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

JANUARY 22, 2021:

VIRGINIA:

New Podcast: ‘Martinsville 7’ Advocates Seek Posthumous Pardon for 7 Black Men Executed by Virginia After All-White Jury Convicted Them of Raping a White Woman

In February 1951, Virginia executed seven Black men on charges they had raped a white woman 2 years earlier. The “Martinsville 7” — Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker T. Millner, and John Clabon Taylor — were interrogated by police without the appointment of legal counsel and, under threats that they would be released to a lynch mob, confessed to involvement in the rape. After a succession of perfunctory trials before all-white, all-male juries, each was convicted and sentenced to death. Their sentences were carried out in the largest mass execution for rape in the history of the United States.

Seventy years later, family members of the men and legal advocates are spearheading an effort to posthumously pardon the men and redress a miscarriage of justice. In the January 21, 2021 episode of the Discussions With DPIC podcast, Rudolph McCollum and Liz Ryan join DPIC Managing Director Anne Holsinger for a conversation about those efforts. McCollum, a former mayor of Richmond, is the nephew of 2 of the men who were executed. Ryan is the president and CEO of the Youth First Initiative, which advocates for community-based alternatives to youth incarceration. They discuss what happened to the Martinsville 7, what a posthumous pardon could mean for the state and family members of the executed men, and how the case fits into the history of racial injustice in Virginia and current efforts to repeal the Commonwealth’s death penalty.

McCollum and Ryan are part of a group of advocates that have asked Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to posthumously pardon the Martinsville 7. “This was a miscarriage of justice,” Ryan said. “These men were never afforded due process. And it’s very likely that there was a rush to judgment” beginning at the time of arrest. Ryan points to deep problems with the investigative and legal process in the case. There were “a lot of issues,” she said. “They were interrogated without the presence of attorneys. Their families believe that their confessions were forced. [It’s] likely many of them were false confessions, because they were told to ‘confess to this’ or meet the mob outside.”

Holsinger placed the treatment of the men in historical context. She noted that “[f]rom 1900 until the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty in 1977 for crimes in which no one was killed, Virginia executed 73 Black men or boys on charges of rape, attempted rape, or robbery. In that same time period, it didn’t execute a single white person for those crimes. And it has never in the history of the Commonwealth executed any white man for raping a Black woman or girl.”

McCollum explained that southern states have historically used the criminal legal system to intimidate and control the Black community. “The purpose of lynchings, and I believe the purpose of even state action such as this, were to send a message to the Black community,” he said. “And it is just part of a whole society system that was put in place to limit people. This was just one more action to send a message that if you cross the line, we are going to ensure that you — not just you, who actually may have been involved in an illegal activity — but the entire community, recognizes that there are limits that we will set in place. They’re set in place for a purpose. If you cross them, there will be consequences.”

Ryan called the death penalty in America a “legal lynching.” “And the fact that it’s imposed most harshly on people of color — particularly Black men — just tells you that it’s that it’s unfair and should be abolished,” she said. “We should not allow this to happen.”

The posthumous pardon request comes at a time in which Northam has sponsored a death-penalty repeal bill in the state. McCollum said that this coalescence “speaks to me as some divine intervention, of how there can be some opportunity for these issues to be closed at the same time and make way for a new day.”

The letter to Governor Northam requesting the pardons states: “The Martinsville Seven were not given adequate due process ‘simply for being black,’ they were sentenced to death for a crime that a white person would not have been executed for ‘simply for being black,’ and they were killed, by the Commonwealth, ‘simply for being black.’”

“My religion teaches me that there is no redemption without repentance,” McCollum told Holsinger. “And so, if we truly want to move forward as a society, we need to recognize that when wrongs are committed that they need to be corrected. But they can’t be corrected, unless there’s an admission … that there was a wrong which occurred. Once we do that, then we can truly be free as a society. We can move towards redemption from that and make way for a better world in which we can all live together.”

Ryan echoed McCollum’s sentiment. A posthumous pardon, she said, “can’t bring the men back. It can’t redress all the grievances over the last 70 years. But it’s one step. It’s one acknowledgement of a wrong. It’s a very important acknowledgement.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

TENNESSEE:

DNA Test Results Point to Innocence of Death Row Inmate Pervis Payne

This week, the Innocence Project submitted results of DNA testing to the Shelby County Criminal Court in Pervis Payne’s case pursuant to the Court’s September 16, 2020 order for testing. Governor Lee has given Mr. Payne a reprieve of execution due to the COVID-19 pandemic until April 9, 2021 and his petition for clemency is currently pending. Mr. Payne is a person with an intellectual disability who has consistently asserted his innocence from the beginning.

“The DNA testing results are consistent with Pervis Payne’s long-standing claim of innocence. Male DNA from an unknown third party was found on key evidence including the murder weapon, but unfortunately, is too degraded to identify an alternate suspect via the FBI’s database. We continue to find it frustrating and disturbing that the State still has no explanation for how key pieces of DNA evidence that could conclusively prove who committed this crime — including the victim’s fingernail clippings — have gone missing. Today’s results make crystal clear that it would be a gross miscarriage of justice for Tennessee to execute Pervis Payne.”

Pervis Payne, a Black man who lives with an intellectual disability, has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout his 33 years on Tennessee’s death row.

Mr. Payne was just 20 when he was convicted of murdering a white woman and her child in Shelby County, Tennessee — a county with a long history of entrenched racial discrimination and violence. In fact, nearly 1/2 of Tennessee’s death row cases were tried there.

A sloppy and deeply flawed investigation of the crime; the prosecution’s unconstitutional failure to disclose exculpatory evidence and blatant reliance on racial stereotyping at trial; and the recent disappearance of crucial DNA evidence — including the victim’s fingernail clippings — collectively cast significant doubts on his conviction.

On September 16, 2020, the Innocence Project obtained a court order to test the remaining physical evidence from the crime scene.

Tuesday, DNA testing results were filed with the Court. The results are consistent with Mr. Payne’s testimony at trial — testimony which has been unwavering — and his claim of innocence.

Mr. Payne’s DNA was found only on items with which he came into contact after hearing cries of distress and entering the apartment of his girlfriend’s neighbor — one of the victims — to offer help. The lab found DNA from an unknown male on the handle of the knife used to stab the victims as well as a pair of glasses found next to the victim’s body. Those samples are insufficient to identify an alternate suspect via the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database match.

In recent troubling developments, the State is currently unable to find any of the evidence most likely to contain sufficient perpetrator DNA — including the victim fingernail scrapings. The existence of this critical evidence had been confirmed in writing by the district attorney in late July 2020. Yet, mere months later, at the September hearing on DNA testing, prosecutors declared this evidence missing, and offered no further explanation.

This missing evidence, especially in tandem with poor documentation of the crime scene and concerns that racial bias may have tainted the investigation, underscores the already significant reasons to believe Mr. Payne’s innocence and halt his execution.

In addition, nothing in his personal history or upbringing suggests that he was capable of committing this crime. Mr. Payne had no prior contact with the legal system, nor had he ever faced any disciplinary issues or used drugs. And despite the fact that the prosecution asserted that the attack was the result of a cocaine-fueled rage, Mr. Payne was never tested for the substance.

Police also failed to seriously pursue any other suspects, including the victim’s ex-husband with whom she reportedly had a volatile relationship. Given, among other deficiencies, today’s DNA testing results, the missing key evidence, and the prosecution’s failure to substantiate motive at trial, there can be no confidence in Mr. Payne’s conviction.

Lastly, the United State Supreme Court has long recognized that defendants who live with an intellectual disability are at a special risk for wrongful execution and has ruled that it is unconstitutional to apply the death penalty in these cases. Mr. Payne’s intellectual disability, independent of his consistent and steadfast claims of innocence, is a separate and compelling reason to spare his life.

The Innocence Project joins over 150 Tennessee faith, legal, legislative, and civil rights groups who are urging Governor Lee to commute Mr. Payne’s unconstitutional sentence.

(source: Black Star News)

USA:

Biden Is the First President to Openly Oppose the Death Penalty

President Joseph Biden is the 1st occupant of the Oval Office in American history to openly and publicly oppose the death penalty and advocate its abolition.

That is a remarkable sign of how much the national conversation about capital punishment has changed over the last several decades. Just think back to the 1988 presidential campaign, when former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ abolitionist stance almost single-handedly sank his bid.

Or consider Biden’s own evolution on the death penalty. As a senator from Delaware, he championed the 1994 omnibus crime bill by proudly observing, “It provides 53 death penalty offenses. … We do everything but hang people for jaywalking in this bill.”

But in 2020, he joined every one of the Democratic candidates for president in making opposition to the death penalty a part of his campaign.

America’s death penalty system, at both the state and federal level, is unjust. Innocent people are falsely convicted of capital crimes. Race and class play important roles in determining who among the convicted get a death sentence and who actually gets executed. The means we use to put people to death are also riddled with problems and have been likened to torture. All of these problems were on ghoulish display during former President Donald Trump’s execution spree in the waning days of his presidency.

Biden pledged during his campaign that he would stop federal executions, propose legislation to abolish the death penalty at the federal level, and provide incentives for states to follow suit. He recognized that America’s death penalty system is rife with error and unfairness. “Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time,” candidate Biden tweeted, “we must eliminate the death penalty.”

Now that he is president, what will he do to translate his campaign rhetoric into effective action? With an enormously challenging array of problems before him, will the president push ending the death penalty to the top of his agenda, or will it fade into the background?

One early test came with the choice of Biden’s nominee for attorney general.

The selection of Judge Merrick Garland, though admirable and reassuring in many ways, did not signal that ending capital punishment would be high on the new administration’s priority list. Before becoming a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Garland played a leading role in the federal death penalty prosecution of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

And once on the appellate bench, he did not establish a particularly progressive record on criminal justice issues or offer suggestions that he opposes the death penalty.

But there is a difference between being a judge and being an AG under a president opposed to the death penalty. During his confirmation hearings, senators should give Garland the opportunity to clarify his views about the death penalty and explain how he will implement the president’s anti–death penalty agenda.

It’s also telling the way that agenda came and went on the first day of the Biden presidency. In December, 35 Democratic members of Congress urged Biden to “end the use of the federal death penalty on your first day in office.”

They laid out an ambitious plan of actions that Biden could take without needing congressional approval. They urged him to “prohibit United States Attorneys from seeking the death penalty, dismantle death row at FCC Terre Haute [by granting clemency to everyone awaiting execution], and call for the resentencing of people who are currently sentenced to death.”

It is not yet clear where capital punishment reform sits on the list of executive actions planned for the next few weeks. Acting quickly would highlight the depth of his opposition to capital punishment at a time when the horror of Trump’s last-minute executions are all too fresh on the minds of Americans.

Earlier this month, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Richard Durbin announced their intention to introduce the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 in the new Congress. This legislation would prohibit capital punishment by the United States government and also require resentencing of those already on death row. At the time of its announcement, the Biden transition team did not take a position on the bill.

No doubt there will be additional chances for legislative and executive action, including using federal funding as a lever to get death penalty states to act. And Biden should be ready to take advantage of them.

It will also be crucial for the new president to use his bully pulpit to educate Americans about the death penalty’s inequities and inhumanity. Popular support for the death penalty has steadily declined, and Biden can make a powerful case for its abolition through his own example.

Biden is also in a position to draw from his faith and remind Americans that, as Pope Francis recently wrote, the “dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.” The death penalty, said the Pope, is “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Moving from campaign promises to effective action to end the death penalty will not be an easy task for the Biden administration, and it will not be without its political costs. But Americans are primed and waiting for the kind of leadership that this country’s first death penalty abolitionist president can provide.

(source: slate.com)

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Sotomayor Emerges as Heir to Marshall in Death Penalty Dissents

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has issued several pointed rebukes of how her colleagues are treating death-row inmates in recent months, as she emerges as the late Thurgood Marshall’s heir as the most forceful dissenting voice in capital cases.

Marshall, who founded the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and served as U.S. solicitor general and then justice from 1967-1991, frequently dissented in capital cases alongside fellow death penalty critic William Brennan or did so alone. Both justices thought the death penalty was always unconstitutional and would dissent together on those grounds.

Sotomayor has been going it alone, sometimes alongside other Democratic appointees like Stephen Breyer, in pointing out what she sees as a majority giving short shrift to inmates’ claims.

Death penalty lawyers see a continuity between the 1st Latina and Black justices when it comes to the ultimate punishment.

“Broadly stated, it is clear that Justice Sotomayor is carrying forward Justice Marshall’s legacy with respect to death penalty jurisprudence,” said Samuel Spital, director of litigation at LDF. Sotomayor likewise “speaks truth to the ways in which the majority of the court is disregarding its own rules, its own procedures in order to expedite executions.”

President Joe Biden said he intends to eliminate the federal death penalty after the Trump administration resumed executions last July for the first time in 17 years. But capital cases are pending on the high court’s docket, and states like Texas have upcoming scheduled executions.

The conservative-liberal divergence on the Supreme Court over capital punishment has widened in recent months from 5-4 to 6-3 since Justice Amy Coney Barrett replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sotomayor’s most recent dissent came Jan. 15, as the Republican-appointed majority condoned the Trump administration’s last of 13 executions since July. As it did with the other federal executions, the majority let Dustin Higgs’ lethal injection proceed before his legal claims were fully resolved. He was sentenced to death for three 1996 murders; his co-defendant who pulled the trigger received a life sentence.

In her 10-page dissent, Sotomayor criticized the majority’s conduct during the “expedited spree,” as she called it. The majority “has allowed the United States to execute thirteen people in six months under a statutory scheme and regulatory protocol that have received inadequate scrutiny, without resolving the serious claims the condemned individuals raised,” she said.

The inmates “deserved more from this Court,” Sotomayor said in the dissent. “This is not justice,” she said.

The majority didn’t explain why it vacated the stay put in place for Higgs by a lower court, or why it reversed the district court ruling in his favor before the appeals court ruled. Appeals court argument had been set for Jan. 27, by which time Biden would be in office and in a position to call off the execution.

The majority did write a short, unsigned opinion in July, when it vacated a district court injunction against the first set of executions. The injunction was put in place based on inmates’ claims that the government’s lethal injection protocol violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Citing its 2019 method-of-execution ruling in Bucklew v. Precythe, which also split 5-4 along party lines, the majority said in July that it’s the court’s responsibility to ensure challenges are resolved “fairly and expeditiously,” so that the question of capital punishment remains with “the people and their representatives, not the courts.”

Dissenting then, too, joined by Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan, Sotomayor said the majority not only rushed but bucked precedent. “In its hurry to resolve the Government’s emergency motions, I fear the Court has overlooked not only its prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review,” Sotomayor said in July.

Breyer wrote his own July dissent, joined by Ginsburg, in which he questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty, as he had done before. Breyer wrote a similar dissent Jan. 15.

And though Sotomayor didn’t join that broader questioning of the death penalty, in her solo Jan. 15 dissent, as in her solo dissent in another federal execution case the month prior, she took pains to lay out, in her view, how the justice system failed the inmates.

“She is the voice calling out in the wilderness,” said death penalty expert Margery Koosed, professor emeritus at the University of Akron School of Law. “She has some of Brennan and Marshall flowing through her,” Koosed said.

Both Spital and Koosed said Sotomayor’s calling out the majority is reminiscent of Marshall’s 1991 dissent in Payne v. Tennessee, authored after Brennan retired in 1990 and joined by Justice Harry Blackmun.

There, too, Marshall accused his colleagues of operating outside of the law and tossing precedent in the process.

“Power, not reason,” Marshall said, “is the new currency of this Court’s decisionmaking.”

(source: bloomberglaw.com)

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Final throes----Use of the death penalty in America may be ending; A recent spate of federal executions has obscured a more powerful trend

IT WAS A Trump bump that was years in the making. Since July, after a 17-year hiatus, 13 prisoners on federal death row have been put to death. Dustin Higgs, who was convicted for his part in the murder of 3 women in 1996, could turn out to be the last for a long time, though. He died by lethal injection on January 16th, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that his execution could go ahead. In a cross dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted an “unprecedented rush of federal executions” in the past 6 months: 3 times as many inmates were put to death in that period as in the preceding 6 decades.

States usually account for the lion’s share of executions, but their number has been falling for years after many banned the practice or introduced moratoriums. Even states that continue now use it rarely. In 2020 only 5—Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas—put to death a total of just seven prisoners, the smallest tally in nearly 4 decades. For the 1st time there were more federal executions.

The return of executions was a goal of Donald Trump. In 2015 he called for the death penalty to be “brought back strong” in order to punish criminals. His 1st attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, explored how to revive the federal practice which had been stopped because of concerns over the lethal-injection protocol. Companies, pressed by activists opposed to the death penalty, had grown increasingly unwilling to supply the drugs frequently used in the injections. Hospira (now part of Pfizer), the only American maker of sodium thiopental, a barbiturate once commonly used in three-drug lethal cocktails, stopped producing it in 2011. As a result the federal Bureau of Prisons launched a review of its execution procedures.

The review took long enough that, in 2014, a death-row inmate won an indefinite stay of execution: courts said the government must tell death-row prisoners how they would die. This question was not resolved until July 2019, when a new lethal method and source of drugs for federal execution chambers were found. William Barr, then the attorney-general, ordered executions to be resumed using pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate that some states also use.

Some medical experts have argued that those who are given pentobarbital can experience sensations similar to drowning. In 2014 the drug was used to execute an inmate whose last words were “I feel my whole body burning”. Government lawyers have argued that use of the drug is not inhumane.

Were the killings of Mr Higgs and others rushed to take place while Mr Trump remained in office? On the face of it, yes. President Joe Biden has said he will end the federal death penalty, even as states execute ever fewer people. For some cash-strapped ones, the high cost of the death penalty is now prohibitive. Meanwhile, a growing share (though still a minority) of the public now says executions are immoral. As a result, and despite the events of recent months, America’s use of the death penalty could soon grind to a halt entirely.

(source: The Economist)

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Providence man’s fate in death penalty case hinges on Biden administration

Federal prosecutors will wait to decide whether to pursue the death penalty against a Providence man who is accused of killing a woman he picked up outside a Boston nightclub until they know more about the approach of the incoming U.S. Attorney General.

Massachusetts Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Richardson said government prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty against the man, Louis Coleman. The decision will have an enormous impact on how the trial is handled.

“Given on where we are in terms of a new administration, it’s not something that is going to happen imminently,” Richardson said during a pretrial hearing on Thursday.

Coleman, 32, is charged with “kidnapping resulting in death” – which carries a potential death sentence – in the 2019 slaying of Jassy Correia.

Correia was celebrating her 23rd birthday at a Boston nightclub when prosecutors say Coleman abducted her outside the club and brought her to his Providence apartment.

Surveillance video showed Coleman carrying “a body with long hair and orange pants” that was “naked from the waist up” into his apartment building at 95 Chestnut St., according to a federal complaint.

Coleman was later seen leaving the building with a suitcase and was eventually captured in Delaware with Correia’s body in the trunk of his car.

On Thursday, Coleman appeared before U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor remotely from the Plymouth County House of Corrections, where he is awaiting trial. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hair grown out, Coleman said nothing during the proceedings.

Saylor urged prosecutors to come to a decision on the death penalty soon.

“I think that decision needs to be a priority,” Saylor said. “It’s hard to plan for a trial without knowing precisely what it will look like.”

“It will involve a gigantic waste of time depending on what path we go,” he added.

Death penalty cases are far more complicated and time consuming than traditional criminal trials. They essentially involve two different trials, where a jury must first consider whether a defendant is guilty of the crime itself, then separately determine if the government has proved the aggravating circumstances that would support the punishment of death.

Jane Peachy, one of Coleman’s attorneys, told the judge the path prosecutors take in this case will have a profound impact on how his defense team will prepare and what evidence they will fight against being admitted.

“The government’s decision on how to proceed will determine the scope on what is admissible,” Peachy said.

President Biden has picked Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. and a former high-ranking Justice Department official, to be his attorney general.

Garland still has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where he will likely be questioned about his position on the death penalty. Garland was one of the federal prosecutors who oversaw the death penalty case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Biden has said he would support legislation that would eliminate the death penalty at the federal level.

Saylor said because of the pandemic and the backlog of cases at federal court, the earliest the Coleman case could head to trial is likely in the fall.

(source: WPRI news)

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Program on Whither the Federal Death Penalty

http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/abolition1313/8-13-death-penalty-abolition/ is a videotaped version of the January 21, 2021 program concerning the recent spate of 13 federal death penalty executions, and what may happen to the future of the federal death penalty as a result.

The organizers described the program as follows: [W}e are joined by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who has just introduced legislation to abolish the federal death penalty, as well as the attorney for Lisa Montgomery who was executed on January 13, 2021, Kelley Henry, death penalty journalist Liliana Segura, psychotherapist Susannah Sheffer, mother of Joseph Nichols who was executed in Texas in 2007, Lee Greenwood and death penalty attorneys Alexis Hoag and Bernard E. Harcourt to discuss the trauma of executions on families of the condemned and the abolition of the federal death penalty.

After Ron Tabak registered for the program, he was invited to speak during the Q&A period, mainly about Corey Johnson's case. See the 6 minutes starting at 2 hours 16 minutes and ending at 2 hours 22 minutes.

This video is apparently also accessible via YouTube.

(source: Ron Tabak, probonolaw.com)

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Poem: I Now Pronounce You Dead By Martín Espada----Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

The federal death penalty has returned. Once, while I was in prison, I saw a man talk to a man on death row. The first man had no idea his friend would be executed. He asked, “When are you coming home?” The silence that followed has never left me. Martín Espada’s poem says that Bartolomeo Vanzetti was more than whatever the state chose to execute him for. This is the poem that asks us if it’s OK to name the date we’ll murder and bury another. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

I Now Pronounce You Dead By Martín Espada----for Sacco and Vanzetti, executed August 23, 1927

On the night of his execution, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, immigrant

from Italia, fishmonger, anarchist, shook the hand of Warden Hendry

and thanked him for everything. I wish to forgive some people for what

they are now doing to me, said Vanzetti, blindfolded, strapped down

to the chair that would shoot two thousand volts through his body.

The warden’s eyes were wet. The warden’s mouth was dry. The warden

heard his own voice croak: Under the law I now pronounce you dead.

No one could hear him. With the same hand that shook the hand

of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Warden Hendry of Charlestown Prison

waved at the executioner, who gripped the switch to yank it down.

The walls of Charlestown Prison are gone, to ruin, to dust, to mist.

Where the prison stood there is a school; in the hallways, tongues

speak the Spanish of the Dominican, the Portuguese of Cabo Verde,

the Creole of Haiti. No one can hear the last words of Vanzetti,

or the howl of thousands on Boston Common when they knew.

After midnight, at the hour of the execution, Warden Hendry

sits in the cafeteria, his hand shaking as if shocked, rice flying off

his fork, so he cannot eat no matter how the hunger feeds on him,

muttering the words that only he can hear: I now pronounce you dead.

--

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Martín Espada, a former tenant lawyer, is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has published more than a dozen books of poetry, including the just-released “Floaters” (W.W. Norton).

(source: New York Times)

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Executing the Intellectually Disabled Is Morally and Legally Indefensible

The Trump administration carried out 12 federal executions in the administration's final six months, as if the president was in a hurry to kill as many people as possible before his White House departure Wednesday. Among those executions were Lisa Montgomery, killed on Jan. 13, and Corey Johnson, killed on Jan. 14. There is no question their crimes were heinous and horrifying. They cast a shadow of sorrow over the victims' families that will last forever.

The issue, however, is whether the death penalty would have made any difference in deterring crimes committed by people who didn't know what they were doing and had no ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Johnson, who murdered 7 people in Virginia in 1992, was intellectually disabled and could barely read or write at age 52. Correcting for aging norms, Johnson's IQ was 72.8, just above what is considered mental retardation.

No court ever heard of the extent of Johnson's intellectual disability, yet the Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on any person with an intellectual disability.

Johnson issued a statement before his death. "I want to say that I am sorry for my crimes. I wanted to say that to the families who were victimized by my actions, and I want these names to be remembered. Louis Johnson, Anthony Carter, Dorothy Armstrong, Curtis Thorne, Linwood Chiles, Peyton Johnson, Bobby Long. I would have said I was sorry before, but I didn't know how. I hope you will find peace."

He also said that the pizza and strawberry shake he ate and drank before the execution "were wonderful" but he didn't get the jelly-filled doughnuts he wanted. He added: "This should be fixed." Cold-blooded killers don't talk like this.

Johnson's case came on the heels of the execution of Montgomery, a clearly deranged woman who killed an expectant mother and cut her baby from her womb. She was the 1st woman executed in the federal system in nearly seven decades.

In a nearly 7,000-page clemency petition filed this month, her lawyers say her mother's alcoholism caused her to be born brain-damaged and "resulted in incurable and significant psychiatric disabilities." They also detailed Montgomery's claims of physical abuse, rape and torture at the hands of her stepfather and others and being trafficked by her mother for sex.

Montgomery's lawyers went on to say that they weren't arguing that she didn't deserve to be punished, but rather that the jury never fully learned of her severe mental illnesses as diagnosed by doctors.

There is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment. And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates.

There is also zero deterrent value in executions where the killer knows no difference between right and wrong.

(source: Daily Editorials, creators.com)

US MILITARY:

US military moves to try Bali bomb suspects at Guantanamo

After an unexplained delay, the Pentagon announced plans Thursday to move ahead with a military trial for 3 men held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are suspected of involvement in deadly bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003.

A senior military legal official approved non-capital charges that include conspiracy, murder and terrorism for the 3 men, who have been in U.S. custody for 17 years for their alleged roles in the deadly bombing of Bali nightclubs in 2002 and a year later of a J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

The timing of the charges, which had been submitted under President Donald Trump but not finalized, caught attorneys for the men by surprise and would seem to be in conflict with President Joe Biden's intention to close the detention center.

Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden's nominee to be secretary of defense, this week reaffirmed the intention to close Guantanamo to the Senate committee considering his nomination.

"The timing here is obvious, one day after the inauguration," said Marine Corps Maj. James Valentine, the appointed military attorney for the most prominent of the three. "This was done in a state of panic before the new administration could get settled."

A spokesman for the military commissions, which have been bogged down for years over legal challenges largely centered around the brutal treatment of men during their previous confinement in CIA detention facilities, had no immediate comment.

Military prosecutors filed charges against Encep Nurjaman, an Indonesian known as Hambali, and the other two men in June 2017. The case was rejected by the Pentagon legal official known as a convening authority for reasons that aren't publicly known.

"The case fell apart on them. I cannot tell you why because that's classified," said Valentine, part of the legal team for Hambali.

Now that the convening authority has approved charges, the U.S. must arraign the prisoners before the military commission at the base in Cuba. Court proceedings at Guantanamo have been halted by the pandemic and it's not clear when they will resume.

Hambali is alleged to have been the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaida. The Pentagon said in a brief statement on the case that he is accused with Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, who are from Malaysia, of planning and aiding the attacks.

All 3 were captured in Thailand in 2003 and held in CIA custody before they were taken to Guantanamo 3 years later.

The October 2002 bombings on the tourist island of Bali killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, including 88 Australians. A cleric who inspired it, along with other attacks, was released from an Indonesian prison earlier this month after completing his sentence for funding the training of Islamic militants.

The August 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta killed 12 and wounded about 150.

In December, Indonesian police arrested a man believed to be the military leader of Jemaah Islamiyah network.

The most prominent Guantanamo case, involving 5 men charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been stuck in the pre-trial phase since their arraignment in May 2012. No date for the death penalty trial has been set.

The U.S. holds 40 men at Guantanamo. President Barack Obama sought to close the detention center, move the prisoners to facilities inside the United States and transfer military trials to civilian court.

Obama reduced the prisoner population but his effort to close Guantanamo was blocked by Congress, which prohibited transferring anyone from the base to the U.S. for any reason.

Biden has said he favors closing the detention center but has not yet disclosed his plans for the facility. In written testimony to the Senate, Austin said he would work with others in the administration to develop a "path forward" to closure.

"I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantanamo to close its doors," he said.

(source: Associated Press)

NIGERIA:

Blasphemy: Appeal Court sets aside Kano singer’s death penalty

The Appeal Court on Thursday set aside the death sentence passed on 22-year-old singer, Yahaya Aminu-Sharif, by the Upper Shari’a court which charged him for blaspheming.

The presiding judges, Justice Nuradeen Sagir, who is the Chief Judge and his Co-panelist, Justice Nasiru Saminu, ordered a retrial of the case on the grounds that the proceedings at the lower court were characterised by irregularities.

Armed security was tight at the court during the judgment.

Aminu-Sharif, a Kano based musician, was sued for “insulting religious creed, contrary to section 382 (b) of Kano State Shari’a Penal Code Law 2000.”

The Sharia court, presided by Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani, on August-10, sentenced him by hanging, having found him guilty of committing blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in a song which he circulated via WhatsApp in March that same year.

In spite of the outcry over the judgement, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje endorsed the judgment, saying he would not waste time to sign the singer’s death sentence if he failed to appeal in 30 days.

Sharif, through his counsel, Kola Alapinni, appealed that the appellate court should set aside the entire judgement of the Upper Sharia Court of Kano.

Alapinni contended the appellant’s trial, conviction and sentencing by the Upper Sharia Court, pursuant to Kano State Penal Code Law 2000, were unconstitutional, null and void, having grossly violated and conflicted with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Read Also; Blasphemy: UNICEF condemns imprisonment of 13-year-old boy

He argued the offence of blasphemy for which Sharif was convicted is no longer a cognisable offence in Nigeria by virtue of section 10, standing alone or in conjunction with section 38 and 39 of the constitution, respectively.

He maintained a capital offence seeking to terminate human life must comply strictly, especially, with the right to life provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria.

He averred the confessional statement and the plea of the applicant in the court below is a nullity and legally irrelevant in the absence of a valid law criminalising the appellant’s alleged criminal conduct.

He maintained that a Penal Sharia Code law is only applicable and permissible in Islamic theocracies or countries whose constitution allows for such laws, whereas Nigeria is a secular state with constitutional democracy and the constitution being the supreme law.

Delivering judgement on the appeal on Thursday, the 2-man panel of the court ruled that the 1st trial was full of irregularities and the appellant was not given a fair legal representation.

The judges ruled that the verdict by the Upper Sharia Court Hausawa Filin Hockey contravenes sections 2-6-9 of the ACJN and that its judgement was done in nullity.

“The case should be re-tried and the appellant be given fare hearing and he should be fully legally represented,” it was ruled.

The court, in another appeal, also set aside the judgement which sentenced 13-year old Umar Faruk, to 10 years imprisonment also on the charge of blasphemy.

Justice Nuradeen Sagir discharged the minor, saying the Shari’a judgement against him was done in a rush. (source: The Nation)

INDIA:

65% of Death Sentences in 2020 Involved Sexual Violence; Project 39A at NLU-Delhi Delhi Releases 5th Annual Death Penalty Statistics

see: https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/death-sentence-sexual-offences-annual-death-penalty-statistics-2020-168751?infinitescroll=1

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Toddler Raped & Murdered In Ghaziabad; POCSO Court Awards Death Penalty To Culprit In 29 Days

In a harrowing incident of sexual assault, a 2.5-year-old girl was raped and her body was found on October 29 at the roadside bushes of Kavi Nagar area in Ghaziabad.

A special POCSO court gave the death sentence to the accused, delivering the verdict in record time.

The court took 29 days to deliver the death sentence.

Accused close friend of girl's father

The accused had been identified as one Chandan and was awarded death penalty by special POCSO court judge Mahendra Srivastava The accused was a close friend of the girl's father.

10 witnesses were produced before the court before judgment was delivered, according to a report by India Today.

The record time in which the judgement has been pronounced is a landmark achievement.

Crimes against women soar in Uttar Pradesh

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, crime against women in Uttar Pradesh has increased by 20% from 2016 to 2019.

As per the NCRB report for 2017 released in October last year, 56011 cases of crime against women were reported while the number surged to 59, 445 in 2018.

In 2018, 3, 946 rape cases were registered involving 4, 322 victims, including 1411 minors. The state in 2017 reported 4246 rape cases—second highest in the country after Madhya Pradesh, in which victims were minor in almost 1560 cases.

(source: indiatimes.com)

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MP: 2 sentenced to death for rape, murder of minor relative----The victim’s family had lodged a complaint with the Banda police on March 14, 2019 when their daughter went missing after she went to write her Class 6 examination

A local court has awarded death penalty to 2 men who raped and beheaded their 11- year-old relative in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, an official from the prosecution said on Thursday.

The district’s Banda area court of additional sessions judge Umashanker Agrawal on Tuesday awarded capital punishment to a 42-year-old man and his 25-year-old son for raping and killing the minor, public prosecutor Tahir Khan said.

“The accused had killed the innocent girl in barbaric and demonic ways. The 2 are family members of the deceased and they were supposed to raise the girl and protect her,” the judge said, observing that the case falls under the rarest of rare category.

The duo was awarded death sentences twice on 2 separate counts of gang rape and murder, the prosecutor said.

The victim’s family had lodged a complaint with the Banda police on March 14, 2019 when their daughter went missing after she went to write her Class 6 examination, Khan said.

During the probe, the police found the girl’s severed head 45 foot away from her body in Berkhedi Maujahar area of Banda, he said, adding that the post-mortem report confirmed that she had been gangraped.

(source: tribuneindia.com)

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As Maharashtra govt pushes for stricter rape law, a look at constitutionality and legality of Shakti Bill

Besides proposing death penalty for certain offences against women and children, Shakti Bill also reduces timeline for investigation, trial and appeals without taking into account severe manpower shortage in the police department and the courts in Maharashtra

As Maharashtra govt pushes for stricter rape law, a look at constitutionality and legality of Shakti.

The Maharashtra government introduced the Shakti Bill in the state Legislative Assembly in December 2020 to curb sexual offences committed against women and children. The Bill proposes amendments to existing laws on crimes against women and children and provides for stricter punishment, including death penalty, for offences such as rape and gang rape. It also reduces the time for completion of investigation and trial for crimes against women while also adding punishment for false complaints, among other things.

The Shakti Bill is similar to the Disha Bill passed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 2019 to provide enhanced punishment (including death penalty) for crimes against women.

In 2013, post the Delhi gangrape case, the Parliament passed a law to allow for death penalty in rape cases where the accompanying brutality leads to death, and in cases of repeat offenders. Further, in 2018, the Parliament passed a law allowing death penalty for rape and gangrape of girls below the age of 12 years.

The Shakti Bill has been referred to a joint select committee of MLAs and MLCs for review. In this article, we discuss the key changes proposed by the Bill, and some issues to consider.

Shorter timeline for investigation and trial may be unrealistic

The Bill expedites the timeline for the investigation, trial, and disposal of appeal for certain offences against women and children such as rape, gang rape, and acid attacks. As per the proposed Bill, the investigation should be completed within 15 working days (extendable by 7 days) after filing the FIR, the trial should complete within 30 days of filing the charge sheet, and appeals must be disposed of within 45 days.

However, it must be noted that despite the existence of a timeline for investigation (2 months) and trial 2 months), 44 % of crimes against women are pending investigation, and 94 % pending trial in Maharashtra.

Reducing the time further, may not give sufficient time to the police and the judiciary to complete the relevant procedures. Further, there is a severe manpower shortage in the police department and the courts in Maharashtra which could impact the timely resolution of cases.

As of 2019, the national police-population ratio was 195 policemen per lakh population (less than the ratio of 222 recommended by the United Nations), and district and subordinate courts across India had 22 percent vacancy for judges.

Punishment for filing a false complaint may act as a deterrent

The Bill penalises filing of a false complaint for offences committed against women and children such as acid-related crimes, and rape. It is punishable with imprisonment for up to 1 year, or with fine, or both. This may deter people from reporting such crimes in a situation where such crimes are already severely under-reported.

Further, punishment for the offence of making false complaints and providing false information already exists under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

Sharing of data for investigation without safeguards may restrict the right to privacy

Under the Bill, social media platforms and telecom service providers will be punished for failure to share information with the Investigation Officer for investigation of crimes against women and children. Such punishment could include imprisonment of up to one month and a fine of Rs 5 lakh.

Note that the Information Technology Act (IT Act), 2000, already requires sharing of data with authorised persons for investigation of any offence. Under the IT Act, an authorised person can request access to information by order (and for reasons recorded in writing).

The Shakti Bill allows an investigation officer to seek information without a court order or a warrant but does not provide any safeguards for when and what kind of information could be sought. This may violate an individuals’ right to privacy.

The Supreme Court (in the Puttaswamy judgement) has held that individuals have a fundamental right to privacy, subject to reasonable restrictions. Any restraints on privacy must be: (i) in accordance with the procedure established by law, (ii) in pursuit of a legitimate state need, and (iii) proportional to the aim. The restrictions imposed by the Bill on the right to privacy may be disproportionate and arbitrarily applied, and therefore, fail to meet the requirements specified by the Court.

Mandatory death penalty has been held as unconstitutional

The Shakti Bill provides for the death penalty for causing grievous hurt by acid attacks, rape, and gang rape. It also provides for the death penalty for penetrative sexual assault of a child below 16 years of age. The death penalty will be awarded when the offence is heinous in nature and the circumstances warrant exemplary punishment. This could be interpreted as the Bill providing for the mandatory death penalty in such cases.

The Supreme Court has held that mandating the death penalty for any offence is unconstitutional as it violates Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. Before opting for the death penalty, the circumstances of the ‘crime’ and the circumstances of the ‘offender’ must be taken into consideration. However, under the Shakti Bill, the death penalty will apply when the crime is heinous and the circumstances warrant exemplary punishment; which may not factor in the circumstances of the offender.

There is also the question of whether the death penalty should be awarded for rape. The death penalty for rape could deter individuals from committing the offence, and provide retributive justice for the victims. However, the Justice Verma Committee (constituted after the Delhi gangrape case) noted that though rape is a violent crime, the punishment should be proportionate and the death penalty should not be applied, as it is possible to rehabilitate the survivor. As noted earlier, Parliament has passed laws to allow for death penalty for certain rape cases such as where the accompanying brutality leads to death, and

in cases of repeat offenders. While the Shakti Bill enhances punishments for certain offences against women, experts have suggested various other steps that may be taken to improve the safety of women. These include: (i) strict implementation of laws to protect women, (ii) better infrastructure for women safety such as CCTV and panic buttons in all public transport and increase in the number of women police officers, and (iii) increased public awareness about laws on women safety and consequences for violating these laws.

(source: Prachi Kaur and Madhunika Iyer; firstpost.com)

PAKISTAN:

Child protection and welfare: KP govt proposes recording executions and making them public

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is planning to amend laws pertaining to child protection and welfare to include a 14-year term in prison for child sexual abuse convicts as well as recording executions and making them public.

Under the existing KP Child Protection and Welfare (Amendment) Act 2010, a person convicted of sexually abusing a child faces up to 14 years in imprisonment sentence.

The new draft, titled KP Child Protection and Welfare (Amendment) Act 2020, plans harsher punishments including life imprisonment and a Rs5 million fine. The law also proposes death penalty for organ traffickers.

The bill stated that in case of a death sentence “the proceedings of the execution of sentence of death shall be recorded by audio visual means and such recordings may be accessible to the public as prescribed.”

"In case the accused is awarded imprisonment of life, he shall remained imprisoned for remainder of his natural life without the possibility of parole or probation."

It added that the convict will not be entitled to any remission during the imprisonment.

Other amendments include a 14-year prison term for person(s) charged with making pornographic videos of a child and 10-year term for seducing a child with the intent of involving him/her in a sexual activity.

The bill proposed that a register of sexual offenders will be maintained and all information relating to the convicted will be shared with the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to make it public.

In addition, registered sexual offenders shall not be employed by an organisation that works or deals with children and the employers who do hire them will be fined. They will also be prohibited from traveling on public transportation that is used by children.

Dr. Hisham Inamullah Khan, the provincial minister for social welfare, told Geo.tv that the government has taken notice of the rising cases of child abuse and the drafted bill will be presented in the next cabinet meeting of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

The draft also proposes life imprisonment or "a term which may extend to 25 years but which shall not be less than 14 years and a fine of up to Rs5 million" for those convicted of child trafficking.

Human rights activist Farieha Aziz says the proposal to take a clip of the hanging and put it in the public domain is “inhumane”.

“This is all about creating a spectacle,” she tells Geo.tv, “It has got nothing to do with the law and order or to address the issue at hand.”

She adds that the government should instead look into problems that arise at the investigation and prosecution stage of cases of sexual violence and assault. “Those are the things to focus on because rarely do [such] cases actually get to the punishment stage.”

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Child organ trade to be punished with death----New K-P bill to also criminalise child trafficking

The provincial government has decided to introduce a legislation to criminalise the rising child organ trade in the province which will be punishable with a death penalty and a Rs2 million fine.

By the same token child trafficking is also to be criminalised and a punishment of 25 years of imprisonment has been suggested for the culprits.

The draft law has also suggested that if a person is convicted by the court for child molestation and handed down death penalty then the death sentence should be recorded by “audio visual means” and this should be made accessible to public.

Parole and probation will not be available to the convicts in case of imprisonment neither will they be able to get any remission.

Under the proposed legislation the Khyber-Pakthunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010 will be amended.

All the homework has been done and the law has been drafted under which the complete record of sexual offenders will be kept who will not be employed by any department dealing with children neither will they be allowed to travel by public transport used by children.

Those who will knowingly recruit such sexual offenders will also be punished.

A special committee had been formed for the purpose to work out issues with the help of stakeholders concerned which has already submitted its recommendations after prolonged consultations with civil society and other stakeholders.

The amended bill is expected to be tabled in the current session of the assembly for an open debate and approval.

Talking to The Express Tribune Minister for Social Welfare Hisham Inamullah said that the chief minister had directed them to finish the homework on the bill as soon as possible and table it in the next session.

He said that under the amended law child pornography will be punished with 14 year of rigorous imprisonment.

“The PTI government is committed to stopping the increasing trend of sexual violence against children in our society and strict punishment has been suggested for those found guilty,” he said.

(source for both: thenews.com.pk)

NORTH KOREA:

Kim Jong-un bans South Korean style music and TV

A new law against "reactionary thinking" has been in place for some time. Fines for parents who allow their children to have fun with music; 15 years in prison for those who watch southern television; life sentence for non-registered foreign cell phones; death penalty for products imported from the US and Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is carrying out a campaign that bans listening to music, watching soap operas on TV, and expressing oneself in South Korean style, under pain of high fines or imprisonment. It is yet another attempt to combat "reactionary thinking", and to privilege the national (and controlled) media.

The law provides fines for parents for allowing their children to violate the ban. Up to 15 years in prison in forced labor camps are imposed for those caught watching South Korean television; for those who produce or distribute pornography, for those who use unregistered foreign televisions, radios, computers, cell phones.

According to some sources, Southern-style writing and speaking is also prohibited. The Daily NK, a Seoul-based agency that monitors the North, says anyone caught importing prohibited material from South Korea faces life imprisonment, and whoever imports it from the United States or Japan faces a death sentence.

Various experts see in this new law and in the harsh punishments connected with the government's attempt to curb information that comes from outside, including from China, which is gaining more and more respect, especially among young people.

Tae Yong-ho, the first North Korean exile elected to the Southern Parliament, said: "During the day the people shout 'Long live Kim Jong-un', but at night everyone watches South Korean dramas and films".

An important fact is that, while information is blocked from the outside, Kim Jong-un promised at the recent party congress to expand the wifi network throughout the country and improve local television production.

(source: asianews.it)

IRAN----execution

Baluch Prisoner Hafez Abdolsattar Executed in Zahedan

A prisoner sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, has been executed in Zahedan Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed at Zahedan Central Prison yesterday, January 20. The identity of the prisoner who had been sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) on murder charges has been established as Hafez Abdolsattar, son of Abdolghani.

An informed source told IHR: “Hafez Abdolsattar had been behind bars on murder charges for the last 8 years.”

At the time of writing, Hafez Abdolsattar’s execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

Over the past month, there has been a sharp increase in the executions carried out in Sunni areas, particularly in Sistan and Baluchistan. Since the start of 2021, at least 6 people have been executed in Zahedan Central Prison. Over the last month, 14 Baluch prisoners have been executed in Zahedan Central Prison and Mashhad Central Prison, with at least 7 of them facing security and political charges.

IHR previously warned of the imminent execution of Baluch Sunni clerics Molavi Amanollah Baluchi and Hafez Abdolrahim Kouhi and had called on the international community to act immediately to stop their executions. The two clerics who were transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions on January 18, were returned to their cells, but were transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence’s custody hours later.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report, at least 225 of the 280 of those executed in 2019 were charged with "premeditated murder."

As there are no legal distinctions made between murder and manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary in Iran, those charged under the umbrella term of “premeditated murder” will receive the death penalty regardless of intent and the circumstances.

(source: iranhr.net)

EGYPT:

14 SENTENCED TO DEATH IN TWO DIFFERENT CASES

14 people were sentenced to death in 2 different cases, Egypt Today reported on 19 January 2021. The first 8 defendants were sentenced to death by the Aswan Criminal Court for killing a police officer in a fire exchange in 2018 during an arrest attempt.

Captain Abdelrahman al-Sirafy was among a force whose mission was arresting a number of criminals in Fatira village in the surroundings of Kom Ombo town.

4 defendants were sentenced in absentia, while a 9th was handed a 15-year prison sentence for being a "minor."

In a different context, a criminal court in Sharqia governorate sentenced 6 people to death over killing policemen and handed 7 others detention sentences in a 2016 case.

The convicts in the cause are accused of forming and leading a terrorist cell and killing and attempting to kill policemen.

They are also accused of carrying out other terrorist operations to help the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood achieve their goals in the country and attempting to overthrow the regime.

(source: Egypt Today)

JANUARY 21, 2021:

TEXAS:

Austin author on death penalty approval dropping in Texas----In 1994, public approval for capital punishment was around 80 %. Today it's below 50 %.

Maurice Chammah’s “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty” is a work of non-fiction, which bears stating because every so often a character passes through the book almost as caricature, outfitted with a Stetson, a handlebar mustache and a powerful persuasion with colorfully articulated straight-shooter notions about the value of frontier justice.

A staff writer for “The Marshall Project,” Chammah spent years researching and conducting interviews for “Let the Lord Sort Them” resulting in a dark and complicated history that touches on life and death, processes and politics, myth and fact, crime and punishment. The book also shows the sharp evolution of public opinion. In 1994, public approval for capital punishment was around 80 %. Today it’s below 50 %.

“There has definitely been a sea change over the past 25 years,” Chammah says. “Not that long ago people who opposed it seemed like outsiders and zealots and eccentrics. They were the prehistory of this movement. What we’ve seen is people slowly building the case for a justice system that was out of control. Now we have more people who support criminal justice reform.”

Austin-based Chammah fielded a few questions about some of the people on all sides of the law, whose lives were and are connected to a practice that is trending toward obsolescence.

Q: It makes sense that much of this deals with Texas. The state has a hearty mythology and notions of justice are tied up in it.

A: Yes, and a lot of that didn’t even make it into the book. But Texas is unique among states in the way it considers its mythology. And that flows into this story, because Houston attracted hundreds of thousands of new residents flooding in the Sunbelt wave. And Texas had something that attracted people that was different compared to Florida or Arizona, which don’t have that same mythology. You see it some there, but I don’t think you have as many public officials with that Old West swagger. Johnny Holmes (former Houston district attorney) was very much a big city DA seen as small town sheriff. He’s a smart guy and he knows it, so he used that as a natural part of his personality. He used language about personal responsibility, harsh punishment. Houston wants to play this role in the mythology of Texas, whether it’s with a big rodeo or cowboy churches or the death penalty. Harris County produced more executions than entire states. And it produced some of the largest personalities to match.

Q: Houston certainly wasn’t lacking crime when it increased the number of people it executed . . .

A: Houston had a lot of crime. And the death penalty became a symbolic way of showing that you were doing something about it. Reducing crime is hard to do, frankly. It’s systemic, and it’s hard to get your arms around it. People get elected by convincing others they’re going to do something about it, and the death penalty became a clear illustration of that. The rhetoric became that we were using the death penalty to deal with violence, this old West frontier heritage that couldn’t be less true for a city like Houston.

Q: The book brings up a judge in the Panhandle who just three years ago made a “tree and a rope” comment and insisted he spoke without racial implications. The mythology runs deep.

A: Mythology allows us to not even worry about reckoning with reality. That judge made a comment about a tree and rope, and I don’t think he was just lying that he didn’t intend for it to be about race. But cultural mythology allows these cultural biases and problems to get subterranean, so to speak. Fortunately scholars are increasingly studying the death penalty, and finding problems like implicit biases. There was the case of Duane Buck, whose guilt wasn’t disputed, but he was sentenced to death because jurors were told he was likely to commit a violent crime again because he was Black.

Q: I believe that was a case of an expert witness offering less than expert data — which is a thread that runs through this. Expert testimony in the Cameron Todd Willingham case has been questioned. And the forensic psychiatrist Jim Grigson — some of his testimony was outrageous.

A: It was both funny and shocking to revisit these strange anecdotes from the past. He was creative, but lives were in danger because of his testimony. But this man developed an “expertise” that could make absolutely anybody look like a psychopath. And he did. So many criminal forensic ideas that helped lead to convictions have been thoroughly debunked. Bad forensics all kinds of cases, and the same goes for bad psychology. You have people making gut decisions about an accused criminal’s possible future behavior based on psychological science that doesn’t exist. And the stakes are the highest: life and death.

Q: Perception of George W. Bush has grown warmer in recent years. I had filed and forgotten the zeal he expressed for this system. And I’d forgotten the interview in which he mocked Karla Faye Tucker.

A: He came along at a key moment when the death penalty peaked in American life, and it was just starting to turn where people were questioning it or at least ambivalent about it. He didn’t choose when to come along, but his career as governor found him riding a wave. It went both ways: there was a callousness when he mocked Tucker. But he also defended the death penalty in the case of the men who dragged James Byrd to death in Jasper. He projected this swagger. But in his memoir, he did express this idea that he was tortured by these decisions and took them seriously. Times were changing faster than consultants could manage them. And for a long time in Texas, the death penalty played well. Ann Richards, by all accounts, didn’t support the death penalty personally, but she had to publicly.

Q: The portrait of Carroll Pickett, a chaplain at Huntsville, was affecting.

A: Yes, yes, yes. He wrote a wonderful memoir. I like to intellectualize storytelling, so his story just ran in my head over and over and over. I couldn’t stop trying to reverse engineer why that was. His ambivalence conveys a larger ambivalence I think we all feel. Even if you support capital punishment, it’s hard to look at it up close. But it’s also incumbent upon us to look at it up close and wonder why we’re so ambivalent.

Q: Did you set out to make the book cinematic? I feel like the people you focused on — Danalynn Recer, Elsa Alcala, Craig Washington — move in and out like characters in a film.

A: That’s totally what I wanted to do. I was obsessed with the craft element of it. My favorite fiction makes you care about a character, then they dip away and slowly come back. You have some momentum when you see them again. And you learn more about them when they return.

(source: Houston Chronicle)

NORTH CAROLINA:

NC should catch up with Michigan on death penalty

In 1830, in the dusty frontier village of Detroit, Stephen Simmons beat his wife to death in a drunken rage. There was no question of guilt. The trial lasted one day, and a public hanging was ordered by the judge. Invitations were sent out, and bleachers were built for the crowd. An excited atmosphere reigned in Detroit on the day of the hanging. Simmons climbed the steps to the gallows and surveyed the crowd.

Rather than address the crowd, as convicts were allowed to do before their execution, it’s reported that Simmons began to sing in a strong baritone:

Show pity Lord, O Lord forgive,

Let a repenting rebel live.

Are not thy mercies full and free?

May not a sinner trust in thee?

My crimes are great, but cannot surpass

The power and glory of thy grace.

Great God thy nature hath no bounds

So let thy pardoning love be found.

After hearing about the execution and Simmons’ actions, some local ministers called it un-Christian, and newspapers denounced the spectacle as barbarism.

In 1828, a Michigan man, Patrick Fitzpatrick, was hanged in neighboring Ontario for the rape and murder of an innkeeper’s daughter. In 1835, shortly before he died, Fitzpatrick’s former roommate confessed to the crime. Patrick Fitzpatrick was exonerated but dead.

The story of this injustice and the finality of the punishment made a deep impression on the people of Michigan. After a decade of deliberation about the two cases, the Michigan Legislature approved a law eliminating the death penalty for all crimes except treason. It became the first jurisdiction in the English-speaking world to ban capital punishment.

The death penalty is back in the news. By the time Donald Trump leaves office on Jan. 20, his 13 executions will claim the record for the most of any president in more than a century. These deaths can be viewed as long-delayed justice, but what if the police got the wrong person? What if these individuals were convicted because they were defended by overworked rookie lawyers or witnesses perjured themselves to save their own skins?

New evidence has a way of cropping up, sometimes decades after a trial. A group called the Innocence Project has applied DNA testing to old cases and exonerated 375 people of crimes they did not commit — 21 of them had spent time on death row. The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission uncovered evidence that freed 2 intellectually disabled men from death row in 2014.

North Carolina still has the death penalty on its books for aggravated murder, while our sister state of Michigan abolished it 174 years ago. North Carolina’s capital punishment has not done a better job deterring murder than Michigan’s life-in-prison rule: Homicide rates for the two states are virtually the same. The failure of capital punishment as a deterrent can also be seen in national statistics reported by the Death Penalty Information Center. Year after year, homicide rates are higher in death penalty states than in nondeath-penalty states.

Despite North Carolina’s laws on capital punishment, executions are seldom carried out these days. The example from the waning days of the Trump administration, though, should serve as a warning. North Carolina has 137 inmates on death row. Someday, in the turnover of politics, we may have a governor who is eager to follow the Trump example. Then there will be no time for either repentance or exoneration. The time for North Carolina to eliminate capital punishment is in 2021, before that happens.

Tom Fehsenfeld--Asheville

(source: Letter to the Editor, Mountain Express)

USA:

Democratic Legislators Introduce Death Penalty Repeal Bills, Urge President Biden to Commute Federal Death Sentences

Democratic members of the U.S. House and Senate have called on incoming President Joe Biden to take quick action on his campaign pledge to end the federal death penalty. Legislators introduced three bills to abolish the federal death penalty and urged the President to issue executive orders to halt federal executions and commute the death sentences of those on federal death row.

Citing the more than 170 people exonerated from U.S. death rows since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s, Biden’s official campaign platform on criminal justice advocated repealing the federal death penalty. With his inauguration, he became the first president to have been elected after supporting doing away with capital punishment. “Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time,” the joebiden.com website said, “Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.”

Senator Richard Durbin (D – Illinois), the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representatives Adriano Espaillat (D – New York) and Ayanna Pressley (D – Massachusetts), all of whom had introduced death-penalty abolition bills in prior sessions of Congress, announced that they were again advancing bills to end the federal death penalty. Espaillat’s bill, the Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act of 2021, was introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee on January 4, 2021. Pressley’s repeal bill was introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee on January 11. Durbin, whose bill is co-sponsored by every Democratic Senator who was a candidate for president in 2020, planned to reintroduce the bill when the Senate convened for 2021.

In an interview with NPR, Durbin called President Trump’s “mad dash” to execute three prisoners in the last week of his presidency and his execution of 13 federal prisoners in six months “unconscionable.” Other Democratic lawmakers called for immediate action in the wake of the unprecedented federal execution spree to prevent similar conduct by a future president. “After four years or eight years or however long President Joe Biden is in his seat, we don’t want the next person to come in and to be able to do what the Trump administration is currently doing,” Rep. Cori Bush (D – Missouri) said. A president has the power to place a moratorium on federal executions and commute federal death sentences, even without congressional action. Bush is one of 45 representatives who signed a letter to Biden asking him to “end the use of the federal death penalty on [his] first day in office.”

The lawmakers’ letter calls the death penalty “unjust, racist, and defective.” “The barbaric punishment denies the dignity and humanity of all people, but it is disproportionately applied to people who are Black, Latinx, and poor,” they state. “While eliminating the death penalty will not fix our broken criminal legal system, it is a significant step toward progress.”

Pressley told NPR Biden should take immediate executive action on the issue. “I’m calling on him to use that full authority with the stroke of a pen to halt all federal executions and save lives,” she said. “He should also require the Department of Justice to no longer seek the death penalty for future cases, and permanently dismantle the Terre Haute facility where those federal executions take place.”

8 U.S. Senators have also asked the Inspector General to open an investigation into the Trump administration’s “frenzied and unprecedented” spree of executions during the presidential transition period. The spree, the senators said in a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D – Massachusetts), co-signed by Senators Durbin, Edward Markey (D – Massachusetts), Amy Klobuchar (D – Minnesota), Cory Booker (D – New Jersey), Chris Van Hollen (D – Maryland), Bernie Sanders (I – Vermont), and Sherrod Brown (D – Ohio), “marks a break with both modern history and decades-old practice.” “The reversal of long-standing DOJ policies and protocols,” the senators say, “raises numerous concerns about the fairness and application of the death penalty by the Trump Administration.” They ask the Inspector General to review the policy rationale for the resumption of executions, whether there is a pattern of racial bias in the application of the federal death penalty, whether steps were taken to ensure executions were conducted as humanely as possible, what the costs of the federal executions were, and whether the administration took appropriate steps to protect those involved from the spread of COVID-19.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

CHINA:

Tianjin court upholds death sentence for ex-chairman of Huarong Lai Xiaomin

On January 5, Lai was sentenced to death by the Secondary Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin for taking staggering bribes and engaging in bigamy, with his political rights rescinded and all assets being confiscated.

Lai was found to have taken advantage of his positions to help other entities and individuals with fund-raising, contracting projects, running enterprises, getting promotions and job transfers between 2008 and 2018, according to the court.

He directly or through third parties, accepted or solicited money and assets worth more than 1.79 billion yuan ($277 million), the court said.

Between the end of 2009 and January 2018, Lai took advantage of his positions to embezzle public funds of more than 25.13 million yuan. While Lai remained married to his wife, he was found to have cohabitated with another woman and fathered children, the court said.

Describing Lai as lawless and extremely greedy, and whose criminal offenses occurred mostly after the 18th Party Congress, the court said his deeds have caused particularly hefty losses to the country and the people, and should be severely punished by law.

China recently stepped up crackdown on corruption within state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it is aiming to make SOEs "become stronger, do better and grow bigger."

In another development, the Supreme People's Procuratorate on Thursday decided to arrest Hu Wenming, former Party chief and chairman of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, on charges of taking bribes and abuse of power.

In addition, Hu Huaibang, ex-governor of the China Development Bank, has been sentenced to life in prison by Chengde Intermediate People's Court on January 7 on charges of taking bribes worth 85.52 million yuan ($12.23 million).

(source: Global Times)

THAILAND:

Former Commerce Minister Sentenced to Death for Premeditated Murder

Former commerce minister Banyin Tangpakorn has been sentenced to death for the premeditated murder of construction tycoon Chuwong Sae Tang that he tried to pass off as a car accident 6 years ago.MP> The Phra Khanong Criminal Court on Wednesday handed down the maximum penalty for the 56-year-old former Nakhon Sawan MP.

The court said the death sentence was warranted as Banyin, a former senior police officer, had never confessed to the murder, although all evidence showed the victim was slain.

