dismissed on February 9, 2018 as written in my previous article and about all the time and things that I have learned here in death row, about life, passion, freedom and the value of a human life.

I forgot to mention the last time that the prison also provides inmates on death row a canteen list to order some food. It goes by levels.

Inmates who haven’t done with their appeal get to write canteen for S$12 (RM36) a month, for those who appeal had been dismissed, they get S$40 a month and at last for those who have already submitted their petition of clemency gets S$60 a month.

Before my appeal, I requested to be baptised in prison but I was informed that only those whose appeal have been dismissed would be allowed to be baptised.

So I would have to wait till the outcome of my appeal. I pray to God, “Lord you know when is the right time for everything, as such I leave this matter to you.”

As my father is a church pastor, he used to say, “Come learn the course and take the baptism.” He was baptising other church members every now and then but I used to answer, “I will learn the course and take the baptism when I am ready.” This is because I didn’t want to live a double life and take baptism for the sake of just being a Christian.

Miraculously, the only upside to my current predicament is that my relationship with my family and God is being healed and it has been getting stronger past these five years.

Yes, there were times when I was down, but I got back up, only to fail and stand back up again but all that now, I’ve realised, is a process which I have to go through, to be a better person, to grow in faith and to seek God’s will and purpose in my life.

After my appeal had been dismissed, I did fasting for 40 days in the name of God and prayed. There’s a lot of struggle in that too, as you keep hoping something good will happen — anything that may help to save my life but what I keep getting was disappointments and setbacks.

Back in my mind, I knew time was flying fast, and once I send the petition of clemency, my days are numbered without even me knowing when it will end.

"In my vision of the dark night, I have dreamed of joy departed but a warning dream of life and light, hathleft me broken hearted." — Edgar Allan Poe.

The above line rings true when you really understand what goes on here. For some inmates (perhaps all), every waking hour reminds us of nothing but pain and regret, and that all these things that we are going through are real and I can’t just write on only what is good and positive.

How can I be positive all the time, staying in death row and not even being given a chance for redemption?

Up until April 2019, I have seen 22 people hanged, and in many ways it took a toll on the rest of us inmates. People would change, as the executions would carry on, until it’s their turn.

They would lose sleep, some heavily rely on medication, some become resentful, reserved and taciturn, some even forget how to laugh, some would lose their minds under pressure.

They just snap like that as they can’t take it any longer. They start to talk to the wall, hear voices, have nightmares. Some even forget to clean themselves for weeks, lose their appetites (maybe their will to even eat), their social and communication skills fade away and some even refuse to see their own family that came to visit.

Amidst all of this, I have to draw a line, find a balance between everything, between hope and reality, in spirituality, in moral values, in good and the bad, and in almost in everything.

I have to know where I am standing. If I have failed to find that balance, then whatever I’ve been through or learned these past years would amount to nothing.

In the midst of all these struggles and troubles, I must not lose myself but strive ever harder, to find myself.

(source: Pannir Selvam Pranthanam is a Malaysian on death row in


Life behind the walls for the criminally insane

Mental assessment of those charged with criminal offences can be done only at four hospitals. They are Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta (HBUK) in Perak, Hospital Permai (Johor), Hospital Mesra Bukit Padang (Sabah) and Hospital Sentosa (Sarawak).

HBUK consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Ian Lloyd Anthony said these were the approved psychiatric hospitals under the Mental Health Act 2001 to admit and detain individuals under Sections 342, 344 and 348 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).

“The charges can range from a simple case of urine testing positive for drugs, stealing a motorbike, to serious offences, such as rape, sexual offences against children, child abuse and crimes involving the death penalty,” he said in an interview with the New Straits Times.

He said judges who suspected that an accused suffered from a mental disorder would refer him to 1 of the 4 hospitals for mental assessment under Section 342 of the CPC.

“The hospital is given a period not exceeding one month (which can be extended to two months) to observe, evaluate and send a report on the mental state of the accused before he is allowed to plead or go on trial.

“The court wants to know whether the accused has a mental disorder. Whether he is of sound mind or unsound mind at the time of the alleged offence and following a period of assessment, whether he is fit to stand trial.

“These are three important questions that the court requires us to answer.”

Dr Anthony said out of the 420 cases referred by the courts to the hospital last year, fewer than 15 were either found to be of unsound mind or unfit to stand trial.

He said the threshold for legal insanity under Section 84 of the Penal Code was high.

“Although the standard of proof for an insanity defence is on the balance of probabilities, just by merely having a mental disorder per se may be insufficient.

“It must be clearly shown to the court, with reasonable medical certainty that the accused was rendered cognitively incapable of understanding the nature and wrongfulness of his action as a result of his mental disorder."

He said when assessing the accused, the forensic psychiatrist had a duty to the court to assist it in coming to a just decision.

“For forensic cases that come for mental assessment, the obligation to the accused goes only as far as ensuring they receive an independent and unbiased assessment. We have no obligation to any party, be it the prosecution or defence. In this respect, the principle of forensic psychiatry differs from the ethics of general psychiatry.

“The forensic psychiatrist has to balance competing duties to the accused and society.”

An assessment of the accused under Section 342 of the CPC is done at the acute forensic unit, a high-security facility in the hospital. The hospital,famously referred to as Tanjung Rambutan Hospital, receives between 40 and 50 cases monthly.

“Once they are sent to us by the police, the handcuffs are taken off because this is a hospital, we do not cuff them. They are treated like ordinary patients. Although most of them are perpetrators of serious crimes, being arrested and interrogated by police, taken to court multiple times and living in a prison can be traumatic.

“If we add to that, it would be difficult to get into their minds and for them to tell us what transpired.”

Dr Anthony said without access to crime scene evidence, psychiatrists would have to rely completely on the accused to recall and reconstruct the alleged crime, step by step.

“We gather information from family members or other individuals who had observed the patient’s behaviour prior to the offence, or if they were present during the offence and at the time of the arrest, as well as policemen who made the arrest.”

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) recordings of the alleged crime and medical reports of prior psychiatric admissions and treatments in other hospitals are referred to.

“The patient’s mental state at the time of the crime is as important as the period preceding the offence and immediately after. This constitutes the entire picture of the mental state of the accused.

“Sometimes, when they come in, their mental state isn’t so stable, so it takes time for us to build a rapport, engage and slowly get them to recall things, to reconstruct the entire scene,” he said, adding that those who turned violent and aggressive would be medicated to keep them calm.


Once the trial is over and the court finds the accused not guilty by reason of insanity, on most occasions, the court will order the accused to be kept in safe custody at the hospital at the pleasure of the ruler of the state under Section 348 of the CPC.

“They are no longer seen as the accused, but as patients. The aim of Section 348 is to treat and rehabilitate them with the goal of releasing them back into society.”

He said there were currently 17 female patients and 108 male patients confined to the long-stay forensic ward of the hospital under Section 348, with the majority of them having been found not guilty by reason of insanity for murder.

Rehabilitation for female patients include a bakery, a spa, a hair salon, making and selling ice-cream, selling kacang, ikan masin and ikan bilis.

For the male patients, they are enrolled in activities, such as planting vegetables, sugar cane, gardening, car wash and electrical workshops. Some also work in the hospital’s laundry and canteen. The work keeps patients occupied and they progress from a simple job to a more complex one.


Relatives of patients confined under Section 348 can request their release under Section 351 of the same Act by applying to the respective state secretariat and copying the same letter to the hospital.

The hospital will then refer the case to its Board of Visitors, who will deliberate on it.

Once they are satisfied that the patient can be safely released, the ruler may in his discretion, order the patient to be delivered to a relative.

“Since last year, we have put 20 cases before the Board of Visitors for release under Section 351. Out of that, nine successfully went back into society, while some are awaiting their release order,” said Dr Anthony, adding that there were instances where the board did not agree to release a patient and called for more time in rehabilitation.

The planting of sugar cane is part of Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta forensic ward’s rehabilitation activities for male patients. - NSTP/Abdullah Yusof

“It depends on the patient. If the patient’s symptoms are well controlled, his illness improved and he has successfully taken part in rehabilitation activities, and when there have been no episodes of violence or aggression during the patient’s stay in the ward, then we have no problems in facilitating his release.

“Once they have been rehabilitated, they should be released into society, with the necessary safeguards in place.”


“When we release a patient, we would want to be sure that this person has a low risk of re-offending. Risks can only be estimated to a certain extent. Let’s say we are releasing a patient, we can predict risks up to only 6 months.

“Subsequent risk assessments will have to be done by the hospital that’s in charge of his followup treatments. If he misses his medications, he can relapse and re- offend.

“Therefore, we have to provide him with services on the outside. If the patient is going back to Alor Star, for instance, we have to provide him with psychiatric services there, especially with a community psychiatric team that carries out regular home visits to ensure that he takes his medications.”

Dr Anthony said many patients had drug-related problems that would have resulted in some of the offences and it was a difficult task keeping them away from drugs.

In cases where there is no relative to take a patient home, the hospital will release the patient under Section 350 of the CPC, upon recommendation of the hospital director.

These patients are then readmitted to the hospital voluntarily under the Mental Health Act 2001.

For this group of patients with no relatives, the aim of release under Section 350 is for further rehabilitation by allowing them to work outside the hospital. Some of them are allowed to live independently in apartments on the hospital grounds while seeking employment outside.

Who adapts better once released, men or women?

“That depends on the support given by the family. The first six months after release from the hospital is crucial as they have to readjust to life outside the hospital.

“During this period, I will schedule appointments to see them at the outpatient clinic of Hospital Bahagia. Once I am comfortable and satisfied that, yes, this patient is doing well, only then will I refer him to the nearest hospital where he lives.

“We do not completely cut off ties with them and random checks are made with their families to ensure that they are taken cared of,” he said.


Dr Anthony said space was a problem for rehabilitation programmes as they were utilising old wards for their activities.

“Work is therapeutic. Some of these patients had good jobs before committing their offences. If you don’t give them anything to do, they become bored and boredom can trigger a lot of things.”

He said there were very few psychiatrists interested in the field of forensic psychiatry.

“There are a lot of risks involved in dealing with criminals. The workload is tremendous, compounded by the pressure of having to go to court. At present, there are only three forensic psychiatrists in Malaysia and we are training three more in the Health Ministry’s forensic psychiatry subspecialty training programme.”

He said HBUK sometimes had problems tracing family members when a patient was ready to be released back into society.

There were cases of family members being reluctant to take them home.

“Like for murder cases, they can be very reluctant. They don’t mind visiting the patient here in the hospital, but they do not want to take them home.”

He said the oldest patient in the forensic ward was an 86-year-old.

“He came here in 1960 and he is still here under Section 348 of the CPC. He was charged with voluntarily causing hurt,” he said, declining to reveal more about the patient.

He said the youngest patient was a 21-year-old who was admitted last year after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for voluntarily causing hurt.



Locsin says death penalty revival could affect fate of Filipinos convicted abroad

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Monday maintained that he is not in favor of the revival of death penalty, saying it could weaken the Philippines' appeal to countries where convicted Filipinos are facing such punishment.

During the hearing of the Senate foreign affairs relation committee, Senator Panfilo Lacson asked how Locsin would reconcile the fact that drug suspects are killed in the country while the DFA is saving Filipinos convicted of drug charges in other countries.

“Frankly, I used to wonder about that. That’s why I continue to support the abolition of death penalty because I cannot see how, now that we abolished it, if we restore it, how can we appeal if we feel that there is a possibility of miscarriage of justice in a foreign country,” said Locsin.

“How can we appeal for mercy or a commutation of sentence? That’s a completely unresolved issue as far as I’m concerned,” he added.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said it does not mean that Filipinos who violated another country’s laws should not be punished.

Lacson said the rationale behind it is that the government treat them as Filipinos 1st and convicts 2nd.

“That obligation is weakened when we restore death penalty,” Locsin said.

Bills seeking the reimposition of death penalty have been filed in Congress.



UN: Iran Regime Hanged at Least 7 Child Offenders Last Year

Iran's regime executed at least seven child offenders last year, while another 90 minors are on death row, according to a new report to the United Nations General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The report by Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, "A/74/188", circulated to UN Member States on August 16, stated: "In 2018, there were seven reported cases of executions of child offenders. There are currently an estimated 90 individuals on death row who were all under the age of 18 at the time of their alleged offences. Among the most recent cases, on 25 April 2019, 2 17-year-old children, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat, were executed" in Adelabad prison in Shiraz for an alleged crime that they reportedly were forced to confess to under torture.

Mr. Rehman pointed out that the position of UN rapporteurs and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on child offender executions has been unequivocal. "They have stated that this practice is absolutely prohibited and must end immediately."

The Special Rapporteur also raised concerns about allegations of "confessions extracted by torture" and a "lack of due process or a fair trial."

The full report is available on the UN website:



Executions in Iran among the world's highest

Iran saw increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and continuing violations of the right to life, liberty and a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, including 253 reported executions of adults and children in 2018, the UN expert on human rights said on Friday.

Javaid Rehman said in a report to the General Assembly circulated Friday that while the number of executions was the lowest since 2007, "the number of executions remains one of the highest in the world."

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The significant decline, he said, is attributed to enforcement of a 2017 amendment to Iran's anti-narcotics law that saw the number of executions for drug-related offenses drop from 231 in 2017 to at least 24 in 2018.

Rehman expressed concern that Iran had more than 80 offenses punishable by the death penalty, including adultery, homosexuality, drug possession, "waging war against God, corruption on Earth, blasphemy and insult of the Prophet" Muhammad.

He said many of the offenses are not considered serious crimes under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Among the 7 child offenders reported to have been executed in 2018 were 2 17-year-olds in April for alleged rape and robbery, Rehman said. "The 2 were reportedly forced to confess under torture."

Rehman reiterated UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's statement that the execution of child offenders "is absolutely prohibited and must end immediately."

(source: Israel Hayom)


Sudan's deposed ruler Omar al-Bashir faces trial over corruption----Deposed former president is also wanted by the ICC for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Sudan's former president Omar al-Bashir is due to go on trial for corruption allegations, which brought down his 30-year rule.

The deposed leader, whose trial begins on Monday, faces charges related to "possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally".

Bashir's trial comes against the backdrop of the country's struggle to form a sovereign council, the first step after the landmark adoption of a transitional constitution. On Saturday, protest leaders and the military signed a final power-sharing deal, paving the way for a transition to a civilian-led government.

Al-Bashir seized power in a military coup on June 30, 1989, and stayed in office until April 11, 2019, when he was overthrown and arrested by the armed forces.

Will Sudan return to civilian rule?

His downfall was brought about by thousands of ordinary Sudanese from all walks of life who took to the streets for four months to demand an end to the 75-year-old's rule.

The demonstrations erupted over rising food prices before morphing into broader demands for political change, the culmination of years of anger over long-standing corruption and repression.

Prosecutors have also opened other criminal probes against al-Bashir, including on charges of money laundering, financing "terrorism" and "ordering the killing of protesters" - the latter is an offence that carries the death penalty in Sudan.

Ahead of the trial, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa Joan Nyanyuki said in a statement: "While this trial is a positive step towards accountability for some of his alleged crimes, he remains wanted for heinous crimes committed against the Sudanese people."

Over the course of his time in office, al-Bashir led Sudan through several conflicts and became wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged atrocities in Darfur. He was also the last man to lead a united Sudan, prior to South Sudan's independence in 2011.

Here's all you need to know about Sudan's toppled ruler.

Rise to power

Al-Bashir was born into a peasant family in 1944, in Hosh Wad Banaqa, northern Sudan, which until independence in 1955 was part of the Kingdom of Egypt and Sudan. After finishing high school in the capital, Khartoum, he enrolled in a military academy in Egypt in 1960. In 1973, he was part of the Sudanese units that were sent to Egypt to fight in the October Arab-Israeli war.

In 1975, he was appointed as the military attache in the United Arab Emirates. Upon returning to Sudan, he was appointed garrison commander and, in 1981, he became the head of an armoured parachute brigade.

In the mid-1980s, he had a central role in the armed forces' campaign in the civil war in southern Sudan against the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army.

As a colonel in the Sudanese military, al-Bashir was well-positioned to lead a bloodless military coup in 1989 against Sadiq al-Mahdi, the prime minister of a democratically elected government.

Al-Bashir was subsequently appointed chairman of the Revolutionary Command Centre for National Salvation (RCC), which was established as a "transitional" government.

Having allied with Hassan al-Turabi, the speaker of the Sudanese parliament and head of the National Islamic Front, al-Bashir dissolved parliament, banned political parties and went on to introduce Islamic law.

The mainly animist and Christian southern Sudan rejected the introduction of the new legal system, and the decades-long north-south civil war intensified.

Political conflict

In 1993, al-Bashir abolished the RCC and appointed himself president of Sudan, but retained military rule.

Three years later, Sudan held presidential and parliamentary elections, and al-Bashir, running completely unopposed for president, won with 75 percent of the vote. He would eventually legalise the registration of political parties in 1999.

Later that year, al-Bashir removed al-Turabi from his post as parliament speaker and had him imprisoned. Al-Turabi had grown increasingly close to Muslim political groups unpopular in the West.

In 2000, al-Bashir was re-elected after winning 90 % of a popular vote in an election described as a sham by the opposition.

A wanted man

Al-Bashir was the only serving head of state to be indicted for war crimes.

Although Bashir's government signed a peace deal in 2005 to end a years-long conflict between the north and south, the leader and several senior ministers in his cabinet have been criticised for what the United Nations has called "ethnic cleansing" during another conflict that broke out in the western province of Darfur.

The tribes of Darfur - home to several non-Arab tribes who rebelled against the government in 2003 - accused al-Bashir's administration of siding with Arab tribes in a decades-old fight over scarce resources among the province's communities.

The UN estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 people died in the conflict, with a further 2.7 million displaced. But al-Bashir's government claimed that the UN, influenced by Western powers, had exaggerated the numbers.

In June 2008, the ICC charged al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the ongoing attacks against Darfur's non-Arab ethnic groups. The ICC has since issued two arrest warrants against him.

Unless he is handed over to the ICC, it is unlikely that Bashir will be prosecuted for the alleged war crimes, according to legal experts.

"We have urged the Sudan authorities to hand al-Bashir over to the ICC to answer for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide," Ahmed Elzobeir, Sudan researcher at Amnesty International told Al Jazeera.

"Al-Bashir must face justice not only for recent national crimes but also for the historical crimes he committed under international law," he added.

The Sudanese legal system would not be able to prosecute al-Bashir for the alleged crimes because they were committed before Sudan introduced war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity to the Criminal Act in 2009, according to legal experts.

"His trial in Sudan would violate a basic legal principle, no one shall be convicted for acts committed before the law entered into force," explained Elzobeir.

Despite the arrest warrants, al-Bashir has visited several countries including Syria, Ethiopia, Libya, Qatar, Egypt and South Africa.

In 2010, al-Bashir was re-elected with roughly 68 percent of the vote. The opposition alleged fraud and election observers said the polls did not meet international standards.

The following year, southern Sudanese citizens overwhelmingly backed splitting from the north in a referendum, which led to the creation of the world's youngest country.

The 2011 secession of South Sudan deprived Sudan of the majority of its oil revenues and stoked spiralling inflation and widespread shortages.

As a result, opposition groups and ordinary citizens increasingly began expressing their anger with the inability of al-Bashir's government to address their grievances, improve economic conditions and introduce political reforms.


AUGUST 18, 2019:

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas death row inmate maintains innocence as latest execution date looms

"On December 8, 1998, Swearingen kidnapped and strangled a 19-year-old white female."

This short statement is what you'll find under Larry Swearingen's death row record for his summary of the incident. However, he's arguing that the details of his case, and the murder of Melissa Trotter, are much more complex.

Larry Swearingen met Melissa Trotter, a 19-year-old Montgomery College student, on December 6, 1998, where they had a conversation and exchanged numbers. They planned on meeting up the next day, but Swearingen grew irritated when she didn't arrive, according to co-workers.

They were spotted together on December 8 at the college library at 1:30 p.m., and were seen leaving together at 2:00 p.m. Melissa's car remained parked at the school. This was the last time she was seen alive.

At 2:05 p.m., Swearingen returned a page and said he would have to call back later because he was at lunch with a friend.

Swearingen returned to his trailer and left again sometime before 3:30 p.m., then returned again to the trailer sometime before 5:30 p.m., asked his landlord some questions, then left again to pick up his wife, Terry Swearingen, from his mother's house.

On December 11, Swearingen was arrested pursuant to unrelated outstanding warrants.

On January 2, 1999, Melissa's body was found in Sam Houston National Forest with a ligature made from pantyhose still tied around her neck. The police had searched the area three times before her body was found by hunters. Swearingen knew the area well.

Based on the state of decomposition, it was estimated that her body had been in the woods for around 25 days, supporting the possible date of her death to be December 8.

A supposed match to the other half of the pantyhose was found at the Swearingen home, along with a pack of Malboro Lights and a lighter resembling one belonging to Melissa. Neither Larry nor his wife smoked.

Fibers were found on Melissa's body matching Swearingen's jacket, car seat, and carpet at his house. There were also hair strands in his car that looked to be pulled from Melissa's head, showing definitively that she had been in Swearingen's car at some point before her death.

Further incriminating evidence includes a letter that was written by Larry and sent to his mother with the help of another inmate and a Spanish-English dictionary from a woman named "Robin", claiming to know who Melissa's real killer was. The letter gave insight into investigators' suspicions that Melissa's death resulted from violence sparked by sexual rejection.

These are the undeniable facts of the case. Swearingen, however, clings to DNA evidence and forensic science to maintain his innocence. He has been assigned several execution dates, pushing back his death based on many of what he and his attorneys perceive to be discrepancies.

They cite discrepancies in witness testimonies as well as cell phone records to place Swearingen at different locations at key dates and times in the case, according to his website.

The main focus of the defense, however, has been on the state of Melissa's remains and DNA testing and evidence.

Statements from two other medical examiners have reevaluated Melissa's autopsy report and estimated that based on lack of insect and bacteria colonies and general state of her body and tissues upon discovery, the remains could have only been in the forest for just under a week at most, even with the near-freezing low winter temperatures. A statement such as this implies that Swearingen is innocent since he was in jail three days after Melissa went missing, and much longer before her estimated death according to this analysis.

One examiner allows for the exception of post-mortem refrigeration before her body was deposited at the location, but says the absence of certain signs of this on the body, this is not likely.

Additionally, Swearingen's attorneys have claimed that none of the DNA evidence has definitively placed Larry at the scene of Melissa's body. Their appeals have consisted of requests for DNA testing on Melissa's fingernail scrapings, the ligature used for strangulation as well as the alleged other half found at Larry's home, cigarette butts found near her body not offered at trial, various items of her clothing, the rape kit, and hairs and hairbrush collected from the scene.

After several appeals and a debacle involving another inmate rumored to be taking the fall for Melissa's murder, DNA samples were finally tested, with no conclusive evidence. Authorities were hesitant to test due to the "mountain of evidence" already stacked against Swearingen.

Due to this process, DNA testing laws have changed in death penalty cases. Previously, if it was unknown if there was biological evidence, it didn't need to be tested, even if invisible to the naked eye. Now, courts can grant testing of key evidence that has “a reasonable likelihood of containing biological material”—such as skin, saliva or sweat. Swearingen's attorneys have used this avenue of possibility for repeated appeals.

As of 2019, DNA testing on evidence has made no major changes to the case. DNA on the cigarette butts found near Melissa's body only led back to the hunters that found her.

Swearingen's case has attracted attention from many non-profit organizations willing to back up his claims, including the Innocence Project and The Innocence Network. Additionally, judges have given dissenting opinions.

There is no new DNA evidence left to test and no pending appeals. Swearingen's execution is set for August 21, 2019, with no current sign of more delays. After 2 long decades without their daughter, the Trotter family is ready to end this chapter and obtain justice for lost Melissa.

(source: Fox News)


Commissioner Koch: Why Dallas County should stop pursuing the death penalty

In my opinion the death penalty is constitutional. It is also my opinion that there exists overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is often dispensed in an unjust fashion. My opinion matters only because I am one of five members of a body that funds Dallas County's efforts to bring about the death of an individual who has committed capital murder. Ultimately, it is solely the discretion of the district attorney to seek the death penalty in any case.

It's no secret that Dallas County is experiencing an increase in crime rates, which many of us, including me, view to be a serious crisis. Financially, seeking the death penalty is very expensive and only getting costlier. If the millions of dollars spent trying and appealing death penalty cases are redirected to law enforcement efforts right now, we have the ability to curtail a frightening trend in crime and hopefully save lives. I think that is a better use of funds, but that reallocation can only be set in motion if District Attorney John Creuzot agrees to that direction. I offered the suggestion that saved funds be used to stop human trafficking, but sadly there are so many problems spiraling out of control that any number of enforcement uses would be an improvement.

But more importantly, there is thorough and unbiased evidence that African Americans and Hispanics receive the death penalty at significantly higher rates than Caucasians. That should to give everyone pause. This analysis is focused only on those found guilty of murder, i.e., if you have 10 white murderers and 10 black murderers, two white murderers will get the death penalty while six black murderers will get the death penalty. Further study has revealed that the more an individual looks stereotypically African, the greater likelihood he will receive the death penalty within a comparison of other African Americans. These are nationwide phenomena and the trend holds true even for juries that are majority-minority.

So why should we care? They are all murderers, right? The answer is simple and ancient: "To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice — it degrades you. And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing" (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations ).

The reason I have asked for a two-year moratorium is that I believe we can study this issue and find juror screening techniques to identify implicit bias. We can fix this, and we should at least try to fix it. While I believe that the death penalty is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment (regarding cruel and unusual punishment), I do believe it is ripe for a challenge under the Fifth Amendment (regarding due process) because of the disproportionate effect on minorities.

The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally analyzed the penalty phase of death penalty cases based on the specifics of each individual case presented, but that style of analysis could be coming to an end. Statistical analysis is continually creeping into other bodies of case law and could seriously undermine death penalty jurisprudence. It could end the practice entirely. I would rather be ready for those expensive challenges in the future by having robust findings on what we are doing to make the process fair. We must hold up findings that indicate that we have implemented screening in Dallas County to avoid implicit bias and ultimately, injustice.

If we are going to be in the business of tax-funded, deliberate ending of life, we should be satisfied that we are doing it in the most cautious and thoughtful manner. The murderer is the most odious of offenders, but we must be sure he or she receives justice regardless of the evil. As a society, we would do ourselves a great credit by treating the most morally repugnant in a just manner. Otherwise, we degrade ourselves.

(source: Commentnary; J.J. Koch is a Dallas County Commissioner. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News)

FLORIDA----impending executuion

Serial killer of gay men set for Thursday execution

Gary Ray Bowles started his eight-month murderous binge in Daytona Beach by killing John Hardy Roberts on March 14, 1994, inside the victim’s beachside home and now he is set to be the 99th death row inmate executed in Florida in modern times.

The killing spree began in Daytona Beach.

Eventually, in 1994, 6 men were savagely beaten and choked. One was bludgeoned with a discarded toilet.

Each man fought for his life, but lost.

In every case, the victims had something crammed down their throats — a towel, wads of toilet paper, a fistful of dirt.

On Thursday, their killer, Gary Ray Bowles, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection.

Executions mark the end of some of society’s most heinous killings, but they also elicit objections to the practice of state-sponsored death. Holding the opposing view may become more difficult when it is argued on the behalf of an unrepentant serial murderer like Bowles, but there is still no end to the debate about the death penalty’s value.

Bowles, 57, started his 8-month homicidal binge by killing John Hardy Roberts, 59, on March 14, 1994, inside the victim’s beachside home in Daytona Beach. He was arrested a few days after killing his sixth victim, Walter Hinton, 42, in Jacksonville on Nov. 20, 1994.

Bowles committed 3 murders in Florida — in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville and Hilliard. He killed 2 other men in Georgia — 1 in Savannah and the other in Atlanta. He also murdered a man in Wheaton, Maryland.

He would say to the world during a television interview years later how remarkably easy it was to kill someone. Yet every killing he carried out was a bloodbath.

“Each of the murders was brutal,” said Bernie de la Rionda, a long-time Jacksonville-area homicide prosecutor who sought and attained a conviction and death sentence for Bowles.

De la Riona said in every case the victims fought vigorously while suffering from “unexplainable pain” at the hands of their killer.

“It was not an instant death,” he said. “It (wasn’t) like somebody getting shot and dying from that gunshot. ... It was a life-and-death struggle.”

De la Rionda, 62, has tried close to 100 homicide cases during his career, with roughly a third of them resulting in death sentences. He attended his 1st execution in August 2017, when Mark Asay was put to death. Barring any last-minute reprieves, Thursday will be his 2nd.

Few of de la Rionda’s successful prosecutions involved anyone who compared to Bowles’ notoriety. The elusive serial murderer, dubbed the “I-95 Killer” during a months-long manhunt, was profiled on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” five times and was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

Bowles did not answer a News-Journal request last week for an interview.

Learning to hustle

Gary Ray Bowles was born Jan. 25, 1962, in Clifton Forge, Virginia, but he wasn’t raised there. His father died from black lung disease 6 months before he was born.

While a child, he moved from place to place as his mother married again and again. At least two of Bowles’ stepfathers physically and mentally abused him, according to court testimony.

He told an interviewer in 2013 that he fought back against the last stepfather who beat him, but it didn’t end well. His mother came to the defense of her husband and not her son. Overflowing with resentment, Bowles left home at 14.

With only a middle school education, Bowles discovered a way to earn money. Starting in his teen years, he prostituted himself to gay men.

Tom Youngman, a retired homicide and crime scene investigator with the Daytona Beach Police Department, was one of a battery of investigators who interviewed Bowles following his arrest. He asked Bowles why he chose gay men as his murder victims.

“He said they only perform an act on him and he never did (to) them,” Youngman said last week. “I said, ‘Well, that’s homosexuality,’ and he says, ‘No.’

“Then what are you if you’re not a homosexual?” Youngman asked Bowles.

“I’m a hustler,” Bowles replied.

Bowles drifted around the country while a teen. He lived in Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri and Florida. His 1st arrest, a marijuana charge, came at 17.

In 1982, at age 20, Bowles was sentenced to eight years in prison in Hillsborough County for sexual battery with a weapon. The victim was tortured and her wounds were severe.

John Best, a retired Savannah police homicide detective, said he uncovered a lot of heinous details about Bowles’ criminal life. The 1982 sexual battery in Tampa, he said, was the work of a sadist.

Best provided to The News-Journal a copy of the Florida Department of Corrections Probation Post-Investigation Report related to Bowles’ case in which a Tampa police detective stated, “I have never ever seen a case this bad. I have seen better pictures of victims in a morgue.”

Bowles served less than 3 years following his sexual battery conviction and wound up in Volusia County, where he was arrested on robbery and grand theft charges and sentenced to five more years behind bars. He served less than half of his sentence before being paroled again in December 1993.

He gravitated to the bar scene in Daytona Beach. He knew that’s where he could find victims to hustle.

During his time there, he fell for an older woman and lived with her in an apartment on Fairview Avenue. She left him, according to news reports, after she learned how he made money with gay men. Bowles later told police she also had an abortion of his child without telling him.

That, he told authorities, was what led him to hate homosexuals. He blamed them for killing his unborn child.

Before he and the woman broke up, Bowles had met 59-year-old John Hardy Roberts at a beachside bar, the Barn Door on Main Street. Roberts was a single gay man who lived near the Boardwalk.

Shortly after his girlfriend left him, Bowles moved in with Roberts.

Bowles kept pining for his lost girlfriend after he moved in to Roberts’ home. Roberts didn’t like that. He told his new companion he had to make a choice.

The killing starts

Roberts, a native of Tennessee, lived at 504 Vermont Ave.

A friend of his came over to his house on March 15, 1994. No one had seen or heard from Roberts in more than 24 hours.

Every door and window was locked, so the friend broke a rear kitchen door and entered. He found his friend lying on the living room floor. He was bloodied and had a towel stuffed in his mouth.

Daytona Beach police were called to the home. A stream of blood had run from Roberts’ head to a nearby bedroom.

There was a marble-top table overturned. Shards of glass were spread across the room. Food had been flung onto the floor. A broken lamp lay on the couch where it appeared Roberts had been sitting before he was attacked.

“He probably snuck up on him,” Youngman said. “When I talked to (Bowles), that’s what he said. He picked the lamp up, came up behind him and then hit him and then he struggled.”

The struggle was ferocious. One of Roberts’ fingertips was nearly torn off.

The stream of blood that flowed out of Roberts’ body indicated he didn’t die quickly. One only bleeds out that much while the heart is still pumping, Youngman said.

Roberts was beaten and choked by his killer. Detectives later said Bowles killed Roberts after the latter gave him an ultimatum — choose me or your ex-girlfriend.

Police spoke to a neighbor who had come home from work around 4 p.m. the day after Roberts was murdered. She reported seeing a man in his 30s “casually standing” in front of Roberts’ house. He was sipping from a mug and behaving as though nothing was wrong. When she walked back outside a few moments later, the man was gone. Police were called hours later and found the body.

A couple days after the news broke about Roberts murder, The News-Journal published Bowles’ name. Police said at the time that Bowles was not a suspect. They needed information from him.

Behind the scenes, investigators had their suspicions.

“We certainly wanted to talk to him,” said Alison Sylvester, a former Daytona Beach police detective who was the lead investigator in the case.

She said a piece of paper was found underneath the flipped table. It was from Probation and Probation Services and it had Bowles’ name and case number on it.

“That nice calling card that he left with his name on it, that was helpful,” Sylvester said last week.

A camera from an ATM also captured an image of a smiling Bowles attempting to use Roberts’ bank card. He failed to extract any cash from the machine, but did make use of Roberts’ credit cards and car. He headed north and bought gas and food at various convenience stores before dumping the car near Nashville, Tennessee. That’s where police lost track of him.

He showed up weeks later in Washington D.C.

Killing spree

Bowles’ next murder victim was found in Maryland. David Jarman of Wheaton was found strangled in his home on April 14, 1994.

Witnesses said they saw Jarman with Bowles in a bar in DuPont Circle, a historic district of Washington D.C. patronized by gay men. The pair left together and Jarman was never seen alive again.

Authorities said a sex toy had been crammed down Jarman’s throat.

The victim’s driver’s license, credit cards and vehicle were stolen. Bowles used one of Jarman’s credit cards to book a motel room in Baltimore, according to a story the Washington Post published after the killing.

Again, Bowles remained one step ahead of law enforcement.

In some respects, Bowles was sloppy, Youngman said. There is no other way to explain how he could leave behind such an obvious clue as a parole and probation document at a crime scene and then try to get cash with a stolen ATM card a mile or so away from the victim’s home. On the other hand, he was an experienced drifter. Bowles knew how to remain on the lam.

Bowles headed south again and settled — at least for a few days — in Savannah.

There, he killed 72-year-old Milton Bradley.

A World War II veteran, Bradley suffered a shrapnel wound during the war and later underwent a lobotomy. He was slow, but his pension and his family sustained him financially and locals looked out for him. He was regularly seen around town.

Bowles hung out with Bradley at a tavern on Lincoln Avenue. The two left together and Bowles drove him to an abandoned utility shed on a golf course and killed him.

“It was a violent crime scene,” said retired detective John Best, who had just started investigating homicides for Savannah police. “It was overkill.”

The men in Savannah’s gay community were very willing witnesses. Bowles had come on to some of them and they came away “creeped out,” Best said. They had seen him with Bradley.

A palm print was recovered at the scene. An old toilet was used to bludgeon Bradley. The lid and the tank were broken and there were cuts on his body, Best said.

Dirt and leaves had been jammed into Bradley’s mouth. His windpipe was clogged. His pockets had been turned inside out.

Eight days later, Bowles murdered Alverson Carter Jr., 47, of Atlanta. Carter was fatally stabbed.

Six days after that, he murdered Albert Alcie Morris, 37, in Hilliard, a town in Nassau County about 30 minutes northwest of Jacksonville.

Morris’ body was discovered inside his home by his parents.

The scenario was strikingly similar to what had happened 2 months earlier in Daytona Beach. Morris and Bowles, according to law enforcement, were seen together at a Jacksonville gay bar. Morris invited Bowles to stay at his home for a few days.

Morris, also like Roberts, fought back against his attacker. Bowles used a marble dish to beat Morris and also shot him in the chest. A towel was stuffed into his mouth.

Bowles found something in Morris’ home that helped him prolong his fugitive status. He discovered a driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate belonging to a Timothy Whitfield. Morris’ relationship to Whitfield is unclear, but Bowles used the Whitfield alias during the next 4 months.

Bowles was jailed at least twice during that time for minor infractions, but law enforcement unsuspectingly booked him under the fake name. Bowles eventually spent five days in jail for an offense committed by the real Timothy Whitfield, but Bowles didn’t want to blow his cover, so he quietly served the time. Police never figured out Whitfield’s real identity, even though by this time, Bowles had been featured on a prime-time network crime show and had been profiled in Newsweek and USA Today.

On Nov. 19, 1994, Bowles was put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

One day later, he murdered 42-year-old Walter Hinton, a Jacksonville floral designer who, like Roberts and Morris, invited Bowles to stay with him.

Bowles was arrested at a day labor office the morning of Nov. 22 on suspicion of killing Hinton. When he saw the authorities show up, he tried hiding in the bathroom.

He was brought in for questioning. It took hours, but the suspect known as Timothy Whitfield eventually broke down and admitted everything to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detectives.

“Look, I’m tired of this,” he told investigators. “Do you really want to know who I am? I’m Gary Ray Bowles.”

Afterward, he confessed to killing 6 men and stealing from them. He said he wanted the killings to stop

“I’m either getting 6 life sentences or the electric chair,” he reportedly said during his interview.

Death sentence

The Sheriff’s Office called authorities in Maryland, Florida and Atlanta to tell them the news. Best drove down from Savannah and Youngman drove up from Daytona Beach. They were among the out-of-town detectives who showed up to have their face-to-face time with the killer they had been seeking for months.

“He blamed his childhood. He blamed his alcohol abuse,” Best said, recalling Bowles’ answers to his questions.

“He just had a lot of pent-up anger,” he continued. “Sure, his childhood played a role, but he was an opportunist. Once he robbed and killed his 1st victim, it became easy for him after that.”

In May 1996, Bowles stunned prosecutors when he pleaded guilty to killing Hinton. They still decided to pursue the death penalty, based on the facts of the case. Hinton’s head was bashed with a 40-pound concrete block and he had been suffocated with toilet paper and a wash cloth, according to court testimony.

?(Mr. Hinton) put up a heck of a fight for his life,” de la Rionda told jurors during Bowles’ sentencing hearing, according to a story in The Florida Times-Union. “His skull was fractured, but his brain was still intact. He attempted to live, in a valiant effort.”

Jurors recommended death in a 10-2 vote in July 1996. The judge sentenced him to death later that summer. The following year, Bowles pleaded guilty to murdering Morris and Roberts and received consecutive life sentences for those crimes. Authorities in Georgia and Maryland declined to prosecute him.

In August 1998, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Bowles’ death sentence, saying de la Rionda was wrong to introduce Bowles’ hatred of homosexuals as evidence.

The following May, jurors heard evidence again on whether to recommend life or death. They were unanimous the second time. Bowles was transported back to death row in September 1999, where he has remained for 20 years living in a 6-by-9-foot cell.

State executions aren’t as popular

Public opinion for the death penalty has changed significantly since the mid-1990s, when support for it reached its apex, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., a group that doesn’t advocate for or against the death penalty, but aims to publicize all of the system’s flaws.

Since then, support has fallen about 25 percentage points, said Robert Dunham, the center’s executive director.

“There is rising opposition to the death penalty,” Dunham said. “People who support it in theory can’t support it the way it is being practiced.”

Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016, death sentences were halted for a time in Florida on the basis that the state’s death penalty statute violated the Sixth Amendment. The Florida Legislature subsequently made changes to the law. In order for death sentences to be carried out, jurors must now be unanimous in favor of death.

Additionally, circuit judges previously had the power to overturn a jury’s life recommendation and sentence a 1st-degree murder defendant to death. That no longer is the case.

The state required all post-2002 death penalty cases that did not have unanimous juries be reviewed by the state attorneys in their respective judicial circuits. Several of Florida’s killers are still awaiting new sentencing hearings for murders they committed more than a decade ago.

But Bowles was sentenced in 1999 and the jury was unanimous, so his case never came under review.

“Virtually everybody (on death row) in Florida was unconstitutionally sentenced to death,” Dunham said, referring to those who received death sentences prior to 2002. “The executions that happened were for those who were sentenced under an unconstitutional process.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was sworn into office in January, has signed two death warrants. Bowles was the second. It was signed June 11. He will become the 99th inmate executed in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.

Florida used the electric chair to execute condemned killers until 2000, when the Florida Legislature passed a law that allowed for lethal injection as an alternative method.

When an inmate is executed, the executioner, who is paid $150 and remains anonymous, administers 200 mg of etomidate, an anesthetic agent and 20 ml of a saline solution. Afterward, after it is determined the inmate is unconscious, he or she is given 1,000 mg of rocuronium bromide, a powerful muscle relaxant, and an additional 20 ml of a saline solution. After that, a fatal dose of potassium acetate is injected, which stops the inmate’s heart.

Florida’s first execution was in 1979. It has averaged more than two executions per year since then — some of whom have been serial killers. Serial killers included Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, David Alan Gore, Danny Rolling, Oscar Ray Bolin and Bobby Joe Long, who was the most recent death row inmate to be executed. He was put to death on May 23.

Florida’s long list of notorious killers has likely contributed to its residents’ general support of capital punishment.

“I think the majority of Floridians still support the death penalty, although a growing number have serious concerns about it,” Dunham said.

Dunham’s organization does not take a position on capital punishment, but it does point out that states have shown an “overall inability” to administer the death penalty fairly and non-arbitrarily, he said.

Even still, he admitted that Bowles could never be “the poster child for abolition” of the death penalty.

No one directly involved in the Bowles investigation who spoke to The News-Journal has any second thoughts about executing Bowles.

“I think it’s a just sentence,” said Best, who pointed out that Bowles’ violent streak goes as far back as 1982, when he raped a woman in Tampa. “I don’t think he’s going to be missed. Even though he’s in a prison cell, he can wake up every day. His murder victims can’t do that anymore.”

Youngman said he thinks a death sentence is the only appropriate punishment for Bowles. To him, the only inappropriate part has been the extended wait.

“He killed 6 people,” he said. “You can prove it, without a doubt. So why not? It’s time.”

Last Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected Bowles’ latest appeal, in which Bowles’ attorneys claimed he was intellectually disabled and should be spared from execution.

23 years ago, Bowles’ trial attorneys pointed to his troubled childhood and the abuse he suffered in an effort to convince jurors not to recommend death. The jurors weren’t swayed, and neither was Norma Cole, Hinton’s mother, who spoke to The Florida Times-Union after the original jury in the case recommended death.

“I’m sorry the abuse affected him in the way it did,” she said. “I’m sorry anyone has difficulty like that in life. But I haven’t had such an easy life, either.”

Cole was Hinton’s last living close relative. She died in January.



Church protests resuming of death penalty

Members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent recently held a vigil outside the church to protest the death penalty. The vigil was organized as a response to the recent decision by the U.S. attorney general to resume use of the federal death penalty after a 2-decade hiatus. Church and community activists call for an end to both the federal and state death penalties as cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of human rights.

Andrew Rome, the Social Justice Coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent, said, “Our church affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, including those convicted of crimes. We stand together with people of every faith demanding moral action to end the death penalty.” Rome explains, “It is fundamentally wrong to execute people and call it justice. America disproportionately executes people of color and the poor, another symptom of white supremacy. Despite extensive appeals that make the death penalty cost more than life imprisonment, we know that we have mistakenly executed people innocent of the crimes for which they were charged. By comparing states with and without the death penalty, we know that this punishment does not serve as a deterrent to crime. There is no just reason to continue the death penalty.”

There are currently 61 inmates on federal death row and 138 inmates on Ohio death row.



“One By One, They’re Dying”: Activists Protest Tennessee’s th Execution in a Year

On the Saturday before Tennessee killed Stephen Michael West, the 5th man to be executed in the state’s death chamber since August 2018, some 20 people gathered in a parking lot just down the road from Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. It was not yet 7 a.m., and the air was already thick with humidity. People wore hats and comfortable shoes and passed around sunscreen.

“We’re marching to offer the governor a holy moment,” Dan Mann said after everyone had formed a circle. One of a dedicated group of religious visitors to Riverbend’s Unit 2, which houses the condemned, Mann spoke about the last time he saw Don Johnson, who was executed in May. Johnson became an ordained elder with the Seventh Day Adventist Church while on death row. As his execution date approached and his lawyers sought clemency, Johnson’s stepdaughter shared the story of how she forgave him for killing her mother. Advocates described his positive impact at Riverbend. But no one was able to convince Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to spare Johnson’s life.

Visitation to Unit 2 is held every Monday night. During the last visit before he was taken to “death watch,” Johnson had led a prayer that still moves Mann to tears. “He prayed for us, individually and collectively,” he recalled. “He prayed for the governor. And he prayed that we would find peace in the following days.” Following Johnson’s execution, 32 of the 55 men remaining on Tennessee’s death row had signed a letter to the governor, asking if he would come to Riverbend to pray with them. Lee, after all, had campaigned as a prison reformer and a devout Christian before assuming office this year. But he never responded to the letter.

With another man set to die on August 15, Mann and others formed an “ad-hoc group of friends of current and former Tennessee death row inmates” to step up the pressure on Lee to respond. They announced a march to take place August 10, starting at Riverbend and ending in front of the state Capitol downtown. A pair of banners would make the procession visible from afar. One quoted Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount — “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” — with the hashtag #March4Mercy. The other, courtesy of Ohio-based Death Penalty Action, had been held outside death chambers across the country. It read, “We remember the victims … BUT NOT WITH MORE KILLING.”

Around 7:30 a.m. Mann distributed badges bearing the names of the 32 men who signed the letter to Lee. The marchers clipped them to their clothes. The one reading “Stephen West” would be passed around throughout the march, author and activist Shane Claiborne explained, so that everyone could hold him in their thoughts. The group walked from the parking lot to Cockrill Bend Boulevard and stopped at the entrance of Riverbend. They then set off east toward downtown Nashville.

“There weren’t any executions for a while, and they really weren’t putting people on death row,” Riggs said. And now, “one by one, they’re dying.”

The route was nearly nine miles long. A blue minivan followed along, carrying a cooler full of water bottles, ready to pick up anyone who might succumb to the August heat. The group ranged from teenagers to senior citizens, walking slowly and stopping for breaks. Some drivers honked in support; one man offered a donation.

As the group arrived on the campus of Tennessee State University, Pastor Kevin Riggs of the Franklin Community Church in Williamson County, where the governor is from, talked about a cross he wears every day, made for him by a condemned man in his 70s. “It’s got a little bit of weight to it, so I can feel it,” he said. “It reminds me to pray for the prisoners.”

Riggs echoed what others have said about the current atmosphere on death row. “There’s a somberness,” he said, a feeling that “I could be next.” Until last summer, Tennessee had not carried out an execution in nearly a decade — and, as in other states, new death sentences have dropped year after year.

“Since there weren’t any executions for a while, and they really weren’t putting people on death row, you’ve got this core group of inmates who, that’s been their family for 20-plus years,” Riggs said. And now, “one by one, they’re dying.”

It’s been just over a year since the death of Billy Ray Irick marked the return of executions to Tennessee. At a time when many states are turning away from capital punishment, Tennessee’s sudden killing spree has left many people feeling shell-shocked and drained. “It’s turned into something none of us here have ever seen before,” said Jeannie Alexander, the former prison chaplain at Riverbend.

Tennessee was never considered one of the country’s leading death penalty states — certainly not compared to many of its Southern neighbors. After the state’s death penalty law was revised in the 1970s, heralding the so-called modern death penalty era, executions did not resume until 2000. Six people were put to death over nine years. Now Tennessee has carried out 5 executions since last summer.

2 of those men opted to die in the electric chair — and West would become the third. Their decision was rooted in well-founded fears that, although electrocution is grisly, Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol may be worse. Attorneys with the Office of the Federal Public Defender tried unsuccessfully last summer to challenge the three-drug formula using midazolam; experts warned the method would make the condemned feel like they were drowning and being burned alive. Witness accounts of the subsequent executions by lethal injection described a number of red flags. One anesthesiologist concluded that Irick had been tortured to death.

For Tennesseans paying attention, the five executions have offered a crash course, not only on execution methods, but in the profiles of those who end up on death row.

The return to the electric chair is particularly horrifying to David Raybin, a high-profile defense attorney who once worked in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. Raybin was fresh out of law school in 1976 when he was asked to write Tennessee’s revised death penalty law, based on a model “we perceived to be state-of-the-art” at the time, as he told me last year. Decades later, after leaving the AG’s office and becoming a defense lawyer, Raybin watched a client die in the electric chair, a punishment he called “barbaric in the extreme.” Although he does not oppose the death penalty in theory, he has vocally criticized the way his law has been used in practice.

For Tennesseans paying attention, the five executions have offered a crash course, not only on execution methods, but in the profiles of those who end up on death row. Court filings and clemency petitions disclose lives marked by trauma, abuse, and especially untreated mental illness. Nashville Scene reporter Steven Hale, who has led the coverage of Tennessee’s executions — and served as a witness for 3 — pointed out that West, like three of the others executed since August, had a history of mental illness. In fact, he was “born in a mental health institution, the one his mother had been placed in after she attempted suicide while pregnant with him.”

The public’s knee-jerk response to such stories is often dismissive: Plenty of people experience trauma without going on to kill or victimize others. Amid fears of violent crime, abolitionists can have an especially difficult time getting their message heard. The #March4Mercy was organized just as local news stations were consumed by a prison escape on August 7 that left a veteran Tennessee Department of Correction employee dead. The escaped man had not yet been apprehended when the march was underway, and billboards showed his face over the highways. By the time he was caught on August 11, the death penalty was already on the table.

It was around 10:20 a.m. when the march reached Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church on Nashville’s historically black North Side. Riggs, the Williamson County pastor, was talking about a man on death row whose large African American family organizes reunions every summer. They share photos with him, which he then shares with visitors. “But he tells the story as if he was there,” Riggs said. “He’ll say, ‘Then we did this,’ and ‘This is what we had for supper,’ and ‘Then my aunt so-and-so, she told this funny story.’” If you ask the men at Unit 2 what most concerns them right now, Riggs said, each of them says they are worried about how this moment is affecting their families.

At the Jefferson Street church, marchers rested in the pews. Some prayed. Others just basked in the air conditioning. As the group prepared to set off again, Napoleon Harris, a pastor at a different church, changed into a T-shirt that read “Stop Executions.” Harris had called on the governor to intervene in the case of Don Johnson. But he’d also recently angrily decried Lee’s decision to continue the state’s tradition of commemorating the birthday of slave trader and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose bust still sits in the rotunda at the state Capitol.

With the past 5 executions all involving white men, the death penalty’s racial bias has gone relatively unmentioned in Tennessee. But this is starting to change. Among those with execution dates scheduled in 2020 is Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman, sent to death row by a prosecutor with a reputation for racism. A Metro Nashville Criminal Court judge will soon consider a claim that the prosecutor used “racist stereotyping” to strike black jurors at the trial. And a major study in the Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy recently found that black people are disproportionately represented on the state’s death row. The trend has become more pronounced as new death sentences have dwindled. Of the 9 trials over a recent 10-year period that ended in a death sentence, the authors found, all but one of the defendants sent to death row were black.

It was approaching noon when the state Capitol finally came into view. Sweaty and tired but upbeat, the group carried the banners up the steep green lawn. They then turned toward Nashville’s Legislative Plaza, gathering under a row of magnolia trees. There were speakers, a song by a local musician, and an invitation for passersby to join the vigil, which would last until Monday morning. A table was set up with postcards addressed to the governor. On one side of the cards was an image of the 32 signatures from the men on death row; on the other, an area for people to write messages of their own.

Standing before the banners in a T-shirt featuring an image of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and the words “Freedom Now,” Alexander, the former Riverbend chaplain, held the mic in one hand and pointed toward the Department of Correction building with the other. “There are people who work at the Tennessee Department of Correction who are being paid to murder people that we know,” she said. “The death certificate says ‘homicide.’ So let’s call it what it is.”

On Sunday afternoon, an East Tennessee man named Adam Braseel stopped by the vigil. Recently released after almost 12 years in prison, he recalled his time at Riverbend, where the execution chamber is right next door to the visitation area. Braseel was sentenced to life in 2007 for killing a police officer. He swore he was innocent — and his conviction was overturned in 2015. He spent 10 months as a free man back home, only to return to prison after the order was reversed by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Finally, Braseel was offered an Alford plea — a way to plead guilty and win his freedom while still asserting his innocence. He was released on August 2.

While Braseel never faced execution, his case was a sobering reminder of the risks of condemning the innocent to die. 2 people have been exonerated from Tennessee’s death row in the past 10 years. Others, like Ndume Olatushani, who spent almost 27 years in prison — 19 on death row — have settled for plea agreements to win their freedom after being wrongfully convicted. Earlier this year, the Innocence Project held a press conference in Nashville calling on the state to conduct post-conviction DNA testing in the case of Sedley Alley, executed in 2006. Alley insisted upon his innocence. “The DNA evidence should have been tested before my father was executed,” his daughter said. “It’s too late for my father, but it’s not too late to find the truth.”

The next few days played out like a film watched too many times.

One of Tennessee’s previous executions was carried out while Braseel was at Riverbend, in 2009. While he did not see the man being led to the death chamber, he had read accounts from people who watched condemned men make their final walk. “I remember vividly just trying to imagine, putting myself in their shoes,” he said. For its constant presence, Braseel said, the death chamber went mostly undiscussed at the prison.

By Monday morning, some upsetting news had reached the vigil. The Department of Correction had canceled visitation at Riverbend that night. No reason was given. For Mann, his wife Bethany, and the others who go every week, the Mondays before an execution are sacred — an opportunity to say goodbyes and honor any final requests. “It’s really important to us,” he said. “And it’s really important to the guys. They pour out of the woodwork to just have a connection.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., the group crossed the street from the plaza to the Capitol, to deliver the letters they had collected over the previous days. They went through the metal detectors and up to the governor’s office, where an aide said he would ensure that the materials would be placed on Lee’s desk. Shane Claiborne played a song on his phone he had played in the same spot before Johnson’s execution: a recording of Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman singing “Amazing Grace.”

The next few days played out like a film watched too many times. On Tuesday morning, the Department of Correction announced that West had been moved to “death watch” shortly after midnight. At 4:15 p.m. that same day, the governor released a statement saying he would not intervene. On Wednesday, the Department of Correction announced that West had selected his last meal: a Philly cheesesteak and fries.

On Thursday evening, at the usual time, a procession of cars drove back toward Riverbend, rolling west along Cockrill Bend Boulevard, the same road the marchers had traveled on foot less than a week before. The protesters parked in the designated area, showed their IDs at a checkpoint, and gathered in the field where they had stood four times in the previous year. At 7:12 p.m. — the moment at which the protocol dictated that West would have a shroud placed over his head before being electrocuted — they recited the Lord’s Prayer.

West’s time of death was 7:27 p.m. In a message later that night, Claiborne urged people to join the movement. “We cannot simply sit back and watch Gov. Lee execute, as he continues to profess his Christian faith,” he wrote. The next execution is scheduled for December 5; a 2nd march is being planned. “We are just getting started.”



Hero Down: Tennessee DOC Administrator Debra Johnson Brutally Murdered----Tennessee DOC Correctional Administrator Debra Johnson served her department for 38 years.

Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Correctional Administrator Debra Johnson was murdered in line of duty by an inmate on Aug. 7.

The 64-year-old administrator’s accused killer, convicted felon Curtis Ray Watson, was a prison trustee, which allowed him to have special privileges due to his “good behavior,” The Washington Post reported.

Watson turned 44 years old on Aug. 7, and was released from his cell at 7 a.m. to go mow lawns around the prison facility as part of his work detail.

At approximately 11 a.m., prison officials noticed that a tractor and Watson were both nowhere to be found, according to The Washington Post.

Watson had last been seen driving a golf cart outside Administrator Johnson’s home, which was located on the prison grounds.

The 38-year TDOC veteran never showed up for work that morning.

When prison officials went to check on the administrator, they discovered that she had been strangled to death with a cord, and that her attacker had sexually assaulted her, The Washington Post reported.

Hours later, investigators found the abandoned tractor approximately 2 miles from the prison facility.

Watson’s prison identification card was also recovered in the same area, prompting a massive 5-day search for the escaped inmate.

On Sunday, Watson was apprehended in a soybean field in Henning, approximately 11 miles away from the state prison, The Washington Post reported.

He has been charged with aggravated sexual battery, 1st-degree murder, escape, and especially aggravated burglary.

Prosecutors are also considering pursuing the death penalty, according to The Washington Post.

Watson was convicted of especially aggravated kidnapping in 2013, and was serving a 15-year sentence at the time of his escape, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said in a press release.

He also has a prior conviction for aggravated child abuse. That sentence expired in 2011.

Administrator Johnson joined TDOC as a correctional officer in January of 1981, the TBI said.

She led a “distinguished career” during the nearly four decades that followed, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker said in the press release.

According to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Administrator Johnson went on to serve as a sergeant, deputy warden, and warden before she took on the position overseeing the West Region of Tennessee’s Correctional administration.

She leaves behind her mother, daughter, sons, and many other friends and family members, the governor said.

Administrator Johnson’s son, Mychal Austin, said that his mother was a firm believer in second chances, and that she was also deeply religious, The Washington Post reported.

“The inmates would call her ‘first lady’ on the compound,” Austin said. “People would start to straighten up because she was so fair and delivered every promise she made to them. She did turn the prison around.”

During her 38 years with the TDOC, Administrator Johnson also received numerous letters of commendation from commissioners, colleagues, supervisors, and elected officials, according to a fundraising campaign established in her honor.

“Ms. Johnson was an experienced and knowledgeable corrections professional who was positive and supportive of everyone she encountered,” the page read. “Her fellow employees looked to her as a mentor and role model and nominated her numerous times for recognition of her outstanding contributions to the department.”

Administrator Johnson’s daughter, Dr. Shernaye Johnson, said that her mother “embodied the spirit of excellence,” WTVF reported.

"She was a public servant, she was loving, she was an awesome mom and not just to us, but everyone that she contacted,” Shernaye said. “She was that mother spirit.”

The family said they are devastated over the loss of their matriarch.

"He tore our family apart, it hurts and it's traumatic, it's gut-wrenching and it's the saddest day of our lives,” her son, Stanley Johnson, told WTVF. “He tore our family apart with this one.”

Despite their grief, the family said they know Administrator Johnson wouldn’t want them to live with anger and bitterness.

"We as a family, and my mother, we are a family of forgiveness,” Austin explained. “Our mother would want to forgive him, so we've really just been concentrated on each other."

Administrator Johnson was be laid to rest on Friday, according to WTVF.



Indiana DOC doesn’t have the drugs to kill death row inmates

The Indiana Department of Correction has confirmed the state doesn’t have the necessary drugs to execute any of the 8 men who are on death row.

Indiana is 1 of 29 states that allows capital punishment. But it’s been nearly a decade since the state’s last execution, and no new inmates have been added to Indiana’s death row since 2013.

Meanwhile, the 8 men who are now on death row are sitting in state prison, waiting to be executed.

“I think it’s cruel and unusual punishment to have someone waiting that long for their execution,” said veteran Indianapolis defense attorney Eric Koselke. “I can’t imagine living under the threat of death for so long.”

Koselke has been involved in about 30 death penalty cases. None of his clients have been executed.

Eric Holmes is the longest-serving death row inmate in Indiana. He was sentenced in 1993 for killing 2 people during a robbery, The Journal Gazette reported.

The correction department changed the cocktail for lethal injection in 2014 when its supply of lethal injection drugs expired. Indiana, other states and the federal government have struggled to obtain the drugs needed because many pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t want to be associated with executions.

The lack of medication didn’t become a problem for the state until 2016 because appeals were in process.

“We are waiting for the green light from DOC,” Attorney General Curtis Hill said. “Inadequate supply chain has been a problem for 2 years.”

But even before the drug supply was a challenge, capital punishment was waning in Indiana. In 1993, lawmakers started to allow life in prison without parole as a sentence in capital cases, Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison said.

Richison added economics also plays a role in deciding whether to seek the death penalty because the cost of prosecution and defense falls on counties.

(source: The Republic)


Time to repeal death penalty in Cowboy State

There’s an interesting political trend in the U.S. in recent years that has seen conservatives pushing for repealing the death penalty at the state level. It even saw some success in Wyoming in 2019, with a bipartisan bill making its way through the House and a Senate committee before dying in that chamber’s Committee of the Whole. Hopefully the same legislation comes back in 2020 and finds its way to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk for his signature.

It’s still true that if you asked Republicans and Democrats that conservatives are more likely to support the death penalty. The 2016 Republican Party platform decries federal overreach in criminal justice and declares the death penalty’s consitutionality as “firmly settled” while the Democrats call for its abolition. Federal executions are scheduled in coming months for the 1st time in 16 years while the president of the United States makes statements that drug dealers should be executed. These plans and that rhetoric are certainly the wrong direction for our country to go.

Favorability for the death penalty has declined overall, according to a Gallup poll. It found a high point of 80% of respondants favored the death penalty in September 1994 decline to 56% in October 2018, the lowest point since Richard Nixon was president. Those opposed came to the same 47-year high at 41% in 2018.

The number of Republican lawmakers to sponsor death penalty repeal bills has increased noticeably since 2012, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. GOP lawmakers in 2016 sponsored such legislative measures at a rate 10 times higher than in 2000, and more than 67% of the Republicans sponsoring death penalty repeals were in red states, according to CCADP.

In Wyoming, it makes sense to repeal the death penalty for a variety of reasons.

We haven’t executed anyone in Wyoming since 1992 (the one prior to that was in 1976) yet it costs the state around $1 million each year to hold onto the death penalty, the Casper Star Tribune reported in February. The Department of Corrections told the Casper newspaper that the average death row inmate stays on death row for 17 years costing the state 30 % more than a general population inmate. The Legislative Service Office found this year that the State Public Defender estimates it will cost approximately $750,000 to staff and process capital case requirements and activities for fiscal year 2020.

This expense comes with no real deterrent to crime, according to decades of research reviewed by the National Research Council. The CCADP cited research that found almost 90% of criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent, while police chiefs in 2009 ranked the death penalty as last among ways to reduce violent crime. One might argue it can be an effective tool in negotiating plea agreements with guilty offenders, but we think it just as likely that innocent people would take a plea to avoid execution.

One of the best reasons to not execute people is the risk of killing an innocent person. Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, pointed out that since 1973, about 164 inmates who have been on death row have been exonerated, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported from the floor debate before the bill was defeated. How would we reconcile executing an innocent person in Wyoming? Our guess is that we’d be devastated, and it is not worth the risk.

There are arguments to be made about fairness in applicability of death sentences and how carrying out executions has failed to help victims’ families. For the sake of brevity, however, we’ll just acknowledge those too are issues.

The arguments put forth in the Wyoming Legislature in 2019 in favor of the death penalty failed to be convincing in any way.

(source: Editorial, Laramie Boomerang)

Sen. Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, famously made the incomprehensible and nonsensical argument that were it not for the death penalty, Jesus Christ would not have died on the cross, providing redemption for humanity. That’s inapplicable to our situation today in Wyoming and it’s a real head-scratcher as to what the senator was even thinking. Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, argued the death penalty remains a strong deterrent for crime, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, though we already refuted that failed position. Bouchard also talked about the push by some to end the death penalty as a way to grow the prison population to benefit themselves financially. The cost of providing care for prisoners is substantial, he said, and he spoke about the potential for having to pay for sex changes for inmates. Again, where is Bouchard getting his information? Did we mention we’ve executed two people in Wyoming in 43 years and that the cost of capital cases is higher? And it is unlikely that repealing the death penalty is a straight path to the state paying for sex changes. That’s way off the map of sound reasoning. So we are using a huge amount of resources that could go elsewhere to keep a system in place that we almost never use and research shows doesn’t have the intended effects. It’s time, Wyoming, to move past this archaic practice. As such, Albany County voters should call on their legislators to pass this measure should it come again in 2020. Each one of our local Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss, House Minority Leader Cathy Connolly and Rep. Charles Pelkey — co-sponsored the 2019 bill, so it’s safe to assume they will be on the right side in the future. Local Republican Bill Haley also voted in favor when the bill passed the House on third reading. Laramie Republican Rep. Dan Furphy, however, voted against its passage. Sen. Glenn Moniz, another Laramie Republican, voted against the measure when it failed 12-18 in his chamber. It should be clear to Albany County lawmakers that those “no” votes need to move to “yes.” You can find contact information for legislators at and in most day’s print edition of the Boomerang on page A4.


Trial delayed for a man accused of killing 4 in Casa Grande

The trial date for 1 of 2 men accused of killing 4 people in Casa Grande in 2017 is being pushed back.

Rodney Ortiz had been scheduled to go on trial Jan. 22. But defense and prosecution attorneys didn't think they'd be ready by then and asked Monday for a vacated trial date.

According to the Casa Grande Dispatch, a new trial date for Ortiz likely will be determined after a Sept. 30 status hearing.

Ortiz and Alec Perez are accused of killing two men and two women at a housing complex in October 2017.

Prosecutors say they're seeking the death penalty for Ortiz and Perez and both men will be tried separately.

Ortiz was 22 years old at the time of the quadruple murder while Perez was 31.

(source: Associated Press)


Clallam prosecutor: Homicide cases over-taxing office----Nichols seeks funding for 2 positions to handle increase in work

Clallam County commissioners are considering whether they should tap into the county’s reserve to handle the significant hike in legal work caused by the recent increase in homicides.

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols told the commissioners Monday that he needs to hire a 2nd victim witness coordinator — a position he’s been wanting to add for some time — and an additional deputy prosecuting attorney in order to handle the increased case load.

Nichols said staff, who are salaried, work “as long and as hard as is necessary to get the job done,” but that only works for so long.

“The candle has been burning at both ends for about 6 months,” Nichols said. “I’m not here because I want to be, but because it’s necessary to keep the office intact.”

Nichols said that according to the Death Penalty Project, a county the size of Clallam County will statistically have 2 to 3 murders per year, but this year has been highly unusual.

“Right now we have nine citizens who are dead with 6 defendants and murder trials processing,” he said. “We are well above statistically where we should be.”

Dennis Bauer, Kallie Ann Letellier and Ryan Warren Ward are all charged with 3 counts of aggravated 1st-degree murder in the Dec. 26 shooting deaths of Darrel Iverson, Jordan Iverson and Tiffany May.

Matthew Timothy Wetherington is charged with 4 counts of aggravated 1st-degree murder in the deaths of Valerie Kambeitz and her 3 children, Lilly Kambeitz, Emma Kambeitz and Jayden Kambeitz, whose remains were found following a fire at the Welcome Inn RV Park in Port Angeles on July 6.

John R. Sutton is charged with vehicular homicide in the May 29 death of Lou M. Galgano.

Nobody has been arrested in the Jan. 2 death of Valerie Claplanhoo.

Shay C. Darrow, who is charged with the Jan. 12, 2017, murder of his father, Clint Darrow, is still awaiting trial.

“These are time-consuming prosecuting efforts,” Nichols said. “We have had to delegate away from other cases.”

Nichols said his office had been able to handle the prosecution of Bauer, Letellier and Ward, but the increased workload caused by the case against Wetherington has pushed the office over the edge.