On June 26, 2015 Chuwong, 50, was found dead in the passenger seat of a black Lexus SUV driven by Banyin after the vehicle hit a roadside tree in Suan Luang district of Bangkok. Banyin was only slightly injured. He told police that his close friend died because he did not buckle up his safety belt.

The court said the evidence showed the accident was staged, an attempt to cover-up a murder.

The ruling was delivered to the defendant via video conference. He is serving a life sentence in high-security Bang Kwang Central Prison for conspiring in the murder 5 years ago of Wirachai Sakuntaprasoet, the brother of a judge handling his case.

He is also serving time over the fraudulent transfer of shares after the death of Chuwong, a construction billionaire.

Banyin continued to clam in court that Chuwong died in a car accident after the 2 men had been playing golf together. Investigators were not convinced as the car was travelling only about 30kph, damage was minor and an autopsy revealed causes of death unrelated to the crash.

Police tracked Chuwong Sae Tang’s financial affairs and found he had apparently transferred shares worth 38 million baht to an employee at a stock broking firm who was close to Banyin.

Another 228 million baht worth of shares was transferred to a caddie at a golf course. Evidence was the shares were transferred using forged documents, a fraud orchestrated by Banyin.

(source: chiangraitimes.com)

INDIA:

Man gets death penalty for rape, murder

A special POCSO court sentenced a man to death on Wednesday for raping and murdering a 2-year-old girl here, the verdict coming within a month of the crime.

The girl was found behind the roadside bushes in Kavi Nagar area on December 21, public prosecutor Utkarsh Vats told the media.

Special POCSO court judge Mahendra Srivastava awarded the death penalty to Chandan, who was a close friend of the girl''s father. Ten witnesses were produced before the court, Vats said, describing the verdict within 29 days as landmark.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Avinash Kumar said the culprit was arrested soon after the crime and a charge sheet was filed on December 29.

(source: outlookindia.com)

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Brother, uncle get double death sentence for raping, beheading 12-year-old girl in MP

The girl’s body was found in an agricultural field a day after she went missing on March 13, 2019. It later emerged that her brother had abducted and taken her to their uncle’s house

A local court in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district has convicted a 12-year-old girl’s brother and uncle for raping, beheading her, and awarded them a double death penalty, calling the case rarest of the rare that warrants nothing less than capital punishment.

Special public prosecutor Tahir Khan said special sessions judge Umashankar Agrawal awarded the double death penalty to the 22-year-old brother and 42-year-old uncle under Section 376-A (rape) and Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.

According to the prosecution, the girl’s beheaded body was found in an agricultural field a day after she went missing on March 13, 2019. It later emerged that the girl’s brother had abducted and taken her to their uncle’s house where the 2 convicts raped her before beheading her with a sickle. She was also sodomised.

Khan said 29 witnesses recorded their statements and the sickle was recovered from the house of one of the accused. “The DNA and post mortem report corroborated the prosecution’s charges,” he said. “I urged the court that the girl used to tie rakhi on her brother’s wrist for protection but this brother crossed all the limits and committed an inhuman act.”

(source: Hindustan Times)

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UP rape and murder case: Death penalty awarded in record 23 days

In one of the fastest trials and delivery of justice in the country in a rape and murder case, POCSO Court Ghaziabad awarded death penalty to a man, accused of rape and murder of a 2 1/2 years old girl, in record 23 days.

The body of a child was found in bushes in Kavinagar area of UP’s Ghaziabad on October 21, 2020. The autopsy report confirmed the girl was brutally raped before being killed.

On the complaint of her father, the Ghaziabad Police swung into action and had cracked the case within a day by arresting Chandan, a friend of Girl’s father. During the interrogation, Chandan confessed to his crime. After collecting all evidences, the police had filed the charge-sheet in the case on December 29, 2020 in the POCSO Court.

To speed up the trial, the Court heard the case on priority. With the self-confession, forensic and circumstantial evidences going against the accused, the POCSO Court delivered the verdict on Wednesday, making it one of the fastest trials and judgments in the country.

(source: freepressjournal.in)

SAUDI ARABIA:

Saudi Arabia juvenile offenders still await execution despite ban on death penalty for minors, rights groups report

5 people in Saudi Arabia who committed crimes as minors are still awaiting execution, despite the kingdom’s April announcement that juvenile offenders would no longer face the death penalty, rights groups said Monday.

In April, Saudia Arabia’s government-operated Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced that a royal decree from King Salman had eliminated the death penalty for people who had committed crimes while underage. Instead of execution, these individuals would now face “a prison sentence of no longer than 10 years in a juvenile detention facility.” HRC president Awwad Alawwad said that “[m]ore reforms will be coming” and that the HRC is “confident that Saudi Arabia will live up to its objectives in creating a better quality of life for all of its citizens and residents.” However, the announcement did not give a timeline for the decree and neither it nor the royal decree were ever properly published or promulgated in state media.

Human rights organizations Reprieve and the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) on Monday published a joint press release discussing the kingdom’s recent drop in execution rate. Saudi Arabia executed 25 people in 2020, the “lowest figure on record” since the two groups began monitoring the country’s rate of executions in 2013. The number included at least one person underage. While the decreased rate is promising, Reprieve and ESOHR both attributed the drop to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an “unofficial de facto moratorium on executions for certain non-violent offences” pursuant to Islamic Sharia law.

In fact, the groups speculated that Saudi execution rates may go up in 2021, citing the government’s increased use of the death penalty in the last quarter of 2020 and especially in December, when 1/3 of the 2020 executions were carried out. ESOHR is currently monitoring 80 cases of individuals whose crimes are tangential to “protected human rights,” or whose cases have otherwise lacked due process. Some of the individuals’ “confessions were coerced through acts of torture” and their “executions would be illegal under international law.”

In the press release, Reprieve director Maya Foa stated that “if Mohammed Bin Salman is serious about reform, Saudi Arabia should release the young men sentenced to death for childhood crimes, and publish laws protecting vulnerable drug mules from execution.” ESOHR Legal Director James Suzano made a similar point, saying that “Saudi Arabia still has a lot of work to do if it hopes to fulfil its obligations under international law. It can start by publishing the 2020 royal decree and officially recognising its de facto moratorium on ta’zir executions, and continue that work by withdrawing the death penalty against anyone accused of a ta’zir offence.”

According to Reuters, the kingdom’s Center for International Communication (CIC) did not take such concerns seriously, only stating that the “Royal Order issued in March 2020 was put into effect immediately upon its issuance and was circulated to the relevant authorities for instant implementation.” The CIC also claimed that the 5 people currently sentenced to death would receive lesser penalties per the royal decree, although this claim has not been verified.

(source: jurist.org)

IRAN:

Baluch Sunni Clerics Transferred to Ministry of Intelligence Custody Still at Risk of Execution

Baluch Sunni clerics Molavi Amanollah Baluchi and Hafez Abdolrahim Kouhi who were transferred for execution 2 days ago, have been transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence’s custody in Zahedan. They remain at risk of execution.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, Molavi Amanollah Baluchi and Hafez Abdolrahim Kouhi who were transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions on January 18, were returned to their cells, but were transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence’s custody hours later.

An informed source told IHR: “The two prisoners are still at risk of execution.”

Molavi Amanollah Baluchi and Hafez Abdolrahim Kouhi were arrested in November 2015 and sentenced to death and ten years imprisonment on security charges by the Zahedan Revolutionary Court in September 2019. They were due to be executed tomorrow (21 January 2021).

At least 5 people have been executed in Zahedan Central Prison since the beginning of 2021. Over the last month, 14 Baluch prisoners have been executed in Zahedan Central Prison and Mashhad Central Prison, with at least 7 of them facing security and political charges.

(source: iranhr.net)

JANUARY 20, 2021:

TENNESSEE:

Pervis Payne death penalty case: DNA of unknown male discovered, lawyer says----With an execution date set for December, the Payne Family discusses Pervis and their hopes for overturning his sentence now hinging on new DNA evidence Memphis Commercial Appeal

The DNA of an unknown male was discovered in new analysis of evidence from the Pervis Payne death penalty case, an attorney said in court Tuesday.

“There is male DNA on the handle (of the knife) that is unidentified as of now," an attorney for Payne, Kelley Henry, told the judge. "Male DNA that is not Pervis Payne.”

The DNA sample is not complete enough to run through a national database, she said.

The reported presence of an unknown man's DNA in the crime scene evidence comes as attorneys for Payne work to spare him from execution, and could influence what happens next.

Henry said she had only received the report from an independent lab late Monday night. She said that in addition to the unknown male DNA on the handle, Payne's DNA was found on a different point on the knife. She said that's consistent with his testimony in court that he touched the knife after the crime.

An attorney for the prosecution, Steve Jones, said in court that he hadn't had a chance to discuss the full report, which is over 100 pages long, with an expert, but he said other evidence does not clear Payne. "It certainly does not exculpate Payne on guilt or punishment."

Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan said she read the report and agreed. “Nothing exonerated Pervis Payne. Nothing.”

She said she was dismissing the petition. Outside the courtroom, Henry told reporters the judge's statement that she was dismissing the petition confused her, since the defense was asking for DNA testing, not a new trial, and that the judge had already granted the request for testing, leading to the new report.

Henry said the defense would now use the DNA report to prepare a request for clemency to Gov. Bill Lee. She also said the defense would review other legal remedies.

The Commercial Appeal has not had a chance to review the written DNA report, and at the moment, it's unclear what impact it might ultimately have on the long-running death penalty case, which has attracted attention from groups including the NAACP and Church of God in Christ.

Payne was convicted in the 1987 stabbing deaths of Millington woman Charisse Christopher, 28, and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie.

Christopher's 3-year-old son, Nicholas, survived multiple stab wounds.

Judge Skahan ruled in September that DNA evidence could be tested for the first time in Payne's case, saying in her ruling that while it was likely that the state still would have prosecuted Payne regardless of any exculpatory DNA evidence, if a 3rd party's DNA were to appear across multiple items from the crime scene, "the more likely it would appear Mr. Payne did not commit those offenses."

The items tested included the knife used as the murder weapon, a tampon, bloodstained curtains, a pair of glasses and a bloodstained stuffed animal.

The evidence was tested at the Forensic Analytical Crime Laboratory, a private laboratory in California that conducts testing for both prosecution and defense.

Some of the most important items from the 1987 crime scene are no longer in custody, and exactly what has happened to them is not clear. Those items that have been lost or destroyed include fingernail clippings from Charisse Christopher that included two blood types under her nails, vaginal swabs from a rape kit and the victims' clothing.

Payne's attorneys have said that those missing items, particularly the fingernail scrapings, could have been most likely to prove Payne's innocence.

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office opposed the request for DNA testing, maintaining that regardless of what the DNA shows, the evidence to convict Payne of the crimes was overwhelming.

An officer saw him leaving the scene of the crime drenched in blood, and Payne admitted to being there. His baseball cap was found looped around the 2-year-old victim's arm, and his fingerprints were found on a beer can inside the apartment.

Payne, who has maintained his innocence for 33 years, said at trial that he discovered the gruesome crime scene after hearing calls for help through the open door of the apartment.

He said he bent down to try to help, getting blood on his clothes and pulling at the knife still lodged in Christopher's throat. When a white police officer arrived, Payne, who is Black, said he panicked and ran, fearing he would be seen as the prime suspect.

Payne's execution date was scheduled for Dec. 3, but Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee granted him a temporary reprieve due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reprieve lasts until April 9, 2021.

The reprieve also allows time for the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators to potentially pass legislation that would allow a defendant already sentenced to the death penalty and whose conviction is final to still bring a petition regarding a claim of intellectual disability.

Payne's attorneys have said he has an intellectual disability, but have been unable to litigate the claim in Tennessee due to procedural reasons.

(source: commercialappeal.com)

ALABAMA:

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama has overturned the death sentence imposed on Richard Flowers. The court ruled that Flowers had been provided deficient representation at trial, in the penalty phase, and in the sentencing hearing before the trial judge, but found that he had suffered prejudice only with respect to his sentence.

The court wrote: “Mr. Flowers was represented by a cascade of unprepared trial attorneys, with his second-chair counsel becoming the de facto lead counsel a mere 16 days after his appointment and 30 minutes prior to opening argument. Defense counsel failed to conduct any meaningful investigation––and no investigation of mitigating evidence––and failed to file routine pretrial motions until in the shadow of a jury.” Flowers sentencing judge had imposed the death penalty following a non-unanimous 10-2 jury recommendation of death.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

ARIZONA:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the Arizona district court’s denial of habeas relief for Murray Hooper, rejecting on technical grounds his claims that the prosecution had unconstitutionally withheld exculpatory evidence and relied on later overturned convictions to sentence him to death.

Hooper argued that prosecutors had withheld or delayed disclosure of multiple pieces of exculpatory evidence in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling Brady v. Maryland. The court denied the claim on the grounds that no clearly established federal law existed on whether Brady’s prohibition against withholding exculpatory evidence also applied to evidence that was withheld up until the trial itself. It also ruled that it could not overturn his death sentence based on the prosecution’s use of prior convictions that were subsequently overturned, saying that the constitutional prohibition against the use of such convictions had not been clearly established at the time Arizona’s courts decided his direct appeal.

Finally, the court ruled that Hooper had not been denied the effective assistance of penalty-phase counsel, despite the fact that his trial counsel had not presented any mitigating evidence in his sentencing hearing.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

USA:

Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?----In its last 6 months, the United States government has put 13 prisoners to death. Do you think capital punishment should end?

In July, the United States carried out its 1st federal execution in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than 3 times as many as the federal government had in the previous 6 decades.

The death penalty has been abolished in 22 states and 106 countries, yet it is still legal at the federal level in the United States. Does your state or country allow the death penalty?

Do you believe governments should be allowed to execute people who have been convicted of crimes? Is it ever justified, such as for the most heinous crimes? Or are you universally opposed to capital punishment?

In “‘Expedited Spree of Executions’ Faced Little Supreme Court Scrutiny,” Adam Liptak writes about the recent federal executions:

In 2015, a few months before he died, Justice Antonin Scalia said he would not be surprised if the Supreme Court did away with the death penalty.

These days, after President Trump’s appointment of 3 justices, liberal members of the court have lost all hope of abolishing capital punishment. In the face of an extraordinary run of federal executions over the past 6 months, they have been left to wonder whether the court is prepared to play any role in capital cases beyond hastening executions.

Until July, there had been no federal executions in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than 3 times as many as the federal government had put to death in the previous 6 decades.

The article goes on to explain that Justice Stephen G. Breyer issued a dissent on Friday as the Supreme Court cleared the way for the last execution of the Trump era, complaining that it had not sufficiently resolved legal questions that inmates had asked. The article continues:

If Justice Breyer sounded rueful, it was because he had just a few years ago held out hope that the court would reconsider the constitutionality of capital punishment. He had set out his arguments in a major dissent in 2015, one that must have been on Justice Scalia’s mind when he made his comments a few months later.

Justice Breyer wrote in that 46-page dissent that he considered it “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” which bars cruel and unusual punishments. He said that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was marred by racial discrimination.

Justice Breyer added that there was little reason to think that the death penalty deterred crime and that long delays between sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment. Most of the country did not use the death penalty, he said, and the United States was an international outlier in embracing it.

Justice Ginsburg, who died in September, had joined the dissent. The 2 other liberals — Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — were undoubtedly sympathetic.

And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who held the decisive vote in many closely divided cases until his retirement in 2018, had written the majority opinions in several 5-to-4 decisions that imposed limits on the death penalty, including ones barring the execution of juvenile offenders and people convicted of crimes other than murder.

In the July Opinion essay “The Death Penalty Can Ensure ‘Justice Is Being Done,’” Jeffrey A. Rosen, then acting deputy attorney general, makes a legal case for capital punishment:

The death penalty is a difficult issue for many Americans on moral, religious and policy grounds. But as a legal issue, it is straightforward. The United States Constitution expressly contemplates “capital” crimes, and Congress has authorized the death penalty for serious federal offenses since President George Washington signed the Crimes Act of 1790. The American people have repeatedly ratified that decision, including through the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 signed by President Bill Clinton, the federal execution of Timothy McVeigh under President George W. Bush and the decision by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber and Dylann Roof.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

•Do you support the use of capital punishment? Or do you think it should be abolished? Why?

•Do you think the death penalty serves a necessary purpose, like deterring crime, providing relief for victims’ families or imparting justice? Or is capital punishment “cruel and unusual” and therefore prohibited by the Constitution? Is it morally wrong?

•Are there alternatives to the death penalty that you think would be more appropriate? For example, is life in prison without the possibility of parole a sufficient sentence? Or is that still too harsh? What about restorative justice, an approach that “considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends”? What other ideas do you have?

•Vast racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty have been found. For example, Black people are overrepresented on death row, and a recent study found that “defendants convicted of killing white victims were executed at a rate 17 times greater than those convicted of killing Black victims.” Does this information change or reinforce your opinion of capital punishment? How so?

•The Federal Death Penalty Act prohibits the government from executing an inmate who is mentally disabled; however, in the recent executions of Corey Johnson, Alfred Bourgeois and Lisa Montgomery, their defense teams, families and others argued that they had intellectual disabilities. What role do you think disability or trauma history should play in how someone is punished, or rehabilitated, after committing a crime?

•How concerned should we be about wrongfully convicted people being executed? The Innocence Project has proved the innocence of 18 people on death row who were exonerated by DNA testing. Do you have worries about the fair application of the death penalty, or about the possibility of the criminal justice system executing an innocent person?

(source: New York Times)

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Capital Punishment: Killing To Stop Killing----Part 1: For starters: why do people obey laws?

This blog is the 1st in a series I’ll be writing about capital punishment in the US.

In the twilight of the Trump presidency, as the soon-to-be-former Chief Executive ponders issuing a slew of pardons, he also became the country’s Chief Executioner. By July, 2020, the federal government hadn’t executed anyone in 17 years; but in the last seven months, 13 convicted inmates have been put to death, which — as The New York Times reported on January 19 (one day before Joe Biden, an opponent of the death penalty, is to be inaugurated) — is more than 3 times the number that the US government has executed in the previous 6 decades.

As the conservative Supreme Court majority green-lighted the last of these executions on Friday, Jan. 15, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that “Over the past 6 months, this court has repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the government’s request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions.”

Before we look at why the government considers it not only lawful but desirable to kill some of its prisoners (aside from why the Trump Administration has been so eager to do so), let’s take a look at why most people obey laws at all.

Laws and other rules often – although not always – relate to bad behavior and what society can and should do about it, the publicly identified goal in most cases being to influence behavior by threatening people with consequences if they disobey, or otherwise act in some proscribed manner. Of course, there are many reasons why most people obey most laws. For example, you may simply be safer and better off as a result. Traffic laws often directly benefit the obedient: drivers in the United States are well-advised to stay to the right – especially on two-lane roads – because other drivers are likely to be doing the same thing and it can be lethally disadvantageous to be disobeying this particular law when encountering a law-abiding oncoming car. Similarly for stopping at a red light, since others, approaching the same intersection at a right angle, will be responding to their green. In such cases, legal threats are generally unnecessary. Obedience is promoted because of the obvious threat that failure to do so can result in an immediately bad outcome.

A second motivation for being law-abiding stems from the widespread feeling that laws and rules should be followed because they carry with them the force of moral obligation. People frequently do things because it is part of being a good and responsible person, although in such cases, there is often a behind-the-scenes threat that to behave otherwise is to label one’s self deviant, unethical, and possibly at risk of becoming a social outcast, or if nothing else evoking a painful personal sense of cognitive dissonance.[1]

Closely related is what Immanuel Kant labelled the categorical imperative, the realization by a rational person that one should “always act in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." For example, if you are undecided about whether to lie, cheat, or steal, and then ask yourself what society would be like if everyone did that, a rational individual will grasp the answer.

But even here, threats lurk. For one thing, even though Kantians prefer to emphasize the strictly rational and supposedly “imperative” aspect of Kant’s imperative, it requires not only sufficient cognition to recognize the negative outcome to society if it is not followed, but the negative outcome itself – which good Kantians yearn to avoid – is nothing but a threat, that a community of liars, cheaters, or thieves would become unmanageable and therefore unacceptable. For another, it assumes that people will follow Kant’s rule in part because to act counter to one’s rational recognition is to threaten one’s sense of being rational and considerate.

Finally, laws are also obeyed because (cynics would say nearly always because) of the threat of punishment if you get caught. Hence modern societies that differ in substantial ways are prone to have the equivalent of codified laws and rules, enforced by police, judges, jails, and prisons. These serve many functions: locking up offenders so they cannot repeat their crime, satisfying public desire that wrong-doers be punished, taking this process out of the hands of victimized individuals and their families, and especially, deterring additional offenses by the threat of apprehension and incarceration.

Threats are thus fundamental to law enforcement, with the expectation that the prospect of “condign” (suitable, appropriate) punishment will not only inhibit malefactors, but also deter would-be perpetrators by the educative effects of justice administered publicly to convicted offenders.

Whether it does so is another matter. Legally mandated punishments also raise the fraught question of providing equal justice under the law, as well as establishing reasonable laws, suitable punishments, and sometimes at least the appearance of mercy. By the end of the 18th century, English law was lacking in what we now see as suitable punishments, never mind mercy. It specified 220 different offenses—most of them involving theft of property—that were punishable by death. The expressed intent of the infamous Bloody Code was deterrence: “Men are not hanged for stealing horses,” wrote the Marquis of Halifax, “but that horses may not be stolen.”[i]

There we have it: Deterrence. But horses were stolen nevertheless, and people —poor people, pretty much exclusively — were hanged for stealing a quill pen or a bolt of cloth. Now, in the US, people (once again, almost exclusively poor people and members of minority groups) are executed for murder. But murders now, like stealing horses in the 18th century, happen nonetheless. And as we’ll see, executions don’t help.

David P. Barash is professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Threats: Intimidation and its Discontents (2020, Oxford University Press).

[1] A painful psychological phenomenon in which people find themselves confronting 2 incompatible self-concepts, as with the problem of reconciling belief that you are a good, law-abiding person with the fact that you have just broken a law.

References

[i] George Saville. 2009. The Complete Works of George Saville, First Marquess of Halifax. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

(source: David P. Barash Ph.D., Psychology Today)

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The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure

The notion that death sentences and executions provide closure to victims’ families is a myth, says Susan A. Bandes, Centennial Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at DePaul University law school. In a January 8 commentary in The Crime Report, Bandes, a pioneer in the study of emotion and the law, takes on and debunks the idea that executions bring victims’ family members closure.

Prosecutors, including former Attorney General Bill Barr, often offer the promise of closure as a justification for capital punishment as a policy and for carrying out particular executions. When the Department of Justice announced its intention to resume federal executions after a 17-year hiatus, Barr declared that “we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.” Yet, Bandes explains, earlier in his career, Barr had cited deterrence and retribution as his reasons for supporting the death penalty. “Barr’s shift mirrored a subtle but powerful change in the national conversation about capital punishment,” she says. “As the deterrence rationale proved hard to justify, and the retributive rationale began to sound too angry and vengeful, both have been replaced with a kinder, gentler-sounding justification: by carrying out executions we can honor the victims and help their families heal.”

Despite its popularity as a justification for the death penalty, closure has no basis in psychological research, Bandes says, and there is no evidence that executions provide relief to victims’ families. In fact, research has shown that families in states that do not have the death penalty are emotionally and physically healthier than victims in states that do and that victims’ families often feel re-victimized when an execution does not bring about the closure they had hoped for.

“The most telling finding is that a number of family members feel relieved simply because they are finally free of the legal system,” Bandes writes. “As Matthew Shepherd’s parents and the Richard family (victims of the Boston Marathon bombing) understood, much of the pain comes from the capital system itself—lengthy, heart wrenching legal proceedings in which the family would be called to testify and the defendant would remain at center stage for years.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

THAILAND:

Banyin gets death sentence for murder of Chuwong

Former commerce minister Banyin Tangpakorn has been sentenced to death for the premeditated murder of construction tycoon Chuwong Sae Tang that he tried to pass off as a car accident 6 years ago.

The Phra Khanong Criminal Court on Wednesday handed down the maximum penalty for the 56-year-old former Nakhon Sawan MP.

Workers in the entertainment business have submitted petitions to the governors of Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces calling for the relaxation of measures to stem the Covid-19 outbreak, saying their livelihood is being destroyed.

The court said the death sentence was warranted as Banyin, a former senior police officer, had never confessed to the murder, although all evidence showed the victim was slain.

On June 26, 2015 Chuwong, 50, was found dead in the passenger seat of a black Lexus SUV driven by Banyin after the vehicle hit a roadside tree in Suan Luang district of Bangkok.

Banyin was only slightly injured. He told police that his close friend died because he did not buckle up his safety belt.

The court said the evidence showed the accident was staged, an attempt to cover-up a murder.

The ruling was delivered to the defendant via video conference. He is serving a life sentence in high-security Bang Kwang Central Prison for conspiring in the murder 5 years ago of Wirachai Sakuntaprasoet, the brother of a judge handling his case.

He is also serving time over the fraudulent transfer of shares after the death of Chuwong, a construction billionaire.

Banyin continued to clam in court that Chuwong died in a car accident after the two men had been playing golf together. Investigators were not convinced as the car was travelling only about 30kph, damage was minor and an autopsy revealed causes of death unrelated to the crash.

Police tracked Chuwong’s financial affairs and found he had apparently transferred shares worth 38 million baht to an employee at a stock broking firm who was close to Banyin.

Another 228 million baht worth of shares was transferred to a caddie at a golf course.

Evidence was the shares were transferred using forged documents, afraud orchestrated by Banyin.

(source: Bangkok Post)

IRAN----execution

Baluch Prisoner Anwar Ali-Zehi Executed in Zahedan

A prisoner who had been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges, has been executed at Zahedan Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed in the early hours of Tuesday, January 19, in Zahedan Central Prison. The idenitity of the prisoner has been established as Anwar Ali-Zehi, who was sentenced to death or drug-related charges.

According to an informed source of the Baluch Activists Campaign, “Anwar was forced to transfer drugs due to being unable to find a suitable job and poor living conditions and did not even have a criminal record prior to his arrest,”

Anwar was arrested 2 years ago and had been kept behind bars during that time.

At the time of writing, the execution of Anwar Ali-Zehi has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

There has been a dramatic drop in drug-related executions since a new article was added to the Anti-Drugs Law around 3 years ago. The amendment, which was passed into law in 2017, specifically restricts the death penalty and provides a degree of reduction in some drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report on the death penalty in Iran, at least 30 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2019.

(source: iranhr.net)

JANUARY 19, 2021:

VIRGINIA:

Legislation to abolish death penalty advances in Virginia Senate

Legislation to abolish the death penalty in Virginia cleared its 1st legislative hurdle Monday, passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 10-4 vote, with 9 Democrats and 1 Republican supporting the measure.

Supporters of the bill, which include Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration and an array of faith leaders, argued the death penalty has been disproportionately used against Black defendants and noted the sentence has repeatedly been handed down in cases where defendants were subsequently exonerated.

“Historically the use of capital punishment has been inequitable,” Northam’s chief counsel, Rita Davis, said, citing data that shows prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty in cases where the defendant is Black and the victim is White. “If you do go down this road, at least put a provision that law enforcement aren’t out there alone,” said former Republican state Sen. Bill Carrico, a retired state trooper, calling for a death sentence to remain an option for people convicted of killing police officers.

However, family members of fallen officers were not unanimous in their opposition. Rachel Sutphin, the daughter of a Montgomery County sheriff’s corporal killed by William Morva, called the death penalty “an ineffective and outdated measure that brings no solace to family members.” Morva was executed in 2017, the last execution carried out by the state.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate’s Finance Committee to make it to the chamber’s floor for a full vote, but Monday’s vote suggests the measure has significantly more support than last year, when it failed to make it out of committee in either the House or the Senate. The only Republican to support the bill, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, did not speak on the measure.

There are currently 2 men on death row in Virginia. Their executions have not yet been scheduled.

(source: Virginia Mercury)

IOWA:

Family of slain sisters speak out as death penalty reinstatement pondered

Our daughter, Christy, grew up in Clinton and is now a professor of education at Coe College. She wrote the following statement to the Iowa Senate subcommittee considering, once again, an awful bill to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa.

She gave me permission to forward her statement, which reads:

“My sisters Suzy and Sarah Wolfe were murdered in Pittsburgh 7 years ago. After an investigation and arrest, the jury trial loomed. This required some hard discussions by our family, as the defendant was charged with capital murder and faced the death penalty.

“Having been raised to value human life, we thought of ourselves as against the death penalty. We knew that the murderer of my sisters would have a chance to argue against a sentence of death. We also knew that our opinion – the opinion of the family left behind to mourn their loved ones – would be sought by the prosecuting attorney’s office as part of the process.

“My parents, my remaining five siblings and I, as well as our own spouses and children, had to turn a hypothetical into a real-world question: would we want to see the person who murdered two people we loved so dearly killed by the government for his acts? We knew his death would not resurrect my sisters. We knew his death would not “fill a hole” left by the loss of my sisters. All we knew for sure is that his death would be justified as the “cost” of killing my sisters, a cost that ultimately we would not support.

“We know the problems with capital punishment: the innate racial discrimination in our criminal system and particularly in the sentencing of the death penalty, the unholy financial cost to taxpayers to house the convicted until his death, the endless appeals we would endure in the name of “justice” for our sisters. And for all those reasons, we do not support the death penalty. But when faced with our unique situation – should the murderer who killed my sisters die for his crime? – we still said no. We refused to tarnish our sisters’ legacy of love and hope and care by supporting the State in killing the man who murdered them. We were relieved when the jurors sentenced him to life in prison. We were grateful we would not endure more headlines about appeals, more challenges to the original case and evidence, more graphic press about what my sisters endured.

“Please do not assume that all victims’ families would welcome death by the State in the name of their loved one. To each family, a murder is the worst thing that could ever happen. But it should not be up to the legislators to decide that some acts are worth a punishment that has been abandoned by almost every civilized nation on earth. Please leave the decision on punishment to the judges, attorneys, and juries of Iowa. Many families do not want to see more death, especially in the name of those we loved.”

Pierrette Wolfe, Clinton

(source: Opinion; Clinton Herald)

NEBRASKA:

Death penalty hearing in Boswell case set for June

A 3-judge panel will decide if a convicted murderer will get the death penalty this summer.

Saline County District Court Records said the aggravation and mitigation hearing for Bailey Boswell, 26, is scheduled to start on June 28 and run through July 2.

Boswell was convicted last October of 1st-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and improper disposal of human skeletal remains in the death of Sydney Loofe, 24.

Records said Presiding Judge Vicki Johnson will serve on the panel, along with District Judges Darla Ideus and Peter Bataillon.

(source: nebraska.tv)

USA:

'This is Not Justice'—Federal Execution Spree Ends with Planned Execution of African-American on Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday

An historically aberrant 6-month federal execution spree came to a close after midnight on January 16, 2021 when an African-American man who was scheduled to die on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was put to death by private executioners hired in a secret no-bid contract.

Dustin John Higgs, who did not kill anyone and professed his innocence prior to his execution, was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m. The execution moved forward after 6 justices of the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a stay of execution that would have provided a federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia time to consider issues regarding the legality of Higgs’ execution date. It was the 17th stay of execution lifted by federal appeals courts during the execution spree. A day earlier, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. had lifted an injunction prohibiting Higgs’ execution while he remained infected with COVID-19. “This is not justice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a blistering dissent from the majority’s unsigned order.

The execution was the 13th conducted by the federal government over a 186-day period in which no state in the Union executed a single prisoner. The execution spree was unequaled in its size and duration, surpassing the 12 consecutive executions carried out over a span of 91 days by Texas between January 10 and April 11, 2007. It marked the most consecutive civilian executions by any state or the U.S. government in the 244-year history of the United States. No single government had been the sole active executioner in the U.S. over such a long period of time since executions resumed in the 1970s.

The children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against the offensiveness of executing a Black man on the legendary civil rights leader’s birthday. In a Washington Post op-ed on January 14, King’s oldest son, Martin Luther King III, wrote: “In 1957, my father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was asked whether God approves of the death penalty for certain crimes. He responded, ‘I do not think that God approves the death penalty for any crime.’ He explained that ‘capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.’

“My father also recognized ‘the severity and inequality’ of the death penalty. He spoke out against the disproportionate execution of young Black men, often barely older than children at the time of their crimes, whose punishments were surely influenced by their skin color.

“Decades later, President Trump and his Justice Department, in their unprecedented barrage of executions, have disregarded all of the principles of humanity, decency and justice that my father preached.”

Noting that the executions of two more Black men remained scheduled, including one on his father’s birthday, King III said, “Nothing could dishonor his legacy more profoundly than if these executions go forward.”

On Rev. King’s birthday, his daughter, Bernice King posted several tweets opposing Higgs’ execution. “The Federal Government plans to execute #DustinHiggs today, for a crime someone else confessed to committing,” she wrote. Attaching a Baltimore Sun editorial, Putting Dustin Higgs to death would not be justice, she asked “PLEASE RT this today, my father, #MLK’s, birthday.”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor each authored opinions dissenting from the majority’s decision to lifting the stay of Higgs’ execution. Justice Elena Kagan separately noted that she would have voted to leave the stay in place. Breyer noted that the majority had sided with the federal government on every appeal and every request to vacate stays of execution over the course of the execution spree. Justice Sotomayor wrote, “After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully. When it did not, this Court should have. It has not.”

Advocates for women’s rights, victims’ rights, tribal sovereignty, and individuals with mental illness or intellectual disability also found the execution spree offensive.

On January 13, 2021, the Department of Justice executed Lisa Montgomery, who had been the victim of sexual violence and domestic abuse so relentless it left her riven with mentally illness. DOJ officials announced her execution date on October 16, 2020, during the middle of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The DOJ executed Daniel Lewis Lee on July 14, 2020, after falsely claiming that it had selected his case to do justice for the victims’ families and because the case involved the death of a child. Lee and co-defendant Chevie Kehoe were convicted in 1999 of killing Nancy Mueller, her husband William Mueller, and her 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell. However, the evidence indicated that Kehoe, who received a life sentence, had killed the child after Lee refused to do so, and the victims’ family members opposed Lee’s capital prosecution and execution.

Over the objection of the Navajo nation and Native American leaders across the country, the federal government executed Navajo citizen Lezmond Mitchell on August 26, the sole Native-American prisoner on federal death row. Mitchell became the 1st Native American in U.S. history to be executed by the federal government for a crime committed against a member of his own tribe on tribal lands.

The government executed Alfred Bourgeois on December 12 and Corey Johnson on January 14, despite evidence that the men were ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. The federal government fought efforts to permit courts to conduct clinically appropriate reviews of their claims and both were executed without a hearing.

The execution spree was characterized by numerous deviations from modern American norms and practices. It included:

•The 1st execution of a woman by the federal government in 67 years;

•The execution of 2 prisoners accused of murders committed in their teens, the 2 youngest offenders executed by the federal government in 68 years;

•The 1st time in U.S. history the federal government executed a Native American for an offense committed against fellow tribe members on tribal lands;

•The most federal civilian executions in a single year since 1896, at a time states were carrying out the fewest executions in 37 years;

•The most executions during a presidential transition period in the history of the United States;

•Scheduling executions during the middle of the worst pandemic in more than a century and flouting public health safeguards as they were being carried out;

•Executions carried out while appeals remained pending or despite court rulings that the execution protocol and process were unlawful or unconstitutional; •Executions of 2 intellectually disabled prisoners, despite no judicial consideration of their cases using clinically appropriate standards of review;

•Executions of 2 mentally ill prisoners without any judicial review of their competency to be executed;

•Post-midnight executions of 4 prisoners after their execution dates had passed, pursuant to new executions notices of questionable legal and constitutional validity;

•Leaving 1 prisoner strapped to the gurney for 4 hours while federal prosecutors filed pleadings to vacate his stay of execution; •Executing 2 prisoners who had contracted COVID-19.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

AFGHANISTAN:

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

sored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”

(source: Arab News)

JANUARY 18, 2021:

USA:

Biden campaigned on eliminating death penalty — we could soon see how that turns out

Lisa Montgomery, 52, who was executed early Wednesday, was the 1st woman to be put to death by the federal government since 1953.

In 1994, Sen. Joe Biden sponsored a far-reaching crime bill that lengthened federal sentences and expanded the federal death penalty to cover about 60 crimes. In 2020, Biden ran for president on a platform that advocated eliminating the federal death penalty and giving states incentives, presumably federal funding, to abolish their capital punishment laws.

That would be a change in U.S. policy, not just from the current administration but from its predecessors of both parties — the Democratic Party platform endorsed the death penalty as recently as 2012 before calling for abolition in 2016. The next few weeks could show whether, and how, Biden plans to carry out his campaign promise.

As Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a longtime death penalty opponent in California, prepare to take office Wednesday, the Trump administration is on an unprecedented spree of executions, putting 13 prisoners to death by lethal injection since July.

The executions were the first carried out by the federal government since 2003. Lisa Montgomery, put to death early Wednesday morning for strangling a pregnant Missouri woman in 2004, was the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953.

Gov. Newsom to order halt to California’s death penalty

Congressional Democrats are introducing legislation to abolish the federal death penalty — cosponsors include Harris, as a senator — but passage would require some bipartisan support, which seems unlikely in the current climate. Biden, however, could act on his own to halt federal death penalty prosecutions — and, more dramatically, to commute the remaining 50 federal death sentences, reducing them to life in prison.

“It would show he’s good on his word,” said David Dozier, a retired professor of journalism and media studies at San Diego State University who has written extensively on the death penalty. “No president has done it, but never has there been such acceptance among Americans that life without the possibility of parole is preferable to the death penalty.”

A Gallup Poll in October 2019 found that, when asked which sentence they would prefer for murder, 60% favored life without parole, compared with 36% for a death sentence, the first such majority the poll had ever reported.

“The United States stands alone among its peers in executing its own citizens. ... We urge you to prioritize justice on Day 1 of your administration and end the use of the death penalty,” 45 Democratic House members said in a letter to Biden calling for sentence commutations and a halt to capital prosecutions.

But Kent Scheidegger, a death penalty supporter, said as long as the federal death penalty law exists, Biden must “take seriously his constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed and continue to enforce it.”

Or “he could misuse the clemency power and commute all the cases,” said Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and an author of California Proposition 66, which was approved by voters in 2016 and aims to limit death penalty appeals and speed up executions.

On the other hand, no law requires prosecutors to seek a death sentence in any case, noted Nancy Haydt, executive director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco nonprofit that opposes capital punishment.

The recent stream of executions has taken place without significant objections from the courts, particularly the Supreme Court.

Montgomery’s crime was gruesome — she strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett, 8 months pregnant, from behind, then cut the unborn child from the victim’s womb and took it to her home in Kansas, where she was arrested the next day.

But her background was equally gruesome — born with brain damage from her mother’s drinking, repeatedly raped by her stepfather, who slammed her head into the floor, and trafficked by her mother to other rapists, according to her lawyers.

After assessments by mental health professionals that Montgomery was delusional and unable to understand whether or why she was about to be executed, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hanlon of Indiana, a Trump appointee, stayed her execution late Monday and said she was entitled to a hearing on her mental competence.

His ruling was quickly overturned by a federal appeals court — a panel of three Republican appointees — which said the mental health assessments lacked authority because the doctors had not seen Montgomery since 2016, the last time they were allowed to visit her. The Supreme Court denied review in a brief order without stating any reasons, and likewise offered no explanations for lifting other courts’ stays of Montgomery’s execution.

The last 2 to be put to death, Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs, both convicted of multiple murders, had contracted COVID-19 in an outbreak at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., during the months of executions.

A federal judge granted stays to both men, saying medical testimony showed they would probably suffer torture comparable to waterboarding from the impact of the lethal drug on their virus-scarred lungs. But an appeals court dismissed the assessment as mere speculation, and the Supreme Court denied review in both cases without comment.

The Supreme Court “has simply become a rubber stamp on the death penalty,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered an equally critical assessment in a dissenting opinion in Higgs’ case late Friday. “Over the past 6 months, this Court has repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the Government’s request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions,” she said. “The Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully. When it did not, this Court should have.”

The courts’ deference to death sentences and execution orders leaves the fate of the nation’s death rows largely in the hands of the executive branch, at the federal and state level. Though their commutation powers are limited by law in some states, including California, governors, like the president, have unique authority to overrule judges’ and juries’ capital verdicts.

Commuting death sentences would not be unprecedented. Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted the state’s 167 death sentences to life in prison in his final days in office in January 2003. Governors in several other states have taken similar actions shortly before leaving office.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in California after taking office in 2019 and shut down the execution chamber at San Quentin. But he has not sought to commute the sentences of the state’s 708 condemned prisoners — and if he did, state law would require a majority of the state Supreme Court to approve commutation for any inmate who had at least 2 previous felony convictions.

Prosecutors in many counties are still filing capital charges, and executions could resume under the next governor unless state voters repealed the death penalty, which they declined to do in 2012 and 2016. California’s last execution was in January 2006.

Biden would risk a backlash if he commuted all federal death sentences, said Jon Gould, an Arizona State University law professor and director of its School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“He would have to believe the issue really important or wait until much later in his term, when he had accomplished much of what he set out to do and then commute the sentences on the knowledge that he wouldn’t be running again,” Gould said.

But the incoming president has other options, said Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center.

“It comes down to the difference between pragmatism and idealism,” he said. Practically speaking, with no more executions imminent, Biden could postpone action, perhaps appoint a commission to study the issue, and take action, if any, later in his term.

But right now, “the iron is certainly hot,” with the unprecedented flurry of executions by an outgoing president, Dunham said. If commutation “happens quickly as part of an effort to undo the universe of wrongs committed by the Trump administration, objections to it would appear much more partisan.”

(source: Bob Egelko; San Francisco Chronicle)

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

‘Expedited Spree of Executions’ Faced Little Supreme Court Scrutiny----In its last 6 months, the Trump administration put more than 3 times as many prisoners to death as the federal government had in the previous 6 decades.

In 2015, a few months before he died, Justice Antonin Scalia said he would not be surprised if the Supreme Court did away with the death penalty.

These days, after President Trump’s appointment of three justices, liberal members of the court have lost all hope of abolishing capital punishment. In the face of an extraordinary run of federal executions over the past six months, they have been left to wonder whether the court is prepared to play any role in capital cases beyond hastening executions.

Until July, there had been no federal executions in 17 years. Since then, the Trump administration has executed 13 inmates, more than 3 times as many as the federal government had put to death in the previous 6 decades.

In a dissent issued late Friday, as the court cleared the way for the last execution of the Trump era, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took stock of what the nation had learned about the Supreme Court’s attitude toward the death penalty.

“Over the past 6 months, this court has repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the government’s request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions,” she wrote.

“Throughout this expedited spree of executions, this court has consistently rejected inmates’ credible claims for relief,” Justice Sotomayor continued. “The court made these weighty decisions in response to emergency applications, with little opportunity for proper briefing and consideration, often in just a few short days or even hours.”

Reviving the federal death penalty after a long hiatus gave rise to substantial and novel legal questions, and at first it seemed the Supreme Court would address them in a considered way. In late 2019, for instance, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still alive, the court turned down a request from the Trump administration to allow four executions to proceed before an appeals court could weigh in on whether a new execution protocol was lawful.

But the court eventually allowed those executions to go forward. It would do the same for the others.

“Very few of these decisions offered any public explanation for their rationale,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully. When it did not, this court should have. It has not.”

In his own dissent on Friday, Justice Stephen G. Breyer listed a half-dozen legal questions that federal inmates had asked the Supreme Court to resolve in recent months, only to be met by terse rulings ordering their executions to proceed.

“None of these legal questions is frivolous,” Justice Breyer wrote. “What are courts to do when faced with legal questions of this kind? Are they simply to ignore them? Or are they, as in this case, to ‘hurry up, hurry up’? That is no solution.”

Members of the court’s conservative majority have expressed frustration with last-minute stay requests, saying they amount to litigation gamesmanship. “The proper response to this maneuvering is to deny meritless requests expeditiously,” Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, wrote in a concurring opinion in a case from Alabama in 2019.

There may have been another reason for moving quickly in the federal cases: Had the court issued even brief stays, there was good reason to think the Biden administration would have halted the executions.

Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, said the court would pay a price for its failure to address the inmates’ claims. “From a historical perspective,” he said, “the most significant damage caused by the court’s recent performance in death penalty cases may be to its own institutional standing.”

If Justice Breyer sounded rueful, it was because he had just a few years ago held out hope that the court would reconsider the constitutionality of capital punishment. He had set out his arguments in a major dissent in 2015, one that must have been on Justice Scalia’s mind when he made his comments a few months later.

Justice Breyer wrote in that 46-page dissent that he considered it “highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” which bars cruel and unusual punishments. He said that death row exonerations were frequent, that death sentences were imposed arbitrarily and that the capital justice system was marred by racial discrimination.

Justice Breyer added that there was little reason to think that the death penalty deterred crime and that long delays between sentences and executions might themselves violate the Eighth Amendment. Most of the country did not use the death penalty, he said, and the United States was an international outlier in embracing it.

Justice Ginsburg, who died in September, had joined the dissent. The 2 other liberals — Justices Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — were undoubtedly sympathetic.

And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who held the decisive vote in many closely divided cases until his retirement in 2018, had written the majority opinions in several 5-to-4 decisions that imposed limits on the death penalty, including ones barring the execution of juvenile offenders and people convicted of crimes other than murder.

Justice Kennedy’s departure put an end to liberal hopes for judicial abolition of the death penalty at the federal level, which was always a long shot.

On Friday, Justice Breyer made a more modest plea.

“Given the finality and severity of a death sentence, it is particularly important that judges consider and resolve challenges to an inmate’s conviction and sentence,” he wrote. “How just is a legal system that would execute an individual without consideration of a novel or significant legal question that he has raised?”

(source: New York Times)

SAUDI ARABIA:

Saudis vowed to stop executing minors; some death sentences remain, rights groups say

5 people who committed crimes in Saudi Arabia as minors have yet to have their death sentences revoked, according to 2 rights groups, 9 months after the kingdom's Human Rights Commission (HRC) announced an end to capital punishment for juvenile offenders.

The state-backed HRC in April cited a March royal decree by King Salman stipulating that individuals sentenced to death for crimes committed while minors will no longer face execution and would instead serve prison terms of up to 10 years in juvenile detention centers.

The statement did not specify a timeline, but in October, in response to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), it said the decree had come into force immediately upon announcement.

The decree was never carried on state media nor published in the official gazette as would be normal practice.

In December, state news agency SPA published a list of prominent "events" of 2020 featuring several royal decrees, but the death penalty order was not included.

Organisations including anti-death penalty group Reprieve, HRW and the European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) as well as a group of U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns that loopholes in Saudi law could still allow judges to impose the death sentence on juvenile offenders.

1 of the 5 has appealed and 8 face charges that could result in execution, said the groups, who follow the cases closely.

Reuters established the status of 3 of the 5 individuals through HRC statements but could not independently verify the other 2.

The government's Center for International Communications (CIC) dismissed the concerns, telling Reuters that the royal decree would be applied retroactively to all cases where an individual was sentenced to death for offenses committed under the age of 18.

"The Royal Order issued in March 2020 was put into effect immediately upon its issuance and was circulated to the relevant authorities for instant implementation," the CIC said in an emailed statement.

The HRC declined to comment.

ALL EYES ON RIYADH

Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record came under global scrutiny after the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, is one of the world's top executioners after Iran and China, rights groups say.

Its de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known internationally as MbS, enjoyed strong support from U.S. President Donald Trump.

But President-elect Joe Biden, who takes over in the White House later this week, has described the kingdom as a "pariah" for its rights record and said he would take a tougher line.

Six U.S. senators wrote to the Saudi embassy in the United States in October urging the kingdom to review all ongoing death penalty cases to identify individuals convicted for crimes committed when they were children, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

One of the signatories, Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, told Reuters in December that if the kingdom were to follow through on the execution of juvenile offenders, "it would make it even harder for Saudi Arabia to return to the kind of relationships that it wants with the United States."

He added that Biden would be looking at the kingdom's human rights policies "very differently to Trump".

Biden officials declined to comment for this article, but referred Reuters to an earlier statement saying the new administration would reassess U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia.

DISPUTED FIGURES

Ali al-Nimr and Dawood al-Marhoun were 17 when they were detained in 2012 on charges related to participating in widespread protests in the Shi'ite-majority Eastern Province. Abdullah al-Zaher was 15 when he was arrested.

The three, who are among the five juvenile offenders whose death penalties have yet to be revoked, were sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court and faced beheading, although the public prosecutor ordered a review of their sentences in August.

The CIC said the royal decree would be applied to their cases.

Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2018, after assuming his post in a palace coup that ousted the previous crown prince, MbS pledged to minimise the use of the death penalty as part of sweeping social reforms.

But in 2019, a record number of about 185 people were executed, according to the rights groups.

Reuters could not independently confirm the figures. The CIC did not comment when asked whether this figure was accurate.

TEST CASE?

In an article published last April, state-linked newspaper Okaz confirmed the existence of the royal decree, but said that the abolishment only applied to a lesser category of offence under Islamic law known as "ta'zeer".

These crimes are not clearly defined in the Koran or accompanying Hadiths and so punishments are left to judges' discretion, and can amount to death.

Saudi Arabia has no civil penal code that sets out sentencing rules, and no system of judicial precedent that would make the outcome of cases more predictable based on past practice.

Judges could still sentence child offenders to death under the other two categories, according to Saudi Arabia's interpretation of sharia: "houdoud", or serious crimes which carry a prescribed punishment, including terrorism, and "qisas", or retribution, usually for murder, two lawyers and the rights groups said.

Asked why the royal decree was never published and whether it only applies to the "ta'zeer" category of offense, the CIC declined to comment.

Some defendants in protest cases have been prosecuted on terror charges.

In a case watched closely by the rights groups, 18-year-old Mohammad al-Faraj was facing the death penalty even though he was 15 at the time of his arrest in 2017 for charges including participating in protests and attending related funerals, one when he was aged 9.

Ahead of his next hearing scheduled for Jan. 18, a source close to one of the defendants in Faraj's case said the demand for a "houdoud" death sentence had recently been withdrawn and prosecutors were instead seeking the harshest punishment under "ta'zeer".

The CIC said the royal decree would apply retroactively to Faraj's case. ESOHR expressed concern that without a published decree, the risk of capital punishment cannot be ruled out.

ESOHR said Faraj was only granted a state-appointed lawyer in October, was not brought to court and was tortured in detention, allegations the CIC denied.

Since the start of the pandemic, Faraj has been allowed one weekly 15-minute call to his parents, with in-person visits cancelled, a source close to the family said.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm the specifics of his case.

(source: Reuters)

IRAN:

Imminent Execution Recalls Attention to Failure of Pressure for Navid Afkari, Others

It was reported last week that the Iranian judiciary was moving quickly to execute a wrestler by the name of Mehdi Ali-Hosseini, approximately 5 years after he was first arrested on a charge of murder.

His trial alleged that the killing was premeditated even though it reportedly occurred as part of a spontaneous brawl. In this sense, the prosecution appears to have misrepresented the case in order to more safely guarantee a capital sentence. This is evidently a common practice in the Islamic Republic, which consistently maintains the world’s highest rate of executions per capita.

That record persists even though the country has been given some credit in recent years for a decline in the absolute number of executions. This can be partly attributed to a change in sentencing laws which allows judges to consider an alternative to the death penalty in cases of non-violent drug trafficking, which traditionally comprised the majority of all executions.

However, since going into effect less than 2 years ago, the new sentencing law has been selectively applied and has arguably fueled the expansion of existing disparities in the number of capital sentences executed for religious and ethnic minorities, as opposed to Persian Sunnis.

Meanwhile, selectiveness in another area of Iranian jurisprudence seems to account for some portion of recent years’ decline in the actual implementation of death sentences. In cases like Ali-Hosseini’s, where there is an identifiable victim other than the state, that victim’s family has the opportunity to “forgive” the accused and vacate the death sentence, usually in exchange for a payment of “blood money.”

It has previously been reported that this forgiveness has grown more prevalent, although it is not clear whether this is the result of a cultural shift or rising levels of poverty which make blood money more valuable to some families than the perception of justice.

In any event, Ali-Hosseini’s life presently depends upon the willingness of his victim’s family to apply the principle known as “Qisas” and direct the judiciary to spare him from his scheduled hanging.

That schedule has actually been pushed back for the express purpose of giving the defendant an opportunity to seek this form of pardon. Initially, it was announced on January 9 that he would be executed the next day, but Ali-Hosseini was then given an additional week to appeal to his victim’s family.

In the meantime, however, activists from throughout the world are appealing to the Iranian judiciary on his behalf. There does not appear to be any claim that Ali-Hosseini is innocent of the crime he’s been accused of, or that he was tortured into providing a false confession.

However, these are familiar features of other high-profile cases in the Islamic Republic, one of which has come to be associated with Ali-Hosseini’s case by virtue of the fact that both men were competitive wrestlers and received support from the Iranian athletic community after being sentenced to death.

The previous case, that of Navid Afkari, garnered extensive attention from the international community because of credible allegations that authorities had tortured not only the defendant himself but also his brothers, in order to secure confessions and incriminating statements regarding a murder that it was later shown Afkari could not have committed.

The exculpatory evidence was never considered, and Afkari’s execution moved forward last September while many of his advocates condemned the Iranian regime for what appeared to be a politically motivated hanging.

The previous year, Afkari had taken part in protests during a period of nationwide, anti-government unrest. It is widely believed that he was arrested on that basis and that the murder charge was levied against him after the fact when authorities determined they could place him in the general vicinity of the place where a security guard was killed.

#IranProtests2020

Death-row #politicalprisoner #NavidAfkari from #Shiraz prison:

"I wrote a letter to judicial officials & said I'm not a murderer. The forensic report, eyewitness testimonies, & evidence proved I was tortured. But, they're looking for a neck to fit their noose" pic.twitter.com/9w8QVUH9sc — IranNewsUpdate (@IranNewsUpdate1) August 31, 2020

However, as the later details of his torture and televised false confessions suggested, the real purpose of this charge was to justify the execution of a celebrated, high-profile athlete whose death would likely be recognized as a warning to ordinary citizens throughout the country.

Although few details of Afkari’s case have been replicated in Ali-Hosseini’s, critics of Iran’s execution record are largely convinced that the forthcoming hanging is also intended in large part to intimidate the public.

This sentiment was expressed, for instance, by Ellie Cohanim, an Iranian-born official in the U.S. State Department official who fled with her family at the time of the 1979 revolution.

“The Iranian regime must be held to account for their vile human rights abuses and their attempt to cling to power through execution,” Cohanim told Fox News early this week before criticizing European allies for a comparatively soft approach to Iranian affairs.

While the European Union publicly took an interest in the case of Navid Afkari, neither it nor the United Nations have sanctioned the Islamic Republic for moving forward with the killing in the face of widespread international condemnation.

Sporting organizations like the International Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling have similarly refused to follow through with any concrete measures recommended by activists as punishment for Iran’s use of champion athletes as a tool of public intimidation.

This is presumably part of the reason why international attention was so quick to focus on the Ali-Hosseini case after his execution was reported to be imminent. Although the circumstances of his case are very different from Afkari’s, it arguably represents a 2nd chance for Western governments and international organizations to exert pressure on the Iranian regime over a range of underlying issues.

Criticisms from the U.S. State Department may be comparatively ineffectual in the case since the U.S. also ranks high among all nations for the use of capital punishment. But officials like Cohanim certainly have grounds to urge the nations of Europe toward more concerted action, given that they have by and large outlawed the death penalty and levied severe criticisms against those who abuse it.

In the first 2 weeks of 2021, the Islamic Republic has already carried out at least 13 executions, and Ali-Hosseini is just one of many for whom capital punishment may be implemented at any moment.

(source: irannewsupdate.com)

PAKISTAN:

LeJ hitman awarded death sentence by ATC----The killer of renowned Qawwal Amjad Sabri awarded another third death sentence by ATC

An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Sunday gave the death penalty to a hitman associated with the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for the secraterian killing of three people in an attack on a shrine.

Mohammad Ishaq, alias Bobby, was found guilty by the judge of ATC-XVI of having killed Syed Zakir Hussain, Muhammad Nawaz, and Muhammad Younus in firing at Dargah Nazar Ali Shah in Korangi on August 23, 2014.

Ishaq was also ordered to pay Rs200,000 blood money to the next of kin of each of the victims, as well as to pay the same amount to the state.

Furthermore, the judge also awarded 10-year imprisonment to the convict and imposed a fine of Rs50,000 for causing terrorism.

The judge said that the severity of the punishment was intended to act against a deterrent against those that engaged in such acts of hatred and disregard for human life.

According to the prosecution, 2 young boys had visited the shrine and inquired about the shrine’s caretaker from an employee on the day of the incident. Both the men turned up after 10 minutes and opened fire, killing the 3 people and escaped.

Ishaq and his accomplice Asim alias Capri face multiple trials in anti-terrorism courts. They have also been convicted by a military court for the murders of Military Police personnel and the murder of renowned Qawwal Amjad Sabri.

This was the 3rd capital punishment award to him within a month.

(source: pakistantoday.com)

SOUTHEAST ASIA:

Paved with good intentions is the road to the gallows

Alcohol, like tobacco, can lead to heavy addiction and serious health consequences. We all know that. But consumption of neither would send anyone to the gallows, nor would it subject them to forms of torture and other inhumane and degrading treatments, such as caning.

Every year, hundreds or thousands of people who have been convicted of drug offences are caned in prison. Many others are executed. In 2019, for example, the death penalty was imposed on 13 people in Singapore, all for drug trafficking. One was found with as little as 16 grams of drugs.

The suffering of convicted people is widely seen as a necessary evil in society; however, no data has ever shown that deterrence based on the dread of torture or execution has worked when it comes to drug consumption and trafficking.

United Nations data does show that 13% of people who use drugs have problematic use. Turn that around: 87% of people who use drugs do not. That is, 87% are not a danger to themselves or others and will remain productive members of society as long as they are not caught by police because of their consumption.

Recently, I discussed these matters in an online event with a Singapore-based journalist. I recalled that throughout history, women and men have used psychoactive substances for a range of reasons, and in more modern times have done so regardless of the legal risks.

In the world today, about 1/2 of all people in prison are behind bars for a drug offence. Let’s think about it for a minute. If the harsh laws are meant to deter use, they have clearly failed – drugs continue to be produced, smuggled, and consumed. Around the world, drug laws are among the least abided-by, even the harshest of them, which break bodies and drag people through judicial systems. Never in civil history have so many people been kept prisoner, and most of this mass incarceration is due to drug laws.

In a range of countries, other policies, centered on health and social issues (rather than criminal law) were developed. These countries boost their harm reduction services with the key objective being to safeguard health and wellbeing.

A person smuggling 16 grams of heroin in Switzerland, for example, would be sentenced to 3 years in prison, and would benefit from social support. In Singapore, judges would have no choice, by law, other than imposing the death penalty on that same person.

Repressive policies aimed at those associated with drugs have their origins in the harsh practices of colonial times. These days, they sit oddly alongside the modern and dynamic economies and societies of South-East Asia, and should probably be reconsidered.

HELEN CLARK, New Zealand

Note: The right honorable Helen Clark is the former Prime Minister of New Zealand and the current Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. (source: Opinion, Malaysia Today)

BANGLADESH:

3 sentenced to death for killing mother-son in Kakrail----On November 1, 2017, Shamshun Nahar Karim, 46, and her son Shaown, 17, an A Level student, were killed at their residence in the capital’s Kakrail area

A Dhaka court on Sunday sentenced 3 people to death in the case filed over the murder of a woman and her son in Dhaka’s Kakrail area on November 1, 2017.

The death row convicts are Abdul Karim, the murdered woman’s husband, Karim’s 2nd wife Sharmin Akter Mukta, and Mukta’s brother Md Al Amin Jonny.

Judge Md Rabiul Alam of Dhaka Third Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court delivered the verdict, with the accused present in court.

In addition to the capital punishment, the court fined all 3 of the accused Tk20,000 each.

On November 1, 2017, Shamshun Nahar Karim, 46, and her son Shaown, 17, an A Level student, were killed at their residence in the capital’s Kakrail area.

The following day, Shamsun Nahar’s brother Ashraf Ali filed a case against her husband Abdul Karim, his 2nd wife Sharmin Mukta, Mukta’s brother Jonny, and others.

Ramna police station Inspector Ali Hossain, also the investigating officer of the case, filed a charge sheet against Abdul Karim, Sharmin Mukta, and Jonny on July 16, 2018.

(source: Dhaka Tribune)

JANUARY 17, 2021:

TEXAS----impending execution

Edward Lee Busby, Jr., has been given a new execution date of Wednesday, February 10, Edward Lee Busby, Jr., is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, inside the Walls Unit at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. 48-year-old Edward is convicted of the kidnapping and murder of 77-year-old Laura Lee Crane on January 30, 2004, in Fort Worth, Texas. Edward has spent the last 15 years of his life on Texas’s death row.

Edward was born in Texas and raised by a single mother. He attended school through the 10th grade, however, he was in special education classes before dropping out. Edward was perviously arrested and served time for robbery and drug possession.

On January 30, 2004, 77-year-old retired professor from Texas Christian University, Laura Lee Crane was kidnapped from a store parking lot in southwest Fort Worth by Edward Busby and Kathleen “Kitty” Latimer. Busby forced his way into the driver’s seat, while Latimer sat in the back. Laura was in the front passenger seat.

After driving around, they stopped and Laura was forced into the trunk of the car. Busby and Latimer drove around some more, stopping at stores, and buying duct tape, with which they wrapped Laura. Laura died by suffocation, as the duct tape was wrapped completely around her nose and mouth.

Busby and Latimer split up, and Busby took Laura’s car and drove to Oklahoma, where he disposed of the body. He was quickly arrested by police in Oklahoma who recognized that the car was stolen, and eventually led officers to where he dumped Laura’s body. He also eventually confessed to the kidnapping and murder. Busby claimed that he never intended to kill Laura and that Latimer was the “brains” behind the kidnapping and murder.

Latimer pled guilty and was sentence to life in prison. Busby was sentenced to death.

Busby was granted a 60-day stay of execution by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The reason for the stay of execution was not stated in the order from the court, however, several other Texas inmates were granted stays of execution due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pray for peace for the family of Laura Crane. Pray for strength for the family of Edward Busby, Jr. Pray that if Edward is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed or should not be executed for any other reason that evidence will be provided prior to his execution. Pray that Edward may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.

(source: forgivenessfoundation.org)

ALABAMA----impending execution

Willie B. Smith, III, is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time on Thursday, February 11, 2021, at the Holeman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. 51-year-old Willie is convicted of the robbery, kidnapping, and murder of 22-year-old Sharma Ruth Johnson in October 1991. Willie has been on death row in Alabama for the last 28 years.

Willie grew up with an allegedly abusive father and with no economical advantages. Willie did not excel in school. Willie did not have a previous history of criminal activity.

In October 1991, 17-year-old Angelica Willis was living with Willie Smith. The 2 left the apartment around midnight on October 26, 1991, looking for Smith’s brother, who was going to Pizza Hut. As they were walking, Willis and Smith saw Sharma Ruth Johnson sitting in car at an automatic teller machine.

Smith told Willis to go up to the woman ask for directions to a nearby restaurant. While Sharma was saying she did not know the location of the restaurant, Smith approached with a gun drawn. Smith stuck the gun in the window and demanded Sharma get out of the vehicle. Sharma complied and was placed in the trunk of her vehicle.

They drove around before returning the bank machine, retrieving Sharma’s bank card, and forcing her to reveal her PIN and how much money was in the account. Smith withdrew approximately $80.00 from the machine. The transaction was timestamped for Sunday, October 27, 1991, 1:25 am, and also photographed by the machine.

Smith continued driving with Sharma in the trunk, stopping at a few stores and eventually locating Smith’s brother. Upon learning of the woman in the trunk, Smith’s brother begins taunting her and making sexual remarks. Smith decided he would have to kill the woman he kidnapped, fearing she would call the police. Willis claimed she opposed killing the woman. Smith opened the trunk and shot Sharma with a shotgun. The trio drive north and eventually abandon the car. The following day Smith tells Willis he returned to the vehicle and burned it.

Smith told a few people about the murder, including a police informant, who agreed to wear a body mike to talk with Smith. During the conversation, Smith made several incriminating statements, including remembering the name of the victim and describing the details of the murder, including how he killed her.

Angelica Willis was convicted for her part in the murder of Sharma and agreed to a plea deal resulting in a 25 year sentence. Willie Smith was convicted and sentenced to death.

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of Sharma Johnson. Pray for strength for the family of Willie. Pray that if Willie is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed or should not be executed for any other reason that evidence will be provided prior to his execution. Pray that Willie may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.

(source: theforgivenessfoundaton.org)

USA:

Supreme Court's liberal justices lash out at unprecedented 'rush' of executions as Trump leaves office

As the country focused on the aftermath of riots in the US Capitol and the unprecedented 2nd impeachment of President Donald Trump, the liberal justices of the Supreme Court spent Trump's last full week in office battling his administration's long-term objective to execute 13 federal death row inmates in 6 months.

Late Friday night, over the fiery objection of 2 Supreme Court justices, Dustin John Higgs became the 13th federal inmate to be put to death. It marked the last federal execution to take place under the Trump administration that announced in July 2019 that it was reinstating the federal death penalty after a nearly 2-decade pause. Then-Attorney General William Barr said that his office owed it to the victims and their families to carry forward sentences imposed by the justice system.

But Justice Stephen Breyer -- the only sitting justice who believes the court should reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty -- and Justice Sonia Sotomayor lashed out in a late-night order that recounted details of all the executions.

"This is not justice," Sotomayor wrote, noting that Higgs was the third federal execution in a week and the 13th overall.

Turning her attention to all of the executions Sotomayor wrote: "To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than 3 times as many people in the last 6 months than it had in the previous 6 decades."

She said the government should have proceeded with "some measure of restraint" instead of moving with an "unprecedented rush" amid questions concerning the Justice Department's drug protocol, the Federal Death Penalty Act and other disputes.

She also turned her attention to her conservative colleagues who she said have "repeatedly sidestepped" their usual deliberative processes, allowing the government "to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions."

She walked through many of the claims presented and how lower court judges had at times ruled in favor of the inmates only to be overturned. She noted particularly that back in December both inmate Corey Johnson and Higgs, both executed this week, tested positive for Covid-19.

"There can be no 'justice on the fly' in matters of life and death," Sotomayor wrote. "Yet the Court has allowed the United States to execute thirteen people in six months under a statutory scheme and regulatory protocol that have received inadequate scrutiny, without resolving the serious claims the condemned individuals raised," she said.

While saying she "respectfully" dissented, she added, "Those whom the Government executed during this endeavor deserved more from this Court."

As for Breyer, now the most senior liberal on the court, he named each of the inmates. He noted that a lower court judge held that Higgs had significant lung damage and executing him by injection of pentobarbital would "subject him to a sensation of drowning akin to waterboarding" because of his Covid-19 infection.

Breyer said the court needed to address a myriad of questions including whether the government's protocol risks extreme pain and needless suffering. He said that all of the claims brought -- many last-minute -- were not frivolous.

"What are courts to do when faced with legal questions of this kind?" he asked. "Are they supposed to 'hurry up, hurry up?" He again called for a reconsideration of the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

Justice Elena Kagan also dissented but chose not to join Sotomayor or Breyer or explain her thinking separately.

Late Friday the conservative justices chose not to write, although the issue concerning the death penalty, in general, has triggered vigorous debates between the justices in the past.

In December 2019, the court denied an appeal by the government when a District Court judge temporarily blocked the federal government from carrying out executions. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, agreed to deny the emergency application but said he thought the government was "very likely" to ultimately prevail in what Alito called "exceptionally heinous murders." He urged the appeals court to proceed with "appropriate dispatch" to move forward with the case.

In its final appeal to the Supreme Court, acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall told the justices that Higgs had received nine sentences of death in 2001 "in connection with the cold-blooded murder of three women on federal land near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway." He said that a lower court that had put the execution on hold was "unprecedented and untenable" and that the execution should be allowed to go forward.

"As this Court has repeatedly emphasized," Wall wrote," both the government and the victims of crime have an important interest in the timely enforcement of a death sentence."

(source: CNN)

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

Sotomayor Says 13 People Executed During Trump Killing Spree 'Deserved More From This Court'----"This is not justice," said the liberal Justice after the state murder of Dustin John Higgs as she excoriated the court's conservative majority for essentially rubber-stamping the administration's rushed death penalties.

In a fiery dissent issued just prior to Friday night's federal execution of convicted murderer Dustin John Higgins—the 13th and likely final person put to death under the direction of the Trump administration's Department of Justice—U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the court's abdication of responsibility in recent months and said that those killed by the state under the arbitrary end-of-office deadline of Trump's deserved better protections and due process than what they received.

"Sotomayor's dissent... will be remembered long into the future as one of the most thorough, resounding indictments of this administration's reckless, immoral, illegal effort to execute as many people as possible, as quickly as possible." —Sister Helen Prejean

"This is not justice," Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting objection (pdf), backed only by Justice Stephen Breyer, which stated that the nation's highest court "repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the Government's request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions."

As CNN noted, Sotomayor in her statement argued the government should have proceeded with "some measure of restraint" instead of moving with an "unprecedented rush" amid questions concerning the Justice Department's drug protocol, the Federal Death Penalty Act and other disputes.

According to Business Insider:

Sotomayor also condemned the federal government for fast-tracking the executions of 2 men who tested positive for COVID-19 — Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs — by arguing that a sooner execution would put the inmates out of their potential misery. Sotomayor dissented against the federal execution of Johnson a day earlier on January 14 because he was intellectually disabled and not afforded judicial review.

6 of the 13 inmates killed since July have been Black, and a Death Penalty Information Center report from September 2020 showed that Black Americans are almost 30 times more likely to face the death penalty for the murder of a white victim than the other way around.

Putting the 13 people killed by the federal government since Trump's DOJ lifted a self-imposed ban on executions last July in "historical context," Sotomayor lamented that the U.S. has killed more people in just 1/2 a year that it had in the previous 6 decades combined under Trump.

"[T]he Court has allowed the United States to execute 13 people in 6 months under a statutory scheme and regulatory protocol that have received inadequate scrutiny," she wrote, "without resolving the serious claims the condemned individuals raised. Those whom the Government executed during this endeavor deserved more from this Court. I respectfully dissent."

"The Court made these weighty decisions in response to emergency applications," reads the objection, "with little opportunity for proper briefing and consideration, often in just a few short days or even hours. Very few of these decisions offered any public explanation for their rationale."

Longtime anti-death penalty opponent and activist Sister Helen Prejean said the dissent will go down in history:

As Common Dreams has reported, Trump's killing spree of recent months has resulted in new and elevated calls for Congress to finally step in and abolish the death penalty once and for all.

"State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and the death penalty, which kills Black and brown people disproportionately, has absolutely no place in our society," said Rep. Ayana Pressley (D-Mass.) last week as she, along with incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), re-introduced legislation to ban federal use of the death penalty.

"Ending the federal death penalty—which is as cruel as it is ineffective in deterring crime—is a racial justice issue and must come to an end," Pressley said. "We must finally abolish this inhumane form of punishment and put an end to Donald Trump's unprecedented killing spree. I am grateful for the partnership of incoming Chairman Durbin and my colleagues in this effort."

(source: commondreams.org)

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

Death row inmate's 'excruciatingly painful death' felt like drowning for 20 minutes----Corey Johnson, 52, died an "excruciatingly painful death" for the 1992 murders of Peyton Johnson, Louis Johnson, Bobby Long, Dorothy Armstrong, Anthony Carter, Linwood Chiles, and Curtis Thorne

A death row serial killer who was intellectually disabled died an "excruciatingly painful" death as he was executed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Corey Johnson, 52, died on Thursday, January 14, despite his lawyers warning his Covid diagnosis would make death by lethal injection "excruciatingly painful."

Multiple sources claimed Johnson was pumped with pentobarbital solution into his arms before his eyelids suddenly closed.

The killer then struggled to speak unsuccessfully for several minutes and his mouth fell agape until he died 20 minutes later.

Pentobarbital solution can paralyse people, masking the pain they’re enduring during their final moments.

Johnson’s lawyers say he would have suffered an unconstitutionally painful death likened to drowning.

It had also been argued Johnson was mentally-disabled during several unsuccessful attempts to get his sentence commuted.

He was pronounced dead at 11:34am, 20 minutes after he had received the injection in his arms.

According to a crime website dedicated to abolishing the death penalty, when asked if he had any last words Johnson replied “no, I’m OK," before turning his head to a room reserved for family members to say: "Love you."

Corey Johnson received the death penalty for the 1992 murders of seven people in Richmond, Virginia.

He killed Peyton Johnson, Louis Johnson, Bobby Long, Dorothy Armstrong, Anthony Carter, Linwood Chiles, and Curtis Thorne.

Former Assistant US Attorney Howard Vick Jr, one of the prosecutors in the case, said the violence committed by Johnson and his fellow gang members was unmatched at the time.

In a statement released by his lawyers, Johnson said he was “sorry” for his rimes and wanted the victims to be remembered.

(source: dailystar.co.uk)

IRAN----executions

Prisoner Shamseddin Soleimani Executed in Qazvin

A prisoner who had been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges, has been executed at Qazvin Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed at Qazvin Central Prison on the morning of Thursday, January 15. His identity has been established as Shabestar native, Shamseddin Soleimani.

An informed source has told IHR: “Shamseddin Soleimani was arrested in 2016 on charges of carrying 85 kilograms of industrial drugs, and had repeatedly stated that they were not his and belonged to someone who had escaped the country after his arrest. Shamseddin was just the driver and had stated that in court. But the real owner of the drugs never owned up.”

At the time of writing, the execution of Shamseddin Soleimani has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

There has been a dramatic drop in drug-related executions since a new article was added to the Anti-Drugs Law around three years ago. The amendment, which was passed into law in 2017, specifically restricts the death penalty and provides a degree of reduction in some drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report on the death penalty in Iran, at least 30 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2019.

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

Prisoner Reza Shirzadeh Executed in Yazd

A prisoner sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, has been executed in Yazd Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed in Yazd Central Prison yesterday morning. The identity of the prisoner has been established as 36-year-old Reza Shirzadeh, who was sentenced to to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

According to an informed source: “Reza Shirzadeh was arrested 5 years ago and sentenced to death. He was transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for his execution on Tuesday lunchtime and executed yesterday.”

At the time of writing, Reza’s execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report, at least 225 of the 280 of those executed in 2019 were charged with "premeditated murder."

As there are no legal distinctions made between murder and manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary in Iran, those charged under the umbrella term of “premeditated murder” will receive the death penalty regardless of intent and the circumstances.

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

Baluch Prisoner Executed in Zahedan

A Baluch prisoner who had apparently been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges, has been executed at Zahedan Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed in Zahedan Central Prison on the morning of Thursday, January 14. The prisoner whose identity has been established as Jama Zahrozehi, was apparently executed on “drug-related” charges.

According to the Baluch Activists Campaign which first reported news of the execution, Jama was from Zabol and the Dehmardeh tribe. In addition to the drug charges, he appears to have had other convictions in his case, details of which are not yet known.

At the time of writing, the execution of the Baluch prisoner has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

There has been a dramatic drop in drug-related executions since a new article was added to the Anti-Drugs Law around 3 years ago. The amendment, which was passed into law in 2017, specifically restricts the death penalty and provides a degree of reduction in some drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report on the death penalty in Iran, at least 30 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2019.

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

Prisoner Shamseddin Soleimani Executed in Qazvin

A prisoner who had been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges, has been executed at Qazvin Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed at Qazvin Central Prison on the morning of Thursday, January 15. His identity has been established as Shabestar native, Shamseddin Soleimani.

An informed source has told IHR: “Shamseddin Soleimani was arrested in 2016 on charges of carrying 85 kilograms of industrial drugs, and had repeatedly stated that they were not his and belonged to someone who had escaped the country after his arrest. Shamseddin was just the driver and had stated that in court. But the real owner of the drugs never owned up.”

At the time of writing, the execution of Shamseddin Soleimani has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

There has been a dramatic drop in drug-related executions since a new article was added to the Anti-Drugs Law around 3 years ago. The amendment, which was passed into law in 2017, specifically restricts the death penalty and provides a degree of reduction in some drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report on the death penalty in Iran, at least 30 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2019.

(source for all: iranhr.net)

PAKISTAN:

Amjad Sabri’s murderer sentenced to death for three more killings

An anti-terrorism court awarded the death penalty to a Lashkar-e-Jhangvi member Ishaq alias Bobby on 3 counts of murder in a case pertaining to sectarian killing, The News reported on Sunday.

The LeJ member is a high-profile convict on death row for multiple crimes including the murder of renowned Qawwal Amjad Sabri. This is the 3rd capital punishment among others awarded to him in a month.

The ATC has found him guilty of killing Syed Zakir Hussain, Muhammad Nawaz, and Muhammad Younus in firing at Dargah Nazar Ali Shah in Korangi on August 23, 2014.

The prosecution said Ishaq and his accomplice shot at victims and fled the scene. He was on the run until November 2016 when police detained him.

Apart from the death penalty, the ATC also slapped a fine of Rs50,000 and a 10-year imprisonment sentence. The judge also ordered the convict to pay a compensation of Rs200,000 to the legal heirs of each victim, otherwise suffer additional imprisonment of 6 months.

The judge observed that the offence was a total disregard for human life without any enmity and such deterrent punishment was not only to maintain balance with the gravity of wrong but also to make an example for others as a preventive measure for the reformation of the society.

Ishaq and his accomplice Asim alias Capri face multiple trials in anti-terrorism courts. They have also been convicted by a military court for the murders of Military Police personnel and Sabri.

The profile of the suspects, based on the input from the Counter-Terrorism Department, describes them as professional hitmen, experts in killing their targets in public and radicalised from a tender age.

(source: geo.tv)

INDONESIA:

South Kalimantan police seize 11.318 kg of crystal meth

he South Kalimantan police thwarted two suspected drug couriers' attempt to trade some 11.318 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine at Duta Mall in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan Province, on January 13, 2021.

The suspects, only identified by their initials SF (37) and ZL (41), were caught red handed along with 10 packs of crystal meth, Chief of the South Kalimantan Police's Criminal Investigation Directorate, Sen.Coms.Niko Irawan said.

The provincial police's anti-drug squad personnel received a tip-off about a possible drug trafficking operation. They then followed up the tip-off by launching a week-long probe, he was quoted by ANTARA as saying here Sunday.

They successfully uncovered it by arresting SF and ZL while they were still inside a car, being parked at the shooping mall's first floor parking area, Irawan said.

"When they were raided, they were carrying 10 packs of crystal methamphetamine," he said, adding that the police investigators are still striving to uncover the suspects' drug trafficking networks.

The suspects told the police investigators that they were just ordered by someone who would take the illicit drug package. If they successfully handed over the package, they would be paid, Irawan said.

Due to their failure in the drug trafficking operation, the person who ordered them to hand over the package might have run away, he added.

Indonesia remains under grave threat from drug dealers, who consider the country a potential market. The value of drug trade in Indonesia is estimated to be at least Rp66 trillion.

Users of crystal methamphetamine, narcotics, marijuana, and other types of addictive drugs transcend communities and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.

The Indonesian government has taken harsh punitive action against drug kingpins found smuggling and trading drugs in the country over the past few decades.

According to National Police chief, General Idham Azis, district courts in different parts of Indonesia have awarded capital punishment to at least 100 drug offenders in the 1st half of 2020.

"May they soon be executed by firing squads to deter others," he said while witnessing the National Police special task force destroy 1.2 tons of crystal meth, 35 thousand ecstasy pills, and 410 kg of marijuana in Jakarta on July 2, 2020.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has also issued shoot-at-sight orders against drug kingpins.

However, this has failed to deter drug traffickers, who have continued to treat Indonesia as one of their main markets, prompting Indonesian law enforcers to tighten vigilance against them.

(source: en.antaranews.com)

JANUARY 16, 2021:

TEXAS----stay of impending execution

Appeals court stays Texas’ first scheduled 2021 execution

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday granted the stay for Blaine Milam, 31, to review intellectual disability claims.

He had been set for lethal injection on Thursday for killing his girlfriend’s 13-month-old daughter during what the couple had said was part of an “exorcism.” He was convicted of capital murder for the December 2008 slaying of Amora Carson at his trailer in Rusk County in East Texas.

Milam’s girlfriend, Jesseca Carson, was also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors say Milam savagely beat, bit, strangled, and sexually mutilated the girl over a period of 30 hours.

Milam’s attorneys say 3 of 4 experts who examined him determined Milam is intellectually disabled. In its ruling, the appeals court ordered Milam’s claims of intellectual disability be reviewed by his trial court.

The U.S, Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people, but it has given states some discretion to decide how to determine such disabilities.

(source: Associated Press)

VIRGINIA:

Virginia Legislators Poised to Attempt Death Penalty Repeal as Governor Sponsors Abolition Bill

Legislators in the Virginia House and Senate are poised to attempt a repeal of its capital punishment statute, as Governor Ralph Northam (pictured) announced that he would sponsor a bill to end the commonwealth’s death penalty.

Northam issued a call to abolish the death penalty during his January 13, 2021 State of the Commonwealth address marking the opening of the 2021 legislative session. “It’s time to change the law and end the death penalty in Virginia,” Northam said. “We’re taking these actions because we value people and we believe in treating them equitably.”

His action marked the 1st time in Virginia history that a sitting governor had sponsored death-penalty repeal legislation.

Legislators introduced 3 repeal bills in the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate on the legislative session’s 1st day. 2 — SB 1165, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D – Fairfax) with Republican co-patron, Bill Stanley (R – Franklin) and HB 2263, introduced by Del. Michael Mullin (D – Newport News) — are sponsored by the Governor. Del. Lee Carter (D – Manassas) has also introduced an abolition bill, HB 1779. Legislative leaders plan to conduct hearings on the repeal bills in the next several weeks.

The repeal bills appeared to gain momentum in the days leading up to the start of the legislative session as state Attorney General Mark Herring and twelve county prosecutors joined a coalition of African American faith leaders in calling for abolition.

Echoing Northam’s message, Herring said “it is time for Virginia to end the death penalty.” “I will support Governor Northam’s efforts to make it happen this year,” he said. “Its abolition must be part of our work to reform a flawed and imperfect criminal justice system.”

Riding a wave of election victories, a new organization of reform prosecutors, Virginia Progressive Prosecutors for Justice, also advocated for abolition. Twelve reform prosecutors in the group, who represent nearly 40% of the commonwealth’s population including the Washington, DC suburbs of Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County, and the cities of Charlottesville, Newport News, and Norfolk, wrote a letter to legislative leaders calling for systemic criminal justice reforms. “The death penalty is unjust, racially biased, and ineffective at deterring crime,” they wrote. “We have more equitable and effective means of keeping our communities safe and addressing society’s most heinous crimes. It is past time for Virginia to end this antiquated practice.

Leaders from the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy also joined the call for abolition. A group of Black pastors offered their support at a virtual news conference. Rev. Dr. LaKeisha Cook, justice reform organizer for the Center, said, “The history of capital punishment finds its roots in slavery, lynching and Jim Crow. Capital punishment is a racial justice issue. It is beyond time for us to address this historical sin.”

The Death Penalty Information Center’s September 2020 report, Enduring Injustice: The Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty spotlighted the history of blatant discrimination in Virginia’s use of the death penalty in the 20th century. From 1900 to 1969, four times as many Black prisoners were executed for murder than whites. In that same time, 73 Black prisoners were executed for rape, attempted rape, or robbery unaccompanied by murder, while no white prisoner was executed for any crime other than murder.

Abolition in Virginia is considered symbolically significant because the state has executed more people since the death penalty was re-enacted in the 1970s than any state other than Texas. No state in the Deep South has abolished capital punishment. However, the death penalty has been losing favor in Virginia over the past decade. The last execution in the commonwealth took place in 2017 and no one has been sentenced to death since 2011. Only two people remain on the commonwealth’s death row.

22 U.S. states have abolished capital punishment, and 10 have done so in the last 15 years. 3 death-penalty states — California, Pennsylvania, and Oregon — who collectively comprise nearly 1/3 of the nation’s death-row population — have moratoria on executions. No Atlantic coast state north of Virginia still permits the death penalty.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

New bill would bring back the electric chair in South Carolina

A new bill would make it easier to carry out executions in South Carolina prisons.

Right now, 37 people are on death row and have no idea when they'll be executed.

This is because of a shortage of the chemical needed for lethal injection, which is the state's default execution method.

Senator Greg Hembree's new law would make the state's default method electric shock.

"This really isn't a pro or anti-death penalty bill. It's a bill that says the death penalty is the law of the land, and we have to carry out the law of the land. If you want to debate the death penalty, that's another bill and that's another debate."

The last time South Carolina executed an inmate was 2011.

All attempts since then have been rescheduled.

(source: WPDE news)

FLORIDA:

Florida seeks death penalty for man charged with killing his girlfriend and infant son

Alachua County’s new state attorney will seek the death penalty against Kivi Ellis in the killings of his infant son and girlfriend, the baby’s mother.

State Attorney Brian Kramer submitted a notice of intent to the court Thursday that prosecutors will pursue the death penalty against Ellis, filed the same day a grand jury indicted him for 2 counts of 1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder, 2 counts of child abuse and resisting arrest without violence.

Kramer, who took over the office Jan. 5, listed 5 legal standards he says warrants the death penalty in the case.

Gainesville police said Ellis was found with a gun on Dec. 4 on the 2900 block of NE 17th Drive after several calls were made to 911 about shots fired in the neighborhood. Ellis’ girlfriend, Shelby Mathis, and their 3-month-old son, Gideon, were found dead on the property.

Officers said Ellis immediately surrendered in the street when they arrived, and he was taken into custody. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were found hiding under the bed.

Kramer, in his argument for the death penalty, said the crime meets the state’s standards for being “particularly heinous, atrocious, or cruel,” committed against a victim who was under 12 years old and particularly vulnerable because Ellis was a parenting figure to the child.

He also said Ellis created a great risk of death to other people, and engaged or attempted to commit aggravated child abuse. Advertisement

Alachua County’s public defender, whose office is representing Ellis, called the decision disappointing.

“It’s a tragic, tragic case,” said Stacy Scott, public defender of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. “We just don’t want to compound the tragedy by having the death penalty be involved, particularly in the case when there’s mental health issues.”

In 2014, Ellis was charged with felony battery for beating Mathis with a wooden board in Gainesville. He was sentenced to four years' probation as part of a plea bargain.

Court records show he underwent a psychological evaluation and was found to have schizophrenia spectrum disorder.

A grand jury also indicted Brandon Michael Martin the same day as Ellis for 1st-degree murder, grand theft of a motor vehicle and tampering with physical evidence in the death of his former girlfriend.

Martin was accused of killing Annette Miller, 24, on Dec. 2 in her Waldo home.

Kramer did not issue a notice to pursue the death penalty in Martin's case.

He explained to The Sun on Friday that “the aggravated circumstances behind each of the cases are different."

(source: The Gainesville Sun)

USA----federal execution

Trump administration executes 3rd inmate in 4 days despite Dustin Higgs’ pleas for mercy

The federal government under President Trump executed a 13th person early Saturday morning, brushing off his innocence claims and recent coronavirus diagnosis to cap a stunning and record-breaking execution spree.

Dustin Higgs, 48, was killed by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind. He was the 3rd federal inmate to die this week, following the executions of drug trafficker Corey Johnson on Thursday night and Lisa Montgomery early Wednesday morning.

Higgs was pronounced dead at 1:23 Saturday morning, the Associated Press reported.

Higgs was sentenced to death in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of 3 women — Tamika Black, 19, Tanji Jackson, 21, and Mishann Chinn, 23. Prosecutors said the former Maryland resident ordered a friend to kill the victims in January 1996 because one of them had rejected his sexual advances.

The Supreme Court threw out his last chance at life late Friday night, overruling a stay issued by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

“This is not justice. After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “When it did not, this Court should have. It has not. Because the Court continues this pattern today, I dissent.”

Higgs insisted through his dying day that he was innocent and never told his co-defendant to murder the women.

The man who fatally shot the 3 women was not given the death penalty.

“I’m currently sitting on Death Row for a crime I didn’t commit!” Higgs said in a statement posted on a website created by his advocates. “I wonder if it’s that I’m not yelling loud enough, or is it that the blatant miscarriage of justice of me being killed for a crime I’m certainly innocent of really doesn’t matter.”

Higgs’ execution was briefly stalled this week because of his COVID-19 diagnosis. Lawyers for him and Johnson, who also contracted the virus, argued that the lethal injections used by the Justice Department would cause fluid to rush into their damaged lungs and spark a sensation of drowning, essentially constituting torture. The stays of execution were later vacated, and the Supreme Court also denied Johnson’s last-minute appeal Thursday night.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed Johnson’s execution said there were no obvious signs that he ever experienced pain.

This week’s federal executions are part of the Justice Department’s controversial race to execute federal prisoners before death-penalty opponent Joe Biden is sworn into office next week.

The Trump administration has executed more federal civilian inmates in a 12-month span than any president since Grover Cleveland back in 1896. Former Attorney General Bill Barr resumed the practice in July after a 17-year hiatus.

The number of inmates put to death by the Trump administration is already higher than the previous 6 decades combined. No President had ordered the execution of even 10 people across his entire term since Franklin Roosevelt, whose execution orders spanned 8 years, not 7 months.

Federal authorities say Higgs already exhausted his legal challenges long ago. His convictions and 9 death sentences were affirmed on appeal about 17 years ago and another round of collateral challenges failed about 8 years ago.

An online petition claiming Higgs was wrongly convicted has drawn nearly 1.8 million signatures.

Higgs becomes the 3rd condemned federal death row inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 16th overall since the government resumed federal executions in 2001.

Higgs becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1,532nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. The next scheduled execution in the USA is set for Wednesday evening, Feb. 10, in Texas.

(sources: New York Daily News & Rick Halperin)

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U.S. Executes Dustin Higgs for Role in 3 1996 Murders----It was the 13th and final scheduled federal execution under President Trump. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he opposes the death penalty.

The Trump administration executed Dustin J. Higgs early Saturday for his part in a triple murder in 1996, marking the 13th and final scheduled federal execution under President Trump.

Aided by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Mr. Trump revived federal capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus, a stark contrast with the waning public support during that period for the death penalty.

Mr. Higgs could be the last person put to death by the federal government for some time. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who will be inaugurated on Wednesday, has said he is opposed to the death penalty and has pledged that he would work to pass legislation ending capital punishment at the federal level.

In 2019, the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, announced the Trump administration’s intention to resume executions of federal death row inmates using the lethal injection of a single drug, pentobarbital. Legal challenges briefly blocked those efforts.

In June, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the government to proceed, and the administration moved quickly to execute more than a dozen prisoners, sometimes scheduling two, three or even four at a time. Twice, the government carried out three executions in less than a week.

Mr. Higgs was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m. at the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Ind., in accordance with the nine capital sentences recommended by a federal jury, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

On Friday night, the Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 to clear the way for Mr. Higgs’s execution to proceed, with members of the more liberal wing dissenting. In a scathing written dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused the court of repeatedly sidestepping “its usual deliberative processes, often at the government’s request,” allowing the Trump administration to proceed “with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions.”

“This is not justice,” she wrote. “After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully. When it did not, this court should have. It has not.”

The Justice Department also finalized a rule last year that would allow the government to use new methods of execution, including death by electrocution or firing squad.

Mr. Higgs’s execution was the 3rd in 4 days, after the administration executed Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, on Wednesday and Corey Johnson on Thursday.

Mr. Higgs’s case stemmed from an evening in 1996, when he and 2 other men drove from Mr. Higgs’s apartment in Laurel, Md., to Washington, the Justice Department said. They picked up three women — Tamika Black, Mishann Chinn and Tanji Jackson — and, after stopping at a liquor store, then returned to Mr. Higgs’s apartment to drink alcohol and listen to music. Early the next day, Mr. Higgs and Ms. Jackson began to argue, prompting Ms. Jackson to grab a knife. One of the men, Willis M. Haynes, broke up the fight.

Still angered, Ms. Jackson left the apartment with the other women, making a threat as she exited, and appeared to take note of Mr. Higgs’s license plate, according to a court filing from the Justice Department. Mr. Higgs grabbed a firearm from a drawer, and the three men met up with the women outside. The women got in the men’s car, apparently promised that they would be driven home, but instead, Mr. Higgs drove to a secluded area in the Patuxent Research Refuge, which is federal property.

Mr. Higgs’s defense team disputes what happened next. The Justice Department said Mr. Higgs ordered the women out of the vehicle, gave the gun to Mr. Haynes, and instructed him to kill them. Mr. Haynes then fatally shot each of the women. Mr. Higgs’s lawyers argued that the evidence supporting the theory that Mr. Higgs ordered the killings was dubious.

“I’d like to say I am an innocent man,” Mr. Higgs said, before the lethal injection began, according to a report from a journalist in attendance. “I did not order the murders.”

Victor Gloria, the third man, agreed to cooperate with the government’s murder case after he was arrested in 1998 on federal drug charges. He pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the murders and received 84 months in prison with three years’ supervised release.

Mr. Haynes, whose jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the death penalty, received life in prison without the possibility of release.

But Mr. Higgs was sentenced to death, a punishment that his lawyers argued was “arbitrary and inequitable” compared with that of the man who shot the gun. His defense team pointed to a declaration that Mr. Haynes signed years after the crime in which he claimed that Mr. Higgs did not threaten him nor make him do anything. Mr. Haynes claimed he shot the girls because he feared for Mr. Higgs’s life.

In a statement provided by the Bureau of Prisons, the sister of Ms. Jackson, one of Mr. Higgs’s victims, said that the news of Mr. Higgs’s execution date brought “mixed emotions.” His family is now going through the same pain hers experienced, she added.

“On one hand, I felt we were finally going to get justice, but on the other, I felt sad for your family,” she said. “When the day is over, your death will not bring my sister and the other victims back. This is not closure, this is the consequence of your actions.”

Mr. Trump was not receptive to pleas for leniency for Mr. Higgs or for any of the 12 inmates who were executed before him. The Supreme Court — which now has three Trump appointees, solidifying its conservative majority — also denied his requests for reprieve. Shortly before Mr. Higgs’s execution, the justices had vacated a stay from the Fourth Circuit that temporarily blocked the government.

Each of the court’s more liberal justices indicated that they disagreed. Justice Stephen G. Breyer listed questions that the recent federal death penalty cases have raised, among them, “To what extent does the government’s use of pentobarbital for executions risk extreme pain and needless suffering?” and, “Has an inmate demonstrated a sufficient likelihood that she is mentally incompetent — to the point where she will not understand the fact, meaning, or significance of her execution?”

“None of these legal questions is frivolous,” he wrote. “What are courts to do when faced with legal questions of this kind? Are they simply to ignore them? Or are they, as in this case, to ‘hurry up, hurry up’? That is no solution.”

But the longer the delay, he argued, the weaker the “basic penological justifications” and the greater the psychological suffering for the prisoner. As he has done before, Justice Breyer called into question the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

In her own dissent, Justice Sotomayor argued that, over the course of the execution spree, the court has consistently rejected the prisoners’ “credible claims for relief,” intervened to lift stays put in place by lower courts and made weighty decisions in just a few short days or even hours. Very few of these decisions, she noted, offered any public explanation for the court’s rationale.

Both Mr. Higgs and Mr. Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus last month, amid an outbreak on federal death row. This week, a federal judge in Washington briefly suspended their executions until March, citing the risk of the prisoners suffering “a sensation of drowning akin to waterboarding” with the government’s lethal injection protocol while still recovering from Covid-19. But a split panel of judges on the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that order, clearing a remaining barrier for the executions to proceed.

Judge Gregory G. Katsas of the Appeals Court, joined by another judge on the panel, cited Supreme Court precedent that states that the Eighth Amendment “‘does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people.’”

Among the efforts to halt the executions, lawyers for 2 other men at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute sued the government on the grounds that the executions risked exposing them to the coronavirus.

In a class-action case, the inmates, neither of whom is on death row, argued that the large number of people drawn to the complex for each execution exacerbated the threat of Covid-19. Citing evidence that one or some involved in recent executions had not worn masks, the lawyers claimed that the federal government had failed to comply with a judge’s order that mandated certain measures to reduce the threat of the coronavirus.

A Bureau of Prisons official contended in a court filing that two individuals involved in the executions who had removed their masks did so only briefly so that they could clearly communicate. A federal judge in Indiana declined to issue a stay.

In a statement, Mr. Higgs’s lawyer Shawn Nolan continued to maintain that his client “never killed anyone” and that he contracted the coronavirus as a result of the “superspreader executions.” Mr. Nolan also noted that the execution of his client — a Black man — was carried out around Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

“There was no reason to kill him, particularly during the pandemic and when he, himself, was sick,” Mr. Nolan said. “Shame on all of those involved and all of those who have looked the other way.”

(source: New York Times)

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USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Dustin Higgs at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 16, the USA has now executed 1,532 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.

1533-----Jan. 21-----------Blaine Milam-------------------Texas

(source: Rick Halperin)

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Dustin Higgs executed less than a week before Inauguration Day

Dustin John Higgs was executed in the early hours of Saturday morning becoming the 13th and last federal death row inmate to be executed since the Justice Department restarted federal executions in July 2019. He had been convicted of kidnapping and murdering 3 women in 1996.

Higgs maintained his innocence until his death, according to a pool report.

The tone of his voice was calm but defiant as he said his last words, "I'd like to say I am an innocent man," he said, mentioning the 3 women by name. "I did not order the murders," the report said.

Higgs' victims were Tamika Black, 19; Tanji Jackson, 21; and Mishann Chinn, 23.

Higgs' execution went forward despite his attorney, Shawn Nolan's appeal to delay the proceeding because of Higgs' Covid-19 diagnosis. Nolan also argued that Higgs was unfairly sentenced, since the actual gunman is serving a life sentence.

King's oldest son, Martin Luther King III, wrote an op-ed on Thursday in The Washington Post calling for the end to executions by invoking his father's words from 1957 when asked if God approves of the death penalty. "I do not think that God approves the death penalty for any crime ... capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God," King said.

The Crime

In January 1996, Higgs and 2 friends drove to Washington, DC, to pick up Black, Jackson, and Chinn, whom Higgs had invited to his apartment in Laurel, Maryland, according to a Department of Justice statement. At the apartment, Jackson rebuffed an advance by Higgs and the women left. Higgs offered the women a ride back to DC, but instead drove to a secluded area in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge, the statement added.

He ordered the women out of the vehicle, gave a gun to one of the friends, and said, "better make sure they're dead." The other man shot Black and Jackson in the chest and back, and shot Chinn in the back of the head, killing all 3 women, the statement said.

In 2000, a Maryland jury found Higgs guilty of numerous federal offenses, including 3 counts of 1st-degree premeditated murder, 3 counts of 1st-degree felony murder, and 3 counts of kidnapping resulting in death, and unanimously recommended 9 death sentences, which the court imposed, the statement said.

Higgs' convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal nearly 17 years ago, and his initial round of collateral challenges failed nearly eight years ago, the statement added.

Biden's take on the death penalty

Attorney General William Barr resumed federal executions in July 2019 after a 17-year hiatus to bring "justice to victims of the most horrific crimes." The federal government has authorized the executions of 13 federal death row inmates in about six months. While executions are carried out every year on the state level, federal executions have been extremely rare until last year.

The Biden campaign has spoken out against the federal death penalty, due in part to the amount of wrongfully convicted inmates who have been given these sentences.

While President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty and to give incentives to states to stop seeking death sentences as a part of his criminal justice plan, 40 members of Congress want to make sure the practice ends on his first day in office.

(source: CNN)

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

Amid Trump Killing Spree, Family of Martin Luther King Jr Joins Chorus Demanding: 'Abolish the Death Penalty'----Corey Johnson—who was Black, Covid-19 positive, and had an intellectual disability—was executed Thursday. Dustin Higgs, also Black and infected with the virus, is now set to be the 13th person put to death since Trump resumed federal killings.

Human rights defenders issued fresh calls for the U.S. to end the death penalty after the Trump administration late Thursday—the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday—executed Corey Johnson, the twelfth person the federal government has killed in the last six months. The administration has another execution scheduled for Friday.

"Despite [his] intellectual disability and having recently had Covid-19, SCOTUS denied his appeal," Amnesty USA tweeted late Thursday after the execution of Johnson, who was Black. "There is no reform to bring sense, fairness, or humanity to this punishment."

Abolish the death penalty. https://t.co/f1qHEXlwv0 — Amnesty International USA (@amnestyusa) January 15, 2021

Johnson was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m. ET after a lethal injection at a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana.

As CNN reported:

Johnson was sentenced to die after he was convicted of killing seven people in 1992 as a part of the drug trade in Virginia. The weeks preceding his execution were defined by a tense legal battle after he contracted Covid-19 while on death row.

"I am not the same man that I was," Johnson said in his final statement.

Here are Corey Johnson's last words. "I am not the same man that I was," he said, after apologizing to the families of his victims and listing their names. He then thanked prison staff, his attorneys, and his minister. pic.twitter.com/GjXapN6Fgb — elizabeth bruenig (@ebruenig) January 15, 2021

According to the Associated Press:

In their clemency petition, Johnson's lawyers asked President Donald Trump to commute his death sentence to life in prison. They described a traumatic childhood in which he was physically abused by his drug-addicted mother and her boyfriends, abandoned at age 13, then shuffled between residential and institutional facilities until he aged out of the foster care system. They cited numerous childhood IQ tests discovered after he was sentenced that place him in the mentally disabled category and say testing during his time in prison shows he can read and write at only an elementary school level.

In a dissenting opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's decision declining to reconsider a ruling refusing to grant Johnson an evidentiary hearing, Judge James A. Wynn wrote, "If Johnson's death sentence is carried out today, the United States will execute an intellectually disabled person, which is unconstitutional."

The ACLU, meanwhile, warned that Johnson's execution would mark "another needless death in a year of reckless executions amidst a pandemic."

"The system is broken beyond repair," the group said in a Thursday tweet ahead of the lethal injection. "End the death penalty."

The Trump administration sparked outrage in 2019 when it announced its plan to resume federal executions and carry out what Democratic lawmakers criticized as a "frenzied and unprecedented" killing spree before President-elect Joe Biden, who's said he'll work to end the federal death penalty, takes office.

ProPublica reported earlier this week that Trump's Justice Department has argued that rescheduling the executions would be more harmful to the government than to the people set to die.

In their determination to kill Nos. 11, 12 and 13—capping an unprecedented string of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus—Justice Department officials scheduled executions in defiance of court orders, flouted pandemic safety measures and lied about it, and demanded that judges yield to the administration's self-imposed deadline of Jan. 20.

Their filings don't explicitly acknowledge what everybody knows: They're running out of time to execute people before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty.

Instead, their legal rationale for why they cannot wait appears to rest in part on the availability of the private contractors whom the government hired to carry out the executions. Justice Department lawyers argued in court in the past several weeks that the inconvenience of rescheduling these private contractors would "irreparably harm" the government more than the prisoners would be irreparably harmed by dying.

The government has not said who the contractors are or why it hired them. But according to court papers, the contractors have already taken time out of their busy schedules to work this week's executions. The contractors "have made themselves available and presumably have made any necessary arrangements for personal and work-related matters based on the executions scheduled in January," Bureau of Prisons lawyer Rick Winter said in a declaration. The contractors would need at least a month's notice to reschedule, Winter said in another court filing.

Based on the contractors' limited availability, the Justice Department says execution dates "cannot be rescheduled with relative ease." As government lawyers have put it in various court filings, rebooking the contractors would amount to "significant practical burdens," "severe operational burdens," "complex logistical considerations," and "significant, unwarranted logistical challenges."

This, according to the Justice Department, would "inflict irreparable harm on the government." The prisoners, on the other hand, do not face irreparable harm if they lose their last-ditch legal bids to stop or delay their executions, according to the Trump administration. "They cannot show that they will be irreparably harmed," government lawyers wrote in an emergency court filing on New Year's Eve.

The White House, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment.

Criticizing Trump's resumption of federal executions, Amnesty International's interim executive director Bob Goodfellow has said it shows the U.S. moving in the absolute wrong direction.

"By resuming the cruelest and most irreversible of punishments, the federal government is dramatically and disgracefully out of step with the general momentum," Goodfellow said in a statement earlier this month. "Around the world countries are increasingly moving away from the death penalty. In the United States 22 states have abolished the death penalty, while in all 50 states people are fighting tirelessly to end the inhumane practice."

This week's crescendo of calls to end the death penalty includes the voices of Martin Luther King Jr.'s children.

Abolish the death penalty. @JoeBiden https://t.co/hkQULsRU3X — Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 15, 2021

“As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation.”

~Coretta Scott King pic.twitter.com/VA3cFQl3oi — Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 15, 2021

"President Trump and his Justice Department, in their unprecedented barrage of executions, have disregarded all of the principles of humanity, decency, and justice that my father preached," Martin Luther King III wrote in an op-ed published early Thursday at the Washington Post.

King also pointed to Friday's scheduled exectution of Dustin Higgs, who, like Johnson, contracted Covid-19 in prison.

"To cap off its killing spree, the Trump administration had planned two more executions: On Thursday, it would execute another young Black man, Cory Johnson, convicted of multiple gang-related murders whose intellectual disability should preclude his execution. And on Friday, it would execute Dustin Higgs, another young Black man convicted for his involvement in the murder of three women, though he didn't personally kill anyone," he wrote.

"Friday would have been my father's 92nd birthday," wrote King. "Nothing could dishonor his legacy more profoundly than if these executions go forward."

(source: commondreams.org)

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The families against the death penalty, no matter their personal pain

It was on one of the many adventuresome times in the 1990s that I took my students to visit death row inmates in Virginia's Mecklenburg Correctional Center that I came to know and admire Marie Deans. Her 30-plus year ministry to the condemned included finding pro bono lawyers to file post-conviction habeas appeals and comforting them in their spare cells in the final hours of living, before being electrocuted or drugged to death by the state.

Deans' singular grace was not only that she was intellectually opposed to capital punishment, but also that she was emotionally against it for the escaped convict who killed her mother in 1972 in Charleston, South Carolina. She once recalled to me that a police officer at the crime scene pledged that "we'll find the bastard and fry him" — to which she replied, "Don't do it for me."

She told me, for a piece in The Washington Post, that the killer "had a family too. If he was executed, it would be another murder. It would be worse in a way, because he would be put on death row and the family would have been told every day for 10 years — or 8 years or 6 years or however long it takes — that he was going to be killed. I think that's worse."

This merciful ideal was echoed by Kerry Kennedy in faith-riven lines in a July 15, 2020, essay in Time magazine:

When I learned that my father [Sen. Robert Kennedy] had been murdered, I went into my room, laid on my bed and cried.

The only thing I could think to do was what he and my mother taught me and my brothers and sisters to do when times were difficult, and we couldn't make sense of things. I prayed.

I prayed for my family.

I prayed for my dad.

Then I prayed, "Dear God, please don't let them kill the man who killed Daddy."

I was 8 years old that day in 1968.

I didn't want any other families to have to go through this pain. I didn't want another mother to lose another son, and if this man had children, for them to lose their father. I knew that violence would not bring back my father, nor would it bring back justice or relief, only more pain.

I didn't know then that the death penalty in any country was another institution of racial violence, that the color of a victim's skin and the jurisdiction of the court determined, more than any other factor, whether the brutality was meted out. As a human rights lawyer and former prosecutor, I know this today more than ever.

When I wrote Deans' obituary for The Post in 2011, and referring to inmates affectionately calling her "the Angel of Death Row" while she preferred "Courageous Fool," I included her line, "I have the need to understand why we are so good at passing on violence and so poor at passing on love."

It was a statement less of sentimentalism than activism, because not long after Deans lost her mother to homicide she founded Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, later renamed Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. With both Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr supporting a surge in executions, few moments right now are as worthy of our attention and gratitude as the stories of mothers, fathers and their families who lost loved ones to homicide but publicly lobby against governmental vengeance.

One of them is Vicki Schieber, a former nun whose daughter Shannon, a graduate student at the Wharton School of Business, was murdered by a serial rapist who broke in her apartment in May 1998. Few of the guest speakers I've invited to my peace studies class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School have had as strong an impact on the students as Schieber.

Shannon was a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase before going onto Duke University and then Wharton. For many of the students, capital punishment, if they thought about it all, was little more than a political issue, remote from their daily lives. But here was the mother of a girl who had been her senior class president and someone well remembered by the faculty, baring her heart and soul on how she and her husband were honoring the memory of their child by speaking out against the death penalty, whether in a high school class or a hearing room in Congress.

On Feb. 1, 2006, Schieber, calling for an end to the federal death penalty, told the Senate Judiciary Committee:

My husband and I were both raised in homes with a deep-seated religious faith. We were both raised in households where hatred was never condoned and where the ultimate form of hate was thought to be the deliberate taking of another person's life. The death penalty involves the deliberate, premeditated killing of another human being. The death certificate of an executed person lists the cause of death as homicide. In carrying forward the principles with which my husband and I were raised, and with which we raised our daughter, we cannot in good conscience support the killing of anyone, even the murderer of our own daughter, if such a person could be imprisoned without parole and thereby no longer a danger to society.

If Congress has yet to ban capital punishment, Schieber has had successes closer to home. For years she trekked regularly from her home in Bethesda to Maryland's capitol in Annapolis to speak at hearings and make the rounds to individual lawmakers. In March 2013, in a vote of 82-56, the Maryland House of Delegates abolished the death penalty. Schieber was widely credited for ending the lethal practice that goes back to 1638, the date of Maryland's 1st recorded execution. The Baltimore Sun ran a picture of her in the House gallery cheering the vote with outstretched arms and wide smiling face.

I recently contacted Joseph Giarratano, a former Virginia death row inmate on whose behalf Deans worked tirelessly with others to prove his innocence. He was released in 2017 after 38 years of incarceration and now at age 63 works as a paralegal at a Richmond law firm. Among other recollections about Deans, Giarratano recalled, "Marie refused to support the prosecution's demand for the death penalty for the man who brutally killed her mother. The prosecutor became angry with her — accusing Marie of not loving her mother. But she did love her. Forgiveness is a good thing. It's cleansing. It's life affirming. We can learn from those who find the strength and courage to forgive. Which is why Marie was so special."

As are and were all the others like her, whether driven by prayers or principled altruism.

(source: Coleman McCarthy, National Catholic Reporter)

BELARUS:

No mitigation: Belarusian Viktar Skrundzik still under death sentence----On Friday, Minsk regional court held a visiting session in the town of Slutsk

The cases of 4 residents of Slutsk district were retried; the men were accused of murdering 2 pensioners and attempting to kill an 85-year-old woman.

In 2019, Viktar Skrundzik, together with Valyantsin Bushnin and Vitaly Metezh, burned several pensioners alive and stole their money. According to the verdict, the men committed the crime in a state of intoxication. In February 2020, the court passed a death sentence on Skrundzik, but a few months later, the Supreme Court of Belarus upheld his appeal: the man who asked the authorities to re-define the charge and mitigate the sentence. As a result, the criminal case was reported to be sent for revision, but no further details were published.

Today, however, Mr Skrundzik has been sentenced to death again.

Notably, Belarusian MPs are reported to mull over abolishing the death penalty in the country. The proposal to remove the option from the Belarusian Criminal Code is the most revolutionary item included in the 2nd package of amendments which is being developed now.

(source: belsat.eu)

PAKISTAN:

Sindh Assembly makes manufacture, sale of ice drug capital offence

The Sindh Assembly on Friday unanimously passed the Control of Narcotic Substances (Sindh Amendment) Bill, 2021, making the manufacturing, selling and dispatching of methamphetamine drug, commonly known as ice or crystal, a punishable offence as a person involved in the heinous crime could get death penalty.

According to the statement of objects and reasons of the government bill, the culprits are given no punishment in trial courts as neurotoxic synthetic drugs including ice, crystal and meth were not defined in the laws.

“Punishment for drug-related crimes in the law are also assigned as per quantity whereas severity of addiction and harm is not considered and drugs like heroin and cannabis are treated in same category,” it added.

It also said that rigorousness of punishment may vary with respect of quantity, that’s why it was very difficult for police to prove the heinousness of the crime and get desired conviction.

“No person shall extract, prepare, process, manufacture, sell, purchase, deliver on any terms whatsoever, transport or dispatch the drug”, the bill said, adding that the people found involved in violating the law could be given death penalty, or imprisonment of three years to life term, depending upon the quantity of drugs.

As per the bill, a person could be given capital punishment, or life imprisonment, if the drug’s quantity exceeded to 10 kilograms. The fine up to Rs1 million may also be imposed on the law violators.

PTI, GDA boycott proceedings; TLP questions why Bhutto’s shrine is open when all other mazars are closed

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla, who moved the bill after the standing committee on law presented its report, said that the legislation was the need of the hour.

He said that there was no law for punishing the people involved in manufacturing and sale of recreational drugs.

“It [the bill] is for the betterment of our new generation,” he added.

PA passes succession certificate law

The house also unanimously passed the Letter of Administration and Succession Certificate (LASC) Bill, 2021 that would enable people to obtain the document directly from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), bringing an end to the lengthy process of obtaining it from courts.

Currently, LASCs are being issued under the Succession Act 1925 by the courts having jurisdiction.

The parliamentary affairs minister, who presented the bill in a very thinly attended house, said that obtaining the LASCs from the courts had been a lengthy process and the new law was enacted to make it easy and speedy to curtail fraud and forgery.

He said that it was also a time-consuming procedure, adding that the provincial government decided to enact the law keeping in view miseries of the citizens.

“Under the law the heirs of a deceased person could be able to apply directly in Nadra for obtaining a succession certificate,” he added.

The minister said that the people could approach the court if Nadra failed to issue them certificates on time.

MPAs’ lack of interest in legislation

Only 18 lawmakers were present during the legislative proceedings.

While the Pakistan Peoples Party-led provincial government claims to have carried out the legislation in larger interest of the people of Sindh, only 13 party legislators were present in the house and hardly five other PPP MPAs took part in the voting through a video link for passage of the bills.

The PPP’s strength in the house is 96 as 3 of its MPAs had died.

The opposition parties also showed a lack of interest in the lawmaking as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Grand Democratic Alliance boycotted the proceedings against adoption of an adjournment motion of PPP member Nida Khuhro on the federal government’s ‘intention’ to alter the 18th Amendment.

Members belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal distanced themselves from legislation and seemed less bothered in the proceedings.

Earlier, GDA and PTI lawmakers boycotted the proceedings as they were not allowed to speak on Ms Khuhro’s adjournment motion that was admitted for discussion.

TLP slams shrines’ closure

In his calling-attention notice, Mufti Mohammad Qasim Fakhri of the TLP criticised the provincial government for closing the shrines under the garb of Covid-19.

“Why is Bhutto’s (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) mausoleum open while shrines are closed across the province?” he asked.

Mufti Qasim thought that the coronavirus would not spread through shrines but public gatherings of the Pakistan Democratic Movement.

Parliamentary Secretary for Auqaf Heer Soho said that it was very unfortunate that the government had to close the shrines, adding that the decision was taken by the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC).

“The shrines are closed for public till January 31 and hopefully, they would be opened after that,” she added.

Later, the proceedings were adjourned till Monday.

(source: dawn.com)

INDIA:

Koli held guilty in 12th Nithari murder case, employer Pandher acquitted----The CBI registered 16 cases, charge sheeting Koli in all of them for murder, abduction, rape besides destruction of evidence, and Pandher in one for immoral trafficking. In 11 previous cases, the court had found Koli guilty in all and had awarded the death sentence.

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ghaziabad on Friday held prime accused in the Nithari murders Surinder Koli guilty but acquitted his employer Mondinder Singh Pandher in a case linked to the murders.

The case is of the abduction, attempted rape and murder of a 20-year-old domestic help and destruction of evidence in the crime. Lawyers attached to the case said that the quantum of punishment is likely to be pronounced on Saturday.

The infamous Nithari murders were believed to be committed between 2005 and 2006. In December 2006, skeletons were found in a drain near to a house in Nithari, Noida. Pandher is the owner of the house and Koli was his domestic help.

The CBI registered 16 cases, charge sheeting Koli in all of them for murder, abduction, rape besides destruction of evidence, and Pandher in one for immoral trafficking. The Ghaziabad court, however, summoned Pandher in 5 other cases after several victims’ families approached it.

In 11 previous cases, the court had found Koli guilty in all and had awarded the death sentence all of which are now pending appeal in higher courts. With Friday’s ruling, Pandher has been acquitted in 2 cases.

The 12th case was regarding a murder that is believed to have happened on November 12, 2006.

“Koli lured her into the house where he killed her. Her body parts and belongings were recovered in the investigation and the parents identified her clothes. Koli in his statements before a magistrate had also revealed her name. Later, DNA sampling of the remains and blood of victim’s parents also matched,” said JP Sharma, CBI public prosecutor. He said that the prosecution produced 38 witnesses in the case.

The prosecution, during final arguments in all previous cases, had demanded death penalty for Koli while terming the killings as “rarest of rare”.

Koli, a native of Mangrukhal village in Almora district of Uttarakhand, is representing his cases himself in the trial court and had been lodged in Dasna jail ever since he was arrested in December, 2006. Pandher is lodged in Dasna jail.

“Of the 6 cases we now have only1 case which is pending trial at Ghaziabad while the other cases are pending appeal before higher courts,” said Devraj Singh, Pandher’s lawyer at Ghaziabad court.

(source: Hindustan Times)

JANUARY 15, 2021:

FLORIDA:

Florida Supreme Court Reverses Course on Death Penalty

Florida’s Supreme Court rulings have broadened the interpretation and use of the death penalty. This year, four decisive cases have dismantled legal requirements that set high standards for a death penalty sentence and reduced protections for defendants who face capital punishment.

The 5 judicial appointments that Governor Ron DeSantis made to the highest court in the state during his tenure have impacted judicial precedent regarding criminal justice.

It started on Jan. 23, 2020, when the court ruled that they erred in the 2016 decision of Hurst v. State.

In Hurst v. State, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst v. Florida, which held that a jury must be unanimous in deciding if someone convicted of murder should be sentenced to death.