“In the aftermath of that, it has become clear to me we have exhausted our ability in-house to draw on resources in the felony division or other divisions,” he said. “We’re just at a point in time due to unforeseeable circumstances tragic in nature that … we’re starting to fall behind.”

Nichols said that while he is asking for the additional positions, the county should also expect higher-than normal costs in other areas, including from the courts, preparing for trial and in public defense.

He said cases involving homicide take more than a year to resolve, sometimes 2 or more years. They often require using experts from out of state.

“I would recommend you look at what’s happening from a cost consideration now,” he said. “As long as these continue to cycle through the system, there will be unforeseen costs asked of the county.”

Nichols said if caseloads drop in the coming years, he would likely leave a deputy prosecuting attorney position empty after someone leaves, but he would likely keep the victim witness coordinator.

Commissioner Bill Peach said the commissioners should fund the 2 positions “as soon as possible.”

“We have a reserve dedicated for needed service,” Peach said. “On cash flow, I’d say there isn’t any question. We can provide the resources that are necessary.”

Commissioner Mark Ozias said county officials should work together to present a timeline and more details so that it can move forward.

(source: Peninsula Daily News)


Islamic cleric advocates death penalty for corrupt practices, kidnapping

An Ibadan-based Islamic cleric, Alhaji Abubakar Umar-Erubu, has advocated death penalty for anyone found culpable of corrupt practices and kidnapping in the country.

The cleric said that the call became imperative due to the rising cases of corruption and kidnapping in the country.

Umar-Erubu also prescribed death sentence for anyone constituting a security threat to the country.

“Government should also regulate the sewing and sales of uniforms of officers,” he said.

The cleric further urged the legislative arm at every level of government to enact a law compelling successive administrations to complete capital projects inherited by previous governments.

This, he said, was to check wastage of resources and project abandonment.

He also advised government to encourage and train illegal producers of arms to boost local manufacturing of weapons through regulated procedures rather than criminalising the practice (source:


Pres. candidates must pledge to impose death penalty on drug dealers - President

According to President Maithripala Sirisena, the candidates contesting at the upcoming Presidential election must pledge to eliminate narcotics.

The candidates must also pledge to implement the death penalty upon the drug dealers, stated the President.

President Sirisena expressed these views addressing a gathering in Polonnaruwa, today.


AUGUST 17, 2019:

FLORIDA----impending execution

Killer of gay men faces execution Thursday: Gary Bowles’ murders ended in Jacksonville Beach in 1994

Gary Ray Bowles, a serial-killing drifter caught in Jacksonville Beach in 1994, charmed his way into men’s lives and homes with promises of sex and manual labor only to end their lives typically by strangling them.

For 8 months, he was a nightmare come to life as he wooed and killed men up and down the East Coast and then quickly moved on to stalk his next prey.

The serial-killing drifter with a nasty alcohol problem came across to many initially as rugged and handsome. Gary Ray Bowles charmed his way into men’s lives and homes with promises of sex and manual labor only to kill them, typically by strangling them.

A quarter century since his killing spree ended, he is set to be executed at 6 p.m. Thursday. To date, the courts have rejected any appeal to halt his being put to death, the most recent by the Florida Supreme Court on Aug. 13.

The 57-year-old Bowles lives in isolation, confined to a 6-by-9 foot cell on death row at the Florida State Prison since his 1996 conviction for killing Walter J. Hinton in Jacksonville.

Just days before Hinton’s murder, Bowles vaulted onto the FBI’s Most-Wanted List.

Bowles, who was living in the Beaches area under the name of Timothy Whitfield, met Hinton in Jacksonville Beach and within days moved into his Jacksonville mobile home.

After a day and night of drinking and getting high, Bowles dropped a 40-pound cement block on Hinton’s head as he slept. He then strangled the 47-year-old florist.

As he did with most of his other victims — he is believed to have killed at least six men in 1994 — he stuffed toilet paper and rags into Hinton’s mouth and throat.

Bowles continued to stay at the mobile home for a few days while Hinton’s body decomposed on the floor.

When Hinton died, the name Gary Ray Bowles was well-known particularly along the I-95 corridor. He was wanted for a March 1994 killing in Daytona Beach. He was wanted for a killing in Maryland and two killings in Georgia before returning to Florida for more. He struck fear in the gay community.

But Bowles always remained a step ahead of law enforcement by keeping on the move, a killing machine hurtling from state to state and back.

After Hinton’s sister discovered her brother’s body, she and others could only tell investigators he had a roommate named Tim who worked at a labor pool at the Beaches.

Jacksonville Beach police officer Robert Cook ran the names Tim and Timothy through his department’s computer for possible contacts. 70 references surfaced.

Cook narrowed his list to a handful of names by eliminating all but those who worked at labor pools. Yes, Cook learned, a Timothy Whitfield was known at the labor pool.

At 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 22, 1994, Cook got a call saying Whitfield was at the labor pool.

“I’d go the Nth degree to get things done,” Cook told The Times-Union in 1994. “But I had no suspicion that this could be Gary Bowles.”

When Bowles saw police at the labor pool, he rushed into a bathroom. It was too late. After eight months of dodging the law up and down the coast as he killed men, he had been caught — though police at that moment were completely unaware of his true identity. To them, he was Timothy Whitfield, Hinton’s roommate.

Soon after his capture, the man stunned investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office when he interrupted his interrogation and asked if they’d like to know who he really was.

“I’m Gary Ray Bowles,” he said.

Bowles continued to talk, spilling out stories of his other killings.

That evening as he was being led past a phalanx of reporters on his way to jail, he said he was sorry and he wanted the killings to stop.


John Hardy Roberts of Daytona Beach was Bowles’ 1st known victim.

The 59-year-old insurance adjuster offered Bowles a place to live. On March 15, 1994, Bowles beat and strangled Roberts, capping off the killing by shoving rags down his throat and stealing his car and credit cards.

The car was recovered in Tennessee.

Bowles quickly became a suspect when police found his fingerprints and probation paperwork at Roberts’ home.

Bowles pushed north.

David Jarman of Montgomery County, Md., was Bowles’ next known victim. The 38-year-old credit union employee’s body was found April 14, 1994, in a basement. He had been badly beaten and strangled.

Again, the victim’s mouth was stuffed with rags. Jarman’s credit cards and car also were gone. Bowles was charged with murder though his whereabouts at the time were unknown.

Milton Bradley, a disabled World War II veteran living in Savannah, Ga., was considered generous to a fault. He took Bowles into his home.

On May 5, 1994, the 72-year-old’s body was found on a golf course near his home. He had been strangled and again his mouth was stuffed with rags. Investigators found Bowles’ palm print, but not the killer. He was charged with the murder and again was on the run.

Alverson Carter Jr., 47, of Atlanta was found stabbed to death on May 13, 1994. His body wasn’t discovered for several days.

Quickly Bowles struck again when he killed Nassau County convenience store owner Albert Morris. Morris was gagged, beaten, strangled and took a shotgun blast in the head. His body was discovered by his parents on May 19, 1994.

Morris, 38, met Bowles in a gay bar. He opened his home to the drifter a week before his death. Morris’ car was stolen as was his wallet and credit cards.

Three days after Morris’ body was discovered, his car was found in Jacksonville. A bulletin was sent out to law enforcement: “Bowles frequents homosexual bars where he meets and befriends patrons. All known victims were met at such establishments.”

“America’s Most Wanted” broadcasted Bowles’ story across the nation in July 1994.

Residents of a Jacksonville Beach rooming house Bowles frequented called police. Police thought he was the wrong man and let him go. His mustache and tan threw them off, according to reports.

Authorities later learned Bowles used 5 different Social Security numbers and also went by the aliases Gary Ray Boles and Joey Pearson, also using the first names James, Mike and Mark.


Less than 2 years after his capture, Bowles pleaded guilty to killing Hinton. The state did not take a possible death sentence off the table in exchange for a guilty plea.

At a sentencing hearing, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda argued the crimes against Hinton were motivated by Bowles’ hatred of homosexuals and that he killed for financial gain.

Bowles was represented by attorney Bill White who worked for the Office of the Public Defender. White, who would later be elected to oversee the office for the state’s 4th Judicial Circuit, argued Bowles was mentally unstable.

According to Times-Union reports from 1994, White told jurors Bowles endured a horrific childhood at the hands of an alcoholic stepfather who abused him as well as his brother and mother. The jury was told how at the age of 13, Bowles gave his mother an ultimatum: Either his stepdad goes or he goes. His mom picked the stepfather.

A pre-sentencing report from Volusia County gave this account of Bowles’ life: His father, a coal-miner died of lung disease just before Bowles’ birth. Bowles reported that his mother married about 8 times, some stepfathers were abusive alcoholics. He said he first tried marijuana when he was 12 and the began to smoke it weekly. He dropped out of grade school.

As a young teen living on his own, Bowles hustled the streets, offering himself to men for money.

“I think he learned at an early age that it was fast money and one way to make a living,” an investigator said in a report.

Bowles repeatedly drifted in and out of jail.

“It was a horrible childhood,” said White on Wednesday. He said Bowles was sexually assaulted at a young age and he lived in an abandoned car.

“I think all the rage built up in him over the years. It was predictable that it would happen and that that violence would come out,” White said. “But we don’t predict that. We only see it after the fact.”

The jury in Duval in 1996 voted 10 to 2 to recommend a death sentence, and the judge complied.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the death sentence, saying there was no connection between Bowles’ alleged hatred for gay men and Hinton’s murder as prosecutor de la Rionda asserted.

The case was sent back to the lower court for another sentencing. Jack Schemer, the same judge, presided over it.

During the 1999 proceeding the state included testimony about Bowles’ prior felonies for sexual battery, robbery and 2 charges of 1st-degree murder — the Nassau County case and the Daytona Beach case.

After just 60 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with its decision: Bowles should die at the hands of the state.

Again, an appeal was filed to the state’s top court. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Circuit Court. Bowles asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a judicial review. It refused.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the death warrant June 11.

On Tuesday the Florida Supreme Court unanimously denied a request by Bowles’ attorney to stop the execution. His legal team has been trying to get a hearing to determine whether Bowles is intellectually disabled. A brief filed with the 11th Circuit of Court Appeals in Atlanta asks the court to order a hearing at the lower court level. To date it has not been ruled on.

De la Rionda said he is prepared for a hearing, should it be granted. He came out of retirement this summer after a lengthy career in the 4th Judicial Circuit to see the case through as well as handle 8 of his former death-penalty cases that have been sent back to court for resentencings due to changes in Florida law regarding the death sentences.

In 1996 and 1999, de la Rionda convinced 2 juries and a judge to put Bowles on death row. He plans to be at Bowles’ execution Thursday as a witness. He said being there in the witness room is a promise he makes to the victims’ families of the men he has put on death row, a number that reaches several dozen.

Hinton has no living family that de la Rionda was able to track down and ask whether they planned to attend.

If Bowles is executed Thursday, it will be the second de la Rionda has witnessed.

Had Bowles not been captured after Hinton’s murder, de la Rionda predicted he would have kept killing. “I believe he is a classic serial killer who comes into contact with innocent victims,” he said. ”... He had the classic serial killer MO [modus operandi] and they continue to kill until they are stopped.” (source:


Death row inmate back in Duval County jail ahead of hearing----Taxi driver Paul Durousseau accused of killing 5 women in Jacksonville

Death row inmate Paul Durousseau has been brought back to the Duval County jail ahead of a hearing next week on his re-sentencing.

Durousseau was convicted in the 1999 murder of 24-year-old Tyresa Mack, 1 of 7 murders he was accused of committing from 1997 to 2003 in Jacksonville and Georgia.

After his conviction, prosecutors opted not to try him in the other murders.

Durousseau's death sentence was thrown out in 2017 by the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered a new sentencing hearing. The high court rejected arguments for a new trial.



Alabama won’t release contract related to executions

The Alabama attorney general's office says it will not release to the news media a copy of a contract related to death penalty litigation.

The attorney general's office on Tuesday cited security reasons for refusing a records request from The Associated Press for a copy of a $25,000 contract with a Tennessee firm specializing in occupational safety. The state office declined to answer questions about the contract.

State Sen. Greg Albritton said the attorney general's office indicated the contract was related to litigation over nitrogen gas as an execution method.

The state has authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method but has not used it.

A federal judge last year ruled Alabama must release its lethal injection protocol but can keep some information secret, such as employee names.

(source: Associated Press)


SUSPECT DESCRIBED AS ‘CAREER CRIMINAL’----Trial date set for man accused in boy’s death ---- Home invasion in 2017 results in shooting of 10-year-old

A hearing involving several motions was expected to be held in the case Thursday, but Davis determined a full hearing wasn't necessary since most of those matters had previously been heard.

Thompson was in state district court as were prosecutors, the defense and many of Jaylyn's family and friends.

Dwight M. Doskey, an attorney with the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana, has been representing Thompson since 2018.

Doskey told Davis on Thursday one matter that still needed to be resolved was a prior motion concerning a crime scene preservation order. Davis said he earlier gave Doskey 90 days to attend to that matter.

The defense attorney told the judge there was an issue with an expert who wasn't available so Davis gave him an additional 30 days to address it.

At a hearing last year in state district court, family members of Jaylyn, wearing T-shirts that displayed photos of him on the front, filled a row in the courtroom, and cried softly as Thompson was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the charge of 1st-degree murder.

Prosecutor Loren Lampert told Davis at that hearing the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's Office planned to seek the death penalty.

Doskey told the court a few months ago he plans to retire soon from the Capital Defense Project but not his private practice. Setting the trial for a year from now will allow time for a new attorney to be appointed and to become familiar with the case before trial.

Thompson was paroled early from Angola State Penitentiary after serving 24 years of a 99-year prison sentence for armed robbery and other crimes and at the time of his arrest authorities said he was from the Kenner area and they did not know why he was in Lake Charles.

Former Lake Charles Police Chief Don Dixon called Thompson "a career criminal" after he was arrested.



Who's next to be executed from East Tennessee? 2 more await dates in death chamber

Stephen Michael West became the 2nd inmate executed this year in Tennessee on Thursday night — the 1st from Union County since 1937.

West, 57, died by electric chair for raping and killing Sheila Romines, 15, and her mother, Wanda, on March 17, 1986, at their home in Andersonville. He spent nearly 33 years on death row.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has set execution dates for 2 more inmates from East Tennessee — one this year and one in 2020. That number doesn't include the four left from Knox County who still wait for their sentences to be carried out.

Because each of the pair committed his crime in the years before Tennessee changed execution methods in 1999, each will get the choice between lethal injection and electrocution.

Here's a half-dozen of East Tennessee's most infamous executions. Angela Gosnell, Knoxville News Sentinel

Leroy Hall Jr.: Dec. 5

Leroy Hall Jr. and his girlfriend couldn't get along. The last time they argued, he sloshed her with gasoline and set her and her car on fire.

Traci Crozier lived long enough to tell Chattanooga police who threw a burning 2-gallon jug of gas at her the night of April 16, 1991. She suffered burns over 95 percent of her body and died of what emergency-room doctors at Erlanger Hospital called the worst injuries they'd ever seen.

Hall at first denied he'd thrown the firebomb at Crozier, then insisted she only burned because she ignored him when he threw it and told her to get out of the way. He loved her, he said — he just wanted to burn her car. Never mind he'd left messages on her answering machine threatening to kill her exactly the way she died.

A Hamilton County jury found Hall guilty in 1992 of first-degree murder and aggravated arson. He's set to die Dec. 5.

Nicholas Todd Sutton: Feb. 20

Nicholas Todd "Nicky" Sutton wasn't old enough to buy a beer the 1st time he killed — or the 2nd, or the 3rd. None of those got him the death penalty.

Sutton was 18 when he knocked his grandmother, a retired elementary school teacher, unconscious with a stick of firewood, wrapped her in a blanket and trash bags, chained her to a cinder block and threw her alive into the Nolichucky River from Hale's Bridge in Hamblen County's Lowland community three days before Christmas Day 1979. She drowned in the icy waters, an autopsy found.

Dorothy Sutton, 58, had made the mistake of telling her grandson no when he asked for money, prosecutors said. She might also have discovered he'd already killed 2 other people — John Large, a childhood friend, and Charles P. Almon, a bankrupt Knoxville contractor.

Dorothy Sutton's daughter reported her missing when she didn't show up for dinner on Christmas Day. The grandson at first claimed she'd disappeared, but the various stories he told deputies fell apart fast. Searchers pulled her body from the river Dec. 29.

Sutton eventually led authorities to Large's body after a jury found him guilty of 1st-degree murder in his grandmother's death and sentenced him to life in prison. He'd killed Large, 19, on a trip to Mount Sterling, N.C., and buried his body in a shallow grave on property that belonged to Sutton's aunt.

In October 1979, he shot Almon and dumped his body in a North Carolina quarry. Searchers found that corpse only after spending thousands of dollars searching in other spots as Sutton, who loved the attention, spun first one confession, then another.

Investigators learned to recognize what they called the "Sutton signature" — bodies wrapped in plastic, bound in chains and weighted with cinder blocks. He claimed he'd killed 5 people in all, but 2 of the stories he told never yielded bodies, missing-person reports or other hard evidence.

Sutton hadn't served 5 years when he helped stab Carl Isaac Estep, a convicted child rapist from Knoxville, more than 3 dozen times Jan. 5, 1985, in a cell at Brushy Mountain Penitentiary in Morgan County. This time a jury sentenced Sutton to death.

He's set to die Feb. 20.

(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)


The back-alley mugging of the death penalty: Steve Duin

Betsy Johnson predicted all of this months ago.

The conservative Democratic senator from Scappoose and I were both at Josh Marquis’ retirement party at the Fillmore in Northwest Portland. A half dozen other Oregon district attorneys were in the crowded room.

And late on that January night, Johnson told me to keep a wary eye on criminal justice issues in the 2019 session.

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson and the liberals in Salem had plans, Johnson said. Serious and audacious plans to kill off the death penalty, once and for all.

The politics, and glorious deceit, of that agenda came into focus this week.

In July, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1013, which dramatically redefined aggravated murder, thereby limiting the crimes eligible for the death penalty.

In shepherding that bill through the House, Williamson insisted it wasn’t retroactive and only “applies to aggravated murder cases going forward.”

She also told The Oregonian/OregonLive that a second Senate bill made clear that SB 1013 doesn’t apply to defendants who were sentenced to death but who have been granted reversals through post-conviction relief.

That would include Angela McAnulty, who tortured and starved her 15-year-old daughter, and Billy Lee Oatney Jr., who raped and tortured Susi Larsen in 1996 before suffocating her with a garbage bag.

On such authority, Senate Bill 1013 passed the House and Senate on largely party-line votes. On Aug. 1, Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law, noting, “Oregon’s death penalty is dysfunctional. It is costly and immoral.”

Cue this week’s roller-coaster ride for the families of the murdered and the meaning of words.

First off, Benjamin Gutman, Oregon’s solicitor general, told state prosecutors that despite “conversations with many of you in which I suggested otherwise,” the new law does apply to death-penalty cases that are awaiting new trials or sentencing.

Prosecutors went nuts. As Beth Heckert, the president of the Oregon District Attorney Association, wrote in a letter to legislative leaders, “This law is a failure on multiple levels – a failure to respect the will of voters, a failure to draft a clear law for Oregon’s most dangerous criminals, and a failure of trust by telling voters it is not retroactive when the opposite is true.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he never meant for his Senate bill to apply to cases awaiting new sentences, and promised he would ask Kate Brown to allow the Legislature to certify that in a one-day special session.

On Thursday, however, Williamson – who is widely rumored to be considering a run for statewide office – finally emerged to tell The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board that the bill doesn’t need a fix: “It does what we said it was going to do.”

Asked to square that with her floor speech and previous arguments, Williamson, as The Oregonian’s Noelle Crombie reported, couldn’t explain why she made those statements and acknowledged that her earlier explanations might have been unclear.

Hey, she’s not screaming, “Fake news,” the common refrain these days when the truth is so damn inconvenient.

Marquis, the prosecutor in three of Randy Guzek’s four death-penalty trials, didn’t mince words:

“They’ve crippled the death penalty, and crippled it in a way that’s irredeemable,” Marquis said. “And it was done intentionally. It’s not mere incompetence.”

It’s not hard to piece together how and why this charade came together. Williamson had to maneuver the bill around House Speaker Tina Kotek, who has long argued that the future of capital punishment requires a public vote.

Then there’s the August blog post from CFM, the marketing firm that helped Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty push the bill to Brown’s desk.

The firm argued against another referral of the death penalty to Oregon voters – “it would have invited opponents to use scare tactics” – and said this bill was the ideal way to approach the governor:

“Turning SB 1013 into law may force Brown to confront whether some existing Oregon death row inmates should have their sentences reduced to life sentences or even commuted.”

Imagine that: Randy Guzek and Billy Lee Oatney, once again on the loose, making up for lost time.

“Jennifer Williamson promised that this law wasn’t retroactive, and specifically referenced Billy Oatney, saying he is still eligible for the death penalty,” said Bracken McKey, Washington County’s chief deputy district attorney.

“Susi Larson’s father is 83 years old, and he’s been waiting for justice for his daughter for 25 years. Now, what am I supposed to tell him and the rest of the victim’s family?”

Tell him Jennifer Williamson knows best. Back in May, Williamson summed up her support of the juvenile Measure 11 bill, and her ongoing trust in the voters, by saying, “I believe there are times when putting people’s rights to a vote of the people is not a wise move.”

“Apparently,” McKey says, “there are times when the public can’t trust her, either.”



The federal government should not bring back executions----It's a bad idea that reeks of politics, not a sound decision based on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a crime-fighting tool.

The Trump administration’s decision to start executing federal death row prisoners after a 16-year lull is a bad idea that reeks of politics rather than a sound decision based on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a crime-fighting tool.

If the administration truly supports criminal justice reform, as it claimed back in December when it supported a package of changes to the justice system, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences, then it needs to rethink reviving a practice that has been shown to be discriminatory, unjust, prone to error and ineffective at deterring crime.

It’s curious that as use of the death penalty has waned across the country, President Trump would suddenly want to revive it. In 2017, the number of prisoners sentenced to death declined for the 17th year in a row, according to a report released this month by Trump’s own Justice Department. Many states no longer allow the killing of criminals as punishment. The last federal execution was in 2003, and there have only been 3 since 1988.

That will change now that the administration has ordered the execution of 5 inmates in December and January. That’s right, the country will kill more inmates in 2 months than in 31 years.

We see through your political tactics, Mr. Trump. The death penalty is another one of those divisive and partisan wedge issues you believe will rile up your base, present you as a tough-on-crime politician and Democrats as soft on the issue. The subject is sure to divide the parties. It’s of a piece with Trump’s constant playing of the race card and use of dog whistle politics to remind a certain segment of white voters he has their backs.

The problem is that Trump is playing with people’s lives here. Life without parole is a far better sentence, given that the death row process has been shown to be far from perfect.

Far too many people have been sent to death row only to be determined innocent later. Since 1973, 166 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges and set free, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. If you’re African American you are more likely to be sentenced to death. (More than half of inmates on federal death row are black or Latino.) Same if you’re poor and can’t pay for good representation.

On top of that, all the resources used to pursue these cases don’t keep us any safer and could be used on other crime-fighting tactics.

States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it, and the South has more than 80 % of the nation’s executions and the highest murder rate in the United States, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Yes, that’s right, conservatives and Republicans are concerned about bringing back the death penalty as well. They have come out to express their disagreement with their idea.

If the injustice isn’t bad enough, there is also the trauma the death row process can inflict on the families of victims. The appeals process can take decades, opening new wounds with each appeal and trial. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement: “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.” A life sentence may actually be more humane for these families.

This same is true for executioners, a group that people are less likely to think about in the conversations about the death penalty. Many of them also say they experience a certain trauma from taking someone’s life.

We doubt any of this matters to Trump, who has long been a staunch supporter of the death penalty. His obstinacy on the issue was made clear when he refused to apologize to the Central Park 5, a group of black and Latino teenagers he made the poster children for the death penalty after they were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. They were cleared of the crime years later, but that wasn’t enough for Trump.

Apparently his support of criminal justice reform goes only so far. For the sake of justice, the federal government doesn’t need to bring back executions, but our president would prefer to take the country back in time.

(source: Editorial, Portland (Maine) Press-Herald)


3 reputed gang members charged in execution-style slayings on West Side

3 reputed West Side gang members could potentially face the death penalty after they were charged in federal court Thursday in a murder-for-hire plot that led to the execution-style slayings of a suspected police informant and his girlfriend in 2018.

Deshawn Morgan, 37, Demond Brown, 26, and Darius Murphy, 19, all alleged members of the Wicked Town faction of the Traveling Vice Lords gang, were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit murder for hire.

The charge carries a mandatory life sentence if convicted, and prosecutors could move for the death penalty — a decision that would require the approval of the U.S. attorney general.

Reputed West Side gang member Deshawn Morgan was charged in federal court in a murder-for-hire plot that led to the execution-style slayings of a suspected police informant and his girlfriend in 2018.

Detention hearings are scheduled for all 3 men next week at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

The charges allege Morgan hired Brown and Murphy to kill Donald Holmes, Jr. in late 2017 after growing suspicious that Holmes, a fellow member of the Vice Lords, was cooperating with law enforcement.

Brown and Murphy lured Holmes, 29, to a meeting in the 4700 block of West Arthington Street in January 2018 under the guise that they were going to give him a gun and cash that Morgan owed him, the complaint alleged.

After Holmes arrived with his girlfriend, Diane Taylor, 31, Murphy got into the back seat of their Jeep Cherokee and shot each of them multiple times in the back of the head, according to the complaint.

Months later, a senior member of the gang who was facing his own federal charges agreed to cooperate with law enforcement and secretly record conversations with Brown and Murphy in Cook County Jail, according to the complaint. The 2, in custody on unrelated charges, admitted to their roles in the slayings, the charges said.

In the recordings, made in September and October 2018, Murphy allegedly described in detail how Holmes had tried to take the gun and cash from him through the open passenger side window, but he insisted on getting in the car.

“I say, ‘Naw, man.' I get in the back seat. ... Pow! Pow!" Murphy was quoted as saying. “His b---- tried to bail out, I grabbed her by the back of her wig. I said, 'Where you going? Pow! Pow!”

Less than 5 hours after the slayings, Brown texted Morgan a screen shot of the Chicago Tribune’s breaking news story on the shooting, according to the complaint, which contained an image of the text.

A video later found on Brown’s phone — which appeared to have been taken from Murphy’s third-floor apartment — depicted Chicago police officers processing the shooting scene, the complaint said.

Federal authorities say this 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistol was used to commit the murders was recovered in Milwaukee after an unrelated arrest in 2018.

According to the charges, Morgan paid Brown and Murphy $5,000 and also gave Brown an assault rifle as payment for the hit. The day after the slayings, Brown purchased a used Buick LeSabre for $900 in cash and drove to Minneapolis, where he traded the 9mm handgun used in the murders for a different firearm.

The murder weapon was recovered in February 2018 when a different man was arrested by police in Milwaukee with the gun in his possession, according to the complaint.

Although Holmes had previously worked as a cooperating source for law enforcement, he was not working with law enforcement at the time of the murders, the complaint said.

In fact, law enforcement at the time had won approval in Cook County criminal court to wiretap Holmes’ cellphone as part of an ongoing narcotics investigation, according to the complaint.

Based on that wiretap, undercover officers had Holmes under surveillance on Nov. 30, 2017 — 2 months before his killing — and watched as Morgan pulled up to Holmes’ residence to retrieve a firearm, the charges alleged.

Morgan was pulled over as he drove away, but no weapons were found and he was released, according to the complaint. Morgan immediately suspected Holmes was behind the traffic stop and began plotting to have him killed, the charges alleged.

In the recordings made by the senior gang member in the county jail, Brown allegedly said he believed Morgan still owed him money since they ended up having to kill 2 people instead of just one.

A Chicago cop fatally shot a black teen who he says pointed a gun at him during a foot chase. But no gun was found — until 3 months later.

“It was never supposed to have went how it went,” Brown said in one conversation in September 2018, according to the complaint. “You see what I’m saying? Man, m----------- got to pay me something else too.”

The next month, the gang member again recorded Murphy in jail talking about his role in the killings. He said he didn’t know Holmes “from a can of paint" and said the hit was Morgan’s idea.

“It’s like, if you call me and say, ‘Kill this n----. He snitching on me.’ I don’t know dude. I’m gonna take your word,” Murphy was quoted as saying. "You’re one of the guys. I’m gonna kill him! That’s what happened.”

(source: Chicago Tribune)


Lawyers say man facing execution is intellectually disabled

Attorneys for a man facing the federal death penalty want a judge to halt his execution and say their client can’t legally be put to death because he’s intellectually disabled.

Alfred Bourgeois’ lawyers argue in court papers Thursday that a jury was unaware of Bourgeois’ disability and a court never reviewed the evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment.

Prosecutors say Bourgeois, of Louisiana, tortured, sexually molested, and then beat his 2½-year-old daughter to death.

Attorney General William Barr resumed the death penalty last month and scheduled executions for the first time since 2003.

Bourgeois is on death row at a federal penitentiary in Indiana. He’s scheduled to be executed Jan. 13.

(source: Associated Press)


Mexico does not want El Paso shooter executed

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday that Mexico does not want the El Paso shooter who killed 22 people, including eight Mexicans, to be executed, and may seek to extradite him from the United States.

The confessed shooter in the mass killing in the Texas border city, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, potentially faces the death penalty in the US.

Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, said that while Mexico condemns Crusius's "reprehensible, abominable" crimes, it does not want to see him put to death.

"Our constitution does not allow the death penalty. We do not want the death penalty, as a matter of conviction. Life imprisonment does not exist (in Mexico), either," he told a press conference.

"I have given instructions to explore the possibility of requesting this person's extradition," he added.

"We do not want impunity. We want the punishment to serve as an example.... Given that this was a premeditated crime, and all the aggravating factors, he would face a long time in prison in Mexico... more than 50 years."

Mexico has said it considers the August 3 shooting at a packed Walmart store a "terrorist attack."

Crusius published an online manifesto before the shooting in which he vowed to fight a "Hispanic invasion" of the US. He later told police he had been targeting "Mexicans."

The shooting came at a time of already strained ties between the United States and Mexico, a frequent target of President Donald Trump's attacks.

Trump critics accuse him of stoking white nationalist hatred in the US with anti-immigrant rhetoric, including comments referring to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists.

The Mexican foreign ministry convened a meeting of Latin American diplomats Friday to seek a joint response to what it called the threat of "white supremacism" to Spanish speakers in the United States.

"What happened in El Paso represents an inflection point in protecting Hispanic communities in the United States, given that it was a domestic terror attack, sustained by xenophobic rhetoric," Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told the meeting.

Mexico has called on the United States to reject the "rhetoric of hate" in the wake of the shooting.

(soruce: Agence France-Presse)


Mental illness issues could make death penalty impossible for Kyoto Animation arsonist

Immediately following the deadly arson attack on anime production company Kyoto Animation last month, police apprehended 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody near the scene of the crime while saying “They stole my novel” and “I spread the gasoline and lit it with a lighter.”

Aoba, who also suffered burns in the incident, has been hospitalized, and is yet to be formally arraigned. The circumstances under which he was taken into custody, though, as well as security footage of him pushing a cart with two canisters of gasoline in the vicinity of Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio prior to the attack, leave little room in which he could plausibly deny being the arsonist. However, his culpability, in a legal sense, could be limited.

In a press conference held the day after the attack, Ryoji Nishiyama, head of the Kyoto Prefectural Police’s First Investigation Department, said “We have information indicating [Aoba] has a mental illness.”

The exact nature of the purported illness has yet to be disclosed, but Japanese news organization Daily Shincho spoke with several psychological and legal experts as to how Aoba’s mental health could affect what legal repercussions he could face.

Masaru Wakasa, a lawyer who previously served as vice-director of the Public Prosecutors Office’s Tokyo’s Special Investigation Department, says that if Aoba is found t have been acting under a diminished mental capacity while carrying out the attack, there’s a chance he could be found not guilty, in accordance of Article 39 of the Japanese penal code.

Prominent psychiatrist Tamami Katada said that Aoba exhibited signs of what could be schizophrenia or castrophrenia, also known as “thought withdrawal,” in which a person believes that ideas are being forcefully taken from the their mind by outside forces. Katada goes on to say that such a delusion could have fed into a persecution complex and fueled a desire for violent revenge, culminating in the attack. It’s not clear, though, if Katada’s comments were made before or after Kyoto Animation confirmed that it had received a submission from Aoba in one of its regularly held novel-writing competitions.

However, Konan University law professor Osamu Watanabe holds that Aoba’s actions are consistent with someone who was well aware of the lethal effects they would have, and went through with them anyway. He cites the premeditated nature of the attack, which required the purchase and transportation of a large quantity of gasoline, the bag of other tools of destruction, hammers and bladed instruments that Aoba was carrying, and that he was heard by witnesses shouting “Die” during the attack. “It would be strange to say he was even slightly incapable of understanding his actions, and I believe there is ample justification to pursue the death penalty.”

Wakasa is inclined to agree with Watanabe, pointing to how Aoba verbally admitted to setting the fire while he was being apprehended, though the possibility remains that even if Aoba is found guilty, a psychiatric evaluation could make the maximum enforceable punishment life in prison.



MPs reject removal of death penalty

Members of Parliament have rejected a proposal to scrap the death penalty from the laws, saying it does not provide justification for the move.

A report of the Sectoral Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs on the law revision (penalties in criminal matters) miscellaneous (amendment) Bill, 2015, indicates that the proposal is in conflict with the title of the Bill.

“The intention of the Bill, is among others, to remove the mandatory death penalty prescribed by the Penal Code Act, the UPDF Act as well as the Anti-Terrorism Act as well as to restrict the death penalty to certain specified serious crimes by converting other provisions prescribing a death penalty in these enactments into imprisonment for life,” the report reads in part.

The legislators say the proposal is contrary to best international practice because it removes the death penalty from some of the most serious crimes for which the death sentence is ordinarily prescribed.

According to the report, the matters that the Bill sets out to address have been addressed under the Sentencing Guidelines for Courts of Judicature (Practice) Directions 2013 issued by the Chief Justice.

The proposal on the Law Revision seeks to restrict the application of the death penalty to ‘the most serious crimes’ and remove the restriction on mitigation in case of convictions that carry a death penalty and related matters.

The Bill was necessitated by the cases of Attorney General versus Susan Kigula & 417 others, Supreme Court Constitutional Appeal No. 3 of 2006, Tigo Stephen Versus Uganda, Supreme Court Criminal Appeal No 8 of 2009 and international instruments where Uganda is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

However, Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, yesterday said the purpose of the Bill was to the effect that the Supreme Court decision in regard to mandatory death penalty are unconstitutional and also reduce the number of offences that attract death from 28 to one which is murder.

“No way does the Bill seek to amend the Constitution and I am not aware of any legislative measures to effect the provisions of the Bill. Neither does it conflict with other legislation,” Dr Sewanyana said.

Ms Doreen Kyazze, the country manager of Penal Reform International, said the report seems to have missed key issues in the Kigula court decision where the Supreme Court recommended that Parliament enact a law effecting its decision.

(source: Daily Monitor)


Ending death penalty in Uganda: Yes and no----MPs divided over the death penalty

Members of Parliament have differing opinions on the proposal to have the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes converted into life imprisonment.

This was noted during debate on the Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill, 2015 moved by Busiro East MP, Medard Ssegona.

The private member’s bill seeks to amend the Penal Code Act, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2002, the UPDF Act, 2005 and the Trial on Indictments Act to remove all references to the mandatory death penalty.

The bill also seeks to remove the restriction on mitigation in the case of convictions that carry a death penalty and to define life imprisonment or imprisonment for life.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee in its report recommends that capital punishment should be the maximum sentence for extremely serious crimes including murder.

“It should be in the discretion of the Courts of Law to decide whether a conviction on the above crimes should deserve the maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment,” reads the report in part.

It also recommends that the subject of the death penalty ought to be regularly reviewed through national and public debate to discover whether public opinion on it has changed to abolition or not.

A section of MPs during the sitting on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 opposed the removal of the death penalty saying it would keep criminals at bay.

“I remembered how my senior colleague the late Hon. Abiriga was murdered. Why should his killers be given a lenient punishment if they are convicted with strong evidence? If we remove the death penalty, criminals will feel like they have got a leeway.” said Hon. James Waluswaka (NRM, Bunyole West County).

Ngora County MP, Hon. David Abala said the death penalty ought to be maintained and handed down to a criminal depending on the circumstances under which a crime was committed.

“Some people should not be left to go free because they deliberately committed the same crime over and over. We should not be lenient if we want to protect the lives of our people,” Abala said.

Some MPs, however, termed the death penalty as unconstitutional, saying that it would unjustly punish individuals who get convicted by court albeit being innocent of the crime.

“In this era where corruption is the order of the day, I fear that if we legislate this way, so many people will suffer when they are innocent,” said Hon. Santa Alum (UPC, Oyam).

Igara West MP, Hon. Raphael Magyezi, suggested that the options be explored to make the death penalty optional, in a bid to uphold the right to life, which he said should not be compromised.

“I want to challenge that statistics indicating that the death penalty deters crime are presented. This penalty should be removed because it puts a stain on the hand of the nation,” Magyezi said.

The Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, observed that the trend of debate indicated that MPs needed more time to fully comprehend the bill.

“We have not come together on the intention of this bill. I want Members to refresh themselves with the amendments, and it is important that we internalize the six clauses,” Kadaga said.

(source: Uganda Christian News)


UN expert: Executions in Iran among the world's highest

The U.N. expert on human rights in Iran says last year saw increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and continuing violations of the right to life, liberty and a fair trial in the Islamic Republic, including 253 reported executions of adults and children.

Javaid Rehman said in a report to the General Assembly circulated Friday that while the number of executions was the lowest since 2007, "the number of executions remains one of the highest in the world."

The significant decline, he said, is attributed to enforcement of a 2017 amendment to Iran's anti-narcotics law that saw the number of executions for drug-related offenses drop from 231 in 2017 to at least 24 in 2018.

Rehman expressed concern that Iran has more than 80 offenses punishable by the death penalty, including adultery, homosexuality, drug possession, "waging war against God, corruption on Earth, blasphemy and insult of the Prophet" Muhammad. He said many of the offenses are not considered serious crimes under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Among the 7 child offenders reported to have been executed in 2018 were two 17-year-olds in April for alleged rape and robbery, Rehman said. "The two were reportedly forced to confess under torture."

Rehman reiterated U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's statement that the execution of child offenders "is absolutely prohibited and must end immediately."

He expressed deep concern at arbitrary arrest, detention, ill-treatment and denial of medical care for dual and foreign nationals, estimating there are at least 30 such cases, including Iranian-Austrian Kamran Ghaderi, who has been detained since January 2016 and is suffering "from a tumor in his leg."

"There has been no progress made in the cases of arbitrarily detained foreign or dual nationals" aside from Iran's release in June of Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka, who has U.S. residency, Rehman said.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has subjected these individuals to sham trials, which have failed to meet basic fair trial standards, and convicted them of offenses on the basis of fabricated evidence or, in some cases, no evidence at all, and has attempted to use them as diplomatic leverage," he said.

He also said human rights defenders, members of minority communities, lawyers, journalists including from the BBC's Persian service, labor and trade union activists and women protesting a law requiring them to wear veils know as a hijab "have continued to be intimidated, harassed, arrested and detained."

Rehman, who is the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Iran, cited the case of human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh who was sentenced in March to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes "in relation to her work defending women charged for protesting against the compulsory hijab."

He said Iranian authorities have also stepped up pressure on trade unionists, truck drivers, teachers, factory workers and others protesting for their labor rights. They have been intimidated, arrested and charged with offenses ranging from "spreading propaganda against the state" to "disrupting public order and peace by participating in illegal gatherings," resulting in prison sentences and flogging, he said.

Rehman pointed to human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities, saying the estimated 350,000 Bahai'is, considered to be the largest non-Muslim and unrecognized religious minority in Iran, "have suffered from the most egregious forms of repression, persecution and victimization."

He said the Sunni minority in Iran constitutes an estimated 10% of the population but the constitution bars them from holding senior religious positions, and they have reportedly been refused permission to construct a mosque in the capital of Tehran since 1979. He noted that Christian converts are considered "apostates" and therefore don't have access to officially recognized churches and must gather clandestinely in informal "house churches."

Ethnic minorities including Arab Ahwazis, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis and Kurds also suffer from denial of their human rights, he said. Rehman said Kurdish political prisoners charged with national security offenses represent almost half the total number of political prisoners in Iran.

(source: Associated Press)

AUGUST 16, 2019:


Texas to seek death penalty for MMA fighter accused of double homicide

Cedric Marks was indicted on 2 counts of capital murder earlier this year. He has plead not guilty to those charges.

According to USA Today prosecutors in Bell County, TX are planning to seek the death penalty for Cedric Marks, 45. A long-time MMA fighter, Marks was indicted in the killings of Jenna Scott, 28, and Michael Swearingin, 32, in March. Marks has plead not guilty to all charges.

The remains of Scott, Marks’ former girlfriend, and Swearingin, her friend, were discovered in shallow graves in Clearview, OK on January 3rd. Marks’ current girlfriend Maya Maxwell, who recently gave birth while incarcerated, is also facing charges in this case.

She has told authorities that Scott and Swearingin died after being alone in rooms with Marks. Maxwell has also confessed to moving Swearingin’s vehicle in an attempt to sidetrack the investigation into the killings.

Scott and Swearingin were declared missing in December. Around this time Marks was arrested in Grand Rapids, MI. He was arrested on a burglary charge after he was accused of robbing Scott’s Temple, TX home back in late 2018.

The reported break-in happened shortly after Scott had a request for a 2-year protective order against Marks turned down by Judge Paul LePak. During court proceedings Scott claimed that Marks had previously choked her unconscious and had threatened to kill her and her family. Scott also claimed that Marks had told her he had gotten away with murder in the past and he knew how to cover it up.

Police in Bloomington, MN consider Marks a person of interest in the disappearance of April Pease. Marks and Pease were involved in a reportedly bitter child custody battle in 2008. Pease was granted custody of her and Marks’ child, but she went missing a year later. Custody then reverted to Marks. However, the state took custody of the child soon after.

Marks has spent the last 20-years competing in professional mixed martial arts. His most notable career appearance came in 2010, in a loss to Andrew Chappelle at Bellator Fighting Championships 20.


FLORIDA----impending execution

Florida Supreme Court refuses to block death row inmate Gary Ray Bowles' execution

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected appeals by death row inmate Gary Ray Bowles, who is scheduled to be executed next week for the 1994 murder of a Jacksonville man who was hit in the head with a concrete block and strangled.

Justices unanimously denied a request by Bowles’ attorneys for a stay of the Aug. 22 execution. The attorneys argued in a brief last month that the Supreme Court should order a hearing about whether Bowles is intellectually disabled and, as a result, should be shielded from execution.

But the Supreme Court said Bowles had failed to make a “timely” intellectual disability claim because he did not raise the issue until 2017.

“Bowles waited until October 19, 2017 to raise an intellectual disability claim for the first time,” the court’s 10-page main opinion said. “Therefore, the record conclusively shows that Bowles’ intellectual disability claim is untimely under our precedent.”



Tennessee executes a double murderer by electric chair

A double murderer who chose to die by electrocution was executed Thursday night, the Tennessee Department of Correction said.

Stephen West was convicted in 1986 of fatally stabbing a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, CNN affiliate WKRN reported.

He had several times escaped being put to death, including a scheduled execution in 2001 that was delayed when he began appealing his death sentence, according to several media reports.

Jack Campbell, whose uncle was the husband and father of the victims, lamented the legal system.

"Our family has suffered very deeply over the past 33 years through all the appeals that we think is very unfair for anyone to have to go through when all of the proof in the world was there for the case to be over within 24 hours, let alone 33 years," he said in a statement.

Witnesses to West's death in the electric chair said he sobbed before he died.

Reporters in the viewing area said his last words were, "In the beginning God created man."

He then began to weep. And then said, "Jesus wept. That's all."

He was pronounced dead at 7:27 p.m. CT (8:27 p.m. ET).

West had denied he killed the mother and daughter. He blamed their deaths on an accomplice, according to CNN affiliates WKRN and WSMV.

A statement from his legal team said: "We are deeply disappointed that the state of Tennessee has gone forward with the execution of a man whom the state had diagnosed with severe mental illness. A man of deep faith who has made a positive impact on those around him for decades and a man who by overwhelming evidence did not commit these murders but has never the less taken personal responsibility for his involvement in these crimes."

In Tennessee, a person who was on death row before 1999 can choose electrocution or lethal injection, which is used for other capital offense inmates. In 2018, Tennessee used the electric chair for 2 executions.

Tennessee has executed 5 people since August 9, 2018, when Billy Ray Irick became the 1st person put to death by the state since December 2009.

(source: CNN)


Tennessee Executes Stephen West for 1986 Rape and Murders

West maintained that while he raped the 15-year-old victim, his accomplice killed the women

Stephen West has been executed in the electric chair 33 years after he was sentenced to death for the 1986 murders of Wanda Romines, 51, and her 15-year-old daughter, Sheila, near Knoxville. West, who suffered from severe mental illness, was also convicted of raping the teen, and while he confessed to that crime he maintained that his accomplice stabbed the mother and daughter to death.

The curtains opened at 7:15 on Thursday night, revealing West, who appeared to be crying, sitting in the electric chair. Warden Tony Mays asked West if he had any last words. He responded by referencing scripture.

“In the beginning, God created man,” said West, pausing as he continued to weep. “And Jesus wept. That’s all.”

After West’s final statement, members of the execution team fastened a helmet to his head and placed a shroud over his face. At 7:19, West’s body jolted upward from the chair as the first current of electricity was administered. His body returned to the chair for a matter of seconds, before rising once again with a second jolt of electricity.

West was pronounced dead at 7:27 p.m.

In West's petition for clemency, his attorneys write that then-17-year-old Ronnie Martin had tried to date Sheila Romines and was humiliated when she rejected him. They say Martin coerced West, who was 23 years old at the time, to rape Sheila before Martin stabbed the women to death. The attorneys also note that West was tried first, and that his jury never heard a tape recording of Martin admitting that he was the one who had killed the 2 victims. They also write that Martin threatened to have West and his then-pregnant wife killed if West didn't keep quiet about the crimes. Martin ultimately pleaded guilty to 2 counts of first-degree murder and is currently serving a life sentence.

2 of the surviving jurors from West's trial, both of whom had originally voted for the death sentence, told his attorneys they supported clemency in his case. Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday afternoon that he would not stop the execution.

West was born in a mental institution, where his mother had been sent after she attempted suicide while pregnant with him. As a young boy he was abused. His aunt witnessed his mother's violent outbursts and is quoted describing them in a court filing from last year.

“I came down,” she said. “[West’s sister] Patty came out to get some food for Steve, and [West’s mother] started swearing at them, and she ran in there and just slung Steve up against the wall; grabbed him by his feet. There was blood, and he started throwing up.”

Prison officials have been treating West for severe mental illness for years, giving him powerful antipsychotic drugs that one psychiatrist described in a court filing as "chemical straitjackets." In an extensive 2002 psychiatric evaluation, Dr. Richard Dudley writes that, in his opinion, West “was suffering from a mental disorder” at the time of the killings that sent him to death row. Dudley also says West’s “mental disorder was of the type that would have been relevant to his defense during the guilt phase of his trial and also relevant as mitigation during the penalty phase of his trial.” West’s mental health was not discussed during his trial.

West's legal team released a statement after the execution:

We are deeply disappointed that the State of Tennessee has gone forward with the execution of a man whom the State has diagnosed with severe mental illness; a man of deep faith who has made a positive impact on those around him for decades; and a man who by overwhelming evidence did not commit these murders but has nevertheless taken personal responsibility for his involvement in these crimes. We don't believe the decisions of the courts and ultimately the Governor reflect the forgiving and merciful citizens of this State.

Department of Correction spokesperson Dorinda Carter also read a statement from Eddie Campbell, the nephew of the late Jack Romines, husband and father to the victims.

As for the execution of Mr. Stephen West, I am deeply sorry that any of his family had to go through such a horrible experience. I hope that he has made peace with God and has truly asked God for forgiveness for such a heinous crime that he was a part of. One of the worst things about this execution of Mr. West is that Mr. Ronnie Martin was not also included in the same punishment. Our family has suffered very deeply over the past 33 years through all the appeals that we think is very unfair for anyone to have to go through, when all the proof in the world was there for the case to be over in 24 hours let alone 33 years. I realize there are other families going through some of the same feelings and punishment that my family and I have had to experience very needlessly. Something in our Judicial system has to be done to put a stop to all this needless suffering for families of prolonged justice. I just wish that my Uncle Jack Romines, the father and husband of the two people that mean the most to him in his life and was so brutally murdered on March 17, 1986, could have lived long enough to know that the State of Tennessee finally brought justice in part for his loss. Uncle Jack passed away with a massive heart attack on February 25, 2008, he was only 69 years old and had to live with his wife and daughter for the last 22 years of his life, but told me almost every day how he missed them. I realized that 1 day or 22 years without a loved one is horrible enough, but having to go through all the reminders of the Court of Appeals and not knowing if justice will ever come or not is just too much for victims families to have to deal with. I just hope and pray that our Judicial system in Tennessee will consider the feelings of the victims' families that are still living in such a horrible situation and try and bring a speedy and correct justice to not only the families, but to the State of Tennessee as well. Most of our family is now deceased, but I have forgiveness in my heart for Mr. West and Mr. Martin, but I don't think that justice should be ignored. On behalf of my Uncle Jack Romines and the remaining members of our family I hope this statement will be published in its entirety and not just in parts.

West is the fifth Tennessee prisoner to be executed since August 2018, and the third of those men to choose the electric chair. One more execution is scheduled for this year — Lee Hall's on Dec. 5 — and two are currently scheduled for 2020. The state of Tennessee has not killed this many prisoners at this pace since the 1940s.

West becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Tennessee this year and the 11th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 2000.

West becomes the 11th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1501st overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: Nashville Scene & Rick Halperin)


3 more death row executions scheduled through 2020----"When somebody's sentenced to death, trying to put a period at the end of the process is not realistic."

Following Stephen West's execution Thursday night, three more Tennessee death row inmates are scheduled to die in the next year and a half.

Lee Hall Jr., Nicky Todd Sutton, and Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, formerly known as James Jones.

But a lot can change between now the next execution, scheduled for December.

"It's not at all unusual for legal proceedings to continue up to the actual moment of death," said Penny White.

White is a former state supreme court justice and current director of the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution at UT's School of Law.

She said when an execution date is set, it is never final.

"When somebody's sentenced to death, trying to put a period at the end of the process is not realistic," White said.

That's because several appeals and lawsuits can be filed between setting a date and executing an inmate.

Death row inmates can be granted a stay of execution by a federal court, the state supreme court or the governor.

"When we're talking about taking a life, we really shouldn't be worrying about making it fast," White said. "We should be worrying about getting it right."

Tennessee's next scheduled execution is on Dec. 5.

Lee Hall Jr. was convicted of killing Chattanooga woman Traci Crozier in 1991.

He set her car on fire while she was still inside.

Crozier died from 2nd and 3rd-degree burns.

Hall Jr. was granted a stay of execution before his original execution date in 2016.

"People are challenging the ways that we execute," White said. "They are saying that the method itself is cruel and that violates the constitution."

If Hall Jr. is not granted a stay this time, he will be the 2nd and final Tennessee death row inmate executed in 2019.

Nicky Todd Sutton will be the 1st execution of 2020, scheduled for Feb. 20.

He was convicted of his grandmother's murder in Morristown, and later the murder of a fellow inmate while serving time in Morgan County.

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, formerly known as James Lee Jones, is set to die on April 9, 2020.

He is convicted of the murder of Patrick Daniels in 1986 in Davidson County.

(source: WBIR news)


USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Stephen West in Tennessee on August 15, the USA has now executed 1,501 condemned individuals since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976 in the US Supreme Court Gregg v Georgia decision.

Gary Gilmore was the 1st person executed, in Utah, on January 17, 1977. Below is a list of further scheduled executions as the nation continues its shameful practice of state-sponsored killings.

NOTE: The list is likely to change over the coming months as new execution dates are added and possible stays of execution occur.

1502-------Aug. 21------------Larry Swearingen---------Texas

1503-------Aug. 22------------Gary Ray Bowles----------Florida

1504-------Sept. 4------------Billy Crutsinger---------Texas

1505-------Sept. 10-----------Mark Anthony Soliz-------Texas

1506-------Sept 25------------Robert Sparks------------Texas

1507-------Oct. 1-------------Russell Bucklew----------Missouri

1508-------Oct. 2-------------Stephen Barbee-----------Texas

1509-------Oct. 10------------Randy Halprin------------Texas

1510-------Oct. 16------------Randall Mays-------------Texas

1511-------Oct. 30------------Ruben Gutierrez----------Texas

1512-------Nov. 3-9-----------Charles Rhines-----------South Dakota

1513-------Nov. 6-------------Justen Hall--------------Texas

1514-------Nov. 20------------Rodney Reed--------------Texas

1515-------Dec. 5-------------Lee Hall Jr.-------------Tennessee

1516-------Dec. 9-------------Daniel Lewis Lee---------Federal - Ark.

1517-------Dec. 11------------James Hanna--------------Ohio

1518-------Dec. 11------------Travis Runnels-----------Texas

1519-------Dec. 11------------Lezmond Mitchell---------Federal - Ariz.

1520-------Dec. 13------------Wesley Purkey------------Federal - Mo.

1521-------Jan. 13-----------Alfred Bourgeois----------Federal - Tex.

1522-------Jan. 15-----------Dusten Honken-------------Federal - Iowa

1523-------Jan. 16-----------Kareem Jackson------------Ohio

(source: Rick Halperin)


District Attorney to host panel discussion with death row exonorees

The District Attorney’s Office for the 5th Judicial District will be hosting a panel discussion featuring death row exonerees on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge.

In an announcement for the event, District Attorney’s Office officials said the office does not take a position on the issue of abolishing the death penalty. Rather, the panel is being held to facilitate a discussion about the criminal justice system and to give the community an opportunity to hear perspectives of individuals who were convicted and later exonerated for heinous crimes.

The panel also will feature a facilitator from the Witness to Innocence, a nonprofit dedicated to abolishing the death penalty.

The panel discussion will take place from 5:30to 8 p.m. at 107 Denison Placer Road.

(source: Summit Daily News)


Arizona Court Rejects Death Penalty for Illegal Alien Accused of Murdering Grant Ronnebeck

An Arizona court made official this week that the illegal alien charged with murdering 21-year-old Grant Ronnebeck will not face the death penalty because of his alleged “intellectual disability.”

Last month, Judge Michael Kemp ruled that 34-year-old illegal alien Apolinar Altamirano was not eligible for the death penalty because he had a 5th-grade education and was unable to obtain special education because he grew up in rural Mexico. Last year, Kemp ruled that prosecutors in the case would not be allowed to mention that Altamirano was an illegal alien who had been living in the U.S. for more than 20 years.

This week, the Arizona Court of Appeals reinforced Kemp’s decision, telling prosecutors that they would not be allowed to seek the death penalty against Altamirano.

On January 22, 2015, Altamirano entered a QuickTrip convenience store in Mesa, Arizona, where Ronnebeck worked as a store clerk, and allegedly shot the young man to death after demanding a pack of cigarettes, Breitbart News reported at the time.

After shooting and killing Ronnebeck, prosecutors say Altamirano stepped over the body of the young man to grab a couple more packs of cigarettes before fleeing the scene. Following the alleged murder, the illegal alien sent police on a high-speed chase and was eventually arrested and taken into custody.

At the time of the alleged murder, Altamirano — an alleged self-proclaimed member of the Sinaloa Cartel — had been out of police custody on bond despite having orders to be deported from the U.S.

Prosecutors will continue seeking a 1st-degree murder conviction for Altamirano.

“Our children are worth … it’s blood on [the Democrats’] hands,” Angel Dad Steve Ronnebeck said during a press conference for Angel Families in June. ” … I made a promise right after Grant died that I was going to keep fighting for Grant and keep fighting for the American people. What the American people don’t understand is that it’s going to happen to them or somebody they know … with so many people coming across our border.”



Wyoming conservatives opposed to death penalty to attend national meeting

Wyoming members of a conservative group opposed to the death penalty will participate in a Sept. 6-8 national conference in New Orleans.

The group is called “Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.” The national meeting will be the organization’s first.

“Leaders from a dozen states, including Wyoming, will be gathering to discuss the growing movement of conservatives and Republican state legislators who believe the death penalty violates the basic tenets of their beliefs,” an announcement from the Wyoming chapter states.

Wyoming also has a new state coordinator for their chapter of the “Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.” Her name is Kylie Taylor.

“’Ending the death penalty aligns perfectly with my conservative beliefs because it reduces costs to taxpayers, it is consistent with valuing life, and it eliminates the risk of executing innocent people,'” Taylor said.

Part of the group’s concern is the number of death row convictions that have been overturned.

“Across the country 166 individuals have been freed from state death rows due to wrongful convictions,” they said.

“‘These grassroots conservatives are the driving force behind a change in thinking that has been taking place in red state legislatures in recent years,’ said Hannah Cox, National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. ‘We will be discussing best practices in educating the public, as well as lawmakers, in their states.'”

The national meeting will take place at Le Pavillon Hotel, located at 833 Poydras Street in New Orleans.

(source: Oil City News)


'Hollywood Ripper' faces death penalty for murdering two women including Ashton Kutcher date

A “stone-cold serial killer” could face execution after being killing 2 women, one of whom was stabbed to death on the night of a planned date with actor Ashton Kutcher.

Michael Gargiulo, 43, was also found guilty of the attempted murder of a third victim who fought back and later testified against him in court.

Kutcher also gave evidence during Gargiulo’s trial, having seen bloodstains on the floor of Ashley Ellerin’s Hollywood home as he arrived to collect her for drinks in February 2001.

The 22-year-old fashion student was later found dead with more than 47 stab wounds.

Gargiulo, a former aspiring actor, was found guilty of the 2005 murder of 32-year old Maria Bruno in her El Monte, California, and the attempted murder of Michelle Murphy, who he stabbed in her Santa Monica apartment in 2008.

Gargiulo is eligible for the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole.

He showed no reaction when the verdicts were read on Thursday following 3 hours of jury deliberations.

A final phase of his trial at Los Angeles Superior Court is set to start on Tuesday, when jurors will determine whether Gargiulo was sane at the time of the killings.

A Chicago native who moved to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Gargiulo worked as an air conditioning repairman and a Hollywood nightclub bouncer at the time of the attacks.

With little physical evidence tying him to the scenes of 2 killings, prosecutors urged jurors to look at the cases jointly, citing similar patterns in home-invasion attacks that all took place near where he was living at the time.

While some media outlets dubbed him the “Hollywood Ripper“, prosecutors called him the “Boy-next-door Killer“ and painted him as a “stone-cold serial killer”.

The prosecution was allowed to cite evidence from a 2nd alleged murder in 1993 for which Gargiulo is awaiting trial in Illinois.

Jurors were told Gargiulo was a meticulous killer who studied the lives, homes and habits of the women he preyed on. All four victims were stabbed quickly, powerfully and repeatedly with a knife by their attacker, who studied ways to cover his tracks.

“Those similarities point to one man, one killer: Michael Gargiulo,“ deputy district attorney Garrett Dameron said during closing arguments.

Gargiulo’s defence lawyers relied heavily on the lack of forensic or witness evidence putting him at the scenes of the killings.

Kutcher, who in 2001 was a rising star of the sitcom That ‘70s Show, testified early in the trial that he and Ellerin were getting to know each other and had made plans to go out together for drinks.

He told the court he arrived at her Hollywood home several hours late and assumed she had gone out without him when she did not answer the door.

He recalled looking through the window and seeing what he believed to be were wine stains, but later proved to be Ellerin’s blood.

“I remember the next day, after I heard about what happened, I went to the detectives and said, ‘My fingerprints are on the door,“‘ Kutcher testified. “I was freaking out.“

The first and most important witness in the case was Ms Murphy, a fitness enthusiast who fought off the much larger Gargiulo and caused him to cut himself, leaving a trail of blood as he fled.

That evidence against him was so overwhelming that defence lawyers conceded he was Ms Murphy’s attacker, although they argued he suffered from a dissociative disorder which left him in a “fugue state“ and did know what he was doing.



Another day, another interpretation of Oregon’s new law limiting the death penalty

The former House majority leader who helped spearhead a new law limiting death penalty cases said Thursday the legislation was written as she intended and she doesn’t support a call for a special session to fix it.

Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board that while she said during the legislative session that Senate Bill 1013 isn’t “retroactive,” she always meant for it to apply to previous aggravated murder convictions and death sentences that end up being reversed and sent back for new trials or sentencing hearings.

By “retroactive,” she meant the bill wouldn’t automatically overturn the convictions of people on Oregon’s death row.

And that remains the case, she told the editorial board.

Williamson’s remarks only seemed to deepen the confusion that’s emerged about the new law since the Oregon Department of Justice emailed prosecutors last week saying SB 1013 applies to death penalty convictions and sentences that have been overturned, as well as pending cases.

Gov. Kate Brown has remained silent since new controversy erupted.

It’s not unusual for aggravated murder convictions or death sentences to be overturned on appeal. In the past 21/2 years, seven cases have been reversed. None of the 31 people on Oregon’s death row have exhausted their court challenges.

The new law narrows the definition of aggravated murder, which is the only crime in Oregon eligible for a death sentence. Aggravated murder is now limited to defendants who kill two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; kill a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation; kill another person while locked in jail or prison for a previous murder; or kill a police, correctional or probation officer.

On Wednesday, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, who also championed the bill, said he planned to ask Brown to call a special session next month to address an issue raised by the Oregon Department of Justice.

Prozanski said he didn’t intend for SB 1013 to apply to cases sent back to lower courts for new sentences. He said he did, however, intend for it to apply to pending cases and aggravated murder convictions sent back to lower courts for new trials.

He characterized the issue as “an oversight” and “a mistake” that he hoped to fix in a 1-day session.

“It’s very unfortunate that this was made because most of us were under the belief as to how it was written was going to accomplish what our intent was,” he said.

On Thursday, Williamson seemed to disagree with Prozanski’s initial take and defended the law. Both lawmakers are attorneys.

“This is not a technical error,” Williamson told the editorial board. “It does what we said it was going to do.”

During a June 19 speech on the floor of the Oregon House, Williamson said the bill wasn’t retroactive and only “applies to aggravated murder cases going forward.”

On Thursday, she tried to clarify what she meant. “It’s confusing because ‘retroactive’ in this sense is not necessarily the way you would use it in a non-legal way,” she said.

Williamson previously told The Oregonian/OregonLive that an unrelated bill, Senate Bill 1005, states that SB 1013 doesn’t apply to defendants who have previously been sentenced but have been granted reversals. Williamson said lawmakers wanted their intent to be clear so they added the language, on the advice of legislative lawyers, after Senate Bill 1013 had already passed both houses but Senate Bill 1005 had not yet passed.

On Thursday, however, she couldn’t explain why she had made those statements and acknowledged that her earlier explanations might have been unclear.

Meanwhile, the Oregon District Attorneys Association late Thursday sent a letter to Prozanski and Williamson, saying Oregonians were repeatedly assured the law wouldn’t be retroactive.

The organization asked for the law to be repealed or at least clarify to apply only to crimes committed on or after Sept. 29, when the law goes into effect.

“Anything less than that clear directive will not provide the certainty that our laws require,” wrote Beth Heckert, Jackson County District Attorney and president of the organization.



Lawyers Say man Facing Execution In Terre Haute Is Intellectually Disabled

Attorneys for a man being held on death row in Terre Haute want a judge to halt his execution and say their client can't legally be put to death because he's intellectually disabled.

Alfred Bourgeois' lawyers argue in court papers Thursday that a jury was unaware of Bourgeois' disability and a court never reviewed the evidence.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment.

Prosecutors say Bourgeois, of Louisiana, tortured, sexually molested, and then beat his 2½-year-old daughter to death.

Attorney General William Barr resumed the death penalty last month and scheduled executions for the 1st time since 2003.

Bourgeois is scheduled to be executed Jan. 13 at Terre Haute’s federal penitentiary.

(source: Associated Press)


U.S. federal death row inmate challenges January execution

Lawyers for 1 of 5 federal prisoners scheduled by President Donald Trump's administration for execution have launched a 2-pronged legal effort to prevent the government from carrying out the lethal injection slated for January.

The U.S. government has not carried out an execution since 2003 amid legal challenges to its lethal injection protocol, but Attorney General William Barr last month said it would resume capital punishment and scheduled the execution of 5 convicted murderers who were tried in federal rather than state courts.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Thursday allowed 1 of the 5 men, Alfred Bourgeois, to have his federal lawsuit challenging the legality of the government's lethal injection procedures consolidated with a larger and long-running civil lawsuit brought by a group of other federal death row inmates. Alexander Kursman, a lawyer for Bourgeois, told Chutkan he plans by Monday to seek a stay of execution.

His lawyers also said they have filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in Indiana seeking to block his execution on the grounds that Bourgeois is "intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty." Under Supreme Court precedent, executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Bourgeois, due to be executed on Jan. 13 at a federal prison in Indiana, was sentenced to death in Texas in 2004 after being convicted of sexually molesting and fatally beating his 2-1/2-year-old daughter.

"The jury that sentenced Mr. Bourgeois to death never learned that he was intellectually disabled," Victor Abreu, another lawyer for Bourgeois, said in a statement, adding that no court has ever used proper scientific standards to review his client's disability.

The hearing before Chutkan was the 1st time Justice Department lawyers had appeared in court since Barr's July 25 announcement that the Justice Department had adopted a new death penalty protocol using a single drug rather than the prior 3-drug cocktail. Barr scheduled 5 executions starting in December.

Barr's announcement jump-started a dormant lawsuit, first filed in 2005, that challenged the department's capital punishment procedures on several grounds, including violating the Eighth Amendment as well as a federal law on how regulations are enacted. The other death row inmates in that litigation were not among the five scheduled for execution.

Paul Enzinna, lead plaintiff lawyer in the case, told Chutkan his team needs to carry out depositions of government officials about how the single-drug protocol will work amid concerns it could cause a painful death or not be administered properly.

Lawyers for the inmates and Justice Department agreed to a timetable for carrying out preliminary depositions.

(source: Reuters)


Life and Times of Kenya's Last Hangman

His name was Kirugumi wa Wanjuki, not known to many but those who are keen on history, and those who were unlucky enough to go through his hands.

He lived in a cold village at the foot of the Aberdares, a poor and desolate man surviving on a meagre pension and a decayed mud house, a reward for his service to the state.

Kirugumi joined the Prison Service in 1937, where he was stationed at Kangumbiri Work Camps for seven years before he was moved to Kamiti Prison. There, he replaced a retiring Indian hangman and served in that capacity for 11 years.

After that, he had a short stint at the King'ong'o maximum prison, where he served as the official hangman for 4 years before calling it quits in 1974.

Before he joined the Prisons' Service, Kirugumi was a tracker and a professional game hunter. He was among the men who helped the Askari track the Mau Mau freedom fighters during the struggle for independence.

The last executions to take place in Kenya was in 1987, with the last victims being the alleged masterminds of the 1982 coup, Hezekiah Ochuka, and Pancras Oteyo. Kirugumi wa Wanjiku admitted to being the one who hanged them.

"I got so used to hanging people that at some moment I thought that killing people was as simple as slaughtering a chicken," he said in a KTN interview a few months before his death.