Prior to Hurst, a simple 7-5 majority was the necessary threshold to recommend a death sentence in Florida. With Hurstin effect, a unanimous vote was required for a death sentence; this change forced the legislature to change the law after the ruling, bringing Florida into the majority of states that require a unanimous jury to implement the death penalty.

However, Florida may become an outlier again when it comes to the death penalty: the January 2020 ruling in State v. Poole overturned the need for a unanimous jury.

Charles Canady, the Chief Justice, wrote in the majority “This Court clearly erred in Hurst v. State… Neither Hurst v. Florida, nor the Sixth or Eighth Amendment, nor the Florida Constitution mandates…that the jury recommend a sentence of death.”

Justice Jorge Labarga, the only justice to oppose the ruling, wrote in dissent that “The majority gives the green light to return to a practice that is not only inconsistent with laws of all but one of the 29 states that retain the death penalty, but inconsistent with the law governing the federal death penalty.”

The dismantling of protections continued when the court ruled in two decisive cases in May 2020.

In the first case, Bush v. State, the court eliminated a rule requiring lower courts to apply additional scrutiny to cases where evidence of guilt is entirely circumstantial.

Circumstantial evidence relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion. A suspect running from the scene of a crime with a possible weapon is circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is a witness testifying seeing the suspect shoot or harm the hypothetical victim. Just a week later after Bush v. State, the court ruled in Phillips v. State, which established that the current for evaluating whether a defendant is intellectually disabled should not be applied after the fact occurred.

Since 2002, there has been a ban on executing intellectually disabled defendants as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. However, the ruling left it to the individual states to come up with their own methods to determine if a defendant is intellectually disabled.

Florida’s system was flawed. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s system for determining intellectual disability was unconstitutional. The assessment did not account for the high margin of error when testing for possible disabilities.

As a result, the Florida Supreme Court ruled two years later that the U.S. Supreme Court changes could be applied retroactively, meaning that cases where defendants were incorrectly assessed on trial for the intellectual disability could appeal.

Phillips v. State got rid of the retroactive ruling and any possibility for an appeal to those still on death row.

Six months after the Bush and Phillips rulings, the Florida Supreme Court removed proportionality review for death penalty cases in Lawrence v. Florida.

Proportionality review is a legal practice where a death penalty case is compared with previous cases to determine whether the given death sentence is “excessive” or “disproportionate.” 15 out of the 28 states who still have the death penalty use proportional review.

This practice is critical for when death penalty cases are going through the appeals process.

Despite the court’s recent backtracking on legal precedent surrounding the death penalty protections, the rulings on these four cases ultimately chart a new course for how Florida views and applies capital punishment in the future.

(source: Florida Political Review)

IOWA:

Death penalty proposed for specific child murder cases

A bill to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa — just for those convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering children — has cleared a subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.

Sam Jones, pastor of the Faith Baptist Church in Hudson, spoke in favor of the bill during a hearing yesterday.

“What does scripture say? Genesis 9:6, which is where we’d often founding of our civil government says this: ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed,'” he said. “….We’re not talking, of course, about putting to death those that are innocent. We’re talking about those who are guilty.”

Twenty other people spoke. All opposed the bill. Patti McKee of Des Moines told legislators she was the victim of a violent crime.

“Had I died, it would have been to cover up another crime and I stand here opposed to the death penalty,” she said. “Taking a life for a life doesn’t get us anywhere except a more violent society.”

Loxie Hopkins of Davenport said a state-sanctioned death penalty goes against her Catholic faith.

“I understand that you’re talking about the death penalty for just one instance,” she said, “but we have to all know that it won’t stop here.”

Several speakers, like Indira Scheumaker (SHOO-may-ker) of Des Moines, said minorities are far more likely than white defendants to be sentenced to death.

“Sentencing is harsher for black people,” she said. “…That means there is going to be a disparity of who’s going to be sentenced to the death penalty if we have this.”

Jadyn Lovelady, a Creighton University student, made a similar argument.

“Listen to the reality of what is happening in our country today,” she said. “…It is unacceptable to put this bill forward.”

Others said the cost of capital punishment is far greater than the current sentence for those convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a minor, which is life in prison with no chance for parole. Republican Senator Julian Garrett of Indianola, the bill’s chief sponsor, responded at the end of the hour-long hearing.

“We had a lot of talk about the killer, the person that did the killing or the accused, but I don’t remember very much discussion about the victims,” Garrett said. “It seems to me they ought to get at least as much, probably more attention from us, than the people that did the killing.”

Garrett and another Republican senator announced their support for the bill at the conclusion of the hearing, making the proposal eligible for consideration in a senate committee.

(source: radioiowa.com)

USA----federal execution

U.S. Executes Corey Johnson for 7 Murders in 1992----Mr. Johnson’s execution, the 12th during the Trump administration, was carried out weeks after he found out he had the coronavirus.

The Trump administration executed Corey Johnson on Thursday for a series of 7 murders in 1992. He was the 12th federal inmate put to death under President Trump.

Mr. Johnson committed the murders in the Richmond, Va., area to further a drug enterprise that trafficked large quantities of cocaine. Among his crimes were the shooting with a semiautomatic weapon of a rival drug dealer, the killing of a woman who had not paid for some crack cocaine and the shooting of a man at close range whom Mr. Johnson suspected of cooperating with the police.

Mr. Johnson, 52, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 11:34 p.m. at the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the Bureau of Prisons said. When asked by an executioner if he had any last words, Mr. Johnson responded, “No, I’m OK,” according to a report from a journalist in attendance. Several seconds later, he said softly, “Love you,” gazing at a room designated for members of his family.

In a statement released by a spokesperson for his defense team, Mr. Johnson apologized to the families that were victimized by his actions and listed the names of the 7 murder victims, requesting that they be remembered. They are: Louis Johnson, Anthony Carter, Dorothy Armstrong, Curtis Thorne, Linwood Chiles, Peyton Johnson, and Bobby Long.

“On the streets, I was looking for shortcuts, I had some good role models, I was side tracking, I was blind and stupid,” he said. “I am not the same man that I was.”

Mr. Johnson thanked the chaplain, his minister, his legal team and the staff in the special confinement unit. He noted that “the pizza and strawberry shake were wonderful,” but that he never received the jelly-filled doughnuts that he ordered, a reference to his final meal request. “What’s with that?” he added. “This should be fixed.”

Mr. Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus last month, shortly after the government scheduled his execution, during an outbreak on federal death row at the prison in Terre Haute. At least 22 of the men housed on death row there tested positive, lawyers for the prisoners and others with knowledge of their cases said. Madeline Cohen, who represents 2 of the men, said she knew of 33 cases.

In a request to delay Mr. Johnson’s execution, his lawyers said the virus had caused significant lung damage. They argued his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because he could experience a sensation of suffocating or drowning if put to death with the federal government’s method, which uses a single drug, pentobarbital. Instead, his lawyers suggested, Mr. Johnson could be executed by firing squad or the Bureau of Prisons could administer a pain-relieving anesthetic drug before the injection of pentobarbital.

Specifically, Mr. Johnson’s lawyers argued that the combination of the coronavirus and the government’s lethal injection protocol would place him “especially at risk of experiencing flash pulmonary edema while still sensate.” Flash pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid rapidly accumulates in the lungs, has been at the center of some challenges to the federal government’s execution protocol. The courts have been largely unreceptive to those claims.

But briefly, it seemed as if the coronavirus would provide Mr. Johnson a reprieve. A judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia suspended Mr. Johnson’s execution and another execution scheduled for Friday until at least March. Shortly after, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned that order.

Joined by another judge on the panel, Judge Gregory G. Katsas of the Appeals Court cited Supreme Court precedent that states that the Eighth Amendment “‘does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people.’”

In a filing with the Supreme Court, the government contrasted its lethal injection protocol with death by hanging, claiming that hanging could cause suffocation that lasts several minutes. Even if coronavirus infections would make the prisoners’ executions more painful, the government argued, the “brief duration of pain,” most likely measured in seconds or at most 2 minutes, would be far less than that of inmates executed by hanging.

Mr. Johnson “is a convicted serial killer who murdered and maimed multiple people on different occasions, and whose victims included innocent bystanders,” the government said in a separate filing with the Supreme Court. “Their families have waited decades for the sentence to be enforced and are currently in Terre Haute, Ind., for the execution.”

A majority of the Supreme Court sided with the government in declining Mr. Johnson’s requests for reprieve.

Mr. Johnson’s lawyers also sought to challenge his execution by arguing he was intellectually disabled, rendering it unlawful.

His claims of intellectual disability were rejected on the basis that an I.Q. score of 77 was believed to be too high to merit the diagnosis, his lawyers said. But they argued that results from other I.Q. tests and an adjusted version of the same score indicated that he qualified as intellectually disabled.

But rebutting those claims, the Justice Department contended that the murders were planned, and not impulsive acts by someone incapable of calculated judgments. For example, when the drug organization operated in Trenton, N.J., Mr. Johnson beat people with a metal bat to protect the enterprise, the government said.

Lawyers for another man executed by the Trump administration — Alfred Bourgeois in December — also argued that their client was intellectually disabled. In both cases, a majority on the Supreme Court rejected the prisoners’ claims.

2 of Mr. Johnson’s lawyers still maintained that their client lacked the capacity to be a drug kingpin, as he was portrayed by the government. In a statement, they said he could barely read or write, struggled with basic tasks of daily living and was “a follower, desperate for approval, support and guidance.”

“No court ever held a hearing to consider the overwhelming evidence of Mr. Johnson’s intellectual disability,” said the lawyers, Donald P. Salzman and Ronald J. Tabak. “And the clemency process failed to play its historic role as a safeguard against violations of due process and the rule of law.”

Mr. Johnson was convicted in 1993 of seven capital murders, among a host of other charges related to drug trafficking and acts of violence. His lawyers unsuccessfully argued that he should be granted some reprieve under the First Step Act, a bill signed into law by Mr. Trump that among other things allowed for shortened sentences for certain drug offenders.

2 others involved in the conspiracy — Richard Tipton and James Roane — who together trafficked large quantities of cocaine in the Richmond area in the early 1990s, were also sentenced to death.

Mr. Tipton and Mr. Roane remain at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute. The Justice Department has not scheduled their executions.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose term begins Wednesday, has signaled his opposition to the federal death penalty, so their executions are unlikely to occur anytime soon. Mr. Biden has pledged to work to pass legislation to end the federal death penalty as part of his criminal justice platform.

The Trump administration intends to execute its final inmate, Dustin J. Higgs, on Friday. Mr. Higgs was sentenced to death for the 1996 murders of 3 women in Maryland. If his lawyers are unsuccessful in their appeals and Mr. Trump does not grant clemency, Mr. Higgs’s death will be 13th federal execution in a little over 6 months and the 3rd this week. Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was put to death on Wednesday.

Since July, the number of prisoners under a federal death sentence dropped by about 20 % as a result of the spate of executions carried out by the Trump administration, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. That month, the administration resumed the use of federal capital punishment after a 17-year hiatus.

Johnson becomes the 2nd condemned federal inmate to be put to death this year and the 15th overall since federal executions resumed in 2001.

Johnson becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1,531st overall since the nations resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: New York Times & Rick Halperin)

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Federal Government Executes Corey Johnson, Who was Likely Intellectually Disabled, Without Any Judicial Review of His Eligibility for the Death Penalty

For the 2nd time in less than 5 weeks, the federal government has executed a death-row prisoner who likely was intellectually disabled, without affording him judicial review to determine his eligibility for the death penalty. Corey Johnson (pictured) was pronounced dead from lethal injection at 11:34 p.m. on January 14, 2021, the 12th federal prisoner executed in 6 months and the fifth in the transition period between Donald Trump’s defeat in the November 2020 presidential election and the scheduled inauguration of Joseph R. Biden on January 20, 2021.

The only other time in U.S. history that as many as 5 transition-period executions took place was in 1884-1885 during the transition between Chester A. Arthur and the 1st presidency of Grover Cleveland.

In an order issued at 10:00 p.m., 4 hours after Johnson was scheduled to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Johnson’s emergency application for a stay of execution to permit him to present evidence that the constitution prohibited his execution because he has intellectual disability. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor dissented. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that the execution of people with intellectual disability violates the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishments. Johnson also argued that his execution would violate a 1988 federal statute that forbids applying the federal death penalty to prisoners with intellectual disability.

Earlier in the evening, in an 8-7 vote, the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declined to reconsider a 3-judge panel’s ruling refusing to grant Johnson an evidentiary hearing on his claim. In dissent, Judge James A. Wynn wrote, supplying emphasis, that “Corey Johnson is an intellectually disabled death row inmate who is scheduled to be executed later today.” Newly available evidence, he wrote “convincingly demonstrates … that he is intellectually disabled under current diagnostic standards. But no court has ever considered such evidence. If Johnson’s death sentence is carried out today, the United States will execute an intellectually disabled person, which is unconstitutional.”

On December 11, 2020, the federal government executed Alfred Bourgeois despite evidence that he may have been ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. During his earlier appeals, a federal court in Texas denied Bourgeois’ claim of intellectual disability, relying on a series of lay stereotypes that had no clinical validity and whose use the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional. When he sought to obtain judicial review of his condition based upon current clinical definitions of the disorder, another federal district court found that he had made a “strong showing” of intellectual disability and granted him permission to litigate that claim. A federal appeals court reversed, saying Bourgeois had already been provided an opportunity to litigate his claim, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the execution to go forward.

In December 2020, shortly after the federal government set his execution date, Johnson filed a petition in federal district court in Richmond, Virginia seeking review of evidence of intellectual disability that his trial lawyer failed to develop. His new lawyers presented records and witness affidavits showing that Johnson had “remained in the second grade for three years, and also repeated 3rd and 4th grades. When asked his birthday at age 8, while in second grade, he thought it was in March, though he was actually born in November. When he was 13 years old, he could barely write his own name. And while he knew there were 12 months in the year, he could recite them only up to August. Corey was not able to tell time or perform arithmetic beyond a 3rd-grade level …. When he was last tested at age 45, Mr. Johnson was still at an elementary school level ….”

The district court dismissed Johnson’s petition without prejudice, ruling that it was a successive habeas corpus petition that, under federal law, required permission from the federal appeal court before it could be reviewed. Johnson appealed that ruling and asked the Fourth Circuit for a stay of execution. Separately, he asked the circuit court for authorization to file a second habeas corpus petition if the court believed it was necessary. On January 12, the Fourth Circuit denied Johnson’s requests to stay his execution. On January 13, Johnson filed a petition for rehearing en banc, leading to the appeals court’s 8-7 decision.

Defense Counsel’s Failures at Trial

Johnson’s court-appointed lawyer at trial failed to argue that he was ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability even though counsel was aware that Johnson had been placed in special education classes because of his intellectual deficits and Richard Benedict, an educator who had taught Johnson, had called him a “poster child” for intellectual disability. Instead, defense counsel told the jury, “Now, I’m not intending to suggest at this juncture or any other juncture that Corey Johnson is mentally retarded.”

Counsel attempted to justify his actions by because Dr. Dewey Cornell, a psychologist with no expertise in intellectual disability, administered an outdated IQ test to Johnson and scored his IQ at 77, placing him above the 70-75 range typically defined as indicating intellectual disability. Subsequently, Johnson’s appeal lawyers retained Dr. J. Gregory Olley, a nationally recognized expert in intellectual disability, who discovered that Cornell had failed to account for inflated scores caused by using older IQ tests.

Under this phenomenon, known as the Flynn effect, scores on IQ tests rise an average of 3 points per decade after a test is released, and the raw score obtained on the test must be adjusted to account for this difference. In Johnson’s case, Cornell administered an IQ test that was more than a decade old and failed to account for the inflated results. Adjusted for the Flynn effect, Olley said, Johnson’s IQ score was 72.8, within the range of intellectual disability. That score also was in line with other test scores Johnson had received as a child that were reflected in records trial counsel had failed to obtain. Olley wrote, “the evidence for Corey Johnson’s intellectual disability diagnosis is strong and deep, and it is corroborated by contemporaneous records created by professionals during his childhood and adolescence, by my interviews of a diverse group of people who knew him best from an array of perspectives, by standardized testing.”

Because Johnson’s defense team failed to raise his claim of intellectual disability at trial, he was executed without any court having heard evidence that his execution would be unconstitutional.

The Continuing Unconstitutional Execution of Intellectually Disabled Defendants

The executions of Johnson and Bourgeois reflect the continuing inability or refusal of courts to enforce the constitutional prohibition against executing defendants with intellectual disability, particularly in cases involving defendants of color. DPIC has identified more than 25 prisoners who have been executed since Atkins was decided in 2002, despite significant evidence that they were intellectually disabled.

2 more executions of likely intellectually disabled death-row prisoners are scheduled within the next four weeks. Blaine Milam is scheduled to be executed January 21, 2021, even though the Texas courts applied scientifically invalid criteria, later declared unconstitutional, to reject his intellectually disability claim and subsequently refused to afford him an evidentiary hearing at which he could receive a clinically appropriate assessment of his mental condition. Willie B. Smith III faces a February 11, 2021 execution date in Alabama, despite a determination by a federal appeals court that he meets the definition of intellectual disability.

A DPIC review of more than 130 death sentences reversed as a result of intellectual disability found that intellectually disabled defendants of color are disproportionally susceptible to being wrongly sentenced to death. More than 80% of the death-row prisoners whose death sentences have been vacated as a result of intellectual disability are persons of color and two-thirds are African American.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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Trump Admin Spent Millions Carrying Out Federal Executions In A Pandemic

At a time when many Americans were desperate for financial relief, the U.S. government spent millions of taxpayer dollars putting federal inmates to death amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump administration resumed federal executions last summer, despite criticism over the risks posed by the pandemic. 11 inmates have been put to death since federal execution resumed.

5 of them were executed in July and August alone—Daniel Lewis Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell and Keith Nelson.

The estimated cost of executing those five men was more than $4.61 million, according to details of expenditures provided by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and obtained by Newsweek.

The amount does not include costs that were redacted by the BOP.

The BOP has estimated that each execution draws between 50 and 125 people to the prison complex, including a 40-person execution team.

And because executions also draw prison staff away from other duties, the prison is placed under modified lockdown and pre-packaged meals are served.

Rick Winter, an attorney for the BOP, detailed in a declaration that about 200 employees are "pulled away from their normal duties" to provide support during executions at the Terre Haute prison. As a result, alternative meals must be prepared for around 2,600 inmates around the time of the executions "at a greatly increased cost to the BOP."

He also said the BOP intended to arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of the execution team, a number of BOP administrators, as well as family members of victims.

Lee, Purkey and Honken were put to death in the same week in July. According to the data proved by the BOP, $79,508 was spent on hotel rooms and a further $2,361 on flights for those executions.

Around $21,168 was spent on box meals while transport costs amounted to $11,010. The BOP also purchased coolers and shade tents for $1,839.

In August, Mitchell and Nelson were executed days apart. A breakdown of the cost reveals $28,372 was spent on hotel rooms, as well as $6,594 on bottled water and more than $30,000 on meals.

Another $6,480 was spent on "chips for lockdown meals."

The BOP also spent almost $4,000 on snacks and refreshments from Sam's Club for staff, visitors and outside law enforcement.

But the single largest expense was more than $3 million to institutions for the BOP execution team.

Cassandra Stubbs, the director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project, told Newsweek that it isn't clear if those payments were to individuals or facilities.

She also said the data provided so far is believed to be an underestimate—and she is confident the true cost of the executions is far higher.

She added that it was also difficult to put the amount spent into perspective because federal executions had not taken place for almost two decades when the Trump administration started them up again last year. "We don't have information about costs during a time that's not a pandemic," she added.

"Certainly some of these expenses are COVID-related," she said, citing hand-washing stations that were set up, "but there's no baseline because we haven't had a recent federal execution."

Federal executions cost far more than state executions due to the need to bring reporters, lawyers, family members and witnesses to the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center told Newsweek.

"But here, the costs may be further inflated by the no-bid secret contract with private executioners and the huge execution teams the Bureau of Prisons have imported from out-of-state federal facilities to participate in the executions," he said.

Dunham agreed that the numbers are thought to "significantly understate" the true cost of executions.

"Those include the medical and social costs from spreading the pandemic throughout the Terre Haute community, the prison facility, and beyond," he said. "They also include the added cost of piecemeal litigation and appeal of a number of legal issues related to the adoption of the federal execution protocol."

Stubbs described the executions as a "gross misplacement" of resources at a critical time. "It's just morally repugnant that the federal government has spread the threat of serious illness and death in the name of trying to carry out and rush through executions," she said.

"There was no need to restart executions and certainly no need to carry out so many executions during a pandemic when each execution brings together and poses an enormous risk to so many circles of people.

"At the same time, it shows a gross misplacement of resources at a time when there are staffing shortages, crises and lack of personnel because so many BOP staff are becoming sick, that they're going to double down and pull desperately needed staff to carry out executions and potentially make more individuals sick and unable to go to work—and to do it all on the taxpayer dime."

Dunham added: "It is astonishing that the federal government has spent so much money to carry out executions in the pandemic, and at the same time failed to take necessary precautions against spreading the virus. It is yet another example of backwards priorities."

Lisa Montgomery became the 1st woman executed by the federal government in almost 70 years early Wednesday.

2 other federal executions are scheduled for this week, despite a coronavirus outbreak at the Terre Haute prison and just days before President-elect Joe Biden, a death penalty opponent, is inaugurated on January 20.

A federal judge had halted the executions of Dustin Higgs and Cory Jonhson because both are recovering from COVID-19, but the stays were vacated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday night.

The BOP and the DOJ did not respond to requests for comment.

(source: newsweek.com)

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Behind the razor wire: A look at the U.S. Penitentiary in Indiana, home of the nation’s death row

The U.S. Penitentiary has been part of Terre Haute’s landscape since 1940.

It’s much larger than it was 80 years ago, and is now the only federal prison were executions take place.

Former prison guard, Kevin Beaver described death row as “a very choreographed area.”

He said each cell contains a bed, desk, shower and toilet. He also noted that the area, officially known as “the Confinement Unit” is library quiet.

The local facility is back in the spotlight as the nation waits to hear if executions will move forward.

Earlier this year, the federal government moved to resume executions after a 16-year informal moratorium. Five federal death row inmates were given execution dates in December and January.

Days before the 1st inmate’s sentence was to be carried out, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to temporarily halt the executions.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., made the ruling after some of the chosen inmates challenged the new execution procedures in court. Chutkan ruled that the use of the drug Pentobarbital likely violates the Federal Death Penalty Act.

While the federal executions are tied up in court, Indiana has had the death penalty at the state level since 1977.

Among those sentenced to die was Terre Haute resident Bill Benefiel.

Kidnap, rape murder: The case against the last man executed from Terre Haute

Bill Benefiel’s crimes continue to shock people.

Benefiel, who was the last man executed from Terre Haute, kidnapped 2 women in Terre Haute and held them captive. He beat and raped them both, eventually killing one, by supergluing her mouth and nose shut.

Phil Adler was the new Vigo County Prosecutor back in 1987. He had been in office for less than a year when police received a tip about Benefiel and his “House of Horror.”

“I figured, if there was ever a death penalty case I was going to be involved in, this had to be the one,” Adler said.

After a three week trial, Adler won the conviction, and the jury recommended the death penalty.

After more than 16 years of appeals, Benefiel was put to death by lethal injection in April of 2005.

According to the state, Benefiel’s last meal was pizza, an Italian beef sandwich, 4 pints of ice cream and 12 sodas.

When asked if he had any final words, he said, “No, let’s get this over with. Let’s do it.”

Family members of both victims traveled to Michigan City where the execution took place. But, according to media accounts, the surviving victim did not attend.

Due to Indiana state law, none were allowed to watch Benefiel die.

While the death penalty is still legal in Indiana, the last state execution was held in 2009. There are currently nine people sitting on death row.

Since the Department of Justice announced federal executions would resume, advocates against the death penalty have held community forums and vigils to spread awareness.

At age 93, a nun, former spiritual advisor to death row inmate continues to fight against execution

Sister Rita Clare Geradot has been a nun with the Sisters of Providence for 75 years. The petite woman also spent time as the spiritual advisor of federal death row inmate David Paul Hammer.

Geradot would sit and talk to the self-confessed con man and killer. He was convicted of murdering his cellmate, and for that received the death penalty.

“And you get to know a person as a human being who has likes and dislikes, and good points and bad points, just the way all of us do,” Geradot said.

Hammer’s sentence was eventually commuted to life without parole just days before his execution was scheduled to take place.

He passed away in June, but not before writing two books, including one about his time on death row with Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh. The book is still available on Amazon.

Meanwhile, Geradot plans to continue to fight the death penalty until it’s abolished.

“I don’t think we should ever judge people by the worst thing they’ve ever done in their life,” she said. “And if you stop and think, is there something in your own background that you would not want other people to know? So, you have to be ready to forgive.”

Geradot isn’t the only one who found her time working with inmates to be rewarding.

Former death row prison guard encourages students to consider jobs within correctional system

Now an instructor in the Criminology Department at Indiana State University, Kevin Beaver spent 20 years working at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute.

Beaver said he enjoyed the job.

“The characters are there. The people, the staff,” he said. “It’s just an amazing place I didn’t even know existed. As soon as I was in there the first day, I was hooked. Fascinating conversation with inmates there. Very intriguing.”

Beaver worked in the prison from 1995 to 2005. Part of that time, he was a guard on death row.

“Anytime they come out, they’re completely restrained, and there’s multiple people supervising that activity,” he said. Beaver’s goal now is to help students look at the federal prison system as an important career option.

A recent job posting by the bureau of prisons offers starting pay for a correctional officer at $41,868 up to $60,278.

Beaver did well from the beginning.

“I was able to buy a house right after my 1st year and a truck and just like you’ll see young men and women who work there,” he said. “They start buying the new cars, yeah, it’s a good living.”

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USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Corey Johnson at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 14, the USA has now executed 1,531 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.

1532-----Jan. 15-----------Dustin Higgs-------------------Federal

1533-----Jan. 21-----------Blaine Milam-------------------Texas

(source: Rick Halperin)

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Martin Luther King Jr. abhorred the death penalty. Executing Black men on his birthday would dishonor him.----Martin Luther King III is the oldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

In 1957, my father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was asked whether God approves of the death penalty for certain crimes. He responded, “I do not think that God approves the death penalty for any crime.” He explained that “capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”

My father also recognized “the severity and inequality” of the death penalty. He spoke out against the disproportionate execution of young Black men, often barely older than children at the time of their crimes, whose punishments were surely influenced by their skin color.

Decades later, President Trump and his Justice Department, in their unprecedented barrage of executions, have disregarded all of the principles of humanity, decency and justice that my father preached. After a 17-year hiatus of federal executions, the Trump administration carried out a shocking 11 executions in the past months and scheduled 2 more for the final days of Trump’s time in office. It is worth noting that this bloodbath exceeded the executions of all states co7mbined in 2020.

Lest anyone confuse these executions with the pursuit of justice, we should recall that those executed included a Black man convicted by an all-White jury, 2 young Black men who were barely legal adults at the time of their crimes and a Black man whose claim of intellectual disability went unexamined. And that’s not to mention the prisoners whose claims of government misconduct, incompetence to be executed, and other serious problems were brushed aside in the government’s haste to kill them. The administration carried out executions over the vehement opposition of victims’ family members and jurors, and in one case over the objection of the Navajo Nation based on its tribal sovereignty. It also executed Lisa Montgomery, a severely mentally ill woman convicted in the strangling of a pregnant woman despite Montgomery’s history of suffering unspeakable torture and trauma throughout her life.

To cap off its killing spree, the Trump administration had planned 2 more executions: On Thursday, it would execute another young Black man, Cory Johnson, convicted of multiple gang-related murders whose intellectual disability should preclude his execution. And on Friday, it would execute Dustin Higgs, another young Black man convicted for his involvement in the murder of 3 women, though he didn’t personally kill anyone. This week, a U.S. district judge issued a stay of execution for both men because they contracted the coronavirus. On Thursday, a federal appeals court vacated a stay of execution for both cases, meaning only the Supreme Court can intervene to stop the executions from taking place.

Friday would have been my father’s 92nd birthday. Nothing could dishonor his legacy more profoundly than if these executions go forward.

Over the past year, we have lost too many Black lives to police violence and a pandemic mismanaged by this administration. The federal government should not be needlessly taking more Black lives, and to do so on my father’s birthday would be shameful.

My father would be disheartened, but not surprised, by the racial disparities that permeate the federal death penalty system today. The government might have tried to obscure that inequity by selecting White men for its first several executions, but the facts are unavoidable. Well more than 50 % of the 51 people on federal death row today are people of color, including 22 Black men. Some of those Black men were convicted by all-White juries. In fact, in several cases, the federal government’s decision to prosecute a case instead of leaving it to state authorities had the effect of “bleaching” the jury pool — drawing jurors from a large federal judicial district instead of from the more racially diverse city in which the crime occurred.

Last week, we saw just how far Trump will go in his disdain for the rule of law. Here and now, his Justice Department must stop using the power of the state to execute people. Perhaps now more than ever, we need our leaders to heed my father’s teaching that “returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

(source: Opinion, Washington Post)

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The Irish Times view on US death row: cruel to the end

In another cruel twist to the final act of the Trump presidency, US federal authorities on Wednesday executed 54-year-old Lisa Montgomery, the first woman on federal death row to die in 67 years.

Despite a flurry of late appeals, last-minute stays on the execution of the deeply disturbed woman were lifted by the supreme court. Had her lawyers managed to prolong the legal process even a few days, she would have seen her sentence commuted to life by President Joe Biden who has pledged to end the federal death penalty.

Her death, by lethal injection in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, is the 11th execution since the Trump administration resumed use of federal capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus.

In a truly gruesome murder in 2004, Montgomery had strangled an 8-month-pregnant woman, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, and then cut her foetus from her body with a kitchen knife to claim the child as her own. The baby girl lived and turned 16 last month on the anniversary of her mother’s death.

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2007 and since then her lawyers have fought for leniency claiming that she was brain damaged at birth, subjected to “sexual torture”, including gang rapes, as a child, physically and sexually abused by her father, and trafficked by her mother.

As late as Monday a stay had been granted to allow a competency hearing on claims of mental illness, neurological impairment and complex trauma, and two other stays had been granted in other courts. But the supreme court cleared the way for the execution to proceed, as it has done with the previous 10 inmates executed by the Trump administration.

2 more federal inmates are scheduled for execution this week, including a man whose lawyers say is clearly intellectualy disabled and has spent the past 27 years on death row. The supreme court has ruled it is illegal to execute intellectually disabled people but may not allow his lawyers the chance to prove that.

(source: Irish Times)

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Boston Marathon Bomber Appeal Is Early Biden Death-Penalty Test

President-elect Joe Biden says he’s against the death penalty now. A case involving the surviving Boston Marathon bomber waiting for him on Day One will test if he means it.

The Justice Department under President Donald Trump is petitioning the Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentences of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who won an appeals court ruling last year. The high court will next consider whether to grant review of the government’s appeal in private conference on Friday, after not acting on the petition when it was first up for consideration last week.

The Supreme Court could announce as soon as Friday that it’s granting review; it could also deny to take it up in an orders list on Tuesday, or again take no action.

Whatever the justices do, Biden’s administration will be confronted as soon as he takes office Jan. 20 with how to handle the case against 1 of the men responsible for the 2013 deadly bombing. Tsarnaev’s 2015 capital prosecution occurred during Biden’s vice presidential tenure, and the incoming Democratic chief executive supported capital punishment as a senator. He pledged to end federal executions during his White House campaign.

“Tsarnaev is the perfect case to test whether Mr. Biden really means that he opposes the death penalty in all cases,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a crime-victims’ group. “If he really means all, then he should take that action in the case that cries out for the death penalty the most, and this is it.”

Biden’s transition team didn’t respond to questions about what the administration will do in Tsarnaev’s case. His website lists “Eliminate the death penalty” as part of his criminal justice policy. It notes that, since 1973, over 160 people who were previously sentenced to death have been exonerated.

“Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example,” his site says. “These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole.”

Democrats said this week they’re introducing legislation to ban the federal death penalty.

Victim Factor

Tsarnaev’s trial judge didn’t do enough to screen potential jurors for pretrial publicity bias, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said July 31. The appeals court affirmed his life sentences, ensuring he’ll die in prison either way.

Nonetheless, the ruling upends “one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our Nation’s history,” the Justice Department said in its Oct. 6 petition. The 2 shrapnel bombs set off near the finish line of the world-famous race killed 3 people—Krystle Campbell, 29, Lingzi Lu, 23, and Martin Richard, 8—and caused life-altering injuries to many others.

Left undisturbed, the appeals court ruling means “the victims will have to once again take the stand to describe the horrors that respondent inflicted on them,” the petition said.

“The first thought in my mind when I heard about the First Circuit ruling was how difficult this is going to be for the victims’ families and survivors of Tsarnaev’s crimes,” said Carmen Ortiz, who was U.S. attorney in Massachusetts overseeing the prosecution.

Under Biden, however, it’s unlikely those victims will be back on the stand either way.

Daniel Medwed, criminal law professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, who supported Tsarnaev’s appeal in an amicus brief at the First Circuit, said he thinks it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will grant review, and that it’s also unlikely Biden would seek another death penalty trial if the First Circuit’s decision stands.

Despite the serious facts of the case, the legal issues presented aren’t pressing enough for the court to take up, Medwed said. If the court grants review, “it’s quite possibly a sign that the conservative members of the court would want to reinstate the death sentences,” he said.

Societal Statement

Biden has yet to nominate a solicitor general—the Justice Department’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court—and his attorney general nominee, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, could be an important player in the decision of what to do in this case and others.

Garland, whom Senate Republicans denied a hearing when Barack Obama nominated him to the high court, potentially adds another wrinkle to the mix, Medwed observed. He noted that Garland prosecuted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001.

“The extent to which he might be in favor of the death penalty in cases of domestic terrorism would be a variable,” Medwed said.

However the new administration handles the case, it could signal its death penalty approach going forward.

“While cases such as the tragic loss of life and devastating injuries that resulted from the Boston Marathon bombing are ones that test anyone’s resolve, invoking the death penalty even in the most heinous of crimes says more about us as a society than it does about the individual the current administration is advocating should be put to death,” said former federal prosecutor Miriam Krinsky, founder and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that advocates for reforms.

Fordham law school professor Deborah Denno, whose scholarship has been cited in Supreme Court death penalty cases, said she thinks that Biden’s Justice Department will reverse course and withdraw the petition.

The justices have frowned upon changes in government positions, but it’s not unusual when a new administration comes in.

“I think Biden will fulfill his promise and that Lisa Montgomery’s execution will cement his pledge all the more,” Denno said, referring to the Trump administration’s lethal injection this week of a woman who argued she was incompetent to be executed.

Montgomery murdered a pregnant woman and cut the baby from her womb. It’s one of three federal executions scheduled for this week before Biden takes over, the last in a spate of federal executions unseen in modern times—13 since July if all go forward.

Ortiz, now a partner at Anderson & Kreiger, said the new administration should let the appeals process play out.

“Some people would welcome the government withdrawing its petition, especially advocates against the death penalty,” she said. “But there will be many people who are disappointed, and who feel that justice was served when everyone had their voices heard in court and a jury recommended the death penalty and the judge imposed it.”

The case is United States v. Tsarnaev, U.S., No. 20-443.

(source: bloomberglaw.com)

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My friend on death row drew me the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It inspires me to be a better Jesuit every day.

When I pronounced vows as a Jesuit, a friend on death row in California drew me a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a gift. It is the traditional image in every way but one—marked by the cross and bleeding, a heart on fire is wounded by barbed wire instead of thorns.

The image hangs above my bed and is one of my most precious possessions. Its artist, like Jesus, has been condemned to die for his crimes. He is also now an Oblate of St. Benedict and a holy man. Every day when I wake up, the drawing reminds me that Jesus’ ministry had consequences, that his kingdom of reconciliation and tenderness was not welcome in this world. Then I look at the news and remember that it still isn’t.

•••

In 2019, I was missioned to intern as a chaplain at San Quentin State Prison in California. I worked with the larger population as a catechist, preacher, spiritual companion and music minister. I also frequently visited the men in East Block, where California houses the nation’s largest death row. If you are touring around San Quentin, the iron doors with “CONDEMNED UNIT” spray-painted on them make the building hard to miss.

It was there that I met the man who drew the Sacred Heart. We talked through two sets of bars with an armed guard watching over my shoulder. His cell was bare in a way worthy of his monastic vocation. The only thing I remember on his wall was a detailed, disciplined schedule of when he would pray the Divine Office: Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline. They were all there. I remember thinking that he did not need bells to wake him up. The perpetual shouts and alarms along the unit mark the day well enough. He spoke sweetly about his love of Jesus and devotion to the church.

Defying the counsel of my mentor, George Williams, S.J., I read about what he did. It made me want to puke. It still does. But the man who committed heinous crimes was begging God to save him the same way I do. Of course, I saw the face of Christ in him, but I also saw myself. My life depends on the same grace and mercy his does.

His remarkable devotion is just one instance of the Holy Spirit’s movement in East Block. Clad in my bulletproof jacket, I did weekly Communion services for men locked in what can only be compared to shark cages. I gave them the Eucharist through a breathing hole. One week, we watched Wim Wenders’s movie about Pope Francis, “A Man of His Word.” The view from my little cage was blocked, so I just watched them all weep. I looked on as they saw the pope wash the feet of Italian prisoners on Holy Thursday. I could see them wondering where mercy like that could possibly come from. At the end, one of them wiped his eyes and said about our pope: “This is a good man.”

I will never forget serving a beautiful Friday afternoon Mass on a rooftop recreation area just a few feet away from the old gas chamber’s ventilation pipes. There were three inmates up there, praying with the kind of ease, devotion and gratitude I rarely see on Sunday mornings anywhere else. When we went back inside, I mused aloud that the high wall around the edge of the roof must be for suicide prevention. It was not, I was told. It was so the inmates did not have a pleasant view of the bay.

•••

These memories have been alive in my prayer as I witness the Trump administration rush to execute as many federal prisoners as possible on its way out. While our government failed to provide leadership in the face of Covid-19 and a violent insurrection, it is ready to work hard at putting its own citizens to death.

While our government failed to provide leadership in the face of Covid-19 and a violent insurrection, it is ready to work hard at putting its own citizens to death.

In the larger scope of history, there is reason to hope for the coming abolition of capital punishment. But in order to see beyond its current role as a piece in partisan chess, there must be a broader cultural conversion. The woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11) knew that she needed a kind of mercy the world did not know how to give. I wonder if we have stopped identifying with her or believing that we have any need of mercy at all. And I wonder if we, as a society, have become so intoxicated by the Pharisees’ stones that we throw them even after reading Jesus’ word in the sand. Capital punishment, in the context of contemporary social order, will only ever be a maintenance of the machinery of evil it is claimed to suppress. If we are to resist the culture of death, we must rediscover ourselves not as the Pharisees but as the woman who Jesus Christ refuses to condemn.

These days, my eyes are fixed on that image of the Sacred Heart. Every inch of it is dark. But light comes in through the wound, through the cross, through the barbed wire. Nothing can stop it. The fire is still burning. Somewhere in all of this crime, evil, anger and pain, Jesus has chosen to dwell yet again. Somewhere in my own weakness and failure, he glows. And due to the generosity of a condemned man, I am reminded each day of my vows to live and work according to a kingdom of tenderness, of mercy and of life.

(source: Matthew Zurcher, America Magazine)

VIETNAM:

31 kg drug haul seized in Saigon

About 31 kilograms of narcotics trafficked from outside Vietnam were seized by HCMC police Wednesday.

The stash, including MDMA, cocaine, ketamine and marijuana, arrived in HCMC via Hong Kong hidden inside drapes and boxes of clothing and food from Germany, France, Hong Kong, China and Canada.

It is the 1st time HCMC customs officers had found drugs illegally trafficked into Vietnam through Hong Kong and mainland China.

In November last year, officers had discovered 20 kilograms of narcotics among goods and food entering the country.

Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty in Vietnam. The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is likewise punishable.

Despite having some of the world's toughest drug laws, drug busts remain frequent in Vietnam.

Drugs ceased by Vietnamese police would be destroyed.

(source: evnexpress.net)

BELARUS:

The death sentence was first passed in Belarus in 2021

For the 1st time in 2021, a death sentence was passed in Belarus. Viktor Skrondzhik was sentenced to death in Slutsk.

Around it Report of the human rights organization “Viasna”.

The corresponding decision was taken by the Minsk Regional Court in Slutsk on January 15. Skrondzik and three of his accomplices were found guilty of murdering two retirees and attempting to murder an 85-year-old woman. Two accomplices received 22 and 18 years in colonies with maximum security measures, and another – a year of fumigation with 10% of wages paid.

Skrondzik was first sentenced to death last year. However, in the fall, the Supreme Court reversed that decision and sent the case back for a new trial.

At the same time, human rights activists noted that a death sentence is rarely passed in Belarus if the Supreme Court overturns the previous ruling.

Let us remind you that Alexander Lukashenko reported this earlier In Belarus, the death penalty can only be abolished by referendum.

RBC-Ukraine also wrote that Kazakhstan began the process of abolishing the death penaltyKazakhstan signed a protocol on the abolition of death sentences at the end of September 2020.

(source: Prudent Press Agency)

IRELAND:

No Irish Need Apply – Frank McNally on the national hang-up about capital punishment----In the decades before the death penalty was abolished, an Irish government never managed to hire a native hangman

Of all the State’s failures in the century since independence, there is at least one from which we might take reasonable pride. In the decades before the death penalty was abolished, an Irish government never managed to hire a native hangman. Nor did they even try, much. Instead, they continued to rely on English practitioners, most notably the uncle and nephew team of Tom and Albert Pierrepoint.

It was the latter who hanged Michael Manning, the Limerick rapist and murderer who in 1954 was the last person to be executed in the State. In the meantime, Pierrepoint jnr had also been involved in an abortive attempt to train in a local man. This was abandoned, eventually, after the candidate proved too squeamish and “timid”.

I owe that and other insights on the subject to Katherine Ebury, a senior lecturer in modern literature at the University of Sheffield, and her contribution to a new book of essays about Flann O’Brien, entitled “Gallows Humour”.

Her piece – on the author’s relationship to the death penalty – is the most literal interpretation of the collection’s title. The other chapters range widely in subject matter, including GAA violence, venereal disease, and a literary defence of alcohol abuse. But execution was a recurring theme in the real-life Brian O’Nolan’s fiction, especially his surreal novel The Third Policeman, where the narrator is condemned to death and a bicycle is hanged for the crimes of its owner.

Meanwhile, wearing his newspaper columnist hat, O’Nolan also wrote at least twice about a supposed actual meeting he had once with Tom Pierrepoint, in which they discussed the finer points of the grim trade.

As Myles na gCopaleen in a 1959 column for The Irish Times, he claimed they were drinking pints together and even named the Dublin pub where it happened, Fanning’s in Lincoln Place. He misspelt the hangman’s name slightly, but the rest of the detail, including a flavour of Pierrepoint’s accent, sound plausible: “Of Mr Pierpoint [sic] it could truly be said that ‘milder-mannered man never scuttled ship nor slit a throat’. He was most gentlemanly and had no hesitation whatever in discussing […] the nature of his craft, its skills and difficulties, and mildly deploring the squeamishness of certain Irish warders. The fee he was paid ‘per neck’ – that is the technical term – was a mere twelve guineas, plus expenses. Our Treasury Department on one occasion, he told me, tried to settle for expenses only when Mr Pierpoint had arrived in Dublin to be told of a last-minute reprieve. Nao, he said, he would not ’ave that. The Treasury clerks paid up.”

The problem with Myles’s tale is that Pierrepoint could hardly have drank so openly in a Dublin pub. He was himself a potential target for execution, of the IRA variety, and travelled under pseudonyms. Ebury thinks the conversation “unlikely, though possible”. Yet O’Nolan repeated his claim in print a few years later, when writing as “George Knowall” (he was himself a man of many pseudonyms) in the Nationalist and Leinster Times.

By now he had added Albert Pierrepoint to the meeting, while still misspelling the family name. And this time he had them broach the question of whether what they did was inhumane: “Pierpoint [sic] told me that he personally did not accept the widely believed and indeed propagated view that death by hanging was instantaneous by fracture of the spinal column […]. Many men he had hanged had shown many signs of life for up to ten minutes after the launch into eternity.”

This was not a problem Ireland would henceforth need to fret about, because that column coincided with abolition of the death penalty in 1964, except for specified capital crimes, and in practice it would never be used again.

It was not just post-independence that we grew squeamishness about carrying out the act, by the way. In the same article, Knowall marvelled that “within the longest memory Ireland has never had a native hangman.” But in the early years of the Free State, this delicacy didn’t extend to a reluctance about execution per se, or about having English visitors do the job for us.

For a time, even as the cult of martyrdom surrounding the executed 1916 leaders grew, men who had carried out one of those sentences were still in line for work here.

Ebury quotes a 2012 history of execution to the effect that John Ellis, who had hanged Roger Casement, remained on a State-approved list “until his retirement due to mental illness in 1924”. As late as 1934, “perhaps even more shockingly”, the governemnt hired a Robert Baxter who, as Ellis’s assistant, had helped despatch Casement from the gallows.

(source: The Irish Times)

IRAN----executions

Brothers Mehdi and Moharam Feyzi Executed in Ardebil

2 brothers who were sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for “premeditated murder” during a group fight, have been executed at Ardebil Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, 2 male prisoners were executed in the early hours of Wednesday, January 13. In the same case, the two brothers had been arrested and convicted of “premeditated murder” during a group fight and sentenced to death around 5 years ago.

Their identities have been established as Mehdi Feyzi and Moharam Feyzi, who were both around 40 years of age.

At the time of writing, their executions have not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report, at least 225 of the 280 of those executed in 2019 were charged with "premeditated murder."

As there are no legal distinctions made between murder and manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary in Iran, those charged under the umbrella term of “premeditated murder” will receive the death penalty regardless of intent and the circumstances.

(source: iranhr.net)

JANUARY 14, 2021:

TEXAS----impending execution

Death Watch: Despite SCOTUS Ruling, Inmate Again Faces Execution----Blaine Milam, who may be disabled, is set for death Jan. 21

With COVID-19 causing the cancellation of most executions, the state of Texas hasn't put anyone to death in months. That may change on Jan. 21 if Blaine Milam's attorneys can't convince the courts that his intellectual disabilities constitutionally bar his execution.

In the fall of 2008, Milam moved his girlfriend Jesseca Carson and her daughter Amora into his trailer outside Tatum, in rural Northeast Texas. Both he and Jesseca were 18 and she may have been experiencing postpartum psychosis. Shortly after moving in, Carson became convinced first that Milam, and then Amora, were possessed by the devil.

On December 2, 2008, Milam called police to report that Amora was dead. Police found the infant horribly battered, with abrasions, broken bones, and what were judged to be 24 human bite marks covering her body. Upon being taken into custody, Carson told police that she and Milam had attempted to perform an exorcism on the child.

Carson admitted to Amora's murder and is currently serving a life sentence without parole. Milam was found guilty of and sentenced to death under Texas' "law of parties," which allows accomplices in a homicide to be held fully responsible for it, no matter what role they played. Milam's attorney, Jennae Swiergula of the Texas Defend­er Service, has argued that prosecutors have never offered any meaningful evidence that Milam caused the infant's death.

Swiergula has also argued, as did Milam's counsel at trial and subsequent appeals, that he is intellectually disabled, presenting evidence of IQ scores in the low 70s and that he is very easily manipulated. Such disability would rule out a death sentence; his attorneys have also argued that Milam's guilt is mitigated by his lack of education beyond the fourth grade and his being under the influence of methamphetamine when Amora was murdered.

In early 2019, the Texas Court of Crim­inal Appeals stayed Milam's execution one day before he was to have been killed, after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Moore v. Texas forced the state to abandon its nonmedical system for determining intellectual disability. The CCA kicked Milam's case back to his trial court, which later announced in a one-sentence ruling it was affirming its judgment, with the judge not allowing Swiergula to present evidence. This decision was later accepted by CCA, and Milam's appeals have been unsuccessful.

Milam's attorneys have now asked the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to again halt his execution and let them present their case, saying the federal courts have never considered the question of his disability. This also means that, at least for this case, they're arguing that federal rules to safeguard the "finality" of death sentences, which prevent them from bringing forward appeal arguments rejected elsewhere, is also unconstitutional. It's a long shot. If it and all other appeals are rejected, Milam will become the 1st person executed in Texas in 2021 and the 571st since the resumption of the death penalty in 1982.

(source: Austin Chronicle)

VIRGINIA:

Virginia lawmakers introduce bill to abolish death penalty----The state has executed 113 people since 1976.

Virginia state lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday that would abolish the state's death penalty.

Virginia House of Delegates member Mike Mullin and state Sen. Scott Surovell introduced bills to their respective houses that would abolish the death penalty and convert existing capital sentences to sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Mullin said in a statement that the use of capital punishment "is flawed with wrongful convictions, inadequate representation, geographic disparity, and racial bias."

"It is not a crime deterrent, but instead perpetuates a culture of violence that does not belong in the Commonwealth," he said in a statement.

As of October 2020, Virginia had executed 113 people since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks death row inmates. Only Texas has had more executions during that period, with 570, according to the DPIC.

Eleven out of the 14 executions carried out by the federal government up to October 2020 have taken place in the last 2 years, the DPIC said. At least 4 other federal executions have taken place since October, including the 1st woman executed since 1953.

Virginia prisoners on death row are executed by lethal injection, however, the prisoner can choose electrocution, according to state law.

Virginia hasn't executed anyone since 2017 and most Virginia counties haven't had an execution in 50 years, according to data from the DPIC. There are currently 2 people on death row in the state, the DPIC said.

The House of Delegates and state Senate bills are each likely to have strong support after gaining a Democratic majority last year. The legislature has pushed progressive bills forward since Democrats took control.

House Delegate Minority Leader Todd Gilbert did not immediately respond to a request from ABC News for comment. However, at least one Republican state senator, Bill Stanley, told The Associated Press in December he would support a new bill.

Gov. Ralph Northam said he supports the bill and will sign it if passed in the state legislature.

"I'm committed to abolishing the death penalty in Virginia," he said in a statement.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the DPIC, told ABC News a death penalty abolishment would be a significant move, as most of the country's executions take place in Deep South states.

"There hasn't been [a state] execution west of Texas in more than 5 years. There has been a national erosion," Dunham told ABC News. "The last area so far that has evaded that erosion is the South."

Dunham credited the changing public opinion and election of progressive prosecutors and leaders for the change in Virginia. The state hasn't issued a death sentence in 5 years, he said.

"It's become a less partisan issue and people have been able to reach across the aisle to bring reform," he said. "We now have a situation where eliminating the death penalty can be a vehicle of healing. Now is the time for that."

22 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty, according to the DPIC. 3 others -- California, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- have issued a moratorium on capital punishment.

(source: ABC News)

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

Charlottesville, Albemarle County prosecutors dive into criminal justice policies in light of 2021 session

On Wednesday, the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorneys discussed issues surrounding criminal justice reform on Zoom with the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.

It is these types of conversations that give us a look ahead to what we might expect in this year’s highly anticipated legislative session.

Both Jim Hingeley and Joe Platania dove into a host of high-profile issues. The 2 top prosecutors are leading the charge on many changes they wish to see in our own criminal justice system. One of the biggest ones is the death penalty.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the death penalty is administered and imposed in a racially discriminatory way,” Hingeley said. ”That’s reason enough to abolish it, but if we needed more reason to abolish it, I would say that we have a flawed system for determining who should be sentenced to death and who should be spared.”

Hingeley and Platania are among several Commonwealth’s Attorneys to sign a letter calling for change.

“We have written a letter supporting the abolition of the death penalty,” Platania said. “Governor Northam has said he would sign abolition legislation.”

They also talked about the possible legalization of marijuana. This is another hot topic that Virginia lawmakers will likely discuss in this year’s session. “We have a lot more important things that we need to devote our criminal justice resources to than marijuana prosecutions,” Hingeley said.

Both Platania and Hingeley also emphasized the need to put an end to cash bail statewide. They say the determining factor in deciding if a person can be released should be based on their risk to the community, not wealth.

“In the city, we have not used cash bail for ten or 15 years,” Platania said.

“Cash bail is not a factor in Albemarle County or Charlottesville and there’s legislation pending, criminal justice reform legislation in this session,” Hingeley said. “I hope to see cash bail eliminated statewide.”

They hope to also put an end to mandatory minimum sentences and expunge the criminal records of formerly system-involved community members.

(source: WVIR news)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

New bill could make executions easier to carry out in South Carolina

Currently, 37 people sit on death row in South Carolina. All 37 prisoners have no idea when their sentence could be carried out.

This is due to a shortage of the chemicals needed to execute death by lethal injection, which is the state's default method of execution.

A new law proposed by State Senator Greg Hembree would make the state's default method of execution revert back to electric shock.

He says this will allow the state to carry out what he calls the law of the land, as capital punishment has been legal in South Carolina since 1976.

“This really isn’t a pro or anti-death penalty bill. It’s a bill that says the death penalty is the law of the land and we have to carry out the law of the land. If you want to debate the death penalty, that’s another bill and that’s another debate," said Hembree.

The last time South Carolina executed an inmate on death row was 2011. All attempts since then have been rescheduled. One such case was in December 2020, when an execution was stayed due to a lack of chemicals needed to perform a lethal injection.

The bill was also proposed in 2018 and had some bi-partisan support in the senate, as well as the support of Governor Henry McMaster, but it never made it out of the SC House.

It is unclear when this bill will be put up for a vote, but the legislative session ends on May 13th.

(source: ABC News)

USA:

EU condemns US execution of Lisa Montgomery

The EU has spoken out against the execution of the only woman on death row in the United States.

The death marks a flurry of executions under the final weeks and days of embattled US president, Donald Trump.

On Wednesday (13 January), the European Commission said it "deeply regrets" the execution of 52-year old Lisa Montgomery.

Her lawyers said she was mentally ill. But their defence failed to convince the US Supreme Court to keep her alive.

Montgomery received a lethal injection early Wednesday for having strangled a pregnant woman before cutting out and kidnapping her baby in 2004.

The EU had demanded clemency for her case, noting that minimum standards should be respected for people with mental disorders.

It is now demanding that the US administration reverse all pending federal-level executions during the last days of the current administration.

"Since the resumption of the federal death penalty in July 2020, after a 17-year hiatus, we have witnessed a high number of executions," said Peter Stano, an EU commission spokesperson.

Montgomery is the 1st woman to be executed at the US federal level in almost 7 decades.

The case has attracted widespread attention given her mental illness. Her family members said she had also been sexually and physically abused by her father and trafficked by her mother.

It also comes amid heightened tensions after pro-Trump mobs stormed the US Capitol last week.

"The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight," her lawyer, Kelly Henry, said in a statement posted on Twitter.

11 people on US death row have been executed since last summer.

"The sheer number of executions set the Trump administration apart as an outlier in the use of capital punishment," said the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organisation based in Washington DC.

(source: euobserver.com)

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

The federal execution of Lisa Montgomery was tragic, unconscionable and just plain wrong. Read the words of one of her attorneys

The following is a statement released by Lisa Montgomery's attorney late last night.

The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame. No one disagrees that Mrs. Montgomery was the victim of unspeakable torture and sex trafficking. No one can credibly dispute Mrs. Montgomery’s longstanding debilitating mental disease – diagnosed and treated for the first time by the Bureau of Prisons' own doctors. Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution. The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway. Violating the Constitution, federal law, its own regulations, and longstanding norms along the way.

The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman. After we, her attorneys, contracted COVID-19 during our travels to visit her after her execution was scheduled, the government fought tooth and nail against any delay to allow us to recover so we could represent her effectively. Then they violated the law in multiple ways in rescheduling her execution for the final days of the Trump Administration. As courts agreed Lisa’s case presented important legal issues warranting serious consideration – including whether she was competent to execute – the government hammered onward with appeals.

By insisting on an execution during a pandemic, this administration demonstrated its reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens. Executions are super-spreader events. The government knows this. Yet, they put the lives of every single person who must participate in these “events” as well as every one of those persons' friends, families, neighbors, co-workers, and who knows how many other people. Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose Life over Death, they put the lives and health of US citizens in grave danger. In the midst of all this litigation, Lisa’s request for clemency remained before President Trump. It was supported by thousands of organizations and individuals – faith leaders, anti-violence advocates, conservative leaders, international organizations, and many more. But the President did nothing. He had not even the decency to formally deny – or even acknowledge – Lisa’s clemency application, though it is hard to imagine a case more deserving of executive intervention than this one.

Lisa Montgomery’s execution was far from justice. She should never have faced a death sentence in the first place, as no other woman has faced execution for a similar crime. And Lisa was much more than the tragic crime she committed, a crime for which she felt deep remorse before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution. Lisa was also much more than the horrors inflicted upon her, the sexual violence and abuse she endured at the hands of those who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her.

Lisa was a loving mother, grandmother, and sister who adored her family. She was a devout Christian who loved Christmas and created beautiful angels for those lucky enough to receive her gifts. Lisa often became trapped in the prison of her mind, losing touch with reality for periods of time. But when not gripped by psychosis, she was a gentle and caring person whom I was honored to know and to represent.

Lisa Nouri, Amy Harwell and I represented Mrs. Montgomery for 8 years. We loved her very much and she loved us. She honored us with her truth and trusted us to share it in a way that not only told her story, but that could help other women.

Even though President Trump could not be the hero we asked him to be, we are here to say to every woman and girl who has been the victim of violence and degradation: You matter. Your pain matters. You are more than a victim. You are a survivor. Do not let anyone humiliate or shame you. You deserve to be loved.

In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa.

We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.

--Kelley Henry, attorney for Lisa Montgomery-January 13, 2021

(source: Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide)

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

What will it take to end to the death penalty? Catholic activists say a more visceral approach is needed.

The federal death penalty will almost certainly be suspended under President Biden, and great strides have been made to reduce the use of the death penalty at the state level. But the work of putting an end to capital punishment is far from done, and recent events have pointed to the need for a conversion of U.S. culture from death and vengeance.

These were some of the themes that surfaced during a panel discussion on Jan. 8 sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown. The panel, “Killing In Our Name: Federal Executions and Pro-life Witness,” hosted by Initiative director John Carr, took the federal executions in the final days of the Trump presidency as its point of departure.

The Trump administration executed 10 people in 2020, the 1st federal executions in 17 years. Federal inmate Lisa Montgomery became the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953 when she was killed by lethal injection in the early morning hours on Jan. 13. 2 more federal executions are scheduled for 2021.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, described this rush of federal executions as an “aberration,” as it does not reflect the great successes of the death penalty abolition movement in recent years: 22 states have abolished the death penalty, and 12 others have imposed moratoria or have not carried out an execution over the last 10 years.

The work of putting an end to capital punishment is far from done, and recent events have pointed to the need for a conversion of U.S. culture from death and vengeance.

As Kevin Clarke reported for America, “Only 7 states—Arizona, California, Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas—imposed death sentences [in 2020] and just 3—California, Florida and Texas—imposed more than 1.”

Ms. Vaillancourt Murphy told America, “There is already signifcant momentum at the state level to move away from the practice of capital punishment.” During the discussion at Georgetown, Ms. Vaillancourt Murphy urged online participants to make the fight to end the death penalty their own, a point that the Most Rev. Daniel Flores, bishop of Brownsville, Tex., and chair-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrine committee, echoed in noting that advocacy against the death penalty has to be integrated into parish life.

Indeed, such opportunities were as much part of the reason for the panel as the Trump executions. The participants at the Georgetown discussion evinced a measured optimism about what could be done under the Biden administration.

Ms. Vaillancourt Murphy laid out some of those possibilities for America:

At the outset, the Biden administration needs to immediately suspend federal executions—and from what he has declared in his campaign platform, we fully expect this will happen. Yet that is simply the beginning. President-elect Biden’s next steps could include declaring an official moratorium on federal executions for the duration of his term and commuting the death sentences of all those currently on the federal death row. Lastly, and perhaps the most politically challenging, Biden could advocate to end the death penalty in law with Congress and the states. All of these actions will take courage and political will, especially in these challenging and divided times in our country.

The Challenge of Conversion

The recent progress toward ending the death penalty is owed in no small part to the life and mission of Helen Prejean, C.S.J., one of the most famous anti-death penalty advocates in the United States, who spoke at Georgetown of the challenge of changing public opinion on capital punishment, calling it “a journey of conversion.” She spoke of the difficulties many have in seeing not only the dignity of innocent life, but also the dignity of those guilty of crimes—although she also noted that many on death row have been exonerated of crimes.

The church has always seen the death penalty as an “extreme measure,” even if the sense of the dignity of the condemned person has slowly “unfolded.”

Sister Prejean suggested that this conversion has to be preached to and undertaken by the entire people of God, not just priests and other faith leaders. She thus implicitly raised the question: How does the church reach members who are no longer regularly in the pews or parish halls?

This challenge of conversion was also addressed by Bishop Flores, who called for a change in how Americans “understand the human condition.” Bishop Flores said that “the one time in his public ministry Jesus had a chance to say yes, the death penalty is justified, is when they brought the woman caught in adultery, and they said, ‘The Law of Moses says…. And he didn’t deny the law, but he addressed himself to the condition of the ones who were condemning.”

The bishop drew this question from Scripture: “How can we presume to be the ones who execute this judgment about who deserves to live and who deserves to die?”

The Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr., the executive director of the Ohio Council of Churches, noted the close connection between death penalty, race and poverty. He noted that in his early work he was discouraged from linking death penalty abolishment to racial justice because “no one would be willing to take the message seriously.”

But he refused to ignore the connection, instead seeing it as key to changing hearts and minds: “Anybody who espouses our faith must find himself interested in addressing the evils of racism and white supremacy.” As Dr. Sullivan told America, “If we Christians were to articulate and authenticate a vision of love for all of humanity in the public policy arena, we could see a plethora of unjust policies—from executions to the seemingly acceptable extrajudicial executions of unarmed Black people—coming to an end.”

The rush of federal executions was an “aberration” that does not reflect the great successes of the death penalty abolition movement in recent years.

Dr. Sullivan’s witness on the panel underlined that anti-death-penalty work is ecumenical, as has been all of his work. “Challenges would have occurred if we elected to allow our theological and cultural differences to discount and trivialize our areas of agreement,” he told America. “Fortunately, I experienced no challenges, just an appreciation for our willingness to work together and thus project a stronger anti-death-penalty witness together than any of us could have projected if restricted to our own groups.”

Changing Catechism

Despite whatever opportunities the Biden administration might offer for opposing the death penalty, Catholics continue to be divided by the issue, including in their reaction to Pope Francis’ changes to the Catechism in 2018. The Georgetown panel did not shy away from this challenge.

This controversy, Bishop Flores wrote recently in America, “centers around the historical fact that Scripture and tradition acknowledge the authority of the civil authority to administer [capital punishment]. How, then, can the church say it cannot justly be administered today by the public authority?” On the panel, Bishop Flores offered an answer to that question. He noted that John Paul II focused on the question “What good does the death penalty serve in terms of protecting the wider community?” and concluded that “in most cases, the good can be served without the extreme measure of taking a human life.”

Pope Francis, he said, prudentially judged that “not only does it not serve a good, but you can protect society in other ways without going to the extreme measure of taking someone’s life.”

Bishop Flores emphasized that the church has always seen the death penalty as an “extreme measure,” even if the sense of the dignity of the condemned person has slowly “unfolded,” as Sister Prejean noted later, comparing the changing understanding of the death penalty to a similar process addressing slavery.

Pope Francis has said that “we are in a throwaway culture and we have a way of justifying heinous things because it is the law.”

Returning to the discussion of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, Bishop Flores reminded the audience that Pope Francis has said that “we are in a throwaway culture and we have a way of justifying heinous things because it is the law.”

Mr. Carr noted that St. John Paul II called upon the United States to end the death penalty in 1999 during his visit to Saint Louis. The pope made that plea in a homily that focused on the need for the church’s new evangelization to be “unconditionally pro-life”: “The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.”

A Culture of Death

The panel sought to offer a broader vision of human dignity to challenge those who support the death penalty. Given Bishop Flores’s description of Pope Francis and Christ as addressing themselves “to the condition of the ones who were condemning,” one might think the mixed reception in the United States to Pope Francis on the death penalty reflects more than just a love of scriptural tradition narrowly construed, for it arises in a culture with a strong affinity for violence. Indeed, the panel happened only two days after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In a widely-circulated piece in The New York Times on Dec. 20, Elizabeth Bruenig reflected on the challenge of changing public opinion on the death penalty:

Arguments against the death penalty tend to be abstract: moral declarations about taking human life, conclusions from academic studies of legal procedures, dissections of prosecutions, or philosophical concerns about the limits of government power. But arguments for the death penalty are visceral: the blood of a baby girl seeping out into her eyes, the tangled scars crisscrossing her soft skin.

Ultimately, the Georgetown panelists urged a similarly “visceral” approach, with Sister Prejean noting the importance of stories and sharing experiences, and Bishop Flores’s call to “humanize” those subject to execution. Dr. Sullivan attributed his work to personal experiences of the murder of his sister, and Ms. Vaillancourt Murphy to the witness of advocates like Sister Prejean.

That visceral approach would seem to resonate with the Biden administration’s focus on reconciliation and compassion, but it will be challenged by all of the obstacles raised by the panelists: fear, anxiety, suspicion and the culture of violence evidenced by the Capitol Hill insurrection.

And thinking more generally about protecting human life, what can the movement to end the death penalty illuminate for the possibilities of resisting and converting the culture of death? How can the broader pro-life movement benefit from that work? These will be questions that anti-death-penalty efforts in the Biden years might help to answer.

(source: America Magazine)

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Bishops Seek End to Death Penalty — You Can’t Protect Life by Taking It

Drive south about 2 hours from the Diocese of Lafayette headquarters in Indiana, and you’ll wind up at the Terre Haute federal prison — the site of 10 federal executions since the government resumed the practice in July.

It’s something Lafayette Bishop Timothy Doherty said the state’s bishops discuss often.

“Since last year, every time the Indiana bishops have talked or met it’s been a topic of conversation. Both because we’re in the national spotlight and people wonder what we are thinking, but also because of the local spotlight,” Bishop Doherty told The Tablet. “These are our people. They are our prisoners, our guards, but the prisoners are also our parishioners in some way.”

There were three more federal executions scheduled at Terre Haute this week. As of 11:59 p.m. Jan. 12 all three had been delayed. Bishop Doherty said he was “glad” to hear the news.

The stay on the execution of Lisa Montgomery, 52, was appealed by the Trump Administration Jan. 12. At that point, the Supreme Court had already overturned an earlier stay on the execution after a federal judge ruled “(Montgomery’s) current mental state makes her unable to understand why the government seeks to execute her.”

Montgomery was then executed Jan. 13 early in the morning.

Montgomery was given a death sentence in 2007 after being convicted of a 2004 premeditated murder-kidnap scheme. According to the Department of Justice, Montgomery fatally strangled a woman who was 8 months pregnant, cut open her body and took her baby.

The executions of Cory Johnson and Dustin Higgs, scheduled for Jan. 14 and Jan. 15, were delayed by a federal judge until at least March 16 so they can recover from COVID-19.

Johnson, 52, was sentenced to death in 1993 for 7 murders he committed a year prior. According to the DOJ, Johnson shot all 7 victims in “furtherance of his drug-trafficking activities” when he was a part of a large drug-trafficking ring based in Richmond, Virginia.

Meanwhile, Higgs, 48, was sentenced to death in 2000 for the kidnap and murder of 3 women in 1996. According to the DOJ, one night he offered to drive the women home from his apartment, but instead drove them to a secluded area where he ordered a friend to shoot and kill all 3 of them.

The Trump Administration resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year hiatus. President-elect Joe Biden has suggested he’s opposed to death penalty, and it’s been reported he’s likely to bring back the moratorium on federal executions.

However, even if the federal government halts executions, capital punishment is still legal in 28 states.

“(The bishops) still have to fight at the state level and still work hard to overturn the presence of the death penalty in our states that still have it. It’s extremely important.” Said Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland.

In a conversation with The Tablet, Archbishop Sample reflected on the relationships he has with the death row inmates in Oregon, particularly four Catholics he’s visited on multiple occasions. Sample even confirmed inmate Gary Haugen — sentenced to death in 2003 for 2 murders.

“It’s a very personal issue when you meet people that yes, have done terrible things. Yes, they admit they’ve done terrible things, but I have seen really a conversion of heart. I’ve seen men who have completely been transformed by the mercy of God and a part of that is because their sentences haven’t been executed,” Archbishop Sample said.

“It’s not to take away the horror of some of the crimes that some of these men have committed. It’s not meant to disrespect the victims of these crimes either. But for me, meeting face to face with these people, these men and women and hearing their stories, hearing about what they’re life has been like. We’re all responsible for our own human behavior, but some of these people have grown up under horrific conditions and had a life that has sort of warped them in some ways and we can’t write them off as human beings,” he added.

Drawing from those experiences, Archbishop Sample made it clear that it’s not enough for bishops to speak about the moral issue itself and relay Catholic teaching to try and change people’s minds. He said it’s more important to humanize the inmates.

“What’s most effective is telling the story of individuals that touches people, touches hearts,” he said. “We can do a better job of helping people come to know who these men and women are in prison instead of stereotyping them and saying they’re all bad people.”

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice also drew on his experiences visiting Florida prisons to say there should be more of a focus on mental health.

“If someone goes to visit, as I have, the inmates in some correctional facilities you’ll see clearly that the state has closed down facilities that have provided help to those suffering from mental illness,” Bishop Dewane said. “When they’re not given the help, they act out and are put in prison and that is why when you go to prisons you can quickly observe some of this is not necessary.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami called it an “illusion to think that we’re going to protect life by taking it.”

He noted that the use of the death penalty puts the U.S. in the same category as China, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

“We’ve always been saying as an alternative to the death penalty is life without parole,” Archbishop Wenski said. “The issue should really be what’s necessary to protect society and do we protect society by killing people and it would seem that our criminal justice system is such that we can protect society from the truly dangerous by incarceration.”

According to Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine, it’s also time to revamp the prison system’s approach to rehabilitation.

“We should have the best practices in terms of rehabilitation where the prisoner or inmate becomes a new person and is able to make a conversion, have a change of heart and become a productive member of society and a chance should be given for that to happen,” he said.

Bishop Doherty said that education on the death penalty is still most important.

“Vocabulary is going to be very key. Do we do this for revenge? Does it correct society? Does it lessen instances of crime? In many instances, capital punishment doesn’t do what we want except for vengeance,” Bishop Doherty said.

(source: The Tablet)

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Disability Advocates Ask Trump to Halt Corey Johnson's 'Unconstitutional' Execution

The Arc and other advocacy groups are urging President Trump to intervene immediately and stop the unconstitutional execution of a man with intellectual disability scheduled to take place in a matter of days. Corey Johnson’s execution, scheduled for January 14, would violate the Constitution and federal law.

Mr. Johnson is a person with intellectual disability. Three nationally recognized experts in intellectual disability have evaluated Mr. Johnson and agree on this diagnosis, but yet, no court has ever heard the evidence to review whether Johnson’s disability bars him from execution. Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson’s trial and post-conviction attorneys failed to conduct a thorough investigation of various avenues of mitigating evidence and did not locate critical information concerning his intellectual disability.

“We support Corey Johnson’s clemency petition, asking the Administration to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc. “For decades, The Arc has advocated for capital defendants with intellectual disability leading to critical Supreme Court precedent prohibiting their execution. It would be a devastating miscarriage of justice for Mr. Johnson to be executed in clear violation of the Constitution.”

Mr. Johnson was raised in poverty and experienced a chaotic, abusive, and tremendously unstable childhood. He had lived in more than ten different homes by the time he was 12 years old and attended nearly a dozen different schools during that same period. Mr. Johnson failed at every level of school.

Mr. Johnson had similar struggles socially. He never learned how to interact with others, to read social situations, to communicate effectively, or to problem-solve. His peers recounted his limited vocabulary and difficulty following instructions. He did not learn the range of skills necessary to live independently as an adult. Expert reports based on interviews with peers, family members, teachers, and other acquaintances throughout Mr. Johnson’s life describe him as “highly gullible and naïve” and lacking the ability to understand the consequences of his actions. As a child, he was frequently teased and largely passive; he followed the lead of others and engaged in the activities those around him pursued.

Mr. Johnson regularly succumbed to peer pressure to engage in risky behaviors and was frequently victimized and easily manipulated by family members and peers. Mr. Johnson’s challenges continued with him into adulthood.

Nearly 20 years ago, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of people with intellectual disability is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s decisions in Moore v. Texas (2017, 2019) strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victims in this case, and supports appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Johnson or others with disabilities but, rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with intellectual disability and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

(source: themighty.com)

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Dustin Higgs, the Last Man to Be Executed in Terre Haute, Maintains His Innocence----Higgs was sentenced to death for his role in a triple murder. A key witness later said the government’s case was “bullshit.”

On the night Lisa Montgomery was executed by the Trump administration, Alexa Cave Wingate arrived at the Springhill Suites in Terre Haute, Indiana, at 9 p.m. The hotel sits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 41 and Interstate 70. The interstate leads all the way to Baltimore, where Wingate’s brother, Dustin Higgs, had been sentenced to die more than 20 years earlier.

Some 3 miles in the opposite direction, in a brick building on the banks of the Wabash River, is the federal death chamber. Montgomery, the only woman under a federal death sentence, was being held in a small room adjacent to it. The execution chamber was constructed just after the passage of the 1994 crime bill, but the surrounding penitentiary predates even the interstate. When the prison first opened more than 75 years ago, the meeting of Highway 41 and Old State Road 40 made Terre Haute the “Crossroads of America” — a convenient location to bring people in federal custody from all over the country.

Higgs arrived on federal death row in January 2001, just 5 months before the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. After the Trump administration restarted executions last summer following a 17-year pause, Higgs saw 10 of his neighbors taken to their deaths. On November 20, the day after his friend Orlando Hall died by lethal injection, Higgs got an execution date himself. On Friday, after the scheduled execution of Corey Johnson on January 14, Higgs is set to be the last person to die in Trump’s killing spree. Wingate plans to be a witness.

“Dustin is actually technically my first cousin,” Wingate explained when we first spoke in December. But they grew up largely in the same household in Poughkeepsie, New York, and refer to each other as brother and sister. “When Dustin first came home from the hospital, I was there,” Wingate said.

After giving birth to her own daughter in 1990, Wingate enlisted in the Army, the best of a limited set of options. “I had to find a way to take care of her, to get a skill, and my family didn’t have money for me to go to college.” Following a year stationed in South Korea, she moved to Washington, D.C. — and Higgs followed. By then, Wingate was raising two kids while going to night school at the University of the District of Columbia. “He helped me so much,” Wingate recalled.

For a time, their plans for the future were intertwined. Higgs wanted to open a barbershop and Wingate wanted to be a funeral director. “I said, ‘OK, well, you can come and we can start this family business. You can fix the hair. I’ll do the makeup and I’ll do the embalming and all that,’” Wingate said. “That was our original goal.” But eventually Higgs started to pull away from her.

Wingate had moved back to New York when she got a phone call in 1996 saying that Higgs had been arrested for dealing drugs. “I was like, ‘How did you keep that from me?’ He said because he knew I wouldn’t approve, so he never brought it around me at all.” But a worse nightmare unfolded in 1998, when Higgs was charged as a suspect in a horrific triple murder. The victims, Mishann Chinn, 23, Tanji Jackson, 21, and Tamika Black, 19, had been found fatally shot around 4 a.m. on January 27, 1996, on a road that cut through the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, a federal tract of land in Prince George’s County, between D.C. and Baltimore. All three worked in local schools and did not fit investigators’ profile of women whose lives might “invite violence,” according to a true crime podcast that recently explored the case.

“I remember him saying, ‘You know I didn’t.’ And I said, ‘You don’t even have to finish that sentence. I know you didn’t.’”

Investigators found a day planner in Jackson’s purse that contained Higgs’s address and license plate number. After Higgs initially denied any involvement to police, a pair of his associates, Victor Gloria and Willis Haynes, were arrested together on federal drug charges, prompting what an investigator would later describe as an “incredible confession” from Gloria. Agreeing to be a witness for the government in exchange for a lesser sentence, Gloria testified that the three men had been hanging out with Chinn, Jackson, and Black in Higgs’s apartment when Jackson rejected Higgs. The two argued and she took down his information. Higgs became angry, telling Gloria and Haynes that Jackson “knew some people” who could hurt him. After offering the women a ride back toward D.C., according to Gloria, Higgs instead drove the group in his van to the federal reserve, where he gave Haynes a handgun and said, “Make sure they’re all dead.”

Wingate was skeptical from the start. She had never known Higgs to be violent toward women. When Higgs called her after the charges were filed, “I remember him saying, ‘You know I didn’t.’ And I said, ‘You don’t even have to finish that sentence. I know you didn’t.’”

And there were reasons to doubt Gloria’s credibility. In his earliest statements to police, he said that he’d been passed out in the backseat of Higgs’s van and woke up to gunshots. But later, he said he saw 23-year-old Higgs give 18-year-old Haynes the gun and threaten him if he did not shoot the women. At Haynes’s trial in August 2000, which ended in a life sentence, the government argued that he had not been intimidated by Higgs into shooting the women. Shortly afterward, at Higgs’s trial, the same prosecutors cast Higgs as the dominant player who had coerced Haynes into doing his bidding. On October 11, 2000, jurors convicted Higgs.

Later that month, Wingate drove down to Baltimore with the aunt who had raised them both as kids. “His lawyers asked us to testify at his sentencing hearing, to make them know what we know about Dustin, that he’s not this monster that the prosecution said he is,” she recalled. There was plenty to say. Higgs’s mother had died of cancer when he was a child, and the whole family saw how, in the absence of his father, he strived to take care of her in her final days. But Wingate felt unprepared. It was the 1st time she had seen Higgs in person in four years. “I’m trying to answer the questions that they’re asking me,” she said, but “I’m just crying.”

The Death Penalty’s Other Victims

Federal prosecutors urged jurors to sentence Higgs to death. “The hard truth is, ladies and gentlemen, it would be a better world in the future without Dustin Higgs,” one told the jury. The Washington Post described how Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson “displayed a large rock and likened it to the emotional weight borne by relatives of the victims, a burden she said would be lightened if Higgs were to be put to death.”

Wingate was not in the courtroom for the sentencing. Her aunt worked as a nurse and the two had driven back to New York in time for her shift. Wingate was home crocheting a blanket for Higgs when one of her cousins called. “She said, ‘Hey, Lex, you OK?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ … She said, ‘Oh. So you didn’t hear.’” Her cousin told her that Higgs had been sentenced to death. “I just screamed,” Wingate said. Her kids, then ages 8 and 10, came to ask what was wrong. She tried her best to explain.

For the past 20 years, Wingate has regularly spoken to Higgs on the phone. These days, he calls her every day. But she had never visited Higgs in Terre Haute. “I can’t afford it,” she said. With the help of one of Higgs’s friends on death row, Wingate raised enough money to visit her brother for the first time. She wants to be present for his execution. “When my brother came home from the hospital, I was the first face he saw when he opened his eyes when my aunt laid him on the couch,” she said. “So I want to be the last face he sees before he leaves.”

The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

To the activists who have gathered in Terre Haute since last summer, the late-night execution of Lisa Montgomery was a blow, but not a surprise. Many had high hopes that Brandon Bernard would be saved in December, only to see his appeals dismissed by the courts and calls for clemency ignored by the president. After 11 executions waved through by the U.S. Supreme Court, few are optimistic that Johnson or Higgs will be spared.

Yet, like Montgomery, both men have legal claims that have never been fully adjudicated. Johnson has an intellectual disability that should make him ineligible for execution — and Higgs has convinced a federal court to schedule an oral argument on whether his execution would violate federal law based in part on the fact that he was convicted in Maryland, which abolished the death penalty in 2013. That argument is set for January 27 — 12 days after Higgs is supposed to die. But such things have not stood in the way of the federal executions.

Like more than 1/2 of the men on federal death row, both Johnson and Higgs contracted Covid-19 last month. Attorneys argued that lung damage from the illness would make them vulnerable to an especially tortuous death by lethal injection, which has been shown to cause pulmonary edema. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan agreed, delaying the executions on the grounds that killing the men now would violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Johnson’s family was ecstatic over the news, according to his spiritual adviser, who had to explain to them that this would not necessarily stop the execution. Wingate was hopeful too. But in a phone call after she landed in Indiana, her brother warned her not to assume the ruling would hold.

To Higgs, the issues raised in the current litigation pale in comparison to what he has insisted upon for years: that he is innocent of the crime that sent him to death row. On a website created by his advocates, Higgs argues that not only did Willis Haynes pull the trigger that killed Chinn, Jackson, and Black, but Higgs also never ordered such a thing to begin with.

His claims are backed up by an affidavit written by Haynes in 2012, which was included in a clemency application for Higgs during the Obama administration. “The prosecution’s theory of our case was bullshit,” Haynes wrote. “Dustin didn’t threaten me. I was not scared of him. Dustin didn’t make me do anything that night or ever.” Higgs also argues that his defense attorneys failed to investigate critical witnesses — and that federal prosecutors hid evidence from his attorneys at trial.

Especially consequential was evidence that the government’s star witness, Gloria, was a suspect in a separate murder case in Baltimore, but the FBI did not pursue him in order to gain his help in the case against Higgs. In a 2014 affidavit, Higgs’s trial attorney Henry Trainor wrote that the information about Gloria would have altered the case significantly. “I consider receiving a free pass on a murder charge to be an extraordinary benefit for a witness,” he said. Had defense attorneys been aware of this deal, he added, they certainly would have used it to challenge Gloria’s credibility.

It is not uncommon to see evidence like this revealed after a person has been sentenced to death. Yet such red flags are often not enough to stop an execution. Even if Higgs did not direct Haynes to shoot Chinn, Jackson, and Black, he still would have been eligible for the death penalty under a felony murder prosecution. In some ways, his case is emblematic of the death penalty as a punishment reserved not for the “worst of the worst,” but for those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time — in this case, facing federal murder charges in the District of Maryland in the wake of the 1994 crime bill.

The killing of Chinn, Jackson, and Black came at a time when the Department of Justice had been preparing to ramp up executions. Less than a year before the murders, in July 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported that federal prosecutors were on the lookout for cases that might warrant the death penalty. “It could be a gang lord or a murderous carjacker or a drug smuggler,” the Sun reported. “But sometime in the coming months, U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia expects to take the unprecedented step of seeking the death penalty against someone for committing a federal crime in Maryland.”

The Sun cited a number of downsides. For one, each federal death penalty case was estimated to cost $340,000 “in public defender fees alone.” What’s more, contrary to popular assumption, police seemed skeptical of the need for executions to maintain law and order. “In a recent poll of the nation’s police chiefs, the death penalty ranked last among methods they felt were effective in reducing street crime.”

Finally, there was the age-old problem of racism. A 1994 congressional study found that 89 percent of the cases in which federal prosecutors chose to seek the death penalty under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act involved Black or Latino defendants. Nevertheless, Battaglia told the Sun that the public was demanding death penalty prosecutions. “I hope we never have to consider it,” she said. “But there are circumstances where you have to take people out of society.”

Veteran private investigator Sharon Weidenfeld had been working on murder cases in Prince George’s County for years when she was hired to work on Higgs’s defense. Although her recollections are sketchy, she remembered conducting a key interview with Gloria’s ex-girlfriend, Katrina Havenner, in September 2000. Havenner told Weidenfeld that despite Gloria’s new statements to police, he told her that he’d been asleep when Haynes shot the three women. She repeated the statement in a 2006 affidavit, explaining that Gloria could never hold his liquor and would pass out after drinking. According to Havenner, Gloria also told her that Haynes had threatened to kill her and their daughter if he said anything. “Victor believed Willis and so did I,” she said.

Havenner’s claims were corroborated by Gloria himself in a 2004 interview conducted by an investigator working with Higgs’s legal team at the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Gloria complained that he’d been incarcerated “for nothing,” since he was asleep when the women were shot, the investigator wrote in an affidavit. “When I then asked Mr. Gloria whether that meant that his statements and testimony concerning the events that occurred at the crime scene were not true,” the investigator continued, “Mr. Gloria replied, ‘That was the police.’”

“People will give statements to the police and tell them one thing and then when I interview them, they’ll tell me something else. And a lot of the times, it turns out that what they’re telling me is really the truth.”

“It happens a lot, where people will give statements to the police and tell them one thing and then when I interview them, they’ll tell me something else,” Weidenfeld told me. “And a lot of the times, it turns out that what they’re telling me is really the truth.” Police, after all, rely upon myriad tactics to get suspects and witnesses to talk, including threats and promises that can provide a powerful incentive to lie.

When Weidenfeld saw the news that Higgs had been given an execution date, she immediately recognized his name. It sickened her that he had been scheduled to die on January 15 — Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. She finds President Donald Trump’s execution spree especially grotesque when contrasted with his clemency record. Among those he pardoned last month is a Prince George’s County police officer who was convicted of violating the civil rights of a Latino immigrant the same year Higgs arrived on death row. The officer, Stephanie Mohr, had a history of using her police dog to threaten and attack people of color. Weidenfeld had seen this racist brutality up close in her decades working in Prince George’s County. In fact, she was instrumental in exposing the abuse.

The lead prosecutor in Higgs’s case, Deborah Johnston, was an assistant state’s attorney in Prince George’s County before she became a federal prosecutor. In a tribute following her death in 2017, the Justice Department highlighted her role in convicting “the sole two death row defendants in the District of Maryland, ensuring that the interests of the United States were fully vindicated.” Weidenfeld had a slightly different description of Johnston. “I never knew her to show any mercy for any criminal defendant, no matter their circumstances,” she said.

Battaglia, the former U.S. attorney, did not respond to emails sent this week. Neither did Wilkinson, who prosecuted Higgs’s case alongside Johnston and still works for the Justice Department. In 2014, she was recognized by then-Attorney General Eric Holder for her “superior performance” securing a conviction in a murder-for-hire case that had previously sent the wrong man to prison. “This case resulted in the exoneration of an innocent man and the conviction of the real killer,” U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said at the time. More recently, Wilkinson was excoriated by a federal judge for presenting false evidence to gain a conviction in a fraud case that was dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct. The “promotion of false significant testimony in this case does shock the conscience of this court,” the judge wrote.

A Prayer for 6 Days

Early Wednesday morning, Wingate went to see Higgs with her son JaCobi. They had to report to the penitentiary by 7:30 a.m. She had not slept much the night before. It was the first time she was going to see her brother since his sentencing trial, and she was anxious and excited. In his emails to me over the past month and a half, Higgs emphasized his innocence and decried the corrupt system that sent him to death row. He shared his dismay over the execution of Bernard, who was a close friend. On the day after Christmas, he offered condolences for the bombing in Nashville, where I live.

More recently, he has described what he wants his legacy to be. For the past 20 years, he has tried “to re-educate myself by reading hundred upon hundreds of books,” he said, and more recently he taught himself to paint. “I have also wrote a children book, and a book comprised of my reflective thoughts.” The goal, he said, is to make a difference, to honor his family, and to “bring them out of poverty.”

He also worries about how his execution will impact Wingate if it goes through. She has been his protector since he was little, he said. “When the boys my age would beat me up, my sister would leap into action and protect her little brother,” he said. “That is one of many reasons that our bond is so strong today. I am 48 years old and my sister is still fighting on my behalf.”

The families of Chinn, Jackson, and Black did not respond to emails sent this week. It is not clear whether they plan to witness Higgs’s execution. “My heart goes out to them,” Wingate said. “I haven’t lost a child. I don’t know what that’s like. … I just want them to understand that it’s not my brother that did it.”

With the Justice Department appealing Chutkan’s ruling, Wingate is trying to focus on making the most of her time with Higgs. She will spend Thursday visiting her brother, possibly for the last time. She admitted to feeling some hope after he tested positive in December. It sounds terrible to say, “I’m glad you got Covid,” she said, “but that’s not what it is. … It’s just a feeling of maybe this can slow down your execution.” With the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, even a short delay would change everything.

“Just give me 6 days,” Wingate said. “Every night I go to bed and that’s all I pray for. … I don’t care if it’s a stay or a reprieve, whatever. Six days is all I pray for. 6 days.” (source: theintercept.com)

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The Guardian view on Trump's executions: vicious to the end----The federal execution of a woman who was mentally ill was the act of a morally bankrupt administration

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Lisa Montgomery became the first woman to be put to death by the United States government for almost seven decades. At the Indiana penitentiary where she was executed by lethal injection, there are no facilities for female prisoners. So during prolonged legal wrangling over her fate, Montgomery was cruelly placed in a holding cell in the execution-chamber building itself.

Her crime was horrific. In 2004, Montgomery strangled a young woman, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant. She then cut a baby girl from her womb, and attempted to pass her off as her own. The pain and suffering of Ms Stinnett’s family can barely be imagined. But the political context of this week’s execution, and overwhelming evidence of Montgomery’s longstanding mental illness, suggests a gross miscarriage of justice has taken place.

Issuing a stay of execution, subsequently overruled by the supreme court, a district judge cited evidence that “Ms Montgomery’s mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government’s rationale for her execution.” Since entering the penitentiary system, the 52 year-old had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression, psychosis, mood swings, dissociation and memory loss. Throughout her childhood, Montgomery was gang-raped by her alcoholic stepfather and his friends, in a cabin built for that purpose. She was physically tortured in myriad ways by both parents. Social workers and doctors failed to intervene. A consultant to her legal team said Montgomery was “profoundly mentally ill as a result of a lifetime of torture and sexual violence. Lisa is not the worst of the worst – she is the most broken of the broken.” This was not enough to prevent her sharing the fate of 10 other prisoners executed by the government since July, when the Trump administration resumed the practice after a 17-year pause. In the history of US justice, there have never been so many scheduled federal executions during the lame-duck period of a presidency.

Donald Trump’s recently-departed attorney general, William Barr, has said the rush of executions is delivering justice for “staggeringly brutal” murders. In truth it amounts to a vicious and vindictive last stand by a bullying, authoritarian administration. In the US and the rest of the world, support for capital punishment is declining. Globally, only six countries executed more people than America last year: China, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia and North Korea. In Europe, Belarus is the only state to retain the death penalty. Russia imposed a moratorium in the 1990s.

The association of capital punishment with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes is no coincidence. The postwar rise of democracies around the world took place alongside a growing drive for human rights and limits on government powers. Death penalty abolition movements benefited as a consequence. In bucking this trend, Mr Trump has yet again turned his country into a dysfunctional outlier, as well as a fellow-traveller with regimes he professes to despise. His successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to work towards the elimination of capital punishment in America. For Lisa Montgomery, whose life was a tragedy from beginning to end, it will be too late.

(source: Editorial; The Guardian)

PAKISTAN:

Man awarded death penalty

The Anti-Terrorist Court (ATC), Rawalpindi Judge Raja Pervez Akhtar on Wednesday awarded the death sentence to an accused in the murder case of a policeman on 2 counts. The court also imposed a fine of Rs500,000 on Zahid Mehmood for killing Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Shakil Ahmed.

Wah Cantonment Police Station had registered FIR against Zahid for opening fire on a police party that resulted in the death of Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Shakil Ahmed.

(source: thenews.com.pk)

JANUARY 13, 2021:

FLORIDA:

Democratic lawmakers file bills to eliminate the death penalty----SB 568 and HB 6019 would end capital punishment in Florida.

Sen. Gary Farmer and Rep. Joe Geller proposed legislation this week that would strike the death penalty from Florida’s penal code.

The 2 South Florida Democrats’ proposals would repeal all mentions of capital punishment from state law.

Farmer, the Senate Democratic Leader, filed his bill (SB 568) Tuesday after Geller filed his version (HB 6019) Monday.

However, the Republican-led House and Senate are unlikely to act on those bills. The pair filed similar bills in the 2020 Legislative Session that gained no traction.

The death penalty issue reemerged in Florida during the 2020 Legislative Session after the Florida Supreme Court said it erred in a 2016 decision requiring a unanimous jury decision to sentence a defendant convicted of murder to death. Then-Senate President Bill Galvano said his chamber would not revisit the law, which changed in 2017 to meet the court’s ruling.

Under current law, prosecutors still need a unanimous jury decision to sentence defendants to death.

The court’s decision threw between 100 to 150 cases into legal limbo, experts said. Lawyers and anti-death penalty advocates scrambled to determine what it meant for existing cases in the resentencing phase.

A September report from the Death Penalty Information Center found that Black people have been overrepresented on death rows across the United States. Meanwhile, people who kill Black people are less likely to face the death penalty than people who kill White people.

The report found that throughout the modern era, people of color have been overrepresented on death row — in 2019, 52% of the death row inmates were Black, but that number has dropped to 42% this year, when approximately 60% of the population is White. But it also showed that the killers of White people were more likely than the killers of Black people to face the death penalty, and cases with White victims were more likely to be investigated.

Since the death penalty resumed in 1977, 295 Black defendants were executed for killing a White victim, but only 21 White defendants were executed for killing a Black victim even though Black people are disproportionately the victims of crime.

(source: floridapolitics.com)

MISSISSIPI----former death row inmate exonerated

Innocent Black Man Exonerated From Death Row After 26 Years

Eddie Lee Howard was exonerated on Friday, January 8, 2021, marking the end of his 26-year fight for innocence. Mr. Howard, a Black man, was sentenced to death in 1994 after being wrongfully convicted of murdering an elderly white woman in Columbus, Mississippi, based almost entirely on now discredited bite mark evidence.

New forensic opinion regarding bite marks and powerful alibi witnesses, along with DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including blood and DNA from the murder weapon, excluded Mr. Howard, proving his innocence. He was released from Mississippi’s death row in early December 2020 ahead of today’s ruling.

In a landmark decision on August 31, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated Mr. Howard’s conviction and death sentence, recognizing that his case rested on the debunked technique of bite mark comparison. As the Court noted, an “individual perpetrator cannot be reliably identified through bite mark comparison,” yet bite mark comparison was “the State’s most important evidence at Howard’s trial.”

From the time he took office, District Attorney Scott Colom paid close attention to Mr. Howard’s case and the issues raised around forensic science and the fairness of the system. He then studied the recent Supreme Court decision and thoroughly reviewed and reinvestigated the evidence. His decision not to retry this case is the correct one and finally ends Mr. Howard’s wrongful conviction nightmare.

“I want to say many thanks to the many people who are responsible for helping to make my dream of freedom a reality,” said Mr. Howard. “I thank you with all my heart, because without your hard work on my behalf, I would still be confined in that terrible place called the Mississippi Department of Corrections, on death row, waiting to be executed.”

The Role of Unreliable Forensic Evidence

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has taken a powerful stance in rejecting junk science as the basis on which to put a man to death,” said M. Chris Fabricant, one of Mr. Howard’s Innocence Project attorneys. “We are thankful that the Court has identified this breakdown in Mr. Howard’s case, ruling that debunked science has no place in our justice system.”

Mr. Howard’s case is a stark example of how unreliable forensic evidence can lead to wrongful conviction. To date, Mr. Howard is one of four Mississippians whose murder conviction has been overturned while serving time on death row as a result of the same discredited and unscientific forensic methods. These cases are, by no means, isolated. Mr. Howard’s case marks the 28th exoneration in the United States based on bite mark comparison. The Innocence Project, moreover, is currently working on two additional post-conviction death penalty convictions, both of which rely heavily on the use of bite mark evidence and are therefore inherently unreliable.

“Mr. Howard was sentenced to death based on unfounded forensics with no physical evidence or witnesses to the crime,” said Vanessa Potkin, another of Mr. Howard’s Innocence Project attorneys. “Like Mr. Howard, 21 other men and women on death row across the country have had their innocence proven by DNA, including Kennedy Brewer. Mr. Brewer, who is also a Black man, spent 15 years on Mississippi’s death row based on false bite mark evidence. We know there are more innocent people currently on death row pleading for post-conviction relief. The death penalty is the most extreme and irreversible form of punishment. Mr. Howard’s case is a prime example of why we cannot afford to use it when human error is still so prevalent in the criminal justice system.”

Other Systemic Flaws

Mr. Howard’s wrongful conviction involves a host of other troublingly common factors — including a failed police investigation and racial bias.

From the beginning of the case, the Lowndes County police lacked any credible suspects and arrested Mr. Howard without any documented, reasonable suspicion. Mr. Howard had several alibi witnesses at the time of the crime, but at trial, the State used “expert” arson testimony to narrow the timeframe in which the murder could have taken place, undermining Mr. Howard’s alibi evidence.

A representative from the Columbus Fire Department testified that the two fires set in the victim’s house had “smoldered” for four to six hours before the fire department responded. However, based on recent analysis of the available records and trial testimony, John Lentini, one of the country’s top arson investigators, concluded that this testimony — specifically the burn time — had “no basis in known data, research or science.” He further explained, “There is no way that any competent fire expert would opine that the fires burned for longer than an hour.”

The victim was likely killed within an hour of the fire’s discovery, when Mr. Howard was at his sister’s house with multiple witnesses, each of whom gave consistent versions of Mr. Howard’s whereabouts in the hours before and after the crime.

Of the 375 DNA exonerations recorded in the United States since 1989, 225 are Black. Decades of robust data analysis establish that the race of a victim profoundly influences the likelihood of the accused being charged with capital murder and receiving the death penalty. For example, according to the 2017 National Registry of Exonerations report, Race and Wrongful Conviction in the United States, Black defendants are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder when the victim(s) are white. Only about 15 percent of murders committed by Black individuals have white victims, but 31 percent of wrongfully convicted Black murder exonerees were convicted of killing white people.

As the Death Penalty Information Center reported last year, in Enduring Injustice: The Persistence of Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Death Penalty, national homicide and execution data between 1976 and 2014 indicate that defendants convicted of killing white people are over 4 times more likely to be executed than those convicted of killing Blacks. The fact that Mr. Howard was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a white woman highlights the deep racial disparities in the administration of justice and use of the death penalty in the United States.

Justice After 26 Years

Mr. Howard walks free today, 26 years after he was first wrongly incarcerated on death row at Parchman Farm — a former slave plantation turned prison, and one of the most dangerous and brutal facilities in the United States.

“This is such a bitter sweet victory,” said Tucker Carrington of the Mississippi Innocence Project. “We’re thrilled that Mr. Howard will finally have his freedom and some semblance of justice but he has lost nearly three decades of his life facing execution because the system failed. His case reminds us that there is still much work to be done to support Mr. Howard and others like him who have lost precious years of their lives to wrongful convictions.”

Mr. Howard is represented by Tucker Carrington of the Mississippi Innocence Project, and M. Chris Fabricant, Vanessa Potkin, Peter Neufeld and Dana Delger, all of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

(source: blackstarnews.com)

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

Mississippi man who was sentenced to death in 1994 declared innocent after key evidence debunked

A Black Mississippi man convicted of killing a white woman and sentenced to death in 1994 has been exonerated after the evidence used to convict him was debunked.

Lowndes County District Attorney Scott Colom decided not to retry the case of 67-year-old Eddie Lee Howard Friday, months after the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction and vacated his sentence in late August. He was released from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in early December.

New DNA evidence and alibi testimony, as well as a new forensic opinion about the bite marks found on the woman killed, helped prove Howard's innocence.

Howard was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering 84-year-old Georgie Kemp at her Columbus, Mississippi, home in 1992 before setting it on fire. During his 1994 trial, prosecutors relied heavily on bite-mark evidence found on Kemp's body to convict Howard. But that evidence was dismissed nearly 20 years later by the same expert who testified on its credibility during Howard's trial.

“I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis,” forensic odontologist Michael West of Hattiesburg said in a 2012 deposition. “I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”

In a statement, Howard said he was thankful to the Mississippi Innocence Project, who worked to overturn his conviction. Howard's attorneys said there are at least 2 other people on Mississippi's death row who were also placed there because of bite-mark evidence, but they believe this case will help the court overturn those convictions as well.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court has taken a powerful stance in rejecting junk science as the basis on which to put a man to death,” said M. Chris Fabricant, one of Howard's attorneys. “We are thankful that the Court has identified this breakdown in Mr. Howard’s case, ruling that debunked science has no place in our justice system.”

(source: USA Today)

IDAHO:

Local pastors, former state lawmaker to host anti-capital punishment vigil

2 local pastors and a retired state lawmaker have plans to host a vigil Friday at the Bannock County Courthouse to lament three federal executions that had been scheduled for this week.

The vigil, hosted by consulting minister with the Pocatello Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Rev. Jenny Peek, Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church Wayne Shipman and retired state lawmaker Donna Boe, is set for noon on the front lawn of the Bannock County Courthouse facing East Center Street in Pocatello.

“A small group of us want to bring awareness to the federal executions that are taking place this week and lament on these killings that are happening in our name as U.S. citizens,” Boe told the Idaho State Journal during a Tuesday phone call. “We want the vigil to serve as a reminder that capital punishment is morally wrong and that all human beings are worthy in the eyes of God.”

The announcement of the vigil comes on the same day the U.S. government’s plans to carry out its 1st execution of a female inmate in nearly 7 decades were put on hold amid a flurry of legal rulings, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, 2 other executions set for later this week were also halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19, the AP said.MO< Since President Donald Trump resumed federal executions in July after a 17-year pause, 10 federal inmates have been put to death, the AP said.

Lisa Montgomery faced execution Tuesday for killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife. Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own.

But an appeals court granted a stay of execution Tuesday, shortly after another appeals court lifted an Indiana judge’s ruling that found she was likely mentally ill and couldn’t comprehend she would be put to death. If a higher court puts the execution back on, Montgomery, the only female on federal death row, would receive a lethal injection at a federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Separately, a federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing seven people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., on Monday unveiled legislation that would seek to end federal capital punishment, according to National Public Radio.

NPR reported the Democratic proposal comes as the party will have unified control of Congress after victories in two Georgia Senate races, a change in fortunes for Democratic legislative priorities. The legislation would end capital punishment at the federal level and require the resentencing of all federal inmates on death row.

Boe said she contacted the Bannock County Commissioner’s office on Tuesday to stress the importance that Friday’s scheduled vigil is 100 percent peaceful, will not involve any protests nor any storming of the Bannock County Courthouse after an angry mob of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. last week.

Boe explained that she was an ardent opponent of the death penalty, for moral reason, adding that her belief of the origin of penitentiaries was to offer those convicted of a crime with an opportunity to repent and accept responsibility for their actions.

“The word penitentiary began when the Quakers believed everyone had the chance to be penitent of their choices and a penitentiary provides that,’ Boe said. “Death row inmates are oftentimes incarcerated for decades before they are executed. After 20 years, they are typically not the same person as when they went in but an order of execution eliminates the chance for them to prove such is the case.”

(source: Idaho State Journal)

ARIZONA:

Prosecutors keep pushing for death penalty for immigrant

Prosecutors are still pursuing the death penalty against a Mexican immigrant charged with murder in the 2015 killing of a convenience store clerk in metro Phoenix during a robbery, even though a judge has twice dismissed the state’s bid to seek his execution because he has been deemed intellectually disabled.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office has asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to reverse a Dec. 17 lower-court ruling that threw out the state’s intent to seek the death penalty against Apolinar Altamirano and concluded Altamirano’s intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility for a person of his age and cultural background.

Altamirano is accused of fatally shooting Grant Ronnebeck, a 21-year-old clerk at a Mesa convenience store, after Ronnebeck insisted that Altamirano pay for a pack of cigarettes. Authorities say Altamirano stepped over Ronnebeck to get several packs of cigarettes before leaving the store.

He has already been sentenced to 6 years in prison for earlier guilty pleas in the case to misconduct involving weapons.

Altamirano has pleaded not guilty to murder, robbery and other charges in Ronnebeck’s death. Altamirano has already been sentenced to 6 years in prison for earlier guilty pleas in the case and misconduct involving weapons.

Altamirano is a citizen of Mexico who has lived in the U.S. without authorization for about 20 years. He has been deported and returned to the U.S. in the past. President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited Altamirano’s case as an example of crimes committed by immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally against American citizens.

Maricopa County Judge Michael Kemp first dismissed the effort to seek the death penalty in 2019 after concluding that Altamirano was intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people.

Last summer, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed Kemp’s decision, ruling the lower-court judge had correctly considered the strengths and weaknesses of Altamirano’s life skills, but failed to assess his ability to meet society’s expectations of him and sent the issue back to Kemp to consider.

Nearly a month ago, Kemp dismissed the state’s death penalty bid again, finding that Altamirano’s intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility for a person of his age and cultural background.

Prosecutors have since asked the state Supreme Court to again reverse the dismissal of the death penalty effort in Altamirano’s case. “If any deficit exists, Altamirano has clearly adapted his behavior to be able to function with the personal independence and social responsibility expected of him,” prosecutor Amanda Parker wrote.

Altamirano’s attorneys told the Court of Appeals in a filing late last week that Kemp’s findings on Altamirano’s ability to meet society’s expectations were supported by evidence, saying “the state utterly fails to identify any abuse of discretion.”

(source: Associated Press)

CALIFORNIA:

LA County DA George Gascón supports ban on death penalty in federal cases

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón -- who issued a directive barring prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in any new murder cases upon taking office last month -- announced Tuesday that he supports a measure that would ban the death penalty in federal cases.

The county's top prosecutor said in a written statement that he "wholeheartedly" supports legislation to be re-introduced by Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, to prohibit the use of the death penalty at the federal level and to require re-sentencing for those who are currently on death row in such cases.

"State or federal sanctioned killings do not deter crime and have historically been racially biased," Gascón said. "Together, we can end this inhumane and misguided form of punishment and continue to make essential reforms to our criminal justice system that will enhance safety and justice."

On the day he was sworn into office Dec. 7, Gascón issued a series of directives -- one of which reads that "a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case."

He noted in the directive that there are 215 people -- 85% being "people of color" -- on death row in California as a result of being prosecuted in Los Angeles County.

Gascón has come under fire from some families of crime victims for the new directives.

A group called Victims of Violent Crime For The Recall of George Gascón announced that it has filed formal documents that allows the organization to accept donations to prepare for the effort to try to oust him from office. The group said it may be the first-ever recall effort involving a Los Angeles County district attorney.

Gascón -- who campaigned on criminal justice reform -- has said he has a "mandate from the public." He said last month that those who commit crimes will be held accountable and accused opponents of "fear mongering."

On Monday, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert sent a letter to Gascón in which she criticized many of his special directives as "illegal and unconstitutional" and informed him that her office will no longer grant him jurisdiction over any crimes that involve Sacramento County.

"Your special directives are not just extreme but will undoubtedly wreak havoc on crime victims and their Constitutional rights," she wrote. "Your lack of concern for their rights and safety concerns me greatly. Additionally, because crime has no boundaries, these special directives will have far greater impact than on Los Angeles County alone. Rather, victims across California will be negatively impacted and the safety of all Californians will be jeopardized."

Also on Monday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed to allow San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan to reclaim jurisdiction to prosecute a defendant for five San Diego-area armed robberies he allegedly committed in the days leading up to the June 10, 2019, shootings of off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano in Alhambra and Dmitry Alekseyevich Koltsov in downtown Los Angeles, which occurred hours apart.

Stephan wrote in a letter that her office had agreed to allow the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to prosecute Rhett Nelson for the San Diego robberies with the understanding that he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he was convicted. She noted that Nelson could otherwise be eligible for parole as early as age 50 if sentencing allegations against him were dismissed -- as requested by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office as a result of one of the new directives.

Judge Jose Sandoval subsequently rejected the prosecution's bid under the directive to dismiss the sentencing allegations.

In a statement released Friday, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office said Stephan's decision would unnecessarily subject the victims' families to two trials, and said it was highly unlikely Nelson would ever be granted parole.

"The defendant in this case is 31 years old and was facing nearly 70 years to life in state prison. As a result of this move by D.A. Stephan, the defendant now faces 50 years to life in state prison on his L.A. case, and possibly more if found guilty in his San Diego case," the statement reads. "We question the wisdom of dragging these families through two separate cases, and with the parole board only granting release in about 15% of cases it hears, the suggestion that this individual would get out, let alone re-offend, (strains) credulity. What's guaranteed is that two cases will cost taxpayers more than one."

(source: foxla.com)

USA----federal, female execution

Lisa Montgomery: US executes only woman on federal death row

Lisa Montgomery - the only female inmate on federal death row in the US - has been executed for murder.

She received a lethal injection at a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a last-minute stay of execution was lifted by the US Supreme Court.

The case attracted attention because her lawyers argued she was mentally ill and suffered serious abuse as a child.

The 52-year-old strangled a pregnant woman before cutting out and kidnapping her baby in Missouri in 2004.

Her victim, 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, bled to death.

Montgomery is the 1st female federal inmate to be put to death by the US government in 67 years.

According to witnesses, a woman standing next to Montgomery during the execution process, removed the inmate's face mask and asked her if she had any last words. Montgomery responded "no", and said nothing else.

She was pronounced dead at 01:31 (06:31 GMT). Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, said that everyone who had participated in the execution "should feel shame".

"The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman," she said in a statement. "Lisa Montgomery's execution was far from justice."

The execution was postponed twice - first by Covid-19, then by a judge - until a Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for it to take place in the early hours of Wednesday.

In a dramatic move late on Monday, a judge in Indiana had halted the scheduled injection until a mental competency hearing could be held.

Her lawyers argued that she had been born brain-damaged and was too mentally ill to be executed.

As a child she was routinely sexually and physically abused by her father and trafficked by her mother, family members said. Her treatment was so violent that it amounted to torture, her lawyers say.

Her defence team believe that at the time of her crime, Montgomery was psychotic and out of touch with reality. That opinion is supported by 41 current and former lawyers as well as human rights groups like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

But her victim's family and friends say the murder committed by Montgomery was so horrific that she deserved to be put to death regardless of her mental health.

She killed 23-year-old Stinnett in Skidmore, Missouri, after befriending the pregnant woman online over a shared love of dogs. After driving to Stinnett's house, Montgomery overpowered the pregnant woman, strangled her with a piece of rope, and cut the baby out of her womb.

Police found Montgomery cradling a new-born girl she claimed to have given birth to the day before. After her story fell apart, she confessed to the killing.

She was found guilty of the crime in 2007. The next day, she was sentenced to death.

The fight to save the life of a death row inmate is always dramatic up until the very last moment, and none more so than the fight to save Lisa Montgomery. Although only President Trump had the power to grant her clemency and commute her sentence to life in prison, if her lawyers were able to delay her execution until after President-elect Biden takes office, they would have effectively achieved the same thing. Biden has pledged to end the death penalty on the federal level.

And so it all ended - as many death penalty cases do - in an 11th hour flurry of legal filings that pitted Montgomery's legal team against lawyers for the Department of Justice, who were urging the execution forward. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court ruled against Montgomery in all three of her final legal challenges, including one that argued that it would be unconstitutional to execute Montgomery because she is not mentally competent.

Since 2008, Montgomery had been held in a federal prison in Texas for female inmates with special needs, where she has been receiving psychiatric care. Since receiving her execution date, she'd been placed on suicide watch in an isolated cell.

Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, said her original legal defence was woefully inadequate, and presented few of the details about her abuse, trauma and mental illness.

Before Montgomery's execution, the last woman to be executed by the US government was Bonnie Heady, who died in a gas chamber in Missouri in 1953, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Federal executions had been on pause for 17 years before President Donald Trump ordered them to resume earlier last year.

(source: BBC News)

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

Federal government executes the 1st woman in nearly 70 years

Lisa Montgomery, 52, was executed by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, and pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. Wednesday.

Montgomery was the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953 and was the only woman on death row.

The Supreme Court denied a last-ditch effort early Wednesday by her defense attorneys who argued that she should have been given a competency hearing to prove her severe mental illness, which would have made her ineligible for the death penalty.

She was the 11th federal death row inmate to be executed by the Trump administration after a 17-year hiatus in federal executions.

"The government stopped at nothing in its zeal to kill this damaged and delusional woman," her attorney, Kelley Henry, said in a statement. "Lisa Montgomery's execution was far from justice."

Montgomery's attorneys, family and supporters had pleaded with President Donald Trump to read their clemency petition and make an executive decision to commute her sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2008 by a Missouri jury for the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, cutting the fetus out and kidnapping it. The baby survived.

A federal judge granted Montgomery a stay of execution Tuesday for a competency hearing -- just hours before she was scheduled to be executed.

"The Court was right to put a stop to Lisa Montgomery's execution," Henry said in a statement. "As the court found, Mrs. Montgomery 'made a strong showing' of her current incompetence to be executed. Mrs. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers."

"The Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of people like Mrs. Montgomery who, due to their severe mental illness or brain damage, do not understand the basis for their executions. Mrs. Montgomery is mentally deteriorating, and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence," Henry added.

But the Supreme Court denied the effort and pleas to President Trump were unsuccessful.

2 more executions are scheduled this week, for Corey Johnson on Thursday and Dustin Higgs on Friday. Both of their executions have been halted by a federal court judge as the men are still recovering from Covid-19. Prosecutors intend to appeal the ruling on Higgs and Johnson, according to court documents.

(source: CNN)

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U.S. Executes Lisa Montgomery for 2004 Murder----She was the 1st woman to be put to death by the federal government since 1953 and had been the only woman on federal death row.

The Trump administration early Wednesday morning executed Lisa M. Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, whose death marked the 1st federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years.

Ms. Montgomery, 52, was sentenced to death for murdering a pregnant woman in 2004 and abducting the unborn child, whom she claimed as her own. In pleas to spare her life, Ms. Montgomery’s supporters argued that a history of trauma and sexual abuse that marred her life contributed to the circumstances that led to the crime. Her case, unusual in part because so few women are sentenced to death, ignited debate over the role of offenders’ past trauma in criminal sentencing.

Despite a series of court orders that briefly blocked her execution, she was pronounced dead at 1:31 a.m. at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement. Her death, by lethal injection, is the 11th execution since the Trump administration resumed use of federal capital punishment in July after a 17-year hiatus.

According to a spokesperson for the defense team, Ms. Montgomery was transported, fully shackled, from a federal medical center in Texas to Terre Haute on Monday night. The federal penitentiary where the vast majority of federal death row prisoners are housed is an all-male facility, and an official said in a court declaration that the Bureau of Prisons planned to house Ms. Montgomery at the execution facility, where she would be the only inmate.

Shortly before Ms. Montgomery’s death, a female prison staff member gently removed Ms. Montgomery’s face mask and asked if she had any last words, to which Ms. Montgomery responded, “No,” according to a report from a journalist in attendance.

Under a pseudonym, Ms. Montgomery — who had falsely told others that she was pregnant — expressed interest in buying a dog from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a rat terrier breeder in Skidmore, Mo. But after she arrived at Ms. Stinnett’s house, Ms. Montgomery strangled her, used a knife to cut her abdomen and extracted the fetus, then claimed the child as her own.

The baby girl lived and turned 16 last month on the anniversary of her mother’s death. At least some of those close to Ms. Stinnett or the case said Ms. Montgomery’s execution was a just conclusion to a crime that had haunted the northwest Missouri community for years.

Richard Chaney, 38, a childhood friend and classmate of Ms. Stinnett’s, recalled biking to the local gas station with her, describing how in high school she had a “huge crush” on the man who would later become her husband.

Mr. Chaney rejected the idea that the abuse suffered by Ms. Montgomery should have led to her life being spared, saying many people endured trauma without committing heinous crimes. “You don’t see them out killing pregnant women and cutting babies out,” he said.

“I get, you know, people like, ‘Death penalty’s wrong,’ but at what point do you excuse something like this?” he asked, several days before Ms. Montgomery was put to death. “I think, you know, it’s not right always to say an eye for an eye, but I think the community’s hurt enough that it would definitely help with some closure.”

Still, Ms. Montgomery’s lawyers cited the repeated physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child in pleas for leniency, arguing that President Trump would affirm the experiences of abuse survivors by commuting her sentence to life imprisonment. Her mother forced her to “pay the bills” through sexual acts with various repairmen, and her stepfather regularly subjected her to sexual abuse, a clinical psychologist said in a court declaration filed by her defense team.

Women are scarce on death row in the United States. According to a quarterly report from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, just 2 percent of those inmates on death row are women. With Ms. Montgomery’s execution, there are now no women on federal death row.

The last women to be executed by the federal government were Bonnie Brown Heady for kidnapping and murder and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, both in 1953.

Ms. Montgomery’s execution was originally scheduled for last month. But after two of her lawyers contracted the coronavirus, a judge delayed it, and the Justice Department rescheduled.

In her final days, Ms. Montgomery found some fleeting reprieve in the courts. Her lawyers had claimed that she was incompetent for execution, citing mental illness, neurological impairment and complex trauma. A federal judge in Indiana issued a stay on Monday night so that the court could conduct a hearing to determine her competency. But a panel on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that stay on Tuesday, writing that Ms. Montgomery’s claim could have been brought earlier. The judges also cited Supreme Court precedent, which emphasizes that last-minute stays of execution “should be the extreme exception, not the norm.”

Still, other court orders continued to block her execution well after the Bureau of Prisons’ tentatively scheduled execution time of 6 p.m. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a separate stay so that the court could hear her claim related to the Federal Death Penalty Act, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its own stay.

But the Supreme Court cleared the way for the execution to proceed, as it has done with the previous 10 inmates executed by the Trump administration. On Tuesday, the court overturned both stays, the remaining barriers to her execution, and rejected each of Ms. Montgomery’s requests for reprieve.

In a lengthy statement early Wednesday morning, Ms. Montgomery’s longtime lawyer Kelley Henry maintained that the government violated the law by executing her client, who suffered from “debilitating mental disease.” Beyond the crime for which she expressed remorse and the abuse she endured, Ms. Henry said, Ms. Montgomery was a Christian who adored her family.

Ms. Henry — who tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after visiting Ms. Montgomery — also contended that the executions themselves, what she called “superspreader events,” demonstrated the administration’s “reckless disregard for human life of innocent citizens.”

“Because this administration was so afraid that the next one might choose life over death, they put the lives and health of U.S. citizens in grave danger,” she said, in part. “We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.”

2 more federal inmates are scheduled for execution this week: Corey Johnson on Thursday and Dustin J. Higgs on Friday. A federal judge in the District of Columbia blocked their executions in a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that the government has already appealed.

If the prisoners do not succeed in their pleas for delays or clemency, their deaths could be the last federal executions for some time. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose inauguration is set for Jan. 20, has signaled his opposition to the federal death penalty.