The death penalty was repealed in 2016 when President Uhuru Kenyatta invoked article 133 of the constitution, officially commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment. This was not the first time this act was done.

Mwai Kibaki had invoked the Prerogative of Mercy and issued a directive to commute the death penalty to life in prison on August 4, 2009, but President Uhuru made it official.

The declaration in 2009 sent Kirugumi wa Wanjiku into a frenzy, and he even offered to hang the prisoners for Kibaki if he would let him. His opinion was that the death penalty was a deterrent to serious crime, but life imprisonment will dilute the purpose of punishment for a serious crime.

In an interview conducted by The Standard in 2009, he recounted the last moments of prisoners before they headed to the gallows.

"Inmates had to be clean before they went to the gallows. We had to ensure that their nails were well-trimmed, their hair clean-shaven and bodies clean," he said.

The convicted prisoner was woken up before 5am and led to the gallows, his legs and his hands bound.

"Some walked in silence, others prayed, some cried and some just went wild," he added.

Kirugumi expressed the fact that he had no regrets over the prisoners who had lost their lives through his hands, for all he was doing was delivering justice as it had been prescribed. His biggest regret, he said, was having to hang a young person full of potential.

He died on November 2nd, 2009, a desolate and abandoned man, ironically, at 0230hrs, more or less the time he prepared prisoners for their execution. He did not go out the way he had lived. Instead, he succumbed to pneumonia in the loneliness of his crumbling house.

His death did not stir excitement in his neighbourhood. His only son Ngung'u Wanjuki was the one that mourned him, with the villagers giving his compound a wide berth. The stigma that came with his job trailed him to the last days of his existence, even as demons tortured him in the night and forced him to drink heavily just to gather some sanity.

Not many knew about him when he lived, and not many will know about him long after his death. His name has been plastered in the halls of infamy, to be remembered as the Last Hangman that this country had.



Bangabandhu’s killer Rashed Chy to be brought back: Law minister

Law Minister Anisul Huq today said that Rashed Chowdhury, a fugitive killer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will be brought back to the country from the US.

The minister said this while addressing a programme organised to mark the National Mourning Day at Akhaura Railway Station premises in Brahmanbaria this morning.

“2 of the 6 fugitive killers of Bangabandhu are residing in the US and Canada. We would bring back the one living in the US. Legal steps are on to bring back the one in Canada as well,” Anisul Huq said.

“Steps are on to trace the whereabouts of the four other fugitive killers,” he said.

“No matter where they are hiding, they would be extradited to the country and would be brought to justice,” the minister also said.

“After the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975, conspiration was on to turn Bangladesh into a mini Pakistan,” Anisul Huq said, adding “the plot was almost implemented.”

“It was after the Awami League government under leadership of Sheikh Hasina took power in 1996 that the fate of the country began to change for the better,” he added.

Akhaura upazila unit of Awami League organised the programme to observe the 44th death anniversary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The Supreme Court on November 19, 2009 upheld a High Court verdict, confirming capital punishment of 12 people, including the 6, for killing Bangabandhu and most of his family members in a coup d’état on August 15, 1975.

5 of the convicts -- Syed Farooq Rahman, Sultan Shahriar Rashid Khan, Bazlul Huda, AKM Mohiuddin Ahmed and Mohiuddin Ahmed -- were executed on January 27, 2010. Another killer, Aziz Pasha, died in Zimbabwe in 2001.

Those who remain fugitives are Col (dismissed) Khandaker Abdur Rashid, Lt Col (relieved) Shariful Haque Dalim, Maj (retd) Noor Chowdhury, Maj (retd) Rashed Chowdhury, Capt Abdul Majed and Risaldar Moslehuddin Khan.

The extradition of the 6 fugitive killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman saw little progress even a decade after trial proceedings of the assassination case were completed.

A taskforce comprised of ministers and high officials of the foreign, law and home ministries was formed in 2010 to locate and bring back the 6.

The government had also made global appeals in bilateral, regional and international forums to track down the culprits. However, only 2 of the 6 could be traced -- Rashed Chowdhury in the US and Noor Chowdhury in Canada.

(source: The Daily Star)

AUGUST 15, 2019:

TEXAS----stay of impending execution

Federal court stops execution of Dexter Johnson within 24 hours of his scheduled death----In his recent appeals, Johnson has claimed he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. He was convicted of a double murder in Harris County that took place in 2006.

A federal appellate court halted the execution of Texas inmate Dexter Johnson on Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours before he was set to die.

The court stayed his execution and sent the case back to the district court to look into newly raised claims of intellectual disability.

Johnson, 31, was sentenced to death for his role in a double murder in 2006 days after he turned 18. Johnson and 4 other teens carjacked and robbed Maria Aparece, 23, and Huy Ngo, 17, while they sat in her car outside Ngo's house. According to court records, Johnson and the others took the young couple to a secluded area where Johnson raped Aparece before he and another teen shot them both, killing them.

The murders were part of what Harris County prosecutors have described as a 25-day crime spree by Johnson and others that also included 3 other slayings. Johnson has been on death row since his conviction in 2007.

In recent appeals, Johnson has argued that he is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty under U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Intellectual disability has become a main focus of Texas death penalty law after years of back and forth between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the case of Bobby Moore. Ultimately, the high court invalidated Texas’ method of determining the disability, and then, after the state court still ruled Moore was not intellectually disabled, overruled that decision in February and said he has shown that he is.

Johnson had already argued he was intellectually disabled in an April appeal rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, shortly before a May execution date that a federal judge later postponed in an unrelated filing. But a new attorney raised a similar claim this month in both state and federal court, mentioning recent IQ and neuropsychological tests that put Johnson's IQ below the threshold of intellectual disability. The attorney also noted severe limitations in language skills and a “pronounced stutter.”

His attorney argued that the disability could be raised under new evidence because medical standards on intellectual disability have changed since his trial.

The state court again dismissed Johnson’s appeal Tuesday, but the federal appellate court issued a stay of execution Wednesday evening. He was set to be executed after 6 p.m. Thursday.

In deciding to stop the execution, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals listed numerous deficits Johnson had, such as struggling to articulate words and not being able to follow bus directions or manage money. The judges also noted that an expert witness at trial who claimed Johnson was not intellectually disabled said he would no longer testify to that.

But the stay of execution doesn't state that Johnson is ineligible for the death penalty. The case goes back to the district court, which will look further into the appeal.

Harris County, which argued for the Court of Criminal Appeals to lessen Moore’s sentence, fought against Johnson’s claim of intellectual disability in recent filings. Prosecutors said that at trial, Johnson raised not the issue of intellectual disability, but of low intellectual functioning caused by traumatic brain injury or mental illness, according to their filing. They also cited slightly higher IQ scores from the time of his trial and stated Johnson is "a man deserving of the ultimate punishment."

Johnson was set to be the 4th execution in Texas this year. A dozen more are scheduled through December.

(source: Texas Tribune)


Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----43

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----561

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

44---------Aug. 21----------------Larry Swearingen--------562

45---------Sept. 4----------------Billy Crutsinger--------563

46---------Sept. 10---------------Mark Anthony Soliz------564

47---------Sept. 25---------------Robert Sparks-----------565

48---------Oct. 2-----------------Stephen Barbee----------566

49---------oct. 10----------------Randy Halprin-----------567

50---------Oct. 16----------------Randall Mays------------568

51---------Oct. 30----------------Ruben Gutierrez---------569

52---------Nov. 6-----------------Justen Hall-------------570

53---------Nov. 20----------------Rodney Reed-------------571

54---------Dec. 11---------------Travis Runnels-----------572

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


Death penalty sought in Oklahoma double murder case

Prosecutors in Texas say they will seek the death penalty for a professional MMA fighter accused in the deaths of 2.

Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said Monday his office has filed formal notice to seek the death penalty against 45-year-old Cedric Marks.Marks was indicted for the slayings of 28-year-old Jenna Scott and 32-year-old Michael Swearingin.

The bodies were found in a shallow grace in Clearview, Oklahoma.

Investigators say the two friends were killed Jan. 3 at a residence in Killeen, Texas.

Marks, Scott's ex-boyfriend, has pleaded not guilty.

His current girlfriend, Maya Maxwell, also faces charges in the case.

(source: KRMG news)


Alabama AG’s office silent on new execution method

Attorney General Steve Marshall has denied’s request to see a contract Marshall’s office entered related to the development of a new method of execution using nitrogen gas, the latest move in a policy of secrecy regarding how the state puts prisoners to death.

In July, Marshall’s office hired a Tennessee company, FDR Safety, and Joseph Wolfsberger, an industrial hygienist for the firm.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, who chairs the contract review committee, said it was his understanding that the contract was to provide expert testimony in case of litigation over the new execution method, which has never been used in any state.

FDR Safety declined to say what the contract involved, citing client confidentiality. The company’s website says providing expert witnesses is one of the services it offers. requested a copy of the contract in July, when the contract went before the Legislature’s contract review committee. On Tuesday, Marshall’s office notified that it would not provide the contract.

The state’s open records law requires state agencies to make contracts and other records available to the public. Marshall’s office said it does not have to disclose the contract with FDR Safety because it falls under exceptions in the open records law regarding security and the best interests of the public.

The contract will pay FDR Safety at the rate of $300 an hour up to an amount of $25,000. The contract runs through June 2021.

That’s a relatively small state contract. But the denial follows the refusal of Marshall’s office to provide any information about the development of the nitrogen execution method. His office declined to respond to a series of questions, including how the method might work, whether it would involve a gas mask or gas chamber, whether Alabama is collaborating with other states, and what was the purpose of the FDR Safety contract.

The Alabama Legislature passed a bill allowing inmates to opt for execution by nitrogen hypoxia last year. The method would be an alternative to lethal injection.

The concept for nitrogen executions is believed to be that the inmate would die by breathing only nitrogen, with no oxygen.

Oklahoma and Mississippi have also passed laws authorizing the method.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks state execution methods and policies, said the states that intended to offer nitrogen executions are encountering problems they did not anticipate. For example, he said Oklahoma has indicated it was having difficulty finding companies to sell the state any materials that would be needed. States had previously run into the same problems obtaining the drugs used in lethal injections.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about executions with nitrogen,” Dunham said. “And I think the amount of time it’s taking states to come up with protocols shows us just how little we knew. It’s never been done before. It’s experimental. And we still don’t know how it’s going to work or if it’s going to work.”

The lack of public information on development of the nitrogen execution method follows a battle between Alabama officials and news organizations over access to the state’s lethal injection protocol.

The protocol became an issue in a lawsuit filed by death row inmate Doyle Lee Hamm. The state attempted to execute Hamm in February 2018 but called the procedure off after medical personnel were unable to find a usable vein.

Alabama Media Group, which includes, along with the Associated Press and The Montgomery Advertiser, filed a motion in Hamm’s case seeking release of the protocol.

U.S. Chief District Judge Karon O. Bowdre ruled in favor of the news organizations, citing the public’s "common law right of access to the sealed records relating to Alabama’s lethal injection protocol.” The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bowdre’s decision.

It’s unclear whether the state will appeal.



Louisiana seeks death penalty for mom accused in baby’s burning death

Louisiana is seeking the death penalty for a woman charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of her 6-month-old son.

The Alexandria Town Talk reports the state has filed notice to seek death for Hanna Nicole Barker over the July death of Levi Cole Ellerbe.

Barker was arrested last month about a week after she reported Levi had been kidnapped by men who pepper-sprayed her. A motorist reported a fire nearby Barker’s home about an hour later and Levi was found at scene with 3rd- and 2nd-degree burns covering 90% of his body. He died the next day.

Authorities say Barker asked her girlfriend Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith to kill Levi. Smith is also charged with first-degree murder and has a hearing later this month.

Barker’s trial is set for January.

(source: Associated Press)


Parma Heights man convicted in prison pen-pal murders sentenced to death vows ‘it’s not over’

A Cuyahoga County Judge on Tuesday imposed the death sentence on a man who stabbed 2 people in their Parma Heights home and then tried to hire a man to burn their bodies in a failed cover-up in 2017.

Common Pleas Court Judge Deena Calabrese announced her sentence of Thomas Knuff Jr., convicted in the May 2017 killings of John Mann and Regina Copabianco.

Jurors recommended last month that Knuff be executed, and Calabrese accepted their recommendation.

“As a defendant in my courtroom, I’ve never seen someone with as little remorse as you,” she told Knuff.

Knuff, dressed in slacks and a dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves exposing his tattooed forearms, vowed that his case was not over.

“When you show emotion and say you’re sorry, they say you’re lying. When you don’t, you’re a psychopath," Knuff said.

Knuff said Cuyahoga County Prosecutors and Parma Heights police officers lied during his trial to secure his conviction, and vowed that they would one day have to answer to those lies.

“I’m going to pursue every avenue to get the truth out,” Knuff said.

Knuff later shook his head and stared at Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Anna Faraglia as she told Calabrese that the prosecutor’s office does not “railroad people."

Faraglia began to tell Knuff that he could stare at her, just like he did during the eight weeks of trial in May, June and July.

Knuff blurted out “because you lied for 8 weeks."

Knuff, who also broke into two hair salons before his arrest and plotting a jailbreak after he was taken into custody, became the third person this year to be condemned to death row from a Cuyahoga County courtroom.

Mann’s son Jonathan Mann, who lives in Columbus and did not attend the trial, spoke after Calabrese announced the death sentence. He said he personally had wanted Knuff to die for what he did to his father, and that he deserved no mercy from the court. But the younger Mann told Calabrese he did not want Knuff to be executed, citing the high cost of death-penalty appeals.

“I want you all to hear it from a man who wanted him dead,” he said.

Capobianco’s sister, Toni Bender, told Calabrese that she was glad Knuff was sentenced to the death penalty.

“I hope you die in prison a lonely, lonely man,” she said. “Your death cannot come soon enough for me.”

Knuff befriended Capobianco through an inmate-to-inmate pen-pal program in the 2000s and moved in with her and Mann on Nelwood Road in Parma Heights in April 2017 when he was released on parole, after serving 15 years for an aggravated robbery conviction.

Capobianco’s and Knuff’s convictions meant they could not live with each other while on parole. An argument over which one was going to stay with Mann ensued and escalated until Knuff stabbed them both, prosecutors said.

Capobianco was stabbed 6 times, and Mann was stabbed 15 times, a pathologist from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office testified.

Knuff left the pair’s bodies in the bedroom for more than 2 months, as he concocted a series of lies to conceal his deeds. He then solicited the help of his girlfriend, a former social worker at the state prison where Knuff was housed, and a man named Robert DeLugo to dispose of the bodies.

After police arrested Knuff in break-ins at two beauty salons, Knuff penned a letter from jail to DeLugo asking him to burn the bodies. He directed DeLugo in the letter to go to the bedroom, where “the most incriminating s--t" was, a reference to Mann’s and Capobianco’s bodies, and to use kerosene because it “burns hotter."

DeLugo did not carry out the deed.

Capobianco’s family reported her missing in the days after the killings and police visited the home, but did not try to go inside.

Officers eventually went back into the house on June 21 and a detective discovered Capobianco’s skull buried under debris in the bedroom, prosecutors said. Authorities then found Mann’s body within minutes, and launched a homicide investigation.

Knuff’s lawyers maintained at trial that Knuff walked into the house and discovered Capobianco fatally stabbing Mann, and stabbed her in self-defense when she turned the knife on him. They criticized Parma Heights police’s investigation of the crime.

Knuff sought to cover up the killings because he feared he would go back to prison for a parole violation, even though he acted in self-defense, his lawyers said.

Knuff will be shipped to death row at the at a time when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has halted executions statewide after a federal judge questioned whether the state’s lethal injection process was constitutional. DeWine ordered a review of the execution process and asked legislators to research a possible alternative method.



Jury recommends death penalty for man who killed 4-year-old daughter, her mother

A jury has recommended the death penalty for a man who stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend and their 4-year-old daughter.

The Franklin County jury began deliberating the fate of Kristofer Garrett Tuesday afternoon.

Garrett stabbed to death his 4-year-old daughter Christina Duckson and her mother, Nicole Duckson.

Garrett waited outside the Southeast Columbus home of Nicole Duckson and attacked her as she left the morning of January 5, 2018.

Family shares memories of mother & 4-year-old girl murdered in southeast Columbus

Then he chased down and stabbed their 4-year-old daughter to death. He told detectives he killed her because she witnessed him kill her mother.

Tuesday his attorneys argued Garrett was mentally ill, and the product of an abusive, neglectful childhood.

Several witnesses testified that he had never been in trouble before, and aside from these crimes, had never been violent.

"I did it and I'm sorry,” Garrett said. “I want to say I'm sorry to the family, to Mr. Duckson, especially to the parents and to the Duckson family. And I'm sorry to my family because they lost a family member as well. This is going to live with me for the rest of my life."

"The only appropriate sentence, in this case, is a death sentence,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.

“You have the ability- each and every one of you- you have the ability to take away Kristofer's life- to take it away- without taking his life,” said defense attorney Mark Hunt. “You can take away his life without taking his life."

The jury had a range of possible sentences:

From life with no chance of parole for 25 years to life with no possibility of parole ever, to the death penalty.

Judge Chris Brown will make the final decision based on their recommendation.

He will impose sentence in a separate hearing set for Aug. 22.

(source: WBNS news)


Prosecutors pursue death penalty in case of Parma father accused of stabbing infant son to death to spite boy’s mother

A Parma father charged last year in the stabbing death of his infant son amid a custody dispute with the boy’s mother is now eligible to face the death penalty if he is convicted.

A county grand jury on Wednesday handed up an indictment charging Jason Shorter with multiple counts of aggravated murder that carry a potential death sentence in the killing of his 1-year-old son, Nicholas.

Shorter, who has pleaded not guilty, has been held in Cuyahoga County Jail on $1 million bond since his May 2018 arrest. He is set for an Aug. 20 arraignment on the new charges.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said last summer that Shorter stabbed the boy “apparently to spite his mother,” and that his office was considering pursuing the death penalty. A spokesman did not immediately respond to questions asking why prosecutors are pursuing the charges now.

Court records show Shorter was found competent to stand trial in May, and his attorneys and prosecutors accepted the findings at a July 24 pretrial.

Shorter showed up at the Parma Police Department on May 12, 2018. He was bleeding from cuts on his wrists and said he wanted to turn himself in for attempted murder and suicide, according to prosecutors. He also told officers he had hurt his son, who was outside in his car, prosecutors said.

Officers searched the inside the car but did not find the boy, prosecutors said. Shorter told them the boy was in the trunk, and police popped the trunk and found Nicholas’s body lying face-up with two stab wounds to his chest, prosecutors said. The boy was not breathing and had no pulse, prosecutors said.

The incident came 5 days after Shorter and the boy’s mother reached a custody agreement in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.

Shorter petitioned for custody of his son months after his 2016 birth, according to court records. The case dragged on for over a year before a settlement gave Nicholas’ mother custody of the boy 6 days a week.

Shorter was supposed to pick up Nicholas at the mother’s home in Euclid at 6 p.m. each Friday night and return the boy by 7:30 p.m. every Saturday night, the agreement says.

The day the boy died was Shorter’s 1st day of custody under the new arrangement, police said. His mother called police when Shorter did not return home on time, and officers showed up at Shorter’s house after he left to go to the Parma police department, police said.


TENNESSEE----impending execution

Inmate asks for electric chair death in Thursday execution

A Tennessee inmate has made a last-minute request to be put to death in the electric chair, an option his lawyer described as "also unconstitutional, yet still less painful" than the state's preference of a three-drug lethal injection.

The state Department of Correction on Wednesday confirmed 56-year-old Stephen West made the request and said the Thursday execution will be carried out by electrocution.

West previously opted against selecting a preference, which would have resulted in lethal injection. West's attorney described both options as unconstitutional in his still-active U.S. Supreme Court challenge, as he seeks a stay in the execution.

"Seeking to avoid the constitutionally-impermissible pain and suffering created by Tennessee's 3-drug midazolam-based protocol, Mr. West has, as have two other Tennessee inmates before him, agreed to be executed by the also-unconstitutional, yet still less painful, method of execution, Tennessee's electric chair," his attorney wrote in the court filing.

Two Tennessee inmates, David Miller and Edmund Zagorski, chose to die by electric chair in 2018 because of concerns about pain associated with the state's lethal injection procedure. Both unsuccessfully argued to courts that Tennessee's procedure, which uses the drug midazolam, results in a prolonged and torturous death. Before this year, the last time a state used the electric chair to execute an inmate was 2013.

Zagorski, similar to West, made a last minute to request the electric chair after previously being set to use lethal injection which resulted in a brief delay in his execution to allow the state time to prepare for using the alternative method.

Tennessee has also put 2 inmates to death by injection since August 2018.

West's attorney has argued that some "feasible and readily implemented alternative methods of execution exist that significantly reduce the substantial risk of severe pain and suffering" compared with the state's three-drug protocol or electrocution: a single bullet to the back of the head, a firing squad, a "euthanasia oral cocktail" or 1-drug pentobarbital, according to a February court filing.

West was 1 of 4 death row inmates who sued last year, asking a federal court's permission to use a firing squad as an execution method. Currently, just 3 states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — continue to allow the use of firing squads. However, the last time that method was used was in 2010.

In Tennessee, condemned inmates whose crimes occurred before 1999 can opt for the electric chair. Tennessee is 1 of 6 states that allow such a choice, according to a database from the Death Penalty Information Center.

3 others allow the electric chair as a backup method.

The last state other than Tennessee to carry out an execution by electrocution was Virginia in 2013, according to Death Penalty Information Center data.

No state now uses electrocution as its main execution method, according to the center, which doesn't take a stand on the death penalty but has been critical of its application.

Georgia and Nebraska courts have ruled the electric chair unconstitutional. About two decades ago it looked as if the U.S. Supreme Court would weigh in on the issue. It agreed to hear a Florida case after a series of botched executions there. But Florida adopted lethal injection, and the case was dropped.

West was convicted of the 1986 kidnapping and stabbing deaths of a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, and of raping the teen. West has said his then-17-year-old accomplice killed both victims. The co-defendant received a life sentence, with parole possible in 2030.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has denied West's clemency application, which also said West takes powerful medication to treat mental illness

(source: Associated Press)


Judge: Captured Tennessee inmate could face death penalty

A Tennessee convict accused of killing a corrections administrator and escaping prison could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, a judge told the prisoner Wednesday.

Curtis Ray Watson appeared before Judge Janice Craig in a video arraignment in Lauderdale County court. Craig told Watson that he is charged with especially aggravated burglary, aggravated sexual assault and escape in addition to the murder charge.

Lauderdale County District Attorney Mark Davidson said his office is considering seeking capital punishment, but a decision would come only after Watson is formally indicted when a grand jury convenes in October. Watson, 44, would face life in prison if the state does not seek death and he is found guilty of 1st-degree murder.

Watson's court-appointed public defender Bo Burk made no comments in court and a plea was not entered. Watson's preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 25.

Watson was brought to the Lauderdale County Justice Center from a jail in another county but he did not appear in person before the judge after his lawyer requested the video arraignment. Only the judge was able to see Watson through her bench camera.

Watson was on lawn mowing duties at West Tennessee State Penitentiary on Aug. 7 when he went to Debra Johnson's home on prison grounds and killed the 64-year-old corrections administrator, authorities said. Johnson's body was found in the home with a cord wrapped around her neck, according to court documents.

Watson then escaped on a tractor, which was later found near the prison, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.

Watson eluded authorities for 4 days until his arrest Sunday. He was arrested hours after he was recorded on surveillance cameras outside a home in Henning, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the prison.

Watson has been serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping. He also had been previously convicted of aggravated child abuse. Watson had access to a tractor and a golf cart as a "trusty" — an inmate granted special privileges as a trustworthy person, authorities said.

Gov. Bill Lee said Monday that Tennessee prison officials followed protocol prior to Watson's escape. But he added that his administration wants to examine the Department of Correction protocols involved in the escape.

(source: Associated Press)


Conservative Group Pushes for Death Penalty Alternatives

A group of conservatives in Tennessee are speaking out against the death penalty. State officials began executions again in Tennessee last year and another execution is scheduled for Thursday night, August 15th.

Nashville resident Amy Lawrence, state coordinator of Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a news release, that the death penalty goes against the “basic tenets” of the group’s beliefs, that ”murders should be followed with swift and sure justice,” and that a change in thinking is taking place now on the death penalty in red-state legislatures.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced yesterday that he will not intervene in Thursday’s scheduled execution of Tennessee death-row inmate Stephen Michael West. According to The Tennessean, West was moved into a cell next to the execution chamber in Nashville yesterday and will order his last meal sometime today.

“After thorough consideration of Stephen West’s request for clemency and a review of the case, the state of Tennessee’s sentence will stand, and I will not be intervening,” Lee said in a statement Tuesday.

West was convicted for the 1986 murders of a woman and her 15-year-old child in Union County, according to The Tennessean. West was also convicted of raping the young girl and inflicting 17 “torture-type cuts” to her stomach, according to the paper.

West argued he was present during the murders but he didn’t do it. Instead, he said it was the work of a friend of his from work.

West’s will be the state’s fifth execution since state officials began scheduling them again last year. Before that, the state’s last execution was in 2010, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There are now 56 prisoners on death row in Tennessee.

Next month, New Orleans will host the first annual national meeting of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Lawrence and others from Tennessee will attend. She spoke with us regarding her group and its aims. — Toby Sells

Memphis Flyer: How does the death penalty violate the basic tenets of your group’s beliefs?

Amy Lawrence: I believe that the core tenet of conservatism is small, limited government, and as conservatives, we apply this concept to a variety of issues, whether that be taxation, healthcare, or regulations. This is the same tenet that should be applied to capital punishment.

Simply put, the death penalty is anything but small, limited government. It is a prime example of a bloated, broken government program. It is costly, it risks executing an innocent person, and it leaves the ultimate power over life and death in the hands of a fallible system.

MF: You also said that, “murders should be followed with swift and sure justice.” What does that justice look like to you?

AL: Well, it sure doesn't look like years of appeals and decades of court proceedings for the victims' family members.

The death penalty does not provide swift and sure justice but instead drags families through decades of litigation, where in at least 1/2 the cases in Tennessee, the sentence is overturned and the convicted receives a life sentence anyway.

Life without parole begins as soon as the trial is over and allows families to at least have some legal finality.

MF: What alternatives to the death penalty does your group hope lawmakers will consider?

The death penalty does not provide swift and sure justice.

AL: Tennessee already has a life sentence of 51 years before parole eligibility and life without parole, which does not allow for parole ever. These are the two sentences that the majority of murderers already receive.

Death sentences are on the decline statewide and have been for some years with roughly only 2 death sentences in Tennessee between 2013-2018. More and more prosecutors seek the alternative sentences because of the cost of seeking the death penalty and to spare victims' families while juries are also less likely to impose death sentences.

MF: Is an alternative to the death penalty a hard sell in the broader conservative community?

AL: I really focus on what unites conservatives on this issue — limited government, fiscal responsibility, and pro-life stances.

We know that government and human decisions are error-prone. We simply cannot guarantee that we can carry out capital punishment with 100 % accuracy. While the punishment might be just in some circumstances, we cannot carry it out justly.

We also have limited resources and with death sentences costing $1 to $2 million more than life without parole. I think the majority of people would support having those resources go towards victims' compensation, law enforcement, and mental health programs.

MF: What is the next step for your group in this push?

AL: We continue to educate the public about the shortcomings of our system and will continue to push for laws to make the system more just.

MF: Is there anything else you’d like to say or anything I left out?

AL: Absolutely! If you would like to learn more about our organization, check out our website I'm also happy to talk to civic groups and faith communities about this work.



Prosecutors lose bid to seek death penalty against immigrant

Prosecutors have lost another bid to seek the death penalty against a Mexican immigrant charged with murder in the 2015 shooting death of a convenience store clerk in metro Phoenix.

The Arizona Court of Appeals last week denied a request by prosecutors to reinstate their effort to seek the death penalty against Apolinar Altamirano in the killing of 21-year-old clerk Grant Ronnebeck.

Prosecutors had appealed a decision by a lower-court judge in early July that said prosecutors could no longer seek the death penalty because Altamirano is intellectually disabled.

The case against Altamirano has been cited by President Donald Trump, who has railed against crimes committed against American citizens by immigrants who are the United States illegally.

Altamirano has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in Ronnebeck's death.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty upheld in 1985 slaying of San Quentin guard, despite recantation

Despite finding that prosecution witnesses had recanted their testimony and lied under oath, the California Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a San Quentin inmate for taking part in the fatal stabbing of a prison guard in 1985.

Jarvis Masters was one of three prisoners, all members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang, convicted of murdering Sgt. Dean Burchfield, 38. Andre Johnson, who stabbed Burchfield, and Lawrence Woodard, convicted of ordering the killing, were sentenced to life without parole. Prosecution witnesses said Masters took part in the planning, sharpened the knife and gave it to Johnson.

After the trial, however, three prosecution witnesses said they had testified falsely. The key witness, Rufus Willis, who testified that Masters had helped plot the killing and had written an incriminating note, said in a post-trial statement that a prosecutor had threatened to return him to prison unless he cooperated, a transfer that would have been lethal because of his role as an informer.

Another witness, Bobby Evans, said he had failed to disclose a prosecution promise of leniency in his own case. Masters’ co-defendants also submitted statements saying he had not been involved.

Masters had been serving a sentence for teenage robberies in the Los Angeles area at the time of the killing. Now 57, he has become a Buddhist on Death Row, counsels other inmates and has written two books in prison, gaining plaudits from Bishop Desmond Tutu and Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent opponent of the death penalty.

The court upheld his conviction and death sentence on appeal in 2016 but referred his post-trial allegations to a former Marin County judge, Lynn Duryee. After hearing further testimony, she concluded that the central prosecution witnesses against Masters were “liars with highly unreliable and selective memories” as well as “career criminals” and “well-known snitches”— and that their recantations were no more believable than their trial testimony.

The court accepted those findings Monday and reaffirmed Masters’ conviction and sentence.

Masters may have shown that his main accusing witnesses “generally are liars,” Justice Goodwin Liu said in the 7-0 ruling, “but he does not offer any persuasive reason to credit their recantations over their trial testimony.”

Liu said Masters’ lawyers had extensively challenged the credibility of his main accuser, Willis, during the trial, and also presented evidence that Evans had been an informant in other cases. The jury heard that evidence and found Masters guilty, Liu said, and the additional evidence presented to Duryee would not have changed the outcome.

Liu also issued a separate opinion, joined by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, saying it was “understandable why Masters finds (Duryee’s) report unsettling” in view of the lies she attributed to the chief prosecution witnesses. Noting that Masters’ sentence was harsher than those of the actual killers, Liu said the case did not offer the court an opportunity to consider whether such verdicts “may be indicative of arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty.”

Joseph Baxter, a lawyer for Masters, called the ruling “absurd.”

“The court is saying, if the case is rotten to the core, it doesn’t matter, because the court can’t tell if you’re lying now or if you were lying then,” Baxter said. If the jury had heard evidence that Willis was a liar and Evans was “on the government payroll” as an informant, he said, the outcome would have been different.

“Jarvis Masters has never had a fair trial,” Baxter asserted. He said he may ask the court for a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the case could also be taken to U.S. District Court.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


Senator to push for special session to fix ‘mistake’ in Oregon’s death penalty bill

A legislator who helped pass a new law limiting the crimes eligible for capital punishment was engaged in damage control Wednesday after a top government lawyer said the law applies to past aggravated murder cases despite assurances that the law wasn’t “retroactive.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he will ask Gov. Kate Brown to call a special session to make sure the legislation, Senate Bill 1013, doesn’t cover death penalty cases sent back to lower courts for new sentencing hearings.

Oregon’s new law limiting the death penalty applies to past cases, new legal opinion says

State legislators this year assured Oregonians that a new law significantly limiting the death penalty in Oregon wouldn’t apply to death row cases returned to lower courts for retrial or new sentencing hearings. Now, a top lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice has told prosecutors that the law does indeed affect those cases -- and pending aggravated murder cases as well.

“Everyone that was in the process -- and you can hear whenever anyone talked about it -- was the intent was it was not retroactive,” Prozanski said.

But “retroactive” apparently means different things to different people. Prozanski offered a narrow interpretation, while prosecutors assumed it meant all past cases were off limits. The Oregon Department of Justice, meanwhile, said the law applies more broadly to past and pending cases.

On Wednesday, Prozanski explained, that he didn’t mean for SB 1013 to apply to a subset of death penalty cases -- those sent back to lower courts for new sentences. He said he did, however, intend for it to apply to pending cases and aggravated murder convictions sent back to lower courts for new trials.

But prosecutors said Prozanski’s and Rep. Jennifer Williamson’s references to retroactivity made no such distinction.

“I think a reasonable understanding of ‘It’s not retroactive’ is it’s going to apply to crimes going forward,” Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said.

In a recent email to prosecutors, the Oregon Department of Justice’s solicitor general said the state’s new aggravated murder law applies to new sentencing hearings in capital cases as well as to pending cases -- an opinion that sent Barton and other district attorneys reeling.

It’s not unusual for aggravated murder convictions or death sentences to be overturned on appeal. In the past 21/2 years, seven cases have been reversed. None of the 31 people on Oregon’s death row have exhausted their court challenges.

The new law narrows the definition of aggravated murder, which is the only crime in Oregon eligible for a death sentence. Aggravated murder is now limited to defendants who kill two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; kill a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation; kill another person while locked in jail or prison for a previous murder; or kill a police, correctional or probation officer.

During the legislative session, Williamson, D-Portland, responded to concerns about how the law would be applied.

“I want to make a couple things clear about this law, or this legislation, which is first it is not retroactive,” she said in a speech on June 19 before the Oregon House passed SB 1013. “It applies to aggravated murder cases going forward.”

Williamson also last month told The Oregonian/OregonLive that an unrelated bill, Senate Bill 1005, would ensure that SB 1013 wouldn’t apply to defendants who have previously been sentenced but who have been granted reversals.

Williamson, who is a lawyer, said lawmakers wanted their intent to be clear so they added the language, on the advice of legislative lawyers, after the aggravated murder bill had already passed both houses.

Williamson on Wednesday didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. It’s unclear where the governor stands on the matter. Brown’s staff did not respond to emails or a phone call asking whether the governor supports Prozanski’s call for a special session.

Prozanski, an attorney, said he was surprised to learn of the recent Justice Department opinion and described the disconnect between lawmakers’ intent and the bill’s language as “a drafting error” that should be fixed before the law’s Sept. 29 effective date.

“This was an oversight, a mistake that was made just like we have seen on multiple bills that we’ve had before us,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that this was made because most of us were under the belief as to how it was written was going to accomplish what our intent was.”

In Solicitor General Benjamin’s Gutman’s email to prosecutors, he wrote that the provisions of the new statute “apply to crimes committed before, on or after the effective date” and have sentencing dates on or after Sept. 29.

“Thus,” he wrote, “if the case has sentencing proceedings after September, regardless what happened in the case before, the new provisions apply.”

The issue came up during the agency’s review of a Washington County trial court ruling last week involving Martin Allen Johnson who authorities say raped and murdered a 15-year-old Tigard girl in 1998 before throwing her body off an Astoria bridge.

As soon as Brown signed the bill into law, Johnson’s lawyers raised the issue of whether it applies to their client. Circuit Judge Eric Butterfield determined that Johnson’s crime no longer qualifies as aggravated murder under the new law and therefore he isn’t eligible for the death penalty.

Jeff Ellis, a lawyer and director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center, said 3 bills -- SB 1013 and SB 1005 on the death penalty as well SB 1008 on juvenile justice have some overlap -- but it’s clear the aggravated murder statute applies to pending cases, as well as those sent back for new trials and sentencing hearings.

“It’s very clear,” Ellis said. “Solicitor General Gutman wasn’t the first person to come to that conclusion. I came to that conclusion a long time ago.

“And look, it does take some amount of reading,” he said. “There are a lot of provisions there and it’s always difficult when you are trying to read three bills and understand exactly how they interact with each other.”



Voters should have final say on death penalty

Gov. Kate Brown last week signed a bill that narrows Oregon’s use of the death penalty by limiting the crimes that qualify for capital punishment.

The bill likely won’t make that much difference in Oregon, a state that has not executed a prisoner since 1997 and doesn’t seem poised to do so anytime soon. Brown has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment that was first put into place by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The bill was crafted in such a way that the issue didn’t have to be referred to voters. In that regard, it represents a missed opportunity. Voters should have gotten the chance to weigh in, not just on this issue, but on the larger question: Should Oregon continue to keep capital punishment on the books?

The bill Brown signed carefully skates around that question; it fact, it was crafted to do that. Previously, the death sentence in Oregon could be applied to cases of aggravated murder, which includes crimes such as killing on-duty police officers or slayings committed during a rape or robbery. Now, those crimes will receive sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty in Oregon now can only be applied in 4 types of crimes: killings motivated by terrorism, murders of children 14 years or younger, killings by an incarcerated person who’s serving a previous aggravated murder sentence and premeditated killings of police or corrections officers.

The law is not retroactive and will not apply to the 30 people on Oregon’s death row.

It seems obvious that lawmakers were looking for a way to avoid asking the broader question about whether the state should follow the example of other states and do away with capital punishment. But we don’t understand their reluctance, unless lawmakers thought that Oregonians were likely to reject any attempt to ban the death penalty.

We’re not so sure that’s the case, considering Oregonians’ long and twisty history with the death penalty. Capital punishment was outlawed by Oregon voters in 1914 and then reenacted in 1978. 3 years later, the state Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, a ruling that paved the way for a 1984 initiative in which voters reaffirmed capital punishment.

Since then, the topic rarely has been revisited in Oregon, and the gubernatorial moratoriums have had the effect of sweeping the debate about capital punishment under the rug. It would have been an easy matter to refer the measure, Senate Bill 1013, to the state’s voters. Or death penalty opponents could have moved to place the broader question on a statewide ballot.

That last option still is available to legislators — or, for that matter, to any group of citizens with the interest, time and money required to place an initiative on the statewide ballot. But surely there is a lawmaker willing to take a stab at referring the big question to voters; certainly, the discussion that would result is long overdue.

(source: Albany Democrat-Herald)


Opinion: New Oregon death penalty rules affect old cases

A recent opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice that a former death row inmate cannot be sentenced to death upon retrial because of a new law curbing the use of the death penalty has the state's prosecutors working to determine how many murder cases might be affected.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Benjamin Gutman, Oregon's solicitor general, wrote the email to prosecutors, which was distributed Friday and later obtained by the newspaper.

Gutman said the issue came up during the agency's review of a Washington County trial court ruling last week involving Martin Allen Johnson who authorities say raped and murdered a 15-year-old Tigard girl in 1998 before throwing her body off an Astoria bridge.

As soon as Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1013, which limits the crimes eligible for the death penalty, Johnson's lawyers raised the issue of whether the law applies to their client. Circuit Judge Eric Butterfield determined that Johnson's crime no longer qualifies as aggravated murder under the new law and therefore he isn't eligible for the death penalty.

"I know that I have had conversations with many of you in which I suggested otherwise but after careful review of the issue, we have concluded that we don't have a plausible basis for an appeal," Gutman wrote.

It is unclear how the opinion will affect some of the state's most notorious cases.

The new law narrows the definition of aggravated murder, which is the only crime in Oregon eligible for a death sentence. Aggravated murder is now limited to defendants who kill two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; kill a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation; kill another person while locked in jail or prison for a previous murder; or kill a police, correctional or probation officer.

Gutman, who as solicitor general oversees the state's appellate division, said the Justice Department's analysis has broad implications. Lawyers for the agency handle all appeals for criminal cases.

He sent the email to prosecutors with aggravated murder cases that have been sent back for retrial.

"I thought all of your offices would want to know about our conclusion because it also means that we do not think we could defend a death sentence (or even an aggravated murder conviction) obtained in any of the pending cases even if the trial courts were to rule differently than the court" in the Washington County case, he wrote.

Tim Colahan, executive director of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, and other prosecutors said the opinion has injected uncertainty into the most serious cases and undermined the families of murder victims.

District attorneys are trying to determine how many cases may be affected by the opinion, he said.

(source: Associated Press)


“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. Last month, Attorney General William Barr ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963, the last being in 2003. On Monday, Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: We will be proposing legislation providing that in cases of mass murder or in cases of murder of a law enforcement officer, there will be a strict timetable for judicial proceedings that will allow the imposition of the death sentence without undue delay. Punishment must be swift.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Barr’s comments echoed President Trump’s remarks from last week in the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton shootings.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today, I am also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, more 160 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death have been exonerated since 1973. The death penalty has been abolished in 106 countries, while another 28 have moratoriums or effectively do not use the practice. The United Nations has called for a global ban on the practice, and Amnesty International calls it “the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Sister Helen Prejean, one of the world’s most well-known anti-death-penalty activists. As a Catholic nun, she began her prison ministry almost 40 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty. The book was turned into the Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Her new book is just out this week. It’s called River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey. Sister Helen Prejean is also the founder of Survive, a victims’ advocacy group in New Orleans. She continues to counsel not only prisoners on death row, but also the families of murder victims.

Sister Helen Prejean, it’s great to have you back here in our New York studios.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Great to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Congratulations on your book, as you hear, in the last weeks, the surprise announcement of the Attorney General William Barr that they are basically restarting the federal death penalty, and they immediately said they would kill five prisoners who have been on federal death row, and then, in the wake of the El Paso and the Dayton killings, saying — Barr just announcing that he will particularly go after mass shooters. In this country, it may be that many people agree with him. What are your thoughts?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, I’m not surprised that William Barr did this or the Trump administration wants to expedite federal executions. It’s their whole way of approaching everything, that the way is through violence to try to solve social problems.

The federal death penalty is not going to be any more equal justice under law than the state death penalties have been. The mood in the country is to shut the death penalty down, first in practice and then gradually, state by state, to repeal it. The way the federal death penalty has always worked, it’s been up to the discretion of individual federal prosecutors. So, we’ve had, side by side, whereas in Manhattan, in New York, the federal prosecutors never went for the death penalty, over in Texas, they were always going for the death penalty. And this will be no different.

So, I’m not at all surprised they’re doing it. They also seem to have no understanding about how the courts work. They can claim all they want that they’re going to fast-track this and speed up these executions, but there is the Constitution, and there are the appeals. And so, I’ve been talking to federal defenders of these cases. And, of course, they’re going to do everything they can to save their client’s life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in your new book, it’s more of a recounting of your life story in terms of how — your own journey, from a child in Louisiana, was this? Could you talk about how you developed, first in your ministry and when you decided to go into prison ministry?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s called River of Fire. And the epigraph in it is from Saint Bonaventure: “Ask not for understanding, ask for the fire.” The fire part was when the passion in my own soul erupted, that I can’t just ask God to solve the problems of the world, or just be charitable to the people around me, but that the deepest dimensions of the gospel of Jesus called me to justice. So I got involved with poor people in New Orleans, African Americans, who became my teachers, helped me understand what white privilege is, helped me understand what institutional racism.

And it’s while I was in that soil, in that terrain, living among African-American people struggling against poverty and racism, I got an invitation one day to write a man on death row. I never dreamed he was going to be executed. It was in the early '80s, and we hadn't had an execution in 20 years. I wrote a letter to him. He wrote back. And 2 1/2 years later, he was executed.

And that’s the fire, because, I describe it in the preface in the book: “They killed a man with fire one night. They strapped him in a wooden chair and pumped electricity through his body until he was dead. His killing was a legal act. No religious leaders protested the killing that night. But I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. And what I saw set my soul on fire, a fire that burns in me still.”

So I trace my journey of spiritual awakening from private religion, being apolitical, to rolling up my sleeves and getting engaged. If justice is going to come, then we have to be the ones to do it, and in our democracy, in our country. So I’ve had constant dialogue with my church, the Catholic Church — people, first of all, also the hierarchy, but mostly the people. And I’ve seen how that dialogue pays off. Finally, on August 2nd, 2018, after 1,600 years, Pope Francis declared, under no conditions could we ever trust governments to execute their citizens. So, when you love your country, when you love your church, you keep a constant dialogue of what needs to change and helping to make that change happen.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back in time to that film that so rocked this nation, Dead Man Walking, that starred Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, based on your first book. I wanted to go to a trailer of that film.

ASSISTANT DA: This man shot Walter Delacroix two times in the back of his dead and raped Hope Percy and stabbed her 17 times. In the courtroom and at sentencing, he was smiling and chewing his gum. He is an unfeeling, perverse misfit, and it is time.

CHAPLAIN: You have put in a request to be the spiritual adviser to Matthew Poncelet. This boy is to be executed in 6 days. You must be very, very careful.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: [played by Susan Sarandon] Well, Matthew, I made it.

MATTHEW PONCELET: [played by Sean Penn] You’ve never done this before?


MATTHEW PONCELET: You’ve never been this close to a murderer before?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Not that I know of.

WARDEN: What is a nun doing in a place like this?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: I just want to help him take responsibility for what he did.

MATTHEW PONCELET: I like being alone with you. You’re looking real good to me.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Death is breathing down your neck, and you’re playing your little man-on-the-make games.

REPORTER: You’re a white supremacist, a follower of Hitler?

MATTHEW PONCELET: Hitler was a leader. He was on the right track that the Aryan was the master race.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: You are making it so easy for them to kill you, coming across as some kind of a crazed, animal, Nazi, racist mad dog who deserves to die.

MATTHEW PONCELET: You can leave.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: I’m not going to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED: You want to be there to comfort him when he dies? This is an evil man.

MATTHEW PONCELET: I didn’t kill him. I didn’t kill nobody. I swear to God I didn’t.

I ain’t gonna get no chair, Daddy.

I’m pissed off at them kids for being parked out in the woods that night, pissed off at their parents for coming to see me die.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: You blame the government. You blame drugs. You blame blacks. What about Matthew Poncelet? What? Is he just an innocent?

If you do die, as your friend, I want to help you die with dignity. And I don’t see how you can do that unless you start to own up to the part you played in Walter and Hope’s death.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have the trailer for Dead Man Walking. Susan Sarandon would win best actress playing you; she won the Oscar for that. And Tim Robbins directed. Bruce Springsteen wrote the music. Everyone was nominated. I mean, the power of this film was the power of your accompaniment, the story that is real, and how you started on that process and go through it ’til today. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the convicted bomber of the Boston Marathon, one of the focuses of the new discussion about reviving the federal death penalty, you met with him five times in 2015, and you testified on his behalf, saying, “I presented him as a human being.” Talk about what drives you to do this work. What is it like to meet these prisoners, to accompany them to their death?

/ SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, it’s human rights, that human beings can never be identified solely with their actions, that everybody is worth more than the worst thing they’ve ever done. So, like at Dzhokhar’s trial, all prosecution wanted to do was demonize him.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the Boston Marathon bomber.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yeah, the Boston Marathon, and he was the younger brother. All I said, all the words I could get before the jury were, “He’s a human being, and he felt sorrow for what he did.” And I showed why I could say that. And it’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Why could you say that?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Because I had met him. And I, at some point — and this came out and the testimony — I just said, “Dzhokhar, do you hate us all? Would you drop a bomb on all of us?” And he lowered his eyes like this, and he just said, “No, of course not. Nobody deserves to die like that.”

So, you had to be so careful in the language. The prosecutor was holding me to just the language you could use, the judge and so forth. But it’s with everybody I’ve accompanied to death. Some of them, most of them, were guilty. Two of them were innocent because it’s so broken. And they have done despicable things. But the death penalty is about us.

And more and more people are standing up now, including guards and wardens, who have been close to the killing process. We haven’t had an execution in Louisiana in 17 years. There’s no official thing that has said we’re not going to kill people. And that’s going on across the country, a lot of times because the guards who have had to do the killing, and the wardens, don’t want to do it anymore, because it does nothing. And they are so close.

And that’s been the heart of the conversation in the Catholic Church. And I said to Pope John Paul II, I said, “Does the Catholic Church only uphold the dignity of innocent life? Well, when I’m walking with a man to execution, and he’s shackled hand and foot, and he’s surrounded by six guards, and they’re going to walk him down this hall and strap him down and kill him, and he kind of turns to me and says, 'Sister, please pray God holds up my legs.' Can you help the church uphold the dignity of all life, that to take a human being and render them defenseless and kill them can never be justified?” And so, Pope John Paul was the first one, and then Pope Francis finally moved it to completion and said, under no circumstances can we ever allow the state to kill. It’s human rights that drives me, because I get to meet the human beings.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Have you been surprised by the gradual shift in public opinion in this country, and also the fact that most Americans don’t realize what an outlier the United States is compared to —


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — the rest of the countries in the world on this issue?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: No, absolutely. You know what? When I came out of that execution chamber, when Pat Sonnier — he was the first — had just been killed, it was the middle of the night. I threw up. I had never in my life seen anything like this. And I remember thinking very clearly, the people are never going to be brought close to this. There had been two court cases to try to make executions public. They’re removed from it. They’re made to be afraid: These murderers are evil; they’re going to come kill you; they’re going to get out; they’ll kill people in prison. And you make people afraid, and you keep them from seeing what actually happens.

So that’s why I wrote Dead Man Walking and why I’ve been out talking to the American people, mostly through story, to bring them close like. The death penalty is about us. People are going to do terrible crimes. But we have the most premeditated protocol of taking a person, rendering them defenseless and killing them. We’re better than that. And most of the people I have — in all of these 50 states I’ve been in, they say, “Well, we didn’t know it was like that.” Bring the people close to the reality. They have good hearts, and they get it. And so, I’ve been very gratified to see that happening.

AMY GOODMAN: You said, after you accompanied the first man, Dead Man Walking, that the film is based on, Patrick, that you were sorry at the time you hadn’t reached out more to the families of the victims. But that is something you have done now a great deal over these years. Talk about that experience.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: You know, I had a great editor, Jason Epstein, when I wrote Dead Man Walking. And when he saw in the first draft that I had kind of downplayed not reaching out to the victim’s family, said I had never done this before, I was so in the human rights of the person being executed, and he said, “Helen, you’re letting yourself off really easy here.” He said, “It was cowardice, wasn’t it? You were scared.” That was absolutely true. And he said, “You need to go back, and you need to rewrite that. Just say what a great mistake it was not to reach out to the victim’s family.”

And see, I just thought they would hate me so much because I was opposed to the execution. And I was wrong. One of the families did in fact take that position. But Lloyd LeBlanc, whom I consider the hero in Dead Man Walking, his son David, 17, had been killed, and he confronted me, when we met, and he said, “Sister, all this time you’ve been visiting those two brothers, you didn’t come see us. You can’t believe the pressure we’re under,” and that I had made a great mistake: I hadn’t reached out to him. And he was the first one who began to teach me.

And then we started the group Survive, to help murder victims’ families. They are the ones rising up more and more, helping to end the death penalty. When New Jersey did away with the death penalty in their Legislature 12 years ago, 62 murder victims’ families said, “Don’t kill for us. The death penalty revictimizes us. We need to be able to grieve, and we need to be able to move on, but you put us in a holding pattern of 15, 20 years waiting for this justice that never happens.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And all of these prisoners on death row, who are, in essence, awaiting their execution, the continued growth of the, quote, “death row population,” even as you say many states are not going through with their executions, what’s your sense of their lives, as well, on death row?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Well, it’s like a living death in so many ways, because you are waiting for death to come. You’re in an extremely confined environment, like the death row cells in Louisiana. It’s summer. It’s so hot. And constantly, the constant noise. All that you are subjected to, waiting to be killed. And you’re considered disposable human waste. You get a thousand signals a day that you’re not worth anything.

That’s so opposite of what I’ve — you know, what Jesus is about, what Christianity is about. And when I hear religion quoted, like Jeff Sessions, ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just did to justify the separation of children from their parents at the border, pulling in a religious quote from Romans 13, that if something is the law, God’s behind it. It’s with the authority of God. I hate to see Christianity used like this. And I’ve actually had people say, like a member of the pardon board in Louisiana, “Well, Jesus was executed for our sins. If he hadn’t been executed by the Romans, we wouldn’t be saved. We’ve got to have executions.” Like, the image of God behind that is a wrathful God whose sense of justice has been offended and demands a sacrificial death. What kind of God is that? We’ve got to get Jesus right. We’ve got to get Christianity right. And I hate to see religion used to justify violence. It’s the opposite of what Jesus was about.

AMY GOODMAN: You have the federal government, President Trump and William Barr, saying they’re going to resume federal death penalty cases, executions, after almost 20 years. Yet you have the states, one by one — we are, in this country, almost at a majority of states that are saying no to the death penalty.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Because the Trump administration feels they have absolute power and they could do whatever they want, so they declare, “Well, we’re going to do this.” And we notice a pattern that often the Trump administration has made declarations of what they’re going to do to immigrants or the Muslim ban, and they have no understanding of the courts and the constitutional rights.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN: Yes. So, please, God, that federal defenders will be in there using the Constitution to block this and to slow it down and make it not happen.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do Part 2 of our discussion and post it online at Sister Helen Prejean is the author of River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey. This follows her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty. That does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is Democracy Now!



Iranian Regime Continues to Use the Death Penalty

The Iranian regime’s use of the death penalty as a punishment is something that concerns human rights organisations all over the world. Despite constant calls for the Iranian regime to stop resorting to the use of execution, the practice still continues on a regular basis.

It was reported that 2 prisoners were hanged on Saturday 10th August. The prisoners were not named in state media, but they were incarcerated in the central prison of Mashhad.

Last week, five prisoners in the Raja’i Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison in the city of Karaj were hanged. They were transferred to solitary confinement before their executions took place. They have been identified as Mohammad-Reza Shekari, Yousof Zakeri, Majid Arabali, Hossein Panjeh-Maryam and Bahram Tork.

Iran Human Rights Monitor has reported that there have been 39 executions during the month of July. Four of these were women and one was done in public. The human rights organisation said that executions took place in a number of prisons across the country.

The organisation’s annual report for 2018 said that there were almost three hundred executions that year alone. At least 4 of these were women and 10 were political prisoners. Furthermore, a handful of these executions were on prisoners who were minors at the time of the alleged crime.

The Iranian regime uses execution as a means of supressing the people and trying to threaten them into silence. However, the people of Iran have been so badly mistreated by the regime for so many years that they are risking everything – arrest, torture, imprisonment and execution – to make sure that their voices are heard.

The human rights situation in the country is deplorable and the most basic of freedoms are denied to the people. Minorities face harsh discrimination, especially religious and ethnic minorities. Human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, women and many more sectors of society are targeted by the regime that is unable to cope with the high levels of discontent and dissent.

The people have been calling for regime change because they know that the only way they will ever have their human rights respected is if the regime falls and is replaced by an alternative that will not discriminate.

Human rights organisations have drawn attention to the Iranian regime’s use of violence against protesters. Amnesty International highlighted the mistreatment of the people of Iran in its annual human rights report. It said that during the major nationwide protests in which tens of thousands of Iranian men and women protested about their situation, thousands were arrested.

Iranians across the country took to the streets to protest against the repression, poverty and corruption that they face. During the protests, the security forces were seen beating protesters, using water cannons and tear gas, and firing on them. No one has been held responsible for the brutality against the protesters.

Amnesty International said that Iran is one of “the world’s most prolific users of the death penalty” and deplored its practice of executing individuals that were under the age of 18 at the time the alleged crime was committed.



France Clashes With UN Human Rights Expert Over ISIS Suspects' Trials in Iraq

The French government is pushing back on criticism from a U.N. human rights expert over the fact French citizens who joined ISIS are standing trial in Iraq, a country with a death penalty.

Agnès Callamard, the U.N. “special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” urged Paris this week to repatriate seven French jihadists who have been sentenced to death in Iraq.

Public opinion in France remains opposed to the repatriation of French jihadists. ISIS has carried out several deadly attacks in France, including those in late 2015, when terrorists killed 130 people over 3 hours at a concert hall, sports stadium and restaurants in the French capital.

Callamard, who met with the jihadists in prison, sent a letter to the French government criticizing the suspects’ transfer early this year from Syria – where they had been held by Kurdish forces – to Iraq.

“France and the [anti-ISIS] coalition organized and sponsored this,” she charged, adding that the Syrian Kurds who had been holding them had opposed the transfer, favoring instead the establishment of an international tribunal in northeastern Syria, to deal with captured jihadists.

According to media accounts, the Kurds had little choice but to comply, as they lacked the resources to put the suspects on trial themselves – and in any case, France and other countries refused to allow Kurdish courts to try their nationals, since the Kurdish administration is not internationally recognized.

“There are serious allegations that the sentences were handed down following unfair trials, with the accused having no adequate legal representation or effective consular assistance,” Callamard wrote.

She noted that France does not want to judge its citizens who joined ISIS, but at the same time is opposed in principle to the death penalty.

Responding to the letter, the French foreign ministry of foreign affairs denied any involvement on the part of the French government in the transfer of the suspects to Iraq.

It said Callamard’s accusations were not supported by the facts, dismissing them as “pure speculation.”

It added that French jihadists imprisoned in Iraq have the same rights as French citizens in the same situation anywhere else in the world, and said consulate officials were closely following the cases.

FranceInfo TV this week said it had interviewed a Kurdish judge in Syria who, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Kurds had not wanted to transfer the French jihadists to Iraq – a country with the death penalty – but that France and the coalition organized and sponsored the transfers.

Callamard told the Le Monde daily that she found claims of France’s involvement to be credible, saying that the jihadist suspects told their families and lawyers they had seen French officials during their transfer. She said she also obtained testimonies from several unrelated sources in Syria and Iraq.

French lawyer Nabil Boubi, who represents seven of the jihadists imprisoned in Iraq, has for months been seeking answers to questions about how they had ended up in Iraq, and what role France had played.

Boubi has also criticized the speed of the trials, saying trial hearing typically lasted 20 minutes, with between 1 and 3 minutes of deliberation for each case. No French lawyer representing the men had been allowed access to them, he said.

The French government has not commented on claims, reported earlier this summer, that Iraq had offered to commute the death sentences in return for military equipment and millions of dollars from France.

Callamard charged that if France was involved in the prisoner transfers, that would have been a violation of “an absolute norm in international law which is that a state without the death penalty can in no way transfer an individual to a country where it continues to be applied.”

France abolished the death penalty in 1981 and has traditionally opposed the executions of its citizens in other countries.



Man on death row for allegedly murdering 12-year-old boy set free by Bombay HC----The court acquitted the convict of all charges, saying the prosecution had failed to prove the offences against him ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

The Bombay high court (HC) on Wednesday set free a 26-year-old embroidery worker, who was on death row for purportedly kidnapping and murdering the 12-year-old son of his former employer.

A bench led by justice BP Dharmadhikari acquitted Imtiyaz Ahmad Mohammed Sadik Ali Shaikh of all charges levelled against him after noting that the prosecution had failed to prove the offences against him “beyond reasonable doubt”. The bench also acquitted his purported accomplice, Azad Mehrunddula Ansari, 28, for want of satisfactory evidence. According to the prosecution, Shaikh, Ansari and three others, including a minor, allegedly abducted Shree, the son of Shaikh’s former employee, Rajesh Bhadange, on May 27, 2012. They demanded a ransom of Rs 25 lakh from Bhadange, who runs an embroidery workshop at Dharavi. Shree’s body was recovered from a drain in Bhiwandi, a day after the 5 men were apprehended on June 5, 2012.

Except the minor, the other four were tried for kidnapping and murdering the minor. An additional sessions judge, had on May 23, 2018, convicted Shaikh and Ansari and sentenced them to life imprisonment, while acquitting the other two. Shaikh and Ansari had then challenged their conviction in the HC.

Their appeals were heard for confirmation of Shaikh’s death sentence.

The HC acquitted both of them of all the charges. It said the prosecution had failed to prove that the phone from which ransom calls were made was used by the accused.

(source: Hindustan Times)


Mental illness issues could make death penalty impossible for Kyoto Animation arsonist

Immediately following the deadly arson attack on anime production company Kyoto Animation last month, police apprehended 41-year-old Shinji Aoba, who was taken into custody near the scene of the crime while saying “They stole my novel” and “I spread the gasoline and lit it with a lighter.”

Aoba, who also suffered burns in the incident, has been hospitalized, and is yet to be formally arraigned. The circumstances under which he was taken into custody, though, as well as security footage of him pushing a cart with two canisters of gasoline in the vicinity of Kyoto Animation’s Fushimi studio prior to the attack, leave little room in which he could plausibly deny being the arsonist. However, his culpability, in a legal sense, could be limited.

In a press conference held the day after the attack, Ryoji Nishiyama, head of the Kyoto Prefectural Police’s First Investigation Department, said “We have information indicating [Aoba] has a mental illness.” The exact nature of the purported illness has yet to be disclosed, but Japanese news organization Daily Shincho spoke with several psychological and legal experts as to how Aoba’s mental health could affect what legal repercussions he could face.

Masaru Wakasa, a lawyer who previously served as vice-director of the Public Prosecutors Office’s Tokyo’s Special Investigation Department, says that if Aoba is found t have been acting under a diminished mental capacity while carrying out the attack, there’s a chance he could be found not guilty, in accordance of Article 39 of the Japanese penal code.

Prominent psychiatrist Tamami Katada said that Aoba exhibited signs of what could be schizophrenia or castrophrenia, also known as “thought withdrawal,” in which a person believes that ideas are being forcefully taken from the their mind by outside forces. Katada goes on to say that such a delusion could have fed into a persecution complex and fueled a desire for violent revenge, culminating in the attack. It’s not clear, though, if Katada’s comments were made before or after Kyoto Animation confirmed that had received a submission Shinji Aoba in one of its regularly held novel-writing competitions.

However, Konan University law professor Osamu Watanabe holds that Aoba’s actions are consistent with someone who was well aware of the lethal effects they would have, and went through with them anyway. He cites the premeditated nature of the attack, which required the purchase and transportation of a large quantity of gasoline, the bag of other tools of destruction, hammers and bladed instruments that Aoba was carrying, and that he was heard by witnesses shouting “Die” during the attack. “It would be strange to say he was even slightly incapable of understanding his actions, and I believe there is ample justification to pursue the death penalty.”

Wakasa is inclined to agree with Watanabe, pointing to how Aoba verbally admitted to setting the fire while he was being apprehended, though the possibility remains that even if Aoba is found guilty, a psychiatric evaluation could make the maximum enforceable punishment life in prison.

Meanwhile, with the specifics of prosecution out of their hands, some Kyoto Animation artists are focusing on their own “ultimate counterattack,” continuing to pour their passion into creating animated works of the quality their fallen comrades strove for.



Tolentino wants white-collar crimes punished by death

White-collar crimes that “leads to massive deception” should also be punishable by death, neophyte Senator Francis Tolentino said on Wednesday.

During the Senate session hours after the Blue Ribbon Committee conducted a hearing into the alleged corruption and anomalies within the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Tolentino called for the expansion of crimes covered by the death penalty.

“There might probably be some elbow room to expand the broad definition of where death penalty should fit in,” the senator said during a manifestation.

“After listening to the fraud, the deceit, the lies, the white-collar activities, crimes to that effect in other jurisdiction, this representation is of the belief that an expansion of the death penalty proposals right now should probably include white collar crimes that lead to massive deception; and fraudulent schemes that should have been prevented” he added.

In June, the Inquirer reported that PhilHealth had lost P154 billion due to overpayments and fraudulent transactions.



Malawi judge sentences 3 to death for albinism murder

3 people have been sentenced to death in Malawi for the murder and mutilation of a person with albinism, a court official confirmed on Wednesday, a sanction the judge said would serve as a strong deterrent.

Malawi is one of the most dangerous countries for people with the condition, who are targeted for ritual killings because of a belief that their body parts can increase wealth.

Douglas Mwale, Sophie Here and Fontino Folosani killed Prescott Pepuzani in 2015, using a metal bar and a hoe handle before chopping off his hands and legs and burying him in Mwale’s garden in Mchinji district, Central Malawi.

Passing sentence on Tuesday at the High Court in Mchinji, Judge Esmey Chombo said it would act as a strong deterrent to others and help put an end to the crime.

Another man was sentenced to death in Malawi in May for murdering a teenager with albinism - the 1st time the death penalty had been handed down in such a case - though he has not been executed.

Malawi operates a moratorium on the death penalty and last carried out an execution in 1992, according to research by Cornell Law School.

The southern African country is home to up to 10,000 people with albinism, a lack of pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes.

Their body parts can fetch high sums in an underground trade concentrated in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania.

There have been more than 160 recorded attacks in Malawi including 22 murders since November 2014, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

The government has denied accusations by rights groups that it is doing little to stop the violence.

Overstone Kondowe, who heads the African Union for People with Albinism, said he hoped the sentence would curb the attacks.

“This is really a big step and we want to encourage the Malawi government to continue (with tough penalties),” he said.

“Whether they will really be hanged or not, it’s not significant. The public will still get the message.”

Kondowe urged the courts to take a similarly tough stance with other pending cases, adding that the murders of people with albinism had fallen in Tanzania, which has imposed the death penalty in similar cases.

(source: Reuters)

AUGUST 14, 2019:


Prosecutors seek death penalty against man accused in murder of Temple friends

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a man accused in the brutal murder of 2 Temple friends in January, KXAN’s sister station KWKT confirmed Tuesday.

Cedric Marks, 45, faces two capital murder charges in the deaths of 28-year-old Jenna Scott and 32-year-old Michael Swearingen. The friends disappeared Jan. 4 and their bodies were found a week later in shallow graves in Oklahoma.

Both victims’ families met with District Attorney Henry Garza on July 10 to suggest he seek the death penalty. He filed a notice to the district clerk Aug. 9 doing just that.

“There is such a thing as righteous anger and we feel that this is a case for righteous anger,” Deborah Harrison, Michael’s mother, told KWKT.

Marks pleaded “absolutely not guilty” of capital murder in January. He also faces tampering with evidence and burglary charges.

2 other people, Maya Maxwell and Ginell McDonough, were also charged in connection with the complex case. Maxwell told police she was in the house when the pair were murdered, though she didn’t see it herself, according to an arrest affidavit. She also told them where to find the bodies.

Officials have not said what penalty will be sought if Maxwell is found guilty.

“We believe she needs to be punished because she did assist in everything and we feel like she could have stopped it,” Harrison said. “But she did help and we would not have recovered the bodies, we would still be wondering where they were had she not cooperated.”

In February, Marks was being extradited from Michigan where he was arrested to Bell County when he escaped custody, prompting a widespread manhunt in Conroe, Texas. After he was caught, he spoke out from behind bars to say he had nothing to do with the murders.

Marks faces other charges besides the capital murder charges and his bond was set at $1.75 million.

(source: KXAN news)

FLORIDA----impending execution

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Death Row Appeal, Next Execution Scheduled For Aug. 22

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected appeals by death row inmate Gary Ray Bowles, who is scheduled to be executed next week for the 1994 murder of a Jacksonville man who was hit in the head with a concrete block and strangled.

Justices unanimously denied a request by Bowles’ attorneys for a stay of the Aug. 22 execution. The attorneys argued in a brief last month that the Supreme Court should order a hearing about whether Bowles is intellectually disabled and, as a result, should be shielded from execution.

But the Supreme Court said Bowles had failed to make a “timely” intellectual disability claim because he did not raise the issue until 2017.

“Bowles waited until October 19, 2017 to raise an intellectual disability claim for the first time,” the court’s 10-page main opinion said. “Therefore, the record conclusively shows that Bowles’ intellectual disability claim is untimely under our precedent.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant in June for Bowles, who would be the 2nd inmate executed since the Republican governor took office in January. Tampa-area serial killer Bobby Joe Long was put to death by lethal injection on May 23 at Florida State Prison.