(source: Nwe York Times)

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

Lisa Montgomery becomes 1st woman executed by feds in 67 years

After a flurry of last-minute court orders, hours of uncertainty and 1 final plea to reconsider her competency, Lisa Montgomery became the 1st woman executed by the federal government in 67 years early Wednesday.

Montgomery, 52, was executed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute. Her time of death was 1:31 a.m., 7 1/2 hours after her originally scheduled time of execution, according to the Associated Press.

As both sides filed appeal after appeal to tip the scales in their favor, Montgomery spent her final moments in a cell within the brick execution building just steps away from the execution chamber.

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Montgomery’s execution with a pair of orders issued just before midnight.

The high court lifted a stay of execution put in place by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and rejected a final stay application from Montgomery's lawyers.

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's federal public defender, expressed her disappointment in the day's events, saying the federal government violated the Constitution, federal law and its own regulation to put her client to death.

“The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame," she said in a statement provided to IndyStar of the USA TODAY Network after midnight.

"Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution," Henry said. "The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway."

Montgomery's attorneys have said she endured severe physical and sexual abuse beginning in her childhood, and that she suffers from serious mental illness. Late Monday night, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Hanlon granted a stay to halt the execution, citing the need to determine Montgomery’s mental competence, according to attorneys.

Tuesday’s legal battles began when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit declined to stay her execution less than 24 hours after a federal judge in Indiana granted a stay in her execution over concerns about her deteriorating mental health.

On Tuesday afternoon a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted another stay, throwing Montgomery's execution further, into question.

Around 8 p.m., the high court lifted the stay issued by the U.S.Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, but the Eighth Circuit stay remained in place until the near-midnight decisions by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court repeatedly split along partisan lines, with liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ruling in ways that would have granted Montgomery a reprieve.

By Tuesday afternoon, that stay had been undone. 3 judges with the higher appeals court reversed Judge Hanlon's order, saying that Montgomery's attorneys waited too long to bring their request for an execution stay to federal court. They also said that declarations attorneys used from 3 experts about the state of Montgomery's mental health relied on outdated information. 2 of the experts had last seen Montgomery in 2016, and the other last saw her in 2010, according to the judges.

In 2004, Montgomery drove from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the baby.

There are 2 more outstanding petitions in Montgomery's case that could still alter her fate.

On Dec. 24 Montgomery’s lawyers asked Trump to commute her death sentence to life in prison without parole. In their clemency petition, they describe the severe trauma that shadowed Montgomery's childhood, and allege that she was not effectively represented by lawyers who first took on her case after the crime was committed.

On Jan. 9, Montgomery's lawyers submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the justices stay her death sentence. The petition is an appeal of an earlier case out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the court ruled that the federal government acted against regulation when it scheduled Montgomery's execution for Jan. 12 despite an outstanding court order staying her execution.

That ruling fell apart after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed it, prompting Montgomery's lawyers to now take it up with the Supreme Court.

2 other executions set for later this week also were halted because the inmates tested positive for COVID-19. The executions were to be the last before President-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, is sworn-in next week.

A federal judge for the U.S. District of Columbia halted the scheduled executions later this week of Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs in a ruling Tuesday. Johnson, convicted of killing 7 people related to his drug trafficking in Virginia, and Higgs, convicted of ordering the murders of three women in Maryland, both tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Montgomery is just the 3rd woman executed by the federal government since 1900. She joins Bonnie Brown Heady who was put to death in a gas chamber in December 1953 for her role in the kidnapping and murder of a multi-millionaire auto dealer’s 6-year-old son; and Ethel Rosenberg who was executed in June 1953 for trying to deliver war secrets to the Soviet Union.

Women have accounted for less than 4% of the nearly 16,000 executions carried out in the United States since the 1600s, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Montgomery becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year and the 14th federal inmate to be executed since the government resumed executions in 2001.

Montgomery also becomes the 1,530th condemned inmate to be put to death in the USA since executions resumed on January 17, 1977.

(sources: USA Today & Rick Halperin)

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

USA----impending/scheduled executions

With the execution of Lisa Montgomery at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 13, the USA has now executed 1,530 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.

1531-----Jan. 14-----------Cory Johnson------------------Federal

1532-----Jan. 15-----------Dustin Higgs------------------Federal

1533-----Jan. 21-----------Blaine Milam------------------Texas

(source: Rick Halperin)

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

U.S. federal judge halts executions of 2 inmates diagnosed with COVID-19

A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday halted this week's executions of 2 inmates who were diagnosed with COVID-19, the last two federal executions scheduled under President Donald Trump.

The ruling applies to Corey Johnson, who was scheduled to be executed on Thursday, and Dustin Higgs, who was scheduled to die on Friday. If the delay isn't overturned by a higher court, it would push back the executions to at least March and perhaps permanently, because president-elect Joe Biden, an opponent of the federal death penalty, will be sworn in next week.

(source: cbc.ca)

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

Petition to Halt Dustin Higgs' Execution Amasses Over 1.5 Million Signatures

More than 1.5 million people are demanding the life of Dustin Higgs be spared as the inmate faces his scheduled execution later this week.

Higgs will be among the last of federal death row inmates currently scheduled for execution on Friday, 5 days before President-elect Joe Biden, a death penalty opponent, is inaugurated and a new administration begins.

A petition addressed to President Donald Trump and the U.S. Supreme Court begins by saying that, "Dustin John Higgs is going to be executed for a crime he didn't commit."

"He was accused of killing 3 girls but later to be found not guilty. All witnesses, including the man who actually killed the girls, confirm Dustin's innocence. This innocent man should be spared," it continues.

Higgs was sentenced to death in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of 3 young women in 1996.

According to the Department of Justice, Higgs and 2 friends drove to Washington, D.C. to pick up Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson and Mishann Chinn and drive them back to his apartment in Maryland.

After offering the women a ride back to Washington, D.C., prosecutors said Higgs instead drove them to a secluded area, where he gave one of his friends a gun and told him to "better make sure they're dead."

The other man, Willis Haynes, was tried separately and not sentenced to death after the DOJ determined he shot all 3 women dead.

"The only reason he's still in jail is because they say he was at the scene of the crime and he was accused of bullying Willis Hayes (who did commit the crime) into killing the three girls. But even Willis Hayes has said that this is false," the petition reads. "So please help me to free this innocent man. Don't let what happened to Brandon Bernard happen again."

Bernard was put to death last month by the federal government at a penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the same center where Higgs is set to be executed. Bernard's case gained national attention after several high-profile figures, including Kim Kardashian West, appealed to Trump to commute his sentence to life in prison.

"I'm currently sitting on Death Row for a crime I didn't commit! I wonder if it's that I'm not yelling loud enough, or is it that the blatant miscarriage of justice of me being killed for a crime I'm certainly innocent of really doesn't matter," a website calling for his clemency, SaveDustinJHiggs.com, reads.

"My voice doesn't hold enough weight to bring down this wall of injustice. It will take the voice of many to bring the wall down!"

Bernard and Higgs are part of an unprecedented spree of federal executions that began last summer amid the coronavirus pandemic and will be set to end just days before Trump leaves office. The current administration has executed more people in a single year than any administration in more than a century.

Higgs' attorneys have called on the DOJ to withdraw his execution date after he became the first federal death row inmate to contract COVID-19 last month.

Cory Johnson is also facing execution this week. Another inmate, Lisa Montgomery, was set to be executed this week as well, but received a stay earlier Tuesday by a federal judge.

Higgs and Johnson, who also tested positive for the coronavirus, are awaiting a ruling on litigation that was jointly filed to halt their executions. The petition argues it would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition from cruel or unusual punishment to execute them while they are recovering.

"The government should not carry out yet another super-spreader execution in the heart of this global pandemic. The DOJ should withdraw Dustin's execution date or President Trump should commute his death sentence," Shawn Nolan, one of Higgs' attorneys, previously told Newsweek.

Newsweek reached out to Higgs' team for further comment but did not hear back before publication.

(source: Newsweek)

VIETNAM:

6 sentenced to death in HCMC for drug trafficking

A court in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday sentenced 6 drug traffickers to death for smuggling 13.8 kilograms of synthetic drugs and ketamine from Cambodia into the city.

Nguyen Thanh Phat, 33, identified as the ringleader, and his 5 accomplices, aged between 27 and 29, were delivered death sentences while 2 others received a jail term of 20 years each, Phap Luat TPHCM (HCMC Laws) newspaper reported.

All were found guilty of "illegal trading and trafficking of narcotic substances."

According to the indictment, in September 2019 police raided an apartment in District 7 and found over 7 kilograms of synthetic drugs and ketamine hidden in the living room and other areas. Officers arrested Phat and his accomplices shortly after.

Expanding the investigation, police discovered the ring led by Phat had transported a total 13.3 kilograms of drugs from Cambodia by coach into HCMC before distributing them to customers.

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.

But despite some of the world's toughest drug laws, drug busts remain frequent in Vietnam.

(source: evnexress.net)

INDIA:

Hubballi: Rapist-killer’s kin won’t appeal death sentence

The first sessions, district and special Pocso court recently awarded the death penalty to Manjunathgouda Patil for raping and murdering a minor girl at his sister’s house in Haveri on August 6, 2018.

In an interesting turn of events, Patil’s family members have said they were okay with the death penalty awarded to Patil on January 7. Also, they have decided not to appeal against the court verdict at the upper court. Incidentally, the victim, a II PU student, was their relative.

Police had arrested Patil within 72 hours after he committed the crime. Following a detailed probe and hearings, judge E Rajeeva Gouda pronounced the death sentence. Ever since Patil was arrested, his parents and friends neither had visited him at jail nor met him at court during the trial.

When contacted, Patil’s brother said if his brother is guilty, he should get punishment. “The court has given the verdict after hearings and arguments over the last 2 years. Also, the crime is brutal, which no society ever pardons. So we have never met Patil at the Haveri sub-jail or in court. We will not even move upper courts to question the death sentence,” the brother said, adding that his parents have taken their rapist-killer son off their minds. Describing the plight of the victim’s parents, he said recalling the very incident is painful for all of them.

He too didn’t want to meet his family: Jailer

Jailer TB Bhajantri said they shifted Patil to Hindalaga Central Prison in Belagavi a day after the court verdict. “However, before shifting him, we asked him if he would like to meet his family. He was not keen, just like how his family had been during his days at the Haveri sub-jail,” he said.

Krishnakumar, chief superintendent of Hindalaga prison, said one can appeal against the death sentence within 15 days after the verdict. “If his family does not do it, we will put our legal aid cell on the job. Questioning a death sentence at the upper court is the right of a culprit,” he said.

Additional SP GA Jagadish who investigated the case appreciated the stand of the culprit’s family.

(The victim's identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy as per Supreme Court directives on cases related to sexual assault)

(source: Times of India)

SWEDEN/CHINA:

Swedish Li Zhihui could face death penalty if extradited to China

Swedish Falun Gong activist Li Zhihui, 53, risks being extradited to China after he has been detained in Poland for almost 2 years. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is involved in the case and has according to Expressen, Swedish newspaper, expressed their worries in a letter sent to its Polish counterpart. In the letter the Ministry explained that there is a great risk that the Swedish citizen may be sentenced to death after being handed over to the Chinese side.

Formally, Li Zhihui is wanted by China via Interpol for suspicion of financial crimes. Peter Dahlin of the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders however believes that China wants to punish him for his involvement in Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a movement banned in China as the government viewed it as a potential threat due to its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings.

According to Safeguard Defenders and Polish News, Li Zhihui had a successful career as a businessman in China before he came to Sweden in 2012. He received his Swedish citizenship in 2016 and is said to have been active in the Falun Gong movement.

Li Zhihui was arrested in Warsaw airport in March 2019 on his way between Sweden and Bulgaria. Next week, Poland’s Supreme Court will decide whether or not to extradite Li Zhihui to China. Lower courts in Poland have ruled that he should be extradited following promises from the Chinese embassy that his rights will not be violated.

But Peter Dahlin doubts that the promises are worth anything and says in an Interview with Expressen that there is a long list of cases where China has made promises about how people should be treated. Then those promises are ignored as soon as they are back in China.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry says in an email to Expressen that The Swedish embassy in Warsaw is following the matter closely and that The People’s Republic of China does not meet the criteria for legal certainty. The legal system is under the control of the Communist Party and is therefore not independent.

(source: scandasia.com)

NIGERIA:

Nigerian soldier to die by firing squad----The condemned soldier, according to the court-martial, failed to provide a convincing defence in his testimony.

A Nigeria Army General Court Martial on Tuesday sentenced a soldier, Azunna Mmaduabuchi, to death by firing squad for killing an officer.

Mr Maduabuchi had in July 2020 reportedly opened fire on one Lieutenant Babankaka Ngorgi which killed him instantly.

The trial that led to the conviction of the condemned did not reveal if the soldier had any personal grudges with the officer he killed.

Mr Maduabuchi, a private soldier, pleaded guilty but argued that his action was accidental.

But PREMIUM TIMES was informed by inside military sources that the condemned soldier had once gone on AWOL which led to the stoppage of his salary for about 6 months.

The source said the soldier, who was serving at the 202-battalion in Bama, pleaded with the late Lieutenant Ngorgi, who was his Adjutant, to allow him travel to the state capital to sort out his salary issues, but his requests were repeatedly denied.

It was not certain if it was the issue that pitched the condemned soldier against the deceased officer.

8 prosecution witnesses told the court-martial headed by Arikpo Ekubi, as president of the court, that they saw the condemned soldier at the scene of the crime still holding the AK47 rifle while the late Adjutant lay in a pool of his blood.

One of the PWs said he saw the private soldier match past him, without complimenting him as his senior as he walked up to the deceased adjutant who was at that time making a call and summarily opened fire on him.

“After opening a rapid action fire on him, the soldier turned to face me and then raised his hands to say ” I have killed him”, the PW said.

The condemned soldier, according to the court-martial, failed to provide a convincing defence in his testimony.

“The accused person gave a conflicting narration of what happened, the President of the Court Martial said while ruling on the case.

“In his written statement the soldier said his rifle went off while he was passing by the deceased officer. And while asked in court to demonstrate how he was carrying his rifle, he told the court that the rifle went off while he was fetching water to drink.”

The court contended that rifles only respond to what it is asked to do.

The court-martial said Mr Mmaduabuchi deliberately killed the officer because he ran straight to the Adjutant after returning from a patrol and opened fire on him at close range.

“He held his rifle at rapid-fire and emptied 9 rounds of ammunition on the deceased officer, N/16439 who was the Adjutant of 202 battalions,” the Court-Martial President said.

“The act of murder is a heinous crime against humanity; it offends the tenets of military regimentation and professionalism, You betrayed the truth and confidence reposed in you by the Nigerian army to show dignity and respect for human life.”

Barring all pleas for leniency by the defence counsel, the court-martial insisted that the act of murder has a mandatory punishment as clearly stipulated in Section 106 of the Armed Forces Act.

“On this note, the sentence of this court-martial on you, 16NA/75/1343, Trooper Azunna Mmaduabuchi, for the offence of murder is to suffer death as provided in section 106 of the Armed Forces Act. And this sentence is to be carried out by firing squad.,” the President of the Court-Martial ruled.

The court-martial has also sentenced 4 soldiers to various years of jail time for manslaughter by torturing a civilian to death for using a battery for a generator at an officers mess without their permission.

Another soldier, Private Mohammed Kuru, was dismissed and sentenced to 3 years in prison for firing an assault rifle at a civilian wedding which led to the accidental death of an 11-year- old boy, Adamu Musa Kolo.

A Lance Corporal was also demoted by the court-martial for assaulting a civilian.

All the sentences are subject to the confirmation of the military authority.

(sourceL Premium Times)

MOROCCO:

Morocco Sentences to Death Killer, Rapist of 11-Year Old Boy----The incident caused outrage among Moroccans, the majority of whom asked for the severe punishment for the perpetrator.

Morocco’s Court of Appeal in Tangier sentenced today a 24-year old man to death penalty for kidnapping, raping, and killing Adnane Bouchouf, a 11-year old boy in September last year.

Tangier’s court also sentenced the perpetrator’s flatmates. The three flatmates received four months prison sentences each. They will also pay a fine of MAD 1000 each ($80).

Security services found Adnane’s body on September 11 buried in a garden not far from where the family of the victim lived.

The 24-year old defendant kidnapped the boy, raped, and killed him in cold blood on September 7, the day when Adnane disappeared.

The family’s victim had searched for their boy in vain, disturbing flyers and posting Adnane photos.

Moroccan citizens reacted to the incident quickly, sharing the photos of Adnane all over social networks.

When the defendant noticed people’s alert, he rushed to the barber in an attempt to change his look.

A street camera footage showed a young man talking to Adnane before walking away with him.

Security services were l able to identify and find the suspect appearing in the video on Friday, after he had already committed the crime.

During his hearings, the perpetrator claimed he did not rape Adnane Bouchouf. He also claimed that he was not planning to kill him and said he only kidnapped him to ask for a ransom since he was in need of money.

The news about the death of Adnane shocked Moroccans across the country and abroad.

(source: moroccoworldnews.com)

JORDAN:

State Security Court sentences man to death for Jerash 2019 stabbings

A man who stabbed 9 tourists in Jerash in 2019 was Tuesday handed the death penalty after the State Security Court (SSC) found him guilty of plotting and carrying out a terrorist attack among other serious crimes.

The attack occurred in November last year when the convict assaulted a tourist group, stabbing 3 Mexicans, a Swiss national, a tourist guide, a driver, and 3 policemen.

In a session held Tuesday, the SSC said in its verdict that the convict was also found guilty of trying to join armed and terrorist organizations and promoting the ideology of terrorist groups.

In addition to the death sentence, the convict was handed two 20-year and 7-year prison terms, but the court said the most severe punishment, death, shall apply.

Furthermore, the court sentenced an accomplice of the 1st convict to death, but decided to commute the sentence to a 20-year prison term to "give him the opportunity to rehabilitate and correct his course".

A 3rd accomplice was handed a 7-year term by the court. The SSC said its verdicts are subject to appeal before the competent judicial authorities.

The court noted that the three convicts, all residents of Jerash, have followed news and publications disseminated by the terrorist Daesh group and started to support the organization and promote its ideology.

Further, the court added, the 1st and 2nd convicts tried unsuccessfully to join Daesh before deciding to disseminate 350 publications calling for supporting the terrorist organization in Jerash.

(source: ammonnews.net)

IRAN:

US, UK officials want EU and Olympics to stop execution of Iran wrestler----Lord John Mann asked “Where is the International Olympic Committee and world wrestling on this? (among others!)”

Mounting pressure from British and American officials along with Iranian human rights groups on the International Olympic Committee and United World Wrestling has on Tuesday sparked a reaction from the powerful sports organizations after days of silence about the pending execution of a second decorated Iranian wrestler.

"The Iranian regime must be held to account for their vile human rights abuses and their attempt to cling to power through execution," Ellie Cohanim, the State Department’s deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, told The Jerusalem Post.

The United Kingdom’s Lord John Mann tweeted on Tuesday: “Where is the International Olympic Committee and world wrestling on this? (among others!).” Mann also serves as independent adviser to the UK government on antisemitism.

Former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, tweeted about the execution, saying "The Iranian Regime is feeling emboldened."

The German sports association Athleten Deutschland wrote on the micro-blog platform that "Iran has a sad and long history of persecuting athletes. Targeted executions of athletes are the appalling culmination of repeated attacks on human rights and the values ??that underpin the international sports community." The Post first reported on January 9 with respect to the slated execution of the wrestler Mehdi Ali Hosseini on Saturday.

The International Olympic Committee wrote the Post by email on Tuesday, stating: "The case was brought to our attention only on 9 January 2021 by media reports. We are currently still gathering information. At this stage, it appears that this a criminal case only, with no sports-related background.” The IOC added that "So far, we have learned from the Iranian Wrestling Federation that Mehdi Ali Hosseini was a regional level wrestler, who did not participate in national or international level competitions. The IOC will not comment on this case before it has a clear picture of the situation."

United World Wrestling wrote the Post also by email on Tuesday. Gordon Templeman, a spokesman for UWW, said the "United World Wrestling was made aware of the Mehdi Ali Hosseini case on 9 January 2021 through media reports. We are currently still gathering information.”

He continued that “At this stage, it appears that this a criminal case only, with no sports-related background. So far, we have learned from the Iranian Wrestling Federation that Mehdi Ali Hosseini was a regional level wrestler, who did not participate in national or international level competitions. United World Wrestling will not comment on this case before it has a clear picture of the situation."

The IOC and UWW have faced intense criticism for their failure in September to robustly intervene to save the life of Greco-Roman champion wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed by the regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his role in protesting regime corruption in 2018.

Rob Koehler, director-general of the sports human-rights advocacy organization Global Athlete, told the Post: "The IOC and UWW tried soft politics behind the scenes prior to Navid Afkari’s murder which clearly did not work. The IOC and UWW must now enforce the highest sanctions possible on the Iran sporting federations to deter the Iranian government’s infringement of basic human rights. We can not see another athlete’s life taken; the abuse on Iranian athletes must immediately stop. It is not time to sit idle; it’s time for action.”

Koehler added that "This government no longer deserves the privilege of competing in international sport. It’s time for the IOC to send a message to every athlete that they will place their safety and duty of care as the highest priority.”

Mehdi Ali Hosseini, 29, from the city of Andimeshk in the province of Khuzestan, was arrested in 2015 and charged with murder during a group brawl. It is unclear if Hosseini was tortured and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. Afkari suffered sustained tortured and issued a confession after brutal violence was inflicted on him to admit a crime he did not carry out.

"What the European Union needs to ask themselves is, at what point do you consider a state a bad actor and take action accordingly," said Cohanim, who fled the Islamic Republic of Iran with her family in 1979 when she was 6, to escape its repressive state policies. "Is it when the state underwrites terrorism and causes instability in entire regions? Is it when the state starves its own people while enriching its leadership? Is it when the state commits mass human rights violations against its own citizens? The Iranian regime checks all boxes."

Prominent Olympic wrestlers have tweeted against the Iranian regime’s planned execution of Hosseini. Ben Askren, an American Olympic freestyle wrestler and mixed martial artist champion, tweeted to his over 350,000 followers: “This is insane, the second wrestler in a year to be executed by the authoritarian regime!” This is insane, the 2nd wrestler in a year to be executed by the authoritarian regime! https://t.co/gowhmYqeHk — Funky (@Benaskren) January 11, 2021

Askren’s tweet last year is largely credited with being the spark that started the prairie fire to save Afakri’s life by drawing attention to the double execution imposed on the wrestler.

The Iranian-American Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, who uses the moniker The Iron Sheik for his professional wrestling career, tweeted this reporter’s article to his over 540,000 followers about Hosseini and wrote in all capital letters: “THIS BREAK MY HEART.”

THIS BREAK MY HEART https://t.co/zwVHX0sMsg — The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) January 11, 2021

When asked about Hosseini’s case, Mohammad Rajai-Moghadam, an Iranian regime UN official, told the Post by email that “Sorry I am not in the position to answer your questions.”

Iran’s foreign ministry declined to answer media requests. The Post sent queries to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Mansoureh Mills, an Iran Researcher for Amnesty International, told the Post that "Unfortunately, we do not have much more information about the case of Mehdi Ali Hosseini than has already been reported. We understand that his death sentence has been halted for the time being, though we have no further information on this. We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately quash the death sentence of Mehdi Ali Hosseini and establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

She continued saying that "Although we do not know the specific details of Mehdi Ali Hosseini's case, we do know that the fair trial rights of defendants are systematically violated in Iran and that executions are often carried out after unfair trials. Detainees facing national security-related charges are systematically denied access to a lawyer at the investigation stage and forced 'confessions' obtained under torture and other ill-treatment without a lawyer present are consistently used as evidence by courts to issue convictions. Other individuals at risk of execution in Iran include Mohammad Reza Haddadi, who was just 15 years old at the time of arrest and was sentenced to death following a grossly unfair trial in violation of international human rights law, which absolutely prohibits the use of the death penalty against individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime."

Mills added thatb "Another individual at risk of execution is Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali who has been held incommunicado in Tehran's Evin prison since 24 November 2020, when he learned that his death sentence for 'corruption on earth' (efsad-e fel-arz) was to be carried out imminently. In late December 2020, his family learned that Ahmadreza Djalali's execution was halted for one month. He remains at risk of execution."

Human Rights Watch did not immediately respond. The Iranian-American organization National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI) urged the IOC to intervene to stop the execution of Hosseini. The campaign United For Navid has also protested against the wrestler's execution and, like NUFDI, wants Iran's regime banned from the Olympics.

(source: The Jerusalem Post)

JANUARY 12, 2021:

VIRGINIA:

Moratorium on death penalty good first step

When Virginia’s General Assembly, the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, meets for its regular session on Wednesday, state senators will be socially distancing at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, while the 100 delegates will once again be meeting online.

To keep the House Zoom session manageable, delegates were limited to offering just 7 bills each instead of the usual 15, as lawmakers will have just 30 days during the 2021 “short session” to wade through hundreds of bills.

Lawmakers are expected to act on a number of criminal justice reform measures, including a bill patroned by Del. Joseph Morrissey, D–Richmond, that would impose a moratorium on executions in the commonwealth, but only until a joint legislative subcommittee conducts a study and issues a report.

In the meantime, “the bill does not affect any other matter of law related to the death penalty, including bringing and trying capital charges, sentencing proceedings, imposition of the death penalty, appeals of the death penalty, and habeas review.”

There have been 113 people executed in Virginia since 1976, 2nd only to Texas (569) in the number of people put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

The last execution in the commonwealth occurred in July 2017. Then Gov. Terry McAuliffe refused to intervene (1 of 4 executions during his governorship) and William Morva was put to death for the murder of Cpl. Eric Sutphin, a sheriff’s deputy in Montgomery County, and Derrick McFarland, a hospital security guard in Blacksburg, despite evidence that Morva was mentally ill.

Virginia is 1 of 28 states that still impose the death penalty. There currently are only 2 individuals on Virginia’s death row, both convicted of capital murder. Judges and juries are much less likely than they have been in the past to impose the death sentence. And since Morrissey’s moratorium bill would not affect any current trials or appeals underway, or stop prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in appropriate cases, lawmakers should support a study of this controversial issue.

Since executions in Virginia have become much less common, the joint legislative committee should consider whether the commonwealth should ban them altogether, or just pass legislation that would limit the offenses for which capital punishment can be imposed.

For example, John Allen Muhammad, the “Beltway sniper,” was convicted of capital murder in 2003 for his 7-week rampage of terror in 2002, in which 10 people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington were randomly murdered, including a man refueling his vehicle in Massaponax.

3 more people were wounded, including a 43-year-old homemaker loading her purchases into the back of her minivan at Michael’s in front of Spotsylvania Mall.

Muhammad and his then-juvenile accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, were finally caught, tried and convicted of capital homicide. Muhammad was put to death in 2009. But because of legislation signed last year by Gov. Ralph Northam, Malvo—who was sentenced to six consecutive life terms—will be eligible for parole next year.

Had Muhammad not been executed, could he also have been deemed eligible for parole at some point in the future? The death penalty makes it impossible for future governors, legislators or Parole Board members to release mass murderers from prison.

If the death penalty is repealed, how will lawmakers ensure that convicted killers like Muhammad will in fact remain incarcerated for the rest of their natural lives?

If a joint legislative committee is formed to study the issue, this is the first question they should address.

(source: Editorial, Fredricksburg Free Lance-Star)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Former death row inmate readies for new trial decades after Columbus County double murder

30 years after a gruesome double murder shook the Cape Fear region, attorneys are still arguing the case.

Norfolk Junior ‘Fuzzy’ Best was sentenced to die after being convicted of killing an elderly couple in 1993. Soon, he may have a new trial.

The bodies of Leslie Baldwin, 82, and Gertrude Baldwin, 79, were found in their Whiteville home in 1991. 20 years later, important evidence in the case was found in the attic of Whiteville City Hall.

Before Christmas, a supreme court opinion showed Best was entitled to a new trial and on Monday, officials began laying the groundwork.

Harold ‘Butch’ Pope was on the team of lawyers representing Best nearly 3 decades ago. Monday was the 1st time he had seen the defendant in 27 years.

“The old adage is it’s better for a guilty man to go free then an innocent man to go to prison and—not saying Mr. Best is guilty—he’s pleading not guilty and he’s got a right to prove that. The first try wasn’t fair because he didn’t have all the evidence, all the information against him, which may be helpful exculpatory, so he’s got a right now to start all over fresh trial,” said Pope.

Fuzzy Best was brought in from death row in Central Prison over the weekend. The judge ordered the capital defender’s office assign him a lawyer and ruled he was not eligible for bond.

The appearance was relatively quick and Best didn’t speak much as the path forward was laid out for the court.

Next, Best’s legal team will file a motion for appropriate relief, which the judge said he will then sign, formally starting the process of bringing it to trial again.

When that happens, everything starts completely over for Best. He will be presumed innocent again and the burden will be on the state to prove his guilt.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys both will have to re-examine all of the evidence again and try and see which witnesses are still around 30 years later to testify.

“I think it’s very important that anyone who’s been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death to have a chance at a new trial. That’s the way our constitution works, that’s the way our system works. He’s innocent until proven guilty,” said Pope.

The district attorney’s office hasn’t decided whether or not to move forward with the death penalty this second go-round, but in court, the judge stated he still considered this a capital case.

Experts say the trial likely will not begin for another year between the heavy lifting both legal teams will have to do and the pandemic’s impact on court schedules. Columbus County hasn’t had a jury trial in months.

The District Attorney told the judge Monday he is confident the state will go forward with the same charges Best faced so many years ago.

District Attorney Jon David couldn’t comment on this case but in court he described the deadly stabbings as a crime that “shocked the conscience of the community.”

“What happened in 1991 was not lessened by the passage of time. Justice never sleeps,” said David in Court.

(source: WECT news)

OHIO:

Ohio Bars Death Penalty for People with Severe Mental Illness

Ohio has banned the death penalty for defendants who were severely mentally ill at the time of the offense. On January 9, 2021, Governor Mike DeWine (pictured) signed into law House Bill 136, which prohibits imposing the death penalty on or carrying it out against individuals whose severe mental illness at the time of the offense significantly impaired their judgment, capacity, or ability to appreciate the nature of their conduct.

The new statute designates a series of disorders as severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or delusional disorders. However, the presence of the disorder is not sufficient in and if itself to exempt an individual from capital prosecution or execution. The law also requires that the mental illness “significantly impaired the person’s capacity to exercise rational judgment in relation to [his or her] conduct” with respect to either “conforming the person’s conduct to the requirements of law” or in “appreciating the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of [his or her] conduct.”

The law affords capital defendants an opportunity for pretrial evaluation of their mental condition and a pretrial hearing at which the court determines their eligibility for the death penalty. Defendants who prove “by a preponderance of evidence” that they were severely mentally ill at the time of the crime, cannot be sentenced to death but, if convicted, face an automatic sentence of life without parole. Current death-row prisoners have one year in which to petition the court to overturn their death sentences because of severe mental illness.

The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in both legislative chambers, despite vocal opposition by state prosecutors. It passed the state house by a vote of 76 to 18 in June 2019, followed by a 27 to 3 vote on a slightly amended version in the Senate in December 2020. The House then concurred in the Senate amendments. Democratic State Rep. Brett Hillyer, the lead sponsor of the legislation, patterned the bill on recommendations made by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Death Penalty Task Force in 2014. Sen. John Eklund, a Republican supporter of the measure, said, “We’re trying to make the death penalty in Ohio administered in the most fair and judicious manner.”

The bill was backed by the Ohio Alliance for the Mental Illness Exemption (OAMIE), a coalition of individuals and organizations from the mental health and criminal justice reform communities. In a letter to the governor urging him to sign the bill, the alliance said the proposal would “ensure that capital punishment is administered more fairly by protecting individuals with certain serious mental illnesses from the ultimate penalty of death. Passing this bill,” they wrote, “is an important step forward in recognizing mental illness and breaking through years of stigma.”

Measures to exempt people with severe mental illness from execution have received growing support across the country. In 2016, the American Bar Association released a white paper providing policy analysis in support of a death-penalty exemption for people with severe mental illness. Proposals similar to Ohio’s law have gained the support of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), and state-level coalitions of mental health advocates. Former Republican Ohio Governor Bob Taft joined Joseph E. Kernan, a former Democratic Governor of Indiana, in a 2017 op-ed calling the execution of mentally ill defendants “an inhumane practice that fails to respect common standards of decency and comport with recommendations of mental-health experts.”

At least 6 other death-penalty states have considered severe mental illness exemptions in recent years, but Ohio is the 1st state to enact one. The Virginia Senate passed a similar bill earlier in 2020, but it stalled in the House.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

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Suspect in Rowan Sweeney murder, now 18, to be housed in adult jail----Hearing to determine trial as adult postponed in case of boy’s shooting

The attorney for Brandon Crump asked Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court on Monday not to move Brandon Crump from the juvenile lockup to the county jail — despite Crump having tried to escape from the juvenile facility Nov. 15.

But the judge ordered him transferred to the Mahoning County jail and for him to remain shackled during his hearings at the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center.

Crump, who turned 18 Sunday, is accused of committing armed robbery at the same time that co-defendant Kimonie Bryant, 24, is accused of shooting Rowan Sweeney, 4, to death Sept. 21 in the home the boy shared with his mother on Perry Street in Struthers. Bryant is also accused of shooting 4 adults.

Monday’s hearing was supposed to determine whether Crump’s aggravated robbery charges would be bound over to adult court, but that issue was postponed until Feb. 5 because Mahoning County prosecutors failed to provide defense attorney Jeff Kurz with all of the pre-hearing evidence in time for the hearing.

At the juvenile facility, Crump and two other males are accused of overpowering a guard and climbing an outdoor fence. Crump did not make off of the grounds, but the other two did. They were eventually recovered.

Kurz said he was concerned that moving Crump to the adult jail would endanger Crump because Bryant “feels a vendetta” against Crump and is housed at the Mahoning County jail. Kurz said he also felt the adult jail is less safe for COVID-19 and for other reasons.

Bryant, 24, could get the death penalty if he is convicted of aggravated murder and certain death-penalty specifications. He is accused of doing all of the shooting during the crimes. Anissa Modarelli, assistant county prosecutor, asked for Crump to be moved to the adult jail because he poses a “significant risk” to others at the juvenile facility. She asked that Crump be kept separate from Bryant. She noted that an officer was injured during the escape. Ron Chambers, director of the detention center at the juvenile facility, testified that Crump had been “pretty good” while housed in the facility except for the attempted escape.

After a short recess, Dellick said she had not transferred anyone from the juvenile facility to the adult jail in “quite a while,” but she was going to do it in this case. She said there is no one in the juvenile pod at the adult jail currently, but she will ask the jail to keep Crump apart from Bryant and any adult prisoner.

Kurz also filed a motion asking that Crump be allowed to attend hearings without the handcuffs and chains attached to his wrists and ankles.

Kurz said he had not experienced any instances in which Crump “acted up in the courtroom” or shown any signs of becoming violent. He said the case was getting a lot of media attention, and Crump being shackled could paint an unfair picture of him as a criminal.

Court officials have not allowed news media personnel to photograph, videotape or audio record any of Crump’s hearings.

The judge ruled from the bench that Crump must remain shackled for any future hearings. She cited the alleged attempted escape as a reason.

At the Feb. 5 hearing prosecutors will present witness testimony to try to establish probable cause that Crump committed the armed robbery. If the judge finds probable cause, it is mandatory that he be transferred to adult court.

It would not be mandatory for her to transfer Crump’s pending felony charges of escape and assault to adult court. Those relate to the alleged attempted escape from the juvenile facility.

(source: Youngstown Vindicator)

MISSOURI:

US federal executions continue with the execution of Lisa Montgomery: the only woman on federal death row, a victim of extreme childhood abuse

Lisa Montgomery’s scheduled execution on January 12th, 2021, is an affront to the rule of law and justice in the United States for victims of gender-based violence and childhood sexual abuse. On December 17, 2004, Lisa was arrested and sentenced to death on October 22, 2007, for the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett. Lisa’s crime, itself, is a product of her mental illness and abuse: she killed Ms. Stinnett, who was pregnant, to claim the baby as her own. To understand Lisa’s crime, it is necessary to tell the story of Lisa’s life leading up to the offense.

The crime that Lisa committed, though rare, is not unprecedented. More than a dozen women have committed similar crimes around the country, and none, besides Lisa, are condemned to die. The crime itself is a reflection of severe mental illness from the trauma she endured. During her childhood and early adult life, Lisa was failed by every authority figure, including the time she confided in a relative who was a police officer. Killing Lisa will not assuage the failures of the teachers, social service professionals, law enforcement, or medical professionals who surely saw evidence of her abuse and did nothing.

At her 2007 trial, Montgomery was represented by Fredrick Duchardt, a Missouri attorney with the distinction of having more of his clients sentenced to death in federal court than any other defense lawyer in America. Part of this distinction includes presenting limited mitigating evidence at sentencing.

Years later, when a new team of defense lawyers began to represent Montgomery at appeal, the vast extent of the sexual violence and torture that she had experienced as a child began to emerge.

Since her conviction in 2007, Lisa has accepted responsibility for her crime and has expressed deep remorse. Lisa Montgomery committed a crime that she can never take back, and her actions had tragic consequences for Ms. Stinnett and her family. But the tragedy caused by her actions will not be remedied by killing her and would only further the cycle of abuse. The federal government’s motion to hand-select Lisa Montgomery for execution, ignoring Lisa’s constitutional rights and her lifelong experiences of sexual violence, is nothing short of an abuse of power and must stop. To learn more about Lisa, please visit www.savelisa.org.

Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty will participate in an online vigil for all victims of the death penalty with the Catholic Mobilizing Network on January 12th at 1 PM CST, which can be viewed live on Catholic Mobilizing’s Facebook or Zoom. You can sign up for the Zoom link by visiting www.catholicsmobilizing.org/virtual-vigils. Other vigils and watches will be held online by Death Penalty Action and can be found by visiting www.deathpenaltyaction.org.

The Springfield Chapter of MADP will sponsor a local in-person protest vigil from 3:00-4:00 pm at the intersection of Battlefield Rd. and Glenstone Avenue.

A “Vigil For Life and Mercy'' will be held by activists in Jefferson City on 1/12/21 from 12:00PM-1:00PM, across from the Post Office at 131 W. High St. to protest the three planned federal executions next week of Lisa Montgomery Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs.

Social distancing and masks are required at all in-person events.

You can find out more information about the federal death penalty by visiting www.deathpenaltyinfo.org. For more information about our work in Missouri, please visit www.madpmo.org.

(source: Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty)

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Splitting hairs: The case of Kenneth Ousley and the murder of Kelli Hall

"It's been a very long 25 years waiting for this execution," Jim Hall said in 2014, choking back tears after watching Jeffrey Ferguson be executed for murdering his daughter, Kelli. "My family and I have been devastated for years over this. She was 17 years old. She had her whole life in front of her."

A father's anger and pain. Indescribable in words. Understandable to all.

_______________

Fifth Street in St. Charles, just off interstate 70. Two gas stations - Mobil and Shell - sit across the street from each other. As the clock struck 11 p.m. on a cold Thursday night in February 1989, the hands of horror and fate awaited.

Three hours earlier at the home of Melvin Hedrick, Jeffrey Ferguson arrived, looking to sell a gun. Hedrick wasn't interested, but suggested Ferguson might have luck at a local bar. The 2 of them then headed to Brother's Bar, where they failed to sell the gun. Hedrick headed home. Ferguson then called another friend, Kenneth Ousley, to pick him up down the street at the Shell station. Ousley arrived driving a brown and white Chevy Blazer. Ferguson arrived, still with his gun. It was 10:55 p.m.

Across the street at the Mobil station, 17-year-old Kelli Hall was minutes away from getting off work. Her last task was to check and record the fuel levels in the four tanks at the front of the station. A witness reported seeing a brown and white Chevy Blazer cross the street, pull into the Mobil station and park. He reported seeing a white male standing next to Hall, with one hand in his pocket. Seconds later, Hall entered the back seat of the Blazer.

At the same time, Hall's boyfriend was waiting for her in his car, parked behind the station. At 11:30 p.m., wondering where she was, he went inside looking for her. He found her purse, then called her house. When he found out she wasn't there, he called the police.

The long night of horror began for the Hall family.

_______________

Early the next morning, a Chesterfield city worker spotted a handful of items alongside Creve Coeur Mill Road. Tennis shoes. Underclothes. A shirt. A coat. And a blue sweater with a Mobil insignia. In the pocket of the coat were notations about the fuel pump levels of two of the underground tanks.

As the disappearance of Kelli Hall was plastered on front pages and television screens, Hedrick started wondering if Ferguson was involved. On Monday morning, he reached out to a friend who was a former FBI agent. A couple of weeks later, Hall's body was found on a farm in Maryland Heights, naked except for her socks. That day, Hedrick met Ferguson in a bar. He was wearing a wire, and the FBI was waiting outside.

Ferguson knew there was a media frenzy. He told Hedrick "they're making a big thing out of this thing and it's just another [expletive] who lost it." Later that night, Ferguson was arrested and charged with the murder of Kelli Hall.

Forensic scientists examined DNA, blood, fiber and hair samples. Ferguson was a match. He plead not guilty, and claimed he was asleep at the time of the murder. A St. Louis County jury wasn't buying it, and convicted him in 1992, but the case was reversed on appeal because of a faulty jury instruction. A 2nd trial in 1994 came to the same conclusion. Ferguson would go to death row, and as Jim Hall watched, be executed in 2014.

__________________

And that brings us to the strange case of Kenneth Ousley, the man who picked Ferguson up in the Chevy Blazer.

Yes, Ousley told the police, he was there that night. And yes, he saw Ferguson strangle and kill Hall. But no, Ousley insisted, he wasn't involved. He only assisted in disposing the body, fearful of Ferguson.

Unlike Ferguson, there was no trace of Ousley's DNA on Hall's body or clothing. No DNA match of any kind. The only physical evidence linking him the scene was hair analysis. There was one blonde strand on his shoe. And there was pubic hair linked to Ousley on Hall's sock. The state had expert witness linking both hairs to Ousley. Had his case gone to trial, with Ousley's admission to being at the murder scene, and the two hairs, he faced the possibility of the death penalty. Ousley would accept a plea deal in 1993 to second degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years. He is scheduled for full parole after serving 30 years, in 2023. He was sent to the South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri.

The years rolled on, and beginning in 2008, Ousley was up for parole hearings. And each time that he was, Jim Hall would make the four hour round trip to argue against his release. No one could blame the father for the anger and pain that would never leave. Ousley was never successful before the parole board. He settled into prison life, and even got married behind bars.

And then came the hairs.

_________________

Michael Malone was a forensic expert specializing in hair and fiber analysis. He retired from the FBI in 1999. Before he did, Malone provided expert testimony in many criminal court cases around the country. Among them, the Kelli Hall case.

The problem is, Malone and the FBI's expertise is now under fire.

So much so, that the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Innocence Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers began a review of FBI analysts’ testimony and reports on hair comparisons. The group found that analysts, including Malone, had provided erroneous testimony or reports in more than 90 percent of cases it had studied. The group called much of Malone's findings to be "problematic," and having "no scientific basis." Regarding Malone's testimony in the Kelli Hall case, the Justice Department called it "exceeding the limits of justice."

And it's not just Malone. The FBI has acknowledged that from the mid 1970's until 2000, nearly every examiner in the FBI's elite microscopic hair comparison unit gave flawed testimony in trials. And it's not as if forensic hair analysis wasn't already in question for criminal cases at that time. In 1974, researchers concluded that hair comparisons were so subjective that different experts could reach different conclusions about the same hair. In fact, they said, the same examiner could reach a different conclusion about the same hair, at different times.

And in 1984, the FBI said hair samples could no longer be used as a positive match for identification, and in 1996 the Department of Justice stopped declaring matches based on visual comparison.

In the middle of this stood Michael Malone and the hair samples.

Ferguson's attorneys filed an appeal in his case, saying the FBI was aware of allegations concerning Malone years before Ferguson’s trial. In 2013, with death row looming, they presented the FBI results to then St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. “We ask that you determine the actions your office should take in light of this error,” the letter says.

But questionable hair samples would not save Ferguson, with the state holding a mountain of evidence. But Ousley's case, with no other physical evidence beyond 2 hairs?

And that brings us to today.

_________________

Kenneth Ousley has petitioned the courts to re-evaluate the forensic evidence, specifically those two hairs. But alas, in this story, things are never quite as they seem.

Where are the hairs? They are missing from the county crime lab. To make a long story short, the county had three hair samples for the Ferguson and Ousley cases. During his appeal process, Ferguson's attorneys hired a local lab to study the hairs. They checked out the samples in 2001. They were never returned. Now, 20 years later, Ousley has filed his motion, and nobody knows where the hairs are. The lab reports they only keep records for seven years. The analyst who studied the hairs 20 years ago now lives in Utah, and cannot travel due to the pandemic. She has no recollection of where the hairs might be. Such forensic evidence in a criminal case would be well marked in a large box, unlikely to be lost or misplaced. But it has been.

Ousley's motion to locate the forensic evidence has a February 1 deadline. And now, in the case of the missing hairs, the convicted criminal has found an unusual partner: St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, who has joined the motion to extend the deadline on Ousley's behalf, which would entail hiring the lab analyst again to search through 20 years of her records. Bell has issued the following statement.

"A plea bargain that is obtained on the basis of false testimony is inherently suspect and deserves reexamination, especially when that false testimony is offered by a member of law enforcement. In this case, evidence other than this dubious testimony links Kenneth Ousley to the crime, and that information is not insignificant. But evidence must be balanced on scales that are true, not scales that are weighted down with false evidence. In order to determine whether Ousley’s plea was validly obtained, we must do our best to uncover the truth behind that evidence. This motion was filed in an effort to uncover the truth."

A man's fate lost over time. And another man's mind would change because of it.

_____________________

As Jeffrey Ferguson sat for his final meal before his execution, Jim Hall waited with his wife Susan, their son Stephen, and his wife Melissa. On the other side of the room was Ferguson's family, including his daughters. After barbecue ribs, french fries and apple pie, Ferguson entered the chamber. He had promised his family he would bring a happy, not scared face to the room. He turned, looked at them, and made funny faces. They tried to smile back.

To Hall's family, Ferguson wrote his final words.

"I'm sorry to have to be the cause that brings you all into this dark business of execution. I pray for the victim's family to have peace in their hearts one day and lose the anger, hate and need for revenge that has driven them."

The execution was carried out at 12:01 a.m. Ferguson was pronounced dead ten minutes later.

For the Hall family, it was over. Nothing would bring Kelli back. They had heard stories about how Ferguson was a model prisoner, that he had changed in the 25 years since the murder. It mattered little to Jim Hall.

The long days of mourning went by. After Kelli's death, Stephen and Marissa Hall welcomed a baby girl to their family. They named her Kelli. And one night at the Hall house, the family gathered to watch a documentary called “Potosi: God in Death Row.” That's where Ferguson waited to die, and he appeared in the program like a voice from the grave. Jim Hall, a man of deep faith, could not take his eyes from the screen. When the program ended, he sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. It read:

"Ferguson conveyed such genuine remorse for the pain he caused both our family and his because of his horrible actions that we were able to forgive him then and there. We have since come to deeply regret his execution and appeal to Gov. Jay Nixon, during his final days in office, to commute to life without parole the death sentences of the remaining 25 men awaiting an execution date. Sadly, one can only imagine. But I’m convinced significant healing would have occurred for us all if our family had engaged in a frank conversation with him at the prison. I wish I had had the chance -- consistent with my Christian beliefs -- to have told him in person that I forgave him for what he did to our innocent and precious daughter."

And he has also forgiven Ousley. To be a Christian, as Jim Hall discovered, is to forgive the utterly unforgiveable.

(source: KMOV news)

USA:

Judge blocks execution of only woman on federal death row

A federal judge in Indiana late on Monday blocked the execution of Lisa Montgomery, a convicted murderer and the only woman on federal death row in the United States, on mental health grounds, based on evidence that she was unable to understand the government's rationale for her execution.

The decision was later upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, pushing any new execution date into Joe Biden's administration unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Montgomery, who was due to be killed by lethal injection on Jan. 12, was convicted in 2007 in Missouri for kidnapping and strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett, then eight months pregnant. Montgomery then cut Stinnett's fetus from the womb. The child survived.

U.S. judge James Patrick Hanlon granted a stay of execution to allow the court to conduct a hearing to determine whether she is competent to be executed, according to a court filing made in the U.S. district court of Southern District of Indiana.

Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, welcomed the judge's ruling and said the court was right to put a stop to her execution.

"Mrs Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence," Henry said in a statement.

Montgomery's lawyers have asked for U.S. President Donald Trump's clemency, saying she committed her crime after a lifetime of being abused and raped. In a nearly 7,000-page clemency petition filed last week, they asked Trump to commute Montgomery's sentence to life in prison.

The lawyers have said Montgomery admits her guilt but deserves clemency because she has long suffered severe mental illness, exacerbated by being gang raped by her stepfather and his friends during an abusive childhood.

(source: Reuters)

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A federal judge has granted a stay of execution for the only woman on federal death row pending a competency hearing

A federal judge granted Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, a stay of execution pending a competency hearing -- just hours before she was scheduled to die.

Judge James Hanlon of the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana wrote in the order granting the stay, "Ms. Montgomery's motion to stay execution is GRANTED to allow the Court to conduct a hearing to determine Ms. Montgomery's competence to be executed."

A date has not yet been set for the competency hearing.

Montgomery, 52, was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday, January 12 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Prosecutors have filed a notice to appeal the judge's ruling.

Montgomery's attorneys, family and supporters have pleaded with President Donald Trump to read their clemency petition and make an executive decision to commute her sentence to life without the possibility of parole.

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2008 by a Missouri jury for the 2004 murder of a pregnant woman, cutting the fetus out and kidnapping it. The baby survived.

"The Court was right to put a stop to Lisa Montgomery's execution," her attorney, Kelley Henry, said in a statement. "As the court found, Mrs. Montgomery 'made a strong showing' of her current incompetence to be executed. Mrs. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers."

"The Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of people like Mrs. Montgomery who, due to their severe mental illness or brain damage, do not understand the basis for their executions. Mrs. Montgomery is mentally deteriorating and we are seeking an opportunity to prove her incompetence," Henry added.

Montgomery also has a petition before the US Supreme Court.

(source: CNN)

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Democrats Unveil Legislation To Abolish The Federal Death Penalty

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., are unveiling legislation that would seek to end federal capital punishment, putting a focus on the issue as their party prepares to take over complete control of Congress, along with the White House.

The Democratic proposal, shared first with NPR, comes as the party will have unified control of Congress after victories in 2 Georgia Senate races, a change in fortunes for Democratic legislative priorities. The legislation would end capital punishment at the federal level and require the resentencing of all federal inmates on death row.

"There are 3 lives that hang in the balance this week alone," Pressley said, speaking along with Durbin in an exclusive joint interview. "And this is why we reintroduced this bill this week and are urging Congress to act immediately to pass it. State-sanctioned murder is not justice."

Former Attorney General William Barr announced in July 2019 that the Justice Department would resume federal executions, ending what had been a nearly two-decade hiatus. At the time, Barr and Justice Department officials said they were carrying out the will of judges and juries and providing justice for "staggeringly brutal murders."

The federal government executed 10 prisoners last year, more civilian prisoners than all the states combined over the same period. And more executions are scheduled for the final days of the Trump administration before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

"Here we are in the closing hours of the Trump administration, when they are in a mad dash to give pardons for federal crimes committed by their friends, and an equally mad dash to try to execute these people who have been on death row for years, if not decades," said Durbin, who will take over as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks. "That is just unconscionable."

For his part, Biden has said he wants to work with Congress to pass a law to eliminate capital punishment at the federal level and to "incentivize" states to follow that example.

Last year, transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo told NPR that "the president-elect opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use."

Pressley said she has been in "active conversation" with the Biden-Harris transition team about the issue, and that she is "very optimistic" about the chances for passage of the legislation. Late last year, she led her colleagues in a letter to the incoming administration, calling on it to abolish the death penalty as well as to use executive action to end all federal executions.

"I'm calling on him to use that full authority with the stroke of a pen to halt all federal executions and save lives," Pressley said. "He should also require the Department of Justice to no longer seek the death penalty for future cases, and permanently dismantle the Terre Haute facility where those federal executions take place."

But ultimately, Pressley said, passing the legislation is critical so that the end of capital punishment at the federal level has the force of law, preventing a future president from reinstating it.

Give that the Senate will be divided 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker, there will still be partisan hurdles to cross. It is unclear whether such a proposal would garner support among House and Senate Republicans.

Durbin said that the Senate will still take up a broader criminal justice reform package.

"The Senate Judiciary Committee, throughout our modern history, has always played a leadership role on issues of the moment," Durbin said. "It really was the focal point of a national conversation on issues of justice. It unfortunately, in the last few years abandoned that role."

Durbin added that he hopes that as chairman, "we can restore the role of this committee in the new Congress on a bipartisan basis."

Support for capital punishment is at its lowest point over the past five decades, according to Gallup polling. While there have been declines in support for the death penalty among Democrats and independents, according to Gallup's historical data, support among Republicans has remained relatively steady.

Pressley said she believes there was a "very significant flashpoint" in the debate over capital punishment when the Justice Department proceeded last month with the execution of Brandon Bernard. Bernard spent more than half of his life on death row for a crime committed when he was 18. In the final days of his life, he pleaded with President Trump to grant him clemency, and his case drew high-profile attention.

Pressley, who introduced similar legislation in 2019, said that she saw an "outpouring" of support for ending federal capital punishment in the days surrounding Bernard's execution.

Durbin also acknowledged changing public sentiment.

"Because of DNA and other methods of investigation, we have discovered that many people who have been sentenced to death were innocent," Durbin said. "One-hundred seventy-three people in the last few years have been exonerated on death row. We got it wrong. The system of justice failed."

One of the longest-standing criticisms of capital punishment is the racial disparities in the United States. Some studies have shown that defendants convicted of killing white victims are sentenced more harshly than those who have killed Black victims.

"While we're in the midst of this national reckoning on racial justice, abolishing the death penalty must be a part of that discourse but also our legislative actions," Pressley said.

Durbin added, "If we truly believe that all lives matter, and Black lives matter, and brown lives matter and the lives of poor people matter, it's time for us to make sure that our system of justice reflects that."

(source: npr.org)

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Former Corrections Officers Petition Acting AG Rosen to Halt Federal Executions----Letter urges Rosen to consider their health and refrain from superspreader executions.

The letter comes a few days after a partial preliminary injunction was granted in Smith v. Barr, a case that challenged the scheduled federal executions on the grounds that carrying them out during the pandemic posed too great a risk to people incarcerated at FCI Terre Haute from the spread of COVID-19. The court found that “the executions introduce a large number of outsiders to the prison complex,” and increased the threat that COVID-19 would spread to the prisoners. The court ordered the prison to implement some but not all of the preventative measures that the plaintiffs sought.

The letter states: “At a time when corrections staff in Indiana are facing incredible pressure and stress from the dangers of working during the pandemic, holding these executions this week places an unnecessary threat to their safety. Community COVID-19 levels are already exceptionally high in Indiana, with several counties in crisis. At the same time, vaccinations have begun at FCC Terre Haute and other corrections agencies in Indiana. A short postponement could literally save hundreds of lives. We ask that you prioritize the health and safety of correction staff and postpone these executions until staff have all been offered vaccines.”

Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, issued the following statement:

“The federal government’s decision to rush to kill 3 more people in the week before President-elect Biden takes office is unforgivably reckless. The data shows that the federal executions these past 6 months led to preventable spikes in COVID-19 for people incarcerated at Terre Haute prison, prison staff, and in the surrounding community. But of course, the spread doesn’t stop there.

“Execution team members travel from around the country to participate in these executions. They do not quarantine when they arrive in Indiana, and they are not required to get tested when they return home. These executions are likely spreading COVID-19 around the country, not just in Indiana. If acting Attorney General Rosen cares at all about the health of federal prison staff, their families, and communities, he will not go through with these unnecessary executions at this precarious moment.”

(source: commondreams.org)

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Sister Helen Prejean Says Federal Executions Speak To Trump's Violent Approach To Power

The federal government is planning to execute 3 more people before President Trump leaves office next week, despite the political fallout his administration faces in its final days.

These final executions will bring the total number carried out during Trump’s term to 13. No president has rushed to execute this many people in a year since the 1880s.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and anti-death-penalty activist, says the Trump administration’s decision to end a 17-year hiatus on federal executions is just one facet of the president’s violent agenda.

“President Trump's overall approach to the way he tries to hold power is to use violence,” she says. “He upholds white supremacy groups, people who use violence. He encouraged the group to storm the Capitol. And executions are just part of his whole way of doing things.”

After studying the death penalty and witnessing 6 executions, Prejean says the legal process for sentencing capital punishment is inherently flawed. Prosecutors decide whether to seek capital punishment based on “impossible criteria,” she says.

“[Capital punishment is] supposed to be only for the worst of the worst,” she says. “But overwhelmingly, its practice has been if you kill white people.”

The Trump administration’s 3 final executions include Lisa Montgomery, who murdered a pregnant woman in Kansas in 2004 in a nightmarish effort to steal the unborn fetus. Scheduled to be put to death on Tuesday, Montgomery will be the 11th federal inmate executed since July.

A federal judge in Indiana ruled late last week that more has to be done to prevent COVID-19 from spreading at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where these executions are taking place, in order for them to happen.

But Prejean says she believes the executions will move forward despite that it means hundreds of people would be coming to the prison during the pandemic.

Montgomery was traumatized and tortured in her life, Prejean says, but didn’t have experts to show her history of trauma as part of her defense. The prosecutor in her case called her story the “abuse excuse.”

Prejean says she’s working closely with Montgomery’s lawyers and other people trying to plead the 52-year-old’s case but questions if Trump will even hear out the plea.

“That's why you cannot put in the hands of individuals this discretion of life or death that they carry. You don't have an execution if prosecutors do not deliberately seek it,” Prejean says. “And her clemency petition is sitting in the midst of that chaos in the White House. Will [Trump] even look at it? I doubt it.”

Montgomery committed a “horrendous” crime, but the notion that executions help victims’ families is disingenuous, Prejean says. Families even read a script at federal executions that guide them to express gratitude and say they feel closure, she says.

“How can — [families] witnessing violence against this woman and have her be killed in front of their eyes — possibly heal their hearts of their loss?” she says. “It's just a big lie.”

The end of Trump’s term is coming, whether it’s through impeachment, forced removal or Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Biden, a Catholic, has said that he would end federal executions.

Prejean expects the president-elect to keep his word. If Biden’s term began 8 days earlier, Montgomery would live, Prejean says, which speaks to the “arbitrariness and capriciousness” of the death penalty.

‘God Is An Active Verb’

During the pandemic, Prejean’s younger brother, Louis Prejean Jr., recently died due to complications related to COVID-19. She says she’s grateful her brother faced a “merciful death” in his sleep while in a medically induced coma.

Trump’s lack of national strategy on the coronavirus is killing an unfathomable number of Americans, she says.

“The act of taking the life of Lisa Montgomery is one thing,” she says. “And the passive, or through neglect, allowing [of] the death of so many citizens is another aspect of the violence of this administration and Trump.”

The current moment might lead some people to question their faith, but Prejean’s devotion to doing God’s work is unwavering.

In her book “River of Fire,” she talks about her own awakening: how she went from praying for people and asking God to help them to rolling up her own sleeves and getting involved. Now, the “divine spark” in her heart inspires her to serve as a witness to executions and wake the American people up to the cruel reality of capital punishment.

“God's work in the world is compassion, not vengeance. God's work in the world is justice,” she says. “God is an active verb. But God is not this supreme being out there removed from everything. God sparks us to life and to work for justice.”

(source: WBUR news)

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Trump Administration Says the Inconvenience of Rescheduling Executions Outweighs the “Harm” to Prisoners Set to Die----The Justice Department is pushing ahead with plans for 3 executions this week even though 2 of the prisoners have COVID-19 and multiple courts have objected to the government’s aggressive tactics.

The Trump administration is charging ahead with plans for 3 back-to-back executions this week, even though 2 of the condemned prisoners are sick with COVID-19 and multiple courts have objected to the government’s aggressive maneuvers.

Despite outstanding legal obstacles in all 3 cases, the executions remain on the calendar. The 3 prisoners’ fate will ultimately be decided by President Donald Trump and the Supreme Court. Neither has intervened to stop the 10 executions carried out since July.

In their determination to kill Nos. 11, 12 and 13 — capping an unprecedented string of federal executions after a 17-year hiatus — Justice Department officials scheduled executions in defiance of court orders, flouted pandemic safety measures and lied about it, and demanded that judges yield to the administration’s self-imposed deadline of Jan. 20.

Their filings don’t explicitly acknowledge what everybody knows: They’re running out of time to execute people before the inauguration of Joe Biden, who opposes the death penalty.

Instead, their legal rationale for why they cannot wait appears to rest in part on the availability of the private contractors whom the government hired to carry out the executions. Justice Department lawyers argued in court in the past several weeks that the inconvenience of rescheduling these private contractors would “irreparably harm” the government more than the prisoners would be irreparably harmed by dying.

The government has not said who the contractors are or why it hired them. But according to court papers, the contractors have already taken time out of their busy schedules to work this week’s executions. The contractors “have made themselves available and presumably have made any necessary arrangements for personal and work-related matters based on the executions scheduled in January,” Bureau of Prisons lawyer Rick Winter said in a declaration. The contractors would need at least a month’s notice to reschedule, Winter said in another court filing.

Based on the contractors’ limited availability, the Justice Department says execution dates “cannot be rescheduled with relative ease.” As government lawyers have put it in various court filings, rebooking the contractors would amount to “significant practical burdens,” “severe operational burdens,” “complex logistical considerations” and “significant, unwarranted logistical challenges.”

This, according to the Justice Department, would “inflict irreparable harm on the government.” The prisoners, on the other hand, do not face irreparable harm if they lose their last-ditch legal bids to stop or delay their executions, according to the Trump administration. “They cannot show that they will be irreparably harmed,” government lawyers wrote in an emergency court filing on New Year’s Eve.

The White House, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The contractors’ scheduling constraints help explain why the Justice Department clustered its executions together, two or three at a time, despite concerns from BOP officials. Noting that conducting multiple executions a day was found to be a factor in a 2014 Oklahoma execution that went awry, BOP leaders were worried about the strain on their staff. But according to a deposition, the agency went ahead and scheduled multiple executions in a week because that’s what then-Attorney General William P. Barr wanted.

Tuesday: Lisa Montgomery

Tuesday’s execution of Lisa Montgomery was scheduled despite a court-ordered halt that was in effect at the time. The court order was meant to give Montgomery more time to work on her case because her lawyers caught COVID-19 while visiting her in prison.

The Trump administration fought back, arguing that she had just as much time as all the other “federal death-row inmates who have been scheduled for execution during this year — all of them during the pandemic.”

A federal judge in Washington said the execution date violated the Justice Department’s own regulations, but the appeals court disagreed. The court-ordered halt expired on Dec. 31.

Montgomery is the only woman on federal death row and would be the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953. Convicted in 2007 of a gruesome murder-kidnapping, Montgomery suffers from severe mental illness and trauma, according to her lawyers. International human rights experts with the United Nations and Organization of American States have said her life should be spared, though their recommendations are not binding on U.S. courts.

The Justice Department has accused Montgomery’s legal team of stall tactics. “Montgomery seeks delay for its own sake based on alleged procedural violations that she could have raised many months — if not years — ago,” the government lawyers, led by Missouri U.S. attorney Timothy A. Garrison and acting D.C. U.S. attorney Michael R. Sherwin, said in a Wednesday court filing. They even suggested that Montgomery should have raised her complaints before her execution was first announced in October.

That notion stunned Montgomery’s lawyers. The government’s “suggestion that Mrs. Montgomery should have challenged an execution date before it was set would be laughable if the stakes were not so serious,” her lawyers said in response on Thursday. “The fact that this litigation is occurring at all — and now so close to the scheduled execution date — is because [the administration] unlawfully abbreviated the time between notice and a scheduled execution in an unprecedented rush to the execution chamber.”

Thursday: Corey Johnson

The government is planning to proceed with executing Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs this week even though the condemned men both tested positive for COVID-19.

The federal death row facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, has had an outbreak of more than 400 cases after the Nov. 19 execution of Orlando Hall. Each execution brings 50 to 125 people to the facility, including BOP staff, the private contractors, victims’ family members, journalists and other witnesses. The warden, T.J. Watson, said in a sworn declaration that the facility followed “rigorous safeguards and precautions,” including rapid tests and contact tracing using surveillance footage.

But that assurance, a federal judge would later conclude, “has proven to be wholly false.” When six members of Hall’s execution team tested positive for the coronavirus, BOP conducted contact tracing for only one of them at most. In response, the government explained that it couldn’t do contact tracing without compromising the execution team’s “unique mission.”

“The identities of execution team members are kept confidential to the greatest extent possible, from inmates, the public, and even from other BOP staff members,” government lawyers said in a Jan. 4 filing. “Contact tracing would reveal their identities, or information leading to the disclosure of their identities, so as to threaten their safety and subject them to threats and harassment from inmates, members of the public and others.”

In December, Higgs started coughing and having chills, then labored breathing. Johnson developed a cough, headache, runny nose, fatigue and body aches. Both inmates tested positive on Dec. 16. Their conditions continued to worsen, and lawyers cited medical experts who said both men have suffered lung damage.

They argue the lung damage will cause Johnson and Higgs to suffer more painful executions because of how the government’s lethal injection drug works. The lawyers presented evidence that the drug, a sedative called pentobarbital, would flood the prisoners’ lungs with froth and foam, causing pain and terror akin to death by drowning. The suffering would be even more prolonged, they said, for people with lungs damaged by COVID-19.

The Justice Department hired its own medical experts who argued that Johnson and Higgs wouldn’t suffer from the lethal injection because they wouldn’t be awake. But even if the drug did simulate death by drowning, the government lawyers argued the pain would be “comparable” to death by hanging. Hanging has not been deemed unconstitutional in repeated Supreme Court reviews, as recently as 2019.

Other prisoners at Terre Haute filed their own lawsuit, arguing that the government’s execution plans, without adequate COVID-19 prevention measures, exposed them to an unconstitutional health risk. A federal judge in Indiana, after finding that BOP had “deliberately chosen not to implement CDC guidance,” sided with the prisoners.

In this case, the judge said the cost to the government of taking these measures could not outweigh the danger to the prisoners’ health: “These additional precautions would not be costless, but any costs to the [government] do not outweigh the risk to the [prisoners] of contracting COVID-19 if executions go forward as scheduled without additional precautions.” On Thursday she ordered the executions to stop unless BOP enforced mask wearing, logged all exposures, tested all impacted staff daily for two weeks and conducted contact tracing for anyone who tested positive.

The prisoners asked the judge to insist that BOP explain in advance what steps it will take to comply with the order before proceeding with the executions. “It is important to review [BOP’s] actions in advance of any further executions, given [BOP’s] prior inconsistent implementation of COVID-19 safety precautions and inaccurate disclosures regarding those precautions,” the prisoners’ lawyers said in a Sunday filing.

But the Justice Department said it will move ahead with the executions and argued it shouldn’t have to spell out its measures for the prisoners. “Now that they have a narrower injunction imposing certain COVID precautions, they should not be permitted to convert it into a court-appointed COVID monitorship,” lawyers led by acting Indiana U.S. attorney John C. Childress said in a Monday court filing.

“Nobody needs to carry out any executions during a pandemic,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that tracks executions. “If an execution were lawful, it could be carried out later when it was safe to do so. What we’ve seen here is purely political.”

Separately, Johnson is appealing to stop his execution on the basis that he is intellectually disabled. Johnson was convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to death nine years before the Supreme Court held that executing people with intellectual disabilities is unconstitutional. According to Johnson’s lawyers, he could not name the months of the year at age 13, scored an IQ of 69 when he was 16 and has been unable to earn a GED.

In a January 2020 deposition, Associate Deputy Attorney General Brad Weinsheimer said the Justice Department did not consider prisoners’ mental health when choosing whom to execute.

Friday: Dustin Higgs

As for Higgs, he was convicted in 2000 in Maryland, which later abolished the death penalty. Since the Federal Death Penalty Act requires the government to follow the law of the state where the prisoner was sentenced, the Justice Department asked the court to reassign Higgs’ case to Indiana.

Without waiting for a ruling, the Justice Department scheduled Higgs’ execution for Friday. (The announcement incorrectly said that Higgs “murdered three women,” when in fact he did not pull the trigger; his co-defendant, who did, was sentenced to life without parole.)

On Dec. 29, the federal court in Maryland denied the Justice Department’s request to move Higgs’ case to Indiana. The government immediately appealed. The court scheduled a hearing for Jan. 27 — 12 days after Higgs’ execution date (and 7 after Biden’s inauguration).

Rather than reschedule the execution to accommodate the court’s timeline, the Justice Department said the court should change its schedule in order to keep the execution date. “In order to meet that deadline,” Maryland U.S. attorney Robert K. Hur said, “the Court should either dispense with oral argument or schedule oral argument on Monday, Jan. 11.” Hur argued that the Supreme Court frowns on “last-minute stays” — but this was not a case of a prisoner’s 11th-hour claim. It was the government seeking a last-minute emergency order.

Higgs’ lawyers were galled by the government’s “extraordinary demand.”

“The requested rush to decide by an arbitrary date is a situation that the government itself created,” they said in a Friday filing. “When the government set Mr. Higgs’s execution date, it knew that it had no legal authority to execute him. It acted in the hope that the legal authority would appear before the date that it had selected. That its hope has not yet been fulfilled is no reason for this court to dance to the tune played by the government.”

The Justice Department argues that the court lacked the power to refuse its request to reassign Higgs’ case to a state that still has the death penalty. While the government acknowledged that it can’t execute Higgs without a ruling in its favor, the U.S. attorney’s office indicated it will appeal to the Supreme Court if the lower court doesn’t agree by Tuesday.

“[Higgs] is just making a ‘gotcha’ argument, but the loophole he tries to create does not exist,” Hur’s team said in a Saturday filing. The U.S. attorney’s office said allowing the court’s decision to stand would amount to “nullification of the executive branch’s sovereign authority.”

(source: propublica.org)

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Who Is Dustin Higgs? Attorneys Fight to Stop Execution of Inmate With COVID

Dustin John Higgs is scheduled to die on Friday, capping an unprecedented spree of federal executions that began last summer amid a raging pandemic and set to end just days before a new president is sworn in.

Higgs, 48, is the last of the federal death row inmates currently scheduled for execution. Higgs' attorneys have called on the Department of Justice to withdraw his execution date after he became he first federal death row inmate to contract COVID-19 last month.

Cory Johnson, who also tested positive for the virus, and Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, are also facing execution this week.

Higgs and Johnson are awaiting a ruling on litigation jointly filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to halt their executions, that argues it would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment to execute them while they are still recovering from COVID-19.

But if Higgs' execution goes ahead on Friday, he will be put to death at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana just five days before Biden, a death penalty opponent, is inaugurated.

The Trump administration resumed federal executions last summer and went on to execute more people in a single year than any administration in more than a century.

Higgs, a Black man, was sentenced to death in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of three young women.

According to the Department of Justice, Higgs and two friends had driven to Washington, D.C. in January 1996 to pick up the women—Tamika Black, 19; Tanji Jackson, 21; and Mishann Chinn, 23—and drive them back to his apartment in Laurel, Maryland.

Prosecutors said after one of the women rebuffed his advances, Higgs offered them a ride back to Washington, D.C. but instead drove them to a secluded area in a national park, gave a gun to one of his friends and said, "better make sure they're dead." The other man shot all three woman dead, according to the DOJ.

But Higgs' attorneys have argued that he didn't actually kill anyone, had ineffective counsel at trial and did not deserve to die. They noted that his co-defendant, Willis Haynes, was the sole shooter in the case, but was tried separately and not sentenced to death.

"There is no principled basis to execute Dustin Higgs given that the shooter in this case is serving a life sentence and the trial prosecutors actively misled the jury in Dustin's case," Shawn Nolan, one of Higgs' attorneys, said in a statement to Newsweek.

"The government should not carry out yet another super-spreader execution in the heart of this global pandemic. The DOJ should withdraw Dustin's execution date or President Trump should commute his death sentence."

Higgs' clemency petition urges President Donald Trump to consider that the actual shooter in the case received a life sentence and that the testimony used to secure a death verdict was suspect, and to commute Higgs' sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It argues that at Haynes' trial, which took place before Higgs', the government rejected the defense that he had acted at Higgs' direction. Prosecutors said that "no one forced [Haynes] to take that gun, get out of the vehicle and kill those 3 girls."

The petiton also notes that Haynes himself has said in a sworn statement that Higgs "didn't make me do anything that night or ever" yet prosecutors relied on a "highly suspect" witness who testified that Higgs ordered Haynes to shoot the women, in exchange for favorable treatment in other cases.

The petition also notes Higgs has been a "model inmate" during his decades on death row and has been a loving father to his son Da'Quan Darby, who was born shortly after his arrest.

"From a child to adulthood, my father was always there for me to confide in, to laugh with, to cry with, and even get upset with," Darby wrote in a letter supporting the clemency application.

"But he was always there and has been my number one supporter, showed me what love is, and taught me to be a better man. I cannot imagine or think of where I could've ended up without the love and encouragement of my father."

An online petition, calling for Higgs' life to be spared, has amassed almost 300,000 signatures.

(source: Newsweek)

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When an I.Q. Score Is a Death Sentence----The Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional to execute intellectually disabled people. On Thursday, we’re set to do it anyway.

In January 1993, a psychologist asked Corey Johnson to write a story about a picture of an astronaut crouching on a lunar landscape.

In loops of cursive script, sloping left and then right, Mr. Johnson wrote, “me and my Mom went to the moon, when we got there there was people wroking they look like they was beilling something, but what I like most was when this man show us what they was look for.” The tale meandered for another nine sentences, culminating with a mystery: “but when I saw this man he look like he had found something, what I don’t no.”

Dewey Cornell, the clinician who gave Mr. Johnson the task as part of a psychological evaluation, pored over the scant sentences.

“Corey’s story was 159 words long, with 9 different words misspelled,” he observed in his notes. “Approximately ? of the grammatical phrases were incorrect. The themes and imaginative ideas in his story were extremely immature for his age.” Mr. Johnson’s written language abilities, Dr. Cornell concluded, were those of the average elementary school student.

But Mr. Johnson was 24 years old.

He was being tried in the murders of 7 people for a Richmond, Va., drug gang — 27 criminal counts in all. Charged under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which reinstated the federal death penalty, he was convicted less than a week after Dr. Cornell submitted his report. Sent to death row, where Mr. Johnson has spent the past 27 years, he awaits execution on Thursday.

Yet it could have — should have — been otherwise. In the United States, it is illegal to execute intellectually disabled people — a prohibition that was encoded into many statutes before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, in particular, provided that “death shall not be carried out upon a person who is mentally retarded.” Then, in 2002, the Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia, forbade capital punishment for people with intellectual disabilities.

In Atkins, the court recognized the criteria that clinicians generally use to determine whether someone is mentally disabled — that intellectual disability typically manifests before adulthood, that it presents significant limitations in practical functioning and that it is usually associated with an I.Q. significantly lower than the mean, although by how much was not specified. It left states with latitude to define intellectual disability. Ideally, experts would be brought in to perform evaluations, and then judges and juries would weigh arguments from the prosecution and defense before deciding whether they were convinced of the diagnosis.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has provided more clarity, ruling in 2014’s Hall v. Florida that states cannot decide whether defendants are intellectually eligible for the death penalty based on strict I.Q. thresholds — in that case, a score of 70 — because “intellectual disability is a condition, not a number.” For advocates and defense lawyers aiding people with those limitations, Hall lent much needed authority to what clinicians and social workers had struggled to affirm in courts for years.

Yet barriers to Atkins’ enforcement remain. In particular, judges, juries and perhaps in the case of Mr. Johnson, even defense lawyers can misapprehend the nature of intellectual disability.

People tend to think they know what intellectual disability looks like, and feel erroneously certain that they would recognize it if they saw it. A 2004 opinion by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, for instance, supplied the simple-hearted, hapless character Lennie Small from John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” as an example of a person whom the majority of Texan citizens would agree ought to be exempted from the death penalty, as opposed to less obvious cases, which, the court implied, could be fictitious.

Yet intellectual disability doesn’t necessarily look like Lennie Small, or Forrest Gump, or Charlie Gordon of “Flowers for Algernon." Lawyers, jurors, and judges can overlook it.

By the time Dr. Cornell met Mr. Johnson, the young man had taken no fewer than five I.Q. tests. Born to a single teenage mother who struggled with drug abuse and poverty, Mr. Johnson lived in at least 12 residences between birth and the age of 13 and suffered varying kinds of neglect and abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriends. At times he would flee to his godmother, Antoinette Joseph, for refuge.

At one point, Ms. Joseph told me, Mr. Johnson’s mother “hit him in the head with her high heel, and she called me and told me, ‘Come and get this boy before I kill him. He’s just not acting right. He don’t do what I ask him to.’” Ms. Joseph rescued the boy and took him in. While in Ms. Joseph’s care, her daughter Courtney Daniels, would help him with his schoolwork.

“He just couldn’t grasp it,” Ms. Daniels told me. “My godbrother wasn’t like the rest of us.”

“Understanding some things,” she said, “he could not get it. Reading, writing — basically when it came to school, he sucked.”

Educators tried to understand why Mr. Johnson couldn’t keep up with his peers. At the age of 8, tests found he possessed the cognitive skills of a child 4 to 5 years old; he remained in the second grade for three years as a result. He was placed in special education at the age of 10, and by 13, he was placed in the care of the Pleasantville Cottage School, a residential center for children with difficult backgrounds.

Pleasantville sorted Mr. Johnson into its Mount Pleasant School, which focused on children with special needs. There, Richard Benedict, a career special educator, took a shine to him.

“He failed at many places before he came to us,” Mr. Benedict told me. “You just don’t get placed in residential treatment because you had a bad day or a bad week or a bad couple months in school, you know?”

He recalled assigning a chaperone to accompany Mr. Johnson to the bathroom, because he would frequently wander or become lost on his way back to class. When I asked Mr. Benedict if he considered the possibility that Mr. Johnson was intellectually disabled, his response was instantaneous.

“Absolutely,” he said, “He’s a poster child for that. I don’t know who gave testimony at his trial, but it was obviously someone who didn’t have the experience of dealing with the population that Corey came from.”

In an affidavit submitted years after Mr. Johnson’s conviction, his court-appointed defense lawyer Craig Cooley said, “I did not suspect that Corey Johnson might be intellectually disabled” when Dr. Cornell was brought in. He retained Dr. Cornell not to assess Mr. Johnson’s intellectual ability, he said, but to evaluate his competence to stand trial, his criminal responsibility, and general mitigating factors.

Reached for comment, Dr. Cornell declined to speak on the record. But his files show that he administered standardized tests to Mr. Johnson, including the test of written language involving the lunar adventure. He also conducted telephone interviews with a handful of employees from Mr. Johnson’s school — though not Mr. Benedict — as well as a social worker who had spent many hours with him.

Dr. Cornell’s testing found Mr. Johnson’s I.Q. score was 77 — bordering on the 70 to 75 range traditionally considered the threshold for intellectual disability. He concluded that Mr. Johnson was not intellectually disabled.

Instead, he wrote, “Corey Johnson suffered from a severe learning disability which impaired his intellectual development and prevented him from succeeding in school,” as well as emotional disturbance due to the unstable, often abusive upbringing he had endured.

Without an expert’s opinion to affirm their client’s disability, which would have legally excluded him from execution, Mr. Cooley and his co-counsel, John McGarvey, asked jurors to consider his severe mental deficits as mitigating factors in considering whether to sentence him to death.

“Now, I’m not intending to suggest at this juncture or any other juncture that Cory Johnson is mentally retarded,” Mr. McGarvey told the jury.

Dr. Cornell is a gifted and qualified psychologist, and his work on youth aggression and violence in educational settings has been widely praised. But while he has published a range of articles on gifted children, bullying, familial dynamics and depression, a curriculum vitae reviewed by The New York Times did not appear to list any publications or special projects in intellectual disability.

After testing Mr. Johnson, Mr. Cooley recalled, “Dr. Cornell told me that Corey Johnson’s I.Q. is within two points of the borderline for mental retardation” and that he “instead had a severe learning disability.”

But there is reason to believe Mr. Johnson’s I.Q. score was mistakenly inflated.

J. Gregory Olley, a celebrated scholar of intellectual disability, first heard of Mr. Johnson’s case years after his conviction, when his defense team asked Dr. Olley to evaluate their client.

Dr. Olley is a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has spent his career researching and publishing extensively in his area of expertise, including the chapter on intellectual disabilities and the criminal justice system in the latest edition of the American Psychological Association’s Handbook of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. His evaluation of Mr. Johnson included an in-depth review of his educational and testing records, and hours of interviews with Mr. Johnson, his friends, family, and associates, many of whom had never been approached by Dr. Cornell.

When Dr. Olley reviewed Mr. Johnson’s files, he spotted a flaw. I.Q. tests measure intelligence relative to an age-based reference group. And because I.Q. scores have risen over time — a curious fact observed by the intelligence researcher James Flynn — older versions of various tests will yield inflated results because they reflect a comparison with population norms from many years ago instead of today. Adjusting for the so-called Flynn effect is common practice among clinicians reviewing I.Q. test results obtained from older tests.

Although Dr. Cornell had administered the WAIS-R, a test released in 1981, based on population data from years prior, he did not adjust for the Flynn effect in 1992. Dr. Olley, on the other hand, observed in his report that, “if corrected for aging norms, the score would be 72.8,” placing Mr. Johnson squarely in the range of scores used to diagnose intellectual disability.

“I have concluded,” Dr. Olley wrote, “based on my thorough examination of a wide and comprehensive array of materials and more than two dozen interviews, that Corey Johnson is intellectually disabled.” In his view, “the evidence for Corey Johnson’s intellectual disability diagnosis is strong and deep, and it is corroborated by contemporaneous records created by professionals during his childhood and adolescence, by my interviews of a diverse group of people who knew him best from an array of perspectives, by standardized testing.”

It’s unclear whether that can save Mr. Johnson now.

Since Mr. Johnson’s trial lawyers did not claim he was intellectually disabled, no court has agreed to hold a hearing to consider the evidence to the contrary in appeals over the past three decades, Mr. Johnson’s current lawyers, Don Salzman and Ron Tabak, told me.

“No court has ever applied modern medical standards, which are critical,” said Mr. Salzman. “No court has ever heard testimony from our 3 nationally recognized experts in intellectual disability, who have spent their careers, over 40 years each of them, focused on intellectual disability, who have all said that Corey Johnson has a compelling case and is clearly a person with intellectual disability.”

Mr. Salzman and Mr. Tabak have appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and hope that Mr. Johnson’s execution will be stayed until they are granted the opportunity to present evidence of his disability in court. If their efforts fail, Mr. Johnson will — barring some intervention — be killed Thursday without any judge or jury ever having considered the fact that he is intellectually disabled.

Scholars of intellectual disability and criminal justice whom I interviewed wholly agreed on only one thing: Despite Atkins and related statutes, there are still people with intellectual disabilities on America’s death row.

There are several reasons for this, but they all fit under the rubric of courts being poorly equipped to distinguish people with intellectual disabilities from those without.

Juries are only part of the problem. Tess Neal, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, told me that, based on her research, jurors often struggle to understand complex evidence. “If you have some jurors who are really smart and strong and could follow that information, they’re good with numbers, they’re good with math, they’re good with science or whatever — if they’re in the room, then they may be able to help other people understand the complexity of that evidence,” she said. But if a jury lacks such capable members, it may not be able to take complicated evidence properly into account.

David Shapiro, a forensic psychologist of 50 years, mentioned another disturbing trend: so-called ethnic adjustments.

Because of a variety of social and environmental factors, Dr. Shapiro said, “it’s well known that minority groups do more poorly on standardized tests than nonminority groups,” so practitioners of ethnic adjustments would “just artificially inflate people’s I.Q. scores, with no science behind it.”

In a 2019 paper published in an American Psychological Association journal, Dr. Shapiro and co-authors reported that “some psychologists were testifying that defendants who were from ethnic minority groups had I.Q. scores that were suppressed and that therefore their scores had to be ‘adjusted’ upward to compensate for the suppression.”

Dr. Shapiro told me that at least 3 inmates whose scores were adjusted have been executed and that the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suits on behalf of inmates awaiting execution. California has also taken action to ban the practice in its courts.

Elsewhere, though, ethnic adjustments continue, clinicians submit testimony and evidence that are complicated, mistakes are made, and errors are missed. The shades of nuance and margins of error that provide clinicians with guidance in treatment can prove lethal in trials.

Time was that this country barred people with intellectual disabilities from crossing its borders, or locked them away in squalid institutions that were little more than prisons, experimented on them, tortured them, sterilized them, executed them.

On Thursday, we will see if we have changed.

(source: Elizabeth Bruenig is an Opinion writer----New York Times)

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Inmate scheduled for Friday execution loses 7th Circuit appeal

A federal prisoner scheduled to be executed Friday at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute has failed to secure habeas relief from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

A unanimous 7th Circuit panel on Monday upheld the dismissal of Dustin John Higgs’ habeas petition. Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the panel also including Judges Diane Wood and Michael Brennan in Dustin John Higgs v. T.J. Watson, Warden, 20-2129.

Higgs was convicted in the 1996 kidnapping and murder of 3 young women in Maryland and received nine death sentences. He was also convicted and sentenced on firearms charges and is now housed on federal death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute.

Following unsuccessful attempts at securing post-conviction relief, Higgs filed a habeas petition in the Indiana Southern District Court, asking that his convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) be invalidated under Johnson v. United State, 576 U.S. 591 (2015). Johnson held that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague.

His case was stayed pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Davis, which likewise held in 2019 that the residual clause definition of “crime of violence” was unconstitutionally vague.

“Higgs was not just seeking relief from his § 924(c) convictions,” Scudder wrote in the Monday opinion. “His strategy was broader and focused ultimately on vacating his death sentences. Higgs contended that relief in the first instance from his allegedly invalid § 924(c) convictions would call the entirety of his sentence into question, leading to an altogether new sentencing proceeding, at which he could seek to avoid capital punishment.”

After lifting the stay, Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the Indiana Southern District Court denied the habeas petition, finding that Higgs did not satisfy the Savings Clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e). Magnus-Stinson’s ruling thus did not reach the merits of Higgs’ argument.

The 7th Circuit panel likewise did not reach the merits, finding that, “Unfortunately for Higgs … his Davis challenge to his firearm convictions is not cognizable under § 2241.”

“Because Davis is a constitutional case, we cannot say there is anything structurally ‘inadequate’ or ‘ineffective’ about § 2255 as a remedy for petitioners like Higgs challenging their § 924(c) convictions under Davis,” Scudder wrote. “Put another way, nothing about § 2255, including the limitations it imposes on second or successive motions, prevented Higgs from pursuing relief based on Davis’s constitutional holding.”

But the panel stopped short of accepting the government’s theory that “Supreme Court cases in the savings-clause context can never be ‘bilateral’ — meaning both constitutionally and statutorily based. … Here, though, we agree that Davis is best and most fairly read as only a constitutional case for purposes of interpreting the limitations of a second or successive § 2255 motion.”

“One final point warrants underscoring,” the panel noted. “What Higgs understandably emphasized on appeal, aided as he was by a team of very able counsel, was the disparity between his circumstances (facing death sentences and an impending execution date) and those of his co-defendant, Willie Haynes (the triggerman who received life sentences and permission to file a successive § 2255 motion to challenge his § 924(c) convictions).

“The reasons for Higgs being prevented but Haynes being allowed to file a new § 2255 motion are not plain to us. Regardless, in the circumstances before us, the disparity alone does not establish the inadequacy or ineffectiveness of § 2255 as a remedy.”

Though the 7th Circuit declined to revive Higgs’ habeas petition, it is not certain that his execution will be carried out as scheduled on Friday.

In addition to the availability of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Higgs has petitioned President Donald Trump for clemency, according to The Guardian.

Lisa Montgomery, who is scheduled to die Tuesday, has likewise petitioned for clemency and on Friday filed a habeas petition that had not been ruled on at IL deadline. Cory Johnson, who is scheduled to die Friday, has also petitioned for clemency, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In separate litigation, Magnus-Stinson entered an injunction last week prohibiting all executions from moving forward unless the Bureau of Prison takes additional steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the execution process. The BOP declined to comment on whether it could comply with the terms of the injunction in time for Tuesday’s scheduled execution, but the plaintiffs in that litigation — 2 non-death row inmates at the Terre Haute facility — filed a subsequent motion noting that the bureau appeared to intend to proceed with the executions as scheduled.

The plaintiffs moved for an order requiring the BOP to file pre- and post-execution compliance reports. Magnus-Stinson partially granted that motion Monday.

“In furtherance of the Court’s interest in enforcing its preliminary injunction, and due to previously expressed concerns about the defendants’ forthrightness … the plaintiffs’ motion is granted in part and denied in part,” the chief judge wrote. “Within 15 days of each execution carried out at FCC Terre Haute, the defendants shall each file with the Court a sworn affidavit or declaration under penalty of perjury attesting that they have complied with the Court’s preliminary injunction. Any other requested relief is denied. Nothing in this entry prevents the Court from taking additional enforcement action, should it learn its injunction is not being followed.”

(source: The Indiana Lawyer)

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

U.S. on a federal execution spree and a lone Canadian sits on death row: Robert Bolden's untold story----Court papers reviewed by the Post reveal a portrait of a person formed by a childhood of abuse, addiction, assault and neglect

18 years ago, Robert Bolden needed $2,000 to pay his rent.

He convinced 2 other men to help him rob a Bank of America branch in St. Louis, Missouri.

The scheme was straightforward: stick up a security guard, take a hostage inside the bank, get the money and flee in Bolden’s car.

On Oct. 7, 2002, a Monday, they put their plan into action. They didn’t even make it into the bank. Two gunshots left a security guard dead, and Bolden was the triggerman.

Bolden was sentenced to death by a U.S. federal jury in 2006. He’s been on federal death row ever since, awaiting the outcomes of various appeals and court battles moving through the byzantine American legal system.

None of this is uncommon on U.S. death row: a desperately inept crime, a tragic death, a long court journey.

What is less common is that Robert Bolden is a Canadian. He’s the only Canadian on U.S. federal death row. There is one other Canadian, Ronald Allen Smith, an Albertan, who is facing execution by the state of Montana. They are just two of the 123 foreign nationals, men and women from 34 countries, on federal and state death rows across the United States.

Article content continued

When Bolden was sentenced to die, the jury didn’t know he was a Canadian citizen. The Canadian government was also unaware that one of its citizens faced the death penalty.

When Bolden was sentenced to die, the jury didn’t know he was a Canadian citizen

This is key in Bolden’s fight to avoid the needle, which is happening at a strange and frightening time. The United States is one of the few developed democracies — Taiwan, South Korea and Japan among them — that still executes people.

In July 2020, after a 17-year hiatus, the U.S. government resumed killing federal death row prisoners. Since then, the Donald Trump administration has been on an execution spree: 10 people have been executed in the death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the last 6 months.

3 more people — including 1 woman — are scheduled to die before President-elect Joe Biden takes the Oval Office on Jan. 20..

Most U.S. death rows are in the state system, but there are certain federal capital crimes — treason, espionage, assassinating the president — with a death penalty. Committing murder during a car jacking — or a bank robbery — are among them.

Last year, 2020, was the 1st time in U.S. history that the federal government killed more people than state governments (22 people were executed in the U.S. in 2019, none of them by the federal government).

“The spate of executions during this last year of the Trump administration has been extraordinary,” said David Dow, the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, and an expert in death penalty law.

“I don’t think that there’s anybody who’s been paying attention to the federal death penalty who thinks that anything like that will continue once Trump leaves office.”

There are several new grim milestones in the Trump administration execution record:

The execution of Christopher Vialva in September marked the 1st execution in 68 years of an offender who was a teenager at the time of his crime. Vialva was 19 when he shot and killed 2 youth ministers during a carjacking in 1999.

The spate of executions during this last year of the Trump administration has been extraordinary

Brandon Bernard, Vialva’s co-defendant, who was 18 at the time, was put to death in December, despite a high-profile campaign by Kim Kardashian West calling for clemency.

On Jan. 12, Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to die for strangling 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight-months pregnant, and cutting out her fetus. The baby survived. This will be the 1st execution of a woman by the federal government in 70 years.

That 10 men died in the U.S. federal death chamber in Indiana is partly the culmination of a years-long search for drugs to kill people. Quite simply, the lethal drug cocktails historically used have become unavailable, leading to a variety of experimental execution drugs, which, on occasion, have resulted in gruesomely botched executions.

Dow also points a finger at former Attorney General William Barr for the push to execute. Barr, he said, is a “very strong believer in the death penalty.”

In the summer of 2019, Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to adopt a new method of execution: a single dose of pentobarbital, which causes respiratory failure. The previous method, a three-drug cocktail, faced shortages during the years Barack Obama was president.

Fear of the needle has, astonishingly, led some inmates to seek alternative ways to die.

In February 2020, Nicholas Sutton was executed by the state of Tennessee by electric chair, a choice four others have made in recent years, citing the dangers of untried lethal injection drugs. (The electric chair, it should be noted, dropped off as an execution method in the 1990s after Florida’s electric chair malfunctioned twice, setting alight the heads of two condemned men.)

In late November, the U.S. Department of Justice amended its federal execution method rules, saying that any methods allowed by states may also be used to execute federal prisoners. While lethal injection is, by far, the most common, many states have older methods on the books: 9 states allow for the electric chair, 6 allow use of the gas chamber, 3 allow firing squad and 3 allow for hanging.

It is in this climate that the 57-year-old Robert Bolden fights for his life in court.

The Canadian government didn’t find out about Bolden until 2012, six years into his confinement on death row.

Canada’s approach, with the exception of a few years under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, has always been to fight for clemency from the death penalty, said Gar Pardy, a retired Canadian diplomat who has written about Canada’s delivery of consular services to citizens abroad.

“We automatically went to bat for anybody on death row, anywhere in the world,” explained Pardy.

Multiple attempts have been made by the National Post in 2018, 2019 and 2020 to reach Bolden’s lawyers. They have been unsuccessful. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Canadian government also declined to answer questions about Bolden or his case.

But reams of court papers reviewed by the Post reveal his untold story: the senseless crime, and a portrait of a person all too familiar among death-row inmates, formed by a childhood of abuse, addiction, assault and neglect.

It was Bolden who pulled the trigger during the failed bank robbery.

That he pulled it twice is what really mattered.

As the 3 men headed for the bank on Oct. 7, 2002, a security guard named Nathan Ley confronted Bolden. The 2 struggled, and Bolden shot Ley twice, once in the jaw and then, after taking a step back, in the head, killing him.

Justice demands something more than life in prison. It demands death.

That second shot was the “execution shot,” prosecutor Steven Holtshouser said.

“Maybe we might not be here if he had just shot him once and Nathan Ley had died as a result of injury from that one shot, but the second shot makes this a death penalty case,” Holtshouser argued.

At Bolden’s trial, Holtshouser described Ley as a “shining light” in the community, a man who was near to proposing to his girlfriend and who wanted to become a police officer.

“Think of the positive way (Ley) would have impacted so many people’s lives had Mr. Bolden not made the decision to end his,” argued Holtshouser, according to a court transcript. “Justice demands something more than life in prison. It demands death.”

The jury found Bolden guilty and sentenced him to die.

Mary Atwell, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia, who has done research on capital punishment, told the National Postthe case falls far below the usual standard of capital cases.

“This is a garden-variety crime, you know, it’s not anything you would be proud of, but it’s certainly not the worst-of-the-worst either,” Atwell said.

Bolden’s past isn’t well known, but it’s documented extensively in psychiatrists’ reports and other legal documents in U.S. court records.

Bolden was born in 1963, in Stephenville, a town on the west coast of Newfoundland, south of Corner Brook. Today, its population is around 6,000.

Appeal fails to halt execution of death row inmates before Biden’s inauguration date

Stella Decker, Bolden’s mother, was a prostitute who worked with men stationed at the U.S. Air Force base in Stephenville. His father, probably a man named Curtis Roberts, was a soldier stationed there.

But Roberts wasn’t part of young Robert’s life. The father he ended up with was Lavale Bolden, another U.S. serviceman. When Robert was around two years old, Decker moved to St. Louis to be with Lavale.

In no way was it a healthy life. Lavale Bolden was a heroin addict. Decker was an alcoholic. Their relationship was “characterized by domestic violence, alcoholism, and addiction.”

Robert, a psychiatrist wrote, wanted badly to help his mother, but the best he could do to protect her from the beatings was “bite Lavale on the hand, the only part … he could reach as a small child.”

“Lavale’s beating’s of Stella were so severe that, even though they were living in the basement of the four-flat, the abuse could he heard throughout the entire building,” wrote one psychiatrist.

Those who ended up raising him, his great aunt and uncle Ethel and Elmer Clark, weren’t much better.

“Aunt Ethel tried her best to raise Robert, but her advanced age made it difficult for her to raise a young boy. Uncle Elmer was a cantankerous alcoholic who verbally abused Robert and Stella, and physically abused Ethel,” the psychiatrist’s report says.

Robert’s attempts to escape his sad life failed.

Robert’s attempts to escape his sad life failed. He moved to Michigan, where he spent time in prison for dealing drugs, even completing a drug treatment program. Throughout, he tried to care for his own kids, who spoke at trial of a caring father who took them fishing and encouraged them to get good grades.

“Robert’s frantic attempt to take care of his own children is a manifestation of his borderline personality. Robert does not want to recreate, with his own children, what Lavale Bolden did to him as a child,” says the psychiatrist.

By the late 1990s, when Bolden and his kids moved back to St. Louis, what little support network he had was crumbling. Ethel and Elmer were dead, his mother was ill, and Lavale had remarried and wanted no relationship with Robert.

“As Robert’s life stressors increased, exacerbating his mental illness, he spent a lot of his time in the basement of this house, smoking crack, drinking alcohol, and huffing turpentine when alcohol and crack were not available,” says the psychiatrist’s report.

Leading up to the botched robbery, Bolden was sick, in and out of hospital — he’d been diabetic his whole life and had never been successful at controlling the disease. Days before the robbery, he learned he was going to be evicted.

While addiction, mental illness and abuse can be mitigating factors at trial and sentencing, the prosecutor, wasn’t buying it.

“Robert Bolden did not kill Nathan Ley because of a troubled youth or problems at home,” Holtshouser said in his closing arguments. “He killed him as part of a robbery to get money. He didn’t kill him because of diabetes. There is just no insulin at the bank. He was there for money.”

On Aug. 25, 2006, Robert Bolden was sentenced to die.

Linda Ley, Nathan’s mother, said it was a “just and fair sentence.”

“Mr. Bolden just spoke of a belief in Christ and forgiveness of sin, and if he truly believes that, he should not fear his own death on this Earth,” said Linda Ley. “He should look forward to the time when he can face God, face my son, and apologize.”

Most federal death row prisoners are housed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, also the home of the federal death chamber. Bolden, though, isn’t. Because of his medical issues, in June 2016, Bolden was transferred to a special medical prison in Springfield, Missouri.

While he awaits appeals decisions in his fight against execution, he’s also gone to court to get better access to books and sunlight, and fought to be allowed to have an MP3 player in his cell.

Bolden has won the ability to argue for an appeal based on three issues: whether the lack of notification regarding his citizenship was a violation of his constitutional rights; whether his trial counsel were “deficient” to the extent it violated his rights; and whether the U.S. “suppressed or withheld immigration records from Bolden in violation of his constitutional rights.”

These will be heard before an appellate court at some point; dates have not been set.

The gist of the argument is that the United States, upon arresting a foreign national, should have let the Canadian embassy know, to assist in his defence. The U.S. is a signatory to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which obliges a nation to allow those under arrest to contact their consulate for assistance.

Since this didn’t happen, Canada’s lawyers argue Bolden’s defence in 2006 was impaired.

The government doesn’t 'learn about the case until it’s too late to intervene to prevent a death sentence.'

Mark Warren, a human rights researcher and legal consultant in Ontario, who has written instruction manuals for consular officials dealing with capital cases, says in many cases of Canadians sentenced to death abroad, the government doesn’t “learn about the case until it’s too late to intervene to prevent a death sentence.”

“This is a major problem. There are, of course, binding treaty obligations that require police in the United States to advise foreign nationals of their right to consular notification,” said Warren in an interview. “That treaty remains largely unobserved.”

Atwell agrees. “In all of the cases of the foreign nationals who have been executed … only one of them, I think, has had the opportunity to confer with his consulate before he was executed, or early in the process.”

There’s another glaring issue, Atwell explained: In order to use an argument upon appeal, that argument has to be made at trial. So, in Bolden’s case, since neither he nor his lawyers raised the issue of citizenship at trial, it becomes difficult to use it upon appeal.

“But this case is different because it’s federal law enforcement and federal courts,” Attwell said.

Back in 2007, when Stephen Harper was prime minister, the Conservative government changed Canada’s policy of automatically fighting for citizens facing execution abroad, to one that would consider the fairness of the justice system involved.

But in February 2016, then-foreign affairs minister for Canada Stéphane Dion reversed that policy, saying in an interview with the National Post the death penalty “is not something that should be done in a civilized society.”

“In order to be able to maximize the possibility that you will get clemency for some you need to ask for clemency for all,” said Dion.

While a welcome policy change for the two Canadians on death row in the United States, and the 4 facing execution in China, Canada hasn’t always been successful in seeking clemency for the accused. But it has won in some notable cases.

In 1994, Glen Burns and Atif Rafay murdered Rafay’s family in Washington state and fled to Canada before their arrest by the RCMP, which used the controversial “Mr. Big” tactic. Liberal Justice Minister Allan Rock ordered them extradited, but he did not seek assurances they would be spared execution.

The case worked its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled the 2 could only be extradited if they would not face the death penalty. That was secured, and the two were sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

Canada is involved in Bolden’s case. Lawyers retained by Canada have filed court documents in support of his appeals in recent years, which also argue what Canada might have done had the government been informed of his case back in 2002.

Citing privacy concerns, the Liberal government declined to elaborate on what it is presently doing to help Bolden.

While Bolden’s prospects in the U.S. justice system remain uncertain, so does the future of federal death row. Joe Biden opposes the death penalty and has pledged to stop federal executions when he assumes the presidency.

Before then, more men and women are scheduled to die: Lisa Montgomery on Jan. 12; Cory Johnson, for killing 7 drug-trade rivals, on Jan. 14; and Dustin Higgs, convicted in the kidnapping and deaths of 3 women, on Jan. 15.

(source: National Post)

GUYANA:

Experts to submit reports in challenge to death penalties for ex coastguards who murdered gold dealer

Former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) coastguards Sherwyn Hart, Deon Greenidge and Devon Gordon are currently challenging the death penalty imposed against them for the 2009 murder of Bartica gold dealer Dweive Kant Ramdass.

At a hearing before the Guyana Court of Appeal yesterday morning lawyers for the men sought, and were granted leave to file what they described as “fresh evidence” pertaining to their clients who have each been sentenced to death.

At the virtual hearing, attorney Nigel Hughes who represents Hart and Greenidge said he wanted to lay over reports of experts on the death penalty and how it affects the appellants. Attorney Latchmie Rahamat who represents Gordon supported Hughes’ application.

(source: Stabroek News)

JORDAN:

Jordanian sentenced to death for 2019 knife attack on tourists----The 8 victims of stabbing in the ancient Roman city of Jerash all survived.

Jordan’s state security court sentenced a citizen to death on Tuesday for the 2019 stabbing of 8 people, 4 of them foreign tourists, at one of the kingdom’s ancient sites.

The victims, who included 1 Swiss and 3 Mexican tourists, all survived the November 2019 knife attack in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jerash, some 50km (30 miles) north of the capital, Amman.

Mustafa Abu Ruwais, 24, was sentenced to “death by hanging for the terrorist knife attack on tourists,” the court said.

Ruwais, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, was at the time of the attack a resident of the Souf camp in Jerash, which houses some 20,000 Palestinian refugees.

He was arrested immediately afterwards and charged with terrorism offences in January last year.

The Jordanian victims included a tour guide and a security officer who attempted to intervene.

According to court documents, 2 other men associated with Ruwais received prison sentences.

The 3 men became supporters of the ISIL (ISIS) group in 2019.

When Ruwais and one of the men tried and failed to join the group, the documents said, they planned to promote the organisation’s ideas by distributing 350 leaflets in Jerash promoting the armed group’s ideology.

(source: aljazeera.com)

IRAN----execution

Prisoner Majid Rigi Executed in Zahedan

A prisoner sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges, has been executed in Zahedan Central Prison.

According to Iran Human Rights, a male prisoner was executed on the morning of Saturday, January 9, in Zahedan Central Prison. His identity has been established as 37-year-old Majid Rigi, who had been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges.

According to the Baluch Activists Campaign which first published news of his execution, Majid Rigi had spent 10 years behind bars on the drug charges.

It should be noted that ten Baluch citizens have been executed in Iran over the past fortnight.

At the time of writing, Majid Rigi’s execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

There has been a dramatic drop in drug-related executions since a new article was added to the Anti-Drugs Law around 3 years ago. The amendment, which was passed into law in 2017, specifically restricts the death penalty and provides a degree of reduction in some drug-related cases.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report on the death penalty in Iran, at least 30 people were executed on drug-related charges in 2019.

(source: iranhr.net)

CHINA:

Notorious Chinese serial killer is sentenced to death while wearing a full-body protective suit to curb coronavirus----Zeng Chunliang, 45, murdered 3 people in the space of 6 days in China

A notorious serial killer has been sentenced to death for murdering 3 people in the space of 6 days in southern China.

Zeng Chunliang, 45, donned a full-body protective suit and face mask when he received capital punishment during a trial in Jiangxi Province.

The criminal was reportedly arrested last August while trying to escape from a police hunt involving thousands of officers.

Mr Zeng was handed the death sentence by the Intermediate People's Court of Yichun in Jiangxi Province on Monday.

He killed an elderly couple and a village official during 2 revenge attacks while being hunted by police for suspected robbery, the court said.

According to a court statement, Mr Zeng, who had been jailed for theft, was released from prison on May 1 last year and returned to his hometown in the county of Le'an.

He thought of stealing again after believing that he had lost his livelihood due to the imprisonment.

On the night of July 21, Mr Zeng brought tools and broke into a family in the village of Houfang to steal. He fell asleep on the ground after failing to find any money.

He was spotted sleeping on the ground by a member of the family, Ms Xiong, the next morning. After being woken up, Mr Zeng pressed Ms Xiong on the floor, covered her mouth and threatened her with a screwdriver.

Ms Xiong's son arrived at the room after hearing the commotion. Mr Zeng repeatedly slashed Ms Xiong and her son with the screwdriver before fleeing.

Ms Xiong's son called the police afterwards.

The court claimed that Mr Zeng thought of killing Ms Xiong and her family in early August after hearing that the police were looking for him.

He believed that the family had made it impossible for him to live peacefully by reporting the case to the police.

Mr Zeng sneaked into Ms Xiong's house on the night of August 7. He found a hammer in the storage before waiting in the kitchen for the victims to appear.

When Ms Xiong entered the kitchen the next morning, Mr Zeng smashed her head with the hammer and stabbed her with a knife multiple times.

Afterwards, the criminal rushed to the 1st floor and attacked Ms Xiong's husband, Mr Kang, who was asleep. He hit Mr Kang and another victim, Wu, in the head with the hammer.

Both Ms Xiong and Mr Kang died while Wu survived with serious wounds.

Mr Zeng escaped the crime scene after taking with him 4 watches, 5 silver bracelets, a silver necklace and some cash.

Less than a week later, Mr Zeng killed an official of Houfang Village, Mr Gui. He believed that he had not been able to find a place to live because of the local official.

He knifed Mr Gui to death in a village office at around 8am on August 13 before being arrested in a nearby village during a large-scale police hunt three days later.

The Intermediate People's Court of Yichun deemed Mr Zeng guilty of intentional homicide and handed him a death penalty on January 11.

He was also convicted of robbery and theft. The former landed him 10 years imprisonment and 10,000 yuan (£1,140) fine while the latter resulted in a two-year jail sentence and 10,000 yuan (£1,140).

The court gave Mr Zeng an overall verdict of a death penalty in addition to 20,000 yuan (£2,280) of financial fine.

The defendant agreed on the ruling and decided not to appeal, the court said.

(source: Daily Mail)

JANUARY 11, 2021:

USA----impending federal executions, including female

Lisa Montgomery: Looking for answers in the life of a killer

Just days before President Trump leaves office, his administration plans to execute the 1st female federal inmate in nearly 70 years. Lisa Montgomery's lawyers and anti-death penalty advocates argue that she's a mentally ill victim of abuse who deserves mercy. Her victim's community says otherwise.

For Diane Mattingly, there is one moment from her childhood for which she feels both enormous gratitude and guilt.

She credits this moment for her "fairly normal" life - a house on eight peaceful acres, a loving relationship with her children, nearly two decades at a job working for the state of Kentucky.

At the same time, she blames it for the fate of her younger half-sister, Lisa Montgomery.

Montgomery is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday for the murder of a 23-year-old woman who was 8 months pregnant. In December 2004, Montgomery, who was 36 at the time, strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett before cutting the baby out of her womb and kidnapping it. Stinnett bled to death.

Mattingly and Montgomery lived together until Mattingly was 8 1/2-sister was 4. It was a terrifying household, she says, where physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of Judy Shaughnessy, Montgomery's mother, and her boyfriends was routine.

The girls' biological father left the home, and after a while, Mattingly was whisked away to foster care. Montgomery was left behind with her mother.

It would be 34 years before the half-sisters would see each other again. And that would be from across a courtroom, where lawyers for the US government were trying to persuade a jury to sentence Montgomery to death.

"One sister got taken out and got put into a loving home and was nurtured and had time to heal," says Mattingly. "The other sister stayed in that situation, and it got worse and worse and worse. And then at the end, she was broken."

If the execution goes ahead, Montgomery will be 1 of 10 inmates that the Trump administration has put to death in less than a year. In late December, her legal team submitted a petition to Donald Trump that makes the case that after a lifetime of abuse - which they characterise as torture - she is too mentally ill to be executed and deserves mercy.

However, in the tiny town of Skidmore, Missouri, where the crime was committed, there is little sympathy for that argument. Many there believe the final moments of Bobbie Jo Stinnett were so horrific, the death sentence is warranted.

Lisa Montgomery and Bobbie Jo Stinnett got to know each other online through a shared love of dogs. They had corresponded for weeks on an online forum for rat terrier breeders and enthusiasts called "Ratter Chatter". Montgomery told Stinnett that she was also expecting, and the pair shared pregnancy stories.

In December 2004, Montgomery drove 281.5 km (175 miles) from her home in Kansas to Skidmore, where she had an appointment to look at some puppies owned by Stinnett.

But it wasn't Montgomery that Stinnett was expecting, it was a woman who went by the name of Darlene Fischer. But Fischer was a name that Montgomery had been using when she separately began messaging Stinnett from a different email address inquiring about buying one of her puppies.

When Stinnett answered the door, Montgomery overpowered the pregnant woman, strangled her with a piece of rope, and cut the baby out of her womb.

Investigators quickly realised that "Darlene Fischer" did not exist, and tracked Montgomery down the next day using her emails and computer IP address. They found her cradling a new-born girl she claimed to have given birth to the previous day. Her story quickly fell apart and she confessed to the killing.

Since 2008, Montgomery has been held in a federal prison in Texas for female inmates with special medical and psychological needs, where she has been receiving psychiatric care. Since receiving her execution date, she's been placed on suicide watch in an isolated cell.

She is scheduled to be put to death by a lethal injection of pentobarbital on 12 January at Terre Haute prison in Indiana. It is the only federal prison with an active death chamber.

Montgomery's lawyers argue that because of a combination of years of horrific abuse, and a raft of psychological issues, she should never have been given the death penalty. They believe that at the time of the crime, Montgomery was psychotic and out of touch with reality. They have been joined by a chorus of supportive voices from the legal field, including 41 former and current prosecutors, as well as human rights entities like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

However, calls for Trump to be merciful are hardly unanimous. According to Gallup, while support for the death penalty in the US is at its lowest level in more than 50 years, 55% of Americans still believe it is an appropriate punishment for murder. And nowhere is that support more palpably felt in this case than in Skidmore.

"Bobbie deserves to be here today. Bobbie's family deserves her," says Meagan Morrow, a high school classmate of Stinnett's. "And Lisa deserves to pay."

Lisa Montgomery's current legal team has conducted some 450 interviews with family members, friends, case workers, doctors and social workers. Stitched together, they form a tapestry of family dysfunction, abuse, neglect, professional negligence, substance abuse and untreated mental illness.

"The whole story is tragic," says Kelley Henry, one of Montgomery's federal defence lawyers. "But one of the things that the president can do is say - to women who have been trafficked, and who have been sexually abused - 'Your abuse matters'."

For Montgomery, her lawyers argue, it began before she was born. According to an interview with her father, Montgomery's mother Judy Shaughnessy drank heavily throughout her pregnancy, and their daughter was born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Multiple medical experts have given statements agreeing with that diagnosis.

When Mattingly and Montgomery were young, Shaughnessy beat them and doled out cruel forms of punishment, like taping Montgomery's mouth shut, or pushing Mattingly out into the snow, naked. After their biological father left the home, Mattingly says they were left alone with Shaughnessy's boyfriends, at least one of whom started raping Mattingly.

"Judy was manipulative and - I hate to use this word, but - evil. She enjoyed torturing the people around her," says Mattingly. "She got joy out of it."

After Mattingly was removed from the home by social services, Montgomery fell prey to her mother's new husband, who according to statements from his other children, was a violent alcoholic who began sexually abusing Montgomery when she was a pre-teen. The family moved from place to place dozens of times, but it was in a trailer in Sperry, Oklahoma, where her lawyers say the abuse turned into something more akin to torture.

According to interviews with her half-siblings and others who spent time with the family, Montgomery's stepfather built a shed onto the trailer where he, and eventually his friends, raped and beat her. Her mother also began trafficking her, allowing handymen like electricians and plumbers to sexually abuse Montgomery in exchange for work on the house.

As a teenager, Montgomery confided in a cousin, telling him the men would tie her up, beat her and even urinate on her afterwards.

But the cousin, a sheriff's deputy, confessed to Montgomery's current legal team that he did nothing. In fact, he drove her back home and dropped her off in the hands of her abusers.

Lawyer Kelley Henry says one of the things that disturbs her most is that adults in positions of authority were told about what was going on but did nothing.

When Shaughnessy eventually split from her second husband, she and Montgomery testified in divorce proceedings about the sexual assaults. The judge in the case scolded Shaughnessy for not reporting the abuse - but did not report the abuse himself.

"There were so many opportunities where people could have intervened and prevented this," says Henry.

Montgomery's cousin told her legal team that he lived with "regret for not speaking up about what happened to Lisa".

When she was 18, Montgomery married her stepbrother. The couple had 4 children in 5 years, but the relationship was not the escape from violence that Montgomery might have hoped it would be. At one point, one of Montgomery's brothers found a home movie that showed Montgomery's husband raping and beating her.

"It was violent and like a scene out of a horror movie," he said in a statement. "I felt sick watching the video. I didn't know what to do or how to talk to my sister about it."

Friends and family began noticing Montgomery's tendency to slip into "a world of her own". Her children were disturbed by it. Henry says this was an early sign of her mental illnesses, which include bipolar disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder and traumatic brain injury. Montgomery eventually divorced her 1st husband and married Kevin Montgomery. Around this time, she repeatedly claimed to be pregnant again, although she had undergone sterilisation after her 4th baby was born.

One theory her lawyers put forward regarding the chain of events that led to the murder, is that Montgomery feared her ex-husband would expose her lies about being pregnant and use it against her as he sought custody of their children.

"There was so much pressure on her at that point," says Henry. She describes Montgomery's ex-husband as cruel and harassing. "She was completely detached from reality."

Her lawyers say that as she lost touch with reality, she fantasised about being pregnant.

Henry says Montgomery's original legal defence after she was arrested and charged with murder was woefully inadequate, and presented few of the details about her abuse, trauma and mental illness.

Her lawyers at the time also presented an alternative theory of the crime, which was that Montgomery's brother had actually committed the murder, even though he had an alibi. That was ultimately dropped in favour of an insanity defence, but Henry believes the damage to Montgomery's credibility was already done.

After 5 hours of deliberation, the jury found Montgomery guilty. The next day, she was sentenced to death.

Diane Mattingly has been speaking publicly for the first time in the hope it can make a difference.

"I would say, 'President Trump, I want you to look at the life that Lisa had led, I want to look at all the people that have failed her, I want you to look at the rape, the torture, the mental abuse, the physical abuse that this woman had endured,'" she says. "I'm asking him to have compassion on her as a person that has been failed over and over and over again. And to not fail her."

The tiny farming town of Skidmore sits in the far northwest corner of Missouri. A generation ago, it was the kind of place where you could "get your hair cut, see a show, buy rabbit feed and eat dinner" - but those days are long gone. Today there is a single restaurant and few of the streets are paved.

The population hovers around just 250, and everyone knew Bobbie Jo Stinnett and her family. Friends recall her as a good student with a love of horses and dogs. She liked going down to the Nodaway River to swim, and playing Nintendo games at slumber parties. She was quiet and kind, they say.

At the time of her murder, she was newly married and pregnant with her 1st child.

Although the alumni have scattered somewhat, in recent years, the Nodaway-Holt R-VII High School graduating class of 2000 - which had only 22 members - has a tradition to mark the anniversary of the death of their classmate Bobbie Jo Stinnett.

They hold a collection and try to do something nice for Stinnett's mother. "Last year, we got flowers, and gave her a $100-plus gift card and then paid her water bill," says Jena Baumli.

The murder 16 years ago is never far from the minds of the town's residents.

For one thing, the wider world won't let them forget. It has been the subject of 2 books, multiple true crime television shows, documentaries and countless podcast episodes. And though there's been much recent debate over the fairness of Montgomery's sentence in courthouses and in the opinion pages of newspapers like the New York Times, a similar debate does not exist here.