Bowles, now 57, was sentenced to death in the November 1994 murder of Walter Hinton, who was found dead in his Jacksonville mobile home. Bowles also is serving life sentences for the 1994 murders of John Roberts in Volusia County and Albert Morris in Nassau County. In addition, Bowles confessed to murdering men in Georgia and Maryland, with evidence suggesting he targeted gay men, according to information released in June by the governor’s office.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court opinion gave a brief description of the grisly murder of Hinton.

“Bowles confessed and pleaded guilty to the 1994 murder of Walter Hinton, who had allowed Bowles to move into his home in exchange for Bowles’ help in moving personal items. Specifically, Bowles dropped a concrete block on Hinton’s head while Hinton was sleeping, then manually strangled a conscious Hinton, and subsequently ‘stuffed toilet paper into Hinton’s throat and placed a rag into his mouth,’ ” the opinion said, partially quoting an earlier court ruling.

In addition to raising the intellectual-disability issue, Bowles’ attorneys also contended that Florida’s death penalty violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In a document filed last month, they wrote that “capital punishment as administered in Florida, and as applied in this case, is contrary to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

But the justices turned down the argument, writing that “because the United States Supreme Court has made clear that capital punishment does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment of the federal constitution, we cannot invalidate Bowles’ death sentence as cruel and unusual.”

(source: WLRN news)


Ohio lawmaker proposes using seized fentanyl in executions

An Ohio lawmaker has an innovative solution to the state's problem securing execution drugs: use fentanyl seized by police instead.

Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, is working on legislation to allow Ohio prison officials to obtain fentanyl from drug busts. That option is far more humane than the electric chair or firing squad – options that states are considering as pharmaceutical companies cut off access to execution drugs.

"This is a much less violent way than the electric chair and the latest lethal injection (Dennis McGuire's 2014 death) that took 26 minutes," Wiggam told The Enquirer. "This is a much more humane way."

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid involved in 3,431 overdose deaths in 2017, according to Ohio Department of Health records. Ohio Highway Patrol seized more than 108 pounds of fentanyl in 2018, according to state records.

Wiggam sent out an email requesting support for the proposal from fellow lawmakers, the Columbus Dispatch first reported.

Gov. Mike DeWine has stalled the state's executions while Ohio's prison system seeks an alternative way to execute Death Row inmates. A federal magistrate compared the effects of one of the drugs used, midazolam, to waterboarding.

Abraham Bonowitz, of the national advocacy group Death Penalty Action, said the legislature should stop focusing on the execution method and address problems with Ohio’s death penalty.

Bonowitz said lawmakers have largely ignored a 2014 report from an Ohio Supreme Court task force. The report made 56 recommendations, including requiring a videotaped, voluntary confession from a defendant and that evidence in capital punishment cases be handled by an accredited lab.

Bonowitz said dangerous offenders can be held accountable without being put to death.

“Where this country is going is away from executions, not how we do it,” Bonowitz said.

The state's last execution was Robert Van Hook on July 18, 2018. Van Hook was convicted of killing and disemboweling neighbor David Self in February 1985.

Ohio has scheduled 22 executions through 2022. The next execution is set for Nov. 13. Cleveland Jackson was convicted of killing 17-year-old Leneshia Williams and 3-year-old Jayla Grant in Lima in 2002.

Wiggam said he wanted to focus the discussion about Ohio's death penalty around ways to carry out executions currently required by state law rather than abandoning the process because it was too difficult to find drugs.

"This is certainly a workaround," he said. "This is something that we know can bring deaths quickly to individuals."

Senate President Larry Obhof has said he's happy to explore other options.

"We are all concerned that if you're going to have capital punishment, you should have a process in place that courts are willing to accept and meets constitutional muster," he told The Enquirer earlier this year.

No other state has proposed using seized fentanyl to Wiggam's knowledge.

Nebraska was the first state to use fentanyl as part of an execution in August 2018. The drug was obtained by a license pharmacy in the United States, according to a NPR report.


TENNESSEE----impending execution

Stephen Michael West moved to death watch ahead of Thursday's scheduled execution

Death row inmate Stephen Michael West has been moved into a cell next to the execution chamber, where he is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday night unless Gov. Bill Lee intervenes.

Prison officials announced the move Tuesday, saying West, 56, had been placed on death watch. Death watch is the 3-day period before an execution when a death row inmate is placed under 24-hour observation and stricter rules.

During death watch, West will get daily visits with the prison chaplain. On Wednesday, he will order his last meal.

West is scheduled to die for the 1986 murders of a woman and her 15-year-old daughter in their Union County, Tennessee, home.

Wanda Romines, 51, and Sheila Romines, were both stabbed to death, their hands bound behind their backs.

Sheila had been stabbed 17 times in the stomach. At trial, a forensic pathologist said 14 of those stab wounds were consistent with “torture-type cuts.”

West also was convicted of raping Sheila before she died.

West’s defense team argued he was present during the killings but that a 17-year-old co-defendant, who worked with him at a local McDonald’s restaurant and attended high school with Sheila, actually committed the crimes.

West’s co-defendant pinned the blame on him. West was convicted in 1987 of 1st-degree murder, aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping.

The co-defendant also was convicted and imprisoned, but he was not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the crime.

West has had multiple execution dates that were delayed during his 32 years on death row.

West’s legal team sent Lee a clemency request that argued severe abuse during his childhood doomed his path and should justify mercy.

(source: The Tennessean)


Gov. denies clemency for death row inmate Stephen West----West moved to death watch ahead of scheduled execution

Governor Lee denies clemency for death row inmate Stephen West, who was moved to death watch ahead of Thursday’s scheduled execution.

The governor released the following statement:

“After thorough consideration of Stephen West’s request for clemency and a review of the case, the State of Tennessee’s sentence will stand, and I will not be intervening.”

The Tennessee Department of Correction said West was moved shortly after midnight Tuesday in accordance with death watch protocol – a three-day period in which strict guidelines are implemented to maintain security and control.

West was found guilty of the 1986 kidnapping and stabbing deaths of 51-year-old Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, Sheila Romines, and of raping the teen.

On Tuesday, West's attorneys petitioned for a stay of execution.

He received a death sentence in 1987.

In a clemency plea, attorneys for Stephen West say his then 17-year-old accomplice, Ronnie Martin, actually killed both victims.

West was 23 at the time. Their cases were separated, and while West was sentenced to death, Martin pleaded guilty and received a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 2030 as a juvenile.

West recently declined to choose the method of his execution. A non-decision results in his death by lethal injection.

4 inmates have been executed in Tennessee since August 2018.

(source: WTVF news)


Tennessee death row inmate Stephen West moved to death watch ahead of Thursday execution-----He will die by lethal injection at the prison in Nashville.

Death row inmate Stephen West's was moved to death watch Tuesday ahead of his execution scheduled for Aug. 15, 2019.

He will die by lethal injection at the prison in Nashville.

"In accordance with protocol, inmate Stephen West #115717 was moved to death watch this morning shortly after midnight. Death watch is the three-day period before an execution when strict guidelines are implemented to maintain the security and control of the offender and to maintain safe and orderly operations of the prison," the Dept. of Correction said in a press release. "During this period, the offender is placed in a cell adjacent to the execution chamber where he or she is under 24-hour observation by a team of correctional officers."

Because he was sentenced to die by the electric chair in 1987, West had the option to choose the electric chair as his execution method rather than lethal injection. West declined to choose either method. The state made the decision for him.

On the afternoon of March 17, 1986, Jack Romines returned home to find his wife, Wanda, and 15-year-old daughter Sheila stabbed to death. The mother and daughter were tortured and showed signs of sexual assault.

23-year-old Steve West and 17-year-old Ronnie Martin had been out all night and drove to the Romines home. They waited for Jack Romines to leave for work before knocking on the door.

In 1987, a jury convicted West of murder and sentenced him to die in the electric chair. Martin was scheduled for trial when his codefendant was sent to death row. Martin then pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison as a 17-year-old rather than risk facing the death penalty if tried as an adult.

Since the 1980s, West's execution has been scheduled and postponed repeatedly. Now his execution is days away and Campbell says he is prepared for closure.

"Only those individuals who are on the offender’s official visitation list are allowed to visit the offender during the death watch period. All visits are non-contact until the final day before the execution at which time the warden decides if the offender can have a contact visit," the Dept. of Corrections said.

(source: WBIR news)


Nashville Death Row Prisoner Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman Gets a New Hearing ---- With Abdur’Rahman’s execution scheduled for next year, a court will hear his claims of discriminatory jury selection

As the state prepares to execute Stephen West on Thursday, a death row prisoner from Nashville will be preparing for a new court hearing in his case. The matter is urgent: The prisoner, Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, is scheduled to be executed less than a year from now, on April 16, 2020.

With that date looming and the state showing no signs of slowing the recently revived death penalty machine, Metro Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will hear arguments on Aug. 28 that Abdur’Rahman’s trial was marred by a prosecutor’s racial discrimination in jury selection. Abdur’Rahman’s attorney, Bradley MacLean, filed a motion to reopen his client’s post-conviction appeals in 2016, and Watkins granted him a hearing. But the motion lingered without a court date — until now. MacLean will ultimately be seeking a new trial. Abdur’Rahman will almost certainly never be released from prison — along with the death sentence, the 1987 jury handed down two consecutive life sentences for other charges. He was also convicted of second-degree murder in 1972 for killing a man who’d threatened to rape him while they were both in federal prison. But if MacLean is successful, he could keep Abdur’Rahman out of the execution chamber.

Abdur’Rahman, a black man, has been on death row for 32 years, since he was convicted of killing Patrick Daniels and attacking Norma Jean Norman during a robbery. On paper, his life before he arrived on death row looks very similar to that of the men with whom he’s shared a prison unit for more than 30 years. As a young boy, Abdur’Rahman suffered brutal physical and sexual abuse and was made all the more vulnerable by mental illness.

But MacLean says what makes Abdur’Rahman stand out is the utter mess that was his original trial.

“Everything that could go wrong in a capital case went wrong in Abu’s case,” MacLean tells the Scene.

As he put it last year in a clemency petition to then-Gov. Bill Haslam (an updated version of which will be submitted to Gov. Bill Lee): “This is the only Tennessee case in which the death sentence was upheld even though all reviewing judges have found, and the prosecution has not disputed, that defense counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient. In every other case in which judges agreed that the defense attorney’s performance was constitutionally deficient, the death sentence was vacated. In Abu-Ali’s case, his trial lawyers’ failures were extreme.”

“This is an extraordinary case in which Abu-Ali’s trial was fundamentally unfair and unreliable due to the grossly inadequate legal representation provided by his defense attorney combined with the egregious prosecutorial misconduct committed by the lead prosecuting attorney,” MacLean later adds.

The man who represented Abdur’Rahman in his 1987 trial agrees with MacLean’s assessment of his own work. Lionel Barrett says he was carrying an unreasonable caseload and admits he never should have taken the case. He told ABA Journal in 2011 that he did “everything I could have done wrong” and that the burden of that failure led him to leave his career as a lawyer.

“Abu-Ali is on death row because of me,” Barrett told the publication. “I failed him. I have no excuse. This is the only case in my entire career that I would do anything to be able to do over again.”

Barrett’s inadequate representation will not be the focus of the hearing later this month. But MacLean says it’s crucial context for what will be.

“The fact that the lawyer didn’t do his job is a factor because it allowed [Assistant District Attorney John Zimmerman] to do all the shit that he did,” MacLean says.

In his 2016 motion, which will be updated for the new hearing, MacLean argues that Zimmerman had discriminatory intent during jury selection when he struck 2 prospective African American jurors. Pointing to contradictions between the prosecution’s stated reasons for striking those jurors and “the truth derived from the record and the prosecution’s own notes,” MacLean argues that Zimmerman was relying on “false, racist stereotyping” of black people. MacLean argues that in the case of one prospective black male juror, Zimmerman falsely claimed the man “appeared uneducated” and “had a reduced intellect.”

Zimmerman’s record since Abdur’Rahman’s trial would appear to back up MacLean’s characterization of his conduct back then.

In a November 2015 letter to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk highlights and disavows comments Zimmerman made at an annual conference. In one instance, Funk writes, Zimmerman said “he would strike jurors with a 37215 area code, an affluent part of town, if the case involved people from ‘the inner city’ because ‘in Nashville, rich people don’t care about what happens in East Nashville.’ ”

Funk goes on: “While the racial implications in the previous comment were inferential, his next statements were blatant advice to use race in jury selection. Specifically, Mr. Zimmerman described prosecuting a conspiracy case with all Hispanic defendants. He stated he wanted an all African-American jury, because ‘all Blacks hate Mexicans.’”

More recently, Zimmerman — who is now a prosecutor in Rutherford County — was accused in a lawsuit of targeting Egyptian business owners, falsely claiming they were selling illegal “marijuana derivatives.” All charges related to the bogus busts — known as “Operation Candy Crush” — were later dropped.

Another factor that could make all the difference for Abdur’Rahman is who will be on the other side of the courtroom later this month. Although for decades lawyers from the state attorney general’s office have represented the state in proceedings related to Abdur’Rahman’s case, this hearing is in a Nashville criminal court. Court documents indicate that Funk’s office will be handling the hearing, although they declined to comment on the pending proceeding.

In 5 years as Nashville’s district attorney, Funk has never sought the death penalty.

(source: Nashville Scene)





With 3 death penalty cases, Weber County is paying hundreds of thousands for defense lawyers

Over the next month, dozens of witnesses will testify in an Ogden courtroom about death row inmate Douglas Lovell, who raped a 39-year-old woman more than 3 decades ago and later killed her in an attempt to stop her from testifying.

The evidence hearing could pave the way for Lovell to get a new trial — it would be his 3rd for the same heinous crime.

The stakes are high and the cost to Weber County taxpayers is climbing.

The county has so far paid nearly $150,000 to Lovell’s appellate attorneys and investigative experts, according to February estimates filed among court papers.

It’s a bill the county could have avoided.

The Utah Supreme Court ordered this detailed evidentiary hearing after questions were raised about the job performance of one of Lovell’s attorneys back in 2015.

Lovell’s appellate attorney twice asked Weber County Attorney Chris Allred to agree to redo the penalty phase of Lovell’s trial in an effort to save money.

Allred didn’t take the offer.

“It would have been irresponsible to simply assume that the court will find that Lovell’s counsel was ineffective,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune, “thus putting the victim’s family through all the emotional drain of yet another sentencing.”

For years, Utah lawmakers have been debating whether to keep the death penalty. And the costs of litigating these cases are frequently discussed in hearings. Legislative analysts in 2012 estimated that a death sentence and decades of appeals cost $1.6 million more than a life-without-parole sentence.

Weber County doesn’t keep track of how much it has spent to prosecute the case, and lawyers with the attorney general’s office are the ones participating in Lovell’s current hearing. But county officials estimate that it has spent more than $370,000 on defense lawyers and experts for Lovell since his conviction was overturned 8 years ago, according to court filings.

A man pleads guilty to killing a Utah County mother and son. Now the focus shifts to finding their bodies. A man pleads guilty to killing a Utah County mother and son. Now the focus shifts to finding their bodies.

Supporters of a Utah death row inmate give the testimony they were previously denied. ‘Send him home with me,’ one says. Supporters of a Utah death row inmate give the testimony they were previously denied. ‘Send him home with me,’ one says.

People convicted of death penalty offenses are almost universally indigent, meaning that the potentially decades-long appeals are constitutionally required to be provided by public defenders.

Legislators last debated the death penalty in 2018, and it’s expected to be discussed once more during the next legislative session. The lawmaker who sponsored the bill most recently is now a commissioner in Weber County — which is not only funding Lovell’s defense but also paying 4 lawyers to represent 2 other defendants facing the potential of the death penalty.

That commissioner, Gage Froerer, said the cost of these cases was a driving factor in his bid to end the death penalty.

“That was one of my concerns and major issues is the cost involved,” he said, “and the results usually aren’t very productive in solving the issues for society or the victim’s family.”

Froerer wasn’t a commissioner when the county approved defender contracts for the three cases. But he said they will be looking into the county’s funding mechanism in budget meetings this fall.

There are 2 ways in which Utah’s 29 counties fund defense lawyers in death penalty cases: Most pay into a state-managed fund, a sort of insurance policy from which officials can request money if they have a death penalty-eligible case.

But Weber County is 1 of 5 — along with Salt Lake, Summit, Wasatch and Utah — that don’t pay into the fund. Instead, each of those counties uses its own money to contract with individual defense attorneys.

Weber County officials have flirted with the idea of paying into the state-managed fund but have always decided to bear the costs. Bryan Baron, a civil attorney for the county, said in a recent deposition that Weber would have been required to pay in $300,000 initially to be part of the multicounty effort, then $100,000 every year after.

“And so faced with that large number, the county decided to self-fund capital cases,” Baron said. “The commissioners believed if they set some money aside, they would be better off paying for those cases themselves.”

A transcript of Baron’s deposition was filed as part of a lawsuit lodged against the county by Samuel Newton, an appellate attorney who sued after he was fired for speaking publicly about the lack of funding in Utah death penalty cases.

Newton had represented Lovell in his appeal but withdrew from the case, saying payment issues were causing stress-related medical issues and a conflict of interest. The county then ended another contract he had to represent other defendants on appeal, deeming Newton’s public comments “harmful to the county’s reputation.”

County officials lamented that Newton spoke with The Tribune in email exchanges, with Allred, the county attorney, writing that he was “sick of this BS” and wanted to “expose” that Newton was making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Lovell’s contract and another unrelated death penalty case he was handling in Salt Lake County.

“All of this for a defendant who admitted to killing a person,” wrote Dave Wilson, a now-retired deputy attorney. “The world must laugh at our stupidity.”

According to documents in this lawsuit, the county attorney’s office approached every criminal defense attorney in Utah who had filed two or more criminal appeals in a two-year period to find a new attorney to represent Lovell. The office got only one applicant, according to documents. That was Colleen Coebergh. She got the job and is now representing Lovell in his current hearing.

In 2017, Lovell expressed frustration with the number of attorneys he has been assigned over the years and how little they have been paid.

In one letter to the judge, he listed many of the attorneys who have represented him over the years.

There was a lawyer in 1992 who represented Lovell for $49, whom he met once or twice. There was another who represented him sometime in the 1990s, but Lovell doesn’t remember ever seeing him in the courtroom. And he did eventually have two whom he liked, but they asked to be taken off the case because it was too complicated and they weren’t qualified.

“It’s to [the attorney’s] advantage to do as little work as possible, to talk to me as little as possible,” Lovell said in a 2017 hearing. “Because it’s getting into that money thing. That’s happened time after time after time on this case.”

Along with Lovell’s appeal, Weber County is shouldering the cost of 2 other death penalty cases. Miller Costello and Brenda Emile are accused of burning, beating and starving their 3-year-old daughter in 2017, resulting in her death. Their trial is set for 2020.

The county has approved contracts that max out at $100,000 for defense costs for each of the defendants.

Could Weber County afford another death penalty case if one were to happen? Froerer said the county would have no other choice but to pay for those costs — it’s a constitutional right — but at some point, he said it may come to cutting other items from the budget, like parks or roads, to fund it.

Utah prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in only 4 cases: 2 in Weber County, 1 in Salt Lake County and another in Utah County. Along with Lovell, another death row inmate, Douglas Carter, recently had his case remanded back to the district court in Utah County.

Lovell’s current hearing is focused on whether his trial attorney, Sean Young, adequately contacted and prepared witnesses who wanted to testify favorably on Lovell’s behalf. He was assigned 18 witnesses, according to Lovell’s appeal, but only two said they were contacted by Young before the trial.

Lovell also argues that Young did not object to interference from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which limited the number of prison bishops who testified at Lovell’s trial.

At the end of the hearing, a judge will rule on whether Young “performed deficiently,” and Lovell’s attorney will use that finding as she mounts a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The state’s highest court could reject that claim, or it could order Lovell should get a new trial.

Lovell pleaded guilty to killing Joyce Yost in 1993 but was allowed to withdraw his plea in 2011 after the Utah Supreme Court ruled the judge should have better informed him of his rights during court proceedings. That led to his 2015 trial.

He is one of eight men currently on Utah’s death row but is nowhere near execution. A Monday ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals puts death row inmate Ron Lafferty the closest to a firing squad, with state officials indicating his execution could be months away.

Lafferty, like Lovell, committed his crimes in the 1980s. Lafferty is on death row for the 1984 deaths of his sister-in-law and her 15-month-old daughter.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


Utah man whose brother was executed by firing squad decries death penalty as 'inhumane'

A federal appeals court just denied the latest appeal from Ron Lafferty.

The now-77-year-old was convicted and sentenced for the 1984 deaths of his sister-in-law and her baby daughter.

With this latest development, Lafferty is still on track to die by firing squad.

2News sat down with the brother of the last man to die by firing squad in Utah, Ronnie Lee Gardner. Randy Gardner says even though his brother’s execution was 9 years ago, it haunts him even now.

"I'm not a victim, I'm collateral damage of the death penalty," Gardner said.

He campaigns around the country to abolish the death penalty, saying it’s inhumane and outdated.

The option of dying by firing squad was taken off the table for death row inmates in Utah in 2003, but reinstated in 2015 — only when the drugs for lethal injection are not available.

However, lawmakers say pharmaceutical companies won’t provide those drugs.

"I think it's hypocritical of them to say the drugs are not available because the pharma companies aren’t allowing them," Gardner said.

Chances are if you are sentenced to die in this state, you will die by firing squad, lawmakers say.

"It's a club nobody wants to belong to," Gardner said.

(source: KUTV news)


Conviction, death sentence upheld in massage parlor killing

The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld the convictions and death sentence of a man convicted of murder in the 2010 stabbing death of the owner of a massage parlor in Mesa.

The state's highest court on Tuesday rejected James Clayton Johnson's argument that the state of Arizona didn't sufficiently narrow the class of 1st-degree murders that are eligible for the death penalty.

Johnson was convicted in the stabbing death of Xiaohung Fu.

Authorities say Johnson fled the scene in a pickup truck and was arrested 3 days later in a robbery of a Christmas tree lot.

They say Johnson was linked to the killing through DNA collected at the massage parlor and through cellphone tower data.

(source: Associated Press)


Trump’s death-penalty push puts House Dems like Josh Harder in tough spot

Attorney General William Barr says the Trump administration will propose congressional legislation to accelerate death penalty proceedings for cop killers and mass shooters. That could force House Democrats who represent purple districts — like first-term Central Valley Rep. Josh Harder — into a corner.

Harder, D-Turlock (Stanslaus County), is 1 of the 7 Democrats who flipped Republican-held congressional seats in California last year, helping his party to take the House for the 1st time since 2010. The GOP has targeted him for defeat in 2020, and capital punishment could turn into a wedge issue in his San Joaquin Valley district.

Nearly 2/3 of voters in Stanislaus County, which makes up much of Harder’s district, opposed Proposition 62, a 2016 ballot measure to repeal the state’s death penalty. 58 % supported Proposition 66, a measure on the same ballot that was intended to speed up the appeals process for capital punishment cases. That measure was approved by voters statewide, while Prop. 62 lost.

(source: San Francisco Chronicle)


A rabbi pleads with AG William Barr: Don’t bring the death penalty to Pittsburgh

A chain-link fence shrouded with a black tarp surrounds the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh these days.

The Jewish community in the city’s east side neighborhood of Squirrel Hill has not yet decided the fate of the building in the wake of the Oct. 27 shooting in which a gunman opened fire as Shabbat services were about to begin, killing 11 worshippers.

Many of the survivors — members of 3 independent Jewish congregations that met in the synagogue — are still coming to terms with the anti-Semitic rampage, considered the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

But the leader of one of those congregations has already formed an opinion about what he knows will transpire in the coming weeks: a decision by federal prosecutors about whether seek the death penalty in the case. And he wants to prevent it.

To that end, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman and his wife, Beth Kissileff, recently penned letters to Attorney General William Barr urging him not to seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, the alleged gunman.

“We are still attending to our wounds, both physical and emotional, and I don’t want to see them opened any more,” wrote Perlman, 55, rabbi of New Light Congregation. “A drawn out and difficult death penalty trial would be a disaster with witnesses and attorneys dredging up horrifying drama and giving this killer the media attention he does not deserve.”

Bowers pleaded not guilty to a 63-count indictment in U.S. District Court, but one of his lawyers has suggested Barr might offer to forgo a trial in return for a guilty plea if prosecutors drop the death penalty they are now weighing and agree to a sentence of life without parole. On Monday (Aug. 12), prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed to a 120-day extension in the case.

To Perlman, a lengthy trial in which the prosecution would highlight Bowers’ documented stream of anti-Jewish invective and conspiracy theories would be too much to bear.

The alleged shooter’s social media activity is rife with tirades against Jews. One post reportedly showed a doctored image of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, in which the motto above the gate reads: “Lies Make Money.”

Another post said: “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

Perlman argues the community is better off putting this painful episode behind it.

“Some people think I’m doing it because I’m opposed to the death penalty,” he said in a phone interview with Religion News Service. “I am opposed to the death penalty but in this case, it’s very personal. I’m looking out for the welfare of my community. I don’t want to see them re-traumatized.”

A bivocational rabbi who works as a chaplain in the Department of Palliative Care for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as well as leading New Light, Perlman has been doubling up on his grief work — attending to the dying in the hospital and to the families of three New Light members killed in the shooting: Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein and Melvin Wax.

The men were among the most active of the Conservative congregation’s 100 members who worked hard to keep the synagogue together. (Seven members from the Tree of Life congregation died in the shooting as did a member of a third congregation, called Dor Hadash, Hebrew for “A New Generation.”)

Perlman, who hid in a storage closet during the shooting, said he and other survivors and family members of the victims were all receiving ongoing counseling.

He knows that Barr recently ordered the federal death penalty to be reinstated and has directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five death row inmates.

But Perlman hopes his plea and that of other rabbis and congregational leaders will persuade Barr not to press for the death penalty in this case.

“I think it’s a moral issue,” he said. “It’s time to stop the madness and think of the victims first.”

The 116-year-old New Light Congregation, which Perlman has led for nearly a decade, has since moved to Beth Shalom, a large Conservative synagogue in the heart of Squirrel Hill, where it rents space. It had made Tree of Life its home after selling its own building in 2017 when maintenance and repairs became too costly for the mostly older congregants.

Before sending his letter to Barr, Perlman sought out the congregation’s co-presidents and its board who, he said, agreed with his reasoning.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, top center, speaks during a rally against gun violence on the steps of the Sixth Presbyterian Church in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Aug. 8, 2019. Courtesy photo

After posting the letter to Facebook, Perlman’s friend Jack Moline, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, asked if he could help Perlman build wider support for the letter. To date, Moline has collected signatures from 30 Conservative movement rabbis who have backed Perlman’s letter. (Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life was not among them and he did not respond to email and phone messages. Dor Hadash, the third congregation, is member-led and has no rabbi.)

Jewish tradition has mostly, but not always, opposed the death penalty. The rabbis who shaped modern Judaism have reinterpreted the biblical injunction “an eye for an eye” in multiple ways and introduced a number of brakes on the imposition of the death penalty that suggested they were deeply ambivalent to it.

So too, Perlman notes in his letter, did the Catholic Church — the faith to which the attorney general subscribes.

“I know you are a committed Catholic and you will not let history remember you this way,” Perlman wrote to Barr, who is active in the Arlington (Virginia) Catholic Diocese.

Last year, Pope Francis approved a revision to the catechism that says capital punishment is “inadmissible” in all circumstances and that the church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

Perlman and Kissileff, his wife, said they were driven to write their letters to Barr after reading Jennifer Berry Hawes’ new book about the 2015 Charleston, S.C., church massacre. For that shooting, Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist who killed 9 church members at an Emanuel AME Church Bible study, was convicted and sentenced to death.

Berry Hawes’ book, “Grace Will Lead Us Home,” describes how painful Roof’s trial was to the survivors and family members of the victims, who had to relive the horrific event in court testimony and images.

Not all of the family members, however, said they regretted the trial for Roof, who is now on death row in Terre Haute, Ind.

Sharon Risher, a trauma chaplain whose mother, Ethel Lance, was killed in the shooting, said she too is opposed to the death penalty, but she added:

“I felt like there needed to be a trial. There needed to be accountability from Dylann Roof. I felt like we needed to look him in the face, even though he didn’t look us in our faces. We needed to have the time to read the victim statements, for him to hear the pain in our voices, for him to be held accountable.”

Perlman and his wife are convinced otherwise.

So is Moline, who distributed Perlman’s letter among other rabbis.

“I am willing to trust the judgment of those in the midst of this who know and love their congregations and who are interested not only in justice for the perpetrator,” he said, “but compassion for the survivors.”



Captured ISIS commander admits beheading 3 Kurds: ministry

Iraqi forces on Monday night announced the capture of an Islamic State (ISIS) commander and six other militants in southwest Kirkuk province who are alleged to have committed “heinous crimes” against civilians.

The 7 unnamed ISIS suspects were arrested by Iraqi troops, the defense ministry announced via social media, without describing the circumstances of their capture.

Among the prisoners is an alleged ISIS commander who managed the Hawija Grain Mill when the group controlled the area from mid-2014 to October 2017.

In a video published on Facebook by the Iraqi defense ministry, the unnamed ISIS commander, whose face is blurred, is showed confessing to the murder of 3 Kurds and 2 other individuals from Diyala province.

“Members of our group kidnapped 3 Kurdish nationals and brought them to Hawija. Our leader ordered me to behead them. Together with 2 other persons who were from Diyala, we executed the order,” he said, without identifying their leader.

Iraqi and Kurdish security forces regularly publish videos of their captives making confessions – a format often seen in jihadist propaganda films. Human rights groups regularly accuse Iraqi courts of using confessions obtained by duress.

The defense ministry condemned the “barbaric” group, accusing them of “heinous crimes against humanity killing innocent people” without providing details.

The group allegedly confessed to plotting attacks inside Kirkuk using the families of slain ISIS militants, the ministry claimed.

Iraqi troops recently launched a string of operations across several provinces to quell the ISIS resurgence, including a one-day sweep of the southern Kirkuk region on August 4 dubbed “New Dawn”.

The 3rd phase of operation “Will of Victory” was launched in Diyala and Nineveh provinces on August 5 by Iraqi Security Forces backed up by Iraqi and coalition airpower.

During the 3rd phase, Iraqi forces searched 25 villages over a 1,702 square kilometer area in Diyala for ISIS remnants, arms caches, bomb workshops, and hideouts. They detained 18 ISIS fighters and killed 4 others, according to Iraq’s Security Media Cell. They also destroyed 12 tunnels and 24 hideouts and seized 42 explosive devices and 6 mortar rounds, it added.

ISIS seized vast areas of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014. Although Iraqi’s former prime minister Haider al-Abadi declared the group defeated in Iraq in December 2017, ISIS remnants and sleeper cells remain active, returning to their earlier insurgency tactics.

Their resurgence has been particularly apparent in areas disputed between Erbil and Baghdad, where contention over control of territory has created security vacuums open to exploitation.

According to a US Department of Defense report to the US Congress published in early August, ISIS are “working to rebuild their capabilities” in Iraq and Syria.

“ISIS is rebuilding in remote territory, which is hard for Iraqi forces to secure,” the report said, and is “able to recruit in these areas [Iraq’s northern and western provinces] using family and tribal connections”.

On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said Iraqi forces have yet to encounter “real resistance” from ISIS militants in recent operations.



Iran Regime Hangs 7 Prisoners

Iran's regime has hanged at least 7 prisoners in recent days, according to a group monitoring the human rights situation inside the country.

Iran Human Rights Monitor reported on Tuesday 2 prisoners were hanged on Saturday, August 10, in the central prison of Mashhad, according to a report in the state-run Khorasan daily on Sunday. The state media did not identify the victims by name but said it would publish a full report in following days.

In another development last Wednesday, 5 prisoners were hanged in the notorious Raja’i Shahr (Gohardasht) Prison, in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran, Iran HRM said. The names of those executed were announced as Mohammad-Reza Shekari, Yousof Zakeri, Majid Arabali, Hossein Panjeh-Maryam, and Bahram Tork.

These prisoners, along with several others, had been moved to solitary confinement prior to their execution.

The regime usually moves prisoners who are listed to be hanged soon to solitary confinement where they have to count the minutes and hours to have a hangman take them to the gallows.

The Iranian regime hanged 39 prisoners in July alone. Four were women, and there was one public hanging.

The executions took place in the prisons of Birjand, Ghohardasht, Karaj, Kashan, Khondab, Mahshahr, Kelardasht, Orumieh (Urmia), Noor, Mashhad, Mahabad, Zanjan, Minab, Bandar-Abbas, Borujerd, Shiraz, Tabriz, Gorgan, Dezful, Rasht and Kermanshah.

Iran’s regime is the world’s top record holder in executions per capita. More than 3,800 people have been executed in Iran since Hassan Rouhani took office as President in 2013.

The mullahs’ regime uses the death penalty as a tool to suppress and silence a disgruntled society the majority of whom live under the poverty line, are unemployed and deprived of freedom of speech.

United Nations human rights bodies have condemned the Iranian regime on 65 occasions for its gross human rights violations.



Family spares ex-Tehran mayor facing death over wife's murder

A former mayor of Tehran sentenced to death over the murder of his wife has been spared by her family in a post shared on Instagram on Wednesday.

Mohammad Ali Najafi, 67, was sentenced to death last month after being convicted of shooting dead his second wife Mitra Ostad at their home in the Iranian capital on May 28.

Ostad's family had appealed for the Islamic law of retribution to be applied -- an "eye for an eye" form of punishment which would have seen the death penalty served.

But her brother Masood Ostad said the family had decided to grant him a reprieve, according to a post on his private Instagram account cited by various media outlets.

State news agency IRNA said a lawyer for the family, Mahmoud Hajiloui, had confirmed the reprieve.

In his Instagram post, the brother cited a verse from the Koran that says: "Allah loves the doers of good".

"My father, my mother and our Mahyar (his sister's son) forgive Mr Mohammad Ali Najafi" after mediation that involved others, he wrote.

"We are happy that we made no deal for the blood of that honourable (person)," he added, referring to retribution for his sister's murder.

"We hope Mr Mohammad Ali Najafi in his remaining years... engages in cleansing himself."

Najafi remains behind bars after also receiving a 2-year jail sentence for illegal possession of a firearm, but it was not immediately known if he still has to serve time for murder.

The former mayor's trial received detailed coverage in state media where scandals related to politicians rarely appear on television.

A mathematician, professor and veteran politician, Najafi had previously served as President Hassan Rouhani's economic adviser and education minister.

He was elected Tehran mayor in August 2017, but resigned the following April after facing criticism from conservatives for attending a dance performed by schoolgirls.

Najafi married Ostad without divorcing his 1st wife, unusual in Iran where polygamy is legal but socially frowned upon.

Some of Iran's ultra-conservatives said the case showed the "moral bankruptcy" of reformists, while reformists accused the conservative-dominated state television of bias in its coverage and highlighting the case for political ends.



My father called for reform in Saudi Arabia. Now he faces death----‘Sadly, my father is by no means the only individual who faces the death penalty on trumped-up charges.’

In September 2017, my father, the prominent Saudi reformist Muslim scholar Salman al-Odah, tweeted an innocuous message to his 14 million followers encouraging the government to end its diplomatic standoff with Qatar. A few hours later he was taken from our home by state security officials. He now faces the prospect of being executed on charges that include spreading corruption by calling for a constitutional monarchy, stirring public discord, incitement and “mocking the government’s achievements”.

Since his arrest he has been held in solitary confinement, where he remains today. He has been mistreated, handcuffed, blindfolded and chained inside his cell, and deprived of sleep and medications – so much so that after 5 months he had to be taken to hospital. Seventeen members of my family have been banned from travelling; my uncle Khalid was arrested because he tweeted about my father; and I was asked by the Saudi embassy in Washington to go back to Saudi Arabia to “renew my passport”, which has been frozen.

A year after he was taken, my father appeared in front of the notorious specialised criminal court. The SCC was established in 2008 with the sole purpose of prosecuting terror suspects; but since then it has become a tool to hammer out any dissent or activism within the kingdom. It does this either by cowing critics into silence by way of its fearsome reputation, or silencing them permanently by imposing the death penalty. Prosecutions brought before the SCC are often politically motivated with charges so vague – such as the “mocking” accusation against my father – that they would be laughable were the consequences not so grave.

Article 30 of the anti-terrorism law criminalises “directly or indirectly describing the king or the crown prince by any description that defames [their] religion or justice” and considers it an act of terrorism punishable by a minimum of five years in prison. The law further labels as terrorist many rights and activities protected by democratic systems around the world, such as “pressing the state to carry out an act or abstain from doing so”; and its vague language allows the state to arrest anyone on terrorism charges for “harming the kingdom’s interests, economy, or national security”. It is this precise law that allowed the state to try the 2 prominent women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi in the terrorism court for defying the ban on women driving in 2014.

SCC judges are pressured by the government to hand down the strongest sentence possible. In Saudi Arabia this means beheading or even crucifixion. Last year six judges from the SCC were arrested and interrogated when the outcome of cases they presided over did not meet the attorney general’s expectations. In one case, a judge who exonerated the accused was subsequently held under arrest for many months.

This is the context within which my father was supposed to go to court on 28 July to find out if he was going to be executed. He was, however, not even taken to the court and all we know is that his hearing has been postponed to November. Everything about his case has been completely illegal and unjust. Sadly, my father is by no means the only individual who faces the death penalty on trumped-up charges, nor is he the only prisoner to have been treated so badly.

Many of the others awaiting execution were also sentenced by the SCC for similarly vague, politically motivated charges. In a new report that I have given testimony to the British lawyer Helena Kennedy recommends that everyone currently awaiting the death penalty should have the reasons for their sentence published immediately. Many of those held, such as my father, have said things so innocent and inoffensive that it is clear this is a weak government that cannot handle even the smallest suggestion, let alone criticism.

The Saudi authorities have, of course, resorted to lethal methods beyond the judicial system too – most notably in the gruesome killing of my friend Jamal Khashoggi. However, the court-sanctioned route remains the most popular. What has been done to Khashoggi extrajudicially is possibly what my father faces judicially.

Since Mohammed bin Salman came to power in Saudi Arabia in 2017 there appears to have been a marked increase in the number of executions. In 2010 there were just 27 confirmed. In 2015 158 people were executed, most of whom had participated in Arab spring protests a few years earlier. But this year there have already been 134 victims, with at least 24 more at risk of imminent execution, including my father.

This excess is part of a concerted effort by the Saudi authorities to quash dissent and silence political activists and human rights defenders. It is right that we are outraged. But recent events have demonstrated that international outrage is not enough. Baroness Kennedy’s report recommends that an independent team goes to Saudi Arabia to investigate what is actually happening. We need to push for this.

If they execute my father it will be state-sanctioned murder and they cannot be allowed to get away with it.

(source: Opinion; Abdullah Alaoudh is a Saudi legal scholar and senior fellow at Georgetown University in Washington DC----The Guardian)


Death penalty and Sara Duterte: The somber and the bizarre

The past 2 weeks’ op-ed pages, TV talking heads, social media blogs and comments echoed the SONA interpretations of the President’s intent or non-intent. Their critique and follow-up stories, both constructive and negative, were roughly split in two major categories — the somber and the bizarre. An example of the former dealt with the instructions by the Deegong to his subalterns in Congress to reinstate the death penalty covering crimes involving illegal drugs. The bizarre involves the President’s daughter imploring God for signs for her next political moves. But I am getting ahead of my narrative.

A cursory reading of the pros and cons were argued from the point of view of how President Duterte sits with the proponents. The DDS and fist pumpers epitomized by the newly minted senator Bato de la Rosa, architect of Duterte’s bloody campaign of the dreaded “tokhang” that resulted in thousands of deaths, will be filing a bill in Congress to reinstate the death penalty. Incongruously, he declared that as a devout Catholic, he goes through “…confession to seek forgiveness after he has killed criminals.” His doppelganger, Sen. Bong Go goes further to include “…heinous crimes such as illegal drugs and corruption… and plunder convicts.” If passed by both houses, we will soon see legal executions not seen perhaps since the French guillotine was devised. Some cynics view the reinstatement of the death penalty as simply the formalization of what DU30’s government is being accused of — extrajudicial killings (EJK).

But one anti-death penalty columnist carried the cudgels for the opposing side and argued on the “cost-benefit” of a death sentence. He posits that the appeal of the classic deterrent effect of a death sentence is not due to its severity but on the certainty and consistency of carrying out a severe punishment. Death itself does not deter crimes but when punishment comes swiftly, consistently and inexorably, then perhaps the deterrent appeal (of a death sentence) could be effective. He may be right, particularly in the Philippines where statistics bear him out. Despite years of capital punishment protocol, statistics show heinous crimes have not declined. This is attributable to the uncertainty of punishment where the rich can get away with crime, the poor don’t, and the justice system sucks.

On the other hand, the proponent of capital punishment argues in a linear manner. You kill a murderer legally so he may not kill again. You kill a rapist so he will not rape again. You kill a plunderer so he will not plunder again, ever. Period! This could be akin to a child who touches a hot oven. The punishment is instant, severe and deadly. This will deter the child from touching a hot oven ever again. Lesson learned.

This killing ethos nurtured by our President is perhaps a reflection of his success as a local executive in what was once a lawless city, a laboratory of the communist pogrom in Davao in the 1970s and 1980s; or a flaw in his character as simply a manifestation of his alpha proclivities. Therefore, I shall not pass judgment on the man as even the Catholic hierarchy has its tail between the legs when confronted by the Deegong’s public moral outrages.

Be that as it may, the arguments for and against capital punishment have been debated internationally for years. Until 1986, the Philippines had capital punishment in its statutes, but a moratorium was imposed by the Cory regime as an affirmation of the country’s Catholic heritage. In 1993, President FVR reimposed the death penalty and executions were resumed during President Erap’s time in 1999. And towards the end of President GMA’s term, Congress passed a law abolishing capital punishment. But the debate goes on and on, and this “urong-sulong” may yet take another turn, if DU30’s minions will carry the day in Congress. My take on this is somewhat altruistic. Capital punishment is a cry for society’s collective desire for revenge for a wrong done. In the olden days, this was embedded in the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But our culture will no longer permit individual revenge — as this too is a crime if resulting in murder or death. So civilized society concocted capital punishment, translating the individual’s lust for vengeance into civil and collective catharsis.

Now back to the bizarre. One such ridiculous digression from the country’s pressing concerns is Apollo Quiboloy interviewing Sara Duterte on her political plans for 2022. Sara intimated that she was praying for guidance, allowing God a target date for His signs to appear by January 2020. Very considerate of her, yet superfluous as she was in fact already talking to the “appointed son of God.” True enough, Quiboloy has anointed her as the next president of the republic. We will either waste energy speculating on Sara’s ascendancy to the throne upon the instance of an influential charlatan and the subsequent appearance and distractions of other wannabees contesting her; or buckle down to work in the next 3 years advancing the tattered remains of DU30’s legacy.

I am wary about leaders consulting God publicly on their political plans. This may have been acceptable in ancient times when the Deity was believed to intervene in the affairs of men and give instructions to prophets from behind burning bushes. Certainly, it is stretching imagination too far when political leaders, as they have been wont to do during election season, trek to prayer mountains or their personal Mount Sinai to seek and receive affirmation of their political agenda.

If one recalls, in 2009, Mar Roxas was the Liberal Party’s niño bonito and was the leading presidential contender until Tita Cory with exquisite timing exited the scene. And the son, PNoy, thereafter decided to seek God’s guidance and discern what the almighty’s plans were for him. Looking back, God must have cringed at the effrontery of this heir presumptive supplicating divine aid to become president. And since “vox populi vox dei,” God must have made a mistake.

But I want us to go back to the realities at hand and what the Deegong articulately put:

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started, but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. It ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day.

“Our goal for the next 3 years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos. We have made significant strides and accomplished signal milestones as a nation in the past three years. This momentum must continue with greater fervor in the next three years and beyond.”

So, stop this prattle about Sara becoming the next president. We still have this unenviable task of making this current president become truly a president for all.

(source: The Manila Times)

AUGUST 13, 2019:


DA to seek death penalty for Cedric Marks

The Bell County District Attorney’s office will seek the death penalty for Cedric Marks if he is convicted.

“We have filed with the district clerk our notice that we will seek the death penalty in the Cedric Marks case, in connection with the murders of Michael Swearingin and Jenna Scott,” Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza confirmed Monday.

(source: The Temple Daily Telegram)


State seeks death for man accused in Tampa bus driver's slaying ---- The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office filed a notice in the case of Justin Ryan McGriff, accused of slashing the throat of HART bus driver Thomas Dunn

Prosecutors will seek a death sentence for a man accused of stabbing to death a Tampa bus driver.

The office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty late last month in the case of Justin Ryan McGriff, who is charged with 1st-degree murder in the May 18 killing of Thomas Dunn.

Surveillance videos captured the attack on Dunn, 46, whose throat was cut as he steered a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus along N Nebraska Avenue.

Photographs from the recording, which were used as evidence in a pretrial detetion hearing in May, show a man, whom police identified as McGriff sitting in the rear of the bus. He removes something from his pants pocket, according to court testimony, then walks forward and stands behind the driver.

“God bless you,” McGriff said, according to court testimony.

“What was that?” Dunn asked.

“God bless you,” he repeated.

“Thank you,” Dunn said. “God bless you, too.”

After that, McGriff lunged forward, slitting Dunn’s throat, according to police.

Dunn steered the bus to the right and hit the brakes as he collapsed. As passengers panicked, McGriff forced his way out the bus door, police said. Officers later spotted him nearby and arrested him.

In June, McGriff’s public defenders suggested that he may be mentally ill. One of McGriff’s roommates told police that his behavior in the days before his arrest was erratic, according to a court document.

A judge appointed 2 doctors to determine whether he is competent to proceed toward trial. If he is declared incompetent, he would likely spend time in a state hospital before the case against him could continue.

Warren, who became the county's top prosecutor in 2017, has been reluctant to seek death sentences in cases where a defendant’s mental health is in question.

If McGriff is ultimately convicted of murder, prosecutors will have to prove the existence of at least one “aggravating circumstance” before a jury weighs whether a death sentence is justified. Prosecutors cited 4 such circumstances in Dunn’s slaying, among them that the crime was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” and that it was done in a “cold, calculated, and premeditated manner.”

The law requires that a unanimous jury recommendation to impose a death sentence. Otherwise, the penalty is life in prison.


TENNESSEE----impending execution Lawyers, Advocates Seek Halt to Execution of Stephen West in Tennessee

Advocates from a variety of backgrounds are urging Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to stop the August 15, 2019 execution of Stephen West (pictured), saying that West did not commit the murder and urging the governor not to execute a man who is severely mentally ill.

In a July clemency petition that is pending before the governor, West’s lawyers argue for mercy based upon his innocence of murder and his debilitating psychological vulnerabilities. Though they concede that West was present at the murders of Wanda Romines and her daughter, Sheila Romines, and that he raped Sheila, West’s lawyers maintain that his co-defendant, Ronnie Martin, fatally stabbed the victims. The petition says that because of the chronic extreme abuse and trauma he experienced as a child, “Steve was not psychologically equipped to deal with the terrible situation he found himself in” and disassociated when he saw Martin killing the women.

The clemency petition asks what it calls “[a]n important question”—”if Steve did not intend for either victim to be killed, how could he just stand by and watch while Martin did? The answer to this question,” the petition suggests, “lies in Steve’s own tragic background.” The petition describes the relentless abuse and neglect West endured, which included his mother beating him so hard with a broom that it snapped, his parents denying him food, and ongoing beatings that resulted in his ankles being broken at least seven times. The extreme trauma, the petition says, caused or exacerbated West’s severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. West’s parents retained a lawyer to defend him at trial, but instructed counsel not to discuss or present evidence relating to his family background. As a result, his jury never heard this evidence.

The clemency plea has received support from a Vanderbilt law and psychiatry professor, four great-great-granddaughters of Tennessee Gov. Albert Houston Roberts, and religious groups.

In an August 9 op-ed for The Tennessean, Vanderbilt University law and psychiatry professor Christopher Slobogin argues that West’s case exemplifies why executing people with severe mental illness is “highly questionable.” Slobogin writes that West deserves serious punishment if he is not legally insane, but, he says, “the death sentence is meant only for the truly depraved, and West does not fit that category.” Slobogin also believes that West’s mental health has continued to deteriorate during his time on death row, and he may be competent to be executed only as a result of heavy antipsychotic medication. Courts in several states have barred the forcible medication of prisoners to make them competent for execution. But even where the prisoner has been medicated for other reasons, Slobogin says, such synthetic competency presents an ethical dilemma. “An American Psychiatric Association Task Force has stated that treating a condemned prisoner for the purpose of enabling an execution ‘violates the fundamental ethical norms of the mental health professions,’” he writes. “While there is no indication that the state’s doctors are medicating West solely to ensure his execution, or that their goal is anything other than alleviating suffering, the fact remains that their treatment may well be what is making execution possible.” He believes that a commutation from Gov. Lee is the best solution.

In a separate Tennessean op-ed, four great-great-granddaughters of former Tennessee Gov. Albert Houston Roberts have urged Gov. Lee to halt all executions, beginning with West’s. They compare the governor’s clemency power to the decision Governor Roberts made to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote—a choice that cost him political allies and re-election. “We know that stopping the killing of West will not be the one decision that will fix our prisons and schools, but it will show our state that you are willing to act on principle when you have the chance by taking the right step for this next few minutes,” the women write. Their op-ed concludes with a personal challenge for the governor: “Our great-great-grandfather’s legacy is a testament to his personal and political courage,” they write. “Will you be remembered for being merciful and just or for the number of men you killed?”

Religious advocates have also called on Lee—who stressed his Christian faith during his campaign for office—to stop executions, and Tennessee’s death-row prisoners have asked him to visit death row and pray with them. In a 1-sentence letter to Lee, 32 death-row prisoners—including West—wrote: “We understand you are a man of faith and we would like to ask you to please come pray with us.” A group called March4Mercy, which includes prison volunteers and activists, held a 2-day vigil outside the governor’s office as they delivered the letter. Evangelical author Shane Claiborne said, “Jesus said, ‘when I was in prison you came and visited me,’ and that is their request.”

West’s clemency petition also highlights his dedication to his Christian faith, which has led him to have a positive impact on other prisoners. He served on the board of Men of Valor, a prison ministry that helps prisoners rehabilitate themselves. Lee said he is considering West’s clemency request. “These decisions are very difficult and deserve a lot of deliberation. And that’s what we’re doing. I wrestle with this very much, because it’s a very difficult decision. But we’re in that process.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Republican lawmaker to introduce death penalty bill----‘Light years’ of DNA technology advancement will ensure ‘no wrongful convictions,’ McSweeney says

A Republican state lawmaker is calling for the resurrection of the death penalty in Illinois after two mass shootings in the U.S. and recent gun violence in Chicago.

Barrington Hills Rep. David McSweeney said he will either sponsor or co-sponsor some version of a measure overturning the abolishment former Gov. Pat Quinn placed on capital punishment 8 years ago. Former Gov. George Ryan had placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000.

At the time, Quinn said Illinois should not have a system in place that might result in the erroneous execution of citizens. McSweeney said “eliminating the death penalty was a terrible mistake.”

“It has been a complete failure,” he said.

Mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 3-4 killed 31 people. In Chicago last weekend, 4 people were killed and 43 injured in gun-related violence, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Texas officials are pursuing the death penalty against the coward racist who targeted Mexican Americans in El Paso. We should have that tool in the state of Illinois,” McSweeney said. “The time to act is now, because the death penalty is a deterrent that we need to protect our citizens. No one can argue the state of Illinois is a model for how to fight crime.”

In part, Quinn’s argument for signing legislation making Illinois the 16th state to abolish capital punishment was the lack of advancement in DNA testing, McSweeney said. But DNA technology has progressed “light years” beyond its stage in 2011, he added, to be the “key to ensuring there are no wrongful convictions.”

“I want to make sure there are safeguards,” he said.

According to a Pew Research Center study published last year, 54 % of Americans support capital punishment for those convicted of murder. That number is up from 49 % 2 years prior. 39 % of people oppose the death penalty.

McSweeney is not the only Illinois politician to express support for capital punishment. In an unexpected move last year, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reviving the death penalty by using his amendatory veto power on a firearms measure that needed his signature to become law.

The legislation would have extended the 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases to include assault weapons. Rauner wrote in his veto message that the proposal did not go far enough to prevent gun violence incidents and other public safety concerns.

His addition would have created a new category of crime — a “death penalty murder” — that encompassed anyone 18 or older who killed 2 or more people “without lawful justification” or if the victim is a police officer.

“The ultimate public safety objectives of this bill would be better served with comprehensive solutions,” he wrote, which included a ban on bump stocks, the addition of mental health and law enforcement personnel in schools, and “reintroducing the death penalty for the most egregious cases.”

The General Assembly did not vote on Rauner’s proposal, effectively running out the clock on the bill. Before Rauner’s push last year, Illinois’ staunchest supporter of the death penalty in state politics arguably was former Republican Rep. John Cavaletto, from Salem. Cavaletto’s last iteration of a measure to reinstate the death penalty would have applied to persons older than 18 who were convicted of 1st-degree murder for killing a police officer, firefighter, employee of a correctional agency, or a child; or for killing more than 1 person.

Cavaletto’s legislation never moved out of committee, and McSweeney said he knows he faces an uphill battle with the Democratically-controlled General Assembly. “This one will have a lot of opposition. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the short run, but it’s an issue I will continue to focus on — through public education and through pointing out and proving the advances in DNA technology,” he said. “I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, filed legislation to strike the use of capital punishment by the federal government. The move came after President Donald Trump’s administration announced last month it would resume the use of the death penalty for the 1st time in 16 years.

“Try as we might, we cannot escape the fact that the death penalty in America is disproportionately imposed on minorities and poor people,” Durbin said in a news release.

But McSweeney said a capital punishment measure is worth having a discussion about in a committee hearing.

“There needs to be a coordinated effort between state officials and the federal government to once and for all end this problem of violence in the city and in our state,” he said. “We need to get tough on crime again in this state and defend our citizens.”


MISSOURI----female spared death penalty

Pamela Hupp sentenced to life in prison without parole

Pamela Hupp was sentenced to life in prison with no parole Monday Aug. 12 after pleading guilty to murder in a bizarre plot that claimed a man’s life back in 2016.

Hupp entered an Alford plea, a somewhat complex legal term which means she does not admit guilt, but acknowledges the state had enough evidence to convict her beyond a reasonable doubt.

The guilty plea took the death penalty off the table.

In addition to the life sentence, Hupp was also sentenced to 30 years for armed criminal action.

"This culminates a 3-year effort to bring some justice and closure to the victim’s family," said St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar. "Every bit of air she will breathe for the rest of her life will be from the inside of a prison cell that's got to give some satisfaction by those who have been victimized by her."

Prosecutors have long said that Hupp lured Louis Gumpenberger to her O’Fallon, Missouri home in 2016 with the intent to frame someone else connected to a separate murder from 2011. Gumpenberger was fatally shot once he arrived at Hupp’s home.

Prosecutors said the motive was to frame Russ Faria.

Faria’s wife, Betsy Faria, was murdered in 2011 in Lincoln County. Faria was originally convicted but later acquitted. Hupp was a key figure in the case. She collected life insurance in the case and some speculate if she was involved in the murder.

Evidence seemed to be mounted against Hupp, who was charged within weeks of Gumpenberger’s murder. Police searched her car and the safe in her home. One key clue: money found in Gumpenberger’s pocket on the day he was killed almost exactly matched the serial numbers of currency found in Hupp’s home. Data from Google maps also showed Hupp was outside Gumpenberger’s home a half an hour before the shooting. Prosecutors claimed she lured him to her home. Hupp has claimed that Gumpenberger was an intruder and that she shot him in self-defense.

In court Monday, Gumpenberger's sister called Hupp a serial killer and said it was unfortunate she didn't get the death penalty.

His mother agreed.

"I don’t care what [Hupp] has to say, if she says anything it wouldn’t have been real. It's obvious she doesn’t care," said Margaret Burch, Louis' mother. "She had the chance to put her hands on my son and I didn’t get that chance to do with her."

Her criminal case has now been three years in the making. Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty in the case and due to heightened public scrutiny, a judge also had ruled that jurors would have to be brought in from Clay County, on the other side of the state.

A trial was scheduled in September 2018, then in June of 2019, but both dates were continued.

Russ Faria is suing numerous officials in Lincoln County in federal court, regarding the case against and his ultimate acquittal.

"I would have like to see her (Hupp) allocated to her crimes, but relieved because she will be locked up and wont be able to kill anyone again," Faria said after the guilty plea.

Experts have also scrutinized the death of Hupp’s mother, Shirley Neumann. Neumann fell from her third floor balcony at a senior living home back in 2013. Though the death was initially ruled accidental, a medical examiner later changed the death report to say it was “undetermined.” Hupp was the last person to see her mother alive.

She has not been charged or implicated in either her mother or Betsy Faria’s deaths.

Hupp faced a judge in St. Charles County Court at 2:00 pm Wednesday in the Gumpenberger case and entered her plea.

At a press conference later, Lohmar noted Hupp's Alford plea doesn't mean she has to formally confess.

"I don’t think she had the courage to say that she did it. She’s a coward and she’s been manipulative since day one," he said.

She will be sentenced on August 12.

(source: KMOV news)


Money well spent? Death penalty stance means big bucks for La Junta DA’s office

Prosecuting the death penalty case for an inmate accused of murdering Colorado Department of Corrections Sgt. Mary Ricard and wounding another officer during a Sept. 24, 2012, attack is costing Coloradans big bucks, but taxpayers may never know just how much.

And prosecutors’ insistence on pursuing the death penalty — even though Colorado has not executed a criminal since 1997; the governor of the state opposes capital punishment; and Ricard’s family opposes execution for the killer — has added more than $1.6 million to the coffers of the District’s Attorney’s Office in Colorado’s 16th Judicial District in La Junta.

Miguel Contreras-Perez, now 40, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Ricard, 55, at the Arkansas Valley prison in Ordway. Contreras-Perez also faces charges of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault in the attack on Sgt. Lori Gann, who survived.

The case has been mired down in legal maneuverings for the past 7 years, slowed by competency evaluations and changes in attorneys representing Contreras-Perez.

“This case has had so many frustrations from start to finish,” said James Bullock, the 16th Judicial District Attorney, who is prosecuting the case.

Bullock declined to comment any further as “this case is still currently pending,” he said.

As a part of that process, Bullock is allowed by state law to bill the Colorado Department of Corrections for the cost of prosecuting Contreras-Perez. A Colorado Open Records Act Request filed by The Pueblo Chieftain on July 23 was fulfilled by the Colorado Department of Corrections and reveals the cost the taxpayers have had to shoulder for the prosecution.

From October of 2012 to July 1 of this year, the DOC has paid $1.665 million of taxpayers’ money to Bullock’s office. Billing’s notes indicate the fees have covered attorney, investigator, paralegal and support staff costs as well as supplies, service fees, transcript and postage costs associated with the case.

Currently, Denver Attorney David Lane and members of his staff are representing Contreras-Perez, who is held at the maximum-security section of Sterling Correctional Facility in Northern Colorado.

The Chieftain also made a Colorado Open Records request with the Colorado Office of Alternate Defense Council on Aug. 5, asking for documentation of the cost to state taxpayers to pay attorneys representing Contreras-Perez.

On Aug. 7, Deputy Director Darren Cantor denied the request based on a Colorado Supreme Court rule stating there are exceptions and limitations on access to records, and that agencies must deny inspection if the records have privileged information; confidential legal, commercial, financial, geological, or geophysical data; and confidential personal information.

“State lawmakers in 2015 killed a bill that would have made the State Public Defender’s Office and the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel subject to CORA. At the time, reporters were trying to get records from the public defender showing how much that office spent to keep James Holmes from the death penalty,” said Jeffrey Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. Holmes on July 20, 2012, killed 12 people and injured 70 others when he opened fire in an Aurora movie theater.

“Since then, the judicial branch adopted the rules cited by Cantor.”

Although the Chieftain did not seek any personal or confidential information, the request was denied.

“Yes, they seem to be interpreting that provision very broadly,” Roberts said.

Crowley County District Court Judge Michael Schiferl was overseeing the case against Contreras-Perez and agreed to a change of venue last year, so Pueblo District Court Judge William Alexander took over the case last August. Currently, the case is set for a 6-month jury trial starting Jan. 6.

Conteras-Perez is scheduled to appear in court today for a status conference. The case involves hundreds of witnesses, 55,000 pages of evidence, hostile witnesses, El Salvadorian witnesses from Conteras-Perez’s native country, who Lane fears may encounter difficulty getting into the U.S. to testify.

During a February 2014 preliminary hearing spanning 3 days starting in December 2013, videotaped interviews were played in the courtroom and Contreras-Perez talked of a relationship with Gann. He later recanted his statements.

He initially said the relationship involved her accepting love notes from him and letting him touch her without writing him up for breaking the rules. He told investigators that she halted the relationship, but at times would change her attitude and that had confused him.

Later, in letters he sent to the district attorney’s office, Contreras-Perez recanted about the relationship and said, “I tried to pass notes and she didn’t accept them.”

Evidence indicated Contreras-Perez removed a kitchen knife from its wire cable tether by chopping at the tether about 15 times. He first killed Ricard by asking her to take him to a supply room for supplies, then attacked Gann.

Contreras-Perez admitted to investigators he would have killed Gann but Sgt. Lisa Orosco walked in and he stopped because she was there.

Ricard’s husband, Tim Ricard, told The Pueblo Chieftain last year that he has been to all but one court hearing because “I feel I have to be there for her.”

At one recent court hearing, Mary Ricard’s daughter, Katie Benson Smith, said she witnessed defense attorney Lane present a book, “History of the Death Penalty in Colorado,” by Michael Radelet to both the defense and the judge, requesting they read the book.

“We’ve requested they not pursue the death penalty from the get go, but it falls on deaf ears,” Smith said. “They say they have a job to do and I don’t know what to think,” Smith said.

Ricard’s family would prefer to see the case wrapped up. Seven years of travel and time spent attending court hearings has taken a toll on them.

“As long as it (disposition) is done right,” Smith said, it is the victim’s family members’ belief that it would be better to have the case wrapped up instead of requiring them to trek from all over the state to attend court hearings at which they are painfully reminded about how Mary Ricard died.

During the most recent legislative session, Tim Ricard testified and Smith’s brother read a statement on her behalf during a hearing about abolishing the death penalty in Colorado. The bill did not advance.

“I don’t know what the Legislature’s plan is this next session, but I have heard there is a big push for the issue to be brought up again,” Smith said.

It has been more than a half-century since a Puebloan was executed. John Bizup, 26, a white handyman, was executed in the gas chamber on Aug. 14, 1964, for a murder and robbery in Pueblo.

3 years later Luis Monge, 48, a Hispanic appliance salesman was executed June 2, 1967, for a Denver murder. After that, the gas chamber was no longer used.

The only execution to occur since Monge was Oct. 13, 1997, when Gary Lee Davis, 53, a white man, was executed by lethal injection for a 1986 murder and rape. Davis was on death row for a decade while appeals were litigated.

In modern-day Colorado, convicts with more heinous crimes that seem fitting for the death penalty have escaped capital punishment. Holmes was sentenced to life without parole in 2015 after a jury failed to agree on the death penalty.

And even when an execution seems imminent, Colorado’s governors don’t always agree to sign the death warrant. A judge initially set an execution date for Nathan Dunlap in August 2013, but Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a temporary reprieve to postpone Dunlap’s execution date. Dunlap, now a 45-year-old black male, is the old timer on death row, having been there since 1996. He was convicted of murdering 4 people at an Aurora pizza restaurant in 1993.

Current Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has indicated he would sign a bill that would end the death penalty and it is a topic the Legislature is expected to take up again in the upcoming session.

(source: The Pueblo Chieftain)


Ron Lafferty could face firing squad within ‘months’ after Utah death row inmate loses latest appeal

A federal appeals court Monday pushed Ron Lafferty, who is on Utah’s death row for the 1984 murder of his sister-in-law and niece in American Fork, much closer to a firing squad by denying his latest appeal.

Lafferty, 78, can appeal the latest decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Andrew Peterson, assistant solicitor general at the Utah attorney general’s office.

“It’s incredibly unlikely they will review this case," Peterson said, “and if they don’t, we’re talking months” until Lafferty is executed.

Dale Baich, an attorney for Lafferty, issued a statement Monday afternoon.

“When the most severe penalty a state can impose is at stake,” the statement said, “we look to the courts to be the safety net to ensure that the full protections allowed by the Constitution have been met. Here, the court relied on procedural technicalities to deny Mr. Lafferty a complete appellate review of his case.

“We are carefully reviewing the decision and going forward, we will exercise all state and federal legal options.”

Utah has not executed an inmate since a firing squad shot Ronnie Lee Gardner to death in 2010. The state has 8 inmates on its death row. Monday’s ruling makes Lafferty the closest of them to being executed.

State law gives Lafferty the choice between death by lethal injection or firing squad. Lafferty has said in court proceedings he wants the latter.

In 2004, the Utah Legislature ended the firing squad option, except for inmates who had already been sentenced to die and had selected that method. Then, in 2015, the Legislature added firing squads again, but only if courts determine Utah does not have the cocktail of drugs needed to execute an inmate by lethal injection.

Monday’s ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals covered old ground. Lafferty again argued his original trial attorneys misrepresented him, that he should not have been found competent to stand trial and he should not have been made to stand trial a 2nd time after winning an earlier appeal.

Monday’s decision rejected every point. The 18-page ruling from the Denver-based appellate judges repeatedly said they found no errors with the federal and state courts in Utah that already sided against Lafferty’s arguments.

Lafferty and his younger brother Dan Lafferty participated in the murders of Brenda Lafferty, 24, and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica — crimes captured in Jon Krakauer’s book “Under the Banner of Heaven.” According to court documents, the brothers blamed their sister-in-law for helping Ron Lafferty’s wife leave him with their six children. Ron and Dan Lafferty also were upset, according to trial testimony, that Brenda Lafferty opposed her husband, Allen Lafferty, joining their polygamous cult, called School of the Prophets.

On Pioneer Day 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty forced their way into Brenda and Allen Lafferty’s American Fork duplex. The husband was not home.

Ron and Dan Lafferty beat her, strangled her with a vacuum cord and slit her throat, court documents say. Dan Lafferty then killed Erica by cutting her throat.

The 2 brothers were tried separately. Dan Lafferty went on trial first in January 1985. He represented himself. The 12 jurors convicted him of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 4 other felonies but were unable to vote unanimously for the death penalty. A judge sentenced him to 2 life terms.

When Ron Lafferty, who had lawyers representing him, went to trial the following April, the jury convicted him and voted unanimously that he be put to death. The 10th Circuit — the same court that ruled Monday — later overturned the capital murder conviction and ordered a new trial after finding that the wrong standards had been used to evaluate Ron Lafferty’s mental competency.

The 2nd trial commenced in 1996 with the same result — Ron Lafferty was convicted of murder charges and sentenced to die. Lafferty’s legal case has been crawling through state and federal courts ever since.

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court rejects the latest appeal, Ron Lafferty will still have some legal options. Once a state judge signs an execution warrant, Ron Lafferty will have the right to request a commutation from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.

Peterson said Ron Lafferty’s attorneys might also yet argue he is not competent to be executed. Mental competency has arisen ever since Ron Lafferty was tried the first time, with trial and appellate attorneys arguing he couldn’t adequately assist in his defense.

Peterson said there is a different legal standard for determining if someone is competent to go to an execution chamber.

“As long as he knows why he’s being punished," Peterson said, "he’s competent to be executed.”

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


New appeal denied: Is Utah inmate Ron Lafferty months away from a firing squad?

The man convicted of committing one of Utah's most infamous double murders has lost his latest round of appeals, putting him another step closer to a firing squad execution.

Ronald Lafferty, 78, was seeking a certificate that would allow him to make an appeal to another court. On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied that request.

"This is effectively the end of the habeas case, other than motions," said Andrew Peterson, with the Utah Attorney General's Office, meaning Lafferty's challenges to his conviction and sentence are over.

At this point, Peterson said Lafferty can ask the 10th Circuit to reconsider its decision, ask the full 10th Circuit to consider his case rather than a panel of judges, or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case. Peterson believes it's "exceedingly unlikely" that the nation's highest court would hear Lafferty's case.

Because of Monday's decision, Peterson said it's "conceivable" that Lafferty is now just months away from execution.

Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, were convicted of slitting the throats of his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her infant daughter in 1984 — crimes they committed after Ron Lafferty allegedly received a revelation from God telling him to kill them. Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison.

Lafferty is one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the state. His case has gone through numerous appeals.

In his latest appeal, Lafferty was seeking a certificate of appealability, something he has already sought and been denied once before. A certificate of appealability is needed in order for another court to hear arguments that a habeas corpus appeal was wrongfully denied.

Peterson said Lafferty was essentially asking for a permit to be allowed to appeal.

"After exhausting his state court remedies, Lafferty sought federal habeas relief by filing a petition in federal district court," according to the 10th Circuit Court's decision issued Monday. "The district court denied his petition and also denied him a certificate of appealability. Lafferty has now filed a renewed motion."

In the appeals court's decision, the judges deny 4 arguments made by Lafferty: that the state did not have jurisdiction to retry him; that his retrial violated the double jeopardy clause; that he had ineffective assistance at trial and at sentencing; and that the state court erred in finding him competent to stand trial.

Peterson said the state will still seek a warrant of execution for Lafferty, despite his age.

"We've been attempting for several decades to have his judgment carried out," he said.

Peterson said it would be an injustice to the victims and their families if Lafferty was not executed simply because he "waited it out."

Lafferty would be the 2nd oldest inmate if executed. In 2018, Walter Moody became the oldest person executed, in Alabama, at 83.

(source: Deseret News)


Intent on Restoring His Conviction and Death Sentence, Arizona Reinvents Its Case Against Barry Jones----A year after a federal judge overturned the conviction of Barry Jones, Arizona is still fighting to execute him.

On a clear, blue day in late spring, Arizona Assistant Attorney General Myles Braccio stood before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was just after 10 a.m. Braccio had a half-hour to salvage a 24-year-old death penalty conviction that had been overturned by a federal judge. “Your honors,” he began, “this case today presents nothing more than a habeas petitioner who hired several new experts, many years after his convictions and sentences, in an attempt to undermine the jury’s verdicts.”

The petitioner was Barry Lee Jones, sent to death row in 1995 for an unspeakable crime: the rape and murder of a 4-year-old girl. Jones had always sworn he was innocent — and the experts in question, hired by the Office of the Arizona Federal Public Defender, had dismantled the case against him. During a seven-day evidentiary hearing held in 2017, witnesses had explained in sobering detail why the state’s medical theory of the crime was impossible. Had Jones’s trial lawyers presented such evidence, U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess ruled in July 2018, “there is a reasonable probability that his jury would not have convicted him of any of the crimes” that sent him to death row.

Burgess ordered Arizona to swiftly retry or release Jones. Instead, the state appealed to the 9th Circuit. An oral argument was scheduled for June 20 at its headquarters in downtown San Francisco. The courthouse at Seventh and Mission looks stately but plain from the outside, but inside it is startlingly magnificent: an opulent Beaux Arts building replete with marble, vaulted ceilings and a bronze elevator cage, just past security. Braccio, 39, arrived unaccompanied by his colleagues with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. With a new beard, mustache, and glasses, he was now the face of the state’s determination to execute Jones.

Jones’s actual innocence was not up for debate. Rather, the judges had to decide whether they agreed with Burgess that the new medical evidence would likely have led to an acquittal if considered by a jury. They also had to address a more vexing legal argument advanced by the state: that under the sweeping Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, or AEDPA, Burgess should not have granted the 2017 evidentiary hearing in the first place.

The state’s position seemed weak, if not desperate, on the one hand. The case against Jones had been so thoroughly discredited that it was hard to imagine how the remaining evidence against him could survive the scrutiny of a new trial. Of course, from the state’s perspective, that was the point of appealing. Arizona prosecutors clearly believed it would be easier to convince a panel of federal judges that Burgess was wrong on the law than it would be to convince a jury to reconvict Jones. At this stage of capital appellate litigation, cases are most often won or lost on procedural technicalities, no matter how clear cut the underlying facts may seem.

The case against Jones had been so thoroughly discredited that it was hard to imagine how the remaining evidence against him could survive the scrutiny of a new trial.

Braccio began by recasting the medical testimony at the 2017 evidentiary hearing. The evidence was actually “double-edged,” he argued. Even if it did not fully support the original theory of the crime, it still supported other elements of the state’s case. And those were enough to reinstate Jones’s conviction and sentence.

The judges looked skeptical. They had reviewed the voluminous records in the case. The files dated back to the morning of May 2, 1994: the day 4-year-old Rachel Gray arrived at a Tucson hospital, lifeless, bruised, and showing injuries to her head and vagina. She and her siblings had been living with their mother, Angela Gray — Jones’s girlfriend at the time — in Jones’s cramped home at the Desert Vista Trailer Park. An autopsy would show that Rachel died from a blow to her abdomen that ruptured her duodenum, part of her small intestine, leading to a deadly condition called peritonitis. There was little doubt someone had violently harmed the child. But the lead detective never investigated the timing of Rachel’s fatal injury, merely assuming it had been inflicted on the eve of her death. Law enforcement immediately seized on Jones, ignoring any alternative suspects.

In his ruling overturning the conviction, Burgess called this a “rush to judgment.” The state had placed its entire theory of the crime within a narrow window on May 1 — during which Jones had been seen with Rachel taking short trips in his van — but now it was clear that Rachel’s condition could never have become so grave so fast. The timeline used to convict Jones no longer fit, 9th Circuit Judge Richard Clifton told Braccio. “We’re close to the OJ anniversary,” he added, “and things don’t fit, you gotta acquit, right?”

In a judicial circuit famed for being the most liberal in the country, Clifton, 68, is among the more conservative members of the bench. Seated next to him was another judge who is no bleeding heart: Judge Johnnie Rawlinson, a former prosecutor from Nevada. The third and most liberal member of the panel was Judge Paul Watford, appointed by Barack Obama. Ideologically, it was a mixed bag. But if there were any deep disagreements over the case, they were hard to discern. The stakes were high for Jones going into the oral argument. But they would soon become even higher. In July, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced plans to resume federal executions — and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich immediately signaled plans do the same. “As you know, Arizona has not carried out an execution since 2014,” he wrote in a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey. Under a legal settlement following a notorious botched execution, Arizona had adopted a new one-drug protocol allowing for pentobarbital — the same drug just chosen by the Justice Department. “This suggests that the federal government has successfully obtained pentobarbital,” Brnovich wrote, noting that Arizona had struggled to acquire the drug. He asked for the governor’s help finding a supply to restart executions. “Justice must be done for the victims of these heinous crimes and their families. Those who committed the ultimate crime deserve the ultimate punishment.”

“Subtract Everything Else”

There is no question that the original charges against Jones were some of the worst crimes imaginable. But the oral argument made clear that Arizona is now trying win back Jones’s death sentence on any possible basis — even one that radically alters the original theory of the case.

Jurors found Jones guilty on 4 counts along with 1st-degree murder: 3 counts of child abuse and 1 of “sexual assault of a minor under f14” Under Arizona’s felony murder law — in which a person can be found guilty of 1st-degree murder if a death occurs during the commission of a felony — any of the 4 counts were sufficient to support a death sentence. To reinstate Jones’s conviction, Braccio just needed to convince the panel that a jury would still convict Jones on any one of the original counts.

The judges swiftly shut down Braccio’s first line of argument: that despite all the new medical evidence, a jury would still have convicted Jones of sexual assault. This was a somewhat baffling place to begin; of the original charges against Jones, it was perhaps the weakest. There was never any physical evidence tying Jones to Rachel’s vaginal injury. A pediatric pathologist had found that, while there was evidence of re-injury, the original wound dated back weeks — possibly before Rachel lived with Jones. Braccio’s claim didn’t stand up, Clifton told him. “Because once you open the door to an earlier time period, you open the door to lots of other potential culprits.”

Braccio asked the judges to discard the horrific charges at the heart of the state’s original case and fast-forward to the part where Jones did not take Rachel to the hospital.

Braccio moved on to his next argument: Even if a jury would not have found Jones guilty of physically assaulting Rachel, he said, it would definitely have convicted him on a separate count of child abuse: the failure to take Rachel to the hospital the night before she died.

This argument was harder to dismiss. It was true that Rachel was visibly sick and injured that evening. As Braccio pointed out, multiple neighbors had expressed concern — and one of Jones’s own medical experts had testified that it would have been apparent to anyone that the child was unwell, even if the reason was unclear. Particularly damning for Jones was that he had admitted to lying to Angela Gray about taking Rachel to get medical attention earlier that day. As Jones would tell police, Rachel had bloodied her head after falling from his parked van; she said a little boy had pushed her. Jones said he was taking Rachel to be seen by paramedics at a nearby fire station but changed his mind after spotting a police car. Wishing to avoid being caught with a suspended license, Jones said he drove to a Quik Mart, where an EMT shined a light in Rachel’s eyes and concluded that she was OK. “He said something about her, her eyes being reactive equal, reacting equal, something,” Jones told police.

The head injury was not what killed Rachel. But the lie about taking Rachel to the fire station made Jones an early suspect. However, as Jones’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Cary Sandman, argued, it was Gray — known to be physically abusive toward her kids — who did not want to take Rachel to the hospital that night. She was afraid she would be suspected of child abuse. In fact, Pima County prosecutors had tried and failed to win a felony murder conviction against Gray on the same charge in 1995. She was given eight years instead.

But most importantly, Sandman said, the jurors who convicted Jones of “intentionally and knowingly” denying medical care to Rachel had been persuaded that he committed the underlying offenses — namely raping and fatally beating her. In her closing statement at trial, the prosecutor said that Jones had deliberately refused to take Rachel to the hospital in order to cover up his deadly actions. This argument was inextricable from the jury’s decision to find Jones guilty on all counts, Sandman argued. “I think that the conviction has to be set aside,” he told the judges. If the state decides to retry Jones — a decision the attorney general’s office has repeatedly tried to avoid — “they can retry him on that count.”

“You’re now asking us to hypothesize an entirely different trial that never occurred.”

Braccio vehemently disagreed. Jurors had been instructed to consider each count separately, he pointed out. He asked the judges to simply discard the horrific charges at the heart of the state’s original case and fast-forward to the part where Jones did not take Rachel to the hospital. “I think you can look at the evidence from trial in this case and start exactly when he returned to the trailer park with Rachel after these numerous trips he took,” Braccio said. “Subtract everything else — everything else that happened before that. And the record is overwhelming to convict him of fatal neglect in this case.”

Watford pushed back. “You’re now asking us to hypothesize an entirely different trial that never occurred,” he told Braccio. But the judge was more incredulous at a different claim peddled by Braccio: that under Arizona law, it did not matter whether Jones even realized Rachel was gravely injured on the night before she died. His failure to take her to the hospital still made him guilty of murder.

“That’s a pretty tough standard to apply a death penalty to,” Clifton remarked. Never mind the death penalty, Watford said. Was Braccio really suggesting that a parent who fails to take their kid to the hospital can be convicted of murder — even if they have no idea their child’s life is at risk? “Absolutely correct, your honor,” Braccio said.

“I can tell you the Eighth Amendment does not permit someone to get the death penalty for doing that,” Watford responded. “That has got to be true. Correct?” Braccio demurred. But taken to its logical conclusion, that’s exactly what he was saying.

Unintended Consequences

It has been more than a year since Jones first heard the news of his overturned conviction. The order last summer brought a palpable sense of excitement and relief that seemed to mark the end of a very long road. But the state soon made clear it was not giving up, and despite Burgess’s order telling Arizona to retry or release him, Jones was not likely to go home anytime soon after all.

With a ruling from the 9th Circuit panel not likely to come until the end of this year, the next few months will extend what has already felt like an endless series of waits for Jones. It had taken eight months after the 2017 evidentiary hearing for Burgess to overturn his conviction. Before that, it was a lengthy wait for the hearing itself — not to mention the years it took his lawyers to win the hearing to begin with. Even if the 9th Circuit rules in Jones’s favor, there is no reason to believe the state will yield.

I first wrote about Jones in the days leading up to the 2017 hearing. The records, police reports, and trial transcripts were filled with red flags pointing to a wrongful conviction, from prosecutorial misconduct to junk science. Two jurors who voted to find Jones guilty had since expressed misgivings about the case. And friends and neighbors who knew Jones from Desert Vista told me that they never believed he was responsible for Rachel’s death.

In the meantime, there have been significant shifts in Arizona where the death penalty is concerned. The same year as Jones’s evidentiary hearing, several former prosecutors and judges threw their support behind a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, brought by a man on death row named Abel Daniel Hidalgo, who argued that Arizona’s death penalty was so overly broad as to be unconstitutional. Hidalgo’s attorneys presented statistical data that showed 98 percent of first-degree murder defendants in Maricopa County (where the death penalty is most frequently sought) were eligible for the death penalty. This flew in the face of the notion that capital punishment be reserved only for the most egregious cases — for defendants who are the “worst of the worst.”

Among those who signed an amicus brief supporting Hidalgo was the man who wrote Arizona’s death penalty law more than 40 years ago. As he told me in late 2017, the once-narrow list of aggravating factors that were supposed to tip the scales toward a death sentence in Arizona has “crept and expanded to absurd, broad categories.” Among them: offenses “committed in a cold, calculated manner without pretense of moral or legal justification.”

The Supreme Court ultimately rejected Hidalgo’s petition, explaining that, while the data pointed to a problem that “warrants careful attention and evaluation,” there was not enough evidence presented for the justices to rule one way or another. But Justice Stephen Breyer highlighted other concerning aspects of Arizona’s law that show how broadly the death penalty can be applied. “Arizona’s capital murder statute makes all first-degree murderers eligible for death and defines first-degree murder broadly to include all premeditated homicides along with felony murder based on 22 possible predicate felony offenses,” he wrote.

The most recent Arizona prosecutor to come out against the death penalty is a man closely linked to Jones’s case.

It is under this sentencing scheme that Arizona is now fighting to execute Jones, not for the “ultimate crime,” but for failing to take Rachel to the hospital. Braccio may indeed be right that state law would authorize a death sentence in these circumstances. But few would argue that this is how the state’s death penalty law was intended to work.

The most recent Arizona prosecutor to come out against the death penalty is a man closely linked to Jones’s case. In May, just weeks before the oral argument before the 9th Circuit, Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay published a memoir titled “Arbitrary Death: A Prosecutor’s Perspective on the Death Penalty.” The slim volume contains profiles of capital cases he handled dating back to the 1980s — grisly crimes that he still believes merited the death penalty. But the book reveals how Unklesbay came to decide the system is unworkable. It critiqued the overly broad aggravating factors, some of which are “perplexing, even to prosecutors.”

Yet Unklesbay’s book had a notable omission. While he briefly acknowledged the risk of executing people for crimes they did not commit, he made practically no mention of the nine people exonerated from Arizona’s death row. This is particularly odd given Unklesbay’s current position in Tucson: He is the head of Pima County’s Conviction Integrity Unit. It is literally his job to review cases of possible innocence.

Unklesbay’s abolitionist message would likely ring hollow to Jones. For years his attorneys have sought to submit his case to the Pima County CIU, but Unklesbay has repeatedly declined to accept it. After Burgess vacated Jones’s conviction, Unklesbay told me it was too soon to know whether the CIU would accept the case. In an email last week, Unklesbay echoed this message. “I’m waiting for 9th Circuit as well and waiting to hear from the attorney general about the outcome,” he wrote. “So we haven’t considered anything further on it at this point.”

“That’s the Conundrum”

The oral argument in San Francisco was winding down when the judges finally addressed the most confusing part of the state’s appeal: that under AEDPA, Burgess had been wrong to grant the 2017 evidentiary hearing — and to use it as a basis for overturning Jones’s conviction.

Jones only ever made it back into federal court thanks to a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court named Martinez v. Ryan. The decision provided a narrow remedy in cases where there was compelling evidence of poor lawyering that had never been heard in court. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is a cornerstone of American law. For appellate attorneys in criminal cases, an ineffective assistance claim is the most obvious and viable path to a new trial. Yet, depending in part on the procedural rules in a given state, there is no guarantee a court will meaningfully assess a trial lawyer’s performance, even in a death penalty case. AEDPA, passed a year after Jones was convicted, bolstered rules shutting out ineffective assistance claims from federal review if a defendant had previously failed to bring them in state court.

But Martinez carved out a crucial exception to this rule. If the failure was itself due to the ineffectiveness of a state post-conviction attorney, the justices ruled, a federal court could consider the claim. “Before Martinez, the general rule that applied in every case was, if your post-conviction lawyer is negligent, the client is stuck with that,” Sandman, Jones’s lawyer, told me.

Jones’s case “seems to fit to a tee what Martinez was intended to correct,” Sandman says. “I mean, here’s a guy who’s been in prison for 25 years and he used Martinez to show that he didn’t get a fair trial.” But the Arizona Attorney General’s Office accused Burgess of taking Martinez too far. The ruling created “a gateway” to having an ineffective assistance claim considered — “no more, no less,” the state argued. Just because Jones had overcome this initial hurdle — a concept known as “procedural default” — to get his claim considered by Burgess did not mean he was actually entitled to prove it in court. After all, AEDPA explicitly forbids federal courts from granting an evidentiary hearing on a claim that was never developed in state court.

In other words, if Jones had wished to present the evidence on display at the 2017 evidentiary hearing to win a new trial, he should have gotten his post-conviction attorney to do it back when he was assigned one in 1999. Burgess had violated AEDPA “by using all of this evidence” to decide Jones’s case, Braccio argued.

“Counsel, just so I understand your argument,” Rawlinson said, “are you saying that it was permissible to use this evidence to determine whether or not there was cause to excuse the procedural default, but then a line has to be drawn around that evidence, and it cannot be used on the merits? That’s your argument?”

“Exactly right, your honor,” Braccio said. The judges seemed confounded. What was the point of allowing the claim to be brought before a judge if then there was no evidence for a judge to consider? Braccio replied that a judge could just look to the state court record. “But that doesn’t make sense if the claim wasn’t developed in state court,” Rawlinson said. “That’s the conundrum I’m having with your argument. If the claim was never developed in state court, there will be nothing in the state record. You’d be looking at a vacuum basically.”

“Are you aware of the concept of Catch-22?” Clifton said. “Because this seems like exactly that.”

The judges were clearly not convinced by Braccio’s argument. But they also seemed genuinely unsure about how to proceed. “I feel a little caught,” Clifton confessed. On the one hand, “it seems insane” to allow someone like Jones to develop all the facts that prove he should have a chance to get back into court under Martinez, only to then say a judge must ignore that same evidence. “That doesn’t make any sense.” But the Supreme Court was also clear that Martinez did not overrule any of its earlier decisions — including those that restrict evidentiary development under AEDPA. “So, I feel sort of handcuffed.”

Rawlinson asked Braccio whether there was a specific case that supported his stance. He cited a “combination” of rulings. So, “you’re asking us to cobble together all of these sources and come up with the conclusion that the evidence that’s been garnered in support of [Jones] is no longer in play?” Rawlinson replied. “Correct,” Braccio said.

“This is a separation of powers issue,” Braccio went on. Congress passed AEDPA in order to ensure finality in criminal convictions. Just because the Supreme Court carved out an exception to one of the law’s strict procedural rules did not mean its other rules did not apply. “Well, it appears the Supreme Court has done that in Martinez,” Rawlinson responded. “And we’re bound to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on this.”

Sandman predicts that the 9th Circuit will ultimately reject Braccio’s argument. But he also expects Arizona to appeal to the Supreme Court. In his view, this will do little more than drag out a process that has unfairly kept his client on death row for more than 2 1/2 decades. The Martinez decision was clearly intended to open a door that had long been closed to people like Jones, he says.

“Martinez was a 7-2 decision,” Sandman says. Only Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia dissented. Unless John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who voted with the majority, want to suddenly “switch sides,” it is highly unlikely that the court will grant review on the question. To do so would be to say, “‘We want to close the door that we opened.’ And I don’t see that happening. I think they’re going to want to leave the door open.”



Oregon’s new law limiting the death penalty applies to past cases, new legal opinion says

Lawmakers this year assured Oregonians that a new law significantly limiting the death penalty in Oregon would not affect death row cases returned to lower courts for retrial or new sentencing hearings. On Friday, a top lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice told prosecutors the law does in fact apply to those cases -- and to pending aggravated murder cases as well.

Lawmakers this year assured Oregonians that a new law significantly limiting the death penalty in Oregon would not affect death row cases returned to lower courts for retrial or new sentencing hearings. On Friday, a top lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice told prosecutors the law does in fact apply to those cases -- and to pending aggravated murder cases as well. State legislators this year made repeated assurances that a new law significantly limiting the death penalty in Oregon wouldn’t apply to death row cases returned to lower courts for retrial or new sentencing hearings.

Now, a top lawyer with the Oregon Department of Justice has told prosecutors that the law does indeed affect those cases -- and pending aggravated murder cases as well.

Benjamin Gutman, Oregon’s solicitor general, wrote the email, which was distributed Friday and later obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Gutman said the issue came up during the agency’s review of a Washington County trial court ruling last week involving Martin Allen Johnson who authorities say raped and murdered a 15-year-old Tigard girl in 1998 before throwing her body off an Astoria bridge.

As soon as Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 1013, which limits the crimes eligible for the death penalty, Johnson’s lawyers raised the issue of whether the law applies to their client. Circuit Judge Eric Butterfield determined that Johnson’s crime no longer qualifies as aggravated murder under the new law and therefore he isn’t eligible for the death penalty.

“I know that I have had conversations with many of you in which I suggested otherwise but after careful review of the issue … we have concluded that we don’t have a plausible basis for an appeal,” Gutman wrote.

State Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, had told The Oregonian/OregonLive last month that lawmakers drafted a separate bill, Senate Bill 1005, to make clear that SB 1013 wouldn’t apply to those who have been previously sentenced but have been granted reversals.

The 2nd bill passed at the close of the session and was signed into law this month by Brown. It says SB 1013 doesn’t “apply to persons who were originally sentenced before January 1, 2020, and who are subsequently resentenced on or after January 1, 2020, as the result of an appellate decision or a post-conviction relief proceeding or for any other reason.”

Williamson on Monday was unavailable for comment, according to her legislative aide. Williamson, an attorney, stepped down as House Majority Leader last month and has been rumored to be interested in a run for Oregon attorney general.

A representative of Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a leading proponent of SB 1013, said the senator hadn’t seen Gutman’s email and wasn’t available to talk about it.

It is unclear how the opinion will affect some of the state’s most notorious cases.

The new law narrows the definition of aggravated murder, which is the only crime in Oregon eligible for a death sentence. Aggravated murder is now limited to defendants who kill 2 or more people as an act of organized terrorism; kill a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation; kill another person while locked in jail or prison for a previous murder; or kill a police, correctional or probation officer.

Gutman, who as solicitor general oversees the state’s appellate division, said the Justice Department’s analysis has broad implications. Lawyers for the agency handle all appeals for criminal cases.

He sent the email to prosecutors with aggravated murder cases that have been sent back for retrial.

“I thought all of your offices would want to know about our conclusion because it also means that we do not think we could defend a death sentence (or even an aggravated murder conviction) obtained in any of the pending cases even if the trial courts were to rule differently than the court” in the Washington County case, he wrote.

Gutman wrote that he had been under the impression that lawmakers had addressed concerns over the law’s retroactivity by passing SB 1005, “but on a closer read, SB 1005 does not have any language limiting the application of SB 1013’s substantive provisions to cases being retried.”

Gutman’s opinion sent prosecutors reeling.

Tim Colahan, executive director of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, and other prosecutors said the opinion has injected uncertainty into the most serious cases and undermined the families of murder victims.

“This contradicts the express intent that the proponents of SB 1013 stated during the legislative process and also is contrary to the stated legislative intent expressed by legislators when the bill passed,” Colahan said. The organization opposed Senate Bill 1013.

District attorneys are trying to determine how many cases may be affected by the opinion, he said.

Meanwhile, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton said the legislation has thrown the state’s most serious statutes into chaos.

“Oregon’s murder laws are now a mess after the passage of SB 1013,” he said. “This is what happens when politicians ignore the will of Oregon voters and disregard the experience and input of Oregon’s prosecutors.”

Barton said Senate Bill 1013 was passed without regard for its “real world impact to our communities and to our victims.”

“There are victims and families across Oregon who are suffering right now as a result of the mess that has been created,” he said.

Katie Suver, a longtime deputy district attorney in Marion County, said the law was hastily passed and poorly crafted. She said her testimony before the Legislature was limited to 2 minutes -- not enough time, she said, to discuss concerns about implications of major change to Oregon murder statutes.

“There needed to be a lot more care in passing this law,” she said.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said prosecutors worried that the new law would have implications for cases sent back for new trials or sentencing hearings.

“This is why I have been saying all along this bill isn’t going to save any money,” she said. “We are going to have to litigate every issue.”



U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin files bill to abolish death penalty nationwide

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is pushing to abolish the federal death penalty after President Donald Trump’s administration announced it will be resuming executions again for the 1st time since 2003.

Durbin’s bill would “prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for any violation of Federal law, and for other purposes.” Durbin said Illinois eliminated the death penalty 8 years ago and, “We should do the same at the federal level,” he said in a news release.

The bill is one of a handful that has been filed in Congress this session. Durbin’s bill is co-sponsored by Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Bernie Sanders, an independent seeking Trump's job.

“Try as we might, we cannot escape the fact that the death penalty in America is disproportionately imposed on minorities and poor people,” Durbin said in a statement. “Supreme Court Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens both declared their opposition to the death penalty by the end of their judicial careers, recognizing the system to be deeply flawed.”

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, CEO of the John Howard Association, said too many people on death row have been exonerated.

“Our criminal justice system is grossly imperfect and to think that we have enough certainty of who people are and what happened to think the punishment should be death is simply outrageous,” she said.

Illinois put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2001 and abolished it in 2011.

Gallup polling shows a majority of people support allowing the death penalty, but that figure has been slowly falling.

(source: Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News)


‘Eric’s Law’ would give prosecutors a 2nd chance at death penalty

Citing the brutal murder of Correctional Officer Eric Williams, 2 lawmakers on Monday announced legislation that would give prosecutors a 2nd crack at securing the death penalty for killers.

Williams, 34, was beaten and stabbed more than 200 times during an ambush at U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan on Feb. 25, 2013, while preparing to lock inmates into their cells for a nightly head-count.

His killer, Jessie Con-ui, was already serving a life sentence for a gang murder and freely admitted responsibility at trial. Nevertheless, at sentencing a lone holdout on the jury ensured he did not get the death penalty for the vicious murder, which was caught on tape.

Williams’ family blasted the jury for doing “absolutely nothing” with its decision, which resulted in a 2nd life sentence for Con-ui, 42.

On Monday, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12, announced “Eric’s Law,” which would allow prosecutors to impanel a second jury for sentencing if the first jury fails to reach a unanimous decision.

“Officer Eric Williams was killed by a violent gang member while on-duty,” Toomey said in a statement. “His murderer’s crime largely went unpunished, even though 11 out of 12 jurors voted for the death penalty, because he was already serving a life sentence. Our legislation will fix this flaw in our justice system and help ensure no family has to see violent criminals avoid justice.”

The announcement noted federal law currently does not allow prosecutors to impanel a 2nd jury if the first becomes deadlocked. Instead, the presiding judge must impose a sentence other than death.

The proposed legislation, which is modeled after state laws in California and Arizona, would allow for the 2nd jury, but not require it.

“Justice denied to one is justice denied to all and we cannot let that stand, and as they say: the punishment must fit the crime,” Keller said in the statement. “When a jury in a federal death penalty case finds a defendant guilty, but fails to come to a unanimous verdict on the death penalty, there should be an option to review the penalty phase of the trial to give victims and their families the best chance at finding the justice they seek.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9, Dallas, is a cosponsor of the legislation, which has the support of the prison union, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

(source: The Citizen's Voice)


Barr Urges Quick Death Penalty for Mass Murder or Killing Police

The Justice Department is seeking legislation to allow quick death sentences for people who carry out mass murder or kill a law enforcement officer, Attorney General William Barr said Monday.

“We will be proposing legislation providing that in cases of mass murder or in cases of murder of a law enforcement officer there will be a strict timetable for judicial proceedings that will allow the imposition of the death sentence without undue delay,” Barr said in a speech at a law enforcement conference in New Orleans.

"Punishment must be swift,” Barr said adding that he plans to offer the legislative proposal next month, when Congress returns from its summer break.

The attorney general offered a conservative’s response to the mass shootings that killed 31 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton Ohio, as gun-control advocates press for a ban on assault rifles and expanded background checks for gun buyers.

President Donald Trump has said he wants “meaningful background checks” for firearm purchases but that he’ll ensure that the National Rifle Association’s views are “fully represented and respected” in discussions with Congress on legislation.



The Struggle Continues: Bryan Stevenson Speaks On True Justice And Tradition ---- The veteran attorney, author, and freedom fighter's life's work is featured in a new HBO documentary, “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality.”

When one mentions the name Bryan Stevenson in social and criminal justice spaces, it is met with reverence and respect.

Stevenson, 59, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama, has been in the trenches and at the front lines in the fight against the death penalty. He has argued five cases before the United States Supreme Court and, through EJI, has won reversals, relief or release from prison for more than 135 wrongly condemned death-row inmates, people abandoned by society at-large and left to die in cages.

The veteran attorney, author, and freedom fighter’s life’s work is featured in a new HBO documentary, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality. A film adaption of his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, will hit theaters in December 2019, with Michael B. Jordan starring as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx starring as Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to death after he was wrongly convicted for the murder of an 18-year-old white girl.

Stevenson took on McMillian’s case in post-conviction, where he showed that the State’s witnesses had lied on the stand—and that the prosecution had illegally suppressed evidence. The case was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1993 and McMillian was released after spending 6 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

In an interview with ESSENCE, Stevenson’s voice is filled with the echoes and expectation of victory, despite the pain he has seen and the horrors he’s witnessed.

“We, in the African American community, have always known that the criminal justice system is a threat, that it will take people who are innocent or wrongly convicted and it will treat people unfairly,” Stevenson responds when I ask him about the awesome responsibility of holding life and death in his hands against the gravitational pull of injustice. “But we keep fighting.”

According to EJI, more than half of the people on death row in this country are people of color. Of the more than 2700 people currently under a death sentence, 42% are Black, 13% are Latinx, and 42% are white, despite Black people making up approximately 13% and Latinx people making up approximately 18% of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Additionally, nearly 80% of murder victims in cases resulting in an execution have been white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims are white, i.e. those who murdered white people were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered Black people, according to

“It’s been really difficult to get the rest of society to acknowledge the racial disparities and inhumanity within the criminal justice system,” Stevenson continued. “But I’ve been laboring at this for a really long time, and I feel hopeful about this moment, despite the challenges that we face.”

This moment is, indeed, rife with both cruelty and resistance. As ESSENCE previously reported, Attorney General William Barr announced in July that the federal government will be resuming capital punishment after 16 years. One day later, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) announced that she would be introducing a bill that would “prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for any violation of Federal law, and for other purposes.”

Pressley announced the bill on social media, tweeting, “The same #racist rhetoric coming from the occupant of the @WhiteHouse, who called for the execution of the #Exonerated5, is what led to this racist, vile policy. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

“The cruelty is the point – this is by design.”

For Stevenson, this nation’s failed promise of “with liberty and justice for all” is what compelled him to enter the legal field. “I became a lawyer because I really did want to have the skills and abilities to get behind the limitations of democracy,” he said with conviction. “I grew up in a community where the Black kids had to go to the ‘colored’ school and if you left it up to people voting whether or not to end racial segregation in schools, because white people were the majority, that would have never happened.

“It took the rule of law and the ability to go into a courtroom and make things change,” Stevenson continued. “And that’s what motivated me. I always want to use that power to help people who are disfavored and disadvantaged, to help people like the people I grew up with.”

From George Stinney Jr. To Troy Davis

George Stinney Jr., the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century, was only 14-years old and weighed 95 pounds when he was accused of murdering two white girls with a railroad spike in 1944. His trial lasted for less than 3 hours and an all-white male jury deliberated for 10 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Though a South Carolina judge exonerated young George in 2014, ruling that there had been “fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process,” the evilness of George Stinney Jr.’s state-sanctioned execution is haunting. His photo appears in the early moments of True Justice.

“The spectacle of putting a little boy on top of Bibles so his head would be tall enough for the electrodes to reach, then to kill him and go home like you’ve done something right or just, and not be overwhelmed by that illustrates the perversity of what this system can do,” Stevenson says quietly.

Though Troy Davis, at the age of 42, was much older than George Stinney Jr., when the state of Georgia killed him by lethal injection in 2011 for allegedly murdering a police officer, the spectacles of their executions further expose the ugliness this nation tries to conceal with flag-waving and anthem-singing. Davis was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Frantic efforts to save his life reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the 11th hour, but to no avail.

“Continue to fight this fight…,” Davis said to his loved ones gathered to watch him die. He also addressed his executioners. “For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on all of your souls.”

For Stevenson, it is important not to view these cases in a vacuum—and equally important to be clear on one thing.

“We don’t have to execute people in this country to keep the public safe,” Stevenson said. “Like with Troy Davis, if there’s a question about guilt, then why execute the person? Why? There is a parallel between those two cases that I think is important for people to recognize.”

With Justice For All

Despite the miscarriages of justice Stevenson has witnessed and experienced throughout his career, he still believes in equal justice under the law. This struck me as the familiar well-worn, tattered, beautiful Black southern faith that got our elders and ancestors through, mixed in with that same steely determination that says if it’s not so, yet, then it will be when we’re done.

And while that is certainly admirable, there was a time when the Deacons for Defense and Justice walked the walk of armed resistance during the same decade that Malcolm X taught that there had never been a revolution without bloodshed. And as Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude recently made plain, we’re living and loving and fighting through a cold Civil War right now.

So, does Stevenson believe—with all that he’s seen—that freedom and justice for all can truly be found inside of a courtroom and through non-violent protests? Will revolution truly come from inside of the system—a system that is not broken, but functioning exactly as intended? As James Baldwin once asked, “How much time [does this nation] want for [its] progress?”

“Violence is not just something that you do to other people; in fact, it does something to you, as well,” Stevenson responds with the conviction of a man who has thought this through many times. “And I’m not willing to give away my decency and my humanity and my capacity to love—which is what my mother and my grandmother gave to me, and her mother and our enslaved ancestors gave to them.”

“The people who shaped me are the people like my grandmother and my mother. These women had such strength and wisdom and insight and tenacity–and they were courageous when other people were quiet. Johnnie Carr and Jo Ann Robinson and Claudette Colvin and all of these women who were the real architects of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and made the Civil Rights Movement succeed. We have to honor and recognize them.”

Stevenson then recalls a conversation with freedom fighter and civil rights leader Rosa Parks, during which she was very specific in telling him to be brave—not fearless, but brave—as he continued his fights for justice.

“I think [Parks] knew that it would be irrational to be fearless,” he tells ESSENCE. “I’ve been in situations that I’ve been very worried about how we’re going to be victorious, but I think of our people, our history. The enslaved people who escaped, who took the Underground Railroad.

“Then I think about the people who didn’t escape, who still found ways to love their children and create joy, even if that was tenuous and they weren’t sure if they could hold on to it,” Stevenson continued. “I think about the Black people who fled the American south for the north and west in response the violence of lynching and terror. Then think about the Black people who stayed despite that threat and terror.”

For Stevenson, that ancestral resilience that has been passed down through generations of Black people not only gives him strength to fight for freedom even on the days that all seems lost, it also reminds him of his responsibility to pass the tradition on.

“That’s the legacy of our community, this capacity to stand up when other people say sit down, to speak when other people say be quite,” he says with palpable resolve. “That has to be something that I hold on to.”



Hanged spree killer still provoking human rights debate

Half a century since his arrest in 1969, and 22 years since his execution, Norio Nagayama, a repentant juvenile spree killer who became a prolific writer behind bars, is still provoking debate on issues surrounding capital punishment, poverty and the rights of children.

The most concrete legacy left by Nagayama, who was just 19 when he carried out his 4 killings over a period of several weeks, is a fund set up to donate the royalties from his books to poor children in Peru, with the hope that none follow the path he did from a broken family and crushing poverty to crime.

But events held around the anniversary each year of his execution on Aug. 1, 1997, by the Nagayama Children Fund to raise further money for Peruvian children have also become a forum for discussions surrounding how society should treat juvenile offenders, drawing lawyers, psychiatrists and others involved in the debate.

According to the Tokyo Bar Association, which recently bestowed a human rights award on the fund, it has, through its activities, "raised issues concerning how the judiciary should face juvenile crimes and if the death penalty should be maintained" given the circumstances of Nagayama's case.

Born into an extremely poor family in a rural northeastern town, Nagayama was abandoned by his mother at age 5 and also had to overcome both an abusive brother and the death of his gambling-addict father whose life ended in destitution.

In 1965, Nagayama moved to Tokyo at a time when Japan was experiencing an era of high economic growth. His killings took place between mid-October and early November of 1968, with Nagayama robbing his last 2 victims of money. When he was arrested the following year, he was still 19 and thus considered a minor under Japanese law.

Initially given the death penalty, the Tokyo High Court commuted the sentence to a life term, arguing the government had failed to rescue him from his deprived surroundings and that it would be "unfair to ignore the lack of proper welfare policies and lay all the responsibilities on the defendant."

The Supreme Court, however, finalized the death sentence in 1990.

At this year's event organized by the fund in Tokyo in late July, with some 200 people attending, the guest speaker was Tadaari Katayama, who lost his 8-year-old son in a traffic accident in 1997.

"We have rather taken the side of the perpetrator, while Mr. Katayama has worked on the side of victims," said Kyoko Otani, Nagayama's former defense lawyer who also heads the fund. "I wanted his participation in our event to promote mutual understanding, so each of us could expand the capacities of our activities."

A believer, despite his own bereavement, in the need to rehabilitate criminals rather than punish them, Katayama visits prisons and juvenile reformatories across Japan to talk with inmates in his capacity as a victim's family member.

"(Criminals) should have opportunities to feel someone's pain, and they should be imprisoned only if they must be isolated in the process of their rehabilitation," he said during the event.

"I have been involved in educational programs at detention facilities, with expectations that the inmates will be able to become happy (as a result of rehabilitation)," he said. "It will make me happy, too, if they could lead happy lives."

Katayama received the human rights award of the association together with the children's fund, and the lawyer's group praised his effort to promote "restorative justice," which aims to rehabilitate criminals and bring closure to victims through dialogue between them as well as with communities.

Those he meets at juvenile reformatories are often the less fortunate, just like Nagayama, he said, adding that he "wonders what society and the older people around them have done for them...I think they must feel lonely."

His disavowal of retribution in criminal justice also makes him a firm opponent of the death penalty. "It should not be accepted that the power of the state can be used to forcibly take someone's life...We need to end the cycle of retribution," he said.

His stance on rehabilitation, however, particularly as someone representing victims, stands in contrast to growing voices calling for tougher punishments of crimes.

While more than 2/3 of states around the world have abolished the death penalty, Japan has been reluctant to follow suit, partly because of high public support for it. A 2014 opinion poll by the Cabinet Office showed only 9.7 % believed the death penalty "should be abolished" while 80.3 % said its existence "cannot be helped".

The latest executions came this month, bringing the number carried out under the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in 2012, to 38.

Some proponents of abolishing capital punishment have suggested replacing it with a life sentence without parole, but Katayama is against such a move, seeing it as in conflict with rehabilitation.

Introducing a punishment "that does not allow convicts to look toward the future" makes no sense, he said.

Encouraged by his comments, Otani told the audience that she felt a renewed conviction that "a person can change."

Meanwhile, in Peru, her former client Nagayama "lives on," she said, through the work of the fund in donating royalties from the several books he wrote behind bars prior to his death at 48, including his best-selling autobiography "Tears of Ignorance" and an award-winning novel.

It is believed that Nagayama, as a neglected child himself, was inspired to request that his book royalties go to Peruvian children after reading a newspaper story shortly before his execution about child workers in the country.

The total amount the group has generated to put into a scholarship fund has exceeded 22 million yen, including money raised by the charitable events, which the fund has held since 2004.

Some recipients sent messages on the occasion of the latest charity event, where a documentary about Peruvian child laborers was also shown.

Annie Olivares, a 20-year-old college student in Lima, said she used the money to achieve her goal of becoming an English teacher.

"I'm deeply thankful to the donors, who are confident that I will be able to meet their expectations," she said. "I promise I will return what I have received by providing supports to others in the future."

Jesus Fernandez, also a 20-year-old Lima resident, said the scholarship had allowed him to resume his engineering studies at college, which he once had to suspend due to economic hardship. "I hope the donors will continue providing economic and psychological supports to generations to come," he said.



Senegalese man caught in Saigon with 1.6 kg of cocaine in stomach

A Senegalese man was arrested at HCMC’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport with 77 pellets of compressed cocaine in his digestive system.

Following his arrival on a flight from Thailand, customs officers and anti-drug police forces on duty at the airport spotted the 39-year-old man acting suspiciously last Saturday.

When he was stopped for inspection, he made a ruckus and refused to cooperate with the police.

Later, he was restrained and his body screened. Images showed that a strange object in his stomach that officials suspected was narcotics.

The suspect was taken to the hospital where doctors used medical measures to take the cocaine pellets weighing around 1.6 kilograms (3 pounds) worth VND10 billion ($431,000) out of his stomach.

Initial investigations show that he flew from Nigeria to Ethiopia, and then transited through Thailand before arriving in Vietnam. He is believed to have swallowed the cocaine pellets and passed security screenings in all 3 countries before being caught at Tan Son Nhat.

Customs officers are cooperating with the Ministry of Public Security in investigating the case further.

Phan Anh Minh, deputy director of the HCMC Police Department, is on record as saying the city has become an increasingly used transit point for drugs because of its well connected roads, marine and air transport services.

Furthermore, drug trafficking and drug abuse has continued to flourish in Vietnam despite the country having some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.



Civil society organisations urge Pakistan’s PM to end blasphemy laws

The Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Roundtable Brussels, a civil society initiative who gathers regularly to exchange ideas with the EU institutions to discuss the religious freedoms, sent a letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on 23 July expressing their grave concern about the South Asian country’s blasphemy laws which impose strict punishments on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.

Around 98% of Pakistan’s 218 million people are members of the official state religion, Islam, making it the second-most populous Muslim country in the world. Although the government has never executed a person under the laws, public accusations, alone, have inspired numerous acts of reprisal violence against those who have been mentioned as potential blasphemers.

In the FoRB’s letter to Khan, which was signed by multiple organisations and individuals, the organisation demanded that increased efforts be made to improve inter-religious cooperation in Pakistan and to provide citizens who are not Muslims with guarantees that their rights will be protected by the courts and that they will no longer subject to reprisals by certain sectors of society or from members of the country’s law enforcement agencies.

“It is our view that blasphemy laws – including both their clauses and references – should be repealed and replaced by laws that call for respecting all religions and place proportionate legal penalties on hate speech or any intent to cause physical harm or commit acts of violence against an individual based on a disagreement with another’s belief,” the FoRB’s letter reads.

Offences relating to religion were first codified during the height of the British Raj in 1860 and were later expanded in 1927. Pakistan inherited these laws after India became independent from the British Empire in 1947 and added to the existing laws after the partition of India in the same year.

Between 1980 and 1986, a number of clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq as he wanted to Islamise the country and legally isolate Pakistan’s tiny non-Muslim population.

During Zia’s years of heavy-handed rule, the blasphemy laws were created and expanded in several instalments. In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offence, carrying a maximum punishment of 3 years in jail.

In 1982, another clause prescribed life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran. In 1986, a separate clause was inserted to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad with “death or imprisonment for life”.

Prime Minister Khan vowed to defend the country’s strict blasphemy laws in the run-up to his general election win last year, but he advised Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice to suggest penalties for misuse of this law.

This move, however, has not satisfied those who want more guarantees for Pakistan’s religious minorities. The signatories of the FoRB letter want the government of Pakistan to revoke the death penalty and revise the country’s existing capital punishment laws for offences, whether proven or otherwise, that are perceived as “insults to Islam”.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the European Unions’ Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.



2 Prisoners Hanged in Mashhad

2 prisoners were hanged at the Central Prison of the Iranian city of Mashhad (also known as Vakil-Abad Prison) Saturday.

According to Khorasan Daily, on the morning of Saturday, August 10, two prisoners were hanged in Mashhad Central Prison. The newspaper has not mentioned their name, however, IHR could independently identify them through its sources as Ghodrat Alipanah and Yasser. The latter’s last name is unknown so far.

“Yasser was transferred from another prison to Mashhad Central Prison for the execution,” a well-informed source told IHR.

At least 110 people were executed in Iran in the first half of 2019; Only 37 of the executions have been announced by authorities or Iranian media. Iran Human Rights (IHR) could confirm 73 more through its sources. IHR only reports the unannounced executions if it could confirm those with two separate credible sources. Therefore, the actual number of executions may be even higher than reported.

There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing a death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.


Man Executed in Northern Iran

A man was hanged for murder charges at a prison in the Iranian northern city of Babol on Saturday.

According to the Iranian Rokna website, on the morning of Saturday, August 10, a man was executed at Babol prison. His name was mentioned as S.E on the website.

He had spent 5 years in jail before his execution.

At least 110 people were executed in Iran in the first half of 2019; Only 37 of the executions have been announced by authorities or Iranian media. Iran Human Rights (IHR) could confirm 73 more through its sources. IHR only reports the unannounced executions if it could confirm those with 2 separate credible sources. Therefore, the actual number of executions may be even higher than reported.

There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing a death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.

(source for both: Iran Human Rights)


Wanted: consular assistance for Nigerians on death row

Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) Senior Programme Officer, Collins Okeke, in this piece urges the Federal Government to show more interest in Nigerians on death row abroad.

On April 5, 2018, Peter Nielson, a Danish National was arrested by the Nigerian Police for allegedly killing his Nigerian wife, Zainab and their 3-year-old daughter, Petra at their home in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State. His arrest was communicated to the Danish Embassy in Nigeria after which the Embassy was given access to him.

Officials of the Danish Embassy visited him at the police station and in prison, ensured he had legal representation and observed his trial at the Lagos State High Court. The Danish Ambassador was in court on some of Peter Nielson’s trial dates.

Contrast Mr Nielson’s case with the case of Kudirat Afolabi, the Nigerian lady executed by the Saudi Government for drug trafficking. As I write, there is still nothing in the public domain on the role played by the Nigerian Consulate in Saudi Arabia from the point she was arrested up until she was executed by the Saudi Government.

The official reaction of the Federal Government has been to admonish Nigerians living abroad to be law abiding and avoid committing crimes in their host country.

More troubling is the reaction of Nigerians, especially on social media. Rather than demand answers from the Federal Government, they have instead engaged in stereotyping the ethnicity of Ms Afolabi and other Nigerians on death row in prisons abroad.

The consular courtesies and assistance accorded Mr Nielson by the Nigerian Government and the Danish Embassy in Nigeria is not restricted to Danish citizens. It is available to every country and their nationals and is guaranteed by Article36 of the Vienna Convention 1963.

Article 36 (1)(c) of the Vienna Convention provides: “Consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment.”

The Vienna Convention gives consular officers the right to visit their nationals in trouble with the law abroad and provide them with legal assistance. Nigerian consulates appear to either not know about the Vienna Convention, which is unlikely or appear not to care about their nationals. It may also be that they are embarrassed by the criminal activities of some Nigerians abroad.

Crime by any Nigerian is bad. It is even worse when the crime is committed abroad. Criminal activities by Nigerians abroad have done enormous damage to the image of the country.

Nonetheless, it is important to point out that a person accused of a crime abroad is at a great disadvantage. It is worse when the person is accused of a crime that attracts the death penalty.

These persons are extremely vulnerable-they are far from their families and loved ones and often are not accorded basic human rights protection like the presumption of innocence, the rights to legal representation and fair trial.

Zainab Aliyu’s case aptly illustrates how this could happen to anyone. A routine religious pilgrimage, vacation or business trip can suddenly become deadly. It is gratifying to see that the Federal Government has successfully rescued Zainab Aliyu from the executioner’s sword in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps, this is an opportunity for the Nigerian Government through the Foreign Affairs Ministry to begin an inquiry into the cases of other Nigerians on death row in prisons around the world. According to Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), there are over 600 Nigerians on death row in South East Asia alone. These cases need to be reviewed.

This is also a good opportunity for Nigeria’s Federal and state governments to rethink their position on the death penalty. It makes no sense to appeal for leniency on behalf of Nigerians on death row in other countries and at the same time retain and support the death penalty. Nigeria must first purge itself of the barbarism of the death penalty.

(source: The Nation)


Gov Abiodun proposes death penalty for kidnappers

The Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun is considering the death penalty for anyone convicted on charges of kidnapping in the state.

Abiodun said this in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin on Tuesday.

The governor was reported to have said hard times await kidnappers in the state, adding that the government was considering sending a bill in which kidnapping would attract capital punishment to the State House of Assembly for legislative action.

According to Somorin, Abiodun gave the indication when he played host to Remo League of Imams who paid him a Sallah homage at his Iperu home describing kidnapping as an economic crime that must be stopped by all means.

He said most of the kidnappers were foreigners who disguise as herdsmen. He said that it would not augur well if criminals are allowed to operate unchecked as it would affect the State which is regarded as the industrial hub of the nation.

“We do not want criminals to cause problems for us. The state hosts a lot of companies and industries. It will not augur well to hear that criminality is prevalent in our State.

“I have asked that those who were caught in the recent kidnappings in the State be brought to me. I will warn them because government will not spare anyone caught in kidnapping henceforth”, he warned.



- France Urged to Try Nationals on Iraq Death Row

A United Nations human rights expert on Monday called on the French government to repatriate and try 7 French nationals sentenced to death on terror charges in Iraq.

In a statement, Agnes Callamard, a U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, expressed “serious concerns” over the men’s fate.

“There are serious allegations that the sentences were handed down following unfair trials, with the accused having no adequate legal representation or effective consular assistance,” Callamard said.

She said Iraq’s legal system was “marred by very serious structural problems.”

Hundreds of foreigners have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment in Iraq for belonging to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group.

European governments have long debated whether and how to take back former fighters and their supporters amid a host of security, political and legal issues.

The 7 French nationals were arrested by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and subsequently transferred to Iraq in February, allegedly at the request of the French government or with its suspected involvement, Callamard said.

Once in Iraq, they were reportedly subject to torture or other ill-treatment, she added.

“In these circumstances, the transfer of persons to Iraq for prosecution is illegal. I am particularly disturbed by allegations that France may have had a role in this transfer, given the risk involved of torture and unfair trials and that they would likely face the death penalty,” Callamard added.

She has written to French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe with her concerns.

Callamard named the men as Fodil Tahar Aouidate, Mourad Delhomme, Karam El Harchaoui, Bilel Kabaoui, Leonard Lopez, Brahim Nejara and Vianney Ouraghi.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi declared that his government was not empowered to reduce the sentences of foreign jihadists facing death.

Iraqi law stipulates the death penalty for anyone joining a “terrorist group” – even those who did not take up arms.

France and other European countries have strongly resisted the repatriation of their nationals suspected of joining IS. But France is also staunchly opposed to capital punishment.

(source: Agence France-Presse)

AUGUST 12, 2019:


Routier defense can explore evidence

A judge in Dallas County, Texas, has issued an order giving defense attorneys representing Darlie Routier, a former Altoona woman on death row for the 1996 murder of one of her young sons, access to the district attorney’s files in the case.

Routier’s mother, Darlie Kee, who was raised in Altoona and still has many relatives in the area, sees this as another positive sign that her daughter is close to receiving a long-awaited hearing that could result in her either receiving a new trial or exoneration.

Darlie Routier’s case has been the subject of many reviews on television, including a recent airing of ABC’s “The Last Defense,” which explored several cases in which the alleged perpetrators continue to maintain their innocence despite serving many years in prison.

Routier was arrested in June 1996 for the stabbing deaths of her 2 older children, Devon, 6, and Damon, 5, that occurred in the upscale home she shared with her husband, Darin, in Rowlett, Texas.

While Routier reported that an intruder entered the home during the early morning of June 6, 1996, stabbing her and the two children, who were sleeping in a downstairs television room.

Police, however, quickly concluded that there was no intruder and that Routier committed the murders, even though she also suffered many serious knife wounds, including one on her neck that was 2 millimeters — about 5/64 of an inch — from her carotid artery.

The young mother, while charged with the killings of both children, was tried in early 1997 only in the killing of 5-year-old Damon because it was a crime that carried with it the possible death penalty.

Routier is represented by several Texas attorneys, including Richard B. Smith and J. Stephen Cooper and the Innocence Project of New York.

The Routier post-conviction appeal has been stalled for more than a decade as DNA testing of blood samples from the crime scene have been underway.

According to an update filed in June by the defense and prosecution attorneys with the U.S. District Court for West Texas, the DNA testing is continuing.

But as of late last year and early this year, several developments have occurred that have brought hope to Routier’s mother.

The Innocence Project has joined the defense, and Dallas County District Judge Gracie Lewis has ordered the running of 2 bloody fingerprints that were collected from a coffee table at the scene but as of yet, have not been identified.

Kee hopes the prints the may lead to a possible suspect who, Routier claims, entered the home that fatal night.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Judge Lewis issued another order granting the defense access to the district attorney’s files in a effort to determine if the prosecution withheld exculpatory information from the defense in preparation for the 1997 trial.

Prosecutors are mandated to provide information in their possession that may be helpful to the defense.

The judge went to great lengths in her order to limit access to the files to representatives of the defense, expert or other witnesses for the defense, and Routier.

Before Routier or prospective witnesses can review items in the file, the defense attorneys must redact addresses, telephone numbers, driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and bank account numbers that would tend to identify the individuals in question.

Any information that the defense wants to disclose publicly must first be reviewed by the court, the Lewis order stated.

Kee this past week commented, “I think it is a good motion because they (the defense) will review everything (the) prosecutors did.”

Post-conviction hearings in both the Dallas County Court and Federal District Court for West Texas remain on hold.

(source: Altoona Mirror)


Dad who killed his 5 kids sentenced to death

Timothy Jones Jr, 37, had been given custody of Merah Jones, 8, and her siblings Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and 1-year-old Abigail when he split from his wife Amber.

Amber had had an affair with a 19-year-old neighbor after her husband’s devout religious beliefs saw him expect her to be always subservient.

After the split, Jones, who had a well-paying IT job, was given custody of the children.

He began to beat his children, following the Biblical instruction, 'thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell,' reported AP News.

In August 2014, Jones forced Nahtahn, who had expressed his wish to live with his mum again, to exercise for hours until he collapsed as punishment for breaking a power socket and denying it.

Jones found his son dead in his bed at their home in South Carolina afterwards, and then strangled or choked his other children to death.

Jones put the 5 bodies into his car and drove around for nine days during which he searched for how to 'disintegrate' bodies. He eventually dumped them in bin bags in Alabama.

He was later arrested after being stopped at a roadside drink driving checkpoint in Mississippi when a police officer noticed a terrible smell coming from his car, reported The Sun.

Inside, officers found blood and maggots as well as notes that read 'melt bodies!' and 'saw bones to dust'.

Jones later told police he had sent his children to 'heaven together.'

During his trial this year in Lexington County, prosecutors described Jones as a 'selfish, evil' man who killed his children as an act of revenge.

Meanwhile, his defence claimed Jones, who had custody of the children, had undiagnosed schizophrenia and was using cannabis and alcohol. The court also heard Jones had had an incredibly difficult upbringing.

During his trial, Associated Press reported Amber broke down as she explained how her marriage ended and her love for her children who she’d hoped to win back.

In June this year Jones was found guilty of 5 counts of murder.

His ex-wife asked for him to be shown mercy, despite her heartbreak. 'He did not show my children any mercy by any means,' she said. But my kids loved him and if I'm speaking on behalf of my kids and not myself, that's what I have to say.'

A jury sentenced Jones to death after taking 2 hours to decide whether he should face the death penalty or life imprisonment. His sentence is due to be carried out in November.



Grant Amato trial: Jury to decide whether Chuluota man should get death sentence for killing family

Should Grant Amato spend the rest of his life in prison for slaying his parents and brother inside the family’s Chuluota home in January — or should he be executed?

That’s the question facing jurors in Amato’s first-degree murder trial when they return to a Seminole County courtroom this morning. The 12-member jury was last in court July 31, when they deliberated about eight hours before finding Amato guilty of killing Margaret, Chad and Cody Amato.

Prosecutors said Amato snapped after his family tried to derail his online relationship with a Bulgarian webcam model, Silvie, for whom he had stolen roughly $200,000 from his father and brother.

The trial is set to resume at 8:30 a.m.

Arguments and testimony in the trial’s guilt phase lasted just more than a week. During a hearing Thursday, attorneys in the case said they expect the penalty phase to move much more quickly — with only a handful of witnesses for each side, testimony could conclude as soon as today, they estimated.

Jurors have only 2 options on the table: life in prison, or capital punishment.

In order for Amato, 30, to be sent to death row, the jury will have to unanimously recommend execution.

Deputies seek suspects in shooting of woman, 59, in Apopka In a court filing, his lawyers listed several factors they plan to cite in arguing against the death penalty: Amato’s lack of a significant prior criminal history; his age; that he was raised as a Christian; that he was an “excellent” student and a college graduate; that he was a nurse, who “[d]edicated [his] professional life" to proving health care; and his lack of a disciplinary history while in jail.

Another factor they cited: “Was good brother/best friend of Cody Amato.”

(source: Orlando Sentinel)


Final hearing set for Monday in Donald Davidson death penalty case----Despite his rare guilty plea, Davidson is still entitled to a final hearing to present additional evidence.

The death penalty trial of accused rapist and murderer Donald Davidson reaches its penultimate stage Monday, with a final hearing expected before the judge issues sentence.

Davidson pleaded guilty to 1st-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery in a 2014 crime spree that claimed the life of 35-year-old Roseann Welsh in her Middleburg home and terrorized her 10-year-old daughter.

He was a registered sexual predator at the time.

Davidson’s guilty plea is a rarity in death penalty cases, and eliminated the guilt phase of his trial. The penalty phase was held in July, but he is still entitled to a "Spencer Hearing," which offers a defendant one last chance to provide evidence before the judge renders a life or death sentence.

Circuit Judge Don Lester is not expected to pronounce sentence at Monday’s hearing, which is expected to be brief.



Escaped inmate Curtis Watson captured after 5 day manhunt, could face death penalty

Escaped inmate Curtis Watson was captured in Henning, Tennesee Sunday morning after 5 days on the run.

According to the TBI, around 3:30 a.m. Sunday Morning, a Harvey and Ann Taylor's outdoor camera system captured an image of Watson. Within 30 minutes, hundreds of law enforcement were on the scene about 10 miles from the prison where Watson escaped.

Watson was captured around 11 a.m. According to the TBI, Watson surrendered without incident.

Watson faces several new charges, including first degree murder in the death of TDOC Administrator Debra Johnson, aggravated sexual battery and escape. He will be arraigned later this week. Prosecutor Mark Davidson said they will consider seeking the death penalty.

The video captured by the Taylors' camera showed Watson opening an outdoor refrigerator at the home. The homeowner said he stole several water bottles.

It's unclear if the Taylors will get the $57,000 reward for Curtis' capture, but the TBI says it will be discussed.

"We have no indication that anyone assisted him," investigators said after Watson's capture, adding that everything he had, including a change of clothing, had been stolen. They said Curtis was relieved after being arrested, telling police he knew we wouldn't be able to escape given the number of law enforcement in the area, which is estimated to have been 300-400 during the search.

They believe he spent all 5 days within the area near the prison.

Watson escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary on August 7, his 44th birthday.

Several agencies including TDOC, THP, FBI, US Marshal's, TBI and the ATF helped with the search.

6 deputies and 2 K-9s from Henry County are in Henning helping with the search for Watson.

(source: WTVF news)


Hearing scheduled for synagogue massacre defendant

A man charged with killing 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year has a court hearing Monday.

Authorities say Robert Bowers opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons during worship services inside Tree of Life synagogue, killing 8 men and 3 women before police shot and wounded him.

Bower allegedly expressed hatred of Jews during the Oct. 27 rampage and later told police that "all these Jews need to die." It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Federal prosecutors and the defense will be in court to review the progress of the case. Prosecutors have not made a final decision on whether to seek the death penalty.

Bowers has pleaded not guilty to hate crimes and other offenses.

He's not expected to be in court.

(source: Associated Press)


Resuming federal executions unlikely to affect military death row

The Trump administration’s plan to begin executing federal death row inmates for the 1st time in 16 years will have little effect on the 4 soldiers sentenced to death, military lawyers and the Army said.

They include Ronald Gray, a former cook who was convicted 3 decades ago of multiple rapes and 4 murders near Ft. Hood, Texas, and was scheduled to be executed in 2008. The case remains ongoing in Kansas federal district court, with no clear end in sight.

“The case is a procedural morass,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that provides analysis and information on capital punishment.

Also on death row is former Sgt. Hasan Akbar, convicted in 2005 of killing 2 officers and wounding 14 other soldiers 2 years earlier in Kuwait; Timothy Hennis, a master sergeant convicted in 2010 of the 1985 rape and murder of a woman and her 2 children; and Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist convicted in 2013 of killing 13 people and wounding numerous others on Ft. Hood in 2009.

All “are in various stages of legal action,” Army spokesman William Sharp said in an email. When and how those actions might conclude is unknown.

Presidents must approve the execution of those sentenced to death at court-martial, after receiving a recommendation from the secretary of the associated service branch. The Navy has not executed any of its members since 1849.

No military death row inmates have been put to death since 1961, when Pvt. John Bennett was hanged for raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old girl.

The last execution of inmates on the federal death row, now holding about 60 prisoners, was during the Bush administration in the early 2000s, after a 40-year hiatus. The executions by lethal injection included Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; a drug kingpin; and a retired Army Ranger who’d raped and murdered a young airman he’d kidnapped from a Texas air base.

“Nobody has been in a rush to get these cases through the system,” said Eugene Fidell, a professor at Yale Law School. “We have not had presidents who have gone out of their way to empty the federal death rows.”

Resuming federal executions could have “a slight impact” on the military system, said retired Lt. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a St. Mary’s University, Texas law professor in favor of the death penalty. “But it’s more window dressing than anything else. The appellate process in both systems is broken.”

President Donald Trump is a death penalty proponent who has called for making more crimes eligible for the sentence.

“President Trump has never given any reason to believe he opposes the death penalty; quite the reverse,” Fidell said. “So I don’t believe he would veto any military execution unless the accused could point to some act of valor, which I don’t believe any of the current crop of military capital convicts can do.”

Trump has indicated interest in providing clemency to American military members accused or convicted of war crimes.

In May, he granted a full pardon to former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who spent 5 years in prison after being convicted of murdering an Iraqi man in custody in 2008.

Trump has also made statements in support of Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Green Beret charged in the 2010 killing of a Taliban bomb maker.

The plan to resume federal executions comes at a time when public support for the death penalty — at 54% in favor — is at its lowest point in decades, according to the Pew Research Center.

The reasons for the decreasing support include the 156 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973, raising concerns about executing innocent people. Other arguments in opposition include substandard trial lawyers, geographic disparities in its application and disproportionate numbers of minorities sentenced to death.

13 servicemembers condemned to death over the past 3 decades have been re-sentenced to life in prison, usually after appellate courts found errors conducted in their courts-martial.

(source: Stars and Stripes)


Campaign Pressuring Tehran to Release 8 Environmentalists

Social media users have interacted regarding the issue of 8 environmentalists facing security charges in Iran, 1 week after they started a hunger strike. 2 hashtags were launched to pressure Iran to release the activists.

Kaveh Madani, water management expert, tweeted that 564 days have passed since arresting the activists, and 8 days since the hunger strike. He stressed that their only demand is to work based on justice.

Human Rights Watch said last week that the authorities should immediately release all eight environmentalist experts detained for over 18 months without being provided with the evidence concerning their alleged crimes.

“Members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation have languished behind bars for over 550 days while Iranian authorities have blatantly failed to provide a shred of evidence about their alleged crime,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The authorities should take the long-overdue step of releasing these defenders of Iran’s endangered wildlife and end this injustice against them,” Page added.

HRW quoted a reliable source as saying that the environmentalists on hunger strike are demanding that authorities end their legal limbo and either release them on bail until a verdict is issued against them or transfer them to the public ward of Evin prison.

They are inward 2-Alef of Evin prison, which is under the supervision of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, the source added.

Their trial in Branch 15 of Tehran’s revolutionary court was halted before March, then resumed at the beginning of August. The court reportedly did not allow lawyers to review the evidence before the trial opened on January 30.

Article 48 of Iran’s 2014 criminal procedure law says that detainees charged with various offenses, including national or international security crimes, political, and media crimes, must select their lawyer from a pre-approved pool selected by Iran’s judiciary during the investigation.

Defendants had been under psycho-social torture and were coerced into making false confessions, experts said.

On February 10, 2018, a few weeks after their arrests, family members of Kavous Seyed Emami, a Canadian-Iranian professor and environmentalist arrested with the other members of the group, reported that he had died in detention under suspicious circumstances.

Iranian authorities claimed that he committed suicide, but they have not conducted an impartial investigation into his death.

Several senior Iranian government officials have said that they did not find any evidence to suggest that the detained activists are spies.

On May 22, 2018, Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental institution, said that the government had formed a committee consisting of the ministers of intelligence, interior, and justice and the president’s legal deputy, and that they had concluded there was no evidence to suggest those detained are spies.

Kalantari added that the committee said the environmentalists should be released.

On February 3, Mahmoud Sadeghi, a member of parliament from Tehran, tweeted that according to the information he has received, the National Security Council headed by President Hassan Rouhani also did not deem the activities of their detained conservation activists to be spying.

On October 24, 2018, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, the Tehran prosecutor, said that the prosecutor’s office had elevated the charges against four of the detainees to “sowing corruption on earth,” which includes the risk of the death penalty.

Dolatabadi claimed that the activists were “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.”



China Clarifies Inmate Rights in Death Penalty Cases

In an effort to improve the protection of death row inmates’ rights and welfare, China’s Supreme People’s Court released a new guideline on August 9 to clarify and control capital punishment “review and execution procedures,” according to China Daily.

Set to take effect on September 1, the guideline is composed of 13 articles and states, among other things, that inmates nearing the date of their execution are only able to meet with close family members – including spouses and children. More distant relatives, as well as friends, are also allowed to meet with a death row inmate “subject to reason.”

The guideline goes on to state that courts are responsible for informing convicts on death row that they have the right to meet with family, and, if a person refuses an invitation to visit an inmate, the incarcerated individual must also be notified. Meetings with children or family members under 18 years of age require parental approval; video calls can be arranged after review if it is concluded that an in-person meeting may harm a child’s psychological wellbeing.