"I think that in a lot of the opinion pieces that are being posted, in a lot of things that people are sharing, Bobbie Jo and her daughter, and her mother and her husband and other friends and family, are kind of being forgotten," says Tiffany Kirkland, another member of the class of 2000.

"She always wanted to be a mom," says Baumli. "She was really the first one to have a decent marriage, you know, and I guess looking at Bobbie Jo was like, what your dreams were when you were younger."

Because of Stinnett's easy-going reputation, Morrow remembers instantly dismissing the initial reports of her murder.

"I was like, 'Oh, she was not.' You know, like, that doesn't happen to Bobbie," Morrow says.

But what happened at the modest clapboard house where Stinnett lived with her husband still haunts some of those involved in the investigation.

Nodaway County Sheriff Randy Strong says that the scene that he and his 4 colleagues found that day was so bloody, they are still traumatised by it. It makes him even angrier that it was Stinnett's mother who found her that way.

"The people that are defending [Montgomery], I wish I could take them back in time, and put them in that room," he says. "And then go, 'Look at this body'. And then go, 'Stand there and listen to the 911 call of [Stinnett's mother]. This is the stuff of nightmares."

Many of the residents of Skidmore cite the details of the crime, and the amount of planning that went into it, as evidence that Montgomery was a calculating killer.

She had catfished Stinnett online under a fake name. She had bought supplies, including a home birth kit, and searched online for how to perform a cesarean section. Sheriff Strong insists that the crime was meticulously planned and that the woman he arrested continued to lie until backed into a corner.

Dr Katherine Portfield, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Montgomery and spent about 18 hours with her, says that psychosis does not always look the way people expect it to.

"Being psychotic, it does not mean you are not intelligent, nor that you cannot act in a planful way," she says. "We've seen crime for years and years in our country in which people enact terrible violence coming out of a psychotic set of beliefs or thought process. Lisa Montgomery is no different. She enacted this in the grip of a very broken mind."

The baby was returned to her father, after being recovered from Montgomery.

Bobbie Jo's mother and husband have have not spoken publicly. But Strong says this is the first year he's heard directly from Stinnett's husband. He thanked the sheriff for recovering his daughter and allowing him to be the parent that his wife couldn't be.

"I cried," says Strong. "The whole community over there's traumatised by this."

School friend Baumli says she's read the descriptions of Montgomery's abuse, but it mostly just makes her angry. She says it's not as if all the other people of Skidmore lead idyllic lives free from abuse, poverty and other destructive tragedies. She gives herself as an example - when Stinnett was murdered, Baumli was in rehab for a drug addiction. She missed the funeral because of it.

"Let's say I didn't stay clean very long," she says.

"I'm sick of hearing about Lisa Montgomery and what she went through. And it's never about, what my friend went through," she adds. "I get these images in my head of [Bobbie Jo's mother] finding her daughter that way."

Short presentational grey line

Lisa Montgomery is due to be executed on Tuesday evening - the third federal inmate after Alfred Bourgeois and Brandon Bernard to be put to death since the November election. Several high-profile figures had appealed for clemency in Brandon's case but Mr Trump did not heed those calls.

President-elect Joe Biden has already pledged to end death penalty proceedings, although he hasn't said when.

Until July 2020, there had been no federal executions for 17 years. At state level, the number of sentences and executions continues a historic decline. Only 18 death sentences were handed down in 2020 and the number of executions carried out hit a 30-year low. More recently, the states that have been carrying out executions, such as Texas and Tennessee, have halted and delayed executions because of the pandemic.

However, the executions ordered by President Trump are continuing. If they all go ahead, the federal government will have executed more people in the past 6 months than any other administration.

2 other inmates are scheduled to die at Terre Haute prison before Mr Trump's presidency ends. Recently, there has been a virus outbreak on death row at the institution, and previous executions have been linked to outbreaks among the execution team and prison staff.

"They made this a priority at the risk of the health and lives of corrections officials, of the prisoners on death row, and the communities that all of those Bureau of Prisons officials who flew in from across the country were returning to," says Ngozi Ndulue, senior director of research and special projects at the Death Penalty Information Center.

"This was a very coordinated and determined plan to ensure that as many people could be executed on federal death row as possible before the end of this administration term."

Montgomery's lawyers want her sentence commuted to a life sentence, which would allow her to remain under psychiatric care in prison for the rest of her days.

Mattingly, who is due to attend the execution if it goes ahead, says looking back to the moment life changed for her as an eight-year-old, she feels guilty that when the social workers came for her, she didn't tell them what was going on in that house.

"If I had, would they have taken Lisa out of the home also?" she says. "There's so many people that failed her throughout her whole life. And I am just asking for somebody - once - not to fail her."

(source: BBC News)

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US inmate set for federal execution this week asks court to consider evidence of intellectual disability on appeal

Corey Johnson, who is set to be executed by the federal government on January 14, filed Friday for a stay of execution with the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. His lawyers argue that his upcoming execution is unconstitutional because significant evidence of his intellectual disability was not considered at trial.

In 1993, Johnson was convicted of several gang-related murders. His defense team at the time claimed that he was not intellectually disabled, relying on flawed evidence from unreliable IQ tests. His lawyers say this decision was reached “without the current understanding in the medical and legal community of what constitutes an intellectual disability and without an accurate or complete picture of his intellectual functioning, based on, among other evidence, valid, properly adjusted IQ scores.”

His pending clemency petition details early evidence of his disability. He was in the 2nd grade for 3 years. He also repeated both the 3rd and 4th grades. He did not know his birthday at age eight and could barely write his name at 13. His lawyers claim that these inherent challenges were also exacerbated by abuse, trauma, and instability throughout his childhood.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it was unconstitutional to sentence people with intellectual disabilities to death. This ruling provides a three-step test to determine whether defendants are intellectually disabled, which attorneys and experts say Johnson meets.

But courts have never heard the full scope of evidence uncovered by his current legal team. Johnson’s appeal requests a hearing on the new evidence of his disability. Alfred Bourgeois, who was executed by the federal government in early December, was allowed a similar hearing prior to his execution.

If granted, Johnson’s execution could be postponed until after President-elect Biden takes office. Biden has spoken in favor of abolishing the federal death penalty but has not specified when he would take action.

Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, is also set to be executed next week. Her legal team also claims that intellectual disability and childhood trauma were not adequately considered in her sentencing. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that a combination of severe childhood trauma, intellectual disability, and mental illness exemplify the problem with many death penalty cases.

(source: jurist.org)

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Lawyers Seek to Halt Execution of Woman on Federal Death Row

Lawyers for the only woman on federal death row are asking a judge to halt her execution. They argue she isn’t competent and can not be put to death.

Lisa Montgomery’s lawyers filed a petition Friday in federal court in Indiana seeking to halt the execution, which is scheduled for Tuesday at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

They argue putting Montgomery to death would violate her constitutional rights because she “has brain damage, severe mental illness, and suffered a lifetime of sexual torture.”

She is 1 of 3 inmates scheduled to be executed by the Justice Department next week, just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Biden opposes the death penalty, and his spokesman has said he’ll work to end its use.

Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was 8 months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said.

Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.

(source: WBIW news)

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Dustin Higgs Execution Roadblock Gov't Appeal To Be Heard 12 Days After Scheduled Execution Date

Maryland, where a federal jury returned a death sentence against Dustin Higgs in 2000, abolished capital punishment in 2013. That led the government to ask the court to amend its prior judgment and direct that Higgs be executed in Indiana, under Indiana law. His execution is set for January 15, 2021.

On December 29, 2020, the Maryland federal district court stated it lacks authority to revise a final judgment and order against the backdrop of a federal law which requires federal executions to be carried out under the law of the state in which the defendant was sentenced. Previous coverage available here. The government appealed the district court's decision.

On Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered the case scheduled for remote oral argument on January 27, 2021, at 11:00 a.m.

(source: fd.org)

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Trump’s Execution Spree Is Not About Him. It’s About Us. The killings in Terre Haute may look like an aberration, but they are part of a violent tradition that Americans have long accepted.

One week before her client was scheduled to die in the federal execution chamber, capital defense attorney Kelley Henry shared a photograph with reporters assembled on a Zoom call. It showed an old trailer in a grassy field in Osage, Oklahoma. This was the spot where her client Lisa Montgomery was repeatedly raped as a child.

Henry had taken the photograph herself. It was an emblem of Montgomery’s harrowing life story. “We’ve described it as Lisa experiencing life like a horror movie growing up,” Henry said. “But what happened to Lisa was worse than a horror movie. Worse than anything you can imagine.”

Montgomery was convicted in 2007 for murdering a pregnant Kansas woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett. She strangled her, then cut her open to abduct her unborn baby. Arrested in 2005, Montgomery was tried on federal charges and sentenced to die.

Despite her gruesome actions, there was an outpouring of support for Montgomery after her execution date was announced last fall. Media outlets detailed her history of mental illness as well as the extreme physical and psychological abuse she endured growing up, raped by her stepfather and trafficked by her mother. They described the shocking incompetence of her trial attorneys, who failed her at every turn. Today, more than 40 current and former prosecutors support Montgomery’s clemency petition, including some who have prosecuted women for similar crimes. “We know from first-hand experience that these crimes are inevitably the product of serious mental illness,” 2 of them wrote. “Women who commit such crimes also are likely to have been victimized themselves.”

Despite all this support, there is good reason to doubt that Montgomery’s life will be spared. Just before the press conference began on January 5, Henry and her colleagues received word that they had lost their latest appeal. Although they have called upon the president to be a “hero” by sparing Montgomery’s life, Donald Trump has thus far shown no compassion for those scheduled to die.

If the Department of Justice gets its way, Montgomery will be killed by lethal injection on January 12. Two days later, Corey Johnson is set to die, followed the next day by Dustin Higgs. Both Johnson and Higgs contracted Covid-19 in December — part of a severe outbreak in the Special Confinement Unit at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. As the press conference about Montgomery wrapped up, lawyers for Johnson and Higgs were in an evidentiary hearing with a federal judge arguing that lung damage sustained by their clients heightened the risk that they would suffer a tortuous death.

If the three executions go through, Trump will have executed 13 people in the federal death chamber since July. It’s an astonishing body count, made even more unprecedented by the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened countless people connected to the executions. The pandemic has put defense attorneys in an especially wretched position. Lawyers have been forced to choose between protecting their health and fulfilling their obligations to their clients. Henry and her co-counsel chose the latter last fall, traveling to see Montgomery after her date was announced, only to later test positive for Covid-19. Over protests from government prosecutors, a court granted a brief delay to allow them to recover in order to complete the clemency petition. But a new execution date was promptly set.

How the Pandemic Exposed the Failures of Capital Punishment

With Americans still reeling from the insurrection at the Capitol — and fearful of more violence as Trump’s term comes to an end — the final federal executions are likely absent from most people’s minds. A poll of registered voters found that, while there is significant opposition to the resumption of federal executions after a 17-year pause, 40 percent had heard “nothing at all” about the 10 executions carried out last year. For many of those who have tuned in, the push to kill so many people during a global pandemic is an emblem of Trumpism, the kind of cruelty and incompetence that has defined his presidency.

But it would be a mistake to write off the killing spree as yet another grim chapter of the Trump era. The federal executions have been possible thanks to a system that long predates Trump. The death machinery in Terre Haute — and the legal infrastructure that sustains it — is a bipartisan creation, animated by prosecutors and judges whose power has been derived from Democratic and Republican administrations alike. And while the killing season in Terre Haute may look like an aberration, it is part of a violent tradition that Americans have accepted for years.

With President-elect Joe Biden vowing to end the federal death penalty, the killing spree in Terre Haute will soon be over. But even if federal executions never resume, the death penalty remains active in the rest of the country. Lawyers like Henry, who represents people on Tennessee’s death row, will still have to fight for the lives of their clients this year, even if Montgomery is spared. If there is to be an honest reckoning over the excesses of this era, it must start by acknowledging that our worst cruelties did not begin or end with Trump — and that the systems that enabled him remain in place. The question is whether Americans are willing to do anything about it.

A History of Violence

In December, ProPublica published a story that provided a glimpse into Trump’s execution spree from inside the Justice Department. In their rush to kill, it explained, Attorney General William Barr and several enablers “trampled over an array of barriers, both legal and practical.” There were “middle-of-the-night killings,” a man “strapped to the gurney while lawyers worked to remove a court order,” and another who was executed despite a pending appeal.

The story laid out how the administration “bought drugs from a secret pharmacy that failed a quality test” and paid experts with questionable credentials for reports backing the government’s lethal injection protocol. Especially chilling to many, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons solicited private contractors to carry out the executions and paid them in cash.

The picture was certainly galling. It came on the heels of another revelation, that Trump planned to change federal rules to allow for older execution methods like the firing squad and electric chair. Yet for those who have seen how the death penalty operates for years, all of this was actually fairly familiar. In Missouri alone, not only did a man spend three hours on the gurney in 2005 before being killed in the dead of night, but several people have been executed over the last decade while their appeals were still pending. And for all the revulsion over Trump’s new execution rule, states have been seeking to revive old execution methods for years. In Tennessee, five of the last seven executions carried out since 2018 took place in the electric chair.

For more than a decade, death penalty states have gone to desperate, sometimes illegal lengths to carry out executions by lethal injection.

The maneuvering to find drugs for lethal injection — and the secrecy around it — was especially familiar. For more than a decade, death penalty states have gone to desperate, sometimes illegal lengths to carry out executions by lethal injection. Long before the Trump administration sought out the pentobarbital used to execute people in Terre Haute, states around the country had come to rely on sketchy suppliers. After a series of botched executions in 2010, death penalty lawyers traced the origins of one of the drugs to a British pharmaceutical wholesaler based in the back of a driving school. In 2015, BuzzFeed News tracked illegally imported lethal injection drugs to an office building in India. As states turned to largely unregulated compounding pharmacies on U.S. soil, providers of lethal injection drugs were exposed as having alarming track records. The supplier for Texas forged quality control documents. In Missouri, prison officials paid for drugs in cash from a pharmacy labeled “high risk” by the Food and Drug Administration.

In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court made it virtually impossible to challenge lethal injection even as states adopted hasty new formulas, swapping out substances with little notion as to whether they would work as intended. In 2015, the justices upheld a three-drug protocol using midazolam despite warnings from anesthesiologists that the drug, a sedative, did not have the properties needed to render a person insensate for the purpose of execution. The ruling also upheld the requirement that a condemned person who wished to challenge such a protocol had to propose a “known and available alternative” way to die.

In 2017, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson decided that the state needed to use up its supply of midazolam before it expired. Prosecutors and prison officials worked overtime to execute eight people in 11 days, with some scheduled to die on the same night. Litigation over the state’s protocol raised red flags. In a hearing prior to the first executions, Wendy Kelly, then head of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, testified that a different drug in the state’s three-drug protocol had been “donated” to her after she explained the payment process to the anonymous supplier. According to the Arkansas Times, “the supplier was worried about his or her identity being revealed to the public through the payment process.”

Only four of the eight executions in Arkansas went through in the end. But the last one was especially disturbing. Kenneth Williams coughed, convulsed, and lurched on the gurney, according to media witnesses, whose accounts were immediately dismissed by government officials. Although the litigation over lethal injection continued after the executions ended, there has been no reckoning over Williams’s disturbing death. One of the officials most responsible for carrying out the state’s execution spree, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, announced a run for governor last year.

There are other parallels between the killing spree in Arkansas and the executions in Terre Haute. As with those executed in the federal death chamber last year, lawyers for the condemned in Arkansas scrambled to file legal challenges and clemency petitions for their clients. They contained familiar red flags, from mental illness to childhood trauma to ineffective assistance at trial.

In March 2017, I attended the clemency hearing for Marcel Williams, who had raped and killed a young woman in Little Rock in 1994. Although his crimes were unquestionably horrific, they were also partly the product of a life warped by violence and sexual abuse. One clinical psychologist revealed that by the time Williams was 12, his mother was regularly selling his body in exchange for food stamps.

Attorneys for Williams failed to present such evidence during his sentencing trial. Before Williams was executed on April 24, 2017 — strapped to the gurney for more than an hour as the final litigation played out — one of the defense attorneys who represented him at trial told me that it was the first capital murder case he’d ever tried. His failure to present mitigating evidence was especially catastrophic. “I can’t say we even looked for it,” he said.

The Right to Take a Life

In the next day or two, if they have not already, the Bureau of Prisons will hand Lisa Montgomery over to the U.S. Marshals, who will fly her to Terre Haute for her execution. Her lawyers will not be told in advance. Nor is it clear how much of an understanding Montgomery will have of her fate. Attorneys have said she has decompensated in recent months. On Friday, her legal team filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Southern District of Indiana arguing that she is not competent to be executed due to “co-morbid conditions of serious mental illness, neurological impairment, and complex trauma.”

Although the federal government has not executed a woman since the 1950s, such executions are not quite as rare as they might seem. Sixteen women have been killed in state death chambers since the “modern” death penalty era began in 1976. Although many of the executions raised controversy, the politicians most responsible have suffered few consequences, even when their behavior has been callous and cruel. Before he became an ex-president looked upon with nostalgia by many Trump critics, George W. Bush mocked Karla Faye Tucker following her execution in 1998.

Those who carry out executions do not necessarily remain anonymous forever. Years after Tucker’s execution, documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog interviewed the veteran captain of the execution team in Texas responsible for killing her. Her execution had been no different from any of the others, the man said, yet he found himself shaking afterward.

“And then I started actually visualizing the other inmates,” he said. “I could actually see them in the holding cell again. One right after another.” He realized he could not carry out executions anymore. “From that point on, I’ve had a different outlook in life. … After Karla Faye and after all this … no sir. Nobody has the right to take another life. I don’t care if it’s the law. And it’s so easy to change the law.”

(source: theintercept.com)

PAKISTAN:

Mental health on death row

A 5-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing a review petition regarding the situation of three prisoners held on death row, each of whom, according to their families and lawyers, suffer mental illness. The amicus curiae called before the court have suggested that in the first place, those who are unable to understand their crime or suffer severe mental conditions, which make them stand beyond responsibility for their actions should not be executed. While the death penalty is a retributive and often unproductive act, in any case, and is especially dangerous in our country where the judicial system is so flawed, applying it to those who are mentally unwell is inhumane.

The case being heard by the larger bench concerns three prisoners including a woman who has been on death row for 30 years and two other prisoners. In the past, the court had ruled that schizophrenia had not been defined as a mental illness within the law, and therefore it could not rule on a person suffering the condition. A change in the Lunacy Act of the colonial days came only in 2001, when there was a redefinition of how the law should be applied and how those who are mentally ill should be handled in the case of conviction. Activists have said that those defined as being mentally ill should not be executed and must indeed be removed from prison. Law officers from all four provinces have suggested that at the very least, medical facilities should be available at one major prison in each province. And that whenever feasible, those who suffer mental sickness of any kind should not be housed with other inmates who are sane and could harm mentally ill prisoners, who have no way of really comprehending what is happening or how they should act.

Pakistan is a signatory to international covenant which forbids the use of capital punishment for those who are mentally sick. Instead of punishing them in a barbaric fashion, mentally ill prisoners need to receive treatment for their sickness so that they can be rehabilitated. Wherever possible, as happens in other countries, they should be housed in facilities which conform to their needs and not on death row in prison cells. The fact is that there are major inequalities in the way justice is dispensed in the country. The rich and influential get pardoned by the families of their victims or wriggle their way out of facing the consequences of their actions while the legal representation given to those without means is so poor that they can languish on death row for well over a decade despite being obviously mentally unwell. The death penalty should be used sparingly, if at all, to avoid precisely these kinds of situations. The hangman’s noose is irreversible and we cannot have confidence that the correct decision is reached. When the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, we were told it was needed to eliminate dangerous militants and punish those guilty of the most heinous crimes. Instead, it seems to be used indiscriminately. Cases such as this one should lead us to take another look at how we treat prisoners and whether they are receiving the mental health they need.

(source: thenews.com.pk)

NEPAL:

Beyond the death penalty: Anti-rape activism needs to expand

Even in our personal spheres, it’s time we unlearn the normalisation of sexual violence against our bodies. Don’t reserve outrage for the most gruesome of cases — all the catcalling, the incessant sexual harassment on social media or public transport, the blatant objectification of our bodies are part of the problem.

The demand for the death penalty to rapists has taken the forefront of our advocacy for rape prevention and persecution – a stance that is starting to obscure the larger intersection of issues that rape includes.

The messages “Hang the Rapist” and “The Rapist is You” stand at different ends of anti-rape activism: the first is strictly legal and shrouded with the assumption of assured deterrence of rapists of all socio-economic backgrounds; the latter calls to attention the social structures that constitute a rape culture while also holding individuals accountable. It is time we stepped into the latter.

We know by now that real change requires more than laws on paper. The anti-discrimination laws in our country stand as a testament to both the incompetence of law enforcement and to the inability of the law to enact societal changes. To centralise focus on laws is to render invisible the myriad ways in which the rape culture continues to silence justice in spite of the existence of laws — reporting remains low and justice even lower.

Regardless of the severity of the punishment, a few rapists will be sentenced, while most will be bailed out or protected through settlements, death threats, fear of shame or incompetent investigation. It is time we break the structures and not just push them away into the shadows of criminalisation.

The failure of rape laws in Nepal especially reflects the many intersecting marginalisation that our discourse on death penalty fails to address. Dalit women continue to be raped at higher rates and have lower access to justice—a reality that requires us to realise and emphasise the intersecting marginalisation of caste, class and gender.

Some 62 % of the victims of child marriage under the age of 15 are Dalit girls, 42 % of the Dalit community lives under the poverty line, caste-based discrimination and hatred continue to be an issue: all factors that make Dalit women particularly vulnerable.

Caste adds to the challenges that reporting, investigating and persecuting rape already present.

When we centralise the experiences of the ‘highcaste’, middle-class city girl, we fail to recognise the varying situated conditions that enable rape around Nepal. Unless we embolden the voices of Dalit women, poor women and trans-women, we fail at fighting rape.

The issue of rape is more than the sum of its rapists.

Rape culture is movies and songs that romanticise stalking and sexual harassment; it is narratives that tell women to live in fear because ‘men will be men’; it is sanctimonious narratives and a locker-room culture that assign respect to perpetrators of sexual violence.

This rape culture enables lawmakers to make outrageous claims such that “most rape cases are not rape”, calling for sexual harassment to be normalised in public and for rapists to face lesser consequences than victims. Recognising the rape culture is not to absolve rapists, but to remind that rape does not occur in a socio-political vacuum.

We cannot afford to fight the rapists but not the conditions that continue to sanction and even reward rape.

We have the burden of dismantling rape culture’s victim blaming in all its forms. Being told to wear more, go out less, don’t trust anyone is oppression that wears the facade of protection – an ambiguous territory that necessarily oppresses women regardless of intent. This acceptance of rape as normal and the counter-productive message of “don’t be raped” rather than “don’t rape”, along with mainstream advocacy isolating the image of the ‘perfect victim’—covered up, sober, cis woman or child—is part of the problem. The victim does not cause the crime, “Balatkari Ta Hos”. The rapist is you.

Each of us is part of the rape culture, it is time we recognise our positions within it and choose whether to support, comply or fight it. To believe, lend support and demand justice forthe victims and to push for better laws and enforcement is part of the work, but there is so much more than each of us needs to do.

Even the law and policy changes we advocate for need to be broader: on one hand, we need to start advocating for victim-oriented reforms, such as better victim protection, availability of rape kits and psychological support to victims; and on the other hand, we must begin to understand that fighting rape includes fighting child marriage, chauppadi, caste discrimination, poverty, transphobia and heteropatriarchy, because each of these structures play a part in the system of oppression that the rape culture constitutes.

We cannot be satisfied with celebrities who post “hang the rapist” while still staring at movies that perpetrate a rape culture. We cannot be satisfied with politicians’ pretense of advocacy while they live in mansions built on bail-money. We cannot be satisfied with the age-old trick of evading accountability by changing laws on paper and calling our country progressive while women and marginalised communities around the country continue to suffer.

It’s time we hold the whole system accountable.

Even in our personal spheres, it’s time we unlearn the normalisation of sexual violence against our bodies. Don’t reserve outrage for the most gruesome of cases — all the catcalling, the incessant sexual harassment on social media or public transport, the blatant objectification of our bodies are part of the problem.

We need to start conversations in which we include women around the country, in the process broadening our understanding of what enables and sanctions rape, emboldening each-other’s diverse voices, and fighting for real change. We have the burden of resisting and dismantling deeply rooted systems that precede us but should not be allowed to outlive us. It’s time we fight.

(source: The Himalayan Times)

JANUARY 10, 2021:

FLORIDA:

Tip leads to capture and arrest of man accused in abduction, rape of Cleveland Clinic employee, sheriff’s office says

A Cleveland Clinic employee was abducted just steps away from her workplace in Weston early Saturday, and then sexually assaulted by a man who stole her SUV and escaped, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said.

“The suspect has been taken into custody as a result of a tip received based on the media broadcast,” agency spokesman Sgt. Don Prichard said Sunday morning.

Investigators had been looking for the suspect, a man in his mid 30s or early 40s who was last seen headed west on Alligator Alley in the victim’s white Ford Explorer with a Florida license plate Y03UKP.

Police distributed pictures of the woman’s car, as well as a SunPass photo of the suspect, who was described as a light-skinned male about 5 feet 8 or 5 feet 9, with brown hair, a brown beard and a “Middle Eastern accent.”

The victim, whose identity is being withheld by police, was on her way to work Saturday at around 7:20 a.m., when she was grabbed by her assailant, forced into her car and assaulted. The attack occurred at the Cleveland Clinic Florida Weston in the 3100 block of Weston Road, Prichard told reporters.

“A man ran after her, tackled her and forced her back into her own vehicle,” Prichard said. “He then proceeded to drive and sexually batter her at a location we are not going to disclose at this time.”

She was then dropped near the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise, where she sought help in a Target department store, Police were summoned by a 911 call placed from the store shortly after 8 a.m.

In a statement, the hospital said it is working with law enforcement on its investigation and is “deeply troubled and saddened by the incident.” Management also said “our thoughts are with our employee” and her family, and that it is “committed to the safety and security of all patients, visitors and employees.”

Last July, Merin Joy, a nurse at Broward Health Coral Springs, was murdered outside her workplace at around 7:30 a.m. after she had completed a night shift. State prosecutors said they would seek death penalty for her husband, Philip Matthew, the man accused of stabbing and running over his wife in the hospital’s parking lot, according to court documents. Police said witnesses and surveillance video show the husband attacking her.

Prichard said late Saturday there have been no recent reports of other assaults outside the Cleveland Clinic in Weston. There was no indication the victim knows her assailant and no other individuals are known to have been involved in the crime.

Police are seeking people who may have witnessed the assault. Those with information are urged to call detectives at 954-321-4234.

(source: South Florida Sun Sentinel)

ARKANSAS:

2 of 4 suspects in fatal SAU shooting appear in court

Only 2 of the 4 defendants charged in an August fatal shooting on the campus of Southern Arkansas University appeared Thursday for scheduled court hearings.

Shaivonn Robinson, 20, of Vacherie, La., and Quincy Lewis, 20, of Little Rock appeared in Columbia County Circuit Court. Le'Kamerin Tolbert, 20, of Little Rock and Odies Wilson IV, 21, of North Little Rock were not present.

Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Phillips said Tolbert's attorney had a tire blow out on his way to court and Wilson's attorney, Ronald Davis, had a scheduling conflict.

All 4 defendants are charged with capital murder, 1st-degree battery and aggravated robbery in the Aug. 11 death of 21-year-old Joshua Keshun Smith. All 4 have pleaded innocent.

Prosecutors have said they are considering pursuing the death penalty.

Robinson was represented Thursday by Katherine Streett of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission. He did not speak during the 5-minute proceeding.

Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Phillips said he received a number of motions in December from Robinson's attorney and that he would submit written responses to the motions by the end of this week. Robinson's next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Lewis sat beside his attorney, Jeff Harrelson of the Harrelson Law Firm in Texarkana, but did not speak during the hearing.

Harrelson questioned Lewis' mother, Sabrina Mills, about her son and the family's home life. She said her son returned home from taking classes at Tulsa Welding School in March because of the pandemic and went to work for a construction company.

Mills said her son did not get into trouble as a child, and that to her knowledge he did not associate with felons. She said she did not consider him to be dangerous.

Phillips, the prosecuting attorney, asked Mills about her son's schooling and work, and how he got to Tulsa from Little Rock. Mills stated her son would take the bus to Tulsa and that Tolbert, her stepson, had driven him to SAU around the time of the shooting.

Lewis' next hearing is set for Jan. 21. Tolbert's next appearance is Jan. 21, and Wilson is set to appear Jan. 28.

Probable-cause affidavits supporting the arrests of the four men describe a prearranged drug sale in a parking lot on the SAU campus that became an ambush when a gunman fired on a vehicle with three people inside, killing Smith -- a senior at the university -- and wounding another student.

In the four identical affidavits, university Police Department detective Sgt. Bret McMahen wrote that, based on witness interviews, Smith had arranged over Snapchat to sell marijuana to a man. Smith asked 2 others, Lucas Sharp and Alex Copeland, to accompany him in his vehicle for the meeting because he did not know the man well, police were told.

When the three men found the prospective buyer in the parking lot, the man got into their vehicle. Smith gave him a box containing the marijuana, which the man examined. The man told Smith he needed to get his money, saying he did not have it, and left, according to the affidavit.

As soon as the man exited the vehicle, another person ran up to the driver's side window and started shooting, police were told.

(source: arkansasonline.com)

USA:

The last time a woman was executed for a federal crime, a kidnapping riveted the nation

The judge called it the most “coldblooded, brutal murder” he had ever tried. News articles described it as the most horrible kidnapping in decades, or as the St. Louis Dispatch wrote, a “tale of evil, stupidity and corruption.”

On September 28, 1953, Bonnie Brown Heady walked into Notre Dame de Sion, a Catholic school in Kansas City, Mo., and posed as the aunt of Bobby Greenlease, the 6-year-old son of one of the city’s richest men. She and her boyfriend, Carl Austin Hall, kidnapped the boy and demanded ransom from his parents. They picked up a duffel bag of $600,000, the largest ransom ever paid at that point, and promised to return the boy safely to his family.

But the boy was already dead. Hall had shot him soon after the kidnapping and buried him in Heady’s backyard. It became Missouri’s most famous crime of the 20th century.

Just 81 days after the grisly killing riveted the country, the 2 kidnappers were executed side by side in a Missouri gas chamber. The swift punishment marked the last time a woman died by federal execution.

Now, almost 7 decades later, another woman faces the same fate: Lisa Montgomery, who was convicted in 2007 of strangling a 23-year-old Missouri woman who was 8 months pregnant, and cutting the baby from her abdomen. The infant survived and was raised by her father. A federal jury in Kansas City convicted Montgomery of kidnapping resulting in death and unanimously recommended a death sentence.

Her execution had been delayed after two of her lawyers fell ill with the coronavirus, but the Justice Department sought to schedule her execution for Jan. 12. After more legal wrangling, a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the execution can proceed on Tuesday.

In the final months of the Trump presidency, the administration has overseen 10 federal executions, the most in a calendar year in the United States in decades, and more in a presidential transition period than any other in U.S. history, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Montgomery is one of only a few women in the nation’s history to face death by federal execution, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. While about 10 percent of people arrested for murder are women, only about 2 percent of death sentences are imposed on women, Dunham said.

There are a few reasons for that, Dunham said. Not only do men commit significantly more murders than women, but the nature of the murders are also different. Convicted murderers eligible for the death penalty typically have a history of other aggravated crimes. “That kind of criminal history is almost exclusively male,” Dunham said. Most women who have been executed, and many of those currently on death row, were convicted of murdering a spouse, romantic partner or child, Dunham said, while men on death row typically committed the murder in the course of another felony, such as robbery or rape.MO< Still, in the past 100 years, more than 40 women have been executed in the United States, and as of October 2020 there were 51 women on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The women that do face capital punishment are often depicted in trial and in the media as violating gendered expectations of women, said Mary Atwell, an expert on gender and the death penalty, and professor emeritus of criminal justice at Radford University.

“They were considered to be bad mothers or unfaithful wives or promiscuous or in some cases, lesbians,” Atwell said. The crimes “were treated as if they were so much worse because this is a woman that failed to be the woman that she should have been,” she said.

News coverage in 1953 often described Heady as a prostitute and alcoholic. Articles depicted her as overweight, “plump,” and “frowzy-haired.”

Many of the women on death row, including Montgomery and Heady, have also been victims of abuse themselves. Montgomery’s lawyers have said she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from a tortured childhood of being sexually trafficked and severely abused by her mother and sexually assaulted by her stepfather. Heady reportedly suffered physical abuse at the hands of men she dated, including Hall.

“She was a victim of sorts, I think,” said John Heidenry, author of the book “Zero at the Bone: The Playboy, The Prostitute, and the Murder of Bobby Greenlease.” Heidenry acknowledged that Heady consented to playing a crucial role in the brutal kidnapping and murder. Still, he said, “she was a victim of drink, she was a victim of circumstances and bad men. … My sympathy in some strange way aligns with both of these women.”

Heady, the widow of a bank robber, had come from a relatively well-to-do family before she fell into alcoholism and met Hall at a bar she frequented in St. Joseph, Mo., said Heidenry.

Hall, too, was a severe alcoholic. He had torn through a $200,000 inheritance from his mother and served jail time for robbing cabs.

“It didn’t take long to size her up,” Heidenry said. “He pretended that he loved her and told her that he loved her. He also needed a place to stay, and her house was convenient.”

Hall soon told Heady about a plan — a plot to kidnap the child of a wealthy man: Robert C. Greenlease, a millionaire who was one of Kansas City’s earliest and most successful car dealers.

News of the kidnapping of Bobby Greenlease, and the half dozen ransom notes and 15 telephone calls to the Greenlease family that followed, “captivated the imagination of the United States” Heidenry said.

After Hall had killed the boy and buried his body, he and Heady took the ransom money and traveled to St. Louis. Hall abandoned Heady, drunk and fast asleep, in a rented apartment. He kept almost all of the ransom money, leaving her with only $2,000.

Hall was later arrested by St. Louis police lieutenant Louis Shoulders, who had connections with the mobster and cab company boss Joe Costello. More than half of the $600,000 ransom went missing, and became the subject of nationwide intrigue. Heidenry, the author, remembers as a teenage boy in the St. Louis area searching for the missing money. FBI records later disclosed that Shoulders and Costello stole the $300,000.

Both Hall and Heady pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and murder, but toward the end of the trial, Hall’s attorney said his client hoped to take the blame off Heady. “He did this. He planned it,” the attorney said, according to news reports. Heady, her lawyer said, was but “putty in the hands” of Hall.

Still, an all-male jury took just 67 minutes to decide the punishment of death for both Heady and Hall, according to a Washington Post story at the time.

Hall looked at the floor as the clerk read the recommendation of punishment aloud. “Heady turned and half-smiled at Hall, but he did not see her,” a Post news article said.

Their execution, “was the swiftest punishment ever meted out under the Lindbergh Law,” one news article said, referring to the federal kidnapping statute passed by Congress after the historic Lindbergh kidnapping.

In the hours before they were taken to the gas chamber, “the killers had kept their strange composure,” a Washington Post reporter wrote. “They ate a last meal together at a table pushed into the corridor against the bars of Hall's cell and there they consumed a fried chicken dinner, chatted and smiled for half an hour.”

Shortly before midnight, they were taken from their cell to cars in the courtyard of the Missouri State Penitentiary.

“It was bitterly cold,” the article stated. “Mrs. Heady was placed in the first car, Hall in the second, and they were driven to the death house.” (source: Washington Post)

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

Lawyers: Woman On US Death Row Not Competent For Execution

Lawyers for the only woman on federal death row are asking a judge to halt her execution and arguing she isn’t competent and can’t be put to death.

Lisa Montgomery’s lawyers filed a petition Friday in federal court in Indiana seeking to halt the execution, which is scheduled for Tuesday at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

They argue putting Montgomery to death would violate her constitutional rights because she “has brain damage, severe mental illness, and suffered a lifetime of sexual torture.”

She is one of three inmates scheduled to be executed by the Justice Department next week, just days before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Biden opposes the death penalty, and his spokesman has said he’ll work to end its use.

This Tuesday, the federal government plans to execute Lisa Montgomery. Lisa's life has been marred by unthinkable trauma that resulted in documented brain damage and mental illness.

She should not be executed. pic.twitter.com/p74O8vL5ZF — ACLU (@ACLU) January 9, 2021

Montgomery was convicted of killing 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore in December 2004. She used a rope to strangle Stinnett, who was 8 months pregnant, and then cut the baby girl from the womb with a kitchen knife, authorities said.

Montgomery took the child with her and attempted to pass the girl off as her own, prosecutors said.

(source: Associated Press)

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US inmate set for federal execution this week asks court to consider evidence of intellectual disability on appeal

Corey Johnson, who is set to be executed by the federal government on January 14, filed Friday for a stay of execution with the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. His lawyers argue that his upcoming execution is unconstitutional because significant evidence of his intellectual disability was not considered at trial.

In 1993, Johnson was convicted of several gang-related murders. His defense team at the time claimed that he was not intellectually disabled, relying on flawed evidence from unreliable IQ tests. His lawyers say this decision was reached “without the current understanding in the medical and legal community of what constitutes an intellectual disability and without an accurate or complete picture of his intellectual functioning, based on, among other evidence, valid, properly adjusted IQ scores.”

His pending clemency petition details early evidence of his disability. He was in the 2nd grade for 3 years. He also repeated both the 3rd and 4th grades. He did not know his birthday at age eight and could barely write his name at 13. His lawyers claim that these inherent challenges were also exacerbated by abuse, trauma, and instability throughout his childhood.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that it was unconstitutional to sentence people with intellectual disabilities to death. This ruling provides a 3-step test to determine whether defendants are intellectually disabled, which attorneys and experts say Johnson meets. But courts have never heard the full scope of evidence uncovered by his current legal team. Johnson’s appeal requests a hearing on the new evidence of his disability. Alfred Bourgeois, who was executed by the federal government in early December, was allowed a similar hearing prior to his execution.

If granted, Johnson’s execution could be postponed until after President-elect Biden takes office. Biden has spoken in favor of abolishing the federal death penalty but has not specified when he would take action.

Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, is also set to be executed next week. Her legal team also claims that intellectual disability and childhood trauma were not adequately considered in her sentencing. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that a combination of severe childhood trauma, intellectual disability, and mental illness exemplify the problem with many death penalty cases.

(source: jurist.org)

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

The US has not executed a woman in 67 years. That could change in Terre Haute.

It's been nearly 70 years since the United States executed a woman.

Bonnie Brown Heady was put to death in a gas chamber on Dec. 18,1953 after pleading guilty to her role in the kidnapping and murder of Bobby Greenlease, the 6-year-old son of a multi-millionaire auto dealer in Kansas City, Missouri.

Her co-conspirator, Carl Hall, who police say shot the child, was also executed.

67 years later, the federal government plans to execute another woman.

Lisa Montgomery was convicted of killing pregnant 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett in a northwest Missouri town in December 2004. Montgomery strangled Stinnett to death, cut open her abdomen with a kitchen knife and removed the fetus, which survived.

Even in such inconceivable crimes, a woman being sentenced to death, let alone executed, is rare in the United States.

Montgomery had been scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, but a recent court ruling has thrown that date into question unless the Terre Haute penitentiary that houses federal death row abides by stricter COVID-19 precautions, or another judge intervenes.

Montgomery's execution: Here's what you need to know

Should her execution take place, Montgomery would be just the 3rd woman executed by the federal government since 1900, along with Heady and Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed in June 1953 for trying to deliver war secrets to the Soviet Union.

Women have accounted for less than 4% of the nearly 16,000 executions carried out in the United States since the 1600s, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Any time a woman is being executed, it is out of the ordinary," said Richard Dunham, executive director of DPIC.

Out of 14 other cases in which a woman killed a pregnant woman with the intent of taking the unborn child, only one was sentenced to death, and that sentence was later commuted to life, according to the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide.

"It doesn't necessarily mean that the death penalty discriminates in favor of women, but there are a number of factors that lead to a small percentage of death row being women," Dunham said.

Few women sentenced to death

One straight-forward reason fewer women are sentenced to death and executed: the type of crimes eligible for the death penalty, like murder with aggravating circumstances, are most often committed by men, Dunham said.

According to FBI data, just 12% of people arrested for murder or non-negligent manslaughter in 2019 were women. .

Even fewer women are sentenced to death. Between 1973 and 2018, women accounted for just 2.1% of all people who received a death sentence, federally and at the state level.

As of Jan. 1, there were 53 women and 2,567 men on death rows across the United States, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

A 2011 study showed gender bias in death sentencing, concluding from a review of 1,300 murder cases in California that "because women are stereotyped as weak, passive, and in need of male protection, prosecutors and juries seem reluctant to impose the death penalty upon them.”

Dunham said the rarity of women being sentenced to death or executed might also be in part because of mitigating circumstances, or those factors weighed by a court in the defendant's favor. Those include a history of abuse and severe mental illness, factors experts say are often shared by women who commit capital crimes.

According to a study published in 2017 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 66% of female prisoners had a history of mental illness, compared to 35% of men.

"... from the perspective of a seriously mentally ill person, this kind of offense becomes possible to conceive," Dunham said. "It's inconceivable for anyone who was in their right mind. But properly represented, it can be presented to the jury in a way that would likely produce a life verdict."

According to advocates and her attorneys, Montgomery had a long history of being abused, as well as a history of severe mental illness. They say she was born with brain damage and, beginning when she was a child, she was molested, raped, beaten and trafficked.

But that wasn't enough to sway the jury away from the death penalty.

A 'violation of true womanhood'

Kelley Henry, Montgomery's federal public defender, said Montgomery's trial attorney failed to understand and present her history of abuse and mental illness to the jury.

Henry also said the attorney mistakenly leaned into gender norms and tried to paint Montgomery as "a very traditional good mother."Montgomery had four children.

Prosecutors ultimately used Montgomery's mental illness "that caused her to not be able to function to prove that she wasn't a good woman, she wasn't a good wife she didn't fulfill these gender norms," Henry said. That gave the prosecution a window to disprove her fitness as a mother.

"So (the prosecutor) tried to play into a generalization, and say she fit it, which of course she didn't," Henry said.

Susan Sharp, a sociology professor at the University of Oklahoma who studies women and the death penalty, said it's not uncommon for attorneys, specifically prosecutors, to play into gender norms when women are on trial.

"If you read the arguments made by prosecutors in their closing arguments in cases where they're seeking the death penalty for a woman, that's a very common thing to argue," Sharp said, "that not only did they commit a serious crime, but that it was a violation of true womanhood in a very Victorian sense."

Lisa Montgomery faces execution Tuesday. Here is her story.

‘Let it be done’: Bobbie Jo Stinnett’s hometown waits as killer’s execution date nears

Sharp pointed to the case of Wanda Jean Allen, who was executed by Oklahoma in 2001 for murdering her longtime girlfriend, as another example. Allen was Black, gay and had cognitive deficiencies.

Sharp said the prosecutor in Allen's case "argued very clearly that she shouldn't be treated as a woman because she was a lesbian and she was 'the male' in the relationship."

"She had everything working against her," Sharp said. "And I think that when you see a woman end up on death row, usually that's what's happening. They're easy pickings."

'We do not make excuses' Still, Sharp said the "pretty horrendous histories" of women on death row don't excuse the crimes, but rather offer an explanation.

"Not saying that we should just say, 'oh, you poor thing,' but we need to take it into account and get them help. We failed prior to a crime ever being committed."

If Montgomery is executed at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, she would become the 11th federal inmate put to death since the Department of Justice resumed executions in July following a nearly 20-year hiatus.

The DOJ did not respond to IndyStar's request for comment.

"We do not mean to suggest that Mrs. Montgomery should not be punished," attorneys wrote in a clemency petition to President Donald Trump. "She should. We do not make excuses for her actions. Everything about this case is overwhelmingly sad. As human beings we want to turn away. It is easy to call Mrs. Montgomery evil and a monster, as the Government has.

"She is neither."

(source: Indianapolis Star)

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Was his attorney ineffective? Man on death row for Newport News murder-for-hire gets new hearing

It was more than 11 years ago that David A. Runyon was convicted in the murder-for-hire of a young Naval officer in Newport News.

A Norfolk federal jury found that Runyon shot Cory Allen Voss 5 times outside an ATM in a killing orchestrated by Voss’ wife and her boyfriend, designed to look like a robbery gone bad. Runyon was sentenced to die, and has been on death row in Indiana ever since.

But his current attorneys have now landed him a new hearing on whether his trial lawyers should have better investigated evidence that Runyon was suffering from brain damage at the time of the killing, and then presented that to the jury.

If jurors knew about Runyon’s brain damage — possibly caused by child abuse and being later hit head-on by a drunk driver while serving in the Army — they might have spared his life, his lawyers contend.

On Dec. 23, a 3-member federal appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the case be sent back to the Norfolk federal court for a hearing on whether one of Runyon’s 2009 trial attorneys provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” in not more fully exploring the brain damage issue.

“We conclude that Runyon has made a (plausible) claim that his trial counsel’s performance was objectively unreasonable and that the material facts necessary to resolve this issue are fairly in dispute,” Appeals Court Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote in the majority opinion.

It’s still considered a long shot that Runyon’s death sentence will be reversed — and far from certain that he will even get a new sentencing hearing where that could happen.

But the newly ordered hearing — where both sides can put on evidence about what happened 11 years ago — begins a process that could ultimately get Runyon off death row.

A murder for hire

Voss, 30, a U.S. Navy Ensign, was a Midwest native, a well-liked father of 2 who was living in Newport News while stationed on a Norfolk-based frigate.

Late one night in April 2007, a man entered Voss’ pickup at a Langley Federal Credit Union in the Oyster Point section of the city, pumping five bullets into him at close range.

Police investigators determined that the murder plot was organized by Voss’ wife, Catherina “Cat” Voss, and her boyfriend, Michael Draven.

Prosecutors say Cat sent her husband to the deserted ATM off Jefferson Avenue, where Runyon — a former U.S. Army soldier — was lurking nearby. Her plan, they said, was to get Cory out of the way, be with Draven instead, and collect about $500,000 in insurance proceeds.

Cat Voss, 45, and Draven, 40, are each serving life in prison.

But Runyon, now 50, was sentenced to death in September 2009 — Hampton Roads’ 1st federal death penalty case in more than 11 years. He is one of 52 federal prisoners on death row, with no execution date set.

Runyon’s direct appeals were rejected, including ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court. But his attorneys filed a petition in 2015 to set aside the verdict and sentences, citing a series of claims that he got an unfair trial, on everything from the brain damage to jury selection to the prosecution’s evidence sharing.

But the Norfolk judge who presided over the original trial, Senior U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, rejected the claims in 2017.

Runyon’s attorneys then went to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its Dec. 23 ruling, the three-judge panel upheld most of Smith’s 245-page ruling. But the panel reversed her on the “ineffective assistance of counsel” claim, saying Runyon deserves a hearing on that issue.

Investigating brain damage was crucial, attorneys say

One of the appellate judges, Roger L. Gregory of Richmond, said there’s “a well of evidence” that could have “cast serious doubt on Runyon’s mental health” at the time. But those facts weren’t highlighted at trial or “thoroughly followed up on” by his lawyer, Gregory wrote.

Runyon’s current lawyers say he was “thrown across a room” by his father at 3 years old and fell unconscious. They said he had head injuries from “a head on collision with a drunk driver” during his time in the Army, plus another car accident and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from exploding grenades in military training.

They said he had employment problems and personality changes consistent with a brain injury.

One of Runyon’s 2009 trial lawyers, Stephen A. Hudgins, was appointed to the capital case as the “mitigation attorney” — the second chair to lead trial lawyer Lawrence H. Woodward Jr. — only a few months before the capital case.

At the time, Hudgins asked Judge Smith for a 6-month delay in the trial so he could better investigate his client’s medical and mental health records. But she declined, ordering that the trial go forward as planned in June 2009.

Between Hudgins’ appointment to the case and the start of trial, Hudgins had numerous other cases — including a 2-week federal trial. After the jury convicted Runyon, Hudgins asked Smith for a 3-month delay before sentencing. She gave the sides a month to prepare instead.

Still, Gregory wrote in the appeal panel ruling that Hudgins had preliminary reports in hand from a psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist that could have caused him to delve into the brain damage issue further.

“If the defense failed to complete the mitigation investigation in this case, that failure is inexcusable,” Gregory wrote. He said that’s particularly important in cases — such as Runyon’s — where prosecutors have overwhelming evidence of a defendant’s guilt.

The ruling says that psychiatrist Dr. James Merikangas told Hudgins before sentencing that Runyon had delusions and “impaired executive functioning suggestive of frontal lobe brain impairment,” and promised “to follow up once he received the brain scans.”

But though Hudgins received Runyon’s brain scans back from a radiologist, he never turned them over to Merikangas to review, the decision says. (Though the radiologist had deemed the scans “normal,” Runyon’s lawyers say a psychiatrist looks at different aspects of the images).

Another expert that Hudgins was working with, neuropsychologist Allan Mirsky, examined Runyon 4 days before trial, saying there’s “strong evidence he’s suffering from a neurological disorder,” with evidence of a brainstem injury, likely from the blast injuries and the car accidents.

But Hudgins didn’t call either Merikangas or Mirsky to testify at Runyon’s sentencing.

When Merikangas examined the scans in 2015 — six years after the trial — he said Runyon was “a brain damaged individual ... with symptoms of a psychotic thought process.”

When informed of Merikangas’ new comments, Hudgins told Runyon’s current lawyers that that was “the type of information I would have been looking for at the penalty phase.”

Also in 2015, Mirsky reevaluated Runyon, saying his new tests “indicate the presence of significant damage to the right side of the brain, as well as a psychotic disorder.”

When Woodward gave the closing argument in 2009 asking jurors to spare Runyon’s life, he told them he didn’t have a “glib answer” or “a pat response” as to “what caused Mr. Runyon to get involved in this and to be where we are today.”

Woodward instead focused on the fact that two other participants in the plot — Voss’ wife and Draven — were getting life sentences, while only Runyon was facing death. Woodward also spoke of the impact of an execution on Runyon’s family members.

But Runyon’s current attorneys — Dana Hanson Chavis and Susanne Bales of Tennessee and Michele Brace of Charlottesville — say Runyon’s brain damage could have provided jurors with a good line of defense, too.

“The jury never knew of Runyon’s brain damage and mental illness, classic and powerful evidence in favor of a life sentence,” they wrote in their appeal.

Gregory, of the appeals court panel, wrote that in death penalty cases, “mitigation” efforts — giving jurors reasons for sparing a defendant’s life — often revolves around a defendant’s mental health.

“Mental health mitigation evidence is the heartland of death penalty representation,” he wrote. He quoted American Bar Association guidelines saying it should be “routine” for lawyers to focus on that “core” defense.

“Somehow, Runyon’s (trial) counsel appear to have missed the message,” Gregory wrote.

Hudgins, now the chief judge at York-Poquoson General District Court, could not be reached for comment for this story, and Woodward declined to comment.

One judge praises attorney’s efforts.

But another judge on the appeals court panel, J. Harvie Wilkinson of Charlottesville, dissented, strongly praising Hudgins’ trial performance.

“Runyon’s lawyer performed admirably throughout, and to expect that he could have produced a different result in a case featuring such a cold and calculated murder for hire is wholly unrealistic,” Wilkinson wrote. Looking at cases after the fact, he said, can “provide a temptation to pin the blame on who else? — his lawyer.”

Wilkinson asserted that Hudgins “conducted a thorough investigation and made strategic decisions that were eminently reasonable.”

The lawyer called nearly two dozen witnesses to the stand at the sentencing — including Runyon’s family members, several prison guards and a mental health expert who testified to Runyon’s “lack of future dangerousness.”

At the time, Wilkinson wrote, federal prosecutors were seeking the death penalty partially on the basis that Runyon “had used his military training to commit a murder for hire.”

“Thus, it makes sense that counsel Hudgins devoted a substantial part of his strategy to arguing Runyon would not pose a threat of violence in prison,” Wilkinson wrote. “Presenting evidence that Runyon was suffering from brain damage and mental health problems could have undermined counsel Hudgins’ argument.”

“It could have underscored Runyon’s problems with impulsiveness and anger management,” rather than the “gentle individual” that Hudgins “was attempting to portray.”

Moreover, Wilkinson wrote, highlighting Runyon’s brain damage could have weakened Runyon’s main argument at trial that he didn’t commit the crime.

Runyon’s current lawyers contend that the brain damage evidence didn’t run counter to the innocence claim — and that leaving it out doesn’t appear to have been a deliberate strategy by Hudgins.

But Wilkinson wasn’t convinced. There “is always an argument that was not made,” Wilkinson wrote, and “a possible winning strategy that was not pursued.”

“I doubt the majority’s alternative strategy would have worked out better,” he wrote, given that the “jury was looking at an intelligent young man who used military and police training to assassinate a Navy officer in a complex and coolly executed plot.”

The panel’s decision to order a new hearing, Wilkinson wrote, “is unfair” to Cory Voss and his children, to the jury and to Judge Smith, “who has done such a conscientious job with this case.”

“And it is just as wrong,” Wilkinson wrote, to “diminish ... the professional efforts of an attorney who plainly gave the defense his highly commendable best.”

A date for the evidentiary hearing has not yet been set.

(source: dailypress.com)

IRAN----execution

Prisoners Farzad Mohammad-Noureh and Mehdi Joushani Executed in Qom

2 prisoners on death row for “drug-related” charges, have been executed in Qom Central Prison. A 3rd prisoner sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder, was returned from the gallows after being granted a delay by the complainants in his case.

According to Iran Human Rights, 2 male prisoners were executed in Qom Central Prison in the early hours of this morning, 9 January. Their identities have been established as Farzad Mohammad-Noureh and Mehdi Joushani. In a joint case, they had been sentenced to death on “drug-related” charges.

A 3rd prisoner, known only as Sasan, who was sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder and behind bars for eight years, was returned to his cell after the complainants in his case agreed to a delay.

The 3 men had been transferred to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions last week and had visited their families for the last time at noon on Thursday, January 7.

Speaking to IHR about the executed men’s case, an informed source said: “Farzad Mohammad-Noureh and Mehdi Joushani were accused of carrying 135 kilograms of methamphetamine.”

At the time of writing, their executions have not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

According to Iran Human Rights’ annual report, at least 225 of the 280 of those executed in 2019 were charged with "premeditated murder."

As there are no legal distinctions made between murder and manslaughter, whether voluntary or involuntary in Iran, those charged under the umbrella term of “premeditated murder” will receive the death penalty regardless of intent and the circumstances.

(source: iranhr.net)

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Iran's regime to execute another champion wrestler

“The Olympic Committee has as yet refused to take any serious actions against the regime in Tehran for its bloody assault against athletes.”

The Iranian state’s opaque judiciary is slated to execute a second champion wrestler after it engaged in the widely criticized wrongful hanging of Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in September for his role in protesting regime corruption.

Mehdi Ali Hosseini, 29, from the city of Andimeshk in the province of Khuzestan, was arrested in 2015 and charged with murder during a group brawl.

His execution is imminent, according to family members cited on the Persian-language website of Deutsche Welle, a German state-owned international broadcaster.

The victim’s family has not agreed to pardon the athlete for alleged murder, the DW website reported.

Hamid Sourian, the Iranian gold medalist Greco-Roman wrestler at the 2012 London Olympics and vice president of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, has called for the execution to be prevented.

“I beg Dr. Gholami Gheibi, who is one of the prominent doctors in Dezful, as the father of the victim, to please God” rescind the death penalty, he reportedly said.

“I hope that the honorable family of the unseen will forgive this young man by doing this good deed,” Sourian added.

Cameron Khansarinia, policy director for the National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), a nonpartisan organization of Iranian-Americans, on Saturday told The Jerusalem Post: “While most athletes fear the further cancellation of sporting events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes in Iran fear being murdered by the Islamic Republic. After murdering champion wrestler Navid Afkari, the criminal regime occupying Iran intends to put fellow wrestler Mehdi Ali Hosseini to death.”

“The International Olympic Committee has as yet refused to take any serious actions against the regime in Tehran for its bloody assault against athletes, despite a coordinated campaign by Iranian athletic champions,” he said.

“The regime should be banned from all Olympic and international sports activities until it stops murdering athletes and lifts its gender apartheid laws toward female athletes and fans” Khansarinia said. “The disregard for the lives of Iranians shown by international organizations, including the IOC, has removed any and all of their legitimacy as humanitarian bodies.”

The Post sent press queries on Saturday to the IOC and United World Wrestling (UWW).

MARIAM MEMARSADEGHI, an Iranian-American expert on human rights in the Islamic Republic and a leading proponent for a democratic Iran, told the Post: “Khamenei is ramping up executions, foreign kidnappings and assassinations, taking of foreign hostages and torture in the dungeon to try and repress his way out of the mounting failures and crises inherent to his ideological regime.”

“He is testing the will of the Free World,” she said. “The [US’s incoming Joe] Biden administration and Europe will do him a big favor if they go back to the Iran [nuclear] deal and business as usual.”

Fellow wrestler and coach Habibollah Akhlaghi said: “When I started wrestling, Mehdi Ali Hosseini wrestled with my younger brother in the same age group, and he is really a good and moral wrestler.”

The coach, who also is from Khuzestan province, said Hosseini “loves wrestling, and during his years in prison, he became the champion of the country’s prison wrestling competitions.”

Additional decorated Iranian wrestlers have urged the clerical regime not to execute Hosseini, including Ali Ashkani, the current coach of Iran’s Greco-Roman wrestling team; Saeid Abdoli, who won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and is a former world wrestling champion; and Mohammad Talaei, the former world freestyle wrestling champion.

Prior to the Iranian regime’s alleged extrajudicial killing of Navid Afkari, some decorated Iranian wrestlers protested on social media against his planned execution. After what appeared to be regime pressure, the athletes scrubbed their social-media protests.

It is unclear what prompted the change in open protest by some elite Iranian wrestlers since Afkari’s hanging.

The campaign United for Navid, which was launched by Masih Alinejad, a women’s-rights activist and founder of the My Stealthy Freedom/White Wednesday campaign, wants the IOC and other sports federations to ban Iran’s regime from competition.

Afkari’s plight garnered global attention and focused outrage on the Iranian regime’s use of hangings to silence opposition and criticism.

Rob Koehler, director-general of the sports human-rights advocacy organization Global Athlete, told the Post: “The Iranian regime murdered Navid Afkari on 12 September 2020, and now they have another wrestler, Mehdi Ali Hosseini, scheduled to be executed. How much more evidence does the IOC and United World Wrestling need to suspend the Iranian National Olympic Committee?”

“Both of these organizations failed to intervene to save Navid’s life,” he said. “Now they must step up to save Mehdi’s life and protect all Iranian athletes. The fact that the IOC continues to neglect its duty of care for athletes by failing to take action against Iran is a gross abdication of duty. Their willingness to stand by while athletes are jailed, tortured and executed cannot longer be tolerated. The IOC and UWW must act now.”

(source: Jerusalem Post)

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