In addition to noting that condemned individuals’ last words can be recorded in audio or video format, the China Daily article states that the Supreme People’s Court is “reviewing the death penalty itself,” although no further details are provided.

In China, it is not uncommon for lower level, local courts to sentence criminals to death, although all sentences involving capital punishment must be submitted for approval to the nation’s top court.

This review process began in 2007, when, for the 1st time in more than 20 years, China decreed that all death sentences must be submitted to the Supreme People’s Court for final approval. The intention was to bring consistency to the assignment of life-ending punishments and reduce the number of executions.

While most of the people handed the death penalty in China are convicted of murder or drug crimes, China’s top court announced last month that those involved in “extremely vile” sexual assault against children will be sentenced to death.

On the same day as the announcement, convicted rapist He Long was executed in Shandong province. He was found guilty of raping girls under 14 years of age and forcing them into prostitution, according to Xinhua.

Statistics on the number of executions carried out in China each year are not released by the Central Government in Beijing.


AUGUST 11, 2019:


William Kemmler Became the 1st Person Executed by Electric Chair 129 Years Ago

The 1st electric chair execution happened 129 years ago on August 6, 1890, with the death of William Kemmler, who was convicted of murdering his wife.

Because the execution was the 1st of its kind, Kemmler's electric chair death was a public spectacle. But it didn't go as planned. Kemmler's execution was incredibly gory, with reports stating Kemmler's end was bloody, "firey," and that his skin was entirely charred, according to Britticana.

A New York Times reporter covered the event for the publication and wrote "the witnesses were so horrified by the ghastly sight that they could not take their eyes off it." Viewers also noted the ghastly smell of Kemmler's burnt body.

Kemmler's grisly death didn't stop the electric chair method from taking the country by storm, though. It became an extremely popular method of execution, though now, the electric chair is being phased out of most American prisons. Today, only Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia allow execution by electric chair. It's been replaced in other states by the seemingly more-humane lethal injection. Two other states, Arkansas and Oklahoma, still have electric chairs, though they only plan to use them if lethal injection were to no longer be legal.

One of the last, highly-publicized electric chair deaths was of Tennessee inmate Edmund Zagorski, who was sentenced to death for killing 2 men during a drug deal. The event was highly publicized because Zagorski won the legal right to choose the way he died. He said he chose the electric chair over lethal injection because it sounded faster and "less painful," according to CBS News.

Zagorski's choice made him the 2nd person in Tennessee to be executed by electric chair since 1960, and one of 14 people to be killed by the method since 2000.

In recent news, some have asked if it's possible the El Paso gunman will meet a similar death. The alleged race-driven attack killed 22 people in a Walmart on Sunday after 21-year-old Patrick Crusius open fired on a primarily-Hispanic shopping crowd.

Crusius is in custody on a capital murder charge, which means he could be sentenced to death. Texas no longer offers electrocution as a means of execution. The last electric chair death in Texas happened in 1964. Now, the state only offers lethal injection, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice


NEBRASKA----female to face death penalty

New charge filed in slaying, dismemberment of Lincoln woman

Prosecutors have filed a new criminal charge against a woman already charged with 1st-degree murder in the slaying and dismemberment of a Lincoln woman.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that 25-year-old Bailey Boswell has had a charge of conspiracy to commit murder added to charges of 1st-degree murder and improper disposal of remains in the November 2017 death of 24-year-old Sydney Loofe. The additional charge mirrors one filed against Boswell’s co-defendant, 52-year-old Aubrey Trail, shortly before his trial. A jury found Trail guilty last month, and he now faces a possible death penalty. Authorities are also seeking the death penalty for Boswell, who is set to stand trial Oct. 15.

Loofe’s body parts were found in 14 pieces in ditches along a state highway weeks after her disappearance. She was reported missing Nov. 16 — 2 days after she had gone on a date with Boswell and a day after they arranged to meet for a 2nd date.

(source: Associated Press)


Arizona prisons director announces September resignation----Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan, who's had a troubled history as the head of the state's prisons, is retiring Sept. 13.

The Arizona Department of Corrections director is resigning in September.

In an email sent to all his staff Friday, Charles Ryan said he will be stepping down effective Sept. 13.

Gov. Doug Ducey released a statement about Ryan's resignation Friday:

"Director Ryan has committed his life to serving in the corrections field for more than 40 years. His dedication to ensuring public safety and providing inmates a real second chance, has made him a nationally-recognized leader."

In his resignation letter, Ryan counted among his proudest achievements the elimination of maximum custody for women and juvenile inmates and improved mental health services.

But some corrections officer union members begged to differ about Ryan's legacy. He's had a troubled history at the head of Arizona’s prisons since he was named corrections director in 2009. And the state has faced growing pressure from civil rights advocates calling for Ryan to be fired over alleged inhumane conditions in prisons.

The most recent controversy involved the Lewis prison in Buckeye, where close-custody inmates had tampered with their cell doors so they could be opened from the inside. A video released by the Arizona Corrections Peace Officer Association shows several inmates attacking officers.

The AZCPOA alleged poorly kept facilities put corrections officers and prisoners at risk.

Gov. Doug Ducey responded by placing former Arizona Supreme Court Justices Rebecca Berch and Ruth McGregor in charge of an investigation into prison security.

But that wasn’t the 1st high-profile controversy Director Ryan has dealt with during his tenure. In 2014, he came under fire when the execution of double-murderer Joseph Wood drew national attention—with critics claiming it was botched. A review found Ryan did nothing wrong, but the execution brought about a 5-year hiatus on the death penalty in Arizona.

The next year, an inmate riot at a private prison in Kingman exposed a lack of supervision at the facility. The prison operator was fired, and Ryan accepted no blame for the gap in oversight.

In 2018, Ryan was found in civil contempt of court and fined $1.4 million for failing to adequately improve health care for inmates.

Ryan said Friday that he would “pursue new opportunities” spend more time with his family during his retirement

(source: KPNX news)


SPAN wants stiffer jail terms, fines over death penalty for water polluters----SPAN chairman Charles Santiago says no death penalty has been imposed because no deaths have occurred as a result of water contamination.

The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) says the death sentence for those who purposely contaminate water sources is not practical and has proposed stiff jail sentences and fines for offenders instead.

The Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) 2006 provides for the death penalty to be imposed for pollution of rivers, streams and creeks, seas, lakes, groundwater, dams, reservoirs, ditches and drains, or imprisonment of up to 20 years.

If death is not caused, whipping can be imposed.

SPAN chairman Charles Santiago acknowledged that the death penalty was not the solution, and proposed life imprisonment instead, given the debate in the country over whether the death penalty should be abolished.

(source: Free Malaysia Today)

AUGUST 10, 2019:


County Commissioner Proposes Moratorium on Capital Prosecutions in Dallas, Texas

A Dallas, Texas, county commissioner has called for a 2-year halt on death-penalty trials, saying it would give the county time to study the financial and ethical costs of capital punishment. On August 6, 2019, Commissioner J.J. Koch proposed a county moratorium on capital prosecutions, with cost savings from not pursuing the death penalty redirected toward investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases. The proposal was notable coming in a county that has executed more prisoners since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s than any other county except Harris, Texas.

Several county commissioners expressed support for Koch’s proposal, although they acknowledged that the plan was aspirational and that they could not direct the district attorney, who has exclusive charging authority, to enforce it. District Attorney John Creuzot commended Koch “for having the courage to bring … up” the issue. Creuzot said he supported discussing the proposal but could not commit himself to a moratorium on prosecutions “because I don’t know what’s around the corner.”

Creuzot recently announced that Dallas prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Billy Chemirmir, accused in the deaths of more than a dozen elderly women in North Texas senior living complexes. The trial and potential appeals are expected to be extremely costly for the county. Creuzot told the Dallas Morning News that he supports pursuing the death penalty in circumstances in which a defendant poses a “continuing threat in the penal society.” In other cases, he said, a sentence of life without parole can equally and less expensively protect public safety.

Citing the Dallas County case of Kenneth Thomas, Creuzot said “[i]t’s becoming more and more difficult to sustain a death penalty conviction.” Thomas has been sentenced to death twice, with his first death sentence imposed in 1987. However, his death sentences were overturned both times as a result of prejudicial constitutional violations in each trial. Most recently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals directed that he be provided a new sentencing hearing on his claim of intellectual disability. A prior sentencing jury had rejected that claim, but had applied a scientifically invalid and unconstitutional standard for evaluating intellectual disability.

Commissioners John Wiley Price and Elba Garcia agreed with Koch’s proposed moratorium on prosecutions, and Commissioner Theresa Daniel said she looked forward to discussing the issue, with prosecutors and judges included in the discussion. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also voiced support for a moratorium, but reiterated that it would be under the district attorney’s discretion. Koch agreed, saying, “We can’t do anything unilaterally. It’s his department.” Nevertheless, he said, the commissioners could adopt a moratorium resolution to express their views on capital prosecutions, noting that they also control the budget of the district attorney’s office.

Dallas has executed 60 prisoners since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its capital sentencing statute in Jurek v. Texas in 1976, more than 28 current or formed death-penalty states and the federal government. Only Harris County (Houston), with 129, has carried out more executions. Dallas’s 31-person death-row on January 1, 2013 was the 14th largest of any county in the U.S., and juries in the county imposed 3 more death sentences that year. Since 2013, however, only 1 person has been sentenced to death in the county.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Deadly carjacking victim's family face suspect in court

The family of an innocent man killed this week says the accused killer, James Hanson should face the maximum penalty.

In this case, Hanson is eligible for the death penalty.

A wake was held for 68-year-old Mathew Korratiyil on the same day his family went to court to face Hanson at his bond hearing.

"He was innocent," said son Melvin Korattiyil. "There was no reason for him to suffer like this."

The wake was at the Sacred Heart Catholic Community Center in Valrico, which is where Mathew was both member and where his body was found Tuesday.

Hanson told detectives he strangled him with a belt after carjacking him and robbing a bank only a mile away. It's still unclear as to why Hanson took him to the community center.

"He was taken away by an animal who never should have been let out," said Melvin Korattiyil.

Hanson was denied bail, as a court heard Tuesday's grim details. Melvin's brother, Nelson confirmed it was his father's belongings who detectives found in Hanson's home.

Family is furious Hanson was let out of jail barely a month ago, his life sentence for another armed robbery shortened by a judge who agreed his previous lawyer was not up to snuff.

"They have given us their reassurances he will face the maximum penalty available," said Melvin Korattiyil. "We know we have the support of the community around us."

Detectives testified Hanson complained to a deputy he was "screwed" and that his life was over.

Family could only say it's their loved one, a former convenience store owner, husband, father of 3, and grandfather of 4, who deserves to be remembered.

"For the lives he has touched in a positive light, that is what I want people to remember," said Korattiyil.

(source: Fox News)


Prattville capital murder case goes forward

A Prattville capital murder case will go forward, despite the defense seeking a dismissal of the charges on a legal technicality.

Santwone Cornelius Jones, 26, of Montgomery, was indicted on capital murder charges in connection with the 2016 shooting death of John Michael Taylor, of Prattville. He is being held under no bond, a common practice in a capital murder case.

Jones trial was set to begin Sept. 16. Circuit Judge Ben Fuller did grant a continuance in the case during a status hearing Thursday. The case will be heard in the spring, but an exact date hasn’t been set.

The defense was arguing that the charge be dropped, because the prosecution did not supply a witness list as ordered by Fuller. That list was supposed to be filed by June 1. The state went on and presented the list 17 days later, but argued Thursday that they were under no compulsion to provide the list under Alabama discovery rules.

“The only compulsion was that this court filed the order on Jan. 16 to provide the witness list by June 1,” said Steve Langham, one of Jones’ three attorneys. “The state also had to June 1 to file an objection to having file a witness list.”

Fuller said he laid out the list requirement in “an overabundance of caution,” because Jones is facing capital murder charges in a death penalty case. The possibilities of appeals after a guilty verdict mean the standards are high in a capital case, he said. Alabama law calls for an automatic appeal in cases where the death penalty is handed down.

“It never occurred to me that the state would not comply with my order in a capital murder case, or register an objection,” Fuller told the lawyers. “We are here dealing with exactly the situation I wanted to prevent.

“Nobody wants to see this case retried by someone else two or three years down the road.”

The district attorney’s office said that the defense’s case was not damaged by having the witness list 17 days late.

“Except having trial by ambush in a capital murder case,” Langham shot back.

“That’s not the term I would use,” Fuller said, flashing a stern look in Langham’s direction from the bench.

Attorneys often appeared exasperated at the other side’s comments and arguments. Fuller granted the continuance in an effort to give the defense time to go over the witness list. Lawyers on both sides did not comment after the hearing, because Fuller has placed a gag order in the case, barring comment outside of court proceedings.

On May 21, 2016, Taylor, 57, was shot and killed. The capital murder charges were filed because prosecutors feel the murder was committed during the commission of a robbery, said Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson.

Two Montgomery teenagers are also charged with capital murder the case.

Lil’ Roderick Williams, 17 and Devonte Raymon Hill, 18, were each indicted on capital murder charges by the Autauga County Grand Jury, courthouse records show. Both Williams and Hill are being held without bond.

Taylor went to a convenience store in the 1900 block of Cobbs Ford Road in the early morning hours of May 21, previous testimony at preliminary hearings and court documents show. He was found by a passing motorist as he laid on Cobbs Ford Road. Taylor told the first responding officers that three men forced him into a minivan, drove him behind the store, and shot him, Police Chief Mark Thompson said at the time. He walked back to Cobbs Ford Road after being shot, records show.

Grand jury action involving Hill and Williams was delayed, because they were charged as adults. Williams was 14 and Hill was 15 at the time of the shooting. Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth adjudicated the teenagers as adults. Her ruling cleared both the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court on review, records show.

Williams is the youngest person to be charged with murder or capital murder in the 19th Judicial District, Robinson said then, which includes Autauga, Elmore and Chilton counties. Under Alabama law, the minimum age a person can be charged as an adult is 14.

“That would have to make Hill one of the youngest in the state to be charged as an adult in a capital murder case,” Robinson said, at the time. “Just procedurally, there can’t be that many 14-year-olds charged as adults.”

Capital murder is the highest charge sought by the state. The only sentencing options upon conviction are the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles, people under the age of 18 when convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, cannot be executed. That leaves life without the possibility of parole as possible sentences for Williams and Hill. Even then, getting the sentence to pass court muster is iffy, Robinson admits.

“In dealing with juveniles and capital murder sentences, there are a few more hurdles, a few more court proceedings that you have to go through,” he said, in a previous interview. “We felt in this case that Williams and Hill needed to face the same charges as Jones.”

The prosecution has not released who allegedly fired the shot that killed Taylor.

“That’s evidence that will come out at trial,” Robinson said, in the past interview. “But under Alabama’s accomplice law, they are all equally criminally culpable.”

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)

LOUISIANA----female to face death penalty

Mother in Natchitoches burned baby case to face death penalty----The state has filed its notice to seek the death penalty for Hanna Nicole Barker in the July 2018 burning death of her 6-month-old baby.

The state has filed its notice to seek the death penalty for Hanna Nicole Barker, the mother facing a 1st-degree murder charge in the July 2018 burning death of her 6-month-old son.

Barker was arrested on July 25, a week and a day after she called 911 to report her son, Levi Cole Ellerbe, had been kidnapped from a travel trailer off the La. Highway 1 Bypass in Natchitoches.

Barker told the Natchitoches Police Department that two men knocked on her door and pepper-sprayed her in the face when she opened it. She said she ran past them and that the men and Levi were gone when she ran back.

A search was launched for the boy, and he was found severely burned in a ditch less than 2 hours later when a woman reported a fire near some railroad tracks on Breda Avenue.

Levi died early the next day, July 18, at a Shreveport hospital. He had suffered 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over 90 % of his body.

Prosecutors cited circumstances of the alleged crime in seeking the death penalty, including Levi being younger than 12 and that Barker was "engaged in the perpetration and attempted perpetration of cruelty to juveniles and 2nd-degree cruelty to juveniles."

The notice also said it "was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious and cruel manner."

During a preliminary examination hearing for Barker, a Louisiana State Fire Marshal investigator testified Barker had asked Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith to kill the child.

Lt. Jeremy Swisher, the Region 5 supervisor, also testified that Barker and Smith were involved in a sexual relationship, but that Smith was more invested in it than Barker. He said Barker told investigators during an interview that she was using Smith for attention and money.

Barker's defense attorney, Dru Thompson, insisted during the hearing that there was no evidence tying his client to Levi's death.

Smith is scheduled to have a preliminary exam hearing on Aug. 23. Normally, such hearings happen before a defendant is indicted since the purpose is to determine if there's enough evidence to proceed with the case.

But, in granting a defense motion for a preliminary exam hearing, 10th Judicial District Court Judge Desiree Dyess said Smith didn't have an attorney appointed for her until after her August 2018 indictment.

Barker's hearing was in September 2018, and she was indicted in November 2018.

Barker's trial has been set for Jan. 13, 2020, but Dyess told attorneys at a recent hearing that they might discuss whether dates need to be changed.

(source: The Advertiser)


Jason Reeves execution date of August 19 stayed by federal judge

A federal judge has stopped the execution of Jason Reeves scheduled for later this month. Reeves murdered 4-year-old Mary Jean Thigpen in 2001.

But he’s started what’s likely his last chance before execution: an appeal in the federal court system.

A death warrant, signed by a local state district judge, set Reeves' execution date for August 19. for the 2001 murder of the little girl, who was stabbed 16 times and raped.

Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier says defense attorneys always file a federal appeal after all state appeals have been exhausted.

“The name of the game for them is to postpone, postpone, postpone. And the longer they can carry this out the better off they think their defendant will be. That's why appeals in these kinds of cases often last between 15 and 20 year,” said DeRosier.

Executions are on hold right now in Louisiana--due to issues involving the availability of drugs used for lethal injection.

"The State of Louisiana is not executing anybody because they say they cannot get the drugs to do it. The Feds, in the federal system, they have an ability to get the drugs, other states have an ability to get the drugs. I do not know why the state of Louisiana says they cannot get the drugs. I think it is a manufactured excuse, but none the less, i think that is a death penalty issue," said DeRosier.

Still, unless the death penalty is done away with, DeRosier believes Reeves will one day die for his heinous crime.

“I expect that he’s going to lose all the way up and including the United States Supreme Court and will ultimately be executed, unless there’s a moratorium by law on the death penalty in Louisiana,” said DeRosier.

DeRosier believes all relevant issues concerning Reeves have already been dealt with by the courts.

If Reeves is denied relief in Federal District Court in Lake Charles, his case will then go to the U.S. Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

(source: KPLC TV news)

TENNESSEE----impending execution

Why Stephen Michael West should not be executed

Gov. Bill Lee should commute Stephen Michael West's sentence to life without parole because of the inmate's severe mental illness and because he did not kill the victims in the crime.

For the 2nd time in less than a year, Tennessee is set to execute a person with severe mental illness. Both cases dramatically illustrate why doing so is highly questionable.

In 2018, Tennessee executed Billy Irick, who had severe mental illness at the time of his crime, and as a result fell well outside the “worst of the worst” for whom the United States Supreme Court has said the death penalty is reserved. The same can be said of Stephen Michael West, whom the state plans to execute next week.

Unlike Irick and most people who are sentenced to death, West didn’t kill anyone. While he did rape 1 of the 2 victims in his case, it was his co-defendant who stabbed both of them to death, and who was clearly the instigator of the crimes.

Further, West’s life history is beyond horrific. It started with birth in a mental hospital and continued with repeated beatings by his mentally ill mother. As a child, he was once swung against the wall so hard that he was literally “knocked cross-eyed” and required multiple operations to correct his sight problems. He also suffered multiple bone fractures; his ankles alone were broken 7 times.

West's mental condition is relevant in this case

Yet the jury that sentenced him to death heard virtually none of this. The true account of who committed the murders was never presented to the jury. And his parents, who paid for his defense, wanted to keep their family life out of the public eye.

Thus, one reason West should not be executed is because, like Irick, he is not one of the “worst of the worst.” West, like Irick, obviously committed a terrible crime. If not legally insane, West deserves serious punishment. But the death sentence is meant only for the truly depraved, and West does not fit that category.

Furthermore, even if West was fully culpable for capital murder at the time of the crime, his current mental condition is also relevant to whether he should be executed.

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed as a constitutional matter what virtually every state had already provided by statute: that people who are incompetent to be executed must have their death sentences commuted to life.

Lee should do the right thing and commute West's sentence

The standard for competence to be executed is very low, and back in 2001 a court found, in effect, that West met it. But West’s mental state has deteriorated to the point that he might not meet the competency test today, were it not for the heavy antipsychotic drugs now being administered to him by the physicians at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Even the state’s doctors concede that West is suffering from schizoaffective disorder and several other major mental disorders that are held in check only by the medication.

An American Psychiatric Association Task Force has stated that treating a condemned prisoner for the purpose of enabling an execution “violates the fundamental ethical norms of the mental health professions.” While there is no indication that the state’s doctors are medicating West solely to ensure his execution, or that their goal is anything other than alleviating suffering, the fact remains that their treatment may well be what is making execution possible.

Given Stephen Michael West’s lifelong impairment and his current tenuous mental condition, the state of Tennessee — which at this late point in the process is represented solely by Governor Bill Lee — should commute his sentence to life without parole.

(source: Opinion; Christopher Slobogin is the Vanderbilt Law School's Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law Director, Criminal Justice Program, and an Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry----The Tennessean)


Garden Grove mass stabbing suspect is charged with 4 counts of murder, other crimes

Prosecutors have charged a 33-year-old man with four counts of murder after police say he went on a violent stabbing spree in Garden Grove and Santa Ana this week.

Zachary Castaneda, a documented gang member from Garden Grove, faces felonies and enhancements that make him eligible for the death penalty, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said on Friday, August 9.

Castaneda faces a minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole if convicted on all charges.

He’s been charged with 4 felony counts of murder, 1 felony count of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, 1 felony count of assault with a deadly weapon, 1 felony count of aggravated mayhem, 1 felony count of 1st degree residential burglary and 3 felony counts of 2nd degree robbery.

He also faces enhancements for multiple murders, murder during a robbery, for committing additional crimes while out on bail on 3 separate criminal cases, having committed a prior serious and violent felony, having committed a prior serious felony and committing a felony within 5 years of having spent more than a year in state prison.

On Friday afternoon, Castaneda had to be arraigned in his cell because he refused to leave it, District Attorney spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said. He pleaded not guilty.

Friday’s charges will add to Castaneda’s long criminal history that includes busts for possessing drugs, gang vandalism and car thefts. His wife – who filed for divorce in February – has also alleged domestic violence and at one point filed a restraining order against the man.

He was not eligible for bail.

In a little more than 2 hours on Wednesday, August 7, police say, Castaneda left a trail of destruction that ended lives and wounded people going about their day, including 1 man pumping gas whose nose he nearly sliced off.

Castaneda led Garden Grove police and other law enforcement agencies on a manhunt that spanned 8 crime scenes. On top of the heinous killings, authorities said, he also committed robberies during his rampage, taking off with money or property.

Undercover detectives arrested Castaneda when they saw him leaving a 7-Eleven armed with a knife and gun stolen from a man he’d just killed inside the store.

Police have said that the victims were randomly targeted and Castaneda has not said why he went on the killing spree.

(source: The Orange County Register)


Ekiti court sentences 2 robbers to death by hanging

An Ekiti State High Court sitting in Ado-Ekiti yesterday sentenced 2 people to death hanging for robbery and illegal possession of firearms.

The convicts, Adewa Sunday and Adedayo Amos, robbed Mrs. Abosede Oyeyemi Malomo at Ilogbo Ekiti in Ido-Osi Local Government Area of the state on June 4, 2015, during a night robbery.

The offence, according to the charge sheet, is contrary to Section 1(2) (a) of the Robbery and Firearm Special Provisions Act, 2004.

They robbed Malomo with guns, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons, thereby inflicting bodily injuries on her.

The Chief Judge of Ekiti State, Justice Ayodeji Daramola, convicted the 2 men.

He said: “I found the accused persons guilty of armed robbery as laid down before me and they should face the supreme punishment for the offence.

“Therefore, the sentence of the court upon you is that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

“May the good Lord have mercy on your souls.”

The hearing into the case began on March 27, 2017 with 2 -count charge bordering on robbery and illegal possession of firearms.

During hearing, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Gbemiga Adaramola, from the Ministry of Justice, called 2 witnesses and also tendered a cut-to-size pistol, iPad and the victim’s statement on oath, as exhibits.

The lawyer to the defendants, Mr. Adeyinka Opaleke, didn’t call any witness.

The victim was said to be reading at night when they broke into her apartment and robbed her at gunpoint.

During the operation, one of the convicts was said to have made a mistake of calling the actual name of his colleague, which served as a veritable lead for the police to carry out their investigations.



2 Al-Shabab Members Executed By Government

The Federal Government of Somalia has executed 2 members of Al-Shabab for their role in multiple attacks in Mogadishu.

The 2 were found guilty for activities carried in 2017/18 and were executed through the firing squad.

Anshour O. Abukar (in green) 23, Mohamed A. Borow, 25 were convicted for role in multiple attacks including attacks which resulted death of journalist Awil Dahir Salad and General Sec. of Somali women Anab A Hashi.

Meanwhile 2 Al-Shabaab militias surrender to Govt forces in Dinsor, Bay region, according to officials. One of the men once served as a driver to Moallim Geeddow, AS's shadow Governor for Bay and Bakool regions.



Gambia’s Former Justice Minister Defended Execution Of Death Row Prisoners

A former Gambian Attorney General and minister of Justice, Lamin Jobarteh, has justified the enforcement of the controversial death penalty by then APRC government of Yahya Jammeh.

9 death row prisoners including Dawda Bojang, Malang Sonko, Ex-Lieutenant Lamin Jarjou, Ex-SGT Alieu Bah, Ex-SGT Lamin F Jammeh, Tabara Samba, Buba yarboe, Lamin BS Darboe and Gebe Bah were in August 2012 removed from the State Central Prisons in Banjul and suffocated with plastic bags before their bodies were dumped in a disused well by members of former President Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad, The Jungulars.

The Jammeh regime had told Gambians that said the prisoners were executed by a ‘firing squad’ on Sunday 26th August 2012 after they were tried by the Gambian courts of ‘competent jurisdiction’ and have exhausted all their legal rights of appeal as provided by the law.

But a group of soldiers who admitted carrying out the executive directives said none of the prisoners were shot nor did they hear the sound of gunshots from the time the prisoners were picked up at Mile Two Prisons until they were killed

Addressing a delegation of elders from the West Coast Region, who had called on the Vice President, Isatou Njie-Saidy, to appeal to the government to spare the remaining death row inmates, Jobarteh -who was reportedly present when the prisoners were dragged out their prison cells to be killed and was also at the military firing range in Brikama where the dead bodies were counted before being taken for disposal- said it was legal and in line with the laws of the Gambia.

Tabara Samba is among the executed prisoners

“Yahya Jammeh is not carrying out the death sentence because he wants to do it but he is under an obligation to do it according to the laws of the land,” Jobarteh told the delegation.

He said the executed inmates had committed heinous crimes and were tried and found guilty by the courts. Citing the case of the Senegalese woman, Tabara Samba, as an example, Jobarteh said the executed woman ‘poured hot oil in the ear of her husband whose body was burnt and scorched by the substance’.

“What country will allow people to commit such crimes with impunity?” he asked.

“Anyone with a capacious mind would know that what the government has done is what should be done. You cannot just allow people to kill people and they get away with it. If it were your relative who was the victim of such a grotesque crime, what would you do if the perpetrator is allowed to go free?” he further asked.

(This is article was first published in September 2012 by JollofNews)



Supreme Court dismisses petitions in favour of bill to abolish death penalty

The Supreme Court Friday (Aug 9) dismissed 3 petitions which had been filed in favour of the private member's bill submitted in Parliament seeking to abolish the death penalty.

The petitions had been dismissed after the Attorney General had raised objections citing that the Supreme Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear petitions filed under Section 120 and 121 of the constitution.

Professor Kamina Gunaratne and lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy were among the petitioners who sought a court order declaring that the bill could be considered as a legal document.

The petitioners argued that the bill submitted by government parliamentarian Bandula Lal Bandarigoda had been prepared in keeping with the constitution and that it could be passed with a simple majority in Parliament.

The petitions had been put forward to court in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena's remarks this week that the Attorney General had informed him that the bill was unconstitutional.



Rules to better guard rights of prisoners on death row

Convicts on death row soon will be able to meet not only with their close family members but also with other relatives or friends, according to a new guideline released by the top court on Friday to better protect the rights and interests of those to be executed.

China's Criminal Procedure Law has permitted death convicts to have contact with their close family members such as a spouse and children before execution, but starting Sept 1, when the guideline takes effect, those about to be executed may also meet with other relatives or friends with a justifiable reason.

The 13-article guideline from the Supreme People's Court aims to better regulate procedures for review of death sentences and the execution.

Under the guideline, courts should inform those on death row that they have the right to those meetings, and they must tell the defendants if the people that the inmates wish to see refuse the meeting.

If someone applies to meet with his or her child under the age of 18, courts should first ask for approval from the child's guardian. A video meeting will be arranged if courts, after a review, believe a face-to-face meeting would affect the children's physical or mental health, it said.

The last words of convicts facing the death penalty can be recorded by audio or video, it said.

Ruan Chuansheng, a law professor at the Shanghai Administration Institute, said such a guideline will unify different practices in the implementation of executions carried out by courts nationwide.

"We've had basic principles to carry out executions, such as informing of the right to meetings of convicts facing the death penalty, but what courts should do for the meeting and how to arrange the meeting are not specified," he said.

Ji Chunwei, a criminal lawyer from Guangdong province, said the new rule is a big step forward in human rights protection in the judicial sector.

"The guideline will prevent situations in which some people were informed after their family members had been executed, which has happened before," he said.

The guideline also clarifies some of the other legitimate rights of convicts on death row. It states that a local high court should inform the death penalty convict of the right to hire a defense lawyer to help him or her in the penalty review process. Under current laws, all death sentences in the country must be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

The defense lawyer can submit their findings or evidence either to the local high court or directly to the top court, according to the guideline.



Death sentences for European ISIS members will be carried out: Iraqi PM

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, in an interview released by his media office on Friday, refused calls to not carry out death sentences on European Islamic State militants found guilty in Iraqi courts.

In response to a question from a journalist, he said, “Europe has abolished the death sentence, and we appreciate that. However, in Iraq, it is still legal.”

As of 2019, the death penalty for both civilian and military crimes has been abolished in all European states except Belarus, which is not an EU member state.

Abdul Mahdi added, “This subject is constantly debated between us, but as they are willing to protect their interests and their peoples' interests, we are as well protecting our country and our people's interests.”

He also said that his government, “did not promise any country not to carry out the death sentence on foreign Islamic State militants,” echoing statements made in June by Iraq’s judiciary when it denied reports that Baghdad had reached a deal with France for the reversal of death penalties handed down to 11 French nationals for their membership in the extremist group.

“There is no deal between the Iraqi government and the French government to reduce the death penalty against those convicted,” said a spokesperson, noting that decisions of Iraqi courts “are subject to the scrutiny of the Court of Cassation only, which has the power under the law to approve or change the penalty according to the circumstances of each crime, and not based on dealings between governments.”

The statement followed reports in the media that claimed Iraq told France it would reconsider the sentences if Paris pays Baghdad millions of euros in exchange.

Iraqi courts have put on trial hundreds of foreigners, sentencing many to life in prison and others to death.

Human rights groups have long criticized massive institutional shortcomings in the judicial process in Iraq. Since the Islamic State was militarily beaten in late 2017, rights groups and the media have documented the prominence of unfair trials against large numbers of suspects in which there is often no evidence presented and where there have been credible claims that torture had been used to extract confessions.

After some of the French nationals claimed in court that Iraqi officials had tortured them, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on nations not to rely on Iraq, a country notorious for its security forces' use of torture as a tool of interrogation, for impartial justice.

Many nations in the European Union fear that due to the lack of evidence, Islamic State supporters could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home. As such, the notion of an international criminal court to try them either in Iraq or Syria seems to be an attractive solution for them.

On July 29, the head of a UN team probing Islamic State crimes in Iraq called for an international tribunal similar to that in Nuremberg that prosecuted prominent Nazi figures after World War II.

Special Advisor Karim Khan heads the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD), tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of crimes perpetrated by the terrorist organization in Iraq after it took over large swaths of territory in 2014.

Khan and his almost 80-person team have been working in Iraq for about a year in this endeavor. According to AFP, they are analyzing up to 12,000 bodies exhumed from 200 mass graves left behind by the Islamic State, 600,000 videos showing the group’s crimes, and 15,000 “internal ISIS documents.”



Foreign jihadists on death row out of Iraqi govt hands: PM----Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said his government cannot interfere in court proceedings

The fate of hundreds of foreign jihadists sentenced to death or life terms in prison depends on Iraq's justice system, not the government, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi told AFP.

"We have made no promises to any country to lighten these sentences," Abdel Mahdi said in his 1st full-length interview with international media.

"The justice system does not allow the Iraqi state to pardon those condemned to death," he said.

It is up to Iraq's court of cassation to examine terrorism-related verdicts and either uphold, amend or scrap them.

Eleven French nationals figure among the non-Iraqis on death row, while three others have been sentenced to life in jail, having been found guilty of belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group.

So far, no executions have been carried out, and a German woman's death sentence was commuted to life in prison on appeal.

In Iraq, "the death sentence is legal -- Europe has abolished it, and we respect that position but we differ on it," Abdel Mahdi said in the Thursday interview shared with local television stations.

"We regularly discuss this subject. They defend their interests and those of their citizens and we defend our laws and the interests of our citizens."

He said: "There are discussions: will they be transferred, will they stay here, will they just stay a while in prison?"

Iraq has convicted more than 500 foreign men and women of joining IS since the start of 2018.

In early April, government sources said Iraq had offered to also put on the trial foreign jihadists held in neighbouring Syria in exchange for $2 million for each case, to be paid by their home countries.

Abdel Mahdi said it was "possible" that a number of them could be transferred to Iraq, due to the reluctance of many states to allow their return home.

'IS virus'

Iraq is also due to repatriate about 31,000 of its own nationals -- mostly wives and children of suspected jihadists -- from Kurdish-run refugee camps in northeast Syria.

But any such operation could only take place "with the utmost attention," Abdel Mahdi said.

Baghdad did "not want to transfer the IS virus to Iraq," where victory was declared over the jihadists at the end of 2017 after a 3-year bloody and destructive battle.

Sleeper cells of the Sunni extremist group, however, have kept up hit-and-run attacks in isolated parts of Iraq, targeting government checkpoints, public infrastructure and local officials.

Those repatriated to Iraq are to be housed in transit camps also being used by tens of thousands displaced by conflict.

Iraqi families of jihadist suspects would be held separately in the camps and barred from returning to their homes until security checks have been completed.

The subject often raises hackles among Iraqi politicians, especially Sunnis in the Shiite-majority country.

"It's true that the checks are sometimes exaggerated, that they are sometimes used for political ends," acknowledged the Iraqi premier.

Experts and human rights activists warn that such camps, as well as regions of Iraq left devastated by the fight against IS, could breed further radicalisation.

Neglect and the absence of central authorities and basic services were the very factors that contributed to the rise of IS in 2014, they point out.


AUGUST 9, 2019:

TEXAS----new execution date

Local death row inmate set with execution date

District Attorney Randall Sims came forward with an official execution date for the ongoing death penalty case for Travis Runnels.

Runnels has been on death row for 13 years for the murder of a prison supervisor of a shoe-making shop in Amarillo’s Clements unit.

Thursday, the 47th District Attorney announced the date of his execution is set for December 11, 2019.

Travis Runnels Criminal History Timeline:

Runnels criminal history started in 1993, where he was convicted of 2nd-degree felony of burglary. He would go on the accumulate 2 more felony charges.

His 2nd felony charge of aggravated robbery included carrying a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison and would be eligible for parole in 2025.

His final felony charge while in prison in Amarillo would later lead to his death penalty.

In 2003, Runnels was working on the cleaning staff in the Clements unit boot shop, and had disputes because he wanted to work in the prison’s barbershop. On the day of the murder, Runnels asked another inmate for his boot knife where he would later walk behind the shop’s supervisor, Stanley Wiley, and slit his throat.

He was charged with murder after pleading guilty.

In 2005, the charge then turned into a Capital murder conviction, and 2 days later he was sentenced with the death penalty.

After many appeals were denied, on August 8th 2019, the 47th District Attorney announced Runnels execution date is set for December 11, 2019.

At the news conference, NewsChannel10 asked the District Attorney why the courts decided to pursue the death penalty when many prosecutors have been shying away due to expense.

“I’m not going to let expense or politics ever interfere with the decision about what I’m going to do on that. I’ve got office policies, I’ve got 5 things in it, the very first one is always do the right thing,” explained 47th District Attorney Randall C. Sims.

The District Attorney also explained how inmates came forward with no reward on behalf of Wiley.

“There were 8 inmates that testified against Travis Runnels and the reason they did it, I’ll sum it up as 'he’s the nicest man out there, he treated us as equals and was very nice to everybody out there, including the inmates. The inmate that gave the boot knife to Mr. Runnels, while he was the stand, he cried just nearly the whole time,” said Sims.

There are 219 inmates currently on Texas’ death row. Texas, which reinstated the death penalty in 1976, has the most active execution chamber in the nation.

(source: KFDA news)


Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----43

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----561

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

44---------Aug. 15----------------Dexter Johnson----------562

45---------Aug. 21----------------Larry Swearingen--------563

46---------Sept. 4----------------Billy Crutsinger--------564

47---------Sept. 10---------------Mark Anthony Soliz------565

48---------Sept. 25---------------Robert Sparks-----------566

49---------Oct. 2-----------------Stephen Barbee----------567

50---------Oct. 10----------------Randy Halprin-----------568

51---------Oct. 16----------------Randall Mays------------569

52---------Oct. 30----------------Ruben Gutierrez---------570

53---------Nov. 6-----------------Justen Hall-------------571

54---------Nov. 20----------------Rodney Reed-------------572

55---------Dec. 11----------------Travis Runnels-----------573

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)


USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Marion Wilson Jr. in Georgia on June 20, the USA has now executed 1,500 condemned individuals since the death penalty was re-legalized on July 2, 1976 in the US Supreme Court Gregg v Georgia decision.

Gary Gilmore was the 1st person executed, in Utah, on January 17, 1977. Below is a list of further scheduled executions as the nation continues its shameful practice of state-sponsored killings.

NOTE: The list is likely to change over the coming months as new execution dates are added and possible stays of execution occur.

1501------Aug. 15-------------Dexter Johnson-----------Texas

1502-------Aug. 15------------Stephen West-------------Tennessee

1503-------Aug. 21------------Larry Swearingen---------Texas

1504-------Aug. 22------------Gary Ray Bowles----------Florida

1505-------Sept. 4------------Billy Crutsinger---------Texas

1506-------Sept. 10-----------Mark Anthony Soliz-------Texas

1507-------Sept 25------------Robert Sparks------------Texas

1508-------Oct. 1-------------Russell Bucklew----------Missouri

1509-------Oct. 2-------------Stephen Barbee-----------Texas

1510-------Oct. 10------------Randy Halprin------------Texas

1511-------Oct. 16------------Randall Mays-------------Texas

1512-------Oct. 30------------Ruben Gutierrez----------Texas

1513-------Nov. 3-9-----------Charles Rhines-----------South Dakota

1514-------Nov. 6-------------Justen Hall--------------Texas

1515-------Nov. 20------------Rodney Reed--------------Texas

1516-------Dec. 5-------------Lee Hall Jr.-------------Tennessee

1517-------Dec. 9-------------Daniel Lewis Lee---------Federal - Ark.

1518-------Dec. 11------------James Hanna--------------Ohio

1519-------Dec. 11------------Travis Runnels-----------Texas

1520-------Dec. 11------------Lezmond Mitchell---------Federal - Ariz.

1521-------Dec. 13------------Wesley Purkey------------Federal - Mo.

1522-------Jan. 13-----------Alfred Bourgeois----------Federal - Tex.

1523-------Jan. 15-----------Dusten Honken-------------Federal - Iowa

1524-------Jan. 16-----------Kareem Jackson------------Ohio

(source: Rick Halperin)


Prosecutors Pursue Death Penalty For Murder Of Pregnant Bristol Twp. Woman

Prosecutors filed paperwork Thursday to pursue the death penalty against 28-year-old Jaleel Lamar Loper.

Loper, a Philadelphia resident, is accused of killing 30-year-old Anna Angok, who was pregnant, inside her unit at the Glen Hollow Apartments off Newportville Road in Bristol Township’s Croydon section on September 26, 2018. The lifeless body of the 30-year-old woman was discovered with her 2-year-old daughter in tears sitting nearby.

The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office notice of aggravating circumstances requested the right to seek the death penalty is Loper is found guilty of 1st-degree murder. Prosecutors listed 2 aggravating circumstances – a history of felony convictions and the fact Angok was in her 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

No date for trial has been set.

Angok died of strangulation. Her body was found with black and blue bruising around her neck and abrasions.

Loper told investigators after the death that he had been arguing with his ex-girlfriend Angok in the days leading up to her murder. He also said he knew she was pregnant.

As of August 1, 139 people are on Pennsylvania’s death row, but the governor has imposed a moratorium on executions. Those from Bucks County are: Robert Flor, Robert Diamond, Marcel Johnson, and Richard Laird.



Resentencing for convicted cop killer Paul Beasley Johnson delayed

Convicted cop killer Paul Beasley Johnson, who’s been on Florida’s death row for nearly 4 decades, will have to wait another 4 months before he’s resentenced for the 1981 killing rampage that left one Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputy dead.

Chief Circuit Judge Ellen Masters agreed to delay the hearing, which was scheduled to begin Monday, after lawyers for the state and for Johnson each sought to postpone the resentencing. The hearing, which is expected to take 3 weeks, has been rescheduled to Dec. 2.

The postponement comes on the heels of a ruling last week to deny the state’s request to delay the trial.

In that motion, prosecutors had sought to delay the resentencing until the Florida Supreme Court ruled on a related pending case that, if decided in the state’s favor, likely would negate the need for Johnson to be resentenced.

Johnson is being resentenced after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2016 that the state’s death penalty process was unconstitutional, forcing the Florida Legislature to change state laws regarding death sentence cases. The Florida Supreme Court ruled about a year later that the new laws, which require jurors, not judges, to determine whether the state has proven its aggravating factors supporting a death sentence, should be retroactive to June 2002. That date reflects a U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating the change that Florida eventually imposed.

The new sentencing laws also call for a unanimous jury recommendation for death. The former law required only a simple majority.

Although Johnson was first convicted in 1981, he had been granted a new sentencing hearing that was held in 2013. Jurors recommended death for each of 3 murders for which Johnson was convicted, and the judge followed that recommendation.

Since Johnson’s most recent sentencing came after 2002, he automatically became eligible for a resentencing hearing.

However, in January, 3 of the 7 Florida Supreme Court justices retired and new justices joined the bench, shifting the balance to a more conservative Supreme Court. The new court is considering a case that would overturn that retroactivity, and if granted, that action could halt the resentencings in an estimated 150 death penalty cases statewide, including 6 in Polk County.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace made that argument, in part, to Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen last week, but Jacobsen ruled that he had a mandate to hold a sentencing hearing for Johnson and he needed to proceed with that mandate. Jacobsen was on medical leave this week, so the joint request for a postponement went to Masters.

On Wednesday, Assistant Public Defender Peter Mills, who had argued against the state’s postponement request last week, came forward seeking to delay the hearing. He declined to comment Thursday on his reasons for seeking the delay Thursday.

Johnson, 70, was convicted of killing William Evans, a Winter Haven cab driver, during the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 1981, then hitching a ride in Lakeland with Darrell Ray Beasley and Amy Reid. When he asked them to stop along Drane Field Road so he could relieve himself, he held Beasley at gunpoint outside the car. Johnson fatally shot Beasley as Reid jumped behind the wheel to seek help. Deputy Theron Burnham responded to the call, and Johnson shot the deputy with his own service revolver. Johnson was taken into custody a day later.

In its most recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the murder convictions against Johnson, so only his sentence is before the Circuit Court now.



State calls for the death penalty for man accused of killing pregnant niece

On Thursday morning, Jonathan Quiles, the man accused of killing his pregnant teenage niece may face the death penalty.

Quiles pleaded not guilty, but the state said it plans to ask for the death penalty during his trial.

He is the sole suspect in the disappearance of Iyana Sawyer, and during his arraignment for 1st-degree murder charges, he walked into the courtroom with his hands shackled together. In July, Action News Jax news told you the State Attorney’s Office charged Quiles with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of sexual battery.

On the other side of the room the prosecutor stood up and told the judge based on the evidence in the case the state would seek the death penalty.

4 months ago Action News Jax went through hours of interrogation video where they found evidence the 2 were in a relationship together.

They also said Sawyer wrote about her pregnancy in her diary and claims Quiles was upset about it, but he denied any inappropriate relationship with his niece.

The 16-year-old disappeared in December while she was 5 months pregnant.

Police she was last seen leaving Terry Parker High School.

Sources revealed in January that a landfill search off Otis Road was related to the teen’s case.

Sawyer’s body has never been found.

As soon as Quiles left the courtroom, Iyana Sawyer’s family stood up, all of them wearing T-shirts with the teen’s face, some with the words “We love and miss you Princess Ya-Ya."

We also asked Sawyer’s family if they had anything to say after the arraignment but they told us “no comment.”

(source: WOKV news)


HELLISH DEATH -- Baby died in ‘horror and pain’ with 89 injuries on his 1st birthday after being ‘sexually tortured by monster mother and her boyfriend’

A BABY died in "horror and pain" on his first birthday having suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, prosecutors said.

Hoss Wayne Benham was found to have 89 injuries across his body after being brought unresponsive to a hospital in Cullman, Alabama.

His mother, Crystal Ballenger, and her boyfriend, Jeffrey Hugh Brown, at first claimed he had died in the bath tub at their trailer home, the Cullman Times reported. An autopsy later revealed Hoss had 38 injuries to his head and neck inflicted by blunt-force trauma.

He had 4 injuries to each eye, 19 across on his arms and legs, 6 on his torso, and 7 to his genitalia and anus.

He died on March 11 2014, a year to the day after his birth.

Ballenger and Brown both face charges of capital murder and sexual torture, and could receive the death penalty or life in prison if found guilty.

Both reportedly tested positive for drugs including methamphetamine after Hoss's death.

Brown had been due to stand trial later this month, almost four years since he was indicted, but at a hearing on Tuesday a request by his attorney that the trial be adjourned was granted.

He will now stand trial no earlier than September, with no reason for the delay having been given.

It is not clear when Ballenger will stand trial.


Speaking after the couple were indicted in October 2015, prosecutor Wilson Blaylock said: "It’s really unbelievable and just hard to read what happened to this infant child.

"His last 36 hours were spent in horror and pain."

A woman identifying herself as Hoss's great grandmother on an online memorial to the one-year-old wrote: "He was my 1st great grand son and I miss him every single day and he is always on my mind.

"I look to heaven every night and tell him goodnight, because I know he is in heaven and he watches over us all.

"I Love You and miss you and I miss that beautiful smile that was always on your face.

"From your great nana."



Death Row Prisoners to Governor: Come Pray With Us ---- 'We understand you are a man of faith and we would like to ask you to please come pray with us'

With another execution scheduled for next week, death row visitors and death penalty opponents are increasing pressure on Gov. Bill Lee to respond to an invitation from 32 death row prisoners. The condemned men want the governor to come pray with them.

Dan Mann, who has been visiting death row with his wife since 2011, says the men first made the request after Don Johnson's execution in May but have gotten no response from the governor or his office.

The letter is short and simple.

"We understand you are a man of faith and we would like to ask you to please come pray with us."

With the Lee administration ignoring the death row prisoners, the people who visit them and others who oppose the death penalty are planning a march on Saturday from Riverbend Maximum Security Institution — which houses death row — to Legislative Plaza. Mann says they'll hold a vigil there until Monday morning, when they'll bring the letter to Lee's office.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Rev. Kevin Riggs of Franklin Community Church — in Williamson County, where Lee is from — noted that one of the men who signed the letter, Kevin Burns, was ordained as a pastor by his church.

Riggs said he was there "to ask my neighbor, my governor to honor this request. He's a man of faith and I believe that with all my heart. I admire his prison ministry, he's been involved in prison ministry most of his adult life."

On the campaign trail, Lee spoke often about his Christian faith and his work with the prison ministry Men of Valor. Nevertheless, he denied clemency for Johnson — himself a Christian and ordained elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church — in May, clearing the way for the first execution during his tenure as governor.

A visit to death row would not be unprecedented for a Tennessee governor. Gov. Frank Clement famously visited condemned inmates, and in 1965 he commuted the sentences of every man on death row.



Friends of current inmates facing the death penalty are demanding answers from the Governor of Tennessee in a "March 4 Mercy" on Thursday.

The friends gathered outside Legislative Plaza, asking why Governor Lee has not responded to a letter the inmates sent to him back in June.

They asked the Governor to pray with them.

Organizers said inmates on death row were hopeful for a response.

The group re-delivered the original letter to the Governor's Office on Thursday, hoping to hear back.

They attempted to speak with Governor Lee, but have only been able to talk to his staff.

(source: WSMV news)


Death penalty sought for Tennessee man accused of killing 8

The state says it will seek the death penalty in its case against a Tennessee man charged with killing 8 people.

Sumner County District Ray Whitley confirmed a grand jury returned a 12-count indictment Thursday against 25-year-old Michael Cummins. Whitley filed a notice to seek the death penalty.

Cummins is charged with killing his parents, uncle and a 12-year-old girl in rural Westmoreland in April. 6 bodies were found at one home, and 2 more elsewhere. Affidavits say the victims died from blunt-force head injuries.

At the time, Cummins was close to being arrested for probation violations. He was on probation after serving just 16 months of a 10-year sentence on a conviction for attempting to burn down a neighbor's house and assaulting her when she tried to put out the fire.

(source: Associated Press)


Man with dismissed murder conviction still on death row in Nevada

Paul Browning is a freed man on Nevada’s death row.

Many of the key witnesses in the November 1985 stabbing death of jeweler Hugo Elsen, including Elsen’s wife, Josy, have died.

District Judge Douglas Herndon ruled in March that because the attorney who represented Browning at trial failed to ask essential questions of witnesses who are now dead, “a fair trial consistent with due process is no longer possible.”

That decision came 5 months after an opinion from the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found “a mixture of disturbing prosecutorial misconduct and woefully inadequate assistance of counsel” led to “extreme malfunctions” at Browning’s trial.

Yet Browning sits on death row, as prosecutors fight to keep him there, appealing Herndon’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

On Thursday, Herndon lifted a hold on his own dismissal, while prosecutors await a decision from the higher court. In the meantime, Browning, who spent 33 years as a condemned man, should be allowed to leave the penitentiary, his lawyers said. Browning was held in Ely State Prison rather than being transported to Las Vegas for the hearing.

But neither Herndon’s decision nor the 9th Circuit opinion contemplated an escape charge for which Browning was convicted during his murder trial. It’s up to the Nevada Department of Corrections to determine whether he has already served the maximum 10-year sentence that was set to begin in 2079.

“How can Mr. Browning be sitting on death row, as he is now, when this court has said all charges against him are dismissed?” one of his lawyers, Tim Ford, argued Thursday. “He’s not even a pretrial detainee, and he’s on death row. That can’t be.”

Prison officials said that they had not received a court order to release Browning as of Thursday afternoon, and the process of freeing an inmate can take upward of a week.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo argued that Browning could be convicted of murder, even after key witnesses have died. Some are still alive, the prosecutor said. Browning’s fingerprints were found on the underside of a glass counter in Elsen’s store, and a knife with Elsen’s blood was discovered under the stairs where Browning was arrested 20 minutes after the slaying, DiGiacomo added.

“There’s forensic evidence,” he said. “There’s live witnesses. There’s no question Paul Lewis Browning killed Hugo Elsen. I’d have even more evidence of his guilt if these people were still alive … To me the proof is pretty darn evident, and the presumption is pretty great.”

Herndon said the case consisted of “a unique complicated set of circumstances.”

Ford told the Review-Journal that in the years since his conviction, Browning and his lawyers have discovered evidence that points to his innocence.

At trial, a prosecutor pointed to blood on Browning’s tan jacket, saying it matched Elsen’s blood type, even though Elsen himself described the jacket as blue before he died. DNA evidence later revealed that it was not Elsen’s blood.

“Every time we turn over something, it’s turned out to be more and more things that call into question what was said,” Ford told the newspaper.

A month after the slaying, Elsen’s wife could not pick Browning out of a lineup, but at trial she pointed to him as the killer.

Elsen’s business neighbor, Debra Coe, told police she had seen a man with a blue Hollywood cap, which was later found in a dumpster outside Browning’s motel, running from Elsen’s shop.

She identified Browning as the man she “thought” ran by her office, but said she could not be certain because Browning was not wearing a cap when she identified him.

Pressed further on whether she could be “more sure” about his identification, she said, “No, I wouldn’t think so. No … They all look the same, and that’s just what I think when I see a black person, that they all look the same.” At trial, she retracted the statement and identified Browning as the man she saw run past her office.

A couple who had told authorities that Browning confessed the killing to them were habitual drug users, which jurors knew.

More than a decade ago, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a denial of Browning’s challenge to his death sentence, but a jury in 2008 reinstated capital punishment.

Browning’s sister, Dell Harris, watched Thursday’s hearing from the courtroom gallery with other family members, all hoping that they would be reunited with a man they had not seen outside walls for more than 3 decades.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Harris said. “I mean it’s been forever, but we still have hope. It’s time. It’s time.”

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Accused serial killer has no memory of 1 attack and denies others, defense says

After Michael Gargiulo was arrested in 2008, Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives placed the accused killer in a jail cell with 2 undercover deputies.

In conversations that were recorded, Gargiulo told them that he’d looked up serial killers, referencing Ted Bundy and Ed Gein. He hid shims in his waistband that he planned to use to break out of his handcuffs, he told his cellmates. He tried to come up with different explanations for a piece of evidence cops had against him and floated using the excuse that he suffers from blackouts.

At one point, Gargiulo asked the undercover officers, “How would you explain it to the jury?”

A prosecutor recounted those jailhouse conversations during closing arguments this week in Gargiulo’s trial on charges that he thrill killed 2 women and attempted to kill a 3rd in knife attacks in the Los Angeles area from 2001 to 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

“That’s Michael Gargiulo trying to fool each and every one of you,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Garrett Dameron told a jury hearing the death penalty case in a downtown courtroom.

Gargiulo showed little emotion as Dameron spoke, watching the screen as the prosecutor flipped through dozens of slides that included crime scene photos. Sometimes he whispered to his attorney or took notes. He shook his head for a moment when one of his attorneys was addressing the judge at the bench.

Gargiulo’s trial, which just entered its fourth month, has drawn national attention because of its sensational details and celebrity connection. One of the victims, Ashley Ellerin, was set to go out on a date with actor Ashton Kutcher the night she was killed.

The prosecutor spent much of his argument listing similarities between Gargiulo’s alleged series of attacks, beginning in the Chicago area in 1993 with the killing of 18-year-old Tricia Pacaccio.

Gargiulo wasn’t charged in Illinois with Pacaccio’s slaying until 2011. He is set to be extradited after the Los Angeles trial concludes.

In each case, the prosecutor said, Gargiulo preyed on attractive young women who were outgoing and lived nearby.

Once he picked a target, he’d lurk around her home, watching and waiting for an opportunity to attack. He always struck at night, always at their homes, prosecutors said.

Ellerin, 22, was stabbed 47 times in 2001, her throat slashed so severely that she was almost decapitated. Maria Bruno’s breasts were sliced off and part of one was placed on her mouth.

“These were torturous, cold-blooded attacks,” Dameron said.

Gargiulo lived in Hollywood a few short blocks from Ellerin at the time of her death. He lived in the same El Monte apartment complex as Bruno, 32, in a unit diagonal to hers across a pool, when she was killed in 2005. After Bruno’s slaying, investigators found a blue surgical bootee with drops of her blood and Gargiulo’s DNA on the elastic band. Gargiulo wore the same types of bootees over his shoes for his work as an air conditioner repairman.

Ellerin and Bruno each had a man over just before they were killed. Prosecutors alleged Gargiulo timed the attacks “perfectly,” knowing that police would first investigate their last known visitors.

Prosecutors said Gargiulo’s alleged string of attacks ended in Santa Monica in 2008, when Michelle Murphy, 26 at the time, fought off a harrowing ambush and survived. During the struggle, prosecutors said Gargiulo cut his hand and left a trail of blood out her door and through the alley that separated their apartment buildings.

Defense attorney Dale Rubin acknowledged Gargiulo’s role in Murphy’s attack, but argued that his client suffered from a mental disorder that left him in a “fugue state” — unable to recall his actions.

He “has no recollection and no memory of what happened because he was in an amnestic state,” Rubin said, adding that when Gargiulo cut himself and came to, he apologized and ran out of the apartment. Rubin also said Gargiulo has suffered as a result of childhood trauma, but did not provide details.

But his defense team denied that Gargiulo was guilty of the other attacks, citing the lack of DNA evidence linking Gargiulo to Ellerin’s slaying.

Defense attorney Dan Nardoni suggested that in Bruno’s case, the true killer fled and left her blood on a bootee that Gargiulo had accidentally dropped in the area. He said no one saw Gargiulo at either woman’s home on the nights they were killed.

“In fact, the evidence is that others were” with the women, Rubin said. “There is absolutely no evidence as to where Mr. Gargiulo was at the time of the commission of those crimes. Except that he wasn’t in the apartment.”

The man who visited Ellerin before her death denied any role in her slaying, as did the one who had been with Bruno. Both testified during the trial.

Kutcher also testified, saying that when he went to pick up Ellerin for a date the night she was killed, she didn’t answer the door or his calls. He was late and figured Ellerin had already left.

“I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Knocked again. And once again, no answer,” the actor testified. “At this point I pretty well assumed she had left for the night, and that I was late, and she was upset.”

But before he left, he peeked through a window. All the lights were on and he saw what appeared to be red wine stains on the carpet. Kutcher said he had been at a housewarming party at Ellerin’s home about a week before where people had been drinking. He wasn’t alarmed.

Kutcher said he was “freaking out” the next day when he found out she was dead, noting that his fingerprints were on the door.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said Gargiulo had tried to cover his tracks. Investigators found a program installed on his computer that deletes information from a user’s hard drive, Dameron said.

And about a week before his arrest, Gargiulo asked a friend if he would be interested in taking over his business if Gargiulo were to move to Mexico, Dameron said.

Closing arguments are expected to wrap up Thursday before jurors begin deliberations.

(source: Los Angeles Times)


Voters should have final say on death penalty

Gov. Kate Brown last week signed a bill that narrows Oregon's use of the death penalty by limiting the crimes that qualify for capital punishment.

The bill likely won't make that much difference in Oregon, a state that has not executed a prisoner since 1997 and doesn't seem poised to do so anytime soon. Brown has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment that was first put into place by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The bill was crafted in such a way that the issue didn't have to be referred to voters. In that regard, it represents a missed opportunity. Voters should have gotten the chance to weigh in, not just on this issue, but on the larger question: Should Oregon continue to keep capital punishment on the books?

The bill Brown signed carefully skates around that question; it fact, it was crafted to do that. Previously, the death sentence in Oregon could be applied to cases of aggravated murder, which includes crimes such as killing on-duty police officers or slayings committed during a rape or robbery. Now, those crimes will receive sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty in Oregon now can only be applied in four types of crimes: killings motivated by terrorism, murders of children 14 years or younger, killings by an incarcerated person who's serving a previous aggravated murder sentence and premeditated killings of police or corrections officers.

The law is not retroactive and will not apply to the 30 people on Oregon's death row.

It seems obvious that lawmakers were looking for a way to avoid asking the broader question about whether the state should follow the example of other states and do away with capital punishment. But we don't understand their reluctance, unless lawmakers thought that Oregonians were likely to reject any attempt to ban the death penalty.

We're not so sure that's the case, considering Oregonians' long and twisty history with the death penalty. Capital punishment was outlawed by Oregon voters in 1914 and then reenacted in 1978. Three years later, the state Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, a ruling that paved the way for a 1984 initiative in which voters reaffirmed capital punishment.

Since then, the topic rarely has been revisited in Oregon, and the gubernatorial moratoriums have had the effect of sweeping the debate about capital punishment under the rug. It would have been an easy matter to refer the measure, Senate Bill 1013, to the state's voters. Or death penalty opponents could have moved to place the broader question on a statewide ballot.

That last option still is available to legislators — or, for that matter, to any group of citizens with the interest, time and money required to place an initiative on the statewide ballot. But surely there is a lawmaker willing to take a stab at referring the big question to voters; certainly, the discussion that would result is long overdue.

(source: Editorial, Democrat Herald)


U.S. Atty. Gen. William Barr announced the Justice Department will resume executions of federal death row inmates. ---- The impact of reviving the federal death penalty

University of Miami legal experts in law and sociology weigh in on the Justice Department’s decision to restart executions.

Barring a last-minute stay, Daniel Lewis Lee will be strapped to a gurney at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., on Dec. 9, asked if he would like to make a final statement, and then administered a lethal injection of pentobarbital.

Over the next 37 days, four other men will follow him into the death chamber, and if the U.S. Department of Justice has its way, they won’t be the last.

With Atty. Gen. William P. Barr’s announcement that the U.S. government would resume executions of federal death row inmates after a nearly 2-decade hiatus, capital punishment has once again been thrust into the national spotlight, becoming, along with gun control, a contentious issue of debate, especially in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

In the 1972 landmark Furman v. Georgia case, the Supreme Court struck down state and federal death penalty laws. The court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and several states quickly adopted laws restoring capital punishment. The U.S. government did not do so until 1988, but only for a few offenses. The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 greatly expanded the number of crimes eligible for capital sentences. But since then, only 3 federal death row inmates have been executed, with the last sentence being carried out in 2003.

In making his announcement, Barr did not say why the government is restarting executions after what had been essentially a moratorium. But with an election year on the horizon, could the decision be politically motivated—an attempt by the current administration to show voters it is tough on serious crime?

“Crime and punishment in the United States has been used as a political weapon for decades. From George H.W. Bush’s Willy Horton ad to Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, politicians have been lining up for years to be tougher on crime than their opponents,” said Craig J. Trocino, director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Innocence Clinic. “Sentences have been increased from mandatory minimums to three-strikes laws. It is no surprise that the ultimate punishment, the death penalty, is also political. The ultimate penalty as the ultimate tough-on-crime stance is a political position some find too good to pass up.”

The government’s decision to restart executions comes at a time when most states are forgoing the death penalty altogether, replacing it with life-in-prison sentences. A total of 21 states have outlawed the death penalty. Meanwhile, opponents of capital punishment, armed with data and statistics, continue to make a strong case against it, arguing that it is racially biased and arbitrarily administered.

“The most disturbing fact for everyone, even death penalty supporters, is of course the astonishing number of individuals who have been sentenced to death and were later exonerated,” said Scott Sundby, a professor of law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at the School of Law, who is the author of “A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty.”

Sundby noted that the state of Illinois, before it abolished its death penalty, had exonerated more of its condemned death row inmates than it had executed. Nationwide, more than 160 people sentenced to death since 1973 in the United States were later exonerated.

Sundby, Trocino and Nick Petersen, an assistant professor of sociology and law in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences, weigh in on some of the important issues surrounding capital punishment.

What are some examples of crimes that would allow the federal government to seek the death penalty even when the crime is committed in a state that has outlawed it?

In order for the federal death penalty to be implicated it must be in the confines of a federal crime in order for the United States to have jurisdiction over the case. However, with the implementation of the 1994 crime bill, federal death penalty prosecutions increased dramatically. For instance, if a victim is killed with a gun, it would normally be a state case. But if that gun was classified as “an illegal firearm,” then the murder could be prosecuted federally. Also, carjacking that causes a death or a drive-by shooting that is “gang related” can also be prosecuted federally. Armed with this, federal prosecutors have increased death penalty prosecutions, and in particular, in states that have abolished it. For instance, Illinois instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in 2001 after it executed 12 people but exonerated 19. In 2011, Illinois formally abolished the death penalty. Nonetheless, federal death prosecutions have increased in Illinois.

—Craig Trocino, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

The 5 inmates scheduled for execution in December and January were all convicted of murdering children. Could the Department of Justice be attempting to make a more powerful argument for its case to resume capital punishment by scheduling the executions of inmates convicted of murdering children?

Given that the Department of Justice’s news release heading specifically noted that the five had been convicted of murdering children, there is no doubt that was a primary reason they were chosen. One also suspects that the race of the inmates entered into the DOJ’s equation as a way to try to keep the death penalty’s continuing problems with racism in the background. Even though over 1/2 of the federal death row consists of racial and ethnic minorities, three of the five whose executions were scheduled are white. In other words, the DOJ is staging these executions in a way that they believe will be most likely to engender public support for the executions.

—Scott Sundby, professor of law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at UM’s School of Law.

Proponents of the death penalty have argued that it is a deterrent. Is it?

The death penalty is not a deterrent despite the claims of its proponents. In 2012 the National Research Council concluded that the studies claiming it is a deterrence were fundamentally flawed. Additionally, a 2009 study of criminologists concluded that 88 percent of criminologists did not believe in the death penalties deterrence while only 5 percent did. Perhaps the most consistent and interesting data that the death penalty is not a deterrence is to look at the murder rates of states that do not have the death penalty in comparison to those that do. In states that have recently abolished the death penalty, there has been no increase in murder rates. In fact, since 1990 states without the death penalty have consistently had lower murder rates than states that have it.

—Craig Trocino, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

Social science research does not support the contention that the death penalty deters crime. In 1978, the National Research Council, one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the nation and world, noted that “available studies provide no useful evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment.” A 2012 report by the National Research Council reached a similar conclusion. Citing a number of problems with deterrence research, the council reported that “claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment.”

—Nick Petersen, assistant professor of sociology and law in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences.

What are the serious flaws with the death penalty?

The death penalty has many flaws that are not as commonly known. Just as a sampler: (1) studies continue to find that death sentences are racially biased, both in terms of who receives a death sentence and the race of the victim. Someone who kills a white victim is more likely to receive a death sentence than the killer of a minority victim); (2) Death rows are comprised largely of individuals suffering from mental illness and intellectual disabilities. Although the Supreme Court in theory barred the death penalty for intellectually disabled individuals, many still receive the death penalty either because their IQ tests are a few points above the cutoff or because of the way the state makes the determination); (3) The juries that impose death sentences generally are not representative of the general population in terms of race and gender; (4) The death penalty is far more expensive to impose and carry out than life-without-parole sentences; (5) The vast majority of death sentences are from only a handful of states, and if one turns up the magnification further, only from a small percentage of counties (2 percent of the country’s counties are responsible for more than a majority of all death sentences).

—Scott Sundby, professor of law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at UM’s School of Law.

There are serious problems with the implementation of the death penalty regardless of what jurisdiction is doing it. There is a misplaced notion that the federal death penalty is better than any state system could be. This is simply not the case. All of the problems with the death penalty exist equally in the state and federal systems. The causes of wrongful convictions are well known and occur in both the state and federal system. Things such as faulty eyewitness identification, false confessions, incentivized testimony, junk forensic science, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective defense lawyers all exist equally in the federal system as they do in the state system. Racial bias is indeed a major factor in the decision to seek the death penalty. Prosecutors have immense discretion is whether to seek the death penalty in a prosecution. Those discretionary decisions are made in myriad ways that sometimes, unfortunately, are based on biased decision-making.

—Craig Trocino, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.

A wealth of research has shown that death penalty decisions are influenced by race, geography, and other extra-legal factors. My own research finds cumulative racial and ethnic disparities in death penalty cases, with accumulating inequalities across multiple stages of the death penalty system. In addition, I have found that murders involving white victims are more likely to be solved by the police than those with black victims, and that these policing disparities contribute to inequalities in death-penalty charging decisions.

—Nick Petersen, assistant professor of sociology and law in UM’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The federal government plans to replace the three-drug protocol previously used in federal executions with a single drug, pentobarbital. Could the 5 inmates scheduled for execution have a potential appeal based on the Eighth Amendment?

The likelihood of the executions proceeding forward in the near future is fairly slim. The manufacturer of pentobarbital has cut off supplying it for executions, leading to a shortage. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has refused to say if it has any stockpiled, and while some states have turned to compounding pharmacies, the FDA has started to crack down on the pharmacies because of serious quality control issues. In other words, it is unclear whether they can get the pentobarbital. Even if they can, however, there are serious legal issues to be litigated. The first is whether the protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment by inflicting unnecessary pain, an issue especially highlighted by the lack of quality control in its manufacturing. There also is an issue whether Barr’s promulgation of the new death penalty protocol comports with the Administrative Procedural Act. Given that there has not been a federal execution in sixteen years, the sudden push to execute 5 individuals over the one-month winter holiday season will likely run into legal and logistical headwinds.

—Scott Sundby, professor of law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at UM’s School of Law.



U.S. seeking death penalty of accused Dickson County deputy murderer

The man accused of murdering a Dickson County deputy has been indicted on federal charges and U.S. attorneys are seeking the death penalty.

Steven Wiggins was indicted on federal charges of federal carjacking and firearms violations. Wiggins is charged in the 1st-degree murder of Dickson Sgt. Daniel Baker.

U.S. Attorney Don Cochran immediately filed a notice with the Court that the government intends to seek the death penalty and authority to seek the death penalty has been granted.

Wiggins previously pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges, including premeditated 1st-degree murder, arson and abuse of a corpse.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Sgt. Baker was killed on May 30 after responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle.

Wiggins is accused of shooting Baker at close range, dragging the deputy's body to the patrol car, placed Baker in the rear seat and drove away.

Wiggins reportedly ditched the patrol car in a field a few miles away and set it on fire, with Baker inside, before fleeing the scene.

GPS tracking technology was used to find Baker's patrol car after he had not been hear from for a period of time. Baker was found dead inside his patrol vehicle.

Initial autopsy reports show Sgt. Baker had 6 gunshot wounds: 2 to his torso; 1 to his hand; and 3 to the left side of his head.

An affidavit said Erika Castro-Miles, also charged in the murder, watched as Wiggins shot Baker to death. She tried to flee by hiding under a garage in Bon Aqua, but was spotted by the property owners and detained by police.

(source: WZTV news)


Mass shootings delay evidence testing in deputy's death, federal prosecutor says

In the 154 days since a member of a federal task force was shot at an east side hotel, 202 mass shootings have been reported in the United States.

At least some of those shootings, which are catalogued by the Gun Violence Archive, are delaying the completion of evidence testing and analysis in the shooting death of McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Keltner, a federal judge was told this week in Rockford.

Floyd E. Brown, 40, of Springfield is accused of shooting through the door of a room at Extended Stay America hotel, 747 N. Bell School Road, jumping out of a 3rd-story window and then shooting Keltner in the parking lot outside before fleeing on March 7. Keltner was shot outside the hotel while he and other members of a U.S. Marshals task force were trying to arrest Brown.

Several weeks after Keltner’s slaying, federal prosecutors estimated it would take a year to determine whether they would seek the death penalty against Brown. But during a hearing on Tuesday at the U.S. District Courthouse in Rockford, a federal prosecutor said that DNA testing and shooting reconstruction analysis has been delayed, so it may take even longer to determine whether the death penalty will be sought.

“We only have one lab. When there are mass shootings, sometimes those deadlines (for evidence and reports to be returned) are pushed back,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Talia Bucci told the judge handling this case.

That one lab is the FBI Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia, where all evidence handled by FBI offices around the nation is funneled for testing, processing and analysis. The Illinois State Police, by contrast, have eight lab sites throughout the state, including one in Rockford.

It is unknown how many mass shootings have involved evidence sent to the FBI Laboratory. The FBI’s national press office staff declined to comment for this story.

“There are 93 federal districts in the country, so they service all 93 U.S. attorney's offices. So it has to be a pretty robust operation,” said John Beal, one of Brown's defense attorneys.

Without having evidence back from Quantico, Beal said, the entire case is delayed.

“We have been told around the end of the month” that outstanding work should be completed, Bucci told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly.

Once this evidence is returned, the lengthy process to determine whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty will begin.

Beal said both sides meet with the Capital Case Committee, which makes a recommendation to the deputy attorney general, who in turn will make a recommendation to U.S. Attorney General William Barr. Keltner’s family can weigh in with the committee, too. Ultimately, Barr will decide whether to seek the death penalty. Decisions usually are issued 2 to 3 months after meetings with the Capital Case Committee.

Brown didn’t speak during Tuesday’s court appearance, for which he was sitting in a wheelchair wearing dark green jail scrubs. His trial has been set for Jan. 11, 2021.

Brown faces federal charges of murder of a federal law enforcement officer, illegal possession of firearms by a felon and illegal possession of firearms with an obliterated serial number. The murder charge is punishable by life in prison or death.

Brown also faces criminal charges in Winnebago County Circuit Court in connection with the same shooting, but that case is on hold as the federal case proceeds.

He remains in the Livingston County Jail. Brown is due back in federal court on Dec. 16.



Sudan junta drops death penalty against rebel leaders

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has cancelled the death penalty that was issued against Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) leader Malik Agar, his deputy Yasir Arman, and 15 others in 2014.

The TMC said in a statement on Thursday that the decision to abolish the death penalty came as part of measures to achieve peace in Sudan, confirmed by the Constitutional Declaration agreed on by the junta and the Forces for Freedom and Change a week ago.

In March 2014, after a 9-months trial, a special court in Singa, capital of Sennar, sentenced 17 members of the SPLM-N to death by hanging in absentia. Forty-six other detainees were sentenced to life imprisonment, while 31 were acquitted.

Those sentenced were among about 100 detainees who faced trial for their alleged involvement in the outbreak of the war in Blue Nile state in September 2011.

Following the ousting of President Omar Al Bashir in a military coup on April 11, the SPLM-N faction under the leadership of Malik Agar, decided to send a delegation to Khartoum. On May 26, Yasir Arman arrived in the Sudanese capital.

The stated goal of his visit was “to go to Khartoum, reach a just peace, linking between peace, democracy, and citizenship without discrimination and social justice”.

In spite of the death penalty, Arman was not subjected to any harassment at his arrival at Khartoum airport. Yet, he soon received 6 letters; 5 by Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’, Deputy chairman of the TMC, and one by the chairman of the junta, Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, demanding he leave Sudan.

The rebel leader was detained on June 5. 5 days later, he was deported to the South Sudanese capital of Juba, together with SPLM-N secretary-general Ismail Khamis and spokesman Mubarak Ardol.



Botswana’s capital punishment debate rages on

The alarming rise of murder cases in Botswana has led to calls for a moratorium on the death penalty because it appears to have failed to stem the tide.

However, another school of thought insists that the death penalty is still necessary in order to deter would-be murderers.

According to statistics released by the the Botswana Police Service last year, a total of 194 murder cases had been recorded between January and mid-September 2018.

Out of these, 87 involved women killed by their lovers. On the contrary, only one male victim was killed by his female lover.

The debate on the death penalty was ignited by human rights group Ditshwanelo and prominent lawyer Kgosi Ngakaagae who continue to argue that the death penalty should be abolished.

“Ditshwanelo condemns and remains opposed to the use of the death penalty as a means of punishment," the group's executive director Alice Mogwe said.

She called on the Botswana government to "take the lead in condemning the use of fatal force, which leads to the loss of life."

"It should instead strive to protect life, including that of the offender,” she said.

According to Mogwe the Botswana authorities "should look for alternatives to addressing crimes which lead to capital offences by dealing decisively with their causes."

"This approach will contribute to the reduction of such crimes. We regard this as crucial as a nation which prides itself on being peaceful and non-violent.”

Ngakaagae said there are currently two men on death row in Botswana.

“Sometimes you don’t understand these old men and how they reason. Many have died because of the Court of Appeals errors of judgment,” he said, citing alleged trial errors noted in the cases of murder convicts Gwara Brown and Thabologo Mauwe more than 20 years ago.

Brown and Mauwe's hanging was halted hours before they were to meet with the hangman after human rights attorney Kgafela Kgafela intervened and won them freedom in 1998.

Veteran journalist Pamela Dube is of the view that the debate of whether death penalty is a deterrent to murder is not as fierce as before.

“In the face of anger, opponents of capital punishment choose not to speak out," Dube said.

She called on the Botswana parliament should repeal the death penalty.

"And the chance to engage on the matter is now, in the period of electioneering,” said Dube.

Botswana goes for general elections in October.

Other Botswana took to social media to express their views on the debate.

Keboh Motjhibameleh said: “But are you guys (Ditshwanelo) aware of heinous murders by accused persons on bail? Should we wait for them to exterminate us before we (that's if we will be there) eliminate them? I'll tell you the most effective alternative to capital punishment. Send them killers to live with aliens in another planet.”

Bokamoso Xavier said: “You (Ditshwanelo) won’t stop the nation. We are united on this: whoever kills must die by the sword; we hang in Botswana.”

The European Union Delegation in Botswana, which is opposed to the death penalty, has since called on the government to initiate a public debate on its use of corporate punishment.

Justice Minister Shaw Kgathi has however dismissed the EU’s calls. saying Botswana would only take advice on the amendment of national laws if it came from its people.



New judicial explanation to regulate death penalty review, execution

The Supreme People's Court (SPC) is to enforce a judicial interpretation on the review and execution procedures for the death penalty to protect the convicts' lawful rights and interests starting from Sept. 1, the SPC announced Friday.

When delivering the judgment documents to the defendants, higher people's courts should notify the defendants of their rights to be represented by a lawyer when the SPC is reviewing their death sentences, the judicial interpretation stipulates.

The defense lawyer is obligated to submit relevant evidence materials and documents to the SPC within 10 days after the acceptance or designation to be the defense lawyer, and present the statement of defense within 45 days, the interpretation says.

When the statement or evidence may affect the review results of the death sentence, the execution should be suspended or ceased, even if the ruling of the review has been made, according to the judicial interpretation.

The people's courts should also inform the convicts of their right to meet their close relatives and grant their applications for recording their last words with audio or video devices, it adds.

Requests for meeting convicts under the death penalty by close relatives should be allowed, unless the convicts refuse the meeting, the judicial interpretation says, adding that the convicts have the right to ask for meeting with their friends or relatives other than close relatives on the premise of safety.

The convicts' requests for meeting with their minor children should be granted with the consent of the minors' guardians and conducted in a way that brings no physical or psychological harm to the minors, it says.



6 nabbed with 240 kg of marijuana face death penalty: BNN

The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has thwarted an attempt to smuggle 240 kilograms of marijuana hidden inside compressor cylinders and nitrogen cylinders into Kramat Jati, East Jakarta.

6 people who were arrested while allegedly acting as couriers in the smuggling attempt possibly face the death sentence if convicted of the crime, BNN eradication division deputy head Insp. Gen. Arman Depari said.

Authorities arrested 4 of them on Thursday afternoon at a rented house allegedly used as a storehouse behind state-run elementary school SDN Kramat Jati 02 Pagi, after trailing them throughout the day. The other 2 alleged couriers were arrested later.

During a raid the BNN confiscated a total of 240 kilograms of marijuana, the cylinders and a toolbox kept by the suspects in the rented house.

The marijuana were reportedly brought from Aceh and was to be distributed throughout Jakarta and West Jakarta.

“We will investigate the roles and work [of the accused people] and whether they have been fully involved or helping one of the syndicates that distribute marijuana,” Arman said as quoted by on Thursday.

“[They] face possible death sentences because [they were allegedly] in possession of and have transported a large amount [of marijuana],” he said.

The drug agency said it believed that the illegal distribution of the marijuana from Aceh was controlled by inmates of the Cirebon Class I Penitentiary in West Java.

After questioning the suspects, Arman said the BNN found that the storehouse was owned by a former drug convict who had gotten out of prison after serving his 4-year sentence.

Indonesia is known to have some of the world’s strictest drug laws as they involve the death penalty.

(source: The Jakarta Post)


Private members motion to abolish capital punishment challenged at supreme court

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ananda Kumarasiri today (August 9) said that the private members’ motion presented to parliament to abolish the capital punishment has been challenged at the Supreme Court.

Speaking at parliament he further said that the copies of the 3 petitions submitted to parliament calling for the abolishment were received by the speaker.



The death penalty is never the answer -- India has a more humanitarian approach towards drug offenders than its neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

After a moratorium of 43 years, the gallows were getting ready in Sri Lanka. 2 executioners with ‘excellent moral character’ and ‘mental strength’ were appointed. A list of 4 convicts — involved in drug offences — to be hanged was prepared. On June 26 — the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking — the Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, announced that he had signed the requisite documents for the imposition of the death penalty for drug-related offences.

But these executions had to be stalled. The country’s Supreme Court, on July 5, issued a temporary injunction against the execution of the four convicts until October.

It is only an interim relief for the convicts, as Sirisena, who is likely to fight a re-election in December, looks adamant upon imposing the death penalty. A week after the parliamentarian, Bandula Lal Bandarigoda, submitted a private member’s motion seeking to block the return of capital punishment, Sirisena, on July 14, said he will declare a national day of mourning if the Sri Lankan Parliament blocks his proposal to reinstate the death penalty. Sirisena, it seems, wants to rely on the populist rhetoric against the threat of drug use and convince people about his ‘social commitment’ to eradicating the menace before the elections. He wants the hangings to be a ‘powerful’ message to the illegal drug trade.

According to government data, 60 % of the 24,000 prisoners in Sri Lanka are drug offenders. Currently, 48 people have been convicted of drug offences. All death penalties for drug convicts in Sri Lanka were commuted to life imprisonment for the past 43 years. The death penalty for drug-related offences is a violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party. Ironically, last year, Sri Lanka was among the 121 countries that endorsed a United Nations general assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Human rights bodies argue that punitive drug policy has not acted as a deterrent anywhere. Over 170 countries are said to have either abolished the death penalty or taken a position in favour of ending executions. But Sirisena is in no mood to listen. He even rejected an appeal by the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, to reconsider his decision. He has also demanded the death penalty for the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks in April that killed over 258 people by calling the attack the handiwork of international drug dealers” who wanted to discourage [his] anti-narcotics drive”.

Besides Sri Lanka, Bangladesh is another south Asian country which imposes the death penalty for drug offences. Last year, its Parliament passed the narcotics control bill, 2018 which, alongside the life sentence, also has a death row provision for producing, trading and using 200 grams or more of yaba, or more than 25 grams of heroin and cocaine. Human rights bodies demanded a revocation of the law but their voices remained unheard. 2 death sentences for drug trafficking were pronounced last year. Ahead of the general elections in December 2018, the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, adopted a populist anti-drug stance by launching a campaign to toughen punishments for drug crimes. More than 250 people were killed in anti-drug operations between May and December in 2018. The Philippines-style ‘war on drugs’ campaign has targeted the poor and underprivileged. In some cases, human rights activists alleged, the killings may have been ‘politically motivated’.

In contrast, India has a more humanitarian approach towards drug offenders. In 2011, the Bombay High Court declared Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, that imposed a mandatory death sentence for a subsequent conviction for drug trafficking, ‘unconstitutional’. Later, it made the imposition of capital punishment on a person convicted only for a subsequent offence involving possession, production or transportation of specified drugs and quantities optional and not obligatory.

The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2018, published by Harm Reduction International — a London-based NGO working on social and legal impacts of drug use and drug policy — stated that only 6 of 915 death sentences pronounced in India from 2011 onwards were for drug offences. Last year, the Punjab government called for expanding the death penalty that is currently applicable for child rape convicts to 1st-time drug offenders. But the Central government rejected it, arguing that the UN office on drugs and crime opposes the imposition of the death penalty for drug offences. Moreover, last year, the Congress parliamentarian, Shashi Tharoor, introduced a private member’s bill in Parliament seeking a total abolition of the death penalty.

But the Indian Parliament, last week, passed the protection of children from sexual offences (amendment) bill, 2019, seeking to impose the death penalty for aggravated sexual assault against children. This bill has been passed at a time when a girl, allegedly raped by a former leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party when she was a minor in 2017, is battling for life in hospital. Ironically, the BJP, which supports the death penalty and proclaims its love for the ‘betis’ of India, expelled the rape accused from the party only last week, more than a year after his arrest.

(source: Sonia Sarkar,


Death sentences rise in India, drop globally----On the other hand, around 690 executions were recorded in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31 % compared to 993 in 2017.

The death sentence awarded by a Warangal district court on Thursday in connection with the rape and murder of a nine-month-old girl comes 13 months after 2 accused in twin blasts at Gokul Chat and Lumbini Park in Hyderabad in 2007 were sentenced to death.

According to the Amnesty International records, 162 persons were awarded death sentence across the country in 2018, taking the number of people on death row to 426 in that particular year while the number in 2017 was put at 371.

The 162 death sentences awarded in 2018 are the highest in a calendar year since 2000. The year also witnessed the legislative expansion of the death penalty for non-homicide offences, most prominently for sexual violence against children. However, the Supreme Court moved in the opposite direction, commuting 11 out of the 12 death sentence cases it decided in 2018.

On the other hand, around 690 executions were recorded in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31 per cent compared to 993 in 2017.

A research by Project 39A at the National Law University Delhi, also indicated that Indian courts gave 162 death sentences in 2018 — including 45 for murder and 58 for murder involving sexual offences — a 50 % increase compared to the numbers in 2017



Death penalty for rapist

An unusual grin flashed on the faces of most of the people who were present on the premises of Warangal District Court when the Judge on Thursday pronounced death sentence to 28-year-old Polepaka Praveen who molested and killed a 9-month-old infant in Hanamkonda on June 19. Considering the time elapsed – 51 days – since one of the heinous crimes that Warangal had ever witnessed, it was a landmark judgment indeed.

The judgment may not bring back their loving child, but it would certainly be a solace for the parents of the infant - K Jagan and Rachana. The day began with all eyes on First Additional District/ POCSO Special Court Judge K Jaya Kumar, and of course the accused Praveen who was whisked to the court room amid tight security by the police.

Bringing down curtains to the trial that began on July 24 taking cognizance of no less than 30 witnesses and CCTV footage that corroborated the crime committed by Praveen, the Judge Jaya Kumar passed a sentence of death by hanging to Praveen.

It may be recalled here the fateful night intervening June 18 and 19, Praveen picked up 9-month-old Srihitha when she was fast asleep aside her mother on the terrace of a 3-storied building in Kumarpally area of Hanamkonda. Before the infant's mother and other relatives noticed, Praveen took the baby to a secluded place in the same neighbourhood where he molested her.

The infant died before she was taken to a hospital.

The case triggered a lot of ruckus in the city with Opposition parties and civil societies taking to streets demanding capital punishment to the accused.

With the police taking their own time to file the charge sheet in a fool-proof manner, the protests continued demanding the intervention of State Government to set up a fast-track court to punish the accused so that it would be an eye opener to the unscrupulous persons. Against this backdrop, the Warangal Police Commissionerate took the case as a challenge and completed the investigation headed by ACP Ch Sridhar, Inspectors A Sampath and P Sadaiah in 3 weeks coming up with a fool-proof chargesheet obtaining DNA, post-mortem, FSL and other reports.

It may be mentioned here that the police registered cases under Sections IPC 376 A, 376 AB, 449, 363, 379, 302and Section 5 (IM) read with Section 6 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act of 2018 against accused.

Minister for Panchayat Raj Errabelli Dayakar Rao said: "The judgement is a stern warning to those perverts who were resorting to crimes against women and children."

Warangal West MLA Dasyam Vinay Bhasker said: "It's a welcome judgment. A solace to the infant's parents."

Warangal commissioner of Police V Ravinder said: "We took it as a challenge and gathered information in a scientific manner, so that the accused get a maximum punishment."



Why drug crime increase in Singapore and its capital punishment is not effective? — Sangkari Pranthaman

Despite strict laws and strong deterrent efforts from authorities, the drug problem in Singapore arises not solely due to addiction by abusers, but because there are other social problems that are interconnected with this issue such as gambling addiction, financial difficulties arising from high costs of living, acceptance by a younger and more liberal population which includes students who pick up recreational use of substances when they study overseas, depression arising from class gap, among many others.

Drug abusers in Singapore are sentenced to long-term imprisonment but this does not achieve its intended result, though it still remains unclear as to what Singapore lawmakers are hoping to achieve, in the first place.

Even if the government decides to make amendments to its laws, it takes far too long for it to happen, which would leave dozens of families and personal relationships far too broken by then. Besides that, far from being deterred and learning the error of their ways in prison, those who have been incarcerated, upon release, go on to learn the tricks of the trade from others, get involved again in dealing with drugs and become more interwoven in drug-taking and peddling social network and culture.

Discrimination towards ex-convicts in society leaves them unable to get new jobs which then leads them to commit the same offence again, coupled with the other factors mentioned above. Better the devil that you know, than the one that you don’t.

Placing all the blame on a drug mule, a first-time offender, who might have been a victim of circumstances and sentencing him/her to death is not the solution to fight against drug crimes.

Offenders, more likely than not, admit to their mistakes but as an enlightened society that claims to know better, we have to weight in all the relevant factors to find a more humane and holistic solution.

Hanging helpless drug mules would help Singapore proudly claim that the state has strict laws and is punishing offenders to death, even though killing all these people (whom don’t deserve to die) has been proven, time and time again, to not be an effective, and even, a reasonable solution to its problems.

Singapore continues the killings because the state wants to send a message to the world, and it needs scapegoats to continue this, even when there is evidence to show that it’s not working, even if, to the contrary, the narcotic crime rate is rising.

Singapore wants to spread a message of fear and intolerance for narcotic crimes to the world but is not willing to work to achieve a reasonable, humane solution.

At least, this is what their actions suggest. What do the deterrents even mean, if the crimes don’t stop? A more constructive approach is needed with the offenders to build a more enriching environment that would relate back to the wellness of the society.

Claims like the “death penalty is an effective deterrent to drug crimes” are just political and propagandistic talk. What evidence and statistics for the past 20 years that the nation of Singapore is able to produce to effectively claim so?

Recently there was a survey on the death penalty in Singapore which was started in October 2018 and its findings were published in May 2019. The survey which had questions on life and death has no transparency because no evidence, statistics and findings relating to it has been shown.

Singapore is able to educate its people on where and how all the rubbish and recycle items should be thrown and handled and on why Singapore is building underground now because of the limited amount of land it has.

However, when it comes to matters of life and death, crime incarceration, and death penalty, there are no documentaries, information nor statistics to support its claims and actions.

The difference in opinions on these issues among younger and older generation in Singapore are not published nor shared for public viewing. Nothing has been revealed except for a small article in the newspaper. That’s all there is to the value of the lives of minor crime offenders in Singapore.

Who they interviewed, what were the questions, how was the sample size chosen, none of these were revealed in the survey, despite the fact that some people answered the survey out of fear. In a country of a population almost reaching 5.2 million, only 2000 people were surveyed.

Who were they? Underprivileged families, foreigners, students, permanent residents, rich people, religious leaders, lawyers — we don’t know anything as there was/is no proof nor any transparency. But when it comes to drug mules, incarceration for their crimes and the death penalty, we have to produce evidence for everything because the law requires it, as per the mandate of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by United Nations (UN) in 1948.

According to the UN, 160 countries around the world have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it anymore. Why is Singapore unable to process the reasoning of these 160 countries for abolishing the death penalty?

Isn’t there a difference between a person who commits the same crime 5 to 6 times and a person who was a first time offender? Who among these are supposed to get a second chance to build their lives and correct their errors?

Recently there was also an issue about mercy killing (euthanasia) in Singapore. Those who suffer from serious illnesses and are in great pain, with families whom are torn apart emotionally, mentally, financially, physically have given consent for euthanasia to be carried out.

They, the ill-stricken, felt that it was better to let go of their lives than from suffering in pain all their lives but the Singaporean government said that it was not right to take their life regardless because life is precious.

Then, why isn’t the same reasoning applied here? Why isn’t it also unreasonable to kill minor offenders and drug mules for the sake of attempting to send a message to the world? How are their lives any less valuable than others?

“Violence cannot be resolved by more violence. The respect and protection of the fundamental right to life is more important than any form of revenge” — Judge Navi Pillay (president, International Commission Against Death Penalty)

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is temporary, the evil it does is permanent” — Mahatma Gandhi

On October 2018, a total of seven people were executed in a month alone, and after one week, the Singaporea government announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is going to conduct a survey on death penalty.

If the survey was so important and it concerned human lives, and if the peoples’ opinion were crucial, why should Singapore execute these seven people and have the survey to be carried out the following week?

It does not make any sense. Why not wait for the survey to be finished first before these executions? It can be clearly seen that the results of the survey don’t matter anyway, hence what was its purpose?

Another issue that arose in Pannir’s case was as per the Chief justice’s statement, where he said, “in our judgment, the applicant ought to have a reasonable opportunity to take advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge” — the point here is that this one week notice prior to executing someone is clearly an unreasonable time frame for a person to seek legal advice and counsel.

As such, all the people hanged previously, were only given 1 week’s notice and 3 days’ notice of execution. Prior to October 2018, all the notice of execution was served just 3 days’ notice and from 2018 onwards, 12 people received a 1-week notice.

In total 32 people from 2015 until April 2019 got 3 days and 1-week notice and 6 of them were Malaysians. All of these peoples’ rights have been deprived as they were not given a reasonable time to seek legal advice.

Before a person is about to be hanged, if he/she wishes to donate their organs to save people’s life, he/she can do it and many people here whom had gone through the gallows have done it but the next day, in the newspapers, it will be reported that these individuals were hanged because of the crimes that they did, and that the drugs that they got arrested with could harm people a lot.

However, the good deeds which they had done prior to their deathbeds is of nobody’s concern and the public wouldn’t know of this, except of the crime which he/she did 6 or 7 years ago as it will be published as the headline again and again. An offender might repent, regret and change but even after his death — Singapore, its laws, its media and its legal system, keeps punishing them.

There was a debate in parliament on the death penalty (Singapore Parliament debates, official report, November 14 2012) Vol.89. The issue was that the death penalty for drug trafficking will not be abolished but will be minimised it by revaluating the key role of the offender.

The AGC or public prosecutor certifies to any court that in his determination, any person that has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore — 33B (2) (B) must be given a Certificate of Substantive Assistance. This was set out in 2012.

Pannir’s fullest cooperation was given to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) on the August 20, 2018 and September 24, 2018. However, the AGC has denied to give him the certificate. If they claim that info given is not substantive, then there is a need to reform the 33B in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA).

Currently, there are no guidelines on how to address this kind of situation. They sit on the information that the drug mules give without doing anything about it and act on bad faith by not issuing the certs.

Coupled with this, they also do not address nor admit that there is a problem with the law, its effectiveness in combating drug abuse in Singapore, its mishandling of drug mules and victims and the need to finding a solution. They chose to remain silent and quite. This determination is done in bad faith and with malice — 33B (4).

So many people are being denied an opportunity to be a better person. Nothing good has come from that. So, I implore, why not dare to make the changes to give innocent victims like Pannir, a second chance to build their life?

Doing so, I believe, we will then be able to see changes that we did not see before, and only then will Singapore live up to its name of truly being a progressive and liberal nation.

(source: Opinion; Sangkari Pranthaman is the elder sister of Malaysian Pannir Selvam Pranthaman, who is on death row in Singapore for a drug offence----The Malay Mail)


5 members of same family face death penalty for drug trafficking in Melaka

5 members of a family and a male family friend were charged in the Magistrate’s Court here today with trafficking in more than 9kg of drugs into the country last month.

They were Jeffrey Koh Hong Lam, 51, his wife Ee Bee Teng, 49, their son Koh Kiat Kuan, 23, daughters Koh Qian Yi, 19, and Koh Qian Yun, 25, and the family friend, Goh Eng Meng, 46.

However, no plea was recorded from all of them after the charge was read out before Magistrate Teoh Shu Yee.

The 6 of them were jointly charged with trafficking in 9,755g of ketamine found in a car boot in front of a house in Taman Cheng Setia here at 6.10pm on July 26. Meanwhile, in another court, before Magistrate Muhammad Nazrin Ali Rahim, Jeffrey and Goh were jointly charged with 2 counts of trafficking in 600g of ketamine and 590g of methamphetamine at the same house and at the same time and day.

No plea was also recorded from them.

They all face the death sentence if found guilty as charged.

Both courts set October 8 for mention.

Deputy public prosecutors Hanis Najwa Nazari and Intan Lyiana Zainal Abidin prosecuted while lawyer Andrew Lourdes represented all the accused.



Death penalty for water polluters?

The recent contamination of rivers in the peninsula which resulted in a string of water disruptions affecting millions of users in the Klang Valley alone saw many up in arms, calling for heftier fines and other penalties of a deterrent nature meted out to responsible parties.

What not many may know, though, is that there are provisions under the law for the use of the death penalty in extreme and deadly cases.

Section 121(1) of the Water Services Industry Act (WSIA) 2006 states that those who contaminate or cause the contamination of a water supply with the intention to cause death, knowing that it could likely cause death or that it would endanger lives, can be sentenced to death if someone dies as a result.

Those convicted can also be punished with imprisonment of up to 20 years. If death was not caused, whipping can be meted out.

WSIA defines rivers, streams and creeks, seas, lakes, groundwater, dams, reservoirs, ditches and drains as “watercourses”. The death penalty offence listed under Section 121(1) applies if these sources are polluted.

This, environmental pressure group Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka) told FMT, WSIA is an extremely powerful law which could make a big difference in protecting the country’s waterways.

The problem, though, lies in enforcement.

Peka vice-president Saha Deva said he had not heard of the death penalty being used against polluters under WSIA since it was enacted 13 years ago.

“The lack of expertise, testing facilities and trained investigating officers hampers the ability to secure successful convictions under WSIA,” he said.

He also spoke of problems such as corruption and the focus on profit over sustainability.

“The level of awareness and lack of expertise at the disposal of government agencies involving environmental offences is alarmingly weak, as is the will to pursue such matters,” he added.

Recent reports said Sungai Kedah had become too dirty to be used as a source of water supply for consumers in Alor Setar. At about the same time, all four major water treatment plants in Selangor were shut down twice in a matter of days following a diesel spill and odour pollution which caused major water disruptions in the Klang Valley.

Saha, who is also a lawyer, said enforcement is generally a problem when it comes to environmental matters.

He suggested that the precautionary principle be incorporated in all local laws related to the environment, although this would involve constitutional amendments.

The precautionary principle states that precautionary measures should be taken if an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully and scientifically established.

“This would be an uphill task – not only is there inadequate awareness on the part of those tasked with enforcement, there is also insufficient awareness of this principle by the courts,” Saha said.

However, he said the death penalty had been statistically proven to be ineffective as a deterrent, citing the example of drug trafficking cases.

“Education, therefore, remains the most potent long-term solution to environmental protection which will also be enhanced if environmental protections are expressly and adequately stipulated in the Federal Constitution.”

(source: Free Malaysia Today)


46 Executions in 5 Weeks ---- Arbitrary executions to spared fear to stop the escalation of uprising

The inhuman mullahs’ regime in desperate need of suppressing the popular uprisings has resorted to more executions. The mullahs’ agents hanged 39 prisoners only in July. 4 were women and there was 1 public hanging. In past few days, the regime hanged 7 other prisoners.

The executions took place in Birjand, Ghohardasht, Karaj, Kashan, Khondab, Mahshahar, Kelardasht, Orumeh, Noor, Mashhad, Mahabad, Zanjan, Minab, Bandar-Abbas, Borujerd, Shiraz, Tabriz, Gorgan, Dezful, Rasht and Kermanshah prisons.

The religious fascism ruling Iran has resorted to more executions to escape the big social outburst.

The Iranian Resistance calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council as well as other human rights organizations and defenders in addition to the UN Security Council and the EU to condemn the new wave of executions in Iran. The Iranian Resistance also calls for binding decisions to stop the barbaric and systematic executions by the mullahs’ regime in Iran. Silence and inaction only emboldens the mullahs’ medieval regime in its crimes.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran


Hassan Rouhani’s Human Rights Record Marked by 3,800 Executions

From day one the regime of Iran has been based its rule on the pillars of domestic crackdown, and exporting terrorism and a reactionary, religious mentality.

It does not make any difference which faction is taking the office, the systematic and widespread violations of human rights in Iran have continued unabated for the past 40 years.

Even after the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani came to power, despite pledging to hold the “key” to Iran’s problems, he has failed to provide even an iota of the freedoms the Iranian people crave and deserve.

His record has revealed an unrelenting loyalty to the regime establishment in regards to social oppression and continued crackdowns.

During the 1980’s, Hassan Rouhani called for the public execution of political dissidents in Friday prayers, and as the secretary of the Supreme Security Council in 1999, he played a major role in suppressing the uprising of Tehran’s students and people.

An atrocious number of executions, continued public punishments and an escalating trend of oppression has been Hassan Rouhani’s report card during his tenure.

Security forces continued to harass, interrogate, and detain hundreds of activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of ethnic and religious minorities.

The unbelievable scale of executions and brutal tortures in prisons and arrest of more than 7,000 individuals during the 2017-2018 uprisings manifest the continuing human rights abuses that remain unaddressed, under Iran’s “moderate” leadership.

The following constitutes an overview of the serious human rights abuses in Iran, and a corresponding set of queries that will serve as a litmus test for the authenticity of Hassan Rouhani’s commitment to justice and human rights for the Iranian people.

1. Executions

Iran’s Penal Code allows executions to be carried out by many different methods, such as hanging, stoning, and firing squad.

At least 3,800 people were executed during Hassan Rouhani’s tenure. This made Iran second in the world when it came to the number of people it executed, and first in terms of the number of executions per capita.

Nevertheless, the actual figures are definitely higher, as most executions in Iran are carried out secretly without anyone knowing except those who carry it out.

It is not only the number of executions that is appalling, but also the nature of some of them. The executions involved 38 juveniles, 93 women, 91 political prisoners and 219 individuals hanged in public. It also includes individuals from ethnic and religious minority groups, including Ahvazi Arabs, Kurds and Sunnis.

Although Iran has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Hassan Rouhani’s government has made no effort to alter the country’s Penal Code, which allows girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 to be executed.

2. Torture

Torture has been institutionalized in the regime’s punishment laws and is sanctioned by the Judiciary as well as the regime officials.

One such example is flogging, used for more than 100 offenses in Iran, which has been institutionalized by the regime in its Islamic Penal Code.

The regime denies the use of torture despite thousands of reports from as early as the 80’s that prove the use of torture to extract forced confessions from prisoners or to break the spirit of political prisoners.

At least 14 detainees arrested during the December 2017 – January 2018 protests so far have been identified by name as having died as a result of torture in Iran’s prisons. In an act of propaganda, authorities have attempted to downplay some of these deaths by insisting that they actually were instances of suicide.

No officials were held accountable.

The vast majority of the 8,000 detainees had been arrested by Hassan Rouhani’s Ministry of Intelligence, which under his watch has become one of Iran’s major human rights violators.

3. Political prisoners

Iran is holding numerous in jail on political charges while Iranian officials deny the existence of political prisoners in Iran time and again.

Because of the Judiciary’s refusal to accept detainees as political prisoners, they are usually tried at revolutionary courts, where rules and regulations are even stricter and sanctions are harsher than the courts of justice.

Political prisoners in Iran include peaceful political dissidents, journalists, online media workers, students, filmmakers, musicians and writers, as well as human rights defenders including lawyers, women’s rights activists, minority rights activists, trade unionists, environmental activists, anti-death penalty campaigners, and those seeking truth, justice and reparation for the mass executions and enforced disappearances of the 1980s.

Many of them are kept in solitary confinement subjected to horrendous treatment by the authorities.

Iranian regime deliberately delays or refuses urgent specialized medical care for political prisoners. Prison authorities have regularly downplayed or dismissed the seriousness of their medical problems, treated serious ailments with simple painkillers and withheld essential medication. Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are commonly targeted. Political prisoners Arash Sadeghi, Atena Daemi, Soheil Arabi, Majid Assadi, Zeynab Jalalian, Arzhang Davoudi, Mohammad Bannazadeh Amirkhizi, Mohammad Habibi, Abolghasem Fouladvand, and Saeed Shirzad… are among those have been deliberately denied medical access.

One shocking example of the rampant violence perpetrated against the Iranian political prisoners in the murder of a 21-year-old Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali.

The political prisoner was stabbed to death by 2 prisoners on June 10 in Fashafuyeh Prison.

His mother and his cellmate believe that Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali was killed upon orders of prison officials.

The young political prisoner was sentenced to 8 years of prison on charges of “blasphemy”, “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic”, “insulting the leader” and “spreading propaganda” against the regime; all of which the regime considers “security” violations.

4. Persecution of the religious minorities

Widespread and systematic attacks continued to be carried out against religious minorities.

The Iranian regime’s systematic persecution of the religious minorities has resulted in widespread religiously motivated hate crimes against them, with none of the attackers yet prosecuted or brought to justice.

Among religious groups, Baha’is and Christian converts from Islam were seriously discriminated against. They faced systematic discrimination, including in education and employment, and were persecuted for practicing their faith.

In a recent case on July 1st, eight newly converted Iranian Christians were arrested in the southern city of Bushehr at their houses; some of them were members of the same family. Security forces raided and searched their houses and confiscated their Bibles, Christian statues and signs, wooden crosses, paintings, laptops, cellphones, ID cards and credit cards. The children witnessed all of these events as well as the cruelty by security forces in arresting their parents.

Such cruel behavior toward the religious minorities in Iran happens while according to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

5. Persecution of ethnic minorities

The Iranian regime also incites hatred and violence against ethnic minorities, violating their political, social, religious, economic, cultural, linguistic and educational rights.

Among other abuses, hundreds of people were arrested around Ahvaz last year amid protests against the regime’s discriminatory policies, water and power cuts and poverty.

Azerbaijani Turkic minority rights activists have also been targeted.

Iranian authorities arbitrarily detained 120 people in connection with 2 separate Azerbaijani Turkic cultural gatherings that took place in July and August 2018.

Other ethnic minorities, including Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, continue to face entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment and adequate housing.

Members of minority groups have been imprisoned on spurious charges such as “spreading corruption on earth.”


During the last 4 decades and especially in the last 6 years, Hassan Rouhani has played a key role in all of the regime’s human rights violations as the President and the chairperson of the clerical regime’s Supreme Security Council.

It is incumbent on the international community, particularly the UN, to hold the Iranian regime and its president accountable for allowing such egregious human rights violations.



Austrian-Iranian national might face death penalty over spying allegations: reports

An Austrian-Iranian national is facing the death penalty in Iran over allegations he was engaged in spying activities, according to local media reports.

Massud Mossaheb, 72, first came to Austria from his native Iran in 1965 and was later granted citizenship in 1980, becoming a dual national. He studied mechanical engineering in Vienna, and later became secretary general of the Austrian-Iranian society.

It was in the latter capacity that he led a delegation to Tehran in January, in support of an Austrian ion therapy company that is establishing a subsidiary near the Iranian capital, according to a Der Standard newspaper report.

Mossaheb was subsequently arrested and has since been held in custody charged with espionage, and has been told on a number of occasions that he is to be hanged, according to the report.

He reportedly also suffers from a number of health issues, such as diabetes and heart failure.

The Austrian foreign ministry has been pursuing the matter. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg confirmed that he has made efforts to contact his Iranian counterpart over the matter.

The issue has been further complicated, however, due to Iran considering Mossaheb as being solely an Iranian national.


AUGUST 8, 2019:


2-year moratorium on death penalty proposed----Koch suggests plant ot study financial, social moral costs of sentence

A Dallas County commissioner raised the idea of putting a 2-year local moratorium on the use of the death penalty to give the county time to study the financial, social and moral costs of the punishment.

Commissioner J.J. Koch proposed at Tuesday's meeting that Dallas County could save money by avoiding expensive death penalty trials, suggesting those funds be directed toward prosecuting human trafficking crimes. The issue could be revisited after 2 years, he said.

But such a decision would ultimately be up to the district attorney in Dallas County, John Creuzot, who said he supports the discussion but stopped short of saying he was on board with the commissioner's plan.

"I'm in support of discussing the issue, and I commend [Koch] for having the courage to bring it up and start the discussion," Creuzot said. "I can't commit myslef to that because I don't know what's around the corner."

Koch's proposal comes on the heels of Dallas County prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty against serial murder suspect Billy Chemirmir, who is accused of smothering more than a dozen elderly women at senior living complexes around North Texas.

In Texas, capital murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors can also seek the death penalty for crimes they determine are especially heinous.

Koch said he understands why prosecutors would seek the death penalty in a case like Chemirmir's, but if a death penalty moratorium were imposed, he would want to see a "hard moratorium."

"So that way, if Chemirmir were to pop up a year from now, and we'd made this decision, we wouldn't be seeking the death penalty," he said.

Creuzot said he supports the death penalty in cases where evidence shows a person would be a "continuing threat in the penal society," he said.

Death penalty cases are expensive - even long after a trial and conviction.

Creuzot said his office is still involved in a 32-year-old case: the killing of Fred Finch and his wife, Mildred, by Kenneth Thomas.

Thomas has bee sentenced to death twice - in 1987 and 2014 - and Texas' highest criminal court has ordered another sentencing hearing for Thomas so a jury can decide whether he is intellectually disabled. A date for that hearing has not been set, according to Dallas County court records.

If the goal of a death sentence is to create public safety, Creuzot said, a sentence of life in prison without parole can do the same with a much lower cost.

"It's becoming more and more difficult to sustain a death penalty conviction in the United States," Creuzot said.

Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said he hadn't heard of a county government proposing a local moratorium.

"The answer is not unique to the death penalty," he said.

"A Commissioners court does not have an ability to issue a moratorium on sexual assault prosecutions of life sentences - that's just not their job."

In Texas, the governor can't impose a statewide moratorium on the death penalty, Edmonds said. That's not the case in other states, such as California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on the death penalty in March.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said it if were possible, he's support a statewide moratorium on the death penalty to study the moral and financial questions of whether the punishment shoud be used.

Jenkins said he would support the district attorney putting a stop to the county's use of the death penalty, but the decision would need to be left up to the DA.

Commissioners John Wiley Price and Elba Garcia voiced support for Koch's idea. Commissioner Theresa Daniel said she was looking forward to discussions about the topic and said it was important to include the DA's office and judges in those conversations.

Koch said the county wouldn't try to force Creuzot's hand on the issue. He said the county commissioners coud pass a resolution supporting a moratorium, and they have final say over the budget for the DA's office.

"We can't do anything unilaterally," he said. "It's his department."

He suggested that the county use money saved from pursuing death penalty cases to prosecute human trafficking cases.

Creuzot said there are other areas of need in the DA's office, pointing to grant for lawyers who handle child abuse cases that's about to run out. He said his budget requests to fund their positions after the grant have been denied.

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Lawyer says will try to prevent death penalty

A court-appointed lawyer for the man accused of shooting dozens of people in El Paso says he will do everything he can to ensure his client is not executed.

21-year-old Patrick Crusius has been charged with capital murder in state court for the Saturday massacre, and may face federal hate-crime charges that could also come with a death sentence if he’s convicted.

Attorney Mark Stevens told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday that he “will use every legal tool available to me to prevent” Crusius from being put to death.

Stevens, a veteran criminal defense attorney from San Antonio, said he will only represent Crusius in state court and declined to comment further on the case. A judge appointed him Monday.

(source: Associated Press)


Tuckers murder trial begins Monday | Prosecution seeks death penalty for McKelvey

The capital murder trial of Jeff McKelvey is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 12, in Criminal Court in Guntersville. It will be the 1st capital trial in Marshall County since 2012, when Jessie Phillips was convicted of the 2009 shooting deaths of his wife and their unborn child in a carwash at Warrenton.

McKelvey is charged with killing Denie and Pam Tucker during a robbery of their home on Pea Ridge Road near Asbury. According to past testimony at hearings in the case, McKelvey approached Denie Tucker at the Cracker Barrel in Cullman with a fake story about how he didn’t have money and was trying to go check on his daughter who’d been in a wreck.

Denie gave him $60. The stranger insisted he wanted to repay him. Denie gave McKelvey a business card with his address on it.

McKelvey and an associate, Henry Pyle, later went to the Tuckers’ home to rob them. Pyle pled guilty earlier and is serving a life sentence. He is expected to be a key witness at the trial.

It would likely take at least 2 days to select a jury for the case, possibly longer, meaning opening statements and testimony could start on Wednesday or Thursday following jury selection.

Marshall County District Attorney Everett Johnson and Chief Assistant District Attorney Ed Kellett will prosecute the case. Johnson said they intend to seek the death penalty. The defense attorneys are Brian White of Decatur and Kevin Hanson of Albertville.

The Tuckers’ deaths occurred in September of 2015. A fingerprint on the door of the Tuckers’ home led police to McKelvey.

McKelvey, who lived in Decatur, had a criminal past. Prosecutors said previously he had been in and out of prison.



Unstoppable: At 80, Sister Helen Prejean has an ongoing mission and a new book

St. Joseph's Academy alumna Sister Helen Prejean speaks after addressing students and faculty there as part of the school's 150th anniversary speaker series, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. The 1957 graduate became a nun and later an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, and is well known for the 1995 movie 'Dead Men Walking,' based on her book about mentoring two men on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

It’s early on a Tuesday morning, and Sister Helen Prejean is about to make another pilgrimage to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, this time to visit death-row inmate Manuel Ortiz. “I think we have a chance at getting him out this time,” she said. “I really do.”

She is 80 years old now, continuing the death-row ministry that began in 1982 when she began corresponding with Patrick Sonnier — the experience that culminated in the bestselling “Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate.” That book was adapted for an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, as well as an opera; her second book was “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in America.”

She has continued to write; her new book “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey” (Penguin Random House) illuminates the roots of her moral convictions and the progress of her soul. Its epigraph comes from St. Bonaventure: “Ask not for understanding, ask for the fire.” It is the prelude to "Dead Man Walking."

Book Signing

What: Sister Helen Prejean discusses and signs “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey”

When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10

Where: St. Rita’s Auditorium, 625 Fontainebleau Drive, New Orleans

Spiritual memoirs follow familiar contours: the education of a self, the formation of a moral core, the quest to put faith in action, the test of that faith and forward motion — the person always moving toward God, or whatever name the writer gives the Divine.

In Prejean’s case, that moral education took the shape of an upbringing in a loving Cajun family in Baton Rouge, a Catholic education, a commitment to the novitiate at 18, and her first call as a teacher at St. Frances Cabrini, teaching grammar to eighth-graders.

This was followed by a stint as director of religious education for St. Frances Cabrini Parish after the announcement of Vatican II, and as director of novitiates for the Congregation of St. Joseph. Then it was on to Hope House in New Orleans' St. Thomas housing development, which added a social dimension to her religious and moral education.

Surprisingly, she came rather late to social justice. Seeing an exhibit of John F. Kennedy’s writings in New Orleans in 1964, she was inspired to begin keeping a journal that continues to this day. And when 27-year-old Prejean met Martin Luther King Jr. in the Chicago airport, the civil rights leader asked for her prayers.

Vatican II was a turning point for her. “I think that’s really when we became an adult church, getting down to matters of conscience and sorting things out,” she said. "We learned to get in the world with the suffering, right down to the those in our city. And the African-American people at St. Thomas became my teachers.”

“I had 2 cocoons I had to break out of,” she said. “I was a child of my time. The first was the way I saw the world. I’d pray to God to solve the big problems. It was a vertical thing; I was trying to go to directly to God. But what I really needed to do was directly commit to loving my neighbor.

"The other cocoon was white privilege. I always saw people just like me. And there’s a wonderful quote, ‘What the eye doesn’t see, the heart cannot feel.’ ”

“I’d bring people on retreats, and they’d resist, saying ‘We’re nuns, not social workers.’ And I said, bring it on! At a community gathering, a nun named Sister Marie Augusta Neal said, ‘Jesus preached the good news to the poor.’ ” Then Prejean heard words that changed her life: “And integral to that good news is that the poor are to be poor no longer.”

“I had studied theology, but I’d never studied liberation theology,” she said. “It was never about justice. When you talked about 'the least of these,' it was couched in terms of charity, but never justice.”

So she found a new direction in her vocation. “We have to confront institutional racism," she said. “And education is crucial; it teaches you how to be an agent in the world.”

Along the way, she was tested, challenged and supported by deep bonds with others. She writes about her 34-year friendship with Sister Christopher (Ann Barker), a nurse in Houma, and her relationship with Father William, a priest from Boston who wanted to marry her and leave the church. Here, we see Prejean at her most human and revelatory.

“I don’t think humans can live without intimacy,” she said. The priest’s alcoholism finally drove them apart, although eventually he sought help. “I didn’t know much about alcoholism then, but I learned,” she said. “I know this is a homely metaphor, but I couldn’t be the Elmer’s Glue that held him together.”

Some of the most lyrical passages describe the nuns on retreat in Grand Isle. “I loved that Chris (Sister Christopher) could come with the teachers on vacation,” Prejean said. “It’s so great to be at the beach and feel the wind in your hair.”

In one hilarious passage, the nuns debate whether they need to wear habits over their bathing suits to cross the road to the beach.

“You never think, when you become a nun, about going on vacation,” she said, “and when you do, you’re with the same sourpusses you live with!”

As it happened, Prejean was speaking on the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Spanish priest and founder of the Jesuit order "gave us the 'Spiritual Exercises,' rules for discerning what kind of energy is moving in us," she reflected, "consolation, which gives us a feeling of buoyancy and hope, or desolation, which gives us a feeling of sadness.”

She quoted Goethe: “'We have to be dark to ourselves, open to outsiders, and truly engaged with the world, not just the surface.'

“And you know me. I really engage.”



Bond denied for man charged in 4 West Chester homicides after he appears to faint in court

A Butler County judge denied bond on Monday for the man accused of killing 4 family members in West Chester in April.

During the hearing, Gurpreet Singh fell over at the podium and appeared to pass out before he was helped into a chair by deputies. The 37-year-old former West Chester Twp. man was handcuffed and shackled for the brief court appearance.

When prosecutors and Singh’s defense attorney Charles H. Rittgers were talking with the Judge Greg Howard at a side bar, Singh swayed then fell to the floor.

Deputies rushed to help him up and placed him in a chair. The judge asked him if a was alright to continue, and Singh answered “yes.”

The appearance was Singh’s 1st in an Ohio court after his arrest in Connecticut last month.

Rittgers said Singh declined transport to a hospital and was taken back to the jail

Singh was indicted by a Butler County grand jury on Friday on 4 counts of aggravated murder from the April 28 incident. With specifications of using a firearm and killing 2 or more persons, Singh faces the death penalty if convicted.

During the arraignment, Singh pleaded not guilty and waived the formal reading of the lengthy indictment. However, Howard ordered the indictment be read in open court.

Rittgers pointed out his client is a citizen of the United States and has been in constant contact with him, even when he moved to Indiana. The warrants related to the investigation include an Indianapolis address for Singh.

“When he was arrested, he was in Connecticut for a wedding that had been planned for a year,” Rittgers said, adding Singh has no prior criminal record and has surrendered his passport.

“We ask the court set a reasonable bond,” Rittgers told the judge.

But due to the seriousness of the charges, Assistant Prosecutor Josh Muennich requested “significant” bond.

Howard agreed with the prosecution, noting the four charges that include a death penalty specification and denied bond.

Singh spent four weeks incarcerated in Connecticut after being arrested there on initial charges and warrants signed by the West Chester Police department. He was transported from Connecticut and booked into the Butler County Jail early Friday morning.

Rittgers said Friday that Singh is “absolutely not guilty.”

Singh retained Rittgers to represent him after West Chester police requested a second round of questioning, the attorney said. That is when Singh became concerned he was a suspect, despite being let go by detectives.

“They took him to back to the station immediately after he called 911 and after he discovered the body of his wife and his in-laws. They took him from the scene back to the station and interrogated him for 6 or 7 hours and let him go at 4 or 5 in the morning,” Rittgers said.

Singh is the man who called 911 at about 9:40 p.m. on the night of April 28 screaming that he had found his family dead, according to police. Rittgers said Singh had last seen his family alive about 6 p.m. when he left to work on his truck.

Singh is accused of the killing his wife, Shalinderjit Kaur, 39; his in-laws, Hakikat Singh Pannag, 59, and Parmjit Kaur, 62; and his aunt by marriage, Amarjit Kaur, 58, at their apartment on Wyndtree Drive. All died of gunshot wounds.

(source: Dayton Daily News)


Timothy Madden Capital Case Inches Closer to Trial

The Allen County man charged in the murder of a 7-year-old girl nearly 4 years ago is now less than a month away from going on trial.

Timothy Madden was in court on Wednesday for a pre-trial hearing.

After multiple delays, the case is on schedule to go to trial on September 4.

If convicted, Madden could get the death penalty for the kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and murder of Gabbi Doolin in 2015.

Due to publicity, the case will be tried in Elizabethtown. Allen Circuit Judge Janet Crocker said 146 Hardin County residents will be questioned and evaluated in the process of seating a jury. Commonwealth’s Attorney Corey Morgan says he’s confident a fair jury can be impaneled.

"Whenever there's jury selection, normally you talk to jurors as a group, "Morgan explained. "However, in a death penalty case, it's individual. That means you have to take each person into the chambers with the judge and opposing counsel and talk about the death penalty to see their views on it, and that takes time."

Despite Elizabethtown being in a different media market, Madden’s public defender Tom Griffiths says he still has concerns about seating an impartial jury.

"Television doesn't hit a wall and people report each other's stories," said Griffiths. "Once something is in the Courier-Journal, it gets picked up by everybody in the state, and frankly, vice versa."

Jury selection is expected to take at least a week, and the trial, as long as a month.

Both sides told Judge Crocker they will be ready for the trial to begin in just over 3 weeks, although the defense is still waiting on two reports, including a psychiatric evaluation and independent DNA testing.

Hardin Circuit Court Judge Kelley Mark Easton will preside over jury selection while Judge Crocker will oversee the trial.

Timothy Madden returns to court on August 24 for a rare Saturday hearing, which will be his last in Scottsville before the case is transferred to Hardin County.

(source: WKYU news)


Suspects arrested for murdering off-duty officer at taco stand: Police

A pair of suspected gang members were charged with murder on Tuesday in the death of an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who was fatally shot while visiting a taco stand with his girlfriend.

Cristian Facundo, 20, and Franciso Talamantes, 23, were charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder in the death of Juan Diaz, a 24-year-old Los Angeles Police Department officer who was killed last month, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

The murder charge also carries a special circumstance which makes the suspects eligible for the death penalty.

Diaz, who had been with the department for just 2 years, was eating at a taco stand with his girlfriend and her 2 brothers at around 1 a.m. when he saw the suspects defacing a property in LA's Lincoln Heights neighborhood, a police source told ABC's Los Angeles station KABC. The officer had ordered the men to stop when one of them pulled out a gun and began threatening him.

The officer and his companions tried to avoid an altercation by getting into their vehicle and leaving, but the gunman, later identified as Facundo, opened fire, killing Diaz and injuring one the girlfriend's brothers, the police source said.

Facundo, Talamantes, and a 3rd suspect -- Ashlyn Smith -- also face a charge of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and vandalism, according to the district attorney's office. Smith, 19, also faces 1 count of accessory after the fact, while Talamantes was charged with 1 count of possession of a firearm by a felon, the office said.

"All 3 defendants also are accused of vandalizing a vehicle less than an hour before Diaz's murder," the district attorney's office said in a statement on Tuesday. "After the murder, Facundo and Talamantes allegedly were driven back to the vandalism scene by Smith and are accused of an attempted murder there."

Dozens of family members, friends and fellow officers gathered for a vigil at the LAPD's headquarters a day after his death. The department tweeted images from the gathering late Saturday night, remembering him as a "dedicated public servant and Angeleno that put service to others above all else."

"Tonight we gathered to honor a man who dedicated himself to our city - A man whose passion was LA," the department said in a subsequent tweet. "There were hugs & tears-but we held our heads high as we paid tribute to his dedication to something greater than himself. Tonight our HQ Facility is proud to have Juan front & center."

The officer's loved ones and several members of the force -- including Sgt. Manuel Hernandez, his police academy training officer -- spoke at the vigil.

"He grew up in a bad neighborhood, infested with gangs, yet he led a good life," Hernandez said.

"What we mainly want is for all of you guys to remember Juan for the goofball he was, the personality he was, always made someone smile," Diaz's sister, Anahi Diaz, added.

source: KGO TV news)


Death penalty questionable as a deterrent to mass killing

President Donald Trump is calling for new death penalty legislation as an answer to hate crimes and mass killings. But whether that would deter shooters is questionable — especially since most don’t live to face trial.

More than half the perpetrators of mass shootings since 2006 have ended up dead at the scene of their crimes, either killed by others or dying by suicide, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

Death penalty scholars and psychologists say killers motivated by ideology are unlikely to be deterred by punishment. Most of them are willing to die or understand the risk and prepare for it. Some want the fame that an execution could potentially bring to their cause.

“In fact, in the case of terrorism, it might be worse than that because you have the very real possibility of creating martyrs,” said Gary LaFree, head of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, and co-founder of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

Trump’s remarks Monday on the death penalty followed weekend attacks that killed a total of 31 people in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. The shooting suspect in El Paso is believed to have posted a racist, anti-immigrant screed on the internet before the shooting. The motive in Dayton remains unknown.

Trump said he was ordering the Justice Department to propose legislation ensuring that “those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty, and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.”

The death penalty was one of several steps Trump outlined that embrace conservative responses to mass shootings — such as denouncing video games and calling for changes in mental health laws — while brushing aside Democratic calls for stricter gun regulations and demands that he back off his virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But the deterrent effect of the death penalty has long been questioned. Several studies have shown it doesn’t work to reduce crime. And perpetrators of mass killings are already subject to the death penalty in 30 states as well as under federal law. According to an analysis from the Death Penalty Information Center, all but 2 of the states where mass shootings have occurred already have capital punishment.

The El Paso shooting occurred even though Texas has used the death penalty far more than any other state, executing 108 prisoners since 2010.

“Look at Dylan Roof,” said Miriam Gohara, a Yale University law professor who studies the death penalty, referring to the man convicted and sentenced to death in the racist 2015 killings at a Charleston church. “He has been sentenced to death. And that clearly did not dissuade these people.”

Of the 82 public mass shootings since 2006, 30 gunmen killed themselves and 16 were killed, according to the AP/USA Today/Northeastern database. Fourteen are serving life sentences, 12 are awaiting trial, and only 3 have been given the death penalty. There was also one who committed suicide while in custody. Others received other penalties and one suspect had charges dropped.

The database tracks every mass killing in the country dating back to 2006, defined as involving four or more people killed (not including the offender) over 24 hours, regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive.

The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, though actual executions rare. The government has put to death only 3 defendants since 1988, the most recent of which occurred in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a female soldier.

The Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death. Attorney General William Barr recently ordered the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions again , starting in December.

Experts say death penalty cases are time consuming and costly, and suggest the money would be better spent in mental health. And because there isn’t one motivator that pushes someone into violence, there isn’t a panacea answer.

For one thing, psychologists haven’t been able to study many of the shooters, said Frank Farley, a Temple University psychology professor and former president of the American Psychological Association. “Because so many of them never survive, there’s no fabulous study on the psychology of mass killers,” he said.

(source: Savannah Morning News)


The Death Penalty Cannot Be Justified Through Retributive Justice Or Self-Defense

Defenders of the death penalty usually employ 1 or 2 distinct strategies in their apologetics, sometimes separately, sometimes together. The 1st is to promote capital punishment as “retributive justice,” and the 2nd is to suggest the death penalty should be used as it acts as a kind of “self-defense” for society.

For Christians who embrace the dignity of life, both arguments are invalid. Jesus overturned the notion of retributive justice when he rejected the notion of “an eye for an eye.” Likewise, St. Paul, following Jesus, gave his own rejection to the principles of retributive justice:

Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12: 17-21 RSV).

Interestingly enough, Paul referenced Deuteronomy 32:35 in his rejection of retributive justice; this shows us that the Christian ethic is not other than the one intended in, and so comes out of, the Torah itself. Jesus, Paul, and subsequent Christian commentaries developed what was implicit in the Torah. It is true, the Mosaic laws might have allowed for capital punishment, but like animal sacrifices, this was never the intent or desire of God. “For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:32 RSV). Rather, God condescended to meet the people of Israel where they were at in their knowledge and understanding, and directed them away from the path of death and destruction by having them slowly embrace the path of true justice found in his mercy and grace.[1]

While some apologists for capital punishment might concede Christians cannot accept it on retributive grounds (though many will continue to push for it, despite the long Christian moral reflection against such a notion), they think their strongest answer lies in the notion that it serves as a kind of self-defense for the community, both because they say it stops criminals from continuing in their criminal activities, but also because they think it acts as a deterrent.

Considering the notion of deterrence, reality, shows it does not truly act as a deterrent. Study after study says the same thing. This should not be surprising to readers of Vladimir Solovyov, who, in the 19th century, examined the evidence and said the same thing: executing people does not stop or lessen crime. Indeed, Solovyov thought that it could even encourage violent crime, as the state justifies the act of violence in its executions.

But what about self-defense? Does not the church itself teach us self-defense is acceptable, and so we can kill in self-defense? Does this not lead to the church accepting other forms of killing, such as those which are done in just wars? Why, then, if the criminal is dangerous, can’t the church approve their execution?

This comes from a poor reading of the church’s stand on self-defense and on just war theory. In both instances, not only must the cause be just (and retributive justice is not just), killing or war must always be the last resort, it must be done as a secondary effect of some other primary purpose (in other words, it is an issue of double-effect).[2] When war is declared, and it appears that the war is just, that does not instantly make any killing by those on the side of justice justified: they still have to follow basic moral principles (Jus in Bello), seeking not to kill if the opportunity arises to stop the enemy without such violence. This is why those who are held as prisoners of war, as well as civilians, cannot be executed. For prisoners of war, although they are soldiers, since they have been taken out of the combat, their threat has been neutralized. Likewise, with self-defense (and it must be noted, Augustine and others did not approve of non-authorities using violence in self-defense), the point must be defensive, the reaction proportional, and if the threat is contained, the violence must be stopped (killing someone after they are no longer a threat cannot be justified as an act of self-defense).

Just war theory (and with it, any theories of justified self-defense) does not accept preemptive strikes as being just. We don’t attack someone because we think we might be attacked if we do not. We have to have a clear and present danger, one which cannot be stopped by any other means; if other means have not been exhausted, or the danger is not immediate, then any act of war is an act of aggression, and so is unjustified (which is why Bishop Botean condemned the Iraq War). Similarly, it is not self-defense when we attack someone for what they might do in the future. Just war, and self-defense, must always be the last resort; this means we must have a real, immediate threat (and not some virtual threat). When those who propose to use the death penalty as a kind of “self-defense,” they are falling for the same kind of error which promotes preemptive strikes: it justifies aggression based upon virtual possibilities instead of reality. Once this argument is accepted, then all aggression, all killing quickly becomes “just” as all killing would just be seen as “preemptive” forms of self-defense.

Christians must follow the hard path of love, and with it, accept that moral responsibility might leave them vulnerable. But such vulnerability is what is capable of transforming the situation and creating true peace and safety: the more society rejects all premises which support of aggression, the more people will move away from aggression and seek other remedies for their needs. Christian history shows this with the martyrs: Christians changed the hearts of Rome, not because they became a powerful military force that overwhelmed Rome, but because they embraced their vulnerability. If they had fought back, if they had embraced the path of violence, and started taking out Roman soldiers in guerrilla wars, Christians would have gained no sympathy from the Roman people but only their hatred, and world history would have been much different.

Self-defense arguments for capital punishment are unacceptable. Once a criminal is contained, just as a prisoner of war is contained, just as a threat has been neutralized, the dignity of human life must take precedence. Fearing what a prisoner could do in the future and using that to justify an execution only demonstrates a fundamental rejection of what the dignity of life entails. If there is some fear that a threat will not be properly contained, the solution is to work on the containment. If a criminal finds a way to circumvent their containment, then deal with the situation in as just a manner as possible Until then, the solution will be to improve the containment, make it as strong as possible. There will never be the need for state-sponsored executions of criminals because there will always be ways to deal with them other than giving in to the path of death. If there comes a time in which an act of self-defense becomes necessary, and through such actions, the death of a criminal in custody becomes an unwilled consequence of actions used to contain them (using the best, most proportional means to do so) that is not the same thing as the death penalty because it is an unintentional side-effect of the actions necessary to contain the situation: but when direct, intentional killing is done, and done by the state, the end result is a rejection of the dignity of life and an acceptance of the premises which all murderers hold. If that is the case, how can one say murderers are unjust?

[1] God’s reaction to the murder of Abel, where God forbade the execution of Cain, represents in full God’s desire to save the wicked instead of to have them destroyed.

[2] And, even if the killing ends up being “justified,” this does not make it good. It remains an evil. Historically, the church required soldiers who killed in war to undergo penance for what they have done, whether or not the war was justified, because it understood all killing to be evil.



Ret. Federal Judge Responds to Execution Update for Convicted Iowa Murderer

The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced plans to resume federal executions for the 1st time in 15 years.

5 inmates are scheduled to be put to death for their crimes, including Iowa-native Dustin Honken.

Honken received the death penalty in 2004 for 5 murders, including 2 children in 1993.

Their bodies were discovered in a mass grave near Mason City in 2000.

Retired Federal Judge Mark Bennett sat on the bench during Honken’s trial in Sioux City .

Bennett is now at Drake University serving as the Director of the new Institute for Justice Reform and Innovation.

The Institute for Justice Reform and Innovation serves as a center for research and training on topics like sentencing reform, bias and improving trial procedures.

Siouxland Public Media’s Sheila Brummer traveled to Des Moines over the weekend to meet up with Judge Bennett at the Drake Law School.

He talked about the case, security measures taken during the trial and his thoughts on the government’s move to execute Honken.


Bennett also presided over the trial of Dustin Honken’s girlfriend Angela Johnson. She was the 1st woman to receive the federal death penalty in 50 years. Judge Bennett vacated her sentence after he ruled Johnson didn’t get adequate council during her trial. She was re-sentenced to life in prison.

(source: KWIT news)


Former National Corrections Chief Warns of Dangers Federal Execution Plan Poses for Prison Personnel

A former high-ranking federal corrections official has warned that the federal government’s plan to execute 5 prisoners over a 5-week period in December and January risks seriously traumatizing correctional workers. Allen Ault (pictured) is a former chief of the Justice Department’s National Institute of Corrections who also served as corrections commissioner in Georgia, Mississippi, and Colorado, and as chairman of the Florida Department of Corrections. In a July 31, 2019 op-ed in The Washington Post, Ault says, “I know from my own firsthand experiences, supervising executions as a state director of corrections, that the damage executions inflict on correctional staff is deep and far-ranging.”

Ault’s op-ed describes the mental and emotional toll that executions take on corrections officials, including those who do not directly participate in the execution. Execution team members, he says, have reported “nightmares, insomnia and addiction” and have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of taking part in executions.

The “compressed schedule” proposed by the federal government presents additional challenges. Three executions are scheduled in a five-day span in December 2019, with two more in January 2020 just two days apart. According to Ault, this schedule “causes an extended disruption to normal prison operations and precludes any attempt to return to normalcy following an execution. It also prevents any meaningful review by execution team members and other officials to address problems or concerns in the execution process. That increases the risk that something could go horribly wrong in the next execution. And if a ‘routine’ execution is traumatizing for all involved, a botched one is devastating.”

“Psychologists have described the impact of executions on correctional staff as similar to that suffered by battlefield veterans,” Ault writes. “But in my military experience, there was one major difference: The enemy was an anonymous, armed combatant who was threatening my life. In an execution, the condemned prisoner is a known human being who is totally defenseless when brought into the death chamber. Staff members know that he has been secured safely for many years before his execution and poses no threat to them personally.” Other corrections officers are also affected, Ault says. “The trauma extends through the many correctional staff who interact every day with death row prisoners, often forming meaningful bonds over the course of many years and, in many cases, witnessing their changed mind-sets and profound remorse.” He reports that executions can cause “depression, anxiety and other mental and physical impacts” in other members of the prison community.

23 corrections officials, including Ault, warned Arkansas about these dangers when the state scheduled 8 executions in an 11-day period in 2017. Ault argues that “[t]here’s no good reason for the Trump administration to move forward with executions. There hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, and the prisoners under federal death sentence have been safely managed by the Bureau of Prisons in high-security federal prisons.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Addicts are patients, it's drug peddlers who are criminals ---- Branding them criminals makes rehabilitation efforts difficult, if not impossible

The society has a habit of treating drug addicts more like criminals than the patients they really are. But leaders are now pushing for reforms that could change perceptions.

Pastor Jacob Muroki of the Jesus the Exalted Centre Church says the fact that the society has branded addicts criminals makes any efforts to rehabilitate them difficult, if not impossible.

At the coastal region, addicts have a nickname, a famous one. They are called ‘Mateja’, a street name meaning a thief who uses hard drugs.

“We live in a society that doesn’t see the silent plight of such individuals,” Muroki says. “Many are stigmatised while they can actually be helped to turn their lives around. You mention the word Teja and people begin looking over their shoulders because they expect to see a thief or a con. That mindset needs to change.”

Speaking when he officially launched the Lamu rehab facility earlier this year, Chief Justice David Maraga said the real criminals in the war on drugs are the smugglers and peddlers, whom he said are frustrating the reform process.

“I want to let magistrates and judges know that those drug users brought to your courts daily aren’t actually criminals but patients. They need help and condemning them to prison isn’t that helpful," he said.

"Let’s send them to rehab facilities like this one so they get to recover and live better lives and, as the judiciary, we support that approach. Those peddling drugs are the real criminals.”


Speaking in Lamu during the Lamu Justice Week, DPP Noordin Hajji said he is consulting the DCI and the IG to have petty criminals sent to rehab instead of prison. He said many of the petty crimes are committed by addicts who want to buy drugs.

“We are talking of those stealing goats, chicken and so on. We want to give rehab a chance, rather than putting them on trial directly. That will, however, heavily depend on the level and nature of crimes committed. Our objective is to get the big fish in all this,” Hajji said.

During the same week, High Court judge Roselyn Korir, who is based in Garsen, proposed alternative strategies of dealing with the drug menace. These include offering addicts training and skills that will enable them to turn away from the vice.

Korir said in as much as criminal litigations are necessary, the community should embrace addicts and all those affected to enable them to see and pursue a positive and more productive life away from drugs.

She said prison officers should be specially trained in rehab skills so they can help rehabilitate some of the addicts arriving at their various prison stations.

Korir said the country has very few drug rehabilitation centres compared to the demand of addicts. The facilities are also out of reach for many due to their high cost.

“All in all, it’s high time we changed the approach used to fight drugs, from arresting and prosecuting to actually issuing alternative skills and training to drug convicts so they can better their lives once out there,” Korir said.

“The coastal region is still marred with increased drug-related cases, and we need to think about how best to bring the figures down. That's why we are pushing to have prison officers trained on matters rehab so they can instil the same in the addicts before they are finally released back into society.”

Lamu woman representative Ruweida Obbo proposed the death penalty for those found guilty of drug peddling. “We want drug peddlers given the same treatment as criminal gangs in Mombasa like Wakali Kwanza. That toughness is what we need. Let such people be shot dead. The society will be better without them,” she said.

According to a 2017 national survey by Nacada, 18.2 % of Kenyans have used 1 form of drugs or the other, a figure that translates to 3.2 million people, with the most abused substance being alcohol.



At Least 38 People Executed in July

At least 38 prisoners have been executed in Iran in July 2019. This is the highest number of executions in a month in the country during the past 20 months.

According to the IHR statistic department, at least 37 prisoners have been executed in different Iranian prisons and one hanged in public.

Most of the executions are recorded at Urmia prison (also called Darya prison) with 8 prisoners who have been hanged in the Iranian northwestern city’s prison. 2nd in a row was the Karaj city’s Rajai-Shahr prison near Tehran with 6 executions. Officials in Iran have announced only 14 of the 38 executions. The rest was recorded and confirmed by IHR.

34 of the executed people were charged with murder, 3 with drug-related charges and one was charged with rape.

4 of the executed people were women.

Since the beginning of 2019, at least 147 people were hanged in Iran. This shows an 8 % increase compared to the same period in 2018.

(source: Iran HumanRights)


Malaysian king pardons 3 Indonesians who had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking

Even as the Indonesian government refused to grant mercy to any of the 22 prisoners it executed from 2013-2016 for drug trafficking, it was making diplomatic efforts to save its citizens who had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking abroad. Their efforts have paid off for three men who had been sentenced to die in Malaysia in 2010 but were able to return to their homeland yesterday after they were granted pardons by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia).

The three Indonesian citizens, Bustamam bin Bukhari, Tarmizi bin Yaacob and Sulaiman bin Ismail, flew back to Indonesia yesterday accompanied by officers from the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur. They were received by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta who will handle their repatriation to their hometowns in Aceh.

“The 3 Indonesian citizens have been undergoing legal proceedings in the Malaysian Court system since 1996, or for 23 years, accompanied by legal counsel appointed by the Government of the Republic of Indonesia,” Soeharyo Tri Sasongko, Indonesia’s consular secretary in Kuala Lumpur, said yesterday, as quoted by Antara.

According to Soeharyo, the Indonesian government submitted pardon requests for all three that were granted thanks to the government’s efforts.

Although they had been jailed since 1996, the 3 men’s appeal process finally ended in 2010 when their death sentences were made final and binding.

But in 2012, Sultan Muhammad V commuted their death sentences to 20-year sentences. Earlier this year, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah commuted their sentences once again, freeing them to return to Indonesia.

Malaysia freed 2 other Indonesian citizens who had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking earlier this year. However, there are still over 100 Indonesians on death row in the neighboring country.

Although Indonesia still has the death penalty and criminals still regularly receive the sentence, the country has had an unofficial moratorium on executions since the last ones were done in 2016. Although sentencing drug traffickers to death is still largely supported by Indonesians, the practice has been vocally denounced by human rights activists and much of the international community. President Joko Widodo and senior officials have given statements indicating that the moratorium is likely to stay in place.



Philippine Church braces for death penalty, divorce battle ---- Both contentious issues are back on the agenda with new proposed bills going before legislators

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines are bracing for what they expect will be an uphill battle against proposals before Congress to reimpose capital punishment and to legalize divorce in the country.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo admitted that the fight has never been easy. "It will always be a tough battle but we do not give up," he said.

Catholics opposed to the proposed measures may also have to find new ways of lobbying in the Philippine Congress, said Father Melvin Castro.

The priest, who used to be executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said a lot of legislators only think of "short-term solutions" to social and family issues.

Rodolfo Diamante of the Catholic bishops' Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care agreed to new approaches to presenting the Church's position on issues.

He said one of the things his commission will do is prepare a statement that will focus on new arguments on the issue of the death penalty.

"We will also provide legislators and policy makers documents and materials on the issue," he said. He said they might bring in international experts to also engage the public on the issue.

Death penalty revival

Senators this week began debates on proposals to revive the death penalty.

In a speech, Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao said reviving the death penalty is the most effective way to dealing with heinous crimes and the illegal drug trade.

"Illegal drugs are destroying the lives of our people," he said. "It is high time for the state to step up its game and put these criminals to death through judicial sanction," he added.

Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon countered that reducing the demand for drugs is the solution to the proliferation of narcotics, not killing drug users and dealers.

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, under president Gloria Arroyo.

Several legislators, including Pacquiao, who said he could cite Bible verses to defend his position, have filed their respective bills seeking the revival of the death penalty.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, warned against invoking religion in the discussions.

"Please avoid invoking Jesus in the death penalty bill," he said. "The Bible is a good source of insights. But trying to change the story of Redemption is not fairish," he added.

Divorce proposals The proponent of a law allowing divorce, meanwhile, said this move in the Senate is "history in the making."

"This marks an important stage in the larger work to have a divorce law in the country," said Senator Risa Hontiveros, principal author of the proposed divorce bill.

"It’s time that we give Filipinos the chance to free themselves from abusive, loveless and unhappy relationships, and to help them find love and start all over again," she said.

She said she believes and supports the institution of marriage but added that she also believes "that Filipinos have the right to second chances to turn the page and live good and happy lives."

Senator Joel Villanueva, however, said he will fight against the proposal because the Philippines is predominantly "a Christian nation."

"We are definitely against any divorce bill. Well, a couple of reasons, but one of the major reasons is, we are a Christian nation," said the son of a Christian evangelist.

"So, divorce — over my dead body — the word divorce, I will really oppose it. I will definitely oppose it," said Villanueva as he expressed support for making the process of annulling marriages more accessible.

Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao delivers a speech in the Senate on Aug. 6 defending his proposal to legalize divorce in the Philippines. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Laws to strengthen family

Bishop Pabillo of Manila expressed hope that legislators will be creative in crafting laws that will strengthen the family.

"What have they done to help families in crisis?" said the prelate.

He said data from other countries shows divorce laws result in "more broken families" while women, children, and the elderly suffer.

In past pronouncements, the bishops' conference has attacked the proposal to legalize divorce in the context that it is an "easy option" out of marriage.

As for the death penalty, church leaders say it will never be a solution to the problems of crime. "It is anti-life, anti-poor, and will enhance only a culture of violence," they said.

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to restore the death penalty as a deterrent to crime when he campaigned for the presidency in 2016.

In a 2017 poll, 67 % of Filipinos supported capital punishment.

Filipinos also support a divorce law. Another survey conducted in 2017 showed that 53 % of Filipinos want to legalize divorce.



2 sentenced to death for killing woman over dowry----Abdul Alim killed his wife with the help of a friend

A Tangail court on Monday handed down capital punishment to 2 men holding them guilty of murdering a woman over dowry on April 20, 2012.

The convicted are Abdul Alim alias Sumon, 32, from Hinnaipara village in Kalihati upazila, and Shamim Al Mamun, 29, of the same village.

Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal Judge Khaleda Yeasmin passed the verdict and also ordered a fine of Tk1 lakh to be paid by each of the accused, confirmed Special Public Prosecutor Nasimul Akhtar Nasim.

Abdul Alim married Sumi Akhter of Faliarghana village in Tangail Sadar, when he was a Gazipur Industrial Police constable in 2011, said Prosecutor Nasim.

"On the occasion of the marriage, a dowry of Tk5 lakh was fixed to be paid. But Sumi's parents managed to pay only Tk3 lakh. Abdul Alim would torture his wife on a regular basis for the rest of the money.

"He sent his wife back to her father's home at one point. On April 20, 2012, Alim took his wife to the Beribadh area from her father's home, and killed her there with the help of the other accused, Shamim Al Mamun."

Sumi's mother filed a case against the 2 for murder, added prosecutor Nasim.

The convicts were shifted to Tangail jail after the verdict was delivered.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)


Prosecution seeks death for auto gang rape convict----Cites Section 376 E provision for enhanced punishment to repeat offender

On the day of the pronouncement of the quantum of the sentence in the Sector 29 auto gang rape case, which took place in 2016, the public prosecutor moved an application in the local court today seeking the death penalty as enhanced punishment for convict Mohammad Irfan, who is already undergoing life imprisonment till death in the Sector 56 auto gang rape, by including Section 376 E (punishment for repeated offenders) of the IPC in the present case.

The defence counsel has been asked to submit a reply tomorrow, after which the quantum of punishment will be pronounced.

As per the application, Section 376 E has provision for enhanced punishment to a convict in case he is found to have been convicted again under Section 376 (rape) or Section 376 A or Section 376 D. Irfan was already convicted in the auto gang rape case of 2017 under Sections 376 D and 506 of the IPC. The application states, “Taking into consideration the said judgment, according to the provisions of Section 376 E, Irfan is liable for enhanced punishment.”

According to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, “whoever has been previously convicted of an offence punishable under Section 376 or Section 376 A or Section 376 D and is subsequently convicted of an offence punishable under any of the said sections shall be punished with imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, or with death.”

Uttar Pradesh-based Mohammad Irfan (29) and Kamal Hasan, alias Dil Dil, from Delhi were held guilty by the court of the Additional District and Sessions Judge on August 1 of raping a 21-year-old girl in 2016.

Repeat offender

2016: Sector 29 gang rape case

The victim had hired an auto from Sector 34 for Hallo Majra with Mohammad Irfan (29) driving it and another accused sitting on the passenger seat. The accused had stopped the vehicle near a slip road in Sector 29 saying that it had broken down. They then pushed her into a forest area nearby where they raped her.

2017: Sector 56 gang rape case

On November 17, 2017, the victim, a native of Dehradun, had hired an auto from Sector 37 for Mohali. The auto was driven to a forest area in Sector 53 where the trio raped her. Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Garib (23) and Kismat Ali (23) were sentenced to life imprisonment till death in the case.



In a first in India, death for hate crimes in Rajasthan

The Rajasthan Assembly passed a bill on Monday providing for death penalty for hate crimes against couples in the name of honour and tradition.

Rajasthan becomes the first state in India to have a special law to deal with hate crime against couples.

The Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019, was tabled in the Assembly on July 30 by law minister Shanti Dhariwal.

The law also provides punishment for holding assemblies to condemn inter-caste, inter-community marriages in the name of family honour.

Though the punishment for murder in rarest of rare cases under the Indian Penal Code is also death penalty, the bill said a special law for such hate crimes would act as a deterrent as it has severe punishment for such acts of violence and criminal intimidation and will prevent caste and community assemblies that take place to condemn such marriages.

Under the new law, “whoever causes death of a couple or either of them on the basis that marriage of such couple has dishonoured, or brought disrepute to the caste, community or family shall be punished with death, or with imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, and with fine which may extend to 5 lakh rupees.”

If cases of grievous hurt to a couple or either of them, the law prescribes rigorous imprisonment for 10 years which may be extended to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs3 lakh. For a case of simple hurt, the punishment will be jail for 3 to 5 years and a fine of Rs2 lakh.

For participating in a gathering to condemn a marriage claiming it has dishonoured the caste or community or tradition or brought disrepute, a person or persons can be sent to jail for six months to 5 years and fined Rs1 lakh. The law empowers the sub-divisional magistrate or district magistrate to prevent such assemblies and take steps to ensure safety of the couple.

The new law also covers threat to the couple by prescribing punishment of three to five years and a fine of Rs2 lakh. If threat is to cause death or grievous hurt, the imprisonment will be of 7 years, the bill says.

(source: Hindustan Times)

AUGUST 7, 2019:


Appeals Court Clears Path for Death-Row Exonerees’ Lawsuit Against North Carolina Police Officers to Go to Trial

A federal appeals court has cleared the way for a civil lawsuit by 2 North Carolina death-row exonerees to advance to trial, rejecting a claim that police officers who allegedly violated their constitutional rights were immune from liability. On July 31, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a trial court ruling allowing Henry McCollum and Leon Brown to sue North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) agents Leroy Allen and Kenneth Snead and Robeson County detectives Joel Garth Locklear and Kenneth Sealey for false arrest, malicious prosecution, deprivation of due process, and municipal liability.

McCollum and Brown, who are half-brothers, were just 19 and 15, respectively, when they were arrested for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. Both men are intellectually disabled, which made them particularly vulnerable to coercion and manipulation by police. In the suit—which was filed on their behalf in 2015, one year after they were exonerated and released from prison—they allege that the officers “coerced and fabricated [their] confessions, and then, to cover up this wrongdoing, … withheld in bad faith exculpatory evidence that demonstrated [McCollum and Brown’s] innocence and buried pieces of specific evidence indicating that” another suspect, Roscoe Artis, had committed the crime. The case has not yet been heard by a jury because of the officers’ appeal.

Shortly after McCollum and Brown instituted suit, the officers filed a motion to dismiss it on the basis of qualified immunity, a principle that “protects government officials from liability for violations of constitutional rights so long as they could reasonably believe that their conduct did not violate clearly established law.” The district court rejected that argument, holding that, if the facts alleged in their lawsuit were true, the exonerees would be entitled to recover damages from the law-enforcement defendants. The Fourth Circuit agreed, saying “It was beyond debate at the time of the events in this case that [McCollum’s and Brown’s] constitutional rights not to be imprisoned and convicted based on coerced, falsified, and fabricated evidence or confessions, or to have material exculpatory evidence suppressed, were clearly established.” The exonerees, the appeals court said were entitled to a chance to prove any “disputed facts” at trial.

The suit claims that the officers coerced the two men into falsely confessing. McCollum says that the officers told him if he signed a form, they would let him go home. The form was, in fact, a form waiving McCollum’s Miranda rights. As described by the appeals court, the officers interrogating McCollum allegedly “got into his face, hollered at him, … threatened him,” called him racial epithets, and told him they would send him to the gas chamber if he didn’t confess. “McCollum further alleged that the officers told him to sign a paper that said if he could help them in the case as a witness, they would let him go home. McCollum signed the paper—which was actually the confession written out by Snead—but he did not read it and it was not read to him.”

Brown provided a similar account of his interrogation and coerced confession. Describing Brown’s testimony at trial, the circuit court recounted that “Detective Locklear did not advise him of his rights, that Brown asked for his mother when an officer grabbed Brown’s arm, and that Brown (like McCollum) was told he would be taken to the gas chamber if he did not sign the rights waiver. Then, Brown testified that when the officers gave him a piece of paper, he circled ‘no’ on it. According to Brown, that ‘no’ was supposed to indicate that he could not help the officers.” Instead, it indicated that he waived his rights. Of the confession that he signed, Brown said, “Detective Locklear drafted it and told Brown to sign it, which Brown did after an officer told him doing so would ensure his release. Locklear then read the confession to Brown, and Brown told the officers that it was not true. Like his brother, Brown was then placed under arrest.” The officers dispute this account of the interrogations and confessions.

Brown and McCollum also allege that police violated their rights because they “failed to investigate and withheld exculpatory evidence regarding (1) the similarities between the rape and murder of Buie and Artis’s rape and murder of Brockhart; (2) a statement by a potential eyewitness, Mary McLean Richards, that she saw Artis attacking Buie; and (3) the alleged coerced testimony of Brown and McCollum’s friend L.P. Sinclair.” They say that Artis was a suspect before Brown and McCollum were tried. “[O]n October 5, 1984, three days before [Brown and McCollum’s] first trial, investigators submitted Artis’s fingerprints to the SBI for comparison to the latent prints found on the beer can at the Buie crime scene. Artis was listed as a suspect on the fingerprint comparison request. However, the investigators canceled the request that same day, and the fingerprint comparison was never completed.”

(source: The Death Penalty Information Center)


Racism Tainted Their Trials. Should They Still Be Executed? ----North Carolina Supreme Court hearings raise broad questions of systemic bias in the state judicial system.

7 years ago, a judge ruled that prosecutors improperly excluded black jurors in the murder trial that put Marcus Robinson on death row.

Now the North Carolina Supreme Court has to decide whether that evidence of racial bias—and similar findings of systemic bias in a handful of related cases—must be taken into account in death penalty appeals.

The hearings stem from the 2013 repeal of the Racial Justice Act, a law that briefly allowed death row inmates to seek life sentences without parole if they could prove that racial bias tainted jury selection in their trials.

After Democrats passed the law in 2009, Robinson and 3 others won life sentences without parole.

But when pressure from prosecutors and a campaign of fear-mongering led the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal the Racial Justice Act, Robinson and the other three prisoners returned to death row.

The impending hearings, scheduled for late August, raise broad questions about the equity of North Carolina’s judicial system, said Cassandra Stubbs, executive director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, which is representing Robinson. “The importance of fairness and the integrity of the court is really on the line.”

And the hearings come at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has been cracking down on racial discrimination in jury selection. In June, the court overturned the murder conviction of Curtis Flowers, a black man tried six times in Mississippi by a prosecutor who used all of his peremptory strikes against black jurors in each of the first 4 trials.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein declined to comment on the hearings but stressed the importance of holding defendants accountable and providing justice for victims.

North Carolina didn’t include African-American citizens in jury pools in a meaningful way until the mid-20th century; prosecutors then often used peremptory challenges to eliminate black jurors, according to James E. Coleman, Jr., a professor at the Duke University School of Law.

? Taking black people off the jury lowers the standard of proof for the prosecutor, Coleman said, because white jurors will be more willing to accept any kind of evidence if the defendant is black.

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that qualified jurors cannot be removed from jury pools because of their race or gender. But the North Carolina Supreme Court has never agreed with defendants who argued that’s what happened in their cases.

Marcus Robinson and a co-defendant went on trial in 1994, in Fayetteville, N.C., charged with robbing and murdering a white high-school student. The victim’s family declined to comment.

County prosecutors removed 50 % of black jurors and less than 15 % of white ones; the jury that convicted the 2 defendants had just 2 African-American members.

More than a decade later, the state legislature passed the Racial Justice Act, allowing death row inmates to receive commuted life sentences without parole if they could prove that racial bias influenced their death sentence.

Floyd McKissick, Jr., the bill’s sponsor, said it was fundamentally about procedural fairness—not an attempt to end capital punishment, as opponents claimed.

“It brought together people who all shared the common belief that if the death penalty was to be used in cases, then it should be free of racial bias,” he said.

Lawyers for Robinson and others on death row who had been prosecuted in Fayetteville by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office began reviewing their jury selections.

They discovered that in numerous cases prosecutors asked potential black jurors targeted and inappropriate questions. For example, in one case they asked a man if he was familiar with Bob Marley and the former emperor of Ethiopia.

In the 2001 capital murder trial of Quintel Augustine, who was charged with shooting a police officer, a Cumberland County prosecutor dismissed every qualified black juror in the jury pool. In his notes, the prosecutor described one black man as a “thug.” Another man was labelled a “blk wino,” though a white juror with a DUI conviction was still selected (“country boy — ok”). One of Augustine’s prosecutors had also attended a seminar that taught North Carolina district attorneys how to give race-neutral explanations for striking black jurors, and had a handout of accepted reasons like “hairstyle.”

A statistical analysis found that prosecutors across the state removed qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate of non-black jurors.

“It hurt my heart to hear that evidence of racism,” Tawana Choate, mother of Quintel Augustine, said in an affidavit. (She declined to comment to The Marshall Project.) “I don’t understand why African Americans can’t serve on juries just like white people.”


The Removal of Black Jurors in North Carolina

Researchers analyzed the jury selection process in 173 murder trials between 1990 and 2010 in North Carolina where the defendant ended up on death row. They found that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove qualified black jurors at twice the rate that they removed non-black jurors.

1,210 Black jurors53% Removed

6,185 Non-black jurors26% Removed

[source: Michigan State University]


In defending the actions of Cumberland County prosecutors, the state has argued that past discrimination against African-Americans may affect their ability to serve as fair jurors. Supporters of the Racial Justice Act say this is a way to further justify and perpetuate discrimination.

Cumberland County prosecutors also denied any intentional prejudice, but Judge John Dickson, a former district attorney involved in Robinson’s case, admitted that implicit bias is a part of the legal system.

“And that's why as a district attorney selecting a jury, I worked very, very hard at not doing that,” Dickson testified. “That doesn't mean I was perfect either.”

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s office emphasized bringing justice to families of victims.

“There are dead cops and dead innocent folks and women and innocent children, all of whom grew up without family members because of what these guys did,” said Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Robert Thompson, who declined to comment further about the pending cases.

Over 90 % of North Carolina’s 152 death row inmates filed Racial Justice Act challenges. Only 4—all from Cumberland County—were heard by a judge in 2012. That judge initially granted relief to each of the 4 Cumberland County defendants, resentencing them to life imprisonment after ruling that race was an “overwhelming” factor in their death sentences.

These rulings were later overturned by the state Supreme Court, which found the judge had not given the state enough time to respond to the defendants’ findings.

Meanwhile, the legislature repealed the Racial Justice Act, arguing that it turned “murderers into victims while the real victims lie in their graves," as former state Sen. Thom Goolsby said at the time.

A different judge put the Cumberland County defendants back on death row in 2017, dismissing the racial bias evidence because the act was no longer on the books.

Robinson’s lawyers then appealed his case to the state Supreme Court. Two other defendants from Iredell County, just outside Charlotte, will also argue before the court that they should be given the opportunity to present evidence of intentional and systemic racial discrimination that has yet to be heard in court.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, race and the death penalty will remain political lightning rods in the state.

No one knows that better than Hugh Holliman, the former Democratic House majority leader in North Carolina, who in 1998 attended the execution of the man who raped and murdered his teenage daughter.

11 years later, Holliman voted for the Racial Justice Act. He was defeated the next year by Republicans who portrayed him as soft on crime.

He has no regrets about his vote. “I supported the death penalty, but I wanted it to be fair," Holliman said.

(sourcew: The Marshall Project)


Death Penalty Waning in Indiana, With Fewer Capital Prosecutions and No Death Sentences

Following the trends across most of the Midwest, the death penalty is waning in Indiana. Capital prosecutions are down, no jury has voted for death since 2013, and the state is closing in on its tenth consecutive year without an execution. An August 4, 2019 Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette review of the death penalty in the state reports that even high-profile murders that started out as death-penalty cases have recently been resolved with non-capital pleas.

Several factors have contributed to the decline, according to the Journal-Gazette report. Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison (pictured), who chairs the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council’s capital litigation committee, told the newspaper that part of the move away from the death penalty stems from 1993 legislation that made a sentence of life without parole available as an alternative to the death penalty. Richison said cost and the length of the trial and appeal process has also played a role. Indianapolis defense lawyer Eric Koselke told the Journal-Gazette that victims’ families are also “a big factor in why death penalty filings have dropped.” “People are aware of how long this process takes and they want closure and don’t want to go through it,” he said.

Indiana currently has 8 prisoners under sentence of death, and a 9th whose death sentence was overturned in the courts is awaiting a resentencing trial. Since 2016, three death-row prisoners have exhausted their appeals. However, Attorney General Curtis Hill says, the Indiana Department of Correction can’t execute them because it hasn’t been able to obtain the drugs required under the state’s 3-drug execution protocol. “Inadequate supply chain has been a problem for two years,” Hill said. According to the Journal-Gazette, the Department of Correction “confirmed … that the state doesn’t have the necessary drugs to conduct an execution.”

A DPIC analysis of Indiana sentencing data shows that the state has sentenced 99 defendants to death since enacting its death-penalty statute in 1973. In that time, it has executed 20 prisoners; 2 wrongly convicted death-row prisoners — Larry Hicks and Charles Smith— have been exonerated; and governors have commuted the death sentences of 3 others to life without parole. The other 65 once death-sentenced prisoners have either been resentenced to life or less following the reversal of their convictions or death sentences or died in custody.

Indiana’s death-sentencing decline began in 1989, after nine years in which the state averaged more than 6 death sentences per year. Death sentences fell to 2.6 per year in the 1990s and to 0.9 in the first decade of the 2000s, and Indiana juries have not imposed any death sentences in 7 of the last 9 years. The state’s experience is typical of death-penalty developments across the Midwest.

6 Midwestern states — Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin — do not have the death penalty. Of the 6 0that do — Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota — only Ohio has averaged more than 1 death sentence per year since 2014. The other 5 death-penalty states have imposed a combined total of 9 death sentences during that period, only 3 of which were the product of unanimous jury votes for death. The three death sentences in Nebraska were imposed by 3-judge panels; the 2 death sentences in Missouri were imposed under the state’s controversial hung-jury provision that requires the trial to determine the sentence if the jury does not unanimously agree on life or death; and William Clyde Gibson was sentenced to death by his trial judge in Indiana in August 2014 after he waived his right to a jury. Earlier this year, Fort Wayne prosecutors agreed to a plea deal in which Marcus Dansby was spared the death penalty for a quadruple killing and Anthony Baumgardt reached a plea deal with Boone County prosecutors in which he would be sentenced to life without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy.

Executions in the Midwest also reflect a regional death-penalty decline. There have been 24 executions in the Midwest since the start of 2014, an average of 4.4 per year. However, all but six of those executions took place in Missouri, and executions in Nebraska and South Dakota both involved prisoners who had waived their appeals. In the preceding 10 years, there were 65 executions in the Midwest, including 44 in Ohio and 9 each in Missouri and Indiana. Indiana’s last execution was in 2009.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)


Arizona high court denies appeal of Phoenix man convicted of killing 2

The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld the conviction and sentences – including the death penalty – of a Phoenix man sent to prison for killing 2 people and burying their bodies in his mother’s backyard.

The court filed its decision Wednesday morning.

Alan Champagne was sentenced to death 2 years ago for the 2011 murders of Philmon Tapaha and Brandi Nicole Hoffner.

The death penalty triggered an automatic appeal.

Champagne requested a change in counsel the bench summarily dismissed. He also argued the trial court “erred by telling the jury during voir dire and in the jury questionnaire that a life sentence could result in the possibility of Champagne’s release after 25 years,” the court document read.

“Because Champagne did not object at trial, he has forfeited any right to appellate relief unless the purported error rises to the level of fundamental error,” the opinion stated.

Investigators said Champagne fatally shot Tapaha and choked Hoffner to death. He then asked his neighbor to build him a plywood box.

Champagne put the couple inside the box, poured in lime to disguise the odor of decomposing corpses and buried it in his mother’s backyard.

A landscaper found the bodies nearly 2 years later.

Prosecutors wanted the death penalty against Champagne, who was already serving a 700-year sentence for attempted-murder convictions. He had barricaded himself at his mother’s home in March 2012 and opened fire on officers who went to arrest him on an aggravated assault warrant.

He surrendered after he ran out of bullets. No one was injured.

Champagne was sentenced to death for a 1st-degree murder conviction and to prison terms for convictions for 2nd-degree murder, kidnapping and concealing a dead body.

(source: KTAR news)


5 Prisoners Executed at 1 Prison in 1 Day----3 of them were identified by IHR sources as Mohammadreza Shokri, Yousef Zakeri and Hossein Panjeh-Maryam.

5 prisoners were hanged for murder charges at the Iranian city of Karaj’s Rajai-Shahr prison Wednesday.

According to IHR sources, on the morning of Wednesday, August 7, at least 5 prisoners were hanged at Karaj city’s Rajai-Shahr prison, near Tehran. All were sentenced to death for murder charges.

3 of them were identified by IHR sources as Mohammadreza Shokri, Yousef Zakeri and Hossein Panjeh-Maryam.

None of the above-mentioned execution has been announced by Iranian media or officials so far.

At least 110 people were executed in Iran in the 1st half of 2019; Only 37 of the executions have been announced by authorities or Iranian media. Iran Human Rights (IHR) could confirm 73 more through its sources. IHR only reports the unannounced executions if it could confirm those with 2 separate credible sources. Therefore, the actual number of executions may be even higher than reported.

There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran which results in issuing a death sentence for any kind of murder regardless of intensity and intent.

(source: Iran Human Rights)


Petition filed on legality of Bandulal’s motion on death penalty

A petition has been filed at the Supreme Court seeking a ruling that the Private Member’s Bill presented to the parliament by MP Bandulal Banadarigoda on the abolishment of the death penalty is not unconstitutional.

The Attorney General has been named the respondent of this petition file by Prof. C. Gunaratne from Nugegoda.

On August 01, MP Bandulal Bandarigoda tabled a Private Member’s Motion at the parliament containing provisions to abolish the death penalty.

The petitioner pointed out that no clause in the proposal would violate the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, the petitioner has requested the Supreme Court to grant a ruling that the motion could be passed by an ordinary majority in Parliament.



British accountant, 47, faces death penalty in the Philippines ‘after being caught with meth'

A British accountant is facing the death penalty in the Philippines after allegedly being caught with meth in a drugs raid.

Philip Joseph, 47, was in a flat with two locals when police burst through the door in Manila on May 13 at around 5pm.

Officers said they found Joseph with a woman, Josephine Olayao, 38, and Rodolfo del Rosario, 42, a tuk tuk rider, preparing sachets of methamphetamine, or shabu, as it is known locally.

Police said that Joseph, who owns the apartment, has been held in custody while prosecutors prepare a case against him.

He faces charges of possession and dealing, which carries a maximum punishment of the death sentence or a life sentence in one of the country‘s hellish overcrowded prisons.

A police report from the Malate district station said four pieces of heat-sealed transparent sachets containing suspected methamphetamine were seized in the raid.

It said: ‘Police identified the suspects as being involved in anti-criminality operations and found four sachets of shabu.

? ‘The 3 suspected were brought to the Malate police station for proper disposition and filing of charges.

‘They will be charged with the violation of Section 5 and section 11 Art. II of R.A. 9165 or the illegal Distribution and Possession of Dangerous Drugs.‘

If found guilty of possession, Joseph faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum life term.

Joseph had moved to the Philippines and was working in the financial sector as an accountant and legal collections manager.



Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in 5 years

--Total number of executions from 2014 to 2019 is 32.

--Executions for drug offence stand at 84 percent of the total executions till date since 2014.

--A noticeable spike in execution numbers for drug offence occurred in 2017 and 2018.

The number of executions (for drug offences) in the past 5 years (2014-2018) represented a 3-fold jump from the previous 5 year period (2007-2011) before the laws on mandatory death penalty for both drug and murder offences were reviewed in 2012-2013.

In terms of total executions, the 2014-2019 period exhibits 1.8 times more executions compared to the 2007-2011 period.

It is tragic that Singapore’s amended legislative framework for drug trafficking offences has elicited an increase in the number death sentences carried out. The majority, if not all, of those executed on drug offences since 2014 were due to the failure of the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to issue a ”certificate of cooperation”.

Without this certificate, an accused still faces the mandatory death sentence. Otherwise the judge could exercise the option to pass an alternate sentence of life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

Problematic trend

The issue of how and when a certificate of cooperation can be issued is the sole prerogative of the Attorney General’s Chambers. What is problematic is the trend of those who should rightly be considered socially vulnerable but were executed instead due to their failure to obtain the certificate.

First, owing to their status as low-level couriers, it would be deeply questionable if they were able to provide the level of intelligence that can “disrupt drug trafficking activities”.

Second, and even more problematic, is when the cases involved persons who were assessed to have sub or borderline intelligence level and were found to have played the role of a mere courier.

Any of these two factors would significantly reduce the likelihood of the certificate of cooperation being granted. Further aggravating the situation are the statutory presumptions in the Misuse of Drugs Act which shift the burden on accused persons to produce the necessary evidence to rebut the presumptions.

It is therefore not an exaggeration to think that a person may be condemned to die because he has been deemed un-useful or was limited by his inherent capacity to assist with his own defence at the point of first trial.

While not all executions occurred under this unfortunate matrix of factors, when they do, the outcome is devastating. Such persons are most indubitably victims of cognitive inequality. The case of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam (alias Naga) is one perturbing example.

First arrested in 2009, and originally sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2010, he spent the next 8 years fighting for his life.

During this arduous period, his first appeal was rejected in 2011. The sentence was delayed when the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in 2012 and given effect in 2013.

In late 2014, on the occasion of international human rights day, the public prosecutor informed the court that Naga was not eligible for the certificate of cooperation.

The next four years were spent on seeking a judicial recourse in challenging this denial and to appeal for re-sentencing.

It emerged between 2013 and 2017, when Naga was referred for a forensic psychiatric evaluation, that medical experts assessed him to possess a borderline range of intelligence. This essentially meant he could rightfully be described as a person with intellectual disability.

The Singapore government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons on 18 July 2013. Since then, some spotted improvement or developments may be observed in the way that the criminal justice system here manages cases of persons with intellectual disabilities coming into conflict with the law.

However any improvement remains to be assessed when it comes to death penalty cases. In Naga’s case, the courts have consistently adopted the position that his disability does not square with the meaning or effect of “abnormality of mind” as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

International human rights law has recognised that the death penalty should not be imposed on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities. It also calls for laws and sentencing guidelines to be developed or amended to prohibit the imposition of the death sentence on such persons and their execution.

In lieu of such needed developments in Singapore, and with his final judicial appeal for re-sentencing denied earlier on 27 May 2019, Naga’s final recourse lies with petitioning the Singapore president for clemency. This however presents another worrying challenge.

Blemished clemency process

Disturbingly, his chances of success are reasonably cast in doubt, if we observe the case of P Pannir Selvam.

Pannir was arrested in September 2014 and convicted in 2017 for trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine. Like Naga, he was denied the certificate of assistance by the public prosecutor despite the best efforts by him and his family who worked hard to provide information to the Singapore authorities.

His clemency petition to the Singapore president was rejected earlier in May this year on the advice of the Singapore cabinet. The troubling aspect stemmed from the manner such grave news was communicated to his family. They received both letters dated on the same day – 17 May – from the president’s office informing them of the clemency denial, and the letter from the Singapore Prison Services informing of his scheduled execution on 24 May.

Pannir narrowly gained a reprieve when the court granted a rare leave for him to challenge his execution based on this troubling circumstance.

This sliver of hope is overshadowed by the disturbing revelation that as many as 13 clemency petitions have already been rejected by the president, as shared by N Surendran the legal adviser to Malaysia-based Lawyers for Liberty. It is a sombre fact that Singapore has not seen any clemency granted for the past 20 years since 1998.

Keen observers of the death penalty’s application in Singapore will know that the weight of granting clemency derives from the cabinet’s prerogative. In a 2003 BBC interview, the then Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, infamously said, “Each execution comes to the cabinet and we look at it. If we decide that a certain person has got to be executed, he is executed.”

To date, we have yet to witness any evidence that would suggest the president possesses the powers to decide independently from the cabinet’s advice.

Think Centre reiterates our longstanding belief that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We oppose the use of capital punishment in all circumstances, and especially the mandatory death penalty for non-violent crimes in the case of drugs offences.

The death penalty has no place in any society that wants to pride itself as being modern, developed and civilised. The death penalty in Singapore today is an anachronistic and incongruous practice; it should only be as fashionable as the ongoing bicentennial commemoration – not to be celebrated, but to be remembered only as a part of history.



Rajasthan Assembly passes Bill on honour killing: Social activists oppose death penalty provision ---- Activists also complained about the short time they had to study and discuss the Bills.

Civil society groups in Rajasthan have objected to the provision for death sentence in the recently passed Bill on honour killings in the state Assembly.

In a joint statement, activists Aruna Roy, Kavita Srivastava, Nikhil Dey, Anant Bhatnagar, and several others, said they oppose the death penalty in the Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, which was passed in Assembly on Monday, along with Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill. The activists praised the Bills but said that these required some changes.

They say that the Bill against honour killing is “flawed” as it does not clearly include the parents and family of the aggrieved as those who will interfere with the alliance, and instead only makes the unlawful assembly guilty of such a crime. “Their crime will have to be proved as a part of the unlawful Assembly,” they said. Second, they say that the Bill provides no provision of giving a declaration by the couple, in a situation of violence, so that a civil injunction against the violators can be obtained.

As for the Bill against mob lynching, they say that the concept of dereliction of duty by a public servant is not included in the Bill. “This concept of the neglect of duties by the public servant which makes those implementing the law accountable, needs to be included,” they said.

“Our argument is that such a regime would create fear in the minds of the public servant and make them responsible and accountable. The Supreme Court goes to the extent of emphasising that both, the departmental action which should be taken to its logical conclusion and criminal proceedings, should be undertaken. The bill is silent on this,” they say. They also say that the responsibilities of the state-level authorities, such as the DGP and Home Secretary, have not been clearly defined in this Bill.

On August 2, they had also sent letters to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, suggesting several changes in the Bills. Kavita Srivastava, along with inputs by senior lawyer Indira Jaising, had termed the honour killing Bill “flawed”, and commented that the emphasis is only on interference in matrimonial alliances, not the right to choice, “which is the more important part, and should have been included, as every other day, there are diktats and denials related to choices of girls, from wearing clothes, to having a friend or keeping a mobile among other things.”

Activists also complained about the short time they had to study and discuss the Bills, stating that “now that the bills have been passed, we are appealing to the Government to amend the laws through an Ordinance at the earliest.”

(source: The Indian Express)


Kaduna govt: El-Zakzaky facing death penalty… India mustn’t give him asylum

The Kaduna state government says Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), must not seek asylum in India.

In a statement signed by Samuel Aruwan, commissioner for internal security and home affairs, the government of Kaduna which is currently prosecuting El-Zakzaky, said steps must be taken to ensure the IMN leader and Zeenah, his wife, do not become fugitives from justice.

The government said the duo should not frustrate the trial by claiming asylum or the status of political prisoners in India.

On Monday, a high court in Kaduna granted El-Zakzaky and his wife the permission to travel to India for treatment. They have been in detention since 2015 following a clash between IMN members and some soldiers.

Through Femi Falana, their counsel, El-Zakzaky and his wife had applied for medical leave, citing poor health.

But Aruwan said while the government is not opposed to anyone seeking medical treatment in any part of the world, so long it is not at the expense of the government, it has filed for strict supervision of the medical leave.

“Malam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky is facing criminal trial before the Kaduna High Court on charges filed in April 2018. The Kaduna State Government is prosecuting Malam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky on an eight-count charge, including culpable homicide punishable with death,” the statement read.

“On Monday, 5th August 2019, the Kaduna High Court granted an application for medical leave filed by Mr. El-Zakzaky and his wife, Mrs. Zeenah Ibrahim. The court specifically said it was granting the 2 defendants ‘leave to travel out of Nigeria for urgent medical treatment at Medanta Hospital, India, under strict supervision of the Respondent and to return to Nigeria (for continuation of trial) as soon as they are discharged from the hospital’.

“The Kaduna State Government respects the right of anyone to seek treatment anywhere in the world, even for malaria or common cold, so long as they are paying for it. But in the case of persons facing trial for serious offenses, necessary safeguards are required to ensure that such persons do not become fugitives from justice or frustrate trial by claiming asylum or the status of political prisoner in the host country.”

Aruwan said while the Kaduna government respects the court’s ruling on medical leave, it is not in agreement with the premises on which it is based, and will, therefore, file an appeal.

The statement said El-Zakzaky and his wife consented to being held in custody of the Department of State Services (DSS).

“The court ordered that the defendants be kept in prison custody and that the defendants be allowed access to their personal physicians alongside physicians of the State. However, at his request, Mr. Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife are being kept in SSS facilities which were deemed more comfortable than the Kaduna Prison,” the statement read.

“The trial suffered initial delays because the 3rd and 4th defendants/applicants remain at large. That was the case when the matter first came up in court on 15th May 2018. It was adjourned till 21st June 2018 because the charges had not been served on the 3rd and 4th defendants. An accident involving the trial judge further delayed the hearing scheduled for 21st June 2018. Subsequently, the arraignment of the 1st and 2nd defendants was done on 2nd August 2018.

“However, the Kaduna High Court heard Malam El-Zakzaky’s application for leave to seek medical attention abroad on Monday, 29th July 2019. At the hearing, counsel to the Kaduna State Government opposed the application for medical leave largely because it was based on medical reports not issued by a government medical facility. The court granted the application on Monday, 5th August 2019.

“It is the considered contention of the Kaduna State Government that decades of impunity emboldened the IMN to engage in various unlawful activities culminating in the tragic events of December 2015. In prosecuting the case, the state government is affirming simple canons of the rule of law, that no one is above its long arm and that all persons are equal in its eyes. Mob pressure, such as the carnage visited on the streets of Abuja to force Mr. El-Zakzaky’s release without due process, cannot be allowed to succeed.”


AUGUST 6, 2019:


After long halt, Dakota Theriot death penalty prosecution to move forward with state board paying for defense

The Livingston Parish death penalty case against Dakota Theriot, accused of killing 3 people in Livingston and 2 in Ascension, will move forward after a monthslong halt in which 2 public defense agencies said they did not have the funding for such a taxing workload.

Theriot, 22, is accused of killing Summer, Tanner and Billy Ernest — a family he had been temporarily living with — in Livingston Parish before traveling to Ascension Parish to kill his parents, Keith and Elizabeth Theriot, the morning of Jan. 26. Authorities say he then fled to Virginia, where he was apprehended at his grandmother's home.

Theriot was then returned to Louisiana, where he faces 5 counts of 1st-degree murder and the death penalty in both jurisdictions.

Though it's been more than seven months since the slayings, the 21st and 23rd Judicial District courts have not made it far in Theriot's prosecution because of the claim there's a lack of funding in the local public defenders' offices and the Louisiana Public Defender Board.

The defense team and district attorneys in both judicial districts have been back and forth in court arguing the need to adequately fund the case to afford Theriot his constitutional right to a proper defense.

Theriot is being represented in both jurisdictions by two Louisiana Capital Assistance Center attorneys who previously told a judge in the Ascension district that they were working pro bono in Theriot's case, but need funding to hire mitigation experts and witnesses.

Theriot has been determined an indigent, meaning he does not have the means to pay for his own defense and therefore a defense attorney will be appointed to him. It's up to the courts to do that.

A 23rd Judicial District judge in May decided there was adequate enough funding for the Ascension case to move forward. The same issue had remained in Livingston court since then until late last week when a 21st Judicial District judge determined the same.

In court filings, the office of 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux pushed for Judge Brenda Bedsole Ricks to mandate the Louisiana Public Defender Board pay for the defense to keep the case moving forward, which she ultimately did, according to an Aug. 1 order.

The 21st Judicial District Public Defender's office claimed in court filings it does not maintain funds for capital defense, and has not had any capital-qualified attorneys on staff for years.

The District Attorney's Office and the local Public Defender's office both claimed the Louisiana Public Defender Board has more than $1.4 million in unallocated funds due in part to a legislative budget increase last year, and argued that money could be directly applied to Theriot's defense.

LPDB claimed the local public defender's office had more than $500,000 available in its budget for the defense in Livingston, but Ricks ultimately found that the Louisiana Public Defender Board acts as the oversight for local defenders' offices and is responsible for ensuring indigent defendants have legal representation.

Interim State Public Defender Richard Pittman said Tuesday it's difficult to predict exactly how much Theriot's case will cost to properly defend, but he noted a large portion of costs is the personnel and number of attorneys needed in the legal team.

Capital punishment cases usually have two experienced attorneys, as well as a capital-experienced investigator and a mitigation expert, Pittman said.

Death penalty trials are split into 2 parts: the guilt phase and penalty phase. The 1st is the same as other criminal trials in which lawyers present their evidence and a jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not. Death penalty cases differ, however, in that if the defendant is found guilty, a penalty phase begins in which the same jury hears mitigating factors and evidence to determine whether the death penalty is warranted over another form of punishment.

Pittman said the Louisiana Public Defender Board has a regularly-scheduled meeting Thursday in which they will allocate funds for the 2019-20 fiscal year. It's expected they will discuss Theriot's case and officially allocate defense funds then.

(source: The Advocate)

TENNESSEE----impending execution

US appeals court rules against Union County man facing execution

A federal appeals court has ruled against a Tennessee death row inmate's challenge as he nears his execution date next week.

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss Stephen West's challenge of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol.

West was found guilty of the 1986 kidnapping and stabbing deaths of 51-year-old Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, Sheila Romines, and of raping the teen. He was 23 at the time.

West is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Aug. 15.

The 56-year-old inmate has asked Republican Gov. Bill Lee for clemency to spare his life, claiming his then-17-year-old accomplice killed both women. The accomplice is serving a life sentence with parole possible in 2030.

West's clemency application also says he suffers from mental illness.

(source: Associated Press)


The Humanist case for abolishing the death penalty

An actor friend of mine was distressed when she noticed a saying on a plaque on our living room wall. It read, “What one does, one becomes.” She was troubled because, as an actor, she had been called to portray all sorts of characters. She hated the thought that she was somehow becoming like them. For me, the saying was a reminder that actions speak louder than words and that it is by our actions that we demonstrate who we truly are. It’s a reminder, too, that our experiences — for better and for worse — become us in deep and abiding ways.

It’s important to ask ourselves how a behavior will affect our lives and the lives of others. Will it lead to greater understanding and meaningfulness, or will it constrict us and cut us off from one another? Capital punishment is a case in point.

On July 25, Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt a proposed Addendum to the Federal Execution Protocol which clears the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly two-decade moratorium. The press release stated that “the Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

For Barr, killing perpetrators is a means to appease the feelings of those who have been victims of heinous crimes and that alone justifies the killings. The proposed amendment, however, does not address the many dire consequences of capital punishment.

Those reasons have been well-documented.

Since 1973, more than 160 people who have been sentenced to death have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state’s death penalty as unconstitutional and “racially biased.”

As the clergy leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester and a devout Humanist, however, I’d take it a step further. Even if these factors no longer held true, capital punishment would be morally wrong. If only those who were put to death professed their guilt, agreed that capital punishment was the correct punishment, and agreed to forgo appeals and challenges to speed the process it would still be morally wrong.

To be sure, some of the prisoners on death row are perpetrators of hideous and unforgivable crimes. Dylan Roof is one such prisoner, and the families of the victims he murdered in South Carolina deserve justice. Yet even if proponents of capital punishment acknowledge killing a murderer like Dylan Roof won’t bring their loved ones back, we must also consider the human cost of the death penalty — both for its victims and those who carry out the deed.

The experiences of people who participated in killing inmates convicted of capital offenses should tell us a great deal about the effect of state ordered killing upon those who must carry out the sentence. As a resident of Ossining, New York, my home is just 2½ miles away from the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where 614 people were electrocuted. The State of New York employed executioners who connected the killing apparatus to inmates and flipped the switch that sent the electricity through the inmate’s body. There were five “New York State Electricians” between 1890 and 1972: Edwin Davis, John Hurlburt, Robert G. Elliott, Joseph Francel, and Dow B. Hover. None of them fully approved of capital punishment, 2 committed suicide. Elliott died of natural causes but was vocal in his opposition to capital punishment, writing: “I hope that the day is not far distant when legal slaying, whether by electrocution, hanging, lethal gas, or any other method is outlawed throughout the United States.”

As a Humanist, I expect that the life we are living is the only one we will experience so it’s important to make the most of the opportunity and important to protect that. We also believe that being human entails responsibility toward our fellow beings and that we demonstrate our humanity through our behavior toward one another.

Capital punishment is an example of morally wrong collective behavior. Putting someone to death forces society to make someone a premeditated killer of another human being and makes the rest of society accessories to wrongful acts. It is a wrong on top of a wrong that, far from cancelling out the injury, ensures the cycles of violence and retribution will be continued.

(saource: Opinion; Bart Worden is clergy leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester and executive director of the American Ethical Union, a national organization devoted to ethics and social


Oklahoma Man 1st To Be Put To Death By U.S. In Almost 2 Decades

A white nationalist and convicted murderer from Oklahoma will be the 1st person to be put to death by the United States in nearly 2 decades and in a twist of irony, he’ll be executed using a method his home state found to be unreliable.

Danny L. Lee was convicted in 1996 for the murders of an Arkansas family during a cross-country rampage. Lee and several other white nationalists were attempting to reach the Pacific Northwest to start a whites-only territory. He's currently being held at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Department of Justice said it will resume executions using lethal injection, specifically using the drug Pentobarbital. Oklahoma was forced to replace the powerful barbiturate in its problematic protocol because the drug was and is difficult to obtain. So much so Oklahoma changed drugs to Midazolam which was later at the center of 2 botched executions and the halting of a 3rd.

In the years since, the state suspended executions. State officials have been working to implement nitrogen gas hypoxia as a means of carrying out executions. The method entails a condemned person inhaling nitrogen until it overtakes levels of oxygen in the body causing death. If implemented it would be the first of its kind in the world. The method however, still does not have a protocol and the state is having trouble finding suppliers and manufacturers. Many fear backlash from other customers.

It was also widely criticized by groups like the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center.

“The issue just zipped through the legislature without any scientific examination,” DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham said in January. “So, the question is, is it going to work? Is it something that's going to be acceptable for killing human beings? Nobody really has the answer to that.”

There are currently 47 inmates on death row in Oklahoma and Attorney General Mike Hunter has said he remains committed to seeing their sentences are carried out. In Indiana, Danny Lee is set to be put to death December 9th.



Trump's support of the death penalty is consistent – and wrong

Amid the latest shootings in Texas and Ohio, it is unsurprising that Donald Trump remains silent on gun control, while seeking the death penalty for those convicted of mass murder and hate crimes.

Trump loves capital punishment. He recently directed Attorney General William Barr to resume executions of death-row inmates convicted of federal crimes. Under a moratorium of the last 2 presidents, no one in the United States has been executed for federal crimes since 2003.

If there are no court challenges, 5 men (all convicted of murdering children, among others) will be executed in December and January. “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” said Barr.

In reviving the death penalty, Trump reverses a national trend of the last 20 years. As Trump reinstates the death penalty at one level of government, the states abandon it at another.

In 2018, 25 people were executed in the United States, the 4th consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions. This is about 1/4 of the 98 executions in 1999, a record year. At the same time, today there are fewer death sentences imposed – 40 in 2018 in contrast to 315 in 1996, also a record.

As the American Civil Liberties Union argues, “The nation is turning away from the barbaric practice of killing its people as punishment.”

But not Trump. He doesn’t want to turn away from the death penalty; he wants to restore it. He wants to return to a time when the state killed feverishly and frequently, with biblical bloodlust.

Bringing back the death penalty is another step on the way back to “Father Knows Best” America. For Trump, it is all of a piece. Sweeping deregulation. Cutting taxes. Restricting abortion and minority voting rights. Denying climate change (withdrawing from the Paris Agreement) and embracing isolationism (rejecting free trade). Allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Revoking the creation of national parks and monuments. Rejecting limits on guns and money in politics. And filling the courts with conservatives to protect the old order.

Welcome to the sepia-washed, lily-white America that may never have existed – or did in some ways, at some times. This is how older, white, religious, rural, uneducated, old-stock Americans – the bedrock of Trump’s support – imagine their country. The president is their passport to Nostalgia.

America kills more people through the death penalty than any other democracy. Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976, and opposition to the death penalty has gained traction here in the last 2 decades.

On capital punishment, unlike other issues, Trump is consistent. As a private citizen, he notoriously took out a newspaper advertisement calling for the death penalty for the Central Park 5: Latino and black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping a woman in New York in the 1990s.

All were acquitted, but Trump never apologized or recanted. He doesn’t care that since 1972, 164 people on death row have been exonerated, according to the ACLU, a stunning indictment of the death penalty.

“He doesn’t care that since 1972, 164 people on death row have been exonerated, according to the ACLU, a stunning indictment of the death penalty.

That’s why 21 states have abandoned the death penalty, while most of the other 29 states are reluctant to use it. No wonder, as the ACLU reports, public support for capital punishment is near an all-time low.

None of that matters to Trump. He doesn’t believe overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is not a deterrent. He couldn’t care that lethal injections don’t always work – indeed companies don’t want to make them – and executing is more expensive than incarcerating.

This is about pleasing his loyalists. At Trump’s rallies, it won’t be long before he reminds the baying mob that he is killing child-killers and rapists. Along with “Lock them up!” and “Send them back!” they’ll chant, “Kill Them Now! Kill Them Now!”

Why not erect a guillotine on the National Mall, with a webcam for live streaming? It would be cheaper and easier than those messy injections. And it would make great reality television.

(source: Opinion; Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History----Ottawa Citizen)


Trump Wants to Execute Mass Shooters, but Congress Would Have to Change the Law First----The president has a long history of calling for the death penalty.

After back-to-back mass shootings left 22 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and 9 people dead in Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump addressed the country Monday, expressing sympathy for the stricken communities, denouncing hate, and calling for the death penalty for perpetrators of these types of crimes.

“Today, I’m also directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty,” Trump said, “and that this capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.”

Mass shooters do not automatically face the federal death penalty under current law because murder is not always a federal crime. Those convicted of federal hate crimes and acts of terrorism, however, often do face the death penalty. But if Congress wanted to grant Trump’s wish to sentence mass shooters to death, all it would take is finding a reason to make it rise to the level of a federal crime, something the Justice Department is presumably looking at now.

Trump has a long history of calling for the death penalty. In 1989, he took out ads in New York papers demanding the return of capital punishment after 5 black and Latino teenagers were accused of raping a jogger in Central Park. After a number of years in prison, they were exonerated, but as recently as 2016, Trump remained convinced of their guilt. During his campaign, in 2015, Trump said that people who kill police should be sentenced to death, and last year he suggested that drug traffickers face capital punishment, despite constitutional obstacles that prohibit cruel and unusual punishment. Thanks to the 1994 crime bill, which expanded the federal death penalty, there is a wide array of crimes already eligible to be punished by execution, including certain drug crimes and others involving interstate commerce.

Trump’s announcement about mass shooters comes just days after Attorney General William Barr announced the end of the 16-year hiatus of the federal death penalty, which began when then-President Barack Obama requested that it be studied. Five men on federal death are now scheduled to be executed starting in December, though a number of legal questions must still be resolved.

Madeline Cohen, a federal capital defense attorney, points out that most crimes that people on federal death row have committed could have been prosecuted at the state level, with one exception. “There’s only one person on federal death row for terrorism,” she says, referring to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013. Terrorism is already a federal crime, but in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, the FBI Agents Association called on Congress to make domestic terrorism one as well. Certain hate crimes are also federal, and Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, is the only person on death row for violating federal hate crime laws.

Less than half an hour before entering a crowded Walmart in El Paso and opening fire, killing 22 people and injuring dozens of others, Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old white man, allegedly published an anti-immigrant manifesto that echoed racist and anti-immigrant language often employed by Trump. El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza announced that his office would pursue the death penalty for Crusius. “I know the death penalty is something very powerful,” Esparza said on Sunday, “but on this occasion it’s something that’s necessary.”

For a mass shooter to end up on federal or state death row depends on various factors, and just because Texas is pursuing the death penalty, doesn’t mean the federal government won’t do the same. With or without congressional action, federal prosecutors could decide that the shooting violates federal hate crime laws and also push for capital punishment. Dylann Roof clearly was motivated by racial hatred, which was the factor that allowed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He was sentenced to die in 2017. (He is not among those scheduled for death when the Trump administration begins federal executions in December.) South Carolina, which is a death penalty state, sentenced him to a life term after his federal trial.

In a similar case, federal prosecutors are also weighing capital punishment for Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, because his anti-Semitic writings provided evidence that it should be considered not only a mass shooting but a hate crime. In 2015, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on executions, meaning he would not be signing death warrants for anyone on death row but not prohibiting prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. So far, Bowers is only facing federal charges.

One argument for capital punishment has always been deterrence, in this case there may be the assumption that executing mass murderers would prevent possible perpetrators from carrying out these violent attacks. But study after study has found there is no link between capital punishment and crime. To Madeline Cohen, resources would be more well-spent figuring out how to prevent these crimes in the first place. “Executions,” she she said, “are not going to solve any of those problems.”

(source: Nathalie Baptiste, Mother Jones)



Commute Death Sentence of Young Man (Sudan: UA 103.19)

Amnesty International is alarmed that the Constitutional Court of Sudan confirmed the death sentence against Abbas Mohammed Nur Musa on 20 May 2019. Abbas had appealed his death sentence after being convicted of stabbing a 17-year-old boy to death. The incident happened on 27 August 2013 when Abbas was 15 years old. International human rights law strictly prohibits the use of the death penalty for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Write a letter in your own words or using the sample below as a guide to one or both government officials listed. You can also email, fax, call or Tweet them.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan

Head of the Transitional Military Council

The People’s Palace

PO Box 281

Khartoum, Sudan

Salutation: Your Excellency

Representative Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sudan

305 East 47th Street 4th Floor

New York, NY 10017

Phone: 212 573 6033 // Fax: 212 573 6160


Salutation: Dear Representative

Your Excellency Abdel Fattah al-Burhan,

I am writing to you because I am alarmed that the Constitutional Court of Sudan confirmed the death sentence against Abbas Mohammed Nur Musa on 20 May 2019.

Abbas had appealed his death sentence after being convicted of stabbing a 17-year-old boy to death. The incident happened on 27 August 2013 when Abbas was a child, aged 15 years old. According to Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child, which Sudan has been party to since 1990, “a child means every human being below the age of 18 years.”

Under Article 37(a) of the Convention, “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below 18 years of age”.

However, the Constitutional Court used an ambiguous determination of childhood as “attainment of puberty” in accordance with Article 3 of Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991 to justify the death sentence against Abbas.

I urge you to ensure that the death sentence imposed on Abbas Mohammed Nur Musa, who was 15 years old at the time of the crime he was convicted of, is immediately commuted; amend the Child Act, 2010 to completely abolish, without any discretion by the courts or other exceptions, the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people below the age of 18; harmonize legislation and practice with regard to the definition of the child or childhood in line with Sudan’s obligations under international law; establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Yours sincerely,

(source: Amnesty International USA)


Bombay High Court confirms death for Nashik man who killed his pregnant daughter ---- HC on Tuesday confirmed the death penalty given to a Nashik resident by a trial court, on the grounds that he had murdered his nine-month pregnant daughter and his unborn grandchild in a planned manner.

The Bombay High Court (HC) on Tuesday confirmed the death penalty given to a Nashik resident by a trial court, on the grounds that he had murdered his nine-month pregnant daughter and his unborn grandchild in a planned manner.

In 2013, Eknath Kumbharkar strangulated his daughter to avenge the alleged disrepute she brought to him by marrying outside the caste.

A division bench of justices BP Dharmadhikari and Swapna Joshi held that Kumbharkar broke the traditional value of a father-daughter relationship.

He murdered her daughter in cold blood.

In light of these observations, the bench held that the crime fell under the rarest of rare case, and hence he deserved a death penalty.

The bench was hearing the confirmation of death sentence given to Kumbharkar by trial court in 2017.

Additional public prosecutor Prajakta Shinde told the high court bench that the man deceitfully got his daughter to accompany him and later strangled her.

(source: Hindustan Times)


Senators debate death penalty revival

Senators on Tuesday began debates on proposals to revive the death penalty in the Philippines, with minority Sen. Franklin Drilon making good on his promise to fight “tooth and nail” its reimposition.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a successful demand reduction strategy, not death penalty, is the best way to curb the country’s illegal drug problem.

Drilon said Sotto’s statement “confirms the fact that killing, whether judicial or extrajudicial, is not the solution to our drug problem.”

“The Senate President has put it very rationally: Let us reduce the demand,” Drilon said. “Killing the users or the pushers is not the solution, except probably where it is a high-value offender.”

The debates on the death penalty started with Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s privilege speech, where he asserted that reviving the death penalty is the most effective solution in dealing with the illegal drug scourge and heinous crimes.

“Illegal drugs are destroying the lives of our people. The organized international drug syndicates are more aggressive than ever. Should we just allow them to keep doing what they are doing?” Pacquiao said.

Pacquiao said it appears that drug syndicates were undeterred by the government’s drug war. Thus, “it is high time for the State to step up its game and put these criminals to death through judicial sanction.”

In his interpellation of Pacquiao, Drilon argued that judges and justices, being humans, are fallible and could render decisions that could cost people’s lives.

He noted that between 1993 and 2004, trial courts imposed the death penalty in 1,493 cases, out of which 907 were elevated to the Supreme Court for review. Of the 907 cases, the death penalty was affirmed in 230.

“In other words, if there was no appeal process, almost 72 percent of those convicted would have died a wrongful death,” Drilon said.

“We can commit mistakes, and if you commit a mistake, and impose the death penalty, that becomes irrevocable.”

Pacquiao countered by saying that the public must trust the government and authorities.

Meanwhile, minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros said certainty of punishment is the best deterrent against drug trafficking.

“The sustainable solution lies in reforming our overall justice and criminal system to ensure that the law will be applied swiftly and evenly and ensure that the rights of every individual are protected,” Hontiveros said in her interpellation of Pacquiao.

“The effectiveness of the law is determined not by its harshness or ruthlessness, but by its sureness.”

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, during the time of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Duterte has been hoping to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines, where nearly 80 % of the population is made up of Catholics, as he wages his war on illegal drugs and pursues an anti-crime campaign. The Catholic Church has been opposed to death as capital punishment.

Several 18th Congress senators, including Pacquiao, have filed their respective bills seeking the revival of the death penalty.

Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa’s bill imposes death as maximum penalty only for the importation and manufacture of illegal drugs and its precursors. Dela Rosa was Duterte's chief enforcer of the anti-drug campaign during his time as national police chief.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, on the other hand, seeks death penalty for a slew of crimes including illegal drug crimes, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, destructive arson, plunder, terrorism, human trafficking, and arms smuggling.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, meanwhile, is seeking to include plunder among crimes punishable by death.



Pacquiao Clashes With Philippine Senator On Capital Punishment: Debate Included Jesus' Execution

Manny Pacquiao was involved in a different kind of clash on Wednesday (PHT) against a fellow Philippine senator. The renowned Filipino boxer is a staunch supporter of the Death Penalty bill, a passage that would reinstate capital punishment in his home country.

Pacquiao delivered a privilege speech that urges the committee on justice and human rights to prioritize the proposed measure; then things started to heat up. Franklin Drilon, a minority leader of the Philippine Senate, stood up and questioned the fighting senator.

Drilon stated that if the bill is enacted into law, capital punishment would be imposed by judges and justices of the Philippine court. He said that "these men are human beings, they can be fallible, they can commit mistakes."

Manny Pacquiao wants to have a National Bible Day in the Philippines.

Senator Manny agreed and said that "no one is perfect," but he adds that the "most important thing is we have to trust our authority... the government."

Drilon continued to press the issue; he said that "all of us are fallible, we can commit mistakes... in the history of man, only one can claim infallibility?" Quipped the senator, he then asked if Pacquiao "knows that man."

The eight-division champ replied: "God, Mr. President." Then in a sudden turn, the argument on whether or not Jesus Christ was wrongfully executed emerged.

Drilon queried if "Jesus Christ was a victim of wrongful execution" while haughtily directing "is that correct" to Pacquiao. The WBA super welterweight champ disagreed and noted that "Jesus sacrificed himself to save the lives of people."

However, Drilon was persistent in his catechisms and asked: "are you saying the execution of Jesus Christ was a correct execution?" In the middle of the exchange, Senate President Vicente Sotto III intervened and said that the people would not have been redeemed if "Jesus did not die on the cross."

After a quick pause, Drilon agreed with Pacquiao's contention that the imposition of the death penalty is not a problem of constitutionality according to the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

However, when he asked if their argument "should be a question of policy," Manny replied no. A perplexed Drilon answered back and maintained they are "here in the halls of Congress precisely to debate on policy." Pacquiao unable to respond to Drilon's queries later conceded.

In the same committee hearing, other senators also interpellated Pacquiao on his privilege speech. Drilon also said that he would continue to question the Death Penalty on the resumption of the discussion.

(source: International Business Times)